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Birthdays in Heaven

Today, in my heart, a silent birthday party is taking place.   A party that should be filled with balloons, gifts, decorations, friends, and excitement.  Yet, the celebration will only exist in the shadow of grief.  One of those what if, if only, situations that crashes into the reality that the birthday boy is gone!


Fifteen years ago today, after 9 high-risk, worry-filled months, and 36 long, excruciating hours of labor, I briefly held this precious boy in my arms.  At first glance his tiny body was perfect: long, adorable fingers and toes, wispy blond hair, soft newborn skin, and the most beautiful, round face that is etched deeply in my mind and forever on my heart.  But inside that precious, small body was a heart that wasn’t beating as it had been just hours before, beneath my own heart.


Time is an interesting thing.  Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. Often, time seems to pass quickly.  Sometimes it eeks by and other times, it stands still.

When the doctor confirmed what our hearts already knew, that Jonathan Michael had unexpectedly and unexplainably passed away, time stood still in my soul.  Suspended between the maternity suite at Duke Hospital and Heaven, my mind couldn’t quite process that the child I had carried and who had been the answer to a decade of prayers…was now gone.  The minutes passed and the hours dragged by but in my heart, I didn’t know that time would ever matter again.JonathanAfter a tragedy, I had heard people say that they didn’t want to go on, that they weren’t sure if they could move forward amidst grief.  I thought I could relate and understand but I didn’t and couldn’t.  Even after 3 miscarriages and a premature delivery of Emma Grace and all the beautiful, medical mess she is, I had never felt despair like I did when Jonathan died.  Not that I ever contemplated not living, but the pain was so intense I didn’t know if my heart could physically keep on beating…it was broken in more pieces and ways than I knew was possible.

Yet, time did pass.  Minutes did become hours, and days did flow into weeks.  People came and loved on us.  Tears flowed until there were no more left.  Memories rushed in when least expected and still do.  Grief sneaks up and takes me by surprise even now.  A song, a white rose, the pattern of blue gingham material, yellow rubber duckies, everytime I walk into Duke Hospital, oh so many triggers that take me back to that moment when our precious boy found himself in the arms of Jesus instead of my arms where I thought he belonged.

Screenshot_2015-08-24-22-48-55-1And with each birthday I cry, and remember, and wish he were here.  How I wish he could blow out candles on his birthday cake, unwrap presents, celebrate with friends and know how very much he is loved.

Once someone asked me if time could be turned back and I could choose, would I have chosen to never have conceived Jonathan or have been pregnant and suffered the loss?  A thousand times over I would do every single second of that pregnancy again.  To have known of the wonder and secrecy of him before the news was shared with the world.  To have felt him moving beneath my heart and know he was growing and thriving in the most sacred place that only God could have created for him inside of my womb.  To have dreamed and enjoyed imagining for all of those months.  And to have held him in my arms for those very brief hours.  Yes, a thousand times over…YES.

God’s grace truly is amazing.  His comfort and peace are unexplainable.  His tenderness in meeting me in the deepest ravines of grief and whispering His love when I could not hear any other voices around me, sustained me.  He came deep down into the valley, blew life into me again, resuscitated my broken heart and held my hand as I slowly, oh so slowly, climbed out of the depths and back into a new normal.

Fifteen years have come and gone.  One day after another has continuously flowed.  And not one of those days has passed without my mind remembering and my heart longing for our boy!

Oh but isn’t the Lord amazing?  He had a plan to patch up my heart.  He had a way higher than my ability to imagine that would heal the gaping wound I thought would be exposed wide open forever.  God is altogether lovely and amazing.  He allowed me to carry 6 children and was gracious enough to allow 2 of those children to survive.  Infertility, miscarriage, prematurity, and loss are woven into our patchwork quilt of parenthood.  Yet so are the lives of Emma Grace and Spencer Michael…they have added beautiful designs to the quilt of our lives.  We are truly blessed.

As for our precious Jonathan…Happy Birthday in Heaven sweet boy!  For 15 years now you’ve been celebrating birthdays away from us.  For 15 years you have been loved, cherished, and remembered and I have to believe that you long for us as deeply as we long for you!  I’ve no doubt you would have loved and cared for your sister Emma Grace the way your younger brother, Spencer does in your absence.  And I’ve no doubt you are doting on the 3 sisters you have in Heaven with you.  You are missed…immensely.

Sometimes when I think of all you have missed out on here, living everyday life with us, my eyes fill with tears and my heart physically hurts.  There were so many things I wanted to show you, teach you, experience with you.  So many amazing people that we call family and friends that you would have enjoyed.  And if God had given me a choice, of course, I would have chosen to keep you here.  For my heart could never have imagined that I could survive the loss of you after knowing the love of you.  Yet, I am also grateful for what you have missed.  You’ve never had to know sickness, or loneliness, or pain, or tears.  Those are things you have been shielded from.

I hope somehow across the barrier of time as we know it on earth and time as it exists in Heaven, that you are able to sense our love for you.  You were your daddy’s first son.  A dream come true for him.  What a man of integrity he is.  You would be proud to be his son!  

You would be a sophomore in high school now, getting your driver’s license, probably playing sports, hopefully loving music and piano as I do, learning everything from carpentry to auto mechanics from your daddy who thinks every boy should know how to do and fix anything.  You would be attending camps and youth activities with boys who remind me of what we’ve missed.  There are two boys in particular that I watch and ponder how different life would be if you were still here.  They are very different but I think they would both be your friends.  They, born the same year as you, are constant reminders of each phase of life that exists without you in it.

In our hearts, you’ve reached another milestone.  Another birthday.  Another moment of time that exists in your honor and memory.  

And in this moment of time, I miss you, remember you, love you and cherish you.  You changed me forever, profoundly.  

How blessed I am to be your Momma!

With all my heart,

Renee Parris






My Birthday Prayer

Today I awoke with the realization that God has blessed me with the beginnings of another year on this beautiful earth.  It is a blessing to be alive and I am aware that God has entrusted me a precious gift:  Life.

Many family members and friends have already lived out the days God gifted them.  Today, they are in eternity.  Yet I am still here.  Surely God intends for me to not only be aware of the gift of life, but to embrace it and experience it fully.

For the beginning day of the last year of my 4th decade, I pray:

  • To be aware every day of the gift of waking up to experience life
  • To be grateful for the husband, children, parents, siblings, and family members God has chosen for me
  • To be a gracious friend to those who grace my life with their presence and their trust
  • To make each moment of the coming year count; to be aware that moments matter and fill them with purposeful actions
  • To be alert to the beauty around me: in nature, in the faces of strangers, in the words on written pages, in the touches and embraces of those I love
  • To give more of me than I’ve ever given to relationships in my life
  • To invest financially in ways that make eternal differences
  • To give more time and energy to the ministries and causes I love
  • To cherish the children in my life, those I birthed and those who God allows me to influence
  • To be mindful that I am honored to have my parents alive on yet another birthday
  • To bless each person that crosses my path with kindness and the love of Jesus
  • To use the gifts God granted to me in ways that impact the world
  • To take each encounter with another human being as a gift and bless those who cross my path with a kind word, a smile, an affirmation that their life matters
  • To proclaim the goodness of the Lord
  • To write more often about the impressions of my heart
  • To awake on my next birthday with gratitude for a full year, lived intentionally

Here are a few photos of some of my favorite people and things on this my special day!

With all my heart,

Renee Parris

White Roses Shall Always Be My Friend

White Roses.  Yellow Rubber Duckies.  Blue Gingham.

Regardless of where I see these three things, they immediately take my mind to a beautiful yet painful place.

272805_3537826975971_103275466_oOn this day, 13 years ago, we both met and lost our precious son in a series of events that we could never have imagined or wished on anyone.  Yet, God, as He is so good to do…met us there in that valley and showed us grace and comfort to walk through that rugged terrain.

Losing children was not new to us, for we had suffered three miscarriages before Jonathan.  But his death was so senseless in our human minds.  A life lost that should not have been.  A bad judgement call by a physician was what our human brains screamed…for we always need to make sense of things that don’t make sense and so, often, we look for someone or something to blame.

Truth is that God had a plan and slowly we learned to lean into that reality and trust Him as we had so many times before.  For there are no mistakes with God.  Just circumstances that help shape us.

Yet, the loss was devastating and the pain so intense that at times we struggled to breathe.  Some days, even now, 13 years later, the grief is so strong it takes my breath away.

Each year on his birthday (and so many other days in between), we find ourselves taking flowers to the cemetery.  I spend time telling him all that he’s missed in his brother and sister’s lives that year and remind him of all that I’ve missed in being with him the past 365 days.

Perhaps it’s the milestone of turning 13 that seemed to make this birthday especially hard.  Something about this particular year seems more difficult.  I knew it was coming and busied myself on purpose.  Yesterday was Sunday and I knew my soul needed church and preaching but I also recognized that being with people can sometimes feel like the loneliest place to be.  So, I waited in the car until the service started, then I slipped in and slipped out during the last prayer.  So grateful to be with my church family and hear sermons that I knew were God-inspired and rich in truth.

Sometimes that’s what we have to do.  Make a plan so we can carry on as normal yet protect our spirits at the same time.

I fully recognize that God gives everyone a puzzle.  A life story to write.  A plan to fulfill.  Mine is no more difficult than the next persons.  The devil is so skilled at making us feel isolated and magnifying our issues to the point that we can become self absorbed and even bitter at the very God who created us, loved us, died to redeem us, and is waiting on the other side of the beautiful clouds for us.

As I looked into the sky this afternoon at the cemetery, I asked God to allow Jonathan to see me and to let him know just how much he is missed.  But more than that, to know just how blessed I feel for having shared nine beautiful months with him.

You see, I am the only human being to have felt him move.  The only human being to know what it felt like when he had the hiccups, when he was stretching out and turning over and kicking his adorable legs.  I was the one who could sing to him and know he was hearing my voice from inside my body.  I was the one who first held him once he was delivered from the safety of my womb.  And I was the last to touch his precious face before the casket, that would be his crib instead of the one I had decorated for him, was closed the day of his funeral.

He was mine.  God hand picked me to be his mother and Mike to be his father.  Of all the parents in the world, He graced us with that privilege.  How blessed I am.

So often, I’ve wondered what his personality would have been like, how his voice sounded and if he would have been funny like Emma or sarcastic like Spencer.  I’ve longed to watch him grow up.  I’ve hurt for all that I’ve missed.

Yet, I’m also envious that he is enjoying Heaven without me.  He’s already walking beside the crystal sea that I have pictured in my mind for years.  He knows what the angel choir sounds like and He plays with Jesus!  How amazing is that thought!

His body is here, his spirit is with Jesus and his soul lives in my heart and has left my life richer because he spent nine months with me.

Emma loved rubber duckies when she was a toddler.  She chewed on them long before we discovered chewy tubes!  We had them everywhere.  Her bathroom (that would have been shared with Jonathan) was decorated in blue and yellow rubber ducky theme.  Jonathan’s nursery theme was to be blue gingham.  And white roses were in abundance at his funeral and have become my favorite flower since then.

Screenshot_2015-08-24-22-48-55-1Those three things have become synonymous with Jonathan.  So, we had a college student from UNC Chapel Hill Art department design his tombstone with a rubber ducky on it in honor of Emma and the life they would have shared together.  I still have a few blue gingham items and I enjoy white roses every chance I get.

We have been so blessed by the friendships in our lives.  So many have walked this journey with us.  But, other than Mike, the one person I always turn too in my grief is my mother.  She was there for every loss. is the one who has walked through so much of my parenting journey with me and the one person that I call from the cemetery every single year.

Once again, today when I called her, she listened, she cried, she encouraged and then she shared with me about a young lady at her church who lost a baby yesterday.  It was a good reminder to pull myself up from the pit of grief and reach out to another to whom the grieving process is fresh and raw.

Isn’t the Lord good to give us opportunities to use what we have experienced?  It doesn’t lessen the hurt.  In fact, it’s painful to draw from that hurt to be a blessing to someone else.  But it’s rewarding as well.  Just to be able to walk along side another family and be able to understand a little of the journey they are beginning.

So blue gingham, yellow rubber duckies and white roses shall forever be my friends!  Sometimes we must focus on the little things and find beauty in those things that were present in the valleys with us.

Happy 13th birthday to a boy who changed me forever!

Thanks for reading my heartbeat,

Renee Parris

The Beautiful Gift of Prayer

When life looms before us like a majestic mountain and daily tasks seem insurmountable.

When heartbreak finds its way into our souls or relationships are less than we had hoped they would be.

When grief calls or illness visits or just when a day can be too full and the heart is overwhelmed.

Any of these can be a cause for needing someone to whisper our name to Jesus.  Then Jesus whispers our name to the Father.  Soon, all of Heaven is on our side.  Praying for us.  Cheering us on.

Whispered Your Name

One of the greatest things we can do for one another is to pray.  The opportunity to go before the holy throne of God on behalf of another.  It might be God’s most gracious gifts to us aside from salvation.

The Bible speaks much of prayer.  So many examples of God listening to the prayers of His people on behalf of one another.  Even Jesus asked for prayer when He walked on earth’s soil and felt the burden of His destiny before Him.  He wanted His disciples praying with Him and being in His presence when He cried out to His Father.

Prayer binds the hearts together in a mysterious way.  I’m convinced we can learn more about each others’ hearts by listening to how someone prays than by having a thousand conversations.  Listening to someone speak to Jesus reveals much about their relationship with Him.

In Esther 4:16, Esther asked for her people to fast and pray three days for her…she knew what she had to do and she recognized her need for prayer warriors and for God to grant the request of many for her to be brave and for the heart of the king to be soft toward her.

Often we face life alone because we are too embarrassed to ask for prayer – for what would others think if they knew we didn’t have it all together? Or we don’t recognize the power of having people pray for us. Perhaps we think we can scale the mountains on our own.

Many, many have been the times I’ve begged others to pray for me. I know God answers prayers for I have witnessed it multitudes of times in my own life.  I’ve watched Him perform miracles for which there were no earthly explanations.  I’ve seen Him show up in the midnight hours and comfort as only He can.  He works like that, you know!  He comes in still and quiet and mends, heals, restores, slides mountains out of the way, and leaves us speechless.  Takes our breath away!

What a gift to bestow on those around us.  To take their requests, their needs, their petitions to God on their behalf.

To all who have whispered my name to the Father…thank you!  It is your greatest display of love to me.

And to my readers, may I declare, if you’ve got a need, I’m in your corner! I will take your requests to the Father for you. I’m always a message or a text away!

What if we all pledge to be prayer warriors for one another?!  What if we decide to not just talk and share our needs with one another but to talk to God on behalf of one another.  To really pray when we say we will.  How often do we casually say, “I’ll be praying for you.”  But then, we forget or just fail to do so.  May we be true to our word and mention the names of others to Jesus.  May we ask that God really grant the comfort, healing, or help that our friends and family need.

God is gracious.  He does hear and will answer.  Perhaps not exactly as we request, for His ways are so much higher than ours and He knows what is best.  But I truly believe how and when He answers has much to do with who and how often those requests are made known.

Esther recognized her need for support and she understood the power of prayer and fasting. What an example. I’m so glad God chose to share her story with us in His Word.

May we gift the beautiful gift of prayer to those around us.

The Gift of Peace

Peace.  Such a beautiful word.

Growing up in the mountains, it seemed we were never far from a creek or stream that flowed down through the crevices of the hills.  Shaded by trees and flowing through the forest floors, these streams were like havens and secret places that provided hours of childhood play.  The music of the water rushing downward filled the air.  It was peaceful and serene.

When storms came and the streams filled with more water, the sounds grew stronger and lovelier.  The rain somehow brought peace.  It washed away debris and left beautiful music behind.  The storms brought peace.

Peace is something that is difficult to explain but when experienced, it is amazing.  It keeps the heart calm and the spirit even.

Great peaceWhen life gets hectic and schedules seem too full, we long for peace…a rest for the soul.

Lately, it seems, the news has been filled with many stories that can evoke fear, worry, uncertainty, and panic if a person chooses to dwell on them for an extended period of time.  I have found that my spirit can only handle so much of the news.  I’m not sure if there is more evil in the world now than in previous times, or if it just that we are privy to more of it through the air waves and media outlets than previous generations.  We can read historical accounts of atrocities that have taken place in our world but typically only those experiencing them would know of them in real time.  Today, we can know in minutes of tragedies that occur halfway around the globe from our homes.

I ponder that and wonder if God ever intended for our spirits to bear that much negativity.  It’s no wonder that suicide, depression, and anxiety are on the rise.  We have more modern convenience than any previous generation yet we are unhappy.  Why is that?  We ponder too much on worry instead of peace.

The Bible has much to say about peace.  In fact 420 times, the word peace is mentioned in Scripture.  One of my favorite verses is Psalms 29:11 “The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.”

Peace is a blessing for sure.  And when my soul is weary, my spirit heavy, and my mind filled with worry, I remind myself that God will bless me with peace.

What is troubling your soul today?  Regret, disappointment, betrayal, grief, fear?  Rest in knowing that God longs to bless you with peace.  After the storm, peace will arrive…during the storm, focus on the sounds of water rushing and know that peace is on the way.

A burden is heavy to bear alone.  That same burden transferred to the hands of God becomes light and peaceful.  It is a waste of effort for us to bear a burden that God is so wiling to bear for us.  Many are the times that I pour out my soul to the Lord and ask Him to carry my burden and grant me peace.

He longs to do the same for you, my friend.

Renee Parris

You Try to Hide But I See the Real You

My friend,

I see you hovering in the corner hoping no one notices the pain underneath the smile you pasted on before coming into the room.  I hear the silent cries you whimper out before joining the group of laughing friends.  I feel the heaviness of the burden you set down at the door so you could pick up the weight of another among us.  I sense the depth of loneliness you feel inside this crowded room.

DSC_2931I guess what I’m saying is that I see youYou try to hide but I see the real you.

DSC_2917The version of you that you hope no one notices but yet wish someone would.  Because it would be easier to just be real and not pretend.  The weight of pretense is enormously heavy.  But the risk of being real can be terribly frightening.

fall 07 319 (170)That real and often disguised version of you?  The you with the broken heart, shattered dreams, and life that is less than you imagined.  The you that has suffered loss, broken promises, and buckled under life’s weariness.  That’s the one I see when I look into your eyes clouded behind pretense.

357What do I see when I look at you?

  • I see raw and unabashed beauty. The beauty of a mosaic made from broken pieces of discarded works of art that we call dreams.
  • I see a heart that is pure. Wonderful intention even though, in some moments, has been exchanged for less than stellar choices.
  • I see the gift of grace displayed. Bestowed on those you love but often withheld, by you, for yourself.
  • I see the spirit of forgiveness. I watch how you keep going on loving those who have disappointed you.
  • I see enormous strength. Things that would break weaker vessels have created strength in you.
  • I see faith displayed in bravery. You may not feel brave, but your perseverance in the face of heartache shouts bravery.
  • I see a soul that is lovely. One that is making a difference in the lives around you.

DSC_2920I just want to tell you that the real you is beautiful, unique and one of God’s gracious gifts to the world.  He dreamed of you, chose the perfect moment to create you in secret, waited for months to share you with the world, and has been cheering you on for all these years.

511So chin up my friend.  You are quite amazing.  You are a beautiful, complicated, and treasured mess.

DSC_2901There is nothing, absolutely nothing that has been done to you or even by you that God can’t redeem and turn into a beautiful offering.

DSC_4943God can take some pretty awful situations and turn them around as beautiful molding places in our lives.  His studio specializes in restoration of broken and damaged canvases.  He meticulously restores to usefulness what others would throw away.  And the work He has begun in you?  Oh, He will finish it and it will be a masterpiece.  Just you wait and see.

DSC_4954You, the real you, are beautiful.  Let no one tell you otherwise.

Renee Parris

Own Your Life Book Study: Chapter 3

Continuing our study of Sally Clarkson’s gem Own Your Life, today we are discussing how to set ourselves free from the voices of those who would distract us from the voice of God.

The voices that are whispered into our souls shape us in profound ways.  We slowly grow into the mold we are cast by those who influence our lives.  This chapter reminds me how important the words I bestow on others are in shaping their self image.

Chapter 3: Listening to New Voices – Owning Your True Identity

This chapter reminded me that I am precious to God: Created individually, on purpose and for a specific role in His story.

I am a Princess of the King!  So are you!

Beauty Within

Disney has made a fortune keeping the images of a Princess before us.  We are awe struck by their beauty.  Their grace captures the little-girl-dream in us of being center stage.

Yet, each Princess is unique.  Only Cinderella can don the blue dress and lose the glass slipper.  Only Belle can capture the heart of a rude and ruthless beast.  The story of Snow White cannot be embodied by Ariel.  Each Princess has their own role and they can only be center stage in that one tale.

We all long to be important.  We want to matter.

In Chapter 3, Sally Clarkson shares about Owning Your True Identity.  Accepting who we are in Christ and not who we are according to others opinions of us is not an easy feat.

Whether true or false, we are shaped by the voices of those around us.  Their words and opinions etch identities in our hearts that we believe and embrace.  Oh, we can overcome negativity that is poured into us, but not without a struggle.

Highlights from Chapter 3:

Sally shares the story of a new friendship made with a woman who was quickly a kindred spirit.  Friendships are a gift – especially those that go into the deep places with us.  It is a rare gem to find a soul trustworthy of our deepest secrets and dreams.

Of her friend she said, “Our life circumstances were so different, but our adventurous soul personalities were so very similar.”

Her new friend was extremely successful and had lived out her childhood dream of living in New York City and owning businesses there.  However, in her heart was a dark place etched by the negative opinions of her by her own mother.

Sally’s friend said, “I remember my mama’s disappointment in me from the time I was about eight years old, and it has followed me my whole life.”

Sally says, “My own story is similar in many ways to that of my new friend.  I wasted many years thinking that if I just tried a little harder or accomplished a little more, I would someday be acceptable to those who had criticized me as I was growing up.”

“I know so many women who lug around the dark places of their past and live under the burden of condemnation.”

Not only do voices from our past affect us, but media, society and even Christian culture can set standards that we feel we must ascertain.  We feel a need to measure up…but to what?  The standards aren’t even consistent.  Yet we feel defeated and rejected if we can’t keep up.

“If we can’t check off the boxes, we never feel as if we measure up.”

“Most women come up feeling short of the mark they are supposed to reach.  Only God offers deep-down inner acceptance and approval.  Only His ways bring vibrant health.”

“I frequently meet women…who also carry baggage.  They have lugged it around for so long that they do not even recognize how burdensome it is and how much energy it steals from their lives.”

“Owning your life must begin with a healthy view of yourself that is based on what God thinks of you.  Once you listen to His voice, your self-perception will change.”

“Deciding to like yourself is a choice to validate God’s design on your life.  You have an ability to sparkle as you are in ways no one else will ever be able to match.”

“We would never tell a zebra that its stripes should have been polka dots, or a buffalo that it should flit around as delicately as a butterfly.  And yet the world tries to fit us into a common mold which leaves 99.9% feeling that we fall short.”

“Nothing we have ever done in the past and nothing we will ever do in the future can change the way God sees us.”

“Owning your self-image is a work of grace that leads to the beauty of true womanhood.  It is essential to becoming healthy and strong.

Personal Take-Aways and Challenges:

So, what is the answer?  We need to allow God’s voice of acceptance to be louder than the voices of our past or of those around us currently.

Identify Voices

Read aloud and let sink into your soul Scripture verses that proclaim God’s love for you and His design for your life.  He loved you before you were born (Psalm 139:13-14.)

And regardless of our past choices and past voices, we are reminded in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that we are made new again when we come to Christ.  So if, between birth and salvation we have made messes (and we all have), we are born new again in Christ.

So, His image of us never changes.  That is amazing to me!

A lingering question of my heart from this chapter is this: Does my voice whisper acceptance or rejection, life or death into the hearts of those I love?

When people leave my presence do they feel accepted and loved for who they are or do they feel that they don’t measure up to some ridiculous standard I have set for them?

My prayer is that I will speak affirmation and that it will seep deeply into the crevices of the hearts of those who hear my words.

Each of us is a princess.  We are unique.  Each of us is a masterpiece.  Remember, with all your individual talents, personality traits, interests, quirks, and dreams – you are His masterpiece.

How are you owning your life?  Whose voice is the loudest in your soul?  I pray it is God’s voice and that you hear often His words of acceptance.

Renee Parris

Where are the Voices for Freedom of Speech?

Freedom of Speech. Three simple words comprised of 15 letters of the English alphabet.  For over 20 centuries, blood has literally flowed from the veins of good men and women to protect these three words that are so flippantly thrown around on the airwaves and in social study classes. It’s not just a phrase or a tag line. It is a principal upon which our government was established. It is the core of we are as citizens.  We are free to express our opinions and beliefs regardless of how and by whom they are received.

DSC_8943YET…there is no freedom of speech if the hearer must approve of what the speaker says. When my voice must be quieted because what I say offends you, the freedom dissipates. When my words must flow through the filter of those who disagree with what I say, there is no longer freedom.  Common sense and respect for our fellow citizens dictates appropriateness and respect but the freedom to speak cannot be hushed.  We simply cannot allow it.

My heart is sad for those filled with incredible hatred. I pray for their peace and for God’s love to penetrate those who try so hard to resist Him. The devil is destroying our country from within…that’s what he does…he divides families, churches, citizens…for if we fight each other we will be distracted from the real issues.

Does it really matter who won’t make a pizza for whom, who can and cannot say they are Christians on their private social media accounts, when the real issues are babies being murdered, young girls being sold as sex slaves, people literally dying everyday from starvation and evil armies trying to attack innocent people.

Can we really be SO selfish and self-centered that who approves of us and who is or isn’t willing to serve us that we completely lose sight of common sense?

The Bible says to “Be angry and sin not.” It’s time for God’s people to be angry and stand up for those whose voices are being quieted by bullies, and a few loud mouths. MOST people just want to live their lives, love their families, provide for those in their care, and enjoy this earthly journey. Most are not hateful and vindictive. So why, someone please explain to me why, a few people with too much money (that could make such a difference if used properly) and way too much hate can silence the majority? Am I the only one who is weary of stories day after day after day of injustice.

This post is not directed at any one person or group of people. I am, unashamedly a Christian. I love God and am humbled and amazed that He would die for me so that I can live eternally in Heaven. By nature of my DNA, I would be considered the middle child, the peace maker. I detest conflict. I love harmony.

The lens through which I view life sees no difference in people based on where they were born, what the tint of their skin is, what they know and believe about sexual orientation, what they have been taught about God and religion, or what values have been instilled in their lives. My friends include people from every corner of the world and point of scale on the morality measuring bar.

One of the richest experiences of my life was a summer spent in the gay community caring for a dying friend (a post for another day), moments providing care for foster children of different races and ethic backgrounds have taught me a lifetime of lessons about acceptance, and my passion for traveling and mission based journeys has opened my eyes to ways of worship beyond the walls of a church auditorium. While my mind on salvation is incredibly narrow and based solely on the Bible teaching, my heart is wide open for those human beings I am sharing this beautiful earth with at this point in History.

Soon, our story will be told. The people alive in the 21st century will be the History lessons studied in schools and reflected on as a learning benchmark for those who come after us. Sadly, I fear what they will learn and remember. I fear they will look at our generation as one that was too harsh, too divided, too full of hate to have made progressive contributions to the world. A society that got so focused on their personal needs that the greater good was harmed and sacrificed.

God’s righteousness will prevail…He is such a patient God but as much as He is patient…He is just.  How He continues to love those who despise Him is beyond my comprehension. But love is God…it’s Who and What He is. Mind baffling and pure, holy love.

This post was bathed in prayer and written from a heart of love.  These words, spoken with freedom, may or may not be well received.  That part of this journey is not mine to take.  My part is to speak freely.

Renee Parris

Own Your Life Book Study: Chapter Two

We are continuing our study together of Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson.

The more I read and study this book, the more I am convinced that every person I know should read this book.  Regardless of your profession, education level, or age, this book has something for everyone.  I’m blessed to have read this gem.

Chapter 2: Controlling the Chaos – Owning Your Priorities and Commitments

This chapter spoke deeply to me.  Got right in there and nudged at the dirt in the corners of my heart.  The Holy Spirit likes to do that…clean out the crevices.

In Chapter 2, Sally Clarkson shares about Owning Your Priorities and Commitments.  This is a tough area for most women.  We find our days busy and over scheduled and our nights exhausted and restless from all we have done yet all we have left undone in the same period of time.

Busy or EffectiveAt the beginning of each year, I seek God’s direction for the year and ask Him to point out a very specific area of my life that needs more attention than the others.  I know if I list too many resolutions or goals, I will become overwhelmed and resigned to leave life as it is for fear of failure once again.  So, I pray and ask God to give me one theme that could reach into several areas of my life and make me more of what He wants me to be.  This year, 2015, the message came back loud and clear: Busy versus Effective.  Ouch.

We can pride ourselves on how much we do and all that we are involved in, but is our life filled with busyness or effectiveness?  God has been working on me and I’m seeking to eliminate the drainers as Sally calls them and reexamine my schedule…yet again!

Highlights from Chapter 2:

A woman, running late to a meeting, said these words to Sally:

“Today, all the chaos consumed me and left me empty.  If you could write a book about how to have peace in the midst of the chaos of everyday life, you would sell a gazillion books.  That is how everyone I know is living – in utter, busy chaos!

Her words haunted Sally.  These are some of her responses:

“I wanted to tell her that she didn’t need to find peace in the chaos, instead, she needed to move, step-by-step, toward a more reasonable and centered life.”

“God has equipped all of us to live more simply, to move toward order, and to live with intentionality.”

“I have watched many women battle compulsive busyness.” 

“The end result? Depression and isolation. Many women wonder how they will get off the merry-go-round of life.  Even in Christian circles, women live with deep weariness and what I call sawdust souls-an inability to experience any lasting joy.  Their spirits are dry and depleted, but they aren’t even sure how to get close to God, or how to have intimacy with family and friends.”

“Busyness falsely promises productivity.”

In order to bring calm to the chaos, we must be able to identify where the chaos comes from.  We need to listen to the voices that influence us and rid our lives of the voices that don’t line up with the voice of God.

“Unless we return to God’s original design for us and listen to His wisdom, the confusing voices of culture, even Christian culture, will lead us astray.”

“In the absence of Biblical convictions, people will go the way of culture.”

“Many of us struggle to bring God’s light to influence culture; instead, we have allowed culture to inform our values, our work ethic, and our ideals.  Consequently, the values and habits of the world and Christians’ choices are often indistinguishable.”

“We were made for love—in fact, loving God and loving others sums up all the law!”

“Our calling is to bring light—like Jesus—so that when we step into the worlds of others, we bring His peace to every person and enlighten the dark places of the world.  Coming into contact with us should be like coming in contact with Jesus.”

Personal Take-Aways and Challenges:

So, what is the answer?  We have to identify the drainers.  We need to know what steals our hearts away from God’s design for our lives.

Before we can make changes, we need to be honest about our priorities.  We can say we are committed to a daily walk with God, serving our families, loving our communities, ministering to those in our paths, yet if our habits and commitments keep us too busy to do those things, then we are deceiving ourselves.

Perhaps it’s time to be brutally honest with ourselves.  Often it is our self that we lie to the most.  Putting our schedule down on paper is a great way to be able to see where our time is going.  What eats up our day?  Could it be social media, idle phone or text conversations, too many hours away from home?  It will be different for each of us, but we each get the same 24 hours a day and those hours are filled with something.  Whether it is idleness or excessive busyness, the drainers will find a way to consume our hours.  We must be intentional about identifying where the time is going if we want to change how the time is spent.

Daily FreshnessWithout a Biblical foundation, we are empty.  There is no substitute for quiet time spent with the Lord.  And the way He speaks is through His word.   If my soul is void of the freshness of His word, daily, then I am empty and have nothing to give to those in my life.

A haunting question of my heart is this: When people come into contact with me, do they feel as if they have been in contact with Jesus?

What drainers can I eliminate so that my quiet time is more consistent?  What commitments can I let go, so that the people I say I love most actually feel my love?  What busyness can be traded in for effectiveness?

Each day my story is being written.  So is yours.

Building someone else’s dream leaves our stories untold.  Embrace the script God has for you.  Love the people God has called you to serve.

Be honest, brutally honest, about what adds value to your life and be willing to set aside what doesn’t.  Even good things can hinder our effectiveness.  It doesn’t have to be sinful, sometimes it’s just not expedient.

How are you owning your life?  Well.  I trust.

Renee Parris

A link to purchase this amazing book:

Own Your Life Book Study: Chapter One

We are continuing our study together of Own Your Life by Sally Clarkson.

Each person will have a different experience reading this book, so please know that these are just my thoughts about how the Lord is speaking to me at this point in my own life.

Chapter 1: Seeing Beauty and Purpose in Your Ordinary Days – Owning the Hero Who Lives inside You

This chapter unfolds beautifully and awakens the dream of living a life of significance.

In Chapter 1, Sally Clarkson sets the stage of creating a life that matters and Owning the Hero Who Lives inside You by sharing stories of her childhood in which she was the heroine in her own tales.  She twirled, danced, and dreamed of becoming the Miss America she watched on television.  She read stories of great ladies who answered the call and did heroic acts like Florence Nightingale and lasting work like Madame Curie.

As little girls, we play dress up and dream.

As little girls, we play dress up and dream.

Most of us would admit we spent more time daydreaming of the life we would someday have than we do of cultivating the life we actually live.  Somehow life happened and got in the way of our vision.  Dreams got exchanged for reality and we woke up one day and realize we are quite a distance from the vision our hearts held for a life of beauty, inspiration and satisfaction.

Highlights from Chapter 1:

From her earliest childhood memories, Sally says:

“Even as a little girl posing as a beauty queen, I knew in my heart I was born to become someone significant.”

There is a sweet exchange between she and her son where he says, Mama, you know what? I think Superman was just like Jesus.  He came from a far-off place to save his world.  I think I am going to be Superman when I grow up because I am going to do something to save my world.”

Sally declares, “I believe there is a heroine in each of our hearts waiting to come out.  Yet somewhere along the pathway of our lives, we lose our innocence, forget our dreams, and succumb to a life filled with monotony and responsibility.”

She shares of a time when her children were small, they were living with her mother-in-law, finances were tight and life was overwhelming.  On a particular day, she found herself sitting on the floor in front of a couch hoping her children wouldn’t find her as they ran by.  She says “I was Eyeore living under clouds of ‘Woe is me.’”

She was hiding from life and the dailies.  Sometimes just the sheer routine of life can weigh on our spirit.

Sally recalls, “In that moment, my life was a pile of puzzle pieces, all mixed up with no seeming pattern or logical way to fit them together.  And a heroine was not to be found in the picture.”

Then right there in the midst of her pity party, there was a come to Jesus meeting.  Isn’t God like that?  He just meets us wherever we are.  No pretense, no hiding the truth of our feelings from Him.  And only when we are honest with God about our situation can true healing begin to take place.  Yet, that is where many of us struggle…in being honest with the God that knows the truth about us.

So, from the pity party and honesty session with God, healing came.  Sally began to realize that from this very place of what she viewed as adversity, would come a heart for others and a dream for how her life could inspire others to reach above their circumstances and create a beautiful story.

In reflecting on her 60 years (so far) of Walking with God, Sally asks herself a question: “Have I written a story of faith and faithfulness that will speak inspiration to generations to come?”

One thing I have come to realize from Sally’s teaching is that greatness happens in the routine, mundane, small moments of the everyday.  While here on earth, Jesus didn’t minister, on a huge platform, to the entire world.   He touched those who brushed up against His life on a daily basis.  He poured into a few and they poured into a few and on and on until the world was turned upside down for Christ.

“Even Jesus lived in a tiny town, never venturing more than fifty miles from His home during His ministry. Though He did not work with great world leaders and was obscure in His commonness, Christ’s love and service literally changed the history of the world.”

The last couple pages of this chapter are rich with the importance and challenge of maintaining a daily walk with God.  To maintain integrity and live a life of service to others, we have to be filled with His love.

Sally says, “Once I understood that my integrity was built when no one else but God was looking, I was motivated to remain faithful in moments alone with Him and my Bible.

“I discovered that heroes are made during the secret moments.”

I love this video clip of Sally explaining how we each have a cup.

She leaves us with this: “Each of us has a different life puzzle to assemble.  The choices you make in the midst of your life journey do have eternal consequences.  No matter what your limitations are – your life is meant to be filled to the brim with the potential of God’s blessing.  If you embrace your unique puzzle of life, you will find wholeness.”

“Your story lived faithfully will become your glory – the place where He builds messages, provides answers to prayers, and teaches wisdom.”

Personal Take-Aways and Challenges:

It’s time to own our lives and commit to living each day on purpose and being intentional about our dreams and goals.  Whether that is in the way we display beauty in our homes, create memories for those we love and serve, inspire those around us to embrace life, or enjoy a deeper walk with the Lord.  It is up to us to create and nurture the life we want and to do all we can to stop negativity and burdens from interrupting the story we are writing with our lives.

God’s puzzle and design for our lives is a beautiful masterpiece.  A life lived, by His ways and in His will, is a beautiful story and a gift to leave to those who come behind us.

A few questions I am pondering in my heart from this chapter: Am I the living out the role God designed for me and embracing my own puzzle?  How am I ministering to those who brush up against me each day?  What is the story my life is writing?

How are you owning your life?  Are you the heroine in your great story or are you living the script written for someone else?

Renee Parris

Here is the link to order this inspiring book: