God Is My Refuge

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”

Psalm 34:8 (ESV)

I’ve always found such comfort in God being my refuge to run to during times of uncertainty. In every trial, He is there. In every storm, He is there. After each of my failures, He is there with arms wide open. Lately I’ve been dwelling on this verse and the fact that God has always been and will always be there, that His past faithfulness demands my present trust, that He’ll always come in and surprise me with His goodness if I lean on His strength rather than attempt to live on my own.

Then the foundation of this verse struck me. How can I be so blessed by this unconditionally loving Father, if there is nothing to take refuge from?

I reached a point where I was tired of the trials. Tired of having to forgive, tired of asking forgiveness for the same thing again & again, tired of collapsing at Jesus’ feet and feeling like the trials would never stop.

God would be an absolutely useless refuge if we had no trials, no fears, no challenges to take refuge from. I believe He ordains these things in our lives to draw us even closer to Him, to show us how desperately we need Him.

Now when the trials come, it’s not the same sinking feeling of having to run to Jesus and be protected, it’s an opportunity to run to Him, glorify Him, and be blessed by Him. Don’t get me wrong, trials are still difficult. But when you see purpose in them, they take a much smaller toll.

What are some trials you’re facing right now? Let yourself vent to Jesus, run to Him and be blessed within the refuge. How is this trial an opportunity for you to glorify Him and grow in the process? Thank Him for this trial and for the time it allowed you to have a deeper level of intimacy with Him.

6.30.2019

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Bloom Where You Are Planted // Taking Root

“Bloom where you are planted.”

I’ve always struggled with this phrase.  As much as I like analogies and the image of us humans like delicate flowers or flourishing trees that sprout, grow, bloom or bear fruit, I didn’t want to picture myself stuck in one garden forever; living a life with one gift, working in one ministry, restricted to one career. It seemed too “new age” for me to justify with reality, too much like a fence and I hated feeling trapped by it.

But now God has shown me a correlation with His Word & made this over-instagram-captioned phrase a sequel to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  

He has been reminding me of the word “season” in my life and for a long while I wasn’t sure why.  It seems to be such a common word in Christian communities, but now I think He’s revealing the type of season He wants me in and how much more depth this analogy carries.

Each plant goes through seasons, but the identity of the plant remains the same. A sunflower is always a sunflower, a lily is always a lily, a gardenia is always a gardenia no matter where it’s planted, and each bloom will be unique according to its design. Different plants also require different saturation to see growth.

But the most important thing I’m learning about blooming where I’m planted is the first step; taking root.  Taking root is the challenging part to an adventurous heart.  It makes it more difficult to wander, but once rooted, it makes it easier to abide in Jesus (John 15), and to connect yourself with the community you are planted in, your root system intertwined with that of other believers.

If I don’t take root, I won’t grow in this garden, and if I don’t go through an entire season of growing in this garden, I won’t be strong enough to move to the next one when that time comes.  Community & accountability are essential to growth.

“Bind my wandering heart to thee”

Come Thou Fount Of Every Blessing – Robert Robinson

For those who (like me) feel lost in all the different branches of this metaphor (pun absolutely intended), I decided to study some literal plants to help clarify. Here are some of their characteristics that helped me understand my own growing process.

In different seasons, plants direct their resources where it’s most necessary.  Depending on the time of year, they’re either directing all their energy to deepening their roots or using their roots to create the stunning blooms we get to appreciate in the spring.

It’s also critical that plants are moved only during a certain break between these seasons.  Moving a plant involves breaking some of the roots. Once it is moved, it has to take hold of the new soil all over again. The deeper its roots go the better the plant is going to bloom, but the more it will hurt to be moved if it is moved out of season.

“Plants in flower or about to flower hate being moved. It’s a big no-no in their world. All their resources are going in to producing a flower so they can create seed, not new roots.”

Alys Fowler

“Moving a plant means breaking roots – usually the fine root hairs that do the job of exploring the soil to find moisture.”

Alys Fowler

I think I’ve been disappointed that I’m not blooming, that I’m awaiting my next spiritual spring and I’ve been looking to other gardens longing for that to come.  God is teaching me to be content in this season, with a hope & joy for the future that doesn’t distract from enjoying where He has me now.

With this reminder, throwing yet another pile of my cares on the Lord, I kept digging….

Not only has God designed plants to be stationary as they take root and grow, but He’s designed them to REST in order to grow!  Plants don’t ‘sleep’, but they do require the atmosphere of dark in order to perform work within their roots.

“When your plants aren’t performing efficiently due to the lack of true night hours, no equipment in the world can cure what ails them. So, make sure they have the required break from light and the right amount of hours for each stage of growth.”

Tammy Clayton – Garden Culture Magazine

“Be still” doesn’t mean, ‘do nothing.’  To be still requires work underneath the surface that often requires the dark, silence, & stillness of the night.  This is why the second half of this verse is so important, “know that I am God.”  Our part of the work is to know God is in control and sovereign over our circumstances.  We grow in the season He’s placed us in when we grow in Him; in love for Him, trust in Him, & joy in Him.

In this season, God is doing more to grow me then I could ever dream to do for myself hopping around from one garden to another. He’s plowing, turning over the layers of soil in my heart, removing weeds, bringing fresh nutrients, and burying me so deep in His love & His presence that I can grow where He has me now and bloom where I’ve been planted.

Now I know, even when I do move from one garden to another, one season to another, I have to be still by continuously trusting Him, seeking Him & filling myself with His Word.  HE is my gardener, HIS hands will move me.  He’s teaching me that we will change gardens when the time is right, not while he has us rooted for growth, and if we’ve just moved, we have to take the time to grow new roots.  Be still. 

“Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth.”

Psalm 96:11-12 NKJV

I’d like to encourage you reading this, if you’re feeling unstable, unrooted, or not in the garden of your choice; spend time in prayer. God will make it clear whether or not you’re in His will. If He keeps you where you’re at, take root; plug into your church, sign up for that class, grow your community, start a Bible study, join a Bible study, set up an accountability relationship, or whatever step God is asking you to take in order to plant yourself deeper into Him. Read scripture, journal your thoughts, write songs of worship, record the songs you’ve written, & be still by knowing that HE is GOD.

5.30.2019

One Year Later // Hand-in-Hand

It’s still sinking in that in April we passed the first year mark of our marriage! In some ways it feels as though the year flew by like the wind on these south Florida spring days. In other moments, it feels like together is so precisely how we were supposed to be that it’s difficult to believe we haven’t been in this rhythm of life even longer. It’s hard to remember a life without ‘us’.

Marriage is challenging. It has brought me face to face with my sin & reminded me that I married a sinner Every. Single. Day. But it’s also been such a blessing! It brings a new depth of joy to life & reminds me of how unconditionally my Heavenly Father loves me, despite my sin,
Every! Single! Day!

This year we have learned a LOT.

We experienced a lot of the typical newly-wed trials; navigating making two lives one, communication, skewed & unmet expectations, communication, budgeting together, & did I mention navigating communication?

But we also faced some unexpected challenges, from a job change, to a totaled car & an ER visit, to other medical challenges; we faced a lot of things that were external of our relationship, but required us to be united.

One of the strongest lessons I took away from our first year was to always face challenges hand-in-hand. If we are truly one as man & wife, this is where it gets practical; we have to act in unity.

This reminded me of one of my favorite sermons on marriage I head about four years ago. Pastor Fidel Gomez of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale taught, though he may have been quoting someone else,

“You don’t have to see eye-to-eye to walk hand-in-hand.”

This applies to most of our relationships in life, but I’ve found it to be critical to the intimacy & unity of marriage. No matter what we face, the trials of life or the challenges of making our two lives one; we can disagree, we can have different expectations, & we can have differing opinions, but we have to hold hands as we step.

For me as the wife, this can occasionally lead to the practice of submitting; trusting that my husband is seeking God & allowing him to lead & make a decision I may not entirely agree with. This doesn’t mean I walk behind Him when we disagree on something. It means that we still move forward, because I trust him enough to do so hand-in-hand.

Today I discovered a beautiful parallel in my devotional reading

“We are married to God… just as a wife will often take her husband’s name, God gives us the name of Jesus, which is ‘the name which is above every name’. (Phil. 2:9)”

“the only way to enjoy the privileges that come with Jesus’ name is to move beyond a casual relationship and become fully committed.”

James | Biblical Commentary – Joyce Meyer

Just as we brides take the name of our husband when we marry, as Christians we take on the name of Christ when we commit our hearts to Him, just as we vow our lives to our husbands on our wedding day. What a beautiful reminder of our identity change, not just in marriage, but in Christ as our Savior. Both examples of unity come with joyful privileges.

A lot of great things happened to us this year too! We traveled quite a bit, welcomed another niece (who is also our God-daughter!) into the world, bought a new-to-us car, adopted a kitten, & laughed more together than I ever remember laughing when we were apart.

It’s been a blessing of a year, & we’re ecstatic to be tackling year two, hand-in-hand!

4.30.2019

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Koinōnia

For the past four & a half years I’ve been a part of a Bible study that for most of it’s life span was just ‘Sunday’s Bible Study’ but was eventually titled, Koinonia. We started as just 8 friends, all wanting to pursue the Lord & learn together. We met weekly, studied scripture together, worshipped together, prayed together, served together, traveled together, learned together, failed together, & grew together. Koinonia’s numbers grew over the years, people came & went in seasons, but the intent always stayed the same.

In March we held the last of Koinonia’s weekly meetings. I won’t say Koinonia ended, because it’s so much more than the name of one particular meeting.

We chose the name Koinōnia because it’s the Greek word used in Acts 2 that describes the function & growth of the early church as “fellowship” which is precisely what we were doing. But Koinōnia has an even deeper meaning than simply a group of people socializing or sharing meals together. It is a bond for a united purpose which in the context of scripture, is to pursue godliness, bring glory to God, and fulfill the command of the Great Commission (Matthew 28).  Koinōnia describes an intimate fellowship that shows joint participation, community, and partnership and describes the intimate fellowship that Christians experience with God through His Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

Koinōnia is intentional. It is bearing one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2),  studying the Bible together, opening-up about our lives and allowing others to speak into them, and praying over each other. Koinonia requires a teachable spirit, it requires hearts that are honest, humble, and hopeful, or at least, willing to become honest, humble, & hopeful.

The goal of Koinōnia is to do ministry together.  To engage, serve, and grow as one body in Christ.  That is our common purpose.  We seek to lift each other up close to Christ, to honor one another, to live in harmony have compassion for one another (Ephesians 4:32), encourage one another, spur one another on toward good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25), to confess when we have sinned and forgive those who sin against us (Matthew 6:12-15, Matthew 18:22).

As seasons changed, we discovered that we didn’t need to meet weekly in our familiar group for this to happen. In fact, we found it might happen more if we started to spread out in our various churches, communities, & workplaces.

I’ve been struggling to get all the feelings, memories, & lessons that could go into this post into comprehensible words because Koinonia has been a second home for me. It was born at a time I was just beginning to plug into a new church, it’s where I ran in many difficult moments, & it’s where I felt comfort on nights I didn’t even know I needed it. It’s where I faced conviction & found deep joy because it’s where I spent time in the entire body of Christ. Not only was I meeting with my Heavenly Father as I do all throughout the week, I was meeting with the rest of His children in the most vulnerable, encouraging, & nurturing environment.

Koinonia is where I met my husband! It’s where we became friends, nurtured our relationship, where we served together, & where lots of our accountability & encouragement was found.

It wasn’t always comfortable. Whether it was the heat of the garage we met in one summer, or the heat of conviction & tough love spoken in truth. We often grew out of struggle. We resolved conflict together because we had conflict with one another.

Not having the consistency of Koinonia’s weekly meetings feels like a foundational element in my life is suddenly missing. But I’m learning now that it’s not missing, just going to transpire differently.

Looking back at my Koinonia journals doodled in & filled with notes from the years of studies, testimonies, travels, & events, I started to reflect on what God has taught me. So many of my notes are in shapes or drawings or large fonts that help me to remember the context of the lesson & how it applied to me. I realized through all the scriptures & topics covered, of all the little lessons & practices I learned, God had woven one throughout them all during the years. The notes I remember best are the ones not restrained by lines just as God’s love for us knows no restraint. God has given us so many creative ways to live out Koinonia, so many ways to love Him, & so many ways to know His love for us. God taught me to love Him more deeply and to love His people more effectively; to love outside the lines

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
1 John 4:7-11

So as I move forward without the consistent meeting time to depend on, Koinonia & the friendships it fostered continue onward as well. Koinonia is not a Sunday night meeting, though I will miss that part of it deeply for the rest of my days. Koinonia is the body of Christ constantly letting Him shine outwardly through us and seeking to share the Gospel in our community.

If you ever even once attended Koinonia, served on the worship team, taught a lesson, shared your testimony, ran sounds or slides, came as a guest speaker, allowed us to meet in your home or garage or building, or prayed for us; if you ever missed me on a Sunday night because I already had plans, but supported me going anyway; thank you. Koinonia has helped make me who I am today, and so have you.

3.31.2019

Learning to Pray like Jesus

Over the years I’ve gone through many seasons with prayer. Some were strong & constant while others were convicting & quiet.

Prayer is not just a suggested habit or “pro-tip” for peaceful living, it’s a command from God for us as His children to communicate with Him & intercede for others. It’s a required discipline that feels natural at some times and is a struggle at others, but must always be done.

Lately I’ve been working on making a better curated habit of prayer while not curating the prayers themselves. Prayer is messy. Prayer is not a poem or a song or a perfectly crafted soliloquy. Prayer is a conversation. It needs to be candid, open, honest, transparent, confident, and speak of your true fears. It needs to be real.

Sometimes it’s a whisper, sometimes it’s written on paper, sometimes it’s begging and tears and sometimes it’s screaming in tears. For prayer to receive any answer and actually prove productive in our lives it needs to be genuine & trusting.

The more it is crafted, simplified, smoothed, and polished, the less it is truly prayer. If it’s watered down it’s not a real conversation, it’s just stating how you feel or what you want and not leaving room for debate, for response, for a change of mind, perspective, or growth. For prayer to be true it has to be raw. For prayer to be productive it might be messy. Leave silence for God to respond.

God hears your prayers. Whether crafted, forced, natural, scattered, or outlined. Most importantly, God knows your heart. I find I need to grow in prayer, but I feel so swept up in grace when I remember that God is watching & listening to me while I grow. He doesn’t wait for us to be at any perfect level or conversation style, He always listens.

Often times we just fail to listen to Him. Make time within your prayers to listen. This communication is not just something we do obediently, it’s something we do to replicate the character of Jesus; to constantly become more like Him. We’re made in His image & have the perfect example of how to live our prayer lives in the example of Jesus; He is CONSTANTLY showing us how to pray!

He prayed for His father to be glorified in His work. John 17:1-5

He prayed for His Disciples & that they would have joy. John 17:6-19

He prayed for all believers to truly know the Father & be in eternity with Him. John 17:20-26.

Jesus was still & knew His Father was God. He prayed in solitude. Luke 5:16, Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35

Jesus prayed for the Father’s will, accepting that the answer wouldn’t always be what He expected or desired. Matthew 26:36-42

He taught us to pray. Luke 11:1-4

Jesus prayed openly, honestly, in trust, & with great faith; and I want to pray like that, like my Jesus.

2.28.2019

If you need prayer comment below or e-mail me, I’d love to pray for you!

A Book A Month // January 2019

In the past I’ve fallen into the trap of setting goals that are too broad. Like I’ll do this more or I’ll do that less. They were ideas I was too scared to commit to, because I was too scared to fail them. I didn’t put specific boundaries on them so I couldn’t technically “fail”. One of these broad brush strokes was, I’m going to read more. I was constantly disappointing myself with the result even though I had no measure to test myself by.

This year I decided to get specific. With a clear road map written on paper, I’m more driven to work on meeting my goal. I found the trick to this is to keep it simple & attainable. I’ve also let myself know; I might fail. If I do, I can still measure my progress (even if it wasn’t as much as I hoped for) & I’ll know exactly where I need to do better, plus I’ll have read more books than none at all which is really a success!

2019 goal:  Read at least one book per month.

For January I decided to kick start the habit by finishing the three books on my nightstand that I had dipped into but not completed. Some of them I just restarted entirely to get the full context. So here are my book suggestions for January!

#1 Soul Keeping – John Ortberg

Soul Keeping was so refreshing! It studies caring for your soul by spending time with God, being refreshed by His Word, & how it will produce fruit in your ministry & community. There is so much depth to this book I didn’t expect and it’s all grounded on scripture. I love that it gives some practical points but this is NOT a simple self-care book. It’s goal is to help you honor God with the soul He created in you.

#2 The Meaning of Marriage – Timothy & Kathy Keller

I started this book and read bits & pieces throughout our engagement & first few months of marriage so for January I restarted & plowed all the way through. This book is packed with so much truth & application that I recommend it not only to married & engaged couples, but to singles & dating couples as well.

If you have any desire to get married reading this will help you become the person that the person you’re looking for is looking is looking for. (Go ahead, re-read it until it makes sense! I might expand on this in a future post, but I highly encourage friends not to look for the perfect person, but work on becoming the person your future spouse is looking for)

If you feel that your view of marriage has become a negative one, whether by how you were raised or the examples you saw in your life, it will help lift the fog you might see over marriage

If you’re already married; it’s NOT too late to read! This book has helped me deeper understand my connection to, communication with, & care for my husband. I’m considering setting a new goal of re-reading this book each year.

Do you ever re-read books to dig deeper or refresh your memory?

#3 Five Points Towards a Deeper Experience of God’s Grace – John Piper

This is my home-stretch for January. I love John Piper’s poetic tone that’s as filled with truth as it is beauty. I admire & agree with his doctrine & I’m being challenged to put my beliefs into words & check them all according to scripture. I’m still reading this book so keep me accountable to finishing it this month!

What are you reading this month? Do you have a reading schedule or goal for the year? Let me know in the comments or share this post on your social media & answer in the caption! Be sure to tag me & share your book suggestions!

1.22.2019

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From Ms. to Mrs. // 2018

“Oh you got married?! Congratulations MRS!

Hello MRS. Curran!

How’s married life MRS?!”

Yes! I got married! Yes I am now Mrs. Curran!  This was absolutely the highlight of my 2018, but it was not just a single event or instant change. This transformation has been such a rich journey!

As we wrap up this year & begin to set goals & dream for 2019, I’ve been looking back on what I learned this year and these are just a few things that have stood out and helped me grow.

So this is my initial journal entry of what’s it’s like to go from Ms. to Mrs. and what it’s taught me thus far.

On April 7th, 2018, I married Mr. Michael Curran; my best friend, my greatest blessing, and especially lately, my greatest comforter. He’s also the FIRST to laugh at me when I mispronounce words or get a joke punchline wrong, but he’s the first to pick me up when I’m down, to wipe my tears away, and encourage me in things I can’t see in myself.

Being married has taught me some priceless lessons about Michael, about myself, and about how we function in our life together. There’s a lot I still have to learn and experience, but I’m taking these nuggets with me as we continue our adventure.

Lesson #1 // My identity has changed.

Not only have I gone from Ms. to Mrs. but from Ms. Alibrandi George to Mrs. Alibrandi Curran. I have a new drivers license to prove it!  I am learning to embrace the title of Wife and know that my goals & dreams are now blended with supporting my husband’s.

This new filter has changed my intentions & actions in everything, from job decisions, to ministry decisions, to scheduling decisions, all the way down to my  choice of words.  My words usually affect my husbands’ feelings directly or his reputation indirectly, & with the identity of wife I have to consider how my words, whether to him or about him, support & build him up.

Lesson #2 // Patience is key, especially with myself

When I say patience is key, I mean it pretty literally. Patience is like a key that we carry and can choose to utilize or ignore & waste time and energy pounding on doors and never actually getting anywhere.

I initially set all the bars way too high for myself. The meal prepping bar, the homemaking bar, the working two jobs while being the homemaker bar, & the do over the top thoughtful things to serve and surprise my husband bar. By my own expectations, I have failed every single one. I expected too much of myself and I haven’t had the ability to do all the things I wanted and have failed some of the ones I’ve tried.

But, when pouring out all this failure (mingled with some tears) to Michael, (enter my comforting husband yet again) he didn’t see failure because he didn’t see the bars. He simply saw his wife doing her best and absolutely loved & appreciated it. So when it comes to those imaginary bars of unrealistic expectations, confront them. Do your best, take the time to learn what your husband needs or wants first, and then you’ll still mess up.

When you find that your spouse just wants to have fun & enjoy the adventure of life with you, the bars disappear and you have a lot more fun laughing at your mistakes, learning from them, and finding new ways to embrace your new identity.

It also takes patience to merge two lifestyles.  Your practical habits will collide; no doubt about it.  In marriage, the habits themselves are truly small and typically unimportant.  It’s the communication concerning them that will turn into nagging, frustration, bitterness, or neglect when not handled well.  I’ve found it’s important for me to communicate in all gentleness and love why some habits bother me so I don’t harbor any afore mentioned negativity and so I can receive communication about habits I should strive to change.

Lesson #3 // I’m the most selfish person I know.

When you’re a ‘Ms.’ (or a single Mr. for that matter, just writing my perspective) your daily, practical focuses really do revolve around you.

When you become a ‘Mrs.’ those focuses and goals change even if you haven’t caught on to them yet.  Your ‘I’ is now ‘We’ and that sounds easy enough when it’s, ‘What do we want to cook tonight and what movie do we want to see?’ but it’s the topics that are a lot more subtle where this gets deeper.

Having to stop and merge some very different expectations & desires has made me realize just how much my flesh really cares about it’s own desires and just how sacrificial love needs to be.  I may not always want to do whatever the task or event at hand is, I may not even feel that I need to, but if it’s something that my husband wants, I have to consider how we are going to proceed, not just how I am.

Lesson #4 // I’m not perfect, I need to be constantly humbled

I recently heard this lesson worded best this way,

“marriage is the nicest way to confront your own inadequacies on a daily basis”

Y’all this is so true.

Beyond false expectations or unrealistic goals, there are some ways we just downright fail. I have had to acknowledge that I need help. I need to help my husband however I can, but I have to accept his help too. He has the best role in my life to say, “I know you can, but I’m here so you don’t have to.”

I had lots of help & preparation going into marriage, from family, mentors, friends, scripture, books, etc. but there are things that you have to experience to truly understand and failures only a spouse could point out for you to truly accept & that has been so enlightening for me.  Marriage is humbling and this has been extremely fruitful for me.

IMG_2296

In addition to sharing these more difficult lessons I’ve learned, I must close by sharing that marrying my best friend is the best decision I’ve ever made aside from accepting God as my Lord & Savior.  Amidst all challenges, marriage has been a blast!  Living, traveling, & learning with my husband brings me joy every single day!

I’m only 8 months in, but the amount that I’ve learned in this time has only made me that much more excited for all the lessons and growth to come!  With all the challenges, joys, & growth we’ve seen in 2018, I know God will do even more marvelous things in 2019 and we are striving to pursue Him together.

~ Mrs. Curran
12.31.2018