No Pain, No Gain!

I’ve always thought “No Pain, No Gain” applied exclusively to exercise but on a recent jog, a thought crossed my mind…this really applies to so much more in life!

Childbirth is painful, but the healing process was also painful at times.  But from those experiences God blessed me greatly with my amazing children. Oftentimes, we have to endure some pain in order to receive the beautiful gifts that God has in store for us.

And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.  Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later.
Romans 8:17-18

Achieving rank or prestigious positions is usually painful for most.  Climbing any ladder in life requires effort.  Efforts of budget cut decisions, hirings and firings, leading, encouraging, and mentoring difficult people are tasks that come to mind.  Sometimes leaders (all of us, really) are faced with having to “deal” with other people’s issues.  Sometimes we have to join them in their pain and growth while dealing with our own struggles too.

Some of the greatest leaders in the Bible truly exemplified this.  Moses, a murderer, I’m sure felt great anguish over his actions, but went on to lead the Israelites from their pain and slavery to freedom.  David hid from his enemies and ran for his life, all while trying to live out his destiny to be king and lead a nation.  Jesus came to earth and experienced all that we do today on top of feeling the physical or earthly separation from a perfect loving Father.  All the while, he lead people to know that same Father.  In the midst of Jesus’ pain here on earth, He continued to lead and heal and as a result, others grew into leaders and healers as well.

What about the pains of life we never intended?  Sure, we choose to partake in actions leading to children and jobs (I do recognize there are some exceptions to this).  But what about other pains, like divorce, addiction, crimes against us, downsizing, wars, plagues, cancer, etc.  What growth, what gain comes from those pains?

Well, we may never know all that is intended, but I do believe that when we seek God in those storms, in those pains, he provides us with a deeper healing that only He can give.  Has God ever provided you with comfort or strength in a storm?  Have you come through a storm and looked back as a changed person?  Only you can put a specific term to what you gained. I encourage you to reflect on those times and write down the ways God brought you through it.

Over the past year I have prayed so many times for God to take the storms and pain away.  But the truth is, I’ve gained so much from my struggles—most notably, love from others who have been willing to meet me in my pain.  But He’s taught me so much more, too.

In the midst of all my pain, God has changed me from the inside out.  I no longer pray for Him to take the pain and storms away, because I know it has forced me into a closer relationship with Him.  It has forced me into dependency on Him.  Now I pray that He would be with me when those storms hit (admittedly it doesn’t feel like He’s with me sometimes).  But, you know what…He is.  He has to be.  There is no way I could live this life of my own power.  Because my own power would have me curled up in bed, day in and day out, refusing to come out and face the world—because honestly, I don’t like pain!

Now, I pray for Him to renew and change me…not back to what I use to be (24 years old with no idea of what anxiety or panic attacks are), but to change me into my future self.  Olivia, the anxiety and panic attack overcomer who is now able to help others and bring glory to His name.  It will happen…one day, it will!  I now pray for Him to help me put on His armor and know my identity in Him.  I’m still working to accept who that is.  I’m praying for Him to help me see and love myself the way He does.  I’m praying for His word to take root deep inside of my heart on fertile soil and to grow, grow, grow.  That’s the kind of gains the pain has produced.

With the start of a new year, and pains and storms never ending, I’d like to encourage you to put on your armor.  The armor of God!  Yes, it seems heavy sometimes, but since it’s God’s, it’s totally worth it—the pain is worth the gain!  Seek our great and loving Father, and He will seek you.  He will not allow His righteous children to fall.  Ask and believe for a change on the inside.  WARNING: It probably won’t be how you picture it.  It will probably be so much more beautiful, because that’s our God.  His ways are higher!!! His timing is different!!! His purpose for the pain is gain!!!

As I write this, I pray that anyone facing a great pain will receive the “gain” of God.  I pray that our great and loving Father will comfort your heart and give you the strength to continue on.  I pray that no matter how 2016 treated you and no matter how 2017 is starting out, that your focus would always be on the promises of God instead of the problems of the world.  I pray for healing, renewing and changing.  I pray for boldness to tell others about God’s works in your life…it’s your story that lifts other people up and reiterates how great our God is!  Amen.

“So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (MSG)



Dear Overcomer, You Are Not Defeated!

Our Guest Post this week is from Olivia’s sister-in-law, Toni Cowart. Toni has endured many hardships in her life, including losing 3 of her 5 children in a car accident. She has blown us away with her powerful testimony of overcoming the lies of the enemy and surrendering to God’s will for her life.  Toni and her husband, Chris, enjoy traveling, spending time with family and friends, and Alabama football. She has an infectious smile and is truly a joy to be around!


Are you starting this year feeling defeated already or are you stepping into this year (maybe even a new season of your life) knowing that whatever may come, you are an overcomer and can already feel the exhilaration of victory?!

I beg you to not just entertain the latter but to embrace it and cling to it on days the enemy whispers, ever so softly, “you are defeated.” (Not to mention the multitude of other things he whispers.)

If you love your Jesus, then you, my dear, are (in spite of yourself) Victorious, an Overcomer, and Praise Him, MORE THAN CONQUERORS!
(Romans 8:37, emphasis added)

Plant the banner of Jesus at the beginning of this year for you and your family and claim the TRUTH! Be the warrior God has called you to be. (Yes, I know that is easier said than done.)

Here is the beauty –  in our fleshly peon, unworthy selves, once we belong to Jesus, God covers us with such righteousness, such blinding light (that is not of us) but of Him, that when the world sees us they see plain ‘ol us and sometimes some of our filth. BUT, when satan looks at us he has to squint or be blinded by The Light we are cloaked in. I love the thought of that!

I don’t really know what the spiritual realm sees but just knowing that both heaven and satan know who we belong to means they see something different in us. Why else would satan attack us so? I like to think it’s the radiance and righteousness of Jesus in us (after all He dwells in us) and that would have to make satan squint, wince and squirm all at once. That suits me just fine.

Being a child of God we are “set apart” from others. We need to act like it. We need to take who we are seriously. We need to be intentional and it begins with knowing that God is exactly who He says He is. It is only then that we remotely begin to grasp who we are in Him.

Until we know who we are in Him, we will struggle with being the warriors for our families we are called to be.

There are things on this earth that we will experience and go through that are humanly impossible. This is where it’s truly a blessing to have Jesus as our Lord. Supernaturally, He can see you through anything because He is the great I AM.

I encourage you to spend one-on-one time seeking Him. Ask Him to show you who He is…He will. The best part is – you will not be disappointed.

Remember: 2017 can be amazing (not necessarily trouble free).  You are more than conquerors! Let the Victory begin!

I know the above to be the truth because I have experienced all the above, and then some. I know defeat (the enemy has whispered so deeply into my soul, but my soul doesn’t belong to him). I have also had my Lord whisper to me that I am His; He has etched me on the very palm of His hand. This trumps anything the enemy can do to me or any name this world can label me with.

Through being abused as a child, satan had me convinced I was bad and it was all my fault and that I could never be like the other little girls. I know what it’s like to lose a child you have only recently and excitedly learned you were carrying to only hear the doctor say, you lost the baby. I know what it’s like to have your husband have an affair, then another, and another. I know what it’s like to have the very husband who professed his love to you in front of God and a church full of people to knock you into a wall because you put too much pepper in the potatoes, for him to come home upset with you, and you not even know why and end up jerked to the floor by the hair on the back of your head. I have worn the labels of divorced, not good enough and (honestly, I don’t have enough time today to list all the names or labels I have carried).

I was blessed with five beautiful children, they exhausted me and yet lit up my world all at the same time. Ages 1, 2, 6, 8 & 10, two boys and three girls. The two babies and I picked up the older three kids one Friday from school. By Monday I was picking out three caskets. A drunk driver had crossed the center yellow line and killed my 6, 8 and 10 year old over the weekend. Yes, I have felt defeat, heart break, shattered and had my world as I knew it rocked!

Yet, I have also experienced peace and joy. A supernatural peace which means I have experienced victory. Victory from what satan meant to shake me to my core. The evil one messed with the wrong woman when he messed with me. As screwed up as my life has been, I am still a child of the Most High. I am…

Today, I am Toni, wife of Chris, mother of five, Nana of three, a lowly peon, yet a child of the Most High God, lover of Jesus, highly favored, blessed and Captive of Hope. I am – because of the Great I AM.

“…we glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us!” (Romans 5: 3-5)

2017: No Looking Back!

It was a Saturday night in July of 2015 when my husband and I stood in the kitchen, with tears in our eyes, discussing how we both felt a strong urging to sell our house. You know—the one we *had* to have and just simply could not live without. The one in *the* only school zone that could ever be good enough for our kids. The one with all those extra square feet we *needed* to store all of our excessive amounts of stuff. The one “God gave us.” The one we suddenly realized was consuming so much of our paychecks that we couldn’t even take a family vacation, much less that mission trip they announced in church. We both felt it—that still small voice in our hearts and minds that told us it was just too much. The voice that told us both—at the same time—to sell the one thing we had desired most just 2 and half short years prior.

We knew what we needed to do, but it took us a while to follow through.  We had doubts and fears about letting go of our American Dream.  It was only a month later when I had that panic attack in the kitchen floor.  Then, two months later, our preacher started the 4 week message series about Haggai called Life.Money.Hope, which gave us a very clear message to get our priorities straight! That’s when we finally listed the house…but only by owner so we could get all the money out of the house that we could. We thought we *needed* that money to pay off all of our credit card debt and student loan debt before we could ever get out of this hole we were in. God clearly had other things in mind, but sometimes he doesn’t reveal all the steps of the master plan.  He gives us one step at a time. Step one (listing the house) was complete. But what was step 2?

We found out the next step in January of 2016. My husband was laid off from his job, which was really an answer to prayer, but that is a totally separate blog post! What happened after that was providential, to say the least.  He found another job that paid his exact salary within two weeks, so he never missed a paycheck. His severance payment from the previous job was enough to give 10% to the church and then still pay off all of our credit cards. Step 2 (pay off the credit cards): complete.

Moving on to February 2016: we were so confident our house would sell in the hot-market months of spring that we decided to start actively looking for our new home.  Although our finances were starting to look more promising without those credit card payments each month, we were still looking for smaller and cheaper.  Unfortunately, there was nothing affordable in “the” school zone. After a few all-day Saturday excursions around areas of town that I’d never even considered living, we somehow ended up in front of this one lot in a neighborhood that we did not even know existed.

Lot 17. I can’t describe with words what my heart felt as we sat there staring at this giant, beautiful tree on the lot.  Peace may be the closest description. But not just a calm, “peaceful place” kind of peace.  I’m talking more like overwhelming peace. (I realize that is an oxymoron—but I mentioned it’s hard to describe, right?) There was something about Lot 17 that made me not want to ever leave. I just wanted to sit there and stare at it forever. And apparently, my husband felt the same way because we just sat there, staring, for a really long time.  This did not make any sense to us at the time, however…Step 3 (find Lot 17): complete.

Then reality set in and we remembered that we were “supposed” to be looking for a cheap, small house to suffer for our past mistakes and building a brand new house was certainly NOT the plan. {It’s not unusual for me to try to circumvent God’s plans with my own, but it’s so hard to recognize it in the middle of the storm.} God seems to always have a way of reminding me that his plans are better than my plans. And I am so grateful for His mercy and grace.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”  Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)

March through June was a tough time of waiting, doubting, searching, praying, and questioning. Our house didn’t sell—not even an offer. After 10 months of waiting, we hired a realtor in July and our potential profit margin dropped significantly. We knew God told us to sell it, so we continued to obey, regardless of the money. We also continued making trips to Lot 17, like moths to a flame.  We prayed for clarity about that lot and about building a brand new house even when we felt like we were not worthy of it.

In the midst of my struggle to understand what God could be doing, I decided to google “Lot 17 Bible.”  I knew Lot was a person in the Bible, but I didn’t know what else I might find. The verse that came up first in my search was Luke 17:32-33: “Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” Hmmm…. Lot’s wife? I had forgotten about her. I vaguely remembered reading about her in Genesis, so I found that story again. Genesis 19 tells the story of the angels appearing to Lot to tell him to get his wife and daughters and flee the city of Sodom.  In verse 17, the angels tell them, “Run for your lives. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley.”

Do not look back.

Well, guess what Lot’s wife did? She looked back! She longingly looked back at all the luxuries and sinful pleasures of the life she was leaving behind. “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it.” This was absolutely God speaking to me. What was I clinging to? Why had our house not sold? Could it be that we were still clinging to that lifestyle in our hearts? We were not quite ready to move on without looking back.

In August, during our church’s “21 Days of Prayer,” we were finally ready. We went to Lot 17 and prayed. We prayed for God’s will to be done. We prayed that God would give us wisdom and discernment to build, if—and only if—that was His will. We didn’t understand it. We couldn’t fathom why God would want us to build a brand new house when we still felt like we should be punished somehow for getting caught up in our mission to “keep up with the Joneses.” After we prayed, I looked up to the sky and saw a swarm of vultures overhead. Once again, I had that same overwhelming peace that I had felt there before. I knew I could completely and whole-heartedly TRUST God and His plan. I went back to read Luke again that night…

“Remember Lot’s wife!  Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.  I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

 “Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.”  Luke 17:32-37(NIV)


Step 4 (let the old life die): Complete. The old life was dead and there were vultures to prove it. (This is an actual picture from that day! Pay no mind that I took it because I thought they were hawks…haha!)

Exactly one week later, we got the offer for our house. A month later, we were building. We were building a home—and a new life. No looking back. No longing for the “American Dream.” God has given me new dreams; I have a new life in Him. Obedience brings blessings. We are tithing, our budget sheet tells us we’ll have the student loan paid off in about a year, and we haven’t used a credit card since 2015. All praise, honor, and glory be to God—the Father of new beginnings. 2017 is here—no looking back!


Approaching the Throne of Grace with a Grateful Heart


What does it mean to have a grateful heart? The Lord has been challenging me with this question recently, and it is becoming evident that the condition of my heart does not always gravitate towards thankfulness.  If you missed my last blog post about Maintaining Peace in the Midst of a Chaotic Life, you can check it out HERE. This post is a continuation of what was shared there in some ways. As God continues to teach me what it means to have true peace, layers and next steps become visible. Here is the truth He has revealed: you cannot have peace without gratitude. Period.

Here is the destructive pattern I battle: I become consumed with anxiety, fear and worry in the face of life’s challenges. I try to take matters into my own hands, and before I know it, I have no peace in my heart, and the situation that had me stressed is just as bad as it was before, maybe even worse. I spend so much time fighting my internal battles that I lose sight of the big picture and the sovereign, loving God who is in control. Sure, anxiety, fear and worry are “natural” and “human” responses to hardships, but these responses are in direct opposition to how the Word of God commands us to respond. Hear the Word of God:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:4-7, emphasis added]

In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul commands (twice) that believers are to rejoice in the Lord always. Always. Always. A-l-w-a-y-s. This command does not leave any wiggle room for times when it is difficult to rejoice and give thanks. Again in verse 6, Paul exhorts that we should not worry about anything (anything, anything, a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g), but that rather than becoming consumed by anxiety, we should carry all of our concerns to God in prayer. We are instructed to pray in every (every, every, e-v-e-r-y) situation WITH THANKSGIVING.

These two words, ‘with thanksgiving’, are the key. God graciously rewards his children who approach him with a thankful heart with one of the most precious (and seemingly allusive) gifts known to this broken world: peace. Praise that is not dependent on our circumstances and prayer rooted in gratitude are the keys to the peace we all long for.

So how can we maintain a grateful heart in our day to day lives? Check out what the Word of God has to say about it:

O give thanks to the Lord, call on His name;
Make His deeds known among the peoples.
Sing to Him, sing praises to Him;
Speak of all His wonders.
Glory in His holy name;
Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and His strength;
Seek His face continually [longing to be in His presence].
Remember [with gratitude] His marvelous deeds which He has done,
His miracles and the judgments from His mouth
[1 Chronicles 16:8-12]

Here are some practical methods for application from these scriptures:

  1. Tell God thank you (v. 8) and remember what He has done (v. 12). Start out your conversations with God by calling to remembrance all of the blessings you have to be grateful for. This will help you maintain perspective and keep you from forgetting all God has done in your life. Another way to remember His faithfulness is to keep a prayer journal. Document every time God answers a prayer, big or small.
  2. Tell others about what He has done (v. 8). Speaking of what God has done in your life brings Him glory! It helps remind you of His faithfulness, and it can also encourage brothers and sisters who might need a reminder of His goodness, so don’t be afraid to tell your story.
  3. Worship Him with song (v. 9). Sing your praises to God! This is a command found throughout scripture, especially in the Psalms. Worship is a weapon against the enemy and a key tool to maintaining a grateful heart.
  4. Seek His presence (v. 10-11). Simply be with God. Gratitude comes naturally in his presence. Verse 10 above tells us that hearts who seek the Lord will rejoice! In the Lord’s presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). He is our strength and our shield (Psalm 28:7).

I pray the Holy Spirit will speak into your day-to-day life about what it means to have a grateful heart. I stand on the promise in Philippians that when you present your requests to God with a thankful heart, he will grant you a peace that surpasses human understanding.

In Christ,

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:6-7]