Monday, September 1, 2014

“You haven’t done it yet, because you know that when you do, you’ll have to surrender.”

She was right. I was scared.

My friend looked at me with compassion, knowing that spending time with the Lord can often be more intense than we expect.

On March 4, I visited Resting Place’s Prophecy Room. Several people, including myself, had signed up to receive prayer from volunteers/staff who knew nothing about us. The pray-ers asked God what He wanted to say and then shared His personalized words with each of us. In case we wanted to reference them in the future, or were too emotionally wrecked to really pay attention in the moment (I hovered in this arena), the pray-ers were kind enough to record our entire individual sessions.

It was one of the most incredible evenings of my life, one when God felt nearly tangible, as if He were sitting right in front of me. I made plans to write about it right away. But I didn’t.

I was so shocked (uncomfortable even) by God being so close to me, that I feared what could happen if He approached me with such intimacy again. The Lord had spoken to three ladies I never met, sharing with them the quiet details of my heart. I believed in prophecy beforehand, though it was made much more real to me that night.

I just listened to the recording for the first time, six months later.

There is so much truth, so much emotion steeped in what was said, that I’m not sure I can properly process it here. I’m only going to touch on a few points in this entry, though it’s clear that I should listen to the whole of it countless times in the future.

“He’s highlighting the arts. He sees that part in your heart that wants to create. He values that so much about you. Sometimes, it feels like maybe things don’t come out as great as you want them to. He still cherishes the small beginnings. He cherishes the effort. He’s encouraging you because He placed that inside of you for a reason. What you care about, He cares about.”

I started pursuing photography in January, and anyone who knows me or has seen my Facebook at any second of any day, knows that I absolutely adore it, to an unhealthy degree. There’s no doubt in my mind that God gave me the desire to create art through photography, though there are many doubts in my mind that I’ll ever be good enough to “really do it” as a career. To know that He cherishes my small beginning is to know that He’ll bless my growth. I wonder how He sees my future in photography. What will I shoot? Who will I meet? How will blessings flow out of it? Will this actually become my life, more than it already has?

“I see relationships, like family and friends and friends you consider family. Because you declare life over them, they’re going to receive life. Because you stand your ground and say, ‘My family shall live, my family shall not perish.’”

I was definitely moved when God wanted to speak about my love for art, and I was definitely wrecked when He went here. I love my family and friends so much that it pains me to see them walking without the Lord. I know that their salvation is as much their own choice as it is His, and I can’t bear the thought that I may not see them in Heaven someday. Even now, it hurts to see areas of their lives that could so easily and so quickly be healed by Jesus’ touch, if only they’d receive it. To think that my prayers and my heart could possibly lead them Christ is overwhelmingly powerful. Does God love me so much that He’d answer my prayer? Does He love them so much that He wouldn’t let them fall, no matter what?

“He is asking, ‘What do you want, Elyse? What’s in your heart? What’s your dream? Ask me.’”

I’d say no tissue could remedy my snotfest at this point. This is when He was more real than ever before. I don’t often tell Him what I want or ask Him to bless my dreams (heck, I’m not even sure I know what they are!), because I question whether or not my desires align with His. The fact that He cares about what I want seems so unlikely, coming from the Most High God. Aren’t there more important things to worry about in the world than what little ol' Elyse wants for her life? He might say, “There are many important things, and you are one of them.”

What do I want? I want a husband and children to love. I want to make people smile, with or without a camera in my hands. I want to learn more about photography and grow in my craft. I want to see my family happy and blessed. I want to make memories with my friends. I want to impact people’s hearts because they see Christ in me.

What’s in my heart? Hugging the hurting. Finding the lost. Surprising the lonely.

What’s my dream? Somehow living in balance with all of the above and keeping Jesus at the center. Having a relationship with Him that surpasses my imagination.

“Hallelujah! It’s time to rejoice again, to start laughing again, to start seeing His promises.”

I don’t rejoice enough. I don’t laugh enough. If I believe the Gospel, I should be doing both daily, without even thinking about it! The world is a cruel place, and I let it rob me of my joy. I need help with this.

“Open up your mouth, and declare His promises over your life.”

I admit that I haven’t read the Bible aside from a little daily devotion for months. I can’t declare His promises without knowing them! I just read aloud the verses highlighted for me in this prophesy session, and doing that felt powerful. I need reminders, and I need the desire to seek them out in the Word.

“Don’t compare, thinking that you’re not blessed. Look at what you have, and invest into it.”

This could relate to several thoughts – “Another friend just got engaged” or “Someone else is having a baby” or “My photography sucks compared to theirs.” They say comparison is the thief of joy, and I don’t avoid it enough. I have abundant blessings in my life and certainly want to invest in them.

“You give a timely gift. You give a perfect gift. It’s nothing extravagant, but it’s exactly what people need. You are their answered prayers. You have a generous, sensitive heart. You see the poor on the streets, and your heart aches for them because that is the kind of compassion that you carry. There is so much beauty that comes forth from the little things. It’s the little things that transform a life. It’s the little things that make people see that God is real. It’s not the shock and awe. It’s not the lighting and earthquake and fire. It’s the small answered prayers.”

I know tangible examples of when I’ve been an answered prayer for someone, and it’s crazy to think that God would use me in that way. In some cases, it’s been to the poor in the streets. I can no longer ignore what’s in front of me, and I love that the Holy Spirit stirs my heart to meet needs. I want more of those opportunities.

“The Lord is going to bring community to your life that is going to hold your hand, understand you and uplift you. Know who to listen to, use discernment and be wise. Search out for a prayer covering. Friends are called to war together. That’s how you know who your real friends are – they go to war with you.”

My friends constantly astound me. Their spirits are some of the purest I know, and I am so blessed to have them in my life. They’ve taught me what friendship really is, as referenced above, and I am forever grateful to the Lord for placing a seal on our connection. I truly need to listen to their voices (Him speaking through them) above my own, and I love when they correct me to do so!

“You eyes are finally on me, and I love it.”

This doesn’t seem true most days, as my eyes and mind flutter about countless things. But oh, how I want it to be true! This hit hard. It took years and years for my eyes to focus on Christ and say, “Wow, there you are!” He is a patient God. He is a loving God. I’m so thankful that He waited for me and continues to wait for me when I go astray. Seeking Him pleases Him, and my Father in Heaven being pleased by me is a wondrous, glorious thought.

“You were destined to be a woman of excellence. Other women will look to you as an example and see that there’s an excellence about you.”

What a word – excellence. It almost feels egotistical to desire it. How do you carry an air of excellence that doesn’t seem like an air of arrogance? Here I go, trying to put a negative spin on a word God gave to me! Must…fight...doubt. Truthfully, I would love to be a light to others and someone to look up to.

“Beauty is all over you. He’s writing it on you. What He says of you is your true identity. You are perfection from head to toe.”

I think we all have days when we don’t feel beautiful or handsome or worthy. I must remember that my identity is in Him, and I’m beautiful inside and out to Him despite my flaws and shortcomings.

I am forever grateful to Resting Place and the ladies who were willing vessels of God’s voice.

In closing, my tearful response to Daddy God after listening to the session:

You didn’t have to choose me, but I’m so glad you did.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

It's been a while since I've written a post on here.

It's a been a while since I've opened my Bible.

It's been a while since I've woken up in the morning and done nothing else before praising God.

And I know exactly why this is.

I've lost my spiritual discipline and done very little to get it back.

One of my prayers for a long time was, "Lord, please give me another Stars and Scars." S+S was a music magazine/concert promotion company I started when I was 16 and ran until I was almost 24. It was my life, quite literally. S+S lead me toward a Music Industry degree; internships and jobs at music venues, record companies, tv and radio; interviewing my favorite bands backstage and on tour buses; and organizing some of the most fun concerts that Middletown and Keansburg have ever seen.

I lived the dream for 8 years, and I did it as my own boss. Autonomy was challenging and beautiful. Not very lucrative, but that didn't matter! I was happy.

Since I closed Stars and Scars, I hadn't experienced "that feeling" again - the rush, the joy, the anticipation, the (if I'm being honest) obsession.

Until now.

Photography is what I think about day in and day out. Outside of my job at The Salvation Army, I'm my own boss again. Any free minute I have is spent watching tutorials, booking shoots, browsing for inspiration, editing sessions, reading articles...

God answered my prayer at His own expense. He's become #2.

How does one balance developing a God-given, heart-bursting passion with continuing to cultivate an undistracted relationship with Him?

I need to recalibrate.

I need to wake up and tap my Bible app before checking anything else. I need to sing songs of praise to Him. I need to pause and pray throughout each day. I need to make uninterrupted time to be in the Word. I need to not be a crazy person and fill every available moment with a photo shoot because I love it so much. I need to love Him more. I need to love Him well. I need to be more in touch with my friends and family and their needs. I need to stop making excuses for not going to church. I need to close my computer and put down my phone by a certain time every night, no matter how much I want to look at just one more thing. I need to be with Him before I go to sleep.

I need people who will hold me accountable for all of these things.

Stars and Scars was my #1, and He still blessed me, even though I wasn't walking with Him. Photography has become my #1, and He's still blessing me, even though I'm running ahead of Him.

God's goodness is overwhelming and unwarranted. I pray He helps me to recalibrate, to celebrate discipline, to find my rush, joy, anticipation and obsession in His love, first and always.

Monday, February 24, 2014

What do Aretha Franklin and Paramore have in common? Both perform songs that share the title of this post, and their lyrics resonate with me so much lately that I have to write about them. 

He's the kind of guy that would say 
Hey, baby, let's get away
Let's go some place, huh?
Well, I don't care
He's the kind of guy that you give your everything
You trust your heart, share all of your love
'Til death do you part

Yeah. I'd like that guy! If I find myself daydreaming, it's often about my future husband and the things we'll do together...even though I don't know who he is. Kinda weird to think happy thoughts about a faceless person (though I have my preferences - he almost always has horn-rimmed glasses and short, sometimes tousled, sometimes slicked back, dark hair). I entertain the ideas of day trips and weekend photo extravaganzas that I want to take, just not alone. It would be so wonderful to have an adventure partner. Someone who can balance out my "have to plan everything down to the smallest detail" self with spontaneous fun.

Living in a city of sleepless people
Who all know the limits and won't go too far outside the lines
Cause they're out of their minds

I wanna get out and build my own home
On a street where reality is not much different from dreams I've had
A dream is all I have

I dream of a not so far away place, where nature's majesty stretches out further than the eye can see. My own home is small, cozy and warm. Outside the lines and off the grid. Every day brings a promise of joy and excitement. We could walk, we could drive. It wouldn't matter. It would all be beautiful.

I just started crying after typing those last lines.

Maybe because they're so real in my heart and mind, but I can't touch them right now. I can't run through the fields and jump in the lake. I can't hold his hand.

My daydream, either parts of it or the whole sum, is being lived out by others, two in particular I can think of (one I know personally, one I don't). I want what they have. I admit it. I don't want to covet. It's just really hard.

I feel silly praying to God about my daydreamy desires. Are they unattainable? Are they not what He has for me? What if the life (and/or the man) I've dreamt up doesn't even compare to His plan? I suppose only time will tell. For now...

I'm gonna go
Where the rest of the dreamers go

And I'm thinking of you

Monday, February 10, 2014

I recently heard the Holy Spirit ask me, “Are you being faithful with what I’ve given you?”

This question, paired with a lot of tears, made me realize that God built a life for me in North Jersey, and I want to run from it. I want to be back home on the Jersey Shore, enjoying places and people I love, especially Shore Vineyard Church. My heart has been tied to SV since I first walked in about three years ago. I believe the church’s vision is spot on with Christ’s, and they walk it out so well.

Just the thought of membership at Shore Vineyard not being God’s will for me pierces my soul. It doesn’t make sense.

I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence more at SV than anywhere else (I literally felt His physical touch once!). I’ve grown as a child of God simply by being around the church. I’ve seen transformation in others and in myself. I’ve taken classes, attended retreats, cried on shoulders, supported missions and furiously scribbled notes on many a Sunday morning. Who I am today is largely due to the Spirit moving in SV. I’ve been amazed by the plethora of opportunities offered including Bible studies, food pantry, recovery group, Shore House of Prayer, youth group, classes, ladies and men’s ministries, outreach, fundraising, special events…There’s something to do every day, and I’m the kind of person who loves that!

My current schedule:

Mondays – Resting Place House of Prayer

Tuesdays – Volunteering at after-school program
Wednesdays – Ladies Bible study
Thursday – Volunteering at animal shelter
Weekends – Photo shoots, other events/fun stuff

The wonderful activities I’m involved in outside of work bring me much joy. They’re just all separate, not tied to one family, lacking a common thread.

If I was still at Shore Vineyard, my schedule might be:

Mondays – Sozo ladies Bible study

Tuesdays – Shore House of Prayer
Wednesdays – Groundswell youth group
Thursdays – SV connected ministry/class
Weekends – Photo shoots, Financial Peace, Drama Team, volunteering at kids church

I love community. I love what it means and being a part of it. While I am very grateful for the opportunities I have right now, I do feel a little wayward because I don’t have one family. Shore Vineyard will always be my family (not to mention my dad/stepmom actually go there!).

I started attending Hillsong Montclair, but I’m not sure if it’s the right church for me. Many of the activities are in NYC, which I successfully avoid at least 10 months out of the year, making connecting rather difficult.

I would like to find a church that I can throw my entire being into. I had one. He doesn’t want me there. Why??

I haven’t received a clear answer. He’s not obligated to give me one. I’m called to follow His lead whether or not it makes sense. But in the process, my heart hurts, and I know Jesus doesn’t want my heart to hurt.

What do you think? Has God facilitated changes in your life that don’t make sense? How did you deal with them, whether or not clarity eventually came?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I've had this post stirring in my head for about a week, and it was a sermon that solidified I should write it. You know the feeling you get, the rattle in your bones, the racing of your blood when you do something you absolutely love? For me, that experience comes when I'm spending time with youth and now, when I'm taking photos.

I've always loved photography. I retreated to the darkroom in college like I needed its solace just to survive. But for whatever reason, I abandoned it after graduating, save for the occasional smartphone capture.

We've had a Nikon D3200 at work for a year. Even as I got fired up to take photos at our camp over the summer, I never thought of reigniting my passion outside the office...Until November.

As the camera sat in its designated spot on my desk and collected dust, I decided to
start learning how to really use it again. All of my work photos were taken on Auto. I wanted to challenge myself to only shoot in Manual mode, so I would learn by my favorite device - trial and error.

I started a Pinterest account to keep track of helpful links, downloaded some "cheat cards" with suggested settings (which I actually have yet to reference!) and began shooting away. The spark I used to have in the darkroom returned immediately, even without using film, which I hope to in the future!

Now, as a photographer, I see things differently. Just like as a Christian, I see things differently than the way I had for 25 years. I sense God everywhere. I notice beauty everywhere. His grace is given to us at all times, and still, I want to capture a moment of it to remind myself, to remind us all, that He's present and visible.

The sermon referenced above included four relevant "D" words:


God deposited the gift of photography in me a long time ago, and even after reveling in it, I let it fade. But because His gift is crafted deep within me, it didn't actually disappear!

I just had to start digging to find it again. And I didn't even have to dig very far! All of two feet away from me where the Nikon sits. Then, it was my job (and will continue to be my job) to develop my gift. Just because God gave me the passion, it doesn't mean I'm an expert! I'm enrolling in photography courses both online and in the classroom. I've started to book sessions with models and friends (who are just as gorgeous as models, by the way!). I now follow advanced photographers for inspiration and mentoring.

All of these pieces and the trajectory they're on ultimately lead to...You guessed it: Destiny.

Several weeks ago, I had a meeting with Pastor Brett Conover of Shore Vineyard Church and his wife Maria. During our chat, Maria gave me a prophetic word. She described a hand coming down from above and picking me up. While suspended in the air, my feet were running wild, desperate to be on the move. As the hand placed me on a runway, I took off and became a plane with three A's on my tail wing. Maria asked God what the letters meant, and He answered, "Arise Anointed Art." She said I was flying into enemy territory with the utmost confidence in my artillery.

I've carried that prophecy with me since, praying it translates to photographic ministry. I can see myself taking photos for nonprofits, encouraging others to get involved in their missions. In fact, I'm already doing that! Both at work and now as a volunteer for Jersey Animal Coalition. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will fly this plane to other states or countries in the future.

My challenge now, after digging and starting to develop, is to not let God's gift overshadow God Himself. I've always been one to dive in headfirst (like when I started a company with an eight year run at age 16!) and invest countless, often sleepless, hours into my passion, to the neglect of other important matters. Truthfully, I've seen myself going this way a bit lately, as I scour Instagram and experiment with Photoshop during the times I would normally read or listen to a sermon. I'm fighting to not let my destiny slip away again and also to stay connected to the One who blesses it. This involves strategizing a plan of attack, an air raid of prayer, worship and study, all of which are bringing victory to my life!

Jesus is bigger and greater and more compassionate that I've ever known Him to be, now that I'm connecting with His creative calling for me. What do the four D's look like in your life? How has God anointed you, and how is He asking you to arise?

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I had a random idea for a BWB retreat - a long weekend during which I would only consume Bread and Water and only read the Bible. Having yesterday off from work (and it appropriately being January 1), I decided to start with a BWB day rather than weekend. No phone, internet, tv, music, nuffin'. Just me and big G in my apartment!

In retrospect, I could have fasted entirely, but four slices of bread and two bottles of water left me pretty weak/tired...To the point that I nodded off twice! I figured I better get my blood flowing somehow for a burst of energy after sitting in my chair reading/praying for hours. So, I cleaned the apartment and hummed worship songs, which gave me some steam to last until about 8:30pm (I didn't turn my phone on all day and don't have a clock/watch in my apartment, so it was fun to guess the time by the sun's setting).

I ended up reading five full books of the Bible (Philippians, 1 Corinthians, Revelation, John and Song of Songs) and half of Acts using The Quest, my dad's study Bible, so I'd get some extra trinkets along the way. I also prayed so many prayers (for missionaries, governments, revival, church, family, friends, myself, anything/anyone that came to mind) that I hadn't dedicated significant time to really praying for before.

I had hoped for some grand revelation to come during BWB, perhaps even hearing God's audible voice! Interestingly enough, a revelation didn't come until the last five minutes of the day as I was praying before bed. To protect privacy of others, I won't share it on here, though I feel like it was especially for me, and for that, I'm grateful. Other "wake up" moments came while I was reading the Bible and not so much while I was in prayer (Oh, how I long to hear Him during prayer!). Here are the verses I marked:

Philippians 2:3-4 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

The first verses that made me stop and think, specifically, "How do I value others above myself?" Natural response: I don't! Supernatural response: I will. Looking to the interests of others, be they people I know or don't know, needs to be at the top of my priority list. As a self-professed hermit, I really enjoy "me time" (and my counselor says I'm an extrovert!). How can I cultivate "you time"? Interested to see how God stretches me in this way in 2014.

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing

I'm getting better about not arguing, but I could definitely stand to improve in the area of grumbling! Complaining is easy. Injustice is everywhere. If I must complain, I should do so to God. He can take it and refine me in the process. I only want to speak positive words. My prayer is Psalm 141:3 - Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!

Philippians 4:4-9 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. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Life verses, for real! If I could truly internalize all that Paul says here, I'd be good to go, every day! Lord, please impress these words on my heart. May I rejoice in your peace, pray in thanksgiving and set my mind on heavenly things daily.

1 Corinthians 2:3-4 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,

I want 2014 to be the year of evangelism. I've been wanting to step out in faith for months now and just haven't done it, even with the books I've been reading giving me tools and encouragement. These verses were especially encouraging, knowing that even Paul himself had some fear of man! But when the Spirit moves in power, all fear ceases. Please pray that I would receive boldness!

1 Corinthians 10:24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

This verse goes with Philippians 2:3-4. How can I practically seek the good of others daily?

1 Corinthians 14:3 But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.

I thought prophesying basically meant telling someone their future, but now that I know it's primarily to speak encouragement (about future, present, whathaveyou), I have a bit more confidence that I may be able to prophesy to someone someday! Maybe I already have without knowing it...

1 Corinthians 14:20 Brothers and sisters, stop thinking like children. In regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.

I just wondered what Paul meant by the second line. Think of evil like infants do, because they don't know evil? Respond like infants do, in an innocent way? Of course, I understand the "think like adults" part, but what connection do you think he's making regarding evil and infants?

John 9:6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.

The study Bible notes on this verse said that Jesus was demonstrating His "ability to use whatever is available to accomplish the impossible." I just really liked that! We may wonder why in the world He'd spit in mud rather than just speak immediate healing as He did to others. He's showing He can use something we might deem worthless (ourselves perhaps?) or not important for the task at hand (eg. mud) to perform miracles. What might that look like in your life?

John 12:25-26 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

I've been thinking a lot about the unsaved lately and why some of my family members and friends haven't "come around," as it were. Believers have been chosen by God to believe. We will be honored by Him on Judgement Day. Why haven't others been chosen? Does He not want to honor them? The study Bible notes next to these verses said that in regards to free will, we are all first given the choice to follow Jesus. If we decide not to, God then hardens our hearts, so we are unable to believe. Unwillingness leads to inability. But I had a hardened heart, and my inability was broken off. Will my family members/friends become able to believe?

Going even deeper (and relating to evangelism), I liked that the study Bible pointed out the difference between assurance and understanding. If we know and believe in Truth, we have blessed assurance. That does not mean we have to understand all of God's ways.

Acts 3:6-8 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

More study Bible wisdom in the margins! The notes said that faith comes first, then healing. Ah ha! Interesting, because as I prepare to step out in evangelism, of course I want to see people that I pray for get healed. But if they are not receptive to God's power, if they do not have faith that He can actually heal them, we probably won't see results. However, I also believe God heals to encourage faith. So, do the evangelized need softened hearts before the evangelizer prays in order to reap blessings? Perhaps...All the more reason to pray before even walking out the door!