All posts by Crista Ashworth

About Crista Ashworth

Wife, Mom, Lover/Follower of Jesus, Worshiper, Warrior, Covert Operative

What’s the Big Deal with Thanksgiving?

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I should be in the kitchen right now, throwing together some dough for the pie crusts I’ll need later today. The shopping is almost complete, but I do have to make that one last pesky run to the grocery store for the extras I forgot. And of course, there are several seasonal additions to our schedule for this Wednesday before Thanksgiving. But for just a minute, I’m going to sit right here and center my heart. If I skip that part, everything else is meaningless.

This year, the holidays came barreling at us like a stampede of wildebeests. We have been counting down days to Christmas break when our daughter will be able to come home and spend time with the family again, but we seem a bit blindsided by Thanksgiving. My mother in law recently passed away, our teenage daughter is living a continent away from us this year, and we are under the daily pressures of learning a new language, navigating crises and trying to reach out to the refugee community in our city. Living outside the USA makes it easy for us to skip over the American holidays and traditions we came from, and believe me, it’s very tempting to simply let them go at times like this. Granted, many of our Americanisms have already been released to elsewhere since we have stepped into life in Germany…but Thanksgiving? That’s a hill I’m willing to die on.

Why?

Because without gratitude—without Thanksgiving—we’re bankrupt. Cultivating thankfulness actually creates a good life that emanates outward from the soul, affecting everything we do, coloring our world with heaven’s perspectives. Without gratitude at work in my heart, I drift toward the default setting of negativity, self-pity and lack. I know where that leads because I have gone down that road before, and I’m done wasting time there!

I want my life to be full, passionate, joyful and fun—doesn’t everyone? But I’m old enough to know that abundant life isn’t a one-stop-shop. Abundant life is the product of plugging into the Source of Life, and actively training my soul in His ways. I have to submit my negativity, selfishness, pride (and the list goes on), and open up to be filled with the Spirit. I have to tune my heart to the frequency of His voice. I have to commune with Him—converse, listen, sing, pray, cry, and just be—soaking in His comforting, personal Presence.

The key to opening the gate of communion with God is THANKSGIVING. We begin to see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom, His beautiful reality, when we train our souls to thank Him.

Think you’ve got a sum total ZERO to be thankful for? You’re just not trying hard enough! Start with the easy stuff:

  1. breath in my lungs
  2. sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell
  3. sunshine
  4. stars
  5. trees
  6. puppies
  7. indoor plumbing
  8. candles
  9. squirrels
  10. geraniums

And go from there. It can be anything that you could say, “Thank you, God, for _________.” Anything! From the cosmic down to the microscopic–there are endless numbers of things to be thankful for! Pick a notebook and designate it as your “Gratitude Journal” or whatever you’d like to call it. Then set a goal for yourself: write down 10 things every day that you are thankful for. Maybe it should be more like 25 or 50 a day. You decide. The great thing is, once you prime the pump on your gratitude, it starts to flow more easily. Maybe you’ll even start going past your daily goal and keep on writing…maybe you’ll need a second journal!

After a few days, you will feel different. After a few weeks of faithfully writing down your thankfulness, you will see differently.  And after training your soul in gratitude for any extended time, you will be different—you will have flipped the switch from negative/lacking/depressed to positive/overflowing/joyful.

God knows what our hearts need. He is intimately involved in the details of your life. He loves you and wants what is best for you—even more that you do for yourself. Trust Him—He knows how your heart works, and His prescription for gratitude will heal you from the inside out.

 

Here’s my list for today:

  1. Family
  2. Annoying family members
  3. Non-annoying family members
  4. Framily–friends who feel more like family
  5. Friends and family members who live with integrity and compassion
  6. Running water
  7. Soap
  8. Hairspray
  9. Cereal
  10. Cheddar cheese
  11. Deviled eggs like my Gramma made
  12. Pumpkin pie
  13. Pie crusts from scratch
  14. The feel of dough in my hands while baking
  15. Mulling spices simmering on the stove
  16. Christmas music
  17. Crooners
  18. Orchestras
  19. Jackets
  20. Gloves
  21. WhatsApp
  22. FaceTime
  23. Amazon.com
  24. Sleep
  25. Comfy pillows
  26. Books
  27. The smell of books
  28. Spekulatius cookies
  29. Candy corn
  30. Maple syrup
  31. Elf movie
  32. Gut-busting laughter
  33. Coffee
  34. Coffee
  35. Coffee (yeah, it gets at least three spots today)
  36. Old friends
  37. Good as gold friends
  38. Spiced tea
  39. A complete set of markers
  40. Spiral notebooks
  41. Chip clips
  42. Paper towels
  43. Vacuums
  44. Balconies
  45. Flower boxes
  46. Cobblestones
  47. Lap dogs
  48. Wagging tails
  49. Pianos
  50. Someone to sing with

Why not try it? You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose, and practically everything to gain. I pray that this Thanksgiving holiday will be your moment–a first step into a new life of gratitude.

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The Secret to Everything

(This article first appeared on SingleMatters.com on November 22, 2013)

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The holidays are upon us. Christmas decorations were up even before Thanksgiving turkeys were purchased, people are crossing gifts off their shopping lists, and anxiety is rising. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

For many, this will be the first round of holidays after the loss of a family member, or after a traumatic event like a divorce. Now, added into the mix of holiday busyness and excitement is a throbbing pain around the newly formed hole in your heart. I feel it, too. For countless more, this will be ANOTHER holiday season alone–again. I understand.

If we are going to make it through the holidays without a meltdown, we are going to need a plan. (And a REAL plan, not just adding more rum to your punch.) We need to learn the secret that happy people know.

This is where the genius of Thanksgiving comes in. In American history, we have recorded the first Thanksgiving Feast as a hallmark in our nation’s existence. Regardless of your take on how it all went down…a small group of settlers made it through their first brutal winter in a new land, many of them losing their loved ones to disease just days and weeks beforehand. The survivors had many things to grieve, yet they made a point to be grateful.

They were on to something. If you want to survive grief, loss and trauma in your life, you must consciously choose gratitude.

It is necessary to grieve your losses. It is healthy to express your sorrow and your anger over what has happened. But if you live in that emotional place permanently, you will not survive it. The best way––the only way––to come through these tough times intact is to choose to be grateful. To CHOOSE thanksgiving. Learning to be grateful is the secret to everything.

Thankfulness is a God-idea. He knows that when we begin to thank Him, our sights are recalibrated and our hearts get realigned. The Psalmist knew this secret all too well, and he recorded it for us so we could know it too: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name” (Psalm 100:4). Thankfulness transports you into God’s presence; and in His presence is where you will find fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Need some practical ways to choose gratitude this holiday season?

1. Lock down your lips. Don’t just let words come pouring out of your mouth unchecked––choose your words. Choose words that are positive, encouraging and gracious. Getting together with family can be a volatile situation on the best of days, and with the added pressure of holiday festivities, someone is bound to explode over something. Don’t let it be you! Decide ahead of time to keep your mouth shut if you can’t think of something good to say.

2. Keep a “Thankful For” list. You can like the idea of becoming a more grateful person, but if you are not intentional about it, you never will become one. Get an actual pen and an actual notebook or notepad and start your own personal “Thankful For” list. Actually, literally write down the things you are thankful for! Keep it with you and add to it whenever you come up with something else. After a while of doing this, you will find yourself LOOKING for new things to be thankful for, and you will find your heart feeling a bit lighter. Keeping a list helps retrain your thoughts, and retraining your thoughts will retrain your emotions.

3. Help someone else.  Sometimes you just need to stop thinking about yourself and focus on someone else for a while. This is the perfect time to help other people! I am sure you personally know some families in need––surprise them with groceries or gifts or an envelope of cash! Dream up ways you can bless people who are needy and hurting. Join with a church or charity to serve the poor. Find creative ways to serve with your time: cleaning someone’s home, fixing their car, babysitting their children. The sky’s the limit when you start thinking of ways to help other people in their times of need! When you help others and put their needs first, you are blessed in the process.

4. Check your input. Whatever you put into your mind and heart will be exactly what comes back out of you. If you listen to sad, depressing music and read sad, depressing books, then you will continue to be a sad, depressed person. If you are tired of feeling the same way you have for so long, do something different! Listen to joyful music that puts a smile on your face. Read books and articles that bring hope to the surface of your heart. Take large bites of the Psalms in the Bible and start repeating the meaningful ones out loud. Focusing your heart and mind on God’s goodness and the blessings in your life will turn you into a grateful person.

One of the best books written in the past several years (according to me) is all about gratitude. Author Ann Voskamp details her own deeply personal loss and her journey back to full life via the highway of thankfulness in her book One Thousand Gifts. She invites you into her world as she experiments with the idea of being thankful in the midst of great sorrow, and transports you as she paints exquisite word-portraits with her unique style of writing. I was so uplifted as I read her story and I was challenged to take charge of my own emotional pain through the miraculous portal of gratitude. If you are looking for a starting place on your journey to thankfulness, this book is a great one.

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp

I pray that your heart is transformed into a palace of thanksgiving and that you experience a deeper, sweeter holiday season with those you love this year!

Gratitude truly is the secret to everything… Let’s get the secret out!

The Mother Heart of God

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For many people, the topic of relationship with their mother is pretty difficult. In the depths of our beings, we each long for a mother’s approval, acceptance and love–but for so many, that has not been a reality. I actually know quite a few people who spend Mother’s Day weekend each year hiding and avoiding, just waiting for the storm to blow over.

But, I want to share a secret with you:

God loves you with a mother-heart.

From the beginning, God intended for us to be nurtured in a family with a loving father and mother. Just look at the original design in Genesis. The Trinity–Father, Son and Spirit–were all present at Creation. The Trinity discussed it and said, “Let us make man in Our image…”, and so they did. God scooped up the dust of the earth, formed it into the shape of a human being, breathed life into it and created man–a being that looked like God and operated in a multi-level existence like God. But as the man Adam surveyed all of God’s created beings, he could not find anyone else like himself to share life with. So, God decided it was not good for Adam to be alone. God caused Adam to fall into a deep, anesthesia-like sleep so He could perform Divine surgery, removing a rib to fashion woman.

As They fashioned woman, the Trinity also rearranged the heavenly DNA they had imparted to Adam, separating characteristics–leaving some for Adam (masculine) and moving some into Eve (feminine). Adam kept, among other things, his decisiveness, desire for adventure, concrete thinking, and upper body strength (wink); Eve received, among other things, softness, the ability to nurture, multi-tasking, and fashion sense! (wink, wink)

What once was contained completely within man was now separated into man and woman, male and female. The representation of God on the earth was no longer man by himself, but man and woman united together as one. This is God’s original design and how He determined to represent Himself on the earth.

(*Obviously, some men also display characteristics that would be traditionally considered “feminine”, and some women display characteristics that would be traditionally considered “masculine.” The point here is that all these characteristics were embedded in humanity by God, but not one gender contains the whole representation.)

I believe wandering from this foundational concept is a major reason the Church has been crippled for the past 1500+ years–we have been satisfied to present only part of the image of God to the world, negating and suppressing the other half. The Church has not operated in the fullness of God’s power because we have continually ignored His original design, accepting the religious tradition that only men should lead, teach and mentor. That time is over. It is time for the world to see a complete representation of God: man and woman together, bringing God’s kingdom to earth.

That background sets us up to see into God’s nature a bit more, and what I mean when I say that God loves you, not just with a Father-heart, but also with a Mother-heart.

God is a nurturer. God reveals this all throughout Scripture:

Isaiah 66:13

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…”

More than 50 times in Scripture, God revealed Himself as El Shaddai. Most of the time, the name El Shaddai is translated into English as “God Almighty”, but that does not reveal the true meaning of this name. The Hebrew word “Shaddai” depicts a mother nursing a baby at her breast, supplying what the baby needs, caring for the baby and satisfying its hunger. When you add the “El” in front, God is introducing Himself as The One Who Is Mighty To Nourish, Supply and Satisfy, just like a “heavenly Mother.”

Exodus 6:2-3a 

“God also said to Moses, ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty‘…” in Hebrew, El Shaddai.

The first mention of El Shaddai in the Bible is actually in Genesis 17 when God came to Abram and Sarai, changed their names, and told them Sarai would conceive a son.

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-21

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.’”

God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.’”

Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, ‘Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?’ And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!'”

Then God said, ‘Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.’”

At the time God appeared to Abram and Sarai as El Shaddai, they had been very busy making a giant mess of things. Years prior, they had received God’s promise to make them into a great nation, but had seen nothing happen. Over time, they ran out of faith and decided to take matters into their own hands. Sarai was not able to conceive a child, so according to the custom of their day, she gave her servant Hagar to Abram to conceive on her behalf. Hagar did conceive and had a son with Abram whom they named Ishmael. Abram and Sarai tried to force God’s promise into their reality using their own intellect and willpower. Sound familiar?

God appeared again to Abram, announcing, “I am El Shaddai.” In this name, God provided what they desperately needed: nourishment for their souls, a new dose of faith, nurture for their wayward hearts. By changing their names, God introduced “h” – a character in Hebrew denoting “breath” and “spirit”–essentially pouring out His Spirit on them. This Holy Spirit “baptism” is exactly the agent by which the promise was finally fulfilled! Their willpower and even their faith was not enough to force God’s promise; but the power of the Holy Spirit sure was. El Shaddai satisfied their longing, satiated their soul-hunger and supplied everything they needed to see the fulfillment of His promises. He mothered them in that encounter.

Another really interesting look at the feminine in God’s nature: In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for this person Adam needed is “ezer”, translated “helper.” And, an equivalent word in Greek, “parakletos”, is used for the Holy Spirit all through the New Testament. The Holy Spirit is called the Comforter and the Helper–highlighting traditionally feminine qualities!

Our God is not only a good Father—He is also a good Mother, and is able to nourish your soul, to supply you with whatever you need in life (at every level–body, soul, spirit), and to satisfy your deepest desires.

Even Jesus expressed His heart in mothering language:

Luke 13:34 NLT

34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.

A loving relationship with a mother is what we all desire deep down in our hearts. If that has not been the case with your biological mother, God can bind up those wounds and make you whole. Why not give Him the chance? Let God mother you and wrap you up right now in the Holy Spirit–the Helper, the Comforter.

 

Isaiah 66:13

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…”

 

Confessions of a Former Woman-Hater

Bodiam Castle

*Revisiting this post from a few years back. Still rings true for me today–and describes a defining moment in my life.*

Yeah, I used to be a hater.

It must have had to do with some authoritarian woman teacher in my past…but however I got there, I HATED women with a passion. (Strange, since I AM one, I know.) I couldn’t stand the ways women would manipulate others to get what they wanted. I detested when girls would “play dumb” to attract male attention. And I absolutely abhorred large gatherings of women. All the cackling and clique-iness happening under the billowing clouds of estrogen made me sick to my stomach.

Funny how so many other women I know have expressed similar feelings to my own. What makes us hate our sisters so much? It doesn’t really make sense, until we see what is behind the hatred. Most women walking the planet right now have been hurt very badly by another woman. Our mothers, our sisters, our teachers, pastors and friends have hurt us. So most of us have resolved to avoid being hurt again…and have built up fortresses around our hearts. “You shall not pass!” has been our standard response to any woman who dared knock at the castle gate.

I lived quite happily alone in my castle for a long time, just me and Jesus. I didn’t need sisterhood. I would smile and wave civilly from my window high above the masses, but never considered for a moment that I would ever let someone in. Just me and Jesus. Jesus and me. I loved Jesus very much. He was my everything and I was so satisfied with Him.

Well, somehow I found myself roped into playing guitar and leading worship for a small group of women from our church. I loved worship and being in the flow of God’s presence, so I agreed to come to the group every week and “be a member” if it would allow me to lead in worship. I thought I would go in and keep to myself, tolerate all the dumb woman-y stuff and just enjoy the worship part. Week after week went by, and I began to soften a bit as I got to know the ladies in the group. Some of them were very funny! Some were deep in their walk with God. But the thing that totally blind-sided me was the book Captivating by John & Stasi Eldredge. Our group was reading and discussing that book over the course of a semester, and I was kind of enjoying it. It had some neat points and good stories. But one day as I sat and read chapter 5, I felt tears roll down my cheeks as fury rose up in my bones. For the first time, I realized that it is Satan who hates women so much. He has assaulted women since the dawn of time, 1) because we bear the beauty of God, and 2) because we give life. That revelation rocked me to my core. I felt the flip of a switch inside my heart and then everything changed.

Years before, my husband had a vision of me standing in front of thousands of women, ministering to them. I actually laughed when he told me! I could not imagine myself ever doing such a thing—I hated women, especially in large groups! I dismissed his “prophetic vision” like it was no big deal.

Fast forward to the tears and fury moment of realization…and see me running down flights of stairs in my heart-castle. I ran to my front gate, unbarred the door and flung it wide open. My Jesus, who I loved so dearly, had finally gotten through to me: my hatred of women had only aligned my heart with Satan’s agenda! I wanted no part of that anymore! At that moment, I resolved to be a lover of women, to shelter them from the assault on their lives and to stand with my sword drawn to defend them. I pledged my life to storm into the darkness and bring as many women into the Light as I possibly could for the rest of my days.

I had to learn how to have real relationships with women again. Since I had shut them out for so long, it was a little awkward at first. But the more I surrendered myself to the Holy Spirit, the easier it became. It was really just His love for women that I needed. As I took baby steps in allowing women into my life and experiencing friendship, I began to notice strong, powerful women leaders. In fact, there was one in particular who taught me how to love women in a way that could heal them. I was entranced by the way she gave such grace and raised up the other women around her. She was not self-seeking or prideful. She genuinely loved other women and saw the best in them. She loved me that way and called out giftings and destiny in me, and I have been eternally altered by her impact on my life.

Think you don’t need mothering? Sisterhood? Friendships? You could probably make it through life without those if you tried. But your life can be so full when you open yourself up to them. Do you hate women because of something a woman has done to you in the past? The enemy wants you to stay hurt and angry about it. He wants you to stay barred in your castle and never come into meaningful contact with another woman as long as you live. He wants to destroy you. The castle you constructed for protection is really just a prison. You’ll never see the fullness and vibrancy of the life God intends for you if you don’t open the door and go outside.

You don’t have to stay wounded, you know. God can come in right now and heal that painful spot in your heart.

Remember the vision my husband told me about? The one I laughed at? Well, since the storming of my own castle, I have actually begun stepping into that vision. Satan wanted to keep me tucked neatly away, while God intended from the beginning that I speak into the lives of thousands of women. You just never know what may be around the corner! Don’t let the wounds from your past keep you from living out God’s amazing dreams for you!

We, as women, need you. You are valuable. You are precious. You are one-of-a-kind.

Is that a knock at your castle door?

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Helpful resources for women:

Captivating, by John & Stasi Eldredge

Women at War, by Jan Greenwood

Fashioned to Reign, by Kris Vallotton

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The Dead of Winter

Do you feel it? A little numb, a lot cold, mostly dormant. Long nights with long darkness. Another rotation doing the same old thing, wondering when something will finally give. The dead of winter.

Don’t lose heart, my friend. The darkness is long right now, but the light is coming. The winter season seems bleak and lifeless, but life is about to break out. In Christ, life springs out of death. It is His way.

Wherever you feel numb, cold, hardened, open up to the Light and let Him speak life into you again. Let the waves of His Spirit hit your heart with truth. Let His words sink down deep into the soil of your being. Think about His words, His ways, His nature and be amazed at the little tendrils of life springing up in you. He is not afraid of ashes or hard places or numbness—no, it is His specialty to call life out of death. He makes all things new—again, and again, and again—even you.

He is the great and mighty God who spoke light and planets and creatures into existence. He is the ultimate Source who breathed life into man in the beginning, and who continues to animate us with His fullness, by the breath of His Spirit. Let Him breathe on you today. Let dormant hopes and dreams awaken in you today in Jesus’ name. Trade in your ashes for the beauty He offers, and your heaviness for a garment of praise.

Start praising God for His goodness—even if you can’t see it right now. Praise Him because He IS good, and praise Him for the goodness He will show you as you walk with Him into the future. Praise Him that He is Life and Light and Source. Praise Him that He is near and connected and personal.

Death could not hold Him, and He is not afraid of the dead places in your heart. Receive His breath of Life and the very personal words He has for you today.