God, Dogs & Cheerios: When Late Night Snacks Lead To Life Lessons.

Have you ever noticed how sometimes we watch others receive the goodness of God in their lives? And we wait for the same goodness to appear in our lives, in exactly the same way. Only to end up missing out on the gifts God is giving to us because our gifts look different.

I don’t think I had ever really gave it much thought, until last night…

I’ve found that God speaks to people in different ways, ways that will touch their hearts and help them truly grasp what He’s saying. In my life, God speaks to me in various ways but one of my favorites, is through my boys (my dogs), Prince and Picasso. And sometimes it’s in the things I find myself saying to my dogs – without even realizing it. (Okay, yes. I do talk to my dogs. I am that woman and I’m okay with it.)

Let me set the stage for you…

It’s late last night and I’m studying. I tend to be a late night snacker, a habit that I’m trying to break, but last night I failed. Fortunately for you (and me), or I would have missed this little moment where God spoke to me. I’ll work on my snacking habits another night.

Back to the story… So I get up from my desk and head into the kitchen. Now my house is silent, so of course any noise in the kitchen causes the boys to come running to make sure they don’t miss an opportunity for food. I swear they can be comatose and still hear plastic packaging from a mile away.

So I pull out a box of cheerios; plain, non-flavored, heart healthy, blah, blah, blah, cheerios… definitely nothing to write home about. I’m a sucker for puppy eyes, so before I pour myself some, I get out two small handfuls and set them on the floor in front of each of my dogs. The boys quickly begin to consume their portions. That is until I begin to pour mine. As soon as I start pouring mine, Picasso immediately stops eating and makes his way towards me. Now some of y’all will think that I read way too much into the situation, but you don’t know Picasso. This is the only dog I know that will turn down food in hopes of “better food”. That’s exactly what was happening.

What I said next was what stopped me in my tracks.

“Picasso, you’re eating the exact same thing. Mine just looks different because it’s in a bowl. And while you’re hoping to get some of my cheerios, you’re missing out on yours.” (By this time Prince, my other dog, was happily devouring Picasso’s portion too.) Picasso was too focused on what I was getting and because of it, he missed his chance to enjoy the gift that was right in front of him.

Let me paint it for you like this (and give you a hypothetical human based scenario). Your friend, Karen, receives a job promotion, which comes with a pretty large raise. You’re happy for Karen. The only problem is you’ve believed for a job promotion for yourself and you haven’t received it. And the truth is, you really need God to step in and make a way in your finances. The bills are stacking up and without a miracle you won’t be able to pay all of them this month. You don’t just want a promotion and a raise. You truly need it. You watch Karen’s life waiting for God to work the same miracle in yours. Only to miss the miracle already happening, when you received a check in the mail you didn’t expect. A check that not only paid for the bills you thought you couldn’t pay, but also gave you the extra funds to go out and buy those new shoes you wanted.

You received cheerios. They just looked different from the cheerios that you saw Karen receive.

The goodness of God comes in all shapes and forms. And God’s goodness in my life may look completely different than it does in your life. But cheerios are cheerios. Whether it comes in a handful placed on the floor or poured in a bowl, God’s goodness is still God’s goodness.

I know what I am about to say will sound crazy, but those cheerios really got me thinking. I started thinking about my life and the times I’ve missed miracles that were happening because I was watching others’ lives. In this day and age where everyone’s highlights are on display across various social media platforms, it’s easy to find ourselves envious of others and more focused on the good we see happening in their lives. I know at times I have been guilty of this. My story though, is different from everyone else’s. It’s unique, written and designed only for me. And I want to walk out my journey. Go through my hardships and watch God’s faithfulness bring me through.

I want to receive my cheerios – no matter what form they come in. And I’m thankful for them all.

Romans 8:28 (AMP) And we know [with great confidence] that God [who is deeply concerned about us] causes all things to work together [as a plan] for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His plan and purpose.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

 

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sunshine, Ice Cream and an Ex-Pimp

This weekend, a good friend of mine put together an outreach for homeless people downtown. His goal was to provide food, blankets and toiletries to help bless some of the people in our city. The main objective though, was to get the Gospel into their hearts.

I’m a missionary. I have shared the Gospel in front of thousands of people and had plenty of opportunities for one-on-one ministry as well. You would think that a homeless outreach was right up my alley – wandering the streets, talking to strangers and all that. Wrong. I repeat, WRONG.

Today’s Confession:

Overseas, where the strangers don’t speak English – that’s my comfort zone. Give me a translator and a crowd of people and I’ll get the Gospel to as many as will listen. Give me a stranger who speaks English though and I suddenly revert to a terrified little six-year-old. My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. My thoughts get all jumbled and rarely come out in understandable words. In summary, I have a tendency to come across as a bumbling blonde idiot. And this absolutely kills every ounce of perfectionist in me.

It would have been easy to back out. Believe me. I thought of at least six different excuses. In the end though, no matter how uncomfortable the idea of going made me, I knew that this wasn’t about me. So I made myself get out of bed. Literally MADE myself. I got dressed and then dropped the dogs off at the sitter. Yes, my dogs go to their grandparent’s house when I’m away for more than a few hours. It’s ridiculous, I know. Unfortunately though, it’s a bad pattern that I created and now I just can’t say “no” to those sad puppy eyes. Don’t judge me – you probably have your own version of crazy. We all do – but that’s another blog for another day.

Back to this story… So I managed to pick up my eight-year-old niece, Catlin, along the way. She heard what I was doing and wanted to go too. She happened to be eating chocolate chip cookies at the time and felt she needed to go share her cookies with the homeless. How could I say “no” to that? Plus this kid’s normally a “talker”. It takes a lot; I mean a whole lot, to quiet her. So I figured if nothing else, she could start the conversations with strangers and I’d jump in along the way. Yes, this is pitiful, but that’s where I was.

My plan backfired and Catlin was so shy around everyone she barely said a word. That’s what I get for banking on an eight-year-old. Fortunately I had another friend, Bailey, with me. She’s one of those super sweet and friendly types. So I was a coward and totally let her start most of the conversations. You can judge me now – I’m totally judging myself.

A Ray of Sunshine:

One of our first encounters was with a woman, we’ll call “Sunny” (real names are intentionally changed out of respect for these precious people). She gave us a few of her nicknames and “Sunshine” was the one that really fit. She was quite a “talker” herself, which of course made things easy for me. So for 40 minutes, I did one of the few things that I am actually good at. I listened. Sunny was all over the place and talked 60 mph. I’m not kidding. I couldn’t help but admire her optimism when she told us she wasn’t “homeless” but rather “residentially challenged”. I hated the state she was in but had an unexplainable appreciation for her too.

Sunny shared of so many things she had faced. Things most of us couldn’t begin to imagine and some that made you wonder if she wasn’t making them up. Sunny talked of things that made me question whether or not my niece should hear what she was saying. Part of me felt the responsible thing to do was to politely end the conversation and walk away. After all, I wanted Catlin to learn the importance of helping people, but I didn’t want to give her nightmares. I fought the inner urge to leave and decided to trust God. I knew as uncomfortable as that encounter was, that this was exactly where Jesus would be.

This was exactly where my Jesus would be; out on a Saturday morning, downtown, wandering in a bus station, feeding the hungry and giving them the Bread of Life.

A few times throughout the conversation, Bailey and I were able to interject and share about the grace and love of Jesus and how He was the God of Restoration. Sunny told us that she had already asked Jesus into her life and with that, our next move was simply to pray. We asked if it would be okay and she gladly agreed. So together, Bailey, Catlin and I wrapped our arms around Sunny and began to pray for Jesus to do a powerful work in her life. I believe He is.

We continued to speak with people. Some opened up easily, some, not so much. We tried though. Seeds were planted and we did some watering too.

Ice Cream & Retired Pimps:

One of our final encounters came later in the afternoon. By this time, Bailey had to leave and I had joined up with two of my other friends, Deanna and Aftyn. I was so thankful to have a few more voices to help carry on conversations. We approached two, kind looking older gentlemen sitting on a bench. These two had a different look about them and I thought this would be the start of an easy conversation. The first gentleman immediately got up and walked away, wooden cane in hand. As he did, the next gentleman introduced himself. We’ll call him “Ray”.

 “Hi, I’m Ray. Ex-Pimp. I’m retired.” He said with a grin.

I was torn between shock and laughter. I held it all in though, praise the Lord! I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but that was not it. You have to picture the situation. Here we are, three single girls and an eight-year-old at a bus station, chatting it up with a retired pimp. Maybe it’s just me, but I found this situation quite funny. Perhaps I should have been more concerned with safety or something, but I wasn’t.

With a simple “fist bump”, Ray said “Hi” to Catlin and proceeded to inquire if she liked ice cream. Of course she likes ice cream… she’s eight. They connected. It was a strange but wonderful sight. He told us all about this place up the street where she could get some of the best ice cream. A few fist bumps later and we found out that Ray was hungry and would love some food. Unfortunately we had given out all the food we had with us. So I took Catlin and we went looking for some food to give Ray. We came back just as Deanna and Aftyn were finishing praying with him. They prayed for God’s peace in his life and later found out that was something Ray had wanted for a while. We got food to Ray, gave a few more fist bumps, then said our goodbyes.

These moments challenged me, for a lot of reasons. I hate to be out of my comfort zone, but that outreach reminded me of why it’s so important to force myself out. People need us. They need food and fist bumps. They need to hear that there is hope no matter what their situation. They need to see the real, tangible love of Jesus Christ in action. And in order for that to happen, we have to actually get into action. Jesus had a few words of His own on this topic.

Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV) 

35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I have so much growing to do and more than anything, I want to become more like Jesus. That means going where He would go and doing the things He would do.

Jesus went to the places others would not go. He did the difficult things. And because of it, the world was forever changed.

John 3:16-17 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

REAL TALK: Valentine’s Day (after) Edition – The Top 10 Things Singles Hate To Hear

So in honor of another Valentine’s Day spent gloriously single, I thought I would weigh in on this dreaded virus that causes grown adults to cringe at the sight of a holiday filled with hearts, flowers and chocolates. SINGLENESS – ahh!!! Run for the hills!! It might be contagious!

The truth is I am 31 years old. Yes, I just admitted that for the entire world to see. You’re totally impressed with my bravery right now, aren’t you? And I am SINGLE. Yep, you heard me right. Single: not married, not dating, not talking to anyone. Shoot, as far as I can tell there aren’t even any viable options close by. Feel free to laugh now. I am. And the truth – here goes… I am, at least in this moment of time, absolutely and perfectly okay with my status. Just because I made it to a place of “okay”, doesn’t mean there hasn’t been times that I struggled as I watched my closest friends find and marry the love of their lives. Of course I have always wanted my friends to find love, but I wanted it too.

Life can be hard and sometimes watching others step into stages that you yourself want to be, is difficult. I recently received a phone call from a close friend of mine who was struggling. She’s one of the most amazing people I know, but like the rest of us, she just had one of those moments. She needed to talk about that question singles are always asking – “why am I still single?” I listened. She cried. We both laughed. She dealt with her feelings and is back to tackling life and changing the world. We all need to phone a friend every now and again.

Throughout the years I have heard various “well intentioned” statements intended to encourage us single folk. However, most of them do exactly the opposite – especially coming from happily un-single people who married young. So I consulted a few of my closest “still single” friends to hear their favorites.

Disclaimer: This Blog entry was written from the perspective of older singles. After all I am 31, not 21. 😉 If your friends are single and still in their late teens or early twenties, these words don’t quite apply.

Here are the top 10 things singles hate to hear:

10. So and so is still single and they’re older than you. So why are you complaining?

9. You must be too difficult (have too many requirements) because you are the total package.

8. Don’t give up, there’s still plenty of time.

7. Oh, you’ll find the right one. It’s all in God’s timing.

6. They may be married but would you really want to be married to their spouse? You’re better off single.

5. It will happen when you least expect it.

4. If I was single and younger, I would totally have wanted to marry you.

3. Enjoy your season of singleness.

2. You can do so much more for the Lord while you’re single.

1. The longer you wait, the better it will be.

On behalf of all the older singles everywhere.

To all our married friends, we know that you love us. We love you too and truthfully many of you are a shining example of what we are believing to one day find ourselves. We know that you probably mean well but sometimes these particular statements only serve to make things worse. Instead of using the cliche encouraging statements, try the following.

  • Take us out for the evening and spend some quality time with us (You don’t have to pay, simply making time for us is enough). Just please don’t make us the 3rd wheel to what would have otherwise been a date for you.
  • Get us a gift. This can be as simple as bringing us our favorite coffee – its always nice to feel like someone is thinking about you.
  • When you see us struggling, offer to listen. That’s it, just listen. Don’t give expert advice, even if you do know what you’re talking about. Sometimes we just want to be heard. (Now if we ask for advice – go for it.)
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY – Take time to pray for us. No matter how great you are with advice, no words you give will ever impact our lives the way simply praying for us will.

For better or worse, for the allotted time, whatever it may be, we the single people are and will continue to be – single. And that, is perfectly okay. Thanks for sticking with us. We need all you happily “un-single people”.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

PS – Special thanks to my unnamed “still single” friends for adding to this post – You know who you are. 😉

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PhotoBlog: The Camera, The Catlin and The Wardrobe

If you know anything about me, you know that I love photography. I don’t like to call myself a photographer though because that implies that I actually know what I’m doing. Let’s be honest here – I don’t. I shoot for fun and sometime I capture a moment that I find inspiring or simply beautiful. Every once in a while, I get crazy and try and make some photo magic happen. Recently I wrote a blog about one of my favorite book series, The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. After the writing was complete I decided I needed to do a photo shoot to come up with a feature photo to use on the blog. 

So I did what all good artists do, (at least thats what I tell myself) I pulled inspiration from real life and convinced my 8 year old niece that she should be a part of this magical adventure into the Wardrobe. She happily agreed – on one condition. She got to take some pictures of me. Seemed like a fair trade.

A little bit of hair and make-up and we were off to capture the spirit of Narnia. Okay, maybe just the Wardrobe portion. Narnia will have to wait for another day.

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You have to have the perfect shoes.

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And that smile. She can be such a little monster but that smile has a way of making up for it.

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And then there are those freckles.

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Add a little bit of sparkle.

 

And lots of laughter.

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A little dash of excitement.

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One hardcore “wookie shirt” as she called it…

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And eventually you find yourself stepping out of Narnia.

All of it happened so quickly. There’s a certain magic in these moments though. The kind of magic that will live on, beyond the days of youth and innocence, beyond Narnia.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

February’s “Check It Out” List

I love it when trusted friends offer up their recommendations – especially when it comes to books I should check out. So I want to be that friend for you. Each month (hopefully) I’m going to give you a few suggestions on the latest books that have impacted my life. And who knows, maybe we’ll have other suggested products as well. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

 The Circle Maker  –   By Mark Batterson

This book encouraged me more than most. Inspiring me to pray and not let go until God either moves, or moves me. It is a powerful call to start circling God’s promises for your life. I was so challenged by this book that I went out (before I had even finished it) and bought three additional copies to give away – and I’ll probably buy more.

Chase The Lion   –   (also) By Mark Batterson

A powerful read that will challenge you to stop settling and go out and “Chase the lion”. I began to examine my dreams in light of this idea and realized they are nowhere near “big enough”. Chase the Lion is a remarkable message for all dreamers.

*And the fact that both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are referenced, doesn’t hurt either.

These are a few additional titles that I just finished this past month. I highly recommend them all.

  • The Silver Chair – C.S. Lewis
  • The Last Battle – C.S. Lewis
  • The Princess and the Goblin – George MacDonald
  • Beyond the Kingdoms (The Land of Stories Series) – Chris Colfer

Here’s what I’m currently working on – yes there are multiple books. I can never read just one.

  • An Author’s Odyssey (The Land of Stories Series) – Chris Colfer
  • C.S. Lewis, A Life – Alister McGrath
  • The Man with the Bird on His Head – John Rush & Abbe Anderson
  • From Buddha to Jesus – Steve Cioccolanti
  • Curdie and the Princess – George MacDonald
  • Hidden Christmas – Timothy Keller
  • The Imagineering Way – The Imagineers (Disney)
  • Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

Clearly I have enough to keep me reading for the next few months, but I’m always looking to add to my list. Comment below and let me know what books you’re currently reading.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

© 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Flashing Lights of Confirmation and I Still Missed It.

Countless times I pull out the maps app on my phone and quickly plug in the address where I am going. Then without any second thought, I fully trust this tiny piece of technology to get me exactly where I’m going. I don’t second-guess if I heard the directions right or wonder if the app was really talking to me. I listen to the voice I’ve heard over and over again and follow step by step what it tells me to do. Well usually.(Disclaimer: apps are man-made technology and therefore subject to errors, but just trust me and where we’re going, then read on.)

#fail

Recently, I pulled out my handy-dandy app as I was headed to a Conference at a friend’s church, downtown. Downtown at night, I might add.

Two things I strongly dislike.

  • Driving at night
  • Driving downtown

And here I am doing both. When those two items converge, disaster usually follows. And sure enough, even though I listened intently to the voice of my app, I drove right past the church. Why? Because it didn’t look like a church and I thought perhaps, my app was wrong. Big mistake. Now here I am alone at night wandering through a maze of one-way streets and unaccounted for construction zones trying to find my way back to where I should have been all along. How did I end up in this mess? Simply put, even though I recognized the voice, the destination didn’t look like what I expected.

Insert Confession Here:

Now would probably be a terrible time to admit that even though the church didn’t look like what I expected a church to look like, they had members outside with flashing lights to guide people into their parking lot.

Yes, flashing lights of confirmation and I still missed it.

So, why did I choose not to trust the instructions now? I recognized the voice? It has always gotten me to where I need to go. Somehow or other that voice has faithfully led me to places in other states, in the dark of night and yes, even through construction zones and those dreaded detours. Yet in this moment of the unknown, I decided maybe the voice wasn’t right after all.

 #recognize

I look at this guide and can’t help but see the parallels in my walk with God.

Matthew 10:27 (MSG) “My sheep recognize my voice. I know them and they follow me.”

I love this version because it says the sheep “recognize” Jesus’ voice. Other versions use the word “hear” or “listen to”. Hearing makes me think of times that I “heard” what my parents were saying but didn’t pay any attention. “Listen to” gives the sense of actually taking in what is being said and paying attention – which is good. “Recognizing” is altogether different though. When I hear a voice that I recognize, chances are, that I will respond to it. Getting to a place where you recognize someone’s voice above others, takes time. It takes actually being together. The bible is clear that Jesus’ sheep recognize His voice. We get there by spending time with Him. And it has to be more than on Easter and Christmas. It’s a daily thing.

#expecttheunexpected

In that moment driving downtown, I didn’t trust the instructions I was receiving because even though I recognized the voice, the destination didn’t look like what I had expected.

With Jesus, I’m learning to expect the unexpected. It’s much easier that way. I won’t say it’s always “easy” but it is definitely easier to follow a voice that I recognize, a voice I trust. Just like the app on my phone has proved time and again that if I follow the directions given, I will get to where I am supposed to be – If I simply follow the voice of Jesus, (that voice that I recognize) He will get me to where I am supposed to be, even when the destination is not what I expected.

Psalm 48:14 (NIV) For this God is our God for ever and ever; He will be our guide even to the end.

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

 © 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Longing To Go Home

I have always been a fan of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The movie that is, because even though I love reading almost as much as breathing, I had never read the book, or any of the Chronicles of Narnia for that matter. I have since realized the error of my ways.

And So It Begins

About 5 years ago I walked into an antique shop and stumbled upon a wardrobe. It was a little less ornate but still very close to what I picture Lucy walking through. All I could think was how life would be complete if I could step though that door and find myself in Lewis’ Narnia. So of course I bought the wardrobe. Well, truthfully I persuaded my parents to buy it for me for my birthday. Then of course, I bought the book – one huge volume containing ALL of the Chronicles of Narnia. And so my adventure began.

I delved into the amazing stories told by Lewis and loved every page. As with a lot of good adventures, life began knocking. I put the book down and just as though I had stepped back through that wardrobe, I found myself returning to the real word.

Time passed and I picked up the book again. And it was as though I had never left. This time I journeyed on a little farther. This cycle continued until recently. I picked up the book one last time with a relentless determination to finish these stories. Completion is a great goal, sometimes though the true joy is not in reaching the end but the adventure found along the way.

Unexpected Ending

I expected the series to be well written and epic, after all, it was written by C.S. Lewis. What I wasn’t prepared for, was the ending.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read the Chronicles of Narnia, stop reading this blog immediately and go get the book(s). I promise you won’t regret it!

As I sat curled up in bed, surrounded by warm blankets, I read about finally reaching Aslan’s Country.

 “All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover of the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on for ever and ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” (The Last Battle – By C.S. Lewis)

 I can’t explain all that transpired in those moments. I would wager too, that those of you who have read through to the end have experienced similar feelings. My head began to spin as my heartbeat increased and unexplainable tears welled up in my eyes. And just like that, I found myself longing, tangibly aching for my home. Not the home I now own or even the home I had grown up in, but my heavenly home.

In the days since, I found that no matter how much I longed to go home, my time here is not finished. It certainly hasn’t kept me from dreaming though. The story told in the Last Battle was to me a reminder of the beauty and wonder that await us when we finally reach our home and what an unbelievable day that will be.

1 Corinthians 2:9 – But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”

Revelation 21:4 – “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Jamie Lynn Sivak Signature

 © 2017 JAMIE LYNN SIVAK ALL RIGHTS RESERVED