Lessons from a Daniel Fast: A Personal Experience

Hi Friends!

Thank you so much for stopping by to check out my thoughts on my recent 7 – Day Daniel Fast! In this vlog, I’ll go over (1) what a Daniel Fast is, (2) why I choose to fast from time to time, (3) why you might want to try it, and finally…(3) what I learned from doing it.

If you feel like your in a rut with your faith or lacking answers for personal life decisions, or if you’ve never considered a fast…then I hope you’ll watch this vlog with an open mind! It might just help you answer some questions in your own life!

Praying my words can speak to you. Know that I’m praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

[“Fearless is She Who Believes” Shirt: http://www.shopwritten.com]

Two Years a Widow: Part II

“What I learned from Craig”

In the time that I had with Craig, I learned more things than I can write in a single blog. For those who knew Craig, they knew him as a charismatic, dream chasing, God loving man with an unhealthy love for creating uncomfortable situations [ask any of his friends…Craig loved embarrassing them however he could).

As his wife, I got to see so many dynamic sides to Craig that I feel very privileged to have experienced. We had great times, and we had difficult times. Just like any marriage. But through it all, I can say this, Craig’s life impacted me in several significant ways that forever changed my outlook on life.

For lack of time and the average person’s attention span, I will just list three perspective changing lessons I learned from Craig:

  1. The importance of relationships.
  2. Do everything as if you we are doing it for God.
  3. We should never live in a spirit of fear.

“I’ve come to realize that relationships are the only things we can take with us to Heaven.” – Craig Strickland

The first of these lessons is associated with my all-time favorite Craig quote (see above) from our first date when he asked me to share my testimony with him. I was so scared to reveal my story about how I found God, but I felt comforted by the way in which he asked me to do so. I remember him looking at me and saying, “I’ve come to realize that relationships are the only things we can take with us to Heaven. So would you mind sharing your testimony, and I shared mine?”

That may seem like a pretty forward question on a first date, but if you knew Craig, then you also knew that no question was too forward for him to ask [even on a first date]. But yes, at the time it seemed a little scary to me too…until I started to understand what he was really asking me in posing this question. Craig wanted to know that I was going to go to Heaven where relationships with loved ones never end. He cared about that more than anything else. In his eyes, my relationship with Christ was the most important relationship he needed to be solidified before we could move further. And to be completely honest, in that moment I don’t think he was as focused on us being “equally yoked” – [because he probably knew he could convince me to want a relationship with Christ if I didn’t already have one – Craig was very convincing] – as he was concerned with wanting to know for sure that he was going to see me forever in Heaven.

Craig loved making relationships no matter your age, how much money you had, or what happened in your past. That’s why I believe he could connect with all kinds of people at his concerts. He loved meeting people. And more importantly, he loved knowing that in Heaven, every single friend he would ever make would be there with him celebrating.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” -Colossians 3:23-24

Lessons two and three somewhat blend together. Craig often told me he believed God must give us our gifts/talents for a reason because God knew they would most likely dictate our goals and dreams in this life. Craig also told me that he believed if we felt called to work toward a particular goal or dream, such as a career, then we should give 100% effort towards trying to achieve it – no matter what anyone else said about it. And believe me, that’s exactly what Craig did. He gave 110% when it came to chasing after the goals and dreams he had for his life. And he definitely wasn’t going to stop no matter what other people might say about it. If he felt called to it, then he was going to go for it until God gave him a definite no.

In fact, when I first met Craig it was his passion and dedication to achieving [what he felt was] his calling that truly captivated me.  I remember how hard he worked to make things happen with his band in the country music scene…even if no one else was watching. There were many times no one knew all the work he was doing and all the hours he put in, but he did it anyway. Watching him made me realize if we’re passionate about something we feel God called us to, then it’s our job to give our best effort even if God is the only one who sees it. Because at the end of the day, our efforts aren’t for man, they are for God. And furthermore, I see now that we are all stewards of the gifts God gives us…and that means we must be willing to put in the groundwork to sharpen those gifts for the moment when God calls us to action.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7

The other day a close friend of mine and I were talking about our dreams and the goals we have for the future, and how those dreams weren’t necessarily cookie cutter. Meaning, our dream professions are probably not at the top of the usual “what I want to be when I grow up” list. The conversation then led us to discuss how our “outside-the-box” dreams often made us feel nervous to give 100% in trying to achieve them.

“What do people think when we tell them?” Or worse, “What will they say if we don’t succeed?’

And that’s when I had another revelation about Craig’s impact on my life.

Craig did not live with a spirit of fear. He believed in boldness and courage. Especially when it comes to chasing a goal or a dream that God brought into your path. Yes, he knew it might be difficult to achieve. And yes, he knew he might fail. But being scared to fail wasn’t how Craig lived. Instead, he trusted that it would happen, he prayed boldly that it would be God’s will, and then worked hard to achieve it. If it didn’t happen, then he knew God would direct his path elsewhere. Because while there is often a time for waiting, listening, and growing…there is also a season for having the courage to take action and trust God when we feel Him moving us.

—–

I want my heart to learn and hold onto these lessons from Craig’s life.

I want to see people as the relationships I get to take with me to Heaven. Not just as friends I might grab a cup of coffee with. I want to pour into others, and have others pour into me. Lifting each other up continuously.

I want to be bold in my faith and how I speak about it. I want to trust the words I read in my Bible. I want to give 100% effort in all my works. Doing everything I do to the best of my ability because I’m not doing it for man – I’m doing it for the Lord.

And finally, I never want to live housing a spirit of fear in my heart. Christ is always with me, and I am always with Christ. Therefore, I will house a spirit of courage grounded in my faith in Christ.

Dear friends, my prayer for you today is that you might learn the same lessons from the life that Craig lived. We can all do better about making Christ the center of our relationships, making sure that everyone in our life is given the opportunity to live an eternal life with us in Heaven. And it if you’re anything like me, releasing our spirit of fear and replacing it with a spirit of courage through faith is going to be an ongoing process. But in order to work towards that goal, let us both promise each other the following: if we believe God has called us to something, instead of holding back out of fear, let us pray boldly and give it all we have. Trusting that God will be there every step of the way.

Praying for you today and always,

Helen Elizabeth

 

Two Years a Widow: Part I

“What I’ve Learned from Widowhood”

It’s almost unbelievable that it’s been two years since my late husband, Craig Strickland, and his friend, Chase Moreland, passed away in a tragic hunting accident at the end of December. From Dec. 26th to January 12th, each day serves as mile markers that bring about strong feelings and memories.

Dec. 26th: The day Craig left. We laughed as we made up Christmas songs about my cat Salem, and watched the new trailer for the new “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” Harry Potter Movie.

Dec. 27th: I wrote in my prayer journal and asked that God would grow us closer than we’d ever been before this year…and I told Him that I would choose to love Him even if He took everything away – including my husband. This was the day Craig’s father, Randy, and I realized something wasn’t right. This was also the day Craig would have already gone to be with his Heavenly Father.

Dec. 28th: A long icy drive to Ponca City, OK to look for Craig. The realization of fear during a phone conversation with the pastor of my church, Nick Floyd. Nick: “Is it really as bad as it sounds?”; Me: “Yes, it is.” Sam, Craig’s Hunting Dog, was found with a boat and a body. I had to serve as a second identifier for Chase’s body.

Dec. 29th: Friends and Family came to help search. I remember looking out at the icy Kaw Lake Water silently begging Craig to come back. Candle Light Prayers were held by friends and family at CrossChurch (my church)/Shiloh (the school I used to teach at).

Dec. 31st: New Years with my friends in my hotel room. Feeling true thankfulness for them. Pushing away the thought that I wouldn’t see my husband in this new year. Wondering why we had waited to have kids. The first time I quietly pleaded with God to not make this my life.

Jan. 4th: The day we found Craig. I’ll wait to write more about this in my upcoming book.

Between Jan. 5th – 11th: Preparing for Craig’s burial. Emotional. Exhausting. Surreal to be picking out a headstone, resting place, burial clothes, and content of a memorial service.

Jan. 12th: The day I buried my husband…

I’ll write more about January 12th in my book; but for now, I will say that January 12th was the hardest part of the whole experience. It made it real. Seeing his casket at the front of a beautiful chapel full of people…my whole resolve was shaken. It was the first time that I didn’t know if I was going to be able to control myself in front of people. Not that a widow has to, but for some reason, being around people made me want to comfort them during that season. Not because I had to, but God just made me that way I guess. I tend to not break down in front of people, and be a little more private with my grieving. It helps me to help others feel better in difficult moments.

I remember Pastor Nick coming in my waiting room to ask if I was ready.

With every step towards my husband’s casket, I saw the dreams I had for my life fading. And the reality of my life became a lump in my throat that started to harden like a rock.

I remember attending the memorial service that night and making the mental and heartfelt commitment to praise God even now. I would raise my hands to every worship song as I do in church when I praise His name. Because my God is my God in this tragic moment, as He’s my God in the easiest of moments. And I will tell you, raising my hands to praise my Heavenly Father as a grieving widow with a broken heart, was definitely the closest I’ve ever felt to God.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” -1Thessalonians 5:18

Two years later, I sit and reflect on that day. There is so much to tell. So many thoughts and memories to share. People to thank. But today, I’ve decided I want to talk about a new mile marker.

The day I was able to look back over a course of two years and thank…No… PRAISE God, for the life I’ve been given, and the lessons I’ve learned.

I prayed so many times that this wouldn’t be my life. I asked God to take this cup away from me. I cried out to God and asked Him why he was being silent. But today I’m grateful for not only the beautiful memories I have of my late husband that I can always cherish, but also, the wisdom and the strength I now have due to my daily fight to choose to love God through my circumstances. And I’m even more thankful that I can share with you, what I’ve gleaned from pushing through the worst storm of my life.

“I yelled in the wind. He came rolling back to sweep me off my feet. I cried to the rain. He came pouring down to drown my disbelief.” – God, Relient K

So after reflecting, what lessons have I learned? Well to start, here’s a brief brainstorming list of the first things that came to my head, without a filter. I’m giving myself 2 minutes to list this for you…starting now.

  1. The importance of a strong prayer life.
  2. To appreciate the people around me.
  3. To give up control, as well as ownership over things.
  4. To not rush into things or make major decisions during the first year.
  5. To realize people won’t ever fully understand what I’m going through.
  6. God will understand what I’m going through.
  7. To not expect people to remember that being a widow might hinder me from doing things to the best of my ability even a year after my loss.
  8. To not use being a widow as a crutch. To take ownership of the demands of life and ask God for the strength to push forward and get things done.
  9. The importance of praising God in all circumstances.
  10. Solitude is sometimes necessary. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude when I’m spending my time alone with God.
  11. To show gratefulness to the people around me.
  12. To have courage.
  13. To do everything like I’m doing it for God, not for man.
  14. To pray boldly.
  15. That friends and family are the greatest blessings God can give us in this life.
  16. To always have a humble and thankful heart.

There are hundreds more, but those are the first that come to mind in 2 minutes. And I just want to say, I’ve not done any of those 16 bullet points perfectly. I say lessons because they were exactly that. Lessons I needed to learn. As many of you probably know, going through any difficult experience is a process. Grief is a process. It will hit you in strange ways at different times. Counseling is a great option that I recommend for everyone going through a difficult experience. But the most important lesson I’ve learned is this: YOU NEED GOD.

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.” – Colossians 4:2

God is the only way we can walk through tragic events and come out on the other side a stronger person. God gives us the strength to see the joy that can be found in every day. He’s the only way I was able to make it out of my [excuse my French] Hell Hole alive. And to answer the question that was asked so many times on my social media posts…He’s why I could smile in the pictures I posted during the search for my husband.

How did God do that for me, you ask?

Well friend, I truly believe there is beauty to be found in every moment. But the only way we can see that beauty is if we allow God to cultivate within us, a grateful heart. I’m not the expert on life and happiness, but from my experience – that’s how I did it.

Even during the search for and burial of my late husband Craig, my heart was bursting with love and thankfulness for the people all around me. My friends who were there giving up their time off work to be there for me. A close family friend coming to search with their boat. The President of my School, and my best friends from work driving 4 hours just to hug my neck and turn around. Volunteer search dogs. Support from the people of Ponca City. Gifts from friends from home and all over. People all around the world praying for our search. I could go on and on…

Sitting here thinking of all the people who loved me and helped our family, I am still humbled with gratitude and find myself wishing I could individually thank each person who took the time to help and pray for our family. Everything that everyone did during those first few weeks, and after, was the love of Christ being shown through His people. I couldn’t help but see the love of God in the situation I was in.

Now I realize that my situation may be different than yours. Maybe it seems like no one cares. But friend, there’s always a reason to be thankful. There’s always a reason to praise God. I was talking to a relative of mine the other day, and we started discussing the topic of thankfulness and how it has such a major impact on our relationship with Christ.

I told my relative, “Sometimes I get down driving home at night to an empty house. Knowing my friends have husbands and kids to go home to, and I don’t. But that’s when I have to take those thoughts captive. It’s ok to be sad sometimes – in fact, it’s necessary when we’re grieving, but I refuse to let grief control or consume me for long periods of time. I believe there’s a point that I have to speak God’s truth to my soul to remember life isn’t perfect, but with Christ, it can be beautiful again. Therefore, when my thoughts want to go down that dark tunnel, I remember one important thing. To be thankful. If I’m sad, I make myself think of the smallest, most off-the-wall, seemingly insignificant blessing I can think of that I’ve probably never stopped to thank God for…and then I stop and meditate on that. I think what life would be like if I had to do without whatever it is I’m choosing to be thankful for. For example…one day, I reminded myself to be thankful that I have 10 fingers and 10 toes. I contemplated how difficult many of the activities I like to do would be if I didn’t, and I immediately thanked God that he allowed me to not have to worry about those things.”

“I will extol the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips.” – Psalm 34:1

In saying that, I don’t mean we should just list out all the things we’re thankful we have that other people might not have, instead it’s simply taking on a mindset of acknowledging every blessing we’ve been given. In my experience, a thankful heart is a peaceful heart.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.” – Psalm 28:7

Dear friend, whatever you’re experiencing, I realize it might be hard to be thankful right now. But my prayer is that you will read my story and see that you can find joy again with the help of Christ. I pray you would trust that God can bring hope and happiness to your life no matter your circumstances…He’s the only one who can.

Praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth

{Wednesday, January 17th, I am posting another Blog concerning the lessons I learned from Craig. Hope my words today, and in the future will encourage your heart.}

The Beauty of Not Comparing

Hello Friend!

As always I’m sitting in my desk chair writing away thinking about everything I want to share with you. All the conversations I’d love to have about life and God and all the mess in between. And I finally had one particular conversation lay heavy on my heart. Comparing ourselves to others.

Is it just me, or have you noticed a growing number of people (including ourselves) seemingly unhappy with their lives and feeling overwhelmingly depressed because of it? You may have felt this way or have heard it from your friends and/or family. And we both know we see it in the media with all the heartbreaking stories of hurting people.

Goodness, it truly hurts my heart to see so many people struggling to enjoy life. And I’m not saying this because I somehow have a perfect life and I feel bad for those who don’t. No, it burdens me because I know how it feels to not be happy with the person I’ve been, or the role I’ve been given, or with life in general, and I don’t want anyone else to have to feel that way.

Because no one wants to stay in that hole forever, right? I know I didn’t. But getting out of it takes work. And it takes work to stay out of it when those same feelings try to creep back into our hearts and take away the joy God has for us.

So after reflecting on why I [or we] sometimes feel depressed/unhappy with our lives, I found that – just like everything else – it comes down to an issue of the heart. In this case, it’s an issue of comparing which leads to coveting.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” – Exodus 20:17

Now while it’s probably safe to say that we don’t have an issue with coveting someone else’s livestock, we can very easily find ourselves coveting in a different way. By way of comparing.

From time-to-time, we may catch ourselves comparing ourselves to someone else’s life [relationship…body…job…you name it] wondering things like: “Does my life stack up to theirs?”; or, “They seem like they’re always happy on social media, and since Instagram is obviously an accurate representation of people’s lives, why am I not as happy? What do they have that I don’t?”

Comparing our lives to another’s is, in my opinion, one of the slipperiest slopes we can find ourselves snowballing down. When we constantly compare ourselves to the people around us, we can unintentionally find ourselves strolling down a path of discontent, wanting things we don’t need, and numbing us from seeing the many blessings we already have…and then, somewhere along the way, we forget that nothing in this world, outside of a real relationship with Christ, will ever truly make us happy. And the truth is – it’s not supposed to. Comparisons focus our attention on the things of this earth, rather than on the things above it.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

But it’s hard to focus on the things above us, right? There are people all around us seemingly happy. They have the things we think we want…but have we ever stopped to ask ourselves, “Why do we feel the need to have these things? What if they’re not right for me, and God knows better than I do?”

If we’re honest with ourselves, do you think it might be because we secretly think if we had those other things, we would fit in better, or maybe we would “matter” more to the people around us? Yes, if we’re being honest, we all have the desire to matter. Which does not make us bad people. The problem arises when we become consumed with trying to fit in and chasing the feeling of “mattering”. Because if we’re constantly chasing the approval of others, how much effort are we putting towards chasing the approval of the only One who matters?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man. I would not be a servant of Christ.” – Galatians 1:10

Please don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to feel accepted and wanted by others. It’s a natural desire for us as humans. And I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say that I like being liked, and I also try to act as if I have it all together (which I don’t, by the way). I don’t think that makes me a bad person. The point that I believe it has a negative impact on my heart and perspective is when my desire to be accepted drives me to compare myself to what I think “I should be”, and then I struggle because I know I’ll never be able to achieve that perfect version of myself.

So how do we overcome this? How can we find the beauty in not comparing?

The only way I was able to let go of the desire to “be more like that person”, was to realize that in comparing myself to others, I was disregarding God’s workmanship. It a roundabout way, I was letting a lie fester in my heart…A lie that said, “God, if I just had this other thing then I’ll finally be happy.” This lie can cause our hearts to harden, and miss how we’ve already been blessed.

So coming back to the perspective of this being a heart issue. Comparing and coveting means that our eyes are set on something else, and if our eyes are always set on “something else”, how can our eyes ever be totally set on God?

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind, and with all your strength.” – Mark 12:30

So to conclude…several years ago when I was getting back into my faith, there was a story in the Bible that stood out to me concerning a wealthy man coming to Jesus to ask how he can enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mark 10:17-31). What I see in this interaction, is a man wanting to find joy in Christ, but his heart was focused on the things of man. Therefore, when Jesus tells him he has to give up the things of man to truly have a heart for God, the man was upset. You see, he wasn’t willing to give up everything to bear his cross for the sake of Christ. And after reading this story, I realized I honestly wasn’t either. And in that moment I had a life-changing thought:

Maybe there’s something to be said about being willing to give up everything for the sake of Christ…because if we expect nothing, we are thankful for all things.

I’m not saying we can’t have nice things, or that in order to truly love Christ we have to give everything away. But what I am saying is this…When we can let go of the things of this life, and embrace having nothing but a true relationship with God, we will then find beauty in the life we’ve been given – no matter how our lives look at the current moment. In other words, when the expectation for perfection is gone, a heart truly content in Christ is revealed. And when we are content in Christ, we can find joy and peace we’ve been looking for that goes beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7).

And so today, whatever comparisons we’ve been holding on to, let’s both choose to release them. Let us not covet the world around us, but instead, find the beauty in not comparing. 

Thank you so much friend for taking the time to read this today! I’m praying that I spoke to your heart and helped you grow closer to our Heavenly Father.

Praying for you today and always.

Love in Christ,

Helen Elizabeth