There is Freedom – Prisons Series #1

From the beginning of time, laid in the foundation of this earth, there is freedom.

Before the years started coming and going, before the seasons began to change, when Adam and Eve were created and resided in the perfect climate of Eden, God breathed His perfect, agape love into humanity’s lungs, and we were born.

The thing about God’s perfect, agape love is that it gives way to the other party; in this case, that’s us. Agape love, in its core, is a freeing thing. Take a second to read Paul’s famous chapter on love, 1 Corinthians 13, and you will find a trend of love bowing in humility and giving way to the will of another. If there is anyone who has to be in chains, love would be it.

prisons2 (2)

Built into the Law God gave Moses is system of setting captives free (Deuteronomy 15). Every seven years, under the jurisdiction of God’s Law, ALL captives were to be set free. Every slave, every debtor, every human being under the authority of another… Everyone was freed. There were no exceptions. “The Lord’s release [was] proclaimed” (Deuteronomy 15:2), and all sins were forgiven among the Jewish people. 

That was God’s Law. Everyone had the chance for freedom.

This is why there are countless Psalms about captives being freed. The Jewish people all had personal experience being set free, having all iniquities forgiven 100%, or else being the one who did the forgiving.

This is what “The Afflicted” had to say about this freedom:

Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord:
That he looked down from his holy height, from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,
To hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die,
That they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise,
When the peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:18-22 (ESV)

This afflicted person (literally, only called “One Afflicted” as the Psalmist) wanted nothing more than to ensure the people coming after him knew of God’s sovereignty in the realm of freedom. He wanted to make sure that people “yet to be created” would know the absolute goodness of a God who “sets free the people who are doomed toward death.”

God’s aim on this earth, since Adam and Eve sinned in Eden and messed it up for the rest of us, is to hear the cries of the weak and weary oppressed. No human being was ever meant to own another, and no human being was ever meant to be owned. No human was ever meant to live under oppression in their bodies, souls (mind and emotions), or spirits.

We are living unhealthy, oppressed lives, yet without the power of God, we can never be free from them. We need to recognize God’s heart for us, that we were meant for lives much greater than the ones we live.

This is God’s Law: Everyone has the chance for freedom.

There’s a song by Jon Foreman I’d like to share with you as we begin this series together. It’s called “Your Love is Strong.” I’d like to highlight the end, where he sings a few lines that follow along the Lord’s Prayer listed in Matthew 6.

Our God in Heaven
Hallowed be Thy name
Above all names
Your kingdom come
Your will be done
On earth as it is in Heaven
Give us today our daily bread
Forgive us weary sinners
Keep us far from our vices
And deliver us from these prisons

Thank you for reading this post, friend. This is only the beginning of the Prisons series, and it only gets better from here on out. I hope this series will bring you the freedom into your soul we all desperately need.


Chased After

chased after

When you don’t think you are seen,
When the people around you act like you’re invisible,
I see you.

When the depths of your unsearchable heart
Lie untouched by human hands
Or touched by them the wrong way,
I know your ache.

When all the world has turned away from you
And left you alone with all your pain,
I seek out your heart.

When you feel unloved,
Unwanted, like garbage,
I send you little hints of all the ways I love you.

Like a good game of hide-and-seek,
I search after you with gladness.

You Know Who You Truly Are

I’m not much of a crier, but if you know me, I’ve been bragging about the beautiful movie Moana, and the fact that it makes me cry. Every little bit of it brings me to all sorts of emotional tears, but the scene with Moana and Te Kā/Te Fiti makes me sob. every. time.

Moana is a pretty relatable character; we all have expectations to live up to that squelch what we feel is our true calling. But does anybody else relate to Te Kā – the lava monster that mercilessly attacks anything that gets near to her?

te ka above moana

Just me? Well…

For those who don’t know, the demi-god Maui steals the heart from a sleeping goddess Te Fiti, and Moana is tasked with bringing it back to her or watching her island be turned to hard, dead ash in front of her eyes. The thing is, when Moana reaches the peak of the mountain where she should find Te Fiti, she finds, instead, a bottomless lake where she should be. Turning to look back at the monster attacking her, Moana finds the markings where she’s supposed to place Te Fiti’s heart on the lava monster’s chest.

In stealing Te Fiti’s heart, Maui turned her into a raging monster with a new name: Te Kā, who turned to survival mode, attacking everything in sight. Everything about who she was changed completely; instead bringing life to the islands surrounding her, she brought them death. That is, until Moana caught her attention and spoke these words to her:

“I have crossed the horizon to find you.
I know your name.
They have stolen the heart from inside you,
But this does not define you. 
This is not who you are.
You know who you are…
Who you truly are.”

*Cue Meg crying* ❤

Can we stay in that moment for a minute?

moana and te ka close

It’s hard to catch the reason for the tears the first time.

It’s still difficult to articulate the second and third times.

In one singular moment, Moana makes the choice to not feel scared of Te Kā any longer. The story of Te Fiti, the being that brings life to the world, has been told for generations. Moana knows this is but a temporary embodiment of the goddess and not her true form; this is a result of injustice done to Te Fiti. Moana knows her true form is more beautiful than anything she’s ever seen, and she trusts in this knowledge though it’s not what she’s seeing in front of her eyes.

Moana knows the identity of Te Fiti, even while she’s staring at the evil monster Te Kā.

How beautiful that is. So much hope can be found there. Do you see it yet?

We are the lava monsters, and Jesus is the beautiful Moana.

He crossed the horizon to find us.
He KNOWS our names.
Sin has stolen the hearts from inside us,
But by His grace, this does not define us.

If you’re reading this today, I promise you are not a lava monster, regardless of how much you might feel like one. That changed the day Christ took our sin upon His shoulders. That’s the true beauty of the Gospel – God split the sea so we can approach Him; He brings our hearts back to us, cools our fiery anger with His loving touch, and returns us to the humans He created us to be: life-bringing beings who dig up the crispy, burned soil around us so that it may produce good fruits again.

te fiti diggin up soil

You CAN produce good fruits again; all you need to do is accept Christ’s gift of a brand new heart.

We are all of us lava monsters, and God gives us all our hearts back. ❤

+85,000 smile points

Rainbow Story Sessions: Elle Laye

As I reflect on my journey and skip through the puddles from the storms that washed me down the path that has brought me to the present, I am reminded that the storms that raged with winds so great and waves so high, though they battered and knocked me down, they never made me drown. As many times as it seemed it was the end, or as bad as I wanted it to end, I now understand it was a moment of redirection to the bigger picture of God’s great love and purpose for my life.

1. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Hi! I’m Elle, a single mama to 3 wonderful kiddos (Jackson, 12, Avery, 9, and Harrison, 8), a commercial photographer, singer/songwriter, worship leader at C3 Church on 78, and my favorite tile…Daughter of the King.

2. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

I come from humble beginnings. My dad was a poultry farmer by day and a musician by night. As a child, I felt like I could relate to the birds kept in the cages on our farm. I felt trapped, and since I was born near-sighted, I couldn’t see the distance between reality and my dreams, but I knew there was more than dirt and gravel roads. I wanted to travel on paved roads and climb to the top of the big-city buildings. I’ve wondered…As a child, why did I long to be in a place I wasn’t placed in?

3. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Recently, I was reminded of the building that sat behind out house. We called it “The Building.”

My dad built it for his recording studio; it was 20 feet by 10 feet and 8 feet high. The exterior was light blue with black shingles, and it had two windows to let in ambient light. The interior was padded with dark red, commercial-grade carpet that covered the walls to sound-proof the room.

4. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

My sister Bex and I loved going in there as kids to create wild sounds on the keys (cats in space was one of our masterpieces) and sing at the top of our lungs on the mics.

5. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

At night, I would peek out the back door window of our house to see the little light that was on, and I knew my dad was recording new songs. After a couple years, the light started to fade, and The Building became a junk room for all of the things we didn’t want any more.

Years passed, and spider webs covered the keys; the sound equipment was covered in dust, and you could no longer walk in the room without stepping over a mountainous pile of clothes, toys, and things of old we no longer wanted.

6. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

My parents divorced in 2004 and sold the farm. The Building was torn down, the junk was thrown away, and the new owners who bought the property built gorgeous homes where our humble abode used to reside.

7. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

2004 continued to be a very memorable year. I graduated from high school, got married, and had my first baby. What seemed to be the start of a happy story ended up becoming a dismal chapter.  I spent the next decade in darkness and depression. I lived with the spirits of control, intimidation, manipulation, and fear. My husband and I went through several rounds of separation, and I continued to run instead of facing my problems.

I had 3 babies by the age of 22; I was a young mom with big dreams in a glass cage. I was upset, angry, and confused, and bitterness took root deep within, so I flew as far as I could go, landing at the edge of the ocean. Our little family ended up on a small island in coastal Georgia, Saint Simons Island, at the end of 2012. For a moment, I thought I had escaped from everything I didn’t want to face, but I soon realized I was still trapped in my circle because I was the common denominator.

8. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Towards the end of the 3 years we lived on the island, the winds of the storm around me started to get heavier, and the waves left me breathless. The death of my marriage is what finally broke me. You see, over the years, I continued to try to salvage the piles of junk that filled my building. I tried to repair my parents’ marriage through my marriage, and I tried to fix those things in my past that were broken. God then intervened and sent the storm clouds that immersed me in rain.

I now understand why the storms came. They were there to wash me clean and to remove the debris from inside of me.

9. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Just as the new owners of the farm tore down old structures to rebuild their mansions, God has to level us out so He can restore us. This life is a construction zone. The buildings we try to build are never up to code when we try to construct our lives ourselves. We need the Architect who holds our blueprint.

For the many years I had lived my life outside of God’s purpose, I had finally come to the crossroad of understanding that He is the potter, and we are the clay. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I  know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a hope and a future'” (ESV).

10. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

God has promised to restore our buildings. My love and passion for music has always been part of my roots. The paved roads and big city buildings that I desired to reach as a child are of symbolic measure. He has called each of us to do great things. Even though all of our purposes are different, none are less important than the others.

A year ago, after moving back to Athens and dropping my bags, the Lord called me to lead worship at C3 Church on 78. The desires of my heart of being in a band and encouraging others through music has come to pass. Serving and leading others into the presence of God in worship is a dream come true.

God had to remove the junk in my building to remind me of its purpose. As the mist and clouds scatter, I see the rainbow on the horizon.

11. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Without the rain, we won’t grow, and without the sun, Jesus, we won’t become stronger. Remember; the storms are not here to drown you. God promised He would not let that happen again, and that is why He sent the rainbow to remind us of His great love in restoring the buildings that will one day be completely restored in His timing and in accordance to His majestic blueprint. Keep looking up; your rainbow is among the clouds.

12. Visuelle Photography-Elle Laye

Rainbow Story Sessions: Cynthia Giles

As I was asked to write a rainbow story, a story about a moment when God saved me from something significant, it would be easy to choose any heart-gripping situation, and after many challenges, I know the enemy is after my treasure. The treasure I’m referring to isn’t the “golden pot” at the end of the rainbow. It’s my relationship with God, my relationships with others, and my purpose on this earth.

From my mother having a complicated delivery, to cracking my skull open at the tender age of 4, to terrifying collisions on the road, to a cyst that came back as benign, the list could truly overwhelm me if I described what the Lord has saved me from. I’m not sure how theological this statement is, but it feels like the enemy had a plan for my life since the moment I was conceived. In spite of God’s counter-punches and potter-to-clay miracles, I am most compelled to share a rainbow story about a time when God saved me from a lifelong critic: myself.

Isn’t it funny how you go to war with the person in the mirror every day?

cynthia 1

I go to war with this woman in the mirror more than I war with any other situation or relationship in my world. Through God’s grace, I’m learning to take responsibility for what I can change and operate from a position of forgiveness when the tragedy is out of my hands. I’ve been on an uphill roller-coaster, learning how to celebrate my journey without pride and correct my weaknesses without losing confidence. I’ve been at war since I was a little girl to love the woman I’ve grown into.

What the Lord has done to grow me as a person and save me from my own downfall is bring me into deeper intimacy with His Son by encouraging me to walk in a new identity.

As I wrestle through disappointing and obscure situations, I am affirmed about where lasting hope and significance comes from. Because God has allowed hard times that strip away what I deem as precious, I am forced to transfer my false “security blankets” for the secure sovereignty of God. He has saved me from making choices that lean toward my sinful nature by transforming rejection into protection and blockages into a redirection of new discoveries. As I’ve fought through addictions and poor habits, God has saved me from the lure of counterfeit comforts.

cynthia3Many of the comforts of this world are counterfeit because these “comforts” make promises they can’t keep, strip everything we consider valuable away from us, and throw condemnation on top of the addiction like the cherry on top of a highly poisonous sundae.

God hides me in His embrace so I can understand what it means to love Him and to love myself without limits. Thankfully, God has surrounded me with loving people who aren’t afraid to challenge me and offer encouragement. And the beautiful thing about the community I find myself in is the truth that my relationships are as diverse as the colors on the spectrum wheel. I have friends in their 70’s, 50’s, 20’s, and mentees in the teens. My relationships contain multiple races and ethnicities, with diversity in personality, and kingdom builders who strike this dark world like a glare of lightning strikes the night sky.

I thank God for bringing me face-to-face with my own sinful nature so I could be convicted into a face-to-face encounter with His Son. I thank God for allowing the valley because the pit teaches me how to surrender and put my eyes on Him. I thank God for stripping away what I deem as precious, along with every counterfeit comfort, so I can quench my thirst with a pure love this world could never fake. I thank God for loving me at my worst and not waiting until I had myself all cleaned up to use me. God is so good, friends. He has saved me from head-on collisions, but now I’m crashing into His presence, with divine appointments and the most glorious purpose…and when I hit the target, I’ll be repaid double portions of favor for past pain, and my testimony combined with God’s love will transform hearts and inspire lives.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be [saved], as they are today.” Genesis 50:20, ESV

Go to Cynthia’s website here.
Find Cynthia on Facebook here.


So Much More than a Slave

There’s this guy in the Bible with a pretty funny name: Onesimus. How do you even say that? Well, weird name aside, this guy has a powerful testimony.

more than a slaveWhile he is mentioned in another place in the Bible (Colossians 4:8-9), we hear Onesimus’ back story in the book of Philemon. It’s easy to wonder why this letter was included in the Bible – It’s less than a page long, and many Christians will never read it in their lifetimes. Why would the people who put the Bible together include something so small? Why is this book in particular so significant?

Philemon is included in the Bible because of the story it tells. See, Onesimus was a slave, and the apostle Paul actually wrote this book solely for the purpose of writing to Onesimus’ owner to prove that his heart had become good and to appeal to Philemon’s better nature to let Onesimus go free.

Onesimus started his story as a slave who stole something from his owner and then fled the country. As it turns out, he fled to Rome, right to where Paul was teaching the Gospel, and his life was changed forever. Onesimus was then able to spend some time with Paul, learning from him and growing closer to God. What a divine intervention!

Here is what Paul says about Onesimus (verses 9-16, ESV):

“I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Here, Paul is petitioning on Onesimus’ behalf. The New Testament is riddled with instructions for slaves to obey their masters and work as though God is their master, many of these cases written by Paul’s own hand, but here, Paul appeals to Philemon to set Onesimus free. What is the difference here?

philemonThe thing that sets Onesimus apart from other slaves is that Paul has spent time with Onesimus, getting to know him and investing into his soul. Onesimus isn’t some run-of-the-mill slave to Paul any longer; he’s like Paul’s own son. His transformation was so great Paul told Philemon, I’m not sending a slave back to you. I’m sending my heart.

By all accounts, Philemon owned Onesimus, and Paul did the right thing by sending him back, but that ownership didn’t change the way Paul saw him. Onesimus was a beloved son to Paul, and the fact that he was a slave did not change how important Onesimus was.

Paul hated that this was hovering over his head, a looming storm cloud of oppression. Some day, Philemon is going to call upon that slavery and tear my son away from me. He is going to punish Onesimus for his past when he’s not that person any longer. Paul had to do something about it.

Later in the letter, he did (verses 17-20, ESV):

“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”

Paul not only asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus for the trouble he has gone through; he tells Philemon that even if he is unwilling to forgive Onesimus, Paul will pay for his freedom. He asked Philemon not to hold anything against Onesimus, but to hold it against himself as though he was the one who did wrong. For someone who was a Pharisee for a very long time, priding himself on not sinning, that’s an awfully large price to pay.

But that price didn’t matter; his son did.

This is the definition of standing in the gap for someone, saying, “I will pay the price for you so you can be free.” That’s what fathers do for sons. That’s what Jesus Christ did for us.

slave to brother

When Paul talks about Onesimus in Colossians, he calls him a “faithful and beloved brother,” not a slave or even a former slave. A brother in Christ. Part of the family. Onesimus’ past was washed away, never to return again. He had a new name, and that name was “Beloved.”

This less-than-a-page-long book of the Bible is a Real Life example of how we can fight for people. This is how we are Jesus Christ to the world. This is how we bring freedom to the people who need it most. We make sacrifices so other people can have the life more abundant we do. We take their burdens upon our own shoulders and pay the price it takes to free their souls. We change their names from slave to brother.

This Post is for You

Dear Friend,

If I have one thing to say to you, it’s that you don’t have to listen to the lies spinning madly inside your head. You don’t have to watch the hurtful visions replaying over and over on the canvas of your mind. Your soul does not have to be plagued with frustration.

I want to tell you that you can be free of these thoughts, completely, forever. There is HOPE for peaceful rest. When you accept God into your life and promise to keep Him by your side, you have freedom from these vices. Just as Jesus quieted the storm raging around him and the disciples, He will quiet the storm raging inside your mind. You can have the peace you so desperately long for.

Psalm 4 8

If I have one thing to say to you, it’s that the world isn’t necessarily how you see it. When people look at you, they see a sweet, young, beautiful friend who’s trying to make it in the world. People aren’t out to get you, and they don’t see the twisted version of yourself you see in the mirror. You are strong and resilient, and I hate to see you affected so badly by the pain of your past.

I want to tell you that you don’t have to live with resentment. Those hurtful people you grew up with are not the other people in the world around you now, and their striking words do not define you unless you let them. Truth says you are a brand new person, and that brand new person will not be torn down by the things of this world. The moment Jesus Christ died on the cross, we became clean in God’s eyes, and once you truly grab hold of that, what they think and what they thought and said will no longer hold you in chains.

If I have one last thing to say to you, it’s to assure you that all your broken parts can and will be made brand new. That’s the beauty of the gospel – not that we can be whoever we want and do whatever we want, but that the Holy Spirit comes and undoes the pain of the past, kneading our hearts back to the way they were created to be: perfect and without blemish.

I want to tell you that God knows each corner of your bruised and torn-to-shreds heart. He knows where each piece of it went, and He went to great lengths to get them back. He longs to come into your life and sew every inch of you back together. I promise you He does this with the gentlest of care and loving kindness. You are safe inside His sovereign hands forever. Just take the step to trust Him with your heart. He is not like the flawed human beings we live with; He will not disappoint you.

Grasp hold of the HOPE you have at your fingertips and never let it go. You can be saved from this fear that threatens to eat you; I know this because I have lived through this journey. If God can save me from all the pain and lies of my past, He can save you, too. Just hold Him close and never let go; He will bring you through this journey to the end, a person made whole and brand new.

Much love and grace in Christ,