This is one of my favorite times of year. I’ve spent most of my growing up years in the North with snowy, white Christmases and lots of sledding and hot cocoa. I’ve also had several Southern winters (shout out to my favorite Arkansans!) where snow is rare and when it comes, the whole world shuts down.
This season is my favorite for a bunch of reasons, but sometimes it’s fun to make a list (I love lists!) of my favorite things. Even writing them here brings a smile to my face…
Christmas is a time to remember JESUS, the ultimate Gift. A God who loved us so much that He humbled Himself and moved into our neighborhood. He chose to be with us. He wrapped Himself in human skin and spoke our language. Creator of the universe became a Baby so we would understand LOVE and REDEMPTION.
Tonight I sit and wonder at His faithfulness and kindness. He gives good gifts.
(photo credits: Charity F. Walker, Life Through The Lens Photography)
“The thrill of Hope, a weary world rejoices” the all-too familiar carol lilting out on the radio. I say “all-too familiar” because sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. I often miss the big picture with things that are right under my nose or staring me directly in the eyes. Yesterday, those words seem to hang in the air.
Anticipation. Waiting. Being in the limbo.
These are feelings I’ve seemed to connect with a lot lately. In this moment, with those words dancing in my head, I started wondering. The Thrill of Hope. Is there thrill in the hope of something to come? Or have I ceased to allow anticipation to ride on the same thread that I experience wondering and waiting? Have I made the unknown so scary in my mind that I don’t consider the fact that it could bring JOY?
I’ve told more than one friend that my default setting is definitely FEAR. If it’s potentially exciting…I get scared. If it’s potentially hard…I get nauseous. If I’m unsure of the outcome, I’m fearful. Jesus is working hard to recalibrate and change my default setting…but it’s a process of renewing my mind and TRUSTING Him.
Anticipation. I wonder what the emotions were for young Mary as she waited on the birth of her Son and Savior? Was there any fear? Excitement? Worry? Curiosity? How about anticipation?
There is wonder in waiting.
Yesterday I read Psalm 37 and the words of truth resonated in my heart: “Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, and your justice like the noonday. Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him; do not be agitated by the one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans.” (verses 3-7, HCSB)
The word EXPECTANTLY hit me between the eyes. There can be hope in Anticipation. It can be a good thing. To look full into the face of change with hope and joyful anticipation. Maybe I’m the only one who looks at change as a bad thing…but I tend to fear change instead of welcoming it with open arms as I would a good friend. Let’s face it, change is sent by God to mold us into His image. Why wouldn’t I want to give Change a hand shake and a seat at my table? Embracing change is a sign of maturity. Apparently, I’m not there yet.
If I’m honest, I live like the verse reads very differently: “Be scared-to-death before the Lord and wait in freak-out mode for Him” because that’s what I do. I seem to often think negative. As if Jesus is out to ruin my life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yesterday I sat at a coffee shop table and argued with God for a while. I just couldn’t calm my fearful soul. Then in a moment, Jesus gave me a word picture: I saw the eyes of a child during this time of year. The wonder. The lights, the decorations, the wrapped presents under the tree, the special Christmas cookies and the music. I’ve never once seen a child who is afraid of what is beneath the wrapping paper…they are excited and full of hope. They can’t wait to see what’s inside. The wonder and expectation.
I realize I’m looking at this all wrong. I can see myself sitting and Jesus stands in front of me with a wrapped gift extended in His pierced hands. It’s beautiful and sparkly and I see the look of complete delight on His face. He is thrilled to give this to me. Then I see my face: frightened beyond all definition and my hands are trembling as a take it from His hands. Something just doesn’t set well.
This word picture stuns me. Am I really responding to Jesus like this? As if He doesn’t know what I need. The things I’m fearing? The change I’m afraid of? He knows. He understands me better than I understand myself. He has my good and His glory in mind. This wrapped gift is full of unknown possibilities for me. The good and the bad wrapped together, but it’s a change that I need to receive with hopeful expectation.
What if I received this unknown gift with wonder in my eyes? Knowing full-well that He does all things well and will walk this road with me…unwrapping this gift along the way. I want to be a child again, jumping up and down with glee at the thought of what He has in store for me.
Yes, there is wonder in the waiting. We serve a God of mystery, and with each paper-covered present, we have the opportunity to unwrap part of His character that we may otherwise not know. That sounds exciting to me!
Today I decided that I want to wait expectantly for Jesus. The thrill of hope. He has great plans for me. He gives good gifts. I want to have wonder in the waiting.
Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Gratefulness. Praise. Thanksgiving. We have all heard it over and over again. We’ve read books about it. We’ve heard sermons on it. We’ve told our friends and they’ve told us. We know that God wants us to praise Him and be grateful on a daily basis. Yet somehow, in the crazy lives we live, we forget. Often. At least I do.
About six years ago, I read a book that put this gratefulness thing into a whole new perspective for me. The book is called “One thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the connection between my gratefulness (or lack of it) and my heart’s joy level. I’ve lived it’s truth, so I knew it wasn’t a made-up correlation. When I am grateful, I am naturally joyful. Somehow focusing on the gifts God has given me turns my attitude to joy.
So I decided to take the challenge. I chose to write down 1,000 gifts.
I started a beautiful notebook….and I kept it laying on the counter as I went about my day. I took it in my purse when I was gone. It went with me on vacation. That journal was with me constantly. I found (as I had learned through Scripture and Ann’s book) that being thankful made me joyful. It made me mindful of all the little things and made me laugh and smile at the simplest gifts. I saw it as a spiritual exercise. A forming of a habit that would bring glory and praise to Jesus.
My first entires were all happy ones.
The inviting smell of peppermint mocha… Old family photographs- wrinkled and worn…Candle flames, dancing in the shadows…American flags flapping in the breeze…Church bells that ring twice a day… Spring flowers blooming….empty laundry baskets.
All of a sudden I treasured the smile of a stranger. I loved the first daffodil that bloomed…the rainbow that arched across the sky…the sunset…the eyelashes on a baby…a stack of old books. I went from grumbling about the mud on the floor to thanking God for it. I was smiling more. I was laughing often. I was breathing thanks a hundred times a day. I was LOOKING for His graces in all the normal, but beautiful everyday things. My heart praised Him often.
This was a turning point for me. Something happened as I chronicled Gods fathomless love for me. My heart was changing. Life was shifting. Through this shift, I began thanking God for the less pleasant things. The G key that sticks on the piano…Sloppy muddy driveways… A broken furnace… Sickness in our home… Broken glass… Ramen noodles smashed into the floor… Spilled beads everywhere.
The good and the bad together. He says to praise Him for all things. ALL. Garden gloves… Dead cell phone batteries… Long afternoons of reading… Empty laundry baskets… Homemade pies… Oily work clothes from my brothers… Cold sleet outside… Being snowed in… Fresh strawberries… Old quilts.
Sometimes I would get so excited about seeing gifts of God that I would grab anything I could find and scribble my thanks on it. Then I would take it home and transfer it to my journal. I had stacks of random receipts, small scraps of paper and McDonalds napkins all with things I was grateful for. Sometimes we would even write our blessings on little sticky notes and cover the refrigerator with them. My journal hit 1,000 gifts…but then I couldn’t stop! My heart became fuller…because my focus was on Him. His goodness. His grace. His love for me.
But sometimes in life, our focus can shift. It happens that way for me. A few years ago, I was in one of those ruts where gratefulness was really not a part of my daily routine. Enter my youngest sister…again. She has a way of pricking my conscience so innocently. Her honest tenderness to the Holy Spirit has convicted me more than once. So I was playing the piano, practicing some music for Sunday worship and she came up to me with that thoughtful look in her eyes. I knew something big was coming…but I didn’t know what. It was time for a wake up call.
“Are you ever afraid to raise your hands?” She asked me. I was a little confused. She didn’t give me any background to her line of questioning. After a minute of questioning she kind of sighed in her seven-year-old way and said, “I am afraid to raise my hands and praise the Lord in church. Are you ever afraid like that? I think about people watching me.” Wow. Ok. Not ready for that one from a little girl. Now it was my turn to sigh.
I had to admit…yes, I am afraid sometimes to praise the Lord out loud or in the open. I fear man more than God sometimes. I assured her that I feel those same things and that God is jealous for our praise. He wants us to glorify Him…to think of Him more than what other people are thinking of us. We talked for a minute about the Bible and how God says to lift our hands in praise and sing songs to Him….but I kept thinking about me. I needed to thank Him more. To praise Him bigger. To love Him more than anything.
But what came next knocked the wind out of me. I could see this seven-year-old in front of me processing this in her little way. She is brilliant and sensitive to the Lord…I could see it all clicking. She almost looked sad…like she had done something wrong. She told me how she had wanted to raise her hands during worship, but she was too scared. I echoed that thought. I’ve been there…just not at seven. “You know,” she said, “this Sunday, I am NOT going to let the rocks take my place!” Her eyes were serious. Determined. Then she started singing to explain. “Before the rocks cry out, I just want to praise you, just want to praise you, for all you have done.”
Suddenly, I felt like I was standing on Holy ground. God was here. I held back to tears. This moment was so sacred. My heart was full…and sad. I was the one the rocks were replacing! I was neglecting to thank Him. To praise His name. To tell others. To chronicle His love to me. I had forgotten the most important thing…Him. She ran away with a bounce in her step. I sat there heavy.
That was my neon sign from heaven! I went to the Lord…repenting of my ungratefulness and asking Him to create in me a clean heart. I started counting blessings again. Thanking Him. Looking for Him everywhere I went.
What about you? Are you worshipping Him? Thanking Him? Praising Him? Lets make His glory a daily part of our lives. There are lots of ways we can do that…maybe through sharing about Jesus with a friend, through worshipping Him in song, through praising Hin in prayer or through writing your blessings down. Let’s have hearts of gratefulness to our Father!
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing…Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful into Him and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-2, 4-5
Caregiving wasn’t ever something I asked for or signed up for or chose. Each time I took care of a lady, the opportunity just fell into my lap because they were women I loved. Jesus would whisper His famous question to my heart and I would know: this was for me. He would ask me- “Faith, do you trust Me?” That’s always my signal that He’s about to lead me somewhere that is good, but will scare my socks off.
Each caregiving experience is totally different from another. Each person has taught me many things and changed who I am dramatically. They have trained me to lean into Jesus in deeper ways and challenged me to open my heart again, even if it means the end of the road is loss. Both of my long-term caregiving opportunities have molded me into the person I am today and (as painful as they were for me to learn to love fully and then let go) I wouldn’t trade either of them for a world of ease. I treasure those days of learning and growing and crying and hearing the whisper of God- “I will hold you.”
Tonight, I sit and reflect about my second caregiving experience…with 98-year-old “Grandma N”. My sister and I took turns staying with Grandma each night and learned to love her like part of our family. She was hilarious, quick-witted, and thoughtful. She made me laugh every time I was with her. Even on her worse days, she never lost her sense of humor.
We had a routine at night of old-time shows and tv, popcorn and loud conversations (because she rarely had her hearing aids in). We learned to calm her fears about random things. Dementia does strange things to your mind, and we slowly learned to navigate the challenges of communicating with her in a way that she felt safe and stable.
Grandma taught me a lot about being still. Just being. Being present in the lives of those you love, but not always moving. My life has always been fairly active and loud and full-to-the-brim. Life with Grandma was a shuffle-pace at best. On really bad days, it meant sitting in a chair and being willing to just listen to her breath as she went in and out of sleep. I read a lot of books during those nine months. She taught me to sit still and value the silence and the presence of someone else you love…just being in the room. She loved having us there. Just having us there made her happy. She told us that repeatedly.
About a year before she went to heaven, I penned these words in my journal:
Today…she was slumped over in a chair, sleeping fitfully. I tried to wake her…but she didn’t stir easily. When she did wake up, she could hardly stay awake for more than two or three minutes and her speech didn’t make a lot of sense. Her eyes were glassy. Her body twitched. Her breaths came heavy and labored.
I haven’t ever seen the Angel of Death, but I seemed to smell him tonight. It was as if he was waiting at the side of that chair or hovering over the area. I’m not saying I felt creepy. I just felt fragile. Like I was helpless and couldn’t do a thing for this dying lady I love.
Life is fragile. Life is a vapor. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Death is really just a breath away.
I watched her struggle to keep her eyelids open. To straighten herself in the chair. To carry on a real conversation. But she couldn’t. She was tired and her body was shutting down.
It’s difficult to explain what I felt like in that moment. To be so full of life and energy and still unable to help someone.
And then as I got up to leave, she stirred. Her nearly hundred-year-old body jarring awake for just a few moments. And then it came…the seven words that never failed to roll off her tongue every time someone visits. “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” I almost started at it this time. She was dying. But the habit of slowing down was ingrained in the fiber of her very being.
Hurry. That’s what keeps me from enjoying life almost every day of my life. And here’s this lady…dying and reminding me at the same time to take a minute. To breathe. To slow down my pace a bit. To not hurry.
Yes, Grandma taught me to value stillness. To sit and listen. To BE and treasure the presence of those I love more than the going and doing. She taught me to not hurry. To be patient. To be okay with waiting and pausing to watch a sunset or eat an ice cream on the front porch. She even taught me that in a pinch, instant coffee will do. One can’t be too picky, when you’re in a pinch.
Patience is lost in our culture. In Grandma’s era, people valued relationship more than status…she wasted no time in telling me such. She knew the truth about what was and is really important in this life, and she made a point to teach me the value of slowing down and enjoying life with those around me.
Grandma went to be with Jesus on August 20th, 2018 and I miss her. Tonight I breathe thanks for a life well-lived. She taught me by example to live aware of each moment. To not rush and to treasure the times we have with our family and friends. I sit and ponder this season of Hope we are entering and pray that God will keep my eyes wide open to the opportunities I have to BE with those I love. With Christmas gatherings around every corner, I want to be fully present and willing to listen and be with my people.
Sitting here on this December night, I hear Grandma’s voice ringing in my ears again: “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” Aahh. The wisdom of a 98-year-old woman sinks into my soul. Hurry is overrated. Let’s just BE AVAILABLE and BE PRESENT and BE LOVE…I think Jesus would agree with Grandma. We don’t need to be in a hurry.
Hosea and Gomer. I’ve always loved this story…not because it’s a happy fairytale, but because it’s not. It’s real. It’s human weakness and Supernatural love on display. The kind that only God can give.
Last week I purchased a copy of “For Such a Time As This” by Angie Smith. It’s a children’s book designed for little girls about the women of the Bible. The illustrations are beautifully done and the writing style is lovely.
I settled in one afternoon on the couch with my baby sister to flip through the pages and read some stories to her. At page 120, I stopped. There they were. Hosea and Gomer. As I read the words aloud (well written, by the way, for a younger crowd) it struck me again. I’m in awe of this story.
Hosea is told to marry Gomer despite her checkered past. He does and he loves her. They have children, but Gomer’s old life pulls at her. She eventually leaves. But this is where it gets so unbelievable. Hosea’s love for Gomer is unreal. After all she does…her trickery, her lying, her cheating, her unfaithfulness…Hosea chooses to love her anyway.
My favorite part of this story is the end… Gomer winds up being sold into slavery. Dirty, penniless, and unable to help herself…she stands there on the selling block waiting for someone to buy her. Rejected. Broken. Unwanted. Hopeless. Her past is stained. Her future is bleak.
Then a Jewish man steps up to bid. He buys Gomer and she looks up into the face of her new master…and gasps. It is Hosea. Her Hosea. The one she was unfaithful to. The one she turned her back on for something worthless. He bought her back.
This is unconditional love. Crazy love.
At this point in the book, I am crying. I can’t hide my tears and my little sister is trying to figure out why I’m crying at a children’s book. My voice wobbles as I read the last few sentences. But it’s not a children’s story. This is my story.
This story is of Jesus rescuing me from myself. Loving me despite my flaws. Redeeming me though I am completely unworthy. Calling me consistently to Himself when my heart wanders. This is MY story.
“Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods…So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley.”
Hosea and Gomer. Jesus and me. This is my story. Unconditional love for an undeserving girl….and I’m forever grateful to Him.
(Originally written on May 23, 2016…but I’m still in awe of His redemption!)
Ten days ago, I started looking for yellow diamonds. Yellow trail signs that told me I was going the right direction. I was hiking Mount Nebo in Arkansas with two friends and the trail seemed to be getting longer and longer. What I thought was a one-mile path was taking hours and I was pretty sure it was no longer in the “easy” category.
It was beautiful outside…the colors are still vibrant in some places of Arkansas unlike my Michigan home. The air was autumn crisp but the sun made it feel warm and cheerful. I had decided to wear my tall boots to walk since the trail wasn’t going to be long and I wanted to be toasty with my long socks. We stopped every few minutes to take some photos of the incredible views and marvel at God’s creation. We even looked at the state park map a few times.
That’s when things started seeming a little off. After all, this trail seemed like it was longer than one mile. The map was slightly confusing and reading it with two others brought conflicting opinions. The only thing I knew for sure is that we were on the yellow diamond trail, so I started keeping my eyes peeled for those bright gold signals on trees.
We weren’t lost…we just weren’t exactly sure which trail we were on or how long it was. We kept hiking along, stopping here and there to take in the sights or take a drink from our water bottles. One whole side of the mountain was shaded and much cooler. There were icicles hanging down from the rugged crevices and it instantly made me feel colder. But every little while I would see another yellow diamond and would feel the inner shout: YES! We’re still on the right path!
That’s when I started thinking about how much this paralleled the “limbo” feeling of walking the path of life. I hate being in the limbo…the in-between seasons of life are uncomfortable. Ever wondered if you’re on the right road to where you’re going? Let me tell you, I’m there more often than I’d care to admit. Those spaces of wondering and wandering can be painful…or tension at best.
I’m still learning as I go through these seasons of limbo…but here are four things I recognized and connected dots with along the mountain path recently:
3. Keep moving forward. Don’t stand and wait for another sign…it won’t come to you. Keep moving. Staying in one place won’t get you anywhere. You’re going to have to trust Jesus and move forward. Having a rough season? It’s okay to cry and walk forward, even slowly. Just keep moving. Always keep moving forward. Plus, moving will keep you warm.
4. Be Patient. Waiting isn’t my strong suit. Never had been. I’m learning this more and more lately about myself. Waiting is something I hate doing. Being in the limbo, or in the in-between seasons of life can be difficult! But Jesus is in those spaces too…sometimes even more so in the stillness. Learn to lean into His Presence. Trust His will. He is good. No, He doesn’t always make sense to our human brains, but He is always good. He is for us and His way is perfect.
Yes, we made it the whole way on Mount Nebo that day. It took longer than expected, but we stayed together, followed the signs and kept moving forward. We’ve got some pretty cool pictures to prove it. My step-counting watch said over thirteen thousand steps. It was a hike to remember.
So, when the trail seems to tower above you like a mountain climb that winds around and around, remember this: in the seasons of in-between, He is there with you. He has a purpose. Those seasons of limbo can be beautiful, because He is walking the road with us. Never alone…always one step ahead of us.
I’ve come to call these spaces Life Between Trail Signs.
Stillness can be stifling if you’re used to being busy constantly. Always on the move. Always DOING and not BEING. It’s easy for those of us who are DOERS to feel lazy when we are still. Like we are un-spiritual because of our lack of busyness.
I’m a DOER. As long as I can remember, I loved getting things done. Even as a little girl, I craved check lists…and even more than that I loved the feeling of checking off those tiny boxes. I felt accomplishment. Ok, let’s be honest…I still enjoy check lists!
If you know me…or even if you follow this blog…you know that my life seems to always be spinning out of control. At least spinning out of MY control. My calendar has been a mess of scheduled events, mission trips, and running everywhere.
This past Friday, I sat in my room in Little Rock and the stillness was almost deafening. After a year of traveling and deadlines and ministry ventures, some unexpected events brought my plans to a halt. It’s not a bad thing, but my schedule was to drive here for the purpose of leading another women’s prison seminar…and after we were already almost here the seminar fell through. That hasn’t happened to me before, so I was instantly wondering why God would allow us to drive 12 hours only to have the reason we came be canceled.
I can’t remember the last time I’ve had this kind of experience. I’m constantly on the move…preparing, meeting someone, making a phone call, sending emails. But I didn’t plan on sitting on my bed in my room in Little Rock late into the night—not exactly tired enough to go to bed and certainly wondering what in the world I was going to do for the next week.
My Chaplain assures me there’s plenty of office work and I believe him. But there’s something about these quiet evenings that feels strange. I’m used to commotion, lots of voices and constant activity.
There’s something to be said about BEING, even when you are a DOER by nature. There are moments where God provides stillness to speak to our hearts.
Sitting here in the lamp light with the heater blowing softly, I look up at the ceiling and ask: “Okay Lord, what do you want for me this week?”
Perhaps this is the moment when Jesus smiles. This might be the question that He’s been waiting for. His smile feels like favor. A warm embrace of the soul…because He has a plan. He’s had a plan all along. My plan has been known to get in His way and He has His way of clearing the way for His will.
I hear His whisper: Be still. Just BE. Just BE here with Me. Trust Me…I’ve got this, don’t you know? I’ve got a plan and all you have to do is be. Hear my Voice and everything will be okay. Rest, Faith. It’s okay to rest in these moments, you don’t always have to be doing. Breathe. Just BE.
I exhale. The stillness suddenly comforts instead of repels me. He is here…in the stillness.
“But do not be conformed to this world, but be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your mind, that you may be able to prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2, NKJV (emphasis mine)
Let’s face it, friends. We all like to be “in the club”. No one likes to be the odd ball…to stick out or be different from the crowd. We are a culture of sameness. People don’t want to stand out. We all want to blend into our favorite click and be like everybody else. We want to look like, talk like, and be like whatever person is currently the image. We enjoy our clicks.
It’s sad really. We feel like if we can hide in the sea of normality that it’s better for us. It’s safer. Less dangerous.
Now I’m not a Bible scholar…but I do love the Word of God. It is hope and healing and redemption when our world is painfully short of these things. I’ve found my only solace in the pages of Scripture and in this amazing JESUS I’ve come to know and love…but…nowhere in the Bible can I find where God tells us to fit in. Actually I find the complete opposite.
Now before you click off this page and start looking for something else to read, let me give you some clarification here. I’m NOT saying that you need to purposely go in every opposite direction that the crowd is going. I’m NOT saying you need to dress wild and weird just because you want to be different. I’m NOT encouraging you to be rebellious or to act strange and justify it according to Scripture. What I am talking about here is the heart…and that will affect every area of your life.
You see, being a Christian is more than going to church and having John 3:16 memorized…and those are wonderful things. Being a Christian means you are a “Christ-follower” and that means you are to be set apart for His purposes. Jesus repeatedly tells you and I in Scripture to “take up your cross and follow Me”. Crosses are heavy. They are abnormal. If you carry a cross you are definitely different from the average Joe. Who wants to be uncomfortable, right? We’re all about being cozy…and carrying a cross is everything BUT cozy.
I was thinking about this whole concept of fitting in one day as I was driving to a meeting. The topic of standing up, standing alone and standing out was rolling around in my mind. It’s something that I deal with on a personal level but also as I talk to young ladies everywhere. It’s a common thread in all circles…fitting in is just the thing to do, or at least try to do.
I take the back roads when I’m going places because I love this beautiful time of year. As I turned one corner on this particular morning, I noticed that a corn field had recently been harvested and a fence row of trees now stood in full view. My jaw dropped open. I stopped my car.
There in front of me was a huge row of brown, crusty trees, dead from the autumn wind and mostly barren of leaves. Directly in the center was a big, beautiful tree in full color. It stared at me. It was so different from the others. So beautiful. It seemed to beckon me.
Sitting there on the side of the road, it was as if God spoke to my heart as I stared in disbelief at the beautiful sight.
Being different for the right reasons can be incredibly beautiful.
I sat there and thanked God for a word picture. (I really need those sometimes!) Suddenly, being different didn’t look so scary or weird…it looked beautifully alive and strangely wonderful. You see, our lives are to be so radically different that it beckons our dying world to take a look at our JESUS! We should look different so that those we come in contact with cannot help but hunger for the Bread of Life. We should make people thirst for the Living Water as we live purposely set apart.
When we follow Jesus fully, our lives are different…but they are beautifully so.
What does that look like…to be set apart from the world. We want to be in the world, but not of it….so (practically speaking) what does that look like?
Let me ask you… does your Facebook look any different from your non-Christian friends? Is it selfie-focused or others-oriented? No…I’m not saying you can only post Bible verses and sermon videos! I’m saying…does it speak of your different-ness? What about presenting an accurate picture of who you are…not always making your life seem like a fairy tale and stretching the truth to seem more glamorous. Everybody knows it’s not girls, you live in a broken world like the rest of us…so just be honest. If you don’t have something nice to say on there…don’t say anything! Do you partake in gossip and slanderous talk or do you speak with kindness and make them wonder about your JESUS?
What about your speech? Do you talk with the same language that everyone else uses? Do you refrain from profanity, or do you struggle to not fit in…so maybe you curse sometimes to be cool?
Do you do things and go places that you know you shouldn’t, but it just feels awkward to go against the flow so you do it anyway?
Do you only choose to befriend people who are like you or do you have lots of age groups and personalities in your circles? Look at people through Jesus’s eyes…It’s different, but it’s beautiful.
What about the way you look…the way you carry yourself…your attitude…how you treat your parents and siblings…what activities you spend your free time on? Being different is our call to bring others to the Cross…because let’s get real…who wants to follow Jesus when there’s nothing different about His followers?
I think about that big, bold and beautiful autumn tree a lot. That’s what I want to look like. I’m a tree…a person like everyone else…but what’s inside of me is what changes how I look, act and speak. I do stick out from some of my fellow trees…but I hope and pray it’s the kind of difference that makes people long for my JESUS. I want my life to beckon others to look toward the God of the universe and be willing to follow Him as well. I want to be Beautifully Different.
What about you? I’d love to hear from you, friend. What are some ways you can be Beautifully Different and reflect JESUS in your daily life? Leave your comment below or shoot me an email from the Contact Page!
(This post originally posted on the Polished Cornerstones blog, October 25, 2015.)
Her words hung in the air. I have never heard a more poignant question that felt more like a statement. A verbal assessment of the condition of American Christianity.
I sat there and wept in conviction.
I’ve been in a lot of women’s prisons… and just when I thought I had heard the same things over and over, this woman blew my world to bits.
We were talking about being daughters of God. Pushing back the labels and choosing a different life because Jesus loves us and wants us. We were encouraging them to follow their Heavenly Father and pursue healing. We were also pressing the importance of being in community with other believers.
The Church is a big deal. It was designed by God on purpose for us to live in community with other Christians…that are redeemed and yet still flawed. There are no perfect churches and every gathering of believers will have some differences. However, as the Bride of Christ, we need to be meeting together and sharing with each other, keeping one another accountable and serving our broken world together.
It was in the middle of this talk about church community when her question split the room.
“Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”
The question seemed to stab me to the core. I sat there and watched this woman pleading with everything in her. She wanted to be free. She craved to belong. To be wanted by her own brothers and sisters in Christ. To be welcomed, even broken and empty.
I was totally stunned by her honesty and straight forwardness. Her question was not just a wondering of heart…it was also a statement to the condition of our American churches. She knew she wasn’t wanted by the typical Christian gathering. She could feel the wall between her and her fellow Christians…even though she was still in prison. Whoa. That was a hard pill to swallow.
It was obvious that the other women in the room resonated with her question. There was a low hum as her words gave them the courage to say what they were thinking. They were speaking out and pleading for a place to call home. They are making changes in their lives…but when they go home, they need a place to STAY DIFFERENT. When they can’t find a welcoming place, they often revert to the old friendships and places that led them to be incarcerated.
When did that happen? When did we start adding punishment to people’s current sentences? When did we become so self-righteous that we suddenly govern who can come through the doors of our churches?
I keep thinking… if these women aren’t welcome in the House of God, where on earth will they be invited? Perhaps our best candidates for church members sit behind prison walls…and we are too scared to invite them to join us. As if their belonging to us will taint us…when it will more often teach us. As if their stories are less palatable…when they are more powerful. As if they aren’t necessary to the Body of Christ when we actually need them desperately.
To belong is a powerful thing.
“Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”
I don’t have a cookie-cutter answer for that. But I know this: we are all ex-offenders. You are. I am. Your pastor is. Every single one of us are undeserving of grace. So, what if we started living more like we are redeemed and serving a Rescuing God and less like we are the judge and jury?
That question still haunts me. I can see her face, tears rolling down her cheeks and the pleading in her eyes. “Where do we go when no one wants us anymore?”
What if YOU and I were meant to answer that question with the way we live our lives? What if we were the first person in our church to walk over to the new comer, regardless of their past…and tell them they BELONG. Welcoming the stranger, the ex-convict, the orphan and the broken-hearted into our churches is the heart of the Father. Jesus is about redemption, friends. I think it would be powerful if we started living like we believed it.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35 NRSV
This must be the year of weddings. I have eleven friends getting married in 2018. ELEVEN FRIENDS. For real, I’m not kidding. It’s as if love is in the air. But what do you do when everyone is “catching the bug” and you seem to be inoculated against it? It can be humorous or hurtful, depending on how you look at it.
I hear ya, friend. It’s whoa-fully obvious when you come to all your friends’ weddings alone…and did I mention that all eleven of those friends are a few years younger (or several!) than me? That makes a big shout out too. Here’s the thing…I mostly don’t notice it until someone mentions it to me (bless their hearts, those sweet people who feel they need to remind me).
Last month I turned 30 years old and from where I stand, I’m not heading to marriage any time soon. It makes for an interesting conversation when you go to weddings at my age without a ring on your finger, or without a guy…or a boyfriend. Top those odds with actually being a HAPPY SINGLE GIRL, and that’s just plain weird. I have to admit, sometimes I have fun with that one.
“Oh, Faith, do you have a man yet?” Clearly, no. Thank you very much. I forgot until you brought it up. I’m ever so glad you reminded me.
“Oh, you’re STILL single?” Ah. Gotta love that one. Definitely my fav.
“Aww. Faith, maybe you’ll be next.” That feels remotely like pity…or like I’m broken or messed up because of my singleness.
In short, well-meaning people say stupid things. Good people. People who are your friends. They just don’t know what it sounds like…or feels like, for that matter.
First off, single friends…we’ve ALL said stupid things. So, let’s cut these well-meaning people some slack. Give some grace. We all want a little growing room, so let’s be the first to give it. People generally don’t mean to treat you like you have a “condition”, they just want to say something, and they say the wrong thing. Mercy…I’ve done that myself plenty of times.
Back to weddings…because weddings are the best times to hear these lovely remarks.
Weddings are wonderful times. I love going to weddings. I really do. But they can also hold with them the familiar reminder that you are one of the few who are alone. You are the lone single, poking yourself into a million conversations and trying to find where you fit in. You are that single gal rocking someone’s baby to sleep while everyone else slow dances with their spouse. What’s a girl to do?
If ever there were a time that I see this clearly, it’s now. With a bunch of weddings under my belt already and several to go, I’m coming to grips with my singleness in a new way.
I want to be that mysterious single gal that is thoroughly enjoying all her friends’ weddings without one ounce of jealousy or envy. I want to be able to take complete joy in these events…never stopping for a moment to notice my lack of sameness with my married friends.
The truth is, there have been moments in the last year when I have been GLAD I was single at these weddings…because there needed to be an unmarried gal to be the gopher. I’ve got a few fun stories about being the single friend who got some crazy jobs…but I’ll save those for a different day.
I have atleast two favorite moments at every wedding…the first is always when the bride walks down the isle. This reminds me that one day, my Heavenly Groom is coming for me and I can’t wait to catch a glimpse of His face. He continues to pursue my heart, day after day, patiently and weddings remind me of His steadfast love.
The second moment is when the bride and groom are announced as the new Mr. and Mrs. It’s just a crazy amazing thing that a covenant just happened between God, a man and his wife. Beautiful pictures of grace and faithfulness.
Sometimes there are multiple moments at any given wedding that will go down in my memory as favorites. Like when the kiddos in a wedding go screaming down the isle or decide to take their shoes off and throw them during the ceremony. It’s just the unpredictable and hilarious part of friends getting married.
Yes, I go to weddings with JOY. I rock the babies to sleep. I laugh with everyone. I clap like crazy at the announcement of a new couple. And I dance with the littlest people who need a partner. That’s what you do when all your friends are getting married…and you’re not. It’s okay. That’s what happy single girls do.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” 1 John 3:1 (KJV)
One of my life passions is helping women understand the depth of God’s love for them. Of course, humanly speaking, wrapping our minds around the limitless love of God is impossible. However, even if we catch a glimpse of that unconditional love He has for us, it completely transforms the way we see our Heavenly Father. It’s all about Who we belong to, girls!
I once saw a powerful 3 minute video clip by Pricilla Shirer that I want to share with you. (and if you can’t watch this video, you can read the words to it at www.goingbeyond.com/blog/who-do-you-belong/)
Every time I see this clip (and trust me, I’ve watched it a lot), I want to stand up and cheer for my Heavenly Daddy! The fact that this limitless Daddy chose to become Father to a limited girl like me… that is amazing! I’m in awe of that kind of love. That kind of grace overwhelms me. What mercy and kindness!
I’ve also noticed the more I focus on Him and Who He is, the more I see myself and my surroundings in a different light. When I am secure in His love, not much else matters, does it? It changes the way I see myself in the mirror in the morning. It changes the way I view the ministry He has set before me. It completely transforms the way I view big problems in life…because they’re not too big for Him.
I love seeing the first part of 1 John 3:1 in this way too… “Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are!…” (HCSB) We are!
We are His daughters! Princesses of King Jesus. Savor that incredible thought for a little while, gals. Dwell on it. Think about the power of that small sentence. You are His little girl.
You. Are. His.
Nothing can stop Him from loving you… “For I am persuaded , that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present , nor things to come , Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39
“For God so LOVED the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, emphasis mine)
Kids have a way of bringing new life and vantage points to everyday things. Their questions spur in us the desire to search for answers. Answers that we perhaps didn’t even know we needed. I have been pushed to dig deep into God’s Word…simply because a younger sibling asked me a curious question.
“What is adequate?” The question came from my 7-year-old sister. I was cleaning the kitchen and her question caught me off guard. Where did that come from? I thought. I mean, seriously, ADEQUATE isn’t normally a word that a seven-year-old spits out fluently….and it had rolled off her tongue like CAT. I stopped washing the counter and turned my head to her. She was sitting at the table doing some school work with her pencil and seemed unaffected by her strange curiosity.
I sighed a bit. Explaining the meaning of simple words has never been easy for me. My brain churned, trying to pull small words from my vocabulary that would satisfy a seven-year-old’s curiosity. “Well…Adequate means like…you’ve got what it takes.” She looked at me and then went back to her work, but I could tell that my answer wasn’t enough for her. “It means…enough…it means you’re enough. If you’re adequate, you’re enough. You have what it takes. Does that make sense?” She nodded and then went back to her math problems. This time, I felt like she understood, and like I would be hearing the word fall from her mouth in a sentence in the near future. I know her…when she learns what a word means and how to use it, she will use it.
But then a nagging question hung in my mind. What IS adequate? I realized my little sister had over heard me asking for prayer in conjunction with the statement that I felt INADEQUATE for the task ahead of me. What is adequate? It struck me that this seven-year-old had not said, “What does adequate mean?” She said, “What is adequate?” That was an entirely a different matter.
What is adequate? The question spun around in my brain bringing a thousand other questions to my mind. My heart resonated with the truths I slowly discovered. What is enough? Am I enough? Do I have what it takes? Am I adequate for the job? Am I worthy? Am I enough…adequate?
We all face these questions in life…more than once. They probe into our souls when our schedule is crammed and we are overwhelmed. They creep up when someone in our family says hurtful things. They stand at our doorstep when we are about to take a leap of faith into ministry. Sometimes…they stare at us when we look in the mirror in the morning. Am I enough? Am I smart enough? Am I beautiful enough? Am I talented enough? Am I strong enough? Am I spiritual enough?
The questions wrap their greedy fingers around our souls and sap the joy of life from us. Instead of living fully…we live wondering. Questioning our worth. Asking questions that block our effectiveness for God and leach the life out of our beings.
Then the breath of God…”Ye are a CHOSEN generation, a ROYAL priesthood, a HOLY nation…”(1 Pet. 2:9, emphasis mine). He came and “gave Himself for us, that He might REDEEM us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” (Titus 2:14, emphasis mine) “Ye have not chosen me, but I have CHOSEN you, and ORDAINED you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit.” (John 15:16, emphasis mine) “I have LOVED thee with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3, emphasis mine) “My grace is SUFFICIENT for thee, for my STRENGTH is made perfect in weakness.” (1 Corinthians 12:9, emphasis mine). HE is enough. HE is adequate. HE is worthy. HE is sufficient.
Beautiful daughter of God…do you want to know why you are enough? You are enough, because Jesus is and He said you are! If you weren’t worth it…there would have been no cross. No redemption. No sacrificial love. Ah, but you were enough! You were enough that He said YES to the cross for you! He went to that rugged cross on Calvary because He deemed you worthy of His love and forgiveness and outpouring of blood.
His choice made you worthy. His love made you beautiful. His redemption made you enough.
I stood in the kitchen with a dish rag in my hand and marveled at this mystery. That I, an unworthy daughter should have the favor of God rest upon my head. My past is forgiven. My scars are beautiful. I am enough, because He is enough. I am worthy, because He is worthy to be praised.
My mind went to a song that I love. It’s called, “My worth is not in what I own.”
“My worth is not in what I own, not in the strength of flesh and bone. But in the costly wounds of love at the cross. My worth is not in skill or name, in win or lose, in pride or shame. But in the blood of Christ that flowed at the cross.
“As summer flowers we fade and die; Fame, youth, and beauty hurry by. But life eternal calls to us at the cross. I will not boast in wealth or might, or human wisdom’s fleeting light. But I will boast in knowing Christ at the cross.
“Two wonders here that I confess, My worth and my unworthiness. My value fixed, my ransom paid at the cross.” (Keith and Kristyn Getty and Graham Kendrick)
Dear Sister…your worth is summed up in the cross. Your beauty is a reflection of your Father Who calls you ransomed, chosen, and loved. Don’t let the voices of the world tell you that you have to achieve to win His favor. He has made you beautiful and worthy and loved. His work on the cross has made you adequate to stand before God. His blood has made you enough!
So next time those ugly questions of self-worth probe your soul…remember your answer. Your answer stands on a hill called Calvary. Your answer reigns in heaven and in your heart! He has made you HIS…and because of that, you are beautiful, worthy. Girl, you are enough….because of His sacrifice.
Live fully…laugh long…remember that we have the glorious truth. We can live beautifully and purposefully knowing that our worth is in HIM, not in ourselves. That kind of promise inserted into our souls can create a radiance that only Jesus can get the glory for.
What is adequate? What is enough? You are friend…because HE is.
(Originally published May 9th, 2015…and still pondering this amazing truth. Jesus is enough.)
“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
Last week an ice storm came through and our power went out for a few days. This presented some interesting challenges in day-to-day life. When you’re a kid, this becomes one thrilling long journey. When you’re an adult….not so much. After eighteen hours I was ready for power again.
We have wood heat (praise the Lord!) so despite the chilling cold, we were able to keep warm and our gas stove allowed us to cook, but the adventure wore off quickly for me. Who wants to take a candle to the bathroom? Or have to carry a flashlight in your pocket all the time? Or watch the laundry pile up because the washer and dryer are out of commission? And I must have said, “Please shut the refrigerator!” a thousand times. What is it about a power outage that makes people so hungry that they have to survey the refrigerator contents twice an hour?
Two days without power shows you a lot about life….and attitude. Believe me. At the end of the second day (when I was thoroughly sick of no lights) I had a light bulb moment. Almost literally.
It was pitch black, and even the candles spread all over the house didn’t cut the darkness very well. I was sitting on the couch in the thick blackness. I don’t remember what I was doing, except for having a sour attitude. I mean, really, what can you do when it’s dark and you have NO electricity? Then this light entered the room…it was my little sister. She is not an adult, so this was still a huge adventure for her. She was LOVING the moment and I was in the same house HATING it.
She was holding a small glass dish with a tiny tea light candle in it. Strange how the moment hit me, but it was like she was HOLDING LIGHT. You really couldn’t see her glass dish because the light obscured the container. It really looked like she was cupping light in her hands…and she was bringing it to me. “Faith, look!” she said.
I stared at it. All I could think is how BEAUTIFUL it was. This cupping of light in her hands. It made me want to hold it in mine. To carry it around the room like a little child and share it with others. To wonder at it and be filled with the adventure that was in those sparkling eyes. Why couldn’t I find joy in this moment?
The light was amazingly bright. It seemed so luminous. Chasing away the shadows and lighting the face of this little girl. This child bringing light to me. I had to smile. I couldn’t help it. The moment was beautiful….and since phones don’t run on electricity, I took a picture.
When the moment was past, it got me to thinking…what do I look like to this dark, dying world? Do I cup my hands like a willing servant and carry the light to dark places? Do I smile like a child and enjoy the journey…carrying the Light, the Beauty to others? Is my life’s light bright enough to draw them to JESUS?
I have this picture as my phone’s wallpaper right now…and it’s a visual reminder that I am to carry the Light wherever I go. I want to cup JESUS in my hands and take Him to the dark places.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
(This post was originally written on January 9, 2016…and today? It’s message still motivates me to carry His Light to a dark world.)
The following post I wrote nearly two months ago…but because it was so fresh, I chose not to post it. Since then I’ve been learning what it means to be PRESENT even when I’m no longer Ms. Mary’s primary caregiver. Even that requires Persistence.
It’s a hard thing to fall and then get up and try again. Painful. Challenging. Like trudging through molasses to get somewhere. There are days I want to quit because life beats me up and it’s easy to lose the wind in my sails. When everything seems to be coming at me full force and I can’t get out from under the chaos.
I’ve had one of those weeks. Adventure isn’t always peaches and cream, I’m learning. When I choose Jesus as my Guide it more often than not means struggle and rainy days and hard questions and mountain climbing when I really don’t know what I’m doing. It means looking into the face of change and smiling because He knows what He’s doing even when I’m incapable and scared. It means persistence. Pushing through the clouds and clinging to what He wants for my life even when it doesn’t always make sense.
Change is a common visitor in my life. I’m not friendly with him, but he seems to show up anyway. Sometimes he shows up during beautiful times like when I get a new niece or nephew or one of my friends get married. Other times, he shows up when I’d rather him not. These past several days have been “one of those times”. Caregiving hasn’t ever been my dream…but it seems to follow me. My sister and I have been taking care of a 98-year-old lady for the past nine months who has been like a local great-grandma to us. She has dementia and severe arthritis and could no longer be at home alone. It started slow…just nights and an occasional pop in. Then it progressed to more and more as her circumstances worsened.
Over the past three weeks, it’s went downhill fast. These past ten days have been long. Short nights with little to no sleep and long days of care. If I’m honest, I’ve even felt a little stir-crazy. It’s been a long road. The reality is, we can’t keep up the pace. There’s only two of us and we honestly can’t do it all. There aren’t many options for those of us who live in the middle of nowhere, so her family opted for a nursing home. I cried. Not because I was in disagreement, but because I wanted to see it through. I wanted to walk her to heaven’s door and for it all to tie up neatly and be done. Closure. A little part of me felt like I was abandoning my mission before it was complete.
We called the ambulance after a long day of battling side effects from her new meds last Tuesday. I saw it in her eyes…she wasn’t right and I knew I couldn’t help her anymore. My sister stood there and said what I was too afraid to think…we needed to call for help. Sisters are good for tough moments like that. In the back of my mind I wanted to deny it, because a little piece of me knew it might be the end. It would mean change and I felt like the fight had been already whipped out of me.
I knelt next to her worn out recliner and held her hand as the First Responders and EMTs asked a million questions. Date of birth. Medications. Food. Medical history. A slight daze settled on my brain, the sleepless nights and emotional roller coaster was catching up with me. Charity righted my ship a few times…helping fill in the blanks.
Since I’m the primary caregiver, they told me I could ride in the ambulance to the hospital with her. As I could feel all the hurt and angst come floating to the top. Half way through the trip, the emotions overwhelmed me and in an effort to stifle the tears, I sighed a deep, heavy sigh. The driver turned to me and said, “We are almost there”, as if I was only tired of the drive. Inside I felt like screaming for help. The weight on my chest was all too familiar.
How do you push through the fog when you don’t even know what direction you’re facing? What do you do when the circumstances of our fallen, wicked world knock you down? I’ll admit…more than once I’ve just stayed laying there for too long.
Then there’s persistence. Determination gets up and begins again. Even if it means starting over. Even if it means getting a new mission. Even if it means re-evaluating our approach and tweaking your presentation.
I stayed at the hospital until nearly 2am…answering round after round of questions from nurses and doctors about some of the same things again. I crashed when I got home…weary in body, soul, and spirit.
The next morning, I cleaned up her house (I’ve been living there full-time for the past week or so), canceled her hair appointment, and tried to catch up on some long-overdue projects at home. I was waiting for the call that she was coming home so I could resume my post as caregiver.
The phone call wasn’t what I expected. She’s not coming home.
Instead, I heard she has kidney failure. She had slept the whole day without pain meds and hadn’t eaten or drank anything. My mind was having flashbacks …these signs were like red flags waving in the wind and shouting at me. I’ve been here before and somehow, it feels both different and strangely familiar.
The feeling I felt was failure. Why couldn’t I walk her to heaven’s door? I wanted to be there for her…to hold her hand and walk with her through the valley. What if she gets scared? What if she can’t see anyone she recognizes in the dementia fog?
So now I stand at the door of change again. Wondering—all this time I suddenly have back—what if I don’t want it? What if I’d rather be giving meds and applesauce or changing adult diapers and smiling when she told me unbelievable stories about her “visitors” that she can see and I can’t? What if I’d rather everything just stay the same?
Persistence and determination are amazing virtues…but I feel like the fight has been knocked out of me. I want to be faithful. I want to stand firm. I want to be trustworthy and loyal to my Captain. I’ve also found that He walks through some rough country to get to where we are going…and I feel weary and tired and emotional and sad. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.
Then I see the nest.
Often, God speaks to me through word pictures…apparently, I learn that way. My brother had parked his Jeep in the driveway and I noticed that a bird had built a nest in one of the headlights. He drove it one day, pulling the nest out before he left. The next day, the bird built another nest. The 2nd nest was removed and by the next day it was built again. This went on for days. Six nests later, I was wondering how long it would take this bird to get the point. The odds were against it.
What would it take for you to love difficult people? How many times will you walk through sorrow and choose to love again? How many times will I be willing to say YES to being a caregiver?
Today, I want to be done with caregiving. It’s too hard. Painful.
Then I see that nest…and I wonder. How much am I willing to risk? Couldn’t I be a little more persistent, patient and enduring? I’ll keep building…time and again…knowing that Jesus will hold me together.
Perspective is everything…and I tend to lose proper perspective easily. Often. I am a chronic perspective-loser. (If that’s even a word.) Two weeks ago was one of those times.
I was away from home on a work trip with my family and trying to juggle the normal responsibilities from my perch in the South. It was one of those times when the to do list in my brain was overwhelming me and making me a bit crazy. My fuse was getting smaller and smaller and my attitude was challenging me hourly. With an upcoming conference and other ministry opportunities, I was trying to get some work done, despite my being away from home. All of this and more were piling up in my mind. One of those times where you mark off two things on your to do lists and add four. At night my brain wouldn’t shut off. I was tired emotionally. I was discouraged.
Then I climbed a mountain.
Ok…it was more like a high hill with lots of rocks, but none the less, they call it a mountain. Pinnacle Mountain in Arkansas. I was told it was a “hike”, and if I had been in shape, it would have been just that…but it was more like a humbling stop-and-go climb for me. Three quarters of a mile seems like an easy hike until you put it 1,011 feet in the air. That changes things tremendously. The terrain was very rocky and thankfully, I am told we were on the “easier side”. That’s a very good thing. Otherwise…I’m not sure if I would have made it in one piece.
It was a hike. Took me an hour to summit, being 26 and sorely out of shape. I kept hearing my heart pounding out of my chest and my heavy breathing. It’s a very effective way to shut me up since I couldn’t talk and huff and puff simultaneously.
Every 10 minutes I stopped for a breather. Every bench had my name on it. My two teenage siblings were ruthless in their fun ribbing. “The old lady” was climbing a mountain! I waved them off…they were right, I was older than them AND out of shape. I reminded them that they didn’t have to run ahead and prove themselves! “Let’s enjoy the trip” really translated to “I am dying, can you slow down?”
Along the way, I was met by many athletic folks jumping and skipping rock to rock…as I hoisted myself slowly from one to the other. They exhausted me even more just watching them. We saw one man, probably in his late sixties or older, who was jogging downhill at a much younger speed. Our friend who took us on the hike said that same gentleman is there all the time. That knowledge wore me out too. People take this mountain climbing serious…like it’s a favorite pastime, or something. I mused at my very different ideas of a favorite hobby. None of which were rock climbing.
After an hour, and several bench breaks, we arrived at the top. I was windless and tired. My mind rolled over my to do list back home and the emails I needed to reply to…and I really needed to finish that blog! My shirt was wet from sweat and my legs felt remarkably similar to noodles. As I crested the ridge, I appreciated the breeze…especially in a damp shirt.
Then I looked down into the valley below and smiled. I wanted to congratulate myself for not fainting on the way up, but the view took my breath away (at least what was left of it). There was my Creator’s handiwork in full view. The sun was starting to set and the river below snaked around the mountain. In the far distance, I saw a sailboat…like a pin head on the horizon. The sky was exploding into color and the breeze was perfect. Below, I saw the city…this city I had just came grumbling from. The same place that seemed so big, and scary, and overwhelming. Now it looked ridiculously small. I put my hand against the spot where I had previously been and it all fit in the palm of my hand.
How my perspective had changed. Quickly. In an hour of climbing. Suddenly…my to do list vanished. My swimming brain stilled. My heart was in awe. I couldn’t get over the sail boat. It was so tiny. Then, as if in a whisper, I felt a truth drop into my heart. “There’s my to do list,” I thought. When I am right up on it, it’s HUGE. But when I am with the Father, it’s a speck of nothing on the horizon.
As a child I always wondered what Christ meant when He said, “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) The way I saw it, with Christ came a rough road ahead. Worth it? Absolutely! It’s just that the promise of a lighter burden didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I didn’t see lighter loads. Since fully surrendering my life to Christ, I had a whole lot more on my plate. So what did Jesus mean by a “light burden” and an “easy yoke”?
It seemed, standing there on top of that mountain, I understood what He meant. He didn’t mean the problems would disappear. He meant that your perspective would be changed. On that mountain, I was lighter. My load seemed like nothing. Weightless. Was my to do list erased? No. In fact, I knew it was getting longer at home while I stood on Pinnacle Mountain. My perspective had changed. All those details that I had been stressing over? They were all a pin-head sailboat on the horizon compared to the wealth of God’s abilities. He doesn’t need me to run around with my head cut off. He doesn’t need me to complete His tasks…He chooses me and uses me for His glory. Big difference.
There I was 1,011 feet up in the air and all the dots were connecting for me. My problems aren’t big. My to do list isn’t impossible. My opportunities aren’t overwhelming. I make them that way. I blow them up into monstrous proportions and then God has to come along and deflate them when I am at my wits end. He calls me to climb a mountain…and then He points to my sailboat of a problem. It’s really not that big from up there. It’s actually very achievable. It fits under my pinky finger.
I know I stared for a long time into the valley that day, overwhelmed in a different way. This shrinking feeling washed over me. Freedom feels very light. In fact, it’s weightless. And for the first time in a long time, I felt weightless. It wasn’t my job to be frantic and coordinate perfection. It’s my job to climb the mountain and be obedient. He does the rest. Roll up my sleeves in diligence? YES. But not get in God’s way of planning and making all things beautiful IN HIS TIME.
The sun was setting and we had to leave the mountain top. To be honest, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stamp this image deep into my heart. Every river bend, every church steeple, every road and every sail boat. I wanted it etched in my memory. I wanted this new perspective never to fade. I wanted this mountain to change me.
How often do we allow the circumstances of life to rob us of our joy and sap us of energy? We blow up our problems and create bigger ones. However real they are, we must not let them rule our lives and steal our zest for living. That relationship that is crumbling…it IS painful, but it must not keep you in the valley. Climb up, dear friend! That test final that seems impossible? One rock at a time, sister…move steadily to the top and your perspective will change. Stay on the mountain top as long as you can and carve the things you see there in your heart forever. Dwell on His power. His majesty. HIM.
As I started down into the valley again, I thought a lot about what I had experienced on the mountain. I carried with me the realization that sometimes…amid the struggles in life…I just need to push the pause button and climb. I needed to MAKE time to climb. To be with Him and rest in His perspective.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I fully expect in my humanness to need another mountain climb again one day. Maybe even soon. We all need a visual reminder. When that moment comes again…I will climb. But for today…I am remembering that little pin head of a sail boat and praising God for His power over my problems, however big they may seem at the moment.
What is your perspective today? Climb a mountain. Climb a tree. Climb for perspective. Live in the Presence of the Father and remember that “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Climb, sister, climb!
(Originally published May 19, 2015 on the Polished Cornerstones blog.)
Twelve years ago I graduated from high school.
Now if you’re a teen reading this…you’re thinking I’m old right now. Twelve years is a long time, but you’ll be here before you know it, friend! So pick your jaw up from the floor and put your eyeballs back into your head.
This is kind of like a letter to all my young friends graduating. High school graduation is a big milestone. It’s hard work to get through school. The culture of it alone can be torturous.
So here it is, graduates….my perspective. What would I say to myself twelve years ago? Learn from my mistakes and jump ahead of the game!
You’re embarking on the journey of a lifetime. It will be thrilling. It will be amazing. It may even be scary at times. But your Guide will never be far away and He is orchestrating each leg of the road ahead. Four things I would say to you above all else:
In short, SAY YES to Jesus. Always say yes to Jesus.
Life isn’t one giant leap after another…it is small steps. Take each small step in His direction and amazing, impossible things will happen.
There will be thousands of things people say to you about these next few years of life…and to some degree, they may expect or even encourage you to throw wisdom out the door and “find yourself”, which really means “be selfish”. I’m saying the opposite. Dig in. Make His Word your number one textbook. Go deep with Jesus in these foundational years. Do hard things. It’s ok to be different from the world…to go against the flow for the sake of Christ. You have what it takes… I know that about you. You have determination, zeal and a love for life that will take you far if you use it for God’s glory.
Being radically in love with Him will change your heart AND everyone who comes in contact with you. John Wesley said, “Set yourself on fire with passion and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” I’m in agreement…so all that to say—Get on fire…for Jesus.
Today is the day, graduate. Get on fire!
Sincerely, A friend who’s been there before
The word “DoorKeeper” has been on my mind lately. While ministering in prison this past week, I tumbled on Psalm 84 again. It seemed full of meaning and purpose…both for me and the women I was talking to. The question kept mulling around in my mind: “What does it mean to be a DoorKeeper?
Several weeks ago I was at the coffee shop, studying and journaling. A scrap of paper fell out of my journal and I picked it up. On it were the words: “I want to be a DoorKeeper! Psalm 84:10” It was dated April 3, 2017.
That scrap of paper…I wrote eight days before Ms. Laurie went home to heaven.
Psalm 84:10 (ESV), “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.”
The Message Bible says in the last part of the verse: “I’d rather scrub floors in the house of my God than be honored as a guest in the palace of sin.”
When I wrote those words last year on a scrap of paper, more than anything I wanted to hear God’s voice. Just to know that He was there. IN my heartache. IN my sorrow. IN my loss. Did He really hear me? I felt like teenage Joshua in Exodus 33:11 (HCSB), “The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.”
In the deepest parts of my soul…I was starving for the face of God. Begging for Him to show up. So, when I came across this verse in Psalm 84, I felt like the cry of my heart was showing up in black letters on the page. I wanted to be where He was. Like Joshua, I didn’t want to leave the tent. If that meant staking my claim at the door of His house, I was staying. Right. There.
Ever been there? Completely wrecked and at the end of yourself? Waiting for the breath of God to come over you? Wondering if His robe would ever come close enough for you to reach out and touch?
A DoorKeeper in the House of my God.
If all I’m doing is scrubbing floors for Jesus or standing at the door and opening it for other people to walk through…isn’t that enough? Maybe…just maybe…if I stay right there at the door of His dwelling, I’ll see His face more often. I’ve tasted of His mercy. I have a seat at His table. So why not stand at the door and invite others to come in? To open the door for those crippled by sin, too sick to open the door themselves, or saddened by life? I want to be a doorkeeper.
So, last April, I wrote that on my scrap of paper. “I want to be a doorkeeper! Psalm 84:10. April 3, 2017.”
Doorkeeper’s jobs aren’t always easy. They stand between the world and the House of God. A bridge for people to see Jesus in the face of another human. Doorkeepers are real people with skin on. They are flesh and blood folks who make mistakes but know about the Hope of the Gospel and the Healing of the Cross. They stand at the door and hold it open for anyone who wants more. Anyone who needs help. Everyone who craves lasting peace or wholeness of spirit. Sometimes they open the door for someone who needs to go Home.
Doorkeepers are most often in the brokenness of the world but with the Hope of Jesus in their eyes. They aren’t afraid to do hard things and they live Brave because they know that Jesus is the answer to the world’s deepest hunger. You can find doorkeepers doing the unwanted jobs because they know it’s all about HIM and nothing about them. You can find them taking care of the sick, visiting prisoners, feeding the hungry, and talking to strangers. You will find them scrubbing floors, working in the nursery, teaching Sunday School or going somewhere in the world where they need to hear about Jesus.
Doorkeepers aren’t super-human. They are just people who have prayed the dangerous prayer…to be used for His glory. And they are content to point to Jesus while holding open the door to the House of God.
I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like the coolest job ever to me.
From where I’m standing today, a whole year after I prayed that prayer, I can tell you this: It has been the most ALIVE year I’ve ever lived and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Hard? Absolutely. It’s been the most difficult, life-shifting and challenging year I’ve ever had. It’s also been the year I’ve seen Jesus in the most incredible ways. I’ve seen lives redeemed. I’ve seen people come to Jesus for the first time. I’ve seen forgiveness in action. I’ve seen the truth of the Word literally CHANGE people…starting with me. And on my longest days of being a doorkeeper, I’ve went to bed saying, “There is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be today.”
This past week as I stood in front of a room full of women who had prison sentences for various lengths and for different reasons, I told them about being a DoorKeeper. In their faces, I could see the idea connect, because wherever you are on planet earth, you can be in the Presence of God. You can see His glory in prison. I told them: “There’s a job opening at the House of God for another DOORKEEPER. The only requirement is that you know Jesus. Crave His Presence. Let’s be like Joshua and stake out wherever He is. When that happens, you can bet people will notice and our lives will literally be Living Invitations to Jesus.” There were some resounding AMENS and the thought occurred to me…how different the world would be if there were more DoorKeepers and less DoorSlammers.
You know, the DoorSlammer type. They like to go in and out of God’s house with their click of friends. They are too busy to notice the hurting people behind them who can’t quite get the door open alone…so they inadvertently slam the door in their faces. DoorSlammers are well-meaning people who are self-absorbed and like their comfort zone too much to reach out to those who are different from themselves. Too many times I’ve been a DoorSlammer when I should have been a DoorKeeper.
I pray I now live as a DoorKeeper. Craving His Presence. Seeking His face.
It’s a great thing to be at the door of God’s House. His glory surrounds me. His love is toward me. I camp out here. At the edge of the tent, here at the door, hoping to catch a glimpse of His face. He is here. He is Jehovah. He has healed and brought hope to my weary soul. Time and again. It’s been an unforgettable year of ups and downs, but I have seen His face! I have heard His voice. I am learning to stake out at the door of His habitation.
#4: Stop Chasing and Just Start!
In our Christian culture it feels like we LABOR over our life callings. Perhaps even to a fault. As if it’s our job to run after it and discover it on our own.
Here’s the deal. I think we need to be living our life intentionally and in full obedience to God’s will. His desires for us need to be priority. But what if we are putting too much energy into CHASING our calling and FINDING OURSELVES, when God’s plan is for us just to start where we are?
Believe me, I know how many books are out there about finding yourself. It’s a big deal in our current world. We toil at finding ourselves like we are a hopeless mess without direction. We ARE all of those things…without Jesus.
Y’all. We’ve gotta stop chasing our dreams and finding ourselves and running after a calling. We need to be putting that energy into seeking HIS FACE. We need to be finding Jesus…not trying to look for an important label to slap on our life so others are impressed with us.
The more I study the Word of God, the more I realize that He has everything my soul needs to be healthy. He knows who I am. He knows where He wants me to go. He knows what’s best for my life. When my focus shifts to His face, I am complete. I don’t have to stomp around dizzy with trying to find myself and chase my agenda. That’s a selfish and narrow-minded way to live.
So, if we aren’t supposed to chase our Calling (because it’s really not our job), what should we be doing?
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He left a Grand Calling for all of us. We often refer to it as the Great Commission. Every single Christ-follower on the planet has this command:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20 HCSB
What makes your heart bleed in connection with this Grand Calling? Do you love teaching children? Are you burdened for the homeless? Do you connect with the elderly at your local nursing home? What about broken people with addictions or checkered pasts? Maybe you are a prayer warrior. Or someone who loves reaching out to teenage girls with unplanned pregnancies.
I can guarantee you this: You are called to somehow fulfill this Grand Calling. You may be a Goer…someone who will go to the hurting and literally give them the Gospel. A Goer will jump on a plane and travel to the ends of the earth, if needs be. Or…you may be a Sender. You use your resources to send the Goers of the world. You give financially. You pray your heart out for them. You give them high-fives and write far away missionaries words of encouragement. Either way, you are CALLED to be involved in the harvest.
The Great Commission isn’t an optional missionary program. It’s a COMMAND to ALL believers. It’s essentially one of the things that connect us as Jesus-followers. We all have a common goal…reaching the world with Gospel and discipling them to go out and multiply.
Start where you are. Stop chasing the all-allusive calling and start rolling up your sleeves for THE Calling. You don’t have to have a label to make a difference. You just need Jesus and a heart of obedience. Jump in and just start somewhere. Today.
Start with one. Start on your corner. Start at your work station. Start at your church. Start with your relatives. Start with your neighborhood. Start right where you are.
Don’t wait to get it all right and have a five-year-plan (whatever that even is!). Begin with open eyes to the needy world around you and an open heart to the Jesus Who knows exactly where you should be.
Don’t overcomplicate the simple things. Pray as you walk forward…knowing that if it isn’t Jesus, He will slam the door in your face. Take the next step. Stop trying to find yourself and start looking for Jesus.
I promise you, He will show up.
One day, your calling in life will be glaringly obvious to you and everyone around you. It will connect people in need and your passion and the Great Commission in a beautiful tapestry called YOU. Created by the Great Author and Finisher Himself.
Don’t wait. Start right now.
(This is the last of a Four-Part Series on Life Calling. Thanks for joining the conversation!)
#3- One Calling, Multiple Missions.
Young ladies often ask me when I discovered God’s Calling on my life. They all want to know when my purpose was obvious for me and my AHA moment of realization that God had called me to something or someone specific. Funny thing is, I really can’t put my finger on a day…but I know the general time frame and (spoiler alert!) it really wasn’t that long ago.
I’ll be the first to say this: I believe God can reveal His will for our lives when we are young. He has called young people in their youth for thousands of years…so it’s altogether possible and beautiful. Part 4 of this series will deal with the “chasing our calling” idea but let me just mention that if we spent half the time DOING THE STUFF as we did SEARCHING FOR THE CALLING, we’d probably be better off. Jesus wants obedience and a willing heart…He isn’t waiting for us to “get it” so He can slap a Calling label on us. More on that next time.
So, what about “finding your calling” and “life purpose”?
Sometimes when I talk to people about the places and things Jesus has led me into, they have puzzled looks on their faces. Not necessarily because my life is amazing…but because it’s really random. To the naked eye my various rabbit trails of ministry seem disconnected and completely haphazard at times.
Writing. Working with teenage girls. Planning women’s Retreats. Leading home Bible studies. Caregiving for someone with cancer or kidney failure. Videoing and editing testimonies of men and women. Meeting friends for coffee. Speaking in women’s prisons. Missions in Ethiopia.
It seems rather unsystematic, doesn’t it?
There was a time in my life when I thought Mission and Calling were the same thing. Now, I think they work together but are different in function. I have one Life Calling and I think I’ll have it for the rest of my life. However, I’ve had multiple Missions in my life…and plenty more to come in the future, I’m sure.
My calling started when I was young, but I didn’t wake up to what it was until recently. That’s when I looked back over my life and saw where God had woven my unexpected circumstances together to create the picture of who I am.
Your calling is what motivates you to do what you do. It’s how God has wired you to operate and fulfill the Great Commission.
My calling is to the Broken people of the world. I’m way more motivated to speak to broken people about Jesus. I have a different kind of boldness and love and compassion when I’m in face to face with those who are hurting…and it motivates me in a whole new level. That’s my calling in action.
Your mission will change from time to time. You may have multiple missions at a time, depending on how you live out your calling at the moment.
I’ve had missions come and go. Some of my missions have changed based on location or circumstances. A few missions are for set time periods and then they are over.
Calling and Mission is like the difference between the War and a Battle. You’ve got to fight the battles to win the War. You can’t have one without the other and they are inseparably linked arm and arm. One motivates the other. One determines the other’s outcome.
I’ve led home Bible studies since the summer of 2013, but each study has a period of time that eventually wraps up. Then I pray about what’s next. Currently, I’m in a season of stepping back from leading studies because of other “missions” on my plate…but I crave “getting back in the game”. The women’s retreats I am privileged to help plan have set dates. When I go work in the prisons, my trips have determined times where I go and return home. When I step into my role as Caregiver, I know at the completion of my mission there, my friend will be in heaven.
I’ve come to believe that we each have One Calling, and Multiple Missions.
Look at Jesus! He called His disciples…and He didn’t change the way they operated…He changed their current missions. He made fishermen to be “fishers of men”. He took their natural motivation and used it in missions that would carry out His plan.
Perhaps it’s easier to look back on your life and discover your calling was right in front of you the whole time. It’s probably obvious if you look for it that way. What has made your heart burst with excitement and what weighs heavy on your mind? What are the gifts and talents that God has placed in you? Where are the places you feel the most useful and “on target”? What kind of needs do you always notice in others? When do you always feel the most compassion? What makes you weep for others?
There have been seemingly peculiar things that have made me feel full…like I was living in the exact purpose He has created for me. They have been scattered instances where I stepped into His Light and felt so flooded with boldness and a full heart that I thought I would burst. THOSE moments are the ones that helped me pin-point my life purpose.
When I lined them all up I saw that I feel the most called to people who are broken and out of sorts and at the end of their ropes. I feel called to minister to women who are hurting and looking for a friend. I am called to give HOPE to the most broken and the ones labeled “untouchable”. I thrive when I’m ministering to the broken (the first step was seeing my own brokenness).
Some of my various endevours have been merely stepping stones or open doors to live out my calling. Opportunities that take me to broken people…like when I work in the nursery or plan our town’s Live Nativity. It’s relational and often I end up being able to connect with someone who needs a listening ear or someone to pray for them.
My missions change from time to time. I’ve watched some of them end abruptly or slowly fade into the distance. I’ve watched some of my missions finish nice and neat with a bow or be sealed up in a coffin. But always…always, I walk away from living my calling knowing I am living fully ALIVE.
Living with purpose and in your calling is worth it…but don’t put God in a box. He may call you to various missions and they DO CONNECT! They connect at the Cross, friend. He is the Great Connector…let Him weave your story.
Maybe you haven’t discovered your Life Calling yet. That’s okay. Just do the next right thing. Listen to His still, small Voice and follow Him. Walk out today’s mission. Then one day you’ll look back and see your Life Calling staring you in the face.
(For further study, check out Annie F. Down’s talk on this topic. You won’t want to miss it! Watch it HERE. You can also check out Jennie Allen’s book or study series: Restless. It tackles Life Calling and connects the random dots of living life with your purpose.)
Today is a good day. The sun is shining outside my window and my heart is full.
But oh friend, there are days. There are days that don’t feel good. The kind where you feel like crawling back into bed and hibernating…or at least crying “Uncle!” loud enough for the neighbors to hear. There are days where the clouds of doubt and confusion seem to thick to see through. That’s when we really can live brave.
Being brave looks different for all of us. There are stages of life and there are various platforms that He gives us to walk on and teach from. Living Courageous for me over these past years has looked radically different than I imagined…and it has literally rocked me to my core.
In April of 2016 I received a call about helping a friend who was fighting cancer. Her husband needed someone to take care of her while he was at work. She was one of my mom’s friends…and ironically had the same first and middle names! (photo of my mom and Ms. Laurie) Saying NO really never entered my mind at the time…but I had no idea what saying YES really meant. And maybe sometimes, God does that on purpose.
I began this journey of taking care of Ms. Laurie. At 56 years old, she was full of life and loved to laugh. We laughed a lot together. In between getting her meals, letting her take naps and doing therapy and meds….we had long conversations. She loved to talk about heaven and Jesus. I don’t think I really knew how much those talks would mean to me…but in hind sight…she probably did. We cried together and through the pain…we bonded. Like women do…but also in a special way…almost like a mother and daughter would.
Gradually, we saw that she was slipping away. I think for months I was in denial. I just really always thought she’d pull through. With every passing week, we saw her lose capabilities. She lost her ability to walk, and talk and even feed herself.
That’s really hard. Perhaps one of the toughest times to live brave and courageous is in the middle of heartache. When you’re staring cancer in the face, day after day. Ms. Laurie lived brave. She exampled that to me. But I had to choose to live brave too. I had to get up in the morning and choose to walk in that door knowing that I was investing in someone who wasn’t always gonna be there. That didn’t make a lick of sense in my human brain.
I can remember most days driving to their home and crying all the way there. I can remember looking myself in the mirror and saying I couldn’t. Do. It. One. More. Day. I just kept hearing God ask me…almost like a good coach…”Faith, can you give me just one more?” One. More. Day. In a weird way, that’s one of the things that helped me navigate that year. My patient Coach Jesus just kept giving me a small step to take. One. Day. Always promising, that He would walk it with me.
Maybe Brave Living is just a bunch of small steps towards Jesus. One. Step at a time. One day at a time. One minute at a time.
One year ago today, on April 11th, 2017, Ms. Laurie went to heaven. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it felt like to sit there next to her and realize that she had finally met with Jesus face-to-face…and I was left behind.
I didn’t know what to do. The grief was overwhelming. I struggled with depression. I battled insomnia. I felt like I was living in a fog and I didn’t know how to get out. I had to fight every Sunday to get out of bed and go to church…and when I did, I’d cry through the service and try to put on a smile in the hallways. I had never lost anyone that close, someone who I loved like a mother.
What does it look like to live strong when the world around you is crumbling and nothing makes sense? Something this big will show you who you really are. Who you really are will come out when you’re under pressure.
In those months of grief, God broke me. I was living my life on the edge. Wondering if I’d make it emotionally past the next day. I cried constantly and I felt like I was burning bridges with friends because that’s all I seemed to talk about and I couldn’t move past the pain.
Then one day, several months after Ms. Laurie had died, I went to her grave. I was so busted up and just felt so sad and lonely and out of sorts. I remember kneeling in the dirt next to her grave and crying. AGAIN. And when I could finally talk, I said, “God, you have to hold onto me, because I can’t hang on anymore.” It was a desperate prayer…because I felt like I was on the fringes of total burnout and disbelief.
I can’t really explain it, but I walked away different that day. It was like I had transferred the weight of my sorrow to Jesus…and I asked Him to stay true to His promises. That He would be there. That He would walk with me. That He would hold onto me and Not. Let. Go. I could feel the freedom to stop white-knuckling my way to the Throne. Because He would do the saving and the keeping and the holding.
That day changed me. Slowly, God began to reveal Himself to me in beautiful, unexpected ways. He let me know how much He loved me. He let me know that He was there. He let me know that He cried with me. And gradually, I could feel the shift in my soul.
He was healing me.
It didn’t come overnight. He came softly. Because I was so broken and fragile that I needed Him to be that way. There were days I cried and just lifted my hands to Him…because I didn’t have words to say what I was feeling…and He understood anyway. He’s that kind of Father.
My brokenness changed my outlook on life. I began seeing others with new eyes. Eyes of compassion. I suddenly saw broken people…because I was broken myself. I could see their needs. Their pain. I could identify with the hurt. I cried when I heard the word cancer. I wept for people like never before.
God doesn’t waste anything. He only builds on our past failures and brokennesses in a way that gives us more of a platform for service to Him. That’s what He was doing for me. All those months of pain and heartache were training ground for Him to send me to broken people. And my mission field was the prison system.
Women’s prisons. I had said yes far before I was equipped. And then God took me through some tough months of training before I ever set foot behind bars.
Prison Ministry was way outside of my comfort zone. I never would have dreamed that it would hold my heart like it has. I stepped into a correctional facility for the first time on October 2nd, 2017 and I’ve never been the same since.
I went in there still broken and hurting from loss. But ya know, that’s the very thing that connected my heart with those women? When I told my story…they cried. They could identify with pain. With hurt. With not understanding why God does what He does sometimes. And then I could also stand there and offer them HOPE. The very hope that held me together for all those months of depression and grief. I could give them Jesus in a way that I never could have a year earlier.
Life doesn’t always pan out how we think it will. In my mind as a girl I figured by this age I’d be married and have a few kids running around with a baby on my hip. I’d have the white picket fence and the porch swing and my house would be full of laughter.
Then there’s Jesus. He wrecked my little plan and instead, has offered me Himself. That journey has been the most painful, brave-hearted trek I’ve ever made. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Because in the storms of life…He makes me courageous. He holds me together. So I can afford to be brave!
Yes, today is a good day, because He is good.
Loss seems to linger sometimes. Unwelcomed, but still there. Showing it’s head when you least expect it and reminding you of what it’s taken from you.
I recently had one of those reminders. It caught me by surprise.
I was at a movie with some of my siblings. It was a great story line. Engaging. Real. The part that hit me unexpectedly was raw. Like reopening an old wound in my heart.
One of the lead actors was dying of cancer on the screen. And he looked the part. It was real. There in full color, bigger than life experience, I was face-to-face with cancer and death. That’s the moment it hit me.
To be sure, it was a sad part of the film…but it wasn’t gut wrenching for everyone. Yet, there I sat stunned by the fear and memories welling up in my heart. The lump rose in my throat and the dam broke. Tears came rushing down my face and I stifled the sobs. I don’t think I’ve ever cried like that in a theater. I literally held my face in my hands and sobbed with my shoulders shaking. I didn’t even feel awkward that I was probably making a scene. The sadness overwhelmed me.
Just like that, my mind was miles away reliving the moment when I said goodbye to someone I loved dearly. The screen showed a person dying of cancer, but I saw someone else. I remembered the day she went home to be with Jesus. I remembered the grief and debilitating fear that gripped me after she was gone. In that moment, sitting in the theater…I missed her, and it sort of took my breath away.
Cancer. It doesn’t just affect the people who have it in their bodies…it eats away at the souls of those closest to the sick. It hurts. Painful memories, and yet those are the same ones who literally have shaped me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. If truth be told, I don’t want to be who I used to be. So, I breathed thanks through the tears in that theater. Holy thanksgiving.
I get home and still find myself fighting tears. I cry because I miss her and it’s hard to relive those hard moments in my mind. How long does it take a heart to heal? And will I ever feel normal? Will I ever be able to watch a movie like that without falling into a million pieces?
I cry for myself. I cry because I’m selfish and I hate change. I cry because of all the things she’ll never be able to do with me…like be at my wedding or meet my kids. But then, she wouldn’t want to trade heaven for this…so I learn to let go.
Maybe this is what it feels like to LOVE. Free and brave, despite the pain in the end. Despite the letting go and the change that comes. No matter what uncomfortable things we have to do or face. We choose to LOVE and sometimes that means letting go. Loss is like that sometimes.
Tonight, I sit here and weep a little more. You see, I’m caregiving again. And although every caregiving journey is different, there are parallels that mirror what I went through last year. Reminders of the pain. Little things that creep up and take me back to her bedside in my mind.
This time, it’s different because I’ve traveled this road before. It hurts…knowing I may be only steps away from saying goodbye to another woman who I’ve been watching slowly fade. I don’t like goodbyes. I don’t like change.
“For we know that the whole of creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now…” Romans 8:22 (HCSB) I can feel it sometimes. The craving to be out from under the suffering of earth and liberated to see Jesus in all of His glory. This world is broken, and we all know it.
Loss. It can cripple us. I’m learning slowly to lean into the hurt and cling to Jesus in the process. To hang on to the only One Who never changes. The Rock Who will never be shaken. The One Who will make me soar with wings like eagles…if I wait on Him.
In the end, loss doesn’t win. Cancer doesn’t win. Death doesn’t win. In the end, Jesus wins. In those theater moments where we have tears streaming down our faces and sobs shaking our shoulders…we need that Hope. Hope has a Name! His Name is Jesus and in the end, He wins.
Loss might rule today, but Hope is coming. His name is Jesus.
#2: Be Useable.
“But now, O LORD, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of thy hand.” Isaiah 64:8
One of the things I pray for on a regular basis is that Jesus will keep me useable. That may sound weird, but I can tend to be so about myself (aka: selfish) that I don’t have room for showcasing Jesus to the world around me.
Being in a state of usefulness is key to living in your calling or life purpose. You simply can’t be fully alive in your potential if you’re too full of yourself. Selfishness, fear, and pride are huge road blocks to following Jesus whole-heartedly.
Warning: Keeping you useable may be a painful process. More often than not, God has used brokenness to keep me useful for His glory. My greatest hurt and pain has given birth to some of the greatest opportunities to share Jesus with others. Living in my calling means me living in some of those wounded places. Places that are hard. Those situations that truly take the ME out of me and can showcase only Him…that’s when people see it’s not Faith Walker. It’s Jesus alive in a broken woman.
As painful as it is, I wouldn’t trade being useable for being comfortable. I don’t want to just sit on the shelf because I’m too afraid. Or too proud to get into the mess. Or too selfish to sacrifice.
I once wrote this about being useable:
Strange things happen when you’re doing dishes. Or at least for me they do. Yesterday I was doing dishes at my brother’s new house. My second younger brother is getting married next month and needed some help settling in. So, there I was…washing new dishes and putting them into clean cabinets.
New dishes mean one thing…sticky price tags. All of them screaming to be removed. I must have peeled and scraped and scrubbed fifty stickers off. They are very persistent little things and yet so rewarding. The first dozen or two gave me a feeling of satisfaction when the dishes were smooth and clean. It made me feel good.
Then it started getting boring. Monotonous. Even agitating at times. So, I started thinking…what lesson could I learn from this? When I begin asking myself questions like this, I know I am really grasping at straws, but it was starting to get on my nerves…this whole sticker business! I needed to walk away with more than a stack of smooth-bottomed plates and bowls, I wanted some spiritual food for thought!
Then it came to me. Or HE did. All these beautiful dishes are worthless if they stay boxed up, wrapped up, and stickered up. To be useful they must be unwrapped and ready on a shelf for easy access. I won’t eat a bowl of cereal from a bowl that is in a box of Styrofoam peanuts and wrapped up in age-old newspaper. No! I need them available. I need them at my fingertips. I need them unstickered.
Wow! That truth got me right between the eyes. Maybe God was standing there at the sink with me, whispering truths into my soul. I heard Him stirring my heart to see myself in those stickered plates. How often was I the one staying packaged up? It got me thinking. Staying packed up doesn’t change my value. It changes my usefulness. I can be a lovely glass in a box, carefully wrapped up and protected from any danger… Or I can be a beautiful pitcher that is used for His glory.
Maybe it is my fears holding me back from doing bigger things for God. Perhaps in an effort to protect myself, I peek out from the safety of my Styrofoam peanut-bedded box and shiver. “Not me, Lord. Can you pick someone else? How about that sturdy looking plate over there? You know how easily I can chip!” So I stay in the comfort of my newspaper padding and never grace the table of my King. I am valued, but not useable.
Standing there at the sink suddenly became therapy. I felt tears welling up in my eyes. A prayer bubbled up in my heart. “Lord, I want to be used. Unwrap me. Wash me. Unsticker me. Please…use me. If I chip, still put me on Your table. If I crack, mend me. If I break, heal me…but Father, please use me.” I felt the words of Isaiah pouring from my soul… “Here am I Lord, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8)
I want to be useable. I want to be available. Some days that may mean leading a Bible study or tutoring a child in math skills for the glory of God. My work can become my worship, if my heart is toward Him. Some days that may mean teaching children at a kindergarten class or listening to piano students plunk out their pieces. Other days it might be cleaning up vomit or folding ten loads of laundry. Yesterday it meant scrubbing stickers off new dishes.
Friend, I am convinced that God has a place in His heavenly cabinet just for you. A place where you can be available for His purposes…right at His fingertips. The thing is, you have to be willing to get out of your foam-peanut-box-of-comfort and get your stickers taken off. You also need to be ready to be chipped…for His glory. Be vulnerable. Live dangerously for Jesus…that’s called being brave.
Living out your life purpose means being useable for Jesus. Are you with me?
(Part in italics originally written on May 5, 2015 for the Polished Cornerstones Ministry blog.)
#1: JESUS knows your story.
“For I know the thoughts (or plans) I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NKJV)
Ever wonder what the future holds for you? Of course you do. It’s a natural thing built-in us to wonder and ask questions.
I think such curiosity is even more obvious in young people. We feel like we’re standing on the edge of our future and we’re not sure if we should be thrilled and excited or trembling in fear!
I’ve talked to lots of teenagers and most of them are asking questions about the future. Their future. What does it look like to walk through the door of adulthood? What career should they choose? What about life-calling…and when will they find it?
I get it. It’s a huge thing (especially in our Christian circles) to wonder deeply about our hearts, our futures and life calling. That’s why I’m going to be writing a little bit about life calling in the next few weeks. We all want to know… What does Jesus say about my future? And we become painfully worried that we will miss God’s calling on our life.
So, for starters, we need to get one thing straight: JESUS KNOWS. He knows all about you. He knows the road you have before you, the gifts and talents inside of you, and how He can use them for His glory. He knows the end of your story as well as He knows your beginning. He knows that you can be victorious. Think about this…
The headings in my Bible are great. They help me find the stories I am looking for and remind me how each story ends. Headings are helpful in life. In books they’re called titles. In the newspaper they’re called headlines. All of them giving a glimpse into what is to come.
So that got me to thinking….what if I knew the ending of my story now? What if the stories in my life were titled like they are in my Bible? What if I knew the end at the beginning? It struck me how very differently I might live my life if I knew the outcome ahead of time. This could go either way…maybe I would be overwhelmed or maybe I would be encouraged. Or perhaps both.
Humor me and think about that for a minute. What if you knew the ending of your life story right now?
This lured me to start looking through my Bible at the headings. Now I realize the titles are not inspired…but they are helpful. Here are some examples from my Bible:
The flood ends. Abram inherits Canaan. Lots captivity and rescue. Isaac marries Rebekah. Isaac’s twin boys. Jacob marries Leah and Rachel. Esau sells his birthright. Joseph sold by his brothers. Joseph’s rise to power. Seven years of famine. Moses at the burning bush. God gives Moses power. Miraculous signs for pharaoh. Israel’s deliverance assured. The Red Sea crossing. Bread from heaven. Water from the Rock. Rahab hides the spies. Gideon’s valiant 300 men. Gideon subdues the Midianites. Sampson defeats the Philistines. Boaz redeems Ruth. Samuel is born and dedicated. Saul is chosen to be king. Elijah revives the widow’s son. Elijah’s Mount Carmel victory. Elijah ascends into heaven. Naaman’s leprosy is healed. Isaiah is called to be a prophet. Hosea takes back his unfaithful wife. Jonah finally obeys. Peter’s mother in law is healed. Jesus feeds the five thousand. The empty tomb. Peter freed from prison. Paul and Barnabas are chosen. Peter raises Dorcas to life. The conversion of Cornelius.
Now take a minute and visualize with me. What if the above people had seen their chapter headings before they walked through their stories? (Take time to reread some of these again!) Would Moses have been as frightened at the burning bush? Would Gideon have trembled when God chose him? Would Naaman have doubted his healing? Would Jonah have gotten it right the first time? And seriously…would everyone had still cried over Dorcas’s lifeless body?
Each of these headings help me look past the yucky parts of the story…after all, I know what’s coming! I am compelled to read on through the uncomfortable facts…like floods and famines and battles, knowing that the end is what really matters. These endings are beautiful. Faith-filled. God-breathed stories of His power.
To be honest, life doesn’t usually give us those glimpses of greatness ahead of time. I am in awe of this thought. What if I lived my life in the shadow of my heading. How would I make my next move? Would I be as overwhelmed if I knew that I win in the end? And yet…I live too often as if I am already defeated. That made me dig into a few more of my Bible headings:
Victory in Christ. Christ is coming quickly. God answers prayer. God is love. Walk in the light. Heaven is worth the wait. Be doers of the Word. God keeps His promises. Never give up.
All summed up, God has the end of our story. He knows that we are more than CONQUERERS. He has planned out every move. When we are faced with a decision…a big move in life, I want to think it terms of my ending. What does God want from me? His Spirit and His Word agree. He will give us wisdom if we ask for it. (James 1:5-6). Yet, sometimes I spend more time worrying about the next step. All the “what ifs” crowd my brain. I spend more time wondering and pacing the floor than trusting in His writing of my story.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be numbered with the faithful. The saints who have gone on before are my heroes of the faith. The folks in Hebrews 11 are regular people…but they trusted in the God of their stories. They knew that He was orchestrating their next move. They understood His heading over them.
Why don’t I start living my life like that? Why don’t I start waking up each morning knowing that God has all my moves planned out…He sees the bigger picture. My only responsibility is to trust His all-powerful knowledge and obey His leading. Then, and only then, can I know my heading is clear. My title is obvious. I am a conqueror. My story will end in greatness…because He is the Author and Finisher of my faith.
“Now unto Him that is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus…” Ephesians 3:20-21
He knows your story…beginning to end. Let’s trust Him and follow obediently. It’s a grand adventure of courage to walk with the Creator of your story!
I’m looking forward to diving into Scripture and talking about life calling, our stories, and what we can do to follow Jesus. Feel free to reach out to me with questions on this topic or just to tell me your story! Invite your friends to join in the conversation (you can receive the following posts to your email by following my blog).
Let’s be numbered with the faithful. Let’s walk in our stories with courage and obedience.
(The post in italics was originally published on the Polished Cornerstones Ministry blog on March 25, 2015.)
Have you ever said NO to God? I have. Many times, in fact. Fear and lack of bravery holds me back far too often. One time in particular sticks out in my memory as a Jonah experience…here’s what I wrote two years ago about it:
Years ago, I used to read those verses in Jonah 1:1-3 and think…what is this guy’s problem? Does he really think that he can run from the Lord? That was then. This is now…and NOW I have realized something: Jonah and me….we have this problem. We are in the same boat. Sometimes literally. I am quite sure that Jonah is somewhere in my family lineage way back. I’m just way too much like him to not be related.
You see, the more I walk with Jesus, the more I realize that He sometimes calls us to do uncomfortable things. Crazy things. Hard things. Ridiculous things. Awkward things. Radical things. Way-outside-our-box things. All for His glory.
That being said, I have a major confession to make. I have to tell you an inside story to a weekend event a few weeks ago…
There is a wonderful sweet lady in my community named Pam, that I know and we have come to do ministry together. About a year ago, she came and asked me to speak at a women’s conference. She wanted a “warm up speaker” for an annual Christian women’s event in February 2016 called Ladies Day Away.
I said NO.
She asked me again.
I said NO.
Third time is a charm, right? She asked me again. I decided to get spiritual and say “I will pray about it”.
How many of you know that when you pray about something you better be ready to get a green light? I fought with God. Actually, I FOUGHT WITH GOD. I argued. I pleaded. I tried to convince Him that I wasn’t the one. The more I begged, the more He gave me counsel through His Word that He wanted me. I felt stuck. I knew better than to say NO to God, but this is one of those times that I seriously debated jumping on a boat headed for Tarshish. Or one heading anywhere but speaking to this group in February 2016.
Jonah and me. We have issues.
Lots of conversations with my parents followed…they know me better than anyone, but most importantly, they know my Jesus and they could see the struggle in me. They prayed for me, with me, and encouraged me to obey and trust God for the details. I was stuck. Everywhere I turned I heard my name called. Every verse I turned to was telling me to go. Every song I heard was about obedience. Every voice was telling me to listen to my Heavenly Father. The sky seemed to spell out neon signs: “GO AND SPEAK”. I was caught…scared to death to disobey God’s leading and equally as frightened to walk in the path the Lord was asking me to.
Pam is a sweet and patient woman. She wouldn’t take NO for an answer. She kept telling me that she felt God wanted me to speak. She also asked me on several occasions: “do you ever feel like you have a whale on your tail?” I knew what she meant…she was calling me a Jonah. Wow, did she ever know me, or what?
Jonah and the whale became our standing joke. Whenever we talked about it, there was some sort of exchange about Jonah or a whale. Comments like “well, I don’t want to be swallowed by a whale” were common. We weren’t just laughing though, we knew it was serious business to disobey our all-powerful God.
I finally said YES. Reluctantly. I stood on the brink of the unknown feeling terrified to move forward, but even more scared to death to turn back. God wanted my submission…my obedience. He wanted all of me. My fearful heart. My uncertain future. My inabilities and corks. He wanted me…FULLY and FREELY. He wanted 100% of Faith Walker.
I have to tell you, once I said YES, it did feel better inside. Obedience always gives way to freedom, but don’t think for one moment that I felt like I was out of the woods. No ma’am. I was now only at the beginning of a very long road that I felt would surely lead to my death. Crazy how our imaginations run wild, isn’t it?
For months, every time I prepared part of my message to share…God would tell me it was all wrong. I would crumble the paper and start over. I would try again. Cram it in the trash. This went on for months.
In the meantime, God was dealing with my fears. I’ll be honest here and tell you that I am not a fan of public speaking. Hate is a strong word, but I might even use that word in conjunction with speaking. Speaking for Bible study sessions on video even nerve me up (little plug for our online Bible studies!). I’m totally serious. I’ve had meetings with three people that make me squirm. No joke. I’m just not the limelight-lover. Everything about this event made me want to throw up.
Added to that was the fact that the majority of these ladies would be moms and grandmas…neither one of which I am. Teen girls I get. Children, babies and toddlers I can handle. But women? Why does that make me worm in my seat? I honestly felt God had made a horrible mistake. Pam kept me well-informed of the registration numbers coming in and every time I wanted to barf. I would go right to God and remind Him of what a mess I was going to make for Him in February if He didn’t do something.
So, He did. Instead of fixing the event or letting me off the hook, He opened His Word one morning. It hit me between the eyes…or at gut level.
“The word of the Lord came to me: I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations. But I protested, “Oh no, Lord, God! Look, I don’t know how to speak since I am only a youth.” Then the Lord said to me: Do not say, “I am only a youth,” for you will go to everyone I send you to and speak whatever I tell you. Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to deliver you. This is the Lord’s declaration. Then the Lord reached out His hand, touched my mouth, and told me: I have now filled your mouth with My words. See, I have appointed you today over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.” Jeremiah 1:4-10 (HCSB)
HE was speaking in February. I was just the mouth piece with which He was going to do it through. And who was I to question His abilities to use a weak, young, blubbering, scared-to-death girl from a little town in Southern Michigan to complete His work? I kept thinking about Jonah.
Jonah and me have doubting problems. We have better ideas. More qualified friends. We have more comfortable plans for our future. Ones that don’t involve dangerous or unpleasant things. Like telling others about Jesus when they don’t want to hear about it…forget that they are facing judgment…Jonah and me value our safety!
Time and again, God convicted me of my UNBELIEF. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith (no pun intended). He is my soul’s Anchor and the King of kings. He is Creator of all and Keeper of eternity. Why do I doubt His ability to use a fragile person…when He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and has breathed the stars into existence?
I have a puny view of God…so I view impossible situations like that impossible. Forgetting that my Jesus is the God of the impossible. The Lord of everything. He is Love. He is Life. And He is the Writer of my life story…how dare I grab the pen and tell Him He is writing it all wrong?
The day arrived and I could feel a peaceful rest fall on me. Inside I felt waves of nervousness and uncertainty, but each time I felt incompetent, I reminded myself that this was His ball game…I was just along for the ride! There were dozens of prayer warriors scattered across the United States praying for me. I read the two passages of Scripture that God had given me over and over, quieting my turbulent heart. The section in Jeremiah and also a part in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:
“For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
I prayed as I’ve never prayed before. Putting on the headset microphone and staring at the stage, I thought…this has got to be a dream (or a nightmare!). Jonah and me. I told you we have trust issues. I kept hearing God’s voice…asking me to lean like I had never leaned before. They announced my name. One foot in front of the other, Faith. Just don’t barf. 20 minutes and it will be over. I stepped foot on the platform…and a miracle happened. All fear vanished. All the butterflies in my stomach, the shaky hands, the dry mouth, GONE. So this is what it means to ride with Jesus!? I’m all in.
After I spoke that Saturday, I felt filled to the brim with joy unspeakable. Obedience does that, doesn’t it? It makes us full as we follow the path of Jesus, no matter how uncomfortable or awkward it may seem at the time. I was standing at our Polished Cornerstones booth during one of the first breaks in the conference when lovely Miss Pam walked up. She was holding a box. “This is for you darlin!” She handed it to me. It was heavy and I was curious. As I unwrapped the paper, I smiled.
There in all the tissue, was a beautiful glass whale. I laughed. Then I teared up. I’ve been given a lot of gifts over the years, but few have meant as much to me as this little glass whale. Why? Because it has a story. A story that beckons me to follow Jesus…or else. Jonah and me…we sometimes learn the hard way.
What about you, friend? Has God called you to do something dangerous or uncomfortable and you’re looking for a boat to Tarshish? Take it from someone who is a fellow whale-on-the-tail gal…He will not call you and then leave you unequipped. He will give you exactly what you need at the precise moment you need it (and probably not a moment sooner!). Why? Because He loves using weak people to showcase His glory! Your inabilities are a beautiful way for Him to shine through you! Riding with Jesus is always an adventure, friend. Why not say, YES…and then watch Him show up in a bigger way than you’ve ever imagined? You can do ALL THINGS through HIM who strengthens you!
I’ve had people ask me, will I speak again? I laugh…nervously. Can I be honest? I still feel like Jonah. If God asked me to stand on a stage again and speak to 400 women I would feel like running for Joppa (to find a ship to Tarshish) AND throwing up. That’s my knee-jerk reaction. Just because I’ve obeyed once doesn’t mean I will jump into speaking engagements or other uncomfortable situations every time God brings one around. No ma’am. I will be slow and deliberate and cautious. Really…because I KNOW that if Jesus isn’t in it, it will be a miserable failure. I’m not a public speaker. I’m just a child (along with Jeremiah), I’m a coward at times (like Gideon), I’m broken and scared (like Moses), and I’m for sure a runner (like Jonah). So…to answer that question: I hope that by God’s grace I will answer YES to whatever opportunities God asks me to fulfill. God doesn’t need my confidence, He just wants my obedience.
For all the uncertainty and fear and unknowns, it was a great day. I had fun. I learned a lot. I had many wonderful conversations. Actually, come to think of it and to quote my ever-smart mother, “we had a whale of a good time”!
Singleness can be a lot of different things. It can mean a whole varied group of feelings and opportunities. At times we can call our singleness words that are warm and good and kind to us. Other times singleness can mean things like ALONE or STRUGGLE. I get it. All of those words have, at one time or another, summed up how I feel about my relationship to singleness.
Well-meaning people say stupid things sometimes (I’m in that party, so I can say that). But we need to clear the air, folks. Singleness is not a disease. We need to stop acting like it is. It’s a season of life…just like high school or dating or marriage or raising small children or retirement. Singleness is a gift, but only if we choose to open our eyes and see it as such.
This being said, I sometimes feel like marriage is so far in the future that it just may never come for me. Ya know? So yes, it sometimes feels like I’m inoculated against marriage…and I never agreed to it! How come I’m not “catching” the engagement epidemic going around right now?
Yes, singleness can mean different things in various times of life. In moments, I feel like being single woman is one of the greatest gifts of all. I can be free to drop my life and run to hurting people, wherever they may be on the globe. Jesus is where broken people are…so being with Him wherever He is always the greatest JOY of my heart.
Sometimes I see singleness with words like LOVE or LAUGHTER or FREEDOM. Depending on my mood or where God is taking me, it can even mean JOY or REST or ADVENTURE. My word to describe singleness can change. Right now, my word is URGENCY.
Why a word like urgency? If I’ve learned anything about this season of life called singleness is that it will probably not be forever. Maybe it will be for me…but it probably won’t be. At least, not from a statistical point of view. Most girls eventually get married. So, even if I have another ten years of being an old maid, spinster or unmarried gal…I will probably one day change my last name.
That means my days as a single woman are numbered.
Urgency. What if these days of complete and total freedom to jump into whatever mission trip or long night writing projects or life-changing opportunities are only for a brief time? Hear me say: I think you can be wonderfully effective and mission-minded as a married person. Absolutely. Totally have seen couples and families who live like eternity is at stake (which it is).
But the reality is that your focus shifts when you marry. The Apostle Paul affirms this in 2 Corinthians 7:32-35. It’s a simple and obvious fact that happens, and rightly so. Priorities have to shift when a girl marries and has a family.
This realization hits me where it hurts…because my singleness might not last forever…and I want these years to actually count in eternity.
What if I get to heaven one day and I find out that I could have been more useful in my singleness, but instead I spent it worrying and hoping and praying for marriage instead? Again, hear me say this: marriage is beautiful. God designed it to showcase the Gospel! But if we put marriage above Jesus and His plans for us right now, it suddenly becomes iniquity and covetousness which equals SIN.
Urgency. That’s what I feel when I think about being nearly 30-years-old and still single. When I step back and really think about it all in the light of eternity…I want to hit the ground running! Singleness is a beautiful time to be on adventure with Jesus in a way that no other season of life can present.
So what if I live a comfortable, selfish life as a single girl and forget all the things that REALLY matter? Wouldn’t that be a tragedy? Why not follow hard after Jesus…even if it’s hard, even if it’s expensive, even if it’s uncomfortable?
It’s important to feel that burning in my soul to give my ALL to Jesus. That’s what urgency feels like. Sometimes it feels like running around with my head cut off…because I can. As a single gal and I want to use all my energy for His purposes. Sometimes it feels like multiple trips to prison in the same year to share Jesus with women behind bars or saying YES to foreign soil so I can see the glory of God in a new dimension. Urgency can feel like your heart is pumping out of your chest because you’re way outside of your comfort zone but you don’t dare step out of the light He has put you in. It can feel like a face on fire as you realize you’ve got to speak up for the sake of truth. Or it can feel like sitting quiet at a picnic table as you hear the whisper of His Voice. Urgency can even feel like a good kick in the pants.
Urgency is a funny thing. So is singleness. Beautiful and broken at the same time.
I embrace them both…sometimes haltingly in my own humanness, but always knowing that His plans for me are good. He will be with me.
May your heart burn with a passion to love Jesus with how you LIVE your life. That’s what it’s like to live with Urgency in Your Singleness.
This morning I saw the headlines…Billy Graham died today. A thousand thoughts went through my head. Mainly this— who will step up to the plate now?
The face of America and the world are different because a man named Billy Graham took God at His word and walked in courage. Literally millions have thronged to hear Billy speak about Jesus and the Word of God. In countries all over the world, in churches and outdoor tents, in groups of hundreds and masses of thousands…hungry people stood, even in the rain, to hear him preach the Gospel.
Even though I never met him in person, Billy Graham made a lasting impact on me. I remember reading his autobiography as a teenager and being moved to pray more dangerous prayers. Reading about an “ordinary” man who God used in extraordinary ways made a new courage well up within me. It isn’t about capabilities, it’s about willingness. God uses those who are WILLING to follow, no matter the cost.
Billy Graham once wrote, “I have often said that the first thing I am going to do when I get to Heaven is to ask, ‘Why me, Lord? Why did You choose a farmboy from North Carolina to preach to so many people, to have such a wonderful team of associates, and to have a part in what You were doing in the latter half of the twentieth century?’”
Legacy. There are few people who have left a legacy of faith like Billy Graham. He spoke the Word with such authority. And because of his courage and faith, we are changed. I’ve personally met several people who came to Christ at one of Billy Graham’s crusades. People who saw him speak in person or those who came to Jesus through watching him speak on television.
This morning, my mind kept going back to Elijah and Elisha in 2 Kings 2. Elijah was considered the greatest prophet of his time. When God called him home, Elisha (Elijah’s apprentice) asked for a double portion of his spirit. It seems like a strange request, but Elisha had walked with Elijah for years and he wanted the work of the Lord to stay around. He wanted the Spirit of the Lord to only get stronger and do bigger things in his lifetime.
God granted Elisha’s request and Scripture records DOUBLE the miracles during his ministry.
It hit me this morning: What if WE asked God for that? What if we asked that in our generation we would see an outpouring of His Spirit, DOUBLE what we saw in the generation of Billy Graham? That’s not insulting. That’s believing that God can do even greater than what we’ve seen.
We need Revival. Billy Graham spoke about that over and over. Could we believe God for a miracle? What if we asked God to continue what He started with the legacy of Billy Graham…and that we would see a DOUBLE portion of God’s Spirit pour out on the hearts of people all over the world?
Revival starts with you. Revival starts with me. Revival starts when a person bows in humility, repents, and asks God to show up and show off for His glory. Revival is when we lay our entire life before Jesus and commit to following Him radically, no matter the cost. What if our generation did that?
What if you and I stood up today and cried out for healing and hope for our dying world? What if we loved so much that we were willing to live full and free to carry the Gospel to every one meet?
I can tell you what would happen: Our world would see Jesus.
The Bible says that right after Elijah went to heaven, people noticed that his spirit rested on Elisha. It says in 2 Kings 2:15 that the people who knew Elisha saw him and said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha”. Whoa! I wonder what that looked like.
Here’s the thing… It’s reported that Billy Graham gave the Gospel to more than 2.2 billion people. Did you read that? 2.2 billion people!
A double portion would be 4.4 billion people. That’s not bad, folks. I’d like to see a piece of that action, how about you?
So today…while we grieve the loss of a Godly man and spiritual leader in America, let’s not settle. Instead, let it spur us on to stand together and continue the legacy of faithfulness to the cross. How about we let it MOTIVATE us to action?
Let’s stand up and ask God for DOUBLE of His Spirit in our generation! Let’s carry the torch and continue where Billy Graham left off. Jesus isn’t done yet! He wants us to believe Him, love His Word and carry the hope of the Gospel to a hurting world.
“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” -Billy Graham
This morning, Billy Graham met his reward. There was a grand reception to meet him…chiefly his Savior and Redeemer.
I can’t wait to meet Jesus face-to-face. But until then, we have work to do. Who’s with me?
Victory doesn’t always look like we’d like it to.
It’s crazy actually…that I want victorious living to look cookie-cutter perfect. Easy. Natural. Anything but hard.
The longer I live, the more I realize that victory is both simple and difficult. Simple because Jesus has blazed the path and won it for us. Difficult because reaching out and claiming it as ours can still have it’s share of battle wounds.
Victory is beautiful, but sometimes it looks like a bloodied warrior. Bruised. Scarred. Weary. Sweaty.
I’d prefer it to look different. I’d like to get to the other end unscathed. Free of any wounds or blood-shed or sweaty brows. What’s up with that? It’s silly really, but it’s my heart…to have the easy way out.
Truth is, victory for me last week looked different from I wanted it to. You know times when you’re just cruising along and then BAM! Something happens that knocks you off your feet? I’ve had that happen last week.
Last year at this time, I might have folded. Completely. I’d have walked out on prison ministry and sunk into depression. This time? Things went down differently.
Jesus walked with me through battle school (granted, it was probably only second grade!) last year. Up close and personal…day after day…learning to hold onto my shield of faith and deflect the fiery arrows. Learning to keep my helmet of salvation on tight so the lies couldn’t get to my head. Learning to wield the Sword of truth like a warrior instead of a wimp.
So last week, when the spiritual attack came, I was caught off guard…and I did go down for a second. Reeling from the pain. Surprised by the sudden assault. I buckled to my knees. This wasn’t physical. This was mental, emotional and spiritual battling.
But I remembered by training. The first thing I did was be honest: this was an attack and I had to recognize it as such. I also knew a very important truth: I couldn’t do it alone. My friend, MaryEllen stood there and hugged me. There on my knees, my mind raced…I had to battle. I had to get up and fight. So I did.
My cry was barely audible through my tears. “God, You’ve got to help me. This hurts.” MaryEllen began praying over me out loud.
I could feel His Spirit rising up in me. Calling me to battle. Telling me to get up and fight.
Maybe I’m visual…but I could see myself sitting there in a heap and my Captain standing over me with sword drawn. He wasn’t going to leave me alone. He fought for me, protecting me from further attack, all the while calling out the warrior in me. He told me to rise and fight. To be proactive.
Slowly, I began praying through the tears. Crying out to the Lord for healing. Praising Him in the middle of the storm. Thanking Him. I wept. Sobbed. I pleaded with Him to give me JOY in the midst of the heartache.
I could feel His peace washing over me.
Just then, MaryEllen passed me a paper towel…because that’s the only kind of tissue we had in our cabin. I took it and then looked at it in my hand. “PAPER TOWEL? I’m gonna be raw!” We both bust out laughing. Yes, Jesus is here. He smiles and holds our heads up and says we are beautiful.
Beautiful warrioress…keep fighting. Be courageous. Be bold. Pray like a mad woman and don’t give up. Your Captain has never lost a battle and He won’t ever…so fight like you own the battlefield. I’ve read the end of the Book…and He’s guaranteed to win!
“For they did not take the land by their sword— their arm did not bring them the victory— but by Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your face, for You were pleased with them.” Psalm 44:3 HCSB
Yesterday morning I was sitting in front of 200 female inmates facilitating a seminar (with my friend, MaryEllen) about Jesus and the Word of God. Many of these women are newly incarcerated. Raw. Emotional. Hopeless. As I looked over the faces of those women I saw so many things: Rejection. Fear. Shame. Guilt. Sadness.
Four months ago I sat in the same spot (with half the number of women in front of me) doing the same thing. This time, it felt even deeper. The situations were more hopeless and the number of ladies was overwhelming for two volunteers. Now, I felt fresh in my compassion for these hurting ladies. So many of them seemed to walk unloved and unaccepted.
MaryEllen and I have repeatedly asked God to help open our eyes…what does He want for us? We don’t want to miss what He has for us as we serve in the prisons.
As I sat there, watching their faces, I kept thinking about the passage of Scripture God led me to that morning. Ezekiel 36-37. Not sure about you, but Ezekiel isn’t my go-to book of the Bible. However, I felt called to read chapters 36-37 yesterday, so I did.
Dead bodies. Dry bones. Cold hearts. Not exactly an inviting section of Scripture. Or is it?
I can’t lie. I grabbed my Bible, sitting there watching them (the inmates) watch the video and I opened it again to Ezekiel. It seemed to beg for a second look. What’s here, Lord? Don’t let me miss it! Does it tie into this week?
“The nations will know that I am Yahweh”— the declaration of the Lord God— “when I demonstrate My holiness through you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries, and I will bring you into your own land. I will also sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances. The you will live in the land that I gave your fathers; you will be My people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36:23b-28 HCSB
This was beautiful news. I’m so grateful for redemption. For healing. For brokenness turned to beauty. This is what Jesus does.
The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I replied, “Lord God, only You know.” He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.” So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath entered them, and they came to life and stood to their feet, a vast army. Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open up your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord. Ezekiel 37:1-14
Suddenly, I am in love with the book of Ezekiel…this is the hope and redemption we crave deep in our hearts. It reminded me of last week, where I had the privilege of interviewing four people who were ex-offenders. Their stories breathe Jesus and HOPE. Dry bones coming to life. Dead heart coming alive.
The similarities started swimming through my head. I could also feel God prompting me to share this truth with the inmates this morning. If you know me personally, you know public speaking is my top least favorite thing to do. Sometimes you KNOW that not doing something would be actual disobedience to the Lord, and this was one of those times.
I sent out my prayer text and buckled down my heart to submission. Crying out for strength. Asking for wisdom. Pleading for courage to be brave and step out in faith this morning.
So I shared from Ezekiel 37 this morning. Dry bones. Dead hearts. They were amen-ing me all the way. They could see themselves here…in the valley of dry bones. Dry. Parched. Dead. Hopeless. I shared from my own life and points that I’ve been wounded and confused and felt completely dry.
The Word of God is powerful. By the end, there weren’t many dry eyes in the place. Including mine. I literally cried through reading Ezekiel 37. I told them that God is in the business of bringing dry bones back to life and making dead hearts come alive! Several women opened up to us later with their stories. Their pain. Their insecurities. They admitted their dryness…and we prayed for Jesus to rush over them with His cleansing and healing water. That He would bring life to dry bones.
Standing there this morning, it was one of those surreal moments. To see the Word of God be living and active in front of your eyes. They saw His power to redeem even the most hopeless situation. And I’m in awe.
We all have dead places in our lives. Times when we walk through the valley of dry bones and wonder if there’s a way out. Moments of hopelessness. “Can these dry bones live?” God asks. I’ve seen His power, friends. Don’t underestimate Him. Don’t give up on people…He can redeem! He can bring life!
Today in a female prison in Florida, I saw God breathe life into some dead hearts. I saw Him connect tendons and flesh and skin and bring dry bones to living form. I’m in awe.
There are dry bones and dead hearts. Then there’s Jesus.
A few days ago, I sat in a coffee shop in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. It was my Friday morning date with Jesus so MaryEllen set up at one side with her Bible and I went to another table. We were both meeting with Him at the same time… how cool is that?
Ok, that’s off topic.
As many of you know, God has been really working His truth into my heart about brokenness and healing and how He is the answer to those spaces. It’s been a journey…and it’s absolutely BEAUTIFUL. He has given me so much compassion for the lost and hurting of the world. The kind of compassion that is forged through hardships and knowing Jesus is literally the bedrock of your existence.
Back to the point at hand.
As I was sitting there, I was overwhelmed with the memories. For those of you who don’t know me…I grew up in Little Rock. I spent some key teenage years in this very neighborhood. This was my home.
No doubt, you’re picturing something very different from the place I actually lived. Our house was nice…but it was in “the hood” of LR. I’m being serious. We had a home in the middle of the rougher side of town. My bedroom window literally had a bullet hole in it…thankfully it was already there when we moved in. Broken down houses with bars on the windows and you get a mental picture of my neighborhood. Yes, this was the kind of place I lived.
The funny thing is that I never feared. When there was shouting in the group of houses behind us, I wasn’t afraid. When there were gun shots and sirens, it didn’t freak me out. I guess it just seemed normal. It was just part of life where I lived.
This coffee shop was a place I was familiar with from my years there…although at the time I wasn’t a coffee-drinker. I remember getting donuts there and loving the hustle and bustle of a corner bakery/coffee shop.
As all this was going through my head, an older gentleman came walking up to my table of two. He motioned to my extra chair. I took out my ear buds and smiled. He asked to borrow it, I agreed. “No problem,” I said, “I don’t need it.” He took it to his table full of older guys who looked distinguished in their suit jackets and I went back to my thoughts.
My neighborhood growing up was diverse and I loved it. All different people groups and stages of life and backgrounds. I grew up with churches on every corner (Little Rock is in the “Bible Belt”) and the State Capital only a few minutes from us.
I smiled, sitting there. With the sun shining through the coffee shop window, it felt warm. It felt strangely like home. My past and present blended together as beautifully as my French vanilla latte. The old me–growing up in this broken but incredible city. The new me–recently learning to understand that life is both broken and beautiful. It was as if my two worlds had collided.
These beautiful people.
I don’t want to be weird, but this city is mine…so it felt like these people were mine and this place was home. How do you feel that after eleven years in another state? It always surprises me how much my heart feels grounded here. Why do I still exhale here as if this place holds me? I don’t get homesick for Little Rock like I did when I first moved. I feel very at home in my little Southern Michigan town…but when I come here, it’s like I melt into the surroundings.
The strangest things seem normal to me, because I grew up with them: homeless on every corner or digging in trash cans. Lines of people standing with the groceries at the bus stop on the corner. Parking meters in front of store fronts. Police cars everywhere. Occasional shouting and gun shots a night. Graffiti on the back walls and alleyways. People asking for money for gas or groceries…even coming to our door and asking for handouts.
Jesus died for this–for us. For these people who walk every day in their brokenness….not even knowing Someone has paid for them to live free. To give beauty for ashes. The brokenness of this place calls my heart to action. This is my city. These are my people.
Sitting there, Isaiah 42:5-9 leapt of the page and straight into my heart.
This is what God, Yahweh, says— who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and life to those who walk on it— “I, Yahweh, have called You for a righteous purpose, and I will hold You by Your hand. I will keep You and appoint You to be a covenant for the people and a light to the nations, in order to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the dungeon, and those sitting in darkness from the prison house. I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another or My praise to idols. The past events have indeed happened. Now I will declare new events; I announce them to you before they occur.”
I want to be like Jesus. I want to see with His eyes. Redemption. Grace. Love. Mercy. It’s His will that none would perish. He wants every soul at His Table. And I get to carry the invitation of Hope to the world.
Maybe since I’m heading to the women’s prisons for two weeks of volunteer work, I see myself in this equation. He has asked me to be like Him… there are prisoners sitting in darkness right now. Could it be that God would choose me to be His messenger of Hope to them? Honestly, the thought overwhelms me. But what an honor…for Jesus to invite me on such an adventure with the sake of the Gospel.
Reminds me of the song by Lauren Daigle,
As we call out to dry bones
Come alive, come alive
We call out to dead bones
Come alive, come alive
Up out of the ashes
Let us see an army rise
We call out to dry bones, come alive…
God of endless mercy,
God of unrelenting love
Rescue every daughter
Bring us back the wayward son
And by your Spirit breathe upon them
Show the world that You can save
You alone can save
He can save. He can bring life to dry bones, friends. He can bring back prodigals and raise an army for truth. He is faithful and compassionate and loving.
This was all bubbling up in my soul while I was sitting there in that Little Rock corner shop. Like God was unearthing a passion for hurting, wounded people who I didn’t even know I had. I’m suddenly more comfortable with the shattered, broken people and less enthused with my friends who think “they’ve got it in the bag”. I crave meeting the hungry. Having conversations with the weary and imperfect…because I’m one of them and I know Who has the Hope our souls are yearning for.
Brokenness has stamped itself on my heart–and I see differently. But it’s not just brokenness. It’s the brokenness married to the beauty of His Hope. I’ve tasted it, and it’s real. It heals.
Men in business suits. Homeless with their bed rolls tucked under their arms. Pregnant women with kids at their knees. Little girls with curious, sad eyes. Hollowness and longing.
These are the people I see from my seat. And it makes me wonder…how can I give hope to others? How can I offer them Jesus? How can I live my life as an invitation to His Table. Then I feel His finger on my soul.
His Table. My table.
Just at that moment, the older man who borrowed my extra chair returns it with a smile. “Just in case,” he says, “You might need it.” He winked at me. As he walked away, I smiled through tears. Oh, sir. You have no idea. You have no idea.
Set an extra chair. Someone needs you to offer them Jesus.
It’s always fascinating to write about my year’s theme in January and then read what I write about it the following December. God has a way of growing us and changing the way we look at things. Different perspectives. Various vantage points. (That’s my way of giving you a disclaimer. You are pre-warned…what I think about COME TO HIS TABLE might be drastically different by December 2018.) That being said…
Come to His Table is my new theme. I’ve only tipped the iceberg…but already I’m thrilled at what these four little words mean to me. I used to think being at the Table was a sitting position. Then I began noticing the people I deeply respect and how the Table was not just a place to veg-out, but a place where they were “on duty”. That sort of wrecked my world, y’all.
I’ve come to believe that the four above words mean two major things:
It’s not just waiting for people to join you there…it’s living your life-like an ongoing invitation to the Table where you eat every day.
God regularly gives me opportunities to take Him to places that need healing. Not because I am anything special or out-of-the-ordinary…but because all Christians are called to carry the Hope of Jesus around inside them and offer it to the hurting world.
I need His Hope. And I’ve tasted of it at His Table. I can now invite others to partake of His goodness. What a privilege!
It’s exciting to be a part of His Table. This is a place of all people, all backgrounds and all types of needs. It’s loud. There is laughter and tears. Best of all, there is JESUS. What could be better?
Tomorrow I leave for another mission trip to the women’s’ prisons with my friend, MaryEllen. This time, we have a different perspective. We are sitting on the edge of our seat. What is God going to do? We can’t wait to see Him show up.
My prayer this time? My prayer is for the opportunity to invite women to His Table. To show them where to find Hope. To live my life as an invitation to Jesus.
Pray for us and with us? He wants His House filled, friends. And maybe…maybe these next 16 days will prove to fill some seats around His Table. Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
So, the adventure begins.
If I could paint (which I clearly cannot), the picture I’d make would be like a fairy tale, only better. Full color. Absolutely enchanting. We’ve gotta talk about this guy.
Let me set the stage. I was hanging out in the book of Ruth for my Friday “date” with Jesus at the coffee shop. I’ve been over and over that story (what Christian girl hasn’t, right?) but I was asking for fresh perspective. Show me something new, Lord! What do you want me to see here?
I always focus on Ruth. Always. What’s not to like, right? I started by looking at Ruth and her qualities. Initiative. Loyalty. Kindness. She’s quite the gal. But this one thing stands above all else.
Ruth is full of love and covenant-faithfulness to her mother-in-law. She’s amazing! However, though she might be the leading lady, she’s not the star attraction or the best actor. Yesterday, my focus shifted.
His name is Boaz.
Boaz. You gotta take a load of this guy. He is a prominent figure in society. He is wealthy. He is well-known and has an honorable reputation. Kind-hearted. Gentle. And he’s also daring. Really, who else risks everything to marry a foreigner? Was he just in it to rescue her or did he actually love her?
This story slays me. Every. Single. Time. Right now…it’s my fav. It was one of the first real fairy tales. Talk about a damsel in distress…dragons and grain fields and peasants and everything. Who rescues like that?
Jesus. That’s Who. And of course, we see Boaz as the picture of Jesus…
I know this in my head. Yet, somehow, in that coffee shop that morning, it connected with my HEART.
Jesus is my Boaz.
When the world is pushing me to “get out there” to find a man…when my friends are all getting married…when my biological clock seems to tics louder and louder… Jesus is my Boaz. He sees me…poor and foreign as I am. I can echo Ruth’s words to Boaz—“Why are you so kind to notice me, although I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
I find it interesting that Boaz already knew who she was and what her character was like. She was living her life well. Perhaps this is what it means to live my life as an invitation to His Table. Does my reputation proceed me? And if it does, is it God honoring or self-promoting?
Ruth– she was well-known by everyone as Boaz later points out in Ruth 3:11: “Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”
I suddenly want to be like Ruth. She’s unbelievable.
Here’s the thing though…do you think Ruth always had that reputation? Hardly. I can imagine she was the subject of harsh words and town gossip for far too long in the beginning. A foreigner. At some point, a multiple-god-worshipper. She was a Moabite woman to beat all. (Moabites were forbidden to marry Israelites…it’s a very long story going way back to Genesis 19).
What we see in her is loyalty. Faithfulness. At some point, the neighbors noticed her unwavering love for Naomi, the bitter widow who had come home. Ruth took care of her. Loved her. Was patient with her moods.
Then, somewhere along the way, her reputation changed from “the foreigner” to “the woman of noble character.”
Isn’t faithful living simply doing the right thing over and over and over again? No matter who sees you. No matter the lack of attention. No matter if you’re unrecognized. No matter how mundane the task.
And maybe that’s how we build a Godly reputation.
In all things– especially at home and in the small things– we stay faithful. Loyal. Determined. Joy in the mundane.
Suddenly…with my vanilla latte in hand, I stare at the page. I hear His still, small voice: “When you think no one sees you, Faith, I notice you.”
He sees. Our Great Redeemer looks across His field and sees us– laboring in the small moments. Cheerfully. Kindly. Loyally. What if that’s it? What if faithful labor in the small things is what turns the head of our Redeemer? He sees us regardless…we know this.
I sat there enraptured by this thought…that perhaps in those moments of messy floors and stacks of papers and piles of laundry…He sees me differently. With new eyes. He is drawn to me in my mess. Plodding one foot in front of the other, thinking I’m doing nothing important.
Ruth was doing a very normal thing…she was gathering grain. By hand. Of all the times for Boaz to NOTICE her. But there he is. He watches her. Talks to her. And offers his protection and provision. He even speaks a blessing over her.
I wonder about this. How can he love her…just a servant girl, gathering grain day after day? Jesus did that for me. Just a regular, messy girl needing to be redeemed. Craving to be seen.
What if doing normal things catches my Redeemer’s attention in a special way? In all of the mad mundane, He comes to me and stoops to tell me—“I see you. I am here. I will protect you. I will provide for you.” And then He calls me noble. I don’t think anyone else has ever called me noble.
The book of Song of Solomon is about a wealthy King who falls in love with an ordinary girl. That’s like Boaz and Ruth. It’s like Jesus and me. He is captured with one glance of my eyes. (Song of Solomon 4:9) That’s pretty amazing.
Maybe sometimes the Provider is waiting to see our faithfulness in the little things. He’s watching and we don’t even know it.
He sees us. He sees me.
You there, mama with little ones running around your feet. Your Redeemer sees you! Amid piles of laundry. The dishes. The dirty faces and snotty noses. When you can’t even get ten seconds of quiet reprieve. He sees you being faithful.
And He smiles.
Single gal, wondering where on earth your man is and if he’s lost somewhere riding a tortoise. Your Redeemer sees you…living faithful in all the things that feel mundane and less-than and weird.
Teen girl…wondering if school is really all they say it’s cracked up to be…wishing you fit in more…confused by the world, your friends and what you should do with your life…Your Redeemer sees you.
Maybe you’re a caretaker… and you wish someone would be there to notice your patient willingness to answer the same question a thousand times…or hold a withered hand in yours…or change diapers…or spoon feed soup…Your Redeemer sees you. He’s captured by your faithfulness in the mundane.
A poor woman of noble character. A prominent man of wealth.
If I could paint, I’d want to create a picture that depicts this scene: A mighty Man on horseback. Clothed in wealth. Confident. Authoritative. Looking down on His fields—His eyes drawn to a poor peasant girl. Her head is bowed in humility. Steady. Unassuming. Faithful. He sees her and smiles.
“One day, I’m gonna make her my bride.”
Best. Story. Ever.
My personal study lately has found me in the book of Galatians and I have found myself basking in the beauty of the Gospel. This study has also brought up something else for me: the “other” gospel. Paul refers to it multiple times throughout Galatians and it has stirred in me a passion for presenting the TRUE GOSPEL correctly.
Let me back up.
Without beginning to beat a dead horse, I have to acknowledge that my mind has been consistently looking for any and all references of His Table…due to my 2018 theme. My biggest question to the Lord has been, “How do I live my life as an actual INVITATION to Your Table?” I want to see what this looks like in action.
Here’s the thing. The Gospel is inextricably tied to living my life as an invitation to Jesus. If we know what the Gospel really is, we can suddenly live our lives in a way that will point people to Jesus and His Table.
The Church is full of Christians who think the Gospel gets us saved and that’s where it stops. End of story. Once we’re in, we don’t need the Gospel anymore, right?
The Gospel never ceases to be our lifeline. Our Anchor. The tether of our hearts. We never stop needing it…instead we move further into it. We always need the Gospel. Every. Step. Of. The. Way.
Sadly, we have believed “another gospel” as Paul warns in Galatians.
I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from Him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are troubling you and want to change the good news about the Messiah. (Galatians 1:6-7, HCSB)
We have added to the Gospel. We have adulterated it by our humanistic minds and selfish desires. Popularity, fame and Facebook likes have driven us to become something other than what God originally intended. On the other end of the spectrum, we have a whole groups of Christians who care for only ourselves and the people in our church walls. We might give a few dollars here and there, but getting out into the mess of everything? You can count us out.
The result? Our world is repulsed by our gospel. It’s been tampered with. It’s anything but authentic and real. Let’s face it…who wants to hug a porcupine? We are all pins and needles. This humanistic gospel seems more like anything but our Anchor. We are known more for what we stand against than what we stand for in Jesus’ Name. The gospel we are living is not an invitation…it’s a fake version of religion added to a worldly life. That kind of gospel isn’t good news to me, folks.
I’ve been guilty of living like this, so I’m preaching this to myself in the mirror, y’all.
We read it in the paper and hear it on the radio and see it on television: Christians are mocked and ridiculed. I’ll be the first to admit that media is most certainly against the moral and upright…but the truth is we are fake. We have traded an amazing Gospel of freedom, redemption and grace for a cheap version of religion that our world hates. There’s enough religion in the world. It’s time for some Jesus-followers.
I recently sat with a friend who had just come back from overseas. She visited a country that is closed to Christianity. You might be killed if they know you followed Jesus. Funny thing is, Jesus followers are THRIVING there. My friend commented about a local church there that has an extraordinary outreach to the hurting communities and people of the area. In my friend’s words: “Faith, this church is killing it.”
She also mentioned that the government has taken notice of this particular church because of their incredible ministry to the area…and get this…they are PROTECTING this church group. In a closed country. Why? The government can’t deny that this church is benefiting and loving and reaching out in a way that they can’t. If they crushed this church, the area would sink.
That’s Jesus in action…using hands and feet that look remarkably human. The result is that the hurting world stands and witnesses the glory of Jesus in action.
I sat there with tears in my eyes. What would it be like if all churches were like that? What if we were all “killing it” when it came to loving people and reaching out and totally crushing the head of the serpent? What if people knew that we loved Jesus so much that it motivated us to ACTIVELY get involved?
What if we were known for our LOVE, because of Jesus? Not love apart from Jesus as a philanthropic endeavor, but JESUS is the center of our existence so we are motivated to live differently? I’m thinking the result would be some a changed world for the Jesus we serve. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
The fake, humanistic gospel makes Pharisees. Prideful people who don’t want to mingle with the “untouchables”. It moves us to the position of control…that we need to try harder, do more stuff, be nicer, go on more mission trips, or be a better person to earn good standing with Christ.
The True Gospel makes disciples of the cross…willing to risk for the sake of Jesus. Instead of a check-list, we see Him as our amazing Savior. We are so wrapped up in His love and incredible gift that we want to please His heart. We are willing to get in the mess with the broken world and showcase His amazing grace….because it has changed us, personally and deeply.
The fake gospel repels people from the truth, because it’s been added to, taken from and manipulated.
The True Gospel invites all people to come to His Table and be healed. Pure and simple.
The fake gospel tells people to clean up and then come to God.
The True Gospel calls people to come to Him right now and HE will clean them up.
The fake gospel has been a poor substitute for the Truth. The True Gospel is FREE. We can’t earn it. We certainly can’t move past it. The Gospel is something we move into and set up our tents. We stake our lives on it’s promise and invite others, regardless of their differences, to join us.
The True Gospel is meant to be shared, friends. Not hoarded, stashed, or protected. It’s certainly not just for the people within your church walls and it’s not gonna fly away. There’s plenty to go around.
What if we stopped acting scared about being contaminated by the brokenness of the world and started fearing more for the souls in need of Jesus? What if we cared more about where our neighbors will spend eternity than if their bad habits might rub off on us?
I’m not saying be stupid and hang out in perverse places…I am saying trust that God is holding you. He’s not sending you to the wolves on your own! He is with you! Go and live your life full and free to love a hurting world. Don’t clam up and pretend you’re too good to have a conversation with people who aren’t like you. Talk to people as you go about the life God has called you to live.
SEE PEOPLE. Don’t just look at them. SEE THEM. They have messy lives and broken hearts and busted up relationships just like you do. Live your life with eyes wide open to the people around you.
Then…simply invite them to His Table. Give them the real Gospel.
The Truth about Jesus is beautiful. Let’s live like it is.
The air seemed different behind prison walls. More sterile in a way. I stood there waiting behind the first gate, waiting for that distinct buzzing sound so I could move through the next one. Everything looked different from the “free” world. Lots of uniformed guards. Rows upon rows of wire and barbed fencing. Concrete as far as your eye could see.
I was jerked back to my senses as the infamous buzzer sounded and we moved through our next gate. Within a few minutes we were in the VP room setting up equipment for the day and getting ready for the inmates to come filing in.
It was only our second day “behind bars”. Ever. My friend and ministry team-mate, MaryEllen and I had taken the plunge into prison ministry. We had no idea what we were in for. What does that even look like? And just what were we to expect?
We had heard stories. Good and bad. Going through prison security, putting on a PBA (Personal Body Alarm) each morning and standing in front of a room full of incarcerated women was a completely different level. This was real.
Barely catching the swing of things by the second day, we stood waiting for the women to come in for class. We had prayed like crazy for these ladies. We had even wondered what on earth we could offer them…two gals from rural America who said YES to a daring call. What did that even mean?
Little did I know that day two behind barbed wire fencing would be life-changing. And it all started around a table.
We had been invited (and cleared by prison officials) to join the inmates for lunch. It seemed like a good idea. Mostly because we were hungry. We had no idea what lunchtime would be like in prison, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted what happened.
I’ll spare you all the details…but suffice it to say, we experienced a meal unlike anything we had ever eaten or been a part of before. In the history of our entire lives.
Much of it is normal life for the inmates but we weren’t used to the fast-paced and loud way mealtime is for these women. After being herded along through the line, we were given a tray of food and told to find a seat at one of the tables in the concrete room.
I remember feeling a little like a deer in the headlights. This was all new to me. One by one, the inmates helped me navigate the lunch line and “chow hall”. Where were the drinks? Another inmate motioned me over to some coolers with water in them and a stack of cups. I thanked her and breathed relief. Grabbing my water I found a seat at one of the tables. Each table seated four, so three inmates circled the table with me as I stared at my tray.
I knew they were watching me. I could make out what most of it was…but one pile of something looked unfamiliar. “So, what is this?” I asked one of the gals sitting next to me. She smirked and responded, “It’s supposed to be pudding.” Oh.
The room was loud. Very loud. There was a constant bustle of people, noises and guards yelling orders. Not exactly what my supper table at home sounded like. I tried to tune it all out and eat…chicken on the bone, and a bunch of other things on the sectioned tray in front of me.
Meanwhile, the women at my table fired questions a mile a minute. They seemed suddenly so open and they wanted to know about my life and tell me about theirs. I listened, tried to answer questions and still manage to eat my chicken. Finally, one gal leaned over and said, “You’re gonna have to eat that chicken with your hands if you want to get it down before they move us out of here.” She was right. I put down my spork and went to town with my fingers. When in Rome, do as the Romans, right?
Seven minutes goes by fast. In no time, we were in a line to dispose of our lunch trays and go back to our afternoon classes. I was overwhelmed by how fast lunch went. I’d never ate chicken on the bone that quickly…and may not ever try to again. An inmate stepped in front of me and held out her hands. “May I take care of that tray for you?” She looked about my mom’s age. I smiled and nodded. Truth is, I was clueless as to how they did that part too. She probably saw that in my eyes…mothering instinct and all. She kindly took my tray.
I thought about how crazy the scene was before me. I had come here to offer Jesus to these women…and they were offering Him to me as well. They needed what I was offering them…and I needed them too. Maybe that’s what the Table of the Lord does for us. It makes us aware of who is sitting next to us. We need each other. I needed to be taken care of by these inmates who knew the prison ropes far better than I did.
We need each other. God made it that way. On purpose. Hungering for Jesus draws us together…often, around at table.
Later that day, I would sit in my dorm room with MaryEllen and talk about our amazing lunch experience. What blew us away was their heart responses to our eating with them. They were so grateful that we ate with them. OVERWHELMING gratitude. Profuse thankfulness.
Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that we humans bond around tables. Kitchen tables. Banquet tables. Even prison lunch tables. Where there are people and food…there will be heart ties. God made it that way. Church potlucks. Back yard barbeques. Little girl tea parties. Coffee shop tables. The Table is a place of covenant. Partaking of food together bonds us.
This is why at least once during each of our Rural Queens Bible study semesters, we share a meal together. We make a menu, divide up who-is-bringing-what and gather in the kitchen to cook and prepare a meal as a team. There’s something about ten or twelve girls gathering in a kitchen to cook, laugh and eat a meal. What happens around the table is supernatural. God comes and meets with us. He ties our heart-strings together with Himself.
In a world of fast-paced craziness and busy schedules, tables are often empty. Sitting around a table is a thing of the past. We eat in shifts, on the couch, or on the run. We can’t sit so we drive thru and grab fast food. Table meals are relegated to holidays…mostly the ones when a big football game isn’t on TV. Our tables sit alone in the dining room, looking pretty but collecting dust.
Don’t you want more? I’m hungry for more than just an occasional snack at His Table. I crave real relationships. The kinds that are forged around the table…both in good times and bad. The kind of table conversations that leave me hungering for Jesus. The kind of meals around the table that lead me ultimately to His Table. I’m honestly tired of settling for nibbles of the world when I can have an amazing feast at His Table.
Come to His Table.
Jesus invites us to dine with Him. His open arms are for us…but we also have seats at His Table. It reminds me of Luke 14 where Jesus says to prepare a meal and invite the broken of the world to your table. The poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind…offer them Jesus. Take Him to the hungry souls of the world and feed His goodness to them. Jesus says that when we feed those who can’t repay us, we “will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” That’s eternal rewards for earthly actions.
I’m hungry…and with me a whole world of dying, wounded, and broken people. What if the answer to the world’s hunger was at the table? Your kitchen table? His Table.
“Remember the Alamo!” It was the statement that was shouted in the middle of the iconic battle in San Antonio, Texas. Those words gave a reason to fight. A focus-point when all around them was crumbling. Battle cries are important. They become fuel for the fight.
Every January (since 2014) God gives me a theme to live by. A mantra for the year. A focus-point for the next twelve months. Some of them I’ve loved…and most have stretched me beyond myself.
In 2014: Do Hard Things
In 2015: Reflect the Son
In 2016: God Writes my Story
In 2017: Be Brave
Each year has perfectly mirrored what might go through your head when you read the above statements. I did hard some things in 2014. I learned that it wasn’t all about me in 2015…that I was only to be mirroring Jesus. In 2016 I had to learn to surrender my life story to Him and that He would write it better (not easier, but BETTER) than me.
This past year was a game-changer for me. I literally emerged from the other side of 2017 a completely different gal than the one who started it. It was truly, my year to BE BRAVE. For the record, it seemed like everything I did in 2017 was out of my comfort zone. My friend once commented that last year was like being inside a violent clothes dryer. You get out feeling sore, disoriented and a little out of sorts. Sometimes God calls us to seasons of “being in a dryer” for His glory and our good.
Which brings me to the year 2018. Anybody else wincing? Signal the drumroll, please…because my new battle cry is about to debut!
I have felt the finger of God on my heart for the year 2018. His heart for broken and needy people has suddenly come to life for me. It’s His will that none would perish. That all would gather at His table. I’ve seen hungry women. I’ve been desperate for His living water myself. Time and again. So it only made sense when I felt Him drop this year’s theme for me…
COME TO HIS TABLE.
Both the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Anyone who hears should say, “Come!” And the one who is thirsty should come. Whoever desires should take the living water as a gift. (Revelation 22:17 HCSB)
Come to His table. This means a variety of things for me. The table is a place of bonding and discussion. It’s a place to be filled…both your stomach and your heart. Mentoring happens at the table. Homework questions are answered. Family conversation is plentiful. Even more so at the Table of the Lord.
Come to His Table.
First, coming myself to receive nourishment from Him. I cannot persuade others to come to His table if I haven’t been there myself. I’ve seen women (and men) who are so FILLED with Jesus that you feel like talking with them is touching the hem of His garment. You know what I mean? You KNOW that she/he has been at His Table. They have been fed by His Word. They have received freely of Him and His truth. Somehow, every conversation points you to His Table…because their life is inviting you to go there.
Next, I need to be running to the dark and dying world and bringing others to His table. If I’m being fed at His table, I will naturally want to share His saving nourishment with others. I want to be a woman who invites others to His Table.
Saving a seat for my neighbor. For the gal in the grocery check-out line. For the girls I lead home Bible study with. For the little people at church I have in the nursery. For the women I minister to in prison.
Come to His Table.
His Table means healing. His Table means wholeness. His Table means restoration and redemption. Thirst quenched. Hunger filled. Worry erased. Fear melted and replaced with FAITH. Perspectives are radically changed. At the table, weariness is replaced with strength…HIS strength. I don’t know about you, but His Table is where I want to be.
My battle cry for the year 2018? COME TO HIS TABLE!
You’re invited, friend. Come to His Table.
Sitting at the end of 2017 and looking towards the beginning of 2018 gives a unique perspective. One year closing up and another one…foggy in the near distance.
What’s in a year? Is it made up of merely hours, days, weeks and months…or is there more? Perhaps it’s made of experiences. Things that happen to shape who you are and challenges you to grow in your faith.
I have this thing I do when one year is wrapping up and another is staring me in the face…I rewind it and try to break it down. Then I ask some questions. This last year will be my hardest one yet to analyze, but today I sat down in one of my favorite coffee shops with my Bible and journal. I attempted to distill 2017 to a few paragraphs.
What was 2017? Here is my attempt…
Year-end Recap: This has been no doubt my most challenging and reshaping year EVER. God has literally remade me into a completely different person. He has left no ground unturned. I’ve been at the end of my rope. Tasted the deep grief and sorrow that comes with loss. Faced depression. I’ve encountered new things and seen Jesus in ways I never have before. While it’s been the hardest and most painful year I’ve ever had, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. My foundation was tested and I’ve discovered that HE HOLDS ME TOGETHER! His Word is now my anchor and He is the lover of my soul.
Word picture of 2017: A roller coaster. (Note: I hate roller coasters both physically and metaphorically speaking!)
Major happenings in 2017: I wrote the bulk of my singleness book through the year. Started doing Friday morning “dates” with Jesus in March. I was caregiver for a sweet friend until she went to heaven in April 2017. I dealt with depression off and on from April thru August…and I learned to lean into Jesus. Both my parents had significant health issues in the summer and my mom was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease in June. PCM (the young ladies’ ministry I work with) had the best event ever in July! MaryEllen and I ministered in two women’s prisons in September and October. One of my best friends got married and I started a personal blog in November.
The cry of my heart in 2017: “Lord, show me Your glory! I want to see YOU!”
Things I learned this year… Brokenness is merely a catalyst to see Jesus clearer. My world was rocked to its core and I found Him to be my Lifeboat. Jesus is compassionate. We are all busted up, needy and broken. Jesus comes into our messes and enters our darkness. God with us. He is faithful and will never leave me. Sometimes our greatest platform to witness for Christ is in our deepest pain and suffering. Suffering is the glue of our hearts…both to each other and to Jesus. And…water slides aren’t as scary as they seem. Just saying.
My favorite moment in 2017: Meeting my newest nephew on October 26th. Bryson Lee is the cutest little chunk you’ve ever seen!
What would I repeat? I would lean into Jesus through the pain of loss and heartache. I would be open about my brokenness. I would share from my life rather than my mind. I would bravely follow Jesus even when it doesn’t make sense. I would love fully, even if it hurts.
Theme and verse for 2017: “BE BRAVE” from Joshua 1:9, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (HCSB)
Anchor Scriptures of 2017: Isaiah 40:28-31, Isaiah 43:1-5, 1 Kings 17:8-16, Genesis 32:24-32, Exodus 33:11-23, Philippians 2:5-11, John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and 16-18, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Jeremiah 17:7-8 and the Book of Psalms.
Quotes from 2017:
I generally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. In fact, I’ve probably made resolutions less than the fingers on one hand. I’m one of those who think that if I don’t make them than I don’t have to keep them. Which honestly, is pathetic at best. It’s just super discouraging to find out weeks into the New Year that I’m a miserable failure at holding to my word. So…my practical side decided to just not promise anything. Which, as I said before, isn’t really any better of a plan.
Then 2018 rolled around…and I started feeling kind of guilty. That was originally why I avoided New Year’s resolutions in the first place, remember? It got me to thinking…maybe having goals for the year really wasn’t a bad idea. Goals are great to have. They’re like targets to shoot for in life. The saying “if you don’t know where you’re going, any train will get you there!” can be so true. Don’t you think?! I began looking over my last year and marking the points I need work on and things I want to put on REPEAT. Love freely…even when it hurts. Laugh more. Jesus is full of JOY! Live full. Remembering that I’m not guaranteed tomorrow. Live purposefully. Live fully. Leave all out on the field. If this was my last year…I wouldn’t want to save anything back because I was too afraid or too busy. Invite others to His Table. I want my life to be an actual invitation to the Table of the Lord.
What’s in a year? Looking back I can tell you what last year was…but looking forward, I have no idea. My prayer: that I will see Jesus this year like never before and I will follow Him fully, without reservation.
What’s in a year? Truth be told, only God knows.
Depression. There are days when it seems as if the world is coming to an end. You’re living on the edge. You feel like everything you touch is ruined. We’ve all had those days. The ones where you want to go into hibernation for several months.
A few nights ago, I wanted to crawl into bed, pull up the covers, and wake up to a different set of circumstances. I was tired of brokenness….my own and others, rubbing me raw at every chance. I was weary of being having to be gracious. Of forgiving. Of asking forgiveness for my own wicked heart. Exhausted from being so wounded and weak and human.
I heard my own whisper come soft and free, “God, I don’t want to be brave anymore.” He has heard me say that a thousand times this year…and I felt the weight of the world crushing out my joy.
This messed up world isn’t hospitable, is it? It breaks us and adds salt to our wounds and laughs at our dreams of peace and wholeness. There is no warmth. No courage, no healing…without HIM.
I sat there and wept. I cried for my own hurt and my pain. I wept because I am broken and the world is harsh. I wanted to breathe and all I could feel is the suffocating requirements, the to do list, and the glaring mistakes of my past. I felt small and swirling on a planet where no one sees me. Swirling like the snow outside my window.
Then…like another whisper, these words are dropped into my heart. “So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9, HCSB)
I felt the giving up part.
I’ve been here before. More than a hundred times this year. Sometimes more than once in a day. Depression hanging out at my door, waiting for an invitation to come in. To swallow me whole. I’ve lived with a cloud of sadness hovering over me, thick and threatening.
King David always seemed so dramatic to me…and weepy and complaining. Then I hit rock bottom this past year and the Psalms were like reading my journal. My heart bled those words, line by line. Somehow David didn’t seem so weird anymore, he seemed like the kind of guy I could get. I clung to those Psalms like it was my survival…and sometimes it was.
Depression was not one of the things I had ever faced before 2016. I’m not a fan. Still, it came back again and again, begging for a home. Life had some turns and twists that I wasn’t expecting…and I lost someone to cancer that I had come to love very dearly. The aftermath sent my emotional stability spiraling out of control. I couldn’t get my balance. I couldn’t seem to get a grip on my new normal.
There were many days I would pack my schedule to overflowing and not stay home much. If I kept super busy, it helped keep my mind off the pain. I couldn’t even string together a decent sentence some days. I lived in mental fog. Clouded thoughts. Deep grief and sorrow. The depression was debilitating. Then at night, I’d open my bedroom door and it would all come flooding back. The pain would envelop me. The hurt would be felt in every bone of my body. In the end, I couldn’t get away from the truth.
The truth was: I was broken. Needy. Desperate for healing. I was busted up. Wounded more than ever before. I felt invisible. Unseen.
Night after night, I’d cry myself to sleep. Begging for relief from the emotional and mental pain. Rest. Peace in the storm. Then morning would dawn and I’d repeat the same cycle over again.
How do you pick up the pieces of a life that seems to out of sorts? What does it look like to re-learn the basics? Where do you begin to find a new mission in life? How do you hold on when you feel the slipping away in your soul? The re-calibrating of life can be a beautiful and broken mess.
I’ve had people ask me how I made it through…and the answer? He made me brave. I couldn’t conjure up courage or manipulate myself to “get it together”. I literally couldn’t do anything but sit and cry, pray and read Scripture. So that’s what I did. Day after day after day.
I don’t even know how I made it through those long months. I have a supportive family, some amazing friends and great people at church…but even that isn’t enough to make you brave. It has to be Jesus. He alone can make us brave. We can only be courageous when we cash in ourselves and take on His strength in our own weakness.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 HCSB)
When it happened, I don’t even know. There were days when I would cry out to God the only words that I could…simply, like a child. “Lord, hold me. Hold me.” The truth is, I could feel my soul slipping and I wasn’t strong enough to hold onto Him. I was questioning…why? How could God be good and how could He really love me? Did He even see me?
I know there were days I would have the song “He Will Hold Me Fast” by the Getty’s on replay. Or “He’ll Hold You” by Selah. I needed those words. I prayed those words.
Suddenly, I NEEDED Scripture to make it through the day. I craved the truth to make sense out of the pain and pressure. Verses that were once only words on the page had become nourishment to my spirit. They were literally the key to my survival.
“We are pressured in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed…Therefore we don not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, 16-18, HCSB)
There are a thousand things I learned through those months of agonizing pain and wrestling with God. I could write a whole series of what I learned through that time…but right now, this one stands out in my mind: He loves me and He sees me.
Jesus. Sees. Me.
He knows my hurt. His heart is toward me. His compassion is for me. In all the craziness of my busted-up relationships, and death, and cancer, and wounded heart, He sees me. Not who I think I am or who others think I am, but who I really am. And somehow…He still loves me.
That takes my breath away. He sees me. He sees ME! Suddenly, the crushing power of the world vanishes and I’m standing in awe of His beautiful, overwhelming, unconditional love.
Somehow…that kind of overwhelming, unconditional love gives me power. It is the courageous feeling that wells up in my trembling heart…enough to step forward in belief. It is the wind beneath my wings.
“He gives strength to the weary and strengthens the powerless. Youths may faint and grow weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31 HCSB)
Depression is real. It can be debilitating. It can be consuming. I’ll be the first to say that depression is hard. I’ve had days when I can’t even function and I’ve wanted to stay in bed all day. It’s the pits.
Just remember this, friend. His love? It’s deeper than your deepest depression. His power? It’s stronger than your sadness. He sees you. Trust Him with all your brokenness. Trust Him with the things that don’t make sense (and there will be plenty of things that won’t make sense in life). He DOES love you. He DOES see you.
Corrie ten Boom, a Nazi prison camp survivor once said, “No pit is so deep that He is not deeper still; with Jesus even in our darkest moments, the best remains and the very best is yet to be.”
You right there, trembling in your shoes. You, living under a cloud of guilt. You, seeking relief from your sorrow and grief. You, trying to navigate through the fog of depression. His love conquers fear. One step at a time, He can make you brave.
His eyes are on you. He sees you. He loves you. His compassion is for you. He makes you brave.
Rehearse it over and over. Write it on the bathroom mirror. Stick it on your car overhead visor. Put it as your phone screen-saver. Slap it up on your refrigerator. Believe it in your heart.
It’s 2017. December 2017. I can remember when I was writing 1997 on my school papers. It seems like yesterday: jumping off the shed roof with my brothers, painting my face with dandelions and mulberries, and trying to do wheelies with my bike. Then just like that… twenty years is gone and with it some of my more daring tendencies! Trust me, I have to talk myself into a water slide nowadays.
A few months ago I turned 29 years old. Y’all…I’m around the corner from 30. (Remember when 30 seemed old?) What happened? Where did the time go?
There was a time when I had my whole life planned out. I would be married by 20 (or at least by 22!) and have a bunch of kids. We’d live in a house with shutters and a white picket fence. By 29 my life was supposed to look a lot different…according to my own blueprint.
Then life actually happened. Somehow all my plans went out the window and it turned out way more beautiful than I had planned…not that marriage and children aren’t beautiful…I’d love to be married and be a mommy! But God’s plan for ME at this stage of life was FAR MORE beautiful than my plan.
They say hind-sight is 20/20. We can see where we’ve been easier than where we are going. My life has certainly proved that theory.
Singleness is sometimes that way. Some people aren’t single very long. Some marry right out of high school, unlike me. Eleven years ago I graduated and began my single life. I had plans. I had dreams. I had ambitions.
Then there is Jesus. He had other plans. We had very different ideas about how my life would go down. Surprise!
I’ve totally become THAT Single Girl. You know what I’m talking about…the single gals that are just downright strange. They have car seats in their cars for children they don’t even have…or better yet, a minivan. They insert themselves into nearly any or all of the Sunday school classes…because hey, there’s really no special spot for them anyway! Or they hang out with fourth-graders because it’s just simply fun…or the teens because, why not? I have embarrassed my siblings more than once on my singleness weirdo-ness. I have threatened to wear pig-tails and chomp gum at Walmart…but they’re sure I’ll never do it. Or so they hope.
Looking back, I can see some of the WHYS of my singleness up to this point…and it’s not the chomping gum or pigtails either. I could never see it ahead of time, but there have been obvious moments when I have understood God’s plan to be beautiful.
The last few years have been full of those “AHA, that’s why I’m single!” moments. I’ll tell you about five of my biggest ones…
Life isn’t always as we plan. Sometimes God takes an unmarked course (at least from our perspective) that is far different than we’d like. Things don’t always work out like we think they should. But in the end…in the end, they are much better than we could have imagined.
In the end, cancer doesn’t win. In the end, there isn’t suffering or sickness or pain. In the end, there isn’t brokenness. There is only Jesus.
Can I just say this? Where there is Jesus, that’s home to me. White picket fences are pretty, but they’re overrated. I’ll take singleness and Jesus any day if that’s where He wants me. I’ll be THAT Single Girl. The one whose eyes sparkle with the love of her heavenly Bridegroom.
White flour poofing in the air. Sugar all gritty on the counter tops. Empty egg shells and measuring cups everywhere. The hum of mixers, Pandora Christmas music and laughter in the kitchen. It was cookie making day at our house today.
We decided to gather all the gals of the family (and the four littlest boys) for a day of baking cookies…in six different varieties. It was a full, all-day event. The older boys/dads floated in and out for meals and random cookie tastings. Two meals and 22 dozen cookies later, we were tired but happy. Short-lived as it may be, sprinkles and frosting can give you a beautiful sugar high that can double as happiness. Memories were made today. Three generations of ladies in the kitchen…including a three-year-old little girl with sparkling eyes. What could be better than that?
Family. They see all of our corks, don’t they? Our family see our good days and our bad. Our weepy times and our mountain-top experiences. They are there for our sour attitudes and our glee-filled surprises. I’m sometimes amazed mine still loves me through it all!
I’m grateful for my family. I have awesome parents, great brothers and sisters…plus two amazing sisters who I gained through my brothers getting married. (Who, by the way, feel every bit my blood sisters as ever could be!) Then five little people who call me “Aunt Faith”, and baby #6 on the way in March! I’ve been blessed in the family department.
What ingredients make a BRAVE sister, daughter, auntie, cousin, niece and granddaughter? As I stirred cookie dough, washed greasy spatulas, and retrieved toddlers from hot ovens…this was the question on my mind. How do I live BRAVE at home?
The truth is, home is where it’s sometimes the hardest for me to live courageously. This is where people know me the best. They have seen every angle of who I am. They know when I’m faking it, when I’m depressed, when I have something up my sleeve, or when I’m struggling with one of them. When I think of being brave at home…it usually amounts to apologizing.
I’m a work in progress, y’all. I say stupid things that hurt people. Sometimes those things are said in innocence and my statements or questions get perceived otherwise…and then things spin out of control and I’m left with picking up the pieces of World War 3. Why on earth don’t I THINK before I speak?
Other times I just say crazy, mindless things…caring little or nothing about the other person’s feelings. Then I see the pain on the faces of my family members and I wonder— how did I get here? What makes me be so ugly or inconsiderate? I’ve cried many times over the senseless words I’ve spoken to the people I love most.
“If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (HCSB) “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness—without it no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14 (HCSB)
It takes a brave heart to ask forgiveness to those we wound. Believe me, I know…I’ve had to eat a lot of humble pie. Way more than I’d care to admit.
Maybe you know how it is. You feel that little prick in your spirit and you know Jesus is telling you to fess up and repent for your wrong words or attitude. On the way to apologize, you can think of a thousand reasons why you really weren’t wrong after all. You feel justified in your sin. I’ve probably tried on all the same excuses. I’m a pro at trying to get out of apologizing.
There have been times I’ve turned around and decided to walk in my own justification. Can I just tell you…those where among the worst decisions I’ve ever made? I took the easy way out. The coward’s road. It costs to take the path of least resistance.
Some of the most pride-hurting moments in my life have turned out to give me great freedom. The burden lifting off my heart when I repent is worth the 2-3 minutes of discomfort.
Family. They can bring out the best and worst of you, can’t they? I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but I’d be lying to say that I always LIKE them. I love them dearly, but they can rub me wrong. They can push my buttons. They’ve seen Faith Walker in the bad and the ugly.
Family. They are my life. My reason for keeping on in the hard moments. I wouldn’t want to be without them. They make me laugh. They bring me some of the greatest joy and memories. Like today.
Today was a whisper from heaven about what really matters. I want to live courageous EVERYWHERE. Especially at home, with my family. I want to live full…with lots of frosting and sprinkles. I want to live free…free from a clouded conscience. I want my biggest cheerleaders to always be the people closest to me. The people who REALLY know me.
Family. They know what we’re really made of, don’t they? I’m grateful mine loves me anyway. I guess that’s Brave Family Love.
When I chose to go on a missions trip this past fall and serve the female inmates in prison, I got the same question over and over again before I left.
It’s a valid question. There are a thousand different places to minister in. A million needs in the world to meet. So why did I say YES to prison?
The simple answer is that I just felt called. I had begun to be drawn to broken people and hurting hearts like never before. I wanted to go where truth was hungered for. Most of all, I craved to be where Jesus was. I begged to see His face…to walk where He was walking. To go where He was moving.
It’s not every day that someone from the free world gets to visit prison…even for volunteering. So when I said yes to this crazy, amazing opportunity to serve behind bars, I had no idea what was ahead for me. We went through some training. We were briefed about some “what ifs”. In the back of my head, there was also a few pre-conceived ideas. The truth was, I walked into it naively. I just knew I was called…and I had spent too much of my year fighting Jesus. So I just wanted to BE WITH HIM.
Ever feel like God is calling you into deep waters? Waters so deep that even your tippy-toes can’t touch the bottom? That’s what I felt like. Nothing is worse than feeling unprepared. Unequipped. Small. Like you were picked by mistake.
I remember the feeling of tension in my heart. Why me, God? I don’t even know what I’m doing. I haven’t even ever visited someone in prison before so how can I possibly do this blindly?
The Thursday before our first week in prison, Maryellen and I had the evening off from work and training, so we decided to participate in an online prayer service with thousands of women all across the world. I could feel my emotions building up and I knew I needed to sit at the feet of Jesus.
Half way through the prayer service, one of the leaders got up and encouraged us to have a time of confession. We were supposed to share with the friend next to us and pray to confess our sin.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. God put His finger right into my heart and exposed my disbelief. My tears flowed freely. I turned to Maryellen and shook my head, trying to regain my composure. “I’ve been going through this whole trip thinking God picked the wrong girl.”
Ever been there? You simply can’t be courageous without belief. You can’t live brave without faith in Jesus and His overall plan. He’s got this.
Confessing my sin of disbelief and fear to my friend was the first step to living brave and FREE. She prayed for me, as I sat there and cried bucket loads. Then I went before Jesus myself. He is full of forgiveness and compassion. Forgive me Lord for my disbelief. For my heart of fear. Thank you, Father for picking me. You’ve got this.
“I keep the Lord in my mind always, Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8, HCSB)
I walked into that first prison still naïve. No doubt I looked like a cow at a new gate walking through all those fences that first day. I had the newbie look in my eyes.
What I didn’t have was debilitating fear. Disbelief in God’s power. I didn’t walk in doubt. I walked in boldness, not in my abilities…but because HE IS ABLE. He’s got this.
Courageous people don’t feel invincible. They just trust Jesus enough to know: what He calls us to, He will equip us for. Consider it done, friend.
He’s got this.
Sitting in my room at fourteen years old and reading his story was the first I heard of him. The man I read about in those pages was a pastor in the Ukraine and had the faith of a giant. I read about the things he believed God for and it made me crave to have that kind of trust. I learned about the orphanage that God had miraculously built…when the funds didn’t exist on paper. His courage made me want to be brave too.
Here’s the thing. Courage is contagious. It spreads to the people who are with you or around you. It infects the people in the circle of your existence. Courage is a choice…of that we can be sure. But if you are Brave, it’s easier for me to be too. That’s the way it works.
It reminds me of yawning. Seriously. Have you ever watched someone yawn and then seen the chain reaction of the people closest to him or her? I’m even yawning right now just seeing the word on this page!
So it is with courage. If you see me living brave, or even read the story of a Christian who lives brave, it will be easier for you to step out in faith. There are hundreds of battle tales of rally cries and courageous chants that have spurred men and women to give everything they have in the face of death. Why? It’s easier to be brave if a friend is standing next to you. (Why else do you think that roller coasters are generally rode in pairs? Or flying for the first time is easier with a friend?)
As a kid I loved dominoes. Not really for the game part, but because I loved to set them up in rows of twists and curves until I emptied the entire box of dominoes. Then, I’d nudge the first domino and watch the chain reaction. It was a thrilling five seconds.
Maybe we are a little like dominoes too.
Have you ever met someone who was so courageous that it spilled over onto everyone they bumped into? That’s the kind of woman I want to be. I want to start a chain reaction. Something that moves me to action for Jesus SO MUCH, that others can’t help but get excited and follow Jesus bravely too.
Now we all have different lives and gifts and talents…so our lives SHOULD look different. But the Bible says hundreds of times to have courage and not be afraid…and so I think God meant it to be noticed. As varied as our lives may be, we are all called to be Brave and courageous in our own ways. For you, it might be talking to people you don’t know at school or befriending the new girl at church. For me it will be a completely different set of knee-knocking assignments. But my assignments aren’t better or bigger…they’re just different because I’m a different person than you.
I’ve met girls who have looked me square in the eyes and told me they could never do what I do. Maybe they’re right… but it’s not because I’m a super Christian, it’s because I’m a different person. God has called me to a certain set of brave assignments. I have also been face to face with people who LOVE talking in front of large groups of people. That I don’t get. But they are beautiful daughters of the King called to a completely diverse set of courage-jobs. I’m also certain there are things you’re called to that I would find terrifying or a piece of cake…and visa-versa.
This is how God designed us. To need each other. To love each other. To cheer our friends and family on. He wants us to be a crowd of completely unique and gifted people unalike and dissimilar from each other…and yet beautifully fit together like a puzzle. Cookie-cutter sameness is WAY overrated, friend.
So if courage is contagious…you need to surround yourself with courageous people. Brave people. People who believe God is capable of using little-‘ole you for His plan. Read stories of great Christians who were valiant in the faith. Study God’s Word and rehearse the times He did CRAZY feats through ordinary people like you and me. (One of my personal favorites is Gideon!) When Jesus calls you to be brave, grab a friend’s hand and ask her to pray like mad for you. Or better yet, have her go WITH YOU on the adventure. You will be strengthened and you’ll make a ton of memories together…which will certainly include laughing and crying.
That Ukrainian pastor? He’s still working hard for the Lord and when I was 20 years old (six whole years after I read about him) I met him in person. That will forever be one of the unforgettable events in my life. There’s something about meeting someone who has so affected the course of your life, and yet you’ve never even seen them before. It’s hard to describe what went through my head, but I knew that with the language barrier, I’d probably never be able to accurately say what his faith and courage had done to change my life. My 14 year old life.
Later during his few days visit to our area, I was able to sit with him and an interpreter at supper time. I wanted to ask him one question. When I finally mustered up the gumption, I spit it out. “I’ve heard about the incredible things you do in Ukraine and how God is working through you and your ministry. You are a great man of faith. What is your secret?” I’ll never forget his answer. Humble, but confident, he looked me straight in the eyes and said…
“I’m just a little man with a big God.”
There are a thousand things he could have probably said and been right. But he turned my focus from doing things to being…just being God’s daughter afforded me everything I needed. Knowing Who Jesus really is gives you faith. I was just a young gal…with a big God. And that was enough. Pastor Pavel probably knew that if I could grasp that truth, I’d have all the faith and courage I needed. And I think he’s right.
Courage is not pulling yourself up by your own boot straps. It’s not muscling your way through tough times and putting on a strong face. It’s not even having all the right Bible answers and sounding the part. True bravery and courage can only come from the Power-Source Himself: Jesus. He makes us brave. He gives us everything we need at just the right moment to be courageous.
Contagious courage is when a believer who knows of Jesus’ power rubs off on you. They somehow create a hunger in you to trust more. To see Jesus in full color. To have bigger faith that He. Can. Do. It. Mark Batterson said it like this: “Your ‘Brave’ is someone else’s breakthrough.” That kind of courage is beautiful….and I want to be so sure of my Jesus that my courage to follow Him spills over onto the people around me. Like Pastor Pavel did to me 15 years ago.
Think about it…who has changed your life by their courage? Now go and thank them. Let’s start a chain reaction of courage!
“Indeed, God is my salvation; I will trust Him and not be afraid, for Yah, the Lord, is my strength and my song. He has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2 HCSB
“Get up, for the matter is your responsibility, and we support you. Be strong and take action!” Ezra 10:4 HCSB
(This post was originally published for the Polished Cornerstones blog, November 21st, 2017)
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you: I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place My Spirit within you and cause you to follow My statutes and carefully observe My ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:26-27 HCSB
It was March 2017. I had been through the ringer and I had no idea what was up the pike for me in life…just weeks away. In January God had given me the year’s theme: Be Brave. I could feel Him kneading the truth of His Word into my soul. I was praying for His Be Brave assignments. Now I know that praying for life missions is akin to praying for patience…but we live and learn.
A mere few months later, I was sitting across the dinner table from a good friend and prison chaplain, hearing his plea for more help. I could feel my spirit stirring. I knew that feeling…the Lord prodding me in a certain direction. “I need more female volunteers for our October trip. We will be going to several women’s correctional facilities and I’m short-handed. Would that be something you’d be interested in?” I sat there soaking it all in. I’d grown up around prison ministry my whole life. My dad had been involved in helping with this particular ministry, but this was a new angle. This was ME.
We asked some questions…what would that look like? What would I be doing? What were the dates and expenses? But it was pointless. I already knew the answer. I could sense the Lord moving me for weeks to something and I saw clearly: this was it. This was my missing puzzle piece.
I don’t remember everything I said that day, but I know at one point I leaned back in my chair, took a deep breath and said, “Uncle Bob, this terrifies me. So I’m pretty sure this is what I’m supposed to do.” And that was that.
Courage is a funny thing. It never feels heroic. Or at least not to me.
Most times, courage feels down-right crazy. Scared-out-of-my-wits crazy. Roller-coaster crazy. Out-of-your-comfort-zone loco. Even foolish. Sometimes being brave looks like sticking my neck out and doing something I’ve never done before. Or being stretched way beyond human capabilities. It ALWAYS looks bigger than me. Braver than me. And generally speaking, there’s not a guarantee of the outcome.
That’s why it’s called courage. Faith. Brave Living. The “risk” factor is what makes us lean into the only One who really knows the outcome…Jesus. We feel like we’re jumping into the darkness blindfolded. But all we need is to trust our Guide…because He can see the whole path clearly.
Yes, prison ministry wasn’t on my radar for the year…but it was apparently in His blueprint.
Fast-forward six months and I was standing in the airport security line with MaryEllen. We were heading out for three weeks of prison ministry and adventure with Jesus. I was walking in obedience. Nothing more. I didn’t feel brave. Or ready. I just knew I was called to walk through the door and I prayed like a mad-woman that He would go with me. I remember whispering under my breath as the plane took off… “God, You know this is a one-time-deal, right?” I’m sure He smiled.
Words are inadequate to express what happened to me in the next few weeks. Radical changes occurred in my heart. I saw the world in a new light. I saw the previous months of pain I had went through as a stage to show-case His glory and connect with the broken people around me. I saw Jesus in a beautiful way…as the One Who came and rescued me from myself. My Sin-bearer and the Lover of my soul. Emmanuel. God with me. God with us.
Redemption is a beautiful thing…but sometimes when we grow up knowing “Christian-ese” and hearing all the lingo…we miss the awe of it all. Being able to get involved in prison ministry was like stepping into a place where Jesus was showcased in full-color. Prison is a broken place…and He thrives in our brokenness.
I remember one day when I had a conversation with a middle-aged woman who was feeling out of hope. She had made some pretty big mistakes that landed her in prison. She was feeling hopeless and unwanted…and I could see all the pain and uncertainty etched in her face. She was crying and telling me her story. My heart broke for her. The pain of feeling overwhelmed by sin and guilt. I knelt down by her chair and tried to speak words of encouragement and truth to her. I’m not sure what all I said, but I remember telling her, “I just want you to know that our Jesus is a God of REDEMPTION. He loves writing the last chapter. And maybe He’s brought you here so He can start something new. There is always hope with Jesus.” With tears running down her face, she responded, “Thank you for saying that. I needed to hear that.”
The next morning, the same lady came in for class and was clearly looking for me. She seemed timid, but I knew she wanted to say something so I walked over to her. Immediately she put her head down and nervously said… “I couldn’t sleep all night. And I even hesitate to ask you this because you’re so much younger than me…but yesterday you kept mentioning the word redemption…and…I don’t even know what that word means.”
If she could have seen into my heart in that moment it would have been full of amazement and excitement. I was getting to share Jesus and the Gospel with this woman! What a treasure to lead someone to the Throne and introduce them to Jesus.
We take it for granted, don’t we? The lingo many of us have grown up learning and speaking since we were toddlers…and yet some people never hear. Some never hear the truth of the Word until they’re adults. It’s humbling to stand in front of a group of women who have lived way more life than you…and yet are asking you simple questions about Jesus and the Word. It makes you grateful. It challenges you to dig deeper. To savor the beauty of the Bible. To stand in awe of the incredible gift: the knowledge of Jesus. Why would He give me such a privilege?
In case you’re wondering, this lovely lady became my sister-in-Christ that warm Florida day. She listened with rapt attention as I explained that Redemption means “bought back”…that Jesus chose to buy her back when she was in sin and He wanted her to be His forever. With tears streaming down her face, she surrendered that day. And I’ll never forget her radiant smile when she graduated from the program and shook my hand… “Thank you SO MUCH for coming here,” she said. I responded with “It was my pleasure,” amid the tears rolling down my cheeks and the lump in my throat.
I was the one blessed. I left changed.
There are a thousand things I learned in those three weeks of prison ministry…and I could blog about it for ages. There are parts about the trip I’m still processing. Questions that are currently unanswered. But suffice it to say, I am a different woman than the one who flew out of the airport in late September 2017.
It was the longest I’ve ever been away from home without any family. It was scary. Big stuff. Crazy, mind-boggling, what-was-I-thinking stuff. This was a wild roller-coaster that I was both terrified and excited about. I’ll always be thankful that God allowed MaryEllen and I to go together…it gave us one point of familiarity among a thousand unfamiliar. We were able to encourage one another and pray for each other. On our off days, we were able to enjoy the ocean and talk through the stories and experiences.
What brave living is God calling you to? It’s probably the scariest thing on the horizon. Friend, if I could say one thing to you…you there, standing on the edge of your future, it’s this. Trust Him and step out in Faith. He has an incredible plan for you and it will require getting outside of yourself. That’s where He is. He will make you brave. In the beginning, I had no idea what those three weeks of prison ministry would hold…but I knew one thing, and I was clinging to that promise with everything in me.
Jesus was going with me. Guaranteed. That’s the fool-proof plan, friends. Jesus leads and I follow Him. Would I do prison ministry again? Absolutely. Willingly. Enthusiastically! Bravery that’s bigger than me is the best kind…because that means Jesus is there. Sign me up, friend. I want to be wherever He is.
(This post was originally published on the Polished Cornerstones blog, November 17th, 2017.)
“What are you most afraid of?” The question kind of took me back a little. I was sitting across the table from my friend, Liza, who had listened to me pour out my heart. My emotions were raw. Tears welled up in my eyes and my heart felt like it was bursting. There was a lot going on and I was overwhelmed by life. She listened intently and then she gently asked the question that rocked me…
What are you most afraid of?
I guess I should clarify…the biggest ministry season was straight ahead, I was having best friend issues, relationship struggles, and I had just lost a close friend to cancer. I was weary. Broken. Life was shaking my faith. It seemed like on every side there was some major change or shift. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to spend my energy? Why was everything coming so hard and all of life falling apart? I had a million questions for God.
In the middle of all of the chaos, God had asked me to open my heart up. To say yes to a relationship that was way outside anything I wanted at the moment. I felt so raw and broken and helpless at the time and starting a relationship with someone seemed…strange. Wrong, actually. I could barely survive each day without an emotional volcano and I was pretty sure that meant I was a bad representation of the real Faith Walker.
I was digging my heels in. Of course, God has the blueprint…but this time? This time I knew better. Or so I thought. I wanted to trust His plan, but I was so spent emotionally. I can’t do this! Don’t ask me to jump into something that will make me give of myself…not now. Not yet.
What are you most afraid of?
There I sat at Liza’s kitchen table, tears rolling down my cheeks and mascara ruined. It was becoming the ugly cry. The question echoed in my ears like a thundering voice. It rattled my insides. It awakened my spirit. This demanded an answer. A heart-search. It was a gauge of my trust level.
I needed that question. To verbalize what was going on inside of me. I had to stop and think. It hung in the air. And the silence was almost palpable. I sighed and bit my lip.
“I’m afraid of heartbreak.” My voice warbled. I felt the knot tightening in my throat. I was truly afraid that in the end, there would be another broken piece of me…and I felt too messy to invite something new into the mix. Why sign up for failure?
My friend, Liza, is an excellent listener. She is wise and gentle and caring. So she sat there and heard my heart. She saw my tears and cried a little with me. She validated my concerns…and then she quoted Charles Spurgeon: “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” That sunk in for a moment.
“Faith, God isn’t gonna lead you anywhere that He isn’t going with you. He is good and He has good plans for you.” I cried some more. I knew she was right and I was scared.
I could feel the white-knuckled grip of my soul trying to hang on to anything that would prevent me from what was ahead. I wanted to just curl up and shut out the new…I just wanted everything to go back to what was “normal”. Whatever that was. I hurt deep. The pain affected everything…my eating, my sleep patterns, my attitudes, and my sanity. The world around me was swirling in craziness and I didn’t know how to get it all to stop. Depression hung over me like a cloud.
What are you most afraid of?
For days, the question gripped my heart. I heard it over and over. It haunted me in a totally holy and righteous, God-pursuing way. I needed to answer it again and again. I needed to face my fears. Acknowledge them so I could deal with them.
Somehow, that question became a balm of sorts. A way to face my realities and speak truth to my heart. If I knew what I was afraid of and could verbalize it…then I could counter-attack with the truth of His Word. The solid rock certainty is that even in my toughest times, most grueling moments and hardest circumstances, HE IS WITH ME. Liza is right: He won’t leave me to flounder in the pain alone. He won’t lead me astray.
Despite the unknowns and uncertainties of life, the Word is never changing. When everything else in the world is crumbling around you, count on it: Jesus is there. He will walk with you. He with hold you.
My theme verse this year is Joshua 1:9, “Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (HCSB)
Isn’t that where the real answer lies? Here I am…broken, scared and confused. He will never leave me…and that is where my strength and courage really are: IN HIM. He is here with me in the middle of my mess and He says, “I’ve got this”. Answering that question at times of uncertainty has helped me breathe. It puts handles on how to counterattack. It gives me strength to speak truth into my fears and boosts my faith.
So…What are YOU most afraid of?
Perhaps you need to answer that question yourself. What is holding you back from full potential with Jesus? Maybe it’s what someone else thinks of you. It’s plaguing you. The need for approval. The quest for more Facebook likes and sappy comments about the way you’re dressed. You’re afraid that someone won’t like you, they’ll unfriend you, or talk about you behind your back.
Perhaps you’re afraid of failure. You are just sure that you’ll never get that job promotion or that A+ grade in school. Inside you’re always comparing your life to your friends. You aren’t measuring up to their grade-point-average. You don’t have the skill set that they do. You are afraid you won’t be able to make it in life and you’ll just be one huge failure after another.
Or maybe your biggest fear is fear itself. It stares at you every day in the mirror. You are fearful of getting in a car accident or saying something stupid in front of your friends. You are afraid of a storm taking your house or your purse getting stolen. If you can be afraid about something…you’ve already been there done that.
What are you most afraid of?
I’m with you, friend. Life can present a hundred opportunities to choose between fear and faith. Honestly, I enjoy the feeling of control (although it’s a mirage at best) and hate when I lose my grasp. When my world feels it’s crumbling around me, my soul can feel like it’s coming unglued. All the “what if” questions run through my brain. Before I know it, I have myself alone on an island, without a boat, eating canned tuna and without any rescue in sight.
Living in fear stinks. In fact, it’s not even living. At best, it’s only surviving. We were made to THRIVE, and fear will hold us back. Every. Single. Time.
What are you most afraid of? This question has rerouted my heart many times over the last few months. When I feel the fear mounting up, I often stop and think of my friend’s question. It brings me back to earth and reminds me of the truth: HE IS WITH ME.
Now this is what the Lord says— the One who created you, Jacob, and the One who formed you, Israel— “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. I will be with you when you pass through the waters, and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. You will not be scorched when you walk through the fire, and the flame will not burn you.” Isaiah 43:1-2 (HCSB)
Fear break-necks it out of the way when we cling to Jesus in faith. So name it, friend…what is your fear? Then speak the truth of Scripture over your soul and let His Word heal the brokenness. Walk in the Light. Rehearse His promises: He is with you. He loves you. He sings over you and delights in you. He does all things well. He will never leave or forsake you.
Now let those truths seep into your heart and take root. Let them turn your fear into rocket fuel…FAITH…that will move mountains. Name your fear and then find the antidote for it in His Word.
You were made to thrive in the wonder of His love and care. Breathe it in. Then go live like you believe it.