Face-to-Face with Jesus.

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?

Guaranteed to Win

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

Then there’s Jesus

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.

Set an Extra Chair

img_2149A 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.img_2153

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.

The Adventure Begins

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:

  1. I must COME HUNGRY myself.
  2. I must CREATE HUNGER in others.

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.

Best. Story. Ever.

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.

Faithfulness.

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.”

Faithfulness.

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.

The True Gospel

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?

Wrong.

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.

How Hungry are You?

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.

Walker Cookie day 2017 035

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.

My Battle Cry for 2018

“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.

What’s in a Year?

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:

  • “It’s helplessness not holiness that is the first step to accessing God.” -Dr. Tim Keller
  • “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” -Charles Spurgeon
  • “Fear is temporary. Regret is forever. Be Brave for Jesus.” (I wrote this on a sticky note and taped it to my bedroom mirror)
  • “The greatest opportunities are the scariest lions.” -Mark Batterson

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.

God. With. Us.

The name EMMANUEL. I’ve heard it since I was a toddler in diapers. It always connects me to Christmas…but I don’t think I fully understood what it actually meant until this year.

Growing up in a Christian home was a huge blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m forever grateful for the family and heritage God has given me. In the same token, teething on certain Biblical concepts and truths has given me a challenge: I sometimes miss the deep meaning behind them. My “Christian-ese” has given me a disadvantage. Thankfully, God is creative in helping me understand simple truths.

Emmanuel = God with us.

This year, God asked me to LIVE it and see it with my own eyes. Now it holds gravity with my heart and it’s forever changed how I see the name EMMANUEL.

*

It started when I was ministering in prison this past October. As I’ve mentioned before, this was a completely new experience for me. One of the things that took me by surprise was how grateful the women were to us. They kept thanking us for coming and sharing with them.

The wording they used was almost always the same. They would say things like, “Thank you for coming and being with us.” “Thank you for humbling yourselves and being one of us.” “Thank you for proving to us that you don’t think you’re better than us.” “Thank you for being real. I can get you.”

The phrases they used seemed out-of-place. My friend and I had come to prison asking God to speak to US…and use us for His glory. We didn’t come to offer them anything but Jesus. Why did they keep thanking us for “being with them” and “becoming one of them”? It seemed strange.

Until the morning of the third day.

We were standing in the courtyard early that morning, waiting to be let in for morning set up. The sun was rising over the barbed wire, making for a broken kind of beautiful. The rays of sunlight made the wire sparkle and the colors made everything glow. It was still. Quiet. Peaceful.

Then His whisper. “This is what I did for you, Faith. I came and got into YOUR prison. I didn’t have to, I CHOSE to. I chose to become like you so I could show you the way to freedom.”

It was like a flash went through my brain. Emmanuel = God with us.

God with us meant Jesus wrapped Himself in human flesh…a prison of sorts for the Creator of the Universe. God with us meant Jesus had to know pain and sniffles and skinned knees and the harsh realities of life…so He could get close to us.

He loved me so much that He chose to get into my world…broken and strange as it is…and get on my level. He chose to limit himself so He would have a voice with me.

Suddenly, I realized why these women were so grateful. They had been visited by EMMANUEL. They couldn’t fathom why two young women from the free world would come and share life for a week with them. While we weren’t walking out this truth on purpose…I now saw what it meant to the women behind bars. I had once been in their place, and the awe of my Savior still overwhelms me.

The gravity of what Jesus did for me hits me like a ton of bricks. He loved me that much. The name EMMANUEL suddenly feels weighty and real. I can see it in full-color in front of me.

*

Christmas is a time of reflection for me and the name EMMANUEL is where I’ve been camping out this year. I’ve been mulling over John 1:1-14 for several weeks now and verse 14 has repeatedly stuck out in my mind. It now has dimension for me…like a drawing on paper transforming into 4D that I can reach out and touch.

Whenever I want to see a new perspective on a passage I’ve read over and over, I sometimes cross-references from other versions. I grew up on the King James Version which says…

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” KJV

That’s beautiful…but I don’t talk like that so I need some new vantage points. I started looking up the verse in a few other versions…I wanted to see EMMANUEL. What did some of these phrases mean?

“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory of the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” HCSB (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” NIV (New International Version)

“And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. We looked upon His glory, the glory of the one and only from the Father, full of grace and truth.” TLV (Tree of Life Version)

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” MSG (Message)

“The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw his Sh’khinah, the Sh’khinah of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.” CJB (Complete Jewish Bible)

I remember sitting back in my chair when I read these and my mouth dropping open. I shook my head in disbelief. Jesus—KING OF THE WORLD— lowering Himself, humbling Himself. The unlimited God limiting Himself so He could meet my deepest need. Salvation. Redemption.

Who does that? Who leaves behind the beauty and splendor of His glory (Sh’khinah) to pursue the fickle hearts of human beings like me? Why did He love me so much that He would choose to “move into my neighborhood”? That kind of love blows my mind.

He’s Emmanuel. God. With. Us.

God living on our street. God’s tabernacle in our front yard. God taking up residence with us. He wanted us that much. He wanted us to be whole and healed. So He chose to be with us, have a voice with us and rescue us from ourselves.

Emmanuel is Jesus getting into our prison with us so He can offer us the key to freedom and Eternal Life.

Emmanuel is Jesus loving us enough to wrap Himself in the skin of a helpless, naked baby…born to a poor teenage virgin girl who was blessed and highly favored. Emmanuel is Jesus choosing to grow up in a small, unknown town and be raised by an ordinary carpenter. Emmanuel is Jesus walking dusty streets and healing people with bum legs and blind eyes and demonic oppression. Emmanuel is Jesus loving the people He lived with enough to bleed, endure torture, and carry His cross up Calvary…ultimately dying for their sins (and MINE and YOURS!) in a cruel, painful way. Emmanuel is Jesus rising again, defeating death once and for all…for the people “in His neighborhood” He loved so well.

Tell me that doesn’t make your jaw drop! Come on, now! That leaves me awe-struck. Amazed. Grateful. I love the part in the old Charlie Brown movie where Charlie is getting all confused and overwhelmed with the commercialism and to-do-list of Christmas time. He asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?!” Go ol’ Linus drops his blanket and decides to answer this question of all time by quoting Luke 2:8-14…“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2:11, KJV) When he’s done recounting the story he quips, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Few animated movies carry such powerful words. Emmanuel has come! Worship rises up in my heart…and it makes me want to Go, tell it on the mountain!

Here’s some more good news…It doesn’t stop there. He’s still Emmanuel. He is still living among us…His Spirit guiding and loving us and leading us to give HOPE to a dying world. We carry the hope of Jesus in our hearts…and are called to give it to those around us. The people in OUR neighborhood.

This Christmas, who does Jesus want you to give hope to? Give the gift of Emmanuel. Be with people. Listen to their stories. Love them through their pain and joys. Hear their hearts. Always…always give them Jesus. Give them Emmanuel.

God. With. Us.

He Makes Me Brave

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.

His eyes are on me. He sees me. He loves me. His compassion is for me. He makes me brave.

THAT Single Girl

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…

  1. Four years ago, one of my best friends (and cousin!) got married. Now trust me, single or not, I would have been there! But there was something different about me standing on the single side of life and watching my friend and playmate of yesteryear walk down the aisle. I had prayed for that moment! I had prayed for that guy to show up and be the man she needed…and there he was and she was walking down to meet him. I was there for all the wedding plans and saw her in her beautiful dress BEFORE the wedding (lucky me!!!)…and then it all unfolded before my eyes. When she came walking down the aisle, I can’t even describe what I was feeling. Intense love and pride and excitement that all her years of waiting (and my years of praying) were here! The bride coming to her bridegroom. I’ve never felt the Presence of God like I did in that holy moment. I saw her…but I also saw myself and Jesus. My Bridegroom was coming for me…and the intense love He had for me overwhelmed my soul. I felt Him there, standing next to me and whispering to my heart… “My Beloved”. In that moment, I was grateful I was single.
  2. Three years ago I became an aunt for the first time. I’m the oldest in my family, so there’s something special and sweet about watching your “baby brother” become a daddy for the first time. I remember getting the call “She’s here!” and rushing to the hospital. I watched that sweet little two-hour-old bundle be passed around and it made me smile. Nothing prepared me for that moment. The moment when they put her in MY ARMS. Now people, I’ve held babies since I was one myself. I’m the oldest of nine, with tons of cousins and millions of baby hours under my belt…but this. This was different. This was my younger brother’s baby. This was my niece. And I just couldn’t help it, folks. I cried. Correction: I bawled. It was a holy ground moment. I remember looking up at my brother’s tired face all beaming with pride and even now I can recall what that felt like. Holding Olivia like that…I breathed thanks. Thanks for my singleness. Gratefulness that I could be there to witness that amazing moment.
  3. Nearly two years ago I began taking care of a friend with cancer. She was a beautiful woman who loved Jesus and was an amazing friend to my mom and I. Cancer is a painful thing…especially when you see it’s work three feet in front of you, for months on end. Walking that year out with her and her family was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Cancer…it eats away at the souls of the people watching it too. And it hurts. In the end, my friend went to Jesus and I stayed here. That hurt too, because I missed her. I still do. And in one of those moments of stillness, driving in my car one day…I cried. It didn’t seem fair. Then I opened my mouth and the first thing that came out surprised me: “Thank you God that I’m single.” Singleness gave me the opportunity to be available to my friend and her family.
  4. Five months ago I sat in front of a group of dedicated young women who were preparing to minister as staff and speakers at a womens/girls event. They sat there and told their stories…they were limping to this event (as I was!) and asking God for strength to make it happen. I remember kneeling and crying from my own pain and weakness. We prayed for each other. When the weekend was over there was one thing on all our lips: Jesus did it. He showed up. He showed His glory to us, to the attendees, to the set up crew and kitchen staff. He revealed Himself. Again, I breathed thanks. Singleness allowed me to be involved in something so amazing that I had to lean only on Jesus to get through.
  5. In prison two months ago, I stood in front of over a hundred female inmates and shared about Jesus and redemption. I told them how He is drawn to us in our weakness and how He had mended my broken heart. And when I crawled into bed that night I said, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world today.” Singleness allowed me to drop everything and spend two weeks behind bars to share truth with hungry women who needed Jesus.

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.

Brave Family Love

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?

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

He’s got this

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.

“Why prison?”

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.

Contagious Courage

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)

Bravery that’s Bigger than Me

“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?

“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.