For Your Ears

So it has most definitely been a while since I've been around these parts. I've spent the last almost year thinking a lot about this site and my purpose and all that VERY deep stuff. BUT THAT'S NOT THIS POST! 

Recently I was able to do a small session at a local youth conference and it was really on my heart to talk about why we look back, why we slip into our old lives, I had a great time studying and putting together my message and honestly the Lord taught me a lot in that process about why I personally have looked back and how we all can keep ourselves from that trap. So here is my message for your listening pleasure, if you like. It comes in a couple minutes into my intro and it's a pretty basic recording (read: I recorded it with the voice memo app on my iPhone while my phone itself sat on the podium) so sorry about the background noise and the jangling of my bracelets. 

 

On Grief and Mourning

What do you have to say?

That is the pinnacle question for anyone looking to start a blog or wanting to write. Why do you want that, what is it you have to say? I have had a blog since the inception of blogging. You'd be hard pressed to find a vintage blogging platform I don't have some archaic profile on (it's all really bad, angsty poetry so don't go digging it up). I have always had a lot to say. Something would shift in my life and I would think, “I need to write about that.” A thing would happen in our world; a big emotion would over take me; a question would eat at me for days and I would think to myself, “I need to write about that.” But in recent years, certainly since the inception of this site, whenever I felt the need to write about something mostly I didn’t.

For the most part this blog has been defined by fear, by all the things not said for fear of not knowing how to extricate my story from the stories of those that shaped me, how to lay out the truth while sparing the starring players of that truth, how to share my opinions without being mistaken as an emissary for my pastor or church (both of whom I love but would never claim to speak for nor whom I necessarily agree with over every last minutia of scripture and culture because never will we agree with someone on everything).

Over the last year and a half I’ve been on an unexpected road, one that began in an auditorium listening to Donald Miller tell me we would grieve our stories together, and learn to tell them through that grief. I shared about that and about this crippling fear in a blog a little over a year ago. As I wrote it then I thought that post marked the end of that fear and journey of grief, and a turn onto a new, bolder road. I was super, super wrong.

Here’s what I’ve learned since publishing that blog: grief is a holy and brutal tool of the Lord, and it will not be mastered or cut short by any man. It is it’s own living and breathing thing, and as with any gift of God, used correctly, in it's intended manner, it brings about blessing. Since publishing that blog I’ve learned that grief is a tool of freedom. To grieve is to take a sacred and treacherous path to a new life, it is the bridge from tragedy to healing. When scripture says that He binds up the broken hearted, grief is the bandage He uses. When grief is abused, when relied on outside of the Lord, when clung to, grief takes on a malevolent color, as with any abused gift of God, it becomes distorted, all encompassing. When we try to force grief into our time table, into our own terms of success, when we try to push through it without accepting it we become a slave to the grief instead of a recipient of the gift of freedom and healing. After I published that blog I became a slave to the grief instead of a recipient of the gift. And in my fear of talking about my grief, it mastered me until I gave in to it and was led by Jesus straight onto the precarious, broken path called mourning.

So if you read that blog all those months ago, if you read how I said I was going to start being honest and open in all the ways I hadn’t been, please know that when I wrote that I really thought I was. I was trying to shortcut my way through grieving and I had step into the life that comes after grief. I recognize now that I wasn't done with grief. And quite honestly I’m still here, on the path of mourning, I don’t know how long this season of grieving will last, and I think maybe a piece of me will always be here? Maybe at the end of the road of mourning we dig up some of the dirt and carry it with us forever. We live a life full of laughter and wonder and beauty and peace, but there is always the understanding that something was lost at one point, that in the timeline of our life this is the AFTER. Maybe there will always be a catch in our throats at the memory of what once was. But we are not a slave to it. That is the power of grief.

So here is what I want to say, what I haven't said for fear of how I would be perceived: I'm still coming into the power and blessing of grief, still winding my way down the path of mourning. But I know what's at the end of it, I know what comes after, and for the first time I am humbly submitting myself to the process. And if you're here too, if you're grieving and you've tried to make it fit into a mold of your own design or you've tried to shortcut it, if it's lasted longer than you'd wanted it to, know that you're not alone, and there is healing on the other side of it, if only we will submit ourselves and be led by Jesus straight through it.

To Those For Whom The Holidays Are Hard

I have been meaning to write this blog since Thanksgiving. I procrastinated on it because it was painful, because I knew that it would be a reminder of painful things for people I care about. And then I started seeing variations of this message pop up on Facebook and I thought maybe I didn't need to write this blog. Other people were writing this blog. Other people know about hard holidays too and they're talking about it and now I don't have to. 

And then I found myself completely losing it in the stall of a Chili's bathroom, hyperventilating because of something I can't even fully explain and I realized that I still need to say what I need to say, for me as much as for anyone. Because as beautiful and wonderful as these days are, for some of us they are also a giant arrow pointing to the empty chair where someone we love once sat, or they are the box of ornaments in the attic that are full of memories of people and places we don't have anymore. For some of us these calendar pages are filled with landmines and every event and activity comes with a strong dose of hurt. For some of us it's unbearable. 

SO. To those of you for whom the holidays are hard, for those of you struggling, for those of you unsure how to find what's good about the world or your life this Christmas: I see you. Whatever loss, whatever grief, whatever situational change or hit you're navigating, I understand and I'm so sorry. I don't have plucky words or a lesson, I don't have a magic way to find something good in the brokenness you're experiencing or a Bible verse that will suddenly make your Christmas better. Literally all I have are two things. One: I have the same tears and anxieties and guilts and frustration. It's all mixed in with other things,  I'm not sitting in my room, laying in my bed all day every day picturing how the world should end (but if you are, I get that). My hurts are mixed in with laughing and cooking for my family and holiday parties, because through all that fun, happy, movie moment Christmas things there is an undercurrent of mourning. It comes in waves, overtaking me at odd moments (like the freaking Chili's bathroom). And two: I have Jesus. I have Jesus who isn't mad at me for how I'm experiencing Christmas, Jesus who isn't expecting me to suck it up and wish him happy birthday. I have Jesus who also experienced loss and grief and knows what it means to navigate complicated emotions during social gatherings (I fully intend to go his route and flip tables this Christmas). I have Jesus who would rather sit with me in my grief than hear my hollow holiday wishes.

And I don't know why the holidays are hard for you, maybe this holiday season is different for some reason, things look different than they ever have and you don't know how to deal with the changes, maybe there are no good holidays to look back on and this is just one more year. Maybe you're alone, maybe you lost someone, maybe your family is complicated, maybe they are nonexistent.  Maybe you are mourning. Maybe you are lonely. Maybe you have a lot of people depending on you. I don't know. But I know you're there, I know you're anxious for January. I see you, I am with you, and I know that Jesus is with us both. And that is literally all I have to tell you. And I know that sometimes it's enough. And I know that sometimes we work really hard to make it enough, and I know that we don't always succeed. 

When I lose that battle of letting Jesus' presence be enough for me at the holidays, I sing Oh Holy Night. I sing it quietly to myself, over and over. I pray those words, they stop being a Christmas carol and start being my own psalm. I sing, and I pray, and I expectantly wait for that thrill of hope, I expectantly wait for Jesus. And isn't that the meaning of Christmas anyway? The desperately weary and in need of redemption sitting and waiting expectantly for the coming of the One who will redeem. 

O Holy night, the stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Til He appeared and the soul felt it's worth
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine!
O night, o night divine

 

Shamadcast

Hey guys! I did a thing! 

I know, I know. Long time no write. Apparently I'm averaging three posts a year. But the truth is I'm learning a lot. I'm growing a lot. And the Lord is taking me out my comfort zone. A LOT. And because of those things I haven't had the chance to do a lot of blogging. 

One of the ways that God usually grows us is by forcing us into something we don't believe we're good at, something we don't feel competent in, and if I'm being honest, that's the biggest reason I haven't been writing. I'm comfortable in writing because I'm (GASP) good at writing (THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH KNOWING OUR STRENGTHS). There isn't a lot of ways for writing to grow and stretch me because it is (and has always been) the way I express what I've just learned or how I was just grown. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and cement them in. So while in a season of being stretched I think writing sort of fell off my radar because I didn't have anything to say, the stretching and growing was ongoing so I wasn't ready to process it out yet. And to be honest, I'm still not. This isn't that post. This post is to introduce you to a new way in which the Lord has been stretching me, a new way in which I refused to obey before being spiritually clobbered by my own stubbornness and finally allowing God to have the thing that was always his in the first place. I know. You're probably thinking "geeze this girls a mess" and wondering why you come here. I mean, I wonder that every single time one of you tells me you came here. Anyway. 

A while back I had this thought in my heart that as much as I love the written word I really, REALLY believe that some of the best heart change comes through dialogue, conversations over a table in which both parties hearts and tones are clearly evident and being received. Truthfully I don't even have to be part of the dialogue to get something out of it, I just can be listening to two people dialogue. In fact a lot of times it's better if I'm NOT part of the dialogue because written words are my thing and verbal words are super, super not. Like at all. In fact that's another reason why I write. I'm better in written form, I have the time and focus to harness my words, align them well, craft a well thought out and poignant sentence. I can edit. I've edited this post six times and none of you will ever see the mistakes! YAY!!! I write because I can control what you hear in a way that I can't when I'm speaking. Have you ever given a speech and messed up a word? My grandpa once was preaching and was talking about the restaurant Fudruckers. He messed up a word. And we have never let him live it down. You can't take back what you say. I mean you can, but people don't have to let you. When you're writing, if you misspeak or say something wrong you can just backspace. It's wonderful. As soon as I had these thoughts in my head I realized they weren't my own, and were in fact the precursor to a new and exciting challenge from the Lord. And by new and exciting please know that I mean terrifying and potentially stupid making. 

This post isn't a post on it's own, it's an introduction post. It's a post to give you an explanation for what I'm about to share with you, as well as a pleading request for gentleness, oh mercy, please be gentle. I believe in the transformative power of words. I believe that words are how our ideas and preconceptions are challenged and reoriented. Words lead us into new and better understandings, they give language to our joy and our hurts, to our passions and to our most basic needs. Words are a key to growth, they are the lamp that illuminates a path toward Jesus. And I believe sometimes those words should be written, but many times (as much as it vexes me) they should be spoken. And while I would have preferred not to, I apparently get to speak some of them. So. In that spirit, I want to share a link to my first ever podcast. It's all very new and very VERY confusing (for me). But I'm doing it because after weeks (months) of listening to (arguing with) God, I am taking an obedience step. I thought long and hard about what my podcast would be called, and finally, after much debate and some deep nerding, I landed on what is basically tantamount to a Biblical Hebrew pun. For which I am not sorry. 

Before I do the big reveal I want to say one last thing. Yes, the name is somewhat punny. But it also represents something that I've been wrestling with for a good long time (read: all my life). I struggle to obey. I just do. I do a thing called what I want. I am almost always good about hearing the command but rarely does it equal action on the first go. And more often than not my disobedience is an active choice. In my family lexicon my quotes are "I do what I want", and "don't tell me what to do". I don't know why (I do know why, but this is already longer than I meant for it to be), but I struggle to just blindly obey. If you've followed along at all in this blog then you know that in this whole obedience are  I can be a bit stubborn. So when our women's large group was concluding a study on Gideon and asked me to teach one week what do you suppose the Lord put on my heart? Yeah. Naturally. The main thing I said, the thing I needed to hear, the thing I hope those women took is that we tend to evaluate hard asks in terms of what we will gain and what we might lose, but those things aren't why we obey, at least they shouldn't be. We obey because He is asking us to do something. End of story. 

In Hebrew the word "shama" means to hear AND to obey. I'm still working on it, and honestly probably always will be. But that's the point of tattooing words on my body and naming my podcast after them, to keep myself accountable to these words that describe the kind of faith I want to live, the kind of follower I want to be. So here it is. Episode one of my new podcast Shamadcast. 

As promised (if you listened to the podcast) here is a list of resources to invest in if your heart is to create a culture that values life: 

Safe families - http://safe-families.org/

Illinois Foster Care - https://www.illinois.gov/dcfs/lovinghomes/fostercare/Pages/index.aspx

Caris - http://www.caris.org/

1st Way Life Center - http://www.1stwaymchenry.com/

United Way - https://www.liveunitedlakecounty.org/

Allendale - https://www.allendale4kids.org/

Love INC - http://www.loveinclakecounty.org/

Lake County Haven House - http://www.lakecountyhaven.org/

NCADP - http://www.ncadp.org/

And if you are a woman who is post abortive and you are looking for a place to come experience community and wholeness please consider one of these groups: 

Project Rachel - http://hopeafterabortion.com/

Restore After Abortion - http://www.restoreafterabortion.com/

Psalm 151: #LEMONADE

You [Lord] have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions of the dark and deep. Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. || Psalm 88:6,7

I remember these nights when I was teenager, it would be late enough on a summer night that it was completely dark. Armed with a couple cigarettes stolen from a friend's parents and a discman (google that if you need to), I walked the four or five blocks to a small private cemetery near my house. At this cemetery there was a large brick and marble table off to the side of the gravestones. I would come here late at night in my angstiest of teen days, sit on top of this table and I would listen to sad music, I would suffer through a couple Newports, stare at the moon and talk to God.  

Correction. I would rail at God, rage at him, question him, blame him. I can remember the first time I cursed up into the sky, quietly at first, waiting for a lightening bolt to drop and end me right then and there. And when it didn’t I did it a little louder and then louder and then louder. An angry, brokenhearted girl throwing f-bombs up into the sky.

The Psalms are such an interesting place in scripture. They are the only large collection of verses that are solely someone talking TO God, there are didactic, instructive elements mixed in, there are also verses that seem to contradict the instructions Christ taught. It’s part poetry, part hymnal, part oral history; it is full of worship and awe, full of pain and anger, full of despair and hope. At its core the book of Psalms is a work of art, an unflinching exploration of what it means to be a flawed human and to love the God who created us, who knows the intimate workings of our flawed hearts.

Last week Beyonce released a stunning new album. Lemonade is a visceral experience both visually and musically. Artistically it is beautiful, emotionally it is overwhelming, and culturally it is so important. But I’m seeing this strange trend among Christians of negating all the importance and staggering beauty of the album because of her flagrant expressions of pain. She curses, she’s vulnerable and honest in depictions of her broken relationship, her anger. She is ferocious in describing her emotional process. In particular one conservative male evangelical blogger who I will not name nor link to referred to Beyonce’s music as “bile”, calling it “weird, aggressive, sullen, whorish, egomaniacal, vaguely satanic and deeply stupid”.

There is so much to say about Beyonce’s album Lemonade, most of it, nearly all of it, is not mine to say. I’m not equipped to analyze or unpack a lot of the album’s imagery and meaning. In this conversation it is not my voice that matters, there are epic and beautiful voices doing the hard work of dissecting Lemonade, voices like Austin Channing, Janet Mock, Zakiya Jackson (or her piece here), and Ashleigh Shackelford. I'm humbly listening to them and I would encourage you to as well.

That being said, I won’t be quiet when it comes to the conversation of honesty and transparency in art, transparency in life. I won’t be quiet and let go unopposed the misguided notion that good Christians don’t ever have or tolerate messy, complicated and ugly emotions. I straight up refuse to be silent while someone says that we shouldn’t ever find solace and comfort in art that mirrors our brashest, most crass pain. The truth is that we as Christians often put up boundaries around our ugly, unappealing emotions. We are a sitcom culture, we like testimonies that resolve easily and neatly, bow tied and in place. We like to believe that once a testimony is told it is over, that it’s never an ongoing battle. We like instant deliverance, not the daily act of laying our burdens down at the cross. We don’t like the rawness of pain, we prefer the happy ending. We too often believe and perpetuate the lie that our most terrifying and painful emotions are too much for God. Especially as women, we’re told in Christian culture that our negative emotions are dishonoring to the Lord.

Those nights spent crying in the moonlight, angry and raging, I was nursing bruises, and wading through the emotional bog of two God fearing parents knowingly abandoning me to physical abuse. At 13 I was incapable of separating the voluntary neglect of earthly parents from the posture of a Heavenly Father. And I was angry. I burned with it. And to this day I stand firmly in the belief that the reconciliation of my relationship to my abuser, the healing I have experienced began on those very nights that I screamed into the black. God did not look at me those nights and find me sinful, his heart broke for me, he cried with me, he scooped me into his arms and let me go until I wore myself out, like a little girl pounding her fists on the chest of a father. He built my brain and heart, he designed the process by which I internalize my experiences and transcribe them within myself, he engineered my emotional responses, how could it ever be too much for him? The Psalms are full of beautiful wisdom and Godly insight but I would argue that their greatest contribution to our faith is the instruction that forms them: the principle that God can take whatever we got, that we can honestly and angrily and tearfully and joyfully bring our every thought and emotion before the King of Heaven. Not only that we can but that we should. Was there a safer space than God for David to rage about dashing the little ones of his enemies against rocks, or beg for shame and horror to fall on his oppressors? Was there a safer space for him to put music to his grief and remorse and anger and let it play out so he could move through it on to the next stage? Exploring our emotional process with God is the healthiest, safest way to do it. And the evangelical world’s response to Beyonce doing just that is astounding and sad.  

In a recent video Bono sits down to discuss the Psalms with one of his personal inspirations, Eugene Peterson, the man who wrote The Message translation. Bono lauds the brutal honesty of the joy and pain in the Psalms. “The only way we can approach God,” he says, “is if we’re honest.” Honest in our joy, honest in our struggle, honest in our worship, honest in our pain, honest in our anger. He asks why church music isn't more like this? Why don't the Christians write songs about their bad marriages? Their fear? Their anger with the government? He says that his suspicion of Christians stems from this unwillingness to be emotionally real. And I whisper “Amen” as I think of the angsty songs I listened to sitting in that dark cemetery. Secular songs because there was no Christian music that mirrored back at me my grief and confusion and pain, no Christian soundtrack to make me feel seen and known and safe in my process from heartbroken to healed.

At its most basic interpretation Lemonade is the story of a broken marriage, a woman so deeply hurt and still so in love that she is buried in anger and sadness. She progresses through a healthy emotional cycle that includes both raw pain and callous apathy, multiple times calling out to God. She ends in a place of redemption, reconciliation and hope. If that’s not psalmic, I don’t know what is. The Psalms are a mirror of the human condition, as is contemporary art. To dismiss art as unchristian, to ignore, for this same reason, the layers of meaning and importance in art because it’s too brashly emotional at the top is to say that our God can’t handle our emotions, to box him into a weak and easily offended deity incapable of navigating his own creation.

If you need to hear it today, if you’re experiencing bruises and emotional bogs and raw pain, then hear this: it is not too much for God. You and your emotional process and reactions are not too much for God. He can take it, anything you got, he can take it. He will swoop you up in his arms and let you rage till you are tired, till your anger dissipates to sobs and you grow weary of your rage and are ready to move into the vulnerability healing demands. There is no sin in our emotional process, in our pain, even in our anger.

If you haven’t listened to Beyonce’s new album you should, anger and cursing and all. Like the Psalms it is reflective of the human condition, raw and beautiful in its depiction of pain and growth and redemption. And like the Psalms there are many deeper meanings built into the very melodies, meanings and truths that we need to hear.

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Selah

First things first, prepare yourself, this is going to be long. I’m doing my best to organize my thoughts chronologically and cohesively but it’s all still mostly wibbly wobbly, timey wimey. Partly because the things I want to share have been happening in me for a while so it can be hard to organize all the moments into a timeline. And partly because, for me, it’s so big that I want to talk about all of it at once. And partly because it’s humiliating, I’m embarrassed of myself and my failings, it’s taking time to just lay them bare and not try to justify them or explain them. So if you’re reading this, be patient. Grab some coffee, and settle in. 

In February 2015, on a whim, I watched the IF:Gathering, the session videos were available for a few hours between when the conference happened and when you had to buy them. I watched it on my iPad in my living room into the middle of the night. I marathon watched almost all four sessions, I cried and worshipped and was so moved. The theme running through the whole thing was the idea of stepping into the Jordan River, that first step is in water, before the waves part, it’s a step of faith saying “I believe that the Lord has this for me and I will step out in faith toward that.” The months leading up to this moment I’d been on a journey of giving up something I’d held dear. Writing has always been in me, writing has always been my favorite form of therapy, my best shot at expressing myself clearly, the expression of my truest self, it’s always been the thing that made me calm and helped me process. I can remember heading down to our basement as a 6th grader, with notebooks and clipboards and fake glasses in my hands, telling my mom I was sitting down to get some writing done. Writing was always THE PLAN. In the months leading up to that IF:Gathering 2015 the Lord had asked me to give up THE PLAN. He asked me to be okay with never having anything to say to anyone, with not having a platform or an audience. He told me that I needed to let my dream die and there was no promise that he would ever revive it again. And after months of struggling and fighting and learning new ways to process and feel calm, after dismantling my dreams for myself and laying them at the feet of Jesus and being okay with my life never looking like that, I sat in front of my iPad and listened as Jennie Allen asked us to take a rock and write what our next step would be. What's the thing God is asking of you, what faith step is he asking you to take into what looks like an impassable river? I closed my eyes and sat in silence and asked God to show me what he wanted my step to be. 

“Write.”

The thing about God is that he can be a real jerk sometimes. The only way to explain how I felt in that moment is that it was like getting an “I love you” text from an ex boyfriend you were FINALLY over.

In the weeks that came after that I took more steps that the Lord pushed me toward: “Buy an actual website”, so I did; “print business cards”, so I have; “start writing a book”, so I am; “submit articles”, so I did. I was ecstatic that the love of my life was back a part of me and it all felt so right, so commissioned and so holy because I was doing it under the direct instruction of God!

That was a year ago. To date I have published two articles, written 12 blog posts, and gotten five pages of this so called “book” written out (in case you’re confused, this is not me bragging, this is me confessing that that’s all I did in 12 freaking months). 

Guys I started so strong. I started with a fire in my belly, not a fire to write and be known, but a fire to obey. And then this thing happened. See I think we can all agree that a fire to obey is a target for the enemy. So I guarded that fire and every time I felt the Lord urge me toward something I said yes and went after it with everything I had. But it turns out Satan is sneakier than we think. He didn’t go after my fire, not in the way I was anticipating. Instead of hitting burnout or frustration or having my will to obey be attacked, I simply got helpful. If I’m meant to write a book, it will be easier to pitch it if I have a built in audience, I should grow my platform, I told myself. So I created a Facebook page, I started calculatedly Instagramming. I posted at optimal times, I used all the relevant and popular hashtags, I engaged with the people who came through and liked my pictures. I started to do the branding equivalent of dressing for the job you want. I started to focus my efforts on enacting the plan God had for me instead of just doing the next thing God told me to do. I was trying to force God’s hand except I honestly didn’t see it that way. In my head if God wanted A and B would help A, then I could help God by making B a thing. 

I COULD HELP GOD.

Cause ya know, that’s something we all have to do from time to time, he can be a bit helpless.  

Worse than trying to help God by doing things he hadn’t asked me to do, I also stopped doing the things he did ask me to do, more specifically I stopped saying things he asked me to say. I started to live in fear. My biggest anxiety, the thing I struggle with the most is being misunderstood. I hate when someone misunderstands my heart, when they take something I’ve said wrong and internalize it negatively and believe something untrue about me or my intentions. I can’t say this, I would worry, people will misunderstand me. I can’t say that, I’m Facebook friends with too many people who disagree with that, they’ll be so offended, I thought. I can’t say that, I worried, my husband is on staff at a church and that could really rock some of our people, I don’t want my husband to lose his job. I told myself, I can’t say that, my family will be so angry with me if I put that out into the world. But again I didn’t see what I was doing, I didn’t set out to argue with God or disobey, I convinced myself that he wasn’t really asking me to say those things, it was just my own opinions, I actually managed to convince myself that by holding my tongue as often as I did I was honoring God, having self control, honoring my family and my church.

Now listen, don’t go looking back through my blog and dismissing everything I’ve said in the last year, I still believe a lot of it, most of it. In fact all of it. Me not believing what I said isn’t the issue. The issue was there was so much more to say that I refused to say because it wouldn’t get me more hits, it wouldn’t grow my platform, it would make someone mad, challenge them too much, people wouldn’t like it, they wouldn’t like me and no one wants to hear about Jesus from someone they don’t like so I kept my mouth shut and I said things that were middle of the road at best. I challenged no one, not even myself. I played nice for the sake of my potential readership and my husband's potential job security and I tried to force God’s plan into a mold that I was more comfortable with and I honestly didn’t realize I was doing any of it.

In October I bought two tickets for IF:Gathering 2016 and asked a friend to come with me, I was so excited, I knew God would do good things there, but if I’m honest I mostly looked at it like a girls weekend in Austin with a sprinkle of Jesus. In exchange she asked me to go to Donald Miller’s Storyline conference in November. In the weeks leading up to Storyline I had a family member, with a complicated history, who was on the verge of making a decision I didn’t agree with. My hesitancy was born in love and concern, a desire to see this person thrive. But it was received as judgement and bitterness, a demand for my own way. People that I loved dearly and valued my relationship to and valued their opinion of me called me immature and selfish. The anxiety I felt at being misunderstood, the frustration I felt at not being able to effectively communicate my intentions and feelings was literally written all over my face. I attended Storyline broken hearted, with eyes nearly swollen shut from stress, and almost zero understanding of what this conference was or what I would get out of it. It turns out that it was an orchestrated by God, defining moment in my life. I walked into Storyline with almost no idea that I was living in bondage to fear of being honest, fear of being disloyal. How much can you say when the Lord tells you to tell your story? How far is too far? What am I allowed to tell without making the other people involved in my story mad? How can I tell my story while protecting them? How can I tell my story while protecting me from them?

Guys, it turns out you can’t tell your story or speak the truth and also protect yourself or anyone else from the truth. That’s the incredibly radical thing about total honesty, it leaves you totally vulnerable, vulnerable to anger, to misunderstanding, to pain. But it also leaves you totally vulnerable to the Holy Spirit, to encounters with people who needed to hear what you said, to know what you now know. I walked into Storyline afraid of my own story but I walked out (okay I actually sort of stumbled out blindly because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see) with the resolve to handle being misunderstood. It sounds so small, so small. But it was huge. And I remember thinking, Okay, now, now I’m ready to really live this mission for the Lord.

I’m so dumb. 

Despite my new found theoretical freedom in telling my story I was still too busy helping God build my platform for it to happen. I sponsored a post on Facebook (meaning I paid to get it seen by more people - BLECH, I feel dirty just saying that). I hosted a giveaway on this blog, not because I was so keen to give something away, but because free stuff attracts people and people attracted to my site equals an audience, an audience equals a readership, a readership equals THE LORD’S PLAN FOR MY LIFE (man, so simple, so lucky God had me to help him).  

Through November my pastor did a series called More, the idea being getting more of God, more of the Holy Spirit, of doing things WITH God instead of FOR God (and no I didn’t catch that God was trying to get my attention with that because as I’ve mentioned I am dumb). Then In January my church hosted a weekend conference with Gary Best (author of Naturally Supernatural and all around best Canadian ever) to further that idea of more of God. As a church our direction has been shifting for a while, from one of a more seeker friendly area to a more Spirit led and directed place. It’s been incredible to watch. Having grown up in the 1990’s boom of borderline Pentecostalism this was not new territory for me, this was my home turf and man did I sit haughtily in my chair and applaud as the people around me finally got with the program.

Guys. I’m so, SO dumb.

The Lord moved in incredible ways at this conference, it was awesome to see. I cheerfully went through it thinking Yay, what a good thing for our church and the people in our church who really need this, I’m so glad this could happen for them, I should Instagram something about this! I want to be really clear here, I’m being super transparent, I know how I come off right now, I’m not worried about being misunderstood, you’re all understanding me just fine, I sound like a horse’s rear end and I ABSOLUTELY was being one. I could water it down, soften it with all the other things happening in my life where I was being obedient and honoring God (because yes, we can be acing some things and tanking others simultaneously) and make myself sound better but the truth is this post is as much confession as it is exposition. I am as much confessing my sins to you all as I am telling you the story of how God changed me. So I sat in that conference, moved by other people being moved, thanking God for showing up for those other people that needed Him. Towards the end of the conference there was a time where Gary Best encouraged the people in the room to let the Lord lead us to someone and to pray for them, to minister God’s presence and power and love to them. As he commissioned us to do this I saw, out of the corner of my eye, my pastor’s wife basically sprinting toward me. I’m sure that’s not true, I’m sure she was just walking, but I knew that out of the 600 people in this room she was coming for me and so it felt like she was sprinting. Just as she got close, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone approach her and ask to pray for her, she took a few steps back and while she was occupied I almost bolted. In that moment all the seeds from the past couple days, from the More series in November, from the Storyline conference, they all sprouted, the first blooms began to ease open the tiniest bit, and all at once and I realized I’M DOING ALL THE THINGS WRONG. And I was terrified. And I knew that whatever my pastor’s wife was about to say to me was only going to be confirmation that I was doing all the things wrong. Before I could decide to leave she ended her prayer with the other person and came and stood next to me, “I was on my way to you,” she told me and I wanted to be like “YES I KNOW.”

She stood with me for a minute, she prayed quickly and gently. She said, “Lord I pray that you would give Abbey words, that you show her what to say so that she would stop trying, that your power and timing would be in control.” 

Have you ever been stabbed? Because now I’m pretty sure I know what it feels like. I was totally exposed. She knew that I had been trying, I hate to use this over used cliche but it was a total Wizard of Oz moment. She knew I was standing behind the curtain manufacturing something instead of it just happening. I wanted to run. The truth is I have no idea if I was quite as exposed as I believed, she maybe had no idea just how much those words stung or how deeply I needed to be told to stop trying. Just a week before I’d said to my friend “I feel like when I write fluff it’s always better received than anything truly, deeply challenging and I don’t know how to balance fluff with actually directing people towards God, I think I have to write fluff to hook them, I can’t direct them to God if they’re not listening, right?.” Just the day before she’d prayed this prayer I’d written in my notes from the conference that I didn’t know where the line was between hustling for my dream job of being a writer and waiting on God’s timing and maybe, was it at all possible, could I perhaps be trying to push God’s timing into my own? 

After that prayer my pastor’s wife walked away and I sat down. I felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. Literally. I kept trying to sing the worship song being played and every time I opened my mouth I couldn’t form words, I couldn’t even breathe. I got the distinct impression that the Lord was ever so lovingly saying “Shut up”. A few minutes later a young girl came over to me, probably about 13 or 14. She sat down and asked if she could pray for me. I smiled and nodded, and she prayed exactly how I anticipated she would. She was sweet and unsure, she prayed that my difficult time of hardships and problems would pass and that I would, like, maybe, like, find Jesus. When she was done I hugged her and thanked her and waited for her to stand up and go so I could get back to the misery of having the crap kicked out of me by God. But it didn’t happen. Instead she stayed sitting next to me. I will never forget what God said to me as we awkwardly sat next to each other, this little girl and me. He said: 

“You think that you’ve done something for her by hugging her and thanking her, you think you’ve encouraged her. You haven’t. You are not the lesson to her, she is the lesson to you. I said speak and she spoke, I said pray and she prayed, I said stay and she’s still there. The win here wasn’t going to be that she did it perfectly or that she changed your life, the win here was only ever going to be that she obeyed. Why won’t you just obey? Stop making it about you. If I have something for you to do it is not to be clever, it is not to be insightful for the sake of stirring the pot, it is not to be sharp or divisive, it is not to be fluffy and trivial. If I have something for you it is to simply show people that you’ve tasted of the sweetest of love, it is to simply obey. Your words are not the gift, I AM THE GIFT. The thing you have to share will never be words, it will always be me and you’ll never get to do that if you don’t shut up and stop TRYING and be silent and listen! I WILL give you words, but they will never be yours, they will always be mine. Your job will only ever be to be a conduit, never the source. Stop living in fear of what YOUR words will do, they’re not your words, they’re mine and I’m not afraid of their impact. Stop being defensive and judgemental, it’s my decision who I will use and how I will use them and it’s your choice to rejoice in the furthering of my kingdom or judge who I pick in prideful arrogance. You are beloved, but you are not special. I WANT to do this with you, I want to use you, but I don’t need you, I can do it with anyone, I can use anyone, and if you won’t do it my way I will go find someone who will. Seek me, not an audience.”

Have you ever been punched in the gut by the Holy Spirit?

If you have little kids you know that when they do something wrong there’s almost this sort of formula to how we as parents handle it. Depending on the severity and danger of what they’ve done, you react (sometimes well, sometimes not), after you react you discipline, they get a time out or a spanking or a toy taken away or some kind of consequence and you explain WHY, you tell them what they’ve done wrong and why it’s not okay and why this is the consequence. Once they’ve lived in that consequence you bring it in for a hug, you reassure them that you know they can do better, that they can obey better, and you tell them that you still love them, still value them. I spent about two weeks living in the consequence. The Lord took something from me that he had shown me I value almost more than anything. I kid you not that within a few days of that conference I had completely lost my voice, not only that but I’d completely lost my capacity to think. I mixed up words and blanked when I was trying to say something, I forgot what I was saying and lost my train of thought. As I packed to go to the IF:Gathering I started to laugh at the circumstances. The friend I was supposed to attend with had backed out, I hadn’t found someone to share a room with so I’d booked a room by myself, and I couldn’t speak or think anyway, so I most likely wasn’t going to actually make friends while I was there. God had systematically broken down everything I was planning for the weekend of IF. I kept jokingly praying “okay God, anytime you want to bring closure to this thing happening between us, I’m in, I totally pick up what you’re putting down and I am absolutely going to change but can we please get to the hug it out part??” And I did get it, he’d made himself clear and I really did want to be different, but there was also this part of me that wanted the reassurance that my call hadn’t changed, that I would still get to write, heck that I would still get to use my vocal chords! It’s no joke man, I have a friend who lost her voice for nearly six years for literally no reason at all, it was medically astounding. I’m packing for IF and I’m having panic attacks that I’m never going to be able to say another word louder than a whisper.  

In an effort to try and force some kind of closure moment I started trying to read through the Psalms, if David knew about anything it was how to regain footing with God after having screwed up royally. I only made it through three verses of one single Psalm before my fuzzy, broken brain stopped focusing:

“Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:12-14

Every time I tried to venture off this passage all I could focus on was one single, inconsequential, overlooked word that shows up over and over in the Psalms - selah.  

No one is entirely sure what “selah” means, but the possible meanings all fit into the same vein. Whatever the specific meaning, the idea is that it adds emphasis, it’s meant for us to pause before jumping straight into the next thing so that we can sit in the space we’re in, uncomfortable or painful or joyful as it may be. Selah - the writer's instruction to the reader to pause and exalt the Lord, to measure what's just been said; a term used to stress the truth and importance of the preceding passage. Selah: direction to stop and listen. 

And so I prepared for IF, living in the consequence of prideful disobedience, terrified of how the Lord had set it up that I would be alone and at his mercy as he continued to put me through the ringer. After almost a week and a half of not having a voice, the day before I left for IF, I resigned myself to silence and obedience (those of you who know me well just hit the floor cause truly, not my strong suits). That night I attended a Bible study at my church and for the first time in what truly felt like years, was able to think clearly and speak above a whisper.

My husband and I left for the airport Friday morning at about 3am. We talked a little on the way there, me mostly just to double check that I was still able to. I anxiously boarded my plane and prayed the whole way to Houston. I got to my gate in Houston and sat down and anxiously prayed some more. I don’t totally remember what I was praying, I just knew that whatever work the Lord had begun in me was going to reach maximum impact in Austin and I think I was just praying for peace, pledging my obedience, and pleading for mercy. As I sat in the Houston airport I looked down the row from me and nearly laughed my head off. There, sitting by the window, was Ann Voskamp, one of IF’s leading ladies. I am as familiar with Ann Voskamp as the next girl, but I confess, I have never read her book and save a few random visits, I don’t follow her blog (sorry Ann!!!). It’s just one of those things. She’s in good company, I have a whole book shelf devoted to well known evangelical teachers and authors I want to read and follow and just have yet to make it happen. Because I haven’t read her book or followed her blog I didn’t see any reason for the growing, burning push inside me to go speak to her. It made zero sense. I text a friend of mine who said “Go talk to her!” and I responded, “Yeah I’ll just go say ‘Hi Ann, I’m not really familiar with much of your work, but I know you’re a Godly woman and I just thought I’d come say hey,’ that sounds like a good interaction.” But still the push and burn were there. As the gate attendant began preboarding calls the Lord said “I thought we agreed you were going to just obey?” and I felt myself stand to my feet and walk down to where she was sitting. I made awkward small talk, told her I appreciated all the work she and others were putting into IF, and how much I was looking forward to the weekend (I left out the part about my paralyzing fear of being clobbered by the hammer of God). We boarded the plane talking about the weather back in Chicago and our gold bar necklaces. She was seated in the row directly in front of me, the window seat whereas I was aisle. The flight from Houston to Austin is short and sweet and I settled in to plead for mercy some more, and even began to feel a twinge of pride. Hey look God, I said. You said to do something and I did it! I could almost feel the pat on my head as the Lord of all creation whispered “Aw that’s cute”.  

I’m so dumb.

About five minutes into the flight God nudged me again, “Share your blog with her, give her a way to get in touch with you.”

YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT LORD???????? Ann Voskamp has zero interest in my blog or my contact info! This is NOT how to get exposure!! I’d be better off sharing my blog with the actual women I talk to at IF then to pass it off to Ann Voskamp in some cockimany hope of it going somewhere!! 

Mind you I am having this conversation with the Lord while the Crossfit coach next to me is showing me videos of para-athletes performing mind boggling Crossfit workouts and telling me how people call him The Pitbull and growling, and talking about his “mega babe” wife who’s a few rows back.  

“I didn’t say anything about your blog going anywhere, not everything is about exposure. I said share it with her. That’s all. Zero expectations, zero agenda. Simple obedience.”

I don’t have a pen Lord, I don’t have any paper to write this all down on, what do you want me to do? Write my web address in coffee on my napkin? ON MY NAPKIN LORD???  

Have you ever experienced the Lord getting sassy? Sometimes we have this image of him as Darth Vader James Earl Jones, deep voiced and powerful and sovereign and serious. But sometimes he’s totally Sandlot James Earl Jones, snarky and agitated at our immaturity as we're doing something the hard way when all he wants to do is help us and talk with us. 

“If only there was something I’d asked you to have made that already had your contact info and website written on it that you could just hand people when I tell you to.” 

...like a business card?

“Like a business card.”

So with shaking fingers I took a business card out of my bag and when the plane landed and I ended up out the walkway and in through the gate before Ann Voskamp, I stopped, I rehearsed what I would say as I waited. And when she walked towards me I said “Mrs. Voskamp, I’m so sorry, but can I do something really obnoxious? I’m sure you get this all time and just know I do it with zero expectation or agenda, but can I give you my card? I’m sort of kind of a “writer” and just if you ever wanted to stop in to see it, I would love your feedback.”

And Ann Voskamp took my card and hugged me and said “You did so good, good job.” 

Now listen, I have no idea if she knew what she was saying to me. I have no idea if the Lord had like pregamed with her and told her he was going to make me do this. But I immediately felt the tension of living in the consequences crumble inside me. If she knew it or not, in those few words she spoke a fathers reassurance over me, “I still love you, I still value you, I know you can do this better than you have been, I know you can obey me.”

I didn’t see Ann in person again through the weekend, and I have no idea if she’ll come here. I hope she does but mostly only so she can know what she did for me in that moment. 

At this point I was feeling pretty good, not prideful good, just lighter and ready for whatever God would do through the weekend. And yes, maybe I felt like I was finally out of the woods. As I’ve mentioned, I’m really dumb. I know this is long, and you’re now like “WHAT?! You’re not done yet???????????” I’m so sorry, I’m not. Feel free to come back in a while and finish it up, or don’t, whatever. It’ll be here either way because the next part is important. 

The IF:Gathering was incredible. There were hundreds of tiny ways that the Lord took care of me and reinforced that I was meant to be in that room this weekend and I would love to go into all of them but I honestly am trying to keep this under novel length, so those stories can be for another time.

The thing that amazed me most of all about my time at IF was that God addressed every single thing I’ve been struggling with, and many times using language that had already been used in those previous God moments. It was like one giant affirmation after another. My fear of other people being offended because we believe differently: “Jesus wasn’t worried about if people thought he agreed with what they believed.” - Jo Saxton. My constant TRYING and taking over: “When you have nothing to lose and nothing to protect you will so dangerous. If you want to experience freedom STOP TRYING SO HARD. Stop doing things FOR God and start doing things WITH God.” - Jennie Allen. Being envious of other people’s platforms and audience: “The grass is always greener on the other side, it’s true! Someone else's relationship is greener, someone else's church is greener, someone else's platform is greener, but maybe when you think that someone else’s grass is greener it’s the Holy Spirit telling you to water the grass you’re standing on.” - Eugene Cho; “The cost of following Jesus is that we have to leave our water jar at the well.” - Lindsey Chandler. My belief that my words were the thing that would bless people and that to bless anyone I needed an audience, without it I wouldn’t know if I was blessing anyone: “The fruit is not the blessing, the fruit is a byproduct of the blessing, the blessing is abiding in Christ.” - Vivian Mabuni; “What would happen if our generation didn’t care about being known and just cared about making Jesus known.” - Esther Havens. My concerns about what I say being too much for people, being misunderstood or disliked: “Being criticized and not liked is the most powerful deterrent to being like Jesus.” - Jen Hatmaker. My misunderstanding of what it means to be called by God: “You don’t have to start a big ministry, you don’t have to have a great blog, you don’t have to write a book, JUST MAKE A DISCIPLE.” - David Platt

There’s so much more, this is just the tip of the iceberg, but the whole weekend was like living inside an echo of what God had planted in my heart in the months leading up to it. And again, all weekend, this small word etched in my mind, selah, stop and listen, take this in, measure the weight of what you’re being told.  

Undoubtedly the best part of the weekend for me was Friday afternoon. In the very first session, Jennie Allen, the second speaker and founder of IF, initiated a time of confession, even as she laughed that smarter people would say it was too early in the conference to do this. As the band played, different phrases of confession and repentance were read and displayed and we were asked to bring into the light the shame we held in secret by holding up our lit phones each time a confession we identified with was read. It was big and scary and powerful. The thing about confession is that it breaks down every defense you’ve built against being vulnerable. You cannot confess without being vulnerable, without trusting people with your mess, risking being misunderstood or disliked. And you cannot repent without confession. As I sat at that table on Friday and weighed out the things I needed to confess and repent of the Lord made one more ask for obedience, “Share these. Whatever “audience” you have, whoever is listening, they deserve to hear your confession, you need to repent to them.” In my great wisdom and obedience, and after all that I had learned and been through, I responded with an exceedingly mature “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!” Because at the end of the day I don’t believe that God can use me if I’m not perfect. And since I am so clearly NOT perfect, I have to portray that image so that God can use me. Makes perfect sense, right. If I confess to you you will see just how imperfect I am and I'll lose all credibility. 

But the thing is, before she led in confession, Jennie Allen talked about Peter. “He was the best of them and the worst of them,” she said. She talked about his hesitancy to expose his muddy feet for Jesus to wash and how Jesus longs for us, longs to cleanse us and use us and it’s up to us to turn in to that, to expose our mess, our dirt, to repent and believe that we are enough but ONLY because Jesus is enough. She read, “Jesus says ‘I wash your performance that you think you must produce. I wash your striving for your own name,” and asked us to lean in to confession, to repentance, and tho she was speaking to half a million women, she was speaking to directly to me.

So to any of you who have been around a while (although if you’ve never been to my blog before but you’ve read this post all the way from the beginning that counts as a while cause this sucker’s long!) here are the things that I confessed and repented of over the weekend, the things that I need to confess to you: 

I confess that I have clung to the opinions of others instead of God’s opinion of me. I have built my identity on the applause and acceptance of the world instead of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus.  

I confess that I mask my pain with anger, humor, sarcasm and isolation.

I confess that I carry a spirit of judgement into my relationships. Even if I don’t say it - I let it live in my mind and it controls my thoughts.

I confess that I choose pride as my normal mode of operation.

And this one, from my own heart: I confess that I have tried to do God’s job and force his hand and mold his plan and timing into my own.

Of these things I repent, and ask that you would all pray for me as I give these things over to God EVERY DAY, and battle against these sins EVERY DAY.

Gosh, if you’ve made it this far you deserve a cookie. We’re almost to the end, I promise. Saturday night I wandered around downtown Austin, looking for a place to get a tattoo, something to commemorate my commitment to change, something to remind me of all the ways I’d been failing, of God’s immeasurable grace, of my need to obey, unquestioningly and of the ways God was faithful to me, even as I failed him. It’s simple and small and perfect and beautiful. It hurt and I cried, but it came out exactly what I wanted it to be. Hopefully God can say the same about me someday.

Make Healthy Choices & A Giveaway!

I am not a fan of New Years resolutions, per se. Mostly it's just the term I hate, at this point it sounds like such a hollow concept. But despite the frustrating lingo the beginning of a new year is the perfect time to take stock of life. I love to evaluate my spiritual, physical, emotional status, our family culture, my relationships, and my goals as one year closes and a new one opens. I have kind of a state of the union address with myself about where I'm at versus where I would like to be. So I don't use the word resolutions but I guess it's all the same, I just call them goals (it sounds more attainable and if your goals aren't attainable then you're setting yourself up for failure). I do the whole pick a word thing (whimsy and kindness and community, can I have three?) and a verse for the year thing (Micah 6:8). I even have a quote this year! It's to help me remember that I set the tone for our house so my state of mind is important and needs to be in a good place ("Very largely does the wife hold in her hands, as a sacred trust, the happiness and the highest good of the hearts that nestle there [home].....home happiness depends on the wife. Her spirit gives the home its atmosphere." - J.R. Miller).

 Daily reminders above our table. (God bless my husband who is so patient with me while I direct and redirect on how I'd like to things to be hung!)

Daily reminders above our table. (God bless my husband who is so patient with me while I direct and redirect on how I'd like to things to be hung!)

My heart is yearning for transformation in 2016. This past year was filled with a lot of complicated emotions and compromises, it wasn't a bad year exactly, but as it closes out I'm thankful to see it go. 2015 was...in the most politically correct terms, educational. I learned a lot about myself and my inner workings and the Lord and how he moves. It wasn't all fun, okay like almost none of it was fun, but I'm thankful for all of it and I can't wait to act on some of the things I learned. Truthfully most of my energy this past year was put into processing the things I was experiencing and learning, so much so that almost none of it went toward changing what I needed to change. It was like a football game, all my energy was in playing the game, it was a game that revealed what I needed to address and a lot of my weaknesses as a player. I made what vital adjustments needed to be made in real time, but I knew some things I'd have to learn from the game tape. I wanted to implement improvements but in the moment my energy was in the game, playing as well as I could, as hard as I could, and yeah, taking some hits. I'm starting 2016 with the last game behind me, ready to review the game tape, and to grow and change and be better.

Also apparently 2016 is the year I start using sports metaphors.

So I've shared my word, my verse, my quote, and now for a few of my goals. Truthfully my goals, the whole of what I learned in 2015 and want to implement in 2016, can all be summed up in one succinct command I am giving myself: Make. Healthy. Choices. (Except when I say it to myself it more often sounds like this: "FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAKE HEALTHY CHOICES!!!!!!!!!") But if you want details here they are:

  • 1. Make healthy physical choices. What I put in my body, how and how often I move my body, the products I use on my body, all of it needs a healthy choices overhaul. (And we're starting with a bang right off the bat with this one, January will be our first Whole30 of 2016!!! Just so we're clear those are not exclamation points of excitement, they're the kind of exclamation points you use when someone asks you how you like the rhinestone frog broach they gave you for Christmas and you say "I love it, I'm going to wear it all the time!!!")
  • 2. Make healthy emotional choices. Honor boundaries between myself and people and things that deplete me or demand too many of my resources. Don't allow other people's perception of a situation to dictate my boundaries and reactions. Be okay with people not liking how I handle something. Create space for myself to do the things I love that nourish me, like art and reading and listening to loud music and dancing crazy.
  • 3. Make healthy spiritual choices. Feed my spirit regularly through deeper study of the Word, personal worship time and the teaching of trusted spiritual leaders. Say yes to the Lord when he speaks or directs, don't be afraid, don't be so concerned with my own vision that I ignore his. Build community, nourish community, dive head first into the deep end of messy, beautiful, complicated community.
  • 4. Make healthy family choices. Homeschooling, screen time, housecleaning, prioritizing, time management, meal planning, it all needs to be improved or fine tuned or heck just plain attempted (I'm looking at you housecleaning) to create a healthy family culture. I spend a lot of time thinking about how my kids will remember their childhood, I want their memories to be of a house full of love and joy and laughter and music and kindness and learning, I want them to remember a healthy family culture.
  • 5. Make healthy financial choices. Save more than we spend, resell, shop second hand, go without, choose the cost effective way over the convenient way, give more, take less, abstain, sacrifice. Vote with our dollars, be ethical in what we purchase and why.

There you have it, my heart for transformation in 2016 laid bare. The best part about serving a God who is so big and so merciful is that it is never too late to be the version of myself that he is calling me to be. Even if I tank one or two or all of these goals in the coming months, even if my human weakness gets the best of me, he will still be rooting for me to be that version of myself, still giving me chances to be that version of myself. Of course the flip side of that coin is that even if I ace all these goals I will have a whole new crop of things to work on afterwards. That's the thing about growth and change, there is always work to be done.

So as revved up as I am for transformation, as determined as I am, I will remember to have grace with myself when I tank or slip or set myself back, and humility when I achieve a goal. And you remember too, as you sit down to pen your own goals or resolutions for the coming year, as you work and strive, remember to have grace on yourself, sweet friend, when you fail, and humility when you succeed. Let's both remember to aim for progress, not perfection.

And now for the best part!!! A chance for you to get in on some of this healthy choices action!! On our kitchen wall, above our table, I have a beautiful, framed print that simply says "Make Healthy Choices" and I'm giving away one away!!! As well as your pick of one of three books from my 2016 "to read" list! If you win you can choose from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, Spiritual Parenting by Michelle Anthony, or The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey! Just follow the directions  to enter!! This giveaway will run till January 8th at which time a random winner will be chosen and announced right here on my blog, so be sure to check back on the 8th! 

                        This giveaway is only open to US residents. 

Good Luck!! 

Potlucks and Timing

I love cooking. It's taken me a long time to get to this place, I used to be downright terrified of the kitchen, and bad at it too. I'm not joking when I say I once burned water. This is a real thing that happens when you put a pot of water on to boil and FORGET ABOUT IT COMPLETELY, then the water evaporates and the pot scalds. I had been planning to make ramen noodles. Being a "make do" kinda girl I figured I'd just add some water back in quick and what the heck, the noodles too, after all, the pot was so hot it would immediately boil the water, right?? Yeah. That was a really awesome meal. Growing up my mom didn't do a lot of from scratch, home cooking, there was always dinner on the table but plenty of times it was spaghetti and sauce from a jar, or frozen chicken kievs. For my seventh birthday dinner I asked for salisbury steaks. Now, at 30, my birthday meals of choice would be a breakfast of potatoes and onions and asparagus sauteed in lots of high quality butter and topped with a perfectly cooked over easy egg. Or a toasted ham and turkey sandwich on ciabatta bread with havarti  cheese and a sun dried tomato aioli from scratch with homemade sweet potato fries. Ooh! Or a dinner of bacon wrapped pork tenderloin drizzled in honey, with dry roasted broccoli and potatoes with a dash of sea salt and ginger. And warm, homemade, brown sugar pie and vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. And I want to be the one to cook all of it (but not do the dishes) because I take as much joy in the cooking of it as I do the eating of it.

I can remember the first meal I ever cooked for my husband, then my boyfriend. I was using third hand hand-me-down pots and pans and dollar store utensils in this tiny closet of a kitchen I had in my studio apartment. And with every step in the recipe I felt more and more panic because I was realizing that I did not give myself nearly enough time. I have never felt that stressed out in my life. A HUGE part of cooking is timing, knowing how to know whether one minute or two will do when the recipe says "sear for 1-2 minutes", or knowing that sauteing onions takes way more time than sauteing zucchini takes and to maybe hold off on the zucchini till the onions are well on their way. The first time you really decide to cook a meal the first direction on the recipe should be "You will need more time than you think so start sooner than you're planning". I'm more confident in the kitchen now, more in control, but timing can still be a problem for me (over the summer I threw a dinner party that started at six but I couldn't put food on the table till seven!). At least now I understand some of the basics better, enough to understand that timing is a big part of cooking and if I focus too much time on doing certain things as I cook what I didn't give enough time to will show in my completed meal.  

This past Sunday we had a holiday party that I'd known about for weeks and was to start at four. At about 1pm my husband Aaron tells me it's a potluck and we should figure out what we're bringing.

A word about potlucks. For those of us who like to cook a potluck is like the Olympics except better. At the Olympics everyone shows up with their best game, does their thing, receives their commendations, but only one person goes home with the gold. At a potluck everyone shows up and gets to enjoy each other's best game and we all get to bask in the affirmations of one another, and then we all go home with each others recipes. I know there are some people who hate potlucks, who don't like eating things from unknown kitchens or who always show up with store bought rolls, and those people are totally okay, I get it, this isn't your thing or your wheel house. But it is mine. And so on Sunday afternoon, with kids who have gotten to nap time later than normal, a husband that's been at church since six that morning and is now laying on the couch, dead to the world, I have three hours to pick a dish, run to the store, prep and cook and get myself and my two kids ready for the party. Because the thought of having to admit to bringing store bought really pained my heart I really was going to try to pull it off. I immediately started surfing my Pinterest boards. 

Having decided on hot artichoke dip with toasted garlic bread I headed to the store, jotting a list at stop lights. At one such stop light it struck me, " If I do this I'll feel rushed and hectic and feel like I have zero time and arrive sweaty and frazzled, but if I just buy dip I'll have all the time in the world to get ready and get the kids ready and arrive feeling calm." I felt a pang at the idea of saying no to myself and my desire to show up with a piping hot, well presented, homemade appetizer, but I knew that to get the most out of the night this was the best answer. Just as I was making this decision I saw a man standing under the railroad bridge right before my grocery store. This was a particularly gross Sunday afternoon, cold but not cold enough to turn the pouring rain into snow, windy and gray. I say man but that's a loose term, his face was too gaunt to get a good gauge on how old he was, and he was holding a sign that said "hungry, anything helps".

It would have been super easy to not think twice, I was on a mission, I didn't have any cash on me, he was on the opposite side of the road anyway, plus I was heading into a busy night. I had every reason to smile sadly and move on with my life and forget about how he wasn't wearing a coat and his shoes had holes in them. But a still small voice reminded me that I was headed to the grocery store anyway and that on my way back I'd be headed the right direction to give him something at the light. A still small voice said "You aren't as busy as you were a few minutes ago, remember? You've decided not to make a dish." 

When I left the store and drove back down the road I didn't see him at first, he'd switched sides. I had to pull off to a side street and come back around. When I handed him the grocery bag full of food he burst into tears. He grabbed my hand and said "Thank you. Thank you. Merry Christmas." 

I cried as I turned back around and headed back home. Not because I felt so good for having been kind, and not even because I felt sad for him. I cried at my own selfish, self-centeredness. I cried at how I have apparently come to view my time as my own. I cried because the pursuit of affirmation over a silly appetizer almost stopped me from seeing the hurting person standing in the street, because I'd almost been too stubborn to have time to make a simple u-turn. I cried because timing is important, even to God, and in agreeing to an unrushed moment I opened my eyes to someone God put in my path that I could impact, I gave myself the margin to exist in God's timing, not mine. I cried because what would it look like in this, the season of Christmas, to step out of our timing, our own hustle and rush, and open our eyes to the people God is putting in our paths for us to impact. Take a minute this Christmas and slow down, don't be so worried about the perfect holiday moment orchestrated and captured, or the perfect dish cooked and presented, or the perfect party, and view people through the lens of who God has placed in your path to impact.

Timing is a big part of a walk with God, and if we focus too much time on doing certain things in our lives what we've neglected will show in the fruit of our faith. 

The store bought dip was a hit, by the way. I'm bringing it to another holiday party tonight. 

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Dear Lula - a letter to my daughter about friendship

Today I am thinking about friendship, like big deep friendship thoughts. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's me already missing my close friend that is moving so very far away this weekend, or knowing how much my kids will miss her kids and the dear friendship they've made. Maybe I'm thinking about friendships because of the kind friend who let us use her car while our was in the shop, or maybe it's the sweet anonymous package I got in the mail today, a generous gift from a generous friend. Or maybe it's the friend I made not long ago, who I granted access to my whole life, and how that turned out to be a mistake. 

Whatever it is I'm thinking about friendships and the good friends I have and the long journey it took to get here, the bad friendship choices I've made at times and the wisdom and intuition I've ignored. I've cheated myself out of many good experiences because of fear of rejection or just plain insecurity or pride. There's a lot I wish I could tell my younger self about what I missed because of what I didn't know. But I can't go back. I can however look forward and share all these things I wish I could tell my younger self with my own daughter. So here it is, my dear Tallulah Marie, a letter from your momma to you, may you learn from my mistakes, and find the blessing of true friends earlier than I did. 

Lesson 1: Have girl friends. Don't be the girl who doesn't like girls. There was a time in my life when, I'm ashamed to say, I thought I was too good for female friendships. I believed myself to be "above the drama" and more of a "guys girl". I prided myself on not having girl friends because I believed all girls eventually got catty and mean and I believed if I kept myself apart from other girls I could keep myself from being hurt by them or from acting like them. My darling daughter I can't tell you how much I missed out on by waiting so long to develop female friends. I didn't protect myself, I got hurt anyway because that's just life, and I probably would have experienced the hurt I feared if I'd pursued female friends, but I know now that it would have been worth wading through some of the catty girls to find the right girl friends. Don't hide yourself away from girls for fear of being hurt or because it's cooler to have guy friends or because whatever. Be brave, there will maybe be pain sometimes but there's no reward without that risk. You won't regret the friends you made but you will always regret the friends you missed. (Also I didn't mean to make that rhyme so don't mock your poor mother.)

Lesson 2: Be yourself. You're wonderful. You're curious and opinionated and adventurous and kind and loud and silly and any friend worth having will want to know the real you. Don't ever pretend to be something you're not for the sake of getting someone else to like you. When you are yourself all kinds of people will be drawn to you, people just like you and people wildly different. Being different from a friend is one of the best parts of having friends, you learn and grow so much from each other. And having a friend just like you is a precious gift, it means having someone who understands you in a specific and unique way. But to find these friendships you have to be yourself. Don't cheat others out of knowing you and don't cheat yourself out of being known. 

Lesson 3: Check your behavior. In an honest and critical way ask yourself this question: Would you want you as a friend? The kind of friend you are is the kind of friend you will have. Be loyal and kind and selfless, give more than you take, cheer your friends on, be happy for them when they are happy and be sad with them when they are sad. Be strong, I'm not telling you to be a doormat or be taken advantage of, but I am telling you to be a humble and servant hearted friend. 

Lesson 4: Apologize easily and forgive easily. Many friendships are trampled beneath prideful steps. Don't be too stubborn to forgive someone who's hurt you, or to stubborn to apologize when you've hurt them. You are many wonderful things sweet girl, but perfect isn't one of them. Seek grace when you've made a mistake and extend grace when your friend has. I have lost a few good friends because one or both of us made these mistakes. Don't let being right become more valuable than your friendships. Apologize when you need to (and even sometimes when you don't), and forgive every single time. 

Lesson 5: Have integrity and have standards. Give everyone a chance, allow everyone the opportunity to be a good friend, the right kind of friend. But never allow someone into your heart who is only there to cause destruction. I know I said don't operate from a fear of getting hurt and to forgive every single time, but here is the key to both those things: it's okay to kindly and respectfully release toxic people. Be friends with everyone, but use wisdom and discernment when giving out intimate access to your heart. Don't trust your heart to someone who tries to talk about other people with you (they'll talk about you with other people guaranteed, and while we're on the subject, don't you be that kind of friend either); don't trust your heart to someone who is manipulating you or wants something from you. The Bible tells us to run from the company of fools, and my darling daughter, obey that command. Jesus may have ministered to everyone but even he had an inner circle, a group that he allowed access to that not just everyone got. Jesus' qualifier for his inner circle should be your qualifier for your inner circle: a devotion to and desire to please Jesus himself.  

And finally, the lynchpin lesson, the thing I wish I had understood so much earlier than I did, Lesson 6: Any one of us can only have or be one of two kinds of friends - the kind of friend who leads people toward God, or the kind of friend who leads people away from God. The world wants you to believe the lie that you can have or be a neutral friend but the truth is there is no in between. This doesn't mean you badger or push people, it simply means you lead toward God in an active way. You speak when your fear tells you to be silent, you walk away when your desire to be included tells you to stay, you bring truth when you're surrounded by lies. I think we both know what kind of friend I want you to be and have, but in case you need it spelled out (you are my daughter), be someone who leads toward God, have friends who lead you toward God. The regret of missed opportunities or bad influences can be unbearable, especially when we didn't realize that's what they were at the time. 

I know how much it sucks to have a parent say "learn from my mistakes" but my prayer and hope is that in this instance, if only in this instance, you learn from my mistakes. I can't wait to watch you walk this journey and meet all the wonderful people who will impact you and those you will impact. You're wonderful Lulabug, don't ever forget that!  

Love, Mom

 

 Just a few of the incredible friendships I've made since learning some of these lessons.  

Just a few of the incredible friendships I've made since learning some of these lessons.  

Of Ballpoint Pens and Anointings

When I was probably seven or eight I went with my family to Michigan, to the national convention of the church association our church belonged to. As a pastor in that association my dad went almost every year and that year in particular there was programming for the kids during convention sessions, making it a family friendly event. 

When you're from the Midwest you understand cold. Brutal winters are par for the course, as a kid I had more "cold days" (days where it would have cost too much to heat the schools) than I did actual snow days. And being from the Midwest you get that cold weather season starts any day after Labor Day and can stretch till the Fourth of July. So why my Midwestern parents neglected to pack coats for us kids during this early April trip to Michigan I will never know. It didn't matter a whole lot till the day all the convention kids were supposed to walk down the street to the park and play capture the flag (we can discuss the merits of trooping 30 five to thirteen year olds down to a park to play possibly the most competitive game on the planet another day). Someone in the convention had thought to bring extra coats for their kids and so I was leant the puffiest, shiniest purple coat I have ever seen in my life. I hated it. And, at some point after wearing it, I lost track of it. 

Now, during the course of the several day convention I had stumbled upon possibly the single greatest discovery ever made in the history of everything: THE PERFECT PEN. It had a black cap and gray barrel and a point so fine I could hardly believe it. It made smooth and beautiful lines, it was a pen that inspired you to write things worthy of it. I carried it everywhere that week, along with my Paul Frank diary, so that I could write every thought I had into what would undoubtedly be the world's most beloved piece of prose bar none. But at some point it too got lost. 

I was devastated. 

The morning we were packing up to go home I was lamenting and begging my mom to let me out of the room on my own to find my pen, I knew this was my last chance before it was gone forever. Simultaneously my mom was asking me about the coat I had irresponsibly lost and telling me I needed to go find it and return it to the family, and she gave me their room number. Our wires crossed and I understood her to say that this family had found my pen! And knowing it was clearly something special had put the word out to locate its owner. I skipped to the elevator and ran down the hall to their room. I knocked on their door and when no one answered I knocked again, harder. The door opened to a completely pitch black room and a half asleep teenager recognized me as the girl who'd lost her little sisters coat. 

"Yeah that's me," I muttered, "but I heard someone here found my pen? Can I have it back now please?" 

This girl looked at me with what can only be described as the disdain of a thirteen year old aiming to be a seventeen year old and said "No, we do not have your pen," and she shut the door.

Here are the lessons to be taken from this memory: 

1. Always have a heavy coat with you if you're traveling in the Midwest between Labor Day and the Fourth of July. 

2. Don't lose things other people lend you. 

3. Don't lend things to eight year olds.

4. Don't lend things to me because I lose things.

5. I am super weird. 

6. Don't neglect your gift. 

The pen in question is a standard, run of the mill office pen. I've come across thousands since I was eight, and even though I get how ubiquitous they are, I still regard them with a certain amount of wonderment, not because it really is anything superior, but because when I was eight this pen taught me something really important: I love to write so much, it is such an important part of me, that I am willing to look crazy for it. I am willing to be ridiculous in order to write using something I feel will optimize my skills. This little pen taught eight year old me that I am deeply passionate about words. As silly as it sounds, that pen led me to my gift.

In a letter to Timothy Paul gives very clear instructions to his young protege. He tells him that his age doesn't matter, that he is a gifted and anointed teacher. Paul tells Timothy not to neglect this gift but to practice it, devote himself to it, and that by doing this Timothy will bless himself and others. (1 Timothy 4:12-16)

When we know what our gift is, when we know what our passion is, we assume the responsibility of stewarding that gift or passion. It's on us to use it, to devote ourselves to it, to practice it and grow in it, to bless others with it and ultimately honor God with it. No one can force you to use the gifts God has given you, no one but you can move you out of a place here your gift is being neglected. How we steward our gifts is a direct reflection of how much we respect God. 

 Don't pretend you aren't jealous of this bad boy. 

Don't pretend you aren't jealous of this bad boy. 

I still have one of those standard, run of the mill office pens, and I smile every time I see it. It's a reminder to me of how long I've consciously been aware of what my passion is, and a challenge to me on whether I'm being a responsible steward of my gift. 

How are you responsibly stewarding the gifting God has given you?

Origin Stories

Maybe it was being immersed in Comic Book Culture throughout my adolescence but I have always been obsessed with origin stories. Origins, the beginning, the time period or series of events that made someone who they are. In comic books it's the dramatic events that led to the activation, arrival or heritage of their super powers. I've given hours of thought to my own origin story. As a kid my inner monologue was often a narration of whatever I was doing, but in the past tense, in the Behind the Music narrator voice. 

I know. 

In a few short days I'm turning 30 and I've always anticipated my 30th birthday would be hard. Isn't that the stereotype? That we hit 30 and panic? That we turn 30 we believe our life is mostly over and we are no longer young or viable. But truthfully, I don't feel that way. In fact I'm not nervous or panicked at all. I don't believe my life is over, I don't believe I'm not young and I really don't believe I'm not viable. Actually it's totally the opposite; I still kind of feel like I'm in my origin story. 

I know some incredible 20somethings, they're smart and passionate and capable and poised to change the world and it's an honor to know them. But guys, can those of us who are no longer 22 just give a loud and thankful AMEN?! I am so proud to say that I know significantly less now than I "knew" at 22, I'm living in a much more joyful, authentic, teachable way at 30 than I could at 22. No matter how much we believe otherwise at the time, at 22 we're still developing an understanding of the world, of ourselves, and we're still developing a personal ideology. Even though I genuinely and passionately believed I KNEW MYSELF and UNDERSTOOD THE WORLD when I was 22, on this side of my 20's I can completely confidently and humbly say:

I knew nothing. 

 At 22 I regularly (inadvertently) dressed like an anime character.  

At 22 I regularly (inadvertently) dressed like an anime character.  

This isn't about bashing 22 year olds, you guys rock, keep doing you! Your ideas and innovations and heartfelt contributions are literally changing the world!! Don't take any of this as a jab because it's not. This isn't about bashing 22 year olds because this is about reassuring 30 year olds and 40 year olds and 50 year olds and so on and so on, that the Lord is still using you, and some of you, the Lord is going to start using you, even now, in what may seem like to you, late in the game.  

See my early obsession with origin stories has taught me something in this, the advent of my golden years: you're never too old to be in your origin story.

You are never too old to be developing and learning and getting ready, even if you don't know what you're getting ready for!

An origin story has nothing to do with age and everything to do with beginnings. You are never too old for a beginning. Which means you're never too old to do the thing you're made for, the thing the Lord has for you. 

Don't sell yourself short thinking that because you are older now than you once were that you are done, that the Lord doesn't have something He wants you to do, something He has built and prepared you for. The Bible is full of young guns making good, sure, but it's also full of stories of men and women who began their work long after what we'd consider their youth.

Don't let your age, whatever it is, stop you from a passionate pursuit of God's call on your life. 

I'm nowhere near where I thought I'd be when I was 22. In fact if you told 22 year old me what 30 year old me's life looks like I would have told you that you clearly didn't know me. But I'm so thankful that His plans are not my plans, that His timing is not my timing. And I'm in good company. Saul of Tarsus was 31 when he began life as Paul the apostle. David, who was anointed king by Samuel when he was somewhere between 10 and 13 didn't actually become the king until he was 30. Joseph was 30 when he started  working for the pharaoh. And Jesus began his ministry at 30. 

Yeah. I'm definitely okay with turning 30. 

 I painstakingly photoshopped extra eyeliner on. Yeah.  

I painstakingly photoshopped extra eyeliner on. Yeah.  

National Sibling Day -or - The Value of Intercessory Prayer

That's my favorite title I've ever made. 

Today is National Sibling Day, which I didn't know until I logged into Facebook and found my brother had posted a sweet appreciative post. But beyond that, days before it was National Sibling Day he sent me a ridiculously encouraging message telling me how much he liked our friendship and how much he believed in me. 

If you've known me for longer than ten years you are believing in miracles after reading that. 

If you haven't known me that long, let me break it down for you. Becoming friends with my older brother was a long, rocky road full of tears and anger and hurts and brokenness. But guys, I serve a God of redemption. I serve a God of mending what is broken and of reconciliation. I know that a big part of our journey to friendship was unseen and unheard by either of us. I know that a big part of our journey to the place we are today was the God of healing who honored the faithful prayers of the people who loved us. Not just our parents but their families and faith communities as well. 

As parents we all know how important praying for our kids is, but it's so equally important to bring those prayers to others in our lives, our families, our friends, our church family. In Hebrews chapter 10 the Bible talks about us being members of one body but each having different functions. Can I just tell you that I believe in the spiritual gift of being a prayer warrior? Yes we all pray, but  I believe there are people among us who are gifted by the Holy Spirit as intercessors, praying unceasingly for anything and everything they can. 

I believe in this gift because I've known people with this gift, because I'm a product of people with this gift, because some of the most profound healing and growth of my life is a result of people with this gift. 

Paul believed in the power of intercessors so much so that he included a greeting from one to the church in Colossae in his letter to them (Col. 4:12,13). He hoped they would be encouraged by the very knowledge that a prayer warrior was praying for them!!

 A rare moment of stillness brought on by Sesame Street. 

A rare moment of stillness brought on by Sesame Street. 

I worry sometimes, like any parent, about my kids. About their lives and futures and the choices they'll make and the adults they will grow in to. And yes, I worry about their relationship to one another. I want them to be close, to love each other and to be a safe place for each other, to encourage each other and build each other up. And because I worry about all these things I take it to my faith community, to my intercessors, to my prayer warriors, who wrestle in prayer on my behalf that I may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills. And it gives me peace. 

Take your prayers to your faith community, to your intercessors, to your prayer warriors, that you would know peace. 

I'm so thankful my brother and I were prayed over and for and that we came out the other side as more than siblings, as friends who choose to be in relationship with each other. 

Happy National Sibling Day big brother, I love you. 

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*its worth noting that I also have a younger brother and sister that I love dearly. Happy Siblings Day guys!!

The Truth About True Love

This past weekend I got to spend some time in Rosemont, Illinois at the Ascension Convention which is hosted by a local Bible college out of Mount Prospect, Illinois, Christian Life College . I actually attended Christian Life, in fact it's where I met my husband, so it's kind of fitting that I got the chance to be at Ascension and do a break out session about true love. 

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I spoke on The Truth About True Love and how through books, music, movies and tv shows the world will try to sell you a lie about what love is, how it looks, and what it's for. I did a lot of twitter stalking to get some ideas for what I wanted to address and it just unlocked this whole world of young people who were in bondage to a worldly understanding of love. The danger with being in bondage to a worldly understanding of love is that if you're so hung up on the world's idea of love you will never get the fullness of love that God's plan for love. I had the opportunity to pray with brokenhearted kids and offer hope to some who thought it was too late for them. It was incredible to watch God move in their hearts and I'm still in awe that I got to be a part of it!! 

Knowing the truth about love is important for all of us, whether we're married, single, young, old, whatever. There is never a bad time to hear the truth. So in that spirit, here is my session, for you or maybe for a teenager in your life who needs to learn how to spot the lies and cling to the truth.


Passover Thursday

As this Thursday of Holy Week winds down all I can think about is the evening Christ spent with his disciples, serving them and teaching them one last time before the events that unfold Good Friday.

 

I am always ALWAYS drawn back to John chapter 17. Jesus begins to pray for his disciples, blessing their coming ministry, praying over them all the things they would need to be effective representatives of him after he was gone, power, authority, protection, love, grace, joy! Here's the coolest part: in verse 20-23 Jesus brings you and I into this prayer, this blessing. He says "I ask not only on behalf of these [the disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word [thats us!], that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they [the disciples and all who come after them as believers] also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me..." (20,21)

It blows my mind to know that with everything he knew was coming, with everything he knew he was about to face, Christ prayed for ME, for YOU. To know that he prayed for an indwelling of his presence and power in my life so that my life would point to God the way his did is incredible, it's humbling. It reminds me every Easter that this story is about more than just his sacrifice, and that he was thinking about more than just his sacrifice, this story is about his expectation of what we do with his sacrifice. And according to his prayer for us he expects us to do something that will take power, protection, love, grace, joy and the literal indwelling of him in us. 

 

I pray we're all living up to that expectation.

 

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Do Justice, Love Kindness

My mother is an alcoholic and like many alcoholics her journey has been about peaks and valleys. She'd been at a peak for quite some time but with a disease like alcoholism if you aren't diligent a peak becomes a cliff and you suddenly find yourself in a valley. A couple weeks ago my mom found herself in one such valley and took her first steps toward a new peak, she sought treatment. It was Saturday morning when I found out that she'd relapsed and checked herself in to a treatment center two states away from where she lives. By the time I knew what was happening she was already checked into the facility and detoxing, meaning speaking to her was impossible. Within a few hours I got another message from my dad, my parents are divorced but my brother had told him what was happening. He sent a single sentence with a link to an article, "This is the place she's in..." 

What did people do before Google? I spent the next 30 hours glued to my phone as I surfed through dozens and dozens of websites calling this facility out, warning people away and sharing the stories of those they loved who had been through this program. The quickest and easiest way to explain the situation is also the most dramatic and unbelievable, but I promise you it’s also the truth. This place was the front for a cult. After crying and praying and researching and struggling to know how to handle the situation I told my husband I just needed a minute of fluffy pretty life where I didn't have to think. There was just the word of a couple dozen nameless internet people to go on and I wasn't sure how to proceed without knowing for certain what this place was. I just needed a break while my brain bounced back. We went to Target, home of all things wonderful, and I embraced sweet not thinking. For five whole minutes. As I stood in the bathroom textile section I got a call from the friend who had helped my mom seek treatment. As she told me the story of how they found this place tears began rolling down my cheeks. Everything she said was matching up with every account I’d read of how people got lured there, from the lies they tell potential clients to get them in the door down to the scamming tactics they used to fool the insurance company. I looked at my husband who simply said “Let’s go get her.” 

Believe it or not this is just the context of what I want to talk about, this story is just the catalyst for something the Lord placed on my heart. I haven’t gone into detail about what I found online, and from here won’t go into detail about how the Lord showed off in helping me and Aaron get my mom out of there. It’s an incredible story about the power of God and someday I will tell it as it’s own story, and not just the backdrop to something else. Suffice it to say that after the longest day of my life and with the help of three law enforcement officers who I will be eternally thankful for we got my mom out. The more I learned about the place, the more the police shared their experiences and the more she herself told me, the longer the reality of what we had done sunk in all I could think was “How could this happen? How could someone do this to people?"

In an effort to find some kind of satisfying answer I have spent the weeks since this happened reading up on different cult leaders and groups and the psychology of how cults attract and maintain a following. The power of every single cult and cult leader hinges on taking advantage of the brokenness in this world, and the pain of the people in it. Their power hinges on being able to fill a need in someone, that is the bait. When you fill a need for someone they begin to feel something for you, gratefulness, appreciation, even love. 

Be warned, I’m about to say some incendiary things. 

These groups take advantage of a vacuum that is created when the people of God forget that He has charged us to love and care for the people of this world as if they are our own selves. When the Church forgets to care for the needy and feed the starving and defend the defenseless and love every last stranger we open the door for those who would take advantage of the needy and the starving and the defenseless and the unknown. When we forget to shine the light of God’s love in the darkness we leave people alone in their pain and grief, we leave them to those who would fill their needs only to twist them around in deception. 

Maybe you’re thinking I don’t know anyone in a cult or even in danger of being in a cult, but I want to connect it for you: this isn’t just about PEOPLE who would twist and deceive the hurting, it’s about the devil himself. This is his MO, this is how he operates, he offers a counterfeit peace, a counterfeit happiness, he offers lies and deceptions to those in the dark and then twists them around and keeps them mired in untruths and bondage. You may not know anyone at risk to joining a cult but we all know those at risk to believing the enemy’s lies, they are our friends and our families and the people who live on our street and the people who drive next to us on the highway and the people in line with us at the grocery store or sitting next to us on the train.

What would our lives look like if we shined the light that is God’s love into peoples darkness? What would their lives look like? 
Sometimes it feels so big, it feels so overwhelming, how could I make a difference? The Bible says "The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it" (John 1:5). The light it's talking about is Christ, the Word made flesh. This passage calls Christ the light of all people (vs 4). This is the same Christ that is inside us, the same light inside us, and this light is designed to chase the dark away. Micah 6:8 says "what else does God ask of you but to do justice and love kindness?" Are there two any better ways to shine a light into someone's brokenness than these?!


Kindness, as simple as a smile and gentle word to the people that you come into contact with each day. Justice, as inconvenient as driving across state lines to literally remove someone from the grasp of evil. Why do we let these opportunities to be inconvenienced for the sake of showing someone else the love of God, and maybe, through that, piercing their darkness, go by? We all do it, a hundred times a day we make the choice to leave someone with their needs and in pain, it seems too big or we don’t have time or feel embarrassed or we simply don’t realize the person standing next to us is on the brink of believing a devastating lie. We leave them in darkness and keep our light to ourselves, and we leave a vacuum for them to be swept up by those that would keep them in that bondage. 

Before we left to get my mom, my aunt told me "You're being an incredible example of God's love." All I could think was how?? It didn't feel incredible or explemplary, it just felt like what you do when someone you love is in such a terrible place. 

Maybe that's what it's supposed to feel like when you shine the light of God's love into the dark corners of a broken world. Maybe it's supposed to feel like just what you do. Maybe it isn't about the size of the action or how well we know the person, maybe love is just supposed to be the automatic response to everyone in every moment. Yes we would all do these things for someone we know, someone close to us, but what about the least of these? The strangers? Hebrews says don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, some have done this and entertained angels. Christ says what you do for the least of these you do for me. It’s easy to call ourselves Christians and say that we love everyone, but only ever act out that love for those closest to us. If I learned anything driving away from that place it was that not everyone has someone close to them to rescue them. Plenty of people get left behind in darkness. The Bible says that as Christians those people are our responsibility, 1 John 3:17 asks how can the love of God be in someone who does nothing to help someone in need, Isaiah and Jeremiah both say to correct oppression and deliver the poor from the hand of the oppressors, over and over the Bible commands us to take up the plight of the widows and orphans and fatherless, God implores us to become the family of those who don't have one! 

There is always, always something we can do to shine a light in someone else's dark place. And if we do that then maybe we will take a big chunk out of the number of people vulnerable to the lies and deceptions and counterfeits the enemy sells, there will be less people willing to sell their loyalty to false prophets and twisted men set on binding others in their brokenness. If we do that we will strike a blow for the Kingdom of God and we will truly be fulfilling the call of the Lord on each of our lives. 

For me I feel so convicted, the people still back there in that building weigh on me heavily. We're working with local police and the district attorney there to get that place shut down. But it doesn't feel like enough. I want to be someone who brings light in the darkness before the situation gets that desperate. It is my prayer that everywhere I go the Lord would open doors for me to be a light, big or small, that my eyes would be opened to the endless opportunities to show someone the love of God, the light of Christ that drives out the dark, and that I would be courageous enough to step into those moments, every time. 


{all verses quoted are ESV}

A Valentine Poem

oh the way you look 
at a man.
the kind of man
who brings sunflowers, 
too many to fit in a vase;
the kind of man
who picks out which
lipstick 
he'd like to kiss off you; 
the kind of man
who makes your coffee 
every morning 
(caramel colored and
and not quite sweet enough 
but it's the best part 
of every day); 
the kind of man 
who sleeps next to you
in your high school 
bedroom, 
chasing old demons 
to blaze new paths; 
the kind of man
with a baby 
on his hip, 
reading a bedtime story,
kissing scraped knees 
and fixing broken toys;
the kind of man 
with hard worked hands,
integrity and loyalty 
made flesh; 
the kind of man 
who has heard your 
worst words
and seen your
worst face; 
the kind of man 
that takes your hand
in the car
for no reason;
the kind of man 
who has fought 
with you 
and for you;
the kind of man
who has sat through 
sunrises
for the sake of 
sick babies
and pregnancy cravings;
the kind of man 
who calls you beautiful 
first 
thing
in the morning.
oh how you look at 
that kind of man.
you look at him 
like he is the last one
on earth;
the only one ever.

oh that man.