Royal Warrior Vibes

*note: this post was written in December of 2019, just never published…it’s the third in a series of 3. The first was a Sacrifice of Praise and the second Joy in the Mourning ❤ 

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REFLECTING {Dec 2019} ::
That song that starts “this year’s felt like four seasons of winter” comes to mind when I try to put a timeline on this past year…

In the winter of early 2019 we found out we were pregnant, only to lose that baby in the spring…and then get pregnant again over the summer…
…only to lose that baby in the fall — and now here we are again in the winter…
so, four seasons of winter sounds pretty accurate… or maybe five…
but! There’s a breath of fresh air in the promise of a new year, so we’re looking forward to the arrival of 2020, even as I dread the wet cold that will come with it, and we’re doing our best to squeeze all the joy that we can out of this holiday season — just being present with our people and making sweet memories with twinkling lights in the background ❤

As I think about seasons though, for some reason our personal story seems to make the biggest shifts in the fall — and this fall did not miss out on its chance to participate in that trend…

It started with an SOS from Nathan’s mom that his grandfather had fallen and the resulting injuries were some of the same that had taken his grandmother’s life just the year before. The message was clear :: if you want to say goodbye in person, get here as soon as you can… so Nathan lined things up at work, threw together a bag, and hopped in the truck, headed for NC. As far as this thread of the story goes, that week was a huge blessing — getting to spend that time with his Grandpa and supporting his momma — and when he headed back home, Grandpa was doing so well that Nathan was convinced this wasn’t going to be the end after all.

But during that week while he was in NC, things on our home front weren’t looking so promising. Our sweet elderly cat, Harley, stopped eating that week and I knew we didn’t have much longer with her. Then Friday, I went in for a routine OB appointment. We had already had our first ultrasound and heard the heartbeat so it was just a check-in with a new doctor. She decided to go ahead and do the doppler, just for fun.
…but couldn’t hear anything…
she said it was still early, so not to be alarmed, but I could read her face, and my body, well enough to know this wasn’t going to end with good news.
We went down the hall to the in-office ultrasound machine with apprehensive hope…which was promptly deflated in a matter of moments…we could see the baby’s heart…but that bright white fleck wasn’t flickering…
The doctor quickly reminded me that she was not an ultrasound tech, took me to her office, and called the neighboring imaging center to see if they could squeeze me in.
She kindly offered to make me a mug of hot tea while we waited for the return call and I was so touched by the difference in this experience over my last, which had been very impersonal. I walked out of this doctor’s office with her hand on my back and her cell number in my pocket. And on to an ultrasound tech who was extremely busy but offered a brief apology as she confirmed that, although there had been growth since our last appointment, at some point in the previous week or so, growth had stopped and there was no longer a heartbeat…while I had needed the kind and loving support of the U/S tech we had the first time we found out we were losing a baby, I found myself appreciative of this U/S tech’s less emotionally invested {though not unkind} ‘professionalism’ — I couldn’t process this right now — my kids were in the waiting room, my husband was out of town… I needed to hold it together.

Thankfully, the time of waiting for Nathan to come home was filled with caring for friends who needed us and a fun, pre-planned outing with the kids when he first got back in town. Because the next few weeks were just filled with…waiting. And ‘normal’ life in the background. I started to say waiting in the background of normal life continuing on but that’s never what seasons of waiting seem to feel like, is it? The waiting is the primary focus of our minds, even as we try to ‘do life’ as though it isn’t… or maybe that’s just me 😛

So, for several weeks, we relied on long-distance check-ins for how Grandpa was doing. Our cat continued to surprise us with her energy despite not eating… and my body refused to let go of our baby, continuing to carry on as if everything was fine and the pregnancy was progressing normally…

And then one Saturday afternoon, we got the call that Nathan’s grandfather had passed. It didn’t matter how expected that call may have been, it was hard to hear. But again, somehow, the processing seemed to go on hold. We knew it would hit at some point, we just weren’t sure when that would be…

That week, as arrangements were made for Grandpa’s memorial service, our sweet cat stopped drinking water and began losing her balance…

…And… I noticed my pregnancy hormones beginning to dissipate and found myself emotionally torn between accepting that reality and holding out hope that it was merely the calm before our miracle… but primarily, I was preoccupied with when this loss might occur. We were traveling to North Carolina that upcoming weekend for Grandpa’s memorial service and would start teaching an evening class about a week later. It sounded so insensitive but the time was closing in on when it would become especially ‘inconvenient’ to go into ‘labor.’ I decided to make an appointment with the OB to check-in and examine options beyond just waiting.

And wondered how crazy I would sound requesting another ultrasound first… just in case.

That appointment was scheduled for Thursday, mid-morning. As I got the kids ready for school that morning, Harley {our cat} was in serious distress. For some reason, I thought she would just curl up and pass away in her sleep. But instead, within a few hours, she had gone drastically downhill and was completely miserable. I distracted the kids, dropped them off at school, and called the vet, who got me in immediately. And just like that, I was wrapping her up in blankets and whisking her off to the animal hospital, the only one getting to say goodbye to her. I sat in that little room, held her like a baby, and sobbed over her. I cried for her pain, and for the kids, of course, and how they weren’t expecting to come home to her being gone. But really, I wept over all of the loss that was eroding our little world in that season. The staff must’ve thought I was at least a little crazy – I’m not sure they’ve had anyone cry like that in their office. Or maybe they have. But I felt a bit ridiculous nonetheless.

Ridiculous and grateful.

Grateful to this precious cat who had held on long enough to be the release we needed.

As we buried her that night, Nathan too was able to cross the threshold of holding in emotions and let the tears fall…over her, and the love that she was for our kids, yes, but also for his Grandpa, and for the baby we were in the process of losing.

The next day we were heading back to North Carolina to celebrate Grandpa’s life and rest in the comfort of being together with family. We were heading down a few days early to have some extra time together and be able to help prep for the service and help out with some of the daily responsibilities for Nathan’s parents. The memorial service and reception were beautiful and it was so precious to see how many lives had been so positively impacted by Grandpa in the short amount of time he had lived in North Carolina. Not to mention the lifetimes he had given to the roles of father and grandfather. ❤

As the celebration was closing, my body finally decided it was time to give in to the loss of our baby. Thankfully, through much prayer, things didn’t progress beyond minor indications until the middle of the night, when we were all back at the house and everyone else was sleeping peacefully.

And then the next morning, we set out — headed back home.

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That drive brought a strange sense of closure to the season of loss that had started about a month earlier. It was as if we were leaving it all behind. We knew it wasn’t complete — there was some physical recovery ahead and there would be emotional hurdles to handle for who knows how long. But the bulk of the physical aspects of those three losses were being laid to rest in just four days, after four weeks of churning… we were finally in the process of closing this season of hard. And looking forward to the road ahead. We weren’t sure what would be on it but we knew the holidays and a new year were just around the corner and with them they carried a sense of fresh hope.

That is, until I received a call from my sweet momma.

She was letting me know that they had found a lump in her throat and she was being referred to an ENT for follow-up. But the ENT they were sending her to specialized in cancer…

In that moment, two thoughts went through my mind.

The first was: Nope.
This is not her story. We’re not taking it.
I’m not even worried because I just know this is not her burden to bear.

But just behind that thought came another one…
what if you’re wrong?
What if it is.
And what if the superstition about bad things coming in threes is true? And this is just the start? There are two more on the way. Who knows what those will be.
What are you going to do with that?
How are you going to handle it?
Where’s your faith going to end up?
Can you trust God through repeated blows upon repeated blows?
Will you still find Him faithful?
Will you still believe He’s good?
Or will all of these hard things stack up against all the other negative circumstances you can compile from your history and leave your faith bruised, broken, and gasping for air…?

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And y’all.
Something just came over me.
I can’t call it anything other than a wash of the Holy Spirit.
And a royal warrior arose in my soul
with a vengeance.
I heard my heart saying
BRING. IT. ON.
This world’s got nothing on me.
THE GOD I SERVE IS ABOUT BIGGER THINGS.
MY BATTLE IS IN  SPIRITUAL REALMS.
AND FOR THIS –  I AM. WELL. ARMED.
FOR THIS, I AM READY TO WAGE WAR.
AND FOR THIS, I WILL CONTINUE TO TRAIN.
COME. WHAT. MAY.
I REFUSE TO LET THE TEMPORARY DISTRACT ME FROM THE ETERNAL.
And dear God, please remind me of this in the moments when the troubles of this world feel like they’re stacking up against me.

Because now, as I’m getting ready to publish this, just a few months later — I need you to know that I have had to come back to this post multiple times already. To be reminded of the confidence God welled up in me that day. To bring me back to that moment where I put my foot down and said ‘not today’.

Because it’s not easy — to continuously fight a battle, in things unseen.

But knowing that feeling of the Lord taking me to a place of not being willing to succumb to the trials of this world, beat against me as they may, has been such a powerful reminder to daily renew my mind in Scripture — to be intentional to stay connected to the true vine, allowing Him to nourish that warrior soul and continuously refresh this ‘not today’ mentality through HIS strength.

So that’s my prayer for you — that you’ll be able to read the words above and allow the Holy Spirit to well up in you the heart of a warrior — willing to fight, with a strength that’s not your own, in a world that’s not your home, from a love beyond anything you’ve ever known.  AMEN.

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LOOKING FORWARD ::

After a loss, or any life-altering event, the natural follow-up question becomes “what’s next?”…
The short answer is — we don’t know.
And I think we’re actually okay with that.
Which is weird, coming from a planner.
But if I’ve learned anything over these past few years, it’s that His ways are always higher so making my own plans is often more of a distraction than a help.
Our goal is just to listen when He speaks and always be ready to say yes, whatever the request.

Before we got pregnant the first time this year, we had been pursuing foster care, with the understanding that we would only have those little ones in our lives for a short period of time. But after losing that first baby, I shifted toward ‘nope nope nope. I do not like this feeling of having a baby taken away from me.’ I wasn’t sure I could go back to the mindset where that was ‘okay’. And if I feel that way, how are my kids going to feel? So, were we going to power through and go back to that plan? Or did this shift our hearts to wanting to try again instead?

Or do we just move forward as if none of it ever happened and go back to family of four for life? Honestly, we had no idea. And we still don’t. Being a family of four isn’t a bad gig. And early empty nesting provides a lot of opportunity for all-in ministry outside the home and travel experiences we wouldn’t even let ourselves think of before because they weren’t practical.

But then we lost a second baby. I expected that to magnify the feelings I was already having, but instead, I ended up shifting to the mindset that well, if I’m just going to lose babies anyway, I might as well get to hold them for a few hours, days, weeks, months first… let’s go back to fostering. However, for Nathan, the opposite was true — if hearing a heartbeat could sear a space into your heart that uselessly ached to close when the heartbeat stopped, how much more intense would the pain be in parting with a baby who lived and breathed in our home and our arms for any amount of time… and how could we put our kids through that?

So, what’s next? We have no clue.

We don’t know what’s ahead and we’re still unpacking what God might be trying to teach us through these experiences, what we’re being prepared for in the future… we’re just taking it one day at a time and trusting He’ll let us know as we go.

Postscript
As we wrap up this ‘trilogy’ on miscarriage, I wanted to say that initially, I wished that I hadn’t told anyone we were expecting because there’s a certain amount of awkward in that, at least for me — I don’t want them to have to feel bad or to struggle to find the words to say, or to feel like they have to say anything at all… but that too ended up being a blessing in disguise — to have friends who were able to come alongside me, even just to offer a “me too” or to sit in silence or to focus on something totally unrelated — to love me through it because they saw me for where I was, not in spite of what they didn’t know… we are created for relationship and I truly believe that walking in community is the only way we fully experience the depth and the beauty of this life. I know that having walked this journey ourselves uniquely equips us to be able to relate to other couples who will walk through it in the future. And if for nothing else, that’s worth it. Because I had no idea how hard it would be, even upon realizing that it could be, until I actually walked it out. The new me, who knows in the deepest way how it feels, wants to go back and sit with the friends I know experienced that same pain before me and be able to support them in a way that I couldn’t before. I can’t do that, of course. But I can be that person for other women moving forward. So, that’s a big reason for putting all of this ‘out there’. It’s not something we tend to talk about, especially while it’s happening – and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing because it’s a heavy, personal thing – but I want you to know, if you find yourself walking through it, and especially if you feel alone on that journey, that you can reach out to me, and I would be honored to sit with you. ❤

Joy in the Mourning

joy in the mourningsecond of three posts, follow up to A Sacrifice of Praise

 

the BACKSTORY ::

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted 5 kids.
3 girls and two boys.

When I met Nathan, he did not share this vision — he thought two sounded like a much better number…Of course, then we had our first baby, and I was inclined to agree with him — for a while I even thought maybe one was good 😉
Parenting is always easier when you’re not doing it — am I right? 😛

The thing is, I had never intended to have kids ‘of my own’.
I wanted to adopt kids who were already here but in need of a loving home.
Buuuuuut then I grew up and entered the world of reality where I learned just how expensive adoption is…

Nathan and I decided that once we were married, we were going to wait 5 years to start our family so we could make sure we were well set financially.
Buuuuuut God had other plans.
We were only 5 months into our marriage when we got pregnant with our oldest… we still haven’t quite figured out how that happened…  😉

make God laugh

Around the time she was two, we started talking about how we knew we didn’t want her to be an only child but we definitely couldn’t afford adoption…a friend had mentioned ‘foster to adopt’ to us — the idea being that you become foster parents but in conjunction with your CPS agent, you foster children who are more likely to need to be adopted… of course, there’s still a chance that an extended family member could decide to step up and take custody at some point during the process. We didn’t feel like our daughter was at an age where she could understand the concept of fostering and we didn’t want her to feel like we were giving a sibling away should a family member step in at the last minute {which had happened with one of our friends in the area}… so ultimately, we just decided that she wasn’t getting any younger, we didn’t want our kids to be crazy far apart in age, and so we’d go ahead and try to get pregnant again. Six months later, we finally did and thus our second daughter came to be…

For a while, it seemed like this would be our family. I was pretty sure I still wanted at least one more but we had been a single income family since our youngest was about a year old and our marriage had struggled through a couple of hard seasons since we got pregnant with her. It just didn’t seem like a wise decision to press into that desire.

Fast forward a few years and we’d come to a much healthier place in our marriage, moved to a new state, paid off some debt, and, since we still couldn’t afford to adopt, I just couldn’t shake wanting to try again. We talked it out and looked into fostering again. We had since learned that ‘foster to adopt’ is not really a thing, as well as how much more involved fostering truly is than I think we had naively imagined at first, and we just couldn’t seem to get on the same page about whether or not it was a good decision for our family in this season…and when we did decide together that we should at least take the step of starting the training process and see how God moved, we discovered that our county is kind of not so stellar on the organization side of equipping potential foster parents to actually become…foster parents… there were a lot of road blocks that kept popping up and it felt like it had turned into a dead-end for awhile…

So, I leaned back into the possibility of having another baby on our own…I think partly because it just seemed like an easier solution, and maybe partly because Nathan wasn’t really on board with it. You know that whole human nature thing where we always seem to want what we can’t have? Yeah…

Once I realized that may be something at play, God and I had a little heart to heart. And I laid it at His feet and told Him that I wasn’t sure I really even knew what I wanted but I was confident that He had a best plan for our family, so I was just going to turn the whole thing over to Him and if we were meant to have another baby, He could make that happen.

WINTER 2019 ::

But I didn’t.
Turn it over to Him, that is.
I shifted my focus.
I decided that if we weren’t going to have another baby, maybe we were supposed to pursue foster care, obstacles and all. And then, when the need for foster parents in our county was brought to my attention twice within two weeks, I was certain this must be our next step. So I talked it over with Nathan again and we decided to move forward with the training program and see what happened. Not with any hope of adoption. Just to be a blessing to families who needed a little extra support.

That second nudge I had gotten toward Foster Care was a flier that came home from our kids’ school, stating the need for foster parents in our area. I guess it was pretty blatant, actually. I called right away, even though we had given them our information previously. It went to voicemail, for a neighboring county…so it seemed that someone else may be stepping in to help cover the personnel side where our county may be lacking adequate resources. That was promising. I left a message and waited for a return call.
And waited. And waited.
I decided that I’d give them two weeks — maybe they were inundated with phone calls and needed extra time to process them all…
Well, that two weeks came and went and the very same morning that I was supposed to call them back…happened to be the morning that I ended up taking a pregnancy test… and it seemed that God had spoken. We were not supposed to be pursuing foster care, He was giving us a baby directly instead.

I know it sounds like we had been talking baby a lot over here, but that’s not at all how it felt…I had mostly been having a lot of “what if” thoughts about babies…there had been no concrete plan for having one and even if everything had moved forward smoothly with foster care there would’ve likely been a waiting period after all of the training and inspections and we could’ve ended up caring for children anywhere from newborn to age four…finding out we were pregnant felt so much more…fixed…we knew we would have a newborn first, and on approximately what date they would join us for the next 18 years, and all of the stages we would grow through, and there are so many more decisions we would need to make for this child that you don’t get to/have to make when you’re a foster parent…

So we mentally, and emotionally, rearranged our whole lives in 3 weeks — from where the furniture would go, to pushing our empty-nest timeline back a decade, to re-researching vaccinations to make sure we knew where we stood and could find a pediatrician who would be on board with our perspective…to even starting to look at names because — well, that’s fun J

I knew it was early and you’re supposed to be cautious…because that’s what “they” say…and we didn’t tell the kids ‘just in case’ but in those early days I don’t think I really considered that we may not ever meet this baby…I knew in my head that it was a possibility but I had no reason to believe it would be our reality.

Even when we went in for our first sonogram…and it seemed we must be two weeks behind where we had expected to be… so there was no detectable heartbeat yet… okay, I thought, I’m pretty bad at tracking my cycle, and it’s longer than average, and there’s a 10-day span of ‘error’ on due date calculation, so this could still be totally legit. And the abnormal symptoms I’m having can be explained by every pregnancy being different…

…and then the nurse from the OB office called to follow up and mentioned postponing an appointment until we repeated the ultrasound in 2 weeks, in order to make sure this was a ‘viable’ pregnancy.
“Viable”?!?
I was so offended that she would even say that.
Why would you put that thought into a mother’s head? You have no idea. This could be a perfectly healthy pregnancy. And we won’t know anything else for two. weeks. Why in the world would you phrase it that way? I could hear her struggling to figure out what to say so I just chocked it up to her being young and hoped that she learned from this experience and would figure out a better way to follow up with other moms in the future who may have miscalculated and had their ultrasound too early.

SPRING 2019 ::

But then in hindsight, I found myself so grateful that nurse had stumbled over her words and been blatantly honest about the reason they were delaying follow-up. Because otherwise, I don’t think I would’ve ever entertained the idea — and it would’ve completely blindsided me to lose that baby. Instead, I was able to begin to process the ‘what if’…not in a spiral of despair sort of way, but in a silver-lining, still finding the good-side kind of way…

That turned out to be so valuable.
I’m not sure I would’ve gotten there, or at least not anytime close to our loss, if I hadn’t been able to process it first as if it weren’t actually going to happen…

Not that it didn’t still wreck me.

But the thing I realized that I was really craving the most in another pregnancy, was the sweetness of being pregnant in a healthy, fully established {and financially stable} marriage… with our first pregnancy, there was joy and excitement, yes, but we were also primarily terrified because we were young and broke and none of our friends had kids yet so we were going first and feeling completely unprepared to do so… and with our second, while there was again joy and excitement, and we were trying to get pregnant that time, it was also during that pregnancy that one of the hardest seasons of our marriage began to usher itself in, and emotionally, I guess I had a hard time separating that out.
Being on the other side of all of that, I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be to just get to be fully excited and in the moment and in love with it all.
And it was.
For those few weeks, it was all of those things.
It was everything that the romantic comedy movie scenes in my head had played out.
Those few weeks of knowing we were pregnant, enjoying it, and looking forward together, healed some things I’m not sure I knew needed healing. We didn’t “sign up for it”, so to speak, but we were all in and it was all wonderful.

Until it wasn’t.

But even then, Nathan was so present and supportive and comforting.
We got to experience what a thriving marriage feels like in life-changing joy…and then we got to experience what a thriving marriage feels like in joy-shattering loss.

Both are beautiful.
One I wouldn’t wish to repeat…
…but that’s not our story.

So, back to the Spring…

When we finally went back in for our follow-up ultrasound after 2 weeks in the limbo of the unknown…there was no development, no growth.

Y’all.
I was so angry at God.
But somehow I couldn’t tell Him. I gave him the cold shoulder instead.
I couldn’t bring myself to pick up my Bible or listen to worship music.
We had company in town and two kids to care for and life went on all around us and so it was somewhat easy to just ignore it all for a bit and keep God at a distance.

And then, on the way home from an emotionally exasperating follow-up appointment, I finally let Him have it.
I screamed at God, like a bratty entitled child, and made sure He knew how unfair this was… how unkind it felt. I couldn’t wrap my mind around how He could tease me, letting me think He was giving me a baby, leading me to believe that this must be His best for us…that it was okay to let that be a deep desire that was being fulfilled… that He would make us create a lifelong space in our hearts for another child — and then leave it empty… I didn’t understand how handing my trust over to Him could result in such a painful backlash… why would He let this happen? What was the point of it all?!
How could You? Why would You?
This just feels so deeply personal and I don’t understand…

a wash of relief from finally letting it all out

thankful that He can handle it…none of my emotions or questions are too big for Him…

…and I’m reminded that these wrongs I’m accusing Him of…they don’t match up with the God I know that I know… He is not cruel to His children. He doesn’t play games with their hearts.

And I’m reminded of how many loved ones we’ve walked through far harder tragedies with…how many friends and family, even just people we know, have lost their babies late enough to have to go through a hospital delivery, knowing they only get to say goodbye…
have delivered their baby just to count the minutes of life they get to spend together on this side of eternity before they slip away…
have lost their babies unexpectedly only a few weeks or months into getting to wrap their world around them…
have struggled through months of complications from birth knowing their time was limited…
have lost their elementary schooler, middle schooler, or even their grown child, to a tragic accident or an unthinkable crime or a lethal disease…
This world is so full of loss and brokenness and heartache and pain.

And what I know to be true for each of them is what I had to choose to believe was true for us too — that we are each seen and we are loved and God is devastated for each loss, He grieves with us, and He looks forward to the day when redemption comes to full fruition, when there are no more tears and no more sadness. I know that He was able to withstand His own searing loss and separation only for the joy set before Him of setting into motion the restoration of all of our brokenness.

Yes, this felt like a stinging slap in the face at first. Like I was being let down in the most personal of ways. But then, how personally devastating must it feel to get a diagnosis of cancer? Or to be persecuted for one’s faith — just loving God and others out loud and boldly bringing the Kingdom and then being ridiculed and abused and even put to death for it…and not having the God you’re living for swoop in and rescue you…? And yet — the martyrs of the faith count it all joy. To be worthy of suffering. For His glory.

So no, I don’t know the why.
But I do know Who. I know the truth of the God I get to call mine.

And although He allows pain and suffering to enter into our lives on this broken earth, I am confident that He is in the business of redeeming it all and writing a story that’s so much better than we could’ve ever imagined had everything just gone the way we thought it should. That it’s so much bigger than us. This life is so temporary. And I’m honored to get to be a part of His story. Redemption in this chapter of our lives begins with offering up a sacrifice of praise, with finding the joy through the mourning. With glorifying the God who chooses us to be a part of His Kingdom, an heir to His throne, in deep relationship with Him.

What kind of God is that?
The only kind I could ever serve. The only God I could ever love.
The one Who loves me first.
And loves me still.

Some things we get to see being restored on this side of heaven — not always as we would’ve pictured or planned them — but some restorations we won’t get to see until the other side…maybe in our situation He was saving me from something harder that He knew I couldn’t handle in whatever season it would’ve come…or maybe, I just don’t get to know the why. But I do get to look to the Who and trust that there’s a bigger picture that’s not always, or often, for me to see all of the details of.

The truth of my experience is that although in the midst of the pain culminating, I felt that God must be distant from me and unloving…
in the midst of the process before and beyond that, I could feel Him ever so present, and ever so loving.

In those two weeks of waiting, I pressed into Him through the unknown, and He pressed into me, fully known.
I have never felt so held as I did in the moment when I first let the tears fall in recognition that we might not be getting to keep this baby.
He didn’t open the heavens and tell me why. He didn’t swoop in and fix it.
That was the part I couldn’t get over in the moment when reality came crashing down on me.
But the part I can’t get over as I look back on those few weeks is how very present He was with me, through it all. He didn’t walk away or leave me in my pain. He stepped into it with me.

I didn’t want to speak to Him when things didn’t go my way…and I avoided the ways in which I know He speaks to me while I grappled with my feelings.
But that’s just it.
I know He speaks to me.
He is a relational God, a loving Father, an ever present help in trouble, a friend who sticks closer than a brother, a wise counselor. And when I finally faced my feelings and let them all out, He was right there, waiting for me. Arms open. Able to take it. Able to love me through it. Ready to speak when I was ready to listen. Through His Word. Through worship. And through little things like a Bible App’s verse-of-the-day text…the evening that we physically lost this baby, we still had company in town so I slept on the couch that night, with Nathan and a heating pad, and in the morning, I’ll never forget how seen and cared for I felt when I rolled over to this notification on my phone from the YouVersion App ::

blessed are those who mourn

 

…He is in the little things, friends. In the loving things ❤

 

If you’re in the midst of your own unknown, here’s a Spotify playlist I put together in that few weeks of waiting…

a Sacrifice of Praise

As we wind down this month of extra gratitude, heading toward Thanksgiving later this week, I just want to acknowledge that sometimes we have to search a little harder to find our gratitude…

I absolutely love how this month tends toward an all-around focus on being more grateful — many people participating in a daily challenge to find something to be thankful for before their heads hit the pillow each night. To look for it, all day long if they have to. Many of us even try to maintain this practice throughout the year.

At the same time though, there are seasons where finding something we’re thankful for — and expressing that from our heart {more than just acknowledging what we know we should be thankful for with our mind} really does feel like a “sacrifice of praise” as the author of Hebrews writes in 13:15.

a sacrifice of praise

At the beginning of this year, we thought we would be welcoming a new baby into our home this week… a due date of Thanksgiving, to be exact. Instead, my body is just now recovering from the loss of our second baby this year… and it can be such a strange feeling to find gratitude in the face of loss — and not feel guilty about it.

As we walked through our first miscarriage earlier this year, there were a few ‘universal’ truths that were elevated along that journey… but I couldn’t figure out when or how to share them…as we’ve struggled through our second unexpected loss this fall, those truths resonated even deeper and it seems appropriate to share them this week. These are things that don’t apply specifically to miscarriage or even physical loss, they’re more overarching  principles that I was reminded of as we walked through some hard this year, things that I am holding closer and speaking louder for those we know who are, or will be, walking through their own hard.

The first is that You Just Don’t Know and the second is what You Need to Know

YOU JUST DON’T KNOW

This one is two fold. First, those people we don’t really know, who we just walk by as we go about our daily lives. Smile at them. And don’t get offended, or stop smiling at people, because it seems like no one smiles back. We never know what someone else is walking through. This life brings a lot of hard. A smile from a stranger can mean more than you know.

I heard a story recently, I have no idea whether it’s true or not, but it was of a man who felt so beneath this life that he jumped from a bridge to his death. Upon a search of his apartment a note was found stating his intention but that if ONE person smiled at him on his multi-block walk there through a busy city bustling with people, he wouldn’t do it. One person. A simple smile. Let that sink in for a moment… Not everyone is walking to their death. But many feel like the walking dead. Imagine how a community of overworked, under-loved, busy-but-built-for-relationship humans would be affected if we made it an intention to look people in the eye and smile at them. To let them know they’re seen and valuable enough for us to tell our face to tell them so. Not that it will change their whole life — but it may change their moment, and for a stranger passing by, maybe that’s enough.

the gift of a smileI usually make an effort to smile at everyone I pass — it’s sometimes surprising how few people will even make eye contact — or who, upon an accidental glance, seem to refuse to smile back, or recognize that they even saw me in the first place — and sometimes I find myself wondering why I’m even trying. Maybe I shouldn’t be so naïve and should simply go about my own life the way everyone else seems to do. I don’t even know these people, after all. How much does it really matter?

Until I was the one vaguely walking along, probably looking like life had been unkind to me, avoiding eye contact because I didn’t want to bring anyone else’s day down if I couldn’t fake a smile — accidentally looking at people only to be met with an impersonal, cold feeling glance {I’m sure they were also trying not to make eye contact}, or a refusal to look at the person passing by at all… or… on the rare occasion, a smile. Which, wouldn’t you know, made it so much easier for me to smile — when it was in return. Because then, it wasn’t about me being sad, it was about them having seen me and offered a smile, not knowing at all what was on my mind. A simple smile. And it’s very likely that there were times I had a hard time smiling back — it didn’t feel okay. They didn’t know that… :: Perspective. :: And so I’ve resolved to continue smiling at strangers I pass by, regardless of how they respond, not assuming anything about them but hopeful that a simple smile can make the hard they’re carrying feel a little bit lighter.

The second part of this is the people we sort of know — or maybe mostly know, or have known. Those we remain connected to via social media. As we scroll through these ‘connections’, especially when we’re in a down season where nothing seems to be going right, or something very specific is going wrong, it can be easy to get caught in the comparison trap. We tend to like to put it on other people that they’re just sharing their highlight reel and making it harder for the rest of us to appreciate our normal, imperfect, sometimes desperately broken, lives. And while it’s true that we should all take some responsibility to not perpetuate the cultural issue of social media self-image that seems to be plaguing many of us by continuously editing our lives to appear better than they actually are, there’s a flipside to this social media coin as well… maybe what we really need to do, is treat it more like a gratitude journal… Maybe, the people we see only sharing the highlights, are doing their best to focus on the good things despite the imperfect life they know they have. Maybe you have no idea what’s going on in the background — and that’s okay. I’m not sure we would appreciate social media any more if it were full of people airing their dirty laundry and professing everything that’s going wrong in their lives. Maybe, we need to address our own heart issue of allowing a root of bitterness to be sewn  in our lives rather than figuring out why we can’t seem to celebrate with them what’s going well in their lives. The beauty they’re trying to elevate. To recognize that yes, we are only seeing a snapshot. And no, that’s not a bad thing. Do I hope people are honest with themselves, processing the hard with real people in living rooms and coffee shops and not ignoring it and flinging themselves instead into self-deception and trying to sell an image they don’t believe to people they don’t really know? Of course. But I also hope that as we’re the ones on the receiving end of what’s being shared, that we can do the same thing. To process our hard with our people off screen — and turn around and celebrate the good that’s being shared in our extended circles, not knowing what hard is weighing down on them behind the scenes.

I’ll give you a very personal example. I’m extremely intentional to do my best to “highlight real” rather than just putting out a “highlight reel” — there are many things I don’t share simply because I don’t want to assist people in falling into the comparison trap nor do I want to feel like I have to balance the good by sharing the bad. A lot of the downsides of life I just don’t believe are for broadcasting on social media — they’re for walking through directly with my people. And maybe sharing lessons learned from time to time. So I see both sides of this and more often than not it leads to me just not posting at all. Maybe I should give it more — or less — thought — but that’s the background on my social media perspective, to share this ::

spring family photo collage

In April, my cousin was visiting us and took some fresh family photos for us while she was here — she’s a photographer and we hadn’t had family photos done since we moved here 3.5 years prior. They got shared on social media and were received with lots of love… and may have also perpetuated the image that we have it all together over here and nothing ever goes wrong in our wonderful little life.

But what you couldn’t see in those photos is that the laugh lines that were highlighted had been tear soaked for days … and would continue to be on and off for months to come … we had just physically lost our baby two days prior, my body was still recovering, we had been carrying the possibility around for 2 weeks before finding out it was an impending reality earlier that week… and while more people knew than I would’ve ever told  our ‘exciting news’ to had I known what was to come, most people had no idea, including our girls. We did a lot of ‘faking it’ or not being able to acknowledge it in the midst of the rest of life that just kept going on. And despite the sadness and the heart struggle that surrounded those few moments captured on our favorite beach, I cherish those photos for the sweet smiles that were brought out on that freezing cold spring evening with a gorgeous sky, powerful water, and the girls we have the privilege of calling daughter whose joy shone through that moment so brightly. These are our gratitude portrayed. Or portrait-ed. A precious reminder that there are always things to be thankful for. That our God is greater. And that He is good. All the time. And I am well aware that we have it easier than many who quest to find something to be thankful for. That some days it really is just being thankful for the breath in your lungs — and even that can feel like a struggle more than a blessing — because continuing this life seems harder than letting it go. And maybe it is. But if that’s you, can I just tell you that it’s worth it? It may not feel like it right now but you will look back one day and be thankful that you carried on. If you have breath in your lungs, you have purpose on this earth. And I am praying that you get to see it sooner than later and find the freedom to walk in it. Someone somewhere needs you, if not in this moment, at some point in the future, that will make it all worth it ❤ And if you’re struggling to believe that, please reach out. There is hope to be had and it is for you.

YOU NEED TO KNOW

The second thing that came through loud and clear for me in this season was how important it is to not just believe in something but to KNOW what we believe — to REALLY know what we claim to know. That in a moment when the good comes crashing down around us and we start to doubt that our God is really good, all the time, that we can backtrack through our feelings and find a foundation that we’re sure of.

I think for many of us, our faith can be based largely on our feelings. But feelings ebb and flow. They’re relative to our circumstances and our current life lenses. And the thing is, ultimate truth is not relative. It doesn’t change. It cannot — or it wouldn’t be what it is — ultimate truth. And so, in those times when our faith is fractured and our circumstances want to dictate to us what truth really is, do we have anything to fall back on? Do we know what we know? Can we cry out to God, as the father in Mark 9:24 does, “help me believe what I believe” — and actually know what it is we’re clinging to believe? Do we have a foundation for the validity of Scripture, the logic of creation, the reality of Jesus, that goes beyond how we feel in a worship service and gives us something to stand on when our feelings want to wash the legitimacy of our faith out from under us? A faith that actually can’t be devastated when life is throwing all its best punches at us, because we’ve tested it? Have we explored it’s claims and are we confident that there’s nothing more real out there? When we start to doubt, can we walk through what we know and be reminded that Jesus was very clear that we would have trouble in this world BUT He has overcome the world {John 16:33} — that we live in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken — and that we are confident in this Kingdom and its King, who gives us a peace beyond anything of this world… Can we lean into the testimonies of the giants of the faith who have walked through far worse than we can probably even imagine and know what truth they stood on — and recognize it because it’s the same truth we stand on today and our feet are firmly planted, despite the storms around us…?

on what ground do I stand

If I’m being honest, had this season in our lives come to us a few years earlier, I’m not sure I could’ve said any of those things with real confidence. I hadn’t fully vetted my faith. I had faced some common objections and reconciled them with my own justifications. I could make excuses for most of the brokenness in this world because I could rest it squarely on the shoulders of other humans — imperfect, broken themselves, not meant to be the standard of goodness. But something so personal, that I couldn’t ‘blame’ on anyone but God? I’m not sure what I would’ve done with that… I was completely unaware of the depth of research and exploration that’s available to us as Christians that takes our faith far beyond our feelings and sets it apart from any other religion or belief system. I had no idea that there were actual answers to many of the questions I had wrestled with — and that so many intellectuals had wrestled with many of those same questions throughout the centuries. My doubts aren’t new to me and neither are they unexplored or largely unanswerable.

So I just want to encourage you, if you can relate to that feeling of not being sure how to reconcile your faith with your feelings, of not knowing if you’d have a firm foundation to stand on when your world comes crashing down, of having doubts you haven’t given yourself permission to explore because you were afraid there weren’t real answers… or maybe you’re a skeptic, and you’re afraid if you really allowed yourself to seek truth without precept, that you would find exactly what you were looking for and it would radically change you… and that’s an intimidating feeling… I want you to know that it’s more than worth taking the risk and taking the time. If you believe there’s even a chance that this world isn’t it, that there’s something more, that we are really here for a reason that goes beyond ourselves — if there’s even an inkling of that ringing true, or the thought of it kindles a hope in some depth of your soul — what could be more important than discovering it? If this life isn’t it, then the things that tend to distract us from uncovering the more that can be, can be set aside to quest for ultimate truth. Because I don’t know about you but I don’t feel promised tomorrow — I have had several friends pass away far younger than any of us would’ve ever imagined. And not that death is something to be feared, at least for those who have come to rest in Truth, but if there is ultimate truth to be had, don’t we want to find it before it’s too late to go searching?

I can think of nothing more important.

I don’t want to waste what life I have left, secretly wondering while I plod through the mundane, or even the adventurous, with questions lingering in the back of my mind — a gnawing sense that this isn’t it… that no matter how boring or how fun, this isn’t everything… do I really want to silence that? For more of the same?

Take the adventure.

The confidence in what you find will lead to such a more purposeful life than perhaps you ever dreamt possible.

If you’re walking through your own hard right now, here are the three songs that have meant the most to me this year :: 

 

On the more personal side, I know it can be therapeutic in a sense just to know you’re not alone, and that others have experienced some of the same emotions and struggles you have, so I’ll be sharing the more specific story of each loss later this week if that’s you ❤ These things though I feel like are true no matter the struggle we’re walking…

Not too long ago, my husband was home recovering from a minor operation and, being the {self-professed!} nerd that he is, was watching something on the history channel to pass the time. I was unintentionally listening to bits and pieces of it as I did things around the house and one concept that I overheard has really stuck with me.

They were talking about the Revolutionary War and the shift from traditional fighting that occurred when George Washington decided to stop following the rules of engagement and start taking out key leaders of the opposition instead {Nathan said it wasn’t actually George Washington who made the shift to this focus for all the history buffs out there, but nevertheless that’s who the guy in the video attributed it to — and it’s not at all the point 😉 }. So, apparently, the British were completely shocked and appalled at the low blow, ‘disrespectful’ tactic…

And I thought…wow. Isn’t that how we, as a church, react to the same scheme of the devil? We are completely flabbergasted when our leaders fall — like Satan is a gentleman and it doesn’t make sense for him to go after them with a vengeance.

I mean, as a patriot, I’m all “heck yeah! Give me liberty or give me death! All in, no holds, do what you’ve gotta do!” It just makes sense! Take out the leaders — don’t we know this? Why would we make rules about NOT doing this? That seems a silly way to wage war…

And yet, as a church, we act like there’s this rule that leaders are up on a pedestal, untouchable, and Satan should play according to our playbook and follow our rules and expectations. and then he doesn’t. and instead of adjusting our strategy to start winning the battle, we stand there with our mouths open, shaking our heads and waving the white flag as our territory is captured.

…but how do you prevent your leaders from going down?
You protect them.
You get in the fight with them.

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I think of Moses as the Israelites fought for the territory God had already given them {recounted in Exodus 17} — Joshua led the troops into battle but they only prevailed when Moses’ hands were lifted. He didn’t have the physical strength to keep them raised on his own, he needed Aaron and Hur to come alongside him and hold them up.

That was in the physical world.
How much more so in the spiritual realm?

For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. {Ephesians 6:12}

We’ve got to adjust our strategy, church. If we’re going to make rules, we’ve got to enforce them. If we want our leaders to be off limits, then we’ve got to hold their arms up on the spiritual battlefield — because when they’re upright, we’re all gaining ground.

And as leaders, we’ve got to drop the perception that we need to be strong enough on our own. We were made for community and we need people who will get in our corner, hold us accountable, and hold up our arms. We wouldn’t want to fight a physical battle alone – why face the greater spiritual battle alone? It’s for the benefit of the whole body that her leaders press into a few trusted co-laborers and allow them to push you higher.

And as the body, we need to stop viewing our leaders as demi-gods who don’t live in the same broken world we do and face the same struggles we do — they’re every bit as human, and they may be working hard to remain above reproach but they need us to support them and to be willing to go to battle for them, on our knees — for the good of the ministry as a whole — because when our leaders are lifted, the kingdom advances.

Yes, it’s a little more complex than that — and yes, everyone bears the responsibility to armor up individually {Ephesians 6:13-18} — but interceding for our spiritual leaders is something I feel like we’ve in large part discounted, as if because they’re leading, they no longer need prayer or community. I’m sure there is a large conversation to be had on leaders being strengthened by the Lord and really pressing into HIS vast strength {Ephesians 6:10} rather than trying to lead in their own strength, but this is about our part. And maybe that scripture can be a part of our prayer for them.

Please pray for your spiritual leaders. Pray for Pastors and Executive Teams and Elders and Deacons at your church. Pray for the teaching team of the church who puts out that great podcast you listen to. Pray for the small group leaders who influence your children. Pray for the team who produces that awesome Christian conference you love to attend and for your favorite Christian authors influencing all around the globe. Pray for those who are being prepared for leadership in your church home but haven’t yet stepped into it, who are perhaps being plagued by self-doubt and having strife stirred up by the enemy to distract them from their calling — pray that they would lean into One who’s power is perfected in our weakness, the Prince of Peace.

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This battle — this spiritual warfare — it’s real and it’s not child’s play — but we CAN adjust our strategy. We CAN help to take our leaders off limits. We CAN put up the protection of an army of prayer warriors around them who say “not today — not my Pastor, not my group leader, not my mentor — not in THIS body of believers” Because WE will be a body who lifts them up, on our knees, so that TOGETHER we can fight the good fight — the only one that really matters — the one that has eternal consequences, the one the angels have peered down to see from heaven, the battles of a war that’s already been won, that the whole earth is groaning to see completed. I just think we gain more ground when our leaders are supported. We may not be lucky enough to personally hold up their arms {and if you have been positioned there, I pray you realize it and honor it and take joy in it} but we can make intercession for them as we armor up and take our place on the battlefield each day. Will trouble still come? YES. But will they fall? NO.

The enemy plays dirty.

But we serve the One who has overcome the world — with LOVE.

Love those He’s appointed to leadership in your life by lifting their arms in spiritual realms. Maybe I’m reaching here, maybe it’s not a Biblical principal, but as so many leaders are falling around us, both publicly and privately, I just feel like the body needs to rise up together and sound a new battle cry and contend for one another — and prayer is called to be central in all we do so if we’re not ‘praying up’ and making intercession for those who need it, how effective can we as the body really be?

Besides, the apostle Paul regularly requested prayer from those he served in leadership. And his ministry spread the gospel like wildfire.

This was supposed to be a short post — haha! And as I explored the topic, I know there’s really so much depth to it and there are so many facets to consider — this is just the one I feel like the Lord is pressing into me right now.

Pray for them.
Pray for those who are leading you.
Pray for those who have fallen.
Pray for those who are struggling silently.
Pray for their Aaron & Hur.
Pray for their Sword to be sharp.
It’s our only personal offensive weapon.
But corporately, we can aid one another in prayer.
Lift them up.

 

LIFT THEM UP

Ministry Insights from Motherhood

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Installment 1

Once upon a time, I was working in full time paid ministry. Along the way, we had our second baby. Something shifted then and I felt torn between whether I should be working outside the home or not. At one point as I struggled with this, God spoke clearly to me, pressing on my heart an assurance that He had called me to both {ministry and motherhood} and thus He would equip me for both. Little did I know at that moment that equipping me for my role in motherhood, and future ministry outside of our home, would very soon look like a season of being exclusively at home… I’m currently still in that season of being at home full time, and I don’t know when God will call me out of it. But I do know that corporate ministry is still engraved on my heart and that even while my primary daily focus is on my role as a wife, mother, and ‘domestic engineer’, He is regularly pruning me in my corporate ministry perspective as we move forward on this journey.

***

Sometimes I feel as if every little thing I observe, I could turn into an analogy. Often, I do. Rarely do those make it out of my head. But this one has stuck with me… it seems really quite silly when I think that I’m publishing it, yet here I am, about to do so…

My girls and I each have “in between” hair…it isn’t quite ‘curly’ but it certainly isn’t straight. It isn’t overly thick or thin. It’s stuck in the middle. And it *must* be blow dried. So, there I am, blow drying my oldest’s hair, and thinking I’m doing a fantastic job. I’m pullin that brush through like a pro, I’m changing the angles on the blowdryer to get it just right, it’s shining and laying just so. I mean, it looks really lovely. …from where I’m standing, anyway. But then I look at her reflection in the mirror and it is clear to me that something has definitely gone wrong somewhere in this process. There are obvious fly-aways and it’s not framing her face the way that I thought it was…I’m not quite sure how it happened, how it can look perfect from one perspective but then so…not at all perfect…from another…and of course, that being the one that matters the most…

You see, my position was from above and behind…but I had failed to use the tool in front of me that showed me the head-on view… do you see where I’m going with this?

I think sometimes in ministry leadership, we get going along, and we’re rockin and rollin, and everything looks positively awesome from where we are…above and behind {the scenes} — we’ve got the inside scoop, we know what we’re doing…and we’re assuming it’s translating as it should, as we intend it to, because that’s how it appears from our viewpoint. But what we’ve failed to do is use the tools we have to assess our process and its outcome from multiple viewpoints…to really get a picture of how it’s being perceived, how it’s playing out in ‘real time’… we haven’t looked into the mirror of our ministry…

So — what is the mirror of ministry? How do we get a more accurate picture?

I believe that the best mirror of the internal workings of our ministries isn’t our first time guests or our new believers, and it isn’t our paid staff members…it’s our unpaid staff members…it’s those volunteers who pour their heart and soul into the work of the house, who dedicate hours upon hours of their time without receiving any compensation. They’re right there in the middle of it all. They know what their staff members are passing down, they have some insight into the high level leadership perspective, they know what it’s intended to look like, but then they also see the real view, how it translates — even beyond first impressions {though sometimes even those aren’t what we perceive them to be}.

So — how do we get their perspective?
That’s simple.
We ask for it.

Often I think they’re just waiting for an opportunity to share their ideas and frustrations. Sometimes they push them up one level but they somehow get lost in translation or fall through the cracks or the person above them doesn’t feel they have the ability to do anything about it…or they literally just can’t because of all the other expectations pulling at them and the balls they would have to drop in order to do so… I think going “two down” in our leadership structure, with genuine concern for their experience, is the best way to keep a good pulse on your ministry all around. Not to circumvent the person in between but to see how YOU can better serve BOTH of them. Keeping in mind that these aren’t the “my preferences” frustrations of those ‘testing out’ our church — these are the “I desperately want this ministry to WORK, I’M working toward that, and I believe YOU’RE working toward that, but here’s where we’re still falling short” frustrations — the ones you should be hearing. The ones you should be working on solutions for, together. The ones that get stuck in the middle. Couldn’t they just come to you with those issues and ideas if they’re that important? Yeah, maybe. Depending on your corporate culture. And sometimes, they will. But there are any number of facets that usually prevent this from happening — some just being accessibility! Regardless, I think it’s OUR responsibility as leaders to set up a system where we’re intentional about digging deeper. Where we pause the wheel of “Sunday’s always coming” and assess HOW Sunday comes and WHY it comes that way on repeat…WHAT we can do to help ensure it’s rolling in the right direction and not just spinning in place…

It’s never going to be perfect — we’re all people, that’s unattainable. But that doesn’t mean we should take it as an excuse to not do our best, seeking improvement where we can, where it matters most. And if we want to do our best, to honor the role that God has given us, and to steward well the people He’s placed under us,  I believe that looks like going to the middle and starting a conversation that remains open ended. It means not being afraid to look in the mirror as often as we can, while covering those conversations in prayers for discernment and supernatural insight, as we lead the way in filling all the gaps that may surface with trust.

The true reflection of our ministry is right in front of us — we just have to be willing to examine it and work with it to really achieve the results we’re aiming for. To really value the perspective of our sold-out volunteers, not just appreciate the work that they do. If we can honor them in their role, I believe we’ll fulfill the calling God has placed on our ministry to an exponentially higher capacity than we ever have before…we’ll go from making it work, to working better, to working it best. ❤

The Law of Attraction

Over the past year or so, I’ve seen a lot circling around about The Law of Attraction…

Full Disclosure ::
if you’re not trying to live your life as a Christ follower, you can disregard this whole post {most of the posts on this blog, really} and carry on, unless you’re just curious 😉

So…back to the topic of the title…
In it’s defense, I’ve done very little actual research on this “law”.

I did watch a video recently where a famous actor said something along the lines of “ask any physicist…they’ll tell you — it’s real”… um… from my {albeit very basic} understanding of said law, I do not comprehend how it could possibly be scientifically based. Ask any philosopher — maybe.

Essentially, {feel free to correct me if I’m wrong} — if you want something, and really believe for it, you will receive it. You may be required to speak it, very specifically and using the appropriate verbiage, out loud into the universe in order to make it so, depending on who you ask…and I think repetition is key in this process…now, whether or not this describes the ACTUAL Law of Attraction {if it is in fact a real scientific thing — which, it could be, and I could see that, in a different context}, this IS the context in which it has been promoted in the circles in which I’ve seen it praised lately. So, this is the version of said theory {or law} that I’m addressing here.

There are some basic principles related to this belief that I do concede to be true — like attracts like, for example — that’s a pretty commonly accepted principle… you know — “birds of a feather” and what not… and also I learned a neat trick that if you get a piece of egg shell in your egg when you crack it, you can easily scoop it out with a larger piece of eggshell — the little piece seems to be attracted back to the other shell, and you know those shell pieces seem to repel from your fingertip, so — that’s a very scientific experience to back up this principle — and you’re welcome for the tip 😉
But it seems to me that overall, “they” take some basic principles that we recognize as general truths, and then sprinkle in this extra genie-I-believe-in-unicorns-magic stuff {not that I have anything against unicorns} and suddenly it all seems realistic and valid and like a new religion to be adopted…or worse, we tack on some scripture, invoke the name of God, and slide it under the umbrella of Christianity.

Side note :: If I’m aiming for success, is it really wise to focus on attracting likeness? Don’t I want to be around others who have gone before me, who have been or are currently, where I want to be, so I can learn from them how I might get there? There’s no real growth in attracting sameness… but I digress…

My main problems with this Law of Attraction trend are two ::

ONE
The focus seems to be primarily on material gain, or worldly acclaim. I’m no theologian but this seems to me to be exactly not at all what the Bible teaches our focus should be on. We attach some Bible verses and the name of God to it so we can feel good about it. Except that as I study scripture, these things are in opposition to a Godly lifestyle. Not having them necessarily, but our desire being fixated on attaining them, absolutely. Seek your reward here and here is where you shall have it, no?
The challenge for most of us, since the beginning of Christianity, has been are you willing to walk away from the things of this world? Not, are you willing to believe for them enough to receive them…

The basic *truth* of this principle, however, {and yes, I believe there is some truth to it} isn’t in some cosmic gifting of success, it’s in the apprehension of self-motivation. It’s really the law of ACTION. You believe for it and so you go after it harder. I don’t really think anyone sitting around in their momma’s basement willing their hot partner, designer home, 2.5 kids, hypoallergenic rescue pup, and fancy car into existence has ever been successful by sheer willpower of the DREAM — that has to translate into motivation to actually go out and get it, to seek it, to work for it. Not to mention to sustain it once it’s attained.  And I’m not opposed to hard work nor reward. What I am opposed to is self-centered and self-fulfilling goals being veiled under spiritual jargon.

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TWO
What we’re called to as Christians is LOVE. Of others. PEOPLE. And while I don’t think it’s bad to meditate on this concept, the ONLY way it’s brought into existence is, again, through ACTION. Love is a VERB and we have to ACT on it, not just dream about it. We’re called not to be served but TO serve {Mark 9:35}. And if we were to apply this general theorized concept to our actual mutual calling, would it do anyone any good? Do the hungry get fed because we will it into existence? Or because we DO something about it? You know the old saying — where there’s a will, there’s a way…so sure, manifest some good will — if you need to meditate on it first, I get it, it can be hard to focus on others — but then you have to make the WAY. Which I believe to also be true for your own worldly success.
The point here is that we’re called to be DIFFERENT from the world {John 13:35}, defined by our LOVE for one another, not by our wealth or acclaim. Our focus is called to be on giving rather than receiving {Acts 20:35}. And we know that what we focus on is what GROWS. So when our main focus is on bringing our own personal gain into existence, we’re in disunity with our spiritual calling… our passion is fixated on earthly treasures…

Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth…But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven…
— The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness — how deep is that darkness! — You cannot be slaves of God and of money. 
{excerpts from Matthew 6:19-24}

What do you have your eyes fixed on? What’s your vision driven by? We’re all slaves to something — but we get to choose to what we enslave ourselves…what we attach our hearts and our vision to…

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 
{1 Timothy 6:10, HCSB}
…not love, not money — love of money. evil.
ouch.
Love of people is where it’s at. And that, of course, overflowing from our love relationship with the Lord. {Proverbs 19:17, Matthew 25:40, 1 John 4:19, John 15:8, Romans 13:8-10}. We can’t love people too much…

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In short, here’s how I’m feeling about it ::
Material gain is not a manifestation of your destiny — no matter how you believed for it — in fact I’m starting to believe more and more that it’s often a distraction from it.
So, 1) the focus in and of itself bothers me {not that I’m perfect or holy or don’t also find myself wanting things like a nice home and public praise — but the idea that this is what we’re promoting rather than working against} and then 2) who is glorified in the realization of said aforementioned success bothers me. {James 1:17}
If it didn’t come from above, do I really want to spend so much energy trying to attain it?

Just some things I needed to put out into the universe…

A Decade of Love & Learning

My husband and I are celebrating 10 years of marriage today… 15 years of falling in love.

I’m not entirely sure why 10 years gets so much attention — maybe it’s because you’re entering into double digits. Maybe it’s because it has this new name that sounds so accomplished — a DECADE — … Maybe it’s because when you’ve been living with another person for a DECADE, you finally start to feel like you’re possibly beginning to get the hang of it a little bit. For us, celebrating 10 years is a big deal because it’s not 6 years or 8 years — those were hard, HARD years for us — but we made it, and we’re stronger, and we’re happy about it {and also happy that we’re not in year 6 or 8 anymore 😀 }. Maybe we’re able to focus on celebrating a little more because we’re not changing any diapers this anniversary… though, you know, there’s still a chance someone will wet the bed tonight… 😉

It is true that fifteen years is a long time to invest in someone; Ten years is a long time to be voluntarily bound to someone. We’re lucky that our marriage is fun {for the most part} and that we’ve come to be on the same page about a lot of things — those factors make it easier to enjoy life together. Though I’m not sure lucky is a very accurate word — we’ve put in a lot of hard work to get here. And I’m sure there’s much ahead of us. That’s something I feel like no one tells you about marriage. It’s hard. But also very much worth the hard. We tend to either get this picture that marriage is one long romantic comedy or that it’s the end of the world as we know it and something to be terrified of. I’ve found it to be not much like either.

Here are a few things we’ve learned during this first decade of marriage… things that at face value may not seem worth celebrating but OH. ARE. THEY. EVER. Many of these are things we pray our daughters learn BEFORE they get married. Though some can only be truly realized through experience. If you’re not married yet but think maybe one day you possibly might be {careful writing it off too quickly there — at 16, I didn’t plan on ever getting married…I also met my husband at 16…ha. ha. ha. 😉 } — I hope you’ll take these things to heart. If you’re currently married, and you’re in a season of HARD — I hope you’ll find encouragement here at least in knowing that you’re not alone. If you’re in a really fantastic season of marriage, I hope you’ll tuck these away to draw strength from when it gets tough. Maybe your marriage will always be a bed of roses, but that’s not our story…unless you consider that the gardener forgot to remove all the thorns before making that bed we’re laying in… 😉

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  1. Love is a VERB. It takes action. True love {and no I don’t mean Disney fairy tale princess love where your eyes meet from across the room and suddenly you live happily ever after…or, having never met you, he kisses you while you’re sleeping, and you live in some deranged world where you don’t wake up and knock his teeth out for the audacity…okay, sidetracked}… TRUE LOVE requires action. effort. work, if you will. You may even find yourself feeling like you are literally fighting for it. My best advice is to get on the same side and fight for it together.
  2. Being High School Sweethearts does not set you apart on a pedestal of romantic hierarchy. Nor does it doom you to misery, as some would have liked to convince us was our future. But for us, it definitely meant extra work. Because as grown as I thought I was at 16, 17…22…I was not. We both had a lot of growing, self discovery, and change ahead of us that we were not prepared for, independently nor to walk through together. I honestly believe it would be in the best interest of everyone’s hearts to not get romantically involved until you’re in your mid twenties and you’ve hopefully really discovered who you are and what this life has to offer. It’ll be a different kind of hard to meld 2 lives that are well established, but that brings me to my next point… FullSizeRender (4)
  3. “You Complete Me” is a load of {you fill in the blank with anything that smells unpleasant} destined to lead your heart and your relationship into {you fill in the blank again, still unpleasant}. DO. NOT. attempt to “find yourself” in someone else. Do not walk into someone else’s arms while attempting to find yourself. While I 100% support and encourage having friends and mentors who walk alongside you as you discover who you were created to be and determine how you’re going to embrace that, it should be a primarily independent seek & find adventure, at least in terms of who you’re committed to {or distracted by}. If you have tied your heart to another before you have found yourself as a complete person, you will {possibly inadvertently} tie your identity to that person rather than to your destiny… see below ::
  4. Your identity, and the confidence you walk in, should be defined by your Creator & Savior. No one else can rescue you. And really, expecting them to is unfair to both of you. Trust me, I’ve been there. I was broken… he seemed strong, made me smile, built me back up…so I put my faith in him. That was wrong. I set him up for failure, set myself up for disappointment. He is a person. and people will always let you down. It’s not an excuse, just a reality.  We have let each other down many times over the course of 15 years. I’m confident we will let each other down in the future, try as we may to avoid it. But we have also learned along this journey where our faith, hope, trust, joy, and ever present help come from — and it’s not one another. There are a lot of things we can, should, and love to do for one another. Filling the role of Savior should never be one of them.
  5. Unspoken expectations are the ammunition of a loaded gun, waiting to be fired. If you’ve been within 50 feet of relationship advice, leadership advice, interacting with people advice… you’ve probably heard “communication is key” — it’s truth. That’s why “they” say it. all. the. time. Set aside time to be open and honest with one another {when you’re not in the heat of a spirited debate} about your needs, about the expectations you have on yourself in this relationship and how the other person sees those, what you want to be and may need help with, what you feel like you need from your partner, what you would love to see, experience, what you dream of doing independently and together. Approach this time prayerfully and with as much of an open mind and spirit of grace as you possibly can. Your relationship will be richer for it. See point 1 ❤
  6. Connection is the other key. Without connection, communication is cold. Marriage is so much more than a contractual agreement. Remember why you wanted to marry this person in the first place. Reflect on their charm. Remind them of it. Give yourself space and permission to discover new things you love about them. Find something you both enjoy to do together — and make time to do it. Invest in your relationship the way you would when you were dating. Love on them through their favorite things. Has it been a while and you’re not so sure you know what his/her favorite things are? Ask. And then follow up with action.  If you don’t know your spouse’s primary love language(s), figure it out! It’s an easy place to start — and could be a great date night focus. Kindling connection will keep the spark alive and help to burn that fire around which you can enjoy authentic communication.
  7. Your marriage bed is sacred. This is a hard one to put out there on the internet. In the world of acceptable Christian issues, this one is still pretty scarlet. Listen to me, I believe this is ESPECIALLY important BEFORE you are married. It is of course equally important having entered into marriage, but I think too often we discount the things that happen “outside of marriage” when we weren’t married at the time. This is mostly directed at those of you who are young and maybe even think yeah, yeah, you know, you’ve got it. Or maybe you’re searching for the why and struggling to understand it in the heat of your relationship. For those of us already married, or already having “given up” this sacrament, read on to #8. But for those of you who hold it, whether intentionally or by circumstance — hold fast. Maybe you don’t find the Bible making a convincing argument. That’s fine. I didn’t either. So hear mine. EVEN IF you marry the person you are intimate with outside of marriage, in my experience, there is a whole world of emotional baggage you could avoid, both in your inner personal battles, and in your relationship, pre and post marriage, by abstaining. We use the word intimate for a reason. It is a deeply personal connection that is filled with vulnerability. There are plenty of other things that will be messy and require your emotions — don’t let this be one of them. Let it be beautiful.
  8. This one applies to so many aspects of life but I also want to highlight it in reference to those of us who feel the pangs of guilt when reading #7, — and not as a permission-giving excuse to those addressed there {because I promise you it is just. not. worth it and there are always consequences that ensue and must be carried}, but — our God is a great redeemer of ALL things — and I believe this to be no different. Surrendered to Him, He will make it new. He will heal the hurt. We may carry scars but He brings beauty from ashes. And this to all realms of our relationship — bring your hurt, bring your troubles, bring your doubts, bring your struggles, and surrender them at His feet. I pray, so hard, that you are able to do this together as well. That your marriage will be unified under a loving Savior and great Redeemer. Yes, there are times, many times, to come to Him personally, but coming to Him together as well brings a whole new level of strength to your relationship. I believe He wants you to walk in freedom and in unity and though I may not know you, I am praying that over you with hope today. ❤ FullSizeRender (7)
  9. Community is priceless. Your relationship NEEDS other relationships. Growing together with others you relate to personally, and learning from couples who are a few steps ahead of you, one day imparting wisdom on those coming behind… being embraced in an encouraging community can be such a powerful catalyst to the growth and development of your marriage!
  10. Never stop learning. About each other, from each other, for each other. If you’re going to be invested in this relationship, learn to love it. You will never arrive there. Encouraging, right? We are multi-faceted creatures, ever changing, planted in an ever turning world where influences come and go and grow and wither… these lives we’re living never stop changing, and we are encouraged to never stop growing — but growing comes with pain, it comes as a result of effort and investment, it comes bearing beauty and strength — and in a marriage, there is someone next to you, with whom you aim to be intertwined, who is also changing, and hopefully growing — and you can either get tripped up in the process, irritated by their change, distracted by your own, or you can make the choice to be better together — by learning to love the process and to process the love. Wash, rinse, repeat. Keep your relationship in the light of Grace, allow it to be watered by your community, and learn to love learning to love.

Happily Ever After requires intentional investment. There’s a slew of helpful resourcing out there, and even this is a list I’m sure I’ll be coming back to myself, because no one’s got it all together, least of all me. In learning to love actively, I have to remind myself to find my completion in my Creator, to kindle the connection with my husband, to cultivate open communication, to engage in encouraging community, and to celebrate the freedom found in the constant truths of Christ and the beautiful change of established growth. It is such a beautiful journey ❤

 

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All Her Miracles

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I find myself finally here, now that there’s a fresh burden of pain on my heart… forcing myself to deal with the last, though it still feels so fresh. Our small family of friends is facing a second healing miracle gone unanswered, for which I currently have no words, no sliver of understanding. The only comfort I can find is the belief that it will come in time and that the fruition of its redemption will be revealed in comfort to those who need it the most. And so for now, I’m drawn to only what I already know. To recounting miracles that the Lord has laid on my heart in the wake of our previous tragedy.

When all I wanted to ask was why her? Why now? Why this way?
I felt Him pressing into me about all of the other times in her story when we could’ve asked those questions but didn’t. Because we favored those outcomes.

When He hasn’t brought the miracle I most hoped for, He’s instead asked me to cherish the many many miracles of the life she shared with so many.

So, here’s the start…I’m sure there are so many gaps. So many things I’m not remembering. So many things I don’t know the whole of. So many miracles I was neither witness to nor recounted. So many stories that aren’t mine to share. I hope those who have loved her through her life here and known the many miracles of it will feel comfort in adding their accounts to this, even if only in their hearts.

Perspective is so precious.

And when a loving God asks you to shift your perspective, you do your best…

When I reflect on her life here, the very first miracle that comes soaring to my mind is that she knew Him at all. Her upbringing didn’t “set her up” well for it, so to speak. She has faced many battles, not the least of which was the emotional turmoil of her birth family. That God made Himself known to her, and she threw the arms of her soul around His spiritual shoulders is such a beautiful miracle in and of itself. He carried her through the rest of this life as she daily surrendered to what He had for her.

Her relationship with her husband was a miracle. For someone who felt so broken to be able to connect so wholly with another individual was nothing short of the miracle of her allowing God to fulfill all of those broken spaces and redeem His daughter into a mutually loving, supportive, and protected relationship.

Each of her children is a miracle, from how they arrived in this world, two of them barely, to what they’ve brought to their parents, to the good plans I believe God still holds for them. No one who spent any amount of time with this family, who had any conversation with this mother, could ever doubt the immense love she showered on these three children of hers. They were miracles for each other.

She allowed her story to be used to the benefit of others. She didn’t shy away from the burdens she carried but rather highlighted them when it could be helpful to another carrying something similar.

She dove into serving the local church — someone who could’ve easily been “too busy” taking care of her own family and running her household instead worked tirelessly and selflessly — she trained countless volunteers, loved on them, served them, supported them. She hugged countless children, encouraged them, taught them to sing praises to their Creator & Savior, gave them a safe place where they were always loved and valued, and poured her heart into helping their families sprout seeds that will one day grow to be established roots of unshakable faith.

I speak often of the importance of the little things, the little moments, connection in community, doing life with others — within our little community, she truly brought joy. Knowing her story, it is evident without doubt that she CHOSE joy. Every day. Did she struggle to find it some days? Sure. Was she honest about that? Yep. As she sought to find it. She never stopped seeking. Never stopped choosing. The miracles of her daily life are too many to number — she continually allowed God to work through her, to use her for His glory, to show Himself mighty in her life.

The definition of a miracle being an extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause; such an event or effect manifesting or considered as a work of God; a wonder, a marvel; a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality — this woman’s literal entire LIFE was a MIRACLE.

Did we get the miracle WE were praying for? The earthly healing she so desperately wanted to be able to continue to care for and cherish her family here for as long as possible? no. we did not. But even in those last few weeks, God allowed small miracles to be known. When I couldn’t understand why He would leave her hanging on if she were ultimately coming Home to be with Him, her family had an emotional breakthrough to be able to begin processing the possibility of her loss and hang on to a few precious moments in her presence before she went to be with her Savior. Their community was able to step in and love on her husband and kids in a way that let them know, they weren’t just here for her, they weren’t just here for loss, they were here to walk alongside each of them in the journey, to sit in the valley, to hold through the rain.

Perhaps we are surrounded by far more miracles than we realize. I do believe God still heals physically, in astounding ways that baffle the medical scientific community. But I’m also being taught to see that the way He heals souls is just as astounding, and perhaps even more powerful. Because healed bodies make a headline but healed souls leave a legacy.

She allowed her broken body to be a vessel that carried her healed soul — and the impact she made will outlive us all.
She has truly achieved God’s best for her — she is worshipping at His feet, completely healed, with no trace of emotional or physical pain — while we would’ve loved more time with her, and I can think of a million reasons why that would be “best”, I’m resolved to trust that the God of the universe knows what He’s doing, to be thankful for her eternal joy, to be prayerful for the fruition of those good plans set in motion for her children before their sweet souls ever graced this earth, and to be mindful of the legacy she left for us, the many pebbles she so intentionally rippled into the waters of eternity, without ever knowing how far they would go, and the call to choose joy in the midst of our broken world — may we be bold enough to not only choose it, but to share it.

 

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Testify

It was less than 2 hours from the time I hit publish, declaring to the world that I choose to hold onto Jesus regardless of what unravels around me.
And oh how it unraveled.
I answered the call of a favorite friend I’d been playing phone tag with, and almost instantly she broke down. The aching of her heart carried through the phone across state lines. This war with cancer still wasn’t over, it had come to battle again, waging harder than ever before. The tears streamed down our faces as we choked through questions, vague answers, and remnants of hope.
This woman who brings so much JOY to the world around her I sometimes feel has been at battle her whole life. I don’t understand it. I can’t pretend to. It’s moments like these that test my faith the most. The things that are out of my control. The things that don’t make sense. The things that are unfair. The things I can’t explain.
I’ve never hit my knees more desperately so many times for the same cause.
And to be honest, I’ve never been more confused about prayer…
I’m dedicating my Bible study right now to trying to discern the role(s) that prayer should play in my life, the posture with which the inerrant Word of God tells me I should approach the throne, the expectations I should and shouldn’t hold onto, the power that it’s wielded throughout history as an example of our opportunities to engage it.
But at this moment, I’m unsure whether or not I believe that it really has an altering affect on the physical world.
What about the healing miracles Jesus and the disciples performed?
I don’t know.
I can’t reconcile those accounts with my experience thus far.
I want to believe.
But I have believed with all my heart’s expectancy for a physically healing miracle four times now {the first two in different situations} and each time the hope of that certainty has crumbled down around me. Each time I muster my faith and courage and belief again, it seems it falls harder. Free will and predestination are at odds in my prayer life. I know God isn’t a genie to be used  but I struggle with the point of bold prayers that fall flat, taking my heart to the bottom of the pit with them. I struggle with not seeing Him move in ways that seem so obvious to me will bring glory and praise to His name, evidence of His power to those who are watching from a distance, harboring disbelief at the possibility that if He even exists, He could be loving.
Maybe physical healing is reserved for those who have yet to believe… but then I have seen and heard of it happening in the lives of believers…so what gives?
I don’t. know.
And yet, while I feel I have no ground to stand on in the physical world, I am fully confident that prayer wields supernatural power in the spiritual realms.
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I have sensed it. I have felt it. I have seen it. I have experienced it.
And it is with that assurance that I again go to battle, in the spiritual realms — without regard to worldly physical realities.
Knowing that in this world we may have trouble but we are to take heart because we are co-heirs with the one who has overcome the world.
What He allows in this place is but a vapor — it pales in comparison to the hope we hold of a secure future — And from that, we are able to pray with bold confidence, knowing Whose we are and what we have to look forward to, calling forth an unshakeable joy in the face of worldly storms. This is not our home, we are called higher than this world — its troubles are but reminders of the sorrow-free future we hold, nothing compared to the glory that is to come.
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These are the things the Holy Spirit reminds me of when I’m calling out, not sure if I’ll receive an answer I can handle. It’s from this place that I cover my dear friend in prayerful petition — for a PEACE that passes all understanding, for confidence in her HOPE and future and that of her husband and children, knowing that they each rest in the hands of a loving God who cares for them more than we can comprehend and Who will do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine, for restored JOY that laughs in the face of the future, secure in its source, and for an overwhelming presence of LOVE in her life, that communicates louder than any other voice at play in the corners of her mind — that she would hear the whispers of her loving Father louder than the distractions of doubt and fear. That she would have the courage to whisper back from a supernatural place into the physical realms of this world that her battle is already won; That He would embolden her with confidence and security and assurance, to cry out even without understanding, to command victory over her afflictions, to testify His faithfulness and draw strength from what she can be certain of.
That regardless of the circumstances surrounding us in this broken world, we have a hope, a rock, a defender, Who cannot be shaken. The God of angel armies, the Creator of the universe, the Savior of our souls, the Redeemer of all things, never leaves nor forsakes us. and He is greater.
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In the same way that they overwhelm my faith with doubt at times, on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is the things that are out of my control, the things that don’t make sense, the things that are unfair, the things I can’t explain, that overwhelm my faith with wave upon wave of belief as God delivers blessings, restores the broken, offers second chances, and makes all things new in ways I couldn’t have fathomed. Though I am hopeful for healing on this side of heaven, I am resolved to praying for miracles that transcend the physical world.  💚
#MyHeartIsHeavy #MyHeadIsBowed #MyHandsAreLifted #MyHopeIsSecure #ItIsWell #ItIsWellWithMySoul #ChoosingJOY #ConfidenceInTheChaos #RepeatUntilComplete #CompleteEndurance #GodlyConfidence
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A New Creation

There are so many facets to this small but meaningful piece of my story I’m about to try to share, that I say try because I don’t even know where to start.

A little over a year ago, God led my husband and I to a new town, in a new state, just a few hours away from the place we had spent much of our childhood and called home for the past 7 years.

So many things were at play with this move, which I will begin to share more of later…I started to write them out but they’re not all directly relevant to the point I’m trying to get to here so, I copy/pasted them into a different draft for a different time — you’re welcome 😉

One of the biggest things God pressed on me in this new season was to really study the Bible, independently, {meaning not as part of a devotional or a sermon series, but just for the sake of reading His Word, with fluidity, and seeing what He had to speak to me personally}, and to begin to discern for myself what true faith looked like, what being a follower of Jesus really meant, and what He intended for the church to be about.

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You see, I grew up in church, with all of the traditional stories and hymns, and I thought I knew what my faith was based on, thought I knew the Bible, thought I was “doing it right”… {you can read more of my testimony here}. I had faithfully attended and served the church since college {there was an interesting familial turn of events in my high school years that resulted in me getting a weekend job rather than attending church, thus the gap until college}, and I was even on staff for a few years at the church we moved away from last year. It was at that church that I began to face some of my demons, that my perspective was shifted on some important issues, that I worked through some fresh wounds, that I was for the first time a part of true biblical community, and that I grew exponentially in my faith and in my understanding of both biblical truths and church design. As a result, I believed that *this* was what church was supposed to look like.

Church — literally, a movement of God.

As if you can put God in a box labeled {name of church} and determine this is how He moves best, anywhere and everywhere. Naive I know — but I think there are many who have struggled with this misunderstanding, coming to and falling away from their relationship with God in direct correlation to their perceptions of a particular Local Church — a group of people meeting in a building, under the leadership of a smaller group of people.

I had a large amount of trust for the leadership of our home church, and I still do, despite some hiccups in our journey. They are laser focused on reaching people far from God, have a heart to really hear from Him and to be fully obedient, and they’re not lacking in wisdom and discernment. However, they’re still people. Not Jesus. Not God. Not perfect.

As God’s humor would have it, we ended up finding a church here in our new home state that was basically the exact opposite of the church we came from — not in their quality but in their strengths and weaknesses as an organization. They are still laser focused on reaching people far from God, have a heart to really hear from Him and to be fully obedient, and they’re not lacking in wisdom and discernment. They just have a much different method for accomplishing the same goals. As they should — they’re in a different community, with different needs. However, the needs of ours that had been met in our previous church were left wanting here, while the needs that had been left wanting in our previous church, are being met here. And I certainly think that’s intentional on God’s part because He’s teaching us to lean into Him more than we lean into a church. Ouch. But we were {at least I was} absolutely guilty of that previously. I leaned harder into the work of/for God than I did into God Himself.

So here — He challenged me to really get to know HIM. Not just His church. Not just the perspectives of the teachers and shepherds He’s appointed. But first and foremost, HIM.

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I’m sure I’ll also be sharing more about that journey {that’s lifelong and has really only just begun} but the primary, and I know obvious, ways of going about this were through reading His Word and surrounding that, and other facets of my life, in prayer, while staying active in our local church.

He speaks.
I just have to be an active listener.

I also read a couple of books {namely Radical and The Explicit Gospel} that really rattled what I thought I knew — and I found them {sometimes to my disappointment} to be backed soundly by scripture as I continued to study God’s Word.

And so I found myself faced with this question — do I really want to be a follower of Jesus?
When I really begin to understand what that looks like, when I dig into scripture while also expanding my world view beyond American Christianity, it’s astounding how much more there was to what I thought I knew, and how much heavier it weighed.

To be completely honest, for a moment in time, I really wasn’t sure.
I wrestled with the whys and the hows and the what ifs of it all. I struggled with feeling like I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself into when I declared myself a Christian however many years ago and I wasn’t sure I wanted everything that actually came with it.

But through the grace of God, I realized that even if somehow it ended up being all wrong, if at the end of the day, at the end of the universe, we really are just one big cosmic accident and all of the miracles and life change and beautiful design we see as evidence of a living and loving God are fabricated in our coincidental minds, the effort and the sacrifice and the fulfillment of trying to honor Him and display His glory is all worth it. That this is what I want from my life, more than anything else I could dream up. That I’m willing to trade in a feel-good, self-centered, ego-driven, culturally-relevant worldview for what I believe to be a universal truth — regardless of what anyone around me believes or supports. That I don’t have to have all the answers. That I don’t want to serve a God I can understand. And that the risk is worth the potential reward. Yes, even just the possibility of one day kneeling before this God I have come to love and know that I am loved by, Who has shown Himself true so many times in my beautiful mess of a life, is worth giving up all other ground for.

Once upon a time, I thought I knew what I was doing. As a  seven year old seeking approval and “fire insurance” {and I’m pretty sure church membership}, I went before a congregation and was baptized in a white robe signifying a choice to believe in Jesus. And that experience told me that I had made the decision to be a Christ follower. Not that being baptized had saved me but that in a way, if I followed through with baptism, then God must believe that I really meant that prayer I desperately prayed over and over again as a child — that prayer that was supposed to save me.
That’s what I held onto until it unraveled. That’s what I stumbled over as it fell apart.

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A few weeks ago, after having spent several years falling in love with the character of God, and several months questioning and studying it, I surrendered to the redesign of what had formerly unraveled and allowed Him to pick up the pieces and begin weaving a new tapestry that’s beyond what I can imagine. I reconciled in my heart being okay with not knowing what He’s doing but just wanting to be a part of it, and went out into the bay with my husband, before just our 2 daughters, to be baptized in murky, cold water, solidifying my decision to strive daily to die to myself and rise in Him. For Him.
This time, the experience was the result of having made a fully aware decision to follow Jesus, no holding back, no turning back. This was the snapshot in time when I declared that I really believe in the God I pray to over and over again as His child — that He has done so much more than save me,  that He continues to redeem me, and that He is what I will choose to hold onto, no matter what unravels around me, no matter how I stumble or what falls apart. He alone is worthy.

I always considered baptism to be like a wedding band, an outward symbol of an inward decision, meant to show the world that we’re bold enough to display what we believe. But in this decision, I called forth the example of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, who didn’t have a congregation to stand before or a camera crew there to record his symbolism, send photos to his loved ones, and upload this evidence of life change to Facebook.
This moment wasn’t for anyone else.
{Though, yes, I do hope that our daughters can look back on it and it will help them on some level in their own walk to know Jesus, and I do pray that sharing my story somehow helps others along their journey}.
But this moment.
This was a declaration before the Lord that I am willing to forsake all else. That I choose Him. That I was drawing a line in the sand of my own personal shore. That I don’t desire the option to turn back. I have fully activated my free will and determined I don’t need worldly balance. That my greatest joy comes from belonging to Him. That He is greater than all of my fears. That He is greater than all of my blessings. That He is my beginning and that my end is safe with Him, and but a beautiful new beginning. ❤

Hear me — I don’t believe that this baptism {or my first} saved me — any more than I believe that there’s a magical prayer one can pray to secure eternity. I don’t even consider this a ‘rededication’ of my life, as I have been seeking to follow Christ, and growing in my relationship with Him, for many years now. But there is a world of difference between that little girl in a baptist church, and the woman who today proclaims Jesus as her Savior. My understanding of what it means to be a Christian has completely shifted, over the course of several new revelations from college through this year. And though I know I’ll continue to grow and learn and struggle and overcome, I also realized that what I thought I knew when I was baptized as a child was nothing of the Jesus I know now, the one I have surrendered my life to — and I want to be obedient to the call of the gospel in being baptized as a result of choosing to follow Him, now that I truly know Him.
Then, I was checking a box. Now, I’ve stepped outside of the box. ❤

If I’ve stirred up questions in you with what I’ve written, I would love to talk to you about it. I don’t have all the answers but I also know it’s so hard to put into one post every bit of what I mean, and the last thing I want to do is leave someone confused. I’m also lucky enough to be connected to a lot of people with more wisdom and knowledge than myself if you have complex questions I’m not able to answer personally 🙂

xoxo