HER STORY: A Believing Hope

Long before she became my friend, I had the precious opportunity to gather with other women and pray for Carlie back when this part of her story was still unexpectedly unfolding. We prayed that day for a miracle.

About a year later, God brought Carlie back into my life. She sat crossed legged on my living room floor, and a different group of girls prayed . . . for another miracle.

This is her story.

Carlie is the most inviting soul I’ve met in a long, long time. Her words exude peace, and her story instills hope. When we sat down over coffee and strawberries romanoff, we discussed everything from motherhood to the story of Ruth to her cancer diagnosis at the age of twenty-four.

Twenty-eight weeks pregnant with her second child, Carlie received unthinkable news. God’s grace carried her along as everything changed in that cramped doctor’s office room where words became weighty and real.

Thrust immediately into chemotherapy, it wasn’t long before she stood in front of her bathroom mirror and covered her eyes until her husband, Ian, finished shaving off every last strand of her beautiful, long brown hair. Though losing her hair was just the tip of her physical and emotional heartbreak, Carlie gained so much through this daunting diagnosis.

Like a gift straight from heaven, Carlie welcomed a fresh perspective and an acute understanding of true suffering. Along with tangible hope to share with a hurting world, arms full of grace, and a heart full of compassion, God gave her eyes to truly see the broken all around her.

Carlie mentioned the “why me?” question I know I’ve tossed towards heaven a time or two.  She quickly followed up with the question all of this has taught her to ask: “Why not me?”

“I don’t deserve to live. None of us do,” she said.

Like gritty sandpaper, her honesty rubbed right up against my entitlement that causes spiritual amnesia from time to time. Uncomfortable on my skin yet nourishing to my heart, her words brought to light the truth that I’ve been redeemed. And I’d be dead without Christ.

Carlie is a girl who’s tasted God’s goodness down in her core. Even when her world turned upside down with not a good thing in sight, there He was. Still present. Still good. Always good.

In so many ways, Carlie’s story reminds me of Ruth’s story recorded on the pages of scripture. Both walked through unimaginable circumstances as young women. Carlie and Ian named their oldest daughter, Rue, after this courageous woman. I asked Carlie how fear played a part in her story, just like I’d love to one day ask Ruth that same question.

Only one verse addresses fear in the entire book of Ruth.

Ruth loses her husband and endures a life-threatening famine. Eventually, she leaves her homeland to travel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Bethlehem at harvest time. Much stronger than the insurmountable struggle these two girls faced, the common thread that binds Carlie’s story together with Ruth’s is hope.

Ruth—a poor, foreign widow with no children—collects grain left behind in a nearby field. Ruth quickly finds favor with a man named Boaz, the owner of that field. After learning that Boaz is a close relative, Naomi instructs Ruth to boldly request that Boaz act as her kinsmen redeemer. (In their culture, the closest relative could marry a childless widow to provide an heir for the dead husband.)

Ruth doesn’t just ask for Boaz’s assistance; she boldly extends a marriage proposal.

Though Boaz is willing to marry Ruth, he isn’t the closest relative. Anticipation escalates as she waits while Boaz goes to meet this other man. Boaz’s response to Ruth is laced with hope:

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” Ruth 3:11

There is no record of anyone telling Ruth not to be afraid in her grief or loss. Not a word as she leaves her family and home and everything else behind. Though much of her mother-in-law’s advice is recorded, we never once hear her encourage Ruth to be brave as she enters the dangerous and vulnerable place of gleaning grain as a foreign woman all alone. So why here? Why now?

Maybe because fear grips tightest in the waiting.

Ian and Carlie

After all of Carlie’s treatment was complete, fear struck the hardest as she waited for results.

One day, while out running errands, a woman approached Carlie and told her she was praying Nahum 1:9 over her.

Tears of hope instantly soaked Carlie’s cheeks.

Shortly after that encounter, another stranger spoke these same words to her, straight out of scripture:

“Trouble will not come a second time.”

Holding back my own tears as she told this part of her story, I leaned in to hear her say these next words: “I just decided to believe God.”

Carlie’s words have made me think a bunch about fear and courage. I’ve often assumed they were opposites. Want less fear? Have more courage. But the antidote for fear isn’t ever courage.

The antidote for fear is belief.

Boaz’s words to Ruth give the gentle notion that God never rests in the middle of the story. His words echo the heart of Jesus, who is both willing and able to redeem.

Just weeks after a whole new set of vocabulary rocked her everyday mundane, with a PICC line and a freshly shaved scalp, Carlie went into labor. As the nurse prepped her for delivery, her words evoked panic in Carlie’s heart.

“There is a 95% chance your baby will be alright,” the nurse told her. Carlie said that Ian felt confident with those odds, but the reality of that 5% overwhelmed her mother-heart. With fingers and hearts threaded together, they begged God for a four-pound baby.

At just 31 weeks, it was a bold request.

When Mia Beth was born—all four-pound-one-ounce of her—Carlie received God’s message loud and clear. I will do for you all you ask. And then some.

Mia Beth

Jesus has promised us so much more than we could ask or imagine. New life. Forgiveness. A marriage celebration at the end of this current age. Living hope for today and tomorrow.

The story of Ruth mirrors this hope. Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a son. But that’s not all. Their son, Obed, becomes the grandfather of Kind David, whose lineage bears the name of Jesus, Hope personified. Our Redeemer who lives.

Hope is alive, because Jesus is alive.

Our hope in Him isn’t based on emotion or circumstance. It’s a clinging and vulnerable hope, an expectant and waiting hope. But more than anything else, Carlie’s story has taught me that hope in Jesus Christ is a believing hope.

Ian, Carlie, Rue, and Mia Beth

If you’d like to read more about Carlie’s journey, check out her blog at: www.themachirtracker.wordpress.com

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Living Hidden

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3

The Quiet Book, a board book from my youngest daughter’s bookshelf that meanders through all the different kinds of quiet in a child’s day, inspired me to count all the beautiful ways to live hidden in Christ.

In just two days, I recorded 150…

I haven’t written poetry in well over a decade, but my deepest emotions are often best expressed this way. I want to remember how to live hidden, how to return again and again to my true identity, tucked within Christ.

I’ll continue adding to the list I began in my spiral-bound notebook, but I couldn’t keep all of them to myself.

I hope these words inspire you to write your own expression of what it means to live hidden with Christ in God. Just sitting in His presence, listing each one, did my soul such good.

Hidden is beautiful because of Him.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

Living  H I D D E N

Mustard seed hidden

Remembering hidden

Lost then found hidden

Rescued with love hidden

Work in progress hidden

His joy my strength hidden

Strong in battle hidden

Peaceful hidden

Scared hidden

Collapsing hidden

Rising again hidden

Nothing to prove hidden

Embracing small hidden

Rebuilding ruins hidden

Reclaiming ground hidden

Fall in love hidden

Love remake me hidden

Content to be hidden

New perspective hidden

One with God hidden

Until Jesus returns hidden

My true self hidden

Carried by love hidden

Beautiful life hidden

Hard things redeemed hidden

Abandoning comfort hidden

Love conquering doubt hidden

Glory eclipsing fear hidden

Trials welcome hidden

Silence the lies hidden

Master leading hidden

My cup overflowing hidden

Dreams unraveling hidden

Struggling to trust hidden

Trusting Him still hidden

Father’s delight hidden

Stone rolled away hidden

Nothing can separate hidden

Heaven bound hidden

Face to face hidden

My whole life hidden

Just a vapor hidden

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What I’m Reading: Spring Edition

Spring break is quickly approaching, so I’m making my list and saving space in my suitcase for my stack of books to haul on vacation.

Please don’t tell me e-books are more efficient. I know that. I just can’t part with pages.

One of my favorite places to read is on an airplane. We haven’t traveled by plane a whole bunch with kids, but with the exception of one horrifying flight with one-year-old twins, I can usually relax enough to crack open a book.

One day (in the faraway future), I might experience (rather than daydream about) reading at the pool. Right now, that’s about as likely as reading at the park.

My friend with four little ones and a fifth on the way came over the other day. Between the two of us, we’ll soon have eight. We laughed at our natural ability to pause a conversation (no matter how in depth) a million times from beginning to end.

We have both mastered the art of jumping right back in where we left off.

But reading like that hurts my head. After re-reading the same paragraph for the tenth time, I wind up tossing the book aside in frustration, shaking my head at the naivety that convinced me I could enjoy a good read with little people awake in my house.

On a plane, though, while they enjoy their uninterrupted screen time, I’ll be getting lost in a good story. Uninterrupted as well, I hope.

I’ve got eight titles to share with you, some that just released. You can also check out my Good Reads page for more of my absolute favorites.

{Christian Living}

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

This is an exceptional guide to discipling your children no matter their age. My favorite quote from the book is this: “Discipleship is like waking up to remember that we are alive in Christ over and over and over again a hundred times a day, until the day when we no longer need to be reminded that we are in Christ forever because we can see him.”

Fervent, by Priscilla Shirer

This book is powerful and bold and everything you need if your prayers feel like they sometimes hit the ceiling.

{Fiction}

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult

I loved this intelligent book about race and privilege and love and hate. Picoult tackles the tough subject of coming to terms with our own racial self-awareness in an honest and responsible way. The title comes from a quote by Martin Luther King: “It is through small acts that racism is both perpetuated and partially dismantled.”

Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool

Wise in so many ways, yet thoroughly imaginative, I connected with the theme of story in this book. One person’s story really can change a life. We find power in story, which is why we must all tell ours. This is the heartbeat of this charming novel.

{Spiritual Growth}

The Broken Way, by Ann Voskamp

God had been talking to me about the empty hollow inside my heart, trying to convince me somehow that the hunger was a gift, when I picked up The Broken Way. He used Ann’s words to continue that conversation He started in a humbling and completely encouraging manner.

Falling Free, by Shannan Martin

This one sat on my nightstand for three solid weeks before I mustered up the courage to open it. I knew reading it would make me extremely uncomfortable. With chapter titles like Get Risky, Unplan, Have Less, Live Small, let’s just say I wasn’t chomping at the bit. But, whoa. Please read this. Even if you don’t want to or you’re scared. Please read this book.

{Autobiography/Inspirational}

Hiding in the Light:Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus, by Rifqa Bary

Rifqa’s profound story recalibrates what it really means to leave everything to follow Jesus.

{Memoir}

All the Pretty Things, by Edie Wadsworth

In this thought-provoking memoir, Edie describes how she has learned to hold compassion for her Daddy and her wounds from him in the same heart.  She writes, “The heart doesn’t settle easily for blame—it longs to be redeemed.” The storyline of fatherlessness stuck with me long after I read the last word.

 

What are you reading this spring? And where is your favorite spot to get lost in a good book?

 

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The Beauty of Hiddenness

At a quiet restaurant, during a night alone with no kids, I prop my elbows up on the table and confess to my man what God’s been showing me. “I have a really rebellious heart,” I tell him.

He leans in to listen, then sits back in his chair, long legs stretching underneath the tiny table we share. He chuckles lightheartedly, and quips back, “Really? You think?” I love this man. He keeps me honest in all the right ways.

Peter’s words to new believers in his first letter have uncovered a full-on rejection of authority in the deepest, most private area of my heart and mind.

Words like power and submission tumble around like weighty rocks.

Then I hear Emily Freeman, author of A Million Little Ways and Simply Tuesday, speak them just weeks later. Emily writes about a hunger for power, but in a familiar way that I’ve tasted. She talks about things like influence and longing for recognition, and the book that has been unraveling all of this for her.

I get my own copy and, days later, tears blur pages where someone has put into eloquent words the struggle God has unearthed in my heart through His Word. In The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb, Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel tackle this topic with grace and truth.

“In our pursuit to be more than, to transcend our weakness and frailty, we are reduced.”

The idea of hiddenness surfaces again and again as I read and mark up nearly every page of this paperback book. Peter uses the word, too, as he speaks about true beauty. All the while, God urges me to face my resistance to His way.

Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:4

Hiddenness runs contrary to so many things I’ve been taught are important. Things like recognition and influence. Success. Yet, through this struggle, God is uncovering a longing in my heart. Somehow, I’ve assumed that recognition and influence will lead to connection.

Hidden is not the same as hiding.

My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Psalm 139:15

Every secret part of us lays open before a loving God. We can’t truly hide from Him, but we can wear ourselves out trying. While hiding prevents all connection, hiddenness in Christ provides the only path to authentic connection.

Goggin and Strobel describe two ways: “The way of the dragon is fixated on the spectacular, obsessed with recognition and validation, intoxicated by fame and power. The way of the Lamb is committed to worship, pursues God in the ordinary, and is faithful in hiddenness.”

In the personal, mysterious, and creative manner that God speaks, He weaves together His word, wisdom from others, and my own prayers offered in desperation into a visual that I finally understand.

Two simultaneous pictures flash through my mind one morning as I pray.

The Teacher tailors lessons to fit our time and place and wiring. Both images depict identical shades of rich orange and deep black, but only one has personal significance for me. A majestic tiger juxtaposed with a frail and fragile Monarch butterfly represents the deep power struggle in my heart that needs the salve of God’s loving truth.

The draw to power finds roots in a desire for control.

Yet, God has laid out His way, the narrow, small way where weakness wins and the last is first. Where surrender is daily and humility manifests through submission.

If I asked you which creature demonstrates power, you’d probably choose the tiger, right? Recognizing power in a delicate butterfly isn’t our natural inclination. “[James] tells us that the way from below masquerades as the way from above,” Goggin and Strobel point out.

We need God’s help to distinguish between the two.

Years ago, inside a breathtaking butterfly exhibit, with such intimacy I’ll likely never forget it, God showed me how He created me to soar as a butterfly. Speaking directly into my striving, my not enough mindset, He gave me a glimpse of the transformation He promised in my heart if I trusted Him to do the work.

Yet, here I am rejecting this way, longing for something bigger, something seemingly more powerful. God created us to be small and frail and dependent on Him for a reason.

A butterfly demonstrates a whole different kind of power.

Though ordinary, common, and often unnoticed, a butterfly displays God’s power to transform His creation. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3

Hidden is translated krypto, which means to escape notice or conceal (that it may not become known). We get the word Krypton from this Greek word. Krypton is an inert, monatomic gaseous element, found in very small amounts in the atmosphere and often used to light certain fluorescent lamps.

Powerless, small, hidden. Our lives are but a vapor, yet God designed us to reveal His power through our weakness.

God’s glory shines out of hiddenness.

During that same trip to the butterfly museum with my family, my oldest daughter asked if the butterflies would land on her. I told her not to get her hopes up, but secretly asked God to make this happen for her.

She walked around that whole blasted place with her arm held out, just hoping a butterfly would land on her teeny, tiny perch. And you know what? I wished I had earplugs with all her squealing and carrying on when a single, solitary butterfly in all its glorious smallness landed on her arm.

In this sweet, vivid memory, God etches His truth on my heart:

While a tiger can be admired from afar, only a butterfly is free to truly connect.

“Recollection is not merely remembering, but re-collecting the truth of oneself in Christ. We need recollection because we are prone to lose ourselves to things other than God in search of power and value,” Goggin and Strobel write.

Recollect us to You, Jesus. Teach us the way of worship and humility, and show us the beauty of our hiddenness in You.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Truth About Our Neediness

I inch up to the white line and stare blankly at the red light ahead. I almost miss him completely. Less than ten feet away from my car sits a hooded man whose frame blends in with the black night.

I shiver inside my fully insulated SUV and subconsciously cinch my sweater up around my neck. The temperature gauge on my dash registers a chilly 47 degrees.

The light takes an eternity. I notice his wheelchair and the way his head hangs to the side. I wonder if he is asleep.

His hands grip a cardboard sign. I can only guess what it says. Doesn’t he know it’s pitch black, and no one can read that sign even if they tried?

Do you see yourself? a voice breaks the silence.

The light turns green and my car lunges forward. I leave the man alone in the shivering dark.

The voice that pricked my spirit is a voice I know well. Jesus, the One who continues to capture my heart and rescue me from my selfishness, wasn’t done speaking to my soul. He had only just begun this conversation.

Do you see yourself?

How can I see myself in a disabled homeless man sitting alone in the dark? What do we have in common, Jesus?

Do you see Me?

This Jesus I know and love and serve shows Himself in the hungry and worn-out, the dependent and the desperate, the lonely and forgotten.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36.

Why is it so difficult for us to see Jesus here? We search everywhere but the lowest place. Why do we dislike His honest answer that this is where we’ll find Him, engage Him, walk with Him?

Jesus places Himself here, in the lowest ranks, with common people well acquainted with their own need.

And He says, Follow me. He invites us to find ourselves among the least so that we might also find Him.

Yet, it’s too easy to divert our eyes to dodge the conversation, pretending we’re not needy at all. It’s less risky to ignore the man at the stoplight and wholeheartedly believe he’s needy and I’m not.

Relying on my own strength is a feeble attempt to distance myself from my own need for Jesus.

We need Jesus to recognize Him in the lost, the marginalized and forgotten. We need Jesus to show us our own lost-ness and emptiness and alienation and outright death without Him. Ironically, we need Jesus to remind us how badly we need Jesus.

Our faith hinges on those three simple words: We need Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”– the very bread of life that fills our emptiness, living water that quenches every longing and desire.

God clothed us with a righteousness we don’t deserve and healed us of our sin-sickness. He showed us the only Way to enter in relationship with a holy God. Our Savior was not only willing to sit with us in our prison cells, but He busted the doors wide open.

And “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Every past, present and future need is met fully in Jesus.

My heart believes this, but my eyes sometimes struggle to see the beauty woven into my dependence on a faithful God who has given me new life.

So, I pray for the man at the stop light—that his physical needs would be met, but also that his heart will find Jesus. I thank God for using his raw and visible need to remind me of my own need for Jesus.

I thank Him for bridging the colossal gap between His holiness and my spiritual poverty that I could never close on my own. And, I thank Him for an inheritance I don’t deserve.

Every breath we take is a gift. May we use each one to praise Him and thank Him for rescuing our needy souls. Again and again and again.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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HER STORY: No Greater Power

A simple request for prayer on my Facebook feed led me to the home of a refugee family who had just arrived in Texas from Northern Iraq. My friend, Cathy, connected me to this precious couple and their four kids.

When the two of us showed up at their door, their genuine hospitality and warm reception of us took me by surprise. With a kiss on each cheek, our hosts ushered us in and served us hot tea and deliciously sweet cake.

Though language barriers prevented full exchange of words, something weighty came over me on that typical Thursday afternoon.

The power of God’s love radiated in that crowded living room.

Though Cathy had only met this family once before, their relatives consider her family. And she loves them as her own. This mutual relationship, clearly built on trust and love, emerging from nothing but cultural differences, completely undid me.

I invited Cathy to share more of her story with me, even though her simple presence among my new friends had inadvertently revealed the beauty of her heart.

This is her story.

God used two sisters—Mary and Martha—to shape Cathy’s faith. As a young adult living a privileged, wealthy lifestyle, Cathy recognized the way her heart gravitated to everything Martha valued.

A beautifully organized house, perfect dishes and exquisite food seemed necessary if she was ever going to serve others. Yet Mary’s availability to Jesus’ teaching captured Cathy’s heart in a compelling way. God began to reconcile the palpable void in her life.

“I focused on things and tasks, not relationships,” Cathy explained. “But then I told the Lord, ‘I want to focus on You. I want You.’” Cathy surrendered her life to the One who loved her first, and her heart has never been the same.

Cathy describes life with Jesus as “abundant and exciting.” Two minutes in her company will convince you she’s telling the honest-truth.

Her love for Jesus pulses through every relationship.

Loving on everyone within elbow reach, most would use the word ‘friend’ to describe Cathy. Her authentic love for people cascades beautifully out of the love God has generously poured out on her.

Cathy has lived around the globe: Canada, Norway, Egypt, and eventually, Texas, where (just this year) she received her United States citizenship. As a Coordinator for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, Cathy gets to indulge her passion for God’s global purpose.

She’s accepted His invitation to teach others about the Kingdom of God with gusto and grace. Her desire is not to make them Western Christians but to show them how they can know and follow Jesus in the context of their own cultures where God in His sovereignty gave them life.

Cathy’s heart for the nations has always overwhelmed me, but really, underneath her humility is something deeper that draws me to God. When we sat down at my kitchen table, a plate of ginger cookies and open bible filling the space between us, I wasn’t expecting to hear her talk about power.

Slowly, I began to see her humility as exactly that: God’s power in human weakness. Her heart for the nations is inextricably tethered to this understanding of God’s power over all people and His deep desire to be in relationship with them.

He is the God of all nations.

Cathy’s life reverberates this message. She believes whole-heartedly that anyone can be used by God. She aligns all that she does to the command of Jesus:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations… Matthew 28:18-19

Connecting with others from different cultures allows Cathy to experience God’s creativity. Cathy’s Iraqi friends have taught her about generosity and hospitality. She has learned about gratitude through her Afghan friend and witnessed a humble desire to serve God in innocent, orphan eyes.

Lulwanda Children’s Home is an orphanage in Uganda that Cathy has been heavily involved with since its inception. Cathy teaches children unique ways they can serve God right where they are with everything they have. They learn about unreached people groups who have never heard the name of Jesus.

“Even an orphan can be obedient to God’s word,” Cathy expressed with conviction. Through powerful prayers on behalf of people all around the world whom they have never met, boys and girls in Uganda engage the heart of God.

This picture of God’s power in human weakness has left a lasting impression on my heart.

I sometimes get caught up in the “go and make disciples” part. I ask God to define the ‘going’ and ‘doing’ for me, yet I overlook this important statement Jesus made about how all authority belongs to Him.

When I focus too heavily on my calling, I tend to forget all about His power.

Cathy’s availability and connectedness draws hearts to Jesus. The daily margin she’s carved out for people is extravagant. Yet the most beautiful part of her story isn’t her accomplishments, or even how she uses her gifts to serve God.

The power of her story is rooted in Love. Jesus, our perfect Savior, made Himself available by emptying Himself and taking on the nature of a servant.

God’s power is made manifest in Love.

This Love has no rival. Perfect, divine love has defeated all the powers of darkness and will one day destroy death and everything that opposes life. No greater power endures than the power of gospel love.

I asked Cathy what she most looks forward to, and she responded without hesitation. “I cannot wait for the time when eyes are opened to who Jesus is, and He is worshipped by every tongue, tribe, and nation,” she explained.

Even in this season of waiting for Jesus’ return, Cathy’s story speaks of God’s power. The throb of her heart for those who don’t yet know Him echoes God’s holy restraint as He waits for more to come to know Him.

Many will kneel before the King of Kings all because they saw something in an ordinary woman named Cathy. Something weighty, beautiful, and too powerful for eloquent words that moved them headlong into the arms of God.

Something called Love. Someone named Jesus.

 

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I Am Not the Mom I Used to Be

I love how a simple connection with someone can push you headlong into something deeper without even asking your permission.

Like, at a birthday party, how a random question and your off-the cuff answer can simultaneously surprise you and force you to accept the bittersweet truth that you are not the person you once were.

We were deep in conversation about the mother of all topics: scrapbooking.

Six years ago, I had reached my peak as a digital scrapper. I had the latest software and people paid me to teach them how to make beautiful books out of all their precious memories. Some very trusting people asked me to make books for them. I loved every single part of it.

“Are you still scrapbooking?” she asked me.

The simple answer to her simple questions is: No, I haven’t touched any of it in at least two years; the more complicated question she didn’t ask is: “Why not?” That’s the question I asked myself on the way home.

I’m slow to process, and I always think of what I want to say days after the conversation. But this is how I’d answer that question today:

I am not the mom I used to be.

Scrapbooking, in so many ways, helped give me the courage to tell my story. In the same way that teaching fifth graders gave me confidence to lead women of all ages, scrapbooking has been foundational to my calling.

That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I am a firm believer that God uses anything and everything for our good. And scrapbooking was so very good for me.

The journaling aspect helped me sift through the many parts of a story and decide how those parts fit together. Scanning thousands of images on my computer gave me perspective.

I found it both thrilling and challenging to choose just one word to describe a moment. (I still do!) Then I’d usually explain it all down to the letter in about 100-200 words in a teeny tiny text box, just because.

I met so many good friends and mentors through this hobby of mine. I can’t deny how it prepared me to begin a blog nearly seven years ago. God seemed ok with me doing my thing on that blog for a spell, but I’ll never forget the day He gently reminded me that it was His.

All of it.

The story I thought I owned—yeah, that’s His. My time, my life—even my fears and failures—all of it belongs to Him.

So, here I am… so much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

I’m still writing, taking my lead from Him. I’m still doing my best to connect with others using what He gave me. I’m still struggling with the reality of a daily surrender. I still question, and I still doubt.

So, what’s different? I’m more ok with this thing not being about me.

That casual conversation at the birthday party with that precious girl who knew me way back made me realize something huge: I was scared back then.

I would have never in a million years admitted that to you privately or even out loud at all, but I was terrified I’d get it wrong.

Overcompensation fed my fear that I was never enough.

Between my perfectionist, approval-seeking nature and my belief that infertility had disqualified me and made me late to motherhood somehow, I tackled every single challenge, every moment, every part of being a mom with such intensity that it exhausts me to even reminisce about that girl.

Oh, I still struggle. I’d never want to paint a picture that I have arrived or I have it all together, because I don’t. Just ask the people who really know me. Ask the ones living under my roof.

I think I’ve just come to accept myself… flaws and all. I’m good with here, and I’m good with now, and I’m good with the way God continues to change my heart. Because however broken I am, I’m also His.

In the past five years, more than anything, I’ve come to understand more of God’s grace—what it is and how badly I need it. I’ve learned how important it is for my kids to hear me say, “I’m sorry.”

His grace covers my mother fears, my mother failures, and my whole entire mother-load.

No, I’m not scrapbooking anymore, but I’m still sharing my life, my story. I’m still committed to my people. I’m still learning about God’s grace. But my desire to measure my mothering has lost its appeal.

Scrapbooking is a beautiful and meaningful hobby, and not everyone suffers from the same kind of striving that I do, so this is just me being honest… about my struggle.

Scrapbooks were my go-to tool to measure my kids—their growth, their development, their lives. It was my tangible measuring stick of me as a mom.

I’m done chasing some unrealistic poster-expectations of motherhood. These days, I’m clinging to God’s immeasurable grace. Let’s just say, heaps of grace, or as my son says, “pant-loads”! (Borrowed respectfully from his favorite book, Dragons Love Tacos)

This third child of mine will one day realize that while her brother and sister have a book with almost 100 pages for every year of their life up to age four, the journal I kept on her nightstand as a newborn has dates that lapse over a year.

But, I hope all my children experience the effects grace has had on my mothering… that they feel the warmth and ease of grace’s touch and see the courage it takes this momma to accept grace as she clings to Christ.

Grace gives me the courage to be the mom God says I am.

God is still working all this out in me, and He’ll continue to the day I see Him face to face. I pray Jesus never stops rescuing me from myself. Five years from now, I can only hope that my heart will hold even less of me and so much more of Him.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What I’m Learning About Unsubscribing

The holiday busyness has finally come to a thankful end, and the silence and stillness my soul craves every January has made me glaringly aware of a restlessness I need to address.

Every morning after coffee, I delete about 13-16 emails.

Without opening, or even clicking, I mindlessly drag them to my virtual trash can which is an overflowing mess of advertisements, coupons, time-sensitive offers, and junk.

I need to unsubscribe.

All those times I handed over my email address to get something in return: a receipt, freebie, or steal of a deal.

Then there were times I thought I was getting something I wasn’t. Or the sender turned out to be someone I didn’t recognize.

Today, I make my list and—one by one—I scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, and I click unsubscribe. It feels more refreshing than I expected.

I’m learning the freedom of unsubscribing.

January is always the best time to make space for new—new commitments, new adventures, and new yes’s. New relationships, new growth, new opportunities to join in the work God is already doing. New habits, new rhythms, new rest.

A wise friend recently told me that every season she asks God to prune everything from her life that is not bearing fruit. This is always so hard for me, because it inevitably means saying no to good things, cutting comfortable, and ending habits I’d rather keep in my white-knuckle grip.

Bare often comes before beauty. The practice of making space requires discipline and patience. We make space for yes only by saying no. We make space for new only by disengaging from what isn’t thriving.

Today, my email list is my barometer. I’m learning that I say yes a whole lot more than I should, and after just 15 minutes and 40 un-subscriptions, I realize why I haven’t unsubscribed sooner.

As I methodically click through the steps to disengage from all the marketing agreements, explain myself with a check of a box, and confirm my decision to unsubscribe, I am aware of one lingering fear.

I’ve been dragged down a time or two by the nasty fear of missing out.

Our culture screams to us that if we pull back, step out, or disengage—even for a season—we’ll be left behind and forgotten. We fear we’ll regret the decision as soon as we come to terms with all we are missing out on.

So, we keep subscribing.

The truth is that all this junk is what’s causing us to miss out. We’re missing out, because we’re too busy hauling stuff to the trash every day.

It’s amazing how much less distracted I am after unsubscribing.  I still receive emails. Out of 54 subscriptions, I eliminated 40, roughly 75%. My fourteen favorites I kept, and with all the space left over, I decided to add 3 new subscriptions.

Paying attention to my inbox has made me more aware of what I allow into my head.  I’m asking myself: What are my subscriptions to dangerous and destructive thought patterns costing me? Am I missing out on stuff like peace and opportunity and the silence required to hear the voice of God?

I’m learning through deep cuts and shallow scrapes that what I bargain for doesn’t always end up in my favor. I cooperate—even sign my name on the line—all to my own demise, because the source asking my consent isn’t God.

I’m learning how a cluttered mind crowds out peace.

Though I could easily crank out 40, here are the top ten thought patterns I am unsubscribing from… with God’s help, of course. (Disengaging from destructive or distracting mindsets is never something any of us can achieve on our own.)

I’m pulling every one of these out of my mental inbox and asking God to replace those empty spaces with the truth of His word.

 

M y   u n s u b s c r i b e   l i s t:

living like it’s all up to me

assuming the worst rather than believing the best

trusting others rather than God

fearing others more than I fear God

competing

comparing

harboring bitterness

choosing unforgiveness

measuring impossible expectations

forgetting all about grace

 

This is a lame list of lies or at best, it should be categorized as “Junk” with a capital “J.” It may take a whole lot longer than 15 minutes, but I know I’m not the One accomplishing this feat. Honestly, some of these have been on my unsubscribe list for years now.

Unsubscribing isn’t always automatic.

But the decision to unsubscribe—fueled by a desire to disengage—will eventually eliminate distraction and discouragement. Eventually.

This matters. The space you surrender to God counts. He sees beyond the disgusting pile of garbage all around you… He sees you, and He has a bold plan for all the empty space He wants to help you clear out. He’ll fill every crevice and corner and hollow space with His grace.

God, renew our hearts and minds. We bring every sinful subscription to the foot of Your cross, and ask You to unsubscribe us from all that contradicts your Love and purpose for our lives. Empty us of every lie we’ve believed in fear; empty us of ourselves. Make space in us for Your truth. Amen.

 

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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{GIVEAWAY} The Power of Story

I am over the moon excited to share this surprise with you… Remember Dream Weeper? If you didn’t read her story last week, then quick—go do that, then come right back here. I promise it will put that plump red cherry right on top of this sweet deal…

Every single time I hear someone tell their story, even just a small snippet, I learn something about God.

I see Jesus in a whole new light through the lens of her story. 

This week God taught me something about my story and our stories collectively. Revelation 12:10-11 breaks down the power of story:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

When we share our stories out loud, we can’t help but remember our need and God’s faithfulness to meet that need. Our accuser loses his momentum to convince us otherwise. After all, his primary goal is to get us to doubt that God is who He says He is.

Reminiscing strengthens our faith… and that is some powerful ammo in this spiritual war.

Our story—the intersection Jesus’ blood and our brokenness—is our testimony. The Greek word for testimony is martyria. Do you see it? Martyr. Our testimonies are characterized by a willingness not to shrink back from death.

It reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Here’s the thing: sharing God’s story of redemption through our own personal testimonies will always highlight Jesus as the hero. And really, deep down, on my most selfish (and also my most honest day), I want to be the hero of my story. And I’m just not. I’ll never be.

Jesus is the only thing good and holy and perfect in me.

Jesus invites us to come and die to ourselves so that He might live in and through us. Without the cross and empty tomb, my story falls flat. My need for Him is what makes my story worth telling. Because God has met every single one of my needs—past, present, and future—through Jesus Christ.

Telling our story—our martyria—must be driven by a desire to die … to make Christ the hero of our stories, to tell His story through our brokenness and need.

When I tell my story, I pray I’m telling His.

That’s why I’m so excited about this Giveaway! Alix Carruth created this beautiful canvas to remind us that our stories extend so much farther than ourselves. It’s an 11 x 14 hand-lettered white canvas with gorgeous black letters and gold trim. I just love everything about it!


Already envisioning a spot in your home or workplace for this beauty? I’m going to tell you all about how you could win this amazing piece of art.

To check out more of Alix’s work, visit alixcarruth.com

The winner is . . .

Jeanne Youngblood

Congratulations, Jeanne! This Giveaway is now closed…

Thank you to all who entered!

 

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HER STORY: Dream Weeper

Underneath a canopy of pines, God took scraps of our stories and ignited a connection.  I met Alix during our family’s very first adventure to Pine Cove. Her camp name, “Dream Weeper,” would soon take on a meaning of its own.

Two years later, I’d sit down and listen to her unfold all the layers of her story. I’d learn gobs about this Jesus-chasing girl, plenty about my own heart, and way more than I expected about the God who authors every inconceivable dream.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

This is her story. . .

Alix is a rare gem, full of faith and brimming with passion. She struggled, when she was younger, with the way God designed her heart. Her enlarged capacity to feel anything and everything was both overwhelming and frustrating at times. Is it ok to weep? she wondered. Is it ok to dream? Is there space for how God wired me?

Passion seemed more like a burden than a gift.

She tried to ease her pain by wearing the mask of a bully. But when a car wreck nearly took her life her senior year, Jesus became up-close and real. Though Alix has no recollection of ever not knowing Jesus, His protection, love, and complete control over all the details of her life became tangible to her that day as she sat surrounded by wreckage.

This is her story...

College provided a fresh start, a new beginning. I would have never known that during that hot, August week at Pine Cove’s Family Camp, Alix wished she was somewhere else.

Though she accepted a staff position as videographer, her dream position (and her heart) was down the road at a different camp site where campers were kids not families. But God had a plan for her that summer at the Woods. As she gathered images of family after family, her own view of family began to shift.

Alix never expected to fall in love. But she did. Hard. A new dream took shape. Marriage. Family. But the love she poured out over the following months wasn’t reciprocated. It made no sense.

Why would God invite her into something He knew would only break her heart?

God told her not to run away. Instead, He asked her to sit with the awful sting of rejection, because He knew what would happen next. He never allows a heart to shatter without purpose, without meaning, without lifting something more beautiful out of the debris.

Over the course of that summer, God shattered Alix’s dream of marriage, so that He could show her what marriage truly is: momentary. She discovered how she had put her life’s dream and identity into something completely fleeting.

Too invested to turn back, Alix began a crash course on the depth of God’s love from the very center of the painful wreckage of her broken heart. It was a turning point in her love affair with Jesus.

Through the pain of not being loved back, God showed her gospel love in the most intimate way.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

After graduating, Alix landed her dream job as a designer at Hallmark. When the “dream fluff,” (as she called it) quickly dissipated, God led her to a private tuition-free school for kids who live in poverty. Urban Christian Academy brought a new kind of tension to Alix’s heart.

Again, God asked Alix to surrender her dream. Again, He invited her to check what tethered her identity. Her heart broke once more under the weight of His love as He called her to something higher, something painfully beautiful, something more.

The path to complete surrender is always through the wake of obliterated dreams.

Alix quickly went from volunteering once a week to volunteering twice a week to realizing that she couldn’t go a single day without seeing the bright smiles at UCA.  As she struggled to put words to what was happening to her, she said, “My heart… in the way I relate and serve and love people… comes alive here.”

As an artist at Hallmark, she’s created breathtaking pieces of art, but as a volunteer at UCA, Alix creates something else entirely. She creates space for kids with big personalities. Alix validates those very same feelings she once navigated by just showing up and offering all she’s got.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Two weeks after we sat down to talk, Alix sent me a text letting me know she had quit her dream job at Hallmark and taken a full-time position as Operations Coordinator at UCA. “Oh the stories God writes,” she said.

She’s handed over her dream of design to the One who’s intricately designed her heart.

Her Story: Dream WeeperGod is refining her identity and her passion and using her creativity in ways she’d never dreamed He could use. Here, Alix gets to answer her own deepest question: Is passion a burden or a gift? Her deepest source of pain is now the art she offers every single day.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God spoke His dream over His people who’d been hauled off into exile:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

God told them to embrace both the truth that they were far from home and the promise that His dream for them involved a seven-decade-long captivity.

He explained why the suffering piece was so crucial in the verses that follow:

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:12-14.

God’s dream for His people encompassed that tension Alix knows so well. Every fracture He allows leads to discovery of the passion associated with surrendering our entire hearts to the One who promised us a brand, new heart in return.

God creates His dream home within human hearts, so that He is never far from any of us.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Until I interviewed Alix, I never noticed the same growing tension laced all throughout the book of Jeremiah. God’s dream, beautiful yet perplexing, juxtaposed with the dreams all of us desperately want to believe in.

Lying prophets tickled ears with abbreviated suffering and drive-thru-lane comfort. I probably would have been in that group chasing after these gently spoken dreams, mostly because they sound so much less harsh and so much more attainable.

But these dreams accomplished only one thing: God was completely forgotten. Jeremiah’s message spoke of something altogether different: Surrender.

Surrender sounds nothing like the fairy tales we clutch close.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

And really, that’s it, isn’t it? God’s dreams are impossible without Him, so we settle for dreams that exclude Him or box Him in or make Him secondary, just in case He decides not to come through for us. We struggle to fully trust Him without that back-up plan in our back pocket. What we resist more than anything is our own deep, dependent need for Him to show up.

And yet He has. God’s people—our spiritual ancestors—dreamt a mighty ruler would come free them and overturn every oppressor they’d ever known. No one expected a baby born to ordinary parents from an ordinary town. No one expected a man well-acquainted with suffering. They dreamt of a king who could keep them all from suffering. No one—not even those closest to Jesus—expected Him to die. Innocently. Unjustly. Willingly.  Humbly.

Yeah, He showed up alright.

Three days after He suffered the unthinkable, He showed up. And the dream He had spoken to them became alive. It was a far better dream than anyone there could have ever come up with . . . and it would require bold, blind faith to dream the dream, live the dream, and speak the dream aloud so others could dream, too.

When I asked Alix to define surrender in her own life, I fiercely scribbled every word: “My surrender to the Lord is an acknowledgement of His power, not an agreement for Him to proceed. He’s already writing the story,” she told me. “He’s not asking my permission to take control of things; He already has control.”

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Surrender is believing not relinquishing.

Alix’s story overflows with the deep soul-joy that accompanies true, unhindered surrender. Passion on every page dares us all to throw ourselves into a God-sized dream that will utterly jolt us to our core and fill us to our toes and leave us audaciously and forever changed.

What I love most about her story is how fully she trusts God as she sits patiently at the tip top of the story arc, high above that smoothed out ending. The conflict, the tension, the waiting for all of the things to come together—that is where she is soaking up all she can about the character of God, the beauty of surrender, and the reality of the gospel.

If you asked Alix what it is that’s captivated her heart, what it is she’s truly hooked on, I know she’d answer you in a heartbeat: it’s Him. Jesus. She’s hooked on Him. You will find Me, God says, when you surrender you heart. Jesus is worth every piece of our broken dreams we hand over. Every single piece.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

To connect with Alix and read more about her journey, visit alixcarruth.com.

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