The Ache You Shouldn’t Chase Away

My man and I agreed early on in our relationship not to make a huge fuss over Valentine’s Day, because let’s be honest, anniversaries pretty much cover the whole “let’s celebrate our love” sentiment. But every year, when the Day of Love rolls around, I feel it. The ache to celebrate.

I’ve perfected the art of chasing that ache away.

This year I decided long before the 14th of February that I was not going to feel it. Facebook would not taunt me with pictures of beautiful flowers on doorsteps. I avoided the seasonal aisle like the common cold. How very wise and mature, I told myself.

I celebrated alone, recalling all the things God has done in my marriage, all the ways He has walked beside us, healed us, grown us. It was good. I was good. Really, good.

I sat in the middle of a sloppy mountain of laundry, dirty hair snatched up in a bun, when my man waltzed in at 5:00 p.m. on Valentine’s Day and announced he was taking me out to dinner. A celebration wasn’t in my plans, and he would soon find out that I was in no mood to celebrate.

I did the only reasonable thing I knew to do: I blew up.

I couldn’t understand why he didn’t tell me. He knows I hate surprises. This same guy perfects every prank he pulls yet has enough sense to never ever bring any of them my way. He truly believed surprising me would be something other than a reckless disaster.

He tried something spontaneous, but forgot his wife is allergic to spontaneity.

As I fussed and questioned and completely lost sight of this tender gesture, my heart quipped out words from the deepest parts of my heart: Does he even know me?

When my amazing husband tried to whisk me away for an unscheduled date on Valentine’s Day, I threw a pathetic hissy fit. I wanted clean hair and something pretty to wear; I wanted to not smell like apple juice and sweat.

But his invitation snagged something deeper. I was so proud that I didn’t have crazy expectations, because in my mind, those expectations were causing me harm.

Hiding underneath all my self-protection was this longing to celebrate and be celebrated.

It turns out that expectations had nothing to do with the ache. My man did everything right, exceeded my expectations and still, I felt it. Curbing my expectations as a means of control didn’t change the fact that, underneath it all, my heart longs to be celebrated, to be fully known and fully loved.

In the end, I curled my dirty hair, put on some lipstick, and let my husband take me out on a Valentine’s date. I found a cute outfit at the very bottom of the laundry pile. (Bonus: it was clean!)

On the way to the restaurant, I told him how dead wrong I was and promised to leave all of my attitude—at least most of it—in the truck. We ate way too much food and laughed way too loud. Neither of us will forget Valentine’s Day 2017 anytime soon. Since then, I’ve wondered whether this ache is evidence of my heart’s design.

What if it isn’t something to pray away or control or hide?

What difference would it make if we leaned in and embraced this ache, claimed it as proof we were made for another place? Could this unsatisfied longing become a reminder of God’s promises to come? Could we solve the confusion by shifting our expectations from this place to the one we’re destined for?

Zechariah 3:17 says, The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

God makes a pretty big fuss over us, because He delights in us. His love calms all our insecurities and quiets all our unanswered questions. And here’s my favorite part: He sings over us. Loud shouts of celebratory joy. Over you. Over me.

The Ache You Shouldn't Chase Away

The very next verse is underlined in my bible, because the words speak directly into this ache I’ve tried and tried to chase away. “I will remove from you all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals, which is a burden and reproach for you.” (Zechariah 3:18)

The city is in ruins, the temple destroyed, the people dispersed, and celebrations forgotten. Zechariah describes the absolute brokenness of this fallen world. He goes on to talk about justice and rescue and the gathering of those who have been oppressed and have suffered shame.

The book ends with the promise of an elaborate homecoming.

This precious promise is sturdy enough to hold all my expectations and the entirety of my hope. When the grandest celebration of all time commences, those who belong to God will be in His presence, fully seen and fully known.

So, how do we handle this ache to celebrate and the longing to be known? What do we do until Jesus comes back to take us home? Zephaniah would tell us to draw near to God. Acknowledge the ache, accept it rather than try to chase it away. Keep celebrating, but quit looking to earthly celebrations to accomplish what only Jesus can satisfy.

The deep longing in our hearts is a universal ache, not a personal flaw. 

This doesn’t change the fact that our hearts will continue to ache, but it aligns our longing with truth. Truth’s primary job is to set our hearts free. Free to love, free to dance, free to celebrate. And while we wait, rather than chase away the ache that haunts us, let’s worship the Mighty One in our midst.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Three Ways Our Comfort Zones Deprive Us

I grab the stack of mail and mindlessly work my way through bills, ads, and junk.

My slow cooker is handling dinner, so I snag this tiny window of quiet to thumb through the pages of this month’s Pottery Barn catalog.

Somewhere between exquisite bed pillows propped on velvety sheets and rooms that suggest someone has momentarily stepped out, I discover something I’ve been missing in this magazine that boasts of comfort and sophistication.

People.

Families, dogs, real-life people who aren’t just a blurred afterthought.

As I zero in on expressions and imagine personalities, I wonder where these faces have been all this time. On my visual stroll through stunning spaces, I start to see how my own comfort zone has deprived me.

Maintaining our comfort zones means control but no authenticity, safety but no passion, perfection but no connection.

After a little research, I learn that Pottery Barn redesigned their catalog to include humans in 2001, but all the photos with people were edited out of the final draft. I’m sure I know why.

The people who occupy space in my living room are messy and loud. Daily evidence of their presence includes dirty socks left on the floor, last night’s snack wrapper (plus some bonus crumbs), Cheerios between couch cushions, and the six-year-old’s latest LEGO creation that the two-year-old will surely find and destroy.

People offer perspective for a home magazine like Pottery Barn. A purposely placed human can help show the actual size of furniture, but this successful company has avoided using them over the years because people pose inevitable risks. A person is just one more element that can cause a customer to react.

I chuckle at the boy eating Oreos on the light gray couch. On a different page this same boy stands on the edge of a sectional with a baseball in hand. I feel as if I might know the woman in her kitchen making dinner. I wonder what she’s cooking, how many she’ll be feeding, and whether she ever uses a crock pot like me. But then I remember she’s not real.

Until now, Pottery Barn has played it safe by displaying picture perfect scenes void of real life. But we’re really no different.

We like our comfort zones because we like our control, but control deprives us of authenticity.

My youngest is as fierce as they come. Ever since she rolled in my belly to the sound of worship music on Sunday mornings, we knew God made her to live life out loud. Since the day she arrived, this pint-sized member of our family has displayed the entire range of emotion with the volume cranked all the way up.

Brené Brown talks a lot about how numbing our negative emotions results in numbing the positive ones too. Any counselor will tell you that the freedom in forgiveness is claimed by wading through the anger and acknowledging the hurt.

When my girl’s angry, there is no holding back. When she’s happy, you can’t hold back your own delight. God has a plan for her animated personality. I don’t wish away the kicking screaming fits because I’d never want to erase the smiles she elicits.

We buy the lie that our comfort zones will keep us safe, but they deprive us of passion.

When I circle back to Pottery Barn’s stance on the liability of using human subjects, I think about critics I’d rather avoid. If I was mapping out people in my life like emotions in my heart, then my critics would be down on the far end with all the negative emotions. But what about the other end? Whose names would I write there? Who in my life brings joy into my day?

People like you.

I love connecting with readers I’ve never met in person and hearing that you too struggle with this thing called life, but I would never get to hear your stories if I didn’t believe God’s plan in sharing my own. And sometimes, my feet stretch far and wide across that imaginary comfort zone boundary. But it’s worth it every time.

God has only ever asked me to share publicly what He’s already healed within me privately, but it’s still difficult. Vulnerability is never easy, because it shatters the allure of a perfect image. From negative emotion to negative feedback, we spend our energy trying to bypass the very stuff that makes us human… and very alive!

We believe that our comfort zones will help us achieve perfection, but they deprive us of connection.

So how do we take bold strides to cross the lines our safe zones have kept us frozen behind? We look to the One who left His throne for our sake. Jesus came to us as a helpless newborn. Vulnerable in every way. He endured the hatred and slander and abuse of the critics and took on sin and shame and rejection… for us.

Jesus experienced every human emotion during His thirty-three years on earth. Up and down the continuum in both directions. He left heaven knowing full well what crossing that boundary would cost Him. In His eyes, we were worth it.

I’ve tried my hardest to live the abundant life from within my tidy comfort zone, and it just doesn’t work like that. We can’t have connection without vulnerability, passion without pain, and authenticity without surrender.

We can’t have abundant life without death.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Let’s ditch our comfort zones today, because haven’t they hindered us long enough? We only find passion, connection, and authenticity outside of the lines of safety, perfection, and control.  In this world, we’re going to have our fair share of trouble, but Jesus has overcome the world.

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A Resuscitation Story

Four words quickened tired hearts. Peace be with you! They had watched this man wash their dirty feet then take His last breath. Now, He stood before them with deep scars of love. Risen. Alive. Victorious.

No one expected this. The women at the tomb at dawn fully anticipated a dead body. Later that evening, Jesus’ closest companions huddled together in fear behind a locked door. Hopeless and despondent, they needed to be revived.

They forgot who Jesus was . . . and they forgot how to breathe.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

As God breathed life into Adam, Jesus breathed His Spirit into man. Re-birth. Re-creation. Resuscitation.

Jesus’ instructions are beautifully simple: Receive Me, then go. No wonder I get so out of breath. My strength is never enough to go where he is sending me. But Jesus’ gift precedes His call.

There is a rhythm to breathing. It’s daily. In and out, in and out, in and out. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b) This has become my prayer this Lenten season: Jesus, teach me to breathe freely so that my heart is not faint.

The state of my heart depends on the pattern of my breath.

God designed our bodies to follow this delicate balance. There is no giving, going, or serving without first receiving, accepting, embracing. There can be no loving others without first believing we are loved. In and out, in and out, in and out, the cadence of creation continues.

Breathing is vital to survival. Jesus resuscitates by giving us new breath—His breath. His power and peace activate new life. We are more than revived; we are a whole new creation.

Jesus wasn’t one bit surprised to find his closest followers hunkered down in despair. He knew the state in which He would find them in the days following His death. He knew the devastation. Without His breath in them, they would never have the power to overcome the doubt, grief, the nagging questions, or pride that convinced them they could step out alone.

Jesus told them again and again that He was sending them out as sheep among wolves, but He also warned them that the sheep of the flock—every single one of them—would scatter.

The survival of the flock depends on the care of the shepherd.

Shepherd and sheep share an intricate relationship. A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture, then brings them back into the fold, counting each under his rod. Once the flock is secure, he lays down across the threshold, acting as a gate to protect his sheep.

A Resuscitation Story

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) In and out. In and out. We return to remember who He is—the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep; we step out in faith, believing we will find fullness in a life completely dependent on Him.

Jesus will not stop until all His lost sheep have been found. And that is where this bunch of ordinary men and women came in. And it’s where you and I will likely find our places as well.

When Jesus saw Peter, the one who denied He knew Jesus over and over, and over again, Jesus didn’t shame Peter or criticize him or even question him about that night. He had told Peter ahead of time that it would go down the way it did.

Listen to the gentle rhythm of this precious exchange between Shepherd and sheep:

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things…. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

 

Jesus’ questioning had more to do with Jesus’ love for Peter than Peter’s love for Him. As Peter confessed, “Lord, you know all things,” he remembered who Jesus is.

Return to My love for you, Peter (breathe in). Step out for the sake of My sheep (breathe out). Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Return, step out, return, step out, return, step out.

As who God is becomes more clearly defined in our lives, our breathing regulates. Our hearts no longer faint. When we step out, we choose to believe in who God is; we return to rest in His love. Rest and believe, rest and believe, rest and believe. This is the rhythm of following Jesus, the pulse of new life.

We are survivors, because we have His breath in us.

The Good Shepherd became the Perfect Lamb, sacrificed to purchase precious peace. And with the breath of God in them, those scattered sheep became shepherds of His flock.

Lord, show us where we’re running on the fumes of our own strength. Cultivate humility in our hearts as we return to you to remember who you are and whose we are. Show us where we’re holding our breath in fear. Give us fresh faith to recognize Your power within us. Regulate our breathing, resuscitate our lifelessness, and teach us to breathe freely. Thank you for the peace You’ve given us.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  Hebrew 13:20-21

 

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When God Doesn’t Prevent the Fire

We count twenty-eight of them on the short trip to school. Most painted red, some a cheery yellow. I grin as my boy full of questions hops out of the car. His teacher will be responsible for his curiosity until this afternoon.

This morning he wanted to know about fire hydrants.

I told him they allow firefighters to tap into the water supply in case of a fire. Satisfied with my simple answer, we made a game out of counting them. What I didn’t tell him was how his questioning made me remember that our subdivision—just outside city limits and “rural” by definition—has none such hydrants.

I also didn’t tell my boy how counting those icons of protection on nearly every block made me aware of how unprotected I’ve felt in the past. I’ve spent years of my life believing the bold-faced lie that God failed to protect me. That I was outside His grasp. That He either couldn’t or wouldn’t protect me.

Because God did not prevent every fire in my life.

Back then, I didn’t understand what I know now, what the fire itself has enabled me to see. When God didn’t prevent the fire, those flames were accomplishing something good in me.

God’s protection is revealed both in what He prevents and what He permits.

I remember how I left the candle burning just the other night. All night long. Found it the next morning still ablaze. I blew it out, thought, “Whew, that was close,” and went on about my day like nothing happened. I don’t think much about the fires God’s prevented in my life. I tend to focus on the ones He’s permitted.

Sometimes, I need to remember that a hydrant can never guarantee security.

I noticed a rhythm that day we counted them on the way to school, evenly spaced and positioned. Like clockwork, I’ve kept in step with that beat called control.

I’ve handed over trust to many forms of false security.

I might not have surrounded myself with fire hydrants, but I had my own icons of protection. Icon might not be an accurate word choice. Idol is a much better fit. Relationships, positions, circumstances.

My God—who answers by fire—has used those flames to rid me of every false sense of security I’ve clutched close. He uses the fire to prove how I’ll never be outside His grip. Because He walks through the flames right beside me.

Peter tells believers, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

And yet, fires do surprise us; they alarm us, even.

Sometimes, we outright question God’s faithfulness and His protection at the first whiff of smoke. Peter says fires are just part of following Jesus.

Of all people, Simon Peter must have questioned God. Brave, outspoken walk-on-water-Peter swore he’d go straight to his very own death to pledge his allegiance to Christ. But three crows from the rooster confirmed his inability to keep his promise.

Though Peter’s faith would falter, Jesus would not let his faith fail. Jesus’ words to Peter before His death indicate a greater power at work behind the scenes, a power great enough to keep a promise.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Instead of letting the flames take us by surprise, let’s welcome them. Instead of questioning a God who permits fiery ordeals, let’s lock eyes with the One standing in the flames beside us. Instead of believing the lie that says we’re unprotected, let’s lean in real close and listen to the words of Jesus… and let’s believe Him. 

Jesus keeps His promises.

But I have prayed for you, my child, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen the others.

The next morning, my sleepy-eyed boy stands in his Batman pjs and recalls the bad dream that woke him in the dark. He hadn’t come downstairs to wake me like he usually does. I ask why not.

“You told me to pray anytime something scares me, Mom, so I did,” he says matter-of-factly.

I wait for him to go on, but I sense he has finished his thought.

“And?” I ask, prompting him to continue.

“And… God was with me, of course,” he replies, then curls up in a blanket on the couch.

Lost in cartoon-land moments later, I doubt he even hears me say, “Of course.” I repeat the words a second time to my own heart, “Of course, He is.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

2

Just a Bird

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

Together, we hung thin braches on her bedroom wall and arranged colorful birds framed in various sizes above her bed. I printed out Jesus’ words about the sparrows and placed them near her mirror where we brush her hair.

After scrubbing hot pink and lime green paint out from underneath my fingernails, I gave her wall one last look—stenciled outlines depicting birds on a line—and I prayed this whole bird thing wasn’t a fast phase.

When she turned six, we updated her bedroom from toddler to big girl, and she was super clear about what she wanted. Birds. Everywhere birds. Every kind of bird.

In the remaking of a little girl’s bedroom, I caught a peek at her heart’s kindness towards God’s smallest creatures.

But I glimpsed something else, too.

Adorable is her favorite word to describe the common blackbirds and jays that visit our trees in the backyard. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when her fascination with birds began. I didn’t pay much attention to it until last Christmas.

With unshakable confidence, she walked right up to Santa Claus and asked him to bring her a book that would help her learn more about birds. Santa’s face crinkled the same way mine did when she revealed her uncommon wish list. But with a wink, her wish was as good as granted.

To this day, she carries her prized gift, a North American Bird Guide, in her backpack to school, just in case she spots a bird on the way.

She’s learned how to identify them based on their size, color, and habits. She can tell you which birds hang around all year round and which ones are just migrating through.

I’ve always thought of a bird as just a bird.

The word that comes to mind is hardly adorable when I look out the window and see one perched on the fence out back. Everyday. Common. Ordinary sounds more like it.

But my bird-girl doesn’t see “just” birds. She recognizes each and every feature—from ruby red throats to the color of their bellies—and understands how these distinguish them as completely unique.

Swallows, jays, mallards, wood ducks, starlings, robins, egrets, hummingbirds, chickadee, hawks, mockingbirds, meadowlarks, kingfisher, doves, blackbirds, and sparrows.

We can’t go to the zoo without stopping at the corner where exotic parrots, long-legged flamingos, and peacocks strut their stuff. Eagles and vultures and even the tiniest feathered creatures captivate her heart in ways I’ll never understand.

She bought a bird feeder and wild bird seed with her tooth fairy money, and her daddy hung in from the oak in the backyard. Armed with her bird guide and a pair of binoculars, she sat and waited for them to come. She waited and waited. And waited.

The squirrels found the seed first, but my girl never gave up hope. For two long months, she waited.

Then one day, squeals of pure little girl delight broadcasted the arrival of a full flock of birds to our lawn out back. They rocked that feeder, two at time, with aggressive determination. Red-winged blackbirds and brown, speckled sparrows.

With a beautiful kind of wonder, I watched my girl watch those birds.

I’ve yet to shake the feeling.

They say that artists leave a piece of their heart behind in everything they create. God does the same, I think. I see a glimpse of His kindness right there in the heart of a six-year-old girl who loves the birds He made and cares for.

Jesus’ words refresh my heart today—the very ones we framed and hung in my bird-girl’s room so she’d never forget, the same words my heart needs especially today. Maybe you need them, too?

You are more valuable than many sparrows.

In our house, there is no such thing as “just a bird,” and in God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as just a wife, just a mom, just a daughter, just a (you fill in the blank.) You are so much more.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

2

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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