What I’m Learning: Summer 2017

What I'm Learning: Summer Edition

I like the quiet habit of sitting down each season and looking back to remember. It remedies my rushed soul and invites me to recognize the lessons I tend to unintentionally discard.

I scribble out this causal list, determined to make it to number ten. At seven, I put down my pen. I’m learning that God’s ways are perfect, and since seven is synonymous with completion, I choose to accept that this list of seven things I’m learning is also complete… for now. For this season.

I’ll end with three tiny dots, a sure sign I’m still learning. The walk continues, the pursuit continues, growth continues, and love continues to carry me on into the next season ahead.

Seven things I’m learning this summer…

  1. Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded. But then a friend’s precious wisdom helped me see a more effective defense when tempted to compare.

She challenged me to redirect my focus back onto God by thanking Him for the beauty I see in others. I’ve practiced this summer, (and when I say practice, I do mean it’s a work in progress) but I’ve noticed a faint trace of peace in my heart. I love the notion of imperfect progress, and this is where God has me.

  1. You’re never too old to try something new.

My picky eater tried ice cream for the first time this year. He’s seven. (I know.) Our family outings to the ice cream shop end with cups of ice cream for all but one. He’s always been content with his bowl full of toppings. Until he tried the delicious stuff at school towards the end of his Kindergarten year.

This summer my girl suggested we grab some ice cream cones on a weekly grocery run. That night after dinner, we all piled heaps of ice cream onto perfectly shaped sugar waffle cones—Homemade Vanilla for the boys and Southern Blackberry Cobbler for the girls, thank you very much Blue Bell!

You're never too old to try something new.

Watching my boy at age seven attack an ice cream cone for the very first time was a little bit like witnessing pure joy. When I start to tell myself I’m too old to try new things, I want to remember the grin on my boy’s face!

  1. The recipe for righteousness has always been and will always just Jesus.

Words like faith and abide fill my Christian vernacular, yet so often my understanding of their true meaning is lacking at best. I’m learning how to embrace the simple side of faith and how to let go of striving in my own strength.

Who knew an anniversary trip to Napa Valley with my man could have such drastic effects on my relationship with Christ? I’m thankful for the travel time, but even more thankful for the way Jesus is never ever finished with me.

  1.  God’s story cannot be silenced.

Our enemy is power hungry, but since He cannot steal the power of God within us, He comes after something else: our voices. I’m learning that God’s story cannot be silenced. Since my story tells His story, I cannot be silenced either.  

The stunning book of Daniel has captivated my heart this summer. God is teaching me that He is sovereign, unchangeable, and the ultimate pursuer of hearts.

  1. Only God can turn shame into beauty.

I don’t see my friend Julie very often, but when she visited a few months ago, I had the precious privilege of hearing her storyThough we grew up together, so much of what she shared was new to my ears. Her story gave me new eyes to view my own story.

I’m learning that my wounds and scars and battle stories reveal that I’ve been redeemed. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus.

  1. One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I have struggled my heart out over this one this summer. Jesus washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him. My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

This summer Love is leading me through rejection, hurt, and loss. I’m learning that love is always worth it in the end.

  1. Water balloons and sunshine are overrated. Bring on the rain!

We had big plans for our first day of summer with our box of 350+ water balloons and plastic water guns. When the rain came and stayed for a while, we exchanged our water war plans for puddle jumping instead.

When we finally got our day of water fun, the big kids and I raced to fill water balloons before their baby sister launched them into the grass, making a neon mess. The fun lasted minutes; the cleanup, however, lingered on and on.

The next day, as we wiped away the Texas sweat, the kids begged to pull on their rain boots and twirl their umbrellas. The impromptu shade made a hot summer day a little more beautiful!

Water balloons and sunshine are overrated.

I pray your summer was sweet and refreshing and full of learning adventures! I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Sharing what we’re learning connects our hearts in such a simple yet beautiful way.

Until next season…

0

The War of Awe

A theme of conflict pulses through the book of Daniel. War, opposition, power struggle. Kingdom against kingdom. I notice the spiritual battle that surrounds me, and with God’s help, I begin to recognize the war within me.

My heart is the battle ground where flesh opposes Spirit. All I want to do is look away, look away because it’s too personal, too much. Spiritual growth is spiritual warfare, and the is struggle intense.

In his book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Paul David Tripp says that sin has made us not only lawbreakers, but awe breakers as well.

“Sin captures and redirects the motivational system of our hearts. Sin changes how our hearts operate… We exchange awe of Creator for awe of created… most fundamentally awe of self.”

War of Awe

Daniel 10 is a lead-in to the final vision of what’s to come for the people of God and for the end of time. 

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. Daniel 10:1

It takes several reads to recognize Daniel’s name assigned to him by his captors, Belteshazzar. I think it’s intended to remind us that he is not free. Daniel is still in exile, in bondage; he has yet to be delivered.

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

God has given us hearts to know Him; He restores our hearts in this ongoing struggle between awe of self and awe of God. Tripp says, “Spiritual growth is about recapturing your awe.”

Reading through the book of Daniel this summer, I’ve seen the physical conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The turmoil in Daniel’s visions mirrors the nightly news feed and reminds me of the ongoing unseen battle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17

In Christ, the flesh no longer controls us; the Spirit leads us instead. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Daily. We die to self daily. Though our eternal rescue is complete, we look to Jesus to daily rescue us from ourselves.

What God begins, He finishes.

My flesh longs to worship self; the Spirit knows my heart needs to worship God alone. It’s a power struggle called sanctification. It’s an all-out war between the kingdom of me and the Kingdom of God, and I want this war to end.

Jesus Christ has personally carried me from victim to victor. He has made a way—the only way—for this enemy of God to become a child of God. And in the very end, He will win this war of awe.

God recaptures our awe through an ongoing, grace-filled, intimate relationship with us. He created us to live utterly and completely enthralled by Him, and the Spirit gives us everything we need to intimately know Him.

A friend asked me recently to pray that God would light a fire in her to live for Him alone. I told her it would be my absolute honor to pray with her. This prayer reveals humility and an understanding that all we have to do is ask God to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

None of us can spark our own fires.

I can’t. You can’t. The Spirit is our fire, our sanctifier. The realization that sin has hijacked our awe can overwhelm, especially if you’re like me, and you’re just waiting for Jesus to give up on you, because you would’ve given up on you ages ago. This beautiful prayer invites us to turn to God instead and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

Spark a fire in me. Keep the fire going. Kindle the flame when it starts to fade.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

0

What Does Love Cost?

How do you really describe the trauma your heart endures when you pour so much of yourself—the very best part—into another soul only to find there must have been a hole somewhere or a hairline crack just deep enough that all your love ran right through?

Used up, gone, vanished into the thin air you’ll absorb as your own next breath.

If we knew the ending, would our own self-protection deny vulnerability?

Would we really have invested precious time, or would we have held back? God’s word tells me that every word spoken, every prayer whispered in faith, every bit of love poured out matters.

Even in the ending that I never wanted. Even when my heart tells me a different story.

Jesus laid out what it means to become His disciple in Mark 1:17. “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Discipleship is relational. First to Christ, then to others. Following Jesus means a life anchored in Love.

Willing hearts distinguished twelve flawed men as followers of Christ. Their imperfect steps remind me that they were recipients of grace, just like me. Their questions, their failures, and their relational struggles remind me that God cares most about the heart.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that the results weren’t up to them; they were dependent upon Jesus every step of the way. These men had no idea what the outcomes would be, but they went where Jesus sent them because they learned to trust Him.

These twelve relied on Jesus’ compassion when they lacked love, and they depended on His provision when they had nothing left to give. Discipleship is marked by a willingness to learn and go and serve. Disciples of Jesus also willingly face rejection.

The book of Mark poses two types of people: opponents of Jesus or followers of Jesus. The choice was simply reject Jesus, or be rejected because of Jesus. The disciples, over time, would identify with Christ—with His rejection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death.

One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I’m struggling with this one today, because it seems too difficult, too much. Jesus knew He’d be rejected, but He loved the world anyway. He washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him.

My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

That used up sensation throbs when there isn’t a relationship where one should have been or could have been, or where one used to be, and isn’t any more. Relationships can be messy, but we are tethered to the One who is relationally perfect.

Jesus will never lie or leave or exploit.

Anything God leads us into can be used for our good, because He is with us in it—even in that ending we wish we could rewrite. All the love God asks us to pour out is overflow from His unending love supply.

Love is never wasted; pain isn’t either. God uses it to mold us and transform us, to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Discipleship includes a willingness to trust beyond understanding, a willingness to go and give and live beyond comfort, and a willingness to love regardless of outcome.

What does love cost? Everything. It cost everything. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Come take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

1

The Simple Side of Faith

My man and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary back in May by taking a kid-free trip to Napa Valley. The gorgeous scenery and fine wine were just the backdrop. The quiet was everything I knew it would be and more. Getting away reminded me just how much I love hanging out with this guy.

Napa Valley

At each vineyard we visited, I caught myself considering Jesus’ words from John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” I don’t often think of farming when I pour a glass of cabernet, but I learned that wine-making is a complex process.

The intricate relationship between the vine and the branches drew my heart to the sovereignty of the One who oversees the growth in my own heart.

The care with which the vine is tended, the way the fruit matures, and the process that manifests itself in a beautiful bottle of wine is anything but simple. Such extensive labor and creativity goes into making wine that we heard it called art.

We are the Father’s work of art, ever changing and growing, becoming more beautiful with time.

Later in the week, I grabbed my bible and read more of Jesus’ words in John 15, certain that He wanted to speak to me though this intriguing illustration. In just ten verses, He repeats the word remain eleven times. Abide, another interchangeable term, means to continue to be present, to be held or kept.

In my everyday moments, this looks like resting in God’s thoughts about me; it looks like claiming my identity in Christ, the true vine. When I take every thought captive and line it up with the truth in God’s word, I realize my part really is breathtakingly simple.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The times I’m most defeated, discouraged, and doubtful are the times I’m trying so hard to bear fruit on my own. Jesus says it’s not possible.

Apart from His love, nothing will grow.

I am the vine; you are the branches.

His love is the only love that’s pure and perfect and able to produce good in us.

Jesus continues, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9, 16-17)

After Jesus describes His own extravagant love, He gives the command, Love one another.

It’s beautifully straightforward yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

It’s beautifully straightforward, yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

Jordan Feliz has a song called Simple. These lyrics resonate particularly well with my soul: “In my dirt you call me worth it…” Sometimes, it’s so hard to receive perfect, unconditional love.

This occasional struggle in my soul plays out when I look to another love to sustain and carry me, when I’m anything but present to the whisper of the Spirit, or when I all-out reject my God-given identity, because accepting God’s love means I have nothing to prove and my selfish ambition becomes just a hair skeptical of this lavish love Jesus offers.

Receiving God’s love doesn’t have to be complex.

God does all the work. All we do is trust Him, believe Him, and let His love carry us. Then we watch how it changes the way we love others.

God is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking. This part is hard, complex. The produce at the end of harvest holds endless possibilities and combinations. Every minute detail gets adjusted to achieve the desired outcome.

The farmer—that’s God—is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking.

Harsh frost, direct sunlight, and changing seasons pose all kinds of threats to the fruit growing on the vine. Farmers use windmills to move cool mountain air along down the valley so frost cannot damage the grapes. They even consider the angle of the sunlight onto the fruit in the planting process.

The branches are not responsible for these challenges; they are the Vinedresser’s responsibility, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. The fruit He produces lasts for eternity.

Jesus, the true vine and true way back to the Father’s love, took care of the complicated part for us.

The vine produces fruit; the branches bear the fruit. This part is natural and straightforward and overwhelmingly… simple. But our part also requires a response: obey. “Do what He tells you,” wise words straight from the mother of the One who changed water into wine.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Fruit takes time. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit we can count on when we’re united with Christ: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

This isn’t a list of rules, but a list of character traits, evidence of how deeply our character is altered when we put on the righteousness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a remedy for our sin; it’s evidence of Christ in us.

Christ is the only remedy we need.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Simple yet so complex. Profound in every way. Let’s leave the complicated part to Him and rest in the simplicity of reckless love.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

4

The Most Effective Defense Against Comparison

The enemy is after our relationships. He knows his method, though quiet and subtle, can bring us to a paralyzing halt. He comes after beauty with every evil intention to kill, steal, and destroy.

As a woman called to serve women, he’s come after every friendship, every sister relationships, every good and perfect gift God’s ever given me in another woman.  Because he hates beauty, and he is scared out of his mind.

The Most Effective Weapon Against Comparison

Cathy, a friend I admire and respect, shared with me her strategy against the comparison attack. Her beautiful wisdom has made such a difference in my life. She didn’t hide her struggle with comparing herself to other women; but she also hasn’t let the enemy gain any ground. Her advice was profoundly refreshing.

“Do the most with what God has given you. Do your thing, and do your thing well. Don’t be jealous of others; instead, learn from them. Be motivated by them. Give God thanks for the beauty you see in others who are using their gifts.”

Give thanks for the beauty you see in her.

Giving thanks takes our attention off ourselves and back onto God, the Giver of good gifts. When we start to hold ourselves up to another, we can ask God to show us the beauty He sees, and then thank Him for it.

One of my sisters throws parties unlike anyone else I know. Birthday parties, showers, weekend get-togethers, holidays—you name it. Not only does she throw unique, one-of-a-kind parties, she loves every second of it. I’ve watched her. She doesn’t get stressed out. She is a beautiful host.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other sister is a vibrant athlete. After having three kids. She is energetic and always, always, always on the move. It suits her and her family. She thrives in action, and she exhibits spontaneity and excitement. She’s taught me that you’re never too old to play with your kids (or against them.) She is a beautiful mom in her own unique way.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend who makes anything look good. She has a way of putting things together, whether it’s pairing a fun summer outfit with a bright shade of lipstick, or a room full of eclectic furniture with a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Comfortable in her own skin and confident in her own style, she isn’t afraid to speak her mind or laugh too loud.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have another friend who is a natural connector. She knows everybody’s name and important bits of their stories. I always find myself right at home no matter what we’re discussing. She is such a good listener, because she listens for all the right reasons.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I have a friend with a magnetic personality. People are drawn to her because she is funny, truthful, and a blast to be around. But when she talks about Jesus, there’s something that draws you in further, makes you want to know Jesus the way she knows Him.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

My other friend is a prayer warrior. When she bows her head and opens her mouth, the most eloquent, powerful Spirit-led prayers emerge. She approaches the throne of grace with boldness and awe. She shows up and offers her gift willingly and confidently.

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

I could go on and on about the beauty I see in the women all around me, but I picked these few because I am so very different than each of them. And it is ok. God really did plan it that way!

Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

I don’t throw big elaborate parties, because I’ve had to let go of the Pinterest perfection that doesn’t exist in the first place. Big parties stress me out, and I always end up yelling at my kids on their birthdays. One on one conversations with my people is where I excel.

I am not an athlete, but my mind is always working, processing, noticing. Pale shades and neutrals hang in my closet and cover my home. They calm my soul and remind my prone-to-striving heart to rest instead.

I don’t know everybody’s name or everyone’s story. I have a few close friendships, because my close friendships are for life. God made me a quiet introvert, but He gave me a voice, too.

God has gifted me with ways to serve, and He has given me a unique purpose within the body of Christ. The same is true of you. Whoever you are and wherever you are. You are needed and you are valuable to the kingdom of God.

There are women in your life, too, I imagine, that are so very different from you. Friends. Sisters. Maybe you view them as competition, or maybe you believe that noticing their beauty means you need to become more like them.

The only One we’re called to be like is Jesus. No one else.

Beauty begins with you being you.

At one point, I hit a wall with comparison in my life. I asked God how to stop comparing myself to other women, because I knew my thoughts about myself were not honoring Him. Do you know what He said to me?

Quit.

That’s it. Just one little word. Four letters. Q.U.I.T. I kept listening, waiting for more. I wanted a detailed action plan that better fit this monumental struggle in my life, but that was all He said.

If you want to stop comparing yourself, then quit. Just stop. 

God asked me to leave a way of thinking. He revealed how unhealthy this habit was. God encouraged me to give up trying to be someone I’m not. He led me away from a false view of myself, so I could discover who He created me to be.

God invited me to just be me.

I struggled at first to admit that comparison was my hidden addiction, destructive for me and harmful for my relationships. Some days I still wrestle with how to be me, the real me.

I know I’m not alone in this fight, because my relationships aren’t the only ones that threaten the kingdom of darkness. My only defense against comparison for so many years was striving. Try harder, do better, be someone else. Striving only left me wounded.

Gratitude is a much more effective defense against comparison. Give God thanks for the beauty you see today.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

3

God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

2

Destined for Hard Times

Nothing prepared me for this. I mean nothing. I had seen flat, two-dimensional pictures, sure. My mind held a handful of facts, all amazing, but some things in life must be experienced in person for a deeper meaning to take root. My trip with my husband to Muir Woods this spring was one of them.

Muir Woods

It was only our first day of vacation, so we were still easing into that slow, unrushed pace. Distraction had not yet been fully chased away by rest. The fresh California air was helping, though.

My husband chuckled at my choice of shoes, playfully grabbed my hand, and assured me that we would take a leisure Sunday stroll rather than an intense off-the-path hike through the park. As we walked, we tipped our heads way back to peak at the towering redwoods whose branches jutted up into the clouds.

Muir Woods

“You know that the seeds of these things are tiny, right?” he said.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I mean, I know about the mustard seed, how size often has little to do with presence. We walked and talked, took selfies and shook our heads at the possibility of such gigantic trees. We snapped a picture of a cone that was the size of my thumb. Just one cone will shed anywhere between 30-100 seeds.

redwood cone actual size

As I absorbed these facts, something remarkable stood out to me: For seeds to germinate and grow into these gigantic trees, they must fall on fresh mineral soil that has somehow been exposed, either by fire, flood, or the downfall of an established tree.

A fire, flood, or fall helps a tree mature.

That same morning, I read Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. Timothy’s role was to encourage believers that the presence of suffering shouldn’t leave them unsettled. Though trials themselves are always a genuine struggle, Paul urged them to not be shaken in their faith. His words apply to our hearts as well.

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We are destined for hard times.

Floods may convince us we’re drowning and alone, fires often hint that God failed us, and every fall can feel final somehow, yet these things help us grow.

We look forward to an eternal paradise, but we are destined for trials here on earth. Appointed is another way to put it. When God anointed David as king, He appointed him as Saul’s main enemy. David was destined for this, because He was an integral part of the story God was telling. If you’re in Christ, you are an integral part of the story, too.

Paul shared his deep concerns about the church’s faith: In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5

Paul feared trials would cause them to abandon their faith.

Timothy reported back to Paul that their faith remained intact and was strengthened, just as Paul had hoped and prayed. Paul’s response makes me think of the redwoods that grow tall and strong from small, vulnerable seeds buried in some unshaken ground.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:8

redwoods

Suffering considered purposeless is suffering wasted.

Trials, persecution, suffering. All things we pray away and do our best to avoid. Sometimes, we forget to look for God in our heartache. Through every flood, fire, and fall, God prepares our hearts for something truly amazing.

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What I’m Reading: Summer 2017

When I share What I’m Reading every few months, I pay closer attention to which titles I’m drawn to, which genres I typically gravitate toward, which authors I admire.

I’ve discovered that I haven’t always been a very balanced reader. So in an attempt to bring a little harmony to my bookshelves, today I’m sharing 3 Memoir, 3 Fiction, 3 Christian Living, and one BIG book for the entire family this summer.

three M E M O I R

On Writing, by Stephen King

This memoir offered a faint glimpse into the life of an American icon. After a serious accident that left him wheelchair bound for weeks, King wrote the section titled “On Writing.” I lifted some of the finest writing advice off these pages.

Space at the Table, by Brad and Drew Harper

Authored by an evangelical theologian and his gay son, this tender yet heart-breaking memoir is full of unconditional love and the deepest kind of hope. What a brave book! The conversation Drew and his dad began has followed me long after I read the last page.

Undone, by Michele Cushatt

In this highly relatable memoir, Michele Cushatt tells a beautiful tale of embracing unfinished progress, accepting the undone-ness of real life, and learning to see beauty in upside-down places.

 

three F I C T I O N

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

I could not put this book down. Chris Cleave is a master at demonstrating the strength and resilience of the human spirit. You will fall I love with these characters, especially Little Bee. My favorite quote in the entire book: “Our stories are the tellers of us.” (Little Bee)

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

In this historical fiction, Cleave juxtaposes the uncertainty of love with the cruelty of war, then demonstrates with poignancy that, in the end, love is stronger than war. The Author’s Note at the end brought tears to my eyes; the novel was inspired by Cleave’s grandfather who died during the writing of the book. Though he never read a word of it, it is a beautiful tribute to the way love restores all that war steals.

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

Marie Benedict answers, through fiction, the questions in the life of Albert Eistein’s wife, Mileva Maric. The enchanting story reveals the humanity of one of the greatest physicists who ever lived and the brilliant mind that was hidden in the shadow of his pride and fame.

 

three C H R I S T I A N   L I V I N G

The Way of the Dragon or the Way of the Lamb: Searching for Jesus’ Path of Power in a Church that Has Abandoned It, by Jamin Goggin and Kyle Strobel

This was such an important book for me. Goggin and Strobel gave me a better understanding of what power is and what it is not. This is an important book for all believers, I think.

Introverts in the Church, by Adam S. McHugh

Introverts in the Church celebrates the introverted way, especially in an extroverted culture. McHugh reveals the quiet yet uniquely profound mark every introvert leaves on this world. If you are an introvert or you love an introvert, this is a must read!

Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, by Lysa TerKerust

This is such an intelligent and profound book on the topic of rejection. Lysa introduced me to the concept of “living loved.” And what I love about Lysa is that she doesn’t just tell us why living loved is so vital, she shows us how… on every single page.

 

one for the whole F A M I L Y

The Biggest Story: How the Snake Crusher Brings Us Back to the Garden, by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark

I love this book for all ages because it tells the gospel plainly through story. One big story from Genesis to Revelation, one big story of love. You’ll love the gorgeous, modern illustrations, and you’ll walk away with a fresh understanding of the gospel message.

 

Thanks to all who shared your favorite Memoir last month! Be sure to check out my Good Reads page for more of my favorites.

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How to Leave a Legacy for the Next Generation

Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Psalm 119:90

I reach for my thesaurus—not the app on my iPhone, but the paperback copy in the desk drawer beside me. The scent of time hits me with such sudden nostalgia that I set the book down to savor the memories.

I need a word, a more descriptive word than the one I’m trying to use this afternoon, a way to articulate on paper what I only know by heart. I pick it back up, flip to the back, and run my finger down the page until I find it.

The word is purpose.

I’m consciously aware today that God moves on purpose. With these pages yellowed by years, He reminds me that He has a purpose. A purpose handpicked just for me. He has one for you, too.Roget's Pocket Thesaurus

The thesaurus belonged to my maternal grandfather, Pop, who went to be with Jesus in January of 2013.

He wasn’t a writer, but he was a learner through and through, and this Roget’s Pocket Thesaurus served him well.

He also left behind a pocket bible, which he read through many times, cover to cover.

My grandfather loved words, but He loved God’s word most.

Towards the end of his life, my grandfather suffered from dementia. In the nursing home, he was known for belting out hymns (sometimes a little off-key) to anyone who would pull up a chair and listen. The music seemed to ease his dementia, at least for a little while.

I spoke with my grandpa for the last time on Christmas Eve, our conversation a precious gift from God. I got to tell this story at his funeral a couple weeks later. Pop didn’t talk about the pain he was in that day, even though I could tell he was hurting. He didn’t recognize me as his granddaughter that day either.

As his mind began to fade, he lost sight of loved ones, but he never lost sight of God.

My Maternal Grandparents

As I crouched down next to his chair, I told him I was praying for him. He thanked me as tears filled his eyes, then he began to tell me about his God.

Pop told me that he talked to God all day and all night long. He said God had never once failed him. My grandfather went on and on about how much he loved the Lord, and how even though it seemed to him that He was being silent, he knew God was listening.

As I recall this story today, I realize something I’ve never considered before. My grandfather didn’t know who I was that day; I was a stranger to him. Though this reveals the heart-breaking effects of a broken mind, God is redeeming this memory in such a beautiful and purposeful way.

At the very end of his life, my grandfather didn’t miss the opportunity to share Jesus with a stranger.

I was that stranger. Until he took his last breath at ninety-two, my grandfather recognized his responsibility to pass on the good news of Jesus Christ to the next generation. These words beautifully depict my grandfather’s heart.

Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come. Psalm 71:18

My paternal grandfather—whom we also called, “Pop”—passed away six weeks before my twins were born. Because of the high risk associated with a multiple pregnancy, I wasn’t allowed to fly. I regret not being at his funeral, but I heard all about it. How the line of those who loved him and came to pay their respects was this never-ending ribbon of tears, old and young, friends and strangers. And children. So many children.

So many hearts broke when my grandfather left this world. If you knew him, you’d call him a jokester; but you’d also understand how much he loved Jesus. Pop was a breath of fresh air. He loved telling people how much Jesus loved them.

He was a teacher, a deacon in the same church he and my grandmother attended for over forty years. My grandmother still serves faithfully in the children’s ministry, loving and caring for the most precious in God’s kingdom.

My Paternal Grandparents

For his eightieth—and last—birthday, our family made Pop a memory book filled with personal notes and photos. My grandmother wrote that she knew at age sixteen that he would be the love of her life, and he was. She thanked him for putting his relationship with Jesus before her.

My grandpa made time for people, but he made time for God first.

I have two things that belonged to this grandfather as well. I use them every time I sit down to study and write. A burgundy Unger’s Bible Dictionary with a cracked spine and Matthew Henry’s Commentary in one super heavy massive volume. They remind me of the loved ones before me who understood the beauty and the power of the word of God.

bible resources that belonged to my grandfather

My grandfathers were leaders of their families. Perfect? Hardly. Though I still want to view them as superheroes, I’ve lived long enough to know they were human. They made plenty of mistakes, but their own personal relationship with Jesus affected my mom and my dad who raised me.

My parents’ faith is rooted in the previous generation.

My parents became followers of Jesus and followed His plan for their lives (ours as well) by taking the word of God to a place with no light. They currently serve their local church, and my mom and dad constantly encourage me to pursue my passion to communicate God’s story. Before my grandpa’s resources sat on my bookshelf they belonged to my dad.

God speaks repeatedly in His word about training up the next generation, about training our children, and communicating His love.

He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Psalm 78:5-6

my bible and my grandfather's bibleI underlined this verse in my bible the week I found out we were pregnant with our third child.

Today, as I stare at that date in the margin, I think about how both of my grandfathers were gone by that time, yet the way I am raising my children—including this youngest and fiercest one of the bunch—has been directly affected by those who came before me.

Next to my Pop’s bible, which still bears evidence of his penmanship, my own bible sits open. Tears fall quick and without warning as I wonder which of my own grandchildren (or great-grandchildren) will clutch my bible one day.

My heart swells for those who will follow, for the ones here long after I’m gone.

How do we leave a legacy? How do we impact the generation to come in small, intentional, everyday ways? God is answering my questions through the lives of my grandfathers.

My grandfathers loved God, and they loved people. It was evident in every aspect of their lives. They served God by loving everyone within reach. My grandfathers were learners and leaders and communicators of grace. They were disciples of Jesus who loved His word.  They valued companionship with God and believed in the power of prayer.

How To Leave a Legacy

My grandfathers both recognized their God-given responsibility for the generation to come.

One of God’s most precious gifts is this tender responsibility He places in our hands. God positions us in families and churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of influences on purpose. He’s given each of us a unique responsibility to equip the next generation, the one that begins underneath our roof and stretches far beyond.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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HER STORY: He Calls Me Beautiful

With one hand, she smoothed the wrinkles out of the powder blue culottes her grandmother handmade; with her other, she clutched her lunchbox. Her sister, now a fourth grader, had worn the same embroidered outfit when she started school years before. She found her name printed on a desk near the front of the room and admired each neat, evenly spaced letter. Julie.

When a boy nearby glanced her way, she returned his gaze with a polite smile. He pointed to the spots on her arms and legs and asked, “What are those?” Until that moment, she had never considered the moles that sprinkled her pale skin. But in that tender moment, Julie’s heart began to believe a lie.

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

By junior high, the lie that something was innately wrong with her had fully taken root. Underneath Julie’s skin was a heartsick girl who longed to know she was beautiful and worthy of love. One day in English class, the boy who sat in front of her turned around and said, “You are so ugly.”

“I know,” she said, her response both automatic and devastating.

As adolescence faded into adulthood, self-loathing became habitual.

Depression clung to her like a wet raincoat. Other than shame, sadness was the only emotion she allowed herself to embrace. “I was addicted to sadness; I actually welcomed the feeling, because at least then I felt something.”

Hopelessness sprouted up through the cracks in her broken heart. Julie clung tightly to a false and distorted image of herself. “I was ashamed of who I was, but I also felt shame in having needs,” she told me. She didn’t trust God with her needs, so she worked hard not to have any. And over time, something inside broke under the weight of that lie.

Shame stole her voice, and voicelessness soon bled into powerlessness. Drowning in despair, she contemplated taking her own life. Months trudged on until she reached the final decision to end it all. As she worked out every detail, she found that the mechanics of it all brought her hope, hope that there was a way out of her pain. God rescued her that day, from the false hope and the false identity and the false life.

It took her years to comprehend the depth of this rescue.

She couldn’t follow through with her plan, yet she couldn’t speak her pain. Not yet anyway. She tucked her secret away, convinced there was no way to let it come into the light. Six years went by as depression crushed her soul blow by blow. She was living but barely surviving. She didn’t believe joy even existed.

Eventually, she reached out for help. She surrendered her broken heart to Jesus and chose to believe He could heal her inside and out. God asked her to trust Him with her whole story so that He could reveal His glory through her pain.

Shame disguises itself as an irreversible personal flaw, but the light of the glory of God exposes shame for what it is: a universal need for redemption. As Julie began to acknowledge her shame, God not only healed those areas of her life, but He began to redeem them as well.

Hidden underneath her shame was a girl who just desperately wanted to be herself.

Julie identifies with the woman in Mark 5, whose physical and emotional pain led to spiritual freedom. This woman bled for twelve agonizing years. She suffered and spent every ounce of devotion and every penny to her name trying to find a cure for what was wrong with her. The blood kept her isolated, and the lies kept her silent.

One day, out of options and out of hope, she decided to reach out to Jesus as He came through her town. As soon as she touched the back of His robe, her bleeding stopped. But Jesus had more for her than physical healing; He had come for her heart. Jesus looked and searched and waited for this desperate woman to come out into the open, to bring her story into His light. “Who touched me?” he asked. Slowly, she came.

When she fell at His feet, she told her story. All of it. 

Jesus’ words reached the deepest part of her and absolved her from the shame that kept her heart hidden, silent, and chained. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34

For years Julie searched for a way out. For a way out of hopelessness and depression, for a way out of her pain. She discovered that the only real way out was through a relationship with Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His love led her into a brand-new life where joy exists and hope is alive.  Over time, Julie learned to replace each lie with God’s truth.

She learned to dance by trusting Jesus one small step at a time.

Recently, during a long weekend hike with her husband, God brought to Julie’s mind the memory of a little girl ashamed of her moles. As God reminded her of His love for her, she came to an open field of vegetation blanketed with tiny red ladybugs. Overwhelmed by this rare scene, she listened and waited for God to speak.

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

God whispered gently to her heart in the days that followed, Without their spots, they would just be beetles. The spots make them beautiful. You are beautiful, you are lovely, and you are Mine.

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

God took Julie back to the place where that painful lie took root: her first day of Kindergarten. In a field of ladybugs, His truth drained every ounce of power from that lie she believed long ago. And God set her heart free.

Like the spots on those ladybugs, Julie began to understand that her unique need for Jesus makes her uniquely beautiful. She discovered that what makes us different also makes us beautiful.

Our need is neither ugly nor shameful; there is beauty in our need for Jesus.

What the enemy means for harm God uses for our good. He has transformed Julie’s struggle with shame into a precious gift of relatability. Like the woman in Mark 5, God healed Julie physically and emotionally, but He also freed her heart from shame.

Julie has exchanged the lies she once held close for the truth of an eternal hope in Jesus. Her power rests not in her ability to overcome, but in His power, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. He has redeemed her heart and reclaimed her voice to bring glory to His name.

God can use anything to communicate His love- even a tiny ladybug!

God can use anything to communicate His love… even a tiny ladybug!

For Julie, her physical pain has become a precious reminder that God redeems all things.

The moles on her skin mean nothing apart from the beautiful restoration He’s done in her heart.

Even the shame she once felt has been a gift from God, because it brought her face to face with Jesus, her Redeemer.

The glory of God is displayed when we reach the very end and then reach for Jesus.

The enemy uses shame to convince us that our brokenness disqualifies us, deems us unworthy of God’s love.

Only God can turn shame into beauty. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus. Our wounds and scars and battle stories are precious evidence that we’ve been redeemed.

This story is so much more than a story of healing; it’s a story about God’s heart towards His children. From the deepest part of His relational heart, God calls us. “Beautiful daughter, you are Mine. Just as you are, you are Mine,” He says.

Because of Jesus, healing, forgiveness, restoration, and freedom are within our grasp. Because of Jesus, we are cherished children of God, precious in His sight, beautifully and eternally His.

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7

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