Archive | beauty

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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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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Why Memoir Is My Favorite Genre

WHAT I'M LOVING: Spring EditionWhat I’m Loving… About Memoir

Memoir story-tellers quietly invite us to examine our own stories in light of the one they’re sharing. The unveiling of universal truth is the essence of memoir. Listening to someone else’s story helps us better understand a piece of ourselves.

This past year, my HER STORY series has both stretched and inspired me. As I’ve practiced story-listening, God has given me a better ear to hear the melody of my own.

I’ve learned this crucial truth: my story is not about me. 

Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project writes, “Most people think that memoir is a story about me—or in this case, you. Most people are wrong. Memoir is about something and you are the illustration.”

Back in January, God led me to ONE VERSE for 2017…

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15

God has wasted no time defining gentleness and respect; He’s revealed how far I fall from true humility. I’ve struggled, though, with the word defense. Preparedness is an integral part of my faith, but defense seems so defense-ive.

A defense isn’t an argument I defend my way out of, but a story I choose to tell.

According to Marion Roach Smith, the three essentials parts of memoir are:

  1. The answer to the question: “What is this about?”
  2. Your argument
  3. The scenes from your life that will be deployed to prove that argument

God uses our stories to communicate His character. Does your story illustrate His love, kindness, forgiveness, protection, provision? Which scenes from your life defend that argument?

What defense does your story make?

Jesus is Master over our lives, and He is the Master of our stories. When He rode into Jerusalem as King, Jesus didn’t enter as a mighty king ready for war; He entered in humility and in peace. Though a significant element in Jesus’ first coming, the donkey wasn’t much on its own. The spotlight wasn’t on the donkey; it was on Jesus.

God used the donkey as a vehicle for His glory. Our stories, like that donkey, aren’t much on their own, because Jesus is the hero of every redemption story.

God can use our stories as vehicles of His truth.

He is Master over all. Supreme. And yet He whispers to our hearts, “Loosen your grip on this. Trust Me with it.” We have nothing to offer that He has not given us. Our stories belong to Him.

Let your story tell God’s story,

Kelly

 

Something else:

I set a goal to read ten memoirs over the course of this year. Though my favorite genre, it’s the one I read the least. I’m making my list of memoirs to read next, and I’d love your help. If you have a favorite memoir, please share the title in the comments below.

I’d love to hear about your own reading goals, too. As always, you can check out what I’m reading over on my Good Reads page, or the What I’m Reading posts I update every season.

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Eight Words I Hope My Kids Say About Their Mother

Sometimes a momma needs a day to remember, truly remember, that all those little things aren’t quite so little after all. It’s easy to let big things sidetrack us and run us off the road every now and then.

I stumbled across these words penned by David, the man remembered for his heart. A man after God’s own heart. Ever since, I’ve been thinking about this shepherd boy’s upbringing.

As the youngest, he was overlooked by his own father. His brothers were threatened by him, so they insulted him and made all kinds of wrong assumptions about him. But David had a solid faith in God, and God chose Him to be king.

David recorded these words in Psalm 116:16: “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains.”

“I serve you just as my mother did.”

Eight Words I Hope My Kids Will Say About Their Mother

These eight words may not sound all that profound. They will no doubt mean a whole lot more if you have a mom like mine who planted seeds of faith early in your young heart. Maybe it’s isn’t your own mom but another woman who’s had a significant impact on what you believe about God today.

Or maybe that mom is you, passing down the love of Jesus as best you know how.

Scripture doesn’t mention King David’s mother’s name. I’ve looked. I’ve searched, but it’s not there. David’s mother was a significant part of God’s redemption story, and we can be, too. These eight words tell us all we need to know.

Behind this God-fearing man was a mother’s enduring faith.

When we’re tempted to believe we’re doing everything wrong, let’s remember that what matters most in this life is that we point our kids to Jesus, whether they’re five or fifty. My mom demonstrated her faith, one simple act of love at a time.

My mom mothered us like we belonged to God but were entrusted to her care.

My mom chose hard things over trendy things.

My mom showed me how to love in spite of differences.

My mom spoke the name of Jesus over me whenever I was afraid.

My mom let me ask questions she didn’t know how to answer.

My mom is still ok with saying, “I don’t know.”

My mom aligns her life to the Word of God.

My mom prays.

My mom doesn’t hide her tears.

My mom has demonstrated how God can use suffering to strengthen a rock solid faith.

My mom applauds my accomplishments but celebrates me.

My mom wholeheartedly believes that if God is with me I cannot fail.

My mom worships Jesus unashamedly.

My mom listens.

My mom says, “I love you,” and “I’m sorry.”

My mom forgives.

My mom taught me that mommas don’t have to be perfect, because Jesus already is.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the beautiful women in my life!

I serve you as my mother did.

To the mother with the child whose heart’s been hardened by this world and all its brokenness:

Jesus sees you. He knows this hurt. If you’ve grown weary under the weight of this world’s crazy expectations, demands, and heartaches, don’t give up; give it to Him. Our God can do so much more than we could ever think, ask, or imagine. None of your love will never be wasted in His hands.

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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

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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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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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HER STORY: No Greater Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is her story.

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

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

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

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

Her love for Jesus pulses through every relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

He is the God of all nations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s power is made manifest in Love.

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

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

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

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

Something called Love. Someone named Jesus.

 

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What I’m Learning About Unsubscribing

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

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

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

I need to unsubscribe.

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

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

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

I’m learning the freedom of unsubscribing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, we keep subscribing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

living like it’s all up to me

assuming the worst rather than believing the best

trusting others rather than God

fearing others more than I fear God

competing

comparing

harboring bitterness

choosing unforgiveness

measuring impossible expectations

forgetting all about grace

 

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

Unsubscribing isn’t always automatic.

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

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

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

 

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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HER STORY: Dream Weeper

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

This is her story. . .

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

Passion seemed more like a burden than a gift.

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

This is her story...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

Surrender sounds nothing like the fairy tales we clutch close.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

Yeah, He showed up alright.

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Surrender is believing not relinquishing.

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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