Archive | beauty

A Stereotypical Scene

I carefully take each wooden figure out of the box and arrange them underneath the sloped stable frame. Wise men crowd in, shepherd accompany sheep and donkey. Every figure points to the tiniest among them. He is the center, the reason they all gather, the reason I take such care to recreate this birth scene in my own living room each year.

Others will unpack this same identical nativity set. They’ll haul it down from attics or pluck it off fully stocked shelves. Though cut from a pattern, it’s a beautiful scene.

I get to thinking about the process of cutting each block of wood, sanding and shaping each wise man, each shepherd, each baby Jesus in his manger. I consider the general mold that must be used. Cookie cutter stables. Familiar figures whose full stories remain unknown. This is the setting where divine Love intersected humanity. This is the site where a Savior was born.

Hardly a stereotypical scene.

Stereotype is reminiscent of the dated practice of printing by means of a metal plate. “Solid type” is its most literal meaning. Yet its negative connotations are the ones I’m considering as I arrange twinkle lights around this ordinary wooden nativity scene.

God reminds me through His word how the world crammed this story into unfair and untrue confines. Pregnant teen. Naïve fiancé. Illegitimate baby. Poor shepherds. Rich kings. Dirty stable. This one of a kind scene was perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

As people who’ve been assigned to our own share of stereotypes and burdened with painful misunderstanding, this nativity story offers much needed hope and a new beginning.

The world had never witnessed a birth story quite like this one and they would never see another. This nativity story was hand crafted by the Creator Himself and set in motion before time began. No mold was needed, no pattern to replicate necessary. This story doesn’t fit neatly into any tidy box, nor was it what anyone expected, but one thing was true then and is still true today:

On that holy night, God called this scene good.

God called Mary and Joseph into His plan. Mary fulfilled the bloodline and Joseph the legal lineage for the long-awaited Savior King. Both made an incredible sacrifice as they agreed with the words spoken by angels and stepped into God’s story. Their willingness to be used by God was more powerful than the constricting stereotypes thrust upon them.

No stereotype can prevent God’s plan to birth something beautiful in all of us.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 ESV

Found. Like a dirty secret kept hidden now precariously exposed. Except it wasn’t dirty, nor would it remain a secret for long. No, this was the greatest treasure to ever be discovered on earth.

Mary was not found out; she found her life in Him.

Joseph considered divorce, yet he knew that the punishment for women caught in adultery was death. Many would judge this birth as sinful and impure. The angel that visited Joseph assured him that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Would Joseph risk dishonor and choose to believe God?

Mary’s reputation and her own life were on the line, and when Joseph agreed to stand by her, he placed his own reputation right there with hers. Over in Luke’s account we get to hear Mary’s response to her own personal angelic message.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Luke 1:38 ESV Then Mary responded with song, a sign her heart was fixed on one thing and one thing only: God’s glorious story unfolding.

What seemed like a curse in the world’s eyes was God’s most precious blessing.

Mary and Joseph were misunderstood yet they understood God’s message. They were lonely, but they carried the Savior of the world with them. They were just as unsure of the future as we are, but they treasured the good news in their hearts. They were judged unfairly and rejected by man, but chosen and honored by God.

Jesus would put his reputation on the line as well. He would be misunderstood as a young boy with gifts and perspectives no one else held. Rumors of illegitimacy would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. (See John 8:19, 41) His own brothers, James and Jude, (who would go on to write the Spirit-inspired new testament books that bear their names) did not believe Jesus was the Son of God until after His death and resurrection.

God chose the most vulnerable, marginalized vessel to birth His salvation plan. Though the stereotypes were harsh and untrue, Mary wasn’t sinless and she certainly wasn’t fearless. Mary was human like the rest of us, but she made herself available to be used by God.

God chose you to birth something extraordinary, too.

Your vulnerability, mistakes, and doubts are the very things that qualify you. We all need saving and God chose to save us by giving us Jesus. Our minds can’t fathom it. Fear convinces us we’re the wrong choice. But the wonder and mystery draws us in, and we take a moment to consider it. How can this be?

How can this be… because of me?

Yet it’s true. We can’t come this close to glory and turn back. Our faces shine and our hearts understand this one thing: much is at stake. So, we say yes. Yes, let your word be unto me. Yes, Jesus, have your way. Use me as your vessel. Birth new life in this humble heart.

God invites us to release our reputation, our plans, and our entire lives to Him. How will it look? A lot like this simple nativity scene. Humble, vulnerable, inconvenient, and misunderstood. Yet when the life and death of Christ are applied to this unexpected story, we see what we couldn’t before. We see a brand-new scene that’s part of a bigger story.

A gorgeous, one of a kind nativity scene that shatters every stereotype ever conceived.

John, the one Jesus charged with watching over His mother as He hung from the cross, recorded these words in red: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26 ESV

May we all take our lead from Mary and boldly declare, I am the Lords servant. Let it be to me according to His plan. May we find courage to belt out our own praises to God as stereotypes, like Jericho walls, come tumbling down.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Kelly

0

I Want to See… Snow

My girl learned how to make snowflakes at school this week. She made a dozen at the kitchen table Wednesday night, not two alike. She taped a few to the back door and ever since, she’s peppered me with questions. “When will it snow? Can it snow here in Houston? Will it ever snow here? Why doesn’t it snow here?” And after each round of questioning, she’d sigh, “I really want to see snow.”

paper snowflakes

With every ounce of my momma wisdom, I explained how snow is pretty, but it causes issues on the roads, shuts down schools, grocery stores, businesses, and airports. I told her how my own grandfather had a successful business plowing snow up north. I tried to prepare her heart for the reality of a snowless winter here in Houston.

Until it started snowing last night.

When I peeked out the window and saw those flurries, I raced upstairs to pull her out of bed. Coming slowly out of her sleep, she looked up at me like I had lost my mind. “It’s snowing!” I said. She scrambled out of bed, slipped on her coat, and for 30 seconds we watched white dust fall from the sky.

Afterwards, I tucked her back in—I was headed to her brother’s room next—and thought quietly to myself, “Too bad it will never stick.” And that was that. Later as I lay down to sleep, I thanked God that He had let my girl see snow at last. I was content as I smiled in the dark and drifted off to sleep.

When my alarm went off this morning, something pulled me to the front window. My mouth fell open at the site. “No,” I said out loud to the quiet, sleeping house. Yes. Snow. Everywhere snow. It not only snowed; it stuck. As far as I could see was this beautiful blanket of white, like the most unexpected Christmas gift. I thought about waking the whole house at 5am, but I waited. I grabbed my pen and spilled the joy in my heart onto the page.

snow

Yes, this snow makes me giddy. It hardly ever snows here, but most importantly, my girl had just told me yesterday (and every day before) how badly she wanted to see snow. And as soon as she got up, she’d get to see it, taste it, walk through it, hold it, play in it, and experience it.

I smiled as I told God, “You must really love that girl.” I mean, to do all this for a seven-year-old girl. And immediately, without so much as a breath in between, I heard Him say to my heart, “I love all my children like this. I love you that much, too.”

When Jesus asked the blind man, “What do you want me to do for you?” the man simply replied, “Rabbi, I want to see.” (See Mark 10:51) The most basic, anticipated answer you’d expect from a blind man. Reminds me of my girl’s simplistic wish: “I want to see snow.”

Jesus came to give us so much more than what our eyes can see.

He came that we would taste freedom, that we would walk with our heavenly Father in a brand-new life. He came to heal us, hold us, and revive precious hope within us. Jesus came that we might experience heaven right here on earth.

If you’re looking for us today, we’ll be outside having a snow day!

Kelly

1

What I’m Loving: Fall 2017

What I'm Loving: Fall Edition

Before this season had ever lifted off the ground I had a word pinned to it. Launch. The word brims with action and indicates any sort of beginning. Our church launched a second campus, our kids started a new school, and I entered that long-awaited season of having all three kids in school a couple days a week.

I launched a new series this fall, and I shared how I love beginnings but hate admitting I’m a beginner, mostly because it means admitting I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. But I’m so thankful for the brave steps of ordinary beginners who take a risk and release something new into existence one shaky step of faith at a time.

Here are FIVE things I’m loving for fall… one for each of your five senses. All can be traced back to certain a place of origin, a simple dream, idea, or passion. Every beautiful one has its own precious beginning.

// T o  S E E //

Speaking Beauty blog by Julie Cassol

My friend Julie began this blog with one hope: to capture and communicate beauty. The images she collects from her everyday paths have quietly invited me to notice the beauty I pass by without a second glance. Her latest post on unity gifts us all a pair of fresh eyes. Her simple conversational style leaves me hungry for more of this beauty she seeks, then speaks.

To see

from “Pumpkin Beauty” by Julie Cassol [Speaking Beauty blog]

// T o  H E A R //

The Next Right Thing podcast with Emily P. Freeman

Every Tuesday I exhale as I press play and soak in the audible words of the world’s most peaceful voice. Emily’s amiable honesty inspires me, and her willingness to search for the place her voice fits best blesses me. I didn’t realize until half way through the fifth episode that I was arranging my schedule around each new fifteen-minute increment of pure soul food week to week. It will become your favorite Tuesday habit, too.

TO HEAR

// T o  S M E L L //

Sparrow House Botanicals

The sparrows at Redeemed Ministries launched an amazing bath and beauty product line this year. Every gorgeous bar of handmade soap, every chic tube of lip balm, and every tub of whipped body butter is 100% organic and exploitation free. Not only will you enjoy the beautiful scents paired in these products, your shopping list will make a difference in the lives of survivors and simultaneously spread the word about sex-trafficking.

To smell

I never used to be one of those people who bought Christmas presents and Halloween candy at the same time. But when my youngest was due just weeks after Christmas, I figured I didn’t have much choice. When she arrived three and a half weeks early (exactly eight days before Christmas), I was surprisingly prepared.

You can make a difference and let these amazing fair trade products help you whittle down your gift-giving list long before the rush begins. Teachers, coaches, dance instructors. Neighbors, community helpers, and all the people who make your life a little brighter.

Here you go, and you’re welcome.

The peppermint lavender lip balm is one of my favorites and perfect for stocking stuffing. I’ve set aside some of my favorites, including the orange coconut body butter and handmade soaps, so I can give away a product I believe in on an everyday whim.

If you are already so far ahead that Christmas shopping is a big check mark for you, Sparrow House Botanicals has some amazing new pumpkin products perfect for the month of November. There are so many people in my life who deserve a little pumpkin spice pampering. Maybe that someone is you.

Pumpkin Spice

Sparrow House Botanicals Fall Favorites Gift Set

// T o  T A S T E //

Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins

I’m all about “Team Pumpkin Spice,” but I hold the position that not all things need pumpkinizing. When you rip through the wrapper of a Reese’s Peanut Butter pumpkin, you taste nothing but chocolate peanut buttery goodness… all in a darling pumpkin shape. I can handle that. Oh, and because these aren’t jack-o-lanterns, you can go ahead and enjoy these for the whole month of November… or until you officially declare it’s Christmas season.

Reese's peanut butter pumpkins

// T o  F E E L //

Homemade Play-dough

It began as a bribe on the days my tiny one cried all the way home after dropping the big kids off at school. I taught her to plow the huge mound of dough together with her palms, then squeeze it tightly into a ball. “Push then squeeze; push then squeeze,” I’d hear her say in a sing-song way as I’d slip off to the sink to rinse out my coffee cup.

I’ve come to enjoy our morning play-dough routine. As her tiny hands grip the rolling pin, her eyes light up when she realizes she’s flattened the dough all on her own. When I made this “play clay,” as the recipe calls it, I didn’t much think about the color. I grabbed the food coloring we had the most of: bright orange.

To feel

Feeling the soft play-dough take on a new form in my hands has reminded me that God is molding me and changing me and that new beginnings are part of His plan. Mornings at the kitchen table with orange play-dough have been the highlight of my fall. And witnessing my littlest soak it all up has been everything I’ve needed to embrace this season of beautiful beginnings.

What beginnings are you celebrating this fall?

2

What Can Outweigh All the Suffering in the World?

A quick trip to Colorado this summer uncovered a beautiful aspect of God’s creation. Stunned by layers on top of layers of solid, unmoving rock, I began to wonder how my understanding of God as my Rock would become crucial in the next season of change.

I really had no idea what was ahead. In mid-August, I braced myself for a million minor changes like a new school for the kids and other small beginnings; by the end of the month, Harvey had changed my community forever.

Every attempt to capture on camera what moved my heart in those Colorado mountains only led to frustration. Even when I tried to express on paper what had inspired awe in me, I couldn’t come up with the words. I found my struggle to articulate the beauty before me extremely uncomfortable.

God gave me a phrase to sink into: Rock of Ages.

Rock of Ages seemed too massive and weighty when I tried to grasp its deepest meaning. The further I prodded, the less sure of myself I became. Maybe that’s right where God wanted me.

Rock of Ages

Months later, now surrounded by images of devastation and the very opposite of beauty, I recognize that same frustration and discomfort. During the last few weeks, when I scroll through my social media newsfeed, the most common caption is this: “No words.” And there aren’t any that can describe, explain, alleviate what remains after disaster. Words cannot possibly convey the heavy, heavy heartbreak of extensive homelessness and upheaval.

Devastation has crept up to my doorstep forcing me to notice, yet suffering lies in every nook and cranny of this groaning world. Fires, floods, earthquakes, persecution, hatred, violence… all hover beneath that banner of indescribable suffering.

In the absence of adequate words, we face our own vulnerability.

Vulnerability not only feels uncomfortable, it well acquaints us with frustration and confusion. We can’t control suffering or catalogue it; we can’t box it in or fix it. No formula or bulleted list will help.

Moses led a people more comfortable with another rock. Though I wish this idea was foreign, I completely get it. Humanity craves clarity, definition, control. We’ll take a tidy checklist over an inconceivable glory just to avoid facing our own vulnerability. We don’t naturally move towards discomfort or dependence.

But when we take this collective picture of indescribable suffering—whether death or divorce or disaster—and hold it up to the Rock who has remained constant throughout all of time, the need for understanding is washed away by mercy. And rich, rich love. The most grace-filled words in all of Jesus’ ministry were these: “Come to me.”

Our indescribable Rock is the only One who knows just what to do with indescribable pain.

I’m tempted to boil it down to a simple equation: unfathomable pain meets inconceivable glory, as if they are two equal and opposite poles. This is entirely false. If we wanted to compare, to sort out the difference, we’d have to examine the extent of each.

In every layer of rock, I saw the depth of God’s character. His love, mercy, goodness, faithfulness like bands of strength, visible and solid, trusted and true.

Hold up suffering to the Rock Eternal, and we find a vast difference in weight.

When Paul wrote about suffering and glory, he used a word to examine this difference. He assigned our seen suffering and God’s unseen glory with the terms, transient and eternal.

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (ESV)

Nothing about the suffering here on earth feels light, but Paul was making a case for comparison here. The word that translates in English as “beyond all comparison” is the Greek word hyperbolḗ. We use hyperbole to illustrate extravagance; we rarely take these figures of speech literally. They amplify, enhance, and exaggerate the truth.

Hyperbolḗ means beyond all measure.

Most hyperboles sound incredible, but they just aren’t true. This weight of glory beyond all comparison is every bit true as it is awesome.

Suffering has a definite beginning and a definite end. Pain and loss entered the world at the fall; we find every detail recorded on the pages of Genesis. In Revelation, we read that all suffering will come to an end when Jesus returns. He is the beginning and the end, the One who was and is and is to come.

We don’t need formulas, descriptions, or human attempts to alleviate suffering. We need faith in Jesus and constant, daily reminders that we will one day see Him face to face.  And on that day, our only response will be indescribable praise.

When we embrace our own vulnerability, we find ourselves embraced by Christ, the living Stone.

Scripture References

You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. Deuteronomy 32:18 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal. Isaiah 26:4 (NIV)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

 “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8 (NIV)

8

Hiding Isn’t the Solution for Pride

Seven of us crowd around an empty table in the very back of the restaurant. Some sip tea, others coffee. We are writers and speakers, songwriters and teachers; we are women who love words. But something stronger wraps around our conversation, binds us tighter than any shared dream: the word of God.

This tiny group of artists who gather monthly is a balm of some sort that soothes my soul in ways I don’t even realize. Someone asks a question: What are you struggling most with right now in your writing? Soon a discussion unfolds, and every woman around the table agrees that her worst fear is her own pride.

Later, I drive home understanding the battle within me a little bit better, thankful for those with me on this journey. I know what’s in my heart—at least I think I do. My capabilities and biases, my motives and weaknesses. Sometimes, I forget God knows all this, too.

He reveals what’s inside in order to set me free.

He holds my hand and teaches me that I do not need a microphone to live a life of influence, but then He thrusts one in my hand anyway. For the next several seasons, I will feel pulled back and forth between two forces: step up and use my voice or run away and hide.

Our group eventually stops meeting as life takes us to new places, yet that artist comradery is strong enough to keep me moving when I feel like giving up and my identity feels pulled in a thousand directions.

My friend Julie started this blog a few months ago, and it moves me every time I visit. Her simple yet profound way of naming beauty causes me to exhale deeply and drink in God’s goodness.

Julie recently wrote about the difference between graffiti and street art. Her words remind me who I am in Christ and simultaneously tap into something lodged in my heart, a fear that runs deeper than I care to admit.

I still fear my own pride.

Will stepping up and using our voices somehow result in a great fall? Will we succeed in making His name known rather than our own? I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust my own selfishness, my own desperate desire for approval. I don’t trust me.

Why does God trust any of us with gifts for the benefit of others?

I’d rather run and hide, but today, Jesus gently invites me to take a step closer, to peer through the lens of His love to see how far He’s brought me. Julie’s words echo His words as one artist touches another in a sacred way.

“If street art is giving then graffiti is taking.  One is a sacrifice, hours of back-breaking work, that benefits the viewers and the other is a sacrifice merely for self glory, self promotion, and the thrill of an adrenaline rush. Both artists leave a lasting mark.  Both artists have a gift to share.  Yet one shares with no strings attached and the other makes the art all about him/herself.” (Julie Cassol, Speaking Beauty blog)

Maybe your art isn’t writing or speaking, but you’ve wrestled with the fear of pride, too. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that hiding your gift is the safest way to dodge the potential mine field ahead.

Hiding is just another form of pride.

The world needs your art and your voice in the worst way. Our enemy knows that God’s gifts make this place better, more beautiful, and ultimately, reflect His glory. If Satan can’t lead us into the trap of our own pride, he’ll convince us to hide in a flimsy effort to self-protect. Both extremes render us ineffective. 

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors… Hosea 10:12-13

We sow righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Righteousness is a gift of God, not something we produce on our own. We seek, He showers. I know I’ve sat at that table “eating the fruit of lies” for far too long. Fear deceives us into believing we can keep our pride in check by ducking out of the spotlight, by keeping our heads low, our gifts hidden.

We can’t trust ourselves, but we can trust Jesus.

I’ve tried on my own to rid my heart of pride, but I’ve failed. Terrified of my own tendencies, scared to death that every time I share my art I’ll become a taker or glory thief, I’ve tried to prevent the fall that follows pride. I’ve tried to rescue myself rather than seeking Jesus, the only able Rescuer.

Before Christ, our only pursuit was self, but now His love has become our aim. When His righteousness rains down on us, we become givers of life, beauty, grace, and forgiveness. We bear His name and bear the fruit of His unfailing love.

God made us artists in His image—every one of us—to reflect His glory and make His name known. So your contribution is crucial to the kingdom. Whether your art is conversation or connection or custodial work, you have something sacred to share with the world.

Hiding isn't the solution for pride.

We can be artists who show up without a single string attached and share our art fearlessly when we make Christ’s love our only aim.  Above all, may we remember that it’s not about trusting ourselves but about trusting Jesus and remaining in His love. 

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

1

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…

2

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

5

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} 07: 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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