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What I’m Learning: Summer 2017

What I'm Learning: Summer Edition

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

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

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

Seven things I’m learning this summer…

  1. Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

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

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

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

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

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

You're never too old to try something new.

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

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

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

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

  1.  God’s story cannot be silenced.

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

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

  1. Only God can turn shame into beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Water balloons and sunshine are overrated.

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

Until next season…

0

The Most Effective Defense Against Comparison

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

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

The Most Effective Weapon Against Comparison

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

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

Give thanks for the beauty you see in her.

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

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

I thank God for the beauty I see in her.

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

Gratitude can turn any threat into encouragement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beauty begins with you being you.

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

Quit.

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

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

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

God invited me to just be me.

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

3

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.

0

Small Steps to Big Dreams

A friend sat in my kitchen courageously unpacking every detail of her big, big dream. I nodded as she spoke. “Yes, I can see you doing that. I can see you there,” I said.

I have a big, big dream, too. It scares me sometimes to speak it out loud, as if giving it a voice puts my heart in a place of great risk. So, I told my friend with the big, bold dream what I’ve learned about big dreams and small steps.

Today’s small step leads to tomorrow’s big dream.

I listened as another friend broke down the life of Gideon this week. She spoke four words that landed with a thud in my heart. “Small can be powerful.”

Gideon, in the beginning, was skeptical God could use him. He didn’t see the mighty warrior in himself that God saw. Gideon was the least of the least, unlikely to succeed in defeating Israel’s enemy. And then God asked him to whittled his army from thirty-two thousand down to three hundred.

Small. Unlikely to be victorious against the enemy. But God was with them, and they won the battle.

A different friend shared with me her secret fear that people will laugh at her if she takes her next small step. Though small steps may seem insignificant, they can be just as terrifying as voicing the big dream. But God knows that small steps cultivate humility and peace.

Small Steps, Big Dreams

Small steps bring relief to a dreamer’s heart.

Zerubbabel knew a thing or two about small steps and about their perceived insignificance. God had given Zerubbabel a big, big dream: rebuild the temple. The work was to be completed not by human power or might, but by the Spirit of the Lord.

Listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah concerning this monumental task:
Who dares despise the day of small things, since the seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the earth will rejoice when they see the chosen capstone in the hand of Zerubbabel? Zechariah 4:10

The Hebrew word translated despise means “to hold in contempt, to hold as insignificant, to trample with the feet.” I’ve trampled over my fair share of small steps. I thought they were ridiculous and a complete waste of time. But God has ordained every small step in my life. He’s used each one to humble me, change me, and prepare me for what’s ahead. God has ordained a series of small steps for you, too.

He sees each step we take in faith.

God also knows the opposition and rejection we will encounter on the way. He knows how the enemy will try his hardest to discourage us, to hold these small steps in contempt, make us want to quit and walk away. Don’t.

My big dream is to encourage hearts by bringing God’s truth to women I know and those I don’t know through written and spoken word.  My next step isn’t glamourous, but it is significant as I take one step of faith at a time.

Keep writing.

That’s it. For me, God has asked me to keep writing. Keep listening. Keep putting words on the page. And I am choosing to believe it matters. What about you? What big dream has God put on your heart? Start a ministry? Quit smoking? Get a degree? Build a career? Get in shape? Raise a family to love, serve, and follow Jesus?

Today's small step leads to tomorrow's big dream.

What small step toward your big dream can you take today?

Make a commitment. Set a goal. Take a class. Tell someone. Start training. Attend a meeting. Or a conference. Learn more. Ask questions. Apply. Go. Begin. Do the next small thing God is asking of you.

Sometimes, the next small step is to pray. Never underestimate the significance of entrusting your dreams to Jesus, the Author of every beautiful dream.

I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments what your small step looks like for today. Don’t despise the days of small things. Welcome them, and trust that each one matters more than we could possibly know.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

One more thing:

I got on Twitter this week @kelly_sobieski. It feels strange to say that. Another teeny tiny step. If you feel compelled to connect with me there, I’ll be sharing some words over there. If you haven’t already, I’d love to invite you to my Facebook Writer Page. I share extras here and there and always love hearing from you.

If you’re not big on social media, I get it. The best way to stay connected (and my favorite way to connect with you) is by becoming a subscriber to Carried by Love. My subscribers are always the first to receive new posts and information about giveaways. You will get content delivered straight to your inbox, usually once a week. I’d love to extend that invitation.

I feel nothing but gratitude towards you, dear Reader. As always, thanks for reading!

 

6

The Ache You Shouldn’t Chase Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ache You Shouldn't Chase Away

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

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

The book ends with the promise of an elaborate homecoming.

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

0

Threads of Impossibility

I hate folding laundry. Especially socks. I guess it’s more like pairing than folding. Inevitably, every time I do laundry, one sock always seems to lose its mate. Today, I reach into the laundry basket and retrieve—as expected—one tiny white sock, its matching partner nowhere to be found.

Hours later, as I climb scattered into my car to chase errands on my to-do list, I find the missing sock . . . underneath my seat.

A million different scenarios race through my mind as to how the lonesome sock wound up here, but I have neither the time nor mental stamina to narrow it down. I stash it next to me in the front seat and let the mundane inconveniences of daily life fling my eyes wide open.

I remember a time not too long ago when the thought of teeny tiny socks stuck underneath my seat seemed not only unlikely, but impossible. This sock represents so much more than my dreaded laundry day experience; it represents God’s promise to me kept; it represents miraculous healing I can’t quite explain; it represents the building up of my fragile faith, one baby step at a time.

This sock represents delicately thin threads of impossibility.

There are other threads of impossibility in my life: my parents’ marriage that should have never survived, but is now thriving… a childhood friendship that endured fourteen long years of silence before God redeemed it in the most gorgeous way… destructive habits I considered too deeply engrained within me that are today no longer a tethered part of me… You have your own, I’m sure.

Today, I realize something about each and every one of these that I’ve never considered before:

Someone had to reach out in faith.

Last month I gathered with a tiny group of women to pray. A girl I don’t know shared scripture from her own worn bible. She talked about creation and how everything we see—from the stars at night to the Grand Canyon to the beauty in a sunrise—are just the fringe of all God is.

She went on to talk about a woman who risked everything to reach out and touch the fringe of Jesus’ robe. Because she believed there was more. More for her life, more of His plan to discover, more of His power, more of His love.

When she touched those threads of impossibility, her entire life was altered.

The woman’s story is found in Chapter 5 of Mark’s gospel. She had been bleeding for twelve years, and after spending all she had trying to get better, wound up much worse than when she started out.

A brave thought skirted through her mind the day Jesus came to her town: “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” (Mark 5:28 NET)

If only… If only I reach for the fringe of Him, for threads of the impossible.

She believed she would be healed, and she was . . . but Jesus gave her so much more. He not only healed her, but He saw her, listened to her, and spoke to her. This is the only time in scripture where Jesus uses the term “Daughter.”

Each time God heals me physically, emotionally, relationally, or spiritually, He never leaves it at that. He reminds me that He sees me, hears me, knows me.

There is a difference between brushing up against Jesus and reaching out to touch Him in faith.

The disciples questioned Jesus when He asked the crowd who touched Him. “You see the crowd pressing against you,” they said. (see Mark 5:31) But Jesus searched for the woman whose faith compelled her to touch the hem of his robe, mere threads of impossibility.

Fully God. Fully man. How is that even possible?

Maybe you’ve been there, too, wanting more than anything to reach out to Jesus. I cherish the threads of impossibility in my life, because each one reminds me that He reached out in love first.

All my reaching for Him is really just receiving Him.

Reaching requires courage, because it comes at a cost. The woman in this story recognized this as she fell at Jesus’ feet and told Him everything. Scripture says, “She told him the whole truth.” (see Mark 5:33) Jesus wants all of us. Every part. And He wants to give us more than we ask. He wants to give us the gift of an encounter with Him.

Go ahead and risk it all for the sake of knowing Him. He’s inviting you to give everything—the whole of it—over to Him and trust that He can accomplish the impossible in you.

Don’t settle for casual contact with Jesus here and there. You’ll never be content just gazing from a far. Reach out and touch Him.

Just the hem of His love changes everything.

Reach for what feels relationally impossible.

Reach for real answers to the same prayer you’ve prayed over and over and over.

Reach for the adventure just around the corner you’d never have the guts to dream up on your own.

Reach for the call to serve that will force you out of your comfort zone.

Reach for God’s power, unleashed in your small, daily moments.

Reach for your part in the family of God.

Reach for Jesus, the One who sees all of you, the One who knows you. Daughter, reach out. Let His touch transform you. An encounter with Jesus leaves every one of us radically changed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

4

How a Taxi Driver Influenced My View on Success

On the way to baggage claim, I listened to the message my doctor’s office had left while I was 36,000 feet in the air. I had just landed in North Carolina for a writer’s conference and happened to be four months pregnant.

The nurse’s words came at the worst possible time. My test results were in, and I needed a prescription filled immediately. My plan for a quiet evening was suddenly hijacked. Finding a ride to the pharmacy was not on my travel agenda.

Neither was the profound and unexpected conversation I had with a complete stranger.

How a Taxi Driver Influenced My View on Success

When my prescription was ready later that evening, I waited outside as the hotel shuttle pulled up to the curb. I needed a ride to the Walmart ten minutes away.  Other conference attendees requested rides to restaurants and the local mall. My stop was the last one since Walmart was the furthest.

The driver asked me questions about what I did. His name was Dale. He made hats for a living. A blue and gray driving cap adorned his head. Dale wasted no time revealing that he knew Jesus. I shared my inferiority in a sea brimming with talent and my initial hesitancy to even attend this writer’s conference. I felt like I didn’t quite belong.

As I listened to him speak, I caught hints of contentment laced all throughout his words.

At a stoplight, he slowed the van to a halt and turned to face me. He said, “You know, Miss Kelly, artists like us, we got to listen to the Spirit of God. God created us to create. If we get caught up in what the world calls success, then we really aren’t all that different from the rest of them, are we?”

I nodded in agreement. Maybe it was always God’s plan to fly me across the country for this one conversation with a hat-making-taxicab-driver named Dale.

I took lots of notes at that conference. I learned so much in those three days. Yet Dale’s words were the ones that played over and over in my head; they resonate even today, two and a half years later.

God knew I needed to hear those words in the worst way.

Dale didn’t need a microphone on a stage to deliver words of influence. The business card he handed me has long been misplaced. It had the shuttle service number at the bottom and a blank line across the middle. Underneath were the words WRITE DRIVER’S NAME HERE in tiny caps.

His name never appeared on a conference program or a screen with his credentials; he didn’t seem to need evidence that his art was successful. His name wasn’t even printed on the business cards he handed people. Maybe because He was in the business of making God’s name known.

Lately I’ve been reading this passage in Romans:

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. 

Romans 11:36-12:2

What if God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will is for me to live small?

What if that’s His plan so that I can worship Him properly for the rest of my time here on earth?

Living small goes against the flow of this selfie-saturated world. I’ve been convicted lately that in many ways my life doesn’t look all that different. Sometimes I look, think, and act just like those who don’t know Jesus. His presence in my heart should make a vibrant difference.

There’s a power struggle going on in my heart, an all-out battle with myself.

Yeah, I want to be known. I’d love someone to view my words as publish-worthy, because it would serve as evidence that I’m a real writer. I compare myself, I’m way too self-aware, and quite honestly, entitlement infiltrates my thoughts on a daily basis.

Jesus looked and talked and thought so differently during His years here on earth. He found value in the least, the spiritually bankrupt, the foolish and unimportant. Jesus was so socially awkward.  But, never wavering, He knew why He had come.

Jesus talked about the narrow way and the small gate, and He was completely honest when He said few would find it. He taught that hearts set on earthly things that waste away would only inherit treasure that fades away as well. But hearts set on the things of heaven would find their treasure secure with Him.

Our devotion fuels our pursuit.

The world often recognizes eternal treasure as foolishness. Paul warns the Christians in Rome, “Do not conform.” Conform means to be in agreement with. Chasing big means agreeing with what the world labels success. It’s building myself up to make my name known.

A life of influence never depends on a microphone and a crowd. I want to chase the kind of success that can’t be measured here on earth.

Choosing small means letting the Spirit of God guide each step rather than the latest five-step plan for success. It means spending our lives to make His name known, and counting everything secondary to knowing Him.

Small has a way of clearing the space around us so that our souls can breathe in and out with ease.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

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The Best Invitation You’ll Ever Receive

We sit outside under a starry blanket, the evening breeze wafting the smell of burning persimmon wood through the air. After we fill our bellies and our glasses, four songwriters take the stage.

The crowd gathers to listen—some at round tables, others on bales of hay covered with blankets. The moon, just a sliver of light in the sky above, flashes a playful Cheshire cat grin.

Four ordinary cowboys, with nothing but pick and guitar, take turns singing songs they’ve written and sold to celebrity singers all over the country. Each tells the story of his song.

I’m amazed that every one of these songwriters can truly sing.

The Best Invitation You'll Ever Receive

One explains how the lyrics to a love song actually came from a game of hide-n-seek played by his kids playing in the next room.

Another talks about a writing technique I’m familiar with yet struggle to implement. He takes a common phrase and swaps the words to make it his own. I wasn’t expecting writing inspiration when I said yes to my husband’s invitation tonight.

For the rest of the evening, I listen with an attentive ear. I sense God wants to say something personal to me. The next songwriter shares that he cannot write a song unless it’s true. Every one of his songs resonate with me.

Each intriguing explanation invites curiosity.

Before the night concludes, the fourth cowboy sings a song meant to be funny. One of the lines of the chorus sounds like this: “I’ve got all this talent, but no one knows my name.”

It’s true that I know the words to many of the songs performed here tonight, but I don’t know the men who wrote them.

I start to realize I’ve been missing so much. I ask God to show me what He is trying to teach me. A few days later, I jot these words in my journal:

What happens when the story of a song is lost?

Years ago, I read a fabulous book by Emily Freeman called A Million Little Ways. In it, she talks about how we are God’s workmanship, His poem. Art can’t be separated from artist without losing something precious.

God—both Artist and Creator—writes His story all over our lives. How can we ever expect to understand what’s going on in our lives if we never stop to understand the One writing each word? God encourages us to listen to what grieves Him and what makes His heart leap.

God invites us to know Him.

Created cannot truly live apart from the Creator. There’s something inside that longs to know Him, whether we realize it or not.

Get to know the One who is writing your story. Ask Him about the lyrics He’s chosen. Listen to what inspires Him. It’s the best invitation you’ll ever receive.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Contentment Secret

I’ve been chasing it most of my life. Contentment. Not the hold-your-breath-because-it’ll-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind—real contentment driven by gratitude.

Since the first man and woman messed up and missed out on a God-created paradise, we’ve been grasping after the notion for generations. Either we fear others will mess it up for us, or God Himself might choose to mess it up just to mess with us.

If we’re not fearing the worst, we’re convinced we’re missing out on something better, something more. As a culture, we’re fully saturated in not enough mentality.

True contentment—an authentic satisfaction of embracing who we are and what we have and where we are and how we’re wired rather than wanting more or something entirely different—can only be fostered by returning to the place where our God-given identity was stolen.

The Way Back to Eden

The contentment chase masks itself as a deep, unrelenting desire to return to Eden.

God created a place with boundaries of protection for mankind to be fully loved, fully engaged, fully ourselves. But the serpent told a lie, and Adam and Eve handed over the truth for a bite of something that wasn’t better after all.

I haven’t always recognized that God’s removal of Adam and Eve from Eden was an act of mercy. Genesis 3 records the whole story. The last verse of the chapter leaves a vivid picture of the heavy consequence of disobedience.

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

At one point in my life, these words at the bottom of the page in my bible sounded so harsh. At the top of that same page, I found words like, “…they felt no shame.”

I have so far to go, but I return to those tissue paper pages again and again for something new, for some undiscovered aspect of His character He’s yet to reveal to me. Each time, I am overwhelmed in a good and humbling way.

Today when I read about humanity thrust from paradise, angels blocking the way, and a hot, flaming sword in the middle of it all, I see glimpses of a deeper meaning.

Here’s an invitation to view Paradise Lost through the lens of Paradise Restored.

Sin separates us from a holy, perfect God, yet the angels display God’s mercy towards sinners.  The flaming sword was evidence that man became enemies with God when sin entered paradise. But it also represents God’s protection against the lies that led us all down this broken road in the first place.

The tree of life is believed to have had the effect of confirming a person in his or her moral state. By removing man and woman from the garden, God was in fact saving us from ourselves.

Later in the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for building an ark that would become His meeting place with His people. Though it’s tempting to view Adam and Eve’s expulsion as abandonment, it’s just not true. God never left them on their own.

Golden cherubim with outstretched wings and faces looking downward in reverent awe adorned the top piece, also called the mercy seat. From the place between those angels of gold, God spoke to His people. (See Exodus 25:18-22)

The angels weren’t a reminder that they had screwed up and gotten kicked out of the garden; they represented God’s promise to rescue and redeem what was lost in the garden.

God has been paving the narrow way back ever since.

The noun translated “mercy seat” is related to the verb that means “to make atonement.” A sacrifice had to be given to make atonement. One thing was required: blood on the mercy seat. (See Leviticus 16)

Fast-forward to the third day following Jesus’ death: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:41-42

Within a garden paradise, sin obliterated what God created for us to enjoy: unhindered relationship with Him. Centuries later, God accomplished redemption… in a garden.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” John 20:11-12

An empty tomb. Two angels. One at the head and one at the foot. The mercy seat of God. Jesus was the atonement, God’s perfect sacrifice. His blood on the mercy seat secured the way to forgiveness and restoration with the Father forever.

When Mary saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. When she realized it was Him, she grabbed hold of Him.  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

Jesus is the Way back.

We’ve all longed for something we thought would bring satisfaction or fulfillment. Lies from long ago lure us into thinking we’ll find contentment if we can just wrangle it somehow. Sometimes, we crave what is undeniably harmful; other things don’t seem at all dangerous until we really start examining our hearts.

If we’re honest, we settle all too easily for a fractured form of contentment. The fall left a huge, gaping hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Only Jesus. He is the Way back to Eden.

I’m not talking about a place or even a set of circumstances; true paradise is found in a relationship with a holy God who meets every need and fills every longing. The word Eden can be traced back to the root word meaning “delight.”

Every heart was designed to delight in Jesus.

We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience true contentment. Some things we do have to wait for—like the absence of pain and death and darkness. Some seasons of life are harder than others. These are the realities of life here on earth.

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about contentment. He shared with them the secret he had discovered.  He said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis added)

Jesus is the way back to unhindered communion with the Father. True contentment is possible here and now through Jesus—no matter your circumstance or season.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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