Archive | faith

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 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

God at Work Within the Unchangeable

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

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

We live in the space between. 

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

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

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

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

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

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

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

Our response is evidence of our faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I miscarried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

2

What I’m Reading: Summer 2017

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

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

three M E M O I R

On Writing, by Stephen King

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

Space at the Table, by Brad and Drew Harper

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

Undone, by Michele Cushatt

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

 

three F I C T I O N

Little Bee, by Chris Cleave

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

Everyone Brave is Forgiven, by Chris Cleave

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

The Other Einstein, by Marie Benedict

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

 

three C H R I S T I A N   L I V I N G

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

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

Introverts in the Church, by Adam S. McHugh

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

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

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

 

one for the whole F A M I L Y

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

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

 

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

4

How to Leave a Legacy for the Next Generation

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

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

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

The word is purpose.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Maternal Grandparents

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Paternal Grandparents

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

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

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

bible resources that belonged to my grandfather

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

My parents’ faith is rooted in the previous generation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Leave a Legacy

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

1

HER STORY: He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

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

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1

Two Words That Secure Your God-Given Identity

One of the sweetest parts of being a parent is choosing a name for your child. Each of my children’s name tell a story. Because I believe God knew their names before we even knew about them, I also believe their names intricately connect with their God-given identity.

The beginning scene of the book of Daniel is a historical prologue to the struggles four young men faced while living in a hostile culture far from God. Their Hebrew names reflected the glory of God and represented their identities.

Their names told the story of a God who set them apart as His chosen people.

When God’s people quit listening to His commands and rejected His love, they were hauled off into exile in Babylon under a king who did not believe in the one true God. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among them.

If you grew up hearing this story as a kid, you might remember them by the names their captors gave them instead: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These names were a failed attempt to replace each reference to God with a reference to the gods Belte, Aku, and Nabu.

The leaders of the Babylonian empire intended to strip them of their God-given identities. They thought that by removing God from the names of these young men, they would in fact erase God’s story.

God’s story cannot be silenced.

His story cannot be changed either, as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s stories show. He is—and always has been—in control.

The enemy comes after our identities just as he came after theirs, because his goal is to steal, kill, and destroy. God does the opposite; He gives, resurrects, and restores.  Daniel chapter one tells the story of the Giver.

God gave Judah over to her sin.

And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Daniel 1:2

God warned His people that if they disobeyed Him, He would scatter them and destroy their cities. God allowed his people to follow their own stubborn hearts.  The Judge is just in all His rulings.

God gave these men compassion and favor with the king.

And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs… Daniel 1:9

When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed and asked God to listen to the prayers of His people—the ones who turned to Him—no matter where He sent them.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose not to conform to the culture around them, by trusting in God and seeking His help, they prospered, an amazing display of what it looks like to be in the world, not of it. God listens, because God is faithful.

God gave knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Daniel 1:17

These four men demonstrated that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were found ten times better than any of the other men in the king’s service. God placed distinguished and excellent qualities in each of them, qualities that reveal His character.

God gave a foreshadowing of His plan to free His people.

And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. Daniel 1:21

Cyrus was God’s chosen instrument to bring His people out of exile. God chose the deliverer, and God chose the timing. God would eventually send a Redeemer that would free His people from the enemy’s grip forever.

The word ‘gave’ in the Hebrew language is nathan, and it shows up over eighteen hundred times in the Old Testament books. It means to grant, deliver, appoint, make, or cause to be. The New Testament continues the story of the Giver, as God reveals Jesus as the promised Messiah after four hundred years of dark silence.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (emphasis mine)

When Your Identity Seems Compromised

When the enemy comes after your identity, remember these two words: God gave.

Through the names of four young men, God tells His story. Daniel means “God is my judge;” Hananiah means “God has favored;” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “Jehovah has helped.”

God longs to tell His story through us, through our wounds, our failures, our fears, and through our dependence on Him. The enemy has attempted to silence God’s story that my life tells by coming after my identity, too.

As a shy, fearful little girl, I always assumed there was a mix up when names were being passed out. Kelly means “warrior,” but I was the opposite of bold and courageous. My middle name, Leigh, means “field.”

Years ago, God invited me to see what He saw in me, despite my brokenness. He saw a warrior on the battlefield, strong, courageous, and victorious. But this warrior on the battlefield? It’s not me; it’s Jesus in me. The battle all around me belongs to God, and He has already defeated the enemy.

God reclaims our identities and our names and our hearts through Jesus.

Though God has set us free from the power of Satan’s lies, this doesn’t mean he keeps quiet. No, he still whispers his lies; sometimes he shouts them. The only way the accuser knows how to communicate is through lies.

The most recent lie he’s used against me is, “You have no influence.” When I remember that I am an image-bearer of God, and I trust that my life in Christ has meaning, this lie loses all momentum. Truth silences lies every time, because the accuser is no match for the Giver.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (emphasis mine)

When your life is hidden in Christ, your story tells His story. 

When your identity feels under siege, remember these two words: God gave. He gave us everything we need to live victoriously; He gave us freedom, purpose, and life—abundant life through Jesus Christ.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

1

Eight Words I Hope My Kids Say About Their Mother

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

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

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

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

“I serve you just as my mother did.”

Eight Words I Hope My Kids Will Say About Their Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mom chose hard things over trendy things.

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

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

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

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

My mom aligns her life to the Word of God.

My mom prays.

My mom doesn’t hide her tears.

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

My mom applauds my accomplishments but celebrates me.

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

My mom worships Jesus unashamedly.

My mom listens.

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

My mom forgives.

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

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

I serve you as my mother did.

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

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

7

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

A Resuscitation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Resuscitation Story

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

0

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

UA-75750908-1