Archive | her story

HER STORY: He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

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

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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HER STORY: A Believing Hope

Long before she became my friend, I had the precious opportunity to gather with other women and pray for Carlie back when this part of her story was still unexpectedly unfolding. We prayed that day for a miracle.

About a year later, God brought Carlie back into my life. She sat crossed legged on my living room floor, and a different group of girls prayed . . . for another miracle.

This is her story.

Carlie is the most inviting soul I’ve met in a long, long time. Her words exude peace, and her story instills hope. When we sat down over coffee and strawberries romanoff, we discussed everything from motherhood to the story of Ruth to her cancer diagnosis at the age of twenty-four.

Twenty-eight weeks pregnant with her second child, Carlie received unthinkable news. God’s grace carried her along as everything changed in that cramped doctor’s office room where words became weighty and real.

Thrust immediately into chemotherapy, it wasn’t long before she stood in front of her bathroom mirror and covered her eyes until her husband, Ian, finished shaving off every last strand of her beautiful, long brown hair. Though losing her hair was just the tip of her physical and emotional heartbreak, Carlie gained so much through this daunting diagnosis.

Like a gift straight from heaven, Carlie welcomed a fresh perspective and an acute understanding of true suffering. Along with tangible hope to share with a hurting world, arms full of grace, and a heart full of compassion, God gave her eyes to truly see the broken all around her.

Carlie mentioned the “why me?” question I know I’ve tossed towards heaven a time or two.  She quickly followed up with the question all of this has taught her to ask: “Why not me?”

“I don’t deserve to live. None of us do,” she said.

Like gritty sandpaper, her honesty rubbed right up against my entitlement that causes spiritual amnesia from time to time. Uncomfortable on my skin yet nourishing to my heart, her words brought to light the truth that I’ve been redeemed. And I’d be dead without Christ.

Carlie is a girl who’s tasted God’s goodness down in her core. Even when her world turned upside down with not a good thing in sight, there He was. Still present. Still good. Always good.

In so many ways, Carlie’s story reminds me of Ruth’s story recorded on the pages of scripture. Both walked through unimaginable circumstances as young women. Carlie and Ian named their oldest daughter, Rue, after this courageous woman. I asked Carlie how fear played a part in her story, just like I’d love to one day ask Ruth that same question.

Only one verse addresses fear in the entire book of Ruth.

Ruth loses her husband and endures a life-threatening famine. Eventually, she leaves her homeland to travel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, to Bethlehem at harvest time. Much stronger than the insurmountable struggle these two girls faced, the common thread that binds Carlie’s story together with Ruth’s is hope.

Ruth—a poor, foreign widow with no children—collects grain left behind in a nearby field. Ruth quickly finds favor with a man named Boaz, the owner of that field. After learning that Boaz is a close relative, Naomi instructs Ruth to boldly request that Boaz act as her kinsmen redeemer. (In their culture, the closest relative could marry a childless widow to provide an heir for the dead husband.)

Ruth doesn’t just ask for Boaz’s assistance; she boldly extends a marriage proposal.

Though Boaz is willing to marry Ruth, he isn’t the closest relative. Anticipation escalates as she waits while Boaz goes to meet this other man. Boaz’s response to Ruth is laced with hope:

And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” Ruth 3:11

There is no record of anyone telling Ruth not to be afraid in her grief or loss. Not a word as she leaves her family and home and everything else behind. Though much of her mother-in-law’s advice is recorded, we never once hear her encourage Ruth to be brave as she enters the dangerous and vulnerable place of gleaning grain as a foreign woman all alone. So why here? Why now?

Maybe because fear grips tightest in the waiting.

Ian and Carlie

After all of Carlie’s treatment was complete, fear struck the hardest as she waited for results.

One day, while out running errands, a woman approached Carlie and told her she was praying Nahum 1:9 over her.

Tears of hope instantly soaked Carlie’s cheeks.

Shortly after that encounter, another stranger spoke these same words to her, straight out of scripture:

“Trouble will not come a second time.”

Holding back my own tears as she told this part of her story, I leaned in to hear her say these next words: “I just decided to believe God.”

Carlie’s words have made me think a bunch about fear and courage. I’ve often assumed they were opposites. Want less fear? Have more courage. But the antidote for fear isn’t ever courage.

The antidote for fear is belief.

Boaz’s words to Ruth give the gentle notion that God never rests in the middle of the story. His words echo the heart of Jesus, who is both willing and able to redeem.

Just weeks after a whole new set of vocabulary rocked her everyday mundane, with a PICC line and a freshly shaved scalp, Carlie went into labor. As the nurse prepped her for delivery, her words evoked panic in Carlie’s heart.

“There is a 95% chance your baby will be alright,” the nurse told her. Carlie said that Ian felt confident with those odds, but the reality of that 5% overwhelmed her mother-heart. With fingers and hearts threaded together, they begged God for a four-pound baby.

At just 31 weeks, it was a bold request.

When Mia Beth was born—all four-pound-one-ounce of her—Carlie received God’s message loud and clear. I will do for you all you ask. And then some.

Mia Beth

Jesus has promised us so much more than we could ask or imagine. New life. Forgiveness. A marriage celebration at the end of this current age. Living hope for today and tomorrow.

The story of Ruth mirrors this hope. Boaz marries Ruth, and they have a son. But that’s not all. Their son, Obed, becomes the grandfather of Kind David, whose lineage bears the name of Jesus, Hope personified. Our Redeemer who lives.

Hope is alive, because Jesus is alive.

Our hope in Him isn’t based on emotion or circumstance. It’s a clinging and vulnerable hope, an expectant and waiting hope. But more than anything else, Carlie’s story has taught me that hope in Jesus Christ is a believing hope.

Ian, Carlie, Rue, and Mia Beth

If you’d like to read more about Carlie’s journey, check out her blog at: www.themachirtracker.wordpress.com

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HER STORY: No Greater Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is her story.

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

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

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

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

Her love for Jesus pulses through every relationship.

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

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

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

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

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

He is the God of all nations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s power is made manifest in Love.

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

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

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

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

Something called Love. Someone named Jesus.

 

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HER STORY: Dream Weeper

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

This is her story. . .

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

Passion seemed more like a burden than a gift.

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

This is her story...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

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

Surrender sounds nothing like the fairy tales we clutch close.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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

Yeah, He showed up alright.

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Surrender is believing not relinquishing.

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

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

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

Her Story: Dream Weeper

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

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HER STORY: No More Shame

As soon as we walked in, a man behind the counter asked, “Can I help you?” My friend, Christina, cleared her throat and answered, “Yeah, I’d like to get a tattoo?” It sounded more like a question than a request.

We made our way to a narrow bench across the room. She fiddled with her phone, pulling up the image one more time. Though she was unswerving in her decision, viewing the letters in scrolling succession seemed to refresh her confidence.

Soon, the same man called Christina over to his station, and I sat down on a stool nearby. He worked quietly with steady hands. I wondered what she would say if he asked about the word she’d carefully chosen to have inked permanently on her right wrist. He never did.

We masked nervousness with giggles, and I awkwardly snapped pictures with her phone. Inside, I was fighting back tears. I was so proud of my brave and beautiful friend. I knew this was more than a whim; it was a sacred moment I was honored to witness.

Afterwards, while she listened to instructions for how to care for her skin, Christina couldn’t take her eyes off her wrist. She looked different—not just that raw 3-inch by 1-inch area of skin. This change was much deeper. Her entire countenance had been altered somehow.

I saw a girl who knew in the deepest part of her soul that she was loved and accepted.

HER STORY: No More Shame

This is her story.

When the enemy inserts his lies into a broken home filled with broken hearts, he can wreak all kinds of havoc within its walls. Christina’s home was no different. At the age of eighteen, she found herself heart-broken and searching.

She wanted to be seen. She longed to be known. Though she didn’t yet know its name, a heaviness weighed on her. She desperately wanted to believe that she was enough, but something deep inside of her felt unfixable. Emptiness grew with time.

After years of searching, she acquired only one thing: an unsolicited veil of shame.

Back when Christina was in elementary school, Joel Cates drove his oversized van to the apartment complex where she lived with her mother and older sister. He took Christina and several other kids to church every Sunday.

As she told me about the day Joel prayed with her, I recognized more than just a distant childhood memory. It was like a cherished handwritten note, worn at the creases, that she carefully unfolded to remember. I could tell she kept it tucked away in a special corner of her mind.

Brenda worked as a custodian at the same church. Christina was close friends with Brenda’s daughter, Melissa. The girls used to help Brenda clean once the church emptied its halls and closed its doors. Brenda taught Christina how to perfect pristine vacuum lines.

Brenda read to the girls out of her own thick leather bible. Christina felt at home listening to story after story, not at all fazed by teeny, tiny words or the absence of pictures. Here, she was loved and cherished, and most of all, noticed.

Christina made her way back to church many years later, believing she would be welcome. In her mind, church was full of people like Joel and Brenda. It didn’t take long for her to feel shame’s weight, so she came up with a plan.

When she told her story, she left out the parts that evoked shame.

In a way, she disowned her story. She covered up, because the shame was so thick it seemed like her only option. Somewhere along the way, God whispered to her that in order for Him to redeem her story, she would have to pick up the whole entire thing, war-torn and broken, and place every piece in His hands.

In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” Shame compels us to cover up anything that makes us feel dirty, unwanted, unlovable, or less than.

When shame first entered the scene back at Eden, covering up looked like prickly leaves held against bare skin. When Adam and Eve figured out that their own coverings didn’t do the job, they ran from God and hid.

Before sin, shame did not exist; nor did the practice of hiding or covering. But with one fell swoop, a sinister lie dramatically changed the landscape of paradise, and the lie reverberates to this day.

Shame convinces us that we cannot come to God.

About a month before that day in the tattoo studio, Christina’s daughter was given a psalm to memorize for a school assignment. Christina read David’s words in Psalm 34 over and over again, thinking they were just words on a page for her little girl. One day, she started to believe that it might be more than just an ordinary assignment.

She started to wonder if God was whispering something personal to her. The longer she listened, the more confident she became that the Creator of the universe was inviting her to imagine something brand new.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. Psalm 34:5

It was an invitation to walk into His light and become a whole new person in Him. Radiant. It is her new name, given to her by her Father in heaven who loves her and knows how hard she’s tried to cover up and hide. His promise was clear to her that day:

Come to Me. Let Me take your shame and cover you with My righteousness—not your own, for your righteousness will only lead to hiding. Let Me clothe you in Light. No more hiding, no more covering. No more shame, because you were made for more.

Letting Jesus lift that veil of shame required intense trust. As I watched that needle inscribe the word radiant across the delicate inside of her wrist, I knew that she was His, and she was free.

radiant

Shame cannot survive in the presence of a radiant God.

Shame persuades us that we will only feel secure if we master the art of covering up, so we spend our time trying so hard to clean ourselves up. But as Jesus took His last breath on the cross, the veil separating us from God was completely torn in two.

Jesus didn’t hang there for only part of our brokenness. He took all of it on His shoulders so that we could come to God unhindered. All the sin, all the shame, all the hurt. All on Him.

God called Adam and Eve out of hiding. In a vivid display of mercy, He covered them with the skins of animals right before they left the garden. The blood shed that day shines a spotlight on the once-and-for-all sacrifice God made through Jesus. His blood restores all that is broken. Every part.

The perfect, unblemished Lamb of God took on all the sin and shame of this entire broken world so that we could be clothed in His righteousness as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. His grace draws us out of hiding, His blood reverses the effects of shame, and His forgiveness sets us free.

His love redeems every part of our story.

God calls out to us as we crouch in the thick, shadow of shame. He calls us by a new name and invites us to step into His radiant light where we are fully seen, fully loved, fully forgiven, and fully free.

Christina’s story has inspired me to ask God which parts of my own story I need to hand over to Him. Is there a part of your story Jesus is asking you to surrender?

Kelly

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HER STORY: Redefining Adventure

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Two and a half weeks before she heard her doctor say the words, “You’re in remission,” I listened to my mom tell her story. I would have never called her journey through cancer an adventure, but God is redefining adventure for me.

This is her story.

Her Story: Redefining Adventure

My mom describes her childhood as a time of searching. She finally found what she was chasing after at the age of fifteen. She always loved God, but one day someone explained to her how Jesus loved and died for her. That someone was my dad. Life didn’t become safer or more certain after that, but it certainly became more adventurous.

Just after she turned thirty-one, my mom flew across the Atlantic Ocean to Nairobi, Kenya, three little ones in tow. She and my dad joined a team called Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Terrified, she laid in bed the night before they left begging God to intervene and change their assignment.  Everything seemed so scary and uncertain. In the end, God said no. He knew she would one day recognize this adventure as one of His very best gifts.

Her story is teaching me that adventure requires both courage and vulnerability.

Dave and Ruth's Wedding Day

Dave and Ruth 2008

My mom will tell you that her time in Africa was the most joyful and peaceful time of her entire life. She found joy in all God was teaching her and peace in how He provided for our family. Yet she also recalls the difficulty and the struggle. A season of suffering preceded the season of joy. Life in Africa was full of difficult decisions, inevitable risk, isolating realties, and unforeseen adjustments.

My six-year-old eyes could only see the adventure while living in Kenya. Yet when my mom received her cancer diagnosis almost a year ago, my thirty-six-year-old eyes couldn’t see adventure at all. Our family gathered together and begged God to intervene and change this impossible diagnosis. Though three decades separate these two narratives, God has woven them together in the most intricate and beautiful way.

Sometimes, we discover adventure when we aren’t even looking for it.

I remember the avocado tree in front of our flat in Nairobi where most of my own childhood adventure took place. Mom would ask my younger brother to climb high up into the thick branches to pluck an avocado for supper. We played all day long underneath its shade. It was so much more than a tree; it was an adventure waiting to be explored.

Banana trees lined the view out back, where our clothes hung with pegs on a line. My youngest brother—who learned Swahili right along with English—loved to launch their red petals down the drainage ditch. He sat hunched over watching little red speedboats chase their own daring adventure.

Twice a year we took the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. Dad built elaborate sand castles all day long, with intricate towers and a working moat. Mom helped us spot shells hidden in the sand.

In the midst of  beauty and simplicity were the realities of loss and uncertainty.

Nairobi, Kenya 1988

Getting lost was a prerequisite to finding our way. My parents had to grieve the loss of their old community before they found a new one. Family was redefined as an entire ocean separated loved ones.

God gave my Mom many opportunities to trust Him. The matatu that took me to school each day—about forty-five minutes away—drove right past the coffee plantation that saddled up next to the campus grounds.

I grew to anticipate the evenly spaced rows of coffee plants. My world was small and seemingly predictable. The trip never seemed that long when I was six years old. Mom whispered prayers of protection as she kissed me good-bye each morning. As a mother of two six-year-olds, I now have an entirely new perspective of the trust my mom must have possessed.

At a stop light once, a man reached into our car and tried to grab the gold chain right off Mom’s neck. Instinctively, she rolled up her window as he yanked his hand out through the tiny slit at the top. He stretched her chain about two inches, but it never broke. She kept right on wearing that gold chain that held a pendant in the shape of Africa.

She, too, was stretched but not broken.

Sometimes, God invites us into adventure so that we discover our need for Him. My mom’s specific cancer and circumstances prevented her from being in large groups of people for the duration of her treatment. For an extrovert who thrives among people, this was extremely difficult and costly for her, but God provided in such unexpected and loving ways.

Ruth and Chocolate July 2016Just as God blessed our family with a special community in a foreign country, He provided this year as well. Mom has embraced a new kind of community during her battle with cancer. She’s had more one-on-one conversations this past year than in the last ten. An overwhelmingly warm online community emerged as well to support and rally behind her as she shared prayer requests and updates.

I remember struggling to understand the beautiful hymns sung in Swahili on Sunday mornings as a kid. Mom used to tell me that God didn’t care whether I knew the words or not; she said He only looked at my heart. I’ve noticed how having cancer has compelled my mom to discover brand new ways to worship God.

Adventure draws us into deeper communion with God.

Some days, weak and in pain, all she could do was cry out to God from her living room couch. She struggled most of the time just to come up with the words, but her inability to worship with words of clarity enhanced the humble posture of her heart.

My mom’s “thankful journal” from the past year is evidence that we can always find a reason to thank God.  Scattered throughout the pages are names of friends, family members, strangers she met in Walmart, people she sat beside during chemotherapy, doctors and nurses who cared for her. Rain is tucked in here and there, and pancakes, too. Half a dozen times she wrote the word new. New places, new friends, new beginnings. A new assignment.

Even in the midst of loss, newness emerges.

The entries that stirred something deep within me were the ones she wrote about God. As I read each one, I realized that my mom’s adventure has given her so many opportunities to gaze into the face of God.

God never changes even if I do / God’s great love for me in spite of my tremendous sin / God created all things and sent Jesus so that we can all be redeemed and restored / God’s promise to be with me and go before me / the vastness of God / the tenderness of God / God’s timing / God’s voice

My mom possesses a peace I don’t recognize in myself. She has experienced how God is God even when health fails and safety slips away. Pain and beauty, suffering and growth, loss and gain—all have defined her adventure.

She would’ve never chosen this adventure, but she recognizes God’s gifts hidden within.

Ruth May 2016Adventure isn’t just traveling the globe or sky-diving out over a breath-taking view. Adventure is entering places of risk and potential danger. It’s thanking God for every glimpse of goodness today without being sure about tomorrow.

Adventure might be moving to a foreign country or receiving a cancer diagnosis. It could be not knowing how someone will respond to your story, but telling it anyway.

Every adventure also requires a certain level of loss; we must lose what we think we need in order to gain something we’ve never experienced. Sometimes, it’s safety and certainty. Sometimes, it’s our comfort.

Not every adventure involves the same risk, but each one requires our willingness to experience loss for the sake of God’s greater purpose. Being open to His will in our lives means we trust Him more than we fear the unknown. This is where courage and vulnerability unite.

Our greatest struggle has the potential to become our greatest adventure.

God created us to embrace the uncertainty, the unexpectedness, the risk and possible danger of pursuing Him. There is no control in adventure, only wonder and awe.

Mom said something that day she told me her story, and I’ll never forget her words. She said, “All I had left was God, and He is all that I need.” Her story would not be the same without His story. The greatest adventure of her life has been pursuing the One who pursued her first.

The word advent tucks itself neatly inside the word adventure. Advent means “coming into view.” It means to wait expectantly. Advent is the beginning of adventure. It marks the arrival of Jesus, who died our death, then rose three days later. It reminds us that He came and will come again, but in between those two comings is this precious opportunity to enter into adventure with Him.

Every adventure—filled with mystery, uncertainty, and beauty—poses a brand new opportunity to wait expectantly for Jesus to reveal Himself to us.

What adventure is Jesus calling you to discover today?

Kelly

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HER STORY: Her Lifesong Became My Lifeline

Every heart has a song to sing and a story to tell. Our stories reveal God’s bigger redemptive story. Join me today for the first in a series called Her Story.

Her Story

Life is a mixture of big, important milestones and small, everyday moments. We tend to focus on the big stuff, but the small stuff gives us those unhindered glimpses straight into the heart.

A series of ordinary, individual notes create a person’s lifesong.

I’ve known my friend, Charla, for a decade now. We’re pretty much family. She’s a teacher and a writer. She’s a listener and encourager and a knees-to-the-ground prayer warrior.  She loves Jesus, rides a Harley, and plays the tambourine like nobody’s business. Charla has blessed my life in more ways than I can count, and her faith has taught me so much about God’s goodness. This is her story.

It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon brimming with errands and routine. Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” came on the radio, so she reached over to crank up the volume. She was singing along and tapping the steering wheel one second and looking out her window at twisted metal and broken glass the next.

She never saw the car coming.

“The sound of crushing metal drowned out the sound of that praise music,” she told me later. After the collision, the words from that song continued to fill the silence with truth. “He’s a pain taker, … He’s a way maker, … He’s a chain breaker…”  As she let the words of that song bring her back to reality, she knew she was going to be ok.

She got out of her vehicle and exchanged stunned glances with the woman who had t-boned her moments before. The absence of injury invoked a flood of relief. Charla embraced the other woman and tearfully choked out, “God is good.”

It was all she could find to say.

Just three words. God is good. I’m not at all surprised. These words spill out of Charla on a daily basis. As she stepped out of her totaled vehicle, the only words she could find that day were the words of her lifesong.

She spoke those words repeatedly to me during the darkest, most painful season of my life. As I questioned the very goodness of God, He placed her in my life so that I could hear her say over and over again, “God is good.”

When I doubted that God really had a plan for my life, she told me, “God is good.” When I was angry and heartbroken, she told me, “God is good.” When I had no strength to pray on my own, she prayed for me, then told me, “Kelly, God is good.”

Eventually, I began to see that even though my circumstances were not at all good, God was still good. I had run so far away, but those words drew me back into His arms.

Her lifesong became my lifeline.

She wasn’t trying to cheer me up or fix me or take away the pain I was experiencing. She was just walking out what she believed. And I know that she believes it deep within her soul.

Her entire life sings, “God is good.

Her lifesong has strengthened my faith. I don’t know where I’d be if she hadn’t kept singing, though I never felt like she sang it just for my sake. That’s the beauty of a lifesong. It’s not manufactured or borrowed like a Hallmark message.

A lifesong is a belief we know by heart.

I asked Charla how she relies on God’s goodness every single day. Listen to these precious words of truth straight from her heart:

“I always look for His good, because it’s always there. My first reaction to absolutely any negative circumstance—from my own sin, disobedience, insecurity, doubt, envy, hurt, or fear to illness, addiction, depression, or tragedy—is to look for how God is using it for His good. It’s not looking through rose colored glasses; it’s looking through God’s faithful protective lenses. It’s about finding GOoD. Finding GOD—in all things.  God promises us His good, and God is a promise keeper.”

Exodus 15:2 says, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” The NIV translates it this way: “The Lord is my strength and my defense.”

Moses and his sister, Miriam, led the Israelites in this song after God parted the Red Sea and delivered them from their enemies. God gives us a song to remind us that Jesus has completely defeated the enemy of our souls. Jesus is our song and our defense. The melody that resides deep within our hearts can protect our minds from Satan’s deceitful attacks.

A lifesong is our defense against the enemy’s schemes.

Charla recently turned her spare bedroom into a war room—a place where she enters into battle through prayer. Reminders of God’s goodness adorn the walls: prayers laid at Jesus’ feet, prayers already answered, scripture she wants to memorize, and words of truth she finds meaningful. She even displayed her busted mirror from the wreck to remind her of God’s protection that day.

war room

When asked about God’s goodness in her life, Charla shared the three questions she asks herself anytime she faces a battle.

  1. What is God teaching me?
  2. Where is the GOoD in this?
  3. How will God use this to help someone else?

Recognizing God’s goodness involves a strategic battle plan.

Charla’s lifesong inspires me to look for God’s goodness every single day. I’ve learned that it’s so much deeper than surface-level-looking; it’s looking with the expectation that we will find Him. It’s a confident pursuit.

I hope Charla’s story encourages you to pause and think about what spills out of you on a regular Tuesday. What song does your life sing? Have you taken note of who’s listening? God wants to use your song, so keep singing.

Your lifesong just might become someone else’s lifeline.

Kelly

Charla

For more words of hope, check out Charla’s blog, He Speaks We Listen.  If her story inspired you today, leave a comment and let her know.

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