Archive | joy

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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The Most Helpful Way to Encourage Someone Through the Pain of Miscarriage

Under a crisp, periwinkle sky, she flings both arms into the air with her head tilted way back so that her curls dangle in the breeze. She loses herself in unhindered abandon, lifting ear-splitting squeals and small chunky arms and every bit of childlike wonder to feel the movement of the wind.

With everything in her, she yells, “Wwoooooooooooooowwwww!”

Beaming, she gazes up at the towering pear tree, lost in her own toddler world. Leaves dance on thin, clustered branches. Their vibration creates a melody that takes me back in time.

Seven years ago, I sat in the same spot I’m sitting today, while my husband and my dad moved fresh earth with shovels. I watched as deep holes emerged, overwhelmed with all the grief I couldn’t figure out how to bury.

Back to back miscarriages had ripped my heart open and my world apart.

The two worked quietly, and I was thankful no one could read my thoughts. When each hole was deep enough, they dropped a tiny, frail pear tree low into the ground and filled in each of the three holes with the same dirt they had removed.

The trees were memorials, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to remember this pain. More than anything, I wanted to erase this part of my story, pretend I was living someone else’s. I wasn’t sure my faith was strong enough to keep trusting in a good God.

I named the babies we never got to meet. Only God and me know their names. I can’t even be sure whether the babies we lost were girls or boys, so I just went with my mother instinct on that.

I picked a girl’s name for the first. The second miscarriage was a double loss, and though I can’t know for sure, I imagined in my heart a girl and a boy. I assigned each tree with its respective name very matter-of-factly. I started with the first tree and went on down the line. A girl was first, then another girl, and next to her on the far end, the boy who would have shared the same birthday with his sister.

Today, as I watch my tiniest daughter fling her arms up into the breeze, amazed by those singing heart-shaped leaves, my heart is overcome by the silent version of the word she is yelling. Wow.

The Most Helpful Way to Encourage Someone Through the Pain of Miscarriage

Those trees have endured a hurricane and a drought, and whenever the wind blows, they sing.

Though they represent all we’ve lost, I can’t get over how much they resemble the family God’s blessed us with all these years later. I wonder why I haven’t ever noticed this before.

The two trees closest to the street are nearly identical in size and shape. The other, unprotected by the side of the house, is much smaller in comparison. I couldn’t have predicted this when I assigned names to each one. Back then they all looked alike.

But in His time, God gave us a boy and a girl. My Jake and Lillian share more than a July birthday; both have their daddy’s long and lean genes.

Many more years skated along before He gave us our third, a girl we named Anna Joy. It took seven years for me to see it this clearly—His goodness, His blessing, His complete reversal of all I lost.

Like a mirror I momentarily glance into, I see my deepest pain producing a reflection of profound joy.

A friend told me last week that seven is the number of completion. I have my own wow-moment right there in the same place I cried a million tears all those years ago, and a thought crescendos in my mind: God’s story is one of reversal.

Eternal life instead of the death I deserve. The Prince of Peace taking my place to make peace with God on my behalf. An upside-down kingdom where the weak are strong and the poor are called blessed. A kingdom where we’re all invited to be small and things like character and hope are born out of impossible suffering.

Today I think about the woman who could plant a forest in her backyard, and sometimes I hesitate to tell this part of my story.

Chances are, you have a friend or loved one who’s lost a baby, too.

Right now she may be flinging her arms in the air with a different three letter word on her lips, because God doesn’t let us fast forward through the years to see the rest. Instead of wow, she might be yelling, How? Or Why? She might be silently mouthing, Huh? Or praying one word over and over and over: God, God, God?

Watching someone close to you endure a miscarriage feels incredibly helpless sometimes. Look up the word miscarriage, and the very first synonym you’ll find is failure. When babies die before they’re born, it’s cold, hard evidence that we live in a broken world with broken bodies that fail.

I remember failure tightening around my neck like a noose, choking hopes and dreams, squeezing out life until Jesus reached down and rescued me. His word became my place to stand and His promise my only hope. God used the stories of others to remind me of His faithfulness.

The most helpful way to encourage someone through the pain of miscarriage is to tell your story.

Tell your story—not in an attempt to relate and make yourself feel less uncomfortable; tell your story, because your story reveals the heart of God.

Even if your story doesn’t include miscarriage, you’ve probably at some point in your life had to come to terms with the fact that you need God. We’ve all struggled, experienced loss, felt hopeless and alone. Listening to stories of God’s faithfulness helps us remember that He is good and trustworthy, and that He grieves with us.

When I was four months pregnant with our third child, a friend asked me to meet with a girl who longed for a baby. There was no way to know for sure if she’d ever conceive.

I asked if she had mentioned the fact that I was pregnant… and showing. She told me she had and that she was convinced my story would communicate hope. I wasn’t so sure.

Growing bellies were sometimes overwhelming back when I was waiting. I questioned whether this girl I’d never met before would be more hurt than encouraged. I almost said no, but something made me go.

It was easy to share what God had done in my life. Heart-breaking pain seemed to unite us somehow in that quiet corner of the coffee shop. Later in the parking lot, when we said goodbye, I awkwardly crossed my arms over my belly.

I’ll never forget what she said to me.

“Don’t you dare cover up your miracle,” she implored, with hopeful eyes and a gentle smile.

I hadn’t even realized that’s what I was doing. Too concerned I’d cause her pain, I missed how my story had done exactly what my friend felt it would: communicate hope.

No one benefits from hiding God’s goodness. Stories can’t be photocopied and mass produced, because they are uniquely personal.  Every story tells a greater story; it doesn’t end with us.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed, but Love guarantees to heal hearts and write wow-endings that are uniquely beautiful and personal. We all get the wow-ending, because in the very end, Jesus is coming back.

Our stories are powerful—and often, all we really have to give—so don’t hold back because you don’t know where someone else’s story is going. God knows.

Your story lets God tell His.

Yes, miscarriage has made its mark on my story, but even in the pain—especially in the heartbreak and sorrow—God spoke His truth over my life: Love never fails. My body failed more than once to carry a precious life into this world, but God’s love has never failed to carry me through difficult times and times of joy.

Our stories are all so different, but every story is authored by Love. And Love will remain long after this world and everything in it fades away.

Kelly

 

For those who grieve…

I wrote this post for those who wonder how to encourage someone through the pain of miscarriage, yet I know there’s a chance that you are grieving your own loss today.

You are not alone.

No words can adequately explain or even ease the pain you’re experiencing. My prayer is that you find comfort and hope in the following words. 

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

Allow grief to do its deep heart work. Don’t be tempted to say you’re ok when you’re not. Find a friend you trust, and be honest with her about your pain, your anger, your struggles and questions. Invite her to just sit with you and not say anything.

Find ways to experience closure. Planting trees, naming babies, or setting up some other kind of memorial acknowledges something was lost. It is such an important part of the grieving process.

Seek out a Christian counselor or a support group, like Hannah’s Hope.  Many churches offer a counseling and support classes. Hannah’s Prayer Ministries offers an online support community.

Start a thankful journal. Nothing produces joy quite like a thankful heart. Someone I love suggested this to me just days after we planted those trees.  I didn’t quite understand the power of gratitude back then, but time has a way of making hazy things beautifully clear.

I’ve written a bunch about my own journey through infertility and miscarriage. You can read more of my story here. Most of  all, I hope you know today that Jesus loves you dearly.

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What I’m Learning About Change This Fall

What I'm Learning: Fall EditionI love fall, but I can’t stand change. God whispers His language of change, and I can’t decide whether to spring to my feet and dance or run away and hide. Change excites, and change unsettles. Most of the time, change does both.

This fall, I’m learning how God uses the strain of change to draw my heart closer to Him.

Change is inevitable. It illustrates a good and promising sign of growth. We cannot experience transformation without change. If I’m honest, though, I’d rather stay stuck in my tidy, fenced-off, comfort zone.

When my heart experiences the excitement of change, it’s usually a good indicator that my eyes are focused on the new thing God is doing. Unsettledness in my soul often reveals I’m still clinging to the old thing. I tend to release it to God more confidently when I’m honest about what I fear. But still, it’s a struggle.

Maybe the trouble is our aversion to grief.

Why do we think we can let go of the old without allowing grief to do its deep heart work? Maybe it has to do with our desire to bypass grief, because grief is so slow and unpredictable. Sometimes, we’d rather not experience the pain of grief, but our hearts weren’t designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

Our hearts weren't designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

There is no way around grief. No detour or fast lane through. We cannot rush grief, and we cannot ignore it. Grief doesn’t indicate that God has failed us. Grief encourages us to admit that something is not right and we need God to make it right. We need an unchanging God to be our constant.

Grief invites us to experience the wonder of a God who cannot and will not ever change.

Maybe somewhere along the way, we’ve started to believe that grief diminishes the good that’s coming. Before the Israelites entered the promised land under Joshua’s leadership, they mourned the death of Moses for thirty days. (See Deuteronomy 34:8) They were right on the cusp of God giving them everything He had promised, but they didn’t dismiss their much needed season of grief.

Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus wept with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. The crowds that had gathered observed His deep love for His friend. (See John 11:33-43) Yes, grief is a sign that we’ve loved well, but the story doesn’t end there.

When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, God was demonstrating what He would soon accomplish in raising Jesus from the dead, only this time it would be permanent. No more death. No more darkness. No more grief.

When I reflect on my own need for change, grief should be my first response to the weight of my sin. Only in experiencing brokenness can I fully accept Jesus’ love for me. Grief is first, and next is precious, abundant joy for the new life He’s given me—a life I do not deserve.

The gospel is the very intersection of my desperate need to be changed and an immutable God who is willing and able to change me.

Fall paves the path to winter, and spring follows. We cannot skip winter. The cold of winter enhances the radiance of spring. Fall reminds us that this transformation is about to occur right before our eyes. We can’t stop it, and we wouldn’t want to. Not really.

It reminds us that our Creator is in control of the seasons just as He is in control of our ever-changing lives. It reminds us that we, too, need Him to change us moment by moment, season by season. Again and again and again.

Give your heart permission to slow down and savor the change all around you this fall. May this transitioning season draw you closer to the One who makes all things—hard things and awkward things and yes, even dead things—alive and new.

What are you learning this fall?

Kelly

 

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