Archive | worship

The War of Awe

A theme of conflict pulses through the book of Daniel. War, opposition, power struggle. Kingdom against kingdom. I notice the spiritual battle that surrounds me, and with God’s help, I begin to recognize the war within me.

My heart is the battle ground where flesh opposes Spirit. All I want to do is look away, look away because it’s too personal, too much. Spiritual growth is spiritual warfare, and the is struggle intense.

In his book, Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do, Paul David Tripp says that sin has made us not only lawbreakers, but awe breakers as well.

“Sin captures and redirects the motivational system of our hearts. Sin changes how our hearts operate… We exchange awe of Creator for awe of created… most fundamentally awe of self.”

War of Awe

Daniel 10 is a lead-in to the final vision of what’s to come for the people of God and for the end of time. 

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a word was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar. And the word was true, and it was a great conflict. And he understood the word and had understanding of the vision. Daniel 10:1

It takes several reads to recognize Daniel’s name assigned to him by his captors, Belteshazzar. I think it’s intended to remind us that he is not free. Daniel is still in exile, in bondage; he has yet to be delivered.

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

God has given us hearts to know Him; He restores our hearts in this ongoing struggle between awe of self and awe of God. Tripp says, “Spiritual growth is about recapturing your awe.”

Reading through the book of Daniel this summer, I’ve seen the physical conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. The turmoil in Daniel’s visions mirrors the nightly news feed and reminds me of the ongoing unseen battle.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Galatians 5:16-17

In Christ, the flesh no longer controls us; the Spirit leads us instead. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Daily. We die to self daily. Though our eternal rescue is complete, we look to Jesus to daily rescue us from ourselves.

What God begins, He finishes.

My flesh longs to worship self; the Spirit knows my heart needs to worship God alone. It’s a power struggle called sanctification. It’s an all-out war between the kingdom of me and the Kingdom of God, and I want this war to end.

Jesus Christ has personally carried me from victim to victor. He has made a way—the only way—for this enemy of God to become a child of God. And in the very end, He will win this war of awe.

God recaptures our awe through an ongoing, grace-filled, intimate relationship with us. He created us to live utterly and completely enthralled by Him, and the Spirit gives us everything we need to intimately know Him.

A friend asked me recently to pray that God would light a fire in her to live for Him alone. I told her it would be my absolute honor to pray with her. This prayer reveals humility and an understanding that all we have to do is ask God to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

None of us can spark our own fires.

I can’t. You can’t. The Spirit is our fire, our sanctifier. The realization that sin has hijacked our awe can overwhelm, especially if you’re like me, and you’re just waiting for Jesus to give up on you, because you would’ve given up on you ages ago. This beautiful prayer invites us to turn to God instead and ask Him to do what we cannot do for ourselves.

Spark a fire in me. Keep the fire going. Kindle the flame when it starts to fade.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Ache You Shouldn’t Chase Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ache You Shouldn't Chase Away

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

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

The book ends with the promise of an elaborate homecoming.

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Living Hidden

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3

The Quiet Book, a board book from my youngest daughter’s bookshelf that meanders through all the different kinds of quiet in a child’s day, inspired me to count all the beautiful ways to live hidden in Christ.

In just two days, I recorded 150…

I haven’t written poetry in well over a decade, but my deepest emotions are often best expressed this way. I want to remember how to live hidden, how to return again and again to my true identity, tucked within Christ.

I’ll continue adding to the list I began in my spiral-bound notebook, but I couldn’t keep all of them to myself.

I hope these words inspire you to write your own expression of what it means to live hidden with Christ in God. Just sitting in His presence, listing each one, did my soul such good.

Hidden is beautiful because of Him.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

Living  H I D D E N

Mustard seed hidden

Remembering hidden

Lost then found hidden

Rescued with love hidden

Work in progress hidden

His joy my strength hidden

Strong in battle hidden

Peaceful hidden

Scared hidden

Collapsing hidden

Rising again hidden

Nothing to prove hidden

Embracing small hidden

Rebuilding ruins hidden

Reclaiming ground hidden

Fall in love hidden

Love remake me hidden

Content to be hidden

New perspective hidden

One with God hidden

Until Jesus returns hidden

My true self hidden

Carried by love hidden

Beautiful life hidden

Hard things redeemed hidden

Abandoning comfort hidden

Love conquering doubt hidden

Glory eclipsing fear hidden

Trials welcome hidden

Silence the lies hidden

Master leading hidden

My cup overflowing hidden

Dreams unraveling hidden

Struggling to trust hidden

Trusting Him still hidden

Father’s delight hidden

Stone rolled away hidden

Nothing can separate hidden

Heaven bound hidden

Face to face hidden

My whole life hidden

Just a vapor hidden

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ONE Verse for 2017

This week graciously allows us to linger and reflect before 2017 ushers in a new blank slate for us to begin again. But, can I be honest? Beginnings can sometimes feel overwhelming. That’s why I love having something solid to hang onto as December fades into January.

For the last three years I’ve asked God to give me one word for the upcoming year. It’s a simple way to focus on what He’s already teaching me. This “One Word” practice has helped me sharpen my focus and align my priorities.

This year, I’m trying something new.

Instead of resolutions I know I’ll fail to keep, I’m choosing “One Verse” from scripture as my anchor for the entire year.  And I want to invite you to join me. It’s really pretty simple.

One Verse for 2017

Choose ONE verse. Just ONE.

First, pray. Choose something familiar, or choose something challenging, but let God guide your choosing. If you’re currently studying a particular book, go with a verse from that part of the Bible. Since I’ll be spending the Spring semester studying 1 Peter with a group of women from my church, my One Verse is from 1 Peter:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… 1 Peter 3:15

Learn each word, ONE by ONE.

Study each word in your One Verse. With the help of an English dictionary, record definitions and make a list of synonyms and antonyms.

Look up several different translations to see how they compare. This adds layer upon layer of meaning. Spend time examining the Greek or Hebrew meaning of key words. (Blue Letter Bible is a good place to start.)

Study the book and chapter that house your One Verse.

Understanding the time, audience, and culture is so vital to studying scripture, because it helps provide some much needed context. With an entire year to sink into these words of God, take a deep breath and take your time!

Record findings, questions, and pray throughout the entire process. Dig deep!

Make memorization an art project.

Create a piece of art centered around your One Verse. Display your One Verse in a spot that gets your daily attention.

1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 3:15 artwork for iPhone 6

Whether it involves putting the words to a melody or painting them across a canvas, don’t limit yourself. I saved this graphic as my screen saver on my iPhone, because I know I’ll look at it multiple times a day.

If you want to create your own digital art, try using picmonkey.com. Upload a photo or use one of the free backgrounds or effects. If you need help on sizing for iPhone, click here. (Be sure to leave room for the time and date on the home screen.)

May 2017 be filled with fresh beginnings, heart-pounding adventures, and breathtaking moments alone with your Creator! Share your One Verse in the comments below. We’re in this thing together.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

 

 

5

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

4

Level-Hearted: The Truth About Relying on Self Effort

I’ve always viewed my faith as a series of mountaintop experiences and valley moments. Sometimes, it feels a lot like a roller coaster. I’ve always thought this was normal. Maybe you have, too?

The mountaintop invokes a feeling of nearness to God. It’s when I hear His voice clearly, and I feel in-sync with Him. Lots of self-effort coupled with long stretches of time with God characterize a mountaintop experience.

When I walk through the valley, God feels far away and distant. He seems silent, and I feel out of whack spiritually. Yet, I’ve come to know His character best in the valley. Here, I’ve suffered and struggled and confessed and repented and realized that my own effort will never save me. Even so, the valley I avoid at all costs.

One of my favorite stories in the New Testament starts in John 4 as Jesus travels through Samaria to pursue one woman. Jesus takes the long, scenic route just to have a conversation with a woman so hopelessly lost she doesn’t even know it.

This story has completely leveled everything I thought I understood about faith.

So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. (John 4:5-6)

Soon a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. Until now, I’ve never considered the significance of this story’s setting. Jesus sits down and waits for this woman at a well, located in the valley between two mountains, Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim.

As she approaches Jesus, He initiates a conversation. He offers a gift. Speaking truth and love, without a hint of condemnation, Jesus reveals Himself to her rather than waiting for her to open up to Him. Jesus already knows her. He knows about the five husbands she would’ve never mentioned.

She’s from the town Sychar, which means “drunken.” Here, this woman has tried to quench her thirst with relationship after relationship only to remain parched, dry, and lacking. I can just picture Jesus sitting at that well waiting for her in the valley of deep, deep suffering.

Sychar also means “falsehood.” I wonder if any of her motivation or searching or chasing all the wrong things has been based on lies. I know mine has. Jesus came to save this woman and forever quench her thirst. He came to rescue her, and He came to rescue us, too.

Sometimes, rescuing looks a lot like shattering lies with Truth.

In the middle of their conversation about her many relationships, the woman brings up the mountains in the background.

“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19-20)

The Jews believed that God was to be worshiped in Jerusalem while the Samaritans built an altar on Mount Gerizim. This very personal, very uncomfortable conversation perhaps compels her to randomly start talking about mountains. But, even if her words are just a clever distraction, Jesus already knows where they are heading. He tells the woman that everything about worship as she knows it is about to change.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (John 4:23)

Jesus died our death and made a way for us to enter into a relationship with Him. And He leveled every mountain and every valley in the process. He changed the way we worship and initiated a new era in which no one has to travel up a mountain to be in the Presence of God.

No effort nor emotional experience is required to enter His Presence. Only faith in Jesus. I struggle at times with the simplicity of it. When I complicate things, I miss the beauty of a gift I could never earn.

Striving towards the mountaintop reveals our desire to contribute rather than receive.

Maybe the Samaritan woman brings up the mountains, because she so badly wants to know the “right” way to worship. I’m like that.  Tell me how to do it right, and I will. I’ll work and strive and give it every bit of my effort. But Jesus assures her—and all of us—that neither effort nor being right could ever qualify us to receive His love.

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” (John 4:25-26)

I love so many things about this story, but what I love most is how Jesus seeks the Samaritan woman. Jesus pursues her. He initiates the conversation that changes her life. Jesus does all of the work. She only needs to respond. It’s my favorite part of the story because it’s part of my story and your story, too.

May His love completely level the landscape of your soul.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was the only one.  My husband thought the social gathering would be good for my soul.  I knew better, but agreed to go anyway.  In a crowded, boisterous circle of acquaintances and strangers, I listened from a distance, unable to contribute to the conversation.

Infertility and heartbreaking loss had taken its toll on my heart.

Two women shared their personal experiences with moldy sippy cup lids while a third offered her fool-proof solution for barring off this kind of unwanted fungal growth. All I heard was that familiar lie:

You will never belong here.

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

I didn’t know if my kitchen cabinets would ever hold sippy cups, and I didn’t know if my body would ever carry a baby like it was supposed to.  It had been years and hope was slipping out of my empty arms. The scars from my most recent loss were anything but healed, and there was nothing tidy about the emotions spilling out of me. I made eye contact with the hostess as I quickly mapped out my exit plan. My eyes pleaded with her, Please understand.

“Take me home,” I whispered to my husband when I found him outside with the rest of the guys. Confusion settled into the space between us.  He was still unaware that we were the only childless people at the party, and I was surprised that this made me jealous. When he realized my request was more of a plea, we said our goodbyes and left.

I needed to be heard.

On the car ride home, I tried to explain.  I expected him of all people to understand. He had experienced the same devastating loss, yet instead of uniting us, it was pulling us in opposite directions. I was terrified that the strain of it all would rip us right apart.

I quit speaking to God that week- just picked up silence and wore it like a cloak. Months passed before I realized that my anger couldn’t run Him off or push Him away.

One day in desperation, I picked up His Word, and the ground of my heart shifted as love and grace and truth seeped deep into the cracks of my dry and parched faith. It was that same day I realized what I wish I had known years before.

God is the only One who will ever truly understand.

Hannah was a girl just like me.  Her story begins in 1 Samuel chapter 1. Her husband took another wife when it became clear that she was barren.  Her name was Peninnah. This one short verse sums up the circumstances Hannah found herself in:

Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none. 1 Samuel 1:2b

Year after year, Hannah watched this other woman give birth while she secretly wondered if she was somehow disqualified. Our culture today unknowingly isolates women struggling with infertility, but in Hannah’s day, it was seen as divine judgment.

Tension began to grow in Hannah’s marriage. Elkanah, her husband, didn’t think Hannah’s childlessness was that big of a deal.  He didn’t understand why she was so miserable.  He provided for her and he loved her more than Peninnah, the mother of his children.  But all of his efforts couldn’t change the fact that Hannah’s heart was splitting in two.

Hannah took her broken heart and laid it bare before God. But this very private prayer made in a public place brought more painful misunderstanding. Eli, the priest, witnessed her lips moving silently as she poured out her pain to God and mistakenly thought she was drunk.  As if her anguish was not enough, Eli’s accusation was piercing and misguided.

Hannah’s reaction that day in the temple grabs me every time.

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” 1 Samuel 1:15-16

She didn’t use harsh words when Eli misunderstood her pain.  She didn’t shut down, and she didn’t retreat.  She simply told the truth. She knew her grief was misunderstood, and she also knew she could never expect anyone to truly hear her and she didn’t expect anyone to understand. Peninnah couldn’t, and neither could Elkanah or Eli. God is the only One who understood Hannah’s pain and longing, and she wasted none of her effort trying to pour out her pain anywhere else.

It causes more pain when we take our broken hearts to anyone other than God.

It causes more pain when we take our broken hearts to anyone other than God.

In my own struggle, I was a slave to the expectations I created for everyone around me.  I wanted others to understand how I spent sleepless nights wondering if I was being punished. I wanted them to realize that I prayed daily for God to remove my longing if He was not planning to fulfill it. I wanted them to see the guilt that plagued me when my grief prevented me from celebrating with those whose families were growing with ease. I wanted people to understand the loneliness that settled in between my husband and me as we walked the same path but experienced two very different journeys.

Over the years, God has strengthened our marriage through the struggle. After four years, two losses, and too many failed procedures to count, God gave us a son and a daughter, born just twenty minutes apart.  Four years after that, when we thought the door had closed completely, He reminded us that nothing is outside His reach. Our third child, another daughter, is a constant reminder that He is able.

But even here in this current season, I still find myself holding others to my unrealistic expectations. I want people to respect our decisions regarding medical intervention. I want others to recognize how certain dates will forever remind me of all I’ve lost. I want them to know that even though I have children, infertility is still very much a part of my life. I want people to understand that being overwhelmed some days by motherhood doesn’t imply ungratefulness.

Expectations have only harmed me and strained my relationships. But with every misunderstanding, God draws me to His heart.  He is teaching me that He is the only One who can truly hear my innermost cry. His love alone holds the power to silence all the lies that have held me captive.

We are never misunderstood in God’s embrace.

Hannah eventually conceived and gave birth to a son, Samuel, whose name means “heard by God.” Hannah could not keep her joy to herself.  She prayed silently in her sorrow, but her prayer of praise was a bold and beautiful song to the God who understands. She began by praising God for deliverance from her enemies:

My heart rejoices in the Lord; in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. 1 Samuel 2:1

I have always considered Hannah’s enemies all those who misunderstood her.  But her enemy wasn’t Peninnah, and it certainly wasn’t the priest who made a bad judgment call.  Her true enemy was God’s enemy, and he is our enemy, too.  He devotes every waking moment to isolating us so we walk through life painfully alone.

Our enemy wants more than anything to destroy our relationships with each other and with God.

As Hannah continued her song, she noted the reversals only possible through the power of the Mighty One. The weak become strong and the strong become weak; the full find themselves hungry and the hungry find their full; the rich become poor and the poor become rich; and the one who was barren is barren no more! Her song ends with these powerful words:

The Most High will thunder from heaven; the Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to his king and exalt the horn of his anointed. 1 Samuel 2:10

“Anointed” is translated Messiah. This is the very first place in scripture that this word is used. It’s how God chose to reveal the beginning of His beautiful redemption plan. Hannah’s joyful prayer gives us a glimpse of the hope found in Jesus. He came to restore our broken bodies and heal our broken hearts and mend our broken relationships. He has already defeated our enemy.

If you are walking the road that’s often misunderstood, find peace in knowing that Jesus hears you, Jesus sees you, and Jesus understands you completely. Take all of your questions and your fears and your hurt to the One who can turn your weakness into strength, your longing into satisfaction, your pain into purpose, and your tears into beautiful songs of joy.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

My Story

A dear friend created this video the summer we found out we were expecting our third child. I was terrified to shoot it, because I struggled my entire pregnancy with the fear of losing this precious gift. I’m sharing it today in case you (or someone you love) need to be reminded that our God can do anything. He is limitless, and so is His love.  Over the course of those nine months, I learned that we can never lose His love.

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