Tag Archives | brokenness

Holy Ground

The road I take daily is an uneven mess of potholes and cracks. At least it used to be. A few months ago, workers showed up bright and early one morning to set up their equipment on either side of this road I’ve grown to mildly tolerate. I recognized the routine, because they’ve done it dozens of time before. They fill in the holes, yet it doesn’t seem to make the ride any smoother.

This time, though, they shut the road down temporarily. They allowed only one lane to pass by at a narrow crawl while they began a new thing on this road, something I’ve never seen them do in almost a decade of living here.

They covered the old road with a brand-new one.

It was time-consuming and inconvenient, and most days (if I remembered) I’d take another route to avoid that road entirely. When it was finished and all the workers cleared out their equipment and heavy trucks, it was as if there was never a hole or so much as a bump in the road.

Holy Ground

Photo by Maria Stiehler on Unsplash

A brand-new road was poured right on top of the old, broken one. The cracks have been leveled by a smooth, flat pathway. We can spend our lives trying to fill holes deep within us, when all we really needed is an altogether new heart.

For the last nine years, I’ve veered to the middle of the road every day to avoid a huge pothole right before the stop sign at the bottom of the bridge. Today I caught myself mindlessly swerving to miss something that is no longer there. Habits are hard to break.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, it’s true, but sometimes I turn to other things foolishly thinking they can light my way. Lies can drag me off God’s path, my own emotions and expectations can weigh me down to a stop, and other people and their plans for my life can distract and mislead me.  Like my driving habits, it doesn’t take much to slip into old mindsets I’ve outgrown.

This is how I will always be. Or I’ll never overcome this struggle. It’s just as ridiculous as trying to avoid a pothole that’s no longer in front of me. Jesus came full of grace and truth to renew minds and transform hearts. So rather than repeating accusatory (and false) words to my heart, I’m learning to replace them with these instead: This is how Gods changing me. I’m trusting God to help me overcome this struggle.

My identity is longer tied to my past.

Who I am is securely fastened to the One who bridged a sure path for my heart. I could never fill in these holes in my heart, but Jesus made every crooked path straight and every rough road smooth when gave me a brand-new heart. He’s paved direct access from my heart to the Father’s, a narrow way I’m learning to take.

Some days, I hate the inconvenience of it. I can’t stand the mess and the wait. I’d rather just go another way, avoid this road entirely. But in kindness and love, God keeps bringing me back to the very same road that used to be full of bumps and cracks and flaws. There, He invites me to learn His way, practice His truth, walk in His love.

A quick fix with no discomfort or inconvenience can seem so very alluring, but healing a heart and repaving a road hardly happen in a day. Jesus invites us to walk in freedom, and exercising that freedom requires time and trust. Every time we believe Jesus to lead us forward, we gain a little more level ground underneath our feet. And level ground is holy ground, to be sure.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

Scripture references:

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4 NIV

The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Isaiah 26:7 NIV

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5 NIV

 

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When Your Heart Feels Heavy

Last week I wrote about thanksgiving—not family tradition or the celebration itself, but the kind of thanksgiving that flows from our lips as praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. This precious truth from Psalm 8:2 has been on my heart ever since: 

A thankful heart can silence the lies of the enemy. 

But sometimes, embracing gratitude is a struggle. The state of our hearts can feel out of sync with the cheer of the season. We wonder why our self-ridden hearts get to be so heavy and forget that Jesus came to us as a bundled baby to free our hearts from every weight.

When my heart feels defeated and I’m tempted to fix myself or turn to someone or something to fix me, this beautiful truth from God’s Word draws me back to Him: We can do nothing apart from Christ.

I wrote this prayer during a season when the words from Isaiah 46 both convicted and comforted my heart. If you’re heart feels heavy today and gratitude feels more like a chore than a choice, I pray these words offer some hope today.

Click the image below to download your own copy of this Prayer for a Heavy Heart.

A Prayer for a Heavy Heart

Click image to download PDF of prayer

 // Isaiah 46 //

 1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

God, you name the idols, you call them out. You point out the ones I carry, as well, the things I love and serve, idols that cannot rescue, cannot love, cannot protect me. I name them now as I bow before you. I admit that these idols have weighed me down to a weary crawl. These are from you to be used for you and by you, yet my sin convinces me they are mine to worship, hold high, hold close. But I am yours; I belong to you. I was bought at a price. Love paid the ultimate ransom for my freedom. Lord, I’ve tried to steal your glory. Forgive me, Jesus.

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Thank you, Jesus, for your love. Thank you for your ability and willingness to rescue my rebellious heart. You have carried me my whole life. Not a moment has passed without your hand guiding me. Your promise to continue carrying me brings a new peace to my heart. Your mercy is far beyond my understanding. You are my Maker, and you love what you’ve created. My heart is in your hands. These idols will never add value to the masterpiece you’ve made of me. You’re the adventure. You’re my prize. I choose to fix my eyes on you alone.

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles.

It seems ridiculous to think for a moment that these idols could ever unburden me, save me, protect me, rescue me. It’s like strapping burdensome weights on my back and wondering why it’s hard to move forward. These idols cannot save, they cannot answer, and they cannot move me. They bind me useless, ineffective, and stuck. I empty my hands. Fill me with your love.

“Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say,
‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.

There is none like You, God. You are faithful and true. I’ve exchanged truth for lies, and I’ve worshipped the created rather than you, my Creator. Yet you made possible this great exchange to reverse everything we corrupted and tarnished: my sin for your perfect love. It cost you everything. You have not only carried me, but you’ve carried out your beautiful redemption plan. It is finished, Jesus, and I live in the glow of the resurrection, the promise kept, the Way made known to all.

12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

You initiated, Jesus. You drew near, even as my sin obstructed my view of you. You made this exchange possible for me while I was still stuck, immobile in my brokenness. In you I find rest and peace and freedom and salvation. In you I find purpose, joy, and acceptance. My idols have failed me, harmed me, drained me, and left me empty. But you, Jesus, have never failed; you are faithful. Thank you that I am kept secure in you. Thank you for carrying me in love.

Amen.

Artwork created by Julie Cassol

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Shrug off Shame for Good

When I was much younger in my faith and less sure of who I was in Christ, I listened to a man break down Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians, and when I say break down, I literally mean it was a broken attempt to handle the passage in biblical context. His words did not line up with truth, so I dismissed the lies as best I knew how. Shame, however, hung around to bully my soul.

Shame choked my identity and called my ability to serve in the body of Christ into question. I’d feel shame’s hot, prickly breath on the back of my neck anytime I spoke up with conviction. Our enemy’s favorite tactic is to convince us there is something innately wrong with the way God made us.

Shame keeps us from the truth.

I decided early on that using my voice brought pain, so I vowed to keep my mouth shut. For many, many years, I kept this vow until God said, “Enough.” It cost me a great deal more to stay silent than speak up. A recent trip to the dentist with my seven-year-old gave me a whole new perspective on what it really takes to shrug off shame for good.

By the time our youngest daughter came along, my older girl had started brushing her teeth all by herself. When one of her permanent teeth pushed its way up, there wasn’t much room in her tiny mouth. She struggled to reach it with her toothbrush. When I noticed the yellowish-brown color of that same tooth, I encouraged her do a better job brushing.

I felt responsible for the neglected tooth. No amount of brushing could restore the brightness of her tooth. On her last cleaning visit, the dentist used a big long doctor word to explain the discoloration. Apparently, this happened when the tooth was still in the tooth bed. A couple of factors might be responsible, including a high fever or antibiotics. Poor brushing did not cause the discoloration.

As soon as we stepped into the hallway, I told my girl how sorry I was, how wrong I was to blame her for the condition of her tooth. As she dropped her head, I recognized that classic look of shame. I lifted her chin up so her eyes met mine. “Momma made a mistake. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?”

She cracked a grin and broke the silence with, “Of course, Mom! Everybody makes mistakes.” And just like that, we both let it go. It doesn’t always happen quite like that, but God spoke through this situation like a megaphone to my heart.

Freedom from shame comes through forgiveness.

Freedom from shame is found through forgiveness.

The shame I allowed to silence me all those years ago originated from something false, something contrary to the Word of God. Just as my daughter’s shame about her tooth came from a misconception from someone she looked up to—her own mother.

Sometimes the people we look up to most—teachers, leaders, even parents—get it wrong. But no one is outside the reach of grace. When I told my girl that I was sorry, the truth exposed her shame, and forgiveness set her heart free.

Shame has no place in our lives as believers. Freedom isn’t found in walking out our callings or calling out our shame, though both are necessary and crucial as we defend our faith. We experience the freedom Jesus purchased for us when we forgive the very ones who heaped on shame intentionally or unintentionally.

When I first noticed my daughter’s tooth, I felt ashamed for the limits that caring for a newborn had put on me. I felt shame that I did not help my oldest do a better job brushing her teeth. In his memoir All is Grace, Brennan Manning says that shame that isn’t transformed is transferred.

Shame passes on shame.

As I apply this to my own story and my own wounds, I now understand that the shame I felt years ago could have been a result of my shamers’ own shame. And I have everything I need to shrug shame off at the feet of Jesus.

When we bring our shame to the foot of the cross, we discover the only place true forgiveness is possible.  Forgiveness breaks the shackles of shame, and apologies are never prerequisites. Jesus longs to transform our shame into radiant beauty. He’s the only One who is both willing and able.

If you’ve felt the weight of shame, you’re not alone. We’ve all been shamed, and we’ve all shamed someone else, intentionally or unintentionally. We’ve been wronged, and we all get it wrong from time to time. But as we take our wounds to Jesus, may we remember that we’ve been scandalously forgiven, so we really can forgive and shrug off shame for good.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

Jesus shamed shame on the cross so that our hearts could live in glorious freedom.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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We Are One

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  Ephesians 2:19-21

Hurricane Harvey left devastating loss in its wake. Yet according to Paul, individual loss does not exist. Every loss is collective loss because we are one. To those who’ve lost everything: Your loss is our loss; your grief is our grief.

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

As the Church, we are not members of a country club or social club; we are members of God’s household, each with specific roles moving forward from this storm. Paul calls us fellow citizens with rights and privileges because Jesus has given the Church the keys to His kingdom.

We Are One

Ephesus was the hub for worship of the fertility goddess, Artemis. The temple of Artemis was about one mile from the city of Ephesus and eventually became one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

In a class of its own, made entirely of marble, it boasted more than 100 columns over 55 feet high and a platform area that covered over two acres. Paul holds up this well-known icon of elegance to a greater temple, one unlike anything they’ve ever imagined.

Made of living stones, the Church is a holy temple that lives and breathes and acts as one.

Ephesus was a wealthy city no different than many cities here in the United States. The people learned to build on lots of different foundations other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul’s original audience was extremely familiar with ritualistic worship; their decision to follow Jesus had only recently removed them from its grip.

To counteract the prevalent influence of Artemis, Paul repeats himself over and over throughout his letter. Ephesians 1:3-14 is one long sentence in the original Greek. Our English translations divide it up into 12 verses to make it more readable. Ten times in one breath Paul repeats the phrase in Him or in Christ.

In Christ is everything, and apart from Him is nothing.

More than ever, we need the God who grieves with us in our heartbreak; we need to hear the stories of those who have lost everything yet still have it all. In the wake of this devastating disaster where what many thought would secure them has failed, the Church tells this story.

In Paul’s day, the cornerstone—that perfectly shaped stone—acted as a modern blueprint. It served as a model for every other stone in the structure. Stones, whose edges didn’t quite align, had their rough edges smoothed so that they became one seamless whole.

Paul uses the phrase “grows into” (or in another translation, “rises to become”) to stress that together we are stronger. This is the Greek word auxano. We get our English word augment from this word, meaning to enlarge in size, number, strength, or extent.

God joins us to strengthen us.

This is happening in our community. Denomination lines blur and agendas lose their value. Nothing matters more than moving forward together. God is using tragedy and suffering to smooth out our jagged edges so that the Church can act as one to meet needs, love our neighbors, and reflect Jesus.

Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:24-25

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

If you are in need of help or if you are looking for a way to get involved in the local recovery effort, please click here for some excellent resources.

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Please Remember Them: Redeemed Ministries

In a cold sweat, I shrug off the images of a cruel nightmare: uncontrolled water rushing into my home and sweeping my entire family away. Though my family is safe and my home is dry, water inches its way toward my front door. Being swept away from comfort and safety terrifies me.

I never thought this was possible until Hurricane Harvey parked itself over my city. The devastation, loss, and suffering is unbearable. I begin to pray—for peace, for my family, for my community—and a gentle Voice interrupts my pleas:

Please remember them.

Those of us affected by Hurricane Harvey will recover. Strong and determined, we will rise above this. We will not have nightmares forever. The sound of rain will once again bring peace instead of fear. We will rely on community, on friends and family; we will hold fast to our faith.

But what about them?

What about the women who contribute to the staggering statistics in Houston, Texas? We are a national hub for sex-trafficking. Hurricane Harvey hasn’t swept away this crisis; it’s only increased the desperate need for change.

Continue reading over at the Redeemed Ministries blog…

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{HER STORY} 07: 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} 06: 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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The Truth About Our Neediness

I inch up to the white line and stare blankly at the red light ahead. I almost miss him completely. Less than ten feet away from my car sits a hooded man whose frame blends in with the black night.

I shiver inside my fully insulated SUV and subconsciously cinch my sweater up around my neck. The temperature gauge on my dash registers a chilly 47 degrees.

The light takes an eternity. I notice his wheelchair and the way his head hangs to the side. I wonder if he is asleep.

His hands grip a cardboard sign. I can only guess what it says. Doesn’t he know it’s pitch black, and no one can read that sign even if they tried?

Do you see yourself? a voice breaks the silence.

The light turns green and my car lunges forward. I leave the man alone in the shivering dark.

The voice that pricked my spirit is a voice I know well. Jesus, the One who continues to capture my heart and rescue me from my selfishness, wasn’t done speaking to my soul. He had only just begun this conversation.

Do you see yourself?

How can I see myself in a disabled homeless man sitting alone in the dark? What do we have in common, Jesus?

Do you see Me?

This Jesus I know and love and serve shows Himself in the hungry and worn-out, the dependent and the desperate, the lonely and forgotten.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:35-36.

Why is it so difficult for us to see Jesus here? We search everywhere but the lowest place. Why do we dislike His honest answer that this is where we’ll find Him, engage Him, walk with Him?

Jesus places Himself here, in the lowest ranks, with common people well acquainted with their own need.

And He says, Follow me. He invites us to find ourselves among the least so that we might also find Him.

Yet, it’s too easy to divert our eyes to dodge the conversation, pretending we’re not needy at all. It’s less risky to ignore the man at the stoplight and wholeheartedly believe he’s needy and I’m not.

Relying on my own strength is a feeble attempt to distance myself from my own need for Jesus.

We need Jesus to recognize Him in the lost, the marginalized and forgotten. We need Jesus to show us our own lost-ness and emptiness and alienation and outright death without Him. Ironically, we need Jesus to remind us how badly we need Jesus.

Our faith hinges on those three simple words: We need Jesus.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”– the very bread of life that fills our emptiness, living water that quenches every longing and desire.

God clothed us with a righteousness we don’t deserve and healed us of our sin-sickness. He showed us the only Way to enter in relationship with a holy God. Our Savior was not only willing to sit with us in our prison cells, but He busted the doors wide open.

And “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Every past, present and future need is met fully in Jesus.

My heart believes this, but my eyes sometimes struggle to see the beauty woven into my dependence on a faithful God who has given me new life.

So, I pray for the man at the stop light—that his physical needs would be met, but also that his heart will find Jesus. I thank God for using his raw and visible need to remind me of my own need for Jesus.

I thank Him for bridging the colossal gap between His holiness and my spiritual poverty that I could never close on my own. And, I thank Him for an inheritance I don’t deserve.

Every breath we take is a gift. May we use each one to praise Him and thank Him for rescuing our needy souls. Again and again and again.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Hope Does Not Reside in the White House

I’m driving the same route I travel every single morning. Ten minutes to the elementary school, ten minutes back home. The big kids are chatting in the backseat, and the little one is surprisingly quiet.

I turn onto the two lane country road—at least that’s what I call it. It still feels country to me. Stretches of nothing flank either side, but I know it won’t stay that way for long.

I love this road. It’s one of the few places left in this suburban town where cows graze in open fields. Quiet and serene, it’s my favorite part of my morning drive.

Today I smell a fire burning.

I’m not alarmed; I’m curious. With awakened senses, I strain my eyes to try and find the fire itself. Then I notice what I’ve missed every single morning since school began back in August.

I see a small white cross and think about the family who lost someone precious right here on this quiet road. A huge log wider than a telephone pole lays sideways in the ditch further down. I have no idea why it’s there.

Trash collects to the left and to the right of this strip of road. Plastic bags and paper carried off by the wind settle into hidden crevices. I’m overcome by the signs of brokenness all around me.

Sometimes, it’s easier to notice beauty than recognize brokenness.

One week later, I inhale that same smell. The election has ended but the conflict continues. The intensity of emotion I thought would fade hasn’t.  Another fire burns somewhere nearby.

Ugliness and brokenness exist outside of and all around me, especially today. Yet the Spirit of God is begging me to notice the brokenness and ugliness within my own crippled heart.

Hope Does Not Reside in the White House

Rather than search outside, this morning tears flow as I search within. I take accusatory fingers that point outward, and I lace them together tightly and pray.

As I begin to notice my own heart, it unravels me. I remember Jesus’ words I read in Revelation this morning before the sun announced a new day. 

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

Revelation 3:1-3 (emphasis added)

I take note of relationships that appear to thrive on the surface yet I know are dangerously close to dying. I ask God to help me with that log in my eye, and I wonder how long it’s been obstructing my view.

My cluttered heart has allowed selfishness and entitlement to crowd out the work of God. And I’m reminded of my great need for Jesus here on this two lane country road with a car full of children learning to follow my lead.

Sometimes, it’s easier to be complacent than repentant.

Eyes are windows into hearts so maybe heart change begins with seeing differently, with noticing. The smell of thick, heavy smoke compelled me a week ago to look around intentionally, and today, it’s the fire I cannot see that quickens my spirit within.

Hope for our nation does not reside in the White House. Hope resides in human hearts, because Hope is alive, and His name is Jesus. We need revival to sweep through this country like wildfire.

Unity and peace aren’t our first steps. Repentance is first. Repentance is always first. Peace and unity follow.

Light a fire within us

Revival begins with repentance.

Awakening begins here. In me. In you. It starts with honesty and confession. Words like they and them become we and us. It starts with noticing what’s inside of us and begging God to change us.

I whisper a prayer that feels urgent and necessary and costly. Hope leads the way. Care to join me today? There’s plenty of ground to share as we hit our knees together.

Forgive us, Jesus.

We need you in the worst way. Spark a fire here inside and awaken us.

Help us recognize how pride and entitlement and complacency have blinded us. Open our eyes. Make us aware of what needs healing within our hearts. Show us where our footing is all wrong as we travel this narrow path.

Show us where the world hurts, and give us courage to hurt right alongside. Help us to reach far outside comfort zones to what exists outside our understanding.

We confess that much of the ugliness begins here in our own hearts. Remind us of the beauty of Your grace and forgiveness. Cover us with Your love.

Build Your kingdom here on earth.

Amen.

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When Modern-Day Slavery Becomes Personal

I could be her.

This wasn’t my first thought, but it’s the conclusion that eventually transformed my perspective on modern-day slavery.

Her face was listed among countless others on the internet. Every last one of her teeth had been removed. For marketing purposes. Her lifeless eyes haunted me when I laid down to go to sleep at night.

Her dignity and worth stripped down to nothingness.

Though I’d probably never meet this girl, I was compelled to pray for her. A torrent of tears overwhelmed me each time I tried to discuss the matter with God.

I felt helpless, hopeless, and quite certain that my prayers lifted up to heaven from underneath the comfort of a down blanket could never make the tiniest shred of difference in this war on humanity.

I called her Sarah even though God knew her real name. For the longest time, that’s all I could do. Just pray. Lift my voice on behalf of the girl whose smile was stolen. Mostly they were angry, bitter prayers.

A fearful darkness crept over me. Sometimes, in the middle of my prayer, I couldn’t breathe. I saw precious life in those eyes. A girl with big, bold dreams.

Somehow, I never saw myself.

I came to terms with how little I knew about modern-day slavery, particularly sex trafficking. Turning my head the other way no longer worked, so I started asking questions. I quit worrying how the answers would affect me.

Most left me altered.

“How could I ever understand her world? Or walk with her?” I asked God. “How could my words ever make a difference?”

My understanding of trafficking was limited to the kidnapped girl chained to a bed in a cellar. I didn’t recognize the prostitute on the street corner who appeared to be in control of her life as a victim, too.

Never before had I considered that a girl can become a trafficking victim just because she is hurt and searching. I didn’t yet understand the slow and methodical way that evil uses trust and love as lures.

Preying upon vulnerability, evil profits from brokenness over and over and over again.

I failed to comprehend that many of the women caught up in this industry will eventually come to accept their lifestyle as shame quietly convinces them that this is all there is.

I didn’t see, because I wasn’t looking.

Though an entire world spanned the difference between Sarah’s heart and mine, one day all that changed. God began to let me see myself in her defeated eyes. I realized I could be her. Nameless face. Crushed spirit. I could be the girl without a smile.

Modern-day slavery became personal that day.

I’ve been broken. Searching. Hurting. Shame has whispered the very same lies, and I’ve listened like I had no other option.

I could be her.

It was a terrifying yet necessary realization. Though I wanted more than anything to run from the thought, I let myself feel the suffocating weight of it.

That possibility changed my perspective entirely.

Eventually, every excuse, every judgment, every misconception, and every lie became exposed by the light of God’s truth. The darkness over me subsided, and God replaced the old picture in my mind with something brand new.

When I prayed for Sarah, I no longer saw her in that hopeless state. I began to see her beautiful smile. I heard laughter deep in her soul.

Because of the cross, Sarah and I can share the same story of hope. No, I’ve never met her. I don’t know the rest of her story, but I do know this: Jesus has the power and desire to rescue her.

The good news isn’t all that good if I don’t believe that.

Modern-day slavery is a personal issue. 20.9 million faces with hopes and dreams and names. Even though we could never conjure up the realities required to truly understand, we can stand with Sarah and all the others who share the exact same horrifying story.

Modern-day slavery is a personal issue.

Start somewhere. Learn more. Ask the questions you’re afraid to ask. Give. Volunteer. Pray, and ask God to make it personal for you, too.

Any one of us could be her.

I don’t know exactly how God will use either of us in this fight, but He has called us all to battle the darkness from a place of hope and to believe wholeheartedly that He can and will win this war. Are you in?

Jesus loves you… and her.

Kelly

 

Resources

The White Umbrella: Walking with Survivors of Sex Trafficking by Mary Frances Bowley 

This book provides a profound picture of our willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with survivors of sex trafficking.

Traffic Cam App by Exchange Initiative 

TraffickCam allows anyone with a smartphone to help fight sex trafficking by uploading photos of hotel rooms when they travel.

 

Local Ministries

Redeemed Ministries HoustonRedeemed Ministries  {Austin, Dallas, Houston, Chicago}

Provides holistic care to adult women sex trafficking victims, and operates a four-bed safe house (1 of 2 in Texas).

 

Free the Captives Free the Captives {Houston}

Fights the exploitation and trafficking of Houston’s youth, and hosts the Houston Human-Trafficking Conference.

 

Jesus Said LoveJesus Said Love

{Waco, Dallas, San Antonio, Killeen, College Station, Houston, East Texas} Visits commercial sex establishments to build authentic relationships.

 

 

 

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