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Jesus Friends

I cannot wait to introduce you to Jackie Hooks, the girl with a Texas-sized heart for God. She makes me laugh but she also invites me to think deeply about what it really means to follow Jesus. Most of all, she inspires me to trust Him for big, bold things. Today, Jackie is talking about what happens when some ordinary women decide to follow Jesus together.

(If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, get caught up by starting here.)

Contenders of the Faith Part 1

Jesus Friends by Jackie Hooks

“The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others.  These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Luke 8:1-3

We are “Some Women”…
Following Jesus Together.

I walked into the Women’s Bible Study at the age of 30.  I had smoked almost an entire pack of cigarettes on the way…it was such a long drive and I got lost like 8 times.  I was angry and annoyed and cussing up a storm as I drove my Honda civic to some girl’s house.  The Sunday School teacher had “encouraged” me to go.  She said the girls were nice.  She said it was a great way to “plug in”.  And I was just lonely enough to give it a shot. Just desperate enough to make the drive with printed out directions (no iPhone y’all).  Just daring enough to give it one shot.  And forever I will have an enormous place in my heart for girls who drive alone to Bible Studies in women’s homes they have never met before.  It is overwhelming to say the very very least.

And I walked into a room with a circle of women in it.  They all knew each other.  They were all so cute. They were all girls from our Sunday School class (the Nearly/Newly Married Class…Except we weren’t nearly or newly anything…my husband and I were two super sinners climbing out of a ditch).  And I may have instantly hated them all.  And I may have wanted to set myself on fire.  And I may have tried to smile a time or two through gritted teeth.  And I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying over the pounding of my heart and the panic attack I was certain I was having.

And Jesus Just Showed Up.
Like He Does.
When Folks Get Together for Him.

And they listened when I told them I didn’t really want to be there.  And they listened when I had a million and four questions.  And they listened as I fell apart again and again in their living rooms over the next several years.  Y’all.  These girls became my Jesus Friends.  I looked up from my messy life, and to the right and left of me were some girls following Jesus.  And so, we became friends.  Because Jesus placed us right next to each other. We became Jesus Friends.

Jesus Friends are the friendships only Jesus could place in your life.  They are the friendships only Jesus could orchestrate.  They may have no rhyme and no reason at all.  But they are pictures of what Jesus can accomplish when we trust Him with our friendships.

And that y’all, is really the beginning and end of it for me. It was the beginning of Jesus creating my community. It was the end of me searching high and low for the perfect “bestie”.  It was unbelievably freeing knowing Jesus is BIG enough to pick the right gals at the right time to walk right next to you. Because He loves us y’all. He really really does.

Jesus Friends

So, this verse…this obscure little Luke 8:1-3…It is everything to me.  It is some women who were not necessarily best friends…not necessarily anything like each other…not necessarily having one dang thing in common…except the following Jesus part.  And really, y’all, it’s all we need.  When we look to the right and left of us and see another Christ Follower or two or ten getting dusty in the footsteps of Jesus…these are our Jesus Friends.  We love them because they are all following Jesus next to us.  And that is the BIG part.  That is the part that makes us Jesus Friends.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  The love of Jesus lived out in our lives.  No matching t-shirts necessary.  Just Jesus. It’s that simple. You love them because Jesus placed them in your life, and hold on tight y’all, you let them love you too.

And really, this is my prayer for all of us…I pray we are willing to stop hoping for matching personalities or perfect age/kid/spouse/pet dynamics.  Maybe we could quit looking for the person who completely gets us, and we start noticing the gal who completely gets Him.  And y’all, this is when life gets good.  When the folks Jesus placed next to us become the folks we make a place for…We meet our handpicked travelling buddies.  And the road sure gets a lot less lonely.  I promise.  He does too.

About Jackie

I am an everyday ordinary gal who started following Jesus just a little over a decade ago, and has fallen madly in love with the Carpenter King who saved my life and my marriage.  Corey and I are raising four holy moly messes (Jake 13, Jude 12, Grace 10 and Joshua 4).  I am technically a stay at home mom, but rarely do I find myself at home, and the soap opera and bon bon life hasn’t found its way into my living room just yet.  I do occasionally allow for a small celebration when all the laundry is clean AND folded at the SAME TIME on the SAME  DAY…and that is typically twice a decade.

And I write. And I speak.  Words have been the tool Jesus gave me from the very beginning of my life to navigate every road I have walked.  My hope is that my words inspire and encourage you to see Jesus in your everyday too.  He is right here waiting for each of us, in the daily mess, hoping we see He wants so much more from us and for us than we could ever imagine.  I pray my words will lead you to Him.

Connect with Jackie on Facebook, Instagram or subscribe to her blog at jackiehooks.com.

About Jackie

Final thoughts…

Who has God handpicked for your journey? Which ordinary women has He placed in your path for this season?  May Jackie’s words encourage us all to link arms with those sisters and love them well as we walk the narrow road together. And may the visible community we share draw our hearts to the unshakable, unseen kingdom of God, the kingdom in our midst.

Grab your free download of Jude1:20-21 here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. If you missed any of the videos from this series, you can tune in here:

[New Series] Intro: FAITH

Part I: IDENTITY

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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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Hiding Isn’t the Solution for Pride

Seven of us crowd around an empty table in the very back of the restaurant. Some sip tea, others coffee. We are writers and speakers, songwriters and teachers; we are women who love words. But something stronger wraps around our conversation, binds us tighter than any shared dream: the word of God.

This tiny group of artists who gather monthly is a balm of some sort that soothes my soul in ways I don’t even realize. Someone asks a question: What are you struggling most with right now in your writing? Soon a discussion unfolds, and every woman around the table agrees that her worst fear is her own pride.

Later, I drive home understanding the battle within me a little bit better, thankful for those with me on this journey. I know what’s in my heart—at least I think I do. My capabilities and biases, my motives and weaknesses. Sometimes, I forget God knows all this, too.

He reveals what’s inside in order to set me free.

He holds my hand and teaches me that I do not need a microphone to live a life of influence, but then He thrusts one in my hand anyway. For the next several seasons, I will feel pulled back and forth between two forces: step up and use my voice or run away and hide.

Our group eventually stops meeting as life takes us to new places, yet that artist comradery is strong enough to keep me moving when I feel like giving up and my identity feels pulled in a thousand directions.

My friend Julie started this blog a few months ago, and it moves me every time I visit. Her simple yet profound way of naming beauty causes me to exhale deeply and drink in God’s goodness.

Julie recently wrote about the difference between graffiti and street art. Her words remind me who I am in Christ and simultaneously tap into something lodged in my heart, a fear that runs deeper than I care to admit.

I still fear my own pride.

Will stepping up and using our voices somehow result in a great fall? Will we succeed in making His name known rather than our own? I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust my own selfishness, my own desperate desire for approval. I don’t trust me.

Why does God trust any of us with gifts for the benefit of others?

I’d rather run and hide, but today, Jesus gently invites me to take a step closer, to peer through the lens of His love to see how far He’s brought me. Julie’s words echo His words as one artist touches another in a sacred way.

“If street art is giving then graffiti is taking.  One is a sacrifice, hours of back-breaking work, that benefits the viewers and the other is a sacrifice merely for self glory, self promotion, and the thrill of an adrenaline rush. Both artists leave a lasting mark.  Both artists have a gift to share.  Yet one shares with no strings attached and the other makes the art all about him/herself.” (Julie Cassol, Speaking Beauty blog)

Maybe your art isn’t writing or speaking, but you’ve wrestled with the fear of pride, too. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that hiding your gift is the safest way to dodge the potential mine field ahead.

Hiding is just another form of pride.

The world needs your art and your voice in the worst way. Our enemy knows that God’s gifts make this place better, more beautiful, and ultimately, reflect His glory. If Satan can’t lead us into the trap of our own pride, he’ll convince us to hide in a flimsy effort to self-protect. Both extremes render us ineffective. 

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors… Hosea 10:12-13

We sow righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Righteousness is a gift of God, not something we produce on our own. We seek, He showers. I know I’ve sat at that table “eating the fruit of lies” for far too long. Fear deceives us into believing we can keep our pride in check by ducking out of the spotlight, by keeping our heads low, our gifts hidden.

We can’t trust ourselves, but we can trust Jesus.

I’ve tried on my own to rid my heart of pride, but I’ve failed. Terrified of my own tendencies, scared to death that every time I share my art I’ll become a taker or glory thief, I’ve tried to prevent the fall that follows pride. I’ve tried to rescue myself rather than seeking Jesus, the only able Rescuer.

Before Christ, our only pursuit was self, but now His love has become our aim. When His righteousness rains down on us, we become givers of life, beauty, grace, and forgiveness. We bear His name and bear the fruit of His unfailing love.

God made us artists in His image—every one of us—to reflect His glory and make His name known. So your contribution is crucial to the kingdom. Whether your art is conversation or connection or custodial work, you have something sacred to share with the world.

Hiding isn't the solution for pride.

We can be artists who show up without a single string attached and share our art fearlessly when we make Christ’s love our only aim.  Above all, may we remember that it’s not about trusting ourselves but about trusting Jesus and remaining in His love. 

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What Does Love Cost?

How do you really describe the trauma your heart endures when you pour so much of yourself—the very best part—into another soul only to find there must have been a hole somewhere or a hairline crack just deep enough that all your love ran right through?

Used up, gone, vanished into the thin air you’ll absorb as your own next breath.

If we knew the ending, would our own self-protection deny vulnerability?

Would we really have invested precious time, or would we have held back? God’s word tells me that every word spoken, every prayer whispered in faith, every bit of love poured out matters.

Even in the ending that I never wanted. Even when my heart tells me a different story.

Jesus laid out what it means to become His disciple in Mark 1:17. “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Discipleship is relational. First to Christ, then to others. Following Jesus means a life anchored in Love.

Willing hearts distinguished twelve flawed men as followers of Christ. Their imperfect steps remind me that they were recipients of grace, just like me. Their questions, their failures, and their relational struggles remind me that God cares most about the heart.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that the results weren’t up to them; they were dependent upon Jesus every step of the way. These men had no idea what the outcomes would be, but they went where Jesus sent them because they learned to trust Him.

These twelve relied on Jesus’ compassion when they lacked love, and they depended on His provision when they had nothing left to give. Discipleship is marked by a willingness to learn and go and serve. Disciples of Jesus also willingly face rejection.

The book of Mark poses two types of people: opponents of Jesus or followers of Jesus. The choice was simply reject Jesus, or be rejected because of Jesus. The disciples, over time, would identify with Christ—with His rejection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death.

One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I’m struggling with this one today, because it seems too difficult, too much. Jesus knew He’d be rejected, but He loved the world anyway. He washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him.

My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

That used up sensation throbs when there isn’t a relationship where one should have been or could have been, or where one used to be, and isn’t any more. Relationships can be messy, but we are tethered to the One who is relationally perfect.

Jesus will never lie or leave or exploit.

Anything God leads us into can be used for our good, because He is with us in it—even in that ending we wish we could rewrite. All the love God asks us to pour out is overflow from His unending love supply.

Love is never wasted; pain isn’t either. God uses it to mold us and transform us, to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Discipleship includes a willingness to trust beyond understanding, a willingness to go and give and live beyond comfort, and a willingness to love regardless of outcome.

What does love cost? Everything. It cost everything. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Come take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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{GIVEAWAY} The Power of Story

I am over the moon excited to share this surprise with you… Remember Dream Weeper? If you didn’t read her story last week, then quick—go do that, then come right back here. I promise it will put that plump red cherry right on top of this sweet deal…

Every single time I hear someone tell their story, even just a small snippet, I learn something about God.

I see Jesus in a whole new light through the lens of her story. 

This week God taught me something about my story and our stories collectively. Revelation 12:10-11 breaks down the power of story:

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”

When we share our stories out loud, we can’t help but remember our need and God’s faithfulness to meet that need. Our accuser loses his momentum to convince us otherwise. After all, his primary goal is to get us to doubt that God is who He says He is.

Reminiscing strengthens our faith… and that is some powerful ammo in this spiritual war.

Our story—the intersection Jesus’ blood and our brokenness—is our testimony. The Greek word for testimony is martyria. Do you see it? Martyr. Our testimonies are characterized by a willingness not to shrink back from death.

It reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Here’s the thing: sharing God’s story of redemption through our own personal testimonies will always highlight Jesus as the hero. And really, deep down, on my most selfish (and also my most honest day), I want to be the hero of my story. And I’m just not. I’ll never be.

Jesus is the only thing good and holy and perfect in me.

Jesus invites us to come and die to ourselves so that He might live in and through us. Without the cross and empty tomb, my story falls flat. My need for Him is what makes my story worth telling. Because God has met every single one of my needs—past, present, and future—through Jesus Christ.

Telling our story—our martyria—must be driven by a desire to die … to make Christ the hero of our stories, to tell His story through our brokenness and need.

When I tell my story, I pray I’m telling His.

That’s why I’m so excited about this Giveaway! Alix Carruth created this beautiful canvas to remind us that our stories extend so much farther than ourselves. It’s an 11 x 14 hand-lettered white canvas with gorgeous black letters and gold trim. I just love everything about it!


Already envisioning a spot in your home or workplace for this beauty? I’m going to tell you all about how you could win this amazing piece of art.

To check out more of Alix’s work, visit alixcarruth.com

The winner is . . .

Jeanne Youngblood

Congratulations, Jeanne! This Giveaway is now closed…

Thank you to all who entered!

 

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Four Questions I’m Loving This Fall

Listening is hard.

Just take note as the conversation unfolds at your own dinner table this evening. In our house, one kid raises her hand the entire time her brother is speaking.  She waits her turn to speak at school, so she truly believes this is polite. The other one finishes his sister’s sentences and can’t seem to understand why this gets underneath her skin.

When conversation becomes waiting our turn to speak or finishing someone’s thought, I think we have lost something fundamental in the way we communicate.

Listening is a demonstration of how we value those around us.

I used to think I was a pretty good listener, but then God invited me on a crazy adventure called HER STORY, and I’m discovering how difficult listening really is. He is slowly turning this story-teller into a story-listener, and I’m loving it.

What I'm Loving: Fall Edition

When I began interviewing women who had a story to tell, I knew each one. I knew her story, too. Or so I thought. Listening unbiased to someone you know really well is so much more challenging than listening to someone you just met. This entire process has helped me pay more attention to the questions I’m asking.

Whether you’re conducting an interview or chatting with a friend or introducing yourself to a stranger, questions bring depth and purpose to ordinary conversations.

Questions allow us to tap into that sacred space beneath the surface.

In The Listening Life, Adam McHugh writes, “Listen to the voice of the Spirit while you listen to the other person. Don’t listen for what truth or insight you should speak to them. Listen for what questions to ask.” This is a slow and gentle process, but an important one, I think.

Since we could all use a little conversation make-over, I want to share four questions I’m loving.

Four Questions I'm Loving This Fall

These questions have added insight, depth, and beauty to everyday exchanges in my home and in my community. I am just now beginning to see how much I’ve been missing.

  1. Instead of “How are you?” try asking, “How can I pray for you?” This one even works well with strangers.
  1. When you think you know exactly what the other person is saying, ask this one: “Can you tell me more about that?” This question gently draws out what’s underneath that first layer of conversation.
  1. “What do you need right now?” has the capacity to completely alter our most precious relationships.
  1. Adam McHugh says a listener’s best friend is the “why” question. Rather than disagree, relate, fix, or solve, let a “why” question jump-start a better conversation. Here are some examples:

“Why do you hold that belief?”

“Why is that important to you?”

“Why does that bother you?”

“Why did that hurt you?”

“Why do you feel that way?”

As our questioning improves so will our listening.

Questions offer a simple way to communicate that we care while reminding us that we have so much to learn. Better questions will revive our dinner table conversations and breathe life into our everyday connections.

Do you have a favorite question you like to ask? I’d love to hear from you…

Kelly

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{HER STORY} 02: Redefining Adventure

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

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

This is her story.

Her Story: Redefining Adventure

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

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

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

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

Dave and Ruth's Wedding Day

Dave and Ruth 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nairobi, Kenya 1988

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

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

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

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

She, too, was stretched but not broken.

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

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

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

Adventure draws us into deeper communion with God.

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

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

Even in the midst of loss, newness emerges.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What adventure is Jesus calling you to discover today?

Kelly

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What I’m Reading (and not reading) This Fall

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

It’s taken me years to learn how to abandon a book and not feel guilty.

Usually, the reason I put a book down isn’t because the author and I have different views. I think reading books from a variety of authors gives me a better perspective. It doesn’t change my view; it actually deepens my beliefs, because it challenges me to think deeply about why I believe what I believe.

Sometimes, it’s just not the right season, but most of the time, I’m just not in the author’s audience, so I struggle to I relate. And it’s ok to move on.

Today I’m sharing six books I love. Two others didn’t make the list, because I didn’t finish reading either one of them. Though there’s no guarantee that you’re going to love these as much as I did, I think there’s always value in sharing what you love with someone else—especially when it comes to good reads.

So without any strings attached, here’s what I’m reading this fall:

What I'm Reading: Fall Edition

{Christian Living}

Loving My Actual Life: An Experiment in Relishing What’s Right in Front of Me, by Alexandra Kuykendall

Alexandra Kuykendall devoted nine months to this experiment deeply rooted in finding joy in her current season. She focused on a different aspect of her life for an entire month and kept a journal of what worked, what didn’t, and what she learned in the process.

In the preface she lays the ground rules: “In this experiment we’re going to hang out in the element that is. Not what we could be, should be, or wish were true about our lives, but what actually is…. Because God gave us each one unique life. Meant to be lived out in our actual situations.”

The chapter on passion spoke most of all to me. Something shifted inside me as I underlined these words: “I balance the belief that God has made me for both mothering and whatever that passion might be, with the ‘do what only you can do’ decision-making grid…. I can do my best to make plans, but truly, if I was made to do something I must figure out a way to do that something now, even if a little at a time.”

I love Alexandra Kuykendall’s realistic approach in not implementing all the things all the time. Loving My Actual Life inspired me to make a list of my own experiments I want to explore, because it just seems so intriguing.

{Spiritual Growth}

Unashamed, by Christine Caine

The lavish grace Christine has for herself as she tells her story stood out to me immediately in Unashamed. She explains how renewing our minds involves replacing our thoughts (as well as the enemy’s lies) with God’s thoughts.

When I look back at certain seasons of my life, the thoughts and attitudes I have towards myself are often filled with judgment, frustration, and embarrassment. Christine’s way of telling all the parts of her story through a redeemed perspective reminds me that God has only ever looked on me with love.

He loved me at my very worst—that’s the essence of the good news.

For the past year, I’ve been meeting with a group of girls. Woven throughout every one of our stories is this common thread: we believe Jesus came to free us. As I read Christine’s story about her journey to freedom these words sprung right off the page: “Freedom comes when we see ourselves as God sees us!”

{Self-Help: Creativity}

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by Brené Brown

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown unpacks essential guideposts for whole-hearted living. She believes cultivating things like authenticity, a resilient spirit, creativity, play, and meaningful work involves letting go of something else. For example, to implement rest, Brené says we must let go of productivity as self-worth.

To further explain this theory, Brené and her husband made a list of practical things that make their family work. They asked themselves a simple question: “When things are going really well in our family, what does it look like?” Sleep, healthy food, meaningful work, family and close friends made up their “ingredients for joy and meaning.” They discovered that the things they were working toward did nothing in terms of making their lives fuller.

I got curious about how my own joy and meaning list would compare with my to-do list and my to-accomplish list. This simple exercise brought a sense of calm and much needed refreshment to my very busy season with little ones. I learned that I, too, am living my dream in ways I hadn’t even considered.

{Memoir}

Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way Home, by Amber C. Haines

This book was an important one for me. Amber Haines put into words everything I have felt my whole life. She helped me understand my longing to fit in and find belonging. I never would have defined these cravings as homesickness.

She is honest when she describes the church as the place she felt least at home.

“I wanted intimacy and belonging with the people of God but still had trouble reaching out because I saw in us all a deep dissatisfaction. I was chief among the dissatisfied, and reaching out to the dissatisfied church didn’t make sense….

She was beginning to see the church as “the kingdom of the dissatisfied powerless.”

Wild in the Hollow helped me navigate my own unrealistic expectations of community. I recognize how the constant desires for community, intimacy, and relationship can become an unhealthy searching for satisfaction outside of Jesus.

God used this book to rekindle my love for the Church—the same Church I’ve held responsible for hurting certain people in my life, the same Church full of broken people who need Jesus, the same Church God calls His beloved Bride.

{Spirituality}

Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor

When God draws us into darkness, it is unique to what He wants to teach us. Yet the ache felt our hearts is similar. Darkness can be uncertainty or silence. It can be a debilitating affliction- physical, emotional, or spiritual. Darkness can be isolating and terrifying.

But darkness is often a catalyst for growth.

In Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor eloquently describes how she has grappled with this mystery. She points out that God spoke from darkness, one that is both “dangerous and divine.”

We all possess this inherent fear of the dark, but Learning to Walk in the Dark encouraged me to consider my own view of dark emotions, like grief, fear, and despair. Through her research, Barbara concludes that there really are no dark emotions. She says we just have “unskillful ways of coping with emotions we cannot bear.”

Learning to Walk in the Dark has helped me lean into the discomfort of the dark. I am beginning to see that when I acknowledge the dark, I rely more heavily on God. The more I lean into Him, the more I discover how much I don’t know. And that’s right where I need to be for Him to teach me something new.

{Historical Fiction}

The Muse, by Jessie Burton

In this fascinating historical novel, two different stories unfold simultaneously—one set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War, the other told by a Trinidadian immigrant living in England in the late-1960s. The waves made by one painting, and its secret, are felt in a new, yet not so different, era.

These stories remind me of the interconnectedness of all our stories. Sometimes we’re linked together in very obvious ways and sometimes in hidden, mysterious ways.

These overarching questions swirled throughout my mind as I read The Muse: What makes an artist an artist? How does the response to the art impact the identity of the artist? Is art ever separate from the artist? Is there ever such a thing as a whole story?

As an artist as well as a woman, I recognized the familiar undertones of society defining what women can and cannot be. If you look closely, you can still see glimpses in this generation. The Muse depicts this struggle. On every page, I thought of the Artist of all who created every one of us to be artists. Whether we embrace our creativity or not, we were all designed to create—in our own time and in our own unique way.

fall good reads

What are you reading this fall? When do you decide to set a book aside, or do you feel obligated to finish every one you start? I’d love to hear from you…

Kelly

 

 

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What I’m Learning: Summer Edition

What I'm Learning: Summer Edition

I get together with a group of women every Sunday night. We laugh, we cry, we pray for one another – oh, and we stuff our faces with yummy (sometimes healthy) food. It’s a safe place where we’re free to be our real selves. It’s where healing and learning and growing happens.

My favorite part is when someone shares what she’s learning.

I love hearing things like, “This is where God has me, but I don’t know why we’re here,” or “He’s teaching me about this, but I don’t quite understand it.” It’s like looking through a well lit window right into a beautiful soul where God is just doing His thing.

There is freedom in laying these lessons out on the table long before they’re tidy and clearly articulated and understood. We learn better when we process together. We need people along the way who are willing to just sit back and listen. We need people who are willing to ask us the hard questions. We need people who are willing to say, “Yeah, me too.”

Sharing what we’re learning is a lot like handing over a really messy rough draft.

There’s a certain level of vulnerability that comes with sharing something that’s still in the works. Life is all about recognizing that we are all still a work in progress. Today I’m sharing what I’m learning in hopes that it will encourage you to do the same. After all, rough drafts eventually become beautifully polished stories.

I’ve been unpacking Jesus’ response to His followers when they asked Him who was the greatest.  Jesus’ answer reveals so much about His heart and sheds some light on my own, too. Jesus’ response isn’t a recipe for how to become great; it’s a lesson on humility.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

My kids are home for summer, so there have been endless opportunities to reflect on the phrase “like little children.” Sensing that God wants me parked here this summer, I started a list of words that describe little children. Every time a new word comes to mind, I pull out my journal and jot it down. Nothing fancy – just a simple, scribbled list. This is what I’ve written so far:

L i t t l e  c h i l d r e n :

h u m b l e

s m a l l

p r e c i o u s

h o n e s t

n e e d y

d e p e n d e n t

b e l i e v i n g

t r u s t i n g

n o t   p o w e r f u l

v u l n e r a b l e

t e a c h a b l e

It’s the last one that has caused me to look at my own heart and ask, “Am I like that? Am I teachable?” Maybe it’s because of the one hundred and one questions being hurled in my general direction on a daily basis, all of which begin with the word, “Mommy,…? Mommy,…? Mommy,…?”

Little children ask questions because they don’t know, and they’re not the slightest bit ashamed to admit it.

Discovering the answer is more important than making sure no one finds out they don’t have it. Little children aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” They know that the very words mark the beginning of an adventure.

So, why do these three little words feel so uncomfortable coming out of my mouth? After all, only God is all-knowing. I will never have complete or unlimited knowledge and understanding. But, I’ve started to notice how much saying this phrase frustrates me.

This summer Jesus is asking me to get comfortable with saying, “I don’t know.”

In Women of the Word (one of the books I shared last month), Jen Wilkin talks about how patience is part of the learning process, especially when it comes to studying God’s word. She uses the word dissonance a bunch. I looked it up in the dictionary the other day just so that I could understand it a bit better.

Dissonance is defined as “a simultaneous combination of tones conventionally accepted as being in a state of unrest and needing completion; lack of harmony or agreement; tension.”

My restless soul craves completion. Engaging the dissonance between “I don’t know” and “I understand,” helps me come to terms with my limitations in light of a limitless God. Willingly entering the tension means placing myself in a position to learn.

I’m learning that humility means choosing to be teachable, and being teachable begins with saying, “I don’t know.”

What is God is teaching you this summer? Is there a phrase (like mine) that you’re learning to embrace? Leave a comment… I’d love to hear from you!

Kelly

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