Tag Archives | fear

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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A Resuscitation Story

Four words quickened tired hearts. Peace be with you! They had watched this man wash their dirty feet then take His last breath. Now, He stood before them with deep scars of love. Risen. Alive. Victorious.

No one expected this. The women at the tomb at dawn fully anticipated a dead body. Later that evening, Jesus’ closest companions huddled together in fear behind a locked door. Hopeless and despondent, they needed to be revived.

They forgot who Jesus was . . . and they forgot how to breathe.

Again, Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22)

As God breathed life into Adam, Jesus breathed His Spirit into man. Re-birth. Re-creation. Resuscitation.

Jesus’ instructions are beautifully simple: Receive Me, then go. No wonder I get so out of breath. My strength is never enough to go where he is sending me. But Jesus’ gift precedes His call.

There is a rhythm to breathing. It’s daily. In and out, in and out, in and out. Jesus said, “Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8b) This has become my prayer this Lenten season: Jesus, teach me to breathe freely so that my heart is not faint.

The state of my heart depends on the pattern of my breath.

God designed our bodies to follow this delicate balance. There is no giving, going, or serving without first receiving, accepting, embracing. There can be no loving others without first believing we are loved. In and out, in and out, in and out, the cadence of creation continues.

Breathing is vital to survival. Jesus resuscitates by giving us new breath—His breath. His power and peace activate new life. We are more than revived; we are a whole new creation.

Jesus wasn’t one bit surprised to find his closest followers hunkered down in despair. He knew the state in which He would find them in the days following His death. He knew the devastation. Without His breath in them, they would never have the power to overcome the doubt, grief, the nagging questions, or pride that convinced them they could step out alone.

Jesus told them again and again that He was sending them out as sheep among wolves, but He also warned them that the sheep of the flock—every single one of them—would scatter.

The survival of the flock depends on the care of the shepherd.

Shepherd and sheep share an intricate relationship. A shepherd leads his flock out to pasture, then brings them back into the fold, counting each under his rod. Once the flock is secure, he lays down across the threshold, acting as a gate to protect his sheep.

A Resuscitation Story

Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9) In and out. In and out. We return to remember who He is—the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep; we step out in faith, believing we will find fullness in a life completely dependent on Him.

Jesus will not stop until all His lost sheep have been found. And that is where this bunch of ordinary men and women came in. And it’s where you and I will likely find our places as well.

When Jesus saw Peter, the one who denied He knew Jesus over and over, and over again, Jesus didn’t shame Peter or criticize him or even question him about that night. He had told Peter ahead of time that it would go down the way it did.

Listen to the gentle rhythm of this precious exchange between Shepherd and sheep:

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know all things…. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

 

Jesus’ questioning had more to do with Jesus’ love for Peter than Peter’s love for Him. As Peter confessed, “Lord, you know all things,” he remembered who Jesus is.

Return to My love for you, Peter (breathe in). Step out for the sake of My sheep (breathe out). Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Return, step out, return, step out, return, step out.

As who God is becomes more clearly defined in our lives, our breathing regulates. Our hearts no longer faint. When we step out, we choose to believe in who God is; we return to rest in His love. Rest and believe, rest and believe, rest and believe. This is the rhythm of following Jesus, the pulse of new life.

We are survivors, because we have His breath in us.

The Good Shepherd became the Perfect Lamb, sacrificed to purchase precious peace. And with the breath of God in them, those scattered sheep became shepherds of His flock.

Lord, show us where we’re running on the fumes of our own strength. Cultivate humility in our hearts as we return to you to remember who you are and whose we are. Show us where we’re holding our breath in fear. Give us fresh faith to recognize Your power within us. Regulate our breathing, resuscitate our lifelessness, and teach us to breathe freely. Thank you for the peace You’ve given us.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”  Hebrew 13:20-21

 

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When God Doesn’t Prevent the Fire

We count twenty-eight of them on the short trip to school. Most painted red, some a cheery yellow. I grin as my boy full of questions hops out of the car. His teacher will be responsible for his curiosity until this afternoon.

This morning he wanted to know about fire hydrants.

I told him they allow firefighters to tap into the water supply in case of a fire. Satisfied with my simple answer, we made a game out of counting them. What I didn’t tell him was how his questioning made me remember that our subdivision—just outside city limits and “rural” by definition—has none such hydrants.

I also didn’t tell my boy how counting those icons of protection on nearly every block made me aware of how unprotected I’ve felt in the past. I’ve spent years of my life believing the bold-faced lie that God failed to protect me. That I was outside His grasp. That He either couldn’t or wouldn’t protect me.

Because God did not prevent every fire in my life.

Back then, I didn’t understand what I know now, what the fire itself has enabled me to see. When God didn’t prevent the fire, those flames were accomplishing something good in me.

God’s protection is revealed both in what He prevents and what He permits.

I remember how I left the candle burning just the other night. All night long. Found it the next morning still ablaze. I blew it out, thought, “Whew, that was close,” and went on about my day like nothing happened. I don’t think much about the fires God’s prevented in my life. I tend to focus on the ones He’s permitted.

Sometimes, I need to remember that a hydrant can never guarantee security.

I noticed a rhythm that day we counted them on the way to school, evenly spaced and positioned. Like clockwork, I’ve kept in step with that beat called control.

I’ve handed over trust to many forms of false security.

I might not have surrounded myself with fire hydrants, but I had my own icons of protection. Icon might not be an accurate word choice. Idol is a much better fit. Relationships, positions, circumstances.

My God—who answers by fire—has used those flames to rid me of every false sense of security I’ve clutched close. He uses the fire to prove how I’ll never be outside His grip. Because He walks through the flames right beside me.

Peter tells believers, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

And yet, fires do surprise us; they alarm us, even.

Sometimes, we outright question God’s faithfulness and His protection at the first whiff of smoke. Peter says fires are just part of following Jesus.

Of all people, Simon Peter must have questioned God. Brave, outspoken walk-on-water-Peter swore he’d go straight to his very own death to pledge his allegiance to Christ. But three crows from the rooster confirmed his inability to keep his promise.

Though Peter’s faith would falter, Jesus would not let his faith fail. Jesus’ words to Peter before His death indicate a greater power at work behind the scenes, a power great enough to keep a promise.

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Instead of letting the flames take us by surprise, let’s welcome them. Instead of questioning a God who permits fiery ordeals, let’s lock eyes with the One standing in the flames beside us. Instead of believing the lie that says we’re unprotected, let’s lean in real close and listen to the words of Jesus… and let’s believe Him. 

Jesus keeps His promises.

But I have prayed for you, my child, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen the others.

The next morning, my sleepy-eyed boy stands in his Batman pjs and recalls the bad dream that woke him in the dark. He hadn’t come downstairs to wake me like he usually does. I ask why not.

“You told me to pray anytime something scares me, Mom, so I did,” he says matter-of-factly.

I wait for him to go on, but I sense he has finished his thought.

“And?” I ask, prompting him to continue.

“And… God was with me, of course,” he replies, then curls up in a blanket on the couch.

Lost in cartoon-land moments later, I doubt he even hears me say, “Of course.” I repeat the words a second time to my own heart, “Of course, He is.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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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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I Am Not the Mom I Used to Be

I love how a simple connection with someone can push you headlong into something deeper without even asking your permission.

Like, at a birthday party, how a random question and your off-the cuff answer can simultaneously surprise you and force you to accept the bittersweet truth that you are not the person you once were.

We were deep in conversation about the mother of all topics: scrapbooking.

Six years ago, I had reached my peak as a digital scrapper. I had the latest software and people paid me to teach them how to make beautiful books out of all their precious memories. Some very trusting people asked me to make books for them. I loved every single part of it.

“Are you still scrapbooking?” she asked me.

The simple answer to her simple questions is: No, I haven’t touched any of it in at least two years; the more complicated question she didn’t ask is: “Why not?” That’s the question I asked myself on the way home.

I’m slow to process, and I always think of what I want to say days after the conversation. But this is how I’d answer that question today:

I am not the mom I used to be.

Scrapbooking, in so many ways, helped give me the courage to tell my story. In the same way that teaching fifth graders gave me confidence to lead women of all ages, scrapbooking has been foundational to my calling.

That may sound like a bit of a stretch, but I am a firm believer that God uses anything and everything for our good. And scrapbooking was so very good for me.

The journaling aspect helped me sift through the many parts of a story and decide how those parts fit together. Scanning thousands of images on my computer gave me perspective.

I found it both thrilling and challenging to choose just one word to describe a moment. (I still do!) Then I’d usually explain it all down to the letter in about 100-200 words in a teeny tiny text box, just because.

I met so many good friends and mentors through this hobby of mine. I can’t deny how it prepared me to begin a blog nearly seven years ago. God seemed ok with me doing my thing on that blog for a spell, but I’ll never forget the day He gently reminded me that it was His.

All of it.

The story I thought I owned—yeah, that’s His. My time, my life—even my fears and failures—all of it belongs to Him.

So, here I am… so much has changed, and yet so much hasn’t.

I’m still writing, taking my lead from Him. I’m still doing my best to connect with others using what He gave me. I’m still struggling with the reality of a daily surrender. I still question, and I still doubt.

So, what’s different? I’m more ok with this thing not being about me.

That casual conversation at the birthday party with that precious girl who knew me way back made me realize something huge: I was scared back then.

I would have never in a million years admitted that to you privately or even out loud at all, but I was terrified I’d get it wrong.

Overcompensation fed my fear that I was never enough.

Between my perfectionist, approval-seeking nature and my belief that infertility had disqualified me and made me late to motherhood somehow, I tackled every single challenge, every moment, every part of being a mom with such intensity that it exhausts me to even reminisce about that girl.

Oh, I still struggle. I’d never want to paint a picture that I have arrived or I have it all together, because I don’t. Just ask the people who really know me. Ask the ones living under my roof.

I think I’ve just come to accept myself… flaws and all. I’m good with here, and I’m good with now, and I’m good with the way God continues to change my heart. Because however broken I am, I’m also His.

In the past five years, more than anything, I’ve come to understand more of God’s grace—what it is and how badly I need it. I’ve learned how important it is for my kids to hear me say, “I’m sorry.”

His grace covers my mother fears, my mother failures, and my whole entire mother-load.

No, I’m not scrapbooking anymore, but I’m still sharing my life, my story. I’m still committed to my people. I’m still learning about God’s grace. But my desire to measure my mothering has lost its appeal.

Scrapbooking is a beautiful and meaningful hobby, and not everyone suffers from the same kind of striving that I do, so this is just me being honest… about my struggle.

Scrapbooks were my go-to tool to measure my kids—their growth, their development, their lives. It was my tangible measuring stick of me as a mom.

I’m done chasing some unrealistic poster-expectations of motherhood. These days, I’m clinging to God’s immeasurable grace. Let’s just say, heaps of grace, or as my son says, “pant-loads”! (Borrowed respectfully from his favorite book, Dragons Love Tacos)

This third child of mine will one day realize that while her brother and sister have a book with almost 100 pages for every year of their life up to age four, the journal I kept on her nightstand as a newborn has dates that lapse over a year.

But, I hope all my children experience the effects grace has had on my mothering… that they feel the warmth and ease of grace’s touch and see the courage it takes this momma to accept grace as she clings to Christ.

Grace gives me the courage to be the mom God says I am.

God is still working all this out in me, and He’ll continue to the day I see Him face to face. I pray Jesus never stops rescuing me from myself. Five years from now, I can only hope that my heart will hold even less of me and so much more of Him.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What I’m Learning About Unsubscribing

The holiday busyness has finally come to a thankful end, and the silence and stillness my soul craves every January has made me glaringly aware of a restlessness I need to address.

Every morning after coffee, I delete about 13-16 emails.

Without opening, or even clicking, I mindlessly drag them to my virtual trash can which is an overflowing mess of advertisements, coupons, time-sensitive offers, and junk.

I need to unsubscribe.

All those times I handed over my email address to get something in return: a receipt, freebie, or steal of a deal.

Then there were times I thought I was getting something I wasn’t. Or the sender turned out to be someone I didn’t recognize.

Today, I make my list and—one by one—I scroll all the way to the bottom of the page, and I click unsubscribe. It feels more refreshing than I expected.

I’m learning the freedom of unsubscribing.

January is always the best time to make space for new—new commitments, new adventures, and new yes’s. New relationships, new growth, new opportunities to join in the work God is already doing. New habits, new rhythms, new rest.

A wise friend recently told me that every season she asks God to prune everything from her life that is not bearing fruit. This is always so hard for me, because it inevitably means saying no to good things, cutting comfortable, and ending habits I’d rather keep in my white-knuckle grip.

Bare often comes before beauty. The practice of making space requires discipline and patience. We make space for yes only by saying no. We make space for new only by disengaging from what isn’t thriving.

Today, my email list is my barometer. I’m learning that I say yes a whole lot more than I should, and after just 15 minutes and 40 un-subscriptions, I realize why I haven’t unsubscribed sooner.

As I methodically click through the steps to disengage from all the marketing agreements, explain myself with a check of a box, and confirm my decision to unsubscribe, I am aware of one lingering fear.

I’ve been dragged down a time or two by the nasty fear of missing out.

Our culture screams to us that if we pull back, step out, or disengage—even for a season—we’ll be left behind and forgotten. We fear we’ll regret the decision as soon as we come to terms with all we are missing out on.

So, we keep subscribing.

The truth is that all this junk is what’s causing us to miss out. We’re missing out, because we’re too busy hauling stuff to the trash every day.

It’s amazing how much less distracted I am after unsubscribing.  I still receive emails. Out of 54 subscriptions, I eliminated 40, roughly 75%. My fourteen favorites I kept, and with all the space left over, I decided to add 3 new subscriptions.

Paying attention to my inbox has made me more aware of what I allow into my head.  I’m asking myself: What are my subscriptions to dangerous and destructive thought patterns costing me? Am I missing out on stuff like peace and opportunity and the silence required to hear the voice of God?

I’m learning through deep cuts and shallow scrapes that what I bargain for doesn’t always end up in my favor. I cooperate—even sign my name on the line—all to my own demise, because the source asking my consent isn’t God.

I’m learning how a cluttered mind crowds out peace.

Though I could easily crank out 40, here are the top ten thought patterns I am unsubscribing from… with God’s help, of course. (Disengaging from destructive or distracting mindsets is never something any of us can achieve on our own.)

I’m pulling every one of these out of my mental inbox and asking God to replace those empty spaces with the truth of His word.

 

M y   u n s u b s c r i b e   l i s t:

living like it’s all up to me

assuming the worst rather than believing the best

trusting others rather than God

fearing others more than I fear God

competing

comparing

harboring bitterness

choosing unforgiveness

measuring impossible expectations

forgetting all about grace

 

This is a lame list of lies or at best, it should be categorized as “Junk” with a capital “J.” It may take a whole lot longer than 15 minutes, but I know I’m not the One accomplishing this feat. Honestly, some of these have been on my unsubscribe list for years now.

Unsubscribing isn’t always automatic.

But the decision to unsubscribe—fueled by a desire to disengage—will eventually eliminate distraction and discouragement. Eventually.

This matters. The space you surrender to God counts. He sees beyond the disgusting pile of garbage all around you… He sees you, and He has a bold plan for all the empty space He wants to help you clear out. He’ll fill every crevice and corner and hollow space with His grace.

God, renew our hearts and minds. We bring every sinful subscription to the foot of Your cross, and ask You to unsubscribe us from all that contradicts your Love and purpose for our lives. Empty us of every lie we’ve believed in fear; empty us of ourselves. Make space in us for Your truth. Amen.

 

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

9

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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{HER STORY} 03: No More Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

HER STORY: No More Shame

This is her story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame convinces us that we cannot come to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

radiant

Shame cannot survive in the presence of a radiant God.

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

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

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

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

His love redeems every part of our story.

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

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

Kelly

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The Practice of Quieting Our Hearts

Quiet is something the soul craves and the mind rejects. Getting quiet grinds against our nature, doesn’t it?

Not that long ago, I found myself in a season of quiet. At first, I resisted what God was doing inside me. I felt empty. Hollowed out. All I wanted to do was go on with my life. Leave everything as is.  But deep down, I knew that wasn’t an option.

My life lacked quiet, and it was crushing my soul.

When this season of quiet began, I was in the middle of reading Myquillyn Smith’s The Nesting Place, a wonderful guide to making a house a home. (If you’re not a reader, this book is a must-have just for the gorgeous pictures inside!)

About three pages into Chapter 9—appropriately titled, “One Room at a Time”—Myquillyn claims that quieting a room is one of her favorite things to do.  I’ve always pictured my heart as a series of different rooms, so this whole quieting process sparked my curiosity.

To quiet a room, follow these two basic steps:

1. Find a holding area.

“Find a holding area near the room but out of the way enough so you can stack or stuff there for a day or so without driving everyone in your house insane or scaring the dog.”

2. Remove everything.

“Remove everything that isn’t a rug, piece of furniture, lamp, or somehow attached to the wall (drapes and wall art can stay). Take out all the little junk on your tables, mantel, and ottomans; the baskets of magazines; the picture frames; the papers; the bills; the clay owls your daughter made. Remove the throw pillows and the blankets and the stack of puzzles and books. Take out the plants and candles and toys and everything else. Now you should have a quieter room.”

As I read Myquillyn’s simple instructions on quieting a space, I found myself wishing it were as simple as quieting my heart.  It isn’t. But during that season, God taught me what quiet is and isn’t, how quiet feels, and why quiet is good for my soul.

Quiet space

Quieting our hearts is intentional surrender.

Quieting is the opposite of striving. God begins the work within us, but we have to cooperate. God helped me evaluate all I had allowed into my heart. He showed me what needed to be removed, what needed to stay, and what needed to be rearranged. Being honest about what’s in our hearts isn’t always easy, but it’s the first step towards freedom.

One by one, God began to remove all the things with which I had adorned my heart in an effort to make myself look better. The idea of a holding area reminded me that even though I felt empty, God wasn’t finished. His quieting would rid me of fear and shame and anger and myself, so that He could fill me with peace and passion and purpose, and most importantly, Himself.

Quieting our hearts is revealing.

“Quieting a space” allows us to see what is underneath all the stuff. When we quiet our hearts, we’re uncovering. Coming out of hiding. This takes time, and it can feel very uncomfortable. Quieting our hearts reveals when we’re relying on our own effort instead of Jesus.

Many of us are afraid of quiet. We fear no one will like what’s underneath—or worse, that God won’t love us without all the effort we believe it takes to approach Him. But it’s His love that quiets us, and His love can never be earned. Our effort only gets in the way of receiving His gift.

Quieting our hearts is an intimate blessing.

God eventually began to fill my heart again. He repositioned only what was good for me and what helped me glorify Him. He showed me what was really there underneath all the effort. That’s where real beauty is found. Underneath. In a quiet heart without any unnecessary junk, I found this: I am fearfully and wonderfully made. So are you.

Jesus loves you. He loves the real you, not the try-hard you. He loves the you that you sometimes don’t. Jesus loved you long before you knew Him. Long before you loved Him. Jesus loved you first. Trust that His love is enough and experience the blessing of a quiet heart.

Quieting our hearts isn’t just a one-time thing. We’ll need to let God clear the space of our hearts over and over again throughout this life. It will require intentionality. It might even feel uncomfortable; surrender usually does. But it will always be a blessing to have Him quiet us with His love.

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” Psalm 131:1-3

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

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What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

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

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

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

You will never belong here.

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

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

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

I needed to be heard.

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

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

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

God is the only One who will ever truly understand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are never misunderstood in God’s embrace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

My Story

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

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