Tag Archives | good news

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

We are kicking off this Contenders of the Faith series by talking about our identity in Christ. God’s love is the source of our identity, which is why God calls His children by the name Beloved. My first guest, Bethany, is sharing with us her journey to discover this amazing truth.

If you missed the very first post in this series, you can catch up right here.

Contenders of the Faith (new series)

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity by Bethany Dufilho

I was one of those kids who never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I liked singing so I was always in a choir at church or school. It was something I never really worked at but I experienced some success and enjoyed the sense of identity and belonging it gave me. I was a big-ish fish in a few small-ish ponds.  As I got older, the ponds got bigger.  I played into a comparison game full of my own perfectionism and pride and eventually, my tender ego was deflated.  Add to that a neurological issue diagnosed in my 30s causing tremors in my voice and I gave up singing for a while. It was a painful stripping of an identity I hadn’t realized I had clung to so fiercely.

After I was married, still not really knowing what I wanted to do, I enrolled in graduate school. Holding some identity also in “being smart,” I had always known higher education would be in my future. I was training to become a school psychologist. I also very much wanted to become a mother. I knew these two could coexist, but seeing things as very “all or nothing,” I struggled with the pieces of understanding how I could be good; rather, perfect at both. My identity felt at odds with itself.

When I had our first child, my outward achieving stopped for a while. I developed the slower pace of stay at home motherhood. Here I threw my perfectionist tendencies into overdrive, pouring my anxieties onto my tiny babe.  Was I doing this the “right” way?  If not, oh God, I’m screwing him up!  The struggle to identify myself as what I thought a mother should be was frightening and real.

After emerging from the fog of new parenthood, I then developed a hobby for pure enjoyment: painting and rearranging my house.  Friends and family took notice and I prized the recognition of a new identity forming: decorator. I ran with it, eventually creating a small business.  Was this now my identity? I decided to go all in: taking classes, ordering business cards, even making a website. I took comfort, dare I say, pride, in finding my thing.

After a while, I took on too much.  The work, impinging on my introverted self, also became a burden on my desire to still be a stay at home mother to my now three children. I felt resentful when I couldn’t be my version of perfect for both my family and my clients. The stress was hard on both my home and marriage. I was disappointed in myself but also relieved in admitting my need to pull back.

So here I am now. I still decorate, though in a smaller way than I once imagined. I’m still a wife and mother of course.  I’m even singing again- every Sunday morning along with my husband, for a group of eager and antsy first and second graders.  I have no labels or job descriptions to succinctly tell you who I am or what I can do.  Looking back though I can now see the thread running through every turn in my life.  It’s always been the same, because it has always been me.  I still bear the same sin struggles, the same personality, the same weaknesses and strengths.  I am the same soul.  Whether I have been singing, mothering, in school, decorating, it has always been me.  And at times I found myself wondering… is it enough?  Am I enough?

I’ve been studying the enneagram lately.  I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, but it’s really just a tool, similar to anything else that can help you know yourself better, like seeing a therapist or reading a book on personal growth.  It teaches the importance of knowing yourself fully– the good, the bad, and the ugly.  It’s an uncomfortable act of faith- to bring into light the sins you bear, but also (at times equally uncomfortable) to develop compassion and grace for yourself, seeing and loving yourself as God does.

So how would my life change if I could fully and daily embrace that truth- that God loves me entirely, imperfect as I am?  So much so that Christ died for me while I was (am) still a sinner (Romans 5:8)? How much more would I be able to love others when, freed from the trap of perfectionism, I could set aside my own needs for approval and acknowledgement?  I could lay down comparisons, defensiveness, and pride.  How healing this is- this embracing of the gospel message in my own identity: as a beloved child of God.

This very struggle is what I think it means to contend for my faith; to work out my salvation with both fear and trembling (Phillippians 2:12).  Sometimes I want contending to look more like a sword fight- a big battle fought and won, once and for all.  But I think it is more quiet and small, done in hidden and daily stillness before the Lord.  Seeking His wisdom; His love.

I cannot do this on my own, because truthfully many days I find myself unable, un-remembering to even cry out from the very outset of the morning. I start to again believe the lie that it would be easier to have a job title or task to hide behind:  “I’ll serve you in this way, Lord!”

And this is why I need Him. Oh, I need Him.  Every hour I need Him.  He has entrusted to us the gospel, this good news of love and redemption through Christ.  This message is not only to be received once and then shared, but also to be remembered over and over in our own lives- we are loved. May we seek Him and may we cry out to Him, for our healing and for His glory.

Lost & Found: A Story of Identity

About Bethany

Bethany Dufilho has been married to Paul for 13 years and they have three children ages 9, 7, and 4. They live in Katy, TX where she is a stay at home mom and part time interior decorator. She is a lover of beauty and a seeker of Truth and occasionally blogs over at thehouseoffigs.com. There you can read about her adventures in decorating and hear the heart behind her beauty with a purpose philosophy.

About Bethany

Final thoughts…

We’ve been given gospel identities, rooted deeply in perfect Love. May Bethany’s story remind us all that Love is greater than our doubts, fears, and insecurities. I love how she describes contending as a quiet, hidden wrestling of soul. As God transforms us into the image of His Son, may we remember that our faith is a precious gift to nurture, protect, and defend.

Be sure and enter my giveaway to win a copy of Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin. To enter, subscribe to carried by love and leave a comment on any of the posts written by my guest bloggers. I’ll announce the winner at the end of the series.

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

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon (Central Time).  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. You can watch this week’s video here.

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Dream With Hope: Redeemed Ministries

Jesus invites us to dream with hope.

God has placed a beautiful dream in my heart, a dream so big it hurts to contemplate. I long to see captives set free in Jesus’ name, for women who’ve only known oppression to feel the warmth of their Father’s love on their radiant faces. I long to see God’s word raise up a generation of powerful voices to speak Truth to broken hearts. More than anything else, I dream of the day Light penetrates the darkness forever.

Perhaps you’ve dreamed this very same dream.

Slavery has been reflected in mankind’s infrastructure ever since the Fall, but the prophet Isaiah’s words rang a freedom bell: I have come to set the captives free. Jesus initiated His ministry here on earth with those same powerful words. Human-trafficking has never been outside His reach.

Lately, I’ve found myself stuck in the waiting.  As I strain to see the beautiful dream through the frustration and fear, I question whether I have what it takes to make a difference in this fight. My voice sounds so very small, and some days, this dream seems hopelessly impossible.

In God’s word I discover camaraderie with another dreamer and the hope my souls craves.

Simon’s profession required him to wait. The day Jesus showed up in Simon’s life was a day like every other. He was mending his nets in the early morning light after a long, unsuccessful night out on the water. Jesus told Simon to put the boat back into deep water and let the nets down again. It made absolutely no sense.

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) The number of fish caught that day was so great that the nets began to break. The boat could hardly hold the miracle. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (Luke 5:10b)

Simon traded his broken nets for a dream.

Continue reading over at the Redeemed Ministries blog…

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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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The War of Awe

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

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

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

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

War of Awe

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

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

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

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

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

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

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

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

What God begins, He finishes.

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

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

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

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

None of us can spark our own fires.

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

If you are faithful, expect enemies. The sixth chapter of Daniel opens with this in-your-face truth. If you’re a child of the King, you are a threat to the kingdom of darkness. Daniel’s enemies were accusers, and so is ours.

We’ve been studying the book of Daniel at church all summer long. Week after week, every story narrated, every vision revealed, every dream interpreted points to the rising conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of this world. This tension will reach a fever pitch at Christ’s first coming, and again at His second coming.

We live in the space between. 

King Darius, desiring power and position, made a rule that all must bow and worship him for thirty days. Daniel continued praying, worshipping, believing and trusting the living God. Daniel did what he’d always done, and the story reaches its climax as he stands accused and gets tossed into a den full of hungry lions.

I tend to read through this story and forget it really happened. These were real lions, real hungry lions that had their mouths shut by God. Scripture doesn’t say God filled their stomachs and satisfied their appetites. It only says He shut their mouths. These weren’t sweet cats purring all night long. They were angry and frustrated and confused. And still very, very hungry.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

Daniel, prompted by prayer, exhibited gratitude in the middle of a horrible life-or-death situation. King Darius, stressed out and anxiety-ridden, decided in his own strength to try and rescue Daniel himself.

Before you get all tender-hearted for this hero-wanna-be, I’m pretty sure Darius’ rescue mission had to do with losing his best man, a key figure in his administration. The chapter opens with his great plans to promote Daniel to an even higher position. So, this had nothing to do with Daniel; this was about Darius and all he stood to lose if Daniel became dinner for some lions.

Darius could not deliver Daniel. In the meantime, Darius began spinning out of control. He was not only sleepless and peaceless, he was flat-out hopeless.

Daniel exhibited hope and peace. Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 4:13, “We do not grieve as those without hope.” We still grieve, but we have living hope. Faith helps us recognize the character of God when the all the world can see are the circumstances.

Our response is evidence of our faith.

When Daniel received bad news, he gave thanks. Daniel wasn’t thanking God for the bad news; he just knew there were plenty of reasons to give thanks based on God’s character rather than his circumstances. Gratitude prompted peace in his heart.

But if we walk away only hearing a try-harder, have-more-faith pep talk, we’ve missed the point entirely. These things—hope, peace, gratitude, faithfulness—aren’t ingredients for the perfect recipe for righteousness or a remedy for sin.

The recipe for righteousness and the remedy for sin has always been and will always be Jesus. Just Jesus.

These characteristics represent the visible fruit that comes from an invisible but thriving faith in a God who is greater than our circumstances. They depict how deeply our character changes when we put on the righteousness of Christ. Hope and peace and joy point to Christ within us.

It’s not about the size or the quality of our faith; it’s about the object of our faith. Mustard seed faith is all we need, Jesus says, as long as that faith is fixed on Him. As long as long He is the object of our faith.

As a young man Daniel relied on God not his circumstances. He is an old man at this point in his life, and this chapter reminds my heart that fruit takes time. Transformation is a gradual process.

Faith in God may not change every set of circumstances, but our faith in Christ over time changes us.

I remember when we got pregnant for the first time. We had tried for over three years at that point to conceive and infertility had left battle wounds all over my heart. My faith felt shaky, but we celebrated our hearts out, clueless that more heartbreak was right around the corner. We told everyone our news.

And then I miscarried.

Sitting in our living room, surrounded by devastation, my husband and I discussed how we would un-tell all these people. I remember so vividly this conversation with my husband, because God used him to speak truth into my life. I asked him, “What are we going to tell people?”

He looked right at me and said, “We’ll tell them God is good.”

My husband’s words to me were evidence of God at work within his heart, at work within our heart-breaking circumstances. His response was evidence of his faith. What will we tell them? We will tell them that God is good, because He is.

Even when circumstances aren’t good, God is still good. God’s goodness does not fluctuate because He does not change; He cannot change. God is constant.

Daruis’ signature on the decree meant Daniel’s situation could not be altered. Irrevocable. The stone at the mouth of the lion’s den and the king’s seal also indicated an unchangeable situation.

Daniel recognized His unchangeable God in the middle of his unchangeable circumstances.

Daniel knew nothing could change God. Nothing.  Not persecution or slander or oppression or rejection or accusation or life in a hostile culture. Not even a den full of lions. This incredible story highlights three aspects of God’s character that will never change.

God’s plan to rescue and redeem and restore cannot be altered.

King Darius was a powerful king, but he was powerless to change Daniel’s situation. The king’s plan involved keeping Daniel from the lion’s den altogether, but God’s rescue mission involved entering the lion’s den Himself.

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

God’s love fuels His plan. We are pursued and lavishly loved by God. Love prompted Jesus to willingly enter the dark, sin-infested pit of this world to suffer and serve and confront the lion. It was for love—so that we might live with God in an ongoing relationship forever and ever. Moved by a love that’s unchanging, God paid the price that we never could.

The power of the Holy Spirit within us cannot be revoked.

God promises the gift of His Spirit to all who believes in Jesus as an irrevocable deposit. His Spirit within us is proof of His promise. No matter how hard life gets, no matter how far we fall, God has promised He will never remove His Spirit.  This same Spirit was strong enough to shut the mouths of hungry lions and raise Jesus from the dead.  That’s the power at work within us!

God didn’t remove the threat from Daniel’s life; He rendered the threat powerless over Daniels’ life. The lions remained a part of Daniel’s story, but the lions could never overpower God.

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den. 1 Peter 5:8 says that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” Our enemy will try to scare us into compromise, or get us to settle, back down, or stay in bondage, but he can’t touch our souls. He cannot harm us.

The lion is part of our story, but God has revealed how the story will end.

The conclusion of Daniel’s experience in the lion’s den mirrors Paul’s description of the very, very end for all who have claimed their salvation in Christ:

So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. Daniel 6:23 (emphasis mine)

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 4:17

Jesus will return, and when He does, we will be lifted out of the lion’s den. Until then, God’s unchanging plan, pursuit, and power remind us that He is with present, working all things together for our good and His glory.

May we embrace the promises of a God who never changes even as we are dealt heartbreaking disappointments. Let us give thanks, in all circumstances, especially the unfavorable ones.

May we cling to the One who holds in His hand the whole mess of our lives and every broken way we take, the only One able to rescue and deliver us. May we rest in the companionship of Jesus, knowing that no matter what unfolds in the here and now, His love will usher us into eternity blameless and unscathed.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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HER STORY: He Calls Me Beautiful

With one hand, she smoothed the wrinkles out of the powder blue culottes her grandmother handmade; with her other, she clutched her lunchbox. Her sister, now a fourth grader, had worn the same embroidered outfit when she started school years before. She found her name printed on a desk near the front of the room and admired each neat, evenly spaced letter. Julie.

When a boy nearby glanced her way, she returned his gaze with a polite smile. He pointed to the spots on her arms and legs and asked, “What are those?” Until that moment, she had never considered the moles that sprinkled her pale skin. But in that tender moment, Julie’s heart began to believe a lie.

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

By junior high, the lie that something was innately wrong with her had fully taken root. Underneath Julie’s skin was a heartsick girl who longed to know she was beautiful and worthy of love. One day in English class, the boy who sat in front of her turned around and said, “You are so ugly.”

“I know,” she said, her response both automatic and devastating.

As adolescence faded into adulthood, self-loathing became habitual.

Depression clung to her like a wet raincoat. Other than shame, sadness was the only emotion she allowed herself to embrace. “I was addicted to sadness; I actually welcomed the feeling, because at least then I felt something.”

Hopelessness sprouted up through the cracks in her broken heart. Julie clung tightly to a false and distorted image of herself. “I was ashamed of who I was, but I also felt shame in having needs,” she told me. She didn’t trust God with her needs, so she worked hard not to have any. And over time, something inside broke under the weight of that lie.

Shame stole her voice, and voicelessness soon bled into powerlessness. Drowning in despair, she contemplated taking her own life. Months trudged on until she reached the final decision to end it all. As she worked out every detail, she found that the mechanics of it all brought her hope, hope that there was a way out of her pain. God rescued her that day, from the false hope and the false identity and the false life.

It took her years to comprehend the depth of this rescue.

She couldn’t follow through with her plan, yet she couldn’t speak her pain. Not yet anyway. She tucked her secret away, convinced there was no way to let it come into the light. Six years went by as depression crushed her soul blow by blow. She was living but barely surviving. She didn’t believe joy even existed.

Eventually, she reached out for help. She surrendered her broken heart to Jesus and chose to believe He could heal her inside and out. God asked her to trust Him with her whole story so that He could reveal His glory through her pain.

Shame disguises itself as an irreversible personal flaw, but the light of the glory of God exposes shame for what it is: a universal need for redemption. As Julie began to acknowledge her shame, God not only healed those areas of her life, but He began to redeem them as well.

Hidden underneath her shame was a girl who just desperately wanted to be herself.

Julie identifies with the woman in Mark 5, whose physical and emotional pain led to spiritual freedom. This woman bled for twelve agonizing years. She suffered and spent every ounce of devotion and every penny to her name trying to find a cure for what was wrong with her. The blood kept her isolated, and the lies kept her silent.

One day, out of options and out of hope, she decided to reach out to Jesus as He came through her town. As soon as she touched the back of His robe, her bleeding stopped. But Jesus had more for her than physical healing; He had come for her heart. Jesus looked and searched and waited for this desperate woman to come out into the open, to bring her story into His light. “Who touched me?” he asked. Slowly, she came.

When she fell at His feet, she told her story. All of it. 

Jesus’ words reached the deepest part of her and absolved her from the shame that kept her heart hidden, silent, and chained. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” Mark 5:34

For years Julie searched for a way out. For a way out of hopelessness and depression, for a way out of her pain. She discovered that the only real way out was through a relationship with Jesus—the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His love led her into a brand-new life where joy exists and hope is alive.  Over time, Julie learned to replace each lie with God’s truth.

She learned to dance by trusting Jesus one small step at a time.

Recently, during a long weekend hike with her husband, God brought to Julie’s mind the memory of a little girl ashamed of her moles. As God reminded her of His love for her, she came to an open field of vegetation blanketed with tiny red ladybugs. Overwhelmed by this rare scene, she listened and waited for God to speak.

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

God whispered gently to her heart in the days that followed, Without their spots, they would just be beetles. The spots make them beautiful. You are beautiful, you are lovely, and you are Mine.

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

God took Julie back to the place where that painful lie took root: her first day of Kindergarten. In a field of ladybugs, His truth drained every ounce of power from that lie she believed long ago. And God set her heart free.

Like the spots on those ladybugs, Julie began to understand that her unique need for Jesus makes her uniquely beautiful. She discovered that what makes us different also makes us beautiful.

Our need is neither ugly nor shameful; there is beauty in our need for Jesus.

What the enemy means for harm God uses for our good. He has transformed Julie’s struggle with shame into a precious gift of relatability. Like the woman in Mark 5, God healed Julie physically and emotionally, but He also freed her heart from shame.

Julie has exchanged the lies she once held close for the truth of an eternal hope in Jesus. Her power rests not in her ability to overcome, but in His power, the power that raised Jesus from the grave. He has redeemed her heart and reclaimed her voice to bring glory to His name.

God can use anything to communicate His love- even a tiny ladybug!

God can use anything to communicate His love… even a tiny ladybug!

For Julie, her physical pain has become a precious reminder that God redeems all things.

The moles on her skin mean nothing apart from the beautiful restoration He’s done in her heart.

Even the shame she once felt has been a gift from God, because it brought her face to face with Jesus, her Redeemer.

The glory of God is displayed when we reach the very end and then reach for Jesus.

The enemy uses shame to convince us that our brokenness disqualifies us, deems us unworthy of God’s love.

Only God can turn shame into beauty. The cross, the utmost symbol of shame, is a beacon of beauty and a representation of perfect love for all who trust in Jesus. Our wounds and scars and battle stories are precious evidence that we’ve been redeemed.

This story is so much more than a story of healing; it’s a story about God’s heart towards His children. From the deepest part of His relational heart, God calls us. “Beautiful daughter, you are Mine. Just as you are, you are Mine,” He says.

Because of Jesus, healing, forgiveness, restoration, and freedom are within our grasp. Because of Jesus, we are cherished children of God, precious in His sight, beautifully and eternally His.

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” Song of Solomon 4:7

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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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The Truth About Our Neediness

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

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

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

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

Do you see yourself? a voice breaks the silence.

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

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

Do you see yourself?

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

Do you see Me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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Real Trust in Marriage

Marriage is hard. I’ve put off this post for weeks now, because even after nearly fifteen years, I have no business writing about marriage.

I like my coffee strong, and my man likes his music loud. If given an entire evening to plan anything at all, he’d choose a crowded sporting arena with lots and lots of people; I’d choose a bubble bath and a book. I thrive in deep, meaningful conversation; he thinks you’re never too old to play practical jokes.

I’m a dreamer, a quiet observer, a compulsive reader; he’s a comedian, a competitive athlete, and an outspoken leader who willingly jumps into the messy stuff.

I used to think that we were too different.

Early in our marriage, I secretly wished he would magically morph into a manly version of me. Then we’d have so much more in common and so much less time devoted to sports, and wouldn’t that be so much easier and comfortable and enjoyable… for me?

As I read back those words, I’m smothered by my own self-centeredness.

Today, I open up to the book of Matthew like I do every Christmas season, and the union of Mary and Joseph (and my own marriage) is on my heart. Without thinking twice, I write down one word in my journal: trust.

This marriage should have ended before it began. It almost did. When Joseph found out about Mary’s pregnancy, he decided in his mind that he would do the compassionate thing and divorce her quietly. This young teenage girl’s reputation (as well as her life) was on the line.

In a dream, God explained the situation and told Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (see Matthew 1:20-21)

How different would this story read if Mary and Joseph had not trusted God?

Matthew spells out next why all of this is so crucial, why Joseph and Mary are key players in this story. In Matthew 1:22-23, he quotes the prophet, Isaiah, who said: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means ‘God with us’).

Mary and Joseph trusted God and accepted that this marriage might be bigger than their own hopes and dreams, their own wishes and preferences, their own familiar comfort zones. Both laid down entitlement, and instead, chose to be a part of God’s plan to save many lives.

After Jesus was born, King Herod went on a furious quest to locate the child who threatened his throne.  Joseph received instructions on how to move his family to Egypt, far outside Herod’s jurisdiction. Mary followed the man who married her pregnant and all.

After King Herod died, Joseph received further instructions in two separate dreams to move his family to the land of Israel, then to the town of Nazareth in Galilee. Today I don’t just see a wife trusting her husband; I see something more.

Mary trusted Joseph while clinging to Jesus.

Mary and Joseph encountered struggle and hardship from the very beginning of their relationship. Both had to exercise trust towards one another, but ultimately, their trust was in God.

Exercising trust in our marriages means believing that God joined us together for a purpose that involves using every one of the differences between us. Exercising trust begins with the destruction of our own kingdoms so that His kingdom is our joint focus.

When we exercise trust in our marriages, we know in our bones that even if our spouse proves untrustworthy, Jesus is always faithful and will never, ever harm or leave or disappoint us. Singles exercise trust long before they’re married when they believe that God provides in His perfect timing.

What if instead of placing our trust in our spouse or in the institution of marriage, we placed our trust in the One who designed marriage to reveal His glory, the One whose very name means “God is with us”?

Struggle is woven into the very fabric of marriage. Two different flawed people, incomplete and naturally self-centered, joined together as one. Struggle is inevitable.

Yet over and over again, God uses these fusions of wills to create a dynamic and beautiful canvas to display redemption and accomplish His will.

If I’m honest, my marriage has magnified my own selfishness, my desire for comfort, convenience, and control. More than anything, my marriage has revealed my desperate need to be changed by God.

Every marriage is evidence that we all need Jesus smack dab between us.

There is such sweet hope this Christmas season. For you, for me, for our marriages. Immanuel. God is right here with us . . . living and breathing and moving and working in our most precious relationships. He is with us.

So if you’re wondering how to exercise real trust in your marriage, it’s pretty simple: Trust Him.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

Kelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll never forget what she said to me.

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

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

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

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

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

Your story lets God tell His.

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

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

Kelly

 

For those who grieve…

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

You are not alone.

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

What I Wish I Had Known About Infertility

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

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

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

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

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

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