Tag Archives | hope

We Are One

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

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

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

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

We Are One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God joins us to strengthen us.

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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

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Please Remember Them: Redeemed Ministries

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

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

Please remember them.

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

But what about them?

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

Continue reading over at the Redeemed Ministries blog…

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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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Two Words That Secure Your God-Given Identity

One of the sweetest parts of being a parent is choosing a name for your child. Each of my children’s name tell a story. Because I believe God knew their names before we even knew about them, I also believe their names intricately connect with their God-given identity.

The beginning scene of the book of Daniel is a historical prologue to the struggles four young men faced while living in a hostile culture far from God. Their Hebrew names reflected the glory of God and represented their identities.

Their names told the story of a God who set them apart as His chosen people.

When God’s people quit listening to His commands and rejected His love, they were hauled off into exile in Babylon under a king who did not believe in the one true God. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were among them.

If you grew up hearing this story as a kid, you might remember them by the names their captors gave them instead: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. These names were a failed attempt to replace each reference to God with a reference to the gods Belte, Aku, and Nabu.

The leaders of the Babylonian empire intended to strip them of their God-given identities. They thought that by removing God from the names of these young men, they would in fact erase God’s story.

God’s story cannot be silenced.

His story cannot be changed either, as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah’s stories show. He is—and always has been—in control.

The enemy comes after our identities just as he came after theirs, because his goal is to steal, kill, and destroy. God does the opposite; He gives, resurrects, and restores.  Daniel chapter one tells the story of the Giver.

God gave Judah over to her sin.

And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Daniel 1:2

God warned His people that if they disobeyed Him, He would scatter them and destroy their cities. God allowed his people to follow their own stubborn hearts.  The Judge is just in all His rulings.

God gave these men compassion and favor with the king.

And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs… Daniel 1:9

When King Solomon dedicated the temple, he prayed and asked God to listen to the prayers of His people—the ones who turned to Him—no matter where He sent them.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah chose not to conform to the culture around them, by trusting in God and seeking His help, they prospered, an amazing display of what it looks like to be in the world, not of it. God listens, because God is faithful.

God gave knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Daniel 1:17

These four men demonstrated that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were found ten times better than any of the other men in the king’s service. God placed distinguished and excellent qualities in each of them, qualities that reveal His character.

God gave a foreshadowing of His plan to free His people.

And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus. Daniel 1:21

Cyrus was God’s chosen instrument to bring His people out of exile. God chose the deliverer, and God chose the timing. God would eventually send a Redeemer that would free His people from the enemy’s grip forever.

The word ‘gave’ in the Hebrew language is nathan, and it shows up over eighteen hundred times in the Old Testament books. It means to grant, deliver, appoint, make, or cause to be. The New Testament continues the story of the Giver, as God reveals Jesus as the promised Messiah after four hundred years of dark silence.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (emphasis mine)

When Your Identity Seems Compromised

When the enemy comes after your identity, remember these two words: God gave.

Through the names of four young men, God tells His story. Daniel means “God is my judge;” Hananiah means “God has favored;” Mishael means “Who is like God?” and Azariah means “Jehovah has helped.”

God longs to tell His story through us, through our wounds, our failures, our fears, and through our dependence on Him. The enemy has attempted to silence God’s story that my life tells by coming after my identity, too.

As a shy, fearful little girl, I always assumed there was a mix up when names were being passed out. Kelly means “warrior,” but I was the opposite of bold and courageous. My middle name, Leigh, means “field.”

Years ago, God invited me to see what He saw in me, despite my brokenness. He saw a warrior on the battlefield, strong, courageous, and victorious. But this warrior on the battlefield? It’s not me; it’s Jesus in me. The battle all around me belongs to God, and He has already defeated the enemy.

God reclaims our identities and our names and our hearts through Jesus.

Though God has set us free from the power of Satan’s lies, this doesn’t mean he keeps quiet. No, he still whispers his lies; sometimes he shouts them. The only way the accuser knows how to communicate is through lies.

The most recent lie he’s used against me is, “You have no influence.” When I remember that I am an image-bearer of God, and I trust that my life in Christ has meaning, this lie loses all momentum. Truth silences lies every time, because the accuser is no match for the Giver.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (emphasis mine)

When your life is hidden in Christ, your story tells His story. 

When your identity feels under siege, remember these two words: God gave. He gave us everything we need to live victoriously; He gave us freedom, purpose, and life—abundant life through Jesus Christ.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Ache You Shouldn’t Chase Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ache You Shouldn't Chase Away

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

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

The book ends with the promise of an elaborate homecoming.

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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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: 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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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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