Tag Archives | pain

{HER STORY} 08: Give Your Tears to God

My grandma is one of the strongest and most independent women I know. When I was eight, I wanted to run a lemonade stand. All I had to do was dream it up, and Grandma made it happen. Nothing seemed impossible for her. I cherish the independence she passed along to me, but through the years I’ve learned that my grandma’s strength comes from a deep dependence on God.

/ / This is her story. / /

Give Your Tears to God

I could not possibly convey in under one thousand words what my grandfather meant to my grandmother, but they had the kind of relationship everyone on this earth longs for. He was crazy about her, and she knew it. They married as teenagers, and the rest is history.

My Pop passed away just six short weeks before my twins were born. My boy is named for his great-grandpa with the big personality and uncanny ability to make people smile. When Grandma came to help me with the twins, I noticed a desire to serve others during a time no one would have faulted her for focusing on her own broken heart.

The source of her strength was her strong God.

Grandma has attended the same church for the last 50 years. God gifted her with selflessness and compassion for the most precious in all of God’s kingdom: the little children. She serves in areas hidden yet vital. For decades now, my grandma has loved on and prayed over babies, toddlers, and the littlest ones who’ve given their hearts to Jesus.

“The most rewarding part is to watch the kids go on with the Lord,” she told me.

She’s been there long enough to watch infants grow up to be worship leaders and missionaries in foreign countries. She’s watched them start families of their own. God has given her the joy of being a part of their stories from the very beginning.  Every baby she sang blessing over is a beautiful memory she treasures.

October 2015 / Grandma holding our youngest (one of her five great-grandchildren)

Grandma’s heart is just as much for young moms as it is the precious children she shepherds. In 2010, she brought her ministry to my front door. Those first three weeks flew by, and when it was time for Grandma to go home, I begged her to stay three more. Of course, she agreed.

At a time when she was grieving and missing her own Jake, she began each morning with my Jake, the child who still gets up before the sun even as a seven-year-old. My grandma used the gifts God gave her as if it weren’t up to her to decide how or when or where.

Blessing others seem to heal her heart in some small, mysterious way. It got her away from home, away from the painful memories. Serving her family gave her a way to continue ministering in the way she loved, yet God kept her hidden and gave her some much needed space to grieve.

I watched my grandma hand her tears to Jesus.

I’ve learned what it means to abide in Christ by watching my eighty-three-year-old grandmother lean heavily on Him during these last seven years of widowhood. When Grandma talks about my Pop, she speaks with the assurance that they will one day be reunited in the presence of the God.

She told me the other day that missing Pop gets harder as time goes on. I really can’t imagine the heartache, but I see the way she continues to love, serve, trust, and give. Her perseverance is rooted in a strong and vibrant faith, a faith that firmly believes God doesn’t waste tears.

When Grandma and I held babies together in a quiet house all those years ago, she told me how God comforted her through the Psalms. Tears rolled down her face as she described how His Word soothed her grieving heart in ways she had never known before. God’s Word became her lifeline on days she thought her pain was too much.

My oldest daughter and I began reading through the Psalms this fall. My grandma’s advice has been a gentle nudging in my heart:

“Don’t just read the words; dwell on them.”

Fill my heart with joy

God’s Word has strengthened Grandma’s faith, and it’s opened brand new doors of ministry. Her deepest pain in losing her soul mate has been transformed into a heart for widows. As she has drawn close to Jesus, He has placed a part of His own heart within hers. When I watch Grandma love on those God has placed in her life, I see the way God, too, cherishes the most vulnerable among us.

Jesus told his followers that the worst possible news would soon happen. He would die. They would be separated from Him, and their hearts would be overcome with sorrow. But they had no idea that He would also turn their sorrow into a precious gift, that His death was the beginning of really good news.

In John 16:20, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.”  When Jesus spoke these mysterious words to His closest friends, He reminded them of something that’s relevant to every one of us, something I recognize in my grandma’s life:

No one will take your joy from you.

God is leading my grandma to new places far outside her comfort zone, to territory she’s never even considered before. In His Word, in her faith, and in a beautiful partnership with Jesus to further His kingdom here on earth.

May her story comfort those who grieve and encourage us to hand our tears over to God. We can trust Him to replace our deepest sorrow with abounding joy. These are Grandma’s words… for her great-grandchildren, but also for all of us.

“I love the Lord with all of my heart and have found Him faithful all of my years. Fall in love with Jesus. Love His Word and let Him lead and guide you. All your answers to life are found in God’s Word.” ~Joann Smith

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Shrug off Shame for Good

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

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

Shame keeps us from the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

Freedom from shame comes through forgiveness.

Freedom from shame is found through forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

Shame passes on shame.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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We Are One

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

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

We are together in the tragedy and recovery.

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

We Are One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God joins us to strengthen us.

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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

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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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Destined for Hard Times

Nothing prepared me for this. I mean nothing. I had seen flat, two-dimensional pictures, sure. My mind held a handful of facts, all amazing, but some things in life must be experienced in person for a deeper meaning to take root. My trip with my husband to Muir Woods this spring was one of them.

Muir Woods

It was only our first day of vacation, so we were still easing into that slow, unrushed pace. Distraction had not yet been fully chased away by rest. The fresh California air was helping, though.

My husband chuckled at my choice of shoes, playfully grabbed my hand, and assured me that we would take a leisure Sunday stroll rather than an intense off-the-path hike through the park. As we walked, we tipped our heads way back to peak at the towering redwoods whose branches jutted up into the clouds.

Muir Woods

“You know that the seeds of these things are tiny, right?” he said.

I hadn’t given it much thought. I mean, I know about the mustard seed, how size often has little to do with presence. We walked and talked, took selfies and shook our heads at the possibility of such gigantic trees. We snapped a picture of a cone that was the size of my thumb. Just one cone will shed anywhere between 30-100 seeds.

redwood cone actual size

As I absorbed these facts, something remarkable stood out to me: For seeds to germinate and grow into these gigantic trees, they must fall on fresh mineral soil that has somehow been exposed, either by fire, flood, or the downfall of an established tree.

A fire, flood, or fall helps a tree mature.

That same morning, I read Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica. Timothy’s role was to encourage believers that the presence of suffering shouldn’t leave them unsettled. Though trials themselves are always a genuine struggle, Paul urged them to not be shaken in their faith. His words apply to our hearts as well.

We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:2-3

We are destined for hard times.

Floods may convince us we’re drowning and alone, fires often hint that God failed us, and every fall can feel final somehow, yet these things help us grow.

We look forward to an eternal paradise, but we are destined for trials here on earth. Appointed is another way to put it. When God anointed David as king, He appointed him as Saul’s main enemy. David was destined for this, because He was an integral part of the story God was telling. If you’re in Christ, you are an integral part of the story, too.

Paul shared his deep concerns about the church’s faith: In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain. 1 Thessalonians 3:4-5

Paul feared trials would cause them to abandon their faith.

Timothy reported back to Paul that their faith remained intact and was strengthened, just as Paul had hoped and prayed. Paul’s response makes me think of the redwoods that grow tall and strong from small, vulnerable seeds buried in some unshaken ground.

For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord. 1 Thessalonians 3:8

redwoods

Suffering considered purposeless is suffering wasted.

Trials, persecution, suffering. All things we pray away and do our best to avoid. Sometimes, we forget to look for God in our heartache. Through every flood, fire, and fall, God prepares our hearts for something truly amazing.

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{HER STORY} 07: He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

This is her story…

He Calls Me Beautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without their spots, they would just be beetles.

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

Page from Julie's art journal

A page from Julie’s art journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

2

Hope Does Not Reside in the White House

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

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

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

Today I smell a fire burning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Does Not Reside in the White House

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

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

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

Revelation 3:1-3 (emphasis added)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Light a fire within us

Revival begins with repentance.

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

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

Forgive us, Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Build Your kingdom here on earth.

Amen.

4

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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When Modern-Day Slavery Becomes Personal

I could be her.

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

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

Her dignity and worth stripped down to nothingness.

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

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

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

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

Somehow, I never saw myself.

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

Most left me altered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern-day slavery became personal that day.

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

I could be her.

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

That possibility changed my perspective entirely.

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

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

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

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

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

Modern-day slavery is a personal issue.

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

Any one of us could be her.

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

Jesus loves you… and her.

Kelly

 

Resources

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

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

Traffic Cam App by Exchange Initiative 

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

 

Local Ministries

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

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

 

Free the Captives Free the Captives {Houston}

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

 

Jesus Said LoveJesus Said Love

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

 

 

 

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