Tag Archives | redemption

{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

1

A Resuscitation Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Resuscitation Story

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Feed my lambs.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Take care of my sheep.

 

Jesus: Do you love me?

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

Jesus: Feed my sheep.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

0

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

2

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.

 

 

 

0

{HER STORY} 03: No More Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

HER STORY: No More Shame

This is her story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shame convinces us that we cannot come to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

radiant

Shame cannot survive in the presence of a radiant God.

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

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

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

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

His love redeems every part of our story.

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

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

Kelly

0

The Contentment Secret

I’ve been chasing it most of my life. Contentment. Not the hold-your-breath-because-it’ll-be-gone-before-you-know-it kind—real contentment driven by gratitude.

Since the first man and woman messed up and missed out on a God-created paradise, we’ve been grasping after the notion for generations. Either we fear others will mess it up for us, or God Himself might choose to mess it up just to mess with us.

If we’re not fearing the worst, we’re convinced we’re missing out on something better, something more. As a culture, we’re fully saturated in not enough mentality.

True contentment—an authentic satisfaction of embracing who we are and what we have and where we are and how we’re wired rather than wanting more or something entirely different—can only be fostered by returning to the place where our God-given identity was stolen.

The Way Back to Eden

The contentment chase masks itself as a deep, unrelenting desire to return to Eden.

God created a place with boundaries of protection for mankind to be fully loved, fully engaged, fully ourselves. But the serpent told a lie, and Adam and Eve handed over the truth for a bite of something that wasn’t better after all.

I haven’t always recognized that God’s removal of Adam and Eve from Eden was an act of mercy. Genesis 3 records the whole story. The last verse of the chapter leaves a vivid picture of the heavy consequence of disobedience.

“He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24

At one point in my life, these words at the bottom of the page in my bible sounded so harsh. At the top of that same page, I found words like, “…they felt no shame.”

I have so far to go, but I return to those tissue paper pages again and again for something new, for some undiscovered aspect of His character He’s yet to reveal to me. Each time, I am overwhelmed in a good and humbling way.

Today when I read about humanity thrust from paradise, angels blocking the way, and a hot, flaming sword in the middle of it all, I see glimpses of a deeper meaning.

Here’s an invitation to view Paradise Lost through the lens of Paradise Restored.

Sin separates us from a holy, perfect God, yet the angels display God’s mercy towards sinners.  The flaming sword was evidence that man became enemies with God when sin entered paradise. But it also represents God’s protection against the lies that led us all down this broken road in the first place.

The tree of life is believed to have had the effect of confirming a person in his or her moral state. By removing man and woman from the garden, God was in fact saving us from ourselves.

Later in the Old Testament, God gave specific instructions for building an ark that would become His meeting place with His people. Though it’s tempting to view Adam and Eve’s expulsion as abandonment, it’s just not true. God never left them on their own.

Golden cherubim with outstretched wings and faces looking downward in reverent awe adorned the top piece, also called the mercy seat. From the place between those angels of gold, God spoke to His people. (See Exodus 25:18-22)

The angels weren’t a reminder that they had screwed up and gotten kicked out of the garden; they represented God’s promise to rescue and redeem what was lost in the garden.

God has been paving the narrow way back ever since.

The noun translated “mercy seat” is related to the verb that means “to make atonement.” A sacrifice had to be given to make atonement. One thing was required: blood on the mercy seat. (See Leviticus 16)

Fast-forward to the third day following Jesus’ death: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:41-42

Within a garden paradise, sin obliterated what God created for us to enjoy: unhindered relationship with Him. Centuries later, God accomplished redemption… in a garden.

“But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.” John 20:11-12

An empty tomb. Two angels. One at the head and one at the foot. The mercy seat of God. Jesus was the atonement, God’s perfect sacrifice. His blood on the mercy seat secured the way to forgiveness and restoration with the Father forever.

When Mary saw Jesus, she thought he was the gardener. When she realized it was Him, she grabbed hold of Him.  Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” John 20:17

Jesus is the Way back.

We’ve all longed for something we thought would bring satisfaction or fulfillment. Lies from long ago lure us into thinking we’ll find contentment if we can just wrangle it somehow. Sometimes, we crave what is undeniably harmful; other things don’t seem at all dangerous until we really start examining our hearts.

If we’re honest, we settle all too easily for a fractured form of contentment. The fall left a huge, gaping hole in our hearts that can only be filled by Jesus. Only Jesus. He is the Way back to Eden.

I’m not talking about a place or even a set of circumstances; true paradise is found in a relationship with a holy God who meets every need and fills every longing. The word Eden can be traced back to the root word meaning “delight.”

Every heart was designed to delight in Jesus.

We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience true contentment. Some things we do have to wait for—like the absence of pain and death and darkness. Some seasons of life are harder than others. These are the realities of life here on earth.

Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about contentment. He shared with them the secret he had discovered.  He said, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, emphasis added)

Jesus is the way back to unhindered communion with the Father. True contentment is possible here and now through Jesus—no matter your circumstance or season.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

0

What I’m Learning About Change This Fall

What I'm Learning: Fall EditionI love fall, but I can’t stand change. God whispers His language of change, and I can’t decide whether to spring to my feet and dance or run away and hide. Change excites, and change unsettles. Most of the time, change does both.

This fall, I’m learning how God uses the strain of change to draw my heart closer to Him.

Change is inevitable. It illustrates a good and promising sign of growth. We cannot experience transformation without change. If I’m honest, though, I’d rather stay stuck in my tidy, fenced-off, comfort zone.

When my heart experiences the excitement of change, it’s usually a good indicator that my eyes are focused on the new thing God is doing. Unsettledness in my soul often reveals I’m still clinging to the old thing. I tend to release it to God more confidently when I’m honest about what I fear. But still, it’s a struggle.

Maybe the trouble is our aversion to grief.

Why do we think we can let go of the old without allowing grief to do its deep heart work? Maybe it has to do with our desire to bypass grief, because grief is so slow and unpredictable. Sometimes, we’d rather not experience the pain of grief, but our hearts weren’t designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

Our hearts weren't designed to rush into change without acknowledging the struggle.

There is no way around grief. No detour or fast lane through. We cannot rush grief, and we cannot ignore it. Grief doesn’t indicate that God has failed us. Grief encourages us to admit that something is not right and we need God to make it right. We need an unchanging God to be our constant.

Grief invites us to experience the wonder of a God who cannot and will not ever change.

Maybe somewhere along the way, we’ve started to believe that grief diminishes the good that’s coming. Before the Israelites entered the promised land under Joshua’s leadership, they mourned the death of Moses for thirty days. (See Deuteronomy 34:8) They were right on the cusp of God giving them everything He had promised, but they didn’t dismiss their much needed season of grief.

Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, Jesus wept with Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. The crowds that had gathered observed His deep love for His friend. (See John 11:33-43) Yes, grief is a sign that we’ve loved well, but the story doesn’t end there.

When Lazarus walked out of the tomb, God was demonstrating what He would soon accomplish in raising Jesus from the dead, only this time it would be permanent. No more death. No more darkness. No more grief.

When I reflect on my own need for change, grief should be my first response to the weight of my sin. Only in experiencing brokenness can I fully accept Jesus’ love for me. Grief is first, and next is precious, abundant joy for the new life He’s given me—a life I do not deserve.

The gospel is the very intersection of my desperate need to be changed and an immutable God who is willing and able to change me.

Fall paves the path to winter, and spring follows. We cannot skip winter. The cold of winter enhances the radiance of spring. Fall reminds us that this transformation is about to occur right before our eyes. We can’t stop it, and we wouldn’t want to. Not really.

It reminds us that our Creator is in control of the seasons just as He is in control of our ever-changing lives. It reminds us that we, too, need Him to change us moment by moment, season by season. Again and again and again.

Give your heart permission to slow down and savor the change all around you this fall. May this transitioning season draw you closer to the One who makes all things—hard things and awkward things and yes, even dead things—alive and new.

What are you learning this fall?

Kelly

 

0

{HER STORY} 01: Her Lifesong Became My Lifeline

Every heart has a song to sing and a story to tell. Our stories reveal God’s bigger redemptive story. Join me today for the first in a series called Her Story.

Her Story

Life is a mixture of big, important milestones and small, everyday moments. We tend to focus on the big stuff, but the small stuff gives us those unhindered glimpses straight into the heart.

A series of ordinary, individual notes create a person’s lifesong.

I’ve known my friend, Charla, for a decade now. We’re pretty much family. She’s a teacher and a writer. She’s a listener and encourager and a knees-to-the-ground prayer warrior.  She loves Jesus, rides a Harley, and plays the tambourine like nobody’s business. Charla has blessed my life in more ways than I can count, and her faith has taught me so much about God’s goodness. This is her story.

It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon brimming with errands and routine. Zach Williams’ “Chain Breaker” came on the radio, so she reached over to crank up the volume. She was singing along and tapping the steering wheel one second and looking out her window at twisted metal and broken glass the next.

She never saw the car coming.

“The sound of crushing metal drowned out the sound of that praise music,” she told me later. After the collision, the words from that song continued to fill the silence with truth. “He’s a pain taker, … He’s a way maker, … He’s a chain breaker…”  As she let the words of that song bring her back to reality, she knew she was going to be ok.

She got out of her vehicle and exchanged stunned glances with the woman who had t-boned her moments before. The absence of injury invoked a flood of relief. Charla embraced the other woman and tearfully choked out, “God is good.”

It was all she could find to say.

Just three words. God is good. I’m not at all surprised. These words spill out of Charla on a daily basis. As she stepped out of her totaled vehicle, the only words she could find that day were the words of her lifesong.

She spoke those words repeatedly to me during the darkest, most painful season of my life. As I questioned the very goodness of God, He placed her in my life so that I could hear her say over and over again, “God is good.”

When I doubted that God really had a plan for my life, she told me, “God is good.” When I was angry and heartbroken, she told me, “God is good.” When I had no strength to pray on my own, she prayed for me, then told me, “Kelly, God is good.”

Eventually, I began to see that even though my circumstances were not at all good, God was still good. I had run so far away, but those words drew me back into His arms.

Her lifesong became my lifeline.

She wasn’t trying to cheer me up or fix me or take away the pain I was experiencing. She was just walking out what she believed. And I know that she believes it deep within her soul.

Her entire life sings, “God is good.

Her lifesong has strengthened my faith. I don’t know where I’d be if she hadn’t kept singing, though I never felt like she sang it just for my sake. That’s the beauty of a lifesong. It’s not manufactured or borrowed like a Hallmark message.

A lifesong is a belief we know by heart.

I asked Charla how she relies on God’s goodness every single day. Listen to these precious words of truth straight from her heart:

“I always look for His good, because it’s always there. My first reaction to absolutely any negative circumstance—from my own sin, disobedience, insecurity, doubt, envy, hurt, or fear to illness, addiction, depression, or tragedy—is to look for how God is using it for His good. It’s not looking through rose colored glasses; it’s looking through God’s faithful protective lenses. It’s about finding GOoD. Finding GOD—in all things.  God promises us His good, and God is a promise keeper.”

Exodus 15:2 says, “The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.” The NIV translates it this way: “The Lord is my strength and my defense.”

Moses and his sister, Miriam, led the Israelites in this song after God parted the Red Sea and delivered them from their enemies. God gives us a song to remind us that Jesus has completely defeated the enemy of our souls. Jesus is our song and our defense. The melody that resides deep within our hearts can protect our minds from Satan’s deceitful attacks.

A lifesong is our defense against the enemy’s schemes.

Charla recently turned her spare bedroom into a war room—a place where she enters into battle through prayer. Reminders of God’s goodness adorn the walls: prayers laid at Jesus’ feet, prayers already answered, scripture she wants to memorize, and words of truth she finds meaningful. She even displayed her busted mirror from the wreck to remind her of God’s protection that day.

war room

When asked about God’s goodness in her life, Charla shared the three questions she asks herself anytime she faces a battle.

  1. What is God teaching me?
  2. Where is the GOoD in this?
  3. How will God use this to help someone else?

Recognizing God’s goodness involves a strategic battle plan.

Charla’s lifesong inspires me to look for God’s goodness every single day. I’ve learned that it’s so much deeper than surface-level-looking; it’s looking with the expectation that we will find Him. It’s a confident pursuit.

I hope Charla’s story encourages you to pause and think about what spills out of you on a regular Tuesday. What song does your life sing? Have you taken note of who’s listening? God wants to use your song, so keep singing.

Your lifesong just might become someone else’s lifeline.

Kelly

Charla

For more words of hope, check out Charla’s blog, He Speaks We Listen.  If her story inspired you today, leave a comment and let her know.

2

Revolutionary Love

I’m driving home from the preschool, and there is a van in front of me with a logo on its side panel and back windows. The brightly colored arrows – a green one pointing up and a red one pointing down – catch my attention as I switch lanes. It’s a logo for an elevator company. Two seconds later, I hear the radio DJ talking about a new elevator invention in Germany. I chalk it up to coincidence, but for some reason, I find myself googling it when I get home.

My nagging curiosity leads me to something profound.

It turns out that the way we think about elevators is about to change. Cables are being replaced by a new technology that involves magnets. Big deal, right? Well, actually it is.

By the end of 2016, elevators will no longer be limited to going up and down. They will be able to travel any which way, apparently. This technology will revolutionize transportation, as well as our cityscapes. These elevators will open up a whole new dimension for building design.

Here is a snippet of the article: “A new technology has the potential to break elevators free from their vertical prisons, allowing them to move side to side, at an angle, even go outside into a city. German company Thyssenkrupp has developed a new kind of elevator that uses magnetic levitation, or maglev, technology to propel elevator cabins. Called Multi, these elevators do away with the traditional suspension systems that haul a cabin up and down a single shaft. Without cables, an elevator is no longer confined to a single vertical path.” (You can read the full article from CNN Money here.)

If you’re intrigued, watch this quick video to see more:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUa8M0H9J5o

A statement from the video about change resonates with me. There hasn’t been any relatively new change in this area of technology in over one hundred sixty years. That’s a really long time.

I wonder if this is how people felt about Jesus.

Four hundred years had gone by without any spoken word from God. Centuries had skirted by without any hint of change. Malachi recorded the very last words to God’s people before everything went silent.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:5-6

Then, after four centuries, Matthew 1:1 opens with the genealogy of Jesus. Between these two bookends- the last verse of the Old Testament and the first verse of the New Testament- God was silent, but He was still working. It shouldn’t surprise us that the vehicle He chose for the unfolding of His redemptive plan was family.

www.carriedbylove.com/revolutionary-love

As I read about this new elevator invention and watch new possibilities come into view, I write these words in my journal and underline them three times: A revolution is required. A revolution is required for change to occur, and Jesus was certainly revolutionary.  He didn’t revolutionize how we build our cities; He revolutionized something much more personal.

Jesus revolutionized relationship.

God wants our hearts more than anything, because He wants to revive us. His love alone is big enough and strong enough to revolutionize our marred concept of relationship. Jesus invites us to let Him change the way we live and the way we love.

Think about your most difficult relationship. Maybe you long for change. Maybe you teeter between losing hope and working harder.  Jesus came to restore our broken relationship with the Father and mend every last one of our relationships here on earth.

No relationship is outside God’s redemptive grasp.

Jesus came to propose radical love, extravagant forgiveness, and abundant grace. The love of Jesus has revolutionized this entire world. He initiated a new way to approach God and a new way to live in relationship with others.

The elevator invention is thrilling, because it revolutionizes how we build. But nothing compares to Jesus’ invitation to a relationship that can revolutionize how we live and love. May His revolution of love continue through each of us.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

2

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes

UA-75750908-1