Tag Archives | surrender

When Your Heart Feels Heavy

Last week I wrote about thanksgiving—not family tradition or the celebration itself, but the kind of thanksgiving that flows from our lips as praise to the One from whom all blessings flow. This precious truth from Psalm 8:2 has been on my heart ever since: 

A thankful heart can silence the lies of the enemy. 

But sometimes, embracing gratitude is a struggle. The state of our hearts can feel out of sync with the cheer of the season. We wonder why our self-ridden hearts get to be so heavy and forget that Jesus came to us as a bundled baby to free our hearts from every weight.

When my heart feels defeated and I’m tempted to fix myself or turn to someone or something to fix me, this beautiful truth from God’s Word draws me back to Him: We can do nothing apart from Christ.

I wrote this prayer during a season when the words from Isaiah 46 both convicted and comforted my heart. If you’re heart feels heavy today and gratitude feels more like a chore than a choice, I pray these words offer some hope today.

Click the image below to download your own copy of this Prayer for a Heavy Heart.

A Prayer for a Heavy Heart

Click image to download PDF of prayer

 // Isaiah 46 //

 1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
They stoop and bow down together;
unable to rescue the burden,
they themselves go off into captivity.

God, you name the idols, you call them out. You point out the ones I carry, as well, the things I love and serve, idols that cannot rescue, cannot love, cannot protect me. I name them now as I bow before you. I admit that these idols have weighed me down to a weary crawl. These are from you to be used for you and by you, yet my sin convinces me they are mine to worship, hold high, hold close. But I am yours; I belong to you. I was bought at a price. Love paid the ultimate ransom for my freedom. Lord, I’ve tried to steal your glory. Forgive me, Jesus.

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
and have carried since you were born.
Even to your old age and gray hairs
I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

Thank you, Jesus, for your love. Thank you for your ability and willingness to rescue my rebellious heart. You have carried me my whole life. Not a moment has passed without your hand guiding me. Your promise to continue carrying me brings a new peace to my heart. Your mercy is far beyond my understanding. You are my Maker, and you love what you’ve created. My heart is in your hands. These idols will never add value to the masterpiece you’ve made of me. You’re the adventure. You’re my prize. I choose to fix my eyes on you alone.

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
it cannot save them from their troubles.

It seems ridiculous to think for a moment that these idols could ever unburden me, save me, protect me, rescue me. It’s like strapping burdensome weights on my back and wondering why it’s hard to move forward. These idols cannot save, they cannot answer, and they cannot move me. They bind me useless, ineffective, and stuck. I empty my hands. Fill me with your love.

“Remember this, keep it in mind,
take it to heart, you rebels.
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say,
‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.

There is none like You, God. You are faithful and true. I’ve exchanged truth for lies, and I’ve worshipped the created rather than you, my Creator. Yet you made possible this great exchange to reverse everything we corrupted and tarnished: my sin for your perfect love. It cost you everything. You have not only carried me, but you’ve carried out your beautiful redemption plan. It is finished, Jesus, and I live in the glow of the resurrection, the promise kept, the Way made known to all.

12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel.

You initiated, Jesus. You drew near, even as my sin obstructed my view of you. You made this exchange possible for me while I was still stuck, immobile in my brokenness. In you I find rest and peace and freedom and salvation. In you I find purpose, joy, and acceptance. My idols have failed me, harmed me, drained me, and left me empty. But you, Jesus, have never failed; you are faithful. Thank you that I am kept secure in you. Thank you for carrying me in love.

Amen.

Artwork created by Julie Cassol

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{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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The Gift of Waiting

My next guest is a girl I’ve known since I was ten years old. God has wound our journeys together and revealed His character to me through her life of obedience. He has taught me so much through our friendship. Today, Julie shares with us all God is teaching her about waiting. I love the gentle way Julie encourages us not to resent the wait but to accept it as a gift straight from the God who calls us His beloved.

(If you’ve missed the other posts in this series, get caught up by starting here.)

Contenders of the Faith Part 3

The Gift of Waiting by Julie Cassol

The kitchen was a mess.  Between my husband and I we had managed to use just about every dish, pan, pot, and cooking utensil we owned.  In the midst of the mess, as we waited on various dishes to cook, I decided to whip up a posset.  Pinterest had just recently introduced me to the posset, a simple, three ingredient, tangy English dessert whose roots run centuries back and I was excited to try it. I followed the simple directions and within fifteen minutes I was pouring the sweet, creamy mixture into little glass dessert dishes so they could cool and set in the refrigerator.  I was already licking my lips thinking about enjoying this lemony treat after dinner.  That’s when I noticed the directions said to, “chill in the refrigeration for at least three hours or overnight.”  What?!  Three hours?!  Overnight?!  How could anything take that long?  Surely this posset would be ready before then.  But with each anxious check into the refrigerator I grew more and more dismayed.  The hands on the clock were telling me it was bedtime and the stubborn posset still wasn’t set.  I felt cheated.  I didn’t want to enjoy it tomorrow, I wanted to enjoy it tonight.  My heart was set on it now.  In the middle of this childish rant of disappointment it all clicked. I’m always trying to avoid the wait.

My mind flooded with memories from my past: all the Christmases I stealthily peeked under shiny wrapping paper before December 25th; the time I did a little joy ride in my sister’s car before I was legally allowed to operate it; giving my heart away before I could fully understand the consequences; and all the seasons of my life I spent trying to rush into the next one before fully experiencing being right where I was.

I’m currently in the middle of a season of waiting.  I don’t like it.  It’s uncomfortable.  It feels unproductive.  I feel exposed and small.  Sadly, I’ve spent most of this season praying for God to make it be over.  That posset helped me see I’m living for the finish line and trying to skip all the work that it takes to get there.  I’m rushing to get to the end to simply check this off my list, and I’m missing the point of why God ever put me in the race to begin with.  Isn’t the whole point of this for me to know Him and be changed by Him into something new?  Recently I’ve changed the focus of my prayers.  I’m asking God to teach me contentment and joy in the middle of the wait.

As I’ve shifted my focus from the finish line to Jesus, I’ve noticed how frequently God uses the wait to teach us. Isaac and his wife Rebekah waited twenty years for Rebekah to finally conceive.  Joseph saw two dreams at the age of seventeen and he waited over twenty years before he saw them fulfilled.  David was anointed by Samuel to be king as a young man and waited until he was thirty years old before he finally sat on the throne.  Esther and Ruth both waited until exactly the right moment to present a life-altering request to a man for help. Paul was blind for three days after his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus before Ananias showed up to heal him.  Every account in the bible has waiting woven through it.  The waiting is where the truth of our hearts is exposed. The wait is a gift, an invitation to know God in new and deeper ways.

You can do more in my waiting than in my doing I could do.

As I’ve asked God for more understanding and wisdom in waiting He lead me to Psalm 40:1, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.”  In the lonely, dark space of the wait we are able to see the truth of our faith.  The ugly truth was my heart was in no way waiting patiently.  I had been rushing around in vain, anxiously trying to make things happen on my own instead of resting in the promises of God and trusting Him to do what He has said. I kept believing the lie that the wait was because I wasn’t doing enough.  Now I’m seeing that the wait is the place where God does the most work in me. The wait is where I learn to surrender.  To let God transform the ugly parts of my heart into His beauty.

In the waiting I can embrace that I am weak and learn to live, move, and breathe in God’s strength.  The wait allows me to find Jesus as my hope and joy.  My trust is deepened and my faith grows as I learn to patiently wait.  Waiting is a gift worth receiving.  When God offers you the gift of the wait, how will you respond?

About Julie

About Julie

After living a life pursuing perfection while being stuck in empty religion, finding a real relationship with Jesus wrecked my life.  I’m a normal girl, living a normal life pursuing Jesus. Some days that’s easier than others.

I’m thankful for the people God has in my life that encourage and challenge me to keep chasing Truth and sharing my gifts.  I live with my husband of fourteen years and am learning how to spot the beauty of Jesus in all areas of life, especially the mundane.

You can share this journey with Julie at SpeakingBeauty.blog.

 

Final thoughts…

Whether you’re in a waiting season or not, we all wait for Jesus. May we shrug off doubt and the pressure to perform and simply surrender today. May we trust the transformative power of God’s love and allow gratitude to change our entire perspective this week.

Download your print of Jude1:20-21 here.

Follow me on Facebook and tune in for live videos every Wednesday at noon.  Let’s meet midday/midweek to talk more about how we can contend for the faith. Click here to watch the first three videos:

INTRO: FAITH

Part I: IDENTITY

Part II: SPIRIT

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Dream With Hope: Redeemed Ministries

Jesus invites us to dream with hope.

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

Perhaps you’ve dreamed this very same dream.

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

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

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

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

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

Simon traded his broken nets for a dream.

Continue reading over at the Redeemed Ministries blog…

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Consider Him Faithful

In the stillness, God whispers promise: I am making all things new. It can sound too good, too true. Incomprehensible even. The sacred words don’t always match what we believe is possible, yet every one of God’s promises finds its roots in reckless, radical love.

God’s promises reach the very center of our heartbreak.

Some of us are in the season of wait that follows rescue. We wait for restoration, for full recovery. We wait for normalcy to show its face once again. Whatever you’re waiting for, the sensation is universal. It feels long and unending some days. It’s the easiest place to lose hope.

As the waiting sets in, doubt rises. We flounder our way through impatience and wrestle clarity to the ground. Then we wait some more. We wonder if we heard incorrectly or if God just forgot. It’s an endless, exhausting cycle.

Sarah knew waiting, and Sarah knew doubt. I’m sure she imagined the culmination of the beautiful dream God planted in her heart over and over until she had perfected it. I imagine she grew weary of waiting, of wondering why God paused the way He did. “I will give you a son,” He had said.

How would she navigate that space between the promise spoken and the promise fulfilled?

An ellipsis, a series of dots used to indicate a pause or silence, is used when a sentence is left incomplete. Sarah lived much of her life within that empty pause and hollow silence. I wonder how many times she tried to fill that space or what she tried to fill it with.

ellipsis

Eventually she gave in, gave up, and did what every one of us have done in desperation: she tried to make it happen on her own. Her path led to heartbreak, disappointment, deep wounds, and multiplied pain. Our own roads always take us there.

God knew a better way.

He took Sarah to the very end of her child-bearing years just like He takes every one of us to the absolute end of ourselves. Sarah was the object of God’s love and blessing, and so are we. God is the active pursuer, the generous giver, the promise-maker and promise-keeper.

Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. Genesis 21:1

The two verbs in this verse connect the heart of God with the hand of God. He took note of Sarah and kept His promise to her. This promise was wrapped up in a bigger, more far-reaching promise. Sarah’s precious son pointed to the perfect, spotless Son of God who would fulfill every promise ever spoken.

Jesus completes every sentence and fills every gap.

The writer of Hebrews used a powerful phrase to sum up Sarah’s life. Despite all her doubts and failures and struggles and questions, “she considered Him faithful.” (Hebrews 11:11)

Do we consider Him faithful? Do we consider that He wants to not only rescue but re-create us? That He notices us, pays attention to our needs and desires, our hopes and dreams? That He moves toward us even as we doubt and wander and fear?

Do we consider that it’s not up to us to make it happen? That all God requires is we come to the end of ourselves and trust Him with everything? Do we consider surrender our path to freedom? It sounds so good and right and true.

I am making all things new. Revelation 21:5

God invites us to believe Him, to take Him at His word. Evidence of His faithfulness surrounds us on the pages of scripture, in early morning sunrises, in everyday stories, and in the dot-dot-dot of life here on earth. Consider Him faithful.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The War of Awe

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

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

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

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

War of Awe

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

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

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

God uses exile as a means to restoration.

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

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

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

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

What God begins, He finishes.

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

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

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

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

None of us can spark our own fires.

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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What Does Love Cost?

How do you really describe the trauma your heart endures when you pour so much of yourself—the very best part—into another soul only to find there must have been a hole somewhere or a hairline crack just deep enough that all your love ran right through?

Used up, gone, vanished into the thin air you’ll absorb as your own next breath.

If we knew the ending, would our own self-protection deny vulnerability?

Would we really have invested precious time, or would we have held back? God’s word tells me that every word spoken, every prayer whispered in faith, every bit of love poured out matters.

Even in the ending that I never wanted. Even when my heart tells me a different story.

Jesus laid out what it means to become His disciple in Mark 1:17. “Come follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Discipleship is relational. First to Christ, then to others. Following Jesus means a life anchored in Love.

Willing hearts distinguished twelve flawed men as followers of Christ. Their imperfect steps remind me that they were recipients of grace, just like me. Their questions, their failures, and their relational struggles remind me that God cares most about the heart.

Jesus’ disciples recognized that the results weren’t up to them; they were dependent upon Jesus every step of the way. These men had no idea what the outcomes would be, but they went where Jesus sent them because they learned to trust Him.

These twelve relied on Jesus’ compassion when they lacked love, and they depended on His provision when they had nothing left to give. Discipleship is marked by a willingness to learn and go and serve. Disciples of Jesus also willingly face rejection.

The book of Mark poses two types of people: opponents of Jesus or followers of Jesus. The choice was simply reject Jesus, or be rejected because of Jesus. The disciples, over time, would identify with Christ—with His rejection, His suffering, and ultimately, His death.

One of the hardest, most costly aspects of discipleship is a willingness to let our hearts break.

I’m struggling with this one today, because it seems too difficult, too much. Jesus knew He’d be rejected, but He loved the world anyway. He washed the feet of His own betrayer and willingly gave Himself though many would never choose Him.

My heart does not have the capacity to love like this, but Christ in me does.

That used up sensation throbs when there isn’t a relationship where one should have been or could have been, or where one used to be, and isn’t any more. Relationships can be messy, but we are tethered to the One who is relationally perfect.

Jesus will never lie or leave or exploit.

Anything God leads us into can be used for our good, because He is with us in it—even in that ending we wish we could rewrite. All the love God asks us to pour out is overflow from His unending love supply.

Love is never wasted; pain isn’t either. God uses it to mold us and transform us, to shape us into the likeness of His Son. Discipleship includes a willingness to trust beyond understanding, a willingness to go and give and live beyond comfort, and a willingness to love regardless of outcome.

What does love cost? Everything. It cost everything. It is no wonder Jesus said, “Come take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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The Simple Side of Faith

My man and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary back in May by taking a kid-free trip to Napa Valley. The gorgeous scenery and fine wine were just the backdrop. The quiet was everything I knew it would be and more. Getting away reminded me just how much I love hanging out with this guy.

Napa Valley

At each vineyard we visited, I caught myself considering Jesus’ words from John 15:1, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” I don’t often think of farming when I pour a glass of cabernet, but I learned that wine-making is a complex process.

The intricate relationship between the vine and the branches drew my heart to the sovereignty of the One who oversees the growth in my own heart.

The care with which the vine is tended, the way the fruit matures, and the process that manifests itself in a beautiful bottle of wine is anything but simple. Such extensive labor and creativity goes into making wine that we heard it called art.

We are the Father’s work of art, ever changing and growing, becoming more beautiful with time.

Later in the week, I grabbed my bible and read more of Jesus’ words in John 15, certain that He wanted to speak to me though this intriguing illustration. In just ten verses, He repeats the word remain eleven times. Abide, another interchangeable term, means to continue to be present, to be held or kept.

In my everyday moments, this looks like resting in God’s thoughts about me; it looks like claiming my identity in Christ, the true vine. When I take every thought captive and line it up with the truth in God’s word, I realize my part really is breathtakingly simple.

Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The times I’m most defeated, discouraged, and doubtful are the times I’m trying so hard to bear fruit on my own. Jesus says it’s not possible.

Apart from His love, nothing will grow.

I am the vine; you are the branches.

His love is the only love that’s pure and perfect and able to produce good in us.

Jesus continues, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love…  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:9, 16-17)

After Jesus describes His own extravagant love, He gives the command, Love one another.

It’s beautifully straightforward yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

It’s beautifully straightforward, yet I wrestle with the simplicity of it.

Jordan Feliz has a song called Simple. These lyrics resonate particularly well with my soul: “In my dirt you call me worth it…” Sometimes, it’s so hard to receive perfect, unconditional love.

This occasional struggle in my soul plays out when I look to another love to sustain and carry me, when I’m anything but present to the whisper of the Spirit, or when I all-out reject my God-given identity, because accepting God’s love means I have nothing to prove and my selfish ambition becomes just a hair skeptical of this lavish love Jesus offers.

Receiving God’s love doesn’t have to be complex.

God does all the work. All we do is trust Him, believe Him, and let His love carry us. Then we watch how it changes the way we love others.

God is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking. This part is hard, complex. The produce at the end of harvest holds endless possibilities and combinations. Every minute detail gets adjusted to achieve the desired outcome.

The farmer—that’s God—is responsible for planting, tending, pruning, and plucking.

Harsh frost, direct sunlight, and changing seasons pose all kinds of threats to the fruit growing on the vine. Farmers use windmills to move cool mountain air along down the valley so frost cannot damage the grapes. They even consider the angle of the sunlight onto the fruit in the planting process.

The branches are not responsible for these challenges; they are the Vinedresser’s responsibility, and He knows exactly what He’s doing. The fruit He produces lasts for eternity.

Jesus, the true vine and true way back to the Father’s love, took care of the complicated part for us.

The vine produces fruit; the branches bear the fruit. This part is natural and straightforward and overwhelmingly… simple. But our part also requires a response: obey. “Do what He tells you,” wise words straight from the mother of the One who changed water into wine.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Fruit takes time. Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit we can count on when we’re united with Christ: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 

This isn’t a list of rules, but a list of character traits, evidence of how deeply our character is altered when we put on the righteousness of Christ. The fruit of the Spirit isn’t a remedy for our sin; it’s evidence of Christ in us.

Christ is the only remedy we need.

Abide in my love and my love pours out of you.

Simple yet so complex. Profound in every way. Let’s leave the complicated part to Him and rest in the simplicity of reckless love.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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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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{HER STORY} 04: Dream Weeper

Underneath a canopy of pines, God took scraps of our stories and ignited a connection.  I met Alix during our family’s very first adventure to Pine Cove. Her camp name, “Dream Weeper,” would soon take on a meaning of its own.

Two years later, I’d sit down and listen to her unfold all the layers of her story. I’d learn gobs about this Jesus-chasing girl, plenty about my own heart, and way more than I expected about the God who authors every inconceivable dream.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

This is her story. . .

Alix is a rare gem, full of faith and brimming with passion. She struggled, when she was younger, with the way God designed her heart. Her enlarged capacity to feel anything and everything was both overwhelming and frustrating at times. Is it ok to weep? she wondered. Is it ok to dream? Is there space for how God wired me?

Passion seemed more like a burden than a gift.

She tried to ease her pain by wearing the mask of a bully. But when a car wreck nearly took her life her senior year, Jesus became up-close and real. Though Alix has no recollection of ever not knowing Jesus, His protection, love, and complete control over all the details of her life became tangible to her that day as she sat surrounded by wreckage.

This is her story...

College provided a fresh start, a new beginning. I would have never known that during that hot, August week at Pine Cove’s Family Camp, Alix wished she was somewhere else.

Though she accepted a staff position as videographer, her dream position (and her heart) was down the road at a different camp site where campers were kids not families. But God had a plan for her that summer at the Woods. As she gathered images of family after family, her own view of family began to shift.

Alix never expected to fall in love. But she did. Hard. A new dream took shape. Marriage. Family. But the love she poured out over the following months wasn’t reciprocated. It made no sense.

Why would God invite her into something He knew would only break her heart?

God told her not to run away. Instead, He asked her to sit with the awful sting of rejection, because He knew what would happen next. He never allows a heart to shatter without purpose, without meaning, without lifting something more beautiful out of the debris.

Over the course of that summer, God shattered Alix’s dream of marriage, so that He could show her what marriage truly is: momentary. She discovered how she had put her life’s dream and identity into something completely fleeting.

Too invested to turn back, Alix began a crash course on the depth of God’s love from the very center of the painful wreckage of her broken heart. It was a turning point in her love affair with Jesus.

Through the pain of not being loved back, God showed her gospel love in the most intimate way.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Her Story: Dream Weeper

After graduating, Alix landed her dream job as a designer at Hallmark. When the “dream fluff,” (as she called it) quickly dissipated, God led her to a private tuition-free school for kids who live in poverty. Urban Christian Academy brought a new kind of tension to Alix’s heart.

Again, God asked Alix to surrender her dream. Again, He invited her to check what tethered her identity. Her heart broke once more under the weight of His love as He called her to something higher, something painfully beautiful, something more.

The path to complete surrender is always through the wake of obliterated dreams.

Alix quickly went from volunteering once a week to volunteering twice a week to realizing that she couldn’t go a single day without seeing the bright smiles at UCA.  As she struggled to put words to what was happening to her, she said, “My heart… in the way I relate and serve and love people… comes alive here.”

As an artist at Hallmark, she’s created breathtaking pieces of art, but as a volunteer at UCA, Alix creates something else entirely. She creates space for kids with big personalities. Alix validates those very same feelings she once navigated by just showing up and offering all she’s got.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Two weeks after we sat down to talk, Alix sent me a text letting me know she had quit her dream job at Hallmark and taken a full-time position as Operations Coordinator at UCA. “Oh the stories God writes,” she said.

She’s handed over her dream of design to the One who’s intricately designed her heart.

Her Story: Dream WeeperGod is refining her identity and her passion and using her creativity in ways she’d never dreamed He could use. Here, Alix gets to answer her own deepest question: Is passion a burden or a gift? Her deepest source of pain is now the art she offers every single day.

In Jeremiah 29:11, God spoke His dream over His people who’d been hauled off into exile:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 

God told them to embrace both the truth that they were far from home and the promise that His dream for them involved a seven-decade-long captivity.

He explained why the suffering piece was so crucial in the verses that follow:

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:12-14.

God’s dream for His people encompassed that tension Alix knows so well. Every fracture He allows leads to discovery of the passion associated with surrendering our entire hearts to the One who promised us a brand, new heart in return.

God creates His dream home within human hearts, so that He is never far from any of us.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Until I interviewed Alix, I never noticed the same growing tension laced all throughout the book of Jeremiah. God’s dream, beautiful yet perplexing, juxtaposed with the dreams all of us desperately want to believe in.

Lying prophets tickled ears with abbreviated suffering and drive-thru-lane comfort. I probably would have been in that group chasing after these gently spoken dreams, mostly because they sound so much less harsh and so much more attainable.

But these dreams accomplished only one thing: God was completely forgotten. Jeremiah’s message spoke of something altogether different: Surrender.

Surrender sounds nothing like the fairy tales we clutch close.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

And really, that’s it, isn’t it? God’s dreams are impossible without Him, so we settle for dreams that exclude Him or box Him in or make Him secondary, just in case He decides not to come through for us. We struggle to fully trust Him without that back-up plan in our back pocket. What we resist more than anything is our own deep, dependent need for Him to show up.

And yet He has. God’s people—our spiritual ancestors—dreamt a mighty ruler would come free them and overturn every oppressor they’d ever known. No one expected a baby born to ordinary parents from an ordinary town. No one expected a man well-acquainted with suffering. They dreamt of a king who could keep them all from suffering. No one—not even those closest to Jesus—expected Him to die. Innocently. Unjustly. Willingly.  Humbly.

Yeah, He showed up alright.

Three days after He suffered the unthinkable, He showed up. And the dream He had spoken to them became alive. It was a far better dream than anyone there could have ever come up with . . . and it would require bold, blind faith to dream the dream, live the dream, and speak the dream aloud so others could dream, too.

When I asked Alix to define surrender in her own life, I fiercely scribbled every word: “My surrender to the Lord is an acknowledgement of His power, not an agreement for Him to proceed. He’s already writing the story,” she told me. “He’s not asking my permission to take control of things; He already has control.”

Her Story: Dream Weeper

Surrender is believing not relinquishing.

Alix’s story overflows with the deep soul-joy that accompanies true, unhindered surrender. Passion on every page dares us all to throw ourselves into a God-sized dream that will utterly jolt us to our core and fill us to our toes and leave us audaciously and forever changed.

What I love most about her story is how fully she trusts God as she sits patiently at the tip top of the story arc, high above that smoothed out ending. The conflict, the tension, the waiting for all of the things to come together—that is where she is soaking up all she can about the character of God, the beauty of surrender, and the reality of the gospel.

If you asked Alix what it is that’s captivated her heart, what it is she’s truly hooked on, I know she’d answer you in a heartbeat: it’s Him. Jesus. She’s hooked on Him. You will find Me, God says, when you surrender you heart. Jesus is worth every piece of our broken dreams we hand over. Every single piece.

Her Story: Dream Weeper

To connect with Alix and read more about her journey, visit alixcarruth.com.

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