Tag Archives | trust

Holy Ground

The road I take daily is an uneven mess of potholes and cracks. At least it used to be. A few months ago, workers showed up bright and early one morning to set up their equipment on either side of this road I’ve grown to mildly tolerate. I recognized the routine, because they’ve done it dozens of time before. They fill in the holes, yet it doesn’t seem to make the ride any smoother.

This time, though, they shut the road down temporarily. They allowed only one lane to pass by at a narrow crawl while they began a new thing on this road, something I’ve never seen them do in almost a decade of living here.

They covered the old road with a brand-new one.

It was time-consuming and inconvenient, and most days (if I remembered) I’d take another route to avoid that road entirely. When it was finished and all the workers cleared out their equipment and heavy trucks, it was as if there was never a hole or so much as a bump in the road.

Holy Ground

Photo by Maria Stiehler on Unsplash

A brand-new road was poured right on top of the old, broken one. The cracks have been leveled by a smooth, flat pathway. We can spend our lives trying to fill holes deep within us, when all we really needed is an altogether new heart.

For the last nine years, I’ve veered to the middle of the road every day to avoid a huge pothole right before the stop sign at the bottom of the bridge. Today I caught myself mindlessly swerving to miss something that is no longer there. Habits are hard to break.

God’s word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path, it’s true, but sometimes I turn to other things foolishly thinking they can light my way. Lies can drag me off God’s path, my own emotions and expectations can weigh me down to a stop, and other people and their plans for my life can distract and mislead me.  Like my driving habits, it doesn’t take much to slip into old mindsets I’ve outgrown.

This is how I will always be. Or I’ll never overcome this struggle. It’s just as ridiculous as trying to avoid a pothole that’s no longer in front of me. Jesus came full of grace and truth to renew minds and transform hearts. So rather than repeating accusatory (and false) words to my heart, I’m learning to replace them with these instead: This is how Gods changing me. I’m trusting God to help me overcome this struggle.

My identity is longer tied to my past.

Who I am is securely fastened to the One who bridged a sure path for my heart. I could never fill in these holes in my heart, but Jesus made every crooked path straight and every rough road smooth when gave me a brand-new heart. He’s paved direct access from my heart to the Father’s, a narrow way I’m learning to take.

Some days, I hate the inconvenience of it. I can’t stand the mess and the wait. I’d rather just go another way, avoid this road entirely. But in kindness and love, God keeps bringing me back to the very same road that used to be full of bumps and cracks and flaws. There, He invites me to learn His way, practice His truth, walk in His love.

A quick fix with no discomfort or inconvenience can seem so very alluring, but healing a heart and repaving a road hardly happen in a day. Jesus invites us to walk in freedom, and exercising that freedom requires time and trust. Every time we believe Jesus to lead us forward, we gain a little more level ground underneath our feet. And level ground is holy ground, to be sure.

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

 

Scripture references:

Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4 NIV

The path of the righteous is level; you, the Upright One, make the way of the righteous smooth. Isaiah 26:7 NIV

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16 NIV

Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5 NIV

 

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The Season of Singing

The news of my pregnancy with my third child initiated an avalanche of fear within me. Pregnancy in the past had not always guaranteed a baby in my arms. Those early days were spent leaning on precious prayers from others who stood in the gap for me. During that summer, God spoke this phrase again and again to my timid heart.

This is the season of singing.

The words are from a beautiful passage in Song of Solomon, and they served as the perfect reminder that God was in control, that He had been with me in my season of grieving, and that this was a brand-new season, one I had never experienced before. By His grace, God ushered in a season of singing, one that would replace mourning with a new song of joy.

He placed a new song in my mouth—not a new melody with new lyrics, but a fresh response to a newfound understanding of the depth of His love for me. Jesus interceded and named my season when I struggled to even mouth the words.

Once we could feel our girl move, we noticed this pattern. Every Sunday morning during worship, this tiny growing baby would go crazy. I’m not just talking kicks; this was excessive dancing and flipping. We would just look at each other and shrug with silly grins on our faces, tickled at God’s goodness.

I dared to hum along as I practiced trusting His promise.

The movements in my belly mirrored flutters in my heart. Each served as hard evidence of the power of intercessory prayer. We named this sweet baby Anna Joy. Anna after the woman in the bible who dedicated her life to worshipping Jesus in spite of her grief, and Joy because that just seemed obvious. Her brother, sister, and cousins nicknamed her Joy-Joy when she was a baby, as if one Joy wouldn’t suffice.

Photo by A & A Newborn Photography

Photo by A & A Newborn Photography

This little firecracker turned three this week, and she has made it her mission in life to extend this season of singing indefinitely, it seems. Anna Joy doesn’t sing “Jesus Loves Me” at a sweet lullaby volume; she only knows to belt out her song with enthusiastic dance moves. She has one volume: all the way up.

I have no idea what this child will do one day or how God will use her. She’s a toddler and oblivious at this age to God’s purpose for her life, but as her parents, you can bet we’re paying attention. We see all the potential, all the possibilities, all the ways God might use her. All the ways He already has.

If we can recognize this small glimpse of beauty far beyond a single child, then imagine what God sees in you, His precious son or daughter.

God sees all the beauty we cannot.

We hope and dream and pray, but we can still only imagine what God has in store. But He knows. He has scripted a remarkable plan. He sings over us when a song is about the farthest thing from our lips. He delights in who we are: His children.

On the night that Simon Peter would betray Him, Jesus spoke these words: “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)

Peter was appalled at the thought. He denied it could ever happen, but then hours later, He denied knowing Jesus, just as predicted. I wonder if Peter thought back to Jesus’ words that night and during the days that followed Jesus’ death. I wonder if he found a similar peace in knowing Jesus had prayed for him, that He saw beauty beyond Peter’s fears and failures.

God sent Jesus to intercede and become the beauty in Peter’s story. Jesus revived Peter’s faith on the shores of Galilee, and Peter became a mouthpiece for the good news. Peter leaned into the melody of God’s love and dared to let it change him.

Peter’s song still resonates today.

When I pray for my Joy, I’m reminded of God’s prayers for me. I remember how even in my struggle to trust Him, He interceded in love. He held my hand and led me into a beautiful season of singing. And He’ll do it again and again and again until the day He ushers me into His presence where my singing will never ever end.

Happy birthday, Anna Joy!

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A Stereotypical Scene

I carefully take each wooden figure out of the box and arrange them underneath the sloped stable frame. Wise men crowd in, shepherd accompany sheep and donkey. Every figure points to the tiniest among them. He is the center, the reason they all gather, the reason I take such care to recreate this birth scene in my own living room each year.

Others will unpack this same identical nativity set. They’ll haul it down from attics or pluck it off fully stocked shelves. Though cut from a pattern, it’s a beautiful scene.

I get to thinking about the process of cutting each block of wood, sanding and shaping each wise man, each shepherd, each baby Jesus in his manger. I consider the general mold that must be used. Cookie cutter stables. Familiar figures whose full stories remain unknown. This is the setting where divine Love intersected humanity. This is the site where a Savior was born.

Hardly a stereotypical scene.

Stereotype is reminiscent of the dated practice of printing by means of a metal plate. “Solid type” is its most literal meaning. Yet its negative connotations are the ones I’m considering as I arrange twinkle lights around this ordinary wooden nativity scene.

God reminds me through His word how the world crammed this story into unfair and untrue confines. Pregnant teen. Naïve fiancé. Illegitimate baby. Poor shepherds. Rich kings. Dirty stable. This one of a kind scene was perhaps one of the most misunderstood.

As people who’ve been assigned to our own share of stereotypes and burdened with painful misunderstanding, this nativity story offers much needed hope and a new beginning.

The world had never witnessed a birth story quite like this one and they would never see another. This nativity story was hand crafted by the Creator Himself and set in motion before time began. No mold was needed, no pattern to replicate necessary. This story doesn’t fit neatly into any tidy box, nor was it what anyone expected, but one thing was true then and is still true today:

On that holy night, God called this scene good.

God called Mary and Joseph into His plan. Mary fulfilled the bloodline and Joseph the legal lineage for the long-awaited Savior King. Both made an incredible sacrifice as they agreed with the words spoken by angels and stepped into God’s story. Their willingness to be used by God was more powerful than the constricting stereotypes thrust upon them.

No stereotype can prevent God’s plan to birth something beautiful in all of us.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 ESV

Found. Like a dirty secret kept hidden now precariously exposed. Except it wasn’t dirty, nor would it remain a secret for long. No, this was the greatest treasure to ever be discovered on earth.

Mary was not found out; she found her life in Him.

Joseph considered divorce, yet he knew that the punishment for women caught in adultery was death. Many would judge this birth as sinful and impure. The angel that visited Joseph assured him that what was conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit. Would Joseph risk dishonor and choose to believe God?

Mary’s reputation and her own life were on the line, and when Joseph agreed to stand by her, he placed his own reputation right there with hers. Over in Luke’s account we get to hear Mary’s response to her own personal angelic message.

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Luke 1:38 ESV Then Mary responded with song, a sign her heart was fixed on one thing and one thing only: God’s glorious story unfolding.

What seemed like a curse in the world’s eyes was God’s most precious blessing.

Mary and Joseph were misunderstood, yet they understood God’s message. They were lonely, but they carried the Savior of the world with them. Just as unsure of the future as we are, they treasured the good news in their hearts. They were judged unfairly and rejected by man, but chosen and honored by God.

Jesus would put his reputation on the line as well. He would be misunderstood as a young boy with gifts and perspectives no one else held. Rumors of illegitimacy would follow Jesus all the way to the cross. (See John 8:19, 41) His own brothers, James and Jude, (who would go on to write the Spirit-inspired new testament books that bear their names) did not believe Jesus was the Son of God until after His death and resurrection.

God chose the most vulnerable, marginalized vessel to birth His salvation plan. Though the stereotypes were harsh and untrue, Mary wasn’t sinless and she certainly wasn’t fearless. Mary was human like the rest of us, but she made herself available to be used by God.

God chose you to birth something extraordinary, too.

Your vulnerability, mistakes, and doubts are the very things that qualify you. We all need saving and God chose to save us by giving us Jesus. Our minds can’t fathom it. Fear convinces us we’re the wrong choice. But the wonder and mystery draws us in, and we take a moment to consider it. How can this be?

How can this be… because of me?

Yet it’s true. We can’t come this close to glory and turn back. Our faces shine and our hearts understand this one thing: much is at stake. So, we say yes. Yes, let your word be unto me. Yes, Jesus, have your way. Use me as your vessel. Birth new life in this humble heart.

God invites us to release our reputation, our plans, and our entire lives to Him. How will it look? A lot like this simple nativity scene. Humble, vulnerable, inconvenient, and misunderstood. Yet when the life and death of Christ are applied to this unexpected story, we see what we couldn’t before. We see a brand-new scene that’s part of a bigger story.

A gorgeous, one of a kind nativity scene that shatters every stereotype ever conceived.

John, the one Jesus charged with watching over His mother as He hung from the cross, recorded these words in red: “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26 ESV

May we all take our lead from Mary and boldly declare, I am the Lords servant. Let it be to me according to His plan. May we find courage to belt out our own praises to God as stereotypes, like Jericho walls, come tumbling down.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours.

Kelly

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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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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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Hiding Isn’t the Solution for Pride

Seven of us crowd around an empty table in the very back of the restaurant. Some sip tea, others coffee. We are writers and speakers, songwriters and teachers; we are women who love words. But something stronger wraps around our conversation, binds us tighter than any shared dream: the word of God.

This tiny group of artists who gather monthly is a balm of some sort that soothes my soul in ways I don’t even realize. Someone asks a question: What are you struggling most with right now in your writing? Soon a discussion unfolds, and every woman around the table agrees that her worst fear is her own pride.

Later, I drive home understanding the battle within me a little bit better, thankful for those with me on this journey. I know what’s in my heart—at least I think I do. My capabilities and biases, my motives and weaknesses. Sometimes, I forget God knows all this, too.

He reveals what’s inside in order to set me free.

He holds my hand and teaches me that I do not need a microphone to live a life of influence, but then He thrusts one in my hand anyway. For the next several seasons, I will feel pulled back and forth between two forces: step up and use my voice or run away and hide.

Our group eventually stops meeting as life takes us to new places, yet that artist comradery is strong enough to keep me moving when I feel like giving up and my identity feels pulled in a thousand directions.

My friend Julie started this blog a few months ago, and it moves me every time I visit. Her simple yet profound way of naming beauty causes me to exhale deeply and drink in God’s goodness.

Julie recently wrote about the difference between graffiti and street art. Her words remind me who I am in Christ and simultaneously tap into something lodged in my heart, a fear that runs deeper than I care to admit.

I still fear my own pride.

Will stepping up and using our voices somehow result in a great fall? Will we succeed in making His name known rather than our own? I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust my own selfishness, my own desperate desire for approval. I don’t trust me.

Why does God trust any of us with gifts for the benefit of others?

I’d rather run and hide, but today, Jesus gently invites me to take a step closer, to peer through the lens of His love to see how far He’s brought me. Julie’s words echo His words as one artist touches another in a sacred way.

“If street art is giving then graffiti is taking.  One is a sacrifice, hours of back-breaking work, that benefits the viewers and the other is a sacrifice merely for self glory, self promotion, and the thrill of an adrenaline rush. Both artists leave a lasting mark.  Both artists have a gift to share.  Yet one shares with no strings attached and the other makes the art all about him/herself.” (Julie Cassol, Speaking Beauty blog)

Maybe your art isn’t writing or speaking, but you’ve wrestled with the fear of pride, too. Maybe you’ve convinced yourself that hiding your gift is the safest way to dodge the potential mine field ahead.

Hiding is just another form of pride.

The world needs your art and your voice in the worst way. Our enemy knows that God’s gifts make this place better, more beautiful, and ultimately, reflect His glory. If Satan can’t lead us into the trap of our own pride, he’ll convince us to hide in a flimsy effort to self-protect. Both extremes render us ineffective. 

Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap steadfast love; break up your fallow ground, for it is the time to seek the Lord, that he may come and rain righteousness upon you. You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies because you have trusted in your own way and in the multitude of your warriors… Hosea 10:12-13

We sow righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Righteousness is a gift of God, not something we produce on our own. We seek, He showers. I know I’ve sat at that table “eating the fruit of lies” for far too long. Fear deceives us into believing we can keep our pride in check by ducking out of the spotlight, by keeping our heads low, our gifts hidden.

We can’t trust ourselves, but we can trust Jesus.

I’ve tried on my own to rid my heart of pride, but I’ve failed. Terrified of my own tendencies, scared to death that every time I share my art I’ll become a taker or glory thief, I’ve tried to prevent the fall that follows pride. I’ve tried to rescue myself rather than seeking Jesus, the only able Rescuer.

Before Christ, our only pursuit was self, but now His love has become our aim. When His righteousness rains down on us, we become givers of life, beauty, grace, and forgiveness. We bear His name and bear the fruit of His unfailing love.

God made us artists in His image—every one of us—to reflect His glory and make His name known. So your contribution is crucial to the kingdom. Whether your art is conversation or connection or custodial work, you have something sacred to share with the world.

Hiding isn't the solution for pride.

We can be artists who show up without a single string attached and share our art fearlessly when we make Christ’s love our only aim.  Above all, may we remember that it’s not about trusting ourselves but about trusting Jesus and remaining in His love. 

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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God at Work Within the Unchangeable

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

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

We live in the space between. 

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

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

We live in a metaphorical lion’s den.

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

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

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

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

Our response is evidence of our faith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I miscarried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s pursuit of us will never diminish.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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{HER STORY} 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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Two Words That Secure Your God-Given Identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s story cannot be silenced.

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

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

God gave Judah over to her sin.

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

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

God gave these men compassion and favor with the king.

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

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

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

God gave knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Your Identity Seems Compromised

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus loves you,

Kelly

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