Whose Table Are You Sitting At?

Friend, you might not know it, but you’re sitting at a table. You’ve pulled up a seat at one of many tables to which you’ve been invited. Every day, you’re keeping the company and eating the food of the table at which you sit.

There are many possibilities as to which table you discover yourself sitting at, because many have extended their invitation to you. And then there’s the one… the best table… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Maybe you’re sitting at The Table of People’s Opinion… Sometimes, when it seems that everyone is happy with you, you love your seat here. When all seems well and their approval keeps coming, it feels like this table is the perfect fit for you. You feel satisfied with the applause, cheery smiles, compliments, and “likes” that are being served. For a while, this seems to be a nourishing feast.

The thing is, at this table the food goes rotten all too quickly, sometimes – you notice – before you’ve even swallowed it. Before you know it, your brush with human approval vanishes. The people turn out to be fickle…and as quickly as the applause started, it stops. The entree that felt so satisfying in the beginning soon sours in your stomach as many decide that they don’t like you so much afterall. To keep your seat here, you’ll need to bridle who you really are. You’ll be continually checking the people’s thermometer to assess which version of you is acceptable today.

Surely there’s a better place for you…

~

Or maybe you’ve found a seat at The Table of Fear… There’s great unease around this table, but no one around you knows another way to be. Even when good food is served, you can’t enjoy it… because what if you look stupid while eating it? What if the other table guests think you’re weird? What if they reject you? What if you somehow fail at this gathering? What if you end up abandoned? What if you end up losing your seat here?

The thought of all the potential disasters immobilizes you. Your true desires have long been drowned under the weight of the “what ifs.”

This can’t be the only table with an open seat…

~

Maybe you find yourself at The Table of Personal Achievement… If you’re naturally driven, you probably accepted the invite to this table without a second thought. As long as you’re working on your next degree, up for your next promotion, or on the brink of one-upping another table guest, you find your seat here quite cushy. When awards and recognition are served up, you eat until you can barely breathe.

The only problem is, the glory of each accomplishment soon fades. And though you just ate like a glutton, you’re amazed at how soon your stomach starts growling from the emptiness. Just when your seeming feast has shriveled up, the person sitting next to you gets their big break…making your achievement feel forgotten. If you want to keep your place at this table, you better set your sights on the next goal. There’s no time to rest here, not if you don’t want to lose your seat.

Something about this “meal” leaves you wanting…

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Perhaps you’ll discover you’ve been sitting at The Table of Shame… You never wanted to be invited to this table, but the invitation came for you. And since you didn’t think you had received any other invites, you took your seat here. This meal never even had the illusion of being fulfilling. The food here is scarce, and even when it is served, you feel like you don’t deserve to eat it. So you sit there hungry. The table guests are no fun either. Everyone seems constricted, frozen, and fearful.

So often, you want to leave this table…but something invisible and heavy makes it feel like you’re chained to your seat. Every time you think of trying to break away from this horrible meal, this intimidating voice convinces you of how impossible it would be…and reminds you that you have no other invitations.

Surely, somewhere out there, there’s a better seat than this…

~

Maybe you find yourself at The Table of the Establishment… You’ve landed the seat you were taught to aspire to… at the table that appears to be impeccable…among the who’s who of dinner guests. For the longest, sitting here made you want to pinch yourself. Graduating from that prestigious school, marrying into that family, moving into that neighborhood, having that much in your bank account, being networked with that group of people. The meal at this table is five courses, with the best presentation you can imagine.

But by the second or third course, you notice something disheartening: this gorgeous spread doesn’t taste nearly as good as it looks. The food looks filling, but it’s not…and everything tastes a little like cardboard. You never would have guessed it, but this never-ending “feast” doesn’t nourish. Things feel strangely lifeless. And after all these courses, you’re still hungry.

There has to be more than this…

~

Maybe you’ve pulled up a seat at The Table of Comparison and Competition… Your ‘yes’ to the invite was easy once you realized how much better you seemed to be doing than most of the other guests. Through the first course, all was well. But then, as conversation continued, you realized these people weren’t trailing as far behind as you thought. It turns out one of them is smarter than you… and one of them has a house much bigger than yours… and the two right beside you seem to have a happier marriage than yours, and more talented kids. All of the sudden, your initial pride dissipates into severe discontentment.

Down the table, you can still spot a few guests who clearly can’t hold a candle to you… but they’re too far away for your comfort. If you want to be happy at this table, you’ll always be on the lookout for who’s trailing you, and on a constant pursuit to catch up with whoever you’re trailing.

There has to be a more peaceful place to sit than this…

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It could be that you’re sitting at The Table of the Past… Your seat here keeps you in the days of way-back-when… when the injustice happened to you, when your hope was shattered, when you were betrayed, when things fell apart, when you felt abandoned, or when you sank in the humiliation of failure. The guests sitting around you and the food being served are all familiar to you, and most of the time, you take comfort in that.

Sometimes, though, you feel a draw to live in the present…but your table mates have nothing to say about that; they just keep pointing you back to the past. And while you like the familiarity of the food, you finally start noticing that it’s stale…some of it even moldy. If you want to stay here, you better develop a taste for the old, the decaying, and the smelly. You can forget about anything alive and fresh.

Surely you can find a better table than this…

~

Or it could be that you’ve been sitting at The Table of Religion… The invitation to this table promised you life: a seat near Jesus himself. So you gladly came to the table. When you arrived, the table guests were full of such eloquent words about Him… and they taught you exactly how to read His word and how to busy yourself doing things for Him. For a while, you were enamored with it all. But now, it’s dawned on that you still haven’t seen Jesus at the table. And then you realize how odd it is that the guests here have to set the table themselves, prepare the food themselves, and do their own clean-up. And while the food is okay, it isn’t nearly as good as you thought it would be.

So you start to ask those around you where Jesus is, and when you’ll get to know Him rather than just talking about Him…and when the food will get better. You’re met with disapproving glares. One responds that you just need to read the Bible more diligently, while another offers you a few “principles” to try. No one around you seems to be bothered by the fact Jesus isn’t at the table. Something is terribly off here…

Suddenly, in the distance, you spot the One you’ve been looking for. Jesus locks eyes with you…and motions for you to come where He is. So while everyone’s busy cleaning up, you sneak away and run over to Him. He leads you down an unusual path, and just when you’re wondering where in the world He’s taking you, you come up on a breathtaking banquet table.

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Without even being told, you know… It’s

The Father’s Table

You look with awe and can’t help but to step closer. Seeing it up close, you realize all the other tables have been poor attempts to mimic this one. Lots of guests are already seated, but you can clearly see some open spots. How amazing would it be… you think to yourself. Then you see something that stops you in your tracks. The open seat in front of you has a place card with your name on it! The whole time you’ve been sitting at that other table, He’s had a seat saved for you here.

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Upon sitting down you notice all Three are present here – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Already, the Table of Religion is a distant, laughable memory. The guests sitting around you are as diverse as can be. They each used to sit at lesser tables too. As conversation and feasting get underway, your heart breathes a sigh of relief. You belong here. You’ve finally come home.

At this table, you’ve become part of the family. And you sit under a canopy of love, peace, truth, joy, and rest. There’s no striving to keep your seat here; the Father Himself saves it for you. And the food seems to get better with every single bite. But beyond the food, you’ve found something here that every other table lacked: a place where you’re truly known, you’re loved for who you really are, and you have no need to perform, one-up, or hide.

Each guest brings unique power and beauty to the table, and each one is irreplacable. Why didn’t I sit here sooner? And without Him even saying it, something inside you knows that this feast will never end.

As you keep discovering your place here, the old tables start calling your name, and strangely enough, you may consider going back to one of them. That’s the thing about the Father’s Table. He’ll never force you to come to it…and He’ll never force you to stay. But Darling, don’t go back. Don’t ever leave your seat at the Father’s Table.

No matter who chooses to live their days at lesser tables, no matter how many years you spent in the wrong company, no matter how many invitations you receive to go back to the way you used to live… Don’t ever go back. Stay seated at the Father’s Table where you are loved, wild, and free. Where truth is experienced, not just read. Where people’s appraisal can’t penetrate His shield around you. Where dreams are conceived and life grows.

“Listen, listen to me,

and eat what is good,

and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”

Isaiah 55:2

~

Photos by Brooke Irby

The Seed Inside Your Seed

I get pregnancy progress emails several times a week now. One that came the other day informed me of something pretty amazing. If this baby is a girl, she already has millions of eggs inside of her – all that she will ever have, in fact.

Thinking on this sparked something in me. If I’m carrying a girl, I’m not only carrying my child, but my grandchildren as well. And all of this before the rest of the world can recognize that I’m carrying anything.

Sometimes the majesty of creation leaves me speechless. That a woman can be carrying people inside of her whom she won’t actually see until decades to come is mind boggling. David’s words capture my awe: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).

I was sitting with my mom and grandmother the other day, and realized God was giving me a visual of this generational thing I’ve been meditating on. When my grandmother was pregnant with my mom, she was also pregnant with my sister and me. She was carrying my mom’s life, which would tell a story spanning decades…but my prenatal mom was carrying life of her own: the seeds of my sister and me – lives that would also span decades and tell their own stories.

At one point, we were all inside of the same womb. A few of us were just in seed form.

Now here we are, decades later… no longer seeds but full grown adults with stories to tell. So much life has been released and lived through my grandmother’s long ago pregnancy. There have been beautiful days and extremely hard days, belly laughs, amazing friendships, marriages, answered prayers, tears, and unspeakable joy. And all of it started inside of her womb.

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What strikes me in all this is how vivid a visual it offers for invisible Kingdom realities. There are seeds inside of a woman’s seed; something about this leaves me in speechless awe. But perhaps more breathtaking is the fact that this ‘seed inside of a seed’ miracle is the way the Kingdom operates all the time.

The Kingdom “…is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade” (Mark 4:31-32).

In the Kingdom, things always start in seed form. And seed form always entails hiddenness, smallness, and the chance of being deemed insignificant.

First, think about this in terms of pregnancy. “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body” (Psalm 139:15-16).

It’s appropriate that the Spirit’s words through David speak not of being hidden, but of being seen by the One who matters. These words blot out a lie so easy to believe when all you have is a seed – the one that says that smallness and hiddenness equal purposelessness.

Now, think about this in terms of life in the Kingdom. Everything God does both in and through our lives starts as a seed. This is true both in our coming to know Jesus [think how many seeds are sown into some people before they bloom, causing the person to surrender to Christ] and in living out our destiny in Him.

He has placed gifts, passions, and strengths within each of us that are meant to be developed and released into the world around us. But the call of God always starts in seed form. It’s this truth that many people miss. They’re expecting something big, visible, and established from the start…and when they can’t see it quickly enough, they give up and walk away from the promises of God. [Just imagine if we did this with pregnancy: “I thought I would give birth to an adult… this is only a baby!”]

We can be guilty not only of misevaluating our own callings but also of misevaluating others’ callings. We’ll look at people through natural eyes rather than eyes of the Spirit – and when we don’t perceive them or their pursuits as logical or numerically successful, we wrongly assume they’re floundering or have missed God.

The truth we’re missing in these assumptions about ourselves and others is that God always starts things in seed form. He’s telling a long-term, far-reaching story – one that will take quite a while to fully tell.

I’m reminded of Heidi Baker’s salvation experience. To natural eyes, that night’s altar call was somewhat disappointing. Only one person came forward in response to the preacher’s invitation to meet Jesus. What natural eyes wouldn’t have ever seen that night, though, is that this one person’s ‘yes’ to God would eventually shake Africa with revival fire. That one person just happened to be Heidi Baker, the woman who is now well on her way to fulfilling her vision of taking in 1 million orphaned children before she goes home to the Lord.

The Holy Spirit was a seed planted inside of Heidi that night she said ‘yes’ to Jesus. And that preacher could never have known the magnitude of the seed inside of Heidi’s seed. Natural eyes didn’t see it, but God already knew the seed inside of her carrried the promise of a million fathered orphans.

And it doesn’t stop there. Every orphan-turned-son or -daughter now carries their own Kingdom seeds, each with promise of its own. Friend, are you starting to see the power of a seed?

C.S. Lewis also comes to mind. God planted promise inside of him in the forms of a brilliant mind and a gift to write. Only… he started as an atheist. Those Kingdom seeds he carried were completely hidden for so many years. Then the light turned on, and his intellect suddenly came under the Lordship of Christ. As a Christian, his writing became a conduit that released life into every heart that encountered his words. The seed that was inside his seed grows in magnitude to this day.

C.S. Lewis left this earth more than fifty years ago… yet, by the thousands, people continue to be changed by encountering his writing. Every time someone receives life through his words, the Kingdom seed that he carried multiplies all the more…and plants new seeds of promise inside of each reader.

If I take the time to consider the vastness held inside of a single seed, I’m arrested by wonder. The Father, and His beautiful Kingdom of which we are part, is unfathomable. Unstoppable. Untamable.

And Friend, Heidi Baker, C.S. Lewis, and my grandmother aren’t the only ones carrying seeds. You carry your own. There are things the Father planted in you long ago that are waiting to be released.

Some of you have felt a stirring to get out of your comfort zone… Share your story. Pursue the degree. Admit your sin. Start the art classes. Get back into church. Give the friendship another try. Step up to the plate as a parent. Start volunteering. Be the first to forgive. Write the letter. Pursue adoption. Confront the issue. Go on the mission trip. Start the business. Use your gift.

On the one hand, it feels risky. And on the other, maybe you’ve felt that what you have to offer would be insignificant. Stop letting these things hold you back. Friend, the seed of God is inside of you. You carry promise. And the promise you carry holds promises of its own. There’s a seed inside your seed.

There are people who are going to come alive when you start operating in your gift. Your releasing what God has put inside of you is going to ignite His life in others. This destined thing He has for you doesn’t start “one day when” but here and now. Right where you are, with the tools you already have in your hand.

Friend, release your seed. By His empowering grace, give what He’s put inside of you to give. And just like a mother who carries and gives birth to her child, watch the seed grow. Watch it impart promise to others. Watch it release seeds of its own.

Only Heaven will fully reveal the magnitude of the seed inside your seed.

Dream About the Marriage, Not Just the Wedding

To the girl who’s dreaming about the day you marry your prince…

You’re the one with all the wedding boards on Pinterest. The one fantasizing about the perfect flowers, food, and favors. The one with the shiny new ring… Or maybe you don’t have a ring yet – or a guy for that matter. But still, you dream.

You dream about how breathtaking your gown will be, how handsome your groom, how gorgeous the ceremony, how wonderful the friends who will stand by your side, how perfect your first dance, how vibrant the colors, and how magical the send off.

Lovely, you’ve dreamed up a glorious day. No doubt about it.

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But can I let you in on something?

You’ve got something much bigger, much better to dream about than a wedding.

It’s called a marriage.

A day-in, day-out, lifelong journey of two becoming one.

You two will have the best conversations – the kind that last for hours and finally break through some barrier, taking you deeper into each other’s hearts. You’ll also end up arguing over the most random things. There will be weeks when long work hours keep you from seeing each other much. And Friday nights when take-out and time to veg are heaven on earth.

Unexpected car repairs that throw your budget. That quirk you manage to overlook for several months that finally gets on your last nerve. Job changes. Anniversaries. Figuring out how to split holidays between two families. The trips you save up for. Misunderstandings. Apologies. Belly laughs that sneak up on you out of nowhere.

Sometimes it’ll take everything in you to take your complaint to the Lord rather than nagging at him. Other times, you’ll sit stunned at the endless patience this man keeps showing you. Darling, if your eyes are open, you’ll soon see that he’s not the only one in this relationship who needs fixing. You’ll both need Him so desperately. I pray you’ll both recognize it…and never stop running to Him.

More times than not, your marriage will consist of ordinary moments far-removed from cinematic glamor.

Like the day your new kitchen table is ready after months of waiting.

It's official - the Hewitt cottage now seats 4!

It’s official – the Hewitt cottage now seats 4!

~

Or the rainy Saturday afternoon the two of you spend playing with your camera settings.

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Or the nightly facetime chat during work travel.

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~

Or the time you nail the perfect beach memory with your self-timer.

A 26th birthday never looked so good.

A 26th birthday never looked so good.

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Or the sky you stumble upon while biking that makes the 100% humidity and bugs flying into your eyes completely worth it.

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Or your spontaneous, at-home salon session.

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Or the time you happen upon the coolest his and her headbands.

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Lovely One, it’s on these ordinary days that I hope you’ll love him the most. This is where life is lived – in the routine dinners, photo flops, and new kitchen tables. Marriage is much more about t-shirts and gym shorts than evening gowns and bouquets. It’s a lifelong story of letting your hair down in front of each other and becoming truly known.

If you yield to it, it’s a journey that will refine you and open your heart to deeper love than you ever could have imagined on your wedding day.

Don’t mistake the ordinariness of most days for a lack of beauty. It’s the hidden days where love is a choice that’s fought for – that’s where the greatest beauty emerges, and the deepest love is forged. When crisis hits, and it will, let love go all the deeper. Reach out to wise voices who have been where you are. Don’t try to go at this alone.

And don’t hinge your hopes on a picture-perfect journey [spoiler alert: they don’t exist]. Hinge your hopes on His unfailing love.

A beautiful marriage will require so much more of you than a beautiful wedding day. Give yourself over to it, fully. Yield yourself to His story. No investment you make in it will ever be wasted.

And sure, go ahead: dream about your wedding. But for every thought you give to that day, give a thousand to the marriage. Let the wedding be the start, not the end of your dreams.

When it’s all said and done, Bride-to-Be, your groom will always be the prize to cherish. Not the flowers, not the ambiance, not the dress, not the pictures. My hope is that fifty years from now you’ll have walked through life’s highs and lows with this man… that you’ll really know him… and that you’ll still find your hand holding his.

Photo by Rachel Ackerman

Photo by Rachel Ackerman

First Trimester Craziness

Pregnancy is a wild, miraculous thing. At twelve weeks along, I’m wowed by the process…and the crazy things that come along with this process.

Like the tiredness. Whoa. The tiredness.

Earlier this summer, this was my biggest clue that something was up…though it took me a little while to connect the dots.

I had been having this nagging, wanting-a-nap feeling for several days and then one day it finally became overwhelming. I pressed through with all my might and got one load of laundry folded and two emails sent. Over an entire afternoon.

I was alarmed at myself, to say the least. I kept thinking, Here I am, thirty years old, just finished this ridiculously challenging degree, and now I can barely fold laundry and send an email??? What is happening to me??

I was pretty discouraged. It’s laughable now. Thankfully, I finally got a clue and told Andrew I thought we might need to get a pregnancy test.

Turned out I hadn’t lost my lease on life – I had a person growing inside of me! Whew!

…And WHOA!! This is really happening. This is real life. It took me several days to get my mind wrapped around it.

But my abrupt appetite changes faithfully reminded me every 60 minutes or so that this was in fact happening and was indeed real life.

8 Weeks [and 5 days :)] Not much to see on the outside yet...lots going on inside though!

8 Weeks [and 5 days :)] Not much to see on the outside yet…lots going on inside though!

Oh, the first trimester appetite…

Ninety nine percent of my usual diet instantly became disgusting.

We had a long interstate drive about a week after finding out I was pregnant. Andrew was trying his best to get some lunch inside this woman and was mentioning every restaurant we passed.

Chipotle? No!

Panera? Eww!

Outback? Gross!

Chick-fil-a? No way!

This went on and on and on. Finally, against all odds, a Five Guys caught my attention and didn’t sound repulsive. “Can you just stop there and get me a bacon cheeseburger?” Were these words really coming out of my mouth? I’m Miss “Pick Two at Panera.” When was the last time I even ate a burger??

It was delicious.

And that wasn’t my only burger. For about ten days, I existed on cheeseburgers, steaks, and chili-smothered spuds from McAlister’s.

But then the red meat phase passed and suddenly, childhood foods were the new thing.

Cereal. An old favorite I hadn’t eaten in years.

Grits. Mmmmmmmmm.

Pasta.

More pasta.

Then just the other day: A HARDEE’S GRAVY BISCUIT!

Mmmmm...

Mmmmm…

I ate these all the time growing up. These and doughnut holes were the joy of my life. But I let them go many years ago when I discovered health and fitness. I probably hadn’t indulged in a gravy biscuit since college. It was heavenly.

And that led to a Chick-fil-a chicken biscuit the next day. Around 10:40am I had a sudden surge of desire for one…but had a feeling they had already stopped serving breakfast. So I called to check, and sure enough, breakfast had ended at 10:30…but the guy helping me heard the urgency in my voice and put me on hold so he could check for any possible leftover biscuits. He came back with great news: he had found one and, yes, he would save it for me until I got there!  [#WINNING]  I made a mad dash for my car.

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I’ll be honest though. The chicken biscuit didn’t hit the spot the way the gravy biscuit did. There’s still something weird going on between me and chicken.

Thankfully, I’ve also had a much healthier go-to dish: Olive Garden’s minestrone soup.

In the last ten-ish days, I’ve bought no fewer than four half-gallon buckets of this soup. It’s a tomato-based soup full of several kinds of beans, a little bit of pasta, celery, spinach, and other veggies. It’s delightful…when they scoop it correctly. The last two buckets I bought were scooped by someone who obviously doesn’t value good minestrone consistency. The bucket was ¾ tomatoes and juice – no beans or pasta in sight. I had no choice but to return those two buckets. [Andrew went in to return the second bad bucket, in hopes that I won’t get blacklisted.]

Some of you are probably thinking it’s pregnancy hormones behind the soup returns. But my passions for justice and right minestrone soup consistency reach WAY further back than twelve weeks. Pregnancy or no pregnancy, these returns were inevitable.

In the midst of resting and figuring out this whole food thing, I’ve continued my usual exercise regimen of an hour a day, six days a week. What used to take an hour, though, has been taking an hour and a half. Only in the last several days have I started getting back to my usual pace.

Which brings me to perhaps the sweetest thing I’m experiencing in this wild new season:

GRACE

The Lord has graciously given me this season of pregnancy, and I’m going to receive it and walk in grace toward myself.

Workouts may take longer, my body may be demanding more rest, my appetite may be unrecognizable, and the routine I’ve enjoyed for years may be completely turned upside down… but all these changes are making room for new life. They are the Lord’s doing.

Something bigger than me is happening. And the best thing I can do is go with His flow and align myself with the Grace He is giving.

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Now I Get to Love You in Return

I’ve had the song below on repeat for months now. I do that. I stumble upon some worship song that touches my core and get stuck on it for months on end. The words get seared on my heart. [I hope you’re finding your songs, too, Friend. He has life waiting in specific songs for each of us.]

Anyway, here’s a few of the words:

I am overwhelmed by your affection…

The kindness and the greatness of your love

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Now nothing can hold me back from you,

Your love will never let me go

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Thank you that we’re living in Your Kingdom

Jesus, you’re the King upon the throne

Thank you for the way you’ve always loved me

and now I get to love you in return.

Photo by spaceamoeba

Now I get to love you in return. That one line – it sums up what walking with God is meant to be.

It strikes a chord. And not only because of its truth and beauty. But because it’s the opposite of what many of us were taught about the “Christian” life.

So many of us, in our fragile and impressionable state as new believers [or our at-church-every-time-the-doors-were-open childhoods] heard the glorious Gospel about this Risen Lord and Living Word… and we believed. With all of our hearts. And invited Him in.

But then, religion – in its subtle, yet firm insistence – crept in and dumbed down our expectations. The Risen Lord and Living Word became more about earnest reading material than here and now realities. The Holy Spirit remained a vague and mostly avoided third member of the Godhead.

And the idea of walking intimately with God – something that was alive when our faith was young – got exchanged for engaging in Christian activities. A good believer, we were taught [sometimes through literal words but mostly through unspoken “teaching”] is someone who gets really involved at church. Learns to serve. Volunteers. Does the mission trips. Rarely misses a service. Learns to tithe. Stops doing the overtly bad things. And maybe even gets brave enough to talk about Jesus with others.

Nice, well-meaning language surrounded this silent teaching. And everyone around us seemed to buy in. Knowing Him wasn’t really the point, but rather, engaging church life in the expected way. Over time, what we hungered for in the beginning was reduced in our minds to “immature” [ or even “non-Biblical”] thinking. Our spark was all but snuffed out.

Every now and then, though, the wind would blow and that spark swelled again. It might have been during conversation. Or a tiny whisper we thought might be Him. Maybe there is more to Him we’d think. Maybe He really can be known. Maybe I was onto something real in the beginning.

Friend, you were.

That spark inside of you is real. It’s from Him. And it’s that spark to which this song is speaking. There is more to Him… and there’s more for us.

“Now I get to love You in return”

We get to love Him back. That was His invitation to us from the very beginning. To love Him back, really. With all that we are.

To say ‘yes’ to this wild adventure He wants to take us on –

where we hear His voice,

are beckoned out of our comfort zone into the unknown,

receive life and true understanding from His Word,

move beyond understanding it to wielding it as a weapon,

are led to green pastures and quiet waters,

and enjoy conversational intimacy with Him.

An adventure where knowing Him, hearing Him, comes first.

And our “actions” flow from this place of intimacy rather than arbitrary, human obligation.

This is not immature thinking. This is the Gospel.

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons

through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will –

to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us

in the One he loves.”

Ephesians 1:6

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“Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal,

the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance…”

Ephesians 1:13-14

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“In Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near

through the blood of Christ.”

Ephesians 2:13

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“I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…

to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,

and to know this love that surpasses knowledge

that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Ephesians 3:18-19

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“Do not get drunk on wine…

Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Ephesians 5:18

~

Friends, He was delighted to make us His sons and daughters and has freely given us grace to live as dearly loved children. He marked us by depositing His Spirit inside of us – that’s the spark you feel. The little thing inside that tells you there has to be more to Him.

And if we’ll let Him, He’ll become way more than a little spark. He’ll grow into an all-consuming flame. He will fill us to brim with the real thing. We won’t need alcohol or any other false comfort for joy – we’ll be filled to overflowing with the Reality that little spark whispered of.

We’ll get to love Him back. By knowing Him and being His…and only doing from a place of intimacy.

~

Father, show us how.

Uproot any religion that’s crept into our hearts

and kept us from knowing You, from being free in You.

Open our eyes and hearts to what is really ours in You.

Grace us to get to know You.

Grace us to go on Your adventure.

~

~

Photo by spaceameoba

Drastic Measures: One Couple’s Journey to Financial Freedom

Meet my friends, Gable and Dani Burnett. They have taken a remarkable leap of faith in recent months that, I believe, holds promise for many.

It’s a story of financial slavery to freedom, but it’s also a story of radical obedience. Sometimes in our walk with God, it’s about baby steps. But other times, baby steps are not what He’s asking. Sometimes freedom takes drastic measures. And when drastic measures are what He’s requiring, the best response we can offer is a faith-filled YES.

Friend, take this story as a personal invitation…

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I recently saw a quote that said, “Good judgment comes from experience, and that experience usually comes from bad judgment.” There is so much truth to that. Especially in our experience…

Dani and I married two years ago, each bringing our own debt to the table. We never planned to get in debt, but it happened. $59,000 in the blink of an eye. Student loans. Two cars. A wedding and a honeymoon.

At first, it seemed so simple to pay back. For about a year, we paid slightly more than minimum payments. We didn’t sacrifice. I was making great money, and Dani was moving up in her job. We were enjoying the status quo. Our debt had become a pet that we tended to once or twice a month. We even found and purchased a beautiful home we loved during this time. It felt like we were achieving the normal, expected dream of finding your spouse, landing a great job, buying a house, traveling the world, and so on.

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We accrued a mortgage with zero money down. And for a while, we were doing just fine tending to our pet debt and covering our monthly expenses.

Then I lost my job in September 2015.

I thought I’d hop right into another job, but it wasn’t so. A few weeks became a month, and one month became six. Over time, this Chihuahua-sized debt became a Great Dane. And we began to see how much we were going to pay in interest. The lie that “it’s just 5.99%” seemed believable until we realized exactly what that meant [$8000 extra on just one loan]. We also realized that this “normal, expected” dream we had been pursuing came more from the culture around us than from God.

Through God’s provision, I did land a new job – with just enough money left to make one more mortgage payment.

With this new opportunity and lease on life, we knew the debt had to go. Which meant several possessions had to go, some of which were dear to us. We sold one of our cars. We got rid of some household items. But we knew we couldn’t stop there. We also sold our beautiful home. The one we had pictured living in for years to come.

Through the process of coming to these big decisions, we recognized that our house had offered a false sense of security and status. Only God offers true security. It wasn’t easy, but we were ready to let it go.

We moved into a small apartment and began pounding away at the debt as fast as we could.

Our motto – and the convicting verse that started this debt free journey – was Proverbs 22:7:

“The rich rule over the poor, the borrower is slave to the lender.”

Dani and I decided we had had enough slavery. We wanted freedom. So this has been our steadfast pursuit for the past several months.

The great news is that with much sacrifice, we believe we will be debt free in just 3 to 4 months!

In two years of marriage and debt, we have fully paid off $24,000 of student loans and about 70% of a $34,000 loan. Most of our debt repayment has happened in the last 6 months.

We share our story in hopes that it will encourage others to take steps toward freedom. If you feel overwhelmed with debt, we speak from experience: Get control over your spending. Get a budget. Learn to eat in. Be willing to sacrifice…a lot.

Great reward is waiting. There is hope and a better future for you!

~

Friends, there’s an invitation in this for us.

To let go of that thing to which we’ve been clinging.

To relinquish what we’ve been trying to control in our own strength.

To believe that what He’s asking will lead to our good.

To gladly give back the good thing He gave to us.

What I love about Gable and Dani’s story is the value they placed on freedom. Nothing was too high a price to pay for it. No possession was too precious to withhold from Him.

Too many times, we make the mistake of thinking that because God gave us something, we’re entitled to clinch it forever. It would have been so easy for Dani and Gable to think of their home that way. It’s beautiful. We love it. We’ve started our life here. We could never sell it. If they had bought in to this mistaken mentality, they would have allowed a house to stand between them and the life God is offering. Quite literally, between them and God.

Thankfully, that’s not what they did. When they heard in their heart what needed to be done, they valued that Council – valued His voice – more than they valued even their home.

Don’t miss this truth, Friends. His voice, His presence…This will always be the prize. No material possession could ever be. No matter which quiet waters He leads us to, no matter how great a reward He ever bestows on us, it could never compare to His nearness. The sound of His voice saying our name. The presence of our loving Shepherd guiding us along the path of life.

This is the prize of the human heart. And until we agree with that, live from that, we’re going to keep mistaking lesser things for the prize.

Another beautiful thing about their story is that drastic measures and radical obedience lead to abundant reward. God doesn’t require great things of us to offer us little in return. In His goodness, what we gain far exceeds what we lay down.

A saying comes to mind. “When we release what’s in our hand, God releases what’s in His.” Not in a slot machine kind of way, but in a “Give me your all, and I’ll take you a better journey than you ever could have come up with by yourself” kind of way.

Surrender to our Shepherd is the gateway to abundance. And abundance encompasses every part of our existence [emotional, relational, physical, financial, etc]…because so does surrender. You don’t get one without the other.

So, Friend, if you’ve been feeling the weight of something that needs to be relinquished to God, do it. In faith. With a glad heart. As worship. And with a posture of surrender.

Let Him take you on an adventure.

~

Thank you, Gable and Dani, for sharing your story!

As with all posts, I encourage you to share this if it spoke to you. The need for financial freedom touches most lives in our midst, and these might just be the words that will liberate someone you know!

~

Top photo by Blink Photographic

It’s Only a Matter of Time

Have you ever had a word branded onto your heart by God? A promise about what will be? A glimpse of some wild thing He’s going to do? A long-time prayer He’s going to make a reality?

Yeah. Me too.

I love this about Him. Sometimes He speaks these promises through the pages of Scripture. We’re in a passage we’ve read a thousand times, and suddenly, it’s different. The Spirit breathes on it, and that familiar passage is now alive and bursting with a specific promise for us.

Other times, we’re simply hit with an unexpected surge of clarity. Some veil is lifted, and all of the sudden, we can see how a piece of our lives is going to play out.

These Spirit-breathed promises wash over us with hope for the future. And Grace to steady ourselves in Him… because the reality of our lives looks very different from the glimpse Heaven just gave us.

Photo by mumucs

That’s the thing about His promises.

Between our current reality and the promise stands a huge gap. Harder still is the fact that the gap usually seems to widen after He speaks the promise.

It already felt far-fetched…then after the promise is spoken – oftentimes – all hell breaks loose.

Heaven allowed us to glimpse a glorious door that will one day open. The addiction that will one day be obliterated. The debt that will one day be cancelled. The infirmity that will one day be healed. The relationship that will one day be restored. A tidal wave of expectation rushed over us. And now, so soon after, that door stands closed.

Closed and locked.

Deadbolted.

Photo - locked door by alh1

It’s here, in this fragile place where it seems all of hell has been unleashed against the promise, that we’re tempted to let go of it. To discard His word as wishful thinking. To see Him as unfaithful, unloving, and untrue to His word.

But Friend, don’t do it. Don’t let go.

If the Father has promised you something, rest assured:

it’s only a matter of time.

Hell will fight it. Opposition will come. The circumstances of life will contradict it. But we should expect this. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need a promise.

Current realities need no promise. I don’t need a whisper from Heaven to tell me that I will be 5’2” one day. That’s already the case. There’s no opposition there. No faith required for me to believe that this will manifest.

This sounds ridiculous, I know. But it’s easy to miss this obvious truth when the battle is raging. We heard the Father speak, we got a peek at what will be. But now, everything around us is shouting how foolish we are to believe what God said.

But Friend, this gap – the one between our current reality and the promise – it has existed from the very beginning of the Story…

Humanity didn’t take long to screw things up. We made it all of two chapters. By Genesis 3, Adam and Eve decided they knew more than God and took matters into their own hands. Evil infected the universe…and humanity, hopeless in its own efforts, needed a promise.

And, oh, what a promise we got. Genesis 3:15 tells of the glorious Seed who would come and crush the head of the enemy. Who would overturn, overthrow, and destroy the adversary of God’s image-bearers.

It was the Promise of the ages. But then there was the gap – the one between the promise and the manifestation. For centuries, the story of humanity seemed to be getting worse and worse. Rebellion. Witchcraft. Murder. Rape. Every form of depravity imaginable.

But it was only a matter of time.

God’s Seed was finally planted inside of Mary. It was the beginning of the enemy’s undoing. Jesus put humanity’s promise on display – healing the sick, setting captives free, and speaking the Word of Truth.

But then He was killed. The Seed, the long awaited Promise, humanity’s only Hope of rescue, was dead.

Genesis 3:15 was sounding pretty mistaken at this point.

But it was only a matter of time.

That Seed – that Glorious Seed – He descended into the depths during those three days. Hell unleashed its fury against the Promise of the ages. And just when that Promise seemed like the epitome of foolishness, death, and nonexistence, it was resurrected into full manifestation.

The smaller stories within God’s one, big story have this same gap between current reality and spoken promise.

Abraham was promised a child when he and Sarai were as good as dead (Genesis 17). And years passed after Isaac was prophesied. But it was only a matter of time.

Joseph was given dreams about his destiny (Genesis 37), only to live the next several years in a reality that seemed to totally contradict those dreams. But it was only a matter of time.

David was a young man when he was anointed as king of Israel (I Samuel 16). Years and lots of contrary circumstances stood between the spoken promise and its fulfillment. But it was only a matter of time.

Friend, no amount of time or opposition has ever stopped the promises of God.

Some of you reading this have been given glimpses of things God is going to do. He showed you a healed body. A spouse. A college degree. A restored relationship. A child. Freedom from addiction. A calling. A dream.

You’ve seen a door that will one day be open. And through its cracks, you’ve seen light shining from the other side.

Photo by Tom Wachtel

But it’s been a looooong journey. The promise was spoken years ago, and you feel further away from it now than you ever have. At times, you’ve been hurt, disappointed, and wearied from the wait.

Friend, I’m here to tell you,

it’s only a matter of time.

If the Father told you something, He will do it. He finishes what He starts. And He will never forget what He told you. Even if you do forget.

That deadbolt will be unlocked. It’s only a matter of time until Heaven blows that door off its hinges.

Photo by Mark Locchelli

It’s only a matter of time.

~

In order of appearance, photos by: mumucs, alh1, Tom Wachtel, & Mark Locchelli

The Fragrance of Heaven

I was sitting on our porch reading, relishing a gorgeous spring evening. As always, I became engrossed with the words, fixating my mind on the material.

Suddenly, in the midst of my focus, a faint fragrance got my attention. Then it grew stronger. Something was being grilled a few houses away, and the scent had made its way to me.

Burgers. Yum. Now I’m hungry.

It’s amazing what a fragrance can do. I was doing just fine reading my book, and then the smell of burgers, carried by the wind, found its way to our porch.

Carried by the wind.

What I love most about the created order is how intricately God’s story is woven into every detail of it. He fashioned our universe, and all of it – from the tiniest particles to the vastest galaxies – holds truth about His kingdom.

Both the Hebrew [רוח] and Greek [πνεύμα] words for Spirit/spirit link the term with breath and wind.

There’s something to this… There’s something to discover about the Spirit by observing the wind.

Wind itself is invisible. But its effects can be seen and felt. We don’t debate the wind’s presence when our hair is blowing furiously. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there. We feel it, and we see its results.

Photo by Bill Lapp

Wind is also unpredictable… It can’t be controlled. Try to stop the wind. It can’t be done. We may as well try to stop the waves of the sea.

There are gentle winds and fierce winds. The ones that are barely noticeable and the ones that nearly knock us off of our feet.

Photo by Giusi Barbiani

Wind is also a carrier of realities we can’t see. This might be its most profound attribute.

Back to the burgers. Sitting on my porch several hundred yards away from the grill, I couldn’t see them. What I saw was a book, porch furniture, and our back yard. Yet I knew with certainty that burgers were nearby because the wind carried their fragrance to me. Suddenly, I was aware of a reality I couldn’t see with my eyes, all because of the wind.

This is exactly how the Spirit invades our lives. He blows into our midst, making invisible realities known to us. This is how the human heart comes into fellowship with Jesus.

Heaven’s fragrance makes its way to us, and the Gospel – the glorious Kingdom story – is unveiled. Suddenly, what we see with our natural eyes holds much less weight than the realities the Wind has whispered to us.

Heaven blows into our midst, assuring us of Kingdom realities. We grab hold of Him, and become His.

But it gets better. Wilder.

When we’re His, He lives inside of us. We are carriers of His Spirit. The wind of Heaven can now blow through our lives, emitting His exquisite fragrance wherever we go.

“…thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ

and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”

II Corinthians 2:14

The beauty and power packed into these words – it’s almost too much. We are carriers of His Spirit – He uses us, His children, to spread Heaven’s fragrance and make Himself known.

Here’s the thing though. Fragrance is spread through wind – that untamable thing we can’t control. So if we distance ourselves from its blowing after we become His, we’ll end up settling for a life of stagnation. A life we think we can control – a life that’s safe from winds that might grow too fierce and sweep us off of our feet.

I’m afraid this is the life most of us have been taught to embrace. Yes, He blew into our lives way back when. And yes, we became His. But then we shied away from the wind because religion convinced us to go for a life we could manage. A life that “makes sense.” A life that is culturally acceptable. A life that’s logical. A life void of risk and passion.

We’re waiting on “one day” in Heaven… when Heaven lives inside of us.

Beloved, the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives inside of us.

(Romans 8:11)

Yes, these words hold a “one day” promise. But they speak of an equally true here-and-now reality.

The Spirit… the Breath… the Wind of Heaven… Beloved, we carry these things. And we’re invited to be immersed in them. Baptized. Consumed.

And when we are, we’ll carry His aroma. Our lives will speak of a much greater reality than can be discerned with the natural senses. We won’t have control, nor will we have all the answers. We’ll have something much better:

His wind in our sails,

His breeze on our face,

and the holy adventure for which we were born.

Wind Pic - Camilla Soares

Do it, Father! We ask you. Blow into our lives again with Heaven’s realities. Sweep us off of our feet. Infuse us with your fragrance, and blow upon us all the more so your fragrance – the Fragrance of Heaven- will spread in the earth.

~

In order of appearance, photos by Bill Lapp, Giusi Barbiani, & Camilla Soares

The Most Stunning Skies…and the Story They Tell

It was on our flight to Florida just three days ago. We were a few hours into what had already been a great experience. It was my first private flight, and our low altitude kept the ground in view, providing continuous beautiful scenery [and, thus, excuses to grab my camera :)].

In the final leg of the flight, all of the sudden, we were overtaken by the most glorious sky. Colors and dimensions, clouds and light, all merged to create an exquisite masterpiece.

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Breathtaking is the word that comes to mind. It was one of those encounters with beauty that leaves you stunned by God’s extravagance.

The Nikon was snapping uncontrollably. What a gift for the start of this trip.

While discussing the sky, the point came up that clouds and post-storm skies always make for the most gorgeous sunsets. A point I’ve found myself pondering as I’ve admired some evening skies in recent months.

There’s a story these skies are telling – about life in the Kingdom and what it looks like to follow Jesus.

A story in which extravagant beauty emerges from conflict and opposition.

In order to have the splendor of post-storm skies, there has to be a storm. There has to be tension. Uncertainty. Danger. Imperfection. And bumps.

Turbulence comes with these conditions. We got ample experience with the bumpiness of beautiful skies just before landing. There was lots of quiet and many prayers during that stretch. But the bumps were worth the beauty.

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And they are a required part of the story. In the Kingdom, tension and beauty are inextricably connected.

As a whole, we are obsessed with things being perfect. Most of us spend endless time and energy trying to calculate our lives in an attempt to pursue this elusive [and false] thing called perfection.

Maybe some of us don’t think of it as perfection. We simply want our lives to run “smoothly.” Whatever we call it, the falsehood is the same.

Because the truth is, life is not perfect. Families are not perfect. Relationships often bump into terrain that is anything but smooth.

And the natural response when turbulence comes is to attempt to escape it. Make it stop. Pray it into oblivion.

We see tension as a problem to be eliminated. We don’t want the inconvenience of conflict. We want smoothness.

But Friends, cloudless, stormless skies never offer the deepest beauty. They fall short of God’s extravagance. They don’t bring us to our knees. They don’t cause the seed inside of us to grow.

Beyond being elusive and false, perfection is also boring. It has no need of God because it’s managing just fine with its own calculations and non-opposition. No growth, just maintenance of the status-quo. No authentic Life, rather a settling for the counterfeit.

The most stunning skies tell a much better story than smoothness. A story full of imperfection, yes. But imperfection that’s being molded into a masterpiece by the light of Christ.

The light of Christ. The central component.

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What made that Florida sky so beautiful was the shining of the sun upon the clouds and “imperfections.” The sun illuminated the mixture of shapes, colors, and shadows, making it a masterpiece.

If all of those same elements were suspended in a pitch black sky, no beauty would be visible. The potential would remain unreached and hidden because it wasn’t illuminated. Problems, turbulence, and imperfection alone hold no value.

But, oh, when they are infused with the light of Christ!

It’s no accident that Jesus is called “the true light that gives light to every man” (John 1:9). His light is the essential element that illuminates and informs the chaos of our lives, making our lives His masterpiece.

“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Ephesians 5:13)

He will shine on our mess. And because He lives inside of those who are His, He will shine through us as we navigate the bumps, turmoil, and imperfections of our lives.

Following Jesus is a mixture of hardship and breakthrough. Tension, yet peace. Weightiness and glory.

There were moments in our flight when we were so immersed in a cloud that it was all we could see. The visibility of what lay ahead was reduced to nothing. But then, suddenly, we were out of the cloud and the big picture was in view again. This happened repeatedly.

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The masterpiece sky was present even when we were totally immersed in a cloud. The sun was still shining – we just couldn’t see it for a while.

The sun’s light was a constant, even in the midst of rain, bumps, smoothness, clouds, clarity, and changes in direction.

So it is with the Son. If we are in Him, His light is our constant. He illuminates the masterpiece in the making as we hold suffering and joy, warfare and peace, in tension. And His craftsmanship is most evident when His light radiates in the midst of imperfection.

Step into the Awkwardness

It was a few weeks ago. I was almost home after running errands all afternoon. Once home, I would have the perfect amount of time to get things settled around the house before leaving for book club.

As I was driving along, delighted with how well the day’s timing was working out, my eye caught a woman walking alongside the road. I felt something tug on me when I saw her.

I knew what I needed to do. So without a second thought – and being fully aware that I had no idea what this interaction would hold – I quickly did a u-turn.

[Now, I know what some of you are thinking. That’s dangerous. A woman shouldn’t be picking up some stranger off the road. Yes, I know about all the dangers. This is not a habit. In fact, if I’ve ever done this before at all, it’s been many years ago. But back to the story…]

I’m pretty sure my u-turn upset someone driving nearby – because I heard a horn honking as I was approaching the woman. That’s a little awkward. Oh well…

I rolled down the window, said ‘hi’, and asked if she needed a ride. She immediately said ‘yes’ and started opening the car door. Wow. That was quick. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea…

But I was committed at this point. So I moved my stuff to the backseat, and she got in. Her quick response surprised me. I’m sure I was noticeably guarded when we first drove off.

Between doing this so spontaneously, getting honked at for my abrupt u-turn, and letting what seemed to be an overly eager stranger into my car, I was feeling a little awkward.

After exchanging names, she told me the easiest place to drop her off would be the QT at Hearon Circle. Excellent. All we needed to do was hop onto I-85 and we would be there in less than five minutes.

Only… I was a little flustered by the awkwardness of the situation and was trying my best to still make conversation with this woman. I won’t even tell you the ridiculous, round-about way that I finally got us onto 85.

At some point during my absurd route to the interstate, Jasmine* looked over at me, obviously concerned, and asked, “Are you from around here???”

I could only laugh. Here I was, uneasy about what she might be up to – while she was equally rattled by what I might be up to!

I assured her that I was a Spartanburg native with a very weak sense of direction [which grows all the weaker when put on the spot].

Finally, we made our way onto 85. And soon afterward, our conversation found its rhythm.

Before I knew it, she was telling me about her regular walk to and from work and the strong responsibility she feels to be a hard worker. “We’ve been given these hands to do something… I don’t want hand-outs if I can do something myself.” In fact, she had just finished an overtime shift at work when I picked her up.

Then she mentioned her church home. Which easily brought her to the subject of tithing. Tithing. Of all the subjects we could have ended up discussing, this is not one I would have guessed. She had strong convictions about obeying God in this way.

I was so pleasantly surprised to hear all of this pouring out of her. Then, she said what really astounded me: “We don’t give to a person, or a church, or an organization. We shouldn’t see it that way. We give to God. And even if the people in charge make bad choices with the money, we are still blessed because we obeyed.”

Her words were exactly – nearly verbatim – what Andrew and I had been discussing just days earlier. It was wild, almost as if she had been listening in on us.

By the time we pulled into QT, I felt like I had a new friend. It was clear we were both encouraged by our encounter.

As I drove home, the Lord re-whispered something I’ve been hearing Him say for months:

Step into the Awkwardness

Don’t limit your ‘yes’ only to things you understand or think you can control. Be willing to follow me wherever I want to take you, even if you get a clumsy start. Even if you do it shaking. Even if you feel foolish.

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I’ll meet you there, in the awkwardness. Where you’re in over your head. Where you feel ill-equipped. When you can’t even figure out how to get on the interstate. I’ll come through for you. I’ll give you the words to say. My grace will empower you to go into uncharted territory.

Time and time again, I feel Him drawing me into the awkwardness. Into the unfamiliar. To situations I don’t have a grasp on. To new and, sometimes, strange places.  To answer the phone call.  To start the conversation.  To confront the issue.

And each time I follow Him there, I find gifts waiting on the other side of awkwardness. And the unexpected truth that my stumbling and fumbling can cause me to bump right into His goodness.

~

*Name changed

** Photo by Andy Rothwell

How Seminary Has Shaped Me

The more I learn, the less I know.

I’ve grown to love that saying. It feels truer now than it ever has.

And I’m pretty sure this is the opposite of what most would expect to feel after 3 or 4 years of intensive study. It sure isn’t what I expected to feel. I mean the degree has the word “master” in it. Surely I’m supposed to have mastered something by now…

Only, I haven’t. I haven’t begun to master anything. I guess this leads to the first way I’ve been shaped by this season:

I’ve grown to see this time of study less as the acquisition of knowledge

and more as the gaining of tools.

Seminary has equipped me by giving me a full tool belt that I know how to use. I will spend the rest of my life using these tools to become a better student of Scripture.

In some people’s minds, you ought to be able to ask a seminary grad/minister/pastor anything about Scripture and simply wait a few short seconds for the “right” answer to come flowing off their tongue. But I’ve found that this is a big misconception.

In fact, once you’ve studied a little, you become aware of complexities which go undetected in a surface reading of Scripture. Those complexities can’t be given justice in an elevator conversation. I had it happen just the other day – I was presented with a loaded question with an assumed window of 2-3 minutes to answer. I responded, “Let’s do this over dinner.”

So back to my point. Seminary is more about gaining tools than acquiring the most exhaustive amount of knowledge. Yes, I have gained a lot of knowledge in the process. But let’s be honest. It barely scratches the surfaces of all there is to know of Scripture, let alone of the God who wrote it.

The tools I’ve gained are things like Hebrew, Greek, an understanding of exegesis [a term I couldn’t even define before seminary – so you’re not alone if you have no idea what I’m talking about!], and a much better grasp of the one, big narrative that Genesis-Revelation is telling.

I’m carrying these tools with me into the future and will keep using them to deepen my understanding of the Word, and more importantly, my awe of Him. And speaking of awe…

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Through seminary,

I’ve developed a deep admiration for Biblical scholars and the work they do.

Not until I sat under a few did I realize what rare treasures in our midst Biblical scholars are. These people have spent their lives – as in, decades – studying the languages, history, and culture surrounding the Scriptures.

I remember one of my earliest realizations of the magnitude of their work. I was still a pretty new student at Gordon-Conwell when someone mentioned what our professor’s doctoral dissertation had been written about: shame and honor in the book of Esther. Most dissertations are a couple hundred pages – so upon hearing this, my head was spinning. I couldn’t imagine pulling together a paragraph on shame and honor in the book of Esther, let alone a few hundred pages! My mind was blown. In a very small way, I was starting to understand the level of discipline, sacrifice, and study that scholars engage in as a lifestyle.

That initial realization kept expanding with each new semester. I was amazed all over again with each new professor I sat under. Each was unbelievably sharp – and not just knowledgeable and well-spoken, but worshipful. That’s what makes these people so rare. They study for endless hours and give their very lives to it because they cherish the Word. They love the God who authored it.

There are so many Biblical scholars out there who don’t love Jesus and don’t see Scripture as the Word of God. They’ve got all the knowledge, but they’re missing the Holy Spirit. They’re missing the worship. That’s what makes the scholars I’ve sat under such gems. There aren’t many of them in the world.

I’ve grown to see their study as a beautiful act of worship. “Exegesis is worship,” Dr. Petter told us repeatedly. It’s true. Pouring one’s life out in pursuit of understanding the original text of Scripture is worship. I remember another one of my professors, Dr. McDowell, saying something similar – that some of her most profound moments with God have been in the library, in the midst of her study.

The fact that our world – even the Christian world – mostly ignores their work makes me admire them all the more. The average NY Times Best Seller will never hold a candle to what these scholars are writing. And the lopsidedness of the fluff that sells versus the substance that remains hidden is not lost on me. It’s actually annoys me a little.

But that’s not why these scholars do what they do. They don’t write for millions of dollars or talk show appearances; they write because the Spirit compels them. Because Scripture is worth writing substantially about. They study, they sacrifice, they write…because it’s an act of worship.

Scholarship, engaged with humility, is a beautiful act of worship.

More to follow…

On Death – and How Jesus Turns Everything Upside Down

Lately my morning greeting has been the sound of birds chirping outside our windows. The glories of spring, captured in a single sound, invite me into each new day.

Joining in the song are white Bradford pear blossoms, newly bloomed tulips, and dogwood buds. The sounds, colors, and air, rich with fragrance, all harmonize as they proudly announce: Life is here!

Springtime. It’s magnificent.

It awakens us. Something in the array of colors and opening of buds tells us that things are being set straight once more. Winter’s gray chill is giving way to warmth and vibrant color. Things feel right in the world again. Everything is living, and something in our hearts recognizes the rightness of it.

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Spring stirs up promise inside of us that goes all the way back to Eden. In the garden, life was full, relationship unbroken, and joy ongoing. It was a place of fullness that humanity was meant to inhabit forever.

Of course, humanity didn’t know what it had. We welcomed the villain into the story and with him came the nemesis of our natural existence: death. Life as it had been known in the garden was assaulted and cut short. Death became our expected end, and the garden’s fullness a distant memory.

And though millennia have passed, the human heart continues to carry Eden’s promise. Something inside of us wants to live. And not just live, but live forever. Yet, we find ourselves uncomfortably stuck in a reality that makes this desire seem foolish.

Eden is in our hearts, but the fall is what we’re faced with each day. Things don’t last. New homes rather quickly become dated. Buildings age and are torn down. Beauty fades. Faces wrinkle. Relationships often disintegrate. And people die.

Our world, grasping for a solution to the problem, tells us that if we want to keep something alive, we must be careful with it, preserve it, and cling to it. The idea is that clutching a thing will somehow keep you from losing it.

Jesus, in his counter-intuitive wisdom, disrupts us by telling us to do the opposite. If we want something to last, we have to let it go. Our very lives are subject to this paradox:

“Whoever wants to save his life will lose it,

but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”

Luke 9:24 [Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35]

If we belong to Him, we live this way, and we die this way. Each day, we renounce the counterfeit life of selfish ambition in order to receive authentic daily bread. And we hold our very lives with an open hand, knowing that our natural death is gaining for us the life that Eden’s promise has whispered of.

This ‘letting go as the necessary means to gain’ is one of Scripture’s most glorious paradoxes. Whatever we cling to, whatever we try to preserve through human effort, is all the more certain to be lost. But whatever we release into His hands is reshaped and renewed into something better, truer, and lasting.

Death turns out to be the gateway to Life. The forever kind of life that our hearts have always wished for. The life whose desire keeps surfacing no matter how consistent the attempts to suppress it. The life we’re reminded of each spring.

It does exist. And in Jesus, it’s a promise. But death is our doorway to it.

When we allow the best we have – life itself – to be stripped away, we set the stage for Resurrection. Our physical death makes room for history’s greatest promise to be kept.

“For since death came through a man,

the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

For as in Adam all die,

so in Christ all will be made alive.

The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;

it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory;

it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;

it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable,

and the mortal with immortality,

then the saying that is written will come true:

Death has been swallowed up in victory.’”

I Corinthians 15:21-22,42-43,54

In our dying,* winter’s chill gives way to spring’s warmth. Temporary loss is eternal gain. The promise of Eden finds its fulfillment. And the quiet whisper explodes into a Feast that knows no end.

“Arise, my darling,

my beautiful one, and come with me.

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth;

the season of singing has come.”

Song of Songs 2:10-12

~

*The all-important context of “our dying” is those of us who are in Christ.  Are you resting your faith on Jesus’ shed blood alone? That is our only access to this forever life I am writing about.

**Photo by Kay Walden 🙂

Do It Shaking

“You’re going to face it again.” It was a quiet but clear whisper.

I had been called back to see a woman for a pregnancy test. As a staff member at the pregnancy center, it wasn’t often that I saw clients.

It had only been a week or so since my last client… A young woman had come in for a pregnancy test, and her boyfriend ended up coming back to join her.

He brought thick tension with him into the counseling room. Defiance was radiating from him. As I talked with both of them, I could feel the intensity building.

Then the bomb went off as he belligerently interjected into the conversation. Hatred, laced inside of words, spewed all over me.

I sat, almost speechless. I was nearly frozen by the ambush. I mustered the strength to get through a few necessary words to close out the appointment and got out of that room as quickly as possible. I did not want to cry in front of them.

Afterward, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. The interaction was tense, even from a natural standpoint – the stern voice, the cold facial expressions… But the spiritual assault was exponentially more brutal than what took place in the natural realm. It was clear that a dark spirit had targeted me during that counseling session.

I had walked into that appointment, not from a place of self-sufficiency but likely of familiarity, and ended up blindsided by an assault on my heart.

I tried to move on with work and press through the tears I felt coming. Why am I crying over this? Why is this messing with me so much? Finally, I realized there was no use trying to hold it all in. I asked Elizabeth [a friend and fellow staff member] to come back to my office and could hardly get the words out for the tears…

Now here I was, only a week or so later, being summoned to see another client.

Immediately I heard that still, small voice: “You’re going to face it again.”

Okay, Lord. I knew what this meant. Something from last week’s horrible encounter was going to rear its ugly head.

The quiet whisper carried promise though. I went into this new session feeling the gravity of what I was about to face, but sensing that things were going to turn out differently this time.

An intern, “Brittany,” accompanied the young woman and me into the counseling room to observe the session. We sat down and went through some basic preliminary questions. All was going well.

Then things abruptly shifted when we got to the question about her pregnancy intentions:

“Abort.”

The word a pregnancy center counselor never wants to hear.

She gave the answer decidedly. And into the trenches I stepped.

Our exchange became quite serious. I prayed silently as I listened to her responses – and offered mine when I felt I had a window.

Much like the previous session, I felt the intensity building. Her words became scathing, her face cold.

I started feeling that familiar, immobilizing presence. I felt myself being targeted again, and the nastiness aimed at me magnifying.

My words were ricocheting off of her, and her resistance was intensifying by the moment.

Brittany stepped into the conversation, sharing vulnerably about her life as an adopted daughter and how much good had come from her birth mother choosing life.

Still resolute, she trampled on Brittany’s words, dismissing her altogether.

The unwelcome presence in the room was thick by this point. I had to get out of there. Brittany and I stepped out to get her pregnancy test results.

Positive.

We were shaking.

Brittany couldn’t hold back tears. We both felt like evil had just thrown up all over us. I felt nearly consumed by the magnitude of spiritual warfare we were up against.

The two of us stood in that tiny testing room convinced of our inadequacy, and terrified of our return to the counseling room.

“Let’s pray!” I grabbed Brittany’s hand, we closed our eyes, and stood for a few seconds under the weight of it all. Literally trembling, I voiced the most pitiful prayer. The kind that feels entirely void of authority and power.

Still shaking, we headed back to the counseling room.

We sat down, showed her the test result, and I began to speak.

As I opened my mouth, a blanket of Peace covered me.

Something arose [Someone, more accurately], and suddenly, the dark presence from before began to cower.

I stopped shaking.

I could now see past the girl and into the darkness behind her responses. As I spoke to her, I recognized that it had put up a bold front, simply to terrify me into silence. There was war raging around the life of this child, and recognizing that released grace for the moment.

The words came easily, and they carried Authority.

Her demeanor softened. She opened to what Brittany and I were saying.

Within minutes, our conversation did an about-face. She left the appointment with an ultrasound scheduled and was well on her way to choosing life for her child – an outcome that looked impossible thirty minutes earlier.

~

It’s been several years now, but that day remains etched in my mind. It was a day the Lord demonstrated to me His power being made perfect in my weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).

I couldn’t have been more inadequate, incapable, or weak in that counseling session. I doubt my prayer for help could have been any wimpier. But Friends, it’s at our moments of utter weakness that we become His most apt conduits. Self-sufficiency is stripped away, making us yielded and unclogged vessels through which He can flow. Our nothingness makes room for the One who is everything to demonstrate Himself as such.

But we have to take the first step, even in our weakness (I Corinthians 1:18-2:5). If we had waited to feel strong, we never would have gone back into that counseling room! We don’t wait for feelings of strength to act – we move forward in weakness. We do it shaking. And as soon as we take that step off the cliff, solid ground appears beneath our feet. Peace covered me as I spoke. Darkness bowed its knee in the midst of conversation.

Photo by Dennis Wilkinson

This is what a life of faith is – an ongoing journey of risk-taking. Thousands of moments when we step off the cliff and see the Spirit bring forth ground on which to stand. This is where ‘following Jesus’ moves from being a sweet saying to a reality. It’s what makes this life worth living. For every time we see Him come through, joy explodes and roots deepen. His dominion is put on display.

The other side of the coin is the boredom that plagues the lives of non-risk-taking believers. When people limit themselves to tasks which can be accomplished in their own strength, they eliminate the need for a supernatural God. And deprive themselves of an authentic Christian life. Camping out in the land of theory when we were born for reality is boring indeed!

So rather than waiting to feel strong [competent, smart, self-sufficient, seminary-ready, you fill in the blank], I think it’s time we risk taking a step in our weakness. Here. Now.

Faith beckons us today.

And only beyond the cliff will we experience the God to which our pages of Scripture are pointing.

*Photo by Dennis Wilkinson

When People Don’t Reciprocate

I find that the Lord is always teaching us. If we posture ourselves with an open heart and a listening ear, we discover that our everyday life is his classroom. Ordinary decisions, conversations, and experiences are means by which he is schooling us. If we’ll give him our ear, we’ll hear him speaking truth in the day to day.

The truth he speaks sheds light on what is going on around us. More importantly, it makes clear what is going on inside us. And it invites us to be freer than we were before, to live from the newfound insight our Teacher has unveiled.

Lately, I find myself being schooled in this: The grace I have to encourage people who do not encourage me back. The power of giving in the face of non-response.  You probably aren’t bursting into wild cheers upon reading this.

And rest assured, you won’t be when you have opportunity to put action to it, either. When you’re least in the mood, here it will come: The family member who consistently shows a lack of interest in your life wants to tell you about his, and genuine response is invited in return. The dear friend who is fully aware of your passion and risk-taking remains silent for years, yet gladly accepts your affirmation of her pursuits. And let’s get real, people: that friend you are forever responding to on social media who can’t even muster a single “like” from her end.

When we encourage from our end, only to be met by nothingness on their end, it stings. It’s noticeable. It feels cold. And unsafe.

These are valid assessments. We notice the void because there is a knowing, deep in our hearts, that relationships are supposed to be better than this. Shouldn’t we be building one another up? Isn’t it natural for people, particularly those in Christ, to reciprocate encouragement? Aren’t we all on the same team here?

The silence has a reason. Often, the withholding is rooted in a competitive, jealous spirit. And sometimes, people are simply in too deep a pit to see beyond it to others. You are aware that there likely are hidden factors playing into people’s non-response, but still you feel it. And at times, the lopsidedness of give-and-take is glaring.

~

Into this glaring discrepancy steps the Master Teacher:

I am your overflowing well of encouragement, he says.

My waters never run dry (Revelation 22:17).

If you’ll partake of them, there will be no need for human reciprocity (John 4:14).

I want you to brim over and spill my goodness wherever you go (John 7:38).

Don’t hold back, and don’t allow their silence to stop you (Romans 8:31).

Never confuse human response with my endless well (John 4:13).

I am your exceedingly great reward.

Friends, we carry his resurrection power in order to give it away. He imparts it to us so we can release it. So we can spread his goodness like wildfire, blazing a trail of encouragement and life wherever our feet walk.

unreciprocated encouragement Photo by S. Michaels

We release his power into the lives around us when we build others up. When we celebrate the gift of God in them. When we rejoice with them. When we give love generously. When we offer that genuine response to the disinterested family member. When we affirm that silent friend’s pursuits. When we “like” the post simply because we really do like it, not because the “poster” reciprocates.

His resurrection power enables us to love and encourage others unto Him. We learn to see the Lord himself as the recipient of our generous, uninhibited love.

When we speak life and kindness over others, even if they remain non-responsive, our acts of encouragement are seeds sown into fertile ground. Seeds sown unto the Lord himself, never unto people.

And he is Lord of the harvest. He sees our wild sowing. He delights in our unfettered generosity. And he will cause those seeds to grow. Our harvest is guaranteed.

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galations 6:9) And the more seed we scatter, the greater the harvest. “He who sows generously will also reap generously.” (II Corinthians 9:6)

Not only is our unrestrained encouragement a seed, but it is also a gateway to Christ-likeness. It is one of the truest embodiments of who he is: the extravagant offer of unmerited love. And not just a one-time offer – but an ongoing bestowal of goodness that never withdraws. Never holds back based on lack of response. Never calibrates generosity according to repayment.

This is who he is. And it’s who he’s made us to be.

Withholding empties us. But in giving love away unbridled, we ourselves are made fuller by filling others. That’s the glorious mystery of life in his Kingdom.

Thank you, Father, for giving us hearts that find their prize in You, that love others generously and don’t withhold encouragement!

~

*Photo by S. Michaels

Life in 600 Square Feet

“You’ll look back and cherish that house more than any others.”

His words rang true.

Andrew and I were sitting beside a gorgeous stone fireplace sipping hot apple cider and talking about life with people who started as strangers but within minutes had become friends. Not until we were deep in conversation did we find out their names: Nordy and Kim. They were around our parents’ age.

It was one of those encounters that effortlessly moves beneath the surface into conversation that really matters. The inn’s warm ambiance added to our ease. Before we knew it, the often-asked question about seminary arose…which led into my sense of calling…which then meandered into the topic of our tiny house.

The usual reaction when someone hears about our house is either shocked disbelief or excited curiosity – but almost always with the conclusion that it would be impossible to actually live that way.

But Nordy and Kim’s response was unique. Something about our little cottage resonated with them. Then Nordy said the words that stuck with me: “You’ll look back and cherish that house more than any others, even more than the bigger, grander ones that may come.”

It felt true. And sounded a lot like what my heart has been saying since our move into this little space four years ago. What started as an obvious way to cut our cost of living and facilitate my focus on seminary has changed into something I now value in its own right. What started as a temporary, “sacrificial” means to a long-term, “bigger and better” end I now see as the end itself.

Nordy’s fireside words stuck with me because they speak of a well kept secret: Life’s greatest riches make themselves known when non-essentials are stripped away.

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A 600 square foot house has a way of stripping non-essentials.

It turns out that one can pursue a satisfying life without a closet the size of a bedroom [i.e. the closets at our first house]. It also turns out that one can function without a garage. Without a dining room. Or a dishwasher.

At first glance, living in a space this small seems to guarantee that things will be taken from you. But once you get inside, you have the rare opportunity to discover for yourself that vastness is often concealed within small exteriors.

Beauty emerges from quiet simplicity. And extravagance is found in hiddenness.

Our time in this little house has been a beautiful merging of the commonplace with the sacred.

The table where Andrew and I share meals is the same table where I study the Scriptures. The couch where we veg out is the same couch where we pour out our hearts to the Lord each day, where we listen for His voice. The small bathroom we share is a daily reminder that neither of us is the center of the universe. Our bedroom is both a respite from the busyness of life and the setting where some of that busyness takes place, namely in endless hours of reading.

Because of its size, there is no division in this house between the ordinary and the holy. And as it turns out, it’s all holy – because it’s all His.

He is present in all of it – the cleaning, the praying, the typing, the eating, the reading, the laughing, the coffee drinking. And not only present, but moving in the midst of it all – particularly in the ordinary parts that feel hidden.

Daily, this small space invites us into contentment. Rest. Peace. Deep, full relationship.

It invites us to hunger for His presence, His voice, more than anything else. It invites us to know who we are in Christ and to see others as who they are in Him – not according to misleading externals.

In a very real way, our tiny house has helped to detach my heart from the world’s measuring stick. You know, the artificial standard that derives value from designer labels, salaries, neighborhoods, social networks, and possessions. These things are not inherently bad and may even play a God-given role in our story, but they do not define us as people. They are not the Source of our worth. Sometimes it takes the simplicity of a quiet little space to remember this.

One of the greatest gifts this house has bestowed is to our marriage. Our small living space invites us to know each other. The deep kind of knowing that unites two hearts, forming a powerful, protective oneness. There’s no room for distance in this little haven.

What we embarked on with excitement nearly four years ago has now grown roots. It has changed the way we dream about the future. The way we think about stewardship. The way we define abundance. The way we demonstrate what matters.

I’m convinced that very exciting things lay ahead for us. But I’m equally convinced of the truth held inside of Nordy’s words. There’s real goodness to be found in simplicity. Daily this 600 square foot house immerses us in that secret goodness.

It’s a goodness I cherish and will carry into our future.

To My Daughter Who Had The Abortion: A Love Letter From Your Dad

Come closer, Darling. Can I tell you something?

I see you. And I know your secret.

I know the pain you’ve tried to keep hidden. I see beneath that mask you wear.

Those around you are oblivious – you’ve locked it up tightly.

But I know the date that plagues you each year, and I’ve heard every question your heart has asked…

Was it a son? A daughter?

What would he look like now? What would I have named her?

I hear you asking, wondering…

And I remember.

I was with you that day.

You didn’t know it, but I was right beside you as you were lying on that table.

I felt your world closing in on you. I saw your mind racing, wishing for any other option but this.

I had been speaking to you all along, telling you a better way… but you couldn’t hear me. Fear was screaming too loudly.

The doctor walked in, and he was cold. You were terrified.

That loud machine was turned on.

My heart broke more than yours did, and I wiped your tears with my hands.

Then… it was over.

And it wasn’t the answer you had hoped for.

In only an hour, your entire world had changed. The silence – the sound of life snuffed out – was excruciating. I wept with you.

Your body felt the aftermath, but it was in your heart that the pain was explosive. I held you in my arms and sang over you through your tears.

“Real life” returned, and somehow you managed to tuck this part of you away, to face life as if nothing had happened.

As time passed, you learned to hide it well. Sometimes you even believed it was tucked away for good.

But it never would vanish completely. Ever so often, something would come close to you, reminding you of your secret.

It’s been a long time since that horrible day, but even hearing that word can still put your stomach in knots. Anytime “that” conversation takes place, your scarlet letter feels exposed. You freeze inside, knowing you can’t fake your way through…desperately hoping the subject will change. Finally, the moment passes. You breathe a sigh of relief – your secret is still intact.

So on you carry it.

Photo by Lauren McKinnon

Photo by Lauren McKinnon

Daughter, lean in close.

You don’t have to carry the secret anymore.

It’s time you stopped hiding. Let me look in your eyes.

Listen: I was there. I remember it better than you do. I saw every tear, every moment of despair that led you to that table. And I wept with you over life and destiny lost.

You thought that day made me distant, but that was your accuser talking. There’s never been a moment when I’ve left you.

And you know what? I forgave you the very first time you asked me.

You are forgiven.

Now… will you forgive yourself? You’ll never fully know me as Father until you do.

I’ve come to lift your shame-

to put my robe of righteousness on you.

No mistake could ever change who you are to me.

I paid for that horrible day – that secret – on Calvary. I reclaimed every single thing your enemy tried to steal from you.

Will you hand me this weight you’ve been carrying?

Will you trust me with your child?

Will you believe that my redeeming power is stronger than your mistake?

Will you trust that I’m making all things new?

I love you, Daughter, with an everlasting love.

Friend, if you are carrying this secret and would like to voice it to someone who has been there, you can contact me here.  I will gladly connect you with one of several dear women in the Spartanburg-Greenville area who can offer a listening ear and words of encouragement. For those who are not in the Upstate SC area, feel free to reach out for resource recommendations.

~

Friends, believe it or not, YOU know several women personally who have had past abortions and may still be carrying shame [as well as men].  Many who carry this secret are the ones you would least expect.   In hopes that as many as possible encounter the Father’s love, I encourage you to share this post.  It’s time for shame to be undone!

2015 Hewitt Holiday Letter

{Sarcasm Alert}

Dear Family and Friends ~

I’m squeezing a Kleenex as I write this. Andrew and I just finished singing “Jingle Bells” together, and my heart just might explode. Christmas classics have a way of doing that to me. I know you know what I’m talking about.

Some of my favorite Christmas memories are from yearly family sing-alongs. Momma would play the bagpipes while Daddy harmonized on the kazoo. Sometimes Dawn would sing a capella. Love – the extra special, Christmas kind – would twinkle in our eyes, and we knew something magical was happening.

My dad has always reminded me of this piece of wisdom: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Singing “Jingle Bells” always seems to bring me back to it. Speaking of “bringing me back to it,” this has been such a year of full circle moments.

Early in the year, I decided to join Twitter to promote a local nonprofit, Switch. Little did I know, I would soon have 44 Twitter followers. Stepping into this level of influence took me back full circle to my run for sixth grade president at Gable Middle. The competition was serious – insurmountable obstacles were as far as the eye could see. But obstacle by obstacle, I overcame. When my name was announced as the winner while the results were given over the intercom, my entire band class erupted in applause and wild cheers. The road to the presidency was not easy, but the influence I gained among middle schoolers was worth the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the campaign. That day [the day I won the election] was entirely too sacred to photograph, but below is a picture of me from around that time.

That's me front and center. Several of the ladies in this picture helped me on the campaign trail.

That’s me front and center. Several of the ladies in this picture helped me on the campaign trail.

Who would have ever thought that my Twitter influence would have brought back such a flood of precious memories?!

Another full circle moment happened one day this summer. Sometimes when Andrew and I are hot, we turn on our ceiling fan. One day in June or July, sure enough, it was hot. So Andrew turned on the ceiling fan… and a memory from last summer hit me like a ton of bricks. In my mind, I was taken back to our porch ceiling fan installation from last June. I remembered a proverb that was written on the fan’s box and went to find the picture I had taken of it.

The proverb from the fan box.

The proverb from the fan box.

Andrew and I knew the minute we looked at the picture that things were changing for us. We couldn’t go on the way we had been living any longer. It was time to take stronger steps toward better stewardship of both our environment and our finances.

Once we made that initial decision, clarity came quickly. We saw all kinds of changes to make:

We stopped running our dryer unless we had wet clothes in it.

I stopped keeping my flat iron on unless I was fixing my hair.

Andrew stopped running the shower faucet unless he was actually bathing.

We started running our microwave only to heat things.

Immediately, life got easier. Lighter. Freer.

My sister even caught the vision. She started limiting diaper changes by waiting until diapers were soiled to put on new ones. She cried when she called to tell me. Honestly, we cried together. How did we not see all of this sooner?

Before I knew it, our entire family caught on. My dad stopped keeping his stove on unless he was cooking, and the Hewitts now only crank their cars if they’re going to drive somewhere.

I can’t tell you how many hours Andrew and I have spent crying together over all these changes. We never dreamed things would spread like wildfire the way they have. Don’t be fooled: it’s been tough. But like they always say: Nothing difficult is ever easy.

Speaking of difficulties, I have to be honest. Lizards have been a real issue over the past year. Something has drawn profuse numbers of them to our home, particularly to our front door and back porch. I remember one that got into our house. I stood frozen, staring at him for a good ten minutes. I cried out to God, asking Him how on earth to go about catching him. Finally, I knew what I had to do. I called my dad. He was tied up and couldn’t help. So a neighbor came and “took care of him.” [Well, he caught him and then dropped him outside.] The problem was fixed…at least for the moment.

But, that was too easy. And like I said before, nothing difficult is ever easy. I knew I was going to have to face off with him or one of his relatives eventually.

Then the day came.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was on our porch and noticed something moving. I looked, and saw the younger cousin of the lizard who had gotten into our house.

This is it I said.

It was one of those moments in life when you know what’s about to happen is much bigger than you.

I grabbed our fly swat and started approaching him. He got nervous really fast – started anxiously running to and fro. I was on him though. Have you ever heard Andre Agassi describe that feeling he gets when he knows he’s unbeatable? Well… that’s exactly what I felt. I knew I had him. It was only a matter of time.

I finally got positioned to hit him, but when I went for it, it ended up being a much softer hit than I intended. Honestly, I barely tapped him.

But that was all it took.

Down to the floor he slid. Having hit him so much more softly than I meant to, I watched in disbelief. You know, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking back, I think he got so worked up over my chasing him that he actually died of a heart attack, not the blow of the fly swat.

Either way, I conquered that mountain.

Between the environmental changes we made as a family and overcoming the reptile issue, I hardly noticed how quickly the months were passing. Before I knew it, it was November. Once we figured out that Thanksgiving landed on a Thursday this year, we began planning our entire week around it. What a wonderful day we had pausing to be thankful. Since it landed on Thursday, we enjoyed a wonderful four day weekend of family time.

Since that weekend, something has been on my heart that I would like everyone’s input on. I want to share a Christmassy quiet time picture on social media sometime this season, but I’m torn as to which one seems best. Would you guys reach out and let me know which one you find most inspiring? I want it to be deeply spiritual, and I want lives to be changed when people see it. I keep praying about which one to post, but I can’t seem to get any clarity. Your input is so appreciated!!!

This one has only the mug and Bible with the backdrop of the tree... The drawback is that you cannot see which book of the Bible I am studying...

This one has only the mug and Bible with the backdrop of the tree… The drawback is that you cannot see which book of the Bible I am studying…

I am leaning toward this one, but I wonder if showing the book title is too much... I do not want to distract from the Scriptures...

I am leaning toward this one, but I wonder if showing the book title is too much… I do not want to distract from the Scriptures…

This one has the Jesus book and pen included. It is more realistic because I do use a pen when I study, but there may be too much going on in this picture. Plus, you still cannot see which book of the Bible it is.

This one has the Jesus book and pen included. It is more realistic because I do use a pen when I study, but there may be too much going on in this picture. Plus, you still cannot see which book of the Bible it is.

Well, Friends, I know you all are wanting to get back to your own family Christmas carol time, and that’s what matters most! So I will leave you with these few proverbs to hang on to for 2016:

“It’s amazing what you will see by simply watching.”

~

“It always gets the darkest just before it gets pitch black.”

~

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

~

“Be that as it may,

At the end of the day,

When all is said and done,

Nothing difficult is ever easy.”

~

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!!

Happy New Year Wishes!

Happy New Year Wishes!

Previous Hewitt Holiday Letters [a few of them ;)]:

2014 Holiday Letter

2013 Holiday Letter

2012 Holiday Letter

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Kaylee Christine: Love That Transcends Skin Color

I know what some of you are thinking. Why is a ten year old a world changing woman?

Well, because she’s been changing our world from the moment she was born. Even before then.

I remember lots of praying in our family as we waited on Crissy’s arrival. There were obstacles to overcome in our own hearts…and obstacles we knew might be even bigger in the hearts of others.

God was moving as we waited and prayed.

At the hospital the night before she was born

At the hospital the night before she was born

And then she was born. On November 15, 2005.

Andrew meeting Crissy for the first time

Andrew meeting Crissy for the first time

Instantly, those inner obstacles some of us had thought were so big disappeared. Love moved in – Love Himself.

A precious, biracial little girl entered the world. This miraculous life became part of our family, and suddenly, “biracial” was no longer her label. She was a daughter. A granddaughter. A niece.

She was Crissy.

At church one Sunday

At church one Sunday

Crissy's dedication day

Crissy’s dedication day

The love released into our family through her arrival was amazing.

But…

Not everyone joined us in embracing the gift she was. Those obstacles we thought might be even stronger in the hearts of others – they were. Not for everyone, but for many.

And while few have ever voiced their rejection of our transracial family, the silence is nearly deafening at times. The withholding of acceptance, the disapproving stares, the confused asking and re-asking whether this child is “really” your granddaughter. Sometimes, the disgust that only our spirits discern.

We feel it.  We see it.

But each instance is a glorious reminder of how God sees.

His eyes see beauty in all the complexions His hands have made. He rejoices in the blacks, the browns, the reds, the pasty whites, and every shade in between.  His image is held inside of every hue.

And His eyes pierce right through our skin. They see the depths of our hearts (I Samuel 16:7). The beautiful and the ugly pieces. The whole and the fragmented parts.

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It’s Crissy whom God used to teach us about His eyes. She taught us a new way to love. A better way.

A way that refuses to be confined by the opinions of others (Proverbs 29:25).

That sees the diversity of God’s handiwork as a gift…

So while some are still wondering how she belongs in our family, we keep beholding His beauty in this unspeakable gift we’ve been given.

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There is no amount of staring and disapproving that can spoil this gift for us. The love He released ten years ago has created a bubble of protection that has rendered the nonacceptance of others irrelevant.  Inside of His love is such a safe place to be.

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Some may see a biracial child, but we see Crissy.

The one who loves candy…

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The one who likes to eat, period…

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Who plays salon to be like her mom…

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Who, like our entire family, loves to nap…

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Who used to go everywhere with PaPa…

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Who loved dying Easter eggs…

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Who adores her Uncle Andrew…

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Who might just have a little bit of Aunt Hayley in her [she chooses to do Science Fair projects for extra credit – and loves a good laugh]…

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Who just had to have an American Girl doll for her birthday…

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Who loves family adventures…

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And who, though it’s hard to believe, is starting to grow into a beautiful woman…

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Can I be direct for a second? Some in our world are missing out on what could be the greatest treasures of their lives because they are unwilling to face the issues in their hearts. They are unwilling to go with God into new and uncomfortable places where people aren’t “what they’re used to.” They are unwilling to let go of Grandma and Grandpa’s prejudices. They are unwilling to try on a different lens, to see if they might discover a better way to experience life.

So they keep harboring the same assumptions that were instilled in them as children, never realizing how narrow God’s pipeline to their heart has become. Never realizing they’re stuck on a square inch of territory that they were meant to occupy for hundreds of miles. Using skin color, they erect a fence around themselves – a fence they think is keeping the “bad” out but, in actuality, is preventing good from coming in.

Think about our King – the One who clothed himself in humanity and entered this world in a manger. He was a Jew. I doubt he had blonde hair and blue eyes. I bet there was color in his skin. If he were still walking around in his human body today, countless masses would dismiss him without ever realizing Who he is. All because He doesn’t look like them.

This is sobering to me. It brings me to my knees, asking God to cleanse my eyes so that I can see the way He sees. Because, Friends, he continues to inhabit unexpected vessels. He continues to further his Kingdom story in surprising ways. Remember Crystal from last week’s story? She was the last person Brigitte ever thought would carry God’s answer. But carry it she did.

There’s something in Him that delights in bringing forth beauty through the uncommon. Making His goodness known through plot twists we never would have predicted. Demonstrating the magnitude of His heart through the rich diversity of creation.

Something inside Him makes itself known through the elderly Japanese woman. The tall English man. The singing Kenyan child. The kind-hearted Venezuelan. The talkative white woman. The biracial southern girl.

Each one has something to say about Who he is (Genesis 1:26).  Each finds its place in Him.

And every unfamiliar path has treasures to discover.

Beloved, let’s not miss what He’s saying. Let’s not miss a single gift He wants to give us. Let’s throw off fear and kick down our fences.

He will show us how. All we have to do is ask.

~

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,

for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,

for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Galations 3:26-28

~

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count,

from every nation, tribe, people and language,

standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.

They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

And they cried out in a loud voice:

‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’”

Revelation 7:9-10

~

Thank you, Crissy, for teaching us about His eyes.

You are a tangible piece of His goodness,

and we love you with all of our hearts.

Crissy

~

This song beckons us out of our comfort zones.  Only when we take steps into the unfamiliar do we discover how vast and beautiful He is.

Click here to read previous #WorldChangingWomen stories.

[More to come in 2016]

Brigitte Quinn: Out of Darkness, Into the Light

Meet Brigitte Quinn. She is a 38 year old wife and mother of three.

In more ways than one, hers has been a journey through darkness marked by pain’s chill. But it didn’t stop there.

Her darkest days ultimately gave way to the Light.  And along the way, a Warmth was beckoning her.

Open your heart wide as you encounter these words.  [You might want to grab some tissues.]

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My growing up years were spent in Landrum, SC. My family and I moved here from Switzerland when I was really young, and we found our home in that sweet town. To me, it felt like the kind of neighborhood you see in the movies – kids riding bikes, neighbors who were genuine friends, a real sense of community.

I made a friend there named Ashley whose aunt lived on my street. She attended the church that sat across from my house. That church intrigued me. On Sunday mornings I always heard celebration coming from inside. Lots of hooping and hollering. What’s going on in there? I often wondered.

Ashley and her aunt were there every Sunday, and she was always inviting me to come with her. I would ask my mom, and sometimes, if I had finished all of my chores, she let me go.

I was fascinated by what I experienced there – the warmth of the people, the music… I remember hearing people talk about the Holy Ghost falling. I had no clue what they were talking about, of course. I was a wide-eyed, seven or eight year old little girl.

I had only rarely heard about the Lord at home. One of the few times the subject ever came up, it was explained to me that some people believe there is a God who created the world, while others believe something different. I was assured that whatever I chose to believe would be supported. That was the extent of my understanding of God when I entered that church for the first time. So any references congregants made to Jesus and the Spirit were lost on me. I had no way of connecting the dots to understand that the potential creator God mentioned at home was connected to the Jesus and Holy Ghost I was hearing about.

In front of the church across the street

In front of the church across the street

A year or so into my new found church life [I was now eight], I found myself sitting in a service beside Ashley when an altar call took place. Before I knew it, she stood up and went to the altar to respond. Oh no I thought. She is not going to leave me here by myself. I had seen such wild responses to previous altar calls – what they called “the Holy Ghost falling” – that I was afraid to be by myself when that happened. So I made a beeline to the altar. We were asked a few questions about believing in Jesus and then led in a prayer. I took my cues from Ashley and repeated whatever she said. The entire event was disconnected from my heart.

In that church, new believers were immediately baptized. So I ran across the street during service to let my mom know things wouldn’t finish until later…and that I was getting baptized. With a look of surprise, she allowed me to return to the service. Very soon, I was baptized…and, in the congregation’s eyes, was now saved.

Everyone kept referring to the “change” I was going to experience – the change inside that comes with salvation. I didn’t know what they meant. In the days that followed I kept looking for this “change.” I kept thinking maybe I would see it one morning when I looked in the mirror. But nothing ever seemed to happen. I kept waiting and waiting on it…

Summer came a few short months after that altar call and baptism experience. It was time for my trip to Switzerland. Every few years, my family and I took the trip back to visit family. This trip was different though; I was going by myself for the first time. I would be flying alone and, once there, spending time with my grandmother and a few other relatives. I was a little scared to go by myself but excited too.

My mom bought me new clothes to take – and even got me new Minnie Mouse pajamas to wear. Being the youngest girl of four children, I was thrilled to have so many new clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs. My luggage was packed, and I was ready!

After landing, my grandmother met me and said she had a surprise. Instead of heading to her house as we had planned, we were going to Uncle Rolf’s [her son’s] to meet my new baby cousin and spend a few days there. I was so excited – I loved babies! And I loved going to see Uncle Rolf. He was the life of the party and had so much personality. Being a photographer, he usually offered to take my picture too. The attention he gave me made me feel so special.

We arrived at his house and I met sweet Baby Emily.

Holding my baby cousin, Emily

Holding my baby cousin, Emily

Then my aunt and the children left for their trip to Canada. We had plans to stay at Rolf’s two nights. My grandmother, knowing how afraid I was of the dark, asked me who I wanted to sleep with: her or Uncle Rolf. Without saying it, I remembered my grandmother’s tendency to snore loudly. So I chose to sleep with Uncle Rolf that first night.

My grandmother tucked me into his giant bed, and I drifted off to sleep.

A while later, I don’t know how long, I woke up to him touching me. The memories of what took place for the rest of that night are broken. I remember feeling like something bad was happening but not knowing how to make it stop.

~

I woke up the next morning to my grandmother’s screams. “What have you done?!” she wailed at me. I looked… and there was blood all over my Minnie Mouse pajamas…and on the sheets too. “You’ve done a very bad thing. Don’t tell anyone what you’ve done.” I didn’t know what it was I had done.

“Go get in the bathtub!” she yelled through tears. She put something in the bathwater – maybe amonia. Whatever it was, it stung horribly. I was screaming and crying from the pain. She kept telling me to wash well as she stripped the sheets off the bed.

I had never seen my grandmother like this. She was hysterical – sad, furious, and frantic all at the same time.

She snatched up my pajamas and bed sheets, marched out to the yard, and lit them on fire.

I knew then how grave the situation was. I was afraid for my life. Something horrible had happened, and I was the one who did it.

We gathered our things, left the house, and went to the train station. She told me to sit at a nearby cafe and she would get me some ice cream shortly. Then she walked closer to the station. She was pacing. There was such a mixture of emotions coming from her. Some moments felt like she was furious, but others felt like she was taking up for me.

As she paced, she glanced back at me ever so often. The weight of the look on her face was crippling to me. I didn’t have a word for it, but I felt buried under something tremendous. The heaviness was unbearable.

I know now what it was. It was shame.

I also know now that my grandmother felt buried under her own heaviness. She had been ambushed with a situation that felt utterly disastrous.

After a while, the train arrived and off stepped Rolf. My grandmother went up to him, screaming in French. I knew she didn’t want me to hear what she was saying. On she went, yelling. Then she slapped his face. She marched over to me, and we grabbed our stuff and left.

The rest of the trip was a blur. I do remember my grandmother taking me to buy new pajamas. I looked frantically for Minnie Mouse ones – to no avail. My parents didn’t have much money. Every purchase mattered. I knew my mom was going to wonder where my new pajamas were when I got home.

Still in Switzerland - just a few days after that horrible night

Still in Switzerland – just a few days after that horrible night

Finally, I came home.

And sure enough, my mom noticed my pajamas were missing as we were unpacking. When she asked about them, I felt sick to my stomach. This is it I thought. It’s hard to convey the terror I felt. [Not only had my grandmother told me not to tell anyone, but she also said that if I did tell, my parents would send me away.] I eked out some made up answer about the pajamas and managed to dodge the truth.

Before long it was time for me to start the fourth grade. Having once been an A student, I quickly began acting out. I wrote hate letters to my teacher, drew pictures of me killing her, and started lying about everything… It was extremely disturbing to my family. One night when we were trying to fall asleep, my sister asked me what was wrong. “Why are you doing all this?” she asked. “I have a secret I can never tell you,” I told her.

I carried the secret for the next year. My acting out only worsened. I would sometimes think to myself about that “change” I had waited on – the change those church people told me I would experience. No wonder I never felt the change I thought. I’m a bad person. I did a terrible thing. Of course I’m not going to feel the change.

Around this time, my parents got called in for a conference with my teacher. While they were at the school, my sister confronted me. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing at school, but when they get home, you’re going to be in a world of trouble,” she said. My grandmother’s words came back to me. I went upstairs and started packing my bags. This is it I thought. They’re going to send me away. I’m all alone.

My sister saw me packing. “Brigitte, WHAT happened???” “I can’t tell you. I’ve done a very bad thing!” “Tell me,” she said. So from my broken memories and limited understanding, I told her what had happened with Rolf. And I begged her not to tell our parents.

Of course, she did tell them. This started a huge ruckus in our family. My parents called Grandmother and Rolf, drilling them with questions. There were several phone calls back and forth, with mixed responses from the two of them. My broken memory of what took place caused my story to appear to have holes.

For several years, I was very troubled. I ended up hearing more about God from friends the older I got, and it made me angry. If He was what people were describing Him to be, how on earth had he allowed such a horrible thing to happen to me right after I started attending church as a child?

I started seeing a psychologist named Helen when I was twelve. My dad needed concrete proof to believe that the abuse had really happened to me. After a simple preliminary test, Helen assured my parents that abuse had definitely taken place. My anger towards my parents became explosive. I knew how important money was to them [since there wasn’t much of it] – so I would take money out of my dad’s wallet and burn it. I found all sorts of passive aggressive ways to lash out. I continued therapy for four years.

In the midst of my darkness, I met a guy named Mark. He was two years older than me, and he had this way about him. We were just friends, but I was drawn to him. He was the first bright light my life had seen in years.

Eventually, my grandmother and uncle finally owned up to what had happened. They only acknowledged a sugar-coated version of the event, but it was still significant. Therapy finally helped me to reach a healthier place, and at the age of sixteen, I decided to confront them both face to face.

I had to break the silence, and I wanted to extend forgiveness to both of them. I knew I had to do it for my own release – I didn’t hinge any hopes on how they would respond. Because my grandmother had moved to the states, I saw her first. And though she didn’t want to talk about what had happened, she cried when I told her I forgave her.

Then I went to Switzerland with a letter I had written Rolf. I gave it to my godmother, and she made sure he got it. The experience of extending forgiveness was surreal. I was in this protected bubble where I could do the hard thing that needed to be done yet did not need a specific response to feel validated.

~

My friend, Mark, was waiting on me at the airport with roses when I came home. He asked me out on our first date soon after. [Unbeknownst to me, he had rededicated his life to the Lord while I had been on my trip. He was cleaning up his life and had new confidence to ask me out.]

Soon after we started dating, I met Mark’s parents. I noticed that they had his same winsomeness. Whatever I felt drawn to in Mark, they had it too. Okay I thought. They do go to church. Maybe that’s what it is.

I started asking Mark questions. His answers were always this loving invitation. He was never pushy. And once I told him about my abuse, he stepped all the more lightly when the subject of faith came up. He never gave me pat answers; the way he responded to me always felt real.

This dialogue continued for the rest of our courtship. He would invite me to church occasionally, and I usually said ‘no’. I was still very angry over what had happened to me. But my curiosity kept being sparked.

About six years into our relationship, I met a woman at the office where I was working in Atlanta. She had a light shining from her soul. It had nothing to do with her outward appearance. There was some intangible glow about her; she lit up the room when she walked in. And her words were full of love. She spoke such peace over me. She often invited me to come to church with her. I said ‘no’ every single time. But there was a real stirring in my heart by this point.

After seven years of dating, Mark and I married. I was twenty three.

Our engagement party

Our engagement party

We moved into my sister’s basement in North Carolina when we were starting out. This brought her friend, Donna, across my path. Donna was radiant just like the woman in Atlanta had been. There it is again I said to myself. How does she have that? Why do I not have that?

Every time Donna came over to my sister’s house, we would sit and talk. I asked her question after question. After these conversations, I resigned myself to believing there really was a God. “But this Jesus thing…” I told her, “I’m not there yet. I don’t see how Jesus is God.” “That’s okay,” she would say.

I decided to ask Mark’s dad some questions too. I told him about the prayer I prayed as a little girl and how I got baptized. He [and others] assured me that if I had a real experience back then, I was saved. But I knew when I heard their responses that what I did when I was eight had not been real in my heart. I had just mimicked what Ashley did.

About a year after getting married, we got a surprise. I was pregnant! We hadn’t even been trying… and I had been told I probably couldn’t conceive. After the initial shock, we were so excited.

But then I miscarried. It was devastating. Watching Mark’s pain was excruciating for me. This was yet another accusation I had against God.

~

In August of 2002, just four months after our miscarriage, we moved to Cowpens. My first interaction with our new next door neighbors came as I was putting up a flag in our yard for Halloween. It had a cat and a black moon on it. Their four year old daughter was standing nearby and said “My mom says you’re putting a sign of Satan in your yard.” Wow. I called Mark and told him the craziness that came out of that child’s mouth. Clearly, this family was a bunch of Jesus freaks.

In February, we had another miscarriage. And in April, we had another. Three miscarriages in a year’s time.

I was in the deepest pit. I would fume at God with my accusations. Why are you letting this happen?! Haven’t I been through enough??

That summer, I saw our next door neighbor, Crystal – you know, the crazy one – standing in her yard. She was pregnant. Great. Yet another reason not to talk to her. It felt cruel to see her with a swollen belly.

One day that August, I was sitting in our living room sobbing. I was watching A Baby Story and was overwhelmed with hopelessness. The possibility of ever having a child seemed destroyed.

Through my tears, I heard a knock at the door. I peeked through the blinds and saw it was Crystal. You’ve got to be kidding me. Now? Really?? I let her knock several times, wishing for a way to escape answering the door.

Finally I answered it. I barely opened the door. “Hi, I’m Crystal. I’m your neighbor. I’m sorry I haven’t come by sooner to meet you.” She was holding something homemade. “Do you have a minute for me to talk to you?”

“Umm, I really…”

She interrupted, “The Lord has impressed upon me that I have to come talk to you. I have something to tell you.”

“I know what you’re going to say,” I responded. I thought she was going to ask me if I was saved. Conversations with strangers that started this way in times past had always led to that question.

“I’m not sure you do know. Can I come in for a second? You may want to sit down,” she said. There was authority in her voice.

Fine I thought, rolling my eyes on the inside. I let her in. She thanked me profusely. She set the dish down, took a deep breath, and said, “Ok. I’m just going to come right out with it. There’s no use beating around the bush.”

“Sure,” I said. “Just spit it out.” I felt totally ready.

“God told me while I was washing dishes this morning… He said ‘You’re going over there today to tell her that she is going to be a mother. And she’s going to have a baby girl.’”

I fell to the floor weeping.

This woman had no idea I was just sitting in this house asking God ‘why?’ an hour earlier. I had never experienced anything like this before. She had no idea about the three babies we had lost. My heart couldn’t comprehend God going to this great length to comfort me. I was sobbing uncontrollably.

Crystal was beside herself, distraught at my reaction. She told me she didn’t want to upset me and that she had put off and put off coming over but just had to obey.

She ended up staying with me for two hours that day. When she prayed over me, I felt loved… and treasured… and safe… and completely understood. It is still one of the most profound moments of my entire life. She finished by saying “in Jesus Name.” She looked at me and asked, “Do you know that Jesus is God?” “No, I don’t.” I said through tears. “I prayed a prayer when I was eight, but I don’t.”

“It’s okay,” she said, “because He knows you… You keep praying anyway.”

Her words freed me. All of the sudden, it didn’t matter what I didn’t know. I didn’t feel weird praying to Jesus anymore. It was okay if I didn’t know Him for sure…because He knew me.”

~

The next month, I found out I was pregnant.

I was ecstatic. And couldn’t wait to tell Crystal. I added up the days and realized I had already conceived when she came over with that amazing word. I couldn’t get home from work fast enough.

When I told her, she said “Let’s pray.” We got on our knees. “Brigitte, put your hands on your stomach. You are not going to lose this baby.” She mentioned the woman with the issue of blood in her prayer and said we were reaching out to touch Him the same way she had. She told me to keep praying over my baby and asking God to wrap His arms around my child. And that’s what I did.

That December, after a timely conversation with our friends and subsequent invite from them, we went to see The Passion of the Christ. I was a sobbing mess through the entire movie. I kept feeling throughout the film that I was the one who put Him on that cross. I was completely enveloped by His love. I prayed in the theatre, “Jesus I want to know. If you are really God, show me. I need You to show up. I need something tangible.”

Two months later I was driving on Battleground Road heading home. The sun was setting behind the cross of a church steeple. It was a breathtaking sunset. But then my eyes went to that glaring Cross with the sun blazing behind it.

I felt His presence in the car with me. I couldn’t drive anymore.

I pulled over on the side of the road, shaking and weeping. “You are God, Jesus. You do love me. You’ve loved me from the start. You’ve been with me all along. I’m so sorry I couldn’t see You. I’m so sorry I didn’t believe. But I believe now… And I give you my whole life, every bit of it. I don’t have much to give, but I give it all to You. I will teach this child about You for the rest of my life.”

I physically felt His arms around me. And I was changed.

The change I had kept waiting on so many years ago – it finally happened.

On February 17, 2004.

Peace I cannot describe with words washed over me. It was the safest I had ever felt in my life. The surest I’ve ever been about anything. I felt whole…and could feel purpose in all the pain I had experienced.

I called Mark, Crystal, and another dear friend. I had to tell them my incredible news: I finally knew that Jesus was God! And I knew I had to get to a church service. Mark asked me where I wanted to go. “I don’t care – anywhere!” I said. I just wanted to get some place where I could “officially” share what had happened.

So he took me to a church the next Sunday, and I went down front. The poor altar man did not know what to do with me. I tried to explain to him what happened to me on the side of the road. “So I really know Jesus is God now!” I told him. “That is fantastic, ma’am. Are you ready to pray now?” I could see his bewilderment. My story had been totally missed on him. The bubble I had attached to this “official” experience was burst. Still, I was glad I did what I felt led to do. It was my first act of obedience as a believer.

I see now that God was making sure, from the get go, that I knew He was not a church building. He is not an institution – He’s too big to be contained by such things. I certainly hadn’t grown up idolizing church, and He made sure I wasn’t going to start now that I was a believer. My faith could never rest in an institution. It was only to rest in Him.

The day I went to church to share my side of the road encounter with Jesus.

The day I went to church to share my side of the road encounter with Jesus.

Two months later, on April 23, 2004, I gave birth to our daughter. Indescribable, explosive joy surged through my soul.

The word God had spoken through Crystal now came to pass entirely – we had our baby girl. She was born two years to the day after our first miscarriage. It was a kiss from Heaven for her to enter the world on the same date that had brought such sadness two years earlier.

Soon afterward, we got plugged into a church. I was baptized again – this time, with full understanding. I came out of that water putting on real newness. It was a profound moment.

I have since become a mother to two more precious children. My cup overflows. Every day I stand in awe at the gifts they are in my life.

Quinn Family-0102 Quinn Family-0094

Pain Births a Passion

In 2005, Mark and I went to Nicaragua for the first time. On that trip, I met more than one girl who had endured sexual abuse – and made a special connection with a survivor named Carla [name changed]. My heart was broken. Lord, these atrocities have to stop! Something has to be done.

I started praying. Praying for the girls, praying for answers to the problem, and standing in the gap for these orphans who had no one fighting for them.

On a Nicaragua trip

On a Nicaragua trip

In time, I learned that Carla had been sent back to her family for a while and had endured further abuse, resulting in pregnancy. She was now back at the orphanage and carrying a child.

I could not get back to Nicaragua fast enough. I wanted to tell Carla that this was not her fault, that this cycle can be broken with her baby.

I made it back in January 2013 and went to the orphanage asking to talk with her. Shame was all over her. She had a growing belly, and no one around her had said a word about the child she was expecting. I looked into her eyes and told her my story.

It was the first time I had had the courage to share my story in this way – and to talk about it without crying. I knew the Lord had done something in me. It was healing and tremendously freeing. Not only was I unveiling my own pain, but by doing so I was offering hope in the midst of someone else’s pain. I told her it wasn’t her fault and that this wasn’t the sum of her life. Tears started streaming down her face.

I went to the orphanage director and encouraged her to congratulate Carla on her baby. She did, and it broke the silence concerning the pregnancy. Carla’s face lit up, and soon every child at the orphanage was excitedly trying to touch her belly. The word for that day was freedom. It made itself known in a glorious way.

I knew the Lord had sparked something in me. As soon as I got home from that trip, I started researching organizations that might offer an outlet for me to serve others the way I had Carla. Months later, I discovered Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization. They were offering training the next week in Charleston! My friend, Michelle, joined me, and together we stepped into this new territory.

Michelle and I led our first Darkness to Light training in Nicaragua in November 2013.

On a trip with Michelle in Nicaragua

On a trip with Michelle in Nicaragua

Then I knew what I had to do; I knew my first presentation at home had to be with my family. I had to talk about this very painful topic with them in order to break the silence. I was terrified. God was going to have to come through or there would be no presentation.

Well, as always, He did come through. He carried me through every word of it. It was amazingly healing. I learned that I wasn’t the only one who had carried shame through the years – my family had too. Feeling it lift was inexpressible.

After leading a Darkness to Light training with Michelle

After leading a Darkness to Light training with Michelle

After completing a Darkness to Light training in Nicaragua

After completing a Darkness to Light training in Nicaragua

God has ignited a passion in my heart to break the silence surrounding sexual abuse. When the secret is spoken, shame lifts. When darkness is exposed, it loses its power. It’s this truth that propels me forward with the hope of seeing others set free.

~

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Proverbs 31:30

~

The Kingdom Dynamics at Work in Brigitte’s Story…

A scripture comes to mind as I think about her journey:

“Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance, and patience,

not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

Romans 2:4

His kindness leads us to repentance. Not His whippings, not His pointed finger.

Oh, how beautifully Brigitte’s story demonstrates this. From her earliest days, dark though they were, His kindness was whispering to her. Through her friend, Ashley… Through the church across the street… Through the warmth of its congregation…

Then in her teenage years, there that Kindness was again. This time, in Mark. In his winsome way, his kind answers, his gentleness, his patience.

Then in her twenties, His kindness came in the form of the lady in Atlanta, Donna in North Carolina, then Crystal. Ah… Crystal.

Want to talk about kindness? Kindness – His kindness – will lavish life and hope on you while you’re accusing Him. And sometimes through vessels you would least expect. God sent His prophetic word to Brigitte through a woman she thought she didn’t like. Friends, this is nothing less than the Kindness of Almighty God.

Not only is He kind, but He is astoundingly patient (I Timothy 1:16).

He kept pursuing Brigitte’s heart as long as it took for her to grab hold of the Truth. He is relentless. And does not give up on us when it’s taking “longer than it should” for us to see Him. He knew what her heart needed to come to terms with Truth, and He didn’t stop until she did.

He is kind. He is patient.

And He lifts shame.

As early as the Garden of Eden, He’s been calling to us, pursuing us, in the midst of our shame (Genesis 3). Whether it was our own choice or someone else’s, there’s nothing we’ve done that’s too dirty for His love to touch. Nothing.

This is why [for those who may be wondering] the story includes some details of Brigitte’s abuse that make us cringe. Unless we’ve walked there, we have no idea how brutal someone’s shame has been. And thus, we miss the magnitude of the Love which met them right where they were.

Oh, how His beauty magnifies, how the power of His love explodes, when we grasp the depths into which He reaches.

And He doesn’t stop at simply touching our shame – oh no.

He obliterates it with His warm embrace.

Our hearts are made whole in His presence, and in turn, He empowers us to free others in His Name.

Am I the only one dancing and shouting right now? Beloved, throw off those chains – let’s celebrate this beautiful King!

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,

a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him

who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I Peter 2:9

~

Thank you, Brigitte, for so vulnerably unveiling your journey –

and for following His kindness into the full light of day.

~

This song says it all: “I’ve tasted and seen, of the sweetest of loves, when my heart becomes free, and my shame is undone…” It’s a perfect rendering of Brigitte’s love story with God.

~

If you are interested in learning more about Darkness to Light,

you can visit its website at www.d2l.org.

To contact Brigitte about Darkness to Light trainings,

email her at bcmm2007@bellsouth.net.

~

Previous #WorldChangingWomen [& The Story Behind These Stories]:

Elizabeth Martin: When Perfect Pregnancy Plans Go Awry

Krista Gaulden: Hope Deferred, Desire Fulfilled

Karen McBride: Permission to be Real

Becca Friend: Changed Heart Yields a Changed Body

Rochelle Delain: Joy on the Other Side of Waiting

Jessica Satterfield: Made Beautiful by Pain

Karen Hollifield: Foolishness that Confounds the Wise

Ryan Williams: Accessing His Glory Through Prayer

Yvette Picou: Pursuing a Dream After Raising Children

Mary Kury: A Tenacious Voice of Truth

Elizabeth Martin: When Perfect Pregnancy Plans Go Awry

Meet Elizabeth Martin. She is a 28 year old wife and mother of one.

That ‘one’ is a son named Gideon. Today, he celebrates his first birthday. It’s a day that marks his unexpected entry into this world – an event that catapulted Elizabeth into a place of desperation for God she had never known.

Hand in hand with Jesus, she and her husband have walked into the trenches this past year. Through dark days full of hard questions. And into brighter ones as the light of His faithfulness has begun to shine through.

Here, in her own words, Elizabeth unveils the journey her heart has been on since last November.

PICTURE ELIZ

As far back as I can remember, if you were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was always the same: “I want to be a mom.” I may not have been able to give you a definitive answer on what career I wanted, or where I might live, but I always knew one thing for certain: my true heart’s desire was to be a mom.

Due to certain health complications, doctors had been telling me since I was a teenager that I might have difficulties getting pregnant. This weighed heavily on my heart since I always had such a strong desire to have children. I prayed about this often, particularly as Chris and I began having discussions about starting a family.

One Sunday after church, Chris and I went down to the altar for prayer, and some of our dear friends prayed with us about having a child. God released an overwhelming peace over me that day, and I knew in my spirit that when the time was right, I would not have trouble getting pregnant. Shortly thereafter, God did, in fact, answer our prayers. I was pregnant, and we were over the moon excited. My dream of becoming a mom was quickly becoming a reality.

A few weeks later, our pastor was preaching a message on the story of Gideon from the Old Testament. The story is of a man whom, though he was the least in his family, and was from the weakest tribe in Israel, God made into a “mighty warrior” to save His people from the Midianites.

God touched my heart through the message that day. Even though it would be several weeks before I found out the sex of our baby, I knew the Lord was revealing that I was going to have a little boy, and that his name should be Gideon. Little did I know how fitting that name would be for our mighty little warrior.

I was 29 weeks along when Chris and I traveled to Kentucky for a baby shower in my honor. The morning of my shower, I woke up with abdominal pain that would not subside. I was certain when I went to the hospital they were going to tell me I was having Braxton Hicks contractions and send me on my way. Never in a million years would I have thought I would be having a baby just 48 hours later.

At the Hospital:

I was 3 cm dilated when I was admitted. The goal at that point was to try to stop the labor. I was put on strict bed rest and could not even get out of bed to use the restroom. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything either. I was treated with drugs to slow the contractions and a steroid to get Gideon’s lungs to develop as quickly as possible. I was so scared. One of the medicines they gave me made me feel like I had the flu, and the other one would burn terribly going through my IV.

I was miserable. The thought of being on bed rest for the next several weeks sounded terrible… but the thought of him being born this prematurely was even more frightening. After a successful night, and no significant changes, the doctors were hopeful that once the steroid treatment was complete, we could make a mad dash home (or at least back to a hospital in South Carolina).

But that all changed the following night when my contractions worsened and Gideon’s heart rate began to “flatten.” My body began shaking uncontrollably as I experienced my first ever panic attack. I was given an oxygen mask while a team of doctors and nurses frantically searched for my baby’s heartbeat. After several minutes – which felt like an eternity – they were able to get Gideon’s heart rate back under control, and then get me calmed down enough for an exam. I was now 4cm dilated and 100% effaced.

An ultrasound was ordered the next morning to ensure that Gideon was positioned for delivery, and the doctor confirmed that my water broke. All hopes of leaving Kentucky still pregnant now vanished. The steroid treatment to develop Gideon’s lungs was complete, and any efforts to stop my contractions ceased. It was then just a matter of time to see when Gideon would make his arrival. 


By later that afternoon, I was 9cm dilated and in active labor. Preparations were quickly made for my delivery, and Gideon had a team of doctors bigger than mine preparing for him in the next room. His heart rate had been dipping. So they did not want me to labor long and risk putting him in even more distress.
I was given 3 chances to push, and if I was unsuccessful after my third attempt, I was going to have a C-section. I could tell by the looks on the doctors’ faces after my first two attempts that they were anticipating surgery. Thankfully though, by the grace of God, my third attempt was successful. I was able deliver him naturally.

As soon as Chris cut the cord, Gideon’s team of doctors swept him up and rushed him out of the room. I saw him briefly from across the room, and then he was gone.

Gideon was born Tuesday evening, November 25th, weighing 3 lbs 1oz. He was 11 weeks early.

When Gideon was born, I didn’t get to hold him or even touch him. I barely even heard a cry come from his tiny lungs before he had to be rushed away. This was my miracle…. My dream come true…. But in that moment, it certainly didn’t feel like it.

Later than night, as I was wheeled up to see him, I think I was still in shock. He was the tiniest little thing I had ever seen. He looked so fragile, and I was nervous to even touch him. He wasn’t stable enough yet for me to hold him. So my only contact with him was through two small holes in his incubator that allowed me to reach my hands in to hold his. He had an IV in his hand, an oxygen machine in his nose, a tube down his throat, and was covered in cords that were monitoring his heart rate and oxygen levels. It was far from the picture-perfect moment I had envisioned of meeting my baby for the first time.

Gideon 1 day old

Three days after he was born, a head ultrasound revealed that Gideon had suffered bleeding inside his brain, resulting in grades 3 and 4 brain hemorrhages. The blow of this news was insurmountable. Just a week before, we were dreaming of our healthy, beautiful, baby boy, guessing his hair color… and now doctors were sitting down with us, going over brain scans, and trying to walk us through risks. We were told that babies with grades 3 and 4 brain bleeds often have long term effects such as: developmental delays, some degree of cerebral palsy, problems walking, problems talking, problems with reading comprehension, difficulties playing sports, the list seemed to go on and on. We were devastated, heart broken, and scared.

We spent 40 days in that hospital, and they were, without a doubt, the darkest days of my life. I literally cried for 40 days and 40 nights. Not just tears, but uncontrollable, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching sobs, for several hours each day.

My baby was alive, but inside, I was grieving. I was grieving all of my unmet expectations – for my pregnancy, my delivery, and my baby. I was broken, and I felt helpless. I felt like I had failed as a mother. I felt like all of this was somehow my fault. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t been able to carry him to term and keep him safe and healthy. Every day, I would hold my stomach and just cry, thinking that if I could have just kept him safe inside me, he wouldn’t be experiencing all of this pain.

I was bitter. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

He was supposed to be safe and warm inside my tummy – not hooked up to machines with tubes down his nose and IV’s stuck in his head, hands, and feet.

He wasn’t supposed to be sitting under fluorescent lights and tucked away in an incubator.

There weren’t supposed to be limits to when I could hold him or touch him.

I wasn’t supposed to have to leave him at night and entrust him to strangers.

I wasn’t supposed to lie awake in tears, fearing that he was crying or needed something with no one at his side to tend to him.

I wasn’t supposed to have to worry when I was feeding him that he would forget to breathe.

I wasn’t supposed to have to share my first precious days with my baby with a room full of strangers.

I wasn’t supposed to be panic stricken every time the monitors alarmed, selfishly praying that it was someone else’s child in distress and not my own.

I was so frustrated with God. I kept wondering why God, who loves me and gave me this incredible gift, would allow what was supposed to be my dream come true, to become my worst nightmare.

The NICU would be our home away from home for the next several weeks. No one was allowed to visit him except for Chris, me, and our parents. We had to leave during certain hours each day for sterile procedures and shift changes, but apart from that, we rarely left his side.

CHRIS AND G

Our favorite moments were, undoubtedly, his “kangaroo care” when we got to hold him skin to skin. He was always at peace and would sleep soundly in those moments. There were limits to when we could hold him, especially during the first few weeks. So most days we would sit beside his incubator and read, sing, or play music for him. But most of all we would sit there and pray…. and pray… and pray…. and pray.

Eliz n G

After spending Thanksgiving and Christmas in the hospital, Gideon was released to come home on New Year’s Day. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. Our still teeny tiny baby (4 lbs at this point) was being released entirely into our care.

There would be no more nurses an arm’s length away to assist us when we had questions. No monitors to warn us if his stats were dropping. No temperature leads to tell us if he was getting too cold. But what a relief it was when we pulled into the driveway and were finally HOME.

Apart from going to doctor’s appointments, we were basically on house arrest for the next several months, but I didn’t care. I was thankful to have him home and safe, and I made sure to make up for all of the lost snuggles I had missed out on.

The Journey Since Gideon’s Birth

Looking back, I don’t believe I will ever know on this side of heaven why things happened the way they did. But I do know that I would not have the relationship with God that I have today if it weren’t for this experience. I’ve never had to rely on God more than I have this year, and God is teaching me some invaluable lessons as I walk out this journey with Him.

I am learning that I have to relinquish control of my life to Him.

There are some things I know to be true about myself: I know that I am a rule follower. I like to have a plan. I have a tendency to be resistant to change. I am NOT spontaneous. I do not care much for surprises, and I intensely dislike being unprepared. Basically, you could not have handpicked a personality to struggle more at coping with what happened than my own. One of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around was the fact that this was not a part of my plan. This was not what I had been preparing for, and it was certainly not what I had spent my whole life dreaming about. But what I had to realize was that this wasn’t about my plan. This was about God’s plan. All of the days ordained for Gideon were written in His book before even one of them came to be (Ps. 139:16). I had to get over my unmet expectations, and give my circumstances over to God.

I am learning that I have to walk out each day in faith and not in fear.

The fear I felt when we learned of Gideon’s brain bleeds was crippling. I wanted so badly for it to be a mistake. That they would do another ultrasound and the blood would have miraculously resolved. We would be so discouraged when each new ultrasound came back showing no signs of improvement. The brain bleeds put Gideon at risk for a multitude of developmental issues. Even now, his development is watched closely by doctors and therapists, and thoughts of this are at the forefront of my mind almost daily. But if there is one thing I know for certain, it is that our God is a God of miracles. I know He has the power to heal Gideon so that he will have no long term deficits from this. I believe this with all of my heart. But even though I know this to be true, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still feel a little anxious with every new doctor’s appointment or developmental assessment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still worry whether he’ll meet the next developmental milestone. The fear and doubt still try to creep in, and I have to make a daily choice to live in faith, not fear.

Gideon turns 1 year old today, and he has been doing exceptionally well. Looking at him now, he is a far cry from the tiny little person we brought home from the hospital. He has come such a long way, and we are overwhelmed by all that God has done in his life already.

giDEON BIRTHDAY

Here we are a year later, and in many ways, I am just now starting to work through the fear and anxiety that assaulted me after Gideon’s birth. The emotions are still fresh, and I still have triggers that can take me right back. But now, when I have those feelings of sadness or fear, I look over at Gideon, and I am overcome with joy and thankfulness.

pic16202

Nothing melts my heart more than to see him smile or hear his sweet laugh. He is a daily reminder of God’s faithfulness and love for me. Gideon is my miracle baby in more ways than one, and being this mighty little warrior’s mother is, without a doubt, my dream come true!

~

She is clothed with strength and dignity.”

Proverbs 31:25

~

So where is the Kingdom in this story?

I’m glad you asked. Because our King often makes Himself known in the midst of the unexpected. In the midst of plans gone awry… In the midst of unmet expectations… In the midst of unwelcome surprises…

When the bottom falls out.

When you can’t figure out what’s happening.

When false comforts are stripped away.

There He is, showing us He’s all we had to begin with.

We only thought we could count on our perfect plans.

As any of us would, Elizabeth was resting a lot of hope on a full-term pregnancy. But then her third trimester was pulled out from under her, bringing her to the glaring realization that only God Himself was her hope. Anything less than His very presence was powerless.

We all do this, you know. We attach a little too much hope to things we think are guaranteed in life. And as long as our plans keep falling into place, we never notice that our faith in Jesus in only partial. That it has become more of a condiment. A sweet little add-on to our perfectly planned lives.

But Beloved, there comes a moment in each of our lives when we realize Jesus is all we’ve got. A Living God who hears our prayers is our only hope – and was the only hope we ever had in the first place.

When this realization comes, it brings with it a beautiful opportunity. It gives us the chance to really fall in love with Him. To really see Him come through for us. To discover that we really can count on Him, that His love really is unfailing (Psalm 36:5-9). That He really is faithful to do what He said He would do (I Thessalonians 5:24).

Faith that was once undergirded by false comforts loses its footing… and then comes to stand upon the Rock Himself. The things you used to trust in are smashed to pieces and now, His face has become clear. His presence, which used to be a far-off promise, now explodes onto the scene. The Bible that used to gather dust now brims with the best words your ears have ever heard.

Things that could have easily been missed before are now recognized as the treasures that they are. How precious Gideon’s name became during this uncertain season.  Elizabeth’s prophetic unction to give him this name took on an entirely new significance.  Before he ever made his premature appearance, God was preparing the way, giving him a name that spoke hope over his journey.

Beloved, it’s in the midst of the unexpected, the unplanned, and sometimes even the unwelcome that our love story with God begins.

In this uncomfortable place, we learn how to cling to Him. How to hear His voice. How to draw closer. How to discern. How to worship. We learn His ways. His nearness. His heart.

Elizabeth is the first to say that her story isn’t finished yet. Gideon’s life has initiated a long-term walk of faith. There are many loose ends that have yet to be tied. So every day is a chance to, once again, reject false comforts and take a stand upon the Rock.

It’s a journey that, as she keeps clinging, is yielding a fuller life and a deeper intimacy with God than her best laid plans ever knew to dream of.

~

Thank you, Elizabeth, for clinging to Him in uncertainty –

and for reminding us that Jesus is the only sure place to rest our hope.

~

This Bethel song echoes the centrality of His presence.  It’s our only Hope, Friends – anything less is a counterfeit.  Let your heart align with these words as you listen…

~

Previous #WorldChangingWomen:

Mary Kury: A Tenacious Voice of Truth

Yvette Picou: Pursuing a Dream After Raising Children

Ryan Williams: Accessing His Glory Through Prayer

Karen Hollifield: Foolishness that Confounds the Wise

Jessica Satterfield: Made Beautiful by Pain

Rochelle Delain: Joy on the Other Side of Waiting

Becca Friend: Changed Heart Yields a Changed Body

Karen McBride: Permission to be Real

Krista Gaulden: Hope Deferred, Desire Fulfilled

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