Krista Gaulden: Hope Deferred, Desire Fulfilled


Meet Krista Gaulden.

She is a 28 year old wife to Ben. The miracle held inside of that sentence astounds me to this day.

Make yourself comfortable. This is a story worth hearing.

DSC_4303

Ben and I grew up together in church youth group doing all the things youth group kids do. At times over the years, I would hear through the grape vine that he had a thing for me. I thought he was a great guy, but I hadn’t really noticed him in that way. A few times I did take notice of him, but he had backed off. This sort of puppy love was woven through our middle school and high school years.

Then I graduated from high school in 2005. That summer, my two closest friends were in Nicaragua, leaving me with a lot of free time on my hands. Ben and I, along with a few other friends, started spending time together. There were Sonic dates… parks… movies… the 4th of July… It was still early, but I knew there was something real between us.

July of that summer marked the beginning of our “official” relationship. And about a month later, Ben became my first kiss.

In the months that followed I really fell for him. I remember him coming often to pick me up from work… and all the fun we had just being together. For several months, we were soaking up the joys of our new romance.

Then, less than a year into our relationship, Ben and I started picking up on problems between his parents [who were the pastors at our church]. I had a dream around this time that they were going to leave the church but didn’t know exactly what it meant. A few months after our first inklings, Ben and I discovered together just how grave things were. We could see his parents’ marriage coming to an end, and I was in disbelief at what was unfolding. We didn’t tell anyone.

I was amazed at how strong Ben was during this time. He seemed to take on the responsibility to be strong for the family.

After what felt like a very long time to us, everything came to a head. In June of 2006, his parents’ impending divorce was announced at church, they stepped down from their positions, and the family’s house went up for sale.

Even on the heels of things becoming public, Ben seemed to be doing amazingly well. It was very hard, though, for us to still participate in the church mission trip to Latvia that August. But we went.

The house sold quickly, and his parents each went in their own directions. Ben moved into an apartment with a friend and started working at a local restaurant. It was then that he started experiencing the magnitude of what was happening to his family. Moving out of that house and being pushed into an uninvited and cruel new season started bringing his pain to the surface.

I wasn’t aware of exactly what was happening with Ben, but I started noticing things and knew something was up. There were strange phone calls when we were together – phone calls he tried to explain by lying when I asked him about them. And there were bags and bags of trash every time I went to his apartment. Why is he letting the trash pile up? And where is all this trash coming from anyway? His apartment was filthy too. Then he started showing up to our dates looking like he just rolled out of bed.

I didn’t know what to do with all of this. I would get so angry with him – he wasn’t offering any explanation for his erratic behavior. It wouldn’t be until much later that I discovered he had started drinking heavily and doing drugs during this time. All I knew at the time was that the Ben I fell for was slipping away. Tension was building, and we started fighting. I was young and naïve… and loved Ben. I couldn’t see where all these signs were pointing. And I wasn’t going to abandon him because he already felt so alone.

This roller coaster continued for the next few years.

During this time, our church worship leader, Cameron, stepped into Ben’s life. He was pouring into him and allowing Ben space to admit things he wasn’t admitting to me. Cameron was intervening and bringing hope, assuring Ben that he needed to continue being part of the worship team and that he was going to get through this.

Going to Ski Invasion [our annual church retreat] each year was always encouraging too. We would hear powerful redemption stories that would stir up my hope for Ben. I prayed countless times for God to get a hold of him and heal him. I remember daydreaming about him becoming the man of God I knew he was supposed to be. I would dream about him being okay again.

IMG_2018

Through these years of ups and downs, breakthroughs and setbacks, Ben continued to be on the worship team. After a rough two or three years, I felt things getting worse with him. I would get to church some Sunday mornings, expecting to see him preparing to lead, and he would be missing. Livid, I would call him asking where he was… And when he showed up, he smelled like alcohol. I was fuming each time this happened. And still, in my naivete, I had no idea how deeply he was struggling – let alone that he was out partying all night.

By early 2009, nearly four years into our relationship, things were spiraling out of control. Ben’s behavior was more and more erratic. And though I still loved him, I was very unhappy and knew that things were not as they should be. I was clearly hearing the Lord say Let him go. But my heart was shouting and protesting back, not wanting those four years and all I had invested in Ben to be a waste. And wishing so badly that he would snap out of his darkness. After all we had been through, I couldn’t imagine letting him go.

Ben started working at another restaurant around this time. And I noticed a girl, Sarah [name changed], who worked with him there, and it was evident to me that she was on the same destructive path as Ben. In one of our rawest, most painful confrontations, I ended up telling him that maybe he should date her. When he answered by telling me, in so many words, that he agreed, I knew things were dying between us. I never knew my heart could be so wrung with pain.

I sat in disbelief at the words we were saying to each other, at the direction Ben’s heart was heading, and at the realization that I really did have to let him go.

For several more weeks, I kept holding on. Ben was distancing himself further and further from me, but I kept kicking and screaming. Everything in me wanted his heart to turn back toward me, back toward the Lord. But he had a deep resolve about this path he was headed down. We were both still virgins at this point, and I knew what was going to happen when he ended up with Sarah. The thought of it was excruciating. I felt like my heart could explode from the pain.

At one point during these last few agonizing days, I came over to his apartment on a mission. I knew what I had to do.

He was high when I got there… and wanted to know why I had come. “I want to wash your feet.” “Noooo,” he said. He kept protesting, telling me his feet were dirty from landscaping… he was high… he didn’t want me to. “Look at me,” I said, as he kept trying to look away. “I’m going to wash your feet.”

I poured the water, knelt down toward his dirty feet, looked into his glazed eyes and told him I forgave him and released him. And I asked him to forgive me too… and told him I loved him.

Very soon after this, around April of 2009, I let him go for good.

~

Letting Ben go was very much like a death. It was a death, really. The deepest parts of my heart were burst open with sadness. I grieved over what we had in the beginning…and for what I had thought we were going to have in the future. I grieved over the man of God I knew Ben to be. And I grieved over all I knew he was going to lose as he headed down that path.

My days were very long. Time crept by. I repeatedly made a conscious decision to take life one day at a time.

Ben quickly became serious with Sarah, and before I knew it, I heard they were living together.

At work, I would daydream about Ben coming to his senses, opening his eyes, and wanting to be with me again. I dreamed of us being restored. But every time I heard the latest on him and Sarah, those dreams seemed more and more foolish.

I eventually saw that God was working in me through these hard, lonely days. He was cleansing my heart in a lot of ways and was establishing in me who I was as an individual. Some days were beautiful as I saw growth in myself. Of course, there were very bad days too. Days when it felt like Ben had moved on and was having the time of his life while I was left on my own to pick up the pieces. Over time, I learned to let myself fully feel the pain and to invite God into it…not to rush away this hard season, but to embrace it and get everything God wanted me to get from it.

It took me a year and half to start feeling normal again. Slowly, the pain was subsiding and hope was seeping back in.

Around this time, I heard from a friend that Ben and Sarah were getting married. Even in the much stronger place my heart was in now, the news was hard to swallow. I ended up having a fun getaway with friends on the day of their wedding. I was so thankful to not be in town that day. They married in September of 2010.

Just weeks after making it past the hurdle of their wedding, I found out Sarah was pregnant. Another very tough pill to swallow. I couldn’t help but wonder why Sarah was getting to do with Ben all the things I had dreamed of doing with him. Not only did she get to marry him, but now she was going to have a child with him.

Meanwhile, stories about Ben were making their way to me. I kept hearing things about him that saddened my heart – the drinking, the darkness. Even after so many years, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that the sweet Ben from our middle school days was living the life he now was. I still felt a strong connection to him and from time to time would still feel the Holy Spirit’s nudge to pray over his life.

Finding out that a child was on the way was the final nail in the coffin for me. I knew then there would be no turning back. So during the pregnancy, I intentionally started praying for Ben and Sarah. By God’s grace, I prayed blessing over their marriage and even asked God to use this baby to awaken Ben. Eva was born in June of 2011.

And from what I was hearing from friends, it seemed like God was answering my prayers for Ben. He had gotten help with his drinking and was really seeking to better himself so that he could be a good father to Eva. My heart was glad to hear this.

Then the unthinkable happened.

Eva died on August 25, 2011. She wasn’t even three months old.

I found out from one of our dear mutual friends and sat in shock. Devastated, Ben was still resolute in wanting to live a better life. I decided not to go to the funeral, but I heard he spoke beautifully at her service of how Eva had turned his heart back to the Lord.

Very soon after Eva’s death, Sarah plunged into darkness. She wasn’t coming home lots of nights, and Ben was going out to find her in bars. She would fight him, refusing to go home with him. He kept fighting for their relationship, and she kept plunging deeper and deeper into darkness. He came home one day and all of her stuff was gone.

I had a surge of hope when I heard they were getting divorced. Not hope for getting back with him, but hope for Ben’s life in general. Their relationship had been so destructive. I knew his being free from it was a very good thing.

But Sarah’s leaving threw Ben back into his familiar darkness. Heavy drinking. Heroine. Nearly dying from overdose. Women. All of it.

I caught wind of the terrible place he was in, and my heart was sick. These stories kept making their way to me for more than a year.

At some point, a few of our mutual friends started hinting that Ben had thoughts of pursuing me again. He’s lost his mind! I thought to myself. I would get sporadic text messages or friend requests from him and dismissed them. I am not going to get trapped again trying to be his savior. He wrote me a letter during this time apologizing for everything he had done and explaining some of what had been going on inside him that caused him to check out and pursue Sarah years earlier.

Tears streamed as I read his letter. He was definitely still in a dark place, but I could see something starting to change in him.

He would contact me from time to time after that, asking me to come hear his gigs. Lots of times I would turn him down, but a few times I went. In my mind, it was a way for me to be his friend but keep distance. I still cared for him as a person and wanted the best for him but had no desire for a relationship.

In November of 2013, one of my childhood friends was getting married. Our old friends, Nathan and Kristin, were in town for the wedding. Ben reached out, wanting to hang out with all of us. I said ‘no’, still assuming the worst about him. Our friends couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t allow Ben to meet up with us. Nathan ended up challenging me head-on about Ben later that weekend: “Krista, you need to stop.” He spoke with authority. “You need to change your attitude about Ben. You have no idea the changes he’s making. He is getting his life together.” It jarred me.

Is he??? I thought to myself. Is something really changing in him?? It occurred to me that I never saw him drink at the wedding.

A thought ran through my mind that had been dead for years: What if Ben actually changed? What if, after everything, he ends up becoming the man I saw in him in the very beginning? This possibility had been dead for so long that the thought felt entirely new. And it still sounded absurd. I knew it would have to be God. And I was carefully guarding myself.

Then to my surprise, I learned that Ben had taken initiative months earlier to face his alcohol problem. Besides going to detox and rehab, he had also invited accountability into his life. Ben wouldn’t have even considered accountability before. I knew something real was happening with him. He was back in church too. And I noticed that he was spending time again with friends he had walked away from in recent years. He looked better too.

So as he kept reaching out to me, I started taking him up on his invitations to coffee. I was intrigued by the changes I was seeing in him and wanted to hear about them. After so many years, he was finally ready to talk. We would talk and talk and talk… for hours. He answered my questions from way back when. Everything that had been a mystery for years was suddenly an open book.

It’s hard to describe the healing those hours of talking brought. The brick wall I kept hitting years ago that kept me from his heart was now gone. I could finally get to those parts he had shut off from me in his pain. Those conversations were treasure chests where I found jewel after jewel.

You see, I knew Ben before. I saw the man of God in him from the beginning. Then I had grieved what felt like the death of that man. I had watched that man get buried under darkness. And now here I was, seeing what I thought might be gone forever: the man of God that was there in the beginning.

Ben is back I said in my heart.

On Christmas Eve 2013, Ben gave me a gift. It was a song he said he wanted to write me years ago but never did. It was beautiful. That night, we kissed again for the first time.

As we spent more and more time together over the next several months, it felt like we were regaining time that had been lost. There was such excitement. Still, I was very aware of the risk I was taking. There were certainly moments of fear. Not every person in my life was excited for us. But the love in my heart for Ben and the evidence of supernatural change kept echoing.

On May 10, 2014, Ben asked me to be his wife.

AMS_0201

And on July 26, 2014, we married.

AMS_0453

That day, more than five years after letting him go for good, he became mine forever. Against all odds.

It’s been more than a year since that day, and I still sit in near disbelief at the life I am living. It’s the life I dreamed of for years but thought was lost forever. After letting Ben go, after watching him marry another woman, after watching him become the father of her child… and feeling for years the reality of our relationship’s death… Here I now stand, his wife.

Since our wedding, I’ve watched Ben grow more and more into the man of God, husband, and leader that I used to daydream about him becoming. He is once again leading worship and is even interning full time at church.

And not only am I Ben’s wife, but I now have the unspeakable gift of carrying his child.

dsc_4320

The road that led us here was long and hard. There were rivers of tears, gut-wrenching pain, and very long days of waiting. But the long journey to this point has made the fulfillment of my dreams that much sweeter.

Simply getting to be Ben’s wife is a treasure I discover daily. And one that I don’t take for granted. And to think that we are now becoming parents together is almost too much for my heart to comprehend. I am tremendously honored to be by his side and share with him what God is doing in his life.

We are living a literal dream come true.

~

“She brings her husband good, not harm,

all the days of her life.”

Proverbs 31:12

~

The Kingdom story hidden inside of Krista’s:

Krista and Ben’s story is bursting at the seams with the promise of redemption. It speaks of a God whose heart to restore knows no bounds. No matter how final or destroyed something [or someone] seems, God always, always gets the last word.

He is well able – and takes great delight in – doing the unimaginable. Restoring against all odds. Defying statistics. Overthrowing the enemy’s schemes. Giving back what was stolen (Joel 2:25).

But in order to make room for Him to move, we have to let go. If Krista remained unwilling to let go, she would have blocked the Father’s access to Ben. When we keep attempting to save someone, we leave no room for Jesus to step in.

And yes, it can be terrifying to let go. Fear will come and tell us that our letting go will bring utter disaster. Don’t listen to this lie. His love for the person we’re letting go of is incomparably greater than ours. He’s a good Father. And He knows exactly how to get to each of our hearts. We can trust Him with the situations and people He tells us to relinquish.

Not only must we let go, but we have to forgive as well. Tears come easily every time I think of Krista washing Ben’s feet. What a picture of forgiveness. God led her to do this when Ben wasn’t even in a state to appreciate the beauty of it. Sounds a lot like what Jesus did for us, huh? Forgiveness says You owe me nothing. What Jesus did on the Cross is more than enough to pay for what you’ve done to me.

Let go. Forgive. Be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10).

And watch the Artist work.

It may take time – may take a long time. But Beloved, He is at work. When we make room for Him to be God, rest assured: He is moving. Things are happening in the unseen realm even when it doesn’t appear to be so in the natural. What Krista didn’t know during her waiting is that Ben was having dreams about her in the midst of his darkness. In His kind, gentle way, the Father was reminding him of the Life that was still accessible.

He is at work. He does hear our prayers. He is trustworthy.

Not every story ends the same way. I have yet to hear one quite like Krista’s. But what we can be sure of, Beloved, is that submitting our lives to God is moving us toward His desired end. He is moving us toward wholeness and redemption. And whatever it ultimately looks like, it will be good.

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

~

Thank you, Krista, for letting go –

and for allowing the Lord to demonstrate

His endless capacity for redemption through your life.

~

The song below captures the limitless nature of God’s power – and His extravagant heart to redeem. It’s a fitting soundtrack for Krista and Ben’s story.

~

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

Karen McBride: Permission to be Real

Meet Karen McBride, a 49 year old wife and mother of four.

Because we shared the same church family for decades, she’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. Over the last ten years, though, she has become a dear friend.

There are a lot of things to love about Karen, but one consistently comes to mind first when I think of her: She offers the world an invitation to be real, permission to be imperfect. Every time I encounter her vulnerability, my heart breathes a sigh of relief.

It’s okay that, a year after buying it, the collage frame sitting on our dresser still displays the pre-packaged photos of strangers. It’s okay that the once beautiful plant Andrew brought home months ago now sits root bound and near death because of my lack flower pot anointing. It’s okay that those family relationships still have a hard time working. It’s okay that some of life’s i’s and t’s aren’t getting dotted and crossed.

Our day to day lives can sometimes feel like we’re trying to juggle twenty balls and are dropping nineteen of them. It’s into this lingering sense that we can’t quite get a grip on life, or at least a particular part of it, that Karen’s life speaks…

Into the days that were supposed to be perfect but turned out feeling so very flawed…

The things you wish were true about your life but simply aren’t…

The moments you had hoped would feel like a movie but then totally flopped…

The things you wish came easily to you but don’t…

The things you think you ought to be doing but never seem to get around to…

The moments in life when beauty eludes you and the annoying, unglamorous mundane is all you see…

Into these seeming failures Karen speaks, inviting us to let our hair down, take a deep breath, and receive His love this very moment.

Let’s take her up on this invitation as we encounter a few glimpses of her life…

Karen with Roses

A Dreamy Anniversary

Had such a romantic Anniversary… Started with being jolted out of bed at 6:15 by the obnoxious alarm … I of course looked like a model with perfect hair, makeup, and breath. After my beloved arose from his slumber, I lovingly screamed “HAPPY ANNIVERSARY” from the bathroom. As I dashed out the door to work, I managed a quick pop kiss and “love you.” Following a full day at work I sent my love a sensuous text… About how to finish preparing the potatoes and grapes for a banquet tonight. When we were at last reunited, we rushed around like chickens with our heads cut off and ran out the door. We then ate a delicious meal with 150 of our closest friends. It was so nice for them to choose to celebrate with us…. I mean, we had to have a lacrosse banquet while we were there but still … To top off our day, we then ran around the neighborhood chasing our dogs who once again escaped. It is such a bonding experience to run through the neighbor’s backyards in the dark praying that they aren’t real attached to the “shoot first, then ask questions” philosophy..And now we are sitting on the love seat… Watching the NBA while Jeff ices a sore elbow … This my friends is marriage at 24 years… And I wouldn’t have it any other way. (We did go out on an anniversary date on Saturday night AFTER two hours of moving our college kid out! And it was nice!)

Family Picture

The Dreaded Yearly Check-Up

Real. Raw. Confessions of a chubby girl. You probably don’t want to read.
Hopefully it will help someone…. And I promise I’m not asking for pity.

On this day more than any other I am defined by my weight. It’s yearly checkup day, the day that every woman loves to hate. Today, more than any other I will struggle with a number that measures earth’s gravitational pull on my earthly vessel. I will struggle to make a paper gown cover all of me. I’m convinced that a very skinny girl created these. When I get done with the gown, it will probably appear that a cat has been in the room with me because the gown will be torn and shredded in areas. Vera Wang (or a starving aspiring fashion designer) really needs to consider coming up with a nice gown for these occasions. Billions could be made. However even the most beautiful paper gown can’t cover shame.

It will not matter that I like my hair or that I have good nails. It will not matter that overall I like me. It will not matter that I’ve potty trained 4 kids. It will not matter that I’ve demonstrated tremendous self-control and let them live. It will not matter that they’re pretty cool people. It will not matter that I have a strong marriage. It will not matter that I was a stay at home mom for many years. It will not matter that mid-life I went back to school, changed careers, and am now doing what I truly believe I was created to do. It will not matter that instead of spending time at the gym, I’ve spent time with my nose in a book. It will not matter because the fact that I have not been able to hold this one area of my life together will be glaring. The failure to lose weight and keep it off will be the loudest thought in the room.

When I go in for the doctor’s speech, and I hear about my weight, I will resist the urge to say “no I had no idea I need to lose weight or that it’s unhealthy or what it takes to lose it.” Like does anyone really believe that chubby girls don’t know this? I will resist the urges to defend myself or of trying to convince the doctor that I don’t sit around and drink gallons of soda, and eat bags of chips and cookies all day. I will not explain to her that the transition from chubby to skinny FOR ME is a heart, mind, spirit, obedience, and emotional change and that FOR ME the answer does not lie in a pill, a supplement, a diet, or a stringent exercise routine. It lies in changing my relationship with and to food and in submitting this area of my life to the Lordship of Christ….. and I have not done that consistently. I will simply look at the doctor and say “I understand and I will try to do better.” I will walk out of there like I have many times and hope I can get it together for next year. And I will go do something nice for someone else.

~

The Writer Behind These Posts

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a need to be real, to be vulnerable, to be known and loved for who I really am. I am self-reflective by nature and carry a burning desire to understand and to be understood. In part, I think that this is why I majored in Psychology – to seek understanding for myself and for others.

It wasn’t until my early parenting years, though, that I felt a compelling call to vulnerability. You see, more than anything in the world, I wanted to get this parenting thing right. In fact, I wanted to get it perfect. I wanted my children to enter adulthood saved, healthy, happy, well-adjusted, and with absolutely zero need for therapy. Our oldest son was born on May 11,1993 and I am pretty sure that I faced the RUDE AWAKENING by May 14, 1993: I was not going to be perfect at this. I was going to fail. I was going to feel like a failure over and over and over.

As I parented alongside many lifelong friends and acquaintances, I often felt like everyone else had it “all together.” Their kids looked perfect, acted perfect…. Their hair was perfectly coiffed….They were ooo-ing and ahhh-ing over their newborns while I was thinking I NEED SLEEP!

I walked around with a heavy burden of guilt and shame. I knew what I wanted for my children and our family, but I felt ill-equipped to bring that to fruition. I parented out of fear that I was “ruining them.” It became very difficult for me to enjoy the moment because I was so obsessed with all my failures and shortcomings and how I compared to all the perfect moms out there.

But as my friendships with other young moms deepened, I began to realize something powerful: I was not alone. All the “perfect moms” out there were just like me. Many were struggling with their roles as wives, moms and all of the responsibilities and expectations inherent in being women. I spent hours on the phone with these women crying and sharing my struggles and theirs. I realized that we naturally put our best foot forward and that best version of us is often the only one people see. It was then that I committed myself to intentionally being real…to allow other people to know the “together” version of me, but to also let them see the “hot mess me.”

The Hot Mess Me - Post Niagara Falls

The Hot Mess Me – Post Niagara Falls

And the Lord was so faithful. He spoke to me consistently. He reminded me to parent out of faith, not fear. In recent years, He has encouraged me by letting me know that I was not created to be “enough.” I will never be enough for my kids or my husband. For so many years, I had desperately tried to be enough. What a relief it was when He showed me this. They were created with God-shaped holes that I cannot fill.

Over the years, I have written much about this topic in my journals. With the advent of Facebook, I was given an entirely new platform for vulnerability and “realness.” I write and I share because I feel compelled to. I want other women to know that it is okay to not have it together. It is okay to be broken. It is okay to struggle. It is okay to laugh at yourself. It is okay to see the failures through a lens of humor. I want them to know that they have a friend who has been where they are, will be where they are, or is right there in the trenches with them where they are right now. There is no need to pretend to be something we are not because it is so much more fun to be who we were created to be.

The Lord’s work in me has been beautiful and precious. I like me. I do not feel pressured to be something I am not. I do not seek to impress. I seek to be real, because it invites others to be real. At the very least, people can look at me and think Well at least I have it more together than Karen McBride!

God has told me that I AM HIS – before I belong to a church, to my kids, to the hubs, or to a job, I belong to Him. He guides me when I am seeking Him perfectly and when I am not. He loves me when I am searching Scripture and when I am vegging out on the couch. He is pleased with me for no other reason than I AM HIS. There have been seasons in my life where I have soaked myself in worship and Bible study… there have also been seasons where dragging myself to church on Sunday seemed like a Herculean effort. He has loved me through every season and He will love me through the seasons to come.

Dear sister in Christ, He will love you too. Through every season. You are His. Be who He has called you to be. Be the real you, the free you, the vulnerable you. There is no one to impress but Him… And He was impressed with you from the moment He knit you together in your mother’s womb.

BE HIS.

~

“She can laugh at the days to come.”

Proverbs 31:25

The Kingdom Story Karen’s Life is Telling:

The Kingdom story here is about a God who binds up brokenness, is at work in the midst of chaos, and assures us it never was our perfection He was after.

It’s a story about this Jesus who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17) and causes every detail of our lives to conform to the purpose of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Every detail, even the mishaps. Even the setbacks. Even the mundane.

There’s a common understanding of the will of God as a specific set of events that must happen or else our lives are not “in His will.” The damage done by this mentality has been tremendous. Countless sons and daughters have written themselves off as “forever out of His will” because of past failures, lack of clarity, or a sense that events that should have happened haven’t.

Beloved, take a deep breath and exhale this lie. God is after your transformed heart, not some list of required life events. You’re in the Potter’s hands, and as you yield, He’s molding you into an ever-more-accurate reflection of Jesus. And our Potter is so brilliant that He can use anything, anything, to achieve His desired end.

“Anything” looks different for each of us. It represents those pieces of our lives that feel flawed and un-presentable. It may be broken family relationships. Or your never-ending struggle to be on time. Or the painful reminder at yearly check-up time. Or that child who can’t seem to get their life together. Or a long string of dashed hopes. Or your repeated social blunders. Or the faces of strangers staring back at you through the photo frame in your bedroom.

Whatever your “anythings” are, rest assured, Beloved: they aren’t being wasted. They are tools in the Craftsman’s hands, molding, chiseling, and shaping you into His image.

Thank you, Karen, for giving us permission to be real –

and for showing us how to be our true, vulnerable, and free selves.

~

This song echoes Karen’s invitation. “Come out of hiding – you’re safe here with Me. There’s no need to cover what I already see…” Let these words wash over your soul.

~

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

Gifts From My Twenties

Crossing the 30 threshold in a few days has me thinking back on the past decade. Things I’ve experienced, people I’ve met, places I’ve been… The story my twenties has told.

A story that made me an aunt for the first time just days after turning 20.

 055_55 image image

That brought me into a community I loved at Evangel as I was finishing college.

image

And sent me on my first missions trip.

image

That gave me my undergraduate degree – and more importantly, wonderful friends who earned that degree alongside me.

100_0657

That made me the wife of a man who is so much better than my heart knew to ask God for.

IMG_2153

That taught me about life and ministry through the lens of a crisis pregnancy center.

2011party5 dscn1266

80s sweatshirts

That moved us into our 600 square foot house…

DSC_3336

That empowered me to venture into the world of seminary and to climb what appeared to be the impossible mountains of Greek, Hebrew, and exegesis of the Scriptures.

Gordon-Conwell, Charlotte

Gordon-Conwell, Charlotte

That brought tearful good-byes [or rather, “See you laters”]…

Lily

The Bunch Family - This was shortly before Debora's bone marrow transplant in 2010.

image

Stan 1

Suzan 1

Beautiful joys…

He loves his orange string! ALL strings actually!

dscn2603DSC_2948DSC_2230DSC_2067DSC_3157 (2)DSC_1039DSC_3018

And new adventures…

image

With Kelly after giving her the bag of clothes on Tuesday.

Our first missions trip together in Nicaragua

Blowing Rock - August 2014

Happy place.

Washington Mall - November 9, 2014

Sausalito, CA - May 24, 2013

Makana Terrace at St. Regis Princeville - Kauai (Hawaii) - May 2014

A few red rocks behind us on our way to Red Rocks Amphitheatre

On the way to Red Rocks

Vail was a life size winter wonderland. It truly looked like a little fantasy world - cobblestone walkways, gorgeous snow-covered trees, and ski slopes descending right into the village.

One of the most beautiful places I've ever stood!

The mules were so beautiful!

Sunset on our way back from the Napali Coast

DSC_2354 DSC_2451 DSC_2499 DSC_2760 DSC_2835 DSC_2890 DSC_3080 DSC_3196

View More: http://rachelackermanphoto.pass.us/hewitt

Oh.  And laughs.  Lots and lots of laughs.

image image image image DSCN3382DSCN3340women's conference 08100_24001008582 FATBOOTH dscn1849 DSC_1561dscn1131100_2421IMG_1008IMG_1710

IMG_1724a17DSC_1987DSC_0509hewitt-27IMG_1052 DSC_0564

Here are a few of the less tangible gifts my twenties have given me:

A core trust in Jesus alone. Almost ten years ago, my church family experienced devastation that shook most of us on a deep level. Layer by layer, the Lord stripped away false comforts from each of us. Many of those false comforts were people – people who had been leaders and people who were simply longstanding, important parts of our church life. I remember encountering a line by Oswald Chambers during this uncomfortable, scary season. “In all the world there is no one but you, dear God; there is no one but you.” What a timely word it was. And how very real this truth became to me.

It resounds in my heart to this day, and I know it will forever. Sure, we are to come under spiritual authority, and God has designed things so that we need each other. We need to receive from other people in order to grow. But what must also be held in tension with these things is the fact that only God is perfect. He alone is our Constant. Our unshakable Rock. The One who never changes. And the One who will never disappoint us. So no matter how much we love, honor, and open our hearts to other people, our deepest trust must be reserved for Him alone. When we direct this deepest trust where it belongs, we aren’t sent into a tailspin when the person we thought was perfect turns out not to be. And actually, keeping our trust in Jesus serves as a guardrail against putting people on pedestals in the first place.

~

The realization that there are no “normal” families. I remember thinking when I was younger that most people around me had “normal” families. You know, families with no secrets. Families with no dysfunction, chaos, or longstanding issues. Happy-go-lucky, problem-free families. Coming of age and living through my twenties has given me the unexpected opportunity to take a closer look at some of those “normal” families I thought I knew. With this zoomed in lens, I was surprised every time at how quickly dysfunction became visible. Dysfunctional marriages, dreaded-but-necessary family gatherings, moments of breakthrough followed by setbacks, lifelong secrets, mismanagement of money, fear of confrontation… The list goes on and on. Even wonderful families had problems.

After a number of these closer encounters, it finally dawned on me that the whole idea of a “normal” family – at least what it had meant in my mind – was a myth. My family was never any more broken than the next person’s. When it comes down to it, we all come from families that are good in some ways and broken in others. Some people just try a lot harder to hide their brokenness. And the ones who appear the most together on the outside are often found to be the most broken upon a closer look. We all need a Savior. End of story.

~

A love for morning coffee. Why did I fight this for so long? It was just a little over a year ago while we were in Nicaragua that Andrew and I developed an everyday coffee routine. We were so tired on that trip that we needed the caffeine to get going each day. So we discovered Nicaraguan coffee and have never stopped drinking it since.

It’s amazing the difference that warm cup of goodness can make. I wake up in the morning denying I have to get out of bed, wondering if God is even real… and certain that I’m being overtaken by classwork and life in general. But by the end of that one cup, my entire outlook on life has rebounded. Maybe I should take extra courses next semester! I think to myself. Maybe I’ll clean this entire house after I finish schoolwork! There’s NOTHING I can’t do today!

Caffeine – such an epiphany. If only I had known this all those mornings I tried so hard to wake up without it.

~

Respect for people who practice discretion. I guess there are two senses to this. First, I’ve come to deeply value trustworthy people. They are precious few. People with whom you can be your true self and to whom you can expose your worst parts without fear of being misunderstood or talked about behind your back. People you can really reach out to for prayer…who really care…and will really pray…and will really keep a conversation confidential. This type of person is a rare find.

The second sense I’m talking about is a type of humility. This kind of discretion keeps a person from broadcasting their most recent expensive purchase, even when it would be justified. I think lots of people have genuine excitement when they post about their new homes, cars, etc. and that’s perfectly fine… But over the last few years I’ve noticed something pretty wonderful. It is precisely some of the most materially blessed people who do not broadcast their material possessions. I’m thinking right now of some particular friends who moved into a very nice home not too long ago – a home much nicer than the ones so often posted on social media…and yet, they posted nothing about it. Something about their discretion in that instance struck me. It has stirred respect and sown a desire in me to live that way.

~

An appreciation for the fact that valuable things in life have no short-cuts. If I want intimacy with God, I have to invest time in it, fight for it, guard it, honor it, and cherish it. Knowing Him will not come cheaply. And the same goes if I want a good marriage – it must be pursued and fiercely protected. If I want meaningful friendships, I have to invest time and thought into people. If I want to be fit, I have to exercise. A lot. If I want a graduate degree that actually means something, I have to do A LOT of reading, writing, and studying. And keep doing it until I finish. Valuable things come with a great price.

~

Value for waiting on the Lord. This story from recent years was a huge factor in my learning to wait on the Lord. His timing is always, always best. And I’ve found His timing to be linked to His provision.

~

Grace for myself. God is on a mission setting me free from the impossible standards I used to set for myself. Over the last few years, He has been teaching me how to live from a posture of rest. For example: how to do my best on an exegesis paper, enjoy the process by looking for treasures hidden in the work, and release my finished product to Him, not to a professor. Something interesting has happened as I’ve followed Him down this road: doing my schoolwork with His approval in mind has freed my heart to enjoy the journey and to see my assignments as finished when I submit them rather than when I get my grades back. Simply finishing each task and knowing that He is pleased is all I need. A good grade or positive feedback is just icing on the cake. Having come from a deeply engrained perfectionism, I still intentionally remind myself of this new order God has established as I approach new assignments.

And though it’s still in process, I now have much more grace for my appearance than I did ten years ago. I look back and can hardly believe how flawed I felt for so long. Between figuring out that I was short [as my classmates consistently pointed out to me throughout school] and that I didn’t like my profile [who takes the time to assess the way their face looks from the side, anyway??], I could hardly enjoy life for many years. There was a constant fear that someone was going to look too closely at me and see that I wasn’t beautiful like so-and-so. And there always was a beautiful so-and-so around, confirming my feelings of inadequacy. Now that this dark cloud is lifting, I see that He never wanted me to look “like so-and-so.” He made me to be me. And sure, a continually better version of me – but only because I’m growing in my ability to reflect Him, not anyone else.

Ahhhh, the power of Grace. It’s beautiful.

~

It’s with this posture of rest that I am stepping into my thirties. Years that will inevitably bring change, uncertainty, laughter, challenge, and joy. And years that, like my twenties, will always have His presence as their answer.

 

Becca Friend: Changed Heart Yields a Changed Body

Meet Becca Friend, a 38 year old wife and mother of three.

Several years ago, God began a remarkable transformation in Becca’s life – one that I witnessed as we worked alongside each other in ministry.

Her story is one to which most can relate. It’s a story about the heart and the body – and how very connected the two are. It’s a story that carries promise for lasting change.

So make yourself comfortable, open your heart, and let hope rise as you encounter her words…

FullSizeRender (2)

I never was the tiny girl. I was the one shopping for larges and extra-larges every year when we went back to school. Weight was a struggle for me from an early age.

I wasn’t athletic growing up, and money was the biggest concern in my family’s food choices. We were on a budget. So the question was usually “What’s the cheapest way we can we eat?” rather than “How healthy is our food?” When we did eat healthier meals, they were usually followed by desserts. For a treat, my parents would take advantage of $1 taco nights and all sorts of sales and coupons so that my sisters and I could eat out. These splurges always centered around stretching a dollar as far as it could go.

Somewhere along the way as I was coming of age, I stopped growing taller yet continued to gain weight. “That’s just the way you’re made,” I would hear sometimes. “You’re thick-boned.” I knew my weight had concerned my mom for quite a while though. I remember being introduced to Diet Coke [what was perceived as a healthy option] when I was still in elementary school. In our limited understanding, it was an effort to pursue a healthier weight for me.

There were times through the years that I would try to control my weight using pills and crash diets. It would “work” for a while; I would lose weight, drop sizes, and feel great. Then I would go back to my exact same patterns. …And the weight came right back.

I got into the pageant world for a while during my teenage years. I lost a lot of weight during this season, but in an unhealthy way. I was trying so hard to control my body and others’ perception of me. I remember physically shaking at times because of how caffeinated my diet pills were. Thankfully, I never went down the road of binging and purging. Rather, it was an ongoing roller coaster of gaining control for a brief time and then losing it again. I was the classic “yo-yo dieter” and experienced a lot of health issues because of it.

For years, this cycle continued. I went into every single “diet” as a short-term fix. If I’ll just focus for four weeks, I’ll get to the size I want to be, I would tell myself. So then I focused for the required amount of time, attained my desired size, and immediately went back to all of my old ways.

I rode this roller coaster into marriage and motherhood, too. And for most of this painful journey, I had been walking with the Lord. My faith had really become my own at the age of eighteen when I rededicated my life. But God had done so much in my life that somewhere along the way, I came to a silent conclusion in my heart that I couldn’t ask Him for anything else.

My long-established history of ups and downs with food teamed up with my constant need to please and put others first, intensifying my struggle. I fell easily into the familiar pattern of feeding my family in the cheapest ways possible, keeping the ever-important budget as the chief goal. Looking back, I see that there was a false dichotomy in my mind: you either eat healthy or you eat on a budget. There’s no way to do both. I know now that this is not true.

As my sons were growing, I began learning more about organic foods and gained more understanding of what healthy eating really is. So I slowly started making changes. I began buying healthier foods, but only for the boys. There was still a big disconnect concerning myself. I was willing to spend more money on better meals and snacks for them, but I still ate off of the dollar menu everywhere we went.

Then in the spring of 2011, I hit a wall. Physically, spiritually… in every way. My weight had reached an all time high, and I felt completely out of control. My husband was very concerned about me. He wanted me to be able to fully enjoy raising our sons, and at this point, I wasn’t coming close to enjoying it. Things like bike-riding and hiking were non-existent in our lives. Physically, I simply couldn’t do those things. I weighed over 220 pounds. At 5’3” this was alarming.

FullSizeRender

I knew something had to change. God, I can’t go on like this. I was at the end of my rope and had no idea how to change. I had tried every fad diet known to man was so weary of the roller coaster.

Around this time, I began encountering people who were training with a man from our church, Carroll Dawkins. These were normal, everyday people [not intimidating fitness enthusiasts] who were managing to survive boot camps with this man. It intrigued me.

Meanwhile, I was hitting the wall harder and harder. Things were coming to a head in a big way. I wasn’t connecting with my kids the way I used to. And I felt completely unworthy. Unworthy as a wife. Unworthy as a mom. Unworthy as a human being. I felt like I was failing on every level – my family, my home, everywhere I looked.

On the outside, it would have been easy to miss what was going on with me. I kept going through the motions, but I was walking through intense darkness.

One night, I came to the Lord in desperation: God, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t fake it. I can’t make it work. I need you to show me what to do. I can’t go on like this. I want permanent change.

I knew the only way this time was going to be different was if I got help from someone else. I knew what was stirring in me was a drastic, forever change. I wasn’t looking for a quick-fix anymore. I knew my entire lifestyle needed to change.

That desperate prayer was about one week before my 34th birthday.

I decided that maybe Carroll was the person to help me. So on my birthday, June 2, I went to his gym and signed up for membership. It was very important to me that I went on my actual birthday because I knew it was marking a turning point in my life. I was scared and excited at the same time. It felt great to have a plan, yet there was a very real sense of risk. What if I die?! What if Carroll’s training kills me??!

The next week I went to work out for the first time. And two weeks later, Carroll began training me. It started an entirely new journey in my life.

As I trained, God began speaking to me. He unearthed things I had been believing about myself that weren’t true. One of those hidden lies was that I was unworthy. The church culture I had been part of from an early age was one that fostered a lingering sense of unworthiness. While there is truth in saying that our salvation is undeserved, the enemy often twists this with lies so that even after we come to Christ and are made new, we still see ourselves as the wretched person we were before. God brought such clarity to this twisted notion of unworthiness for me.

He showed me that every time I called myself ‘unworthy’, I was saying that Jesus had died for nothing. I finally saw that He had deemed me worthy of dying for – so who was I to disagree with Him? This dramatically shifted the way I saw myself and even the way I saw other people. My heart was suddenly broken for how many of those in Christ are living under this cloud of unworthiness.

You see this outer shell, the Lord told me, but I see something in you worth saving. We just have to get to it.

Weeks and months passed as I kept pursuing daily exercise, weekly training, and better eating. And tied inextricably to my new physical routine was the deep work God was doing in my heart. Layer by layer, He was breaking encumbrances off of me: lies I had believed about myself, cruel words that had been spoken over me, wounds from the past… And every time another one was discarded, pounds fell off with it.

Don’t misunderstand, though: I worked very hard. There is no way around exercise and healthier eating. But the Lord’s momentum was upon my physical effort because the real change was happening inside my heart.

Nine months after that landmark moment of signing up for the gym membership, I was seventy pounds lighter and had a freer heart than I could have ever imagined.

 FullSizeRender (1)

Now, almost five years later, I am a woman who enjoys bike-riding, hiking, and all that comes with being a healthy weight. I look back at 2011 with deep gratitude. I am thankful for the desperation that led me to seek change. Thankful for the courage God gave me to enter the unfamiliar world of gym membership and personal training. Thankful for the worth He has spoken over me. Thankful for His grace that has brought lasting change.

By that same grace, I will never go back to the way things were. There’s nothing to go back to.

~

Becca’s counsel for those desiring this kind of change:

People often ask me what I did to lose those seventy pounds. And I usually sense an unspoken hope that I have a convenient pill or fad diet to let them in on. But the truth is, I have no easy secrets to offer. Losing the weight was part of an entire lifestyle and heart change that required very hard work. As in, five to six days a week of exercise. As in, permanently changing the way I ate. There are no shortcuts. But the long road to healing leads to lifelong change.

Listen to the Lord and do the one thing He is telling you to do. This whole health journey first started as a seed a year earlier when I was on a fast with my church. He had me give up Diet Coke [my go-to comfort that I consumed in large amounts every day]…and not just for the fast, but for good. Looking back, I see that He did this to show me that tremendous change is possible. It was a seed that sprouted in a huge way the next year when I knew my lifestyle needed to change. Small steps can lead to huge change. There is no need to feel as if you have to change your entire diet at once.

In the beginning, it was very helpful for me to look at my gym time as a non-negotiable appointment. So if someone asked me to do something during that window of time, I had to say ‘no’. Exercising had to become as essential to my day as dropping the boys off at school or going to work. This helped to establish exercise as an integral part of my life. Now, years later, I do not have to be as regimented. Exercise is such an engrained part of my life that I have much more flexibility in getting it done.

Speaking of flexibility, I’ve also learned to adjust my exercise to each new season of life. For example, two of my sons have football practice every day now. Because I am spending so much time at the football field these days [and therefore have less time to make it to the gym], I have utilized their practices as a time to walk. By walking around the field, I can still see what my sons are up to and fit in daily exercise at the same time.

Reaching out for help has been key for me, too. I’ve learned that to get where I want to go physically, I have to get around people who are already there. I know God sent Carroll into my life to empower me to go to a place I had never been. Even this past summer, I realized that my body was plateauing and I didn’t know what to do about it. So I reached out to Carroll for help. Lifestyle change is not a one-time experience. It is ongoing and will often require our asking for help.

“She sets about her work vigorously;

her arms are strong for her tasks.”

Proverbs 31:17

~

A Look at Becca’s Story Through the Kingdom Lens:

Becca’s transformation demonstrates the connection between our spiritual and physical conditions. Our visible behaviors are telling of our hidden, spiritual realities. With every layer of her heart that was peeled away, weight fell off too. This is no coincidence. The way we steward our physical existence (our body, our home, our resources) is a reflection of our inner life. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). Everything we do flows from the condition of our hearts.

Friends, Becca’s story invites us to evaluate our lives and, hand in hand with Jesus, explore our places of chaos. There is a reason, Beloved, why you can barely walk through your home for the mess. There is a reason why you keep indulging with food, knowing you’re going to loathe yourself afterward. There is a reason why you’ve stopped caring about your appearance. Why you avoid pictures. Why you hate mirrors. Why you can’t sustain friendships. Why your spending is out of control.

Some place in your heart has been shut off from Love. Shut off from His healing presence. Shut off from His safe acceptance. It’s time that this door be unlocked and opened. That you invite the Father into this reclusive, terrified part of yourself. There is nothing to fear.

Let His love seep into the parched places until it becomes a river. Sure, it’ll bring tears. Probably lots of them. But rejoice in them: They are evidence of something dead coming to life. Follow Him and be willing to go as deep as He desires. And as your heart is made whole, watch and see as the visible pieces of your life start reflecting His goodness.

Thank you, Becca, for letting Him heal your heart –

and for allowing the life of Jesus to be revealed in your body (II Cor 4:10).

~

Michael Gungor’s “Beautiful Things” echoes this promise of lasting change. Our dust really can be made beautiful when we lay it at His feet. Let that hope wash over you as you listen…

Rochelle Delain: Joy on the Other Side of Waiting

Meet Rochelle Delain. She is a 53 year old wife and mother of one.

Though we’ve attended church together for many years, it was not until recently that I learned of her story.

The Lord had already given me her name as an important part of this line-up, and I thought I knew exactly why: She’s an educated, Kingdom-minded businesswoman in our community. Of course, Lord. I was thinking. Of course, Rochelle.

Little did I know, her story was much richer than I originally thought.

It’s one that speaks to us in our waiting. I don’t know what you’re waiting on, Dear One, but pull up a chair. Let’s listen to Rochelle’s story…

Revised profile head shot

I grew up, like most girls, wanting to marry and have a family. Having watched my parents enjoy a good relationship, the desire came naturally. I came of age and went off to college, so sure that marriage would come easily.

I dated some in college, but nothing long-term came about. The men I dated were not marriage-minded and, honestly, weren’t the type of men I needed to be in a relationship with. I was walking with the Lord, but I definitely made mistakes. There’s an old song that comes to mind: “Lookin for Love in all the Wrong Places.” I definitely did that for a number of years – even dating non-believers, which never turned out well.

After finishing college, I went to chiropractic school… and continued to invest time in people that weren’t right for me. A lot of these men were “Christians,” as in “went to church,” but they weren’t walking with the Lord. There’s a big difference. I was even warned by others during this season, but I wouldn’t listen. I wanted so badly to find “the one.” But in my attempts to do this, I kept opening myself to men who clearly weren’t “the one.” All of these relationships ended in heartbreak.

I finished chiropractic school when I was thirty. Now I’ll start working, and my Prince Charming will come I thought to myself.

But that didn’t happen. Weeks became months and months became years.

I became really hardened after years of this cycle. Even bitter. All of the dashed hopes, disappointments, and repeated heartbreaks were wearing on me. It stung the worst each time I was asked to be in a wedding. What’s wrong with me? I would ask in my heart. How can everyone except me manage to get married? Even my younger brother and sister married before me. I made the conscious decision to share in other people’s joy, but deep in my heart, these painful questions were constantly being whispered.

In my mid-thirties, still seeking to fill this desire, I ended up engaged…to one of the men I had been warned about. I was in such a place of desperation. I never felt peace about being with him, but I had hoped things would feel better as we moved closer to the wedding date. A few friends warned me, even after we got engaged, saying “There’s something that isn’t right about this guy. Are you sure you want to do this?” Still, I was going to go through with it, even though my own lack of peace witnessed with what they were saying. But God intervened. I wouldn’t have said that at the time, but He did. My fiance broke off our engagement four months before our wedding date.

I was devastated. Here I was, thirty-five years old, and had come so close to what I thought was going to fill this void in my heart…only to be crushed in disappointment all over again. I went into a deep depression.

But during that dark time, God was there. He began dealing with me, surfacing wounds in my heart that I had been unaware of. He showed me that there were things in me that were attracting this same type of man who was no good for me. I began seeing Truth during this time, but I experienced some very dark days. I even had thoughts of suicide run through my mind. Thankfully, I knew where those were coming from. Satan, I’m not giving you the pleasure.

This darkness is what prompted me to call my church home for counseling. I went through prayer counseling, which is an inner healing ministry process. It was during this process that clarity came. I had been reaching for the wrong people because some things in me were broken. I revisited past places of hurt, like the bitterness that remained because of my mother’s dying when I was nine years old. There were several wounds from my younger years that had all combined to produce a pattern of unhealthy relationships in my life. Though I knew the Lord, there was something I was reaching for inside that I ended up reaching for in these men, where it would never be found. I found out there was nothing “wrong” with me – my heart just needed healing.

What started as a dark depression became a season of healing. I was seeking the Lord, and He was revealing truth. He began changing me. I dated a man briefly during this season – it was brief because I quickly saw the markings of every other man I had been with. I knew he wasn’t for me, and I broke it off. God had brought clarity and was using it to change my taste. I was no longer attracted to men who would be dead ends.

For about two years, I didn’t date anyone. I knew the Lord had led me to a season of just me and Him. At some point, I had made a decision. God, I’ve messed this up so many times doing it myself. I want an arranged marriage. I want You to choose my husband. I don’t want the dating scene anymore. I don’t want my heart broken anymore.

During this season of just me and the Lord, I had a dream that I married a man who had a daughter. I felt like it was from Him but didn’t tell anyone except my roommate. Around that time I ended up going to a singles home group at church. One night while we were all together, I had a prayer request and a woman there named Marian interrupted me, saying “You need a husband. Would you like for me to pray for you?” I said “Yes” without even thinking about it. So she prayed, asking God for my husband.

Six months later, we had a new attendee at our singles group one night. A handsome man named Ron joined us for the first time. We talked some during the gathering. Then, while we were sharing prayer requests, Ron mentioned something about his daughter. My ears perked up. That was September, and he didn’t come back in October.

I saw him at church and told him I missed him at home group. At the time I was a home group assistant and was in charge of following up with people. So I told him if I had had his number, I would have reached out (not really meaning anything by it, just fulfilling my responsibility). So he gave me his number… and then asked for mine. I was still fearful of another relationship at this point – and probably a little cynical, too. I gave him my business card so he would only have my work number. 🙂

A few weeks later, he called me at work, asking me out on a date. I agreed to go and was very excited. But then, fear crept in. All of my past disappointments reared their ugly head, causing me to second guess myself. The fear was so real that I almost backed out of our date altogether. I confided my feelings to a friend, who told me to step out and go on the date anyway. I decided to push through my fear and give it a chance.

We went out, and there was definitely something there… but we didn’t go out again until a few months later. We both felt the need to take things slowly. I was guarding my heart very closely.

We kept this slow pace for a year…and it eventually became clear that Ron was the one. Our relationship grew, and we still allowed each other space at moments when it was needed. I knew God had done a work in me – because in the past, I had never been able to give space. I had been too fearful of losing the relationship.

In May of 2003, Ron proposed in the same home group gathering where we had first met. And in October, we were married. At forty-one years old, my wait for a husband had come to an end.

October 18, 2003

October 18, 2003

…And a new journey started. It came with surprises, twists, turns, and deep personal growth.

Surprisingly enough (to some, considering my long wait), Ron and I chose to give ourselves a full year of marriage before trying to have a child. We wanted time to get adjusted to our life together.

After allowing ourselves that time, we started trying. Over a year into this process, still childless, I began to get concerned. People were quick to remind me of my age, often mentioning adoption as an option. While adoption is beautiful, I knew in my heart that we were to have a biological child. And I thought of Abraham and Sarah – how he had God’s promise of a child but then attempted to fulfill that promise himself. For us, adoption would have been like Abraham’s human attempt to do something that was God’s alone to do.

Marian, the dear lady who had prayed for God to send my husband, was a strong encourager during this time. She spoke life over this dream of mine, reassuring me that God knew how old I was.

So we continued trying. We conceived around eighteen months into this and were ecstatic. We told everyone the great news!

Then eight weeks later, I miscarried. We were devastated. And again, people were quick to speak words that wounded. It was a very heartbreaking time that caused me to question whether I had really heard from God about having a biological child. I was forty-four years old and still waiting on this promised child. I wondered if this pregnancy had been my last chance.

But two months later, I was overjoyed to find myself pregnant again. Though this was a healthy pregnancy, it came with its challenges. I often heard [again] about my age and all the risks involved in carrying this child. I made a conscious decision not to give an ear to people’s negative words, including my doctor’s. I listened to praise music all the way to and from each appointment and kept myself continually focused on God’s Word and His promise.

After nine months of a healthy pregnancy, I gave birth to our son, Isaiah. At forty-five years old, I was now a wife and a mother.

I am now 53, raising my eight year old son. I love God’s sense of humor.

October 18, 2015

October 18, 2015

Being a wife to Ron and a mother to Isaiah has been the sweetest gift. Looking back on my years of waiting, I am thankful for the healing God brought to my heart during that season. In hindsight, I see great purpose in those years. They weren’t easy, that’s for sure. But they cultivated something in me that I wouldn’t have had any other way – they have made me the woman, wife, and mother I am today.

Rochell and Family

~

“A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.”

Proverbs 31:10

~

We can learn a great deal about the Kingdom when we look at Rochelle’s story…

Her journey speaks to our seasons of waiting. You know, we’re all waiting on something. It might be a spouse. Or a child. Or physical healing. Or an adoption. Or financial change. Or a different career. It might be countless prayers you’ve prayed for a loved one – prayers on which you are still waiting to be fulfilled.

When we find ourselves waiting on something – especially something that seems good and God-honoring – it’s easy to go down the road of speculation and comparison. Why can she have it when I can’t, Lord? Why did it come so easily for him? Why am I still waiting on the thing I was praying for fifteen years ago? Rochelle was no stranger to these questions.

There is no end to the list of things around us we can choose to latch onto if we allow ourselves. It’s in this place of vulnerability and non-understanding that we must ever-so-fiercely guard our hearts. Not only do opportunities for speculation abound, but our enemy is also quick to whisper to us in our questioning. He offers lies about God’s character, hoping we will agree with him, thereby inviting him to inhabit that room in our heart. Friends, this is subtle. It can take place in a matter of seconds.

Besides assaulting God’s character, our seasons of waiting can also tempt us to make the desired thing happen on our own. To pursue it our own way, with our own strength. This is what caused Rochelle to get into relationships with men who were no good for her. She was trying to make marriage happen for herself. And she is the first to say that it ended terribly every. single. time.

By His grace, it finally became clear to her that only God Himself could fulfill the desires of her heart. Her attempts were futile. Her decision to yield to God, to fully give herself over to Him in her waiting, brought unimaginable healing to her heart…and ultimately, prepared her for the fulfillment of her long-standing desires.

The journey brought her to a place of surrender, of total yieldedness to the Lord. Such a yieldedness, in fact, that even when God brought Ron into her life, she held him with an open hand. She left room for God to speak, even after they began dating. Friends, this speaks a powerful word.

It invites us to let go of our five and ten year plans. To hold our dreams loosely (Proverbs 19:21)… because He alone is our prize. It invites us to trust Him, in the deep places of our unanswered questions and prolonged waiting.

To trust that His heart toward us is always good,

that there is not a moment of our existence when He doesn’t see us,

that yieldedness is moving our life toward its destined fullness.

~

Thank you, Rochelle, for submitting yourself to the best Storyteller.

His beauty is woven through your years of waiting and fulfillment.

~

Dr. Rochelle Delain practices at

Healing Place Chiropractic and Wellness in Spartanburg, SC.

http://www.thehealingplacesc.com/

~

I encountered this song earlier this year, and it speaks such promise to our hearts when the waiting is long.

~

The story behind these stories…

Jessica Satterfield: Made Beautiful by Pain

Meet Jessica Satterfield, a 28 year old wife and mother of two. She radiates a sweetness that invites you to come closer.

Her husband and I were college classmates years ago, and I still remember when he first told me about this special girl he had met. Once I met her for myself, I easily saw what drew him to her.

She’s the real deal. Loves Jesus through and through. And emanates such beauty…a beauty that runs much deeper than a pretty face and great hair (though she has those, too 🙂 ). It’s what Stasi Eldredge calls a “soulish beauty.”

I knew there was a story behind this beauty.

Here, in her own words, Jessica shares a glimpse of that story.

View More: http://rachelackermanphoto.pass.us/satterfields

Some nights when the fighting was too loud for me to sleep, a little bird would chirp outside my window. In the middle of the night. In the dead of winter. And I always knew it was Him.

Even as a little girl, I knew Him to be safe. He was safe in the midst of the chaos I grew up in. I came to know Him when I was only five. Although I only saw tiny glimpses of Him, I knew He would always be enough.

I was diagnosed with a heart disease when I was in high school. I had many doctor’s visits, heart surgeries, and just plain hard days. But even in my physical weakness, I found Him to be strong. I could rest in Him when my body was so tired. I am still finding Him to be faithful in the day to day of living with this disease.

But it wasn’t until that one, lonely pink line showed up month after month. All of my friends were posting pictures of swollen bellies. It seemed like every time I checked the mail, I was invited to, yet another, baby shower. I could not escape the longing to be a mother. It would find me in the isles of the grocery store, in the middle of a commercial, or especially, in the silence of the night.

That’s when I really found Him. In the hard of infertility, He met me there. He met me in the brokenness of my story, in the empty parts of my heart, and the barrenness of my womb. I found Him there, in the hardest days of my life. He saw me. And after hormones of every kind, a year of infertility treatments, and accepting I would never carry biological children, I realized just as when I was a little girl, He would always be enough.

Beauty began to form from my ashes, not only in my heart, but in our home. Little feet pitter-patter throughout my house now. And two sweet, brown babies call me, “Mommy.” I look into their precious faces and see a very faithful Father. He has written beauty over their sweet lives, and our broken story.

Being their mama is the greatest honor of my life, but loving children that come from hard places has brought me to a new place of needing Him. My days are filled with therapy sessions, feeding tubes, changing diapers, cleaning up messes, and kissing boo-boos. I love every second. But some days I find myself in the corner of my closet eating a Reese’s (can I get an amen?), in the dark and quiet. The day to day hard, propels me to run to Him.

He, still, is always enough, and always safe. We meet every night on my white couch. He gets all of me in those precious moments. The hard from that day fades away when I’m able to look into His face. Some days when the hard seems too much, I crawl in His lap and let Him love on me. Some days when I am parched, I dive deep into His Word for wisdom. But every day, He is there. Seeing me, loving me, meeting with me.

The hard parts of my story have never been my favorite to live through. It’s even painful, at times, to remember them. But those nights of no sleep as a little girl, the heart surgeries, every negative pregnancy test, and the days when two under two is exhausting, are the most precious. Because it has been in the hard of my life, that I have found Him to be the most real, present, and beautiful.

Without these times, I wouldn’t know what His lap feels like. I wouldn’t know the sound of His heartbeat. I wouldn’t know Him to be enough or safe. I wouldn’t trade any of the hard for what I have since found in Him.

Sometimes in our immature thinking, we believe if enough “hard” has already happened, then the rest of our life will be easy. This isn’t true when we follow Jesus. In fact, He tells us to expect hard. It’s in the middle of life storms that we can find Him to be so incredibly good. We must only lean into Him and allow Him to be. And when we do, the broken parts of our stories, become the most beautiful.

~

“Her children arise and call her blessed;

her husband also, and he praises her.”

Proverbs 31:28

~

Beloved, the beauty upon Jessica’s life is telling a Kingdom story…

A story of ashes turned to beauty (Isaiah 61:3) and pain that has yielded refinement. Rather than running away from God in her pain, she has kept running to Him, inviting Him into it.

Her story is broader, deeper, and harder than can be captured in this one excerpt. But let me tell you, the pain has been real. If anyone had a reason to become embittered and cynical, it was Jessica. From her earliest days, she had reasons to accuse God. But she chose the way far less traveled – the way of yieldedness. The way of pliability in the Potter’s hands.

As I’ve meditated on her story, the image I keep seeing in my mind is that of a wine-press. An ancient wine-press consisted of two vats: the first was a higher receptacle into which grapes were thrown and then crushed and bruised. Here great pressure was exerted upon the fruit in order to free its juice. The second receptacle received the juice produced by the first vat’s pressure.

The wine-press facilitated a process that was both crushing and fruitful. It involved intense pressure, but the pressure had a purpose: it released the fruit’s precious contents. The crushing that seemed to be destroying the fruit was actually transforming the fruit into something much more valuable. Wine costs a lot more than grapes. And no wonder. Its value, its taste, its richness, are the result of an extensive process. Fine wines aren’t cheap because they aren’t easily produced.

The beauty emanating from Jessica’s life has come from her time in the wine-press. Her yieldedness during seasons of crushing has begun to release the precious contents the Father placed inside of her long ago.

There’s an invitation in this for us, Friends. Oh, that we would take Him up on it! That we would stop using pain as an excuse to run from Him but rather, as a reason to crawl into His lap. That we would stop agreeing with lies about His heart and instead, open ourselves to life as sons and daughters. That we would stop giving way to cynicism and rather, allow Him to restore our innocence.

He’s there in your pain, Beloved… Just as He’s been there in Jessica’s. And He’s making all things new.

Thank you, Jessica, for yielding to His process –

and for offering the world new wine!

~

You can read more about Jessica’s journey with the Lord at

http://gracewhilewewait.com/

~

I’ve been reminded of this song as I’ve thought about Jessica’s story, and I pray that it ministers to you. It’s a gentle, prophetic declaration that our Father is restoring us as we press into His presence. There’s nothing that has been stolen from us that God can’t restore!

~

Other #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

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

Karen Hollifield: Foolishness that Confounds the Wise

Have you ever encountered a person who seemed to know God in a way that intrigued you? It might have been her passion…or the way she prayed…or how she took risks to follow God… Whatever it was, it got your attention – and showed you that more was available in God than you realized.

Well meet Karen Hollifield. She is a wife and mother of four who will celebrate her 50th birthday this month.

As long as I’ve known her [which is at least a decade now] she has exuded this type of knowing. She hears God and obeys Him in ways that startle the unsuspecting. While some would probably chalk her up as a fanatic, what they are actually encountering in her is child-like faith. Faith that has grabbed hold of God in the midst of life’s battles and has tasted His bigness to the point of no return.

When we get a glimpse of the adventure God is inviting us into… When we see Him demonstrate His heart in such tangible ways… There really is no return to “normal” life. Something comes alive inside, and suddenly, people’s opinions of us shrink in importance. They can no longer hold us back from being who we are and doing what He put in our hearts to do.

This open pasture of freedom, life, adventure, and risk is where Karen’s story invites us to come. What follows is a glimpse of what first drew her to this place.

Karen

Hungry for God

It was many years ago after becoming a wife and mother that I found myself empty and desperate for something more than a casual Sunday relationship with the Lord.  At the time I was a forensics officer with the Spartanburg County Sherriff’s Department.  I was surrounded by death on a daily basis.  My work required intense focus on crimes – things I now see as acts of evil.

In forensics, you spend much time thinking through crime scenes.  My mind became dark because of it.  My last couple of months as an officer were mentally and physically exhausting.  Not only was darkness ever present at work, but I was also experiencing deep warfare in my own life.  I was in the middle of a battle much greater than could be seen with the natural eye.

I knew it was time for a change if my family was going to survive.  I left the job to be home with my children.  It was a hard transition because my identity had become wrapped up in being an officer.  I guess you could say I had hidden behind a uniform.

My past started leading me to search out the things of God.  Our challenges were very real during these years.  We struggled financially due to the fact that we went from two incomes to one.  I felt in my heart that I had chosen the right thing, but that sure didn’t make things easier.  Many people questioned my decision to give up a career in order to be just a wife and mom.  That would often send me on a tailspin, questioning whether I had made the right choice.  My emotions would spin out of control at times.

This hard season took me on a spiritual journey into the deeper things of God.  I remember crying out to God one day: My mom tells me you are a good and loving God – WHY is it that I can see evil and I can feel evil, but I can’t see you or feel you?

It was as if God had been waiting on me to ask.  Because at that very moment I opened my Bible, and God’s Word began to speak to my heart in a way I had never experienced before.  It was the beginning of an incredible awakening.  I was amazed by His love for me.  God began to teach me who He is and how much He loves me.  Then in return, I was compelled to share His love with others.

I was stunned. God, You ARE real! I couldn’t consume enough of the Word. It was day and night. All the time.

Taken Deeper

Fast forward several years to 2005. My husband and I came home from getting groceries one Saturday, and I was suddenly overcome with a strange feeling. I couldn’t even finish unloading everything. I didn’t know what was happening. I went to lie down.

In our loud house full of four children, I fell into the deepest sleep. It’s still hard to explain what happened, but the Lord visited me while I was unconscious. It was a wonderful experience that brought such amazing peace. I woke up – four hours later – praying in the Spirit. I was stunned and, honestly, unsure of what had just happened.

I didn’t know that my world was about to be shaken.

Three days later, on Tuesday, October 11th while I was driving by Bethlehem Baptist Church, my friend, Jeff, called. “Hey Karen, this is Jeff. I’m down here in the pasture, and your dad…” “Jeff,” I interrupted, “I’m at Bethlehem and I can be there in just a few seconds.” I didn’t know what Jeff had said because I immediately cut him off. I drove toward my parents’ property, praying in the Spirit.

I pulled up to fire trucks and a crowd of onlookers. I got out of my car, fulling expecting that Daddy had broken his leg or injured himself somehow. But because of past work experiences, I knew what death looked like.

Several people from the community were there. But I wasn’t talking to anyone. In this moment, it was just me and the Lord. I turned the corner and saw my dad lying there. Not today I said in my heart. The Lord had told me about a year earlier that it wouldn’t be much longer for my dad. I had protested, of course, telling God that it was way too soon.

I kept hearing my momma’s voice saying “He’s gone.” But I wouldn’t hear it. I kept praying as I approached him.

One of his eyes was shut, and one was open.

I knelt down, praying in the Spirit, laying my hands on him, talking to the Lord…

There were thirty or forty people standing there watching. But it may as well have been a hundred thousand. To me, they didn’t exist. It was just me, the Lord, and my dad. I didn’t care what anyone thought of me or who heard me praying in tongues. I felt God’s anointing upon me in a way I had never experienced before.

I was told later how far my voice projected. The moment was so surreal that I was completely unaware of whether anyone else heard me. All that existed was mine and the Lord’s conversation.

Lord, I’m praying to raise the dead, I told Him. But I need you to speak to me. I need to know whether this is the day you appointed for my dad. I need to know that he didn’t leave one day too soon.

In the midst of asking God, I am seeing a picture of my dad saying to Him, “Please, don’t let her pray me back. I don’t want to go back.”

And I told Him, Lord, as long as I know that he’s with you, that he’s at peace… I’ll let him go.

I heard Him say in my heart, “He is, Karen. He’s with me, and he’s at peace. He doesn’t want to come back.”

My heart sighed. Okay, Lord…then I’m good.

When I opened my eyes and looked at my dad, his second eye had closed. A Peace washed over me…

That experience was a turning point in my life. It unleashed me to walk with God and to walk in His authority in an entirely new way. That day, I was set free from the fear of what others thought of me. I had been trapped by that fear for so many years… But not anymore! His freedom had exploded onto the scene.

~

I experienced something profound in God the day Daddy died. What I didn’t know was that this was only the beginning. My new found freedom in Him led me into wild experiences that the old me would have been terrified of!

Sometimes He led me to knock on strangers’ doors with specific words of encouragement… Other times, He brought me face to face with the demonic, empowering me to walk in Christ’s authority. He even led me to our local detention center, granting me a beautiful, ongoing opportunity to love our community’s unlovable.

I am in awe of the love God has made known to me – and that He has allowed me to speak His love into others.  He promises that those who seek him shall find him when they seek him with their whole heart (Deuteronomy 4:29).  He has proven this to be so true in my life, and it’s my desire to see this wholehearted seeking ignited in all of His children!

 

“She speaks with wisdom,

and faithful instruction is on her tongue.”

Proverbs 31:26

~

So what is the Kingdom story hidden inside of Karen’s?

Well, there are many more pieces of her journey with God than could ever be explored in this one story. And the common thread running through them all is God’s great delight in using ‘foolishness’ to further His Kingdom.

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are… We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”         I Corinthians 1:20-2:7

Karen’s life is a walking embodiment of this passage. To the natural eye, praying in tongues over a deceased loved one looks foolish. And to think that God would still raise the dead is even more foolish. Taking authority over demonic spirits, addressing them aloud in Jesus’ Name… this seems like foolishness too.

But you know what? God isn’t looking through natural eyes. He’s looking at us – and every single piece of our lives – through His supernatural eyes of Love.

His eyes see us engaging in the battle of the ages – the battle for the human heart. His eyes see us wielding our God-given weapons. His eyes see us pushing back darkness. His eyes see the beauty entirely missed by natural eyes.

With greater delight than a parent gazing at his child, His eyes see and cherish the steps of faith we take toward Him.

He beckons us into the deep, wildly cheering us on every time we risk coming closer. And the closer we come, the less it matters how people appraise us. We get a clearer view of His face with every step… and are so hooked that even our own failures, even being deemed a fool, can’t keep us from moving toward Him.

~

“My story is His story, really, and one day He will tell it in all of its hidden splendor. I will get to hear His take on my days, His perception of what was going on underneath and behind the scenes. And it will be glorious.” -Stasi Eldredge

Thank you, Karen, for hungering for what is real –

and for inviting us to become undignified (II Samuel 6:22)!

~

I’m sharing the song below because it captures the fire God has placed in Karen’s heart…the kind of fire of which we can each be a carrier. The foolish kind of fire that consumes us with Love and sets our hearts free.

Ryan Williams: Accessing His Glory Through Prayer

Meet Ryan Williams. She is a 60 year old wife, mother of three, and grandmother of two (soon to be three!).

Though I previously knew Ryan through my husband, it was not until I began working at our local pregnancy center several years ago that I really got to know her. She was a Friday morning volunteer. So for four years I had the gift of spending time with her on a weekly basis.

If you meet her as a fellow volunteer, the introduction goes something like this: You’re introduced, notice her kind presence and smile – she seems nice enough – and because of her unassuming nature, you move on to the next thing.

Soon the group gathers in a circle of couches and chairs for morning prayer. Having little expectation in your heart, you close your eyes. You have no idea that Heaven is about to touch earth.

Then the woman opens her mouth to pray.

A veil lifts. Light bursts forth. The joy and authority flowing from her mouth awaken you. What is happening here?

She keeps going. Her words carry a deep knowing. And they conjure images in your mind. Through closed eyes, you can see the glory, the Great Throne, the angels of which she speaks. What’s coming out of her mouth seems more real to you than anything known by the five senses.

But why is this so? you wonder. I’ve never felt this way in prayer before. No time to figure that out right now. The words are still rolling off her tongue, piercing the atmosphere and drawing you closer all at the same time… You don’t want to miss one moment.

On she goes. And with every phrase she offers to God, you feel your heart shifting from a place of despair to victory. Indifference to passion. Cynicism to childlike faith.

Her words cease. Prayer time ends. Your eyes open. You snap back into “reality.” It’s time to get on with the morning. But things are different now. This unassuming woman has stirred something awake in you. Moving on with the ordinary morning you were expecting seems dull now, in light of what you’ve just felt.

Your heart just encountered Heaven – a taste of what you used to long for. A sweet, piercing, beckoning Presence. But why? you wonder. What’s different about her? Whatever it is, it’s clear that something very real has been cultivated between she and God. She has tapped into something – something deep… that’s bursting at the seams with radiance and life.

I want that. How do I get it? How did she get it? you ask yourself.

Here Ryan shares part of her journey – a journey that has led her into the trenches with God… and that has produced in her this fruit that others find so winsome.

pic9

Although I was very blessed in my teenage years to have been part of a wonderful church and had many Christian friends, it was not until I arrived at college and took a Religion course that I realized how very little I actually knew about the Bible. In fact, I did not even know the difference between the Old and New Testaments! I also met some friends during this time to whom God seemed very real, and it intrigued me.

As I spent time with them and attended Bible Study, I began to discover the principle of Lordship. I had been saved for many years but now was beginning to understand that Jesus was not only to be my Savior but also my Lord. So on an ordinary Tuesday in the spring of 1975, I turned my life over to Him lock, stock and barrel – no holes barred. There were no fireworks, but I knew in my spirit that a transaction had taken place. He was now the boss of my life, not me.

The Lord often speaks to me in pictures and shortly after this transaction, in my mind’s eye, He showed me a picture of an orange highway cone. He said in my spirit, “Ryan, your life with Me is like this highway cone – it looks like there is a lot there, but it is hollow inside. I am going to have to flatten you and build up something real.” “Okay, Lord” I said, unsure of what this meant.

A short time later a season of warfare began in my life. It is very difficult to explain even now, but it was as if I was being plagued by an oppressive, heavy, fearful spirit. Sometimes, when necessary, the Lord pulls back the hedges and allows the enemy to move in close. He allows this in order to purify, refine, and remove the dross from the silver. One who belongs to Christ cannot be possessed by the enemy, but she sure can be oppressed by the enemy. Like Paul, I was given a “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet…” (II Corinthians 12).

Sometime later, I was teaching a Sunday School lesson on the Israelites in the wilderness, and the Lord said in my spirit, “We are going through the wilderness.” I responded, “Lord! The Israelites went through the wilderness because of disobedience!” And He responded, “Joshua and Caleb were not disobedient, but still had to go through the wilderness; when they entered the Promised Land, they went in as leaders.” So the warfare intensified.

The Lord was faithfully present during this time, but there were also times when I was trusted with His silence. Silence and waiting are powerful tools in the Master’s toolbox. This time drew me into God’s Word as nothing else could. I committed much Scripture to memory during those years, and I would agree with David in Psalm 119:71 “It was good for me that I was afflicted that I might learn Your statutes.” I learned to abide in His Word and it became my sustenance. I learned much from the lives of Old Testament figures like Joseph, Job, Joshua, Caleb, and David.

The good news about a refining time is that “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). When God initiates something, there is already a completion date on His calendar. In the early stages of this journey, He told me clearly that this would last “a little while.” What I would not realize until much later was that the “little while” He was referring to was the one in 1 Peter 1:6 and 1 Peter 5:10.

I have learned many things on this journey. I have learned that the God we serve is absolutely faithful, absolutely trustworthy and that when we are yielded to Him, the enemy can only be used as a tool to mold us and shape us into a vessel He can use. I have also learned that no matter what the enemy attempts in our lives, he can never steal our praise. Praise depends solely on the character of God – so there are always reasons to praise!!

When difficult times come, we can shrink back or we can cultivate intimacy with God in the midst of them. If we choose the latter, we will find as Isaiah found:

I will give you the treasures of darkness; hidden riches in secret places,

so that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.”

Isaiah 45:3

~

It is important to always be moving forward in our relationship with God. One area that the Lord has been growing me in over the last few years is in believing Him. Knowing God’s Word and abiding in it are only the beginning – we also have to BELIEVE it! Beth Moore’s Bible Study, “Believing God” changed my life and took my prayer life to another level. I felt I had permission to take God at His Word, expect Him to do as He says, and see His power become manifest. I began to pray His Word over loved ones and situations and began to see His activity. There is nothing more fun in life than taking God at His Word and seeing His activity!

A recent example of seeing God’s activity in a huge way occurred just this year. I have been challenged in the past few years to begin the New Year with a fresh time of consecration and prayer which also includes a 21 day fast. Don’t be impressed – it isn’t a REAL fast – just giving up chocolate and sweets (although giving up chocolate could be impressive!). I was led to pray for 3 things during this year’s 21 days. One was that the Lord would bless my daughter, Candace, and her husband, Myers, with the privilege of conceiving, carrying, and bringing forth children to be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

In Sunday School, we were studying the life of Samuel and as I prepared the lesson one week, the story of Hannah just leapt off the page for me. I began asking the Lord to do for Candace what He had done for Hannah. In April, I felt in my spirit that He had answered this prayer. Then on Mother’s Day, Candace and Myers gave us an ultrasound picture of Baby Myers who is due this December. What I did not know until recently was that at her yearly appointment in January (around the time of the fast), Candace’s physician had told her that conception might be difficult, and that they might want to look into fertility treatments. It was soon after this that she conceived. No treatments were necessary!

As I look back over the years since the spring of 1975, I can see that the Lord has done exactly what He said: He has built up something real. He has developed in me a love for Him and His word and a strong conviction in the power of prayer. His ways are not always easy, but they are always good and they are always fruitful. So let’s press on in “reckless abandon,” as Oswald Chambers says, and in full cooperation with the Lover of our Souls.

~

“She senses that her gain is good,

and her lamp does not go out at night.”

Proverbs 31:18

Beloved, there’s a Kingdom story Ryan’s life is telling.

*Surrendering to the Lord means that we fully submit ourselves to His work in our lives. It’s His story, not ours. It’s one thing to say this. It’s another thing altogether to live it. Though we want to surrender, too many of us still cling to the idea of having a “happy, little life,” as John Eldredge calls it. You know, the life we’re taught to pine after. The one that revolves around big salaries, social clout, materialism, appearances, making a name for yourself, personal achievement, people-pleasing, and easy circumstances. The life that fills itself with an abundance of the inferior in order to dull its appetite for the real thing. Friends, we can’t have both. This nice little life we’ve been fooled into wanting stands in direct opposition to the genuine life for which we hunger.

This genuine life is only to be discovered in the lock, stock, and barrel surrender of which Ryan speaks. The word “surrender” carries a negative connotation for most of us. We think of missing out on things and giving up things we enjoy. But with the tiniest step toward Him, we see this myth dispelled. What He offers is so much better than the things we fear losing.

A C.S. Lewis quote comes to mind: “It would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)

Surrender is our access point to life for which we’re searching. And anything we “give up” is disproportionately returned to us. Not only does He bestow upon us more than we “sacrificed,” but what He bestows in return is richer, fuller, and truer than anything we used to cling to.

*Speaking of surrender…Ryan’s story confronts us with an uncomfortable Kingdom truth: Surrendering to God, walking with Him, entails warfare. If we have taken God up on his invitation to life, we can rest assured that we are on the enemy’s radar. Darkness fears those who are totally surrendered to the Father of Lights.

Battles cannot be escaped. That’s the reality of walking with Him on this side of Heaven. We live in a world at war. And while our flesh hates this, which would we rather: A happy little life that’s free from warfare, yet never reaches its potential in God… never pushes back darkness… never knows the joys for which it was destined? Or a life that faces the battles head-on, steps into the supernatural life of God, and experiences the unspeakable treasures that only come after victory? “There’s a peace that’s to be had only on the other side of war.” There is life that can only be attained through the death of our own agenda…

This is not the stuff of Hallmark movies. If you are to know Him – really know Him – you’ll find yourself inflamed with greater passion, wrung by deeper pain, faced with bigger mountains, confronted with crueler warfare, but also overtaken by sweeter joy and drenched in fuller satisfaction – than you ever knew existed.

Each time another veil is lifted and you encounter Him in greater fullness, His heart within you grows. You share His sadness, His delight. His rejection, His radiance. To know Him as He intends to be known will be costly, indeed. But we are not to shy away from the weightiness. Beloved, this weighty, uncertain, exhilarating journey of being molded into His image is the reason for which we were born.

*And when we say ‘yes’ to the journey, fully submitting ourselves to the Potter’s hands, He deposits His brilliance onto our lives. Ryan’s life powerfully illustrates this. There is an abiding sweetness upon her that points us to the Lord Himself. It is no ordinary sweetness. It is the supernatural glow of which the Psalmist speaks when he says, “Those who looks to Him are radiant” (Psalm 34:5). This radiance is especially evident when Ryan prays. And what’s central to appreciating it is recognizing that it is God’s own radiance we are beholding. When we yield, and keep on yielding even when it’s hard, His glory comes to rest upon us.

So when we encounter an unusual glow on a person, we know that there is a rich story behind it. Depth and radiance don’t appear out of thin air. They are the markings of a long-term, sometimes dangerous, wildly fulfilling journey with God.

Thank you, Ryan, for demonstrating total surrender –

and for carrying His glory in a way that makes us want to know Him more!

~

This is “Desert Song,” a song that has been stirred in my heart as I’ve meditated on Ryan’s story:

Yvette Picou: Pursuing a Dream after Raising Children

Did you ever have something in your heart that you wanted to pursue but never got around to it? If so, I’ll bet you’ve had thoughts like It’s too late now. I missed my chance. The opportunity passed me by.

Well, meet Yvette Picou. Her life tells a different story.

She is a 48 year old wife and mother who now, after raising three children, is pursuing something she once thought impossible. She began this exciting, uncertain journey two and half years ago and has found it to be life-changing. And more empowering than she could have ever expected.

Here she describes what led her to step out in faith, some truths she has learned along the way, and why pursuing this dream has been so meaningful.

IMG_0076

Like many young women, I was raised to dream of marrying and raising children. My pursuing a college education had never been on the radar. School wasn’t discouraged; the topic was simply nonexistent.

So I plunged headfirst into marriage and motherhood very young – before I even turned twenty. And I found great joy in being a mother to my children. Having a family was very fulfilling. I gained so much joy from our first two children that when our second started school, I realized I wanted another child. So along came our third. 🙂

But at moments through the years, I felt as if something were missing in my life. I was reminded of it ever so often – sometimes when my friends spoke of their college days… other times when I felt ill-equipped to help my children with their schoolwork. Over time, my lack of education became a deep insecurity. And the insecurity grew. It ultimately became like a scarlet letter – an obvious defect in me that everyone could instantly discern.

The nagging feeling that something was missing became stronger as my children grew older. They were coming of age, and suddenly I was faced with the stark reality that they were going to grow up. Become adults. Move out. I wouldn’t be raising them forever. This joyful season of young motherhood was finite. It comes to an end. No one ever told me this.

In all my upbringing, all my experience, I was taught to aspire to raising a family. But I was never told how brief the season would be. You blink, take a deep breath, and your children are grown. You’ve raised them. And yet… there is still much life ahead of you. Years. Decades.

What do I do now? I would think to myself, sometimes through tears.

Then the thought of going to college wisped through my mind. It was fleeting – like a vapor. It sounded very far off. Silly. Irrelevant. Impossible.

But later the thought reappeared. Again, I dismissed it.

And again, it reappeared. I kept shutting it down. What business do I have going to college? And why would I do that now? There’s no way I could get a degree. My insecurities rushed to the fore, assuring me that I did not have what it takes to go to college and that this idea was nonsense.

And yet, the thought kept coming. A year or two into this silent conversation with myself, something shifted inside of me. I realized that I still had life to live. I still had something to offer. I decided to apply to college in 2013.

Sitting at home one day, I applied to Liberty University. I found my husband afterward and told him I had just completed it – my first college application. We stood together in the doorway and just cried. The significance of the moment overwhelmed us both.

Looking back, I see why taking this first step was so powerful. It was the first time in my life that I was pursuing something for just me. It wasn’t mine by extension of being someone’s wife or mother. This educational journey was entirely my own. Having gladly remained in the shadows of my husband and children for so many years, having continually watched them achieve, I was completely undone by the thought of pursuing my own dream.

I completed my first few classes and to my delighted surprise… I did well! It was turning out that I did have what it takes to do well in school. I realized that I had bought into lies in years past – lies about my abilities, lies about how impossible college would be. None of it had been true.

A key point in this journey was my first visit to Liberty’s campus. I attended convocation and ended up sitting beside my biology professor. Here I was – on my college campus, sitting beside my brilliant professor. Never in a million years would I have dreamed that I would be standing in this scene. I stayed there for several days and finished my visit by attending a worship service on campus. The service opened with “How He Loves,” a song that carries deep meaning for me. The heart of the song is that God’s love is a vast ocean – it fills in the gaps of our inadequacies. God speaks to each of us in personal ways; for me, this was one of those moments. I lost composure altogether. I knew I was where He wanted me to be.

This journey has been a continual demonstration that obstacles can be overcome. That ordinary people, empowered by God, can do the extraordinary. That insecurities usually surround our greatest potential.

I am now two and half years into my undergraduate program. There have been highs and lows, rejoicing over victories as well as crying through struggles. I have had to expose myself to the risk of failure, which at times, is really scary. But on the other side of failure, I’ve tasted victories that are all the sweeter. In it all, I am learning to keep my eye on the prize. A Scripture that has carried me through this journey is 1 Cor 9:24: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” This experience has been a lot like a marathon. I have approached what seems like a massive ultimate goal by breaking it into smaller, attainable goals. I focus on each term, each month, each week, each day as it comes.

What I’ve Gained By Taking This Risk

Embarking on this degree has been tremendously empowering. I get to be an example to my children by demonstrating something that is important to me. My doing this says You CAN overcome. You CAN pursue your dreams. You are intelligent enough and capable enough, whether you think so or not. [In the words of Abilene, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”]

I’ve also discovered that I love to read! I am intrigued by books now. I look at tattered pages and wonder what story is hidden inside. Which world does this book open to its readers? This newfound love of reading has been a huge surprise.

I’ve learned, too, that God can take our unique situations and turn them into something beautiful. Even in the chaos and mess we make of ourselves, He makes it beautiful. Having raised children and waited all these years, I now appreciate this experience so much more. It wasn’t God’s plan for me to complete college in my twenties. He has made it evident that now – my forties – is His perfect timing for me to pursue school. In fact, if I had gone to college at the typical age, it would have been a horrible experience. My perspective has completely changed since my twenties. Because of how my story unfolded, I now see school as a privilege. I am honored to do this – and thoroughly enjoy my schoolwork. Sometimes I am so enthralled with it that I picture myself hiding away and indulging in it for days on end. It’s that life-giving for me.

Another gift I’ve received from this journey is the wisdom to embrace the timeline and pace that works best for my life. I took a huge leap when I first started school and committed myself to a course load that was too heavy. So I adjusted my schedule the next semester and took fewer courses. This lighter load freed me to be the wife and mother I want to be – and to enjoy life along the way. I’ve learned that there’s no rush. There’s no one I have to “keep up with.” I mean, heck, I waited all these years to start… I’m going relish this experience.

“In her hand she holds the distaff

and grasps the spindle with her fingers.”

Proverbs 31:19

~

So how is Yvette’s story a Kingdom story?

Which Kingdom truths are hidden inside of her journey?

*First, her journey demonstrates that every season of life is pregnant with purpose. Multitudes have believed this pervasive, yet silent lie that life plateaus and then slowly declines. Somewhere between sending kids off to college and starting social security, purpose evaporates and all one can hope for is to coast peacefully to the grave. Hardly anyone would say this out loud, but watch the way people live. Their actions convey that they’ve bought into the lie. They live to maintain and protect – to minimize losses – rather than venturing into new territory. Rather than learning something new or taking a risk, they resign themselves to watching television. Sitting in the same spot at church. Eating at the same restaurant. Hanging with the same people. Reciting the same lifeless prayers.

Beloved, God has so much more for us. Until our last breath, there is an assignment on our lives. There is deeper intimacy with God, new prayers to pray, new people to engage, darkness to dispel, praises to offer, new things to learn, growth to experience. Life in the Kingdom is not about coasting. It’s about engaging God’s anointing on our lives for the particular seasons in which we find ourselves.

Yvette’s story illustrates this well: Rather than filling her newfound time with soap operas and shopping, she chose to step out in faith and follow God into the unfamiliar. Because she was willing to embark on something new, she has seen God come through for her in fresh ways. She has risked failure, even faced it, and has gained much richer triumphs because of it. She has grown exponentially during a season of life when many would have chosen stagnation.

God has something in this for us, Friends. An invitation to follow Him into the unknown. That’s where the life God intended for us actually starts. When we allow Him to strip away our false securities… to demonstrate to us that He really does come through and that things impossible with man really are possible with Him (Matthew 19:26).

*Yvette’s story also speaks to the centrality of God’s timing. Her college experience doesn’t fit with the “normal,” American expectation. And you know what? It’s not supposed to! Here’s a beautiful truth: God doesn’t operate according to cultural norms, family pedigrees, or public opinion. His Kingdom is not of this world… Nor is His calendar. The pressure we feel to accomplish specific goals by certain deadlines is rooted in the world system, not in the Kingdom. The life to which He invites us is one of rest, patience, submission, seed time and harvest. Not striving, competition, deadlines, and performance. God isn’t interested in how much we can crank out and how quickly. He’s interested in intimacy. He’s after our hearts. And He’s willing to take as much time as necessary to complete His desired work within us.

Not only has God’s timing been crucial in Yvette’s starting college, but it has also been central in the pace of her classes. This journey has taught her to discern the pace of coursework that is most fruitful for her. She is not in competition with anyone. And there’s no man-imposed deadline she’s striving for. She is free to listen to the Lord, follow His lead, and enjoy the experience. [Imagine that!]

*Yvette also reminds us that God beckons us to things for which we feel unqualified. If you can complete a task with your own human ability, it’s not a God dream. God dreams require intentional steps of faith. They always involve uncertainty and risk-taking. And they usually involve our weak points – those areas where we feel especially inadequate. He loves taking those pieces of us we’re convinced are useless (or embarrassing, or shameful, or…) and infusing them with power. He releases strength through our places of weakness, comes through for us, and shows us that with Him, we can do anything. He’s the Secret Ingredient, the only one who can take credit for bringing such unspeakable dreams to pass.

And Beloved, His dreams are so much better than ours. Will you let me be big in you? He asks. And then… Will you let me be big through you? Will you let me be the untamable, exceedingly great God that I am? Will you accept the role I’ve given you in this brilliant story?

May our hearts in unison shout a resounding ‘yes’!

~

Thank you, Yvette, for following God into the unknown –

and for demonstrating the rewards on the other side of risk-taking.

~

Here is Kim Walker’s version of “How He Loves,” the song that Yvette referred to.

~

The story behind these stories…

#WorldChangingWomen

Hi Everyone!

I wanted to offer a heads up about my writing focus for the next few months (for those of you who are not on FB and therefore did not see my preliminary post before Mary Kury’s story!). I have had something stirring in my heart for quite a while now, and the puzzle pieces are finally coming together. For at least the next twelve weeks, I will be sharing stories of local women whose lives tell Kingdom stories. You will recognize many of them! [Mary’s was story #1.]

These women have unique passions and are living them out in unique spheres. And each woman’s story offers a distinct glimpse of what it means to walk with God. Each one, in her own way, embodies the spirit of Proverbs 31. I look forward to sharing these stories on Wednesday of each week starting next week!

Over the last few weeks as I’ve prayed about this, I felt impressed to release these stories on Wednesdays. Then days ago, this was confirmed when I saw Christine Caine post something so timely about the ‪#‎WCW‬ hashtag: “We’re switching it up. No more photos of women guys wish they could date on Wednesdays. It’s time we recognize and uplift the women who are actually using their gifts to impact lives. These women heal hearts and birth destinies. So #WCW is now on its way to celebrating World Changing Women – the unsung heroes.”

Along these lines, it is my heart to share the stories of “everyday” women. The ones who are not standing on platforms before thousands, yet are telling Kingdom stories with their day-to-day lives. It’s time that we, as women, celebrate the glory of God upon each other’s lives. I look forward to going on this journey with you all over the next several months. Let’s see where God takes it!

Mary Kury: A Tenacious Voice of Truth

I’m starting this line-up of amazing women with a powerful one, indeed.

Meet Mary Kury. She is a 36 year old wife and mother of five. [Can we just pause for a second and let that sink in? FIVE.] I first met her several years ago while working at our local crisis pregnancy center. She was a Thursday morning volunteer, and I was immediately struck by her spunk.

It didn’t take long to notice Mary’s passion for all things natural. There was frequent talk of organic versus processed foods, natural versus artificial remedies, drug-free childbirth… the topics were endless. I couldn’t help but be confronted with the scary, manufactured state of our American culture anytime I spoke with her.

And as I listened to her, I was also confronted with this all too engrained inclination in human nature: we do NOT want to be inconvenienced. Truth demands a response. It requires us to change in order to be made free by it. And change is inconvenient. It disrupts our familiarity and invites us into unknown, awkward-feeling territory.

So as humans, we avoid disruptive truth. We read books, listen to sermons, and go to conferences focused on truths we already admire and feel we are already living. It’s safe. There’s no disruption there. No real change is required. We perpetually gravitate toward this comfortable world of sameness, unaware of the gifts that transformation would bestow upon us.

Then God places someone like Mary in your midst. An instrument in His hands who disrupts your comfortable ignorance by confronting you with truth. And if you’re like most people, you listen politely, are silently enamored by the truth she is speaking, decide that though it’s true it’s WAY too hard to act on, and thus intentionally dismiss everything she just said. You walk away hoping you forget the conversation so you can maintain your blissful, uninformed normalcy.

But what if we’re missing out on something amazing as we fiercely guard our status quo?

Friends, maybe it’s time we give an ear to this woman. Maybe it’s time we open ourselves to transformation. Here, in her own words, Mary describes the journey which birthed her zeal for the natural life:

kury family-80

Normal Life Interrupted

Until my mid-twenties, I was traipsing along in a very normal, very American way – met a boy, got married, went on our honeymoon. Then three months into our marriage we found out we were going to have a baby. That was definitely not in the plans! As a typical American, I was on several pharmaceuticals for a variety of ailments- 5 to be exact. I stopped taking everything cold turkey because there was now someone else to care for, not just me. And for the first time ever, I felt this intense pressure to do exactly the right thing because someone was counting on me – like this was the final exam and failing wasn’t an option. I had a lot to learn, but after several months of pregnancy I knew I wanted to have a natural birth.

The Paradigm Shift

At this point, the Lord began laying a new foundation in our lives based on this simple question: “How did God design this to be?” After coming to an impasse with our OBs, the Lord encouraged me when I met a woman my age who had had a natural birth… in her home… with a midwife. I had never considered such a choice. Honestly, it wasn’t appealing at all. But it is exactly what we did. Our midwife accepted us into care during my 34th week of pregnancy. We had our first baby in our home on Father’s Day 2007. It was beautiful, and special, and radically life altering. I had to share with others how incredibly designed our bodies are, how beautiful birth is, and how strong God made us! I began teaching natural childbirth classes the following February.

Over the next few years we experienced health concerns that challenged us to look and see what God had provided for us to use to heal our bodies. I became very interested in using herbs and essential oils to facilitate healing, while simultaneously questioning the mainstream culture. Scripture references were always popping up in our minds and daily devotions that confirmed our path. We both started wondering about the precarious Tower of Babel the pharmaceutical industry was becoming in America. I threw myself headlong into research and praying and studying and begging for wisdom. 

A key turning point that catapulted me onto a new nutritional path was when my husband, Todd, was overcome with a stomach problem. He had had issues over the years, but this one stopped us in our tracks. He literally couldn’t leave our home. For ten days, we prayed and I watched Todd suffer. After a meeting with his men’s fellowship group, he came home ecstatic. He tore open the Scriptures to Genesis 1:29:

“Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth

and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.’”

That same morning, I had spoken with my friend, a nutrition guru, who suggested we either go to the GI doctor or do an elimination diet. This verse confirmed what she had told me. I shared it with Todd and got to work seeing how we could use food to heal him. In two weeks, his stomach problems were resolving. We learned which foods he was sensitive to, which ones to avoid completely, and within three months… my acne – the stuff I had dealt with for over 25 years, the “adult acne” diagnosis that had no cause or cure, the reason I had been on all those prescriptions in my young adulthood – spontaneously cleared! So did my daughter’s oozing, itchy patches of eczema. I realized then that maybe we do have some control over our health. Maybe God did provide a way for our bodies to heal. Maybe pharmaceuticals aren’t always, or even usually, the answer.

Layer by layer, it felt as if a veil were being removed from our eyes. I learned that my birth control pill had created a chemical imbalance in my body, which was the cause of my depression. I learned that my antidepressant caused sleep disruptions and could contribute to anxiety- both symptoms for which I had been prescribed subsequent medications. I was shocked that something as common place as “the pill” could send my body and mind into such a tailspin. Regularly, the Lord reveals a new piece of this puzzle. My passion is ever expanding and I’m having a hard time holding it all in. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t have an opportunity to share something He has taught me or to encourage someone in their own journey, whether it concerns pregnancy, nutrition, children, or natural health.

Passion Further Fueled

Another pivotal point on this journey took place during a conversation with my aunt. We were discussing how common it is to spend time praying for sick believers in the church at the beginning of Bible fellowship. We shared a moment of horror as we both saw that perhaps a purposeful, yet subtle attack was being launched on some of the most powerful members of the Christian community: our mature, senior believers. They are finished raising kids, financially secure, retiring, wise, and faithful. Those qualities translate to time to serve, money to give, and experience to share. But many of these promising believers, who ought to be stepping into their most fruitful seasons, are sick. Cancer, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic illnesses are benching an enormous group of servants. And it is being done in part through the church– not an outside attack! I thought about all the times the church family comes together and shares food; doughnuts, desserts, pizzas, sodas, and candy abound. The stark reality that being ignorant doesn’t absolve us from consequences settled deeply in my spirit. I dug deeper. I learned that just because something is permissible doesn’t mean it’s profitable.

The Point to Which this Journey Has Led Me

This journey has taught me that God created everything we need to be healthy- real food, clean water, clean air, sunshine, dirt, bacteria, and a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. It now seems obvious to me that if we put a bunch of man-made, food-like substances into our bodies, bad things will happen. They are counterfeits. Natural foods that grow out of the dirt and animals that live off the land are the absolute closest things we can ingest that are literally from the hands of our Creator. What precious, sustaining gifts.
[See end note.]

The Backlash that Accompanies this Calling

Living this way definitely separates you from the crowd. Many of my Christian peers are simply dismissive. There seems to be a prevailing cultural mentality that God created men to be smart and make drugs and that much good can be done with those things. And to a certain extent, I do not disagree. But I also believe that the enemy is a master deceiver and is proficient at perversion. Counterfeits abound. Instead of embracing what God created for us, we abandon it completely for fear of being lumped into a category we deem unsavory in our cultural circles. My clarion call is that we reclaim those blessings He bestowed on us – so we can run our races to the best of our abilities.

It seems that many people perceive I am doing something “new age” or “hippie.” Instead of listening to what I’m actually saying, many chalk me up to being weird or excessive or worse, an idolator. I admit, nature-worship surrounds us. However, just because some choose to deify the created doesn’t mean by default that I, too, idolize it. In fact, it’s the opposite. By correctly appropriating creation for its designed purpose, I graciously receive the bounty of what God has provided – the lavishness and excess – and praise Him for it! I use it to strengthen my temple and nourish my family.

What Propels Me Forward, Despite the Naysayers

The drive to continue on this path is multifaceted. First, I get to develop relationships with those who are not Christians. This is an opportunity to point them to the Creator. I want people to observe who I am, how my family lives, what we do, understand why we do it, and want that. People are drawn to a natural, authentic, holistic, simple lifestyle. Less stuff equals less stress. More time equals more service. More service means more opportunities to build relationships and share the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We desire to take Jesus’ example literally. And finally, I want to empower people to take seriously the responsibility of being excellent stewards of the bodies, land, animals, families, and communities with which we have been entrusted. I frequently think of the story of the talents. When we take care of what has been entrusted to us and yield a return, we are proven faithful. What an honor to be approved by my King!

“She watches over the affairs of her household

and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

Proverbs 31:27

~

So there you have it. She’s not so crazy or “out there” after all. She has followed God down a path of discovery which has led her to this passionate stance.

How is Mary a Kingdom woman? How does her calling fit into God’s bigger story?

Well for starters, she is an unstoppable voice of Truth. Tears have snuck up on me as I write this. She has been infused with passion and is determined to share her God-given truth with others.  A Scripture comes to mind: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Mary feels the gravity of this – on a deep level – and acts on it. There is a tenacity about this woman that moves me.  This life she leads is not easy. It comes with significant obstacles. She is blown off on a continual, probably daily, basis by people who either think she’s nuts or think her truth is too hard to live. Yet she keeps going. She is a woman of conviction who won’t compromise what God put in her heart, even if it’s misunderstood and undervalued. And even if it inconveniences her. [That’ll preach!]

Not only is Mary a person of deep conviction, but she is also recklessly abandoned to obedience. She keeps adjusting her life to make room for the truth God is revealing to her. Humans have this tendency to run from uncomfortable truth – and an even stronger tendency to ignore truth once we encounter it. We rationalize… and try to find ways around truth that God has made clear. We don’t want to give up anything. And if we’re honest, many of us willingly forgo God’s invitation for more because we are unwilling to change. Friends, let’s stop doing this. In every facet of our lives, let’s choose to be teachable. Let’s choose flexibility. Let’s take a cue from Mary’s example and MAKE ROOM FOR GOD TO CHANGE US.

Mary’s life is also living proof that boundaries bring freedom. The world’s idea of freedom is doing whatever you want, whenever you want. But this is a counterfeit freedom. In fact, it’s no freedom at all. You pay a HIGH price for this so-called freedom. The price can range from divorce, to addiction, to poor health, to a horrible marriage, to STDs, to obesity, to a meaningless life. True freedom, the kind that originates in God himself, is the result of living within boundaries – His boundaries. Living inside of these boundaries protects us from unnecessary harm and makes room for authentic joy. True living. Genuine freedom.

Finally, Mary is a Kingdom woman because she acts to empower other women. She doesn’t stop with listening to God and obeying within her own life [key starting points for walking with God]. She takes it a step further by equipping others with the knowledge and tools they need to pursue health. Whether it’s through teaching a natural childbirth class or offering a wealth of information to seekers, she continually acts to empower others with the truth God has given her.

Thank you, Mary, for your zeal, faithfulness, and willingness to search for Truth!

If you would like to learn more about living naturally,

you can email Mary at mary@upstatenaturalbirth.com.

Be sure to check out her websites too!

http://www.marykury.com  and  http://www.UpstateBirth.com

~

End Note Concerning Mary’s Nutritional Path:

I now love to look around and see how God made things to work- His design and how He blesses and protects us. Let’s take sugar, for example. It’s protected by cane. And it’s full of wonderful vitamins and minerals. But when it’s stripped of all of those protections, it is an anti-nutrient, causes inflammation which leads to heart disease, feeds cancer cells, suppresses the immune system, and is 8 times more addictive than cocaine. Or honey- it’s protected by bees. That tells me that if I want some, I have to rob a hive and would prefer to have something sweet over being comfortable and without stings. Likewise, leafy greens grow proficiently all over our area from early spring through early winter. They are simple to grow and harvest and are nutritional powerhouses. So looking at these very different food sources I can see that God is encouraging me to eat very few sweets, but enjoy lots of leafy greens.

The Suddenlies of God

Ever noticed how agonizingly long seasons of waiting can feel? The uncertainty can nearly make you come unglued. When you’re waiting, there is such ambiguity. Will things ever fall into place? Will the door to the next season ever open? And if it will, how much longer will it be? How long will the uncertainty linger?

There’s a temptation to speculate during the waiting – to brainstorm and figure things out. We grasp for clarity, for a sense of certainty about the future. At times, God’s voice seems painfully silent during these days of waiting. He allows the tension of ambiguity to remain.

This was my season in the years leading up to grad school. God planted the seminary seed in my heart during college… and then upon graduation, rather than showing me which seminary to attend, he very clearly led me into a full-time ministry job instead. There was no doubt in my mind that it was his doing.

So I embarked on this ministry experience right out of college and ended up sitting seminary on the shelf for a while. Soon though, seminary crawled right off that shelf and was back – front and center – in my mind and heart. The thing is… the door to seminary was completely closed. It simply wasn’t time to pursue it.

So here I was with this tension – knowing on the one hand God was the one who first put seminary in my heart…but knowing on the other that he had led me to a full-time job that, in my eyes, was now preventing me from pursuing school.

Around two years into this ambiguous season, Andrew and I decided to sell our house. Selling our house would allow us to downsize, cut our cost of living, reduce our need for my salary, and eventually make a way for me to go to school. It was an excellent plan. Now, all we needed God to do was sell our house quickly so we could move forward with our excellent plan. [:)]

Well… sell our house quickly he did not. Three months passed, nothing.

Six months.

Nine months.

A year.

The wait was agonizing. A year and a half – nothing. I felt overlooked, like I had somehow fallen through the cracks of God’s oversight. Remember me, God? Remember how you told me to go to seminary? Remember our excellent plan to make seminary happen?  Don’t get me wrong: my ministry job was a beautiful season in many ways and brought wonderful people into my life.  There were joys along the way… But I couldn’t get away from this deep desire in my heart.  It was like a baby kicking inside.

That kicking often frustrated me because though I felt it, there wasn’t anything I could do about it. And from my limited perspective, I couldn’t see how my being on this job was a stepping stone to seminary. I was disappointed with the time I felt was being wasted. It was especially hard when I encountered people who seemed to be moving forward with their dreams. I felt stuck – like I was spinning my wheels.

And then, over time, something shifted. My heart began to change. My waiting began to humble me. God, in his patience, started dismantling my elaborate, overly planned future. He gently began erasing the schedule I had mapped out for my life. At first, it was painful to let him do this. I feared that my yielding would steal from me. But despite my fear of what was going to be taken from me, I yielded anyway.

The Father patiently worked within me, creating a blank slate – a totally yielded heart. Before, my mind had been set on how quickly I could quit my job and start school once our house sold. But after he began this work, I let go of what I was determined to do.

I finally got to a point where I honestly told the Lord that I would stay at the job, that I would wait on seminary, as long as he wanted me to. Even if that meant going to school later in life. For all I knew, maybe he wanted me to raise children first and then go to school in my forties or fifties. I had no clue what his time frame was, but my heart was finally okay with whatever it happened to be. And not just “okay with it,” but completely willing to submit to it and to trust that his way really is best.

I learned that it’s his story- not mine- that my life is telling.

So in this new found place of trust, I told the Lord that I was going to keep waiting on him even when our house sold. I wasn’t going to jump into pursuit of seminary or anything else just because the breakthrough came. I was simply going to listen for my Father’s voice.

Just weeks after this shift took place in my heart, our house finally sold.

Suddenly, our prayer was answered.

A two year process of dashed hopes was suddenly ended as we closed on the sell of our house. We downsized to our 600 square foot cottage, and I kept waiting on the Lord. I realized that he had been after my heart the whole time. He wasn’t holding out on us; he was cultivating a right heart in me – one that could handle a new season.

And when I finally yielded, the breakthrough came so easily. What’s more – that initial breakthrough started a supernatural domino effect that catapulted us into our long-awaited new season. One month after the close of our house, Andrew came home from work with the news that he had been promoted. With this promotion came a raise…a raise that equaled the amount of my entire full time salary.

DSC_3389

Speechless. Ecstatic. Awestruck at God’s goodness. These are all pitiful understatements.

Suddenly, my salary was no longer needed. It had been fully supplied by God’s extravagant generosity.

It was his way of writing it on a billboard: the door to seminary was wide open.

Months later, I left the job and shortly thereafter embarked upon full time graduate school at Gordon-Conwell. A four year season of waiting suddenly gave way to desires fulfilled.

God’s suddenlies change everything. They are trees of life (Proverbs 13:12). They establish faith. They burst onto the scene with explosive joy.

But you know what I’m learning? The reason his suddenlies hold such power is because they are rooted in our seasons of waiting. Sudden breakthroughs don’t appear out of thin air. They are the fruit of processes – oftentimes long, painful, uncomfortable, uncertain processes. Seasons of intercession. Seasons of hiddenness. Seasons of sacrifice. Seasons of preparation. Seasons of remaining faithful in the seemingly smaller tasks God has put before us to do. Seasons of warfare. Seasons of obedience. Seasons of waiting.

The suddenlies spring from our waiting.

And it’s the waiting that makes them so fulfilling when they come. It’s the waiting that ensures God’s glory rather than ours when they burst forth. It’s the waiting that drives out pride, that keeps us from inflating when our breakthrough comes.

And you know what else?

These suddenlies infuse us with fresh grace to keep going further, higher, deeper in God. They re-establish our awe as we watch him quickly, effortlessly transform our waiting into fulfillment.  The joy that comes with their arrival assures our hearts of the beauty of his story. The suddenlies of God grace us for our next season of waiting. Because you see, we will never stop waiting.

Our Father is ever patient and refuses to give us things before our hearts are ready. If he did, they would destroy us. So waiting will be part of our journey until we arrive home – and experience the ultimate Prize of our waiting. He’s worth the wait.

My soul waits for the Lord

more than watchmen wait for the morning,

more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Psalm 130:6

Love Wins

I’ve seen this phrase thrown around a lot since the Supreme Court’s ruling this past Friday. It’s a phrase that I myself say and believe with all of my heart. But after seeing the way it’s been employed lately, I think it’s worth commenting on the contrast between the Love I’m talking about versus the love that is being purported to have won on Friday.

Love does win. It’s true.

But Love isn’t this ‘anything goes’ warm feeling that Postmodernism tries so hard to make it.

Love is Someone. And that Someone has a Name.

Love emanates from the character of God himself. It does not exist independently of Him. Its very being springs from the nature of God.

Thus, God is the one who defines Love.

Not our culture. Not our family. Not our upbringing. Not our emotions. Not Hollywood.

God, being the origin of Love, is the only one competent to define it.

And on the Cross we see Love perfectly defined.

It’s indescribably beautiful. Life changing. Full of promise. The source of all our hopes. The essence of goodness. Freedom unimagined. The gateway to our deliverance. The access to joy.

The Cross is where hopelessly lost and broken people are found and mended back together. It’s where the rejected find acceptance. The lowly are honored. And the poor become rich.

But Love does not stop there.

The Cross confronts each of us. It exposes our wayward hearts. The confrontation is baptized in gentleness and goodness – but it is a confrontation, nonetheless.

You see, Love doesn’t just blanket us with shallow benevolence.  It can’t because it is inextricably bound to Truth.  Love demands something from us. Love has a cost. To love Him back will require something of us. And would we expect any less?

We live this truth everyday. If you’re married, you know very well that your marital love makes demands. It’s not enough to say that you love someone. Your love has to demonstrate itself with actions. Many of these actions are choices to live inside of boundaries that protect your love.

Think about parenting a child. Surely, the love runs deep. And threaded through this love is the element of discipline. I have yet to hear a parent say, “Oh, just let her run into the street toward oncoming traffic. It makes her happy. She’s being herself. Love wins.” We don’t hear parents say this because it’s lunacy. Love puts a stop to things that are going to cause harm. It naturally erects guard rails.

Love breeds boundaries. Love makes demands.

Giving a universal stamp of approval on any and every inclination and habit is not Love. Instinctively, we already know this. It’s why we don’t celebrate drug addiction. It’s why we don’t celebrate human trafficking. It’s why we are grieved rather than happy about pornography addiction.

Love [and I’m talking about genuine, God-originated love – not counterfeit, ambivalent love that has drenched our culture] is too kind to leave us the way we are. Yes, the Father loves us outrageously, even in our mess. Nothing can separate us from his love. No matter what we’ve done, what mistakes we’ve made, how filthy we think we are, His love is greater still. But Love this great sees the gold inside of us that needs refining. It sees the treasure inside of us that will burst forth once the dirt is removed. It sees the pearl hidden within the ugly shell, just waiting to be revealed.

And to refine the gold, to get to the treasure, to discover the pearl, things have to change. The heat turns up so that impurities melt away. The Gardener gets to digging, uprooting everything that’s hiding our inner treasure. And the tough, ugly shell is burst open and removed so the pearl can be displayed.

This, my friends, is Love. It’s beautiful. And costly. It makes demands on us. It requires access to every hidden thing inside of us. He is relentless in his pursuit and persistent in his pruning. He’s got a masterpiece in mind – and He loves us way too much to leave us the way we are.

So when I say “Love Wins,” make no mistake about it – Love does win.

The One from whom Love springs rules with everlasting victory. He never fails. He finishes what he starts. His refining fire will accomplish what it has set out to do. His beauty will be displayed. Revival will come. The Desired of the Nations will be worshiped.

He won, He wins, He will win.

The Mythical World of Social Media

[I preface this post by saying that not everyone engaging in social media is living in this mythical world and that social media is not inherently bad.  It is neutral; it becomes good or bad according to how we employ it.

My recent presentation on this topic was aimed at unearthing the hidden, unspoken world into which social media draws us.  It is a closer examination of a piece of our culture and an evaluation of it in light of the Biblical worldview.

It behooves each of us to examine our culture in this way.  Failing to do so will render our lives unexamined, unanchored, and ultimately, tossed to and fro by every breeze that blows.]

A world in which the right pose, filter, backdrop, or caption enables you to instantly project a carefully designed image of yourself. The image need not be accurate – just trendy or some shade of likeable. Most of us are first beckoned into this world of social media because it does serve good purposes like keeping us in touch with people who aren’t in our inner circles. Once we’ve entered the world, however, we have a conscious decision to make. Are we going to succumb to the trendiness, shallowness, and competitiveness that are rampant in this social media world or are we going to remain genuine and use our platform for good?

This decision is real because the more exposed we become to this world, the more often we are told that our personal value is reflected in how many followers and likes we get. In this world, value is measured by how many people positively respond to our posts. In the minds of many Instagrammers and Facebookers, moments with family, celebrations, and accomplishments are subjected to public opinion and then measured by the number of positive responses. One quickly notices that certain hashtags, captions, and poses produce a greater response from followers; so future posts are intentionally presented in a way that will keep one achieving the goal that matters most: more likes and more followers. For the subtle promise in this mythical world is that more likes and followers will equal some kind of success or value which will equal happiness and significance.

The subtle messages of this social media world seek to shape the user’s character. They invite us as users to measure our value by the number of likes we get. They also invite us to compare our lives with the lives of others (which appear perfect from our vantage point), leading either to dissatisfaction with our own lives or to pride because our lives are better than so-and-so’s. The endless “selfies” present in this world invite us to become self-absorbed – to shamelessly promote ourselves rather than allowing others to do so.

This world wants us to believe that popularity is success, and value is validated by numbers.  And rather than being fully present during sacred moments, it wants us to exploit them by posting them publicly. Rather than wasting time reading and learning, it wants us to relax and scroll through pictures.

It isn’t hard to see that dwelling in this world of meaning will make us worse as individuals, not better.  Immersing ourselves in this mythical world and believing its messages as truth will lead us down a road that puts ourselves first, that seeks to please people rather than God, and that roots our identities in other people’s opinions of us rather than who we are in Christ. For the values promoted in this world stand in stark contrast to those promoted in Scripture.  Popularity among peers is of utmost importance in this world, evidenced in the fact that attached to each post is its number of likes and placed at the top of each user’s profile is his/her number of friends or followers. Instagram’s terminology is especially significant. On Facebook, we have “friends,” but on Instagram we have “followers.” This is the language of a world driven by personal-platform-building and self-exaltation.

This drive flies in the face of Biblical values such as humility, resting in the Lord, allowing others to praise us rather than praising ourselves, and basing our worth on who we are in Christ. And Biblically, value is not rooted in numbers. God had no problem with thinning out Gideon’s army.  Victory rested with Him, not with the multitude. And Jesus didn’t seem too enamored with crowds for crowds’ sake either – He often said things that decreased His followers. How foolish of you, Jesus!

If social media’s worldview were followed to its natural end, it would create us each in the image of our peers – more specifically, in the image of those we “follow.” We would cease to be our unique selves and would simply adopt the poses, hashtags, and captions that are trendiest. We would rest assured of our individual value as our number of followers continued to grow, or would recognize our lack of value if it never did grow.

Hopefully this world sounds bizarre and backwards to you. Indeed, it should. For in Christ, our individual value is forever and unwaveringly validated.

As Christians, we are in the world but we are not of the world.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  The Kingdom in which we live operates by a secret wisdom that overturns this world’s values. We are free to engage in social media, but we are obligated to do so in a way that is Spirit-led. A way that is congruent with who we really are, not who the world wants us to be. A way that is marked by godly boundaries. A way that allows us to be a Kingdom voice into our world but is guarded against our being sucked into its lies about reality. 

Let’s offer the world a breath of fresh air and be who we really are – in person and on social media! 

 

What Evangel Means to Me

As Evangel is nearing its merge with Free Chapel, so much is stirring in my heart about this precious place I’ve called home for nearly thirty years. I was two weeks old at my first Sunday morning service. Pastor Miles was preaching. That service began a beautiful story in my life – the story of God using this amazing church family to establish His eternal work in my heart.

The older I get, the more I study in seminary, the more I’m exposed to different traditions within the Church… the more thankful I become for my church home. Not because other traditions are less valuable. And certainly not because my church is flawless – ‘flawless’ doesn’t exist in any local church or in any denomination. [I’m saying this up front so that what follows doesn’t give the impression that I think our church is perfect. I don’t.] But despite its flaws, God has used this Charismatic church home to establish some things in me for which I am forever grateful.

Evangel.

Evangel.

It’s inside of the walls of Evangel that I learned…

What Unconditional Acceptance Feels Like. Evangel has always been a place of tangible love and acceptance. Embracing people from all walks of life has been its standard from the beginning. One doesn’t need a minimum salary or designer clothes or a certain color of skin to belong in this family. What a rich gift it has been to worship in this kind of environment. I worked at a local ministry right after finishing college, and we often counseled young couples. I was responsible for processing client charts; so I got the privilege of reading about all of the counseling sessions at the ministry. In reading these client assessments, I noticed a pattern over the years: whenever interracial couples came through our ministry doors, they were consistently referred to Evangel as a potential church home. It made my heart smile every single time I saw this. This pattern captures a beautiful truth about our church home: the “rejects,” the ostracized, even the “weird” :), have always had an invitation to be part of our family. Diversity hasn’t been tolerated; it has been embraced and even celebrated.

Bishop Miles being honored at his 85th birthday celebration.

Bishop Miles being honored at his 85th birthday celebration.

How Kind God Is. Tracy Stewart, one of our frequent guest speakers in years past, once said, “God is so much nicer than Christians.” This captures Evangel’s culture – and its understanding of God’s love – so well. God doesn’t withdraw Himself or give us silent treatment when we ‘behave badly.’ His unconditional, insanely passionate love for us has been a prevailing theme of any preaching I’ve ever sat under. Not only the existence of His love, but more importantly, its limitless nature. The fact that it overcomes every obstacle to our knowing Him. If there’s anything I’ve learned at Evangel, it’s that God is not afraid of our mess. He loves down our walls, even in our messiest situations, and is so available to us no matter how badly we’ve messed up. It’s that kind of Love that disarms us and makes room for transformation in our lives.

Cameron Walker and Blake and Eliza Lewis leading worship in 2011.

Cameron Walker and Blake and Eliza Lewis leading worship in 2011.

To Linger in the Lord’s Presence. Our leadership has placed a HIGH priority on worship because it recognizes its power. We’ve never drudged through songs as if it’s a chore we’re trying to check off. If you’ve never sat consistently in this type of worship atmosphere, this point may be very hard to understand. But let me tell you, there has always been something unique about Evangel’s worship. This is not an arrogant statement; it’s a fact that I simply can’t get around. A uniquely sweet and transformative atmosphere is created when you have a worship leader that is intimate with the Holy Spirit. There’s a sensitivity and a power that comes with this type of worship, and it can’t be mimicked. An atmosphere of intimacy, love, new life, hope, and restoration is created. It peels back layers of our hearts and prepares us to receive the Word that’s about to be preached. There’s no way I can do justice for this point – I could write a dissertation about it! It’s one of the richest deposits God has made in my life through Evangel.

Vince Edmund and Iris Valley at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday party, 2013.

Vince Edmund and Iris Valley at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday party, 2013.

To Get to Know the Holy Spirit Personally. For us (and Scripturally), the Holy Spirit has never been some vague third member of the God-head. He really is what the Word says He is – our Comforter, Teacher, and Helper. Every single day of our lives. We talk to Him, seek relationship with Him, want to hear His voice, don’t want to grieve Him, celebrate His presence, and recognize His work in the people and world around us. He knows me intimately, and prioritizing relationship with Him means that I can know Him intimately too. This is a life-changing gift. Because of the emphasis on knowing Him personally, I’ve hungered for this from an early age and have experienced things in my relationship with Him that have changed and anchored my life in profound ways.

Pastor Langley preaching in 2014.

Pastor Langley preaching in 2014.

To Be a Generous Giver. This principle has become part of the fiber of my life because of the countless stories that have been shared in our congregation concerning giving. Maybe you’ve heard it said that “you can’t out-give God.” This truth has thrived in our church culture. And not just where money is concerned – but time, talents, worship, service – all of it. And even the money component hasn’t been all about ‘giving to the church’ – that’s been part of it, sure. But the culture has been one of generous giving outside the church too. Being a generous giver wherever you are (paying for people’s meals/groceries, giving generous tips, blessing people in secret) – because God can display Himself so beautifully in the world through our generosity.

My mom and me with Laurie Langley on Easter Sunday, 2013.

My mom and me with Laurie Langley on Easter Sunday, 2013.

A Willingness to Look Foolish. Speaking of God displaying Himself in our world… We’ve got to be willing to do whatever the Holy Spirit leads us to do, no matter how foolish it may appear. Every preacher and leader I’ve sat under in this church has demonstrated this point in one way or another. And this truth is present throughout Scripture. Why dip seven times in water to be healed? Why spit in mud and smear it on someone’s eyes to restore sight? Why march around the wall for seven days to see it fall? Why put the worshipers at the front during battle? Why kill the Savior of the world so viciously and after only three years of public ministry? I don’t know. None of us do. But through these ‘foolish’ acts of obedience, God moved. The Kingdom story was told. Lives were made whole. So if the Holy Spirit tells me to pray for someone in public or to tell a stranger something specific that will encourage him or to start a conversation with random kids in Barnes & Noble (He led me to do this several years ago – and did one of the most amazing things I’ve ever experienced when I stepped out and obeyed) or to give to something specific when I’m tight on money, I better do it! Who cares what it looks like?! Who cares if people think I’m weird?! If the Kingdom manifests through my looking foolish, so be it.

Bishop Miles and Evelyn greeting everyone as they arrived at his 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

Bishop Miles and Evelyn greeting everyone as they arrived at his 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

That Salvation is the Beginning of the Story, Not the End. We are endlessly thankful for what Jesus did on the Cross and recognize that receiving the free gift of salvation is miraculous beyond words. But we also recognize that salvation is the beginning of our story with God, not the end. Salvation is the starting point for a rich life in God that is about SO much more than simply going to heaven when we die. Salvation isn’t primarily about saving us from hell; it’s about restored relationship with our Father. Life with God is the point. Restored relationship with our Father is the point. Therefore, the main point of our preaching hasn’t been to offer redundant explanations of how to ‘get saved.’ The Gospel message is very present in every sermon – and even an invitation for salvation. But much more has been communicated from Evangel’s pulpit than the ‘how-to’ of salvation. And I am so thankful for this. Because if that’s all that sermons ever do (evangelize people who are already Christians), they give the idea that assurance of heaven is the only thing that happens when we come into life in Christ. And nothing could be further from the Truth!

Lily Lenderman, one of our dearest family members at Evangel.

Lily Lenderman, one of our dearest family members at Evangel. Her faith became sight on October 15, 2012.

What Great Leaders Look Like. No, Evangel’s leaders have not been perfect. But they have shown me what great leadership looks like. When I spoke at Evangel recently, I shared something I had gained from each of the three pastors who have led me. From Pastor Miles, I learned humility. God has used this man as an amazing leader around the world – starting hundreds of churches, being a global influencer, and leading a local congregation. But Pastor Miles never got puffed up because of it. He’s always been approachable, and we’ve always felt like he was one of us. He never became too important. That speaks volumes about the kind of man he is. From Dr. Gaulden, I gained a value for the study of the Biblical languages. His preaching brought the original contexts and languages to bear, and listening to him sparked something in me. The Word came to life in a fresh way. God used his preaching to sow a seed in my heart to go to seminary. He embodied both deep knowledge and great passion – a rare combination. It showed me that serious study doesn’t have to hamper passion; instead, it can fuel it. From Pastors Randal and Laurie, I’ve learned tenacity. God’s assignments often come with great challenges; their assignment at Evangel certainly did. But I’ve watched them in the trenches and seen tenacious grace on their lives to be in this thing with God for the long haul. They’ve also had a heart to empower those whom they lead. They’ve never been ‘all about me’ in the way they lead. They’ve always wanted to empower others and see people arise in their individual callings – and have not been threatened by other people’s gifts. This is rare in leadership. I am forever grateful God gave me them as a tangible example of this attribute.

Laurie turning the mic over for me to preach on Sunday, May 24th, 2015.

Laurie turning the mic over for me to preach on Sunday, May 24th, 2015. Thank you, Todd Kuhns, for capturing this special day!

What an incredible gift it was to stand behind the pulpit where so many great men and women of God have stood and share from my heart with this precious church family. Thank you, Pastor Langley, for allowing me this opportunity! I am forever grateful!

What an incredible gift it was to stand behind the pulpit where so many great men and women of God have stood and share from my heart with this precious church family. Thank you, Pastor Langley, for allowing me this opportunity! I am forever grateful!

To Value the Gifts of the Spirit. Evangel has always made room for the Holy Spirit to minister. Whether it’s been at an altar call or in a small group setting, I’ve repeatedly experienced the gifts of the Spirit in action. For example, Kevin Baird, a former Evangel staff member from years ago, is very prophetically gifted. At one evening gathering, he started getting prophetic words from the Lord for specific people in the group. He called my mom out and proceeded to give her a very timely, very accurate prophetic word. She was undone. It’s one of the most precious things God has ever done for her.

It’s easy for people to say that God doesn’t do this stuff any more until they experience it for themselves. It isn’t hard to see that these gifts are still very much active when you see them operating in your midst. Only God knew the specifics of my mom’s situation at that time, and yet, this minister who knew nothing about it (in the natural realm) was speaking directly into it. And the cool thing about the prophetic is… the person giving the word is simply a vessel. God gives prophetic words in such a way that the giver of the word still doesn’t know the details surrounding the word (God is so kind and is always protecting our hearts – He doesn’t expose bad or shameful things about us and He’s never out to embarrass us) – the prophecy is always packaged in a way that is specific enough for us to know that it’s coming from Him but discreet enough to leave the details ours.

The prophetic alone has been one of the greatest things I’ve experienced during my time at Evangel. It always brings great encouragement and gives fresh grace to keep moving forward.

I remember another instance when I was in a small group setting with other young people at church many years ago. We were going through a particularly hard time as a church family, and some of our more seasoned prayer team members came to minister to us. We were all sitting in a circle, and at some point during our time together, one of the ladies started weeping. I had seen stuff like this before; so at first I assumed that God was really ministering to her as an individual.

But then the weeping became deeper, more gut-wrenching. And it kept going. And going. Something shifted, and suddenly it was clear to me what was going on. I was seeing deep intercession take place. I believe it was the Holy Spirit that made all this clear to me. Because suddenly I understood what I was witnessing in her weeping: God was weeping over us through her. His heart was so moved over our pain as a church family that He used this woman as a vessel through which to weep. It was very moving to realize how much God’s heart was hurting for us.

I know this probably sounds nuts to anyone reading this who has never been in such an atmosphere. This type of thing hasn’t been an everyday occurrence, even in our church. But again, I am thankful that we’ve always made room for God to minister however he wants to minister. It is deeply healing and encouraging when the Holy Spirit ministers to us (and through us) with His gifts.

My sister, Dawn, and her daughter, Crissy, with Dr. Gaulden on Easter Sunday, 2006.

My sister, Dawn, and her daughter, Crissy, with Dr. Gaulden on Easter Sunday, 2006.

Larry Braswell speaking at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday party, 2013.

Larry Braswell speaking at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday party, 2013.

Candid shot of Jerry Clevenger, Pastor Langley, and Kevin Baird at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday party, 2013.

Candid shot of Jerry Clevenger, Pastor Langley, and Kevin Baird at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday party, 2013.

The Vital Role that Women Play in Ministry. Having studied this issue from a more scholarly perspective over the last few years, it now means that much more to me that my home church has always welcomed women behind the pulpit. Because of Evangel’s stance on women preachers, I have been privileged to hear women speak from as early as I can remember. I’m seeing now what a rare gift this is. I’ve never had a time in my life when I doubted the place women have in the church and in ministry in general. And you know what? Some of the very best speakers on this planet are women. They have a passion and a voice for God that is unique from men. This does not, of course, lessen the value of men. Not in the least! The point is that both sexes are made in God’s image. We both bring vital attributes to the table, and both need to be heard if our church families are going to thrive. As Danny Silk of Bethel Church says, when a family only hears from its father and never from its mother, things are lop-sided. Families need fathers and mothers! I’m so thankful for this precious, lifelong gift of regularly hearing women preach.

The Bunch Family - This was shortly before Debora's bone marrow transplant in 2010.

The Bunch Family – This was shortly before Debora’s bone marrow transplant in 2010.

Tracie Baird and me at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday party, 2013.

Tracie Baird and me at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday party, 2013.

The Importance of Inner Wholeness. This goes hand in hand with my earlier point about salvation being the starting point, not the end, of our stories. Much of our journey with God consists of Him fathering us out of our brokenness and into true sonship or daughtership. This pursuit of inner wholeness has been another prevailing theme in the Evangel culture. There has always been access to individual ministry at our church. We have placed a high value on dealing with past wounds because until we give God access to them, they will continue to cripple us – no matter how much we love God or how saved we are. I am so thankful to have grown up in an environment that fostered inner healing. I’ve not been told to pretend I’m okay when I’m not or to sweep my issues under the rug. Instead I’ve always been encouraged to get the counseling, the ministry, the prayer I need so that I can move forward in wholeness.

James Reese playing at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

James Reese playing at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

Roger Gosnell speaking at Bishop Miles' 85th birthday party, 2013.

Roger Gosnell speaking at Bishop Miles’ 85th birthday party, 2013.

That Passion, Joy, and Physical Response to God are Fitting in Worship Settings. Unashamed hunger and overflowing praise have been a driving force in our services. When you glimpse the insane goodness of God, you are compelled to respond with more than a stern expression or a motionless stare. Lifted hands, shouts of praise, kneels at the altar, and tears of joy are the natural overflow of a redeemed heart in the presence of the Lord. This is not to say that there is no order or that our services are chaotic free-for-alls. Not at all. What I am saying is that our corporate atmosphere has always been one that makes room for holy celebration and response to God. And even laughter. [GASP] Pastor Langley said something one time that has always stuck with me because it challenges many people’s notion of ‘decently and in order.’ “Decently and in order have to do with the corporate atmosphere, meaning that your worship, actions, etc. should fit with what’s going on corporately.” (This is not a direct quote but captures the point of his statement.) In other words, if it’s a corporate time of praise and celebration, then, by all means, dance or shout if you feel led. But if it’s a serious or silent moment corporately, it’s not a time to shout. That would distract and prevent other believers from receiving in that moment. The point is this: whether it’s silence, kneeling, clapping, singing, laughing, or shouting, there’s a time and place for it all. So we’ve made room not only for silence and stillness, but also for noise and celebration.

Most of the Latvia mission team from 2006.

Most of the Latvia mission team from 2006.

Kari Eplee Bailey, Kristin McDowell Robertson, Krista Bridwell Gaulden, Katie Moore, Gina McBride Parrish, and me in Latvia, 2006.

Kari Eplee Bailey, Kristin McDowell Robertson, Krista Bridwell Gaulden, Katie Moore, Gina McBride Parrish, and me in Latvia, 2006.

Me, Krista, Melody, Anna, Kari, and Brian in Latvia, 2006.

Me, Krista, Melody, Anna, Kari, and Brian in Latvia, 2006.

~

Despite my best efforts, I could never adequately communicate the love I have in my heart for this church family. Our family members have gone in different directions over the years, and many are at different houses of worship now. But we continue to share this deep bond, no matter how many years pass between our reunions. When you experience God in such profound ways together, you become bound to your brothers and sisters in Christ in a supernatural way. The bond is unending. It will exist through all of eternity. What a glorious thing! Thank you, Lord, for drawing me into this family and for all that you’ve deposited into my life through the journey.

Bishop Miles as he arrived at his 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

Bishop Miles as he arrived at his 85th birthday celebration, 2013.

[These pictures include only a few of the precious people that have been part of Evangel. There are MANY more than I could picture in this one post.]

What Makes Our Marriage Happy

As our anniversary approaches, I’ve been reflecting on what has made our marriage happy thus far. Happy – not perfect, not effortless, not problem-free – but yes, very happy. Wonderful even. And satisfying. And beautiful.

Here are a few principles (in no particular order) that have silently guided us to this point. They may be new or old to you but have made a huge difference in our marriage.

I. Don’t expect your spouse to do for you what only God can do.

Andrew doesn’t “complete” me or “save” me. Sorry, Jerry Maguire! God has already done that. And only He can. It is Him who fulfills the deepest longings of our hearts and gives us a reason for living. No human being can do that. Thankfully, I went into marriage knowing this. It has made all the difference in my marital happiness.

Marriage is the union of two lives for a common journey with the Lord, not an end in itself. And certainly not a reason to worship a person. Don’t get me wrong. Covenant love between a man and a woman runs deep – so deep, in fact, that Scripture says marriage is a picture of Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:32). That’s saying a lot. But the depth of this marital love comes from the invisible Third Party binding the two as one. He is the secret ingredient, the Author of the love story, the One to be worshiped.

If we give to our spouse the worship that belongs to God, we are headed down a scary path that is sure to disappoint. People will fail us – Every. Single. Time. But the Father never will.

And speaking of two becoming one…

II. Anything in my heart that I’m unwilling to surrender to God will hurt my spouse.

Because marriage has made the two of us one flesh (Genesis 2:24), my “junk” becomes his “junk,” and his becomes mine. My unhealed wounds directly affect my husband and his directly affect me.

Our own marriage illustrates this well: Over the last few years God has been freeing me from this perfectionism I was enslaved to from the time I was very young. “Enslaved” is the best way to capture what life is like when you’re under this cruel task-master. It’s no way to live.

Perfectionists get very attached to their plans and tend to blow up or think that an entire event/pursuit is worthless if one thing changes unexpectedly or was less than perfect. You can imagine the unnecessary drama Andrew endured before this started changing in me. This is a prime example of my junk becoming his. Our life together has gotten better and better as I’ve learned to rest and allowed God to free me.

Because we recognize how connected our lives are, we have both pursued counseling and one-on-one ministry to unload past baggage and move forward in God. I cannot overstate the importance of pursuing personal wholeness, of inviting God into our woundedness and receiving truth and healing where we need it. This isn’t just for married people – this is for EVERYONE. But the necessity of inner wholeness is especially clear in a marriage relationship because our hang-ups hinder each other.

III. Don’t trust yourself for a minute.

By this I mean that we can never rely on our own strength and effort to be a faithful spouse. “He who trusts in himself is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26). It is dangerous for us to ever think “I would never…” – you fill in the blank. I believe this is especially true with adultery. When we judge others who have made this mistake, we make ourselves vulnerable to doing the very same thing.

Listen, Friends, every single one of us is capable of committing any and every sin possible. Our flesh is weak, but the Spirit within us is strong. That’s why Scripture tells us to “make no provision for the flesh” (Romans 13:14). We must be intentional about not putting ourselves in situations that would give opportunity to the flesh. By His grace, we are to fiercely guard our hearts and our thought lives, bringing it ALL under the lordship of Christ. We feed the Spirit within us rather than feeding our flesh.

Only from a posture of total dependence upon the Holy Spirit will we walk in faithfulness to our spouse. And I’m not just talking about physical faithfulness, but mental, emotional, and visual faithfulness too. Oh, and verbal faithfulness.  This part is too often neglected.  What we say – or don’t say – about people of the opposite sex [who are not our spouse] says A LOT about where our loyalties lie.

IV. Learn the art of compromise.

Decide the things that matter most and let the rest go! Andrew and I have found some pretty great compromises over the last several years that made certain situations much easier. I remember one instance when he wanted to play in a golf tournament on the same day that we were invited to a wedding. For me, what mattered most was that we have a day off together, not that he was my date for the wedding (I had other people I could go with). So he took a day off from work on Friday so we could spend the day together and then go our separate ways on Saturday. He got to play in the tournament, and I still got my day off with him. It worked out perfectly!

Idealistic or perfectionist thinkers would have demanded that he attend the wedding at all costs. But why do this? Find ways to prioritize the things that really matter most to each spouse, and let go of the rest! It never killed anyone to go to a wedding with friends instead of a spouse.

V. Be a giver, not just a taker.

Marriage is give and take. If you’re always the one taking and never giving, you’ve probably got an unhappy spouse (whether they’ve told you or not). This give and take principle is huge where each person’s love language is concerned. I’m a quality time person. So no matter what else is done for me, I’m not going to feel loved unless someone is willing to spend time with me, talk to me, make eye contact with me. Naturally, I expect Andrew to make this a priority if he wants our relationship to be good.

But wouldn’t it be lop-sided if I don’t, in turn, reciprocate? This may seem like an obvious point. But I mention it because reciprocating in marriage doesn’t often come naturally. Your spouse will almost always have a different love language from you, meaning you will have to intentionally act so that he/she feels loved. Some would call this “dying to self,” meaning that we have to get over what’s convenient to our flesh and choose the way of the Spirit – the way that puts others first.

Andrew’s love language is physical touch, which doesn’t exactly come naturally to me. I’m totally into hugs and snuggles – but I don’t need anyone playing with my hair or rubbing my back. Because I don’t care for such affection, it’s an intentional choice I have to make to love Andrew in this way. This takes lots of practice, mostly because our inclination as human beings is to be self-centered and flesh-gratifying.

Covenant love is the opposite of self-centered.  This hit me like a ton of bricks the other day.  I told Andrew that I think he must actually like my girly movies, considering how often he agrees to watch them.  He smiled back at me as if he was going to let me in on a secret.  “Well,” he said, “it makes me happy to see you so happy.” [Stunned silence.] Wow. Help me, Lord.  This is how I want to love.

Photo by Rachel Ackerman

Photo by Rachel Ackerman

VI. Tell God Before Telling Your Spouse

It does a world of good to go to God with our complaints and concerns about our spouse before blurting them out directly to him/her. Newsflash: It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people, not ours! [And this applies to all relationships, not just marriage!] This one is much easier to say and believe than to actually do. I have failed at it many times. But when I’ve actually followed this principle, the fruit has been amazing!

We’ve got to learn to trust the Holy Spirit to do His job. He knows how to reveal truth in ways that are tailor-made for each of us. He has this way of changing us and changing the way we think – and He doesn’t need human assistance to do this. Our part is prayer; the supernatural part belongs to the Holy Spirit.

Prayer is such a vital part of marriage – times of joint prayer as a couple and intercessory prayer between us and God on behalf of our spouse. There is no limit to what God will do in our spouse when we invite Him in and start thinking bigger in our prayers!

VII. Get Very Comfortable with Apologizing and Asking for Forgiveness

We all make mistakes. We all blow it. For most of us, this happens quite often. Pride keeps many people in quiet defiance after a disagreement. They refuse to humble themselves, apologize, and seek reconciliation. All because they want to be right. As my dear friend, Laurie, said recently, “Being right is overrated!” Love wins. Reconciliation wins. Humility wins.

Get over yourself. Tell your spouse you’re sorry. The world will keep spinning, I promise. Life will get better and better with every apology. With every humble request for forgiveness you’ll walk in greater freedom. Let’s take ownership of our faults and send pride fleeing from our marriage.

It’s been embarrassing in times past just how many times in one day I’ve had to apologize to Andrew. [This might be hard to believe, but I can be quite the pistol sometimes.] But more embarrassing still would have been my refusal to humble myself that many times. As Andrew and I journey together toward life’s finish line, I want him to know without a doubt that love and reconciliation matter most to me in our relationship.

VIII. Give Affirming Words and ‘I Love You’s’ Often

Spouses have the unique opportunity to create a safe place for each other. A refuge. A place of acceptance. A place where we are celebrated. This goal should drive us in our communication with our husband or wife. They need to know that no matter what is going on at work or with the extended family or anything else, we always choose them. We accept them, we value them, we see their heart, we affirm their gifts. We nullify others’ rejection of them by our outrageous and consistent acceptance of them. We are their biggest encourager. We voice our appreciation. We affirm the gifts God has given them. We celebrate them. No, our spouse isn’t perfect, but we intentionally point out their strengths and trust God to work on their weak spots. This environment of unconditional love and acceptance is where marriage flourishes.

IX. Play Together

No matter how hectic life gets, we keep making room for fun together. Life is more than work and bills and errands and repairs and obligations. We weren’t meant to drudge through marriage with a survival mentality. There are things to enjoy and to laugh at every single day if we’ll stop taking everything so seriously.

I’m not talking about watching TV on the couch together. I’m talking about having new experiences together, seeing new places, doing new things. [I can hear what some of you are saying: “Easy for you to say; you don’t have kids.” To which I respond: The happiest couples I know with kids are doing exactly what I’m talking about. Of course it will require more effort; of course it may not happen as often for a while. But it can be done. And it must be.]

Having fun together is a big priority for Andrew and me. Just this past weekend, we had an impromptu dinner at this beautiful place in Highlands, NC. It was a two hour ride to the mountains, and there wasn’t a specific reason to celebrate, but who cares?! The weather was amazing, and we had such a great time. It’s this kind of thing that infuses fresh life into marriage, and keeps you aware of why you got married in the first place.

When Sexual Exploitation has a Face

Stephanie’s Story

I still remember the day the first memory came back to me. I was in my late twenties – a wife and mother. At first it was a vague feeling of shame, but soon the details surfaced. The hateful words, the marks on my body, the rape games I played with Barbie as a young child, the strange men at the parties… Being told, “Take this candy, and do whatever he says to do.” I was no older than seven.

I felt sick to my stomach. And dirty. Angry. Sad. Confused.

I had lived my whole life with a painful awareness of my verbal and physical abuse. That was bad enough. But in this moment, as the memories were unearthed, the light came on. The abuse had been more than what I thought – it had been sexual too.

It would be years until I learned that my relative and some of his friends used to run a child prostitution ring. It ran during the time that I was a young child. I was stunned. My memories weren’t lying. My perpetrators finally had faces. And I discovered that my sexual abuse was actually sexual exploitation. I felt like I had been completely unprotected as a child. It saddened and disgusted me.

As hard as these realizations were, they did bring clarity. In fact, they explained most of my life. The alcohol and drugs that I started in middle school. The violence and crime I engaged in as a teen. My erratic behavior that followed me even into marriage and parenthood. My unexplainable tendency to hurt family and friends.

Now these things made sense. I hadn’t simply made a series of bad choices in my life. Rather, I had endured severe wounds from abuse that I now knew wasn’t just verbal and physical but included sexual exploitation as well. Each of my destructive choices had been rooted in this dark secret. It was an awakening for me. An excruciating one.

I pursued inner healing through Christian counseling. This counseling included a theophostic approach which involved my asking the Lord to take me back to the memories. It sounded scary at first, but I really did want to be free so I was willing to take the risk. As God led me into the memories, He revealed to me specific lies each event had caused me to believe (about myself, about God, etc.). This process brought great release for me; it helped me to work through forgiveness and exposed lies that were hindering me. It also gave me tools to keep working through this process on my own.

Reliving my story and inviting God into my horrific memories has been a long, painful, beautiful, freeing, life-changing process. And even now, the process continues. Each day, I am learning who the Lord says I am and am growing in my ability to see myself through His lens.

I’ve decided not to be defined by my abuse, but to be defined by Jesus, the One who has made me new. The One who has held my hand and led me into His healing presence. The One who has empowered me to forgive my offenders. The One who has now called me to carry His love to other survivors.

Stephanie Johnson, Founder and Director of Switch

Stephanie Johnson, Founder and Director of Switch

A Ministry is Birthed

In 2010 I learned that human trafficking was a reality in my own community, taking place at strip clubs, fake massage parlors, truck stops, and even website ads. I felt called to do something about it but also felt completely unqualified. I researched the issue for about two years while pursuing my own inner healing.

In November 2012, Switch officially launched. The name carries much meaning. First, it speaks of turning on a light, which causes darkness to disappear. This is central to this ministry’s mission: shining God’s light upon the darkness of sexual exploitation, thereby causing that darkness to flee. The name also relates to Isaiah 42:16 which reads, “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

What Switch Does

Switch is a 501©3 non profit that shines light on sexual exploitation. We fight sex trafficking in Upstate South Carolina through awareness, prevention, demand, intervention, and restoration efforts. Our speaking engagements allow us to teach tactics used by traffickers and to encourage those dealing with sexual addictions to seek help, thereby decreasing the demand for illicit sex. We reach out to women in our community who are involved in the commercial sex industry in hopes of helping them to leave the industry and/or their traffickers.

How YOU Can Help

Besides your prayers for this ministry, there are two ways that you (as well as your church, small group, or business) can lock arms with us. First, you can donate to Switch at www.switchsc.orgEvery gift is an investment in the lives of survivors!

The second way you can help is by investing your time at Switch. Volunteers are an integral part of this ministry, and we would love for you to use your gifts here! We need individuals who can help raise awareness, participate in outreach, and perform office duties. More information is available at www.switchsc.org.

The Biggest Lie People Believe About Suicide

As I remember a precious woman who took her own life two years ago today, I am reminded of the harmful words and unfounded assumptions often attached to suicide. The most common one I hear is that the person is now in hell because he/she committed suicide.

There are a few reasons why people wrongly assume this:

More times than not, people base this belief on the fact that suicide entails unconfessed sin. That is, the person dies and therefore can’t possibly ask God to forgive this particular sin and thus goes to the grave with unconfessed sin.

This belief is completely unfounded and has no Scriptural support. Our salvation is not based upon how perfectly we keep track of our sins and confess each and every one by name. Umm, that is impossible. How can we possibly keep track of all of our sins, especially when we consider our thought lives? Based on this faulty reasoning, we must remember and confess every single time we’ve had a wrong attitude, every single time we’ve judged someone in our hearts, every single time our thought life has deviated from righteousness. Friends, this is impossible. Not only is this impossible, but it misses the Gospel message and creates works-based salvation.

Besides, we unknowingly sin all the time – and when sin is unknown to us, we fail to confess it. So there you have it: we all are going to die with “unconfessed sin.” But when we chose to rest our faith in his completed work, he forgave all of our sins – past, present, and future (I Peter 3:18).** Beyond this, sin is so much more than actions and decisions. Sin is part of our very nature as fallen creatures. It’s an inherent inclination, not a string of evil actions. That’s why Christ’s work on the Cross shook the universe: it destroyed the power of sin in its entirety. Jesus wasn’t just making up for a long list of wrong actions; he was destroying the universal domain of wickedness driving such evil actions.

Here’s the glorious Truth: our eternal destiny is based on our ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Jesus’ lordship in our lives (Romans 10:9). NOTHING ELSE. Either we are trusting in his perfect righteousness on our behalf or we are not. And if we are, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” (Romans 8:38-39). Notice that Paul simply says “death.” He doesn’t distinguish natural death from unnatural death. And if nothing else in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ, that includes suicide. Suicide and all other short-comings and bad choices have no power to separate us from God because if we are in Christ, NOTHING can snatch us from his hand (John 10:28). Hallelujah!

[However, I urge anyone reading this who is contemplating suicide NOT to allow this Truth to push you over the edge. God is present with you at this moment, he loves you fiercely, and he is able to meet you here and now and redeem your life. You don’t have to go to heaven for this to happen. His heart is never for someone to take his/her own life. Don’t listen to hell’s lies about your life being hopeless and futureless. You have a very real Advocate who is moving on your behalf at this very moment. Cry out to him, and reach out to someone who can help you. Your life has great purpose and value!]

Sometimes people also refer to Judas Iscariot as grounds for believing that suicide sends people to hell. This also is unfounded. Scripture doesn’t even say exactly where Judas went, and it certainly doesn’t state that his suicide was the determining factor. Gary Amirault offers great insight concerning Judas:

“Be careful where you place Judas. He did the will of the Father and fulfilled the Scriptures. Peter, who we all love, tried to prevent Jesus’ crucifixion and was called “Satan” by our Lord. Peter, who was not mindful of the will of God, was restored. Was it not Jesus who said, “”For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50) Be careful about placing Jesus’s brother, Judas, in Christendom’s “hell.” One day you may have to look up to Judas, instead of looking down on him.”

Bottom line: we do not know where he went, and there is a lot of mystery surrounding him. But what we DO know is that his eternal destiny was decided based upon his relationship to Jesus, not upon his suicide or “unconfessed sin” (John 14:6).

**This does not mean that the Holy Spirit does not continue to convict us when we miss the mark. He does, and he draws us to continual repentance. But this is not a loss and regain of salvation; this is a process of sanctification whereby we are molded into the image of Christ.

~

Friends, this is very good news. The Gospel is insanely good news. His love is powerful enough to break every barrier to our being his. And while suicide does break the Father’s heart – how could it not? He loves us dearly and dreams over our lives – it doesn’t even come close to diminishing his saving grace. However deep the pit in which you find yourself, the Father’s love is deeper still. Whatever the strength of the power that fights against you, his Resurrection Life is more powerful still. Whatever the lie that has been whispered into your ear, his Truth is what shouts the verdict on you!

“Mine!” he declares, “Beloved, you are MINE!”

Pregnancy Changes Everything

A woman is awakened when she becomes pregnant. She stands in awe of the life that is now inside of her. Her mind becomes consumed with that life and her heart burns with love for it even while she has yet to lay eyes upon it.

She dreams over that life – its potential, its beauty, the story it will tell. And she carries the weight of it, knowing that something so wonderful brings great responsibility. But she doesn’t mind the weightiness – her fierce loyalty was aroused from the first instant.

The life inside of her takes precedence over anything else. Every decision is now made with that life in mind. She is amazed at how easily she stops doing some things and starts doing others… all because she values the life inside of her more than she values her own comfort and preferences.

Her taste changes, too. She can’t stand the sight of some foods that she used to love. And she starts to crave things she never had a taste for before. It seems crazy to the un-pregnant people around her. But to her, it makes perfect sense.

And she prepares herself, eliminating some commitments and adding others while she waits expectantly. She is intentionally making room in her world for this new life.

pregnancy

Pregnancy is a beautiful thing. But more beautiful, still, is the Truth laced inside of this experience. Pregnancy is a tangible expression of a rich Kingdom phenomenon.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own…” (I Corinthians 6:19).

The Holy Spirit resides within the believer. Interestingly, the Spirit is described as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come (Ephesians 1:13-14). He is fully alive within us now, but he brings with him a promise that something greater is coming. Sounds an awfully lot like pregnancy.

And the Kingdom is described as a seed (Matthew 13:31-32). The smallest of seeds, in fact. Which then grows into the largest of plants. Just like the life inside of the woman which began as a seed planted inside her.

Let us not miss this prophetic picture. Just as a woman is awakened by her pregnancy, so we also must be awakened. If we are in Christ, a Life much greater than ours is living inside of us.

When we recognize this, it changes everything. We are utterly amazed that the God of the universe would take residence within our frail body. We are honored and stunned simultaneously. Our hearts, having been made alive in him, now burn with passion for the Life we carry.

And like the expectant mother, we now base our decisions on that Life within us. Nothing is neutral anymore. Everything we watch, everything we hear, everything we expose ourselves to is either feeding the Spirit within us or feeding our flesh. And we can’t afford to starve that Spirit. It holds our very life.

[Too many are living in seeming ignorance of the Life they house. They starve it and feed their flesh instead, nearly snuffing out that Life altogether. Its tangible expression is abortion. Lord, let it not be so in us!]

We make every single choice with that Life in mind – what will protect it, what will nourish it. And we dream over that Life too. Because he is a promise of more to come, we are expectant of the seeds hidden within our seed. This Life we carry holds unspeakable potential. As it is given room to grow, it will cause Life to spring up in those around us. And the new Life in them will then be ignited in others. The ripple effect is tremendous – far too great for us to calculate.

Because this Life carries such promise, we don’t mind the weightiness that comes with it. Nourishing this Life is not a chore; it’s a privilege. We don’t begrudge it. We actually live with disbelieving joy that we were given such a gift.

Pregnancy changes everything. Priorities radically shift, hearts awaken, and love ignites. If we are in Christ, we are pregnant, my friends!

Father, I ask you to awaken us to the Life of the Spirit within us! Reveal to us the beauty of Who we carry. Grace us to nourish this Life and to see its full potential. Ignite your passion and love within us, I pray.

~

Photo credit: kukishangit.BlogSpot.com

Stop Waiting on Joy

Ever noticed how joy can feel elusive? We want it… but often feel that it is just beyond our grasp because of life circumstances.

I’ll have joy, we tell ourselves, when the breakthrough finally comes, when my prayers are answered the way I want, when I’m finally done with this job, once my child is through with this phase, once my loved one apologizes.

Life will be so much better and joy so much more easily attained once I finish school, once I meet someone, once I get married, once I have a child, once my child grows up a little, once I get this extra weight off, once I don’t have to be around “so-and-so” anymore, once I’m debt-free, once I retire…

But have you ever had the experience of actually getting your heart’s desire?

You get the long-awaited breakthrough. Your prayer is finally answered, just as you had hoped. You finally move on to another job. Your child finally gets over that phase. You finish the degree. You marry. You pay off the debt. Or you finally escape “so-and-so.”

There’s a rush of happiness that gives you such a high.  Life is good.

But sooner than you would have predicted, you descend from the high. Life settles back down, and the excitement subsides.  You start to notice new problems. And before you know it, joy seems to be eluding you once more.

So you jump back on the merry-go-round and tell yourself that you’ll have joy one day, once x, y, or z happens.

Around and around you go.

DSC_3389

And all the while, the pages of Scripture are whispering that there is a better way. That the joy we desire does exist – it just springs from a different source than we thought.

“You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

In your presence is the fullness of joy.  Not in easy circumstances, not in the absence of pain, not in the absence of conflict. This one sentence derails our every attempt to find joy in another person, in new scenery, or in changed circumstances. It will never be found in those things.

Joy is found in one place alone: His presence.

Joy is not something that “happens to” us. And it’s not something we have to wait on.

It’s a reality we step into. And we can step into it now.

We do this by learning to pursue his presence as the greatest treasure of our lives. And as we go deeper into that glorious Presence, we taste joy that surpasses our greatest expectation. Scripture calls it “unspeakable joy” (I Peter 1:8). True joy – the kind that originates in God himself. The kind that infuses the heart with Heaven. It’s a spark that can’t be snuffed out, no matter how hard or painful the seasons we experience in life.

Once we learn to tap into his endless well of joy, two things are vital to walking in that joy on a daily basis:

First is worship. I cannot overstate what a huge factor this has been in my journey with God. I’m talking about one-on-one time with God – yes, in the Scriptures, but also listening to worship music that connects me with the heart of God. Songs that align my heart and my thinking with his. I don’t simply mean “Christian music” that’s often heard on the radio. I actually find a lot of that music depressing and very circumstance-oriented – coming from a place of defeat. I mean true worship that affirms the bigness, tender mercy, wild love, and insane goodness of God.*

Individual worship is a must if we are to walk in joy, and so is communal worship. We were created to be in community with others, especially other believers. There is something that happens when believers come together to exalt his name that cannot be captured with words. It’s encouraging, healing, and transformational. Worship is a powerful key to unlocking joy because it sets things back in their proper order and renews our perspective. It magnifies God and causes circumstances to shrink – they can no longer control our emotions and attitudes because they come under the Lordship of Jesus.

Second is thankfulness. A posture of thankfulness is a conduit for Heaven’s joy. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of all that God has done for us. This is especially true if we’re walking through long-term hardship. The weight of ongoing pain can cause us to focus on what’s hard about our lives rather than being thankful for our rich blessings.

Despite the things we’re still waiting on, God has been good to us. Let us never stop thanking him for it – for the countless ways he has provided over the years, for the family he’s given us, for the dear friendships in our lives, for his goodness that’s so evident in the change of seasons, for a roof over our heads, and for two legs to stand on. Let’s get over our sense of entitlement and realize that every hair on our head – the very breath in our lungs- is a gracious gift from God. And don’t forget the Cross! We could spend the rest of our lives thanking him, and we still wouldn’t have enough time. He loves us fiercely – loved us into existence, in fact. Thankfulness is our only reasonable response when we get a glimpse of ALL that he is and ALL he has done on our behalf. And just in case you’ve forgotten, the story ends very well. Read the book of Revelation. If we’re his, we win! A very real ‘happily ever after’ awaits us. Beloved, there is MUCH to thank him for.

So let’s stop waiting on joy. What are we waiting for anyway?  Every season of life will give us reasons not to be joyful.  And if we stay on the merry-go-round, we’ll find ourselves on our deathbeds one day, still waiting on joy to “happen.”

And what a waste that would be.

Our Source of joy is fully accessible to us NOW. No need to wait until next year, next month, or even until tomorrow. Every single day there is beauty (even on Mondays).  Every single day he is near. Every single day he is moving on our behalf. His presence beckons us at this very moment.

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

Psalm 145:18

Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”

Genesis 28:16

~

*Some examples of the kind of worship music I’m talking about: Kim Walker Smith, Bethel Worship, Jake Hamilton, Rick Pino, Jason Upton, Hillsong, and many others. These are a great place to start if you’re looking for stuff that will encourage your heart and renew your perspective.

%d bloggers like this: