Turning 29, and 3 things I know to be true –

29 years ago in the dark before the dawn of the morning, I was born: a 5lb 12 oz baby girl with bright red carrot hair. I was almost immediately placed in my parents arms, and loved instantly and completely: “It’s a girl! and she has red hair!”.

It’s been a beautiful life so far, and so turning 29 years old today seems like a gift.
A big gift, considering this last year.

Turning 29: it’s not as startling as I thought it would be. It is, after all, just another day.
Birthdays make me introspective. I’ve been thinking deeply about what another day means and looks like, and further, what another year looks like in the season of life I am in right now.

This season is hard and confusing and I feel a tad like a little ship that is adrift on a stormy sea. I need truths to hold tight to, things to dwell on in the middle of the night, to preach to my heart in the dawn of the morning.

So here are 3 core things I know to be true:

 1. He has good for us

This good. It’s not a human good. It’s not a “dream come true” good. It’s a good that surpasses what our human-minds-can-dream-up-good. It’s a “beyond what we could ask or imagine” good. I saw that goodness revealed when I met my brother in law and saw him pursue and love my sister and care for his own little son. It was a “beyond” moment that God fulfilled after years of prayers for my dear sister. We continue to say “Thank God for Ben” continually. This is just one example of the millions of “beyond” good moments we all have, if we just take a moment to look back and dwell on the GOOD God has done.

We are self proclaimed “American Dreamers”. We think we reach a higher pinnacle of dreaming more than any other country and accomplish more. We don’t even hit the bottom of the mark of what God has planned for us; we can’t begin to dream up its beauty.

A few months ago, in a dark season of my soul, I took a piece of chalk and wrote in large letters on a small chalkboard: “He has GOOD for us.”. In the deep pain, in the loss, in the moments when our dreams fall apart and we don’t have exciting ones to fill it….

God’s goodness remains unchanged. And His good for us remains unchanged. 
The GOOD He has planned for us finds its drawing well in His sovereignty.

It may take years of feeling unmoored in a stormy sea, but don’t doubt that His care for you will one day be plain to your eyes, and you will say, “He has GOOD for me.” 

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing. 
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad.” {Psalm 126:1-3}

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” {Psalm 23:5-6}

2. He is worth following to the ends of the Earth

This year I’ve had months when I’ve been closer to God than I have in the past 10 years, and I’ve also had months when I’ve dragged myself to church and sat in the second row trying not to cry my eyes out Sunday after Sunday because none of it felt real.

And all that it has taught me is that Jesus is worth it. He’s worth it when everything you were dreaming for falls apart, the little boy you love with all your heart is halfway across the world and not in your arms, when your friends lose their children and you have no words. When you stare yourself down and don’t know what to do with your life.

Jesus. Is. Worth. It.

The days when I’ve 100% stepped out into the dark and expected nothing except for God to show up and show me something/anything, He has. He won’t let you fall. He is leading you through the darkness and holding you on the stormy seas and whispering to you in the most beautiful sunset. He is preaching to you in your pain: Trust Me. He can be trusted. He can be trusted with everything you can’t be, and can’t do. He is trustworthy!

The God Who pursues us and is faithful when we are unfaithful is worth following today, tomorrow, next year, every year we have. It’s the only life worth living, one loving Jesus. It is, after all, what we were created for. To know and love the One Who loves us the most.

3. He is perfecting a good work in us

This Sunday I taught my 5th graders about Heaven and as we were reading through Revelation 21, I asked them what they were looking forward to most about Heaven. Without hesitation, my sweet student I’ve known since she was born looked up with shining eyes and said “To not have sin in me anymore!”. She knows. I know. We all know.

The more I live on this earth, and the more I see my sin, the more I long for a sinless heart, a sinless body, a sinless world. Sin has broken our world and it breaks our hearts.

I long for the perfection that I know we were made in. We all ache with our dying world that groans for the Creator to come and redeem it from death as written in Romans 8:19-24.

We will not be perfect or perfectly holy in this life, because that is not possible here, nor is it what our perspective of perfection should drive us to. Trying for perfection ourselves will slowly kill us and kill our worship of our perfect Savior.

Our sin and lack of righteousness now is not meant for us to seek our own perfection (for we could never keep the Law), but to look to the One Who is our righteousness. 

We cannot and could never be what we need most: a Savior who would redeem us.
But Jesus can, and is, and has accomplished for us what we could not: Holiness.

How then could we ever be discouraged that He will bring us to sinlessness at the end of our lifetimes? He will bring us in as He has promised, as the angels sing in welcome, and He will announce to us what we’ve been believing and hoping for all along: Forgiven.

Beloved Bride of Christ. Forgiven. Accepted. Holy. Perfect. Healed. Sinless. Forever.

“being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you
will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
{Philippians 1:6}

When we look at ourselves, we despair of all the sin we see. Don’t keep your eyes there.
Look up at the cross. Look at the empty grave. Look at the shimmering throne.
Look to Jesus. Know that your sin debt is paid in full and you are gaining a glory better than anything you could have ever dreamed and God is bringing it about in you even now.

And that love and grace and mercy rests upon you NOW. It does not wait until Heaven to be revealed, but is placed upon us as an invisible crown of His love. YOU, His Beloved Bride of Christ. Forgiven. Accepted. Holy. Perfect. Whole. Healed. Sinless. Heirs of glory.

For your 29th year. And for all the days of your life. Forever.

How #Pulse changed my heart overnight towards the LBGTQ Community

On a Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, at just before 2am, Omar Mateen parked his van outside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, walked in, and started shooting. At 2:02am, multiple shots were reported and 911 was called. Over the next 3.5 hours, 49 people would be killed and at least 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The shooter would call 911 and pledge allegiance to ISIS, although in later months, the crime has come to be more recognized as a hate crime against the LBGTQ community.

I was awake following every update I could find on Twitter for all heavy three hours until just before 6am when Orlando Police breached a wall with an armored vehicle and took out the shooter.

Sunday was filled with a scarcity of information, as victims filled Orlando hospitals and pictures filled our social media accounts. I remember standing in the kitchen Sunday evening talking with my Mom while I wiped dishes, as tears choked my voice. “How DARE someone think they can walk into our backyard in Orlando and kill our people? That is wrong. How did this happen?”

I spent most of Sunday night researching places to give blood, and got up Monday morning, expecting to see social media flooded with prayers and sad acknowledgements of the #Orlandoshooting, as it was then being tagged.

Only it wasn’t by the majority of my Christian friends. Social media was dead silent, with the exception of a few heroes to the faith like Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and John Piper. No “this is heartbreaking” or “so awful” posts that always followed huge incidents worldwide.
I’d say 95% of my Christian friends on social media had nothing to say. 

It was a cold shock to my system, and rarely have I felt the immediate black and white, night and day, flip of a switch than I did in that moment. Never had it been more clear to me:

How the church was responding to the LBGTQ community wasn’t good enough.
Saying nothing and keeping our distance wasn’t working and probably never did.
Silence doesn’t melt any hearts and certainly didn’t mine. We were failing them.

And I was livid. 

My parents watched me shift from a silent 27 year old on any LBGTQ issue to a vocal, outspoken, rally and memorial attending woman literally overnight. The shift was sudden and shocking, but, quite simply, I wasn’t going to stay silent or still.

Someone representing the Church needed to show up. Now. Something had to be done.

Silence was no longer good enough.

This quote from C.H. Spurgeon spurred me on that awful week after Pulse:
“Do what the Lord bids you, where He bids you, as He bids you, as long as He bids you, and do it at once.” 

Monday morning, I drove down to our hometown’s little One Blood Center to give blood for Orlando. I waited sitting in a cold tiled hallway, clutching my piece of paper and ID, and smiling gently at everyone who came through the door. After an hour, I gradually made it into the center’s office which was so packed we were shoulder to shoulder, where I sat for another few hours, until it was finally my turn after 4.5 hours of waiting.

It was worth every minute of making friends, waiting, praying. I talked and shared with people I’d never met and had nothing in common with, only bonded by our sadness and desire to help in any way we could. A nurse ordered 10 pizzas, so we wouldn’t have people passing out post-donation. About 3pm, one of the nurses got a call from the district One Blood Center that said because of the overwhelming response, Central Florida had fulfilled the need of blood the last 2 days, which is incredible.

I saw Americans refusing to complain, waiting even though they could leave, and a hush falling over the room when the names were read on the TV. It was a sobering reminder of why were were all there: to BE #OrlandoUnited.

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That night, I went to a prayer vigil and walk locally in my little town. I went alone but I saw friends that I’d made at the One Blood Center and at a cleanup on Saturday. I saw the mayor and the police chief, who wrote the coordinator and said “We’re coming and we’re bringing the guys with us.” There were Fire Department, police, SWAT and K-9 so we’d all feel safe. A pastor prayed for us, and we went walking with our candles and carnations.

I was sitting on the bridge barrier and praying after the vigil, watching the sun set into pink, and Donovan walked by. He and his partner had set up tents outside One Blood and  handed out donated cold waters, juice, cookies, protein bars all day long in the heat.

I had met him and talked with him, and then sat for 4.5 hours inside. As I looked up and smiled, he said “I’ve seen you twice today. Thank you so much.”, and as I reached out and hugged him, I told him I was praying for everyone and he thanked me profusely.

Two nights later some friends and I attended the Citywide Prayer Service at First Baptist of Orlando. It was so hard, but good. There were prayers from multiple pastors in Orlando. Corporate worship live streamed on probably every news channel there was with a video camera. We sang “It is Well” with hands upraised. A standing ovation for a guy named Josh who was at Pulse the night of the shooting, who had tears streaming down his face. There was a reading of the 49 names and the chiming of the bell went on far too long for far too many names. The LBGTQ African American lady who works with the group who spoke a few words and when she said “2,000 people have come here tonight…putting aside politics and differences to show support…in a church. In a CHURCH.”, her tears stopped her from continuing to the sound of thundering applause.

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When I got home, I unpinned the purple ribbon on my shirt and put it somewhere safe to remember, and as I did, I wished with all my heart that my gay friends I’d met the day before could have gone to the service that night. And I wished more than I had ever wished that I had more gay friends, so that I could hold them in my arms and tell them that this was wrong, and I was heartbroken for their loss. I prayed that many who watched it live were comforted by the prayers and were uplifted knowing we went just for them, not for us by any means.

I wrote this late that night: “We showed up for you, Pulse families and LBGTQ community. Hear us loud and clear: we are praying for you. Conservative Christians are heartbroken and weeping with you. YOU have great worth in our eyes and in God’s eyes. There is One Who will never leave you or forsake you in your whole life; He longs to make you a part of His family, and until you know it to be true yourself, we will call you family and we will mourn with you. Because #WeareOrlando.”

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In the wake of those hard personal stories, I want to speak to you about a few things….

We are all image bearers of God.

Loving the LBGTQ community should not be a political statement. Long before the LBGTQ community even existed, these words were written in the Bible 11 times: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This doesn’t mean, “love your neighbors unless you’re uncomfortable with how they live their lives, then shun them completely”. No.

“…if there is any other commandment, all are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” {Romans 13:9b-10}

The Bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself.”. Period.

We really love ourselves a lot. And we’ve done a really bad job of being Jesus to a community that, a year ago, was being killed because they weren’t straight.

The shooter killed them because he believed something terribly false about them: that they shouldn’t matter enough to live. As Christians, we believe that ALL are image bearers of God. ALL matter. ALL have great worth. The shooter was wrong.

Although perhaps not all our brothers and sisters in Christ, they were still image bearers of God and deeply important to God. No life is worthless to our Creator God.

I told my Mom that week “It could’ve been me. In that club. It could’ve been me.”. Although I don’t spend many nights at clubs, I have on occasion been to one or two for a concert and I have friends who play late into the night in pubs or halls, but on an even deeper level than that, I saw myself in the victims, and my heart broke for their families.

They were sinners. But so am I. Their sin runs deep. So does mine. Simply: it could have been me.

We are called to stand in the gap.

Church, don’t let politics steal from you what God has called you to do: Love like Jesus.
Likewise don’t confuse standing for your faith with shunning the community that needs to hear that faith from a heart that will show up on the hard days and mourn with them.

Showing up at those memorials was not a political statement, nor are these words you are reading. It was a statement that said: “I will stand and mourn with you. I’m sad someone came and killed your friends. I hate that this happened. And as Christians, we are going to stand in the gap and protect you if someone ever pulls a gun. We are going to lay down our lives for you because that’s what Jesus did for us. What He did for you. We won’t stand for violence against image bearers of God.”

I loved this quote: “You have never looked into the eyes of someone who was not deeply loved by God.” and as I spent that week with people of the LBGTQ community, I knew it to be true. I felt overwhelmed with a fierce protective love. I’d take a bullet for any of them.

Not because we were the same gender or race, but because laying down your life for others is a calling placed upon us by the God who made them and who made me. (John 15:12-13, 17) At the time, we expected that this would be the start of many terrorist attacks in our neighboring city of Orlando, and this became the fundamental cry to many of my prayers for our neighbors.

We had nothing to lose, they had everything to gain: Jesus.

We are called to stand in the gap. We are called to die for others if need be.
We are called to sacrificial love, exemplified by a Savior Who died for sinners. 

We know the answer to the question being asked.

We are all searching for something. We are all looking for our life’s greatest fulfillment, whether we label it our identity or dream or purpose. But we have been given the answer to the secret yearnings of every soul on this planet. And we know it every day when we walk out the door. We know it every time we see a Pulse sticker or tattoo and have an opportunity. We know it with every prayer we offer up for our LBGTQ communities. As I urged last year, please don’t let this great opportunity go. Love instead.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus {John 10:10}

Church, WE KNOW Who saves the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, we know Who gives life, we know Who is God and Who reigns over our world, we know the answer to the cry of every lost soul and every heart longing for love and His name is JESUS.

Don’t stay silent. Proclaim it. 

Five Ways to Make it Through the Darkness

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed I’d be writing this. Not even a few weeks ago. I’m glad I am. I’m glad I have the space to be open, and I’m glad knowing I’m not alone in this. This is a hard and deep post, and I won’t tie it up in a tidy little box for you or for me.

Within the past month, within two weeks of each other, dear friends and acquaintances of mine have lost their sons. First, it was our dear friends losing their 24 year old son very suddenly. Then 2 weeks later, our friends lost their 3 month old grandson and nephew within 48 hours after finding him unconscious during a nap.

It’s been a heavy and hard year and a half, and I’ve undergone many “why” moments in that time, but I never thought it’d be 2nd hand grief that would completely break me.

I sat at that first funeral of the month, staring at what seemed like the hundredth wooden casket, looked over to my weeping friends, and back to the casket, and it was then that something incredibly thin snapped inside me. 

Tears streamed down my cheeks as my heart cried out these eight words to God:
“I don’t know how to do this anymore.”

*THIS* was life. *THIS* was death. This. I don’t know how to live this anymore.

I wasn’t grieving for me, but I was grieving. I barely made it through the next week and a half, crying in the night, weeping in prayer, begging for comfort and mercies for my friends, and leaving myself quite out of the healing process that should accompany grief.

Only I wasn’t out of it. I was in it. In it and utterly unable to remove myself from it.

I went to a baseball game with my friend at the end of that unbearable week(s), only to have my friends lose their little 3 month old baby boy the very next morning.

I drove 7 hours to comfort my friends with hugs and tears, and no words; truly, there are no words in this kind of loss and pain. The wind fluttered pictures of his sweet life of 3 months that were hung up around the chairs of those who had gathered to celebrate his life. Onesies he would never wear again danced in the breeze; worship songs rang with hope we would not let go of. A monsoon sized storm darkened the skies and fittingly as we left it opened up and drenched the grass that held our tears.

So much deep loss, so much clinging to Jesus, so much pain, so much hurt, so much sorrow….the darkness has been deep and inescapable, and I recognize my footsteps in the valley that I’ve walked many times before. The days the darkness will not lift are the days you need Jesus the most, and yet I’ve been without a way to put words to the night.

Today was the first day in a month where I woke up and didn’t feel like I was dying. 
Unable to write or work or share my heart without bawling, today was the first day I didn’t feel like a hypocrite to share 5 ways to make it through the darkness.

So here we go:

#1. Stay in the Word however you can

Listen, I’m not here to tell you that every day you need to stick to a strict schedule of memorize the entire book of Psalms, but I am telling you that you need to stick to a committed schedule of, at the very least, opening the Bible once a day.

Why? Because when you’re dying, you need life. 

You aren’t going to gain LIFE back into your soul faster than dwelling on the words of God, Who is the fullness of Life. You need this more than air, more than water and food.

I’m calling you to dwell, not conquer. Often it’s the same verse for days. Over and over and over again, hundreds of times. Find what comforts, find what pierces, and dwell.

You are in pain, don’t deny yourself the medicine you need.

#2. Preach the Truth to your soul

You are in a battle between what you FEEL and what you KNOW. Constantly trusting either truth about the God you believe or what you see around you right now. When you’re surrounded in darkness and can’t see a way out or any glimmers of light, preach to your soul that there is a God Who loves you and is with you in the darkness.

The darkness might feel like the most pointless holding pattern and an empty desert that isn’t producing the fruit you feel like waiting should produce, and it might feel like a million losses that have piled up that are crushing you. You need something to hold onto. 

Make it Jesus. 

In the night, in the day, in the weeping, in the laughter, in the sorrow, in the loss. Come what may…..remind yourself that there is an answer to your pain, and it isn’t anything this earth can give you. It’s the One Who is trustworthy, the One Who is sovereign.

Don’t ground yourself in something that will not hold you forever secure. It will not comfort. C.S. Lewis writes this: “To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself?” 

We are not strong enough to lift the darkness or tear the veil. Jesus is. Preach it to your soul.

#3. Reach out with both hands

Yesterday I shared openly and honestly with two dear friends and mentors about how everything seems completely overwhelming and I can’t do it anymore. Within a half hour, I was beating myself up for sharing my heart. Don’t do that. Reach out with both hands.

Text your friends. Be honest. Be specific. Be raw. Ask for prayer. Ask for lots of prayer. Ask for prayer that won’t have a tidy bow in a week and let them know that.

Let your community know your hurts and the darkness you see. There won’t be a lot that will be able to handle it without wanting to fix it, but there will be a few. They may be scattered in different places, but reach out and let them minister to you in this season.

Don’t weep alone when we’re called to weep together. Do not feel as though you must fix it before you share, because you can’t fix it, and neither can they. Only Jesus can.

On a practical note, realize that there WILL be something in the dark that brings joy. If it’s hymns/worship music, play those on repeat, if it’s being outdoors, go. If it’s the ocean: get there as often as you can, if it’s mountains: hike, if it’s creating beauty by hand on a rainy day, create. Find what heals, and DO IT. You are worth the healing. Reach for it.DCIM100GOPRO

#4. Don’t let go of Hope

Ohh, this one. Could there be something else so vital to life besides hope? I’m not sure there is. Don’t let go of Hope, no matter what you do. Don’t let yourself let go.

The Hope we have been given is an everlasting, never changing, never failing hope.
It lives in Jesus and His triumph over sin and death. It’s the hardest thing to do when you feel like you’re drowning in the dark, but there IS hope. There is always, always, always hope, because Jesus lives and reigns. Hope is alive even when you are hidden in the darkness and cannot see it.

Do not depend on your finite vision when you trust an infinite
and sovereign God with a Hope that will not be taken away from you. 

“And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You.” – Psalm 39:7

“For in You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God.” – Psalm 38:15

“Preserve me, O God, for in You I put my trust.” – Psalm 16:1

“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.” – Psalm 42:5

“For You are my hope, O Lord God; You are my trust from my youth.” – Psalm 71:5

“Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live; and do not let me be ashamed of my hope.” – Psalm 119:116

“I rise before the dawning of the morning and cry for help; I hope in Your word.” – Psalm 119:147

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I do hope.” – Psalm 130:5

“For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the
presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”
– 1 Thess. 2:19

#5. Trust the One Who brings light out of darkness

“If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me;
Indeed the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day;
the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:11-12

Once upon a time, the God Who made everything created light out of darkness. He spoke light into being: “Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.” {Genesis 1:3}

When sin brought darkness, He sent His Son to permanently shatter the darkness by His presence: “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat
in the region and shadow of death LIGHT has dawned.” {Matthew 4:16} and “to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” {Luke 1:79}

This is the same God Who is with you in your darkness. Do not equate the darkness with His absence. He is present. He has promised never to leave you and has given you the Holy Spirit as a promise. You are not alone. You never were. He is with you always.

The darkness cannot cover His light. The darkness cannot fully triumph where the Holy Spirit reigns. Yes, you may see it and feel it, but trust that the One Who has conquered this darkness once and for all LIVES IN YOU and has defeated that darkness already for you. Look to the sunshine of His countenance and trust that one day, that light will again dawn upon your face. Indeed, it shines in you even now, albeit weakly on hard days.

“He knows what is in the darkness and light dwells with Him.” – Daniel 2:22

“When I fall, I will arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me.” – Micah 7:8

“Be of GOOD COURAGE, and He shall strengthen your heart, all You who hope in the Lord.” – Psalm 31:24View More: http://shannonashleyphotography.pass.us/wetlands-shoot

“O for grace to lay down all my dreams in Him be found,
O for faith to keep it true and never stop believing You,
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.

And oh for love to trust some more, to fix my eyes on Heaven’s shore,
and for hope with every step, every word, my every breath,
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.

For Your life, I lose my home,’cause I’m not staying here, I’m moving on,
so give me strength to hold on tight through stormy gales ’till morning light.
And when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh, when it’s strong or when it falls through,

When it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know the answer is You.
Oh when it’s strong or when it falls through,
Oh Lord to know my answer is You.”
– Brady Toops (2017)

The Now and the Not Yet

Last night I made pizza and the crust refused to get crisp. I happily put together all the delicious ingredients and spread them on top of a Trader Joe’s pizza crust. I plopped it onto a pizza stone, put it on the bottom oven rack and put the timer on. The time came up, yet no crispy pizza. A tad exasperated, I tried bumping up the oven temperature, over baked the rest of it, and yet it stubbornly stayed chewy. We ate it anyway, to my parents kind words.

Honestly I wasn’t that surprised, more confused and disappointed.

It fit right into my week. Unexpected terrible that I had no control over making better.

I spent most of last weekend crying, weeping for our friends’ deep loss of their son at a funeral. It did not ease Sunday morning as I wrapped myself up in a shawl and felt the sadness wrap around me, and yet the closeness of God’s love envelope me in that sadness. All the hymns seemed closer and sharper in the midst of grief.

I cried most of Monday morning. Overwhelmed, I pulled out of church activities and a Bible study.

Tears still slip down my face most of these days, and I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why I’m crying, I just know that grief sometimes stays heavy and won’t let go.

The Very Muddy Middle

As Christians, we talk about the now and the not yet. It’s the theology simply stated that we live between when Christ has come and will come again. Between Christ’s saving work on the cross and the day when He will come again to make all things new. We live in the unseen of what will be, yet with the “seen” revelation through the Bible. We live in the middle of that; we live in the Now.

The very confused middle most days. The Now is a muddy middle, and a lot of days it doesn’t look like brilliant sun rays of glory and peace. It looks like a mess. It looks like we screwed everything up. It looks like a toddler got ahold of all the wrapping paper and glue and tissue paper and (while covered in sticky pudding fingers), put together a picture that resembles nothing what you thought life would be. You can’t tell if it’s up or down, whether that’s you or not, and whether you’re in a peaceful ocean or an angry sea of lava.

We hate the muddy middle because we love the brilliant glory of clarity and comfort,
but we lose ground hard won when we rush ahead to the future glories without remembering the fruitful seasons of the past.

Resting on either side will exhaust us for different reasons, which is why they need to be connected. They both matter.

On each side, the Now and the Not Yet, there is hope, but it hasn’t ever and won’t ever lie in us.

This is because the Now, the Muddy Middle, and the Not Yet is not about us. 

We Forget What Came Before Us

We have a brief span of years here on this earth, but when we stay self focused, we lose sight of those who have gone before us. From the Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years, to the period of 400 years when the Israelites thought they’d never hear the voice of God again, to the pilgrims at Plymouth who thought they were finally free and lost half of their family and friends that first year.

Whenever I think of those periods, I think of how much they must have felt plunged deep into the aching, dark, muddy middle. Confused. Lost. Devastated. Weary. Broken.

The Now stings so much when it’s painted with grief and loss. 

Yet no days have ever been so dark than the days before Resurrection Sunday. The shock that must have ripped through the Christians homes. That thousand yard stare in their eyes as they tried to put together some comfort amid the realization that their Redeemer and King lay in a tomb. Everything they thought would come true was dead and gone.

They couldn’t see ahead any better than we can 2,017 years later.

We Can’t Lose Sight of What Is Coming

It’s so easy to get lost in the dark of the middle. Some days it feels like I’m wading through waist deep mud, and can’t breathe from the weight of all that has happened. The despair will tie me to the bed and the ache in the middle of the night will crush my heart.

It’s so hard to look forward when you feel so utterly overwhelmed by the past.
It’s so hard to keep walking forward when you don’t want to lose the people in the seasons behind you.

But we do not bear up under grief by pulling ourselves out by our bootstraps or good will.

We bear the dark and unseen Now by keeping our eyes on Christ and what is coming. 

We bear it by knowing the One Who came before us has paved the way ahead with glory,
because Jesus trod it for us and has walked every path we will walk, with holiness.

We bear it by knowing that what comes ahead will be not only the fulfillment and redemption
of the muddy middle of the Now, but ALL of History, when Jesus makes ALL THINGS NEW.

But most of all, we bear it by knowing that Jesus already reigns, has always reigned.
God has put “all things under His feet” (Eph 1:22), which means ALL things in His control,
and all things under His sovereignty. ALL things, friends. All things for our good and His glory.

Walking in Hope Through the Now

The Now is filled with joy and sorrow, but has always been, friend. Our days are not new to the span of history, although filled with different stories. Our days are not a surprise to our God. Our trials are not meaningless, our suffering is not wasted, our tears not unseen.

When we keep our eyes on Christ, we can’t stay in the grief of the Now
without looking ahead to the Joy and Hope of the Not Yet.

It is a tension, yes, a necessary tension in a tug of war between the two:
balancing grief and joy, feeling the weight of the grave while looking toward Heaven.
Neither to be abandoned or discarded, but both to be measured and counted, balanced, and lived well.

The grief of the Now gives meaning to the Hope of the Not Yet.
The Joy of the Not Yet gives strength to the hard days of the Now.

So while we live in this tension, let us cling to the Hope that
will not change on the worst days: the Hope in Jesus.

“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the 
unchangeable character of His purpose, He guaranteed it with an oath, so that by 
two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for
refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the HOPE set before us. 

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into
the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.”
– Hebrews 6:17-20

This Hope, is unchangeable. It is unchangeable because it is in Christ.
Jesus, the Hope that will never change. His love has been set upon us
throughout all our days and will never be removed. His Hope is our Hope.

He is making all things new, and one day….we will see it for what it really is.

One day it won’t look like a glued painting done by a toddler where you’re drowning in an angry sea.

One day….it will be the most beautiful painting and story you’ve ever seen,
and never ever could have dreamed it would be while you were standing broken in the Now.

“Behold, I am making all things new….” – Revelation 21:5

Being Skinny Is Not a Holy Goal

It’s hard to know how to start this article. It’s hard not to generalize or not pinpoint.

But a few Sundays ago, I swung in my hammock outside as sunset light spilled through the trees,
and in a moment of pure honesty, I said something to my friend on the phone, and my breath caught in my throat.

I told her of a conversation I’d had that morning with one of the dearest ladies from our church.
It was after our church anniversary picnic, and I’d given her a hug and she’d exclaimed over loving my dress. I laughed because almost every Sunday she commented on my appearance or asks about my life, she’s one of those dear people who only encourages, the kind we are so blessed to have in our church family.

She said “You’re so skinny!”, and I laughed and said it was the dress. She laughed and argued back “no it’s not!”, I just hugged her again, said my goodbyes and started walking out.

Halfway to the door, I couldn’t take it.

I half turned and called back “Being skinny is not the goal, being healthy is!”.
I got a happy “Amen!” in return.

She didn’t see the sudden tears in my eyes.

I’m over it.

I’m over the things we tell ourselves. I’m over the lies. I’m over the comparing.
I’m over the photoshopped magazines and the “sucking it all in” Instagram pictures.
I’m over the perfect bikini bodies, and I’m over the endless “dieting” updates.
I’m over the way I compare myself in the harsh changing room lights and mirrors.
I’m over the way a skinny photo gets more likes and comments than a heavier one.
I’m over the way eating a simple cheeseburger can make me feel like I need to run 10 miles, and I’m over the way we have to say “having a treat!” while eating ice cream.

We cheer each other on the minute we start another slimming diet,
we comment on every slimmer picture on social media. We rejoice over lost pounds.
We measure each other up when we take pictures, and we take 5 minutes to pose
just the right way to accentuate and hide ourselves next to each other.

And then we bring it into the church where it doesn’t belong.

Disorders prosper when we as the church don’t fight the Skinny Lie. Or even worse, when we hide it. Eating disorders top the list of things I wish the church talked more about.

I think it isn’t talked about very much because a lot of us actually think it’s true.
That even though it’s not good to be a size zero…it wouldn’t be awful if I was a size 4.
It also wouldn’t be awful if I skipped lunch, or 4 lunches, or 3 breakfasts…and it certainly wouldn’t be awful if I received a bunch of compliments on my appearance the next Sunday!

When you live in a state of needing to control your weight,
you do not live in a state of joy, you live in a state of restriction.

And the world continues to tell us that you’ll live longer and happier and better, but….

Being Skinny won’t make you live longer.

It simply won’t. Being skinny or overly healthy won’t change the day God wrote from the beginning of time that you’d leave this earth, no matter what label of how you died the world puts on it. The day God calls you home, is THE DAY. Being skinny won’t add one second to that day. Do you see what I’m saying here? You can’t prolong your life. At all.

I’m over all the articles (in the entire world) that says if you eat 3 cheerios and
half a handful of acai berries and run 7 miles, you’ll live forever.

You’re laughing because that’s outrageous, right? But you just read that acai berries are a superfood, and now you’re wondering if you should just eat acai berries and that would get rid of the extra muffin flab you feel you really shouldn’t have.

Correct me if I’m wrong. You just thought about fat you want to not have and considered a 3 cheerio/half handful of acai berries/7 mile run because you want to be perfect.

Which leads me to my next point.

Being Perfect will get you killed.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I hugged a dear friend and noticed I could feel every single bone in her back. Her spine was a connection to every rib, every bone; she was literally enveloped in a jacket that hid her figure. She wore a size zero in clothes.

She was so tiny that I held her lightly, afraid of crushing her, afraid of hurting her.

Her eyes reminded me of a bird, fragile, small. I stepped back and she smiled,
but she wasn’t all there. She was a shadow of who I knew she was.

And my heart broke into a million pieces. 

I decided that day that being skinny wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it at all.

My friend is still alive today, but it wasn’t without lots of struggling, hard conversations, re-training her mind/thinking, hours of broken tears, and lots of days she wanted to give up and be skinny again.

Hear me out…..I’m not saying don’t eat healthy, I’m not saying you can’t enjoy running or working out or living a natural lifestyle, hey, I lead one myself …. BUT.

I AM saying if you do it to reach a perfection you will never attain this side of Heaven, 
you will slowly die. It. will. kill. you.

Eating “perfectly” or barely eating, eating only 3 cheerios or eating only non-GMO, organic, gluten free, air free, fat free, dairy free, soy free, meat free, rice free, sugar free, pesticide free, grown in a garden of Eden proportions and watered by the salt free tears of angels, and refusing to eat anything else, you’ve missed the glory of God’s creation and our purpose on this earth.

The purpose to grow on the land and eat the fruit of our labors,
to the glory and to the praise of the One Who made it all good. 

Trading a good life worth living well for a perfect bikini body is not a trade you should make. Putting a goal of skinniness over asking to see yourself as God sees you is deadly.

And much more than that, it’s not a calling God has placed upon you.

God would never call you to something that would harm you. EVER.

and that’s why 

Being Skinny is Not a Holy Goal

Being Skinny does not make us more like Jesus. Being Skinny is not in the Ten Commandments. Being Skinny does not make you a Proverbs 31 woman.

Being Skinny does not make you more desirable to a Holy God (or to a good man for that matter). Being Skinny does not make you a better Christian than the woman next to you on the church pew who wears a size 18. Being Skinny does not make you love Jesus more. Being Skinny doesn’t make you the perfect girl. Being Skinny doesn’t make you the perfect mother.

Being Skinny wasn’t preached from the Sermon on the Mount or told to any of the women “Go and sin no more, oh and also be skinny and fit because that’s what holy women look like.”

So being Skinny …. can’t be put on the same level as pursuing Godliness.
Because quite simply, it doesn’t have a place there and won’t ever have one.

Pride in our bodies doesn’t belong in front of the throne.

It shouldn’t need to be said, but God doesn’t see your body the way you do.

He sees ears that hear, brains that can understand and compute better than all of his creation put together, souls that awaken to the life only He can give, hearts that come alive, fingers that can feel and speak languages to the deaf, vocal cords that sing, mouths that speak joy, noses that smell flowers, lips that part to reveal a laugh, lungs that breathe thousands of times per day, arms and legs that swim through water with gracefulness and steadily climb up mountains and run with agility and speed.

He sees skin that protects bones, and blood that circulates and pumps organs we forget we even have. He sees the best of all His creation in us and says “It is Good.”

And we stand under the harsh lights and say “It’s not good enough.” 

We need to remind ourselves that we see our bodies with a broken worldview,
but God doesn’t. God doesn’t care about all the diets in the world, He cares about YOU.

“For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7

When we look at ourselves in pride or in shame, we aren’t looking at ourselves with a Biblical view, and we certainly aren’t bringing our hearts before the throne, or our souls to be revitalized but instead are bringing our bodies with vanity and pride to parade. God is not glorified in a proud or shamed heart that rests in whether you’re skinny or not.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder or a mindset that tells you you need to be a certain size before you can truly be happy with your life…hear this:

Being skinny is not the goal, being healthy is. 

God’s creation is all good. God’s creation of US is all good.
So what here isn’t good? It’s the way we see it. It’s our broken worldview.

How God’s heart must break over us when we don’t see ourselves as He made us!

God calls us to something higher than what we can see.

There is something mightier at stake here….the goal of trusting Jesus.
Eating disorders offer rules that tell us maybe just maybe you’ll make it to perfection.

But Jesus! Jesus offers FREEDOM. Jesus offers JOY. Jesus offers PEACE. Jesus offers REST.
Jesus offers a perfection we could never attain, not a physical perfection, but a spiritual one. A perfection that could not be torn away, a perfection that could not be lost.

A perfection better than every health benefit we could feel on this earth. We will know it one day when we step into His presence and realize we were once seeking the wrong goal.

Jesus calls us to trust Him with everything, with all that we are, with all our days:

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not LIFE more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 

Therefore do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’, For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” – Matthew 6:25-27, 31-33

Our God knows that we struggle with these things, and He knows that we are so prone to worry or to fear or to shame. He knows the hold this broken world has on us. But He sent His Son to break all those chains, including the chains that whisper to you that you’re not good enough as you are.

Jesus sees you as you are: a beautiful, beloved, loving heart inside a God-bearing image of Himself. Don’t let yourself believe you need to change your outward appearance for the King of Kings.

Nothing you could do could ever change His love for you, nor those around you that know your true inner beauty that will never fade: the beauty of a soul who loves Jesus.

All My Days

You’re going to be shocked when I tell you this:

I’ve had my funeral planned since I was 13.

I don’t think I’m usually so opinionated about parties that I *ahem* won’t be attending, but my gracious, I was very opinionated about my funeral. I wrote it up on a sheet of double-lined paper, with large letters saying: “NO carnations or daisies, I hate them.”.

Before you think I was a morbid child, you have to realize that at the innocent age of 13, I  lost my Sunday School teacher the day after 9/11, and my beloved grandparents the next year (within 10 months of each other). The hymns that carried me through those days would solidify the hymns I wanted people to remember singing at my funeral. The hymns that sang of being carried, of resting beside still waters, of all Jesus was to us, and dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

For all my days.

“Make it to 30”, used to be my mantra. Still is, since I’m bordering on 29. A lot of days I wasn’t sure I’d make it to 30, like the time a garbage truck crushed my car and sliced metal ribbons through the hood and stopped within inches of my windshield. Or the time I hit a deer in the dark night on a county road, miles from a fire station. Or one of the many times I could have sworn my heart would never beat right again, for it was so broken in sorrow. But the Sustainer of life would breathe into me, and my heart would go on beating.

So it seems logical that when I traveled to China in March of 2016, I updated my living will, and re-wrote my funeral plans. I cried for a week, writing goodbye letters. I would be up late at 2am, bawling my eyes out and writing words you give in eulogies, the best of the best that you save for special occasions. My friends all thought I was crazy. It wasn’t that I expected anything to happen (I mean, it’s halfway around the world. Anything could happen, haha), or thought we’d fall out of the sky, but I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving without saying what my heart has known for so long.

My days don’t end here.

We were made for more. I didn’t want my parents thinking this dream trip had ended a beautiful life. I wanted them to know that I had merely slipped from one realm of Earth to our better and true Home in Heaven, and I was doing what I’d waited and dreamed of and prayed over since I was 12: visiting orphans. It was so important to me that they knew I wouldn’t be disappointed at all if in the midst of one calling, He called to me in another way. I wrote amid streaming tears that I would be more alive than I’d ever known. The “more” wouldn’t end, it would forever go on and on….with Jesus.

Because life is more than this world.

Life.…isn’t air. It isn’t health. It isn’t family. It isn’t planet Earth. It isn’t blessings. It isn’t dreams come true. It isn’t how many people you meet or how many countries you visit.

Life, the very core of Life, the very BEING of Life, the Giver of Life, the Creator of Life…

LIFE is Jesus

And it’s nothing without Him.

Albeit a little paraphrased, it’s what I wrote in my funeral plans and in my will. It’s what I want sung at my funeral. It’s what I want people to remember in my lifetime span in this world: Jesus was my everything.

Worth more than all my dreams or business plans of success or glory. Worth more than traveling to England and China one more time, worth more than seeing Scotland in person, worth more than walking down the aisle, worth more than having children, worth more than adopting, worth more than anything I could dream up.

So fill your days with Jesus.

If your days may not be long, let them be spent for Christ.

Don’t live restlessly in a world you fill up with things that cannot go Home with you. Trust your future to a known God. Spend every day making the relationship with your Savior deeper and closer. Don’t rest on your pillow at night sorrowful of all the dreams you haven’t yet accomplished, but instead rejoice in all He has prepared for you. 

Live for the glory of Christ and His kingdom. Live in the expectant joy of the span of endless days in the light of His brilliant splendor, finally dressed in holiness and radiant with wonder at the sight of Him. Live for Jesus. Let all else go. 

And sing at my funeral one day if you get the chance ….

“The sure provisions of my God, attend me all my days.
Oh may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest, while others go and come,
No more a stranger, or a guest, but like a child at Home.” 
{Isaac Watts}

Never More Loved

This morning I get several sweet texts & messages from friends either wishing me a Happy Valentine’s Day or saying they were praying for me, hoping I knew I was loved.

Oh yeah. Valentine’s. I forgot for 10 hours since “Galentine’s” last night.
It’s “Singles Awareness Day” (hahaha, that always cracks me up).

I’m single for Valentine’s 2017

but I plan on liking or loving or hearting every happy, beautiful Valentine’s post, every flower bouquet picture, every sappy, glittery, pink & red post, every “my one true love”, every “the one my soul loves”, every “my Valentine every day” picture there is in my feed.

I plan on doing on so (and have all day long) not because it doesn’t make me twinge a wee bit in sadness or wistfulness but because I remember the day that God set His extreme love on me … and it’s never gone away. 

Friends – you’re not unloved today. You’re never more loved than today.

You’re never more loved because His love is steady and unshakeable. It is continuous, everlasting.

Never more loved by anyone on this entire earth than by Jesus.

Even those who have their “one true love” could never surpass or know a greater love than God’s.

You.are.not.missing.out.on.the.world’s.greatest.love.story.by.being.single.

If you know Jesus, you already are being known & loved by the most perfect love.

Think back to one of the moments you felt most loved….for some of you, it might have been that first “I love you”, or when your spouse took care of you while you were ill, or the day you said “I do”.

For others, it’s the time a friend reached out and spoke love to you, or a trip planned just to be with you…a surprise party to celebrate you!…or a phone call to say you are loved.

There’s millions of times, right? We have been loved well in our lifetimes. We’ve also been hurt by love. But there is One who perfects love, because He IS LOVE, and He is worth knowing every single day.

“And we have known and believed the love that God has for us.
God IS love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” {1 John 4:16}

Consider the mystery with me for a little bit….throw singleness & marriage out the window….

The Creator of space and time, of moons, stars, sun, endless galaxies, earth, dark and light, Ruler of war and peace, Giver of Life, birth, babies, King over all He has created, Savior of nations….looks at you every.single.day. and says “My Beloved.”

You will never BE more loved in your lifetime than you are RIGHT NOW by God.

I think every day is Valentine’s Day when we rejoice and rest in being loved like that.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade;
to write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”
– Frederick M. Lehman (1917)