Marked By Love


If you know me even in the slightest, you probably know I’m not much of a morning person. I usually sprint out of my car and into the school building in an attempt to beat the clock. And if I’m early, I’m usually walking and thinking and not paying much attention to my surroundings. Today was different.

This morning as I was walking into school, the Lord drew my eyes UP. I looked up and saw this heart on the outside wall of the school, and I stopped dead in my tracks. Over and over I kept hearing Him say “My love is written on these walls.” I fumbled for my phone so I could snap a picture. I stood there for several minutes just staring at the wall. Our school was literally marked by God’s love this morning. 

I’m fairly certain He didn’t draw my gaze up this morning just so He could give me a warm fuzzy. He wanted to remind me that just as His love was written on the walls of my school today, it’s also written in and on me. His love marks us – changing our DNA and leaving us with an indelible reminder of who we are in Him and what we’re called to do. 

His love isn’t just meant to be tucked away deep inside – it’s meant to be worn and walked in and reflected on our countenance. We are tangible extensions of God’s love to all we come into contact with. He even tells us in scripture that we will be known by our love (John 13:35).

When we are met by Love, we are called back into our original identity as sons and daughters of God. We become like Jesus, and we start to mirror His nature. We are love because He is love. He lives inside of us, and all that He is and all that He has is in us. 

I can’t really explain the heart that was on our building today. It was there this morning, but now it’s gone. And even though my eyes can’t physically see it, it’s etched on my heart forever.

I want to live a life marked by love – one that’s lasting and never fades.

 

My Name Is…


My whole life I’ve been slightly obsessed with names.  You can ask my Mom.  She will amen everything I’m about to say.  When I was a kid, I would check out baby name books from the public library.  To read.  For fun.  When I was like EIGHT.  And then there was that whole two or three year period in my younger years when I lamented my own name. I could not for the life of me figure out why my parents would name me Carrie Beth when Carrie Elizabeth was the better, prettier, more sparkly choice.  Obviously.  I remember crying and asking my parents between sobs “Why… couldn’t… you… just… name me… Carrie ELIZABEEEETH?”

My obsession even carried over into my adult life.  Any time one of our friends or acquaintances announces a new pregnancy or birth on Facebook, my best girl friends and I immediately text our group thread and discuss the new baby’s name.  I also may or may not have a running list of names for my future kids tucked away in the notes app on my phone. And then there’s the fact that I have my very own personal copy of 100,001 Baby Names.  In fact, one of my teacher friends knew I had said baby name book and asked to borrow it when she was looking for a name for her sweet new baby boy.  That’s right.  My married friend borrowed a baby name book from me, the single girl.  The irony’s not lost on me. So there you have it.  I’m secretly obsessed with names.  (I guess it’s not so secret anymore, huh?)

My love for names even carries over into my love for Bible study.  One of my favorite things in the Bible is the significance of names.  The word nerd in me loves to dig in to whatever scripture I’m reading and see just how a person’s name impacts the story.  Names in the Bible can tell us more about a person’s character, a struggle they’ve faced and overcome, or a change they’ve undergone.  Even the names of places in the stories can give us greater insight into what has happened in that town or region or what the Lord has promised for that place.

This week, I’ve been reading the She Reads Truth devotional plan on the book of Ruth.  Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?  I’ve always loved the story of Ruth because there’s so much about her that I admire.  I love Ruth’s character – her actual, literal character of heart.  Not just her as a “character” in the story.  I love how she was willing to give up everything and move to a new land because she was in covenant with her mother-in-law.  Because she loved her.  Because she was family.  The idea of covenant relationships and the importance of family in the Kingdom are two of my favorite things to talk about.  I also love how hardworking Ruth was; I especially love that it was her work ethic that drew Boaz’s attention and not just her beauty.  I have also always admired Ruth’s fearlessness and boldness because there are areas in my life where I am far from bold and very much afraid.

Every time I’ve read the story of Ruth, I’ve identified solely with her.  Until this time.  This time when I read the scripture, my heart stirred  because I saw so much of myself in Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law.  You see, Naomi was having a really hard time.  Her life was nothing like she’d pictured it.  She lost her husband, her two sons, a daughter-in-law.  On top of it all, she was completely unsure of how the Lord was going to provide for her.   As she and Ruth entered her hometown of Bethlehem, the women who had known Naomi forever didn’t even recognize her.  Her circumstances had even changed her outward appearance.  Naomi was quick to say “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Naomi was unable to see past her current circumstances, and so she took it upon herself to change her name and give herself a new label.

Like Naomi, I’ve questioned God’s provision in many areas of my life.  Like Naomi, I’ve been completely unable to see the big picture that only he can see.  Like Naomi, I’ve allowed my circumstances to change me.  And like Naomi, I’ve taken the naming power away from God and re-named myself or my situation.

The very last line of Wednesday’s devotion was “We are not named by our circumstances, we are named by our good God.”  I immediately started crying when I read that.  Even though I hate to admit it, I will.  I am a woman who has spent years bowled over by my own inability to see past my circumstances.  Instead of trusting God with the big picture, I’ve looked directly in front of me at whatever wall I was facing and called myself names based on temporary situations.

As I was reading, Holy Spirit started speaking to me.  I saw an image of a wall covered in graffiti, tagged and re-tagged with defining labels and words.  So many words, so many labels, so much chaos.  It was hard to tell what anything actually said because there were just so many words everywhere.  I saw Him reach down and wipe off all the labels, all the chaos from the wall with one confident sweep of His hand.

The next thing He did was remind me that I am who He says I am.  He’s been working with me in this area a little while now, but it’s still an area that I struggle with – seeing myself as He sees me.  As He whispered to me and reminded me who He says I am, He placed a label on the wall.

BELOVED.

BEAUTIFUL.

CHOSEN.

ENOUGH.

WORTHY.

NEVER ALONE.

POWERFUL.

DAUGHTER.

LOVED.

FIERCE.

CALLED.

Then He whispered something to me that still takes me a little by surprise.  He told me that I am who HE is.  Because of the work of Jesus on the cross, I have full access to all the characteristics of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.  He took all the labels I’ve given myself through my circumstances and the voices of other people, and he changed them out for labels of His own.  As He spoke these truths over me, He placed His corresponding label on the wall right alongside the names He calls me.

My name is not Hopeless because His name is HOPE. 

My name is not Striving because His name is REST. 

My name is not Alone because His name is GOD WITH US. 

My name is not Weak because His name is MIGHTY ONE. 

My name is not Troubled because His name is PEACE. 

My name is not Uncertainty because His name is THE SOLID ROCK.

My name is not Defeated because His name is VICTOR.

My name is not Broken because His name is HEALER. 

My name is not Worthless because His name is REDEEMED. 




“We are not named by our circumstances, we are named by our good God.”


We were never meant to label ourselves based on our circumstances.  We were also never meant to be labeled by others.  If we’re going to understand who we are in Him and through Him, we have to wipe away all the clutter, all the graffiti, and ask Him to remind us who we are.

Ask Him to tear down the walls of your circumstances and remove all the labels you’ve ever given yourself.  Ask Him to help you take off all the labels others have placed on you. Spend some time with Him today and ask Him who he says you are.  Then ask Him to remind you who He is you can see a better picture of who you are because of Him.

Time for a little rearranging

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I’m a creature of comfort.  I like cozy.  I like warm. I like inviting.  I really like familiar.  I don’t completely balk at change, but it’s generally best if I can have some time to process that change is happening.  I have to warm up to the idea.

I’ve lived in the same apartment for four years, and I have never rearranged furniture. Not even once.  I’ve added a few odds and ends here and there, but all the rooms are basically the same as they were four years ago when I moved in.  Once I get a room how I like it, I keep it that way.  I’ve never been one to just randomly rearrange furniture.  Goes back to that whole loving-the-familiar thing, I guess.

Last week I got this itch to rearrange my bedroom.  I couldn’t explain it.  I didn’t really understand it.  I just needed change.  I stood in the middle of the room and turned around and around, taking stock of what I had to work with and carefully thinking.  I thought about what arrangement would make the room flow best, and I visualized what I wanted where.  The more I thought about it, the more I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work the way I wanted it to.  If you know me even the tiniest bit, you know how stubborn I am, so it should be no surprise that I decided I would make it work.  I forged ahead and moved a few pieces of furniture only to be slapped in the face with the realization that it definitely was not going to work.  I kept thinking to myself “If that wall was just a tiny bit longer…” or “If that window was just a smidge more to the right…”  I got so frustrated.  I finally just gave up and put everything right back where it started.  No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t change the size and position of the four walls and two windows in my bedroom.

A few days later, I struck out on one of the last trips of summer to visit some of my best friends.  I was in the mood to roll down my windows and sing realllllllly loudly, so I needed realllllllly good driving music.  I decided it was a John Mark and Sarah McMillan kind of day, and I promptly set my phone to shuffle through all their tunes.  Pretty soon, the song Walk Around My House played.  I honestly don’t think I’d ever listened to it before that day, but man oh man did the verses catch my heart. (Y’all, apparently this is a thing for me – listening to the McMillans’ music and Jesus simultaneously throwing me a curve ball…)

Walk around my house and turn it upside down
Your love pursues me
Walk around my house and turn it upside down
Your spirit moves me
Open up my windows and unlock all the doors
You know you own me
Open up my windows and unlock all the doors
Blow right through me

The Lord’s timing is so funny to me sometimes.  My mind had literally just flitted back to my overwhelming desire to rearrange my bedroom when this song came on.  It was while listening to these lyrics that I felt a gentle nudge from Holy Spirit to really pay attention.

You see, there are some habits and practices and thought processes that I seem to fall into step with when I’m not carefully guarding my mind and my heart and walking in the knowledge and fullness of my identity as a daughter of the King.  These habits and practices and thought processes are the creature comforts of my heart, the places and spaces that feel most comfortable to me when I face hard times – when I find myself hurt by someone or when I’m comparing myself to another woman or when I’ve found myself in the middle of an everything-seems-to-be-going-downhill day.  If I’m not standing guard, these creature comforts take over my thoughts and actions and start worming their way into my heart, chipping away at the identity that I’ve turned my back on, even if only for what seemed like a nanosecond.

 

And while I really love the comfort and the warmth of the familiar, I really don’t love the familiarity of these particular creature comforts.  It was in realizing that these places exist and assessing the damage they have caused that I felt an intense need for change within my own heart.  I wanted God to have the space to rearrange the furniture of my heart.

I love that God is not limited by four walls and two windows like I was when trying to rearrange my bedroom.  He is not bound by any earthly constraint.  He can push away anything that hinders so that his will and his purpose for me have room to come to light in my life.  I want him to walk around my house and turn it upside down.  I want him to open up my windows and unlock all the doors.  I want him to have full access to every part of me – even the creature comforts that have been part of me for so long.

I’m learning to give him full permission to move things and change things and tweak things and really get me into the place where I will be most comfortable.  And in the process, I’m learning that living in the comfortable space I created is sometimes not the comfortable space he wants for me.

Jehovah Nissi: The Lord is My Banner

During a visit to Disney’s Animal Kingdom this past weekend, we went on a jungle trek through the park’s version of “Asia.”  About halfway through the walking tour, I turned a corner and saw these flags waving gently in the breeze over one part of the trail. The whole area was so peaceful and serene and beautiful that I just had to stop to take a few pictures. At the time I didn’t even realize what the flags were – I just thought they were pretty! As I started walking off to rejoin my group, I heard a tour guide telling a family that they were Tibetan prayer flags. She explained that one of the ancient Buddhist beliefs is that the more tattered and frayed and faded the flags are, the closer the prayer is to being answered.

My mind keeps wandering back to those prayer flags. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. So many times I pray about something and then just leave it alone – whatever “it” is.  I leave the fear or the doubt or the question or the desire or the need there. I think “Well, I’ve done my part. I’ve prayed. I don’t know the outcome or how God is gonna do this, so I’ll just leave it here.”  I really think that in some crazy messed up way, I’ve trained myself to think that I’m annoying God by praying about the same things over and over.  I’m lying to myself even though I know the truth: prayer changes things.

Many times these areas of my life – these battlefields – are the places in which I never seem to see victory. I’ll do my due diligence and whisper a prayer and then step away.  A few days or weeks or months later, I’ll find myself with the same need or doubt or question and whispering the same prayer again.  The Lord is really opening up my eyes to see that these places can not just be prayed over once and then left alone. I’m to constantly bring these requests back before the Lord. Prayer is powerful, and it changes things. And while He doesn’t need my advice or opinion about how He should move or work, He does invite me to co-labor with Him in the Kingdom, and so much of that starts in prayer. Prayer can shift things in the spiritual and the natural. It can move barriers. It can soften hearts. It can change outcomes. It can clear human obstacles.

I was talking to a friend about this photo, and he said “You know, those prayer flags remind me of the name of God that means “banner” – Jehovah Nissi.”  As soon as he said that, something quickened in my spirit, so I started digging around in my Bible.

In Exodus 17, the Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites.  Moses stood at the top of the hill and held up his hands and the staff of God over the battle below.  As long as he held his hands up to God, the Israelites were winning.  If he ever dropped his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  When Moses began to tire, Aaron and Hur brought a rock over for him to sit on and then they stood next to him and helped him hold his hands steady.  Moses’s hands remained raised and Joshua and the Israelites defeated the Amalekites.

The really good part comes next!

Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.  He said, “Because hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

Exodus 17:15-16

Do you see it?  He built an altar to the Lord and called it The Lord is my Banner.  Banners and flags have always been a way to mark a victory.  But this wasn’t just any victory – it was victory because of Moses’s faithfulness to keep his hands raised to the Lord during the battle.  Moses never stopped praying, and victory came.

Victory can be found in prayer, but we must be unwavering, unrelenting, and steadfast. If I want to see my prayers answered, I must be diligent to stay on my face before the Lord and not grow weary in prayer.  I should have tattered and frayed and faded remnants and reminders of hard prayers that were answered in my life  because I chose to fight for those “its” I used to just whisper a prayer over before walking away.  Battles will never be won and victory will never be mine if I’m not willing to do the hard work of fighting for my territory.

I don’t need tattered and frayed and faded prayer flags to show God’s movement in my life.  I have a banner that flies over me in victory, and His name is Jehovah Nissi.

What 2015 Taught a Road-Weary Traveler

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By the time December arrives, I’m usually trudging through the year like a road-weary traveler.  When December 31st finally gets here, I’m just plain over it – I’m limping toward the finish line.  I’m lethargic and bleary-eyed and tired of being confined in what feels like the smallest of spaces.  I’m straining my eyes to look for any kind of oasis I can spot ahead – a beacon of hope that promises me a chance for something better than where I am currently.

The past few years have been good… but good doesn’t necessarily remove the hard.  Every December 31st for the past four years, I’ve practically catapulted myself into January, breathing a deep sigh of relief when the clock struck 12:01 a.m.  I’ve looked to the new year as the only hope for redemption for the less than stellar year before – a year full of unmet expectations and unanswered prayers.  I’d hope for a year of better and newer and brighter and deeper.  An unparalleled year of peace and joy and happiness.  I’d say to myself “Maybe this will be the year my prayers are finally answered.”  

This New Year’s Eve finds me still a little road-weary but in a completely new territory begging to be explored.  I’m not looking to 2016 to bring me hope or joy because I’ve finally figured out what it means to look to Christ to meet those needs.  He alone is my hope and my deep well of joy.  Not what did or didn’t happen this past year.  Not what might possibly happen in the upcoming year.  Christ alone is my hope and joy.

This year I’ve decided to stop looking to the new year to provide the things I thought I wanted most in life, the things that I thought might make life a littler shinier, a little better. I’m looking at this new year as an oasis – a spacious place that provides rest for my soul and room to stretch my legs.

365 more days to draw closer to Christ.  365 more days to be creative.  365 more days to feed my soul.  365 more days to rest in who He is and who He says I am in Him.  365 more days to learn and laugh and love and live.  That’s what the new year’s about.  It’s about growing.  Blooming. Twisting and twirling and soaking up every bit of sunlight I can possibly absorb.

 

I can’t move into 2016 without acknowledging how good 2015’s been to me.  I’ve learned more about myself this year than ever before.  I’ve deepened my walk with Christ and found new joy in my relationship with Him. I’m so very thankful for all that 2015 taught me.  Here’s a few of the biggest lessons I learned this year:

 

2015 taught me that you absolutely can not keep your fists clenched when the Lord commands you to open them and let go of something.  Obedience means letting go – not just holding on and praying for the Lord’s will to match your own.  He cannot place His good gifts in tightly fisted hands. Letting go is one of the most deeply satisfying places of soul rest I’ve ever encountered.

2015 taught me that you should never have to convince someone that they need you in their life.  You shouldn’t have to sell yourself or the love and friendship you offer.  People either want you in their life or they don’t.  They either respect and value your friendship or they don’t.  Good, true friendship is mutual and healthy.  It’s life-breathing instead of soul-crushing.

2015 taught me that people can misconstrue your intentions – no matter how pure your heart may be.  You can’t control the heart posture of others, so you can’t control how people will view you or your words and actions – even when you know your intentions were pure.

2015 taught me that intimacy comes in many forms in many different relationships.  It’s your friend bringing you a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios – dry with no milk and in a Tupperware bowl and not one of her “real” cereal bowls – because she knows and loves your quirky preferences.  It’s a friend realizing you’re a little down and inviting you to come to dinner with her family.  It’s a friend stopping whatever she’s doing to pray for you and let you talk through whatever’s on your heart.  It’s opening up to your community group about the dark places of doubt and uncertainty in your life.  It’s having someone in your life who is the iron that sharpens your iron, someone who makes you think deeply and wrestle with the hard things in life.  Intimacy is the thread that stitches together the deep connections of community.

2015 taught me that there’s a very real difference in knowing you need to find rest in Christ and actually allowing yourself to rest in Christ.  Saying you’re going to clear space for yourself and for God is one thing.  Actually doing it is something else entirely.

2015 taught me that sometimes the Lord chooses to answer your prayers in the most unconventional of ways.  Be open to it.  Accept His good gifts no matter what shape they come in.

2015 taught me the importance of speaking God’s promises over yourself.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).  What we speak over ourselves is as powerful as life or death.  I’m finding it more and more important to surround myself with scripture in my home and on my desk at school so that I’m staring His promises in the face daily.  I’m learning how important scripture memory is for times when I need to drench myself in His love for me.

2015 taught me that it’s ok to doubt yourself and not have everything figured out – even when you’re thirty-two and have been *mostly* successful at adulting for a good ten years or so.

2015 taught me that the 18-inch journey from your head to your heart is one of the most rewarding journeys you’ll ever take.  The road may be bumpy and long and winding, but it’s one of the best trips you’ll ever take.  The shift from knowing something to truly believing something will be a catalyst for all sorts of change in your life.  Knowing He’s my Father and that I’m His daughter is one thing.  Believing it allows me to stop doubting my identity and step into the plans He has for me.

2015 taught me that dreams and passions and giftings can shift according to His purpose and intent.  Just because he’s igniting something new in you doesn’t mean that you’re forever leaving behind the other gifts He’s so graciously given.

2015 taught me that saying yes to too many good things can mean saying no to myself and risking burnout.  Sometimes my yeses to good things have even meant saying no to God in other areas.  I’ve had a really hard time trying to figure out how to step back from an overcrowded, overcommitted schedule of really good things.  But as a wise friend once told me, “Just because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s God.”  I’m still working through this one.  I’m still learning balance.  I’m still learning to discern the good from the God.

2015 taught me to look to Christ alone for my identity.  I often find myself living in the land of Not Enough.  You know the one – I’m not good enough, I’m not thin enough, I’m not Godly enough, I’m not smart enough, etc.  Not Enough often disguises itself in comparison.  Comparison leads to jealousy, discontent, and ungratefulness in my life. Comparison threatens to destroy all I have.  Lara Casey says “Comparison isn’t only the thief of joy; it’s the thief of everything.”  I refuse to dwell in the land of Not Enough when the land of the living, the land of God’s fullness is where I belong.

Wherever this December finds you – even if you feel like a road-weary traveler – don’t rush into the new year like I used to do.  Take a few moments to think though all the good and bad of 2015 and what it taught you.

What did 2015 teach you this year?

Living a Life of Purpose

I love the reflection and readying that comes with each new year – reflection on the past year and readying yourself for the year to come.  I’ve spent a lot of time the past few days reflecting on all the things 2015 has taught me.  (More on that soon!)  I’ve learned more about myself than ever before.  I’ve grown more spiritually in the past few months than all of my years combined.  I’ve made new friends and let other friendships be put to rest.  I’ve walked through times of deep sorrow and times of buoyant joy.  2015 was good to me.

As I think ahead to 2016, a common theme keeps popping up: purpose.  I see a connection between the noun form of the word and the verb form of the word.  Both have been on my heart the past couple of days.  I want to live a life of purpose (n.), but to do that, I must purpose (v.) my heart and my mind and my soul and my body to do those things.

It’s no secret that I love social media.  I love connecting with people from all over, but I mostly love how my thinking is challenged.  I love how reading someone’s tweet or blog post or Facebook update can spin a whole new perspective on something I thought I already knew deep in my bones.  I love how someone’s transparent vulnerability inspires me to look a little closer at my own life and make me willing to risk sharing.  I love how common themes or ideas will surface all at the same time – flying at me like arrows straight to the marrow of who I am.  It’s at times like these that I know the Lord is speaking to my heart.

That’s where purpose comes into play.  I’ve gathered these little snippets like wildflowers because they tell the story of where my heart has been the past few days.  They speak of what the Lord is calling me to do in 2016:  Live a life of purpose with a purposed heart and mind and soul and body.

 

On changing your heart… 

Purposing to change happens where prayer meets perseverance.” – Ann Voskamp

 

On wanting more of God…

“I simply want more of him. If I want more God then I must clear the space for him. You need to make room if you want to let God in.” – Hannah Brencher

 

On making good choices…

“Will this choice add to my peace or steal from it?” – Lysa TerKeurst

 

On taking my thoughts captive…

“Taking every thought captive is surrendering every thought that wards against your peace.” – Brian Johnson

 

On focusing my attention…

“Wherever we focus our attention the most will become the driving force in our lives.  We steer where we stare. – Lysa TerKeurst

 

These are the pieces God is already weaving into the story of my heart for 2016.  I’m purposing my heart and mind and soul and body to live a life of purpose this year.  I’m excited for what’s to come.

Unexpected Grieving Births Unexpected Hope

roses-1373441_1280There’s a rose bush growing outside my apartment.  A tangle of skinny little branches that grows wild and free in the midst of several shrubs.  I can only assume that the last tenant planted it there sometime before I moved in.  I walked past that bush twice a day for close to two years before I finally noticed it.  There were no bright pink or red blooms to draw my attention, so it just blended in to its surroundings.  Once I finally noticed the wayward plant, I couldn’t un-notice it.  For the past year, pretty much every time I’ve walked past it, I’ve said to myself “You know, I really need to get my Daddy to come help me yank that thing out of the ground.”

I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a bloom on that rose bush in the three years I’ve lived in this apartment.  No blooms – just prickly stems and branches growing unhindered.  It’s so tall now that several of the branches have bent under the pressure of their own weight – a miniature, thorny weeping willow.  This bush is growing like mad, but it’s producing no fruit.

I don’t know much about gardening, but one thing I do know is that most plants require some sort of pruning in order to produce good, new growth.  Pruning isn’t just about cutting off weak or dead places.  Pruning is also about cutting back places that are thriving but need to be subdued.

Cutting back growing, living places can help grow a stronger, more resilient plant so it can live up to its original purpose.  That rose bush outside my front door?  It’s never going to produce the beautiful, sweet flowers it was intended to create if those wild offshoots continue to grow unchecked.  It needs to be trimmed, pruned.  The act of pruning allows for prosperous growth as intended by the Creator.

It’s a beautiful thought, isn’t it?  Cutting back these places allows for the intended growth of the creation to take place, for it to be shaped the way it was intended from the time it was planted.

The uncomfortable part is knowing that pruning is not an enjoyable process.  Pruning is painful.  Cutting off what’s living and breathing and thriving and growing is one of the most intensely painful things you can ever go through.

This is the hard place I’ve been in for the past several days.

I opened my eyes a few days ago and looked around – completely startled to find myself in a situation that looked all-too familiar.  A situation I swore I’d never let myself walk through again.  A situation where I thought I was in complete control.  A situation that I realized all too late was growing wild and unbidden – just like the rose bush outside my front door.  I knew I had to get these thorny places under control soon if I didn’t want them to completely overtake the good in my life.

I reached out to several friends and mentors.  One of the women I consider a spiritual mother was wise enough to gently remind me that it is completely ok and very necessary to be honest with God and honest with myself about what I was thinking and feeling.

I did just that – I talked through some things with some of my girl friends and I prayed… a lot.  After a good while, I finally felt like I had a grip on what was rolling around in my heart and mind.  I knew exactly what I was going to do.  I knew how I was going to get rid of the wild mass of thorny branches in my life.  I had a plan.  I was in control.  I was resolute. I had it handled.

But I didn’t.  I was cleaning my apartment and listening to music when Sarah McMillan’s King of My Heart shuffled through.   (If you don’t know this song, you really should do yourself a favor and listen to it here!)

All of the sudden, I was sobbing.  I don’t just mean crying.  I mean sobbing.  Like loud, ugly, shaking, doubled-over-at-the-waist sobbing. I told a friend that there was nothing to compare it to but wildly uncontrollable grieving.

As much as it completely rips me apart to admit, there were several places in my life where I had not given Him full reign and trusted Him to be King.  Places where I didn’t see Him moving and working, so I assumed He wasn’t.  Places where I refused to acknowledge His sovereignty.  Places where I doubted His goodness.

When I realized this, it broke me.

I finally recognized those places for exactly what they were – places where the night was holding on to me.  But the one thing I hadn’t realized?  God was right there holding on in those very same places.  If I believe Him to be who He says He is, I have to believe that He’s the King over every aspect of my life – even the wild, thorny places growing unbridled.  I have to let Him have authority over every part of my life.  Not just because of His title. Because He’s good and He can be trusted.

I realized that just like I want my daddy to come help me yank that thorny, tangled mess of a rose bush out of the ground at my apartment, I needed the help of my Father to prune back the wild places in my life that were growing out of control, the places that were threatening to stifle my growth if not subdued.

I want to live up to my Creator’s purpose for me.  I want to grow strong and resilient, but I’ll never be able to if I don’t allow for a little pruning of the wild places in my life.

Those places over which I wasn’t trusting God to be a good King?  Those are the very places that are growing wild and unfettered in my life.  The places that are threatening to bend over and drag me down against the dirt.  The places that are blending into the background and the noise of this life and not producing the fruit they were intended to produce.

Those places are now being pruned by the best Gardener I know.  It’s a process – most likely a long one.  It’s hurting like crazy, and I’m grieving. But sometimes you need to allow yourself to grieve over things you didn’t know you needed to grieve over at times you didn’t expect to grieve.  It’s in those places of grieving that you find healing.

The grieving, the hurting?  It’s worth it.  Unexpected grieving births unexpected hope.  The places in my life that are being pruned will bring forth new life.  As long as I trust Him to prune me where He sees fit and however He deems necessary, new growth will take over, shaping me as the Creator intends me to be shaped.  I trust Him as King over all these places because He’s good and because He can be trusted.  He can grow me and shape me however He sees fit.  After all, He created me.  He planted me right where I am and He desires me to produce good, beautiful fruit.

 

 

When the Holidays Seem So Hard

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I’m a holiday girl. You know what I mean? I LOVE holidays. All of them. I love the family time and the traditions and the food. Oooh… and the decorations. Let us not forget the decorations. I may or may not have three storage containers of pumpkins. It’s a problem.
While all those things are great, I especially love the spiritual side of holidays. I see most holidays through the lens of my faith and what Christ has done for me and in me. I will tear up at the mere mention of freedom in a patriotic song on the 4th of July because it reminds me of the freedom I’ve found in Christ.

Check out the rest of today’s post over at SingleRoots!

Not Another Fluffy Article on Christian Dating

My Twitter feed and Facebook timeline are full of articles on dating and marriage.  I’ve read everything from what girls should be looking for in their guys and what guys should be looking for in their girls to articles written to future husbands and articles that talk about allowing God to write your love story.  Most of what I’m reading is spot on.

I absolutely do believe it’s good and necessary to keep an open mind when it comes to dating and not limit yourself to a long, lengthy list of must-haves and can’t-haves.  I tore up my late-90s youth group “boyfriend wish list” a long, long time ago.  I’ve quit looking at men through my flawed, human eyes, and I’ve started looking at them through my “Jesus eyes.”  No longer do I care if he’s taller than me or if he shares my taste in music.  He doesn’t have to wear cologne and he doesn’t have to love Mexican food just because I could literally eat it every day.  I just want a man who loves Jesus more than himself, a man who loves Jesus more than he loves me.  A man who’s committed and actively growing in his relationship with Christ and doesn’t mind letting me grow along with him.  A man who sees the value of ministry and serving within the local church.

I believe character counts.  Not eye color or hair color or height or build or any other smattering of physical characteristics.  I’m not knocking physical attraction.  I’m truly not.  But a man’s character?  His heart?  Man, that’s sexy.  And it lasts.

I’m pretty sure my Father knows what I need to worry about when it comes to dating checklists.  He’d rather me partner with a man of great character than a man with great style.  He’d rather me focus on the eternal rather than the physical.

If age has taught me just one thing, it’s this:

God’s best does not always fit your preconceived idea of what you think you need.  

I’m in complete awe of the ways the Lord has shown me different facets of His character through my interactions and friendships with men. And guess what?  None of the Godly men I admire and respect would probably fit my former dating checklist completely.  There are men in my life today that have shown me characteristics and traits I admire and desire in a partner that were not even a blip on my radar back in 10th grade.  If I was still holding that list tightly to my chest, I’d be missing out on a whole lot of good and a whole lot of God.

(And guys… I’m sorry I’m writing this from a female point of view.  Feel free to swap out the nouns and pronouns.  It works just the same.  I know this is what you believe, too.  I truly believe our hearts are the same.)

I used to devour those dating articles about what we should be looking for in a potential mate.  I’d read them and think “Man, if only so-and-so would read this and GET A CLUE… Let me just post this on Twitter or Facebook and hope he reads it.”  (Girls… you and I both know you’ve done this.  Guys, I’m not one hundred percent certain, but I’m pretty sure you do the same thing – in one form or another.)

We live in a generation that puts our best social-media-self forward.  And sometimes it’s not just self-preservation and pride at play.  Sometimes it’s simply an effort to make ourselves more desirable to the opposite sex.  We make sure our lipstick and the lighting is just right and the angle is flattering before we snap that selfie and post it.  We put our best “Man, I’d make a good wife” pictures on Instagram, showcasing our ability to make a perfect four-course meal or bake beautiful, Pinterest-worthy Christmas cookies.  We craft Tweets with a specific person in mind, hoping he or she will read them and think “This girl LOVES her some Jesus!”   We’re so concerned about fostering that best image of our outer selves that we lose sight of what we know truly matters: our character, our heart.

These things go hand in hand.  Do you see it?  Do you really get it?  Because after years of making jokes about my singleness in an attempt to deflect attention from my real feelings and after years of heartache from feeling like I’m not enough, I finally get it.

I’m not enough.

I’m not enough, but Jesus is.

Instead of trying to put my best self forward, I need to put my best Jesus inward.  I’ve realized I can’t be the good, Godly woman a man desires to do life with if I’m not yet that woman.

I cling to the promise that He’s not done with me just yet.  He’s still shaping my heart.  He’s still molding my thought processes.   He’s still showing me what Love looks like – His love.  He’s still building my character.  He’s still imprinting His truth on my heart and in my mind. He’s still teaching me more and more and more.  He’s patient and loving and gentle and kind – even when I wrestle against Him.  He wants MY character to count. He wants ME to fit His list of what a Godly woman looks like.  He wants me to be the woman he intends me to be.

This is what I now fully know in the deepest parts of my heart:

Ladies, if you want a Kingdom man, you have to be a Kingdom woman. 

Men, if you want a Kingdom woman, you have to be a Kingdom man.

We can’t get so caught up in looking for that Godly man or woman that we forget to be a Godly man or woman.

More than anything – more than dating or marriage or a family – we must desire beautiful hearts that look more and more like His each passing day.

 

In Him we live and move and have our being…

  
The Father who planned our days before we were ever born also adopted us as sons and daughters and sent His Spirit to live in us. He chooses to live in us. Because of love. This same Love relentlessly pursues us every day. His pursuit doesn’t waver or grow weary. His pursuit even persisted through the gruesome death of His beloved Son – a substitutionary atonement for our sin. This is love. And for this Love and in this Love we live and move and have our being.