El Roi: the God who sees

It was the last night of our honeymoon. I looked out at that water that seemed to have no end in sight and everything that I couldn’t see was nagging on my heart. But then something happened to me that is rare – the deliciousness of a meal cooked in a 5 star restaurant, the ease of clean sheets and shaved legs, the embrace of a friend after a near miss – the feeling of total peace. Peace as a precious gift. Of being completely known and exposed and still held.

The type of mutual understanding that can only happen between the Creator and His creation, His daughter. I curled my sandy toes up underneath me and looked out at the clear blue water. It was turning a soft gray as the light disappeared somewhere below the Caribbean. The moment was one where you feel completely alive in your own skin, comfortable, and you are ultra aware of what’s going on around you: my sweet new husband was on his phone in the beach chair beside me, there was a maternity shoot closing up after finding some golden light, kids were building a sand castle and giggling with abandon. My wifehood career stood just a few days young. I was happy, I was rested after months of designing at school and planning a wedding, but I was incredibly worried.

I was worried I wouldn’t be a good cook or who knew how many ups and downs our  life could have and how am I going to keep the house clean? How do I take care of my own heart when we’ve got this lifetime of work ahead of us? How do I blend the ministry of my life with his? There’s mismatched socks and a mattress on the floor and a queasy stomach of a newlywed wife. There’s the scrutiny of ministry, there’s family expectations, there’s two more years of university, there’s brokenness everywhere within me and around me. The tangle of thoughts matched the tangles of my ocean washed hair. 

Then God spoke to my spirit and said, “I love you. I will take care of you.” 

It was one of the most intimate, quiet, clear moments I have had with the Lord, right there on Seven Mile Beach at the Margaritaville shoreline.

The reason I was washed up in my head, the reason we all get washed up in our own thoughts is because I was thinking about what I could do according to my own understanding, experience, and strength. According to that understanding, of course I was anxious. Left to our own devices, we will not succeed. The reason I was so caught up in the worries of what I could see was because I was worrying about the future as if the Spirit did not live inside of me. If we truly believe that the Spirit of God is within us, loves us, and does all things well, what would stress us out? What would keep us from abiding in His Presence every day? (Ouch.)

About ten months later, I was feeling the weight of the unfolded laundry and the wife I so badly wanted to be. Would I be enough for him? Would I ever be a good wife? By sitting with these thoughts, I allowed myself to believe Zach was thinking all of these same things. Wives deal with this pressure to look, act, and behave these certain ways. Throw in being a pastor’s wife at 20 and the expectations can be crippling, whether they come from within your heart or down the block. Many of these expectations come from a place of true integrity. It’s important that we selflessly serve in our marriages. It’s important that we prioritize time with our spouse emotionally, physically, and spiritually. It’s just a necessity that someone has to tote the laundry baskets and the grocery sacks. The problem, though, was that I spent so much time worried about the moment that Zach became unhappy, I was missing the fact that he was content. I was missing these moments God had given me as we laid the foundation for our Christ-centered marriage. I spent so much time worried about how I can keep things from changing, when the actual goal is holy change in both of our hearts. 

One summer evening a few years earlier, I was riding on a mauve and white bus through villages in Uganda. We were headed to the airport. Our seats rattled us every few seconds and my heart was a bit more than beat up. We were headed to the airport and I didn’t want to leave. There is something unfinished in my life as to the draw God has placed on my heart for the Ugandan people. Knowing that I would be gone from this place I love in just a few hours, I remember listening to worship music in my headphones and watching the people pass us on the road. I heard God say, “I love them more than you do.” My heart was completely broken for these people. I was going to miss my friends and going to miss the friends I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to make. I wanted to stay and pour out love. I wanted to finish the story and not leave in the middle of a chapter. I wanted to stay to also receive love. I desired to see change, prayers answered, and community built. As the faces of my friends flooded through my mind with such tenderness, I was overwhelmed by the truth that God loves them more than I ever could. While I hope He someday allows me to minister and be ministered to in Africa once again, I can rest in the fact that with all my good intentions, He is the perfect One who can minister to the people of Uganda. He knows their needs and their wants better than I. And while I had to leave for a time, He has never once left. 

The goal of trips oriented in mission, the goal of marriage, the goal of families, the goal of every iota in love – it’s the glory of God. If this is true, I can release my grip for control and certainty, and rest in what is sure: God is good. He is in control. He cares more about my marriage than I do. He cares more about our kids than we do. He cares about His Church even more than I do. He hasn’t taken His eye off of us.

It’s good and right to carry the burdens of others in our heart. The desire to serve is not one that God hates. The ache in our hearts to love well is a sign of walking with the Spirit. But I am not the hero of this story. Christ came and has rescued each of us. When I take these burdens under the Lordship of Christ, I can serve freely and surrender the outcomes and perceptions of others completely to Him. My job is to stay faithful and magnify His name through the loads of laundry, loving my husband, and extending my arms in ministry. We won’t be the one that gets the glory for a long, happy marriage – it is the extent of godliness in each of our hearts that will be magnified over time. I won’t be the one that deserves recognition in mission work or housework – God’s grace through each of these things reveals Him to be faithful to those that watch our lives. May the watching world see women surrendered to the true Hero of all our redemption stories. May they see women swept up in the romance of the gospel and trusting their Bridegroom with the way they orient their lives. May they see women not trusting in the strength of their own arms, but arms reached upward to God receiving all the strength we need, even through our weaknesses. May we be women that don’t need the world’s applause, but the gentle whisper of our Father: I love you. I see you. And I will take care of you. 

“So she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” — Genesis 16:13-14

how i’m eliminating hurry

If I had a syllabus of required reading, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry would be on it for sure!

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry tackles the problem of our busyness in the 21st century. And not even the fullness of our schedules, but how we let noise crowd our hearts and keep us from regularly hearing from the Father. If you have not read it, get it on your Christmas list!! I’m not exaggerating when I say that is has created the most beautiful shift in my life, and through these practices and more that I’m sure we’ll come as seasons change, it will continue to shape our family culture.

As John Mark talks about in the last few chapters of his book, there are many ways to cut out the mental clutter in your life. It will not be a one time transformation, but a constant editing of what’s working and what’s not working. A reevaluation of what must be done, what is stirring your affections for Jesus, and what is taking your thoughts further from the Kingdom.

Here is my current working list of how I am cutting out the clutter so that God’s voice is louder in my life:

Daily time with God.

Jesus Himself withdrew from His activity to regularly pray. If Jesus did this, who are we to think we can live a fruitful life without those same actions? My time in the Word is the goal that is always first for my day, because everything in my life flows from my communion with the Father.

Regularly creating.

As an art school student, it’s not a question of whether I am making things. More than I am asked to study, I am asked to create. While this is a great gift and I love my schooling, I have grown in the past four years to feel like a machine. Instead of feeling like I’m exploring God’s creation through my own creating, I began to feel weighed down from the expectations of my peers and my professor who would put a letter grade on something I had poured hours into. Something that combats this creative weariness is creating for fun!

Lately, I’m being doing that through decorating, knitting, and painting. What I love about these activities is that they require both of your hands! You can’t actively knit and also pen something on your calendar. You can’t be hanging something on the wall and looking at your phone at the same time. However, you can paint, decorate, and knit while praying, listening to a podcast, or even paying attention in class. They require very little occupation of your mind, but total requirement of your hands!

Powersheets.

My friend Lauren Kinney sent me a year long set of Powersheets a few months ago. It was something I had on my Christmas list for several years. Powersheets are a goal setting tool and planner to help you truly cultivate what matters in your life – with clear vision and lots of grace! There are 9 goals you choose for one year and they give you all the tools to break down those things monthly, weekly, and daily. In a culture that tells me that I can do everything, I am reminded daily that I cannot do everything well – but I can steward my life intentionally to reap the best reward.

Instagram time limit every day.

What would life be like if God touched my mind as frequently as I touch my phone? — John Ortberg

I use Instagram for ministry. For my part-time hustle. For friends. But my flesh also uses Instagram for identity and applause – so it needs healthy boundaries so that my experience with media can be an overflow of God’s truth in my life, not a way for me to fill up my mind. Pro tip: if you have an iPhone, you can set a daily time on Instagram so that it kicks you out after whatever time limit you choose! Additionally, you can set any unnecessary apps to turn off each evening. I have mine to turn off from 9PM – 10AM. There are times where I have to “remind me in 15 minutes”, but overall it has been so freeing and such a tangible way to control my screen time.

Weekly sabbath.

If God rested on the seventh day, we must trust His heart enough to know that His ways are better than ours. He is in control, we are not. So on Sunday afternoon, you’ll catch me here watching something that makes me laugh, sleeping, and cuddling with my little family. If you cannot Sabbath on Sunday (sometimes we switch our sabbath to Saturday!), I encourage you to still tithe your time to God. He knew best when He set that example of sabbath to us and it is LIFE GIVING.

Cleaning out my closet, slowly but surely.

Speaking of Powersheets, something I wrote down for each week in September was to sell something from my closet. I have lots of clothes that don’t fit or that I don’t use, as many Americans, and I want to declutter my home regularly. I will be continue this practice off and on over the coming months to bless others and keep clutter from filling my mind. Hoarding extra things can be wise OR a lack of trust in God. Ask yourself when you don’t want to get rid of something that you don’t use: Will what He has given us be enough? Are we willing to give away or sell for practically nothing from our own closets?

My family deleted Netflix.

For us, we could not in good conscience keep our money going into Netflix specifically after the events of this year. While we still have several streaming services and, yes, I still watch Friends everyday… Instead of being disappointed about this lack of entertainment, it has been FREEING to have less options which leads to better quality time.

Time outside.

This is the hardest one for me to accomplish during this time of doing all my schooling from home. Even if it’s only a walk with Usher around the block over my lunch hour, it’s so valuable to get out of your bubble and see others! God designed His creation down to every color to bless us, calm us, and inspire us. Get your soul some regular vitamin D.

What is working for you in this season? The possibilities are endless! What’s not working? Tell me in the comments.

what do fitzgerald, van gogh, & joanna gaines have in common?

F. Scott Fitzgerald died thinking his career was a flop. He spent too much time drinking and writing things that he didn’t care about.

Vincent van Gosh couldn’t afford rent as an artist and his brother Theo footed the bill. 

Joanna Gaines started out her working years in her Dad’s tire shop (where she would meet Chip). As a newlywed in 2003, she launched a little shop where she was happy if she got a handful of customers a day. 

In these moments of rarely being seen but still practicing their crafts of words, paint strokes, and interior design, they were not of any less valuable to society. 

If you find yourself feeling unseen in what you love to do, I’ll let you in on a little secret: it doesn’t matter. You matter and how your work blesses others matter, but applause is not an indicator of your Kingdom citizenship. Scripture tells us in John 15 to “Abide in Me” with the promise that with a heart tuned to His, the fruit will come. Jesus Himself was often not commended in his ministry, but chastised, accused, and eventually murdered because He wasn’t what they expected Him to be like. Keep doing the thing that makes you feel more awake to the wonder of God’s creation! Shift what needs to be shifted, seek godly counsel, and chase your dreams – but know that worldly applause is fickle. Being seen would be nice. But what I want more than that is to know my Father sees me making disciples and being faithful to the little in my hands in order to receive the more that He defines.

I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be  given, but from the one who has not, even what  he has will be taken away. — Luke 19:26

The truth is that we will never get *there*, the unmarked place that we have in our heads, by fretting about being behind. We will get *somewhere*, a place where we are walking in what makes us come alive and makes the world a better place, by walking in steady obedience to the Father. There are nights when I wonder if my writing will ever pick up, if I’ll ever get to do what I love and, ya know, pay bills. But here’s what you and I have to know: our circumstances are not directly related to the worthiness of your calling. If that were true, everyone wouldn’t know what The Great Gatsby was or have seen a Starry Night through a sad artist’s eyes. We have to trust the pace in our lives that God has set. The goal is not to be seen, but to serve. If we can focus our hearts on doing all for Jesus, living for Him because He died for us? The rest will be set in the right place. Because faith is not about seeing or being seen, but “the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). We will be freed up and our white knuckled grip on our dreams won’t be exhausting. We might never be published, promoted, or accelerated, but what matters is that we give everything we’ve got where our feet are. The lives with the most impact aren’t the most impressive, but filled with care and coffee shop receipts, airplanes and heaping laundry baskets. 

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” — Hebrews 11:13-16

Will you live with the firm belief knowing that what God is preparing for you is better than anything you can receive on earth? Will you take the pressure off yourself to perform in order to live a life by faith that matters for eternity?

Because no one else will claim abundance over your life. 

No one will make sure that you wrote the words that were real, that you filled boxes for orphans, that you knitted your mom a sweater, that you danced at weddings. No one else will make sure that you’re counting gifts of gratitude and baking for the new person at church. When looking for the approval of others, we start to see expectations as assignments when it is impossible for one person to know the sphere of your influence and where the Spirit is guiding you. Your holy assignments come from the one that crafted you for such a time as now, not the ones sitting on the sidelines too busy judging to jump in themselves. We don’t control the fruit, so stop trying to be the vine – that’s God’s job. He multiplies our good work, if we would just show up with humble hearts to the toilet that needs to be cleaned, the homework that needs to be done, the dream that needs to be tended. We don’t control the harvest, but we steward the planting of seeds and a heart of good soil.

We are missing out – not because we aren’t good enough, but because we don’t believe that God has already equipped us for what is in our laps. 

“For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepares beforehand, that we should walk in them.” — Ephesians 2:10 

You’ve got something to offer when the Spirit is working in you. The question is not whether you have something to offer those around you, but whether you will use what you’ve got to the glory of God, trusting Him with the outcome, or if you’ll constantly feel pushed down by the opinions of others or even the expectations of yourself.

So, friend, start the business.  Stop giving to show off, but rather choose to show up knowing God sees and rewards the good done in secret even more so than what is celebrated on earth. Submit the application. Gather girls and study the Bible even when your voice shakes. Send the text. Quit analyzing all the numbers and cute outfits, and look at the beautiful, hungry hearts God has placed in your path. You could have a Starry Night or Magnolia or Great Gatsby in you that is waiting for a permission slip to not be perfect. Fill shoeboxes and vans and hearts for the orphans and the refugees. Give glasses of cold water, entertain strangers, wash feet. 

And make sure you dance at weddings. 

meeting with God in the midst of our days

Last month at the Messy Bun Newsletter we talked about the why behind nourishing your soul with the Best, and today we are discussing HOW. I gathered advice from multiple women in vastly different seasons of life and asked them what it looks like for them.

Are there seasons where meeting with God looks different? Absolutely. But when Christ died, He tore the veil of the temple in two. This means the women are no longer sitting in the outer gates, hoping for a wisp from the Holy Spirit. The priests are no longer our intercessor, because Jesus Himself intercedes for us through the Holy Spirit – anywhere, at any time. No lambs or blood or special atmosphere needed, but our whole hearts raised in surrender. We have access to the Father! Our heart set on these truths will multiply our daily, mundane yet holy efforts to be in His Presence. 

A word from my mom, Vicki Clemons, on spending time with God through the child-raising years and now as she and my Dad are empty-nesters: 

Time with God?  My daughter asks.  Mom, how do you make time with God?  And then I have to be honest.  My honesty has to come because who knows my life and habits more than my husband and daughter.  My time with God isn’t a sit down/30 minutes a day quiet time.  My family knows that I am the one who can’t sit still.  The one who is always looking for the next big project.  The projects that aren’t complete in 20 minutes, but take weeks sometimes months to complete.  So, here is the honest truth.  My time with God comes in spurts.  We come together during car trips, during moments of painting a house while standing on scaffolding, during extreme heat while pushing a lawn mower, while cleaning my home, and occasionally, when I stop to “be” with Him.  A long time ago, when I was a baby in Christ, I went through my first women’s study as a believer.  This study was with a group of young moms.  Some of us were new believers, and some of us were more adults in the faith.  However, we all were busy and needed each other during the season of life we were in. It was during this study, that I came to the habit of praying as I went through my day.  My day, as I mentioned, doesn’t always begin with an open Bible and a quiet time, but it does always start with being thankful to my Lord and Savior for the day and for my life.  I was a stay-at-home mother then and I always began my day cleaning and making everything tidy.  The study taught us young mothers to talk to the Lord as we did our household chores, so that is the habit I formed.  I pray over my marriage as I make our bed each morning.  In the past, I would spend time in each child’s room (making the beds, picking up toys, retrieving dirty sports clothes).  It was during those times, that my children were covered in prayer.  Oh, the prayers sitting on the edge of my young boys’ beds.  And yes, even prayers sent up as I rearranged the stuffed animals and little blanket in Emilee’s crib.  As our season of life changed, so did our quiet time habits.  We began homeschooling Emilee.  Our devotion time became a part of the school day.  We also, started doing in depth Beth Moore Bible studies as Emilee grew to the ripe old age of 10.  It was then that we started separating into our individual bedrooms for more structured quiet times with our Heavenly Father.  Now that my house is empty and my children grown, I find myself doing all of these habits at different times.  I still talk with Jesus as I clean or go about my projects/chores.  Sometimes, I close the door and dig in deep into the Word.  However, in this season of quiet within my house, the time I love most with God is when I shut out all distractions, walk through my house, and talk out loud to my God.  I may hold up a photo of the child and/or grandchild whom I am praying over.  I may sit on the edge of my marriage bed and pray that the Lord will protect our union.  I may hold onto the door frames and ask that the Lord keep Satan away from our household.  But, rarely, do I sit and fold my hands in quiet. I need to TELL Him of the gratefulness within my heart.  I need to TALK to my God.  And oh, how He has spoken loudly to me during these times.  Praise Him!

Michelle Gillard, raising two energetic kiddos under 5: 

  1. I once heard a pastor speak on the topic of if God was the first love of your life. He posed the question, “what is the first thing you do in the morning? That says a lot about what you love most” and that struck me to the core. The first thing I did in my early 20’s was check my email, check social media, check my calendar, etc. Now, I’ve made it a habit to pray first thing. I do not open my phone until I’ve showered and gotten ready with prayer time, and audio bible. 

  2. Since quarantine, I decided that if I ever had time to myself while the kids napped, I would first spend time with God. Some days that looks like prayer, some days it is reading or journaling, and other days it’s listening to an online sermon while I exercise or clean the house. I’ve found that if I give God those first minutes, I have the refreshment I need to make it through the rest of my day. 

  1. In reading [Get Out Of Your Head by Jennie Allen], I’ve really been trying to “take every thought captive” as Jennie suggests. I have to remind myself constantly that there is a battle for my mind, and I can choose to focus on God and his truths and promises, or I can let the doubts and fears from this world creep in. 

 

Leah Vance, recent college grad and social worker: 

One way I like to commune with God throughout the day is through music. I LOVE music and listening to worship songs can really help my attitude, my approach to the day, and helps turn my mind toward Christ. I also try to go to God in prayer throughout my day – even if it’s just a quick prayer telling God I’m frustrated with something and need help. 

Janie Johnson, a solid Instagram follow, wife, and mother: 

I’m learning a lot right now about what abiding truly means and how to cut out excess distractions to make room for the BEST portion – God’s Word….

The biggest thing I have to do is CHOOSE to sit and open up my Bible and trust God to provide time to do the rest. It’s hard for me to do this when the house is a mess or when I feel the to do list calling my name, but it truly is a chose (some days I choose well, other days I give in and don’t make the best choice). 

Deuteronomy 11:18-19 is super encouraging to me: “So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up.” We can connect with God as we go! There are amazing resources like apps that will read the Bible our loud to you, truth-filled podcasts, worship songs, and prayer! These all help keep me connected to the Lord throughout the day! 

Basically, my quiet time is always evolving and changing, but that’s okay! That’s why the Holy Spirit is such a gift because we can commune with God wherever we go! 

Go! Meet with God! And be overwhelmed in the finding, because this He promises: “Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

How do you meet with God? What are your favorite tools that point you to Christ?

There is no more fulfilling way to begin the day because I can testify: Short-change time with God and its your own joy that falls short. Especially when the world is on fire, what it direly needs is more hearts on fire for God’s — because you fight fire with fire. The way to counter all the madness is to encounter all God’s goodness. The way to counter all this heartache,  is to encounter the heart of God. The way to counter the fury of a world burning down, is to get down on your knees and light your own heart on fire.” —Ann Voskamp

what to do when you’re inside the gate & dying to color outside of the lines

I’m living with a lot of guilt right now.

Who am I to be the one with white skin and not marginalized?

Who am I to not be the girl that was stolen out of her bed and taken away?

Who am I to be the one born in the United States where I don’t have to hide my Bible, I pray in public, and I don’t worry about being arrested?

Who am I to be the one that can be lovingly embraced by a godly man each night when just-as-worthy sisters are hurting at the hands of a man who doesn’t see their heart?

Several weeks ago I was on a drive across the Midwest, sitting in the dark of the car, finding our way back home. My heart read a comment that hurt an image bearer of God and my heart split wide open. My tears flooded – “how long until we can unite for the hurting?”

What do we do when we are on the inside of the gate, and so unsure of how to reach through the slots of air to the other side? When we have new notifications of destruction lighting up our eyes and darkening our worldview? What do we do when there are children in cages, women locked in basements, men slaughtered on the side of the road? What do we do when we want to give up? When our soul resonates with King David and says “How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 13:1)

There’s a story of this woman in the Bible named Esther. She has a whole book dedicated to her story in the Old Testament. It is the only book in the Bible without the direct name of God in it, but don’t be mistaken that His fingerprints are ALL OVER IT. She was a young girl made Queen. While she was handpicked and chosen, there was a genocide of her people in the land. She was a Jewish woman which for anyone outside the gates meant death. For an elite woman in society like her, she could have stayed. She could have lived in comfort and prosperity. God would have found someone to do the saving work – He will always find a way to reach His people, but He was offering her to be a part of it. She took the call. She knew that if she didn’t, even if she was somehow spared in the discovery of her true bloodline, was that really considered living? After all, as Ann Voskamp says, “When we leave people on the other side of the gate – we lose parts of ourselves.” She used her power within the gate of the chosen to stretch out her hand to the ones who were powerless. There’s this phrase that often comes etched onto Hobby Lobby signs and women’s ministry brochures that comes right out of that bloody time in Persia. Her cousin counsels her and says, “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) And THIS was not a time to bolster up Esther’s image, to be a boss babe, to have all the successful offspring, to build up her own kingdom. “As long as our primary concern in life is to be interesting and thus worthy of special attention, compassion cannot manifest itself.” (Henri Nouwen, Compassion)  What she was called to wasn’t a string of successes, but a slew of Christ-like sacrifices. If I perish, Esther said in the holy hush of the moment back to Mordecai, I perish.

 


 

In the Gospels, we see over and over again that the disciples and others around Jesus were so disappointed that He wasn’t taking power in the way they were expecting.  If He said He was the son of God, why didn’t He save everyone right now? Why didn’t He not only heal people, but prevent there from being a need for healing at all? There’s such a mystery in this, in God wrapped in flesh and bone. But we cannot deny as people who routinely flip through the Scriptures that He not only wants, but delights in communion with His people. Henri Nouwen describes God-as-flesh this way in his book Compassion: “The mystery of the incarnation is that God did not remain in the place that we consider proper for God but moved to the condition of a suffering human being….God became displaced so that nothing human would be alien and the brokenness of our human condition could be fully experienced.”

“We spend our time on social networks attempting to condense our personalities into tiny profile boxes, trying to verbalize intricacies within flattened screens.

Lawyer, mother, wife.

Artist and adventurer, sushi addict.

Yoga teacher seeking light.

I find comfort in a simple truth from the Bible, that there is only one Alpha and Omega. I think this means that we’re off the hook in that department. That it is not out job to be Black and White, This and That.

I think this means we simply get to fill the spaces between – the many middles between the Beginning and the End.

We can inhale buttery popcorn and a chick flick today while rationing rice with turbaned women in Haiti tomorrow. We can fight the effects of rampant consumerism today and still purchase our mother a Christmas sweater tomorrow.

We can explore – in equal measure, if we choose – art and science. Laughter and sorrow. Truth and beauty.

We can lean in and lean out. We can conquer and retreat. We can teach and be taught. We are not either/ors. We are both/ands.”

— Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow

You see, we weren’t made to be slivers of our ideal selves. And certainly God cannot and will not be shoved in similar boxes of two-dimensionality. We are meant to offer our whole self over to Christ every single day. If we offer our fake smiles, who will see that God has set us free from the pit? If we don’t show His faithfulness through the course of our stories, who will know God’s power in our generation? If all we want to be is the polished versions of ourselves, sitting high next to earthly power, the glory goes to us. If we show up knowing that Jesus has paid our debt in full, we serve confidently giving all the glory where it is due.

We weren’t made for simple fixes, we were made to live out a story of redemption. If you came looking for a five step plan, you’ll be sorely disappointed. If you came for fruit bearing, adventure, and intimacy? Look no further.

In Eccelesiastes, the wisest man to walk the earth tells us that there is a time for everything. “A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…. a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace…” If this is true, who are we to compartmentalize Christianity’s moments into only mournful ones or only joyous ones? “He [Christ] is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1L17-18, emphasis mine)

Christians aren’t robots who spew one-liners all day. We are reminders to the world of the Incarnation, of the bloodline that makes us all brothers and sisters. While much of the world wants us to stay in our lane and keep church at church, there is no truth in the gospel if it doesn’t pour out into every nook and cranny of His creation. Because, opposed to our 21st century beliefs, Jesus isn’t one Way if you feel like it – He is THE WAY for all our wandering hearts. There is not one political party, earthly movement, or one action that will lead to our redemption. The blood of Jesus has sealed our hope forever and we need not look elsewhere.

 


 

So, what will we do? 

Coloring outside the lines might look less like what is expected of small minded people and more like sharing the Good News that was paid for in the red blood of our Savior. When we are dying to color outside the lines – maybe the answer is dying to self and coming alive to Christ. Reaching outside the gate might not be a one time, feel good endeavor, but a way of continually emptying ourselves so that others can find relief and join the kingdom.

We can bring our whole selves to the table trusting that God gave us our many tensions and personality on purpose. He has more than enough room, and He has more than enough power. He is enough to hold all of our both/ands, our either/ors – He created them. In Him all things hold together. The parts of us that fight for justice and love on brand new babies. The side of us that laughs at sitcoms and cries at the sight of injustice. The part of us that like making our homes beautiful and the part that heart cries for the poor and lives with palms wide open to the needy. The sides that social media sees and the sides only our intimates see. We will not be paralyzed at the thought of everything that needs to be done, because we know that every glass of water given to someone thirsty is a way of giving a gift straight to the hands of Jesus. We will begin, we will mess up, because we can’t afford to sit in the inside of the gate, win our safety, and lose our souls. We don’t wait until we have it all together in an award-winning paragraph of clarity, because life is messy and we don’t have to wait to be filled to experience His fullness.

Who will we be? 

As people modeled after the life and character of Jesus Christ, we will be righteous, dealing wisely with situations at hand, executing righteousness and justice in the land. (Jeremiah 23:5)  Ann Voskamp pens the truth of this justice-seeking-journey: “Some questions you can’t answer theologically, but only with your life.” We know that the work is His and we are participants in it.

“As long as we continue to act as if the salvation of the world depends on us, we lack the faith by which mountains can be moved.” — Henri Nouwen, Compassion

A few weeks ago when I was exposed to more and more of the shocking reality with child sex-trafficking I texted my friend Caley and said, “Do you have any specific ideas of what we can do?” And the truth of the matter is, we are all called to something different (which she so wisely reminded me). Esther was called to put her life on the line and use her freedom to set others free. Her people were called to fasting and prayer. Jesus gave a different calling to John than He gave to Peter. He told Moses to lead the Israelites, He told Noah to build an ark, He told Martha to sit with Him, He told Timothy to steward His message well. If we want to know what’s next, we have to know Him first. We have to bring our whole hearts into the Presence of God and trust that He is enough to hold all this brokenness.

Maybe we aren’t meant to feel guilt because we are inside the gate, but to use our placement for His purpose. We will be truth seekers regularly sitting at the feet of Jesus and being the feet of Jesus, walking in step with the Spirit. It’s true, you don’t have to – He will find a willing heart to bring more into the fold. Will you take the call?

I can’t wait to see where He takes you.

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” — Isaiah 30:21

 

known by our love? or our rants?

How do you set up your process of taking in information? Do you learn about current events from more than one source? Do you block someone the minute they post something that you disagree with? Do you read books or listen to podcasts with more than one worldview? Do you eat dinner with people that don’t go to your church, to any church at all, who have no interest in God? 

The world we live in is so consumed with being right. Having the last word. And excluding anyone on the other side of their argument. 

But, let me ask you this. Have you ever tried to love someone when you are completely annoyed with them?  Have you ever tried to love someone on the other side of the political line than you and not known where to draw the line? 

We can’t love people well if we spend more time judging them than praying for them. Do you see yourself winning a friend over to Christ for posting a meme that makes fun of them or been endlessly sarcastic? Do you see yourself enveloping them in a time of grief when all you’ve done is insisted on your own way? If we spend more time gossiping about them than encouraging them, who wins? Our pride. And bitterness takes root. 

We are looking for reasons to keep our knuckles clutched in fear, in anger, in confusion. We ought to live wisely and discern the events around us. We should most definitely know the fools around us and keep our distance. At the exact same time, we are called to be known by our love. What do we do with this tension? 

Can we all just admit that this is extremely difficult? And we are all trying to figure this out? 

I believe it starts with knowing the difference between discernment and judgment. They are basically siblings, they are so much alike. But if we spend our days only wanting our own truth exclaimed instead of the Kingdom of God first, it’s like that we will waste our lives judging others. 

In the family of God, there will be many differences. Don’t be mistaken. But there are meant to be no divisions. 

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. — 1 Corinthians 1:10

Isn’t that crazy to think about? In the world we live in where someone is considered our friend if they have the same preferences and vote for the same candidates? The Greek word for agree in this passage (hina pantes legete) means “to say the same thing”. The word for united (katertismenoi) means to “be made perfect or be perfectly joined together”. The word for judgment (gnome) means “judgment, purpose or will”. This means that we can be on mission with our brother and as long as we say the same thing – our understanding of the gospel is rooted in Scripture – and our purpose – furthering Christ’s kingdom – remains the same, we continue to walk together. Conflict is a way to sanctify us to be more like Christ. Our differences and the way we work through them are meant to actually help us be “made perfect”! But divisions, matters that are clearly stated against in Scripture, show us the people that we do not have the same mind with – therefore we don’t have the same purpose in life. 

Within the Christian context, discernment is defined in this way: “perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding.” 

This means that we can look at our neighbor, see the error in their ways, and have nothing to do with their folly. We can learn from other’s mistakes and choose a better path. We can see their sin in separation from their personhood. We aren’t there for vengeance, because we know it is God’s alone. We are there for the sharing of words and opinions, not to make sure ours is the last. We can thank God that He has opened our eyes to truth, ask for humility, and continue to stand up for His justice and righteousness. We can love that person, respect them, and still know that His ways are higher than all of our views through faded glass.

If you want help in knowing further what this looks like, dive deep into the Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Over and over we see how Jesus was outraged to the point of saying “oh you of little faith!” and proceeded to point out the error of many people’s ways. We also see him let a woman of less than moral reputation sit as his feet in worship with only gracious words. What we learn from His example is that there is not a formula for how to always interact with those that believe different than us. But there is always one goal: to honor God’s name. Throughout the Scriptures, Jesus always stood up for His Father’s name being misrepresented. He was quiet when people spoke out against Him, but He always spoke up when someone slashed the name of God. We should do the same. And when the Pharisees expected Him to make a scene, He often chose a softer response of accepting their repentance and extending grace. We should do the same.

God has pursued our hearts in a thousand unique ways, so we shouldn’t be surprised when there aren’t always one answer to how to handle this tension. But a few things are clear in the life of Jesus: He didn’t have anything to do with immorality. And He regularly ate with sinners. There is one way that we as Christians can accomplish this same goal, however imperfectly: we have to be walking with the Spirit every single day. He will guide us in whether we need to make a bold statement, a quiet embrace, or something in between. The cross will continue to be offensive to those who have blinded eyes, but we must press on for the ones who are hungering for the Good News. We will offend others and we have to be okay with that. We will love people that are hard to embrace with any sort of kindness and we have to rejoice in His grace that allows us to do so. He knows our capabilities and other’s needs perfectly. We must trust Him to lead us and obey Him when He does.

God, teach us the difference between discernment and judgment. Help us to stand firm in Your values and walk in Your Spirit. Tell us what to do – may we be quiet enough to listen. Cleanse our hearts of bitterness and our tongues of starting wildfires we cannot tame without Your help. Give us the strength to stand firm in our convictions and give us the humility to apologize when we’re wrong. Keep us from becoming hardened by the world. Keep us soft yet strong, bold and kind. Would Your love be so mightily manifested in us that it ripples out to those around us, leading to the holy shift in us all.

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our vows for the kingdom

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*settle in, put on “I Get To Love You*, and get ready to feel all the feels* Just me? Okay.

One of our first choices in wedding planning was to write our own vows. We wanted every part of our day to be uniquely ours and centered around Christ. Personalizing our vows was a big part of accomplishing that – down to heart shaped confetti resembling the miles we travelled when we were long distance (but that’s a DYI wedding post for another time?).

We had a few requirements for our vows.

They were to be covered in prayer.

They needed to be edited or at least read by a close family friend because we were not going to hear each other’s until the pressing moment (both my maid of honor and my pastor helped me to focus on what I really wanted to say and get rid of anything unnecessary).

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Logistical things: we shared a word count so one person would not dote about their undying love for ten minutes while the other summed it up nice and tidy. Both of us are wordy individuals in our own right, so this wasn’t hard to even out.

I searched Scripture with the question, “What are the best gifts I can give to Zach as only his wife can?”

In addition, we wanted something light hearted and funny… because we could. And that’s us.

We started with a look to the past and present, but on the whole made our vows future-oriented which is something that has sadly been dismissed in modern times. Timothy Keller describes it in this way: “Weddings vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of a future love. A wedding should not be primarily a celebration of how loving you feel now – that can safely be assumed. Rather, in a wedding you stand up before God, your family, and all the main institutions of society, and you promise to be loving, faithful, and true to the other person in the future, regardless of undulating internal feelings or external circumstances.”

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Marriage in light of all eternity…

FOR THE KINGDOM. 

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You are my best pal, my world, the woman beyond my dreams and my shopgirl. We have known each other for a long time and there hasn’t been a moment where you weren’t on my radar. From working at camp until now, you have always found a way to make me smile, even on my darkest days. You are the light in my life and you are the most incredible woman and your passion for Christ has brought me so near to you.

I promise to support you in all your endeavors. I promise to love you the way that Christ loves us. I promise to lead physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I promise to take care of you in every single way whether you are sick with the sniffles or diagnosed with something terminal, I will be by your side through it all.

I promise to be as devoted to you as the Gilmore Girls are devoted to junk food. I promise to make endless puns, sarcastic comments, and be goofy every day for the rest of our lives.

I will study with you, paint, dance, and obviously play Mario Kart with you.

Times may get touch and we may not like each other in certain moments but my love and devotion towards you will not waiver for you. You are my one and only. I promise to be the husband and father that you so deserve and I will continue to make time for you and you alone even in the midst of raising miniature Zach’s.

I am so ready to be the man that you rely on in every situation and have been waiting on being able to come home to you – and not driving a copious amount of hours just to see your smiling face. I promise to communicate with you on a whole new level, and call you just because I can.

Finally I promise to grow in love every day for you and in Christ I shall grow exponentially and will forever love you until one of us is taken from one another.

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Zach, I’ve been praying for you since I was a little girl.

I have had this gift of watching the answer unfold in the form of a best pal becoming my forever love. I’ve had a front row seat to your patience and your gorgeous servant heart. Your stubborn love has changed me. When I have resisted to receive and shut you out, you have pursued me, reminded me of my unshakable identity, and proved that your heart is a safe place to land. I know the Father’s heart better because of the way you take care of me.

Today, I promise to be your teammate, to walk as coheir with you in this life. I vow to sacrificially agree with your God-given authority, and to faithfully and intentionally love you. I promise to call you up with respect and wisdom into who God says you are and calls you to be. I commit to train my eyes and my heart to seek after you only, to grow alongside you, and to chases the riches of the kingdom with you.

I will laugh at your Dad jokes and keep on kissing you at red lights. I will be your safe haven when you need me to embrace you in hardship, whisper a prayer in your need, or shout truth louder than your doubt.

I promise to expose my weaknesses in order to make God’s strength perfect. I commit my life, however broken, to be a picture to you of Christ’s unconditional, abounding love.

I make these promises not knowing where they will lead us, but knowing that the promises of God will uphold us in every sorrow, every joy, every sickness, and ultimately lead us to abundance.

Today, I fully receive your love. I entrust my heart to your leadership and affection. From this day on I choose to be your lover, your partner in mission, and your best friend until we arrive home to the Father.

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Sealed with a holy kiss. 

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“Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to His throne.” And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, “I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!” ” — Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

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And here they sit at the foot of our bed. Our sacred space, that on any given day could use an actual or metaphorical dusting. In decades time the page edges won’t be as crisp but the contents will be tested and true. To remind us of what we’ve promised and what’s been promised to us. Of the people that God is molding. Whether we’ve messed up or cheered each other on, Christ reminds us of our vows and sustains us in the fulfillment of each one.

how to take heart in these troubled times

What a way to begin the year, right? We’ve had a celebrity death among 8 other precious souls, taken too soon. The outbreak of Coronavirus. Controversial half-time shows and award show speeches. Our world is hurting – secretly hoping for Eden although on most days I think we would settle for Mayberry or Stars Hollow. That’s just the world at large. Each of us have vibrant, full, jumbled personal lives filled with deadlines, kids to raise, immorality, estranged family members, job trouble, affairs, mental illness… and just plain exhaustion. We have every worldly reason to be devastated at times. To be frantic and confused.

So what do we do?

If I check my Facebook at any given time, (for a “break”??) I will get a political view that goes against my views, a view I agree with said in the wrong spirit, a baby picture, righteous anger, a birthday greeting, and something about animal cruelty. We are surrounded by noise. And there IS a gift to this knowledge.  But we have to decide how to handle and contribute to it with care.

It’s not always running away from the noise. There are times to take a break. There are times to fast. But are we running away from the problems of the world to seek God’s heart or because we don’t ultimately believe that He is in control? 

As Christians we are to be the most hopeful people on the planet. If there is not peace cultivated in our hearts, there will be no lasting peace anywhere. Are we going to have a voice that’s discerning and joyful and compassionate in suffering? OR are we going join the chaos? If we don’t always have a hope to share in the midst of turmoil, how big is our view of God? 

How do we navigate, enter into conversations, without adding more noise?

When I was thinking about all of these things today on my drive home from school worshipping to the song Good Good Father, I remembered a similar season in high school when I felt the world coming down around my shoulders. From my inner circle, to my family, to the community, and world at large I was particularly, more-than-usual disturbed. My best friend in high school sent me a text with only the contents of Jesus’ words. He knew that I was heavily overwhelmed and needed to get out of my own thoughts and focus on eternity with God.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. — John 16:33

This reminded me that whatever was bothering my 16 year old heart at the time, I had hope. Whatever was happening to me was nothing in comparison to my life that was hidden in Christ.

Ending in good and glory.

Maybe that’s what you need to know today? Maybe the whole of these words will be a help to you, but if you remember any of it tomorrow, let it be Jesus’ words. A text bubble of the holy Scripture received in a waiting room, nursery corner, or office desk. “…in Me and only in Me you will find rest. You will have trouble – expect it. But listen, you’ve got Me. And I’ve got this world.”

We can look at the suffering in this world and cry and be angry – so far that it doesn’t lead to cynicism and anger. Somewhere that no true believer in Christ can camp for their lifetimes. Why? Because God’s Word says that our suffering is an indicator of our future glory.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer being is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. — 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

So we can look at our world and at the people around us living a kind of hell on earth and say THANKS BE TO GOD. If this injustice and troubling events are taking place and God’s Word is true, the glory will be impeccable. Beyond imagination, beyond words, beyond our wildest hope.

Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died even though He knew that He had the power to raise him from the dead – and He would soon after. This is our answer. We allow ourselves to be deeply moved by grief. And we resolve to be deeply moved by the Spirit. (See John 11)

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. — Romans 12:12

That’s how we know we can move forward. We cry and scream and ache for all the ways this world is not like heaven, for the stark separation between humanity and God. Then, we use the power within us from the Spirit to make the next step in hope.

We feel exhaustion and trust Him for the strength to keep going. And we will find that strength when we realize that the battle is His. This doesn’t mean we don’t fight in His name – we just know that, just like our inherited salvation, it is not of our own works. We fight like no other, because we have the LORD OF HOSTS that no man-made thing can scratch. We still fight because He is the Christ who provides comfort AND asks “Where is your faith?” when a storm rattles our trust.

You come to me with sword, spear, and javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies — the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Today the LORD will conquer you… and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel!…. This is the LORD’s battle and he will give it to us. — excerpt from 1 Samuel 17, IMMERSE reading Bible

In Hayley Morgan’s last two podcasts, she talked about this uneasiness that comes at looking at the hurting world around us. In the most recent podcast “The coronavirus and telling ourselves a better and truer story”, she invited us to insert compassion wherever being frantic was formerly. Instead of worrying about coronavirus, could we focus on the reality – the real people infected, hurting, and scared – and show them compassion? Because, the enemy is not others, but the virus – either literally or figuratively. Our enemy is not our family member on Facebook who is against a policy we agree with or vice versa. The enemy is the virus. Whether it’s death, murder, hostility, anger – anything that separates us from others and God. That’s what we are fighting against. We waste a lot of energy when we focus on one person or post being the problem when the root of it goes all the way back to Eden.

We don’t become robots saying “Everything happens for a reason”. But our hearts that are shaped by this truth –  everything does happen for a reason  – become compelling, compassionate beacons of hope. We know that His glory will win and this propels us to love, not only to be right. Our soul can long and simultaneously hope.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. — Psalm 130:5

We feel the brokenness and celebrate. Because the feast is coming. Hallelujah! These temporary things and church being deeply moved by the Spirit will show the bruised, waiting world that the God of Israel is still reigning today! We turn our eyes away from the transient and look to what is unseen, our only security. Our eyes widen as we see the muchness of our God. This feast – where we will sit at the massive table, with a name for each of His kids on each place setting, unhindered from the tangles of this world and taste the fullness of God.

(As a reminder of our time together in the Word today? Take one of these reminders below if you’d like. Thank you, dear friend.)

choosing to be present.

Present is my “word” for 2020.

I hesitated to even declare a word over my year because, frankly, God will do whatever He wants. I might make my word “quiet” and He’ll crank up the volume. I might make my word “joy” and be met by the deepest depression of my lifetime. It’s true. Regardless of our plans, His will surely will prevail.

For me, while I’ve chosen words over the past few years (like abundance 2018 and trust 2019) is because they heighten my awareness to what I believe He is already speaking over me in a particular season. In the first few days of January, I still didn’t know if I would choose a word for the year. But God practically broke into the things I was watching, reading, and listening to and highlighted everything that had to do with the act of presence. Choosing a word for the year isn’t declaring everything He will do, because His Word says we can’t even imagine all the good and glory He’s got around the corner. But, every single tool we find that opens us up towards the movement of the Spirit is a worthwhile pursuit.

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Small steps in the right direction: Not caring about my house or my appearance being perfect as long as my heart is available to serve (cleaning, working, homework, housekeeping) and love (give a friend encouragement, give someone a hand in the studio, drop what I’m doing for an hour if someone needs me, etc.). My ceramics professor said to us nearly every week this past fall semester, “PERFECTION IS AN ILLUSION.”

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He didn’t tell us this to keep us from trying our best. He told us this on a regular basis, because we found ourselves stuck because what we wanted just wasn’t attainable. Our desire for perfection wasn’t making us better artists, it was actually bringing our work to a defeated pause. To a bunch of struggling art students, this phrase was like water on a Kansan August day. We were worn out from the expectations of our other professors, society, and – ourselves. This serves as a reminder for me in my work and every other area that perfect isn’t the goal. The need for perfection will get me to a tidier life, but not a kingdom-building one. The act of presence will make me give my best in the moment and leave the results to God. What matters isn’t that my house looks good, I get all As, or that I look like a Pinterest ad (although those things might coincide with my goals at times), what matters is that my life is open to the blessings of God and to bless others. And that just won’t happen if I’m mad about clutter or broken out skin or a failing grade, as fickle as those things may seem.

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Other tangible ideas I’m working towards: Looking people in the eye, at least more than I can say I do now. Reading more books. Making time for fun outside and within school. Taking time to revel in awe at God and His Word. Writing, at home and in coffee shops about the good, the bad, and the ugly instead of dusting it under the rug. Being 95% “where my feet are”. (Of course, a woman’s brain is hard to untangle into one geographical location – but what would happen if we gave as much as we could in the room or discussion group or even the Instagram DMs we were in? And then moved to the next “thing” with the same amount of attention?) By the end of this year, I’m sure I’ll have many other ideas as I’ve committed many months to the same idea.

“Present is living with your feet firmly grounded in reality, pale and uncertain as it may seem. Present is choosing to believe that your own life is worth investing deeply in, instead of waiting for some rare miracle or fairytale. Present means we understand that the here and now is sacred, sacramental, threaded through with divinity even in its plainness. Especially in its plainness.” — Shauna Niequist, Present Over Perfect

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Being present is simply the first step into what’s best for me in serving Christ and those around me. If I’m present, I’ll here His whispers quicker. If I’m present, I’ll count gifts consistently, seeing the ways in which He is constantly at work. If I’m present, life’s woes will be a lot more painful – but I won’t just ignore them, but experience God’s strength within them.

We live in a world that will take any chance it can get to numb away their lives, good or bad. If only we can drink, smoke, or buy more than enough – then we will feel relief from our days. If only we could have lots of sex and make a lot more money – then we will feel success. If I live vicariously through someone else’s bravery, I won’t have to listen to my own dreams. If I can keep all things tidy – myself, my house, my kids – then everyone will think I’m okay.

Choosing to be in the present is something that the evil one is offended by. He loves when we dwell on our past regrets and fret about the future. Oh, and he LOVES good intentions for *someday*. But he knows he will lose when believers stand up and show up to their one God-given life.

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The enemy delights in this future faith, for he knows it is powerless to accomplish any practical results. But he trembles and flees when the soul of the believer dates to claim a present deliverance, and to reckon itself now to be free from his power. . . Just as much as He [Christ!] came to deliver you from future punishment did He also come to deliver you from present bondage.  — Hannah Whitall Smith

By being present, I’ll be more awake to all the way’s He is moving. Whether it’s painful, exhilarating, or anywhere in between – wouldn’t we all prefer to say that we were awake to our own life? That we soaked up everything we could to make us better humans, His glory magnified on the earth, and our brother and sisters around us more loved? 

We should live in the present where love can touch us. — Henri J. M. Nouwen

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Being present is about being awake to it all. God is all powerful, but He doesn’t force us to listen. By making mindful choices to listen, to behold, to look up more often – we are guaranteed to be touched by love. And that love will flow through us in more powerful ways than when we were distracted by perfection.

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I’d love to know… What’s your word for the year and why?

 

 

 

 

surprised by joy

Zach and I are celebrated six months of marriage on December 15, 2019.

The first few months of marriage – maybe the first ten years – are for taking in all the experiences like a sponge. We take it all in with open eyes and raw nerves. I hesitate to celebrate such a small amount of commitment in light of a lifetime, or to offer insight as a twenty-year-old wife. Gosh, I can’t even legally order a margarita or rent a car but I’m committed to Zach for life. But here’s the thing: the reason the Israelites wondered in the wilderness for so long, the reason the rebellious teenager strays from the faith of Sunday school truths, the reason so many of us are out here floundering? It’s because we forget. We don’t celebrate the goodness and the faithfulness of God routinely – and then our routines become drudgery. 

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” — 1 Samuel 7:12

So we are staking our claim – the Lord has helped us. Through six months of figuring out how to love each other like the church should devote itself to Christ, how Christ lays down His life for His friends. We lay this stone of this small victory in faith – in sureness of things not seen – that it’s one of many.

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Our first six months – setting up our home with IKEA finds and sentimental pieces of our pasts, getting and training and loving our puppy, my busiest semester yet, living the untold stories of behind-the-scenes ministry life, walking through a whirlwind of family tragedy. Panic attacks, laughter only two close friends could share, passive aggressiveness rooted in deeply hurt feelings, freedom found in open communication – you can find a bit of it all here. It has all seemed like too much at times, in good ways and bad.

This week, we brought home a present for our six month old puppy. Bones are the only thing that seem to hold his attention for longer than two minutes – with the exception of possibly his tail. Zach went to pick up only his food, but he also noticed something Usher would love – a bone that is 3/4 his length. He picked it up and as soon as I saw it, I couldn’t wait to see Usher’s face when we brought it home for him. We delighted to give the gift and he delighted in receiving it.

As Usher grabbed the bone from our hands, he could barely keep it up with his mouth. On the way to his favorite spot on the couch, he dropped the bone twice, fumbled over himself, and needed help. And was deliriously excited.

Stretch your imagination with me in this moment. Isn’t that a bit like God’s gift of marriage?

We did absolutely nothing to deserve the gift of marriage. We are not holier than the single person seeking companionship. But God saw this gift for us and He couldn’t wait to see our faces in the receiving! Even though He knew that we would need help – every single hour. Even though He knew we would make fools out of ourselves. Even though He knew it was a bit too much for us to carry on our own. He delighted in the giving and we are delighting in the receiving – of the gift and the help stewarding it.

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I’ve been thinking about the fact that if our lives were a movie, Zach and I’s story would be over. The curtain would close somewhere between our wedding ceremony and the airplane that took us to the Cayman Islands. But this, this — is a holy beginning. The world would say that we’ve got nothing else entertaining to give. And it’s true, our dating and engagement was a whirlwind of excitement. But God has just begun the good work in us, of growing love larger in our hearts every single day.

I think the crux of couples getting lost in the day to day is how they perceive a successful relationship. Is the goal to never fight, to always sync physically, to feel good?

There’s a better way. And it is the hardest, holiest way.

The thing that matters? It’s not whether I am being served or happy, while those things are included in the package deal many times. The only thing that matters is whether our marriage tells the truth about the gospel or not.

Are we irritated at each other but laying it all out on the table to work in out? Is the romance just not there today but are we rooted in the unconditional love of Christ? Is your “better half” being a jerk, but you know that when the lights go out you can use this as a conversation for growth of character and the relationship?

Is it all feeling broken, but we are leading one another to the cross?  

As long as a couple is married, they continue to display – however imperfectly – the ongoing commitment between Christ and his church. . . . The first purpose in marriage — beyond happiness, sexual expression, the bearing of children, companionship, mutual care and provision, or anything else — is to please God.

— Gary L Thomas, Sacred Marriage

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A month ago I was leaving my friend Gloria’s house. As Midwesterns have been mocked on the internet for doing lately, we were standing in the kitchen next to her back door saying our 15 minute goodbye. I looked at her with a decidedness in my voice: “I just wish that we would have been honeymooners a little longer.” By that I mean, the first time I was so angry to sleep on the couch – even in beautiful, fun, finally-no-boundaries-unplugged paradise – wasn’t even a week into our marriage. #wifeoftheyear.

“I think most of us who have been married for any substantial length of time realize that the romantic roller coaster of courtship eventually evens out to the terrain of a Midwest interstate – long, flat stretches with an occasional overpass.” — Gary L. Thomas, Sacred Marriage

She nodded her head with understanding.

She assured me that it’s okay if your story doesn’t seem to look like someone else’s newlywed story – because it’s real. Can I lean in and say that again? It’s okay if your story doesn’t look like someone else’s. It’s you. It’s authentic. It’s good to walk through hardship – as long as we walk, crawl, and stumble together.

Gloria finished her words of encouragement: “Don’t worry. God will surprise you with joy.”

He truly has.

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