The Broken Stuff

It’s been awhile since I’ve waxed poetic in the wee hours. High time for some heart ramblings. They usually flow so easily, begging for release. Tonight, they are tumbling around in this head and heart of mine, in a nonsensical dance.

The past few weeks, I’ve felt like I’m living in The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. If you haven’t read it, do so. It is one of the most accurate pictures of spiritual warfare I’ve experienced. The same taunting themes dangled in front of me again and again, a parade of mockery and discouragement. I find that speaking truth aloud steals the power from lies. Fleeing the one tempting you toward destruction quiets the noise…for a bit, anyway. Until the next wave.

“Take every thought captive into the obedience of Christ.” I cling to the reminder, run to the truth like a desperate, starving escaped prisoner, finally free.

On Monday, we started our first in a series of weekly bible studies we will be doing on the book Anchored by Erin Cushman. (If you’re local, please join us in person Mondays at 6:30pm EST at SGM…and if you’re anywhere in the world, the study will be streamed live and recorded. Week One video displayed here. You can join the discussion and find other support in our Walking With You Facebook Group.)

Anyway, as the part of the study we had to choose five words that would maybe describe us 10 years from now as a woman…after walking through loss. One of my words was brave. I shared during the study that I think my definition of the word brave has changed over the years as I’ve walked through grief and healing and life. I used to think brave meant…looking strong and tough, not being afraid. Now I find vulnerability and realness and often tears or the sharing of struggles to be brave…more courageous than hiding behind a façade. Doing something anyway when you’re most afraid and filled with doubt and fear.

After a long couple weeks filled with struggles on all fronts, I was preparing to go to lead an after school program where SGM talks with high school and middle school students about healthy ways to grieve and express emotions. I was feeling kind of broken today as I prepared to leave. Kind of emptied and unsure what was left to give. It’s often when I feel that way the most that the loaves and fishes flow from my not enough.

I had forgotten once again, in my weary, about God’s extraordinary math…the way He fills in the pouring out.

Today’s activity was to use the acknowledgment pages from my book, Sufficient Grace, to share about the ways that people influence our lives. And, how even the painful relationships or the broken things in our lives can shape us for good and can be part of the acknowledgment pages of our lives. Then, each student would take some time to write their own acknowledgment page. Who would they thank for making them who they are today?

It’s seriously a soul-searching thing that everyone should do at least once. I’ve mentioned before, it was the hardest thing for me to write in the entire book. It’s a powerful thing to do. Even to reflect on those who may have hurt us the most. Those who left some of the broken stuff we carry around in our hearts. Or the people who were there for us when no one else was, the people who believed we could and the ones who doubted our worth and abilities.

So, as I stood before them in my secret weariness, loaves and fishes came forth. They displayed the brave that few know. They with their broken stuff oozing real and beautiful. They who sometimes have been forgotten, cast aside, treated with ugliness, abuse, and neglect. They who wonder if anyone sees…if anyone hears. Finding hope in knowing that they matter. Finding hope by standing together. Finding hope by searching through the rubble of all the broken pieces for the beauty that shines forth beneath the destruction. The beauty God places in the depths of a human heart, beating hope with each defiant breath. Hope that fights to survive and shine light in the dark places. They with all the brave and beautiful broken left me with tears hanging in the corners of my eyes. Thankful once again that I didn’t miss this divine appointment. This work that matters throughout eternity. Because my God is the one who seeks to save that which was lost. My God is the King of finding beauty in the broken…of hope rising eternal…of survival…of light in the dark places…of the brave of vulnerability. And, He will hunt us down with His love.

As I see them, He whispers, “I see you.”

And, I am a puddle of humbled small thinking how I was just hours before wrestling with my need to know that the work I do is relevant or worthy or blah…blah…blah. Somehow whatever seemed so pressing disappears in the face of the raw beauty of realness and courage to speak about the hard things…the heart things. Most of the time we who teach are actually the ones learning. Suddenly all that was weighing on my heart before I walked in seemed so inconsequential in the presence of their brave, beautiful, broken offerings. The fact that they allow me to see a glimpse into those sacred places a gift of unspeakable value.

It’s easy to get distracted from the real work…the work that matters…the purpose God has laid out for us. Before we know it, our energy has been wasted on something that will never matter in the grand scheme of eternity. While fighting the good fight to resist the temptation to allow discouragement to take over and steal my focus from the sacred work there is an ongoing battle to remember to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus and serving others by pouring out His love. Not to look at results or measure the worth or relevance or the number of people who will stand with you or acknowledge your efforts….but to be truly hidden in Christ…so free from being swayed by the constant distractions or whispers of doubt because I’m just His and the “me” part just doesn’t matter. It is a constant battle to die to self.

The verse below was a good reminder. Do what matters. Do what will last. Do it for the right reasons. Don’t look at anyone else. Spend your time on the precious stones, the gold and silver…and forget the wood, hay, and straw. Leave that to someone else.

“For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”
I Corinthians 3:11-13

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If Only You Had Enough Faith

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A conversation yesterday regarding a mother facing a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy unlocked emotions laying dormant in my depths for more than a decade. Those words, spewing the barbed accusations of not enough.

If you only have enough faith you will be well. Your babies will be well. Your mother will be well.

If you pray believing, then it will be so.

People are only sick because they don’t pray with faith, believing they will be healed. They have doubt in their hearts.

In one fell swoop, I was back there…on my knees begging God to show me how to pray with faith. Begging God to spare my son. Because if only…if only I could just learn the lesson I failed to learn the first time I stood beside the tiny grave that held my twin daughters Faith and Grace…then I wouldn’t have to stand beside the grave again holding our son Thomas who had been giving the fatal diagnosis of Potter’s Syndrome.

I was desperate to understand what was required of me. Desperate to have enough faith. To pray correctly. To be counted among the righteous. Desperate in my broken. Desperate as only a mother can be. Desperate.

I tore open my bible, laid on my face covered in tears. Drowning in tears. As the storm raged relentless, both outside and within.

Show me. Show me the kind of faith you require. Show me how to have the faith that pleases you. Show me what I failed to learn the first time, that we would be spared this agony. Show me.

And He did.

In Chapter 7 of my book, Sufficient Grace, I cover the faith-wrestlings by delving into His Word:

Was it enough to believe that God could heal our baby, or were we expected to believe with confidence that He would heal our baby? That seemed a little presumptuous to me. But I wondered about this faith thing. Was my lack of faith the reason for all this agony? If I could just learn the lesson somehow, would we be spared?”

I wanted to understand faith…so I devoured Hebrews chapter 11…known as “the hall of fame of faith.”

I read about how faith is the substance of things hoped for…the evidence of things not seen.

I read about Abraham and David and Rahab and Noah and Moses…all flawed and broken. All full of doubt and unknowing. But still considered faithful. Still considered His.

Most of all, I read about Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Did He skip to the cross…knowing all would be well, without a moment of doubt or hesitation? What did His faith look like? After all, He is our example. Did He ever wrestle with what lay in front of Him?

I read in Hebrews how Jesus endured the cross despising the shame…yet He did it for the joy set before Him. The joy of heaven, of our restoration. Yet, He asked the Father to take this cup from Him…if there was any other way. He asked three times, resisting to the point of sweating great drops of blood. And, yet…He is our example. He didn’t love the idea of the cross before Him. He knew the beginning from the end. And, it still was agony. Was I faithless because I didn’t love the cross in front of me? No. Even Jesus wrestled with the agony of the cross. And, yet…He surrendered to the Father’s will, believing Him…even in the midst of the agony.

In Hebrews, this powerful verse spoke to my tattered heart in those silent months of carrying our Thomas:

…the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:38-40)

They had to believe God without seeing. To believe Him when things didn’t go as planned. To believe Him when He gave a different answer than they hoped. To believe Him when they didn’t see the promise this side of heaven.

What of Job? Job…counted as righteous, pleasing to God…and yet he lost all that he had.

And, what of Jesus’ conversation with Thomas in John 21…

You believe because you see, Thomas…blessed are those who believe without seeing.

I stumbled in my desperate search, still hoping I could unlock the code, even amongst all this evidence that faith wasn’t about me.

Faith isn’t about how well I believe, how certain I am. How strong. Faith is about trusting my God. No matter what. Believing when I don’t see. Sufficient Grace is about knowing that His strength is made perfect through my weakness. It is not about me getting it right or performing well enough. Such nonsense diminishes the power of my God.

Still…I longed for an answer. So when I read the familiar story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, my mama heart lept. Could it be?

This sickness will not end in death. No, it if for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.

Will he save my Thomas? Is that what He is saying?

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?

Yes, Lord…I believe this…and I finally understood. Over the course of a few days, the message sunk in. No matter what the outcome, Thomas will live. God whispered to my heart, whether Thomas lived physically on this earth or whether He was made complete in heaven, He would live. He would live…and his life would be a miracle…no matter what. So…I was expecting new life. New beautiful, amazing life. God whispered His promise in the quiet of my kitchen as my tears dripped on the bible before me.” (pg. 83 Sufficient Grace)

So many people praise God when they see the miracle this side of heaven, the miracle of physical healing. But, God is still good when He chooses to heal by taking a soul home to restore brokenness…by healing a marriage, saving a soul, restoring broken faith, deepening our relationships on earth and with Him.
God is still good and worthy of praise when we don’t get the answers we asked for or when there seems to be no answer at all.

This world is a broken place. Filled with brokenness and suffering. Not because God willed it to be so. He is not a Father up there…shaking His finger…saying “If only you believed enough. If only you sinned less. If only you could figure out some hidden lesson, then you would be healed.”

If you never hear anything I’ve spoken or written…please, please HEAR this…that lie that “if only we had enough faith”…is from the pit. It is NOT from God. If that were so, there would be much less suffering and many would never die. I prayed. Desperate prayers. Elders laid hands on me and prayed. But, God still chose to heal my Thomas by taking him Home. That doesn’t mean I am not His. That doesn’t mean He rejected me. That doesn’t mean I am not “faithful enough.” There is no such thing. There is nothing I could do to earn His love or salvation. To be worthy on my own. I am worthy solely because the blood of Jesus covers me. His love, His grace covers us…carries us. He longs to wipe our tears. To mend our broken places. He waits for us outside of the pit, offering a hand…He sits with us in the pit…until we are ready to take His hand. Nothing separates us from His love. Nothing.

I share much more about our faith journey in my book, Sufficient Grace. Because I just want you to know about His Sufficient Grace, I want to offer it at the special bulk rate for anyone who read this post and would like further encouragement in their own faith-wrestlings. Use the bulk-rate button this week until November 21, 2015 to get the $8 rate.

When Your Offering is Rejected

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Rejection. It happens often. It is most definitely prevalent in the lives of artists and writers.
But, not just artists and writers. Any human being on planet earth will experience rejection at some point.

Your love, offered to another, may be rejected.
Your friendship.
Your ministry.
Your gift of time.
Your talents and abilities.
Your very presence.

Something you give from the depths of your heart will be rejected at some point during your stay here on planet earth. And, it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter who you are, it will happen.
And, when it does…when you question the value of not only your offering, but your very self…not only to the vessel doing the rejecting…but to the God who vowed to love all of you for all of eternity…
Hear me when I say…It doesn’t matter.

The first questions sneering at me in moments when my offering is rejected are…

Did I lose favor with God? Was I not enough? Was my offering unworthy, flawed, too broken, too lacking?
Have I done something to lose favor with God?

Followed by a parade of accusations of all my flaws…proof of my glaring unworthiness. Accusations of all the ways I fall short, don’t measure up…of all my cracked and broken places, seemingly as yet unredeemed.

The first thing is…

Apart from Jesus, every ugly thing the Accuser whispers in the dark of night…is true about me. But, with Jesus…because of Jesus…none of it is. Because I am remade, redeemed. His.
Only…by His blood.
Not by any offering I lay before Him. Or before the world.

He reminded me last week via the song “You Are More” by 10th Avenue North…when the noise was so, so thick I couldn’t hear His truth. ‪Because there is nothing. Nothing like trying to hear the quiet steadiness of God’s truth through a storm of crippling lies.

“She knows all the answers
And she’s rehearsed all the lines
And so she’ll try to do better
But then she’s too weak to try
But don’t you know who you are?
You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.
‘Cause this is not about what you’ve done,
But what’s been done for you.
This is not about where you’ve been,
But where your brokenness brings you to
This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.”

And, the next thing is…

That rejection doesn’t matter.
It isn’t a rejection from our God. Because He already accepts us, as we are, covered by the blood of Jesus and fully redeemed. He could no more reject us than we could reject the offerings of our own children. He shines with beaming love for us…and our every stumbling effort. He sings over us with sheer delight. That is the Father we have….that is our Abba Daddy.

So the stinging rejection. It doesn’t matter.
Never mind it.

It doesn’t define you. It shouldn’t cripple you. The enemy wants to at the least use it to distract you from the work you’ve been giving to do. At the most, he wants to destroy you with it. To utterly paralyze you, so that you not only give up on serving and using the abilities God has given you to encourage another soul…but that you doubt everything you know is true about His undying unconditional love for you. He wants you to isolate yourself. To be alone with the crippling thoughts of despair. He wants you to believe that one rejection negates all the moments when you clearly saw God working…the true moments of ministry…the real and raw moments where you connect with another heart as all the passing barriers of this earth fall away and you hold another broken soul in your arms as Jesus meets you there in the midst, transforming your broken offering into His tangible love.

He doesn’t want you to pick up your head, to run to the truth…to strain to hear God’s solid and unwavering whisper of truth in the midst of a roaring storm of lies meant for your destruction.

Run to the truth in that moment with all that you have.

Give it all over to the Lord…the rejection. The offering. Your wounded spirit. Let Him sift through it all and decide what’s left. And, leave it there.

Because here is the crazy, freeing gift of it all.

Your offering was never for your glory. It wasn’t to gain you favor in His eyes or anyone else’s…it doesn’t exist to bring you success or failure. Your offering has nothing to do with you. How’s that for mind-blowing?

But, also…awesome.

Because when it happens…and it WILL happen…it doesn’t change a thing.

I am still His. Even when my offering is rejected. I am no less loved. I am no less His.
Nothing. Nothing can take that away.
Hear that. Receive that. Let that crazy, amazing truth soak into your bones. Not just as a paltry offering of pretty words. But, as living truth permeating your soul. You are His. You are loved. And nothing you do or say or don’t do…nothing that someone else does or says…nothing will ever take that away. It is secure. It is finished.
You are His. (See Romans 8:31-39)

He doesn’t change His mind. He doesn’t give up on us. He never quits the work He begins in us. (Philippians 1:6)

Which means, I am still called to do the work He has given me to do. No matter how much the enemy would like me to think that rejection means I should throw in the towel. Not so.

It is none of our business, rejection. It is none of our business if our neighbor’s offering is accepted when ours is not…an entirely different layer of rejection. One not worth exploring further except to say…
It doesn’t matter.
What is that to you? Go and serve the Lord.

Go love the person in front of you. And, the next and the next.

If a door closes in your face, ask God to lead you to the next one. And, go freely in His grace, unencumbered along the way. Don’t you dare…daughter (or son) of the Most High God…don’t you dare hang your head or carry the weight of what isn’t yours to bear. Leave it. let your identity be so hidden in Christ that it truly doesn’t even touch you.

Go be about your Father’s business with pure freedom in joy.
Because, it doesn’t matter.

You can only give you have to give, what He has given you. It is none of our business how that gift is received. And, it doesn’t define us.

It doesn’t matter.

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The Real Power a Woman Holds

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Yes, the idea for this post came from the latest Avengers movie. I’m a boy mama. And, I embraced the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy a long time ago. I haven’t been able to shake the scene where Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johannson, soothes the savage beast in the Incredible Hulk with her gentle lullaby words. Soft and whispery, she tenderly approaches him. And, as her hand touches his, he melts into her with a shiver. The giant, unreachable, unreasonable, indestructible, huge, strong beast…melts at her touch. All of his rage…his frustrations…dissipate when she speaks to him with love.

It is her softness that melts him.

He is safe with her. Reassured. Loved. And, he melts.

She is strong. Strong enough to take on the toughest of bad guys. But her true beauty…her true strength…shines through her soft touch and gentle words.

There’s a message there, women.

1 Peter 3 speaks of “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

Sometimes, in my busyness. In my independence. I forget…just how much my husband needs the softness God created me with, in order to soothe away the daily frustrations piled on his mortal shoulders. How much more he needs my soft, tender words that create a safe haven for him from the harsh world. Words of hope, love, encouragement that build him up and strengthen him to get back in there and fight the good fight another day. He needs them whispered in a sultry lullaby. More than the clanging symbols of criticisms or harsh, negative words…or even short distracted responses. Beautiful, strong women…our husbands need the softness of our touch…and the tender words of love we have to give. He cares more than you know about having your approval…about knowing that he is someone you respect and honor. He needs your love and encouragement…your gentleness…more than you know. That’s where your strength lies. Use it for good. Use it to encourage your man.

The following is from an old post, but the advice still holds true.

Intimacy in marriage…loving your husband in his love language…

I have found in conversations over the years, with married friends of mine, that the subject of marital intimacy can be a real issue. I don’t want to stereotype, because it can sometimes be the other way around. But, much of the time husbands enjoy feeling loved by their wives in a physical way. Women often feel loved when we are most secure, with gentle words of affirmation, time spent together, as well as physically.

In encouraging female friends of mine over the years, I have heard many say that they need to feel loved by their husbands in order to enjoy the physical part of marriage. They may say, “I wish my husband would…”(fill in the blank.). Some may enjoy physical intimacy, but fail to make it a priority…getting busy with the needs of children, work, home, etc.

In sixteen years of marriage (now twenty-one years!), I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share with you…woman-to-woman. These things are thoughts I’ve shared with friends who struggle in this area. And, although, I’m hardly an expert… and feel a little shy even talking about it, I think it’s something that’s important. I wish we talked about this subject more as wives, and encouraged young women on this subject. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it pure.

1. Make time with your husband a priority, and start speaking his love language. While you should not go into this with thoughts of what you may get out of it (Physical intimacy should never be used to manipulate.), you may be surprised to find that if you are more physically affectionate and open to him, he may respond by being more loving with you in your love language. As he feels more secure in your love, he will reach out to you in more loving ways. Maybe words of affirmation…maybe hugs…you will be surprised at how you can melt his heart with your love. And, yes…it really is that simple.

2. Do not underestimate the importance of physical intimacy in marriage. A good friend of mine calls it the “glue that holds us together”. God designed sex in marriage to be a blessing. The marriage bed is “pure and undefiled”. So, we are supposed to enjoy one another, and make it fun. (Don’t believe me? Have you ever read the Song of Solomon?) Yes, it is for the purpose of reproduction…but also so much more. It is meant to be a blessing to both of you. Have you ever noticed that when we neglect this part of our relationship, there is more tension and distance? But, when we are making it a priority, there is a bond of affection and often more patience. We look at each other through eyes of love. And that love and commitment is renewed and solidified in the act of marriage. (The Act of Marriage is also the name of a really good book that encourages Christian couples in this area, too!)

3. Remember that your husband speaks a physical love language. Your love and respect give him confidence to be the man he is called to be. He needs this from you. It is part (a big part) of your role as helpmate. If he swats you on the behind as he walks through the kitchen, take it as a compliment and a sign of his affection. Be glad he thinks your behind is “swat-worthy”. And, you may just be surprised, if you begin responding to him in a physical way how he will respond to you.

4. Communicate with your husband about your needs and intimacy, using words of love and affirmation. And make sure he feels safe communicating with you. Remember this gift in marriage is not just for your husband, but for you too!

5. Don’t let your body image keep you from enjoying your husband physically. Some wives feel less than perfect (aren’t we all!), especially when comparing themselves to the unattainable images bombarding us in all forms of media. I think most husbands, though, are less critical, and maybe don’t even see the flaws we see when we look in the mirror. Most of the time, a man enjoys the soft physical beauty of his wife, and sees her through the eyes of love. I know this may not always be the case, but I think it is most of the time.

If this is an area you struggle with, I hope you found a little encouragement here. I just want to encourage wives to make loving their husbands a priority.

Be blessed and encouraged today! Now…go give your man a big kiss and tell him how great he is!

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With Unveiled Face

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Yesterday during a weekly prayer session with my friend Lynette, it happened. One of my favorite nuggets of grace…when God allows His Word to come alive and the words jump out from the page, piercing into your soul, written just for you.

Three words from the scripture below… “with unveiled face.”

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18

Like a bride being presented to her groom, lifting the veil to see him fully in all his glory…and to freely be seen by her beloved. So many things veil our eyes from seeing God’s glory. I don’t want to be distracted with the noise of the world, the discouragement of the enemy, the comparison trap, the size of the mountain in front of us.

I want to reflect His glory, to enter into the mission field of grieving souls with a blend of meekness and boldness, covered always in love. To be so hidden in Him, so focused on the vision He has given me, that I am unmoved by what occurs in the world around me. One goal matters, to serve as the hands and feet of Jesus. To keep building this wall…in homage to Nehemiah.

I want to behold the glory of my God…with unveiled face. To abide in the shelter of His wings…to bathe in His love…to feel the depth of His grace. To be lifted in the humbling, quieted in the laying down, filled in the pouring out, renewed in the worship.

With unveiled face. With hair blowing in the wind abandon. Because I am His.

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Redemption

The following is from Kelly’s heart. Not on behalf of Sufficient Grace.

I can tell this will be one of those nights when sleep eludes me. Words, begging for release, like they do.

I’m not sure where to begin these ramblings from my depths.

There is a woman, quite dear to me, who no longer lives earthside, but has made her home in heaven. For her, all has been redeemed. Which makes my own wrestlings regarding her life and the sorting through of my thoughts on the matter seem rather futile. Except…the thing about complete redemption… It is not so this side of heaven. We still ache for full redemption in our broken state, for the day when our Savior returns to make all the wrongs right, once and for all. How it must grieve His heart, the damaged state of our current dwelling place.

Her body lies in the ground, but her soul lives. This woman who is dear to me.

When she walked on planet earth, she was never loved as she deserved. Not once. She didn’t even love herself the way a woman of her stature ought. For she carried more grit and grace in her pinky than most people do in their entire being. She just didn’t know it. She didn’t see herself the way He saw her. If she did…if she knew her worth was of far more value than rubies, life would’ve been different.

What she didn’t know, was that it was a man’s job to protect her, to love her, to treasure her. She learned a different lesson from the women she knew. And, some of the men. The men who gave her their names during various seasons of her life didn’t behave worthy of being called her blanket of protection. In many ways, they weren’t.

So, the dilemma in my wrestling is this. I know that all the broken that occurred this side of heaven has been redeemed for her on the other side, where she now lives. She is covered in the blanket of the love of Jesus, clean and set free from everything that entangled her and held her back in this life. She is all that He created her to be…and she knows…deep in her deepest depths that she is lovvvved….loved like we have never known this side of heaven. Every wrong has been made right.

So…why…why do I still long to give her back her name? To take a piece of the land back for her? Pieces that were stolen. What does that say about my heart thumping and stumbling along earthside, trying to shake off the broken and longing…always longing for redemption…even as we drink in grace?

Redemption is an interesting craving. And, I’ve been mulling it’s inner parts…the longing desire we have within us…for rightness and justice. For brokenness to find restoration.

I tend to be drawn to the broken hearts and people, seeing…always seeing…the redeemable qualities in another. (Well…almost always.)

Recently, my “therapist-ish” friend asked me about the attraction and fierce love I feel toward broken people as we sorted through my inner pieces.

She said, “Are you trying to fix them?”

“No,” I replied, “I can see the beauty…the good in them. I can see the redeeming qualities. And, I want the good to win.”

I want the person I see and love to see and love themselves…to know their own redeemable qualities, the ones God sees, the things in them Jesus saw when He laid down His life on the cross…to redeem every broken place inside every mess of a person.

I want to see redemption in the souls of those I love. Of those around me. I want to reflect back to them, like a mirror, shining light on their best side…on the potential I see in them. I want them to lift their heads and hope.

I want them to look to Jesus to be their Redeemer, for He is the only worthy one who can.

And, even still…I long to give that woman back her name. At least this side of heaven. In eternity, it likely won’t matter so much.

To the Ones Who Miss It

It takes incredible courage to look on the broken and painful things in this life…to not look away when others shield their eyes. To be willing to enter in with another human being, and carry suffering together awhile. I’ve written before about the “courage to see.” Those who are so brave are greatly blessed with the most sacred of gifts…the nuggets offered by a soul willing to lay their own hearts bare in a world that may not know how to receive the offering, in order that you may see the treasures hidden in a human heart. The beautiful gifts God weaves through a life…the beauty born from ashes…the gold refined from another soul walking through the fire.

There are also the ones who miss it. The ones who stay away. The ones who shield their eyes, because it is too difficult to lay down the shield and look. Because, looking may graze the carefully guarded pieces of our own hearts. Places we don’t want to revisit. Those who, for whatever reason, miss out on receiving the gifts waiting for them when they lift their eyes to see.

Tonight, I had a book signing for Sufficient Grace, in the hometown of my parents. It’s always a swirling of nostalgia, mixed and intense emotions, when I visit their town. There were some dear to me who were there in the gathering of hearts tonight. Those who have always been brave enough to look, and to love us, even in our darkest times. And, there were a few empty places…noticed only by me and a handful of those who know me well. Places left empty by the ones who miss it.

I have spent some time in my life, lamenting the ones who miss out on the most valuable gifts, and sometimes my lament has been selfish. I’ve considered how their absence has brought me disappointment. How I’ve felt left alone, or rejected in that moment. I walk around in human flesh, after all.

But, tonight, I felt great sorrow…not for my own feelings…because, in truth, my heart is filled to abundance with the blessings God gives…with the connecting of human hearts, I could never imagine…with the immeasurable gifts of seeing those who do come and feeling astounded at the miracle of being even the smallest of cracked vessels to deliver His message of grace, love, and powerful redemption. My sorrow is for the hearts of those who miss it. Who sit out the dance…who stay away from the challenges. (And, believe me, I know what it is to try and muster the brave to go when you want to hide in the safe place…I know the excruciating courage it takes to make yourself go to the places no one wants to go…again and again.) Those who cannot see beyond the pain for a moment…those locked in the bitter broken. I struggle often, not to carry the weight on my own shoulders, as if there were some way I could physically carry them to a place of healing…pry eyes open to make them look, and reach inside their hearts…past the carefully built walls…to help a heart see, not only the bitter broken…but more…the grace-filled healing love He wants to pour into them.

But, I am not…nor will I ever be the One capable of breaking through the broken to find a path of mending. Only my Jesus can do that. Only the Holy Spirit can nudge a soul toward His truth.

I was awakened in the wee hours, at 2ish a.m. to a text from one of the boys from my kitchen, reading my book. (Well, actually, I was awakened by Mr. Gerken’s snoring and the residuals of a migraine.) He is one who has had the courage to venture places few are brave enough to go, to expose his heart to the things others miss. That courage has led him to lead great philanthropic efforts to support Sufficient Grace Ministries, as a college student. His willingness to see the very hard things has helped further our mission, so that other mothers will not have to walk this path alone. He, and many other boys from my kitchen who stuff bears and give speeches about baby loss, and send me notes of encouragement, when they have no idea how much I need to know that this humble offering is making a difference in the lives of others.

The picture of him bravely seeing, reading the words from the deepest places of my heart…the words of a mother whose life was forever changed by the words… “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat.” That picture stood in stark contrast to the empty places of those who miss it. Those who remain shrouded in the pain, disappointments, fear…who stay in the broken places, because sometimes the path to mending means feeling the full brunt of things, leaving the false security of the numbness and leaning into the sharp shards of the shattered shrapnel from past disasters to allow the pieces to pierce through our carefully built walls…to allow whatever pours out to ooze real and raw and true. So the Mender can begin His mending.

I do understand the courage it takes to go when you want to stay, to look when you want to close your eyes. And, I’ve kept my eyes closed too…a time or two. Because I’m His, I’m never allowed to shy away for long. But, the thing is…we do have a choice. I could resist when He prompts…and sometimes I do…and I miss what He has for me. The beauty…the gift.

The good news…the amazing, hope-filled…never leaving us in the muck news…is that as long as we have breath in our lungs, we will be given another chance. That’s the grace we are given. Grace that doesn’t run out. A love that relentlessly pursues us. I am sad for those who miss it. But, as long as I have breath…I hold on to hope in the One who will never stop giving us the opportunity to come and receive the fullness of what He has for us.

There is always a great gift, in showing up, in going when He prompts, in looking on the places that are hard to see…in being stretched beyond our zones of comfort. Here’s to praying that we can muster the courage to see…so that we don’t miss it. And, here’s to being ready the next time, if we missed out on this opportunity. For all of life, every moment, holds opportunities to see His love and grace at work.

Lord, help us to see. Give us strength and eyes and hearts that won’t miss the gifts you give. How ever they may be packaged.

When You’re Feeling More Like Discouraged Elijah Than Wonder Woman

Weary souls wandering, stumbling through your days. This post is for you.

The last couple weeks, I have endured a wave of spiritual attacks on all fronts…both outwardly, in the form of circumstances, but even more so, within. It wasn’t long, before I went from feeling like a Wonder Woman Grace Rebel dodging bullets….i.e. No weapon formed against you will prosper (see Isaiah)…

wonder woman bullets

To discouraged, defeated, depleted, wanting to give it all up and throw in the towel, Elijah…

elijah1

Do you see him there? Not even able to lift his head.

That was me, a couple days ago…heavy with despair…burdens…and relentless-accuser-spewing-lies-in-your-face-discouragement. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally. Done.

Have you been there, in that pit?

Elijah has. I have.

In his mind…After being rewarded for his dedication to serving the Lord by being hunted down as his life is threatened, Elijah feels so alone. So done.

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4)


He doesn’t even want to go on. He wants to quit all of it. Even his own life. (Don’t worry…I wasn’t ready to quit life.) But, I have been there. And, so has Elijah…the great prophet, zealous for God. He doesn’t look so zealous in the picture, does he? Remember that picture. Because life on planet earth…and even life as a servant of the Most High God may hold moments more like discouraged Elijah than we realize…than we Christians will often admit.

So what does God do, when his little son or daughter lays alone in the wilderness, unable to lift his (her) head?

Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel[b] of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.”
~ I Kings 19:5-7

He sends an angel to minister to Elijah…to feed him when he cannot go find food for himself. To strengthen him when he is too weak to life his head. Why…because the journey is too great for you. For me. For Elijah. The journey is too great.

Just that He knows that. Just that He sees, the Lifter of my head…sees. He doesn’t expect me to be able to handle this journey. He knows it is too great for me. So, when I fall. When I curl up and retreat to the pits of despair, feeling all the heavy that was never meant for my shoulders to bear the weight of…He comes, to feed me. To nourish me. To tell me He sees. He knows.

After Elijah eats, he is strengthened for a time. Then retreats again to a cave. God asks Elijah…

What are doing here?

So he (Elijah) said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

I’ve served you Lord…with all my heart. And, everything is falling apart around me. I am alone. Hunted down. Weakened. Attacked. And…left alone. All I can see are the ways I fall short. Defeat. Discouragement.

Should I even be doing this? None of this was in the plan. I wonder if part of what Elijah is really saying is, “Have I lost favor with you as well? Why is this being to allowed to happen? Have I failed? I’m in this cave, hiding…because I don’t know what to do.”

Then He (God) said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
I Kings 19:11-12

God wasn’t in all the noise. The accusations, the loud and whipping winds, the broken circumstances, the doubt, the storm, the fire, the pain. He was in the still, small voice.

The steady, never-changing, always faithful, truth-filled, peace-breathing…still, small voice.

Sometimes, nothing makes sense, and we just have to curl up in a cave for a bit, and listen past the noise…for the still, small voice…the only One strong enough to quiet it all.

It is good to remember who our God is.

The Wounding Human Beings Inflict…and What to Do With all the Broken

We who wander on planet earth have all been wounded at some point by another human being. The deepest cuts, the ones that take the longest to heal, are from those we love. We all wound one another at some point. With our words, our actions, our indifference.

We all take the sacred gift one offers when she gives a piece of her heart, allowing another human being to tiptoe in, and inflict harm whether on purpose or inadvertently. Because we’re flawed. We speak from our broken places. We revisit our own wounds. We have moments of self-seeking, self-protection, self-preservation…that have nothing to do with loving one another.

People you barely know may speak words or exhibit behaviors that sting. Those closest to you, however, hold the sharpest weapons. They know your weak places. They know how to shoot an arrow so specifically to inflict the most damage. What is left behind…broken trust, broken hearts, broken fellowship. A whole lot of broken.

And from a spiritual standpoint, there is one who studies you and me…studies and waits for an opportune time, to whisper his accusations in the ear of the vessel doing the accusing…to divide…to destroy…to tear down what God is building up in us. And, in our hurt…we listen… to both the accusing vessel…and the reaction of the accused. We listen to the harmful words that tear down.

I’ve been wounded. And, I’ve done some wounding.

I think if we’re all honest, we’ve been on both sides of the battlefield. Those gifted with words can unleash the deadliest of insults. What does the scripture say about blessing out of one side of your mouth, and cursing with the other? We do it, as human beings.

Ironically this same tongue can be both an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father and a weapon that hurls curses upon others who are created in God’s own image. 10 One mouth streams forth both blessings and curses. My brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be. 11 Does a spring gush crystal clear freshwater and moments later spurt out bitter salt water? ~ James 3:9-11 The Voice

And, when we’re wounded, we justify our reactions, lashing out like an animal in a cage, fighting back. Well…he hurt me. I have to protect myself. She let me down. I had every right. I’m not the one who threw the first verbal punch. At least I didn’t (fill in the blank).

I spent some time on my patio recently…something I haven’t done enough lately…indicative by recent failings to control my own tongue, my own reactions when backed into a corner dripping from wounds. On my patio, I received the kind of spanking a loving Father gives when His daughter’s heart is bent for a wayward path. Oswald Chambers is a good vessel for the truth-talking, no nonsense, lie dispelling necessary when one has spent way too much time listening to the accuser.

The wounds hurt. I won’t lie. They hurt and the words roll around in your mind long after they’ve been flung your way, piercing the outer layer…to the inner layer. But, that hurt is no excuse.

Because, we are called to die. Die to ourselves. Lay down our lives for a friend. Love dies to self. To the rights we think we have. To the justification we feel we’re due. To the need to speak our case, right the wrongs, claim our value.

It is humbling. It is excruciating. It is impossible without the prompting and empowering of the Holy Spirit. Especially when the words, the hurts inflicted…were soooo wrong. So unprovoked. Underserved.

I’m pretty sure the Savior I serve knows something about unprovoked, underserved wounds.

Humbling. Conviction.

So, when I brought my broken to the patio, my list of “look what so-and-so did to me, Dad” to my heavenly Father, in the ugliest of self-justified, victim-y whines, he answered with a gentle, life-giving, freeing spanking.

“From our Lord’s standpoint it does not matter whether I am defrauded or not; what does matter is that I do not defraud. Am I insisting on my rights? (In marriage, in friendship, with family, with children, at work)…or am I paying what I owe from Jesus Christ’s standpoint?”

“Do the thing quickly, bring yourself to judgment now, In moral and spiritual matters, you must do it at once; if you do not the inexorable process will begin to work. God is determined to have His child pure and clean and white as driven snow, and as long as there is disobedience in any point of His teaching, He will prevent none of the working of His spirit. Our insistence in proving that we are right is nearly always an indication that there has been some disobedience…
(ouch)
Agree with your adversary quickly. Have you suddenly turned a corner in any relationship and found that you had anger in your heart? Confess it quickly, quickly put it right before God, be reconciled to that one – do it now.”

As I typed those words from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, I am thinking of the one who has been repeatedly harmed or abused in dangerous ways. Neither I, nor God is commanding you in those cases to physically be reconciled (unless He works such a healing), but in your heart…in my heart…He is saying release that anger…forgive…be reconciled…in your own heart.

Forgiveness is a gift more for the one doing the forgiving. A healthy, freeing, healing release. For you. For the one laying it down, dying to self…even if you deserved so much more…and were not in any way deserving of such pain. If you cannot have restoration with the relationship (as is not always possible or best), you can still have healing in your own heart.

And, if it isn’t too late, if you haven’t spoken words that you can’t take back, lay it all down the next time someone you love spews the ugly your way. Lay it all down, first.

And, set yourself free.

For we all have our broken places…as Oswald Chambers reminds in another entry:
“There never has been a saint yet who did not have to live a maimed (broken) life to start with. But it is better to enter into life maimed and lovely in God’s sight than to be lovely in man’s sight and lame in God’s.”

He can always heal our broken places more completely than we can we strive to do so with our own devices. After all, He’s an expert at creating beauty from the broken.

Why Can’t You Just Get Past It?

“I don’t understand mothers who lose a child. Why can’t you just get past it?”

People have whispered these words about me in conversation, especially in the early days after losing our babies, measuring grief “performance” by how much I spoke of my children or how easily tears came, or whether or not I was out in public functioning at a “normal” capacity. She will be ok when she is “herself” again. Always happy to comply and perform, I learned quickly to put on a face for them. To not make anyone uncomfortable by speaking of those dead babies. I put their pictures away. I tried to look as “normal” as possible to everyone but a few who could handle my remembering, my speaking their names. A few who were willing to remember them with me. Without squirming in the chair.

For eight years, I was quiet. I’m an excellent performer. An astute pleaser of people. Never wanting to be an inconvenience, an annoyance.

And, then….God, the One much bigger than all the people I know, spoke to my heart, breathing truth in the broken places, blowing off the layers of dust, the words laying dormant, surprisingly still desperate to be written or spoken aloud…and He gave me a voice. It’s the same voice He gave me in my mother’s womb. The one with words that demand to be expressed, and flow through my fingers like liquid therapy. It’s the voice that sings worship songs while babies are ushered to heaven from their mother’s arms. My voice crackled and wavered, trembling as I remembered how to speak. Mustering courage I cannot explain. Because He is bigger than anyone else…bigger than what they may think…bigger than displeasing someone….bigger than being understood or misunderstood…bigger than our comfort levels.

And, He said…speak. Tell this story.

I have never in the seventeen years since burying my children heard those whispered words from others spoken directly to me. Until recent months. Family members questioned an article I had written for a well known magazine for bereaved mothers (Still Standing), because if you talk about missing your babies or your mother or your husband, or anyone who has died (although society may place a bit more value on the loss if that person breathed breath and lived life on planet earth for a designated number of years. I’m not sure how much time must pass before a life is worthy or grieving, remembering, mentioning, recognizing, or missing. I’ve never really been good at rules like that. You’ll have to consult the experts who deem themselves worthy to decide such things.), if you speak of the missing…something must be wrong with you. The more that I speak outwardly about babies in heaven, and supporting families who grieve. The more I write or talk about the experience of returning again and again into raw grief to walk with another family, the more others feel it necessary to form an opinion, to judge my performance. (Which in all instances, I would think is an indicator that I’ve experienced a great deal of full circle, “healing” to be in a healthy enough place to enter in to support someone else. You know…as opposed to wallowing in grief.)

But, it is interesting. The more I talk about the reality of grief and missing, the more people step away, uncomfortable. Or, like the acquaintance who recently asked me on Facebook why I couldn’t get past it (losing babies) and what my children think of me for not getting past it. Not that my children are anyone’s concern other than my own, as you know…their mother…but what they think is that they have two sisters and a brother in heaven. Two sisters and a brother who lived, who’re worth mentioning. They don’t dwell on it, and in fact, we don’t speak of them often in our home. But, we do occasionally. Because, they’re worth mentioning. And, my children know that every life matters. My children know that Jesus cares about the brokenhearted, and if we can do something to help someone else walking through loss, we ought to. My children know how much time and sacrifice is poured into walking with another family. They know that their mother would do almost anything to help carry that burden alongside another broken heart. My children stuff bears and set up tables and the older one stays with me when I’m working at the office late at night, to help walk me safely to my car. They and their friends paint walls, carry trash, dig weeds, and stuff endless Comfort Bears. College students, boys who grew up in my kitchen, and girls who sewed bears at SGM…bravely stand in front of their peers to speak about baby loss…and the work Sufficient Grace Ministries does. Not only are my children just fine with their mother’s line of work…and her insistence on mentioning that there are people walking through grief and babies worth remembering….I would go so far as to say that they wholeheartedly support it.

Like my thirteen year old said, when the woman’s questioning prompted me to ask him his thoughts: He said very definitively, “No! Why would I think that?! We lost kids in our family. Nothing weird about helping other people who lose kids.”

So, here’s the thing. We as a society are not very good at respecting and understanding bereavement, or loss of any kind. We get uncomfortable when someone speaks of missing someone they love. We are uncomfortable by many emotions. And, often confuse a person’s mentioning of a memory as not “adequately healing or getting past it”. Those words kind of make me want to vomit, if you’re wondering. It is part of the way that we support others at SGM, being real about the missing. Giving a voice to it. Making it ok to speak it aloud. The missing never goes away. You don’t get past that. It doesn’t mean you aren’t functioning just fine as a healthy member of society. It doesn’t mean you’re wallowing in grief. It doesn’t mean you spend your days crippled by emotion and will never laugh again. And, it certainly doesn’t mean you aren’t leaning on and trusting in God to carry you. For the love of Pete…if you weren’t, you may not get out of bed at all. Life on planet earth is tough.

I laugh and cry more than anyone I know. It took me so many years to speak their names. To stop worrying about if it made someone uncomfortable or caused them to question my sanity or whether I was “moving on” well enough. I used to hate that I cried easily, felt deeply. I hated it because other people didn’t understand it. My strong mother, other women in my family…and most people. Most people think showing emotion is weak, or an indicator of some unhealthy part of you that needs fixing….a cry for help…or, my least favorite, an invitation for advice. I don’t need a reminder to be grateful for what I’ve been given…the preciousness of the people I love is not lost on me. I am one of the healthiest people emotionally that I know…and I cry and laugh every single day. Part of being healthy for me, is being ok with that. There is nothing wrong with having a heart brave enough to feel. Do you have any idea the courage it takes to keep a heart soft in this cruel, broken world, to resist the urge to cover feelings with layers of walls, to resist the safety numbness offers?

I speak about the missing, not because I spend every moment crippled and overcome by it. Not because I am wallowing in death and unable to function in the land of the living. There is nothing meant to invite anyone to fix or be concerned about. I speak of the missing, so that others quietly carrying this weight know they aren’t alone, and that it’s ok to miss someone. It’s ok to remember them. Mentioning a memory is not wallowing in grief. I will remember and mention my babies, my mother, my grandparents, my dear friend Dinah, and anyone else who goes on to glory ahead of me until we’re reunited in heaven. Because they’re worth mentioning. They’re worth missing. They’re worth remembering. They’re worth honoring. Their lives matter. And, I gave up being afraid to speak of what makes someone else uncomfortable, because it’s more valuable to be free to offer comfort and hope in the speaking…than to concern myself with the comfort level of someone else who is choosing to judge what they do not know…and who themselves may likely being carrying unexpressed pain. Just because emotion scares someone else, doesn’t mean I have to be afraid to speak…and neither do the mothers I know, missing their children, everyday….as they drive to carpool, make peanut butter sandwiches, watch school programs, and sit down at the dinner table, living life fully…but always with one (or more) missing.

A dear friend and beautiful mother spoke these words recently in the above-mentioned Facebook discussion on mothers “getting past it”. Leigh Ann’s words are an excellent answer to anyone wondering what it’s like for a mother and family, missing children, and they were and are a great blessing, honor and encouragement to me:

“I so admire Kelly and the work she does on behalf of other grieving families. I have wanted and contacted Kelly to physically help at her ministry and then when it comes right down to it I can not. You see I am not as brave as her. God gives her grace to step into other’s lives and minister to them in their darkest hour. Her work through her grief ministry puts her in situations that can only trigger feelings of sadness at losing not only 1 child but 3 beautiful children, but yet she has the strength to do it. We all grieve so differently…and I am so thankful the Lord lays it on Kelly’s heart as well as other brave parents who come along side her. I only wished in December of 1996 that our family been on the receiving end of such a wonderful ministry.

What would you say to your 6 year old daughter when she asks how her baby brother will go to Heaven, when he was to little to ask Jesus in his heart himself? Or the 11 year old brother who asks if he didn’t pray correctly because his brother died? Or the 9 year old brother who tells you not to cry because Jess is in a better place? Or to the husband who comes home from work defeated because no one seems to realize how hard it is on Dad’s to lose a child? What do you say to yourself when you wake up sobbing even years later because of a dream you had about your son and the suffering he went through, and you don’t want to share those feelings with someone else because it has been 17 years ago and my goodness….probably for fear that someone may think your crazy and you should be over it. Please let me explain, my older children have been wonderful and the Lord blessed us with another beautiful daughter after Jess passed away, whom, by the way, never took Jess’s place but brought much joy and healing back into our family, but there is not a family event, birthdays, Christmas, weddings, and just plain ordinary days that I don’t feel like something is missing. I don’t pout about it or even speak it out loud at the time, but it is an awareness that he is not with me physically.

I am thankful to know that I will be reunited with him in Heaven some day. So you see, although some of us, like Kelly, are in the day to day trenches helping others, some of us are silently in the background praying, and yet others help out her Ministry with finances, time and donations. But rest assured, we never get past it….my prayer for you is for further understanding in this area and to be gentle with those who you felt responded harshly…maybe now you could be one of those who could be strong enough to come along beside and support a truly wonderful ministry in a way the Lord would lead you to do so?….I hope my rambling helps you to understand our feelings a bit better….love and prayers….”

For more information about Sufficient Grace Ministries and the services they offer to bereaved parents visit: www.sufficientgraceministries.org