The Sacrifice of Servanthood

amanda singing

As I prepare for an upcoming SGM Perinatal Loss Support Training in Nebraska, I’ve been mulling over how to convey the heart of servanthood. How can one explain the incredible beauty of sacrificing yourself for someone else, laying down your own needs to look after aching soul? How can I describe the hearts of the volunteers who enter to stand on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth to walk with a family as they say hello and goodbye to their precious baby? Women who hold a mother’s hands in the wee hours of the morning as she looks into your eyes with the anguish of “why” when there is no earthly answer to her agonizing question.

Last night, while most people were sleeping, SGM volunteers did what only could be described as a Cuddle Cot Tag Team Relay to get our Cuddle Cot back to NW Ohio from the Cleveland/Akron area to serve a family in need. We are currently sharing one for all of our Ohio branches. (For anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it is a piece of medical grade equipment that enables parents to spent more time with their baby who has passed away.) Four drivers, including a spouse and child of one of our NE Ohio Regional Coordinators drove in the middle of the night…each taking a leg of the journey to pass the equipment on to the next…to get the CC to the parents in need, who were over 3 hours away, as another SGM volunteer supported the family and captured images of their time with their baby.

I have no adequate words to describe the type of valor displayed amidst a different kind of battlefield of brokenness. One that’s hard to grasp for those who have not stood in that place. All I know, is the women and men…the families…who serve together on this mission field are the very definition of servanthood. In all their imperfect, grace oozing through the cracks, hands and feet of Jesus as His love pours through them…glory. They are kind of gladiators who not only serve alongside you, they lift you up when you’re too tired to keep going…one on each side…pulling you along…saying…”I’ve got you” with every teary cry lifted toward heaven.

(Last night one of them quite literally found me exhausted and sleeping in the church parking lot where we agreed to meet for me to drive my leg of the CC journey…and said, “Get in my car. I’m driving you.”)

If you see any of them…of us…and we are scattered and distracted, disheveled and forgetful, tender and emotional, if we never call anymore…please know there is a reason for our brokenness and embrace the beauty found there buried under what appears to be weakness. If we cancel at the last minute, miss out on events, can’t man the concessions, know we are doing something few are willing to do…something hard to imagine for most…but so very essential to the people who are saying goodbye to their children. Please give grace to those who have chosen to serve as we stumble to the golf match without sleep or get our child’s physical at the last moment…or can’t pick him up because the hospital called…because everything stops when that happens.

For those wanting to embark on this journey, I want to ask the question, are you ready? Have you counted the cost…because, there is a price to serving others. Is your heart fully called to enter in with those suffering through unimaginable grief….grief  you can’t carry or mend with your human hands or the  best intentions of your human heart? So much more than good intentions, or even the desire to build a legacy for your own children in heaven, will be needed for you to leave your bed at 2am, to leave her debut in the dance recital, his solo, her soccer tournament, his golf match…when the call comes. While it will bless you, because we are always blessed and filled in the pouring out when done with the heart to serve, it can’t be about you. It must always be about loving the one in front of you. Because love lays it all down.

Humbled and grateful that there are those willing to answer this call to serve others. And, grateful to stand with families on the sacred ground where heaven meets earth. Again and again.

As a side note, SGM is currently sharing one Cuddle Cot, generously donated by Owen’s Gift in memory of Owen Plunket. We need more Cuddle Cots so that all of our branches have this much-needed piece of equipment to give parents the gift of more time with their baby whose life was brief.  Another amazing SGM family, baby Gavreel’s family, is planning to host a garage sale this month to raise money for a second Cuddle Cot and Moses baskets (valued at about $3,500), so that more families can receive this amazing resource. If you are local, please stop by or donate toward their sale. You can also donate from anywhere using SGM’s donate button on our support page (please specify that you would like the donation to go toward the Cuddle Cot.) We have many other needs listed there as well.  SGM needs three new laptops with DVD/CD burner  and SD card reading capability, high quality to handle many files and to edit photos. And, a whole ongoing list of items.

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

broken stuff

If Only You Had Enough Faith

clinging to bible

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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When Anxiety Happens

Several mothers in conversations at last week’s Walk to Remember in Houston told me that some of the most comfort they found was in the posts where I was real about the broken stuff. It is why I try to not hide behind facades…and why I try to be open about struggles, even though that’s often misunderstood or judged by some. But, it’s in the realness others are encouraged.

I’ve never been a person prone to panic attacks. The idea of loss of control is abhorrent to me…well for myself. I’m quite gracious and understanding if someone else feels a loss of control. But, apparently I don’t afford myself the same grace.

After my mother died, having suffered more than I ever thought was possible for a human being to suffer, I felt differently about health issues or visiting the doctor. I developed a strong aversion and outright fear of any medical intervention or concern. The depth of this fear was realized when I had a migraine that landed me in the emergency room, disoriented from effects of medication on a trip home from a visit to our NE Ohio branch to offer trainings a couple years ago.

I stood beside the bed asking why my hands and feet were numb, refusing to lay down in the bed.

“You’re having a panic attack ma’am.”

“I don’t have panic attacks,” I protested vehemently, “I take care of other people. I don’t lose control.”

But, the lack of control was quite evident as panic literally gripped my body, squeezing my heart, stealing the air from my lungs, making my legs and arms feel like jello covered weights hanging from me. Five hundred anxious thoughts raced through my brain and I could barely pick out just one…enough to discern through the tangled mess of my brain to write a text to my husband to come and get me.

Later, we found out I was having a reaction to some of the migraine medicine I was given, which caused serotonin toxicity, a condition triggering unreasonably high anxiety and irritability. The loss of control for me was incredibly traumatic. And I’ve been hesitant to see a doctor for much of anything since that fateful Emergency Room experience. The entire ordeal…and the intense fear of being out of control of my body and mind, mixed with the stark reality of my own mortality caused me to make some changes in my own Healthcare regimen…and part of that included limiting any medical interventions.

Which brings us to yesterday.

When I….a woman who has birthed five babies and buried three, who has been poked and prodded…scarred from IVs and shots, had a couple surgeries, had needles placed in her uterus, stands in birthing rooms, holding the hands of mothers while amniotic fluid splashes and birth happens without missing a beat, a woman who calmly and gently cares for tiny babies…sometimes in various stages of broken and sees only their beauty…stares death in the face again and again, standing in the place where heaven meets earth again and again…

I had a panic attack. At the dentist. Tears streamed down my face as I tried to hide my racing heartbeat, the tightness of my chest, the rapid breathing, the legs and arms turning to utter jello. Embarrassed by the image of my forty year old self crying silently, unable to keep the tears from falling while in the dentist chair, I heard myself apologize, while making every effort to keep my breathing steady and my voice calm.

“I’m having a bit of anxiety. This is so embarrassing.”

They tried to explain the procedure, thinking I was afraid of the minor dental procedure. As a teenager I had 8 teeth pulled to make room for braces, and my wisdom teeth. Without missing a beat. I’m not afraid of the dentist.

Yet, the tears fell, as I willed myself to remain in the chair. Reminding me…that deep inside, there are still some broken places. Places that don’t listen to reason. Places that know how fragile life is, how we are not exempt from suffering this side of heaven, places that fear any medical procedure or lack of control.

It is something so misunderstood. Something I will admit I once perceived as weakness, at least in myself. Anxiety. Panic attacks. I choose to pray through mine. And use other natural remedies, like essential oils. I think of scripture that offers solid truth that’s unchanging when fear grips me….taking those thoughts captive as the bible instructs. But, in my human flesh, I can’t control my body’s fight or flight response.

I just want to speak to the stigma for a moment. Anxiety is a very real thing. It’s an intense battle in the mind. And having that battle doesn’t make a person weak or inept or unable to perform well. I am typically calm in many trauma-induced situations, entering into raw grief with others on an almost daily basis. My triggers are when my own health is somehow compromised and I fear medical interventions that affect me in ways I can’t control. I think anxiety is often trigger specific for people. And, at other times it can come over you without provocation. This post isn’t meant to be an in-depth research on the subject.

I just want to share one of my personal broken places…to say that being a bit broken doesn’t mean we are weak or less capable. Loss and trauma can leave a person susceptible to anxiety and post traumatic stress responses. Speaking it aloud can often help us understand one another as we all walk together with our own broken places, open and vulnerable…and real.

Real is my favorite…even in the broken.

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.

Photo credit

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.

Opening Night

When I was in high school, the musicals were a huge production and those who starred in them, or played any part at all, were like mini-celebrities in our small, rural community, where our school building was tucked in the midst of a cornfield. We performed to a packed gym, standing room only…for three nights. A dress rehearsal, opening night, and Saturday night. It was a given. Full house.

I remember well, standing behind the curtain, shaking with anticipation, refusing to look on the other side of the curtain. Nervousness. Sweaty palms. Dry throat. When I opened my mouth to speak, would I remember my lines? When I opened my mouth to sing, would I have a voice? Would my body betray me under the weight of the panic rising and the pressure of wondering if the months of preparation would hold up in the moment. One moment. Would my offering be worthy?

I overcame the panic, by reassuring myself that I was the character. It wasn’t me standing on that stage. It wasn’t my performance on the line. I disappeared under the costume. Covered safely beneath the makeup.

It was Minnie Faye, or Mrs. Banks, or Rosie.

Not Kelly.

It made the pressure tolerable.

Hiding there freed me to soar beyond the crippling limitations of stage fright.

Rewind further back to eighth grade. My memory is poor. So, I cannot tell you why this moment is crystal clear in my mind, as if it happened yesterday. Other than it was one of those significant memories the Lord saw fit to tuck away, knowing it would be relevant to the shaping of the future. Relevant to this moment, standing backstage, wondering if my offering would be worthy. Wondering if anyone would come. Wondering if my knees would buckle beneath the pressure.

We were riding the bus, which was a rare occurrence, being a town student who had always walked to school with friends. Perhaps we were on our way to a field trip to tour the high school. As we drove past the building, I looked over at my friend Nicki…the one to whom I could safely whisper all of my secret, sacred dreams…the one who held them close to her heart, safely, and never mocked the sacredness. I leaned in closer, and spoke one of my deepest “What ifs” aloud.

“What if I never become a writer?”


It was a faraway dream, like the ones I’ve heard boys whisper to and from carpool. Dreams of standing on the baseball field…or football field…or golf course. Crazy, farfetched dreams of making it to “the show.” Becoming a professional athlete. And, yet…I craved it at the time, being an author, as if it were something to be grasped. As if it were possible. Youth…the magical season of life, a time when crazy dreams seem attainable. A time, untainted by the death bed, the dashed hopes, the disappointments of the drudgery of everyday…the grim realities of missed opportunity and regret and not measuring up. A time where dreams come true and Santa just might be real.

In a flash, I traded one dream for another, when I told my mother I was pregnant the week before my graduation from high school. Teachers would be disappointed at the lost potential. Family members were disappointed. My mother was not, or if she was, she tucked it safely away. She knew about trading dreams. I knew instantly, that this dream was far more valuable than any other I had dared to hope for. The trade was not even a blink in my eye. I have no regrets. I knew from day one of being a mother, while life was still being knit together in my womb, that this treasure was far more precious than words on a page, than life on a stage, than any accolades or accomplishments the world could offer. The boy I held in my arms at the tender age of eighteen became my new dream. The sacredness of being his mother. Of creating a family, and maintaining that family. I learned to pray when my knees buckled under the weight of the responsibility. Being a mother was far more significant than any other title I could ever hold, any role I would perform. I didn’t look back.

We filled the years, with birthday parties, and Christmas mornings. We dreamed dreams of a quiver full of children and stood beside tiny graves instead…holding tightly to the one God gave us when we were young and fragile and growing up before our time. We traded our old dreams for new…again and again. Another miracle filled our arms, and we continued on with baseball games and golf tournaments, trading dreams, living life, washing dishes, shaping concrete (Tim…not me), realizing that cheering them on at the sideline was so much more than any dream we dared to grasp for ourselves.

And those in this small railroad town. Those who once filled the gymnasium to receive our humbled offering…prayed prayers for our little family, as we stumbled and held on.

When God said it was time to write the words again, to tell the story that I never dreamed of telling, a story I would never have asked to write, I obeyed. And, the words flowed from my heart like therapy. A healing elixir. For ten years, He shaped and molded, weaving the story through our lives, a tapestry of grief and joy. For ten years we continued on about the business of life, standing by more graves, cheering on the sidelines, blowing out birthday candles, fighting and making up, serving in ministry, building up a dream from our broken, standing on stages again…this time…not to perform…but to give a far more worthy offering. Not to please the audience before us…but to serve an audience of One. To give an offering of hope, redemption, grace, and salvation from the One who gave His life, that we may live.

One of the hardest things to do, was to declare the offering finished. Complete. Worthy.

How desperately, I still wanted to give a worthy offering. How much I wanted it to be perfect. And, yet, the book born of my labor, is gloriously imperfect. Just like life.

The day the books arrived in the mail, I tore open the package and dropped to my knees on the kitchen floor, tears dripping down my face as decades of emotion rose from the depths, emotion I cannot describe bursting forth, like an erupting volcano. It was like giving birth…the myriad of grief and healing, accomplishment, joy, defeat, victory, humbling broken and sweet redemption.

I longed to run across town with the book in my hand, bursting through the door of my mother’s house…to say that I was a writer. To show her my offering.

And, at the same time, I longed to quietly lay the offering at my heavenly Father’s feet, knowing full well that it wasn’t mine…and that any identity I had was not in being a writer, a mother, or anything else…but simply in being His.

And, in the wee hours of this night/morning, when I stand behind the curtain for this next opening night, quivering, knees threatening to buckle under the pressure, dry throat, sweaty palms…wondering if anyone will come…if my humble offering will be found worthy, it isn’t a character I hide behind, or a mask of makeup covering my face, reassuring me that it isn’t about me or my performance. It is the shelter of my Father’s wings I nestle safely under, it is in Him, where my identity finds solace.

If for a moment, I wonder if anyone will come to receive the most of my heart and my Jesus I know to give at my little book signing, or if I take a stage in front of an audience or church, I find comfort in knowing that my God doesn’t measure success the way that we do. He concerns Himself not with a full house, but with one heart at a time, receiving the love and grace He has to give. Each sacred conversation we’ve shared, from those who have stopped to buy my little book at SGM and told me a piece of their hearts…or their dreams…or those who give in various ways to support grieving hearts through SGM. Or those who have written to say how a word on a page spoke to your weary soul. That has already, for me…humbled and blessed my heart more than I can say…that has already shown this tiny offering to be a worthy one. And, not because of me…because of the Author of my life and the Perfecter of my faith…and yours. Because of our great God. From the moment I said, “I will” when God said, “Will you?” the victory was already won.

Of course, I would be blessed beyond words if many of you would come to the Deshler Library tonight (from 6-8pm) to show love and support, and let me sign a book for you. Even though I’m just a little nobody girl from Deshler, Ohio. And, my offering is small and imperfect. (Because let me just say, it is really frightening to put yourself out there…to pour out your heart with the most you have to give, and to wonder if anyone will come.) But know this…whether one of you comes or several, it matters and it is always worth it to have gone when God says to go…because one heart is worth it. Always.

Because in His eyes, our offering, no matter how small or imperfect, is worthy. Because He is the Planter and Nurturer of the dreams placed in your heart…of the abilities you are given for His glory. Because He is the Author of our lives…the Perfecter of our faith…the Redeemer of our souls…the Healer of our broken places.

Because the words I write to comfort a grieving heart are more valuable to Him than anything grand or mighty I may attempt to accomplish in the world’s eyes. Because the song I quietly sing in the hospital room over the tiny babies in the arms of their mother are perhaps more sacred to the One who sits on the throne than those I sing to a full house.

Because every heart…every life matters.

For more about the book, Sufficient Grace, click here.

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.