Something beautiful.

something beautiful

Why?

Why did he have to die? He was too young. Had so many dreams. He loved you, Jesus.

Why?

Why wasn’t my childhood safe? Why did I have to see those things? Experience those things?

Why?

Why are things so hard? Why does it feel like one bad thing after another?

Why?

You’ve undoubtedly asked the “Why” question many times yourself. You’ve experienced hardships. If you haven’t I’m assuming you’ve had some kind of major brain injury that has stunted your memory– in which case, you have experienced a hardship. You get my point. No one is exempt from life or the trials or heartbreak that come in shifts, or seasons or waves.

I’ve seen people I love, reeling in pain because of loss. I’ve seen many tears fall because of physical pain in their bodies. I’ve seen fists raised in frustration because of a financial burden that never seems like its going to go away.

I’m 30 now, and it hasn’t gotten easier to watch. I wouldn’t say I’ve come away with answers to the “why” question, either. Sorry to say. I wish I did. I’d package that answer up, and put it in a book and sell it to the masses. Reasonably priced and all. And I’d live comfortably off its sales.

A lack of answer does not mean a lack of hope, though.

I sat listening to a spoken word at a youth conference a few months ago. I was most struck by one line in particular– “A dry land can still rejoice and blossom like a rose*.” I’ve meditated on that thought many times since then. Sometimes making it a prayer to Jesus, asking Him to take the ruins and mess of my life and bring wholeness there. Other days its a declaration to myself that I can indeed STILL rejoice and that I do STILL blossom and grow. And sometimes its a reminder from my Savior that yes He does the miraculous. That He can cause a flower to bloom in a desert. That He can take me and make something beautiful.

With questions still looming, tears still streaming and a heart still broken I will confidently say with outstretched hands, “Jesus, please make something beautiful.”

And He will.

 

(* Spoken word written by Josiah Ball)

My life as a prodigal.

prodigal

A few days ago, I woke up before my alarm. And as I laid there, all my stresses and anxieties from the past few months awoke as well. Each one feeling like a block of concrete on my chest– one on top of the other keeping me pinned down and gasping for air.

My weary heart turned to God, in that moment, and asked, “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME??”

I was angry. I am angry.

And He whispered, “So, you’ll come to me”. He reminded me of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) and how it was a desperate, weary, broken, poor man who wandered back to his father.

I was starting to see the correlation. You see, the thing that was so devastating about the son’s request was the fact that he wanted his inheritance before his dad even died. He wanted the benefits without the relationship. Just give me my due and I’ll be on my way.

The audacity of that guy, right?!?! As if his father OWED it to him. Selfish, greedy kid.

The more I thought about it though, the more familiar it seemed.

“Jesus where are my blessings? Like the husband I’ve been praying for. Or the check in the mail to cover these medical bills. Or healing for that relationship I keep asking you for.”

I stand there with my open hand demanding my blessing thinking somehow I deserve it. “YOU OWE ME, GOD. After all I’ve done for you. After all I’ve given up. After all I’ve been through.”

The audacity, right? Selfish, greedy kid.

Like a loving Father, He has blessed me in innumerable ways. In things I’ve seen and in some I haven’t recognized. I enjoy the blessings, but think somehow it was because I earned it. Or because I’ve worked so hard. Or been such a “good person”. (All of those things laughable….and untrue.) He let’s me believe it and do my own thing.

Even if that thing is wallowing in a pig pen.

And that’s where I’ve been. For months.  Covered in mud and shit. Stealing the moldy scraps of slop from the pigs. Just enough to SURVIVE. But there’s a moment when you get fed up with simply surviving. There’s a revelation that life wasn’t meant to be just gotten through. It’s this voice in your heart that says, “You were meant for more than this.”

But you’ve got to go home to dad. So, you start the long walk of shame. Along the way, you craft the most eloquent apology you can muster. It’s sprinkled with groveling and dripping with sorrow. Surely, this will guarantee some grace.

And when He sees you, He comes running to you. And before you can even get out your perfectly practiced speech you are met with kisses, open arms and a freakin’ party. It’s the kind of love that’ll stop you in your tracks. The kind of love that’ll restore a broken, hurting heart. 

I think I’m getting it.

It’s not about being independent and doing things MY way. It’s not about working harder or doing MORE. It’s not even about the right words. It’s about Him. About being with HIM. Oddly enough, this parable was shared with the Pharisees and religious teachers of the day. Some theologians will tell you, the main point was to point out to them, that God rejoices when lost things are found. And that is 100% true. But I also wonder, if Jesus was also wanting them to see that even though they could have all the head/book knowledge, all the memorization of Scripture, every law obeyed to the finest detail that it boiled down to being with the Father.

Simply put, a prodigal is anyone who has wasted their life, time and talents for anything less worthy than what they were made and intended for. And we were made to know the Father and make Him known. In the midst of the pain of this season, in all of the unanswered questions and the seemingly unanswered prayers– God’s desire is simply that I come to Him.

I’m coming home, Dad.

I’m done with you.

Done_stamp

Have you ever been hurt by someone? Yes, of course, you have a pulse. I think that comes with the territory.

In the midst of that pain, frustration, disappointment have you have said within their earshot (or under your breath): “I’m done with you!” Their failures now outweighing any good they had brought to your life. You comfort yourself that its the best choice. Better to cut ties than get hurt later on AGAIN. No one is going to call me a fool. I’m getting out while I can.

I’m done.

I’ve said that about a few people in my life. Some just a faint memory, others fresher wounds. Just this week, I uttered those words again. I’d had enough. “See ya later!” my heart declared. And that, was that.

A few days later, I’m in a worship service minding my own business. Just trying to focus on Jesus, but struggling to do so. I feel Jesus nudge my heart.

“Hey Holls.”

“Uh, ya? What’s up, Jesus?”

“Remember how ______ hurt you this week? How you decided you were done with them? Remember that?”

“Uh, ya…”

“Ya, I never do that.”

Huh….

I began to remember the stupid things I had done. The times I had grieved the heart of Jesus. Some, maybe even most, of the time doing it knowing full well that I was hurting Him, but not caring cause I was gonna do what I wanted. Each time, though, He’d still be there.

I’m sure I’ll continue to hurt him from time to time. And He’ll remain the same. His steadfast love being…well….steadfast.

Today, let’s take some time to thank God that His love is nothing like mine. That His love won’t give up on you no matter how many failures, slip-ups, tantrums you throw. His love will never run out, but is continually “on tap” and accessible.

His love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:8)

I need help!

help

I need help!

They say that’s the first step to the road to recovery. Step 1: Taken.

Step 2: Well, let’s not rush things.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I was talking to a friend and she was sharing her long “to-MUST-do” list with me and in typical Holly fashion I offered my services. She kindly refused them while thanking me for the offer.  She proceeded to take care of everything herself. I watched her as she ran herself ragged and all I could think was “Stubborn girl, just let me help you.”

And then Jesus said, “Exactly.”

“Oh, your gonna chime in on this one? Great! Glad you agree….”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Jesus replied with His rich sarcasm coming through.

Acting shocked, “WHO could you possibly mean? It couldn’t be ME. I’d NEVER do that.”

But He knew it and I knew it– He nailed me. And He was right. Cause He’s Jesus. So, there’s no use telling Him He’s wrong.

I’ve been doing things my way for a long time now. It’d be easy to just blame my childhood for that. Until the age of 13, I was doing my very best to take care of myself. My biological mother was in the picture, but I figured out quickly that my needs weren’t at the top of her priority list.

I’m just not sure that excuse is going to work when I get into Heaven, though. When I’m asked why I did or didn’t do something I’m not sure throwing my mother under the bus will help me at that point. Plus, I’m 30 now and I’ve spent more time away from that toxic environment than I was in it.

I know why I don’t ask for help. I think it boils down to two main reasons:

1) If I want something done right, I’ve got to do it myself.

2) If I let you help me, it means I can’t do it myself. It means I need someone else– that I’m NOT enough. It means admitting I’m weak and needy and somehow deficient.

Ya, I may be a slight control freak. If you don’t do it the way I think it should be done I’m just going to have it fix it anyway. I’ll cut out the middleman and save everyone some time.

The second reason, however, is the issue at hand. Like a strong-willed child determined to tie my own shoes– I’LL DO IT MYSELF! Stand back, Jesus, I got this. The truth is, I do NOT have it. I’ve gotten by ok for awhile. I’ve made due, but the truth is I’m doing it on my own puny strength. In my ignorance, that has felt like enough.

Until now. I’m one straw away from an anxiety attack or mental breakdown.

I can’t do it anymore. I won’t do it anymore. There’s just TOO much. There’s TOO many things I don’t know how to fix, which I sometimes wonder if that is Jesus’ new-found tactic. If she doesn’t know what to do, she’ll admit she needs me. It’s like me and Jesus are in this perpetual thumb wrestling match and up until this point I’d been yelling foul and make Him replay me thinking somehow I’d win the next one. I’m tapping out, Jesus. DING, DING!

That’s all He’s been waiting for, really.

It’s about time I asked for help. What about you? What have you been doing in your own strength?

I’m going to leave you with Hebrews 13:5b-6. Every time you read it may you be reminded and encouraged knowing He will NOT, He will NOT, He will NOT leave you helpLESS, but He is your very present help in time of need.

for He [God]Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. [I will] not, [I will] not, [I will] not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let [you] down (relax My hold on you)! [Assuredly not!] So we take comfort and are encouraged and confidently and boldly say, The Lord is my Helper; I will not be seized with alarm [I will not fear or dread or be terrified]. What can man do to me?

Taking the higher road.

road2

Sometimes you have a choice to take the high road.

In my birthday post last week, I mentioned if I knew then what I know now that I’d “Forgive faster. Forgive even if you think the other person is wrong. Forgive even if the other person IS wrong. Trust me. Swallow your pride on this one.” Less than 24-hours later, I received a phone call that would make me prove it.

Seven years ago this week, my biological mother hung up on me. At that point, I hadn’t lived with her for 10 years and I had been trying my best to be a decent daughter and protect (my heart, my emotions) myself at the same time. Unfortunately, healthy boundaries are not my specialty.

After her usual verbal face slap, she hung up and I moved on.

Happily, I might add. I had been praying for years that I’d get some freedom from the guilt, shame and expectations that she continued to pile on my shoulders and I finally got it. I knew the silence would end at some point. I figured it would take some kind of crisis to have her call me, which is exactly what happened.

On my 30th birthday, I received the long dreaded phone call. Luckily for me, at the time, I had been out of the room so the call went to voicemail. An emotional landmine waiting for me on returning. The content of the message was brief and straight forward. After some birthday greetings, I was told I should call my grandmother who I had not talked to in that time, either.

I wish I could tell you my immediate reaction was full of forgiveness, love and grace.

It wasn’t.

Not even a little bit.

Spent some time talking to my parents about the phone call. Actually, they did most of the talking, since I didn’t have much more to say than “That pissed me off.” I was encouraged to pray about my response and consider taking the higher road in the matter. I didn’t like most of what they said, but because I know they love Jesus and they love me I figured I should at least consider their wisdom in the matter.

So, I prayed. Although, that sounds much more formal that anything I tend to do. My prayers very often start off like this, “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?!” After that, it’s followed by something awesome that happened. “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! A parking spot in the very FRONT!! Awesome! Thanks!” Mostly, though, its followed with my displeasure of a recent event, like “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! Only 3 lines open at Walmart the week before Christmas” or in this case “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! I need to forgive these people? These same people who hurt me time and time again?”

I’ve learned I don’t need to be long winded in my complaints. He gets the gist–I don’t like this.

But, He also knows my heart.

God knows that in the midst of this unexpected opening of old scars, that I’d want to be faithful to whatever it was He was asking of me. Somehow I feel compelled to at least TRY and give Him Lordship of my life. To at least TRY and obey His voice when I hear it. To at least attempt to forgive my enemies and not only forgive them but treat them better than they treated me.

So, I called my grandma.

I chose the higher road. Save the parade and hand clapping though. I’m not looking for that and don’t deserve it. All I did was make a step in the right direction. A very SMALL step. A step that tells Jesus, “I’m willing to do what you ask, even if it gets me hurt.” That’s a whole other blog post there, but its the place I had to get to in order to take the first step in this situation.

I know my life is an extreme example, but we are all faced with decisions everyday to take the higher road. Maybe its not giving the guy who cut you off the middle finger. Or not screaming at your kids when they do something you’ve told them NOT to for the millionth time today. It could be giving a smile to a frazzled looking woman in the toy section at Target.

You don’t need me to give you scenarios though. I think most of us recognize the moments day-to-day that could be opportunities to shine a little brighter. To give a little love, even when it hurts.

Wasted Fruit

fruitOn my way to the mailbox everyday for the past few months, I’ve seen a pear tree and a grape vine in my neighbor’s yard. Both the tree and the vine were full of beautiful, ripe fruit ready to be picked. The days when the sun offered a nice autumn warmth, I could literally smell the grapes as the gentle breeze wafted the scent to my nose.

Each day, I expected to see that the tree had been picked. But each day as I walked by, the bushels of fruit would continue to hang there in almost a taunting fashion. Why weren’t these people picking that fruit? I’d ask myself.

What a waste?! I’d mumble as I passed. At one point, I was so upset over the fact that the fruit hadn’t been picked that I had debated going to the neighbors and asking them if I could pick the fruit. I figured they might think I was nuts for making such a request, so I decided against it.

As the days passed, the pears began dropping to the ground. One after another, sitting there rotting away. The grapes were being stolen by the occasional squirrel, but eventually our first heavy frost destroyed them as well.

We can be like that pear tree and grape vine. We’ve been given all these amazing gifts, talents, skills, and tools (fruit) but for some reason we just let them be. They just hang there unused when they could be bringing people pleasure and enjoyment.

Why do we do this? Well, some people feel disqualified. They look at their life, the things they’ve done in the past, and they decide they aren’t good enough. That somehow they’ve got to get their crap together before they can actually do something. Sometimes its fear that creeps in and debilitates us. Or insecurities screaming “You can’t possibly do that.”

And then there’s the excuses, which can include: I’m shy. I lack resources. I’m tired. I don’t have the time. I’ve got kids. I’m old. I’m broke. I’m too young. So-and-so can do it better than me. I’m feeling gassy today. My bangs are going through that awkward grow-out-phase. I didn’t go to college.

I’ve just got to ask you: Why NOT you? Why NOT now? All the fears, insecurities and excuses don’t measure up to the God that lives inside of you. The God that lavished you with the unique gifts and skills that you have. And even if I wanted to, I can’t come pick your fruit, you’ve got to do that for yourself. He gave them to YOU.

Please, don’t let your fruit get wasted. Share them with the world, or even just the person you meet at the grocery store. Either way, USE THEM.

A perfect fit.

puzzle

Sitting in Youth Group, I noticed her staring at someone across the room. I knew the look well from personal experience. I could almost hear the voices in her head as she examined the other girl.

“Her skin is perfect. Not like mine all blotchy and dry. Is she even wearing any makeup?!”

“I wish my hair was like hers. Why didn’t I try and do something with this hair? Ugh.”

“She’s got such a pretty singing voice. I sound like a dying calf.”

I’ve been playing the comparison game as long as I could remember. Everyone had something I longed for. My sister had athletics and the ability to run long distances and not DIE. The girl sitting next to me in English had the skinny, lean body while my chins could be numbered. He learned languages easily and quickly while I couldn’t conjugate to save my life. She’s married and has a couple great kids while I’m VERY single and no where close to picking out little pink tutus or little jean overalls.

Comparing is breeding ground for pity and I was the Pity, Pity Princess.

I’ve come to learn that one of the problems with this mentality is that each time I play the comparison game I’m telling God : You didn’t do a good job on me.  I’m telling a perfect God that He made a mistake. And to top that, that my feeble human mind knows BETTER.

There are some Truths I believe about God. I believe He is perfect. That He is good. That He is all knowing. All powerful. But I was living as if He was one of those people who has to read the direction on how to make Pop-Tarts. Ya know what I mean? In revelatory fashion, it all clicked. If God is perfect and He made me than He made me perfectly. I’m not one of the “imperfects” marked down on the clearance shelf either.

I’ve got everything I was meant to have. Sure, I’m not musically gifted, my muscle is protected by layers of “cuddle” and I’d much rather run into a Starbucks than run in a marathon, but I’m me. And everything I am and have (in regards to gifts, passions, skills, talents) is exactly what I need.

I’m a unique puzzle piece, but I fit perfectly into MY spot in the big picture. There’s no sense trying to make myself fit in someone else’s spot. It won’t work, but if I understand that being me means that I can connect with the people God has placed around me for this time and for His purpose than I can finally find some peace. That means that even though there are 7 billion people in the world– I am still significant because God made only one me. And there may be over 240 million blogs on the internet– my blog is still important because it will reach and speak to people that other blogs won’t. And no other blog has me…so there’s that too.

Stop looking at everyone else. God did a good job on YOU. You are going to love people I’ll never know. You’re going to do things I could never do. And that’s awesome. We want and we NEED genuine you. Not some weird Frankenstein mash-up of who you think we need or want. Just you– the way God made you. In all your quirkiness. You.

Thoughts from my hospital bed

hospital

Sometimes I grunt at God.

I’m pretty sure He gets my drift. The sheer disgust of my current state. The discouraged exhale of a fed up girl not getting her way. The disgruntled wordless bemoaning. The eye rolls. Yes, those silly little eye rolls emphasizing the depth of my frustrations.

I got a text from a friend day #2 into a 6 day hospital stay. He asked me what God had been speaking to me while I was laid up. OF COURSE, this was the perfect opportunity to hear from God. No distractions. No busy schedule. Just me stuck in my hospital bed with absolutely no energy, no real concrete thoughts or deep theological revelation. I did what any good Christian would do. I lied.

I shared something that God has been speaking to me about, but something that has been simmering for months (you’ll be hearing about this more shortly). I couldn’t bring myself to tell this friend that I felt like God had been silent during this “vacation” of mine. I couldn’t actually tell this friend that my desire was to just get through the pain and get to the other side of this affliction.

My pride is my biggest hurdle to true honesty. If I were actually honest with my friend he might think less of me. Maybe he’d start praying for me convinced I was some kind of “backslider”. I’m being silly, but isn’t that where out mind goes? If I’m honest, maybe people won’t like the real me.

During my hospital stay, I didn’t necessarily hear God say anything, but I can tell you something He showed me. I saw love in the flesh. I saw friends rally around me offering their time to sit with me for hours, sometimes in silence. I saw flowers flooding my bed-side table from friends near and far letting me know they were thinking of me and praying for me. I saw nurses in beautiful kindness bring me comfort in forms of painkiller and jell-o.

Maybe, God didn’t say anything. Or maybe He decided to SHOW me something instead.

I choose You anyway.

heart

Sitting in church a few weeks ago, I found myself undone in the presence of God.

For weeks, I had found myself struggling. My daily schedule that had been managed down to the minute some days had worn me down. Most mornings began with a grunt and an overpowering urge to hit the snooze just one more time. My days were full of hustle– from work, to ministry, to more work. Nights were sprinkled with friends and my determination to keep up with everyone.

And for awhile as I sat there, I missed it. I recognized it certainly, but felt like everyone else was getting to experience it and not me. Mentally, my reaction was a lot like Clark Griswold’s when he found out his Christmas bonus was a subscription to the Jelly of the Month club instead of the huge check he was expecting.

After my internal outburst and temper tantrum, God dropped this Truth into my lap. I won’t pretend to be some kind of poet. I’m not. This is just the way God spoke to me in that moment. I imagine He was using short sentences so my simple mind could grasp it and repetition so it might actually sink in.

You took the man I love,

I choose You anyway.

My finances are bleak,

I choose You anyway.

My heart is broken and crumpled,

I choose You anyway.

I’ve gotten weary in doing good,

I choose you anyway.

I feel all alone in life,

I choose You anyway.

I’ve desired other things beside you,

I choose You anyway.

My car is a piece of crap,

I choose You anyway.

The unrighteous seem to prosper,

I choose You anyway.

My attitude sucks,

I choose You anyway.

I don’t understand why things happen the way they do. I don’t understand why life feels harder for some than others. Why some people die young. Why those who break hearts get the happily ever after. Why those who want children can’t have them and those who don’t want them can.These situations, feelings, questions may never change.

My checking account may never be nicely padded. I may never have a brand new car. I may never have my crap all together. I may be single the rest of my life. Yet my broken, determined heart remains steadfast on Him. I choose to trust Him, love Him, seek Him.

Shame: God’s Favorite Tool

Oh, it’s not?

Then, why do we keep living (and acting) like it is?

I started attending church as a little golden haired cherubim. My perfect ringlets bouncing with each step into the stone encased architecture. My little hands folded on my lap while I sat on the worn, wooden pew. My eyes clenched shut during each prayer. And I was an angel each year in the Christmas program (even though I always wanted to be Mary).

I participated in sword drills in Sunday School. Sat through every awkward dating/sex talk in youth group. Attended a small, conservative Bible College and then later on a larger, more liberal college where I studied Greek and all things Bible. I feel like I’ve seen a lot. The good and the….not so good.

I’m not here to start finger pointing at my fellow Christian family members because that’s no more Christ-like than the topic I want to discuss. My heart has been softened recently in regards to the Church and I don’t wish to speak ill of it. With all conviction of heart though, I feel like something needs to be said in regards to shame.

Negativity, name calling, shaming (call it what you will) should NEVER be used to spur people on to growth.

I get it, some people are big on “calling out sin”. I call it like I see it. You see the flaw in that kind of thinking is that God speaks things that aren’t as if they were. (Rom. 4:17) You may see a sinner, but He sees a saint. Before you get up in arms, let me reassure you, I am not ok with sin. I just think the finger pointing, “calling out” business is the wrong way to deal with it.

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Let me give you a for instance here to drive the point home on a practical level. It’s real easy to pick on girls who dress “inappropriately”. Sure, no one needs to see cavernous cleavage or butt cheek curvature, but telling those girls they look like whores isn’t going to solve the problem. The more you speak something over a person, the more they are going to act like it, think like it and believe themselves to be it. There’s a deeper issue there than her need to expose her body for attention (or even just her preferred fashion choices). There’s a girl who should be built up and called up higher in love. A girl who should be told she’s treasured and worthy of love. A girl who should be told that she’s loved whether she looks like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman or looks like Laura Ingalls Wilder from Little House on the Prairie. It’s a worth issue. Bottom line, Jesus loves her booty out and all.

It’s not like I haven’t been the biggest culprit when it comes to this, friends. Let me assure you. I’ve done my fair share of shaming. I’d just rather be a woman who calls worth out of a person instead of clothing them with shame. I want to empower the sinner (ugh, even saying that sounds so religious) with words of freedom. I want to bring a refreshing word to a thirsty soul.