Rising Up From the Ashes

Rising Up From the Ashes

This one is for the people who find themselves burnt out from life or ministry or marriage or disappointment or anxiety….or whatever is leaving you a heap on the floor (literally or figuratively).

I’ve been burnt out for a number of years now. It’s not a new realization by any means. I knew it. I tried to deny it out of shame convinced if I was a good enough Christian I wouldn’t be feeling this way. It was this drive that sent me deeper, much deeper into this pit where I was determined I could serve my way out of this condition.

Serving. That was my hamster wheel that kept me spinning endlessly and getting nowhere but tired and angry and hurting. Things that once brought me pleasure and joy now left me anxious and bitter and I wonder if I was ever called to ministry after all. I question my purpose and calling, which has been the very core of my being since I was a kid.

It was…is.. my identity. It has entwined itself around my worth and in order to be loved I needed to DO. Holly wasn’t enough. Rather Holly simply BEING wasn’t enough.

So, here I sit in my ashes.

There’s a story of man named Job who had everything he could have ever wanted– money, prestige, family, friends, a thriving business. Then, one day, he lost it all. He lost his family, his health, his wealth and found himself in an ash heap. He sat there (according to Job 2:8, CEV) to show his sorrow.

Ashes can so often represent destruction and devastation. Earlier this year, Australia experienced horrific wildfires that destroyed more than a fifth of the country’s forests. People and animals died, too. Sure sounds like devastation to me.

And yet, every time I think of ashes I am reminded of the Phoenix. A Greek mythological legend says the bird dies by bursting into flames and then is reborn from its ashes. In its death there is renewal and resurrection. It does not limp or walk away from its ash heap. It SOARS away with a grand, majestic and glorious display of strength and vigor.

As we enter this Holy week, that is the image I am mediating on because that is the image Christ Himself exemplified. Not some folklore story mind you, but an actual literal empty grave where His body once lay. Christ did not limp from the borrowed tomb, but victoriously trampled death, disease, discouragement and everything in-between.

In doing so, He has given that same victory to me (and YOU)– to soar on the wings like eagles (& Phoenixes) , to run and not grow weary (or burnt out), they will walk (not limp) and not be faint (Isaiah 40:31, NIV with parenthetic additions made by yours truly).

To go back to our friend Job, he didn’t limp away from his ash heap, either. In fact, he got back everything that had been taken from him and MORE. As you’ve reflected on what has been lost maybe you need that reminder. You will get back more than you had before.

In your marriage that has been on the brink of divorce you will see redemption. In your soul that has been wracked by anxiety you will experience a peace that transcends even a global pandemic.

In my burn out, I believe, a passion will be reignited that will propel me on to do the very thing(s) I was created to do. Not to get love, but from a beautiful understanding that I am loved simply for who I am and not the ways I serve.

Rise up from the ashes, friends! Soar!

Sin & the Coronavirus

Sin & The Coronavirus

Her eyes were fixed intently on her schoolwork as she traced the letters “V” both upper and lower case. Without looking up she asks, “Did sin cause the Coronavirus?”

“Hmm.” I say.

While inside my head I’m screaming, “Hey God! This is a bit outside my pay grade! Mind tossing me some Truth and wisdom a 5 year old can understand? That I can understand?!”

This was important. You don’t want to mess this one up. Ya know? We’re all asking hard questions right now or so I’d imagine. You don’t walk through a global pandemic without one or two boinking around in your brain.

So, I ask her, “What was it like before sin entered the world? Before Adam and Eve sinned?”

“It was perfect!” she says with a smile.

“Yup! It was perfect. No sickness. No sin. None of that.” Things are going smoothly and I’m shocked. SHOCKED I tell you.

We spend a few more minutes discussing the effects of sin– selfishness, greed, fighting with your siblings, being disobedient.

She seems satisfied with our discussion and we move on to other important conversations. Like how one of the boys in her class put chocolate down his pants and then ate it. I’m horrified at this news though less shocked because it’s coming from a girl who tells me boogers are considered dessert.

This story is true, by the way, ALL of it. I wanted to share this cute one in hopes that when I transition into my next point, which will undoubtedly step on some toes that you’ll remember that you once found me funny and endearing.

I’ve been seeing Christians post some pretty “interesting” things on social media with the onset of this global crisis. And it’s those kinds of posts that shake me from my silence and stagnancy in regards to blogging/writing.

My 5-year old niece isn’t the only one thinking about sin and the Coronavirus. I recently read a post that said, “What if this nation were to deal with the problem of sin as strongly as we are with the threat of COVID-19?” My! What a mighty high horse you have!

Mind you, there were many Christians (disclaimer: NOT ALL) who upon first hearing our leaders talk about social distancing and self-isolation were LAUGHING at the thought. How dare they ask us to not meet in groups of 10 people or more!

So, let me get this straight….is THAT how you think I should be dealing with sin in my life? According to your model, we laugh when a sin seems insignificant or at least not relevant for my life, but those other people’s lives. Until we realize that sin is actually effecting MY life and I should probably do something about that, but not before using it as an opportunity to shame some people on the internet first.

Let me stop here for a minute.

It’s much easier to see other people’s sins (and flaws) and not our own. MYSELF INCLUDED.

It was Jesus who reminded us of this Truth in Matthew 7. Other people have specks in their eyes while we’ve got logs. I can’t overlook my crap by putting a spotlight on someone else’s. Doesn’t exactly work that way and yet we try to do that because we don’t want to confront it. Again, I get it. I’m in this support group, too.

Am I saying we never discuss sin? No. Am I saying we should never talk to other people about their sin? Again, no. (Keep reading Matthew 7 for how we should actually go about doing this. I’ll give you a hint: deal with your own crap FIRST.)

What I’m asking is that we STOP SHAMING PEOPLE on the internet. This is a time where people are in need of encouragement and peace and we have the opportunity to offer hope through the social media platforms we are on. You have a voice. All I’m asking is you use it wisely.

 

Social Distancing & Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

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People loved to ask Jesus questions. What do you think about this? Do you know who that person is? Why do you eat with those people? Don’t you have an answer?!

Many of these questions were asked by the super religious and sometimes their intentions weren’t exactly “pure”. Sometimes though there’d be some religious people who wanted to engage with Jesus honestly.

In Mark 12:28-34, we see one of those exchanges. Jesus was asked a simple question: Out of all the commandments, which is most important?

Come on, dude. Give us the Cliff Notes version. And so, He does. And I’m going to shorten it up a bit more.

Love God & Love Others.

That’s the MOST important. So, in this age of social distancing and pandemic and quarantine how do we do the most important things?

Love God

If loving God for you is solely summed by walking through the sanctuary doors on a Sunday morning, I think you’ve missed the point.

Loving God happens Monday through Saturday, too.

We can love God by reading our Bible app devo while laying in bed. We can love God by singing while we wash the dishes. We can love God by eating a homemade dinner. And we can love God by getting a good night’s sleep.

Yes, I’m certain God cares about all that.

I think He cares about how we’ve reduced His Gospel to a building that’s open once or twice a week. Which might be why so many people are struggling when those doors CAN’T be opened for a time being. It’s not because a government or a politician is trying to restrict our rights….rather, they’re trying to do their due diligence to keep us safe and healthy.

Love Others

In a matter of weeks (or days), what it meant to practically love your neighbor drastically changed. It meant being patient with the long lines at the grocery store, only buying toilet paper when you needed it and calling friends to check up instead of meeting up at a crowded restaurant.

Loving others means considering another person’s health as important as our own.

As we all try to wade this new and uncharted territory together let us remember what is most important. Loving God is a lifestyle that encapsulates every DAY and every THING we do. And loving people looks like washing our hands more than we ever thought possible.

Keep on doing those MOST important things during this season of social distancing and once we find ourselves beyond it. Love has always and will always be the most important thing.

 

 

Accomplishing Nothing

Accomplishing Nothing

Up until last week, it had been 2 years since I had written a single blog/article. I’d have friends ask me why I wasn’t writing and my response was, “I don’t have anything good to say.” And I had decided, following that old golden rule, if you don’t have anything nice to say than you shouldn’t say anything at all.

So I didn’t.

I decided that maybe I was done with trying to encourage others with the written word. If I couldn’t encourage my own heart how in the world was I going to encourage someone (ANYONE) else?!

Then, recently, a week after I had preached at my church, I had someone call me a hypocrite. “How could you preach with such anointing and then act the way you do?” If I was what that person said I was — a hypocrite– than I certainly shouldn’t be speaking publicly.

It seemed like only more confirmation that I should continue to be muzzled. I didn’t want to risk saying something wrong or worse yet hurtful. In many ways, that philosophy ran over into my personal life, too.

My struggles had kept me silent and I thought that I couldn’t write until I was “better”. Whatever that means. But here I am, chest deep in struggle and I’m clawing myself to the keyboard to squeak out something that might bring us hope.

When we go through suffering one of the questions we like to ask is “Why is this happening to me?! The rest of the conversation, at least from my end, goes something like this: Haven’t I done enough?

Ah. There it is: the sting of Truth. I’ve been working at trying to be enough since I was a kid. I thought if I wasn’t so fat maybe then I would be enough. If I got better grades maybe then I would be enough. If I was athletic maybe then I would be enough.

Those thoughts easily moved into my relationship with Jesus. If I read the Bible more then I will be enough. If I pray and fast more then I will be enough. If I serve every week at church then I will be enough.

Sitting across the table from a dear friend and mentor last week I asked her, “What do I need to do to get out of this difficult season? Just tell me, what am I not doing?”

Rest.

::groan::

I do that so well. (Please read that in the font: sarcasm)

But I also knew what she was saying was right because God has been telling me the same thing. Actually, two days earlier I was at a Youth Conference and sang these words:

“I won’t rest until I find my rest in you. You are where my hope is!” (Find Rest)

The words landed heavy in my chest and I knew that simple phrase was what God was trying to get through to me. He wanted me to be just as devoted and determined to rest as I had been about striving.

To continue to drive the point home further, I was brought to this verse in John 6 twice this week:

John 6:63 (NLT) “It is the Spirit who gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

Those words are from Jesus. At the time, He had just shared some difficult Truth with His disciples and they were complaining because it offended them and it was too hard for them to get. (Uh, relateable.) So, He reminds them it’s the Holy Spirit that does the work and all of our effort or striving gets us nothing. At which point, many of His disciples left.

Guess they didn’t like what they heard. Kinda like how I didn’t like what I was being told. But Jesus was/IS right and I know it.

All our “trying so hard” is getting us burnt out and discouraged. It’s not going to bring us the freedom and PEACE we’re searching for. Admittedly, working/doing/striving comes easier for me. It’s easier than quieting down and allowing the Holy Spirit to work– to give over control and trust that He will do a good work in me.

Maybe you find yourself in a similar season. You’ve tried it all and nothing has worked, but you keep spinning your wheels finding yourself in a deeper hole. Give rest a shot. Put as much energy and devotion into rest as you do in your work. Hold it as sacred time where God can do some repair on the areas of your heart that have been bruised and broken.

It may seem like you are accomplishing nothing. In fact, that’s exactly right. You aren’t so He can.

 

Take Your Victory Lap

It was a perfect Autumn afternoon. The clouds had parted and there were pockets of blue skies and warm sunlight. The air was crisp, but enjoyable with a rhythmic gentle breeze that would softly place the brightly colored leaves before me as I walked. Like my very own red carpet rolled out for me.

I’ve been taking these walks as often as possible. My intention being that I can get some exercise in for my body and release some pent up feelings to relieve my mind. I’ve been frequenting the same park the past few weeks and have half expected someone to report me to the police for talking to myself, which I often do as I try and get myself out of the mental rut I’ve found myself in that day. Sometimes in the midst of the steps and complaints I hear the Lord speak to me.

That’s what happened to me yesterday.

As the leaves spread out before me I smiled. Admittedly, my first thought had not been a movie star’s red carpet, but rather Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As He rode into the city, the crowds began to throw down leaves (not my Autumn colored leaves, but Palm branches) and coats before Him with shouts of praise.

“Hosanna!” they shouted. This word– Hosanna– had been used in the Psalms as a plea. Please, save me! Yet, in this context it’s used differently. It’s used as a praise of thanksgiving for salvation. Jesus would bring them the help and salvation they needed, but it certainly wouldn’t look like what they had thought or hoped. The people longed for political salvation, but Jesus would bring a freedom much more life altering.

This triumphal entry, in fact, did mimic the type of parades that would accompany military victories. These celebrations would usher in the commander that led the troops in victory. It was their moment to soak in their success and show off the spoils of war.

In modern terms, it’s like a victory lap in NASCAR. I’ve been told by my own resident NASCAR expert (since I know absolutely nothing about the sport) that the winner gets to take a lap around the course as the fans cheer and general merriment ensues. It happens after all other 500 laps have been successful completed. Makes sense. You can’t celebrate a victory until you’ve won.

Jesus, though, took His victory lap before He went to the cross. Before the relentless scourging. Before the devastating betrayal. He took it before the battle had really even begun.

And so can you.

In all honesty, I don’t feel equipped to bring this type of encouragement to you. As someone feeling battle weary, broken and drained, most days I’m mustering every ounce of energy just to hold on. But maybe that’s you, too. Maybe you’re dealing with the loss of a parent or loved one and you wonder if the pain will ever stop. Maybe you’re walking through chemo treatments and the side effects don’t seem to be letting up. Maybe you’re grieving your life/marriage/ministry and how it doesn’t look like what you had imagined long ago.

Whatever you’re facing, you don’t see victory yet. It’s there where I want you to take your victory lap. I know it doesn’t make sense. I know it seems silly.

As Christians, we know that we’ve received victory through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57). He’s already given it to us and yet we still face our battles. Not fighting for victory, but from it. It may not feel like you’re victorious, but you are and it’s the moments you don’t feel it that you’ve got to walk in the Truth of it.

If you don’t have a crowd of fans, know that I’m here cheering you on. Keep on going.

My Story of Redemption

There are memories that get etched onto our brain or our hearts and they stay there forever. Sometimes the memories are beautiful and sometimes the memories are ugly, but regardless they remain and are a part of your story.

Then there are times when an ugly memory is made beautiful. God takes a past hurt, or difficult circumstance, and uses it to make something much more beautiful than you could ever imagine. It’s in these such moments where I see the redemptive work of God in my life up close. I don’t think I would have believed it unless I saw it myself. I’m stubborn that way.

Let me start at the beginning: the ugly memory.

Growing up, until the age of 13, I lived in a home that didn’t feel safe. My step-dad was a raging alcoholic with a temper. My mother had her own addictions to deal with and anger problems stemming from a variety of sources including being married to an abusive alcoholic. Home was a battle ground as much as I’d do my best to tippy toe around the landmines, but it was only a matter of time until one was set off. I wasn’t sure when the explosion would happen…only that it would happen.

One of my earliest memories is of me running barefoot to my next door neighbors house late at night asking them to call the police. There were many, many nights like this.

At a very young age, my grandma started taking me to Sunday school and I learned how to pray. I was confident God heard my prayers, so each night I’d pray and ask Him to keep me safe. Many nights, I’d ask Him for a new family, which He ended up giving me. A family that would keep me safe and love me unconditionally. A family that would make me their own.

Even with my new family my nightly routine didn’t change much. I’d still talk to God while I was in bed and ask Him things like, “God, how can you make anything good out of my life?” For a long time, I struggled with that question (and still do). It seemed like maybe I just had to deal with the fact that my childhood was hard but that was the past and it would remain this ugly part of my story.

Everything I knew about God told me that wasn’t how He operated though. He is a God who redeems. He takes old things and makes them new. He takes broken people and makes them whole. He takes the lonely and gives them a family.

I wanted God to bring redemption to my story. 

This past week I served at a children’s camp where 111 kids got to experience the love of Jesus in a powerful way. If that wasn’t good enough, and it would have been, it was there where I saw God’s redemption first hand.

What I didn’t tell you is that at the age of 8, I started attending this very same camp as a camper. It was at this camp that I experienced Jesus and learned about Him and honestly just fell in love with Him. I remember responding to altar calls and having my counselor pray for me. I remember feeling the love of God around me like a warm blanket. I remember hearing His voice and knowing that He was going to take care of me….even if it meant living in a place that felt like hell.

Now 23 years later, I’m standing at the very same altar. There’s a line of children in front of me who are asking for prayer. As each one comes forward I ask them what they’d like prayer for and each one confesses a need and then we pray. It’s a powerful time that’s hard to put into words, because you see the depth of their faith and it’s overwhelming and inspiring.

As I’m praying, one little girls comes up to me for prayer and when I ask her what she needs prayer for she looks at me intently and says, “I’m afraid when I’m home. My parents fight.” My heart freezes for a moment and it’s as if I’m looking into little 8-year old Holly’s eyes. I see the fear and feel it deep down in my soul. I remember it vividly.

So, I do all that I know how to do and I pray. I pray desperately as the little girl wraps her fingers around my hands tightly. My heart aches as I pray and the tears trickle down my cheeks. There is sadness, but there is also hope.

If God could bring me peace in the midst of my chaos, God can certainly do the same for this little girl.

It was there in that moment where I heard God whisper, “I brought her to you because I knew you’d understand. You would have the words she needed to hear.” My story that had looked so ugly now looks more beautiful because God was able to use it to bring hope, and Light and peace to someone else.

That is my story of redemption. 

If you’re reading this, and you feel led, please pray for this little girl. I believe one day, she’ll be the one standing at the front of an altar praying for children who are afraid and in that moment she’ll see God redeeming her story as well.

May you be reminded that God is in the redemption business– for her, for me and for you.

My Bleeding Heart: Eight Years Later

my bleeding heart

Time doesn’t heal all wounds. Sometimes scars are left as beautiful reminders of something wonderful you once had.

August 25, 2006

“Holly, the doctors say he won’t make it the next 24 hours.”

“But they’ve said that before……right?”

“Ya.”

I hang up the phone full of faith and determination.

But God said he’d be healed. He can’t die. He won’t die.

A few weeks earlier, I’m sitting at his bedside in the ICU. His clear blue eyes locked on mine, we dream of our future together. I lean my ear close to his lips keeping his whispered words as our secret. My mind etches them in perfectly and my heart feels overcome with a love I’m sure I’ll never deserve. 

I’d always felt like I didn’t deserve him– that a man like him would never love someone like me. This insecurity led to so much wasted time….time I’d now do anything to reimburse. 

Thousands of miles away from that hospital, I lock myself in my room and throw myself down on the blue plush carpet. The tears flow unceasingly all day as I beg and barter with God for his healing. I remind God, as if He needs reminding, of prophetic words that were spoken over him. I make desperate promises. I even offer my life for his. “Just take me instead, God. Please.”

I fall asleep sometime during the early morning hours– my pillow stained with tears, my fingers clutched tightly around the edges. 

August 26, 2006

It’s early. The house is quiet. 

I pick up the phone and call his mom. She answers and I quickly apologize for calling so early, but my heart is frantic and I just need to know everything is ok. That he is ok, but she stops me mid-sentence…

“I’m sorry, Holly, he didn’t make it.”

Standing on my porch doing my best to stay composed, I tell her I’ll make arrangements to fly back and she promises to call in a few hours with the details. The call ends and I walk through the back door where my roommate is staring at me looking for answers, but all I do is collapse onto the floor.

I have no words. No air. Nothing but pain coursing through every inch of my body. She wraps me in her arms and we sit in a pile on the floor. 

A few days later, I sit staring at him in his casket praying he’ll stand up and this nightmare will be over, but he doesn’t. Instead, they close the lid and lower him into the ground. My heart buried with him, six feet below. 

August 26, 2014

Today marks 8 years without him.

2,920 days.

70,080 hours.

4,204,800 seconds.

I’ve counted every second. Every minute. Every day. Those are the moments I’ve lived through– the heartbeats I’ve felt since losing him. Each beat reverberating in my chest reminding me that I remain here. And he is gone. 

Where is the redemption in all of this I’ve repeatedly asked God. What good could possible be found in all of this grief? He hasn’t replied until recently:

You’ve continued to love despite having lost.

That may not seem like much to you, but in all of the sadness, lost dreams and brokenness there’s still this hidden treasure of hope. I love. I love deep and I love strong. I love even when it isn’t returned or reciprocated.

So, I’ll continue to remember. To grieve. To celebrate a life, a love that I was able to embrace for a season. And most importantly, I’ll continue to love.