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.  

 

Rest Takes Work

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Seems ironic, doesn’t it?

Rest takes work.

I’m convinced of it. For me it does, anyway.

I have this friend who visits my office periodically. We’ll spend a few minutes catching up on life and ministry events.  Then, without fail, he’ll ask me if I’m taking time to rest.

“Rest?” I laugh.

“Yes, Holly, people do that. God even commanded it. He even rested. You do know its part of the Ten Commandments, right?.”

“Ohhhhhhh….righhhhtttttt. The Ten Commandments. I forgot.” 😉

I try to tease, but my friend is always persistent. Probably because for the past 4 years every time he sees me I’ve got big black circles under my eyes and have a frantic crazed look.

Rest? Eh, I’ll rest when I’m dead I’ve convinced myself. And with that type of thinking it might just put me in the grave faster.

This weekend I spent some time resting. I did absolutely nothing. The only way I could justify my actions (or a few hours of NON-ACTION) was reminding myself that I had been out late the night before and with another late night ahead of me it was OK to just “veg out”.

Unfortunately, this down time left me feeling guilty. Shouldn’t I be doing something. There’s blog posts to write, dishes to wash, bills to pay….the list goes on and on.

Rest doesn’t come easy for me, but I believe it is essential to maintaining an intimate relationship with Jesus. I’m pretty sure He thinks so, too, because He keeps whispering in my ear: You can stop now.

God keeps reminding me of the disciple John. John or the “one whom Jesus loved”, as he refereed to himself in the Gospel he penned, knew something about rest. As he recounts the story of the Last Supper, he mentions how he leaned back on Jesus’ chest. I’m not sure John realized it at the time, but his life was about to get chaotic, to say the least, and those restful moments helped prepare him for what was to come.

So, I’ve got to honestly ask myself:

When is the last time I just leaned on Him?

When is the last time I put my head against His chest and listened to His heart beat?

When I get to Heaven, Jesus isn’t going to ask me to give Him a Powerpoint presentation showcasing all the work I did for Him. He’s going to be most interested in knowing if I knew Him. (And ya, He’ll already know.)

Of course He’ll love listening to my stories about the many summers I spent working with children. He’ll smile as I recount the moments where I found such joy in hearing about their testimonies about the love they had for Him. Like any good friend, He’ll laugh and nod as if its the first time He’s hearing all about it.

But I’m not getting into Heaven based on my logged ministry hours. It’s not based on Sundays spent in the walls of a church. It’s not based on the number of countries I visit offering humanitarian work. It’s not based on how many people read and follow my blog.

What matters in the end is the time I spent with Him. And, as much as I love squeezing Him into my hectic schedule by praying in the car between meetings….He demands more. (Actually, He’s looking for *ALL* but that’s another post)

He’s looking for me to stop awhile and lean on Him. To listen. To soak in His presence. To enjoy Him.

For me, resting might look like taking a few hours to journal with my favorite Starbucks drink in hand, or take a day off and spend it hiking with friends, or play a silly game with siblings or….take a NAP. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that, but we’ve got to allow Him to refresh us and to speak to us in our weary places. He will, too. 

Recently. I’ve heard His voice as I relaxed in a hammock in the Adirondacks or while eating some ice cream with my niece. They weren’t Earth shaking “spiritual” events, just normal every day moments where I slowed down and listened for His heart beat. 

I’ll need to be intentional with my time and I’ll certainly still need my friends to keep me accountable. My schedule won’t magically open up, but I’ll need to start saying no to some things, which is a lot harder than it sounds. It’ll take work, but I’ve never regretted my time with Him. Never once did it feel wasted. 

And from time to time I’ll have to tell my soul: “Rest, Holly. It’s OK.”

 

I’ll tell you what you can do with that list…

listpost

A few weeks ago, I was sitting around a table with some friends after a leadership meeting. As we always do, we ended the meeting going around sharing prayer requests.The usual requests were made– jobs, families, school, etc. Then, of course, there was my request for a single, bearded lumberjack to fall in love with me.

I’m serious.

I tell people to pray for me to find a lumberjack to marry. Preferably bearded. Might as well keep it specific.

Jokingly, my friend (my MARRIED friend) turns to me and asks if I’ve made my list yet. 

List? Oh you know, “THE LIST”. The list that girls sit down and write when they’re 12 years old all the while dreaming about their Prince Charming. The list of “must-haves” and “can’t-live-withouts”. They usually sound something like this:

#1: MUST love Jesus.

#2: MUST be at least 6′ tall, blonde hair blue eyes.

#3: MUST love children.

#4: MUST floss daily.

#5: MUST have been on 5 mission trips and want to adopt a child from a Chinese orphanage.

#6: MUST have seen a miracle first hand.

#7: MUST pray for every meal. That includes at all fast food restaurants and meals while driving. Snacks, too.

#8: MUST only watch rated R movies if it has something to do with Jesus.

And on. And on.

Don’t get me wrong, none of those things are bad. Actually, I’d prefer my mate shared some of those characteristics and desires. Here’s the problem.

Having a list for a potential mate is….dumb. 

Ya, I said it. Get out your flaming torches and large stones and escort me out of town. Tell me how important it is to have standards (which I agree with) and how you’ve got to KNOW what you want. 

Here’s some advice from the single girl, stop looking for the person to match all the criteria on your list. Stop looking for perfection. Stop looking for someone to meet all your needs. Another heads up (all this FREE advice!) no person will be able to do that. Not a spouse, not even one that has a 10/10 on your Marriage Rubric. 

Lists, in this scenario, look a lot like boxes and God doesn’t work inside our little man made boxes. So many times, we think we know best, but I’ve learned (the not-so-easy way) that is not always the case. He does give us certain *good* desires, like wanting to have a spouse, but He knows who will fit that bill better than you…and me. Let’s be serious, there are shirts in my closet I’m still questioning what I was thinking when I bought them. Why would I even begin to trust myself to know what I need in a man? 

I’ve found its much easier to hand all of this list business over to God. I don’t need to write a list because I can trust God to bring me the partner who will compliment my life, and whose life I will compliment in return.

To reiterate, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have certain standards. Heck at 30 years old and still single, I’ve been accused of having too high of standards, which I find laughable. If that’s my problem, then I’ll gladly stay single. Standards are good. At times, they’ve weeded out guys that I would have gladly settled on and made a very poor decision in the process.

My advice? Toss the list. Keep it simple. Ask God to bring His pick your way and for you to be smart enough to choose him. That’s my prayer at least. 

And because I know you’re curious, if I had a list, it might look something like this:

#1: No sissy hands. If they’re softer than mine, its not happening.

#2: Must never wear Crocs. This will be included in my vows because those things are gross.

#3: Cleans hair out of shower drain. Yes, its gross, but my hair isn’t the only hair in that drain, Mister. 

#4: Kills snakes for terrified partner. Always. Oh, and mice too.

#5: Will let me watch Jane Austen movies without any heavy sighs or sarcastic commentary. 

#6: Is not a Boston Red Sox fan.

 

When God Uses You to Answer Your Own Prayers

Prayer

I was sitting in one of my favorite coffee shops, drinking one of my favorite drinks and enjoying conversation with one of my favorite people. We laughed at the fact that I was momentarily distracted by a bearded man who walked in the door. We laughed at inside jokes and movie quotes. We laughed at the bodybuilder sized patron who left hurriedly when the lights went out momentarily.

Conversation would volley from serious to hilarious in a moments time, which made the more difficult confessions easier to admit.

My friend was….is….hurting.

I saw it in his eyes. The familiar, all too familiar, look of pain.

He’d share. I’d listen.

I’d share. He’d listen.

It happened like this for a few hours, until it felt like all that could be said had been said. Before we parted ways, I suggested I pray for him. A tad bit out of my comfort zone, we sat on a bench outside the coffee shop and we prayed.

The prayer I prayed was nothing earth shaking. Just a simple kid, praying a simple prayer, for someone she loved. 

God, speak to his heart. Remind him of Your Truth. Lavish him with Your love….

As I prayed, I heard the Lord say, “Speak to him.”

After a few moments, my prayer was concluded, a hug was exchanged and we got into our cars and left. In the quiet of my car, I continued praying for my friend and God continued pestering me.

Speak, Holly, speak.

“God, YOU need to encourage his heart.”

     “I will.”

“You’ve got to remind Him of Your Truth.”

     “I will.”

“You’ve got to love on him like crazy.”

     “I will.”

My heart seemed to lighten a bit.

“I’m going to use you to do that.”

….

“But God wouldn’t it be so much more effective if you parted the clouds and shouted from the Heavens.”

And from there, God continued to remind me how time and time again He used people to speak on His behalf. Not “all together” type people, either. Not just the pastors of churches. Or revival evangelists. Or Bible school professors. Just willing imperfect people. 

Just a few days earlier, I had experienced it myself. I was sitting at a table with nine girls in a crowded Cafeteria where I had served that week as their counselor. We’d be leaving camp in a few short hours, so we were doing the best to savor our last moments together. As we got ready to go finish packing, one of my girls got on top of our table and called everyone to attention.

I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get fired for this one, I thought. The entire camp silenced and turned their gazes towards her.

In the following moments, she began to tell the camp how they (my cabin of girls) had decided that I was THE BEST COUNSELOR. They’d made me a book full of encouraging Scriptures and notes and presented it to me there. The room filled with clapping and cheering and hugging and at that moment, my heart could barely grasp the love I had just been lavished. 

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God had used a cabin full of teen girls to share His amazing love for me. It made an imprint on my heart that will never disappear.

Speak, Holly, speak.

One year ago, God spoke the same message to my heart. It was then that the Common Queen Blog was started. I knew that there were things God wanted to share with people and that He wanted to use me to do it. I wasn’t sure if anyone would read it or get anything from it, I just knew I needed to speak…or write as the case may be. It was a burning that had been in my heart for years, but because of fears, insecurities, and endless excuses I had chosen to dismiss it.

That was, of course, until last year. I didn’t (and don’t) feel qualified, or “good enough” or any of that business, but I’m willing to let God speak through me.

And He has.

Not only here on the blog, but in a cabin full of giggling girls and a coffee shop with a friend. 

He’s asking me to speak– to speak love, Truth and encouragement to so many hearts in need of it. He’s asking me to be the answer to my own prayers. 

I’m speaking, Jesus. I’m speaking.

Cliches, Platitudes & Useless Advice

CPUA

Let’s pretend for a moment that you were having a hard time.

Not that YOU would ever have a hard time, but humor me anyway.

Maybe you received a test result from a doctor that you weren’t expecting. Maybe you’ve been searching for a job for months with nothing to show for it. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Maybe your spouse decided they didn’t love you anymore. Maybe your favorite shirt shrunk in the dryer. Or maybe your favorite TV show has been cancelled.

Sure, there’s some extremes there, but each one is legitimate in its own right. I promise I will do my best not to judge you and your struggle, and I’m begging you to return the favor. It’s a very prideful person that would decipher  who is “allowed” to be hurting/struggling and who isn’t. I think we could all admit we don’t fully understand another person’s struggles simply because we haven’t lived that person’s life.

Now that we’ve got that groundwork laid, I think it’s important to share some advice with you.

Stop giving advice. (See what I did there?)

Stop with the cliches.

Stop with the cute sayings with floral backgrounds you found on Pinterest. (Things will be OK in the end. If they’re not OK, it’s not the end…This one makes me with it were the end!)

Stop with the “Christianese” answers. (God will never give you more than you can handle– wrong.)

Or the “You should read this book”. (It’ll just get added to the stack)

Keep reading, I promise I’ll clear some things up.

I’ve given you my “NOT-TO-DO” list, but you may be wondering: So what DO you want people to do, Holly?!?

I’m glad you asked!

Listen.

Love.

And if they’re into that kind of thing give them a hug. 🙂 Maybe they’d prefer a high-five, or an awkward side hug, or an arm squeeze.

Listening seems pretty straight forward, but I fear it may need some clarifying. It doesn’t mean listening with one ear and doing a mental “Google search” for some trite response. I’ve done that before, I’ll admit it. I’ll be listening to a friend who is telling me how how they’re hurting and my brain will pick up on a key word/theme and then I start thinking of every book, Scripture verse, or Snapple fact I’ve read that could possibly relate to the situation.

Just listen. Hand them a tissue if they start to tear up. Look them in the eyes. Really listen.

Now for the love part. This part is a little bit more tricky because each person is different and receives love in different ways. If they’ve told you about a physical pain, instead of just saying “I’ll be praying for you!” actually pray for them. Ya, like right there. I don’t care that it’s the ice cream aisle at the grocery store. If they’ve told you they’re struggling financially, send them a gift card in the mail or hand them a 20 spot. If they’re lonely, call them up a few days later and ask them if they’d like to get a coffee.

Or, simply tell them you love them and you care.

As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again and again, as Christians we don’t have to have ALL the answers. Yes, God, Jesus the Bible and all the Sunday School answers are easy to spew out, as a cover-up when a simple “I don’t know” would be more honest.

I don’t know why you aren’t married yet.

I don’t know why you have cancer.

I don’t know why that person said that hurtful thing.

Also, and maybe this is just a personality thing, but sometimes just hearing someone say they love me brings some comfort. I’m a “words of affirmation” girl, with “Gifts of Chocolate” as a close second. 😉

And if during the week, there’s a Bible verse that you think would give them hope, by all means share it with them. I’m not saying *all* advice/encouragement is useless. Just the thoughtless kind.

Don’t give out dimes by the dozen when a person needs a treasure to hold onto.

 

Are you for real?

are you for real

Social media has a bad reputation. It gets accused of being shallow and showing the world only the best and most exciting parts of a person’s life. That it breeds narcissism, selfishness and egotism. You can after all, at any moment, show the world your OOTD*, what you ate for breakfast and give your critique of the movie you watched all while sitting on the toilet taking a dump.

These types of bed head pics don’t usually make the cut, unless of course you’re ok with people seeing morning eye crusties:

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Usually, we post the perfectly filtered profile picture ready ones like these:

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As much as I’d love to peg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media site as the scapegoat I know the real problem isn’t the media being used, but the person using it.

I don’t think social media is the problem. As much as my dad may disagree. I think the issue of shallow relationships, selective sharing and spotlighting achievements has been happening since before the Internet was even invented. Before electricity even. You see, from the beginning, humanity has been trying to cover up the undesirable parts. (If you want an explanation on that, check out my post “Showering Naked & Other Fears”.)

I assure you, I agree there is a problem. I guess I’m just more frustrated with people who ask, “How are you doing?” and then look at you like you just rained on their parade when you give them an honest response. I understand there are certain social norms that dictate that the “appropriate” response is “fine” or “good”, but I can’t bring myself to lie if that isn’t how I’m feeling. I’ve found my honesty is unwarranted most of the time, but I figure they’ll think twice before asking me again.

I also understand that not everyone is meant to be in the “inner circle” of your life. That some people are strangers, others are acquaintances, others are going to get ice cream friends and others still are sitting by your hospital bed companions. There’s this relationship hierarchy and with each level comes higher responsibility, deeper commitment and vulnerability. There’s wisdom in boundaries, to a certain extent.

Here’s the thing: Genuine relationship is rooted in honest dialogue.

And sometimes honest dialogue comes when someone finds out, “Hey! I do that too” or “I’ve felt like that”. So even though I might not want people to know certain things, sharing those things can make a connection. And I believe, ultimately it will bring freedom and relief to know I’m not alone, but someone can relate.

It’s not easy and everything inside is screaming: DON’T SHARE THAT! THEY WON’T ACCEPT YOU ANYMORE! THEY WON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE. THEY’LL LOOK AT YOU DIFFERENTLY! But that’s just the enemy trying to keep you isolated. Some people may look at you differently, but for others you may just be the breath of fresh air they’ve been gasping for.

That’s one of the reasons why I write this blog. If someone, even ONE person can connect with my struggle, my story, and find some kind of freedom, some kind of Life for their weary bones than its all worth it to me.

*For those of you who don’t know what this acronym stands for, let me help you out. Outfit Of The Day. Yup. It’s a thing. I promise.