Being Fire Tested

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“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7, NKJV)

Some people I love are walking through hell right now. Friends facing painful divorces.  Friends dealing with infertility. Other friends struggling to make ends meet. Some are job hunting. Others on the search for a mate.

All of them have one thing in common, life hasn’t turned out the way they thought it would. I can relate. As many of you know from reading my blog, I haven’t been immune to life’s hardships and heartaches. This week alone, I’ve been fighting through anxiety–from the absolute bizarre (like I’m going to die because of a brain aneurysm) to the legitimate (How am I going to buy a new car when I dumped all of my savings into repairing it?). Actually, those were just the thoughts I had before 10AM this morning. Granted, I hadn’t had any coffee OR chocolate yet, but still.

Throughout this season, I’ve often uttered these words in a desperate prayer, “God, why are you doing this to me??” It wasn’t disrespectful, I was just trying to wrap my head around the constant struggles. Had I done something to piss Him off and this was my punishment? Maybe it was all those times I prayed with my eyes open. Or did it have something to do with that secret board I have on Pinterest that has hundreds of pictures of bearded men. Whatever it was, I wanted to fix it and fast.

The problem with that mindset of mine is that I was viewing the trials and tests as punishment instead of refining moments.

A few months back, I was talking with my dad who just so happens to be a very wise man. I was sharing with him some of the disappointments and struggles and he turned to me and said, “Holly, trials have the opportunity to produce GOLD in your life.”

Not everyone will produce gold, though. Some people will curse God and walk away. They’ll feel the flames and peace out on the purifying process because it hurts too much. We don’t get to choose when we come off the fire, but we do get to choose how we go through it. There’s no medium-well with God. He’s going to finish the good work He began in us (Phil. 1:6)….if we let Him.

Listen, I’m not belittling the fact that it hurts. I’ve spent countless nights with tears producing puddles on my pillows. It has felt, at times, like the heart in my chest was being ripped into a hundred tiny pieces. A long time ago, I told Jesus I’d give Him my life. In giving Him my life, it meant that I’d trust Him to do with it what He wanted. In the end, I simply trust the heart of God. I am confident He will use all of this for His GOOD, somehow.

I won’t pretend to know the extent of your pain. I’m not here to tell you things are going to get easier. I won’t give you empty sympathy.

All I can give you is this simple encouragement: stay on the fire. Allow Him to refine you. I promise you, you’re going to be gold. You don’t see it now, but He does.

My Modern Day Miracles

mochaloca

One Sunday after church, I decided to stop by a store to check the Clearance racks for some items friends mentioned needing. Girls, you know how those conversations go: “Hey, next time you’re out, will you see if you can find such-and-such for cheap?” It’s like a fun scavenger hunt to find the best deal. My mom has taught me well. She’s perfected this game, knowing what days certain stores do their discounts and where they’re located in the store. She could teach classes. She’s a pro.

This particular Sunday, I was feeling down. Getting dressed for church that morning, nothing seemed to fit right. My bed held the clothing casualties from my rapid search for something to wear. It was awful. Knowing I’d never be pleased, I decided on the last outfit I had tried on and resigned myself to the fact that it would just have to do.

While I was at the store, I decided to quickly browse the new dresses that had come in for the new season. I love dresses. There’s something about a dress cut in at all the right places that makes you feel feminine and beautiful without trying too hard. That’s the beauty of dresses– one piece and “Voila!” you’re ready to go!

There’s one dress that I’ve been searching for that I hadn’t found yet. I’d been looking for a dress that had lacy half sleeves. I saw one on Pinterest and had the image stuck in my head. Every time I was at the store I’d look for one like it. I hadn’t found it. Until that day.

It immediately caught my attention. There it was– the perfect dress– hanging on the wall. Everything I had wanted. Everything except for the price. Also like my mother, I’m an immediate check-the-tag shopper and never buy anything full price. Buying something at full price is a luxury that I cannot afford. And this dress would safely be filed under the “could not afford” category. The only dresses that I had spent that kind of money on was bridesmaid dresses.

But it was so lovely. So, like a little girl, I decided to play dress up. I knew I couldn’t buy the dress, but I could at least try it on and enjoy it for a few minutes.

Part of me hoped it wouldn’t fit or that it would look horrible on me. Sometimes that happens. You see something that looks amazing on a hanger, but you try it on and you’re sure that a brown bag would look more flattering.

If there are guys still reading this–please, stay with me. There’s something here for you, I promise.

I tried it on and it was….perfect. I loved it. The green of the dress made the color of my eyes stand out. The lace sleeves were the exact length they should be, which is usually a problem for my 5′ tall frame. It cut in at the smallest part of my waist–win! I examined myself in the full length mirror and I didn’t feel disgusted. So, I snapped a few pictures because that’s what we do now, right?

dress

As I put the dress back on the hanger and then back on the rack I thought to myself again: “It’s just so lovely.”

At home, I was sharing with a few girlfriends about the dress and how beautiful I felt in it. I showed them my mirror selfie and they agreed that it was indeed the perfect color and cut and that I looked amazing in it. One friend in particular, saw the picture and immediately knew she needed to buy me that dress. I told her that I didn’t expect her to do that– to spend that type of money on me– for a dress! But she said, God laid it on her heart to do it and who am I to refuse such an offer!

This past year, I’ve seen some huge unexpected expenses come in– from my emergency 6-day hospital visit this time last year or the car maintenance that drained my savings account this month so I could get it to pass the New York State inspection. It seemed like the moment I got over one mountain, I’d take a giant sigh of relief and there’d be a new issue to deal with.

This past year, I’ve also seen the many ways God was taking care of me– from free laundry detergent, free pie, free dish soap, car bills paid, free flowers, a free laptop and now a dress. A dress I don’t NEED, but that I wanted.

God isn’t just concerned about your NEEDS, but He cares about your desires. Even the unspoken desires. Even the things you haven’t dared to tell anyone you wanted. I don’t know about you, but that’s a beautifully humbling thought.

Sometimes, we have this idea that we are lost in the multitudes, but then God does this amazing miracle and our eyes are open to the fact that He hasn’t been blind to our yearnings. Maybe that’s how the woman with the issue of blood felt (Luke 8:43-48). There was a multitude of people surrounding Jesus. It was loud and chaotic. And there she was an outcast of the Jewish society because of her ailment. She was hoping to stay unnoticed, not asking for prayer, but just simply touching His garment and then heading on her way.

But Jesus noticed.

The moment she touched Him, He knew it. The Bible says, He felt the power leave His body and she was immediately healed. He looked at the crowd and asked who it was that touched him. His disciples laughed– “Uhhhh, errybody, Jesus. Don’t you see them pushing and shoving and trying to be close to you?” He wouldn’t let it go.

I’m sure the woman didn’t want to be pointed out, but I can only imagine how hard her heart must have been beating. How intense the encounter had been for her. How real. I wonder if He looked her in the eyes with a knowing glance and if it was in that look that she felt the comfort to come forward and admit it was her who touched Him. No longer just another bystander in the crowd, but a receptor of a miracle.

I don’t know your needs and wants, friend. I haven’t heard the whispered longings of your heart, but He has. And those whispers, those prayers have not fallen on deaf ears. God notices you. Even more than that, He loves you. Deeply. Intimately. Knowingly.

He shows us His love in so many ways– as a reminder that He’s aware. That He is very much present.

As I shared this story with a friend over lunch this week she said, “It sounds like God is just bringing you closer to Himself.” And that’s what all of this boils down to. Every gift. Every blessing. Every encouragement. Every struggle. Yes, every pain, has been there to bring me close to His heart.

He’s there– I’ve just got to reach out and grab Him.

Use What You’ve Got

Use What

It seems like everybody is asking these questions:

What are my dreams?

What is my calling?

What am I meant to do in life?

You know you’ve asked them. Don’t deny it. In bed at night, unable to sleep, you wonder if you’re doing what you were made to do. Or maybe you’ve been sitting around a table drinking coffee with friends and someone asks the “If you could do anything, what would it be” question, which always leaves me wanting to put my head through the wall. It’s such a HUGE question.

Geez. I don’t know. Most days I struggle picking out what I want to wear to work.

I mean, if it were up to me, I’d have married my bearded lumberjack and have had babies by now–to be a wife and a mom. That was….is….my dream.

There’s more than that though. And I know it. There’s these passions in my heart that up until a year ago, I hadn’t even dared to pursue because of fear. Like this blog, for example.

I started writing when I was a teenager. I didn’t have a traditional diary, but a “Jesus Journal” as I called it. Each entry begins, “Dear Jesus,” and I share what’s on my heart. The struggles and endless “why…” questions. I wasn’t always super deep. I told Jesus about the boy I was in love with (that week) and how I wanted to know if he was “the one”. Or how I was mad at my friend for inviting my sister over and not me. I’d say my notes have matured with age, but I’m just using bigger words now.

Then, in 2008, I felt like I was supposed to go back to college and get my BA in Writing. I had already graduated from Bible school and had been working as a full time youth leader and had no intentions of going back to school. God had other plans. He wasn’t just calling me to go back to college to get a degree, but to rekindle the calling He had on my life.

I was meant to write.

Let me back up to three years earlier. I was in my Senior year of Bible school and as is the tradition there, our teachers pray for us before we graduate. When it was my turn, the person praying mentioned the scripture Ezekiel 37 in regards to my calling. The story behind Ezekiel 37 is pretty amazing– I’ll give you the Holly notes version. Basically, there’s a prophet named Ezekiel and God brings him to a valley full of bones. The bones are dry and lifeless and God asks Ezekiel if the bones can be brought to life.

Ezekiel’s a smart guy. His response to God is brilliant, in my opinion, “Only you know that God.”

Ya. You got that right.

So, God tells Ezekiel to speak breath to the bones and he does. And there, in that valley of death, God causes the bones to grow ligaments and muscles and skin and they become living, breathing bodies! In verse 10, these once lifeless bones are now called an exceeding army.

What’s this got to do with me and writing?

You see, God hasn’t called me just to write. He’s called me to speak life to weary bones. Weary bones that are just trying to make it through the day and aren’t seeing any hope. Bones that are grieving over loses or unfulfilled dreams. Bones that have been bruised and hurt (including those hurt by Christians). Bones that feel unlovable and unworthy.

When God asked me to write, He asked me: “Holly, do you believe I can use your words to bring life to people?”

And all I knew to say was, “God, only you can know that.”

I know some of you may be thinking that you don’t have what it takes to fulfill the dreams and calling God has on your life. Maybe you feel deficient in some way and you tell yourself you’ll pursue it once you get a little more training or schooling. Or once your kids are grown. Or when you’ve got more money or more time.

Let me give you one more Bible story to help you with all those excuses.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read the story of little David and big bad Goliath. Goliath was a monster of a man and caused grown men to crap their pants in fear. For 40 days, this mammoth would stand before the Israelite army and insult God and would dare any man to come fight him one-on-one. The winner would take all. Literally.

David was not a part of the army, but was just a little shepherd boy bringing his brothers (who were in the army) food. While there, David heard Goliath’s rant, and saw no one was doing anything. David wouldn’t stand by and do nothing and goes to King Saul and volunteers to fight the giant. King Saul allows him, and tries to give him his armor.

The problem is, Saul’s armor doesn’t fit David. It wasn’t made for him.

Instead, David goes out to battle without armor and the only tool he knows how to use– a simple sling and a few stones he’s picked up along the way.

To everyone watching, the scene must have appeared ridiculous. David killed that giant though. And he did it using the skills God had given him. God always anoints the gifts He gives. 

So, I ask you: What has God given you that He’s asking you to use? What is YOUR sling?

For me, it’s my words. I may feel like a punk kid among veterans, but I’m going to be faithful to go out and use what God gave me. I’m confident if I’m obedient to do that then He will bring victory upon victory. I believe that for you, too.

Finding My Way Home

finding my way home

A friend came to visit me recently. She’s a few years younger than me and exponentially more athletic. Like a good friend, I thought since she had driven hours to spend a few days with me I could at least make sure she had a good time.

If you know anything about me, on free weekends (they don’t occur very often) I like to spend time vegging out watching Netflix. I always tell myself I should be productive and get some reading, writing, or cleaning done. That becomes difficult when they make every episode of the Frasier series available. What other options do I have but to start from Season 1 Episode 1?

Instead of making my friend endure through hours upon hours of a show she’s never heard of, we decided to spend our time doing some site seeing and hiking. When I say “hiking” read walking through the woods at a pleasant and mostly non-strenuous pace. Well, non-strenuous for some people. I, for one, was huffing it both days.

Our first day’s hike took us to a local state park that had beautiful waterfalls, stone bridges and lots and lots of stairs. We captured a few selfies to remember the adventure– one of which we took on “Lover’s Lane”. We laughed at the name of our selected trail, but I secretly hoped I might find a single, bearded lumberjack along the way. 🙂

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I didn’t find my lumberjack, but it was fun none-the-less.

The next day we decided to visit a Nature Center that had numerous trails and a scenic overlook that would show us the river and the valley below. I’d hiked there the previous summer and I didn’t remember it being too difficult. I remember enjoying the view and thought it would be nice to experience it again. The trail head included a map showing the different colored routes you could take. Each one indicating how long the trails were, where they’d join and which one would take us all the way to the overlook.

The over-sized map also included warning signs letting us know that this was a rattlesnake preserve land and that even though we most likely wouldn’t see one, if we did, to proceed with caution and report it to the Park Ranger. You won’t have to worry about that, Ranger Man, if I see a rattlesnake the entire hillside is going to know about it. Also, I’ll be the blur running past you at record speed.

We didn’t see a rattlesnake on our hike, thankfully.

But we did get lost.

You see, even though we had taken a picture of the map with our trusty iPhones, and there were colored markers every few yards, somehow we got off track. We started off following the red trail, but somewhere in the middle of our hike the red markers disappeared and all we saw were yellow markers. There was no overlook and there certainly wasn’t a bench. I was convinced we had been walking exclusively uphill at an 80 degree angle. The sky was getting dark overhead and I was hearing the slight rumbles of thunder in the distance. Of course the Weather Man’s prediction of rain would be 100% on the money while we were stuck on some trail not quite sure if we were coming or going.

I was getting discouraged and my brain was just beginning to hit panic mode. I didn’t want to get stuck walking circles in the woods–especially if a storm was coming. In a moment of pure genius, my friend checked the compass on her phone. I’m sure she did it because she realized I was starting to fray around the edges. We had managed to have ourselves pointed in the direction that led us out of the woods and back to the Nature Center within minutes.

We had read the signs wrong, but we made it back home.

As we walked through the parking lot, and drove down off the hill, I wondered how often that has happened to me in life. I was walking around, enjoying my company, the lovely views and gotten myself off track. Realizing I wasn’t quite sure where I was, began to panic noticing the dark clouds. And yet, I’d make it home safe and sound all because I knew what direction would lead me there.

I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve gotten off track before….many, many times. I had mistakenly thought I was doing the right thing only to find out that along the way I had taken a wrong turn. Sometimes I’m quick to see my misstep and other times I’m out there wandering like the Jews in the desert circling the same mountain over and over again.

Then, there in the midst of my panic, confusion and uncertainly I finally stop and set my eyes back on God. My focus back now where it should be, He leads me out and leads me Home.

His grace welcoming me back.

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.  

 

3 Lessons (on Weeds) from the Gardener

Weeds Post

I’ve never really had a green thumb.

Actually, my thumb could be nicknamed the “Thumb of death”. Every plant I get I kill. There’s just too much to know. How much light? How much water? I’m not home enough to care. As I type this, I have a decaying plant on my dining room table. It’s been whispering “help meeeee” for months now. I pass by it every time I walk to the bathroom. I see it and do nothing.

My mom had kept it alive for me for years. When I got my own place she decided it was time I took it home. I wasn’t sure how long it would last under my care. It’s been 3 years, and its asking me to let it die.

Anything I know about plants, or gardening, I’ve learned from my dad. I’m not a completely useless student. He points out the plants and tells me to pluck everything else. Easy peasy.

Recently, an older lady I know asked for some help weeding one of her flower beds. I like working in the garden, so I gladly accepted her invite knowing every time I help her I get a free dinner out of the deal. A free dinner is always worth it. 

I get to her house and she brings me to where the overgrown flower bed is and explains this is where I will be working. She points out a few flowers that should be left alone, but the rest could be torn up.

To confirm my orders, I repeat back what she said to me pointing at the plants to save. She says I’ve got it. Then, she leaves.

Instantly, its as if my brain has been completely flushed of the previous conversation and everything looks like a plant that should be saved. Or is it a weed?! As I work, I begin to pray. “Hey, God. Can you help me not mess up this ladies garden?” Then, I continue on with other non-weed related prayers. 

My heart had been heavy that day with some news concerning a friend. She was struggling with some very serious stuff and I felt like I had run out of wisdom and encouragement. I’d said it all. I knew she needed a word from God– not just some words from Holly. As I prayed, God began to reveal some things to my heart through the weeds.

Ya, you heard me right.

I know I’ve said this before, but I think it bears repeating. I’m a simple kid, and God speaks to me in simple terms. Sometimes its through a song, a conversation with a friend, or in this case through an evening of gardening. Very often, we get caught up looking for a voice in the clouds or a wild burning bush. I’ve never had those experiences, but I do know God speaks to me and it isn’t something I’ve made up. How do I know that? Cause His thoughts are not my thoughts– He points out things I would have never come to on my own. That’s how I know. 

Lesson #1: I need people in my life who will point out the weeds in my life. I don’t always recognize them and sometimes things may look like flowers to me, but in actuality are weeds.

When I was a kid, like most kids it seems, I would pick dandelions and make little bouquets. I had believed they were flowers until one day someone told me, “Hey. You know those things are weeds?” I needed someone wiser than me to point that out.

We’ve got things in our lives– be it lies we believe, things we are doing, a direction we are heading– that we need people wiser than ourselves to point out and say, “Hey. That’s a weed.” I’m thankful for the people who have done that for me knowing I would have done/believed some pretty dumb things if it hadn’t been for those people caring enough to lovingly point out something in my life that needed to be removed.

Lesson #2: You’ve got to remove the roots of the weed, or they’ll come back.

Weeds are persistent boogers. Sometimes you’ll think you’ve gotten all the roots only to find a weed in the same exact place a few days later.

God is the one who needs to remove the “weed”. He sees the depths of the root and He knows the best way to get rid of it. I’ll miss something if I try to do it on my own strength. 

Here’s an example of some weeding I’m asking God to do in my life. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always had a poor self-esteem. Poor is putting it kindly and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m downright abusive to myself. I’ve repeated derogatory names taking them on as my identity. Now most people would say– “Speak positive, Holly!” That’s part of it, but unless God comes in and gives me His vision, and His thoughts, then this weed is just gonna linger because I’ll only be dealing with the surface issue (negative talk) when there’s a deeper heart issue that needs weeding and healing.

Lesson #3: Weeds come out easier in fertile ground.

If your ground is dry, weeding is much more difficult. You are more apt to struggle, toil and sweat.

How does one keep fertile lives? Read the Bible. Worship. Pray. Ask godly people to speak into your life. Be obedient to what God is speaking to you. All of those things water our souls and keep the ground workable.

It’s easy to let life harden us– to allow people’s words, disappointments and crisis’ to deplete us of Living Water. That’s why it’s so important that we pursue God (through the above mentioned means…as well as many other ways) in order to stay flexible. 

This is my advice to you, allow the Gardener to come in and do some weeding. Allow Him to point out things that need some work and trust Him in the process. Know that anything being removed, is being removed for your good. Sure, it’s not a pain-less process, but in the end you’ll have a beautiful garden full of flowers instead of an overgrown and unkempt plot full of weeds. 

Rest Takes Work

resttakeswork

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…

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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

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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.

I don’t love people.

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I don’t love people.

I mean, I know Jesus tells me to love my neighbor and I DO. I mean my neighbor on the one side is a guy who keeps his lawn mowed and even helps shovel my driveway in the winter. The other side, is a church and most of the time its empty. So, that was easy.

What? My neighbor means EVERYONE? Uh, that’s a little ridiculous. I mean, there are a lot of idiots out there. And you’re telling me I have to love them?

I prefer to love people who treat me well. Or in the very least, can be titled a “good person”. It’s easy to love people who we deem lovable.

But then there’s the not so lovable people.

Like the guy who rejected me because I wasn’t a size 6 (Or because I had opinions. Possibly a mix of both). Or the person who has corrected my grammar on FB about 5 different times now (Seriously, I’m not writing a novel, people). Or the person who’s been nasty to my bestie (don’t mess with my BFF). Or the person who sped up in the slow lane so I couldn’t pass them on the highway (HELLLLLOOOOO! I’m trying to pass you!) Or the person who looked at me sideways in the grocery story (Do I have something on my FACE?!).

By now, you must think I’m just a miserable, nasty person. Maybe that’s true, or maybe I’m just being honest.

I want to love people. I’m just honest about the struggle. Most days I don’t love people. I’ve spent most of my life hand selecting those I’ll love and those I won’t. It’s an arduous process for sure, but it seemed necessary. In doing so, I put a ticket booth at the gate of my heart.

“Got a ticket?”

“Nope.” Hands showing empty pockets.

“Sorry, Charlie. Move along.”

The issue then becomes, not that I’m not loving certain people, but that I’ve taken on the job as ticket collector. I’m the one calling the shots. There’s a better way. And, dare I say, MORE fun.

When I let Jesus run the ticket booth, I’ve got more time for the Merry-Go-Round and the fried Oreos (Try them once before you die). I’m no longer deciding who gets in, but enjoying those who get to join me on the adventure. Sure, there’ll be an idiot along the way, yelling and holding a sign that reads “God hates fags”. But maybe, just MAYBE, Jesus let him in too so he could see there’s more to life than hate and sign waving. Maybe it’ll take me loving him that will convince him to put his sign down. Probably not, but what if that’s all it took.

Love invites. It’s not saying I approve of your actions, but I love you despite them. That’s what’s so striking about Jesus. He loves flawed, ignorant, selfish people and it’s that kind of love that changes hearts. You’ll never overcome hate with more hate.

“The way we love each other is still the best proof that Jesus is alive. Who we are says a lot about who He is.” Bob Goff