Get up!

Get Up!

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.

Proverbs 24:16 (NLT)

I’m not perfect. I doubt that’s a shocking revelation for you to hear, especially if you know me at all.

I love Jesus, a lot, but I mess up. Actually, I don’t think there’s a day that goes by where I think to myself, “Way to go! You did great today!” Most times, I’ll be in bed at night replaying events from the day where I fell short. I’ll remember an attitude I had with someone. Or the way I yelled at the idiot on the highway for not merging fast enough. Or for calling the person on the highway who didn’t merge fast enough an idiot.

And those things just compose the things I did wrong before 10AM.

I’m not here to showcase my long list of failures. I could, but that’s not the point. The point is that it happens AND I’m not alone. Ya, I’m looking at you.

Maybe you don’t suffer from acute road rage or give anyone attitude, but I’m sure there are things you struggle with.

Maybe you judged that girl in the grocery store for wearing leggings as pants.

Or you lied and told your kid there is a Santa Claus (sorry, kids).

Or you stole wifi from your neighbor.

Or you tried to convince me that it wasn’t really stealing when you used your neighbors wifi. 😉

We can all be more relaxed now that we admitted that we fall (or have fallen) at times. As a Christian, that is SUPER encouraging.

What?!?!

YES. It is super encouraging for me to know that I’m not the only one who falls down. That’s what stopped me in my tracks today when I heard Proverbs 24:16, even when I’ve heard this same verse 100 times before. There was this beautiful realization that godly people, righteous people, lovers of Jesus….FALL DOWN. There doesn’t need to be any shame in admitting that fact because I am not alone.

I’m not celebrating my imperfections, but I’m also not letting the realization that I have them keep me bound. There’s freedom in confession.

That’s not the whole story, though. There’s even better news. I can get up.

As a child of God, I have the power to get up. Circumstances, difficulties and hardships will come my way, and they may even trip me up, but they won’t keep me down.

Or in the words of the great Rocky Balboa, “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean, and nasty place an’ no matter how tough you think you are, it’ll always beat you if you let it. It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward.

Life….or our own stupid actions…can hit us hard, but the important part is that we get up. If you’re struggling, get up. You aren’t powerless, but have the most powerful Source within you. Don’t stay on the ground wallowing and complaining about how defeated you feel, but allow the power of God (the strength of God) to move through you and pick you up.

Dust yourself off and keep going.

But first, GET UP.

When Holidays hurt.

when holidays hurt

Holidays don’t summon happy memories for some people.

No matter how many happy moments have tried to crowd the painful ones, the painful ones still remain. Sometimes these memories are hidden in the dark corners of our hearts where only a few have been allowed in.

As much as we don’t want our past to effect our present, we struggle to forget. Believe me, we wish we could. We long to forget. Instead, we do our very best to celebrate with those who are celebrating.

But what about grieving with those who grieve?

It’s a toss up, I’ll be honest. It’s not that I want people to be miserable. Hell, I don’t want to be miserable. I want to be celebrating with everyone else– wearing red and green flare, singing Christmas carols and giving off that Holly Jolly vibe. Ok, maybe not that much Christmas spirit.

Instead, I feel like I’m in a hole. I can see the colored lights, hear the singing and smell the homemade cookies, but all around me is dark and lonely.

Lonely.

I’m not lonely because I am alone. In fact, I am not alone at all. I have some of the most amazing family and friends around me. You can’t fix an internal problem externally, though. As much as those closest to me shower me with love, my heart still hurts.

On December 4th, I had given up. I texted my best friend and told her how badly I wished for this dumb holiday to be over already. All I wanted was to get through it in one piece. I was a broken, weepy mess.

As she tends to do (thankfully) my bestie brought it back to Jesus.

“I just want to enjoy Him,” she confessed.

::sigh:: Me too.

It would mean I’d have to turn my eyes from my grief to someone else. Someone much more beautiful than all the pain and hurt.

So, I decided to do something I had never done before. I decided to celebrate Advent.

christmas

Since then, I’ve been reading portions of Scripture that talk about the birth of Christ. The reading isn’t super in-depth, a verse or two in length making it easy to follow through on daily. I made a similar calendar for my best friend, too, so we could share the experience. Just the thought that at any minute she could ask me if I’ve done my reading is enough motivation (…guilt…) to keep me on task.

Confession time….I’m still sad. I’m still hurting. I still feel like I’m in a hole. Some days, it feels unbearable.

What gives, Jesus?! I thought if I did the Christian thing that I’d get my happy shot and be good to go until Christmas. That all of a sudden my frown would be turned upside down and I’d be walking around with a smile plastered across my face. Instead of choking back tears anytime someone asks me “How are you doing?”

Maybe you’re like me and you’re hurting, too. I don’t know your story or the reasons why you’re hurting. I won’t pretend to have any answers. All I can do is tell you what I’ve decided to focus on despite the pain.

His name is Immanuel, which means God WITH us. That simple, but profound truth is the hallmark of my days. The powerful reminder that He is:

With us in the pain.

With us in the tears.

With us in the brokenness. The anger. The grief.

The nights I have fallen asleep with tear stained cheeks, He’s been there.

The days where I can barely respond to a text message asking how I am, He’s been there.

The days when my little girl heart was crushed, He was there.

And He’s there with you too. In all of your loneliness, in all of your unpleasant memories, in all of the questioning He’s there. I know you may not feel Him. I know you may not hear Him. But I pray that you would. That in this holiday season, you would experience Jesus…IMMANUEL…in a deeper, more real way than you ever have before.

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.

Fake Smiles: How to Be a Good Christian

fake smiles

My face is fairly readable. If I’m angry, you know. If I’m excited, you know. If I’m sad, you know.

For a long time, I was ashamed of that. Don’t good Christian girls keep smiles plastered on their faces all the time regardless of how they feel? I thought that a frozen smile was a mark of self discipline or self control. You may be wondering where I got that–I have a pretty good idea.

When I was a little girl, my grandma would drive me to church with her. I’d spend Saturday night at her house so I was up and ready to leave on time. I’m not sure why that mattered though because she was always the one causing us to be late Sunday after Sunday. In the car, I’d sit silently in the front seat trying to gather my muddled morning thoughts. I hadn’t started drinking coffee yet, so my wake-up time was a bit longer than it is now.

My grandma, on the other hand, is a ray of freakin’ sunshine in the morning. She’s singing along to the Psalty’s sing-a-long cassette tape and I’m zoned out staring out the car window. Each Sunday, she’d turn to me and ask why I wasn’t smiling. She’s never wait for a response, but would immediately proceed with the Sunday school jingle: “Jesus takes a frown and turns it upside down and whooooooops! There comes a smile.”

This didn’t make me smile.

Actually, it pissed me off.

The thing was, I was never intentionally frowning…well, until she sang that song. Then, I was frowning with (what I thought was) good reason.

My grandma didn’t have an easy life. She married young and not very long into her marriage, her husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Over the years, she’d watch him deteriorate from being a tall, strong man to someone who needed help with normal everyday functions. I can’t imagine how hard it would have been to carry the financial load of her family, raise her three children and take care of her sick husband, but my grandma always did it with a steadfast faith. I don’t ever remember hearing her complain about how hard it was. Never saw her cry a tear over her difficult life. All I ever saw was a woman who praised Jesus– even early in the morning.

This godly woman was an amazing example to me growing up. That example, albeit it a good one, caused me to believe some things that were unattainable for me.

I believed that a godly woman should smile even when she was hurt or sad.

I believed that being “emotional” was a sign of a lack of discipline.

I believed that being loud wasn’t lady like.

The problem was….or rather is… that I don’t smile all the time. My face shows a range of emotions and as much as I’d like to hide those emotions, my face refuses to co-operate. I am emotional and passionate no matter if its a game of Uno with friends (that’s never friendly) or directing a kid’s summer camp. I’m all in all the time. And I’m loud. My laugh fills up a room and my volume button is usually pretty high. All of those things are me. And if that is the case, if they are my qualities, then I believed I was flawed and I’d never be a good Christian woman.

My thoughts about what a good Christian was supposed to look like was wrong.

Jesus never asked me to be fake or pretend I was feeling OK even when I wasn’t. Jesus never told me to quiet down or to stop being so emotional. Actually, He’s pretty happy with me just the way I am. Not to say that I’m perfect because we all know that I’m not, but to embrace the person God made me to be.

Do you want to know what I think the “formula” is to be a good Christian?

BE WHO GOD MADE YOU TO BE.

No three point sermon to spiritual perfection here. Just one amazing Truth that could bring freedom in your life because you’d no longer be bound by trying to be someone you’re not, but enjoying the perks of being yourself. There’s no shame in that.

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.