His Glory: Hope for the Hurting

WORLD NEWS

The world is a place full of people who are suffering. All you need to do is listen to the radio or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed to hear about another tragedy. There’s famine, disease, terrorism, even acts of nature ripping through cities, regions and nations. Destroying families. Hurting individuals.

We (you, me, us) all go through seasons of suffering. Seasons. Plural. For some people it may feel as though you get through one and walk right into another.

We all experience it from time to time. It can include portions of our childhood. Or those painful high school years. Maybe it was after the death of a loved one. Or during the sickness of a friend. Maybe you couldn’t even pin point why things hurt so bad– all you knew is that you hurt.

You aren’t alone. That’s one of the most important truths when going through suffering. There are other people out there who feel or have felt like you do right now. We can fall into this trap that tells us no one understands, but that’s a lie. A lie to keep us alone. Even more than that though there are people out there who are for you. They care about you. They may not have been through the same exact circumstances you are walking through, but they can understand pain. They also know how to pray….and make brownies. Both of which I’ve found are helpful and necessary.

In the midst of pain it’s important to keep people around us. We’ll want to isolate and keep to ourselves. We tell ourselves its to shield others from our misery, but honestly we just want to be left alone to pout. That’s what I’ve done at least. I’ve stopped replying to text messages, stopped answering phone calls and hidden away in my room for days at a time to sulk. Those were dark times, times I could have/should have chosen to cling to community instead.

God placed us in community for a reason. We need each other when it feels like the world is closing in. We need people to speak truth to our hearts and our souls because we’ve somehow lost the words. Pain will try and silence you, but your community will be your voice.

In this most recent season I’ve had a bit of a revelation of my suffering and it’s this:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)

There is a glory that will outshine all of this suffering. Our suffering won’t even be a distant memory, but will vanish in comparison. That’s where I’m choosing to fix my attention. Because He deserves my attention. He deserves my affection…even when I’m hurting. And when I choose to look at Him, instead of my pain, I’m reminded of all that.

I know what it feels like when I focus on my pain. It doesn’t ease the hurt, but magnifies it. It becomes the only thing I think about consuming all of my thoughts. That type of thinking sends us down a very dark pit. A pit full of despair and hopelessness.

Does it take away our current heartache? No. Will there still be suffering? Yes. I’m not wanting to belittle the pain. The pain is real. It does hurt. But there’s more for us. Something better in the midst of this or despite it all. It is the hope of His glory. (Col. 1:27)

If you need some encouragement or some words of Truth spoken to your heart, please comment and let me know. I know what it’s like to need words…and for those words to come from others. It’d be my honor and my joy to do that…and to remind you that you are not alone. 

Love: A Costly Gift

Love- A Costly Gift

There once was a woman who was known around town as “the sinner”. I imagine that means she was a whore. Giving herself to any man in exchange for a buck or two. There were times, I wonder, if she wanted to do something else but didn’t because she’d been doing it for too long. It could be that over time she got comfortable with her title. Wore it like a badge of honor.

Sinner.

“That’s what I’ll always be.”

But then Jesus comes along. We aren’t told how the woman knows Jesus, but it’s clear she had been greatly impacted by Him. So much so, that when she heard Jesus was at Simon the Pharisees house (also a badge worn with honor) she went to Him. She was unhindered by social cues or even common courtesies, but had an undaunted desire to give lavishly to Him.

What does a sinner have to offer Jesus anyway?

First, she offered Him her tears. Those tears held the shame from all those years and all those mistakes. Tears that she had held in for so long in order to not feel were now falling freely in order to wash His feet. As they fell, they seemed to purify her as well. The toxins of her past no longer bottled up inside. In those tears was hope and joy because that is what she found in Jesus.

Her hair she used as a towel to dry His feet. This detail alone would have enraged those in attendance. Women were not allowed to have their hair down in front of anyone but their own husbands. Somehow in that moment she was not concerned about anyone’s eyes, but only those of Jesus. Her thoughts were focused on Him alone.

And as she thought about Him she kissed His feet. Those beautiful feet which brought such good news to her weary soul. How could she not kiss them?

Then, she took her jar of precious ointment and broke it. Not one drop of the contents would be saved, but all of it poured out on Jesus’ feet. The woman had taken her most costly possession and in an act of extreme adoration gave it up in worship to Jesus.

Amazing how when beautiful things are broken they can bring a sweet smelling fragrance of adoration and love.

As the woman showered Jesus with love, Simon thought to himself, “Hmphh, but she’s a sinner. Come on Jesus, you should know that.” He kept his disgust to himself as he watched her unapologetically love Jesus. Disgusted at the woman’s indecent behavior and Jesus for allowing it.

Poor, stupid Simon got caught up in his critical and judgmental thinking. Quickly pointing at someone else’s sins while forgetting he had his own.

But at least I’m not her.

Stings a bit to hear. To hear how similar Simon can sound and to know that I’m often swept up in my own pious thinking. I mean, come on, I invited Jesus over for dinner. Give me some credit.

When He came, because He’ll always come, I treated Him like a commoner. I say it’s because we’re just “that comfortable” with one another, but somehow dishonor veiled itself as familiarity. The intimate greetings we once exchanged have become the awkward side hugs between acquaintances or the cold distance between lovers sleeping back-to-back.

What was it that caused the woman to have such a zealous love? The fact that she knew she was loved and forgiven.

This is where my heart begins to ache, because I know it’s her realization of His love for her that causes her to act. Her expression of love was not meant to earn His love, but in response to His love. All the tears and all the kisses were in gratitude for what He had already given her. When you’ve seen a love like His you want to reciprocate and she did in the only way she knew how.

God, I want a love like that…again.

Not that I’ve ever lost His unconditional, unfading love, but I’ve forgotten how generous of a gift I had been given when I had been so undeserving. I, too, had been a whore freely giving myself to lesser loves. I had been the unclean woman. The sinner.

Then, there He was and in an instant His love did for me what I could have never done for myself: forgive. I need a renewed revelation of that love. To stop trying to earn it or work for it, but to catch a glimpse of it in such a way that it brings me back to my knees in awe. And in that moment not care about the tears, or the stares, but to be consumed by it allowing myself to cover Him in kisses and pour out my most costly worship at His feet.

My prayer for you is that you would catch a glimpse of the great love He has for you and that it would cause your heart to worship.

A Foundation That Withstands Questioning

A Foundation That Withstands Questioning

“It’s not tradition verses new, but about the foundation of your faith.”

The authoritative voice of the seasoned preacher declared and I scrambled to get a pen. Underneath the quote, I scribbled, “Then, God what is the foundation?”

If it’s not an old generation verse a new generation, then what is it?

If it’s not the conservatives verse the “liberals”, then what is it?

If it’s not denomination verse denomination, then what is it?

My eyes turned back to the preacher who had continued on and as if responding to me in dialogue and replied, “It’s Jesus. Jesus is our foundation.”

The past few years have been a journey full of questions and wonderment that I hadn’t anticipated. I was seeing God in unexpected places and then not feeling Him in places that I thought I should.

Up until then, I had been satisfied with the pretty picket fences I had built around my box-shaped house where I kept God. In there, He was safe, secure and controlled. If I do this, then God does that. Ignorantly, I participated in this manipulative game thinking I could force God’s hand if I just did all the right things. There I knew what to expect out of Him and that was a comforting feeling.

It looked like faith and even felt like faith.

But God isn’t tame.

He’s wild and that scares the hell out of me. Like the wind, I can’t anticipate where He’s coming from and I only know where He’s been because I’ve seen the effects of Him having been there. It seems like the only way to survive it…or Him rather…is to just go with it. But “going with the flow” leaves so many unanswered questions.

Yes, questions. My many, many questions. Questions that most of the time I’m afraid to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, because it seems “wrong” to question God. Not that I think God is insecure, that’s laughable, but because Christians can be when it comes to Him. Yet, there in my head and in my heart the questions beg me to wrestle and some days it feels like they’ve got me pinned.

Each day, I keep wrestling.

In the wrestling, some traditions (or traditional thought) that once seemed non-negotiable, now seem less important. These traditions have become, without me knowing it, idols in my life and God has begun dismantling them. My eyes have been set on them instead of Jesus, so as they fall and crumble, I have this feeling like my world is falling and crumbling around me.

Like the words from this old chorus* I begin to realize: “all the things I once held dear, built my life upon, all this world reveres and wants to own, all I once thought gain, I have counted loss, spent and worthless now, compared to this…knowing You Jesus.” For some of us, Christianity has been our world system and our pet beliefs have been our badge of honor and the things we fight for. Sadly, knowing and pursuing Jesus has taken some lesser priority or forgotten all together.

Our beliefs about Jesus should never overshadow simply knowing Him.

So, white picket fences and boxes meant to contain God may be leveled to the ground, but my Foundation remains. Jesus remains. There will be a rebuilding that takes place, but it will never look like it did before. Actually, I’m not sure what it will look like. I’m just going to continue pursuing Jesus knowing He’ll take care of me in the process.

Remember, there is only one foundation, the one already laid: Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 3:11

* All I Once Held Dear (Knowing You) by Graham Kendrick

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

Title

“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.