Jesus Is Our Daily Bread

If you’ve grown up in the church you’ve been reciting the Lord’s Prayer ever since you memorized it in early morning Sunday School where you enjoyed Bible stories on flannel-graph boards. The Lord’s Prayer was given to us by Jesus as an example of how we should pray. We tend to take the red letters statements pretty seriously in the Bible. In a way it’s become a seemingly common prayer that can be heard in movies, found on wall hangings and even used as inspiration for works of art.

The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t take away from the depth or power behind it. Like I said, Jesus prayed it so it’s not some wimpy prayer meant to be recited haphazardly without a thought. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I’ve done more times than not and have spent most of my life skimming over it like it was NBD.

A few Sundays ago, I had the opportunity to lead communion at my church, which means I spent days preparing. And by preparing, I mean seizing every opportunity to pray (in the car, in the shower, in bed, etc.) because nobody wants to be the person to mess up communion. In my prayers, I’d ask God to give me some kind of encouraging word for His people. Something that would be fresh and not the usual Sunday morning pep rally speech.

And for days, Jesus said nothing.

It was a bit nerve wracking, to say the least, and I worried that maybe I’d get up there Sunday and just do the normal communion spiel. I’d heard it about a thousand times up to this point so I could wing it if I needed to but really hoped that wouldn’t be the case.

When I walked into church that Sunday, I was resigned that maybe God wasn’t going to speak to me about communion. As worship began, it became very clear that God was speaking. It wasn’t in my timing, which He has a tendency of doing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. So there, in this personal moment with me and Jesus He said, “I am your daily bread.”

There’s so much to that statement.

Jesus. That beautiful name. The name above every name. The name that will bring every person to their knees in worship. There’s power in His name. There’s no other name like it and no other name that holds such authority.

Is. This one small word reminds us that Jesus is….now….currently…presently….at this very moment our daily bread. That is comforting in the midst of your struggle or need. Jesus isn’t some past help. He is here when I need Him.

Our. As much as Jesus is here for me He’s here for you, too. He’s mine, He’s yours, He’s ours. Christianity was never meant to be lived singularly. We were made for community and it’s only fitting that communion would be done in the midst of that community. It is available for us all as a Body of believers. Jesus’ bread or rather His body, which the bread represents, was broken and used to make us whole.

Daily. Not our bread for just Sundays. Or holidays. Or when we feel like it. He’s meant to be partaken of each and every day. The fact is we need Him daily, but we so foolishly think we can pass on that daily bread. “I got this,” we try and convince ourselves. In my independence, and mostly my stupidity, I thought that it showed strength to try and do things on my own. The fact remains that I need Him. Not just daily, but moment by moment. In the highs of life and certainly in the lows.He wants us coming to Him to supply our needs for that day. In doing so, we will see and know His faithfulness because He’ll always provide.

Bread. This bread is the bread of life. No Wonder Bread here, but bread that sustains us and gives us all we need as we face our day. We can try and satisfy our needs with other things (or people, or hobbies or jobs or money), but nothing and no one can satisfy like Him. Everything else is just counterfeit.

One of the things I love about communion at my church is the way the children respond to it. There’s a lady at my church who makes fresh unleavened bread each time and the kids love it. When they come forward with their parents they grab not just one piece, but two or three. They smile as they do it and I can’t help but smile back. If only we could keep that kind of child’s heart with things– such joy and hopeful expectation.

So, today and every day may you be reminded that Jesus is your daily supply of all you need. 

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My Story of Redemption

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

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

Let me start at the beginning: the ugly memory.

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted God to bring redemption to my story. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is my story of redemption. 

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

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

My Modern Day Miracles

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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?

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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.

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

Prayer

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

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

My friend was….is….hurting.

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

He’d share. I’d listen.

I’d share. He’d listen.

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

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

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

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

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

Speak, Holly, speak.

“God, YOU need to encourage his heart.”

     “I will.”

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

     “I will.”

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

     “I will.”

My heart seemed to lighten a bit.

“I’m going to use you to do that.”

….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speak, Holly, speak.

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

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

And He has.

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

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

I’m speaking, Jesus. I’m speaking.

Taking the higher road.

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Sometimes you have a choice to take the high road.

In my birthday post last week, I mentioned if I knew then what I know now that I’d “Forgive faster. Forgive even if you think the other person is wrong. Forgive even if the other person IS wrong. Trust me. Swallow your pride on this one.” Less than 24-hours later, I received a phone call that would make me prove it.

Seven years ago this week, my biological mother hung up on me. At that point, I hadn’t lived with her for 10 years and I had been trying my best to be a decent daughter and protect (my heart, my emotions) myself at the same time. Unfortunately, healthy boundaries are not my specialty.

After her usual verbal face slap, she hung up and I moved on.

Happily, I might add. I had been praying for years that I’d get some freedom from the guilt, shame and expectations that she continued to pile on my shoulders and I finally got it. I knew the silence would end at some point. I figured it would take some kind of crisis to have her call me, which is exactly what happened.

On my 30th birthday, I received the long dreaded phone call. Luckily for me, at the time, I had been out of the room so the call went to voicemail. An emotional landmine waiting for me on returning. The content of the message was brief and straight forward. After some birthday greetings, I was told I should call my grandmother who I had not talked to in that time, either.

I wish I could tell you my immediate reaction was full of forgiveness, love and grace.

It wasn’t.

Not even a little bit.

Spent some time talking to my parents about the phone call. Actually, they did most of the talking, since I didn’t have much more to say than “That pissed me off.” I was encouraged to pray about my response and consider taking the higher road in the matter. I didn’t like most of what they said, but because I know they love Jesus and they love me I figured I should at least consider their wisdom in the matter.

So, I prayed. Although, that sounds much more formal that anything I tend to do. My prayers very often start off like this, “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?!” After that, it’s followed by something awesome that happened. “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! A parking spot in the very FRONT!! Awesome! Thanks!” Mostly, though, its followed with my displeasure of a recent event, like “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! Only 3 lines open at Walmart the week before Christmas” or in this case “Are you kidding me, Jesus?!?! I need to forgive these people? These same people who hurt me time and time again?”

I’ve learned I don’t need to be long winded in my complaints. He gets the gist–I don’t like this.

But, He also knows my heart.

God knows that in the midst of this unexpected opening of old scars, that I’d want to be faithful to whatever it was He was asking of me. Somehow I feel compelled to at least TRY and give Him Lordship of my life. To at least TRY and obey His voice when I hear it. To at least attempt to forgive my enemies and not only forgive them but treat them better than they treated me.

So, I called my grandma.

I chose the higher road. Save the parade and hand clapping though. I’m not looking for that and don’t deserve it. All I did was make a step in the right direction. A very SMALL step. A step that tells Jesus, “I’m willing to do what you ask, even if it gets me hurt.” That’s a whole other blog post there, but its the place I had to get to in order to take the first step in this situation.

I know my life is an extreme example, but we are all faced with decisions everyday to take the higher road. Maybe its not giving the guy who cut you off the middle finger. Or not screaming at your kids when they do something you’ve told them NOT to for the millionth time today. It could be giving a smile to a frazzled looking woman in the toy section at Target.

You don’t need me to give you scenarios though. I think most of us recognize the moments day-to-day that could be opportunities to shine a little brighter. To give a little love, even when it hurts.

One Tough Mother

Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out.Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thess. 5:14-18, The Message)

This past week, I had the opportunity to be a camp counselor to 8 of the most amazing girls I could ever meet. Other counselors may try and convince you their campers were the best, but they are wrong. I’ve heard it said before (in regards to Mission trips mostly) that you go with the intention, the hope of being a blessing, but in reality you are the one being blessed.  That’s what happened to me this week. I went thinking I’d be the one giving of encouragement and love and even though that did happen– what I got in return was nothing short of a beautiful revelation.

Did this revelation take place in a chapel service or during a time of prayer or bible study? No, it happened in the middle of a game…correction, in the midst of torture.

You see, at Camp Judah we participate in a camp wide Special Event each day in the afternoon. The directors concoct games that over 150 people (campers and counselors together) can participate in– cabin verses cabin and team against team. For those of use who are severely competitive this is a very SERIOUS event. Chants are shouted as the teams gather at the specified meeting point. The environment full of athletic energy and team pride.

One such “game” we participated in this week was lovingly dubbed the “Tough Mother”. It was a scaled down version of the Tough Mudder competition, which I now know I will never sign myself up for. Our Tough Mother was less than a mile long, but full of obstacles and stations that you and your teammates needed to complete together. Your team in this type of event is essentially only as good as your weakest member. And for my team, that member was me.

No, really. I was the weakest link.

But, the directors said counselors would be participating and who am I to back down from some good competition? So, there I was at the starting line wondering what I had signed myself up for– would I even be able to complete the race? Would I let my girls down? Where among the course would I be throwing up my turkey sub from lunch? I gave my girls a quick pep talk, giving them some last minute pieces of advice. Letting them know I might bark orders at them at some point along the way. With a final high five and “We’ve got this!” the horn sounded and we were off.

I made it across the pool, alright. I scaled the fence (scale may be too graceful of a word). More like, I flung myself over a fence. We stepped inbetween tires. Climbed up a wet, tarped hill. Pushed a tractor tire through a maze. Climbed down a steep ravine wall. Ran through a creek. Up another hill. Jumped into a canoe and paddled (with our arms) across the length of a pond. Crawled on our bellies under a tarp while being whacked with foam javelins. And in our second to last station cared a log up a hill.

It was in the middle of the hill that I had my revelation that I referenced earlier. By this point, my body and mind had been stretched in ways that it had never been before. I wasn’t just exhausted, but I found myself very literally unable to breathe. And I stopped. I was done. I couldn’t take one more step. And in that moment, my girls rallied around me in a powerful act of support. Each one telling me how proud they were of me and how we COULD finish. We WOULD finish.

I placed my arm around the log and made our way to the top of the hill. We had a carpet race to complete and then the final leg to the finish line. By this point, I still couldn’t breath, but found myself literally connected to one of my girls. She had grabbed my arms and put them around her and she kept me moving as the rest of our girls placed one carpet square in front of the other. We inched our way across the parking lot and had somehow managed to pass the other team. We ran down the last hill, hand in hand, in triumphant glory.

We had not only finished the race, but won it.

I became a pastor’s kid when I was adopted at the age of 13. Needless to say, I’ve been in church a lot. Sundays. Wednesdays. Conferences. Missions trips. Summer camps. There’s been things, people, circumstances that have hurt me and over time my heart has hardened towards the Church. I’ve always loved Jesus, but His people, not so much. I’ve seen people change churches for petty reasons. Spreading gossip and slander. Holding offenses. People taking instead of giving. The more I saw, the more my disgust grew.

And for a long time that’s how I felt. Disgusted with the Church, with His people. I’ve read and studied my Bible long enough to know this wasn’t good and that I needed a change of heart, but that’s kinda where it ended. I didn’t pray and ask God for help with that area in my life because I preferred to be secretly angry and offended. It was EASIER that way. (See my previous blog titled: Easy vs. Simple)

A few months ago, God started gently working on my heart though. I had agreed to attend a special camp meeting with my friend. The pastor shared bible story after bible story about how God would take something or someone broken or seemingly insignificant and bring about victory. It was a powerful message, but at the end he asked us to get into groups of 4 or 5 people and to pray for the Church. It was in that little prayer group where I could see God gently nudging me. Not in a “Holly, get your crap together and love these people that I’ve asked you to love”, but more of “I love these people, Holly. They’re not perfect, but I love them.”

That short time of prayer started something in me…a softening of my heart. And it was during the Tough Mother where things really came to light for me. In the midst of a VERY difficult physical situation, at the very end of myself, I found myself encouraged and carried by a group of girls who loved me. Who cared more about us finishing as a team than winning a race. They didn’t belittle me for my lack of strength or my desire to give up, but spoke life and encouragement when I needed it most.

That’s what we are called to as the Church. As the verse in 1 Thessalonians exhorts us to do: encourage stragglers, reach out to the exhausted, and pull them to their feet. My girls lived that out for me in one of the most practical, tangible ways possible. And it makes me want to do that for those in this race with me. I want to be the type of woman, the type of Christian, who comes alongside someone who is struggling and inches away from defeat and tell them, “It’s ok. You got this. We’re doing this together!”

Let’s focus on finishing this race as a team instead of pointing out each others weaknesses, shortcomings and imperfections. Let’s speak life and encouragement to one another offering an extended hand to help pull them along.

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