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    Daily Thread

    How Deep The Father's Love For Us

    Big days have a predictably unpredictable way about themselves, don’t they? They have the irrevocable ability to resurface years worth of resentment, some intense, self-preserving behavior and a million expectations. For anyone who has come face to face with the reality that these days, no matter how hard we try to overcome the memories, are not always what they’re cracked up to be: this one’s for you.

    Today’s for those who need to be reminded how deep the Father’s love for us truly is. How desperate He is for us to kick our shoes off and stay a while. How rest is promised to those who cast their burdens upon Him because He cares for us.

    For a majority of my life, I have been in a constant battle between rest and busyness. My inner critic lets me know that there is always something to be done — always reliant on myself to do more! Connect, manage, hustle. All perfectly good things until I’m unable to give them my full attention and wholly receive their fruit. Resting only made my anxiety worse as my to-do list grew and I attempted to manage every aspect of my life.

    God, in all His tenderness, has reiterated the powerful, healing words of “Be still and know that I am God” over me to captivate me into His relentless pattern of bearing my cross for me. Time and time again I find myself reverting back to my self-sufficient ways, completely tiring myself out, but He reminds me that it. is. finished! He conquered death so that I can freely experience His gift of rest.

    Don’t mistake rest for sleep, though. We shut everything down when we sleep to refresh our bodies. Rest gives us the opportunity to restore our souls. The rest God provides isn’t the peace that comes when you are sleeping and the switches are all turned off. It’s the peace that comes when you are awake and fully able to acknowledge whatever it is we are feeling. Stillness, solitude and silence are some of the most practical gifts we can give ourselves when our circumstances start to cloud our judgment, so that we are able to discern the voice of God.

    “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

    “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens!” (Psalm 68:19)

    “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

    Psalm 23 has had a reoccurring presence in my life and has become a tried and true foundational anthem for my striving heart. It’s short, sweet and to the point: come as you are, you have a place at My table, I’ll take it from here.

    As scripture reads Psalm 23:

    “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.

    He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,  I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

    You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

    Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

    My modern-day translation of Psalm 23:

    He guides and protects me.

    He makes me stop and rest.

    His ways lead to being still, to refreshment and peace.

    He makes me whole again and provides renewal for my weary soul.

    He shows me where to go and gives me a testimony.

    He is sovereign and refines me through difficult times.

    He makes me courageous and I am never alone.

    He is the God of All Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3).

    His table is set for me with plenty. With intimacy and packed full of nourishment. He has set the stage. He has many purposes and plans for my life.

    He blesses me.

    He gifts me with lavish blessings full to the brim.

    My life is surrounded with mercy, goodness and love.

    I dwell in security and safety, always.

    With all its enticements, false promises and ever-changing, often unattainable goals, the world has set us up for failure and a snare is set. The “if only” and “greener grass” models have left us to believing and hoping in lies that will only leave us more weak and dissatisfied than before. But the Lord, with His endless mercy and unchanging character, has set a table for us. It’s brimming with all we need and overflowing with replenishment, nourishment and intimacy. He is the ultimate dinner party host—asking us to trust Him and simply relax in His presence. What a luxury!

    “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) 

    “For the mountains may depart
    and the hills be removed,
    but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
    and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
    says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

    So as summer kicks off, my prayer is that we each seek more wisdom from Psalm 23 and truly find soul-fulfilling, life-transforming rest in His presence. If your summer is calm and relaxing, press in. If it’s busier and more chaotic than the school year, press in. When we seek Him, we find Him and when we find Him, we encounter Him and when we encounter Him, everything changes. 

    Be still. Give yourself grace. Know that He is God. Surrender and rest. He’s got it all! May you experience just how deep, vast and immeasurable the Perfect Father’s love is for YOU,

     

     

     

    “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1)

    Summer Soundtrack

    “He inhabits the praises of His people!” Psalm 22:3

    Oh how much I adore the truth in that verse – I’ve experienced it first hand! 

    I love discussing the purpose of worship, the power of worship and the passion with which worship movingly leads us into a place of total surrender -- proclaiming scripture, uttering truth, declaring victory, crying out for help, telling of all the attributes of our Mighty yet Gracious and Compassionate Father, entering into a time of praise and thanksgiving for what He has done (and will do), claiming His Promises over our lives and standing sturdily in agreement and awe of our Shepherd, Savior, Creator, Redeemer, Healer, Anchor, and Prince of Peace! It fully transforms the tide of your restless heart and weary soul. Its intimacy enraptures you with the beauty of who He is and points your heart towards what He is capable of in your life! 

    Eventually I want to get in to the reasoning behind Golden Thread’s Summer Soundtrack series, but first I want to share how worship planted a seed in my heart, which inevitably led to my complete unraveling and ultimate rebuilding! Oh, the power of worship music to transform a life and radially revive a dead heart.

    My heart used to be made of stone -- cold, callused, wounded, hard. In the throws of marital strife, I vividly remember my husband sitting outside on our back porch, night after night, with his Shane and Shane (specifically “The Worship Initiative” albums) music on, with his head bowed in prayer as he quietly prayed for me – his very lost wife. Listening to even a note of worship music ignited abrasive, angry, and offensive feelings within me. While desperately trying to laughably uphold my good girl reputation, I still went to church. I would purposefully run late as my husband would literally drag me along so I could skip the worst part of church service to me -- the worship music. The music used to make my whole body recoil and squirm. The convicting sounds of the music had a deep personal assault on my sin-filled, wretched heart. The resounding sounds could effortlessly penetrate this fortress of a heart when nothing else could. It could see through my smiling mask and phony façade -- straight into the depths of my heart. The Spirit’s conviction of the sin that was entangling and choking out my life was scary and I had to avoid it at all costs. Ironically, I could completely disengage from what the Pastor was speaking about during the sermon, but for some reason my soul, my spirit, and my heart could not go deaf to the poignant effect of worship music. Light was trying to get in there, but I was determined to not let it in.

    That, my friend, is spiritual warfare. It’s a clear picture of how darkness rejects and recoils at the light. A colossal collision of the darkness that lived inside my heart and the light outside that was trying to break in and free me. Oh how it tremendously grieves me to write about the state of my heart back then.

    The assurance that God will be present when we praise Him is promised to us in Psalm 22. He “inhabits the praises of his people.” We cannot deny that he is there with us. Even being in intense denial, I could not emotionally or spiritually disconnect when there was praise and worship music on because His presence was palpable to me. After all, I am an “image bearer” and He was the one that created this heart.

    But I didn’t want to feel worse than I already did. Just let me keep running from you, God. I can manage this without help, I used to think. I didn’t need to feel more beat down. I had such a catastrophic misunderstanding of who He was. I thought He was mad at me, couldn’t wait to judge, destroy, condemn and shame me, and would happily hand out cruel consequences to me. What a surprise it was to me, when He met me with tenderness, mercy, freedom and a love that was there to gently rescue me instead. 

    It’s as if I was hearing the Lord sing these lyrics over me:

    “Come out of hiding,

    You’re safe here with Me.

    There’s no need to cover

    What I already see.

    You've got your reasons, 
But I hold your peace.


    You've been on lock-down
, And I hold the key.

    'Cause I loved you before you knew it was love


    And I saw it all, still I chose the cross


    And you were the one that I was thinking of
 when I rose from the grave.

    Now rid of the shackles, My victory's yours


    I tore the veil for you to come close.

    There's no reason to stand at a distance anymore


    You're not far from home.

    No need to be frightened by intimacy


    No, just throw off your fear
And come running to Me.”

    Bethel Music / Steffany Gretzinger – “Out of Hiding”

    So then a morning came when I was still very much in a depressed, anxiety-ridden and hopeless place that I recall praying for alleviation. I was in such distress and was willing to try anything. I was in my bathroom by myself when I heard a clear, quiet, calming voice whisper to me and say– “just play a worship song on your phone.” To no surprise, I didn’t have worship music on my phone. But I remembered the name of a band (Shane and Shane) I loved from many years previous, so I got on Spotify, searched their name, clicked play on their most recent album, “Psalms II” (for some reason it seemed the least threatening to me), and found comfort in the fact it would all over in 3 minutes. The Lord didn’t ask me to do any more than I could – which, at that moment, was to press some buttons on my phone. He met me where I was, and He did the rest. 

    As I was dying of thirst, He offered me Living Water. As I was starving, He offered me the Bread of Life. As I stood deserving of death and condemnation, He freely offered me a new hope. He lifted my heavy, downcast head off the bathroom floor and said, “I’ve been waiting for you my Beloved! The time has come. Come and follow me.” He inhabits the praises of His people!

    I fell to my knees as I listened to the Psalms play (which that album is PURE Scripture – HIGHLY recommended)! He unraveled me with this simple melody. For the first time in years, I felt relief, hope, and lightweight. And as it was playing in my bathroom for the first time ever in this home we lived in, I was weeping -- unhindered tears of brokenness just streaming down my face like never before. God met me on the floor of my bathroom in an immense breaking point and outpouring of grief and despondency from the cisterns of my hidden heart pain. The music cut through my ready-to-be-released-buried-heartache like a knife. I was sucked into the beauty, splendor and hopefulness of the lyrics I was hearing! And honestly, from that moment on, my life has never been the same. Certainly there was immense work and painful restoration ahead, but it planted a seed in my heart that could never be unsown. Monumental cultivation began. I had turned my life over to The Carpenter – who majors in rebuilding and construction – both old and new assembly. What was to happen in the coming days, I wasn’t prepared for, but my God had come back for me. His relentless pursuit of me and my broken heart was on.  He was willing to destroy the walls of my fortified heart and break down every lie I believed by ANY means necessary. It’s true – “He never leaves the one behind” (Luke 15). He used worship music to initiate the breaking off of my chains and He had come to set this captive free (Isaiah 61). It was as if scales fell out of my eyes. That moment initiated sparks of revival in this lifeless, numb, unresponsive heart.  It was like an AED (defibrillator) had shocked my heart back into its proper, healthy and yet new rhythm. 

    “He surrounds me with songs of deliverance!” Psalm 32:7

    “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26

    I remember being embarrassed to tell my husband what I had done that morning. I expected him to judge me since it had become a trend for me to mock others’ devotion to worship music. But when he got home from work, I somehow mustered the words to tell him what I had done and what had happened. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “We’ve been praying and waiting for this day. I knew it would come!”

    So – note to self – NEVER give up on someone – your prayers are never for nothing. It might not be on your time frame, because I was lost at sea for years – but keep praying! Fruit isn’t grown in a day, and your prayers WILL produce future fruit! Hope in the Lord and in His plans and timing – with the deep-rooted trust that the Lord is on a very personal rescue mission and is constantly interceding for your lost loved ones too! He “NEVER leaves the work of His hands!” (Psalm 138:8).

    The seeds the music had planted in my heart lead me to complete repentance and brought me into a place of total humility. And that is why from that moment forward, I’ve never turned that worship music off. It is on in my home, in my office, in my car. I am proudly dependent on it. I very much had a Saul to Paul moment and now I have become a person who cannot devour enough worship music. It keeps my heart in a place of gratitude, focused on who HE is and what He is capable of! Thanking Him for the miracles He worked in my life and in my marriage!

    My family and my community of dear friends have experienced the power worship music has to usher in the Gospel and change and transform a heart and life. He is a prison-shaking Savior! We see it in Acts 16 when Paul is imprisoned and begins singing songs of praises in His jail cell. I encourage you to go read the powerful story! Because of his worship, major and mighty things changed on the scene.  The Lord showed up! He inhabits the praises of His people!

    Desperation brought about by my woundings sparked an interest. Peering in with curiosity made my distrust, doubt, dread and fear of the Lord turn into examining. Examining quickly turned into a partaking; partaking turned into reverence, reverence into awe, awe into adoration, adoration into captivation, captivation into total freedom, freedom into delight, delight into worship, worship into love, and love into magnificent joy! Not because these weren’t incredibly trying and tumultuous times, because they were!  

    “But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. A hope does not disappoint!” (Romans 5:3-5)

    Investing in matters of God’s economy does not ever return void or empty. We have an earthly lens at which we view things, from which all things shift, change and pass away. Yet, His Word, His ways, His purposes, His covenants, His timing, His economy are unchanging, always-for-your-good, unshakable, endless, forever-present, continually-productive and will never let you down. Leading to fullness, richness, and life abundant. In suffering AND in celebratory seasons – and everlasting fruitfulness is fashioned: joy, peace, hope. Everything your desire-seeking heart searches for. It freely awaits you.

    “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him!” 1 Corinthians 2:9

    “No one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him.” Isaiah 64:4

    His music speaks and tells the truth about who you are - how loved, delighted over and adored you are! You are chosen and ransomed and He has mighty things planned for you and your precious life!

    Step into His presence and experience the great exchange! He turns mourning into joy, grief into dancing, shame into significance, failures into purpose, brokenness into wholeness, bondage into freedom, scarcity into abundance, defeat into forgiveness, striving into peace, performing into acceptance, regret into repentance, weakness into strength, hopelessness into healing, torn into transformed, the old into something new. 

    Worship, praise, and prayers change the entire atmosphere. They instantaneously shift the focus off us and on to something greater! They challenge us to look up and out instead of down and in. The picture of a captivated and yielded heart, a bowed and enraptured heart, and rightfully on the throne is Jesus. Inviting and opening the door for the Holy Spirit to come and be apart of those moments does something!  

    Even if you don’t have the words yet, the music will. It’s a beautiful place to start. Whether you are hopeless, hurting, or lost and aren’t sure what to pray or you are crying out begging for help and healing. Maybe you are looking to surround your home and your family with songs of deliverance – go shout out truth and cover it with His promises and defensive and offensive battle cries! Use worship to pray for guidance, answers, freedom, joy, deliverance, help, growth, calming of seas, wisdom, healing, change, hope, restoration, revival, life abundance and wholeness!

    Worship is about intimacy. Entering into a moment of raw vulnerable emotions and encountering security and shelter - moments to know and to be known. It's a time to cry out for whatever you're praying for. It helps to recall scripture and declare lyrics of assurance in times of uncertainty and need. It brings peace. It's a picture of surrender. Choosing to worship Him despite how we feel or what we are going through. It matures and grows you. Worship fashions trust and a secure attachment to your Father- allowing the Lord to come into your circumstance, however hard that is – and develop a confident intimacy. The flawless intimacy we all desire and need. Based on His love that is not passive, never disengaged, and always keeps its promises. It ushers in the joy of the Lord. Worship crosses the barrier and breaks the boundaries between our heads and our hearts. May it sink in. I know that it calmed my restless and fatigued soul. May music plant seeds of revival in your heart and in your home too. 

    God has laid it on my heart to share my personal playlist with all my favorites and go-to’s. There are 94 days of summer, so naturally there are 94 songs! My challenge is for you to listen to a song a day and let the words wash over you. We are posting song lyrics every Monday on our social media platforms, so make sure to follow along!

    https://open.spotify.com/user/jenniferwelker/playlist/3KbETi3lclPk9BCWeNEToo?si=SqDkDUzgSc2j-Mtbqqrldw

    My prayer for you is that you invite worship to become a norm in your life. No matter the circumstance, make Him your anthem. Hope awaits you at the press of a button.

    Claim His promises and proclaim the truth! May we be a people who praise Him and cry out to Him in the valleys, storms and rough seas AND on the mountaintops and sunny days!

    “If the stars were made to worship, so will I” – (Hillsong United),

     

     

     

     

    “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

    Worship the Lord with gladness;

    come before him with joyful songs.

    Know that the Lord is God.

    It is He who made us, and we are His;

    we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.

    Enter His gates with thanksgiving

    and His courts with praise;

    give thanks to Him and praise His name.

    For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;

    His faithfulness continues through all generations.”

    Psalm 100: 1-5

    Shepherding Hearts: Being a Tool of Grace

    With three kiddos (7, 5 and almost 3 years old) and a life fuller than I ever imagined, I’ve had to learn the hard way just what matters in this crazy, chaotic, joyous mothering life!

    “Children are NOT a distraction from more important work. They are the most important work.” - C.S. Lewis

    As a mom, I am see how many grace-receiving moments I need every single day. I used to want to show my kids (and others) just how “awesome” I was and how “together” I had it (ha, what a joke!!!). Through a tumultuous jolting of difficult circumstances these last few years, God revealed to me a foundational truth I had a hard time believing could be true: our failure-full moments can ultimately breed an abundant return of blessings, victory and redemption when you humbly invite our All-Sovereign Lord into the matter, offer up your “nothing” and turn in your pride (the great exchange)!

    My incredibly wise sister-in-law, Mollie, recently recommended a book to me by Gloria Furman called “Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full.”  Could there be a title any more comforting in the life of a mom?

    “When I look back at my mothering track record, there are more flukes and failures than fantastic feats of faith. What hope does a flawed mom have? Against the backdrop of this bleak outlook, the Gospel shines brighter and gives a more durable hope than the empty promises of self-actualization and the short-lived encouragement from glass-half-full optimism. The Gospel changes how we view our failures, and we see how God redeems our flaws for His own glory. I am learning firsthand how turning to the world for comfort and strength just leaves me dissatisfied and weak. God has used our family’s circumstances to point me to the one great permanent circumstance in my life – the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” (Gloria Furman, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full)

    I’m not sure anyone ever learns from or is encouraged by a perfect, never-screws-up, has-it-all-together person. That isn’t reality, nor is it genuine or helpful. I want Noah, McKenzie and Graham to see humility and authenticity displayed by their parents’ admittance of their need for grace, and for them to witness genuine forgiveness and selfless service. It’s important to me to have a home environment that is reality-centered, Gospel-focused and grace-based. Our gracious Savior uses my screw-ups in front of the kids as a powerful, redeeming tool for them to see forgiveness and grace lived out! I want them to see that, even though I try my best, I still yell, get angry, forget, and am selfish, controlling, impatient and picky. Jesus came here to save us because we’re all inadequate of doing this life on our own!

    Thank you Lord that you’ve changed me and that I can now come to my kids and with all humility say, “Mommie screwed up, please forgive me! I am so sorry!! Mommie needs Jesus so much! Every day, she needs Him!!” We’re humans who struggle and blow it and disappoint and are all in need of transforming grace every day. Thinking we’ve graduated from needing Jesus ever day is one of the most dangerous lies of all. I have no hope but to celebrate my deep need for Jesus!

    "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” - Ephesians 4:32

    In Romans 2:4, God says that kindness has the power to soften hearts. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” - Romans 2:4

    It is all so much easier written than done, however! As a mom juggling hundreds of balls, I still strive to have it all together and catch myself at times "counting on self!" I have scriptures taped to my mirror, fridge, inside my closet and on my wall at work (because clearly I need this stamped on my eyeballs) that say the opposite of how I feel in these moments of utter chaos:

    "Boast in your weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9

    "His yoke is easy and His burden is light!” Matthew 11:30

    "Fear not for I have overcome the world!” John 16:33

    "We are more than conquerors through HIM (not through me) who loved us!” Romans 8:37

    "When I am weak, then I am strong!” 2 Corinthians 12:10

    Lord, please let me display this kind of woman to my kids! 

    I am constantly encouraged by stories of families I read about throughout the Bible that didn’t have it all together. It’s like God is repeatedly saying, “grace, not perfection” and that it’s okay to not be okay. God fills in the gaps, He rights our wrongs, and He uses our testimonies to encourage one another and demonstrate His might, power, and glory. Seeing Biblical examples (lookin’ at you Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Saul, David and Solomon) played out gives me great hope for God’s redemptive and restorative plans for my family’s life and my children’s lives despite me and in spite of my failings as a mother. Tomorrow we get to wake up and try again. There is grace upon grace for parenting!

    “His mercies are new every morning” - Lamentations 3:22-23.

    “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” - 2 Corinthians 12:9.

    Ellis and I are currently working hard to create an environment of honesty and openness, where shame doesn’t breed dishonesty. We want to call it out where it starts small in our home before it becomes monstrous and destructive. For example: My 7 year old, Noah, and I were playing Bible Bingo the other day when halfway through the game, I realized he was cheating. I asked him, “Noah, are you cheating?” His posture immediately changed, he hunched down and sunk into the chair with embarrassment. He couldn’t look at me. In that moment, God gave me grace-vision to discuss the reality of both of our hearts with Noah. Instead of getting mad for his cheating or throwing down a harsh punishment, I admitted to him, “Noah, I get it. You aren’t the only one who cheats. Mommie would sometimes like to cheat at games to get ahead and win too!” Sharing the ugly places of my heart with my son was a really cool moment for us. He looked up at me twinkling with a smile – light bulb – it was as if for the first time he realized he wasn’t alone in his sin-desire.

    Sin tells us to be ashamed, hide, and bow up with pride. It has the power to isolate us and keep us from living in the freedom that Jesus freely gives us. An environment of trust is grown when you admit your failures—share that with your kids! Tell them they’re not alone and show them together how much we collectively need Jesus and where to go from there (forgiveness, grace, reconciliation, communication). Sharing shatters the illusion of aloneness and the real delusion of “I must be the only on who has ever….” There is so much power in identifying with another person! What we all desire is true intimacy—to be known fully and to be loved unconditionally on our best and our worst days.

    While we are here on this earth, sin is our condition. It’s not something we ever out-grow, no matter how long you’ve been a Believer. You never graduate from needing Jesus. Certainly we know right from wrong, and have tools from the Holy Spirit to help us, but our issue isn’t behavior problems, it’s matters of the heart. Jesus didn’t come here to modify behavior, He came to radically change and transform hearts and revive lives! If the law (rules of right and wrong) alone could save us or help us to never make a poor decision again, then Jesus would have never needed to come! We need an “ANCHOR for our souls” (Hebrews 6:19) because we are prone to wander!

    Perfection isn’t the goal, but surrendering, abiding and anchoring ourselves to the Savior daily is. Before we can ever be effective tools of grace in our children’s lives, we first have to personally be rooted in and in accordance with the Word. He must be on the throne of our hearts so that we can produce fruit. 

    “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” - Luke 6:43-45

    “The LORD will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” - Isaiah 58:11

    He is your water. The well that never runs dry. Others run dry, others fail you, others disappoint. Counting only on yourself leads to dry, desert, scorched-like places - bearing rotten fruit and death. But treasuring Him will ALWAYS result in life, harvest and flourishing!

    We’ve come to find out this spring that Noah is a great little baseball player. I truthfully do not care if he even plays sports, much less be good at them. I just want him to have fun and do his best (and be safe!!)! But I am an encourager by nature and have caught myself complimenting his performance more than his character these past few weeks. It’s amazing how something with only good intentions like “great hit, bud!” or “I’m so excited y’all won!” can be the underlying message to a childhood wound of feeling the need to seek out love through performance and success. The last thing I ever want to do is feed the lie that “only when you excel and perform well do you get praise and adoration from parents/authority.” Ellis and I had a come to Jesus moment and made a commitment to shepherd his heart by celebrating who he is (which is not sports, but the tenderhearted, compassionate, thoughtful boy God made him to be!) way more than what he did. The last thing Jesus said on the cross wasn’t “go and do,” it was “IT IS FINISHED!” 100% complete all based on His performance and not mine!

    “My children, although they probably cannot articulate it yet, are relieved that when I treasure Jesus, they are freed from the burden of being the center of my world. No child should have to shoulder the weight of her mother’s glory and reputation” (Gloria Furman, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full).

    Ellis and I desire for our kids to know that everything in our life is subject to change, except God Himself. We cannot put our hope (or find life and lasting contentment) in our achievements, status, people, money, toys, jobs, etc. because they are not guaranteed tomorrow just as much as we aren’t. He is the only thing in their lives that is unchanging and the only place we will ever find comfort, lasting peace, joy in all seasons, and “life abundant” (John 10:10)! God is the “same yesterday, today and tomorrow” (Hebrews 13:8). That immensely takes the pressure off yourself and those around you to be able to supply everything you’ve ever wanted (and to respond with grace when they fail). 

    Praying our kiddos recognize and embrace this truth much earlier than I did!

    As you can tell, I do not have this all figured out and I need “manna” from the Lord and His wisdom every day to make it through! I love mothering, but it is the hardest job in the world! Praise God it’s not solely on me to be perfect at it! We were gifted these precious kiddos by our God and commissioned by Him to be a tool of grace in their lives, not instruments of perfection!

    Celebrating the joys of motherhood and this beautiful journey that continues to unfold. We’re all in this together, ladies! Please feel free to share your own wisdom in the comments below. It truly does take a village!

    Praying you are cherished this weekend, find hope and encouragement in this post and have a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend!

    How Grace Changed My Life

    The testimony of my radical undoing and rebuilding of this heart!

    I wanted to first say thank you— I had so many of you reach out with beautiful words of encouragement from my last blog about Ellis and my vow renewal and posts about our marital struggles. It was very overwhelming! It means a great deal to Ellis and me to have your support, prayers and loving words of blessing. 

    Since then, I was encouraged by several of you to open up and to be more raw and honest in my writings. So, I prayed about it and felt the Lord confirm that move. So, here it goes! 

    It’s Good Friday and the Lord laid on my heart to write about grace—what grace really is and just how it radically changed my life. I had a long-standing misunderstanding of grace and because grace is so foundational to my faith, I thought I would share more about the depths of my struggles, sins, and failures, and how the Lord used Himself and a grace-based community to transform my heart and ultimately help rebuild my life.

    Several years ago, Ellis and my world came crashing down. Not only was our marriage in tatters, but I was in a complete state of utter denial, rebellion, and pride. It was a messy and horrifying ordeal to say the least, but God, in all His goodness and unrivaled mercy, met us there. He didn’t leave me to struggle and flail alone. He not only graced me with long-sought-after-wholeness, but also went a step farther by preparing the road to rebuilding my heart.

    I had several treasured friends walk through this whole battle with me. Two handfuls of women stood in the gap and interceded on my behalf when I remained virtually “blind and deaf". They were a force-to-be-reckoned-with group of friends that showed me just what it looked like to restore someone, carry their burdens, war in prayer, share in suffering (and it was long-suffering), and to deeply love their broken friend. Second to Ellis’ deep forgiveness and love for me, I had a radial encounter in regard to friendship—friendships that were built on the gospel of grace. In all of His goodness, the Lord put a community in place for Ellis and me that we desperately needed and relied upon in our time of suffering. This was not easy. Many tears, arguments, and painful conversations were had with each one of these friends along the way, but they were moments that were filled with authenticity, life-giving encouragements, vulnerability, hope, and deep love firmly rooted in the grace of the Gospel. These women were extravagant grace-donors for me when I was in the middle of my sin because they knew the stakes were high.

    I know I’ve said it many times in past posts as I’ve shared parts of our story, but just to make sure you get the full picture of what we are about to discuss, it never hurts to say it again: I used to be a complete and utter disaster. I was an addict of sorts—lying to everyone in my life including myself, getting caught in my sin over and over and over, broken, and very sick. As the Holy Spirit awakened me to my sin and to just what I was doing to myself and to those around me, I had life-giving friends come alongside and help “restore me gently” just as Galatians 6 describes. It was so underserved, but it was Biblical love and always purposed for my good. It was a true picture of how Jesus loves, and how He comes for our hearts and not just for the behavior change or immediate results. It’s grace in its fullness. It’s what is desperately needed in situations of cavernous brokenness such as mine. It takes time to undo a life-long “heart issue”.

    I know all too well that sin weaves a very faulty thread into the fabric of your life that sets you up for eventual breakdown, a complete unraveling. It set a trap, and I let it—exactly as the enemy intended. Choosing my sin laid the groundwork for failure, for a hole to tear and make a rip so big that you simply pull on it enough, and it eventually falls apart. I had poured all my energy into building and propping my life up on a house of cards.

    Through this whirlwind of a journey, I’ve done a lot of heart-condition self-exploration. An “archeological dig” per se. A place I dared not go before because it was too scary. But, on this side of things, I wanted and felt a very passionate call to gain a full understanding of my brokenness and how I had gotten to rock bottom. Over the last few years, I've had a deep desire to understand my sin, how it worked, how it betrayed and how it destroyed my own soul and relationships around me. 

    From here on, I’m going to speak from my own personal story and experience in regards to sin and grace! Sharing the sin that was going on inside me is important to discuss so that you can appreciate the magnitude of the miracles God performed for me (and for Ellis)! Let’s dive in by defining SIN -- my sin: idolatry of self - “whatever we build our life on [that is not God] will drive us and enslave us.” (Tim Keller) 

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9

    Sin withered my world down to the claustrophobic limitations of my own needs, wants, feelings and the continued efforts of denying my woundedness and brokenness.  Sin reduced me down to a little "self-sovereign.” (Paul David Tripp)  My sin was self-obsessed, self-focused, self-centered, self-serving. Serving a "self” that was very broken and ill. It was a disaster -- it created “relational carnage” (PDT), unfathomable divisions, and the deepest of angers.  Sin put me at the center of the universe. It destroyed anyone in the near-by vicinity. My desires and feelings ruled all - strong feelings to keep running from help, to keep numbing, to keep hiding. Sin made me blind, deaf, and hard-hearted. My sin dumbed me down to savage ways. My sin dehumanized the people in my life. “No longer were they objects of affection, but only seen as obstacles that stood in the way or vehicles to get what I wanted” (PDT). Sin for the moment satisfied (but it came at a very high soul-price); it was like empty calories that always left me weak, dissatisfied, wanting more, and faithfully left me more broken and hurting than before, yet it made me foolish enough to continue to go back for more. My sin showed leniency to self and deep criticism and harsh judgment of others. Sin lied to me about me. It magnified my ideas of personal strength, ability and made me delusional about fixing my situation by myself. It handicapped me, and I couldn’t even see it. It’s like I had willingly traded in my healthy legs for broken ones. Sin made me point the finger everywhere but in. My sin allowed me to actively and defensively refuse help. I became a deceived fool, and stressfully, burdensomely, and parasitically living based on the gospel-of-self and on what those around me could provide. Sin made my world become very small, which is exactly what the enemy wanted. I was isolated, left to my own devices, in my own head, and counting on self. Sin caused me to lie to myself (which may be the most devastating boundary of all the ones I crossed -- the boundary crossing of self-respect, the devaluing of self-worth, and placing something else as the author of my self-esteem). Sin made me more distraught by another person’s sin than it did about my own. I became defensive and in turn had to activate my “inner lawyer” that fought within me to constantly justify whatever I was doing. I had become a highly sophisticated “self-swindler,” convincing myself I was doing things that would help “fix” me, solve my problems, and that I had the ability to manage it all. I knew best. My sin stemmed from a deeply wounded place and without healing, only self-serving can thrive, nothing more. It’s one of the most intense, overwhelming, powerful yet costly emotions I have ever felt. Sin caused me to love and have a rabid passion for escaping and anesthetizing at all costs. It was an addiction to anything that led to loving self and serving self-purposes. It was a subconscious tool my mind used in order to deny and compartmentalize the painful problem of origin and the deep agonizing root wound. All the while, I was dying on the inside, refusing to give up control, angry, brokenhearted, despairing, miserable and withering away into nothingness. My sin left me exhausted, drained, in constant pain. It stole all my joy even though it promised relief. It sold be counterfeit goods. I was blooming with self-hatred, a powerful driving force, a force that would eventually drive me into utter depression, hopelessness, and destruction. I was simply surviving and barely functioning. Sin had me in a chokehold grasp, whispering lies to my heart until the bitter end. I wanted out, but felt there was no way. I was suffocating and starved for oxygen. I was giving every ounce of my soul to a futile cause. It was like attempting to train a T-Rex. I was powerless. I needed help fast! My Savior crushed it all in a moment.

    I love how the song “Reckless Love” portrays Jesus’ pursuit of us!

    “There’s no shadow you won’t light up, mountain you won’t climb up, coming after me.

    There’s no wall you won’t kick down, lie you won’t down tear, coming after me!

    Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God!

    It chases me down, fights till I’m found, it leaves the 99.

    I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it,

    Still you give yourself away!”

    Cory Asbury (Bethel Music) 

    In Luke 15:4 Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”

    Time was up. In His perfect and often unfathomable timing, He launched an inconvenient search party for me. He quite literally plucked me out of the deep waters. HE came for me—while I was still sinning, in the bottom of the muck and mud, in a place I had put myself. Jesus found me there, His love fought for me; His love had no conditions and knew no bounds.

    The remainder of the parable in Luke 15 proclaims, "And when He finds it, he joyfully puts it on His shoulders and goes home. Then He calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not repent.” Luke 15:5-7

    He was willing to do whatever it took in my life to destroy every lie I believed, every stronghold that had me. He stepped over every bit of wreckage I had created to rescue me and come for my heart! All for my good, and for His glory; He never gave up on me!

    "Our sins do pain His heart and 70 x 7 is a lot of times to get your heart broken. And yet He opens up and allows us back in every single time. His love saw you when you hated Him and yet He is a Father who never gives up on you!”  (Cory Asbury)

    And praise God He allowed this wreckage in my life -- I needed to be torn down to the studs, rebuilt, and transformed from the inside out. I needed to fall, I needed to plummet and crash from this phony, simulated and touted position I created for myself. But in His grand mercy, He didn’t leave me there. No, He picked me up and He put me on his shoulders and said, "let’s go home.”

    The Good Shepherd never gave up on me. He keeps watch over His entire flock just as He promised. He watched me as I chose to wander away. He let me try my own way until I was at the bottom of the pit but did not leave me there. I don’t wish this story for anyone, but I am able to celebrate that my predisposition to wander was NO match for God’s fierce and unrelenting pursuit of me, to help and to meet me in my very exposed, vulnerable state. I was no match for the grace that was about to invade my life! 

    I could escape locations and escape situations and run away from something or someone as fast as I could, but at the end of that “run,” I still showed up with me. I couldn’t escape me. I was the problem. My heart was the problem. My biggest fear was to be seen as desperate and weak - to admit that my biggest problem was on the inside of my own heart and not outside of me. I wanted to be a woman who had it all together and was esteemed by all. The very thing I sought after became my ultimate demise. Choosing my way led straight to the gates of hell and a man-made prison. How could I be such a fool for so long?  It’s a horrifying yet freeing thing when you finally get to the place of saying, “I don’t have it all together. I am an absolute catastrophe, and I need help.” Jesus met me in my struggle with grace and not condemnation. Grace freed me from standing on my own ability to be my own savior, healer, or the perfect righteous one and finally CHOSE TO ESTEEM GRACE! I fell on the mercy of the cross!

    “For He loved this world SO much, that He sent His Son to die for each one of us. He did not send His Son to condemn the world, BUT TO SAVE IT!” John 3:16-17

    In order to fully appreciate and value grace, I think I first had to grasp the depravity of my sin and how much I needed grace. If sin is minimized, so is grace. Devaluing grace led me to fake religion, relying on exterior-focused “works," a self-savior mentality, and it severely cheapened what Jesus had done for me on the cross. I needed to understand the monumental disaster of my sin before I could ever have a deep value for grace, because “good news is only ever good news to people who need good news” (Paul David Tripp)! I was in the PIT and desperately needed GOOD NEWS! Maybe that is why the radical truth of what happened on the cross and in the grave hadn't really hit me before! Before this, I wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of “desperately needing” a Savior (even though I thought  I believed Jesus was who He said He was). I had to first accept the bad news of why He had to come—because of my sin and my deep failings of attempting to attain any amount of righteousness without Him before I could ever appreciate and profoundly prize the life-changing good news of the Gospel of grace!

    "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but He will heal us; He has injured us, but He will bind up our wounds!" Hosea 6:1

    I had finally stopped hitting snooze on the petrifying alarm bells going off in my life. I finally let go of my way, my attempts and my efforts. It was my grace-receiving moment. Scales finally fell off of my eyes. And from here on out, my pursuit of understanding and devouring this grace I’d just received was my life’s only mission. The rescue ONLY Jesus could provide had come into my life (in all seriousness was something I quite literally never thought possible)— freedom, forgiveness, and deliverance were instantaneous. Miracles performed in my lifeless, dead, and hardened-heart were immediate. He put my tormented soul at ease. It was suddenly soft, lightweight, joy-filled, and at peace for the first time ever. I could not believe it! This seemingly impossible work had been accomplished by the Name Above All Names in an instant! What I had been powerless to tackle, my God had victory over in a moment. Just as effortless as it was for Him to speak the world into existence, it was effortless for Him to slay my man-made prison! In a mere moment, it was as if before I had settled for drinking only filthy and infested drops of water, but now had tasted the goodness of the Lord and the waterfall of life, abundance, mercy, help, and joy I was experiencing didn't hold a candle to what I understood love to be before or what being loved could ever feel like: deep, personal, intimate, whole, complete, lacking nothing, understanding, unconditional. I had sold myself so painfully short. Liberation and relief were prompt, but restoration and repair was certainly a process. I would soon learn just how much a grace-centered community is needed in these situations and the Lord had already gone before and prepared the hearts of those around us to be that very tangible, life-giving help to Ellis and me.

    Sin is our curse, it’s our “condition” as humans while here on earth and it blinds us (1 John 2:11), I’ve tragically and consequently learned. So if sin blinded me, we must need others in this messy journey of life for help, restoration, rebuilding and as a sustaining aid through the sanctification process. We were built for community just as it says in God’s Word. We were beautifully made as dependent creatures, which is not something to be ashamed of, but instead something to celebrate. We need our great Savior! We see in the Bible that even Jesus needed friendships, relationships and community. I can tell you that sin dulled my senses and seared my conscience, and it’s why I need others to help pull me out. We were designed for community, not for isolation.

    “But encourage one another every day, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Hebrews 3:13

    “See also that you EXCEL in grace. I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that by His poverty might become rich.” 2 Corinthians 8:7-9

    “It’s because we have each received radical spiritual generosity that we can be radically generous with those in need!” Tim Keller

    What I saw and experienced from here on out can only be described as grace at it’s finest. I was given life when I deserved death, and encouragement, grace, and community when I deserved to be cast out. Those that united around Ellis and me were the picture of the grace of Jesus in our lives. 

    God, in all His faithfulness and in our greatest time of need had lavishly blessed us with an unbelievable community of friends and family that saw us through the WORST of times. I often look back at those deeply painful and dark periods and wonder how it was that these people stuck by us. Just how these people could deeply love me, their broken friend? Through my deep and often torturous soul-searching efforts, they provided a safe place for me to vent, ask, seek, debrief, process, and unload. I was ready for help and wise counsel. I would uncover incredible chunks of truth in regards to what was wrong with my heart and those times allowed me to fully understand and process my brokenness at the most resounding level - a place I had been scared to explore for a lifetime. These friendships aided in helping me gain an understanding of how I had gotten to the lowest of lows. What I found possibly the most shocking, is that those people who had almost “loved us back together” and helped put the pieces of our lives back together in a sense, had also experienced deep grace-needing encounters of their own and so had a profound grasp on their past, current and on-going need for that daily rescuing and transforming grace only Jesus provides. Because of their understanding of their own need of grace, they were able to extend it to me in my ultimate time of need.  They were a tool of grace in the hands of our gracious Savior.

    “Above ALL else, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

    “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

    “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

     "Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” Romans 12:15

    Grace-donor meets grace-recipient. Spark ignited! I’d never seen anything like it! It really undid me. They didn’t have to be my friend. Friendship is a choice and an expense of time, too! They hated the sin, not the sinner. Shame was removed so real work could be done. It radically undid me and helped me to begin to understand grace at its most practical human level. And because of it, I know friendship, relational beauty and intimacy that I never knew before. I see the fruits and unforeseen riches born out of our pain. God’s promises truly never return to us void.  It was just how the Lord designed His ‘Body of Christ’ to function. Especially how it was intended in regards to restoring broken places and sin’s destructive blow. And therefore, I believe no truer words may have ever been uttered about friendship:

    “The highest joys of friendship grow in the soil of the deepest struggles. Struggles are not obstacles, but instruments in God’s hands. Every struggle is an opportunity to experience God’s grace yourself and give it to the other person.” Paul David Tripp

    The grace they showed me called my wrong a wrong, but they didn’t ask me to pay for it. They knew Jesus paid it for me. Their grace hovered in humility and basked in forgiveness - the same valued and celebrated forgiveness we had each been show by Jesus on the cross. Their grace called out my wrong and called me to repentance. They were not “yes” people or enablers. Nothing was swept under the rug, but was compassionately explored. It “rejoiced in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6)! It called for heart restoration in my broken situation not behavior modification. Their love pointed me to Jesus to rebuild my identity. Real heart change couldn't occur until I realized my idolatry of self had to be replaced with Jesus on the throne of my heart. My friends had the faith to live out this mantra: Jesus took on all the burdens, He took on all the wrongs, all of the offenses on the cross, so they wouldn’t have to pick up the offense of my sin. And these friends knew in their heart of hearts that Jesus had “lost His reputation in order to give ME an everlasting name!” (Tim Keller) I absolutely love writing about this because it never ceases to give me chills and processing through all of what happened sustains its freshness and keeps me oh so thankful!!

    Their grace confronted. But it confronted with all gentleness (which is a fruit of the spirit born out of their own recognition of the depravity of their own flesh/hearts and deep need for Jesus too). It was never given with judgment or a spirit of ‘I’m better than you’.

    Their grace was not contingent upon an immediate outcome, but was anchored to their deep trust in God’s faithfulness (Philippians 1:6), wisdom, and was given while yielding to the certainty that “His ways are higher than ours” (Isaiah 55:8-9). It was firmly tethered to the long-term confidence that’s promised to us in scripture and in parables such as Luke 15. The expectancy that grace would eventually invade and change my life (which is His greatest desire for each one of us!). The burden was not on them to “change me” (“If a human could change another human, Jesus would have never needed to come” – Paul David Tripp) and therefore was agenda-free. It endured by fixating on the anthem of knowing that grace given is always fruitful. Recognizing fully that fruit isn’t grown in a day, and sometimes grace bears future fruit. Fruit that takes time see. Their love knew that gracious obedient responses never return void. There will be far greater eternal value and invaluable treasures for their grace-response and obedience in choosing grace even when it isn’t easy (and many can testify that I did not make it easy for anyone). 

    Their grace wasn’t given for results (although it was certainly hoped and prayed for); it was given because of who Jesus is. Their grace was foundationally Gospel-centered and did not have a one-time validation or an expiration date. Their grace did not run out. They recognized the risks that grace does not always have instant gratification in regards to behavior modification. They knew full well that grace-giving can be long-suffering and is embedded in a deep yearning for heart change and not just focused on changing the behavior (appalling behavior such as mine always stem from a heart issue). Fruits of the Spirit each stem from a foundation built on our salvation and our salvation is built solely on grace and grace alone.

    Grace profoundly liberated my relationships and foundationally changed them. Understanding and receiving God’s grace changes you and creates a climate of grace for yourself and for others in your life. It’s centered on the establishment of who HE is, not on what I can bring to the table. Friendships and relationships prosper when this is the common thread shared and distinguished among the two of you (or a group). What a treasure that cannot be taken!

    Since I have been the recipient of incalculable grace, I have been given the privilege of having a genuine, weighty understanding and appreciation of grace and just exactly what it is and what it has the power to do in a human heart. A personal testimony of how the “law” has no power to liberate or redeem. But grace does. The “law” (succeeding at perfection and victory over always doing what is ‘right’) cannot be tackled or overcome by our own wisdom, intellect, strength, or might. It is unattainable.  Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come if there were ways to “regulate” people into obedience or “congressionally” usher people into always the right decision-making. This does not work. It is not possible. He didn’t need to come if that was the only thing needed. If information alone and simply informing people about the rules of law would change a heart, Jesus wouldn’t have needed to come. The law alone cannot save us. We have no hope in the “law”, because we WILL FAIL (hopefully not as badly as me!)! But either way, none of us can uphold the law perfectly. We are flawed, imperfect human beings. The law alone cannot do what grace could.  You cannot regulate a person into not sinning. You cannot shame a person into changing. You cannot guilt a person into having a heart transformation. If all of this were possible, Jesus would have never needed to come and rescue us! Do you get it? Grasp it? I know I’m being repetitive! We often rely so heavily on “religion” to save us more than we do the Savior. It’s heartbreaking; it’s missing what truly happened for you this weekend on Easter!

    Our church has been going through the book of Galatians the last few months and Paul’s letter continuously urges the Church at Galatia to not rely on the “law” (rules) anymore for “saving” you! The law could never do what grace could and that is exactly why grace (Jesus) needed to come.  Slavery and bondage to the “law” is exactly why Galatians was written. It is a beautiful book encouraging the church to see  - you have been set free from the curse of the law. There is no eternal hope in it! We hope in GRACE, in His death, In HIS “overcoming”, in His righteousness on our behalf! Muscle your way out. Mind over matter. This alone relies on human will and religion and leads to burdensome ways of living for yourself and unrealistic expectations of those around you.

    “For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23

    Grace is the only thing that has the ability to transform and bring about change (REAL change). God’s grace exposed what I wanted to hide, not to shame me, but to lead me to repentance, forgive me, deliver me, change me, and give me a firm place to stand. Yes, there was the excruciating and embarrassing light of exposure, but realizing and accepting that the blood of my Savior had already covered up my scarlet sins was stunning, and I received it! It is God’s kindness and rich mercy that led to my repentance (Romans 2:4). It is love, ridiculous grace, and compassion that brings breakthrough to people, and it’s what brought breakthrough to me. I am SO thankful for God’s patience and unrelenting commitment to my process. God had positioned and used tangible people channeling that grace in my life which brought immense heart and life change to me. It was the Body of Christ at work that helped to restore me and to make me whole again.  It must first change you personally before you can ever give it to another person.

    “Theology that isn’t zealous to promote forgiving and transforming grace, the kind of grace that changes your life, is simply bad theology.” Paul David Tripp

    I think what was one of the most shocking things to me, is the sweet friendships I mentioned above, did not in fact have the same story as I did, but they too had a radical forgiving, grace-receiving moment from their Savior and felt they were just as guilty of nailing Him to the cross as I was. I was met in the depths of my despair, not with judgment or with condemnation, mockery or shock, but with saving-rescuing-transforming grace (the same type of grace they had been shown from their Heavenly Father). It’s the kind of grace that changes a life.

    It was a type of grace that frees a person up to be a bit of a mess – because I am: I no longer have to defend myself or pretend to be something that I am not. I don’t have to stand on my own righteousness. I don’t and won’t ever have it all together. There’s now no fear in the honesty of sharing. There has been an environment created amongst us girlfriends that breeds trust, vulnerability, openness, and sharing our highs and lows. These women showed me what it looks like to be humble and approachable; it in turn encouraged me to be open and brutally honest (knowing it wouldn’t be met with harsh judgments or making me feel isolated); then and only then could we begin to deal with the mess inside me (the messy condition of my heart that is). It removed the shame associated with being “not ok”! Because they continuously told me, “we all are a bit of a mess, and all of the condition of our hearts need work".

    “A friend loves at ALL times.” Proverbs 17:17 - probably the hardest truth for us each to swallow, because I know how difficult this one really is. (How hard I made it for people)

    When the burden of performance and perfection was lifted off of me; friendships and relationships were free to grow and thrive. There’s a better way than how I used to be a stifling, demanding friend. Such hope! Celebrate the grace I’ve been given and graciously and joyously give it to others.

    “As I have loved you, love one another.” John 15:12

    Mending the broken places are not easy. It’s vulnerable and very hard at times, but very worth it. And I believe the Lord calls us to these things for a reason. The Lord meets us there and blesses us with all of the redemptive gifts – wholeness, forgiveness, healing, unity, rebuilding of trust, fruitfulness, nourishment. His goodness never runs out. It’s endless. I am forever grateful to these women who have taught me about what it means to be a real friend (which I truly never was in the past): authentic, unashamed, agenda-free, openly acknowledging my flaws and short comings. In Proverbs 27:17 it says, "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” -  this is how we grow, flourish together because we are designed for community. We need others, we are so prone to get out of step.

    So, THIS weekend we celebrate Easter, and the ransoming of His Bride [which is YOU]… revel in the ultimate picture of “what was meant for evil, God intended for good” (Genesis 50:20). He sent Jesus to the cross – all the while with resurrection in mind! He caused ALL of the pain, suffering and torment on the cross for our ultimate good! God is THE only one who can make beauty from ashes. Something dead, alive again. It’s the way He works. Jesus’ seemingly greatest failure (the cross) ends up being the world’s greatest victory and triumph - conquering and defeating sin and death on our behalf! Hallelujah! It’s God’s “Higher Way” and often His economy of working His mighty purposes. “A cross meant to kill is my victory”!! (David Crowder)

    “And you, who were dead in your trespasses, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them.” Colossians 2:13-15

    He “bankrupted heaven for you”! (Cory Asbury) Not just so we would be saved, or just to modify our behavior/exterior actions, but that we could be forgiven and  HEALED. Hearts made whole, dealt with, fully restored! Grasp grace and show it to others. 

    “But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be WHOLE. He was whipped so we could be HEALED. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. We have left God’ paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)

    “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.“ 1 Peter 1:3

    He doesn’t just bring the literal dead to life here. The Author of Life, the God of Resurrection, the God of All Hope and Comfort, the God of Endurance- our Blessed Savior and Redeemer longs to “resurrect” anything decimated (or dead) in your life. To rebuild it. To radically undo and then remake it better than before (greater things than you could ever imagined – Ephesians 3:20). Your dead, cold heart of stone (like mine). Your lifeless marriage (like mine). Your callused and hopeless relationships (me again!). He longs to bless you.  He is for peace, He is life-giving, sustaining, delighting in, loving, hoping in and for total healing - which is how we were designed. We were made to be restored. Renewed. His deepest desires are to bless you with all the redemptive gifts. The full harvest. He will withhold no good thing from you if you come to Him for fixing. I’ve experienced this in most every area of my life. He is faithful. His promises never return empty!

    The girl, me, who had made a catastrophic mess of her own life and had caused so many people pain, undeservingly was given redemption AND was finally understanding and receiving the grace she always rejected and never understood. Because I for far too long, relied on the prideful self-savior, self-righteous, defensive, exterior-perfection-is-religion, outside matters, hiding, pretending, need to save myself mentality. Grace arrived and it assaulted and transformed my life! He’s given us the keys to help build foundations of healthy relationships and community. We need each other. That key is GRACE. Grace-donating and grace-receiving.

    “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus!” Romans 8:1

    Celebrate and don’t feel condemned about our need to be rescued!

    "After your season of suffering, God in all His grace will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you!” 1 Peter 5:10

    I pray you find hope in this one story of what our God is capable of this Easter weekend! The God of Resurrection can breath life into your “dead” situation or “broken” relationships too! He desires to! The only One who forgives, revives and blesses us with redemption! He turned my heartbeat from merely surviving into thriving and is now revived and ignited! Praise His Holy Name!

    Celebrating my rescue today! He put a “new song in our mouths, set our feet on a rock and gave us a firm place to stand”!  (Psalm 40:2-3) Celebrating the truth in Isaiah 61:3: “He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor."

    Happy Easter,

     

     

     

    "Many, oh Lord, are the wonders YOU have done, the things you planned for us! None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare." Psalm 40:5

    Redeeming Love: Celebrating Our 10 Year Wedding Anniversary

    This is a story of the old made new—a personal love story of God’s inconceivable tenderness and continual pursuit of me and my husband, Ellis. This is a story about revival, deep transformation of hearts, love, the power of forgiveness and of witnessing our God’s ability to perform the impossible healing we have been graced with. It is a truly miraculous love story that has little to do with Ellis and I and everything to do with who God is and how He came in when we needed Him most. He fearlessly stepped into our mess in the midst of our brokenness, grief and great loss and lavished on us an undeserving tale of restoration, renewal and unending mercies and faithfulness. Our prayer is that while we peel back the layers and let you peer inside our personal lives, God would use our past pain and current vulnerability to draw you closer to our Lord.

    This past week, in honor of our 10-year wedding anniversary and in celebration of all the Lord has done in our marriage, Ellis and I renewed our vows. This day was more meaningful and more emotional than the day we married, because it carried a weightiness and joy having come out of a very stormy season. In a private, backyard ceremony, alongside our children and in front of our family, we recommitted ourselves to one another and celebrated God’s victory over the enemy, His rescue of our marriage, His redemption of our household and His renewal of our hearts. We stood together weeping at the altar in gratitude—crying for all the past struggles, failures, pains and regrets, and shedding tears of thanksgiving to our God who didn’t give up on us.  Together we thanked Jesus, the only One who kept the covenant, for being the never-ceasing faithful One in our lives.

    Our story is one of failures and heartaches, but is ultimately one of victories, healing and triumph! On my pathetic search for significance and love, I found myself in the depths of the valley of despair—a place of tormenting dependences and soul-fragmenting strongholds. I was a deeply wounded and broken person; a type of brokenness that cannot be seen on an x-ray or from the outside based on how it all appears. I made great efforts to look like everyone else. I appeared happy and kept up with the status quo, yet I was completely empty and pain-filled on the inside. I couldn’t let anyone know what was going on in the depths of my heart—the shame was too great, and I felt as if I was the only person who ever struggled. I felt defective, purposeless, ashamed, a fraud, and worst of all, an unloved failure. I chased after a futile, performance-gospel and a haughty self-savior mentality. I was partaking in life destroying, addicting, self-sabotaging, codependent, self-loathing behaviors—savagely feeding a broken side of my wounded heart with everything but Jesus, which inevitably broke my spirit and mutilated my soul in the process. This stronghold was born and suddenly something else became the author of my self-esteem and self-worth. 

    I had hit rock bottom. I was in a state of palpable hopelessness. Thankfully my story (our story) doesn’t end there. The soil of rock bottom is one of the richest and most fruitful places you can find. Everything is stripped away, there are no more delusions of strength, striving ceases, and you have nothing to offer but everything to receive. When all you bring to the table is your own sin, when you have nothing to bring but your failures, that’s when Jesus get to show up and do what we could never do for ourselves. The God of “immeasurably more than you could ask, think or imagine” is able to rescue you from yourself. When the real you finally shows up to the real God, you get real change. Freedom is unleashed.

    Jesus is the friend who sits with you and does not judge you while you are in the pit. He is also the very one who has the power to save you, to break you free from your man-made prison and to deliver you into everything you’ve been looking for. He is in the business of restoring souls, transforming hearts and deliverance. Trust me when I say this is not a pain-free process, but who better to trust with your pain when you are at your lowest point than Jesus, the Refiner? He is the Ultimate Heart Surgeon who is equipped to repair the root and underlying problem. Humbly recognize that this is why Jesus came: Jesus came for the pretenders, screw ups, Pharisees, frauds, hypocrites, sinners, scoffers, the ones hiding, the ashamed, the broken, the hurting, the lost, so that we would know, learn, experience and let His loving truth wash over us.

    Matthew 18:11-14 tells me, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly I say to you, HE REJOICES MORE OVER THAT SHEEP THAN OVER THE NINETY-NINE THAT DID NOT GO ASTRAY.” 

    “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a NEW THING; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:18-19

    I have been the recipient of immeasurable grace. I have been given the privilege to have a true, heartfelt understanding of grace and just exactly what it is and what it has the power to do in a human heart. Grace is an action packed word that is often devalued and misunderstood these days. Grace does not make wrong a right and it does not permit wrong. It also doesn’t blow past a wrong or cover it up. Grace says that wrong is a wrong and that is exactly why it is needed. Grace is a choice way of dealing with wrong; not turning your back on or enabling wrong. Grace had to come because the ‘law’ (rules of right and wrong) alone didn’t hold the power to rescue, heal, transform, forgive or save—it only has the power to call a wrong a wrong. The law could never do what grace could. That law has no power to liberate, alter or redeem. But grace does.

    “If a human could change another human, Jesus (or Grace) would have never needed to come!” Paul David Tripp

    Grace is what transforms, grace is what exposes wrongs, but it never asks you to pay for them. God’s grace will expose what you want to hide, not to shame you, but to forgive you and deliver you. Grace shatters our darkness. Grace illuminates those dark, hollow and hidden places. Yes, there will be the pain-filled light of exposure, but the blood of our Savior has already covered what will be exposed! It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance, and it is His tender mercies and unfailing compassions that cause the scales to fall and enlighten the eyes of our hearts! It is love, gentleness and mercy that brings breakthrough to people and it’s what brought breakthrough to me. I am thankful today for God’s patience and unrelenting commitment to process.

    “Theology that isn’t zealous to promote forgiving and transforming grace, the kind of grace that changes your life, is simply bad theology.” Paul David Tripp

    “You will not send me 
from Your presence.
 You will not drive me
 from Your grace. 
You will not separate me 
from Your glory.
 You will not eliminate me 
from Your promises.
 You will never
 ever
 ever
 send me away. Because Your anger 
was borne by Another. Because my separation
 was carried by Him.
 Because He was
 sent away, 
I will never be. So, in weakness,
 failure, 
foolishness, 
and sin, 
I stand before You once more
 with courage,
 hope,
 comfort,
 and joy,
 because I know
 that in all the
 dark things that 
may be whispered to me 
in this dark and fallen world 
there are two words I will never hear from you: ‘Go away.’ And so with gratitude and joy
 I get up to face the day
 but as I do, I do it
 without fear.” Paul David Tripp 

    Since our marriage had been torn down to the studs, Ellis and I felt we had two choices: we could either build a moment to the past or draw a line in the sand, place an Ebenezer Stone (1 Sam. 7:12) there and choose to walk forward in to this 'new thing' the Lord had promised us! Because we serve a God whose mercies are new every morning and whose loving kindness never fails, who is constant, unchanging and eternally steadfast, we chose to trust Him with our pain, our healing and our restoration. If the offender and the offended alike take their pain to the Lord, what comes next will astound you—you will partake in a joy so grand, a restoration so rich, a wholeness so majestic, a hope so stunning!

    God didn’t deliver Ellis and I from this horrific pain, but He delivered us through! He was faithful just as He promised! During our renewal ceremony, Ellis gave me two new diamond eternity bands, to serve as Ebenezer Stones—as stones of remembrance for what is past and hope for the future. They are a reminder that the Lord has delivered us through our heartache, pain and great loss and that the Lord was with us then and that thus far the Lord has helped us, yes, [and will help us now and always. For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20]

    “Let these bones you have crushed, rejoice!” Psalm 51:8

    Praise God He cares about us enough to not let us stay like this! Less-than, lacking, or hurting. "God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, accepts us as we are, but by His grace, He doesn't leave us as we are!" Tim Keller

    "He who promised is FAITHFUL!" Hebrews 10:23

    "After your season of suffering, God in all His grace will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you!” 1 Peter 5:10

    "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds!" Hosea 6:1. 

    "He will turn darkness into light and He will make rough places smooth!" Isaiah 42:16

    God promises us in Jeremiah 42:10 that He WILL "rebuild you and not demolish you, I will plant you and not uproot you!" His grace abounds and as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed my sins from me (Psalm 103:12)!  

    He’s given us redemption money cannot buy, a rescue no friend could provide, a restoration only The Carpenter could rebuild, a treasure that cannot be taken. 

    "He was sent to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve — to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. He will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; He will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations." (Isaiah 61:1-4) 

    If you are in a tremendously painful season, know that the safest place to be is kneeling at the foot of the cross. This is the only way that leads to full redemption – fullness of peace, lasting joy, wholeness of your soul, life abundant! “Put your hope in the Lord, for WITH HIM is unfailing love and WITH HIM is full redemption!” (Psalm 130:7) Trust Him with your terror, pain, fear and heartache.

    He longs to bless you, rescue you and heal you! He is for you! “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31.

    Jeremiah 29:11 promises that His plans for you are “to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you a hope and a future!”

    “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for YOU!” Psalm 93:4

    “What can make us whole again, nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

    In Romans 15:5, Paul calls the Lord the “God of endurance”. He is the unending Pursuer of any of His "lost sheep". When we cannot endure or completely lose heart, HE will not! For He cannot deny Himself; it's who He is. I love how it's said in 2 Timothy 2:13 - “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful - for He cannot deny Himself.” His faithfulness rests on who He is, not on who I am or on what I’m doing. It's actually not about me at all, it's about Him. It’s about who He is. And “His faithfulness never comes to an end” (Lamentations 3:22-23) . Do you really know Him? Know who He really is? I met Jesus long ago, but I didn’t really know Him until recently! 

    God’s covenant faithfulness, grace-centered love and never-ceasing commitment to process of healing, refining and redeeming our once ugly hearts is the reason Ellis and I are here together today! He longs to do the same for you and your’s!

    He is here to be the lover of your soul, the healer of all your wounds, the one who never leaves you or forsakes you in your weaknesses. He came for situations just like ours. He is the only answer, the only way. He has come to rebuild and renew, so that we might have life and have it abundantly!

    And today, we walk hand in hand, coming out of this devastating season in our life. We choose Him and one another. Every day. Ours is a redeeming love story, one that could only be written by the Giver of all good things, the Giver of all we need, the only one who satisfies our souls. We are thankful our three kids were able to be apart of our ceremony so they could witness how much their parents need Jesus and grace, just like them. So they do not feel alone. Our deepest desire is for our kids to know early and often that their parents are far from perfect and what a BIG God they serve!

    “Not to us, not to us, oh Lord, but to Your Name be the glory because of your love and [unending, never ceasing] faithfulness." Psalm 115:1 

    The scars of this will never leave. They will always be visible for anyone to see and for anyone to ask, “What happened to you?” Thankful for the scars of grace and this testimony of who God is and what He has done! What joy!

    “He saved them for His Name’s sake, that He might make known His mighty power.”  Psalm 106:8

    Take comfort that you can never go too far to ultimately return to the Lord! Personal heart and life change is always a process. But He is in the “process” business! He transforms those who seek Him and makes all things NEW to those who call upon His name! In Him we lack no good thing, He is our Helper, our Deliverer! 

    “Blessed is he whose transgressions are FORGIVEN, whose sins are covered!” Psalm 32:1

    The blessed person isn’t the perfect person; the blessed person is the forgiven person (as it says above in Psalm 32). The one who humbly comes before a worthy Father, recognizing their need for help and allowing Him to come in a make all things new! The one who unashamedly throws themselves on the mercy of the courts and desperately partakes in His covering love!

    Only our God could turn heartache into glory from Himself, ashes into beauty, mourning into praise, addictions into refinement, wounds into wonders, trash to treasure, shame into joy, bringing us closer to one another and to our God in the process. That is redemption. My God is faithful - even unto death - and every word He says is true, every promise He makes He will fulfill; come call upon His Name for that relief and rescue!

    “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

    “But He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be WHOLE. He was whipped so we could be HEALED. All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. We have left God’ paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.” Isaiah 53:5-6 

    “We will song of the Lords loyal love forever and will proclaim His faithfulness from one generations to the next!” Psalm 89:1

    “Praise the Lord, my soul,
who forgives all your sins
and who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve
 or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west,
so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:2-12

    10 years ago today we said I do. We didn’t know on our wedding day just what we were saying yes to! By going through the depths of despairs and the immense joys of life together, there is real power in the fact that we choose each other again today. Not because we have to, or because it was what’s right for the kids, but because of the Lord and because of our God-centered, renewed love for one another. Tested and refined through fire; now strengthened.  Reinforced. By the grace of God and against all hope, we stand stronger today! Better together, better than we were, in a place I could have never imagined possible! Thank you Jesus for coming into our mess and making our healing and restoration possible! Thank you for making us more like you through our season of suffering! Thank you for never leaving us to our own devices! We owe you everything and you are truly worthy of it all! Praying we are believers that have been changed by you – we’ve brought You all our baggage and messy conditions of our hears, and pray now that our lives would reflect the same grace we’ve been shown. Lives full of compassion for people, forgiveness and grace-centered love for others! To point them to You!

    Praying you are encouraged and rejoice alongside Ellis and I in the victory the Lord has won in our hearts, our marriage and our family. I am praying that the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the only Name that saves, falls heavy on you today and you run to (not from) this Helper, Healer and Blessed Redeemer. 

     

     

     

    “He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a NEW song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; Many will see and fear and will trust in the LORD.” Psalm 40:1-4