On Goodbyes and Joy

I just said goodbye to one of the dearest friends that I made during my time here in Ireland. A friend who taught me more about Jesus and His kind, kind heart than I think I could have discovered by myself. It was one of those goodbyes that, although bittersweet, was filled with hope and with joy, because I know that I will see him again when we, someday, are finally Home, gathered in our Father’s embrace. This whole week is going to be full of moments like that. Some tears, some laughter, some hugs, some dorky high fives, some “see you soon’s” and some “see you later’s”.

Leaving is like that. We never know when we are going to see someone next, so we set our faces and say a goodbye that most likely doesn’t suffice for all of the things that we could say. How am I supposed to leave people who have been my constant companions for these past four months? How am I supposed to say goodbye to a town that has become home? How am I supposed to say goodbye to a country that has captured my heart and probably won’t be giving it back any time soon? I think the answer is found in one small word: joy.

In fact, if I had to assign a word to describe my semester in Maynooth, Ireland, it would be just that. Joy.

When I arrived here, I was scared to death. I remember losing my marbles in Tesco and crying on the phone to my dad, choking back sobs and looking crazy in the process. I was so terrified of missing out on everyone’s lives at home that I felt sure I would never make one here. But, as I painfully and slowly let go of my control and gave the reins to God, things began to happen. Wonderful things. My sadness melted away like night with the arrival of morning, and God opened my eyes to a world that I never thought I would see.

He took me amazing places. Germany, Italy, Spain (oh Spain…), England, Scotland. I stood in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. I basked in the sweet Valencian sunshine. I was completely and totally enraptured by the old and rugged beauty of Edinburgh. Traveling to these places was the journey of a lifetime, and I can only sit here and be thankful that somehow I got this opportunity. I won’t soon forget the many euros spent on gelato, backpacking through countries with different languages, and of course, getting robbed twice (Europe, just think of it as my gift).

And oh, Ireland. The Cliffs of Moher blew me away (almost literally). The hills of wild Donegal enchanted me. I got lost on the electric streets of Dublin. The lush green of the Boyne Valley spoke of the creation of the world and of its Creator. God’s wild heart and youthful creativity is splattered all over this country like colorful paint on a white canvas. Where else in the world could you see something as breathtaking as the Wicklow mountains in the snow? Where else could tiny towns and villages hold people so warm that you are afraid (or not so afraid) that they might convince you to stay forever? Where else is the craic so grand and the spirit of the night so alive than in Ireland? I’m not sure that such a place exists.

About a third of the way through the semester, I started attending a student prayer and worship service during my class breaks on Wednesdays. It was there that I met the friend mentioned above. Soon after meeting, he challenged me to a joy competition. Yes, a joy competition. Of course, being me, I was completely on board. Thus commenced weeks of seeing who could be more excited about Christ’s Resurrection, the greatness of God, and the community of believers that He had placed us in. I am pretty sure that in the end, neither of actually us won the joy competition because we were both so dang happy. In fact, that is what kept me going when I hit my mid-semester slump. When struggles that had followed me from home reared their ugly heads. When apathy and confusion as to why I was here plagued my mind. When I again felt lost and alone and scared about the uncertainty of the future. That’s when I had to remember and keep telling myself one thing.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.
Nehemiah 8:10

The JOY of the LORD is my STRENGTH. The dancing, singing, pursuing, resounding, galloping full-speed-ahead joy of the Lord is the strength in my bones. In my feet when they grow weary of dancing. In my hands when they grow tired of writing. In my heart, when my prayers feel hollow and lifeless. My world was illuminated from the inside out when I let joy take over. Because joy isn’t a feeling. It isn’t even an emotion. Joy is a state of being. It is a mindset that refuses to let the little, or even not-so-little things in life get you down. Joy allows you to hold on when the winds are strong and the shore seems far away. Joy allows you to get up on a lazy, tired day and run outside and breathe in creation. Joy, I believe, is the lens through which God is the most beautiful. Not fear or legalism or even obedience to the letter of the law. When the Joy of the Lord is your strength, the kaleidoscope of His goodness and mercy becomes the viewfinder through which you look at life.

Think that I am stressing the joy stuff a little too much? Check out these verses.

Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. Psalm 47:1.

May the God of hope fill you all with joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13.

Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Psalm 27:6.

Your statues are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. Psalm 119:111.

See? Joy, joy, joy. And so, joy is my word of the year. Joy because God brought me to the most beautiful place in the world where He has dusted off and unfurled the long-forgotten scrolls of my childhood dreams of running in green fields and seeing a lot of fluffy sheep and old castles. Joy because Ireland, and the amazing friends that I have met here, now hold part of my heart. Joy because God took me to a country across the Atlantic to help me rediscover the goodness of His heart and the childlike wonder that He restored to mine.

In light of all of this joy, saying goodbye isn’t so sad, and leaving isn’t so terrible. It is still hard. But, I am saying goodbye to a second home, and coming back to my first home to continue the Journey with my Father. And who knows? Perhaps that strong wind that blew me here in the first place will bring me back someday.

Ireland, my love,

Go raibh maith agat agus slán go fóill.
Thank you, and see you later.

We Need to Pray. 

This is going to be brief, as I am typing it in a hostel in Barcelona on my iPhone. Although it isn’t my preferred ambience, with
coffee, my Bible and journals, pens, highlighters, and Ellie Holcomb singing to me through my Bose speaker, it needs to be said. And there is something about the urgency of writing something in a short amount of time, on my phone, that settles right in with what is on my heart.
As you have surely heard by now, there were three deadly attacks in Brussels, Belgium this morning. At least 30 people were killed, and hundreds were injured. ISIS has already claimed responsibility for the attacks. 

Also you also may know, I have been studying abroad in Ireland since January, and I have spent the past week and a half traveling Germany, Italy, and Spain. My friends and I have had an amazing time experiencing new cultures, different languages, delicious food, and meeting new people. Most everything involving our trip has gone off without a hitch, with one big exception (for me, at least).
I have been robbed not once, but twice. 

Yeah. Me. I’m the girl who gets robbed twice in one trip. That’s my luck.

The first time was in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City. I went to get my wallet out of my purse and poof–it was gone. Credit and debit cards. Money. Drivers license. Student cards. All gone. Needless to say, I felt stupid for leaving my purse open even for the shortest amount of time. But other than the stress of cancelling my cards and getting provisional cash, it really was fine. In fact, I had this really weird, overwhelming sense of peace about the whole thing (after the initial teary breakdown).  
Now, I wish I could have felt that same sense of overwhelming, omnipresent peace this morning when robbery, round two, occurred. My friends and I had just rounded a street corner in Barcelona after getting our morning pastries when a woman selling flowers approached us. She shoved her flowers at us and demanded a small amount of change. As I (naively) opened my temporary wallet to dig for a few cents, she plunged her hand into the pouch and stated rooting around. Thus commenced a very noisy, uncomfortable, and way-too-long tug of war for possession of my wallet and its contents. I finally got it back and our little group walked/ran a block away. When we finally slowed down, I checked my wallet, already knowing what I would find– almost all of my money was gone. Again. I was a fuming, angry, hot mess for the next hour. Like seriously. I feel bad for anyone who was around me at the time. And I’m sure any of you reading by now are thinking “This girl should not be allowed to travel, or own a wallet.” You might be right.

But then I started thinking. Why was this happening? Surely God isn’t allowing me to get robbed to teach me a lesson (although I did pitch that idea to my travel companion Molly, and as soon as I said it out loud, I knew that it wasn’t quite right). But, really. There had to be something.
Then, about an hour later, after we explored Parc Guëll, Gaudí’s great masterpiece overlooking Barcelona, I received a text from a good friend’s mom. It was a Bible verse. A very specific Bible verse. 
“The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.”  1 Peter 4:7
I read that and felt like a brick had been dropped on my chest. Like, woah. “Be clear minded and self-controlled.” That’s a pretty obvious commandment. During the past week and a half, I have seen some amazing things. I have walked through history. I have felt the weight of the centuries that have come before me in these places. However, I’ll admit that I have not been praying. Not like I had been before I left (not that I was perfect then, by any means). I’ve been saying an occasional “thank you” before a meal, and have been praising God for all the things He has created. But I have not been spilling my heart out in prayer. I have not been losing myself in the Spirit.
So. Onward to the next destination on my train of thought. 
After a long day full of walking the streets, sightseeing, and tapas, the three of us arrived back at our hostel. It was then that I turned my wifi on and saw a text from my dad alerting me about the attacks in Brussels, asking if the girls and I were safe. I felt my heart drop into my stomach. Not again. No. Humanity can’t take anymore hatred. Jesus, please.
Please.
And that was the moment that it clicked.
The robberies. The frustration. The text message with the oddly specific verse about praying. The terrorist attacks.
God has been trying to get my attention. To clarify, I am not saying that He caused the attacks to wake me–or anyone else– up to pray. Not at all.

 
But I think that He has used the robberies, this verse, 1 Peter 4:7, and my new awareness of the most recent terror attack in our world, to shake me.
Daughter, you need to pray. You have to.



I feel so strongly about this. So urgently. And that is not by my own conviction or goodness. It’s only by the grace of the Holy Spirit. He breaks our hearts for His people. This past week and a half, He has broken my heart for His world.
For the men and women who have fallen to a place in life where they feel that they have to steal and cheat and con in order to get by.
For the homeless man on the street, holding a sign saying that he is sick and has three starving children to feed.
For the woman working as a prostitute on the street corner.
For the men who commit violent, extremist acts in the name of religion.
My heart hurts. But more pressing than that, it is on fire. A fire set by a God who wants me to pray. Who wants you to pray. Who wants to wake us up out of our sleepwalking-through-life and wants us to stomp it out so the ground shakes and the enemy can hear the sons and daughters of God getting riled up in the name of Jesus Christ.
So wake up! Hit your knees. Close your eyes. Jump to your feet. Shout at the sky. Write in your journal. Pour over your Bible. God is doing work, but He wants us to be in on that. How? Through prayer. Prayer arms us, and it sets things in motion. Pray for the homeless, for the thieves, for the women caught in sex trafficking, for the criminals, for the radical extremists. Pray for the Holy Spirit to raise up more teachers, more preachers, more missionaries, more mommas to raise their babies, more fathers to guard their families, more college students to shun complacency and comfort, more anointed wisdom to fall down like fire.
Pray that you can be aware and vigilant to hear what He places on your heart next. It doesn’t matter where you are in your walk with Him. Whether you’ve got silver sneakers or you’ve just started the walk. Just pray. He will tell you what to pray for and how to pray. You’ll feel it.
Sometimes, I am stubborn, and I forget what comes with being a Daughter of the King. I can’t just sit here and revel in grace. I mean I could, and He would still move mountains for me. But I wouldn’t be fulfilling my purpose. I wasn’t recently. So He woke me up. And I am so glad He did.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17

From Éire, with love.

February 1, 2016
15:53
Café Bon Bon
Maynooth, Co. Kildare
Ireland

I am sitting at a little round table in my new favorite pastry and coffee shop in the world. Café Bon Bon has light grey walls glided with gold, tea plates hung all around for decoration, and a beautiful, effervescent display of cakes, scones, croissants, and tartes. I just inhaled the white chocolate raspberry cake and am now sipping on a cappuccino, slightly sweetened, with cream (yes, I have a little bit of a sweet tooth). Café Bon Bon is situated on Mill Street in this little town called Maynooth in this beautiful country called Ireland, where I just so happen to be spending the next four and a half months of my life.

At the table two over from me, there is a pleasantly plump woman with a red shirt and a bright green floral scarf interviewing another woman for a nanny position. In front of me, there are two smartly dressed blonde women and a dark-haired man drinking tea and eating salads. To their left, there are two elderly gentlemen enjoying drinks, and though I cannot hear their conversation, they do not seem too afraid of losing their man cards by breaking bread (or tea…in their case…?) in such a frilly place. Outside, the sun is peeking through the clouds after a brief but determined rain shower. Kids are walking home from school. Cars line the street. The multi-colored store fronts of pubs, boutiques, and coffee shops are just as charming as they seemed when I first saw pictures of this place. It is like something out of a dream.

Among all of the people chatting, laughing, and going about their usual daily routines, I am sitting here and thinking about how content I am. This little town called Maynooth already feels like home, which I can hardly believe, since I have only been here for a week. A week of ups and downs, new people and new places, laughter and tears and confusion and loneliness and joy. A week of adventures and new food and real Irish cider and accents and picking up on accents and getting lost and trying to figure out the Euro and swooning over the green that is everywhere.

I think back to a week ago, when I flew into Dublin for the first time and saw the patchwork quilt of emerald unfolding below me, with fog laying low around the cows and sheep and fences. I, along with all the newly arrived international students, dragged my one-hundred plus pounds of luggage for what felt like miles through town and campus to get to my apartment for the first time. I think back to frantically searching town for Wi-Fi because I couldn’t connect on campus and I desperately needed to hear a familiar voice tell me that all would be alright. I think back to walking all the way to Tesco at the edge of town (I had not yet discovered the cheap, wonderful convenience of Aldi) and breaking down in the middle of the shampoo and conditioner aisle, no doubt looking like some crazy, sleep deprived, weeping woman. None of my familiar brands from home, people with beautiful but strange ways of talking, no dollar signs on anything, and weird shopping carts that wouldn’t come unlocked from eachother. I think back to sitting on my new bed at the end of that night, 30 hours out from the last time I really slept, sobbing like there was no tomorrow and clinging for dear life to my momma’s travel pillow she sent with me. “What in the world have I gotten myself into,” I wondered as my mind spun with fear, doubt, and confusion. “I cannot do this. I cannot live here for almost five months. I have made a HUGE mistake. Clearly, Katie, you have overestimated yourself.” I missed my family and friends so much that my heart felt like it was breaking. God clearly didn’t know what He was doing in sending this girl who thought she was brave and independent, but who really was just scared out of her mind, to a country across the Atlantic.

Something ironic occurred to me—just under a year ago, when I penned my first blog post, I wrote about the song “Oceans” by Hillsong UNITED. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters wherever You may call me. Little did I know that a year from then I would be studying abroad in Ireland, and little did I know that I would need faith the size of Texas to do something that my heart had desired for so long. Because I was supposed to be happy, overjoyed. I was supposed to be confident and bright and not look back. I was supposed to have no fear and do the things that scared me without breaking a sweat. But I couldn’t. I didn’t even experience the “honeymoon” phase, as everyone calls it, when you are so enamored with the new culture that you simply do not think about missing home. I plain skipped that part and arrived right away at whattheheckamIdoingIwanttogohome.

But then I remembered.

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.
Deuteronomy 31:8

I knew this before, but it was that first night or two that I realized that God really did bring me here to teach me how to depend on Him. Not in some flimsy, half-hearted way that didn’t risk and didn’t actually trust, but in a strong, firm-footed, still-scared but now certain of His everlasting goodness and provision, way. He brought me here, without the comfort of being able to go home or hang out with my best friends, where I knew not a single soul.

Even before I left for this trip, I knew that God was going to teach me a lot. All of my friends said it. “I think God is really going to show up for you in Ireland.” “God is taking you there to bring you even closer to Him and to teach you complete, one hundred percent dependence.” I knew it, but it wasn’t until I got here that I realized how terrifying this process could actually be at the start, and no doubt through the rest of the journey. However, it was those first couple of days and nights of loneliness and tears and feeling like a crazy person that got me to the point where I realized that this– these very feelings of helplessness and blindness—is why I am here.

I cannot grow where I am already comfortable. Sure, God can do anything. But at home, where I have everything I need and all of my loved ones are a simple phone call away, I feel pretty, well, comfortable. This is not to say that God has not expanded my knowledge of His character and of grace tremendously over the past few years. But here, in a new country where I don’t know who my soul friends will be, or where my favorite place to read will be, or where my community of believers is, here I have to trust.

So, I woke up Tuesday morning—and every morning since then—and said “God, today is yours. Wherever you want me to go, whoever you want me to talk to, just tell me. I don’t know the first thing about living here, so teach me. My heart and ears and eyes are open. I am relying completely on You for everything. Just show me what is next.”

And you know what? Since I started to give up my fears about not finding my people and not finding my place and when I started to actually trust God, things began to fall into place. I have met some amazing people from all over the States, and all over the world who I am beginning to call my friends. I have seen old castles and ancient monasteries. I have been to places I have dreamed about seeing ever since I can remember, and I know that there is only more to come. I am taking classes on subjects that I could never imagined were available to me. I have seen rolling hills and wide valleys and rivers and rocks and trees and green, green, green. And in all of this, my heart is starting to feel like it is home. In this place called Ireland that is so strange and beautiful and lively and backwards and exciting and luscious and bountiful and so full of God’s creative majesty that I cannot help but laugh.

It is quite grand, really. How He has planted me right where I want to be and right where I don’t want to be all at the same time, and how He has replaced my fear with bravery and my sadness with dancing, and how He has taken my girlhood dreams and put them all right here, at my fingertips. He makes me brave when I am not, and He gives me joy when I need it the most. So cheers, to four and a half months of adventure and blind faith and green and wind and rain and sunshine and sheep and sinking deeper and deeper into the Greatest Love that I will ever know.

Go mbeannaí Dia duit
May God bless you—

Katie.

Rabboni

Can you guys believe that the semester is over? I know that I hardly can! It feels like just yesterday that I was sitting in my classes for the first time, stressing out over syllabi and wondering if this semester would bring new friends, boyfriends, or any captivating adventures. Well let me just tell ya’ll, in case you didn’t know—God provides! Big time. While the boyfriend front is still looking a little bleak (all in His timing!), this semester He has blessed me with the best friendships of my life so far, both in the deepening of existing ones and the blossoming of new ones. Never would I have thought that I would have these women in my life a year or two ago—women who push me to stay close to His heart and who keep me accountable. Women who have taught me about self-sacrifice and real, 1 Corinthians 13 love. Women who have tested me and tried me and walked with me through the refining fire of discipleship. Women who have been Jesus’ hands and feet in my life. I never could have dreamed up this community that He has dropped me into in a million years, and my heart is so beyond thankful.

This semester, in these women and in myself, I have see chains break. I have seen addictions smashed to bits by His righteous truth and patient love. I have seen old wounds, once hidden in Satan’s darkness, brought into God’s illuminating light and healed. I have seen behaviors and attitudes transformed through the Father’s perfect and loving instruction. I have seen pain and struggle and death beaten back by the Son of God Himself, refusing to let the enemy touch the ones that He loves any longer. Even as I write this, I think of one story in particular that He has been rewriting in a dear friend’s life and it just about moves me to tears. The Holy Spirit is alive and working, and if I ever doubted that He would show up here with the power and conviction that He did in the church of Acts, this semester has made those doubts null and void. He comes like fire to set us ablaze for Jesus. He comes like the wind to rustle us from our comfortable places and nudge us into something deeper. He comes like cooling rain to quench the anger and pain and lust and fear lurking in all of our hearts.

My friends, oh how He loves us. He loves His daughters. He loves His sons, too! But this semester, He has taught me so much about what it means to be a woman of God, and how He speaks to His daughters in a special way. Look throughout all of Scripture, and you will see how often God refers to His people as the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9, Ephesians 5:25, Isaiah 62:5). The image of a bride in white waiting faithfully for her husband is the image that Jesus chose to describe His church, His eternal love. Notice the amount of stories in the Bible about strong, faithful women, such as Esther, Ruth, Priscilla, Elizabeth and Mary the mother of Jesus. If you read even further, you will see the women in the Bible who would sometimes be easier to push aside and not read about. The women who were not “good-girls”. The women who ran from God at first. The women who were demon-possessed. The women who had damaged hearts, but were redeemed by the One who loved them passionately.

Rahab, from the book of Joshua, was a woman whose name literally means “prostitute” in Hebrew. She opened her heart and home one ordinary evening to hide Joshua’s men from the king of Jericho as they were being chased down. “For the Lord your God is the supreme god of the heavens above and the earth below” (Joshua 2:11). God redeemed her story.

Gomer was a prostitute, and then a wife to Hosea before she ran away again, from her husband and children, to another lover. In what must have seemed like an impossible and heartbreaking task, God commanded Hosea to go love Gomer again and buy her back from her slavery. In this way, God chose the story of Hosea’s relentless love for Gomer to mirror the way that God loved and chased after Israel. God redeemed Gomer’s story. (By the way, if you have not read the entire book of Hosea, you should).

Mary Magdalene was a woman of comfortable circumstances and, unlike the previous two women, lived a fairly tame life, with one exception- she was possessed by demons. Seven demons, to be exact (Luke 8:1-3). With seven being a number of completeness in the Bible, it can be sure that when the demons dominated Mary, her suffering was extreme, and the amount of spiritual oppression she experienced was terrible. But God redeemed her story.

The Bible does not say for how long Mary had struggled with these demons, and how long she had been waiting for deliverance. Had she heard the name of Jesus, the One who cast out demons and healed the sick with a mere word or gesture of his hands? Had she been waiting many long years for Him to come her way and speak life into her, dispelling the legions of darkness that had tormented her for so long? Or had she simply given up hope and resigned to live the rest of her days in darkness? We don’t know exactly. All that Luke mentions of Mary at first is that she traveled with her Lord, along with some other women and His disciples, after He cast the seven demons out of her. After He made her clean. After He saved her.

From that point on, Mary traveled with Jesus for the duration of His ministry on Earth. She was present at the Crucifixion (Mark 15:40, John 19:25), and she visited His body at the tomb where He was laid after He had been taken down from the cross (Mark 15:47, Matthew 27:61). In all of these passages, Mary Magdalene is right there, along with the disciples and Mary, Jesus’ own mother. Mary wept at the foot of the cross where her Savior was dying for her sin, past, present, and future. She looked on in torment and agony as her Savior was beaten and pierced and mocked for the sake of every other woman like her who had ever been and ever would be tortured by demons. She knelt in humble devotion, not leaving His side once, even after He had been taken down and laid in the tomb. Mary Magdalene was mentioned in those verses from Mark and Matthew even before Mary the mother of Jesus. How deeply she must have loved Him to be mentioned by the writers of the Gospel so many times. How devoted she must have been.

However, the passage that cuts the deepest is found in the Gospel of John. Jesus had been buried and laid in the tomb two days before, and now it was Sunday morning. “Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:1-2). Again, Mary was the first one there that Resurrection morning. Imagine her shock when she went to His resting place early that morning, even before the sun was up, to sit awhile with Him only to find that the stone was rolled away and that He was not there. So she immediately runs to Peter and John and tells them the news: He is not there. Did Mary remember Jesus words when He predicted His own death and Resurrection three days later? Surely she was panicking and afraid, wondering if grave looters had stolen His body. No matter what she thought had happened, there is no doubt that she was despairing. The Lord who had saved her life and resurrected her soul had been brutally killed, and now she did not even have His body to cling to.

But then. In arguably one of my favorite passages in the whole Gospel, Jesus appears to her.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept, she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
{John 20:11-18}

Read that again. And again. One more time if you would like. It moves me every time. The heartbreak that moved Mary to weeping. The angels sitting where Jesus had once laid. Mary turning and seeing Jesus had appeared, but not recognizing Him yet. Jesus’ gentle kindness and patience. Woman, why are you weeping? Mary, believing Him, the very first Gardener of the Eden, to be the gardener at the tomb. Asking what he had done with her Lord. Jesus, in the most tender voice that anyone could imagine, saying her name. Mary. The Voice that had called her from darkness and cast the demons out of her once and for all, calling to her once again. Mary. The Voice that had performed miracles and healed the sick right in front of her very eyes, revealing the Risen Savior to her. The familiar Voice that she chased after all these years. Mary exclaiming, Rabboni! Teacher. Master. Lord. Savior. Love. Jesus.

Friends, don’t miss this. Jesus revealed Himself to Mary Magdalene before He revealed Himself to anyone else. Before Peter. Before John. Before His own mother. That’s a big deal. He knew her heart. He knew her struggles. He knew her fierce devotion to Him. He knew that societal norms of the day would not have approved of Him having a woman in such close company, and definitely would not approve of the fact that He appeared to her first, a woman. But in typical Jesus fashion, He broke all societal barriers and prejudices and did just the opposite. In appearing to Mary Magdalene first, before anyone else, He not only validates her as a worthy and true disciple, but He makes a statement about women, saying that they have just as much a right to His Father’s Kingdom as any man. Jesus chooses Mary to be the first messenger of His Resurrection. He chooses her to spread the Good News to the twelve. For her faithfulness and love, He rewards her with a closer, deeper, more intimate knowledge of who He is.

Mary Magdalene’s story is groundbreaking. It is radical and revolutionary. Through Mary Magdalene, we see what happens to a person once Jesus steps onto the scene. Chains are broken, demons are cast out, addictions are crushed, and death is beaten. Not only is that person saved, but also they are changed. Mary went from a demon-possessed woman to a faithful disciple and constant companion of her Lord. She gave up her life and took up the cross that she got in exchange. Never backing down from the mission given to her, and not once leaving His side, Mary was there at the very end of everything on the cross, and at the beginning of the rest when He rose from the grave.

This is what He has been trying to show me all semester, through my own life and through the lives of the women that He has surrounded me with. When I let Jesus come in and clean up the mess instead of trying to do it myself, it really works. He really works. When I lay down my swords of resistance and fear, He gives me His sword of Truth. When I give up my old habits and hang-ups, He replaces them with a new cross to carry—His resurrection life, and the commission to tell everyone about Him. He whispers to me in that old, familiar tone that my heart knows and, like Mary Magdalene, makes me a herald of His Good News.

I have seen the story of Mary Magdalene playing out all semester, right before my eyes, in my friends’ lives and in my own life. He has taken us, His broken daughters, and breathed life and purpose back into our bleeding hearts. He has made old sins and old struggles seem unappealing and counterfeit compared to what He offers in exchange. He changed lives and healed wounds and made hearts whole. That is not to say that it has been easy, and that all we have to do is sit there and let in happen. No, we have to say yes. We have to raise our white flags and actively surrender things over to Him. We have to let Him work. Because, as you know, He is a gentleman. Chivalry is not dead in the Kingdom. He will not take what we do not give Him permission to take, and He will not barge in, rude and unexpected. He waits at the door patiently, like a suitor, and when we let Him come in, He comes straight for his bride. He comes and does what He came to do two thousand years ago, starting in the manger and ending on the old rugged cross. He comes to banish sin and addiction, and He heals. Then He gives us new life and purpose, and tells us to go and make more disciples so that more can join the dance.

You see, He is jealous for us. He is jealous for real-estate in our hearts. And once the for-sale sign goes up where sin used to pitch its shabby old tent, He comes in with a bulldozer and remodels everything so that there is no more room for sin, only love and freedom. Then, there is no going back. Because “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). Like Mary Magdalene followed Him wholeheartedly, so we must do the same. We can no longer try to live with one foot in this world and one foot in Heaven…no, it is quite impossible. We have to be wholehearted. We have to risk it all. We have to throw caution to the wind and chase after the One who saved us, leaving all that causes us to stumble behind in the dust. Then, we disciple others.

As Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians,

Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
{Ephesians 4:22-26, 31-32}

So, sisters, I pray that we recognize the Mary Magdalene in all of us. I pray for the ones who I am close to, the ones who know Jesus, that you would continue to fight the good fight, stay close to Him, and take up your cross every day. Trust Him with the small things. Trust Him with the big things. Trust Him with your families. Trust Him with your grades. Trust Him with your wounds and scars. Trust Him with your relationships. Trust Him with your pasts, presents, and futures. He holds you. And I pray for those who I love, and those who I don’t even know, who have not yet met the risen Jesus. I pray that He comes soon, like the wind, and captures your heart. I pray that He pushes back the judgement and condemnation of this world and wraps you in His love. I pray that you feel His Father’s heart and experience His transforming grace. I pray that He repurposes your worn-out heart and wields it as a weapon of light for His Kingdom and His glory. I pray that someday, I see you in Heaven and that we get to spend eternity worshipping the One and Only Lover of our souls, the First and the Last, the Once and For All King of our hearts.

But until that day, we wait here and continue to follow our Good Shepherd wherever He may lead, and whenever He may call us. Because His love is better and His grace is deeper and His heart is wilder and His yoke is lighter than anything this world could ever offer us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which longs so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

{Hebrews 12:1-2}

————————————————————-

Father,

Thank You for Your son, Jesus. Thank You for not leaving us where we are at. Thank You for grace and for Your patient and enduring love. Thank You for staining that old cross red with the blood of Your Son that we may inherit eternal life with You. Thank you for Your Word and how it always points back to you. We never have to be confused because You have laid it all out for us, and You speak to us. Thank You for creating us and loving us and wanting us with You, even though You certainly don’t need us. Thank You for making us new and taking the filthy rags we offer up to You and transforming them into something beautiful. We love you. 

In Your Holy Son’s name I pray,

Amen. 

I Am Free.

This morning I had an epiphany. One that came out of nowhere. A concept that I thought I had a pretty firm grasp on suddenly seemed like new and uncharted territory. And it came to me during one of my regular morning routines.

I always take time to read the daily SheReadsTruth devotion before I read Jesus Calling and scripture. As an online community united in our shared adoption by the Father, we have been camping out in Galatians for about a week. The book of Galatians was written by the apostle Paul in about 49 A.D. to, you guessed it, the people of Galatia. In this letter, Paul takes a strong, almost vehement, stand for the faith, risking his good favor with the people of Galatia to point them to the real truth. The Galatians were dealing with Jewish legalism and conflict between the Christian converts from Judaism and the Christian Gentiles. Paul was explaining to the Galatians that they no longer needed to adhere to the established Mosaic Law since Jesus had come to establish a New Covenant with God’s people, a covenant that had nothing to do with good works or self-righteous deeds.

Today’s devotion was all about how we still live out a works-based Gospel without even realizing it. The author explains how one afternoon in college, while having a conversation with her Christian mentor about all of her work and involvement in campus ministry and leading Bible study, the older woman quietly interrupted her, saying, “You believe in a works-based Gospel.”

“She was right. How had I not seen it before? How did I not know just how wrong I’d gotten it? There I was, wallowing in my sin, wanting desperately to be back in the loving arms of my Savior. I had asked for forgiveness, but the feeling wasn’t coming. As I poured my guilty conscience onto the pages of my journal, I was hit with one word: time.
That’s what I thought I needed: time. I didn’t really want forgiveness. I wanted time—enough time to fill my life up with the right things, good things, to settle the score. It was salvation by works at its finest.”

At this point, I was already almost in tears sitting at my kitchen table due to the sheer volume of truth contained in these words. As she went on to write about the Galatians and Paul’s instruction to them, and how there is nothing that we can do to inherit Christ’s righteousness, I came to a full stop.

Just like the author of this devotion realized, I sat there realizing that I have been doing the same thing all this time.

Brothers and sisters, there is something that I need to come clean about: I am really, really good at talking the talk. Where I have trouble more often than not is walking the walk. In relation to this, it means that I am a pro at telling people, myself included, that there is nothing that I could ever do to earn God’s love. There is no combination of good works that I could present that would be anywhere near an acceptable offering to Him. They are all filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The only way that I am able to stand before God and receive such unabashed mercy is through Jesus. Since God is a God of righteousness, He had to punish someone for mankind’s depravity. And since He couldn’t bear to do it to us, He sent His Son, His flesh and blood, one third of His Holy Trinity, to come and die for us on a wooden cross and become sin to endure His wrath so we wouldn’t have to.

Gosh. That gives me chills even writing it. But after reading that devotion this morning, it hit me that I have a wonderful head-knowledge when it comes to grace and righteousness, but my heart still has a lot to learn.

Because, while I may not actively be trying to do anything to earn God’s grace, once I examine my heart and motives, I find that I, too, have been living out a works-based Gospel. I feel ashamed to admit this, but I suspect that I am not the only one.

You see, my past is far from spotless. It is dotted with crimson sin. With guilt. With shame. With regret. With addiction and self-doubt and anger so red it would put my favorite shade of lipstick to shame. And I know that anyone reading this can probably relate in one way or another. We have a tendency to believe Satan when he tells us that we have to live in regret of the past and fear of the future. That we have to try and try and do and do in order to keep history from repeating itself. So we try and try. We do and do. I mean, I know I am guilty of this.

The problem is that we tend to not realize it. We get so caught up in the day-to-day grind that we don’t stop and think about why we are here…about how we are here. To speak to the deeper heart of the matter, we stop living in light of the Resurrection.

What does that mean, living in light of the Resurrection?

I asked a close friend and accountability partner this question. She gave me this.

“Living in the light of the Resurrection should be something that brings complete peace to a person. Living every day knowing that no matter what you do, good or bad, [nothing] can earn you or strip you of God’s grace… We live in a world that pushes us all to achieve and be successful of our own merit and I think that a lot of Christians in my generation struggle with relying on our God for our sustenance both spiritually and physically. Micah says to empty your store houses and watch the Lord provide. That being said: living in the revelation and light of Jesus’ Resurrection for me looks like waking up every day and taking myself back to the cross, back to His feet. We were given the easiest task of any group of God’s people ever- to simply receive. In the words of Brian Marshall ‘Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.’ That is something I learn every day. Our road is not easy, but I can tell you from personal experience that it is so worth it. ”*

I don’t think that I could have summed it up any better. There is nothing that we could do to lose God’s grace, just as there is nothing that we could ever do to earn it. Literally, all we have to do is receive. When we come before our Father with open hands and hearts, He extends grace each time. Generously. Graciously. Relentlessly. Tenderly. Mercifully. As Paul writes in his letter to Titus:

…When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He pored out in us rightly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Titus 3:4-7

Friends, did you catch that? He saved us, not because of our own meager works of so-called “righteousness”, but because He simply is merciful. He loved us, so He showed us mercy. I mean, think about how crazy this really all is. God created us. These small, narrow-minded human beings who run around on this little blue and green ball in space that He also created and stir up trouble. We start wars. We destroy our environment. We spread hatred and prejudice like the common cold. We must look like ants, scurrying around our terrestrial home, clambering over one another just to get the best view when really, we don’t end up any closer to Heaven.

But yet, in all of our chaotic and confounding ways, He sees the light in us. The light that shines deep down, that comes from being made in His image. This gives me immense peace and comfort, because it gives me permission. Permission to relax, be still, take in the day, and bask in His love a little longer. It also gives me permission to stop striving for holiness. Unlike the lies that Satan tries to tell me, there is nothing I could ever do that would make up for my past. No matter how many campus ministry events I go to, no matter how many Bible studies I am in, no matter how many mission trips I go to or nights of worship I attend, I will never be able to erase my sin. Realizing this in a world without Jesus would indeed be terrifying. However, Jesus came and died for me while I was still a sinner, and through that one earth-shattering, veil-tearing, history-making event, I was justified by His blood and saved from the necessary wrath of God (Romans 5:8). He called me “beloved” and is preparing a place for me, to where He will take me when He comes back (John 14:3).

Friends, I cannot wait for that day.

The day that I get to stand, vulnerable and exposed but wholly redeemed, illuminated, and restored in all of His eternal glory. The day that I see Heaven unfolding before me like the best pop-up storybook anyone has ever read. The day that I finally, finally understand to the fullest capacity why there was nothing here on earth that I could ever do to earn salvation. The day that I see my God face to face.

I could write forever about how awesome that day will be. I could get lost in the beautiful mystery that will finally be revealed to me, to all of us. But I am sort of trying to stay on track here. So, back to salvation and grace.

Salvation is something we need. From the Message’s introduction to Exodus: “The most comprehensive term for what God is doing to get us out of the mess we are in is salvation. Salvation is God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves. Salvation is the biggest word in the vocabulary of the people of God.” If that doesn’t hammer it in hard enough, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians might.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

We are saved by grace, and it is a gift from God, so that we cannot boast. And thank goodness, because even without an excuse, we are still really good at taking the credit for our own salvation. But in light of the Resurrection. In the light of God’s master plan to win us back to Himself and save us from ourselves and from the enemy, we can live knowing that we are covered. We have been purchased with a price. We are jewels in His hands. We are precious in His sight. We cannot ever lose this gift He has given us.

So let’s take that and run with it, friends. Let’s run from feelings of shame of our past and fear of our future. Let’s run into His arms, where each time we will find grace, salvation, love, and identity. I, for one, am ready to turn in my bright orange community service vest in exchange for the royal and eternal robes of righteousness. Because I am free.

*credit to my dear friend and sister in Christ, Hilah.

Take Heart

There is something that I have felt pretty convicted about lately. Usually, there are several things on my heart at a time. Several things that I am grappling and coming to terms with. However, what I have been thinking about for the past few days is a big enough idea that it is taking up most of the available green space inside of my head.

Romans 12:2 sums it up pretty perfectly.

Therefore, do not copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

As a student, there are countless pressures weighing on me every single day. Pressure to study harder to get better grades. Pressure to be more and more involved so that more people will know who I am. Pressure to be in a relationship so that I can secure my future and make sure that everyone knows that I am wanted. Pressure to gossip and gripe and complain about every hurdle that comes my way.

However.

As a Christian. As a new creation. As a daughter of the Most High King. As a citizen of Heaven. All of those pressures are deemed invalid. They are proven to be imposters of darkness. Because the only responsibility that I have as a follower of Jesus is to live my life in such a way that everything I do points back to Him. So that people will have no choice but to wonder what is different about me. My life goal is to make Him known in every facet of my existence, glorify Him with every word that falls from my lips, and bring as many of His children with me into His light as I possibly can.

Now this is all fine and good. After all, it’s what Jesus commanded us to do (Matthew 28:16-20). But what does that look like in the world that we live in? What does it look like in our jobs and on our campuses? What does it look like in our relationships?

It looks like being one-hundred percent counter-cultural.

It means taking in the world around us- the media, our Facebook and Twitter feeds, the crazy things that go on at the VMAs, the articles in Vogue and Cosmo-and being the exact opposite of those things. It means rejecting what may come as second nature to us, and forcing ourselves to instead do something better and holier. Not for our sake or for our own selfish bragging rights, but to shed light on the One who made us.

Guys. Think about that. HE MADE US.

He made us in His own glorious image (Genesis 1:26), and we are co-heirs with His Son, Christ Jesus (Romans 8:17). That right there should stop us dead in our tracks. Literally dead. Because in order to act on that knowledge, each of us has to die to ourselves, to our own selfish desires, to our own fears, and be reborn in Him. Then, we become clothed in Christ’s righteousness (Romans 13:14).

However, these new robes of righteousness do not come without responsibility. The Magnificent Tailor asks something of us in return, which brings me back to my point: being counter-cultural.

On our campuses, it looks like talking to the person next to us in our 8:00 am class when we would rather be catching some extra z’s or scrolling through our Instagram feed. It means praying as we walk to and from our classes over the thousands of other students who are just trying to get through the day. It means obeying the Holy Spirit promptly when we feel Him nudge us to reach out to a stranger. It means stepping up and speaking out for our God in our classes and lectures.

In our workplaces, it means treating our coworkers with not just tolerance, but with love. It means leaving an encouraging note on our bosses’ desk when they are having a stressful morning because their child was sick. It means being prompt when completing tasks, gracious when accepting criticism, and slow to speak when addressing conflicts.

In our relationships…wow. I could write a whole post about that. In short, it means speaking truth to our friends even when we know that tough love has to be involved. In our romantic relationships, it means setting boundaries and sacrificing desires in order to lift each other up and become closer with Christ. It means loving unconditionally and fully and with reckless abandon. It means turning to Jesus and allowing Him to be our safe harbor during times of temptation. It means crushing addictions under our feet with the power that we inherit through the Holy Spirit.

And yet, Jesus never promised us that any of this would be easy. Quite the contrary, in fact.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
John 16:33

I think that is why I felt so strongly about writing this in the first place, even if I am the only one who ever reads this. I need that reminder. I need to know that, despite my best efforts to remain Jesus’ sterling silver bride in an ever-tarnishing world, I will face troubles. We all will. There will be persecution and hardships. There will be doubt. We will pass through fire and storms. But then Jesus says to me “Take heart, dear one.” Because He has already overcome the world.

He has already won. He has already conquered. He has overcome.

And because we have this promise, we can continue to shine bright. We can continue to stand out. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies (2 Corinthians 4:8-12).

We know that we are on the high road. Sin has already been defeated. God has already prepared a place for us in Heaven. Satan has already been crushed under His victorious feet. So then, we have no choice but to live in a way that is counter-cultural. Because, no matter what opposition that we may face here on Earth, it all pales in comparison to the glory that is awaiting us in Heaven.

So go on. Dare to be revolutionary. Dare to be different. Dare to be counter-cultural. Because He has overcome.

Spontaneous/Pursued

I am in one of those quiet seasons of life right now. One of those times when nothing particularly thrilling is going on, but nothing overly difficult is burdening my heart. I recently have been emerging from a season that was much darker, much more challenging, much more lonely. I think that I thought that once I made it out of the valley that I was in, that everything would fall into place. I would find that exact right guy, I would finally figure out what I wanted to study, and I would feel some real closure in what my past held and be able to reconcile it with my future. However.

I am learning that is not always how God works.

Sometimes, the end of a rainy season is not characterized by a huge, stunning rainbow with a pot of gold at the end, but by a few small buds of hope sprouting up from the ground. And I know this. And I am ok with it. I am living in the okay-ness. I am living in the day to day. The sometimes monotony of getting up and going about my daily routine doing the necessary thing all while waiting on God to show me a little bit more of His plan.

One thing that has been really preoccupying my mind lately is the topic of dating. Or rather, the topic of my not-dating. I am really ok with the fact that I am single right now. I went through a long period of time where I was not single, and I was constantly worrying and running and striving to make things work according to my plan. I was chasing illusions and building castles in the sand.

I was pursuing.

Not my Heavenly Father. Not intimacy with Jesus. But relationships that would never last because they were not built on the Word of God but on the lies of the Enemy.

You have to be prettier.

You should really lose weight so you will be more attractive.

You need to try harder to keep his attention.

You aren’t doing enough.

You need to make this work because this is it.

I know that I am not the only one out there who has been enslaved by lies such as these. Lies that steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Lies that don’t come from our own hearts but from the pits of hell, crafted by the master of deceit and his minions. We all have lies that we have been indoctrinated into believing. We are tortured and water boarded and enslaved by fear until it becomes part of our DNA.

But Jesus.

That is all. All we need. The Bible says that if we cry out to Him, that we will be saved (Romans 10:13). And when I cried out, He delivered tenfold. He brought me out of the pit and set my feet on solid ground (Psalm 40:2).

And now I am here. In this period of waiting and listening and solace. And thinking about relationships. And kind-of-sort-of wanting one.

If we’re being honest here, I don’t like to think about it sometimes. I get all weird feeling and begin to get this absurd notion that I won’t ever find someone who really gets me or wants to be with me because they love who I am and not what I look like or how I dress. I fear that I will end up making the same mistakes that I have in the past, and that I will again have a pursuer’s heart.

Because, for the first time, I realize that I want to be pursued. I want to be found.

Yet, that it was I have always wanted. That is what all women, whether they acknowledge it or not, have desired for all time. Even stubborn Lizzy Bennett wanted Mr. Darcy to pursue her. But for some reason, we have gotten it into our heads that we either A. aren’t worthy of being pursued and desired or B. that the times are different and we just don’t play the game the same way anymore.

Well, I don’t believe it for once second. And neither would Stasi Eldredge.

Staci and her husband John co-authored a book called Captivating, I am reading it in my Core Group Bible study. It is all about what it means to be a woman of God, and how we embrace our feminine heart and mystery without denying our unique and innate inner strength. In a way that can only be described as “anointed”, Stasi (with John occasionally chiming in) writes in a way that cuts through the lies and slander of this world and pierces straight to my heart. She identifies that each of us women have been wounded in some way. We each bear the mark of the fallen world we live in, and because of the Enemy, we each grow up with the stage set for heartbreak. We believe that our vulnerability and femininity and tenderness are a curse and a burden to those around us, so we hide them or disguise them in a false act of bravery and self-assuredness. “The wounds that we have received over our lifetime have not come to us in a vacuum. There is, in fact, a theme to them, a pattern. The wounds you have received have come to you for a purpose form one who knows all you are meant to be and fears you” (Eldredge 75).

While that is certainly not a comforting truth to acknowledge, think about it. The Enemy attacks us because he knows that we are powerful. He knows that women are instrumental, absolutely vital, and one hundred percent needed for life and love to flourish. Think of the great and powerful women of the Bible: Miriam, Sarah, Rahab, Ruth, Esther, Elizabeth, Mary. They were powerful actresses of history, and each of them had stories that were written and redeemed by God. They were regular women with messy pasts and uncertain futures, but they opened their hearts to God and gave Him the reins. When we, as women, open our hearts to Him, He does wonders. Crazy, beautiful wonders.

As I sit here and write, I am listening to some spontaneous worship led by the beautiful ladies of Bethel Music. Amanda Cook just sang this lullaby that she was hearing God whisper over her in the moment.

I have made you beautiful in My Son.
The song of war you’re looking for is a lullaby.
So come in close, lean on Me.
I’m singing softly, but it will chase away the darkness, it will chase away your fear as you lean into Me.
I have made you worthy through My Son.
Your purity is from His blood.
So lean in closer,
‘Cause I’m rewriting your history.
I’m rewriting your history.

I was not expecting to run into this song tonight while writing, but I did. And I know that the Holy Spirit led me here. Because I could never come up with adequate words to describe what it means to be loved by God. What it means to be pursued. What it means to be wanted. What it means to be chosen.

I am pretty blown away right now. It is so cool how God does this. How He takes something that we are going through, and as we are trying to wade through the muck, He just floors us. He whispers that we are no longer our past, and that we are worthy through His son, Jesus. So when I start to worry about being pursued and if I will ever find the right man, and if I am doing any of this right, He says, “Stop worrying. You are fine. But stop striving. Stop trying to be better and more appealing. Because I have already won you completely. I bought you at the ultimate price, and I knock on the door of your heart every day. You don’t need a relationship. You don’t need to feel lonely. Because I am your Father and your Love and I will pursue you to the very ends of the earth and even to the very depths of your heart. So let that be enough.”

Then, He showed me this passage in Isaiah.

But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you go through deep waters,
I will be with you.
When you go through rivers of difficulty,
you will not drown.
When you walk through the fire of oppression,
you will not be burned up;
the flames will not consume you.

For I am the Lord, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I gave Egypt as a ransom for your freedom;
I gave Ethiopia and Seba in your place.

Others were given in exchange for you.
I traded their lives for yours
because you are precious to me.
You are honored, and I love you.

“Do not be afraid, for I am with you.
I will gather you and your children from east and west.

I will say to the north and south,
‘Bring my sons and daughters back to Israel
from the distant corners of the earth.

Bring all who claim me as their God,
for I have made them for my glory.
It was I who created them.’”
-Isaiah 43:1-7

Read that. And then read it again. And again. As many times as it takes for it to sink in. God chose me. He chose you. He honors us and loves us. He says so, right there! I am just beside myself with that fact. In this moment, sitting in my bed past midnight listening to spontaneous worship and listening to God, I feel pursued. So much so that I don’t know why I ever even worry about being pursued by a guy, when I have the KING OF THE UNIVERSE begging for my heart.

Crazy, right? Yeah.

As I reflect on this night, on the music I am hearing and the Scripture I am reading and on Captivating, I know that all will play out in His timing. I know that He has picked out the perfect match for me, and that everything will work together in His plan. I look forward to that day when I will walk down the aisle in white and exchange vows for forever with my husband. But until then, I will be pursued by God. I will allow Him to romance and pursue me. Wildly and irresponsibly and intimately and passionately.

.        .        .

Thank you, Father. You are good. Thank you for freedom and purity and for rewriting our histories. Where would we be without You? I never want to know the answer to that question. You pursue us, Your daughters and Your sons. You pull us out of our mess and set us upon a solid ground. You clothe us in white, and You put a new song on our lips. How marvelous You are! Please never stop pursing us, and remind us every day that You are enough. Remind me. Until I find the one You have set aside for me. Until I go to meet You. Until Jesus comes back. Chase us down and surround us with love so thick and wide and deep that we cannot ever escape. Because we don’t want to be anywhere else.
In Your Holy Son’s name,
Amen.

Mwen renmen Ayiti.

Since I got back from Haiti two weeks ago, I have been struggling with how to write about my experience there and what I have subsequently been feeling. I don’t think that anything I could write, any words that I would string together, could adequately explain the depth to which my soul was stirred. But, the Lord has been prompting me more and more over the past several days to just sit down and write. To reflect. To be still. To listen. So here it goes.

When I embarked on this journey back in the winter, I wanted to go somewhere and serve. I specifically wanted to go to India. It was exotic, far away and completely different than anything that I had ever seen or experienced before. India was seductive and alluring, and there was a specific ministry that I felt God was laying on my heart for me to go and volunteer with. However, after some long and hard conversations with my parents, and after some long and hard prayer, it was clear that India was not in the cards for me this summer. I started to worry that maybe going on a mission trip was something that I was just pulling out of thin air. Something that I wanted to do, but that God was asking me to wait on.

But after weeks of prayer and talking to my parents more and through extensive journaling, the call was still on my heart. I began to look at some opportunities closer to home, and stumbled across something that had been under my nose the whole time: a trip to Haiti through Southland Christian Church. After picking a trip to Ouanaminthe, Haiti in May, another roadblock fell in my path, and I had to make a decision: pick another trip, or postpone a year. God answered my plea for a specific answer, and pointed me to a trip to Lifeline Christian Mission in Grand Goave, Haiti. I went to the first meeting, met my team, and began to fundraise, believing that if it was God’s will for me to go to Haiti, He would provide the funds. And He did. In abundance. It was clear to me that this was in His plan for my summer. So even though I was scared silly because I had never been on a plane, and even though I was apprehensive because I knew absolutely no one on my team, I resolved it in my heart. I was going to Haiti for nine days at the beginning of June.

Months flew by, and before I knew it, I was on a plane leaving Bluegrass Airport for Charlotte at 5:15 in the morning. Equipped with no knowledge of this new culture or the language, all I had was less than 30 pounds of luggage, a journal, and my Bible. With each new plane that we boarded, the knot in my stomach grew larger and larger. “What if I don’t meet any new friends? What if I don’t bond with a child? Everyone who goes on a trip bonds with a child! What if I feel an emotional disconnect? What if I come back the same person? What if I can’t do this?” Looking back, I know that the enemy was barraging my heart and mind with these poisonous questions because he knew that God had something grand and wonderful in store.

However, the questions quieted when I looked out the window of the plane to Port au Prince and saw Haiti and her mountains unfolding in a vast, glorious expanse, thousands of feet beneath me. They continued to subside when I got off the plane in a new country for the first time in my life. I felt peace….and a little bit of anxiety as we tried to navigate through customs and baggage claim (that would stress anyone out, ok?). We got our bearings and met the other two teams that we would become a family with over the next week and a half, and we boarded the bus that would take us to Grand Goave.

Looking out the window as we drove through Port au Prince, I was floored. So many people. So many houses. So much poverty. Garbage littered the roads, and animals roamed free. The air was hot and heavy, and my nose felt assaulted by a million new smells. Tat-taps zoomed past us with people hanging off of the sides and out the back as they blared their horns to let everyone know that they wouldn’t stop for anyone in the way. Women carried baskets on their heads, and children sat behind fruit stands. My mind raced to process what I was seeing, smelling, and hearing. A bold new world, the polar opposite of the one that I came from. However, despite the glaring differences and devastating poverty that I was witnessing all around me, something began to shift inside of me. I began to fall in love. Deeply.

Roughly two hours later (even though it felt like forever), we arrived at the Lifeline compound. It was dark by that point, so I didn’t have much of a chance to assess my surroundings. We ate our first meal, had a quick devotion, and soon it was time to spend our first night in Grand Goave. The room that the nine women from the Southland team stayed in had bunk beds, tile floors, community style showers and toilets, and air conditioning (I had no clue how big of a saving grace it was going to be to have an air conditioning unit throughout the coming days). Before I laid my head down on my pillow that night, after unpacking my suitcase full of knee length skirts, dri-fit shirts, and baby clothes we had brought to donate, I wrote a journal entry. “It [Port a Prince] was revolting and fascinating and alluring and heartbreaking. The most flooring poverty I’ve ever seen Even now, hours later, it is surreal. I see that Haiti, let alone the human race, cannot be fixed on a 10 day trip. We need Jesus to work and move in a major way. Jesus, break my heart for what breaks yours.” That was my prayer at 10:15 on the evening of June 4th, and that would be my prayer for the remainder of my time in Haiti.

I came into Haiti not knowing what to expect. I didn’t know that the air would have a different smell that would shock my senses at first, but eventually become an all-familiar and comforting aspect of my new temporary home. I didn’t know that I would eat breakfast and have morning devotions to the sound of Haitian children lifting their voices in a jubilant symphony of worship to their King. I didn’t know that spraying bug spray onto my feet after I had already strapped my sandals on would make the soles sticky. I didn’t know that I would get to sit on top of the roof of the compound at night and sing praises to God under His breathtaking celestial masterpiece. I didn’t know that I would make friends that I hope last a lifetime, both Haitian and American.
I didn’t know that, in loving others, I would rediscover my Creator and His Father’s heart for me.

So much happened in that nine-day period that, if I wanted to write down every precious moment and every detail, I would probably have a short novel on my hands. This post will be long enough as it is (bear with me). It was simply a jam-packed week, and we did everything. So, instead of listing every event that happened in chronological order and dissecting every detail of the best week and a half of my life, I will tell you what I learned. I knew that this trip would be a big learning experience for me, and I knew that God would challenge my previous notions of Him, my faith, and His children. However, I didn’t expect these lessons to slap me in the face and cause my heart to break because I had never been fully engaging in them or experiencing them before.

In Haiti, God taught me the importance of four specific things: Service, Worship, Prayer, and Love.

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’ Matthew 25:40

I knew from the beginning that this trip to Grand Goave would be about serving others. I mean, that is what a mission trip is: a chance to serve God’s heart and His people. I knew that we would be building a house, handing out food and clothes, and caring for infants and young toddlers. However, I don’t think that I fully grasped the depth of what we were going to be doing and how permanently it was going to impact the people we would be serving.

When my team arrived at the house-building site early on Friday morning for the first time, we were greeted by a giggling group of young boys, eager to give us fist bumps, high fives, and teach us new games. They were captivating and equally captivated by us, but we had a job to do: assist the Haitian masons in building a house for a family that didn’t have one at the moment. That day, we mixed mortar, sifted limestone, and laid the foundation of the house, getting gloriously sweaty and dirty all while laughing and singing with each other and the Haitians. We came back on Monday morning and afternoon to lay the brick and mortar. As the walls came up around us, and as the masons patiently showed us how to do things the correct way, what we had been working on finally started to take shape, both physically and in my mind. A family, a real family that didn’t have a home, was going to have one. They would have a roof over their heads, a concrete floor, a firm foundation, and a safe place to sleep at night. Seeing them finally step into their new home was an experience I won’t soon forget.

We also served by distributing food, clothing and shoes. On several days of the trip, we got the privilege of assisting with infant and toddler nutrition, where we held babies, weighed them, gave out meals like the ones we pack every year at Southland, and prayed with the mothers and their children before we sent them off. This, combined with the opportunity that we had to work in the depot distributing clothes, shoes and socks to those who were in need, worked on my heart. It reminded me of how lucky I am. Of how much excess I have. Of the fact that I am selfish. I squander, not only my possessions and my money, but my God given talents and the love that He has commanded me to share with others. In serving others that week in Grand Goave, in getting hot and sweaty and down and dirty, in loving babies and handing out clothing, I rediscovered, or really discovered what it means to serve.

“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.”
Psalm 95:6

In addition to serving, we worshipped. A lot. Really, the whole trip was just one big, grand expression of worship to God. Life is really one continuous act of worship. But specifically, we worshipped a lot through music. Anyone who knows me knows that I love music. I am always singing a song, either in my head or out loud. I am constantly drumming my fingers or beat boxing quietly under my breath. I cannot turn down a chance to listen to a UNITED or Bethel album. It is my happy place. It is how I feel God, and it is how I glorify Him. However, in the hustle and bustle of life, and due to the fact that I am a naturally selfish human, I have grown accustomed to worship. I have become comfortable. I listen for new harmonies in my favorite songs while singing when I should really be tuning everything out, even my own voice, and locking eyes with my Maker. Of course, God challenged me in this arena of my life while in Haiti.

I knew that we were going to be attending a church service or two, as well as a women’s worship night one evening. However, I don’t think that I was quite expecting the presence that music and worship would take throughout the week. It started on Saturday morning. Our team walked across the compound to the Lifeline children’s home to spend the morning with the kids. The day before, our team leaders had told us to have some sort of skit or song ready, since the kids would definitely have something to present to us. A somewhat panicky hush fell over our group and I (and I’m assuming several other people) tried to think of what we could possibly present to those kids. Finally, someone decided that we do the song and dance to “Father Abraham”, the hit VBS classic that has you looking like a dizzy and deranged Jesus-lunatic by the end. I had assumed that the kids would sing a sweet little song or two, sit down, and then we would steal the show with our American theatrics. I was in for a surprise. We arrived at the children’s home and sat down in the dining hall. After having about twenty minutes or so to hang out with some of the sweetest and most entertaining kids that I have ever met, they all walked up to the front of the room and got into formation.

And they began to sing.

They started with “You’re Worthy of My Praise”. Yes, in English. Then they sang “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)”, also in English (this would quickly become the musical anthem of the week, making an appearance at every church and worship service). And then, they started to sing in Creole. I have no clue what they were saying, but it was the singular most beautiful thing that I have ever heard in my life. I was going to film some of it, but I had to put my phone down and just be in the moment. They, these children, these orphans, were singing their hearts out to their Creator with eyes closed, hands up, and heads raised to Heaven. I had nothing to do but just sit there with tears running down my face (I tried not to cry at first, but then I started to look really ridiculous, so I just let it go). Sitting there, I realized that a prayer was being answered.

Earlier that day, I had prayed with the group that God would show us what His Kingdom come looks like in Grand Goave. Sitting there, listening to these children sing, I saw it. And I saw it again on Sunday morning in church, squeezed in between my team members and a bunch of Haitian kids, and again on Tuesday night at a little country church in Jeanty, and again on Wednesday night at the women’s worship service. It looks like those children worshipping relentlessly despite the fact that they have been separated from their families. It looks like a whole congregation dancing and clapping and shouting and raising their hands in the kind of abandon that I rarely see here in America. It looks like people not opening their eyes to see what the person next to them is doing or feeling too self-aware to not let all caution go. The people of Haiti praised God with all of their hearts in the midst of the direst circumstances that I have seen in my life, and they sang with the most fervor and conviction that I have ever heard. They didn’t have the stage lights and electric guitars and elaborate drum sets, and sometimes the microphone would go out, or the electric piano would not work. But they kept going. There was no pretense of perfection or performance. It was just unashamed, unabashed worship.

Then, when we got back to the compound at nights after devotions and went up on the roof to sing to God, I felt different. I felt like I was actually entering His throne room. There, under the Haitian sky and with mosquitos and the humidity vying for my attention, I re-learned how to worship. I re-learned how to step out of myself and sing, not for others to hear or to work on my own skills, but to glorify God. To show Him how much I love Him and how worthy He is of ALL of my praises. He just had to get me to Haiti to bring my heart back.

“Pray without ceasing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:17

Of course, I knew that we would pray a lot in Haiti. I mean, it was a mission trip. We were told that we would have to volunteer to pray out loud before each meal, before being sent off for the day, and at night. We all knew that we would have to each prepare a devotion to share with the rest of the team (which I was admittedly a little bit nervous about). There were also several events on the schedule that were focused solely on prayer, namely the four a.m. (gasp!) prayer meeting, and the village prayer walk. I was particularly looking forward to the prayer walk, where we would go, accompanied by a translator, into peoples’ homes, ask what they needed prayer for, and then pray. I have seen prayer to be a very powerful force in my life lately, so I knew that it would likewise be a powerful experience to pray for and with fellow believers in Haiti. But again, God had plans in store that were bigger than anything that I was dreaming of.

The people in Haiti pray with fervor. They pray out loud. They pray so that my heart felt stirred and that the microphones in church started to crackle. They aren’t passive and they don’t use big words in order to prove their eloquence and knowledge of “Christian-ese.” They just talk to God. They ask and beg, they praise and glorify. When I woke up sleepy-eyed and groggy for the four a.m. prayer meeting, I have to admit. I was really only thinking about reuniting with my bunk bed and the darkness behind my eyelids. We all squeezed into a small space between a few houses, accompanied by the Haitians who were already there. It honestly felt just as hot and humid at four a.m. as it did at two in the afternoon, and there were goats bleating and roosters crowing. Not what I am used to when I am trying to get in the zone to pray. But when the singing started and their voices in enchanting Creole rose up over us, I felt more at ease. They prayed and sang and read scripture for over and hour. We joined in when we recognized the tune of a song, and sometimes the translator told us what was being said. However, most of it we could not understand. Afterwards, we were told that they had been praying for us, for our families back home, for our spiritual lives, and for safe travels back to America. That touched my heart in a way that nothing on the trip had yet. But I was in for more.

On Thursday, half of our team put on our Sunday best and headed out into the village to embark on the prayer walk. We visited five or six homes, all crowding in the house each time to ask the person what he or she needed prayer for, and then we would all lay hands on them and pray out loud, all at the same time. I was a little nervous about this at first, since it was something that I had never done. I also kind of expected people to ask us to pray for their circumstances to improve or for God to shower them with blessings and lift some of the burdens of life off of them. But I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Every single person asked us to pray for them to continue to grow in their spiritual life, and so that they could continue to walk close to the Lord. Some asked for healing from a sickness for himself or herself or a loved one, or for peace if healing wasn’t in God’s plan. Some asked for us to pray for safety for their loved ones who were working in America or in Port au Prince. One visit that stuck with me in particular was a middle-aged woman and her daughter. The house they lived in was one of the smallest ones that we had seen all week, and the conditions were sobering. As we all piled in, we saw the older woman hunched over on the ground with her daughter standing over her. The daughter explained that her mother was very sick, and that they wanted us to pray for God to send someone for them because they didn’t have anyone. They were alone. It was during that prayer, as we all lifted up our individual petitions to God on their behalf, that it hit me. Prayer heals. It works. It is not just a time when we string religious words together and utter them to God, only to have them bounce off of the clouds. He hears them. He delivers. He answers. He acts.

After that house, we hit two more houses. In the last house, there was a woman with a sick daughter on the bed. As we prayed for healing for the daughter and for the woman to continue to stay strong in her faith, and as tears began to stream down my face at the realization of their circumstances combined with the power of what we were doing, it began to rain. Healing rain. It had been such a hot week, void of any rain or cloud cover up until then. It didn’t pour, but it simply drizzled down, a tender reminder from God that He heard us, that He saw His children, and that healing was coming for all the broken.

Haiti and her people taught me that prayer is not something to be taken lightly. It is real and it is powerful and it works. I learned that honest and unselfish prayer does not only ask God to heal and fix and bind and protect, but it also gives thanks and praise and glory. It speaks on behalf of others and gives hope. Too often in Western culture, we get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of trying to sound religious and intelligent. That is not what its about. Prayer can be simple and short. It can be out loud and to the point. It can be bold. It just requires that we believe that God will act. Because He will.

“Let all that you do be done in love.”
1 Corinthians 16:14

Love. It is a word that carries a lot of baggage. Love one has for one’s spouse, love that one has for a brother or sister, love that one has for a dear friend…we claim to love many people, and many things. But love isn’t a feeling. Love isn’t an emotion. Love is an action. Love is a verb. Love sacrifices. Love heals. Love adapts. Love reaches across great distances. In Haiti, I learned how to love. I mean, I think that part of me has known how to love this whole time, but I just didn’t really get it. Just like part of me knew what it meant to serve, worship, and pray. But love takes on a whole new meaning when you hold an orphan in your arms, or when you bind your heart to the heart of a teenage girl with constellations in her eyes and music in her laugh, or when you get a hug and a carefully pronounced “thank you” from an old woman for simply being there. Love causes something to shift inside of you and carves another notch into the growth chart of your heart.

I knew that I was called to Haiti for a reason. I had just been emerging from a tough season of life, and I felt that it was finally time for me to go and pour myself out after being poured into for so long. But if I had to put a name to that reason before I embarked, it wouldn’t have been one unassuming and overused four-letter word. However, I would have been wrong. Love is the reason, every time and everywhere. My definition of love had been so small for the longest time, and God had to take me to Haiti to expand it until my heart had stretch marks.

I loved lots of kids. They were everywhere, between Lifeline school, the children’s home, and the kids from the village. Everywhere we went, there was a little kid to laugh with and hold hands with. However, there were three girls in particular who captured me for good. Marie Denise was 12, Thania was 10, and Lalouse was 14. I saw them three or four times a day every single day. They would wait after school, come to the gate and call for me when we were sitting outside and hanging out, and they would sneak out during classes. They were each different, and they were each lovely. Thania was young and vibrant, full of big smiles and laughter. Marie Denise was bold and beautiful and thoughtful. And Lalouse was my heart and soul. She was shy but quietly confident, with a mischievous smile and a hug that made you feel like you were in a straightjacket. Even though I could not speak Creole, and they understood only a little bit of English, it didn’t matter. Love doesn’t need a language to be expressed. We sat and laughed until we cried, hugged like we wouldn’t see each other again in a few hours, and just held hands. They taught me hand clapping games, and I got pretty good at them, much to their delight. They taught me how to say “je t’aime” and “mwen renmen ou” and I taught them “I love you.” And I did. I do. I have had a passion for women and young girls for a long time, and being able to just sit with these angels and tell them that they are beautiful and that they will never be forgotten was the pleasure of a lifetime. God sewed our hearts together so tightly that, when I saw them for the last time on Friday night after devotion and they ambushed me with ferocious hugs and crocodile tears, my heart felt like it was being ripped apart at the seams. As we stood there and held each other and cried, and as I tried desperately to convey to them that I hope to be back and that they were beloved daughters of God, I think that I felt maybe a tiny hint of what God feels for me. I would have done anything for them. I would have given anything for them to have a life free of hardship or pain or struggle. I would have parted with any of my prized possessions if it had meant that they would want for nothing. I would have given them my very heart if it could have ensured that they would never have to go through what I did in order to realize that God had called me beloved and redeemed from the beginning of time. And I’m sure that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the love that their heavenly Father has for them. I will never understand His love fully, but through loving these girls with my small and selfish human heart, I think that I grasped a small piece of it.

I love Haiti. I love my teammates. I love those girls. I love the translators that we met and made lasting friends with. And I miss it all. I miss the sky and the trees and the dirt. I miss the ocean. I even miss tarantula hunting at night. And even though I left a bigger part of my heart there than the part I brought back to America, I know that I will be back, God-willing. I know that God has just started a new chapter of my life, and that I have only tasted a spoonful of what all He wants to show me. So until I can be back with the ones I love and as I am living the life He has called me to here at home, I will continue to serve, worship, pray, and love. Because Bondye bon. God is good.

Thankful

Today, I am having writer’s block. This tends to happen to me when I am in a particularly calm season of life and cannot seem to find anything to write about, and also when I am in a particularly busy season of life and cannot seem to slow down enough to pick one of the ten billion things running through my head to write about. Both of these scenarios present somewhat of a problem. Currently, I am sitting in the middle of the latter situation.

So the thing that I can think of to do right now, since there are simply so many things to praise God for and to be thankful for, is to make a list of just that: things that I am thankful for. I regret to admit that this is somewhat of a new experiment for me, as I have a hard time most days slowing down enough in adoration to list the things that I am blessed with. So, here it goes.

• I am thankful for my family- my mom, my dad, my sister, and my brother. They have been a constant source of encouragement to me and remind me daily that, while I am not perfect and that I still have so many things to work on, that I am loved and that I am unique and that I am important. Thank you, family, for loving me no matter what. No matter how grumpy I get or how annoying my constant singing and finger-drumming may get, and no matter how often I change my mind about what I want to be or where I want to go or what I want to do. You guys are a constant in my life, a base that is always home, a family that my heart wants to come home to no matter what season of life I am in. Thank you. I love you dearly.
• I am thankful for my friends. Those who have been by my side through good times and bad. Anyone who knows me knows that the past year and a half of my life has been, at times, anything but easy and calm. There have been losses and breakups and times of self-doubt and sadness and uncertainty of the future and question as to whether there is anything good about me at all. But you, my dear, dear friends (and you know who you are), have helped to keep my head above the water. You have taught me how to be strong and how to hope in the Lord. You have taught me that it is not my outward appearance that matters. You have taught me that boys are not something to worry about until I am completely in love with and romanced by God Himself. You have reminded me of the importance of a darn good, gut-busting belly laugh. You have been Christ’s hands and feet to my heart and soul. Thank you. I cherish you always.
• I am thankful for trials and the refining fire they present. While I had a hard time seeing out of the valley I was in, the other side of it is beautiful. Of course, life is not perfect now anymore than it was. But it is so good. And learning to hold God’s hand in the dark makes Him all that much more beautiful in the light.
• I am thankful for Creation. For grass and dirt, for creeks and rivers, for mountains and valleys, for cliffs and crags, for forests and deserts. I love and relish in the fact that God has made this vast expanse of green and blue and flora and fauna for you and I to explore and love and steward. I love going on walks and hikes, on bike rides and runs. There is nothing better than being outside and feeling the sun kiss my skin and hearing nature come alive around me. Creation always directs my heart and my adoration back to the Creator.
• I am thankful for music. It is my safe haven and my escape. From getting lost in a worship experience to pouring myself over a piano to entering another world through a good pair of headphones. Music is my first language, and has made me who I am. It is how I worship. It is how I honor my Creator. It is beautiful and captivating, and I cannot wait to get to Heaven someday and sing to my God unceasingly.
• I am thankful that God made my heart as a woman tender and romantic while also strong and adventurous. He has set within me a desire to see all corners of the world, from Jaipur to Dublin, and He has given me a heart that longs to be wooed and won and fought for. For the longest time, I thought that vulnerability and tenderness and emotions were something to hide and be ashamed of. However, I have learned that is how God has made me. He has made me, as a woman, to feel deeply and to cry when I need to and to feel butterflies in my stomach. My femininity is a gift and a treasure to be pursued. I don’t have to hide my heart, because it was made to be put on display to glorify Him.
• I am thankful for my Father. I am thankful for His son Jesus. I am thankful for the Holy Spirit. The three-in-one mystery that is the Trinity, and the love and sacrifice shown that guides my heart. I am thankful that God loved me so much and wanted to spend forever with me so badly that he sent His one and only beloved son to die so that I might live. I am thankful that Jesus saw all of my transgressions and mistakes and hang-ups and still loved me, readily laying down the ultimate price. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit, the Holy Advocate, guides me on a daily basis, helping to align my heart and its desires with Christ. Because I once was wretched and now I am beloved. I once was broken and now I am redeemed. I once was lost and now I am found. I once was blind and now I see.

This was just an exercise in reflection and thankfulness. I am sure that I could go on for many, many more pages. However, this little bit here has helped me to become more aware of how crazy blessed I am in this life. What about you? What are the things that you are thankful for? What are the blessings that escape your notice on a daily basis? What has God done for you that you want to share? Let’s all make an effort to focus on the blessings more than the bad things, because it makes the sun seem to shine a little brighter, and I am convinced that it puts a smile on God’s face.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
-1 Thessalonians 5:18

Peace,
Katie.

Why I Won’t Pursue a Man

Ashlin Boyles

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Relationships and opinions about them are sticky.

People get passionate and everyone has an opinion. I think it’s something that we all work out, a choice that is ours to make. I can’t and don’t judge anyone’s personal journey, or the way they feel like God calls them to pursue romance.

As for me, I can state this (after much wrestling and questioning):

I can not and will not pursue a man.

Feminism is becoming a common doctrine of our world, and because of it, there is a question of whether or not women can approach a man in the way that they’ve been forbidden to in the past.

I’m not going to answer that for humanity. But as for me, I have one desire:

I want the (and yes, I said “the”) man that God has for me. God cares for the birds, so I believe that He intimately cares…

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