A Letter to my Sisters {Five Minute Friday}

rp_five-minute-friday.jpg Dearest, most wonderful Sisters,

Professors had warned me that life outside of my small Christian college would be lonely. They told me that I would never again have that sort of genuine community. In many ways, though this past summer was joyous, it was also one of the loneliest times of my life. I was newly graduated and married, in a new town, and without a job or  a car. Even though family and friends were still close by, I felt heartbreakingly disconnected.

And then, I met Hannah. I don't even remember the circumstances of our introduction, but despite being half a world away from each other at the time, she made me feel right at home. And she invited me to a party one Friday night that would change not only my writing, but the heart that those words flowed from.

For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. -- Luke 6:45 (NKJV)

In the beginning, I must admit I was shamefully wary -- worried that whatever community I found here would be shallow at best, and that life and faith would be portrayed in a woefully unrealistic manner. I thought I would find snide perfectionism,  even competition, and I assumed that no one would want anything to do with life and God as I knew them.

I had beautiful community  in college, but the last semester was laced with hurt at the hands of someone I was hesitant to let in in the beginning. The wound was deeper than she knew and I struggled to let go of the pain and forgive.

But what I found here was everything humble and broken and life at its very best. What I found here was Jesus, again, between the lines of tweets and blogs and comments. I found genuine community to come alongside me in my joy and in my frustration. I found sisters encouraging each other in the wee hours, holding fast to the promises of God. And now there's hardly a Friday night when I don't weep over 140 characters of pure, unadulterated grace.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -- Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

It filled me past the brim. Oh, that we can take part in the restoration of souls. In the past six months, I have made friends that will be kept for a lifetime.

A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. -- Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NLT)

You all are a gift. Living proof that the Lord knows what we need and His timing is perfect. Each of your lives are brimming with evidence of His goodness.

You, mothers, who saturate every character with love for your children. You, wives, who strive to serve your husbands in all that you do. You, who struggle deeply with insecurity and every word is infused with your need for Jesus. You are so important, so magnificent in all of your everyday grit and hope. I admire each of you so deeply for faithfully coming to the altar every Thursday and Friday night. You have made me better.

Jacqui, your testimony of loss and redemption has been such an incredible example to me. Your friendship has made my life so much richer. And Sarah, its hard to paint a more realistic picture of life than you have. I so deeply appreciate your willingness to be broken before the Lord and before others. Dana, your calling to open your home to the broken -- the orphan -- you are doing the Lord's work. And you write it all out with such an incredible, tangible passion. Lisa-Jo, all of this is really because of you -- your faithfulness has brought all of us together. Fridays on the internet are like holy ground.  None of this goes unnoticed. So if you haven't heard the words thank you in awhile, please don't ever forget that your willingness to put your life into such beautiful words has changed mine. 

I could literally go on forever -- there are over two hundred of you. Even as I punch these keys, salty liquid joy spills across my cheeks. I so wish there was space and time to mention each and every one of you by name.

Lisa-Jo wrote this week about how much our words matter. And its so, so true. Another professor of mine frequently spoke of the power of our communication. Our words hold the ability to image the Father.

Because in the beginning, God spoke, and all that is went through the process of becoming. And He's still in the business of collecting the dust and creating something beautiful. He's still the God of miracles -- each of you is evidence of that. He declared that everything He made was good, and He is singing goodness over you, even now. He's so in love with you.

Thank you. Thank you for taking me in, and for being so faithful to encourage me in this journey. Not a day goes by that my prayers are not for you, that Yahweh would come alive in you, that you would sense His presence in your lives and the lives of your families.

Surely, no eye has seen and no ear has heard -- but every Friday night, I see glimpses and hear whispers.

Psst! Obviously this took a little more than five minutes to put together, but it was so worth it. You are so worth it. Back in August, I didn't know the first thing about "linking up." If you're a blogger in search of constructive community, stop by Lisa-Jo's place. You'll find that Five Minute Fridays are about so much more than weekly writing prompts. Linking up this week with 200+ of the most fabulous, brave women on the planet. 

On reflection, rest, and looking forward.

A local pastor cuts deep in a radio commercial heard during my morning commute: did you do everything you could in 2013? I doubt my preparedness to answer.

Because I did a lot -- became a lot -- of new things in the past twelve months: a fiancee, a college graduate, a wife, a daughter and sister-in-law, a licensed driver (for the first time, at 22 years old,) and a social worker. I joined communities of bloggers who not only inspired me, but got down in the nitty gritty to do life with me. I also got baptized, over ten years after my parents and a pastor held an intervention and used guilt to try to motivate me to obey. Those were the highs. The lows saw me become anxious, angry, bitter, rebellious, and exhausted.

Did I do everything I could to be better? I ask it frequently of myself, and often I'm reminded of how short I have fallen -- how many opportunities I had to trust the Lord, and instead tried like hell to control things myself. At times, I became physically sick from the tension.

Timothy Keller's words resound: "anxiety is the result of a collapsing false god."

How much of my time has been consumed by the god of control? The god of perfectionism and guilt? Time that I can never get back.

But as I look back over the past year, what overwhelms it all is how faithful the Lord is, despite my not always giving Him my best.

An old roommate and I had a falling out a couple years back, but she left me this letter:

I see you struggling. I know you are fighting some major battles in your life. You have dealt with far more than I can even see. You aren't giving in and you aren't giving up. You are fighting against what you know should not be there. In this, I see hope.

I hearken back to her words at the end of this year, as I read over the past year of journaling -- of pouring my heart out to the Lord, regardless of its contents. I pray her words are still true, wherever she may be today.

Because at the end of the day, the essence of journaling is that it provides evidence of the journey. Throughout this year, I have been more intentional about being in tune with the Lord than ever before, because perhaps more than ever before, I realize my need for Him. 

....

Many bloggers I know begin their new year by choosing a word -- one word to focus their writing on during the year. As a lover of all things semantic, it has been particularly difficult to land on a single word. It is also difficult, given that my posts throughout 2013 are jam packed with words like joy, holy, faithfulness, thankfulness, trust, and grace. But there has been one word to breach my conscience again and again, and that word is rest. 

Rest: 

1. Cessation after exertion or labor. 2. Freedom from anything that wearies, troubles, or disturbs. 3. Calm, tranquility, ease, relief.

In the midst of the whirlwind that was 2013, I struggled to find rest. I thought about and desired rest constantly, even writing about it a few times on this blog. But what I learned more and more as the year progressed is that rest is a choice. The Holy Spirit was so faithful to convict me and bring to my attention the choices I was making when anxiety rose up in my heart. More often than not, my choices were not favorable.

My friend Andy says that the whole of life is about reacting well to the gospel. Could there be a better reaction than the cessation of my striving? At the cross, with his dying breath, Christ gave me victory. He put an end to my striving for perfection -- my striving to somehow earn grace -- so why do I insist on dragging it out?

Perhaps you find yourself in the same boat? One of the most powerful things we can do in our journey towards healing is to realize that we're not alone. Back in September, I wrote a bit about perseverance -- things that must be born in a person. Birth is an incredibly messy and painful experience. We have to push, and sometimes we come apart at the seams. But it is also beautiful.

The Word says "He has made everything beautiful in its time."

He knows what we need. He is molding us.

These are promises that we can rest in.

Hey, friend! Whether you're new here or find my small space familiar, I am so thankful that you've taken the time to visit. This post closes the chapter of 2013, but with every ending also comes a beginning! Join me in 2014 in my pursuit of rest? And let me know how I can partner with you in your own journey towards all things joyful and promising. 

If You Don't Recognize Holy Tonight.

I never used to like the song “Oh Holy Night." When I was a kid, I never understood what the words meant, and it seemed to go on and on

...sort of like my sin. Like the sin of the world that was too great for my feeble understanding at the tender age of twelve.

Long lay the world in sin and error, pining.

I didn't know what it meant to pine for something; to search for and want and need salvation more than the next beat of my heart. My soul had never known weary.

I imagine the very core of the earth heaving a sigh. An overwhelming spirit of heaviness.  And I see the latest news, everything screaming the wild lack of all that is sacred and holy.

But there, in the depth of night, a glimmer. A thrill of hope. 

Salvation came, a bloody and gasping infant. Peace is a person, one who has walked this dusty earth. He traded the entirety of glory for my skin and bones. His name is Emmanuel.

He is still with us.

Did you know that there is a second verse? For the longest time, I didn't.

A lamb without blemish, spread naked across an altar, bore the pain of nails and splinters that should have been mine. A curtain torn from top to bottom, unleashing furious glory over the earth. A crescendo of love, pouring out from the heavens as love won the war.

But it probably didn't seem like that in the immediate, in the carrying of his broken body to the tomb. The twelve huddled, wondering what to do next, some daring to ask if they should part ways and return to their old lives. They knew questions in the deep darkness. They were bound to it for three days.

We know chains. Anxiety, depression, addiction, fear, hopelessness, temptation, judgement, selfishness, lies. They coil around our spirits, threatening to choke the very life from us.

Even after Christ had risen, some had their doubts. Perhaps you've visited those dark corners with me? Some shadows seem heavy enough to dim the truth. Even Mary, as she looked upon her risen Lord, her Savior, did not recognize him.

She probably believed that the final battle had been lost. All hope, all that held her together, had been desecrated.

Sometimes holy is right before our eyes, in the tiny moments when we least expect it. Sometimes holy looks like the gardener. But then comes the beautiful recognition. The life sustaining revelation that he now holds the keys.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

Hallelujah, we are no longer bound. Not only are the chains unlocked, but they are broken.

That, dear friends, is revolutionary. 

Can your soul feel its worth? Oh, that the Creator of this universe, in all of His splendor, would love us so fully.

So if in the hustle and bustle of life, you're missing out on feeling loved, missing out on the joy and the hope and all that is sacred and holy...

just slow down and breathe him in.

Take a few moments, I promise, this is so worth your while.

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Five Minute Friday | She

Proverbs says "she is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future."  I think about this woman everyday. In the midst of what often feels like a lack of safety and balance and inner peace, I envy her security. How can I become like her? I chide myself for often forgetting that the answer is laid out so perfectly. Because the fallen world wants us to become tangled in its spiral, trivializing ourselves with all of the ways it offers to fill our voids. Perhaps the secret is that its really not a secret. 

The answer is right there. To be clothed in strength and dignity is to be clothed in the joy of the Lord. To consider each and every moment joy, knowing that everything that happens here is an invitation to become more like Christ. To be clothed in strength and dignity is to welcome the trials, hungering for perseverance and character and hope to be planted deep within our dusty hearts.

To be clothed in strength and dignity is to begin to understand how Father God sees us. When He made us, He was happy. At the foundation of the world, He said that we were good. A wise friend says "never doubt what a king speaks over you." But of course, we are fallen, and it becomes all too easy to identify ourselves by our sin.

There is a beautiful theme throughout scripture of the Lord giving people new identities, and perhaps the greatest part of these new identities is that they are entirely contrary to their old ones. Abram, whose wife was barren, became Abraham. The Lord promised him descendants as numerous as the stars, and it became so. Simon, who denied even knowing Christ in the hour of redemption, was renamed Peter, and Jesus said the church would be built upon him.

So I must choose everyday to respond well to this gospel, to wrap myself in joy. I have been given the glory of a new name, a new calling: to be clothed in strength and dignity, and to laugh without fear of the future, knowing that when Father God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of Christ in me. He sees victory.

Hallelujah, to be clothed in riches such as these.

Linking up with Lisa-Jo Baker and over 300 beautiful women today for Five Minute Friday.