Tagged: prayer

When You’re Married and Want More

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As many of you know, I’ve been married for almost a month. I now live with a man who I so dearly love (and our sweet puppy). And let me tell you, there are both blessings and challenges from this.

First, I adore sleeping next to my husband, but I’ve discovered that snuggling and spooning lasts for less than an hour because we are both so desperate to get a good night’s sleep when we have to wake up in the early hours of the morning. Also, he sometimes sweats profusely when he gets too hot and I insist on using my own blanket so we don’t fight for covers when I get too cold. Bedtime is almost like a game. We have to run through a list of questions: Should we keep the AC on? Whose phone are we setting the wake-up alarms on? Which side of the bed is Buddy sleeping on? By the way, it’s a horrible thing to realize that your dog would rather sleep next to this guy he’s known for like two years versus sleeping next to you who he’s known ALL HIS LIFE. It’s just not fair and I pout about this regularly.

Second, I love spending time with my husband, but I’ve realized that this can quickly turn into suffocation. HE’S ALWAYS THERE. Yes, he does have work and I do have class, but for the most part, he never leaves my side. There are days when him and I are not separated for longer than an hour. And that’s probably not healthy, but it’s the way things are right now. Especially since it seems as though friends are avoiding us like the plague, thinking the newlyweds need tons of space and time for adjustment. Just so you know, I MISS MY FRIENDS. AND I SO DESPERATELY NEED A PLACE TO ESCAPE TO. SAVE ME. There’s only so long I can hint to Grant that he should make plans with somebody or go to the gym before I violently kick him out of the house so I can watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Third, I highly enjoy being served by my husband, but I’ve noticed how my independence and self-sufficiency is slowly dwindling. When he doesn’t have work in the morning, he gives me a ride to class. He makes me breakfast almost every day. He makes my coffee before I even get a chance to think about it (just wait, there’s more). He gets me out of bed when I’m feeling lazy. He sets alarms for me when I need to wake up. He always minces the garlic (which explains why I didn’t know how to peel the cloves for the longest time). He cleans my makeup brushes while I get ready in the morning (yes, ladies, keep swooning). When we run errands, he always drives. I know acts of service is his love language, but is this normal? To be served this much?? I may actually be forgetting how to drive myself places. It’s nice to be doted on, but I’m eventually going to need it to stop. And right now, he’s giving me a shoulder massage. I just can’t.

Lastly, I feel highly fulfilled as I live life with my husband, but there is a deep longing for more. And what I mean by that is that we both have a vision for our marriage that far exceeds where we are right now. We’ve only been married for a very short amount of time, yet we are already dreaming of houses and babies and promotions and new opportunities. And this makes it hard to stay put. We want what’s next. Grant and I are struggling to find contentment — not with each other, but with this place that we are in. And we wonder if other newlyweds experience this, too. The good news is that Grant’s old, homebody soul matches mine real well, which means that this deep desire for a home, family, and stability is not an isolating experience for either of us. God knew what he was doing when he placed us together. And he knows what he’s doing by bringing us through the simple steps before we reach the big, difficult ones. Even still, we long for answers to our soul’s cries for more.

My prayer is that we find a way to hold onto contentment and peace right now even amidst these strong dreams and desires for our future. I also am praying that God gives us discernment through the Spirit as we decide the right opportunities to accept and the right changes to embrace. We’re slowly finding our place in this world — both individually and as a unit — but there’s still so much left to unearth and discover.

This post is personal and maybe not the most relevant to everybody who is reading it. However, I wanted to share these things because I believe it is important to talk from reality instead of wishful thinking. I don’t want to put up a front that gives people the idea of us having a perfect marriage and a grand old time. I want people to know that the initial stages of marriage are both fun and difficult for us for various reasons. I want people to know that even though Grant and I are thrilled to be each other’s husband and wife, we are still ignorant on how to balance our time together, we still have fights and issues, and we still don’t fully know what a God-glorifying marriage means for us.

Most of all, I want people to know that we, just like everybody else, are not entirely content. There are beautiful parts to this marriage, but there are also many areas we wish to improve and grow. Our prayers of desperation reflect that regularly. We just got married and it seems as though this should be the greatest and most joyous time of our lives, yet there is still a lot of junk and confusion we are both dealing with. We have a structured routine and it is pretty great, but stability on the outside doesn’t necessarily mean our minds and hearts are in stable places. Him and I are still learning how to battle the real enemy while continuing to mistakenly battle each other. And this doesn’t take me by surprise because I learned long ago that Hollywood and social media tells us a lot of lies about the way our marriage and our lives should look. I knew the journey to the altar would be a hard one and the road after it wouldn’t be any easier.

The last thing I want is for my marriage to do to others what Hollywood and social media has done to me. I know the way those lies have harmed me — making me loathe myself for wasteful purchases because I thought I was supposed to be a coupon-savvy wife, making me beat Grant and I up for forgetting to have our time with God because I wanted to be the perfect spiritual couple, making me buy new clothes and get a new haircut because I thought I needed to play the part of “sophisticated housewife.” I want to be absolutely done with believing lies about the way my marriage should look. They have done nothing but place unnecessary pressure and guilt on us. And I definitely don’t want to allow myself to be a conduit of these lies either.

For this reason, I am striving to not give off a perception of perfection. I think I may have failed at this many times over the years, and I am sorry. I want to make it my goal to continue sharing truth and reality with people, even if I have to write less eloquent blog posts, share uglier photos on Instagram, and admit to having a fight with Grant before walking into a friend’s house or Bible study. I don’t believe it is wise to broadcast all of our deep struggles and issues to the world, but I want to be a person who is willing to talk about hard things, especially when other women are asking the same questions as me or other couples are dealing with the same issues. Today’s post was only a snapshot of a few things on my mind. I promise there’s a lot more underneath it all, but there’s a time and place for such discussion.

I also want to ask you to take some time to pray for Grant and I — for our everyday battles and the long, arduous road to contentment that we are still trekking on. It might sound selfish and vain to ask that of you, but I know it’s not. This is the way God designed us to be — lovingly truthful and vulnerable. It is out of love for my husband that I ask for other prayer warriors to pray for our marriage. It is out of love for God that I admit our failings and desperate need for his strength and peace in our lives. And it is out of love for you that I’d rather give you an honest picture of our marriage and our need for prayer than let you think for one minute that we have it all together. And in return, I want to bear your burdens and lift up your prayers, too. There’s no reason for us to walk through life alone.

Grant and I are so, so new to this whole marriage thing, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have encouragement or some wisdom to give. We have found that there is value in listening to honest novices, just as there is value in listening to the experienced. Both of these acts open our hearts to each other and give us more opportunities to learn, relate, and love. I am not ashamed to admit that much of the wisdom I feel as though I have on the subject of relationships and marriage has just been passed down to me from my amazing parents and grandparents. Some conclusions I have come to on my own, but I have always welcomed help and advice from those who have come before me. I am a better woman and wife for it. You would be a better woman and wife for it, too. Find those people who will be honest with you and provide you real pictures of marriage and life. It will help you battle the lies that we all end up having to face.

I love getting to share my life with my husband, but I also love getting to share my life with other women. Thank you for allowing me to do so and for also extending grace when I am not doing so well. In a way, I get the best of both worlds — a man who has come alongside me and women to encourage me to stay there (all laughs aside, this statement rings quite true). Don’t be a stranger, my friends. We could all use some friendship these days, including this one newlywed right here.

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When Life Is Dry and God Is Silent

Image by Guilherme Yagui via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/dHX2x4)

Image by Guilherme Yagui via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/dHX2x4)

I had the privilege of sharing a message to the middle schoolers I work with at my church this past Sunday. I was having a hard time preparing for it because I so badly wanted to say the right thing — what GOD wanted me to say — but I felt like I was repeatedly coming back from prayer empty-handed. I had been trying all week to hear from God and he just seemed to be so silent.

The night before I was supposed to give my message, I climbed into my fiancè’s bed and just started to cry.

“What am I doing wrong?” I asked. “I feel like I’m in a dry season, but I don’t want to be in this season. I thought everything was going fine, but even reading the Bible or spending time in worship isn’t doing what it used to do anymore.”

That’s when I got hit over the head (by Grant, but also probably by God) with some stuff I needed to hear. Thus, my sermon was born at eight o’clock that night.

I want to share with you what I was able to vulnerably and authentically share with those middle schoolers yesterday morning. I’m praying that it speaks to you just as it spoke to me and to those few middle schoolers who needed a good dose of encouragement while in the desert. We all sometimes find ourselves in the desert, don’t we?

. . . . .

Something I’ve always wondered is when I really began having a relationship with Jesus. I didn’t go to church very much growing up, but I knew who he was and there was a brief period of time between fifth grade and seventh grade where I thought I was completely in love with the idea of following God and being a Christian. But when eighth grade rolled around, I just kinda dumped him. I told my grandparents, who were taking me to church at the time, to stop picking me up on Sunday mornings, and I put my Bible in a box and I stopped trying to pray. I didn’t pray for two years. And during that time, I really lost my way. I made friends who weren’t the best influences and I treated my family poorly. I just didn’t care about God or the Bible or his plan for my life. I was selfish and self centered.

But I guess I reached a point where I felt too empty to want that sort of life anymore. So on a random night in tenth grade, I just told myself to be a Christian again. And I was. The next day I pulled out my Bible for the first time in two years and began reading. I started talking to God like we had never stopped. I even started going to church again. And I haven’t looked back since.

Seriously following Jesus these past six years has been the best decision of my entire life. Because I find joy in this relationship. I find freedom and healing and wonder and peace. But you know what? I also sometimes find sadness. And doubt. And questions. And that’s what I want to talk about today.

I knew since last week that I wanted to talk to you guys this morning about having a personal relationship with Jesus because I feel like it’s really easy for adults, especially pastors at church, to give us the do’s and dont’s of being a Christian. They define sin for us and godly living for us all the time. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like I need a relationship with Jesus to be defined too. Like what does that even mean?

What is a relationship with Jesus supposed to look like? Is it a relationship that has ups and downs, that goes through dry seasons and mood swings? Or is it supposed to be sturdy and steady and always the same? 

Lately as I’ve been thinking about this and trying to answer that question, I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my mom. My mom is my best friend. My mom has meant so much to me that she’s going to be walking down the aisle with me as my Matron of Honor when I get married this October. I can’t think of anyone else who’s done so much for me and has been so understanding of me and supportive of me. I feel like I can tell her just about anything. I love where my relationship with my mom is.

But her and I weren’t always close. In fact, when I was in middle school, I hardly wanted anything to do with her. I was such a moody preteen. Anything she said just made me so mad. Just a “hey, how was school” when I walked through the door was enough for me to roll my eyes. And she didn’t know what to do with my mood swings, so she’d just call me Miss Attitude and I’d go up to my room and not come down until dinner. Her and I just did not get along. And I know most of it, if not all of it, was my fault. Anytime she wanted to get close to me, I’d come up with reasons to keep her at an arms length. I pushed her away and our relationship suffered. In fact it wasn’t recovered until years later when I finally understood that my mom wasn’t out to destroy my life. She was actually trying to help me build my life. I mean, fathom that. My twelve year old self didn’t see that coming. Some of you in this room still don’t understand that about your parents. And for right now, that’s okay. I hope you do someday.

My relationship with Jesus reminds me of my relationship with my mom because it’s had ups and downs.

Some of you guys might know what I mean by that. We have these long periods of wanting to pray all day everyday. We want to read the Bible all the time. We want to go to every Bible study known to mankind so we can soak in all the wisdom and Jesus that we can. And then there are periods of time where we are like, “Hello? Are you there?” Reading the Bible feels like a chore. We don’t notice anything different about us when we do read. We can’t find the right words to pray. We don’t see him in our lives like we used to. We may even start to question if he’s moving in our lives at all.

While I was preparing to give this sermon, I was reminded of a really strange thing that happened to me two years ago while I was staying with my friend Lacey in her hometown. Lacey lives in this really southern town called Thomasville, which is like four hours South of here. And while in Thomasville, her and I would walk around the downtown district there and just hang out and look in the shops. One day, we found this patio kind of hidden behind a gate that someone left open, and there were some cute tables and chairs set up there. It was closed off and shaded by plenty of trees. It was really beautiful. And since she had her Bible and I had mine, we decided that was where we would have our time with God. For about a half hour, we read and journaled and prayed in silence.

That day I was reading the story in the book of John about Lazarus, the man who died and was risen to life by Jesus. In this passage, Jesus is summoned to go see his dear friend Lazarus who is ill, but instead of going to see him right away, Jesus waits. Now this is the man who is known for healing and saving lives. This is the man who’s been walking around town spreading the news about Gods love and goodness. And yet he waits to go to Lazarus. And when he finally makes it to where Lazarus and his sisters are staying, he finds that Lazarus is already dead.

Now this is the most difficult part of the story for me: When Jesus finally makes it to Lazarus’ house DAYS later, Lazarus’ sister named Mary falls down at Jesus’ feet and says to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ And as she’s weeping on the ground, Jesus begins to weep as well.

I knew that the story ends with Lazarus being raised back to life, but I was stuck on that one part for a long time, the image of Mary just being completely filled with sorrow before Jesus, the man she thought was going to be there and heal her brother.

As I read this story and sat with Lacey, I began to pray and I told God that I don’t understand him. I knew that Jesus was glorified through Lazarus’ death, but I couldn’t bear the thought of Mary’s suffering. I just didn’t understand it.

But what happened next was something I needed to see.

After I finished praying, I looked over to see what Lacey was doing. She was watching the birds playing in the trees above us and her Bible was opened to Luke 12, to a passage that talked about sparrows. The one that says something about how not one sparrow is forgotten by God and we don’t have to worry because we are worth more than many sparrows.

Well, as I was looking at this passage in her Bible, I started thinking about birds too. So here were Lacey and I, both sitting and thinking about birds in this beautiful isolated patio while trees are swaying and birds are playing above us.

And then those same birds, the ones she was watching, suddenly flew into a glass window just a few feet from us and dropped to the ground. Three of them. We were speechless, stunned. And those birds just laid there, motionless.

Now Lacey is the bold one and she jumped up to examine the birds while I was still sitting there and tears were flowing down my cheeks. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Lacey confirmed after a second that at least one bird was dead. And I remember asking God in that moment, What does this mean?

The two other birds, she then realized, were unmoving but breathing, like they were paralyzed. At first she told me she was going to have to kill them, which I could not emotionally handle at all. But then Lacey did what I didn’t have the courage to do. She picked up the birds and stroked them and started praying over them. So I started praying, too. And I remember my prayer was something like:

God, it says in your Word that if you care for the birds, then you must care for us too, right? …But what does this say about your love and care for us if you DON’T care for these birds? 

I was afraid to know the answer. But shortly after silently asking this, both of those birds were healed and flew back up into the trees as if nothing had ever happened. We were stunned. We didn’t know what to say.

And you might be thinking that wasn’t an answer to our prayers because maybe the birds were just in shock and were never paralyzed to begin with. Regardless, I do believe that God was there that day because I know that he was trying to tell me something through those injured birds. God wanted me to know that day that he does not need to prove anything to me. He doesn’t. And whether or not those birds continued to suffer and slowly die, his love and his goodness for you and I would still be true. It’s always been true and it always will be true. 

What I think God wanted me to learn from that day and what I think he’s wanting me to communicate with you today is that Jesus is in a relationship with you and he wants that relationship. He fights fiercely for that relationship. And if it feels like he’s silent and not doing anything and not present in your life sometimes, that’s okay.

His faithfulness to you far outweighs your questions and doubt. 

And those questions and doubts are a normal part of any relationship. When you are feeling distant from God, it’s okay to ask those questions. Where are you, God? Are you really there? Do you really care? Because when you ask those questions, he gets the chance to answer. And it’s not a quick “Yep, I do. You betcha” kind of answer.

It’s an answer that you will see played out over the course of your life — if you choose to see it.

Just like how as a preteen, your mom or dad’s love for you might not make sense, but as an adult they could very well be your best friends and everything is suddenly crystal clear.

Let Jesus be your friend. Let yourself be in this relationship with him. Because even though you might not see the full fruit of it right now, just like Mary didn’t understand the miracle she was about to witness in her dead brother’s life, you will see it over time. If you’re like me and sometimes wonder where your relationship with Jesus is at, just know that it’s not so much WHERE the relationship is at, but rather WHAT you are learning where you are at. Are you grasping the things he’s trying to show you? Are you learning to lean on him even when you can’t see him? Are you starting to figure out what his grace and mercy for you really means?

We are told in Scripture that we will find God when we seek him with all our hearts. And if you’re struggling to feel God’s presence in your life and you’re in a silent, dry season, that verse is still true. Because what that verse doesn’t say is that we will INSTANTLY find God when we seek him RIGHT NOW with all our hearts. God doesn’t operate in our timing. We won’t find him the very instant we want him. And that’s a good thing. Because he lets himself be seen and felt when he knows we need it most. Only he knows the growth that we need. Only he can tell the perfect time for us.

Think about this: Only Jesus knew that Mary’s brother wouldn’t remain dead forever. And the fact that he wept with her in her suffering instead of give her the quick reassurance right then and there might seem kind of mean, but it’s not. Because after that point, when Mary thought of her relationship with Jesus, he wasn’t just the man who healed her brother and did what she wanted him to do when she wanted him to do it. No, Jesus was now her friend, the one who wept with her and was there with her in her sorrow. That’s one of the moments she would have remembered most later on in her life. She would’ve carried that with her for a very long time. I bet the fact he was there with her in that moment, sharing in her sorrow, meant more to her later on in her life than a pat on the back and a quick reassurance would have meant.

Jesus went from being a miracle man to her best friend because he gave her what she really needed, not what she wanted. 

Jesus gives us what we need, too. He gives us what we need and not just what we want. Just like our parents. They know what’s best and we don’t understand that. But with time, we might begin to see and then our relationship can grow for the better.

What might happen to our faith if we stopped putting God in a box? What if we started seeing Jesus as someone so much bigger than a book or a sermon or a church or a worship song? What if we stopped accusing him of being absent and just started trusting that whether or not he proves it when we want him to prove it, he is actually all around us and loving us more than we could ever imagine being loved?

If we want to be in this relationship with Jesus, we need to understand that this relationship will not be as uniform and predictable as we want it to be. That’s why our testimonies are all so different. That’s why some of you guys went to camp and were forever changed and some of you guys went to camp and came back pretty much the same. And if you were one of those people who expected this big life change and then came back not really understanding why you went in the first place, I want you to know that Jesus did not leave your side at all. Not once.

But just because he was by your side doesn’t mean he was going to whisper all the answers you wanted in your ear. 

We want answers, don’t we? We want to know everything. I want to know why those birds hit that window. I want to know why it was Mary’s brother who had to be the one to taste death. I want to know why I went through that two-year period of not praying or caring.

But will knowing why really change all that much? Will having all of the answers we desire satisfy us? Will it make our relationship with Jesus richer and deeper and fuller? I don’t think so. There’s nothing in the Bible that says that when we seek the answers, we will find the answers if we seek them with all our hearts. There’s some things we don’t need to know.

But we need to remain committed to this relationship, whatever it looks like for us right now. Some of you guys are in dry, confusing seasons where you’re not sure of what following Jesus means yet and you don’t even know if you want to. Some of you have been a Christian for years but you’re not sure of how it’s changed your life all that drastically. Some of you have been experiencing the most amazing times of your life, growing in your faith like never before. Whichever one of those groups of people you fall into, I want you to know that your relationship with God will go through ups and downs, just like any relationship. But it’s the best relationship worth committing to.

When You’re in the In-Between

Many of us are in the in-between of life. What do I mean by this?

We are in a season where we are waiting for something to happen. We are in a place that is unlike where we were, yet it’s also not where we want to be or think we should be. I call this place the in-between, and being in it often causes a perception or sensation of floating or not moving. In the in-between, it’s not unusual for us to look at the world around us and wonder why nothing is changing.

I myself am in the in-between.

I am a little over halfway through with my college education, but I still have several semesters of papers, homework, midterms and finals ahead of me before I graduate.

I am in my twenties and becoming an independent adult, but still live at home and am provided for as a child. I am transitioning, but not yet on my own.

I am engaged to the man I want to marry, but we’re not yet married. We still have at least six months to go with a wedding to plan and a joint life to prepare for.

I am working in a ministry I love and am passionate about, but still feeling like there’s something more out there for me. I have yet to solidify my calling, and I keep wondering when I will find that place where I fully belong.

I am nowhere near where I was when I first began following Christ, but in many ways I feel like I have hardly moved at all. I’m still believing many of the same lies and fighting the same battles. I can see the other side on which healing and freedom lie, but sometimes I feel like I’m not moving any closer.

I am in the in-between in almost every area of my life. And I’m realizing that the reason these times and places of in-between feel like the most grueling and challenging is because the in-between is where I most often look more at myself and less at God. I have allowed the in-between to hinder my vision of all things Kingdom-related.

It’s not because God isn’t here with me; it’s because I’ve become so consumed with getting OUT of the in-between that I have been forgetting to look for or acknowledge him.

I have been blind to the divine work happening around me. I’ve been feeling alone, wondering if my prayers are getting anywhere past the ceiling. I’ve been missing the life-changing work the Holy Spirit is doing, and I’ve been unable to identify the favor of God in my life that has been sustaining me and providing for me all along.

I don’t want to miss these things anymore. I’m starting to change my perspective and put my eyes back on the prize, and I’m now realizing that God is not waiting for me to get married, graduate, finish my book, or find my calling to begin doing miraculous work in my life. He wants to do things here and now.

This in-between I am in isn’t just an in-between to God. It’s a place where prayers can be answered, doors can be opened, and true life-changing growth can happen.

This season of waiting in my early twenties is still just as important of a time as my thirties or forties or fifties will be. The things I am investing in now are still worth investing in, even though they’re not the things I imagine myself investing in forever. The woman I am becoming is worth the work, time, and effort that has to be put in, and it’s God who’s crafting me into that woman piece-by-piece, day-by-day.

This realization is freeing. I’m beginning to recognize the fruits of the Holy Spirit being developed in me and I’m seeing the blessings of God that are enabling me to move forward with my dreams.

The same can be true for you today. You might feel like you’re always waiting for something, like you’re constantly in-between, and you’re not getting any closer to where you want to be. But my friend, feelings can be wrong. Your perceptions can be wrong. At the end of the day, you are all-faulty human and God is still all-knowing God.

Your inability to see the movement of God does not negate the movement of God that is happening.

God does not operate on your time schedule or your list of priorities, and he’s not waiting for you to get your life together to begin molding you into the image of his Son, which is his desire for you (Romans 8:29). Your Father is present and active in your life, whether you see it or not. And he still wants to use you for his glory here and now, whether you realize it or not.

You have to choose to look up.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning (Psalm 130:5-6).

Do you know what watchmen do? Watchmen keep watch of a city or fortress throughout the night. They are on a mission to preserve and protect, and they do not let down their guard until morning comes.

How are you waiting for the Lord? Are you remaining faithful and alert, as a watchman is until morning? Or are you letting your guard down, letting distractions consume you until you forget the tasks at hand and what you’re even waiting for?

Now is not the time to stop waiting for the Lord. And waiting for the Lord doesn’t mean looking the other way and being caught by surprise when he comes.

Waiting haphazardly is not God’s desire for you in this place of in-between; you are called to wait expectantly. 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.”

The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress (Psalm 46:10-11).

While you’re in this season of stillness, do you know that God is God and what that means for your life? Do you know that his mission to bring himself glory through your life is true even today?

Look at Psalm 46:11: the God of Jacob is our fortress.

He’s the one we’re waiting for and the one we wait for.

Just as a watchman waits for morning because of the fortress they are charged with protecting, we wait for God because of God, because we know who he is and we desire his active presence in our lives. We are waiting for him to do the work only he can do.

I know the in-between is tough and you want a way out, but if you’re too busy looking for your dreams to come true, you will forget why you’re waiting. You will forget that God is still good and still working and one hundred percent worth waiting for.

The in-between is not an abyss. The in-between is a place like any other place — one in which God is sovereign and on your side. He is still for you. Even if you’re not for the current life you’re living.

I am praying over you and I the very prayer Paul spoke over the church in Ephesus once upon a time.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:17-21).

In other words:

God, give us your wisdom through the Holy Spirit so we can know you and see you better. We need enlightenment, Lord. We need heart knowledge of who you are and what you’re doing. This hope you’ve called us to is sometimes forgotten. Jesus, I’m asking you to help us remember. In these times of longing and confusion, give us the ability to not only recognize your great power, but to wield that great power in our own lives. The power of your love, grace, and sovereignty is far greater than any circumstances we find ourselves in or any scheme that is set up against us. You are with us now and you will be with us always. Thank you. We love you. Amen.

When You Wish You Had a Reset Button

Photo by Irene Kane via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/oAc2up)

Photo by Irene Kane via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/oAc2up)

There are mornings I spend just wanting to climb back into bed. I want to start over and pretend like the past few hours of my life didn’t happen. Either I made a mistake or I wasted time, and instead of coping with it, I let it affect my attitude towards my whole day. Nothing seems redeemable in my eyes, like my morning is a casserole in the oven too far burnt to save.

The other day, I told my therapist about this problem of mine, and she naturally had some wise things to say.

“Perhaps you need to create a reset button for yourself, something that you physically do as a declaration that you are starting your day over. Instead of sitting in your failures and shame, you can “hit” the reset button and choose to start over instead of letting those things affect your whole day,” she told me.

I went home kind of excited after that, not because she told me how to solve all of my life problems, but because she gave me something to do. I now had something to work towards and aim for. My task-driven personality thrives off of these things.

So I did what she said.

I pondered what my reset button would be for a couple days and I settled on showering. Yes, I decided taking a shower will be my reset button. It will be my way of cleansing myself of all my morning impurities and mistakes. Any time I feel like I got off on the wrong foot, I’ll step into the tub as one person and step out of the tub completely different. Genius, right?

But then there are times that doesn’t work. The wiring in my brain won’t let me let go. I know I should be able to move on, but the perfectionist in me is screaming lies about my potential and my worth. How do you fight that? I’m twenty years old and still feel like a five-year-old cowering in the corner when they’ve done something wrong.

And this is when I need to cry out those pocket prayers, the four-letter sentences you reserve for times of desperation. Lord, I need you. Jesus, please help me. Save me from this.

Sometimes I feel God’s presence immediately, but more often than not, I have to wait for it. Because I have so many doubts and anxieties, it takes a minute for the reality of the supernatural to sink in. And every time, I’m surprised. Wow, God! You showed up! Of course He did. He does that, you know. But you can’t tell that to the girl sniffling on the couch who just got out of the shower and feels like she’s out of options.

I had the privilege of preaching to the middle schoolers at my church this past Sunday. After working with middle schoolers for over two years, I’ve seen my passion deepened and my gifts strengthened in ways I never expected. But when I’m given an opportunity to speak to them as more than that obnoxious girl who plays all the games on Sunday morning, I sometimes hesitate to take up that offer. I get scared of not having anything to say (as always, though, I find that I do have things to say. I’m a writer, for crying out loud!).

I gave a sermon on Sunday about being thankful and how thankfulness is preceded by hope and followed by worship (check out Hebrews 12:28). I went home pleased and exhausted. As soon as I reached my bed, I collapsed into it and didn’t wake up until two hours later.

But when I did wake up, something wasn’t right.

A storm was raging outside my window and something was raging inside my heart.

I was angry and upset with Grant (for reasons that don’t need to be discussed) and I called him to communicate these feelings to him. After an hour of arguing and whining and yelling and interrupting, we reached a point where the silence between the two of us was deafening. I’m holding my phone, fuming. He’s holding his phone, frantically trying. We’re miles apart in both distance and understanding.

And the shame washed over me.

Here I was, arguing with this man who loves me so much more than I give him credit for, and I just preached to a room-full of kids on thankfulness. I felt like the fakest faker in all the world. I preach God’s Word and can hardly live it out.

And even after realizing the fault in my attitude, pride was holding on too tight for me to just let it go. Four-letter sentences could probably fix this, but I could hardly muster one word.

So I thought one word instead. The smallest pocket prayer.

Jesus.

And as I was laying in my bed and holding my phone, still fuming, and he was laying in his bed and holding his phone, still frantically trying, something happened. Orange shone through my closed blinds. My room was glowing all around me. I turned over onto my stomach and peeked through the blinds behind my bed, and what I saw rendered me speechless. The storm that had been raging as we were arguing was gone, and what was left in its place was a beautiful sunset. And let me tell you, this sunset was beautiful but also eerie. Everything was tinted orange. I had never seen anything like it before.

“Grant, look out your window,” I whispered to him through the phone.

“Why? Are you there?” He asked.

“No, just look.”

I hear some fumbling and then silence. He’s speechless for a second, too.

“Everything’s orange,” he said.

“I know.”

“Wow.”

And just like that, the cold exterior around my heart melted.

“I love you,” I whispered.

“I love you too,” he said back.

Tears started falling down my face as I again recognized the beauty of this man I have in my life.

And I again realized the beauty of God’s presence after what felt like a never-ending, raging storm.

That’s silly, Jessie, you might be tempted to say.

I know it is. I know it’s silly to put so much stock into one orange night. Just like it’s silly to put so much stock into showers and metaphors and reset buttons.

But when it comes to God, I don’t want to put anything past Him. I don’t want to say He can’t show up and change things.

I’m sharing this because it helps me. I write to process and I like to share what I write so I’m not alone. But I’m also sharing this because I know that things I write has helped people feel less alone, too.

So this one goes out to the perfectionists, the ones too hard on themselves, the ones wishing for reset buttons and life-sized erasers. Sometimes your reset buttons will work, but sometimes they won’t.

And when they don’t, I pray (literally praying right now) that you allow yourself to accept the grace only God can give. The grace to be yourself. The grace to move on from mistakes. The grace to let go after arguments. The grace to again set about practicing what you preach.

I need that grace. I know that come morning, I’ll probably need it just like I do many other mornings. I know that there will still be many days I leave my house feeling frazzled and disappointed. But there’s grace for when I’m feeling inside-out on those upside-down mornings.

And there’s grace for your mornings that are like that, too.

The Dead Man’s Mother

Photo by ozgurcakir via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6nWHbx)

Photo by ozgurcakir via Flickr (https://flic.kr/p/6nWHbx)

Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out — the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” 

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.

. . . . . .

I have been this dead man’s mother.

I have carried broken, dead dreams. I have cried alongside coffins containing my hopes and wishes and prayers. Sometimes my heart.

And Jesus has met me on my way to bury these things. He has stopped the funeral procession in progress. Moved with compassion, he has stepped out of the crowd, lifted my chin, and whispered words of relief.

Sometimes when he does this, I look first into his eyes and then back at the coffin and say, “but they’re still dead.” What I have been carrying with me is still unmoving, void of life. I continue on with the funeral procession, desperate to bury these things in the ground and bury myself in sorrow.

But he replies, “You don’t have to bury this at all.” And with one swift motion, he approaches the dead and reverses the damage. He breathes life into what I never thought I’d see breathing again.

And I am reunited with my beloved.

I am rejoiced, overcome with gratitude and awe.

. . . . . .

This is a beautiful story of a mother whose hope was revived as Jesus interrupted a funeral procession and brought her dead son back to life.

And this, too, is my story as Jesus revives my hope and brings my dead things back to life time and time again.

I have been this dead man’s mother, yet I have also often forgotten it.

I have witnessed Jesus interrupt my funeral processions and breathe life back into my hopes and dreams, and then I have thrown accusations at him. Why didn’t you come sooner?

I have seen him change my life. I was even once that dead man. Jesus saved me as crying, praying mothers walked alongside my coffin. And yet I live as though I’m still dead, unable to move or see a future ahead.

I have been given by God what no other could give: revived hopes and dreams, a healing heart that once felt irreparably broken. And then I have felt the call of death come again, rendering me forgetful of His healing hand.

I find myself crying out as if nothing has ever happened. As if I have never seen dead things rise. As if I never was this dead man and never was this dead man’s mother.

. . . . . .

The Spirit inside of me contains the power to move mountains, yet I have been staring at mountains without making a move.

I forget the power that raised this mother’s dead son lives in me. I forget the work that has been done and the promises that have been given.

Most of all, I forget that God is good.

I question his desire to move my mountains because I’ve been staring at nothing but these mountains all my life.

Of course they’re going to seem insurmountable when all I do is gape at their largeness and question God in His faithfulness.

How is He ever going to prove His faithfulness in my life if I’m so quick to forget my once-dead son?

In Scripture, we read of stories where God came to His children’s rescue and they then built an altar to declare and remember what God had done. So where are my altars? Why am I brushing past healing, victories, and resurrections in my life? No wonder I can’t remember. No wonder I’m quick to doubt and fear.

Where is my good Father? I’ve been demanding.

Where is He not? is the better question.

. . . . . .

My declaration over today: I once was dead and now I am alive. My broken heart is being tenderly mended. My hopes and dreams have been renewed.

What has taken place is worthy of remembrance.

So today, God, I remember you.

This is the Long, Arduous Walk of Faithfulness

Photo by Christian Robold on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisrsouthland/14689156225)

Photo by Christian Robold on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/chrisrsouthland/14689156225)

We both had things to say as we sat in that corner booth of Waffle House, and I found divine questions dancing behind my tongue, eager for ears to listen.

How do I know what to keep praying boldly for and persevering in? How do I know what to remain faithful to if I can’t see where God wants to do the greatest work? I asked her.

Isaiah didn’t see a single convert as he did God’s will, but did that make him any less faithful? She asked me.

. . . . . .

I don’t know many things. I hardly know anything, I should say.

I know what I desire, what I wish God would do. But I don’t know for sure if those desires are His. I don’t know for sure if big results will be reaped from my big dreams.

All I know is I keep praying and hoping. I keep thinking that holding onto these dreams says something. Look, God. I’m not giving up. I want to be faithful with this.

Will you bless me if I remain faithful? Will you let these things come to pass if I don’t cease believing and praying?

I thought maybe she would bring me divine answers in that Waffle House, but I instead walked away with a question.

Isaiah didn’t see a single convert as he did God’s will, but did that make him any less faithful?

Any less faithful than the pastors of the largest church congregations in the world, she was referring to. Any less faithful than the person with the longest list of people brought to faith by their ministry.

No, Isaiah was not any less faithful. He was obedient and bold in prayer without seeing the numbers. He knew the numbers weren’t what mattered. He knew what he had to do, whether there were visible results or no results at all.

Can I say the same thing about myself?

. . . . . .

God is calling me to be faithful.

What am I going to do with that? With just this one piece of information, this one glimpse of His plan for my life?

I’m going to be faithful. I’m going to be faithful with where I’m at and with what I have.

My life isn’t meant to be a numbers-based journey comprised of me hopping around from one success to another, looking for the greatest product of my efforts.

I’m called to a faith-based journey comprised of me trusting in God’s sovereignty and grace over each decision I make and every step I take.

It doesn’t matter how many fights we have, how many obstacles and temptations we face, how many late nights of tearful miscommunications we have — I will remain faithful to the man I believe God has brought into my life, the man I have promised to love daily and intentionally.

It doesn’t matter how many kids raise their hands during the prayer of salvation, how many attendees we have at our church events, how many things I could complain about or find fault in — I will remain faithful to this ministry with middle schoolers that God has given me a passion for.

It doesn’t matter how few people read my writing or how many followers this blog has — I will remain faithful to the burdens God has placed on my heart and the gift He has given me to share them.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve been ignored by people, how many communities I’ve been hurt by — I will remain faithful to the pursuit of others, striving to show them the same love that Christ has for me.

It doesn’t matter how many things have not yet been healed, how many prayers have not yet been answered — I will remain faithful in prayer, faithful to God and trusting in His faithfulness to me.

How long will I remain faithful to these things? Until God shows me a different way.

This is the long, arduous walk of faithfulness that is bound to take me through thorns and thistles. And this is the long, arduous walk of faithfulness that God has revealed Himself in as I find His hand ever reaching for mine in the dark. 

Make me into an Isaiah, I pray. Let me be faithful, too.

You are, my child, He says. Persevere and walk on.

Desperation and Bravery

Image by Katie Zilcosky on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/katiezil03/11183859963/)

Image by Katie Zilcosky on Flickr (https://www.flickr.com/photos/katiezil03/11183859963/)

People have been telling me that I’m brave for writing about the things I do and putting myself out there the way I do, but can I just fess up to the honest-to-God truth that I have a hard time receiving that?

I don’t feel brave.

I feel desperate.

I don’t sit down with my laptop and Bible and ask myself, “Jessie, what courageous and bold things do you wish to declare over yourself and people today?” I don’t crack my knuckles as I set to writing and feel like I’m doing something victorious or brave.

You want to know how it really goes? While crying and praying and reading and thinking, God occasionally hits me with something that I can’t get out of my head, a truth I so desperately have longed to hear. And it’s so prominent, I feel the need to immediately pull out my laptop and write a post. I think to myself that if I can write these things down fast enough and put it out there for the world to see, then maybe I can believe these things for just a little while longer. I’m desperate to grab onto these truths before they escape me and I’m faced with another frustrating, tear-stained day.

You see, there are lies all around me and they are skilled in the art of imposing forgetfulness where truth is concerned.

I’m grateful that my attempt to grab onto truth and peace means something to you, but it doesn’t feel all that brave to me. Despite the messages I receive, the gratitude and compliments that come my way from strangers and friends, I feel like just one girl who pecks away at her keyboard because she simply doesn’t know what else to do.

The idea of me being brave feels farfetched in my mind, like a label I could never earn even as it’s shoved in my face by people who don’t really know me.

Writing doesn’t feel like an act of bravery. It feels like an act of desperation.

I am desperate to push these things out of me and place them onto paper or out into the world because the things God speaks over me are often forgotten when the enemy’s lies come back.

If you were really so brave, you wouldn’t hide behind a computer. You’d say things to people’s faces. You wouldn’t be so shy and force yourself to be alone. If you were really so brave, you wouldn’t be curled up in that chair, unable to move. You’d be out there, doing things. You’d be productive. You wouldn’t need to beg for strength just to face another day.

This morning, I was curled up in my bedroom chair, unable to move. I knew I should get up and do something. I should open my Bible and sip my coffee and believe the things God says. But instead, I was staring at the wall, questioning my existence, wishing for a different and improved version of the Jessie I live with every day.

And then I got a text that said things like how God is going to heal me and He’s going to answer my prayers and bring me out of this sadness. And all I wanted to do was retort with, “but I want to be healed now.” And I meant it. I was desperate.

Get on your knees and pray, I was then commanded. Whether the command came from heaven or from my mind, I was so desperate that I somehow found the strength to leave my cushion of sorrow and do just that in the middle of my bedroom floor.

Praying like this is a rare occurrence for me. Placing my knees on carpet and bowing my head to the ground felt foreign and awkward. Yet humble prayers soon tumbled out of my mouth. I don’t know what to do. God, I need you. I don’t even know what to say. I’m desperate.

Somewhere along the way, my desperation drove me to madness. I was mad enough to spit out the words, Do something! I don’t want to be this way. I want to feel lovely and beautiful and graceful. I don’t want to feel weak like this anymore. 

I want to be brave.

As I was on my knees and these words escaped my lips, a story of a desperate woman came to mind.

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with  him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. (Luke 7:36-38)

She was desperate. She was so desperate she was willing to enter in this man’s home, despite the judgmental things he would say about her. She was so desperate, she was willing to approach Jesus, give him her nicest perfume, and let him receive her sorrowful tears. She was so desperate, she found herself on the ground, grasping for even just his feet.

She was so desperate, she became brave.

And I realize now that maybe this is me, too. I see desperation while I am told I am brave, but perhaps the two can both be true.

Maybe I am brave after all. Not because I say bold words and write my heart out for the world to see, but because I’m desperate enough to sit down and do this. For myself. For you. For God.

I’m so desperate for the truth to be declared. I’m desperate for healing in my life. I’m desperate for God to be glorified through me. And this desperation has driven me to say things, do things, and believe things I wouldn’t otherwise. If I were this image of a normal nineteen-year-old with average hopes and stable emotions that I envision, would I have anything to say when I sit down to write?

I’m desperate and I do like to think that I’m brave. On a good day, at least. Who’s to say where I’ll be tomorrow? In the morning, you might find me again in my chair, unable to move.

But when I do move (and I always do), may my mind believe bold things, my hand write great things, and my heart know that I am brave.

This is my prayer. Not just for me, but for you, as well.

We all need to be told that we are brave. We don’t just need the world to say it; we need God to declare it.

And yes, we sometimes need desperation to drive us to believe it and be it.