First Family Photos {For Those Experiencing Firsts This Season}

It might seem small to some, but to us it was huge.

Family pictures.

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A friend posted on Facebook that her friend, a photographer, would be in town for the weekend and had openings to take family photos.  And something in my heart said…you should ask.  My best friend said…you should do this.

I did…and through a series of God events, someone gifted my family with a photo shoot.  (Thanks whoever you are!)

It was hard.  I am not sure exactly why; it just felt weird having pictures made with three people.  (We made it four by putting my niece, Chloe, in a few!)

Firsts are always hard, friends.

The first family photos after divorce.  The first Christmas after her death.  The first birthday without him.  The first ….{insert your first here}.

But in His strength, I pushed through, resisting the urge to hide under my covers.  I smiled. I laughed.  I held in tears.  My heart filled with pride as I watched Sarah Beth (aka amazing photographer) take pictures of my children, but I also hurt for them.  I couldn’t be more thankful for my new version of family, but an ache of “this isn’t how it should be” will (I think) be ever-present.

If you’re about to experience a first, God knows.  He understands.  He will be there.  And most of all…He loves you.  He wants to hear all about it – your laments and your thankfulness.

Always remember Paul’s words in his second letter to the Corinthians:

9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Praying for your firsts!

And thankful for these pictures…

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The Family Stump {Real Hope for a Tree} {Advent}

When you open up God’s love letter to us, the Bible, do you know what you find?  You find the family tree of Jesus.  You find the stories that trace the branches of Jesus’ family…And you go all the way back to the very beginning – our beginning.  And when you’re tracing that family tree of Jesus, guess what you find?  People who were big cheaters, bad liars, weaselly sneakers, battling brothers, fighting families, and all the beaten up and brokenhearted.  (Ever know any families like that?)

...And things got so rotten that his [Jesus] family tree looked more like the stump of a tree cut right off.  But…right out of this stump. This budding branch – this green shoot of new hope, new starts, new freedom for the whole family – was Jesus!  from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

I read this introduction and the book’s first entry on Sunday.  Nothing jumped out at me.  I loved the thought of starting this new tradition with my children, so I focused on them – on their hearts knowing Jesus and his lineage better.  On making memories. On spending intentional time together.

But, when my son, Owen, read these words aloud last night, I held my breath.  Suddenly, we weren’t a mother, daughter, and son squished together on our sofa starting a new tradition, learning about Jesus.

We were…are… a broken family.

We were…are… the stump.

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And my head takes this and runs with it:  Stumps aren’t beautiful like trees. Stumps announce rather loudly – the rest of me is missing.  Cut down, blown over, hauled away, and changed forever.

Who wants to be the stump? My heart laments as I listen to my children read.  I wanted to be the tree!  I remind God – again.

And my Hannah reads…When their family tree crashed to the ground, it crushed all of their hearts.  The stump – and all of their days – felt utterly hopeless.  Like their hearts had been cut right out of them.  

And my thoughts continue..Yes, yes it did.  Thanks for the reminder (or not).

And her words continue…Out of the stump of every family tree – comes the shoot of Jesus’ forever-love.  Jesus would go to impossible lengths to rescue you.

Gulp.

I know – He is saying – change your perspective, Sarah.  It’s ok to be the stump. It’s a chance to be new – to grow again.

From stump to tree to cross…the redemption story.

God doesn’t cut off all the big cheaters, bad liars, weaselly sneakers, battling brothers, fighting families, and brokenhearted from His family tree – He makes families just like these perfectly His!  He adopts all the messy and broken and imperfect people into His tree and His story and His heart, and He gives us His family name…

Cheaters, liars, sneakers, brokenhearted…any of that sound familiar?  Yes. I bet so.  It does to me.

But, did you read the rest?  He doesn’t cut them off.  Does NOT.  He makes them HIS.  He adopts the messy, the broken, the imperfect – just as they are – even the ones you don’t like – into HIS tree, His story, giving them His family name.

Really?  {I know this.  But something suddenly sounds different.}

Right when I decide to quiet myself and my family – stump and all.  Right when I decide I don’t have to be all or do all or understand all. Right when I decide I am tired, and I no longer can or want to keep up with whatever or whomever I am trying so dang hard to keep up with.

Right when I decide He is enough. This Christmas and forever. (Although I am SURE He will need to remind me.)

Right THEN, He speaks….

Jesus comes right to your Christmas tree and looks at your family and says, “I am your Rescuer, and I will set you free from all the brokenness and sinfulness and sadness. I’ll be the Gift, and I’ll take you.”

He sets me free from all brokenness, sinfulness, sadness. He is the Gift, my Rescuer. In fact, He finished that work two thousand years ago on a cross.

Who knew when I picked up this book  - when I decided that this Christmas needed to be different – that a mom living on a farm in Canada had written the words I’d need to hear long before those words landed in my hands.

Who knew I was white-knuckling hope.  Holding on with all I had, choosing to believe that He is a God of His promises even though I felt left and forsaken.

Who knew I would leave the church for a season, rejecting what the “church” had become to and for me.

Who knew that the marriage I fought for, the stuff I collected, and the image I crafted would pass away.

Who knew that a stump could transform into a tree once again.

He did. My Creator knew all along.

And He has known all along what you need, where you are, what it will take, and where to find you.

As our family grows from stump to tree again,  I am sure there will be pruning – some branches cut that I think need to  grow.  Still…

We will be a tree again.  We will.

For the Bible tells me so.

**from excerpts from Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room {Advent} {Just Say No to Busy}

It’s almost December.  The month in which we sing…

Joy to the World!  The Lord has come, let Earth receive her King!  Let every heart prepare Him room, And heaven and nature sing…

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But if most of us are honest…it’s also a stressful month:  tree decorating, present wrapping, gift giving, cookie baking, family visiting, party going, people pleasing, schedule stressing….

You know what I mean?

This season inherently creates stress.  We feel pressure to attend the parties, bake the cookies, buy the presents, light the candles… because have you seen Facebook and Pinterest?  And do you know how my family does it?  And have you been to the bookstore?  And have you seen the commercials? There is a LOT to do!

That’s the way Christmas is for many.  I can’t buy groceries without seeing all the baking, wrapping, decorating, and doing options.

But.

(And this isn’t meant to sound trite or to belittle the way you celebrate Christmas.)

What if ….

This year, you celebrate as YOU think Christmas should be celebrated?

You love baking?  Then bake away – and smile big – and share some with me;)

You love gift giving?  Then shop and give – and bless many!

You love holiday parties? Then attend and smile and hug and light up the room.

But, what if not? What if your baking skills are at best ok, and you don’t like it much anyway?  What if your funds for gift giving are sparse?  What if holiday parties make you break into hives?

Then…don’t.

Take a deep breath and decide:  This season will be different.  I will not rush and spend and bake  – unless I love it.  Unless I can.  Unless I feel compelled.  Unless it feels like a gift of this season and not a burden.

This year, I find myself a single mom.  I can’t do it all.  I don’t even want to do it all. What I want is for my sweet kiddos to embrace this season for what it truly is…

A time to celebrate our King – the One we worship.  A time to acknowledge He came and is coming.  When their voices sing “Joy to the World!” I want them to mean it.  To mean, HE is the joy to the world. He is the reason for our joy.

Not the latest and greatest gift.  Not the perfectly iced cookies.  Not even the running to and fro to parties.

He alone is the reason for and gift of this season.

A season that I LOVE – I am Christmas’ biggest fan.  I love my Christmas tree.  I bake because my Hannah loves it.  I love shopping to find the PERFECT gift and watching eyes light up on Christmas morning when the wrapping is undone.

Yet.

I do not want to get lost in my to-do list this year.  (As has happened most years.)

I want to make memories today and tomorrow –and throughout this season  - that someday we will look back on and say…remember when?  Not remember when I got the new eye shadow palette from Urban Decay or the new Skylanders game, but remember when we had a Jesse tree?  Remember when we read and prayed each night?

Because the truth is…I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas a few years ago.  But, I remember making candy with my family and giving it to everyone we knew. I remember losing the directions for our artificial tree and my dad drilling new holes to fit the branches.  I remember Christmas Eves at my aunt and uncle’s home and Christmas mornings at home.

And most of all…I remember Advent.

The weekly lighting of the candle at the churches of my youth.  I can see my little self sitting on the wooden pew – not older than 6 or 7  – as the acolytes lit the candle in the wreath on the table near the altar.

So, this year, Advent will be intentional for Hannah, Owen, and me.  We will sing Joy to the World, taking the directive for every heart to prepare Him room seriously.

If you’re not familiar with Advent, the word means “coming.”  And the celebration of Advent focuses on anticipating, longing for, His coming – both His birth and His second coming.

Because this baby born in a manger on Christmas Day died for me and you just 33 short years after His birth.  And after three days in the tomb, he rose again, promising us that he’s conquered death and will return again, allowing those who follow Him to live with Him for eternity.

That’s the meaning of Advent  – of this season – a time set aside to focus on Him and His coming.

If you’d like to join us in preparing Him room, we are using a few resources.

Our family: Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  This is a beautiful book  I purchased at a local bookstore for $12.  Each day includes a scripture reading, Bible story reading, thoughts to discuss, and family activities.

Me:  I purchased the Advent book from She Reads Truth.  And while there’s not time to get this book, I highly recommend the She Reads Truth app for your smart phone.  Each study costs either $0.99 or $1.99, and they are worth every penny.  For Advent, you can purchase O Come, Let Us Adore Him for $1.99.  Each day includes scripture, a short devotional, and comments from other readers.

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If you’d like to know more about Advent, I love these resources too:

Advent:  for the ones who know longing by Sarah Bessey

Advent 01: Hope from Ann Voskamp

Favorite Advent Resources from Tsh Oxenreider

The Season of Advent (and printable guide) from The Village Church

While I never know how much time I will have to write, I pray I am able to share what our family learns as we progress through this season of miracles.

Let every heart prepare Him room!

Watching God Work {from Michigan to WV to Honduras} {Amazing}

I am that lady.

And with those words, a widow connected to a missionary who had worked to continue the legacy her late husband.

The widow had never met the missionary – only communicated with her when the missionary sent her an email on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death, describing a house she planned to build in her husband’s honor to continue his legacy.

This story of Veronica and Jen began in that meeting (you can read about that beginning here).

And it continues today.

I am sitting outside the worship room in Valley of the Angels.  The doors are open – my feet propped on the threshold.  Veronica is at the front, sitting alone, singing…

This is my desire to honor you, Lord with all my heart, I worship you.

She’s in Honduras for the first time with her new husband, Steve – a gentle soul with a quick wit who loves and listens well.  And on Wednesday, Veronica and Steve joined our Women of Purpose team to build a house in honor of her late husband, Jeremy.

And this is a story only God – Creator of the Universe – could have written.

Here’s the short version…

Jeremy died suddenly at the age of 31 from a heart attack.  His widow, Veronica, began blogging to process her grief. Jen, a missionary in Honduras, read her blog upon recommendation from a friend.  God prompted Jen to build houses – in Jeremy’s honor – for men who are committed to raising Godly families.

Men who need a hand up, not a hand out.

Jen called it King’s Quarters – after Jeremy King and our King Jesus.

Three years ago, Jen and a short-term mission team built the first King’s Quarter for Freddy Moncada and his family.  And after connecting with Veronica in person (she and Steve recently moved to West Virginia from Michigan), we invited her to come along with us to Honduras to meet Freddy and see the first house built in Jeremy’s honor.

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Freddy with Veronica and Steve

When we arrived, Freddy was delighted to see us and remembered Jen immediately.  He also remembered Jeremy’s story and was anxious to tell us how he had stewarded his gift well by expanding his original house, making a woodworking shop in the home.

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Freddy and a man from his church, building cabinets

 

Veronica and Steve talked with Freddy, and it was so sweet to see him explain to them that he is continuing Jeremy’s legacy.  Freddy has become a successful cabinet and furniture maker, which provides for his family.

Veronica and Steve also came with us to build the second King’s Quarters for Arlin, Kenia, and baby Ismari.

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Veronica and Steve digging the post hole for the house

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Veronica pounding nails as wall one goes up

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The Women of Purpose team building the second King’s Quarters with the help of Mark and Lori Connell

Standing in the finished house, dedicating it to God, explaining we built it to honor Jeremy, commissioning Arlin to love and serve his family well….it’s really impossible to convey.

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Dedicating the house to God

 

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Jen explaining Veronica and Jeremy’s story to Arlin, impressing upon him the importance of continuing Jeremy’s legacy of faithfulness to God. A tearful Arlin accepted this mission with excitement, asking us to pray for him – that he would stay close to God and raise his children in a Godly home.

 

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Arlin, Kenia, and Ismari with their new home!

 

I can’t begin to communicate all the “coincidences” that had to occur in order for Jen to hear of Veronica and Veronica to meet Jen and for Veronica to join us in Honduras.  The in-betweens?   The ways our sovereign God wove and connected these moments – these lives…

Veronica.  Jeremy,  Jen.  Freddy.  Arlin.  Kenia.  Isamari.  Steve.  Our team.

Unbelievable.  Amazing.  Heartbreaking. Hopeful.  Humbling.

Veronica said it best: “One of the coolest moments in life is when you see God putting the puzzle pieces together right before your eyes.”

Jen reading Veronica’s blog.  Veronica speaking at Women of Purpose and mentioning Honduras.  Veronica and Steve joining our team.  Visiting Freddy.  Building a home for Arlin.  All puzzle pieces connected and placed right before our eyes over the past few months.

The pieces made and placed by a God who knew us before we were born.   A creator who knit each of us in our mother’s womb.  The One who goes before us and stands behind.  The God who spoke this world and each of us into being.

He knew.  He planned.  He sees the entire puzzle – even if we can only see one piece.

And I believe He’s smiling as Arlin and Kenia make a home.  As Veronica and Steve build a marriage and a family.  As Jen continues serving the people of Honduras, loving them well.  As the Women of Purpose team comes to Honduras year after year to pour into missionaries.

He smiles and resides at the center of it all.  Thank you, Jesus.

Please continue to pray for our time at Revive – and for Veronica.  She will be here, loving and serving missionaries this Sunday, which is also the four-year anniversary of Jeremy’s death.

Another piece of the puzzle.

He SEES You {at Sisterhood Revive in Honduras}

Thank you…when I think of you, I am reminded of New Testament writers like Paul, Timothy, and Peter.  They wrote letters to and visited churches  - then wrote more letters and went back to check on those following Jesus.  That’s what you do for us.  You come – you share and love us, and then you come back year after year and check on us – you check on our families and our ministries.  We are missionaries, but so are you.  So, thank you – thank you.  There are no words for how much your coming means to us.

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These are the (paraphrased) words of a sweet missionary sister this evening at Revive – a four-day retreat for missionaries living and serving in Honduras.  As our team stood in front of the missionaries at the retreat’s opening, she thanked us for coming, for loving, for caring.

My chest swelled with emotion as I listened to her words seep through her choked-back tears.

It’s hard to accept a thank you when you feel so inadequate.  You feel you’re here on mission- answering His call.  And isn’t that the least you can do?  Answer the call of and follow the one who died for you on a cross?  To receive thanks for following is humbling- and overwhelming.

I think I speak for our entire team when I say that our time in Honduras is a privilege – an honor. We come because we love God and these women who serve him daily in Honduras.  We consider walking alongside these women for four days thanks enough.

And, if you’re a woman in the states who sponsored a missionary to be here this weekend, we say thanks – and we know thanks aren’t adequate.  We know you make this possible. We consider you, too, ones who keep coming back and checking in on your sisters.  Loving them.  Praying for them.  Caring about their work here.

Because…

Don’t we all simply want THAT?  To know we are appreciated and loved. To know someone sees and appreciates what we do.  To know someone cares about you while you serve either in a third-world country or in your living room.

To know someone sees past your talents – past your gifts – past your title of missionary or mother or sister or wife and friend.

To you. 

To who you are.

Not the one who writes or the one who serves in Honduras or the mom of so and so, but the one who is His daughter.  The one who loves well and lives for the kingdom.

To know someone sees your heart.

The heart that wants more than anything to follow Jesus and love others.

Tonight, as we worship with our sisters in Honduras, I am reminded that He revives us; He is our Cornerstone and Anchor.  He alone can save.  And He is the NOTICER.

He sees me and you, sister.

He sees you serving in Honduras.  He sees you serving your family dinner.  He sees you loving your neighbor.  He sees you leading the Bible study.  He sees you loving your husband.  He sees you teaching students and wiping noses.  He sees you up in the middle of night with a crying baby – a sick child.

He sees YOU.  And he LOVES you.

Psalm 139: 1-18

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

Take these promises – this  knowledge  – with you, sister, knowing you are fearfully and wonderfully made, and He sees you.

I am looking forward to an amazing weekend in Honduras!  Please join me in praying for revival.

Dear Depression {Because So Many Suffer Silently} {Day 19 of 31 Days of Letters}

From my beautiful friend, Krysten.  When I get mucked up in theology, she answers.  When I need an ear to complain to, she lends one.  She might not live close to me, but she’s always just a text away…ready to listen and love – and correct.  She helps me grow in grace.  She also struggles with depression – to which she wrote this letter…

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Dear Depression,

Of all the uninvited guests I can think of, you are the worst.

I mean, you steal from me. You insult me. You lie to me and get in the way of so many good things in life—love, friendship, health, joy.

Even a door-to-door salesman is less bothersome than that.

The worst part is, you make it so hard for me to talk about you. Your boss, my enemy, chose his target well. I’m supposed to be the encourager. I’m supposed to be the one with the positive outlook – the determination to do tough things. Those are the works that have been prepared in advance for me to do. And I love doing them.

So it makes sense that my enemy chose you to squat on my doorstep as often as you can because your visits often erode my willingness to carry out those purposes.

And to make it even harder, because of my love for Jesus, there are some people who say that I shouldn’t even struggle with you. Some of them even say that you don’t exist or that I must be doing something wrong if you stop by even once in a while. They say you are evidence in my life that I’m not loving Jesus enough.

I know these folks probably mean well, and I know the perspective they are coming from. But the world we live in isn’t perfect, and because of that we have imperfect, annoying things like you, Depression. You are a result of this terribly imperfect world.

But because of Jesus, I can put you into perspective.

I have become much better at spotting your grey cloud way off in the distance and recognizing that you’re heading my way. You used to be so crafty that I couldn’t see you ahead of time and couldn’t fight you off. You’d just envelope me before I knew what was happening. And all of a sudden, I would be in that “funk” that I didn’t know how to explain.

But now, I can see the cloud and brace myself.  I know the times of year that you tend to rear your ugly head more than usual. I can rally my friends to help pray you away, and even if you stop by, your visits aren’t nearly as long and painful.

Because the One who made me reminds me that He has also remade me. I am a new creation, and the old things have gone away. I don’t have to hold on to the things in my past that typically fuel your accusations and insults.

And when you visit to berate me about how things are going now and try to show me that I am not really worth it or not really dedicated, I know how to speak truth right back at you to combat your lies.

You are losing your power over me. And I think that each day, you are starting to forget my address just a little.

Before long, you’ll see my resolve strengthened even more. You will hear my laughter and become sullen because you’ll see how much more difficult your job is going to be. You will see the group of friends around me that now know about your visits and how they refuse to allow you to come near me. You’ll be headed my way and you will hear so many prayers on by behalf from off in the distance, you won’t even be able to continue your journey in my direction. I’m looking forward to that day.

Until then, Depression, you may stop by a few times. I know this. I can sense it. But because I have listened to my Creator and have told the people I love how often you really visit, I have a community helping to defend me now. They are all keeping watch for me, looking for you to creep in, and calling you out before you even reach the edge of town.

I look forward to the day that even if you somehow make it to my doorstep and ring my doorbell, I can look through the peephole and just refuse to answer because I know who I am and Whose I am, and I can simply say that you are not welcome here.

There’s too much life to be lived.

Krysten

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from Krysten to me…

This was hard for me to write. Even though I have never been diagnosed with clinical depression, it is something I have struggled with much of my life. Like the letter says, I have become better at fighting it off, but only because I have opened up much more about it in recent years. If I had continued to shrug it off as a weird “funk” that comes around sometimes, I would still be trying to ward it off myself.

Being a follower of Jesus, I’ve been surprised at some folks’ reactions to opening up about my struggle with depression. I’ve been made to feel like I was the cause of it, because surely a “real” Christian wouldn’t struggle with such a thing. But I know that’s not true, and even though I don’t know exactly why this happens or exactly how to keep it at bay, I know that God says to call to Him and He will answer and show us great and mighty things which we cannot know on our own (Jeremiah 33:3).  So that’s what I do. I call to Him, He helps me understand the underlying things that cause this and what I can do about them.

The number one thing I would suggest to someone struggling with depression is to open up about it. Talk to trusted people who are already part of your story, and tell them that this thing is in your life. Then it’s not just one person fighting; it’s a team of people praying and watching to help fend this off.

Community is the key to surviving depression (and most other things, in my opinion!). I still get surprised looks from folks when I tell them that I deal with bouts of depression. They tend to cite my bubbly personality and my typically cheerful demeanor as the cause of their surprise. I get that.

But it just reminds me of that quote: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. We see what is on the outside, but God sees the heart. We need to ask Him to help us see each other the way He sees us, so we can see those hard battles and help each other fight them.

Friends struggling with depression – don’t suffer in silence – alone. Reach out.

Jesus followers – try to understand the symptoms and consequences of depression so you can love others well.  The one suffering might tell you she’s fine – or to go away. She might reject invitations to dinner or events.  She might ignore your texts or show up smiling, acting as if life is perfect. Please, show up at her doorstep – be persistent – don’t take no for an answer.  Invest.  Help her seek help.

Praying for those today who suffer from mild and clinical depression. Regardless of where you are on the severity spectrum, you are loved by Him.  You’re worth it.

Much love,

Dear Revenge {Because We’d All Like to Get Even} {14 of 31 Days of Letters}

Dear Revenge,

I was inclined to seek you.  My nature – my flesh – wanted nothing more than to survey the past two years, make a list, and set you into motion. One Facebook post with names could correct so much.

It’s tempting to engage with you.  Tempting to list names and offenses.

Why?

Because it’s hard to hear the rumors and speculation about your life from those you thought loved you.  It’s hard to remain silent when you know truth.  It’s hard to see others happy at your expense.

Relationships.  Life. They’re hard. So, I thought I could clarify. Explain. Defend.  {Avenge.}

And a few times, I chose you, revenge.  I confronted and shared names.  In fact, at one time, you plagued my thoughts.  I’d sit and think of ways to use you best.  To make those who hurt me suffer too.  I had decided…the next time someone says, “How are you doing?” I plan to give an honest answer.  Isn’t honesty the best policy?  {Insert wrong motives and much ick here.}

I considered only including the inclusive and always excluding the exclusive.  I wanted them to know how it felt to be left out as they so easily ignored and rejected others.  How it felt to watch their chumminess with those who had hurt me so deeply.

Yet.

Nothing about those plans ever set right in my heart.  The minute I’d be ready to share or confront or post…nothing. I simply could not do it.  You’d be right on the tip of my tongue, revenge.  One well-placed truth, and I’d be even – and you knew it.

You knew how to keep me drowning in the “not fairs” and “what ifs.”

Still.  Day by day I vented to and processed with the few who knew, but remained silent among others.

I refused you, revenge.  Sometimes it was second by second, minute by minute.  {Sometimes it is still second by second, minute by minute.}

All times it was only by His grace that I never published the post or finished the sentence.  It was only by His grace on me that I smiled and remembered who I am – that I am His.  And it was only by His grace that I am forgiven for the times I slipped up and said too much or spewed hate.

It is only by His grace that I say to you, revenge:  you are not mine.  You are His.  He will employ you on my behalf someday.  I don’t need to hurl you in the direction of my enemies because He has already won the battle.

What others meant for evil, He can turn for good.

I am no longer a victim, preoccupied those who discarded me and pondering why.  Instead, I choose joy, knowing my exclusion is irrelevant because I am included in the best group of all:  God’s children.

I am His.  I am part of His kingdom, His chosen children.  The kindness and approval of others would be nice, but they’re not necessary.  Their apologies would be helpful to my heart, but they’re not essential to my forgiveness of them or His forgiveness of me.

I reject you, revenge, because I know who goes before me and I know who stands behind:  The God of angel armies.  I rest in knowing I am forgiven by His grace – a forgiveness and grace available to me and my worst enemies equally.

That’s the God I serve.  A loving and just God.

So, I walk away from you,  revenge, enveloped in the peace that comes from knowing Jesus is Lord.  Not you.  Not them. Not this world.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:  “If your enemy is hungry, feed him;   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”  21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12: 13-41

My motive – my heart – will be love, not appearances or “supposed to’s.”  I will see each “enemy” as an image bearer of Christ.  Living in harmony as far as it depends on me.  Overcoming evil with good.  Repaying no one for wrongs either real or perceived.

And, His grace will be sufficient – always.

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Friends,

Have you been wronged?  Excluded?  Made fun of?  Gossiped about?  Do people believe things about you that you know are not true?  Have you suffered at the hands of others – perhaps intentionally – perhaps unintentionally?

It hurts, huh?  I acknowledge your pain and the injustice.  I pray for your heart and healing.  But, I ask…and this is a VERY hard ask…would you begin to let it go?  {Speaking to myself here too.}  Your Creator will avenge each wrong on your behalf.  He promises.

Your Savior knows much about being “wronged”  and blamed for things He did not do.  In fact, He’s an expert.  So, we can learn how to react by following his example:

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 1 Peter 2: 23-24

Let’s imitate Him. (1 Corinthians 1:11).

Much love,

Dear Porn {from a Wife and Friend} {11 of 31 Days of Letters}

from a my good friend…

Attached is my letter to Porn. I write this letter as a wife. A wife who has seen her husband work to be free from a lifetime of this junk, after being molested by a close family member for years. I write this as a formerly promiscuous gal who was groomed to believe that porn was her instruction manual, both for how she should look and for how she should act in order to become what men want. 

I write this as a woman who has seen victory happen from both of these perspectives, but only because of Jesus and His word. As a wife I have had to fix my eyes on Jesus and know that He will take care of me in those moments when the enemy is speaking lies, telling me that if I were just more [fill-in-the-blank], my husband wouldn’t have this problem. 

My husband had to turn completely to Jesus and ask Him to go back to the root of this addiction and rip it out, then continually surrender himself every single moment when the sin tries to come back at him. That promiscuous girl in me had to ask Jesus what really made her think that was okay or expected and… Trust Him to redefine her worth every day. 

So, although I wanted to be hateful and spew quite a few choice words to this perversion, I decided to take a tone of putting porn in its place. Although it seems as though its getting more rampant by the moment sometimes, there are also big movements starting that are anti-porn and the messages it spouts. One of them is fightthenewdrug.org, which seeks to educate how porn actually acts like cocaine or heroine in your brain and rewires things in a real bad way. Just one example of the way people are starting to view porn differently – thank God!
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Dear Porn,

I am sure you’ve probably already noticed this, but we are on to you.

For all these years now, you’ve been in the dark, hidden behind closed doors and in seedy little shops dotted across those parts of town. You’ve been difficult to access, shrouded in shame. Your acquaintances have always had to dodge in and out of the shadows to meet up with you and make do with your company in secret.

But times, they have changed.

Now you are everywhere. Literally everywhere. You boast about how you don’t have to wait for anyone to come to you… you can be wirelessly delivered right to us on an invisible cloud. You relish the billions of dollars you rake in, and you love how seemingly normal you’ve become in our world. Millions of us have bought into your lies and images, becoming more and more lewd by the gigabyte.

And yeah, we know… you’ve always been all “don’t be a prude” and “it’s my right” and “freedom of speech” and such. What a joke. Everything about you is fake except the extent of the damage you cause.

You are every bit the opposite of freedom.  You’re straight-up slavery, exploitation, and lack of options for the ones you claim to employ. With one hand, you wreck and ruin your “stars” by coercing them into a life of degradation, cruelty, drugs, and disease.

On the other side of your business, you’re all about misplacing desires. You slowly kill hearts by enticing eyes. You laugh at how so many log on to exchange intimacy for something instant, real connection for the commotion of false variety. One lingering look can quickly spread and infect an entire family, city, nation, and generation.

But like we said, times have changed.

We are onto you.

We are learning more and more all the time about your harmful effects. We know about the connection you share with your cousins: rape, domestic violence, child abuse, sex trafficking, and the like. [I'd add adultery.]

What? You didn’t think we would catch on to the fact that you change the way our brain thinks? You really thought we wouldn’t notice that people are heading to counseling in droves because of the damage you’ve caused?

You didn’t think our husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers would get to a breaking point? You never imagined our wives, daughters, mothers, and sisters had a threshold?

I see. It never dawned on you that people would start bringing you out into the light. Talking about you. Exchanging “aha” moments when they realized they’d also been a victim of your drug in their veins.

The light bulbs are going on, and folks are tired of being lied to.

We want our minds back. We want trust back. We want intimacy back. We want reality back.

And we know you can’t help us with any of that, because you stole those very things from every single one of us who has ever wasted a second on you.

But there is One who can help us get those seconds back. With His name, we can forget yours. By renewing our minds with His words, we can lose the fake scripts that sludge through the depths of our minds. He enables us to take every thought captive and give it to Him so we can override the images that once polluted our memories.

His name is Jesus. And with Him, on a daily basis, we can fight off the likes of you… the predators who seek to steal, kill, and destroy every good thing in our lives.

Porn, you are not without consequence in any way, shape, or form. But you are limited. Because the One who is in us is greater than any one who is in this world, including you.

We are onto you, and we are guarding our hearts by turning our eyes away from you and fixing them on Jesus.

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Friends,

After sharing the first letter to pornography, those of you struggling with this evil emerged (literally) from the woodwork…a few examples…

A friend who works in psychology at a college gave me insight into how viewing porn affects/rewires your brain.  She told me of the many girls and boys on college campuses that are addicted and a new task force at her college to help them (and it’s a CHRISTIAN college, friends.)

Another friend sent the letter above, telling me she’d already begun her letter to porn before I shared the first one.

Let’s face it:  porn is easily accessible to young children or ANYONE. Seems every kid above age 10 has a phone with data – one innocent search away from seeing something he or she should not see.  I know you don’t think it will happen to your kids, but I am begging you to consider the friends who might show them and the accidents that could happen when searching and set the parental controls on their phones.  There also apps you can install to PROTECT them.

Some resources:  (in addition to the regular filters on EVERY phone, computer, and tablet)

And, parent, aunt, uncle – if YOU are the one struggling with this addiction, seek help.  It’s real and it’s destructive.

Praying for our world today and the evil that can so easily permeate our hearts.  I, for one, feel the church can NOT sit by and say nothing.  I am not advocating a picket line or Facebook campaign, for the world is already very clear on what we are against. Instead, I am advocating loving those who need help, embracing them when they confess and walking alongside them as image bearers of our Creator.

Much love,

Dear Pornography {from a Young Lady} {10 of 31 Days of Letters)

Rarely do I open my messages with a gasp.  An audible, hand-over-mouth gasp.  This message came to Making Much of Him 365 on Facebook recently (edited for privacy)…

I have been reading the letters you have been posting on your blog and decided to write one of my own to a struggle that I have been dealing with for some time.  Other than a therapist (and someone close to me), you are the only other person I have told.  Tonight is it for me though.  I am making a HUGE effort from now on to kick this in the butt.  God is good even through the struggles.  

I glance down the page to the letter’s title, wondering what issue this young lady could be struggling with.  And I am shocked.  My chest tightens and every, single stereotype I had went flying.

Dear Pornography.  

This young lady – age 19 – a gal that had been in my small group and part of my group at a youth retreat – a church girl – had been struggling with pornography since age 6.  Yes, 6.  And no one knew…knows.

I admit…I thought porn was the struggle for teen boys and older men, not girls and women.  So, I did a little research. And, friend, PLEASE listen.  It can happen to your daughter (or son or wife or husband or friend).  In this age of phones and tablets and computers, porn is readily available to anyone.  Please do NOT say “this would never happen to my daughter.”

Because it CAN.

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Dear Pornography,

You’ve changed my world. You’ve ruined my brain. But more importantly, you’ve ruined the lives of so many men, women, boys, and girls around the world.

You are evil.

What was supposed to be something to be cherished and treasured between a husband and wife has become maimed and twisted into utter evil.

My brother got hooked on you, and because of you, he tried to sleep with me. I was 6 years old. Now, 13 years later, you still haunt me. You still control my brain. I often manage to avoid  you for a few months, but always- somehow- you become present again.

I’ve tried time and time again to get rid of you for good. I have cried out to God, completely willing to put you down, placing you behind me.

Why do you keep coming back?

I never thought that walking in on my brother while he viewed lusty images would leave me this broken. As a curious 6-year-old, I unknowingly handed my mind and my body over to you – something that I can’t and have not been able to control.

I wish I had never met you. I wish I could take it back now. I wish that someone would have protected my brother – protected me – from you. The images, the memories, the pain – it’s all branded on to my brain and will be for the rest of my life.

I wish I could say you’re in the past. That God has healed me completely of viewing you. That I don’t remember anything about you; that there is no evidence of you in my head or heart; that I have 100% control over myself and where my mind takes me. But truth is, I don’t.

I don’t have my crap together.  I don’t have the power in me to completely get rid of every sin in my life, especially you.  I am broken. I am hurt.

I am human.

God knows my heart. God hears my prayers.

Someone might ask, “If God hears my prayers, then why has He not taken this burden from me? Why hasn’t He given me new memories and destroyed the old? Where is the rescue? Where is He now?”  I’ve asked myself these questions many times. And here’s the truth…

God created this world. He created man to live with Him, to be perfect with Him. But, we are human. We gave into temptation. We fell to sin. WE ALL FALL TO SIN.  God sees our suffering. He saw it then and He sees it now. He knows our hearts, our desires, our temptations, our guilt. So He sent Jesus.

Perfect. Breathtaking. Beautiful. Jesus.

The only perfect thing to come to our world. So perfect, in fact, that He is the only one who can save us. He KNEW the liars, the failures, the scum, the bad, the ugly, the hurt, the suffering, the one in need, the one without earthly need, the one who was happy, the sad, the sinful.

I have learned that I CANNOT carry all of my burden myself. My friends cannot carry my burden. My parents cannot carry my burden. Therapists, teachers, mentors, etc. No one is perfect enough, or strong enough, to carry my burden.

Except Jesus….

You see, the beauty in my hurt and the perfection in my story is Christ. Because though He could have chosen to go to the better people first, He came to me. Straight to me, and picked me up. Though I grow faint and get weak, He is strong. Every time I fail. He is there. When I sin. He takes that sin and casts it as far as the East is from the West.

He makes me new, time and time again.

And though I don’t deserve it, by His grace I am new. I am strong. And I am getting back up, one more time, to kick you in the butt, porn. I hope that tonight was the last time I ever give in to you, but I know that if it is not, I can look forward to the day that Jesus picks me up one last time and takes me home with Him where I cannot sin any more.

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She’s right.  He is the ONLY way to freedom. (Galatians 3:22; John 8:36; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Psalm 118:5).  The One who is strong when we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  The only One who is making all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Willpower only works for a season.  “Want to” ends when our hearts and heads become clouded with desires.

But, Jesus never leaves us.  Never forsakes us.

What sin is holding you prisoner?  Will you write a letter to it, expressing your hate and surrendering it to Jesus? He wants to hear your heart. He desires to help you and work all things together for his glory.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10

Much Love,

To the Pro-Life Christian {Be Kind} {9 of 31 Days of Letters}

Yesterday, I shared a friend’s letter to her daughter – the daughter she aborted at age 16 after being raped.  The same friend wrote today’s letter.  I’d ask you to read To My Aborted Daughter before reading today. My heart – her heart – is understanding and grace.  Loving others.  Join us as we grow in grace together.

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Dear Pro-Life Christian,

I am not writing this to combat your convictions, but would you take a minute to look at the woman behind the story.

This is not about arguing the sanctity of life or when the fetus becomes a baby.  It is about stopping for a moment to consider the hurt in a woman’s heart that would bring her to such a choice.   This is never an easy or simple decision.  There is never a win-win choice.

Hurts, deep bleeding wounds cloud the choice to walk into a clinic.

Right now, there is an article floating around about a rape victim who chose to keep and raise her child.  I praise her courage and strength to speak out in a culture of secrets. However, would you take a moment and consider how your comments may cause another wound for a different rape victim who made a different choice?

Unintentionally, you praise one and condemn the other.

She cannot undo her decision to kill her child, but she now must live with two gaping wounds instead of one.  Please consider how your words may act as salt instead of  healing balm.

When these articles flood our newsfeed, great condemnation washes over us when we nonchalantly scroll through the daily postings.  In one simple moment of browsing, I find myself drowning in shame and guilt all over again.

I have to choose to fight for breath. Choose to reclaim the Truth.  Choose to live in grace.  Choose to grieve a stolen life all over again.

I know this is not your intention when sharing your convictions or posting article; however, consider us as you post article after article on your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram about the great sin of abortion.   Please stop and consider 33% of women within their child-bearing years have had an abortion. That could possibly mean that out of your 150 female friends on Facebook, 49 may be suffering in silence – drowning in their own shame.

These are your grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, daughters, and friends.  We have a name and a story, a deep wound.  Most of us know what we did was wrong; we live with our grief daily.

We want to fight for the unborn babies too, but would you consider a different way?  Would you be open to trying another platform? How about serving at a local crisis pregnancy center or doing a walk for life?

We want you to be passionate.  We need you to stand up for those babies, but we need you to stand up AND be sensitive to us lost and hurting women.

Women like me.  Will you consider me?

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Most of us have “triggers” – those posts we read on social media or those stories we hear in church or on TV that make us cringe.  When I see posts or hear messages about marriage I cringe – as that superficial, surface, “laugh your way to a better marriage” advice didn’t “work” for me.

When it comes to triggers, I’ve had some tell me – get over it.  Be free from it, so there is no trigger.  I understand the heart behind such advice, but those walking through hard might not be there yet – and might not be for years.  (See To Healing)

So, when we decide to debate on social media, let’s be kind, loving one another.  Let’s be sensitive and give grace.  Let’s listen and understand.

Above all, let’s pray for those who live with such difficulty.  We serve a God of love and grace who meets each of us just where we are, so let’s strive to meet others just where they are with open arms.

{And if you’re a staunch supporter of any movement – Pro-Life Christians included – who already choose kindness and grace, thank you.  Truly, you’re making a difference simply by handling your convictions with humility and love. }

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble.” James 4:6

Much Love,