Tuesday, January 29, 2013

In Which I am Learning to Be Set Free

I went back to my hometown last week for a baby shower. I found myself driving down Manchester Road as glimpses of a life long past flashed before me. At some point, I had to pull over.

I sat there in front of Target towards the very edge of the parking lot where my mascara-drugged eyes wouldn't scare little children as my frustration pent up began to flood through my desperate pleas. God, why did that girl from France have to die before she heard the gospel and why did you have to send her to hell? Why does it feel like nobody cares? That nobody cares there are thousands of internationals among us desperate for any sort of Truth and they leave with ten extra pounds a few new phrases and assurance that we all love the same God and it ends happily ever after.

Why are my some of my friends, the ones that God has called me to, why aren't they getting it? Why are we all so messed up and WHERE ARE YOU? Why is sin so rampant around me and freedom such an abstract concept? Why do you allow a tsunami to kill thousands, many of who don't know you?

And as I drive down this road and remember the good ole days, how could it possibly be that at least two-thirds of those friends, the same ones that waned me from milk and food that lasts, how could they walk away? How could you let them? They loved you and I know it was genuine—but salvation lost is impossible so I don't understand? So few of us are even crawling to the finish line, and as I near graduation the world just looks a lot darker then it did fresh out of high school.

Oh sweet Jesus, I believe. Help my unbelief.

Anyone relate or am I crazy here? Do you ever question God or wrestle with the darkness?

Habakuk questioned God too—and even longed to see justice.
Oh Lord, how long will I cry to you for help?
Cry to you 'violence' and you will not save?
Justice never goes forth!

And the Lord replies,
Look among the nations and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told...

Then God raises up the most merciless nation to shame the next worst nation.

"How can we be happy in such a messed up world? All the while trying to please God and know Him?" the pastor asks this week and my heart quickens. Did he hear me yelling in the car outside of Target? No, of course not Courtney, you were in another city. You're losing it. As chill bumps wind themselves up my skin, I realized a simple solution—maybe God actually heard me that day and was about to talk to me so very audibly through this man behind the pulpit. Just maybe.

"We must realize He has a plan--and we must rejoice in that plan," He explains.

I've been in Job these days, but I didn't even see it until He said it to the congregation. There is no fault found in questioning God—but at the end of the day the answer doesn't really matter because He can use whatever He wants, however He wants, whenever He wants to do whatever He wants. In other words, He could lead my international friends to Christ through the death of Lucie or through our weekly bible study—it really doesn't matter how He does it, so that can't be our only desire in asking.

Your aim in asking God questions should be how you can praise Him in the midst of the trial or doubt because this is the only answer that will sustain you. {Pastor Mike, UBC}

And God continues..
Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end--it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

So are you meaning to say that even if the world seems dark and it doesn't seem to be letting up even in the weeks that are passing, well you just want me to wait—not only wait, but praise you while I do?

As my eyes are opened to what is written, I see the way this vision turns the abstract longing into flesh it out day to day freedom. Let us remember that God sees the evil of the world and in fact is using these enemies and darkness to fulfill His plan, just as He did in Habakuk—and answers or not faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word.

I see darkness where I am and I lose hope. But when I see where I will be, I praise. So, let us learn to praise God in the darkness for the light that is coming as though we were already there. I think this is where the abstract freedom is chipped away so we can know the real stuff. It changes you, ya know?

As this battle continues to rage within me today, I am praising because the assurance of my hope is not in this messed up world, but rather in the one to come—freedom, no matter the circumstance.

Oh friends, the Lord is in His holy temple.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Oh That Pinterest Baby Shower {& a Poem for the Mamma}

For the Mamma-to-Be,
Well, you’re gunna be a mamma and it is a crazy story
God’s grace so evident as these months have testified to His glory
I don’t know how to make sense of these words in my head
Because there have been so many times wise words you have said

These six years have been sweet and you’ve taught me so much
Like how to cook and clean and use a vacuum and such
You led me to Jesus and have walked with me as I grow up
Your titles could fill a book by now—but these days, mamma is what’s sup!

I can’t wait to tell those boys all kinds of stories like how I gave you shingles
But don’t worry, I won’t ever tell them to make an account on Christian Mingle
An incredible mamma I know you will be
Mostly because you’ve gotten lots of practice being one for me!

These two that squirm around inside
It’s hard to believe they’re just along for the ride
You might walk a little slower and make more frequent stops
But don’t worry someday soon you’ll pop!

I can’t wait to meet them, to touch them, to kiss those cheeks
Don’t worry, I promise I’ll help you out when I can, even if they spring a leak 
The truth is you can’t mess em up too bad
Even if they do some things that make you so mad

Your love is unconditional, unchanging, and true
Only by the grace of God that lives in you
A husband to lead and a marriage held in Christ tight
What an incredible blessing these boys can cast worry out of sight

They will grow up in a house built on rock , not perfect of course
But that too is a blessing because God’s grace becomes their source
So on those days when sleep doesn’t come
Just remember He is always faithful and then some

It’s a new sanctification, a calling to disciple and train
And I know God will use it and He will also keep you sane
The news of two boys, comes great weight and even greater joys
As you begin to see your role of raising men from these boys

Just that you see the need and are ready for the ride
Leaves me in awe of you Ash, don’t worry each step He will guide
As through singlehood, courtship, marriage, lives given and one taken too soon
You have unceasingly walked faithful to the one who is promised and true

That is why I know and proclaim it today
Even through motherhood I know in your love for Christ you will not sway
I pray from tiny seed hidden away inside to men grown and married
That Si and Eli will always proclaim it is only by God’s grace they have been carried

Life is hard and messy and sometimes quite dark
And it is in this world these two boys in your womb can be that spark
Whether football star or living across the world with plenty of work to do
God’s word says He formed them, He set them apart too

He is the author and perfecter, the giver of life
And I pray these boys always remember the hope and future in the midst of life’s strife
Ash you’re the bestest and these boys already agree
After all you’re the Mamma, don’t you see?

Love you Ashy...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Scale

scale: that dreadful square thing with two perfectly matched places to hold my feet which used to hold my heart too. But now, I think of other things.

At my favorite little hole in the wall Thai place they asked me last night how hot I wanted my PadThai, on a scale of 1 to 5. I said a 3 because a little nose running would help my sniffles without the belly ache. In this case the number means enjoying my dinner or stop breathing.

The impossible--a movie I saw the other night about a family surviving the psunami and as I watch in horror and emotion floods my face, I cannot imagine placing this devastation on a mere scale all summed up by a single number jotted down in a record book kept on some shelf somewhere. The weight of it all leaves me a little speechless still. The way we could possibly try to sum up all that destruction and death and pain and brokenness in a single number on a single scale. The way we try to do that with human life.

In international ministry we talk in terms of a scale of negative ten to positive ten and the students we're reaching out to fall somewhere across it. I share a number and everyone knows what it means. Sometimes I even beg Jesus to work in terms of these numbers. Just bring her to a one before May, please Lord. In light of natural disaster and my Thai dinner, I think these eyes are seeing the human heart differently, a little more weighty then a single number across a scale, perhaps. A little more broken and whole lot more deceitful.

I think sometimes we can place so much trust in a number to tell us something and we forget the weight behind it. We forget the test and the pain and the ashes--and we forget what beauty looks like.

For instance, when I share that my Korean friend is at minus two, it says a lot. But what that leaves out is the night where we talked about the darkness God brought me out of and her connection to that over dinner last month. It doesn't account for the friend that died last week and the conversation about life after death which left her wanting more. Nor does it show the snapshot of her opening a Christmas present in my hometown {given to her by my Jewish mom} and the way she brought my broken family together. It doesn't tell anyone about the way she grew up alone. Nor does it testify to the day that the church over there told her she was hell-bount and belonged there. See, that two means something, it does—but without the ashes the beauty isn't quite so glorious, is it?

And so now when I square up my feet every Thursday {and I wait a little bit anxiously} for that number to reveal itself, it says a lot less about who I am and a lot more about what God is doing in me.

The truth is the scale was home to my greatest enslavement those eight years and today I praise God for His grace, binoculars to these wondering eyes that are learning beauty.

And as I begin to see life in terms of scales--in terms of numbers that tell me how vast a tragedy or how dangerous a food, I don't really think a single number could never account for life lost in that psnumai--nor could a single number depict my worth.

This week I bet those chocolate covered pretzels and gingerbread pita chips {those things have got to be drugged or something} that have been sustaining a large part of my diet might show up in those three digits that light up. That used to consume me. It used to ruin me. But now it's okay because what that number doesn't tell is the nearly six pounds of twin glory inside my best friend's belly this week. It doesn't tell about the sweet time of celebration and encouragement had over that food {which still lingers leftover in my house} at her shower this past weekend.

So more and more I have to remember people are more then a number—and a life defined by one is not a life lived full. As it is, life is messy and dark sometimes--but perspective so much more beautiful when you've been there, when you overcome because of He who lives inside. Every week as I stand two feet squared up, the scale reminds me that only God could possibly take the mess I am and make something beautiful.

And when we realize the beauty is in His work inside and not so much our futile attempts to modify the outside, well I guess that's where the story starts to matter more then the number.

Redemption. In Christ, it's yours too.

...and please go read Amber Haines because she loves Jesus, lives out redemption, and raises four lil guys too. {And because when I grow up, I want to write like her.}

Monday, January 14, 2013

If I Am Unfaithful (Part 2) & Wrestling with Death

You can read PART 1 back HERE. 

It was several months ago and I had an event out in those country hills. It was an open invite for many interantionals and you can read about it back here. There was a group of three and they came together. In all of the chaos of the day, I actually forgot to pick them up and had them waiting outside their apartment for nearly an hour. Regardless when I finally rounded the corned, they piled into the packed van with smiles big and they even rode seated on the floor until we could meet up with another van. They never complained though—just seemed happy to be together.

I remember talking with one as she sat packed tight on the floor just behind my seat. I was frustrated because I wanted to look her in the eye as she told me about her family in France and her journey to Fayetteville. As she quieted I remember feeling overwhelmed by all of these new international friends at once. How will I even try to connect and pursue each of them after this event? I remember wondering.

At the time, I don't think I gave enough thought to these girls (and guys)—the places they've come from and the hurts they've endured. I think I forget sometimes that the whole world is broken and dark—and not even a language barrier could conceal that. Sometimes I glory more in the sound of my own voice then in the actual work of God within them though. Probably because it is hard. And they don't always get it. Then you get scared to risk relationship for the sake of pushing more gospel and some days I just wonder what in the world I am doing. Some days I keep quiet. And sometimes the defeat comes in the workers being too few to build relationship with them all, in your own time becoming a restraint.

And even when one loses her life completely unexpectedly and I never had time to build relationship or share the gospel and then my brain stretches in all kinds of crazy—even then I just have to endure, and remain faithful to those God has placed close.

"The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself." 2 Timothy 2

IF we endure this messed up world, we will reign with Him. We play a role. A conditional promise. 
IF we are faithless, he remains faithful. Not matter what. An unconditional promise.

We have to endure. Broken marriages and babies lost too soon. Little girls being sold for sex and cancer robbing life too fast. Dads failing to protect and moms too busy climbing the corporate ladder to notice. Little ones getting shot in the classroom and teenagers broken enough to stand behind the gun. International friends here one day and gone the next. His promises are still true. 

"If there is a pattern in your life, where you get no joy from the cross and there is this ongoing pattern of selfishness that controls you, I think it would be foolish for you to not at least consider that maybe you are not in Christ." -Chan

I can remember the pain being so great I wanted to escape. No one understood my life. The temptations I fought or the battles that raged inside. How can I ever fight this for the rest of my life? I remember thinking often. It's never going to get better. 

The answer: God gives life to dry bones. His promises are true. He fights and ultimately the victory has been won.

I know some of your lives are difficult...the abuse, the lies, the betrayal, the loss...and God is saying you can trust me. If you endure you can reign with me.

Some of us have a hard time believing in God's faithfulness because of things that we have done. Because of things other people have done to us. How could he still offer relationship to me? Our actions don't change Him. You can't change God. I am who I am and I am faithful, He reminds us. When I promise something I mean it. 

For some of us eternity could be tomorrow. It could be next week. Is that going to change how we live now? Is it going to squelch the fear and inadequacies that tell us we could never make disciples? Sometimes, I share and I don't actually expect the spirit within to speak words that have power to move eternity for another human being and I don't believe it matters right now—for there is always next time?

Her blonde locks hung deep and her eyes spoke loud. She was quiet at first but in good company I could see her craziness coming out. She was a terrific model for the camera, always goofing off with her friends and keeping me belly laughing behind the lens. Later in the day, we built Egyptian pyramids with our bodies piled high and she found her place right above me, her knees performing a balancing act across my back. Yes, we were quite impressive if I do say so.

She got sick just before she went to France to spend the holiday with her family. Just several days after arriving back, she died. Just like that. And as I watch hundreds of internationals return to campus this week, I realize she is not in the crowd. I can't get my brain around it truthfully.

She was on my list of students to reach out to—to know better, to encourage, to love—and now she is just gone. The feeling of my own helplessness piled atop the very fierce reality of her lack of faith in Christ leaves me wrestling with eternity here on this earth, on this very broken, very dark, very fallen earth and today is one of those days that I really wrestle with God's promises—because if I proclaim the ones His overwhelming love, I have to holdfast to the ones of judgement too.

I guess my question then, becomes when is it enough? When are we really going to believe God's word for what it says—both promises of victory and promises of judgement? I think I have failed to articulate the full expanse of God's word accurately and I think my faith has been watered down in His love and ultimately it all higes on it at the same time—so I wrestle while I cling to His promises. 

Don't deny Him, friends. Because His promises really are true and eternity is not always a lifetime away. 

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) 

Do you live that? Do we live clean and righteous? Do you want it? Because brothers and sisters, in Christ we are forgiven and cleansed and eternally free to reign with Christ. Let's endure for He is faithful.

There is a memorial service for Lucie today at Holcombe Hall at 4pm, find more info HERE. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

In Which I Respond to Human Trafficking Awareness Day & You Can Too

From last year to now, I think most of us have at least heard about the global epidemic and injustice of human-sextrafficking and the $32 billion dollar a year industry it has become. Truthfully, I hope and pray that when January of 2014 rolls around the 27 million currently enslaved will be lesser and the testimonies of action and freedom more abundant. We must move and pray towards seeing the enslavement of mankind eradicated sooner and ask God to align our actions accordingly that it would be for His glory. 

I think it is important for us to remember that this is not just a glamorous fight for justice that should leverage us to action. It is not even about doing it because the church has been awakened to the need either. I am continually hearing young girls with all the right intentions respond to God's call upon their lives by sharing they just want to stop human sex-trafficking. And dreams of how they will one day burst into a brothel and grab all the girls and break them free and everyone will live happily ever after still plague me. I don't express this fairytale frustration to claim to know better but more so because for several years those were my thoughts too. 

I dreamt big and hated the practical here and now not so glorious side of ministry. And before I knew it, I'd lept across spaces far too wide for my feeble knees and I never did quite make it all the way across. My desire to rescue these girls so horrifically enslaved was certainly legitamate—and in the most basic ways even founded upon a biblical mandate we share as followers of Christ which is to proclaim liberty to the captives and seek justice for the oppressed. Yet my heart was all over the place and my own wounds from the past still wide open. 

My life was not founded in the love and redemption of Christ and for that very reason I believe God allowed my dreams to fight for injustice to come crashing down. I has been a painful and challenging couple of years but I am so thankful my sufficiency is now in Him because it frees me up to truly fight for these girls from an understanding of my own life belonging to the One who is able—and through His love for me and His spirit at work inside, I can now more fully love the broken and helpless, as one whom I used to find my identity as well. 

It is amazing the publicity that has manifested over sex-trafficking this year and at times I think it is a fad and I fear it will grow old as the glory of it all fails to manifest among us, yes even among those of us who are in Christ. Fellow brothers and sisters, let us be on guard. 

One of the most practical ways to guard against this fight for justice becoming a thing of the past is to actually find a place within the fight that enables you to do something with the ways God has gifted you and the season of life He has you in right now. Dreams and vision are certainly purposeful and yet I think when it comes to seeking freedom for these girls, it's the big dreams that actually keep them bound up. 

We feed ourselves heavy doses of vision and we fill up on the glory of it all that is coming through us. Full belly, we drift to sleep and fail to move to action afterwards. The truth is these girls don't need dreams—they need practical, applicable, measurable, timely actions that bring results.

As a blogger I have been really challenged in how to do this well since most days talking is my meat and action simply a side dish. 

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. -Theodore Roosevelt

Most days I sit behind this screen in this office forty hours a week entering data and ordering samples from China while also trying to finish my degree, just dreaming of one day being on the front lines of this war against slavery and doing all I can to grow in knowledge and understanding of God's word—all the while seeming more and more removed from this global injustice which has moved into 137 countries to date. 

As a victim of sexual exploitation myself, I understand the victory found in telling a story and more importantly the healing that God brings through the process. Writing is my way of speaking and God's way of healing me. My hope is that He would provide healing for many through the stories and words shared in the future months to come. One thing I do have is a voice—and a blog from which I often use it. God has been faithful to challenge me and firm up a steadfastness in my words this year that I believe He will continue do into the future. 

Here's how God has enabled me to move to action in this season of life—I have decided to commit some time and space here to serving as a blogger for the Exodus Road. 

You will hear a lot more about them in the weeks and months to come, but in the meantime, please go watch this video to hear more about what they are doing to rescue these girls. 

It is a humbling lesson and so indicative of the this deceitful heart of mine, but this year I have been learning what it means to truly be faithful to the small without seeing the promise of the bigger just yet. 
It has taught me that only Christ truly satisfies—not even the glory that comes in serving Him can compare, though we are still called. 

Friends, let us be faithful to the small. Here are some very practical ways some of my friends are being faithful to the small and you can too— 
  • I have some friends running a 1/2 Marathon for Nisa and if these feeble knees strengthen up, I'm going to join them. I run most days and when I do, I pray. 
  • Pray for a long list of activists and non-profits who are on the front lines and fighting for His glory to be known and that ultimately these girls would find both physical freedom and freedom in knowing Christ as Lord.
  • Give more—to places like Exodus Road who are actually bursting into the brothels and bringing girls to freedom—that Christ might be made known among them. 
  • Promote awareness—social media is huge. Follow organizations on facebook and twitter. Share statistics with your friends and family. We can't do anything until we know what is happening all over the world—and the gravity of it.
Organizations to Give to and Pray for:
The Exodus Road

The A21 Campaign

The Not for Sale Campaign

The Polaris Project

International Justice Mission

Mercy Ministries of America

The Home Foundation

International Crisis Aide

Love 146


End It Passion Conference 2013 Movement

As Her Own

Whatever your gifts are, your resources, your desires—What can you do?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

If I am Unfaithful {Part 1}

This weekend I moved into my new apartment. I've only slept there one night but my stuff getting up those three flights of stairs is a step that way. I met the new roommates and it is all happening and I know it is so, so good.

And then of course there are the tears shed in leaving a family that has become so dear. And in a sense, grieving the loss of that life which has become so normal this year. And so here I am entering a week where I learn to cook for myself again. Where I just wash a handful of dishes rather then a dozen. Where eleven goodnight hugs and I love yous are happening miles away and the void seems catastrophic in this quiet little room.

This is the week where faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word because my heart is just feeling all wacky. I think that part of the chaos deep down is just a lack of trust. It is the voice that says God is one way out under those country stars and that He will never work on the third story of this apartment building the way He did out there. God could never redeem the way He has this year...again. That without this mamma and daddy, perhaps His protection is limited.

So I exhale to the strum of doubt and I melt beneath the weight of myself because me is a mess.

Why is it so hard to trust Christ even when we see His sufficiency and grace abundant over and over again? We forget. So quickly, we forget. Some wise words from Chan at Passion this week have led me to wrestle here.

I think unfaithfulness is is a curse passed down and we learn it. 

We grow up watching our parents promise forever and then it ends. Our best friend says things will never change and then they do. Our dad names us his forever baby girl and then he hurts us. Mom says she will never be like grandma, not to worry—and then she's an addict. Dad says if you don't eat your veggies at dinner, they will become your breakfast but when the morning comes, he pours your cereal like any other day.

And at the time watching your parents marriage crumble or eating cereal when you should have been eating veggies may not seem life-chaning. And yet I am learning that this lack of trust in man can feed into my relationship with God. And when you add in decades of those little things...well I think it matters a lot. It primes us to become desensitized to it—and before we know it, the curse seeps into our offspring too.

Days come when I find myself wondering if a loving God would really send people to hell. I wonder if Heaven is going to be all it's cracked up to be. I wonder how much God means it when He says He loves me because there was another man I trusted who once said that too. I wonder if I could make it apart from Christ and some days I really think I could.

And yet somehow I always find myself falling short. And I'd like to say that when my dad landed in the pit from his alcohol addition yet again this year and tore our family in all kinds of ugly directions, I loved him through it the way the Lord does with me. But that would be a lie. I was mad and hurting and I needed time. A lot of time. In fact, I still havn't talked to him in nearly a year. When someone is unfaithful to you, it affects you. We all respond one way or another and personally—well, my flesh ain't pretty.

But God can't stop being who He is. 

"Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations..." Deut. 7:9

I might not walk through the pit with my dad or show up to my bible study every Sunday...
but Christ can't go back on what He promises. Even if I am unfaithful.

So as I lay my head down this first night in this little room and I listen to the wind blow fierce across the window and I let fear twist up through the cracks, I fight the floods streaming down my cheeks and I send desperate texts begging for any sort of instant reprieve and none comes. So I finally cave into the weight of it all and I realize just how wind-tossed and wave-ridden this unfaithful heart of mine can be. How easily swayed and lacking of trust. How forgetful.

And I think I begin to see glimpses of my need for His promises that are true. I see that I need them enough to defend them and I want to go down fighting. I see the way my kids are going to need them even more. And something once overcome by fear and failure gains hulk strength inside. I spit out a few desperate words with origin across the expanse of the Psalms and He quiets me and sleep comes.

With the morning comes light of His unfailing love and I learn He is trustworthy in a whole different realm escaping anything I could find through a few words on a screen or even deeper inside of myself.

He is who He is in spite of my unfaithfulness—and this promise is binding me up today.

Friday, January 4, 2013

And Here is Where I Wrestle with Resolutions

I made it back into the gym this morning and I was shocked to see the parking lot so full. Then I remembered the high of the new year—the sense of worth and fulfillment brought forth with the onset of January 1st. It's almost a ceremonial cleansing of sorts. The past is washed away and we press onward towards self-betterment or something of the sort. I can see us walking around all gowned in white and feeling new.

I think the New Year drives us away from the birth we just celebrated.  

I think it empowers us—merely to seek strength within ourselves. To do better and be better and not look back. And somehow, I fall for it again. I want to eat healthier. I want to fit into those old jeans. I want to actually finish my read the bible in a year plan this time around. I want to save more and spend less. I want to memorize a book of the bible. I want to love my mom better. I want to meet my husband.

I actually found myself sitting to make a goal list like last year. I even coated them in holiness and set them high by throwing in a few about my walk with Christ. But then a couple days in, I find myself worshiping this idol of working all the while forgetting to be set free by the birth and hopeful in the trumpets that will someday sound.

And sometimes, I really am my own worst enemy.

Here I am more concerned with crossing off those thirty minutes on the treadmill this morning as I walk out the door, that I don't even know which lady was standing behind the counter at the gym today—nor did I smile. I go to bed wondering where I put my read the bible in a year plan, so frustrated that I decide I can't even open the word without it, as if having it could amp up the holiness of the book or something. And a couple days into it, I find myself a couple days behind. Welp, there goes my year. It's like these resolutions make me forget how to use my brain.

I forget that the law is but a shadow and these resolutions don't atone for sin.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 
Heb. 10:1-4

Honorable pursuits at times and yet I think we make the new year too much about us and these resolutions just feed it. And I think that's why we fail. Give it a month or two or three and the gym parking lot won't be quite so full before the sun wakes. And at some point, the excuses fade and we are met with defeat. I guess I just don't want to step into what I foresee coming just because it's the norm. And right or wrong, I think God is being honored more in steadfastness no matter what time the year then in the heights of new beginnings and depths of goals unfilled. I think He wants to teach me that because I suck at it.

Contrary to popular belief, historically the rate of suicides rise in late spring and early summer. This is very much a stretch I am not qualified to make, and yet something to ponder—I wonder how the self-defeat and failure of such resolutions by the end of spring going into summer might impact such an increase?

As the white robes of a new year spoil in soot and lose their glorywhat are we left with? Ourselves?

Knowledge beyond a few reliable google finds, is not mine to claim, and yet there is this time from celebration of the birth to the resurrection season and somewhere in between in which perhaps we lose hope enough to remember He is risen. I would say from experience adding this failure to meet goals and this hum of inadequacy in which we all hear, perhaps the pit of darkness just isn't that far of a slide for any of us anyhow.

If I'm left with myself I'm sure to end up down there sooner rather then later.

And this is why I just can't enter another year hoping in anything or anyone but Christ. In birth and resurrection and trumpets blaring, He was and is and is to come—the only sure promise in my life. 

So, my resolve for the new year is to avoid self-defeating resolutions. Even for the mere sake of avoiding being my own worst enemy.

And maybe, by the time April rolls around I will remember the resurrection rather then a long list of boxes unchecked and goals unmet. Maybe then I will hope only in Christ risen that He might return, rather then perish in worth faded and failures strung long. 

Maybe the birth and resurrection are actually enough. Maybe we don't need resolutions in-between. Maybe we just remember the birth and the resurrection and we fix our eyes on the author and perfecter because resolutions or not—His promises are true.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Heb. 10:19-23

And this is why PROMISE is my word this year.

And this is my sense of humor...

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Twenty Twelve and the Promise to Come

I look back on this year in awe of His faithfulness and I don't really know how to articulate it all. God has allowed me to go back and reflect on some simple moments over the year, moments that I believe He has used to bring me to here and now. Little by little moments which I believe will change everything about the future He has called me to.

In Exodus when God is promising the conquest of Canaan, he says he will drive out all of their enemies but not in a single year lest the land becomes desolate and the wild beasts too numerous. He promises that little by little he will drive them out until they have increased enough to possess the land.

God used this chunk of scripture to cast vision and hope in my life several years ago and today I see Him actually doing it and His grace is overwhelming. Little by little that we might be equipped to walk in the victory rather then be overcome by it. 

Here are some glimpses into my 'little by little' of the year...and with them all compiled here I see Him driving out beasts and equipping me to possess the land promised. 

Moment One
It was a little's birthday and it was just a week or so after I moved in. I dressed differently and I wore shame like a scarf wrapped tight through those cold winter months. He'd gotten a soccer goal and we decided to go out and play as a family. There was a chill in the air and the clouds were close enough to reach. After the game ended, K got out a four-wheeler. He urged me to jump on the back of it.

I remember panicking because I'd never ridden one of those. I remember being scared of riding on it with him too. I think the kids might always tell tale of the thrill ride that was to follow. Let's just say it ended with mamma pointing her finger at dad—he was in trouble. So, we might have gone a little too fast. I knew that I might fall off on one of those bumps and yet I don't think I will forget that moment. I got off that four-wheeler and I knew that God was just beginning something. I remember thinking maybe there was something different about K, like I just really wanted to trust him. It's funny to think the Lord could use a four-wheeler ride to cast vision for the future and yet looking back, He did just that. 

Moment Two
I was stressed and overwhelmed by life. Something had to give if I wanted to walk free but everything seemed to have a place. My life was measured by the world and looking back it was suffocating. She told me pull out of a class or two and it all made sense. I knew it did and yet all I heard was failure—you can't even be a good student. You are such a mess. She asked me what I wanted to do with my life—what I felt God was calling me to. What is your vision for the future? I remember her asking. 

I don't really know what I said but I remember fighting for an answer. I really didn't care—all I could see was the misery of my reality here and now. I knew I wanted to be wife and mom—I knew I wanted to be free. She helped me align my time with things that would lead to both—freedom and future homemaker. She held me tight when many close thought I went off the deep end when I pulled out of college and moved in with her family of eleven. She equipped me to follow through though—she has challenged and strengthened my biblical convictions. Praise Jesus, she is not perfect and those moments she has shared have set me free from myself. She has given me vision for being a helper to my husband and disciple-maker of my children and this has eternal weight that will seep down for generations to come. And I think someday I will convince her to let me write a book. 

This conversation started it all and she opened up a whole world of hope. She paved a path lit bright enough for me to see the future in the first place. Then she walked with me. 

Moment Three
We were sitting at the dinner table one night and I was struggling. I didn't want to eat what was on my plate and voicemails from my dad in the other room were playing like a resounding chorus of failure in my head. I just wanted to be alone. I wanted to cry and sleep and hole up behind my door. I wanted to figure it all out—how I could save the world and my dad. I wanted to pay for not being able to. But instead I was sitting at a dinner table with nine bustling kiddos and a plate of food and eyes all around. I forced bites down and I didn't look up much. Then I heard him say my name and it might as well have been the very voice of God himself. 

Courtney, stop thinking. It's like you're not even here. And that was the day I learned that sometimes the most holy thing you can do is go play a board-game with an eight year old. 

The way this spiritual dad has challenged me to avoid holing up and getting lost in myself when life gets tough has been one of the most freeing lessons of this year. And God has been faithful to provide my outs through the process of retraining my mind—all things from a board-game with lil guys to a walk in the woods to scrubbing dishes for an hour. I have learned ultimately my own worst enemy is often me. God has used this family to train me to guard against myself. 

Moment Four
We were driving in the car, headed to the airport where K would board a plane headed to India for the next 2 weeks. With him gone M would bear a lot of weight over the weeks to come and there was a difficult decision to make. K opted for one choice while M was hesitant to agree. She knew it was for her own good and yet felt guilty if she followed through with it. The battle inside of her was building as the miles to the airport grew fewer.

She was quiet and he turned to glance at her. Eyes back on the road, he stuck out his hand. 
Do you trust me? he whispered across the seat.
There was a moment and I still think that time might have stood still. The car was loud and bustling with nine littles and a movie blaring in the back but those four simple words seemed to suck up all the noise and air in that van because I still get chill-bumps remembering. 

A few seconds had passed but it could have been hours. She reached out and grabbed his hand. Sometimes the words unsaid speak louder then anything the voice could ever make sense of. 

Sitting just a row back watching this moment unfold God spoke to me and I don't think I will ever forget it. Trust me. Submit to me. I am for you. This is how it is suppossed to be. Do not fear. I am not your earthly dad. Not all men are bad. Here is your hope and your future—now take my hand. Remember the vision because this is what I have for you. So start learning to trust me because one day I will ask you to trust the man I have for you too.

Moment Five
It had been a hard month or so and the ultimatum was laid out. I had a choice and I was stubborn. I didn't fully trust and I had a plan that sounded better. I thought they were overreacting and I wanted them to know it. We went back and forth late into the night and eventually I quieted, my pride puddling at my feet. I hurt so much and I was angry with them, angry at myself. I didn't like where sin had landed me and yet I wanted to choose life under all those layers. 

I turned to leave the room after agreeing to their plan because it was better then the alternative. I was mad and broken. He stopped me in the next room and she came up close too. He hugged me and just lingered a minute, with mom there too. I cry just remembering because I felt the desperation of a dad figure that loved me so deeply in that moment. And something in that moment restored a cord long tattered inside. This was when I trusted K as an earthly representation of my Heavenly father. This was the moment the fear lifted fully and I remember feeling so exposed and vulnerable yet so completely safe in their protection. I think this hug was the moment that changed a whole lot of things.

In the beginning of the year, my hope was shackled in failure and my future was drowning in my past. 

This year, God changed all of that. He used this dad and mamma to teach me to have vision—for the hope and the future Christ gives. They've taught me to submit & trust to the little by little while walking onward through the depths of the sea boldly proclaiming the promised Canaan.

This year I would say God has wounded but also bound up. He has restored me to Himself through an earthly dad and mom who have shown me much grace. He has taught me what it means to submit and trust. He has healed so many of my daddy issues. He is preparing me for marriage and motherhood. He has allowed me to catch vision for the future. He has provided a hedge of protection and much-needed discipline. He has given me time to rest and retreat and flip the calendar. He has restored so much childhood that was stolen. He has provided a solid foundation and wise counsel. He has given me a tangible picture of His own love for me daily. 

I see this year a road towards Canaan and I choose my word for twenty thirteen—promise. 

Because He who promised is faithful.

What's your one word?

See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us-even eternal life. -1 John 2:24-25