Choose Joy

Her name is Natalie Joy.

When I first met her this weekend at the Winsome Retreat in Pennsylvania I observed the most delightful woman. Smiling. Bright spirited. Joy filled. I thought to myself, surely, her name suits her well.

But later on she shared her story with me and I learned that life for Natalie has not always been filled with joy. She’s suffered a great deal, in fact, when a marriage she loved for many years ended in divorce. Natalie describes this painful season with a quake in her voice, still searching for all the right words to wrap around this hallowed ground.

It is ground, I believe, because the most raw moments in life feel so much like dirt; barren and black. And yet we know that it is only from the barren and black earth that a seed can grow.

New life emerges if the conditions are right.

The conditions, though, are often like a season of drought under the hot, sweltering sun. We know what is needed. Cleansing Rain. But the fiery trial is unrelenting, leaving us withered and tired. Where O’ where is the rain?

“I’ve discovered that when everything is taken away, when nothing is left but the core of who you are, that’s when you have to make a choice. I can either hide inside and let the fear of getting stuck by lightning paralyze me, or I can stand out in the rain to be washed free of everything but the comfort of a God who would never let me fall. I choose every day to be washed free.” -Sara Frankl

We find the rain in Isaiah 54 when the “barren” woman is encouraged to sing. We feel her pain because her barrenness is like ours. It’s every unmet longing and unanswered prayer. It’s every choking circumstance and dreadful disease. It’s every betrayal linked to our deepest fear. To sing while still and yet barren is choosing to receive the Cleansing Rain.

“Sing, O barren woman…” -Isaiah 54:1

We find the rain in John 11 when Jesus who is deeply troubled and moved in spirit rolls the stone away and calls his dead friend Lazarus to come out.

“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” -Jesus

But not everyone who sees believes. For it is written that some scoff Jesus for allowing death and suffering (vs. 37) while others decide to see its purpose through the lens of abiding love (vs. 36). And the same is true for you and me: to see and believe in Love while the sting still and yet burns is choosing to receive the Cleansing Rain.

Barrenness knows of its need. Stones keep from proceeding. What response will we choose while we wait for the miracle?

When Natalie looked down at the divorce decree she stared at the empty box awaiting an inky name. She says she knew in that moment that she needed to choose a new name: Joy. It was the only way to begin again. The conditions were right.

Dear friends, may you sing your heart out despite the barrenness. Take off the grave clothes and believe. And may you always remember to…choosejoy

Amen.

(Side Note: Needing to define your joy and clarify your purpose? Check out Natalie’s business here.)



A Story of Freedom: 7 Years of Sobriety

Freedom isn’t free.

A lesson I learned about 7 and a half years ago when the Lord took my life on a wild, unplanned detour. My life at the time was simple and good. Oh, but it was chaotic too; in the throws of parenting littles and wrestling with finding my purpose in the position of stay-at-home-mom. But in that space, it was good. I was meeting with God regularly, spending time in Word and in prayer; studying, learning to listen, and such.

There was however one little (big) thing in my life that God kept bringing to the forefront of my spirit.

“Lay it down, Love.”

Wise instruction coming down from Heaven and landing on Spring soil after the frost. Ready for cultivation. But oblivious to the growing season ahead.

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Oh, I knew what God meant. Lay it down, the drinking. Lay it down, the spirit of rebellion. My way. My flesh. My folly. I tried and tried. I attempted to control myself, but I couldn’t. Because the spirit of rebellion throws a tantrum for just one more. And that’s how is was for me, the gateway to fun. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more. Damning and marring my most precious household treasures for just one more. All in the name of fun…

Until the next day.

Folly wreaks. And a thirsty spirit that kicks out the Spirit for just one night, pangs with regret and sadness and loneliness. That’s how it always was, for me, until the morning after my last binge.

I woke up half dead. Mostly dead.

A prisoner of betrayal once more. But this time the cut was so deep, I couldn’t stop the bleeding. It was trauma to my soul. Catastrophe. My life felt as though it were careening out of control. The air felt thin, and I could. not. breathe. I’d been stripped bare, exposed. I was desperate.

I was the hemorrhaging woman desperate to touch the cloak of Jesus. (Mark 5:25)

Desperate for healing.

Desperate for forgiveness.

Desperate for nothing else, but Jesus.

Surely, freedom isn’t free. It always costs something. It always requires a laying it down, letting it go. It’s about living life abundantly, without hinderance. My hinderance might look different than your hinderance. None-the-less, I believe we’re all on a journey looking to live out life with purpose and freedom. It’s a great hope, indeed.

So, when I raise my hands on Easter morn and cry tears of awe and wonder, it’s simply because I remember. I remember the way His hand pulled me up and out of the pit. I remember the way He gave me new clothes to wear, tailored to suit my new self. I remember the strength in His words, spoon fed because I was so weak. I raise my hands on Ever morn because I remember. And I am thankful.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn.” -Samuel Lover

Just when I thought the sun wouldn’t rise, His glory broke through. Truly, we can’t understand light, if we don’t understand darkness. And freedom means so much more when the prison door flings wide and those shackles fall.

 



A Dream and Visions from The Valley of Dry Bones

Over the past several weeks I’ve been training to run a half marathon. I love to run. Except, that is, when I cannot breathe. I’ve pushed through a lot of obstacles while training; dehydration, a sore ankle, blisters, throbbing hip flexers, and yes, even that one time I peed my pants. But, if there is no breathe in my lungs, I’m done. All running stops. The race is over.

Have you ever experienced a time when a certain word, phrase or message seems to envelop you? It’s sung on the radio in nearly every song, written in the book your reading, plastered on every billboard, and enters your conversation with strangers. It’s everywhere!

So, when this happens, we start paying attention, right?

This is my word on repeat: BREATH.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, ‘well duh, it’s obvious why this word keeps cropping up…because your running a half marathon and you simply can’t breathe.’ Sure, that might make logical sense…but I have a feeling the word-stirring is only the beginning of something bigger.

Recently, while I was spending time reading from the Word I found myself deep in story about The Valley of Dry Bones [Ezekiel 37]. This is the story of an Old Testament prophet named Ezekiel whose given a vision from God, showing him a valley, full of dried-up-human-bones. It’s really quite gruesome; a picture of death. There is no life and there doesn’t appear to be any hope. That is, until Ezekiel hears God give the valley of dry bones a series of instructions, namely, that He is going to make His BREATH enter them so that they may have life. Bam. With a powerful breath, Ezekiel witnesses the bones begin to rattle together and grow muscle and tendon and flesh, becoming living human beings once again.

Whoa. Can you imagine? I wonder, too, how many of us might feel as though we relate with The Valley? Dry. Feeble. Dead. In part, because of this text, we can see that when we have BREATH, we have life.

And I believe that if we have life, then we’ve still got a race to run. 

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” – Psalm 150:6

Another thing; sometimes I dream. A few months ago I received the most brilliant dream; the kind etched in the most fantastic detail, flowing with the most elaborate pallet of watercolor, and a storyline that figuratively took my BREATH away. When I woke I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I journaled it in its entirety. I’ve prayed over this dream, believing it actually came from the Holy Spirit. Let me share it with you, because I’m most assured that this is a word of encouragement for each one of you. A picture gift: from Him to you. 

Dream: I saw a ragged man running a race. He was grimy with sweat; his clothes were tattered like rags, dirty and draping off his body. He’d been running a very long time. And now, I was watching him run what appeared to be the last leg of his race. As he ran across a bridge, a few spectators began to cheer the man on. After crossing the bridge, he rounded the street corner, where I was standing, and that’s when I notice that he is bare foot. Running without shoes this entire time. I look at his feet and wince. They are tore up and bloody; the man is in so much pain. Yet, he keeps running. I look ahead, he is reaching the end, though his last stretch is uphill and I notice that the road is suddenly covered with sharp, jagged rocks. The pain he endures as he continues to run uphill, over the piercing obstacles is so grotesque to watch. The man falls to the ground moments before he reaches the end, but then he gets up and appears to pick up speed. He is sprinting to the finish line, completely pushing through the pain and the rocks and his ravaged body. His chin is held high; and I witness a slight grin touch his mouth and his eyes, his focus is firmly fixed ahead. And then, finally, I witness him cross the finish line. He did it!

Immediately, another figure, a man, is standing at the finish line. The man, it seems, is a dear friend, like a brother or a father. The man embraces the weary runner with a solid, loving hug, as if to hold him up. The Father-Brother is proud; both of the men are smiling and happy and filled with joy. He did it; he finished the race well! -End-

We all get one unique life. As long as we have breath, there is hope, there is life. The race is long and tiresome, but it isn’t finished yet. Keep going, keep running. We haven’t got long, the finish line is just ahead.

 



Wholehearted Living: Courage, Vulnerability & That One Time I Peed My Pants

I met a woman at the gym the other day and we really connected. As we ran side by side, each on our own treadmill, our conversation seamlessly carried on and on. I’d say about half way through my run an alarm went off in my mind, reminding me that I should take a break and use the bathroom. But I ignored the reminder and kept on running. So, here’s the deal: I’m going to be vulnerable and share that I’ve wrestled with a little issue many women face, but not too many discuss. Let’s call it: I’VE HAD THREE BABIES AND MY BODY ‘AINT THE SAME [Aka: Bladder Control]. Ok, there, I said it.

Do I dare finish the story? I’ll bet your capable of crafting a dramatic ending. So, yeah, I PEED MY PANTS, right there, at the public gym, on the treadmill.

<humiliation enters the scene>

The end.

 

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Wait, I do have a meaningful application…I think. 🙂

Call me crazy, but don’t we all have issues? Issues we’d rather ignore: we think we’re doing fine, so let’s keep on running. But the truth is, these issues are deep seeded, below zero, and often play into almost every area of our living.

Here are a few common conditions: perhaps you identify with one or more.

  • The need for certainty or the right to know.
  • Comparing your grass to the greener one down the street.
  • The need for more because it never feels like enough.
  • Always worrying about what others think.
  • Work productivity (list maker/checker) as a measure of success.
  • The need for control, order and a constant plan.

Any of these sound an alarm for you? Yeah, me too.

I’ve been reading  DARING GREATLY by Brene’ Brown, a book all about vulnerability and the courage to live and lead a wholehearted life. In her book, Brene’ says,

“Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think…I am enough.”

We can nod and say yes to the definition of wholehearted living but, to actually live our lives in this fashion is something entirely different, right?

If we’re honest, admittedly, a lot of our issues often leave us feeling ashamed, afraid or confused. None the less, we’ve become masters of disguise, pros at running for cover. And the domino effect we face, over time, has a tendency to wreak havoc on our sense of worth. We live in a society of “never enough” and from the moment our feet hit the floor, we’re scrounging for our manna. Never enough sleep. Never enough money. Never enough attention. We live in a culture that screams YOU WILL NEVER BE ENOUGH.

So, what’s a person to do?

I believe that if we want to reclaim our worth, we’ve got to take pause from all the running, and start cultivating.

[Please hear me: running the race is oh-so-important. It’s our metaphorical mission, to run the good race, to keep on persevering. It’s in our DNA! My suggestion though is cause for pause. How much more could we receive, what more could we believe if we actually invested in listening to and understanding God’s heart for each one of us?]

Cultivating is a matter of tending to the “issue” by giving attention to it. Spending time with it. Digging up the earth around it. Writing a letter to it. Speaking to it, letting it speak to you. Soaking up wisdom in the ever loving Word of God [Think:Proverbs, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, Psalms..] And lastly, pulling the weeds.

I know a helluva lot about worthlessness. I’ve spent many-a-moons beneath the soil, digging for God loving truth. Know this, He’s got you right where He wants you. When Jesus said,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and lear from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,”

He really meant it.

Did you know that you are worth far more than rubies? [Proverbs 31: 10]

And you are Chosen, Royal, Set Apart, and you, dear friend Belong to God! [1Peter 2:9]

If cultivating wholehearted living speaks to your heart today, please connect with me. I’d love to hear your story and pray with you. You are not alone in this race, not ever.



Do the Will of God, Come What May #MLKDay

On Saturday evening I watched the film Selma for the first time. The drama which documents Martin Luther King Jr.’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via the epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965.

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I’ve been on a journey of late: gathering stories, watching the world, and seeking the Word and Wisdom. At times I’ve felt hushed to near silence, except for the way my blood bangs against this chest as though two trains have collided. I want to muffle my ears from the noise within, but it’s so brilliantly loud. Instinct suggests I run and hide.

Yet, I remain. Watching. Listening. Learning. I stand at attention as our nation’s overcoat of racial tension has unbuttoned, once again, exposing to those with eyes-to-see the harsh reality that this march for unity must go on. This march that causes lumps in throats and turned-down brows and closed eyes and fevers up the spine.

But not everyone has eyes-to-see, this I see.

“I feel like the people who are saying we live in a post racial world are mainly white people. And so, this is so good for me because I mainly want to listen…” –Jamie Ivey (Caucasian)

Some do, though, and I believe for the few it begins with attention. First, paying attention.

This journey of seeking God’s heart, as it relates to racial equality and acting out justice and loving with mercy, begins at a tender place of careful attention and determined prayer. To each, on his or her own journey. But often, to each, it’s only after our spirit becomes deeply moved or troubled that the gift of awareness seems to unveil itself like a beacon taking center stage.

And when this awareness comes, blazing in terrifying glory, only then, may we be spurred on and into action.

Dear brothers and sisters in the faith, yeah, you with determined eyes-to-see, may I encourage you to spend time in God’s Word, specifically in the book of James. It’s here we discover poignant words, written to the hearts of confused believers who have incorporated worldly habits by practicing favoritism; quarreling and boasting. James suggests that its more than just knowing truth, but also that we must learn to live it out. The premise; our actions matter.

Today we’ve honored Martin Luther King Junior; as a brother in the faith and as a leader in our nation who demonstrated through intentional action that it is possible to cross bridges. To each of us on the journey, let us link arms with one another in love as we continue to march forward. Yes!

“Don’t reduce Martin Luther King Jr. to an annual quote on social media. Live out the dream. Live a committed life of love, peace, and justice.” – Eugene Cho

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Bright Christmas Wishes

I’m ready: the Christmas story sits beneath my chest like a slow swinging Sunday church bell. The presents are wrapped, the food is prepared, and the cookies are stacked oh-so-neatly on the tray.

But something is missing.

Truth be told, this hollow feeling blew in with Old Man Winter. It’s odd, you know, to have both longing and satisfaction at the same time. This longing: the waiting and hoping and anticipating for that which is lost to be found, the wrong to be made right, and the healing to finally come. And yet, still, I am overshadowed by a powerful peace.

How can this be?

Truth be told, this is the story of Jesus: an upside down Kingdom that ushers in a new world order. He is the fulfillment, deliverer, and healer. I can know the whole story, but miss it completely when I’m preoccupied with those gapping holes in my life. This season the Spirit has encouraged me to focus on the Star. Doing so causes me to look up. Doing so reminds me that a bright shining light, that never ceases, leads me.

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I may know the whole story, but peace prevails and joy is strengthened when I choose to Believe.

Merry Christmas, friends!

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A Christmas Gift For You

I’ll be the first to admit that I get a little geeky about Advent. I LOVE this time of year! Truly. I know, there is so much extra going on. Things we normally wouldn’t do or be or buy seemingly band together during this monumental month. Although, when it comes to the Christmas season, we ought to admit that we are one INTENTIONAL culture.

And so, I want to challenge you this Advent season to take an ounce of that INTENTION and simply pause: think, ponder, and reflect on the greatest story ever told. The real Christmas story.

I have a gift for you!

TEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: A BAKER’S ADVENT DEVOTIONAL

Yep, that’s right. A ten day Advent devotional paired with ten scrumptious recipes contributed by a few of my favorite writers. It’s a free gift, for you. 

DevotionalCover copySubscribe {CLICK HERE} for your FREE Advent devotional.

Traditionally, in our culture today, Christmas is considered prime baking season and a time when we tend to be more INTENTIONAL about gathering with family and friends. It is my hope and prayer that this Baker’s Advent Devotional will preheat your heart to receive the gift of joy that only Jesus, the lowly babe, can offer.

May we be intentional with our time to seek Him first.

May our created goods, given in love, delight the One who created us.

May our sweetest treasure this Christmas season be found in You, oh King Jesus.

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Dreary Days Ahead: A Foggy Muse

Imagine the dreariest of days. The sort that make you scramble for wool socks and slow stir the evening soup, placing yet another chunk of wood atop the dwindling ash. Time to hunker down. It’s best to lay low. This is the life.

Imagine driving through the dreariest of days. The bleak sort that makes you long for the comforts of home. But home, if only. As you drive further and further, you watch the sun sink to rest. Home; you’ll get there, just keep truckin’. Then, quite unexpectantly, a feathery fog crawls across the track before you. It swirls and curls and climbs like ivy. It grows and surrounds and soon you’re covered. Immersed in a world that is surely not your own. The good life exists beyond the blind bend. Just keep truckin’.

Two worlds:

One evokes contentment. It’s simple, easy. Living under swaths of fleece and cotton stifles movement.

The other, radical resolve. It’s impossible, hard. Living by faith is a bewildering adventure.

 

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Where are you? First, become aware.

 

“Awareness is the choosiest gift. Hard to find and nearly sold out; a gift worth scouring and begging and groaning for.”

 

Foggy ventures open eyes wide. A braced back holds still. Loose the grip. The unseen road ahead is for your good. It’s always for good, don’t you see? The Uncle of dependence wants it all – every single speck.

Time to leave the house and go for a drive?
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When We Want A Harvest Blessing

Looking back on this young life of mine, I can already see a multitude of redefining moments.

It was the summer of 2004. Standing among a sea of concertgoers at an outdoor music festival, worshiping together as we sang the popular Christian song “Blessed Be Your Name” by Tree 63. It was there that I felt a shift. Well, first, it was a nudge. Followed by a simple prayer. Then came the shift.

The nudge was this prompting by something bigger than myself to surrender control over my life, my work and my finances.

So, I prayed that God would bless my family. “Bless me,” I prayed. “Bless my work. Bless our finances. Oh Lord, bless us! I’ll do anything. I’ll go anywhere. I’m yours.”

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I felt it, then, right there; a slight shift. I think I had to shuffle my feet a bit because I felt the earth tremble a little beneath me.

Within a few short months, my world flipped. Soon, pretty much every area of my growing family, self-employed business and oh-yeah-that-thing-called-money was turned upside down. Devastated by the seemingly ruin of run amuck circumstances, I turned back to God in desperation.

This time I pleaded, “Oh Lord, this is not the blessing I’d hoped for. This is not a blessing at all.”

But surrender and transformation are faint companions. Like fraternal twins who do not look like they’ve come on the same ship, they assuredly are born together under the same moon.

And what I’ve learned is this: the harvest takes time.

The surrender is never forsaken.

A yielded heart will be transformed.

The harvest blessing eventually comes.

 

Friends, though your heart may feel faint today, do not grow weary from doing good. Remember, (I am speaking with tender affection) that a pure spiritual harvest is rarely instantaneous. The seed of your prayer takes time to grow. And in due time, eventually, the harvest blessing will come for those who do not loose heart.
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The Day You Meet Someone And Fall In Love

Have you ever met someone and fallen instantly in love? I have.

Today, in fact.

I was speaking at a quaint women’s luncheon in the basement of a church; covered by the tall Colorado Pine, on the edge of a quiet town. She walked into the room framed like the stem of a dandelion; spangled leggings tucked into cowboy boots, a slouched over shirt as vivid as blue corral waters. Her face: bright, smooth, and happy.

“Hello, you can call me Grannie. I’m only 92,” She announced, “I’m passionate about health and wellness and I love Jesus, oh, He’s the one true Healer.”

And instantly I knew that I loved her.

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Grannie is a certified massage therapist. I kid you not! I moaned, explaining a nagging ache in my back going two months strong. She placed her journeyed hand upon my side and squeezed, “here?” I nodded and smiled.

“Perhaps… I wish I could…” Grannie looked over her shoulder towards the restroom. “Would you mind if I gave you a quick adjustment?”

I looked at the clock, ten minutes shy of my introduction, and then looked back at Grannie, “Sure!”

Ten minutes of magic: I emerged like new, shaking my head, grateful for the gift.

Besides the fact that this story absolutely delights my heart, I tell it because Grannie is a living, breathing example of what it means to use your gifts and passions to impact the Kingdom of God. What? Wait? So your saying a 10-minute restroom massage is Kingdom work? Um, yeah, I am. Because I believe that any time you are doing a good work, in the name of Jesus, pouring yourself out through the expression of your gifts and talents, you’re leaving an imprint on those around you.

So, will you do me a little favor?

Ask yourself:

What are my gifts?

What am I most passionate about?

The unique combination of these things is where you’ll discover the most power to influence what the world sees, thinks and knows about our God. This is Kingdom Living right here.

And this is the sort of stuff that causes hearts to draw near in love.

Go forth, and do your thing… just like Grannie!
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