holding my peace

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My heart is stirred by a beautiful song… Psalm 45:1

Last week, I posted the longest blog ever. It was huge. That’s because it was supposed to be THE one. A piece not only to honor my husband and our twentieth anniversary (days away now), but also, I wanted to speak of God’s love. So, I did.

Immediately after unloading the message of my heart, I set myself to prepare for our mini-vacation. And just before leaving, I recorded my last thoughts in my journal. It was 1 Corinthians 13:1…

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 

This was my last thought before packing our RV. I mused over the love of God just prior to going away. Just before our weekend of fun. For that’s what we had planned…

A whole lot of fun.

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Perfect love casts out fear… 1 John 4:18

Funny thing about that blog. I described myself as a vessel ready to be filled with God’s love. And yet, last Friday, I was filled with something else altogether.

It was fear. Outright terror.

See, water’s not my thing. And when I found myself in the pool with my little girl (she’s three), I was totally uptight. I hovered. I kept my hand on her water wings. I tried to keep the waters untroubled around her. I fretted and I agonized. And Annabelle?

She was fearless.

Yes, Annabelle would push my hands aside. She’d swim away from me. She told me to go sit on the side. And the most horrifying? She kept putting her head under the water. I told her not to. “Don’t inhale the water! Don’t breathe,” I cried. That’s because I could think of nothing but dry drowning.

In response to my irrational behavior, Annabelle wanted to know why other kids were dunking and she couldn’t. I didn’t even know she knew the word… dunking.

Thankfully, Jason took over pool duty. My husband is so much better at it than I am. And under his supervision, Annabelle flourished. At first, she jumped into his arms. But by Sunday, she jumped all by herself. Even when there were no arms to catch her. Her courage was inspiring.

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Watching my husband with his daughter caused my heart to stir. See, it was Father’s Day weekend and words began to form. I thought I’d compose a piece in honor of dads based on their relationship. Her, oh, so trusting as she flung herself into his waiting arms.

I thought I had some pretty good content, too. A theme comparing me and my heavenly Father to Annabelle and her Daddy. I planned to use verses about Him going with me through the waters, and Him reaching down and pulling me out of the deep. Yes, God would uphold me by His strong right arm.

This was my plan. And it sounded good in my head. Later, though, as I revisited those thoughts, I had to sincerely ask myself, “Do I believe this?” Because after our weekend, I seriously questioned whether I had the same abiding trust in my heavenly Father that my daughter has in her earthy one.

This week, I discovered I don’t. No way do I trust God the way Annabelle trusts in Jason. And not only did that fact sadden me, it surprised me, too.

Because I thought I was full of faith. 100%

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In quietness and confident trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

We came home Monday. What a busy day. Unpacking and getting settled. Work emails. Finally, I had a little quiet time. That’s when I read this verse. It resonated because I realized I was anything but quiet and confident over the weekend.

Instead, my insides were full of anxiety. Riddled with fears. Annabelle would dry drown. She was going to bust her chin on the side of the pool. I’d caution her to hold the swing tightly so as to not fall backward and bust her head. The prongs we used to roast hot dogs and marshmallows were going to poke her in the eye. She was going to fall right into that campfire.

There’s more.

As I sat reading all by myself Friday night, in the dark, I thought a person could walk right through the campsite and slit my throat and he wouldn’t even get caught. The next day, I thought a white van looked suspicious. And as Levi and his friend rode off on their bikes, I mentally kicked myself because I couldn’t remember what they were wearing. How could I give a description to the police if they disappeared?

Oh, there’s more.

More anxieties. More fears. I won’t bore you with the details, though. The point is, I was the opposite of Isaiah 30:15. For quietness means “to be tranquil, be at peace, rest, be undisturbed, be still.” But I was totally disturbed. Let me rephrase that…

I am totally disturbed.

Inside, I am. Always. My inner being is never at rest. Usually troubled. And this leads to my revelation. I do not confidently trust in the Lord. I just don’t. Because if I did, I wouldn’t incessantly worry over my kids the way I do.

Oh, it’s natural for moms to worry a little. But me? It’s more. Seems I’m always waiting for something dreadful to happen. And Summer is the worst.

Because that’s when my babies get in the water…

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The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me in the pool when the water is stirred up…” John 5:7

I can tell when God’s leading in a certain direction. It happens when I see the same verse more than once, different sources. Or a particular word may stand out again and again. Most recently, it was stir and other forms of it. Stirring, stir up, stirred.

I read it in the fifth chapter of John two times Tuesday. That’s when I knew God was speaking. And though the question, “Do you want to get well,” was posed to an invalid who’d been sick for thirty-eight years, I knew Jesus asked the question of me.

He whispered to my tortured soul, “Do you want to get well?”

And I did. Oh, I really do. Because fear has been a part of my life for too long. Ever since childhood, really. Different forms of fear. All unfounded. All consuming. And it’s this very thing God wants to heal me of.

My fears.

Because naturally, my spiritual walk is hindered when my anxiety is stirred up. And when dread riddles my body, I’m left feeling crippled. Scared to move forward. Scared to let go of what makes me feel safe. And yet, this is what God wants me to do.

Let go.

He wants me to jump. To confidently trust that His arms are waiting. Just like Annabelle willingly jumped into Jason’s.

For He tells me, there is a pool (John 5:2). And in it, I’ll find healing…

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The fifth chapter of John tells how people in need of healing would wait for the stirring of the water. An angel of the Lord would go down into the pool at appointed seasons and stir it up. That’s what the above picture puts me in mind of. For the waters were stirred and agitated whenever Annabelle jumped in.

A stirring of the water…

Another version uses the word troubled. The angel troubled the waters. Funny how in John, the stirring brings healing and yet in other passages, we find the word used in a different context.

Used in Mark 6:50, this Greek word refers to the state of Jesus’ disciples, not water. Seems they were terrified and it had everything to do with water. Fierce waters. For their boat was in the middle of the lake and the wind was against them.

They were disquieted. Stirred up. Their spirits were stricken with fear and dread. Rendered anxious and distressed. They doubted. That’s how the word is used in the sixth chapter of Mark. For the tempestuous seas caused them inward commotion. Calmness of mind was taken away.

Crazy thing, though. Just before the storm, they’d witnessed a colossal miracle (the feeding of 5,000). And just a couple of chapters before the feeding, we read about another rough patch of water the disciples navigated. And yet, it’s as if they totally forgot what Jesus did with those waters. They forgot His power.

And in the forgetting, the disciples had no quietness of mind. No confident trust. Not even when they saw Him walking toward them on the water. Instead, they were scared. Filled with terror. Jesus tried to calm them, “Do not be afraid. It is I.”

With the earlier windstorm, He chose to calm the sea. “Silence! Be still!” And at once there was a great calm. Perfect peacefulness.  He asked His followers then, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

And this is where I found myself this week. All quietness and confident trust had been replaced by stirred up fear. It’s as if I’d forgotten everything He’d ever done. So no doubt, Jesus’ question was for me. Because inwardly, I’ve been agitated. My soul was and is troubled, and has been for too long.

Yes, deep down, I’m afraid. Of everything, it seems. But mostly, it has to do with my kids.

There is no fear in love [dread does not exist]. But perfect [complete, full grown] love drives out fear because fear involves [the expectation of divine] punishment. 1 John 4:18

Ironically, I just composed that massive blog on God’s love. And I want so very much for it to be true. Oh, how I want to be filled by His love. However, there’s no room. I’m just too full of fear…

But that fear has been there for so long. Thus, I have to ask myself a very important question. It has to do with the above verse. And the fear of punishment. See, I just have to wonder if I still fear God’s wrath…

Because I did something so terrible when I was twenty-two. And though I’ve spoken of this before, I still deplore even writing these words. But it’s truth. The truth being I aborted my babies.

Regrettably, the Summer of my twenty-second year was book-ended by abortions. One in April and one in September. I can hardly comprehend this now. And yet, it’s what I did. And it’s what I ponder now. This week.

See, I know He forgave me. My head knows it. January 31, 2014 was the day. However, I can’t help but wonder if there’s a piece of me that still fears punishment will come my way. Because I’m scared I’ll lose my living children. I live in dread of them being taken from me.

Every, single Summer since Levi was born, I’ve been filled with frightful thoughts. I try to hold tight to my babies in hope of warding off accidents. But Levi’s older now. I’ve had to remove my hands. And Annabelle, well, she’s ready. She wants my hands off.

But if I let go of them, that means I have to trust Him. God. I have to trust that He has them. That He’ll catch them in His arms.

And I am struck by the absolute irony of my life. That at twenty-two, I so carelessly let go of my babies as I prepared to have fun. And I’m sure I did. That’s what I had planned. Lots of Summer fun. But it seems like I’ve been paying for it for over eleven years now. Because every, single, Summer, I am filled with dread and agony.

So fearful. Waiting for the worst.

Thus, I realize truth. Summer is the season of my sin. For balmy weather brings no rest to my soul. And it’s when I trust in God the absolute least.

Which begs the question. Do I still fear God’s punishment?

So the one who is afraid [of God’s judgment] is not perfected in love [has not grown into a sufficient understanding of God’s love]. 1 John 4:18

Summer is my season of fear. Because of this, I realize love is not perfected in me. It’s just not. See, the word perfected means: complete, to accomplish, finish, bring to an end, to bring to a close or fulfillment by an event. And it’s this last definition that speaks to me today.

My revelation being that I am not quietly resting in the event that took place over 2,000 years ago. The one where Jesus took my place on the cross. The one where He took my punishment. The one where God’s wrath was exhausted. Because when it was over, Jesus said, “It is finished.”

My fear tells me I don’t think it’s over. Living fearfully and expecting the worst tells me I don’t think God is finished with His wrath.

If my heart could just take this in. If I could fully comprehend it was finished then and it’s finished now. It’s this one act, performed by Jesus, that perfected love. And it’s this act I can confidently trust in.

And after cycling through eleven seasons full of fear and sin, I sometimes wonder if I ever will…

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Be still and know… Psalm 46:10

This notebook sits on my bedroom floor. It’s my To-Do list. All the stuff I want to accomplish. I put it together in January of 2016. Needless to say, I was quite busy that year. And the years preceding it.

Always busy. One day, though, I heard God. It was the Fall of 2016. And this is usually my season of repentance. That’s because Summer is no more, And because water play comes to a halt, my fears are relieved. Thus, my trust in God elevates.

It was during one of those seasons I heard Him say be still. I thought it had to do with all my activity. Busyness. And it did. But this week, I realized there was more to it.

The verse came back to me as I contemplated Jesus’ words to the sea. “Peace,” He said. “Be still.”

And the definition for peace is just what you might think. It means to be calm, a quieted sea. However, it also means to be silent. To hold one’s peace. Moreover, still means to close the mouth, to muzzle, to become speechless. And this is the meaning that gets to me now.

See, just before going on my mini-vacation, I wrote out 1 Corinthians 13:1… a verse about speaking without love. And I realize this is me. I’m not full of love, I’m full of fear. Thus, I’m a noisy gong.

And I wonder about all my busyness. Does a piece of me remain that believes good deeds will keep harm from my children? Am I still trying to pay off my own debt? Because it’s huge. My sins immense.

These are valid questions.

And yet, Jesus told the sea to be still. He says the same to me. He commands my turbulent soul to cease. He bids my anxieties to hush. But more, He tells me to hold my peace. To close my mouth. Because until this irrational fear is gone, I’m just clanging. Until I am well, I’m just a gong.

Oh, it’s a hard truth to face.

But I have hope. Ever present hope despite the fear. For my God continues to speak. He continues to lead. See, He led me to a nugget of truth hidden in Psalm 46:10. The definition means to “to sink, relax, let drop, let go, to be quiet, etc.” But also, the Strong’s concordance says to “see H7495.” It’s a Hebrew word rapha’, meaning to heal. Or to be healed.

And miraculously, right there under “to be healed,” it says, “of water, pottery.”

Oh, it may be true I’ve lived every Summer since the birth of my son in dread. It’s the pools and the lakes and the oceans. However, I have hope God will heal me of this fear. Among others. And when those fears are cast out, the vessel I am really will be ready for filling. I know It’s going to happen.

But until it does, I don’t think He wants me to speak. No, all that’s been stirred has to settle and quiet.

Yes, I think He bids me to hold my peace, until I have inner peace…

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Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid [let my perfect peace calm you in every circumstance and give you courage and strength for every challenge]. John 14:27

You know, I’ve been a Christian for quite some time now. 1997, I prayed a prayer but I didn’t begin seeking God till years later. The big push, though? It was the Summer of 2010. Levi was just three. The same age as Annabelle now. And it was a day on the lake. I was sick with dread.

I believe that’s the moment I first turned to Him.

And ever since then, it’s been a journey. Layer by layer, God has led me deeper and deeper. So I find it all to be true, that when you walk through the waters, He does go with you. And His strong arm does reach down and pull you from the deep.

But to me, it seemed too much time had passed. Surely, I’d spent too much time on myself and my insides. Surely the time had come for me to take care of others. Time to do things. To be busy. Onward and outward via works!

But this was the greatest lie. It’s the biggest deceit. It’s right there in the book of Jeremiah. Stern words. In the 6th and 8th chapter. “They have treated superficially the [bloody] broken wound of My people, saying “Peace, Peace,” when there is no peace.”

Peace meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, health. And this is me. I’ve treated my wound lightly. Somewhat ignored what’s pressing. Because of guilt and fear of not being active or pulling my weight.

Thus, the word treated really resonates this day. Because it’s the word for healing. It’s the same word I found when looking up the definition for still (in Psalm 46:10). Rapha’, which means to heal or to be healed. That’s this word in Jeremiah.

And this. Is. It.

God said for me to be still. But I wasn’t. Not totally. I continued in my busyness by way of ministry, Bible studies, volunteering, etc. Good works. I cannot help but feel this is how I “treated” my wound. Superficial bandaging by way of tasks.

But the wound is deep. It’s the key to all my fears. And the only way it can heal is utter stillness. Physically and inwardly. Stillness from a hectic schedule so I can hear what He’s saying. And inner stillness and quietude so the Healer can tend to me. And mend me.

Only then will I find the lasting peace that will still unfounded fears. It’s a wellness I’ve never known. Shalowm. Meaning safe, well, happy, welfare, health, rest. It’s what Jesus offers me when He says, “Do you want to be well?”

And I do. I long for this inner-peace in my soul. And so I listen to His words. He says, “Peace! Be still!”

And I will.

IMG_7687For your Maker is your husband… Isaiah 54:5

Saturday, I thought I’d compose a sweet little Father’s Day blog.  One about me confidently jumping into my heavenly Father’s arms. Turns out, God had another idea altogether. Seems it has more to do with me jumping into my husband’s arms than Annabelle.

Yes, I knew I was to go another direction when I saw Annabelle wearing my silver bracelet yesterday. It’s one Jason gave to me the Summer before we were married. And I can tell you exactly how I felt when he gave it.

Disquieted. Disturbed…

That’s because he’d gone off to Airman Leadership school. I was torn up. Filled with dread. I simply didn’t trust him. It wasn’t because he’d done anything, though. It was all me. I expected him to cheat. Or leave. Or to cast me aside.

And in looking back, it’s no wonder I felt as I did. Because Jason and I became an item just one year after I did what I did. And because I so easily threw someone away, naturally, I expected the same to happen to me.

Thus, I agonized the entire month. Irrational fears welled up inside me.

Oh, I waited for the day Jason would do something. Or not do something. I fully expected him to let me down. And my major epiphany is this… I’ve been the same with God. My other spouse.

Yes, my Maker is my Husband and His name is God. And I realize living in constant fear (especially over losing my kids) displays a huge distrust in Him. It’s not based on reality. My fears are not justified. And really, they’re crippling.

But He’s shown me….

There is a pool.

And when my fears diminish, the pool will well up inside me as His Spirit is stirred. And when my inner being is filled by the coolness of His living waters, I just need to let go. To jump in. For there, in His waiting arms, I’ll find healing.

Wellness to my soul.

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Today, I have hope.

Looking on the last twenty years with my spouse fills me with it. See, I didn’t trust Jason. Not at first and not for years. But eventually, I did. I can’t even tell you when it happened. It was like a switch flipped. And today, I trust him implicitly.

I no longer worry that he’s going to let me down. Likely, because we have a track record. Oh, we’re far from newlyweds and two decades have provided me with a great sense of security.

How wonderful to trust your husband.

And me and God? I figure we’re about ten years in. That’s because I didn’t seek to know Him early on. Here’s what I think, though. What took place with me and Jason will happen with us, too. I think something’s going to happen inside, like a switch being flipped. And one day, I’ll just wake up trusting Him. Implicitly. And I probably won’t even be able to tell you when it happened.

Yes, I believe to my soul that day is coming. The day I’ll trust my Maker every bit as much, or more than, I trust my earthly spouse. The man I’ve been holding to for twenty years now.

Indeed, I am fully confident.

All those false fears will eventually go away. Driven out by God’s perfect love. And when that happens, His love will stir me to speak once more…

…Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace. Acts 18:9

The Groom (love comes third)

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My heart overflows with a good theme… Psalm 45:1

It must have been five years back when I tried to write about God’s love. That’s when I used to send my writings to Jason for his perusal before posting. His input went something like this: “When you’re writing about God’s love it should be, I don’t know, just more.”

And he was right. I can’t remember exactly what I sent but likely, it lacked substance. Experience, even. Because back then, a lot about me remained covered up. There were things I didn’t mention. Stuff I’d completely forgotten or didn’t even realize.

Truth?

I didn’t know the depth of my sin. And dare I say this? If one doesn’t know the depth of her own sin, can she begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love for her? Because it was for that very reason He sent His Son to die. For those sins. And for so long, I just didn’t know…

However, time and experience has taught me God’s love runs deep. Deeper than all my iniquity. And I’ve learned the love of God is fervent. Unending and unconditional. And most amazingly, I’ve come to understand this type of love was first offered to me by my husband.

Jason.

Yes, he’s the one who provided me with my first glimpse of God’s love. And so, in honor of him and our twentieth anniversary (just weeks away), my desire is to try and write about God’s love once more. This time, though, I hope to get it right. Fortunately, I have my husband’s example to guide me.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

I heard a speaker last month. And she was so sweet. She shared she just wanted to be God’s little cup. One He uses every day. And that resonated with me. Because that’s my desire, too. I want to be useful to Him.

His own special cup…

A vessel used for honor, not dishonor. One prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:20-21). A vessel ready to be filled by His Spirit.

However, I felt empty for some reason. And cup half full or half empty (depends on one’s perception), my epiphany was that Jesus’ promise remained unfulfilled. Because He said He came in order that I may have life and have it abundantly. To the full. But in early May, I didn’t.

I tell you, I was pretty discouraged. And I sincerely pleaded with God, “Why? Why is the Spirit quenched within me?” Because I knew He had to be in there somewhere. His word says so (Ephesians 1:13).

Only, the Spirit seemed to be grieved into silence. Movement was nil.

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He who believes in Me – from His innermost being will flow continually rivers of living water. John 7:38-39

I think it’s ironic the river banks were flooding in recent weeks. Overflowing with murky waters. The irony being that the living waters had receded inside me. Yes, in May, I’d say they’d nearly dried up.

But God is gracious and He desires to fill me with His goodness. Thus, when I asked why the drought, He answered through the 5th Chapter of John. Stern words. But relevant. And though Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees, I knew He was talking to me…

At least last month, He was. For He said, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life… but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.”

At that point, it wasn’t just the Spirit inside me who grieved. For I did, too. Incomprehensibly, and despite hours and hours of studying God’s word, it was all clear. The love of God was not in me.

I was devastated. Really. And utterly confused.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self indulgence (unrestrained greed). You (spiritually) blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate (examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts), so that the outside (your public life and deeds) may be clean also.

Woe to you, (self-righteous) scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. So you, also, outwardly seem to be just and upright to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Matthew 23:25-28

In May, I was confused because I’d been seeking to serve God for many years. Mainly, through writing. The desire came about nearly seven years ago and I don’t think it was of me. No, I believe God’s Spirit moved me in that direction.

However, one year into the writing venture, something came up. A skeleton from my closet. And when I shared it with my spiritual mother, she said something profound. She drew near and said, “God won’t use a dirty vessel.” I’ll never forget it.

Today, I believe last month’s experience was just an extension of that conversation. An extension of when my past first made an appearance. Because that was only the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t know how far there was to go. So deep to dig.

Yes, these past years have been a real excavation of my heart. And the biggest tool for digging has been the writing. The very thing I love to do has served to expose all that was hidden.

See, God has always known my heart. But when I first began to write, I didn’t. And I’m filled with awe that He lovingly gave me a gift by which all He wanted me to see would be unearthed. Because He knew until I did, I wouldn’t be able to serve Him properly. Not until I saw the depravity of my own nature, would I be useful to God.

I wouldn’t serve as His special little cup…

Funny thing, though. Just prior to May, I thought I was pretty much done. That everything had been uncovered. I didn’t realize there was more work to be done.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Romans 1:29-31

God has a way of bringing things to completion. He has a way of putting things together so that vision is restored. So that the blind regains vision. And for me, May and June served that purpose. For that’s when I began to really see.

It came together when Jason and I went out west. He had a business trip and I was able to accompany him. And since we’ve made no big plans for our anniversary, I told myself this would serve as a nice gift. We’d have time to explore a new state and enjoy each other’s company.

Two days in, I sensed something was amiss. Jason just didn’t seem himself. When I persisted in asking, he grabbed my hand and assured me all was fine. So while he went off to work, I pushed those feelings down and ventured into a new city. Know how I felt when I got back to the hotel? Dirty. I felt sullied by the world.

Oh, the town was nice enough. Shopping and sights to see. But everywhere I glanced, I saw something sad. A homeless man on the street. Then two or three more. As I turned down a not-so-traveled alley, a not-so-nice odor met my nostrils. Finally, I went back to my room.

I was relieved when I got there. I felt safe as I latched the door. I changed into my swimsuit and allowed the sun to bake away my uneasiness. I immersed myself in the water and let the coolness wash away the filth of the world. And then, I simply put the world out of my mind. I thought all was well.

Wash me from my guilt. Purify me from my sin… Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God. Psalm 51:2, 7, 10

Me and Jason had a conversation a couple of days later. We had an hour to kill at the airport and something unpleasant came up. First, I was critical with Jason. A made a nagging sort of comment that came across as totally condemning. That’s when he told me the truth…

He pointed out my critical comments. He mentioned how I never focused on the positive, I always saw the negative, and further, I felt the need to point those things out. And though he didn’t say the following words, the truth was plain to see.

I realized how condemning I was. How unloving. And I understood that I was acting in complete opposition to Jesus. And the words I’d heard prior to the trip, “You don’t have the love of God in you,” seemed to be underscored by that entire conversation.

For the second time in one month, I was devastated. I wiped back stray tears during the flight. I felt sure I was the reason Jason didn’t seem himself days earlier. And by the time we hit the highway, closing in on our kids, I was undone. Sobs came forth.

Honestly, I was broken over the state of my cold, hard, unloving heart. And surely this was the reason I’d been feeling so empty. So devoid of God’s Spirit. Why He’d been grieving.

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45

“All excess is rooted in emptiness.”  This statement was made by Bible teacher, Beth Moore, and I have to agree with her. For my life gives evidence to her observation. See, I’ve come to realize how excessive my harsh judgments are. Too many criticisms. A condemning nature overflows. And why? I think part of this may be my old nature (how I grew up). But mostly, I think the excess is rooted in empty works. Cleaning the outside of the cup, so to say.

Works not propelled by God’s love. Empty actions motivated by guilt or compulsion.  Tasks fueled by empty religion and law, not relationship. And because I’ve placed these conditions on myself (the things I must or must not do), I inadvertently place the same on others.

Unfortunately, this has caused my love to be conditional. Mainly with my spouse. See, if the conditions are met, my love is doled out freely. But if not, I tend to withdraw. I can be cold. This is the truth.

And this is what God wanted me to see…

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Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” Matthew 15:10-11

The definition of “comes out” in the above verse is to come forth, to flow forth – of a river. And this is what happened with me. All the ugly thoughts and judgments spewed. What was in came out. Oh, they flowed forth. Just like a river flooding the banks.

See, in years of seeking to serve God, I veered off track. I neglected my heart. And in paying too much attention to my outward, I developed eyesight that focused on others’ outsides, too. Yes, in trying to be approved by Him, I became disapproving of my neighbor.

Unloving of the world.

In the end, I wasn’t set apart, I’d segregated myself. And I wasn’t sanctified, I was sanctimonious. I’d inserted a big fat “self” in front of righteousness. This is what my heart was full of. Which left very little room for God. And His love.

Thus, His Spirit was quenched. Grieved into silence…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. John 3:16-17

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The trip Jason and I took in May turned out to be the best thing. It afforded us an opportunity to talk. And through the conversation, I got a good look at myself. Through my husband’s eyes.

I really didn’t like what I saw.

But you know, I got a good look at Jason, too. My beloved. The man I’ve shared my life with for almost twenty years now. And you know what…

I liked what I saw.

Because he seemed to house the very thing I’ve been lacking. There in Jason’s eyes, I saw the love of God peering back at me. And though he spoke firm words, they were not condemning. Just truthful. And even as he said them, he grabbed for my hand. He offered me his love.

A love that reflects God’s very own.

Knowledge [alone] makes [people self-righteously] arrogant, but love [that unselfishly seeks the best for others] builds up and encourages others to grow [in wisdom]. If anyone imagines that he knows and understands anything [of divine matters, without love], he has not yet known as he ought to know. 1 Corinthians 8:1-2

It’s funny. God filled me with words. I think it’s because I spend hours and hours poring over His holy Scripture. And I’ve done my best to convey what I glean from that time. Jason, though, he’ll have none of it. He calls me on it. He tells me when the godly words I issue don’t line up with my actions.

And I find it funny when I compare the two of us. Me spending hours and hours in the Word. Jason taking a few moments in the morning before work. This was the comment I made to him in that airport. Something along those lines…

See, I didn’t think he was being “spiritual” enough. Not spending enough time with God. Actions speak louder than words, though. And how true it is that our lives are living letters, known and read by all. For Jason reads me daily and I read him, too. And simply, he is a love letter.

Just like the one God wrote for us through the life of His Son.

See, when I first came to Jason, I was dirtied by the world. Like a doormat, people had wiped their feet all over me. I’d been cast off. Unwanted. But rather than feeling the need to turn aside and close the door to me, wiping away the dirt, Jason did the opposite.

Unfathomably, he wanted me. He accepted me as I was. And when my past came to light, he opened his arms wide. He hugged me. He loved me in my filth.

Dirty vessel and all.

And this is just how God loves us. Clearly, He shows and proves His love by the fact Christ died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). In all our filth.

And this is the kind of love I see in Jason.

May He grant you out of the riches of His glory, to be strengthened and spiritually energized with power through His Spirit in your inner self, [indwelling your innermost being and personality], so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through your faith. And may you, having been [deeply] rooted and [securely] grounded in love, be fully capable of comprehending with all the saints (God’s people) the width and length and height and depth of His love [fully experiencing that amazing, endless love]; and [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. Ephesians 3:16-19

I want to love Jason better. Today, I have hope and faith that I will. See, there’s this little rhyme kids sing, but I think they have it backwards. It goes: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes so-and-so with a baby carriage.” And in contemplating all the years with my husband, I think there’s a better order.

Because surely love comes third. At least with me, it does.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I loved my husband when we married. The best I knew how. But in truth, I couldn’t love him properly. Not fully. Because I tend to be selfish. And unfortunately, I’ve been so full of my junk, not much room was left for God’s love.

For way too long, I was incapable of loving the way He does.

But fortunately, life happened. First came marriage. Then came babies. That’s when my selfish nature was brought to the surface. Over the years, other things were uncovered. And as I empty those parts of me, the cup that I am gets cleaned on the inside.

A clean vessel.

Yes, as I empty out what doesn’t belong in my heart, God’s Spirit flows. And His love fills me. Thus, I say love comes third…

First comes marriage, second comes babies, and third comes love. His love. The love of God in me. And this is what I plan to give Jason for our twentieth…

A heart full of love. A heart capable of loving him the way he deserves to be loved. Unconditionally and fully. A heart that loves him the very way He’s loved me all these years.

Just like God does.

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In this [union and fellowship with Him], love is completed and perfected with us… 1 John 4:17

2 Timothy 2:21 is one of my favorite verses. It says: Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

That word for prepare is the same one used in Revelation 19:7. The Bride has made herself ready. And it’s the same one used in Luke 1:76, describing how John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord. The definition, metaphorically, is drawn from the oriental custom of sending on before kings on their journeys persons to level the roads and make them passable (Strong’s Concordance).

Wow, does this speak today. See, I’m cleaning the inside of my cup. In a sense, I’m making the road passable. I’m preparing the way. And it’s this action that allows the Spirit to move freely upon the landscape of my heart.

Further, I have great hope for I know Jesus is coming. The Groom will surely come for His bride.

But as for today, I continue to clean out my heart. Whatever He uncovers, I try to remove. Layer by layer. All that inside stuff. In doing so, I prepare the way for the indwelling of His Holy Spirit.

The filling of me.

His little cup…

My cup runneth over. Psalm 23:5

Yes, I am a vessel made to be filled by God’s Holy Spirit. In this total consummation, I find abundant life. It’s the path I travel to my happily ever after. Feels just like a wedding…

See, an engagement of sorts took place when He promised me His Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And because of His word, I am made clean. A bride without blemish. As I was presented to Christ, He lifted the veil (2 Corinthians 3:14). And because we are joined together in holy matrimony, the union of God’s Spirit with my heart of flesh, God deems that no man separate us (Mark 10:9)…

Yes, what God has joined together, let no man tear asunder.

And in the fashion of earthly weddings, a pronouncement was made. A voice thundered, I now present to you the bride and the Groom.

However, another proclamation was made. It’s one I needed to hear. For my God said, “Do not call anything impure that He has made clean (Acts 10:15).” And this is what I am today.

I am clean. Inside and out.

And oh, how my cup runneth over with the love of God.

Yes I, the bride, have made myself ready. I am prepared for every good work. Fully prepared to love the world. And my people. Most especially my husband, Jason. For indeed, He’s the one who showed me this type of love in the first place.

Somehow, with him, love came first.

And his love guides me.

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

 

 

 

 

Here comes the bride 2 (I feel pretty)

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Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:3-4

I’m in the midst of a ten week Bible study right now. However, I’ve been stuck on week six ever since mid-May. Maybe that’s because much of the content surrounds a woman’s childhood dreams. The writer suggests there are four…

One, to be a bride. Two, to be beautiful. Three, to be fruitful. And finally, four, which is to live happily ever after.

As for me, I had only two of those dreams. I always wanted to be beautiful and I always wanted to be happy.

As for marriage, I didn’t think a lot about it. I never dreamed of what I would wear or the flowers or any of that. No, I simply wanted the love of a man. And in order to be loved, I had to be pretty. At least that’s how my small mind worked. And once you got the guy, surely happily ever after would just work itself out.

Thus, I strove for pretty. Not beautiful, mind you. Beauty was a far off dream. But pretty I might could manage. And so early on, embarrassingly, this was my sole aim in life. I had no passion or purpose other than to work on my outward appearance in hope of looking good enough to find love.

I guess it worked because one day, I did. I found love through a young man named Jason. And we were married nearly twenty years ago.

So I guess that means I’m living the dream now. I’m doing what most little girls hope for. For I’ve been the bride and I’ve been fruitful. And I’m living happily ever after. Well, most of the time. I have to be honest, though. Happy is not an every day occurrence around here. Not for me. Because being happy is one of my struggles.

And as for being beautiful, well, that’s another struggle. Because for most of my life, I’d say I’ve felt not so pretty. Just like I did today…

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This morning was one of those days. I picked out a green blouse to wear to church. I ended up dumping my jewelry out because I couldn’t find what I wanted. In the end, I selected gold tone earrings and bracelets and they looked good laying there with my clothes. However, the top ended up being too tight. You could see every roll on my backside. I tried another top and that ended up on my bed, too…

I finally settled for old faithful (a billowy top that still fits me). I just didn’t feel good, though. Totally frumpy and so out of style. One, my toenails were in terrible shape, the polish worn off half my toes. And then there’s my hair. I just don’t like it much. In truth, I only like my do about four days out of the month.

I know. Totally shallow but totally true. And this is how my day started wrong.

Next came this afternoon. We were going to the funeral home so I wanted to look more presentable. The problem was nothing fit. I was supposed to lose thirty pounds this past year but I’ve not had the will power to do so. That’s why I had to take a rubber band and extend my pants a size. As for my shirt, I kept fingering my buttons all evening to make sure one didn’t come undone (they were under a slight amount of strain).

I just felt so uncomfortable. So not pretty. So darn frumpy. And I hate feeling like this.

Again, I know. Totally shallow. But this is where I was today. I couldn’t stand looking in the mirror because I felt so ugly. So unlike the woman I was twenty years ago. Because back then, I could slide into a size 10 easy. And sometimes an 8. And I felt pretty. Yes, I’m quite sure I felt pretty.

Most brides do, I suppose.

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His bride has made herself ready. Revelation 19:7

Know what I see in this picture? A blemish. If you look closely, you’ll notice a big pimple trying to erupt on my cheek. There are also some spots on my chin. I see something else threatening to erupt, too. Unseen to the eye of man, but known to me (and to God), was the condition of my heart that day….

I remember how I felt and can easily recall some of the feelings I pressed down and glossed over. Feelings that threatened to bubble up.

See, I worked really hard on my outer appearance. I curled my hair and stained my lips. I  applied shadow to my lids and mascara to my lashes. And I did it myself. And though I never dreamt of what my wedding day would be like, I thought someone would help me with this part. The makeup and hair. I thought women would be fawning all over me. But they didn’t…

Oh, it would be fair to say I didn’t ask. And also, I managed just fine. It’s just my selfish nature was exposed on my wedding day. It appeared as I readied myself.

And when I stood in the middle of my beloved gals, the bridesmaids and maid of honor, I expected to be the center of attention. When the photographer aimed his camera for a photo, someone cried out, “Wait!” I thought I was her aim as she approached with a makeup brush. Instead, blush was applied to one standing close by. The question was asked, “Does she look okay?” And she did. She was beautiful.

And me? The bride. Inwardly, I seethed.

I was furious, really. Because it was my day. And in my small mind, I thought my looks were the only that mattered. The only that should be remarked on. My selfish nature did not like sharing the spotlight. And moreover, I didn’t like feeling outshone by another.

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For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. Ephesians 5:25-27

When Jason entered my life, so did religion. And I say religion because at first, that’s all I had. There was no relationship with Christ. Just rules and regulations. I tried to adhere to a law.

And when I read to keep myself unspotted from the world (James 1:27), I tried to do so. Only, I tried to do so outwardly. You can say I attempted to “clean the outside of the cup.” As to the inside (my heart), I left it alone for years.

And because I’d always been so outward focused (looking pretty can be accomplished in the Christian realm, too), I couldn’t see my sin. Because I adorned myself with all manner of good works and activities, I never paid much attention to how full of blemishes my insides were. I was a whitewashed wall.

And if I felt a nudge as to the inner, I ignored it.

I find what Jesus says in the book of Luke to be so true. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

See, we can be so blind. I was. For I just couldn’t see some of my issues. My sins. Not even when something was staring me right in the face. Like the time I attended a friend’s party fifteen years ago. I asked her, “Do I look okay?” She said, “Yeah, you do. But really, it’s my party.” And I thought she was pretty selfish. So self-centered. I carried that one around for years. Judging her for her comment.

But you know what? I finally saw truth. Just two days ago, I got it. For I am no different than she. My feelings from my wedding day were no different than hers at her party. We were both selfish in our thought process.

And after twenty years, I finally saw the log. The one in my eye…

The one God is helping me to remove now.

A log called selfishness.

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The Lord does not look at things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7

I spent most of my life trying to look pretty. Even in the religious realm. And I’ve learned that “pretty” can be attained by doing a work, even if your heart is as dark as night… oh, so full of spot and wrinkle and blemishes.

You can be totally ugly on the inside and hide it. And you can look good while doing what you do. But eventually, what’s inside comes out. It bubbles up. It boils over. It erupts. Just like that spot on my cheek did. And even if you somehow manage to keep the ugly suppressed, God knows it’s there. He knows.

As for me, I kept the ugly bottled up for years. Held it till I couldn’t stand myself any longer. But it all came gushing out. The overflow of my heart.

It happened as I spent more time in God’s word. It happened as I peered into the perfect law of liberty and fixed my attention there. Over time, I not only heard what God said, but I did what He said to do. I beheld my natural face in the glass and didn’t like what I saw. But it had nothing to do with my outside. It had everything to do with my inside. The ugly I carried around for years.

Stuff like envy and bitterness and rage and jealousy. He told me to put it away. Get rid of it. And I’ve been doing that. A little bit at a time.

Emptying my heart of what defiles me.

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So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. 2 Corinthians 3:18

It’s true, I felt pretty ugly today. But here’s the lesson. I got the guy anyway. See, my husband said I looked good. He thinks I’m pretty.

And here’s another lesson. You see that forty-five year old woman in the mirror? Outward, she may not look as good as the woman in the wedding dress (the younger version of me). But the older is so much prettier. She is…

I am.

Because my insides are being cleaned up. Slowly but surely. And my heart is not what it once was. I am not who I once was.

Here’s the biggest lesson, though. Jesus loves me. And His affection is not based on looks. He loves me now but also, He loved me then. He loved me when I was so full of ugly. Oh, I may have felt pretty twenty years ago, but inside, I was not.

And yet, He loved me.

What a miracle. What a revelation for someone like me. See, you don’t have to be pretty to get the love of the Guy. Jesus. I’ll tell you something else, though. In His eyes, I am pretty. No, more than pretty. He might even say I’m beautiful.

And so I find it’s all true. It turns out, I am living the dream. Living the life most little girls hope for…

For I am His bride. I am beautiful. I am fruitful. And with Him, I will live happily ever after…

Here comes the bride (a tribute to Tasha)

IMG_7340“My beloved speaks and says to me, ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.'” Song of Solomon 2:10

Every now and then, my heart begins to beat in my chest. And there is certainty. I know I have to sit at this computer and unleash the thoughts pent up within. Thoughts that have been rolling around for well over three weeks now…

All centered on the bride.

Yes, this is where I’ve been sitting. Stewing and musing. Reflecting. And I thought it had everything to do with me and Jason. That’s because our 20th anniversary is right around the corner. And I wanted to write something in tribute to him. My beloved.

But today, I comprehend God’s been preparing me for something else altogether. He had another task in mind…

Seems all these bridal thoughts of the past month were simply paving the way to what just happened. But it wasn’t a celebration. Nor an anniversary. Instead, it was a tragic event.

Something so horrifying and sad. But also, and incomprehensibly, so beautiful. Because today I know there was in deed a wedding ceremony. Only, we couldn’t see it here on earth. Because it happened over yonder. In the Spirit realm.

And so now I know. The message that’s been playing in my heart for days and days has more to do with that bride. The one who is no longer here. The one who’s gone on before others, and paves the way. For it seems her time had come.

And surely an eternal rendition of “Here comes the bride” played while she went away from here. When He called. When her Beloved said to her, “Come away with me.”

And he will go before the Lord… to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17

Here’s what I know about being a bride. There’s a lot of prep work. I don’t care if the wedding is simple or elaborate, there’s loads of preparing either way.

Me and Jason? We opted for the simple route. Small church wedding. Finger foods. I tied up the bird seed while Jason’s mom sewed my dress. And twenty years ago, all this consumed me.

All the wedding preparations.

I confess, I was a little worried about the dress, though. My mother-in-law, Susan, had me try it on multiple times for fittings. Cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. And at one point, I just couldn’t see how it was going to come together. I didn’t think it was going to come out looking the way I wanted. Of course, I didn’t tell her that. I just kept my worry to myself.

In the end, though, the dress was beautiful. Creamy and satiny smooth, adorned by hundreds of teeny, tiny pearls. I loved it but more, I loved how I felt wearing it.

For I was a bride.

And when my time came, I walked down the aisle while the Wedding March filled my ears…

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If anyone therefore purges himself from these, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, and suitable for the master’s use, prepared for every good work. 2 Timothy 2:21

In my recent musings, here’s what I’ve come to understand. I’m not just a wife to Jason. The truth is I am still a bride. But this time, I am the bride of Christ, too. His betrothed. Because I am a Christian. And God refers to His church as the bride of Christ.

And just like with any approaching wedding, there are preparations. There’s one major difference though. While one ceremony calls for outward preparations, the other, well, it’s all inward.

All my focus twenty years ago was on the outward. Appearance only. Tanning and shaving and makeup and hair and shoes and flowers and on and on. I wanted everything on the outside to be perfect. As to my inside, not a thought was given.

And so I walked down that aisle and Jason took my hand and we both said, “I do.” And I thank God for that day. He is truly my soul mate. My other half. My looking glass. God’s choice for me. And I cannot imagine life here without him.

And so, for my husband’s sake, I’m so very grateful God calls me to be His Son’s bride. Because that requires some inward prep. Okay, lots of inward prep. And just like my wedding dress, there’s cinching and pinning and clipping and cutting. But these cuts aren’t made to satin. No, these are the cuts made to my innermost being…

Oh God, how He’s been preparing me. And He has a sharp set of scissors. But His aren’t pinking shears. No, they’re of the pruning variety. And He’s been cutting away the excess material of my heart. A snip of a bad habit here… the removal of an old grudge there. Piece by piece He’s been altering me. Well over twenty years now. Such a lengthy process.

Funny thing, though, there are times I feel just as I did in 1998. I feel about me as I did about the dress. I just can’t see how I’m going to come together in time. Because there’s a wrinkle or a puckering in the fabric of my soul. I see it and worry. Will I ever change? When my time comes, will I be prepared to be His bride?

But I have hope. For every day, God snips away.  And with each clip, I become more and more useful to Him. Over time, I am made into a vessel for honor. I am prepared for every good work He sets before me…

Like the task He placed before me this morning. The task to tell of the bride who’s gone before me. The woman who walked an eternal aisle. Can you picture it? Perhaps the heavenly host were the onlookers while “Here Come the Bride” filled the skies…

Let us rejoice and exult
and give him glory,
because the wedding celebration of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
She was permitted to be dressed in bright, clean, fine linen (for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints).

Revelation 19:7-8

Looking back on my wedding day, I have to chuckle. I was so naive and young. Oh so hopeful. I had no idea how much work marriage really is. And it is work. There’s blood, sweat and tears involved.

Being a Christian is the same way. It’s not a piece of wedding cake. The deeper you go with God, the harder the road becomes. Because Scripture is sharp. It cuts and divides. And this is what He uses to prune me. The blade of His word. It’s the tool that reveals my insides. It shows me how much dirt I store in the recesses of my heart. All the gunk I carried with me into my marriage.

And as I look at my choice of gown, I think how fitting it was that I chose off-white. Cream. Because in all my outward focus, I totally neglected my inside. I ignored the state of my heart. And truly, I just didn’t realize how dirty I was.

But over time, everything came out. The inner darkness eventually stained my countenance. I wore my bruised heart on my sleeve. And honestly, at times, I just couldn’t see how I would ever be clean. Not utterly. Not purely.

Like a bride should be.

But then I found something so wonderful tucked away in the 15th chapter of John. Such a familiar passage about Jesus being the vine and His followers the branches. And in the midst of Jesus’ words about pruning and cuts, He brings comfort through verse 3. He says, “You are already clean because of the word which I have given you…”

We are already clean. I am already clean. Because of Him. Yes, I am washed because of my faith in Him. It’s been given to me to wear the finest of pure white linen.

For I am part of the redeemed. His church.

Permitted to wear white…

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Which brings me to that other bride. The woman who went away too soon. I went to school with her so long ago. I didn’t know her because we were in a different grade. We ran in different circles. But a very good friend of mine knew her so well. Most of her life, I’d say. And because my friend knew her, the tragedy was brought near to me. And when my friend cried, so did I.

What happened to this woman was tragic. It was untimely. So out of the blue. And it’s the kind of thing that may cause some to wonder why. Why her? Because the comments I see on Facebook exemplify the most beautiful of women. Oh, she was a beauty, no doubt. But what I read is a testament to her insides…

It was her inner beauty that really shone.

I’m told she had a heart and soul of gold. She was happy and sweet and a force to be reckoned with. She always had a smile to share. Kind and caring. She was lovely to look at, but that loveliness went to her core.

And so to the question, why? Why her? Why now? No one can say for certain. And God’s ways our higher than ours. Thus, I don’t dare presume to know why.

I can muse, though. I can ponder and reflect. And the best answer I come up with is that perhaps she was completed. She had come together the way He intended. All her pruning accomplished. All her tasks done.

Maybe she accomplished all that God had for her to do here…

She was a vessel for honor. Conformed to the image of His Son. Useful to the Master having spread kindness and cheer. And so, her time came. Her groom came calling. He called her away.

And she must have been the most beautiful bride.

My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away,
for behold, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
and come away. Song of Solomon 2:10-13

 

In Pieces

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This is Annabelle’s Valentine to us. “I love you to pieces,” it says. Of course, someone wrote that for her (she’s only three). My thoughts today, though? I wondered if “I love you in pieces” would be more clear in conveying a true love message. At least my message…

Yes. That sounds right. I love you in pieces.

Let me explain.

It started yesterday with Stevie Nicks when her song “Crystal” came to mind. So darn beautiful. And some of the lyrics are so moving. Haunting and stirring all at once.

“Special knowledge, holds true bears believing. I turned around and the water was closing all around like a glove, like the love that had finally, finally found me. Then I knew in the crystalline knowledge of you…”

I’m sure she sings of her love for a man. Here on earth. True love, perhaps. Real love. Because no doubt, these words tell of a woman in love. And it being nearly Valentine’s Day, I’m not surprised the song came to me. Uncanny in its timing.

Thus, it prompts me to look back at my own love story…

And the real love I have for him.

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This picture came from Jason’s step-mom’s house after she’d passed on. Cissy kept the photo in a little white frame shaped like a heart. I kept it on my chest of drawers till the day it was knocked onto the floor. That’s when the porcelain heart shattered into pieces. The heart was broken and the picture came out exposing what lay underneath. It was this image of a slightly younger Jason and me.

But only by a couple of years.

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Truly, this is where our love story began. Here. I met Jason in Georgia and followed him home to North Carolina. I was the visitor who never left. And because of Jason, my man, I met another guy who I later fell in love with. His name?

Jesus Christ.

But the love I feel for Jesus now was slow in coming. Real slow. It didn’t happen 21 years ago when I voiced a prayer in February. Yes, this month marks 21 years since I was saved.

Funny thing is after I said that prayer all those years ago, nothing happened. Nothing miraculous occurred in my heart. Thus, I didn’t really want to tell anyone about it. Because what would I say? What could I say? I prayed a prayer and nothing happened and now I’m going to church.

And I have to chuckle as Stevie Nicks croons, “do you always trust your first initial feeling…” Because if I’d trusted my first initial feeling after praying that “sinner’s prayer,” I would have left church and never looked back. As I said, I didn’t feel a thing. Zilch.

But that was then.

Twelve years later, something did happen in the month of February, though. I’d been a Christian for over a decade and yet, it was the first time I felt a heartbeat. A thudding like I’d never noticed before. It was just before Valentine’s Day and I knew God wanted me to tell my story.

In truth, there wasn’t that much to tell back then. I strung together my words and formed a love story… a picture of a relentless God pursuing me. And finding me. And it was true, as best as I could tell it. But there was so much I didn’t know back then.

So much I couldn’t know.

Frankly, it’s absolutely shocking how much I didn’t know when I opened my mouth twenty one years ago to ask Jesus to forgive me of my sins and save me. Incredible I didn’t know what lay buried inside me the first time I gave testimony of my Lord and Savior nine years ago.

But now, I know.

Now I know truth…

Before you were formed in the body of your mother, I had knowledge of you. Jeremiah 1:5 (BBE)

Today was the first time I read that particular version of the above. And maybe it’s because I was already moved by the lyrics of a soulful singer proclaiming special knowledge, but this Scripture really touched me in a new way. It was so personal.

See, I was a Christian nine years ago when I first gave testimony of Jesus. However, I was stale. In truth, I didn’t really know Him. Not as I do today. So I prayed to. It was roughly eight years ago when I purposed to know Christ. To become more intimately acquainted with Him (Phil 3:10).

And God answered that prayer. He did so in bringing me back to my hometown. Because here, I couldn’t pretend anymore. No, when you’re back to where you came from, all those things you thought you left behind come finding you. They come to the surface.

God had special knowledge of me. He knew what it would take for me to come to know Him, so He brought me home to where the mask came off. And He knew that when I came to know Him, I’d also come to know myself. And this was key to me loving my husband…

I had to know who I was, and am, in order to love Jason the way a wife should.

Yes, may you come to know His love – although it can never be fully known – and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:19

I think back to the young girl I was in the picture Cissy kept. Truth is, I didn’t even know who I was when I married Jason. I had no original thought or direction of my own. I even let the pianist choose a song for our wedding because I didn’t know what I wanted. And I hated it. Though I didn’t know myself, I knew enough to know the song wasn’t me.

Another thing I didn’t know was that I possessed a broken heart. It was shattered into pieces and I hadn’t a clue. Not twenty one years ago when I prayed a prayer, or nine years ago when I gave a testimony, or even as recent as a couple of years ago. Oblivious to what lay inside me.

No, I didn’t know me and I for sure didn’t know I had a broken heart. Thus, there is no way I could love Jason fully. I just wasn’t capable of true love. Not the real, sacrificial kind.

But God knew what I needed. He knew I needed a Savior. And mostly, I needed saving from myself. Thus, He sent His Son. For me. The Spirit of the Lord God was upon Jesus. He was anointed and commissioned… to bind up the wounds of the brokenhearted.

To bind up the wounds of my broken heart.

And this is what I can testify to now. Because I know He came for me. He soothed my broken heart. And He’s fixing it piece by piece. That’s why I think the Valentine should say, “I love you in pieces.” Because every single day a piece of my heart finds healing. And every day a piece of me is healed, I’m that much better at loving my man.

I can’t lie… the process has been slow. But every year it gets better. I love my husband more and more and I love him so much better than that broken, young woman ever could have.

Yes, I love Jason in pieces.

Each day, my love for him grows, measured in bits and pieces.

As for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophecy in part (for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete). But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away… Now I know in part (just in fragments) but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known (by God). Portions of 1 Corinthians 13

Turns out, my testimony today is not so different than the one I’d given nine years ago. It still tells of a relentless God who pursued me. The One who found me. And when I hear Stevie Nicks sing of the love that finally found her, I can’t help but think of God.

Because not only did He find me, He really saved me. I just couldn’t name what He’d saved me from all those years ago. Because it hadn’t happened yet. I didn’t know Him and I didn’t know me and I didn’t know my broken heart.

But that comes in time. If I convey any message tonight, may it be that. That sometimes, it’s not an immediate fix. Sometimes, it takes years and years. And that’s okay.

One of the most comforting verses in the Bible to me is 1 John 4:16. It says “we have come to know (by personal observation and experience) and have believed (with deep consistent faith) the love which God has for us.”

Come to know isn’t immediate. And that’s how it happened with me. I came to know Him over the course of time. And He loved on me bit by bit. And oh, how He’s been loving on me this past year. Yes, it’s true that God’s healing my broken heart. Only, He does so in bite size pieces. Slowly, He’s mending me through His true love.

His real love.

That’s what He’s doing for me. That’s what He wants to do for you. Because that’s just who He is. He is love.

God is love.

And if you haven’t found this God yet, the One true God who is love, I pray that you do. I pray this Valentine’s Day, you find real love for perhaps the very first time…

Your One True Love.

God showed how much He loved us by sending His One and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through Him. This is real love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. (1 John 4:9-10)

As for me, there’s a little more healing yet to come. Alas, a few broken pieces remain. However, I remain hopeful. Ever hopeful.

And as for Jason, I could definitely love on him better. I still have those days. But it’s coming. Some good full loving is coming. That’s because I have special knowledge of the Lord. Oh, it’s not crystalline. I still look through a mirror dimly. But, I see better than I once did. And now, I know. At least in part, I do.

I know Him.

And I know me.

I’ve come to know us both in pieces.

Bits and pieces.

And with each piece, I love not just my husband better, but the whole wide world…

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

 

The Good Part

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How best to describe marriage? In my humble opinion, I’d have to say the opening lines of The Tale of Two Cities sums it up best. At least it seems to paint the picture of marriage’s early days. Or perhaps it just describes ours…

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” Charles Dickens

Wow. That’s it. See, there’s a reason you vow to take your other half “for better or for worse.” Because believe me, the worst comes. And faster than you think. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOh, at first there’s bliss… all smiles as your stomach dips and dives and flutters. Like here. But see, we weren’t even engaged at this point. And bad days were few and far in between. Likely because I tried to present my good side. All the time. Oh, Jason had a glimpse of the other me. But usually he got the good part. He got the best of me. But then (queue music in the background, please), the ring was slipped on my finger. Next thing you know, this happened…

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In the midst of Cozumel, Mexico, on the tail end of our honeymoon, the other side of me made an appearance. The bad part showed up and she’s all over my face. Jason snapped this picture after one of our many heated conversations. Seems he had planned to do something the following weekend, sans newly wedded wife, and I was not about to let that happen. No way, bub.

That was the first time I got my way. Seven days into our marriage, Jason was the first to give in. Because everyone’s heard a happy wife makes for a happy life. Or something like that.

A good woman

This may come across as shocking but when I first entered marriage, I considered divorce to be an option. My thought was if it doesn’t work out, I could just leave. And the truth is when I said, “I do,” I didn’t realize the gravity of what I was doing. As a twenty-five year old, I couldn’t comprehend what marriage really was. Because the word covenant wasn’t part of my vocabulary. A spoken vow nothing more than words. I just had no clue…

Needless to say, we had some rough patches as two young kids came together as one. We both had our ways. Our idiosyncrasies. Our ideas. Thus, there were points of conflict in our merging. A couple incidents stand out vividly. Like the time I walked out without a word for an entire evening because I didn’t agree with Jason’s choice of restaurant for the next day’s outing. I went to see American Beauty and came home to find Jason fast asleep. The next morning, I stayed in my bathrobe till he gave in. I hopped in the shower when he called our friends to change the venue.

A couple years later, I decided there was something I wanted to change about my mate. I believe that was the one time he was just as stubborn as me, though. A cold silence followed for two or three days. I actually caved first and tentatively approached him at his place of work. But He was firm. No, he wasn’t going to change and if I couldn’t accept him as he was, he said I should just leave. I went back home in silence. And tears.

But here we are… seventeen years later. We persevered. We remain as one. And I have to give Jason most of the credit for it. Because truth is, he took on a lot when he took me to be his. Unfortunately, I carried a lot of excess baggage into our lives. Old stuff that would have been best left behind. Yep… when Jason said, “I do,” he didn’t really get the good woman he deserved. Instead, he got me.

Remembering the Salsa

Sunday was one of those days. Ironic in how bad it was (or I was) in light of all my recent writings on the good life. Embracing the good. I think I was just trying to talk myself into it. That if I said it out loud enough times, and read it that much more, my demeanor would change. That I would find myself in a good mood. Instead, Sunday happened.

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and there was loudness in our home. All me. Words spoken and looks given and ugly gestures. Again, all me. Finally, with a sigh we all settled into the car for church. Jason said, “Well this has been a lovely Sunday morning.” At church, I pasted on my smile. I nodded and laughed and smiled and played the part. Though my loved ones at home got the worst of me, I tried to give all the others the best. I made more of an effort.

Afterward, we heard a dedication on the radio. Some guy really talked up his mate. It was nice, I guess. But when Jason said, “Now that sounds like a good woman,” I took great offense. I was ready for a fight… “What are you saying, that I’m not a good woman?” I jabbed but he ducked. He didn’t throw a punch as expected.

The grand finale was Big Lots’ parking lot. Miscommunication. I thought he was going to meet me in the store. He thought I was to come outside when I finished. So I struggled with Annabelle who did not want to ride in the cart. I held her and pushed the cart and flung items in the basket. All the while, I was getting more and more heated.

Finally, I looked outside. And there was my husband playing a game on his phone. At ease and relaxed. That’s when it happened. To use my Daddy’s term, I flew mad. I flew right out of that store, Annabelle in arm, and lost it in front of whoever may have been passing. I forcefully jerked the door open and cried, “What are you doing??”

But Jason, he’s a good man. He didn’t get loud in return. He calmly took Annabelle into his arms (I’d plopped her onto the passenger seat), and exited the car without returning my ugly gestures. He joined me in the store. That’s what Jason did.

But later, I know my mate was thinking about me and my bad attitude. Because he called to me from where he lay as I performed my kitchen duties. He asked me if I remembered making salsa.  Of course I remembered making it. I figured it was something to add to my enormous to-do list. “Do you want me to make salsa?”

But no, that’s not what Jason meant. He reminded me that when I made salsa, it usually meant I was happy. Remember the salsa meant remember your good mood. And so that’s what I did. I remembered the salsa. What led up to it and what came afterward.

The good part

Throughout our years, Jason and I did a lot of entertaining. Enter the salsa. If I were to make salsa, you can be sure company was coming. And I loved it. I lived from one gathering to the next and I loved all the preparations that went along with it. I’d put on music and dance and sing. And I was happy.

But our lives changed when two turned to three. Then three turned to four. And what once seemed like fun turned into nothing more than a chore. Salsa became a job when kids made the scene because I had so many other things to do. This is what I ponder as I consider the salsa.

See, motherhood is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Because you give away parts of yourself 24 hours a day. As soon as your feet hit the ground, you start doling out the pieces. A sliver here and a slice there. And before you know it, you find you’re depleted with nothing left to offer. Nothing but the scowl on your face as you chop veggies at the counter. Like me this past Sunday.

But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her. Luke 10:42

Problem is there’s been sickness at our house. Nighttime interruptions and extra tasks. And because my days have been full and sleep has been lacking, I’ve looked for other places to trim the fat. Seems I took out the wrong thing, though. I cut away the good part. Which reminds me of Martha and Mary.

Most of us are familiar with these sisters, I’m sure. But in reading their saga today, I cannot help but think Martha had a flying mad moment. Just like me at Big Lots. She was busy preparing for a party and her sister just sat there doing nothing. Martha even voiced her complaint to Jesus. Tell her to give me a hand! But He said Mary chose the good part. She sat still at his feet. What’s more, she listened.

This is the part I cut away. I’ve not been doing this. Busy with other stuff. Like Martha. And because I haven’t filled up on the good part, there’s not much good in me to pass out. Especially not to my family. Most assuredly, they haven’t been getting the best of me.

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A good man

A couple of weeks ago, I had an epiphany. One of those pivotal moments in time that changes how you look at everything. It has to do with my husband. And most importantly, it has to do with how I see God.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good… Genesis 50:20 

See, Jason came into my life when I was at a real low. And it was my bad that propelled me in his direction. However, Jason became a turning point in every way imaginable. Most poignantly, I see that through the meaning of his name: one who will heal.

By the time I got to Jason, this is what I needed. Healing. Because there wasn’t much left of my heart. Simply, I’d given too much of it away. Sadly, this is what I brought to our marriage table.

And so I find it miraculous I met Jason when I did. On the heels of having my heart broken again and again. Because through him, a good man, I found another Good Man. I found God.

Jason’s the reason I met the One who came to bind up the brokenhearted. But the healing of my heart wasn’t, and isn’t, an instant fix. Because at first it wasn’t noticeable. Not to me. Not when there was just two. But then came Levi and Annabelle. And the added stress and responsibility exposed my heart’s faulty cracks.

IMG_2070Annabelle’s her name. She is a living dream. But also… she’s one of the reasons I’ve been at wit’s end lately. Strained. Because she fights every single thing I do. She resists. Clothes and diaper changes and hair brushing. All of it. Everything is a struggle. And like me, she’s loud. Oh, it’s downright exhausting. And yet, I love her through it all.

About a year ago, I thought I’d comprehend God’s love for me through my love for my daughter. But last month, I realized I was wrong. It’s not Annabelle who’ll teach me about God and his unwavering love. Instead, it’ll be the one who’s been at my side for seventeen years now. Even longer.

It’s Jason. It’s always been Jason. One who will heal. When he asked about my past, he didn’t condemn me. Rather, he opened his arms wide and embraced me. He accepted every single thing about me.

And through the years, he’s put up with a lot. Oh, he’s not perfect and has moments of his own. But all in all, he is the one who’s been the most gracious. The most merciful. He is the one who usually relents first. The one who breaks the silence. Who calms the storm. He’s loves me so much better than I love him. Because he’s unconditional.

My great epiphany is this… if I want to get an idea of what God is really like, I need to look no further than my other half. My better half. Jason shows me every day what God is like.

It’s through this good man of mine that God has so richly blessed me. And how He will teach me about Himself. Miraculous.

I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. Hosea 2:19

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Crazy thing about women. It’s in our nature to give and give. But sometimes, we end up giving it all to everyone else. By the time the day is through, our family ends up with the leftovers. Table scraps. And this ought not be! So today I try to rectify that.

With me, it’s words. I use them to build others up. But what about that good man of mine? Have I really used this platform to do the same for him? Because this is what I do. So today, I take the opportunity. And it’s timely. See, it’s Jason’s birthday month. And I always have trouble finding a gift. But not this year. My present comes early. It’s good news…

I tell my husband God is working on my heart every single day. And I know what I need to do. I have to fill up on the good part first. That way there will be more of me to give. And one day, when my heart is made whole, it will be all his. Just as the fragments already are.

The best part, though, has to do with our vows. For better or for worse. See, worse is turning to better. And the best of me is yet to come. Soon I’ll be able to reciprocate by giving all of me just as he gives all of himself. And isn’t that what marriage is, anyway? The best of times. The worst of times. And through it all, giving the best we have. But to each other first.

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If anyone else has read this far, I ask for a prayer today. For me and for wives everywhere. That we would love our husbands to the utmost of our ability. And that we would give them the best of us. All of us.

Because good men are hard to find. And they’re worth a prayer. And so much more…

Maybe even salsa.

In the same way, older women are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not addicted to much wine. They are to teach what is good, so they may encourage the young women to love their husbands and to love their children,  to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, kind, and submissive to their husbands, so that God’s message will not be slandered. Titus 2:3-5

 

A Corpse Bride

Will the fast I choose be like this:
A day for a person to deny himself,
to bow his head like a reed,
and to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast
and a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:5

I just couldn’t sell it… the thousands of words that poured forth from my heart and soul in the Fall of 2011. No, something wasn’t quite right. So I revised the whole thing in the Summer of 2012. I gave it a new title… My True Deliverance. However, the story remained the same. And the truth is the title was a lie. Because my story was a lie. For at that point in my life, I hadn’t been delivered. From anything. The words put forth were false… only what I wanted to be true.

However, my eyes were opened in September of 2012. The frank words of my husband jolted me. “Can you do me a favor? Can you go just one day without telling a lie? Because when you say you’re fine and you’re not, it’s a lie.” This came on the heels of his flowery description of me. An animated corpse. Oh, don’t think too harshly of him. He was just concerned. He wanted his wife back. The one from earlier days. And had he not spoken truth, perhaps I wouldn’t be where I am today. Perhaps I’d still be his corpse bride.

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After this lovely conversation with my husband, my eyes were opened wider within days. For I heard a Bible teacher speak. She said He wants us to have our own story. With Him. She talked of riding other people’s coattails. And though I didn’t realize it then, today I know that’s just what I had been doing. Riding the coattails of other people’s faith. Living off other people’s stories. Trying to breathe the breath of resurrected lives all around me. Having no spiritual breath of my own.

Funny thing is I just knew that book was going to get published. The untrue one. It seemed to be His will. Like the very hand of God directed me to write it. And I believe He did. However, I know it to be a stepping stone today. Because the story written over three years ago was the wrong one. It was the story of a good girl who worked hard. And because she did all the right things, something good happened. For God gave her what she desired most… her homeland. The promised land. But the reality is God didn’t bring me home as a reward. No, He brought me home to die. And that first book, my story, proved to lead to my fall.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13

I’ve been pondering the story lately. For months actually and just in general. And in watching a few great movies, I realize the best part is the fall. Because if there isn’t a fall, the hero or heroine can’t rise from the ashes. And isn’t that the most hopeful part of someone’s story? Don’t we find resurrected lives to be inspirational? I do. And so, it’s with awe that I find myself on the cusp of Easter today. In this season of my life, as I ponder the story, I find we’re about to celebrate the greatest story. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In a nutshell, this is what my story lacked for so long. My life was missing Easter. My life was missing Him. Thus, my life contained no life. I was a corpse bride. Just as my husband described. And every single day, I died a little more. For I was chasing a dream. Holding to my life. My rights. My glory. I just didn’t know what was causing my death. See, when I came home I thought it to be my triumphant entry. I rode in on my high horse and came back ready to overcome the world. And when I began to write, I just knew it was going to give me the life I so desired. My passion burned within. In truth, it consumed me till there was nothing left. Life snuffed out. Thus, I walked around in sackcloth and ashes not comprehending that’s what I was doing. My demeanor was my mourning robe. A dim spirit shrouded me. Ashes on the ground.

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But Jesus? When He made His triumphant entry, He rode into town on a donkey. And He knew what He came to do. For He came to die. He came as a living sacrifice for us. But He knew the truth. That before He could be resurrected into glory, His death was required. Because only by His death, and life, can we hope for the same. This is Easter. This is the greatest story ever told. And until this becomes reality in our own hearts, we remain dead in our tracks. Lifeless. Animated corpses.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. John 12:23-25

God never, ever ceases to amaze me. Over four years ago I thought He was rewarding me for good behavior. That He brought me home as a pat on the back. That was my story. But today I know truth. See, He brought me home to die. Here is where my self-awareness was birthed, and here is where my self-seeking must die. For self-seeking brought nothing but heartache. And spiritual death. It caused me to fall. Hard. Nothing left of me but a heap of ashes on the ground. But today, I choose sacrifice instead. I willingly give my life for the lives of my children. So they may have abundant life. And this act revives me. For I find I’m able to rise from the ashes. Because His word is true… in losing your life, you’ll find it. This is the very thing God brought me home for. Easter becomes real in my heart.

Isn’t the fast I choose:
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke? Isaiah 58:6

Last week was a week of epiphanies. One having to do with me losing my life in order to gain my life. It had to do with putting my dream on the back-burner while I tended to what’s most important… my children. My family. And I’m good with that. I really am. I realized my need to sacrifice something I greatly desire so that I could be a better mother to them. And a better wife to my husband. Because this dream of mine burns me up. When I hold to it, it causes me to die. A little bit each day. Before I know it, I’m like the walking dead. No life within me. A corpse bride. So, I release it. At least for now. I give it up…

Funny thing is, I find this act coincides with Lent. And Ash Wednesday. Though I’ve never practiced these traditions knowingly, I find I am this year. Unwittingly. This is where God has led me. Through my limited knowledge, I understand Lent to be a time when God’s people sacrifice something for a number of days. Me? I’m led to sacrifice my life. The revelation is heightened by Ash Wednesday… a time when ashes are ceremonially placed on heads of Christians usually accompanied by the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Me? From experience I’ve surely known what it’s like to have ashes in my life. But not just on my head, all over. The whole of me being burned up by overwhelming desire of something greater. But this will prove to be the best part of my story. For from the ashes, I rise. Resurrected life. Easter in my heart. A replica of the greatest story ever told. His. A corpse bride rises from the grave…

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He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives
and freedom to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of our God’s vengeance;
to comfort all who mourn,
to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3

Funny how God works. Amazing how He puts it all together. See, I began writing my story in 2011. Thing is, my words simply weren’t true. I wrote what I wanted to be. My True Deliverance. But now… deliverance is mine. He delivered me from my tomb. And most recently, He delivers me from myself. For it was my heart that held me captive. And my flesh has been my prison. But He led me to lay down my life. And thus, I find life. And as Easter rises in my heart, I find that I do, too. And in truth, this is the part of my story that’s truly great. Christ. In me. Finally, I don’t have to ride another’s coattails. For I have my own story. In Him. And to me, this is the essence of Easter. From death to life. And till death do us part. A corpse bride no more.

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. Genesis 2:7