You, with those walls….

You, with those walls…I see you.  Fear has kept you behind them but I hope love will draw you out.

I hear the exhaustion in your voice from a lifetime of battling alone. I see the anger burn bright in your eyes and fuel the strength for another day. To wake up again and build and maintain all of the walls of defense that tower so high they block out not just the perpetrators of pain, but any light and joy as well.

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I see the protective prison you’ve locked yourself in and I see the hurt hidden deep within the fortress, nearly hidden by all of the anger, resentment and bitterness blowing outside the walls.

All of this fire, brimstone, bluster and force to protect a heart broken, of course.

I know where you are because I’ve been there too. You and me, more alike than you knew. Have you felt it before? That there’s something wrong with this world and you don’t quite belong? That you were made for more than betrayal, pain and suffering? That it’s all just a bit too much and no one seems to be in charge? So we create our own little kingdom of safety, block out the bad and try to control everything within.

Constantly striving to create that one place where everything goes as planned, in the proper order, in its proper place. No surprises, no disappointments, no pain. No light, no joy, no freedom.

But now I’m outside the gates and my heart breaks seeing you still fighting to stay within them. Because I love you, I’m willing to weather the possible storm and share something with you.

You want to know what happens when the walls are built, the gate is closed? You’re trapped inside. It’s lonely and it’s dark. You exhaust yourself maintaining your defenses; going over battle plans. You have yet to realize that safety is not synonymous with happiness. In fact, those wounds unhealed fester and bleed new because you’re all alone with them, picking at them, making them raw and not letting them heal. I know you’re worn out and I pray every day that you are tired enough to stop fighting alone; that you would realize that what you’re doing isn’t working.

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I long for the day that you will realize that all of your seeking, struggling, wrestling and striving to find happiness has led you to a prison of your own making. That you would see your defenses have kept you from not only giving, but receiving love. Worse, in your need to protect yourself from hurt, you’ve inflicted hurt on the very people you love most. How I hope you would learn that safety, rest and happiness are not found in a climate, a location, a bank account, the condition of your house, but a Person!!

That you would know that the way to healing is straight through the pain with the only One with the power to heal it!

There is freedom outside those walls of yours! A life free of anger, resentment, bitterness and pain. True joy in life! Freedom to remember the hurt inflicted by others but not let it rule your life and keep you from your own peace; to live the life you’re meant to. A life where forgiveness and grace abound. I pray that God would tear down your walls more formidable than Jericho’s. That He would soften the tender heart you’ve worked so hard to shield. I pray that you would see past those walls to the abundant blessings you’ve been given and know that God has been with you all along. That every step of your journey, every heartache, every hardship, every mountaintop and valley has been used to bring you closer to the Father that loves you.

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So, now I pray that the Spirit would reveal to you the God who longs to walk with you through healing and true living. The God who can remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

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Oh! If you only knew the abundant blessings within your reach should you just forfeit your kingdom for His.

**Names of the guilty have been omitted, except myself, which has been one of the greatest offenders of all.

Do you see things unseen?

As Christians we base our eternal lives, our very souls, on things unseen.

2 Corinthians 4:18

18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

We believe not just in God, but every truth He reveals to us through His word, prayer, worship and Spirit. I believe He raised mountains, parted seas and tore down walls; though I didn’t see it happen. I know people who lived thousands of years ago. Their struggles, failures and the way God used it all to reveal Himself to me. I believe His Spirit lives within me to help and guide me, though it is a still, small voice to which I’ve never laid eyes on.

But I struggle with unbelief every day in a myriad of ways that might not be as obvious. Because I have yet to see. I worry about my family’s future because I have not seen it. Though I know His plans for us are good.

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I push to the back of my mind the suffering of others because I have not heard firsthand their cries. I have not felt their tears, smelled the smoke, felt the earth shake beneath my feet or the gnawing hunger in my stomach. I have not seen their trauma or felt their particular broken heart and the hopelessness left in its wake.

It begs the question then. Do I believe in God, or do I actually believe Him?

James 2:19

19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.

What makes my belief different than that of a demon? Do I believe everything He reveals to me? Do I truly believe it as if I’ve seen it first hand? And if I’m truly believing Him, what does that look like?

To truly believe is to follow. It is to take every God breathed word of the Bible as truth regardless of whether I’ve actually seen or known personally the people within it and to respond in a way that I’ve been instructed to. It is to hear the cries of God’s children whether they are within my own home, in my community, or half a world away.

2 Corinthians 1:4

who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

It is to give freely the gifts of grace showered upon me by a loving, generous Father because I know that He will provide for me. I have received His comfort in more ways than I can count. But have I given it as well?

James 1:17

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 

It is to take up the great commission and share hope to the hopeless.

Some of us are called to the mission field into our own home, serving in a hundred ways no one but God will ever see. Some of us are called to serve our own communities, neighbors written off by the world. Still others are called to mission fields far away from the comfort and privilege of Midwest America. But all of us are called to believe and live a life broken and given to Christ. To live free of the chains of this world. This is great news! But it takes a commitment from us to live a life of belief. Believing the ultimate in unseen suffering, the suffering of Jesus, and staking everything we know and have on that truth.

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Sometimes I am deeply grieved by the products of my own unbelief. Selfishness, pride, worry and fear can keep me shackled to this world without me even being aware of it sometimes. But thankfully there is no need to despair of the condition of my heart! Thanks to Christ’s willingness to live broken and given for me, this condition is not terminal! In God’s infinite loving kindness, He even gives me a treatment for this condition. A way to help me experience the true freedom of the Gospel and sharing that healing freedom with my neighbors. Both seen and unseen.

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Mark 9:24

24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

*emphasis mine

Lord, I believe; help me overcome my unbelief! Please help me listen to and be guided by Your Spirit. Please give me Your eyes to see and soften my heart to feel for all of Your children. Reveal to me these things I’m holding more dear to me than You. Show me how to honor You with the time, gifts and resources You’ve given me. Help me to see beyond me, to hear above the noise and to run hard after You. In Jesus name, Amen.

If you see, and if you are feeling so lead to believe in the unseen suffering in the images above, I’d ask you to prayerfully consider helping! You can find out more about the need, and how you can help by visiting the link below.

http://livebeyondwords.org/

 

Good And Faithful Servant

She lays in a bed, her breath slowing, filled and surrounded by what love built. Love of the Father that filled her and has spilled out to the children and grandchildren currently at her bedside. Love that has fueled a life of joyful service.

A veritable whirlwind of energy, she has loved in a thousand ways of laying down herself. Short on words she has always been long on movement; constantly loving her family by meeting their needs. Before this flesh started to fail, she had a key to every house and on any given day you could find her in one of her adult children’s homes cleaning and doing laundry. Running errands from behind a steering wheel she could barely see over. Ferrying grand-children to appointments so their parents wouldn’t have to take time off of work. Caring for close and distant relatives alike. She delighted in her service and as far as I know, never refused a request that was within her means.

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She lived to serve and lived because she served. Because of the love she had for Christ she modeled a life crucified to self. Some may think this way of life, this selfless love, would leave a person tired and empty of joy. Unless they understand, like this beautiful woman does, that this crucified life brings more energy and joy than a life of serving yourself ever can. Never have I believed her to be unhappy. In fact, you needed only to watch this tiny spitfire of a woman on a dance floor with a good Polka band to see the joy she had in life.

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So, from half a continent away, I am grieving that I can not be there to hold her hand. Hands that worked and loved so long. To whisper I love you and thank you. For the milk shakes after the dentist, the french fries to “hold me over” on car rides home, for so many apple pies and the dozens of other ways she cared for a grand daughter that was often as short of words as she was. And most of all, for showing me what a life as a good and faithful servant looks like.

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Lord, I pray that if these are, indeed, her last breaths here you will fill them with moments of supernatural peace, confident in Your love for her. In the days to come please help us all to celebrate her life over the grief. Bring to all of our minds memories that make us laugh and remind us of how well she has loved. Jesus, please give us a comfort and peace that can only come with the truth that all who believe in You shall not perish, but have everlasting life. In Your name, Amen.

Let this cup pass…

I know that as followers of Christ we are to expect trial and suffering. But I find that expecting it and being prepared for it are two different things for me. Part of me conveniently forgets this truth until I’m staring at it, blinking in shock because it’s happening again.

A dear friend of mine, who has walked through no small amount of trial and suffering herself, recently was hit with more. Her walk through trial has so greatly encouraged my own and her wisdom, support, and encouragement have been such a huge blessing to me. My heart literally hurt to hear she was facing more. Yet through her pain, I was blessed yet again. This time through a conversation we had about cups (Yes, cups) and the resulting picture I was given.

I’m in a large upscale banquet room filled with tables covered in crisp white linen. Rows upon rows of us are seated. Expectantly waiting. Suddenly, there’s a shifting and murmuring as hands start passing along cups. From left to right and around to the other side, each table passes them one by one. Intrigued, I examine them as they pass through my hands.

Some are fine china, light and delicate with gorgeous, hand painted designs and gold rims. The handles so fragile I hold them on the bottom to pass them along. Others are of sparkling crystal creating orbs of prisms as they move along catching and throwing the light from the overhead lights. Still others are ornate goblets with designs that tell stories and inlaid with precious stones the size of robin’s eggs. I’m in awe of the differences, the uniqueness of each one, as I pass it to my right. Eventually I’m holding an earthen cup, more of a vessel. It’s edges are crude and it’s surface so rough and porous I’m sure that it can’t possibly hold anything.images-31 It’s ugly and it weighs far more than I think it should. In no small hurry, I look to my right to pass it along. Only to find their hands are still full. Looking around, I realize that everyone now has a cup. They aren’t moving anymore. Uneasy now, I glance to my left, hoping to pass it back the way it came. They actually lean away, protectively holding the cup they have. Increasingly alarmed, I look for sympathetic eyes, someone who might be willing to trade. I see pity and judgement in eyes averted. Overwhelmed, unable to bear holding it any longer, I place it on the table. My own eyes overflowing, I think if this is my cup, I don’t want one at all.

Head bowed, I rub my hands on my legs to try to rid myself of any remnants of that cup and I feel a hand on my shoulder. A gentle pressure. I look up through blurred lashes and make out an arm reaching in front of me and taking my cup. Startled, I look up into merciful, kind eyes looking straight into mine. “I don’t want it.” I whisper in explanation.

“I know.”

And His understanding kindness undoes me and I weep anew.

“It’s okay. Follow me.”

And because there is hope there, I do. Past curious glances I follow Him through the maze of tables and people and cups and I realize, they don’t even see Him. Puzzled and out of sorts, I follow Him through a doorway, into another room. The light is somehow softer here, but no less bright. There are people here too, but the tables are not covered in linen and they’re seated close together on benches. These eyes look right at me, and shift to my cup. But they’re not afraid. Instead, they shift to make room. Uncertain, I hover behind Him until He holds out a hand, calloused, yet soft, with remnants of clay under His nails. I take it, and my place at this table.

The people here, they lean in close while He dries the tears from my eyes. Through the open doorway I can hear music and too loud laughter. There’s clinking of dinnerware piled high with food and beautiful cups filled with drink. I can smell the abundance and see the chandeliers hanging high and glinting in florescent light. There’s a woman standing in the doorway with one foot in each room, her eyes distracted and pulled to the merriment next door. And I see Him get up, and hold out the same hand to her. Uncertainty and longing flashes quick in her eyes but she remains still.

“When you’re ready, follow me.”

The warmth here is greater than that next door and has little to do with the fire blazing in the hearth. There are no plates piled high with food or waiting in silver warmers. Instead, the fare is simple bread and wine and fills more than my stomach. I watch these people at the table with me as they share what they have and what they know. You see, it’s a work table and they’re looking up instructions in the books at their sides, helping each other. And their cups?

They’re being transformed by a master potter. Expertly washed and painted, they’re made new. Rough lines and crude material are made into the most beautiful of creations. And the fire?images-45 I’m now kneeling with a friend next to it, holding her hand. While He is reminding us that though it burns destructive hot to the wood within it, it’s bringing out incredibly unique colors and patterns. And when our cups emerge they will be more beautiful for the process and hold far more than they did before.

In the waiting, we’ll grow together and closer to Him. And maybe someday, when complete, we will no longer want to pass on these cups?

John 18:11

Jesus commands Peter, “Put your sword away, shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Light Glorious Light

Maybe it’s being immersed in a frigid Midwest winter. Or maybe it’s being a couple of weeks into our current series, Life Giving Light, at church in which we’re walking through the book of John. But as the snow piles up in subzero weather outside, I’m spending a great deal of time inside, thinking of light. The physical need for it, the Creator of it, artificial sources of it, the absence of it, and the reflection of it.

It’s a mix of sleet and snow which will undoubtedly wreak havoc on morning commutes, weigh heavy on power lines, and lay sheet-like on windshields. Scattered, wet, remnants of snowman construction and snow angel creation are littered in the entry and no matter how many times I try to get them to remove their boots before they hit my hard wood floors, dry socks will meet cold puddles at least a couple of times tonight. Rosy cheeks and running noses are now bundled into jammies and watching a movie snuggled on the couch. The overworked, tired, “builder special” dishwasher struggles loudly through another cycle and I can hear the jet engine spinning of the last load of laundry for the day. I, myself, am on the laptop checking things off of a never ending Mom list. As I pay the electric bill I glance up at the wildly blinking, multi colored Christmas tree, the several other strands of lights throughout the kitchen, and the crazy “light show” projection light the kids were sure our house needed. I wonder if they’d notice if I unplugged a couple?

The lights flicker, hum low, and go out. The TV shuts off and all of the noise comes to a sudden halt. And, because my laptop is almost as old as the dishwasher and needs to be plugged in, it shuts off as well. Plunged into quiet darkness, my pulse quickens as I reassure the kids it’s okay. To sit still while I find a candle. Eyes unaccustomed to total darkness, the room seems distorted and things much further away or closer than I thought. My stocking foot finds a wet puddle and I know I must be getting close to the table. I fumble to light the decorative Christmas candle. christmas-candle2

It sputters, spits and flickers bright, mellowing to a soft glow that reaches every corner of the room. Relieved faces smile back at me. And we start a puzzle.

I’ve written a lot about my experiences in the dark, and God’s incredible love and grace that shone through the haze of suffering to literally pull me free of it. There is truly nothing more beautiful than His saving light. Sometimes I mourn the years I didn’t see it. How many things did I miss? Opportunities to see His glory? Sitting in the dark, illuminated by a single light and distracted by no others, I realized.

What if I couldn’t see The Light, for the light? Bear with me here. I spent thirty years blinded by artificial light. Think about it. We live in a place of distraction and we’re attracted to bright, shiny, pretty, fun, things.

I can give you a list of mine. Family, money, career, house, cars, vacations, nail salons, restaurants, clothes with tags, shoes with boxes, shopping carts, “perfect” family photos, etc. Things that, plastered all over billboards and websites, shone bright, flashed joy, and fizzled out soon after. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still like pretty things. I am about as “girly” as a girl can get. I have not given away my marbles in exchange for new sight, I will joyfully accept a pedicure any day of the week. What I’m saying though is, these things kept me from seeing that One source of light that would truly bring me joy. The down to my pedicured toes kind. The eternal kind.

Now, here’s the hard part. For me, I did not fully embrace His light until it was the only one left. Until, enveloped in cloying, hopeless darkness, there was nothing I could do to bring myself joy. I couldn’t buy any, I couldn’t eat any, I couldn’t see any.

matches-lightThen there was that beautiful, merciful light….It sputtered, spit and flickered bright, mellowed to a soft glow and reached every part of my heart. Since then, I’ve noticed three things. How incredibly void of true light this world is. How incredibly beautiful that makes every small reflection of God’s glory shining through. And just how desperately I need that grace and joy filled light to live.

Every act of kindness, every gift of generosity, every reconciled relationship, every laying down of self. Whenever I catch a glimpse of His light my heart warms, my eyes spill, and I know a familiar joy. Whenever I am blessed by that joy, I want to reflect that light. What a beautiful design.

What if we were such a bright reflection of God’s glory everyone could see it? Even past all of the artificial light we are bombarded with?

For this child I have prayed

As a young child I longed to know that there was someone in control. My little heart cried out for comfort, security and protection.

When I got a little older I heard mention of God. Surely He would set right a world that didn’t make sense? Small hands asked for big things. That didn’t happen.

With the certainty and independence of adolescence I had decided that God must not exist after all. Convinced my circumstances proved me right, I stopped praying, crying, or hoping for change. I was on my own and it would be up to me to obtain what I so longed for.

It would be years before I cried again. Still longer for me to hope in someone other than myself. And a marriage, a toddler, and another pregnancy before I would pray again.

Twelve weeks into the pregnancy of our daughter I finally waded out of nausea and exhaustion to lunch with a friend. Pale, weary, and chasing a toddler, I was excited for some adult conversation and food that would stay, hopefully, down. Timidly finishing my lunch I scrambled to get our toddler son to the bathroom in time. After our third round of hand drying with the very entertaining blow dryer, I stood up and knew something was wrong. A quick check confirmed my fear. I was bleeding. Too much.

Heart sinking, hands shaking, I ushered our oldest back to the table and tried to bravely tell my friend I needed to get to the doctor. Thankfully, she took charge. All calm, reassuring and full of reason she told me to go right there, she’d meet me. Call Hubby and she’d watch the oldest until he got there. On auto pilot, I followed directions and shortly thereafter found myself in an exam room hearing the doctor echo my thoughts. Too much blood.

Sent to the hospital for an ultrasound I waited barely breathing to see the life still breathing inside of me. There it was! The tiny flutter of a bravely beating heart. Exhaling, my own started to beat again. Tears streaming down my face, I watched her bounce around oblivious to the turmoil she was causing outside. The technician did a thorough check and I was told “the pregnancy is still viable”. What she meant to say was, my baby was still alive. I needed to go home and rest and return the next day to check again. To call if anything changed.

As I laid in bed I prayed.

God, please don’t take her from me! I already love her!

For I knew she was a girl from the first.

Then I begged.

God, I don’t care if there’s something wrong, I don’t care if I need to spend the next six months in bed. Please let me hold her in my arms!

Finally, I bargained.

God, I know I’ve complained of the discomforts of early pregnancy but I will never do it again! She is worth every lost meal and I will be so much more grateful for the gift of her! Truly, every little flutter and bump of her exploring has been pure joy! Even when I’m laying on the bathroom floor. Please don’t take her away….

The next several weeks I rejoiced as the bleeding stopped, blood work came back fine and every ultrasound showed her contentedly growing, nestled in my womb. I thanked God, praising Him for His kindness and mercy.

Then, when given the gift of holding her in my arms, my heart overflowed with gratitude. This perfect tiny girl with the delicately arched eyebrows, pouty lips, and beautiful blue searching eyes was my miracle. My answer to prayer.

Several years later, I was still praying. Growing in my relationship with Christ when I found out that little miracle wasn’t perfect after all. How could He give me a healthy child, let me believe all these years that He answered my desperate prayers, and then just pull the rug out from under me? Betrayed and heartbroken, instead of turning away again I would fire off these questions, waiting for His answer.

And it came. Gentle like a whisper at the hairs on my forehead.

This IS the child for which you prayed.

Soft as a caress on the side of my damp cheek.

I formed her in your womb.download-5

Slowly, so that I’d understand.

I know every hair on her precious head. images-33

This child is still my answer to prayer. The same one He placed in my womb, the one I prayed to hold, the one He gave me.images-34

Through this child He’s answered so many prayers I thought had gone unanswered. For through her, He called me to Him. And through my journey with her, has taught me comfort, safety and security can only be found in Him.

So, for this child, my perfect answer to prayer, I will continue to pray.

WE Are The Church

Below is an open letter to our church family along with pictures of the gift that accompanied it.

July 6, 2016

 

Dear Faith Community Church,

Six years ago I brought my family to Faith Community Church for the first time for a Christmas Eve service. At the time, this was going to be my third, and final, attempt to see if God was what was missing from my life. The Holy Spirit revealed The Gospel to me that day through a creative portrayal of life before the coming of our Savior and the sharing of The Gospel throughout the message.

By nature and experience I am a cautious person and had zero knowledge of the Bible. So, for the next several years Jesus met me here, as I was, where I was, and FCC became my classroom. I learned the importance of obedience and through small (yet significant for me) acts of obedience I made enough connections to become comfortable here. Eventually taking a Bible 101 class that made me more comfortable digging into His Word on my own, my classroom extended into my everyday life. An invitation by a beloved sister in Christ to coffee led to my first Bible Study. In September 2014, we made a large step of obedience in dedicating our children, Jordan, Joelle & Jace to the Lord and acknowledging that they truly belong to Him. An entire sanctuary of you committed to help raise them in Christ, as part of this church family. I wonder now, if you realized what you might be called to do, and that you would follow through so beautifully?

When we received Joelle’s first diagnosis, you wept with us, you prayed with and for us, you paid for and encouraged me to attend a women’s retreat during which I was able to surrender to God’s will and start our family’s healing process through His peace and comfort.

When we received a second diagnosis, this time for both Joelle and Jordan, you continued to lift us up in prayer, lead us to His word, and remind us of His great love and plans for these children.

Then, when financial stress in the form of years of expensive medical testing and astronomical prescription costs overwhelmed us, you opened the doors to FCC and your hearts. You gave incredibly generously of your time, giftings, and resources for two fundraisers that have helped us to more fully rest in God’s grace and provision for our family. You showed us, and many others, the beauty of Christ’s bride; that through a building of broken sinners, God’s glory can shine.

FCC was the building I brought my family to years ago. But, you the church, through your love and obedience to Christ, have been our teachers, brothers and sisters in Christ, and become our church family.

Words can’t express our gratitude for the blessings given to us through you and your willingness to walk this journey beside us, helping us to walk with Jesus.

This glass was originally installed in a church sanctuary in Minnesota in 1922. The original panels were salvaged, re-cut, and reset by Tim, for you. We do not have the means to invest in the

ministry here in a substantial financial way right now. But, we pray that this gift to FCC, and the history behind it, would remind you and all of those that come in the doors in the future, not just of the aesthetic beauty of the glass, but the beauty of Christ’s bride, the people of the church. The hundreds that once sat beneath this glass in the past, those here at FCC now, and those that will come in the future.

 

Blessings,

Bobbi, Tim, Jordan, Joelle, & Jace

The response of our church family over the last year, and our gratitude for God’s grace and provision, through them, was as beautiful as it was humbling and more than a little overwhelming.

God has been so good to me in gifting me with words on paper to express my heart that I fear would overflow at times with gratitude if I didn’t have a way to get it out. Hubby had no such outlet or way to express this. The stained glass panels had been sitting in storage in a pole shed for several years. At the time, Hubby appreciated their history and beauty and knew I would love it too. He planned to have something made for me for my birthday or Christmas but over the years was unable to find someone that could work with the old, fragile, glass and lead.

His timing and grace never cease to move me. Hubby, with no prior experience and more than a few cuts and broken shards of glass, was able to make these panels. Blessed with a way to express his gratitude, both to the church family, and God, this was as much a gift to the church as it was to Hubby.