Monday, September 12, 2011

Surprised by Grace


“It [the book of Jonah] reveals the fact that while you and I are great sinners, God is a great Savior, and that while our sin reaches far, his grace reaches farther. The story shows that God is in the business of relentlessly pursuing rebels like us and that he comes after us not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery so we might become truly free.”
-From "Surprised by Grace" by Tullian Tchividjian

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Evidences of goodness

Last night, I had an emotional melt down. And when it rains it pours. During my meltdown, I could only see despair. No hope. No light.

Just darkness.

I know the Bible says that God works everything together for good for those who love him...but I don't see the good!

I feel like every time I start getting back up, he just pushes me down again.

WHEN will the trials end?

Why can't I just catch a break? Don't I deserve one after what I've been through?


Not my best moments.

When my dear sweet man of God husband tried to point me towards Christ, I lashed out, calling him "uncompassionate." When he told me to search my heart for the root of these thoughts, I turned it right back to him. When he suggested that I think on the gospel, I had a hard time even recalling its goodness. And when he asked me to think on God's goodness, I drew a blank.

I was blind.

It's amazing how God can use a good night's rest to help lead me out of the darkness and back into the light.

For I know that my God is good.

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you." 
-Psalm 86:5

"For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly."
-Psalm 84:11


I have seen his goodness again and again...




In my precious husband, who displays the love of Christ even when I reject his wisdom and love.

In my material provisions. In comparison to the rest of the world, I am materially rich. We have a beautiful home. We never go hungry. If I don't have clothes to wear, it's because I haven't done laundry using our electric washer and dryer. I received a top-notch education. We have two incomes. We have health insurance. We have no lack of gain.

In my health. I am physically healthy, and I've never experienced any sort of major health concern. God has protected me and my family from illness and untimely death.

In my Christian upbringing. So often, I take for granted how much I have learned about God because I grew up in a Christian home.

In my church family. I have had three church families, two of which I still consider part of my "extended" family. Our church is gospel-centered, and the joy in the gospel is evident and contagious in its members. We are now part of a care group with other believers who have one thing in common: we were dead in our trespasses, but now alive in Christ.



In my biological family. It's hard to see goodness right now in this area, but I know that God has shown amazing goodness to me in my biological family. My mother set a wonderful example for me growing up. She loved us sacrificially. She nurtured us and challenged us to be our best for God. She served our family and the body well, even when many times she received no appreciation. My father exemplified selflessness by working every day to provide us not only with food and shelter, but with opportunities to expand our gifts and talents. He demonstrated resourcefulness and compassion in his ministries to the poor and neglected. He taught me a great deal about honoring my parents through his example with Grandma T. He prayed unceasingly. I have four beautiful sisters who each hold a special place in my heart and have taught me important lessons through their character. Jackie's generosity. Leslie's tender heart. Paige's determination and drive. Madison's compassion. All four have blessed me beyond measure.



In my friendships. I may not have many friends, but the friends I do have are fiercely loyal.

And most importantly, in my spiritual inheritance...

"Blessed be my God and Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed me in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose me in him before the foundation of the world, that I should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined me for adoption as a daughter through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed me in the Beloved. In him I have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of my trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon me, in all wisdom and insight making known to me the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him I have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will... In him I also, when I heard the word of truth, the gospel of my salvation, and believed in him, was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of my inheritance until I acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory."

-Ephesians 1:3-14


Evidences of his goodness.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Little Phoebe Bartlett

Today I'm linking up with Women Living Well Wednesdays. Make sure to check out some of the other encouraging blogs.

---

I became a Christian at age three.

You read that right...age three

For years, I had been somewhat hesitant to announce that to the world. After all, how could a three-year old have any real understanding of salvation?

But a few months ago, as I sat before two of our pastors at our church membership interview, timidly telling them of my three-year old conversion story, I realized that my hesitancy was unwarranted and actually somewhat sinful.

"I was blessed to be raised in a Christian home," I told them. "And I became a Christian at a very young age...I mean a very young age...three years old." I sheepishly looked up, half expecting to see them glance at each other skeptically, but instead, seeing them both look back at me, nodding intently. "Sometimes I feel silly even saying it because I know people are probably thinking to themselves, 'Oh, she couldn't have understood at that age.' But to be honest, there was never a point after that when I questioned my initial conversion. Sure, I came to understand the depths of God's grace and mercy more and more as I grew older, but I really truly believe that at some basic level, I understood at three years old that Christ had saved me."

I went on to tell them about how my Sunday School teacher, Mr. Meissner, had done a felt board presentation of the gospel, and that after the story, when all the other children had gone back to their tables, he called my name, "Chelsea, can you come back here sweetie?' he asked. I remember looking back at him, crouched down to my level with his eyes smiling at me. I saw something in his eyes that I loved (now I know that it was the sweet love of Jesus), and I wanted it. He sat with me for a moment, reiterating the gospel story. In three-year old terms, he explained that God is perfect and holy and that because God is perfect and holy, he demands perfection and holiness. But because of my sin, I could never attain perfection or holiness on my own. In fact, not only could I not attain it, but instead of being WITH God, I was (justly) condemned to death...an eternity apart from God. But, he told me, God had sent his only son, Jesus Christ to die in my place. Jesus, who never sinned, paid the penalty for MY sin so that I might be free from the chains of sin and death. And not only that, but he CONQUERED death by rising again on the third day, and he clothed me in HIS own righteousness so that when God looks at me, he no longer sees my sin, but instead sees the Christ. All I had to do was believe in him as my savior.

"And at three years old, I wanted to know this man named Jesus," I told them. "I wanted the love of Jesus, I wanted to believe, and I went home that evening and prayed with my mom to accept Christ as my savior. And to be honest, since then, while I've had my ups and downs, I have not once questioned the validity of my belief at such a young age."

As I finished telling them about my conversion, our senior pastor looked at me, with the same smiling eyes as dear old Mr. Meissner, overflowing with Jesus' love, and he asked, "Chelsea, have you heard the story of Phoebe Bartlett?"

I had not, so he went on to tell me about little Phoebe Bartlett, who had accepted Christ at the ripe old age of four under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards. Her conversion made such an impression on Edwards that he wrote about her in his "Narrative of Surprising Conversions." That night, I went home and read the story of Phoebe Bartlett, and I felt immediately as though little Phoebe and I were kindred spirits. I realized then that I didn't need to be shy about my conversion any more. Instead, I should proclaim it boldly and gratefully. It is truly a story of God's grace, not just in saving me, but in saving me at such a young age, before I even had a chance to really know the world without him.

What goodness.

What grace.

How sweet to know that my conversion is one of my very first memories of this life!

During the weeks following our meeting, I began to think more upon my early childhood conversion, so grateful for my salvation but also yearning for a better understanding of exactly what I had been saved from at three years old. On the night before Good Friday, I had a vivid dream where I saw my three year old self skipping across an old draw bridge. The next day, I wrote a poem, retelling what I had seen in this dream. Even now, I am brought to tears as I read the line, "His lost little girl was now found."

The Man at the Foot Bridge



I skipped along the wayward path,
curls bouncing in the breeze.
I smiled, not knowing where I went
amidst the forest trees.

I came upon a wooden bridge,
swaying to and fro.
Skipping, skipping, all the way,
whilst the winds did blow.

But as I skipped, I heard a voice
calling out my name.
I quickly turned and saw the man
from which the calling came.

With open arms, he called again,
"Come back, my child!" he said.
"This pathway is not safe for you.
Follow me, instead."

There was something about him I couldn't resist.
Strange, yet familiar was he.
Barefoot, I pattered across that old bridge,
For with him, I wanted to be.

I tugged on his robe, and he lifted me up,
Swinging me, 'round and around.
Laughing, rejoicing with tears in his eyes,
His lost little girl was now found.

And just as we turned away from the bridge,
Lo! The ground started to shake.
Holding me tight, we looked back at that bridge
as it crumbled and started to break.

My head on his chest, I started to weep,
as the rotten bridge gave way.
I knew not where I went, nor the path I was on,
without knowing, I'd fallen astray.

But the man who was holding me tight to his chest,
wiped my tears from my cheek as he said,
"You're safe, little one. You have no more to fear.
Come awake, child! You're no longer dead."

"For I knew you before you took your first steps,
and I knew on which path you were bound.
But in love, I came down and saved you from grief
so my mercy and grace would abound."

We turned and he showed me a narrower path
and told me to "Run well the race."
At nightfall, he told me he had to go home,
but he was leaving a friend in his place.

Now all grown up, I remember that man,
and I thank him again and again
For saving that blonde little curly head girl,
from eternal torment and pain.

Today, as I walk down the narrow path,
with the friend that he left at my side,
I thank him for saving that little blonde girl,
so that one day, with Him, I'll abide.

Lord, thank you for saving that little blonde girl, so that one day, with you, I'll abide.

Monday, September 5, 2011

I'll be praying for you..












Growing up in the church, I have heard and spoken the words "I'll be praying for you" countless times.
And admittedly, when I've muttered those words, I've often forgotten to follow through.
So a few years ago when Miss Lisa (now one of my "spiritual mothers") reached out her hands and first spoke those beautiful words...
"Can I pray for you?"
I remember being completely caught off guard.
She's going to pray for me...right here? Right now?
"That'd be great," I said. My mind still reeling from the idea of someone taking the time to pray WITH me instead of promising to pray FOR me at a later date.
Over the past few years, that scene...Miss Lisa reaching out her hands as she asks if she can pray for me...has become a familiar scene in our friendship. And I am so thankful for the lesson she has taught me. Having benefitted from this practice of prayer, I find myself trying to implement it in my own life more and more.
It's not the easiest spiritual discipline...especially for an introvert like me. Praying on the spot with someone else can be daunting, but I am thankful that God has given us "a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Tim 1:7) While the other person may feel my hands trembling as I pray the first few words, inevitably, the Holy Spirit takes over, prompting me with the right words to pray.

Practicing this spiritual discipline has made me more aware of just how interconnected my bible reading and prayer truly are. When I am at a loss for words, it is often times because I haven't been in the Word recently, and I am relying on my own strength and wisdom, not God's. But when I am in the Word, I find myself praying the words of scripture I have read throughout my week.
So if I'm reading Psalm 18...
"I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies."
I might pray the following prayer for a struggling friend:
"Lord, I pray that you would be _____'s strength during this difficult time. May you be her rock and her fortress as her world is shifting. May she take refuge in you when fear and doubt come her way, for you are her shield and salvation. God, you are strong when we are weak. In our inadequacies, let us see how adequate and satisfying you truly are. I pray that ____ will call out to you when she feels overwhelmed, and that when she does, you will comfort her and be the strength that she needs..her stronghold. Lord, you are worthy of all our praise and admiration. Praise be to you! Amen."
If I am at a loss for words, though, I've learned that it's okay to pause (a humbling lesson for me to learn), and that it's okay to just be in the presence of the Lord with a fellow believer. From my own experience, on the receiving end of things, I can tell you that when you're hurting, it's not so much about the words that are being prayed, but that they're being prayed for you in the first place (please don't take that to mean that words aren't important...they are, but I implore you not to let a momentary loss for words preclude you from praying for someone in need of prayer).
All that to say that while the words "I'll be praying for you" are sometimes the most appropriate words to speak to another believer, I am a strong believer that the words "Can I pray for you?" can be a huge blessing and encouragement to our brothers and sisters in Christ. This practice of prayer has blessed me so much throughout the past few years, and I pray that as I continue to practice it in my own life, others will be blessed by those words just as much, if not more, than I have been blessed through them being spoken to me.
"Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit." James 5:13-18




Thursday, September 1, 2011

Owning my sin

Dan and I were driving home from JCPenney on Saturday when he hit me with, "Ya' know...I've noticed that we've been fighting a lot more since your sister left." (We were blessed to have my little sister, Paige, stay with us for the summer).

I thought for a moment and responded in a bit of confusion, "Really? I can't remember us fighting. I mean, I've been kinda crabby, but--"

"--well...you're right," he said. "It has been mostly you, but I didn't want to make you feel like I was attacking you. You haven't exactly been 'slow to anger' this week."

"Slow to anger" referencing the verse that I had been memorizing all week, "The Lord is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love."

Irritated, I gave him the silent treatment until we returned home. We went out to dinner with friends and all was forgotten.

Until Sunday morning came along.

As we sang "Depth of Mercy," our worship pastor asked us to take a moment to read and pray the words to verse two before we sang it:

Give me grace Lord let me own
All the wrongs that I have done
Let me now my sins deplore
Look to You and sin no more
There for me the Savior stands
Holding forth His wounded hands
Scars which ever cry for me
Once condemned but now set free


"Give me grace, Lord. Let me own all the wrongs that I have done."

Boom. Convicted.

I poured over those words again and again, realizing all the sin that I had not been owning that week. The fact of the matter was that I had been very quick to anger, and I had been making excuses for myself. Instead of owning my sin, I had been denying it.

As I read those words, I slipped into condemnation. Muttering words against myself as the music played...

Hypocrite.

Sinner.

Fake.

Failure.

And as I muttered these words, we began to sing the second half of verse two...

There for me the Savior stands
Holding forth His wounded hands
Scars which ever cry for me
Once condemned but now set free

As I sang those last words, the Holy Spirit reminded me that "There is therefore now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." - Romans 8:1

No more condemnation...it's a fine balance, isn't it?

Owning our sin can be difficult enough. But then once we've owned it, we must always remember that Christ paid the debt for it. It's done. Over with. Ha finito.

"There is therefore now no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

What a Savior.




Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Martha, Martha, Martha!

I'm linking up with Women Living Well Wednesdays today. Make sure to check out some of the other great blog posts if you have a moment!



I'll never forget when we hosted our very first formal, "non-family" dinner gathering at our home. I wanted it to be perfect, but it ended up a complete DISASTER!

I had just come home from a long day of work, and I had nothing prepared. Our company showed up, and I wanted to curl into a ball and cry as I looked around my kitchen--a sink full of dirty dishes, garbage can overflowing, raw chicken breasts that should have been cooked, potatoes that needed mashing, vegetables that still needed to be chopped and steamed.

Our company saw that I was overwhelmed and graciously offered to help in the kitchen. The men helped with the dishes and potato mashing while the women helped me chop vegetables and mash potatoes. Dinner was supposed to be on the table by 6, but it didn't end up on the table until 7:30, leaving us little time for fun and fellowship afterwards.

I was so concerned with impressing our company that I ended up embarassing myself and making others uncomfortable. I did anything BUT welcome them into my home. The problem: I was more concerned with my appearance than with my company's experience.

Martha, Martha, Martha!

In the book of Luke, we read...

"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'"

I am naturally SUCH a Martha. I want everything to be just right for company. I love fine china, tea services, and 5-course meals. My idea of "welcoming" people is giving them the finest dining experience they've ever had.

Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with wanting people to have a great experience in your home. Everyone loves feeling pampered, right? But it becomes wrong when we miss out on the important relational aspect of hospitality. When we lose sight of the very people we are trying to welcome.

Let's take a quick look at Martha. There she was, trying to give Jesus a feast fit for a king, when in reality, all he wanted was her love, attention and adoration. Martha's intentions may have been entirely pure, but she lost sight of what was really important...the relationship.


For the past two years, I have tried to incorporate more of Mary's characteristics into my hostessing, purposing to keep relationships at the center of my hospitality ministry. I've picked up a few tips along the way and hope that they'll bless you as they have blessed me...


1) Create a vision statement for your homemaking ministry and post it in your home.


I came up with this vision statement a few months ago and posted it on my fridge as a constant reminder:


I (clean/cook/host) so that my home will a be 1) a safe haven for my family, 2) a place where others feel welcome in the name of Christ, and 3) a household that serves the LORD.


I encourage you to give it a try!


2) The crockpot is your friend.


On Sunday, we had 18 people over for lunch. The "Martha" in me would have been completely freaked out at the prospect of having 18 people over right after church. But "Mary" has found a couple great crockpot recipes that are especially great for company after church. Throw it in the crockpot over night, simmer on low, and voila! It's ready to go when the after-church crowd floods in:)


It may not be an gourmet meal, but it does the job and allows me to spend time building relationships with the people I invited into our home. After all, that's why we invite people over, isn't it?


3) Allow others to bless you.


This was such a tough lesson for me to learn, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it! "Martha" Chelsea would have been dead set on doing everything herself! She would have (pridefully) thought, "I invited you over, so that means I need to do this all by myself!" But "Mary" has learned that it's okay to allow others to bless her. Whether it's a dessert, a quick stop for a bag of ice, or help with the dishes, it's okay to let others help. Really. And now that I'm getting the hang of this, I'm finding that some of the best relational times are spent in the kitchen cleaning up WITH my guests.


4) Drink stations will rock your world.


My husband makes fun of me for my "drink stations," but I LOVE 'em. As a little kid, I always hated when my mom would send me into the living room to ask all of our guests what they wanted to drink. Halfway to the kitchen, I would inevitably forget and have to turn around and ask again! I'm the same way today. As a hostess, you have a million things going through your mind (Oh no...Did I forget to clean the toilet bowl?) and remembering everyone's drink orders can be stressful and time consuming. By setting up a drink station (water, soda, ice, glasses), you make your guests to feel welcome by allowing them to fill up their glass whenever they need more (not when you get around to filling it), and you also relieve yourself of undue stress. You can also set up a do-it-yourself coffee/tea service with dessert. Set up a tray with cream, sugar, tea bags, and stirrers/spoons and have your guests help themselves!


5) Have a few go-to recipes and ingredients on hand.


I have about five "go-to" recipes for company that I can whip up pretty easily and quickly: crockpot italian beef, meatball (bomber) sandwiches, chili, taco bar, and spaghetti. I often keep 1-lb. bags of pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer for chili, tacos, and spaghetti and pre-cooked meatballs for bomber sandwiches. I also try to have red sauce and pasta in my pantry at all times in case we have any "surprise guests" (I firmly believe that spaghetti is God's answer to those surprise house guests!).


What are your "go-to" recipes? Don't have any? Try to think of 3-5, including at least one (like spaghetti) that won't break the bank! For an excellent spaghetti recipe, check out Noel Piper's book "Treasuring God in our Traditions."


6) Give yourself a half hour.


This was one of my first lessons in hostessing. In my mind, I thought, "I'll just get everything done and then go freshen up." But then my company (thankfully family!) showed up 20 minutes early to a frazzled, unshowered hostess. Now, I schedule a half an hour "prep time" for myself starting at least one hour before our guests arrive. During that half hour, I leave my hubby with a few last minute jobs which is a great help.


7) Have a plan.


When we hosted our family Thanksgiving just months after getting married, I was scared to death that I would forget something! So, the night before, I marked all my recipes with sticky notes, gathered all the dry ingredients for each recipe, set out serving bowls and utensils for each dish, and made a schedule (in 15 minute increments) for the following day. It was a HUGE help, and I have never looked back!


8) Keep Christ at the center of your hospitality.


This is my biggest encouragement to you as you welcome people into your home...keep Christ at the center. The single most important motivating force behind our love towards others should be Christ's love towards us. 1 John 4:19 says, "We love because he first loved us."


Your guests should be able to see the evidence of Christ's love in your home. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when trying to determine if Christ is at the center of your hospitality: How are interacting with your husband or children? Do you do more talking than listening? Are you concerned about your appearance or your guest's experience? What dominates your conversation--heavenly things or earthly things? Are you demonstrating your love for and hope in the gospel? Once you've answered these questions, pray and ask God to help you with any trouble areas you might have.


Here's my prayer...

Lord, I pray that you would make me like Mary...content to sit at your feet. Make my home a place that puts your gospel on display. God, help me to put away my selfish desires so that I might love others better. And through my love, may all who enter into my home experience YOUR great love. Thank you for inviting me into your kingdom and welcoming me in the name of Jesus Christ.

Amen.




Have any hospitality tips? Please share in the comments below!






Photo attributed to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mjparnell/435465575/

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Finding joy in the gospel

Today I'm linking up with Women Living Well Wednesdays.

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Back in January, I made the following resolution...

This year, be it resolved, that I, Chelsea Kathleen Stanley, will pursue joyfulness.

Six months have passed since then.

So how's that going for you, Chels?

Well, I am pleased to report that today, I am a more joyful person than I was six months ago. And it's not because of these sub-resolutions that I came up with back in January to help me get there. It's because of my new found love of the gospel.














Back in November, Dan and I made the heartwrenching decision to leave our home church.

Heartwrenching because of the history we had there. Dan grew up in that church. We spent our dating years growing together there. We were married there.

Heartwrenching because of the people we loved (and still love!) there. Both of our biological families attended that church, and the people there had become a second family to us, especially during the trials that we had experienced during our first year of marriage.

Heartwrenching because of the sin of our (biological) family that made us leave more swiftly than anticipated.

Heartwrenching because it was a Bible-believing, Christ-exalting church that had taught us so much, yet we knew that God was calling us away.

Just heartwrenching.

But God takes our heartache and turns it into joy!

As hard as it was to leave our old church, we have found a new home in Crossway Community Church, and I am so thankful to God for leading us there.

I am thankful for two (main) reasons:

1) Crossway has helped me to appreciate and love the gospel more.
2) This love for the gospel leads to a contageous joy, and I've caught it!

Let me explain...

Growing up I had always believed the gospel (or "good news" of Jesus Christ). I knew that I was a sinner. I knew that the penalty for sin is death. I knew that Jesus died that death on the cross for me. I knew that he had saved me. But in my mind, the gospel was almost a one-time thing. You believed it once. It saved you once. You're done with it, so you pass it along to someone else.

But now, it's totally different.

Now, I try to preach the gospel to myself every day. Today, I realize that I need to constantly remind myself of the wonderful grace and mercy of the gospel story.

So when I come home to a house full of laundry and dishes, and I catch myself becoming resentful towards my role as a wife, I preach the gospel to myself.

Christ loved sacrificially. Now it's your turn. Live the gospel.

Or when I'm beating myself up for sins of the past, feeling trapped in sorrow and despair, I preach the gospel to myself.

Christ paid the price for that sin, Chelsea. He has set you free through His gospel.

Or when I'm dealing with trials and circumstances, and I catch myself slipping into anxiety or depression, I preach the gospel to myself.

Sure, today's circumstances are bad, but think of all the goodness you have in the gospel.

I love, love, love the gospel! And this new found love...it makes my heart overflow with joy.

I am happier. I am calmer. I am content in the gospel.

Joy inexpressable.

Pure joy.



If you want to read up more on this whole "gospel" thing, head on over to The Gospel Coalition website. It's a great resource!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

He's been faithful...














Yesterday, Dan and I celebrated our 2 year anniversary!

Two years ago, we came before God, and he made us one flesh. Two sinners saved by the grace of God joined together as a symbol of Christ's relationship with his church.














Praise God!

Ever since D-Day, I have found myself rejoicing in anniversaries, and yesterday, it was my turn to celebrate our anniversary and to praise God for all that he hasdone in our marriage over the past two years.

And boy, do I have a lot to praise him for.














Two years ago, I stood on a stage with the man who I now call my husband. Young, in love, we eagerly exchanged our vows, ready to embark on this journey we call "marriage."

To have and to hold.

Little did we know that there would be nights when Dan would literally have to hold me for hours as I wept at the sin that had torn my family apart...

For better or for worse.

Nor did I know that the next two years would be two of the worst years of my life...

In sickness and in health.

Battling anxiety and depression. Sometimes even struggling to get myself out of bed in the morning...

To love and to cherish.

Learning that love is truly a choice, and that if you don't fight for it, it can be lost in the blink of an eye...

Until death do us part.

Not knowing that this last vow would be broken by my own parents just a year later and would rock our world.














After we exchanged our rings, we turned to light the unity candle. Wrapped up in the moment, I blew mine out before I was able to light the unity candle. To this day, we still joke about how Dan had to re-light it.

But as I think back on that moment, it's quite poetic, really. A beautiful picture of our first two years of marriage. So many doubts. So many restless nights. So many tears. So many times my flame blew out, but my dear sweet Daniel offered me his shoulder, his ear, his strength, his flame.

And even more importantly, he pointed me back to the source of all of our strength, and light, and hope. He pointed me to Christ.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30 Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint."

-Isaiah 40:28-31

When I am weak, my bridegroom is strong. When I am weary, he carries me. When I am burdened, he lightens my load. When my flame has been extinguished, he lights my path.



And as we joined our candles into one, a song began. Yesterday, tears streamed down my face as I watched our wedding video and listened to these words, even more true today...

In my moments of fear,
Through Every Pain Every Tear
There's A God Who's Been Faithful To Me

When My Strength Was All Gone
When My Heart Had No Song
Still In Love He's Proved Faithful To Me

Every Word He's Promised Is True
What I Thought Was Impossible
I've Seen My God Do

He's Been Faithful
Faithful To Me
Looking Back His Love And Mercy I See
Though In My Heart I Have Questioned Even Failed To Believe
Yet He's Been Faithful, Faithful To Me

When My Heart Looked Away
The Many Times I Could Not Pray
Still My God He Was Faithful To Me

The Days I Spent So Selfishly
Reaching Out For What Pleased Me
Even Then God Was Faithful To Me

Every Time I Come Back To Him
He Is Waiting With Open Arms
And I See Once Again
He's Been Faithful
Faithful To Me
Looking Back His Love And Mercy I See
Though In My Heart I Have Questioned
Even Failed To Believe
Yet He's Been Faithful, Faithful To Me


We couldn't have picked a more appropriate song to begin our marriage with. Through it all, he has been faithful. And the love and mercy that my earthly husband has so graciously bestowed upon me over these past two years has been a sweet glimpse of my true bridegroom's unfailing love for us.


Today I'm linking up with Women Living Well for Women in the Word Wednesday.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Heal the wound, but leave the scar...

What a beautiful song...

I used to wish that I could rewrite history
I used to dream that each mistake could be erased
Then I could just pretend
I never knew me back then

I used to pray that You would take this shame away
Hide all the evidence of who I've been
But it's the memory of
The place You brought me from
That keeps me on my knees
And even though I'm free

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar

I have not lived a life that boasts of anything
I don't take pride in what I bring
But I'll build an altar with
The rubble that You've found me in
And every stone will sing
Of what You can redeem

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar

Don't let me forget
Everything You've done for me
Don't let me forget
The beauty in the suffering

Heal the wound but leave the scar
A reminder of how merciful You are
I am broken, torn apart
Take the pieces of this heart
And heal the wound but leave the scar



Friday, April 29, 2011

A royal wedding

I can't believe I'm blogging at 3:30 AM. This is a first!

I didn't plan on waking up to watch "The Royal Wedding," but my heart has been pounding since 2:00 AM, and I haven't been able to sleep, so I decided to go ahead and watch history in the making!















Last night, when I told Dan that I wanted to DVR the wedding, he replied with "Why? It's just a stupid wedding!" I got defensive and told him that it's "romantic" and "beautiful" and that all weddings "symbolize Christ and His Church!" At that point, he challenged me to write a gospel-centered blog post on the royal wedding. Love you, honey...and I accept your challenge.


As I was laying in bed at 2 AM, I started thinking about why I'm so excited about this wedding. And even more, why are an expected 2 BILLION viewers so excited about "just a stupid wedding?"


And as I thought about it, I realized that we're wired for this. We are wired for fairytale romance.


Think about our favorite fairytales...


Snow White.













Snow White eats a piece of fruit given to her by her stepmother in disguise. The fruit causes her to "fall asleep" and only true love's kiss from a prince will awake her from her slumber.

Sound familiar?

Romans 5:12-16

"Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the fr
ee gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ."

Then there's Sleeping Beauty. Pretty similar story line. Aurora, who has fallen asleep, receives a kiss from her prince, and comes awake to live happily ever after.














I think I've heard that one before too.

Ephesians 5:14- "...Awake, O Sleeper! And arise
from the dead! And Christ will shine on you."

And now, at 4:00 AM, I await the royal wedding of Prince William & Catherine Middleton. Kate, who will drive up in a car as a commoner and will leave a princess, just by way of marrying her prince.

















This is just too easy, babe.


Ephesians 2: 4-10

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

Yes, we're wired for fairytale romance, my dear sweet husband. We're wired for fairytale romance because we were CREATED for fairytale romance. We came into this world commoners. We were born as "Kates," but our bridegroom, Christ, has come to our rescue. He has awaken us from slumber with true love's kiss (humbling himself to death on a cross), he has designed our gown of righteousness, and has changed our position, so that we are now "Princess Catherines." We eat this "stupid wedding" stuff up because we were made for it.

How romantic is that!?

As I watch Prince William walk into the ceremony, I am entirely too excited about his royal wedding story, but I am much more excited about mine. Our royal wedding story, as the bride of Christ...

Revelations 19: 6-8

"Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

'Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure'—


for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

Oh, what a glorious royal wedding that will be!

And the best part?

We are promised a "happily ever after."

Now that's a royal wedding.




Friday, April 22, 2011

The man at the foot of the bridge...

I skipped along the wayward path,
curls bouncing in the breeze.
I smiled, not knowing where I went
amidst the forest trees.

I came upon a wooden bridge,
swaying to and fro.
Skipping, skipping, all the way,
whilst the winds did blow.

But as I skipped, I heard a voice
calling out my name.
I quickly turned and saw the man
from which the calling came.

With open arms, he called again,
"Come back, my child!" he said.
"This pathway is not safe for you.
Follow me, instead."

There was something about him I couldn't resist.
Strange, yet familiar was he.
Barefoot, I pattered across that old bridge,
For with him, I wanted to be.

I tugged on his robe, and he lifted me up,
Swinging me, 'round and around.
Laughing, rejoicing with tears in his eyes,
His lost little girl was now found.

And just as we turned away from the bridge,
Lo! The ground started to shake.
Holding me tight, we looked back at that bridge
as it crumbled and started to break.

My head on his chest, I started to weep,
as the rotten bridge gave way.
I knew not where I went, nor the path I was on,
without knowing, I'd fallen astray.

But the man who was holding me tight to his chest,
wiped my tears from my cheek as he said,
"You're safe, little one. You have no more to fear.
Come awake, child! You're no longer dead."

"For I knew you before you took your first steps,
and I knew on which path you were bound.
But in love, I came down and saved you from grief
so my mercy and grace would abound."

We turned and he showed me a narrower path
and told me to "Run well the race."
At nightfall, he told me he had to go home,
but he was leaving a friend in his place.

Now all grown up, I remember that man,
and I thank him again and again
For saving that blonde little curly head girl,
from eternal torment and pain.

Today, as I walk down the narrow path,
with the friend that he left at my side,
I thank him for saving that little blonde girl,
so that one day, with Him, I'll abide.








Wednesday, April 6, 2011

My fleece of unfaithfulness

I know I ended my last post asking you to stay tuned for Installment #2 of the Beloved Story (if you found yourself asking what Beloved is, you can read Installment #1 here). But before I get to that, I need to take a slight detour...

The past two weeks or so have been spiritually rough to say the least. I've felt alone and out of touch with God. I've been in the Word, I've prayed, I've fasted, I've worshipped, I've wept, but I've felt like God has been silent. I have tried to sit down and hammer out the details for Beloved, but haven't felt any direction or inspiration. I have begged Him for guidance in choosing the board of directors for the ministry, but I'm no further today than I was a month ago. I've been feeling like everything's been at a standstill.

So last night, when a friend asked me how she could pray for me, what followed was a whiny, self-loathing mess of a response... "...While I'm enjoying reading through the bible in a year, I am yearning for in depth reading that is more "applicable" to my life right now. I know that all of God's word is living and breathing in my head and heart, but I'm having a really hard time taking away anything from my daily reading. The old testament is full of good stuff, but I'm just frustrated. How do Joshua's battles have anything to do with me trying to discern who I should ask to be involved with Beloved or where we should go to church? I feel like I need more direct guidance and as though God is just being silent. My husband has encouraged me to do some in depth reading right now, but I'm already behind in my chronological plan, so I feel like any time I have needs to be spent catching up."

It didn't seem that bad when I wrote it. After all, it's how I felt, not what I believed. But then this morning, the Holy Spirit hit me with the story of Gideon.

Now, to be honest, if I wasn't reading through the Bible in a year, I probably would have never turned to Judges for counsel or guidance. But, that's where God had me today, and for that, I'm grateful. I had heard the story of Gideon a few times. When I was trying to decide where to go to college, I remember my elderly neighbor encouraging me to "put out a fleece." Since then, I've heard other Christians use the phrase on a handful of occasions, but I had never sat down and actually read the story of Gideon. It goes a little something like this...

The people of Israel did what was evil in God's sight (again!), and God allowed Midian to oppress them. When they cried out to God for deliverance, the angel of the LORD came to Gideon and told him that he, Gideon, would single-handedly strike down the Midianites. Gideon responded, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speaks with me." God, being the patient and merciful God that he is, gave Gideon his sign (a consuming fire springing up from a rock). After seeing the fire, Gideon was pretty much freaked out since he thought he had seen the angel of the LORD face to face. But the LORD said to him "Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die."

Later on (I'm skipping part of the story here for time's sake), Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said."

Okay, Gideon, I thought. You just spoke directly with God. Why do you need another sign?

But God, being the patient and merciful God that He is, gave him his wet fleece.

Surely you'll believe God now, Gideon. Right?

Wrong.

Right after he was wringing out the fleece, he turned around and asked God to do it again.

"Just once more, God. Pretty please?"

And once again, our gracious, merciful God gave him his wet fleece.

At this point in the story, I became angry. Hold up. I thought. I always though putting out a fleece was a sign of faith. Gideon saw God and spoke to him directly. God assured him that he would deliver Israel from the Midianites through Gideon. Why couldn't he just take Him at his word? This isn't a fleece of faith! It's really a fleece of unfaithfulness."

And then I realized...I am Gideon. And the Holy Spirit convicted me of my fleece of unfaithfulness. I have been sitting here, waiting for some sort of "sign" from God. An email. A phone call. A bolt of lightning. Some thing that will give me direction in this ministry.

But what I've failed to embrace is that God has already equipped me through his word...

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." - 1 Timothy 3:16-17

God speaks directly to me through His word. And what's more, his Spirit is alive in me. I don't need a fleece. I need to have faith in the Word of God. And as I came to realize that truth, God, being the patient and merciful God that He is, spoke to me through his Word. And not just through a verse or a short passage, but through five books of the Old Testament and hundreds of years of history.

More on that next time, but for now, I leave you with this...