This One is for the Weary

It’s been a season of recovery. The weight of the world had been crushing me for so long, and I, ever the stubborn child, kept taking the load from God’s shoulders and putting it back on my own. A human heart was never meant to carry all that weight—all that grief.

It’s amazing how easy it is to fool ourselves. I thought for sure that I was trusting God. That I was living by His power and strength; but then the strength ran out. And I realized that all along this year it was my strength and not His.

My high capacity—my ability to “do” so much, is also one of my greatest weaknesses. I think I am working by God’s power, until I have no power left, and finally then realize that I have been leaning on my own paltry resources.

My own well has run dry; if you could call it a “well” . It’s easy enough to see now that my own source of water in the wilderness is a muddy hole compared to the sweet stream of the Holy Spirit’s power in the land. And now I am turning again from my own power, and drinking deeply again of His. I think this is what they call repentance.

I am being refreshed; slowly but surely. Maybe this is something you need too.

I think during seasons of intensity, hardship, and struggle it can be really easy to just keep plowing through. It can be easy to think that there is no other way—and of course, to some extent, you do have to keep going. There are people depending on you. Work has to be done.

All that is well and good. But I have found that sometimes I use these “have to’s” as an excuse to never sit still. It’s the control freak in me. It’s the pride to again accomplish all that needs doing by my own will power. And it’s also the fear: because I knew if I sit still long enough I’m going to have to wrestle with the emotional level of what is going on around me, and I don’t want to.

Sometimes the first step to finding God’s provision and refreshment in a dry and desert season, is to stop looking.

Huh?

Sometimes it’s just time to sit down, cry out to God, and wait. Sometimes we are missing the blessing of the refreshment He wants to offer us right here and right now because we are so busy running around doing ALL-THE-THINGS trying to manufacture a life that feels more manageable and under control.

For our family in this season, a rhythm that has served us with consistency has been the rhythm of taking a day of rest: of accepting from the good hand of God our Father, the gift of Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest

I know you might come to this phrase with a whole cart load of pre-conceived notions. Whether you grew up in a faith tradition that practiced Sabbath religiously, or whether you see that word here and think, “hey, we don’t have to follow the law anymore remember?” I hope you can set all those pre-conceptions aside for a moment and listen to the heartbeat of God in this passage of scripture.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV

This is what I hear God saying:

Remember—you were a slave. You were bound to work as long as there was a master standing over you. But now, you have been set free, and I am not that kind of master. I will uphold you the six days that you work, and on the seventh I will give you rest as a part of my provision for you, because I love you, and I want what is best for you.

For me, practicing Sabbath goes in direct contrast with so many of my sinful tendencies. My tendency to control, to be self-sufficient, to earn the favor of God and men by my work, to feel justified in my own over-inflated opinion of myself.

But it also stops me in my tracks when I want to just keep busy so I don’t have time to think: Sabbath is my invitation from God to stop, sit, and be with Him in the middle of whatever I am going through, and in the middle of all the big feelings I may be having about it.

Maybe this is something God wants to bless you with too: with time and space to just be still—to bring Him your cares and your struggles—to allow yourself to grieve all that needs grieving right now, in His compassionate presence.

Maybe this is a gift you are longing to unwrap, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

If so, then I have something that may help. I have created what I’m calling a Sabbath quick start guide for anyone who is interested in pursuing a more consistent rhythm of rest, and it can be yours for absolutely free. Just click the link and give me your email so I can send it your way.

There are so many more words I could write about the way this practice of Sabbath has blessed me: but the main thing I want to tell you is that the more I study what the scriptures have to say about Sabbath, the more convinced I am that it isn’t at all about doing one more religious activity—instead it is our written invitation to come to the Father, weary and broken as we are, to rest.

Sabbath is about accepting the rest that God wants to give to you as provision: even though it might not look the way you hoped or expected.

(But more on that in another post.)

For today, I hope you can ask yourself, what might my life look like if I took intentional time to rest and connect with the heart of my Father God, even and especially in this season of hardship I am going through?

And if you need another resource? Earlier this year I was delighted to partner with my friend Sarah Westfall, as she compiled the voices of so many women who are passionate about clinging to God in the midst of seasons of incredible heartache and loss. She brought us all together for a sweet little 30 day Devo called Be Still: Leaning into God when everything falls apart and you can get either your Kindle or paperback copy by clicking here.

If you have been following me on Social media, especially Instagram for any length of time, you know that I tend to share more about our Sabbath practices there than anywhere else. Starting the first Saturday of the New Year, I began a 12 week series of posts with practical tips on preparing for Sabbath and I’d love for you to follow along. You can find me there and on Facebook @gracekelleywrites.

Blessings on you Dear Reader. May the REST of God bless you today with the refreshment your soul needs.

Gracie

What could ruin the coming of Christ

This is a repost of something I wrote last Christmas. Last December was the hardest month yet with our daughter and her health; but the gems of truth I learned during that time have carried me through the various sorrows I am carrying into Christmas this year too. I hope this blesses you to read again as I know it blessed me.


There is so much to anticipate about Christmas. The time with family and friends. The presents under the tree. The vacation days. The special feasts that invite us to remember the incarnation with songs sung by candlelight. 

But with every anticipated event comes a certain amount of anxiety; for all of us. To get the shopping done on time. To prepare the food for the guests. To teach our children the meaning behind the celebration, and so much more. The anxieties include the small griefs associated with the plans foiled, the cookies we never baked, the gingerbread houses that were accidentally left in the garage, the advent calendar we didn’t remember to start until halfway through the month.

But sometimes these anxieties run deeper. Sometimes they are the deep fears that are the product of deep griefs. Sometimes the current of suffering and grief drive us through the holiday season at a pace that feels unnatural. It can be hard to sing a Christmas song when it seems like everything around us is wrong. 

Fear and anxiety should not be invited to take a seat at our tables during this joyful time of year, but yet sometimes it seems like they’ve pulled out the seat of honor and made themselves quite at home, always without our consent, and often without our immediate knowledge.

If you are worried about this Christmas, that something might ruin it. That the holiday stress will drag you down. That the traffic will make you angry. That the checkout lines at the shopping mall will frustrate you. Or that your family will be angry with you because you have to work…Fear not.

If you are worried that the grief over a loved one missing around the table will swallow you whole. If you are fearful that the constant suffering that plagues your everyday life might spoil Christmas. If you are alone this year and don’t know who you’ll celebrate with. If your spouse is in prison. If a loved one has cancer. If the budget is too tight for gifts for your kids this year. Fear not.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret; nothing can ruin Christ’s coming. Not then. Not now. Not ever. 

Jesus’ birth occurs in the context of a census taken by the Roman empire. The Jews were being taxed by an oppressive regime, who wanted to count and see just how many of them there were as if counting assets, not people.  He was born in a humble town, after a long on-foot road trip. A town so crowded that no one had room even for a very pregnant woman on the verge of giving birth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by the dirt and the hay and the feces of animals. Delivered by his teenage mother in the usual turmoil of the usual way. Caught by a man whom he would grow to call Father, though he himself had biologically nothing to do with him. Unless of course you considered that is was Jesus’ very breath of life that made Joseph’s own chest rise and fall. 

If I wanted to tell a story of a birth plan spoiled, I don’t have to look any farther than the birth of my own Savior. I wonder what Mary thought, in the midst of intensity of labor. I wonder if she held fast to the faith that all this was as God had planned it, or if she doubted, even for a moment, the way the Lord chose for this Savior to come. Did she wonder if his birth was being profaned by the dung and the dust in that moment? Or did she know with certainty that everything was exactly as it should be.

In the fullness of time, he came. Nothing could stop him. Nothing could ruin it. Every strange, painful, and difficult circumstance along Mary and Joseph’s way, only confirmed the prophecies that had already been spoken of Messiah. All of it was by God’s grace, for his glory. 

The maiden girl, the stall, the manger, was exactly the way he had to come.  It was apart of who he was as “Immanuel”, God with us

He was born to breathe that filthy air. Born to feel the pain of a scraped knee. Born to feel the sting of a harshly spoken word. Born to feel the wrongness of people’s anger towards him. Born to submit to the authority of human parents, though He alone was the ultimate authority in all the Universe. All of this before he even would begin his more official “ministry” among us.  And not one iota of those experiences could ruin his coming, because of course; that was why he came. He was born to feel in the flesh, the effects of the curse as far as it was found, even as he came to ultimately break the curse once and for all, forever.  

Nothing could ruin the miracle of his coming. No corrupt governments, no inns full to bursting, no filthy stalls. 

He came for the social outcasts, as well as those who were held in high esteem. The shepherds, who abandoned their flocks for a chance to touch his sleeping face, were just as welcome as the three kings bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 

We were going to go cut our own tree this year. We’d been planning it for weeks. We thought we’d take some friends with us. We’d warm up with cocoa after. It would be the snowy family adventure we’d been longing for since the hot hot months of summer. 

Then Friday night came with another auto-immune flare up in our little girl. We were up all night holding her, consoling her. Praying for her. Singing over her. Holding back her hair and wiping the tears from her cheeks. And when the new mercy light of Saturday morning finally came, I knew there was no way we were going to go cut our own tree. 

So we traded off taking naps and watching the kids. We ate leftovers. We cancelled our plans. And when four o’clock came around, I made my husband a thermos of coffee and sent he and our middle son out in the snow to find the perfect tree from a local tree lot. 

Ellie woke up to find them gone, and though she knew we would have been cutting our own tree if not for her flare up of illness, she took it as a kindness that the boys were out finding the perfect one just for us. Just to cheer us up. 

In the fullness of time; even if our timing seems off for everything, God is always on time. Nothing is by accident. All is for our good and his glory. That baby in the manger didn’t come because he wanted to be apart of some idyllic winter solstice celebration—he came because we are broken, and he wants to heal us. 

If you feel broken down and beat up by life right now: Christmas is for you. If you feel weighed down by the burdens of past hurts laid upon you by others: Christmas is for you.  If you are afraid of the emotional, or physical pain that you are experiencing and very well may continue to experience all throughout the Christmas season, Christmas is for you.

If you are tired of muddling through life in your own strength. If you have nothing left when the dawn finds you, then take heart! Christmas is for YOU. 


The holiness of this Holy Night of the Incarnation mirrors the holiness for which God has set us apart: the holiness is not clean and tidy like the stained glass images of the birth of Christ, but in the midst of the mess and the mud and the blood, it is set apart. And if you believe in Christ Jesus, then you are set apart, by God’s grace and for his glory. And nothing can take that away from you.

Glory. That’s what makes the more obviously sacred and the seemingly profane aspects of our lives  the same in the economy of God. Because God redeems profane people with profane pasts into the sacred work of his coming Kingdom. And the redemptive power of Jesus more than defeats the pervasive power of sin and shame. 

Nothing can ruin the coming of Christ.  Not then, not now, not ever.

Not the oppression of governments. Not abuse. Not job loss or relationship loss. Not homelessness. Not the diagnosis. Not school shootings. Not the death of a loved one. Neither height nor depth, neither angels nor demons, nor things present, nor things to come, nor anything else can separate us from the love of God, made incarnate, in  Christ Jesus our Lord. (Paraphrase from Romans 8:38) 

Fear not. No matter what trials your Christmas holds, the best gift of Christmas is always and already yours to hold; the very presence of God with you in the midst of whatever you are going through. 

You are not alone. If there’s anything I can be praying for you for this Christmas, please leave a comment below, or click reply to one of my emails if you are a subscriber. I’d love to hear from you; and I’d love to pray for you.

Gracie

{Photos shown in post, in order they appear  c/o Francois Pistorius, Dan Kiefer, Davidsonluna on Unsplash} 

This post is dedicated to my three youngest siblings, and all the survivors of the Arapahoe High School shooting on December 13, 2013. 6 years ago I didn’t know what to say. Now, I do. 

Out of the rock

Provision can come from the strangest places. Or maybe strange isn’t the right word: maybe more like, “unexpected.”

When you are walking through the desert; through a wilderness season, and you look around for water and there isn’t any to be found, it can be so life sapping. When there isn’t any water in sight, how can we hope for the refreshment our souls need? It feels pointless at best, and at worst, foolish.

We are searching for the thing: for the what of what we need to survive. But the more important thing to search for is the Who. The Who that provides for our needs. This idea keeps coming back around: that it’s not about the what, it’s about the who.

The Who that holds together every molecule of our being, the Who that ordains the location of every grain of sand in this desert; that Who can bring water out of the rock if He so desires. There is nothing too hard for Him.

To us; unexpected or strange. To Him; as natural as breathing. As natural as a mother, whose child tugs at her skirt saying, “Mama, I’m thirsty.” As natural as pulling a cup out of the cabinet and as simple as leaning over the kitchen sink and turning on the tap. As mundane as screwing on the lid with the child’s favorite straw in place.

It’s as easy at that. This water from the rock. It’s as natural and normal and spectacularly beautiful as a mother giving water to her thirsty child.

Yet, I so often hesitate to even ask. And when I don’t ask, how could I receive?

It’s pride mostly—and fear: they combine in me to form the deadly sin of self-sufficiency. Pride because I don’t want to need God to bring the water from the rock; I want to find it myself. Fear because, what if He doesn’t bring water from the rock, and I look foolish on top of everything else? What if I ask and I DON’T receive? Or what if His provision doesn’t look the way I want it to?

The truth is that it rarely does. The Israelites were led in hope to the edge of a promised land they would not enter for an additional generation, because though the Lord had brought them this far, they couldn’t imagine how He could possibly help them overtake the fearsome inhabitants currently living in the promised land. (Deuteronomy 1:19-46)

I am so like the Israelites more often than I’d like to admit. Oh how small is my belief! I so easily forget that the God who has brought me this far, will surely see me home.

“The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.”

Deuteronomy 1:30-32 ESV

I am no better than they. I too have forgotten the way He has carried me through desert seasons past; the way He has provided so unfailingly for me in the midst of difficultly, loss, and pain. I have forgotten the miracles by which I have come this far. And even when I go astray, even when the path before me does a 360, whether as a result of my own disobedience or just the fallenness of the world, my God, He will lead me still.

“And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty hears int he wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the LORD your God disciplines you.”

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 ESV

Dear Reader, wherever you find yourself today, I hope you remember to look up and around. Open your eyes to the way God has carried you and led you up until now; and seeing His faithfulness, believe again that He is carrying you still.

If you need a little reminder of how to walk through the hard things of life with the hope that comes from remembering what God has brought you through, then I made this for you. It’s a short little PDF e-book called Scattered: Seven Days to Hope in the midst of Hardship. And for a limited time, it’s yours, absolutely free. Just click the link and subscribe to receive the link to the download today.

*PLEASE NOTE being a WordPress subscriber will not allow you to download this file because I am not permitted to email WordPress subscribers. So if you have been following me here for awhile, and haven’t ever received an email from me (other than a WordPress update) you may want to check and see if you are actually subscribed! I’d love to get this goodness into your hands.*

Trusting God with your broken heart

I had had enough. The straw had finally broken the camels back. I sat slumped in my chair staring into space—my heart shattered in a thousand pieces by so many burdens and so many pains. Deep regrets fought their way to the surface in the form of tears that couldn’t stop falling. What was the point?

I thought I had heard God right. I thought I had been trusting Him. I thought that the way I was headed was the way He was leading me; then why all of a sudden did I end up in this place? I felt shattered into a thousand pieces; depression slinking around the corners of my heart and a numb apathy coming to dull my mind. What now? How could I possibly move forward in the midst of all this?

I called my Dad.

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

“Sure honey, what is it?”

“I’m just…I’m just so brokenhearted.”

As I poured out my heart and concerns a thread began to emerge; one that I didn’t see coming. Was I bearing these burdens alone? Was I entrusting them to God’s care? I thought that I had been—but now that everything had gone horribly awry I was ready to claim fault for it all. I was ready to act like everything that had gone wrong in this current situation was a direct result of some neglect on my part. I was acting like I was God.

Slowly the realization dawned on me. Once again, in slow and insidious ways my pride had crept in and made me believe that for better or worse, I was responsible. No wonder the weight was too much to bear.

We got off the phone and I knew immediately what I had to do. I needed a sign, a way to represent what I was choosing now. These concerns were too far above me. I am not God. And I needed to roll these cares into His hands and allow Him to do what only He could do.

I got down a basket and labeled it: GOD’S JOB.

I cut up strips of paper, and wrote on them each of the burdens. Each of the cares that had been weighing me down for so long. All the griefs and wounds I had carried, were being lifted one by one as I scribbled, folded and placed each paper in the basket.

Some cares were easier to let go of than others. Some I could only drop into that basket by a slow uncurling of my fist. Then at last, I thought I had reached the end; but there was this nudging in my heart to write one last paper.

I grabbed the strip and the pen and scrawled the final care:

Heal my broken heart.

With tears streaming down my face I dropped that final paper in the basket, and put the basket high and out of reach on a shelf. A visual reminder that these things are way above my pay grade.

I cannot cure the cancer. I cannot mend the fractured relationship. I cannot raise the dead. I cannot be the friend I wish I could be all the time. I cannot be in more than one place at a time. I cannot turn back time. I cannot stop people I love from making destructive choices. I cannot predict the future. I cannot heal my own broken heart, let alone anyone else’s.

These things are God’s job. He is qualified and capable. He is able to do what He says He will do. He never tires of listening to our requests and granting us mercy for the day. No care is too small or two large to toss upon His great and gracious shoulders.

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the might hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

(1 Peter 5:6-7 ESV)

I invite you, Dear Reader, to cast your cares upon Jesus today. He knows what is weighing you down. He does not applaud your self-sufficiency. Rather, like a child whose parent delights to help him, the Lord delights to help you bear what you were never meant to. Pride is the root of your desire for self-sufficiency, which might be hard to hear, but is actually really great news—because it means that repentance is the path to peace.

My prayer for you Dear Reader, is that you would entrust yourself, and your broken heart, to our good and gracious God today. And if you need a friendly hand to hold, click here to subscribe to receive a five day email series entitled, “Dear Brokenhearted: Letters to the lonely and the hurting.”

Whatever cares you have to add to your basket today, from my broken heart to yours Dear Reader, I pray you always remember that wherever you go, you never go alone.

Divine Intervention

Sometimes it feels impossible to dream the dream that darkness doesn’t actually win. The space between my head belief—that God is good, in control and on His way back for us—and my broken heart; crushed beneath the cares of this world, is farther than I ever thought. Shortening the gap will take an act of divine intervention.

Last week I was so depressed by all the sorrow surrounding me—too many sorrows, and most of them not mine enough to name here. I have never been depressed really, though I have journeyed through dark days more than once. Sometimes you just can’t seem to remember where to look for the light, when the darkness feels like it might actually be winning.

This is the impossible task: to be Kingdom minded people in a world not our home—to hold out the hope of the Gospel, a tender flame that banishes the darkness from every hidden place, but first, it illuminates it. I’ve seen more darkness now than I ever could have stood ten years ago. Each sorrow, each grief, each horror feels closer and heavier than the last; and yet, God asks me not to be afraid. He asks me to trust him. To look to the horizon and see the faintest lightening of the dawn. To believe that He is coming soon.

How far we have fallen! How broken the world and the people in it! The more I know the beauty of Jesus and all He calls us to, the easier it is to mourn for all the ways we have destroyed the world He made. The curse is found everywhere. There is no escaping it.

But I can’t get stuck here. Because this story does not end in defeat. No. This story climaxes with the King of Love himself journeying into the very heart of this dark world, letting himself be killed on a roman cross, dying a torturous death as he took the burden and the penalty for all our sin and brokenness on himself. And He didn’t stay dead.

Three days later He rose to life again, and showing himself to all the disciples, proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through belief in His finished work on the cross on our behalf. Then after 40 days He ascended into heaven once more, leaving us with the message: I am coming again, soon.

Why is it so hard to believe? My heart is so easily fooled. So easily tricked into despair. Can I not keep my eye on the horizon? Do I still disbelieve in the dawn?

He is coming soon. He actually is. Coming to make all things new. Coming to wipe every tear away from our eyes. Coming to bring His children home to a house that He has been preparing for us. Coming to bring His bride to the wedding feast.

But I need the glimpse of heaven now. I need a taste of the Kingdom now. Because the stench of death is in my nose, and it’s hard sometimes to look up to where the light comes from. Sometimes all it seems to do is display the brokenness is astounding relief.

But I know the beauty of Jesus would be enough to make my heart rejoice; if I would open my eyes to actually see. To see the whispered prayer over the sick child, and the mini-miracles as more than just coincidence. To see the prayer for the peace in the midst of the storm answered in just enough courage to get me through. To feel the breath in my lungs as the divine provision of strength for the day that I have asked for, given in advance.

All is grace.

And what a grace it is now that God has finally got me to the end of myself again. If only I weren’t so prideful; so stubborn; so self-sufficient. Maybe then it wouldn’t take so much of a pounding to get me here. Because “here” is the sweetest place of my faith; when I have finally come to the end of all my resources. When I am wrung out and ragged and beat up beyond recognition. When I just can’t will myself to hope any longer; Hope himself comes along and scoops me up, and carries me. Here, I don’t have to “try harder” any more. Here, I don’t have to “figure out” how I’m going to accomplish A, B, or C. Here, I rest in the assurance of a Hope that has proven himself real to me, when I least expected it. When I had given up looking for him. When like Frodo in Tolkein’s Return of the King, I have forgotten what strawberries even taste like…it is then the eagles come for me.

I cannot will my hope into being any longer. And that’s okay. It’s even a good thing. In this place of deep hurt and sadness; when the darkness seems to surround me; when I have FINALLY come to the end of all my paltry human resources—there God is. Waiting. Arms wide open.

Today, I will let Him. But I’m sure tomorrow I’ll try and jump out of His arms again, and it will be this constant battle to lean on the One with the resources, when in my pride, I think I can do so much. Maybe today is a good day to beg for humility. Maybe that is the first miracle that I truly need. Maybe this one act of divine intervention, will open my eyes to see. Maybe then I’ll start to see the everyday miracles in sweet relief.

Why suffering with others is an honor and a privilege

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to spend time with a friend I hadn’t really seen in a few years. We met at a coffee shop and walked to a park where we sat on metal benches while my two older children played on the play ground. We sat and talked, and tried (and failed), and stop my youngest from putting wood chips in his mouth. It was a good day.

We spoke friendship, (ours is going on 13 years) and we spoke about forgiveness. We talked about the Kingdom of God, and what it means to live here with eternal purpose flowing through our veins. We talked even about times of grief in our own friendship, and I took the opportunity to confess that if I could do it all over, there are some things I would do differently. And then she said something that startled me:

“You were there for me when my brother died, and that’s all that mattered.” 

It wasn’t that I didn’t remember this— the phone call, the drive to her place, the tissues, and the tea. What startled me was this sudden realization, that of all the things good or bad that I have done over the course of our relationship, that this was what she remembered. Being there was what mattered.

As a little girl I suffered. If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile then you know parts and pieces of my story. 

It was awful, traumatic, and life-altering. And yet, I wonder constantly now who I would be if I hadn’t gone through that. My suffering wove a compassion into me that I doubt would be there otherwise. 

Walking through suffering with someone else can be intimidating. There is no guide to social etiquette for a hospital waiting room. There is no step-by-step instruction manual for encouraging a friend who has recently lost a child. There is no form for encouraging text messages to someone who’s loved one is dying.

My own insecurities are often the first thing to stand in my way. Questions and doubts plague me: What if I don’t know what to say? What if they don’t want me to come? What if I do it wrong? I wish I could say it gets easier, but I have dealt with these questions just about as often as I have been asked by God to draw near to someone in the midst of unspeakable pain.

This is not to say that care and consideration of the actual needs of those that are hurting is unimportant, it is vital. Sensitivity is key. Asking questions of others who have gone through something similar is invaluable. But the first and foremost thing, is to just show up.

Doubts and fears arising out of self-preservation often lead to inaction; an inaction does not honor Christ. We know what happened to the servant who buried his talent in the sand. (Or if you don’t you can find the parable in the Bible, Matthew 25:14-30) We know that our faith without works is dead. (James 2:14-26) We cannot stand saying we believe, and yet choose to disobey all that Christ commanded us because we are afraid we’ll get it wrong.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord. when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'”

Matthew 25: 34-40

Sometimes all you can do is pour the tea and weep with the friend who has suffered horrific abuse. The friend who has lost a loved one. The friend whose heart has been broken by marital infidelity.

The hardest part of suffering with others is that it never feels like enough.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t ask me to swoop in like Superman and make all the problems disappear; he asks me to do the practical things, and to be with the one who suffers, as though I am doing it all to Him. When I extend the with-ness of Christ’s presence to my suffering friend or loved one, I bring the Kingdom of Heaven a little closer.

I don’t need to be intimidated as I approach that front door, that hospital room, or prepare to press send on that text, because I’m doing it to Jesus. It is Him I am going to see. And He says it is enough.

If you are walking through suffering right now, I challenge you to take the risk and step out of isolation with someone you trust. My prayer is that God will lead you to that safe person who will sit with you, weep with you, pour the tea for you—even as they ultimately encourage you to look to the God who is ever at work even in the darkest of circumstances. Give them a chance to serve you as unto the Lord.

If you are walking next to someone who you know is hurting, I dare you to step out and be that friend who is willing to walk the hard road. It won’t be easy, but it is an honor and a privilege to be allowed into those moments with people. Show up for Jesus, wherever He is—in the face of a friend confined to a sick bed, in the face of the man in prison, in the face of the stranger who needs clothing—don’t miss out on seeing Jesus just because you are afraid you’ll do it wrong. Just show up, and look your suffering friend in the eyes, and see Jesus, you will.

Years from now, when there is little left of your memory or mine, the last things to go will not be the ways that we wronged each other, but the ways that we were the hands and feet of Jesus to each other. These moments of hardship bind us together; my closest friends are the ones with whom I have suffered, and those who have suffered with me. It’s not easy, and suffering with others is probably the most painful part of true love in a fallen world, but in the end, this must be what defines us:

Did we love? Did we serve the walking wounded right in front of us? Did we love others more than our own comfortable complacency?

When we do, we see it clear as day: suffering with others is an honor and a privilege, because when we minister there, we minister to Jesus himself.


I made this for YOU.

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For when they’ve left you all alone

Loneliness opens up like a sink hole in my chest. It sucks in everything; my joy in the small moments, my hopes for the future, the lessons I have learned from the past. It turns my whole body numb with longing and the desperate question—does anybody see me?

Suffering can be one of the loneliest places; there are many reasons for this; enough in fact that I could do a whole blog series on it. (And maybe I will, let me know in the comments below if that’s something you’d be interested in.) There are many reasons why the sufferer herself might be the cause of some of her own loneliness, but in this post I would like to examine what I believe is the central reason why other’s pull away from the sufferer in her hour of need: unbelief in the goodness of God, and the fear that comes from realizing the depth of our own unbelief.

The reality is that it is excruciatingly hard to look in to the eyes of someone tortured by the terrible illness of a child they love, when there is nothing they can do to make it better. It’s hard when they don’t know what to say, and the silence gapes wide like a chasm. They know if they stand of the porch a second longer and look into your soul-haunted gaze, they will have to reconcile some things in their faith that aren’t currently matching up.

Standing with those who suffer is sometimes like signing up for a weekly wrestling match with God. Because when you love them, and you look in their eyes, and you hear their hearts beating and breaking—you will howl right along with them: Why God?

These questions can be scary, and I believe they are the very reason that many shy away from sitting with someone who is deep in the midst of suffering. The greatest relief I have experienced though, as someone who ministers to those who suffer, has come through realizing that these questions must come.

In one of the great paradoxes of the world we live in, sometimes the quickest way to faith is through doubt, and so I have stopped measuring my faith by a lack of doubt, and instead have begun thinking only of how quickly I surrender to God when we wrestle—because wrestle, we will.

During seasons of suffering in my own life, I have felt the rage bubble up, as well meaning people tried to white wash over my pain. And it seems like an impossible ask, but here it is: I think sometimes God asks us, as ones who are suffering, to have grace on those that are less than helpful around us, and even on those who abandon us in our hour of need.

It feels like insult to injury I know, to say that as those who are hurting we might even have to forgive the well meaning friends who say all the wrong things, or the friends that once loved us and now seem to have forgotten us completely; but there it is. Because where there is hurt, there must be forgiveness. And we must entrust ourselves to the love of our good God, who will provide for us what we need to take the next step—the next breath.

As a survivor of sexual abuse, some of my deepest wounds are not from the abuse itself, but from those who should have stood in the gap for me. Those who claimed to be our friends, but who left us in our hour of need. Friends whose negligence led to my being abused in the first place; because they knew something was wrong, and yet they kept silent.

If you are reading this, and you were one of these people, I want you to know—I have forgiven you. Before the Lord, in prayer, by name. You are forgiven by God, and you are forgiven by me.

In turn, I’m sure I also have been a means of wounding some; maybe even some of you who may be reading this. Maybe it was a casual word spoken out of turn, or maybe it was the words I should have said but didn’t. If I have ever added pain onto your pain, I pray that you would also forgive me. I too am a work in progress, and have sometimes chosen wrongly. I do not get it all right. But I trust that even here, God will redeem.

Because here’s the really beautiful part: partially as a result of who God made me, partially as a result of the lack we suffered when I was a kid, God has grown me into a woman who cares deeply about the suffering and hardship of others. It’s a part of my story—that I am committed to the long road with people. That I will take the time to wrestle with my God for the truth that He is good even when circumstances seem to shout otherwise. In many ways that’s what this blog is all about.

This isolation––this loneliness––may feel like an insult to the injury of your present hardship, but this too will be redeemed by the God who takes every broken thing and makes it beautiful. And no matter how many people hurt you, abandon you, whitewash over your pain, or condemn you in the face of your suffering, you are not alone.

You are seen. You are held. You are loved. Even when the people who ought to be there, run away. Even when the family members don’t know what to do or say. Even when your friends withdraw and you come to that painful realization that where you are going, they cannot come…even then. You are seen, you are held, you are loved; by the God who paid everything to make you His. By the God who suffered also from loneliness in His hour of deepest need. By the Savior who was betrayed and abandoned by His friends. He knows. He cares. He sees. He has not forgotten you.

Dearest Reader, my prayer for you today is that the overwhelming peace and love of the Lord Jesus would surround you today, wherever you are. And through this peace, I pray we will be able also, by God’s power, to extend forgiveness and grace to those who have hurt us by their words, actions, or lack-thereof, in our hour of deepest need.


Do you need someone to kneel down in the dirt with you? To help you scatter seeds of hope in the midst of hardship? It would be my greatest honor and privilege to minister to you in this way; to give to you a little of the comfort with which my God has comforted me.

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For when someone is to blame for your suffering

I’ve seen the eyes tainted with bitterness, and in truth, more than once they have been my own.

Forgiveness comes like a threat to us; when we are holding on to hurt and pain like so much precious cargo—like the filthy bandage on a gaping wound, how can we let it go?

There is so much about which Satan lies; unforgiveness is just one more of those tools in his belt. And like all his other weapons of mass destruction, it is meant to steal, kill and destroy.

You’ve heard that unforgiveness is like swallowing poison, expecting the other person to drop dead. I too have lived this way.

With a childhood stolen by a man with selfish hands.

With friendships lost and my character assassinated.

With friends I loved like family, who chose to walk the other way in my darkest hour.

I know how bitterness can feel like a knife in your hand— like your last weapon against the coming onslaught. It can feel like self-defense.

That is until you look down, and realize that the knife isn’t in your hand at all—it’s in your chest, and you are bleeding out.

Rooting out the bitterness is as painful as all that. Letting that sharp edge be removed from your heart; then letting the Lord stitch up the place, so true healing can come. It can feel like letting that pain and anger go is letting the person who has caused your present suffering “get off easy.”

Hear me now when I say this: no one is saying that the pain isn’t justified. No one is saying that you haven’t been hurt, that the suffering isn’t real, or that there won’t still be echoes of the hurt 20 years from now—ask me how I know.

What I am saying, is that with that knife of bitterness in your chest, the healing will never come.

God never sweeps what was done under the rug. That sin that was done against you? It will be dealt with. Our God is a God of justice; he doesn’t wink at sin or give lame excuses.

He will avenge the blood of the innocent. He cares deeply about your assassinated character. His heart breaks for the lies spoken, the discord being sown among brothers. And he knows it all experientially as well.

Satan desperately wants you to forget that Jesus knows what it feels like to be rejected in his hometown. Jesus knows what it is like to have his brothers not believe him. Jesus knows how it feels to be betrayed, to death, by a close friend, and then have all your other close friends follow suit. Jesus knows.

But that doesn’t change what he does—or what he did. He died that they might be forgiven; both his friends who abandoned him, as well as the ones who called for his execution. He died that I might be forgiven; while I was still his enemy. He died to forgive your own offender, my own offender, if they would put their faith in him.

That can feel like a tough pill to swallow some days. I have wished ugly things in the deepest part of my heart; that those who hurt children would never believe and would have to bear that grievous sin on their own shoulders when eternity comes. But that’s the bitterness again. The knife’s edge sharp in my chest; and it has to come out.

The terrifying and wonderful truth is that God’s justice is so much better than mine; and letting my hatred go—letting the knife of bitterness slide out of my heart and be thrown away—that is me choosing to trust that God’s justice is better than mine, and He will do right.

Say it with me: HE WILL DO RIGHT.

So I let the knife go. I allow God to stitch me up. I let go of my need to be validated. Of my right to hold on to my anger. And that is when the healing comes. I let go of my title of “victim” and become victorious in Christ. And I begin to see things I never thought I’d see before. Some days I can even grieve for the sin that ensnared my abuser. I can pray that God will redeem even his part of the story; and I know then that I have forgiven.

Turns out Max Lucado had it right. Forgiveness can feel so hard; like opening the door of a prison to let out the one who did me wrong; and yet when the lock falls down and the gate creaks open, it is my own face that I see in that cell: I am setting myself free.

Dearest Reader, I hope you have ears to hear these words. No one is saying that it will be easy. No one is saying it’s a piece of cake. I am saying it’s worth it. I am saying that though the pain might be caused by someone else, the bitterness is yours to own—it is your responsibility. This is what God is asking you to do.

Don’t let bitterness be the pet sin you are content to hold onto; like the fluffy white cat that is held constantly on the lap of the evil genius who thinks complete destruction is the way to world peace.

If you can’t believe it in your heart just yet, I understand. There was a time when I felt exactly the same way; but freedom comes when we exchange the truth of God for the lies of our own reasoning.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

Proverbs 3:5-8

God the good Gardener

I cannot claim to be an excellent gardener. This year Colorado threw us all for a loop and decided it was perfectly okay to snow the Thursday following Mother’s day, and like many in the state who use the Mother’s day rule to plant things outdoors, I had already transplanted my tomatoes.

Gone.

I probably should have read the farmers almanac. Maybe they knew that something like that was coming. Maybe they could have saved me the grief of agonizing over seeds that will never now bear fruit.

The other parts of my garden look well enough this year. The beet bed is my pride and joy, as long as I’ve weeded recently. This year we used some of our own compost to amend the soil, some of which was used straw from the goat shed, and if you are smarter than we were you can probably guess our mistake: there are all kinds of grass seeds trying to grow amongst my beets. And grass where you don’t want it, is actually pretty hard to pull up.

Try pulling a blade of grass up by the root. You’ll see what I mean.

It’s amazing how even something I would think of as a “good plant” has become such a burden and a nuisance. Among all the notoriously “bad plants”; the bind weeds, the dandelions, and a hundred other nameless weeds that call my raised garden beds home, now I also have to contend with grass that wants to grow where it absolutely does not belong.

I weed by hand. That’s the only way to feel if I’m doing it right. I get dirt under my finger nails and I feel the tug and pull of the roots under the earth, and I try and get just the right angle so I uproot only the bad, and keep my tiny beet seedlings intact. They are small, but growing larger every day. Soon, they may not even need me to take such care, but for now, it would be so easy to uproot what I want, while pulling what I don’t.

It strikes me that God weeds my life like this. He weeds it by hand, not afraid to get dirt under his nails. And though the soil seems to shift around me, and I can be afraid of what is coming next, if I trust that the Good Gardener knows what He is doing, I need not be afraid.

We have taken this season for a sabbatical from “formal” ministry life, but paring down is not always easy. Sometimes what looks like a healthy beet bed from the window is really just a bed full of weeds, the tiny beets barely distinguishable. And God wants more from us than that. More than just the signs of life, whatever they may be. He wants to give us full and abundant life; fruitful life.

So we have been paring down on things. We have been putting a pause on the small group we’ve led for the past four years. I’ve stopped serving in the nursery. Willy is taking a break from worship team. We have tried to set down what so often occupies our time. On Monday we took the TV off the wall and hung a picture up instead. We’re just trying to quiet the voices.

But sometimes the silence feels uncomfortable. Sometimes it reveals the invisible sins that have been hampering growth all along, but weren’t obvious to us.

The first hour after our last official small group meeting, I felt it like a gaping hole in my chest; the fear. For a recovering people pleaser, (and an Enneagram 2 if you’re into that) the most terrifying fear of all: that people only loved me for what I do, and not for who I am, and if I stopped doing what I had been, that they will leave me.

Because God cares about the heart—my heart—he doesn’t just look out from His back window at the beet bed of my heart and say, “Hey! It’s all full of green. Looks like Grace is doing a-ok!”

No. He wants me to bear fruit. And though my fears may motivate “right-looking actions”, God cares about my mixed motives. True, I serve because I really do love people, and I want to help, and I love God. But the dark side of that coin is that I also serve sometimes because I want to make myself indispensable. Because if I am indispensable, then no one will leave.

It’s tricky isn’t it? This space right now, this pared-down calendar, is giving God all kinds of room to pull out all the grass seeds that have mistakenly been growing where a flourishing vegetable garden ought to be. And though painful, that is a good, good thing.

It might seem counterintuitive to see any kind of rest as a hardship, but when you are a recovering perfectionistic people-pleaser, it can certainly feels like a sacrifice. And because I am still a stay-at-home Mom, in many ways, I am only laying down the service that in any way gets recognized. No one cheers me on for cleaning poop off of the carpet.

Quiet me in my smallness O Lord.

It’s hard to lay down those parts of me that I have wanted to claim as identity, as things that make me worthy of love, when God gently says, like the loving Father He is, “No, No Gracie. It’s me. Always and only me.”

If God has you in a season of paring down, weeding, or any kind of upheaval—know that you are not alone. Remember, that God weeds by hand, without the gloves, He isn’t afraid to get dirt under His nails. He is not embarrassed to be associated with you, just as He isn’t embarrassed to be associated with me. In the space that your season of hardship affords—in the quiet moments of isolation and loneliness—may He minister to you in your smallness, and show you the things that you’ve been hiding behind, that you really don’t need after all.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Have you been waiting for a written invitation to start planting seeds of hope in the midst of hardship in your own life? Consider this it!

Click here to download my recently released mini-ebook/devotional Scattered: A seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering.

Inside you will find:

-How lamenting before the Lord is actually the quickest path to trusting Him in the midst of heart break and disappointments.

-How looking around for gratitude will only bless you as you quiet yourself before the Lord.

-How to remember what God has done in the past, so you can trust Him with your future.

AND SO MUCH MORE.

If you are walking through something hard; then I made this for you. Let’s plant those seeds of hope like it’s our job, that we may cultivate a fruitful life wherever we are, by God’s grace and for his glory.

Gracie

On Smallness and being out of control

This morning I was walking and talking with God, as I’ve come to do these days. I have been terrible at praying and abiding lately, and getting up early enough to drink my coffee on a fifteen minute walk has been a recent sanity saver for me.

But this morning I was tired; I have been so soul weary of late. I didn’t have much to say. So I asked God to keep up his end of the conversation. And this is what He said.

Look up! Look around! Do you see all of this? I made all these things. That bush and that grass. That tree and that flower. That moon, and that mist hanging over the stream. Look up! Look around! Do you see it?

He spoke joyfully; His voice exultant in my ears. And I know that my smallness before Him is my comfort; it’s a comfort I can always come back to, no matter how grand and lofty I am tempted to think I am becoming.

Yes. Yes I see it. Quiet me in my smallness, O Lord.

It was Emily P. Freeman who first inspired this thought in me, that smallness is a gift. That we can be small like the child; held by the One who loves us, who will never let us go.

It easy to see the beauty of this when I look at my baby boy, finally asleep in his crib. His newly emerging teeth have been keeping him up at night of late, but I can’t stop thinking about how sweet it is that now he holds onto my neck, and squeezes me tight. At the same time, it’s beautiful to think that just because he wasn’t holding on to me before, doesn’t mean he wasn’t held.

I held him and grew him for nine months in my womb, and then the day he emerged, I held him in my arms like the gift that he is and thanked God. THANK YOU GOD.

Did he know he was held? Could he understand? Or is it only now that he can crawl to the back of my legs, fussing along the way, pulling himself up by fists full of fabric and looking at me with those furrowed brows. I need you. Hold me. But I am always holding him. And I have held onto him long before he even knew it was me that he wanted.

Isn’t God the same way?

Holding us always, whether we acknowledge him or not. Carrying us where we need to go, meeting our daily needs like a Father—and a Mother—both.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

My lack of abiding has nothing to do with my actual state of being held by God. My refusal to acknowledge who is actually in control, does not change who is in charge. The only thing that changes is my peace, as I tune into the underlying sustaining presence of the One who can ultimately meet each and every one of my needs, and has the sovereign ability to truly do so.

He holds me. He nurtures me. He hears my cry, and carries me. Sometimes I like where we are headed; and sometimes I am screaming from the top of my lungs because I don’t understand. But as a Mother I know what He is longing for; He longs for me to wrap my tiny arms around His neck. To hold on to Him, even as He is holding on to me. Because that sign right there; that shows us both that we belong together. That we always have, and we always will.

Being a grown-up is overrated. Being “big” is overrated. To the child, perhaps being a grown-up looks like the closest thing to being like God—to that control that we all inherently crave. But then come the taxes and the bills and the clock-in-and-out job, and our clothes only agree to keep fitting us properly if we give up on that whole ice cream for breakfast idea. Our desperate grasps for control are so often fruitless and tempt us to despair. In short, being a grown-up almost always feels like a let down.

Now for the good news: for those of us who are in Christ, we can, and should be the child. Always and forever, we can revel in our smallness, in our lack of control. We don’t have to be afraid. Because we worship a God who was holding onto us with His mighty and sovereign hand long before we even knew to try and wrestle that control away from him.

Whatever your current season, Dear Reader, I ask you to remember this today: that the God of all grace has been holding onto you longer than you can imagine, and He will never let you go. Yet, in our faith, we have the privilege of wrapping our arms around His strong neck, and the comfort we receive there is not in our perceived control of situations and circumstances. No. The comfort we receive as we bury our faces in His neck, is the child’s comfort of knowing that he is held, and abiding in the loving plan of the one holding him.


Are you walking through a season of hardship or suffering? If so, I made this for you. CLICK HERE to get your FREE DOWNLOAD Scattered: a seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering.

This free resource is fueled by my desire to see lives changed by the hope that comes through faith in the God of the Bible. Nothing is too broken for Him; though the damage may be irreparable, it is not irredeemable. My prayer is that the stories, scriptures, and questions in this resource help you to see that for yourself in the midst of your own story and journey.