Hope Church

A Hope-Filled Life (Literally): All about My New Job

A Hope-Filled Life (Literally): All about My New Job

It has been a long-held dream and prayer of mine to join the team at Hope, and I’m so incredibly grateful for the way the Lord has been orchestrating everything over the years and the last few months to bring this to fruition.

An Invitation to An Event and a Full Life

I've heard it said that women are catty, that we are competitive and cutthroat and caught up in our appearances. My experiences have taught me just the opposite is true. I have found that women are compassionate, encouraging, eager to build each other up, and passionate about loving each other and the Lord well. I've seen incredible, unbelievable, powerful things happen when women come together.

In 2014, I went to a women's gathering at my church here in Richmond called un/defined. I didn't know quite what to expect, but I loved everything about it. It was a HUGE event, and it was so good. Laughter, covers of Lorde's song "Royals," funny spoof videos, bold teaching, stunning worship, vulnerable conversations, community-building, and a fantastic experience down to the very details. 

Now, I'm part of team planning the next gathering of un/defined. Over the past few months, I've sat around tables with this team of women, and they have continually reminded me of all the goodness about women gathering together. These women are all different ages and in different stages of life, with different gifts and abilities and interests...but they unite for one common goal: to see women changed by the love of the Lord. They (quite honestly) are the best.

We're a small group, but I've seen God move in mighty ways in us already. We're a small sampling of the women who will join us for un/defined in January, but we are believing together that He'll do for the big event what He's doing among our small team.

We laugh hard together, to the point of tears sometimes, at jokes and at sentences that come out all tangled up in the most hilarious ways. We pray together, honestly coming before our Father with all that our hearts are longing for and wrestling with. We plan together, all of us using our strengths to join together and bring this gathering to life.

When women come together, beautiful things happen. This team has been proof of that to me.

At the last un/defined, I saw the goodness of the female community like I had never seen before. The room was packed. The energy was electric. The experience was amazing and empowering and exciting. I still feel that momentum now, almost two years later. Women came (hundreds and hundreds of them) and let down their guards and got real with each other and with God, and they left those two days changed.

I believe the same will happen in January. I believe women will come (hundreds and hundreds and HUNDREDS of them) and let down their guards and get real with each other and with God, and leave after two days changed.

I can't wait. 

The world might try to tell us about who women are, but I want to listen to what God tells us. He says we are beloved and we are beautiful and we are His. He calls us to gather together and to seek Him with all of our hearts. He tells us He wants to give us life to the full, to know us intimately, to love us relentlessly.

I want to invite you to join us if you possibly can. I can't wait to see all that the Lord will do, and I want you to be a part of it. Come experience life to the full with us.

Veni, Vidi, Vici

Back in high school, I was an editor of the school newspaper. I practically lived in that newsroom, staying late on countless deadlines and writing stories about all the major happenings and big events. The yearbook staff shared the space with us, and as a huge fan of yearbooks, I would proof and edit their pages often. I remember looking at one page and seeing a feature of a girl named Kristin who was labeled "the blogger" (if I remember correctly), and I noticed she was in a wheelchair. I didn't know why, and being new to the school, didn't want to ask in case it would be inappropriate or rude.

Then, later in high school, I remember hearing about how Kristin walked across the stage at her graduation to ongoing applause from everyone in the whole stadium. I remember being so in awe of her and what an incredible act of courage and persistence that must have been, especially to conquer something so big in front of so many people. I knew then, even though I knew next to nothing about this girl, that she was a fighter.

A few years later, I happened to be home on a Sunday morning to attend church with my family. There she was again, this time on stage sharing her story. For the first time, I heard a little of the tragic accident that explained her need for a wheelchair. Again, I could see the strength and bravery in her as she shared something so vulnerable in front of another huge room full of people.

Now, Kristin is part of the young adult small group at Hope that I lead. A random gathering Hope calls GroupLink connected her to me and my group, and we all have absolutely loved getting to know her better.

Yes, Kristin is absolutely strong and 100% a fighter. But I think the first thing anyone in our group will tell you about Kristin is that she is HILARIOUS. She has this incredible dry sense of humor with the best timing that totally catches me off guard and makes me laugh out loud all the time. She has the best snort-laugh I've ever heard, which makes me laugh even harder because it's so awesome.

Never once has being in a wheelchair stopped her. I honestly don't notice it most of the time, because whether we are just crowded around someone's living room for small group or around a bonfire or if we all venture to Uptown Alley for some bowling, Kristin's there.

The past few weeks, our small group decided to take a break from our usual study series and instead each pick a week to share our story with the group. Two weeks ago, it was Kristin's turn. As she read her story to us (the story you'll read below), all of us were completely sucked in. The way she told her story was beautiful-- it wasn't coming from a place of anger or bitterness or frustration, but a place of total trust in God, a place of peace and understanding, a place of faith.

Her entire life was changed in such a short moment, but it didn't destroy her. She is one of the most carefree, honest, hilarious and real people I've ever met. She answered all of our many questions with grace, explaining things in terms we understood, cracking jokes about things that could very easily have been painful, patiently sharing with us this story that left us all amazed at what true faith looks like, even when disaster strikes.

I'm so thankful this girl is no longer a stranger to me and is now one of my dear friends. I'm so grateful for her life and her laughter and even her awesome stories about Tinder and how she met her boyfriend, Douglas. Her story is a true testament to her faith in Jesus, and I'm so honored to share it with you.

Here's Kristin's story.


image.jpg

My name is Kristin. I’m 24 years old and I’ve lived in Richmond for my whole life. I graduated from Randolph-Macon College with a degree in Clinical Psychology, but have a job at a law firm. I just finished my 7th marathon this past winter! I really enjoy writing and riding my handcycle in my free time and when it’s not so cold outside. 


Imagine yourself during the best year of your life – the time you felt the happiest and most content. For me, that time was 2005 when I was 14 years old.

In the summer before my sophomore year of high school, I was on top of the world. I had tan skin, an athletic body, and more friends than I could count on two hands. My grades in school were slightly above average and I got along well with my family. My freshman year was what I suspect will always be the best year of my life, and summertime only exaggerated that. I was invincible.

Summer months in Virginia mean unreasonably humid weather and my tomato-red face. As response, the youth group at my church organized a day trip to Kings Dominion. Aubrey, a girl I’ve known most of my life, signed up along with myself and two of her friends I recognized from the hallways of my high school, but had never spoken to. One of them was Feild.

Almost immediately after being introduced in the church parking lot, I knew I liked him. Feild was tall with light brown hair and a smile that was warm and contagious. I remember positioning myself in the line loading into the church van so the “natural” order would lead me to the seat next to him. When my plan didn’t work, I squished my body to sit directly behind him and sat uncomfortably on the edge of my seat for the 2 hour-long ride. I was trying to be as close as I could without appearing as captivated as I felt.

That day at Kings Dominion was full of roller coaster rides, hot dogs, and theme park games. By the time we loaded on the bus to go home, I was crushing hard. Feild was easy to talk to and made me feel so comfortable around him. He made me laugh and that’s the biggest reason I liked him.

The end of the summer came quickly. On the last weekend before I turned 15 and we started our sophomore year of high school, Aubrey invited me, Feild, and Mark to her lake house at Lake Gaston in Greenville, North Carolina. I knew Feild from Kings Dominion and Aubrey since childhood, but I only barely recognized Mark; he was my newest friend. Since meeting him, I’ve heard great things and he sounds like someone I would have grown close to if I had the opportunity.

Needless to say, I was stoked on going to the lake. It was my chance to show off to Feild, let him realize his mutual attraction, ask me to be his girlfriend, happily ever after. A lot was riding on that weekend. I bought a new bathing suit, packed my cutest summer clothes, and washed my hair.

I don’t remember many details about the next couple of days. I have few scattered memories, but none of them have been confirmed because, aside from a few random run-ins, neither Feild nor Aubrey has spoken to me about or after that weekend.

I remember Aubrey’s house sitting on a hill with a yard of green grass behind it. In my mind, I can picture the couches in the living room that I think the four of us slept on. I remember a boathouse with a roof that covered one boat and two jet skis. I remember climbing on top of that roof over and over to jump in the water below. I was wearing my new bathing suit and on my best behavior so Feild would like me. I remember trying so hard.

            On the afternoon of our last day at Lake Gaston, the four of us divided onto the two jet skis: Feild driving Aubrey and Mark driving me. The combination of a No Wake Zone and driver inattention resulted in a collision that ended Mark’s life and dramatically changed mine. One second is all it took.

            When Feild and Aubrey’s Jet Ski collided with ours, I was in the middle of turning my body around to look behind us. The Jet Ski hit me on the left side of my head and the T8 vertebrae in my back, causing a traumatic brain injury and a complete spinal cord injury. Mark was hit in the back of his head, fell forward into the steering wheel, and died on impact.

 

            Now imagine all of that happiness and contentment that came from your best year coming to an abrupt stop. That’s what happened to me; my life was turned completely inside out. Everything I had ever known and loved was taken away from me in one quick second.

 

            A group of people floating on a boat nearby saw everything that happened and came to our aid moments after our crash. Within seconds, they called the coast guard and were swimming over to pray over our limp bodies and help however possible. They were our angels. Without these people, the four of us wouldn’t have received the necessary and almost immediate attention that we did.

            The second on a long string of miracles was the quick response of the coast guards. The location of our crash was in an area outside of their regular route and they were “coincidentally” floating close by. Because of that, they were able to reach us in less than 5 minutes and get help from the rescue squad, also “coincidentally” close to our accident.

            From the middle of Lake Gaston, my and Mark’s bodies were transported to a local medical center. Mark was declared dead on arrival. My body was then air-lifted to Pitt Memorial Hospital in Greenville, North Carolina. I was medicated enough to remain in a coma and prevent my body from going into shock from the trauma of my injuries.

My family and best friends’ family was put to the test in the worst way possible on that day. All in different vacation spots around Virginia, my parents, sister, Katie, and Katie’s parents flocked to North Carolina to be with me during the worst time in my life. My parents were told I would not live.

I don’t have any memory of the month I spent at Pitt, but I surprised everyone and somehow stayed alive. Once I was in stable condition and doctors confirmed my brain was not swelling beyond my skull, my fragile and comatose body was transported to MCV’s Trauma Unit in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia. I was still comatose at MCV and stayed as an inpatient for a little over one month and until I was able to breathe on my own; my body couldn’t be moved again until I was no longer respirator-dependent. My parents were given a more complete list of my injuries. As follows:

{C}·       {C}T8 paraplegia

{C}·       {C}Short Term Memory Loss

{C}·       {C}Traumatic brain injury

{C}·       {C}Pericardial effusion with tamponade

{C}·       {C}2 bruised & collapsed lungs

{C}·       {C}Lacerations in spleen, kidney, liver

{C}·       {C}Acute blood loss

{C}·       {C}Multiple grade 1 splenic lacerations

{C}·       {C}T11 & T12 vertebrae misaligned & cracked

{C}·       {C}Internal bleeding in brain & lower abdomen

{C}·       {C}Blunt cardiac injury

{C}·       {C}Shocked bowel

{C}·       {C}Multiple renal lacerations

{C}·       {C}Respiratory failure

{C}·       {C}Grade 4 liver lacerations

{C}·       {C}Right adrenal hematoma

{C}·       {C}Left corneal abrasions

{C}·       {C}Rhabdomyolysis

{C}·       {C}Large retroperitoneal hematoma

{C}·       {C}Subarachnoid hemorrhage

{C}·       {C}Left hemothorax

{C}·       {C}Mediastina hematoma

{C}·       {C}Pneumomediastinum

 

 

From MCV, I was moved to Children’s Hospital also in Richmond, Virginia. My body was still extremely frail and my survival was still a question. Because I survived beyond doctors’ initial bleak predictions, their forecasting to my parents got a little more specific. They were told that I would live, but I would be unable to comprehend; speak; swallow; feel or move below my injury; the list goes on. I continued to prove them wrong when I returned to consciousness in October and could form complete sentences and function as a close-to-normal teenager. To this day, I continue to work to undo the last item on their list: walk.

My short term memory loss started to fade in mid-October of the same year. It was a gradual process and required a lot of patience from my family and friends that surrounded me. At that point in my life, I had a lot of friends to surround me. Every day of the week from the time of my accident until discharge from the hospital, I had friends visit me so much they had to be limited to 2-3 per day to avoid overstimulation of my brain. When my memory was still fleeting, Mom took a picture of every visitor that came and posted them on the walls surrounding my by so I could always be reminded of the people who loved me, whether I remembered their visit or not. In most cases that’s all they were- pictures. My mind was weak and in recovery for the first couple of years after my accident.

I have few memories of my time in the hospital and even fewer memories of the month before my memory started coming back in October. I clearly remember a Speech Therapy session with my therapist who I don’t remember the name of. I remember her fingers pressing on the top of my tongue and being told to resist movement and push them off. She did the same thing on every angle and from every direction of my tongue. I was told those exercises were meant to strengthen my muscles, but I remember just thinking it was gross.

I have another misplaced but perfectly clear memory from that same therapist on a day before my memory loss faded. I was sitting in the hospital’s black and orange loaner wheelchair with a shoulder-high backrest, anti-tipping bars, and clothing guards on either sides of my thighs. I remember the wooden table pressed against the wall of the room and my therapist telling me to scream as loud as I could. In my mind, I was panicking and I remember hesitating for what felt like several minutes before following orders. The Speech Therapy room sat at the end of a runway of administrative offices and a Physical Therapy gym full of other patients- not the place for an outside voice. My memory gets blurred but I remember cooperating and not at all expecting the result: my scream was a whisper. I remember my surprise and pushing my voice out as hard as I could, to no avail.

Then my memory blacks out.

I don’t remember the first moments after my short term memory came back and I don’t remember the first moments I realized I am paralyzed. I’m not sure I want those memories. By the time my mind started coming back to me, I was already relatively deep into my rehabilitation and had too many things to do and to distract me. Because of that, I missed out on the sadness and lamentation that is expected in a situation like mine. Energy I would use to regret or pity my situation is the same energy that I need for rehabilitation of not only my body but also my mind.

My journey began in Carlsbad, California two weeks after I was discharged from the hospital in December, and I suspect will continue for the rest of my life – long after I am able to walk. In one second I went from a confident teenager on top of the world and with no clear direction, to a struggling young adult with an unsolicited purpose to better myself and use my story as a testimony to others. I was robbed of the opportunity to mature with all of my peers, and instead expected to adapt and cope with my situation more smoothly than most adults are able.

Throughout everything I’ve been though, my family has been very tight – we work together. In the wake of my Jet Ski accident, an overwhelming amount of people in my life floated away from me. But my family has always been there. With a trachea in my neck prohibiting my voice and my mind still elusive, Jessica made a communication board with letters and words for me to communicate. Dad created a website to update my peers and community, which later became so popular that it later helped me raise over $4,000 toward spinal cord injury research and my participation in the 2011 New York City Marathon. 

Because of the attention put on my accident, I felt a tremendous pressure from an audience expecting near-perfection. That meant I wasn’t given the time to grieve and/or feel bad for myself because I had too much to do and too much to live up to. I am confident that played an important role in my acceptance and healing after my accident. Being in such close proximity to death puts life in a unique perspective that is hard to grasp by someone that has not experienced a tragedy of similar magnitude. For this, I am grateful. For this, I wouldn’t change for anything.

 

How to Leave a Lasting Mark in a Temporary World

photo via iBelieve.com

photo via iBelieve.com

In January, I moved into my very own apartment. I loaded up my family's van with all of my bedroom furniture, bunches of clothes on jumbled hangers, boxes and boxes of books and knick knacks and everything I had accumulated in my 21 years of life. This was monumental. I finally had my own place. My own rent. My own bills. The next chapter of my life was beginning. I was an adult! A real one!

We lugged everything up the stairs and into my new little place and it began to look like my own space. I arranged the pieces of furniture I had in the best possible configuration, I hung art on the walls and tried to make it look as cute and cozy as I could. I've lived there for 9 months now, and something struck me as I was cleaning this weekend.

This is home, but it's temporary. My lease will end, my time here will be over. I'll move out and only a few holes in the walls from once-hanging frames and shelves will prove I had been there. There won't even be colored walls to blanket with white again-- I knew I wouldn't live there long enough to make painting worth it.

I lived among white walls, just waiting for the next place.

This past week, I sat in a circle of the best people I know in the bright and open concourse area of my church. I listened as the newest class of 10-month interns was introduced to the staff, fidgeted awkwardly as I, too, was introduced in my temporary role here. I heard our pastor speak to the five of us. We want you to make your mark here. We want you to make an impact. We want you to put your stamp on this place.

This, like my apartment, is temporary. But this time, I don't want to leave the walls white.

continue reading this post on iBelieve!

Grace upon grace.

I'm convinced without a single doubt in my mind that life is found in community, especially churches. My church happens to state that boldly as a tagline-- a good place to find life. Amen. Since settling back down in Richmond, HOPE has been a place I've found life, community and incredible friendships. This girl is one of those dear friends.

As an introvert, I prefer hanging back on the edges of social settings, testing the waters and surveying the dynamics before I dive in. I also really appreciate when other people seem to be similar. In groups, in circles of chairs, around tables, I'm drawn to the people who are quiet, reserved. I know that although they don't speak first, when they do speak, it will be more than worth the wait.

This girl was one of those people. Around the circle, she was the one I was drawn to. The things she shared were eloquent, powerful, full of truth and love. She spoke and I soaked it up. I wanted to hear more from her, wanted to hear her testimony and just dive in to her story and hear all about it. Her wise words, her sweet demeanor and gracious spirit drew me to her and I knew I wanted to be good friends with her.

When the incredible duo Johnnyswim came to town and I had an extra ticket, I called her up and invited her to join me. We got dinner at new local restaurant beforehand and started getting to know each other better, telling little stories of our families, childhoods, high school years and current jobs. It was an amazing night (if you haven't heard their music, you need to) and I loved sharing it with her. It was the first time we had really hung out together, but she felt like an old friend and I loved that.

I launched this Story Seeker project back in June, and she texted me right after and told me how excited she was for me. She said, "I have a serious story of God's crazy grace and goodness in the midst of hard times, but I'm still in the middle of it...is that the kind of story you're looking for?" and I responded with a huge resounding YES.  That was exactly the kind of story I was looking for. Stories that are messy, that aren't resolved, that are covered in God's fingerprints and His love. I couldn't wait to hear her story and share mine with her, too.

We finally found a time in the middle of our busy schedules to meet up for coffee at my favorite Starbucks one weeknight, and we curled up in big leather chairs in a back corner. From the moment she started telling her story, I was drawn in. She was real with me and held nothing back, not even things that must have been gut-wrenchingly hard to say out loud. My heart felt so much love for her as she spoke, laying this incredible story out for me in a way that pointed straight to the cross and to grace.

Hearing her heart for the world, for a country far away from ours, for a completely different people group reflected the heart of the Father beautifully. She radiated hope and peace even when she shared hard things, and it was so clear that she is day by day abiding in the Spirit and leaning into His perfect truth.

We ran out of time that night for me to share my story with her, and I can't wait for the night we get to curl up in those chairs again and fill that corner with conversation. In the weeks since we met, my life has been a whirlwind of change, and I have constantly been encouraged by the most meaningful texts and words of wisdom from her when I didn't expect them but so desperately needed them. She shares with me how she's praying for me in ways that humble me in a heartbeat, she checks up on me with questions that few people remember to ask, she responds thoughtfully and with such precious affirmation...she is constantly showing me Jesus in how she is a friend to me. I'm so grateful for her.

Her story stirred something up in me that night, something that made me want to celebrate God's goodness in a new way. Her strength comes from the Lord, her hope is in Him, her trust is in His sovereignty, and she shines His light. I left that Starbucks so deeply encouraged by her testimony of God's grace. Life, full and abundant life, is truly found in community and in friendships like these.

Her three words couldn't have been more perfect-- grace upon grace. 

Here's her story.


The writer of this story will remain anonymous.

She's a 24-year-old teacher who enjoys camping, kayaking, and a good, competitive game of badminton. She's a lactose-intolerant-dairy-lovin-fiend...I live on the edge, she says. Her future goals are to get a masters degree in biblical counseling and help people realize that a broken life is made whole through Christ alone.


My story is a hard one to tell.  Mainly, because it’s what I would consider a constant work of God’s grace.  When is one’s story every finished?  Maybe when we meet Jesus, himself.  I can tell you the beginning of my story, though.

I grew up in a family with...well, let’s just say, issues.  As much as I loved them (and still do), there were some tough things to deal with.  I became a follower at a young age God put a distinct calling on me at the age of thirteen.  I felt him tugging at me; burdened for the people who haven’t heard of Christ.  

Well, fast-forward through those awkward high school years that were riddled with more family dysfunction and I’m eighteen years old and with a church guy that I’d been in love with  practically since the start of my youth group days.  Or so I thought.  He was my ticket out.  I didn’t see as that way then, but now I know why I made the choices I did.  See, as our relationship progressed onward I eventually began to feel God’s tug again.  This time, leading me away from that relationship.  It was unhealthy.  It wasn’t love that I had read about in the Bible.  But hey!!  It was way better than anything I’d ever seen take place in my family.  In my mind, I thought I was set.  

I knew I needed to listen to God, but being my stubborn self I decided to put it off--the longer I waited the more trapped my emotions were.  Then the day came where things began to get physical between the two of us, but I wanted to stop.  I couldn't lie there, blatantly disobeying God with some guy who I knew wasn’t the one.  As I stopped, he didn’t.  I couldn’t get away.  Couldn’t move.  I thought, “Is this what relationship looks like?  He said he loved me but he won’t stop.”  Then it was over and the guy left.  I felt disgusting.  I felt like I had something stolen from me.  I felt like it was my fault.  Now I had to stay with him because once that is given away--you’re bonded for life.  That’s what I thought.  It was too late to leave and break the relationship because I was intimate with this ONE guy.  God would only forgive if I stayed with him and married.  That thought was my first great misconception about God’s grace.  

We both found ourselves going to a private, Christian university and I was married second semester into my sophomore year.  I thought I was golden.   God’s forgiveness happened, in my mind, the moment that I said “I do.”  Again, another great misconception about grace.  

I always felt as if I was the only one in my marriage.  Granted, a marriage takes work--but it takes two people working.  I thought things would gradually get better, because my marriage was still much greater than anything I’d ever seen displayed.  The abuse I suffered daily was miniscule compared to what some women would face.  Unfortunately, these were the things I would tell myself.  Reality is, NO woman should ever have to put up with anything other than a husband who biblically loves her.  I just wish I would’ve applied truths to myself instead of making myself the exception.  

Still feeling that call, I began to look into mission agencies that would be a possibility for working with.  I began to talk to my husband about this idea and he said that he was up for it.  We found ourselves official college grads and were hopeful to be soon leaving with the biggest, best mission agency we’d ever heard of.  We went in for interviews and got all the right check-marks.  I couldn’t believe it!!  Four years of theological training and here I was--leaving soon to give God’s light in the darkness.  Now we needed to complete some training and  head off into the great unknown.

We were set to go with a people group in central america that were known to be difficult.  When accepting the job, we didn’t know what “difficult” meant.  During training, marriage problems continued and I began having some depression.  I ended up going to see a counselor but was too afraid to talk about my marriage issues--we would surely be turned away from the field.  During counseling I had to address a lot of problems--some even stemming from childhood.  The counselor really annoyed me most times.  Making me do stupid exercises, having the gall to ask personal questions and address hard issues.  Eventually, though, I began to respect him and get serious about healing.  Even if my husband wasn’t.  Healing began to come as I dealt with my own issues.

I previously said that the job was coined “difficult.” Turns out it meant:  dangerous and near impossible. Some of our supervisors said it was “the deepest, darkest place” in the country.  At the end of four short months, we found ourselves on a plane heading back home.  The people group ended up being very hostile to the gospel and we felt it was best to end the job until someone that was better trained could go in.  Within that four months I found a language and culture I loved, friendship, lessons learned, and my abilities were stretched past my introversion.  It hurt to leave, but I also found that my marriage was weakened.  My husband seemed absent...stressed, depressed?  I never found out.  We were back in the US, in counseling together, for two weeks of debrief.   Then we were back living with family when I found out that he had been behaving in an unfaithful way.  He left.  It happened quickly.  I was shocked.  I was hurt.  I didn’t know how things could’ve turned out this way.

I went through months of aloneness.  I tried to work things out, but he didn’t want to.  He told me that he was ever only along for the ride--that he wanted an adventure.  When things got too hard, it didn’t feel like an adventure for him.  One day he told me that if I’d be willing to give him a year or so to be by himself, doing as he pleased, and thinking things over--that maybe he’d come back after that.  That hurt the most; like he was doing me a favor--but only if he felt like he’d had enough fun to last for a while.  It was then that I walked away completely.  I prayed.  I sobbed. I deeply grieved. Grief isn’t just the tears, it is a deep pain from within that makes your whole body writhe.  I hadn’t known grief until then.  

God is good in the good times, but he's even better in the bad.  As I was living back home, single, with my dysfunctional family I thought that life would never get better. Depression had set in and I thought that God was done with me. I had failed as a missionary and I had failed in my marriage. I didn't think I was redeemable. Then I picked up my Bible; a book filled with a theme of grace. Not because I do anything to deserve Gods love, but because he just loves me. All of my striving. All of my working to achieve and maintain appearance, acceptable behavior, status, and much more...God didn't want that. He wanted a heart to heart relationship with my obedience; and I had a skewed view of that from the beginning. I decided then to be still; to cease striving and give everything to him. That's the hardest and the best lesson I've ever had to learn. Healing has come.

Within a week of that realization I moved to RVA. Within two weeks I had a full time job.  I've found friends, community, life, and my calling once again. It was never really gone--my view was just foggy. He's such a loving and good God. He gives us grace upon grace.

Start Here Book: My Review

Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus. That's the title. If I had seen this book on a shelf of Barnes and Noble, I'm not sure I would have been especially drawn to read it, because I've had a relationship with Jesus for as long as I can remember. I've already started, ya know?

But this book wasn't just one on a shelf for me. This book was written by two people I know and respect and genuinely love. One is the pastor of my beloved HOPE Church, the other is on staff there as well (and also is the mom of the three awesome kiddos I recently nannied for), and they both are authentic and solid Jesus-followers and leaders.

So this book, Start Here, came to me in the mail. And I started to read it. I didn't even get through the first page before I felt like I was sitting in Starbucks chatting with Nicole and David over cups of coffee (probably the HOPE blend we serve at church because it's really good).

The words of this book are so real. David and Nicole tell their stories in the introduction before chapter 1 even starts, and they don't do it in any fancy or elite sort of way, they just tell you who they are and how their relationships with Jesus started. It's an honest conversation from the very first lines, and I love that. It's so very real.

Every chapter starts with a story from someone (also very real) who is a part of HOPE and a part of the body of Christ. Their stories are raw, they're normal, they're still being written. All their stories started somewhere, and God has kept writing better and better chapters as they've grown.

My story started a long time ago, and I was about 7 years old when I decided to dive in to my own real relationship with Jesus. But now, at 21, this book about starting a relationship with Jesus still resonated with me. I heard echoes of my story in the words of the stories on these pages. I was reminded of so much goodness about who God is and so much truth about how He wants to know me. I was drawn in, page by page, eager to uncover more. 

It didn't matter that my relationship with Jesus started a long time ago. This book was still an authentic and encouraging reminder of what faith looks like.

This book is solid. This book is sound. This book comes straight from the Bible through the words of two people who love the Lord so evidently and are such incredible tools He is using to build the kingdom here on earth.

Bob Goff (author of Love Does) endorsed the book by saying this, and I wholeheartedly agree:

"The story about Jesus is a simple one; so is His message. This is a book that blows the foam off the top and gives His simple message uncomplicated, accurate freshness."

If you have no idea who Jesus is or what being a Christian means or looks like, Start Here. If you've known Jesus for 75 years, Start Here. If you're somewhere in the middle, pretty confused and not even really that interested, Start Here. I'll send you my copy, just say the word. If you want your own, it's here on Amazon, or Barnes and Noble, or wherever else you can buy books online.

If you want a copy put directly into your hands by an awesome smiling person, come to the Carpenter Center in Richmond on Easter Sunday with HOPE at 8:30, 10:00 or 11:00 and you'll get one there.

It's such a good place to start. It isn't scary, it isn't overwhelming, it's just real. Real is the best way to be with Jesus, so just start here.

Seeds in soil.

I'm the worst at growing plants. I buy succulents, cacti, seeds, plants, herbs, you name it...and I kill it.

I love plants and I really want to be good at growing them and keeping them alive, but the truth is, I suck at it. I think this has been something I've struggled with my entire life, to be honest. I clearly remember one time when I was probably about 3 or 4, and my mom and I planted some seeds. I had this tiny little teacup that she told me I could use to water it when it needed a drink. I watered those seeds probably every five minutes. That plant was drowning in how much water I gave it! I think my mom realized this pretty quickly, and my watering rights were revoked. Why I remember that so vividly, I don't know.

Usually now when I plant something new, I have the opposite problem, and I forget to water it altogether. Maybe I'm so scarred by watering those seeds so much as a little tot that I go to the opposite end of the spectrum...who knows. I'm really good at putting seeds in soil, but I'm awful at growing them.

In small group this week, we discussed the difference between "believing" and "receiving." All of these seed stories popped into my head right away.

Believing is the seeds in the soil. Receiving is a growing, living, blossoming plant bursting from those seeds in that soil.

When we just simply "believe," we are just putting seeds in soil and leaving them there. We forget to water them. We don't keep them near the sunlight. We don't feed them and give them everything they need to sprout and grow shoots and be a thriving plant.

When we really, truly "receive," we take action. We know the seeds are planted, and we know that's not enough. We know they need food to grow, we know they need light, we know they need water, we know they need care and attention, and when those needs are met consistently and often, there is beautiful growth.

Believing in God isn't enough. We need to receive Him. We need to feed our faith with the living Water and the Bread of Life, we need to be near the Son and his radiant light. We need to take action for there to be growth.

Our faith will blossom and bloom and grow shoots and bear fruit when we receive all that is being offered to us.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. (John 15:5-8 MSG)

Devote. My #oneword365

New Years is my least favorite holiday. New Years resolutions are some of my least favorite things. Every year, I dislike this day and usually avoid all social media and all the "new year, new me" posts that flood it.

I think it's easy for us to make a list of New Years resolutions (lose 20 pounds! Eat healthier! Go to the gym everyday! Stop drinking soda! Find a boyfriend!) because it's December 31st and we see January 1 as a new beginning. I also think it's easy for those lists to get lost and forgotten by January 6, or February 12, or October 22. We resolve to make change, life gets busy, we forget, and it doesn't stick. The gym gets really crowded for a few weeks, and then it goes back to normal. Whole Foods and Trader Joes have longer lines, maybe McDonalds has a shorter drive thru line, but everything evens out as the year goes on. I don't think New Years resolutions as a list and a lot of self-made promises really work. Maybe for some they do, but it's a lot of hype that I don't buy into.

Why? Because I don't think we need a new calendar year to make change. Because I believe in a God whose mercies are new every single morning and who offers me new grace and new love every single day. Every day is a chance for a restart, for repentance, for renewal.

Check these verses out:

Lamentations 3:22-23 "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness."

Revelation 21:5 He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

Colossians 3:9-10 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

We don't need a ball to drop and confetti to fly as we count down to a new year for there to be a chance for change and new life and new hope for us. What we need is Jesus.

My pastor tweeted it perfectly this week: "@peterbowell1: The Bible's formula for perseverance is not another New Years resolution but fixing our eyes on Jesus. The relationship keeps us running."

Amen.

For 2014, I'm not making a list of resolutions. I'm choosing to focus my eyes and my heart and my life on Jesus.

As part of the #oneword365 community, I'm choosing to "DEVOTE" this year. That's my one word, my focus, my goal. Last year, my word was "commit." The year before, "beloved."

This year, devote. Devote my time intentionally. Devote my energy wholeheartedly. Devote my mornings to being in the Word more diligently. Devote my weekends to time with friends, time exploring and growing and going on adventures. Devote my life to following the Spirit's leading. Devote my talents to glorifying the Lord. Devote.

Happy 2014, friends. May your year ahead be gloriously filled with new mercies every morning, new hope in our Savior, and new adventures as you follow the Spirit.

Surprised by Joy.

You came as a baby, meek and mild, sweet and small

You're a King, Lord and Savior, ruler over all

You came one silent, starry night

You're the glorious Lord of Light

You came among the simple and lowly

You sacrificed all, mighty and holy

You made yourself small, human like we are

Your presence made kings and shepherds travel far

Lord, of all of the ways you could show us your love

You chose to descend, come to our world from above

In the best of all mysteries, of all I can't understand

Your glory, so holy, came to life in a man

A King who walked on our ground

A King whose praises forever resound

A King who met me here on my earth

A King who became near through an unexpected birth

Joy to all of us, to all to come and all who came

Joy to my very heart, despite past sufferings and pain

Joy that awakened my eyes to all You are

Joy that surprises me, opens my heart to Your call

Joy for those who had little to give

Joy from the Lord who came so we may live

The surprise of joy, may it ever grasp my heart

Sweet baby Jesus, here on earth but set apart

Praise your name forevermore

King of all Kings, Lord of Lords

Alive.

My Savior is alive.

All morning, throughout worship and the message at church, I was in awe of that. He is alive. Living, breathing, moving, working, healing, saving...alive. I've known this, it's not new to me. But I'm in awe of it still.

He is alive in beauty. I mean, seriously, have you seen the sunsets this past week? He is glorious. Beauty unimagined, and those fiery skies are just a glimpse of His splendor.

He is alive in answered prayers. He is listening, hearing, responding, providing. He is opening doors and creating opportunities and making a way for us one step at a time.

He is alive in community. He is among is when we gather, around fireplaces and crowded living rooms in small group, in spacious sanctuaries with the masses, around dinner tables and in coffeeshops. He is bringing us together, holding us together, uniting us as His body in the flesh.

He is alive in worship. He is in the chords and in the harmonies, the sweet melodies and the joined voices, in the tunes and the words and the simple and beautiful praises we give to Him. He is glorified in out worship, He is praised as we humble ourselves before Him, He is lifted high as we lift our voices and our hands to all that He is and will be and has always been.

He is alive in perfect love. He is our Father, loving us relentlessly and wholly and so deeply, filling every beat of our hearts and every depth of our souls in ways we didn't know possible. He is our Creator, the one who knit us together as we are for a purpose so specific and so intentional. We are His. Nobody could love us the way He does, endlessly, perfectly, with all-consuming love.

He is alive in victory. He conquered everything we never could. He went to the places we are scared to go, He went to the cross, He went to the grave, He went to the darkness and the deepest depths, and He came again in glory and in victory, conquering it all. He took our very worst and He became our salvation. The grave didn't hold him. Death didn't keep him. He defeated it. He rose. He has risen. He's alive, He's alive.

Let us, the body of Christ, come alive. Let us shake off the fear, the doubt, the worry, the apathy, the uncertainty, the excuses. Let us wake up, open our eyes, come alive again.

"Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

All morning, I kept repeating as I worshipped, "You are alive, You're alive, You, my Savior, are alive." And then, the worship team played this song, and I just laughed as I sang, as I lifted my hands and rejoiced in the words and the worship and the praise of my God who is so very alive.

Christ is risen from the dead Trampling over death by death Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave

Christ is risen from the dead We are one with him again Come awake, come awake! Come and rise up from the grave

Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory? Oh Church! Come stand in the light! The glory of God has defeated the night!

Oh death! Where is your sting? Oh hell! Where is your victory? Oh Church! Come stand in the light! Our God is not dead, he's alive! he's alive!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IExdrZGQVeI&w=420&h=315]

Endurance and Perseverance.

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us.

-Brennan Manning

I keep reading that over and over, wondering where to even start. There's so much goodness in that little quote. Brennan, you have quite a way with words, sir. I'm going to attempt to write an entire blog post on my thoughts on your one little powerful sentence there, and it won't be half as pretty or half as true. Here I go anyway.

In this season of my life, it has become very common for people to ask me what I want to do with my life. What job I'm really looking for, where I want to live, what it is that I really want to do, etc. I've graduated college, I've done everything expected of me up to this point, and now people want to know what I'm going to do with my education and my life from here on out. They want to know what I'm going to do next, where I'm going to go next, what my life is going to say next.

Every time someone asks me that question, I answer with my usual set response (that usually goes something along the lines of, "I really want to work with nonprofits and do something along the lines of social media/communications."), but that's rarely what I really want to say.

What I'm thinking when that question is asked to me (probably for the 3rd time that day and the 23rd time that week) is, "I really want to follow wherever the Spirit leads me. I really want to trust Him to provide in all things. I really want to humbly and wholeheartedly serve where He calls me. I want to glorify Him in all that I do, whether big and exciting or small and mundane. I want to stop being obsessed with job hunting and become more obsessed with Jesus following. I want to ignore everything the world is telling me and cling to everything my Lord is telling me. I want to shut out all the voices around me telling me I need a full-time job with benefits and a place of my own and credit cards and a separate savings account for my next car and a husband (what? you don't have a boyfriend? oh sweetie, I was married with a baby at your age!) and everything figured out. I want to be ready and willing to go where He sends me. I want to spend my energy and my time and my resources chasing after the heart and the will of my Creator and my Savior." 

Nobody would know what to do with me if I honestly said that in response to their question. But that's the reality of my heart. 

I just finished reading Kisses from Katie, an incredible story of one girl (who is about my age) and her total devotion to the Spirit's calling to move to Uganda, love people like Jesus did, adopt 13 girls into her family and serve hundreds more every day. With every page, I could feel my heart swell with such an appreciation for her obedience and such a desire for humble and trusting submission to the Lord like that. I was encouraged by her story. Challenged by it even more so. She gave up all normalcy, all convenience, all comfort to say yes to Him. That matters so much more than finding a "real job" and a husband before my next birthday, like come on.

If you haven't read her book, go read it. And afterward, I would encourage you to just sit and listen to the Lord and be still at His feet. I've been trying to really be quiet and listen lately, and while I don't know all the answers and what my next steps are yet, I know that the Lord is working in my heart and my spirit to prepare me for what's next.

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us.

I don't know where He's leading. I don't know what's next. (If everyone could kind of just stop asking me that, I'd greatly appreciate it. Ask me about my favorite color or something, I'd love to talk about that for a change. I'm just kidding. Not really. Moving on.) I know that I'm striving to wait on the Lord. I know that takes endurance and it takes perseverance. I'm not sitting idly waiting for perfect opportunities to fall into my lap, but I'm also not frantic and stressed out about it. I know His timing is perfect and I just need to wait on Him. He will make it clear what he wants to say through me and do through me, and how he wants me to glorify him with all that I have, and He's showing me how to do that now exactly where I am.

This song has been on repeat lately (shout out to HOPE for rocking it out in worship last week!), and it's so good. Listen to it and try NOT to dance. I don't think it can be done. But seriously, it's good. And it's so stinkin' relevant that I'm pretty sure they wrote it just for me.

I'm chasing You, I'm so in love. Captivated, I just can't get enough. I'll spend my days running after Your heart, Your heart, Your heart. 

Amen. I'm chasing You, Abba. With endurance and perseverance, I'm running after Your heart. Lead me. Send me. Call me. 

If that's to a great job with benefits, I'll go. If that's to a third world country to serve, I'll go. If that's across the country, I'll go. If it's staying in my parents' house and working at the same jobs I have now, I'll keep going. Let my days be filled with less of this world, less of me, and so very much more of all that You are.

 

Top