Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Love of A Father

Lately I have been completely enraptured by a song.

It's Elevation Worship's "Call Upon The Lord." We sang it at 12Stone several weeks ago. Then again at Night of Worship. Something about the song is just so powerful to me.

I have been trying to figure out why, I mean, for obvious reasons it's a powerful song. But why for me in this time is it so gripping? I downloaded it the other day. I put it on repeat this morning on my way to small group. 

And it hit me.

There is power in singing a song that speaks faith into an area of struggle, an area where you feel like you're sinking. It's almost like the song is pulling you up into the faith you want to have.

There is another power altogether in singing a song that claims victory of what you know to be true about God's faith in that struggle, looking back in freedom as your head is once again above water. (Not on dry land, mind many ways I'm in deeper water than before, but no longer drowning.)

It's powerful because you've been there. In the undercurrent.

And by the grace of God, your faith has lived to tell about it. 

There was a time, not so many years ago, that proved to be the hardest and honestly just plain most confusing years of my life. 

I won't go back into it all, it is a blog for another post. (One that has already been written...or rather 12.  See the first of them here.) But it was this time of Singlehood that brought me lower than my knees, it sometimes brought me to fetal position on the floor. And in this posture, God taught me how to own this struggle, to name it (singlehood), claim the truth of who I was in it (understanding my identity as His daughter), and learn to walk in the freedom He had for me.

It's the thought of that freedom that grips me right now. I don't know why walking into that was so hard. Maybe it was the letting go of expectation, hopes, and dreams. Letting go of my will. Embracing His. 

But the reality is that my will was actually keeping me in shackles. 

The song says "Rise, your shackles are no more, for Jesus Christ has broken every chain." The process of God removing those shackles was painful. It felt safe to just remain chained. 

Chained to my expectations, to my idea of what my life should look like (married out of college with x amount of kids, a house, the minivan, yada yada). I was living in a way that kept the chains on. My freedom was purchased but because of my pain and fear, I chose to remain shackled. 

Letting Him remove the shackles, one by one, was scary. 

It was release of control. 

It was fear of not knowing how to walk, where to go. 

And once those chains are gone, the bruises left behind are completely visible. That is a level of vulnerability I'd just as soon not embrace. But that isn't what this life of Christianity has called me to.

As the song says, "Jesus' name will break every stronghold/ Freedom is ours when we call His name."

That freedom...oh, that sweet freedom. To retrace the steps of that freedom since 2012 is overwhelming...

*A seemingly long (at the time) journey of discipline to debt-free living... 
*Having to leave student ministry for a career I never wanted to have...
*A trip to Guatemala to teach me some powerful lessons in partnership, a trip to Colombia where God stirred the already-brewing confusion pot...and three trips to Africa with countless memories, faces, emotions, souls...
*The last of those trips, opening my eyes to the gift God was giving me - that career I was ungrateful for turned out to be a treasure from Him I squandered all this time...
*Knowing the grace that comes in repentance as I learned to choose to love that career for what God has always intended it to be, floored by the mercy He gave in allowing me to see that while there was still time...
*And being led back into student ministry, my heart's love...and right into the arms of a man who wants to spend the rest of his life with me as we learn together what a holy covenant union of marriage really is.

THAT is sweet freedom. And to think, all that time, that man was right there as I learned I had to let go of my acorn dreams (literally, Stephen was there the weekend of that retreat). Those dreams would never grow unless I gave them to God. From he Acorn Dreams blogpost: "[T]hey are His to have. He plants them in due time. He waters them with his eternal water. He grows them. And then He brings them into our lives again at some point. But only if we give them to Him...completely."

Reading those words is almost eerie now, looking back and seeing how close he was when I didn't even know it. When I literally had no idea he would be a part of the harvest God would grow from that acorn. 

It is sometimes too much to think about. The goodness of the love of our Father. 

I was having a conversation with a coworker yesterday about this time of engagement. It is almost more goodness than I can bear, walk in the outpouring of God's love. It's like a fully-saturated sponge that keeps getting soaked with goodness!

I don't deserve it.

And well-meaning people say that I do. But the reality is I don't. I don't deserve any of it.

Sure, I try to be a good person. But any act of goodness on my part could never spare me from what my sinful self really deserves. Nothing I do could ever earn freedom. Jesus Christ is my only salvation. 

He gives me freedom through the cost of His life. 

And a Father that goes to those extremes to save me must really love me. It took me awhile to figure this out. I hashed it out in this post and this post as I wondered why God wasn't giving me the pony (a husband, a man to love and to love me) I so longed for.

Carolyn Custis James puts it this way in her book The Gospel of Ruth,"There is mystery to God's ways, and we will never know why he doesn't answer our prayers, stop the blizzards, change the hardened heart, or stop the endless suffering in this world. But from time to time, we do have flashes of clarity, and we have a bit of clarity in Naomi's story. Naomi would be poorly equipped to do the job of raising the king's grandfather with an untested faith and a shallow knowledge of God that was derived from hearing the Scriptures read in corporate worship and picking up secondhand information about him from other believers. She can't coast on...the teachings of her parents. Vital as all these other resources and influences are, Naomi's participation in kingdom building is seriously impaired if she doesn't know God for herself. She has to experience him, not just learn about him...She had to find God's hesed [lovingkindness] in the middle of the mess. The dark night of the soul is an awful place to be, but that's where God trains His best warriors."

In that mess, I grew to learn God still loved my pony-less self. More than I could ever know. And I ultimately determined in my closing statement in that series of 12 (very vulnerable) blogposts to "just seek him." 

That is what my heart proclaims as I sing the words "I will call upon the Lord, for He alone is strong enough to save."

Just seek Him. Him alone. 

And then when He decides to give you that acorn dream you let go of 5 years ago, that pony you've wanted for so long, you can only walk in gratitude, soaking up the gift of a relationship that is so much healthier than deserved (oh sweet grace). 

So much deeper than expected. 

And so much sweeter than I could have ever made it on my own.

That is the love of a Father.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Grace Before My Very Eyes

This past Friday night, I had the opportunity to see the Nutcracker Ballet for the first time in over 20 years. It was at the lovely Fox Theater in Atlanta…a beautiful historic theater that beckons your eyes to soak in every nook and cranny of elegance, detail, and well-placed decor.

It was a lovely night, from beginning to end. The weather cooperated and cooled off with a chilly breeze just so it would feel more like Christmas. There were lights hung everywhere as we walked down the street, a saxophonist playing festive tunes on the street corner.

I felt a little bit like royalty all dressed up accompanied by my handsome boyfriend, my brother, and his wife.

We settled in our seats and a marvelous feast for the eyes and ears began! I loved the beginning of the ballet - the house party with hustle and bustle, a gorgeous Christmas tree in the backdrop. It evoked a feeling of nostalgia, of warmth, kindness, energy. There was family, friends, food, music, dancing, merriment. The stage was full of scenes to watch everywhere you looked.

The First Act was fun and entertaining to be sure, but the Second Act had me enraptured.

There were multiple dances between the lady ballerina and the man. A magical interplay of dancing with fluid movements of elegance, displaying incredible skill on both parts.

I began to think how I would even begin to describe such a dance.


That was it. Full of grace.

I thought, what else could be full of this kind of grace?

How do I know grace?


I was reminded of the Scripture from Psalm 103:8

"The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love."

He is gracious. Full of grace.

The free and unmerited favor of God.

Lavished on us.

And I began to look at the dance through a different light.

The gentleness. The strength. The knowing of each movement as it came next. It was familiar to them.


The man was bold and kind and sturdy, anticipating the movements of the woman, showing off her elegance and beauty as he lifted and twirled her. And she moved with such ease, such…well, grace.

And right there, before my very eyes, the grace in the dancers' movements were helping me see the characteristics of the grace God has towards us.

His kindness. His strength. His patience and knowing. His love.

It was simply beautiful.

I don't know if there's anything else in the world that better displays that much grace.

As you enter this week of Christmas, may you be aware of the presence of God. Enraptured by the knowledge that a holy and perfect God, who loves you with such love, would send His very own Son to earth as an infant child to live a perfect life that we could not live and die a death we deserved to die…so that we may have life…with Him.

A God who is compassionate. And full of grace. Slow to anger. Abounding in love.

Abounding. That means it's plentiful, abundant. Never ending.

That is the Love we are all gifted with and get to celebrate this Friday.

Maybe thank Him for the grace in your life. The grace that lifts you, twirls you.

The grace that is sturdy under your shakiness, strong under your weakness.

The grace that makes you beautiful and elegant. 

He's right there, waiting for you to enter the dance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Moment That Wasn't Captured on Film

I wish you could have seen what I saw today. I was on my favorite trail at one of my favorite parks for the first time in weeks, and I saw Beauty.

It was in the form of a butterfly. I'd been walking along a scene of browns and grays and greens, maybe a little yellow as the leaves start to turn. And then I saw it. Flitting along the red dirt path, going every which way. He caught my eye immediately, with his bright orange and deep purple wings. They were complete with flecks of black and white on the tips. He landed a few feet away on a leaf, gently moving his wings up and down as he sat.

There was such grace in that motion. Oh, to move with such grace.

I stood there for what felt like an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes. Just taking in the moment.

The one I couldn't capture because my iPhone was securely locked in my car, not on my person, nowhere near my being. Freedom! An hour away from the wonderfully and tragically addicting thing that it is.

But you know what? I think it's better that I didn't get a picture anyway.

You had to be there.

You had to hear the crickets chirp. The birds call out to each other. You had to feel the sun on your face. Hear the rustle of the leaves as the wind gently blew. Feel the dirt under your feet, leaves crunching. See the bright blue sky above your head.

And know that in that wide expanse of creation, God ordained that moment, that mingling of paths.

The butterfly's and mine.

Because God wanted to remind me that He's that grand. That awesome to create and mix together all those things. He wanted to remind me that somehow, that butterfly in its delicacy and beauty, is fully protected in a storm.

Have you ever wondered where the butterflies go when the wind howls and the rains pound? I haven't.

But I did in that moment.

Standing out in the middle of nowhere witnessing such a tiny detailed wisp of creation that paused long enough for me to soak in every bit of his glory, I thought about the strong winds, the thunder, the lightening, the heavy rain.

That little guy is out there all the time. Somewhere. Protected. I stood there knowing that He cares for that very butterfly in the midst of a storm.

That is our God - a mighty Protector. Our banner, our Jehovah-nissi. There is victory under His covering, for the butterfly…and for us. He says in His word, "I will save those who love me and will protect those who acknowledge me as Lord" (Psalm 91:14).

In the storms. In the quiet.

Loving and protecting His creation that loves Him.

He can't not. It's in His perfect character to do so. And it's His promise to those who acknowledge Him as Lord.

And boy He is ever faithful.

He will show you that, too. It might take leaving your phone for awhile. Stepping out into the greatness of His creation. Some time away, in the quiet.

And He will speak to you, too. He's longing to meet with you. Just the two of you.

He has Beauty to reveal.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Strangely enough that’s the word that keeps rolling around my brain after my return from Kenya. It’s strange to me because I think one would come back from two months in a foreign country on mission with words like humility, inspiration, perspective, joy, and heartbreak. 

Everyone I’ve talked with about Kenya since my return can vouch for me using those words. All of them, in some way or another, have been a part of the story-telling process, a part of my experience there.

But I haven’t written about them. And even now, writing at this point of my debriefing journey seems an injustice to what really took place there. 

The faces, the fellowship, the conversations, the tears of joy and pain. 

I’m tempted to reply to the daily question, “How was your trip?” with “You’ll just have to go and see for yourself.” But I’m afraid that response is not entirely glorifying to God. Although...Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” He didn’t say, “then come home and tell everyone else about it.” (Or did he? If someone knows where He said this, please tell me...!)

Truth of it is, it’s just not possible to put words to it all. I would fail miserably. And since I don’t like failing, I loathe it in fact, I am just now attempting to publicly tackle my thoughts in writing. 

But what keeps rising to the top of the heart and head jumble of thoughts is this word: intentional.

Dave Ramsey always says, “If you don’t tell your money where to go, you will wonder where it went.” I’m beginning to see how that is true of time and relationships too. 

(Note: this is not an invitation to tell the people in your life where to go haha...that could get you into trouble, but I think you know what I mean.)

Leading up to my departure in June, I struggled to not question God’s timing in the trip. There were sleepless nights and dreams and deep fears rising to the surface. Yes, I knew His timing was perfect...but I also knew how infrequently His and my timing seemed to line up. For example, every day of my adult life since college has been His timing, not mine. (And gratefully so, even if I don’t always admit it.) But shortly after arriving in country and literally every single day I was there, He showed me how His timing really is quite perfect. His ways are truly sovereign. 

He accomplished things I never would have dreamt in ways I never could have seen. 

It was apprehensively out of my control. And I began to see that days and hours and opportunities could be easily wasted if not seized or sought. 

Things like weariness, apathy, insecurity, selfishness, sickness, or just plain feeling overwhelmed were huge obstacles to remaining connected to the work God had for me there. Now that I’m back home, I’m seeing how there are similar obstacles here, just add in busyness and maybe complacency. 

It can be so easy to disconnect. Let life slip by. Passively avoid embracing what’s before you for myriad reasons. Maybe even some valid ones. 

That’s not to say we always have to be busy. Goodness knows, our lives are cluttered enough with social media, job stress, finances, etc. But we have to remain engaged. Even when Jesus pulled away for solitude with God, he wasn’t disconnected...He was intimately connecting with His Father...SO THAT when He was with his disciples...the least...the lost...He could be connected there too. 

We don’t have to let those possibly valid reasons (excuses?) make choices for us. We can choose to be...


It means “on purpose.”

Those are the kind of days I want to live. On purpose ones. 

Those are the kinds of relationships I want to have. On purpose ones. 

The kinds of smiles I want to give. On purpose. 

The kind of love I want to have. On purpose. 

Choosing to live, relation, smile, love...intentionally. 

And so my life is currently under a microscope. There is purging and listing and praying and seeking and more listing and circling and thinking and more listing. 

Not to be a slave to it all. But to seize the opportunities that God kindly puts before me each day. Because if I don’t choose to pay attention to them, I will wonder where they went.

And I would rather embrace them intentionally.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Prancer and Scurry

I can't believe I'm back in Kenya. This time for 7 weeks! What was a stirring in my heart over a year ago is now coming to fruition. I am so grateful for God's guidance and direction in this. I hope and pray every bit of this journey is honoring and glorifying to Him. He's the reason I'm here, after all. 

I left the U.S. on Monday and here it is Friday already. Almost a week of this 7 week trip gone. But rest assured, God is already speaking and teaching. And, as usual with me it seems, He's using some rather unlikely objects to get the message across. 

Oh the lessons to be learned from bats. Wednesday afternoon we arrived at an insect research center in Mbita. After checking in, watching a beautiful sunset over Lake Voctoria, sorting and organizing heaps (literally) of medicine, a warm dinner and a hot shower, I settled into bed for a much needed night's sleep. The balcony door was open, so we could hear the softly crashing waves from the lake. We were surrounded by mosquito netting and ever-so-grateful for a place to lay our heads and stretch our legs. Before the lights were even out, my roommate and I heard a rustling noise above us. Seeing nothing in the room, we decided it was of no concern and shut our eyes for some sleep.

After three hours of solid sleep, I awoke to this same rustling sound. And when I say rustling sound, I mean it was like Santa's team of varmint reindeer had landed on the roof. There was flapping and scurrying and squeaking galore. For some reason, I wasn't the least bit sleepy anymore! I lay awake here for hours, trying to drown out the sound of our "friendly" creatures. 

After hour number two, I decided to name the stinkin' bats in the hopes of making them seem a little less creepy. Prancer and Scurry seemed appropriate. I really have no idea how any there are, but there was definitely more than one and...well, three seemed like a crowd. Two it is. 

If you're wondering, there really is a lesson in all this. As I lay there wide awake in the middle of the night, my heart would race every so often as the scurry/flutter/squeak would intensify. It was easy to hear. In fact, it was ridiculously loud. But in the background of the rustle there was a quieter softer gentler sound. The calm crash of the waves on the shore. It was there all along. But I found myself having a hard time hearing it. I felt like God was saying, this is like Truth and lies. Sometimes the lies are so in my face, so easy to hear, that I can lose focus of the truth. I had to work harder to hear the waves. I would find my heart racing as I couldn't help but hear Prancer and Scurry having a grand old time above me, and then, taking a deep breath, I'd tune into the peaceful waves. What a timely reminder as this Kenya journey begins. I have a feeling there will be many occasions where I might need to search for the sound of truth to drown out the lies. 

Where are you letting lies run around in your head and steal your peace? Where do you need to settle in and listen to the steady, gentle waves of truth? 

Friday, January 2, 2015

2015's Word of the Year

I'm in utter disbelief that it's 2015.

Time again to choose or be given a word of the year.

Seriously seems like yesterday I was sitting around a fire sharing how this word (understanding) was the one to ponder for the next 365 days.

But a few nights ago, I was again surrounded by some of my favorite people, sharing our word for 2015. This morning, I have had the extreme pleasure to be called off work (so far). Everyone loves a few unexpected hours! It has been a divine gift and in an effort not to waste it, I have rekindled one of my favorite things.

It doesn't have a name. (I thought of a few…they were all dorky.) It just involves a sheet of paper, a pen, my Bible, and my crazy brain.

Sometimes there's so much on my mind, or there's an idea I want to capture that I'll jot down phrases and Scripture, maybe a drawing or two.

They are some of my favorite pages to look back on because they represent times I feel like I'm really brainstorming with a purpose. Dreaming. Dreaming BIG (like I did when I wrote this in summer of 2011).

The past few weeks I've noticed God bringing this year's word to me in different places. I didn't want to lose the thread He was weaving, so I finally started to jot it all down.

The word is…TREASURE.

I am excited to see what God reveals…there are so many implications! To start with, I feel like He's laid out three things:

1. Treasure Me.
2. Allow yourself to be treasured by Me.
3. Fully treasure all the gifts I give you.

So. Treasure.

I tried to make it as big as I could, but you might still need your reading glasses. And no, there are no sketches on here yet…consider yourself lucky.

It's a work in progress, but hey, it's only the second day of the year...

What is your word of the year?

What are you dreaming about in 2015?

What acorn dreams is God growing in you?!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thankful For What?!

Monday was a beautiful day. A much-needed day of rest after a string of several challenging shifts at the hospital.

The weather was incredible. Rainy and windy and cold. I woke up to the sound of rain on the roof….lingered in bed as long as possible, soaking in the sound.

As I stirred and began my day, the wind hurled leaves and branches and made the trees sway. I could stand it no longer. I had to be out in this glorious display of God's might.

I took my hot tea, wrapped in a warm blanket, curled up on the patio and looked. Simply looked. And listened.

Up. All around. Up again.

The clouds were moving fast. The trees bending and bowing in a noisy display of splendor. The wind. Oh the wind!

He was really showing off now. The stark contrast of the blue sky with the white clouds was stunning. And the colors of fall - of all things in this world. So much color.

And so many sounds if but we would listen.

I tried - always try - to stay silent. It never lasts long. I began to mentally list things for which I'm thankful. It's an attempt to live fully. Because to not fully live is to miss what God has for me (which is one of my biggest fears). And I'm learning how to not miss it...

I've been reading Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts - a beautifully raw and eye-opening book about Ann's journey to gratitude through listing 1,000 things she was grateful for. Through words that resonate deeply, she expounds on the meaning of "eucharisteo" - the Greek word meaning "he gave thanks." Jesus used this word at the Last Supper, when he broke bread and gave thanks for it (Luke 22:19).

She breaks down the Greek word even more…


Charis. Grace.
Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving.
Chara. Joy.

And she asks, "Is the height of my chara joy dependent on the depths of my eucharisteo thanks? So then as long as thanks is possible…Joy is always possible. Whenever, meaning - now; wherever, meaning - here. The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be -  unbelievably - possible! The only place we need see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now."

Recognizing His gifts. Innumerable. And unique. And deeply personal. And I miss them in a statement of sweeping gratitude. When I give voice to a general thanks for a day, or for God, or for life…am I missing the gifts? The thousands of gifts He gives - there is joy in the naming. The specifics.

She goes on, "We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks...Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to His grace."

It's a way of not missing what He has for me. Facing the fear, embracing faith, I name the gifts.

Thank You for the sound of the wind. Thank You for meeting me here. Thank You for the way my fingers feel wrapped around this mug of steaming tea. Thank You for the blue sky. The white clouds. The colors of the leaves. Thank You for death.

Wait, what?! Death?

Did I really just thank God for death?

My head challenged my heart and questioned it's loyalty. Was this betrayal? But my heart, strengthened by truth and understanding, rebutted that it was - is - actually thankful for death.

Death of old habits. Death of expectations - of self (the hardest to let go!) and expectations of others. Death of pain and old wounds. Death of failures.

Because only in death can there be life.

He reminds us of this each autumn. As leaves change color and fall to the ground, leading to a cold dry winter…the death that brings life and beauty rich in spring.

The death of God's Son. Blood shed to cover the sin of every man. A love so grand to go to the deepest depths…death. So that we may have life…and have it to the full (John 10:10).

Oh that I would recognize what I need to let die! My stubborn will. My desire for control. My negative self-fulfilling prophecies. My ingratitude.

May I learn how to embrace this beauty of death so I can make room for the new. The new gifts He has for me.

And may I keep my eyes open to always see the beauty of His gifts as I name them, as Ann by one.