Her Hope Gives Me Hope

For the last three years I’ve been volunteering for the local human trafficking awareness organization Second Life Chattanooga. Yesterday morning, I attended their annual awareness event Unite. Wear White for the third year.

A survivor joined us from the Atlanta based organization, City of Refuge, to share her journey. Early on in her talk, Brittany said something that stuck with me.

“I am a survivor of sex trafficking… but I know that God has had His hand on my life since the day I was born.” – Brittany

Several times throughout her talk Brittany mentioned how she couldn’t have gotten through what she went through without God. She also mentioned how this painful journey has made her stronger.

Yesterday, I was reminded of why I am captivated by stories of humans who have been to hell and back. There’s often this common theme woven through these stories that resonates deeply with me.  There is a way out. Good does triumph over evil. Things intended to harm us or destroy us, God can transform and show us, again and again, how hope, victory, and redemption does have the final say.

I saw something in Brittany yesterday:  I saw a heart filled with gratitude and hope, despite all the horrific and painful chapters.

Her hope gives me hope.

“This issue will never end until we all stand together and fight it.” – Brittany

“I want victims to come home and be survivors. With your help, that can happen.” —Brittany

I couldn’t agree more.

Pilgrim Thoughts

“Happy are the people whose strength is in You, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” Psalm 84: 5
As I was reading a portion of Psalm 84 this morning, the words to this beautiful song came back to me.  I hadn’t heard it in quite some time so I searched for it on You Tube and gave it another listen.
“But my heart is set on a pilgrimage
To heaven’s own bright King
So in faltering or victory I will always sing
 
And on the road to beautiful
My seasons always change
But my life is spent on loving You
To know You in Your power and pain”

 

What a great song for this rainy winter Monday morning in Georgia.  Close your eyes, sip your hot coffee, and take a listen. 

I then thought about the word pilgrimage and some thoughts I shared with you all several years back when my family and I were still living up in North Carolina.

Sharing them again because maybe you need a reminder (like we all do at times) to hold on… even if the pilgrimage is far from pleasant right now.

I love the word pilgrimage. I’ve decided it’s because that word reminds me of things like discovery, perseverance, and determination. A pilgrimage isn’t an outing to Walmart. (Thank God! ;)) It’s not a two-hour excursion. A pilgrimage requires a decision to commit for the long haul, through the ups, the downs, the lack of understanding and the questions. It’s a decision of faith our heart makes to keep trusting and to keep holding on when there is only enough light to see the next step.

About once a year my husband and I pack up the car with our beautiful son and our stinky dog and make the 11 hour trip down to North Georgia to visit my husband’s family. On the first excursion about 9 years ago when my son was only a couple of months old (and we had two stinky dogs instead of one in the car) my husband looked at me and said something that we now say every year when we pull out of the driveway to make the long trip. “Okay…let’s agree on something right now…we will still be married when we get there.”

I sometimes think we should have this same conversation with the Lord the moment our eyes open in the morning and before our feet hit the floor.

Okay, Lord, no matter how rough this road gets today, at the end of the day…I still choose You!

Sweet Goodness

My To-Do list one day for work this past week included picking up a snack for our Group Link event that would be taking place at church later that evening. Folks who were not yet involved in a small group would be invited to come and look for a potential group to become apart of and to do life with.

Can I just stop right here for a second and encourage you to find a small group to become a part of at your church if you’re not a part of one yet?  A small group is where it all started for me…when this broken, imperfect mess decided to hang out with other broken, imperfect messes…good things, amazing things, beautiful things happened in my life.

Okay, back to the story.

It was in the middle of this simple snack running errand when I had one of those moments again, those “I can’t believe You’ve planted my feet here” moments (Psalm 31:8). It was shortly after 4:00pm on a seemingly ordinary Thursday afternoon and I was sitting at a stoplight with Krispy Kreme doughnuts strapped into the passenger seat next to me.

And, then, the blessing counting and the retracing of steps started running through my heart and mind.

God is faithful, He can be trusted. The journey has looked nothing like I would have expected. And yet, despite all the wrong turns, all my stubborn and prideful and selfish choices, He’s made something beautiful out of the mess.

Lord, you take all the broken pieces we attempt to super glue back together on our own and create something we hadn’t even thought of before, something beyond our wildest dreams.  

And, in the process, we come to understand how that “something” You create is not without pain or suffering or bad days. No, all of that stuff still goes on. There’s still a time to weep, a time to mourn…but somehow, someway, we now stand in awe of a God who shows us and reminds us that He is bigger than the pain, the suffering, and the bad days. And, He places people in our life who encourage us, pray for us, and agree to walk through the challenges with us.  

His joy is our strength not only because the Bible tells us so but because we’ve walked through it and have been comforted by arms we can not see and peace we can’t explain.  

***********

I floated back down from my cloud of gratitude as the light turned green and noticed the song that always tends to play during “these moments” playing on the radio again.

“This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Oh, Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me”

I pulled into a parking space across from the church offices and unbuckled the sugary passengers in the seat next to me and headed inside.

Grace undeserved, beauty unexpected.  Thank you, Lord! 

Thirst Quencher

I woke up a couple of times this morning before it was time to get out bed. Each time I woke up, the same song would play. Sometimes, as I’ve shared with you before, the words come through loud and clear.  Other times, like this morning, it’s just the melody.

Yesterday, I discovered how a song was playing in the background while all the noises of life initially drowned out the beauty. But not this morning, this morning, the melody played on and serenaded the arrival of a new day.  I googled the only words trying to come through this morning….”come to the water…let me hear….”

Give me your heart
Give me your song
Sing it with all your might
Come to the fountain and
You can be satisfied
There is a peace, there is a love
You can get lost inside
Come to the fountain and
Let me hear you testify

This morning, it was the melody from a NeedtoBreathe song called “Testify”. Last year, I blogged about another morning, another instance, when I could hear the melody but not the words.  It turned out to be the David Crowder song, “Sometimes”. Here are some thoughts from that post, Trusting the Melody

As I thought more about this ability to hear the melody but not the words, I thought about how this is like the journey we call life.

We can hear the melody. We know and trust that it’s beautiful but we have a hard time hearing the words.

And then I thought of those words I couldn’t hear in the song.

“It’s Your love that we adore.
It’s like a sea without a shore.
We’re lost in You.
We’re lost in You.”

His love is like a sea without a shore and we discover the most joy and most peace in our life when we are “lost” in it. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Sounds like things that would make you panic…a sea without a shore and being lost. Yet, if we are swimming around in His love it’s the most beautiful place in the world.

Sometimes, there are seasons in your life when all you can hear is the melody…and that’s okay.

Trusting my lifeguard today.

*******

I love how both sets of lyrics mention becoming lost in Him...and how peace…not panic… flows from this lostness.

Two different scripture passages came to mind as I thought more about being lost in Him and this fountain of love that satisfies.

“They are filled from the abundance of Your house;
You let them drink from Your refreshing stream,
for with You is life’s fountain.
In Your light we will see light.”  Psalm 36:8-9

“Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”  John 4:13-14

I thought, again, about the only words coming through this morning...”Come to the water..let me hear…”  

That’s my prayer for each of us today: that our thirsty souls will hear Him calling and come to the well and drink.

“He satisfies you with goodness;
your youth is renewed like the eagle.” Psalm 103:5

Background Beauty

It was at least 30 minutes after jumping out of bed this morning before realizing it was playing over and over on repeat. My mind was going a dozen different directions and drowning out the beauty. I sat down on my couch and, for a split second, I could hear it playing. Suddenly it broke through all the other noise.

“What is that song, Lord?”

I listened and little by little it came back to me.

“So come and empty me
So that it’s you I breathe
I want my life to be
Only Christ in me
So I will fix my eyes
‘Cause you’re my source of life
I need the world to see
That it’s Christ in me
That it’s Christ in me”

I’ve noticed there’s beauty playing in the background of each new day. But, sometimes, lots of times, I’m too busy to hear it or notice it. Life and tasks I think need to get done will bully their way to the surface and that is all I can hear.

I love the mornings when beauty wins…when it fights for my attention, fights for my heart’s affection and pushes through all the noise.

This Survivor

I sometimes wear this t-shirt that has the word Survivor written across the front and underneath this word, in much smaller font, the words “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength. Phil 4:13”  I’ve had the shirt for several years now.  I won it during an online blogging contest and a blogging friend shipped it to me. Because of how this word has become a word we often see surrounding those who have heroically battled cancer, whenever I wear it, I often wonder if strangers who see it will assume it’s referring to cancer.  Even though I’ve watched many loved ones fight this fight, I’ve personally never stood on that battlefield

Each time I take this Survivor shirt out of my dresser drawer and put it on, a particular verse from Psalm 118 sweeps across my mind. And whenever it does, the gates to Thanksgiving swing wide again.

“I will not die, but I will live
and proclaim what the Lord has done.” (vs 17)

Here’s the verse in context:

“There are shouts of joy and victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!
The Lord’s right hand is raised.
The Lord’s right hand performs valiantly!”
 I will not die, but I will live
and proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord disciplined me severely
but did not give me over to death.

Open the gates of righteousness for me;
I will enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous will enter through it.
I will give thanks to You
because You have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This came from the Lord;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
(verses 15-24)

Today

This survivor shouts for joy. This survivor remembers the One who gave her the strength to fight. This survivor remembers the moment a big God crushed the Enemy and handed her the shield of victory. (Ps 18:35) This survivor remembers it’s all grace.  This survivor will not die, but will live and proclaim what the Lord has done.

One Words and Kevin Bacon

“…then today is a day to embrace God’s recreating work in your own life.”
(excerpt from Make A Difference, Ken Castor, Jan 14 Devotional)

embrace God’s recreating work…pull it close… and hold it tight…treasure it. 

Yep, focusing on a One Word every year is often like a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.  I can follow the breadcrumbs on the path back…not to Kevin Bacon…but to the word and to the lesson. 😉

I then went on to read a reminder in an online YouVersion devotional centered around this verse in the Book of John:

“Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written” John 21:25

The reminder in the devotional?  The Bible is sufficient. Jesus has supplied us with all the Word we need.  What’s needed is for us to stop pining for more, and begin reading and studying more earnestly what we’ve got right in front of us.

And so God gives us clippings and snippets (which–admit it–you could stand to read more often). He thinks we have enough Word for everything we need. The Bible is sufficient; it is able to make us wise for salvation and prepare us for every good work. It reveals the incredible identity of our Savior and tells us what we need to know about his wonderful saving work. Instead of pining for more, let’s read more earnestly what we’ve got.”

“stop pining for more, let’s read more earnestly what we’ve got.”

read more earnestly…more intensely,  more sincerely…things we approach with sincerity…we treasure 

See? What did I tell you? Just like a round of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

It’s fun.  Give it a try!

There’s more…

Dreamstime

“There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool? Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin. These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.” Psalm 119: 11-14 Message

Ever read scripture as if you were on a treasure hunt?

Ever run to those pages with joyful expectancy seeking nuggets of encouragement and Truth?

Ever dive deep, like a sea voyager, on a quest to find beauty resting on the ocean’s floor?

Ever approach the God-breathed  (2 Tim 3:16) like a child filled with wonder, eagerly looking for gift-filled eggs on Easter Day?

Ever uncover delight in the most surprising of places?

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:18

Grace and Salt

Yesterday I was talking to a coworker about a certain “somewhat out of the ordinary task” that recently came up and had to get done.

The task got done but could it have gotten done more efficiently if a better go-to system had already been in place?

In hindsight our answer was easy…yes.  Now comes the challenging part…figuring out what that better system is and then communicating that better system to others.

What I loved about yesterday’s conversation was the ease in which it happened. It was just two people acknowledging a problem and basically saying..

Yes, that was messy. Let’s use this as a learning experience and let’s get a plan in place so that we can hopefully do this task better next time.  

As I was thinking more about this conversation it reminded me how the journey through life (at least my life) and navigating the ups and downs seems to resemble that statement.

Unexpected curve
Life gets messy, inconvenient, or painful
We acknowledge the mess, inconvenience, or pain
We (hopefully) make the choice to learn from the mess, inconvenience, or pain
We implement changes wherever improvement or healing is needed (we make the tough choices, we take the awkward next step in a new direction, we have the hard conversation)
We are (hopefully) better prepared for the next curve

As I thought more about this conversation yesterday the one word that came to mind was “graceful”.

Grace doesn’t fixate, or wallow on the problem, it transcends the problem and looks and moves toward the solution.

I then thought of this verse from Colossians, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

I’m thankful to work side by side folks who show me, everyday, what grace and salt conversations look and feel like.

Treasured and Useful

I wasn’t going jump ahead and read tomorrow’s devotional but I couldn’t help myself once my eyes caught sight of one of the words in the first paragraph.

“Jesus shapes and tinkers and molds and forms. It’s what he’s good at. He walked the earth as a carpenter- trimming edges, nailing boards, and constructing treasured and useful items. “

Treasured and useful…these words made me think of the words the Lord used to describe Paul during his conversion. He is my “chosen instrument.” (Acts 9)

Jesus shaped and molded Paul. He opened his eyes to Truth and once Paul’s eyes saw how the carpenter had personally chiseled and hammered away at his own life, he believed.

The beauty and fascinating aspect of this “chosen instrument” choice was that Paul was far from being the most efficient discipleship tool when the Lord pronounced him special and treasured. Paul came with plenty of broken blades and dented up perceptions. And, yet, the Lord said. “He’s the one.”

Even instruments that, at first glance, appear to be the completely wrong tool for the task can create beauty when placed in the hands of a capable carpenter who has a track record of making masterpieces out of broken things.