Seven lessons from 2015

                                                                              (Written by Tim Howes)

Wow, what a year it has been. 

This past year was one of the most challenging years I 

have ever faced and although there have been years in 

which we have struggled in the past, I do not 

remember a year which has been more difficult than 

2015. Even as I write this I am reeling as I continue to 

try to process and make sense of everything that 

happened.  In no way am I writing this to attack 

anyone.  I have learned hard lessons and I try to be 

truthful about the way our life has been affected by the 

events that have occurred. 

 I do not desire to bring anyone down by exposing truth but rather to uncover the raw parts of each of our lives to help get a sober look at our human condition so that as a group we can help pull each other up and be better.

I would love to paint for you a beautiful picture of triumph despite pain, victory through struggle and unwavering 
hope but as much as that has been my goal, it has not been our reality in 2015.  This past year could be better 
described as raging storms, pounding waves, bitter cold and driving rain.  There were brief moments of calm 
and sunlight which were certainly sweet reprieves but were followed all too closely with a resurgence of the 

It was a long and painful year and although I continue to feel shell-shocked by what took place, I have compiled a list of some of the lessons learned:

1.       God gives us far more grace than we give each other.  

Oh the stories we tell of the grace of God, his love and his mercy.  We sing songs of his grace and it is true.  God has offered us undeserved grace that is seemingly never-ending.  He forgives our mistakes, washes us clean and treats us as his beloved.  He doesn’t see us as used up and no good when we mess up, he sees our heart and when we repent, he restores us to a place of honor we don’t deserve.

If only we could learn to treat each other the way God treats us.  I would love to think I have mastered the art of grace but the truth is I am guilty too.  How often do we want to dole out judgment and painful consequenses on others for their wrongs in a way we would never want to be judged ourselves.  How much easier would it be to draw people into God’s kingdom if we were good at giving the same grace God gives to each of us.

2.       Gossip is as active and destructive today as it ever has been.

Gossip is revealing information about the behavior and personal lives of others.  What is so wrong with giving information about other people?  Is it wrong to pass on information about other people?  Of course it is not always wrong to share information but it is the intention of the heart that makes sharing information gossip.  It doesn’t matter if gossip is preceded by “bless her heart” or “please pray for him”, if the heart of the information bearer is to bring slander or destruction it is gossip and it is wrong.  Gossip is a brutal killer of God’s design for unity within the body of believers.  The bible speaks volumes against gossip and for good reason.  Gossip is a parasitic worm that eats away the fabric of the body of Christ and leaves behind a nakedness and vulnerability which leads to death.  Everyone who gossips habitually is systematically killing all who surround them.  This is a serious problem in the body of Christ and must be addressed in each of our hearts in order to spread the gospel to the next generation.  

3.       Sin hurts you far more than it hurts God, which hurts God!

A bittersweet honor of this past year was to be trusted by friends and family members enough to help them through struggles regarding overcoming sin.  During that time I have noticed something that should have been painfully obvious in the past.  Our sin is much more harmful to us than it is to God.  God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (in all places at all times).  He knows we will sin before we sin and he loves us anyway.  He has a firm grasp on our failures in a way we will never truly understand and despite knowing the full extent of our past, present and future wrong-doing toward him, he still gave his son as ransom for our lives.  He is not destroyed by our sin, we are.  When we sin it separates us from God’s love and makes us more susceptible to condemnation from the evil one.  When our sin separates us from God, the pain that God feels is the pain of knowing his children are hurting. 

4.       In this world everyone is replaceable. 

In the worldly economy people are either assets or liability.  The rulers of this world will keep all the people close who bring them money and fame.  When those same people seem as though they bring more risk than reward, they are let go and traded for a less risky investment.  It is the way of the world and the worldly.

5.       In God’s kingdom everyone is valuable.

God sees you completely contrary to the way the world sees you.  To God, you were bought for a high price.  The ransom for your eternity was paid by the blood of his only son who he dearly loved.  When you come into God’s kingdom by putting your faith in Christ you have a permanent place in heaven and in God’s family.  No matter what role you have in the body of Christ, it is important and valuable to God.

6.       One friend who weathers the storm with you is worth more than a thousand fair weather friends. 

At the start of this year I didn’t know I had any fair weather friends, I just had friends.  Slowly as the storms raged, people went away.  Some told us not to contact them again, some just stopped speaking with us.  The loss of those people was painful and continues to be painful to this day.  Despite the pain of losing friends, I have been blessed beyond measure by the friends that loved me enough to weather the storm with me.

                There are “friends” who destroy each other, 
                But a real friend sticks closer than a brother.  
                Proverbs 18:24  NLT

To those who have weathered the storm with me I thank you.  You will never know how much you are appreciated and how much I have needed your friendship this year.

7.       I have a far greater dependence on God and other believers than I have ever known before.

For the longest time I have considered myself fairly hardy and able to resist adversity with sheer determination and grit.  As I have been worn thin by the storm I have come to a place of realizing my strength alone is not enough.  My own strength is not sufficient to get me through and I depend on the grace and strength of God and fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to survive.  Although it is not easy to make my vulnerability known to other people, I now realize I have even more strength when I allow the strength of God and others to carry me through.  For this I am thankful.

I never want to repeat the experiences I walked through over this past year when I was taken to the limit of what I could handle multiple times before I was eased away from the cliff.  I hope desperately the storms have passed and the next season will be filled with peace and prosperity.  I don't have the answers to what is in store this next year however, regardless of the answer I continue to be thankful for these hard fought lessons.  

To summarize it all, I have realized how critical it is to love people well because I realize how very much I need that love for myself and my family.  Now in 2016, I only have one resolution, to love people better.  I hope it isn't just a resolution for 2016 but an anthem for my life.  God bless you friends.  You are loved and needed more than you could ever know.


The story behind the story matters... Don't miss it!

As I stood in a long line with a sleeping baby in a stroller and waited for my family to get off another exciting ride in Disneyland, my phone rang. I didn't recognize the number but everything inside of me said, "Answer it!"

With 50,000 of my closest friends scurrying about, time was about to stand still for me.

Before I tell you who was on the phone, let me first share the story of a young woman who was smart, talented, beautiful and deeply hurting.

On a beautiful April day this young twenty-two year old found herself in a raw vulnerable place. Her  world would change forever. The world she knew, the time she thought she'd still have and the hope of a better relationship came crashing down around her. She grew up as a 'military brat', which meant she was constantly moving and things were always changing. She adored her dad and was really close to him but because of his military obligations he was gone a lot. She felt loved and cared for by him but unfortunately the time her dad spent away from home put a huge strain on the relationship between her and her mom. The details of this young girls life are worthy of an entire book so I won't begin to unpack her story, just a small glimpse into this chapter.

On that life altering day, standing in her living room just a few steps away her mom took her last breath. As her mom passed from this life to the next, so did the hope of ever hearing "I'm proud of you" or even those treasured words "I love you". That chapter of her life came to a screeching halt and a new one would soon emerge.

You see this young woman was already a single mom raising a sweet little two year old boy. Understandably her dad was unavailable as he was reeling from the devastating loss of his wife. She wasn't a young woman who knew her worth nor did she understand how deeply loved, needed and valuable she truly was. As her family dealt with the loss of a wife and mom the best way they knew how, she too dealt with it in her own way.

Over the next couple of months what later would prove to be a destructive pattern with men began to unfold. The deep hurt she was walking through wasn't met with people who surrounded her, loved her and supported her as she found a new normal. It wasn't met with people who pointed her toward truth, nor was she embraced and told she had value. She was surviving the best way she knew how. Within a few months after her mom died she found out she was pregnant. This news was both exciting and terrifying.

Because of her choices she was left with a lot of unanswered questions.

"Who was the father?" "Would I raise this baby alone?" I have no doubt the questions were endless and the answers were few.

The story behind the story was messy and ugly...

As I stood next to my sleeping baby at Disneyland, I answered the phone. As soon as the person said who they were I immediately knew why they were calling. I'm thirty-five years old and from my earliest memory I've wondered who my father was.

You see, the young, beautiful and deeply hurting woman was my mom. The pain, hurt, fear and feeling of hopelessness lingered throughout my childhood. She searched for years in all the wrong places to find her value and desperately wanted someone to show her how loved she was. I grew up knowing that my mom was amazing but it was painfully obvious she didn't feel the same way.

Almost ten years ago I went through an incredibly emotional and painful DNA test in search of my father and I didn't feel prepared to walk through it again. I knew there were several possibilities and I wasn't sure I could handle the disappoint ever again.

Here's that story:

The voice on the other end said, "Nicole, I believe Jeff was your father... He died last week."

Gulp! I wish I could adequately describe the thoughts surging through my head or the angst in my heart but that too is for a different chapter of another book.

As I saw my kids exiting the ride, I quickly asked the sweet lady on the other end of the phone if their family would agree to a DNA test. Her reply was beyond generous as she stated, 'NO problem!'

I didn't say a word to anyone the rest of the day about the phone call I had just received. We were on vacation and our family has been dealt enough this year so I wanted to have this brief time of 'no worries'.

Over eighteen years ago my mom gave her life to the Lord and walked away from years and years of destructive behavior. I felt like she deserved a few more hours of not questioning her past.

I took the rest of that day to silently process the news I'd just received and later that night I asked Tim (my husband) to go on a drive with me.

We drove around Anaheim, CA talking, crying and processing as much as we could.  On our drive, I shared my heart with him. I felt a lot of guilt because since moving back to Reno last year, I knew Jeff (possible father) lived an hour away from me but as a family we'd faced quite a lot this year so I didn't want to add 'one more thing'. I didn't call him, I didn't share my family with him, I didn't show up and love him. I felt awful! I've never even seen a picture of the man who helped give me life and it's been something I've always longed for.

Tim listened to me, allowed me to cry and reminded me of my value.

I have always been very open with my kids about not knowing my dad, so a few days later I shared with them the news. I also talked with my mom and she knew we'd be doing another DNA test.

I told them that he lived close and explained why I didn't reach out over the past year to meet him. Kids have an uncanny ability to understand and love us through things we can't begin to comprehend ourselves.

You see, doing a DNA test comes with a lot of implications both positive and negative. For my mom I knew it could bring back the feelings of guilt and shame. For me it would mean I either finally knew who my dad was or the question would still linger. Either way, it could be like reopening an ugly wound.

His family did what they needed to do to submit their DNA and I did my part. I've been through this so I knew the wait flat out sucks!

A few weeks ago my phone notified me that I had an email waiting from GenQuest labs. I knew exactly what was in that email. The results were very clear. The results read much like they did the last time I took a DNA test...

"The probability of 'Jeff' being your father is less than 2%."

I sat looking at my email with a very different feeling this time around. I didn't feel crushed, devastated or even hopeless. Over this year the Lord has really been teaching me the value of the 'whole story'. I could look at this from my perspective or I could see it from the lens He sees it through. Yes, this has been painful and yes I have every right to be pissed and angry but what if I changed my lens and saw the story 36 years in the making.

I began to think about the young lady at the beginning of this story. How was she going to handle this news? I knew it was devastating for me eight years ago when I took my first DNA test but this time around... It had the potential to shake my mom to the core. I knew she felt so much shame from the way we were raised. I knew she had so much guilt from me not knowing my father but I also know that she was doing her best in the midst of a really messy situation.

She didn't have a mom that reminded her that she was valuable. She didn't have a mom that took drastic steps to change her life. She didn't have a mom who walked away from men, drugs and alcohol (cold turkey) to pursue the Lord. She didn't have a mom that forgave quickly, loved lavishly and served so unselfishly. I did!

I did! And because of her I know my worth.

For the past eighteen years I've watched her forgive herself, forgive others and heal from years of destructive behavior. She has taught me that you fight for people even when they abandon you, turn their back on you and look at you like trash.

My mom has messed up a lot but so have I! I've hurt people. I've let people down that were depending on me. I've said and done really stupid things.

If I want people to forgive me and love me (which I happen to need everyday)... I better be willing to do the same. Even when it hurts to the core of who I am, I better be willing to get messy.

You see friends, it is important to see the story behind the story. Often times it is deeper, uglier and not as beautifully knit together as we'd like to believe.

Again, I was reminded that my DNA does not match the person I thought it would, but I was created by a Father who grafts in the orphans, the fatherless and more importantly the imperfect.

At a time in my life where I've been trying to show my kids the importance of seeing the 'entire' story, to love people even when they hurt and disappoint you and to show up even when we'd rather hide away... I've been given this important reminder.

My DNA so far hasn't matched any one's but like an onion this story has so many layers. I have no doubt God is using it to reveal His unchanging love and unmatched forgiveness He daily showers upon us even when we don't deserve it.

I encourage you to see the whole person today. Not the small glimpse into a story or how a little portion of the story has personally made you feel BUT the whole story. Sometimes what you see today is deeply rooted and it isn't always about you.

There have been so many times that I've wanted to punish my mom for the choices she made...

...but if I'm really a person that believes I deserve grace and forgiveness... I better be willing to give it!

I encourage you to do the same! The grace and forgiveness you fail to give today may be the same grace and forgiveness you need tomorrow.

Are Christians called to blind obedience?

                                                                Ecclesial Disobedience

As I sat in the circle, I anxiously awaited the start of the meeting which I hoped would bring healing not only to Nicole and I but to all those that met with us and were under a cloud of hurt which had lingered for the past several months. 

It was to be the meeting to end all meetings

We would all voice our feelings and in the end we would all surely be more united under the bond of brotherly love.  The pastor was excited for the meeting to begin and stated, "This could be the start of a beautiful story". Before anyone spoke, the pastor said a short prayer and gave the rules of the evening.  He explained that each person in the room would take turns and speak to someone else in the room about their concern. He stated that when talking to someone else you may voice your concern and the person on the receiving end would then summarize what you have said and then state, "I am sorry"....

The meeting was a disaster.

It did not bring healing but only served to make tensions even higher. One by one each person went around the room and stated their concern in front of the crowd of 12 people. Although everyone was invited to state their case for why they were upset to anyone in the room, it was clear the majority of the complaints were directed at one person, Nicole. Different people went around the room and used vivid, descriptive language to state the reasons why Nicole caused them pain.  At one moment when Nicole tried to ask further questions to clarify the reason for the stated concern and to explain her heart in that situation, she was promptly stopped by the pastor who vehemently replied, "Nicole, you are being defensive. You need to simply repeat what has been told to you and state, I am sorry". The rest of the meeting proceeded that way.  It was clear truth was not being sought as gossip fueled attacks were the theme of the evening. I attempted with everything I could to deflect the oncoming arrows by taking blame upon myself and stating that I was sorry however, it was not successful. It was a full on assault.  Not only did the pastors standby and witness the assault, each of them took part in administering their own blows. 

My heart was torn apart as I sat next to Nicole and watched tears flow as she was trying to make it through and follow the rules of the game.  I desperately wanted to stop the attack, however I felt that I was obligated to be obedient to the pastors by allowing them to go along with the plan they felt would be best. On another note I wanted to allow Nicole to stand on her own feet because I believe in her strength. 

I failed miserably. 

After this meeting it was clear that no progress was made and the pain ran even deeper. Nicole was devastated by the words of our friends and pastors.  That night she did not sleep all night long as she fought the claims of the enemy of her soul who continued to tell her that she was worthless. She clung to the sheets the entire night and used all her strength to restrain herself from taking my gun and ending her life. 

What have I done?  I have sworn to protect her.  I love her to the core of my being and seeing her in pain produces the most agony and grief I have ever faced.  She is the bride of my youth and I would do anything to keep her from any danger or suffering but I have failed.  

Does the Bible really instruct us to have such blind obedience to church leaders to allow such an injustice to take place? 

Does the Bible give such liberty to pastors to allow them to speak words into your life that are devastating and contrary to the truth of the Bible?

Before I could answer any of these questions, I had to examine myself and evaluate what I had done wrong. I knew what I had to do to make things right.  I repented before God and Nicole for my failure.  In that moment I did not fulfill my vow to protect her.  I could have stopped that meeting and I didn't.  I am married to an incredibly beautiful woman that I love deeply.  God is a father who loves her even more than I do and I didn't protect his daughter.  By grace, which I don't deserve, Nicole forgave me and I know God has forgiven me as well.

Where do I go from here?  

Needless to say, attending church after that meeting was a struggle.  After our experience it was so difficult to hear a message of love from the pulpit after being subject to the opposite behind closed doors.  Knowing my past failures, how do I make it right in the future and protect my bride and family?  

Should we even go to this church?  

The questions were endless and the answers were few.  We felt that God did not want us to leave for some purpose that is far beyond our imagination or understanding.  We planned to abide by the rules that were communicated.  In the meeting, the pastor told us that our Facebook posts were causing much more harm than good. 

He reiterated a statement he made in the past when he said, "Nicole, the woman of God you think you are, is not the woman people see on Facebook".  He went on to say that no one he has ever talked to has ever felt her posts were encouraging.  He told us that if we would "go dark" on Facebook for 6 months, it would prove to the pastor's that we really wanted to stay at the church.

Although I did not fully understand the benefit of being off Facebook for six months, overall I did not feel this was a completely unreasonable request.  

In my mind I wondered why they want to have this much control of our actions but I believe scripture and Hebrews 13:17a says, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority".  I have submitted myself to authority figures multiple times in the past and I am not too proud to let them have their way. 

As we were silent on Facebook, our lives continued as usual. 

Life happens and when life happens we share it with those around us. 

We continued to do that apart from Facebook however our friends and family which we are able to stay in contact with apart from Facebook is only a handful.  During that time we found out Nicole was pregnant despite using the Mirena IUD which is 99.8% effective at preventing pregnancy.  We were so excited and overjoyed that God would bless us with another little one however, less than 1 week after hearing this wonderful news, our hearts broke when Nicole had symptoms of a threatened miscarriage. 

At the same time we realized how powerful our stories can be.  

All the signs, symptoms and scientific knowledge regarding the symptoms Nicole had pointed to a miscarriage, yet God has power to change the outcome for His purpose.  Our eyes opened when we realized that whether we lost the baby or by God's miraculous grace the baby survived, there was power in our story.  

Relying on God to make it through such a devastating loss encourages those who face loss and struggle.  Rejoicing in victory if the baby survives brings hope and joy as we are thankful for God's goodness.  No matter the outcome there is power in our story when it demonstrates what it looks like to be completely dependent on Christ.

I felt such a strong sense of the importance of sharing our lives with others that I started to be convicted that being obedient to the pastors of our church meant we were not being obedient to Christ.  The more I prayed and sought truth, the more I knew that if God has called Nicole and I to share our lives and the love of Christ on Facebook, it was more important to be obedient to that call than it was to continue to stay off Facebook to please the pastors. I sent a letter to the pastor to lovingly state my purpose for sharing our life on Facebook and the sense of calling we felt from God.  In the letter I assured him that I would shepherd my wife and family and that I will be personally responsible before God for any post they make. I asked him to address me personally for any concerns regarding any post made by any of my family. With that declaration, knowing we may be viewed as being in opposition to the leadership we started to share our lives again on Facebook.  

I most assuredly did not make this decision lightly as I have a high respect for those placed in leadership.

To me this declaration to the leadership of the church and responsibility I claimed in protecting my family seemed like a small act of obedience to God.  Indeed it was very small however, the freedom Nicole started to experience was tremendous.  I did not allow her to go to any more meetings in which there would be risk that she would be attacked like she was before. Despite the struggle we still faced at church she was able to attend and worship with joy.

I am thankful that God has answered some of the questions I posed previously.  

Blind obedience is not only unsupported by scripture it is terrifyingly dangerous.  

It was blind obedience that led to the holocaust of the Jews, the Jonestown massacre, the Salem Witch Trials and numerous other historical atrocities.  Deeper inquisition into the meaning of Hebrews 13:17 does not support blind adherence to the instruction of church leaders.  The two key greek words in Hebrews 13:17 are the greek words for obey, peithesthe, and the word for submit, hypeikete.  Peithesthe (obey) when translated from greek actually means be persuaded about or as other scholars have translated, allow yourselves to be persuaded by.  The greek for hypeikete (submit) means yield to.  

The large majority of commentators translate the meaning of Hebrews 13:17 to mean that we are to allow our church leaders to persuade us and to yield to their instruction on matters of indifference.  This means we are to respect them and give them the final say for grey areas however, we are responsible to adhere to truth and obey God first.

To answer the other major question I have posed, does the Bible give liberty to pastors to allow them to speak words into your life that are devastating and contrary to the truth of the Bible?  

There is no question from scripture, the answer is no.  James 3:1 states, "Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly".  Church leaders and teachers of the bible are held to a higher standard than lay Christians. 

Hebrews 13:17b states,  "they [leaders] watch over you as those who must give an account".  This truth is damning for those who live as though they are not accountable to God and for those leaders in full submission to God it is the reason we must give them respect.

You may wonder the outcome of standing up to protect my family and claim my right to be obedient to God as I felt him lead me.  In a private meeting of myself and the executive pastors, my family was asked to leave the church.  

What reason was I given?  I was told that my actions demonstrate distrust for the leaders and I should find a church in which I can trust the leaders completely. 

There is no doubt the course of my entire family will change as the pastors used an unscriptural reason as well as an unscriptural procedure to remove us from this church body.  My household numbers 10 people with myself, my wife, my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law (who is like a son to me and Nicole) and my six children.  

The kingdom of God was not strengthened by this act of cowardice and pride.  

My only hope is in the God of Romans 8:28 who works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  This experience has been exquisitely painful to my entire household.  Although I have some regrets along the way, I do not regret standing for truth and being obedient to God despite the appearance of disobedience to the church leaders.

Please consider carefully the instructions given by those in leadership over you.  

In prayer consider whether by being obedient to your leaders you are being disobedient to God.  We are directed in scripture to respect our church leaders and yield to them and this is a directive that should be taken seriously.  

The bible does not instruct us to disobey God or scripture to please church leaders.  

I challenge you to not only examine the teaching but the actions of the leaders over you.  If you realize you are in a spiritually abusive church, I challenge you to relentlessly pursue God’s call and purpose for you and to be obedient to Him even if it causes you pain.  God’s purpose for you may be entirely different than His purpose for me and He wants to use you to accomplish His plan.  I hope no one faces the pain I have walked through but at the same time I hope all who read this are able to experience the peace and joy that comes from being obedient to God.  I hope God blesses you tremendously on your journey to please Him.  Go in peace.

-Tim Howes

Good Enough

Have you been there? You know, the place of utter hopelessness...

At the beginning of August I found myself in a place I've never been, nor do I ever wish to go back.

The voices I heard seemed to scream, 'You aren't good enough. You aren't measuring up and you never will." A place where the pressure in my life left me feeling hopeless. If only I wasn't like 'this' or like 'that'-- maybe, just maybe, I wouldn't feel so awful.

I was tired.

Depression is real. Depression is scary. It isolates you. It lies to you and it affirms all the lies, criticisms and doubt you are feeling.

If you could be more like him or more like her you'd make the cut, but until then...

I felt like a sheep without a shepherd, put out to pasture, where the wolves were given free reign to attack.

I slowly began to pull away from anyone that could possibly encourage or speak life into my depressed weary bones. I thought they were just being nice, therefore it made it difficult to hear the truth, life and encouragement anyone was trying to convey to me.

Have you been there?

Here is a raw glimpse into my journal on the darkest night of my life:
"Sitting in a dark room with only the dim light of the moon shining through the cracks of the blinds. The sound of my husband sleeping soundly next to me is all I  can hear. He breathes in and out... In and out. Should I wake him? Does he know? Would he notice if I were gone or would he continue to sleep soundly? 
Should I scream? "I can't! I can't go on! This is all too much!"
12:31... 12:42am... 1:36.... I sit. Grasping the sheets below me, I wait. I wait in hopes that the feeling of utter hopelessness passes. I wait. 1:42... 2:50... 3:26... I play out every scenario in my head.  
I see them crying. I see them asking, 'why?' and I hear the agony in their voices... But I still clench the sheets desperately fighting the urge to be done with life.  
The words of disapproval, the reminder that I could be more, do more and simply 'be better' are deafening.  
I've taught others that He's good, loving and kind, but I sit-- 3:34...3:35...3:36... I don't see how it's true for me.  
I need the vice to loosen just a little. It's so tight, I can barely breath and the only way I see it loosening is to loosen it myself.  
I know I could do better, be wiser and act like I have it all figured out… If only you could be a better actress or learn to play the game.  
The shelf in my husbands closet is calling for me. 
Right now in this moment... I could be done. Would it matter?  
It would be so easy and it would no longer matter how ‘good’ I am or how others see me.  
My view of how I'm seen and the reality of who I'm not is painfully obvious. It is taking everything I have within me not to slowly... quietly, unlock the case, reach inside, grasp it in my hand and be done.  
'The woman of God you believe you are, isn't the woman of God others see you as!' 
The words .... They're deafening.  
The site of me, the site of my family is disgusting to those that 'matter' or at least those who have the power to make others think you matter.  
So I sit. I wait. I grasp the sheets and wait for the darkness to pass. Will it pass?" 

Feeling hopeless is an awful place to be.

Have you been there?

As self sufficient people, we like to believe we can follow steps A, B and C and magically come out looking exactly the way everyone else wants us to look.

But, the truth is... God didn't create us that way.

He created us to look like Him, period.

Over the past month I have struggled to hear truth. The people closest to me have stopped what they were doing to remind me of my worth. They've spoken honestly to me and prayed that God would once again remind me that I am His.

But it seemed that every word bounced off of me. In my hopelessness, I had the hardest time believing that God truly cared for me or that He had purpose for my life.

I fought for truth for weeks and answers seemed to consistently escape me, but in my lowest moments I began to realize that God, the creator of the world and my defender wanted me to be still and trust him.

In my total weakness, He was able to hold me, even when I thought I was falling apart.

What I thought was me fighting not to end it all, was actually Him holding me in place.

You see... I don't want to simply exist. I want to have purpose.

In early August, the voices of disapproval seemed so incredibly loud!

The voices of truth were all but silenced, because truth didn't seem to matter... BUT slowly God began to remind me who I am, who I belong to, and where I'm headed.

There isn't a single person on this planet that can redefine how you are seen by God.

I've been reminded that hope will never come from doing better, thinking more positively or acting the 'right' way... Hope is found in Jesus and Jesus alone.

Today, if you find yourself in a place where the voices of disapproval seem deafening... remember your hope cannot and will never come from people.

You will never be a 'good enough' parent.
A good enough Christian.
A good enough spouse.
A good enough employee
A good enough (fill in your own word).

You weren't created to be 'good enough.' Jesus died to be enough. If you were already enough then there would be no purpose for Him. 

What a total let down, right?! You are probably thinking, "I feel like crap and now you are driving home that fact that I will never be good enough. Not helpful."

Here's the meat and potatoes... When we feel down, depressed and without hope, the voices of truth are all but silenced. We block out truth and we begin to believe lies that we were never meant to claim as truth. Jesus came to earth and willingly gave up his life at our lowest point. He knew we would face times of uncertainty, depression and loneliness. He knew people would say and do stupid things, yet He still knew His grace would be sufficient.

Being 'good enough' is a lie you no longer have to claim as truth. We need Jesus. We need Him on the most exciting days, on the mediocre days and in the deep valley's we walk through.

Fight for truth and allow God to remain God. He is more than capable of handling your situation and your brokenness.

If you've never made Jesus the Lord of your life, I want to invite you to pray this simple prayer. You aren't asking him to make you 'good enough' because He is already good enough for you. He wants your heart and He wants you to be transformed because of who He is not because of who you are.

                     Jesus I need you! Today, I ask you to come into my life. Transform my heart and be Lord of my life. I recognize my total need for you and I ask that you cleanse my heart and forgive me of my sins. You are a good God and from today forward I want to put my future in your hands. I trust you. Thank you for willingly giving your life for me. ~ Amen

(If you just prayed this prayer don't keep it a secret. You need people to walk beside you. Tell me, tell a friend. Let us rejoice with you!! You are a treasured and vital member of the body of Christ.)

Please sit, listen and let these words sink in.  "Just be Held" Casting Crowns


Feel free to share.

Against all Odds

After seventeen years of marriage, seven kids (6 biological, 1 amazing gift that we've been beyond blessed to call son and co-raise), and a boat load of life in between; not much comes as a huge shock or takes us by surprise.

My husband (Tim) and I have lived an adventure that makes me weak in the knees when I stop and reflect on the excitement, pain, fear and sheer joy we've shared over the years. Together we've seen God's faithfulness in the small mundane details of life and we've also seen His mighty hand at work in the huge events that play out day-to-day. 

Well, the past couple of months we've experienced several of those 'huge events' that have nearly leveled us. They've taken us by surprise and rocked us to the core, BUT God has carried us and continues to ask us to trust Him. 

When Tim and I got married two days after we graduated from high school, we had no clue what we were in store for as we decided to hold hands and walk through this life, seeking God together. I smile as I type because I had no idea that I married a dreamer and a man with incredible vision for the future. He is also someone who fiercely loves his family and is an amazing example of a servant leader. 

After the birth of each of our children, Tim and I have carefully considered what form of birth control we would use. We've made every effort to choose birth control which would not allow me to become pregnant at the mere thought of my husband, because you know, that's what seems to happen. 

It's 99.9% effective and it has always worked 
amazingly for us. 

The birth control is a small little T shaped device 
called a Mirena that keeps me from ovulating or having periods (hallelujah, right ladies?). 

Win, win... I'd say!!

A few weeks ago I sensed something wasn't right in the 'all things female department' so I secretly went to Walgreen's and bought a pregnancy test. I bought it thinking, "Who does this?! Who gets pregnant with an IUD?"

                                              Well, we do! 

I told you the mere mention of a baby makes my uterus all kinds of happy and I'm sure if we could hear it talking it would say, "stick a baby in this warm little oven. I'm ready!" Even when we've made every attempt to keep it cooled down and unable to bake a little bun. 

I knew that there was a 50% chance of a miscarriage if I were to become pregnant while the Mirena was still in place, so I waited a week to tell Tim. After dinner one night I shared our exciting news... yes, it's still exciting even when it's your seventh pregnancy. We rejoiced together for a little over a week and just like past pregnancies we decided to wait until I was twelve or so weeks along before we shared with the other kiddos. 

While preparing dinner last week I began to have awful cramping. Did I tell you I've birthed six kids so I know the difference between 'ouch' cramping and 'holy crap, somethings wrong' cramping? 

I went into the bathroom where I quickly realized I was bleeding quite a bit. I've been a woman long enough to know what this all meant. I went and sat with my husband at the dining room table and shared what was happening. He looked at me with a reassuring grin that has the power to melt me while at the same time cause uncontrollable tears to flow. He squeezed my hand and we knew there were no words that would help the ache we felt in our hearts. We both felt the weight of the situation. 

He promptly sent me to go rest while he helped our kids cleanup our dinner mess. 

The next morning I called the doctor to schedule an appointment to confirm what we already knew.They couldn't get me in for over a week so we were in a place of waiting and praying for the best.

We knew there was nothing we could do but trust the Lord and wait. 

Over the past six months our family has been walking through some pretty tough stuff, so we decided we would sit our kids down and share the news so we could pray, grieve and love each other through this chapter. 

Our kids cried but we saw something strange too. They were full of hope. 

I use the word 'strange' because even through their tears they seemed to think we already beat the 99.9% chance of getting pregnant, so it wasn't too far fetched that our baby was still growing. 

"These kids are crazy!" I thought, but we allowed them the space to feel and hope as we all anxiously awaited my appointment. 

Appointment day was upon us and our kids refused to go to school because they knew I would be getting news that they too were eagerly awaiting. So off I went, while they stayed at home... waiting. 

(IUD is the white line next to my nail)

As I sat on the cold examining table, the doctor came in to perform an ultrasound and see what was happening. He quickly spotted the IUD. 

And then he shifted the probe to a much more important finding... 

                                                    A heartbeat! 

                    Against all odds we had a little tiny heartbeat!!!

You guys... this birth control is 99.9% effective! I was bleeding, cramping and stood a very high chance of not seeing anything. I don't know what that does to your heart but it makes mine feel incredibly thankful. 

We weren't planning (in fact we were doing just the opposite) to have a baby, BUT... We are having a baby!

The doctor also located a large blood clot that we will need to monitor. We were hoping we could remove the IUD but because of its location it has to stay in place because we can't remove it without hurting the baby. Prayerfully our baby will grow without any complications right next to the little plastic device that was supposed to prevent us from conceiving him/her. 

So we pray. We rejoice. 

The doctor said we should remain cautiously optimistic because of the IUD and blood clot but today we are incredibly grateful. 

We thank God today and we have hope even when we don't know what will happen tomorrow. Sometimes our plan looks very different from the plan the creator of the world has... and it is amazing! He graciously allows us to see Him in the pain we experience as well as in the jaw dropping moments that leave us scratching our heads wondering what on earth He's up to. I've come to learn and scripture is very clear that it is okay to weep, it's okay to grieve and it's also okay to rejoice. 

Thank you for being part of our story and loving our family.


When it's okay to not be okay...

Somewhere, at some time, for some ridiculous reason 'church' became this place where it's not okay to not be okay. 

Don't get me wrong, it's okay to enter the church broken, after all, Christians like to take credit for fixing other people. We love to hear about sin that's been healed by our programming, events, our leaders and our processes. 

But what about those people on the inside? People that have accepted the gift Jesus has freely given us and now are on this continuous growth curve. A curve that varies from church-to-church and leader-to-leader.  

The litmus test we often use to measure someone's spiritual health isn't a true measure of godliness. It is, however, a litmus test of our preference and personal comfort.

So often church becomes a place where it's not okay... to not be okay. We know if we speak up, we risk being shunned or perhaps worse, being told we are allowed too stay but sit on the bench. 

We label people and groups and put them into categories. 

We have Martha who always sits in the third row... Be careful not to get too close. Before you know it she will be a blubbering mess and the next minute she will be praising Jesus like nobodies business. Well, let's be honest... everyone knows she's needy and not terribly refined. She says a little too much and shares her heart in a pretty loud way. She is loving and kind, but well you know, she's Martha. Everyone knows about Martha. 

Oh but John. Look at John. He shows up every week so well put together and serves every Friday night at the local rescue mission. John is the real deal. He never says much. He's always available if we ask him to serve and he never ever questions leadership. Ever! He knows his place. John is so respected. I mean, geese, he never asks for help and he is always willing to help others. Oh and let's not forget his wife is freakin' amazing and his kids consistently are on the honor roll. 

Then we have Ginger who shows up faithfully every Sunday but her theology is well... a little off. She believes that God can and will... Oh never mind, it doesn't really matter what Ginger thinks, no one listens to Ginger. 

You see, it doesn't matter what the heart looks like or the 'real' experiences people are having. What matters is that you say and do the appropriate things. You show up, you don't speak up and if you are serving you DO NOT show ANY and I mean ANY of your weaknesses unless you are asked too. 

John freely serves the church and the respect people have for him is through the roof. He's been around long enough to know that sharing too much at the wrong time can spell disaster for your future in ministry. So he silently struggles with his roller coaster of a marriage and the fact that he is physically crippled by his pornography addiction. Shhh... As long as everything looks okay....

Once we reach a certain level within the church the degree to which you share your life is limited to smiles, perfect kids and a well put together life. It's no longer okay to be vulnerable unless it's built into the curriculum. No longer can we show our absolute need for Jesus because we may be viewed as weak, a victim or 'not strong enough' for ministry? 

What if they (we) weren't polished enough or shared stuff that made others a little uncomfortable?

People within the church look more like an old rusty building and less like the perfect tabernacle we hope others see. 

The gauge we use to qualify our leaders is often based on ones ability to serve at the cost of family, be quiet so that everything appears okay and say, 'yes' so that feathers aren't ruffled. Say 'no' under your breath while a ‘yes’ escapes out of fear that it may not be popular or you may no longer look awesome.

We fear sharing what we have because 'someone' (whoever someone is) may be offended. We are terrified for people to see that our kids aren't perfect or that our marriages have quite a few wounds. 

We can share those hurts, joys and sorrows just as long as we’ve been invited to speak. We are permitted to say our marriage ‘was’ struggling but don’t you dare stand up and say it is currently struggling. You may be a little too needy or victimish (no, I'm not sure that's even a word).

And, by all means share about the promotion you received at work or the financial blessing that has flowed your way on a well put together Sunday morning video or flyer sent out to thousands of people, just as long as it says that you experienced that as a result of giving to the building fund or the giving spirit you’ve recently displayed. Because if you share any success in any unchurchy forum you are probably just boasting and rubbing what you have in others faces. 

Let me break it to you, to leadership and to every person you share your stuff with… It came from Jesus. He gave you the ability to work hard, he's resourced some in ways that he doesn’t resource others and that is okay. Be happy and rejoice with the person on the big screen, pamphlet sent in the mail and even the person sharing on Facebook. They're no different if they recognize where it all comes from.

I'm terrified, terrified to once again become part of an establishment that promotes a sit down and shut up mentality and refuses to encourage a rise up and walk culture. 

It's policies, procedures and programming that sets the captive free!

It's not policies, procedures or programming that sets the captive free, it's Jesus! 

It's sacrificing to the point of exhaustion. It's giving until you can't give no more.

It's not sacrificing to the point of exhaustion or giving until you can't give no more. 
It's about Jesus!

What he's done in and through us on a daily basis is appropriate for Facebook, Twitter or whatever tickles your fancy. 

Why? Because our stories inside and outside of church programming can glorify Jesus. 

The reality is… we are a jumbled mix of ‘needy’ and ‘needed’. We all have periods where we are so weak that we can barely stand.

Moments when our knuckles drag the ground like an ancient cave dweller. We have periods of time when the mental hunch feels as if it will never ever again stand up straight and walk in freedom. 

We question if we will ever stand tall, straight and once again have a little pep in our step. 

The glorious opposite of being ‘needy’ is being ‘needed’. This is a place where many Christians thrive. 

Feeling needed is the very reason we say yes to the point of exhaustion and sacrifice our families on the alter of service. 

One without the other is crippling. God created us to both be needed and needy

Anything short of real is simply, fake.

Even Jesus, the perfect son was vulnerable, open and dare I say, needy. 

In Matthew 26, we see Jesus go off with his disciples “to be sorrowful and troubled.” He goes on to say, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Goodness, some church leaders would be preparing his sit down and be quiet letter if he ever dared write this as a social media status. 

Facebook or Twitter stutus: 

“I’m so overwhelmed with sorrow…” ~ Jesus
 #needmyfriends #alittleoverwhelmed #ineedyou #thisburdenisalittlemuch

Yep, this is the same Jesus that healed the blind, walked on water and wept with the broken. Same guy, same dude, same person inside and outside of the church. (Yes, I know 'the church' was yet to be established but I think you know what I mean)

And, hold on one minute before you stand up on your couch or need to pull over on the side of the road. 
Yes, I know full well that Jesus was with his friends and we often publish our feelings on a public forum such as Twitter or Facebook. But, I can also say with 100% certainty that the author of the most widely published, widely read and most controversial book known to man also knew his followers (readers) would far exceed our friends list on Facebook or our followers on Twitter. And guess what? He still published it. 

Not all of us are internal processors and not all of us are comfortable sharing our stories publicly, but I know there is room for both of us within the church and most certainly within leadership. 

I know there is room for both the needy and the needed at the doorstep of ministry. 

Your story is not only appropriate at a well thought out event, where you have exactly 7 minutes 30 seconds to share it. It is also appropriate wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit tells you to share it. 

Yes, a great deal of wisdom is needed when sharing but I’m afraid we don’t share of stories or our life simply because there is a fear of what leaders may think or how we may be 'perceived' by others. We somehow are more concerned with 'the others'  and less concerned about being open and with an unashamed willingness to follow Jesus and His prompting. 

We must be willing to follow Jesus and be obedient even if it offends others.  We can be a Martha and a John all at the same time. I promise though we will never reach the point of being both needy and needed if we continue to follow the whim of the church at the expense of a daily walk with Jesus. 

Church is a place where it is okay to not be okay. 

Church is a place where our stories matter within the building and outside the building. 

Church is a place where our experiences both good or bad matter. 

You don't have to be a Paul, a Peter, or a Virgin Mary... You are you. The people you will reach for Christ aren't the same group of people that the next person was created to reach. 

Go get em'!!!

And, please do not forget...

Church is a place where it's okay to be broken the first day you walk in AND every single day that follows. 

You matter! Your story matters! 

"I Have Loved You..."

“…I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness…”
                                                    Jeremiah 31:3

Under the disguise of the dark starry night -- there he was again. In faded denim jeans and an old t-shirt, he rested on the hood of the car.  Feet crossed at the ankle, he waited and listened. The butt of his gun perched on his upper thigh and his finger dancing back and forth ready to react at the slightest movement in the distance.

Hidden within the car, two girls rested their heads on the backseat hoping to get a good nights sleep before school the next morning. Away from the bugs and protected from the cold night air; the sound of coyotes were all that could be heard.  There was safety behind those doors. Safety that most children felt once they were tucked into their warm cozy beds, deadbolts secured and windows all locked.

As my sister and I laid on the back seat we didn’t have the assurance of a deadbolt or the comfort of a soft bed, but we knew we were being cared for. 

I wasn't being cared for in the way most would deem acceptable but I've learned that sometimes our temporary discomfort plays a much bigger role than we understand at the time. There was a much bigger story being written and I could trust Him though the process. 

Every time I saw the bright glow that accompanied each puff of the cigarette, I knew my mom’s husband was waiting... Waiting for everything to come crumbling down around us. He was holding on by a thread and the path he was leading our family down was a dangerous one.

We were homeless. Hopping from motel to motel, sleeping on the couches of our friends or like this night… out in the middle of the desert parked next to a beautiful natural hot spring.  

Once again the drugs were a priority and we were not. He burned a drug dealer and didn’t make good on his promise. It wasn't the first time my mom's and his life was in danger for the lifestyle he was leading them on. He knew they would come to give him what he deserved. He waited and listened preparing for the worst, knowing it was only a matter of time before they would come after him… after us.

I remember laying on that back seat thinking, “How much more, God? How much more?”

Have you ever asked God that same question?

I would tell myself, “Go to sleep… Tomorrow is a new day.”

I would like to say this was the first and the last time I had this experience but it was a very familiar scene that played throughout my childhood. Different backdrop every time but the feeling was the same. There were times I felt scared and alone. I wanted to be a 'normal' kid... Whatever 'normal' is?!?! I wanted to have my every need met and not worry about grownup problems. 

It's funny how the very thing you wish you didn't have to experience, in hind sight ends up being the thing that helped shape your future. 

I knew that the same God I asked to come into my heart at the age of five, was the same God who loved that insecure seventh grade girl. He still held my future and I could rest knowing he didn't forget about me. 

He has the power to turn all things for good.

You see, all of our stories look very different and you may not be experiencing homelessness or battling a drug addiction, but the feeling is the same. We (you and me) understand our inability to get through another day on our own.
Much like the little girl in the car, you may be watching and waiting for it to all come crumbling down around you. That little girl (me) didn’t find safety behind a secured door or in a warm cozy bed… She found safety in the presence of God. That same safety belongs to you!

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”  ~ Psalm 91:4

Friends, today you can rest wherever you find yourself. Your current situation may seem like it will never end, but it is temporary and He will walk through this storm with you. I had no control over the outcome but I knew the one who did.

Lord, thank you for loving me (insert your own name) with an everlasting love! Thank you for being present when I feel like everything is crumbling around me. Take this situation (be specific) and make it a story that will bring you honor and glory. Be near to me and protect my heart. I trust you God! I trust you! 

~Leave me a comment. Share. I want to hear from you!