Monday, March 30, 2015

Jesus Knew.

As this Holy Week begins, I can't stop thinking about Jesus. And this short, two-word phrase keeps coming to my head: "Jesus knew." 

He was plunging headlong into a week where He'd have to quickly impart all of the last minute directions, admonitions, and encouragement to His best friends He'd be leaving behind. And Jesus knew that as He went in to this week.

He had a brutal death ahead of Him in which the stench and weight of the world's most vile, putrid sin would be placed directly upon Him. He knew this in advance. 

He was well aware that He would be betrayed and denied by those He had poured His life's mission into. As He knelt, tenderly washing their worn feet, He knew. As they broke bread together and He explained the trial and hardship to come, He grasped the enormity of it all. The disciples did not fully understand, but He knew what was about to unfold.

What kind of person can put one foot in front of the other and keep going, knowing full well the kind of hell that lies just ahead? 

Here's an even greater implication: What can we learn about how to go through the process of trials from Jesus' last week on earth? Though while clothed in human frailty He cried out to the Father in pain, feeling the full weight of dark separation from Him on the cross, He did not waiver in His dedication to see the plan of salvation to completion. He knew exactly what was ahead of Him. But He persevered and He fulfilled the Father's purpose for Him with humility and with His eyes set on the greater glory ahead anyway. 

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Hebrews 12:1-3

Jesus didn't only know about the hard things that were coming, but also of the glorious, eternal things that were coming. He knew that the redemption of all mankind would be bought through His willingly nail-pierced hands and feet. 

For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross...

His eyes weren't fixed on the hard. His eyes were fixed on the joy. The joy of being welcomed home by His well-pleased Father. The joy of knowing His Spirit would soon come to dwell in the hearts of all who would believe. The joy of considering you and me, way off in 2015, reading this at this very moment, hearts longing for oneness and communion. 

All of this was on His mind this week so long ago. Jesus knew all He was going to endure and He did it anyway. He did it for love, He did it for glory, He did it for YOU. 

Because He knew and He did it anyway, we have not only an example to look to, but a power to step IN to. There is an invitation. And it is your choice alone whether or not to accept it. You can place your life and your trials and your joys and your pains and your questions into the hands of the One who knows what is ahead. And what is ahead, friend, is greater than anything behind or even in front of you now. 

There are so many things we do not know, but in His ultimate sufficiency, Jesus knows and invites you into the glory of His Kingdom that we can taste now on earth, and feast upon in Heaven. As we trudge at times, through difficult circumstances, may we rest in the joy of being known by the One who knows and sees all through eyes of humble, merciful love. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Pre-Surgery Prep and Prayers

Hi All!

Tomorrow is the last surgery for my breast cancer saga. The final chapter! It's finally here! People have been asking what the surgery is for- When I had my double mastectomy back in October, they placed tissue expanders (think rigid water balloons with metal ports and hard sides that pinch and rub against the ribcage...) in under my pectoral muscles and slowly inflated them with saline water injections. So tomorrow is when they remove those expanders and put the actual soft, wonderful implants in. It is an outpatient surgery and I will be home later in the evening. Easy peasy. A newly reconstructed chest that's going to look fantastic for yeeeears? If there is one benefit to all of this, that would be it. Thank You, Jesus!!!

From what I hear, it's not nearly as difficult as the surgery I had back in October. I should be back up and running around in no time. Which is a good thing for a busy Mom like me!

People are asking how they can help- I think we are pretty well set, but I would love to have your prayer support. Specifically, you can pray for the following:

- Successful surgery with a quick recovery time! You can pray for my surgeon, Dr. Cabiling, who I consider to be a rock star. He is so, so good at what he does. So blessed to have him as my surgeon.

- The hardest thing during the healing process is to not be able to pick up my little Sawyer. I love picking him up and snuggling with him. Alas, there is a 10 pound weight restriction for a good month or more, and he hasn't weighed 10 pounds for a couple years... He will have plenty of snuggle time with my Mom, who was laid off from her job last week as of Friday. Though unfortunate, the timing is impeccable as she will be a huge, huge help to us over the next few weeks. But be praying for her also- for the next door of employment to open.Prepare the way, Lord!

-I am using this recovery period as a time to intensely seek the Lord and His next steps for our family in regards to many things and would love prayer for guidance. I want to hear from Him before we move forward into our next phase of ministry. I strongly believe that God has some major changes and things ahead for us. I am excited, but want Him to lead. So this seriously could not have come at a better time. Feels like we're on the cusp of something new and something big. It's daunting and exciting and humbling and crazy all at once. I am still writing and working on my book concepts, and will be hopping in to album writing and production soon enough. I hope to write a women's Bible Study on my What If message and launch into that in a couple months. SO MANY THINGS!!! Where last year was full of change, doubt, worry, and loss, this one is going to be marked with TRANSFORMATION, TRUST, WONDER, AND RESTORATION!

- Please pray for my kids and Jarrod. Cohen, my middle, is really in a phase of needing his mommy these days. Please pray for peace for them.

- Joy! I have been writing this word in my journal since October. Joy. Joy. More Joy! Life can get so hard and weird. This year has been the weirdest hardest time for us in so many ways. But we choose JOY! Because these momentary trials...are nothing compared to the glory that awaits us and lives inside of us even now! And we now know that they truly do make us stronger. Pray for our joy to increase (pray that over yourself too!)

You all have been so supportive. So kind. So understanding. So generous. Truly, words fail when I consider a way to say thank you. So know that my heart is full and that you are deeply loved. Let's just praise God together for how He has saved my life on all levels. Without His miraculous intervention, this story could have turned out way differently. But instead, He has grown my character, enlarged my faith, helped me to re-prioritize, given me a heart that forgives and wants to help others, and has placed a new longing for all that He is. He is calling me to greater things. And I am so glad that you're all a part of it.

Much Love and Many Thanks,

Thursday, March 5, 2015

When Will You Believe That You're Beautiful?

My husband said something that absolutely stopped me stone cold still last night. As we were drifting off to sleep, I was talking to him about my upcoming surgery and sharing some fears and concerns. I waffle back and forth between being absolutely comfortable with all that is going on physically with me with my breast cancer struggle, and being absolutely mortified. It is a very sporadic pendulum. I am sure it will become less wobbly in time, but for right now, it is just where I am.

I have never been the kind of person who is incredibly concerned about appearance. I can go to the grocery store in sweat pants, no make up, hair crazy and not give it a second thought. I prefer to look well-groomed, but as a Mom of 3, I have learned that isn't always necessary. I am comfortable in my skin. But now my skin has these scars. They are WAY better looking than many pictures I have seen. My plastic surgeon is seriously a miracle worker. His stitches are about the cleanest thing I have ever beheld. But still, the fact remains, that I have these big scars going across my chest. For months, I have had a very misshapen,asymmetrical look going on and I KNOW it will look better after this next surgery. But still. It makes me sad. 

So last night, I was lying there being all gloom and doom about my present state, but faithfully injecting little statements like, "but at least I don't have cancer anymore" and "but praise God that it's all almost done." And then I said, "but I'm never going to be the same again. I'm never going to be who I was. I'm never going to look normal or attractive for you ever again, Jarrod, and I know it's not my fault. But still, I'm SO sorry." 

And he leaned up on his elbow and his eyes were trying to find mine in the dark. And then he said, "You can keep on playing this game for as long as you want. But when will you believe me when I say that you're beautiful?" 

Whether you have been through a traumatic body experience such as mine with breast cancer, or you just struggle a bit with your view of your body for any reason at all, these are the words that you need to hear. Those words that my wise, merciful, loving husband spoke. Because he's right. 

And those words aren't just coming from him, they are an echo of the voice of an even wiser, more merciful, more loving Heavenly Father. 

We beat ourselves up. We hyperfocus on our imperfections to the point that we don't remember how fearfully and wonderfully made we are. We are tormented by those extra 10 pounds of baby weight and that mole on our face, or those grey hairs that multiply like baby bunnies overnight. The scars we see in the mirror remind us of awful things...but there is hope. There is acceptance. And there is love.

Jeremiah 31:3, The Message version says, 

"God told them, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.Expect love, love, and more love!"

Listen, God is not surprised. He is not disappointed. 

His eyes are searching for yours and He is leaning up on one elbow, cupping your trembling chin in His strong hand and soothingly whispering to you:

"You can keep on playing this game for as long as you want. But when will you believe ME when I say that you're beautiful?" 

Let's end the game. Let's accept that these bodies are temporary placeholders for the glory and perfection that awaits us. I'm not saying we let them go to waste. We have a responsibility to treat them with utmost care. But let's go easy on ourselves. 

When you've been touched by a love that oozes acceptance, understanding, and even appreciation for what you have endured, that's when image becomes less controlling. If you don't have a supportive person here on earth like the treasure of a husband I have been given, I am so sorry. But know that you have a heavenly Father who sees. Who knows. And who loves you just the way you are.

You are beautiful. I hope you will start believing it. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Comes Next? A Letter to the Brave Ladies of Rise Up

Dear Brave Sisters,

I am so proud of you. I am sure Jesus is proud too. Do you realize what you did yesterday? You let down the chains that were binding you. You were courageous enough to step out of the whirlwind of fear and into the gentle breeze of His grace. I am overwhelmed by the response to my story that I shared at Rise Up. If you weren't there- here is the very condensed version:

A good, beautiful, faith-filled friend of mine shared a thought with me last Summer when we were together at Bethel's WorshipU. She said, "you have to take your what-ifs and turn them into even ifs". At the time, I was going through some things in ministry that had caught me off guard. That phrase changed my life at that moment, by setting my mind at ease that "even if" I lost something that was very dear to my heart, God was still good, He still loved me, and still had a plan for my life. It was an act that turned WORRY into WORSHIP. A way of saying, "yet I will rejoice in the Lord" (Habakkuk 3:18)

Well, imagine my surprise just a couple weeks later when I, at the young age of 35, was told I had breast cancer. It was time to really test this "Even if" thing. It was a time of testing of every thought I have ever had about God. Did He really love me? Was He some distant God off in the clouds, not knowing what was happening to me, or anyone for that matter? Through my journey with cancer, I learned that YES, He loved me. And NO, He was not distant. In fact, He had never been closer. Instead of being inundated with "what ifs" like, What if I lose my hair? What if I die and leave my precious husband and three boys behind? What if my body is ruined? The Holy Spirit helped me to think with an eternal perspective: EVEN IF my hair falls out, my body is destroyed, or I leave this world way too early, HE IS STILL GOOD. HE IS STILL GOD. AND I KNOW HE LOVES ME. Thankfully, I made it through my journey with my hair, my life, and my body, more or less in tact.I still have scars, but have come to the conclusion that scars hold the redemption. Jesus was not ashamed to show the scars that showed His death and rebirth. We shouldn't be ashamed either. Without scars, the story is incomplete. The miracles He worked and the way He healed my body AND my heart leave me in absolute, stunned, awe.

So as I shared my What If to Even if perspective shift at Rise Up, I encouraged all the ladies in the room to make the shift too, to step out of fear and into acceptance and praise of God and His ways. Last night and today, I got a lot of messages from ladies impacted by the message contained in the two little words, "Even if". The response has so overwhelmed me, in fact, that I know in my heart that these weren't just two little words, but the start of a movement of women who want to trade worry for worship. I don't know what it looks like yet. And I don't know what to do next. But know that you have been heard. I want to make a way for you to know HOW to tell your story and a PLACE for you to do that.

So please follow my blog here, or watch Facebook for updates. I do have  my last reconstructive surgery on March 11 and will be down for a couple weeks, but this is actually perfect timing! Plenty of uninterrupted time to think, to write, and to dream with God about what is next.

In the mean time, if you were at Rise Up and you are wondering, "What do I do next?" Here's the simple answer- do everything you can to get closer to God so you can hear His voice. Dig deeply into His word. Buy some new worship music. Get alone with God and let Him love you. Here is a warning though, please don't come out of Rise Up and plan to "fix yourself" or somehow make yourself "better". It does not work that way and you will quickly become ensnared in the trap of striving, works-based religion. His love and grace have got to be the basis for life change. Get together with some ladies for coffee and prayer and wrestle through the question of "what next". As you do these things, know I am praying for you. This is only the beginning.

Thank you, ladies, for your honesty and your desire to love Him.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Escaping The Crappy Pit of Despair

Blame it on more snow days than I can count and the chaotic non-schedule life that comes with them. Blame it on the lack of sunshine and warmth and all things green and lovely in this Arctic wasteland we call Ohio. Blame it on lack of sleep due to a husband's aching tooth (which is now removed from his mouth, Thank. You. Jesus). Whatever the reason, the last couple days have just been crap. Complete crap. I know on crappy days that they're crappy, but there just isn't a thing I can think of to do about it.

But this morning, on the third dawn of crappiness, my son did the most brilliant thing. He opened my Bible that was on the counter and his little pudgy hand landed on Romans 8:18-21: 

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

Word, son. Word. In reality, I'm just having a couple of tired Winter days. This is not a crisis by any means. But inside, sometimes we can feel crushed and angry and in despair for seriously no reason. We have to have the tools to get out of the pits that the enemy digs in front of us. All it took was the Word to start breaking in to my little pity party. Heavenly reality set me straight in the 30 seconds it took to read. The pit was exposed.  

Once in them, these pits must be scaled and avoided at all costs. Run away! After Romans 8 happened today, I started thinking about lies I have secretly agreed with. They are what landed me into this mess. The best way to rid darkness from the heart is to bring it into the light. Here's a great, practical exercise you can do if you want to get your heart out in the open, healing light of God. Make a simple chart. Like this:

Lies I Have Believed
What God Says About Me
My best days are behind me
 "Behold, I will do a new thing!" (Isaiah 43:19)
I can't do anything well. I am taking on too many things and can't focus.
 "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13)
I am having surgery in 2 weeks. I will    
be weak and scarred, ugly, and tired.
  "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

Friend, you are too loved, too powerful, too important to go around with awful ideas and lies locked in your head, guiding your every move and thought. It's time to come into the light. I encourage you to break apart every lie and every stronghold in your heart with the Word. What lies are you partnering with right now? And most importantly, what does God say about you instead?

Have a good day. Mine is 100% less crappy already. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

You Let Me Catch My Breath

True to your word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction. Psalm 23:3 (The Message)

   There have been times in the past year where I literally felt like I couldn't breathe. The weight of decisions, the paralysis of fear, the stranglehold of worry all threatened to choke the life right out of this girl. It felt like a sprint at times. One that would not afford me any breaks. So many nights spent wondering what was going on. So many desperate prayers that led to me melting into the arms of the Father as He calmed me. And He spoke these soothing and inspiring words :"Keep moving forward and I will heal your heart." 

The healing is here. Things that made no sense are starting to burst forth in full color. Where there was extreme, disjointed, misalignment, the pieces are all starting to click into place like cogs of a giant maze of gears. Forward motion is happening.

I couldn't be more moved, more thrilled, or more expectant. As I hit the one-month-until-my-final-surgery mark, I stand in awe of the way God has healed and restored me. He has truly given me months of much-needed rest, contemplation, and healing. He has taken what I thought I wanted and needed and replaced it with His dreams, His direction, and His plans for my life. He has let me catch my breath. I now feel like I am ready to move into the next direction. I've embraced the phrase, "When God closes a door, praise Him in the hallway." Well, the light on the other side of the darkened hall is starting to pierce through the cracks and crevices and keyholes.  I'm still not certain of exactly what lies ahead, but I know that "all the promises of God find their yes in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put His seal on us and given us His spirit in our hearts as a guarantee." (2 Cor. 1; 20-22)

All throughout my life I have hit little valleys, where I huddled close to Christ and leaned upon Him until He cleared and leveled the path ahead. Usually, I didn't see His work until long after the fact as I considered, awestruck, how He perfectly orchestrated my coming and going. But this time, I can see it coming and I can see the pieces starting to click into place before my very eyes. I think the difference this time around is that I wasn't leaning into Him to get to the next step. No. I was leaning into Him to get more of Him. More of Jesus was my method AND my reward. And with a heart and body restored, and holding tightly to new promises, new revelation, new hopes and dreams, He and I step forward together with slow, steady breaths. He has set the course. The journey ahead will be carried out by only His strength. 

What shift is happening in your life right now? 
How are you being transformed?
Are you excited about the God adventure ahead of you?

If you're still in "the hallway", that's ok. Continue to lean into Jesus and stand firm on His promises for your life. If you're not sure what those promises are, dig into the Bible and mine them out. 

And remember, though we want greater vision and clarity for the future, the true reward and the best outcome of spending more time with Jesus, is spending more time with Jesus! The clarity you'll get is just a bonus. 

Be blessed, friends, and know that He not only HAS a plan for your life, but IS THE PLAN for your life. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Big Dreams, Bigger God

I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.
I CAN do ALL things through HIM who gives me strength!  Phil. 4:13 (emphasis mine- we need to say those capitalized words with makes all the difference!)

It's a new year and a new chance to make some goals and some changes. I am currently mid- reconstruction following my mastectomy last Fall. I have my final surgery on March 11. After what should be a brief recovery, I can close this Breast Cancer Chapter. And move on. But move on to what? That is the grand question.

I do have a few ideas. They're crazy though. Ideas that a dish-doing, kid-raising, coupon-cutting Mom doesn't really have time or energy for...or does she? Well, this Mom does. I am declaring 2015 the year of Restoration. 2014 held too much destruction and change. I am tired of looking back and the only way for me is forward.

I am writing songs again. Songs that tell the story of a faithful God. Songs of healing and hope. I feel strongly in my gut that it's time to pound a stake in the ground and claim territory officially: I am a songwriter. I am a worship leader. These bring me joy and they are some of my biggest purposes on this earth. I feel like this is the year. It has all come to this.

I really, really, really feel called to make an album of my songs. Soon. As I have begun to research the costs, it makes my head spin. I could be discouraged. But instead, I feel almost giddy- like a journey is about to begin- I woke up this morning and spoke out loud to God, "I can't wait to see how You're going to do this!"

And so, I ask you for two things. Please pray for me. I believe God calls us all to specific things in specific seasons. I believe He equips and provides. He shocks us with His provision and wows us with His faithfulness. Yes. This is the God I know and love. So please pray that my faith is increased and that God opens doors wide.

Secondly, what dream have you stowed away in your own heart? What crazy thing have you pushed aside, thinking, not now or maybe even, not ever. Would you consider dreaming again? As I take the plunge, or maybe timidly stick a toe into the water, would you consider taking a step too? The world needs whatever it is God has planted in your heart. So let's be brave. Let's start using our what-ifs in a positive way. Let's not allow another year to go by as we wish. Let's obey. Let's dream again.

What has God called you to do? I'd love to hear about it, so comment below!