Honored

Zak suggested I write thoughts down about what it’s like to live in a pandemic. I don’t have many, though, because I have something really competing for my attention: a baby. And let me tell you how much the baby wins over a pandemic. 

I found out I was pregnant at the very, tippy end of 2019. I took a test because I felt a little bit off and it was positive. I guess you don’t get false positives, but I was shocked because it wasn’t supposed to happen that quickly! Seriously, it wasn’t. If you haven’t heard, I’ve had some health trials in my adult years and with those trials was supposed to be the risk of infertility or at least harder to become and remain pregnant due to hormonal problems associated with autoimmune diseases. Yet – only one month after my doctor cleared me to start trying to have a baby and only 7 months after getting my thyroid removed – BOOM, there’s a positive.

Another reason why it wasn’t supposed to happen: I’m not ready. At 27 years old, I feel fresh out of high school. I’m still tired all the time. I can barely get dinners on the table for me & my husband of four years. I forget to feed my cat more than I’d like to admit and – most of all – I never wanted a kid.  (The whole starting to try thing was Zak’s idea. He was so excited. Granted, I did get more warm to the idea of my own child when I met and fell completely in love/obsessed/borderline stalker with my nephew Lukas.) 

So, how did this happen to me?! It wasn’t supposed to happen. And why me? Out of all people… It just didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t. Why would God let a selfish person like me in on this part of life – the whole creating life part? I don’t know. I still don’t, but over the last 9 months of growing a human what I have learned is that I’m involved in a miracle, a spiritual experience, that is so special and extraordinary, yet normal, that I would never take back, replace, change even for all the selfish wants in the world. 

I still get doubts if I’m “ready” or not, but here he comes. And I feel blessed to be his mom. 

I guess I started writing this as an encouragement for women who may be afraid to have a kid. I’m still afraid. If anything I am more afraid than I’ve ever been before. But that fear is so different since it’s triggered by all the good that is at stake. I fear for my baby’s health, and then I feel him kick and my fear melts. I fear for my health, but take a nap and end up okay, have doctors I see weekly making sure it’s really okay. I fear for the future, but think about how the worries of today are enough on their own and to enjoy the short (yes, short) 9 months given with a completely silent kid before the screams & tears come. I fear for my marriage, but fall into a warm hug, smile and laughter thinking about all the dumb shit we are going to do together and to this kid. I fear for energy, but wake up another day to friends asking how they can help (a truly beautiful body of Christ.) 

I fear for the word “mom” because it sounds so boring, yet consuming. Somehow, when you become a mom, that seems to be all that you are. Why is that? As I’ve thought about it I get mad because I think the negative connotation subscribed to motherhood comes from our culture. “When you become a mom, your life ends… You get so boring… You lose yourself… Your career dies… You don’t get anymore ‘me time’…” All these terrible sounding futures; my individualistic American girl soul cringes at the thought. But doesn’t Jesus say to “pick up our cross daily”? Doesn’t Paul say “to live is Christ, to die is gain”? Doesn’t David sing “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!” The theme – “die to self” couldn’t be more clear throughout God’s plan for our lives, so the visceral reaction I have to motherhood is really me letting the culture decide to take the honor and privilege and importance away from giving myself for another human. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? Should not this be a dreaded task, but a position of undeniable honor?

And let me tell you what – coming from someone who didn’t ever desire a child – thinking of the sleepless nights, the sticky hands, the smells, the frustrations, the failure to come – all those things cannot outweigh the fact that I cannot smother the truth, the feeling, the reality that the honor is ALL mine. 

Lastly, I just want to go back to the “spiritual experience” point: that might sound weird because literally unfathomable amounts of women get to become mothers, so is it really that special? That’s one thing that keeps tripping me up – how is this so normal yet so profound? How is this such an extraordinary experience, yet happens many, many times a day all over the world? I don’t know. As my doctor tells me to relieve my anxiety: “You’re not special. Women give birth every minute.” Yet, I am special! Because I have another person depending on me and connected to me… Isn’t that a mind-blowing, wonder of life? It’s really taught me the beauty of life and, at the same time, the smallness. So many are born and die without ever feeling like they matter. As a soon to be mom, that breaks my heart. Is this how God feels for every soul born apart from him? If I could describe to a lonely, empty spirit the intense love felt for them before they were even born, wouldn’t that make a difference? I wish, I hope. Life is weighty. Although we’re here one day and gone tomorrow, life is a gift. Even though there are millions of us (billions), each one matters. And that’s the beautiful seeming contradiction I’ve added to the list that God loves to use: you’re not special, but you are. Why? Because I made you matter. Motherhood? It’s monotonous and boring, but sanctifying and spiritual. Why? Because God our Father gave us this experience to share creation with him. Life is full of down time and stupid, selfish thoughts, yet my thoughts have value and weight and my time can change the world. Why? Because God so loved the world that he sent his son to die for us, so that because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand – confidently & joyfully looking forward to sharing in God’s glory. 

I don’t know, man, it just blows my mind. And I hope my babe can one day understand more than I ever could about his heavenly Father. 

So, those are some thoughts circling through my head as I’ve been pregnant through a pandemic. Not so much the pandemic, but the pregnant part. And I’m still scared & tired so I’d appreciate prayers for safety these last 2 weeks and a safe baby. 

P.S. I guess it’s worth mentioning what it’s been like to be pregnant during a pandemic. Zak can’t come to any of the appointments, but we used Facetime when we found out the gender. My mom can’t be with me in the delivery room, which is sad because (remember how I’m a 27 yo high school graduate) I want my mom now more than ever. No visitors allowed after he’s born. And, a pregnant lady probably should take more precautions than I have been (but PTL, I have been safe!) So, there’s that! Overall, with things being shut down, I feel like I’ve gotten to rest more than I would have without a pandemic on the loose. And I am fortunate enough to live in an area not overrun with Coronavirus. I live in a quiet neighborhood where walking and biking have been a godsend. And the weather for Northeast Ohio this summer has been nothing to complain about – it’s been great! Which has been a wonderful experience to remain active without fearing for my life, as some have had to do in bigger cities. We also purchased a camper this year and have been able to get away into nature, which is really fun! Who needs international travel when you can plop down next to a lake for a week?! I haven’t given up grocery shopping just yet because it’s truly a freedom I’d risk my life for. Wearing a mask on a 90 degree day with a big ol’ pregnant belly smushing your lungs isn’t the most fun, either, but does make me feel safer. Also, an excuse not to hug every person I see is kind of selfishly great for a non-touchy person like me – lolz.

It will be interesting coming home from the hospital and how to navigate visitors for our little guy’s safety. But, as with all things, God has been so very gracious. And the body of Christ, even at a distance, has been a lifesaver! I wouldn’t know where to begin without the help & prayers of others!!

2020 Books

At the beginning of the year I found out I was pregnant. This news sparked in me a whole lot of “there’s so much to do!” One of the things I’m glad my freak out lead to was to learn to read again. I set a goal to read a book a month. At first I think I went too fast… But overall, I’m so glad I’ve gotten into this habit of reading. It’s so crazy what one chapter a day can do for your mind (or one a week!!) And it’s INSANE how much time you can save by plugging your phone in the other room, walking away, and choosing to focus in on a book. I’ve chosen to document the good reads here so I can honestly brag about my accomplishment… But also to let y’all know what I think is worth it! (Spoiler alert: every book I’ve ready is 10/10!) 

Praying with Paul by DA Carson

I started this one January 1st because my beloved Darlene gave it to me for Christmas! So, you know it’s gonna be good. It was. It was definitely the first Carson book I could finish and get something from it. I struggle with prayer the older I get. I get busier. I forget. I grow MORE selfish!! How is that possible?! Yet, this book – instead of lessons on prayer and teaching you how and all the nifty ways to spice up your sex life — ER I MEAN PRAYER LIFE! (But aren’t a lot of prayer books like that?! lol.) Instead of that, Carson really wonderfully outlines Paul’s prayers! And lemme tell you, a spiritual book that begins with a chunk of scripture each chapter is something I can get behind! Use the Word, please! Thank you, Carson. (Beware: he’s Calvinist for sure. Also, very dense! But the theology is one of my favorites. It reminded me it’s all about God and when we look at who he is first, our prayer life changes tons.) 


Unleashed by Samuel Stephens 

Of COURSE I have to plug this! It’s by Rev. Samuel Stephens – only the most awesome church planter this century has seen! (OK, I’m biased. I work for India Gospel League – which he began.) But, I can’t tell you enough how much I love this book. It’s sings in perfect harmony with Acts/the first century church and is really a guide on how churches today can be more like the church in Acts! It’s refreshing, challenging and makes me excited to do ministry in all out dependence on following the adventure the Holy Spirit has set! I think all Freedom Fellowship folks will enjoy it and will be rejuvenated to hear that other people in the world like to “do church” our way! (Which is really relationally!) 

Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox

Lennox has a special place in my heart since that one time he spoke at XSI and used the last part of his teaching to speak directly to the young people in the room. I can’t tell you how much, as a young person struggling with my faith, that meant. Everything he says is somehow revolutionary and soaking in humility. You can’t help but love the guy! He’s got a great sense of humor, too. The book really reads like one of his talks – a conversation. I picked this one because it was short and I suck at apologetics. What I liked about it was that it wasn’t so much an apologetics books, but an argument for why science & the Bible can work. He walked you through the WHY – why it’s possible there is a God and science, why scientists words aren’t truth, why you should think through big questions in life. It’s good. So good, I got it for one of my high school buddies. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to start discussing with my younger friends. I wish I did more pondering like this earlier on. Definitely worth the read in light of the cultural pressures around us! 

So the Next Generation Will Know by J Warner Wallace & Sean McDowell 

I feel like everyone is talking about this one lately… But with good reason! It’s a great resource for anyone working with youth or is a youth themselves or have birthed youths. For one thing I strongly respect in this book is their prioritization of how important it is we win the youth. Too many christian churches don’t do that. It’s sad. I think it’s because it’s frustrating – the new generations are really a whole new breed. And it DOES take WORK, but a labor of love. I wish everyone to read it and to get their hearts set on fire for this next generation. I honestly feel so badly for them with everything they’re up against. The future seems bleak, but these guys did a lot of great work with how to fight for them! (Spoiler: DISCIPLESHIP is everywhere in the solutions chapters!!) 

Blessed are the Misfits by Brant Hansen 

ANOTHER great one everyone seems to be reading. Which is fantastic. Everyone should read this book. It’s such a beautiful perspective on how every person’s walk with Jesus is unique. It was encouraging for myself as a reminder not to compare my walk with others, and a great encouragement for many people in my life who are very much not me and very much don’t fit the Freedom Fellowship “mold” of how you walk. Overall, it’s a great book that expands on the truth that God “meets us where we’re at.” Hansen lays out grace so well and critiques christian culture so entertainingly. I hope we can make this a staple and that I can learn to see people through Jesus’ eyes and help them learn grace as much as he’s shown it to me. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

OPE not a spiritual book! Nope, this was one fun one and the one I read in 3 days. LOL. It was just good. The drama, the mystery, the romance… I would recommend this to anyone! But I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂 

Unoffendable by Brant Hansen

ANOTHA ONE! Yup, he kinda won me with that first one. And this one was ALSO very good. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but lemme tell you – I felt REBUKED. It was a lot to think about. The premise is that we’re selfish and get angry at others for selfish reasons. But, we don’t have the right to get angry/annoyed/offended when we’re such sinners ourselves! Overall, it was really humbling. I was really thankful to read it when I did- about to go into a hard situation with hard to love people. And choosing not to be offended or angry beforehand changed the outcome of those events. I think I’ll need to read this one every couple of years given my self-righteous anger tendencies… (It would pair really nicely with an old classic, “Humility” by Andrew Murray.) 

What’s next? Currently reading: 

  • The Truth About Us by Brant Hansen
  • The Man in White by Johnny Cash

After that:

  • Christian Parenting by Dennis McCallum
  • & open for recommendations!!

Bucket List before Baby…

As soon as I found out I was pregnant I started having those thoughts: there’s so much I haven’t accomplished yet that I want to do! Dramatic, as per usual, and irrational. Of course I’ll have a life after babies. Since those initial talks, as I’ve talked to parents and reflected on what parenthood means, I’m actually getting more convinced that this is moreso where life actually begins rather than what I thought life was before. I am looking forward to it. 

Yet, to some extent, I know those thoughts remain because life will be different. And the main difference I started worrying about was this: time. There were so many things I wanted to fill my time with that I hadn’t yet.

But why? And what kinds of things? Why?: Because I am straight up lazy. The things I want to accomplish are completely within reach. It’s just that, I didn’t exercise the self discipline to make them happen before baby comes. And now that it’s coming… It’s time. 

So, the 2 main priorities I’ve found myself coming back to are as follows: 2) getting organized/clean/becoming a real adult. (My old roomies can attest: I’m not the most organized person. My physical belongings are often a great picture of what my thought life/emotional patterns are in that season. It’s rough. Gotta get that straightened out in order to keep this kid alive – as I’ve learned with multiple hospital bills being covered & quickly forgotten, then found months later… time to grow up.)
1) I want to read. I’ve always loved reading — as an escape. It’s been a hobby of mine since I was young, but I tend to read my favorites over & over because I like them. So, this is different: I want to grow. I want to take advantage of the insane amount of resources that are available to me! I want to exercise my mind instead of wasting away behind my phone. I want to be a good steward, become a better wife, friend, servant, Christ follower, evangelist, leader, mother and start by opening up the piles of books I have around me. 

So, with that, I decided to start reading – real, good books that will help. I don’t know how much time I’ll have to read when baby comes. Someone told me that you’ll have more time when they get older and you can take them to the playground and read a book as they run. But, babies – I’ve seen the constant attention they need! My bff mamas are so great and sacrificial, but they don’t have much time to sit back, read, sip coffee & reflect. (Audio books, though, I hear are life savers.) 

Then, my insanely smart & disciplined brother told me he has planned out what he’s reading THIS YEAR. I think ~20 books! For someone who has a newborn, works full time, does ministry basically full time – I thought: no way! So, I probably won’t do 20, but I think at least for me a book of month is reasonable. And challenging. And I need a challenge or else, frankly, my dears, I won’t give a damn. 

ANYWAY – why am I publishing this to my blog??? 2 reasons: 

  1. I’ve started this challenge already and have gotten through 3 books. AND IT IS HECKING AWESOME!! I am kicking myself in the butt for NOT doing this when I had more time! (Yes, you do have more time, even in college. I know, I know – you hate hearing it, but that’s just the truth.) WHY didn’t I do this before?? A chapter a day isn’t unachievable! My mind feels fully engaged! It literally feels like in Limitless when you have full brain access – so cool. SUCH a difference to spending ALL my free time zoning out behind my phone/my Netflix. (Trust me, I still do that plenty… But it’s really made me realize how much time I was giving those things. And how much they dont need.) 
    1. TLDR: I feel invigorated spiritually. I have more to talk about with God. I have more to think about my own faith, others, the future, the Bible. I’m learning so much of good, spiritual, sound information… all in small pages. 
    2. (I swear these are my words & not my English teaching husband who has to persuade people that books aren’t your enemy every day of his life… He has to do that for me, too. PTL.) 
  2. ACCOUNTABILITY! Yup, if I fail, then I want to do it publicly. (Not that many people are going to read this.) ((If anything, future me will read this past blog and feel the mix of shame/inspiration to begin again.)) But seriously, I want to stick with this as long as I can. This is NOT a waste of time! And I want to make it a habit that even after baby I will come back to. 
  3. surprise, 3 reasons: I want other people to do it, too. Honestly. I feel already I’ve wasted so many years not accessing incredible amounts of information around me. My heart breaks when my younger sisters say, “I hate reading.” I understand, it’s hard, it’s boring, it takes thoughtful energy (sometimes emotional energy), self-discipling. But, there’s so much we are missing. 

Anyway, that’s A LOT for a simple point: I’m trying to read more this year & so far, it is awesome. 

Thanks for coming to my TED talk. 

(Adding the tag: Good Reads to this post & to futures for reviews of books I might publish… If they’re good enough/I have the understanding to do so.)

27!

Another year in the books! 

Today I am TWENTY SEVEN YEARS OLD. That is a lot of years… But not too many. 

I am more than plenty shocked that I reached 27. There were times this past year I didn’t know if I could emotionally, spiritually or physically last. I really didn’t know. Yet, here we are! As I sit here writing this reflection I am swollen with tears of gratitude for every piece of my life. Every piece of the last year, every hope for the next. Without any doubts in my mind, so assuredly, I can say – I don’t know what the hell I did to deserve such a beautiful life.

There’s been pain. Yet, in the grand scheme of these 27 years, that has just been a background or a support to the beautiful things this old girl has seen.

Here are some things I’ve gotten to see recently: 

  • A deepening understanding of marriage ultimately bursting out of a more intense, prolonged, intricate understanding of another human being every day. And the copious amounts of beautiful moments one gets to have glimpses of while living side by side and being knitted to another human soul… I feel this taste of heaven is far too worthy for my self-focused, sin drowned self should ever have had the privilege to be granted. 
  • The storms people weather to be there for each other can be great, but never insurmountable. I’m so thankful for everything my people have done for me. Their actions are saturated in respect and deserve honorable recognition that I only can trust God will glorify them for. They’ve challenged me and confronted me with where I lack in responding selflessly toward them.
  • Growth – it’s real! The privilege has all been mine getting to be even the smallest fleck apart of some of these lady’s growth! Their faith shown in their emotional, spiritual, adulting growth, as they open their hearts to learn compassion, truth & trust has been overwhelmingly joyous. I’ve walked away from MANY conversations THIS WEEK simply awestruck and with no words but: “there is a God.” What else could explain the tremendous transformation in the people I interact with daily other than God himself? If it were something else, these people I see grow wouldn’t look the same – they’d look different. In a different way. But I know it’s God because each time I see them, their souls seem to shine brighter – meaning, I guess, they’re even more of who they were than the last time I saw them. It’s right & true to who they are, the person God made them to be. They’re simply becoming who they are, settled into the glory that is them in Christ. 

Here are some things I really look forward to this next year: 

  • Becoming a better wife. I have somehow scored the jackpot of husbands. He is on a whole ‘notha level. The way he lives is such an example to me. I just really hope and ask that I can be continually transformed to support that spirit in him. 
  • Becoming a better friend. I’m not a good friend. I’ve seen that so much this year. And friendship takes energy & willingness to fight for. I want to learn to fight better for these women God’s given me that sacrifice so much for me!
  • Becoming a better sister/daughter/daughter-in-law/sister-in-law. Family is just becoming more important to me every year. I’d like to help cultivate a loving family environment instead of being so self-focused. 
  • Becoming a better discipler. What an honor it is to be in the position to fight for someone else?! Yet, how terrifying that can be when our own sin shines brighter than Jesus! I hope to learn more how to rely on God and just point them to God before anything else. And become better at communicating what a freakin’ blast it is to be on God’s adventure of grace! 
  • Learning to bring everything back to the Gospel and bring it up whenever I can! It’s all about the Gospel, isn’t it? So, how can I forget it all the time?!
  • Being alive another year! Recently, I got some good news about my heart… That is, they don’t think anything is wrong with it! So, my chest pains, fatigue & dizziness are most likely due to my hormones still adjusting after having my thyroid removed. Which is a little annoying since that’s not really a solid answer with solid next steps. HOWEVER, I’ve found some things that make me feel a ton better. Not 100%, but MUCH better! Things like cutting out gluten & working out certain ways. I am so thankful for doctors, friends, medicine and nutrition to help us along. I am sad I can’t eat my 2 favs (beer & donuts) but it’s worth it to have a clear head and more energy than 2 naps could have given me before! PTL!
  • Hopefully I get to be a mom soon. 

OK, that’s it. That’s the end of 26 and the beginning of 27 for you. I can’t wait to see what happens. Thanks for being there for me through this year! 

Staying Salty

As the number of years I am alive grows, something I’ve sadly come face to face with is that life isn’t fun anymore. It’s just so different now. I don’t get to taste adventure on my lips at the start of every day, I’m not eager to find out new things and take detours. It’s just much more practical and getting harder to see the color. I’ve described it to a couple of people that growing older is like losing color.

With this slow tilt to grayscale comes more difficulties getting excited about the not-so-practical – or, the spiritual – in my life. The sad day has come (or just begun) that I’ve been dreading… God isn’t as romantic as he once was to me since life isn’t as romantic. Waking up and living for him is getting harder. My soul isn’t aching with praise, my bones aren’t shouting to joy – they just kind of grumble for sleep all the time. It’s stupid, sad, annoying and depressing. Why couldn’t it be like it used to be? When I was simply in love “with the God of my youth”? 

As much as this natural digression is happening, I’m determined to not let it settle. I know I won’t always feed off of passions and convictions as my life becomes less about me and more about others, family, & responsibilities. I’ve already noticed doubts forming because I think too much of my faith was founded in passion and not everlasting, solid truths of who is God. So, over the last couple months, I feel like I’ve had to take it up a notch with God. Try some new things. Get uncomfortable. Discipline myself. And call on God for more than I ever have had to do before. I don’t know if this is “right” necessarily, but a wake up call is exactly what was called for before I slide too far into the dusty drabness I was heading. I hope it continues. I really don’t want to settle for a distant God who isn’t involved in my moment to moment decisions, who isn’t leading me on daily adventures and isn’t asking me to choose faith in every circumstance. I think what I want is my faith to remain salty! 

So, as I call on God for more things than I feel like I ever have (practical or no, still large things that wouldn’t have happened if not for his intervention and strength) … He’s taught me some new tips and tricks for remaining faithful as life becomes less about what I can’t see and more about what’s on the to-do list… And here are 3 huge things he’s whispered into my life. (Which is so exciting and I feel so privileged to have a little spark from Him. He’s still there and still so good, so personal, so understanding…) 

  1. You can’t feel faith
    1. This idea swirled around my life for the past year – I just couldn’t muster the feeling of faith and every time I was faced with a decision to turn to God, I never ever, ever felt like I WANTED to… Surprise! Sinful Elli still exists. There are days when I feel like she’s grown stronger than ever (whether that’s true or not, it’s a challenge.) 
    2. So, I came to the realization that —- DUH: Faith isn’t a feeling. Wait, I think I’ve been saying this for the past 10 years of my life. Why is it just clicking now? Well, it’s “hitting different” as the kids these days would say. When I’m really faced with some terrifying, faith breaking, emotionally draining, physically daunting realities I never had to face before – and then God asks me to choose faith instead of fear… HOW?! Well, Faith isn’t a feeling. It’s a choice. Some people like to swap the word faith for “trust.” Which is a little more concrete. You don’t always feel like trusting someone. It’s scary, hard, vulnerable, and uncontrolled. You don’t know the outcome.
    3. I’ve been wrestling with anxiety. Nothing crazy, but I think some residue from health issues and fears I don’t know how to process. But this anxiety has taken such a form of its own in so many new areas of my life because I’ve let it. Because it was easier to feel fearful. It made sense to be fearful. My body TELLS ME to be fearful, so I go with it, and the anxiety wins and has been gaining ground. This was a terrible mistake on my part. I forgot how quickly emotions get out of hand and I forgot how much power my choice has in dealing with emotions. God’s asking me to choose faith over fear. To trust him over freaking out in those instances and I realize – it’s not going to ever be the choice that feels natural. That’s what I realize in Psalms (our summer reading plan.) David had emotions, he didn’t “choose against them” to become a stone-face non-person. But what he did was chose IN them. While feeling the fear, the anxiety, the rage, the guilt, the sadness; he presented these before the Lord and then would decide to place them in God’s hands and trust him with the outcome. It’s a CHOICE – will I “identify” as anxious, or as “in Christ.” 
  2. I need to go to God’s Word for conviction. 
    1. Again, too many of my passions about God came from feeling. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I know feelings don’t last – they actually fade out of memory very quickly. And are subject to much change over any given amount of time. On the other hand, I think faith should be more like a work out – like in Philippians 2 – “Work out your salvation.” Wrestle with it. Figure it out. God will come into contact with each person differently since each person is different, but God is universally the same and never changing. These concepts require wrestling, taking time to understand, and really grasp not just applaud and wash right through you. 
    2. That means, the essential factor will come straight from God’s Word. The moments I’m weakest are when I drift away from the Bible. Thoughts seep in, feelings I haven’t felt in years, doubts rage uncontrolled – because I’m not constantly getting more information and my mind likes to fill in the gaps with its own ideas. 
    3. And I can’t muster my own ideas about God. Yes; poets, songwriters, authors all have wonderful things to say about him, but you can tell when the heart of these pieces are based in scripture, in what God says about himself. Lofty convictions that come from emotions aren’t going to last long. What does? When God himself tells me about who he is. Which is QUITE funny… if you think about it. I catch myself so often wondering “where is God here, why isn’t he talking to me about it” or even making up ideas about maybe what God would say or do or even just shrugging him off completely… But that would be like having all these questions and talking yourself through these dilemmas about a friend, while they’re sitting RIGHT NEXT TO YOU! Doiiii… Just open the Word. See what he has to say for himself!
    4. I’ve really seen recently the spiritual battle is just to open the Bible. And then once you’re there, not to rush through so you can literally check off today’s date in your reading plan or feel good for a second about God’s promises, but not actually look deep into your life to see how these Words need to remake your view of God. It’s so easy to skip over, yet I truly believe God wants to talk to us himself, all we have to do is open our Bibles and our hearts to what he has to say. 
    5. Don’t expect some big, deep, awesome, joy-inducing conviction if you’re not in your word. Yeah, we have the Holy Spirit inside of us, so I do believe he convicts, obviously. But the Word has the power to cut through both joint & marrow, soul & spirit… and it even has the power to discern the thoughts and intentions of the human heart.
  3. Fun, excitement, romance, life always, always, always, always can be found in, when we go back to, if we can simply remember the fact that – Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. 
    1. What can break through the fog of life like rays of sunshine better than anything else? LOVE! The fact that there is a God of the universe who created all things, who is present in this life, who cheers along his creation not wanting to see them fall, who is ready to give chance after chance after chance, and who greatly sacrificed so that we could live life abundantly. Love.
    2. Yes, this is where joy comes in the morning. When you wake up and realize the whole why of how I got here – because God had compassion on me. And he ransomed my sin. And he set me free because he loves me. 

Today, I get to experience the joy of those who are faithful to the Lord their God, after many months of wrestling with Him, and battling to lift open the Bible day after day – he answers. 

There have been some good days & some really bad days, but God remains faithful. The question is: will we? 

Through Heaven’s Eyes

“When all you’ve got is nothing, it’s enough to go around.” – Through Heaven’s Eyes, Prince of Egypt

I had the pleasure of studying and then teaching an incredibly significant part of the Bible this week. Because of the weight I’ve felt from studying, my human limitations in communicating the burdens and then my ability to forget such momentous convictions – I’ve decided to do a little reflection. I hope to make it a habit for every passage I get to study in depth.

The passage: Exodus 2:11-4:20. Here’s what happens in these jam-packed chapters:
Context – Exodus is after the book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible. I felt lucky because I also just had the privilege of studying the very end of Genesis, with the conclusion of the Joseph story (kind of). I got to study chapter 50, in particular, verse 20 where Joseph’s brothers come to him and confess/seek a kind of apology for the wrong they did to him (if you don’t know: they sold him into slavery). His response is one only someone who’s seen God work through many years of difficulties could respond: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” This dude was a baller. He’s totally able to see everything he’s been through, through “heaven’s eyes”.
So, Jo’s bros and entire family get to come with Joseph into Egypt. Hundreds of years go by (400) and as they do, things do not progress well for the Israelite people (Joseph & his 11 brothers represent the 12 tribes of the Hebrew nation). They multiply like crazy to the extent that Pharaoh becomes a little overwhelmed and chooses to enslave them in Egypt so that they won’t rise up against Egypt and take over. So, they’re enslaved and extremely abused, but the more they hurt, the more God blesses his people and they multiply! So, Pharaoh orders all the male babies to be killed (if you don’t have men to be an army, they won’t be able to attack – insert finger-tapping-forehead meme here). This is when Moses enters the scene. Basically, his mom saves him, gets picked up by Pharaoh’s daughter, gets raised by mom but then becomes a prince of Egypt.
Chapter 2 verse 11 begins: “Then when Moses had grown up” – meaning, 40 years later. He’s 40. Which is reassuring to a 26 year old who hardly feels grown – 40 is officially “grown up”. What really strikes me, though, is the preparation and combination of circumstances that lead to what happens next. Moses yes, was a Prince of Egypt, but he was also raised by his God-fearing parents for the first 12-13 years of his life! So, he’s probably got a solid foundation of who God is, of the promise God makes to free the Israelites after 400 years of slaver in Genesis 15. He’s probably been groomed to understand this is going to happen and then he enters the palace – a place where he was secularly trained, given authority, wealth and power. I mean, he’s probably thinking at this point that he is God’s man in the inside. If anyone were to set the people free, it would be him. I mean, come on!
But that’s not what happens next. He definitely tries – by murdering an Egyptian who was attacking a Hebrew… But now he’s a murderer. Everyone finds out, his own people reject him as a murderer (probably as a spoiled brat prince, too?), and Pharaoh tries to kill him. So, he runs away – to Midian. To be a wandering shepherd. Probably dwelling everyday on his failure – his immense, utter failure. Now, when I taught this, I think I didn’t make this point clear enough – Moses had to learn he was a failure. Just like we do. He had to learn his sin, he had to mess up to see his weakness. Before he messed up, he thought he was the best! So often, we don’t see our sin! We can’t see our limitation! And it’s always a surprise to us. And it was to Moses – so much so, that it kind of seems like he gave up on life. Just chilling, wasting away in Midian-ville. Ready to die a failure. That also isn’t good, though, right? Yeah, we need to see our failure, but then do we dwell in it for 40 more years? Take ourselves out of God’s playing field because we messed up once? Well, I think that’s what he learns next and the big point of this passage – God wasn’t done with an 80 year old murderer. He had him right where he wanted him. God, so graciously, approaches Moses, in his failures, and says: so, you know how you are a sinner? You can see that now? OK, great. Now, maybe, you’re ready to do it my way. Moses’s weaknesses had to drive him to God.
The rest of the passage is an awesome conversation between God (in the form of a burning bush) and Moses. God calls Moses to go back to Egypt to set His people free… But Moses pulls out every excuse in the book not to go! How relatable! It was cool to see people in my home church really connect with at least one, if not more, of these excuses. Cool, and humbling. Because these excuses are pride: not only: I can’t do it. But: God, you can’t do this.
Moses eventually gets down and says: I just don’t want to go. After all the excuses he’s honest. Yet, God provides a person to go with Moses – his own brother, who he hasn’t seen in 40+ years.
God’s name is revealed in Moses’ excuses. God lets him in on his personal name – I AM, Yahweh. And this is a point that also really hit me for several reasons:

  • God’s starting the plan of salvation history – revealing his name to his people to let them in on the fact that they are his people. And now we can know God’s personal name, too, even if we aren’t Jews.
  • It’s him showing Moses: this is who I am. I AM NOT who you think I am, who you want me to be. I Am and have always been and always will be this way. Not “my God” this or that. “Well, My God would never say that”, “my God wouldn’t judge you for that”. No, there’s only one God here. Take him at his word.
  • It really is his universe. The meaning of what it is to be, from the beginning throughout eternity really sinks in. And honestly, listening to the Prince of Egypt soundtrack kind of hit this point home for me: “Look at your life through heaven’s eyes” – it’s essentially saying, how is God’s plan moving around you and how can you join him? You don’t know why this is happening – you could look at it through limited human cares and worries. But look at the bigger picture of what’s happening around you. The great I AM is working all around us, when we think about that, our complaints don’t seem to matter so much. We can put aside things that distract, that aren’t contributing to His plan. And that is FREEING to know God is constantly at work, even though he is great. He cares for us and wants to help us get on his page.

It’s pretty amusing that Moses doesn’t really get a choice, though. God had decided to use Moses, apparently. It seems like he goes, willingly, but not after God goes through so much effort to make him say “YES”. I don’t think he makes him, though. But I’m glad he did go. I’m glad he made those excuses so that we can see what God would say to ours. And I’m really glad that God doesn’t just brush aside the failures and the fearful – but he hears us out and grants grace upon grace so we can be apart of his wonderful rescue mission.

“When all you’ve got is nothing, it’s enough to go around.” – Makes sense, now. When I don’t have anything to offer, God can work.

How did it come to this

The weight is so heavy. 

Its fingers wrap through my bones

Between my lungs 

Deep into my soul. 

I can’t tell if it’s real or empty

But the hurt feels so real. 

Like a fallen world has finally seeped 

Down deep into that which has never been exposed. 

How did it come to this? 

My eyes look for a way out every hour. 

How did it come to this? 

May the father quickly console and carry out his plans. 

Fast, be swift. For the pain crushes and sucks the joy from deep within. 

My hands wear thin. 

I am bent. Spent entirely on this reckless hate. 

Will it ever be the same?

The Cure to Fear?

“… for a day in your courts is better than 1,000 years outside… No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprigthly…” Psalm 84

 

Fear and anxiety deplete life. They hang around your neck like a noose, they swarm over you like a cold sweat, they keep your eyes open to anything and everything that “could” happen with no rest. It sucks to live in fear, in the “what if”, in the unknown. There’s no comfort because what can we know? What do we as humans have control over? What circumstances should we be prepared for? It’s depleting, it’s agonizing, it’s overwhelming to live this way.

 

And that’s where I’ve been the last few month – paralyzed by fear. As my friends well know, it started with my health. Things started happening that I had NO control over. They’d happen and it felt as if I were close to death at times! But, I cannot be sick! I cannot DIE! I have so much more planned! So much more I want to accomplish. So many more memories I want to make with my husband, with my friends. So many people I want to see grow. Even as I type it now – I think of those things with an attitude of “mine”.

 

But as death seemed more plausible (was it? I don’t think so. I never was in danger of death as much as anyone else is… But there were many times it FELT like it. My heart beating way too fast for days, my throat closing, my chest pain… It sure did feel like something was very wrong.) So, the more death loomed, the more I lived in fear. It’s happening. It’s going to happen and I have absolutely NO control of it happening. And I started to grieve. Even if I didn’t die, I grieved the pain I was experiencing, the nights missed due to this sickness, my old life that I feel I’ll never be able to return to. The opportunities the doctors say will be “risky” and will need “supervised”. This isn’t what I thought life would be! It made me not look forward to life and not want to out of fear. How can I hope if it’s all going to go away/be wrong?

 

So, this fear has been weighing on me. It still has a little hold. But recently, God gave me the opportunity to take some time dwelling on one of his characteristics: Sovereignty. Sovereignty… Not something I’ve pondered too much before. Why should I? College kids don’t really care what happens tomorrow – Gods plan was easy to trust bc at least he had one. Live or die – who cares! Life is awesome! I realized that the older I have become, the more I cling to what I want out of life. The more responsibilities I have, the more I feel tied down to earth and not heaven. The more people I love, the more I get attached to our experiences together on earth. The more I could lose, you know?

 

Sovereignty was a wake up call. Sovereignty proves that GOD is in control. He has a plan. He knows everything. And it will happen the way he wants it to. Now, something I never understood before is that God isn’t necessarily orchestrating the bad stuff, the stuff I’m afraid of happening, but he is using it. He uses the good and the bad to accomplish his bigger plan and to get us to be a part of it. The more I ponder this, the more anxiety I feel!! Because that means things WILL GO WRONG!! Right? Of course they will! It’s life! Things need to go wrong for God to use them for good! Oh God – what does that mean, what’s going to happen to me? I don’t think I could take more pain, the thought of leaving my husband alone or him leaving me!

 

And God had an answer to these fears. It was a simple answer, one I hear OFTEN. BUT is so hard to accept. His answer is this: Don’t you trust me?

Hmm… well, no, I guess I don’t. You see, God, I want things my way! I want my memories, my life, my relief! I don’t want things to go wrong. But… God doesn’t promise things to always go right. And frankly, he allows free will – which includes evil, which means bad things will happen in this life. BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN, ELLI! And that’s not on God.

What is on him is trust. Am I willing to let him work out good through the bad? I am about to go on a plane and my silly anxiety of course popped up: “Hey Elli, what if you all die in a plane crash?” That’s ridiculous. Not because it’s not possible, but because I can’t control that! And I realized, through the lens of God’s sovereignty that if I did… He’ll use it! Somehow, he will use the plane crash for our good, his glory and the benefit of other people/the expansion of his Kingdom!

 

THAT is crazy. That’s wild! This is ENTIRELY eye opening to me! God can do so much with our trust and our anti-trust (fear/anxiety) prohibits him from enjoying a life lived in his hands. That even if there is pain, hurt, disappointment, failure – he can still use it. Will we trust him with it? Will we LET GO so that he can work? So that we can enjoy life, NOT tied to our circumstances, but free to see what he does with the evil that happens? He can make ALL things good for those who seek Him. For those who fear him. For those who trust him.  His ways are NOT our ways! They’re so much better! We do NOT have to fear for God is with us! His presence alone can reassure us that whatever happens, no matter what, he will be there, with us, with those affected, using it for his glory, our good and the expansion of His Kingdom.

 

Oh Lord, I pray SO MUCH that you help me RELEASE my grip & control on my circumstances! That you BUILD my trust in you by getting to know you – so my trust can be in YOU, who you really are and not in my doubts. Lord, Let me see you for who you really are and NOT what my stupid sinful heart and mind have put you into. I am CONVINCED that all of our problems stem from what we know of you! Lord, open my heart to see your face more and more everyday. Help me let go of my fear, what I cling to, and open my heart to what you have in store. No matter what happens. I know you can make good happen out of ANYTHING! PRAISE THE LORD!!! He is good!

Help me, I’m suffering

Here are some silly thoughts as I’m processing some pain:

As the weeks go by, I can’t help but become more frustrated! Less & less do my past passions seem real. I was young, naive (okay, still both). Unable to understand the extent of what I proclaimed. But coming face to face with pain — it’s hard not to think of anything else other than the pain. And that truth, those passions = dust. Popped, withered, scattered around. Trampled on. Lifeless. Not true to me now!
Yet, God has set me up for this. I see it every day. While my flesh wants to react against it – no, there’s no way out of this. It hurts! That’s all! …My Father raps my shoulder to show me – “Did I not introduce you to certain words, certain people, certain ideas from a young age (those “dusty passions” you threw off so quickly) for this very moment? You fell head over heals for the powerful, steadfast women who soothed you then and are trying to soothe you now. Corrie, Elisabeth, Amy, Rose Marie, Martha… their words lights to you in your emotional distresses, now beacons in your physical and fear. Can’t you remember the truth? Can’t you remember the words in the Book? The truth, the life, the freedom… They’re real. I can handle it. Trust.”
Alas, my issue from years ago haunts me still… But it doesn’t FEEL LIKE IT, God! I just want it to be OVER! To this, I haven’t had an answer and I know I don’t get one. What I get is this: trust everyday. The pain is temporary, but life is eternal.
“So we must listen very carefully to the truth we have heard, or we may drift away from it.”
Hebrews 2:1 (weird application, but comforting.)

Joy-injected

Hi! It’s been a minute.

Well, for those who know, you know I process a lot by writing. And I haven’t been writing, so I don’t think I’ve been processing a lot. It’s been quite the past couple of weeks so I cannot truly imagine all of the things I have been refusing to process.

However, as usual, God arrested me and forced me to stop and to think about everything happening in my life. BUT he forced me to look at it differently. I have been thinking about things, but through this lens of negativity. Everything had bumps, ditches, hurdles, crashes, pitfalls – everything was negative. It was like I couldn’t win!

And I did feel isolated for quite some time. What with my health dragging me down and ministry crumbling to bits – I felt like a failure trying to put out raging forest fires with no knowledge of how and only holding a watering can for help. God did not feel close.

As I read the Word – he sometimes appeared. I read through Genesis and it was fun! But, he was so far away. That was so long ago. Yet, he still made his attributes known. But then I felt like he wasn’t here even still! Who were we to care about! In middle of nowhere Ohio with a bit too much pride and hardly any gifting, with no experience and low IQ’s, with hardly any energy and no insight – who were we to help?? I started feeling like the world was very big and I was very small and stuck in a tiny box – doomed to repeat and repeat and repeat and to burn and burn and burn.

So, it all seemed like it was going to shit in my head. Until this week. I started getting some divine intervention, I would call it.

  1. I got a diagnosis. My health has been dragging me down for a while – it’s felt like a chain around my legs, my arms and sometimes my throat. I couldn’t do some many things (still can’t) that I expected to do. Yet, they kept coming and I didn’t know how to live! BUT – finally – after all of the doctors and all of the months, it turns out I wasn’t CRAZY! And it seems, as of now, to be a pretty straightforward diagnosis with next steps! I am not dying like I have felt every day since August! And soon, I will see a doctor that can help.
  2. I saw Prati. At just the right time, as I was about to crumble under exhaustion and pressures – Prati walked into the door. It wasn’t long, but it was enough to remind me of so many things in my life. Her presence is so encouraging in itself, but so many truths rushed back into my head from even seeing her! She held me, she told me she loved me and missed me and that in itself was just too much. I remembered what she told me: I am special – God views me as his prized possession, He wants me, He loves me, I am not here by mistake, I am loved by the creator himself, I have a plan, I have things in my heart that were given to me by him, I have so much! And I am so thankful she came in to save the day – literally sent by God. There’s a piece of me that says – it was random and she was there for business and it actually didn’t feel that special. Maybe true, but there is no denying the truths that came out of that interaction aren’t real. And life changing. And peace giving.
    1. (More on who the heck Prati is –> here)
  3. On my way home from (another) long day of work, I started listening to a teaching about: If our lives actually matter. He started by asking the questions: Doesn’t life just feel repetitive & pointless? Do you ever feel like you’re just living to work, only left with looking forward to vacation next year? What makes our lives significant? And he then applied it in some weird ways but used Luke 14 – where Jesus tells the host don’t invite your friends, “instead invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you.” — for some reason this just hit me. When Greear asked those questions – that is how I had begun to feel about life! I felt like it was just another day, another task, another hurdle and it will all reset for tomorrow. Life felt lifeless. But then I realized that the answer to the question – what makes life worth it – was right in front of me! — PEOPLE. People are what makes life worth living! Not the job, the annoyances, the vacations, the money, your youth, the fun, the whatever – no, it’s the people. And God really struck me in the heart with that. How many people do I interact with per day? How many times have I overlooked someone who was perfectly placed in my life? How many opportunities have I missed to give to someone? Man, all these questions made me not guilty, but HAPPY. Happy that I don’t have to just go from one thing to another, but that I can look into a person’s eyes, see them the way God sees them and rejoice. For this is my purpose! To look out into the world and explore God’s creation. To see them as gems and jewels, come to life my God’s spirit in them. And in the process, teaching them that this is in fact who they are! This is why they are here, too! They are here to live their lives out as worshipers of God, interacting with other offspring and bringing him glory in our joy for being created!

SO, yeah – I felt stuck and weighed down. Honestly, I still do. But it wouldn’t be walking in faith if it were easy all the time, would it? I feel very fortunate to have opportunities to choose God’s ways instead of my own and despite my feelings. And I feel like God is pushing me forward, not letting me miss anything I’d regret. And I feel he is catching me before I hit the ground, right at the last second, when I’m about to crack my head open – saving me by whispering little truths into my ears to KEEP GOING. That he is there, that he loves me, that life is worth it, that people are worth everything, and to keep seeking him because it is there I will find the peace and joy I am looking for.

I am so blessed to have Jesus in me. I am so blessed to be able to interact with God – a two-way relationship where I sometimes even feel him at work in me, correcting me, encouraging me, loving me, strengthening me and more.

I cannot walk away from the day and say that God was not at work here – he is always! His hands are so obvious. And it’s so funny to think that I have wasted so many recent days on feeling hopeless and despairing. No, life with him is an adventure every step. It DOES NOT feel that way most times, but when I take a step back – there is NO denying it! God is there, he is holding our hands, he knows me, he rejoices in me and he knows where my foot will fall.