perfect love casts out fear

What exactly does that mean? I’ve been learning that this last week. Well, God has probably been trying to get through that wall for quite some time and it’s finally starting to sink in.wpid-eebb16dd1b0f7b9227d3d3582585ccee.jpg

1 John 4: 18 reads:
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.”

I’ve been blessed with some great friends, but there are a couple that currently come to my mind when I hear the phrases real and authentic. This last year hasn’t exactly been easy on any of us. They’ve been facing their own storm while I’ve been dealing with mine and because of the depth of our relationship, I hurt when they hurt. I’ve recently discovered how true it is vice versa.

There’s something about the fact that our storms have seemed to coincide with one another. Mine exploded on the scene two weeks after theirs’ began. And this week, during the six month mark, their storm has reached a climax of sorts. Not wanting to burden their-already-full plate, I’ve kept my own personal pain and issues to myself this last week. Side note: I don’t recommend doing that. Ever. If you’re struggling with something, share it with someone, but share it with love, grace and take great care in who you share that information with.

As I mentioned, their storm, although not over, culminated this week. I received a phone call mid-afternoon with the bare minimum when it came to details (fact: that never sits well with me, detail-oriented gal that I am). At the time, I figured that was all the pertinent information they were able to give at that time and I didn’t feel I had the right to ask any additional questions I may have had as I was still at the office. But under the surface, I didn’t want a repeat of the week that all hell broke loose in their lives, and yet, I wanted to give them both the space and time they needed while still trying to be there for them. I even went to the gym – as planned – in an effort to burn off some of the emotional stress. Not all of it, apparently.

I didn’t want to invade my friends’ privacy nor did I want to come across as too nosy while give her the space I knew she needed, so I reached out through a private message, not expecting any response. I got one that didn’t sit well with me.

One of the many things that drives me bonkers with social media, email and texting is that you cannot hear inflection or tone, as you can with a phone call or speaking with them face-to-face,  nor can you read body language, as you can in person. So many things can be misunderstood and become twisted.

The message I got back was filled with periods. Very straight forward. Direct. Too the point. And cold.

Too cold.

I didn’t like it.

My heart didn’t like it.

I wasn’t sure if I should or even could reach out to her husband, so I chose to hold off. Before long, my mind reverted to my usual M.O. – the one where I, ever the optimist, dive off the deep end into the land of worst-case scenarios. It’s like I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to relationships, as it has seemed to when I look back. The lie that Satan spins when it comes to “this relationship being too good to be true” comes to fruition when he starts pushing my buttons. Believe me when I say he knows where to hit it just right. I was under spiritual attack and that attack led an attack mentally and emotionally. Maybe even a little bit physically. I was tempted to shut the door and walk away before life got any messier than it already was. It was an invitation to take the coward’s way out.

Then God hit me with what I like to call a Gibbs to the backside of the head with the truth (if you’ve seen NCIS, you know to what I’m referring…than you pop culture!), metaphorically speaking.

Truth #1: I am not a coward.

Truth #2: I am a daughter of God and I can do all things through him — I can remain content no matter the situation. I can stand strong in him in the face of adversity. And I can be still in the midst of any storm life may throw my way.

Truth #3: I am loved and I am known. Deeply, unconditionally and completely.

Truth #4: I was not going to walk away from something good; something God himself brought into my life at a time when I needed it most. It was evident that I still needed this very good thing.

This relationship is real.

Life isn’t always easy. It’s messy and beautiful broken in ways I’m just starting to see.

It was/is time for my walls to come down; to let others in; to let them see the real me — all of me. I’m not even sure I know who she is…we’re still getting to know each other. But God knows her and thinks she’s pretty amazing and worth knowing. Here goes…

God is doing something amazing in my life with this relationship and I don’t want to miss it.

I had finally reached a point in my evening where I’d had enough of moping around and making assumptions I had no right to make. I knew this downward spiral wasn’t my best yes and it wouldn’t stop unless I chose to stop it. I also knew that I wouldn’t sleep unless I spoke with someone; someone who knows me, knows my heart and was in the midst of the storm that was swirling.

I knew the one directly facing the circumstances wasn’t going to be in a place to speak, so I called the other.

He answered on the first ring.

The conversation that followed is one of the hardest and best I’ve gotten to experience this side of eternity. It was raw and it was real. There were tears and the invitation to carry one another’s burdens widened even further. Love and deep appreciation were reaffirmed. Real love. The kind that drives out fear.

1 John 4:18 was taking root in my heart as we spoke.

I’ve never – and I mean “never” – had a relationship like this before. I’ve gone through the majority of my life assuming I would always have relationships that would never get any deeper than sub-surface (not to the heart level, anyway) and that they would come and go with the changes in life, like they always seemed to. When the going got tough, people walked away. I’ve believed the lie that grew in my heart when I was a child — that I would never have long-lasting ,deeper-than-surface (or sub-surface) level relationships because I’m too sensitive; too neurotic at times; too “me.”

What a crock!

Experiencing this is a first for me. I’m not perfect. I’m going to mess up. I’m going to say and do stupid things that a simple “backspace” or “delete” won’t undo. There’s a lot of hurt beneath the surface of what others see; a lot of things that God and I are working through. Those things will take time to work through and heal and it will only happen if I choose to face it. I don’t want to miss out. I’m deeply grateful for their patience and love. I’m starting to learn to believe and starting to comprehend just what it means to really have someone in my corner, God included; to have someone truly mean it when they say that won’t be giving up on you.

It’s one thing to experience unconditional love from family, but it’s another to receive that love from someone who hasn’t seen the ins and outs of day-to-day living and all that comes with it.

I’m in awe.

God’s love is like that. The only difference is that his love isn’t based on our human condition. I don’t have to earn it. I don’t have to fight for it. It’s based on who He is.

This love isn’t just available to me. It’s available to everyone, including you. It doesn’t matter what your past holds or what your present circumstances are. It’s all about him. It comes down to a choice: choosing him. It’s a choice that needs to be made each day…sometimes each moment. Will you let him love you where right where you are?

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a christmas testimony, 2014

To give means to freely transfer the possession of something to someone. God gave. John 3:16 tells us that God loved the world, loved us, so much that He gave Himself so that we could have eternal life; so that we could have Him if we choose to believe in and follow Him.

That’s one of the key messages of the gospel: God showered upon us His unconditional love, great mercy, and generous grace. Christmas is about giving all of that and so much more.

Jesus said that it is “better to give than to receive” (reference Acts 20:35).

God gave.

You gave and continue to give.

My family and I have spent quite a bit of time reflecting over the last year and our time here at Living Rock. I recall a message from July about being tested. We have been in so many ways. We’ve seen God’s hand at work in all of this and can still say that although we don’t understand what He’s doing, we trust that He is ultimately good. He gave us that message about being tested, preparing us for what was to come. We count this trial as pure joy because this testing is building perseverance in our faith and depth in our relationships with one another.

In October, through the “Jesus Is…” series, we talked of God’s provision and He has so graciously provided in every way imaginable and continues to provide. God knows our needs and He’s met them before we were even aware of them. He has given us so much. He brought us to Living Rock, knowing we would need support from the body of Christ in our darkest hour. Prior to calling Ashley home, He sent our hired hands who have been there through thick and thin and continue to do the work required to get us all through the day. He provided the foundation we continue to build our faith upon. He gave us you; our community and our home.

Paul talks about giving thanks in all circumstances in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. We are so incredibly grateful – grateful for the time we had with Ashley; grateful for the gift of His Son, Jesus; grateful for the gift of eternal life by faith; grateful for the body; grateful for you. Because of you – your ongoing support, unconditional love and grace – we’ve come to a deeper understanding of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Thank you for being the love of God in our lives. Mere words cannot express the depth of gratitude we feel and that is the message God has given us this Christmas. All the glory goes back to Him.

As this Christmas season is upon us, we ask that you continue to pray for us as we continue to heal and also pray for forgiveness as God has forgiven us, but not to forget where we have been or where we are at as we move forward.

the things that heal, part I

There are quite a several anointed artists who come to my mind when I think of those God has gifted with the extraordinary talent of putting His Word, the Scriptures, to music: Chris Tomlin, David Crowder, Christy Nockels, Kim Walker-Smith, Tim Neufield and countless others. And in those first moments of processing my sister’s death and the days and weeks since, I have found great comfort in their gift and will be forever grateful to God for those talents and to them for answering His call on their lives.  And, for some reason, I felt driven to share the following with you:

A sweet melody began the day my sister died and hasn’t ended since.

The first thing I did the moment I disconnected the call with my mom was turn on my music.

My broken hallelujah…

He lives…I can face tomorrow [..the next moment…the next breath…the next step]

The last thing I could do (or wanted to do) in those critical, early moments when shock and denial set in was sit down, pick up my Bible and search the Scriptures for answers to the emerging questions. I didn’t have the time nor did I have the energy. One thought surfaced in my mind: I need to get home. Now. Tonight. I also needed to focus on and do the next thing and the thing after that, until I got to a point where I could finally meet the ultimate goal of going home. I needed to be with family. To be near them. To touch them…I couldn’t do that from over 250 miles away.

More than ever before, I needed to hear God’s voice and wanted to be comforted.

The silence was deafening. I never really understood that phrase until then. Have you ever heard a loud roar that drowned your thoughts and set your soul into a panic, knowing you were the only person who could hear it?

My chest ached, my heart felt as if this huge hole had been blown into it and the silence was so loud, my mind screamed for relief.

I turned the radio on. As the last refrain of In Christ Alone flooded the room, my soul stilled, ever so slightly. I felt the arms of the Almighty envelop my heart and calm my mind, helping me to focus on what needed to be done next.

I needed to contact my boss to get work in order.
I needed to call the friend I had the opportunity to love on that night; to let her know what had happened and to cancel any plans for the foreseeable future.
I needed to reach out to my pastor and friend and humbly ask that he make the rest of those calls for me. I couldn’t relive the nightmare in telling one person after another. God gave me the sense to request that only a select few contact me…the rest could wait…and even though my mind was tempted to focus on what they would think, God stilled my thoughts in one short phrase.

Focus on Me.

The words to I’d Rather Have Jesus floated through the room. Strange how I remember the song, the wording, the verbiage that God used during those early moments upon my entering the “valley of the shadow,” this place that seems so dark and empty. I’m just beginning to understand what David talks about in Psalm 23.

God continued to use that music to take those next steps, to pack and load up the car, to reach out to my grandmother to see if she wanted to carpool down with me as I really wasn’t in the best shape to drive alone and so much more.

Music poured from the car speakers on the drive down. I may not remember much of that drive, but I do remember hearing

Fear not, He is with us, oh be not dismayed
For He is our God, our Sustainer and Strength…
Upheld in His merciful, almighty hand…
How sure our salvation
The soul that is trusting in Jesus as Lord
Will press on enduring the darkest of storms
…and telling my Grandma how strange it was that these songs had taken on a whole new meaning.

When sorrows like sea billows roll
…It is well with my soul

Truth. A gift from the very heart of God set to instrumental movement.

A balm to my already-battered soul.

Even after I arrived home and the days and weeks that have followed, music has been a constant in our lives. My mom listens to KNWC 96.5 without fail. We had the Sirius Message station playing on the TV, if it was even on. There were moments of needed silence, but otherwise the radio or someone’s MP3 player have been on. Constant. And God has used it.

It’s been over seven weeks since those early days and music continues to play a role in my healing. Many songs carry a new, deeper meaning to me now, different than it was before. Then again, I’m discovering I’m not the girl I was in July…or even August 3rd. I’ve changed and am changing. Aren’t we all?

While I’ve begun to maintain a consistent conversation with God throughout the day and learning to patiently wait in the silence as I continue to seek Him, music has been a buffer.

A buffer between the moments of deafening silence I still experience at times.
A buffer between calls at work.
A buffer when I’m at the gym.
A buffer when I’m doing regular household chords like washing the dishes or cleaning the bathroom.

A comfort in this land in-between.

Now — I’m not saying that I listen to “tunage” all day long. I allow myself those initial moments of silence in the morning, when I find myself sitting at the feet of Jesus, knowing that I won’t make it through the day without Him and humbly asking that He join me. As I question Him and life in this crisis of faith. Hold me as needed. Walk with me. Carry me when I can’t take another step and help me be still in the midst of the tumultuous waves. Music isn’t my end all or be all. It’s simply one of the many ways God speaks to me.

Just this morning, a series of songs have spoken to me. My desk radio has been playing quietly in the background. It’s been a week full of both good days and tough days. I used tumultuous earlier and I think I’ll stick with that one. But in the midst of this storm, the following words wash over me and lift me up, God speaking through each and every single one. He’s even gifted me with some Scripture to lean on and I find myself falling in love with Him all over again.

I lay me down
I am not my own
I belong to You alone…
There’s no life apart from You
It will be my joy to say
Your will, Your way
Always    — Chris Tomlin

“Surrender”

Surrender to me. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. James 4:7, paraphrase

Remain in me and I will remain in you. You cannot face this apart from me. John 15:4, paraphrase

Give me your heart and let yourself see my ways. Proverbs 23:26, paraphrase

…there’s an empty cross
There’s an empty tomb…
There’s a hungry world
There’s a risen King…
We will sing this song to make Your Name live on
Till every heart hears of the way You rescued us… — Matt Hammit, Nichole Nordeman

“What will you do with this message? What are you going to do with what you know? What are you going to do with what you’ve heard, seen and lived? What are you going to do with Me?”

“He is not here, for He has risen.” Matthew 28:6

Anything good in life’s
Gonna take a sacrifice
Don’t ever let up when it’s tough
Don’t ever give up the fight
Everything you need in life
Was given by His sacrifice…
I will give it all to Christ…
He’s not safe at all
He might let [me] fall
He’s not easy
But He is good
He will take your time
He might feel unkind
He will break you
But He’s good — Sidewalk Prophets

“Do you trust Me? Do you trust that I am who I say I AM?”

“If you, who are evil, know how to give good gifts…how much more will your Father give to those who ask?” Matthew 7:11, paraphrase

“The Lord! A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keep steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” Exodus 34:6

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name…and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Exodus 33:19

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil
,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me
.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.
Psalm 23, emphasis mine

All the poor and powerless…
Will know that You are holy…
All who hurt with nothing left…
Will know that You are holy…
All will sing out, Hallelujah
We will cry out, Hallelujah — All Sons and Daughters

“Do you know that I am holy?”

“Be holy for I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:16, Leviticus 19:2 paraphrase

“There is none holy like the Lord; there is none besides You; there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:2

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives — Crowder

“Do you believe that I live? Be still. Do not be afraid. Do not worry about tomorrow.”
“What will you do with what I’m giving you?”

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a

“I will fight for you, be still.” Exodus 14:14, paraphrase

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not worry over those who [grieve different that you] or [what others may think.] Psalm 37.7, paraphrase

Be still my soul – my hope is from Him. Psalm 62.5, paraphrase

Seems like all I can see [is] the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that live in my past
…then I remember, Oh God, You’re not done with me yet
I am redeemed
You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain
Cause I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed — Big Daddy Weave

“You are free. Live like it.”

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm and do not return to who you once were. Galatians 5:1, paraphrase

Live like you are free. Live as a servant of God. 1 Peter 2:16, paraphrase

“Where I am, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17, paraphrase

“…know the truth and the truth will set you free.” John 8:32

The statements God has spoken into my heart this morning have stripped me bare. Have I found myself uncomfortable in this vulnerable state? You bet. But there is so much comfort in knowing that He knows everything about me. He created me. Many other questions, my own, have filled my mind — what do You want me to do with this? What are You doing with this? Can I really trust you? Help my unbelief.

It all boils down to making a choice. I get those same choices and questions every day (they do change, but are around the same idea — do I really trust in God’s goodness? Do I trust Him with me?).

Today, I’m choosing to believe, at least with my head, that He really is that good. I’m choosing to trust that He knows what He is doing; to trust that what He is doing is ultimately and infinitely better than anything I could have ever planned on my own. I don’t know what the next moment holds, but I do know Who holds my next moment and for that, I’m and will continue to be eternally grateful.

I am His. He is mine. Song of Solomon 6:4