When I Realized I Needed the Gospel

Do we dive into messes, or leave them un-turned? Do we leave the chance behind to reach another hurting heart who can't imagine being honest? Do we opt to be seen as got-it-all-together Christians, or do we show others that this is why we need a Savior?

For this very reason, I write here, and my dedication to that vision is being tested. I began this blog a little over two years ago, when I first became a Christian, with a God-breathed mission in my heart. A determination to be honest even if that means taking the risk of being judged in the hearts of some. But I knew that I would take the risk of being judged by some to perhaps be a tool to even just a few to fan into greater flame a better love for the Lord and a clearer view of the gospel. That makes it all worth it.
I believe the gospel burns brighter and it's power is undeniable when we aren't afraid to be honest about our messes, the brutality of our ugly sin so that we can see in contrast the beauty of the gospel.

It's been around seven months since I wrote here, and it's hasn't been without reason. I've been fighting a battle that took me to the darkest places; places that I never dreamed I would experience firsthand. I want to tell you my story and my hope, my prayer, is that my story will speak into your own life. Maybe you're on your own road down to dark places and this will be the voice that God uses to warn you away from continuing on a road far away from Himself. Maybe this will encourage you to share your own story of which you might be ashamed for anyone to know. Maybe this will help you confront your still un-healed heart and give you the courage to realize what needs to happen to begin that healing.

Whatever it is, my ultimate hope is that it draws your attention to the gospel and gives glory to no one but our Savior. 

First of all, sin is easy. It's easy to become numb to and it's deceptive. It's pleasurable and addicting. Like the lies that Satan spoke to Eve in the garden to entice her to eat of the fruit God had forbidden, lies are laced with truth to make it easier to do and to continue doing. Satan is a master deceiver and you are most prone to fall just when you think you never will.  
I know this firsthand because soon the things I never thought I would do, I did. Small choices, small compromises, led to life-altering, life shattering ones. 

I made an idol of a relationship. I felt sure God was leading down a certain road, opening doors that had previously been closed, so I moved forward.

My plans seemed to be God's plans. The relationship, the friendship, that I saw as such a gift, finally fell into place. The mission we had for ourselves at first was good, admirable, and God-honoring and I was happy for awhile. But I crafted an idol of my hopes and dreams. They were the gauge on which I pinned my joy and security. Anxiety took control of my heart and mind and what I had previously entrusted to God's hands I took from Him. 

In the back of my mind I think I had determined that I would never again go through another disappointment, another loss of something, someone, like I had previously experienced before in other relationships. The days and nights where the person most familiar to you isn't there anymore. Memories that used to be precious are now the very ones that cause the most pain. Plans that seemed set in stone now have to be discarded. Life seems to be going in one direction but turns course completely and you're reeling and now you have to re-build. Some may downplay this feeling, but if you know this pain, you know it can be the worst pain you've ever felt.
No matter what, I wouldn't go through it again. I was not surrendered to God's will.

When God did close the door to this relationship I turned my back on God and decided that if God was going to take from me again, maybe God wasn't good. Maybe there wasn't even a God. 
Instead of letting go when I should have, I held on and sought to put back together the relationship that was crumbling and when I couldn't, I gave up and gave in and walked down a dark road. 

I went from a vital walk with the Lord to the sharp edge of a razor against  my wrist and the giving away of my purity. I had a bitter, hurting and angry heart, and I opened wide a door to satan that if it could have been put into words would have said, "take my body, take my heart and own my soul because it doesn't matter anymore." I ruthlessly threw away everything good, sacred, and precious in my life. 

The very light and purity of my body and heart, and the beauty that I had celebrated in becoming a Christian two years before were now the things that I wanted to rid myself of the most. In my mind they made me fragile and too prone to being hurt. 
So, I was determined to re-shape myself. To do so, I wandered places previously un-travelled by my innocent, trusting heart. Sin was darker than I could have imagined and I was more capable of it than I ever dreamed.
This sounds cliche, but I didn't recognize the woman I was anymore. I became hardened, bitter, angry, and sensual.  I denied the new creation that God made me just two years before and I denied the Creator Himself. I went down and spun out of control. If I can be hurt, I'll hurt first. If I can be used, I'll use first. I'll wound, control, and I won't love or trust. This is the way of the world, of sin, and I surrendered to it because it was the only way that I could feel better and more in control of my life that felt so out of control.

 

My life story was not supposed to ever look like this. This place I had come to was so dark and so messed up. I was in deep and drowning even further. I gave up trying to come back up because I felt like the things I had done were too much, too bad.

Soon I reached a point in my sin and my rebellion where I knew that God wanted to rescue me but still I fought against Him. I worked hard to shut out my returning sensitivity to sin. All the things going on in my life that I tried to keep secret were found out and I couldn't live a double life anymore.

I was backed into a corner and I broke.  I told the people that loved me the most, my family, what I had done and I allowed myself to speak aloud and put into words the fears and lies that had kept me in prison. I'm beyond hope. I'm beyond redemption. I'm beyond healing. I don't have a good future ahead of me. I've done too much. I'm hurting, I'm bleeding, I'm broken, and I've lost forever the person I was. My dad held me and I wept, I mourned, everything I had lost. It felt good to let God break down every wall I had built up against my family, my friends, and most of all, Himself.

That day, God rescued me, but there wasn't an immediate change or healing. I resisted still in many areas and there were deep rooted practices and ways of living that God still needed to clean out. There hasn't been an immediate healing. I'm still climbing out and "re-calibrating." There are days where I can't see very clearly and my identity becomes defined by my failure or how others see me, but there are far more days where I have once again the joy of seeing how much healing God has done. There are more and more days where I get to rejoice in the fact that I have a Savior who uses stories like mine to reach others for His Name. 

Much of my writing on here might make you think that I had it all together. The most humbling thing that I have had to admit to myself was that I thought I did, too. One of the most refreshing and hopeful things that God has used in my healing is to show me that born again Christians need grace, too. As Christians you would think that we would be the ones to understand grace and the gospel the most, but often we're the ones who forget it the most. We apply it to all of those around us and teach that grace covers all, even the really really bad stuff. That nothing you do is too bad, too big for God and for the gospel. 
But what about when you do the really really bad stuff? Is this the truth you preach to yourself? Do you really believe it? 

We all have those things that we tell ourselves we would never do, that line in our mind that we won't cross and if we do, maybe you were never saved in the first place.
We we would never admit it or put it into words but we believe that God's grace, forgiveness, restoration, and rebuilding reaches to certain things, but there's that line in our minds that grace, the gospel, doesn't reach. We would/do doubt our very salvation if we do what we never thought we would do. We believe we've fallen past even God's grace. 
God forgives, heals, rebuilds, except for that. That thing I did, you did. You breached the parameter of God's forgiveness, right?

But what if the ugliness of our sin is what God is going to use to help us dive so much deeper into the depths of what the gospel is really all about? Often the dark turn your story has taken is the very turn that God shines the brightest in. His hands are the hands that put back together your shattered heart and life and it's His power that cannot be denied. In our battle with sin God is at work and He is in control.

My story isn't all neat and tidy and shared with you when I've got it all figured out. I'm telling you my story now, in the process of rebuilding and healing, to show you that there is hope in the midst of your mess, wherever you're at in that mess and whatever it is. 

Are we going to choose to believe the truth that the gospel really is this powerful? Are we going to choose to believe the truth that Jesus' blood was enough to cover all of our sin? The gospel didn't stop being for you when you became a Christian. Being a Christian means we rejoice in the gospel even more because it is enough and doesn't stop being enough when we become a Son or Daughter of our King but forget our identity in Christ and live like the old man. 

Don't resist His rescue because you've been believing the lie that you're beyond that rescue. Your story can and will be used for greater purposes than you can yet imagine. Nothing you have done extends beyond the redeeming work of God's hand. Nothing is too big, too dark, too much, for the power of the gospel.

- jennifer

 

Unexpected Grace

I grew up believing I was a good person.

I had it all together. 

To me, being a Christian was something I inherited from my family, like a last name. It was familiar, safe, clean, and stable. It meant church every Sunday. It meant being home schooled and having a section out of my homework binder requiring a specified amount of Bible reading each day. It meant AWANA when I was eight years old and Christian friends. It meant my hem-lines were long and my necklines were high. It meant I didn't watch bad movies or have cable TV. It meant knowing the right answers to questions about what I had grown up believing. It meant morality and good behavior.  It meant I didn't cuss, do drugs, drink, smoke, party, or live a promiscuous life. 

Those things might be enough when you're young, but those things don't save you or make you a good person. That outward behavior doesn't mean you know and love the God of the universe who created you.

Underneath conformity and the appearance of being the right kind of person, I hid in my heart a lot of junk, a lot of rebellion, anger, bitterness, impurity, sin. I didn't talk about those things because I was ashamed and I knew something was missing. As I got older I knew that I didn't love the Lord and that scared me because I didn't know what to do about it. I knew my heart was hard but I didn't want God and that was even scarier. For so long, I kept the rules, but rules don't keep you. 

And my story may have been a lot different had God's grace not swept into my life at twenty years old. 

I found out I was desperately sinful and needed salvation and that knowledge set me free. The cross became to me what it truly represents: a perfect God who sent His perfect Son to take my place, bearing my sins, and that is absolutely incredible. When I came face to face with Who God is, and who I am, I didn't see a good person anymore. Yeah, to other people I may have looked like a model church girl who was everything good, but I could see my heart, and it wasn't a good place. I desperately needed saving because "...for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and "...as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one' " (Romans 3:10). But I didn't need those verses to tell me that because when you begin to grasp the perfection and undeserved love of God, you see the desperate sinner that you are. You see how much grace you really need even if you kept all of the rules.

With being a new Christian there's this euphoric existence for a time. There's a very clear line between the life you used to live and the life you now live in Christ. At that point in time, you don't think you'll mess up because, well, how could you even want to? You've shed that old person and you're now a new person in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, and that old sin nature seems pretty far and distant and quite a thing of the past. But, as we quickly find out, our sinful nature is still present with us and it's quite strong at times. Satan wants us still.

John MacArthur explains the reality of our still sinful flesh in his sermon Spiritually Living, Yet Still Sinking. 

"...Lazarus offers a graphic illustration of our predicament as regenerate Christians. We have been raised to walk in newness of life. We've come out of the grave. Our old man has died and a new man has been born. Our old self is gone, we have a new self. This is recreation, new birth, regeneration. Yet we are still prisoners of a stench that remains from the grave. We're held prisoner by the remnants of our former life, our very fallenness clings to us. And though we live, we stink. It is as if we are bound in our grave clothes. That's the reality of our spiritual condition.

It is true that in conversion you are a new creation. It is true that in conversion the power of sin has been broken, the dominion of sin has been broken. The sovereignty of sin has been broken. Sin is present with us no longer dominating us, but it's still present."
 

So, you love Jesus, and you know He's better than all that the world offers. You know it, you've experienced it and you experience it. So it takes us by surprise that when things are hard, sometimes Jesus doesn't seem like enough, and we look for fulfillment, comfort, answers, hope, direction, joy, peace, somewhere else entirely.  Our old "corpse" of our former self rears it's ugly head. We revert back to not believing His promises in those sinful times, and that scares us because we come face to face again with that old sin-ridden flesh that we thought didn't exist anymore. In those times of sin, we buy into the lie that we needed, we need, something more. And when that happens and we're standing on the other side, feeling shame, sick shame, grip our hearts, the grace we originally celebrated and believed in can disappear from the equation in our mind all together at times. Grace is scandalous and hard-to-believe, especially when you need it the most. Isn't there something we can do to make up for what we've done? 

But here's the truth: 

Just as grace came for the prostitute brought before Jesus in John 8:1-11, grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, so grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, so grace came for you and I. Just as grace came for the thief on the cross in Luke 23:39-43, so grace came for you and I. And just as grace is available to you and I, so grace is available to the "worst" people who have done the most atrocious things. 

No matter where you come from, what you've done, we all meet at the same place when we're saved. We all learn the same truth, love the same God. We all needed/need His changing grace. We all don't deserve His love, His grace, mercy, kindness, rescue that He gave when he saved us and continues to lavish on us when we fall. I don't care what you've done or how bad you think you were/are, we're all the same in Christ. He doesn't group us into categories of really good, good, decent, bad, really bad, hell bent. We were all headed towards hell and we didn't deserve God choosing us to live a life on this earth for Him and to live after this life with Him. We all know the same grace. 

These past two years since becoming a Christian, God has taught me much about grace. Grace is not an excuse to sin, but the grace God has for us when we do always comes. It doesn't expire or run out and it isn't conditional. It drives us to our knees in praise and thankfulness. It gives glory to God. The same grace that I did nothing to deserve when I was first saved is the same grace that brings me back when I wander and picks me up when I fall.  That grace, mercy, and love that we celebrate in our own lives and in the lives of others we can continue to celebrate when we lose sight of truth. God's grace was revealed to me the day I was saved. Grace came unexpectedly, undeservedly. And still, in all of my failings, mess-ups, sin, God's grace comes unexpectedly and undeservedly just as it did then. 

~Jenn





My Top 10 Encouraging Songs

We all have "anthems" that we turn to over and over again that give us a better perspective on God and this life we're seeking to live for His glory. I've found that these songs speak particularly well of the gospel, the hope we have in our Savior, and walking in faith. 

I pray these songs are just as encouraging to you as they have been to me!

For now, 
Jennifer

God's Love List

This "love list" is a list my cousin, Colleen, put together and posted on her blog here

Believing that God truly loves us can be hard to believe especially in the midst of trials. This list pulled from scripture reminds us of the truth of how God truly loves us and is intimately involved in every detail of our life. 

He has engraved me on the palm of His hand. 
Isaiah 49:16

He carries me close to His heart. 
Isaiah 40:11

He holds my hand. 
Psalm 73:23

He will do abundantly more than all I ask or imagine. 
Ephesians 3:20

He daily bears my burdens. 
Psalm 68:19

He thinks of me constantly; His thoughts of me outnumber the grains of sand on the sea. 
Psalm 139:17-18

He is intimately interested in my life. He even knows how many hairs are on my head. 
Matthew 10:30

He has planned out my days. 
Psalm 139:16; 118.24

He prays for me. 
Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:26

He freely forgives me. 
1 John 1:9; Psalm 103:12

He protects and rescues me. 
Psalm 91

He understands my disappointments, sorrows and weaknesses. 
Hebrews 2:17-18

He gives me the power to live like Him. 
Romans 8:9-11; Philippians 4:13

He delights in me and rejoices over me with singing. 
Zephaniah 3:17

He teaches me what is best for me. 
Isaiah 48:17

He helps me. 
Isaiah 41:10, 14; Psalm 118:13; Deuteronomy 33:26

He created me for a special purpose and designed me to be His wonderful creation.
Psalm 139:13-14; Jeremiah 1:5; Ephesians 2:10

He will fulfill His purpose for me. 
Psalm 138:8; Philippians 1:6

His love for me is as high as the heavens are above the earth. 
Psalm 103:11

He makes my path level and smooth. 
Isaiah 26:7

He is always with me. 
Psalm 73:23

He guides me with His counsel. 
Psalm 73:24

He gives me wisdom. 
James 1:5

He keeps record of all my fears. 
Psalm 56:8

He satisfies my hunger and quenches my thirst. 
John 6:35

He holds me in His hand. 
John 10:27

He gives me life to the fullest. 
John 10:10

He laid down His life for me. 
John 10:11

He gives me good and perfect gifts. 
James 1:17

He listens to me; He hears my cry. 
Psalm 145:19

He fulfills my desires. 
Psalm 145:19; 37:4

He has compassion on me. 
Psalm 145:9

He cures me of backsliding. 
Jeremiah 4:22

He makes me pure. 
Ezekiel 36:25-26

He makes me happy. 
Psalm 16:11; 36:8

He has made me His child. 
Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:5; 3:26

He has given me fullness in Christ, and I am complete. 
Colossians 2:9-10

He has qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints
Colossians 1:12

He has given me a home in heaven. 
Colossians 1:13; Ephesians 2:6

He has lavished on me all the riches of His grace. 
Ephesians 1:8

He longs to give me His very best. 
Isaiah 1:19

He is distressed in my distress. 
Isaiah 63:9

He lifts me up and carries me. 
Isaiah 63:14

He leads me through the depths and darkness. 
Isaiah 50:10

He directs my steps. 
Proverbs 20:24

He chooses to forget my sins; He buries them in the deep sea. 
Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:19

He has given me an inheritance far beyond my imagination. 
Psalm 47:4; Ephesians 1:18; Colossians 1:12

He provides me with strength to serve Him. 
1 Peter 4:11

He rejoices over me just like a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. 
Isaiah 62:5



 

He Wants Me

"Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her." Hosea 2:4

 

"I want you..." my Savior whispers to my tired heart. I feel His love hold me and for the first time I see His leading me through this wilderness as an act of love. 

He wants us. He has me here, you here, in the wilderness,  because He wants us. He wants us, His daughters and sons, to know Him better as our loving Father. He wants us to know that He doesn't discipline and take away just because He wants us to feel the pain resulting from our sin. He wants us to feel His tender love, forgiveness, and grace. He wants us to know Him so well that we love Him more and love this world and it's counterfeit pleasures less. He leads us here so we can discover Him as our highest pleasure.

I'm in the wilderness, it's dark. Nothing is familiar and there is no one that can comfort me or bring me through it or out of it. But my Savior is here, ready to take me by the hand and lead me through, teach me, speak tenderly to me. He has led me here to show me just how much He loves me, just how much He wants me. 

It was in the greatest act of love that He saved us. It's in love that he continues to act. It's in love that He's led us to the wilderness, to the valley of the shadow, and in it we we experience an intimacy with our Father that we can only feel when we're absolutely and utterly alone, broken. This wilderness may not feel like love; we may resent it for a time. But it's in the silence we can hear His whisper. When all other touch has faded away, we can feel His tender hand take ours. When no ones words can heal, His words of healing reach to the uttermost parts of our soul. 

We may seek other things to be the balm to our hearts, our healing, or at least our distraction from the pain for a time. But when we turn to face the pain, it's not alone. It's on our knees before His Throne of Grace, breathing out the words that describe our utter pain and brokenness, that we find His sweetest presence. It's then that we can hear His tender words. It's there we find super-natural peace, joy, hope, fearlessness, courage, victory over sin and temptation, and strength.

Cling to Him in this wilderness. It's because He wants us that He has brought us here.

 

In The Fire

I'm writing to you here in the midst of the fire. In the midst of the hot, uncomfortable, broken, scary places. In the valley of the shadow.

It's easy to worship our God, call Him and His plans good, when things are going our way. But what about when life is hell on earth? What about when nothing is there to prop your faith up? No one, no circumstances, no thing

There's always a chance of loss, of disappointment, because we live in a sinful world. A world where pain, hurt, darkness is more a part of our life sometimes than anything we see as good. This Calvary road that we follow our Savior on will bend us, break us. It will ask of us blind obedience. It will call good what appears to our flesh and to the world as bad. It will ask of us faith when faith seems unnatural.

To believe that He is making us new, that He is working for our good, goes against our flesh entirely. The ability to praise Him for the bad as well as the good is a gift entirely given by the Lord. And this praising, this rejoicing, doesn't come out of feelings. It is raising weary hands, a breaking heart, and praising Him despite what we feel. It is holding on when letting go would be easier. It is choosing to believe His promises. It is reflecting on all His past faithfulness and knowing that He will be faithful now and it is out of that faithfulness that He is acting.

I am standing in the fire. I am standing in deep waters and maybe you're here with me, engaged in your own battle. Maybe you need someone who is here with you to tell you that there is joy that comes from worshiping our God when it doesn't make sense, when you have no strength left. To tell you that lifting your hands in worship is an act of faith that the world around you cannot understand. That lifting your hands in worship comes purely from God's supernatural strength. 

Worship with me and choose to believe truth. 

 

The Myth of Holding On

No one who ever received something blessed from God's hand ever did so by holding onto it by their own will, strength, or manipulation. It came because of an eventual letting go to God's hand made possible by a God-given trust in His perfect will.

When I desire something strongly, there is this sinful refusal, a wrestling, to acknowledge my dependence on God's will. A refusal to accept that God's will is perfect, and mine is not. Acknowledging what is already true (that God is in control and I am not) means that I have to become vulnerable and means that I have to step out in faith because I'm not sure where God's path will lead. It means that I have to acknowledge that there is no guarantees except in God's promises to do what is absolutely the best for me and what will give Him the most glory, which are one and the same. That's uncomfortable.

Losses and broken hearts can cause deep fear and insecurities. After experiencing hurt, our flesh cries out even more for control, safety, and guarantees. It causes even more denial that sin exists and marks everything; that the only perfect thing is God and everything (everyone) else has been touched by our sin nature and will disappoint and will bring hurt. That will inevitably hurt  and disappoint myself  and others. When my heart is dwelling in the wrong place, it causes me to tremble in fear when I know that I have no choice but to let go and step out in blind faith. To risk. To do what is so contrary to our flesh.

This gift feels fragile; I'm afraid and I'd like to preserve it. I'd like to wrap it up and shield it from destruction. I'd like a guarantee that it will never break and cut me. I'd like to believe that my holding it close in my human and equally fragile arms will guarantee that outcome. But in holding it close I take away the opportunity to see God's hand crafted plan show me my own weakness and His perfect, Fatherly strength. I take away the opportunity to see God's beautiful plan unfold and be worked out despite my past, my fears, my insecurities, my weaknesses, and my undeservedness. The myth of holding on robs me of opening my hands and my heart and surrendering. It robs me of seeing God for who He is and worshiping Him in Spirit and truth (John 4:24). It robs me of exercising faith.

In the waking and the realization that comes from studying Who God really is,  His truth wins because truth says that my surrender is the safest place I could ever and will ever be. His truth says that His plans for me are perfect and that the work He begun will carry on. (Jeremiah 29:11, Philippians 1:6) Truth asks me to look back upon all God's past faithfulness and not to doubt now. Truth promises that when I let go I am building a firm foundation on Christ instead of on me and upon what I value. Truth promises true beauty found in God's perfect design. Truth promises God-written stories. Truth promises the blessing of watching God work. Truth promises perfect security where once there was insecurity and fear.  Truth promises true rest.

Truth dispels myths. 

 

 

 

Love Stories {An Encouragement}

I am always encouraged to read or hear of a love story that truly reflects God's fingerprint, His perfect timing, and the evidence of God in each of the individual's lives. Love stories that were not manipulated or brought about by human scheming; each detail was obviously constructed by our Creator. Love stories that are a picture of Christ continually wooing and winning His bride; loving us when we least deserve it and accepting all of the ugly. Love stories in which the man desires to lead and the woman wants to be led and loved like the church. It helps me to believe that the kind of dreams and prayers that we all should have are not too big.

Our world has begun to accept a love that is far different from that picture. Rather, humanly devised "Hollywood" love stories are accepted as the height of true love and romance. Love that is based upon selfishness, impurity, lust, and fleeting feelings.  Love that is a 50/50 agreement; you have to give in order to get. Love that leaves when it gets hard. Love that destroys because it's left to the power of our sinful nature. This kind of love has even made it's way into Christian culture. Just yesterday I heard of a Christian couple in the Christian music ministry that divorced. Upon hearing such news there can be a lessening to our hope. A temptation to become discouraged and give in to the belief that there is no hope for a marriage that reflects God's glory, His faithfulness, and His love even in a Christian culture in which we strive for faithfulness, purity, and hold high the sacredness of marriage.

The love stories this world holds up as a model do not have God's fingerprint on them; they are a poor model for what love is meant to be. A lot of times real-life love stories later fall apart and we're left believing that that if even that couple didn't make it that we thought surely would, what hope do whave. No wonder we have such little hope for our own future marriages. No wonder the dreams that God gave us for something beautiful, extraordinary, and pure quickly become trampled with time and we settle for something less because we don't believe there's anything better. No wonder we, even as Christians, have stopped praying for, dreaming of, and setting the ground for great things in our future marriages. We've come to accept the lie that love is a feeling, that it will always be comfortable, it's for our happiness, that it fills up all of the empty places our heart feels and ultimately satisfies the years of longing. No wonder marriage is deteriorating; no one knows what love really is or what marriage is really for. 

I'm a dreamer. But the kind of dreams I have are not ones that I simply talk about, sigh over and come away from feeling hopeless because I don't believe they only exist in a fantasy world. (In fact, after I came away from watching the new Cinderella movie, I was excited to know that God writes even better stories than that! ;) ) I want to venture to dream God's dreams and pray for big, extraordinary things for my life and the lives of others in the area of our future marriages. Trembling, I give over my dreams to a perfectly sovereign Savior. I believe that God has planted a strong call to pray unceasingly and specifically for this area no matter what His plans hold for my life. I have grown in a desire to encourage other young men and women to find again the design God has for each of us. To tune out the voices of a culture that tells us to expect mediocrity, impurity, and unfaithfulness. I believe that we can submit to God's calling for our lives and in turn encourage our generation to be fashioned into men and women who rise up out of the typical and expected and show the world what individuals and marriages can look like when submitted to a God who creates beautiful and incredible things. 

My heart holds close the call to encourage young people, young women in particular because I was once the young woman who didn't believe. We live in a world inundated with intoxicating lies everywhere which we tend to believe from a young age. These lies are the trigger which cause many young people to search for love, worth, and belonging in all of the wrong places. To throw away that which is precious, their heart and body, because they don't really believe love is sacred, beautiful, and created to be so by the Lord. Somewhere along the line, sometimes despite good up-bringing, something died because the lies from the world still entered and took root and taught them that love is cheap and easy to come by. That no one could really give us a picture of Christ's love for us because all we see is ugly and destructive love.

As a result of my desire to encourage young people I thought I would share love stories here on the blog that show incredible testimony to God's faithfulness and design for love. These stories have encouraged me again and again when I have begun to lose sight of what I'm praying for and pointing other people towards. My hope is that they in turn begin a re-birth in your heart. That these stories awaken hope again in love that is God-breathed.


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You may be familiar with this first story. The story of Ian & Larissa Murphy. Their story first got my attention when Desiring God came out with a video of this couple's story and included a link to their hope-filled blog, ianandlarissa.com. I was so captivated by their story that I visited their blog and went back to the very beginning of their posts so I could understand every detail of why's, when's and how's. Their book Eight Twenty Eight which holds their whole love story had not come out yet and I was too moved to wait to hear every detail and thought process that went in to this beautiful love story that was so marked by our amazing Savior. God used their story in my life to drastically change what I believed about love and marriage. 


This second story comes from a blog called (Life Is Too Short Not To) Wear Red Shoes.  Susannah Mahar is a very talented and colorful writer and shares in beautiful detail her love story with her husband, Peter. I appreciate writers who are not afraid to be vulnerable and open with their stories for us who are not only hopeless romantics, but those of us who need encouragement. Who need real-life stories that give unashamed glory to the Lord. I've read this story over two or three times and every time it makes me a firm believer not only in God-written love stories, but in the beauty of waiting on God's perfect timing, women who aren't afraid to wait, and men who are not afraid to pursue and lead. Their story is shared in three parts: The Story of Us (Part I) The Story of Us (Part II), & The Story of Us (Part III) . And for those of you (like me) who say "I WANNA KNOW WHAT THE WEDDING WAS LIKE!", she wrote about that, too in And Then We Got Married. 


This story is about none other than my dear cousin, Colleen. It's the kind that makes you incredibly aware of the fact that God cares. That He designed love! That He takes great concern for love stories and uses our desire for love and marriage for oh-so-good purposes. When I was first looking to discover what God's picture was for love and marriage I came to my cousin's blog and re-read and re-read her story about how she met and fell in love with her husband, Eddie and I eagerly wrote down notes from all of her other posts about singleness and marriage. I recommend her story and her blog to you in whatever season you're in. God has used this story in my life time and time again to encourage and give me a true example of what it looks like to wait on His perfect timing and believe that He writes only beautiful things.Their story is titled A Love Story on her blog called Becoming Chao. If you click through all of the categories on her blog you'll discover other incredible encouragement from this beautiful Jesus- loving woman.


This next story was greatly publicized by the media because of who it was about. Bonnie Kate was an Aurora shooting victim in 2012 and survived the terrible injury that left her knee shattered. This twenty-five minute video that her husband, Max, put together tells the incredible story from the beginning to the wedding. Max makes clear that all of the twists and turns and incredible planning was not done by him, it was put together by our awesome Creator. My favorite line in the video is when Max says, "...there are girls out there worth fighting for still and there are guys out there willing to fight." 


This next video is a sneak peak into the wedding of a couple named Robert & Brie. I wish I knew the whole story of their relationship because it's very clear from the wedding how Christ-honoring this couple is striving to be. What touched me about this video is the clear desire this couple has to adopt the roles God so perfectly created for a man and a woman to inhabit in marriage. The husband desires to lead like Christ leads and loves the church and his wife desires to submit like the church submits to Christ. A wedding like this is rare indeed and serves as a wonderful encouragement to what a the joining together of two lives who love Christ looks like.
A video production company called Paperback Weddings filmed this beautiful wedding. 

 

 


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This story you may have heard of before. Eric & Leslie Ludy have written many life-changing books directed towards young people who desire to live a set-apart life for Christ. Their books have been used by the Lord to dramatically change my life including the book in which they share their love story, When Dreams Come True. I gave this book to my friend to borrow and while reading it aloud to her on a road trip we took (no better way to spend a long car ride than to read good books to each other!) she broke out in a wide grin with each detail of their story because it was so darn encouraging. The best part about these stories is that they're REAL. 
 


This last story is about Karis & Jacob. This is a story that gives testimony to the beauty of waiting on God's perfect timing. Of laying all of our desires before God's throne and seeing Him make beauty from our ashes. 
Karis desired to be the princess that found a prince who would fight for and win her heart and Jacob desired to be that prince. Here is their story!


I hope that each of these love stories birthed in you new hope and vision. A greater faith in the love stories that God writes. Give over the "pen" to God, your Father, and allow Him to write something far more beautiful than you could ever imagine. 

For now, 
Jennifer

Love I Can Rest In

I don't have the answers for myself right now. I struggle to really believe all of the truths I know to be absolutely true.  I thought I was stronger; to find out that I'm really weak is shaming. I thought I was thoroughly prepared for the next season of storm, but in truth I didn't believe that I'd walk this road again. I thought I had it all together. This time around I would be prepared and "woman up" impressively. No one would even know I was walking through another valley. They would applaud my strength and immovable faith. There was no room for weakness or failure. No way would I fail this time.

I wanted that image and when everything was going well, maybe I did achieve that image just a little bit. A belief that you've finally arrived at the height of Christianity. A belief that people will never reject you because you have real strength, real faith. A belief that God will never reject you as long as you feel and do all the right things. Maybe you could finally be good enough for God.

Because you see, the woman I really am deep down in her flesh doesn't feel accepted; she feels rejected. The woman I am doesn't feel confident; she shifts shapes. The woman I am doesn't feel unconditionally loved; she feels loved as long as she is the right kind of person. The woman I am isn't resilient; she is uncommonly sensitive and easy to wound. The woman I am often feels she has the wrong kind of personality to feel like she can really be loved and known; too quiet, too mellow. The woman I am wears a mask.

And the strong woman I wish to be just isn't strong right now.

And it's not just me. A lot of you who are reading this do not believe that God loves you. You look at the mess inside and it's ugly and you believe that the God of this universe does not, could not, really love you. You know you're saved, but you're still hiding, you're still performing, you're still working for acceptance not just to gain other people's love, but God's. And if you do have a mess you would like people to believe that it's past and put away, not current and gnawing at the walls of your soul. That you've come through it already, not walking through it presently because what if they reject me?

And those of us who are still performing don't understand grace. We can't accept God's grace and in turn we can't give grace to others because we demand of them the same law that we live by. We are very, very tired and we desperately want to be truly known and truly loved. 

But here's the truth. There is always a point where you'll be knocked off of your feet and unable to perform any more. There will inevitably come a circumstance where you feel the weakness deeply and by yourself, you cannot be strong enough. A time where you have to be honest with yourself, with other people, and most importantly with God and admit that this one is bigger than you and you can't perform or pretend any of it away. 

But the truth still remains whether you feel it or not. Whether you choose to accept it or not. Whether you choose to rest or still work for a love you've already been given and a grace that has already been extended.

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.
— Jeremiah 31:3
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:35-39

It's uncomfortable to take off the mask of performance; admit I don't have answers and that this road is harder than I ever thought it would be. That being real means admitting that there are lots of days where I don't look right, feel right, act right. There are lots of times where I shudder at my own disbelief and the tired that comes with trying and getting it all wrong. Oh but in the tired, I am ever more anxious, desperate, to accept His love that I know with absolute relief is true. I'm not in a cruel dream where I awake and the beautiful disappears almost un-remembered. I accept it thirstily and readily.

I don't have to be everything right. I can rest in God's unconditional love that made it all right.

For now, 
Jennifer

 


 



 

"...lean not on your own understanding."

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. - Proverbs 3:5-6

This means I don't have to lay awake at night, my eyes heavy with weariness, to try to figure everything out. In the morning, I'm exhausted and I still have no answers. This means that those sleepless nights can be turned into times of prayer because I know that He is in absolute control; prayer is my act of surrender.

This means I don't have to doggedly pursue what I want when the Lord has asked me to wait; I can be still and know He is God. (Psalm 46:10)

This means when all of the fears and what-ifs surface and destroy my peace, I have permission to release them to a sovereign God. They don't have to be entertained.

This means I don't have to be afraid I or someone else messed things up or will mess things up. Those mistakes don't thwart God's plan; they were a part of His plan.

This means that after you've been forgiven, you don't have to shrink inside with shame when you recall the ways you have fallen. This means that those regretful years spent making the wrong choices were not wasted. 

This means I don't have to be afraid to be vulnerable with the people I care about; afraid if they saw my mess and my baggage, they'd reject me. I can be honest about where I have been and who God is making me to be and what His calling is on my life. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This means that the circumstances I may find myself standing in that I don't like are not an accident. They are God's best for me right now.

"Rebellion--if this is the will of God for me now, He doesn't love me. 
Rejection--if this is what God is giving me, I won't have any part of it. 
Faith--God knows exactly what He's doing.
Acceptance--He loves me; He plans good things for me; I'll take it." 

Passion & Purity by Elizabeth Elliot

This means you and I can rest.

For now, 
Jennifer

 

He Prunes, That It May Bear More Fruit

Through the presence of winter, there is tempests raging inside of my own heart far colder and biting. There is an undeniable call to lay my treasure down at the feet of Jesus. But I don't want to. If I give all of it up, should I become like the skeleton trees of winter, their life stripped from their branches which lie on the rain-soaked ground in stinking heaps? 

My treasure has been elevated above Christ. It sits on the throne of my life and commands my every move. I bend into whatever shape it takes to preserve it and give it excuse to live. My sin-filled heart denies that this way of living will never carry. 

When I first knew I must give it up, I didn't expect pain. I didn't expect the cutting away to draw blood. I didn't expect the bending over of body to touch the cold floor that caught bitter tears. How did I come to expect that I shouldn't have to fight?

"Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit." - John 15:2

So I bask in pride that is quickly-acting poison. I walk with empty pastimes and distractions. I sell small pieces of my heart for assurance and acceptance. Through all of the selling, the Cross becomes covered and its shadow no longer commands me. I am commanded by the things that never last. By treasure consumed.

When I experience the sting of heart-pain, the cost, I shy away in fear and retreat back into what's comfortable and known. But inside, I die. And slowly, the cry of a heart who knows that this place is hollow, rises. Only death resides here in the shadows. Darkness that paraded as satisfaction, betrayed me. 

The kneeling of the knees on the floor because of the cutting away is not death. It is truly the sign of life that can only come as we walk through the death of what we are tempted to hold close and preserve. The death of what sits on the throne of our lives. The death of something that was in truth, death itself. A death that commanded us.

In pain, there is an un-explainable peace. A joy that rises only from sacrifice and obedience. A soaring life that only follows the loose hands of surrender. The filling of a heart only when it has  spilled its holding on of hopes and dreams at the feet of Jesus.  And after all of the giving up and the cutting away, we may not encounter a future we expected but if bent to the will of God we can truly expect a future better than all our heart dreamed because in that giving up of our own will, is the only place where true life abounds.

For now, 
Jennifer



Prayers for 21

I turn 21 tomorrow.

Each year following age eighteen lays a little heavier, a little more seriously. Time passes even more quickly, seeming to gather speed. 

What a gift God's salvation is that wraps these years in knowing Him. This looking forward to another year getting to know better my Savior, my Father, my God. It's God's grace alone that reaches down to us; those who do did not deserve His Cross. As each year passes, I want to be more aware of this amazing grace. This Cross. This love.

These are my prayers not just for twenty-one, but for all the years that God sees fit to bless me with.

I pray the age of twenty-one will see more fruit and growth in my life. Because if I'm "standing still" in my growth, I'm really regressing.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
— Psalm 1:3
He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.
— Jeremiah 17:8


I pray it will bring more opportunities to work for Your kingdom & that I would step out and take them even though I am afraid.

I pray it will bring along more wonderful, godly, life long friendships and the continual growth of those I have already been blessed with. 

I pray it will bring along less love for this world and an ever-growing love for You and the looking forward to Your Kingdom. That my treasures would not be here on earth where moth and rust destroy. (Matthew 6:19-21)

I pray it will bring forth encouraging and truth-filled words to this blog and my music. I pray my words would be sweeter and life giving to those around me. That the poison of pride would have no place. That You would be in every lyric, note, word. 

I pray twenty-one would see more times of worship around bonfires and more evenings of laughter, joy, and precious memories made with friends and family as we learn to love each other better because our friendships are built on You.

I pray I wouldn't be afraid to hope more because my hope is built on You. I pray it will be a year of increasing faith. Hope for the things not yet seen and a boldness before Your throne of grace in prayer and not limiting You; asking You for big things.

I pray it will bring more love for people and more grace for the inevitable failures and disappointments that we each commit. That my hope would be found in You alone and not dependent on the rise and fall of people, circumstances, or seasons of life.

I pray you would continue to show me all of the things I struggle with making idols of. That You would refine and weed out all that is not of You.

I pray I would be a woman who is constantly surrendering control of her life and giving it over to You in faith; not a manipulator of circumstances or a woman who grasps at closed doors. A woman who truly believes that all of the answers of "no, not yet, or wait" are truly Your best for me.

I pray twenty-one would see a woman more radiant and fulfilled in You. That people would see more of You in me. That it would see me become a woman that mirrors You and is unconcerned with what the world thinks of me as an individual outside of You. That my actions would not be motivated by a concern for what this world thinks.

I pray I would grow in compassion. That I would look outward and my heart would break even more over the lost, the broken, the hungry, the hopeless, and those who dwell in darkness. 

I pray it would see a woman who trusts You and does not cease living though she has desires and dreams that must turn into prayers. A woman who fights to live now. Who praises You through the waiting.

I pray that ugly pride would never win and keep me from taking every opportunity to say 'I love you' or showing love to those You have placed in my life. That family and friends would never be commonplace or taken for granted.

I pray twenty-one would be a year of stepping out in faith & doing hard things. For loving the least and sharing your gospel with those who don't know Your Name. That I would listen to the calls you place on my heart.

I pray that as inevitable heartaches and challenges come, I would use those times to look for Your faithfulness amongst brokenness. That I would choose to see how You are graciously moving away, or towards something else that is far better than my own finite plans.  

I pray twenty-one and all the following years would be as life changing as twenty has been. That the Cross would grow ever more to be the backdrop, the reason, the foundation for everything.

For now, 
Jennifer


 

Do we have Peter's love?

The following account found in Foxe's Book of Martyrs was one I read over and over again. The incredible appearance of Christ to Peter who would clearly suffer crucifixion and pain with Peter gave me an even better idea of His identity with us. Though He is God and is absolutely perfect, when we suffer for His name, He suffers with us.

 

"The only account that we have of the martyrdom of the Apostle Peter is from the early Christian writer Hegesippus. His account includes a miraculous appearance by Christ. When Peter was old (John 21:18), Nero planned to put him to death. When the disciples heard of this, they begged Peter to flee the city [said to be Rome], which he did. But when he got to the city gate, he saw Christ walking toward him. Peter fell to his knees and said, "Lord, where are you going?" Christ answered, "I've come to be crucified again." By this, Peter understood that it was his time to suffer the death of Jesus which would glorify God (John 21:19). So he went back to the city. After being captured and taken to his place of martyrdom, he requested that he be crucified in an upside down position because he did not consider himself worthy to be crucified in the same position as his Lord."

 

Peter's submission to the will of God and his request to suffer even further pain by hanging upside down makes clear the passionate love that Peter had for his Lord. 

Much of this generation identifies with a lack luster faith. A comfortable faith. A lukewarm faith. A faith that would back down and recant. We don't encounter this kind of suffering and persecution. I have to ask myself uncomfortable questions and search my heart to see if I have the depth of love that Peter had. A love that would suffer unfathomable pain and an unshakable confidence in the perfect will of our Savior.

Does it make you do the same?

For now, 
Jennifer

They Who Wait

Waiting doesn't wait for permission to begin. It pushes itself into your heart un-invited the moment the first dreams of a desire awaken in your heart. The call to wait for something beautiful; for something God-scripted. For something outside of your control.

It can't be commanded or brought forth on cue. It doesn't stand in the wings and usher forth when it's summoned. It doesn't flee when others tell you it doesn't make sense. It's presence is undeniable. It flies in the face of our on-demand, selfish, sinful nature. It's not loud because it's favorite way of making itself known is in the silence. In the silence when you have nothing else to listen to.

At the ironing board, at the kitchen sink. On sunset roads and cozy coffee shops. On the long gray days of drenching rain. In darkest nights. In moments of the other person's greatest joy. When you're supposed to be having fun. At the dinner alone; in an empty chair across from you. In life's greatest moments. In spiritual highs and lows. At the holidays; joyful family all around. In the ticket line. The pictures. The mirror in the morning. In physical sickness and weakness. In all of the songs.

Are you the one waiting on a God given desire?

It pulls our faith to the limits and asks us to lean heavily into Christ. It makes us look crazy to this world as we wait for a timing not our own. It believes there is something better. It believes that all the weeks, months, and years will be worth it. It refines us and makes us as gold. It wakes us early in the morning and brings us to our knees. It's our thorn in the side. It finds us in the quickly filling pages of a prayer journal and the thin pages of a beloved Bible. It gives us grace for those around us as we wait with them and learn to love them better. It pulls us to a place of calm surrender as we feel peace beyond understanding assure us that God is there. It grinds our heart down to all we can bear and gives us the courage to admit we're broken but hopeful. In the midst of waiting, at the end of waiting, we always find God there.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
— Isaiah 40:31