the marathon: planning her way

Maybe people thought of her as a runner. She surely pretended to play the part, but had she ever really gotten serious about the sport? Not beyond a couple of leisurely half-marathons. But, because of a newfound love for fitness, she was in the better shape of her life, and it was time, time to get real about the Nike shorts that have identified her since the first grade. It was time to train for a marathon.

In an attempt to process and share the journey since this decision was made, she’s making it one of her many lofty goals this week to publish a marathon series encompassing the lessons she learned.

So, to kick ‘er off, let it be noted that she learned a thing many about planning her way:

The heart of a (woman) plans (her) way, but the Lord establishes (her) steps. [Proverbs 16:9]

She knew the thought of running a marathon wouldn’t get past a dream without a plan. So, in combining a few different training methods and models alongside of her own experiences and preferences, she set out to create a plan uniquely fit for her. She took this ambition along with a felt tip pen, a strait edge and her beloved journal to her season’s favorite dreaming and scheming spot, her apartment poolside, and there, she began to plan.

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[the plan: prepared]

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[the plan: completed]

Little did she know this was the first of many plans driven by this dream. Planning breeds planning. The plan required a plan to stick to the plan. When she failed to plan, she planned to fail. The plan required grace, begged for patience, and demanded devotion.

Planning meant attentiveness to the days ahead, planning for the odd and abundant strains of her job, the forecast of weather, the layout of her schedule, the need of showering, the convenience of showering, food necessary for fuel, appropriate clothes for the evolving day, the routines of roommates, social invitations, willingness to look a hot mess, the time of the rising and the setting sun, roads and routes, available lunch breaks, anticipated sweat accumulation… and the list goes on. To stay authentic to her plan, she had to be prepared to fail, in the often case that she failed to plan. Being prepared meant she kept a full set of running clothes tucked away in the trunk of her car, was often seen carrying her travel toiletries like a purse and notably showered at four different locations weekly. Failure to plan resulted in break room donuts, sockless runs, sweaty dresses, second day-same wears and sprinting the Town Lake Trail after dark. On the other hand, prosperous planning was running in full gear, with enough time, daylight and energy. She really felt accomplished when she could successfully complete two or more runs while maintaining a poised presentation per single shower. Now that was strategy.

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[planned: recovery meal]

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[unexpected fail: break room sweets]

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[planned: gear up prep]

While the plan contributed greatly to her success, there were times that it handicapped her from what was best. And the lesson relearned, she’s not in control. Though, she had a plan and was seemingly prepared, it was the Lord who established her steps. Not only do her big dreams of running a marathon lead to big plans about how to get there, but such has always been the natural call to action when her heart runs a little wild with a word that becomes an idea, an idea that evolves into hope, hope that enhances a dream and a dream that develops into THE plan. This is where the capitol N and capitol J in her Myers Briggs ‘eNFJ’ assessment combine together to create BIG dreams and BIG plans. At times, this combination leads to running marathons and changing the world, but more often than expected it leads to wedding dates set and party favors prepared without a male prospect in sight. When her dreams come true and her plans prevail, she is elated, high on life, queen of the world. However, when her dreams die and plans collapse- find her at heartbreak hotel (cue the capitol F for FEEL-ER). With her long awaited dream wedding date of June 1, 2013 around the corer, so unfolded the variety of possibilities of how that would be accomplished, of course, according to her plan. Laying out on that August afternoon not only fostered the creation of her running plan, but also her life plan. She had just been offered her dream job, with an idea of her dream guy and her projected wedding date eleven months out. This was it. Twenty-five was the year. She would thrive in her first real job, meet a man, run a marathon and get married.

So, let us just fast-forward to the road to Nashville just weeks ago. Picture this, with smoothie in hand, she carb loads with a tennis ball between her IT band and the seat of the car. Tomorrow is race-day. Eight months into her dream job and a month away from her wedding date, she belts out from the beat of her being lyrics to Taylor Swift’s album, Red. With the finish line a day away she embraces the restless reality that 1) she needs to quit her job, and 2) any acute crush on even the idea of a dream guy is nonexistent. Though grieved, she anticipates the freedom that awaits her dead dreams and failed plans as she recognizes that she is unfit to choose for herself. There, training her mind, she surrenders to the established steps of the Lord, letting go of life beyond the finish line, and in her disappointment she’s reminded and grateful that He knows best.

And so, wherever this little plan lead, in her running shoes, she followed…

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her ode to 2012

Last New Years, I was privileged to travel to the mountains of Colorado with a dear friend’s family. Lori, her mother, challenged us to write and present a poem reflecting on the year’s past— What initially was throw up in my mouth at the thought of exposing my soul became a worshipful response to God’s faithfulness over the year. Thanks to Lori, my very first n.y.e tradition continues.

her ode to 2012

january

she could have never anticipated

what 2012 had in store,

a year beyond what she imagined

and so much more.

He exhorted her to go and tell

of how He saved her soul,

to those tormented similarly

and desperate to be made whole.

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february

she trembled at this call

for her story was one she shamed,

but He had greater plans

for His glory and His fame.

in faith she followed,

and He lead the way.

yet, in weakness she fell

on her skinned knees, she prayed.

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march

total dependence

He would require,

for only His strength was enough

to relent from this works’ tire

grieving her limitations,

she cursed the thorn in her flesh.

then sweetly remembered

what free life results in death.

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april

anchors in hand

she engaged the climb,

the view so much bigger

trusting in His time.

heart beating faster,

she began to share,

and to life he brought her

up and out of despair

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may

identity proved destined

in her belovedness unfold

cultivating hope and grace

with each story told

no remnant of shame

His blood left remain

the chosen set free,

whitewashed from dark stain

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june

from bud to blossom

His radiance, her face

she gleaned securely

in His warm embrace

a summer in soul city

this sunflower thrives,

as a fitnessing foodie

on hill country drives.

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july

celebrating her independence

in red white and blue

wedding two heart friends

and traveling to peru.

her unceased ventures

were met with a frown

by the long sufferings of a parasite

slowing her way down

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august

a call to the stage

beckoned her step so bold

with spotlights and speakers

and a harvest tenfold

in faith and obedience

to quiet commands

surprised by joy

and awestruck she stands

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september

moving into a cottage crooked

with heart ‘n soul friends

and starting a dream job

with some pressure to pretend

humbled by heartache,

and sin exposed,

ignited a season to fight

nasty lies imposed.

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october

detoxing from sugar

and training for 26.2

revealed cobwebbed corners

and undisciplined residue

yet, relentlessly met with

a Father’s word worthy

she celebrated year 25

in His severe mercy

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november

He brought her to breaking

then took her to greece

her eyes saw and ears heard

heart longing for restored peace

her city greeted her return

in a season of gratitude

and just a few days later

with a baby boy boston dude

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december

He’s beckoned her to the nations

disciples to go and make

yet the call to come and die

leaves her life here at stake

would she lay it down

to follow His voice

dreams, plans, desires

making Him alone her choice?

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New Year

Length of days does not profit me

  except the days are passed in they presence.

  in thy service, to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides,

  sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour,

  that I may not be one moment apart from thee,

  but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought,

     speak in every word,

     direct every step,

      prosper every work,

      build up every mote of faith,

  and give me a desire to show forth thy praise;

     testify thy love,

     advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,

  with thee, O Father, as my harbor,

  thee, O Son, at my helm,

  thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt,

  my lamp burning,

  my ear open to thy calls,

  my heart full of love,

  my soul free.

Give me the grace to sanctify me,

    thy comforts to cheer,

    thy wisdom to teach,

    thy right hand to guide,

    thy counsel to instruct,

    thy law to judge,

    thy presence to stabilize.

May thy fear be my awe,

    thy triumphs my joy.

[Valley of Vision, New Year p. 112]

in her pretending

Since my last post, the sun sits a little different in the sky, the night air has a briskier bite, and my iced fruity refreshments have turned to steamy pumpkin comforts.

The seasons are indeed, shifting.

And in the shifting of seasons, in the transition of a new job, into a new house and among a new community, a still small voice challenges her being,  “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

She likes to think she knows who she is. She even has a sure answer, and it accurately reflects the essence of her existence, that is, when she FEELS loved by God, when her life is together and support systems are in place. Self-acceptance here is relatively easy. She may even claim that she is coming to love herself. When she is strong, on top, in control, and ‘in fine form’, her sense of security crystalizes.

But what happens when life begins to spin out of control? What happens when she no longer FEELS loved, when her seasons begin to shift, when her sin is exposed and her failures are highlighted? What happens when her fears come true, and her dreams shatter? What happens when, yet again, she comes face to face with the human condition?

[She] sits beneath this honest tree of [her] freedom, and [her] insecurity. And [she] goes back and forth between where [she] is, and where [she] wants to be. And [she] wrestles with the doubts that crowd, [her] redemption and release. And [she] struggles with what people think, and what I think of me….

(Donna Stuart, ‘Carry Me’)

In this in between a false self rises, ‘the imposter’ as Brennan Manning describes in his book, Abba’s Child (the following is a personalization of his thoughts). In her false hood, she is a pretender, a compromiser of her true self, insecure in her own skin and using others for how she might win.

in her pretending,

Adapting to each evolving situation, she has no personality of her own. She prefers to be plain; to blend in, there is less of her to reject that way. She wants only to be safe, to fit in, to be accepted, to be liked.  She is incapable of direct speech, she hedges, waffles, procrastinates, and remains silent out of a fear of rejection. Her opinions and ideas remain unspoken. Silence is safer.

Because of her suffocating need to please others, she cannot say no with the same confidence with which she says yes. She overextends herself in people, projects, and causes, motivated not by personal commitment, but by fear of not living up to others expectations. Living out of her creates a compulsive desire to present a perfect image to the public so that everybody will admire her yet she will remain unknown. Her life becomes a perpetual roller-coaster rode of elation and depression.

She is preoccupied with her weight, and is often grieved by the scale indications from the night before binging. Her reflection in a side store window kidnaps her attention away from the voice of Jesus and temporarily rob her of the Truth of His Word. She sizes herself up against any roomful of women. She finds ways to justify a preoccupation with her waistline and overall appearance cunningly and creatively with cultural health trends. She is obedient to the whisper of lies. She is narcissistically obsessive. The amount of time, energy and thought she devotes to acquiring and maintaining a certain image is staggering.

She strives after the woman that she wants to be, but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about her. She draws identity from meeting the needs of others and performing with excellence. She wants to stand well with people of prominence because that enhances her sense of self-worth. Success to her is people liking and approving of her. Failure is being rejected.

She assumes the passive role in relationships, snuffs out her creative thinking, denies her real feelings, allows herself to be intimidated by others and then rationalizes her behavior by coaxing the ‘gentle and quiet spirit- woman of peace’ card. She is devoted to a life in the shadows. She hungers for excitement and craves some mood-altering experience.

She is afraid.

She is in me, and she must be called out of hiding, accepted and embraced. She is an integral part of my total self. The art of gentleness towards her leads to being gentle with others. Hatred of the pretender in me is actually self-hatred, and self-hatred always results in some form of self-destructive behavior. (i.e. for this season, gluttony manifested in 13lbs. since my last post) And I scorn her for the result of this rebellion. However, with a graciousness and an understanding of human weakness that only God can exhibit, He thus liberates us from alienation and self-condemnation and offers each of us a new possibility. He is the Savior who saves us from ourselves. His Word is freedom. Jesus discloses God’s true feelings toward us in the life He lived in the flesh when He dwelt among us. The understanding and compassion He offered those He encountered then, He also offers you and me.

Over the past year, I’ve begged of God a meek and feeble request that he might cause me to fall in love with myself. Not in an arrogant and self-righteous manner, but from an attitude of humility, to view myself from His gaze, by His grace. To love myself with each breath, breathing in simultaneously through one nostril awareness of who I am without Jesus, insufficient, depraved and desperate, and through the other, who I am with Him, perfected, loved and redeemed. Both are significant to the bane of my existence as a follower of Christ, to be known accurately, and loved wholly. But how might I extend this love as an agent of His to others if I resist to extend it to myself? I can’t.

So what will it take to ‘love me for me’? To love not only the me that FEELS lovable, but to love the me that frustrates me most, to love the me that is most despised, shamed and criticized.  To love the pretender. What will it take to embrace her with the same understanding and compassion that Christ asks us to follow Him in?

Hence, a letter to her:

Hi there, Pretender,

After years treating you with contempt and shame, my heart softens as if I’m looking into your eyes for the first time. I’ve long viewed you as a ragamuffin of a little girl, victimized and abused, neglected and abandoned; one to keep hidden, unacknowledged and left out. When I think of your present position in my life, I see the parts of me playing a game of Red Rover on my elementary school playground at recess. Lined up, hand in hand, I see Outgoing Kara entertaining the crowd, Deep Thinker Kara gazing into the sky, Tender Hearted Kara restoring harmony, Competitive Kara keeping score, Planner Kara directing the game, Prepared Kara suited appropriately, Fun Kara dancing around, Organized Kara administrating order, Creative Kara crafting with dandelions, Light Hearted Kara hootin’ and hollarin’, Reserved Kara taking it all in…. and then, there on the sidelines, in the shadows, ignored and unnoticed by all, there you are, Pretender Kara, crying out to be-loved. Even Tender Hearted Kara is too jaded to acknowledge you, let alone invite you to join in on the adventure of life. They know that you are there, but choose to ignore you. Why? When were you cast out? When did it all change?

When my sister was hurt, and my parents were doing their best with the circumstances at hand, you intervened and showed me where to hide. At that moment in time, you were invaluable. Without your intervention I would have been overwhelmed by dread and paralyzed by fear. You were there for me and played a crucial, protective role in my development. Thank you. You taught me where I could be me. In the safety of my closet, and in the muffle of my pillow, I could express myself fully. But in the construction process you taught me how to hide my real self from everyone and initiated a lifelong process of faking it, or as Momma would say, ‘Cowboyin’ up’. Your resourcefulness enabled me to survive. But you gained momentum a little too quickly, and your saving places became hidden disgraces. You started lying to me. ‘Kara,’ you whispered, ‘if you persist in this thoughtlessness of being yourself, you will be alone. No one will love you. Stuff your feelings, shut down your memories, withhold your opinions, and develop social graces so that you’ll fit in wherever you are.’ And the masking began. A variety of people and places stroked this behavior. It was admirable. How could I object? Instead, I just fed you. Your appetite for attention and affirmation became insatiable. I never confronted you with this lie because I was deceived and hardened myself. The reality, my dear one, is that you are both needy and selfish. You need care, love and a safe dwelling place. You long to be in the presence of Jesus. Your days of running recklessly are over with. Slow your roll. In His presence, I notice that you have begun to shrink. Wanna know somethin’ little one? You’re much more attractive that way, smaller and slower. I am nicknaming you, “Pretty”. Pre-tender: a state prior to tenderness; Pre-teen: your birth season, but Pretty: my acknowledgement, compassion and acceptance towards you. Naturally, you are not going to go away. I wouldn’t want that. You are a part of me. However, you will not control me. I know you will get frazzled at times, and start to act out, but the longer you spend time in the presence of Jesus, the less adoration you will need because you will have discovered for yourself that He is Enough. And in the Presence, you will delight in the discovery of what it means to live by grace and not by performance.

So, Pretty, wanna come play Red Rover?

Kara

in her confessions from a sick day

today, is one of those days.

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I write this post with a near view of my bedside table complete with: a half eaten tupperware of brown rice, Pepto Bismol wrappers, an empty bottle of Gatorade, a freshly stocked supply of Imodium and a squeezed out applesauce pouch. Indicating only one thing, a Peruvian friend hiding out in my digestive track initiating varying patterns of earthquakes and tidal waves; thus, keeping me a) in the comforting billows of my bed b) near a toilet c) from being productive and d) out of touch with Olympic prime time.

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iPad Olympics                                                                billows of my bed

After lamenting my losses, it occurred to me that perhaps my little friend is probing my intestines to teach me a lesson or two on ‘ceasing’. Shortly preceding my tummy tumults, I read a post by a respected teacher and friend, Matt Lantz, on his Confessions from a Sabbatical. Almost a week into my aching, his thoughts came back to resonate a little more audibly,

The word for sabbath means “to cease”. And only in ceasing can there be rest as God intended. Over the years, I think my attempts to rest have been simply because I’m not at work or not working hard. It is also possible to rest without ceasing. I think the sabbatical was the first time I have ever experienced rest because I ceased. And the rest wasn’t just relaxing or refreshing, it was enlightening. I had this thought one day: “If I ceased like this every week, I wouldn’t be as blind as I have been.” So, I guess, in taking the time to cease I not only discovered genuine rest; I also experienced insight into how I ought to return to my work when my rest is over.

Until recently being forced ‘to cease’, I thought I had an accurate perspective of ‘sabbathing’. As I attempt to ‘rest’, I’ve found myself still going: cooking, running, writing, painting, reading; all life giving things, refreshing and relaxing, even enlightening, but still in motion, ‘i-n-g-ing’. However, being capable of very little these past few days, I realized how very rarely I actually stop… everything. Though I’m not writing on confessions from a sabbatical, I would agree with Matt that these past few sick days have been the first time I’ve experienced rest because I ceased, or was forced to cease.

 So, as I continue to mimic my former rabbi, the following are a few of her confessions of a sick day.

Confession #1: I am vain. One of the most, literally, gut-wrenching parts of ceasing everything, has been stopping a) sun exposure and b) exercise, two things I regularly group into my ‘resting’. Now, I’d like to lie, as I have the past few days, and say that I miss these things for legitimate reasons like soaking up vitamin D or enacting endorphins. However, when I found myself sitting in my gym parking lot two days ago, with a stealthily packed bag of workout clothes and swimsuit after telling a concerned friend I was headed to the doctor, a tainted motivation of these two ‘delights’ came to the surface… vanity. Fortunately, an eruption of cramps kept me from my planned noon boxing class, out of my swimsuit and sent me in tears of repentance to the doctor. To be honest, ceasing here has revealed my narcissistic fear of a) being pale and b) falling out of shape. Widdled down even further, these fears of not attaining a certain physical appearance really stem from an insecurity of being unaccepted and eventually, unloved.

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a few days ceased from these fave activities

So, where does she go from here? This sin revealed doesn’t stop me from plotting how to get to the TownLake trail right this second, nor does it demand I be locked in a closet and out of sunlight. More deeply rooted than changing the behavior, is digging beneath the marred motivation to the belief of these nasty ole deceiving lies; lies that her physical appearance indicate her worth and value; lies that she isn’t accepted and that she is unlovable. Disguised with convincing validity in her head, these lies, unconfessed, make the Truth that much more unbelievable. The Truth is that though she is more depraved than she could ever imagine, she is more loved than she dared dream; so loved, in fact, that her worth lead to a sinless man’s death in her place declaring her acceptance redeemed. Worthy. Valuable. Accepted. Beloved. It is this truth that sets her free, but what she lacks is faith. And so she prays as she has so many times before, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

Confession #2: I am forgetful. Just three days back after spending a week on a mission trip to Peru, I was so consumed with what I had missed and how to get caught up that I jumped straight back into the hustle and bustle of life completely forgetting the faces and places that tremendously influenced me while spending a week outside of my North American comforts. Ceasing social activities and work responsibilities has forced me to remember and reflect on how experiencing God’s love for the people I encountered in Peru transformed my heart and mind.  The original intent of this post was to share more of those thoughts, but it seems as if the good Lord had other things he wanted to bring to the keyboard. Potentially more on Peru later, but for now, a sneak peek:)

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quirio, peru. an old settlement where we spent most of our time

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this woman. mmmmm. one day. some day. we’ll meet again.

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a few more of my favorite peruvian pretties

Watch this video to learn more about where we were, and read a blog post about a personal experience of how the Lord lead and equipped us in Comforting a family in mourning.

Confession #3: I crave connection. As much as I fight for alone time, and have a tendency to isolate, I desperately crave connection; to know and be known, to love and be loved. Hence, my first bed ridden go-to was exhausting every single social media avenue. How can I whimsically but subtly alert the whole world that my intestines are turning inside out? Because, it’s vital that they know, right? I’ll tweet this, instagram that, text him, facebook her. Then, I’ll write a blog post about all of it! For cutsie sake, for laughter sake, but really, for sympathy sake. I’ll see you, hear you, know you, understand you and ‘like’ you, if you see me, hear me, know me, understand me, and ‘like’ me….. Isn’t that what we’re screaming through all of our networking? “Here I am!! Somebody, LOVE ME!” So, maybe I’ve thought a lot about this before, and maybe I’m totally off. However, I do know that fit hit the shan when after a few hours of striving for connection, interactions with others ceased, and I was alone, desperately longing to be cared for. It took me two whole days to settle into a ceasing of interactions with others to rest in contentment with the only One who fully, wholly and completely sees, hears, knows, understands and loves me.

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    tweet-i-n-ging + instagram-i-n-ging                                 gracious and patient sympathizing souls

In closing, I consider it the severe mercy of Him who loves me so, to allow this little friend to enter my body causing humiliating symptoms and debilitating reactions so that my eyes could see, ears could hear and heart could be softened to His relentless and lavish steadfast love.

as she radiates

 

So, what’s with the sunflowers?

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When I was a little girl, my aunt worked as a florist in a flower shop in Dallas. On an occasionally rare summer day, I would spend the afternoon at the shop, creating with my little imagination and busying my little hands, pretending that I, too, was a little florist. Each time I visited, my aunt would inquire which of the flowers was my favorite, and each time, I directed my awe towards the bold and radiant face of the strong stemmed sunflower. Something about its captivating warmth ignited a sense of wonder in my little spirit. No other flower got me like it did, and there in that flower shop a little seed was planted in my heart…

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And as that little seed sprouted she found that no matter how hard she worked, or how much she strived, she could not become a flower on her own. She desperately needed rain, sun and soil in order to thrive. This little sprout had no need to worry, for she was so dearly loved even before she became a seed. So loved in fact, that ever so faithfully, the rains replenished, the soil rooted and the sun cultivated. And one day, this little sprout blossomed into a radiant sunflower, one whose image reflected that of the Sun and it’s rays that brought her to life. The Sun so loved His little sunflower, that as He rose in the east sky each morning, He captured her attention with His love and maintained it throughout the day and into the night as He settled through dusk in the west sky. In response, the little sunflower so loved the Sun that she could not leave the gaze of His face. She was so dependent on His rays for life, that she actually followed His lead across the sky until night, and waited for Him to rise again each morning.

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The Sun loved His sunflower, and she loved the Sun. Everything was absolutely perfect…. for a while. But then the seasons began to shift, and a powerful wind came from the north nearly snapping her strong stem. Before she could recover from such a destructive force, a bitter winter attacked with freezes that sent her into a state shock and confusion. She began to question the Sun and His love for her… Why didn’t He protect her from such significant pain and abuse? She wondered if the Sun had forgotten about her, or if He cared about her. And worse of all, she questioned if He even loved her at all. These seasons caused a drooping of insecurity in her strong stem, and her confidence in the Sun’s rays was thwarted.

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Because she hesitated to believe the Sun’s love for her, she looked around her to find significance. She often found herself leaning upon other sunflowers, which seemed to only take her deeper into the shadows and further away from the Sun’s rays. Before long, she found herself with no one else to lean on, and she was alone. The wilt of her stem was so damaged from hurt that had been done to her and the hurt she had done to others, that in the shadow of her own petals she could barely catch a glimpse of the Sunlight.

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In her loneliness and in the barrenness of drought that had plagued her seed, the Sun began to woo her to Himself, and there He restored her with the truth of his love for her. He made a promise to her and told her that he would always rise for her and chase after her with His rays because she is precious in His eyes, and honored, and He loves her. She so badly wanted to believe Him and receive the love of His rays, but she was afraid. What about the wind? and the cold? What if she got lost in the shadows? How would she find His rays again? The sun assured her that though the seasons may be tough and His face may become hard to find, He would always be with her. 

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And so the seasons came and went, some brutally tore down, and others graciously built up. At times, she stood alone among a field of weeds, and other times she was surrounded by a community of other thriving sunflowers. Regardless, each day the Sun was faithful to His promise, and in His rays, her stem grew stronger through each season.

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The sunflower began to notice how sensitive she was to the trying times, and became angry at the Sun for giving her the tendencies of a weak and needy sunflower. She wished she was a different flower. The roses didn’t require as much sunlight, and the lilies were miraculously resilient. Why couldn’t she be like them? Why did she feel the hurt so deeply? The Sun reassured her of how perfectly He had created her with a specific purpose as a sunflower. Yes, she was sensitive to the forces of nature, but her tenderness cultivated strength in her to persevere, and that perseverance produced a character of hope and a giftedness to understand, comfort and cultivate that hope for other sunflowers. Her presence inspired positivity and an uplifting, warm, calm and steady atmosphere. In her passion and a zeal, life blossomed around her. The Sun also acknowledged how dear she was to him, because no other flower was as desperate for His rays as she was. He reminded her that in her neediness and weakness, she is dependent on him, and there, she thrives most radiantly.

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As the seasons circulated, she found what the Sun said was true about her. She believed him, and the more captivated by the Sun she was, the more confident she was in His rays. In her dependence on Him, she was living the life she was created for, and it was the life she had always imagined. She was a beloved companion of the Sun, and she believed it.

It is in her belovedness that she comes alongside of others to inspire the love of the Sun by cultivating the hope and grace of Him who leaves no remnant of shame. I imagine in her in her belovedness and I see a field stretching endlessly of sunflowers whose faces are confidently fixed on the Sun as they reflect the radiance of His image and the glorious splendor of His name.

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She is a sunflower.

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God gave me this little word picture in December of 2011 hence igniting an infatuation with sunflowers as a reminder of who I am as a ‘beloved companion’ and what I am created for in the coming alongside of others to inspire the love of Christ. Since the revelations of the this picture, I have asked the Lord to show me a field of sunflowers reflecting the radiance of the sun. I often pretended the Texas highways lined of wild weeded of mini yellows and browns satisfied this request, but inside, I longed to see the real deal. I thought driving to Kansas might be the only way to get there, but when would I have a time or a legitimate reason to do that? To meet my dream in the middle, this vibrant blossom has a tendency to pop up on my desktop background, facebook cover photo, accenting my room or adding a splash to the white watercolor pad beneath my paint brush. Additionally, the Lord likes to remind me of my belovedness as His, by using a dear friend to refresh my bedstand with a few fresh cut stems or reveal unexpected glimpses of a the yellow petals throughout my day. However, I always imagined that the field of dreams would be left up to me to find for myself…

I once believed that my life as a sunflower was a life of shame, one to be kept in the shadows. I thought that certain ‘seasons’ should never be shared, and should remain private. This was fed by my fear of disappointment, rejection and motivated by my longing for approval and acceptance. Last March, God told me that He wasn’t finished with my story. That the story He was writing in my life was not my story of shame, but His story of grace, to be testified of as His redemptive rescue. I clamored at the thought of it, and rejected His command. But over the next ten months He softened my heart to the idea of sharing His story of grace, not only with those who I felt safe with, but also as He asked me at random and to those who have been tormented in the same seasons as I have. So, in December of this year, He exhorted me with, “On your mark, get set, GO!!!” And I began to testify openly of how He had saved me from darkness and my own destructive ways.

Over the past two months, I’ve been given opportunities to testify of His story of grace in my life in front of five different large groups, and each time He has been faithful to meet me where He’s called me. In sharing about the ‘seasons of shame’, He’s overwhelmed me with blossoms of others seeking refuge from similar tormenting, and I am blown away, and humbled as He continues to reveal His sovereignty.

My last opportunity to share was in front of a group of middle school through young adult aged ladies as I spoke on who we are as the beloved bride of Christ. I woke up the next morning more exhilarated for the Lord than I can ever remember being and was moved to tears as my roommate and I processed the evening that had preceded us. Overwhelmed in awe, I was excited to have a three hour drive to Cleburne for my mom’s birthday to reflect and rejoice in God’s grace, power and faithfulness. Singing, dancing, smiling and crying filled the next two hours as I eagerly anticipated a weekend of rest at home with my family.

In my last stretch of windows down and JJ Heller up, I saw a field painted in yellow on the horizon. I thought, “Hmmm, how cool would it be if that was a field of sunflowers… Nah, it would be too absolutely perfect to be true. Not here outside of Hillsboro, TX on a road I’ve driven a hundred times before…” My mind got distracted in thought and I forgot about the brief glimpse. About five minutes later, I dazingly glanced to my left, and there it was, extending as far in the distance as I could see staring directly at me and captivated by the sun in the sky behind me, a field of sunflowers….

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Each one, radiantly fixed on the sun. I had never seen anything more glorious.

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I immediately whipped a U-Turn, pulled over, jumped a fence and ran recklessly into my dream come true, arms high and heart abandoned. Tears painted my face as I caught my breath in awe of God’s specific and significant love for me.

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And He reminded me, “You, my beloved, are a sunflower. I am the sun, and I hold you in my rays. Absolutely nothing can separate you from my love. It is by grace dear one, through faith and for my glory that in your belovedness, you radiate alongside of other sunflowers as they follow my lead across the sky. Well done, my faithful one. I am proud of you, and I love you.”

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along her journey

A few weeks ago I was given the opportunity to participate in a ‘Silent Retreat’. The intent was to get away, get alone, get quite, be still and acknowledge God. I’m not going to lie, initially, I wasn’t thrilled about it. I had just come off a week saturated with time to myself and the last place I wanted to be going into my weekend was alone.

Regardless, I brought plenty to-do and planned on filling this time alone with tasks to distract me from quiteing my busy mind. I  began my Saturday of silence and solitude finishing up the daunting task of my personal inventory, one of the rigorous steps of Recovery. In taking a break, I decided it would be a good idea to go for a run to hammer out and relax the tenseness in my body before lunch. I took off at a faster pace than normal and followed this well marked trail…

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Just past ten minutes into my run, this well marked path began to disappear. I frusteratingly slowed my steps to keep an extra eye on my footing. Inside, I heard a still soft voice whispering, “Kara my dear, slow down. You’re going to miss me.” I ignored this beckoning and focused on burning off my AppleJacks from earlier that morning.

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The trail became increasingly unpredictable, and in debating a turn around, I heard the voice again, “Just slow down, I want to meet you, but you can’t see me when you’re running so fast. Stop and look.”  At last, I gave in, kicking a few rocks out of irritation as I caught my breath. ‘You have my attention now!’ I mumbled saracstically in my thoughts. As I wandered down the path seeking to discern its vagueness, I began to contemplate how this hike mirrored my own life’s journey.

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There were several times where the path’s subtleness became so slight that I had to pause and survey my surroundings to find it’s lead. At one point, I lost all sight of the trail, and found myself wandering around, tracing and retracing my steps, drifting into panic as I neared twenty minutes without a hint of direction.

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In my hurry to regain guidance, my feeble ankle gave way as I stepped harshly on a rock causing my whole leg to buckle, losing my footing and falling to the ground below.  I walked it off with a slight limp, but strength was quick to rejuvenate my stride as I relocated the path ahead. This was the first of many ankle turns, slips and trips, some worse than others, each a reminder to keep careful watch over my foot placement especially when the trail turned rigid and rocky.

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The path varied in its terrain, at times I was refreshed alongside of trickling waters…

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shaded by a large live oak tree…

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disturbed by dryness and desolation…

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confused by unclear options…

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haunted by a barren riverbed…

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decieved by beauty, and pricked by a thorn…

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captivated by the lushness of spring surrounding me…

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 and romanced by the ever present whisping of wildflowers and clicking flutters of butterflies…

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After about an hour of hiking, my stomach began to rumble, and I wondered how, when and where I would find my way back to the camp grounds for lunch. Flustered in the angst of uncertainty I picked up the pace of my steps longing to return to familiarity. As anxiety became rampant in my thoughts, I anticipated the possibility of my brisk moving Asics catching the tail of a snake. I began to plead with the whisperings in my head, “Can’t we just get back already? Take me home! Please, Daddy, I am afraid.” And just then, my sight caught glimpse of a sliced view of spectacularity just over the hill I was tredging. I topped the tomult to encounter a foretaste of glory…

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Anxiety instantly faded as I found myself alone before the cross. There, the whispers became almost audible, “Beloved, remember, I am with you. Be still. Acknowledge me. Listen to me. Let me remind you of my love for you.”

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“I know this journey you are on seems long and hard. It is full of various kinds of suffering, confusion, angst and uncertainty, but, dear one, this journey brings you home to me. Though you cannot see me now, you believe in me, and I am with you. I am with you in every step. In fact, I have gone before you and I come behind you. When the path is well defined and effortless to endure, and when the path is ambiguous and daunting threatening your footing with each step, I am with you. I am with you when you slip and fall, when you’re confused, and even when you get lost. I feel your pain, and I hear your cry. I will protect you from snakes, and will make my way known to you. Do not fear. I have redeemed you. Remember dearly, you are worth my life, worth dying for, not because of anything you have done, but because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…”

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“I know that you’re anxious for me to come back for you, once and for all, but darling the journey isn’t over yet. Until then, I am preparing a place for you, my Spirit is with you, and I long to bless you with glimpses of my glory, and reminders of my love to give you a foretaste of my promises fulfilled. Slow down to seek me, and when you find me, follow me.  I have spectacular veiws in store for you…”

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“Trust me, beloved, you are mine.”

The weight of this love humbled me to a weak collapse laying across the bench beneathe the cross. I breathed deeply, and rest assured of His presence with me. A tear painted my cheek as I realized  how quick I am to busy my thoughts, obsess over distractions, succomb to fear, speed up in impatience and altogether, forget who I am as a beloved companion of the Most High God.

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However, regardless of my faithlessness, whoredom and imperfection, my Redeemer is relentless in chasing after me, and He won’t ever stop. I can’t get away. Some how, I am precious in His eyes and He has called me worthy. Worthy enough to die for.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8

in her weakness

she is limited.

Recently, I’ve encountered the reality that I am not perfect.

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My physical body is dying and will return to dust. I have stretch marks, wrinkles and cellulite. My memory is splotchy, and my intellect is narrow. I forget my mom’s birthday every year, and it took me 3 semesters to pass college calculus. My gifts and talents are few. I am not the best at anything. Teach me a rhythmic dance, and laugh. My personality is it’s own. I feel deeply and process slowly. Pinch me, and I’ll probably cry. Ask me to solve a problem efficiently, and breed panic. My time is running out. I can’t do it all. There will be goals unmet and dreams unlived. I won’t be an astronaut, have thirteen kids or climb Mt. Everest. My work is hard. It remains thorns and thistles, and I am unfulfilled. Even if I got paid to bask beneath the sun on a tropical island, I would still find a way to complain. My material possessions will be destroyed. My iPhone and iPad will soon be outdated, and eventually, those Anthropologie dresses will be eaten by moths or stolen. My relationships are infected, every single one of them. I hurt people. People hurt me. My understanding is confused. I don’t get it. Who God really is is beyond my comprehension.

I am limited.

I am not God.

And it kinda sucks.

As I come to embrace these limitations, I am grieved. I suffer loss. I experience death. Real death.

in her weakness.

So to keep her from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given her in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass her, to keep her from becoming conceited. Three times she pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave her. But he said to her, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore she will boast all the more gladly of her weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon her. For the sake of Christ, then, she is content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when she is weak, then she is strong. [2 Corinthians 12:7-10]

That damn thorn. It’s pestering lies from my enemy. The way that it threateningly stalks. The sting, suffocation and irritation at the slightest bump, twist or turn. What it kills. Where it limits. How it confuses. It’s sensitivity to infection. It’s decieving whispers. It’s ability to pierce my side in the midst of a dead sprint, leaving me stumbling, keeling over and falling to my knees. Owwwieee. GET IT OUT!!! “Please, Father, wouldn’t you take it from me? Don’t you see how it disables me? It tears away at me. It rips at my side. I hate it! I long to be rid of it. Can you numb it? Will you remove it? Pleeease! I beg of you!”

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“Beloved daughter, I am enough for you. For through this thorn, you have come to me, you have heard me, you know me and you follow me. In your desperation, you have tasted and seen that I am good. In your disability, I have carried you. In your pain, you seek me, and you find me. In it’s lies, you search for truth. In it’s attack, you run to refuge in my arms. In your limits, I am limitless. In your destruction, I will restore. Darling daughter, through this thorn I have captivated you. I have wooed you into the reality of my loving kindness. Here, where you are nothing, where you are limited, where you need, is where I am perfected, and it’s where my grace and power are perfecting my image in you. Trust me. Follow me. I am sovereign, and I love you.”

she is wooed.

Therefore, behold, I will allure her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. And there I will give her her vineyards and maker the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. [Hosea 2:14-15]

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The wilderness is a place of exile. It is where I meet weakness. It is where I am limited. It is death. It is the human way of life. It’s always a test, and it’s always confusing, but it’s a good place to be. In the desert is where God woos me to Himself. I don’t merely survive when weak, but it is in my weakness, in the desert, where I flourish. In my limitations, I learn to let go of my little kingdoms and discover a nobler King than myself. I die to my false self that could never enter the kingdom of God. Here, in death, dependence on God is essential and independence from Him as absolutely lethal. I own emptiness here, and encounter the inability of created things to satisfy. Here, is where the bonds of captivity are stripped, and the hope for deliverance is restored. In this desperation is where God reveals Himself as trustworthy, sovereign and worth following.

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from death to life.

Deep in the desert, where limitations are revealed, weakness is encountered and death is real, I am prompted to trust the living God. I look to Jesus on the Mount of Olives as He faced the reality of death, proclaiming, ‘Father, not my will, but yours, be done.’ What followed this surrender to the Father was grief, suffering, betrayal, abandonment, mockery, accusation, striping, bruising, beating, piercing and ultimately death. Real death. Death that I’ll never encounter. Death that I was saved from, because Jesus died this death for me. But this death wasn’t the end. The truth is, He rose from the grave, and He is alive!

In His death, He rose again, and in His resurrection, there is hope. But resurrection requires death. Real death. Where there is death, there is resurrection. And where there is resurrection, there is transformation and restoration. Therefore, in my weakness, in limitations and in death, there is hope. I delight in my dying and rejoice in my weaknesses, because here, He brings me to life. Here, His power is perfecting me.

For, in her weakness, she is strong.

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Weakness 

O Spirit of God

Help my infirmities;

When I am pressed down with a load of sorrow,

                perplexed and knowing not what to do,

                slandered and persecuted,

                made to feel the weight of the cross,

                                help me, I pray thee.

If thou seest in me any wrong thing encouraged,

                any evil desire cherished,

                any delight that is not thy delight,

                any habit that grieves thee,

                any nest of sin in my heart,

                                then grant me the kiss of thy forgiveness,

                and teach my feet to walk the way of thy commandments.

Deliver me from carking care,

                and make me a happy, holy person;

Help me to walk the separated life with firm and brave step,

                and to wrestle successfully against weakness;

Teach me to laud, adore, and magnify thee,

                with the music of heaven,

And make me a perfume of praiseful gratitude to thee.
I do not crouch at thy feet as a slave before a tyrant,

                but exult before thee as a son with a father.

Give me power to live as thy child in all my actions,

                and to exercise sonship by conquering self.

Preserve me from the intoxication that comes of prosperity;

Sober me when I am glad with a joy that comes not from thee..

Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom,

                not asking whether the road be rough or smooth.

I request only to see the face of him I love,

                to be content with bread to eat,

                                with raiment to put on,

if I can be brought to thy house in peace.

(p. 103) Valley of Vision

A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

the anchors of her soul

When she forgets…

As a prone wanderer and one so forgetful of how specific and significant God’s promises are, melt downs, slips, spirals and tail spins are familiar reactions for this deep-feeling, over-thinking little lady.

But, they don’t have to be.

Over the course of the past year, thought provoking conversations have left me with hopeful and victorious alternatives in side stepping these pitfalls. Challenged by the voices of a few beloved friends, I’ve been encouraged to-

  • Identify anchors.  When I feel myself begin to slip, what is it that I can throw into the side of a cliff for anchoring to prevent a landslide? (Katelyn Farrar)
  • Consider David as a deep feeler. Where did He go for anchoring? (Jennifer Crouse)
  • Create a list of the top 35 things that bring me to life. (Kortni Wright)
  • Do what I love, bring people with me, and meet people along the way. (Diana Christenson)

Frequently, when lies are loud, hurt is real and pain is deep, a culmination of these truth bearing exhortations have awakened action to discover what it means for me to draw near, come to and seek Jesus. In all of my pursuit, He is relentlessly faithful in meeting me. Always, He is found.  Always, He draws near. Always, He provides rest. It is in these places, in the anchors of my soul, where He reminds me of His promises, relentless, covenanted and specific and significant for me.

Whether the onset of spring, the 80 degree Austin weather, the highways lined of wildflowers or my recent discovery of the incredible hiking terrain within miles of my apartment, His reminders have been overwhelmingly lavish in the past few weeks, and I. am. captivated. Here is a glimpse of where He has met me lately to remind me of how great and precious His promises are.

The Anchors of Her Soul

 The warmth of the radiating sun.

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The scrutiny of written words.

The endless dirt road in the distance.

The vast rolling hill country view.

The unknown adventure ahead.

The freedom felt in nylon Nike shorts.
The deep connecting in conversation.
The chilled water trickling over my feet.

The streaking of tears down my cheek.
 The warm twinge of tea to my lips.

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 The first taste of a dry, crisp white wine.

The combination of flavors on my pallet.

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The cursive ink trail following my pen’s movement.
The first colorful stroke on a white canvas.

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The clop scooting of cowboy boots on city sidewalks.
The picking strum on a six string acoustic.
The giggle of a beloved two-year-old red head.

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The burn of weary muscles.
The scenting flavor of cedar in my lungs.
The blossom of a budding blue bonnett.

The twang of Texas country music to my ears.

 The spinning on a wooden rustic dance floor.

The colors painting the dusk sky.

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Here, You catch my gaze. I feel Your embrace. I remember.
You see into me. You know me. You love me.
Specifically. Significantly.
I am yours.

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” –James 4:6

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28

“Seek and you will find.” –Matthew 7:7

“I will show you what he is like who comes to me, hears my words, and puts them into practice.” –Luke 6:46-4

in His promises

As she remembers…

This week last year, the Lord graciously and faithfully provided a way for me to venture through the land of Israel. My encounter with the ‘Promise Land’ just so happened to interrupt the most conscious season in my life of doubting God’s love for me. It was in the land that I began begging and pleading God to make me so very brave to believe and receive His promises specific and significant for me. And, it was there, in the land that He began to open my eyes, ears and heart to just how specifically and significantly He thinks of and cherishes me.

Gamla

 We met Gamla, one of the oldest synogugues in all of Israel, on our 6th day of hiking. Initially, Gamla was not the first place that came to mind when I thought about the providential ways God revealed Himself to me while in the land. However, looking back a year later, it is evident, that it was here, in Gamla where my Father’s promises for me began to blossom into my present understanding of how He loves.

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 Though the history, rarity and reverence of Gamla is radically noteworthy, it was in the hike to and from the ancient ruins that captivated my attention. As our shepherd lead us on a worn trail, I began to notice the radiance of these mustard plants that paved the path.

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As the hike progressed, this wild vegetation seemed to overwhelm me. The mustard blossoms bloomed high above my stance and blinded my twists and turns ahead. Additionally, as I braced brisk steps for footing among mist covered slippery rocks, a variety of other flowers of every size, color and shape popped up to reassure my awesome wonder. I had never seen such a vast assortment of vibrant wildflowers.

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I took note of the immeasurable spread of the mustard plant around me and looked intently into its seed remembering Jesus’ words in Matthew 17:20, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

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Lyrics by a beloved songwriter, Donna Stuart, surfaced in my heart, “I have dreamt and I have wondered how my scenery would change, if perhaps one day you watered this tiny mustard seed of faith.” So, I began to dream and wonder what my scenery might look like if I came to truly believe God’s love for me as specific and significant. The views were vast, broad, unfathomable, more than I could ever ask or imagine… and as much as I longed and hoped to see those views, I doubted, and cried, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk. 9:24)

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An overflow of my thoughts and wrestlings poured into a conversation that ignited a dear soul friendship on our hike back to the bus, and left these questions feebly chicken scratched in my journal,

  • What makes God’s love for me significant?
  • How do I know that it’s personal?
  • Why do I continue to trust and chase after human love that is not promised, is disappointing and is finite?
  • Why don’t I believe that His promised love for me is relentless, lavish, significant and specific enough to fill me?

In reflection of what God stirred inside my heart, I asked Him to show me evidence of ‘his precious and very great promises’ that are specific and significant for me. As I prayed for God to ‘fill my love cup’ each morning upon my return to the States, I began to see that evidence of his precious and very great promises everywhere I turned, and even more so, how He so delighted in showing me how these promises are specific and significant for me.

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Then, I remembered Gamla, and how in a field of overgrown mustard plants, in spite of my awareness, there, my Father got me. He swept me off my feet, threw me high into the clouds only to captivate me into His warm embrace.

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Not only did my Daddy chase after me through a breathtaking field of wildflowers that day in Israel, but He is in relentless pursuit of me every single moment- lavishly, recklessly, specifically and significantly… His divine power has granted me to his precious and very great promises. (1 Peter 2:4).

In looking back on all of God’s faithfulness since I began praying these prayers a year ago, He has indeed moved mountains, and my eyes have seen miracles. The sky is so much bigger, and I know that His words are true. But even now, I forget. I’m just like the Israelites, losing sight of the wonders of old, letting them slip from my heart and misusing and abusing the land He has promised me. I wresstle. I doubt, and frequently, I put greater confidence in the rickety ways of man to satisfy my desperations as I neglect the promises He so delights in pursuing me for. So as I and remember, I continue to beg and plead, “Lord, make me brave to believe.”

“Brave to Believe”

By Donna Stuart

Have Your way with my heart
Father not my will but Yours
For I know I am chosen and You’re calling me forth
But Father I am frightened
I’m terrified to fail
God of wonders please remind me that You’re here

Cause there is so much more to the story
Father give me eyes to see
As I wade into Your Jordan
Help me walk upon Your seas
I long to cross over to the land You promised me
I feel the weight on my shoulders
LORD make me brave to believe

Tell me where I must go
And Give me Your strength to fight
In this war I’m a soldier
In this war You are light
Father I am willing I trust You with my life
God of Wonders I’m convinced that You are here.

You delivered them from Egypt to the tune of Miriam’s song
You sustained them in the desert all along
So Father help me be like all the faithful before
The souls You reckoned as righteous
cause they believed You are LORD

in her belovedness

 

In Her Belovedness

 

She is loved. She is known. She is heard.

She is pure. She is innocent. She is blameless.

She is beauty. She is grace. She is delightful.

She is accepted. She is wanted. She is chosen.

 

What has been done to her.

What she has done.

Shame.

Lies.

Enslaved.

Insecurity.

What people think.

What she thinks.

Unforgiveness.

Her history.

Defeat.

Her hurts.

Where she is.

Where she wants to be.

 

She fears. She hides. She doubts. She cries.

She hopes. She dreams. She longs. She wishes.

She falls. She strives. She runs. She tries.

She loves. She hears. She knows. She cares.

 

Paid for. Washed clean. Made right. Redeemed.

Rescued. Complete. Found whole. Freed.

Saved. Proved genuine. Faithful. Righteous.

Reconciled. Justified. Perfected. Alive.

 

Believing. Receiving.

Trusting. Obeying.

Delighting. Abiding.

Hoping. Waiting.

 

Healing hearts.

Making miracles.

Lighting life.

Moving mountains.