Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When God Speaks

Last year I walked through a season of overwhelming despair.

And so I took pen to paper and did the only thing that I know how to do when that feeling hits.

I wrote to Him.

I wrote and journaled and let my heart empty out the things I didn't have the courage to even so  much as whisper in a prayer.

I shared with Him what I felt like were a series of mistakes that I had made during a really painful time in my life last year, as well as some really hurtful relational things that happened at the same time and I didn't know how to overcome them. I couldn't fix them. I couldn't undo them.

I also shared how unqualified and ill equipped I felt with anything regarding writing or blogging or ministry or marriage or the raising of children or even just life in general.

I highlighted my many mistakes, just in case He had failed to take note of them.

I also told Him that I honestly had no idea what He wanted me to do with The Pearl Event, with this blog, with the piles of notebooks filled with pages that could be books, the bible studies and teachings and lessons that I had been writing for the last ten years.

I shared with Him about how He needed to give it to someone else.

Someone more capable. Someone more qualified. Someone with ten degrees hanging on the wall. Someone with a huge realm of influence and big time platforms and blogs and callings. Someone with a famous husband or famous friends or the ability to just make phone calls and create backing and support and the like.

I'm not your girl, I told Him.

It shouldn't be this hard for this many years.

This feeling that overwhelms my heart every year of having to push through a giant wall of adversity and obstacles and doing the work of ten people solo to create an event to bless His daughters.

I'm a Mama and it's all I've ever done and it's all that I know how to do and there are days where I fail miserably at just that.

Lots of days, actually.

So I felt that for now, I should just try and focus on getting that right. After 24 years of parenting, I am still trying to figure out the mystery of motherhood and the raising of beautiful children.

I flipped to the last page and wrote whatever I felt He was speaking to my heart.

"I am the only connection you need. Stay connected to the source. I can make happen for you in a  moment what it takes people years to achieve on their own." 

And while I have never been nor will I ever be, the blogger who blogs with the "what's in it for me mentality" I couldn't help but wonder about what I thought He had called me to do, especially where The Pearl Event was concerned. I have spent the last six years blogging to give, not blogging to get.
Which is the complete opposite of most of the blog world.

But I have struggled as of late with feeling like a failure and with everything feeling really, really hard and even feeling like maybe I just completely missed it. Big time.

To create something from nothing.

One hundred percent grass roots.

Without mentors or huge influence or help or financial backing and with truck loads of naysayers waiting in the wings.

It is not for the faint of heart.

And so after many years of trying and failing, in my opinion, on New Years Eve this year I gave it all to Him. 

I carried it to Him, along with mountains of what I considered to be failure of epic proportions and I placed it at His feet.

I apologized for my failure and shortcomings and mistakes and for clearly not being able to execute whatever on earth it was that He wanted me to do.

I talked with a couple of faithful friends and shared with them that I was walking away from everything with the exception of my family.

It was time.

No more writing or speaking or blogging about Him. 

No more encouraging others through His word.

No more ministry.

No more Pearl Events or anything of the sort.

I'm leaving all of that for the perfect people and the experts and the qualified.

And so on Jan. 1 this year I told Him these things and said these words...

"Unless you tell me otherwise, I'm done." You have to do it Lord.

If you want me to do anything else ....You have to do it, so that I know it is all You. I can't do this any more."

I then wrote a blog post about editing your life and home stuff and didn't write anything else for nearly a month.

I was too busy walking through a crisis of faith.

Evaluating the last 10 years I had sown into the lives of others. The years I gathered women in my home every Wed. to love on them and share His word. The years of Pearl Events. The six years of filling the pages here with post after post all for His glory. The countless, endless things - all in His name. 

As well as rehearsing the mountain of mistakes I've made, which just so happens to be one of my spiritual gifts. 

I recounted them one by one, and tried to make some sense out of everything as well as justify it all.

And then, in spite of all of my shortcomings and mistakes and my walking away on Jan. 1 this year...

The Father came in like a flood.

He woke me up in the wee hours of the morning on Jan. 29th and asked me to write a post called "The New Church Lady."

To which I immediately replied with something along the lines of "NO WAY."

There isn't anything about me that would qualify me to write something like that- I am not a good church lady when meant in a good way and I struggle and fail miserably and have made way too many mistakes and besides, those words have such a negative connotation attached to them. Those words make people cringe, Lord.

Church ladies are notorious for excluding and judging and condemning and 
running the "Holy Huddle" at their various churches.

Why would anyone want to read that? 

No way.

And He whispered and wooed and prompted and guided and led and I relented.

And together we wrote. Just like we have nearly every post here these last six years.

And then because He is God and He is looking for willing and obedient and not perfection.

He sent nearly one million people here to read and share and forward that post- all in a manner of days.

And I went into a full fledged panic attack.

People from all over the country reached out in various ways, Pastors and leaders and clergy, asking permission to share it in their pulpits, and their Sunday School classrooms and with their bible studies and women's groups and in their newsletters and church bulletins.

They wrote and shared their own experiences and some even shared their own reasons for walking away from the church and ultimately from Him.

They wrote and shared about their own church hurt and the countless ways they had been excluded and rejected from the very place that should welcome anyone with open arms.

And I wept.

Because I laid it all down and considered myself a great failure in every category and I walked away and told Him that I was done.

And He decided that wasn't enough...

I was then connected with a wonderful agent and by His unmerited grace, I am now officially with Premiere Speakers Bureau and they will be booking any future speaking engagements and Pearl Events in various churches and cities.

And I wept.

Because I saw a glimpse of what He must be doing.

Because I never imagined that through this blog or through a small piece of my own testimony, He would speak with such volume.

And then, 

Because He is God all by Himself and there is no other .....

I was connected with a literary agent in Washington, DC. and by His grace, I am humbled to share that I am currently working on my first book proposal.

The agent will then pitch the book to various publishing houses in hopes of a book deal.

And that is when I nearly collapsed.

Because it feels so undeserved and so meant for someone else and also, so unbelievable.

This certainly was not meant for someone who has my testimony and who isn't a perfect church girl.

But when God speaks.

When God opens doors.

When God moves.

When God decides and orchestrates and sets things up according to His purpose and plan, no one can deny it.

This much is true.

And so with all humility of heart and knowing full well the mountain of mistakes I have made in life, I am, by His grace, writing whatever words He asks me to, and I am praying that He would simply have His way, that He would move and speak and orchestrate in whatever ways He so chooses through the pages of this proposal and through any upcoming speaking engagements and Pearl Events.

I would like to ask you to pray, if you feel led to, that God would pour out His spirit and His great love onto the pages of this book proposal and that He would supernaturally enable me to write it.

In between kissing babies and refereeing sibling arguments and folding loads of laundry and preparing lots of meals for our family, just to name a few things....

Thank you in advance beautiful friends.

With a heart in complete awe and wonder.

"I created you with a longing in your heart that only I can fill." Psalm 90:14

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Centerpiece of Lent

It was the fortieth day or the last day of Lent several years ago and I happened to be standing at the checkout counter in our local grocery store and couldn't help but notice the lane right next to me and the commotion going on.

 Seeing how it's usually my lane where all the commotion is.

At least when I take all five of them into the store with me anyway.

But on this particular day, the commotion was one lane over from me.

The checkout lady laughed with the gentleman and made a comment about how he must just really love potato chips.

She was busy laughing and ringing up at least twenty bags of every type of chips known to man.

And gracious I love chips. 

But what really struck me in that moment were the following words.

"I gave up potato chips for Lent."

And as someone who has great respect for the Lenten season and with full understanding that it is customary to give up something, a personal sacrifice of sorts, during this beautiful season....

I couldn't help but think about the main thing. 

The centerpiece of Lent.

The purpose and the reason and the whole point of these forty days.

Every, single thing during the forty days of Lent is to serve a greater purpose.

To strip us of ourselves and our own selfish desires and to press down the flesh.

For the "less of me and more of you" Lord purpose.

So that we can possibly even grow closer. Know Him more deeply. More intimately. More wondrously.

So that He can speak in some way and we will actually know His prompting, His leading, His guidance.

And for this.

So that we can love more deeply and serve others in a more selfless way.

So I'm just wondering, if potato chips and the like serve as a hindrance in our walk and we give them up for forty days....

Why on earth would we ever take up the eating of potato chips again?

If we are really sacrificing and laying aside real hindrances.

Isn't everything we do during those 40 days really about what happens on the 41st day?

And then every day after that?

Are Diet Coke, chocolate, potato chips, shopping and Facebook the real hindrances?

And if they are....

If those really are the things that keep us from growing closer to Him which keep us from loving others well and serving others with the right heart and the right spirit....

Why on earth are we standing in line to consume it all again on the forty first day?

And if those things are not the real hindrances ...

Which things are? 

Isn't that what we need to sacrifice and give up and lay aside....permanently?

Do we really want to love others well and do life with a heart of servitude and be quick to listen and slow to speak and meet the needs of those around us? Do we really want to know the prompting and leading and guidance of His sweet spirit in our lives?

These are just a few of the things I've asked myself this week.

Am I quick to just dismiss others when they hurt me or do I love others well- even in times of suffering in friendship and relationships?  Am I careful with the hearts of my family members and loved ones? Am I any kind of an example of the love of Christ to my three daughters? Do I demonstrate His great love to my three sons? Do I love my husband well at all times, no matter what? Or am I quick to want to be understood instead of seeking to understand. Am I a voice of reason and love and compassion toward others or am I demanding and insisting on my own way? Do I handle conflict with love and kindness or am I looking to be right and to be heard? Am I serving others and encouraging hearts or am I showing up with my own agenda? Do I speak life over others or am I quick to complain and point out their shortcomings? 

I know for certain that there is more than forty days worth of flesh that needs to be stripped from my own heart and I want to be willing and obedient to lay aside anything and everything that serves as a hindrance during this beautiful season.

May He be moved into the rightful position of centerpiece during the next forty days for each and every, single one of us sweet friends. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Well

To this day I can't keep myself from looking in car windows on my way into church each week.

I'm looking for me.

Just in case she's sitting there.

Trying to decide whether or not to go inside.

Just in case she's in the fight of her life and wondering if Jesus is real and if God is who He says He is.

Just in case she's trying to decide if love and hope and faith belong to her too.

I'm looking for me.

18 years old with a baby in a carseat and two different last names. Because things do not always work out like we dreamed they would.

I'm looking for me.

20 years old and can't get past The Scarlet Letter. The ugly words. The shame. The guilt. The hatred.

I'm looking for me.

22 years old who's tried to find Jesus. But who couldn't get close enough to see if there was a line drawn in the sand or not. I'm looking for the girl who knows nothing but stones.

I'm looking for me.

24 years old who has found her Father for the first time in 22 years. Who had to meet him face to face in the state prison. Who went looking for answers to questions and who went looking for repentance and regret and hope that there was an explanation for why He walked away all those years ago and whose wondering if her Heavenly Father loves her the way her earthly Father never could.

I'm looking for me.

26 years old and who's wondering if every mistake she's ever made is what defines her. Who's wondering if the words others have chosen to use are true. Who's wondering if there really is a place and a space in God's kingdom for her.

I look for her every Sunday morning. 

Because I know if I can get my arms around her....this is what she would say.

I already know that I'm struggling.

I already know I may not have made the best decisions.

But when I woke up this morning, I wondered if today would be the day.

I wondered if I could have some of that water too.

But I don't know Him like you do and I don't trust anyone.

So when you shout me down with the scriptures, I can't hear anything that you are saying.

It falls on deaf ears and years and years of woundedness.

I need you to be the scriptures.

Don't tell me. 

Show me.

Show me in humility. Show me in kindness and meekness. Show me in love and patience and gentleness. Show me in authenticity and transparency. Show me in thoughtfulness and true generosity. Show me in honesty and faithfulness.

Show me how you draw from this deep, deep well.

Remember that I am a daughter too.

I may not have been loved like you and raised like you and educated like you.

But I am a daughter too.

Maybe my past looks different than yours but if you use the scriptures to shame me and to judge me and to humiliate me and exclude me...

I will walk out of this church and never come back.

You don't know what it took for me to get here this morning.

It took everything.

I'm looking for the well.

I've heard that I can meet Him here too. But I'm afraid of getting hurt again.

Will you lead me in love and kindness and gentleness and patience and goodness?

Will you show me what following Jesus looks like?

Will you be honest and true and genuine and sincere with me?

I can't match an image of perfection and a pretentious heart.  I can't follow that.

I only know worthlessness.

But someone told me once that He loves me too. Someone told me once that the work of the cross was for me too. Someone told me once that my sins are forgiven and that the grace of God was my gift too. Someone told me that I could just show up here and He would meet me in a very real and beautiful way and that I could experience His great love in this place. 

I am looking for the well.

I am looking for forgiveness and for hope and for healing. 

I am looking for the truth.

I am looking for a place to belong.

I am looking for Him.

Please be careful with me today.

I may not look like you and talk like you and live life like you.

But I am a daughter too.

I've read it in His word......

"O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and rising up; You understand my thought afar off.  You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all of my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high and I cannot attain it.

Where can I go from Your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence ? If I assend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me.  If I say, "surely darkness shall fall on me," Even the night shall me a light about me; Indeed, the darkness and the light are both alike to You.

For you formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

How precious also are your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
when I awake, I am still with You."  ~ Psalm 139:1-18

Be Glorified Lord. Use These Words To Bring Change In The Hearts Of Your Daughters.....

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The New Church Lady

Photo Source - Joslyn Blair

Updated February 6, 2014

Beautiful friends,

I wanted to thank you all for your extraordinary amounts of support and kindness with the post.

He gets every ounce of glory and honor and credit. 

I wrote this post with the same heart. Just as I've written here for the last six years.

For some reason, this post resonated with you...

I am amazed by Him. And by each of you. 

Thank you for sharing His words with the women in your life.

I am incredibly humbled and grateful.

I wrote this post with my normal readership in mind. 

I had no idea so many new people would read and comment.

I want to try and bring understanding where I can.

I am overwhelmed at the thought of our heavenly Father speaking to the hearts of His daughters through any words found on these pages. 

Thank you for your love, support and encouragement friends. 

I wanted to ask that you read the entire post before you comment.  I would also like to ask you to please be kind when you leave a comment. This is an incredibly loving, supportive and Christ centered community of women. You will catch that if you visit here and read for very long. 

These posts are pieces of my personal testimony. They are experiences that I have lived through. And have helped shape and mold me. Like so many of you, I too am grateful that God allowed me to go through the years of really hard things. Compassion was born in my heart because of those experiences. Especially for the broken hearted and for those who fear that God does not love them, or
worse, that He is angry with them.

This particular testimony is a good 22 or so years old. But there is still life on it.
Because this. This condemning and shaming and excluding and judging is still going on today.

Please remember that 22 years ago there was not a place for single mothers in the church.

You were either married or single. There was no divorce care. Grief recovery. Single mothers unite or whatever. There were two categories. Married and single.

Additionally, single mothers wore the scarlet letter on their chest. It was a rare thing.

Unwed 18 year old teen mamas didn't exist.

It was downright scandalous. Especially in the heart of the bible belt.

This post is not about every church in America. This is about my personal experience at that time in my life and how because of the way I was treated, coupled with years of heartache, I walked away for nearly a decade. I didn't walk away from my faith. I didn't have any faith at all at that point. I walked away from the church who misrepresented God's heart for me.

And this is still happening today.

No one can argue with that.

I agree with those of you who commented that you do not attend church for people- or to have people meet your needs. You go to church each Sunday to commune with God.

Me too.

But when you are broken down and beat up and heartbroken and lovesick and can't keep the lights on and when you are wondering if there really is a God because your life has been so painful it feels like there isn't one and if there is- He certainly doesn't love you. When it hurts to breathe and you do not know how on earth you are going to get yourself out of the mess you are in or how you are going to make ends meet or how you going to make it until payday.....you need someone to lead you in love and kindness right into the arms of a loving heavenly father.

Thankfully, we belong to an incredible church here and I'm not sure I have ever witnessed the love of the Father, amazing worship, the truth of the word and beautiful community in one place before.

It has been a healing balm to my soul- even all of these years later.

God demonstrates His love for His people through His people.

And if people are intentionally hurting the already broken hearted- sometimes, they cannot find Him.

They need to be led to Christ in love.

Not shamed and condemned and shouted down with scriptures.

They should want what we have and we should offer it in a way in which they can receive it.

I love God's word.

And I spend a lot of time encouraging other women with the truth and love and hope and goodness and mercy and grace that is found within it.

It is living and breathing. It brings life.

It will transform us.

It will draw us closer to Him.

But someone has to present it in love and gentleness. Otherwise it may fall on deaf ears.

I understand fully that there are amazing women who have gone before us and loved God's people and demonstrated the scriptures with such salt and light and fragrance that people would do anything to know the Jesus they love so much.

I am thankful for those women.

For those of you who mentioned that women do not need another "list" of what they should do or be, etc. I understand that. This is not a "to do" list.

That part of the post is simply referencing the character of Christ and may come as a surprise to some who commented but yes, it is actually biblical!

Yes. God loves us no matter what. He does.

This is not a list to try and earn God's love and to try and get into His good graces...these are traits that I have seen shifting in the hearts of women who want to be known for following Jesus.

They demonstrate the scriptures with the character of Christ.

I want what they have.

I want to love like that. I want to forgive like that. I want to place a high value on God's people and take off a mountain of expectations and just simply love them.

These traits are not about me. They are traits that I hope to aspire to.

They are the ways in which I long to love His people....

*************************The original post follows************************

We had a group discussion with some church friends recently and this question was presented..

Do you all feel that Christians are known more for what they stand against or what they stand for?

Everyone agreed that for the most part- Christians are known for what they stand against.

As someone who has lived well over half of her life scared to death of Christians and especially the infamous "church lady" -  I remember vividly what it was like to be unchurched and unsaved and un- everything.

Like it was yesterday.

I wanted nothing to do with Christianity and the church and their Jesus.

And I had a long list of reasons but they made it abundantly clear that there was a series of events I 
had to go through before He would ever be mine.

It seemed as though I was living in the land of "you have sinned and you are going to burn in hell" - where I belonged mind you, and all of the church ladies were living life high on the hog by way of the front row and never having sex before their wedding night.

I can remember pulling into church parking lots again and again and sitting there bawling my eyes out as I watched married couple after married couple walk inside the holy doors of we have it all together -sorry about your luck.

I never had the courage to actually go inside.

Then finally, I can remember it taking everything I had to walk in those dreaded doors one Sunday morning with my baby girl in my arms. I was an unwed single mama raising a baby on about $6.00 an hour and no support of any kind. I left the trailer that morning and looked at the gift that I didn't deserve and told her we were going to give this Jesus a try. I cried the entire way there and wondered if I looked nice enough, good enough, clean enough, churchy-enough.

I wondered if all of the perfect people would be able to see me past the missing wedding ring and the beautiful baby girl on my hip.

I wondered if they would embrace me. Accept me. Allow me in- in spite of my circumstances and in spite of my mistakes.

I'm sorry to share that I walked into a sea of judgement and condemnation during that season of my life. 

And unfortunately it caused me to leave the church for nearly a decade.

Because when you are struggling with the lie that is "there is no way that a holy God could love a girl like me." And you are hanging on by a thread because life has just been too much....

Every moment counts.

The way you are received and welcomed or not.

The way the caregivers receive your child with kindness or not.

The way a seat is made available for you or not.

The way you are looked down upon, questioned or interrogated by church members or hopefully not.

The way someone took the time to speak with you or not.

The way you are shamed and condemned or accepted and loved.

All of those things and so much more are some of the reasons that people will give church and ultimately Jesus another chance.

But one of the biggest reasons I walked away was this.  I didn't want what they had.

They made it loud and clear to me what they were against.

But they failed to demonstrate what they were for.

I didn't want to be judgmental and critical and look down my nose at folks.

I didn't want to spend my time pointing out other peoples sin and making them feel worse than and less than the thousand ways they already felt like a failure.

I've spent lots of time and lots of years with unsaved folks. 

I've spent lots of time over the years listening to the hearts of the brokenhearted and the downcast and the overlooked and the shamed and those who have been cast aside by society.

And I've listened.

And learned so much.

Mainly I've learned what I want to stand for.

I believe that God is raising up a new "church lady" in this generation.

The following words are beautiful truths that I have seen shifting in the hearts of women who want to be known for following Jesus.

She will truly have His heart and His eyes to see sons and daughters when she looks at His people.

She will be a doer of the word and not a hearer only.

She will refuse to judge and condemn and do her best to love people back to wholeness.

She will be a fountain of mercy and grace and one who will breathe life back into dry bones.

She will know that it is the love of God that breaks every yoke.

She will be a living epistle of love and humility and will demonstrate the scriptures with kindness and gentleness and compassion.  

She will give credit where credit is due.

She will point others to Him. She will give Him all the glory. All of the honor. All of the credit.

She will understand fully- the truth that is this. If it were not for the grace of God- there go I.

She will reach to the back row and encourage and minister to the hearts of the women who can't get past the grief and sorrow of their own life. 

She will look past circumstances and situations and appearances that look different than her own to see daughters of the living God who have yet to discover their worth.

The new church lady is looking for opportunities to be a blessing- instead of looking for her own opportunities.

The new church lady knows that the only way up is down. She knows that "humility isn't thinking less of yourself but it is thinking of yourself less."

Graciousness is her hallmark. 

Gratitude is her beauty treatment.

She is a woman of her word.

She is a worshipper. In spirit and in truth.

She is a prayer warrior and holds trust from others as sacred

She is supportive of others and is not an opportunist.

She understands that to become the Proverbs 31 woman- you can't skip chapters 1-30.

She is fully aware of her own shortcomings and seeks Him daily for His love and guidance.

She recognizes hopelessness and worthlessness in others and speaks life.

She is an excellent listener. She listens with her head and her heart. She hears what is not being said.

She is a lifter. An encourager. A hope giver. 

She forgives- fully. 

She knows that the same grace that was made available to her- is also available to everyone else.

She does not gossip. She does not constantly brag or boast. She speaks blessing.

She sees the best. Believes the best. Hopes the best.

She places a high value on God's people.

She invests in the greatest investment in the world.

His people.

She is known for what she stands for.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, good fruit, impartial and sincere.  ~ James 3:17