Monday, March 27, 2017

National Adoption Month - In Sweet Memory of Baby Judah

All my life, my parents loved to share mine and my sister's adoption stories with anyone who would listen. Even as our mom was nearing the end of her life, she loved to tell everyone around, "I had to buy my two girls."

Because she had dementia, she told our stories to the same people over and over, but I didn't care. I never stopped her. I just let her grin and tell as I swelled with pride of belonging and being deeply loved by the wonderful parents God chose for us.

I love to hear other adoptee stories. With every adopted child I meet, I feel a strong connection. Each story is unique and filled with great anticipation and intrigue. From open adoptions to closed adoptions, every story is worth telling again and again.

One of those precious stories belongs to Judah Kelly and his forever family, Scott, Mandy, Becca, Jared and Lizzie. Ten months ago, baby boy Judah brought long awaited joy and light into this sweet, loving, blended family of five. (Blended because three children and their dad were left behind when their mother passed away from cancer, and later the dad would remarry.) Their new mom, Mandy, adored her instant family, but longed to experience a newborn to hold and love as well. After several heartbreaks when adoptions fell through, Baby Judah came home to his new family. Soon after, my daughter had the privilege of photographing Judah, and I got to tag along.

The Kelly family was ecstatic over this little guy and how the Lord had granted their heart's desire with the honor of being his parents and siblings. He was the precious piece God created to make their family complete.

Then, on Tuesday, March 20, 2017 around 1:00 am, baby Judah, along with his nine-year-old sister, Lizzie, and his parents, Scott and Mandy, were gently escorted into the Father's presence as a devastating house fire took their lives, leaving behind his older brother and older sister.

For 10 short months, baby Judah brought the sweetest of smiles, deep belly laughter, and even deeper joy to his forever family. His forever family gave him the gift of family, unconditional love and so much more. I remember the smile on his mother's face as she held him the night Scott was ordained as a deacon, and how it was so contagious you couldn't help but smile back through tears.

Today is my 55th adopted day, and I choose to celebrate it by remembering Judah, my newest, littlest adopted friend:

Through tears today, we remember you, precious baby boy, along with your parents and sweet sister, Lizzie. We celebrate your life and the impact your family had on so many people, especially those in our church family. Many prayers were lifted on your behalf even before we met you.

We celebrate your entrance into heaven where only the fullness of joy exists. Knowing you're there though, doesn't mean we won't grieve hard for you. But, because of Christ, we are not without hope. We are clinging to the One we trust to do what's best to bring Himself the most glory and us a greater good. 

Your family hurts, but God will heal. Oceans of tears will continue to fall, but Jesus will catch every one of them. Many already miss holding and rocking you, but God's gentle arms will hold them tight and rock them, too. 

You have arrived at your final home, little one, with your Heavenly Father who has, and is adopting, a much larger Forever Family. He created you, loves you beyond compare, and chose to tell His story powerfully through a brief chapter - yours.

Until we see you again...
Hug Jesus for me! 

My Pleasure,

Photography credits: Madison Shull Photograph (Facebook)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

When Life Hits Us Hard, God Hugs Us Tighter

Have you noticed every time the book of James is delved into, tragedy, hurt and pain come roaring in like a lion? Should we be surprised? The enemy is roaming the earth seeking whom he may devour, and what better time than when we are side-swiped with a tragedy to tempt us to turn away from God, the One who made us, knows our hearts, and loves us most.

Several years ago, my husband's men's Bible study group studied James in depth. Many hearts endured heavy pain and suffering during that time. Now, as our pastor is preaching through the book of James, trials and tragedy seem to be magnified. The enemy is roaring at our church family with much pain and sorrow. Just when we settle into the heart of the Word, seeking to understand truth in times of suffering, the enemy cranks it up a notch, sometimes several notches, placing more pain and suffering onto our already heavy hearts.

Spiritual warfare is real. The battle for our minds is intense. But, we belong to Christ and will not be shaken in our faith. Jesus is our Rock, our strong tower and our source of strength.

This morning, our church family's heart shattered over the deaths of four precious family members lost in a tragic house fire: a dad and a mom (both strong Believers and leaders), a bubbly little girl who made you smile every time she bounced into a room, and a precious, adopted 10-month old baby boy. We also deeply hurt for the two siblings, ages 12 and 16, who escaped the flames and a mother-in-law who is in the Augusta Burn Center.

How do we even begin to process this horrible event? What do you say to the family members and friends? How do we cope?

In my quiet time this morning, the focus verse was Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10 NIV).

As I continue to mull over the writer's words, I believe God is already, in this very moment, comforting and holding our broken hearts in His gentle, but mighty hands, and He is catching each and every tear falling from our eyes. I also believe we're being called to be still and know who God is, and to remember He is a good Father in ALL things. This is what needs to be foremost on our minds to battle the darts of doubt and fear the enemy may throw at us.

I quoted in my last post, God is attracted to the brokenhearted. (AnnVoskamp) If there's ever a moment to run into the arms of Jesus, it's when we experience the unimaginable, the unbelievable weightiest of heartaches. When we draw near to Him, He draws even nearer to us, cradling us in His loving arms like a tender-hearted daddy comforts his child.

How do we still our shattered hearts?

With the Word. Psalm 46 is a great place to camp out during any time of trouble to focus on Who God is:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble (vs.1 ESV).

Because God is our refuge and strength...

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. (vs. 2-3)

The weight of grief can feel like the earth is giving way under our feet, that our sorrow is more than we can bear, like we are drowning in the roaring foam of the sea. But, our God is here holding us up and giving us strength, courage and grace in the midst of it all.

As we still our broken hearts, may these words of our heavenly Father bring comfort, peace, and strength:

"You are My servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off"; 
fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
 I will strengthen you. I will help you, 
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 
"Fear not, I am the one who helps you"
(Isaiah 40:10, 13 ESV, emphasis mine).

With a broken heart, I cling to Christ.

My Pleasure,

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Broken Hearts Attract the Broken Heart of God - Reflections from The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp

Never be afraid of broken things because Christ is redeeming everything. ~Ann Voskamp

Soaking up The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp has stretched my thinking about how and why our hearts break. It has changed the way I pray for people and myself. My actions and responses toward others have taken on a fresh perspective by viewing brokenness in our lives as a necessity to becoming Christ-like. The difference in the brokenness of a Believer and that of a non-believer our response to it.

Ann, without the fanciful 'e', (how she describes her name) gets me and I love getting to know her. Maybe because my middle name is Ann, also without the fanciful 'e', or because I've been in the depths of depression and despair. I've also learned how healing comes through the sacred art of giving and receiving forgiveness and grace. The brokenness Ann wrestles with gives all of us courage to stand tall and to not be afraid of the broken places in our lives.

There really is comfort and peace knowing Christ is redeeming ALL things broken.

Much has crashed around me (and in me) in recent months. As I'm walking the devastating path with a friend through the ravenous pain and heartache of divorce, my heart breaks as well. In listening to countless others pour out their pain through floods of tears, my heart aches for them - my sisters in Christ. So many hurting. So many hearts broken. And still others with unspoken broken. (Ann's words)

A reoccurring theme throughout The Broken Way is this: We cannot really love one another without really suffering with one another.

In my experience, the Church has long avoided real suffering with Her real people. Many people put up barriers to keep people out of their stuff while some avoid other people's stuff so as not to have to have to get involved. I know I'm guilty of both. How about you?

Beautiful masks, bearing the phrase, "I'm fine!", are the Sunday fashion of choice for many. Passing by someone going in or out we may ask, "How are you?" and their pat answer is, "Fine. How 'bout you?" But are we or they really fine? By our not being honest with each other, the Church is losing impact on the community around Her. Didn't Jesus say we will be known as His disciples if we love one another?

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35 NKJV).

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2 NKJV).

I've learned through my own broken places that it's in the exposing of the dark spaces where the light of Christ shines brightest to root out, redeem and restore as His Light of compassion is absorbed. But if we aren't willing to also bring the Light of our suffering into the suffering of others, how can we claim to really love one another?

When the Holy Spirit is released to search deep into the dark places of our hearts, He exposes the sin roots entangling our hearts, stifling our joy and influence for Christ. When roots of sin are exposed, opportunity is given for faith to be tested and strengthened. Exposure reveals Who we truly believe Jesus Christ to be and how we see ourselves. It can be sobering and soothing all at the same time.

Broken open hearts attract the broken open heart of Christ. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:3 NKJV).

No one understands brokenness like Jesus. Anything we've gone through, He has gone through it on levels we will never comprehend. For example, grief. Nothing shatters a heart like grief. Whether it's grieving a loved one who's passed, a marriage that's ended, a miscarriage, a prodigal son or daughter, a relationship of any kind. A loss of anything sacred, stings. Grief is deep and grief is real.

He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3 NKJV).

Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; (Isaiah 53:4 NKJV).

Have we carried the griefs and sorrows of the entire human race? It's impossible and a brokenness beyond our comprehension. It's all I can do to carry mine and those in my inner circle. But, by not bleeding our brokenness into the brokenness of each other, we are not functioning as the Body of Christ. He also knows we cannot bear the heavy heartaches alone, so He calls us to release our suffering into His suffering so He can carry it for us. What compassion! What amazing love!

From grief to relief. That's the Jesus I know, love and serve.

Our hearts reflect real Christ-like compassion when we co-suffer with others. Don't ever be afraid of your brokenness or the brokenness of another because Christ is redeeming all broken things.

How are you walking The Broken Way today? Are you co-suffering with another believer? I'd love to hear from you.

Oh, and I highly recommend The Broken Way to read and definitely to live.

My Pleasure,

Monday, February 13, 2017

Who Are You With?

As parents, we are constantly asking our children with questions:

Who are you going to the movies with? Who's going with you out to eat, to the mall, the game, the concert? Who are you riding with? Who's riding with you?

Even Facebook asks us when we post a picture of ourselves, family or friends, Who were you with?

With questions are of utmost importance because who we're with implies what kind of atmosphere we're in, who our influencers are, and how we're perceived by others.

Who we spend time with shapes who we will become.

God knew before time began the people I would spend much time with. Besides the godly influence of my family, God planted our family in the middle of a church with some extraordinary musical people to influence me and help me along in my musical development.

One family in particular had three daughters, one of which was my age. I was totally drawn to her and we became best friends. Music connected us. I loved to watch and observe her piano playing technique. We were a piano duo by the time we hit double digits in age. All through school we sang, played instruments and learned from each other. Growing up with her benefited me greatly and helped shape me into the Christian musician I am today.

 But of most importance, Who is with us defines who we belong to.

God makes a powerful with statement to His chosen people through the prophet Isaiah:

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10 ESV).
  • I am with you. I am your God.
No need to fear. No need to fret. God is with us.

In December we were all focused on the name of Jesus, Immanuel which means God with us. Sometimes though, we forget God is with us 24/7, 365 days a year and not just in December when we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child.

The with-ness of God has been displayed over and over in my life and in the lives of others around me. This past Christmas, God with us proved faithful and true when a life-long family friend passed away early Christmas morning. She was only 51 years old and the middle daughter of the family I mentioned earlier. This beautiful, stunning picture of health sat beside me on Christmas Eve as we sang the carols of the season under the flicker of candlelight. God is proving His with-ness to this family every single day.

God explains His power of with-ness when He states:

  • I will strengthen you.

Do you feel weak, discouraged, uncertain of the the future, unprepared to move forward? We don't have to go it alone, people. Our purpose is not to fix this life, but to lean into our Shield of faith. God already fixed what was broken through Jesus Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Because we are His beloved, we never walk into any circumstance unprepared or unarmed. His strength shines through our weaknesses.

Remember the first verse to this song you possibly learned as a child?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. 
Little ones to him belong. They are weak but He is strong. 
(Public domain)

Weakness is a good thing. (Whaaaat? Did I just say that? Yes, I did.) 

Through our weakness, God proves His faithfulness, and our trust in His faithfulness gives us strength.
  • I will help you.
God promises further that we need not strive in our flesh to be like Christ, but lean in again to Who He has given us to be with us - the Holy Spirit. He has provided all we need to live life to the full- in utter glorious abundance, through His power, strength, and help. We are never alone.

  • I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
We weren't made to stand on our own two feet alone no matter what anyone tells you. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps infers taking responsibility for our actions. True, but we cannot do life alone. We were created for trusting God to hold us up and carry us through.

Self-help books, self-sufficiency, self-starters, self-made. They all have one thing in common - SELF. I don't know about you, but that's a lot of pressure on human imperfection. No, thank you. I gladly choose Jesus to do life with - the One whom I can count on not to fail me, leave me or forsake me.

And I'm so grateful He desires to be with me.  How about you?

My Pleasure,

Saturday, January 28, 2017


My daughter was sitting at our kitchen island the other day and said, "Mom, you have to watch this proposal on You tube."

Madison knows me well. She knew that every sentimental nerve ending stretched across my hopeless romantic heart would ignite and cause me to tear up.

And, she was right.

The salty liquid trickled down my cheeks as I watched this beautiful expression of love.

Much thought and intense planning went into pulling off this young man's offering of himself to the love of his life. It was so sweet. His love for her was undeniable as he anticipated the fairytale-like walk-through-the-woods to ask her to marry him. With hidden cameras rolling and tons of pictures draped between trees with string and mini clothes pins, he led her through a time-line of moments of their life together right up to the present moment.

He intentionally saved one particular picture for last. One of her grandfather whom she treasured and adored, and who had passed away before this special event could occur. Including the memory of this beloved man in this moment meant the world to her.

Then he pops the question. "Will you marry me?"

Yes. She said, "Yes."

A perfect proposal. The perfect response.

Recently, on The Red Carpet, my book study friends and I were sifting through the metaphors and beautiful word pictures Ann Voskamp uses to describe the Lord's Supper in chapter three of The Broken Way. We shared social media hashtags we had created from what we read to use as conversation starters. The hashtag I shared was #ThePerfectProposal - a prelude to our perfect communion union.

Through the author's detailed description of The Last Supper, and her stressing over and over again, the miracle is in the breaking, we were given a gift as we gazed around the table with fresh eyes.

What does she mean the miracle is in the breaking?

Jesus talked about His death with His disciples. The breaking of His body and the spilling out of His blood would happen sooner than they realized.

Jesus was born to die - for them and for all of the human race. He stepped out of heaven and into skin, came to earth and tabernacled among the people before paying the ultimate price for all sins for all time.

With the burden of the cross weighing on His mind and His shoulders, He would bow humbly, with the joy set before Him, and offer Himself to the Father, the only perfect sacrificial Lamb, to redeem the world and satisfy the sin debt.

At the first Last Supper, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks for the bread, broke the bread, and gave the bread to each disciple saying, "This is My body which is broken for you. Take and eat in remembrance of Me."

Then He poured out the wine into their cups and said, "This is My blood, spilled out for you. Drink it in remembrance of Me."

Every time now I come to the Lord's table, I will never approach it again the same. Christ broke, bled, and died for me and for you. He bowed in holy humility and offered to exchange His good brokenness for our bad brokenness. (Voskamp)

It's The Perfect Proposal - offering us a life that's fully redeemed, rescued, and re-purposed. We just have to say, "Yes!," making an eternal vow to being part of His Bride - the true Church for all eternity.

As we approach the Lord's Table of Bread and Wine, Jesus asks us to remember His proposal and promise of exchange, and to remember our vow, our promise back to Him by receiving His broken good in exchange for our broken bad. Receiving is remembering - placing our hands into the scarred hands of the Bridegroom and saying, "I do."

The miracle of our communion union is in His breaking and ours. This is the mystery of oneness with Christ. Broken and given. He breaks and gives Himself completely to us. We break and give ourselves completely to Him. This is how we are called to really live until He comes again to receive us (His Bride) for the most amazing wedding feast that will last for all eternity.

To live in a broken world, with our broken hearts, we must live cruciform (the shape of Love) and gift our cross-shaped selves for others. Cruciform people are the true church people. The Church mirroring the cross of Love. Lots of little cross bearers standing side by side, arms stretched out, with eyes fixed on the Bridegroom, for the joy set before us. In His power and strength we press on holding one another up through our weaknesses, pain, heartache, and brokenness. Even the gates of hell cannot stand up against Her. 

On Sunday our local church body will be remembering The Perfect Proposal.
I can't wait to remember the day He proposed to me! How about you?

My Pleasure,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Words That Just Might Change. Your. Life.

Words are powerful.

Words can cut into the soul.

Words can heal a wounded soul.

Words can leave scars, and words can soothe.

Words can encourage and build up.

But words can also deflate and destroy.

Embarking on this new year, there are words from God's Word we need to hear afresh, soak up, and allow to seep into the depths of our souls.

I'm on a hunt for 52 words to invade my way of thinking and understanding of who God is. Words to twist and turn my life into a brighter reflection of the Son through the power of His Holy Spirit.

Care to join me?

I love words. (Sure. Go ahead. Call me a nerd. I don't mind.) Scrabble is one of my favorite board games to take to the beach. At home, I can only get my husband to play. Over Christmas, I bought a new word game called Bananagrams. It's a lot like Scrabble, but you don't use a board. It's more of a build-your-own crossword game with Scrabble-like tiles. I can't wait to play it.

Crafting words together brings me much pleasure. Whether choosing words to write for a magazine article, a blog post, or a message to speak at a women's event, the art of putting words together touches something deep down inside of me.

Over the Christmas holidays I was searching the book shelves for a new devotional book to begin in 2017. Nothing seemed to jump out at me. Either I had already read it, or it just didn't pique my interest. Nothing against the authors on the book spines. I just wasn't "feeling" any of the titles.

Usually when this happens, I get a nudge. And deep in my soul the Spirit whispers,

"Write your own. You can do it.
 I've taught you many things, 
and I want to teach you more to share with others. 
Go on. Write one." 

So, dear friends, I'm doing it. This is the year to write my own devotional book. I hope you'll enjoy this journey of Word-walking with the Lord, listening to His voice as He pours into us the words He wants to write on our hearts.

The very words that just might...
change. our. lives.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

My Pleasure,