Faith

Love + Ashes

There’s something that continually sticks out to me when I read the Bible, particularly when I read the stories of mourning and of repentance and that is sackcloth and ashes. When we read through stories of tremendous grief and sorrow, those two things are almost always associated.

Bible Gateway says this about sackcloth and ashes, “Sackcloth is a coarse, black cloth made from goat’s hair that was worn together with the burnt ashes of wood as a sign of mourning for personal and national disaster, as a sign of repentance and at times of prayer for deliverance.”

For some reason, the imagery that this practice of wearing sackcloth and ashes in response to mourning and sorrow and in the midst of repentance gives invokes in me this deep-rooted feeling – this deep stirring in my belly that is difficult to put words to but the closest I have is love.

Love + Ashes

It is when we are in deep mourning or deep repentance that we can more fully appreciate the love that is lavished upon us wholly undeserving people. It is when we humble ourselves, die to self, and repent that we can see just how much grace God pours out as a gift we never did anything to earn.

Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as Valentine’s Day could not be more perfectly planned, I think.

At the start of this Lenten season, the ashes that are being spread on foreheads today symbolize to me repentance. They symbolize this incredible sense of humility and smallness and sorrow that comes when we actually force ourselves to confront our sins. When we look at ourselves in the mirror long enough to see all of the ways that culture and society and the enemy have wedged themselves between us and God. And friends, to confront that and stand face to face with this demands our repentance. It demands our grief and our sorrow for all of the ways that we turn from God day in and day out – whether we mean to or not.

But on a day when culture and society are spewing out all of these manufactured tokens of superficial love and spreading guilt and shame to those without “true love” in their lives, Ash Wednesday adds some much needed perspective to the mix that is setting my soul on fire today. When we look at this day and at this season with a Lenten focus and remember why we reflect and repent during these 40 days – this Valentine kind of love just seems so obviously lacking. Lacking in substance, lacking in meaning, and lacking in the perfect love that came at the expense of Jesus on the cross.

The customary practice during Lent is to give something up until Easter and growing up, this was a practice that I truly never gave significant thought to when I was growing up in the Catholic church. My go-to was usually giving up soda or something like that but in recent years as I have grown in my faith, God has really laid it on my heart to consider not just what I could give up to draw nearer to Him but what I could potentially add in order to achieve the same result. That could be adding in the habit/practice of reading the Bible daily or meditating, two things I do already, but I think it also comes down to our posture. Sure, I’m already doing some of the things that can draw us in closer to God but where is the posture of my heart when I do these things? Am I doing them to just check it off a list or am I actively listening and actively quieting my mind in order to be more in tune with God?

As I write this, I’m also reading some excerpts from Pope Francis’ homily earlier today during the Ash Wednesday service at the Vatican and his thoughts perfectly echoes the cry of my heart lately.

”Pause from this compulsion to a fast-paced life that scatters, divides and ultimately destroys time with family, with friends, with children, with grandparents, and time as a gift…time with God,” he said today, before continuing with, “Pause for a little while, refrain from the deafening noise that weakens and confuses our hearing, that makes us forget the fruitful and creative power of silence.”

Silence and stillness have the power to amplify God’s voice and truth and it is my prayer this season that I am able to instill this into my own life. The kind of love that this day marks is not one that can be found on a store shelf or in the boxes of chocolates being passed around. No, it’s not a coincidence that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. May we all draw nearer to the source of the purest and greatest love there is in this season.

Two Years

On this #tbt, I find myself struck by beauty and grace that have overflowed since this day two years. Since the day I snapped this photo of snow falling in the distance on the San Bernardino Mountains in California just steps away from where my sweet grandmother was being laid to rest along with her husband and her son.

A few weeks ago, Mo Isom Aiken shared some thoughts on time in her Instastories that have stuck in my heart ever since.

(Side note: I highly recommend following her. She is hilarious but such a woman of profound faith. Her Instastory talks make me feel like I just sat down in church).

She said, “It’s not that time heals wounds but time has the power to sculpt our hearts, to grow us and to comfort us. God does all those things through time. He’s the orchestrater of time.”

Though I didn’t know it at the time, this day two years ago would more or less be the “end” of a season that was marked, yes, by profound loss but also by more grace and joy and growth than I ever could have imagined. But it’s been in these days, weeks, and months that have followed that I’ve really been put “to the test,” I think sometimes. That I’ve woken up and chosen to fight almost daily to remember some of the deeper and most painful moments of this story of mine, not so that I can wallow in sadness or anything but so that I can be revived each day by the pure joy and peace that God granted to me. Because if I don’t remember how it felt, if I don’t remember the promises that were whispered to me by God in His presence, than I will forget them. And to forget them is to forget the miraculous way that God moved in my life and humbled my heart through the story that He has had me step into.

It is through this season of my life that I have been led to this life I lead now. This life of nervously and joyfully stepping out in bold faith to do the things that He is asking me to do both spiritually and professionally. When I take a step back and look at the bigger picture of what God has done, it nearly takes my breath away. The ripples that were made by events from two years ago are still felt today and help recount the ways that God has moved and woven every part of this present reality together.

We have to remember our pain, I think.

We have to remember the way it felt to be utterly and wholly broken before knowing what it felt to be healed, fully and completely.

2018 Began with a Choice

For me, 2018 began with a choice. The details aren’t necessarily important, but it was a choice that said everything about who God is and who He is going to be in this coming year with me. It was a choice that honestly I was only able to make because of the journey that I have walked with God the past four years. It’s a realization that fills me with so much joy + gratitude.

It’s one thing to make a choice, one that you know without a shadow of a doubt is the right one – but another thing entirely to actually live in that choice though. To live with the results of that choice.

I’d argue that living in a difficult decision is harder than actually making it. Because in the days that follow, you start to feel another voice creep in. One that tries to whisper to you that you chose wrong. That you made a mistake. That the instincts you were feeling from God weren’t really from Him at all.

That’s where bold faith comes in.

It takes boldness to actually commit to something – especially when you can’t see further than where you are in this moment. I know that often, this is way easier said than done.

I get that.

But I feel that no matter where you are in your faith journey, bold faith should be something you are always in pursuit of. For me personally, my walk with God – specifically the past four years – was not always characterized by boldness. But somewhere deep down, I knew that this was what I was striving for. Because when you’ve been simultaneously broken and healed by God, you can’t help but want to throw off any and every chain that was holding you back and run headlong towards whatever He has for you. Because the God that heals and bandages the deepest of wounds also has the most beautiful plans and intentions for your future. And I don’t know about you, but the second that I caught a glimpse of what the future could be when I give up this false idea of control and just surrender my future to the One who is more than capable – I was willing to be as bold and daring as I needed to be in order to make that my reality every day.

Because when He leads you to a certain path, you can’t pull away and do things on your own. You just can’t. What I believe about God is that He is the God that breathed all of creation, me and you included, into existence. And He called it good. He has created things that are breathtaking. Things that are awe-inspiring and beautiful.

I have stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon, feeling so unbelievably small and humbled that the God who made all of that was the same God who loves little ole me and sees something that He could make beautiful and call good. Little ole me.

Some decisions are hard and you are faced with making a choice that quite frankly kind of sucks. But bold faith in the wake of that says to God that yes, this sucks and I’m not entirely happy with this but I trust You with my future. I trust You to lead me to a future that I won’t want to hesitate to say a joyful “yes” to.

Fall Update

Well hello, friends!

It’s been way too long since I have posted anything here, which seems a little crazy to me! Once upon a time I was a semi-regularly posting blogger and now I’m lucky if I find the time to even think about writing.

The first official day of Fall is this Friday and I could not be happier, even though my house has looked like Fall since the first week of September. Fall is truly my favorite season and I am just ecstatic to have football on TV, leaves falling down, and temperatures (slowly) beginning to drop.

Something I’m super excited about this Fall is the start of community groups at my church! Since I first started attending this particular church in January of this year, I really haven’t been able to devote a ton of time to cultivating a sense of community there. Each and every Sunday I just feel at home and so grateful that God brought me there so when they announced new groups were starting this Fall, I jumped right in! And guys, God has been everywhere in this group…and it was only the first official week!

Truth be told, I’m usually somewhat hesitant to be in a position where I might need to share some of my personal journey of faith. It’s not the neatest of stories and is filled with loss and grief but also grace upon grace upon grace poured out from Jesus. This past week, our first official meeting together, I found myself sharing a snapshot of my story – the two losses that I experienced two years ago this week. Soon after I spoke about it, I found myself sitting there in my chair overthinking all of what I had just shared and began criticizing myself for speaking up. I think I have the fear/worry that others might think I share my story to get pity or to have others feel sorry for me which couldn’t be further from the truth – but there I was thinking it.

A few minutes later towards the end of group, we were asked to reflect on what we thought God was saying to us and showing us through the week’s sermon and our reflection of it. One of the other women in the group spoke up and shared how she enjoyed hearing the stories of the other group members and how it was encouragement to her given that she and her husband were in the midst of a very difficult year. In this year alone they had lost three close relatives and I was just momentarily awe-struck by God’s work in that moment. It was then that I realized that it was things like this that make it so important for us to share our testimonies and our journeys with those around us, especially when they are so full of God’s grace and love.

There I was second guessing myself for sharing some of my story and experiences when what I shared was actually having an impact on someone else going through something very similar. She spoke of how encouraging it is to hear from someone on the “other side” of this when she clearly is still in the deep throes of grief. I nearly teared up right there and the entire time that we prayed together as a group to close out our time together I just found myself thinking, “Thank you God, thank you God, thank you God for bring all of us together in this group.”

And so today, on what is actually Gratitude Day (Sept. 21) I just felt like I needed to share that experience with you all. In Colossians 2:6-7 we read, “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” (CSB)

That couldn’t be more descriptive of me lately – “overflowing with gratitude.”

God is able to produce the most amazing stories and testimonies out of some of the messiest of circumstances and that is something always worth praising and rejoicing over. I can’t look back at the 2 years of losses and hardships any other way but through joy-filled eyes because I know exactly where Jesus was in every moment of those experiences.

Amazing grace, indeed.

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