Victors

Tonight, the headlines irrevocably declare: “120 Dead in Paris Attacks, Worst Since WWII”.

Terror is spreading across our planet, and the people of this planet, like ancient wooden ships adrift in a storm, scatter. Some cry, some shout “Revenge!”, some huddle in the paralysis of fear. Some hold up signs that say ‘NOT AFRAID’–a distinctive message to their enemies, but the sign-holders are powerless to make the message true within their hearts.

We the people– the meant-for-another country people. We the foreign exchange students, so to speak. What are we doing?

If we’ve been trained to fight, why are we afraid?

If we are truly selfless, why not choose to feel pain with the hurting instead of jumping into our closets of self-protection?

If we really believe God’s power makes us unstoppable, why not walk towards the danger instead of running away from it?

We are never victims.

We are always promised joy.

We are always promised rest.

We are always promised protection–the definition of which only Jesus knows.

We are never victims.

We are victors.

We the people pray for Paris tonight.

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We also pray for peace within ourselves.

 

Never, never, let us accept the title of “victim”, Jesus. Never let us stop receiving peace from you, and fearlessly giving that peace away.

It’s Gonna Be OK

Ever have those days when you just want to sock yourself in the face?

You’ve tried so hard to do the right thing, to be that person you want yourself to be, but in the end you crashed miserably and burned a whole pile of people in the process. All the time and effort you’ve put into building trust… into maintaining a safe relationship… is a cloud of ash.

Gone.

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Forever gone, in just one moment of failure.

Or, is it?

It may feel that way, but is it really gone?

The other week, I confessed to my sister how, when we were little, I was the one who stirred her goldfish up in it’s little goldfish bowl with a plastic spoon until it had a heart attack, and floated. I just wanted to see how fast it could swim. I didn’t try to make it die. But it did.

She, kind-hearted lamb, suddenly remembered dozens of offenses she had committed to me.

Thing is, I didn’t remember a single one of them. All I remember about our childhood was a fun, spry little playmate who came up with many schemes, was always up for a bike ride or fishing trip, and always left surprises on my pillow on the holidays.

Our interaction got me thinking.

Could it be that trust isn’t about the visible, but the foundation?That the unseen foundation…. the entire picture all put together…. is more relevant than the tiny puzzle piece of what’s said and done in a moment of conflict?

I had a boss once, who everyone was afraid of. He brought the house down when he was upset. Seriously. Not the roof, thank goodness,  but pots, pans and anything else in his wake.

Thing is, everyone who spent long enough around him soon considered him one of their best friends. No matter how much he ranted and swore, he was, at the foundation, a friend worth having. At the foundation, he truly cared about his staff, and protected them at all costs.

Six years later, I hardly remember the rants. I just remember a safe environment, and being empowered every day. I’m not saying he never hurt me, I’m just saying I don’t remember it.

Mistakes happen to everyone.

Don’t fall into the condemnation trap. Stop looking behind you.

I know you’re quick to ask for forgiveness when you mess up, but I’m guessing the biggest question is…. can you forgive yourself?

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Just ask! Accept. It’s already been done, by the only One who can be fully perfect on this earth.

Just ACCEPT His forgiveness! It’s for real, I promise.

No looking back now! You are gonna be just fine, and so are they.

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Love Ambush

I’ve been a crab for twenty-four hours.

It all started when someone asked me a question, and I responded defensively and then the father of lies jumped in with all of his hogwash and made a mess of everything.

“You’re not worth fighting for.” he said, “You are selfish at the core, and think of no one but yourself. Your dreams are not reality. You have tricked yourself into following them as an easy escape from life’s problems.”

Because I was tired, weak in heart and still feeling defensive, I believed all of it.

My joy was robbed.

It’s messy enough trying to make big decisions for your future, but when you start believing lies… things get ugly pretty fast. Each lie is joined by it’s own disease until your heart is trampled.

Shame.

Defeat.

Anger.

People (and most animals) caught on pretty soon, and gave me a wide berth.

I sat at my desk the next day, trying to write encouraging words to a friend and finally decided that I needed some music for inspiration. The first song that played went like this:

“Whatever you’re doing inside of me… it feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace. It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something heavenly. Time for a milestone… time to begin again. Revaluate who I really am.

So show me what it is you want from me.

I give everything….

I surrender….

Time to face up. Clean this old house. Time to breathe in and let everything out that I’ve wanted to say for so many years. Time to release all my held back tears. Whatever you’re doing, inside of me…. it feels like chaos, but…. I believe. You’re up to something bigger than me.

LARGER THAN LIFE.

Something HEAVENLY.”

While the “You’re up to something heavenly… bigger than me.” promise was still reverberating in my mind, the next words came through my speakers.

“Lord I come. I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without you I fall apart… you’re the One that guides my heart. Lord I need you, oh, I need You. Every hour I need you.

My ONE DEFENSE.

My RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Oh God, how I need you. Where sin runs deep, your grace is more. Where grace is found is where you are. And where you are, Lord, I AM FREE!!

HOLINESS IS CHRIST IN ME.

Teach my song to rise to you, when temptations come my way. When I cannot stand I’ll fall on you. Jesus, you’re my hope and stay!!!!”

“Jesus… MY righteousness??” “Holiness is Christ in me?” I was overwhelmed.

“For real, Jesus? But…. my sins. They are HUGE! ”

“I AM your righteousness. It’s not about you at all. Where sin runs deep, My grace is MORE. Come to me, and you will be free.”

“Ok. I will!!!”

He smiled, and I could have swore He wrapped His arms around me.

My heart jumped into the sky. And of course, the next song that played was,

“I’m trading my sorrow! I’m trading my shame! I’m laying them down…. for the JOY OF THE LORD.”

THIS. This was what my Loving Father was holding out to me.

I received it, and cried.

Forgiveness overwhelmed me.

Yes, Lord. Yes. I AM blessed beyond the curse. Get behind me, satan. JESUS HIMSELF is fighting for me, and He will never stop.

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My Jesus is up to something LARGER THAN LIFE. Something HEAVENLY.

He does not despise me, but instead holds out HOLINESS, FREEDOM & GRACE.

His promise will endure, and His joy’s gonna be my strength.

He told me so Himself, in one big love ambush in my old-fashioned straight-backed chair.

And I accept His words.

My Best Addiction

Now that you all know I’m addicted to gummy bears….. (and oh happy day, I got a whole 1-lb bag of them for my birthday) I gotta tell ya’ll about my FAVORITE addiction.

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The one I plug into when I get upset at my boss.

Or when I’m preparing to teach.

Or when I’m bored by a mindless task.

Or when I’m driving, sitting, chewing, moping, running, or staring for hours at a blank computer screen.

Pretty much, I plug in all the time. My father loves it. Tiny kiddos love it. Basically, a win no matter who you are.

Am I gonna tell you what it is? Ohhhh no. Watch it on YouTube HERE.

And join the stampede of audio/visual learners!

We’re happy to have you 🙂

(Oh yeah…. and it’s available on Audible for free, with a one-month free trial subscription. You’re welcome.)

The Time When I Started a Church

Driving along a cold, forsaken road one dark night, my radio croaking out a mournful song,  I saw a church. A church that had a lighted cross by the highway, and warm, welcoming lights on inside, as if it was open to strangers and a crackling fire was burning in the hearth.

How strange!” I thought, “How very rare it is to see a lighted church at this time of day. I wonder if their doors are unlocked?”

“Hmm. That sight is like rest to my weary bones. If I ever started a church, I would have a parsonage, and leave the doors open and the lights on all day and night and people could come and go as they pleased, and always know that my church was a safe, private haven, always at their disposal.”

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And then I thought, “Ha! Start a church? Never!

There never WILL be perfect church.

Even if I gathered the smartest, most on-fire people to start my church, they would end up fighting. Wait, I bet that’s why, in the old days, there was just one man spear-heading the church. The parson. And the only person he had to get along with, if he wasn’t musically inclined himself, was the organist. A strange lot, those parsons, but still….. I think they were on to something with this one-man deal.”

So I planned it all out in my mind.

IF I was a man, and

IF I became a parson in the mountains of darkest Peru,

and IF I had my very own parsonage, I would win the people’s hearts for Christ and have a perfect church.

I would work tirelessly (with the help of many cups of coffee, of course) to meet all of their needs. I would love unconditionally. I would study the Word with passion.

I would preach the Gospel tirelessly, and speak truth in the face of lies. (But if I was feeling insecure, I would be silent.)

I would spend my last penny to bring cheer to my discouraged parishioners. (But some days, I would squander my last dollar on a bag of gummy bears, and eat them all in one sitting.)

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I would pray without ceasing. (But on days of total exhaustion, I would cut it short with the excuse, “I REALLY need my sleep.”)

The rickety little sign by the door would say, “Come just as you are!” But on a bad day, I would add “…but not if you have a dirty mouth, fart without shame, or act inappropriately towards the opposite gender”, because those are three of my pet peeves.

I would never judge a soul. (Unless it was someone who deeply hurt me.) I would fight for spiritual victories in my parishioners’ hearts. (Unless I was in a No-One-Is-Fighting-For-ME sort of mood, in which case I would block everyone out for awhile.)

I would do a lot of things, if I was a man, with a parsonage, in the darkest depths of deepest Peru.

But it would never be perfect.

Because I’m not.

Why do you stare at the tiny particle that is in your brother’s eye, but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye.”, when there is the beam  in your own eye? First get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye.

Keep on asking and it will be given you! Keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:3-5,7,8

Those words are for me.

“Keep on asking, Kara. Change begins inside of you. One day, when all of my children finally arrive in heaven, all of these imperfect temples will transform to become My spotless bride.”

to go [low]

It happens at that moment when the dragon who has haunted my life for months gives one final gurgling gasp and collapses at my feet, and my triumphant shout of victory rings and echoes off the mountain ranges. I pull my sword out of his throat…

And that’s when I see it.

And I sigh so deeply that my chain mail rattles and groans and sounds like a creaking sob.

What do I see? It is the head of another, larger and more heavily armored dragon then the one I have just vanquished, looming up out of the mist of the valley at my feet.

I know this monster, too, is headed my way. I cannot stay here on the mountaintop. I must descend, and prepare once more to fight.

I’ve always wondered why bad things happen. Yes, I know all the clichés just as well as you do. “All things happen for a reason.” “Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.” Got it. But my question is, when does stronger turn into strong enough?

Living life is hard. Why in the world can’t I just have a success, and then climb up to the next rung of the ladder of life….

instead of inevitably falling completely off of it again and again?

Why is life such a valley-mountaintop experience?

Why is life a CONSTANT struggle against evil?

Have you ever heard of Hind’s Feet on High Places? I am currently addicted to that book.

When I was younger, I read it mainly for the vivid pictures on every page. The words didn’t really sink in. But on a trip to Canada last spring, I listened to the words again. And suddenly, in a smack-upside-the-head revelation, all I could think was, “Shoot! That’s me! That’s me, that trembling waif who is weeping by the side of the trail, whose fears of what the unknown might ask of her loom greater than the giants of her past. That’s me, that girl with deformed legs and weak, trembling feet.”

I know this Much Afraid very well, because a large part of her lives inside of me.

My favorite part of the book was when Much Afraid stopped one day to rest beside a jumping, splashing brook. As she listened closely to the sounds the brook was making, she was amazed to hear the water actually singing these words:

Come, oh come! Let us away– lower, lower every day,

Oh, what joy it is to race, down to find the lowest place.

This is the dearest law we know– “It is happy to go low.”

Sweetest urge and sweetest will, “Let us go down lower still.”

Hear the summons night and day, calling us to come away.

From the heights we leap and flow, to the valleys down below.

Always answering to the call, to the lowest place of all.

Sweetest urge and sweetest pain, to go low and rise again.

“That is very puzzling,” said Much-Afraid [to the Shepherd]. ” ‘Let us go down lower still,’ the water seems to be singing so gladly, because it is hurrying to go down to the lowest place, and yet You are calling me to the Highest Places. What does it mean?”

“The High Places,” answered the Shepherd, “are the starting places for the journey down to the lowest place in the world. When you have hinds’ feet and can go ‘leaping on the mountains and skipping on the hills,’ you will be able, as I am, to run down from the heights in the gladdest self-giving and then go up to the mountains again. You will be able to mount to the High Places swifter than eagles, for it is only up on the High Places of Love that anyone can receive the power to pour themselves down in the utter abandonment of self-giving.”

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To POUR myself down in the utter abandonment of self-giving?

To run down from the heights in the GLADDEST self-giving and then go up to the mountains again?

To go low and rise again?

This is the lesson of the river. A lesson that it sings with utmost joy and gusto. Ever moving, ever rushing. Full of life and energy.

I’m pretty sure that the song of the brook just gave me a brilliant new note of happiness in the middle of my question. Why is life a CONSTANT struggle? Because I am growing, and evil is real. It does not want me to grow, and so it makes it hard.

But you know what makes my journey joyful? Knowing that every time I tumble off of my plateau of success and into the muck of the valley, I can pull a little stone out of the sludge (Much Afraid’s memorial for the lessons she learned) and use it in the future to pull someone else out of the muck of the valley. Someone who is weaker; a used-to-be-me.

I still don’t like the valley.

AT ALL.

But the Father is teaching me how to use more and more tools which make my time there recede. And it is AWESOME to take someone up to the High Places with me. After all, what fun is a mountaintop experience without someone to party with?

Sweetest joy and sweetest pain… to go low and RISE AGAIN.

You know I actually get the best of both worlds though, right? Because one time…. sometime, it will be my last trip out of the Valley.

And then I’ll get to party in the High Places FOREVER. That, my friend, is exciting.

Now, if you’ll excuse me….. I gotta go find my sword.

I have a dragon to kill.

All things [NEW]

Some days, I wonder where my Father has gotten to.

I always eventually come to the realization that I’m the one who has chosen to sit wearily in my own stubborn mud-puddle and refuse to move.

But often, He beats me to that realization and comes running towards me, and scoops me up in His arms, and whispers that He’s sorry about all the blisters on my feet.

That He’s proud of me, even when I’m weak.

That His best joy is in me.

That my interests are of highest regard.

Yesterday was like that.

The sun has been hidden for days, and that’s a big deal to me. It effects my mood, to be honest. But the sun also has a deeper meaning. It’s a reminder of the four golden panels of liquid sunshine that melted on my bedroom floor and wrapped me up in their warmth as I asked Jesus to come into my heart with simple 7-year-old words.

The sun, to me, is a warm, living message of God’s presence.

Yesterday, it was gone. And I was grexy, to be honest.

But as I drove through the windy backroads, God gave me three messages. The first one was spoken. God often speaks through music. These are the words He said: “I stay the same through the ages. My love NEVER changes. There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. My love NEVER FAILS.”

All you Christian musicians out there, did you know that the words you sing sometimes become words spoken straight from heaven?

The second message God sent me–as if His words hadn’t already been enough– was a gift, something I’d been wanting for years. It was perched beside the road between an old refrigerator and a doorless cat carrier, and it yelled, “I’m for you!” so loudly that I had to turn around and give it a closer look.

Sure enough.

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It was a set of pigeonholes, built to withstand a hurricane, and in far better shape than any of the broken, match-box ones I’d checked out at thrift shops. With a little sanding and a fresh coat of stain and varnish, they’ll make store-bought models look like a joke. This was unbelievable. I’d been looking for the exact same style for almost two years, always refusing to actually go to the work of making them myself. Yet, here they were, a free handout from Heaven, tailor-made and stamped with God’s approval. Wow.

The third message God sent me was the sun. Slowly, as I drove, I began to see little dimples in the clouds.

clouds and sun

Suddenly, an eye-shaped gap appeared in the heavens, and the glorious rays of the sun shot down and grabbed the earth in an orange dance of joy.  The farther I drove, the more the sky cleared. And I knew what that meant.

“I am with you. Have I proven it yet? My love NEVER changes.”

I always thought faith was belief without a shadow of doubt. But now I know that it is choosing to take God at face value and make choices where I’ll be sunk if He doesn’t keep His end of the deal. I might be scared out of my wits, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. It means I’ve chosen to risk that my Father will come through for me, which is the biggest test of love there is.

Over and over again, He has taken my little wobbly steps and turned them into the footfalls of 1,000 thundering chariots.

He makes all things new.

Because His love NEVER changes.

Living Is Simple… (or not)

When I was fifteen, I used to sing this line from one of my then-favorite songs over and over and over again. “Living is siiiimple….. ” It drove my friends crazy. And really, who could blame them? I’m no musician, trust me….

It didn’t take me long to find out that living is not simple at all.

In fact, the longer I live, the more complicated life becomes. Some days, I feel like I am living in a perpetual headlock, like my neck is clenched in choking steel, and no matter how I struggle and fight and push, it wont budge.  I am in a perpetual checkmate. All I can do is just lie there, panting.

And wait for the guillotine to drop.

Evil is everywhere. I am so tired. I have no strength left, and if I did, it would be of no use, because I’ve found out long ago that my own personal strength can’t do a thing against the forces of evil.

There is a flash–a blinding light! I see a grand hall, if the stale, earthy word “grand” can even begin to describe the spectacular, mind-boggling grandiosity of its design. A host of towering celestial beings fill the room. They stand at attention, their muscular faces glowing with wisdom and valour,  their broad shoulders tall, chests and arms tensed and ready for warfare. They wait. Wait in expectation, gazing intently at their Master’s face. The Master, the King of this realm, is not looking on His subjects. His face is turned to the earth below. He is watching. Waiting. Listening……

“Child, my angels can only do what they are told. How can I send them, if you never ask? All of heaven is at your disposal. Do you really think you can stand off the brutal attacks of the enemy all by yourself? You don’t have the strength. You don’t. Let go, and let me BE your strength! I am waiting. Trust! Ask! Trust, child…..”

The painting is fleeting, and before I’ve seen even a glimpse, it closes and fades away. I am left with an even more vivid picture of my own inadequacy. And I remember the last part of the song… “Living is dying, Your mercy is how I believe… I’m down on my knees… confessing my needs again.”

Trust is a choice.