We Don’t Get To Be Here Long

Bu-BUMP, bu-BUMP, goes the blood in my jugular vein, as if my blood vessels are a track and the blood cells are thoroughbreds, surging towards the finish line. I stomp the accelerator and turn the wheel into the mat of blackberry vines, very aware that my body is being forced back into the seat as we climb. A grumble of mud and stones, a scrape, and we slide gracefully on to the mossy space below the yellow beeches. It is 23° but my cheeks are hot. “Thank you, Jesus!” I squeak, and Harley pants and yawns loudly, as she does every time we live through a moment of terror.

Fear stomps on my lungs every time I think of driving up that lane. Some of you will shake your heads and sigh, and some of you will understand.

The only reason I began driving to the top of my dirt lane at all is because my father showed me how and then said, “It’s your turn.” I hate being wimpy in front of him after he shows me how to do something. It’s like saying, “You are a liar, Dad.”

The only reason I made it to the top of my dirt lane the second time, and the 202nd time, was because once you start going up, you can’t stop. Stopping is actually dangerous. Driving up just feels dangerous.

Once I had to jump start my car in a black parking lot, all alone. Slump-backed in the rain, I shivered and prayed for 32 minutes before finally connecting the clamps. My hand would go towards the battery, and then jerk away.

I’ve learned recently that dream-chasers fall into two categories: Tryers and Doers.

Tryers have options. They can say, “I am trying for my lifeguard certification. I’m training 14 hours a week, but I honestly doubt I will pass the test.” They never sign up for the test, because they don’t think they will pass it. Reasons, reasons, reasons…. all very valid and unable to be explained away.

Doers do not have options. They say, “I will refuse to be comfortable until I have set up a new way of life. By hook or by crook, I will get there, and no delay.”

The thing with trying, is that you are never truly a failure. If you set out to TRY, you can rationalize success either way. You will stand in the parking lot, in the dark rain, wasting time because you are trying to jump the car but you must first evaluate all the dangers.

If you set out to DO, there is only one way to win. You will put your foot to the accelerator, knowing once you begin you will not be ‘safe’ until you reach the goal.

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You do the thing, and no delay, because you refuse to say, “You are a liar, Dad.”

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

I know I am.

 

 

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If my hike had a soundtrack…

The air was the perfect flavor of pine and clean wind as I sauntered along the smooth, shaded path past Lake Hebron that warm-but-not-too-warm day. The loons cried their short-lived daytime conversation and a bandana’d youth sat contemplatively underneath a fir tree, watching the reflection of clouds sweep across the slightly rippled water.

His iPod played a soulful tune and I thought it was a perfect soundtrack for the moment.

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I often thought I should have a soundtrack for this hike.

Not only a soundtrack, but an entire video recording of it that I could look back on if I ever forgot how incredibly, miraculously blessed I’d been to experience this.

In case I forgot the Me I Used To Be.

If I had a soundtrack for this hike, it would have begun low, building slowly in tight-stringed suspense. There would be lots of creepy segments in this first soundtrack, that would make you want to look over your shoulder or stand with your back against a wall. There would be tense notes–lots of them in fast succession. There would be a happy, frolicking piece. And then a mournful, low bar, full of pain.

As the soundtrack for my hike went on, the suspenseful notes would lessen and the smooth notes would gain the upper hand. There would be not so many creepy segments. Not so many tense pieces. But the mournful bars would continue, transfusing pain into the listener.

There would be short bursts of heavy metal. A few screams.

Lots of upbeat parts.

The final segment would start hauntingly beautiful, maybe just a solitary oboe or maybe a windy flute. There would be pattering and low, persistent whining notes and maybe a few screeches of nail on a chalkboard. Then there would be a clash of cymbals and the soundtrack would take on a folk song vibe. Another clash, and then a long piece on the piano, building momentum. Then a loud, long clash, with drums. And then my soundtrack would be one continuous dance party, ending with the Hallelujah chorus.

Well, I don’t have a soundtrack for my hike, but it would be a lot more concise to explain if I did. I could just pop in the CD and everyone would experience the same feelings with me. Instead, I’ll have to use words to share the story, which is what I know.

It will do the same thing, just take longer.

I jumped out of my reverie when my feet hit a paved road. This was Pleasant Street, and it would take me to Shaw’s Lodging in just 1.6 miles.

I hadn’t gone far before Poet, the owner of Shaw’s, zipped towards me in a trendy SUV. There were already three hikers inside, but my pack just fit under the dusty hatch, and I slid my boney self into the back seat.

It was stinky inside that car–sweat, mostly.

Poet had the air conditioning on and didn’t seem to notice. But I took the time to consider that it was us three feminine hikers in the back seat who were making it reek. Somehow that just didn’t seem right.

Poet dropped the two girls off at the post office, then gave me and Turbo, the third hiker, a tour of his hostel. It was colorful and clean inside, with tablecloths on the tables, plenty of towels in the bathrooms and bedspreads on the bunks.

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“This is a really nice hostel, Poet.” I said, and he thanked me.

After hanging my hammock outside in the tree line, rustling through my food box, and making a quick tour of the small, friendly town, the sun had almost fully dropped below the horizon. I carried my box of coconut caramel ice cream into the dining room and ate it while uploading YouTube videos.

AJ and Poet bantered in the kitchen, and the hikers had settled into their typical 8-o’clock calm. A few sat playing scrabble at a table adjacent to mine and drinking Maine craft beer. They congratulated me on my voracious ice cream consumption and after awhile decided to stroll to the quick-stop for pizza. I had the dining room to myself.

I stared out the window at the luminescent glow of headlamps inside the tents scattered across the yard, and thought about how far my heart had come.

I remembered my first hostel visit. It was at Top of Georgia.

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Even though Renaissance greeted us with his famous flair and gave us a highly entertaining tour I had been too shy to really relax and join in the community there–too scared to hang out in the bunkhouse with the other hikers.

I’d sat on the porch in the damp, biting air instead, listening to the upbeat chatter coming from inside and eating spam and ramen. I could still taste the feeling I’d had then–that numbing, unshakeable belief that I was young, weak and clueless, and would never make it to Katahdin. I’d felt like a giraffe in a pet shop that March day.

Now it was August, and I couldn’t begin to list all the miracles I’d experienced in that six month span.

All I knew was that this place of dreadlocks and backpacks and new faces felt cozy and comfortable. Like home. How big my muscles were, how light my pack was or how much knowledge my brain contained didn’t matter anymore. I was equally comfortable alone on a wind-swept mountaintop or in another strange town in a sea of new faces.

It’s still hard for me to explain it. If I could play you my soul’s soundtrack you’d understand. But that’s impossible.

I guess I’d better get started on my book.

But in the meantime, you might be interested to know that there IS an actual Appalachian Trail soundtrack coming to an orchestra near (or far away from) you!

I met this composer after I collapsed onto a bench in Madison Hut after a 14 hour race across the presidential range one Sunday last month, and he shared his incredible vision with me over a lukewarm pile of homemade dinner leftovers from the hut kitchen. You can find out more about his Appalachian Trail Symphony here: http://keanesouthard.instantencore.com/web/home.aspx

 

 

Courage

Isn’t it crazy that even when everything I know and see is on the downstream side of insanity, just hanging on to hope by a thread, Jesus’ name is STILL ‘Deliverer’?

Even when I feel like a skittering mouse, MY name, because of my divine heritage, is STILL ‘Courageous Victor’?

I’ve thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll find a syringe of courage on the other side of a challenge, kind of like the proverbial gold at the end of a rainbow!”

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Guess what? I haven’t found a crumb.

I guess courage comes from an unseen source, like the very air we breathe.

Always surrounding me.

Always enough.

Always ready to make me STRONGER THAN BEFORE I ASKED FOR HIM TO HELP.

Victory on earth is so different then Jesus’ definition for His victories (which are happening all around you, unseen.)

Close your eyes, and look with His, and you will be encouraged.

Turn your eyes away from darkness, and live out your name!

COURAGEOUS VICTOR!!!

just call me Moe

You know what’s so weird?

I’m spending this entire year of my life in the wilderness field… well, the rest of my life, hopefully. And it’s the thing I’m the least cut out for.

Seriously though. I’m introverted, preposterous and afraid of heights and drowning. Just the other day, a mother called me to talk about her concerns about adventure programing. It was very uncanny to assure her, “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We practice challenge by choice. I’ve never cliff jumped in my life.”

People look at the pictures when I return from a trip, and hear the stories, and think, “Wow! What an adventure! You must be very brave!”

They picture me as this, sometimes.

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But in reality, I’m more like this.

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Just call me Moe.

You know, short for Moses.

I can relate to him a little, in a small way. I often beg Jesus to give someone else the task of prophesying. Embarrassingly, I pretty much don’t give Him an option when it comes to cliff jumping.

I look ahead at my summer that is quickly filling up with mentoring opportunities and think, “Why me?”

FAITH.

That’s why. His spirit, making me unstoppable. Saying what I didn’t think of on my own. Doing what I couldn’t do.

Being sure of what I hope for, and certain of what I cannot see. The heritage of being God’s kiddo.

Isn’t it amazing to be able to do things way beyond yourself?

The things you love, even though you’re not good at them?

Isn’t is amazing to be a part of the impossible?

And if He has His way, He’ll get me off that cliff yet.

He Gave Me a New Name

I stood on top of Fort Fredrick two days ago, and while ants bit my legs and the sea breeze whipped my hair, Jesus and I had a conversation about love.

You gotta understand, I’m not so good at loving. Really though. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. I’m just learning now how to do it properly.

You see, I had a tower built in my heart. The cornerstones of this tower were Pain, Inferiority, Fear and Performance. Not a great family to build a tower on, to be sure, but I did. The small stones had many names… betrayal, mistrust, anger…. on and on to the sky.

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What did this tower surround? My ability to give and receive love.

Weird, isn’t it, that I would hide something that I wanted so badly to give away? I mean, how could I share something that was locked deep inside a fortress?

Well, I’ll tell you how it all started. I wasn’t always this way! One day, long ago, I started believing a lie. What lie? The lie that to love someone meant an instant assignment to protect them.

That is, after all what people do if they care about someone, right? It’s even, to the proper degree, scriptural. I was very good at it. Protecting those I loved came naturally for me.

But I took it too far.

I started crashing. I realized that I couldn’t be strong for everyone, so I started shutting people out. If it seemed like they were asking too much of me… too much strength when I was weak, too much emotional energy when I had none, I cut them off. Not from myself, mind you! From unlimited love. I just went only so far, and then stopped. They could visit my tower, but only stay as long as I allowed.

Why? Because if they stayed, I’d have to protect them…. fight their battles as well as… or even instead of… my own, and I already knew I couldn’t do that for everyone. I’d tried.

“There’s GOT to be a better way”, I thought one day. I was desperate for change. No, not change as in money. Change as in, a different way of living. A better way. I packed my bags and went on a long journey.

Up mountains, along crags, and through valleys I hiked, and along the way, I learned a new skill called “receiving love”. It meant valuing myself enough to accept words Jesus says about me that did not feel true. It meant valuing others enough to bless them by being a gracious receiver. It meant taking their love for what it is–a direct outpouring of love from Jesus Himself.

In return, Jesus pulled out the cornerstone named ‘Inferiority’ and my tower began to sag, just a bit.

With the love of Jesus now boiling inside of me, I powered onward, and found I had new courage to learn a second skill, called “saying no”. I learned, through Jesus the gentle Teacher, that sometimes it really was ok to say no… to a favor I was asked to perform, or to a task, or to a responsibility, or to a role. Sometimes it was better for everyone if I just said no.

No. That was a hard word for me, but I finally learned it.

In return, Jesus gave me a gift. Space! Space to let Him set my priorities. Space to love Him first. He grabbed the cornerstone named Performance and tossed it far from me in one mighty heave.

What did I do with all this new-found space? I used it to deal with the last cornerstone, Pain, and it’s ugly partner, Fear. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand.

Or claw-in-claw. It’s not funny at all, really.

Jesus said to me, “I brought you this far. Will you trust me? Will you trust me to know how much pain you, and the people you love can handle? Because if–no–when! When you trust me that much, you can love without limit knowing that when the people you love suffer, it will be for My glory, and that fact will make their pain worthwhile in your eyes!

You can live without fear because you’ll know that suffering will not last forever! That I always, always and always have something rich and spectacular in the making!

I, and I alone, hold the role of ‘Protector’. You can have so much more freedom to disappoint,–even hurt people, and still you’ll know, as long as you are pleasing Me, that they will be ok.

Will you let Me have My rightful place?”

Standing on the top of Fort Frederick, 25-knot winds threatening to blow me over the side, I said, “Yes! I will let you have that place!” I picked up a small rock, part of the fort’s wall, and threw it into the jungle with all my might. It crashed through the brush and disappeared.

In my mind’s eye, that rock was me, escaping the tower of self-produced love forever. The remaining parts of the tower–its last two cornerstones (Pain and Fear) smashed to smithereens–collapsed in a mighty crumbling, and blew away on the wind.

All that was left by the sea was me, Jesus, and our perfect love, alone in a real world where ants were still biting.

I’m so glad the last bit of that tower is gone.

The only walls that trap us are the ones we build ourselves.

 

But He Always Offers Rest

2 weeks ago, I was part of an amazing scouting adventure in the Florida Everglades. A recon. Research, networking, exploration and a harvesting of as many Glades skills as we could scavenge.

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My co-guides and I all knew it would be, to borrow the favorite expression of my friend Kathy, a very “interesting situation”. New adventures just are. But we weren’t prepared for just how interesting our situation would be.

We set out under the dire predictions of being de-limbed and then eaten by an alligator, or suffocated and then eaten by a snake, or swept out to sea, or dehydrated.

(What can we say, we have great friends!)

And then we set out, and reality began.

Everything we tried to do in the front country was a fail.

I’ll just graze the tip of the iceberg by saying that the journey which should have taken 22 hours took 32, and by that time, our SUV was toast. If you ever need to buy tranny fluid on a southern trip, just ask us. We know all the good places between North Carolina and Florida.

Somewhere along the line, we met many locals of various character, called 20+ hotels which had no vacancy, made fruit salad and packed gear in the parking lot of a shady auto body shop, and slept overnight outside of Wal-Mart in the canoe trailer.

Not necessarily our customary wilderness trip practices.

We were all thrilled to finally set into the wilderness on Sunday afternoon,

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and lay our weary heads down on our squeaking therma-rest mattresses that night at South Joe Chickee. From there on, our journey was a breeze. And I mean literally. The wind was at our backs 80% of the time.

Coincidence?

Never.

I know Jesus too well for that.

The tides were in our favor, we met dolphins every day, we didn’t get eaten by alligators or pythons, and we didn’t get blown out to sea. Every day brought a gorgeous sunrise and sunset,

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every corner brought another spectacular view,

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it only sprinkled rain once, and we never lost our way.

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Our struggles during our road trip to the Glades gave us a head start in trusting each other…. in being real. No day went by that there wasn’t conflict, struggle, Jesus-words, restoration, and freedom, and celebration among us.

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Paddling across the Gulf of Mexico towards the end of our trip, I thought it over. We had come, each of us, from a battle. We had come on assignment, not knowing what lay ahead, or how hard it would be. We didn’t know there would be rest…. but there was.

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All I could think of was these words from the Maker.

“The people who were spared from the sword found grace in the wilderness, where I led them to find rest. I have loved you with an everlasting love, that is why I have called you to myself with loving kindness. I will build you up again–you will once again be strong! You will once again be joyful, and join in the dances of those who are carefree. What you plant will bear fruit. Those who realize what is happening will cry, “Let’s spend more time with Jesus–let’s worship the Lord!” (Jeremiah 31:1-7, paraphrased)

And that’s what I love about wilderness. No matter why you come, no matter who you are, Jesus is there. It’s His place to do what He wants, and amaze everyone.

We came, essentially, to work.

But He’s always offering rest.

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He’s always offering relationship, restoration, and peace.

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And He’s always offering joy.

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Who wouldn’t want to receive such a gift?

 

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.

Innumerable Gifts

 

Recently, most people have been asking me the “What next?” question. You know the one. The one where it’s incredibly awkward to say, “Well, I plan to study, write, do some renovations and work out. That’s it.”

Why me? Why is my path so full of “What if?” and “What next?”s? Why do I love doing everything, and find it impossible to just stick to one vocation until I’m a pro, like some nice, normal person?

I hate not knowing what is ahead, and I hate having not having a predictable income. I hate those looming words TAXES, CAR INSPECTION & MED BILLS that seem to float through the air at year’s end, without a care in the world.

Really, I mostly just hate being out of control.

I went into a field today, and laid on my back looking at the blue of the skies behind wispy clouds, silently sad.

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And then it hit me. “Right now, I am doing my favorite thing. I am outside, alone, breathing fresh air, without a single deadline to worry about. WHY should I be sad unless I’d allowed that sneaky little seed of mistrust to grow in my heart?”

I thought of Jesus’ care for me over the past month, and how He surrounded me with wonderful friends, gave me a plane ticket to the Caribbean, and overwhelmed me with His promises at all the right moments.

“Jesus, I’m sorry. I DO trust you. Thank you for giving me freedom!

Because that really is my favorite. .

I came into the house and the first thing I heard was, “Don’t forget to put your registration sticker on before the new year.” What?? My registration?? But…. I already paid for that!”

All along I’d been preparing myself for a $200.00 inspection bill…. but… that’s not what was about to expire!  My registration had been paid for weeks ago, leaving me bill-free.

Then I realized how my Father had provided for me long before I noticed Him….. once again.

Do you think, one day, I will fully learn to trust Him?

That’s my goal.

 

 

What I learned about Jesus from the Ironman Triathlon

Think about what it means to be strong in the Lord, and tell me what you see.

I always knew better in my mind, but when push came to shove I used to believe that God wanted macho, 6-pack body-builders of the faith. The ones who overcame all odds by pure determination.

Somehow, I switched out the word faith for the word strong, and lived my life that way. My hope relied on “My strength is made perfect in weakness”—but in a moment of trial, I added on to the promise with, “But since I don’t believe God is strong enough to be my strength, I’ll just help him out by being stronger.”

Ouch.

You know Samson, that 7-braided, rock-solid Jew of the Old Testament? Samson was strong. Crazily enough, he was also filled with the Holy Spirit, and didn’t even know it. Somewhere along the way, he threw away the fact that his physical strength was a gift from God meant to accomplish a specific work in the Heavenly Kingdom. He’d always had it, right? So why not rationalize that it was a part…. of him? He could do anything he set his mind to.

“Go ahead, woman! Cut off my hair… I’ll be fine.”

But he wasn’t. He spent the next age of his life building physical muscles in the mill. Now he knew what purely physical strength felt like, but it was too late.

There was once a young man whose body was trapped by cerebral palsy… but not his heart. His heart, he discovered, loved to race. Racing made him feel alive.

His heart also had the capacity to trust his father’s love for him. He spoke his desire to compete to his father…. and despite everything the world tried to tell him about who he was and what he could do, ended up competing in the Ironman Triathlon… the toughest one there is.

What if being a child of God made no earthly sense at all?

What if Jesus wants to literally BE our strength?

What if all we need to do is tell him our greatest desires, and he would accomplish them for us… but we got to go along for the ride?

What if we didn’t need to be strong…. we just needed to learn how to RECIEVE THE FATHER’S LOVE?

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.