The Girl in the Bloody Jacket

There stands a girl in a bloody denim jacket

Claiming she has nothing to hide

Though obvious that is a lie, she stands her ground, watching her relationships die

A stain on the shoulder from the stab of insecurity

One in the chest from the jab of failure

The sleeves are drenched from whispers and blank stares

The back drips from a deep, infected gash of loneliness.

With a smile, shoulders back

There is nothing here to hide

He beckons her to take the jacket off, afraid of the cold, she declines

Please, He begs, the wounds need to be cleaned, not hidden

Then it will be true, you need not hide or hold it all in

She tearfully allows the jacket to be removed

And her blood-matted arms shiver with truth proved.

The water is clear; He beckons her in

Afraid of the existing cold, she vows never to dive or swim

Please, the blood needs to disappear- He pushes her in

Cold. Crystal. Clear.

The water washes away the stain, but cold she remains

The cuts burn with the truth of scorn, and healed they scar,

Finally awake to the burden they are.

Slowly she emerges, convulsing uncontrollably, shivering to the bone

She looks back, the water blood red,

A reminder of the price He already shed

A blanket awaits for when she reappears,

A reminder of the provision he promises for those he holds dear

Though comforted, cold she will stay

For the pains of loneliness do not easily decay.

Uncomfortable she lives, and cold turns mundane

Her friends quickly start to drift away

Shivering, she grips her blanket provided only by Him

Panicked, she rummages for her jacket of bloody denim

Crying out, the jacket is nowhere to be found

He calmly explains one clean does not need to hide shame

He points back to the bloody water, her life flies before her eyes.

How long has she drifted from Him

Hiding from the truth He carries with him

Now her friends walk away

She is forced to stare Him in the face

Man of Sorrows, acquainted with blood stains

He too was wrapped in shame

Burial clothes covered His face.

Triumphant He arose, though the scars remained

I look down at mine, and He says this is proof of all you’ve gained

The race is long, and I know how you hate to run

But take heart, for Glory is to come

The girl in the bloody denim jacket has re-become

Though friends may pass and loneliness seems to ever last

The cold will soon die away, along with the sad and all the mundane

Triumphant you will rise, scars will remain

But you will have a new name

One of victory and peace

Peace with the guy who never acknowledged your name

Peace with the girl who you constantly blame

Peace with the one who turned their back on you

And Peace with the person who you once knew

Uninvited you no longer will be

You were treasured long before you knew me

Fear will not rule you

Loneliness will not become you

My name is tattooed on your forehead, He proclaims

So look me in the eyes, refuse to take on shame

Embrace your scars and walk in the beauty they are.

The young girl awakes

Her jacket still on

She cries out for that new dawn

Scared, she takes the jacket off

She jumps in the water and looks Heavenward, though far-off

Tears run down her face as she feels the cold embrace

The girl in the bloody denim jacket is no more, that identity no longer has a place.

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Halloween Candy

One of my favorite types of videos to watch on YouTube are when parents eat their children’s Halloween candy. No matter how many times I watch the same episodes, they never fail to make me laugh out loud. The more I watch the videos, I realize that there are three types of reactions from the kids.

Kid One: crying and screaming, sometimes accompanied by profanity or hitting the parent.

Kid Two: stares at the parent for a couple seconds before falling to the ground; all while being completely silent.

Kid Three: forgives the parent and goes about their business.

After the parents reveal to the kids that the candy wasn’t actually eaten, these same kids have unique ways of responding to the news as well, depending on the aforementioned reactions.

Kid One: their screaming and crying drowns out their parent’s voice, so they don’t even hear the good news that their candy wasn’t actually eaten. When the parent finally breaks through to them, they are still mad, leaving the video still crying.

Kid Two: stares blankly at the parent before walking away in silence.

Kid Three: laughs it off and says thank you.

You may be wondering where I’m going with this, so let me explain.

The more I meditate on this, the more I realize that this is the perfect representation of how Christians respond to God. The way we react to God when he takes something away, perfectly coincides to how we respond to God when he gives us something.

One: We yell and scream at God because we don’t understand why he would take something from a child he claims to love. We are so caught up in our own frustration and confusion, that we drown out the blessings God has given and is giving to us. We are so busy yelling at God that we aren’t taking the time to listen to Him.

Two: We are so shocked that we don’t even want to acknowledge God. We don’t want to read his word, pray to him, worship him, or even live for him because of the pain or harm he has caused us. We allow this one thing to permeate every aspect of our lives. Because we can’t praise him in the bad, we fail to thank him for the good.

Three: We rest in our faith and trust in God, knowing that he only has our good and his glory in mind. We have confidence that God is purposeful and he is not wasteful. He is faithful in bringing life from death, light from darkness, and good from bad. He is redeeming, comforting, trustworthy, powerful. Even what seems to be the worst, he can make the most beautiful. He will not allow something to happen to us that isn’t for his sovereign glory and for our ultimate good.

These aren’t the only ways that people respond to God. They are generalities that allow us to see where we may fall – if not in one of these categories, somewhere in between. We may not always fall in number three, but that is the goal. As Christians, number three shouldn’t only be a goal, but a goal that can actually be attained. Sure, there will be times when we don’t want to talk to God, where we feel angry at times, we feel like he doesn’t hear our cries, the list goes on. But that’s just it, these are feelings. We can’t let these human feelings override the fact that God is real. He hears our cries, and he loves us dearly. He will never put us through a trial that can’t produce fruit and growth.

Sincerely,

Natalie Brown

Somewhere between two and three

 

A Holy Parking Job

Parking is a holy endeavor for me. Yes, parking. You see, I don’t like to pray. In fact, I didn’t pray for a really long time. If I told you that I was praying for you between the time of my junior year and November of last year, there is a 90% chance that I was lying to you. And now that I am typing this, I realize how absolutely petty this is/was, but the only thing that I would actually pray for is a parking spot by my building.

And I always– always— have a parking spot right by my building.

To give some context to this, there are nearly 650 people living within the block of where I park, and there are maybe 120 parking spots by my building. And my car? Always has prime parking.

While some of you may not contribute any of that to Jesus, considering it is the only thing that I regurarly prayed for, and I have always had it (even in near miraculous situations), I give credit to God for this. Even further, it is a running joke among my friends that when I am with them, they will blessed with rockstar parking spaces. But here is the thing about this holy parking endeavor: I have learned more about God from parking than I have in my devotional time for months.

He is so, so, so faithful. I was using him to get good parking, and He never let me down. He wasn’t using me for selfish motives, but was using my selfishness to show me how selfless he is.

He will provide. And not only will he provide faithfully and consistently, but fully. Excellently. I never had to go to the farthest spot, or an external parking lot… nope. My car is right outside of my window. He spoils us with his excellence.

He isn’t afriad of my selfishness. In fact, he turns all things to his glory. Through a absolutely brutal semester, full of a lot of relational and spiritual strife, he used my selfish motives to teach me that I can trust him. Don’t misunderstand me; He doesn’t like my selfishness, but I don’t (and can’t) scare him away with it.

God will laugh at you. Not in one of those bully kind of ways, but in those “Oh Girl, you have no clue what you’re getting into” kind of ways. Here I was just praying for PARKING– the most superficial of things– and God took me on a spiritual journey of lifetime, and his consistency in providing parking showed me that I can trust him to provide me rest. Peace. Joy. Patience. Relationships. All these things– and I’m pretty sure God was chuckling while he was blowing my brains out with his awesomeness. And after about my second month of having nonstop amazing parking, I KNEW I would have parking. I KNEW he would be faithful. He is and was and will be. And if one day I don’t get a parking spot, I will know that he is still faithful, and I just don’t understand. He is not out to tease me and play mind games with me. God is just gonna teach me something new about him.

I once had a friend tell me that parking is a mighty small thing to pray for, but then I reminded her that if God is bigger than all my problems, then everything is a mighty small thing to be praying for. There were some days where the only good thing that happened was that I was alive, and that I had a parking spot. He will not disappoint. And he will use your faults to teach you more than you ever imagined, and maybe wanted. Many of you know, and most of you don’t know, but this past semester really kind of sucked. But God was faithful in provision, presence, patience, rest. Don’t be so distracted by the extraordinary that you fail to see the holy ground that you are walking (or parking) in during your ordinary.

There is holiness in the mundane. Don’t be alarmed when it looks like a bunch of asphalt.

Bye for now pals,

Hannah Robertson

 

 

To the Quiet Ones

I recently took the Enneagram personality assessment. The fact that there are certain animals that represent each type is a bit reminiscent of a Buzzfeed quiz which makes me want to question the validity of the whole thing. Now, I know I’m a little late to the party on this one, considering I have a degree in Psychology, but it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself.

Hi, I’m Abby, the introspective, quiet, introvert.

A while ago—yet, for me, recent enough to still be poignant—someone I greatly admired and respected told me that I am far too quiet and introverted to ever be truly effective in real ministry. At the time, I believed him, because he had significant roles within the church; so, clearly, he knew what he was talking about.

Just a couple months after that fateful conversation, God dragged me (yes, I chose that word intentionally, because that’s pretty much what He had to do) into the theoretical wilderness of the Middle East to be a homeschool teacher for missionary kids, and I’ve been here ever since.

I want to clarify before moving on, though, I’m not freakishly quiet or antisocial. I love being around people, but not 24/7; I love talking to others, but I lose patience with, as we say in Arabic, heckie fadie or empty talk. I am not at all an external processor, but I love to listen and process with those who are.

The belief that I would never be effective in real ministry because of the way God made me, weighed heavy. It is a lie, easily believed for those in a world where the ones most seemingly, “effective,” never tire of people and verbalizing their ideas. This false belief was hard for me to bring before God. Deep down, I knew it wasn’t true, yet, I couldn’t quite grasp the truth firmly enough to replace the lie. Thank goodness the Spirit acts as our intercessor in prayer during those train-wreck times, because God is showing me, little by little, what, “real ministry,” truly is and how He has created all His chosen for such a thing.

 

Even the quiet ones.

 

Language barriers are a regular issue I deal with living overseas. You don’t just pick up the second hardest language in the world, yet in the time I’ve been here, I’ve learned enough to be polite and survive.

Today, however, I was put in a situation where that wasn’t enough.

 

I went to visit the Gypsies.

 

With long skirts and covered hair, a friend and I left the familiarity of our fairly modern city and followed the roads until they became mud. The uniform, square, cement homes of the Arab middle-class tapered off and became crude, plastic covered tents.

The Gypsies are hated, despised, entirely marginalized, and treated with complete disdain by the larger population. They have their own culture, their own language, their own heritage, and sadly, not the best reputation. So, being the weird foreigners that we are, we went to hang out with the women and make jewelry.

A couple dozen of us piled on the floor in a tiny tent and began our work with the beads.

I watched their eyes, as bright as their colorful dresses, twinkle like the gold of the rings on their fingers, ears, and nose.

Verbal communication was essentially nonexistent between us, but it’s amazing how unnecessary it really is. The oohs and ahhs over the beaded creations, the kisses and cuddles of their sweet, un-diapered babies, and the laughter over their curly haired, barefoot kids climbing from lap to lap were enough.

To show that we see them; to acknowledge their existence, as women, mothers and daughters, not as a nuisance to the community, but as human people who the bear the face of Jesus; to squeeze their hands and kiss their cheeks, is to give them a radical love and dignity they’ve never known from the outside.

 

If that isn’t, “real ministry,” then I don’t know what is.

 

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the Truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the Truth.

1 John 3:18-19

 

My Lie

When Hannah asked me to join the blog, I responded with a resounding yes. A second yes ensued when she asked if I wanted to write the post for this week.

It is my goal this year to step outside of my comfort zone. I want to say “yes” to things I normally wouldn’t, and take on challenges I don’t feel equipped to handle.

All this being said, this is about the fifth time I’ve started writing something. The cycle went as follows: Idea. Write. Doubt. Delete. Repeat. The more I tried to think of something to write, the more I doubted myself. I have so many ideas in my head, but when I try putting them into words, I sound like a toddler who hasn’t quite grasped the concept of cohesive sentences.

So, I decided to write one of those cliché blog posts about how I don’t know what to write. But, the more I started thinking, the more I realized why I was having such a hard time figuring out what to write about.

I AM NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

This incredible lie has infiltrated every aspect of my life. And, the most annoying part is, no matter how many times I speak God’s truth over this lie, it doesn’t ever seem to dissipate.

I know what God says about me. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I am forgiven. I am worthy and loved and valued. I am beautiful, smart, kind, and authentic. I am His.

But that’s the point. These are things I know, but I can never seem to believe that they’re true.

Living a life for the glory of God is a foreign concept in this world. We are told phrases like “do more of what makes you happy,” and “just do you.”

But I don’t want to “just do me.” I want to live for Christ.

I am tired of this lie controlling my thoughts, my actions, and my words. I want to not only believe the truths God speaks of me, but live like I believe them. I am far from perfect. I make mistakes. I have flaws. I sin daily. I don’t love as much as I should. I am fallen.

BUT GOD.

To him, I am good enough. I am forgiven. I have nothing to fear. I am saved. I am free. I am His.

I know that this will take time for me to learn. I’m not going to wake up tomorrow and suddenly feel confident and assured. But that is what life is about. Trusting that God has a plan for you, and believing it to be true. Life will be messy, it will be uncomfortable, it will feel hopeless. But at the center of it all is a God who values you and loves you just as you are, flaws and all. Whether you believe it or not, you are chosen. You are His.

With Love,

Natalie Brown

Romans 8:15-17

A Ghost in the Church

There are ghosts in my church. And probably your church– and I’m not talking ’bout no Holy Ghost now (though He is there too). When young people leave for school, military deployment, periods of missionary service, or simply find themselves in a position where they cannot regurarly attend church for whatever purpose, they return to the church as a ghost.

Now before I continue any further, I must give this preface: this is a hard post to write. Not because I am not passionate about it, or struggle to articulate how I and so many others feel. But because there is no way to write this without, to some degree, revealing my inner pity-party and insecurities. And with that vulnerability, there are hues of personal frustrations, seeds of bitterness (that God and I have had some discussions about), and sin-tinted perspectives that clog the absolute, perfect truth of this situation. So I do not write this post to attack any individual, I do not write this post to receive apologies from individuals, and I do not write this post to receive attention or affection from those who have stopped talking to me since I have left Wilmington. I write this because there is a crack in the Church. There is a reason college age kids flock away so easily and rapidly from the Body of Christ– it’s because they turn into ghosts.

My first break back to Wilmington from school, I was expecting people to be super excited to see me when I returned. And to some degree I was humbled (and disappointed tbh) when I came back and there was no welcome home parade in my honor. However, that was a sanctifying lesson: you are one body part of the Body of Christ. You aren’t the whole show. However, my second return home was when I really was heart-broken by the lack of response. I went to church (the same church I have attended 2-3 times a week for the past 16 years), and not one person said hello to me. I sat alone in the service. And left without a word. My peers did not talk to me. The adults that had been wise counsel to me for years did not address me. And even people paid by the church did not notice me.

Oh, they saw me. I’m sure. I got a wave or two. But I wasn’t really there.

I was a ghost.

I was more confused than anything. How is it that I have been gone for three months, with regular social media updates, having been involved in the church for nearly two decades, and suddenly… I was invisible?

Oh, but when it happened a second time that confusion turned into sadness.

And the third time loneliness.

And the fourth time bitterness.

And by the fifth time I didn’t really want to go to church anymore.

When I tried explaining this situation to someone, I was asked why I was not more involved in the college ministry. And I was also asked about the church I was involved in in Lynchburg.

See, I attend the college ministry at my church. It is a GREAT ministry full of FANTASTIC humans, whom I love dearly. But here is the dilemma with posing these two questions upon students who leave their homes for school: their peers move on without them, and they return to a group of students in which they are no longer included within the communal atmosphere. There is not a good place for them. They are not your community any more; you are not invited to their lunch dates, you do not discuss your deep distresses with them, and you are no longer on their regular texting schedule. To add to this social stress, there are not adults actively and continually investing in their lives. They come home to childhood friends who have moved on with their absence, and adults whom when prompted, ask how their classes and GPA’s are. And then at school, I am blessed to get spiritual engagement, but for my friends across the state and country who don’t have that spiritual accountability, they are left with NO ONE to talk to about their walk with God. NO ONE to invite them to church. NO ONE to ask them how they can be prayed for. They are alone. And return to feel more lonely, and often embittered at the people there (as discussed above).

And so they don’t go to church at school. And they sometimes go to church at home.

Now, I go back to my little preface to writing this post: I am not out to attack anyone, any ministry, any church. This is a problem with THE Church. Not A church. I have stepped on the toes of many individuals by writing this. But I am doing this to point out a crack that needs to be filled. This is where those students who use to be involved go. They came to church, the church they grew up in. And they were alone. There was no community for them, no mentorship for them, no fellowship for them.

I recently went to a Christmas party full of college students. When I walked inside I was greeted with hellos. And then preceeded to stand awkwardly in the kitchen drinking my water for eleven minutes before anyone said a word to me… and I had to start the conversation. This is not okay. When we as a church fail to include those who are of our own body, we will fail to reach for those who have not yet been changed by the Gospel. The Gospel is not just one of salvation, but one of friendship with God. When we as a Body fail to have friendship and fellowship within the church, we discredit the Jesus we claim had dinner with strangers and washed the feet of his disciples and friends.

I am not posing some large scheme to fix this problem. It is a personal issue for each individual and honestly, is not something that can or should be fixed by a large ministry project. But I encourage everyone– myself included– to look for the ghosts in your church. Don’t let them fall through the cracks of our selfish, cliquey Sunday morning routines. Don’t let your usual seat on Sunday morning stop you from going out of your way to check on the individual sitting in the back corner. Don’t just settle for small talk. Don’t just think about texting and checking in on them– ACTUALLY DO IT. And if you don’t think you can remember to do it, write it down on your to-do list. Adopt a college student to meet with for when they return so they have an adult they can trust to talk to. Train an attitidue and habit of hospitality and intentionality. I am so convicted by the people I know I have done this to who have graduated before me. If I have ever done this to you and have not reached out to you, please reach out to me. I want to apologize to you.

But guys. Please, check out your churches. The only ghost that should be living in them is the Holy Ghost.

Humbly until next time,

Hannah Robertson

One of many ghosts in the church

 

A High-Quality Scam

If you take a look around, life is chock full of high-quality scams. Glancing back on my life leading up to twenty years and pre-marriage, the one high-quality scam I unknowingly bought tickets to every day was comfort. Hannah said something last week that I’d like to reiterate: Sometimes life is mundane or uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s joyful and celebratory. The purpose of this blog is to follow the ebb and flow of life. If we’re not careful, comfort will wrap itself around our everyday life — our familiar coffee shops, navigating through town, and sell us tickets with “mundane” stamped all over it.

I’m the wife of the trio. My life used to pass as pretty mundane, and that’s exactly what I considered it to be: old news. Living in the same town for twenty years means that you know every road, side-road, and the best go-to coffee shops in town. It means that you can’t walk into the local Walmart without running into at least five people you know. It also means that you take life for granted — a lot. Thank goodness God knows our hearts and does exactly what we need, amen? I married my sweet husband on July 11th, 2017, and we promptly loaded up our entire lives and moved six hundred miles away from my comfort bubble. But this is the now-me writing, not the July me. In July I didn’t consider myself to be wrapped within the comfort of familiarity, I simply considered myself to be bold in my surroundings. When we arrived at our new home, I couldn’t drive to the grocery store without the GPS. This was insanely unnerving to me. The combination of moving, a new job (that I really, really loathed), and throwing privacy out the window while I moved in with my husband, had me spinning.

Comfort is a high-quality scam because it gives you the false premise that everything is in relative control. Now, we may love Jesus and gladly say that we know He controls everything, but I’ll bet just as much that we continue to live our lives unknowingly comfortable in our “controllables.” At least, that was me. I was good — I was steadfast and loving — if I wasn’t having a meltdown. I realize now I was acting the better part of being a two-year-old, surrounded by unfamiliar voices and strange customs and I honestly didn’t know what to do with myself. The point is, God wanted me to see that everything is too big for me, but nothing is too big for him. Some days that phrase comes easy, and some days it doesn’t. More than not I feel like a lost cause, but all I can utter is thank goodness Jesus came to find lost people.

By the way, as far as the “overcoming what’s comfortable” thing, my husband had to blackmail me into posting this publicly. Something about him burning a piece of his artwork every time I said I didn’t like what I’d written.

Clearly, I’m still working on the whole being uncomfortable thing.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Cowell

 

PS. Happy New Year!