“Our Hope is in heaven…”

I shared here, about Honor, the unborn child we lost through an early miscarriage on March 5th of this year. I wanted to share a little more about her story, about ours, and about Hope. This is personal stuff so if you’d rather pass on this lengthy post, I understand. But I welcome you to come along.

After having Heidi 8.5 years ago, I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I was serving as Women’s Director, speaking at retreats, and drafting up the proposal for Sacred Mundane. Dutch, 2, was difficult and mostly baffled me. I loved being a mom, but felt like a failure most of the time. I wasn’t really a “kid person” and both babies came without trying, so I couldn’t imagine having more.  I wanted a preventative method that was permanent.

Appointment made. Procedure done. Close that chapter. Moving on.

Life was full. We sold our dream house. Moved. Planted a church. Moved again. Lived on next to nothing. Had an assortment of housemates. Wrote a book. Moved again.

Then, a couple years ago, I was speaking at a retreat, and casually sat down with a woman holding a baby. We got to know each other, and she shared that she and her husband had had a vasectomy, but then years later felt that they heard clearly from the Lord to have more children. They obeyed, had a reversal, and now had several more children. She was sitting there, beaming, bouncing her darling little bundle. So clearly happy.

I was horrified.

God can DO that?!

I mean, He had told us to do stuff. We had sold our home. Given money away. Planted a church. But those were gospel-y things. Kingdom things.

Could God tell you what to do with your body???

I’m smiling here because of course He can, but it was certainly disconcerting to me to think that God would interrupt someone’s life in this way. Go on a foreign mission? Sure. Give money away? Of course.

Have more kids? Now wait a minute.

I remember going back to my room a bit unsettled. Her story challenged my assumptions of what God would or would not ask of me. Of course I loved my kids. But this was years later. That season was over. I was 35 for crying out loud. Advanced maternal age. Didn’t that have to do special tests for pregnant people my age?

I pushed the thought out of my mind. Too much time has passed. That ship has sailed.

As the next year went by, I thought of that conversation. I also reflected on how very different my life was now that my kids were older. In short, they’re SO FUN. I remember being exhausted during the baby stage, but this … this was fabulous! I loved seeing who my kids were becoming, and I found myself often saying, “If I had known how awesome this would be, we would have had more…”

But we hadn’t. So we didn’t.

I was also amazed that year to hear that a friend of mine, well into her mid-40s, gave birth to her 8th child, with a 10.5-year span between her next youngest and her newborn. My “I’m too old and too much time has passed!” excuse seemed a little lame.

Fast forward to last September. With these thoughts still on my mind, I received an invitation from a friend, asking if we could meet for lunch. She drove 5 hours from her hometown just to meet me, so I was eager to hear what was on her mind. Knowing nothing of my own inner wrestlings, and to my jaw-dropping amazement, she shared her incredible story of how God had revealed that there was an area of her life that wasn’t fully surrendered to God. The area?

Willingness to have more children. They too had had a vasectomy. Closed that chapter. And now, 7 years later, God had led them to get a reversal and be open to having more children. She too was beaming, so filled with the joy of obedience.

I was speechless. I think I muttered something like, “Oh wow, good for you.”

I walked from Cafe Yumm back out to the car and sat in the silence. Just me and the Spirit. I didn’t sense conviction, per se, or some heavy condemnation, as if I had sinned. I just knew that the right answer is always surrender, and I never wanted to have an area of my life where I refused to let God move. Without much passion, I spoke the words into the air,

“Fine. I surrender. Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do.”

A month later, the idea of a reversal still stuck with me. I knew I should at least mention the idea to Jeff, since it kind of involved him. 😉 To my amazement, he was all for it: YES! I’d love to have more kids!

You what??! I was shocked, but happy too. Over the course of the next month the idea grew, specifically in the form of two names. Just as both Dutch & Heidi’s names were clear to me before they were born, I kept having two more names come to mind, one of which was the girl’s name Honor. I loved that name for a girl, and it was as if these were children God had thought of for us that we had yet to hold. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like they were already conceived, as in thought of, by Him, before they were conceived by us. I found myself WANTING to hold them.

The true reversal was of my heart, and God did that completely. Now I found myself, more than anything else, longing to hold these children our Father had for us. 

Now, the decision. We knew that if we were to have more kids, we should probably do more than pray for an immaculate conception.

Obedience usually requires action.

And often, cost. While vasectomies are easily covered by most insurance, reversals are most certainly not. We were quoted $8,000 out of pocket at OHSU. Ouch.

And yet, David said, “I will not offer to the LORD that which costs me nothing.” Sometimes undoing a decision is costly, so we needed to be willing to pay that cost.

But we’re still frugal! We wanted to be wise stewards of God’s money, so we prayed, researched, and while Jeff shared our journey with the church Elders, I was home researching and I stumbled upon a chat thread that mentioned Dr. David Wilson, a Christian urologist in Oklahoma who had a ministry of offering at-cost reversals. He loves the Lord and has performed more than 6,450 reversals at cost, as a generous ministry. Instead of $8,000 it was $1,900. And he loved Jesus.

Yes, please. We bought cheap airfare for a few months out, and kept our secret over the holidays.

Although, it seemed the Spirit was speaking to someone else as well.

Although we had never said anything to our kids, they both began talking about siblings. Dutch wanted a little brother and Heidi a little sister. That seemed surprising, since they’d never brought it up before, in the past 8 years! Then, one December morning, Heidi came downstairs and said,

“Mommy, last night I had a dream that I prayed for you to get pregnant and you did.”

I about choked on my coffee but tried to stay cool. “Hm. That’s interesting,” I responded, and dropped it. But that night she pressed the issue,

Mommy, what about the dream? What do you think about it??”

I smiled. “Why don’t you just pray about it.”

And so she did. I heard from her Sunday school teachers that each week for her prayer request she’d pray for a sibling. I was amazed and silently hoped God would hear her prayers.

And then, in January, without telling anyone what we were doing (not even my parents, who were watching the kids, ha!) we flew to OK and had the procedure done. When we arrived in Tulsa, the car rental place explained that even though there were only 2 of us, they needed to upgrade us to a minivan. Ha! We winked at each other (“It’s a sign!”) and hurried on our way.

It was a great trip. We enjoyed the time away, loved Dr. Wilson who prayed with us, played worship music in the surgery room, and encouraged us along our journey. However, we knew the chances were still slim, since so much time had gone by since the original procedure was done.

We didn’t know if I’d ever get pregnant.

But 3 weeks later I did.

We were stunned. Thrilled. Over the moon excited. It worked! This was happening!

The few friends who knew our journey were celebrating with us. God is faithful! Hallelujah.We told the kids.

“Heidi! God answered your prayers!” She was thrilled. We rejoiced.

And then I miscarried.

Now I was stunned, in a different way. I knew that this was not uncommon, but Dutch & Heidi’s pregnancies were so easy, uneventful, uncomplicated. I’d never had a moment of doubt or worry with them.

And now, just like that, this child was gone.

The swell of momentum and joy and hope and excitement … was over.

Now it was just pain, and recovery, and explaining to the kids and all the shocked people who didn’t understand how on earth we could have even been in a situation to have a miscarriage.

So much explaining.

Not at all how I pictured “the blessing of obedience” would be.

But there was Hope.

As I was going through the miscarriage, I sensed God saying that this child, this tiny barely-formed child, was Honor. I was losing Honor.

But I still knew that God had put on our hearts to have two children we would hold, so I cried out to Him, in tears,

“Then God, please, give me another name. If I’m losing Honor, speak to me, who do you have for me instead?”

As clear as an audible voice, into the darkness:

“Hope.”

Yes. Hope. Of course. I knew Romans 5 — suffering produces … hope. And hope does not disappoint. This suffering would produce Hope and I would hold onto her. Hope would be the child who would remind me always of God’s good work through suffering.

I looked forward to Hope.

The months ahead brought up more stuff. Disappointments do that, they bring things to the surface that should have been dealt with long ago, but the pain or discouragement drags it up, so then you get to deal.  It was a hard few months. I was surprised by how long the recovery took, the ups and downs and hormones and swings.

But I held onto Hope.

And around May 5th, I felt like myself again. The winter was over. Spring! Hallelujah, spring.

A month later, during one of our church prayer meetings, a good friend felt led to pray specifically that I would get pregnant immediately.

I did.

YES!

This is Hope.

Yes! What redemption! God’s promises are sure! We can count on Him! Hope does not disappoint! We waited longer to share the news, but each passing week seemed to solidify the surety of this child. My first appointment was scheduled for 11 weeks, and we couldn’t wait. Morning sickness was in full swing, I gained 6 pounds right off the bat, and was already rounding out quite nicely.

I just couldn’t wait to hear Hope’s heartbeat.

And then.

A couple days before the appointment, the pain began.

No. Fear threatened. No.

I will hold onto Hope. I prayed, prayed, all day, under my breath, in my mind. Through that night. Through the next day. Sunday morning I came to church still in pain, but holding onto Hope. As I walked into worship practice, my sweet friend Christine was singing the worship lyrics,

“Your Name is Hope inside me, Hope inside me…”

Tears welled up as I sang out with all my heart, praying through each twinge of pain, singing for Hope, holding onto Hope.

That afternoon it began in full force.

It was horrific, to me, so I don’t need to share details. I didn’t realize how different a later miscarriage was than the one I’d experienced earlier. I passed out three times from loss of blood. Jeff was a hero, carrying me, holding me, through six hours of horrendous labor-like loss.

I prayed constantly for hours, holding onto Hope, and then, in a crystal clear moment, in the darkness I heard in my heart,

“Our Hope is in heaven.”

Through my blurred eyes I pulled up the verse on my phone–did it really say that? Yes. Colossians 1:5,

… the hope laid up for us in heaven.

Hope was laid up for us in heaven. 

You’ve probably been there before. When the waves of grief just wash over you, like the relentless waves of labor contractions, and the physical pain seems endless and it all feels overwhelming, but there’s peace too.

The physical process continued in all its mercilessness, but Jeff carried me, and somehow heaven seemed so real and suddenly there was so much there.

I was just so grateful. All I could think about was how grateful I was.

To be alive. To have a husband who stayed up all night holding me. For two beautiful children, alive and asleep in the other room. For our home, for this land that is green and lush and gorgeous. For grace, for life, for Jesus and for all He’s done and is doing and for our friends and amazing family, and for HEAVEN.

The hope of heaven. Whatever the worst is this world can do to us … it’s got nothing on heaven.

Heaven wins.

And so my Hope passed from this world to the next, just like that.

Sure, I know my God works miracles here too. Jesus clearly shows us that. He heals bodies. He parts seas. He feeds thousands. He opens eyes.

But that isn’t all He does. Ultimately, our Hope is in heaven.

And I know God’s good will isn’t miscarriage. He’s shown us that too (Exodus 23). But no matter what this busted, messed up, broken world can beat us down with, heaven wins. 

And then, afterwards, the gratitude couldn’t help but grow because God’s people are amazing and who can grumble and gripe when there’s gorgeous flowers filling my countertop and the kindest words poured out on cards and gifts and love that leave me speechless? When friends show up with my favorite treats, and Clear Mind kombucha flows like water 😉 and when I don’t know what on earth to do for dinner the housemate comes up with steaming hot spaghetti and then the husband walks in with brownies dropped off by a friend, and, and, and …

How can I complain of pain when there’s still so much beauty in this world??? 

There is still so much beauty in this world.

Of course there is still grief. And I know two miscarriages is nothing compared to some of your pain. You who are battling cancer or fighting for little one’s lives or grieving loss that’s beyond my comprehension. But I know this:

He wins.

The worst this world can do is death.

Oh death, where is your sting? It has been swallowed up. You know by what?

By victory.

And so, that was this Monday. 🙂 And now I’m unplugging for a bit, laying low with my feet up and I hope you have a great week. Just wanted to share a bit of our journey with you.

It’s not over.

{Thanks for reading.}

Declaring more than Happy Birthday over Mrs. Sacred Mundane

Kari’s husband here, seeking to share some words about my wife. Today is her birthday, and while this woman doesn’t seek the attention, she is worth celebrating.

Jeff & KariYou see, Kari is the same in public as she is in private; she harbors no secrets. Humility and integrity have married together with creativity and authenticity in this woman. Today we celebrate herWHO she is — above her works, and words. Her worth is in being a daughter of God. 

The words belong flow because there is little editing when it comes to portraying Kari’s character. Sure, there are many aspects of our lives that she keeps private, and rightly so. Not once has she shamed our family in writing or speaking the true stories she shares. Kari routinely asks for my input and permission before going public with a private aspect. (I did not however ask her if I could post this.) But the point is, she’s the same person at home as she portrays in public; except for here at home she’s mostly adorned in sweatpants and a favorite tattered fleece. *smile*

June is a month of reflection for both of us, with birthdays and our anniversary. And I am learning it is a moment to consider the future. Kari is consistently future-oriented; I wake up daily in the past. So the declarations I pray today over her life, some of which I share below on her birthday, have an already-not-yet quality to them. There is the power of the Gospel over her past (absolution and forgiveness and so much more through justification by grace), God eradicating the presence of sin and selfishness (sanctification), and she is becoming who she already is in Christ and will be forevermore (glorification). My bride knows theology well, and lives it better. In the Renew family we say we want to embrace and embody the grace and truth of Jesus. Kari, whose name means “the pure one,” seeks to live up to this standard, imaging the pure hope of the God of all Grace. 

Grace

These truths are vital to share, for the “secret sauce” of Kari’s life is no mere talent or special opportunity. She has tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalm 37), and responds to His goodness — and greatness, and grace, and glory — with her whole heart and life. This woman shows up, serves everyone, is found faithful, perseveres through discouragement (hupomone!), and receives the fruit of wisdom only ours through following Jesus. She wanted “nothing” for her birthday, since she’s living beyond herself. I say there’s a gift we could give. 

Learn to Live UnstuckYou’ll find this blog has no monetized ads, for we’re prayerfully seeking to give away the Gospel. We want you to learn to live unstuck through the good news of Jesus. Yet there is one gift you could give Kari, by way of clicking.

Will you pre-order a copy of her new book Sacred Mundane?

(Perhaps to give away. All her ebooks and this new book described here.) 

You’ll receive the gift as it releases July 25th, and I guarantee the message will serve you on the path to freedom, purpose, and joy. Sacred Mundane will guide toward hope as you let your days transform your life. Kari has labored over that message for more than a decade — all the while living the sacred mundane life. Her soul and our home spills over its pages; it gets a little messy. God is so good. 

There’s something more to this gift: for your purchase goes beyond her. It’s our joy to give all our proceeds from Sacred Mundane for the flourishing of women and children in developing whole communities globally. We happily give this to and through World Vision. 

Back to the birthday girl… my prayer over her soul, and longing for her life, is that she enter into the grace and truth of Christ, clinging to the honor and justice that truly belongs to our Creator. So I declare these truths from Scripture over her life:

Kari, you are loved by God, and me. You are a daughter, born again, and adopted into the family of God, chosen before the foundation of the world. The Creator chose you as His own! Being rescued and remade into the image of God’s Son, you reflect His glory, and bear the fruit of His Spirit, according to all the creative means God desires. He will complete the good work He began in you, and in us, through your trust, honor, and obedience. He will sustain you to the very end, kept blameless until the day of Christ Jesus. Though you were once without hope, but God because He is rich in mercy through the gift of His Son has saved you forever. You were ordained to live in the good words God planned for you, that you shall walk in them all the days of your life, and this new year especially. For you are set apart for righteousness, bringing God’s creative solutions to order the chaos all around you. As one of His called people you can rejoice that all things are working together for your good, to the glory of God. For no good thing does He withhold as you walk uprightly. I am convinced you are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct others. Your life serves God’s purposes in the whole world, and this small part of it. You are also full of faith, humility, and love, and can do all things in love, through Him who strengthens you. For nothing is impossible for God. You have all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus. You are chosen as his vessel to declare His excellencies — His perfections! — and display His goodness and glory. You work with all your might, as unto the Lord, and surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life. Then you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. You are blessed beyond measure because Jesus Christ our Lord, who took our sin and sickness and shame, who bore them away forever, on the cross. He has defeated all enemies in your life, absolved all your sin, set you free to live as He intended. Jesus has endued you with power and kindness to use the spiritual gifts and unique calling He chose as you fulfill your role as a significant minor character in the big Story.

PattersonsMay this new year continue deeper in His truth, wider in His grace, fully in His joy. In God’s glorious plan, where Jesus is the Hero of the Story, as the One who moves the plot forward, you participate in the renewal of all things, the redemption from the curse, and the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. You are loved with an everlasting love, and nothing can separate you from the love of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord. It is pure joy to be in this goodness alongside you. Amen! 

We pray this over you on this day. Happy Birthday, Kari! 

It is a joy to walk alongside you, following Jesus together as a family. Now to finish your present, cleaning out the shop.

—Jeff (@deTheos, @renewjeff)

p.s., Kari will return to write next week, so if you’re longing for her take on things, you can subscribe by email here to receive all new posts as they’re published. 

Land that I love… {A long confession}

I have a confession: I haven’t loved America.

Sometimes God’s leading is so surprising, the twists and turns He takes us on so unexpected, that we’re often unsure whether we want to even share the stuff out loud. Right? At least I feel that way sometimes.

I have recently been challenged by two issues—two convictions that caught me off guard because they are in such sharp contrast to the way I’ve always lived. Mere months ago I would have scoffed at the suggestion that my heart was off in these areas, and yet God has gently guided me, through prayer, His Word, conversations, and a few thought-provoking books, to take inventory of how my life lines up to what He says.

One of them was my attitude toward my country. I had become, in recent years, anti-American. Looking back, I see a few reasons:

My spiritual-sounding reason had to do with wanting to pledge allegiance to God, above all. I still remember my dad asking if my kids said the pledge of allegiance each day before school, as we did growing up. I chuckled, “Dad, my kids don’t even know the pledge of allegiance.” I’m ashamed to say that I felt proud of that somehow, like I was making my kids Jesus-lovers by denying them knowledge of our nation’s history.

See, my heart was right-ish but off-ish: We are ultimately citizens of heaven, this world is not our home, and so in my desire to have no other God beside Him, I wanted to be sure that no other allegiances neared the throne. That’s fine, certainly, of course my love for God trumps all other loves, but in my over-zeal for this I had actually neglected the land God’s called me to love.

This can happen in any area. For example, I can be so over-focused the outward mission of God, that I neglect my marriage and my children. I can ignore them while I’m off “reaching the lost.” The lesson for me this past year is that it is precisely IN the discipling, loving, nurturing, and caring for my family that I am best able to reach a lost world Christ loves. Our families, our relationships, our marriages, the virtue of our lives and the way we love others, were meant to serve as lights—cities on a hill—for all to see.

If I neglect my home, I miss the mission.

And if I neglect my homeland, I might miss His mission too.

Now, I can see the sadly shallow reasons as well. Like many Gen-X-ers, I was sucked in by an arrogant, anti-American attitude. Some of it is nothing more than mindlessly following the “cool crowd,” like insecure middle-schoolers. It’s cool to travel abroad, it’s lame to roadtrip America. It’s cool to eat ethnic food, it’s lame to eat American food. It’s cool to quote Ghandi, it’s lame to quote any of our founding fathers. It’s cool to bash America, it’s lame to laud America. Think about it: If you wanted to buy an American flag t-shirt, let’s just say you wouldn’t go to Nordstrom, you’d hit Walmart. The general attitude is that patriotic people are old, uneducated, narrow-minded xenophobics who shop at Walmart, love Norman Rockwell art and think the world is white. It’s sad to even write this, but it’s true. I would never have had any American-flag decor anywhere near my property or person—so not cool. Fourth of July parades? Please.

In so many ways, I never left 8th grade.

Added into all this is the misunderstanding that patriotism is the same as nationalism. Patriotism has been vilified, at least in my far-left corner of the country. If I dared to love my country, wouldn’t that mean I didn’t love the world? Afraid of being seen as a xenophobic, unwelcoming, ethnocentric, minority-hating person, it seemed safer just to join the crowd and scoff at America along with most everyone else under 40. Besides, the term “American dream” has become synonymous with self-seeking — most certainly not in line with gospel-living.

So what happened? The first was that during my 40-day fast, God gave me an overwhelming burden to pray for our nation. With Daniel 9 confession, repentance, and intercession, He began to make me care about the state of the country where He had sovereignly placed me. I was struck by the fact that God chose for me to be born here, and in a place of such tremendous privilege we therefore have a tremendous responsibility. To whom much is given, much is required.

We have traveled to 5 of the 7 continents in the world, and yet we know that God has called us to live and serve and minister here. We send much of our resources overseas, as we will continue to do, to help alleviate suffering, and we want to strive to draw attention to the plight of the poor worldwide, but how will I serve and love and bless this place where I live? Do I just turn up my nose in anti-American snobbery and lament at how she’s fallen?

Secondly, my heart began to change, quite simply, as I taught my kids history! Sadly, the one subject I sorely missed as a kid was American history. Honestly, I don’t remember ever learning anything about the history of our country. I think my 7th grade American history teacher had us fill out March Madness brackets and learn the state capitals and that was it. No disrespect, I just never learned about our rich heritage, I never saw the spiritual side of our nation’s founding, I never knew the whole purpose was that we’d be a city on a hill, a beacon of hope and light and freedom to the world around. I never knew the inscription on the statue of liberty, I never knew the words of Washington, Adams, Franklin, Lincoln…men who were, of course, not perfect, but willing to give their lives for the sake of this experiment in freedom called America.

And finally, I was struck by Romans 13, and the clear command to submit to governing authorities and while of course I have always paid taxes to whom taxes are due, it then says to give “honor to whom honor is due.” It hit me:

We have lost honor.

My close friends know, that when we felt God leading us to have more kids, He put several names on our hearts. The first was the girl’s name Honor. I was so excited to have a little girl named Honor.

Then we miscarried. While I was up all night going through the miscarriage, I prayed to God for clarity on what was happening. So clearly I heard:

This was Honor.

Now I believe Honor is safe and secure in heaven and I will see her someday, but I grieved the spiritual significance of what happened.

We have lost honor.

Sure, many of our leaders have done shameful things. No one is pretending they haven’t. But as I have earnestly prayed about how to relate to our leaders, I have consistently been led to this clear command: Honor. Just as you do with your husbands — you may not agree with every choice, you may even despise some of the things he does, but you honor and respect him not because he deserves it, but because God has commanded it. You get on your face and PRAY FOR HIM daily, not because He’s earned it, but because God commands it. Of course you may disagree, you may respectfully voice your vote and even make an impassioned plea when you think he’s gone astray … but you never cease to honor.

It saddens me to see so many Christians behaving in a dishonorable way. We mock our nation’s leaders, create disrespectful memes and hashtags, we use sarcasm and blatantly disrespect. How on earth do we expect our children to respect us when we openly disrespect those whom God has placed in authority over us? We will reap what we sow. During the 8 years of Obama’s term, even if I didn’t agree with what he did, I never disrespected him. Never to my children, never online, never in a joke or crass word. During the election, I saw a friend’s FB status that subtly made fun of Hillary Clinton. It was clever and funny, so I clicked “like,” but I was immediately convicted.

With every click I am either creating–or destroying–a culture of honor. I would encourage Christians, no matter where you are politically, to uphold a culture of honor. Not because a certain leader deserves it, but because God commands it.

So how will I respond?

  • I want to diligently teach my children the godly heritage we have in America, that the whole purpose of American freedom was for the sake of others, not for ourselves.
  • I want to cultivate a culture of honor. I want to teach my children to honor their elders, veterans, those in positions of authority, because God commands it, and by obeying Him we will bless His heart.
  • I want to venerate heroes. Our culture has sunken into such a sad state of cynicism and pessimism. The news is almost always degrading, despising, discouraging. I want to put examples in front of their faces of heroes, men and women who have risked their lives for the gospel, for their country, for others.
  • I want to love my country. Not worship, not idolize, but love in a healthy way. I want to teach my kids to love this place where God has placed us, to be grateful, and to pray for her.
  • I want to celebrate virtue. Self-government and freedom will not work without virtue. I want to point out and draw attention to and celebrate example of virtue anywhere I see them. Politics are downstream from culture. By impacting our culture, we create the biggest impact of all.

And finally, we put up an American flag. 🙂 It might not be cool, but it will remind us of our commitment to pray for this place God has put us, to love her and earnestly implore that God will have mercy on us and draw us back to Him.

{Happy Memorial Day. Thanks for reading.}

What’s so much better than right…

Photo by Lacey Meyers

There are so many reasons not to do that thing. 

This is the way the inner-narrative runs. There’s the thing. That thing that you have to do, or are supposed to do, or are possibly supposed to do and that’s what you’re trying to figure out. And then, there’s that deep down no-way-around-it feeling that, you just don’t want to do it.

So what you do you do? Who do you talk to, to discern how to proceed? There are really only three options to consider.

  1. Talk to yourself.
  2. Talk to someone else.
  3. Talk to God.

Out on paper, it seems so simple, and we smile serenely and say of course #3. But the truth is, I almost always begin with #1. I think some people probably jump right to #2 (i.e. Crowd Sourcing on Facebook), but for me it’s a quieter poll:

I confer with me, myself, and I.

I make great points, you know, there inside my head. I am logical and thorough. I know my arguments inside and out. Astonishingly, I hear no counter-arguments. There’s no dissension whatsoever. We’re all in agreement and I win by a landslide. In fact, it’s a unanimous vote! All in favor say Aye! Hooray!

But then, the Spirit nags. Did I ask Him? Did I invite Him to my council-meeting?

*sigh*

I really should know better, by now. When I begin stacking up reasons for my own way, it’s usually a dead giveaway that I’m ignoring His nudges. I find that following His leading frees me from building my case. Click To Tweet Obeying His voice is always enough. I can usually leave my lists behind.

So I say fine. Yes, Lord. I will go your way.  I decide to do the thing, even if I don’t want to, and His joy becomes my strength and next thing I know I’m looking forward to this!

Then, strangest of strange, another curve ball comes.

Wait? I thought this was turn right, and now it’s a turn left, and did I hear wrong the first time or am I now veering off course? And this time, thankfully, I tune in to His whisper more quickly than before, and almost instantly realize the answer to both is, “No, child.” 

No, you didn’t hear wrong the first time.

No, you’re not veering off course.

I wanted you to choose right, because that was the only way to uproot the issue, the sin, in your heart. At that point, to go left would have been for your own selfish reasons, and that could never have been My best.

But now, you’ve chosen love, in order to go right. I’m so pleased. And now, in order to choose love, you need to go left. Both are obedience. Both are love. Both are denying yourself. Both are you choosing to submit your will, your heart, your life, to me.

That, dear daughter, was my plan all along.

This is what is so much better than right. The “right answer” will never give you rest. Arguments will never arrest your affections, your heart, and turn it to me. All your logic will never lead you to love. Listening will. Surrendering will. Worshipping will. 

And so, like Abraham, we listen on the first day and the third. We listen when he says, “Sacrifice your son,” and when he says, “Stay your hand.”

This is loving our Lord and letting Him lead. It’s so much better than right.

{How is He leading you now? Thanks for reading.}

Recipes & practical stuff {last post of the fasting series!}

Let’s finish with some nitty-gritty practical details. I realize this might be a little late–I’ve heard from several of you that you’re already in the middle of your 40-day fast. But whether you’re already in the middle, or still considering and praying about embarking on a fast, hopefully these “field notes” will be encouraging along the way.

FASTING SURVIVAL GUIDE

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The day before the fast began, a dear friend gifted me with what she called a “fasting survival guide.”img_4882-1 In an incredible labor of love, she put together a special journal with a color-coordinated pen 😉 and a special message and scripture tucked away into a tiny envelope at the top of the page for each day of the fast. Every single day! Every single morning I would come downstairs, get my Bible and my journal, and open my special envelope and read her encouraging message and scripture. img_4880It was SUCH a huge blessing to have this personal encouragement and to have a special verse from God to begin my day. It also helped me be mindful about journalling every day, and keeping record of all the emotions, experiences, and insights from God. I can’t imagine doing the fast without it — it was truly my survival kit!

RECIPES 

I only share these as an example of one way to embark on a 40 day fast. This was what I did, and it provided adequate nutrition. Physically, I felt great. I had no headaches, stomach aches, no physical issues. Of course, the Lord will guide you to what you should go, but in case this can be helpful:

Protein Shake (Breakfast)orgain

  • 1 cup rice milk (or coconut milk) plus about another cup of water/ice (Costco’s brand has no added sugar and is the best price in the 12-carton case)
  • Spoonful of sunflower butter (I got at Costco)
  • Vega or Orgain protein powder (Orgain chocolate is my fav, Costco carries both)
  • 2 tsp. Dandy blend (optional: This is a detox tea blend that I love. But it tastes delicious without.)

Blend until smooth. 

Smoothie (Lunch)

  • 1 cup rice milk, coconut milk, or water
  • 1/2 mango or 1 frozen peach
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • Amazing Grass superfood powder
  • 5 TB chia seeds (added after blending)

Blend until smooth, then add chia. 

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Rice & Spinach (Dinner)

  • Brown rice (Costco has a great deal on organic, short-grain brown rice that’s delicious)

Cook according to directions, then add:

  • 1 TB coconut oil
  • 2-3 TB hemp seeds

Serve over a plate of baby spinach. 

*After a few weeks, we felt freedom to add lime juice, cilantro, and sometimes garlic or onions (which tastes like heaven after eating it plain for awhile!)

Final thoughts: Usually it’s easier to be hungry in the morning rather than late afternoon. Even though I’m an early-riser, I aimed to have my breakfast shake between 9-10am, lunch between 1-2pm, and then could make it to dinner around 5:30pm without completely falling apart. 😉 I’d go for a daily walk around 12:30-1:30pm which helped me really focus in prayer during hunger, plus walking made it less tempting to eat lunch early. If there was a day I felt particularly tired (or cold, which is very common when fasting) I’d take a hot shower and drink a cup of hot herbal tea.

That’s it! I know many of you are in the middle of, or just about to embark on a 40-day fast, and I’d love to hear how God leads you in your specific fast, what you lay aside, how He meets you, what you learn, etc. I’ve been struck by how simple it is to just set something–anything–aside for a season in order to seek the Father more fully.

While I’m not in the middle of a fast now, I feel like God is constantly showing me ways I can turn aside from distractions, fillers, and needless things in order to sharpen my focus and look to Him more fully. I don’t always obey His nudges, but I long to. I’ve never regretted a single moment seeking His face, and we will never regret forsaking an earthly pleasure in order to know Him more. It’ll be worth it.

{Thanks so much for following along on this series. Happy weekend. Thanks for reading.}

Freedom {Fasting series}

It was just a few weeks ago I finally felt clarity (and freedom!) concerning the Mystic/Dominic thing. I shared it in an email to my fellow fasting friends, so I figured I’d just cut and paste it here. It’s personal, so it feels kinda scary to share, but I figure what’s most personal to me might just be most personally encouraging to you. So here goes:

I feel like something has broken free in my heart. Maybe … taking a risk here… maybe freed from Mystic? The past few weeks I’ve been going through this Confession exercise from Charles Finney (quoted in The Daniel Prayer). It’s nothing magical, just basically the idea that the prophet Daniel interceded for his people by confessing and repenting, both for himself and for his people, and Finney believed that Revival came on a large scale when revival came on a small scale, through personal renewal, repentance, humility and contrition, through simply returning to God with all our hearts. That resonated with me, I needed and wanted that!
I started on our road trip, and God brought so many things to mind. Subtle unforgiveness, control, manipulation, pride. It was hard, but so good! Then I read Spiritual Warfare by Karl Payne and felt like a HUGE weight of relief lifted off my shoulders because I realized that this work doesn’t depend on some subjective emotional feeling or experience, it didn’t depend on the right mood music 😉 or the perfect circumstances or “conjuring up” a certain spiritual environment, it wasn’t about me being perfectly prepared or being some spiritual superstar… the work is LEGAL, accomplished in the spiritual realm no matter how I feel or don’t feel, and the work is ALL JESUS’ WORK. He’s already done it! It’s a THING. It’s REAL. I don’t have to conjure it up or try to cultivate some goosebump experience 😉 … I mean, those things happen and I LOVE that stuff, but that’s not what I place my focus or confidence in. Jesus is ENOUGH! He’s already done the work! I just calmly and confidently stand on the already-done work of Jesus and apply it to every situation. The end. 😉
Anyway, I have felt this WEIGHT LIFTED! Like, I don’t need to manipulate or control other people’s spiritual experiences. I don’t need to be discouraged if our congregation doesn’t seem demonstrative enough, or if no one’s crying or people aren’t flocking forward to fall on their faces. I would LOVE  to see a dramatic revival such as that, but that’s God’s deal to bring and my responsibility is to PRAY, repent, obey, seek Him with all my heart and let renewal and revival be present in my own heart, then LOVE PEOPLE no matter where they are at, celebrating ALL the work God’s doing (and He’s doing SO MUCH), without instead focusing on not seeing enough signs and wonders, etc. 
It’s subtle, but I see now that this was at the root of my struggle with anxiety and fear during May/June. I feared that Jeff and I weren’t spiritual enough and that it somehow depended on us being super Bethel-ish. 😉  Not knocking Bethel AT ALL (please hear my heart!), just saying that God made us US and put us HERE with these people, in this exact place, at this exact time, and all we need is JESUS. He is enough! 
Guys, I just cannot tell you how FREE I FEEL! It’s not about us being good enough leaders, or “led by the Spirit” enough, or being perfect at hearing God’s voice. We are just his servants, His children, and if we uphold God’s glory and honor and His WORD, and we constantly align our hearts and prayers with the TRUTH of God’s Word, then HE IS FAITHFUL and He will bring revival and salvation and healing and deliverance, He will set the captives free! 
In response, my friend (who had the dream) responded with this. She had experienced the “Aha!” moment about Mystic at the exact same time that I did. (!) She wrote:
Yes yes yes!!! This is so crazy, I’ve been praying, processing, and chewing on so much stuff the last few days, and one of the things that I felt “break” inside of me last night was Mystic! Hahaha, so awesome how God does things corporately! I felt like God was saying that He was freeing me from relying on “personal experience” or feelings as a measure of His power, that true power lies in the truth of His Word and gospel, not what we feel or don’t feel, not what we see or don’t see. When we “continue in His word, then we are truly His disciples. Then we will know the truth and the truth will set us free” (John 8:32). Persevering, reading, and speaking Truth in faith sets each of us free, it really is that simple.
So often I’ve measured God’s moving and His power by “experiences” or “feelings” as proof, but I felt like He wanted me to be freed from that thinking. I felt like He said that Mystic represents “mystical experiences”, and while God definitely does and will move this way, I am not to measure freedom/growth/power by these experiences. As if we need these experiences as proof that we’re gaining ground! No! His TRUTH is what gives us victory, freedom, power, heart transformation, mind renewal, etc. I know it seems so obvious, but it seriously was a mind-shift for me. To rely solely on the truth of His word, not on mine or other’s experiences. The gospel does not need mystical experiences as proof that it is working, the Gospel stands on its own. And again, sometimes the gospel is most definitely “followed” by mystical experiences, but we should never follow mystical experiences to get to the truth of the Gospel. Or another way to say it is, we don’t need to rely on seeing or feeling something as proof that the Gospel is moving in power, it can’t help but to move in power! 
We have ALL been enjoying the fruit of this breakthrough, the joy and peace and confidence and rest of a true work of God being birthed in our midst. The next Sunday, after having this “Aha!” moment, a new family visited our church. I bent down to the little boy, offered my hand, and asked him his name.
He smiled and replied,  “Dominic.” 
{Thanks for reading.}

Mystic & Dominic {Fasting series}

What’s up with Mystic?!

This was my biggest question headed into the fast. But the answer didn’t come until well after, just a few weeks ago.

Let me explain: One week before the fast began, a dear friend of mine was fasting and had this vivid dream:

She and I were in a hospital praying for people and they were being healed. We were going from room to room praying, and then after some time, we were praying for a particular young woman named Mystic. She was in labor, giving birth to a son named Dominic, but something was wrong.  The baby, Dominic, had a heart condition, and it had something to do with the blood. There was something wrong and the baby was in great danger of not surviving.

We prayed over Mystic, for Dominic to be born, alive and well. We also noticed that Mystic was in a corner hospital room with huge windows filling two walls, with a gorgeous view overlooking trees and nature. We were trying to convey to Mystic how blessed she was. She had the best location in the whole hospital. We continued praying for Dominic to be healed, and born.

That was it.

At first, my friend interpreted the dream fairly literally — we were going to pray for people and see them healed! Awesome. No big surprise there, we’ve both had dreams about that before. But then, she shared the dream with her sister, who just happens to be spiritually gifted in interpreting dreams. (Nice sister combo, huh?!)

Her sister challenged her. I wasn’t there to hear her exact words, but it was along the lines of:

No, this isn’t just about you praying for people. Mystic is your church. The name “Dominic” means “of the Lord” or “of God.” God is wanting to birth a true work that’s “of God” in your midst, but something’s off and that work is in danger. God has given you the “best space.” He’s provided abundantly for your every need, right in the middle of the city, there’s financial provision and incredible blessing. He’s blessed you so much and He’s wanting you to pray this “Dominic” work of God into being. 

I listened, wide-eyed. I knew, then, that praying through this dream would be a significant component of the 40-day fast, even though I had no idea what it meant. Hence, my big question: What’s up with Mystic?!

Now, by definition, a mystic is simply someone who believes in gaining spiritual apprehension of truths that are beyond the intellect. We usually think of Eastern mysticism, meditation, etc. But by definition a Christian mystic is simply someone who gains spiritual knowledge through prayer and communing with God. Nothing wrong with that. Anyone who believes that Christians can be guided and led by the Holy Spirit of God, who lives inside us, would qualify then as a mystic.

So, I’m not necessarily put off by this word.

I also didn’t see why this would describe usSince you’re probably not familiar with our church, let me explain: We’re not a real mystical bunch. I mean, certainly not in a demonstrative, overly charismatic sense. If anything, I wished our church members were more mystical.

So, I prayed. The very first book I read on the fast was A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly. I’d read many quotes from it, but never read the whole thing. So I dove in and … wow! The first section (there are 3) was amazing. I wrote some about it here. As I looked him up and read more about Thomas Kelly, I was interested to see that he was known as a Christian Mystic. Hmmm… 

So, suffice it to say, I became very interested in discovering what this dream meant, and wanted, above all, for Dominic, a true work “of the Lord” to be birthed. 

More to come! Thanks for reading.

New Life {Fasting series}

From the first time we met together, I marveled at her eager willingness to obey God, whatever the cost. I loved her humility, her willingness to receive, her honesty and frankness. So, it didn’t surprise me when, as we rode home together from our women’s ladies retreat, she announced she was going to do the 40 day fast as well.

It surprised her though. She was the one who wrote here, who said, “I’d never do that.” Let me tell you, she’s doing all sorts of things she said she’d never do, and it’s pure joy to watch as she faithfully follows God.

But all wasn’t easy in her life. After suffering a traumatic accident as a teenager, she didn’t think she’d be able to have children. Amazingly, she did conceive more than 7 years ago, during a time of significant challenge in her marriage. She testifies that it was God’s miraculous timing that brought this beautiful baby girl into their lives, and God used this baby to keep her and her husband together. Now, they have a strong, thriving marriage centered on God.

But for years, they’ve longed for another child. Month after month, year after year, they’ve prayed and waited and trusted, and hoped. They began pursuing adoption, happy to bring more children into their family however they could, and yet doors kept closing, timing seemed off. I remember seeing her, always so strong and positive, finally break down weeping at Bible study, aching so deeply for another child. Many gave advice to pursue many different options, but she and her husband kept sensing God lead them to “just” wait. Trust. Submit to Him, knowing His way was best. Besides, there were plenty of other things going on in their life to keep them busy.

And so when the time came to embark on this fast, she wasn’t thinking about a baby. She was praying for her family, for an upcoming move, for a possible trip to Africa. In short, she was giving herself wholeheartedly to the issues at hand, faithfully fasting and praying.

And wouldn’t you know it? After years and years and years of trying, with no success, during her 40 day fast …

she conceived. 

The 40-day fast brought forth a miracle baby. A gift from God, from the God who hears our cries and knows our hearts, form the God whose ways and timing are always perfect, even when we don’t understand.

No, fasting isn’t about twisting God’s arm to finally get what we want. But it is about aligning our whole lives with Him, submitting our wills and hearts to His, bowing our lives in every way to say, “You are God. I am not.” 

And He is so good.

Stories like this give me so much hope. There are things I still ache and long for. Things I’m waiting for and trusting him for. Good things. And the temptation is always to think He doesn’t care. That faith is useless and prayer is pointless and why on earth should we choose the narrow road or the hard path and why keep obeying when it’s dark and dreary and I’d really just rather have my own way??

Because it’s going to be worth it. All of it. Every prayer, every step of faith, every moment fasting or trusting or loving or obeying. Every difficult step. Every tear. Everything that’s done for Jesus’ sake, will be worth it. 

We might not all get a baby (!), but when we die to ourselves, to our own way, new life always springs up within, to the praise and glory of God.

{Thanks for reading.}

Dreams continued {Fasting series}

On Monday, I shared the three dreams I had three nights in a row, about three weeks into the fast.

Of the three, the first was the most unclear, in terms of meaning. In some ways it seems obvious –– it highlights a fear of showing up unprepared. It highlights a fear of being in a situation where much is expected of me, but without having what I need to succeed. Certainly those things crop up occasionally, especially in speaking or leadership situations. But a more subtle part of the dream was the feeling of utter helplessness, because it wasn’t my fault that I was unprepared. It wasn’t my fault we were late. It wasn’t my fault that I didn’t know the lines. I am a responsible person, but I had no idea I was in the play! I had no idea I needed to bring my ballet shoes! And so here I was, scrambling in a lead role, because (presumably) of someone else dropping the ball.

That made sense. One of the issues the Father had brought to my attention, during the fast (and after) was my tendency to be frustrated, angry, or subtly resentful when other’s “irresponsibility” impacted me, hurt me, or made me “suffer” in some way. It’s control and pride and unrealistic expectations and un-forgiveness all wrapped up into one. I knew the bottom line was, I need to lay down my control and pride, and be willing to look foolish or irresponsible, and joyfully forgive, trusting that my Father would supply whatever really mattered in that situation.

The second one was very clear. It was situation specific, and the timing was impeccable. I knew my tendency to over-serve in a particular situation, to try to please people. The dream was such a vivid picture–trying to serve ice cream in hot weather when no one else cared. I saw the real issue, that I was over-serving not from a place of genuine love, but of wanting these people’s approval. When they didn’t thank me, or care, it hurt, which is a clear indication I was doing it for the wrong reasons. This dream bore great fruit in my life almost immediately. When I felt that urge to please people or  “fix” things through over-serving, I sat back instead, and waited on God, asking Him to help me do only what He asked, nothing more, and only what I could do without any expectation or approval, thanks, or affirmation. This dream has stuck in my mind!

The last one was also very clear, and I felt like it was for more people than just me. I’ll never forget the sinking feeling at the very end, when I realized that all this time, all this time that I’d “fallen in love,” I was already married. I was so overwhelmed with thinking, “How on earth could I have forgotten that I was already married?” It was the most horrible feeling.

Very clearly, I sensed this was a message for God’s people who are tempted to fall in love with the world. It is SO stinkin’ handsome and charming. We love the feeling it gives us. But someday, when Jesus returns, I believe many will have that same horrible sinking feeling, when our true Husband comes and we realize that we’ve spent our lives flirting with other loves. Many may then think, “How on earth could I have forgotten that I was already married to Jesus?” James makes it clear that friendship with the world is enmity toward God. We can’t be in love with both. We can’t have two husbands. And so that picture, that dream, that feeling, has haunted me ever since. The lure of the world is real, and subtle. Adultery doesn’t happen overnight. So we are wise to FIX our gaze on Jesus, our One and only husband, and remember that in the end, love for the world will only leave us with regret.

These were the three dreams I had during the fast. We’re almost done with this series, just three more posts. We’ll get a fun miracle story on Friday, I’ll share my final “Aha!” moment, then finish with some practical ideas and recipes! I think I’ve spent more time blogging about fasting than actually fasting — ha! Thanks for your patience, and thanks for reading. 

Three Dreams {fasting series}

Three weeks into the fast, I had three vivid dreams, three nights in a row. Now, I’m not much of a dreamer, but last summer, when praying about the Ark, I had two very vivid dreams that were significant to the Ark journey, so I wrote them down. Other than that, I haven’t really ever dreamed much. But these three really stood out. At the time I wasn’t sure what they meant, so I just wrote them down, trusting that their significance would be clear eventually. These are the three dreams:

  • We were driving to a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet. It was about 7:05pm and the show was at 7:30pm. Suddenly, just before we arrived, I realized with utter horror that I was IN the ballet. Not only that, I was Juliet! Gah! I was so frustrated that we were late, and that I didn’t know I was in the play. We arrived, and there was all this bustle getting me ready, makeup on, costume ready, then I realized that I didn’t have ballet shoes! Then, just as the curtain was about to open, I realized I had never even seen the script (it was a ballet with words). I had no idea what my lines were, moves were, steps were…nothing. I was racking my brain trying to figure out how on earth I could pull off a total improv. of the entire performance. It was the most sickening feeling.

 

  • I was sitting on a hot beach, with a certain group of people. I wanted to serve ice cream for everyone to celebrate someone’s birthday, but when I opened up the ice cream carton, it was all eaten except for a tiny bit at the bottom. I was frustrated that someone had eaten all the ice cream, but figured I’d make due and just serve small amounts to everyone. Then I realized that we needed cones, so I headed off to the store in search of cones. All I could find was a Coldstone, so I went to the counter to see if I could buy cones, but someone was ahead of me in line. This person took twenty minutes making up their mind about what they wanted, and I was beside myself with frustration. Then, when I asked about buying cones, the worker just stared at me and said she’d have to go ask her manager. She left for a long time looking for her manager and I’m beside myself in frustration at this point. Then she comes back and says they’ll sell us cones but they’ll be $6 each. Gah! That’s like $30 just for the stupid cones! So I leave the Coldstone and finally find a store where I can buy a box of cones. Then I return to the beach, and of course the ice cream is totally melted, and I’m trying to make ice cream cones about of a small glob of melted ice cream, and all these other kids on the beach keep coming up and asking if they can have cones too, and I’m explaining there isn’t enough, then when I finally get the cones made, the person who’s birthday it is says, “Oh, I don’t want any.” And I feel hurt because I worked so hard to get it, and I look around and all the other people there are lounged back in their lawn chairs staring off, like half-asleep, totally oblivious to this whole ordeal, and I’m completely exhausted. 
  • I fell in love. *yikes* In this dream, I fell in love with a man (not a real person, by the way), and just remember being totally enraptured with him. It was completely pure, but we were in love, and I remember beginning to make plans to get married, and being so excited, and him going to my dad to ask if we could get married. And then, there was this moment of horror when my dad says, “Kari, you’re already married. You already have two children! What are you doing??!!” And I was absolutely horrified. I had no idea. I had completely forgotten that I was already married! How on earth did this happen?? How could I have forgotten? I was devastated.

Yikes, huh?! Not exactly the most sweet and peaceful sleep. Next I’ll share some thoughts on what they meant for me…

{Thanks for reading.}