What Grief Has Felt Like…

If you know me, I am not a verbal processor (I process through writing), and if I can not figure things out in my own head and get it on paper, I feel silenced. But I’ve been trying to force myself to write and to take the next step.

There have been more months than not that I’ve felt numb. It’s so hard for me to talk about the accident last summer. It’s so hard for me to talk about that week. And it’s especially hard for me to look at pictures.

Things that happened behind closed doors in a hospital room feel sacred and should only be shared with those you trust because quite frankly you’re inviting those people into your hurt. Into a place where words fall short and emotions and logic are unreliable.

The fact if the matter is, some cannot be trusted with your experience. It could do more damage to your already mangled heart. Please understand, I am not trying to be mean, but several times I spoke up to people and it made it worse… I know they mean well, but it’s too sensitive of a topic to discuss with just anyone— even some friends. It’s not that you can’t be friends, but this topic should just be left out of your catch up talks. And that’s hard too because what happened inside those hospital walls have now become a part of you… and that you cannot always be shared.

I purposely haven’t reached out to some because they don’t understand. The littlest things could hurt more than you know. I’ve gotten hurt several times and had I not lost my dad, I don’t know that I would trust myself with the sacred information of loss. I still don’t.

Ironically, I’ve found, that there are some people that become closer because of loss. And some times you become friends with the most unlikely of people because they share the same grief road that neither of you foresaw being on.

I decided to write on grief for two reasons:

1) This week will be one year since my Dad’s accident… And, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s gone.

2) Because I haven’t found much help on the topic— maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, but recently, I finally found a good podcast on it. It was like a breath of fresh air. I thought, “this guy knows. He gets it.”

Before last summer, grief was just a word to me. Yes, I have lost two new found friends, and three grandparents, but nothing prepares you for the moment your mom walks in the door and tells you, “Dad’s been in an accident. I’m waiting for the police officer to call back with more information.” And the phone from your sister, after she arrived at the hospital and says, “You’ve got to come. I don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

Several weeks ago, I went on Facebook and on three separate occasions I saw a post from three different families about a loss in their family. My heart aches for them because I know they’re now thrusted against their will onto this what feels like God-forsaken road called “Grief.”

Grief feels like you’ve been on vacation, relaxing on the beach soaking up the warm sun, and suddenly you’re picked up and dropped in the middle of the a turbulent ocean. You’re fighting to stay above the cold waves smashing into your face as you look up and see you’re surrounded by dark skies. The chaos causes fear and panic. On top of that you feel as though there is a rope around your ankle trying to pull you under. And yet, somehow, you’re supposed to get back to the shore that you simply cannot see. You feel like you can barely stay afloat and sometimes, you do get pulled under, but you know you have to fight to stay above the waves. Nothing seems sure and it feels like no one understands and no one can see.

People will be talking about their life (on the beach) and all you can think of is “I’m about to drown!” But, in real life, if you brought up your situation, you’d make others feel bad… So you keep silent fighting every wave that threatens your existence. I don’t remember hearing one thing someone said that has helped… Words fall short… But you know what has helped? Having someone understand and having someone be there.

I think we as a culture are so scared of not saying something … Instead of having the courage to just let silence speak and linger while we hand someone a tissue and create a safe place for them to let their tears fall. Some of the most helpful times were when a friend just let silence sit in the midst of us… tears were allowed and those tears became a gift.

I have a friend who lost her Dad just a few months before I lost mine. After I lost my Dad, I apologized to her… I said I was sorry because I had no idea how hard it was to lose a Dad — even though I thought I knew.

People forget about your loss after the service, or, if you’re blessed with amazing friends, a few months after that. We all do, me included… But when you’ve lost someone, and someone else’s loses someone else after you, you remember because you know the pain. Because, you will forever have a hole in your heart and so will they. You’ve been branded forever by grief.

What most people don’t remember is (including me before this) there will ALWAYS be someone missing in my family. We will NEVER all be together on this earth. Family get together will always be bitter sweet because there will ALWAYS be an empty chair. As Nicholas Wolterstorff put it in his book, The Lament of a Son:

“Only our death will stop the pain of his death.”

Do we look like we are drowning from the outside? No, we look fine. But on the inside there is an incredibly dark storm that makes us want to quit nearly every day. It makes us not want to not wake up in the morning. It makes us just want to go to heaven— Now.

The reality of grief brings waves that threaten our hope, heightens our fears, and tests our resolve. It pulls at the very fiber of our being and the foundation of our faith.

If God is sovereign, and I believe He is, what is the purpose of this? It’s too much heartache for one human heart to bear. It seems downright cruel. My Dad had 23 grandkids when he died… 2 will never know their “Padge” and several will not remember him. My sister and I will never have the privilege of having him “approve” who we date or have him walk us down the aisle. Although, he said he cared more about preforming the ceremony than walking us down the aisle. We will miss that too.

I used to think that people that posted often about their loved ones weren’t very strong… I am ashamed to even write that… But, I didn’t understand why they’d always post dates. I simply didn’t understand the magnitude of the weight that grief brings. The loss of a loved one’s life alters every life that, that loved one’s life became a part of.

It wrecks you. And the worst part about it is that you never asked for it. It’s like a wrecking ball was dropped into your life you’re somehow supposed to figure out how to go on with it and somehow make order out of the life it just wrecked. You can’t just put it down. It’s a part of you now. I hear that grief lessens over time, but it doesn’t ever go away…. How could it?! I will always miss my Dad.

Unfortunately, grief is a part of life. Which to say that sounds oxymoronic because grief is brought about by the absence of a life. I’m on this road and I still don’t understand it. It’s confusing, it’s hard to know how to share it and hurts more than words can express… Speaking about the events that took place last summer have muted me because I feel like I’ll fall apart if I visit that road again.

But, the one thing that is a comfort is the people who do understand… And although, I’ve doubted His plan for my life more times than I care to count, Jesus is the “A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

God chose to face grief so that when my grief came without my consent, He’d know how to walk me down the road…

Quite frankly, I can’t wait for the day where there will be no more pain and no more grief…

Thanks for reading and being a part of my journey.

Note: this picture was taken by a family friend the morning my Dad passed. My brother (Brian) and sister (Rachel) and my Mom stayed by my Dad’s side until he passed. Linda, Stephanie, Jessica and I were at the hotel when they pulled up… Somehow we all ended up in the same place in the parking lot. We hugged, cried and prayed… I don’t know what I’d do without them and my brother (David) who joined us later… Hard times but we face them together.

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Who Needs Men?

My order at Chick-fila was quite large as I was ordering for other people as well. I took the drinks out to my car so I would be able to carry the rest the food without having to struggle.

As I waited, I noticed a girl who looked as though she were just about to get on shift, or had just come off break. She had crimson red hair and didn’t quite seem to have the same disposition as the other employees. I don’t blame her, life is sometimes rough and I’m sure it’s hard to say, “my pleasure” all day everyday (especially when the customers may not be pleasant).

“Christi” they called my name to retrieve my food. The man behind the counter said:

“You got all this?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“My pleasure!”

Suddenly, I heard, “That’s right, tell’em you don’t need a man.”

I turned to see the same girl that I had just observed moments before. I was so surprised by her comment that I was speechless.

“Tell ’em you don’t need a man!”

The words seem to echo in my head. Remembering that literally hours before she said this, I had shed tears with a woman over the loss of her dad and mine.

I began thinking about the men I’ve been honored to know. Just last night, I was swapping emails with my friend’s dad who used to take me camping. He’s done so much for my family over the years.

I thought of my brothers and their protection over me and their encouragement to pursue my passions.

I thought of my brother in laws who have helped me assemble furniture, fix computers, laugh, taught me to shoot, and to find good places to eat and just watch out for me.

I thought of the men in the church I grew up in. They were my Sunday school teacher, the teachers on Sunday and also the men who would lend a helping hand whenever necessary. As well as written more recommendation letters for me than I can count.

I thought of my Sensei who, under his even keel, I healed from a damaging work relationship.

I also thought of some of my guy friends who have poured wisdom into me and shown me some tricks of the trade or who taught me to love production.

And the friends who were there when I needed them the most. And would drop everything if I needed their help.

And of course the most important— my dad. His wisdom, his kindness, his love of sports, the scripture and being available. He taught me not to settle and to keep pressing on no matter what. To leave things better than when I found them and to love God and His word and be there for people.

So, to the woman at Chick-fila, here is my response:

This world needs men. I’m not sure what your experience has been, and if you’ve been hurt, I’m deeply sorry. But not all men are bad. Yes, there are some that are a real pill and I’ve met several, but I know the person I am today is because I have had amazing men in my life.

Those men (who you say I don’t need) have taught me to stay steady; despite hardship. They’ve taught me the power of an encouraging word. They’ve taught me to think and figure things out. And they’ve taught me that I’m worth being pursued because I’m made in the image of God… So, I am not ashamed to say that it is because of the men I have known, I am who I am and I needed them every step of the way.

So, who needs men? I’d say I do. And thank you to the men who’ve helped shape me into the person I am today. I’ve needed every single one of you 💗!

To the one’s who are left…

For whatever reason, the way my life has gone, I have been the one to go more often than not. I went away for a year of Bible school. I went to stay with my brother and sister in law for half a year and then I moved to Virginia for 5 years.

But, I stopped and noticed something about a few people I know who have been “left.”

Being “left” categorizes a lot of individuals: Left behind as someone moves away, left behind from a trip, left as an organization moved on without you, left by a boyfriend/girlfriend, left behind by a spouse, a Dad, a mom, a family member who passed on before you. I think we’ve all been left a time or two.

As I was discussing this with my younger sister, two individuals came to mind… My sister, Linda, and my mom.

There are times my other family members have been left, but today, I want to focus on them…

My sister has been the local anchor for my family. She’s lives close by and does the airport runs, extra shopping, filling love tanks, dropping off flowers, coffee, and just being available. Seeing her day to day perseverance, you would have no clue how many times she’s been left. She and I were thick as thieves in high school and then I left. I left again two more times and every time, she’d cheer me on even if there were tears in her eyes.

And my mom. She’s been left by two husbands who both went to heaven before her. She is the biggest cheerleader for marriage, family and the church even with her broken heart. She’s also been left by friends time and time again.

But, the thing I’ve noticed in both Linda and my Mom is a deep strength. Like their strength is a thick 6inch rope that is tied to the anchor of their souls. They press on and press in every time another trial comes. “When the going gets tough— the tough get going.” That’s a perfect picture of them both.

Their being left has made them into some of the most beautiful people I know. My heart breaks recounting all the blows they’ve taken, but they turn around and find someone else who have been left and help them in their way.

There is a deep seated hope and endurance inside of them and I know it’s the God of all hope that helps them keep pressing on… It’s truly an honor to be family with them. I learn so much from them.

And my little sister, Jessica, is following suit.

My encouragement to us all is to know that even in your season of being left know that God is producing a strength in you — even though strength is the last thing you feel.

The more I grow, the more I want to be like them.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:6-7

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. –Helen Keller

Catch the wind in your sails…

I was scrolling through my emails trying to find a link when I came across this quote:

God relishes surprise.

We want lives of simple, predictable ease — smooth, even trails as far as the eye can see — but God likes to go off-road.

He provokes us with twists and turns.

He places us in predicaments that seem to defy our endurance and comprehension — and yet don’t. By his love and grace, we persevere.”

Tony Snow (1955-2008).

Ironically, my Dad was the one who emailed us kids this quote. My Dad was always up a for an adventure. I believe that’s where I get my love for travel. My Dad didn’t care if it was a road trip to North Carolina or a missions trip to Brazil. He was totally up for wherever and whatever the Lord wanted him to do — even if it came with challenges.

My Dad was the most confident man I know. He was so sure in God that it didn’t matter what the storm blew in. He knew God had his back.

I just recently returned from a trip to England and Ireland. Some of you might know that I used to travel extensively; as it was a part of my job. But, I was always a little nervous to travel on my own. The way this tripped worked out was that

I’d be traveling solo the first few days and then meet up with friends.

Some of you might think this isn’t a big deal and it’s not. But, to me, I was a bit nervous going by myself. I’m so used to people being around. But, I knew I should go.

Traveling is also expensive. I had enough for my ticket, but when it got closer to the trip, I was starting to worry a little about lodging because things hadn’t lined up as I had hoped.

Call me crazy, but I felt like the Lord told me, “Don’t you think I can afford this trip?” And I was like yeah, but how are you going to get that money to me. I’m such a skeptic sometimes.

A month or so before my trip, a family friend wrote me a check for this trip which covered all my lodging cost and some. I couldn’t believe it… Then when I had a few extra costs I wasn’t counting on, another friend sent me a check. I kept thinking, “God, why are you doing this? I’ve hardly talked to you this year. And most of the year I’ve been mad and confused by You.”

But, on this trip, I felt like the weight of life that I’ve been carrying fell off somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. I’ve felt dead inside since last summer and this trip felt like CPR for my heart and soul.

Sometimes, I think we do need to go off-roading. It’s in the off-reading we finally are able to break the deafening silence between our Maker and us. It’s not like things make any more sense, but there is a sense of grace and understanding that God understands and I’ve got to persevere.

I want to leave you with a few quotes from one of my hero’s — Elizabeth Elliot:

o The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.

o Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.’

o It is God to whom and with whom we travel, and while he is the end of our journey, he is also at every stopping place.

And as Mark Twain said… “Catch the trade winds in you sail… Explore. Dream. Discover.”

What if there isn’t a “Happy Ending”?

You know what really bothers me? At least it has lately… The movie reel for nearly every Christian movie…

You know what I’m talking about? Before God — awful. With God — rainbows and butterflies… Close movie happily ever after.

I’ve noticed a trend in testimonies being that way too. I don’t know that we even realize it. We want to end on a good note. We want a happy ending… but what if there isn’t one? At least, not in our lifetime.

I got thinking about this… And I get it, a lot of times there is a happy ending and I’m glad for those testimonies. But lately, I haven’t been able to resonate with them. Maybe it’s the grief.

But, can I be honest? Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we hoped they would. I decided to follow Christ as a six year old and then started to grasp what that meant at 14 years old. I’ve always attended church and lived the best I knew how to.

But what happens when abuse comes WHEN you’re following God? What happens when relationships are shattered WITHIN a “Christian” setting? What happens when death snatches away your father, child, sister, mom, friend? What happens when you are diagnosed with a terminal disease while you’re in Christian leadership? It’s not like you walked away from God. In fact, you were FOLLOWING him.

I’m writing this in hope of being able to process the scattered thoughts in my own head. I recently read the book, called “Hope Heals.” It’s a story of a young couple (Jay & Kathrine Wolfe) whose lives took a dramatic turn on April 21st, 2008. Kathrine suffered a massive brain stem stroke out of the blue, from the rupturing of an AVM, a rare congenital defect she didn’t even know she had.

The doctors operated on her for 16 hours; removing over 60% of her cerebellum. A lot of intra-cranial nerves where sacrificed. They had no clue what her condition would be when she woke up.

She survived, but the life she once knew was gone. She is blind in her right eye and deaf in her right ear. Her ability to walk and function on her own is also gone. She had to relearn how to walk, read, write and swallow among other things.

So, in situations like that, or maybe in your case; whatever that might be, signing divorce papers, changing your marital status to widow or widower, finding yourself in a hospital with your child whose sick and not given a good prognosis. I think sometimes we can get lost. I think sometimes we question if we have any faith left; because, all “this”, whatever that means for you, took place while you were following God. It’s tempting to say, what’s the use? It’s too painful and somehow all this pain was allowed by a sovereign God. It went through His hands…

I was reminded of the disciples in Matthew 14. John the Baptist had just been beheaded. The disciples had seen Jesus feed the 5,000 and cast out a demon and heal a man’s wrinkled hand. Jesus tells the disciples to go to the other side. During their boat ride to the other side they encounter a storm. Jesus sent them and they faced a storm. Jesus SENT them and they faced a storm.

But the thing the words that keep coming back to mind are those of a disciples: “Who else can I go to? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:66).

I don’t understand it all… My mind cannot wrap around the life that I’ve been given. One day my Dad was healthy on the mend from a knee surgery. The next laying in a coma in ICU and a week later forever gone from this world.

If I’m being honest, lately, it’s been hard for me to hear stories of people who made it, or survived. Because, although it’s probably selfish, I think why didn’t my Dad survive? He was healthy. He lived his life well. He devoted his life to helping others.

But then I think of my friend’s Dad who suffered with an illness for over 12 years until he caught a cold and passed away 2 weeks later — never being healed. Or, my friends who are wheelchair bound. Or, my other friends who struggle with infertility … So forgive me if I have trouble accepting the cliché that most Christian movies portray.

Nothing in this life is guaranteed: Not marriage, not health, not financial ease. But, that’s when I need to remind myself that I am not supposed to be living for this world anyways.

As I’ve wrestled with this question, I thought back to Jesus’ time on earth. This world tore him to shreds on every level. Physically he was beaten beyond recognition. Emotional He went through excruciating loss and turmoil. He grieved his cousin’s death, and his friend’s death. He was verbally attacked on multiple levels and spiritually he had the devil riding him, essentially, the whole time He was here.

This world brought him to his knees in grief. It brought him to sweating blood and it brought him to beating and then ultimately death. This world killed him…

I think we do a great disservice to everyone by painting an “everything will work out — in this life time” picture after you give your life to Christ.

John was beheaded, Peter was crucified, Stephen was stoned….

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. – Hebrews 11:32-40

I think the heartache is once again a reminder that we can only see one piece of the puzzle while God is orchestrating the rest.

I still don’t understand it all… I just know that sometimes it turns out and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s really hard and I think it needs to be okay that it’s not okay. I wonder what Jesus would say, if he were here in person, to the one whose lost a loved one… Or to the one who’s not able to have children… Or to the one whose stuck inside a body that won’t function without assistance… I don’t know what He’d say, but I bet you He’d sit down beside them… and listen. He’d listen as you explained your frustration and hurt… and I bet He’d cry with you as mourned the life you thought “should be” and I bet He’d even let you beat on His chest as you questioned over and over and over why this had to be this way….

I once heard a quote that I’ll leave you with…

“The world is full of evil and lies and pain and death, and you can’t hide from it; you can only face it. The question is, when you do – How do you respond? Who do you become?

– Phil Coulson

A Mysterious Letter

Sometimes life is frustrating…

It can feel like one closed door after another. And if you’re single, it can feel like that a lot.

You meet a guy, you get your hopes up and he disappears … the only thing you is crickets.

Or, you meet a guy, you date and it feels so forced so it crumbles into nothing.

Or, you meet a great guy, you totally click but you don’t share the same beliefs.

I could go on, and on about the different scenarios but I think you get the point. It’s easy to lose hope. It’s exhausting to try, but you feel like you have to keep trying.

A few days ago, I was reminded of a letter I received. About four years ago, I came home from the office and saw a letter for me from someone with a Georgia address. I thought it was from my sister Rachel, but it didn’t look like her handwriting. I looked at it again and saw a name I didn’t recognize — as in never saw it before in my life. Yet, my name was on the letter.

I dropped my stuff beside my bed and quickly jumped in bed to read the letter from this mystery person.

He introduced himself in the letter and shared a little bit about himself. He was in the army. I later found out He graduated from a very prestigious military academy and was being training to be a platoon leader.

He attended my sister’s church and in Rachel like fashion, she saw that he was single and asked if he wouldn’t mind writing a letter to me to encourage me. And to mine and my sister’s surprise, he did.

In the letter he shared the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. It’s when Elijah is running from Jezebel because she’s killing prophets left and right. Elijah was on the run, afraid and prayed to die. An angel came to him and brought him food and led him to the cave.

It’s in that cave that the Lord reveals Himself, but not before Elijah is essentially crying out to God saying, I’ve done this and that for you and now I’m being hunted as an animal. I am the ONLY ONE LEFT. Can’t singleness can feel that way sometimes? I’ve been waiting and served you and others and I feel like I’m the only one left.

Then the Lord appears to Elijah in a still small voice and then says, “Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (Verse 18)

So, this mystery man wrote me this letter to let me know there were still good guys out there that were seeking the Lord’s will. They weren’t all married yet and they hadn’t fallen for the culture’s lies.

I got to meet this man during one of my overseas trip as he was stationed in a country I happened to be visiting. He was a great tour guide. He has a big heart and ambitious dreams. He is now married and plugging away at his many hobbies. But it truly was a privilege to meet him. I mean what guy would take the time to write a letter to a complete stranger just to remind her that there are still really good guys around.

Lately, that letter has been on my mind. I went through my stuff to find it but I had no luck… I’m sure it will turn up some day. But until then, I’ll remember his words— There are still 7,000 that haven’t bowed to Baal.

Unlikely Revival?

I finally laid down on the floor after hours of walking followed by packing my suitcase. I would be leaving in the next morning. I had been overseas for three grueling weeks. In all honesty, it felt like the longest three week of my life.

I hit shuffle on my iTunes. The song that came on was, “Call it Grace.” Almost as soon as the song began, I felt tears falling from my eyes… Grace…

I recently had a conversation with a friend which spurred me to write this blog. Our conversation was on revival.

I told my friend that when I hear that word, I want to run for the hills. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for revival, but the “preaching of revival” that I’ve witnessed caused a lot of damage.

I am bracing myself as I write because I have a feeling I will not receive the nicest comments from writing on this topic, but I also feel like I have to say something.

I was once very involved with a ministry that wanted revival. I was 110% on board. We would pray for hours. We wanted to serve those who needed it. We wanted to see change. None of this is bad, in fact, these are ALL great things. But somewhere along the way something changed. Fear, condemnation and judgment crept in. We HAD to read our Bible for extended periods of time or else bad things might happen. We NEEDED to fast because that’s what brought revival. We HAD to have more prayer. Somewhere along the way the desire for revival became something WE had to bring about. It was up to us and only us. And when one of us weren’t keeping up with the amount of prayer and the amount of Bible reading or the way we chose to live, we were suddenly on the outside and we needed serious help to get back in to the group.

Suddenly, we had to follow a regiment no one could keep up. Again, I am NOT against prayer. I am NOT against revival, but I’ve noticed that the people who often preach revival the most are the ones on display.

Before I explain further, I believe God can use one man or woman to lead a revival — look at Billy Graham, Jonathon Edwards, Billy Sunday.

I almost gave up completely on the idea of revival because of the enormous amount of pain that ensued from it. I went from being on the inside to suddenly being on the outside accused of horrible things. I felt no grace. It was as if the very presence of grace was snuffed out by the intense regiment of work needed to bring about revival. Others were looked down upon because they couldn’t keep up. Judgment, condemnation and fear of not measuring up swallowed the space for grace.

I was beginning to think revival was just another thing people used to stir emotions, raise support, or gain power…

Until, I started to get plugged into my community. There was a big initiative when I moved back called #LoveSoFla. There was ways to get involved in serving the community. At first I thought that it was just my church and their satellite campuses doing this initiative. But during one of the services I realized this was NOT just an initiative by my church but over 50 churches in my community.

You see in 2014 and 2015, the city I grew up in, had two pastors resign due to moral failures. Those pastors lead the two largest churches in the city. It was devastating for many people. A lot of people doubted that either church would be able to come back from such a loss. But late in 2015, pastors and key leaders in the community began to meet and pray with each other for our community and for direction.

It was out of that meeting that a mission was launched. Soon after an organization called Church United was established. The community needed a guide and a name was needed for clarity, so Church United began reaching more and more pastors, key leaders and congregations.

By the time I started plugging into the community, I saw pastors and churches praying with each other and serving our community side by side. It wasn’t one denomination. It wasn’t one racial color. It wasn’t only pastors or only the congregations— It was all inclusive. And the ONLY name that was used in the name of this service was Jesus. We were just being Jesus’s hands and feet. Titles didn’t matter, denominations didn’t matter, age, race or gender didn’t matter, we were just God’s children doing what He asked us to do: serve and love.

Because of the unity of our churches, it was the church who responded first to the victims families during the FLL Airport shooting in 2017. It was the church who beat FEMA after Florida was hit by Hurricane Irma. And it was the church who orchestrated a vigil and served the victims families after the Parkland shooting.

This past week I had the honor to attend the quarterly gathering for Church United. I could not help but cry during the portion of the meeting I attended. I saw pastors who serve in Parkland being prayed for by pastors in other cities. I saw a young Pastor from Pines being prayed for by the other pastors in Pines because of the extraordinary loss this particular Pastor was dealing with. Mostly, I saw united pastors and key leaders humbling themselves and seeking ways to be a beacon on light in our community. We have a large homeless population, we people struggling with addictions that often take their life, we lose approximately 35 unborn babies daily to abortion. We have 17 families now left with unimaginable grief because they lost their loved ones February 14th, 2018. Our community is broken. We, as the church, do not get everything right— who does? We make mistakes, we fall, we get discouraged, we are human, but we know that we are here for today and we want to make today count.

As I looked around the room last week, it dawned on me… This is what revival looks like. It’s not flashy. It’s not about one church, or one Pastor, or one organization. It’s every day people living the life God gave them for His glory. It’s not about Church United, they just needed a name. It’s about seeing Jesus change on community using broken yet hopeful people to reach other broken people with hope.

That to me is revival.

A Revolutionary View of Love

Introduction: I decided to attend my first writer’s conference last year. I didn’t know anyone there. I was super nervous and had no idea what to expect.

Before the opening session began, a lady came up to me and introduced herself to me. She asked if I had ever attended. When I said no, she decided to take me under her wing. She connected me with other non-fiction writers and made me feel so welcome.

Kristen is someone I admire. She is always setting new goals and achieving them. She also so kind, caring and hospitable.

Kristen’s SECOND of three book just came out this week. Check out The Revolutionary .

Without further ado, here is a snippet of Kristen’s writing 💗! Enjoy!

Love perseveres in spite of obstacles. Love gives without any guarantee of receiving. Love sacrifices until it hurts and then sacrifices some more.

If I told you those themes are part of my latest novel, you might guess I’m a romance writer, right? Well, they are, but guess again. The Revolutionary is a dystopia.

Wait. Dystopia? You mean one of those futuristic novels so dark they make the problems of our own world look like a walk in the park? Yes and no. Though dystopian novels have certain bleak characteristics, I think that setting paints the perfect contrast to the hope characters are fighting (and sometimes dying) to gain.

How can a dystopia present an accurate view of love? I’m glad you asked.

#1 – Love perseveres in spite of obstacles.

Obstacles are everywhere in dystopian novels, and The Revolutionary is no exception. The first chapter in this sequel to The Revisionary opens with my heroine Portia in a satellite slave camp where prisoners die like rabbits, and no one cares—no one but Portia’s protector Gath. Whether he’s trying to shield her from the freezing wind or take a lash for her, he selflessly destroys his own health to preserve hers.

As a result, Portia struggles with guilt. Surely, he has already done enough for her. How can she ever repay him? But then, there are those horrible rumors about Gath. Does he feel he owes her a debt because the accusations are true?

But that’s the thing. Love doesn’t keep score. Whether or not Gath is as guilty as people say, Portia resolves to rescue him and the other prisoners.

#2 – Love gives without any guarantee of receiving.

When a spy ringmaster helps her escape the satellite, Portia could try to run and get her life back. But the reality is that without her new role as a plant inside the capital of Crystal, her brother and friends won’t have any chance of learning why the ruling Dome wants to execute prisoners in mass.

Plus, unless she takes this job, she’ll never learn if her long-time friend Luther is on her side and cares about her the way she does for him. But when she sees him again for the first time in months, her blood curdles. He keeps company with the ruling echelons, the very people who want her dead.

They seem stuck on two different ends of a pendulum, never knowing when their paths will cross and if they have the same motives. Yet they desire the other’s good, even when they don’t know what that will mean for them.

 

#3 – Love sacrifices until it hurts and then sacrifices some more.

When God reaches into someone’s life, He can transform even the cruelest person into a new creation. In Acts 9, the Bible tells the true story of the transformation of persecutor Saul into the Apostle Paul.

Gath’s character arc in some ways parallels that of Paul. His faith enables him to love others—even his tormenters—in a way few people understand.

And though he’s merely a shell of his old self, he volunteers for a one-way mission, even when he finally has a chance at his own happy ending.

True love is sacrificial, not thinking of its own interests but of “the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 ESV).

Closing thought

Whew, heavy stuff, right? I didn’t say dystopias are all sunshine and roses, but even they can present a beautiful, though battered, representation of what true love looks like.

Maybe you’re thinking, “That’s all well and good for make-believe, but that’s not real life.” If fiction doesn’t mirror real life, then there’s no point in reading it.

Besides, real life offers its own examples. Just look through the Bible for story after story of sacrificial love in action.

• Jonathan willingly gave up his right to the throne for his friend David.

• Ruth turned her back on her own people to care for her mother-in-law.

• Esther faced the king on behalf of her people at the risk of her own life.

• The Apostle Paul endured unspeakable torture for the gospel’s sake.

• Then, there is the ultimate example, Jesus, who died on the cross for thankless sinners.

Sure, there are many failures in Scripture as well, but I find those examples encouraging, too. (And trust me, my characters make their fair share.) However, through mistakes, we can discover second chances. In spite of past hurts, we can learn to love well.

Now that’s a revolutionary view of love.

~ By Kristen of KristenHogrefe.com

Author Bio

Kristen Hogrefe is a Florida girl who says yes to most adventures involving sunshine and prefers to start her day with Jesus and coffee. She is a multi-published novelist of young adult fiction, including The Rogues trilogy (Write Integrity Press) and Wings of the Dawn trilogy. A life-long learner, she also has a heart for teaching and speaking in academic settings and professional conferences. You can find her blogging at KristenHogrefe.com where she challenges young adults and the young at heart to think truthfully and live daringly.