for those from different planets

 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset

If 6 or 7 years ago you would have told me I would be wearing pants and working outside my childhood home as a campus missionary, I would have taken an exceptionally defensive posture and hurled sharp, rebuking words at you. You probably would have suspected me to be crazy… and you probably wouldn’t have even understood how crazy I genuinely was.

I never thought my life would change so drastically. I didn’t even know it was possible. Sure I thought some things would change over time, but I didn’t know everything would change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so thankful — so unbearably and ridiculously thankful — but there’s a certain wound that comes from ripping your tender life from the thing it has found itself fused to. And even though Jesus’ mercy and grace do so much to bring healing over time, there are daily occurrences that remind you that you’re just different now.

A month ago I got married… I got married!! And folks, I didn’t just get married, I got to vow my undying love and devotion to my best friend and the person I trust more than anyone else in this whole world. It was one of the most exhilarating days of my life. Truly. I’ve never felt that amount of joy all at one time — with the exception of the times the Lord has made known his redeeming hand upon my soul. I think the happiness I felt on my wedding day was just the tiniest glimpse of what heaven will feel like and to know that heaven will feel even better than marriage is something I can’t fathom existing and can’t wait to obtain.

But as wonderful as marriage to Kyle has been this past month, I have found myself in this brand new phase of life — in a new city — in a new state — and surrounded by a plethora of new people. And I’m feeling some of those old scars.

Coming out of a cult and being raised in abuse has left me with tales of oppression, fear, betrayal, and estrangement that are not the tune of my life anymore, but are bits of baggage that sort of come with me wherever I go. My life was so different. You grow up in this little bubble of a world and when you come out, you just feel like a ghost of a person in the air of reality. My friend Kate said it feels like you’re literally from a different planet… and she’s right.

The friends you have that made it out with hearts still alive are the friends you want to cling to the most because they can understand. They understand the feelings I wrestle with. They understand my experiencing homemaking as so wonderful, and yet at the same time, that it occasionally has this painful twinge that makes me wonder if I’m not just enjoying making a home because that was all I was ever educated to do. They understand because they feel it all too. 

There was so much pain in my upbringing. Thinking about it too hard just hurts. Thinking about the gross abuse my dad inflicted on me and my family is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand. When my husband and I got engaged I thought it would be another chance for my dad to see the damage he has done and begin to make amends. I thought it just might be the smallest sliver of hope to future repentance and reconciliation, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The preparation for my union to Kyle only brought out the worst in the hard-hearted men in my family. God graciously and abundantly provided and showered me in more love from my mom, sisters, and church family than I could have dreamed of; but on our wedding day I walked myself down the aisle. And at the celebration feast of our marriage, I felt my dad’s absence with a pang of grief. As much as I believe and rejoice that God ordained all of that and that it was the absolute best thing that could have happened and even though I wouldn’t change it for anything, it doesn’t mean it still doesn’t hurt. It is this gaping fracture that exists in my life and its brokenness is a tangible reminder to me of sin’s repercussions.

In all of this deciphering the feelings charging through my heart, I think the hardest part of new places is that there’s this huge part of you that you have to decide what to do with and there’s no easy answer. But, the greatest caution I keep reminding myself is that I can’t ignore the existence of my past life. To do so is to surrender to death.

God is the author of my past, present, and future. He decided why my life should be the way it is and why it was the way it was. He chose my path. Years and years ago, one of my precious friends, Sarah, sent me this quote on a small piece of beautiful paper and I have it to this day where I can always read it and I often say it to myself when I doubt that what happened in my life was part of God’s divine design…

“God is God because He is God, He is worthy of my trust and obedience. I will rest nowhere but in His holy will… a will that is unspeakably beyond my LARGEST notion of what he is up to.” {Elisabeth Elliot}

That brings me more comfort than a thousand other women who understand my pain. We are fully and completely known by our Father. And not just known but radically and unconditionally loved in spite of being so known! Oh, we’re loved so so much. I wrestle with the memories that haunt me and seem to torture me at times, but none of them could ever overshadow the incomprehensible and unfathomable love of our Creator and Redeemer. He is more than worthy of our trust and obedience. He has given us a gift we are rendered incapable of measuring and he has granted us eternal life and unending love.

As I end this rambling session tonight, all I can think of is praying over and over this beautiful passage from Ephesians. So please pray it with me this evening…

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21

P.s. here is a little preview of our wedding shot by the talented Kristi Albert!

xoxo

15401023_10154818114133703_4370441241723684798_n15440563_10155001815903641_4488650923045984820_o15676112_10154844394798703_3415099232847137796_o15419699_10154997694753641_3406702056311930397_o-1

 

with wills bent

nature-14-of-18

When I was a little girl someone gave me this beautiful white flower girl dress. It was covered in layers of lace and had a beautiful white flower crown with ribbons flowing down it to match. I genuinely loved the dress. I felt like a maiden transcending to a different time whenever I put it on. But I remember the time that dress made me feel so embarrassed. I was probably the age of five and a teenage girl was over babysitting me. She wanted to play dress up and so I put on my favorite white dress. She told me I looked so pretty and then started singing “Here Comes the Bride”.

I was mortified.

I didn’t want to be a bride. I had already taken a vow of eternal singleness because boys always made me feel stupid and so pretending to be a bride was never something I participated in. I was always adamant I would never marry… (at least I was until I was informed by my mother that I couldn’t have children unless I was married, which was crushing news to my little girl self). I just wanted to play dress up and feel pretty. I took off my flower crown and began to put my dress up clothes away. The only “vow” I made that day as a pretend bride, was to never wear that dress in front of anyone again.

Obviously, this story is rather humorous for me to reflect on as a woman engaged to be married to a man I love more than anything. My feelings towards the opposite sex evidently changed over time and the Lord has presently allowed my heart to fall in love with my closest friend and most trusted confidant.

But I’ll be honest, I’ve felt miserable at times being engaged.

I’ve tried to push into why I’ve felt this way and what exactly I am telling myself or believing that is creating these feelings of misery. I’ve wrestled with God and asked him why being engaged is so hard… and he answered me.

 I was chatting with a friend one day, probably bemoaning my engaged state and just wishing I was married and she said something to me I haven’t forgotten. She said “Shelby, we as the church are engaged to Jesus. A Christian wedding is a small reflection of our future wedding with Christ. And marriage is a small taste of our union to Christ as his Bride. We are engaged to Jesus! This phase of waiting too has a spiritual meaning for us as believers.” This phase of waiting – it is a way to learn how to cherish waiting for our marriage feast with the Jesus and our future resurrection – and that is indescribable.

It all seemed to parallel with a song I love so much. One of my favorite lines reads:

“They were pointing ever east

To see the ever-turning aeon cease

Their wills were ever bent on waiting with all their might.”

The song is referencing resurrection and how all of creation is waiting… waiting with all its might to see this life cease and the resurrected life start. It reminded me of a passage in Romans:

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:18-25)

There is something entirely captivating about these references to waiting. It isn’t a burden, it’s a privilege. There is groaning, but groaning as in childbirth – the joy of new life coming! There is an impenetrable thing transcending here and I feel so feeble in my attempts to put it into words, but essentially, the joy and deep mystical beauty that anticipation holds is something we are to embrace and cherish with all our might.

 I’ve never considered what it means to have joy in waiting. But when I think about it, as a child the weeks leading up to Christmas are almost more exhilarating than the actual day itself. And even though I think resurrection will be something so far out of our capacity for describing, I do believe this season of anticipation is brimming with potential for copious amounts of joy.

This reality has been brought to the forefront of my life as an engaged woman, but it is a tangible truth for every believer. We have this irreplaceable hope in the renewal of our bodies and the whole world. We get to await resurrection with all of creation! Think of that… the trees and rivers, the mountains and the stars, the fields and the animals – every created thing has this hope in their being and they are groaning and awaiting their new life in Jesus. It is so inexpressibly breathtaking I can’t hardly communicate it without crying tears of joy. Our heavenly Father loves us so much, he even gave us joy and pleasure in seasons of waiting.

Friends, next time you see the wind move the leaves of a tree, or you catch the fragrance of a bloom or pine, or you feel the warmth of the sun kiss your skin, reflect on how you are comrades in waiting for our God and King to usher in resurrection.

 And then bend your will to wait with all your might.

warrior women

Nature (2 of 18)

It was around 6 years ago when I was attending a graduation open-house in Indiana for a friend. At that time I was still involved in the hyper patriarchy cult that was holding me in bondage and at this event I was surrounded by ‘my kind’ of women. We were all in ankle length skirts, very conservative blouses, and most of our conversation revolved around domestic duties.

About half way through my visit, a group of people went outside to play volleyball. Now, I thought it absolutely absurd that people expected girls to play volleyball in skirts and so I protested by not participating. Pretty soon I noticed I wasn’t the only young woman who refused to engage in the athletic activity taking place…

I found my mom enraptured in a conversation with this tall, captivating, pretty blonde girl. She was munching on some chocolate that she had made herself and was talking to my mom about the benefits of clean eating. Pretty soon I too was in a discussion with this fascinating person and before I knew it, it was several weeks later and we were writing letters.

Hannah Mendenhall rapidly became the closest friend I had. 

Hannah and I came out of that oppressive movement together and I have never found another person on this planet who knows the intricacies of the ghosts that haunt me or the joy of being delivered from something so dark and lonely. Hannah and her sister Sarah were so influential and comforting in my life and they are truly some of the dearest companions my heart has known.

About 3 years ago I was sitting in Sunday School and it came time to greet one another. I remember a lovely, tall, friendly girl (I always notice tall girls since I myself am so tall) tripping over her chair to turn around and talk to me. She introduced herself as Lindsay Tollefson and told me she was a student at Moody. A couple days later I ran into her at Hobby-Lobby where I was employed and before I knew it, we had forged a friendship.

I quickly discovered Lindsay to be one of the most beautiful people I would be privileged to know. Never has my mind been so free to philosophize as it is when I am with Lindsay. She is the most gentle, tender, and mighty woman I know and she is an angel in my life.

These two women are irreplaceable to me. In the entire span of my friendships with them, we have been long distance companions. I have never been in the same city as them for more than a couple of weeks and have never had the advantage of just calling them up to grab coffee or drinks or anything of the like. And yet, somehow, they are the deepest friends I have ever known. I can’t tell you how much I cherish them! I will never be able to put into words how the Lord has rescued me through them. Not because of their own work, but because they have opened themselves to being vessels for Him and the Father has ministered the love of the Savior to me, through their loving hearts.

I have never known the love of the Body more than I have with their friendship. When I study women in Biblical history, I feel that I am able to have just a taste of that with these women I am inexpressibly blessed to know. Our conversations don’t revolve around the latest gossip or on trying to one-up each other or make ourselves feel superior. We are free with each other! We always always always come back to the Gospel! We philosophize on the church and life, we theorize on emotional allegories that are applicable to the simplicity of life and we exude tender and sometimes tough love with each other! We are comrades in war and comforters in life!

It is as if our souls are united in such a way that our friendships reflect some beautifully choreographed dance.

Ah! I could go on and on for days about how much I love them! To know women like them or like my mother and sisters is something I will never be able to be thankful enough for.

Unfortunately, this is exceptionally rare for me. My experience with women in the local church has not filled me with the rapturous delight I feel with Hannah and Lindsay.

Nature (7 of 18)

Currently my experience as a single woman in the church feels as though I am in a dog eat dog world. It’s all a competition. ‘Who can be the godliest?’ ‘Who knows the most theology?’ ‘Who will get married first?’ Social gatherings revolve around which girls are liked and which girls are disliked. Invites are only extended to those who prefer each other and if you are not on the VIP list, you are purposely excluded.

When did we as women lose our sense of friendship with each other? When did we become enemies?

We’ve reduced, demeaned, and degraded the feminine aspect of the Church to competing for the most charming man’s attention. We act as if we hate and resent each other. We exclude each other and indulge in destructive, belittling behavior.

Never in my life have I felt as lonely as I do in the church among the single women who I count my peers. 

And I have heard all the excuses for this spirit of ostracizing. ‘We’re in different life phases.’ ‘I don’t like her personality.’ ‘We just don’t click together.’ 

All of this is just the lies we tell ourselves so that we can continue to bask in the selfishness we have become accustom to. Show me a place in the Scriptures where it says a lack of ‘shallow commonality’ is an excuse to withhold love, friendship and community from other women, and then you can use these excuses rooted in self-centeredness.

God created us to work together! God created us to be a force fueled by His power and motivated with the love of His Gospel! Satan wants to inhibit this beautiful plan and we are indulging him and providing the kindling for his fire.

Shame on us. 

People think this childish behavior among the women of the church to be amusing or that it’s just the way women interact; but I am telling you that Jesus doesn’t operate in a spirit of competition or in a withholding of love. I attribute this embarrassingly low standard for the strength of women, to the church not taking the influence of women seriously. Why are we letting each other get away with this? Because we’ve been taught that we are not meant to make a significant difference in the kingdom of Heaven and so we have developed an unhealthy habit of how we treat each other because we care so little about and neglect our character. 

I have found so much love and comfort from married women of all ages and all personalities in the church. I have been able to witness and be friends with seasoned and brand new, wives and mothers and I have felt such a sense of being welcomed, loved and embraced. I have seen these women embody strength and dignity (Proverbs 31:25) and fight for the Bride of Christ in their homes.

Nature (10 of 18)

So why aren’t we doing this as single women?

We’ve come to only care about what will make us appear to be the godliest candidate for marriage, or what will make us the most popular. We even compete with each others’ theological education and we leap with both feet all over someone when they disagree with our ideas. What is happening?! If theology is a knowledge of God, then all believers have theology that is relevant, even if you disagree with it.

When did we become such unloving and unfeeling women towards each other? When did we cast off a vision for the furthering of the kingdom that included us banding together in a spirit of love and encouragement as fellow heirs to the throne of grace? When did we view each other as a threat to our own little kingdoms, instead of necessary vessels to a heavenly kingdom?

In my study of the scriptures, I see no evidence of the Holy Ghost influencing people to be unloving. Therefore, if you don’t prefer, or if you view another woman in the church as threat to your own reputation for being the godliest, would you consider your withholding of love, community and fellowship from her to be unloving or unfeeling?

Consider these passages before you answer: Philippians 2:3-4; James 3:14-18; Ephesians 4:29-32; John 15:13.

Yes. A thousand times yes.

Nature (6 of 18)

So what is the solution?

Reflect on biblical examples of women in the Scriptures. Like Naomi and Ruth. They had a relationship that ended in a union which would result in the Messianic lineage. It was a group of women who first discovered the empty tomb of Jesus. And Paul stumbling upon a group of women studying the Scriptures in Philippi was the catalyst of a Church which would later give us one of Paul’s most loving and tender epistles.

Women need women.

Call me an idealist, but I have this vision of single women in the church loving each other radically, combatting low ideas of women together and lifting each other up in a way that makes the enemy tremble because the work of Jesus is flourishing!

Nature (8 of 18)

Since the start of the new year,I’ve been reading Timothy Keller’s devotional on the Psalms and one dreary day in February, the words seemed to leap off the page and right into my heart. Here is what one of my favorite pastors and theologians has to say on Psalm 26:6-12…

“I wash my hands in innocence and go around your altar, O Lord, proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds. O Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells. Do not sweep my soul away with sinners, nor my life with bloodthirsty men, in whose hands are evil devices, and whose right hands are full of bribes. But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground; in the great assembly I will bless the Lord.” {Psalm 26:6-12}

“{The Place Where Your Glory Dwells} David loves that God’s glory – his infinitely holy and beautiful presence – dwells in the temple (verse 8). Even more marvelous is the Gospel, which tells us that Jesus is the true temple (John 2:20-21). God’s glory dwells in him (John 1:14) and in all those who unite with him by faith (1 Peter 2:4-5). Those odd people in the next pew? That couple with the whiny baby? Those young people who don’t dress right for church? They should be objects of your love and respect because God’s glory dwells in them. The weight of their glory should ‘be laid daily on [your] back, a load so heavy only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.’

Prayer: Father, each of my neighbors is made in your image and precious in your sight; each of my brothers and sisters has Christ and his glory in them. How can I ever be cold, irritated, or disdainful toward anyone? Give me enough love to live my life every day as I should. Amen.”

O sisters! May we repent of not loving each other! May we repent of not counting each other as fellow children of God and as places where His glory dwells! May we delight in one another, learn from one another, and submit to one another in love!

The kind of impact this could have on the church would be insurmountable! It would be beautiful! And it would revolutionize the hard hearts of unbelievers. Let us abound in the steadfast love of God (Joel 2:13), and spur one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24)!

“Let brotherly love continue…” Hebrews 13:1

Nature (1 of 18)

*all photos taken with canon rebel T1i, 50mm f/1.8, and edited in lightroom with vscofilm

Memoirs of a Former Slave

 

12507476_1137034106309116_3626604599614226782_n

When I was the tender age of 7, I received a bike for Christmas that instantly held the fondest of places in my heart. It was a hot-pink-sort-of-magenta colored body with bright purple rims and white tires and on the spokes there were these little multi-colored plastic stars that snapped on. But the best part of the entire bike was the streamers. Ah! Those streamers! They were opalescent, long, and looked amazing when I rode that glamorous bike.

I adored those streamers.

I rode that bike as soon as the snow had melted. I rode it every chance I got. I cranked out my first wheelie on that bike. I created dangerous make-shift ramps to take that bike over. I discovered that using my back-pedal breaks on the over grown, dew covered grass would produce a daredevil slide. I rode that bike incessantly.

All the while admiring my beloved streamers. 

One day in the middle of Summer, I noticed my streamers starting to slowly thin. They lost some of their pompom likeness and became a little limp looking. I attributed this to the nighttime wind (which was probably a figment of my imagination) and took greater care to put my bike in safe keeping when I was finished at the end of the day. I didn’t want my bike to lose its number one charm factor!

Now is probably the appropriate time to introduce my little brother’s neighborhood friend, Josh. Josh was abnormally short and stocky and never wore a shirt. He always wore a hat and pretend dog tags (likely from a G.I. Joe set), but never a shirt. And almost all of my Summer memories of him include his white belly, short stature, bully demeanor and iconic lisp.

One Summer afternoon when the windows were open in the house and I was retrieving a glass of Kool-aid from the kitchen to quench the thirst I had worked up riding my bike, my commercial worthy moment of refreshment was interrupted by the sound of Josh’s voice outside. There was something about his tone that alarmed me and I felt compelled to rush out the side door and investigate. Upon stumbling outside what else would I find but Josh ripping the streamers out of my bike!! I was initially filled with principled rage and then crushed with grief. Aghast, I yelled at him to tell me what on earth he thought he was doing, which then in turn, resulted in him yelling back at me that he needed them to use as ‘ammo’ to pretend to shoot some mythical bad guys. I argued with him that he had no right to take something from me – something I loved so dearly – to use for his game of pretend. He then rudely explained to me that his need for them was more important than my desire to just look at them and think they’re pretty. And then I gave up the argument and cried.

And thus it began… my introduction to the battle of the sexes. Seven year old Shelby experienced the sorrow of losing the right to a toy-like possession, but eighteen year old Shelby would experience the sorrow of crumbling beneath the weight of oppression.

Bokeh (3 of 3)

Sometimes I forget the things I used to believe and practice. Sometimes I forget the gravity of my youth and heavy indoctrination in the oppression of women that I so readily absorbed in my efforts to find a solution for the harshness of a father who didn’t love me. And about the time I start to forget, I stumble on something that reminds me. This time it was an article by an influencer of the cult I was formerly in.

Whenever this happens, I am flooded with memories of how I was taught to view myself as a woman. In the heretical movement I was a proponent of, biblical manhood was taught with an overall attitude of embracing. Embracing your natural inclinations as a male! Embracing your desire to take dominion as a man and conquer the world! To bask in the philosophical scent of brash manliness! But to be a godly woman had a lot more to do with suppressing. Suppressing your natural inclinations towards being emotional. Suppressing any hint of an aspiration that included you leaving your home for college or a job that was more than selling hand-made goods on Etsy. Suppressing anything that would ever put you at the same level of worth and validity as a man.

I still bear scars of a heart fragmented over being told that it was important for men to feel above women. Being forced into a place where being a godly woman meant taking up a call to constantly stroke the egos of the men around me. I wish I could convey the depths to which I lived in a constant state of spiritual degradation. I began to think this was how God wanted me to feel. And it was about this time that He came and delivered me. He revealed to me that this was not how He viewed women. Jesus came and treated women just as He treated men. He didn’t stroke anybody’s ego! He didn’t put anyone in a place of superiority! He loved His children… sons and daughters. He didn’t spend His time putting His daughters under the feet of His sons. Our Good Shepherd forgave, taught, healed, called, chastised, comforted and gathered into His bosom all of His sheep regardless of gender.

And this truth, from God Himself, set me free. 

After I recently read the article that triggered all of these memories, I wanted so badly to go on a huge internet rant about this specific article. I wanted to link to it, dissect it piece by piece, refute it with scriptures and quotes by reputable men and women in ministry and just have an outlandish bashing session towards this horrible article that conveyed the sad and grievous attitude hyper-patriarchal men have towards daughters of the living God. At the end of my ranting you would have either agreed with me and hopped on my soapbox, or you would have been concerned at the degree to which I had ripped apart this famous author, and just quietly rebuked me in your mind… or maybe vocally, I cannot possibly attempt to know.

But as I was mulling it all over in my head, I realized how much time and energy it would have taken me to expel my fuming pain into an intellectual and biblical argument suited for the internet. It would have taken time away that I wanted to spend on studying Hebrews and Psalms. It would have stolen time that I don’t presently have to crack open this new book I’ve been dying to read on the revelation of Jesus in the Old Testament. It would have ripped from me emotional energy that I need to talk to my Savior. In the end, it would have robbed me of more than I even have to give. And that, my dear friends, isn’t worth it.

So through the Holy Spirit’s gentle conviction, I decided against the public dismantling of this singular blurb on the internet that invoked bad memories, and the Father brought to my memory something much more pleasant in its stead.

“During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.” {Exodus 2:23-25}

and God knew. If I could tell you how much those words mean to me, I wouldn’t be doing justice to how comforting they are to hurting souls suffering under the weight of slavery. But it doesn’t end here! No siree, not at all! God knew, and then God delivered. Not just delivered them from their slavery to Egypt, but would later deliver all of His chosen ones from slavery to their sin… from the slavery that we are all born into. Oh how important it is to remember the Lord our God and His delivering hand!

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” {Deuteronomy 5:15}

“…you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out.” {Deuteronomy 7:18-19}

“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you…” {Deuteronomy 15:15}

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.” {Psalm 77:11}

“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'” {Luke 22:17-19}

All of the above passages incite us to remembering. Remembering the works of the Lord to deliver His people from bondage, oppression and slavery. And I can wholeheartedly promise you that I haven’t even scratched the surface of how much the Scriptures talk about remembering.

So tonight, I have decided to remember, but not just remember the darkest part of the memories, but to remember my freedom and liberation from bondage. To remember my Deliverer and how He parted the sea so I could walk through and declare the wonders that He does out of His great love for us and His desire for us to know Him… to know Him and experience radical love, eternal joy and everlasting life!

It is my sincerest hope that everyone could know this unmerited grace and redeeming love that I have been so undeservingly shown. I cannot express the level of thanksgiving I feel towards my Savior for pulling me out of a pit of despair and ushering me into an unbearably illuminating light – for opening my eyes and ears when He could have left me blind and deaf – for giving me life when He could have left me dead.

“See what kind of love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” {1 John 3:1}

As I close, here is a song I have been obsessed with lately. May Jesus make this your battlecry…

{You split the sea, so I could walk right through it
All my fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me, so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God}

uniterrupted delight

10563004_953878947957967_3050488334381465871_n

I feel like I just got used to writing 2015 at the top of my journal entries, and it’s already time to change again. Perhaps it is an overused statement, but it is unfortunately true that time goes so fast.

This morning I have been reflecting on all that 2015 contained. The good, the loads of bad and sad and everything in between. I was thinking so hard when my mind just started racing. Suddenly all the negative was crowded out by the beautiful. 

I became completely overwhelmed. To think of where I was a year ago compared to now has entirely ruined any confidence I had in myself, my abilities, or qualifications, and I am rendered incapable of conveying the degree of gratitude I am experiencing.

My heart is so full.

It feels as if fallow ground has been being torn up for so long and so many seeds have been planted and watered with the tears of my loneliness and grief and I have finally seen a green sprout making its way through seasoned soil. I have wandered in a desert for what feels like the entirety of my life, being forced to trust the Lord and lean on Him solely for joy and He has proven Himself more faithful to me than I could fathom deserving. He has called me to a job that isn’t even a job, it is a lifestyle that I wholeheartedly love, and He has put a future in front of me when I was content to just mosey through life one day at a time.

10983_953879011291294_6263755612237235015_n

I have been wrestling with what the whole process really is though. I don’t think for two seconds that there haven’t ever been any signs of life in this wasteland, but that rather, it takes years of wandering to learn to taste and see…

Taste and see that the Lord is good. 

It isn’t that there aren’t any heavenly host singing hallelujah. It is that it takes suffering to learn to be still and listen for the voices of the angels singing fragrant melodies. 

Ah! How unbearable this feels! If it were possible to die under the crushing weight of unmerited love, I am afraid I would have died a thousand deaths at this stage of my life. But how glorious that this crushing love only kills our flesh – and that while it slays our flesh, it gives immeasurable life to our souls, the heirs of everlasting life, eternal joy and uninterrupted delight in the Father. 

Happy New Year, all you lovely people. Trust the Lord, because no one has our best in mind more than our gracious and loving Father.

1897774_953878984624630_357941634973453275_n

 

advent

Field-1

It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and just about the only thing I have done today is read East of Eden – which is fantastic, by the way! If you like crying over copious amounts of tragedy and injustice, it is definitely for you – and I also listened to this beautiful piece whilst I read… it all made for a rather remarkable emotional experience.

Now those things have made for one of the best days, but it also gave me some time to think about celebrating advent. Can I just say how excited I am to embrace this anticipation of the Messiah’s coming? The fulfillment of His first coming, gives so much hope and joy for His second coming and I am rendered incapable of properly putting into words the joy this makes me feel.

I’ve been doing a small Bible study with my roommates and some close friends over the book of Isaiah and it has been a truly beautiful experience! Not only am I so blessed to get to study God’s word alongside some of the most noble and lovely women I am privileged to know, but the ecstasy of unearthing so much meat and truth from the Scriptures does something to my soul I can’t even fathom conveying adequately. God has been so faithful to reveal Himself as we search to know Him more fully, despite our feeble and finite efforts.

And that is why I am so excited for advent…

I am just brimming with this rapturous feeling at the chance to know our Savior even more. To be afforded the opportunity to reflect on His coming and all that He gave us. Ah! I can’t even believe we get to experience something so deep and profound and something that we are so utterly undeserving of.

I’ve been getting ready to start this time of reflection this Sunday, and in preparation, I’ve been thinking about the purpose of embracing advent. The catalyst to it all was how much Isaiah 53 has impacted my life… how much this prophecy for the entire world’s Savior and Messiah has made an impression on my soul.

surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows

upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace

the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all

out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied

branch-1

All of these words and more have nurtured this longing in my heart to just keep exposing my own inability to fully comprehend hope, and to instead embrace His ability to fully cover my broken, naked and tarnished soul. This awareness… this being awakened to the atrocity lying within you, makes hope become this genuine reflection of healing… this elixir of sorts. It empties you of the poison that holds you captive to being able to receive in your bosom the body and blood that will nourish your famine ridden soul. It cultivates in your spirit this reception for the love of the Messiah to become systemic… to wash and cleanse and purify and purge all the miseries that it possesses. 

It enables you to draw closer to the Father, who is the only source of eternal joy and everlasting life. John Piper puts it much more eloquently than I could even try to in the intro to his advent book The Dawning of Indestructible Joy

“The joy that Jesus came to bring is from outside this world. It is the very joy that Jesus Himself has in God the Father – which He has had from all eternity and will have forever. There is no greater joy than the joy that God has in God, because God is the greatest object of joy, and God has the greatest powers to enjoy. Jesus said, ‘I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full’ (John 15:11). His joy was the very joy of God. He promises to put that in us. That is what the Holy Spirit does. He pours out the love of God in our heart (Rom. 5:5), and with it the joy of God in God. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy…’ (Gal. 5:22). This is ‘great joy.’ And it cannot be take away. It is indestructible.”

And that, my dear folks, is why I am so excited to celebrate advent!

May the beginning of your Christmas season overwhelm you with the love of the Father, lavished on us in the form of His Son and our Savior…

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

{Isaiah 9:6-7}

branches-1

*all photos taken with canon rebel T1i 50mm f/1.8 and edited in lightroom with VSCO presets

fragrant memory

Queen Anne's Lace-1

Sometimes I wonder what happened to me to make me this way.

Was it the constant flow of being reminded that being female is my handicap? Did my indoctrination in my inferiority cripple my feminine joie de vivre? Why do I put my tenderest portion on the line time after idiotic time?

I can’t learn.

For some reason, I find myself tossing caution to the wind, turning my face to the sunshine and gentle breeze and yet finding myself blindsided by an icy blizzard. Yet again, I was chasing a mirage in good faith, not realizing I would get myself into the same mess the same mirage brought me into the last time.

Foolish. Foolish is the perfect word to describe me.

Some things, I just can’t seem to absorb.

That’s why I wonder if something in me is just broken. Especially when it comes to loving. Ah. I love to love! Love is a word I am not stingy with. Because it is important to me that regardless of my pain and hurt, I always actively choose to love. I have been shown a love I don’t deserve, and if I’m being honest, I don’t even deserve to show the tattered love I have to give. It is nothing in comparison to an unmerited love that cost the blood of a perfect God-man.

Do you know sometimes (okay, most of the time) I bristle against being protected? Like I don’t want it. I’ve never had a man in my life seek to protect me. In fact, I’ve had the opposite experience. My lack of being protected has proven to be an open door to being used like a pawn in some warped game. The Lord has always been my protector… which in my sinful mind, I often translate to “I have always been my protector”. I know, I know… blaze me with the rhetoric of why I am so wrong, because I deserve it. I want to be strong! I want to be independent! And I want to be safe! So what better way than to try and protect myself and constantly toss caution to the wind in regards to my heart.

A bonafide genius, some would call me.

Then I remember Mary. Ah. Mary of Bethany. She loved Jesus wholeheartedly. She chose the good part and sat at His feet. She demonstrated radical love, by being impractical and highly emotional and breaking a bottle of expensive oil over this glorious Savior’s head. She was chastised and rebuked for her loving act. But as she was being scolded for her demonstration of love, the room was filling up with the fragrance of her beautiful offering to Jesus in human flesh.

That’s the kind of womanhood I laud. That is exactly what I esteem! Jesus embraced her! He loved her! He cherished this gift she gave Him!

And you know what else He did?

He defended her.

“And while He was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as He was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over His head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, ‘Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.'” {Mark 14:3-9}

“Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing for me?”

A beautiful thing for Me… Jesus is treasuring this act that was executed out of love for Him. He doesn’t go all macho on her, exclaiming all the issues with her acting on emotions; He defends this woman who was created by Him, to love Him.

In her book Unseduced and Unshaken, Rosalie de Rosset gives the most lovely summary of the interaction between Jesus, Mary and her critics…

“In what is a wonderfully comforting passage to any woman who has been put down or ignored, Christ immediately comes to Mary’s defense and firmly rebukes her attackers, calling attention to their self-righteousness. He tells them to stop bothering her. But He goes further. He commends her gift as ‘beautiful’ and makes her part of the approaching events of the Passion. And, in a wonderful ending, He asserts that her story will be told ‘throughout the world… in memory of her’ (NIV). And, it is.” 

Thaaaaat’s right! ‘Suck it, Shelby!’- some would say. And they be right. Mary wasn’t being weak. Mary was actually being rather independent, and Jesus still protected her. And there is no account of her bristling against His protection! I have no excuse! Embracing this lovely design of letting oneself be protected, is cherishing the tender, vulnerable parts that God created us with. It is a way of worshiping and accepting the intricacies of the creation by the Creator.

It’s just so hard. It’s so hard to want to be strong, intellectual and theological and still acknowledge that God created us as women in a specific way. It’s hard to be demeaned for being the way God created us to be. It’s hard to not be taken seriously when you are embracing your womanhood and basking in the glories of exclaiming love poetically and sometimes in a way that isn’t always the social norm. But seeing Mary disregard the ‘norm’ to do the radical is beautiful. 

There is just so much we don’t know about how God intends to use us and our quirks and passions for the edification of the Church. There is so much to all the feelings of humanness. We are members of humanity and the Body of Christ. He understands how to be human and love as God incarnate. He did it for us. He fashioned us for His glory. He fashioned us for His pleasure. He fashioned us in a specific way to love Him and be loved by Him. He delights in us, He blesses us and He chastises us so that we can reflect Him to others, and His delight in them and in us is made more tangible through each other. The love that we have for one another is a facet of the love we show for Him and to Him.

So for all you women out there, trying to find the balance of being a strong woman of faith and theology in Jesus and embracing this lovely side of being tender and vulnerable-love the word, love the Lord and always, always choose the good part and sit at the feet of our gracious Shepherd…

Remember the fragrant memory of the lovely Mary of Bethany. 

{*Queen Anne’s Lace taken with canon rebel T1i 50mm f/1.8; edited in lightroom with VSCO film}

a farmer’s daughter

The majority of my childhood rearing took place in town… if you can call a place that has a population of around 900 a town. In fact, our formal identity was actually a ‘village’. But I also spent a great deal of time on the farm my dad was raised on. A large property with cattle, crops and lots of hunting. And even though there’s a great deal of hard memories about that place, there’s still something about good ol’ farmer-sayings that is an easy route to a bonding experience with me. And let’s not forget to mention how the peaceful state of rural, secluded landscapes will always hold the fondest of spots in my heart.

I learned a lot about hard work. I learned a lot about efficiency, ingenuity and innovation. I learned how to love things that came about by the labors of my own two hands, and much to my own demise, I learned how to take care of myself. 

I shed a lot of tears and let out some heavy weeps on that land. It is where I made my most disturbing discoveries, had the rudest of awakenings and felt betrayed and despised by the human being who was not only a primary contributor in the reason for my existence, but was supposed to be an example of my earthly source of unconditional love.

The way that I was shaped to be as a woman on that farm is something I battle every day, and probably will the remainder of my life. It is my achilles heel and satan tries to squeeze it almost daily. No matter how much I cry and I pray, the ghosts that torture me won’t seem to relent and let me just catch my breath. I’ve spent so long trying to be stronger and better than my weaknesses, that I haven’t let Christ glorify Himself through my failings.

I don’t want it to be seen. I just want to hide. I don’t want to need anything, or heaven forbid, anyone. This philosophy I am executing, this scrambling to make sure I don’t have any outward showings of the effects of my past, is all taking for granted the beauty of the Church. The Church is meant to have scars of suffering to help each other. We were integrated into the Church through Jesus, with all our inadequacies and brokenness, in order to manifest the healing and perfecting power of Christ. Our sufferings, our shortcomings, the caveats to our strengths, the weakness of our hearts and minds are all things that the Lord can redeem and cover… they are areas of our lives that He wants us to surrender to Him and trust Him with.

In my horribly finite mind, I try to tell myself that I can handle all my calamities better on my own. Somehow, retreating into myself and wallowing seems to be a better solution, than trusting Jesus with it all. I know, I know… it sounds so stupidly simple, but it doesn’t render it anymore invalid or untrue because the solution appears to be so easy.

Timothy Keller puts it beautifully in his book ‘The Reason for God’…

“The Christian Gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling. I cannot feel superior to anyone, and yet I have nothing to prove to anyone. I do not think more of myself nor less of myself. Instead, I think of myself less.”

That’s it. Dwelling on your own problems and failings is still a form of pride. It is still all about you. When I am self-conscious and concerned about my inhibitions manifesting themselves, I am looking at my own self and not looking at Jesus. When I want to just take care of it all myself and pretend like it isn’t a big deal, I am digging in my heels and resisting this beautiful grace that the Lord has waiting for me. I am saying I not only know better, but that I know best.

I don’t want anyone to know how deep my wounds have been. I don’t want anyone to be able to smell the sin rotting away at the core of who I am. I don’t want to expose the devastation of what I have known and of the lies I struggle with wanting to believe everyday. I want to be tough and able to endure with a steadfast grace. But I am literally pushing away the greatest Comfort my soul could ever fathom knowing! I am wanting to cling so tightly to this belief that I can prove wrong the person who has taken my vulnerable spirit and crushed it to smithereens. And I am wrong. I can’t accomplish anything short of my demise on my own.

The only solution to such a travesty is laying it all at the foot of the cross. No amount of good deeds I do will render my sin ineffective. Not amount of hiding or suppressing the agony of my experiences will make them disappear. Essentially, all I am doing is robbing myself of the peace that awaits when I truly cast off these burdens that Jesus died to set me free from.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

**Disclaimer: any melodramatic instances that took place in the above writing, I fully blame on this song, as it was played over and over in the course of my musings.

pretty soapboxes

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

I know I talk a lot about giving thanks. I know that maybe you all get tired of hearing me exclaim the majestic power that giving thanks has on your heart and soul. In my mind I see a thought bubble above your stick figure heads that reads: “Holy flippin’ cow *Courtney, don’t you know that dead horses don’t need anymore beatings?!”

{*And you called me “Courtney” because everybody calls me Courtney. Out of the **two first names I possess, evidently “Courtney” sounds more like a real first name than “Shelby”.

**That’s a lie. I actually have four first names… don’t ask.}

Anyhoo, I have a list of over 1,500 things I am thankful for… and I add to that list almost every day. I hope I never stop adding to that list. It doesn’t have any rhyme or reason, none of it has a date so I have no idea when I wrote what. It literally is just a numbered list with items I have experienced gratitude for.

But sometimes my list of thanks becomes a passionless attempt to be grateful when I’m really not feeling it very much. Instead of spiritually feasting on this amazing joy that is mine if I only claim it, I’m just kind of going through the motions. I’ve been in this season of dryness and distraction.

Okay, for a second, let’s just muse on distractions… and by muse I mean full blown rant. 

Women are bombarded with distractions. I know men are too, but for a millisecond, let us just acknowledge some of the moronic things women get shoved at them.

Beauty.

Oh.my.freaking.stars.

The pressure to cultivate being attractive is overwhelming. For instance, take eyebrows. Aside from just slaying any unibrow potential, there is a great deal of grooming that can go into these little hairy creatures that reside above the windows of your soul. I have been obsessed with what would be the perfect eyebrows. They’re full and well groomed and have the perfect arch and don’t distractingly clash with the color of your hair. They draw attention to your lovely eyes and look effortless. I can’t stop staring at other women’s eyebrows, wondering how they got them to look that way. {So if you find me staring at someone’s brows, don’t be creeped out… or do. Maybe it is creepier than I am giving it credit for.} No longer are eyebrows just a source for communicating an array of emotion! I mean, they can furrow when you’re mad, or be raised in curiosity, or judgment, or sarcastic questioning, or frown when you’re sad, just like your smile. What amazing things these seemingly insignificant vessels of emotion are! And how much dang time is spent contemplating the imperfections that lie therein. As a side note, I’m not dissing beauty regimes as an expression of your own particular taste and love of girlie things… I mean, I gush over Anthropologie clothes just as much as the next female; but I’m talking about resenting things about yourself that you can’t help and seeking to be different in your own outward expression of your femininity because you are using someone else’s standard to determine what makes you beautiful.

What a silly thing to have consume your thoughts. But all this stems from this ridiculous pressure to be what everyone else considers “beautiful”. How come the description of “beautiful” doesn’t extend to include ‘ears that listen to others and the Spirit, a heart that is ever tender towards the suffering of the saints, hands that lovingly help people and eyes that are seeking the light of the living God.’ I mean sure, no one will deny that those are beautiful things, but sit down with anyone and engage in a discussion on how to be more attractive, and these things rarely are the first to come tumbling out of anxious and opinionated mouths.

Sometimes when I step back and realize that I’ve been distracted by something so silly, I just want to say “screw it”, and move on, instead of examining why this is the way it is and actually learning something about it. See, those are the things I rarely give thanks for. What the crap! That’s so messed up! It’s an opportunity to grow, gain insight and reflect on how the flesh so often dictates what thoughts we give our energy to… which is totally something to express gratitude towards!

Ahhh… I can be a miserable failure sometimes, because I preach and yell and laud this gorgeous act of feasting on a thanks for these wonderful gifts, but I often lack the discipline to examine things that are truly gifts- gifts because they are hard and causing me to work on muscles that are weak.

Who the heck wants to be thankful for being tested?! ‘Not I’, said the demon angel that is named “Shelby’s incurably ugly sin.”

Alas, this battle to behold the {truly} beautiful will never end, but thank goodness, it’s so worth it!