A Good Man Will

Two years ago I sustained an injury to my left hip in a traumatic car accident that could have easily taken two lives if the incoming car had hit 6 inches to the left. God kept the two of us safe and well although my hip will never again be the same. Due to the spinning projection of the truck being literally thrown across two intersections and a set of railroad tracks, my hip was jammed into the the seatbelt plug. I cried for two days standing on it, gripping the back of the pew in front of me during church the next day with knuckles turning white from sheer will. Recounting the accident still makes me shake. The memories give me nightmares. 1 week later, the man I was in love with called me and told me he couldn’t take care of me, ending our relationship and incoming engagement.

What was apparent was that not only was he was walking away from a future with me but that he was walking away from me because my health was too much and too concerning to be worth it to stay. I was shattered. It was pure agony, because my parents had never made me feel as though my health was a burden, and then the person I trusted and loved most next to them said it was.

For two years I’ve struggled with separating my worth from my wellbeing, but in the last few months, God has given me the laughter to think back on that poor statement and laugh and laugh. Even my closest friends have joined in on the giggles that ring through the house: “If only he could see me now!!!” Ohhh if only he could see me now.

A hip that aches and occasional tachycardia has been the least of my worries this year.

Hey, I’m the toxic one in this relationship.

On January 31, I left the United States and flew to China to live there for 6 months to serve as a photographer at a special needs foster home for Chinese orphans. The days were hard and long; the hours seemed endless, filled with so much work and so so many joyful, beautiful moments. It was ministry. It was missions. It was hard. It was real life. It was home. It was joy. It was tears. It was aching. It was a full heart. It was the Gospel.

I went above and beyond and past what I ever thought I could handle. There were serious days with my boss bursting through my apartment door and ordering me to lie down and many moments monitoring my vitals, to taking so many things to counteract “impossible to diagnose” illnesses when everyone around me was completely fine (albeit worried I was going to be ok). There were many hard tears, many scary moments.

Due to the smog conditions in China and my body being sensitive and honestly Satan being bored? (hahaha), I struggled with my health from the 2nd month until I came home in July. Conditions I thought I’d leave behind in China once I stepped onto American soil have followed me around, making me nauseous most days, struggling to breathe some days and with the almost full certainty of every day being uncertain, followed by a serious but joyful cheer at night to myself “Yay!! You didn’t die today!”.

I went to China to serve Jesus and love orphans and I did. And I came back toxic. And it was worth it. It was more worth it than you will ever know. More than 5k views of a China video can prove. Beyond worth it.

With this toxic diagnosis comes some great comebacks like “Oooh did you hear I’m toxic? Yep. Pretty great.” or “Go to China and come back toxic? Who could have foreseen this? What a shock.” or “Hey, I’m JM. I’m the toxic one in this relationship.” or my favorite: “I’m toxic. I’m literally who Britney Spears wrote her song about.”. Hahahaha. 

Online dating isn’t ecstatic about you being toxic. 

As surprising as it is, the full implications of my toxicity (lol I told y’all it was funny) did not truly kick in until I came back from China to the USA and thought for fun and being 30 and brave that I would sign up for online dating. (Please laugh with me over this.) And in true JMF fashion, I ran 3 dating apps wide open for months. It’s been bringing an insane amount of laughter to the dinner hours in our home, which means it has been worth its weight in GOLD, because there is no money amount I wouldn’t give for JOY.

As hilarious as it’s all been, it has been increasingly disheartening to me. “It’s worth it’s weight in gold for laughter but not so much for other reasons. I’m neverrrrr getting marriiiieeedd.” is a pitiful wail followed by hilarious laughter among my girlfriends and family friends as they hear about various conversations.

Never has it been more apparent to me than the moments spent scrolling through these dating profiles that the truth is: I do not match up to what most young American men are looking for. There is a sad heaviness every time I see a profile bio wanting a fitness and hiking wife to go on adventures with. I have to click past, which makes me want to cry occasionally, for I love adventures (girlfriend went to 3 countries this year, take me to ALL THE PLACES) and I love hiking and I love traveling.

I just also love breathing. 

I get it though. With sad tears in my eyes many days I have softly whispered to my parents “I get it. I mean, why would you want to take this on? It’s scary and it isn’t easy.” 

A few days ago a friend joked about me being frail. The friend wasn’t wrong in a way, I can be prone to getting hurt at photoshoots (oh look my knee is bleeding, ah, well), I had bruises on my leg for weeks after I didn’t quite clear a cement planter in China in a run and everyone tsk-ed at me. But I’m not frail. I’m active and brave and strong. I might be temporarily sidelined due to an impossibly frustrating illness, but I’m not frail. 

Some days I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself in amazement because I know better than anyone how dang brave I am and how dang much I went through.

I made it.

I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China twice and (taken a picture with the sign warning cardiac people not to), I’ve hiked the bluff trails at Bondi & Bronte in Australia twice, I walked all across Sydney, I climbed rocks and hills in Bondi and Busan, South Korea, I hiked wee little hikes in the Blue Mountains, I walked the beaches of Gerringong. I pumped up and down stairs 30x’s a day for 6 months in China and got the calves to prove it. I helped lift children that were half my size, held children all day long, raised them up, held them close, and often worked holding a toddler on one hip and a camera in the other hand.

I was often breathless and in pain. But oh, I worked so so so hard to keep going.

If you’re looking for a brave adventurer, you’re looking straight at one and not seeing her.

My worth is set not in my health or my future. My worth is set in Christ.

It has taken many long days to preach to myself what I know to be true in these past 2 years. That my worth is set not in my health or my future. My worth has been set since the day God created me as an image bearer of God, a co-heir of Christ, and a daughter of the Most High God.

Health cannot nor can ever take that from me.

Air can be stolen from my lungs. Pain can fill every part of my body. Nothing can be safe to eat.

But God will never allow my inheritance to be taken away or my soul to be moved. He is unchanging. Everything He has promised will always be true. Nothing He promises me will ever come undone.

He has promised me that I am His (Ephesians 1), and that my worth is set in Him.

And so “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him.” – Philippians 3:8-9

The doctors say it could take 3 months to 6 months to a year to regain my body back from toxicity. It’s been 4 months that I’ve been home, and I’m not there yet. I remind myself that the hope is there that I will one day be myself again, but I do not rest there.

“…that no one be moved by these afflictions…For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you before hand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know….our labor is not in vain.” 1 Thess. 3: 3-4, 5

Instead I look at the pictures of the children I love so much and I look to Jesus. And I count my toxicity as gain because I went to China expecting to serve Jesus and instead began to love Him in a new way, all over again, and trust Him like I never have before.

I thought Jesus gave me China as a gift. Instead Jesus brought me to China to bring me to Himself. Toxicity is a small footnote to relearning the heart of the Savior I love more than life.

Nothing could be worth more to me than knowing Christ. Not even my health. Not even marriage. Not even a thousand dating profiles where I don’t measure up.

We are promised Jesus in this life; we are promised healing in the next.

It’s my parent’s fault for teaching me what generously taking care of those you love looks like. My mother had migraines since I was a child, and we would often go to the chiropractor  because it was the only way the pain could be relieved. Daddy paid every bill out of his work checks, with insurance or without. Mama always reminded me to eat even when I don’t want to spend the money, has taken me to doctor appointments and been the best Mother since I was a baby, she’s always taken care of me. She keeps us alive with her meals and her laughter. My sister has listened to hours of symptoms and helped figure things out. And I can’t tell you how many days Dad has told us to “get a little something before you get on the road” or “I hope you have an amazing time out” or “we will go back to the doctor and figure this out.”

We’ve all sat through so many doctor appointments with fear on our hearts and tightly held hands and tears in our eyes. We’ve been through too much to think we are promised easy years of health. Hours of prayers uttered over meals for each other’s illnesses and ailments has reminded us over and over again that we stand upon the promises of God and trust Him through every trial and pain, and that He has good for us. He is both Savior and Healer.

“You know that you have truly come through a season of testing without the stench of smoke when you can say; “It was good for me to be afflicted” (Psalm 119:71) I didn’t think I would ever get here, but I have. God’s ways are so mysterious, and God is so faithful.” – Christine Caine

We are promised Jesus and His presence in this life. We get healing and everything He’s ever promised us in the next. We will not be in need, because He gives us all we will need.

So how does this apply and change how you look at dating and marriage?
I’ve been crying over the answer for weeks now, for the best reasons….

A Good Man will stay. 

A good man will not look at you and see years of medical bills to pay or long hours in hospital rooms or doctor’s waiting rooms and an uncertain future and decide you’re not worth it.

A good man will look at you and hurt that his bride hurts. He will look at you with the eyes of Jesus, in the light of the Gospel, and he will not waver to love you through it, in it, in spite of it. He will weep with you, mourn with you, encourage you and fight for you. He will prayerfully hold your hand and think you’re radiant even in sickness.

I’ve watched husbands (and wives for husbands!) for my entire lifetime tirelessly and tenderly care for their wives, in and out of scary, frustrating days of no diagnosis and hard surgeries and years of pain medications and dietary restrictions and hours of doctor appointments with no good news. I’ve watched husbands do dishes and laundry and all the housework as well as the outdoor work and confidently take care of the children while their love struggles to recover or fades from this life to the next.

I’ve watched husbands take on a second job to pay for their wives’ treatment and cancel dates in the middle of dates to rush their sick wifey home on a moment’s notice.

I’ve watched men completely in love tenderly take my friends as wives in the middle of terminal cancer. I’ve watched them watch their love from across the room to make sure she isn’t close to fainting, and I’ve watched them weep as they say goodbye at the torn open grave.

This kind of love is self-sacrificial, tender, protective, God-given, Biblical love. It does not falter or fail in the end, though many frustrating days are in between. It lasts and lasts. It faithfully bears all things, believes, hopes, endures and perseveres. It does not let go. It stays rooted & grounded in Christ. It stands the test of time and looks beyond the grave.

I have been more blessed in my 30yrs probably than most have in this world to see so much faithfulness and good husbands and wives who love God and love their spouses and it has made me defiantly hopeful and determined to be that way in my own life.

Many people have no idea of the sickness that will face their spouse when they stand at the alter, but even at 30 years of age, mine will. You only need to take a scroll through my Instagram that has chronicled my real life or ask me about the last 6 months in China to know I’m not quite like everyone else.

By the time he promises to love me “in sickness and in health”, he will probably already have seen me struggling for air during hypertensive crisis with tears running down my face as I try to persuade my body to work, seen me sitting cross legged and shaking on any floor to breathe through a panic attack, seen pain cross my face as tachycardia causes chest pain and hits out of nowhere, seen me sit down suddenly in church to monitor my heart rate and take meds, watched me pore over ingredient lists so I don’t ruin someone’s party by going into an allergic reaction, and probably watched me hilariously glare at any passionfruit item for almost killing me that one time I tried some.

None of us know what our future holds for us, good and bad, but our God does, and He is the One that holds me firm and secure in His arms. That is what we will sing about on my wedding day (if I ever get married). That He is trustworthy when we can’t breathe. That the Life-Giver who flung stars billions of years deep into the night sky loves me and sees me.

And He bestows that loving gaze to some special people here on earth.

So if you’re wondering if someone could ever see past your diagnosis or long term illness.

Yes.

A man who looks at you with the gaze of Jesus will.

A good man will.

 

{image by Shannon Ashley Photography, Durdle Door, England, 2016}

Born to Taste Our Sadness

It wasn’t that long ago that I felt everything in my life was pretty stable. Then I reached out in a single amazing moment to move to China for my dream job: photographing for an orphanage and advocating for orphans. The Holy Spirit led me to just the right place for little old me. And then life got crazy crazy crazy busy in an instant. As I did last time I traveled to China, I asked God to prepare me for serving Him in another land, to break my heart for what broke His, and to prepare my heart for new China children.

Instead of a slow awakening like I expected, everything broke. Instantly.

The Breaking of a Heart  

Physically, I was stressed out of my mind on all I had to get done in just 4 months. I struggled with eating enough and getting away from work to regain some peace. Spiritually, I just kept praying that God would show me Himself as I literally ran towards China. Mentally? I’m laughing just thinking about it. And Emotionally? I’ve only continued to break, in more ways than even I thought could happen. God has softened my heart to the point of it bleeding for children I have yet to meet, and He has broken down walls I didn’t even know existed. It’s been humbling, and very obvious to those around me. I finally realized this is what I asked Him to do in breaking my heart and that has meant embracing that appearance of “weakness” instead of pretending I’m that strong wanderlust woman that hops on a plane and never stresses or cries or breaks.

At the beginning of December, I felt like my friends and I were limping into this Christmas. Along with my heart softening for China, I was mourning the extreme darkness that befalls so much of our world, a world aching without knowing Jesus. I was grieving the heavy injustices we have seen this year in America and across the globe. Weeping for the least of these and the lost and forgotten. Desperate for every orphan to be home. Desiring justice for so many torn apart families and broken hearted marriages. Dear friends suffering the loss of their children through miscarriages or sudden death, family members to suicides, car accidents, cancer, and the loss of building more memories together. Hard anniversaries. Parents declining. Depression kicking in. Dreams crushed. Need I go on? Our entire world aches with longing for relief.

And then on December 14th, R.C. Sproul, our beloved teacher, esteemed pastor, loving friend to so many and grandfather to my friends, died. It seemed impossible that we would outlast him, but in just 11 days after becoming sick, he went to live with the Savior He preached about his whole life and longed to see with his whole soul.

Any possible shred of emotional stability has been torn to pieces. Like the violent ripping of a rug from underneath our feet, my dear St. Andrews Chapel family has been deeply grieving, and I’ve been grieving along with them. Now not only limping into Christmas, we’re stumbling into this weekend with hearts so broken we don’t know how to live in the “holly jolly white wonderland we wish you a Merry Christmas spirit”. It’s foreign to us. Instead our texts are filled with tears and how much we just want to curl up and cry.

The Better Honor of Mourning

Here’s the honest truth. People who have all their crap together and all their Christmas gifts bought are not the people I’ve spent the last week crying with. Mourning with and supporting my friends was the better honor but I felt like a terrible family member for still not having my gifts together. Just thinking about it makes me cry. I am so so so tired.

I spent most of last week driving back and forth from being with “my people” while we mourned together, worked together, walked together, laughed together, prayed together, stood in silence together, and cried together. It’s been exhausting, and it’s been worth it. 

I am of the fierce conviction that when Christ calls us to live like a Christian in Romans 12, it is not a mistake that “weep with those who weep” comes just a few short sentences after “cling to what is good”, “loving one another”, “rejoicing in hope”, “continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints” (Romans 12:9, 12, 13, 15).

Mourning, is a gift. Weeping in sorrow is a gift. Joining as a church to grieve is a gift.

We are not broken for nothing. We have been broken in love, and we are beautiful in it. 

Jesus stood at the tomb of Lazarus knowing He would raise him to life again and yet He wept deeply. He groaned with deep agony. Those standing nearby said “See how He loved him!” (John 11). His tears were not shed in unbelief and they were not hopeless but neither were they not sad. Jesus was weeping in sadness, and so we can also weep without shame. Mourning is a testament to loving deeply, and oh, have we loved deeply.

So on that note, I want to offer three things I’ve been thinking upon this advent season:

1. Don’t Try to Fix Your Grief

I was washing sand off my feet today after a beach walk with my dear family, when all this hit me and how important it was. My friends who are grieving so deeply, we’re all just trying to make it to Christmas and the New Year, and I’m not even kidding. I get in my car and I cry all the way to my destination, wipe my mascara, get out and see my people, cry, get back in the car and cry all the way home. Everything hurts, everything is broken. Every day is a struggle. We can’t stop crying. We laugh about how much we’re crying. Last night I spilled cooked potato on my lap and burst into tears. I hear a line in a Christmas hymn and burst into tears. I looked at a Diet Coke and tears welled up. We’ve sobbed for weeks. Last night I thought I’d almost made it….but no, the tears came afresh.

We tag each other in “barely making it” memes and laugh together and it’s a really GOOD thing. We’re in this together and rarely have I more felt the “worldwide church” band together to grieve than this past week. Grieving is so lonely, but we aren’t alone. We’re praying for the Sprouls and all the hidden needs among us that a few know but many don’t. And not once have we told each other that something small that is hurting us “doesn’t matter”. We’ve sat in the hurt and in the grief and we haven’t tried to fix it.

And honestly I’m wondering why we do grief so wrong so often when it looks so God-honoring when we do it right. 

Why do we expect each other to stop weeping after a few weeks instead of continually seeking an intimate presence of a Jesus-like heart for the pain in this world? Jesus wept KNOWING what we could never imagine would happen. For who would expect the dead to rise? Jesus, Who would One Day make all things new and knew He would reign over all injustice was standing outside the grave of His friend, feeling the agony of death and His response was to burst into tears. He sobbed. He felt great pain. He wept openly. 

Don’t try to fix your grief this Christmas. You are like your Savior in your mourning. Believe in the hope of the resurrection promised, believe that Jesus will crush death, and weep in your sadness, for in it, you are like your Savior. He calls you to come to Him with your tears. He does not chastise us for weeping them; He reminds us He sees us and knows our pain. Jesus came to taste our sadness, and to bear our every pain and grief.

“Jesus wept not because He lacked faith, but because He was full of love. In love, He weeps with those who weep…Jesus wept. And in these tears we see that God does not stand aloof to the pains of our existence. He has drawn near. He has taken our flesh and blood. He has not called us to a humanity that He himself was unwilling to take. We have not been abandoned to a  world into which He was unwilling to enter. We suffer no pain He was unwilling to bear. We have no grief He was unwilling to carry. 

The very heart of the Christian message is that the happy God so loved our weeping world that He gave His own Son to weep with us, all the way to the place of utter forsakenness, that whosoever believes in Him will not weep forever, but have everlasting joy. 

And one day, when He wipes away our every tear, it is not because He is suppressing our sadness. The One Who wipes away our tears has shed His own. And He has triumphed. 

This is our gospel in two words: Jesus wept.” – David Mathis 

“A Jesus who never wept could never wipe away my tears.” – C.H. Spurgeon

But Jesus did weep. And in his humanity, He came to bear what we could not. Indeed, Jesus has been carrying our sadness all our lives. He can bear every sadness we’ve ever known or will ever know. He was born to taste our sadness, and He was born to defeat and triumph over all that breaks us in our world. He came so that when Isaiah says “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”, we would know that it was true because Jesus felt our deepest human pain more than we could imagine.

2. Don’t Lose Sight of Jesus

Lately I’ve been praying that we would see the beauty of Jesus in the darkness. It’s 3 days until Christmas and in all the pain and exhaustion I keep thinking that this is the same world Jesus was born into. A war zone. Injustice. Slavery. Broken families. Children dying. Tyrants for kings. It comforts me that this doesn’t shock God, and it makes me cry to remember that the Jesus we sing about in Christmas hymns didn’t come to make this dark world beautiful. He came to defeat Satan’s temporary hold and bring us an eternal holy life that could not be broken by sin ever again. He came to be our light and peace.

“O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save, and give them victory over the grave.” 

The baby cry that rang out that one dark night broke generations of silence. He would grow up to tell us that our sadness will not last and He would triumph over it by His death and resurrection. That one dark night when angels filled the skies because the King had a heavenly choir exulting over His arrival and wonder in what He would do. That one dark night that changed our darkness forever with the long-expected and awaited Light of the World.

“the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” (Matthew 4:16)

That one dark night would bring another dark day with a cross, long agonizing nights of weeping, then would be broken by a brilliant earth-splitting morning. We are led in our valleys of darkness by the One Who promises to never leave us or forsake us. The darkness is not darkness to Him, and His sovereign hand will not let us go.

“Even there (in the depths of the sea), Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,” even the night shall be light about me; Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day; the darkness and the light are both alike to You.” – Psalm 139:10-12

I know He will never allow His light within me to go out, for darkness cannot stay where Jesus is. “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in Me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) We may be in darkness now, but He is our Light in it.

Don’t lose sight of Jesus. Look to the promised morning. He is coming back for us.

3. Don’t lose sight of Who You were called to proclaim

Christmas can be lonely. In a world where everyone seems to have their lives together, it feels alienating that ours feel so broken and like they are constantly falling apart. Embrace it. BE in it. And preach the Gospel. Our world doesn’t need one more “Everything is Awesome” Insta-grammer who looks like a model 24/7. Our world needs more people weeping in church pews for the littlest lovely thing that reminds us of Jesus. Our world needs more grieving people walking to the graveside and proclaiming the coming morning of resurrection. Our world needs more aching souls seeing the injustice of the world and calling out what would have enraged our Lord of Compassion and Justice. Our world needs to see that we can sit in the sadness of hurt, the darkness of depression, the longing for healing from chronic illnesses, the grief over sin, and not be okay with it.

We were not born to save ourselves. It’s a good thing because we aren’t any good at it. 

We need a Savior, and we need one badly. To portray ourselves as all-sufficient is a sin and an injustice to a world who can and never will “make it”. We are barely making it.

So let go of it. Instead preach the saving work and all-sufficiency of Jesus to a dying world. 

We are broken vessels that God uses to shine His light through, and I believe that when God uses that metaphor it isn’t meant for us to try to glue ourselves together with the “self-help hope that tomorrow will be better”, but to look to a healing that will not come from within ourselves. We need Jesus. Must we believe it is bad to be so very broken?

How else would we preach the need of Jesus to a broken world? How else would we ever see our great need? We are not “less” in our suffering, indeed the Bible reminds us that we are “blessed” in it, and that God intends to use our “weakness” to proclaim His glory.

I have been broken by God’s hand and it is a beautiful thing in His sight. I will rest in it.

I am coming weeping into the last days of Advent. I am proclaiming the joy of the Christ child coming one dark night and anticipating the most glorious Heavenly morning because of it. The weight of sadness is heavy and so every joyful proclamation of all that Jesus will do causes me to yearn in my brokenness and to weep with wonder and expectation. Emmanuel, God with us. Born that man no more may die. Our Joy secure.

“Because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven,
to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

 

The Article that Won’t Make You Feel Good

This article won’t make you feel good. It won’t make you feel shimmery and like you’ve done everything right as a Christian and it won’t make me look perfect and like a theological star. I realize as I write it that the Christian camps won’t like it. But I’m still writing it down anyways, because when I am moved like this, it usually means something. I wrote the two friends tonight who would get it, told them just that, and one wrote back immediately and said “I think that means you have to write it.” 

… and deal with the unlikeness of it all to reach towards what I want to be true of me and  seeking to look more like Jesus in all the parts of me that need Him most.

Our open sins aren’t worse than our hidden ones

I’m deeply sinful. Incredibly. More than you even know. I haven’t always approached this subject with grace nor have I loved like I should and I definitely haven’t loved as Jesus would have loved. I jumped on a political train and gave the groups that didn’t look like me a very wide berth. Some days I still struggle to overcome the old feelings of awkwardness and wanting to be oh so very very comfortable with how superior I am with my hidden sins.

Then I saw myself in them the night #Pulse happened. And I heard Jesus speaking to me that He loved me.

And I saw my Pharisee heart for what it was. Ugly and full of sin that no one could see and how I had been blind to those hurting all around me. It broke me. Since then, despite  my awkwardness in feeling completely not knowing how to approach those in this group but I was darned if I wasn’t going to give it a go anyways.

Identities shouldn’t define worth

I’ll never forget the moment I realize how tremendous a shift #Pulse had been for me until that day in the Trader Joe’s grocery line. I was absentmindedly people-watching those around me while I waited for my turn to check out. It wasn’t that busy, and my mind was on other things but I noticed the piercings and the tattoos of the cashier man. He was carrying on a normal day conversation with the lady in front of me; he laughingly waved his hands in a feminine gesture and a faked lisp, and wore a rainbow #Pulse pin, if I remember correctly. Everything about him projected “gay” and “proud”.

I checked behind me sensing there was someone there, and when I turned, my smile faded. There was a lady with a large cross hanging around her neck and a stern glare on her face, aimed directly at the cashier. Her face was furious judgement, and my mind raced trying to figure out how on earth she could be so angry when she hadn’t even interacted with him yet. She huffed and glared at him and fingered her cross and muttered about finding “someone ELSE to check me out”.

If you know me at all, you know that I can go from 0 to 900 in under 2 seconds. My blood pressure shot through the roof and my eyes widened as I tried to process how to react. Tears filled my eyes in an emotion that before Pulse would never have crossed my heart.

Instant. Sisterly. Protection.

I didn’t have a cross around my neck but that didn’t mean Jesus didn’t see this moment. Right now. The whole world could have been watching but all I saw was someone who was going to be hurt in the next 5 minutes and I wasn’t going to have any of it.

I don’t even remember what I said to him, I’m pretty sure it was something about liking his shirt, and maybe something about how much I loved the cookies I was buying. He may as well have been my long lost cousin for my shining eyes that screamed “Remember this not the look in the eyes of the woman coming after me”. He was gentle and sweet and I left with a grateful heart that I’d met him.

He was important to me. I saw a man who could be my brother and I wanted the very best love I could find for him, and it wasn’t the cross fiddling judgement behind me but the bleeding Savior Jesus that hung on that cross for that cashier to know a God who could save Him and who saved me, and maybe who saved her too.

Jesus, the One Who makes blinded eyes to see.

I’m always amazed by the ways that God continues to show me how to love deeper, better, more like Himself, and how it doesn’t look at all like me. Why is it so hard to love like Jesus? Well, I will tell you. Because it goes against all our pride. Tonight as a gay barista made my coffee and extended a good evening wish as I waved out the door, this all came to my mind:

The LBGTQ among us need extra kindness because they’re blind to a deep sin in their lives that we aren’t struggling with and we can pray for them better than they can themselves. 

We aren’t in the thick of fighting against who God made us to be. Or maybe we are, and we know how deep and conflicting and interwoven those sins are in the dead of night. Maybe we are Christians and struggle deeply with our LBGTQ feelings and are weeping from loneliness.

Certainly we know how dark our sin went as we fought to be the king of our lives without Jesus before we surrendered and how some days we see the product of that in the most awful ways. Maybe we’re just hoping to be on the right side of history or the right side of our political party or don’t want to “give too much grace” because then they’ll think it’s just fine.

None of our sin is just fine. Beginning with mine. 

Do I think they are struggling with unrepentant sin? Do I think they are blind to how deep and dark it goes? Yes and yes. I also believe those describe me. If we’re honest with ourselves, we all know we have sins that run deeper than anyone knows and look to Jesus to save us from them. My hidden sins and their hidden sins are both exposed to the eyes of the God that sees everything.

And so I pray that God will open their blinded eyes to see. And that as He does so, that He will open my eyes too. I pray with grieved tears in my eyes that when those who see my open sins that I’m blind to will pray deeply for me with the same fervent Jesus-given-sibling-love that I feel when I see them.

We are family living in a broken world of sin. We are none of us righteous. We have no stage to stand upon. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. So how can I be different? How can I stand on the truth and also stand against the angry hatred that they go through so often?

I can let go of all my pride, remember the Savior Who leads me, and reach out with a compassionate and kind heart that sees them for who they are: an aching soul just like me who needs Jesus just as much as me.

And that’s a lot. Oh, Jesus, how we need You. Make the blinded eyes to see.

Remind us of who we are and who we aren’t. We aren’t You, because only You could die in agony on a cross to make us Yours and only You could teach us our identity lies in You. 

Only You could tell us our worth can’t ever change because we are Your image-bearers.

Only You could create us perfectly in the womb, and Only You could open our eyes to believe in You.

Only You could be the best Love we could ever find from the start to the end of time.

Only You. 

The Sexual Harassment Wounds We Hide

A few years ago I was at a Christmas party, sitting with a few girls on a couch. When one of the girls got up to get some more punch and a tight spot was left empty beside me, a well dressed acquaintance filled it. He put his arm behind my shoulders, and his hand rested on my right shoulder as he leaned in and commented on my sweater. I froze completely.

I got up and left the room, only for him to find me 10 minutes later and back me up against a closet door and invade personal space I didn’t know I had. I was trying to be polite, so polite, was my face okay? was my sweater okay? how close was I to the kitchen? Oh, nod, yes, mhmm. Lock eyes with someone. “Rescue me.” I fled again, this time into the kitchen with the excuse I needed to help out the hostess.

By this time I’d told someone to keep him away from me. The third time (that same night), he came up so close to me that I backed up in panic. A friend’s arm shot out in instinctive protection to hold my back because in my panic to back away, I almost went backwards down a flight of 12 stairs onto a tile floor. The gut wrenching red-flag alarms God gave us to keep us safe from danger were all going off on high alert. I still think to this day of something I should have said. But I didn’t. 

The Silence that Holds Us

I’ve been keeping up with the recent Weinstein Scandal and tonight I had the most revealing conversation with a good friend, which then turned into a 1 hour conversation with my Mom, and conversations with three different women (in the next half hour) who had been sexually harassed. The more we talked, the less I felt comfortable letting it go as if I’d never been talking about it. Simultaneously, I felt extreme protection over these women and a fierce desire to keep their anonymity.

I have 10 such stories as I’ve written above, different in their own ways, some unwanted touch, some harassment, some emotional and verbal abuse, and some clear violation of my wishes in conversations as well in personal space. The more I talk about it, the more I remember memories that have been filed away in my brain as “traumatic” because they were trauma at the time. It’s so odd, because they were “small things”, but still stick in my mind as a time when I felt scared or threatened or vulnerable or violated.

Just one conversation tonight had me in tears. A young friend was touched when she was nine while playing hide & go seek. NINE. Another friend has multiple memories that still affect her of guys coming up behind her and grabbing her shoulders. Last year a guy grabbed my wrist and I almost slapped him out of sheer fight instinct because my first thought is “What if he doesn’t let go?” Another interaction this year left me feeling so vulnerable and threatened and shattered that I was hysterically sobbing unable to speak for 30 minutes. I cried the rest of the day.

And so the silence holds us. It hears our sobs and whispers to us that this is a safe place.

But it isn’t. 

The Silence Cannot Rescue Us or Heal Us

Once upon a time, a man in our church told me that my “flight” instinct from any painful or scary situation kept me from fixing problems or relationships. I cried because YES. I always want to run. But even if you’re in a crowd of friends, you can still be looked over, looked down on and talked about like you’re a painting they made themselves.

The silence will tell you that everyone will tell you you’re being “too sensitive”, that “he would never hurt you”, that “that’s just how he is” and “what did you say to him?”. Some will. But if you have good friends, some will leap to your protection, some will tell him to back off, some will counsel you and hug you, and some will not leave your side. Silence may hold you but it cannot rescue you and it cannot heal you. It cannot save you.

It’s easy to say “Tell someone!” when my own life/job/social standing isn’t on the line. When I’m not being stalked by an obsessive, relentless and dirty mouthed stalker. I’ve just been the friend collecting evidence for a lawsuit that won’t happen until there is physical abuse. I’ve just been the friend gripping hands tightly with a friend as tears stood in her eyes as she shared.

About ten years, I got a message from one of my best friends telling me that she’d been raped. I went running and just remember having to stop by this tree because I was going to pass out because I was sobbing so hard. I almost threw up I was so shattered for her. The pain and injustice she underwent is beyond what I can imagine and I hate it.

I’ve never been raped or molested.

I’ve only grieved. I’ve grieved that so many men in our world look at a woman and instead of seeing a beautiful, precious, tender being that God created, they see a soul to extort, distort, hunt and destroy that gentle joy and innocence. It breaks my heart, and I know it breaks yours. We all have been the women holding our friends, or the women speaking with a catch in our throats as we share something too horrible for words.

And so you’re probably wondering why I’m writing this at all. It all boils down to this:

You Matter in our World and to the God Who Made You

I’m talking about this, about you, because it’s important that you know there are safe spaces to talk about this, that what you felt and suffered is important, and that YOU. ARE. IMPORTANT. You matter! You matter so deeply.

I don’t care if you were wearing a bikini. I don’t care if you had more than one cocktail.
I don’t care about the million excuses our society tells you that you deserved it.

you. didn’t.

Your experience or attack doesn’t make you someone you are not. What a man or woman sinned against you is not your sin. Your memories will tell you it’s your fault. It isn’t. 

And in a world that doesn’t talk about it enough….what happened to you was not right. It was wrong and it is heartbreaking and I long for the day when you are healed from it.

In the meantime, remind to your heart that you matter deeply, and the reasons that you matter will never ever be altered or affected by whether a man laid his hands on you and hurt you. You matter because YOU are a beloved child of God, YOU are made like Him.

The God Who SEES You

The whole world would be in an uproar if a member of royalty was sexually assaulted, and what you have yet to understand fully is that you ARE royalty to the God Who made you. We are invisible royalty with our promised awaiting crowns and thrones seated next to our Father King. Mankind with blinded eyes cannot see this, but we know it.

In your trauma and in your pain and in your silence and in your agony, you are SEEN.

When you stood there with your dress torn and tears on your face and you had to stand at the hospital while they scraped underneath your fingernails and took pictures for evidence and then gave you no justice after you reported it to the police, God saw you.

When you were little hiding in the closet because you were scared and didn’t want to mess up by telling on someone when someone bigger hurt you, God saw you.

When you were sitting in the group of well-meaning-but-poorly-spoken Christian women at your church and someone dropped the comment: “If you dress like that, expect to be raped.” and “this is why modesty is important, to keep our men pure” or “if men lust after you, you need to repent because it’s your fault”, God saw you and your tears.

When you waited for rescue and none came and you bore the words, God saw you.

When you struggled to get away or woke up the next morning bloody, God saw you.

And He is the God of Justice. And He will not stay silent. 

The God Who created you will not stand for injustice against the most beautiful and precious and beloved thing He ever created. Such deep sin would never go unpunished, would never go unseen, would never be inconsequential to such a loving Father as He.

We can trust that when He promises to judge the wicked, that He WILL.

We can trust the God of the Bible, the Jesus Who crossed ALL the racial and societal boundaries while walking our earth to SEE women for who they were, and LOVE them. To the whore, to the shunned women, to the adulteress, He spoke to them where they were and called them to Himself. He threw off their shame. He crowned them with love.

Believe that He is that for you. He is the Rescuer. He is the Judge. He is the Redeemer.

Look for the men spoken of in this quote by Desiring God: “Men with gospel-filled souls won’t see women as things to manipulate or control but as treasures to honor and guard.” 

I know men who wouldn’t dare disrespect a women by touching her. I suspect I know men who would, and who see women as dirty things to use. And God sees them all. 

You are worth protecting

I told my friend tonight that I had no idea how to tie up this article, and 1800 words later, it’s still true. I just wanted to give some respectful space to sharing about this hard thing we keep in our wounded bodies and in silence. I wish silence wouldn’t hold us in so well.

I wanted you to know that you can find safe people to talk about it, and I wanted to tell you that I don’t care if you’re in the strictest church ever, immediately call the police. If your family believes that you are made in the image of God, they’ll want you to be safe and secure. Tell someone you trust and if they do nothing, find someone new.

You are worth protecting. You are worth everything. 

Tell that man or woman to back off. Voice your concerns. Listen to your warning bells.
If something feels wrong: say something. It’s hard but I’ve done it many times.

Let’s be each other’s safety. Let’s be each other’s bravery. Let’s look at each other with the eyes that God gave us and see each other as the beautiful, made-in-God’s-image people we are. Let’s speak out in peaceful voices and tender hearts and let’s be gentle to one another. Let’s pull one another in to be safe places for the wounded to heal.

And please everyone read this article on sexual harassment: “That Time I Danced Too Close” by Rachael Watson. It’s honestly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic, and was so moved I wrote this article! I couldn’t even come close to her words. So good.

As I close, I just want to say how proud I am and how much I pray for my friends who have undergone numerous sexual harassments and rape. You are in my heart. The ways you show grace and forgiveness and the way you bravely live in joy and friendship makes me look for ways I can exemplify you and can also be Jesus to a broken world.

I love you. 

I’m a white Southerner who gave up the Confederacy for my friends.

Let me just start by saying I’ve re-written the title to this post a hundred different ways and all of them have scared me out of writing this article. It’s such a massively huge topic and I’m so…..white. And so so so late to the conversation. And so don’t have a clue to the decades of hurt and what racism feels like. I can’t go back and re-write history and I can’t undo the past. But I can tell you what right now looks like to me. This is my heart right now.

I went to my Dad twice during the writing of this article to make sure he knew I’d always love and treasure my family, and to make sure he wouldn’t be disappointed in me (he wasn’t). If a topic is a multi-hour teary and passionate conversation with my parents in the kitchen, then I absolutely believe it’s worth writing about here. I believe God has laid it on my heart for a reason, and that it’s important to share, no matter how hard.

Bear with me and please know that you, you reading this!, matter deeply to me.

I’m a white Southerner who gave up the Confederacy for my friends.

What a header, right? Let me explain. Growing up, my sister and I adored the South. We grew up in Florida, and had a Yankee mother from Ohio with generations of pacifism in their bloodlines, and a Southern daddy from Georgia with generations of fighters since the minute we landed in America. Those Fambroughs have fought in nearly every war up until my generation. Which means a lot of my patriarchal history is Confederate. I didn’t know them. I just know my grandparents and my parents weren’t racist and that was good enough for me.

I remember the first time a friend called me a racist for being a Southerner, I went to the bathroom and sobbed for 10 mins. When the friend’s sister found me, I was crying out: “That’s not how I see it. I didn’t mean it that way. I’m not racist. I love your little brother.”

I was so wounded that he thought that of me. Now I’m wounded that my pride had blinded me for so long. Growing up, I always was a bit disgruntled that the Daddy I idolized didn’t like the Confederacy so much. After all, it was his heritage.

He would quietly and wisely say: “The flag doesn’t mean what you think it means. The South stood for states rights but it also stood for slavery, and slavery goes against the very heart of the Gospel of Christ.” He is a man who doesn’t let politics in the way of Jesus.

The flag might have stood for something beautiful in the beginning, but it ended up being a symbol of pride for a world living off the profits of slavery. Seeing it means fear for my friends of color. It means that we may have valued our people a lot but we didn’t value them enough to set them free. It reminds my friends of color that their families were torn apart, killed, and sold. It reminds my friends of color of pain. It reminds them that we didn’t see them as people. It means war and it means slavery.

The historical South was beautiful for our white families. It was not for our black families. And that breaks my heart into a million and one pieces today.

The Sin and Stain of Slavery existed in my own heritage.

I know somewhere back there we owned slaves. It’s in the pictures.

And growing up I believed that states rights were a good enough reason for the South to have won. And I believe the South had some really good Christian leaders and some really dang good points. But slavery wasn’t one of them. As a Bible believing Christian, I believe slavery is one of the ugliest sins we can commit against each other, and it grieves me to think that my family followed a societal norm and owned slaves. I didn’t know those family members; I can’t say I’m ashamed of them. I can say I wish I could say we never ever would have done such a terrible thing.

I can say if someone ever came to me (there are lots of African American Fambroughs out there) and said their family was owned by mine, I would probably sob for months. I’d want to give them everything. And hold them in my arms for a really long time.

A few years ago, I wouldn’t have ever ever ever said this in public, and honestly, writing it all out right now and anticipating the feedback (and disappointment) I’m going to get from my friends who love the Confederacy makes me so nauseous I’m sick right now.

I’m not out to make enemies, honest. But I’m also not going to stay quiet about this.

The transfiguring moment I saw my friend instead of a cause.

Because a few years ago, I started really listening to my friends of color. I heard their tears as people were shot in the street a few blocks from their home. A town near us was almost ripped in half after a shooting. It is still deeply segregated.

One of my friends wrote the sentence one night that the man killed in her town could have been her husband. And my heart stopped. I’d been to their wedding. One white girl who could not dance, laughingly pulled in with two of her aunties to dance with all of them in celebration. I couldn’t imagine it being her husband. I couldn’t imagine it being her cousin. I couldn’t imagine it being her son. I couldn’t imagine it being all my friends of color I’ve loved so very much getting to know.

Suddenly I saw deep grief and pain. I saw the green grass torn open for all the caskets and how loss comes to us all: rich and poor, black and white, and the hearts that are torn open along with it. Grief is grief, and my eyes were opened to the racism in my country.

I saw my friends instead of a political statement, and it broke my heart. 

And I started REALLY listening.  I threw the “Us vs Them” rhetoric out the window as much as possible. I started ignoring labels as much as I could. I quit looking for political reasons or explanations and started looking for ways to see Jesus in others not like me and I asked hard questions of my friends. I traveled internationally. I saw outside of a white America and it struck me how not that great we were. I saw beautiful people from many cultures and I wanted them all to know Jesus and to never doubt His love.

And to never doubt God’s love because of something I said or did.

I’ll never forget the moment it woke me up.
It hit me like a rip current and dragged me out to sea of never going back.

I looked at all of history under the light of God’s kingdom, and I suddenly realized if I had to choose between loving and being FOR my friends of color in modern day America, OR romanticizing the Confederacy …. I was 1 million percent going to choose the one that mattered, and it wasn’t a dead war and policy. 

It was going to be my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Because I love them more than I could ever love a history where my forefathers sinned against the image of God (and yes, that goes back a lot further than 1861). And I love my brothers and sisters of color and want friendships and peace and unity with them more than I want monuments in the square (that will crumble into dust one day, and oh hey, Robert E. Lee didn’t even want them in the first place and asked not to have monuments made of himself), and more than I want people to tell me how wonderful it was that so many Fambroughs were so committed to the Southern legacy.

Statues aren’t worth more than my friends. Period. End of story. They’re made of stone and dust and they aren’t God’s beloved children and those statues won’t be in Heaven with me.

The Confederacy no longer mattered to me. Y’all. Y’all, listen. In light of a perfect redemptive history and the most beautiful Kingdom God is building and redeeming from our blood spilled lands, how could the Confederacy matter more to me than the precious ones who will be filling the throne room with me? And why would I let it when that’s a choice I can make?

This doesn’t mean I have to hate my family; I’ll always love my family’s history. I will always love my family and seek to understand and know more about them. But that doesn’t mean I should or will condone evil and sin committed in the hearts of men. And it definitely doesn’t mean I need to flaunt my family’s history when it was wrong. When I’m tempted to argue that my family members were all heroes and that they loved their slaves, I’m not believing or portraying the Gospel. We are all a little racist somewhere, and I’m praying God shows me the places where I am.

Slavery is wrong. But the fall of the South did not kill racism. It couldn’t. Only the Gospel can kill the sin of racism. And that is the Gospel we must preach. 

Let go of a prideful past built on physical bloodlines.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” – Galatians 5:13

We cannot as Bible believing Christians, stand for slavery, which means we cannot revel or glory in a history (that could repeat itself) that promotes it. We cannot stand for racism. Or white supremacy. We cannot. We cannot. We cannot.

We cannot choose our family’s history over Jesus.

If we’re going to die on a hill for a cause, let it look like Calvary and like Jesus and
not like our own self built kingdoms that we treasure more than the one He died to bring us and to bring us into. 

We cannot choose our physical bloodlines against the blood spilled from the side of Christ for the freedom from sin for the nations. 

We cannot choose politics and a kingdom quickly fading instead of Jesus and His Kingdom that calls the nations to Himself and is building an all-racial church.

We cannot choose to be on the wrong side of this issue yet again when churches have been given the option so many times and chosen the wrong one. Choose Biblically.

Condemning racism and proclaiming our fellow citizenship with our brothers and sisters of all races should easily go hand in hand, but it hasn’t. And I haven’t done it well. To the people in the back who I’ve been racist to or spoken poorly to, please, PLEASE forgive me. I’m grieved, deeply grieved, by America in our current state and actions, and yet see that me carrying years of a romanticized Civil War may have hurt you deeply.

I renounce any and all white supremacy and have repented deeply to God for any ways I represented that. And yes, I swiftly gave up the Confederacy for my friends of color. 

But that doesn’t make me a hero. That makes me a convicted Christian who realized I wasn’t portraying Jesus as the Jewish Savior Who leveled the ground at the foot of the cross and called every slave free and Jews and Greeks equals {Colossians 3:11}. It doesn’t make me understand any better the generations of agony my friends of color have suffered at white hands.

It still means I’m white, and it still means a lot of days I feel the heavy guilt of my white privilege. But I hope saying this opens the doors to deeper friendships between us, and I hope you’ll continue to teach me what Jesus means to you as I share what Jesus means to me, and I rejoice that one day the guilt and shame that we carry around will be shed and we will join hands and voices as one proclaiming Christ as our King.

“For You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood. Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:9

“EVERY nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb…” – Revelation 7:9

Choose Jesus and His Kingdom Cause.

Choose Jesus and You get to be a bearer of the love He sees in His beautifully made image-bearing people. Choose anything over Jesus and you lose that privilege.

Our God and Creator and King doesn’t share His Kingship with anyone; neither does He smile upon those whose words speak against His heart for the nations. The nations don’t always look like China or Korea or Guatemala. The nations are also your African American brothers and sisters and your friends of color who live in your world and hear your words.

Jesus, help us. Jesus, forgive us. 

I want my legacy to be that I chose Jesus over everything the world offered. I want my legacy to be loving my family, yes, but I want my greater legacy to be loving our bigger family full of those that don’t look like me. I want my legacy to be loving Jesus’s family.

Just like He loves me. Even me, a white Southerner who gave up the Confederacy for a greater Kingdom that calls everyone who trusts in the King “Beloved Son and Daughter”.

Glory, glory, glory. 

“All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
and shall glorify Your name. For You are great, and do wondrous things; You alone are God.” – Psalm 86: 9-10

Home & Hope: Words from Dunkirk

Tonight my Dad and I went to see Dunkirk in theaters. I’d been giddily anticipating its release since I first heard of its making, and since my favorite movies are war movies, I also anticipated that I’d be able to handle it.

I vastly overestimated myself and drastically underestimated how tense I would be for the whole movie. “Zimmer has done it again”, my Daddy whispered under his breath. My good friend sitting next to me laughed as he said: “Never let it be said a soundtrack doesn’t do anything!”. Thanks, Christopher Nolan, for pushing every “feeling” button I had.

The whole movie, you never get a break: you’re in the air, you’re on a ship, you’re surrounded by fire in the oil slick sea, you’re on the beach being picked off by fighter planes, you’re the captains with worry in their eyes, you’re the desperate soldier waiting for a boat, for anything really, to be rescued.

It’s gripping and devastating and with every minute you wonder if you’re still breathing.

Hans Zimmer put a clock into the soundtrack, a deadly undertone hum that instantly speeds up your heart rate and never lets you go in its intensity except for two times:  once in the next to final moment when they are safe, and the one that no one will forget….

The “victory” moment. 

You’ve been listening to roughly an hour and 20 minutes of never-ending, pounding, heart throbbing ticking and watching devastatingly raw footage, and the on-edge string ensemble continues to build and build and scrape and scrape…..at this point you’ve actually started to get upset at yourself for thinking that this movie was going to end happily. Everyone’s dying and so are you.

And then the captain on the pier sees something, and you can instantly tell he’s seen something he thought he’d never see. He asks for binoculars and his second in command asks tenuously: “What is it?” The Captain lowers the binoculars with tears in his eyes and says simply: “Home.”.

You see the fleet of civilian ships coming in. And the music that has been grating and grinding and scraping and building and tearing you into pieces shifts into the most beautiful melody you’ve ever heard. You could feel joy melt into that theater room.

Obviously, I began crying. But not because the ships were coming in. Not because they were rescued. Not because a movie had stirred me or hit me in all the feelings yet again.

In the stunning moment that the Captain saw the ships and said the word “Home”, my heart immediately replied “HOPE”, and as the music shifted from raw pain to astounding beauty, my heart instantly sang: “JESUS.”

“Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. This is you in my night of grief. This is You in all my pain. This is You in every ache of my heart. This is You in my agony. You are my Hope. You are so intensely beautiful and You are my song in the night.”

My Hope in the night. My Hope in my pain. My Hope in my distress. My Hope in my grief.
My Hope in my loss. My Hope in the fiery sea. My Hope amidst despair. My Hope always.

My Hope now and forever. 

The music lifted, swirled and I swear everyone in the theater let out a deep, relieved, too-moved-to-be-cheery sigh and began breathing at the word: “HOME”.

and tears streamed down my face: JESUS. 

Jesus, standing on the shore, calling me in from the stormy sea. Jesus, holding my hand on the rough waters. Jesus, pulling my gaze from the thousands of miles between me and someone I love. Jesus, reminding me I can trust Him with anything, even this. Jesus, holding me tight against His heart and never letting me go.

Jesus, the One in Whom Hope will never die, even when all seems so desperately lost.

The dark night may stretch for hours to months and on to years, but there is hope, there is a light, look up, there He is….parting the waves so the redeemed can cross over.

Emmanuel, God with us.

Home and Hope. 

“You answer us with awesome and righteous deeds, God our Savior, 
the HOPE of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas,
Who formed the mountains by Your power, having armed yourself with strength,
Who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.

The whole earth is filled with awe at Your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades, You call forth songs of joy.” 
– Psalm 65: 5-8

How #Pulse changed my heart overnight towards the LBGTQ Community

On a Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, at just before 2am, Omar Mateen parked his van outside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, walked in, and started shooting. At 2:02am, multiple shots were reported and 911 was called. Over the next 3.5 hours, 49 people would be killed and at least 53 wounded in the deadliest mass shooting in American history. The shooter would call 911 and pledge allegiance to ISIS, although in later months, the crime has come to be more recognized as a hate crime against the LBGTQ community.

I was awake following every update I could find on Twitter for all heavy three hours until just before 6am when Orlando Police breached a wall with an armored vehicle and took out the shooter.

Sunday was filled with a scarcity of information, as victims filled Orlando hospitals and pictures filled our social media accounts. I remember standing in the kitchen Sunday evening talking with my Mom while I wiped dishes, as tears choked my voice. “How DARE someone think they can walk into our backyard in Orlando and kill our people? That is wrong. How did this happen?”

I spent most of Sunday night researching places to give blood, and got up Monday morning, expecting to see social media flooded with prayers and sad acknowledgements of the #Orlandoshooting, as it was then being tagged.

Only it wasn’t by the majority of my Christian friends. Social media was dead silent, with the exception of a few heroes to the faith like Albert Mohler, Russell Moore and John Piper. No “this is heartbreaking” or “so awful” posts that always followed huge incidents worldwide.
I’d say 95% of my Christian friends on social media had nothing to say. 

It was a cold shock to my system, and rarely have I felt the immediate black and white, night and day, flip of a switch than I did in that moment. Never had it been more clear to me:

How the church was responding to the LBGTQ community wasn’t good enough.
Saying nothing and keeping our distance wasn’t working and probably never did.
Silence doesn’t melt any hearts and certainly didn’t mine. We were failing them.

And I was livid. 

My parents watched me shift from a silent 27 year old on any LBGTQ issue to a vocal, outspoken, rally and memorial attending woman literally overnight. The shift was sudden and shocking, but, quite simply, I wasn’t going to stay silent or still.

Someone representing the Church needed to show up. Now. Something had to be done.

Silence was no longer good enough.

This quote from C.H. Spurgeon spurred me on that awful week after Pulse:
“Do what the Lord bids you, where He bids you, as He bids you, as long as He bids you, and do it at once.” 

Monday morning, I drove down to our hometown’s little One Blood Center to give blood for Orlando. I waited sitting in a cold tiled hallway, clutching my piece of paper and ID, and smiling gently at everyone who came through the door. After an hour, I gradually made it into the center’s office which was so packed we were shoulder to shoulder, where I sat for another few hours, until it was finally my turn after 4.5 hours of waiting.

It was worth every minute of making friends, waiting, praying. I talked and shared with people I’d never met and had nothing in common with, only bonded by our sadness and desire to help in any way we could. A nurse ordered 10 pizzas, so we wouldn’t have people passing out post-donation. About 3pm, one of the nurses got a call from the district One Blood Center that said because of the overwhelming response, Central Florida had fulfilled the need of blood the last 2 days, which is incredible.

I saw Americans refusing to complain, waiting even though they could leave, and a hush falling over the room when the names were read on the TV. It was a sobering reminder of why were were all there: to BE #OrlandoUnited.

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That night, I went to a prayer vigil and walk locally in my little town. I went alone but I saw friends that I’d made at the One Blood Center and at a cleanup on Saturday. I saw the mayor and the police chief, who wrote the coordinator and said “We’re coming and we’re bringing the guys with us.” There were Fire Department, police, SWAT and K-9 so we’d all feel safe. A pastor prayed for us, and we went walking with our candles and carnations.

I was sitting on the bridge barrier and praying after the vigil, watching the sun set into pink, and Donovan walked by. He and his partner had set up tents outside One Blood and  handed out donated cold waters, juice, cookies, protein bars all day long in the heat.

I had met him and talked with him, and then sat for 4.5 hours inside. As I looked up and smiled, he said “I’ve seen you twice today. Thank you so much.”, and as I reached out and hugged him, I told him I was praying for everyone and he thanked me profusely.

Two nights later some friends and I attended the Citywide Prayer Service at First Baptist of Orlando. It was so hard, but good. There were prayers from multiple pastors in Orlando. Corporate worship live streamed on probably every news channel there was with a video camera. We sang “It is Well” with hands upraised. A standing ovation for a guy named Josh who was at Pulse the night of the shooting, who had tears streaming down his face. There was a reading of the 49 names and the chiming of the bell went on far too long for far too many names. The LBGTQ African American lady who works with the group who spoke a few words and when she said “2,000 people have come here tonight…putting aside politics and differences to show support…in a church. In a CHURCH.”, her tears stopped her from continuing to the sound of thundering applause.

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When I got home, I unpinned the purple ribbon on my shirt and put it somewhere safe to remember, and as I did, I wished with all my heart that my gay friends I’d met the day before could have gone to the service that night. And I wished more than I had ever wished that I had more gay friends, so that I could hold them in my arms and tell them that this was wrong, and I was heartbroken for their loss. I prayed that many who watched it live were comforted by the prayers and were uplifted knowing we went just for them, not for us by any means.

I wrote this late that night: “We showed up for you, Pulse families and LBGTQ community. Hear us loud and clear: we are praying for you. Conservative Christians are heartbroken and weeping with you. YOU have great worth in our eyes and in God’s eyes. There is One Who will never leave you or forsake you in your whole life; He longs to make you a part of His family, and until you know it to be true yourself, we will call you family and we will mourn with you. Because #WeareOrlando.”

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In the wake of those hard personal stories, I want to speak to you about a few things….

We are all image bearers of God.

Loving the LBGTQ community should not be a political statement. Long before the LBGTQ community even existed, these words were written in the Bible 11 times: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This doesn’t mean, “love your neighbors unless you’re uncomfortable with how they live their lives, then shun them completely”. No.

“…if there is any other commandment, all are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” {Romans 13:9b-10}

The Bible says “Love your neighbor as yourself.”. Period.

We really love ourselves a lot. And we’ve done a really bad job of being Jesus to a community that, a year ago, was being killed because they weren’t straight.

The shooter killed them because he believed something terribly false about them: that they shouldn’t matter enough to live. As Christians, we believe that ALL are image bearers of God. ALL matter. ALL have great worth. The shooter was wrong.

Although perhaps not all our brothers and sisters in Christ, they were still image bearers of God and deeply important to God. No life is worthless to our Creator God.

I told my Mom that week “It could’ve been me. In that club. It could’ve been me.”. Although I don’t spend many nights at clubs, I have on occasion been to one or two for a concert and I have friends who play late into the night in pubs or halls, but on an even deeper level than that, I saw myself in the victims, and my heart broke for their families.

They were sinners. But so am I. Their sin runs deep. So does mine. Simply: it could have been me.

We are called to stand in the gap.

Church, don’t let politics steal from you what God has called you to do: Love like Jesus.
Likewise don’t confuse standing for your faith with shunning the community that needs to hear that faith from a heart that will show up on the hard days and mourn with them.

Showing up at those memorials was not a political statement, nor are these words you are reading. It was a statement that said: “I will stand and mourn with you. I’m sad someone came and killed your friends. I hate that this happened. And as Christians, we are going to stand in the gap and protect you if someone ever pulls a gun. We are going to lay down our lives for you because that’s what Jesus did for us. What He did for you. We won’t stand for violence against image bearers of God.”

I loved this quote: “You have never looked into the eyes of someone who was not deeply loved by God.” and as I spent that week with people of the LBGTQ community, I knew it to be true. I felt overwhelmed with a fierce protective love. I’d take a bullet for any of them.

Not because we were the same gender or race, but because laying down your life for others is a calling placed upon us by the God who made them and who made me. (John 15:12-13, 17) At the time, we expected that this would be the start of many terrorist attacks in our neighboring city of Orlando, and this became the fundamental cry to many of my prayers for our neighbors.

We had nothing to lose, they had everything to gain: Jesus.

We are called to stand in the gap. We are called to die for others if need be.
We are called to sacrificial love, exemplified by a Savior Who died for sinners. 

We know the answer to the question being asked.

We are all searching for something. We are all looking for our life’s greatest fulfillment, whether we label it our identity or dream or purpose. But we have been given the answer to the secret yearnings of every soul on this planet. And we know it every day when we walk out the door. We know it every time we see a Pulse sticker or tattoo and have an opportunity. We know it with every prayer we offer up for our LBGTQ communities. As I urged last year, please don’t let this great opportunity go. Love instead.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus {John 10:10}

Church, WE KNOW Who saves the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit, we know Who gives life, we know Who is God and Who reigns over our world, we know the answer to the cry of every lost soul and every heart longing for love and His name is JESUS.

Don’t stay silent. Proclaim it.