stretching.

[This post originally appeared in House2House Magazine.]

When my husband and I moved to Detroit, we purchased a house on the Northwest side of the city, with our heart’s set on providing a safe home for our friends following Jesus and friends we would make who don’t yet know Him. It’s a decent-sized two-story house, with an apartment upstairs, an apartment on the main floor and now a fully finished basement apartment. At this present moment, we have two married couples, an unborn baby, two single guys, two single girls, and a kitten that only a few of us even like all living together. Together we have just endured the longest, coldest, snowiest winter Michigan has seen in 40-some years.

There are some serious perks to living in community. My husband and I are both in grad school and have extra expenses with a baby on the way, so the additional rent income from our housemates has been a miraculous lifesaver for us. The heat bill has been astronomical this winter, but with so many people sharing in the expense the burden has been bearable. With three refrigerators in the house, there’s almost always guaranteed to be an egg to borrow, or really anything you need for that matter. One of our housemates works at Whole Foods, so whatever forgotten grocery can’t be borrowed can be delivered when she gets home from work. There’s always someone to help dig you out when your car gets stuck in the snow or ice (and believe me, it happened many, many times this winter.) There’s almost always someone home to get packages from the FedEx guy and switch the laundry to the dryer when you forget. Often when I am really hankering for something sweet, someone bakes cookies and offers me one. Our 6am Friday morning prayer is now held in our living room, which means I can roll out of bed at 5:55am, stay in my PJs, and still make it on time.

A wise man named Joe Steinke has been known to say, “Community reads romantically and lives sacrificially.”

He’s right. There’s a least 30 pairs of boots clogging up the entry way. The wooden floors in our old house creak, which means every you can hear every step anyone ever takes. Everyone has different work schedules so you might hear music, conversations, a blender, coffee grinder, or singing coming from any part of the house at any given moment … and definitely always when you are desperate for a nap or need to crank out another page of homework before its due in an hour. The closets are bursting at the seams. The floors get dirtier faster and the bathroom rug always looks gross no matter how often I vacuum. Without fail, someone will set their stuff on the table or put a dirty dish in the sink minutes after I’ve just finished cleaning. The door to the entryway gets left open, which means the guys in the basement freeze. Stuff gets broken, the kitten eats plants, parking spots are rare commodities. There’s a line for the shower when I really have to pee and a line for the washer when I have no clean socks left. There’s often an extra person or two… or five… hanging around unexpectedly at dinnertime, which is great… unless you were banking on taking leftovers to work for lunch tomorrow. And to top it off, its been -10 outside for half the winter, which means escaping to the front porch or usually tranquil backyard are not an option. In fact, some days this winter, escaping at all has been impossible unless you wanted to risk your life driving on 3 inches of ice and 6 inches of snow.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?

This week I had a moment. Truthfully, I have a LOT of moments… definitely every day, sometimes every hour, but for now I’ll just confess one.

My husband and I had bought a package of organic, grass-fed beef bacon at the farmer’s market over the weekend. It was a little on the pricey side, but since being pregnant I’ve been trying to eat more protein for this little guy growing inside of me, so we felt like it was a worthwhile investment. I woke up starving this particular morning and knew just what I wanted – a solid breakfast with eggs, kale, left over homemade spelt cornbread and that fantastic bacon awaiting me in the fridge.

As I am preparing this breakfast for Myles and I, he is in the dining room helping one of our housemates polish up her resume. The whole time I am cooking I am simultaneously having a serious internal conflict: should I offer her some too? It would obviously be a kind gesture, something Jesus would do. But quite frankly, I don’t want to. This bacon is delicious. It was expensive, and I want to make it last for a few more meals. Our housemate isn’t much of a meat-eater, and besides I can see her empty cereal bowl on the counter, clearly indicating she already had breakfast. I should offer her some… but I don’t need to… I could… but that means less for me. By the time breakfast finishes sizzling, I successfully talk myself out of it, hand Myles his plate of steamy goodness, and retreat to my room to eat in peace and spend time with Jesus before heading to work.

The bacon tasted even better than I thought it might, but I was miserable the whole time eating it.

I can say that I trust God to provide for all my needs, that there is no lack in His kingdom. I can say that He gives me my daily bread – that I have never gone without. I could write out the entire history of my life and show you hundreds of examples of miraculous provision.

I can say that whoever sows generously will reap generously.

I can write a check to a friend whose dad just died or buy coats for some neighborhood boys that have outgrown theirs.

But the truth is, I am fearful. All these years of following Jesus, and I still genuinely think I have to provide for myself. I don’t actually really think there is enough to go around. I still doubt God will intervene. I have put limits on generosity… which isn’t really even generosity then, is it?

Sitting with Jesus, eating that stupid piece of bacon, He showed me that everyday living in this house I am faced with a series of choices: I can pretend that I am entitled to a certain amount of space and quiet – calling on my rights as a member of Western Culture – disregarding the fact that most of the rest of the world shares less space and less food with more people, and forgetting that I actually belong to a Greater Kingdom. I can ignore the prodding in my spirit towards generosity and seek my own provision and comfort. I can fake a smile, hide in my room, and secretly pray for everyone to disappear.

Or I can embrace the tension. I can acknowledge that my discomfort is revealing deeper sin and let it be confronted by love and mercy. I can allow the Holy Spirit to stretch me, to make me more like Jesus. I can look my doubt and fear straight in the face, over and over, a dozen times a day. I can make the most of this crowded season, because the reality is, that without these beautiful human beings all up in my space, I would continue living blissfully unaware of how far I am from true dependence on Jesus.

Pretty soon, we’ll have a baby boy joining us in this full house of ours. From what my friends who are parents tell me, the sacrifice that comes with kiddos brings on a whole new level of revelation about selflessness. Right now my belly feels like its stretched as far as it can go right now, and I have this feeling that the rest of me is about to be stretched when he finally arrives.

Cheers to more real, true dependence on Jesus for everything. Knowing Him more fully is so worth it all.

my Higher Power.

[This story was initially featured in House2House Magazine…]

About a month ago, my husband and I were in the chiropractor’s office for an exam. My husband had been having hip and back pain for far too long. I too had a nagging little pain in my lower back, and at 6 months pregnant, I thought I ought to have it checked in case it would affect my ability to labor. Because Myles had been in chronic pain for many months, we fully expected his report to be worse and my report to be something minor. But instead, the scan of Myles’ back showed only one trouble area, and he passed his stress test with flying colors. I, on the other hand, was quite a different story. My back scan showed a whole slew of trouble spots, I was having muscle spasms on over half of my spine, and my stress test was… well, frankly, embarrassingly out of control.

As we stared at the results on the computer screen he chiropractor gave me a stern look. “I don’t want to worry you, but this is BAD. You have got to do something to lower stress in your life.”

He thought for a second. “Do you do yoga or meditation?”

“I pray,” I responded.

“Well, you need to get in touch with your Higher Power and seek some serious wisdom about this! Especially because stress has a major effect on your baby.”

There’s nothing like getting horrible results on a stress test to stress you out even more. I was a wreck the rest of the afternoon, overcome by anxiety, and deeply troubled that my little baby could be harmed by my state. That night, after Family Dinner, I pulled a few women into my bedroom, shared the results with them and tearfully asked them to help me “seek my Higher Power.” I felt like I’d already made a few hard choices at the beginning of the semester in order to maintain a lower stress level and keep the baby healthy and I was dismayed by the negative report. My friends graciously and patiently sought Jesus with me.

Later as Myles and I climbed into bed, I began to consider something I never would have considered on my own. I am currently in graduate school, and was quite determined to finish by the time our son is born at the end of April. This meant I was enrolled in two classes and I was attempting to write a Master’s essay, while working 20 hours a week, and maintaining my commitments to our community. I was convinced that I needed to have my degree completed before the baby came and had not even considered postponing graduation. But in the midst of seeking God’s voice, I felt that perhaps I should just focus on my classes and write my essay next semester instead.

To understand the weight of this decision, you should know that I am an extremely competitive and driven individual, particularly when it comes to academics. I have always pushed myself, and have always found much of my identity in my ability to excel in this arena. I graduated from high school before my peers and I finished my undergraduate degree – a double major and a minor with honors – by the time I was 20 years old. All the while leading 3 different campus ministries. But, I was also a far cry from healthy. I gained a lot of weight in college, suffered from a few different bizarre stress-induced sicknesses, and was an emotional wreck. On paper, my college years might impress someone, but my personal life was such a mess that I rarely think of them with fondness.

I fell asleep wrestling with myself and with God’s gentle, persistent voice.

There is no one in the world telling you that you have to finish in April besides yourself.

But this is not me… I always get done faster, not slower!

Your essay is already paid for because of your scholarship and you have five YEARS to finish it by the university’s standards.

But this is not my plan.

What is coming first in your plan, your ego or the growth of your child?

You’d think that last line would have gotten me, but if I’m honest, I woke up still wrestling. After getting ready for my day, I sat down with my bowl of granola and banana. I was leaning towards postponing my essay, but I still wasn’t 100% convinced it was the right thing to do. I opened my little prayer book to the Wednesday morning prayer, and tried to turn my heart towards Jesus. Here’s exactly what it said:

“Let us arise today in the Spirit’s power:

In place of fear, God’s strength to uphold me;

in the place of emptiness, God’s wisdom to guide me;

In the place of confusion, God’s eye for my seeing;

In the place of discord, God’s ear for my hearing;

In the place of froth, God’s word for my speaking;

To save me from false agendas that harm my body or soul.”

(The letters in bold were literally in bold in the prayer book.) The Lord doesn’t always give me answers in bold letters on page, but that morning He sure did! I knew instantly that my plan was a false agenda that was harming my body and soul and my baby’s body too. I knew that my “Higher Power” had indeed granted me wisdom for my life, and that I needed to lay down my plans and my ego.

Can I give a testimony? These days I am truthfully the least stressed I have been in years. My internal state is calm, and my body is healthy. This is quite possibly the first winter in my whole life that I haven’t been sick. Because I’m not spending every spare minute writing an essay, I have time to embrace a more sane lifestyle. And you know what? I have a bit of revival in my heart these days. I am hearing from God more clearly on a daily basis than I have in a long, long time. My spirit is more receptive to Him, and I am far more aware of His presence with me. I feel the desert places inside me springing to new life, and I find myself wondering how much of that desert was self-inflicted.

When I made the decision to postpone my graduation, my husband was so relieved he cried! I had no idea how much my drivenness was affecting not just my baby, but my marriage and my relationship with God. My false agenda was simply getting in the way of things that are the most valuable to me and the most valuable to eternity. That chiropractor didn’t know it, but my Higher Power really is the wisest.

*CHEESECAKE* [sugar-free & grain-free]

I feel loads better when I’m not eating any refined sugars or flours, so usually a few times a year I will completely avoid them for several months at a time.  I’m always trying to achieve balance in my life, but when it comes to sugar I’m definitely an all-or-nothing kind of girl.  I have yet to conquer the concept of sugar in moderation.  I can either pretend it doesn’t exist and avoid it entirely for ages, or I want sweets every single day.  I was constantly nauseous for the first several months of pregnancy and greens of all kinds made me gag and vomit.  I tried to still eat as clean and veggie-full as possible, but my no-sugar-no-flour standards really slipped during those months.  (One day I might have eaten vanilla ice cream and peanut butter for dinner.)  And then when I finally started feeling better… it was the holidays… and we all know what happens around the holidays…

So here I am with 3 months of pregnancy to go, feeling much better and ready to be rid of sugar again.  I haven’t had any since we returned home from the holidays the first week of January.  I have come to discover over the years, that eradicating refined sugars does not necessary mean no dessert.  There are, in fact, some pretty incredible desserts that can be made with sweet ingredients like dates, raw honey, maple syrup, or fruit.

After a few weeks of no dessert, I decided this weekend that I really wanted cheesecake.  I got the idea because I had some leftover cream cheese from a dish I made for a friend’s birthday and was speculating how to use it up.  I have only made cheesecake a few times in my life… I recently made one for Myle’s birthday and another one at Thanksgiving, so I kind of had the general idea down.  Since I didn’t want to use refined sugars or flours and since I never have sour cream on hand because Myles hates it, I couldn’t find a cheesecake recipe that used the ingredients I wanted.  So I decided to just experiment!  Experimentation rarely ends in success the first time around… but I do believe this time I landed a winner on the first try.  Myles says its the best cheesecake he’s ever had in his life.  I think I just might agree.  If I was a real food blogger I would post a pretty picture… but um, let’s be real… there’s only one piece left and I just made it yesterday.

{Disclaimer: these measurements are all approximate…}

For the crust:

1/2 cup of almonds or almond meal

1/2 cup walnuts

1/2 stick or 4 TBSP organic butter

2-3 TBSP raw honey

dash of himalayan salt

Throw all these ingredients in the food processor, grinding to desired consistency… we like a little crunch in our crust, so I didn’t let the walnuts get completely pulverized.  Press the crust into the bottom of a round cake pan (or a springform pan if you have one.) Bake at 350 until the crust just starts to brown, approximately 15 minutes.  

For the cheesecake filling:

2 (8oz.) packages of organic cream cheese  (or 2 cups of organic homemade raw milk cream cheese!)

1 cup of whole milk plain yogurt (I make mine in a thermos, super easy… ask me how)

1/2 cup of raw honey

1 1/2 TBSP pure vanilla extract (I make my own!)

3 farm fresh eggs

Blend the cream cheese, honey, and vanilla extract together in the food processor until smooth and completely mixed.  Pour in yogurt and continue to blend. Add eggs one by one with food processor still blending.  Pour the whole mixture into the pre-baked crust.  Place the pan inside a larger pan (I use a dutch oven) and pour boiling water into the bottom of the larger pan so that the cheesecake pan is surrounded by about an inch of hot water.  (This prevents the crust from burning.)  Bake for 45-55 minutes at 350.  The cheesecake should still jiggle slightly in the middle… it will firm up in the fridge.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving and try not to consume it all in one sitting. 

** I might have had a dream last night that Myles was letting all our friends try the cheesecake because it was so good and there was none left for me… and I might have been very upset in my dream…

[on reparations for the African-American community ]

[This semester I’ve been enrolled in a course called “Law and the African American Experience.”  My last assignment was to write a short opinion article answering the question, “Should the Federal Government pay reparations to Black Americans for 400 years of slavery and discrimination?”  My opinion is what follows.]

How ironic that a nation whose anthem rings of liberty, whose flag waves for freedom, and whose great wars were fought in the name of independence has been built on the backs of men and women and children who have yet to taste the fullness of any of these “unalienable rights.”  Even with an occasional attempt to garner integrity in our soul in the years that followed the cessation of formal slavery, a shameful abundance of promises have been broken.  If a ever a people deserved to ask for reparations, black Americans certainly do.

Ah, reparations.  The feisty word that’s sure to enliven the oppressed, while dismaying the benefactors of oppression- yes, even those who might nod ever-so-slightly in non-committal agreement that reparations might be due.  Reparations, we all assume, concern a debt which must be paid.  And debts, we reason, are strictly financial transactions.  And money, is in no small demand everywhere for everything.

Yet the conversation about reparations for 400 years of slavery and discrimination should not begin nor end with money.  The dignity of an entire people cannot be recovered by means of a paycheck.  Nor will their voice of unrest become settled at the fleeting sight of cold hard cash in every one of their hands.  The cry for justice may subside for a moment, but it will be an utterly short moment.  How absurd to believe that we could so boldly cut open the chest of a people, rip their heart out, trample it for 400 years, and expect that placing gold coins in their palm will instantly heal them.  In fact, the very notion that life, well-being, and freedom that has been taken outright and determinedly forsaken can be restored by anything less than a total commitment heart, mind, body, law, and pocket seems like a mockery of humanity.  Money alone does not make true amends – repentance does.

True repentance is more than a trite apology, more than a scrambled attempt to move past guilt.  True repentance involves a reckoning with oneself about the extent of damage our beliefs and our doings have inflicted upon another and furthermore, upon the world.  That reckoning leads us to a new set of purer convictions by which we may begin to rightly-relate to ourselves and all that we once destroyed.

If the African-American community is plagued today by fatherlessness, which has its roots in the forced separation of families over the course of slavery’s somber years, then the black family is precisely where both our social energy, our mindful consideration, and our financial resources should be intentionally directed.  If that fatherlessness has been further perpetuated by the ills of the criminal justice system and our senseless War on Drugs, then every black man in every prison in America should be given the opportunity to succeed through education and rehabilitative services and a fair chance at employment post-incarceration.  If the education of the African-American community is in shambles because of years of neglect, then the nation should be giving of their best and their brightest to shore up this critical ground.  If the economy of the African-American community is stilted because everything was taken, nothing was given, and furthermore, no chance of acquiring was granted, then by all means the nation ought to make a willful pledge to invest mightily in this sphere.

Debts, we reason, may linger on for some years with no real disconcerting penalty.  Ignorant we are, of the bitterness we are stacking up against ourselves.  Bitterness is a terrible seed to sow; it yields a fruit of poisonous demise.  Yet sown we have, year after disgraceful year.

preston, my preston.

[from august 12, 2009. one of my most favorite stories. can’t wait to have my own baby boy soon!]

It struck me the other day that perhaps my most promising disciple at the moment is an eight-year-old towhead named Preston, who lives in my neighborhood. I befriended his mom at the local pool last summer and since have spent time nearly every week with this precious family. I started telling Preston bedtimes stories about Jesus last fall when I would babysit him and his two year old sister Makala. At first in his young mind, Jesus ranked right up there with Spiderman and The Incredible Hulk. But many aches of intercession & many conversations about God later, I’m beginning to see his little heart come alive with unadulterated passion. Lately, Preston has been beating me to the punch – every time he sees me, the first thing he’ll ask is a question about Jesus. The other day he started telling me everything he knew about God… how God made people and trees, and how when the wind blows it’s really God breathing on us. Preston thinks that every time it rains, God is crying. After I attempted to explain to him about hell and why sin makes God sad, he said, “So if everyone stopped being bad, it would never rain!” Perfectly logical conclusion!

“Do you know any songs about God?”, he asked one day this summer on our way to the pool. I started singing a kid’s song I learned in South Africa called “Telephone to Jesus.” Preston stopped me. “Can you really talk to Jesus on the phone?” “W-e-l-l, nooo…” I started to say. “I know how you to talk to Jesus though,” he butted in. “You pray!” I had to grin at his exclamation. “That’s right,” I said. “And we can talk to Jesus just like we talk to each other, because He was a real Person,” I said. Preston promptly corrected me, “He IS a real person!”
After 15 minutes of this kind of conversation, I was in serious awe of everything this eight-year-old was telling me about the Lord. I knew he hadn’t learned it from me, and besides one trip to Sunday School, I’m virtually his only spiritual influence. “Preston, did you learn all of this in Sunday School?” I asked, genuinely puzzled. I’ve never heard him talk about God for so long. “Well, I didn’t go to Sunday School for very long, but sometimes, I just think about God and I think He likes it when we think about Him.” I was floored. The Holy Spirit is teaching this little kid about Himself!

A few weeks ago, I in the prayer room I’d helped set up for university students at a Student Church Planting Experience. I was pulling one of those 3am slots, and had entered the prayer room intending to intercede for the university students participating in SCPX. But instead, the Lord had other matters to discuss with me. I couldn’t stop praying for Preston. I felt like the Father was asking me to write a letter to Preston from Him. So I grabbed a piece of construction paper and a marker and started writing from a place of supernatural affection.

On my way back to SCPX a few days later, I picked up Preston a few days later so he could spend the day with me. He lit up with excitement when I told him that I had a letter for him from Jesus. He wanted me to help him read it right then, so I read it mostly from memory (as I tried to keep my eyes on the road!) “Preston, My Preston…” the letter began. And the whole first paragraph was the Father just wanting him to know that He loved all the questions that Preston was asking, and that His heart did cartwheels when Preston thought about Him. I’d barely finished the first part, I looked over and saw the biggest grin you can imagine taking over Preston’s face. “Can you thank Him for me?” he asked intently. “You can thank Him yourself, you know,” I gently reminded him. “Right now?” he asked. “Sure!” I said. And so, with as much passion as his little voice could muster, he let out a loud, expressive “THANK YOU!”

My heart almost melted, but I kept reading. The middle part of the letter was praising Preston for being such a good big brother and for always watching out for his little sister Makala. She’s very special, I had written on the Father’s behalf. The letter also praised Preston for his obedience to his parents, saying that they too were very special. The last section spoke of how Preston was becoming strong and brave, and of how proud Jesus was of him. “Listen for My voice, because I’m always speaking. I love you so much!” the letter finished.

Preston could hardly contain how thrilled he was over God’s words to him. The little guy let out a huge contented sigh. “I just LOVE Jesus!” he exclaimed. He began to tell me his plans for hiding the letter in a special place in his room so that Makala wouldn’t tear it up. He then began to re-read it silently, stopping every once in a while to tell me how much he liked particular lines of the letter. The presence of God was thick in the car as Preston engaged with heart of God over a few simple words scratched on green construction paper.

When we arrived at SCPX, I took Preston up to the prayer room so he could draw a picture for Jesus to hang up. He drew a picture of a rather chubby person with stick legs and a giant smile. He asked me to draw a heart next to Jesus and together we hung it up amongst the other prayers.

Something in me is deeply stirred as I write this story out. I think today I believe more than ever that there is much to consider in Jesus’ recommendation that we come to Him as children. Preston is in no way “out of the game” just because he is eight years old. He is coming to the Kingdom, running freely with a wide open heart, running faster than most grown-ups I know! Today I’m also convinced more than ever that new life is birthed in the place of prayer and that the Most High God is eager to engage with us in capturing the hearts of the ones He loves. Image

the epic birthday

[from october 18, 2009. a night that forever shaped me. a special thank you to Wendy Andrews and Holy Spirit Friend.]ImageImageImageImageImageImage

How does one capture with words, a night of utter extravagance?

This was last night, October 17, 2009 – an early birthday celebration for me which turned into a spiritual birthday for a young woman named Carrie Callahan. Carrie’s journey to salvation has been long and marked with much pain and many tears. It’s a story that I hope she tells one day, for its the story of many in our generation. But last night painful tears breached the song of joy, and heaven’s much-anticipated moment arrived as Carrie stepped into the family of God.

My dearest friends here in Kansas City took it upon themselves to throw me a grand and glorious dinner party, as a way of creating space for God to convince me of His extravagant and abundant generosity to me. The dearest of dears, Wendy Andrews, had been secretly compiling a list of things I loved and needed and desired in order to shower all of them on me. She rounded up many of our friends and each one contributed to the grandeur of the night.

The Boulevard home, where Wendy and my other dearest friends all live, had been decorated like a regular palace! In typical Rachel-fashion, that is, generous to the bone, Rachel Anderson had filled the room with every lovely flower arrangement imaginable. A myriad of sparkling lit candles, silk cloths, and fancy pillows filled the first floor of the Boulevard. The table was laden with sauteed beef skewers in Thai peanut sauce, a jazzy spinach salad, and hand-pressed apple cider. Inside of a pumpkin, Wendy had baked a scrumptious cheese sauce (with a terribly luxurious name that I can’t even pronounce let alone spell!) that we ate with soft Asiago bread. It was unbelievably delicious! And of course, my favorite sweet treats abounded on another table – homemade fudge, chocolate chip cookies, and almond shortbread! A snazzy pear custard torte served as my birthday cake, complete with little candles.

After dinner I settled into the chair dubbed as “the queen’s chair” and shared with the girls a bit of my heart’s journey since summer, an explanation of why God had asked Wendy to throw this party in the first place. It’s a long and messy odyssey, as most wanderings of the heart are, but I shall try to capture a bit of it here briefly.

I have not always believed that giving one’s life for the poor and broken and walking in the abundant generosity of the Father were not exclusive. My entire life I have operated out of a mindset that tells me that poverty is more godly than wealth, that plain and drab is more righteous than beauty. I have scorned all forms of extravagance, including at times romance. In some distorted way, I have somehow convinced myself that if I am blessed when so much of the world is in dire need, I am guilty of injustice. I have convinced myself that, “I am fine. I am tough. I can handle living in survival mode. Only give me what I need for existence, and I shall be satisfied. I am fine. I don’t need anything extra to live, so therefore I will refuse to receive it.” I’ve interpreted both spiritual and physical blessings through this faulty mindset. I have seen the world has sexualized the beauty of women and taken advantage of it, and in my quest for a pure heart I have more often than not feared embracing beauty. I have been content to marvel at the grandeur of God’s creation outside of me while ignoring the grandeur He created inside of me.

This past summer however, the Holy Spirit began to show me the untruthful foundation I have built on. He began to highlight to me all of the descriptions in Scripture of God and every last one is stunning, breath-taking, loaded with allusions to diamonds and jewels and magnificent riches. The entire story of God is teeming with references to our inheritance, our spiritual blessings, the riches of His glory. As I have repented of pride and clinging to false ideals, the Holy Spirit has diligently shown me the ways in which my life is effected by the lies of the enemy. One day He asked me, “You are so concerned for the poor in your neighborhood, but if you yourself are living in spiritual poverty, then what kind of life are you inviting these lost ones into? How is what you are offering much different than what they already have?” In these last months I have also come to understand that God has placed beauty in the hands of women. It is our design, our pleasure, and even our responsibility to make the world a more beautiful place – with our bodies, our homes, and our lives.

Over these months, God has spoken to me specifically through this: “And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became Mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fined linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver and your clothing was of fine lined and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine four and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord.” (Ezekiel 16: 6-14)

And so, the evening commenced as I shared with the women a bit of my journey. I opened elaborate gift after gift, as women spoke words of encouragement and life over me. Among the gifts were a deep red silk scarf, various quality eye shadows and eye-liners, hand-crafted necklaces and earrings, a gorgeous fabric, a purse, fine-smelling soaps, a lovely blouse, a gift certificate for a facial, a picture, a hair dryer (which I desperately needed because in Wendy’s words, “Your old one sounds like an airplane coming in for landing!”) My friend Anna brought her gift in a clear glass bowl, because she said, “May your life be a glass bowl; may you show off the beauty inside!” Juli Cox’s words marked me indelibly as she gave me jewelry from South Africa and an antique pendant. “I feel like you carry a bit of Africa in you, and these ‘diamond’ (CZ) earrings and necklace are to remind you that through your beauty you will give your life for the poor. These things are not mutually exclusive, but people will come to know the King through your queenly beauty. The antique pendant you can wear close to your heart as a reminder of the rich heritage you have in your family.”

I had determined at the beginning of the night to never say, “It’s too much!” But alas, in an overwhelming moment toward the end of gift-opening, it slipped out of my mouth. I knew there was still lies dwelling inside of me that I needed to repent of. So as the women gathered around to pray for me, I began to confess every lie I have believed about receiving the goodness of God. I confessed pride and fear and asked for continued revelation. The Spirit of God was thick in the room, and several other women agreeing with my repentant prayers.

From the couch next to me, Carrie began to weep. And weep, an weep. She began to cry out, asking God to forgive her over and over for many things. She went on and on, in a truly repentant state, declaring her belief in God and His goodness. It soon became apparent that she was giving her life over to Jesus in that moment. I pulled my chair over and with all eyes fixed on the beautiful, sobbing woman in the middle of the room we talked through what it means to become a daughter of God. In the most genuine and expressive manner I have ever witnessed, Carrie exclaimed through tears, “I’m in!” She told God she would receive His forgiveness and become His daughter.

Maggie dashed upstairs to fill the bathtub with water, and I asked Carrie if she knew what baptism meant. She proceeded to tell us, with more clarity most preachers, what baptism was – a washing of the sins, a dying of the old self, and a coming of a new, clean Carrie! We prayed with her to receive with her the power of the Holy Spirit right then, and as the water ran in the tub upstairs, Anna sat down to the baby grand piano. Carrie’s name literally means “Song of Joy.” Her middle name means “God is Gracious.” So Anna began to sing out, with such anointing, that heaven had been singing Carrie, song of joy for all of eternity. She sang out the affection of God and the longing He has had over Carrie’s life. So powerful was the moment, that Carrie literally fell off the couch onto her knees.

As for me, I got it. In that moment, as Anna’s voice touched the foundations of eternity I understood the full picture. I wept uncontrollably on the couch, my whole body heaving great sobs, as the revelation I’ve been asking for flooded my being. I had received freely that night, I had embraced beauty, I had turned from the old poor woman to the taking my place as a queen in His Kingdom… and look, right before my very eyes, the salvation of a woman I had longed for was happening. In the same moment that Juli was telling my beauty would win the hearts of the poor for the King, so a heart was already being won. It was not only the Father’s graciousness to Carrie, but His mercy to every woman in that room as we understood that beauty begets beauty, blessing begets blessing, and the generosity leads to the expansion of this family.

I will never in my life forget the hour that followed Carrie’s bathtub baptism! After whoops of delight and soggy hugs, we rejoined in the living room. In the spirit of the night, prayer began to break out for other women in the room. The most astonishing thing of all was that Carrie herself was leading the charge. Just moments after her baptism, she was laying hands on women, praying for them boldly, and giving them prophetic words! “I feel like God just wants me to say that you don’t need to be afraid…” I thought I had died and was with Jesus already! The Holy Spirit was already at work in Carrie, giving her power to love and letting her hear God’s voice so promptly. In one hour, the Lord redeemed every broken relationship Carrie has always had with women who have betrayed her by placing her in a room chock full of godly, loving, trustworthy women.

Who knew that when I started chatting with Carrie at the ghetto pool in Gilham Park last summer that it would lead such rich friendship? We’ve come to love each other, I’m now the godmother of her children, and in the last month she finally agreed to study the stories of Jesus with me. We’ve been reading in Luke every week, and the Man Jesus Christ has been winning Carrie over, story by story. Since summer, I’ve been asking God that Carrie would receive salvation and be baptized by my birthday. Since last year, when we baptized Wendy’s sister in a bathtub around my last birthday, I’ve been telling the Lord that all I want for my birthday is the opportunity to baptize someone in the bathtub!

This birthday shall go down in the history books. It’s been written in the journals of heaven as epic. It’s been written in my journal and those of a dozen other women as revolutionary. I am forever marked. We all are, I think. These are surely not light matters in the heart of God.

the wretched whisper and somehow, someday

[from february 7, 2010. how far the Father has brought me since then! His mercy is kind indeed.]

Alone.
You, Lindsay Leigh Ellyson, are all alone.
And it is all up to you to make your way in this world.
And that is the way it will always be. 

Somewhere, someday this is whispered into my ear. Somehow, someway it drifts from out there somewhere, and it makes its way through my entirety, and settles in for a good long stay. Somewhere, someday is probably so long ago that I may never know it exactly. I may never know the somehow, someway either.

That whisper is an assault on my very design. My self is so tiny when that whisper first comes, and my reaction is not at all of the knee-jerking sort. Maybe at first I dodge the blows. But I quickly learn, as most humans do, the awkward ways to move along with this force to avoid being knocked off my feet. A side-step here, a hip-sway there. I bend over backwards, I twirl around, moving in rhythm with the assault until we are in a full-blown dance, complete with locked hands and an embrace. I cannot stop myself. The whisper never stops its movement forward, and if I halt my steps and the jerking of my body, it will hit me like steady blows. On and on I dance, led away by the whisper, moving in accordance with its thrusts toward me. I cannot stop, it has taken me over. Each passing year, my moves become smoother, my hand more firmly set in the hand of my assaulter.

Not much time goes by before I have forgotten the original whisper. The poison has mixed with my cellular make-up and I now have my own particular strand of sickness.

I am independent.
I might as well be, for I am alone.

I am responsible.
It is entirely up to me to make everything safe and secure.

I am sufficient for my own needs.
I have to be, for I am alone.

I’m fine. I’m tough. I can handle it.
I have to be, for I am alone.

I’m different than everyone else. My life is just not the same, and it will never be. And I don’t want it to.
I am alone. It’s pointless to want it to be any other way, because it never will be. 

The unasked question throbbing is, “If I was never designed to be alone, how then do I survive this?” And thus my whole existence becomes the tragic dance of attempting survival in the face of aloneness.

For twenty-some years or something of the like. Until my no-longer tiny self is tuckered out. Until my smooth, well-practiced moves begin to slip as my strength wears thin.

I’m anxious. I panic. I’m frustrated. I’m so very overwhelmed. These are not the only emotions I ever experience, but sometimes they define my existence for weeks on end. I find myself looking around. Help me, please. I’m independent, but my chest feels like its going to cave in. I’m responsible, but I can’t keep it together. I’m tough, I’m fine, I can handle it, but I’m sitting in the middle of my bedroom floor weeping sorrowfully. My life is different, but I think I am going to die.

I rock independence.

And I die a little more with every passing season.

I strut my stuff, I motion to observers to admire my dance with this vengeful whisper. I’ve got this jazzy tune down pat and I look good swaying on the floor. I like this dance, its my dance. It’s who I am, it’s who I will always be.

Then why do I want to run away forever?

My roommates share feasts with me. My friends shower affection on me. My family shouts affirmation. My supporters lavish gifts. My mentors dump bucket loads of blessing. All the while, the my body pulses with “Alone. You’re alone. You will always be alone. Nothing will ever change.”

But it does change.

It changes because somewhere, someday I nodded my head yes when You asked me to love You. It changes because somehow, someway You are committed to keep me from falling and to sweep me up into Your arms in an unadulterated state. It changes because You are far more committed to me than I can ever dare to imagine. It changes because You heard my pitiful little cry for help.

You step onto the dance floor. I don’t know who I am dancing with, I don’t realize who I have embraced. It’s been so many years, and I was so very young when the dance began. I forget the poison’s name. I don’t even know it has tampered with my cellular make-up. But You point at the assault and tell me it’s name, loudly and so very clearly.

ALONE.

I’m so very glad You have come, and I’m so very glad that I finally know why I’ve been anxious all this time. I’m so very glad You have spoken, for at last my slow death has a visible cause. And now, every corner I turn I see how the whisper has forced me to move. Every week another survival technique gets unraveled.

Oh, I do this because I think I’m alone. Oh, I feel that way because I think I’m alone. Ohhhh, I burst into tears just now because I think I am alone. Oh. Ohh. It all makes sense now. Okay. 

But I’m reeling, actually. Because the only steps I’ve taken all these years are the ones that wretched whisper forced me to take. I know its song, I know its dance, even though its embrace is awkward now. My hands are clammy, and I’m pulling further away with each new level of realization.

Except I don’t know Your dance yet. I don’t know how You are going to cut in and sweep me away from this straining partner. Back and forth I slide across this floor, with You for a brief moment, before I go twirling right back into the assault again. I can’t keep up with You just yet. Your moves are so new to me, and I am so unpracticed in Your ways.

You catch my eyes from across the floor. You are relentless, I think. You keep saying over and over that You are able to keep me from falling. The words might as well be in Italian, for I have no idea what they mean. All these years, I thought I had to keep myself from falling. I thought I was alone, and I didn’t even know I thought I was alone.

Yet, I am clutching to an ounce of belief that somewhere, someday You will have me entirely in Your dance. Somehow, someway a new whisper will course through my veins. Only it won’t be a whisper. It will be a robust song that syncs my whole body, soul, and spirit into Your rhythm.

I don’t know all the words to that song yet. I’m just beginning to hear the beat. But somewhere, someday, somehow, someway it will take me over.