by Arielle Royer
When have you experienced the freedom that comes with following Christ?
by Christina Stolaas
This week I got an opportunity to spend some time in one of my favorite places for spring break: the beach. No scene in my mind is as peaceful as blue skies, the glorious warmth of sun rays, sparkling soft white sand and bluish -green waves rhymetically hitting the shore. I love to run, so the opportunity to get away from the crowds to my own secluded area of sand and water was absolutely divine!
As I ran along the sand, I was mesmerized with the way the gentle low tide crept upon the shore. What caught my eye was the process of footprints being washed away from the sand. The gentle whites of the ocean's water is an amazing illustration of how God's mercy washes over each of our lives.
I stopped a few miles in and watched my fresh set of prints be wiped away by the water. As the first sweep of water hit, you could see the print begin to fade—though it was still clear someone had walked on the sand. The second covering of water spilled onto the sand and the footprints became less apparent as the water stripped some of the surrounding sand back into the vast ocean with the tide. By the time the prints were blanketed a third, and then subsequent fourth time, the sand was completely smooth—like no one had ever walked on it!
As I thought about my life, I was reminded that God in His extravagant mercy not only washes my sin and makes it disappear as far as the East is from the West (see Psalms 103:11) but He also makes all things NEW!
"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Most Christians are familiar with this verse, in fact many of us have it memorized. But when you think of it in terms of smoothing sand—as though Jesus is literally stripping away the old sand, the "footprints" of your past, and exchanging it with flawless, perfectly smooth sand—doesn't that make it come alive? I ran back jamming Hillsong music and singing praises to my Heavenly Father for His waves of Mercy.
I've made mistakes. I've hurt others. I've hurt myself. People have hurt me. I have secret pain and heartache. I've rebelled. I've walked away from things that are right and tried to live life in my own power. All of these occurrences, all of these scenes that shame my memories and frame my past are like footprints. Jesus is willing and capable of covering ANY footprint. His waves of mercy can cleanse any past or present pain if I am willing to allow the gentle tide of His mercy wash me, and make me new!
The next morning during my beach run God gave me a way to illustrate this truth in a way that would tend to some of the wounds of my soul. I grabbed a stick and wrote in the sand some of the labels that have preceded over my life and robbed me of my identity in Him. Some of these labels are of my own creating, others are past occurrences that have inadventaly shaped how I view my self.
Dirty. Worthless. Abused. Unable. Damaged. Trashed.
I stood there with my feet in the sand next to my scribble and waited a few minutes. Patiently I watched as the water crept up with each new wave getting a few inches closer to my words. The slow and gentle tide covered the firt word and then the water retreated back into the ocean. Successively each new wave crept further up the shore until all of the words I'd written were washed away. My feet were glistening with the refreshing salty ocean water and the sand adjacent to me was perfectly smooth. New! As though the writing was never there.
We all have words that have been etched onto our heart and being. I know Jesus can restore the sand that represents your life. I've seen the waves of His mercy! They are gentle. Cleansing. Refreshing. Graceful. As you watch the transformation caused by such a gentle flow of water, you will stand in awe at both the simplicity and beauty of such a thing.
What words are written in your sand? How has he washed away the dirt in your past and made you brand new?
Christina is an energetic mom to four adorable young kids. In her free time she enjoys writing, training for roads races, and passionately pursuing a deeper walk with Jesus. Through a rough childhood she has learned to earnestly trust in the Sovereignty of God and seek to be "fruitful in suffering" as God continues to mold her to His likeness and bring beauty for ashes! (Isaiah 61:3)
by Jonalyn Grace Fincher
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Today's post excites me more than words can fully express. What you are about to read is an excerpt from Jonalyn Grace Fincher's first book Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, one of my all-time favorites and one that I find myself recommending to someone new nearly every week. Jonalyn is inspirational, honest, confident, intelligent, and dedicated to investing in women. Her work has made a significant impact in my life and my understanding of biblical femininity, and hope you'll find her writing as captivating as I've found it to be. Enjoy!
In Grimm’s Fairy Tales, we find the original version of Cinderella, where the familiar glass slipper is actually a golden pair that is, of course, very small. When Cinderella’s evil stepsisters fail to fit into these tiny slippers, one stepsister slices off her offensively large heel, and the other, her enormous, protruding big toe. In turn, they shove their mutilated feet into the slippers and stifle their pain and think, “A queen will never have to walk,” and limp over to the prince. “Here I am,” they say, “good enough to fit the shoe.” But the telltale blood filling the golden slipper, spilling out, staining their stockings and marking their footprints, betrays them. A pair of doves sing warning to the prince, “Look at the trail of blood.” He turns his horse around and returns the false bride. What the Grimms tell us is that the wicked stepsisters both had beautiful feet, but they cut up something lovely so they might fit the small, dainty, golden slippers — slippers not made for them.
Like Cinderella’s stepsisters, I’ve tried to wear shoes that don’t really fit. For proms and formals and evening dinners, I will squeeze my feet into painfully high heels even though I’d rather wear sensible, though “unfeminine” shoes. I endure the evening with cramped, swollen, and pounding feet, new blisters that will heal over the next week, and an annoyance with my foolishness. Still, I keep smiling and announce that these shoes are really so comfortable.
Often the roles we play are like pinching shoes. In order to fit into some role, we squeeze ourselves, contort ourselves, even cut off parts of ourselves. We accept these roles, and the contortions they sometimes demand, and we call it womanly, submissive even. The script for this role might come as a stack of pink pages, in lovely cursive, complete with a lacy edge and pink ribbon. It has already been typed for us, perhaps lovingly by the men in our church or by the father who raised us or the grandmother who blamed us or the mother we still want to please. And we play the part perfectly.
It hurts to wear shoes that are not for us. It hurts to keep shaving off parts of our souls. Can we just admit it once and for all? Our feet don’t fit Cinderella’s slipper. Most of the time I’m not sexy or a dedicated homemaker or a fit athlete or a successful professional or (and this is hard to admit) perfectly rational. Can I suggest that you aren’t either? It’s embarrassing — -ugly even — -when we see what we’ve done to ourselves to fit something that doesn’t even belong to us, but until we admit it, we can’t get out of these silly shoes. Finally, we cannot learn that there might be more to us, more to walk into, more to life than our current view of Christian womanhood.
As cultural critic and apologist Elaine Storkey writes, “The frightening thing is that this distorted picture of Christian womanhood, and the unquestioned ‘rightness’ of traditional roles, has many women in its grip, and prevents them from getting within a mile of growing into maturity and knowing real freedom in Christ.” It’s time to remove these stifling shoes and corsets so we can walk closer to Christ.
--from Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (2007).
What roles are you playing that don’t fit who you are?
AUTHOR BIO: Jonalyn loves shoes. As a philosopher, cultural critic, wife and mother she and her husband Dale travel nationally as a husband-wife speaking/writing team with their non-profit Soulation. Her first book Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (Zondervan, 2007) offers a defense for women’s uniqueness and dignity. She weekly updates her blog on the sparkly connection between faith, feminism and Christian womanhood. You can follow her on Twitter at @JonalynFincher.
Photo Credit: Jeff Lefever
by Jesse Rice
I am sick of you and it’s time we broke up. I know we’ve broken up and gotten back together about a bazillion times, but seriously, Fear-Of-What-Others-Think (or FOWOT, for short), this is it. We’re breaking up.
Because I’m tired of over-thinking my status updates on Facebook, trying to sound more clever, funny, important. And I’m tired of wondering which Tweets might drive the most traffic to my blog, as though my value as a human being were truly numerical.
I’m tired of wondering which picture to post online so that my in-danger-of-over-expanding gut doesn’t hang out too much and cause others to think I’m a perfectly normal human being, God forbid. Or that I vacation not in Hawaii or Paris or rural Vietnam, but in central Oregon, if I can afford to go on vacation at all.
I’m sick of feeling anxious about what I say or do in public, especially around people I don’t know that well, all in the hope that they’ll like me, accept me, praise me. Those who already like me, accept me, and even praise me; those are the ones I’m constantly trying to keep happy. I run around all day feeling like a freaking Golden Retriever with a full bladder. Like me! Like me! Like me!
And I’m SO tired of feeling bad about myself all the time. Bad about how I look. Bad about my job. Bad about my net worth (which is currently quite RED in color). Bad about my 12-year-old car and my two-fashion-seasons-behind clothes. Bad about my prospects for wealth and fame and Nobel Prize-winning ideas. Bad about my community, or lack thereof.
Because of you, I go through my day with a cloud of shame hanging over my head, blocking the sun, keeping my throat sore and my nose consistently runny and my eyes all squinty like a newborn. And I HATE that.
Because when I’m afraid of what others think, I never stop acting. The spotlight’s always on and I’m center stage and I’d better keep dancing, posturing, mugging, or else the spotlight will move and I’ll dissolve into a little meaningless puddle on the ground, just like that witch in The Wizard of Oz. I can never live up to the expectations of my imaginary audience, the one that lives only in my head but whose collective voice is louder than any other voice in the universe.
And since I know I’m acting and since I know the spotlight’s always moving and since I know that in the bigger picture none of this matters a rat’s patootie, I’m never content to simply be myself.
And all of this is especially horrible, terrible, evil because if I really stop and think about it, and let things go quiet and listen patiently for the voice of the God who made me and delights in me, it turns out I’m actually—profoundly—precious, lovable, worthy, valuable, and even just a little ghetto-fabulous.
When I listen to that voice then your voice starts to sound ridiculous again. You turn back into the tiny, whining little wiener dog that you are.
So eat it, Fear-Of-What-Others-Think. You and I are done. And no, I’m not interested in “talking it through.” I’m running, jumping, laughing you out of my life, once and for all. Or at least, that’s what I really, really want, God help me.
Can you relate? How so?
Jesse is a speaker, musician, and the author of The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community. He and his wife Katie are parents to 7-month-old Ryder and a yellow Lab named Boone. They live in Seattle-ish, WA. You can find out more about Jesse at his blog, www.jesserice.com.
by Natalie Lynn Borton
Girls, we have some very exciting news to share with you today. After months of hard work, overcoming writers' block, editing, and then some, we finally have something to show for it: an official bible study series with two books, both of which are now available for pre-order with free shipping in the wmBoutique:
Will you be doing one (or even both) of these studies in the coming months? We want to hear about it!
by Natalie Lynn Borton
"Every time you feel in God’s creatures something pleasing and attractive, do not let your attention be arrested by them alone, but, passing them by, transfer your thought to God and say: 'O my God, if Thy creations are so full of beauty, delight and joy, how infinitely more full of beauty, delight and joy art Thou Thyself, Creator of all!'"
One Thousand Gifts
In what small ways has beauty in this world shown you a glimpse of God's unimaginable beauty and glory?
by Jeff Bethke
Marriage today is struggling. Divorces, adultery, misconceptions, etc are plaguing not only the marriage itself but products of those marriages (my generation and the next). My hope in this poem is to highlight the most frequent and problematic issues marriages face today while also pointing to Jesus as the ultimate healer, redeemer, and restorer of every marriage. Whether single or married, my intention would be that this poem would allow you to look more deeply to Jesus to either better your current marriage, or prepare for your future marriage.
How does this impact your view of marriage?
by Rachel Johnson
We’re back with more on Nicole Bromley, the incredibly inspiring motivational speaker and author who founded OneVOICE Enterprises. In the previous post, we learned about Nicole’s past and the events that led up to the creation of her foundation. Now we get to take a look into Nicole’s life as a mentor, a speaker, an author, and a leader.
P.S. Not only is this woman smart, courageous, and bright, but she’s funny, too!
Q: What is the most frightening thing about being so vulnerable with your audiences and supporters, whether you’re delivering a speech or they’re reading your books?
I guess it would be judgment...or having a pencil thrown at me. But at the end of the day, I have embraced my brokenness and I know that Jesus has taken my shame, so that removes much of the fear that could come with being so vulnerable with my life and story. Probably the most scary thing for me is the chance that my heel would get caught on a mic cord as I am pacing the stage and I would bust it in front of two thousand people. Well, actually, that would probably just be funny.
Q: Conversely, what is the most powerful thing about disclosing personal information to your community of supporters?
I think there is a great deal of power in being transparent and in sharing real life stories of brokenness and struggle. It lends others courage and gives them permission to say “me, too” and I think that, for many of us, those are the two most important words we could ever speak aloud. They can be the first step to healing and spark a journey toward wholeness. They have the power to change a life forever.
Q: What has been your most memorable speaking experience or presentation, and why?
That would definitely be my campaign in East Africa in 2010, specifically speaking in the first public forum to ever address sexual abuse and trafficking in the country of Uganda. After I finished speaking, the Honorable First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni, shook my hand before unveiling a five-foot-tall replica of my book Hush and officially launching it as a resource for the people of her country. I was in shock at how this culture had embraced my message and mission. I felt completely humbled that God would use me as a pioneer in breaking the silence on such hushed issues across East Africa.
Q: This month is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. If you could give a commission to our readers on what to do to honor of this month, what would it be?
Be aware: One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused by the age of 18. Break the silence: Share your secret with someone you trust and begin your healing journey. Be an open ear to a friend who needs one: Just as one abusive relationship can completely distort an abused child’s development, so just one healthy relationship can lead to a tremendous amount of healing.
A charge given in my book Hush helps explain this commission:
“If no one sheds light on what is being done in the darkness, it will never stop, and survivors will never know the truth that will set them free from the lies that keep them in bondage. Every time we bring abuse into the light, we help prevent more abuse while we help its victims heal. "Victims need their own voice to break free from their silent pain. But they also need your voice. They need my voice. Together, our voices become one voice, one that rings loud and clear as it speaks words of love and truth, of validation, acceptance, and comfort. Our voice will penetrate the darkness to expose sexual abuse for exactly what it is. Our voice will lead wounded hearts to a safe, open place of healing. And as we speak out, our voice will reduce the risk of abuse for the next child, and the next, and the next.” (Hush, p. 13)
Q: Do you have any free time in that busy schedule of yours? If so, what do you like to do to unwind?
With two boys (age three-years-old and eighteen-months-old), free time from work is typically spent playing trucks and trains, digging outside in the dirt, or chasing each other around playgrounds, growling like dinosaurs—not exactly what I call “unwinding,” but it’s the season we are in right now, and I can do a pretty good T-Rex roar.
But whenever I do get free time alone, I like to go out to eat with a friend, play basketball, shop, paint or sit outside with a good book.
Q: What encouragement can you give to women who feel the need to share their stories, whether through speech or the written word, but have fears about disclosing information about their personal lives?
To all my fellow survivors out there: I pray you’ll find the courage to tell your secret. I pray you would begin the healing journey Christ has for you. Find someone you trust. Share your story. Write it down. Read it out loud. Cry! Yell! Get it all out!
Why? Because I believe childhood sexual abuse is one of the best-kept secrets in our world today, and I believe that the first step to healing is breaking the silence.
But it isn’t easy. If you have been abused, sharing your secret may very well be your biggest fear. I know the feeling. It took ten years for me to tell my secret. But I now know that I am not alone. After hearing me speak, many people tell their story for the first time and I receive emails years later saying that was the day that would change their lives forever.
So find your voice, Lovely One. You deserve to heal. And I am confident that as you find the courage to share your story, God will use you to help others find their voice too. God bless you and may the silence be broken.
When have you spoken out about an injustice done to you or someone else? How did it turn out?
by Rachel Johnson
NOTE FROM ALLIE: Hey Girls! We're so excited to feature our dear friend Nicole Bromley for our newest "WM Spotlight." Nicole and I first got connected 5 years ago when I invited her to speak at our SCU Chapter's annual spring event. Since then myself and our team have been absolutely smitten with her. Though we're separated by dozens of states and thousands of miles she is a true kindred spirit and our paths still get to cross during speaking engagements. She's goofy and fun, strong and courageous and is changing countless lives by breaking the silence on an all too prevalent issue. Nicole's story is featured in our new book—(which comes out in May!)—Wonderfully Made: Becoming Who You Are In Christ. She's also one of our featured wmVoices. You can follow Nicole on Twitter, Facebook, and website.
Nicole Bromley seemed as though she had it all. She lived with her beautiful family in a sweet community and she was the star of her school – in academics, athletics, and social settings. No one ever would have known that she was being sexually abused – until, that is, Nicole confronted her greatest fear and shared her story with her loved ones. By breaking the cycle of silence, Nicole was able to move towards the path of healing. Now she is the founder of OneVOICE Enterprises, and she travels the country speaking to people about the power of sharing their stories, no matter how dark they may be. Read more to learn about Nicole and her incredible work.
Q: Nicole, you are the founder and director of OneVOICE Enterprises. Can you give us an overview of the organization?
OneVOICE is an organization committed to raising awareness of sexual abuse, rape, trafficking, and other related issues. As a foundation, we have created an international platform for sexual abuse prevention. We ask real life speakers to share their real life stories, all of which carry messages of hope and healing. This is the proverbial icebreaker that allows for dialogue and discussion of sensitive topics. We help point students towards healthy lifestyle and relationship choices. OneVOICE offers support resources to individuals, schools, universities, churches, and other organizations.
Q: You are also a motivational speaker and an author – you wear so many hats! You use your personal story to raise awareness of your cause and to empower others. Can you share some of your life story with us here?
I grew up in a small town. Many who knew me may have considered me the “perfect girl” from the “perfect family.” I came from a happy Christian home and was often referred to as the poster child of our small community: a straight-A student, captain of three sports, homecoming queen, student council president. My life seemed ideal. But what others saw on the outside—my super-achiever persona and the big smile I wore to school every day—was masking a lot of hurt and confusion going on inside. For nearly a decade of my childhood I carried the silent pain and secret of childhood sexual abuse and I was afraid to tell.My step-father silenced me in so many ways, telling me that was he was doing was normal and that he was teaching me. He also said no one would believe me if I told and if anyone did find out about “our little secret,” I would never see my mom again. I believed it was my responsibility to keep our family together; in order to protect my mom, I had to do whatever my step-dad wanted. I felt as if I had no choice. I was scared and confused, and I felt trapped. So I forced myself to believe that it wasn’t that big of a deal and that it was better if I suffered through the abuse and remained silent. I was 14 years old when I finally broke the silence to my mom that I had been sexually abused by my step-father throughout my childhood. A week later he committed suicide. No matter how complicated my life got after I told my secret, I knew that it had been the right thing to do. I look back on my healing journey and truly believe the first step to healing is in breaking the silence. Telling someone about what had happened to me released me from my past so that I could embrace the future. The more times I told my story, the more it helped free me from the pain and shame. Finding the courage to tell others what had happened put me on a journey to healing and a relationship with Jesus where I discovered the freedom I’d been longing for. And that is where my mission stems from: I want others to begin their healing journeys and discover the same thing.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse find it very difficult to talk about what they’ve been through. They often tell me that they remember nights when they held their breath in fear that an abuser might be near and hear them if they spoke. What they want more than anything is to be free to breathe deeply—to fill their empty places inside with life-giving air—but they never feel safe enough to do that, so they keep silent.
In Hush, I described the four major steps of moving from silence to healing after childhood sexual abuse: breaking the silence, realizing it was not your fault, forgiveness, and making a Difference. Since the release of Hush, many have courageously responded to my call to break the silence, find their VOICE and begin healing from childhood sexual abuse.
Breathe goes beyond Hush, for the simple fact is that healing is a lifelong journey and relationships are a huge part of recovery. Even after we’ve taken those four steps through Hush, there’s more healing to do. We must let stale air out and fresh air in. When we do, we enter a new stage of healing that enables us to thrive in all our relationships.
Breathe is a book for survivors who are ready to work on their relationships. But it is also for those who are committed to walking alongside them on their healing journey. Compassionate people like these make up what I call a survivor’s “circle of inspiration.” Because they care, they inspire us—they literally breathe new life into us by allowing us to exhale the old and inhale the new. A circle of inspiration is a safe space where we can quit holding our breath, a place where we can exhale the false identity, isolation, and addictions that prevent us from walking down the path towards healing. Together, they make up our breathing space, where we can become all that God intended us to be.
As survivors of sexual abuse, we desperately need such a circle. It’s our habitat for healing, a place of mutual speaking and listening, of learning and teaching, of supporting and being supported, of giving and receiving unconditional love. It’s a place where we can finally be free to breathe.
Stay tuned for part two tomorrow! Until then, how does this first part of Nicole's story inspire you?
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Below is a personal testimony from Christie, a beloved Wonderfully Made Executive Team member. It is raw, honest, powerful and true, and intended to provide perspective. To learn more about Christie's story and the freedom she's experienced from her past, please watch her HerStory film here.
I had two abortions at Planned Parenthood. One when I was 15 and one when I was 18. What I am about to share is not speculation or opinion. It's my own experience. When I got pregnant unexpectedly, I was scared. I didn’t want to be pregnant, and I certainly wasn’t ready to have a baby, and I didn’t want my boyfriend to leave me. I didn’t want to discuss my pregnancy options, because I didn’t feel as though I had options. And I didn’t want to talk it over with my family, because I didn’t want them to try to talk me into having the babies. I just wanted the pregnancies to be over. So I went to Planned Parenthood.
I was told that some women experience depression after having an abortion. This does not even begin to describe what I experienced after my abortion. The second was worst than the first. I didn’t know exactly where the deep feelings of hopelessness and loss were coming from at the time, but they ended up almost taking my life. After years of self-medicating with substances and unhealthy relationships, I knew I had to get to the root of my pain. That’s when I realized the impact of my two abortions.
I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to the two children, my two children, that had been vacuumed from my own womb. This is not a “socially savvy” thing to say, but it is the truth. I wanted my babies back, along with the pieces of my heart I had given up with them. I had two abortions because I was afraid of what would happen and what my life would be like if I didn’t. I was trying to maintain control felt like that was the way to do it. But those abortions shook something unexplainable in the very core of my being as a woman that I will not attempt to describe.
With every fiber of my being, I want to see women respected and honored by men, by society, and by themselves. As women, we were created to be strong, wise, and beautiful. But there is an oppressive force at work. Greed is playing off our fear of rejection. And it is playing off our fear of taking a stand against the Silent Holocaust of Abortion—a multi-billion dollar industry that kills more than one million babies every year. That's more than two million lives each year that are destroyed if you count the mothers who give their children up to death. Three million if you count the fathers. I know, because handing my babies over to death destroyed my life. It took me years to be able admit this. My heart was too hard at first, and I felt like I had to block out the pain to cope, to survive.
As a woman deeply invested in seeing other women treated with admiration and honor, I am calling you, Reader, Friend, Sister, to take a stand for Life. There is a line in the sand, and as uncomfortable or socially inappropriate as it may be to call abortion what it is, "murder", we have to start telling the truth. Abortion is not a matter of women's rights. It's a matter of human rights. And unborn babies are humans, created by God, with a heartbeat and eyes, and fingers and toes, and most importantly: an eternal soul.
Jesus never rejected me when I had my abortions, and I am not suggesting by any stretch of the imagination that you reject women who abort their babies, or that you live in shame if you have had an abortion (or two, or three, or four, or five). Jesus never shames people. Wholly and completely, He removes shame and heals.
He healed the depths of my heart with His love and forgiveness when I came to Him and asked. And He will do the same for anyone who calls out to Him from their heart for healing, freedom, and new life. It might not happen instantly, but it will happen. He gave up His own life for this very purpose: so we could be forgiven, healed, and reconciled to God. This is the main reason we must not stoop to death, or choose to look the other way by remaining silent. For the sake of Christ.
How have you experienced healing from the Lord, despite the shameful or dark things in your past?
by Kati Smith
Tucked away in the most unassuming of places on my college campus was a chapel. Only four small pews deep and heavy with silence, this place served a hideaway. There were 100 girls my age living on my same floor in the dorms, sharing the same hallway, the same bathrooms, and the same rickety old washing machine. And yet, I found that stealing a few minutes inside the four walls of that tiny sanctuary was the only place and time I felt like I was known.
For some of you, your high school years are full of fun and girlfriends, or your college years in a dorm are going great. Maybe you have sorority sisters or you made friends in a new place instantly, the kind you’ll keep forever. Perhaps you just graduated college and moved to a new city, a new state. Possibly you’ve already found a community, you already feel known and loved.
If that’s you, stop reading this because this isn’t a message for you. Stop reading this and instead take a moment to thank God for each friend you have, for the rich blessing of familiar faces. Don’t take them for granted. Be present with them and soak up all it means to live in community because it is a gift.
For the rest of us, the ones who are wandering through a barren, dry, lonely phase of life, please keep reading and please hear my words…
I get it. You are not alone in feeling alone.
I find myself in this place again. A few months ago I made the lonely move to Texas where I didn’t know a soul. I quickly found myself feeling like I was back in the college dorm room, listening to the laughter coming from the rooms full of girls who had friends, alone.
It would be an injustice if I told you that the answer is finding community. So many people have said to me since moving that I needed to just jump in, find a church, and try harder to make friends. All of those things are great and true, but maybe there’s something bigger.
Come close and I’ll let you in on a secret...
Some of the loneliest times in my life have proven to be the times when I feel closest to God, when I hear Him most clearly.
In the times we realize we are alone, we see our greatest need for the Lord. We get busy and distracted so often, and it’s just like a merciful God to bring us to a place where we have nothing left but Him. He wants us, sometimes, to have no one else to lean on so we can lean into Him.
So, perhaps for a season God will have you facing this loneliness. Believe, though, that He will be right there with you in the midst, and He will be faithful to bring you out of it.
In that little chapel I would carry my tissue and my Bible and sit in the front where no one behind me could see my tears. I found Psalm 119 and it became my anthem, my battle cry from the pew. Each day I would read the same verses over and over.
The verses aren’t about loneliness, so I can’t tell you why they helped. I tell you this hoping that when you read Psalm 119 (yes, ALL of it!) you will find the same comfort, the same firm truth in His word. Today I pray for you that this time alone would be a season you could look back on and see the tangible evidence of God’s sweet love and grace for you.
“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” (Psalm 119:50)
When has God let you experience the dark feelings of loneliness, only to let you draw nearer to Him?
by Kate Wenzel
NOTE FROM WM: Sometimes a photo just grabs you in way that changes you. That's what happened when I stumbled across this captivating shoot by Kate Wenzel. As you'll see, the photos speak for themselves. Love, Allie
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."
Suffering has a way of stripping you of everything. Everything but the things that matter most- your family, your dearest friends, your relationship with your Creator. As I slowly approached Kenzie—these thoughts were wandering through my head and in my heart—I knew that the next few moments were going to be transforming. As she drew closer, I didn’t notice her hairless head. I saw only her radiant beauty—beauty that comes from deep within a soul who has looked into the eyes of trials and clung all the more to her Savior. Beauty that is so authentic that it spills over to all those around her.
Kenzie is in many ways a typical teenager: weeks away from Prom, months away from graduation and excited about a future at College next fall. But most 18-year- olds haven’t faced cancer twice. At the tender age of 16, Kenzie was diagnosed with Hogkins Lymphoma. Through months of treatment, she received a clean bill of health and continued making plans for her bright future. Then, just weeks ago, this sweet girl was diagnosed again. As she began her chemo treatments and lost her hair again, dozens of friends surrounded her in the most powerful way—by shaving their heads.
I was sitting in my office when I first saw the images of Kenzie helping to shave the hair off her friend’s head. When it appeared on my Facebook homepage, I was moved. And as I read more of her story, I was immediately stirred within and felt the Lord call me to help. After a moment, I realized that photographing Kenzie and her closest friends might give this lovely girl something fun to look forward to in the midst of countless treatments. I connected with her and we arranged a time and place. But I wasn’t prepared.
I wasn’t prepared to be the one who was encouraged, the one given a real glimpse of joy and peace in its truest form. Within moments of meeting and beginning our session, we were all laughing and embracing this opportunity fully. Kenzie and her friends soaked up the time to get images capturing their friendships and love. I realized that I would walk away from this time profoundly changed.
I am not sure if Kenzie realizes the impact she has on others. Her attitude in the face of cancer, her strength, her smile—all I could do is grin as the tears flowed and I thanked God for allowing me to cross paths with this beautiful girl and her wonderful friends. All I can do is pray for her healing and recovery and know that this girl is loved and that she loves back deeply. All I know is that she makes each person she encounters better for knowing her. How many people can truly say that?
In all of this, Kenzie has shared that her joy, her source of courage in the midst of this, comes from her faith and relationship with Christ. Suffering does have a way of stripping everything from us; but if we “consider it joy” while facing it, look into the face of our great and faithful God, and praise Him still, we are also transformed into something more beautiful because of—not in spite of—these trials.
Here are some of the images from our session...
How does Kenzie's story influence your view of beauty, suffering and/or joy?
by Raquel Rodriguez
Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon. While He was eating, a woman came in with a beautiful alabaster jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard. She broke open the jar and poured the perfume over his head. Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why waste such expensive perfume?” they asked. “It could have been sold for a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” So they scolded her harshly. But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why criticize her for doing such a good thing to me? You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. I tell you the truth, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be remembered.” (Mark 14:3-9)
For many years I secretly disliked Mary of Bethany. As a self-proclaimed Martha, I would read the account in Luke 10:38-42 and shake my head in disapproval of Mary’s “passivity” and lack of care. I too would have complained to Jesus. But His response caused me to re-evaluate each time: “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” And though I detested Mary, a part of me desired to discover that one thing worth being concerned about. I determined to find that which would never be taken away from me.
In the three accounts that Mary is mentioned, she was always found at the feet of Jesus. Whether she was listening, crying or doing, she had made a choice to be found at the feet of Jesus. The last mention of Mary in Scriptures is precisely our passage above, also known as The Anointing at Bethany. And it is here that I uncovered the great treasure Mary had found and would not be taken from her. Mary had possession of a very costly thing, a spikenard that was roughly 300 denarii ($30,000-$35,000).
If in fact this oil was to be used for burial, why had Mary not broken the flask for her brother Lazarus when he had died? I believe Romans 10:17 will help us value Mary pouring of her best for Christ, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” As Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, and heard the words of Jesus, her faith in Jesus increased. I have to believe that she knew mysteries of the Kingdom that we have yet to know. Jesus, who shared these truths with her, recognized her loving act as pleasant and right.
Once the neck of the flask was broken, it had to be used. We read that the whole house was filled with the fragrant oil. Have you ever moved in to get the aroma of something and unknowingly pressed your nose on it? Now the scent is on you and for a period of time you can still smell it? Or how about going to a restaurant and leaving the place smelling like the food? As the spikenard was poured on to Jesus, dripped down from Jesus, the fragrance permeated throughout the home. As the people departed later on, they too carried the scent of the spikenard. Wherever they went after leaving Simon’s house, people could recognize that they had been in the presence of Jesus because they smelled like Him. But none carried a stronger scent than Mary, whose hands poured the oil on His head and her hair wiped his feet. Imagine carrying the fragrance of Christ on you?
"Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life." (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)
At the feet of Jesus is where His fragrance is poured into our lives. Marvelous evidence that we have sat at His feet. This is a great mystery and one which cannot be taken away from us. And just as the flask once broken had to be used, so it is with our lives. Once we have been beautifully broken by the Gospel of Christ we will be used by God as the essence and fragrance of Christ everywhere we go. What is poured out for the Lord will be a memorial forever just as Mary’s pouring has not been forgotten.
What lessons can you gather from Mary?
by Natalie Lynn Borton
Although the idea of having children anytime soon absolutely freaks me out—I definitely don't feel prepared to raise a little one quite yet—I've always been one fascinated by pregnancy and human development. Does anybody else thinks it's both wild and miraculous that women can grow human beings inside of them? What's most beautiful about it is the way God allows us to partner with him in creating eternal beings. He lets women be the vessel to carry the life he builds so perfectly in the womb. As Psalm 139:13-16 says,
"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Below is a powerful medical visualization that shows human development from conception to birth—truly evidence of the creative, loving and intelligent nature of God...
How does this video change or reinforce your view of human life and God's hand in it all?
P.S. We have a new art design up on Pinterest!! Click on the image below to view it there, then repin it to spread this beautiful truth to the rest of the Pinterest community...
by Rachel Johnson
I remember so many of my favorite teachers from my school days – Mrs. Denker in second grade, Mr. Hamilton in sixth grade, Mr. Aquino in high school, Dr. Banks and Elizabeth Godburn in college. Truth be told, I can’t remember the lesson plans they prepared, the books we read, or the tests we took. No, the things I remember most about these teachers is that they treated me kindly, invested in me wholly, and shaped me into the woman I am today.
Teachers are essential to character development, which is why it’s so great that I get to feature a beautiful friend of mine, Kyla Kiser, in this post. She teaches at a school for children with learning differences, and she has many inspiring insights to share.
Q: Kyla, I am oh-so-proud to feature you on Wonderfully Made’s blog. You are one of my most wonderful friends, and I admire your honesty, loyalty, and, of course, your fabulous sense of humor. I am also so struck by your commitment to your work as a fifth grade teacher for children with special needs. Tell us about your work and your school.
I am a fifth grade teacher at The Hill School of Grapevine in Grapevine, TX. It’s a private school for kids with average to above average intellect who learn differently. Most of our students have learning differences, and, as teachers, we are given the challenge to equip them with the skills and strategies necessary to succeed.
Q: You’ve had a lot of experience teaching, especially for such a young age. You started teaching right out of college when you traveled abroad to teach English in Rwanda, Africa. Tell us about that time in your life, and how it shaped your decision to teach when you returned to the States.
I can’t say enough about how much I loved the teaching experience I had in Rwanda. I would recommend teaching internationally to anyone and everyone. After I graduated from college, I volunteered for one year at a brand new American school called Kigali International Community School. There were nine boys and girls in my fourth and fifth grade classroom, and the group as a whole represented six different nationalities. It was fascinating to me, as a first year teacher, to learn so much from my students. Despite their different cultural backgrounds, worldviews, and upbringings, they were all so similar. It was a great foundation for my future as an educator.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be a teacher? Was there an exact moment that you can pinpoint, or did you discover this passion over time?
I would definitely say my desire to teach grew over time. I wasn’t quite sure what I would be doing with my life when I started college. I have a twin sister and the one thing I did know for sure was that I couldn’t share one more thing. So I set out to find my own major. When she settled on nursing, I jumped into education. I’ve always enjoyed working with people and I was blessed enough to fall into something that I love immensely.
Q: Working with children all day is no doubt a challenging task. What is the most difficult part of your job?
There’s always something to do – something to check off the ever-growing to-do list, something to grade, something to send, something to implement to ensure that my lesson is more dynamic, etc. I have had to learn a lot about balancing my life with my work. I’m still learning about that.
On days when I especially need to be reminded why I teach, I pull out my special folder. I have a folder that I’ve labeled “Reasons Why I Teach.” It includes sweet notes and hilarious work samples that I’ve collected over the years from my students. I could look through my folder for days.
Q: Conversely, what is the most rewarding part of your job?
THE KIDS. I have always worked in classrooms where there is a small student-teacher ratio – I have never had more than 11 students in one class. With class sizes this small, I’ve had the great opportunity of really getting to know each one of my children. It’s even more fun keeping in touch with them as they move forward.
Q: The children must impact you so powerfully. Granted, there are tough days, but overall, you always talk about how they inspire you. How have the children in your classes shaped your faith and your view of God?
I believe that my students are motivated when they know that their teacher cares for them on a personal level. They have to believe that I want what’s best for them. In the same way, I have to believe that God has my best interest at heart, that he loves me deeply, and that he cares for my future. I don’t have to do anything to earn his love, and my students shouldn’t have to do anything to earn mine, either. It’s a great reminder of God’s grace.
Q: What has God revealed to you about yourself over the course of your teaching career?
I’m passionate about what I do, and I know that God had a plan for me when he sent me down this path. For me, being a teacher is not about spoon-feeding my students knowledge – it’s about helping others find ways to learn what they need to know. I teach ways to learn and try to impart the desire to know more. When I can learn from my students, that’s a great blessing, too!
Q: What advice would you give to women interested in becoming teachers, whether domestically or internationally?
No matter where you choose to teach, kids are still kids. This quote rings true, and I’d share it with anyone considering becoming a teacher, whether domestically or internationally: “In 20 years, your students won’t remember what you taught them, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
Is there a special teacher you had growing up who you simply can't help but remember? What made that teacher memorable to you?
by Natalie Lynn Borton
Today we finish out our series surrounding The Hosea Love Story with part six: the relentless love of God. This final video is based on Hosea 14, and described as such (emphasis added):
Finally Gomer has returned to Hosea. Sliding the ring back on her finger she has accepted his invitation to come back home and live back in the covenant she has made with him. Even though Hosea's love is unfailing for Gomer, he can not save her from the consequences she must experience for the sin she has lived in. In spite of all this, his love is relentless. He loves her, holds her and will not walk away from her.
Thinking of this story in modern day human terms it is a very difficult story to embrace. Would we really ever be able to forgive someone who has caused that much hurt to themselves and to us? But God's love is beyond human love. It is relentless. God does not love us because of who we are or what we do, he loves us in spite of it. One of the hardest parts of coming to God is accepting that his love covers all the brokenness we bring.
When did you first understand the forgiveness of God? If you haven't yet grasped His relentless love for you, what do you think is holding you back?
by Allie Marie Smith
How has regret and the reality of your past or present brokenness kept you from fully accepting the unrelenting love of God?
by Natalie Lynn Borton
Hey Girls! Hopefully you've had a chance to watch the first three short films in this modern-day adaptation of the Hosea Love Story. Here in part four, Gomer is wrapped up in the depth of her brokenness, and Hosea knows what it will take to get her back. Redemptive Love goes in eyes open, knowing everything. God does not redeem us based on goodness, but in spite of our badness. He knows the worst about us, but redeems us anyways. He offers us our ring back, beckoning us to come to back to him.
Will we accept it?
How have you experienced redemptive love?
by Allie Marie Smith
Is it ever hard for you to really grasp that God's loves you with total abandon? That there's nothing you can do to escape his affection toward you?
by Natalie Lynn Borton
Part two of The Hosea Love Story is all about God's tough love toward us. Just as an unfaithful wife tries to run from the covenant she and her husband have, we too run away from the unconditional love and eternal commitment God makes to us, his beloved daughters. As you watch this video, try to reflect on a time when you've run from God through your own disobedient actions...
When have you experienced God standing by you when you were trying to run away from Him?
by Allie Marie Smith
Hi Girls! This week we're going to be doing something unique here on Know Your Value. We are going to be diving into the Biblical story of Hosea together. Leading up to Easter Sunday, we'll be showing a six-part short film series which presents us with a modern day adaption of this powerful story.
Here's a little background for you as you watch part one:
In this modern day telling of the book of Hosea, Hosea has entered into a covenant with Gomer just as God has entered into a covenant with his people, us. We have not merely broken God's law; we have broken God's heart. We have grieved him. Despite all our spiritual adultery, we cannot exhaust the love of God and we deserve to be shown "No Mercy" and called "Not My People", but because Jesus was shown no mercy and was forsaken by the Father, we can rest secure in God's love for us. There is nothing in us that can evoke the love of God, and there is nothing in us that can exhaust the love of God.
How have you walked away from God in your life and broken his heart?