Tag Archives: freedom

Lessons From the Trail

I went for a trail run over the weekend. I can’t remember the last time I ran trails, and wow, it was no joke. WAY harder than the road – but so beautiful.

So, there I am, making my way through the trail, barely able to look up for fear of tripping on a root and rearranging my face on a rock – but I MUST look up, lest I rearrange my face on the front tire of an oncoming biker. As these bikers come my way every 8.3 seconds on impressively muddy mountain bikes, I briefly debate which would be easier to maneuver on this trail: my NON-trail-running shoes (which I am wearing), or one of those bikes.  Mountain bike for the win; NON-trail-running shoes for the decisive loss.

Until I come upon the person who is most definitely in last place for trail maneuverability and enjoyment.

I’m working my way up out of a dip when I hear, “Oof!” “Ugh!” “Ouch!” I look up and see a girl with a doozy of an “I hate my life” look on her face, slowly bouncing her way down the trail. ON A BEACH CRUISER.

You guys. I do not even have words. A BEACH. CRUISER. I see her pained expression – pure misery – but I can’t bring myself to feel bad for her because SHE IS RIDING A BEACH CRUISER ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL. All I can think is, “OMG WHAT IN THE WORLD. I have to write this down.

What’s crazy though (and kind of sad), is I’d be willing to bet that after this experience, the girl will say she doesn’t like mountain biking. OF COURSE, right!? She TRIED biking on trails, but she doesn’t like it. It’s just not for her. But you know there’s an obvious problem with this conclusion. Yes, she rode on the trails. But she didn’t really mountain bike. She rode a beach cruiser on a mountain bike trail. Which is kind of its own thing. What she doesn’t like is riding a beach cruiser on a mountain bike trail. She may actually find enjoyment in mountain biking. ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE.

From the first push of the pedal, Beach Cruiser Girl didn’t stand a chance – because a beach cruiser isn’t made for the trail. There is a key piece of equipment required for a fighting chance at enjoying mountain biking: a mountain bike.

Here’s what I can’t stop thinking about: How many people have said, “I’ve tried Christianity, but it’s just not for me.” That could be totally accurate. But is it also possible that person is trying to navigate Christianity without the “key equipment?”

If you’re trying to live the Christian life in your own strength, I’m here to let out the big secret to walking with Jesus: there is HELP. Or rather, there is a HELPER. That Helper is the Holy Spirit. And believe me when I say He is CRUCIAL. He is the Helper given to everyone who surrenders lordship of her life to Jesus and chooses to receive the free gift of salvation (free to us; purchased at a high price by Jesus). To attempt to “do Christianity” without the benefit of having surrendered to Jesus, asking Him to reign in your life, and receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit – well, frankly, I wouldn’t want to endure that version of Christianity either. 

Actually, true confession – I DID endure that version of Christianity – for years. I had received Jesus as my savior, but I had zero clue about the Holy Spirit. I just did my best to pray and make good choices and just kept on doing the best I could, the best I knew how – all in my own strength, my own way. AND IT WAS LIKE RIDING A BEACH CRUISER ON A MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAIL.  It was up and down and all over the place and sometimes it was okay but for the most part it was a big journey of frustration and disappointment – all the while, with this deep-rooted suspicion that it wasn’t meant to be that way. And you know what? IT WASN’T MEANT TO BE THAT WAY. The life Jesus came to give us – a full, meaningful, purposeful, joyful, thankful, prayerful life – was never meant to be lived apart from dependence on Him. Daily, moment-by-moment reliance. ON HIM.  Jesus said:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

And you must know, I don’t mean a life that’s “full, meaningful, purposeful, joyful, thankful, prayerful” due to lack of pain, disappointment, or heartache. I mean through it.

The folks on the mountain bikes hit all the same dips and turns and creek beds and roots that Beach Cruiser Girl hit. Some of them were really struggling. But when push came to shove, they had what they needed. They had access to all the gears and shocks and doohickies that mountain bikes come equipped with. Because mountain bikes are MADE FOR THE TRAIL

What about you? As you set out on the trail today, on what – or whom – will you rely? Know this: because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, you have access to all you need. I pray you will receive and experience all that He won on your behalf.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2a)

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. (John 7:37-38a)

Bob Ross and My Messy Beautiful

As we tell the truth about our stuff - the good, the bad, the messy, the beautiful - we'll see God, who loves us so, turn what we thought had ruined us into the miracle that frees us. Looking for a story that could set you free? Don’t miss this read.

Did you ever watch Bob Ross back in the day? You know, The Joy of Painting, Burnt Sienna, White Ochre, and oh the happy little trees…

My brother and I watched him, transfixed, every weekend. Even more than his happy little trees – or THAT HAIR – I remember watching him paint something awesome.

And then paint a huge ugly stroke across the canvas.

Every single time, we gasped, “WHAT IS HE DOING!? HE RUINED IT!” 

And every single time, he turned that mess into a crazy awesome tree or some other unexpectedly brilliant thing – the showpiece of the entire landscape.

We stared at the screen, awestruck. “I thought for sure it was wrecked. HOW DOES HE DO THAT!?”

As a child of about five years old, I had a sexual encounter with a girl in my neighborhood. Because she was also a child (about five years older than I) and was, well, a girl, the situation didn’t match my understanding of sexual abuse. So, I never called it that. I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell anyone. It never occurred to me that I should.

This encounter prematurely awakened my sexuality, my sensuality. But, I never processed this as something introduced to me by another. Instead, I owned it. As a 5-year-old, I wasn’t capable of handling this awareness, this awake-ness. I became fixated on sexual, sensual thoughts and play. Over time, I developed a notion of “that kind of girl.” Over more time, I believed I was that kind of girl, and believed my memories were proof I’d been that kind of girl even as a small child.

The shame weighed heavy.

I secretly carried and grew that mass of shame, alone, for many years. Then one day I found myself as a college student in a small Bible study where this challenge was issued: share with the group – bring into the light – that deep, dark thing that holds you captive with shame. I had no idea what to share – not for lack of examples, but more like, “Where do I even begin?” I wrestled through my long, shameful list and landed on what I believed was the pinnacle of my shame: I’d had sex with my boyfriend. As a Christian, I thought it was the most sinful thing I’d ever done and the glaring proof I was “that kind of girl.”

Our intimate circle gathered close, and a friend named Kate bravely shared her story first. She had been sexually abused as a child, she said. By a girl just a few years older, she said.

As Kate continued to pour out her story, nineteen-year-old me flashed back to five-year-old me. My world went off-kilter a bit and tears ran down my face as shame and regret and long-held beliefs about myself began to crumble beneath my feet. Until that moment, it had never once occurred to me that my childhood encounter was abuse. That it wasn’t my fault. That it wasn’t proof of my brokenness, but rather the brokenness of this world.  That perhaps I wasn’t “that kind of girl.”

That perhaps NO ONE IS.

You see, I know something important now: there is no such thing as “that kind of girl.” That kind of girl is a lie we put on ourselves or others that shames and isolates. You know that thing you are owning as proof of your shamefulness? “That thing” isn’t the whole picture.

Kate’s mess, what felt to her like a huge stain across her life’s canvas, became a tree of hope to me. It meant I wasn’t alone. It meant that all these dark stirrings I’d carried alone for over a decade could be brought into the light.

Here’s the big thing about Bob Ross (well, the biggest thing after THAT HAIR): He didn’t redeem his masterpiece by covering up that bold stroke of paint. He didn’t hide it; he finished it.

If Kate had kept her story hidden in shame, I would still be locked up by mine. Her vulnerability unlocked my door to freedom. I am fiercely committed to telling the truth about our stuff because maybe I can be someone else’s Kate. As we tell the truth about our stuff – the good, the bad, the messy, the beautiful – instead of hiding it, we’ll see it finished. We’ll see God, who loves us so, turn what we thought had ruined us into the miracle that frees us – by freeing others. IT’S A FRONT ROW SEAT TO THE REDEMPTION OF OUR BROKEN PLACES.

What’s your story? Maybe it’s like mine, maybe not. What stuff do you own, hold onto in the dark, use as ammunition against yourself?

My story is messy. And my story is beautiful. It’s the messy that makes it beautiful. It’s the messy that makes it spill onto someone else’s page. As my bold, ruinous stain becomes finished, it spreads into a tree of hope whose branches reach another canvas.

Stop hiding. Be brave, come into the light, and paint the bold strokes of a messy, beautiful life.

*Kate’s name was shared with permission. I encourage you to click here to visit her at The Accidental Traveler. She writes wonderful things when she finds time amid her FIVE messy, beautiful children!

I was honored to write and share this post as part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — to learn more and join us, CLICK HERE!  And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, CLICK HERE!

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The truth about grace. And why Jonah was pissed.

As Christians, we often talk about “grace and truth” or refer to speaking “the truth in love” — as if the “truth” is very unlike grace or love.

But for a moment, can I address the truth about grace? The truth about love?

The truth about God’s love and grace is that both are way too extravagant for our comfort. Some will even say (and have said) it’s dangerous to preach “too much” about God’s love and grace.

But don’t we already know the Gospel is dangerous? It cost Jesus His life. You’re absolutely right it’s dangerous. Remember the powerful passage from The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe? When Lucy asked if Aslan is safe, Mr. Beaver answered,

“. . .Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

You may be familiar with an account of God’s dangerous grace — Jonah and the whale, anyone? Quick synopsis: Nineveh is bad bad bad. God tells Jonah to go there and tell the people to turn back to God. Jonah refuses. Then the bit about the big fish. Jonah finally obeys God. Nineveh turns back to God. God has compassion on them.

But have you ever paid attention to Jonah’s response to God after he calls out the Ninevites and God shows them mercy? Jonah says,

“I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:2b)

You probably know the story of Jonah and the whale. But you may find this part shocking. (I did!) If everyone knew this, it could change everything.

Sounds great, right? But if you read it in context, you see Jonah is actually hurling this at God as an ACCUSATION. Because truly, the people of Nineveh were THAT BAD. They were “those people.” Whoever “those people” are to you – that was the Ninevites. And no, I’m not specifying any one particular sin — because which sin is irrelevant. This applies to any of it, all of it. Plus, I’m pretty sure they had every sinful, selfish thing covered and then some.

Even so, God called out to them. And they responded. They turned back to God and He received them in grace and compassion. It was such an extravagant display of grace, it made Jonah uncomfortable. Actually, it pissed Jonah off.

God’s grace is so deep and so wide, it’s quite unsettling.

Can people take grace and abuse it and use it as license to sin? Yep. But if you are welcomed into the presence of God, just as you are, and still encounter and receive the fullness of His love – even in your imperfection, your selfishness, your stuff… who can come away from that unchanged?

I recently asked God, “Do You really love me as I am right this moment? Imperfections, selfish ways, and all? Or do you love the potential in me? The me I could be? This feels important. I need to know.”

He took me straight to His Word for the answer:

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

God really loves me just as I am. Not some future version of me. Not some what-could-be or what-might’ve-been. ME NOW. ME MESSED UP. ME TODAY. But my sin was not without effect – the effect was that I could not access that love. So… JESUS.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17, emphasis mine)

Please understand: I’m not saying we don’t repent when we come to Jesus. What I am saying is, REPENT doesn’t mean “clean yourself up first.” Biblical repentance is a change of heart and mind which results in a change of action. It’s changing your mind from rejection of Jesus to faith in Jesus. And Jesus transforms your life.

God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness, he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
(Romans 2:4 MSG)

How can anyone change except in His presence? And how can they get to Him if we just throw rules and condemnation at them?  His kindness. His unrelenting love. His fierce compassion. It warmed my heart and changed me from the inside out. “… it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love…” (Hosea 11:3,4) I can’t even begin to tell you where I would be if it wasn’t for Jesus. If not for His kindness. His mercy. His unrelenting pursuit of my heart.

I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us. (Anne Lamott)

The world doesn’t need more rules. The world doesn’t need more condemnation. The world needs Jesus. Y’all, condemnation doesn’t change the world. Changed hearts change the world. And Jesus changes hearts.