Lament.

I am not sure even where to begin. The past several months have left me with such a deep burden but also anger within me. I’d like to say it was one thing that I could just deal with and be done. But truth of the matter is that I ache today and have for the recent history because I am grieved…deeply grieved by what I see and hear happening all across not just this country but the world. Too many times this year I have found myself weeping in utter pain for the brokenness that has happened.

This year has been one heck of a year. Between the wildfires in Australia to tornadoes and hurricanes and explosions, we have seen catastrophic loss. With Covid-19 making its way globally, we have watched as the world has tried to figure out how to win, all the while worldwide economy, educational systems, and healthcare systems are just trying to make it. And nationally, we have watched as some shootings and killings, police and non-police, make the news…again. From those, we have watched as further division takes place wreaking havoc on our cities, on our communities, and in our homes. Loss of lives, loss of buildings and homes, loss of businesses.

More loss.

That’s where I find myself. I am grieved by the loss we have watched this year. By the destruction both natural and man made. But that’s not where it ends for me. I am further grieved and even angry by the division I see among Christians. I am not writing this to speak to one side of the political aisle. I am not speaking to only whites or only blacks. I am speaking to the people who read this, whatever your race, whatever your politics, whatever your hurt is…we have got to do and be better.

We are too busy wanting to be right than we are willing to listen to the opposing side. We are so quick to speak in our anger, that we fail to wait for more information. We are so quick to condemn anyone who disagrees or believes differently, even those that are unsure of what they believe. Why? Why?

Why?

Where is our love? Our joy? Our patience? Our kindness? Our goodness? Our faithfulness? Our gentleness? Our self-control? These are the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). It isn’t conditional on our circumstances. It also isn’t barring you from being angry. It isn’t saying to not respond to the things of this world. But it is something that we need especially when the chaos of this world is overwhelming. We need to the Holy Spirit in our lives to bring us this fruit. We need the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom with how and even when to respond to things. Our Christian faith is not about apathy or praying away problems. It is, however, about prayerfully responding in a way that honors Jesus Christ.

In your anger of things happening lately, are you praying about it first?

In your frustration and even disappointment or anger to those that believe differently than you, are you praying for God to show how to still be kind?

In whatever emotions you feel with pretty much anything from this year, are your remaining self-controlled so that God is honored? Again this absolutely isn’t saying to not respond, but to not allow your emotions to be the response.

In all things we do, we are to point people to the Good News- the Gospel- of Jesus Christ. And we need to especially do that with the chaos and the brokenness of this world. We have the greatest joy and hope to offer those around us and we should be ashamed if in the wake of all that happened we have failed to share that joy and hope. People are hurting. People are angry. People are aching for more than any president, politician, organization or aid has to offer.

So when we go into our communities, when we bring aid after a storm, when we see a death make the news, when we see the news remain silent, when we see someone post something on social media we disagree with, when we see someone of a different race respond differently…

…Be immediate to pray. Slow to speak. Quick to listen. And ask God for wisdom in how respond. And in all things, show people Jesus.

Church, just stop.

I have thought for weeks, actually a few months now, how to communicate my frustration with encouragement to Christians in light of our current events. Since the beginning of the year I have seen so many posts of huge declarations that we are in the “end times” because of the Australia wildfire, locusts in Africa, COVID-19, and many other things. Post after post declaring these things and yet little have I seen encouragements of pursuing Christ, sharing testimonies, or persevering in the difficulty. Yes I have seen it don’t get me wrong. But the negative and confident declarations of the “end times” and the fear of such have far outweighed anything else I’ve seen. 

Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons and you will be brought before kinds and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.
-Luke 21:10-14

So many Christians see this passage and immediately declare it’s “the end times” meaning Jesus’ return is soon and they’re simply waiting. I actually have a big problem with this. This passage isn’t new. Literally 2,000 years ago these things were said, yet we act like we are the generation to be the ones this passage is talking about. First, let’s get something clear. This passage is about the entire time from Jesus life to whenever and however he returns. We aren’t special in that this passage is only about us. Yet generation after generation of Christians suddenly think that because a war is happening, or another famine, or another disease, is a sign of the times and another advancement in technology is the “mark of the beast”.

Stop focusing on the wrong things. Seriously, just stop.

Since Jesus died and rose again, we’ve been living in a period of history of waiting for Jesus to return. We’ve been waiting for perfection and newness. We’ve been waiting. And we will be until whenever he decides whether its tomorrow or another thousand years. My problem when people use this and other passages and current events to declare it’s the “end times” is that it means for many they are just waiting for it and doing little else. And then Christians are almost surprised that this world is still evil. Christians are shocked when we hear of another shooting, another war, another genocide, another murder…another evil. 

Church, stop it. Please. Stop being so consumed by the end times. Let’s be honest: we have no clue what that looks like. And let’s get real for a moment: no matter when or how the end times comes or looks, it is YOUR end times because your life is temporary.

Here in Luke 21 Jesus basically says that this world will continue to get worse. Friend, it will get worse because it’s broken and full of evil because sin exists. People will either choose to live for Jesus or reject him and persecute those that do. People will continue to sin or repent. Why are we surprised by evil and the brokenness of this world and all the while just sitting waiting for Jesus to come back? 

I am pretty sure sitting and waiting is not what Jesus wanted. Why would he give us the greatest love story of all time- one of surrender, sacrifice, redemption- just to want us to keep that a secret? He died for the world. Red and yellow, black and white. Yes we wait for him while also living the Great Commission. Our waiting is not inactive.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
-Matthew 28:19-20

Why are we so impatient for his perfection when so many people still need him? Church, if we have chosen to follow Christ then we have the greatest gift to share to the world. Have you even shared the joy you have in Christ? Have you shared your story? Do you try to model your life after Him? I know very much how difficult this season is and I also know it looks different in many ways for each of us. I get that there is unknown, confusion, uncertainty, frustration, disappointment and more in this season. However, remember who Jesus is and what is our calling as Christians. This is an opportunity for us Christians to bear witness to the hope and redemption offered through Jesus. It’s a chance for the broken of this world to turn to him despite the awful around. Jesus never said it’d be easy, convenient or comfortable for Christians to live for him. So instead of focusing so much on the events happening in this world as signs of the times, focus your energy in encouraging people in faith, pointing people to Jesus, and living to the best of your ability to honor Him. And in doing have faith and trust in God. He will bring direction in the unknown. He will be your strength and help. You can persevere and overcome with Him. He will bring peace and cast out fear.

If you aren’t a Christian, and I’m talking about being more than just a church goer- a Christian, someone who has recognized their sin (wrongdoing and life without Christ), repented, and now try to walk with Him. I have a hope that comes solely from Jesus that in spite of the terrible awful evil of this world, I can have peace. If you don’t have peace, if you don’t have hope, maybe just maybe you can put that toward Jesus for real. Go beyond religion. Go beyond church. Go to Jesus and pursue him.

Beyond isolation.

It is no secret that this season has been one that has truly shaken things up for most of us. I’ve watched as public schools have closed their doors for the remainder of the academic years. So many jobs, schedules, social lives, and everything pretty much under the sun seemingly has been disrupted by COVID-19. This is our new normal, at least for now. But also during this time, for the past few weeks now I have watched as friends of mine have isolated and socially distanced themselves to stop the spread of COVID-19 …thank you all seriously for doing your part. It matters.

But in all of these people isolating, many are home with husbands, wives, parents, kids, siblings, roommates. They might be socially isolated but they are not alone.

I’ll be honest, I’ve been a little jealous of my friends who get to be with loved ones during this crazy time. I have seen so many fun videos of my friends and their families; the game nights, the movie nights, the dancing, the couples workouts, and more. It’s a weird paradox for me. I am so happy for them all. Really….how cool is it that people have been able to reconnect with family? I honestly don’t remember another time in my life where so many people were spending such quality time with their families. It’s pretty cool to see. But part of me is still jealous because I do not have that. I don’t have family that live near by. My husband is deployed thousands of miles away. I’m socially distancing as well which means I go to work in my “essential” job and return home…alone…again…and again.

I don’t say this as a pity party. But out of a raw place of where I’m at with our current events. For me, my season of uncertainty, frustration, disappointment, and even at times, isolation, began before coronavirus even was on our radar. The posts I’ve seen on social media that I’ve found most encouragement in are from friends of mine that are military spouses and military families awaiting their loved ones from deployment but also stuck in the same limbo of the unknown return. At the same time, I feel a sense of camaraderie with the single person who is living alone and obeying the stay home orders and doing their best to not feel disconnected from the world. It’s definitely a strange time indeed.

And during this strange time, I have tried so many times and failed to find the words to express the disappointment of this season for me personally, the biggest of all being my husband’s extended deployment. Part of that disappointment comes also with anger at people in the US not taking the restrictions seriously because maybe if people did obey and comply with the orders weeks ago, maybe my husband and the many other troops around the world would still be coming home as planned. This season of disappointment goes beyond the deployment. This is me is one that is a bag of mixed emotion. I am so grateful to have a job and a paycheck and be called “essential” while simultaneously disappointed that the jobs I want and have been in the process with- both of which are amazing and would be incredible have- are on hold. So more job disappointment paired with career disappointment and more waiting. I’m grateful that I’ve been able to continue my physical therapy and recover all the while still frustrated that I am nowhere near 100%. There are so many details small and big that just show me why I want to fast forward this season.

I know not everything has been terrible, but like many people during difficulty, its so easy to get caught in the negative and hear the discouragement, the lies, the deceit that the devil speaks into our ears. I have felt like a strong Christian for my entire adult life, but even in strong faith, I have struggled at times to ignore the voice of the enemy, the devil. And when we are in the midst of the battle, the struggles, the difficulty, we have to try to hear the voice that matters. The voice calling to us, the one offering us the helping hand..

Then I remember that God reminds us so many times in his Word that he hasn’t failed us nor forgotten us. And though at times it seems like he has, I want to remind you all that God is working- we just might not see what is happening. Even when I face the things I’ve written here, and worse things, I know that God is faithful. He has shown up in my life so many times. He has been there through everything. He has gotten me through everything I have ever faced. At my core, despite struggling, my faith is still there and I truly know where the victory lies…only in God. God is our strength. He is our hope. Just because we cannot see what God is doing, doesn’t mean he isn’t working. And especially with struggling in this season, what’s amazing is I have spent so much more time in prayer. I think that’s how it should be…when we struggle, we tell God. We express our hurt, our pain, our struggle, our weakness, our failures, our disappointments. We can yell. We can cry. We can be angry.

God is not intimidated by what we feel no matter how big or small. Just go to him with everything. Then listen. Wait. Seek him and his wisdom, his peace, and friend I can promise you this…he will show up. Whatever your season looks like currently, God is present. He is not absent. He is working. We may not have the whole picture, but he is working. Use this time of uncertainty and mixed emotions and seek him more than you ever have. Spend time in his Word. Take the time to study it and not just read it. Learn his heart. Pray…even if you don’t know how to or where to start…just start speaking to him like you would to anyone else. We don’t know how long this isolation and quarantine season will last. Go beyond isolation and use this time to grow and seek God and trust him to write your story, which for all of us, includes a chapter on the pandemic we all face. But the story doesn’t end here. There is hope.

"That's it?"

Recently I had a conversation with someone. It began seriously when they told me they had something they wanted to tell me. It was clear that what they wanted to tell me came at great difficulty for them, yet they still shared their news with me.

Sparing the details of that conversation, I want to focus on my response and afterthought. “That’s it?” was all I could really think. What they told me was big and it was serious and of great importance. But even now thinking of that conversation, I think of the question “that’s it?” that has been floating in my head.

Each of us have something in our lives that we regret or feel ashamed of or weigh heavy in guilt. I absolutely know I do. I think most people who have read my blog or book know I am a pretty open and honest person. Most people who talk to me, at some point, learn that almost anything is on the table for conversation. For years, my greatest shame, regret and guilt were my years of porn addiction that I held secretly. My addiction was my darkness. My shame. For years I was afraid for people to learn that secret for fear of being seen at my worst. The shame was so heavy it was almost unbearable. Even almost a decade and half later, with freedom ringing in my life through Jesus, I still have moments where I wish my story looked different. Fast forward to the last guy I dated before I met my husband. Man, sometimes do I wish that my relationship with that guy never existed. It was a relationship that nearly compromised everything I stood for and believed in and one where I found myself listening to lies disguised as truths. And it took months to recover from, not because the relationship being over broke me but because I was so sad for breaking God’s heart. I felt like I massively disappointed him.

But that is the amazing thing about God’s love for us. Our biggest mistakes, our worst failures, our most shameful decisions, our moments of greatest regret do not shake God or waiver his love. And that brings me back to my response to the conversation I had: “that’s it?”. If you have something weighing you down, something that you have carried the heavy burden of sin and shame, regret and guilt, I pray you release that before God. He can bring a freedom that can absolutely change the trajectory of your life. Shame is not something that comes from God. I pray you understand that God’s response to you is “that’s it?” not because the things we have done in our past or present aren’t important or do not have actual consequences, but because our greatest sin, shame, guilt, or regret is so small in comparison to God’s redeeming love. Nothing you have done or could ever do would change his love for you.

The shadow

I’ll be honest, this isn’t how I thought this would be. It is so easy on social media to see the things that people post and assume things are great. You see the smiles and the filters and the “happy”. I have never tried to be one of those people that hide my truth and reality from the world. So here I am being honest and vulnerable once more. This definitely isn’t how I thought this would be, not completely anyway.

You see, at the beginning of the year I made the second best decision of my life- the first being that I made the decision to live for Christ for real and the second being to marry my husband. I knew getting married would be a massive change to every aspect of my life. I knew us getting married meant me leaving the house I had just bought, the job that I fought for and was good at, the church that I loved, and the community that was my rock. I also knew getting married meant stepping into a new role, that of the wife of a service member, which by default, I was now the shadow. Some of my friends that were military spouses told me of the difficulty that comes with the times apart- the trainings, the trips, the deployments.

Though I expected it to be a little hard, my arrogance deceived me. You see, I was single for a long time before getting married. I was independent. I figured the distance wouldn’t be that hard. Then I got married and my world changed, in the best ways but also some of the hardest. I quickly had to learn what it was like to have to say goodbye…a lot. The distance frankly sucks. To learn a routine only to have to learn another one. To take a new job followed by several months of training that I already had done before and only had to do again because I left the job I loved. I have learned how to navigate being independent again while also being married. I have learned what it’s like to long for both where I was before getting married and for life after the military while also longing for time with my husband now. Yup, this isn’t really how I thought marriage would be for me.

This past year has been among the most humbling of my life. Equally the best while also being the hardest. And the crazy thing about it all…I would do it again because I madly love my husband and this is how I serve him right now. And I firmly believe we love our spouse best when we love God most. And despite this year having a lot of difficulty and many humbling moments where my pride got kicked, where many tears fell down my face in the quiet moments by myself, and where I had many nights of little rest, I know God has purposed all of this. Without a doubt I know there is a purpose for this because God’s love for us is deep. And sometimes, in our humanity, it’s hard to see the silver lining or the hope or the joy. I believe that this time, early in our marriage, will be a help to us in later years and difficulties. I believe this time will help us grow because it isn’t easy. And it isn’t fun all the time. Marriage takes work. It takes sacrifice. It takes intentionality. And we are definitely learning these things. Every single day.

With the distance, I have learned a great many things. As a married couple, we have learned the foundations of trust, communication, creativity in showing love, and the simple joys of a quick call or text. This season has challenged me to trust God not only with my marriage now, but with our future. It has challenged me to be honest with both myself and my husband with my struggles, my failings, my weaknesses, my frustrations and more. For a while, something I said earlier, I have felt like I am the shadow of my husband. There are things I gave up because the military basically owns him. But the longer we are married, the more I realized how incorrect that truly was. My life shouldn’t be the shadow of my husband nor should he be mine. We should be in the shadow of God- where the attention goes to Him and we follow closely. Where we are like Him, but not Him. Marriage is hard but when we pursue marriage through the lens that God is the lead, the difficulties, the distance, the hardship, everything…it is all kept in perspective. In His shadow we find peace. For me, seeking God constantly and loving my husband are the answer, not just for this season, but for the rest of my life. No matter what difficulty lies ahead, with being in the shadow of God- the Creator of the world, the God who saw my sin and loved me enough to redeem me- I know everything is alright.

Friend, wherever you find yourself tonight, I pray that you find the peace that only comes from God. The peace that brings comfort when things don’t make sense. The peace that bring resolve to the difficulty. The peace that quiets your soul. God- Jesus- is that peace.

Yes I will.

The past six months have been quite the journey. Six months ago I stood on a stage in a campground amphitheater looking surrounded by mountains saying “I do forever” to my now husband. Some possibly bad weather was imminent and the temperature was already colder than expected for the day. It was mere minutes after our wedding ceremony ended that the heavy rain came. It’s funny now six months since that day, here I am thinking on what I have learned and what I can share.

For anyone that knows me well, knows that I think deeply and process even the simplest of things to see what I can gain from that specific event, experience, conversation, movie, or whatever else, no matter how trivial; I want to learn what God is teaching me from everything. I think of my wedding day and how incredible it was truly. Everything mostly went to plan. The rain changed some things that we just had to adapt to and move forward in spite of but it didn’t ruin anything. And the more I think of what these first married months look like, I think of the rain and weather we dealt with for not just our wedding but also our mini honeymoon. We got snowed out of the Grand Canyon- me for the second time! We had a flight excursion planned that was canceled due to the harsh conditions. We couldn’t hike Bryce Canyon because the snow was too deep for plows.

What a beautiful picture of marriage though. You can make plans, you can have dreams. None of that is bad. But life will happen and you have to choose to adapt and move forward or you’ll just be stuck or totally miss out. Granted, we haven’t had some major life altering event happen yet in our marriage, but I can tell you that these six months of marriage have surely not been without great challenge. I can definitely attest to the fact that if you let the difficult moments defeat you, you will be miserable and miss out on so much that God has for you.

A week after we got married, we moved me and my belongings across the country so that we could live together as spouses. We were both sick for almost the first two weeks of marriage. When we arrived to our home to unload the U-haul with my belongings, we found that the heavy rains had ran into the trailer and gotten half of my stuff wet and some damaged. Two weeks after we got married, my husband left for three weeks for a training. Those first three weeks were incredibly hard. I was in a new city, new state, new house. I had no friends, no community, no church, no job. Talk about feeling isolated and alone and missing my new husband. It honestly, in part, didn’t even feel like I was married because we had such a brief time together before he left. My husband came home for ten days then left again for five weeks. He returned and was home for about three weeks, only to leave again for another training for two weeks. When he returned home from that trip, he was home for two weeks only to be told to leave over a week early for another trip and would be gone for seven weeks total. I saw him one day during that trip when we each drove four hours to spend 24 hours together on a Saturday. He’s home but leaves again, today. And I know this isn’t just hard for me. I see his face every time he leaves sad to say goodbye. I see the disappointment of missing time together. I see the longing to just be home.

Military life is hard. Marriage is even harder. We’ve been distance for over half of our marriage so far and I have gained the greatest respect for people who have been a part of military families for much longer than I. But what I have learned from these six months married just brings me back to our a wedding day and honeymoon. We have learned to adapt. The rain didn’t ruin our wedding. The snow and literal blizzard didn’t ruin our honeymoon. Yeah, plans had to change. Yeah some rough things happened. But I have learned greatly that in spite of the difficulty we have faced so far, that the constant in everything is that God is with us and leading us. I have learned much from the quiet nights alone in my house before or after the call I get to have with my husband when he is gone. I have learned much from having to navigate military life a lot by myself. I have learned that my marriage is the most important thing in my life and one of the most difficult at times. The challenges, difficulties, and struggles we have faced have only caused me to pursue Jesus more in our marriage.

I think that’s how it should be. Whatever we face, whether simple or traumatic, seemingly insignificant to someone else or major news, we have to learn to trust Jesus in the process. We have to learn how to trust that God hasn’t forgotten us, that he is leading us, but we also have listen and follow his voice. We can get so caught up by the things we face that we miss his voice in the noise of life. If I didn’t have God in my life, I don’t know how I would be handling the distance of marriage, the training of my new job, the adjustment of being in a totally new place with new people. Jesus needs to be the center of your personal life for him to be the center of your marriage. To be able to face the moments in life that beat you down, discourage you, hurt you, or nearly break you, you need Jesus to hold you, pick you up, and whisper new life in your ear. He will give you strength to face whatever you are going through, whether single or married. He will give you the ability to fight for your marriage, because friend I can tell you that a marriage that honors God is one worth fighting for. I can tell you that living in a way that is allowing God to be your strength instead of trying to be your own strength is a way better option. Whatever you face, know that God has not and will not forget you. He has not left you wayside. Choose to praise, to glorify God, to trust that he will lead you in the best he has for you. Trust that he is your source when you’re empty, your strength in weakness, your light in darkness, your hope in helplessness, your comfort in grief, your peace in chaos.

This song has become a regular in my daily listening. Yes I will…

Praying for my city.

I sit here tonight trying to process something that has been going through my mind all weekend. Just over 48 hours ago, someone did something terrible and because of it, lives were lost. I can’t help but grieve the loss of not just the lives of the people who died in the Virginia Beach shooting, but also the suffering and trauma of those that survived, of the family members and friends left behind, of the family of the gunman left with so many questions. I grieve because I know this city and the people in it will never be the same.

Earlier in the day, I prayed a prayer while at my job, a job that I have been navigating why God has me there. I am still in law enforcement just not where I want to be. And I feel like despite the past months being great being newly married, I am still left in the wake of the unknown. I don’t know why I am at the agency I am, I don’t know why I am at the church I am, I don’t know what my purpose is exactly, or what my ministry will look like. I just know I am here with my husband trying to figure this all out.

So with so many thoughts and feelings about things in my life, I prayed on Friday afternoon asking God to show me purpose and to give me vision. I asked him to give me peace on things that I am unsettled or discontented. I asked him to give me resolve. God reminded me of a section of the Bible that I love, Jeremiah 29. Everyone loves to quote verse 11 “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future”. It’s a great verse. People love quoting that for pretty much anything but so many fail to pay attention to the previous verses. The people of Israel were slaves, captives of another kingdom. Jeremiah 29 begins with a letter to the people declaring for them to be settled where God has them, to build houses, get married, be present. It wasn’t going to be a quick season, but instead 70 years of captivity. Jeremiah then says pray for the prosperity in the city in which I have placed you”. Then the famous verse 11 declaration takes place. But it continues with an encouragement to seek God because he will be found, he will be near, and he will redeem. So as I was walking around doing my job, I was thinking of this passage of the Bible and simply prayed for God to help me love my city better. To pray for Him to be known by more people, for people to seek him and find him, for people to find hope in despite their circumstances.

Little did I know that an hour later the Virginia Beach Municipal Center would have a mass casualty shooting.

I believe this was not a coincidence but a moment where God prepared me. I believe that God grieves with those that are broken from Friday’s shooting, along with anyone else broken all over the world. It is so easy to find blame in God for bad things like this happening. It is also so far off. Part of the beauty of God’s love for us is that it’s free and we have the choice to love him, or not. And when bad things like this happen, it is because someone chose to not love God and their brokenness and sin revealed. And God grieves this. He grieves the gunman’s choice. He grieves the loss of every life. He grieves the evil. But even still God has purpose and he will be glorified. And he will redeem. He will restore. He will bring hope to people that are hopeless.

The things we face do not define us. And they do not have to defeat us. The difference is whether or not will seek God in the midst of it. Will we seek God when all else remains in chaos? Will we seek God when we feel defeated? Will we seek God when we feel hopeless and lost and in despair? Will we trust that God does have a plan and purpose, hope and future for our lives? I wrote about it before in a previous post when the Las Vegas shooting occurred. But I gave my life to Christ as a direct result of the Columbine High School shooting. I knew as a young teen that I wanted to love God better and trust him with my life just as several students killed that day knew with great certainty. I knew I wanted to love him with everything that I was. I believe God works in the midst of even the darkest of days. I believe he also brings the light that removes even the shadows of darkness. Virginia Beach grieves tonight still. We mourn. We are sad. Many are hopeless. Many are lost. But take heart because God is here. He is present. He brings a comfort, a hope, a wholeness, a healing that nothing else ever can. And there will be good that births from this horror. As a testament of someone whose life was changed by another’s life being lost, I believe that other people will find God as a result of seeking him because of this tragedy. God will work out good despite evil thinking it prevailed.

The story isn’t over.

I do not know that man.

I fear too many times in my life I have said this with my actions and a version of it with my words. I fear too many times when the mockery has been loud, when the fear has been strong, and the uncertainty has been has been great, I have said something to this effect.

And that breaks my heart.

You see, two thousand years ago, Peter, the disciple of Jesus, was sitting in the temple court of Caiaphas watching the trial of his beloved teacher and dear friend Jesus. Earlier he had proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ- the Messiah long awaited by his people. He had seen miracles. He had a relationship with Jesus. He knew who Jesus was yet that night was different. The night began with Passover which any Jewish man and woman would be very accustomed to, but then Jesus spoke again of his nearing death. Peter even proclaimed that he would never betray him. No way would Peter believe that he would betray Jesus. Even at the arrest, Peter attacked one of the servants of Caiaphas the high priest.

But then Jesus was on trial and Peter stayed near the back of the crowd. Three separate times in the likely hours of this trial individuals accused Peter of knowing Jesus. They claimed to have seen him with Jesus. They claimed to recognize his accent from the same region of Jesus. Peter got to the point of being so angry that he cursed them and stated “I do not know that man” (Matthew 26:74). For three years, Peter was with Jesus and had total life change because of it. Because of Jesus. And here Peter knowingly betrayed him, not once but three times.

I can’t help but see myself in this story. I can’t help but see myself as Peter in so many ways. I have been a Christian for a long time. But I haven’t always served him well. In fact, there have been a few moments in my life where I knowingly did a version of what Peter did that night in the courtyard. There have been times where, despite knowing who Jesus has been in my life, I have denied knowing him. Sometimes it was because of temptation to do other things I knew Jesus wouldn’t be proud of (i.e. sin). Sometimes it was because the peer pressure of those around me and my desire to be liked by them meant more than loving my Jesus. Sometimes in anger and lack of understanding of things in my life, I have said this.

Luckily the story for Peter didn’t end in the courtyard. Luckily his story continued because later we see the redemption. I will explore that another time in another blog. For now, on Good Friday, the day that reminds us of the suffering of Jesus, I ask that you focus on this part of the story. We are all Peter in some way. We all have said “I do not know that man”. We have all lived our lives denying Jesus in some way, even if only temporary. Some of you still might. I can tell you this, when Peter eventually was redeemed, we know that he also grieved greatly his sin. And I can also tell you in my life, those moments where I denied Jesus with my life, my words, my actions, I have had to grieve and grieve greatly. Good Friday is not a day to celebrate. It is a day to remember that Jesus chose a cross and we have chosen denial. That he chose to love us despite knowing that there would be times when we would claim we didn’t know him. We cannot celebrate the resurrection of Jesus if we are not willing to grieve our sin and his suffering. Only then can we celebrate Sunday’s coming.

Steward your influence well

The past few days I have struggled with this concept. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. Even our greatest in leadership are human and many fail. Even if someone doesn’t hold a leadership position, they are a person of influence to someone. Think about it for a second for your own life. Are you a leader in an aspect? Are you someone who others look up to for wisdom, guidance, prayer, and counsel? Are you a person of influence?

You are a person of influence…to someone. You are a person who someone, somewhere looks at. They watch your lifestyle. They observe your postings on social media. You might be their parent. You might be their church leader or pastor. You might be their teacher. You might just be someone a little older than them. But whether you like it or not, you have influence in this world to someone. And my heart is grieved when those with larger audiences ignore the burden of their influence.

It may seem like nothing to you, but what you do matters. What you say matters. How you approach conflict and criticism matters, especially the larger your platform. Friend, whether you’re a pastor of a mega church or a stay at home parent, you need to be held accountable. You need to allow yourself room for someone else to shape you into the best person you can be, especially as a Christian. And to be clear: you don’t have to be a Christian to be a person of influence; my readers just tend to be a lot of Christians and pastors. Allow people access to your life to be your accountability; the ones that can be your support system but also the people that will call you on your crap. Allow people to speak life into you even and especially when it seems like little life actually exists. You are human and you will face circumstances that make you want to act out foolishly, take revenge, speak gossip, or whatever else. Choose wisely how you respond even when life isn’t the greatest because someone is watching you. Your kids, your students, your coworkers, your subordinates, your congregants, your neighbors, your siblings and so many others are watching you, especially those of you who profess to be Christians. They are watching to see your response.

Some just fail more loudly than others.

Don’t fail into the trap of social media tirades. Don’t gossip about it especially if you haven’t prayed about it. Everything we do is a point of influence and if we aren’t careful, we might not be influencing others the way we would actually want. I know for me personally, especially as a minister, I am not only a professed Christian, but someone who others come to for counsel, prayer, and wisdom. In my grief, anger, brokenness and anything else I face, I still have a choice to be human and go through the processes I need to without damaging my influence. I firmly believe a huge goal in our lives as Christians is to point people to Jesus with how we live our lives, the good and the bad. One poor social media post, one inappropriate conversation with someone at work, one act lacking integrity, one flirtation with someone married…the list can go on but it comes down to the fact that one thing can destroy your credibility, your voice, your influence.

Your influence can always be redeemed. Jesus can redeem anything. But friend, I urge you to be cautious, especially those with the bigger platform of influence. If you mess up, if you sin greatly or publicly, if you destroy everything that was once your influence, that doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Allow accountability again. Allow correction. Be humble. Ask for forgiveness with those you hurt. Whatever your failure might look like, it is redeemable. But you have to want it. If you haven’t messed up greatly, that’s amazing. If you are in some form of leadership, lead well by following Christ’s example. Walk in humility, integrity, character, own your mistakes and hold yourself and others accountable.

Steward your influence well. Make the conscious continued choice to live well, to allow yourself to still be refined, to allow yourself to be human, but to also recognize that you are an example to those around you of your beliefs. You get to choose how you respond to things which ultimately shapes your influence, regardless of the size or type of platform you have.

The best day.

Pictures from the best day of my life so far. Well, sort of. Let me explain briefly. The best day of my life was when I decided to live my life for Jesus. This was the second best day of my life. I’ve prayed for my wedding, but even more prayed for my marriage. So to be able to have a dream wedding with a man far beyond my dreams…oh man. Our wedding was stunning and went smooth. We weren’t stressed. We went hiking. We enjoyed ourselves. Ultimately, our wedding wasn’t what was important; our marriage was. Our marriage was the purpose of the wedding and everything else was just detail. God brought us together and as a bonus we were honored to be able to get married in Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah. What better way to symbolize marriage. You will have highs and lows, joy and sorrow, good and bad. Heck, it rained on our wedding day. It didn’t ruin it for us though. Zion was the perfect way to capture how we felt. A big God loves us so much that he brought us together. And that same God created Zion also created the world around us. I was constantly humbled during our time in Utah and Arizona looking at the landscape. What a beautiful architect to design everything from the smallest to the greatest details. Our wedding was a dream come true. A prayer answered. And just plain fun. Enjoy our pictures. And if you ever want an awesome vacation, check out the National Park Service and visit amazing and breathtaking places like Zion, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, and more. Get outside and experience the world around you. And bonus, it’s way more fun to do life with those you love than by yourself. Find your people, your tribe, your love, and go live life well.

(All pictures are compliments of my amazing photographers and dear friends All My Love Photography: Jeff and Joelle Cope.)