BEAUTY FROM ASHES

Today is Ash Wednesday and it has me reflecting on one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, Isaiah 61. My heart is heavy because I miss "my people + my kids" more than I knew was ever humanly possible. The months that have passed between seeing them have been hard and as I try to brace myself for the couple of months left to go, I feel the weight, the pain, the longing, the ashes. 

But as I sit here, I also have to reorient my heart towards the good news that life doesn't stay dark and gloomy and full of ashes. Instead, we're given the promise that He will create beauty from our ashes every single time. I don't know what ashes you're sitting with today, but I hope you know the promise He has given. You don't have to sit in your ashes for the rest of your life - beauty will come. It always does. And Jesus will be the one to bring it.

In Lisa Bevere's book, Without Rival, she talks about how we serve a God that is without rival. The Gospel is the ultimate beauty from ashes moment. Amen. I love the way she phrases this because I feel that she captures that essence so well. It's been speaking to my heart all week.

Our God declares the end in the beginning. 
In Christ, God loved us before we loved him, 
caught us before we fell,
forgave us before we asked,
clothed us in righteousness before we realized we were naked,
and cleansed us before we were aware of our filth.
 

That is love, beauty, and faithfulness all wrapped up in one. He didn't leave us in despair; He had a plan to meet our needs before we ever knew those needs existed in us. With this in mind, we can know with certainty that He also has a plan to give us the beautiful headdress that He has promised in place of our ashes. 

One of my favorite characteristics of God is His faithfulness. You'll hear me say it all the time, but He is faithful; I believe that into the deep depths of my soul. As I reflect on who I once was, who I am now, and who He is calling me to be, I can't help but praise Him for His faithfulness towards me. 

He never fails, never disappoints, and is always on time. He's faithful to redeem, restore, heal, and liberate. He keeps His covenant promises to us and never forsakes or forgets. Because of this, we can look forward with hope and assurance. We can be sure that He will turn our ashes into beauty, our mourning into joy, and our faint spirits into praises. Because He is faithful, we can be faith-filled.

This is the God we believe in, the Jesus we surrender our lives to, and the Spirit we allow to lead us day after day. Hold fast to His promises and rejoice in His faithfulness. Remember this today and everyday that the ashes surround you, pain is part of your story, and hope seems lost. Beauty is coming, my friends! It always does without fail. 

THE LOVE WITHIN

I used to be a people pleaser (and it can still be a struggle!). It’s a downside of my personality. Because of this, I also used to try to please God. I did all the “right things.” I read my Bible, went to church, prayed, and was involved in many small groups and mission trips, but it seemed like I was constantly dealing with the ups and downs of life. One day, I finally hit rock bottom. I became angry and bitter towards God and basically gave him an ultimatum: prove to me you exist or I’ll walk away. And I did. I walked away for several months. During that time, my life fell apart. I became even more angry and believed I had nothing left to live for. My life was at an all time low and God had forsaken me. He was nowhere to be found. 

But then, on the day I ended my marriage, God came to my rescue. I had pretty much destroyed myself and many relationships at this point. My life consisted of nothing but brokenness. On one of the most lonely, painful nights etched in my memory - for whatever reason (GOD!) - I picked up the book, Crazy Love. My soon-to-be ex-husband had dropped it off earlier with some of my belongings. I read it in a matter of hours and I was wrecked… in the best way possible. The way it talked about God’s love for me cut me to the core. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was worthy to be loved. 

I knew that if I was loved with an unconditional love, I should love others in the same way. If I could be found worthy of love - even after all the terrible things I had done - anyone else certainly could be to. I knew the first person that deserved to be loved by me, the person who was worth fighting for, was my husband. I picked up the phone and texted him. The next morning, we met for brunch and while it was still very rocky, it was my first step towards healing. 

Over time, with lots of counseling and healing delivered to me by the grace of Jesus, I recovered. We both did. Through this process, Jesus showed me His unconditional love and made it known that I was worthy to receive it. He showed me that I was in bondage, being held in captivity by lies. He pointed out my chains and helped me to break them. He showed me that where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. He showed me that He has always walked with me and has never once forsaken me like I believed he had. He showed me that He is perfect and His timing is perfect. He showed me that He is trustworthy. 

He deserves my love and devotion. He deserves my life. 

And so, 3 ½  years later, I look nothing like that old person. A new life was given to me that night and a new person has been born. The funny thing is that He answered my “ultimatum.” He proved He existed, but it looked nothing like I wanted it to. He allowed me to be broken to the point of having nothing left. He allowed me to come to the end of myself so I could see who He is and who I am not. 

He is the Lord, master, ruler of my life. He is Adonai. 
I am His child. His daughter. 

Now, I joyfully surrender my life to Him. I want to fulfill my purpose and calling here on earth. My calling is to help others discover their true identity in Christ. As a result, my passion is ending human trafficking because no other injustice affects identity the way human trafficking does. It is this injustice that allows one person to own another. It’s this injustice that strips away a person’s name and replaces it with a number, wiping out who they are as a human being. 

That leaves me here, starting this blog and advocating on behalf of others. It’s been a process full of twists, turns, and unexpected bumps in the road to get here, but He has been the constant. As best I have known how, I’ve tried to be obedient to Him and His Word. I’m trying to glorify Him with my life because I’ve discovered life lived without Him isn’t really a life at all. He is the giver of life and fulfiller of our desires.

By walking closely with Jesus and trusting Him with all I’ve got, He has revealed a beautiful truth in my life: 

When passion and calling collide, life happens. 

Life is beautiful when Jesus is in the middle of it. Your identity is found in Christ alone so claim it for yourself and live in freedom. Walk confidently in who you are. You are His beloved.

If my story can tell you anything, I hope it's that the Love within is where life begins.

 

 

JESUS IN A BROTHEL

You can imagine my surprise as I stood there staring at Him.

This was the third and final brothel we visited that morning. They were such dark places with no sign of hope except for the occasional smile made by one of the women. 

And yet, in this moment my hope had been restored and promise filled the air. 

I was staring one of my sisters in the face. Above her room were pictures of Jesus, and I stood there in awe of the fact that we found Him here. She asked for prayer so we did just that. 

Her dark sari was draped over her head. Her hands out wide. Surrendered. 

I always say that Jesus knows each one of these women by name. He knows her story. He knows her pain. On this day, He let me see for myself how true that really is. He is the Shepherd, we are His sheep. There is nothing that can stop Him from going after one of His sheep. Not even the evil of human trafficking. 

In going to India, I really wanted to visit a red light district. I didn’t want to go to be a spectator, but to take my understanding of human trafficking in India to a deeper level. If God is calling us to do this work full time, I want to learn as much as I possibly can. By God’s grace, He made a way for us to have that experience. 

The day came and we drove over to the district. We got out of the car and began our journey down the small lane. It was as if we smashed into a wall of darkness - the landscape changed, the air was different - we were walking into hell on earth. 

We went into the first brothel where one of the women gave us a brief tour. Her room had two beds with curtains that could be pulled down for privacy. Two women lived and worked in this small room simultaneously. Across from the beds was a small faucet with a bucket - their bathroom. 

After saying our goodbyes, we walked down the lane to the second brothel. This one was very different from the first and at this one we met with a woman who held a “higher rank” within the brothel. She worked there, but also managed some of the other women. She had worked her way up into a room with windows. The light was beaming in, creating quite the contrast from the rest of the building. We briefly sat down and I tried to soak it all in. There were smaller rooms off to the side, a man making food on the floor, and a woman who had endured years of abuse and torture standing in front of me. After a few minutes we left, but the realization of sunlight being such a privilege in this place is something I couldn’t forget. 

The third brothel we entered was a little further down the lane. We climbed up two stories on a steep ladder into the attic. The “kitchen” was the first thing we saw. It was just a bunch of pots and pans on the floor. We couldn’t stand up straight in this part of the attic. It was hot and very humid, but apparently mild compared to what it normally is. We took a peek into a room across the kitchen, then turned into another room that had two tiny “stalls.” These tiny little rooms were only big enough to house the bed itself. There was one with a mattress and a bed frame, the other with only a mattress on the floor. 

My heart broke for what I heard next: In the little room with the mattress and frame, it cost $2.50 for service. In the room with the mattress on the floor, $1.50. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that a human life could be worth so little. 

After that, we stepped into the back room and we were introduced to a woman who, we would soon find out, had recently became a Christian. When I initially saw the pictures on her wall, I wasn’t sure what it meant. It’s common in Hinduism to add Jesus into the mix, but they clarified right away that she had denounced all other gods and accepted Jesus as her one and only Savior.

I couldn’t help but see her as God sees her - the dark sari removed and a bridal gown of bright and shining linen put on. 

He is enthralled with the beauty of His daughter. He knows her name, her story, and her pain. He has taken her from death to life and given her a crown to signify the great riches of His grace. She is no longer defined by current circumstances, but by her Father’s love for her. She is being renewed, transformed, made whole. 

The beauty of the Gospel was found in the most evil place I’ve ever been exposed to. And that made it all the more radiant and glorious. It made me stand in awe of The Shepherd. He intimately and intentionally cares for each of us if we let Him. 

As for her, she is getting older and her time in the brothel is running out. The customers aren’t coming around like they used to. She will soon be told that she is taking up valuable space and will be forced to leave the only thing she’s ever known.

When she’s out of the brothel, she wants to be baptized. She understands the significance of the decision she’s made and wants to be able to reflect that with her life, which she currently cannot do. In the coming days, she will experience physical freedom, but she will also get to show the world the spiritual freedom she’s already found. Someone, somewhere in India will baptize her. They will lower her dark sari into the water and when she stands, her radiant wedding gown will be on display for all to see. Oh, how I wish I could experience this with her! What a life changing moment it will be. 

Finding my Beloved in the brothel was my favorite moment of the trip. He taught me so much in those brief moments with her. He reminded me that His love is relentless and never-ending. He pursues us and He draws us near to Him no matter what our current condition or circumstances might be. Only He can restore and redeem us. Only He can give us the peace that surpasses understanding. Only He can heal the deep, gaping wounds of our heart and soul. 

We need Him more than the air we breathe. 

He’s the only hope we have of surviving the brokenness our world is saturated with. That’s why fighting human trafficking without Him makes no sense.