Saturday, October 31, 2009

a love letter.

this blog isn't so much a blog as it is a copy and paste. it's a letter i wrote to family and friends, yesterday. and it's about a friend of mine, our church, and our Jesus. and it's a beautiful story of redemption. i hope it, and the video linked, will somehow move you one step closer to Love. He's waiting.


hi everyone,
i have some good news i want to share with you.
last weekend in wilmington was something else. as a matter of fact, my heart is pounding as i write this to you. so here's what went down. and where ever you stand right now, please just hear me (read me) out. know my motives and my heart as your friend, and then let what i have to say and what you hear, following, soak in. it's surely to change you.

in 1997, i had the sweet privilege to meet a girl who i thought was a total california cheerleader dyed blonde goof. well ok, she was all of those things. but she was more. she was hilarious, insanely intelligent, beautiful, tender-hearted and loyal. it's one of those hindsight things where you look back ten+ years later and know for sure and certain that it was no coincidence in your meeting. our lives didn't happenstance on the other's. we were 17. and last sunday, we were thirty. it was her birthday. and in so many ways, it was her BIRTH day.

we roomed together for a while in college but then went our separate ways. i was saved then and wasn't walking but i did have some convictions. though they were probably weak at best, one of them was to not mess with drugs. hard drugs. and i walked away from that living situation broken. i remember grieving her because our friendship pretty much dissolved after our rooming situation changed. i can't wrap my words around what is in my heart and what i want to share with you. so please bare with my loss for words. and forgive me if i lose you in any of this or if things don't tie together. but this is the truth.

i called her carter. and when i moved back to wilmington, after having been gone for the better part of four years (post-college), our lives merged again. there i was working with her. side-by-side. we made decisions together, walked together, she took care of my maddie dog when i went back and forth to winston as my grandad was dying. our friendship rekindled - as did my walk with the Lord. God brought me back to Port City church. and my spirit was refreshed with God's word. the friends i thought i would be hanging out with when i moved back to wilmington weren't who i found myself with. instead, God did something totally different to me. He pushed me toward things i was uncomfortable with. making new friends. but carter, she stayed constant. and she started to ask questions. she asked questions about God.

and it would be another two years, after she was married and i was married, that God would grip her in a way that neither of us - anyone - thought He would grip her. in her deepest grief, after losing her baby, she didn't find answers in Oprah, or a song or "in time you'll get through this" but God. it was somewhere in the quiet of her tears that she whispered for the Lord to please be near, and He was. in fact, He was always near. He was just waiting for her call. for her to recognize the Love that He was. and her life changed.

i don't know if i've ever seen a transformation, in a life, so intimately than i've seen in carter. to walk with her now is so different. to say that i'm blessed by her friendship is so small. but i don't know another word other than blessed that falls under the scope of the holiness of the One who saved us both and redeemed us from sin. i laugh so hard with carter. we share tears when we worry over our girls. we push each other in our roles as wives and direct each other back to God when our perspective is skewed. to call her my sister is an answered prayer. she is comfort and genuine and loving and kind and courageous. because for years she carried a secret. few knew of what her college experience looked like, at times. but on sunday, her thirtieth birthday, the tenth anniversary of our church's existence, she stood before a crowd of witnesses, two thousand or more in size, and publicly professed victory over something that once held her in bondage by guilt and fear and regret. but now she stands completely refreshed, redeemed and no longer identifies with her past but rather with who she really is. she is a child of a God. God's daughter. and living free.

i say all of this (i know. it's a lot.) because if it even impacts one of you, then that's enough. but most of you know her. you'll recognize her and her husband when you see her in this video.
most of your call her hilary. but the blessed of you can now call her Sister. because if you are in Christ, then that is who she is to you. and what a blessing that is. i hope that the rest of the testimonies that you see will transform you - will soften your heart and ready you.

our Lord loves you. whether you want Him to or not, He does.

God's peace,

Monday, October 26, 2009

over us.

this past sunday at our church, a beautiful thing happened. we celebrated ten years of our church being a church and doing just what God does - using the ordinary for something extraordinary. because He is extraordinary.

i don't know, really, how to explain what church was like on sunday. it really was one of those days that you had to be there for what took place to really resonate with your spirit. but i want to share a little glimpse of what it was like to sit there and be a part of that day of worship.

when i was 19 i went to Port City Community Church for the first time. i was a believer, saved, but not walking. and i remember that i enjoyed church. it was engaging and fun. and it was the only church i visited more than once, while in college. and i moved away for some time after college and when i returned, God called me back to Port City. i can't explain it. i just remember not wanting to go to that church and yet knowing that it would be dumb of me to not try it again, at least, just once more. and so for about five years now, it's been my church home. to just say that makes me happy. i've never had a church where i called home. and it's a privilege to call Port City home.

so on sunday we had a guest speaker come - a great man of faith from Africa with whom our church walks with and helps in their efforts to build up God's kingdom in Kenya. to hear pastor jackson's account of faith - how and why he came to Port City - i don't know the words. it was just amazing. let's just say that he heard God's calling, sold his car, got on an airplane, flew into the united states and then phoned our pastor and basically said, "i'm coming to you. to my people." our pastor laughed - we couldn't be his people...we had no money. we were a tiny church then. but we were. God had spoken it.

and isn't it so - when God wants it to be, it will be. small, big, short, skinny, fat, speech impediment, shy, loud...He uses it all.

on Sunday, He used it all.

i won't tell with visual clarity, because I know that she will want to tell it, explicitly, eventually. but this is the truth of what we experienced. on sunday, i watched a girl, a woman, a friend of mine who i met when i was 17, glorify God so boldly along side her husband that i didn't cry. i wept. and it was tears of excitement and grief and joy and overwhelming love. she displayed her testimony and the victory that God's grace gave to her life in a way that i will never forget. i screamed a hallelujah cheer as loud as my voice would carry from my seat as she showed the world that the enemy has no hold over her life. but that through God's love and mercy and truth - she is free.

and as we sang in a body of worship to our Lord, i felt it. the presence of God's Holy Spirit was so potent and holy and sweet.

the only thing i can compare it to is when God first created the world and He said that
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

2 Now the earth was a]">[a] formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. that sweet room of worship, it's true, the spirit of the living God was hovering over His creation. and it was good.

in the presence of God, it is good. in His presence, there is rest. and it is good. in His arms, there is comfort and protection. it is good. He is our shield. our refuge. our salvation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

and my shoulders relaxed. it was love.

one christmas, back in the day, i think i was 14 or 15, our family got a new computer. and it had a microphone and speakers. i know. crazy high tech stuff! but it was back then. and it even had a cd player. and that christmas i got a deanna carter cd. oh if you don't know her - just sing real sweet and soft and add some country twang to your voice and there you have it. i loved her cd. strawberry wine.

and so there i was in our rec room - the third floor that my dad transformed into a play/rec room - listening to the cd. and up walks my grandad. you had to walk through our guest room to get to the stairs to our rec room. so naturally after eating a big christmas breakfast, grandad needed a nap. but who gets a nap when a teenager is listening to country music just up the stairs off your bedroom? so he just came on up to see what the music was all about. and without judging or smirking, he just sat down on our futon that was laid in the position of a beach reclining chair. he laid back and fell asleep. but do you know what he fell asleep to? me singing through the microphone. little 15 year old me singing my heart out along with deanna carter. i remember being shy but he didn't say anything and i think his silence just made it possible for me to sing through the silliness and just keep enjoying our new christmas present. our computer (that likely took up the entire desk it sat on: the screen, that is).

and then there were the years that i moved to high point, nc which put me only 20 minutes from grandad's house - then in advance, nc. and i would stop by for lunch or to visit on the weekends or for dinner or whenever - and even if he was in his robe, or just eating breakfast, or settling in for a nap, he never turned me away. ever. he always said with a big loud voice "hello ashley!!" and if he wasn't already snug in bed, he always stood and walked my way and greeted me with a kiss. but my favorite was the time that i tried on a dress for him - when he took me shopping with my mom - and he was stunned by how pretty he thought the dress looked on me that he walked over to me and kissed me softly right on the soft place between your collar bone and your neck.

i don't know what love for a grandbaby is - but i know what love for my grandad is. and it still rolls on. and i want that for my babies. for my love to always roll on.

but how do you know? how do you know if you're loving right? i think that's a check you make with God. i think that's something you ask of Him to search in you. and He will. and gently, when he readies you, He'll show you where you're lacking and how to love more. you just have to ask and be open for the correction and teaching.

last week, though, i got a glimpse of something sweet. and it reminded me of grandad lying on that futon and of the sweetness of his kiss on my neck. but it came from my little one.

she was tired at the end of a day. and while i held her with her legs straddling my belly, she put her head on my chest and said, "mommy, sing the hmm hmmm song." i was confused because i didn't know what the hmm hmm song was. at first. but then she started humming and it was clear. the first three notes she hummed were clear - the rest, not so much - and i knew what she wanted. she wanted me to hum Jesus Loves Me.

every night as todd or i are putting Loralai to bed, or nap time, we hum Jesus Loves Me one time through and then lay her down. and when she tuckered out one day, that's all she needed. that little sweetness that reminded her of where it was safe to rest. and while i hummed holding my first born in our hallway, staring at prego pictures of myself, i just sighed. what a gift.

what a precious insight into the heart of my baby and into the gift that God is giving me.

God asks us to create a safe place for our children. a place where they can grow in security, in comfort, in peace. a place of correction that is gentle and not demeaning. a place where they can be silly and themselves when they might hold back in the world.

my grandad did that with me. he loved me even when i was singing some silly country song. and he kissed me and greeted me with affection that made me feel like the most special girl.

i want to do that for my children. let them grow and be and kiss them and love them so that they always feel beautiful. because no matter what the world calls them, i want them to know that all that matters is that they are their Savior's beloved. and that's enough.

and that understanding of love will first come from the ones that God has given them to. us.

what a privilege.