Red Sea Road — the most timely hope anthem.

June 20, 2015.

It was just a few weeks after we’d lost Judah Rise. The sting of death still burned all the way to my core, and my heart bore a gaping hole so big that I think it may have been visible from outside my body. Grief marks you that way.

Maybe you remember the part of the story where my sisters were both pregnant at the same time that we were expecting Judah. All three babes were to arrive within a month of each other, and my aunt was throwing a shower for all three of us that Saturday. Within those few weeks between us losing our boy and the date of that baby shower, my sisters had both called me to let me know they understood if I didn’t want to come. I love them for that, but I went anyway.

I knew it would be hard. I knew my family had wholeheartedly released me from having to show up. But I kept thinking about my sisters, who are two of my dearest friends, and my two nieces that were on the way. I was about to move across America to plant a church, and the cost of that was to leave my entire family back in Texas. The years ahead would be full of major life moments I would miss, including the birth of my nieces, and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to show up and celebrate with the people I love the most.

I remember just feeling sort of numb that day. Grief isn’t really easy for anyone — for those of us grieving or those of us close to those who are grieving. It’s hard to know what to talk about, what to acknowledge or not acknowledge. Especially in a setting where you’re supposed to be celebrating someone else.

It was easily the most uncomfortable I’d ever felt, trying to engage in conversations that day, dodging the sad eyes of my friends and relatives and smiling through awkward small talk. I’ve never been good at small talk, even on my best days.

I remember feeling like people were looking at me like they knew I was in pain but didn’t know what to say about it, so they just didn’t. I don’t blame them. I think I would have done the same thing. And honestly, I didn’t want to talk about it. That day was for my sisters, and that was why I went. But at the same time, I couldn’t ignore how I felt.

At one point I walked over to the corner of the room to get a drink and have a moment alone to regroup, and I happened to look at my phone when I did. There was a message from my dear friend Ellie Holcomb, who may as well have been an actual angel in that moment, because it was as if God had walked into that room and bypassed all the other people to walk straight up to me and say, “I see you.”

She had sent me a message earlier that week, which I guess I’d forgotten about, letting me know that she had been thinking of me and that she’d written a song that day inspired by us and our journey and Judah’s story. And that morning as I sat there feeling so lonely and exposed at my sisters’ baby shower, this is what she said to me:

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I choked back tears long enough to sneak out of the room. I sat down in the bathroom of an old historic hotel in downtown Houston, and I just wept as I sat there with my phone to my ear, listening to her sing a song in a voice memo that seemed to give me language for everything I was feeling but didn’t know how to articulate.

It felt like she wrote me a fight song, ironically partially inspired by words I had written in a blog post earlier that month. For almost a decade Ellie and I have stayed in touch just by praying for one another in every season, holding each others arms up in battle, lighting the way by worship and prayer through the valleys and celebrating with one another on the mountains. This song was a light in the darkest moment of my life, and it has carried the day for me through the hardest seasons I’ve ever lived through.

It’s about how God makes a way where there is no way, the same way he split the Red Sea for the Israelites to walk right through, when death was chasing their heels and it seemed like they had nowhere to go. It’s honest in the way it feels to grieve, doubt and question, and it raises a banner of hope even in the face of death, because with Jesus, hope always rises — even out of the grave.

Tonight as I write this, my baby girl Ellie Joy is asleep on my chest. Every time I look at her I can hear the words of this song in my head declare that He. Is. Faithful. That our stories never end at the graves we sometimes find ourselves standing over, and that our God is a way-maker in the wilderness.

I’ve been listening to this song and letting the truth of our God’s faithfulness wash over me on hard days for a year and a half — through a major move right after losing Judah and a lot of hard days on the way to healing — through a miscarriage and the hard days of healing from that, too.

And for the last couple of months, I’ve been singing, dancing, weeping, fist-pumping and worshiping to this new record of Ellie’s, and I am so excited to finally get to share it with all of you.

Do yourself a favor and go get this record today. I am so certain that it will be water to your soul. I pray it breathes life back into your bones the same way that it has mine. And if you’re in need of a declaration of hope in impossible places, I pray that Red Sea Road becomes your hope anthem the same way that it’s been mine these last couple of years.

I challenge you to do just what this song beckons us all to do…

“We will sing to our souls, we won’t bury our hope…”

Sing. Worship. I have learned it’s the only thing that keeps me whole when everything feels broken.

. . .

Click below to find Red Sea Road on iTunes:

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The dance of life & death

We had an obviously really sweet ending to 2016, but when Noland and I sat down on New Year’s Eve to process our year and dream into a new one, it was kind of crazy to remember how hard this year actually was. For the last month I have just been weeping joy tears over our beautiful baby girl, but in the 11 months prior to that, there was heartache and loss and all sorts of confusion — and all at the same time, hope, life, and the provision of God in the most impossible places.

We entered the extremely intimidating process of adoption, and I wrestled with fear and anxiety the entire time. Yet every step of the way, God reminded me how much He was with us and for us. We asked Him for a house; He gave us one. We moved forward with adoption even when we didn’t know where tens of thousands of dollars were going to come from; He literally opened Heaven and poured it out on us.

We were surprised by a sort of miraculous pregnancy in July, and we grieved the loss of that pregnancy at around 8 weeks. Less than two weeks later, another August 8 came and went, and it all felt like too much — questioning the loss of and longing for our boy Judah all over again, and still healing from miscarriage all at the same time. The entire month of August just felt like death to me.

We grieved with others this year, too. We spent two weeks in Europe over the summer, learning the stories of Syrian refugees and allowing our hearts to break with theirs in their longing and loss — emotions that are all too familiar to us. We saw a brokenness in our world that we can’t un-see, and our hearts will never be the same from it.

We walked with other friends of ours through the loss of babies, broken marriages and other wounded relationships. We watched as a really hateful election cycle unfolded, polarizing our nation and leaving a lot of people we love deeply heartbroken. All of these experiences made 2016 a really confusing year for me, personally.

I spent a lot of the month of November just grieving. I felt grieved over and tired from our three and a half year journey to family. I felt grieved over the brokenness in our nation. I felt grieved over the brokenness in the Middle East, over the friends I made in refugee camps in Europe this summer and their longing to be back home.

And then on December 1, this precious baby girl was placed in my arms. And it was so sweet and I will never be the same, but even her arrival wasn’t without grief and heartache. It wasn’t necessarily mine and Noland’s grief, but we were deeply touched by the grief of her birth parents that we saw so up close.

Something happens when you share such an intimate experience with strangers — they quickly become the opposite of strangers. In one night, these two precious people became so dear to our hearts. We laughed with them. We cried with them. Gosh, we had a baby with them. That sounds weird but there’s not really any other way to say it.

About a week after Ellie Joy was born, we took her by her birth parents’ place to say goodbye. It was one of the most holy moments I have ever experienced. We all stood outside, and some of the neighbors crowded around to see the baby they’d all been watching grow in their friend’s belly. We all ooh-and-ahh’d over her, most of us with tears in our eyes.

One of the neighbors asked if he could pray over her before we left, so we all gathered around, a bunch of misfit strangers quickly made brothers & sisters, as we laid hands on our girl and asked God to bless her and keep her. In my mind I sort of zoomed out on that scene — a scene I never in a million years would have placed myself in — and I thought about how sweet it is the way God weaves life into all of our dead and hopeless places.

We finished praying and we walked away to have a more private goodbye with Ellie’s birth parents. Her birth dad hugged Noland and with tears still welling up in his eyes he said, “Go be a daddy.”

Her birth mom walked us to our car, both of us awkwardly prolonging a goodbye we weren’t sure how to say. She kissed Ellie and handed her back to me. I hugged her and through my blubbering tears all I could say over and over was, “Thank you.” She thanked me back, for giving her girl a hope that she couldn’t, and told us both she loved us dearly.

As we drove away, I thought about how we would be celebrating in the weeks and months to come, and they would be grieving and healing. And oh, the ache of grieving your babies — I know it so well. In those couple of weeks in Arizona, I had no idea how much my heart was capable of grieving and celebrating all at the same time.

And that’s kind of how this year has been. Deep, deep grief coupled with extravagant celebration. Even this baby girl in our arms who we are so crazy about doesn’t take away the grief of losing Judah last year or the loss of our pregnancy in July. I still think about both of those babies when I rock her to sleep at night.

The truth is, there’s no real cure for longing on this side of Heaven. We’ll never be complete on this side of eternity. We will always experience grief even in the presence of life — and I’m learning to be grateful for that.

I know Jesus better because of it. Because He was a man familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief — and all in the same breath, He is Life. He is Victory. He is Hope. He is Peace. In His Presence is FULLNESS of Joy. And that is because for the joy set before Him, He endured suffering and death on the cross.

Sometimes when death sings melody, life sings harmony. And somehow the two together end up being a really special kind of beautiful.

In 2017, I hope we are all better at this dance of letting those two things exist alongside each other. When our hearts are breaking, I hope we let them — there is gold in being broken and allowing God to move and comfort and heal, even in our questions. And when we experience victories, I hope we are brave enough to claim and celebrate them, not allowing our previous losses to steal from our current breakthrough.

When we see injustices unfold before our eyes, I hope we really see them and choose to allow our hearts to be moved in such a way that our actions follow. I hope we let our own heartbreaks grow empathy for others.

I hope we’re all a little more uncomfortable this year — willing to be inconvenienced and interrupted for the sake of someone else.

And you know what I think fuels all of those things? Being willing to be heartbroken. There is something about experiencing grief that makes us all a little more hungry and willing to make sacrifices in order to bring forth life. And I think our world could use a little more of that this year.

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Cheers. It’s time to learn to celebrate.

It’s 10:48 pm on October 27, and I’ve got a birthday in a little over an hour. Something about that always makes me feel a little reflective; a little nostalgic, even. Another 365 days of life gone by. Another trip full-circle around the sun. I always wonder at the end of a year if I got everything out of it that I could have. Some of that is just a chronic case of middle-child FOMO (fear of missing out).

I think some of it is valid, though. A desire to live well, to take opportunities when I should, and to be still when necessary and actually be in certain moments without chasing another one. Did I love big and grieve well? Did I give more than I took? Did I learn from the places I failed? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself at the end of a year when I’m wanting to know, “Did I do that OK?”

This year, though, y’all. It was a whirlwind. We planted a church and ran like crazy to try to keep up with all the ways God has been growing it. We tried our best to learn how to be winter mountain people when all we’ve ever known is the South (come, Jesus). We moved across the country and then moved again, just across town.

We wrestled through messy things like how to respond as the Church in the midst of a global refugee crisis, a desperate need for racial reconciliation in our nation, and a really confusing, hate-filled election season.

We flew to the other side of the world and looked in the eyes of Syrian friends who had lost everything, and we sat with them and allowed our hearts to break with theirs, and we told them they hadn’t been forgotten. I still can’t imagine the ache of longing for home and family and wondering if you’ll ever see it — or them — again.

I made dear new friends this year, the kind you know from very early on will be forever friendships. I welcomed another niece into the world and grieved all over again that the cost of my “yes” to Jesus is knowing I’ll watch them grow up from afar. I walked through the highest highs and lowest lows of surprise pregnancy followed by miscarriage, and I stepped right back into brave, terrifying hope as we continued down the road of adoption through it all.

And in looking back at all of this, here’s what I think I’ve realized: twenty-five was a year of being shaken to my core. Twenty-six was a year of healing, and realizing I don’t really care what’s mine on this side of Heaven, because everything I long for already resides in eternity. Which maybe sets me up really well for twenty-seven… Empty handed and totally free, in the best kind of way.

I want to learn how to celebrate again this year. We have been through some heavy things this year. Not just personally, but in our community, in our nation, and in the nations of the world. Yet somehow in the Kingdom of Heaven there is this redemptive quality of allowing every place of ache and longing and loss to be primed and prepared for redemption.

I feel primed and prepared for redemption.

We’re getting emails all the time right now about birth moms and babies out there, just waiting for someone to choose us. That is the most vulnerable and exposing thing I have ever done. And somehow, something in me can’t wait to throw a party.

I think maybe something happens in us when we’ve seen enough of the darkness, where we just believe all the more that the light has to be coming. Not in a rite-of-passage, I’ve paid my dues in suffering kind of way. That’s not who God is. I just think maybe I left my life on the altar long enough to see the smoke clear, and I’m realizing hope didn’t burn away.

I love that about hope. About Jesus.

I want to live inside of the reality of a resurrected, walked-through-the-fire-but-not-burned life this year. Regardless of who’s sitting in the oval office, or when I hold a baby in my arms with the last name Gilmore, or how many more global tragedies I live through. Resurrected people are the kind of people who change the world in such a way that those other things look different one day.

So, here’s to learning to celebrate again. I’m just kind of ready to feel alive.

Cheers.

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