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:

rsrmessage

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:

eh_rsr_webcover_1600x1600_edit

Advertisements

The Risk of Making Room

I painted a bedroom in my house this weekend. Riveting opener, I know.

When we moved into this place in May, we knew it was with intentions of growing our family, so we left the bedroom upstairs next to ours empty. It’s acted mostly as a storage space for the last 5 months. I keep the door shut, partially because it’s a mess in there and partially because if I don’t look at it, maybe I don’t have to think about it for what it really is:

The empty space that we long for God to fill.

The whole process has been vulnerable, really — the mountains of paperwork that almost felt like they were mocking me all summer, the emotionally exposing home study, the fund raising that uproots every ounce of fear and insecurity in my being — and those are just the major ones.

The empty bedroom in my house, though — that is the thing that scares me the most.

My in-laws were in town two weeks ago, and while they were here we went to look at nursery furniture. The second I stepped into Pottery Barn Kids that day, my stomach was in my throat. I walked around somewhat in a daze, wondering what in the world I was even supposed to be feeling.

I wrestled with God in my heart that day about how I wish I could feel celebratory, but I just feel guarded. It seems like everyone else celebrates their way through growing their families, and we have done nothing but ache and question. It’s sobering, when you’ve fought some losing fights and not received the miracle you were asking for.

I wish I felt more celebratory about it at this stage of the process. I’ve had so many people walk up to me at church in the last couple of weeks since our big fund raising push to congratulate me, and my response feels so empty.

I always smile and say thank you, and tell them how excited we are, and those words are true. But sometimes what I wish I could say instead is, “Thanks. I’m really scared, and my heart still aches for my babies in Heaven, and some days I’m not even really sure I believe that God will give us a family on this side of Heaven. But we’re going to keep asking Him to, and we’re really thankful for all the people in our life that are asking Him with us.”

So as we get ready to be matched with a birth mom and eventually bring home a baby, the logical next thing to do is begin to prepare that empty room I’ve been ignoring for months.

It feels so risky to make room. Foolish, even. Yet I know no other way than to believe that the promise in Psalm 25 is true, “No one who hopes in the Lord will ever be put to shame.”

I wonder what Noah felt like, building that ark with no rain in sight. Yet if he hadn’t, there would have never been an opportunity to see the promise after the flood. Sometimes obedience is a foolish risk.

So, foolish as it feels, we decided to start making room.

We went to Home Depot (a labor of love in itself, because I kind of hate that place) and bought some white paint, and all weekend, I painted what will soon be a nursery.

I thought about how it seemed prophetic, while I was spackling parts of the walls before painting, filling holes and smoothing edges, that maybe something of this process is being mirrored in my spirit.

I prayed and I worshiped as I painted those walls over and over (because white paint on green walls equals more coats than anyone has actual patience for), sometimes crying, sometimes smiling in wonder of the little life that will grow in that room. I prayed over this baby, whoever they are, wherever they are, and the sweet woman who’s carrying a life that she will choose to entrust to us.

At one point I looked down at my paint-covered hands, and I couldn’t help remembering the way they looked on that night two months ago, covered in the blood of another lost life. Now here they were, washed in white with the risky hope of redemption, and that felt prophetic too.

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

We don’t get to know when or how God’s promises for our lives will be fulfilled. And the more I grow up, the more I believe that’s probably His grace.

Our job is to hope with open hands — or in my case, and open bedroom. Knowing at the end of it all, our hope is not in an outcome. He is our hope. Firm and secure, as an anchor for our souls. Steadfast. Unshaken. Immovable.

And you know what I’ve learned about making room?

He always fills my hollow spaces with bigger Hope.

Would it have still been worth it?

Tuesday, September 6: It was a regular day. We were in a friend’s living room, worshiping and praying with our small group community from church, just like we do every week.

Noland and I were getting ready to launch this big fund raising campaign the next day for our adoption, and I was feeling THE MOST vulnerable and exposed. We’d just been singing a song called “Nothing Shall Be Impossible,” the chorus boldly proclaiming:

Nothing shall be impossible for You
Nothing shall be impossible for us
For You made all things right upon the cross
Oh, the love of Jesus Christ

At the end of that song, we all just felt like we needed to stand in faith for one another in impossible places — ours obviously being the $15,000 we were trying to raise over the next 30 days.

As our friends gathered around to lay hands on us and pray over our next 30 days, one friend of ours boldly said, “Guys, tomorrow is September 7. I just feel like that’s significant… seven being the Biblical number of completion, and the day that God rested because His work was already done. I feel like tomorrow, God is completing what He’s already begun in your family. You can rest. It’s done.”

So the next day at noon, we launched this campaign. The goal was $15K in 30 days. Exactly seven hours later, at 7 pm, we’d reached our goal of $15K.

It was exactly as our friends had prayed the night before. It was exactly as God had spoken. Noland and I were undone. Many of you were a part of this sweet miracle, and I wish I could hug every single one of you for fighting for our family the way that you have. We laughed and cried and cheered and celebrated like crazy, that our God is faithful. That nothing shall be impossible for Him.

Yet when the cheers calm down, I hear the whisper of the accuser: “Why should this time be any different?”

We’ve been here before. In February of 2015, when we had put belief for family on the shelf until after our move to Utah, God placed this invitation on the table. A baby boy, growing inside of the womb of an addict, in need of someone to fight for him.

We were so certain that we had heard from God loud and clear. Our friends were having dreams and visions of us adopting this boy. Strangers were walking up to us at church and praying over our growing family. We felt so sure of what God was speaking over his life and his story. And then in an instant, he was gone.

About three years ago, we had just begun trying to get pregnant. It had been a few months, and I was starting to wonder if this was going to be a long and daunting journey for us. We hadn’t told anyone we were trying yet. I felt discouraged and alone, unsure of how to walk out such a tender and uncertain thing.

We were at a worship night at church, and a girl I hardly knew walked up and asked if she could pray for me. She said she didn’t know what kind of impossible thing I was facing, but she felt led to come pray over whatever it was. As she prayed over me, she said, “I just want to submit this to you… I feel like I’m supposed to tell you ‘three years.’”

Immediately I was a little bit mad about that. It had only been like three months, and three years felt like an eternity. For years after that, I held that word really loosely, unsure of what to make of such a specific prophetic word about such a tender thing.

We had started believing God for a family on July 1, 2013. I remember the date because it was the day after our anniversary. On July 2, 2016, I stood in a hotel room in Berlin, staring in shock and disbelief at a positive pregnancy test.

Three years.

It was exactly as God said. We couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forget running down the street to a dear friend’s apartment, laughing and crying and praying together as we praised God for such a sweet miracle gift.

And then a month later, I felt my heart sink and a lump swell in my throat when the doctor couldn’t find a heart beat. Five days after that, I miscarried that little miracle gift.

How do you make sense of that kind of suffering? That kind of confusion? When you had an undeniable encounter with God, knowing He was at work, and then it just ends in death?

And how do you believe that the next one won’t end the same way?

Over Labor Day weekend, we had our discipleship school retreat, and one night as my friend Codi spoke on being ‘Faithful in the Little’ he said something that has been ringing in my ears ever since: “Would it have still been worth it if David never became king?”

He was talking about an area of his own life where he’d been working through disappointment with God, and He kept feeling like God was asking him that question. Over several months, he said he wrestled with that question, wondering what he was supposed to make of it.

Would it have still been worth it if David had never become king? If the anointing happened but the appointing never did — if he had just spent those years as a shepherd, falling deeply in love with his God, understanding and becoming a man after our Shepherd’s heart.

Would it have been worth it?

I started thinking about my life, and about all the promises I know God has spoken over our family, and I asked myself, “Would all of this be worth it, even if we never become parents on this side of Heaven?”

That is a sobering question to reconcile in your heart. But you know what I’ve learned about suffering? My suffering is not a thing that God assigned to me to teach me a lesson. My suffering is a thing God entrusted to me to draw me and others closer to Him.

Authority is a costly thing, and it is forged in the kind of fire that only leaves you with one companion: Jesus.

And yes. Of course He’s worth it.

Does that mean I stop believing for our promise fulfilled on this side of Heaven, though? Absolutely not. I have resolved two things in my heart that I will not allow:

  1. I will not turn my back on the only One who’s walked with me through the fire, regardless of whether or not I ever get “what I want” on this side of eternity.
  2. I will not allow fear to steal my hope and faith in what my God is capable of.

This is important, though: If I miss the fact that Jesus is worth my suffering, then those two “I won’t” statements are just me being a strong-willed middle child who refuses to lose. But if I’m anchored in the reality that my prize on this side of Heaven is the promise of His presence, then those two statements are a declaration of the intimacy with Him that I am unwilling to forfeit because of my pain and disappointment.

So there’s my challenge for all of us, I guess. Are you willing to go there and reconcile in your heart that whatever your “David anointed as king” promise is will still be worth it, even if you never see it fulfilled?

Or put more bluntly: is the promise of Emmanuel, God with us, enough?