The cost of being an advocate.

A couple of months ago, I wrote this post for the #StandForLife Movement blog. Yesterday on my birthday, as I sat in reflection on what being twenty-five was like, I re-read this post & made a decision all over again that the heart of this post would be the mark of my life, no matter the cost.

Something has shifted in me in this season — a little more fight in my heart, a little more life in my bones. (More on that to come!) What I know is that God made Noland & me to be watchmen on the walls; advocates of people, even if there’s nothing in it for us. So I’m sharing this post again, as a declaration of the year(s) to come, that I will not let the things I walked through at twenty-five be lost in all the rest of my years. I intend to take back everything the enemy stole this year in the years to come — it will not be wasted. And it starts here: obedience, no matter the cost.

Six months ago, my husband and I began a journey that would change our perspective forever on what it looks like to be advocates of life.

Before I share my story that will undoubtedly be laced with my own opinions and convictions, let me be clear on the truth that cannot and will not be moved: the only reason I can stand for anything at all is because of what Jesus did on the cross. I am no more holy or righteous than the woman on the streets who chooses the same Jesus as me. And after the things I have seen in the last several months of my life, I would without a doubt call her the braver of the two of us.

Yet I’ve been given the opportunity to speak as I happen to be an upper-middle-class pastor’s wife who happens to have a bit of a blog/social media following — and I pray I speak on behalf of her far more than I speak on behalf of me and my story.

The bottom line is that we are to be banner carriers of hope. The kind of hope that rises even out of the grave. The kind of hope we have in Jesus, who is still the answer to every broken thing. And we are still God’s chosen vessels to carry that banner of hope to a dark and broken world. Make no mistake. We are not heroes. We are vessels… and we are broken.

Six months ago we were coming up on two years of infertility and had decided to put our dreams of starting a family on hold. We were getting ready to plant a church, and in the middle of so much transition we decided that neither IVF treatment or the long process of an adoption felt practical for this season of our life. Just as we were ready to shelf our dreams of a family for a while, God laid an invitation on the table that we knew could only be Him.

To make a long story short, we entered into the process of a private adoption with a woman with whom we had a personal relationship. She was a recovering addict, and I had walked closely with her through her previous year in a women’s recovery home where I was volunteering. After a year and a half of being clean and falling in love with Jesus, she relapsed and got pregnant — and she asked if we would adopt her baby.

We knew it had the potential to get messy, but we also knew God was asking us to stand in the gap and champion this little life. So we began to walk through this woman’s pregnancy with her, praying every day for our boy, who we named Judah Rise.

At around 24 weeks pregnant, Judah’s birth mom relapsed. I wish I had time to tell the entire story — the ways we saw God perform miracles to preserve his life even as she was losing a physical battle to her addiction. We wound up pulling her out of a drug house and sleeping at the foot of her bed for several days while she detoxed… sweating, crying, screaming and writhing in pain. We found ourselves in the trenches in ways we never imagined we would be, crying out to God through all hours of the night.

She was able to reach a healthy, stable place and had a few great weeks. Then on Mother’s Day, it happened all over again. We went back and forth with her for over a week, trying to get her to come back to a safe place to get clean again. When she finally did, it was too late.

She had been staying with a drug lord and pimp who wanted to sell her for sex. Knowing he couldn’t do that if she was pregnant, he forced an abortion on her. She was somewhere between 28 and 29 weeks pregnant. We were only 10 weeks away from meeting our boy when we learned that we had lost him.

I’m sure we can all agree that this was a tragic experience. I’m sure you can imagine the healing process we’ve gone through over the last three months since that Friday morning in May when it all came crashing down. But what I’m not sure you can imagine as you’re reading this, is what it’s like to actually enter into the depravity of this issue in this way.

I don’t know what it’s like to carry life inside of me physically, and there is no guarantee that I ever will. I don’t have a newborn photo to post with a LIFE filter on it and a birth story about how I’m so glad I chose life. But what I can offer to this conversation is an uncomfortable reality of what the other side of this issue looks like. The side that ends in death but still has an option of finding life beyond the ruins of a broken world.

Judah’s birth mom didn’t choose abortion. It was chosen for her. Too often we make our stances on choosing life and we preach this one-sided “it’s an easy decision” message, not realizing that for a lot of women, the option of choosing life isn’t even there. A large portion of this issue comes not from those of us with privileged lives “choosing life” — but from those that aren’t given a choice at all.

I hope you don’t misunderstand me — social media is a fantastic tool for raising awareness, and I believe this movement has the favor of God on it to help make a difference on this issue in our nation. I also believe that all of our voices and stories matter in that awareness raising effort. But it is going to take more than awareness for us to make a difference. And God’s “Plan A” to mobilize hope and healing in the earth has always been us. The Church.

The Church will change the world when we make a decision to be willing to have our lives interrupted on behalf of others, no matter the cost. It may cost us a life… and wouldn’t that be just like Jesus? Obedience to the point of death?

Oh, but friends — the life it will yield if we are willing to get our hands dirty. I can’t look at the life of Jesus and not believe wholeheartedly that this is what we’re to do if we want to be like Him. Enter into the mess. Like the Jesus who stooped low to the woman caught in adultery.

We can share our opinions all we want, but until we’re a people who actually walk alongside the broken population of our nation that face a mountain of impossibility in their every day lives, I honestly don’t believe our opinions carry much weight or authority. I love what Ann Voskamp says about this issue — that it isn’t about a woman having a choice, but a woman believing that she has no choice.

What are we going to do about this? To what extent are we willing to humble ourselves and reach across the chasm of our society to the woman who lives in that reality of hopelessness? What kind of inconvenience are we actually willing to step into on behalf of someone else? When there’s nothing in it for us. When at the end of it all, we aren’t going home with a new baby.

I’m not sure what the answer is for you. To be honest, I’m not sure what it is for me either. But I do know that the grace and mercy of God is so inclusive that it’s almost offensive to me. And I know that He intends to continue to lead me into uncomfortable places of advocating for life in ways that will probably cost me something.

I can’t think of a better thing to live for, though. We are not on this earth to build our own kingdoms and dreams. We’re here to build His. And it’s going to cost us something to be a people who step into impossible situations, right alongside those living in such depravity, leaving our own places of comfort and ease to do so.

This is an exciting hour in our nation for the Church. I pray we enter into the hard places and gain ground in every place that He intends for us to. It’s going to take more than our voices though. It’s going to take our hands and feet, surrendered entirely to a heart that belongs to Him… which means there may not be much in it for us.

How will YOU respond?

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Surrendering your “not enough”

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Something shifted in me when October rolled around. My heart feels settled in Utah. I would even say my heart has fallen in love with this place. Transition feels like it’s finally leveled out, and I think in my head I thought that would look like going from crashing waves to smooth waters. I wanted to feel like I was sailing into the sunset when the chaos of major transition finally ended.

Instead it feels a little more like raising a white flag after a long, ugly war.

In some ways I feel like I’ve turned around and realized the last six months have left a wake of destruction and loss behind me. Innocence buried beneath piles of rubble called disappointment. Hope dragging behind me like a severed limb. Joy somewhere back in the trenches, left behind in a moment of crisis, because who has the arms to carry that in a time like this?

This isn’t the way I wanted to look when we planted a church. Wounds still healing, bones still aching. Heartbroken over innocent life lost. Exhausted from fighting a losing fight. My friend Erika would say I’m “out on a limb and looking haggard” in this moment of my life.

We’re running really hard in our ministry, and honestly it’s been incredible. I’m constantly amazed at the way there’s just always enough grace for us to keep going. God is growing His church, and He’s been kind enough to carry us through it.

But I still feel broken. Most days I feel like not enough.

I wish I was better at giving the best of myself to my husband, instead of some days feeling like he just gets whatever is left of me when the day’s over.

I wish I wasn’t still so overcome by grief on some days that I don’t want to do anything at all. I wish I could lay my head down at night, just once, and not see the face of the son I thought I’d be raising right now.

We didn’t even get to meet him, but I swear I know his face. Perfect caramel skin. The most charming smile and tight curls. Green eyes & awesome cheeks. I see him every night when I close my eyes, and I wish I could go back to those trenches we fought in back in May, and do something to change the outcome.

Instead I’m back on the old, familiar shore of uncertainty — raising a white flag.

Oh, Lord. I do surrender. I wish you’d taken this cup… but I want to be a woman who, like Jesus, is familiar with suffering and acquainted with grief. Pressing in instead of running from pain. Your will be done.

I feel like He’s reminded me often of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 in this season. You know, that moment of impossibility when He looks at the disciples and says, “You feed them. You have what you need. Bring it to me.”

It’s almost offensive, you know? Standing there, looking at something that you know you can’t do, and He just tells you to do it anyway. So you bring Him those loaves and fish, and He blesses it, and then it multiplies.

He blesses our not enough, and it multiplies.

Friends, this is why we keep showing up. Even when it hurts. Even when we know we don’t have enough. Because when we keep showing up, we just might see a miracle.

But there’s a surrender that has to take place. There’s a crossing over from “I’m going to make this happen” to “God, I don’t have what it takes, but you do, so here’s what I have. Do with it whatever you see fit.”

And then all of a sudden, even with our buried innocence and our limb-severed hope and our joy that was lost in the trenches, He restores all things. He restores them because He is them.

He’s the anchor of hope. It’s in His presence that there’s fullness of joy. When all seems lost, He restores all because He is all.

All we have to do is raise our white flag.

I’m so certain that I am not done grieving what we lost this year. I can sense God still doing a deep work in my heart in grief and sorrow and suffering. And honestly, I want to press in to those places because I know they’re places of authority He’s forging in me.

But in the same breath, I want to be a woman who keeps showing up, blessing and handing Him my not enough, and watching Him multiply it. Because when God’s people need to be fed, He shows up and makes it happen. We get to release ourselves of carrying the weight of that. All we have to do is show up with what we have.

At the end of the day, those 5,000 people were fed when the bread and the fish were broken.

So, here I am. Broken. And He just keeps multiplying things every time there’s a need.

Hope Always Rises

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One of the first things we felt like God said about our little boy as we were praying for him was that his story would turn hearts to worship. That was why we chose his name: Judah Rise.

Judah means “God will be praised” and Rise felt like a prophetic statement of promises fulfilled. Arise, shine, for your light has come. And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1)

Two years of believing God for a family landed us in this unique situation with a private adoption, and although it wasn’t what I’d ever imagined, it was the sweetest story I have ever lived inside of. A woman I had invested in through her healing from addiction wanted to give me a gift… and he had this unbelievable evangelism anointing, before he was even born. His story was the glory of God displayed in amounts of grace and mercy that I had never known.

Losing him has washed me in an even deeper grace and mercy than that.

Looking at the calendar that hangs on the wall behind my computer, I get a pit in my stomach at the realization that tomorrow is August 1. The month we were supposed to bring him home. Instead of excitement and joy, my arms are empty and my heart still aches.

I have been angry, because we live in a broken world where sin results in death, and my soul cries out for justice for all that’s been stolen.

I have been sad, because I laid down my life for months, holding nothing back, to fight for a life that God asked me to champion — and in an instant, he was lost.

I have been confused, because I know what God promised for Judah’s life, and then it never even got to begin.

Through the whole journey of fighting for Judah, I felt like God kept bringing me back to 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul writes about the ministry of reconciliation. I was challenged every time by verses 19 and 20, where it says that when Jesus died, he entrusted the message of reconciliation to us. We became ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

God. Making his appeal through us.

The word “reconcile” is synonymous with the word “reconsecrate” — to consecrate again, to set apart or declare holy. To make something an object of honor.

What Noland and I knew Judah was teaching us, as we gave our lives in hopes that we would get to hold him and tell him he was safe at last, is that we are a people committed to reconciliation. A people unshaken by darkness as we carry the banner of HOPE that God has entrusted to everyone who says they believe.

We do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. (1 Thes. 4:13)

We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Heb. 10:39)

So our hope banner for Judah looks like doing the very thing we knew his life would be a declaration of: PRAISE.

He went straight to Heaven, and of that I am envious. I envy the fullness of his name that he understands right now, that I won’t know until I’m in the presence of Jesus with him. I envy my grandmother who passed away last week, who gets to be with my boy before I do. I envy the way that he feels no pain while my arms ache more & more every day to hold him.

But we are banner carriers. A people who remember. A people who make alters from stones of remembrance even in our most painful places, because God is still good and He will still be praised.

So on August 8, the day we were supposed to meet our boy, we’re going out and releasing balloons. Balloons because hope always rises.

We aren’t doing it because he needs it. I’m pretty sure he is doing just fine where he is on his birthday. But we are doing it because he deserves it. Because his life is worth celebrating and his story still carries weight in eternity, and we get to be the people who carry his legacy on this side of glory.

We are doing it because we want to be a people who remember.

We are doing it because we want our other kids one day to know that they have a brother in Heaven who was worth fighting for, and that the foundation he helped build our family on is worth honoring.

We are doing it because we want to be a people who recognize and honor that God is worthy of our praise in our greatest victories and our deepest places of lack and loss.

So when we raise our hands to release birthday balloons to Heaven for our boy next Saturday, we will also raise them in praise. Because none of it was in vain. God doesn’t waste our pain and grief has never stolen any of His glory.

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We would love for you to join us in honoring the life of our boy and the faithfulness of our God on Aug. 8 — to raise a banner of hope over your own life, in whatever season you may be in. To lock arms with us, and us with you, as we all cry out from different places, “He will be praised.”

If you happen to participate, we would love to see your photos and hear some of your story. Use the hashtag #BalloonsForJudah so we can have all of our hope-cries in one place. To God be the glory!