Love and Grape Jelly (and a SheSpeaks Scholarship)

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.  ~St. Augustine”

We were in a hurry.  We were late for school.  I was rushing and pushing and striving and, well maybe-just a little, yelling.  I had woken up as “Drill Sergeant Mom” and was fully committed to the role at hand.

Xander was making his breakfast toast.  Gluten-free brown rice bread with soy-free, vegan butter spread and Welch’s grape jelly.  A big, giant, brand new, (did I mention full?) glass jar of grape jelly.

“Come on, guys. We are going to be late for school! Let’s move!”

“I’m coming, Mom!” Xander exclaimed as he put the lid back on the jelly and shifted the giant jar to his left hand to open the fridge. I turned to give him the “don’t-sass-me” look, and time froze. In the painfully slow motion instant where you just know what is about to happen and are powerless to stop it I watched the giant, glass jar of jelly teeter in his hand and-

fall

to

the

floor.

The dull spl-thwack of the jelly glass snapped the space-time continuum back into full speed.  I leaped into action as I watched tiny shards of glass spray across the floor- lifting and swinging Xander and his bare feet out of the blast zone.  As I sat him down, I looked into his eyes. Tears were streaming down his face. With huge, remorseful brown eyes he looked up at me.

“Mama, I am so sorry. I have made such a big mess, and it’s all sticky and it was a brand new jar and now we’re late and it’s all my fault…”

You know what my first reaction to his repentant heart was? Was it  I can’t believe you made such a mess? Or clean this up right now? Or even an exasperated sigh and when will you ever learn?

It was none of those things.

Upon seeing his heartbreak and repentance, I melted. I immediately gathered him in my arms and held him. Loved him. Soothed him.

“Aw, Baby…it’s ok. We’ll clean this up together. Everything will work out just fine. Ok?”

Sniffing back the last of his tears as he started to calm down, “Ok…”

And then, “Mom…I love you.”

“I love you, too, Baby.”

I just want you to hear this one thing-

GOD LOVES YOU LIKE THAT.

With Mama-soothing-her-broken-hearted-baby-love.

I have lived a good deal of my life with a voice of accusation that I sadly labeled as God. Always believing that He sent his son for US to cover our sins, but, in some way never fully understanding that Christ came FOR ME…FOR MY SINS…and that nothing that I do could ever change the fact that He loves me so much that He would lay down His crown, put on our icky man- clothes, walk among us on this fouled planet, innocently die a horrific, tortured criminal’s death bearing up under the weight of all the sin that ever was and will be, conquered the grave and ROSE AGAIN (He’s alive, my friends- isn’t that the most amazing thing?)…HE LOVES ME that much- andHE LOVES YOU that much too.

The moment that jar of jelly hit the ground, and I looked into my son’s eyes and saw his despair at what he done, I felt the immediate, instinctive reaction to soothe that despair, to forgive that mess he had created, to forget it. In that moment, God changed my entire understanding of grace and forgiveness.

He spoke His word to me, “And now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..” Romans 8:1

I knew that God loved me like that- no, beyond that. That as long as I have a truly repentant heart about the mistakes of my life, God is stirred to soothe. To forgive. TO FORGET. It is the promise he makes us. I knew that the accuser of my soul was not my Lord, my Savior, but an enemy.  THE enemy.  There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He speaks to us with words of love, and joy and encouragement.

Thank you, Jesus for ransoming my heart on the cross. Thank you, Lord for rescuing my heart with a broken jar of grape jelly! I love how you use the tiniest of moments to teach us truth….Keep teaching, Lord. I am listening.

What small moment has God used to teach you about His love?

This post is an entry for a full scholarship to the 2011 Proverbs 31 SheSpeaks conference. The She Speaks Conference is about women connecting the hearts of women to the heart of our Father God and my heart is to serve Him and His daughters, as He leads.

I have so wanted to attend for many years, and love that my word sister, Ann Voskamp is offering an opportunity for scholarship to this awesome resource. If you would like to be considered for scholarship, check out her blog post here.

Love and Grape Jelly

I posted this earlier this year, but still this image is so deeply ingrained in my brain.  I just love it when God uses the simple, everyday life things to teach us deep lessons about who He is.

“God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.  ~St. Augustine”

We were in a hurry.  We were late for school.  I was rushing and pushing and striving and, well maybe-just a little, yelling.  I had woken up as Drill Sergeant Mom and was fully committed to the role at hand.

Xander was making his breakfast toast.  Gluten free brown rice bread with soy free, vegan butter spread and Welch’s grape jelly.  A big, giant, brand new, did I mention full? glass jar of grape jelly.

“Come on, guys. We are going to be late for school! Let’s move!”

“I’m coming, Mom!” Xander exclaimed as he put the lid back on the jelly and shifted the giant jar to his left hand to open the fridge. I turned to give him the “don’t-sass-me” look, and time froze. In the painfully slow motion instant where you just know what is about to happen and are powerless to stop it I watched the giant, glass jar of jelly teeter in his hand and-

fall

to

the

floor.

The dull spl-thwack of the jelly glass snapped the space-time continuum back into full speed.  I leaped into action as I watched tiny shards of glass spray across the floor- lifting Xander and swinging him out of the blast zone.  As I sat him down, I looked into his eyes. Tears were streaming down his face. With huge, remorseful eyes he looked up at me.

“Mama, I am so sorry. I have made such a big mess, and it’s all sticky and it was a brand new jar and now we’re late and it’s all my fault…”

You know what my first reaction to his repentant heart was? Was it, I can’t believe you made such a mess? Or clean this up right now? Or even an exasperated sigh and when will you ever learn?

 

It was none of those things.

 

Upon seeing his heartbreak and repentance, I melted. I immediately gathered him in my arms and held him. Loved him. Soothed him.

“Aw, Baby…it’s ok. We’ll clean this up together. Everything will work out just fine. Ok?”

Sniffing back the last of his tears as he started to calm down, “Ok…”

And then, “Mom…I love you.”

“I love you, too, Baby.”

I just want you to hear this one thing-

God loves you like that.

With Mama-soothing-her-broken-hearted-baby-love.

I have lived a good deal of my life with a voice of accusation that I sadly labeled as God. Always believing that He sent his son for US to cover our sins, but, in some way never fully understanding that Christ came FOR ME…FOR MY SINS…and that nothing that I do could ever change the fact that He loves me so much that He would lay down His crown, put on our icky man clothes, walk among us on this fouled planet, innocently die a horrific, tortured criminal’s death bearing up under the weight of all the sin that ever was and will be, conquered the grave and ROSE AGAIN (He’s alive, my friends- isn’t that the most amazing thing?)…HE LOVES ME that much- and HE LOVES YOU that much too.

The moment that jar of jelly hit the ground, and I looked into my son’s eyes and saw his despair at what he done, and I felt the immediate, instinctive reaction to soothe that despair, to forgive that mess he had created, to forget it. In that moment, God changed my entire understanding of grace and forgiveness.

He spoke His word to me, “And now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..” Romans 8:1

I knew that God loved me like that- no, beyond that. That as long as I have a truly repentant heart about the mistakes of my life, God is stirred to soothe. To forgive. TO FORGET. It is the promise he makes us. I knew that the accuser of my soul was not my Lord, my Savior, but an enemy.  The enemy.  There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. He speaks to us with words of love, and joy and encouragement.

Thank you, Jesus for ransoming my heart on the cross. Thank you, Lord for rescuing my heart with a broken jar of grape jelly! I love how you use the tiniest of moments to teach us truth….Keep teaching, Lord. I am listening.

What small moment has God used to teach you about His love?

 

I’m linking up with my friend Holley to answer the prompt “In God’s heart I am….forgiven.”  You can join in too! I’d love to hear what you have to say.  Write your post and link up on Holley’s site and leave a comment here with the link so I can be sure to check it out!

Review – Between a Rock and A Grace Place by Carol Kent

If you are struggling with the question “Why, God?”- run…don’t walk to get this book. Carol’s story is heart wrenching and compassionately told, and full of nuggets of hope and grace in an ugly, fallen world.  I could not put this book down.  A definite must read.

Here’s a little video to introduce the book and Carol’s story, and a  short interview with Carol.  I hope you enjoy!

What are “grace places,” and how can hurting people in need find them?

All of us experience tight spots when life turns out differently from our dream. When we face the overwhelming obstacles of life, we can experience the last thing we ever expect—the sweet spot of grace. Grace places have a variety of forms, but some include:

  • Receiving love when we don’t deserve it
  • Finding safety in the middle of a fearful and uncertain experience
  • Being comforted by friends and family (people who are extensions of God’s love)
  • Experiencing the embrace of God when we have run out of strength and courage

“Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it.” (R.P.C. Hanson)

How important are contentment and gratitude in finding grace and peace?

My son, Jason, is teaching me that I need to choose contentment and thanksgiving in all things. As an inmate in a maximum-security prison, all of his personal items must fit in one small one-foot-high and one-and a half-feet-deep and two-and-a half feet long steel lockbox. He has learned to live comfortably with very little, which brings him a surprising sense of peace.

When I was visiting him one weekend I asked how he holds on to hope in the middle of a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence. He said, “Mom, I have a gratitude list. Whenever the clouds of depression try to discouragement, I get out a piece of paper and write down everything I have to be thankful for. I’m thankful I have two parents who will be my advocates for as long as they live. The average number of years a lifer gets visits is five years and then no one comes anymore. I’m also thankful I can be a missionary on a compound that houses up to 1,700 men.” I’m learning from Jason that I find contentment when I choose to be thankful and when I invest my time in helping other people.

There is a theme of surprise throughout the book. What is one of the greatest surprises you’ve had?

The powerful story of Tammy Wilson and Matthew Ben Rodriguez is in this book. Tammy contacted me after I spoke at an event she attended because my son is incarcerated in the same prison where Matt, the man who killed her mother thirteen years ago is incarcerated. She had been praying for someone to lead Matt to Christ and asked if Jason would try to meet him. It turned out that Jason and Matt were already friends and this amazing story is one of forgiveness, redemption, and restoration that can only be explained in the supernatural dimension.

Between a Rock and a Grace Place releases 10 years after your son, Jason, was sentenced to life in a maximum security prison and includes excerpts from Jason’s letters. Can you tell us how he’s doing now?

He has just taken his 8th group of men through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University Course and he will be facilitating a biblical counseling class on marriage and family this fall. He has a prayer group of twelve inmates who fast and pray for the needs of each other and their families. Prison is a depressing, dark, and sad place, but Jason is living for things that will outlast him.

When you received news about Jason’s clemency hearing being denied, how did you respond?

I wailed like a baby, sobbed, felt angry, hurt, and disappointed in God. Then we saw Jason a day after this devastating news. He was calm and very much at peace. He hugged me as I wept and said, “Mom, this case isn’t about having the best attorney or about having the favor of Florida’s top executive political leaders. If I am ever allowed to walk in freedom in this lifetime, it will be because God miraculously opened a door that was closed.” My son helps me to develop an eternal perspective and that day he comforted me.

What advice do you have for those who are stuck between a rock and a grace place?

In the middle of your own hurt reach out to someone else who needs help worse than you do. When you involve yourself in meeting the needs of others, you discover an unexpected freedom on the inside. Corrie ten Boom once said, “What did you do today that only a Christian would have done?”

As a result of your journey, you and your husband have founded the nonprofit organization Speak Up for Hope. What are the goals of the organization, and how can people get involved?

Our vision: To help inmates and their families adjust to their new normal.

Our mission: We exist to provide hope to inmates and their families through encouragement and resources.

Please go to http://www.speakupforhope.org for a list of practical ways individuals, churches, and organizations can help with specific projects. Our goal is to live out the truth of Prov. 31:8-9: “Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice. Stand up for the poor and destitute!”

Where may we connect with you further or to purchase a copy of Between a Rock and a Grace Place?

I would love for you to visit my web site at www.CarolKent.org, browse through the various events and other resources available. You may also join me on my Facebook page, please click here.

About the Author

Carol Kent is the bestselling author of When I Lay My Isaac Down and A New Kind of Normal. Carol is an expert on public speaking, writing, and on encouraging people to hold on to hope when life’s circumstances turn out differently from their dreams. She lives in Florida with her husband Gene.

Carol Kent is a popular international public speaker best known for being dynamic, humorous, encouraging, and biblical. She is a former radio show co-host and has often been a guest on Focus on the Family and a featured speaker at Time Out for Women and Heritage Keepers arena events. She has spoken at The Praise Gathering for Believers and at Vision New England’s Congress. She is also a frequent speaker at Women of Virtue events across the country.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me as a blog tour host by Zondervan in exchange for posting this interview on my blog. Please visit Christian Speaker Services atwww.ChristianSpeakerServices.com for more information about blog tour management services.

The Gardener’s Pain

For those of you who read my personal blog, Signs of Life: Adventures of an Everyday Soul, you have seen this post before. I just felt led to share it here.

I love spring.  I love the bursting forth of new life. I love the possibility of new growth. I love green and bright yellow and red and blue. I love the bright rainbows of color after the white and gray of winter. I love to grow stuff. Stuff in my garden, stuff in my flower bed, stuff in the yard. I am NOT a fan of the allergies that come with spring, but I understand the necessity.

I am new to gardening/plant caretaking. It’s only been in the last few years that I have learned to heed my father’s (he is a builder of parks…he knows a thing or two- or a million- about getting things to grow) advice about being a gardener. I remember the first time he told me that I had to prune my rosebushes all the way back to the original stalk to get the best growth. Or when I grew my first tomato plant and he told me to cut all the runners off except for the top two.  I was aghast!

“REALLY, Daddy? I have to chop down my entire rose bush? It will never grow back!”

“Well, it will still grow without it, but it won’t get strong. There is a great power in pruning.”

And after my first couple of years with leggy, pouty roses and 4 tomatoes to a plant, I wholeheartedly agree. There is power in pruning.

This morning, I noticed that my flowerbed in the front yard is coming to life- YAY!  I also noticed that I had done a poor job of putting it to sleep last fall and had not pruned back all the growth last year. In an effort to let it flower just a little longer I let my Morning Glory and Clematis twine together and continue to grow through the very mild fall. By the time I realized they had started their winter hibernation, it was cold and so I left the dry vines on the trellis. But there she is, starting to climb, my pretty purple Clematis.

When I arrived home this morning, I decided to take down the dry brush and make way for the new spring growth. So I don my gloves, my pruning shears and head to the trellis to cut through the dead branches.  The Clematis is growing beautifully….twining it’s way around all the nasty, dried up, last year’s growth.

Wow…what a visual for my life.

I am growing, beautifully…producing fruit even, beautiful large purple flowers that praise My Great Gardener’s Care….but, somewhere along the way, I forgot to clear out the brush. The dry, brittle, straw-like branches that don’t bring life. And I am climbing and twining my way up those dry branches. Twisting and turning, grabbing hold tight to the ugly, dead parts of my life. Parts that will hold me back, tie me down and choke out the beauty that I am capable of showing.

Just as I don’t want that ugliness in my flower bed, God doesn’t want it in our lives either. So what does a good gardener do? A good gardener prunes away the dead, to make room for the Life.  And, sometimes…there are casualties. Sometimes, the  live, fruit producing branches are so entwined with the dead ones that there are only two choices:

1)      Let all the ugliness stay

OR

2)      Prune both away.

IT HURTS!

Does it hurt the Clematis…yes a bit…but she will have more energy to produce more flowers…big beautiful, glorious flowers.

But it really hurts the Gardener! As a gardener, I feel sad for the Clematis…she has done good work, but it is necessary for her to continue to grow. I feel a bit of anxiety, that she will stop growing all together, and thus never fully step into the potential that I see for her. I wonder how much I can prune, without killing the vine altogether.

As my Great Gardener prunes away the dry and dead brush from my life, I wonder if he feels this pain…no wait, I know he must feel this pain. The pain a Father feels when he is disciplining His daughter. I am saddened that I left the dead brush in place and in my zeal to grow for Him have enmeshed my new growth in my old,dead flesh.

Dear Lord, come and prune away the dead and dying brush from my life. Make way for new life in me. I am sorry that I have entangled the gifts that you have given me with the my old habits of doing things. I am ready to cut away the old, even if I must sacrifice some of the new so that I may reflect only your beauty,  only your glory. Make me beautiful in Your eyes, O God, and train me how to grow to Your potential for my life. I love you. Amen.

What dry brush do you need to clean out in order to make way for new growth?

A Divine Love Story

It is late. Or early (depending on your “half empty/half full” viewpoint. About 4 am.  I  have been lying awake for nearly an hour now…restless…and repentant.

I have been working this ministry for the last 7 months now…taking this God given message and kneading it like a piece of dough. What happens to dough when you work it over too much and don’t let it rise within the pan…yep, it gets all stale and hard and not at all appealing. Dear God, I am so sorry…

I am haunted this morning by a post I read at (In)Courage, a challenge of sorts, to write your divine love story.  When I first read it, I thought, “self, you should so do that!” and then I closed my email and when off about my business.  But I kept coming back to  it, and as I lay in bed tossing and turning and asking God to forgive me and give me strength to run this race called life, he whispers, ever so softly in the night, “I still love you.”

Extravagantly, He loves me. Even when I mess up. Even when I let the busyness of life take over and stand in the way of our communication. Even when I get so focussed on doing His work I forget to live His work. He cares for me and blesses me in more ways than I can even fathom, let alone recount. He holds me and comforts me, keeps me safe when I have run headlong into the path of the enemy, and He heals my hurts, my scars, my self-inflicted wounds.  He is my peace in the storm, my strength in the race, my light in the darkness. And even in my imperfect humanness and all my failed efforts to live life on His terms instead of mine, he STILL loves me. THAT, my friends is divine.

The most amazing thing about this love is that he only asks two simple things in return: that I love Him back and that I tell others. And I do both. Not nearly enough…not with extravagance that I should, but here, in the wee hours of the morning I making a new start. I am telling you.

His love is so perfect, and it isn’t just for me…it’s for you, too.  He’s already given it to you, you just have to accept the gift and invite Him in.  Will you?

If you would like to learn more about my journey with the Lord,  you can read My Testimony here.

Visit (In)Courage for more Divine Love stories….

Give me the “Better Wash”….

I should be doing a million other things right now other than writing this post, but this image struck me so square between the eyes that I could not ignore it.

Recently, we had a pretty intense snow storm- well, for Arkansas it was…about eight inches of snow on the ground. And with all the gravel, salt, slush and mud that is created in the melt off, our jeep looked like we actually took it off road (ha!)…the poor thing was crazy dirty.

Since then, the weather has finally cleared, and everyone is scrambling to get their cars clean (perhaps to rediscover what color their car ACTUALLY is beneath all that beige and dirt and grime.) The lines for the car wash have been CRAZY!

I was so excited to pull up to the order station and find I was the first one in line yesterday. I selected the “Better Wash”- you know the one without the fancy tire shine and was directed into the bay by a nice college boy who offered me a sucker to pass the three minutes of wash time.

I set the car in neutral and sat back…letting the scrubbies and giant wash rags buff away 8 inches of dirt on the Jeep. Watching the rainbow soap as it blended together and turned purple, listening as the “Spot Free” rinse rained on the sunroof and rinsed away all the lather and soap and dirt and grime.  Then through the giant blow dryer to dry all the little droplets of water left behind.  By the time I reached the green, “GO Now” light, I had a SILVER Jeep again.  AHHHHH! How wonderful it felt to be in a freshly washed car.

Now I love Boomerang because you pay a little higher price for a wash, but they have free vacuums. So, meaning to clean out the inside of the car, I pulled in next to one of the vacuums. But, it was 34 degrees outside, I was in heels and there were still icy patches in the lot, so I decided that I would skip the vacuum and just be ok with the clean car on the outside.

As I was driving out of the parking lot it hit me. I do this in my Christian walk to. I ask for the “Better Wash” and pull my life into the automatic car wash.  Jesus, being full of grace  and love for me, washes me clean. I come out all shiny and new, and because it it’s hard, or it’s cold, or it’s slippery, or I’m just plain ole too lazy, I don’t take the time to CLEAN OUT THE INSIDE. I put my Jesus coat on, and on the outside, I am clean and pristine. but inside, I am still dirty and grungy and greasy and have trash piled so high that I have no room for other people to come in, unless they want to sit on the yuck stuff.

The sad part is that I don’t HAVE to carry any of that around. Jesus provides us with FREE vacuums.  Powerful vacuums that can suck up any dirt, any debris, any trash.  That take it all away and we don’t have to worry about anymore.  All we have to do is get out of the car long enough to use them.  It isn’t easy.  It does mean you got to look at that trash squarely and decide you don’t want it anymore. That you are going to let it go and not ever look back.

But isn’t it worth it?

For that just cleaned, brand new feeling that you get. The “AHHHHHH!” of scrubbed fresh. Jesus wants to do that in our lives, but he’s not gonna stand at the end of the carwash and force you to do it. He loves us enough to let us make the choice.

What are you willing to make that choice? What junk will you give up to be clean on the inside too? What trash will you get rid of today?