The Book of Samuel

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It was the morning after she died. The morning had the audacity to show its face through my windows. Having spent most of the night pacing and searching for someone I knew I ‘d never find in my home or arms again. . . Each hour brought a new level of physical pain and swelling. . . Weaning without warning. Searching without finding. . .dead but still breathing. . . Heart shattered but still beating. . . Gutted and Hollowed out.  I died with her but in some cruel twist of Gods unfathomable direction, I had survived. Feeling shocked and destroyed and assaulted and broken beyond any hope of repair. 

What do you do on that morning? What do you do when you cannot feel the new mercies that are promised to come with each new day?  Who could help me? Who did I know who had given a child back to the Lord? Who had survived this and somehow remained in the close fold of our Lords arms? 

I hadn’t begged God for this child. . . She was a gift freely given from the best parts of my Gods Kindness.  But I did know of someone who begged God for the miracle of the sacred time from birth to weaning. . . Who wanted it so badly  she agreed to the terms of the contract ahead of time. One I could never sign but was being asked to live out. . .

I did not know if I would survive.  If my mind would stay intact. If my family would be destroyed and forever defined by the events of yesterday. I did not know if I could do any of it.  I did not know. 

But He did. 

He knew the rays of sun that morning would fall on the open page of the book that would keep me alive. . . The same page I would read at her  funeral in 3 days.  That on the sweet pages of Samuel, I would publicly beg to be given the miraculous gift of a heart like Hannah’s.  I asked for her prayer to become our prayer. . . 

But I didn’t know He would be so faithful to answer it in the very same way. . . 

That if I let Him be the author of our family, He would write us our very own book of Samuel.  I will join Hannah in the holy moments of knowing God has heard your cry and His answer is this child , our Samuel . . .  Just as I joined Hannah in the pain of the offering of giving a child back to the Lord. Only God. 

Samuel . . . God has heard 

Ransom. . . rescue or deliverance . . . A price paid for freedom. . . 

How thankful we are for both. How thankful we are for the miracle of . . . 

Samuel Ransom Holliday. . . 

You make us sure of what we cannot see

Grateful for what we did not ask for 

And blessed beyond our heart’s deepest dreams. 

As surely as you live , my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. 1 Samuel 1:26-27


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Approval Junkie

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I’ve heard a lot of sermons in my life cautioning against seeking the approval of others. I’ve nodded my head and thought “Yes! We must live for an audience of one – – the one being the Lord God Almighty.” And I thought I did that and did that well. After all, I was bold in my faith – – with a “ Just Give Me Jesus And Let the Chips Fall Where They May” attitude. So I didn’t think I was an approval junkie.
Until I was faced with the disapproval of others. Now if I wasn’t dependent on the approval of others, disapproval wouldn’t keep me up at night. It wouldn’t gnaw on my soul and overtake my mind with a constant longing to slay this disapproval. A gaping wound that felt like it could only be filled with the approval of others. No, if you’re not addicted to the praise of others – – you shrug, you consider, and you move on. But I couldn’t because I was paralyzed by it. 

 I couldn’t deny the fact that I had made an idol of the opinions of others. If opinions of me were good, I continued to worship that God as I received my own brand of worship from that God.

But when the opinions of others were not good – – that “God” – – that idol left me empty and without comfort. It left me desperate for a longing that would not be filled. And that’s not my God. He’s a satisfier. My God is a source of the kind of water where you thirst no more after you drink it.  

And so I’ve been stripped down to the most basic questions this sinner must grapple with. . .

Is God enough? Or do I need God AND the positive thoughts and opinions of others?

There will always be things that only God and I know. Will that be special and true enough for me? Or must those around me understand it for me to truly embrace it?

Do I invest time and energy in combatting the disapproval of others? Or do I make myself a God if that is the strategy of my heart?

These are the questions of an approval junkie. And if you think about it, our very character is molded and shaped by performing well for the approval of others. . . coaches, teachers, mentors, youth leaders.

The striving and the earthly rewards that come with the striving are deeply engrained in the soil of our hearts. For me to deal with this, the striving had to cease. This allowed that sacred rest to begin. And it was there in the active, directed rest that the focus could fall to God and God alone. . .

What HE thinks of me. What He understands about me. What He calls to me. God doesn’t keep “liking” me on facebook. God doesn’t say “ you’re strong and amazing” and he doesn’t say “you’re not doing well with this struggle either.” He calls me the names that reflect who HE is. Chosen. Delighted in. Sung Over. Strong when I feel and appear weak. Saved. Victorious. Restored. He weights my responses according to what He is doing in my heart. And what He knows about my future.  

So this being an approval junkie thing is no joke. Because there is an element of danger in “not caring” what others think. We see this behavior in rebel-hearted prodigals headed for destruction. We see it in addicts headed for death and disaster.  

Sometimes those around you will see things you cannot see: dangers, snares, dangerous bends in your character, and so on. This type of wise, loving counsel must be sought out and prayerfully regarded at times. But if it is more than additional light on your path. . . If it is more than additional wisdom to consider. . . if it becomes your sole definition of yourself above the word of God – – then you, like me, must get back to the basics. If you’re an approval addict and god shows you that it’s true, you will need His help and to focus on HIM to start to walk out of it. Here’s what that path looks like for me:

1) Admit and repent of it. Everybody gets off track in their worship in one way or another. No shame. No condemnation in Christ. There’s always room to turn around. This path is no different.  

2) Mourn the approval lost. Name it and grieve it. It hurt to feel the criticism. The words sting in the heart of your mind. It’s ok to be sad about that. Losing friends, reading hurtful comments, having people think oess of you than you’d like. . . whatever form of rejection or disapproval you’ve met – – it’s a huge disappointment. And there’s a time to grieve those so that you can let go of them and be free.

3) Take it to Jesus and ask Him to feel in the gaps. You’ve heard the term “ heartbreaker.” Well Jesus is the opposite of that. He’s a heart maker. He makes your heart right. Even if you’ve laid huge parts of it down at the wrong alters.

4) Recovering approval junkies will need ongoing approval ratings form the right source. Schedule a meeting with God where you ask His opinion of you daily. Get a journal and start focusing only on God for your approval ratings.

5) Lastly, do not confuse good circumstances with Godly approval. This is one of the enemy’s biggest tricks. Favor from God doesn’t always means success and rainbows and easy paths. We need only look to Job to see someone the Lord called blameless be brought to his knees by unfathomably difficult circumstances. God gave you the ultimate approval rating when He determined that you were worth the blood of His only son, Jesus Christ. No certificate, reward, commendation, comment, word of praise, or any other reward will ever compare with that.

Remind yourself of that as many times as it takes.  

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10

Rest(ore)d

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I battled aggressively and continuously for well over a year. I was battling the enemy of my soul – – battling depression and sometimes battling grief when I should have been partnering with it. No one soldier can stay on the front lines at all times. They must be pulled back by their General for intentional and strategic respite. 

 This respite always includes deep and restorative sleep in a safe place. It always involve deep hydration. And it always involves food – – the satisfaction of hunger resolved. Thirst Quenched. Often times a family offering was involved. If close to home, soldier were sometimes offered a visit to home. If not, the opportunity to write letters extended. If wounds had been incurred, treatment and healing was pursued.
In July, my general – -the one and only God himself – – called me to the tent of Rest. And he extended every principle of military rest to me. I was pulled from the front lines. The front lines involve constant pressure, alertness, and very little rest. The phrase “ sleep with one eye open” comes in part from the type of rest the front lines offer. 

This meant I stepped back from all extracurricular pressures. I let go of what “jobs” I had in ministry. What I didn’t “let go” of – – I gave myself permission to do at my own pace. That meant I cancelled a bible study session because I was too exhausted. And postponing a scheduled bible study 3 weeks because of my travel and family schedule. The pressure of schedule and duty was removed. Way less rushing and stressing. Way more peace and breathing. In this way, the pressure came off.

But in another aspect of rest and recovery – – the pressure was turned on. As my mental pressure decreased, God very intentionally increased physical pressure on my body in some specific ways. I had regular massages and chiropractic appointments to allow for physical rest and release of tension. The grief I had fought hard to NOT epress built up in the muscles of my neck and back. They became knots and adhesions that made me cry out in pain. And forced those tears to roll out of my spirit and through my body. 

I began sleeping with a weighted blanket and allowed that extra pressure to sooth my body and my nervous system. My breathing and sleeping became deep and restorative. In the safety of HIS arms.

Food. He laid a feast before me. He set a table for me in the presence of my enemies. My feast was worship. Worship through song, dance, movement, crying on my yoga mat, having scripture read over me in my bed. Walking barefoot in the grass and sunshine outside my office for 20 minutes in the afternoon.

Drink. Holy hydration. Living Water . Simply. . . Jesus. His Words. His Ways. His Truth. His yoke. Allowing Him to be a pillow that my whole spirit can sink into and be surrounded by.

He will tend my wounds. Heal my spirit. He Chose a therapist endorsed by my husband and closest family who will guide me through the parts of trauma that are stinking around a little too long for true peace to reign. 

And finally the reconnection to my family. Being intentionally present and invested in the now and hows of their little lives. More snuggles. More talks. More planning. More Walks. Less phone. Less industry and distraction. Even giving myself permission to miss a few ministry related balls at bat. I quit swinging at everything. And concentrated on certain pitches.

And focused effort aimed at the right pitches will swing you into a home run that reminds you – – your home is actually heaven. The battlefield is very temporary and the earthly plight is as brief as it is hard. And He finally gave me that piece of the puzzle I claimed in faith but did not hold in my heart.

 RESTORE. To bring back; reinstate. Return to original condition. 

Let’s take a deeper look at its roots. 

Rest: cease work or movement in order to relax, refresh oneself, or recover strength. To be placed or supported so as to stay in a specified position 

Ore: a naturally occurring solid material from which a metal or valuable mineral can be profitably extracted.

Through the rest, the things of great value are extracted. Our souls are profited. This is not a Sabbath rest or a rest with a particular rhythm. It is a total loss of all thought or task that emits a holy “electrical” change in your spirit. Like all things of God it’s hard to explain and unique to experience. And Good.
I rested as God rests and I awaken refreshed. I will be back on the front lines again, Exhausted. Bewildered. Overwhelmed. And Overscheduled.

But I also know I’ll be refreshed and restored in a way only He can.

My Shack 

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The following was written a year ago after I stumbled upon one of the biggest miracles I’ve ever experienced.  This place is a piece of heaven on earth. A sacred place where Gods love lives if He gave it an earthly address. The thing is. . .He had to tell someone to build it. And they had to be obedient. Thank you Bud and Lynda Lynn for your obedience And my great blessing: 

A few years ago, probably more than a few- actually- I read the book “The Shack. ” It touched me deeply. . . The themes of God being real in our lives in the form of three persons– of him very literally inviting us on adventures and intimate journeys with him, and the miracle of finding the truth of who Christ is in the form of our deepest loss made a mark on my heart. And I said to God- “I wish you would do that for me one day. . . ” but in my heart I did not believe He would. I didn’t think God would choose to be that literal with me. An actual note in my mailbox. An actual cabin and “shack” in the woods, an actual serene lake outing with Jesus. That was fiction. And for some reason, in my mind, God had decided to leave that sort of direct, burning bush style communication in a far away land called the Old Testament. 
But in the days after Ellis’ homecoming, I did get a postcard in the mail. I tried to dismiss it but I could not . Because every cell in my body reacted to it in a way that only happens when creation responds to its creator. That same day I bought a rose print backpack equally mysteriously. And I knew that note that began “my fellow adventurer” was just a hint of what it would come to mean. But it remained a mystery. 

I continued on the hard work of getting reconciled, battling up, grounding and surrounding, and storytelling. . . The next song to sing, the next step of obedience. . . That next hard first or sweet truth. . . I put that adventure note in the back of my mind . . . 

Until I arrived at the cabin in Branson . . . Only seeing that little shack of a chapel sprinkled with roses. . . With reminders of Jesus always with his children. . . Rose crowns and thorn crowns. . .angels and babies. . . But a very intentional touch of vintage pink roses everywhere. . .and He whispered check out the woods behind. . . And there’s a cross crowned in a garland of pink roses. . . I ran to the front of the chapel and tried to jerk open the door but it was locked. I soaked in the grounds of the chapel and knew every bit was for me. I peeked in the window like a child and could tell there were real short pews but not much else. 

The next morning I laced up for a run but God whispered to try the trail at our condos. . . It led to a private, serene lake much like the one I had imagined years before . . . And Jesus was there. 

When I returned the chapel was open and just as I knew it would. . . It blew me away. Vintage rose curtains, little paper roses mounted on pew ends. . . Everywhere I looked – a very specific symbol of something significant between me and Ellis or me and God or all of us. . . A place perfectly prepared. . . Like no other. . . By no other. . . It was a romantic scavenger hunt. . .a dance. . . A peek a boo game laced with surprises. . . The final one would happen the next morning when I would go there there to worship with my family and look down to see a replica of my childhood bible. . . From my baptism that occurred after a holy moment in a patch of woods outside a rustic chapel. . . Singing the beginning and the end . . . And knowing He is the God of both sacred times. . . And knowing for sure that He gives us the desires of our heart in ways we would never expect. I am glad He has allowed my heart to stay open to all He has. . . For a tribe who protects my life with endless rings of sweetness in prayers we call donuts. . . And for going ahead and doing that which I doubt He will – – just to show me who He is and how magnificently He loves me. . .

#EG41

Much Love 

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He sees me kneeling here. . . I offer Him the worship of trusting Him with my tears. . .and He says . . . “She has shown me much love.” 

Much Love. Each tear comprised of much love. Each prayer in desperation composed of much love.  Each time I look to the Word instead of the World – – an act of much love. . . 

My sins which are many are forgiven for I have shown much love. . . To the One Who Is Love. . . who gave Himself up for Love.  His feet are absent from my earthly view so I blow a kiss to the heavens. . . 

I’m in a new phase of my grief journey. It’s one that’s more intentionally caring of myself and my family.  Becoming a caretaker of my own spirit. . . 

And as much as possible I am giving myself permission to grieve when it hits me. . . It often “hits” me – – sweeps over me actually at church- – a strong wave of love and longings and brokenness. . . That’s more than I can push back and so I’m swept out with it. . . Wrapped up in the security of my Fathers Wings but allowed to be rocked by the waves. 

And because I’m trying to embrace these waves rather than fight them- – I’ve taken the pressure off to ” keep it together ” in front of the crowd. And so among the masses today, I shook the row with my emotion.  The river of tears flow freely.  And a shift will occur. 

The church will be reclaimed as my sanctuary and not my battlefield. I will take a respite from ministering to others but I will enter a retreat where I am ministered to.  

I won’t watch the tears roll down my husbands face without being able to hold tight to his hand and whisper truth into the ears that are attached to his soul. 

I will enter into a posture of unguarded worship. . . Its the only real worship there is

 And it’s more than that. For I’m not the only woman who came to the day in her destiny where she would bear no shame in her tears. Not even close. But there is one that Jesus spoke of directly. . . 

He demanded that they look at her- acknowledge her gifts which were only Love. . . 

“She wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. . . She has not ceased In kissing my feet. . . Her many sins are forgiven – – for the she loved much.” 

And so it is my faith that saves me and I too go in peace. . . 

Luke 7: 36-50 tells the whole story and part of it is my story too. What a great author He is. . . Faithfully crafting sequels of salvation for us all . We love much because He is much Love❤️ 

The Truth About Pain

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Since the moment that I began to realize that death itself had touched my child . . . That just as she had been beautifully gifted to us, she had also been taken away. . . From the start. . . 

I have been surrounded by Truth. Not scientific truth. Not intellectual truth. Not earthly truth. But Gods Holy Eternal Truth that never changes and is the foundation on which we stand. My mother was the first one to declare it over me in the hallway of the hospital where she was pronounced. . . Not beautiful. Not healthy. But dead. Expired. At rest. 

The truth has healed my spirit. It has soothed my soul. It has allowed me to stay connected and even reconciled with the only real source of life- -My God, My Jesus, and His beautiful spirit that He left to tend to mending me. 

There’s no way around the beautiful truths that He has revealed to me. But as beautiful and comforting and holy as it is- – This Truth. 

It cannot be separated from the pain that brought it. I’ve tried to trade the Truth for the pain. For all that’s good about God to somehow cancel the ripping of my heart- – the assault on my body and soul that this life experienced has delivered. 

The truth and the pain are married. It’s not one or the other. They are a package deal. The truth is critical to healing . . . 

But I won’t heal on truth alone. Tremendous pain is also a vital part of healing .  We do not want that to be as true as the Truth. . .but it is. It’s ok to not be ok because the opposite of being ok is actually how we get to that ok place. 

So one piece of the healing puzzle is discovering and believing what God says is true about your situation. 

And for me the next piece will be to learn to embrace and properly place the pain – -just as I have the TRUTH. God made us mind. Body. Spirit. All three must be renewed in Him. None can be skipped. Phase 1 for me  was most definitely Spirit. I thank God for that. He knew I needed it that way. He is kind and thoughtful. Faithful and All Knowing. 

I have reason to believe my mind and body will be healed together, in tandem, simultaneously . . . Because of the strength He has brought to my Spirit. 

It will not be easy. It will be hard and holy but I was made by a Holy God.  And I was made for hard and holy things. So bring it. . . Bring it On. Bring it hard and fast or sweet and slow. I trust You and I Am Yours God. 

But as a note to those who read my words–if I’ve given you the impression that Truth cancels pain, I apologize for that. I will be faithful to share the light He’s shown to me. Both in the places where Truth lives in Triumph and in the places where pain is prescribed and holy. . . There is no shame in pain. The freedom of Christ lives there too.   

The Ebenezer

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The first time I tried to select it, I fell short of accomplishing the task. I could hardly choke out the phrase “my daughter died” . . . And it would take more than that to do this properly.  
The salesperson was unaware that this was not business but rather a sacred work. . . 

It wasn’t meant to be a memorial for ” just a baby” or one for just this time or just this season. It needed to stretch beyond the borders of time but could only fit on a finite amount of space. It must capture the spirit of who she was and continues to be. And yet it must not be a shrine to her. As powerful and precious as she is – she is not deity. We must glorify God and cast a brief reflection of this story- – this mystery- – of His Glory. 
And so on a better day when my voice was stronger- – we set out to climb the summit. To make the selection. One tear. One word. One flower. One font. One hummingbird. One design dimension. One painful choice at a time.  
And in that process what began as a memorial stone became an Ebenezer.  

Before Ellis Grace’s homecoming, “ebenezer” was an odd word in a beloved hymn. But since, it has become a pillar. . . A monumental medallion. . . Shining on a country hill. . . A marker of who we are. . . A declaration of Gods Goodness in All Things. . . That as timeless as our sweet Ellis Grace is, so is Gods Unending Kindness. . . 
Hannah gave her child to the Lord for all of his days. I did the same. She prayed a prayer. I prayed that same prayer. Her child raised an Ebenezer to the most high God. I raise my child’s Ebenezer to the most high God. 
“After a long period of sadness and trouble, a consequence of Israel’s disobedience, Israel repented under the leadership of a new priest and judge, Samuel. God restored their political security, and the people, for their part, recommitted their hearts and minds to God. 
Samuel placed a large stone at the place where this restoration began. He publicly dedicated it as a monument to God’s help, God’s faithfulness, God’s eternal covenant. And as the people got on with their lives, the stone stood there, visible to all who passed that way, a reminder of judgment and repentance, mercy and restoration.
The Ebenezer stone represented a fresh beginning, a reversal of course for God’s people. It also said something important about God: his mercies are everlasting; his covenant is forever.” 
Samuel took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah. He named it Ebenezer—”the stone of help”—for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!” —1 Samuel 7:12, NLT

#EG41