I took this photo of my husband last weekend. It seemed profound somehow then.. How small he appears as he surveys all of the wild wisteria that has grown up unchecked in our new-ish yard. What can we even do about this? Where do we start?
We are dealing with an invasive species. It grows rapidly and is dangerous, as it can smother shrubs or even understory trees beneath the heavy weight of its vines. It grows around the trunks of a few large oaks inside the fenced-in area of our backyard and it almost seems to circle the trunk at the ground, vining up, like a predator prowling for prey.
It's interesting that wisteria is not likely to choke out a larger tree; mostly just those trees with a smaller diameter. However, it can grow up the trunk of a tree. It will creep out and around smaller side branches, strangling them as they grow. With its thick foliage, it can shade out a tree, weakening it, and all of those ever-thickening vines high up on that tree greatly increase its chance of coming down in a windstorm.
It is recommended that wisteria be cut off at the base.
This same weekend, my husband came to me with John 15. And there it was:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every branch in me that does not produce fruit he removes, and he prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit." (John 15:1-2)
Do you ever feel like the sin in your life looks a lot like this overgrowth of wisteria? Like you are just staring down this giant and wondering how in the world you can ever overcome?
What in the world can we even do about this? Where do we start?
I mean, in the case of the wisteria, we can start. Slowly but surely plodding away at cutting back the vines. But realistically, how much can we do? We can't eradicate it. At best, we can manage it.
Oh, did I say that was in the case of the wisteria? Well, SAME, in the case of our sin.
Look at John 15 again. God is the gardener. THE gardener. He's not someone who has never seen this before and He's not someone who just had to google wisteria (ahem). He is the One we can call on when we are overwhelmed and He is the One who prunes us.
He cuts back every branch in us that doesn't bear fruit and He even prunes the ones that already bear fruit so that we will produce more fruit.
And I don't know about you, but I don't want my sin to grow wildly and unbridled to the point that it has crept up and begun choking out any growth or fruit that may be growing. And I don't want to be consumed or weighed down so that when a storm comes, I can't withstand. I don't want to fall. I don't want to be destroyed.
I think maybe I want to be more like those mighty oaks inside the fence. I want to be rooted. I want to have a thick diameter, if you will, that is strong and sturdy. I want the years of walking with the Lord to be easily read like the rings inside a tree trunk that are used to determine the age of a tree. I want this to be evidence of His goodness: here's where it all began, here is where there was a dry season and here, a rainy season. Here there was even damage sustained from a fire- but look at how through it all, there was still growth. Look at how, no matter what, she remained. And, ultimately, look at how, through it all, He sustained her and grew her and cleansed her.
I look at these oaks inside the fence and I look at the trees outside. The ones outside are surrounded, covered, darn near consumed. And even those are not too far gone for the Gardener. But when I look at the oaks inside the fence, I think I would much rather have just a bit of wisteria creeping around, right? It's far more manageable, after all.
There's this massive oak, though, right out front. And basically, these five oaks are in a row, with this mammoth oak leading the way. And I'm thinking now: no, I want to be like that one. No wisteria threatening to slither up. Just a firm, beautiful oak.
Isaiah 61:3b: "..that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified [Or 'that he may display his beauty']."
Oh yes. Let any sin in me, though it may at first be overwhelming and untamed, be cut away so that I may, in some supernatural and God-given way, display the Lord's beauty. May I be an oak of righteousness so that He may be glorified.
Jesus, may I remain in You all the days of my life. May I stand tall: rooted in You, Jesus, dressed in your righteousness and displaying the beauty of the Lord. May I yield to your pruning, O God, knowing that You will produce much fruit and, from this, be so glorified. Oh yes, Lord. May You be most glorified.
written by: Olivia Caldwell
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Recently I found myself standing right next to this super beautiful woman during a time of worship. And as I stood there next to her, suddenly, I wasn't so sure about my outfit choice and I was instantly aware of my old, worn out sandals, my long neglected eyebrows and my long hair that just always seems to get real tangled and crazy looking. I mean, just immediately, I was consumed by these inward laments of my outward "lack".
I came to worship. I'm standing in the presence of the King, to worship His Holy Name- and there, with my dusty old sandals kicked to the side and my bare feet standing on Holy Ground- I'm looking around me and then looking at myself and I'm feeling small and like maybe God should just use someone a little more... MORE, ya know? And it's like... What am I looking at? My God or my lack? How can I possibly think this way when I'm standing before the One who created me?
This has been a constant battle for me, not just in light of comparison but in light of being enough. And I think to a certain extent, it's okay. I'm keenly aware of my weakness and my desperate need for my God to fill me with His strength and His power for what He has called me to. I pray that He is most glorified in the places where my weakness is clearly evident and His glory shines all the brighter.
But then.. there's this place where I get stuck when my eyes remain on my inadequacy. If there's not a shift and if my gaze does not stay fixed on the might of God and the purpose of God and the miracle of the mere presence of Christ in me, that's a problem.
And just now, my husband began speaking to me about Gideon and the tears just started welling up because I can't tell you how many times the Lord has brought Gideon to me.
"The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor." (Judges 6:12)
Lord, how? Me? I am inconsequential. My family is the weakest and I am the least.
"But I will be with you.." (Judges 6:16)
Isn't that enough? To stand before the angel of the LORD and to hear who the Lord says you are, the call He is giving you and the promised presence of the Lord with you? "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?" (Judges 6:14)
But I'm hiding in the winepress and You're telling me to go and save Israel. Like, thatIsrael? Israel, Israel?
I can't tell you how many times I have uttered or thought the phrase, "I'm such a Gideon." And even there, the focus is on the inadequacy and not God. Because God called Gideon, He purposed Gideon, to do something impossibly big- AND HE DID. God said and he did. And I'm over here concerned with everything in between, like, well, I'm just like Gideon because I'm unsure like him and I'm constantly asking the Lord to confirm like he did.
OKAY, but what if I said, "I'm such a Gideon" as in: God came to me in my weakness and in my hiding and He gave me this call that is so much bigger than me. It's so, so crazy great and enormous and, uh, not to mention crazy, but the Lord Himself said that I am ____ and that He will be with me and He reassured me that HE HIMSELF CALLED ME.
I guess this place of inadequacy I have been stuck in is a little like my very own winepress. And I'm constantly hiding or looking to the left and to the right but God meets me right there. He is looking right at me and saying to me: I am with you. I have called you (insert name that is so outrageously not anything I in see myself and comparable even to 'mighty man of valor') and I have called you to this. You are not inconsequential; I created you with great, specific purpose.
And what if I also changed how I view the ways that Gideon asked the Lord to show him, to reassure him? Instead of, "Oh, that Gideon!" maybe I should think, "Oh, MY God!" Because in his wrestling to reconcile how he perceived himself and what the Lord was saying to him, Gideon asks for a sign- and God says, "I will stay till you return." (Judges 6:18) He was patient with Gideon and willing to work with him and work this stronghold out of him. And later in Judges 6:36-40, Gideon asks for another sign two nights in a row. And still the Lord reassured Him with miracles and His anger did not burn against him, even though he asked to test the Lord in this way.
AND THEN. THEN. In Judges 7:10, right before Gideon is to attack, the Lord says to him, "If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp." Look at what the Lord arranged for him, y'all:
"Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.”
His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”
When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”" (Judges 7:13-15)
Okay, be right back, crying. God didn't have to do that. He didn't have to do that.
But He did.
Why? Why was he so gracious with this man who struggled so deeply? Why was He so patient with a mere man who feels, even in the presence of the Lord, that he needs to test the Lord to be sure? Why would He even care?
"What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:4-9)
We should absolutely stand in awe of our God! Look at what He did in and through Gideon! He took this man who hid himself and who perceived himself as the lowest of the low in comparison to all the men and the clans around him. This man who needed confirmation when maybe we think he shouldn't have. God was patient with him and kind and gracious. And finally, Gideon rose up and proclaimed the victory God had promised him. The one who himself struggled to get up out of that winepress called out to those heading into battle with him: "Get up!"
Get up. The Lord SAID.
Who does the Lord say you are, sister? Who are you in Christ?
What is it that He has called you to? That thing that seems impossibly big? That thing that has you like, "Me, Lord? Surely not me? I'm not anywhere near enough for this."?
Don't look to your left or to your right; don't you dare even go on looking at yourself through those human eyes of yours.
No, no. Shift your gaze. Dare to see what the Lord sees. Dare to believe what He says.
Maybe even ask Him to show you, like Gideon.
And then get up, beloved.
Does not the Lord send you?
Written By: Olivia Caldwell
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I'm 're-entering' my home life after a beautiful, intense and time-warp of a trip. I just spent four days in the mountains attending the Deepening Weekend (Zoweh - the Deepening Weekend) and it somehow feels like so much more time has passed by. My friends and I joked with one another that it was like entering into Narnia. Like we all just slipped into Narnia together and went on an epic, magnificent, life-altering adventure with Aslan and with all of his kingdom's hosts. And it's like we just encountered Aslan and he touched parts in us we didn't know were there and he gave us names we didn't know we bear. It's like we grew old, crowned with new names and new hearts, riding through the woods with winds whipping through our hair and laughter ringing out and... oh, what is this?
We felt our way back into the wardrobe and tumbled onto the floor in an empty room from whence we came. A lifetime had passed but back home it had been but a few moments. Had it really happened?
It's disorienting but, truly, we are oriented. We are back in this old life, in our old homes, but with the knowledge of more. No, with a sweet taste of what is and what is to come. The larger story.
This weekend, God came for the hearts of His daughters. And I wonder: how is your heart?
Maybe your heart is overwhelmed. Tired. Burdened. Aching. Broken.
Maybe your heart has endured so much that it is almost unfeeling. Numb. Apathetic.
My heart condition was like plexi-glass. You know, those barriers in stores between shoppers and cashiers? Yeah. That was the state of my heart, the image I saw in my prayer time. It stung, but I knew it was true.
I've been praying. Crying out to the Lord. Because in the last year and especially in recent months, this barrier has been something that became undeniable. I wanted to bring people in but it felt impossible. I froze. Shut down. Pushed away. You can see me. I'll let you see me. But I am in control and you may only see me to the level I allow before you hit my wall. I am guarded. This is for my protection and, unfortunately, often detrimental for others.
This condition of my heart has had consequences. Out of the overflow of the heart, right? There have been so many things I have been repenting of, surrendering, desperately crying out for. I often would ask God, "Why? Why can't I ______? What is wrong with me?"
Daughter, let Me show you how you have been wronged. How your young heart has been assaulted and misused and how you have learned to cope and defend.
Heart work is hard work.
There are parts of us we would rather keep packed away. There are wounds we carry that we fear will break us if we dare touch them.
Maybe it's time to break. Break open like a dam.
I know, beloved. I know the risk. I know the excruciating pain of entering into brokenness. It goes against every instinct. Willingly walk into my deepest, darkest hurts? I literally live my life in a way that is crafted to avoid that very thing.
That's withholding. That right there is a big ol' plexiglass barrier to abundance. Intimacy. That, friend, is not living. That's a dead (wo)man walking. That right there is a prisoner.
Our hearts need a Surgeon.
Who better to give our bleeding hearts to than a Perfect and Loving Father?
What I am always surprised to find (and WHY?) is that my Abba actually knows me better than I know myself. It's like He was there in all of the trauma I experienced. Those memories I repressed? That abuse I stuff back down whenever it threatens to rise up? He knows it. He knows it is like poison within me. It becomes poison to the people around me. The people I love and whom I'm trying to love well. My love is hindered; both ability to give and to receive.
How can we love the Lord with all our HEARTS, souls, strength and minds, and then love our neighbors as ourselves, if we are withholding our whole hearts from the God of love? From the One who IS Love and the One who loves us with an everlasting love and the One who renders us able to love because He first loved us?
Invite Him in to perform heart surgery, dear one. It is guaranteed to hurt. I wish I didn't have to tell you this. It will require a risk and a courage that goes against every fiber of your being. Your flesh may scream at you, your heart may very well feel as if it will shatter. And it may, in some way or another. But the other guarantee is that your surgery will save your life. It will recover and revive your heart.
It will be worth it. Making room for more of God in our hearts always is.
I did this. Again. The hurt that God entered into this weekend blindsided me. It was another layer of healing that I didn't realize I needed. My Father knew and still, there was a very real part of me that wanted to run. No, no. Not this. Not more pain. My heart cannot take it. Please don't make me.
Beloved, of course you don't have to. But you have a choice to make. And He is always gentle and always kind and always inviting. I say I was blindsided but I realized even that was not true. My Father has been preparing my heart for this for months. And He is trustworthy (trusted and worthy) to enter into the very heart He created.
So I entered into the heart work, the holy work, and found there were big, heavy, nails, large enough to fasten not only my sin, but the sin of others towards me, on the cross.
Wow, Jesus. What a Savior. What a great, unfathomable, impossibly good Love.
There is a part of me that is sitting in a great room where the wardrobe, the portal to Narnia, stands. And if I'm being honest, there is a part of me that wonders if anything in my heart has truly changed. Was it worth the suffering? The vulnerability? The exposure?
Is my heart truly transformed? Did this really happen?
Outside my window is a clue, pointing to truth. In a few short days (back home where everything appears to have remained the same, remember?), spring has sprung. New life has actually BURST forth. When I left, the trees were still bare, the flower buds shut tight. And I wondered if spring would ever come.
This morning, I woke up to find... an exuberance. A flourishing. New life.
And I know that this has really happened. It is true. Because in the Kingdom, even the dead things give way to Life.
Written By: Olivia Caldwell
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Earlier this week, I was treated to a massage. And wow, was it a treat!
This mama carries alllll of the tension and stress in her neck and shoulders. And you know, lately I've noticed myself holding more and more tension in other areas of my body. Maybe you can relate? There's just been so much going on!
So I was lying down, enjoying an hour to myself to relax.. and I was even praising God for this gift of rest and restoration.. when my sweet masseuse interrupted my closed-eye prayers of thanksgiving, saying expectantly, "Relax!"
I opened my eyes, thinking to myself, "What? I was relaxing!"
She was holding one of my arms up, which I now realized was not in fact relaxed. In fact, it was quite tense; almost just paralyzed midair.
I made a conscious effort to relax and it made maybe a little progress. Not enough, apparently, since this patient servant-woman chided me again:
"Relax. Deep breath in: now let it out.
Let me do all of the work."
I really did try, you guys. I tried my best to breathe deeply and pray and periodically loosen up my wound-tight muscles for the rest of our time together. And she did some serious work on my shoulders, with orders to come back in 3 weeks to continue working out the knots. But days later, I'm still thinking about this. I'm thinking that my ever tense muscles may be a symptom of a deeper need of release.
Release; to set free.
Why, in this instance, does release feel like loss?
I consider myself to be pretty laid back and flexible. If I'm being totally honest, I generally feel like surrender is an easy thing to do. Okay, it's hard, yes, but I mean, how faithful is the Lord? How trustworthy and mighty and able is He? Isn't He sovereign? To yield to the Lord God Almighty is altogether better than anything I could conceive or produce in and of myself!
And yet I seem to find myself unable to release control.
In the days after the massage revelation, my eyes were opened to instances of my desire for control:
After my blunders of becoming so overwhelmed and overcome by fear and then in turn attempting to regain control of these situations myself, God so graciously intervened and:
In all of these instances, I essentially, perhaps unknowingly(?), took in these circumstances surrounding me, decided that things were not as they should be and then declared that I could fix them.
(Okay, quick note: I just google searched for a synonym for 'to take in' and wound up with a definition for 'to take-in': an act of taking in especially by deceiving. Oof)
I don't want to be deceived into thinking that all around me is my burden alone to carry.
I don't want to be deceived into thinking that surrender of control is loss.
Could it be instead that a surrender of control.. even a surrender so deep and transforming that it initially feels like a great loss.. could actually be a great gain? That it could be a beautiful expansion of faith; of obedience; of the Holy Spirit's work in and around us- for the Kingdom?
The story of the bleeding woman has been on my heart for a couple of weeks now.
This woman, come to the end of herself. This woman, who tried it all, gave it all, year after year after year. This woman, desperate for healing.
This woman, risking the loss of the little she had left. Risking all she had left, risking defiling and contaminating the crowd she slipped into as she was considered unclean- this woman raced toward great loss in the eyes of the world. In Jesus' eyes, however, this woman He turned to find, having gone through with her decision to simply touch the hem of His cloak; well, this woman and her actions and desperation for just a touch signified great gain in His Kingdom.
This woman, once avoided- now sought out.
This woman, once outcast- called Daughter.
This woman, instead of being chastised and cast out- praised for her faith.
This woman, once suffering with no end and no relief in sight- made well.
Her loss made room for an expansion only possible with Christ Jesus.
Please hear my heart on this- I am well aware of the stark difference between this story of a massage and this story of the bleeding woman.
I just pray that we see any thing that the Lord may be calling and convicting us to lay down, no matter how difficult and no matter the cost, as worth the surrender and the sacrifice in order to have more of Him.
My soul cries out, "Have it all, King Jesus; I only want more of You!"
Oftentimes my flesh cries out in protest louder. My aching shoulders are a testament to that.
But I'm more sure now than ever that if I'm willing to lose this battle for control over:
to be comfortable, liked, accepted;
to be in control when all seems out of control
If I'm willing to die to these things, I know I will gain Jesus in ways I can only begin to dream of.
If there's anything I know about Jesus, it's that anytime we come to Him in humility and in faith, He doesn't just give us what we came for. He doesn't just give us what we asked Him for. He doesn't just let us slip under the radar, daring only for a touch of His outer garments.
He turns to us, looks us in the face even, and gives us every bit of Him we didn't even realize we needed.
More than healing, more than any unfathomably good gift He could give us.
Yes, more than anything, we get more of Jesus than we could have anticipated.
We get more of the Father.
We get more of the Holy Spirit.
That expansion of Heaven on Earth alone is worth anything we could lose.
Lord, let us in faith now lay what feels like loss to surrender, our idols, at Your feet. And Lord, let us continue to walk in that surrender, not picking these idols back up, moment by moment, day by day. And Lord, let Your presence in our lives expand exponentially in the place of these counterfeits. Amen.
WRITTEN BY: Olivia Caldwell
Man, seasons of transition can be so difficult, right?
It's like our bodies can pick up physically what is so uncomfortable and stretching in the spiritual. Even as I type this, even after weeks of working through this discomfort of transition, I still have this ball of tension in my stomach.
I'm feeling a little stuck, if I'm honest. I've been sitting with the Lord here lately, working through a lot of feelings. And He is so tender and patient and full of mercy as He even reveals things to me I hadn't even realized.
But I just can't seem to ready myself to move.
I don't know what your transition looks like, or what you feel stuck in today, but here's something my husband and I are praying over: after almost four years of homeschooling and 7 years of me not working out of the home and staying home with my babies, the Lord may have us send them to school, public or private. All four will be school age and as silly as it may sound, I have spent my entire adult life home in some capacity with these kiddos. And I am really struggling with moving on.
I have a lot of questions and they're not even necessarily about my children: Was I faithful in this season home with them? Did I prepare them well enough? What about me? What will this next season look like for me? What will it require of me?
I'm comfortable here.
But am I really?
Because I think when God is preparing to transition us, He gifts us with the vision to notice that suddenly, things have changed. There's been a shift. And it doesn't feel wrong, but it does feel more difficult. It feels like more effort is being exerted in order to maintain the status quo.
So are we willing to posture ourselves in one of humility and surrender to the Lord?
Are we willing to lay down this season that is familiar and comfortable and what we know for the unknown?
Do we trust that Jesus knows what lies ahead of us and it is for our good?
Do we believe that He is faithful to prepare and equip us for wherever He is sending us?
Whatever it is that you're transitioning into or out of, sweet sister, you can believe right here and right now that Jesus sees all of the thoughts and questions and protests that run through your mind. In fact, He may reveal them to you Himself.
So let's start here.
What are you afraid of? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you what it is that has you hesitant to move forward. And after you have identified and worked through this fear with the Lord, release it to Him. Lay it at His feet. Where you're going, this fear can't come.
What are you grateful for? Recount how Jesus has been so incredibly and impossibly good in this season, because no matter what it looks like circumstantially, He is and always was the good in it. Bless His precious and glorious name. Pour out thanksgiving before Him!
Is there anything you need to release? Could it be that in order for you to receive what He wants to give you, you need to lay something down first? Ask Him and be obedient to release your grip on what may be good but is not His best.
And now, my pretty and wise friend, don't look back.
No matter how different and scary and demanding the road ahead of you may appear, do not let your gaze turn back to the old season.
Do not long for the old when what Jesus has for you is the new thing He is doing.
Do not falter and do not grow weary, sweet friend.
Do not turn back.
Where you're going is not back there.
What He has for you is not back there.
It is forward.
I know that what Jesus has in store for us through this transition is worth trading in whatever we hold dear. May we have eyes to see every bit of good that lies ahead. And may we see in brand new ways that He is good and able and worthy and how ridiculously lavish His love for us is.
His desire for you is good.
His plans for you are good.
He is good.
I can't wait to hear about all of the good this new, unknown and unfathomable season holds for you.
Above all, I can't wait to hear about how you see Jesus in it and through it.
King Jesus, ready us. Ready our hearts. Our desire is You. Where You are, we want to be. May we follow You all our days, Lord. Amen.
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELL
I am tired today.
I am tired of division.
Tired of injustice.
Tired of malice and bitterness.
Tired of fear.
I am tired of grief, all around me and spilling up out of me when I least expect it.
I am tired of uncertainty.
I am tired of corruption.
I am tired of deception.
I am tired of feeling like I don't even know the next right thing to do sometimes. Does anyone know what the 'right' or 'best' thing truly is, anyway?
I am just tired and overwhelmed and in desperate need of rest. True rest.
I'm lamenting all of these things while scrubbing mud off of a white tile floor and suddenly think again of the Israelites.
Delivered from bondage and slavery in the most astounding and miraculous and unimaginable of ways and then ushered right into the wilderness. Truly living from glory to glory. Daily manna that is gracious and supernatural in and of itself, yet the miracle of it lost day after day, week after week. A people chosen by God Almighty, spared and under His great and all-encompassing provision. A people keenly aware of the character of their God, of His mercy and faithfulness and of the sheer terror of His might and power. A people at the same time weary of hardship.
My mind wanders to several weeks ago, during a different kind of lamenting and pining for my own perception and idea of rest, when the Lord set His Word right in front of me: Hebrews 4, titled 'The Promised Rest'.
The promise to enter his rest remains, says the Word of the Lord. But we are exhorted to be diligent to enter into God's rest. John Piper writes,
"Be diligent! Pay close attention to what you’ve heard (Hebrews 2:1); don’t neglect your great salvation (Hebrews 2:3); consider Jesus (Hebrews 3:1); do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:8); take care against an unbelieving heart (Hebrews 3:12); exhort one another every day against the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:14); and fear the unbelief that will keep you from your promised rest (Hebrews 4:1)."
We are to be diligent, especially when we come up against hardship, to not fall into the same pattern of disobedience, to not harden our hearts "as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness." (Heb 3:8)
We are warned against unbelief.
And sister, this has been real heavy on my heart in recent months. When we are feeling hit from all sides, surrounded and stuck, with not a clue as to how to come through; when what lies before us seems formidable and overpowering and oppressive; and sometimes when we are simply weary, unbelief creeps in.
We are sometimes like the Israelites, standing at the edge of the Promised Land, trembling at the massive Nephilim and feeling like grasshoppers. (Numbers 13)
And we cry out, "How?"
And I say to you, sweet sister, this is okay.
This is even good.
As long as we remember.
Remember that we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses.
I exhort you to boldly approach the throne of grace, to throw yourselves at the feet of our great high priest who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin, so that you may receive mercy and find grace to help you in your time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)
Bring him all of your doubts and fears and yes, even your unbelief. Weep and mourn and repent. Lay out the circumstances that have your heart troubled before Him and ask Him, "How?"
We must keep our hearts soft in this way. In order for His truth to penetrate our hearts, they must not be hardened. If we want to receive His help and
rest in our time of need, then our hearts need to be permeable and open to receive.
So we lay it all at the feet of Jesus and we say, "This belongs to you, King Jesus. I know You are good. I know You are able. I believe. Help my unbelief"
"Here's my heart, Lord. Speak what is true."
Over and over again, friend, pray.
"Believe His promises and sing His praise." (Psalm 106)
Remember. Remember the relentless love of God. Remember how:
"He rescued them many times,
but they continued to rebel deliberately
and were beaten down by their iniquity."
"When he heard their cry,
he took note of their distress,
remembered his covenant with them,
and relented according to the abundance
of his faithful love." (Psalm 106:43-45)
Take care that you do not exchange His glory for lesser things, that you are not seized with craving in the wilderness. Take care that you do not forget God your Savior, who has done great things and wondrous works. Take care that you do not retain grumbling in your heart. (Psalm 106:13-14, 20-22, 25)
"Today if you hear his voice
do not harden your hearts."
Today, His rest awaits you, beloved.
It is promised.
Make every effort to enter in.
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELL
It's really been sort of interesting and challenging to begin to think, pray and write through all of the topics we have explored this year at Pretty & Wise in light of all that 2020 has held.
Purpose seems like an especially gripping topic.
This year, we've seen a lot of the vehicles through which we believed we carried out our purpose changed or stripped away altogether. Our ministries, communities, mission fields- adapted to fit into quarantine restrictions or just put aside altogether.
And I don't know about you, but without the things that made up my insanely busy, "productive" and "purposeful" life, it got pretty quiet.
And it became hard to do even the most basic, 'neighbor-loving' things.
And it was in this eerily quiet, unknown and uncharted sort of place where I believe purpose was truly fleshed out.
One of my most favorite books of the Bible is Hosea. Oh, I would love to tell you all about the many times the Lord has wooed and pursued me through this book! It holds such beautiful, breathtaking grace, love and mercy.
Hosea 2 speaks to Israel's adultery and I want you to take a look at what the Lord says:
"For this reason I will fence her in with thornbushes.
I will block her path with a wall
to make her lose her way.
When she runs after her lovers,
she won't be able to catch them.
She will search for them
but not find them.
Then she will think,
'I might as well return to my husband,
for I was better off with him than I am now.'
She doesn't realize that it was I who gave her everything she has-
the grain, the new wine, the olive oil;
I even gave her silver and gold.
But she gave all my gifts to Baal." (Hosea 2:6-8 NLT)
Oh, sweet friend. I hope that you will read this book in its entirety, for the rest of this passage speaks even more to what we have experienced this year. An end to annual festivals, celebrations..
This is likened to being stripped naked.
Completely exposed before the Lord, with nothing to hide behind or throw ourselves into.
Just us and our Bridegroom. Face to face.
And wow, I've got goosebumps when I think of this level of intimacy. It is beautiful beyond words or comprehension.
But it is also uncomfortable.
I know so very well how difficult it is to be completely seen. And it's like, we know that Jesus sees us ALL, but when we become keenly aware; when we can't escape it.. whew, it's humbling. It's flesh-killing. It's sanctifying and refining.
Friend, I am sure this year has been all of this and more. And I say to you, sister:
This is very good.
The Lord's Love for Unfaithful Israel:
"But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyard to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble
into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
as she did long ago when she was young,
when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
"When that day comes," says the Lord,
"you will call me 'my husband'
instead of 'my master.'" (Hosea 2:14-16 NLT)
Through the discomfort and exposure to the elements, in the quiet and uncomfortably still, in the arid desert, have you heard Him calling?
Have you seen Him pursuing you?
This desert, this wilderness of a year. Oh, sister, this has served a purpose. Beyond what you can even begin to imagine.
This season has freed us from bondage. Caused us to repent and lay down our idols. We've thrown it all off, all that has weighed us down, so that we can begin to RUN.
Our purpose is to love the Lord God with all that we've got. Above all else. More than any other thing. Our purpose is to know that nothing else in this world will satisfy us and to drink deeply of Living Water.
Our purpose is to hunger and to thirst and to pant and long for God as a deer pants for water. (Psalm 42)
We were created in the image and likeness of the Lord God Himself. To walk with Him. To commune with Him. To love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
And then to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And so if we are to effectively walk out our purpose, purposefully, in the many ways that we love others; if we are to fruitfully be salt of the earth and light of the world, we have *first* got to love the Lord our God above all else.
This is critical.
This is vital.
And so, sweet friend, I pray that you have seen this process unfolding this year. And I pray that if the wilderness has felt unkind and almost like a near-death, wasting-away experience, that now your eyes will be opened to the restoration and new life and new wine to come.
IT. IS. COMING.
IT. IS. RETURNING.
Love is returning.
Hold firm to this truth, sister. Do not give in. God is good. He is faithful. He does not delay.
He is coming for you.
He is doing a new thing.
Do you perceive it?
Jesus, oh beautiful Jesus, we come before you. At your feet. Laid bare. And we thank you for this painful, almost unbearable pruning. We thank you for this great shaking. We pray, Lord, that we would seek Your face above all else. That you would show us how to love, by lavishing on us Your great love. You are good. You are beautiful. Your love IS lavish. It is extravagant. It doesn't make sense but you pour it out on us, Jesus. Open our eyes to see what you are up to! Help us to walk forward from here on out with great purpose, bearing fruit, ready for harvest. Awaken us, Lord! Awaken us to the full life you have for us on this side of eternity and at the same time, awaken us to what awaits for us in eternity with you. Give us an unquenchable desire for you and an urgency to establish your Kingdom. Thank you, Jesus. AMEN!
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELL
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Okay, so when you think of fear, what comes to mind?
Public speaking, you say?
Oh great, so you're tracking with me here! Apparently we are in good company, according to statistics.
All joking aside.. the latest development in my journey of overcoming fear has come about as a result of public speaking.
It's been quite the journey, which funnily enough, began a few years ago with public speaking. The subject? '20 Seconds of Insane Courage'.
Yep, true story.
I have dealt with completely and utterly paralyzing fear surrounding public speaking. It has been crippling and frustrating.
It has also somehow become freeing, serving as an altar on which I can clearly recall and trace and see the Lord's goodness.
Several months ago, I made a commitment to begin making time in the evenings to write a few days a week. From that commitment to myself and to God came this completely unexpected and beautiful time with the Lord and this pouring out of words onto pages of a notebook that I had not a clue what to do with. I just began to write and waited to see what, if anything, would come of this writing.
One Sunday morning soon after, right in the middle of worship, I suddenly knew what I was to do next. And look, I was not thrilled.
I mustered up twenty seconds of insane courage to approach our Pastor after service and said something like, "Umm, hi, so I've been writing this thing. And I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to share it in a communion meditation but I'd really rather not. I mean, I will. I want to. To be obedient, that is. Not a communion meditation. But I will because God said so. So.. Yeah." (Please insert about a thousand "um's" and imagine a very red face for the sake of historical accuracy)
And you know this was completely and totally the LORD because our Pastor was so very encouraging after those tangled words fell out of my mouth.
I lost a good bit of sleep as the day of my communion meditation approached. My heart was constantly in my throat and I shook like a leaf all that morning. I wanted desperately to run and begged the Lord to sustain me as I felt incredibly physically and emotionally weak. After I somehow managed to get through what I had written without passing out, I returned to my seat and sobbed through the rest of worship, crying out to God, saying, "Lord, this is for You. This is all about You. Please don't let me make this about me or my performance or how I may be perceived or received. Please just let You be visible and glorified above all else."
(God, in all His extravagant goodness and graciousness, allowed this morning to be an unthinkably beautiful and emboldening time for me anyway. He's lavishly good like that.)
Moving forward, though, this became a somewhat regular cycle over the next few months. My stomach would drop when I learned the date of my next meditation and I would feel absolutely sick as the time approached, even though I was growing in intimacy with the Lord in the preparation, prayer and worship leading up to Sunday service. One Saturday evening, I had had enough and texted a couple of precious friends of mine, asking what was so heavily laid on my heart, "Please pray for me. I am so sick over this and I am so sick of this. I am praying for ALL fear to GO and for the FEAR OF THE LORD to be the only thing remaining. Please pray with me!"
I share all of this with you, sweet friend, so you will have an idea of how much of a burden this fear has been for me. And there were many times when I thought I surrendered this fear to the Lord and anticipated breakthrough in this area of my faith, only to be perplexed and momentarily defeated when I didn't see this unfolding quite as I expected.
This was so because my trust in the Lord only went but so far, as it turned out. I trusted Him enough to step out in obedience. I trusted Him enough to place on my heart what to say for a particular service. But I had drawn a line and I didn't yet trust enough that He would fill my mouth if I only opened it in expectation that His Holy Spirit would guide my words and fill my gaps. I just couldn't do it and I reasoned that, well, it wasn't that I didn't trust Him. I just didn't trust myself. I was the problem.
And that right there was exactly the problem. Too much hinged on my ability, or lack thereof. Instead of fixing my eyes on Jesus and keeping my eyes there, too often my gaze wavered and I wondered why in the world I was drowning in this fear.
"In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge." Proverbs 14:26
"Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack!" Psalm 34:9
I laid down my fear but then ultimately snatched it right back up because of my own lack.
Lack of fear of the Lord.
Lack of confidence in Him.
Lack of belief.
Fear of the Lord means having "a deep respect, reverence and awe for God's power and authority." If I don't allow Him complete and total authority over my fear, trusting that He, in His sovereignty, will come through, even when I don't see a way, how then can His perfect love cast out fear? (1 John 4:18)
How can we have a deep and personal reverence and awe of Jesus if we are not willing to lay it all down, to risk it all?
How can our eyes be opened to the magnificence of His power and authority in our lives- and how can He be glorified- if we won't loosen our grip on the things we feel like we need to hold onto simply because we are afraid of what will happen when we let go?
Oh, friend. It's quite the journey to exchange your fear for the only fear that is pure (Psalm 19:9). He is able. There are no words for the relief and freedom there is when we can finally wholly surrender our fears to Jesus. His desire is for chains to break and for scales to fall as our eyes are opened to His glory.
I praise Him for His great mercy in this walk of allowing Him to loose the grip of fear in my life. I still am growing in this area but have seen such a transformation. There is still trembling but it is before Him. I have seen Him provide and sustain in new and unimaginable ways this year and can say to you with confidence: God's power and authority far outweigh any fear you find yourself up against. He wants it out of your grasp so that you can see just how glorious He is. I stand in awe of all that He has done with such debilitating fear! Him and Him alone!
Lord, we praise you. You alone are worthy. You are worthy of it all. And so, Lord, we lay down our fear to you today. We lay it all down and pray that even our mustard seed of faith in doing this results in such an abundance and covers our lack in such a way that is unfathomable and unimaginable and supernatural. Please forgive us for the fears we have not yet been able to leave at your feet, God. Let your fear reign over our hearts and let all our worldly fear fall off. You are able, Lord. We cry out for freedom from fear and for a boldness for you and for your kingdom. "Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen."
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELL
It's taken me a long time to sit down to write this month's article. If I'm being honest, the topic of leadership has had me feeling some kind of way these last few weeks.
I almost want to make sure you know up front that I am an unlikely sort of leader, which is sort of true, I guess.
Growing up, I was painfully shy and quiet. I preferred to follow and avoided standing out at all costs. And really, I still tend to be quiet and shy and I most definitely deep down inside prefer not to do anything that looks like stepping up and stepping out.
Oh yes, most assuredly I am an unlikely sort of leader, but in the Kingdom of God, I am in good company. How many instances in the Bible are there wherein God partners with the unlikeliest of characters? How many times do we read of God coming in and doing something so unexpected and remarkable?!
So this has got me thinking.. if the Kingdom of God sort of flips the switch on what's conventional and expected; if the very things that would normally disqualify or count us out according to the world are opportunities for God's grace and mercy and glory to shine all the brighter; if we see time and time again in the Word of God that our tendencies and weaknesses are the very places that His strength is manifested, could that mean that our perception of leadership could use a little aligning with these truths?
What if the key to leading is following? What if leading well actually looks like following hard after Jesus?
"My soul followeth hard after thee.." (Psalm 63:8)
When I think of a heart for the Lord's leading, I think of a passage of Scripture that absolutely changed my life. I think of Isaiah 6, when Isaiah encountered the Lord in all of His glory:
"..I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above him.. And one called to another:
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Armies;
his glory fills the whole earth.
The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke." Isa. 6:1-4
Isaiah's response? "Woe is me for I am ruined because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Armies." Isa. 6:5
Isaiah stands in the presence of the King, absolutely awestruck as he is overcome by the glory of the Lord and his response is that he is not worthy, he is unclean- he cannot remain here.
"Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from an altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord asking:
Who will I send?
Who will go for us?
Here I am. Send me." Isa. 6:6-8
I am so struck by Isaiah's audacity. In one breath, he expresses the impurity of his lips and in the next, once he has been cleansed, he speaks to the King of Kings and pleads, "Send me." And the Lord commissions him to go and speak!
Oh, I pray my heart is always as willing as Isaiah's. I pray that I never lose sight of the majesty of King Jesus. I pray that in His presence, I am filled with wonder and reverence. I pray that in view of His holiness, I am wholly humbled and repentant. I pray that in light of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross wherein my sin was removed as far as the east is from the west, I am therefore emboldened to do what is the good, pleasing and perfect will of the Lord.
Here I am, Lord. Send me. I am willing.
Could it be that as we seek after the Father's heart, as His desires become our own, that we begin to overflow into our spheres of influence? Could it be that the more closely we follow Jesus, the more He is magnified and therefore His glory is the driving force behind any and all leadership we have the honor and privilege of partnering with Him in?
What if our leadership simply looks like, "Come and see"? Come and see this Jesus, come and see all He has done. Come; see and believe! Taste and see for yourselves!
Lord, let us be so ruined, so undone by Your sovereignty, that we can't help but lead others to pursue You. Let our hearts be gladly given to Your will, no matter the cost.
Written By: Olivia Caldwell
My husband needed clean underwear this morning.
Like, really needed clean underwear.
He waited for our dryer, set on 'speed dry', for one pair to be dry enough to stand wearing while I sat and thought of all of the times I could have bothered to throw clothes into the washing machine before early this morning and I prayed for those underwear to miraculously dry like five minutes ago.
We both sat on edge because this is not how we wanted this morning to go. Today, after over 10 days on a ventilator, his dad is going to be taken off of sedation and extubated.
With his dad being in such delicate health after an extremely difficult year, we all have been so concerned. Today could go any number of directions. And with all of his phone calls, hospital visits and everyday responsibilities lately, I certainly could have made sure this basic need was met to help him with all he is carrying.
PS- I might have been successful at my quick fix if I had taken the other clothing out of the dryer and left the one pair of boxers in to dry on their own. Hindsight, right?
He called me on his way to the hospital and brought this to the attention of my tired ol' brain. And he said, "You know, I feel like this dryer situation is what we as the church need to do. We need to throw everything OUT except for Jesus."
Y'all, this is super convicting to me because gracious, how this very thing has been on my heart. My goodness, how the Lord has been refining me and drawing me nearer to His heart in this season.
And yet, I've found myself filling up on the things of this world instead, like He's not enough for me.
I have felt incredibly uncomfortable (telling my husband dramatically when he asks how I'm doing, "Oh, you know, just dying... to my flesh.") and turned from that discomfort to all of the THINGS going on in the world.. which doesn't even make sense, especially if you've checked out the news lately or caught up on the controversies of the week.
Instead of being faithful with the things right in front of me, like laundry for my loved ones, I often chose numbing out on social media and even got a little too caught up in current events. Instead of running to the arms of my Father and instead of sitting with the One who is able to empathize with my weakness, I often just traded His presence and His healing balm for lesser, "easier" things. These things have just served to clutter up the "dryer" of my life. As a result, my heart may feel heavy and overwhelmed and the voice of the Lord seems to be drowned out underneath it all.
Doesn't Matthew 11:28-30 say to come to Jesus, all of His weary and burdened children, and He will give us rest? Doesn't He say that His yoke is easy and His burden is light and that He is gentle?
Isn't He the Lover of our souls, King of our hearts, the only One able to satisfy? Isn't the Word filled with promises to us from our Jesus??
So, where is our focus? And why is it so often not on Jesus?
Later on this morning, laundry in the washing machine and many, many more loads lined up for their turn through the wash, I put my phone down to walk outside and take care of our birds (chickens, turkeys and ducks- and a whole lot of mess!). Once they've been watered- the water-attacking dog, too- I begin to water the garden. It's a little sad looking because of all of the trees in the yard, but we have several squash plants that are growing well and a very large pumpkin vine we are super proud of, especially considering that it came from our compost bin after carving pumpkins last fall.
As I water, I inspect the vines for any new growth. Our squash climb the fence as they grow and the vines have these little tendrils that look young and delicate, but they are what is holding the entire plant upright. And the plants that have grown past the fence have tendrils growing out near the tops, reaching for something to grasp onto.
The thing about these tendrils that fascinates me is that they wrap themselves around the fence post until they look like curly-q's. They're not going anywhere. And the ones that are reaching? You can bet that once they find another part of the fence, they'll do the same thing and will not let go.
I'm standing in the garden, thinking about focus and distractions and fixing our eyes on Christ and I just think to myself, "I think these squash plants are showing me how to pray."
The thing is, my own will to lay down worldly things and to focus in on Christ will only take me so far. But I know that if I ask God to help me, to transform and renew my mind, and for the desires of my heart to be aligned with His heart, He is faithful to do so. I believe He delights in doing so, because He sees our hearts and our struggles and our shortcomings and when we see them and recognize our dependence on Him, that's an invitation for the Lord to come in and do a work that only He can do. His power in our weakness is always a beautiful, beautiful thing.
And so we can pray to be loosed from anything other than a firm foundation to hold us up on.
We can pray that the Lord will lead us into all Truth and that we will cling to Him and His Word and His presence in such a way that no one or no thing can easily remove or unwrap us from Him.
We can pray that when we've come to the end of ourselves and we are reaching and grasping for Him, that He will see our outstretched hands as beautiful longings for Him and Him alone to sustain us.
And we can thank Him that as long as we keep praying and asking and seeking, we can rest assured that He will be there.
Our unshakeable, immovable, unchanging God.
WRITTEN BY: OLIVIA CALDWELLHead over to the Community to join in the conversation!
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