Archive of ‘The Good Life’ category

The Upside Down Kingdom- Part Two

Hey you’re back! Great!!! It’s me, the one trying desperately to be succinct in her writing. I mean the topic on the table is THE KINGDOM OF GOD. If Dallas Willard needs 288 pages in his book to explain it I may be justified in having monster posts. Even then, I am just hitting the high points.

We are talking about Christ’s greatest message preached in his three years of active ministry. Parable after parable, sermon after sermon, proclamation after proclamation “The kingdom of God is like this….”. He talked about the kingdom of God being here…like now…not 2000 years from now…but NOW. With him and through him we have the ability to live in reality of the kingdom of God. It is available through relationship with Jesus regardless of your circumstances. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN or better yet does it mean what I think it means???

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Seriously, I am no theologian. People start using big $5.00 words and my eyes glaze over and carnival music plays in my ears. I’m not dumb but my brain does not compute a lot of what I hear explained and debated. I’m highly visual and kinesthetic. My faith has always been rooted in my experiences. I KNOW them to be true and real and unshakable but I’m pretty sure Peter meant what he said in I Peter 3:15 “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” I had the revering down, not so much the giving an answer part. And so I continue to muddle through my learning on how to articulate kingdom living.

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The prevailing thought of Jesus’s day (and really nothing has changed much) is that those that had wealth, power, beauty, health….well those people were obviously “blessed” and God’s favor rested on them. They had the finger on the pulse of God and he lavished them with good and abundant blessing because of it. The thing with Jesus and his upside down kingdom is when he stepped into the Synagogue or stood on a mountainside the proverbial record scratched. In one of his most famous messages, more commonly known as The Beatitudes or Sermon on the Mount, he drops an atomic bomb on the status quo of that day. (Matthew 5)

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

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“There is no human situation that excludes one from being blessed in Jesus. The world and its evaluation of who wins and who loses will not have the final say. In Jesus, God has the last word. These pronouncements of grace. announce that:
those who have little or no hope,
those who appear to have little to offer to the world,
those who are on the fringes of society (and religious society in particular),
those who live in ways that the world considers weak, unproductive, and unsuccessful,
those who are considered the “losers”
God’s blessings may be yours in Jesus! No human condition, no matter how hopeless it may appear, no matter how despised by the world, no matter how “unsuccessful” or insignificant others may deem it, disqualifies anyone from God’s grace in Christ. Those who follow Jesus may participate in that new creation reality now, no matter what their present condition. God’s grace is available to all. All are welcome. All may come. The blessings are here for you in Jesus.
The only thing that transforms us spiritually is the action of following Christ. You seek to follow, you fail and you learn. But in order to engage in following, you have to have a clear understanding of life in the kingdom of God; that you are accepted by the grace of God in Jesus and that lays the foundation for as much true doctrine as you can manage and as much manifestation of the Spirit as you can stand.”

THAT is the kingdom message. That is the reality we can live out of. THAT is the welcome mat to our freedom.

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Now I may be showing images from our Mexico trip last summer but these words ring true not just for those obvious suffers of our world, the invisible and the marginalized. Christ came to FREE THE CAPTIVES, that excludes no one.

That’s you, the one that’s addicted, the one with the secret wound that paralyzes them in fear and unforgiveness, you who are wealthy and deeply unsatisfied, you who are starving yourself or purging food in a desperate attempt to control or be thin, you who are SO busy you stay in a constant state of numbness to your pain, you who are sipping your $4.00 coffee judging everyone in the coffee shop, you…you who are despairing about your future, agonizing about your past, you are racked with jealous, pain, and emptiness. You who are tired and the thought that nobody knows your pain is crushing and defeating you. The kingdom of God is here, it is available. This is good news. This was my good news many years ago. It’s still my good news as I break free from other areas of bondage.

For so long because of the types of churches I grew up in and the university I attended, by no fault of their own I promise you, I understood the words of “service” and “ministry” to define only those that were up front leading, in charge of things or perhaps overseas as a missionary. THOSE are the people in ministry, serving in the kingdom. The rest of us…well we are NOT doing ministry. We are helpers of sorts to those doing the real thing. It kept me in a very “us and them” place in the body of Christ. I kept thinking that until someone would slap a title on to what I was doing and it had a clear classification endorsed by a church or organization. I wasn’t doing ministry in the kingdom. How sad for me. How I missed it.

So living in the reality of the kingdom means that when we begin our relationship with Jesus we allow him to rule and reign in our life. This is the process that allows us to make changes that conform us into his image in thought, action and deed. He taught us how to live this new life by the way he lived His life on earth. The expectation is that we would do these things because that’s how we become more like Christ. Well that makes living in the kingdom very simple. Do the things that Jesus did because Christ dwells in you and has giving you the power to accomplish these things and knowledge of how to do them. Do we all agree that Christ lived by one rule and one rule only. Love others more. LOVE them. JUST STINKING LOVE THEM! This is not rocket science. This is not hard. It just takes you setting aside YOU.

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“Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

This is why Ryan and I went back to Cuirim House in Nogales, Mexico along with part of our small group. This post would be a novel if I took the time to explain what Cuirum House is and the BRILLIANCE of Brian and Kirsten Donohue to start this ministry in the slums of Nogales, Mexico. Cuirim is gaelic for “incarnation”. This is a VERY incarnational ministry. Brian is one the the first true mentors in my life since 1995. His life message to everyone who comes to work at Cuirim and to the people of Nogales is the kingdom message of Christ. They LIVE it out every single day in the most basic and simple acts of love and giving. Cuirim is a tiny plot of land in the hillsides of Nogales in the forgotten slums where squatters come to try and stay alive and usually never leave. Cuirim is a beacon of light on the hill.

Brian and Kirsten Donohue singing together before chapel at Cuirim House

Brian and Kirsten Donohue singing together before chapel at Cuirim House

I can sit here and tell you what all the Americans did when they came to poor, 3rd world Mexico. We did do those simple kingdom acts that Jesus says “do in MY name.” Part of me can get snarky because I’m protective of this ministry. I don’t want it to come across like “look at these noble acts us Americans did for one week of our life.” I also don’t want to take away from the fact that the BEAUTY of Cuirim is that you see how BARE BONES kingdom work is and how insanely impactful it can be. WE did help multiply the efforts of Cuirim while we were there but as much as we gave the receiving was ten fold.

We fed the hungry.

Kids Cafe feeding over 100 kids EVERY day and sharing the gospel.

Kids Cafe feeding over 100 kids EVERY day and sharing the good news of the kingdom.

We played with children who are barely looked at and touched let alone played with. The abuse level is astounding in the slums. Unemployment and alcoholism rule the households there. The kids are left to wander the streets most days, many of them put in charge of tiny babies.

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Kids Cafe

Kids Cafe

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We had the honor of helping one family dignify their home by coming and painting the interior and exterior of their three bedroom shack. Don’t ever call yourself “poor” because you can’t go to full priced movies or eat out every weekend. You don’t know poor. If you are reading this entry on a computer or smart phone. You aren’t poor. You just aren’t. This woman, Charo, allowed us to come in her home, move her precious belongings and paint. WHAT BLESSED ME TO THE POINT OF TEARS is when I looked outside and saw her sitting there fanning her newborn reading her Bible out loud to him. Periodically, she would look up and flash us a huge smile and say “gracias”. Thanking me? Oh no, this was my blessing. Her kitchen is an “after” shot. We were told that the blessing of having a home that is painted on the inside is so they can spot scorpions and centipedes so they won’t get stung. It’s just scrap wood and plywood houses but some how that fresh paint made it look pretty. You could see her joy and pride about her home. Just took a few of us a few hours.

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Charo's house

Charo’s house

One of my favorite things that Ryan and I got to do was offer a simple gift. A portrait. We have been praying about how we can use our photography for more eternal purposes and not for profit. You never realize what a luxury a photo can be. Everyone seems to have smart phones or digital cameras at their disposal and pop off more photos than you could ever begin to use. A photo is a record or time. Many of these families left all their belongings and traveled to the border to try and cross and never made it. They have no images of their children, nothing to pass on, no record of time or place. It was too simple not to do it.

Ryan took our Instax to the Kids Cafe one day to take polaroids of the kids. You would have thought we gave them a sack of gold. They were going crazy when they realized this white rectangle we handed them turned into an image of them within 60 seconds. It was precious. I only wish we had thousands of rolls of film to shoot.

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We also began wandering around with a translator door to door to see if anyone would want a family photo. People were leery at first but over a few days we started to see them come around and agree to let us photograph them. One family held up their finger for us to wait while one of the men ran into the house and out he came carrying the matriarch of the family. They told us she was 100 years old. WHAT AN HONOR to photograph her and her family. Multiple generations together.

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I can hardly stand to look at this next image Ryan grabbed because it makes me well up. The joy when people see their picture on the back of the screen. She told her best friend after she saw this image “Girl we look good!” How sweet is that?

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That was not a sacrifice and therefore we want no kudos. It was a super easy and obvious way we could be a blessing and give something from the resources we have been given.

GOD BLESS you if you are still reading. Would you believe it if I were to say there is a Part 3? Well there is. I know, I know…put a sock in it Kelly but I just can’t. I need to bring this back around and that will happen next.

The Upside Down Kingdom- Part One

I watched my brother’s roommate, BJ, zip up a backpack stuffed with a water bottle, snack, bible and a few other little things. “Where you going?”

“Just driving out to the parkway to spend the afternoon in solitude and hike.”

“Really? By yourself? How come?” says 22-year old me. The Kelly that couldn’t stand to be alone in thought for more than a millisecond.

“To spend time with Jesus, be in nature, slow down for a little bit, pray, get some exercise, hear from the Lord. You should do it Kelly. It’s so good.” Off he went and there I sat.

GO ALONE…..TO THE WOODS….FOR SOLITUDE??? A dueling battle between fear of aloneness and yet a strong desire to understand solitude began to rage inside me. Can fear and curiosity coexist together? They seem to be at odds.

I don’t think BJ will ever know that he was the one….the one that gave the final shove to the boulder of Kelly that had been sitting on a spiritual plateau. A safe, perfectly manicured, legalistic, narrow minded, swiss cheese theology little cliff. He pushed my rock off and started it rolling in a direction I could never have imagined.

I went to a pretty famous Christian (read Baptist) University back in the mid/late 90’s. Maybe you’ve witnessed my awesome profile and my adorable third born on one of their commercials.

Oh yes…that’s me picking up Rhett from the crib and playing peekaboo at the end. We’re adorable. Also my beautiful sister-in-law is the lady on the couch with the laptop. Our five minutes of fame was a family thang! Seriously, after all the filming they did that’s the part that made it. One of my major insecurities…my profile. It’s like Jesus made me accept it because it was playing on ESPN, FOX, Food Network and all sorts of networks daily. YOU WILL ACCEPT YOUR CHIN KELLY!!!!

Anyways, I’m not bagging on any denomination or my crescent moon profile in this post. The fact is I had heard the term “spiritual disciplines” somewhere along the lines of getting my religion degree but I had no idea what it meant and that it was an expected and GLORIOUS part of the believer’s life. I was SO missing out.

I’m incredibly thankful that starting my sophomore year of college I began attending a little church plant, about 7 years old at the time, called Grace Evangelical Free Church. It’s really where I got my spiritual sea legs. It’s also where I was introduced to authors like Dallas Willard. He is one of the most gifted men of our time on teaching “kingdom living”. Did you know the greatest and most often taught message of Christ in his three years of ministry was on the Kingdom of God? Did you know that it is here, available, and begins at salvation? We can live in the reality of heaven on earth by being disciples of Christ, by taking steps to live our lives as Jesus would if he were in our shoes. MIND BLOWN. This took me many years to truly understand what kingdom living really is but I can go back to certain tipping points in my life and nod my head up and down and say “YES…YES that’s when I started to move in the right direction in understanding.”

nogales, Mexico

Nogales, Mexico

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Solitude was one of the first disciplines I ever stepped out in a conscious manner and executed all because BJ said “Do it.” It wasn’t BJ though, it was Jesus readying my heart to go the next level with him. So I did it. I grabbed my backpack, (gotta look the part of an “outdoorsy” person after all) put snacks and drink, bible, journal, fun pen, camera and drove up to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is before I had a cell phone (can you EVEN imagine??? The depravity) In all honesty I was terrified and if my mom had known I drove to the woods alone I would have probably been made to watch some horrible 48 Hours episode about girls being abducted. I’m not making light…these things happen but still… I was heading for a very public, park-like setting. Baby steps to solitude in the woods.

I made sure I was in screaming distance of the visitors center but I remember doing a little bushwhacking to get to a flat rock that overlooked the James River. It was a warm, sunny and gorgeous fall day. I carefully laid out my journal, bible, and pen (at perfect space intervals like a good OCD person would) and there I sat. I was waiting for my lightning bolt to strike. Maybe God needed a little more time to show up. I grabbed my disposable camera which happened to be a B&W roll because I was SUPER artistic and nothing says artistic like B&W. I’m embarrassed to say that I took a picture of my hand on the rock with the river in the background…hahaha. I’m dying laughing even writing about it because I probably thought it was so DEEP at the time. Eeesh…Kelly!

After my little photo shoot was done I sat on the rock and let myself finally just think. I honestly can’t remember what I started thinking about because this is literally 16-17 years ago….but I do remember just staring at the water below and my mind slowly started to clear and I began to journal. This was at a point in my life that I was struggling deeply with past wounds, in a very sinful relationship with a guy, had a paper thin theology on who God was and what life was about, was thoroughly confused on what I was doing now that I was a big, bad, college grad. The gentleness of the Lord is astounding to me. No matter where we are at, no matter how infantile our theology, our misunderstanding of His character, our poor choices and secret sins…God is there, meeting us where we are at, communicating, wanting to be found, standing like any parent does when their child is hurt…arms wide stretched with love and compassion in their eyes. My Abba, my heavenly Father…he was with me on that rock and he dipped his finger into my soul that day and like a paint can that’s settled and separated he began to stir me round and round. My no substance, no depth, no color paint can. God had plans for me, plans I could never dared dream of. Round and round I needed to go. A little light was ignited in me and I tasted and I saw, like Psalms 34 tells us, that the Lord is GOOD and I wanted more.

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I think I spent a few hours just sitting, praying, thinking, journaling, reading my Bible and then I got this WILD thought. I mean it was WILD because Kelly at 22 was packing some serious extra weight on herself. I was a good 40 lbs. overweight and I did not exercise. All of a sudden I wanted to run. RUN I SAY. I still don’t understand it myself. I don’t know where the stamina came from but I got up, put my back pack on and I started running down a trail, then another trail and another trail. Soon I was well in to the woods (sorry mom, it just happened), drinking in the colors of the leaves, exploring a cool little cave, another small stream, an old wooden bridge, on and on it went. I felt alive.

Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. Eph. 5:14

I wish I could say that that was the day I turned my life around but it wasn’t. In fact it was another six dark, heart-wrenching years before my true emancipation from sin and my past happened. What did start that day was me taking steps towards truth and light. Just one practice of a discipline led to me trying the next discipline. Regular scripture reading and memorization, worship…like REALLY worshipping (my hands were up baby!) tithing, fasting, etc… I wanted more of Jesus.

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My favorite area that God blew the doors open on was missions. I went on my first missions trip to the slums of Nogales, Mexico in July 1999 as a senior high youth leader. Everything changed, all bets were off on what I “thought” I wanted to do with my life after that trip. After I went to Mexico the next year was Kazakstan for a some total of about six months of my life. I also served on a short term team to North Cyprus and have since visited multiple other countries. I got the bug to go and serve out of the US and it was the greatest gift the Lord could have given me. The photos peppering this post are from a return trip back to Nogales, Mexico last summer with Ryan.

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Fun fact…did you know that the United States makes up just 4% of the world’s population? That means 96% of the world lives VERY differently than us in America. NINETY-SIX percent, people. Get out of your own way and realize that we are a minority. If you only experience God and church in the US then you are missing out. I learned more about the Lord from watching other people in 2nd and 3rd world countries abandon EVERYTHING for Jesus, than I ever could have learned in the wealthiest nation on earth; my country. God LOVES the world, He loves diversity, He loves hearing his name sung in every language. He is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. It has been my PRIVILEGE to hold hands with people from all over the world and listen to them sing from their toes worship songs to the Father. There are not enough words to describe that honor. It is my picture of heaven that I have tucked into my heart.

My sweet, sweet Anna. How we wept when we said goodbye. What a woman of God and faith!

My sweet, sweet Anna. How we wept when we said goodbye. What a woman of God and faith!

This post comes from a fire in my belly. It’s long…I’ve just resigned myself that all of my posts are going to be long. This topic of service in the kingdom is my greatest goal and passion while I live and breath on this earth. I’ve misunderstood it and overcomplicated it for far too long. Let me give you a little taste of Dallas Willard.

The enemy in our time is not human capacity, or over activism, but the enemy is passivity – the idea that God has done everything and you are essentially left to be a consumer of the grace of God and that the only thing you have to do is find out how to do that and do it regularly. I think this is a terrible mistake and accounts for the withdrawal of active Christians from so many areas of life where they should be present. We all know that Jesus said, (in John 15) ‘without me you can do nothing’. We need to add, ‘if you do nothing, it will be most assuredly without him.’

We are a glutinous people group. We are consumers and takers of “stuff” and this translates just as much to the church as it does to people, places and things. Our churches are full of metaphorically fat, unhappy, overly-critical, self-indulgent, pessimistic, lazy, takers. Am I being too harsh? I’m not trying to be, I’m really not. The most available statistic on church MEMBER giving is from 2011 where members give on average 2.3 of their annual income. Chew on that. Does that make you sad? It makes me sad.

To quote Ghandi. “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

There is hope and it comes from living in God’s upside down Kingdom. This is for Part Two.

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The Fur Coat

I have to start by saying two things.
1. I have full permission by my friend to tell this story, it would be awkward if I didn’t.
2. I’ve been dying to write this story for years because the metaphor is so impactful.

It goes a little something like this…

Over 10 years ago I met a gregarious and intriguing woman named Joy (name has not been changed to protect her identity, now all my friends are sweating…whose next?) I knew two things about her when she started going to my church.

1. She was a ton of fun, very outgoing, and smiled ALL. THE. TIME.
2. She sold Mary Kay! That gold circle pin was front and center on every outfit.

Joy is Mary Kay

The first thing drew me in to be her friend, the second thing made me keep my distance.

Now I have nothing against Mary Kay AT ALL. I have bought products periodically over the years, have lots of friends that sell MK, and I think they have an awesome business philosophy. I simply made a personal decision a long time ago, that I rarely compromise, which is I DON’T attend product parties.

I know they can be fun, I know you don’t HAVE to buy anything, I know I don’t HAVE to give my information at the end…BUT…I have a little problem doctors call “saying no syndrome”. It’s a sad, anxiety-inducing syndrome that millions suffer from. It doesn’t take me long to show up to a party and suddenly unearth a random “need” in my life for a product I didn’t know existed an hour prior. I end up spending money I don’t have for something I don’t need. I get nervous and sick inside at the end of parties when the host asks for references or if I want to host a party at my house, purchase a product, etc…. Next thing I know I am locked into hosting a party, spent a ton of money and now 10 of my friends are gonna hate me when they get a phone call. Any fun I was having at the party dissipates. This is just my issue and because I had/have a hard time drawing boundary lines I just made it a hard and fast rule in my life to say “NO” to any invitation and pretty much still say NO to this day.

The thing with Joy is she is a born saleswoman. The woman could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves.(Tommy Boy…anyone, anyone???) She has charisma oozing from her pores and any rebuttal you could possible come up with for not attending or hosting a Mary Kay party could be quickly turned around. I knew this. I knew if I gave eye contact too long or if we got in a conversation one on one I was going to have the nervous-poo-inducing conversation with her that would require me to STAND MY FEEBLE ground. It was too much for me so I did what any super mature person would do and avoided any scenario that I could possibly be alone with her in conversation. Yeah…that will fix it! Did I mention I was 25 or 26…..maturity was my middle name! The problem was, I liked Joy and I really did want to be her friend.

Then came the day. The day we laugh ourselves silly about now. I had a little get together at my house with a bunch of girls from my church. I invited Joy. SAFE SPACE…my house, A GROUP; what could go wrong?

I don’t know how it happened, one thing led to another, but Joy and I were engaged in a conversation A-LONE!

At the time I was a youth leader in the senior high at our church. First came the ice breaker statement, “I hear you are a leader in the youth group!” (my eyes nervously shift over the gleaming gold pin on her shirt) Then came the question I dreaded. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you had a girls sleepover at your apartment and I came over and did facials and make overs for all of you guys? It will be a great time for everyone.”

I don’t know what came over me but I decided that normal passive Kelly was going to just nip this in the bud and turn the question back on to her. I’m sure I barely made eye contact or spoke above a whisper. I mumbled something along the lines of “I really like you Joy and I’ve always wanted to get to know you since you started coming to church but I don’t want to host a Mary Kay party. Can’t we just go out to coffee and get to know each other without doing Mary Kay?” There…I said it. I said No while still leaving the door open for relationship. What could go wrong?

She may or may not have blinked for that 5-10 seconds of silence she let my NO linger in the air before she said these words, “Kelly if you want to get to know me, then you have to get to know Mary Kay. I am Mary Kay.”

I AM MARY KAY.

Where does one go from there? I think I was fighting back tears and also dying a small death that I was in my own house and had nowhere to go. I remember muttering something along the lines that I was sorry and I hoped sometime we could get to know each other. Cue awkward clenched butt shuffle away from the scene.

I need to pause and say something about Joy. The reason this story can be told is because it is so far removed from who Joy is today. We seriously shout that line to one another all the time “I AM MARY KAY!” because it is so laughable. Joy is one of my dear, dear sister friends and truth be told, one of my most favorite people to pray with in the entire world. If you haven’t prayed with Joy…you should. She speaks so much truth and power into my life and we have traveled through so many valleys together and stood on the mountain tops of God’s mercy…I love this woman! I’m so thankful for her humor and humble spirit so that I can share the second half of this story with you for truly this is her story.

This post is titled “The Fur Coat”. You may ask yourself why the title or maybe you have just noticed how long this post is and you are only skimming at this point…shame on you! The moral of the story is coming and it is SO GOOD!

I told you Joy could sell a blue streak. She had worked herself up the ranks quickly to Director. Along the way she acquired some awesome prizes such as a fur coat (faux but super NICE!). She even had so many people under her and such good sales that she was leased a brand new Grand AM. Oh how welcome that car was in their lives. Indeed Joy was Mary Kay!

I wish I had the space to tell Joy’s whole story because it’s so good. There came a point a few years into the Mary Kay years that the Lord really began to refine Joy, refine her marriage, and in a bold and humble act of obedience Joy walked away from Mary Kay 100%. THIS WAS MAJOR!!!! It was the right thing but it came with a cost both great and small. It was a clean break in the physical sense but mentally there were some lingering ties.

The day the Grand AM rolled away was a hard one for Joy. What they ended up buying in its stead was a 1984 Honda Accord held together with bumper stickers and luck. Its the kind of car you wince when turning the key because you aren’t sure if it will actually start. It also maxed out at about 48mph. I should know. I painstakingly had to drive down the highway while she followed me to a friends house and we never hit 50mph. I thought she was messing with me until we got to my friends and she told me she had the peddle all the way down. It, indeed, was no brand new car but at least Joy got to keep her fur coat! Oh the fur coat.

Joy remembers one distinct winter day post Mary Kay. She was pumping gas into that 1984 hunk of junk wrapped tightly in her fur coat to block out the cold. She said she looked around at the people pulling in and out of the Chevron and had this distinct thought run through her mind, “Don’t you people know who I am? Do you know what I’ve accomplished?” I am seriously amazing in Mary Kay.”

That coat…the coat that held with it all the pride and success, status and measurable worth of the time spent with Mary Kay. That coat represented a season that Joy was at war with leaving behind to walk in full obedience to the life God had for her. That coat.

Somewhere along the line that coat made it into Joy’s coat closet and there it stayed for many years.

Fast forward to a few summers ago…yard sale time. The time we purge what we aren’t using, what’s taking up space, what serves no purpose. The coat of status still took up a chunk of space in the coat closet. “It’s time to sell the coat.” Joy’s husband, Brian, encouraged.

I mean it’s just a coat right….

So the coat made it to the yard sale pile. That warm summer morning of the sale it sat proudly on a hanger, fur fluffed out, a noble yard sale price attached to it noting that it had much greater value than the 10 cent pot holder sitting adjacent to it.

Soon an older lady began eyeing the coat. Joy immediately put on that familiar sales hat and came over “Hey, if you are going to take that coat can I tell you a story about how I got it?”. Yes…yes…this lady was definitely interested in the coat. A sale was imminent.

Next came the bartering. A coat that cost hundreds of dollars and represented so much, the coat left Joy’s possession for the bargain price of $5.00. What makes this an even more bitter pill to swallow is while she handed Joy her few dollars she made sure she knew how happy her cats were going to be to have this fur coat to sleep on.

Right there, on that morning, the fur coat met its final fate as the new bed and pee pad for a bunch of cats. It’s final fall from glory. An ironic and yet poetic end to that journey and chapter in Joy’s life.

I think this is one of my favorite stories because it’s so relatable. We all have our “fur coats”. We all have those areas of our lives, accolades, accomplishments, talents and sometimes tangible items that we stand behind and say “LOOK AT ME! WASN’T I SOMETHING? DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

The insatiable hunger of pride we fight daily is really appalling if we could just take a step back and see it for what it is. We think we are so sly. If we just word things correctly into the carefully crafted humble brag or status update. The self-deprecating humor or sometimes blatant brag we casually drop in to conversation. Oh how we love self. Oh how proud we are of self. Oh how big and grand are our accomplishments. We cinch our fur coats around our waists and fluff up our collars around our necks and give ourself a quick twirl in front of the mirror to admire our little “fur coats”. It’s embarrassing to admit and yet every day we wake up and as my friend Brian Donohue says “We fight magnetic north which points directly to ourselves.”

Jim Gaffigan paints a hilarious picture of this “self infatuation” our American society is sick with.

I once swam in a lake as a child with my brother. We had a great time laughing and playing. You can imagine our horror when we exited the lake to find each of us covered in little black leeches. SERIOUSLY, BARF INDUCING. We never felt them, never saw them, and unless you want to rip off little chunks of skin, you have to leave them there until you can get salt or a lighter. That’s pride to me. It’s so sneaky and subtle, you don’t even see the little pride leeches attaching themselves to your heart and mind. Suck by suck they start to drain the blood down to the very marrow of our soul. Emaciated people with giant egos bumping into one another’s self-important kingdoms. You see it EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. on social media.

What talent, accomplishment, or gift do I have that can ever compare to the love, sacrifice and gift of Jesus in my life? What piddly attempt at selfless love, living sacrificially, giving to others, and serving could I do that would impress the Lord? The very thought I am so “great or awe-worthy” is just laughable. Does the Lord find value in me…absolutely! I am the image bearer of HIS son. What an awesome thought that is. How that humbles me. What I do and say matters.

The Bible actually says that God hates pride. He hates it because he knows it will breed destruction in our life. It is another false lover and imitator of intimacy. What we think will drive people to us actually divides relationships….not just with people but more importantly with God. Just a few scriptures where the Lord strongly addresses this area.

  • I will break down your stubborn pride. Leviticus 26:19
  • In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. Psalm 10:4
  • When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2
  • Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice. Proverbs 13:10
  • Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
  • I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. Isaiah 13:11
  • But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. Daniel 5:20
  • Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Galatians 6:4
  • Your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 8:14
  • The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. Proverbs 16:5
  • Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 1 Corinthians 13:4

…and so I ask you to examine your closet. Poke around and see if there is a fur coat taking up space, serving no purpose, holding on to all your pride. Pour some spiritual salt upon it, sell it to the crazy cat lady, burn it at the altar and rid yourself from the false lover that whispers empty promises of self glory and fame. We have a burning desire to BELIEVE, BELONG and BECOME in this lifetime. You were made for more than this, you were made to be GREAT in the kingdom of God. You were made to bring God glory by the way you love Him and love others MORE than yourself. That is the only way to walk uprightly in a humble posture. That is the way to tame the beast of self and receive the gift of selflessness. That is the way to bear fruit in your life and to taste the sweet taste of trust in the Lord to provide your every need.

Ryan and I come from an industry that has an astounding amount of pride attached to it. You would think we were all curing cancer but alas we are just taking wedding photos. Yes, that is a lovely thing to do, a super fun career and rewarding in many ways. Sadly the good things are so grossly overshadowed by the egos attached to the majority of those working in the industry. In a deafening chorus of self promotion you can hear “I AM …..(insert the studio name) !!” It is SO UNLOVELY and not eternal. You can still be a savvy business owner and not buy into the self promoting side. It is possible. We cut ties with about 95% of everything that had to do with the wedding industry many years ago. Best thing we ever did. We consciously began praying each year that God would provide the brides we needed to meet the financial needs of our home. Guess what, he did that. Without us grappling, self-promoting, spending countless, countless hours force feeding our business to anyone who would listen. We were not Kellan Studios. Kellan Studios was something we did so I could stay home with our children and so I could have an artistic outlet. Oh what freedom that brought my mind and heart to trust in God’s provision.

THANK YOU Joy for your story, for your humility and sense of humor to let me tell your story, for your obedience to walk away from “success” when the world was cheering you on in order to grab hold of what was unshakable in the Father. Your life is a beacon of hope to others. I am so proud to be your friend and I love you so dearly!

So everyone…this is the real Joy below with her beautiful family!! They are a humble family that you would be lucky to know, to sit in their living room while Brian strums on his guitar ( he is one of the most gifted song writers, I’m addicted to his latest album) Joy knitting on the couch, girls dancing around singing their daddy’s songs…they know the good life. They live the good life.

Here we go….

“You should write again” one of my soul sisters, Kristie, says to me wide-eyed and grinning while we sit in her living room.

We are sipping lukewarm coffee from mugs with the telltale two to three scum lines that note previous microwave heat ups. It’s another failed attempt at a peaceful playdate where we alternate between fragmented thoughts and disciplining our kids. As usual I’ve rolled up in stretched out sweatpants, mismatched shirt, questionably “earthy” scent and axel grease hair. Yeah, Kirstie is a “safe” friend.

“About what?” I say with eyebrows pinned.

“I don’t know…anything…everything…you are funny…people connect to you, women connect to you. God’s gifted you Kelly, you need to use it.”

“Ohhhhh kayyyyyy….thank you, but seriously about what? I like telling stories but I’m not sure how that warrants a blog again.”

“Just write.” she says with those big brown doe eyes looking back at me. That was that.

I think that conversation took place about two years ago.

“Just write”

“About what?”

So it’s taken time to figure out what to write about. I mean just what the world needs more of…BLOGS!!!! (eye roll) Isn’t this market a wee bit saturated? So I realized that if I were to dip my toe back into the ocean of blogs I needed to do it for one reason, because I love Jesus and I am truly excited at what I am learning. It’s not to be witty, accrue followers, be a decorating guru or parenting specialist because I am none of those things. I’m an imperfect woman living a very blessed life making TONS of mistakes but learning just how crazy, deeply, madly I am loved by the Father and he has asked ME to be a part of what he is doing in this world. I GET to do this thing called life WITH Jesus. THIS, now THIS gets me excited to write.

I used to blog several years ago when I first got married but closed up shop exactly five years ago. For those of you joining me back from those “Filtering Life” days you are CRAZY faithful and your check is in the mail.

There is no way to kick off this blog properly without a little back story, bear with me… not every entry will be this long and without photos but this is where my story unfolds. Consider this our first date, a proper handshake, awww….heck…I’m a hugger, get in here I’m sure I will fit perfectly in your armpit.

Around 2008 my blog following started creating great momentum as well as our photography business was also taking off LIKE THE CRAZY. ( I promise these are not humble brags…there is a true point to this) The two very measurable veins in my life were going well, getting their public kudos; I was SOMETHING I tell you. I mean just drop my name to somebody and see what it gets you…..NADA, ZIP, ZILCH. Kelly who? It doesn’t take long to inflate your own ego.

The irony of public success is that usually behind the scenes you tend to find a giant, fat mess. You see in any attempt to be GREAT…..the balance of life shifts to those branches. It’s like putting Miracle Grow on half a tree. Have you ever seen a tree grow lopsided? One or two branches getting fatter and heavier with growth while the other side grapples for some of the nutrients. What happens when the branches get too big on one side. The TREE SPLITS. This is NEVER not the case. This was MY reality.

Half-dead-tree

As Kellan (our photography studio) was starting to get picked up on all the major wedding blogs and Filtering Life was growing exponentially on Google analytics……my marriage was withering on the tree of Kelly. My ability to juggle a toddler and infant who were cramping my blogging/photography style were causing me to be a miserable, impatient, STRESSED FREAK BALL. It was madness. We worked seven days a week and never went to bed before midnight. We always bought in to the lie that it would be worth it.

I slowly watched my husband and I drift farther and farther apart in less than three years of marriage. Granted there were other factors involved but when I look at my own part in this thing called “my life” I was trying to find my happiness, worth, and value in the social media arena to compensate for the fact my REAL life was falling apart.

Nothing in our society paints a greater false reality than social media. (soap box alert) Blog comments, Twitter followers, Facebook fanpage followers, Instagram followers, wedding blogs don’t share life with me, they don’t crawl in to bed with me at night, raise my children, pay my bills, pray with me, listen to my heart, etc….you get the picture. It is rubbish…..meaningless…futile. They are false lovers of the worst kind and I was deceived like a chubby girl buying the next diet fad….SENSA anyone? Just sayin…. been there.

And so the straw that broke the camels back came on November 21, 2008 when we lost our third baby to a miscarriage. A baby I didn’t even know was inside of me until it was too late. Chloe had turned two years old weeks before and Bennett was six months old and we just finished a wedding season of 28 weddings while Ryan worked a full time job…..a baby….AGAIN? How in the free world we did anything “marital” during that time is beyond me, not to mention I was about 10 weeks along when we lost the baby thats how distracted I was. We named this child Jory Lee “God will uplift and heal”. (a promise we DESPERATELY needed during that season)

That, my friend, is when the tree split…..right down the middle. That was when I saw the choice. We could splint our tree together and nurse it back to health, cut off those fat branches of my blog and our business….. or it was time to go our separate ways in life. I no longer had a husband/best friend. I had a roommate and quasi-business partner when we were speaking. We had created a life and family and it was fractured….badly. Now, more than ever, mourning the loss of our precious baby I NEEDED my husband. Jory was the wake up call we needed to see that if we kept up at this pace we were done. Its hard and it’s humbling to admit to one another that you have ROYALLY screwed things up and that we needed REAL help in our lives. Our attempts to be GREAT were really paying off were they not?

We needed help, we needed to learn a word that would save our marriage and our hearts….”NO”. We needed to buckle down and repair our tree. I needed to extract the two measurable things in my life that gave me a sense of “you are not wasting your day” and let them go. I’m a stay at home mom…..I get it. I’ve yet to have my kids give me the slow clap after I have wiped their butts, put away their laundry, clean up their toys for the billionth time that day or when I humbly bend over to clean up the spilled milk from the cereal bowl that was chucked across the table. Immeasurable servitude of the most thankless kind. Oh how I was missing out on what this season of my life was really about. There is so much precious in the hard.

Letting go of my blog and us TOTALLY cutting Kellan in half (our main source of income mind you!) was only the first step in obedience. It was like cutting off those big FAT branches so the trunk of the tree could stabilize and rest. We began marriage counseling with our pastor (GOD LOVE YA MARK!) and began working through the pain and hurt that we had caused each other. WE TOOK A MASSIVE leap of faith in our finances by cutting Kellan. We still had a tremendous amount of debt in our lives. We fought for our marriage, we put God first, our family next. We went against the grain of society that says when marriage gets hard, when you aren’t “feeling” love or loved then flash up your fingers in a giant peace sign and head out and try again elsewhere. Let me tell you, it was very tempting. (I am oversimplifying, there are many circumstances surrounding divorce)

You may have noticed the title of this blog, “The Good Trees”. Trees have always fascinated me. I don’t know why, I really don’t…I just think they are beautiful. I grew up in Michigan and upstate New York so I was blessed to always experience all four seasons. Trees seem to show the most tangible signs of each season. When we moved to our dream “fixer upper” a year and a half ago we got 2.5 acres of land. I’d say at least two of those acres are pines. Pines are my favorite. We also have a billion windows in our house (that my kids have beautifully decorated with their greasy fingers and sloppy tongues…not annoying in the least) I love that no matter where I am in my house I am looking at trees. They bring me peace.

In Matthew 7:17-19 it says:

So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Hop on over to Matthew 12:33:

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

Can I ask you to read those few verses a second time. Can you count for me how many times the Lord uses the word “great”? If I am not mistaken in my counting….I mean I taught special ed math so I am decent at counting….the count would be ZERO. The word is GOOD. Let that word wash all over your mind and heart. It’s good to be good. Good produces good.

I am a self professed perfectionist. I have spent way to many DECADES in self loathing, self defeat, and bitter comparison with others. FOR WHAT???? Because I wasn’t the GREATEST that is why. Greatness is another one of our society’s big, fat lies. How dare you be good at your job, how dare you be a really good mom, wife, friend, sister. Is there anything wrong with “great”? Not in and of itself, but great is hard little bugger to steer. Great puts YOU at the front of YOU and before all others. I’ve decided if I am going to be GREAT at anything, then it is going to be at living, really living in the kingdom of God. Even then…what does the Bible say when we stand before the Lord at the end of our life? What do we want our Maker, our Creator to say to us? “Well done GOOD and faithful servant.” I WANT to bear good fruit in all areas of my life and I’ll be darned if I don’t want my husband and my children to also be bearers of good fruit. I am nearing 38 years old (this is the part where you gasp and say…really…I thought you were like 28 years old…..why thank you I say meekly with a tone of surprise) I feel 40 breathing it’s hot stinky air on my neck and all I can think is “Dear God…I’m JUST starting to get ‘it’, can’t life slow down? I have so much ground to make up for!!! WHY 40 WHY???? WHY oh why have I wasted so much of my life on myself. Ugh….” ( I may be dramatic at times and over use exclamation points. Deal with it!!!!!!!)

We will get in to that a lot more on this blog but I figure I owed you a solid after reading this novel entry to at least explain the title and premise.

You may notice there are four categories I will be blogging under. The good life, good family, good home and good marriage. This blog is about my life, my hobbies, my relationships and my family. I will never apologize that all areas of my life fall under submission (gasp…that word makes so many recoil…how narrow-minded of me….nah) of the Bible. I am a Christ follower…in that it’s a lifestyle baby. I don’t just go to church on a Sunday and check it off my religious duties. Every area of my life, marriage, home and family runs through the filter of Jesus and praise GOD I don’t have to go this life alone. Lord knows my twenties are enough to see that left to my own devices I ROYALLY and UTTERLY mess everything up.

I don’t plan on having regular features like “Tips Tuesday” or “Crafty Friday”. I don’t dare enslave my life to a blog ever again. You choose to come here and read and I pray that you are gracious in my blogging frequency and infrequency should I choose to take blogging breaks. I also need to make one big fat disclaimer. I HAVE ATROCIOUS grammar. I am sure you can see by now that I am a free flow writer. I think it, I write it. I have no clue if an apostrophe or God forbid a semicolon be needed. I hope you find it sweet and endearing instead of annoying and ignorant to which I am sure it is. But I will pretend you don’t secretly judge me.

Thank you all for starting this journey with me. I’m a feeler, your comments really do warm my heart and your vulnerability with me is so appreciated. I can’t promise I can acknowledge every comment but know that they are read and I am extremely empathetic. Your joys and your pains are FELT by me.

I also need to make three gigantic shout outs to the people that helped make this blog possible. First my extremely nerdy and devastatingly handsome husband who designed and programmed this blog. Second, the incredible artwork for my banner was custom painted by the crazy talented Jen Mancier of Tender Branch Studio (did you notice the trees representing our family? Even a little sprout for our sweet Jory) Finally the custom script was done by the amazing and oh so sweet and dear Kathleen Ostrom of Leen Jean Studio. Their links are at the bottom. Thank you all for taking my heart and aesthetic into your minds and hearts and making my blog look SO beautiful! I simply love it.

So I did it Kristie, I just wrote!!!!!!

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