Monthly Archives: December 2017

Holly and Grace by Willow Weston

We have the most giant holly bush you have ever seen outside our house. It lines the front of our property from one end to the other, almost 100 feet in length. It has grown so high that we lose our view in the summer and my husband has to get a really tall ladder out every year and trim it down. It’s so wide that you can walk around inside of it. When we first purchased the property we discovered that teenagers used to party inside this holly hedge. It was so much fun to load up bags and bags of their party leftovers and haul that nastiness to the dump. We continue to keep this giant holly bush because it looks like a real bugger to get rid of plus it serves as a privacy hedge between our yard and all the school traffic outside our home.

I will never forget the first year we lived on the property. One December evening, just before dark, Rob noticed a family van parked up the hill at the end of the hedge. He heard ruffling in the bushes and so he went outside and found a lady cutting herself some holly. Now, let’s be real…

She was a mom with a family van.
And her family van was running with her kids inside it.
And she was stealing our holly.
And then she was gonna hop in and take off as soon as she got her loot.

She didn’t knock on our door and ask if she could cut it down. She was helping herself to our landscape. When Rob came in and told me what he had discovered, I didn’t feel so jolly about it. My response was rude and sassy, kind of like “What did you tell that entitled crazy mom who has no right to steal our holly? I should have stole her van with the kids in it.” Ok, maybe my response wasn’t that aggressive and vindictive, but I was definitely feeling the “that’s stealing and you better have given her a piece of your mind and told her to scadaddle” vibe.

So I pressed Rob, “Whaaaaat did you say to herrrrr??!!!”

This is where I was waiting for my husband to say that he said “This is our property- step off.” Or “Hey, ask next time.” Or “Here, eat a berry.” But no! You know what my husband said to this holly thief right when he caught her stealing? He said, “Oh hey, let me help you find the good stuff.”

“Oh hey, let me help you find the good stuff?” I could not believe it.

Yeah, that’s what Rob said and then he went and helped her find the best holly berries on the entire property. Rob has a quiet grace, it’s perhaps what I like best about him…and least….when I have a moment where my heart missed the grace train. And I know where my husband gets it…

You know what Jesus is like? Jesus is like that.

Jesus has been made out to be grumpy, lacking grace and making sure to remind people of their wrongs and send them packing, like me. But no, not Jesus. Jesus is a God who says to thieves and entitled trespassing moms and to those who go and totally blow it, “Oh hey, let me show you where the good stuff is.” And Jesus says it right when they get caught doing the very thing they know they ought not to.

Jesus’ grace is a shocking grace. It’s a grace that is, in the moment, completely unexpected. And in fact, more than unexpected, it goes above and beyond to shower the underserved with forgiveness AND gifts of goodness. This kind of grace is almost hard to receive because the recipient feels unworthy of such a gift considering the circumstances. I mean, who wants to be the girl trespassing and stealing in a holly hedge caught by a guy in Carhartt overalls who then offers you all you wanted and more? Nobody wants to be that girl. It’s almost like Jesus’ grace wears tough durable work pants too and He says “Hey you! You in the holly bush stealing stuff, let me lead you to the best place to get what you are looking for.”

I see Jesus extending this kind of quiet grace with the woman caught in the act of having sex with someone other than her husband. Everyone else wanted to stone her, but not Jesus. He stays standing with her making sure she knows that even in her thievery, He will not forsake her. In fact, Jesus goes on to invite her into something better too.

I see Jesus living out this kind of shocking grace when He is hanging on a tree, dying like a criminal, and next to him is a thief who actually deserves punishment. Jesus extends a stupefying grace that invites this thief to take a seat with Him in paradise, the forever place.

I see Jesus do this with the tax collectors who stole from people on the daily by pocketing a portion of their collections after threats to those they collected from. This Jesus shows up on one of these bully’s days at work and calls Matthew to follow Him. Jesus knows what this guy has been up to and it’s right smack dab in the middle of taking advantage of people that Jesus says, in a sense, “I’ll show you where the good stuff is and it’s not here. Come, let’s go pick some fruit.” And Matthew’s story moves from one of thievery to one of grace.

And you know what took place the night, this crook, Matthew said yes to Jesus instead of pickpocketing poor people? A celebration! Matthew hosted a party at his house. It was at this party that religious people were sitting around sneering at Jesus because He was hanging out with all of Matthew’s friends. These Pharisees were saying “Whyyyyyy does Jesus eat with sinnnnnners like these? Whyyyyy does he hang out with thievvvves and hollllly stealers??”

These religious people were like me, stingy with grace, like there’s a shortage, judgmental like they forgot their own story, and exclusive, choosing to surround themselves with people who only share the same struggles they have, caring more about being right, than loving well. And Jesus’ quiet grace shocks the entire party when He says “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I desire mercy not sacrifice.”

I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it would change our entire world if Jesus’ people got what this means.

I guess I should start with me.
And maybe you can start with you.

 

Mercy in a holly hedge looks like Rob’s response not mine. Mercy at the Christmas dinner table looks like grace in the MIDST of the offense, not 10 years later. Mercy in relationship looks like giving up your right opinions and instead taking up Jesus’ shocking grace for those who have wronged you, hurt you, backstabbed you, and stolen from you.

And you know what? This kind of grace looks like more than just forgiving or not pressing charges. It looks like astounding someone by going above and beyond to bless them. Remember it is our God who says “If someone slaps you on one cheek, give them your other cheek. If someone wants your shirt, give them your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two.” It’s almost like this Jesus would say “If someone steals your holly, invite them to take the entire lot.”

I see Jesus extend grace to me over and over again and yet when a chick is stealing off my property my first response is to be stingy, to point out how I have been wronged, to put her in her place, and to tell her what’s up. And yet Jesus challenges me to have this quiet grace that stuns others by how giving and good my response is to their mistakes.

This Christmas may we be a people who hand out holly like its going out of style. Let’s also amaze people with grace, passing it out in abundance, knowing it’s Source never runs out. God’s grace does not cease nor does it expire. God’s grace changed me. It changes me. And God’s grace is what will change our world.

Grace begets grace begets grace.

This holiday season may we extend grace and shock all the thieves, trespassers, and adulterers. Religious Pharisees will be appalled. And sinners will be in paradise. When we greet each other with “Merry Christmas” may we have the quiet grace of our Lord who wore thorns, like found on the holly, for those caught stealing berries, so we would forevermore know, His grace abounds for all of us who get exposed in the brier.

Merry Christmas friends! If you get caught up in anything, may you get caught up in His grace- Willow

Contentment by Nina Hall

The Your Stories blogs are a place where women can bravely and authentically tell their story as it really is. We invite women to collide with Jesus and share how He is meeting them, transforming them and redeeming them. We hope this “your story” meets you in yours…

I find that I struggle with not feeling content most of the time. Whether it’s my current circumstances or the reflection staring back at me in the mirror, I have this nasty habit of being discontent and playing the comparison game. As we enter into the holiday season, this only worsens for me.

Anyone else?

“Get [whatever item] and your life will be better!”

“Buy [whatever beauty product] and you will look even younger or more beautiful.”

“Purchase [whatever thing] and your family, friend or significant other will adore you!”

And it goes on and on. But I can’t simply blame America’s clever marketing tactics. As I dig deeper into my own lack of contentment, I begin to unravel what is truly lurking underneath.

On top of my usual body/life pick-a-part parties that go on in my mind, I have been struggling immensely lately with feeling discontent with my present circumstances. The job I have been in the last two years has left me feeling burnt out and passionless. My husband and I are ready to move on from renting to buying a home but the present market leaves us feeling discouraged. Family and friends seem disappointed with me as the fall season brought less time for them.

So I seek to control what I can, in order to compensate for the discontentment I am feeling. My body, my looks, my clothing, my home decor, my execution of projects, my “life” on social media.

I buy the shoes because she has them and I mean, come on… they will make me look much more stylish. I place the filter on my pictures I will post because it will make me seem cooler than I really am.  I go out of the way for a friend in hopes that they will think how wonderful of a friend I am- how could they live without me? I decorate my home just so in hopes to win some compliments and be reassured I have some sort of skill. I complain about my current circumstances because look! She has it much better and is ACTUALLY doing what she is passionate about or has the home they always wanted.

These superficial and quick fixes I seek out to control by buying or doing are only temporary. But I continue to fall deeper into the trap of seeing another’s instagram post, friend’s job satisfaction, social media advertisement or fellow beautiful women and hear… you are not enough… you are not beautiful… you are not a good wife…. you are not a good friend… do…buy…be…you are simply not enough. Instead of trying to attack the lies that so quietly whisper in the back of my mind… I let them stir.

And before I know it, I sit in despair. Looking at all that I have purchased, all my actions and striving to find… it is still not enough. I still feel empty and not worthwhile. I feel discontent and helpless. Not only with my things and my life but worse… myself. It reaffirms my deepest fear: that I am not loved.

So I find that my discontentment is not just a superficial feeling of me buying into America’s marketing schemes, but a much deeper, darker, scarier condition of the heart, mind and soul.

What does one do in such a place of discontentment that leads to a toxic mindset and constant striving?

I found that King Solomon struggled with discontentment as well. Even though he was one of the wealthiest kings of Israel. Even though he could have anything he wanted. Even though he had great wisdom. He was discontent. And he decided to test “pleasure to find out what is good.”

King Solomon says, “I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

“I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.


I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
   I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
   and this was the reward for all my toil.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
   and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
   nothing was gained under the sun.

(Ecclesiastes 2:3-7b, 8-11 NIV)

As I read this, I am completely tracking with Solomon (except the “acquiring male and female singers” part).

Substances, products, creams, procedures, dyes, bigger homes, decor, furniture, appliances, money, jewelry, clothes, technology, social media.

Yep. I am guilty of using each of these to be content with myself. We deny ourselves nothing, no pleasure. We use all we can to fill the void and finally… be content.

Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless.” Which is a bit dramatic, King Solomon… like everything? But as we think and reflect on our own lives and on all of the things and stuff and actions we do just to achieve some sort of validation, part of us knows, deep down, that it will not grant us the meaning or significance that we so desire.

Jesus speaks on contentment too. But He gives us some sweet direction for our souls to soak in. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

I love how The Message takes on Matthew 6:21… “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

No wonder you are discontent, Nina! You choose to look at the lies and the world in hopes that they will fill a place that was designed to be filled with something else.

Jesus.

And rather than the lie-believing and fixing and doing…

I want to choose Jesus as I wake up and as I go to bed. Not myself.

I want to choose to love and bless my family and friends over the next month in how I purchase gifts. Not to feel like I am a good wife or sister or friend.

I want to choose to be aware of my intentions and have them be a proclamation of Jesus in all I do. Not so others think I am so cool and stylish and whatever other silly things I think.

I want to choose to know the Lord’s will to be done in my current circumstances. Not my will.

I want to choose to know HE IS ENOUGH regardless what happens with my circumstances. Not I must have control because what is going on is not okay with me.

Even though I will fail to remember these truths, Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26 NIV)

Are you not much more valuable than the birds? Yes. You are! Tremendously so.

Not only can I choose to look towards Him and my heavenly home, but I can press further into the truth of His unwavering, no-conditions-accepting love and know He will continually care and correct EVERY step I take.

In this, He can change my heart and I can become content because He says one of the most important truths of all.

He says…

Nina, you are valuable.

Nina, you are worthy.

Nina, you are my loved one.

And so are you.