Posted in August 2018, podcast

Remembering God’s Faithfulness

For years I had, on our front door, a little sticky note that read, “Remember what God has already brought you through.” It was a quick visual for me to see each and every day reminding me of God’s faithfulness so that when I stepped out of the relative safety of my home, I would carry this one simple truth with me.

It did, in fact, become such a habit to look at that it lost its punch. I got very good at quoting that little phrase but somehow forgot how to apply its truth to my daily life.

It turns out, I’m not so different from the Israelites, after all. And chances are, neither are you.

Looking through the book of Exodus you will see scores of times that those folks just plumb forgot all the awe-inspiring things God did to provide for them. He made water gush out of a rock because they were thirsty. He dropped manna from the skies so they could eat. He appeared to Moses who proceeded to glow with God’s glory for over a month.

I know some pretty cool and highly talented people, but none of them can do anything even close to that, y’all. And God did this kind of thing on a regular basis.

But somehow, it never seemed to be enough to make a lasting impression on these guys.

Take, for example, chapter 14 in the book of Exodus, the time God led the Israelites through the Red Sea over dry land. Here, the Egyptians are in hot pursuit of the Israelites. I imagine the best car chase scene you’ve ever watched in a movie but with chariots. The Israelites pulled up to the sea’s edge and must have thought it was over. I mean, it’s not like they could just swim across the sea, ya know?

So, God, being God, works through Moses, who bangs down his staff and wah-la! The sea begins to dry up and the Israelites, looking back and forth at each other, shrug their shoulders and start to walk across the dry seabed.

They cross and meanwhile, the Egyptians get swallowed up by the raging waters that are coming back to life after the Israelites pass by. Boom! Mic drop.

God did a super big thing. Surely this is the event that is going to stick in their minds for the rest of their lives and they will never again complain to God about His timing, His provision, His purpose…whatever.

In fact, in chapter 15 of Exodus, following this Main Event, the Israelites write a song of praise and sing it to God.

          “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation; this
          is my God, and I will praise Him; my father’s God, and I will extol Him. The
          Lord is a warrior; The Lord is His name. Who is like You among the gods, O
          Lord? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, working
          wonders? You stretched out Your right hand, the earth swallowed them. In
          Your lovingkindness You have led the people who You have redeemed; in
          Your strength You have guided them to Your holy habitation.”
-Exodus 15: 2-3, 11-13

That’s beautiful! They get it! They recognize that God is far above all other gods, that He alone saves and redeems His people and that He is worthy of praise.

Until…

Man, they didn’t even wait for the next chapter before things go south.

In verse 22, directly after they have sung this beautiful song to the Lord who saved them, they come to a place where they are thirsty and there’s no sign of water. Granted, it had been three days. I imagine that’s got to be uncomfortable in ways I’ve never personally experienced. All the same, the grumbling begins.

How quickly they seem to have forgotten what God has already brought them through. How easily they have let that miraculous event fall to the back of their memory like some far off dream.

I look at that and I want to smack those foolish Israelites up-side the head and say, “Pull it together, man! Don’t you remember what happened three ding-dang days ago?” I get so exasperated as I read of the Israelite’s wanderings. They are a tiresome lot, aren’t they?

But then…ah, you knew it was coming…I think about all the times I forget about all that God has brought me through. I forget the times when he provided money just as the cupboards were running dry. I forget about the times that doctors have been willing to treat some very serious medical conditions even though I didn’t have a penny to pay them. I forget about the healing God has brought about in broken relationships, relationships that by worldly standards should never have been redeemed.

I forget.

But still, He is faithful.

Here’s my challenge…and I mean this. I don’t want you to just read this and think what a great idea it is and then fail to do it. I want you to take a few minutes and on sticky notes or notecards or scrap paper, write out the ways that God has been faithful in your life. One word or phrase per piece of paper; enough for you to be able to glance at and be reminded of God’s faithfulness in your past.

These are little memorials, guys. That’s all they are. Little markers that you can then post around your house, your car, your office to remind you that even in the midst of this current storm, you can be sure that God is with you because He’s been with you in the past.

It’ll take no more than 15 minutes. That’s less than the time it takes to watch a dumb sitcom. What are you waiting for?

Go make a memorial so you never forget that God is faithful even when we grumble.

Love, B.

 

Posted in July 2018, podcast

I Can’t Drive 55 (and it’s making me crazy)

Driving down the road, they’re everywhere.

At every stoplight, merge, on or off-ramp…everywhere. And I hate them. I get so easily angered by their lack of consideration, their downright ineptitude at doing what is really, so easy. They take up more room than necessary and shouldn’t even be allowed out, in my opinion. You know who I’m talking about. You may even be one of them. (I’m sorry, by the way, if you are).

They are…slow drivers.

Gah!!! I can’t tell you how often I feel like ripping off my very own face because the person in front of me in the passing lane is going 5 miles under the speed limit. Not to mention the yahoo in the right lane who is doing the same.

Or what about the people who are turning off, either into a parking lot, a road or an exit off the highway? They’re no better when they start applying the brakes well before it’s necessary, their blinker disengaged so that I’m not even sure what their intentions are.

Seriously. I have very little patience for most people who are behind the wheel. I’ve been known to say, more than once, “No one should even be allowed to drive when I’m driving because they’re all idiots.”

Listen, I know it isn’t nice. I know I need to work on my attitude. And I’m trying. Honest.

But I imagine, my thoughts and feelings toward ‘bad’ drivers aren’t a whole lot different from Jonah’s thoughts and feelings toward the Ninevites.

Think about it. The Ninevites were described by God in Jonah 1:1 as wicked. Jonah, on the other hand, was a prophet. He had been given a job by God, to take a message of repentance and redemption to the Ninevites, his enemies. And Jonah didn’t want to do it.

It’s easy for me to look at this story and think, ‘Come on, Jonah. Get up and preach this message of salvation to people who obviously need it.’ I mean, really…why can’t he show them a little bit of love and grace?

But then I remember my attitude when I drive. (Zoinks!) If I apply the same principles, I’m no better than Jonah. Sure, I’m not preaching the gospel as I drive, but I am still representing Christ, even if it isn’t blatant.

I think it’s easy to say and do all the right things when we know that people are aware of Who we belong to. But in the safety of my own car, where I have very intentionally not put up any Christian bumper stickers, I can feel pretty confident that no one is going to call me out on my lack of patience hollering, “What would Jesus do?”

Jonah didn’t want his enemies to have what he’d been given – a path to God. Likewise, I don’t want to extend to my ‘enemies’ the grace that I’ve been given. It’s really all the same, isn’t it?

God has called us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44). He’s called us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matt. 22:37-40). He has called us to do the greatest job of all, to go into ALL the world and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20).

It’s hard, isn’t it, to want to give what we’ve been given to people we don’t think deserve it? Then again, God gave us grace and a message of repentance, hope, and redemption when we didn’t deserve it. So…who are we to say who’s worthy and who isn’t?

Who are your Ninevites? Who is it that God is calling you to share the good news with, or even just extend a little extra patience and grace? And what can you do today to start running toward the call that God has given you?

Now, excuse me while I go repent and please…don’t drive in the passing lane unless you’re passing.

-Brandy

Posted in July 2018, podcast

Living with Generalized Depression and Anxiety: One Christian’s Perspective

I really struggled with what to write about this week. Nothing was coming to me naturally and every time I tried to force something out on paper, it was just that, forced.  And then it occurred to me why: my anxiety is pretty high these days, which makes me want to “go ostrich” and bury my head in the sand. (Though, now that I’ve googled that particular phrase, I am well aware the way we use it is highly inaccurate. I trust you get my point.)

So…here I am. Anxious. My heart is racing. My blood pressure, I’m sure is up, though testing it seems like wasted energy. Depression levels are sinking. I’m overwhelmed, under-rested, and would rather be in bed with my favorite blanket and the remote control.

This isn’t terribly uncommon.

In fact, if you’ve ever suffered from depression or anxiety, chances are you can relate. Likewise, if you’re a Christian suffering from either of these or a whole host of other mental health issues, you’ve also been told all the reasons you shouldn’t ever be depressed or anxious.

You’ve heard it, too, I’m sure…

It seems to me, the most-oft quoted scripture I hear is Matthew 6:27, “And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?” This is, of course within the context of a much larger portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus gave his magnum opus in the preaching world.

To be sure, there is great wisdom in that verse and the ones surrounding it in regards to trusting that the God who created us will also care for our needs. I dig that. A lot.

But here’s the thing: anxiety and depression have little to do with those concerns. When someone says they suffer from anxiety, they’re probably not talking about worrying about how the bills are going to get paid. That can certainly be a part of it, don’t get me wrong.

Anxiety vs. Worrying

Anxiety, though is less about ‘worrying’ about things and more about being paralyzed to do anything about what causes normal worry. At least, for me.

Most people, when they worry about bills getting paid, they find a way to increase their earnings, through a second job or selling some goods. Likewise, most people, when their homes start to get messy and cluttered, they take a day and whip things back in to shape.

Sometimes I can do those things, too. A lot of time, though, I become completely overwhelmed and unable to see what next step to take. That leads to frustration because I know I should know the answer. You know?

Instead, I pace the house, seeing clutter and mess all around and I can’t figure out how to make it go away. I get jittery and snappish with the people around me. Even if they try to help in one way or the other, odds are their help will feel threatening and they’ll still get snapped at, anyway. (It’s a barrel of laughs, yeah?)

Christians Suffer, Too

It’s just not enough to tell Christians that they shouldn’t suffer from these issues. It’s not fair to say that because we’re Christians we shouldn’t need medication or therapy and even then, continue to battle with it on an on-going basis. To suggest, in any way, that followers of Christ are supposed to somehow be happy and content at all times, is dangerous and needs to stop.

The fact is, we live in a fallen and broken world. If you turn on the news or look at social media for five seconds, it’s pretty clear just how broken and fallen we are. It’s easy to find 100 things that cause stress on a daily basis without even trying hard.

When we look through scripture, it is riddled with people of faith who suffered greatly and wrestled with their own falling societies and cultures. Moses, Gideon, Jonah, Ruth, David, Esther, Paul, Jesus himself. They all lived in times of serious upheaval and societal pressure. Only one of those listed (and the list is quite a bit larger, just read your Bible), was perfect. I imagine Jesus, though He grieved at the knowledge of what He was being asked to do in His final hours, didn’t succumb to worry or anxious thinking.

But I do. And so do lots of other people of faith. You might even be one of them. You’re not alone.

Stop the Stigma!

The more we address this very real and growing epidemic that is ravaging the people in our churches, the less stigma there is surrounding mental health care. We are bold to pray for healing for people with cancer, but mental disease is the modern-day plague of Biblical times and we run around crying, “Unclean! Unclean!” as though depression were highly contagious. (Hint: it’s not.)

So, here I sit with this anxiety weighing me down. I’m able to stave off an anxiety attack; I’ve learned pretty well how to fight those back. But the general sense of overwhelm and lack of motivation is a very real battle I fight almost daily.

Look, I know where my Hope is. I know who I am and to whom I belong. I know that God has my present and my future safely locked in His hands and my eternity is secure. But that kind of knowledge still won’t help me get my To-Do List done.

So, if you’re feeling like I am today, let this be our plan: one foot in front of the other. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Repeat as many times as needed. Take a nap if possible. Do the next thing.

And at the end of the day, find that cozy blanket and remote. You did amazing.

Love, B.

Posted in June 2018, podcast

When Panic Attacks

It came on suddenly and without any warning, in the middle of the local grocery store with my cart half-loaded.

I looked into the basket and couldn’t recognize any of the items resting at the bottom. My eyes seemed to glaze over as I tried to piece together where I was and what I was doing.

My heart was racing, I was getting hotter and hotter. Looking around, all I could see was a sea of people and it seemed like they were all crowding in. My defenses on high, my first instinct was to lash out at the women passing by with their own carts full of goods. I wanted to crash into them. To knock them over, out of my way.

What was I even doing here?

Coming into some sense of awareness I realized that I had to finish my grocery shopping and get home. But if I’d had a grocery list in my hand at one point, it certainly wasn’t there now. My brain kept shouting, “Just get the groceries and leave!”

With no ability to regulate my thinking, I simply started grabbing items from the shelves. All I knew for sure was that we had no food at home, we needed food, and this was the place to get it. What kind of food didn’t matter.

It took amazing effort, but I was able to convince myself that I had to wait at the check-out line and pay for my groceries. All I wanted to do was running, screaming,”Tawanda!” through the doors, but not in the funny ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ kind of way. More in the panicked, I-may-just-run-someone-over-spree-killer kind of way.

Groceries paid and bagged, now all I had to do was get to the car and navigate my way home. But even getting through the parking lot was an ordeal. Everyone seemed determined to hinder my progress. Meanwhile, my heart was still pounding loudly in my chest, my breathing was shallow, my vision was blurry and death seemed imminent.

I’m not sure the exact order of things after this point. I know I ended up at the University’s theater where Matt was working on the production of an upcoming show. Sitting at the light booth in the middle of the auditorium, he listened as I recalled my flash of crazy while grocery shopping.

I was beyond worried. Dad had died from a sudden heart attack just a couple months before. I didn’t know exactly what the symptoms were, but it seemed entirely possible that’s what I’d just experienced.

Later that week as I sat around the large oval cherry conference table, staring into the faces of others who’d also lost a loved one, I shared my tale with my grief group. Death. Loss. Sorrow. These were the only things we shared in common.

Our counselor listened intently as I recounted my experience then quietly assured me that what I’d had was not a heart attack, but in fact, a panic attack. She then proceeded to share different strategies for coping with the symptoms as they present themselves. She talked of deep breathing, visualization, and the simple mantra, ‘This won’t kill me.’

Years and countless panic attacks later, I think I understand better. They still come on sometimes. But now, rather than managing the symptoms, I am able to recognize their onset and head them off before they become crippling. Deep breathing, visualization, and mantras are still my most-trusted tools.

But why am I sharing this story?

Because on a regular basis I meet people who are dealing with anxiety and panic attacks and they don’t have any idea what’s going on. All they know is they feel like the fight, flight, and freeze responses have all kicked into high gear at once and it is terrifying. I honestly believe it is by God’s grace that I didn’t literally run people over with my car that day, 20-some years ago in the grocery store parking lot. Because everything in me felt like that would be my best course of action.

I’m sharing this because if you deal with these or similar feelings, I want you to know that you are NOT alone. You are NOT crazy. This does NOT have to overtake you. And for sure, this does not have to be something you suffer with alone or forever.

Please, if you or someone you know suffers from anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide, seek help. We are created to ‘do life’ together. We’re not meant to go it alone.

If you see someone who is hurting, scared, isolated, anxious, depressed or any of the hundred other words we use to convey our burden, please reach out to them. Depression is rooted with fear. Fear keeps us paralyzed and unable to seek help from outside sources. Sometimes we need those outside sources to reach in and gently draw us out.

Friends, be well. You are too wonderful to lose. And you are never – not ever – alone.

Love, B.

Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

Posted in June 2018, podcast

Picture (Im)perfect

It was a quiet conversation.

The two of us sat across the dining room table from one another, working on a jigsaw puzzle of a tiger lurking in the trees. Our voices were calm. We even laughed a little bit as we shared memories of our dating years and talked about where our relationship was currently: broken and on the edge of divorce.

We were less than 3 years into our marriage.

High school sweethearts, we’d met through our drama department our Junior year when Matt’s family relocated to our little town. We’d noticed each other immediately. His shaggy, bleach blond hair and dimpled cheeks shone like a beacon home for me.

It wasn’t until a year later that we’d begun dating and then, only after our friends Jimmy and Joy forced us to have a face-to-face conversation about how we liked each other instead of simply telling everyone else. It proved to be an off-again-on-again kind of relationship for a few years, but once we decided that we meant it when we said, ‘I love you,’ it stuck and wedding preparations were soon underway.

On June 24, 1995, before friends, family, God and one homeless lady who joined the festivities, we gave our vows and celebrated the start of our lives together. We danced, we toasted, we tossed the bouquet and garter. A week later, we loaded all my earthly possessions into the bed of a truck and the trailer we towed behind and drove the 12 hours to our first home together in Ogden, Utah.

wedding photo Matt and Brandy(Matt and I, exhausted from all the photos we took after the ceremony.
June 24, 1995. Welches, Oregon)

Pulling in well after dark, it was hard for me to really see what our new town looked like, but walking through the door of our little house-turned-tri-plex, I was overjoyed. It had great charm and it was OURS! Unpacking and decorating was a thrill. As a kid, I’d only ever lived in three homes and two of those were before I was 5, so I’d never known what it was like to actually move. It felt a little bit like playing house.

Our first 2 years in Ogden were full of college for Matt and work for me. We had little to no money but learned how to make the most of instant mashed potatoes, Kool-Aid, and pancakes. When time allowed, we’d pack a picnic basket and head to a local park. When time was tight or the weather didn’t cooperate, picnics happened on our living room floor. By working at the college’s theater, which also had touring companies coming through, we had the opportunity to see and be a part of some wonderful shows and performances, including Ballet West, Christopher Parkening, and Sundance Film Festival.

Matt and Brandy hiking(Me and Matt hiking in Ogden, Utah. circa 1996.)

It all seemed pretty good. We had our friends, we had our little nest. We had each other.
But lurking underneath was a dissatisfaction growing inside me.

Growing up, what I wanted most in life was to be a wife and mom. Here I was, on the path. Step 1: Get Married. Check. Step 2: Have babies. Not happening.

I’d wanted to get pregnant from the beginning. Matt wanted to wait until he was done with school. Tension was growing, while my belly was not. Health issues from earlier had me worried that fertility might be a problem. Meanwhile, I was seeing people everywhere both getting pregnant and also having abortions. It was heart-wrenching.

Then my world came crashing down in the most unexpected way. My dad, at the age of 48, died of a massive heart attack. He’d been my rock. We shared a love of oldies music, fly fishing and ‘puttering’. And suddenly, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.

Dad and I painting trailer(Me and my dad painting the trailer that carried all my belongings to
my new home and life with Matt. 1995)

The week or so that followed is a blur. Matt and I went back to Oregon, we buried and memorialized my dad. My mom, brother and I sat silently together, numb and unsure. Eventually, though, the regular flow of life had to return to normal. Matt returned to Utah, where he was chin-deep in school and work. I stayed behind with my mom, unwilling to leave her side.

Life was untethered and I didn’t know how we were going to survive.

When I finally returned to Utah – I’m not even sure how long I’d been gone – I was restless and anxious. I jumped everytime the phone rang. I couldn’t concentrate. I hated to hear about anyone else’s struggles or problems because it all seemed so petty. I lost any compassion I’d had. And I was angry at Matt.

He hadn’t ‘performed’ the way I wanted him to in the wake of my dad’s death. He shed few tears and in my mind, felt distant and emotionally unavailable. What I then saw as a character flaw, I now know to be a strength. Even though I wanted Matt to mourn with me, what I needed most was for him to be strong and hold me up. He did both. But he did them quietly. I was too lost in my own chaos to even recognize what was happening around me.

Within a few months, I got pregnant and soon thereafter, miscarried.

Devastation. Again.

I was at a complete loss. I didn’t want to be in Utah anymore. I wanted to be with my family and friends back home. I wanted my dad and my baby and I wanted my husband to do more than he was capable of doing for me.

So there we sat. A jigsaw puzzle between us. One thousand pieces of a perfectly destroyed image. And it was our task to put those pieces together, to recreate the picture on the front of the box, the picture that looked so seamless and perfect.

We worked for hours and as we worked, we talked. We reminisced about the day we first met. We laughed about our awkward beginning. We recalled our first kiss and so many kisses after. We talked about our fears and our hurts, our disappointments. We talked at length about the possibility of divorce.

As we talked, the pieces in our fingers began to come together. The edges were formed and soon, the inside picture grew, little by little.

We talked about how much we’d grown up with each other in the 10 years since we’d met. How we’d shared so much of ourselves with each other that we’d never shared with anyone else. We’d already invested so much of ourselves into one another, the thought of having to start over with someone else seemed daunting, at best. After all, despite the struggles we’d endured, we were best friends. We loved each other.

We always would.

Before we knew it, the final piece of the puzzle was set in place revealing not a seamless image, but a complete image. Where the pieces had been cut, there were crevasses as they joined together. It wasn’t smooth as a photograph. But it was whole. And together. What sat between us was a picture, not of a tiger stalking its prey, but a picture of how two separate people with their own brokenness can come together and form a beautiful union.

We weren’t perfect, but we were together.

 

[Wedding photos by Eileen Hunt]

Posted in June 2018, podcast

When We Become the Church

“…be of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit,
intent on one purpose.”
– Philippians 2:2

It’s never easy, is it, coming to others to ask for help?

What will they think if they know my need is this great? Will their opinion change once they know just how dark my heart and thoughts can be? Or, will they think I’m silly; wasting their time with my needs which seem so insignificant?

I’ve had these thoughts on more than one occasion. Yet, at every turn I am amazed by the response I’m met with when I take a deep breath and share my heart.

Sometimes it’s a prayer need, sometimes a thought I’ve been mulling over for days and need to talk through. Other times it’s a sin that I keep finding myself struggling with. Often it’s the critical thoughts that tend to take up residence in my head, shoving aside God’s words of truth and bring me to tears and of guilt, shame, fear and overwhelm.

Consistently though, God has met me in those places of need as I’ve turned to someone at church and bared my burden. I’m met with encouraging words, reminders of God’s promises and faithfulness, prayer and often a hug.

Likewise, I’ve been met with gratitude for my willingness to be vulnerable and broken in front of others. Because, honestly, that’s just not a thing you see all the time.

These kinds of relationships are born in and grown through fellowship in and around church.

Three years ago, our little congregation of less than 50 merged with another local small church. A majority of church merges fail. Ours has been a story of success. And in that place, I’ve gotten to know a whole new group of people; people I’d never have met otherwise.

Some are well into their grandparenting years, enjoying traveling the world. Others are just starting out, eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first baby. And there’s everyone in between. We’ve got nerds, geeks, intellectuals, blue collar, white collar, scrubs, lab coats, graduation caps, Bermuda shorts and button downs with a tie. And every single one of those people has impacted me, whether they know it or not.

You see, going to church is really good. You learn a lot about God. You sing some good songs full of good words and truths. You hear things that encourage you and maybe even challenge you.

But being the church…that’s even better.

Because then you get to rub elbows with people who are just like you and nothing like you at all. You get to see the vast array of people who God calls His own. Sometimes things get a little messy, but hopefully, as Christ stays the focus, even the messy is made clean again.

Being the church you can speak into one another’s lives. You can experience that ‘iron sharpening iron’ accountability and growth that’s talked about in Proverbs 27:17. You become invested in something that is so much bigger than yourself and it reminds you just how incredibly generous our God is.

Going to church is really good. Being the church is the best.

What about you? Do you just go to church on Sunday, letting the message slough off you as you walk out to your car, while the music fades in the background? Or do you take the church with you, presenting Christ to a broken and hurting land, recognizing that left on your own, you’d be just as broken, too?

The choice is yours.

 

 

[Photo by Ingo Joseph from Pexels]

 

Posted in May 2018, podcast

Healing Happens at Church: A Lesson on the Importance of Corporate Worship

It had been years since I’d stepped into a church. If not literally, then certainly in my heart. I’d been apart from God for a long time, rejecting Him and His word at every turn. Living life on my terms was way more fun.

Until it wasn’t.

When my lies finally caught up with me, I could see my surroundings more clearly. I hadn’t been living large, I wasn’t in control and all my feelings of grandiosity and self-assurance were just a facade for the absolute fear I felt. Fear of being found out, fear of my own depravity, fear of who I’d become and fear of the dark and lonely pit I found myself in.

But there I was. At the threshold of a new start. Beyond those double doors was a world that I’d known and grown up in but somehow seemed foreign and frightening.

Church.

It was a new church. A big church. One where I could get lost in the crowd. I didn’t want to be seen, even by strangers. I was certain that my sin was palpable; that by merely looking at me, people would know immediately that I was among the worst of the worst. In Old Testament times, I’d be stoned to death for my sin. And though it was 2010 AD, I was pretty sure, the response I’d get from others wouldn’t be far from that Old Testament notion.

Beyond that, what would God do to me, a sinner, a harlot stepping foot onto holy ground? His holy ground. I’d never heard of anyone getting struck down by lightning for walking into a church, but it seemed possible.

With a deep breath and holding the hand of my daughter, I walked in, my husband and son by my side. No lightning. Not even the rumble of thunder in the distance. So far, so good.

My daughter, upset by the fact that we weren’t going to be returning to our old church, the only one she’d known, had been given the important job of choosing our seats. Somewhere in the back seemed good. That way, I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with anyone and we could leave the second the service was done.

Nope. My sweet baby angel decided that we needed to be front and center. And I do mean front. And center.

With a little coaxing, we managed to get her to move one row back. So now we were second front and center. Right in everybody’s line of sight. And I mean everybody.

Thousands of people come to this church every week. They had no less than 5 pastors on staff at the time, in addition to the worship pastor and the youth pastor. And there I was, with my sin oozing out of me, right where everyone could see and point and judge and either feel pity for or be repulsed by me. But my daughter wouldn’t budge. We were not moving seats when I’d already made her move to a new church.

Okay. If sitting there would make my daughter feel better about life, I’d do it. I’d just keep my head down and try not to draw attention our way.

Then the music started. Piano, guitar, the rhythm of the drums. It all came together into a beautiful melody of praise, making much of Christ and His great love for us, sinners through and through.

I don’t remember what songs we sang. I didn’t know most of them. What I do remember is the worship pastor, sitting at the piano and looking at me as he sang about a God who loves his people, who calls us His sons and daughters. He sang about God’s goodness and glory, his redemption, and grace. And it seemed to me, his eyes never left my face as the tears streamed down my cheeks.

The house lights were low, the stage lights bright. It’s entirely possible that he didn’t see me at all, but everything about that moment pierced my heart and dropped me to my knees.

I was a wretch. I was broken. I’d hurt the people I loved the most and lied to them for years. I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. But here was this man I didn’t know, singing God’s word over me, assuring me of His love and forgiveness.

And I began to heal.

Every week we returned to those same seats. Every week we sang and praised God. Every week my husband and I cried out to God asking for His grace to wash over us and to heal our brokenness and save our marriage. Every. Single. Week.

And He did.

God met us right there. He met us in song and in the teaching. He met us in the people we started to meet. He met me at the Bible studies and recovery groups I attended. He met me in the kindness of a stranger offering words of encouragement. He healed us. He restored us. He turned our ashes into garlands of praise and redeemed our days.

And it all started with a small step. It didn’t take much to get my foot over the threshold of that church, and yet, it took everything. It required that I admit that without God, I am a mess. I can’t do life apart from the Creator of life. I need Him desperately, especially when I think I don’t need Him at all. Left to my own devices I will wreck havoc on myself and everyone in my path. But with God, anything is possible.

He can even take a broken, messed up, guilt-ridden sinner like me and create something new.

Go to church, Beloved. You need it. Trust me.
-Brandy

Posted in May 2018, podcast

A Beautiful Sacrifice

Mirriam-Webster Dictionary defines ‘sacrifice’ as,
“an act of offering to a deity something precious or
[the] destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.”

When Mabel met George she was just a young girl. He was nine years her senior. They met at the farm of George’s uncle in Tygh Valley, Oregon. The year was 1913.

Over the course of the next ten years, the friendship between their families grew. They worked together several times during threshing season. Mabel’s skills advanced as she labored beside her mother in the kitchen as they prepared meals for the men working the fields.

During her school years, Mabel was taught at whatever one-room schoolhouse was nearby or she’d learn under the direction of her mother. She grew to love reading and writing most. Her days of tending to pigs and cows in the field were spent reading David Copperfield and the poems of Longfellow.

Mabel graduation

(Above: Mabel, high school graduation; Maupin, Oregon; June 1924. She was the only graduating senior in her class)

And as she grew, she dreamed of what she might do one day. She was awarded a scholarship to the University of Oregon in Eugene. It would mean traveling hundreds of miles away from her family and friends. But Mabel had dreams of becoming a school teacher and looked forward to going to university. She’d already tasted a bit of what that would be like; she and a small selection of other high school seniors had been granted a trip to visit the University. She had made new friends and was looking forward to what her future held.

But then…

Isn’t that the way it always goes? Our young protagonist is bright-eyed and hopeful, the world in the palm of his or her hands, but then…. Something happens. Because something almost always does.

For Mabel, it was the realization that despite her scholarship and her parent’s hard work, sending her to college was simply not a financial burden her family could afford. But there was something else, too….

During high school, Mabel and George had reconnected. He was home from the war and working wherever he could find work. Meanwhile, she was helping at her father’s confectionary shop in the afternoons and on weekends. Smitten by Mabel’s charm and sweet smile, George spent a good many of his afternoons at the Confectionary just to spend time with her.

George Morris - military photo

(Above: George Morris; circa 1917; Private 1st Class U.S. Marine Corps)

By her senior year, he was courting her. He played for the local baseball team in Maupin, Oregon and Mabel would go to his games. He took her to the dances at the Grange Hall. And when the decision finally needed to be made – college or no? When it came right down to it, Mabel didn’t want to leave George. She wanted, instead, to be his wife.

And so, in June of 1923, Mabel sacrificed one dream to fulfill another.

Sacrifice is often seen as a negative. People seem to only think of it as giving up something and they fail to recognize the other side of the coin. Yes, sacrifice does require that something is given up, but in return, you gain something more.

Sacrifice in marriage is a constant practice of giving up yourself (your desires and expectations) in order to better love your spouse. It comes in a thousand different ways. Mostly, it’s the little every day choices you make – should I make my husband’s lunch for him, while I pack my own? Or, should I clean the kitchen because I know that my wife has had a hard day and could use a few minutes alone? These are small sacrifices and yet, they do honestly require that we give something else up.

Maybe cleaning the kitchen means that you don’t get to sit down and turn on Netflix right away. Maybe packing that extra lunch means you won’t have time to stop for coffee on your way to work. Those are sacrifices.

But what are the rewards? A spouse who feels appreciated, valued, seen, considered. Is it worth it? You bet. Do you get a benefit from it? Yeah, you do. Maybe not right away and maybe not even from your spouse. But God will bless your sacrifice because if anyone understands the meaning of that words, it’s our Lord.

Luke 22:42 finds Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying shortly before He was arrested and crucified. As He’s praying He says, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me, yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Jesus knew what was coming. He understood that His time was very limited and He was about to enter into the greatest suffering anyone could possibly experience.

But He also knew He had a purpose that needed to be fulfilled, without which, none of us would know the grace of God and experience Him face to face. What God wanted was a perfect relationship with us, a fallen and sinful bunch of people. But who can approach a holy and blameless God? A sacrifice needed to be made. And Jesus knew that was His calling.

Listen, I cannot even fathom the sheer physical pain of what Jesus endured as he was beaten mercilessly, made to carry the cross and then nailed to it. I can’t begin to imagine the excrutiation He felt every time He tried to even take a breath, much less talk to those who needed to hear his voice one more time. But, I guarantee, the physical suffering He endured was marginal compared to the separation between He and God the Father when He took on the weight of all our sin and shame.

Jesus gave it all. He sacrificed His very life so that you and I could have a relationship with a holy God.

That sacrifice cost everything. It cost Jesus’ life. And yes, of course, He conquered death and rose three days later, but imagine the agony that He suffered as He felt His heavenly Father turn His face away from Him.

And yet, He did it. Why? What would propel Jesus to lay it all down?

You did. I did. He loved us. He wanted us to know Him the way that He knows us. And without that sacrifice, we would remain far removed.

Sacrifice is a big word. It’s a heavy word. It packs a punch. But it isn’t a bad word.

Sacrifice is wrapped up in love.

George and Mabel 1951

(Above: George and Mabel Morris; 1951)

Posted in podcast

For the Love of Staying in Love

“…it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, forever. You and me, every day.” – The Notebook

Alright, be honest. How many of you had a list, like I did, when you were in your early teen years highlighting some of the qualities that you were looking for in the “perfect” person? Come on…I said be honest. No shame, here.

Some of the qualities that I looked for: Cute (of course), funny, smart, athletic build, liked theater, liked to read, tall but not too tall (I’m only 5′ 0″ if I round up), likes my family, drives a cool car, Christian. Cute, smart and funny were definitely the most important to me. Mind you, this is not always the type of boy I dated. There were a couple that made rocks seem pretty smart, but they were really cute, so….

Needless to say, this approach to finding Mr. Right didn’t really work too well. And yet, I somehow managed to land him. (I chalk that up to God looking out for me.) But here we are, Mr. Right and Me, approaching our 23rd year of marriage and as we reflect on what makes a relationship that can go the distance, we thought we’d share those insights with you, our friends.

In no particular order:

1. Respect

Here’s a good way to assess if the person you’re dating is going to be a jerk or not: Go to a restaurant and order something complicated. When it comes to the table let your date know that it isn’t how you ordered it. Don’t make a big deal out of it…just wait and see how they respond. If their response is, “Oh, no. Should we send it back?” and then they follow your desire, congratulations! You’ve found a nice person. If, however, they make a big deal about it, ranting about lousy service or belittling the wait staff, puffing their chest out or making bold declarations about customer service, excuse yourself to the restroom and “peace out.” Call a friend or an Uber and treat yourself to a pint of Ben and Jerry’s – you just survived a monster.

Seriously, respect is kind of a big deal. If you have a partner who calls you names or makes threats of separation or self-harm every time there is conflict, you’re in for a lifetime of pain and suffering. I’m not being dramatic. Your needs and desires, your values and feelings are important and deserve to be respected. It is possible to disagree with someone and still show respect.

2. Be Equally Yoked

Yup…I said it. I hated this concept when I was a dating person. I thought it was dumb. I just wanted to have fun. Guess what? If you’re trying to live a Christian life and your partner isn’t, it isn’t very fun at all. It’s really pretty hard.

You see, the way you see God informs everything you do. If your world-view doesn’t include God as a major player, your approach to sexual temptation, finances, even having children may be very different. It’s not always something that you see in those early dating days, but when those conflicts arise (as they are prone to do in a marriage), the differences you have in your approach to the world will become apparent and could potentially put a serious wedge between you and your spouse.

Nip it in the bud from the start – marry someone who’s faith you share.

3. Be friends

Life is hard, right? I think we can all agree on that. And isn’t it also true that when you’re going through a bad time in life, it’s just easier when you have a friend by your side? The world just seems a little bit safer when you have a friend to share it with.

Now, I know it’s easy to assume that if you marry someone you must be friends with them. That’s not necessarily true. Haven’t we all seen that couple at the restaurant that doesn’t even look at each other over the course of a full meal, much less talk?

Admittedly, it’s possible they are in the midst of a crisis which may well inhibit a jovial conversation, but I think more often than not, it’s just a couple that lost touch with each other along the way.

Stay connected. Engage in dialogue. Share your hopes and fears, your regrets and victories. Celebrate the little milestones. Pray for and with each other.

Your friendship may well be the one thing that keeps you married when everything else comes crashing down. It was for us, anyway.

4. Share Common Interests

This relates to being friends. Go do fun things together. Hike, watch movies, go to the museum, race cars, play in a band. Whatever floats your boat…. The point is, sharing common interests keeps us engaged with each other.

That being said, I think it’s equally important to have things that you can do apart from each other. Your partner or spouse can’t be expected to fill your every need for companionship, but having a few things that you enjoy together can keep your relationship grounded when it feels like the world is trying to tear you apart.

This is also a great way to meet your future Mr. or Mrs. if you’re currently dating. I found my true love doing high school theater. You never know where they may be, but if you meet while doing something you both enjoy, it’s a really great start to building a beautiful friendship.

5. Have Integrity

Here’s a chance to do some honest self-reflection: Are you the same at church as you are at work? Does your behavior and words in the ‘real world’ match what people see any given Sunday? Is your word reliable? Can you be trusted to do what you say will?

Let me put this out there – this is a hard one for me. As a kid I learned early on how to adapt to any environment in order to fit in. This worked great for me socially, but it wrecked me personally because I lost my internal compass that kept me pointed toward the God I loved. I’ve had to learn the hard way what integrity does and does not look like.

Here’s the thing, if you can be trusted to be the same person in a crowd of thousands as you are for an audience of one, that’s integrity. It builds trust. It inspires honesty. It grows love.

That’s it.
Those are the five qualities that every strong, go-the-distance marriage I personally know has. There might be others. There are certainly other characteristics that will be beneficial, but as Matt and I talked about in this episode, these are really the main ones. It’s no guarantee that it will all be smooth sailing, but I honestly believe that if you start with this foundation, the life you build will indeed stand the test of time.

God bless!
– Brandy

P.S. The photo is of my great grandmother and great grandfather, Mabel and George Morris. They were married in 1924 and remained so until 1957 when George died. They had three children, Norma Jean, Lila Lee (my grandmother), and Bill. They loved going dancing, baseball and spending time with family. 

Posted in April 2018, podcast

Episode 1: Meet Your Road Trip Buddies!

Here we are, gang! Episode 1 is published and available for your ear-holes. I’m still working out all the details…you know, like where it’s available and all that good stuff, but hang with me. Any minute now this is going to be super professional! In the meantime, you get lil’ ol’ messy us…full of flaws, but oh, so much charm.

Also, it’s entirely possible that I get the name of our podcast wrong for the first several episodes! Remember that charm I was talking about?

Listen to Episode 1 here

Full Transcript here

Episode 1: Show Notes

As an introduction to the podcast, Matt and Brandy share a little bit of their backgrounds beginning with what led each of them to the Lord. From there they share a bit about their dating and early adult years.

They also share some of the subjects they hope to cover in upcoming episodes including marriage, parenting, codependency, recovery, current events and letters from listeners. Finally, they share how they came up with the name of the podcast (which has gone through several iterations (which is why I maybe say it wrong for a few episodes).

Links:
Youth With A Mission www.ywam.or

Brandy’s childhood church camp Black Lake Bible Camp; Olympia, WA

Newsong; the song is called “Between the Cross and Crown”
listen to the song here

Intro and Outro Music:
“The Long Road Home” Written by Brandy J. Goebel, Arrangement by James Swanson, Performed by James Page; copyright 2018

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