Hope at the Finish Line

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Author: Karly Grant

Sometimes, life isn't easy. Sometimes God allows messy, difficult things to happen in our lives. Sometimes, we find ourselves caught in the middle of scary, chaotic, seemingly hopeless storms. God tells us this. We hear others talk about "storms", but sometimes it takes actually experiencing one to really understand.  

Just over a year ago, a tempest began in my life that I never saw coming. My life, and the life of my family was changed forever. I had been actively walking with Jesus for over ten years at this point. I knew the songs, the verses, the cheesy lines about hope, but I didn't fully grasp the magnitude of the word or how much I needed it in my life. Truth be told, my eyes weren't totally focused on Jesus. I had become pretty comfortable with my life.

In March of 2014, the storm came out of nowhere and hit hard. Life as I had known it for 30 years, would never be the same. There were some serious accusations made against one member of my family by another member. My family was torn apart. I had always thought that through thick and thin, our family would stick together because that’s what families do and that’s what our family was supposed to do. In just a few short days, every member of my family’s world was rocked. We all began to grieve in different ways.

The storm had left a wake of devastation, and turning to my family in this disarray was not the answer. I found myself in a place that seemed hopeless. The people that I cared about the most were hurting and there was nothing that I could to do to help them. I was hurting and couldn't turn to them because they were there too. There was much confusion. The only place that I could turn was to Jesus (and boy, am I glad  He was there).

The next few months were chaotic at best, downright confusing, and gut wrenching at worst. There were many days and nights that I would cry just thinking of my family. I wouldn't just tear up, but full on ugly cry. There were times, when all that I could muster to pray was “Jesus, help.” 

I needed to fix my eyes on Jesus, not so that the problems would go away (they wouldn’t), but so that I knew there was hope in the storm surrounding me.

On June 29th, I had to opportunity to be a spectator at the Ironman competition in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. This was an extremely memorable day in which God used the athletes to show me many things about His body. There is too much to go into here (maybe another post), but it set the tone for what God would be teaching me over the next several months (I’m a slow learner). One of the highlights was watching people cross the finish line. They had successfully completed swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles. If I were an Ironman finisher, upon crossing the finish line, I would hear, “Karly Grant, you are an ironman!”

 I couldn’t help, but compare this to Matthew 25:21 when Jesus tells the parable of the talents. Those who invested wisely, who put their focus on the right things, heard “Well done, good and faithful servant.” In the Ironman, those who kept their eye on the finish line heard, “You are an ironman!’ It was a great reminder to keep my focus on the true finish line, on the hope that is to come, in Jesus.

It was about this time, that my focus started to turn. Amongst the chaos of the storm in my family, I was reminded of the hope that can only be found in Jesus. I was reminded of the hope found in Revelation:

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)

We have hope and it can be found in Christ alone. We need to keep our eyes focused on Him. I had learned this lesson. I should be good to go then, right? Wrong. Like I said, I’m a slow learner and God had more to do in my life.

As I started to focus on Jesus more, I was becoming okay with the things happening in my family. It wasn’t that things were getting easier, in fact they only got messier and more turbulent as time went on.  I was still praying (and am still praying) for reconciliation, but I knew that as long as I stayed focused on Him, though I may be caught in the middle of the storm, He would receive the glory for any good that comes out of it. And that one day, there will be no more tears.

Like I mentioned, God wasn’t through teaching me to focus on Him and find my hope in Him. In August, I learned that our verse for the year at school (I teach preschool) would be Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (ESV)

I admit, I may not have had the best attitude at hearing that we would be focused on this seemingly cliché and overused verse. I still wasn’t getting that God wanted me to look to Jesus alone for hope. I was still trying to do things on my own. Then I started a Bible study in September with some ladies in my church. Guess what scripture we studied the first night there? Hebrews 12:1-2…

Finally it settled in that God truly is my hope. That I need to look to Jesus in all that I do, that He is worthy of a life lived for him.

 Family life has not become any easier in the last several months. In fact, there are a few family events coming up in the coming months that involve some people seeing other family members for the first time in about a year, but life has become sweeter because I know that I am no longer looking to my family for hope, but to Jesus.

 My soul is anchored in Christ. He is my hope. My life verse has long been Psalm 71:14, “As for me, I will always have hope;  I will praise you more and more.” (NIV) Amidst the chaotic storm of life this last year, these words have never been truer. God is with me. I have hope that one day tears will be wiped away. One day, this world will be without sin, and one day, I will cross that finish line of life, and see Jesus face to face.

To hear more from Karly find her at www.karlyisrandom.blogspot.com She writes blogs infrequently but deeply.

Thanks for reading - Anchored Voices

Hope for the Writing Community

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Faith and Culture Writers' Conference Reflection

Author: Chara Donahue

In my stocking this past Christmas was a gift from my husband. A small little piece of torn notebook paper with  "one writer's weekend" scrawled across it.  My husband had asked me what I wanted, and I told him a weekend of quiet to focus on writing. He gave the okay with that little corner of  paper. The beginning of the year was crazy: I was in school again working towards a History endorsement, and Biblical Counseling certification, leading Outward's women's ministry, starting a blog, and trying to maintain sanity at home raising my four little rascals.

Fast forward two months, and across my newly opened twitter feed I saw that Kari Patterson  would be speaking at a writers conference in Portland.  Being that she was the first (non-relative) writer  to read  a very small piece of my someday book, It drew my attention. I clicked on the link and  managed to scrape together the funds. My Christmas present arrived in April in the form of the Faith and Culture Writers' Conference.

I was a bit excited: 

Going into this, I knew I was going to have to stop hiding from the fact that I am a writer. Pretending that this piece of me is a dirty little secret of pages needing to stay under a mattress wouldn't do. It was time to embrace it as part of how God has scripted my part in his story. It was also time to be amongst others who know what it is to write.  Those who simply want to serve the world by weaving together letters that create beautiful words and words that create lasting stories.

All this seemed big but not necessarily scary.  I mean, what risk was there?   I know how to wear big girl pants.  Yet, emotionally I heard whispers of peril and intimidation, because I love writing and this was my first real proclamation of that. I was putting something I love out on the offering plate and I had no idea if it would be received.  Nevertheless, I was going and I would call myself a writer.

I longed to enter into a retreat where I was able to talk about writing and not have the fear of appearing prideful, because the people there would understand I don't write out of pride or self-elevating desires. I write to process, to expose hidden glories, and to seek out the truest truths.   I don't write because I know it all. I write because I have something to say.  That in a world of billions of voices, I want mine to make people ask, "Who is this Jesus?" 

So to Portland I went. While I drove to the land of exotic food carts, the weird, and an airport carpet that's got a platform 10 times the size of mine, I asked God "What are you going to do? I am listening. How are You going to challenge me? How do You want me to love people?"

The challenges came in many forms:

Can I go from Blank to Beautiful?

Can I--wash windows so that others can see God's beauty more clearly? -- @sethhaines
Can I-- point people at God and change hearts with my words?-- @NishWeiseth
Can I--remember It 's not about my greatness it's about God's?-- @AshleyMLarkin
Can I--bleed out onto the page in incredible ways?-- @karipatterson
Can I--learn "how to market without selling my soul?" -- @kurtbubna
Can I--just follow the advice of @karenzach, by never going to a cold computer and telling that nagging inner editor to "shut up" as I write fictional accounts of Kenyan boys choosing their paths?
Can I--like @CorneliSeigneur , "Ask God to show me why He saved me?"  or create space to build up, honor, and encourage others while living Isaiah 50:4?
Can I--tell stories that create beautiful images that people will never forget like @tonykriz and his  Albanian lights?
Can I--search for reason in unreasonable space?-- @phievalon
Can I--read the headlines of my soul  from a bench on a Tuesday as tears hug my eyeballs?-- @emilypfreeman
Can I--just show up and  be willing to tell the painful, shameful stories so that others can find life?-- @RomalTune
Can I--strain my best and truest stories through glory and trust my Lord with the results? -- @AliaJoyH
Can I--be in my heart and not my head and get out of the way so that what I am trying to convey can break through? --@christaljenkins
Can I--write a crystal clear book proposal?-- @MacGregorLit
Can I--remember rightly and craft beauty out of the pain Jesus has healed me from?-- @ChapinChick
Can I--step out of the box God is willing to climb into in order to be with me, and reach for Him instead?-- @wmpaulyoung

Can I accept the challenges, and love the people?

I loved the inspiration and the information, but the people...the people at this thing brought the joy.

When I have the deepest truths written and interwoven into my very being, I can risk loving others freely and sincerely from the heart.

I could tell my unedited ideas to a room full of other writers because like everything else in my life my writing belongs to God - NOT to me. I could sit with them, be motivated, and as I nodded along with truths from the speakers, I could join the cacophony of Yays and Amens coming from those around me.  I could genuinely be more interested in their stories than in telling my own, because all insecurities, hang-ups, and self protective measures become small when God is big; and this God of ours is BIG.

I felt accepted by people who invited me to sit at their tables, ask about their lives, and talk about writing in the ways that only writers do. Faces I had only met once became faces of familiarity that made all the other unknown faces a little less alien.  They too want tales to be told, so that faith, hope, and love can seep into  the world as we place words on alters of paper, web pages, and open air. They know writing is not an exclusive club. It is a desire that drives, and that is why I feel a kinship with them - "my tribe."

But really, they are not my people in the closest sense of the word.  My husband, my children, my church - those are the people that were still there Sunday morning when the conference was over.  I love my daily people, still there, still my favorite humans offering rest when I come down from that conference high and face reality and responsibilities that reach outside of my writing bubble.  But my writing people have been grafted into my awareness.

These fellow writers are still there in my mind, so I can be reminded that there are people out in the world that would understand my blank expression when other more familiar people ask me why the dishes are pouring out of the sink and the kids are still in pajamas,  and I say sheepishly, "Um, I was writing?"  

I may only see them on Twitter (which I am loving by the way); hopefully, I will see some of them next year. Reality tells me I may never see some of these people again--at least on this side of heaven. I know it might sound trite, but truth is I am okay with that. That's life. I am so pleased and filled by those, "Hey, it was nice to meet you once before heaven, see you when we get there" kind of interactions, because they are hopeful  glimpses of eternal community.

This is what I love the most. That these people were my people before I knew them because of Who they know. They are my people because we have the same Ultimate Person. We have Jesus. So yes, these people are my people in that they understand a facet of me that some of my close people just don't get. 

Ultimately, though, these people are not my people because they are writers. These people are my people because they are Jesus' people. But, it sure is nice that they write.

That I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.--Isaiah 50:4

Want to check out the conference with me next year?
@FaithCultureArt   http://faithandculturewriters.com/

Here are a few anchored voices I met this weekend worth checking out:

Hope at Nap Time

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Nap Time Theologian
Author: Chara Donahue

One day I was putting my four year old down for a nap, and she thought this was a horrible idea. I began to fluff her covers and nestle her in, and she kept flipping around and thrashing like I was tying straps instead of tucking sheets.  Then suddenly she freezes, stares at me intensely, and spits out, “Mom, why do you work out?” Not a completely random question considering earlier that day I had taken the kids to the gym with me and had yet to change out of my lovely sweat laced active wear. I told her, “So, I can be strong, healthy, and live a long time."  

Apparently, still quite irate at my insistence of a nap, she grunts out these kind words escorted by an icy glare, “I want you to live with Jesus.”

My jaw dropped. Her words felt threaded with poison, yet in them hope.

I didn't know how to feel. On one hand, living with Jesus is wishing the very best for me, and on the other…"Child, did you just say you want me dead?"

I was thoroughly confused and mortified.  I also didn't know how to respond.  I stumbled through communicating my deep bewilderment, hurt feelings, and greatest hope.  I then backed out of the room, shut the door wide-eyed, and looked around as if to find someone who had just witnessed what had happened.  
Um, hey Jesus, WHAT WAS THAT????

This isn't the only time she has blown my mind, leaving me baffled and scrambling to put together a coherent thought.  Four months later, she was angry at me, AGAIN, for putting her down for nap (I promise she really does still need naps).  I finished our usual rest time routine and took my leave - ready for my own quiet time.  That silence was soon shattered when I heard a hefty bear like grunt, fists slamming into her bed, and a shout of “Jesus died for you!” echoing through the hall.

It was clear to her, as it is clear to me, that my biggest problem is that I am a sinner.

I totally get it. I empathize; when I'm frustrated with daily things, I begin to see other people's sin clearly as well. I ask God for the strength to be patient. Calmly, I mentally state to myself that "those" people are loved, that "they" need the gospel, and "he/she/them"  is/are in desperate want of grace. I wholeheartedly proclaim the same words my daughter screamed at me. "Hey world, Jesus died for you!"  

In that, I promise, there is genuine, beautiful love that God has grown in my heart for others. But... really, if I am honest - there is a bit of something dark and ugly in there.  As my flesh and spirit war I declare as my daughter did, "Jesus died for you!" and my depraved inner self silently hisses "so do what I want you to." 

Don't worry God doesn't let me get away with this stuff. He doesn't take it lightly when others are vying for His place, and He is too good to let me slide. I am quickly and lovingly chastised with truths spelled out in scripture: God is God. I am not. His kingdom. His justice. His law, not mine. The Holy Spirit graciously chimes in with "you" are loved, "you" need the gospel, and "you" are in desperate want of grace. 

He is God. I am not.

Yep, the kid is right. Jesus died for me. I need a savior.

Present tense, not that one time needed so that I get to live with Jesus when I am good and dead. That's there - yes, but I need my Savior, every moment of every day.  I need His strength to fight the fights that come my way, whether they be with mundane tasks, seductive temptations, or letting Him become more as I become less.   

I am also seeking and pleading for His patience, hope, and power at about 1pm each day, so I can stand under the truth from my local nap time theologian who keeps me humble and points me at Christ.