Advent Day 20: The Living Water Gives Joy

December 16

With joy you will draw waters from the wells of salvation.
Isaiah 12:3 (NIV)

The book of Isaiah, written about 700 years before the Messiah’s birth, is replete with prophecy of his arrival. Chapter 12 is only six verses long, but those verses paint a picture of what the life of a Jesus-follower looks like. They’re packed with praise over Jesus’ eventual coming, and encourage the believer to find joy in drawing from the well of salvation.

If salvation is a well, the reward of salvation – eternity, fellowship with God, grace, forgiveness, peace, life – is the water. The blessings that come from salvation are life-giving. One author offered this insight on Isaiah 12, “It is our duty by faith to draw water out of these wells, to take to ourselves the benefit and comfort that are treasured up for us in them.” The treasure of pure joy is the natural outcome of knowing Jesus as our life-sustaining Living Water.

For Today: What is one responsibility you have that is mundane or difficult? How can you change your perspective today to find joy in even the most routine tasks?

Advent Day 17: Songs of Joy

December 13

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Psalm 100:2 (NIV)

Worshipping Jesus through music is a reoccurring theme in scripture. We do this every time we attend a church service and raise our voices in joyful song. Coming before the Lord with praise-filled songs is an act of worship. It’s the opportunity to set music to the cry of our hearts, a way for a congregation to sing joyfully the same worshipful prayer, at the same time. In unison our voices can rise to the heavens. Just as powerfully, the Lord hears the whispered music of a single person.

It has nothing to do with ability, and everything to do with worshipping Jesus with gladness and joy. We can easily do this at Christmastime when we sing songs that paint pictures of the Christ Child’s birth. O Holy Night says that when Christ appeared, “the soul felt its worth.” Waxing poetic, the third verse of Hark the Herald Angels Sing declares that Jesus was “born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.”

Silent Night describes Jesus’ birth this way: “Silent night, holy night; Son of God, love’s pure light; radiant beams from thy holy face; with the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus, Lord at the birth.”

Sing. Sing of the most joyous of occasions, with joy-filled abandon and reverence.

For Today: What is your favorite Christmas song? Why? If it evokes memories, what are those? Why were those times special for you?

 

Advent Day 7: Hope in the Resting

December 3

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him.
Psalm 62:5 (NIV)

Have you ever sat down in a quiet place in your home on December 26th, looked around and thought, “Christmas happened?” There aren’t any other times during the year that can fill our calendars the way the Christmas season can. We have office parties, family dinners, school programs, gift exchanges, and on and on. We’re so preoccupied with the tasks, we miss the holiday altogether. As Jesus-followers, we should see Christmas as a celebration of our Savior’s birth. Instead, that sentiment can become lost in all of the doing and the striving.

As we end the first week of Advent, take time to rest. Find a quiet spot and spend a few minutes thanking the Lord for his grace and his Gift. Read Luke 2:1-40, and be filled with wonder at the power of Jesus’ birth. Listen to worship music. Do something that will replace your busyness with praise.

Whether this is your favorite season, or if this time of year is hard for you – rest. Hope is recognized in the resting.

For Today: Take a moment right now to identify one thing you’re going to do to rest. It might be something that you normally do during the Christmas season that you’ll make the choice to skip, so that you can use that same amount of time to rest. How will you be intentional about resting in the midst of this season?

Advent Day 6: Hope in the Rejoicing

December 2

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who he has given us.
Romans 5:3-5 (NIV)

In the really, really difficult times — when our bills sit unpaid, when someone we love passes away, when we are struggling with an illness, when each day is an uphill battle, and life feels too hard to even think about Christmas — we can rejoice. Jesus doesn’t call us to rejoice because of our sufferings, but in the midst of them.

The suffering we experience, if we let it, will lead to perseverance and character and hope. This world will bring trials, and we have a choice during the difficult times. We can live in fear and worry, or we can let God work through tough situations so that, when we come out on the other side of them, we’re closer to him than ever before.

If suffering is inevitable, let’s persevere through it and develop character. Let’s allow the suffering to mean something. Let’s commit to using our trials to grow closer to God and spread his love to others.

Then his victory in our lives will be evident, and we will have the type of hope that comes when God pours his love into our hearts. The type of hope that comes from rejoicing, always.

For Today: Is there a trial you’re facing that you could turn into something you can do to spread God’s love to someone else this Christmas season?

Advent Day 5: Hope is an Anchor

December 1

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.
Hebrews 6:19 (NIV)

Without an anchor, a boat can drift under the guidance of even the slightest wind. The same can be said for us. Without the hope of the Lord acting as an anchor for our souls, we can easily drift off course.

An anchor isn’t used to guide a boat on the proper course, an anchor is used to prevent a boat from drifting away from its intended destination. An anchor will keep a vessel held firmly to the ocean floor, and an anchor for the soul – the hope of God – will keep us connected securely to him.

At times the chaos of life will act as a gentle breeze and at times, a gale-force wind. It can easily steer you off course. That is, unless you allow God to map your journey and refuse to anchor yourself to anything other than the Savior.

For Today: When life is especially chaotic we become more susceptible to temptation. What is one temptation that could steer you off course this season?

Advent Day 3: Hope in the Seeking

November 29

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him.
Lamentations 3:25 (NIV)

Over and over again the Bible says that those who seek after the Lord will find him. Often we think we have to do something big to gain the Lord’s approval, when all we have to do is seek him, and put our hope in him.

What if, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we spend more time seeking him than seeking the best bargains? How will our relationship with Jesus change if we stop hoping for the newest gadget or toy or designer handbag, and instead put our hope in him?

The holidays can leave us feeling wiped out, and sometimes even spiritually dry. Maybe we can’t see the Lord at work in our lives, but he’s always at work in us. We miss that when we take our focus off of him, and are consumed with things that lack eternal value.

He isn’t hiding, he’s waiting. We just need to seek after him.

For today: Thank about ways you can seek after Jesus – reading the Bible, praying, singing worship songs – and commit to seek after him each day this Christmas season.

Advent Day 2: Hope for the Weary

November 28

Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

The holidays can be exhausting. In general, it’s a stressful time filled with events, added responsibilities, decorating, baking, gift-giving, stretched finances, relatives, etc. It’s possible that some of us dislike the holidays because it means seeing family members we successfully avoid the other 11 months of the year. We start out the season well-intentioned, but sometimes a house full of extended family is just too much.

Then there are those who dread the holidays because someone is missing from the celebration. Perhaps a loved one passed away, or lives too far to visit, or is deployed, or you’ve suffered another type of loss this year.

Whether our weariness and exhaustion come from busyness or loss, we can find renewed strength from the Lord. We can be confident that, when we put our hope in God, he will give us energy and strength.

When the hustle and bustle, and maybe heartache, become too hard, turn to the One who came wrapped in hope.

For Today: At times, when we consider what we’ve lost, we forget about the ways we’ve been blessed by God. Make a list of some things in your life that have brought you joy and hope. In the moments of sadness or struggle, refer to your list and thank God for his blessings.

Life in Progress, Part 4: To be continued…

If I had written the final post in this series last week, it would undoubtedly sound different. That’s because grief is a beast, and there’s no instruction manual for this particular situation. It’s also because I learned a valuable lesson, one that I’ll share before this post ends.

If you haven’t read Part 1, Part 2, or Part 3 in the Life in Progress series, I would. I just think the story makes more sense in order.

I ended my last post explaining that I decided to chase my mom’s story, which meant John and I were going to Oregon. I questioned the choice a hundred times before we actually left. I thought maybe it was too “Lifetime movie” of me to get on a plane and fly to a city I’d never been before, to go interview friends of a woman who, let’s face it, I really didn’t know. I mentioned my idea to a friend who said I had to go, and as the days went on, I told more people about my plan. Not only were they encouraging, they were taking care of the details.

Since having our first child 12 1/2 years ago, John and I have never been anywhere, overnight, without the kids. Flying to another state was a huge stretch for me. This was a milestone trip for several reasons.

As I prepared to leave, I made some phone calls. I spoke with my mom’s pastor, who organized a breakfast meeting with several of her friends. I was given all the details of where her ashes were spread. I was encouraged to attend her favorite Sunday service at church. Her people were helping me in the midst of their grief.

I was still reeling from the loss and all of the unanswered questions when John and I left our four babies with dear friends to fly to Portland.

It was late when we arrived. A friend’s husband works for a rental car company and set up our reservation. All I had to do was pay our charges and get the keys. As we waited at the counter, my physical and emotional exhaustion began to consume me. I noticed the agent stop what he was doing and lean closer to the computer, with his hand over his heart, and read notes on the screen. Eventually he looked at me and whispered, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Little things like that happened the entire weekend. Friends making sure I was cared for, and Jesus showing me His love.

20150710_134532_001On the first full day of our trip we went to Newport, Oregon. There’s a lighthouse there, and a heart-shaped cove where sea lions gather. It’s surrounded by a wall of craggy coastline, and you can feel the wind fill the entire space. That’s where my mom’s ashes had been spread less than three weeks before. I waded into the water, and cried.

The next morning at a restaurant, I met my mom’s pastor and his wife, along with five of her close friends. They asked me a lot of questions, some of them hard, some of them out of curiosity. They said my mom spoke of me, but they didn’t know a lot about the estrangement.

I have reversed the roles so many times on this journey. If I had passed, and my mom had shown up in my town, how would my friends react? In light of that, I was very, very careful. They knew her so much better than I did, and they had just lost their dear friend. But they were so gracious. They cried with me and prayed for me. They shared funny stories and hard stories. They recounted my mom’s final days and her deep desire to live. They said she was known for her eclectic fashion, her heart for widows, and her propensity for saying exactly what was on her mind. She also loved crepes with strawberries and whip cream. That came up when I ordered the exact same thing; it’s my go-to when eating out.

John and I have spoken often of the people my mom was in community with. They are solid, Bible-believing, faith-filled lovers of Jesus. Not only did God honor my prayer to surround her with Christ followers, He surrounded her with people who are passionately pursuing Him. They were perfect for her.

Before leaving for the trip I’d mentioned to the person handling her estate that I would like her Bible, if possible. I thought of it often in the days leading up to the trip. I told several people that I didn’t want to leave Oregon without it. When the representative emailed back and said that her belongings couldn’t be distributed at that time, I was disappointed.

As I sat among her friends at breakfast, John asked her pastor whether he was confident that my mom had genuinely found faith in God. He responded, “Without a doubt. She loved Jesus.” Turning to me, he continued, “There’s something I think will help you. It’s a note she wrote in her Bible…I have her Bible for you.”

And I lost it. Right there in that restaurant, I sobbed. Someone pulled some strings, I didn’t ask any questions. I just knew I’d be able to return home with something tangible that pointed to her faith.

John and I spent a lot of time walking around town, visiting bookstores and little shops and historical landmarks. We found an amazing seafood restaurant and spent hours there, two nights in a row.

IMG_20150712_112628On Sunday morning we attended her favorite church service. Before he began the message, her pastor handed me her Bible, showing me the note she’d written inside. It’s too private to share in its entirety, but it does say, “God entered my heart and soul. I feel it in my core like a bolt of lightening…I am God’s plan.” It’s dated March, 2010.

I sat next to my husband, in my mom’s usual seat, at her regular service, holding her Bible, two weeks after she died, 20 years since I’d last seen her, and mourned an amazing stranger who also happened to be my mama. It was a full circle the likes of which I’ve never experienced.

I wish I could tie up this series with a big red bow. I wish I could say she left behind a letter, any explanation at all for the choices she made. The truth is, this story is to be continued in more ways than one. Over time I believe I’ll learn more about her. For the most part though, I think my questions won’t be answered until the other side.

This situation has drilled home the truth that people will always disappoint us. No one on this earth is perfect. No one can be Jesus to us, other than Jesus. I can only tell so much of my mom’s story because I didn’t actually learn about her last years and her faith until after she died. Any kindness toward me I assigned her, I did because I couldn’t stand the idea of her dying hating me, or worse, nothing-ing me.

That’s why I have to stop focusing on her story.

I have to tell my story. That’s the valuable lesson I learned.

I had a mother who fought emotional and psychological demons for most of her life.

She wasn’t the greatest mom.

We parted ways, and it broke the already-broken pieces.

I found the Lord.

I prayed for her salvation for 20 years.

She fell in love with a man who took her to church. Then she fell in love with Jesus.

And for years, neither of us reached out to the other.

I will always wish that the Jesus-loving version of my mom was in my life.

But now I have to move on to the next chapter. I have to face head-on the areas I struggle with on this earth — many of which came from my relationship with my mom — while honoring her faith, and thanking Jesus that He always does what He says He’s going to do.

 

 

 

Truth Reflected (a spoken word poem presented at Southwest Church, Nov., 2013)

mom-child-walk-425jh101209

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am a five-letter word.

M.O.M.M.Y.

I’m not sure what you thought I meant.

I as mommy look different than you as mommy,

It’s not good or bad.

It’s different.

No mother is perfect.

Walk a mile in my shoes,

I’ll drive a mile in your minivan,

and we can meet somewhere in the middle

and quickly learn

that we all birth replicas of our hearts.

They lay in our arms,

Crawl on our floors,

Run through our homes.

Yes, we birth tiny versions of love,

and that is common ground.

Over our swelling hearts we prayed.

In labor we cried out to God.

Through scrapped knees, snotty retorts and missed curfews,

we implore Jesus to help.

So when we walk the aisles of our stores,

and trek through the halls of our schools,

and sit under the roof of this Church,

let us not compare our labels to other women,

since the only thing we know

for certain

is that we serve Jesus and are called according to His purposes.

There is another word.

Not a good one like “mommy.”

It’s four letters.

It stings like the wasp that got me the day I grabbed the hose too fast.

It stings me, right here, every single time.

It’s how I introduce myself,

describe myself.

It’s the reflection I see in a sink full of dirty dish water,

how I define myself when I look into the eyes of my sons and my daughters.

It’s four letters.

J.U.S.T.

I am just a wife.

I just take care of the house.

I don’t work, I just serve at the church.

I am just a mother.

That lie digs deep.

It steals our joy,

and preys on our insecurities.

We are more than just.

So much more.

We are His workmanship.

His chosen ones.

His children.

Tiny replicas of His love.

The sheep of His pasture.

We all gather and kneel at His altars.

We are His.

He owns me and I am totally okay with that.

Also, we are broken.

Hairlines and fault lines and heartache.

Tokens of past mistakes that cause us

to pluck the strings of our hearts

like guitars

and sound a mournful tune of errors made.

So I ask:

How has evilness wrapped its hand around your throat?

What’s your label?

What do you see

as your identity

that makes it so hard to breathe?

A drunk? a user? a cheater? a liar?

A bad wife? Just an okay mother?

Too heavy? Too ugly? Too dumb?

Just so you know,

those are lies.

Every single one.

Forget just.

It’s in the past.

Our past mistakes aren’t even a part of the story reel

that plays today.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.

The old has passed away.

We should count ourselves blessed to have friends

who will remind us of that everyday.

So you can stop calling to mind the former things,

or ponder things of the past.

We’re called to let it go,

lay it down.

Not lay it down while you’re wrapped up in it like a blanket.

It’s more like, burn it and run.

Christ is our defender

and tomorrow’s freedom

will only come from today’s surrender.

We are broken,

but our God, our Potter, He makes us whole.

Sometimes He takes us to a place of brokenness

to perfect His work in us.

At His wheel He shapes and creates.

In wombs He knits.

Were created in His likeness.

Oh yes, there are times we feel battered and are left bleeding,

but we are worth more than

the lies.

The lies that say we’re just….insert something here.

But now, O Lord, You are our Father. We are the clay and You are our Potter

and all of us are the work of Your hand.

He designed us to live wholly, without cracks that slice through and leave

pain in their wake.

In the trials that hurt, we have to see God in the mending.

But the wheels come off and

We forget

That our identity is in Christ.

We drown in the comparisons,

putting the focus on our differences

instead of seeing them for what they are.

They are God’s fingerprints.

We are all loved and pursued by Him

Equally.

A new four-letter word.

Free.

It’s on the parchment.

It was for freedom that Christ set us free

so stand firm

against the enemy’s schemes.

Do not let evilness

tell you that you are not good enough.

Do not let the world set your standard

for attractiveness.

Do. Not. Conform.

Be rebellious against the enemy.

It’s his fist that

beats us down,

but our names are inscribed on the hands

of the One who wears the crown.

And I get it.

Life can be boring.

Laundry and homework and meals and toilets.

Just hear this,

the days are long but the years are short.

Until our tiny heart replicas march off on their own adventures,

they are our adventures.

They are our tears of joy and the reason we cry,

“I love you!”

and

“Knock it off!”

in the same day.

We should see them through the eyes of that friend

who always says,

“Seriously, you have good kids.”

They’re a gift.

We are their mothers.

We should all seek to see that truth reflected

in the eyes of our sons and our daughters.

The Assignment: Kylie Bisutti, a model who shed her wings to soar for Christ

Mike and Kylie (courtesy photo)

Kylie Bisutti is a 21-year-old beauty who has been modeling since she was a young teen.

At just 19 she was named the winner of the first ever Victoria’s Secret Model Search and, donning a pair of wings– the brand’s trademark– she walked the runway in the 2009 Victoria’s Secret annual televised fashion show.

After that, her career took off.

She modeled for magazines like Maxim and FHM, usually scantily clad.

Famous photographers snapped pictures of her frolicking in waves in tiny bathing suits.

She had everything she could possibly want right at her fingertips, but by 2010, she’d had enough.

She decided to walk away from the type of modeling that brought her fame and recognition.

Kylie’s relationship with Christ and her relationship with her husband, Mike, were far more important; her body was for Mike’s eyes and no one else’s, she said. 

She shared her decision with her family and closest friends and quietly moved on to modeling more modestly.

Then about a month ago, Kylie came across Live31, a movement that aims to spread the message of Proverbs 31 to men and women. Live31 began with a Facebook status by Alex Eklund, one of the movement’s founders– “I’d rather have a Proverbs 31 woman than a Victoria’s Secret model.”

Kylie sent Live31 a tweet saying, essentially, “I was a Victoria’s Secret model who quit to be a Proverbs 31 wife.”

She said she felt compelled to share her decision because it fit in so well with the Live31 message.  

Fox News got wind of it and just like that, Kylie was everywhere.

Once again she was making the news. Her face has been splashed across computer and television screens around the world. Recently she’s appeared on Good Morning America, Glenn Beck, CBS This Morning and many others.

This time, she’s using the massive platform to share her faith in Christ.

On a recent afternoon, as Kylie drove through the mountains of Colorado, she and I spoke about her decision to quit modeling lingerie and the positive impact it’s making on her marriage.

She was sincere and humble;  the following are the questions I asked and her candid answers.

Can you give a timeline of your career with VS?

I won the Victoria’s Secret model competition in 2009 and my career catapulted after that. I actually stopped modeling for the company in 2010. That’s when I decided to stop modeling lingerie all together.

When was the exact moment you decided you didn’t want to model lingerie anymore?

There were a lot of things that ended up leading me to the decision, more than one specific moment. I started going to church more and reading the Bible more. Basically it was Christ working in my life and I know everything is in His timing. He has a plan for everything. He used my modeling to bring me to where I’m at now. He showed me I wasn’t honoring my husband or my marriage. My marriage is my most important earthly relationship. When I modeled lingerie, I felt I wasn’t being a Christ-like example.

What is the message behind your decision?

Basically, I think that giving God the glory in everything is the biggest thing for me. He’s really the reason why I’m able to change. I’m just praying that He uses this to help young girls and just show them that they don’t have to dress the way I used to. They don’t have to be half-naked to be beautiful. I’m so much happier finding my worth in Him instead of the attention I was getting before. That’s what true happiness is, salvation through Christ.

How did Victoria’s Secret respond? Have you gotten feedback from the other models?

I got zero negativity from Victoria’s Secret. They’re a really professional brand. I had fulfilled all my contractual commitments with them. I’ve gotten mostly positive feedback from other models. I’ve also received some negative feedback from models, mostly models who think I look down on them for modeling lingerie. I’m not judging them. This is a personal decision for me.

Were you prepared for the media interest in your decision to cease lingerie modeling? What about the images of you modeling lingerie that flooded the Internet and television?

I was not prepared, but I did know it would probably happen. The photos are all out there and online for everyone to see. I can’t control what the media is going to use. It’s a part of my past. It’s a positive thing because people can see where I came from and see where Christ has made changes in my life.

How did your parents feel about your modeling career, particularly with Victoria’s Secret?

They were really supportive. They knew my biggest childhood dream was modeling. My mom is a believer, my dad isn’t. She’s really, really thankful that I’m not modeling lingerie anymore. My dad is happy too.

What was your church-life like growing up?

I wasn’t brought up in any religion and I never went to church. The first time I went to church was with a friend from school when I was 15. I went because the church parties and trips were a lot of fun. When I was 16, Christ truly opened my eyes. I was really depressed when I was younger and after I accepted Christ, I was totally changed. My mom could see it. My brother could see it.

What are your career plans now? Where will you draw the line in terms of what you model?

I’m definitely going to continue modeling, I’m just going to be more discerning with the modeling I do. I would love to speak at conferences for teen girls and at different churches. I’m working on a book about my modeling experiences and finding fulfillment in Christ. My main thing is that I don’t want to be modeling sex. I’ll check to see what message the client wants to get across and if it’s about selling sex, I won’t be taking the job.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I definitely plan on starting my own modest clothing line. A Christian clothing line that’s fashionable at the same time. We’ll maybe have a child by then. I’d like to expand my website and do more speaking engagements at churches. Maybe a second book will be out by then.

You are extremely mature for your age, you also married relatively young. Where does that maturity and confidence come from?

It comes 100 percent from Christ. He’s definitely the reason for all the good things in my life. He’s always molding me and shaping me. I moved to New York when I was 16. I homeschooled online, I was out in the world, going on castings, paying my own bills. I had to grow up faster than most kids my age.

Tell me about your husband.

My husband’s name is Mike. My No. 1 role model in life is Christ, but after Him is my husband. He is the absolute biggest reason I’ve grown in my relationship with God. Mike really does love me like Christ loves the church. He’s in sales, he also does motivational speaking. He’s helped me and shown me so much grace throughout this whole situation. He’s loves God a lot.

I’ve read that your mother-in-law told you about the Victoria’s Secret auditions. How does she feel about your decision to retire from lingerie modeling?

She’s really excited. She’s very thankful. She wrote me an email about how awesome it is and how it must be God doing all the work and how she’s definitely going to church now.

How will your decision to model more modestly impact your children, especially daughter(s)?

I think it’s definitely going to impact them in a huge way. I was talking with my pastor’s wife a while ago about how happy I am that the Lord’s working in my life now so that I can be the right example when I do have children, so that I can show them what true beauty is.

Do you have a favorite Bible verse? If so, what is it? How has scripture helped you through this process?

One of my favorites is Luke 23:34 [But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.] I just love that verse because it shows Christ’s forgiveness and it’s crazy to me that He’s so forgiving and loving. He would even forgive people who were driving nails through His hands and feet. His love for us is beyond words. Reading my Bible has helped bring a lot of peace.

“The Assignment: A closer look at the guys behind the Live31 movement” can be found HERE.

For more information about Kylie, please visit her website at www.KylieBisutti.com.