Sixteen years ago I spent my nights working on a puzzle into the wee hours of the morning.

While I should have been resting for school the next day (I was only seventeen), my mind was too busy for sleep. I was carrying a baby no one knew about. No one who cared anyway.

I told him.

I told him and he didn’t believe me.

I knew something was off when I got sick leaving Woodson High school that evening.

We were supposed to be in night school. We were both there, him a legal adult trying to earn a diploma and me a recovering, lonely young girl.

I went to the True Love Waits purity conference. I recommitted myself to God. I meant it. How could this happen?

So now, each night I focused on piecing together a puzzle until my eyes were too heavy to keep open… piecing together something felt good.

My life could never be put back together.

Not with a baby on the way. I would never go to college. I would never teach like I dreamed of; like that prophetess lady told me at revival.

“I was carrying a baby no one knew about. No one who cared anyway.”

I would have a baby. Then I would struggle for years with alcohol, drugs, working in the sex industry, and ultimately fight for my life trying to leave the abusive relationship that this pregnancy commenced.

But God knew the big picture even when I was blind.

I am in college now. Only four classes from completing my diploma in theology. Will I go on to get my MDiv? Why not?

That baby I became pregnant with was a boy. Brian was born weighing in at 1 lb 8 oz and they said he wouldn’t live.

He is sixteen now. He is honest and has a strong love for the Lord. I birthed four more after him.

At this moment they lay sleeping peacefully upstairs along with my husband who basically rescued me from that horrible relationship with my ex.

And I sit here piecing together a new puzzle, recalling all Jesus has done in my life.

I hear the still small voice reassuring me that, though my desperation looks different these days, He is all I need. I hear Him tell me that it’s ok if I go alone because I am never truly alone.

I see visions of the ministries yet to be birthed through my dedication to Him. I can see it now.

I’m finally starting see the big picture.

It’s beautiful!

I hope you learn to see yours as well. Keeping our eyes fixed on the faithfulness of Jesus always helps the vision.

Till next time.

Your sister,

Monica

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I have spent far too many nights staring into my device as if it was some magical cure for my restlessness. Every time it would disappoint.

I have tried many things over the years. Drugs, alcohol, sex, music, white noise, being close to someone, being away from someone; the list echoes the “tried that” rhetoric of a 12-step program introduction, each option more ridiculous than the last and none too effective.

Most of us just settle in our phones these days. I happen to be on mine right now at 11 pm transcribing this message to you who struggle with me.

The days are too long and never long enough. There is no resting place.

Not in this world anyhow.

I have finally found my rest in the Lord.

It has been quite the arduous journey, but Jesus has been there with me every step of the way.

He sat patiently waiting as I self medicated and attempted to exhaust myself into sleep; softly whispering that I need not struggle any longer.

Many nights I would draw near in prayer and worship and drift off peacefully, but there was always that bottle of Unisom on the nightstand “just in case.”

I clung to the worry that my anxiety would rear its ugly head and I would have no recourse. My pills never stopped the anxiety. They only hastened the exhaustion that was yet to come after a panic attack.

There Jesus sat, sorrowful at my choice to remain bound by this monster, awaiting my surrender.

Tonight He spoke more loudly to me.

Examining the bottle on my nightstand I saw that it was not my sleep aid, but my B-12 I take in the morning. I grasped a cold metal handle and tugged on it. The drawer would not open. I pulled again…

Something must be stuck.

A crystal clear declaration branded itself into my mind as I yanked at the drawer one final time;

“I WILL BE YOUR PEACE!”

My drawer slid loose and I reached inside, lifting a bottle I no longer needed as that peace swept over me. I set it gently on the dresser and chuckled to myself.

This is all I need. The presence and assurance of my Savior.

Sometimes it takes me a while to let go of things I try to put in His place, but He always leads me back. Gently, firmly… with love and peace that surpasses my understanding.

I am grateful. I pray you all sleep as well as I am about to.

Your sister,

Monica

If you’ve ever walked into a church you’ve probably been hurt by it.

It’s when the pastor’s son bullies you and no one stops him or corrects his behavior. You’re only 7 years old but you never forget.

This is church hurt; when the place you thought you could find healing brings agony instead.

The kind of pain that lingers deep inside.

It’s when you’re a lonely teenager from a broken home where you never want to be. You happen upon a church function in your neighborhood and you are hesitantly invited… but then overhear, “why is she here.”

It was said in secret so you don’t confront anyone. The pain stays.

It is when you become a teen mother because of the abyss of loneliness in your childhood home, and you overhear the pastor bashing another pregnant teen.

You feel equally shamed. The pastor said it so it must be true.

The pain stays.

But then the REAL church shows up…

The church that is all African American and accepts a young white boy with grace and love… even though he is bald, pierced and has “S-K-I-N-H-E-A-D” tatted across his knuckles.

You regain hope for the church.

The church that throws your lonely-teen-momma-self a baby shower and cooks for you and takes you shopping for appropriate young women’s clothing to wear.

The church that lets you serve in worship and lead even though you told them you’re only a month out of detoxing from a 5 year alcohol relapse/binge.

You begin to heal a little.

The church that shows up to the hospital when your child has a seizure and to your home when your marriage is falling apart.

The church that counsels and prays for that broken marriage instead of condemning you and telling you to submit to an abusive husband.

I have seen both sides of this crisis in the church.

The pain is real but so is the healing.

I have found healing in forgiveness. The same forgiveness that was extended to me, without limitation, by Jesus.

I have also had to ask forgiveness…

The sins I had minimized as “lesser” had actually created the very same deep pain as those perpetrated against me.

That is the point. We were all guilty. That’s why we need Jesus.

He is STILL the answer to all our troubles.

He is STILL our hope and healing.

Even for #churchhurt.

May you be forgiven and extend forgiveness without reservation.

May you love the church, the broken bunch we are, as Christ loves the church.

Your sister,

Monica

Old wounds heal slow sometimes.

It took me 30 years to realize my earthly father had never really been a father to me. Though I prayed and cried much and received healing, the “loss” of my father could not be mourned in one day.

Our fathers are supposed to love, guide and protect us. For me that was not the case.

I look over photos of families and dads from yesterday and my heart breaks a little for what I missed out on. Instead of images of love I recall scenes of drama and violence.

“I can choose to see him as a child of God instead of an evil man.”

Father’s Day isn’t normally hard for me because I just don’t pay much attention to it.

I grew up celebrating my mother that day because she did everything for us and so I was taught that she should get honor on Father’s Day. It was just deflecting.

No one wanted to talk about my father or the hurt that surrounded the topic of his absence.

I tried to call him yesterday. Thought it was the decent thing to do. On the other end I heard the tone for a disconnected phone. I haven’t heard from him in months, not since my brother in law passed and I saw my father at the funeral.

Everyone wanted to ignore him then too.

I couldn’t. He is a hurting human being after all and everyone should be extended comfort in a situation like that.

I had an opportunity to show the compassion I had never received from him. I sat next to him and held his aging hand. I did my best to calm everyone when he started showing out for attention. I couldn’t help but wonder if he wouldn’t seek it so much had we just shown the love he was so desperately craving.

But none of us knew how to love well as children and our parents weren’t in the position to teach us back then.

I know how to love today.

I know that I can honor my father even though, the morning after Father’s Day, I am suddenly in tears because I don’t have one.

I can choose to see him as a child of God instead of an evil man.

It is not the people of this world but the forces of another we are up against.

I can choose to hold sorrow in my heart momentarily instead of building a permanent mass of bitterness toward him.

I can share this with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the world and hope that you find strength for the same forgiveness if you have endured an absent or abusive father.

As Christ forgave and loved us, may we also forgive and love.

Your sister,

Monica

Last night I realized that my current favorite worship song requires only 4 chords on the guitar!!! Needless to say I spent some time worshipping and crying my eyes out because, let’s be honest… who doesn’t cry when Reckless Love comes on?!

(Unless of course you have defense mechanisms against the “feels” )

I stayed up late enough to find this out because I was having trouble sleeping. My heart was full and a bit broken at the same time (a common paradox for anyone in ministry.)

I was rejoicing in the fact that our oldest daughter and our niece were just baptized!

Rochelle’s baptism:

Jayla’s baptism:

Praise the Lord!

On the other hand, I have had some very real, very constant let downs.

I’m not one to get crushed by the big stuff. It’s the little every day battles that eventually wear me down.

Last night was one of those nights. I was depleted.

So I went to my prayer room, plugged in my phone (that was almost dead from overuse playing meaningless game apps that brought me absolutely NO peace), and proceeded to search up guitar chords so I could get right in the presence of my Savior.

Amid my sobbing a certain line stuck out to me. “When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me. You have been so, so good to me.”

Instantly I remembered that this reckless love holds a unique answer to my heartache. Not only did Jesus pursue me in a way that could not be defeated even by my worst sins, but we are to pursue others the same.

It is by loving like Him that I walk in freedom.

I must love in a way that is unrestrained and is not limited by sin or emotions or even real, unjust events that occur. Absolutely NOTHING can take precedent over the love of Christ flowing unhindered through me and into this hurting world.

This is what God calls “good.”

Still, I don’t like it.

I don’t prefer to be “the one” who is “always” patient and feeling let down. I want relief. But I’ll tell you this:

The Lord has also shown me some deep truths about Him that I may have never learned if I were not experiencing what He goes through while loving us.

“When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me.”

And THAT is the real goal in life. To know God and be known by Him.

We do this by following Jesus.

Becoming Christlike is a journey that is full of pain at times. The reality is that we are going to have pain in this world regardless of our beliefs. But, when we are redeemed and have hope in the Lord, His Spirit can meet us right in the middle of despair and comfort can begin to flow in and from that wound.

When you deny the Lord access to these places, you deny Him the canvas upon which He would display your miracle.

You may not be able to handle the darkness but He can. Open up today. Call on Jesus who is your truest friend. Pour your heart out. You won’t regret it!

Maybe you’ll end up like me… starting with agony and ending in authentic smiles of gratitude and joy.

May He heal all your wounds, even now. Even today!

Your sister,

Monica

All of us have struggled with insecurity and people pleasing at some point in our lives.

We are afraid, somewhere deep down, that we will be intentionally left out, neglected, or worse… that no one will even see us.

For some of us, these things actually happen.

In our early formative years we are exposed to abuse and lies in such high doses that our fears are reinforced. We lack God-fearing parental figures that should be speaking life to our fear and telling us the truth: that God does see and love us and that He will never leave or forsake us.

We begin to form our lives around these lies, decision after decision. We spend years trying to fit in and measure up, then spend the rest of our lives trying to figure out who we really are. There has been so much compromise, however, that we rarely know where to begin.

People pleasing always leads to compromise of integrity and muddied self image.

You cannot go through life attempting to make people around you happy while simultaneously ensuring your identity and character do not suffer.

This should be a problem isolated to those who have not been found in Christ. Still, so many Christians struggle with the opinions of others and allow their desire for approval to dictate the way they behave. They allow this desire for approval to inform who they are.

The biggest issue with this behavior is that it is directly opposed to the gospel.

People pleasing stems from who we think we are, not what we do. It is a behavioral consequence to a misinformed identity.

Every human is a “being” before they are “doing”.

That is why Jesus so often discussed the state of the heart as the real issue. Who you ARE determines what you DO.

This subsequent, sinful behavior (yes, people pleasing is a sin) is a symptom of our separation from God. Paul goes so far as to say that he would not be a servant of Christ if he were going about people pleasing. This is a thing that pagans do, not children of God.

However, it is not the sin itself that is so deadly but our separation from the Lord, which is breeding ground for sin in action.

People pleasing and desire for approval of man is no different. Many people have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and wonder why they remain at a distance from God in this area of their life…

May I propose that distance from God cannot be compartmentalized? You are either distant from Him, or you are not.

The difference between a nonbeliever who is distant from God and a Christian who is distant from God, is that the Holy Spirit is received within the believer…

Distance from the Lord as a believer is actually not possible.

The perception of that disconnectedness is based, always, on sentiment and the decision to believe a lie about who you really are.

When we neglect to continually “receive” the Holy Spirit (just admit it, we all have times we’d rather kick Him out), this creates a type of “distance” whereby insecurity creeps in and boldly declares:

“You are not enough. Prove it!”

Placating and seeking approval of other sinful humans occurs solely because we forget that we have already been justified.

To counter this, we must remember who we are in Him. Namely who He is and what He has done for us, and then allow that holy identity to dictate our actions.

The anecdote for bouts of people pleasing (and the compromised integrity that comes along with this evil perspective that man’s opinion matters any, if at all) is to be reminded that we are loved and justified by the Lord.

Not only that we are loved in the comforting sense but that we are loved in the sense that He disciplines us.

Scripture says the Lord disciplines those whom He loves. We do not limit ourselves to receiving only feel-good experiences, but we are open to receiving His correction knowing that He has paid the price and made us acceptable.We will never be rejected!

This is an indispensable facet of the issue because our whole purpose for people pleasing is the desire to avoid negative feedback; desire to avails rejection.

In the Lord, discipline is administered from a loving God who refuses to leave us the way we are, andWILL NEVER REJECT US!

Once we know we are loved in this way, forgiven in this way… man’s opinion remains just that; an opinion.

It does not become fact.

It does not become something that we need to strive every day to live up to so that we can be accepted by the world. A world, mind you, that still rejects our Lord.

We can rest in Him and find strength in the fact that Jesus endured the same struggle. Jesus said the student is not above his teacher, and God loves us just as he loves Jesus!

Jesus speaks this love when He prays in chapter 17 of John:

I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.

May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.

I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one.

I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am. Then they will see My glory, which You have given Me because You loved Me before the world’s foundation.

Righteous Father! The world has not known You. However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.

I made Your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.

John 17:20-26

We can be confident of these things because of Jesus’s prayer:

1) We are enough. We are complete in Him and community with one another as a reflection of Him.

2) We are loved and known beyond what we can possibly imagine. We are loved by the Father just as He has loved Jesus!

3) All glory we have is from God and rightly belongs to Him. Keeping any for ourselves is a symptom that we are believing a lie: that we have separated our “glory” from His.

So, next time you are tempted to please someone (including yourself since that is ultimately what “people pleasing” is), remember Jesus’s prayer.

Remember these truths.

When you are rejected, it is not you the world is rejecting but Christ in you.

When you are accepted, be a vessel that flows both ways bringing the glory of heaven to earth and the earthly praise back to the Father.

May you walk in truth today, knowing you are complete, loved, and accepted by the God who has brought you out of bondage to yourself and others.

My prayer for you is that you never again return to that barren place.

Your sister,

Monica

Over the last couple of weeks it has come to my attention that there are certain things, certain patterns, in my life that I do not possess the power to break.

Of course I am aware that without the Lord I am unable to do many things. But what I’m talking about here is habitual, patterns of sin and my frustration in not being able to overcome them.

These patterns of sin have a way of wearing us down. We battle them in our own power for so long, trying to move the mountain of self will run riot, and then give up. We decide to just “live with it”.

When I came to Christ I walked away from many things that I knew were not glorifying to Him and who I wanted to be in Him.

Other things, these habits, were not so easy to leave behind.

In fact I discussed one of these things in my last blog post. It happens to be something that many of us struggle with. Especially the moms out there.

As usual God was right on time with an answer.

No sooner had I published the blog post, than I received a solution. Sitting in my Theology and Practice of Ministry class, I listened carefully to the wise words of my teacher (a woman with twenty plus years of ministry under her belt, the type of woman we need more of in the church).

Her words, though convicting, fell like a soft embrace around my open wounds of doubt. “I know the Lord is capable, but I am incapable. Why can I not change my behavior?” I bemoaned.

“They are patterns. You must pray “God, cause me ________.”

As wonderful as this sounded and comforting as it was (because any option was better than nothing and I had exhausted them all), my hope was seasoned with reservation.

Thank the Lord only a mustard-seed-sized faith is enough!

Since that day (exactly six days ago) I have begun every morning with that prayer.

“Father, cause me. Cause me to be more kind with my words and tone toward my children. Cause me to walk in Your Will and not my own.”

Make me do it!

Order my steps in Your Word!

There was a time I hurled similar words at my earthy parents, but they were meant to be challenging rather than submissive.

I now bring that same zeal, that same stubbornness, to the Lord in my request.

I have always been rough around the edges. Unrefined, raw, and wild. I thought for a long time that God wanted me to calm down. To be pleasant, sweet and light like some of my Christian sisters. Not so. As I wrote recently in a private worship moment:

“I was wild and running from You

Never wanting to be tamed

Come to find all You desire

Is that I’m wild for Your name”

It was quite a relief to realize that I was not in sin because of who I am; I am not fundamentally flawed in some way. God has made me exactly as I am supposed to be and redeems me from sin I impose upon His perfect creation.

I was simply misusing my zeal!

He made me to be passionate, wild, and even aggressive at times. This is a reflection of Him and His kingdom!

Does this look tame to you? Because it’s the image God chose to use to describe Himself and His people are in His image…

The problem is that I kept taking the ‘easy’ way out (in hindsight it was SO not easier!) But, it was less work upfrontto throw my will and weight around than to go toe-to-toe with an Almighty God and beg Him to “make me do it” His way.

Now, I ask. And He answers!

Each day becomes easier as I press into His will and choose surrender. His yoke is truly light in contrast to the weight I was lugging around!

And the best part? I get to be me! Thereal me who is found in Him! I don’t have to sacrifice my zeal, I just have to re-purpose it. To rightly purpose it in a way that honors His will instead of my own.

Why on earth would I do that?

Because He loves me and He made me!

He alone knows the plans for my life and He has designed me specifically for each task.

You are no different.

I pray that this simple prayer is a blessing to those of you who still struggle like I have. I’m sure I will continue, as is our life in this flesh, but I pray all of us find increasing freedom with each new day.

Be who you truly are in Him. Submit that self to His will daily, beg for His intervention, and watch the miracles form from the inside out.

This, my friends, is how we change the world! One person at a time; starting with the self (which only God can change).

Until next time, may you be encouraged and conscious of the God who is always lovingly conscious of you.

Your sister,

Monica