Photoblog

A Priceless Work of Art

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March 16, 2017

 

Museum, Art, Kansas City, Nelson Atkins Museum
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO

One of my favorite places in all of Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As a preschooler in the ’80s I walked those gray marble halls to my first art class in the museum’s lower level and still, to this day, wonder whether that waxy security guard just might be real. A trip to the museum isn’t complete until I stand face to canvas before my favorite painting, Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines (1873-74). It depicts a city view of wintry Paris…(continue reading HERE)

 

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Claude Monet, 1873 Boulevard de Capucines

Words and Spices of Autumn

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September 16, 2016

The crock pot is set to low and your house will smell like roasting potatoes and butternut squash soup in a matter of hours (none of which your kids will eat likely eat, but you don’t even care because Fall and Pinterest trump chicken nuggets tonight). Last year’s pumpkin spice candle glows on the kitchen counter, and you’re cozied up on the couch in your favorite oversized sweatshirt, a steaming mug of tea warming your chilled fingertips and your favorite new book open on your blanket covered lap. Autumn is upon us, friends. Unplan accordingly.

The above description is dreamy, isn’t it? It’s Friday and our forecast here in the PNW is calling for colored leaves and cool air. I hope your (and my) weekending goals are at least punctuated with rest and recharge. To get us all started off here’s a little inspiration from my autumn loving heart to yours…

Crock Pot Goals start right here, friends. Don’t even tell me you don’t like butternut squash because I won’t believe you. It only tells me you lack squash cooking creativity.

1466104837027This is the book you’ll want with your tea this fall. Have you preordered this book yet? Yes? I can’t wait to hear what you think of Shannan’s courageous story of faith and surrender. No? Go order it quick because it officially releases on Tuesday the 20th, so there’s still time to grab up the freebies offered HERE. You’ll want to have a copy to underline every other sentence and lend out to friends so you can chat about the heart changes God is doing in you because of Shannan’s journey.

harvest-blend-teaFinally, I leave you with my favorite autumn tea. Since we don’t have a Trader Joe’s up here I urge you to enjoy it on my behalf. I can almost smell the spicy brew from here…

Happy Weekending to you all! May your crock pots be bubbly and book pages turning this fall. Let me know if there’s a tea up here in Canada you think I need to try out! I’m always up for new suggestions 🙂

~ Jena

When Words Don’t Fit

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September 13, 2016

The city library five blocks from our house has a huge neon sign out front lighting up the corner of a bustling intersection in downtown Vancouver. It reads, “The Words Don’t Fit the Picture”. Tonight I’m sitting at a Starbucks counter enjoying my first PSL of the season (decaf) with that very sign in view over my shoulder outside. These days new experiences are coming faster than my words. I daydream of writing projects and goals, but real life is loud here, so professional pursuits simmer at a low heat on the back burner. Homeschooling three kids is a full-time gig (did I mention one of them is taking geometry?? One word: proofs. Feel my pain). Setting up a new life in an unfamiliar city takes extra focus and energy. One day last week we went (tried) to go to the grocery store. Twice. Only to return with zero food (long story short, don’t drive in an urban core and expect parking spots at rush hour and always bring your wallet with you when you grocery shop). Takeout sushi. Again.

I’d love to sit down and write a book about how I’ve seen God at work this past year. How He’s faithful to grow new life through our brokenness, and I how know that to be true more today than ever before. I’d love to compose chapters about how God is more complex, loving, and grace giving than we can ever wrap our minds around, and how Jesus invites us, His broken and bruised children, to shine out of dark places. Finally, I’d love to tell you a word story about home. How our hearts long for a home that isn’t here, and every disappointment is a grace moment to point us away from the temporary and into eternity.

But I have 18 minutes left until I need to pick up my 13 year old from a new youth group gathering. She walked into a crowded room of unknown peers with courageous nerves tonight. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of her than I was tonight watching her introduce herself to strangers as I turned to walk away leaving God to shine right through her broken places too.

I’ll keep writing when I’m graced with time, but for now let me leave you with a few of my favorite views from the beautiful British Columbia…

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The Bridge (Revisited)

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August 24, 2016

Nearly a year and a half ago in April of 2015 I couldn’t sleep, so I sat up in bed, grabbed my laptop and wrote with only the glow of the screen lighting my dark bedroom. What I wrote then was a belief, an image in my mind of a journey and the faith it takes to step into the unknown. Fast forward to July 2016 where I stood waiting my turn to cross this bridge dangling hundreds of feet above a rainforest floor 2000 miles away from home and all things familiar. I had no idea the fiction piece I wrote back in 2015 for an audience of amazing women would be my factual life today. Truth? I’m mid-bridge. It’s swaying. My knuckles are white from holding on for dear life, but I’m moving forward one faith step at a time and I’m constantly praying, ‘Lord, help me run.’  (Read the original post below)

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Best pic I could grab on a swaying crowded bridge
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Blurry pic because the bridge is swaying!

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2015
The Bridge

One more step and I’d be on the bridge. Am I ready? Glancing over my shoulder at the well-worn dirt path behind me I notice for the first time how wide and sure it was. Back on that smooth terrain I even ran for a time feeling swift and empowered. I saw God’s glory in the sunsets and budding daisies. I heard His creation cries in the dove’s song and sensed his presence in the cool breeze. Not long ago, a friendly traveler handed me a trail map just to make my travels easier. He’d mentioned not wanting me to have to think too much, and pointed out an easier path, but it seemed to go in circles and it proved to always take me where I didn’t want to go so I threw it aside. Today the path began to wind higher and higher as I sensed God calling me forward with every uphill stride. I couldn’t run anymore and my legs grew weary from the climb, but when I reached the top of the mountain and looked across the expanse I knew there is so much more to this journey than I had ever dared to dream. The only way to get there was by crossing the bridge. Dare I admit I don’t like heights? There, just within sight at the far end of the bridge was an illuminated path. It was narrower than the one I’d previously traveled, but its beauty was indescribably inviting. Somehow I knew it was meant for me, and I was meant to have faith in its unseen destination. I just had to cross the bridge to get there.
Taken in with the inviting splendor of this newfound journey I step forward and hear the creaking of aged wood under my feet. Noticing for the first time how high the bridge suspends over the valley and how feeble the planks are sitting on the age-old ropes, I quickly retreat back onto solid ground. The pounding of my heart quieting as I glance behind me at the old familiar comforts of the known path. I was happy enough back there, for a time. Should I just turn around and walk back down the mountain? Familiarity entices and soothes my fears. God blessed me on that journey once, I’m sure he’ll do it again. Right? My heart knew the answer before I even turned to face the bridge again. My goal isn’t to be the lifelong recipient of good gifts. Somewhere along that path my heart tasted freedom and now it wants more…more than what meets the eye. The unknown depth of my soul’s longing is to experience this journey fully surrendered to God’s wild frontier. To stop clinging to my perceived control and get on the bridge.
So I step forward, trembling inch by inch. The bridge sways in the wind and sounds of falling boards ricochet and crack in the blackened valley below. Fear calls from the depths of my soul urging me to retreat to safety. Should I go back? The answer explodes from a newly awakened space in my heart and mind. Never. I grip the rail as tight as I can and run, tripping on loose boards, hands burning from holding on so tightly, fear warning me to stop, but running…and all the way laughing for the joy of finally living.
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Following Jesus is a journey. At unexpected moments, He calls us out farther and deeper than we ever imagined going, but with Him all things are possible to him who believes (Mark 9:23). Believing He is with us, his peace guarding our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:13) as we surrender every moment, even our most paralyzing fears, to Him who pours out his love for us (Romans 5:5) is our greatest adventure.
Where do you see yourself on your journey? Where do you see God? What fears lie beneath your bridge keeping you from experiencing the freedom of fully surrendering to Jesus? Where has God’s love been so evident to you along the way?

Light Switched (in Dark Places)

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August 5, 2016

“It never gets dark here,” I overheard her say talking to her long distance friend on the phone and from her seven-year-old perspective she was right. We draw curtains and close blinds to block out the city lights here at night. By contrast, the home we left back on the suburban prairie is blanketed in star-studded darkness every nightIMG_4869. She’s seven and doesn’t differentiate between artificial and natural light sometimes. It all brightens her night. It all allows her to see through the dark.

Here in this place I’m learning to differentiate artificial light from real light. What I’m discovering is that I’ve grown used to living in well lit places. No life is without challenge and difficulty (and I (we) had them) but there’s something about being surrounded by familiar and reliable people and places that prevented me from having to reach too far. When life grew dark, flip- I’d reach for a switch and flip on a comforting light. The light switches I’d turn on weren’t artificial or fake, they’re just reflections of a greater Light. God is love and heaven if real, so reflections of those things aren’t artificial but we do need to know their Source. We need to know their source of “goodness” because they’re not guaranteed, but their Source is.

It doesn’t take long to grow used to convenient light switches. My eyes adjusted to
comfortable living in reflected light with neighbors who love us well, dropping kids off at schools where I could predicted their challenges with pretty good accuracy, grocery stores with full-size parking spots, affordable housing options, coaches and teams who knew my kids by name and skill, culture underlined with faith and family, a collection of Anthropologie and Starbucks mugs filling designated cabinets to remind of us generous friends and memorable travels, almost every major highway leaving our city led us to family a short drive away, and a church we called home because it felt like it; all good, rich, wonderful parts of a beautiful life.

Uncertainty of our timeline and next ‘home’ looks dark today and unfamiliarity in a crowded city grows dark day after day. Starting school from our apartment table without a community and back-to-school photos looks dark this month. Since light switches are fewer and far between right now (and I’m thankful for each and every one), God is adjusting my vision to see Him as my unchanging source of light in a fresh way. I’m relying on His Word to guide my heart. Cliché’ faith-isms are dropping off by the day as I read words like these in Psalm 71: 14-15, “But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day” and these in Romans 5:3-5, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance IMG_4853develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.”

Here’s Light and Truth for today: everything I’ve preached, written, parented, taught, and believed about God is not less true in dark circumstances, it’s more true. His Word, His presence, His Grace…it’s brighter than ever before. In our unraveling, grace is like a light flooding the darkness. And those light switches…yah, I reach for the ones I still have and are thankful they’re there…FaceTime with loved ones, good health, a rewarding career for hubs that gives us opportunities like this one, gorgeous weather in BC, a house on the suburban prairie 2000 miles away waiting for us, a hobby/job I can do from anywhere, and 3 amazing kids who have ROLLED through these uncertainties like rock stars, but I’m seeing them for what they are and God for who He is.

Our circumstances aren’t well lit right now. Our future location and whereabouts is dim, at best, but it’s bright here in a way I can’t always explain. Hope is like that, we can’t always define it but it gives us vision for seeing through the dark when fix our eyes on it.

Thank you for your texts, FB and IG messages, phone calls, FaceTimes, and most of all prayers. You have no idea (unless I’ve told you) how timely they all have been an what an answer to prayer you are in our lives!  Go flip a switch and give thanks for its Source!

 

500 Square Feet of Perseverance

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July 22, 2016

The combination of living out of 500 square feet and adventuring around a new city with my three daughters means our quantity and quality family hours logged are off the charts. Are you reading between the lines? There should be awards for this level of family-ing. We’re unavoidably facing each other’s shortcomings and longcomings (whatever those are. I’m sure we’ve dealt with them this week). Feel free to not quote me on these mom-isms…

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A city full of views.

“You can get mad but then you just have to be mad right here with us.” (daydreaming of our 3 level house in these moments)

“You’ll know when we’re there when we get there.”

“If you verbally beat down your sisters then you’ll be dealing with verbally beat down sisters.”

“Stop touching ALL the food.” (hotel breakfast day 11)

“Nope, I’m not ready to go yet.” (1 bathroom)

“Fruit Loops don’t actually count as a fruit….or breakfast” (trying not to be ‘that mom’ but totally being ‘that mom’)

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Beach soccer with a new beach friend.

Reality is our days can get derailed faster than the Vancouver SkyTrain by poor attitudes (mine included), shortsighted perspectives (mostly mine) and careless words (sometimes mine too). When it happens we have to work together to turn things back around or we’re all miserable. Together. It’s not unique to our current life stage. Wrecked plans and hurt feelings happened back at home too, but here I’m facing them with fewer distractions, a wide open calendar, new clarity and necessity for quick resolution and restoration. Here’s 3.5 ways to get your day and attitudes back on track…

1. The 20 Second Hug. Don’t underestimate the importance of the full 20 seconds. Try it. Melting begins around second 12. If you give up after 18 seconds you’ll never realize the power (props for this tactic go to my bro and sis-n-law).

2. Read aloud. It’s magical. Read aloud for good times and bad. Don’t leave home without your book because it works on the road too. Win-win (three pages for complaining before anyone exits the car). Someone’s going to email me and suggest I may be ruining reading for my kids. There’s no way to ruin ‘Love, Ruby Lavender’, promise.

3. Last but not at all least, apologize, forgive and move on. Quickly. Move on, Mom. Get over yourself (pardon me while I preach to myself).

FullSizeRender-14Nothing magical, but just a few lessons learned-ing. No matter where we go, there we are, and a change of scenery doesn’t change our hearts. God does. I’m thankful He’s handed me this magnifying glass on our hearts for this season. We’re dealing and He’s healing.

Wait. Where’s the 1/2 to my 3 1/2? It was the God part. It’s only a 1/2 because I don’t know how to make it an exponent on the keyboard 😉 God changes hearts. Talk to Him in the unraveling moments and ask Him to deal with the unseen brokenness like only He can do, and be willing to follow His abounding grace.

 

We are Vancouver Bound!

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July 8, 2016

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We’re seizing an opportunity to head up to Vancouver, British Columbia for a season (If you’re not brushed up on your Canadian geography, it’s on the far west coast). It’s 1,982 miles from our door step here in Kansas City to our place in Vancouver, if you’re wondering. We have more unanswered questions than answered ones. We don’t know how long our stay will be (2 months or years). Doubts and fears lurk around every unknown when you’re uprooting three kids from their predictable, comfortable routines, but we’re confident in one thing; life is a voyage and God is steering this ship.

There’s a song by Hillsong United that sums up willingness to step away from a full life we love called “Captain”. Here’s a portion of the lyrics below but click HERE to hear the entire song.

Through waters uncharted my soul will embark

I’ll follow Your voice straight into the dark
And if from the course You intend I depart
Speak to the sails of my wandering heart

Like the wind
You’ll guide
Clear the skies before me
And I’ll glide this open sea
Like the stars
Your Word
Will align my voyage
And remind me where I’ve been
And where I am going

Beautiful, right? Well, turns out it’s not only beautiful but true. Our voyage is aligned by God’s eternally lit vision even when we can’t see through the dark. Our wandering hearts aren’t left to drift without purpose or plan, but are called to new places and new people for a reason even if only for a season. I know where I’ve been and I know ultimately where I’m headed. I trust our Captain to carry us through uncharted waters whether that’s in run down house off Paseo Blvd, an upstairs apartment in the middle of Missouri, a newly finished house on wide open prairie, a quaint townhouse blocks from Lake Ontario, a suburban Kansas City cul-de-sac with neighbors we love, or a place we’ve yet to lay eyes on in Vancouver, British Columbia. We do not have to leave home in order to live a life of adventure, but you do have to be willing.

In January I wrote about my word for 2016, ‘willing’. I prayerfully choose a word each year and this year ‘willing’ is definitely a theme of my life. Am I willing to tell my story to whoever God places before me? Am I willing to align my plans to God’s? Am I willing to home school for a season (hello, geometry with my 8th grader?!) so we can travel as a family? Am I willing to trust when fear pounds on my heart? Am I willing to say ‘see you later’ to people I LOVE and a life I am so comfortable in to see what God has for us elsewhere? Yes…here I am, send me.

However, My word for 2017 is going to be ‘lottery winner’ –choose your words wisely, is all I’m saying 😉

Here’s my invitation for you: journey with us! I’ll be writing about our travels and what it looks like to find a “new normal” away from home. I’ll do my best to share the hard and best parts of our adventures. I’ll try and take photos that stir your heart at home and give you glimpses into our craziness (join me over on Instagram, @jena_unravelgrace). Our phones and emails will remain the same or feel free to comment below and I’ll be sure to get back with you.

UnFullSizeRender-11til then, I leave you with a couple of Kansas City proud ‘see you later’ gifts from some amazing friends. They know me well, and I cannot wait to see you all again soon.

 

A Forest of Weeds

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June 3, 2016

My feet fell in a steady rhythm as I pushed the sidewalk behind me on another sunset run. Cool evening air and long shadows make me a fair weather runner this time of year. My feet were light, but my heart was unusually heavy, so I pounded on hoping to outrun my thoughts.

I came around the curve on the sidewalk where tall trees give way to wild prairie flowers and I stopped. Truthfully, my heart and thoughts paused long before my feet when I saw the scene stretching out before me. Instantly, I realized why my heart felt heavy. The weeds in my life- the messiness, the unknown, the what-if, the worry- had grown into a forest of giants right before my distracted eyes.

I needed a fresh perspective. I know to fix my eyes back on the One that puts all other things into their rightful place, but I needed to stop running and do it. So I bent low and tilted my lens to capture this moment of unraveling life and abounding grace.

 

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Then I stood up and pointed my lens behind me to see the shadows of what was compared to the Source of Life right in front of me. The weeds went from light blocking giants to light covered paths in my hindsight. Even my shadow covered their blooms. We say God is good, but it can feel shallow and trite. We say God is in control, but we worry and fret our words and emotions. What if we don’t like His plan? What if it hurts? What if we have to watch those we love the most suffer? Is God and His plans still good?

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It depends on our perspective. It’s not what if, but why. Why do I trust during uncertainty? Because God knows and sees. Why can peace be my constitution when fear threatens? Because the deepest, truest part of me is more than a conqueror. When mole hills begin to look like mountains we can stand up on a Rock that doesn’t move, and see from a higher perspective. We can fix our eyes to what’s right under our feet and let weeds look like giants, or we can tilt our perspective up and out to see a bigger, eternal picture. Our hearts can’t beat for eternity just yet and our eyes cannot envision it today, but hope knows it and faith perceives it, even when our earthly senses cannot.

Let’s run our races to strengthen and nurture our faith senses; the eyes to see and ears to hear God both in and above the weeds. There’s no place to low or too high where we can outrun God’s love. He sees it all with eyes fully lit of eternity, and offers it to us grace-by-grace, one eternal perspective moment at a time.

“So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever”. 2 Cor 4:18 NLT

Be the Sister

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May 26, 2016

“Go make it right with her.” It’s my most popular mom-ism lately. We’re one week into summer and my three daughters are squaring off over everything from sharing a coveted pack of gum to whose responsibility it is to haul in the slew of riding toys left in the cul-de-sac after dark. No object or opinion is safe from swift sisterly accusations at any given moment. This morning it was a 4” stuffed toy dog that through my two youngest into fits of kicking and hysterics. I was tempted to remove the dog, but it wasn’t really the dog’s fault. I was tempted to remove the children, but it was raining outside and some people might frown on inclement weather parenting tactics. The only remaining choice was to remove myself, so I laid ground rules and stepped away. They had to make it right with each other. That means, address the other person’s specific hurts with apologies and accept forgiveness as well. After all, I’m raising daughters today, but I’m raising sisters for life.                                                                                                IMG_1915I’m a mom raising up daughters who will go on to be someone else’s best friend, my grandchildren’s aunts, someone’s sister-in-law, a college roommate, teammates, leaders, employees…More importantly I’m raising sisters: my girls are sisters within our immediate family but also sisters to future friends and family as well (to my children’s future in-laws, you’re welcome). My parenting goal is to raise up girls into women who know the influence and value they have within relationships. Life is fuller and richer when we know our role and live with purpose. As daughters of God we have a sisterhood because we share a common Heavenly Father with anyone in God’s family. This sisterhood comes with certain responsibilities and honors. What defines a sister?

For starters…

Sisters love confidently and generously

Sisters don’t care if your room, house, or life is a mess

Sisters sit by your side during mundane hours

Sisters are quick to laugh and cry with you

Sisters hold each other accountable

Sisters show up

Sisters cheer you on when you doubt yourself

Sisters stand by your side when life hurts

Sisters remember

Sisters say sorry and expect the same in return

Sisters can’t wait to tell you about their latest find

Sisters live with a holy confidence for themselves and others

Sisters celebrate when you succeed

Sisters understand seasons and minds change

Sisters talk with their Heavenly Father on their sisters’ behalf

Who comes to mind when you read this list? Who are the people in your sisterhood? Have you let them know how much you appreciate and treasure them lately? Be the sister you want others to be for you. Relationships are never perfect, but the best ones are so worth it all.

 

Unseen Broken

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May 17, 2016

Last weekend I spent Mother’s Day talking to a couple thousand of my closest friends at Heartland Community Church. The idea for the message I shared came from two places: First, the heartwarming childhood memories I have from my grandma’s garden. Second, from this question I asked God back in February,

God, what do I do with my unseen broken?

Every painful experience, hard memory, bad decision, selfish ambition, broken relationship tucked away inside my ‘heart’– We all have them, right? Those experiences and memories we’d rather keep buried in the dark because it’s not who we are anymore? However, like weeds in a flower garden our unseen broken will eventually manifest itself into our words, decisions, perspective, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts if we just ignore it. Then what do we do? If we claim to be Christians, how do we live out of the freedom, love, and joy Jesus gives us and be authentic about what’s going on in our heart and mind?

So, I asked the question and here’s what I’ve been learning…

Our Unseen Broken is like a seed. Seeds soften and break open so they can grow new life. When we break before a grace-giving, all-loving, all-knowing God He transforms our broken places into new life, rooted and growing in Jesus. Growth takes time, roots grow in dark places, and new life looks fragile in the beginning but we can have an eternal perspective of our brokenness and see it as a starting place for the lasting work God is doing in us each and every day.

God transforms our unseen broken into new life

Full Mother’s Day sermon HERE

I concluded the Mother’s Day sermon with a story about the ultimate Unseen Broken, sin. Here it is. It’s God’s story, but it’s our story too…

I began today with a story set in a garden and I’m going to finish with a story set in a garden, but this time it’s God’s story and it all begins in the Garden of Eden, where a piece of fruit broke open and sin entered God’s perfect world. It was a brokenness that went unseen, under the surface planting itself in every ounce of creation breaking apart the whole, perfect relationship God had with His children. To everyone and everything that could not see the big picture it looked like a total loss, brokenness beyond repair. But God spoke of a Hope that pointed His children towards something they couldn’t see with their eyes, but had to trust Him in their hearts. He had a plan to make all the brokenness whole once again…

But it would take another garden and this time we see Jesus, God’s only Son, here on Earth as one of us yet still perfectly God, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s face down praying, sweating blood, feeling sorrow to the point of death. He’s breaking for us.  He is about to take on the Unseen Broken of all of Creation—the very seed of death, that was planted in His beloved world, back in that first garden and He was going to let it break Him. Jesus who had no brokenness in Him took on yours and mine and my kids, your family, my parents, your parents…we all carry it in us and He took it all. God uprooted it out from its hiding place and laid on Jesus on the cross and He died taking our punishment to His grave. Our broken savior was buried in a dark place, and on the third day it was from that exact place of brokenness where Jesus rose to new life defeating the power of sin, our ultimate unseen broken, once for us all.

There is nothing in you or about you too dark or too broken that God, the great REDEEMER, cannot bring to new life again. Ask Him. Invite Him in. Follow Him. Grow in Him. And see for yourself if you won’t overflow in thankfulness for a God who brings new life from broken places.