Dressember: An Interview with Amy Morgan and Meredith Loss

There are some issues of social justice that feel so big, it can be overwhelming to think about how one person can make a difference. Human trafficking is certainly one of those issues. In this podcast episode, I was honored to interview two of my friends, Amy Morgan and Meredith Loss, to talk about how through participating in Dressember they are using fashion to help raise awareness of human trafficking.

My two podcast guests, Meredith Loss and Amy Morgan

Along with thousands of other Dressember participants, they have chosen to wear a dress each day of December in order to raise awareness and funds to help in the war against human trafficking. During this episode, they both share how they got involved with Dressember, how they logistically do the challenge for a month, and how others can get involved.

This conversation was a lot of fun because Meredith and Amy are real-life friends. We talked about everything from Dressember, to “thrifting”, to what we’re currently reading. Amy and Meredith also shared their favorite Scripture passages and who inspires them.

If, after listening to this podcast, you are interested in learning more about Dressember, you can visit the website for the Dressember Foundation. During our conversation, Amy also mentioned a Ted Talk by Blythe Hill, Dressember’s founder, that covers more about the motivation for and passion behind the movement: How a Dress Can Change the World.

If something about this podcast episode resonated with you, please comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. I hope it inspires you to know that everyone can do something to help change the world and spread light in dark places.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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Almost There

Advent brings with it the anticipation of a celebration. The word “advent” means: “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” I did not grow up in a church that celebrated Advent or lit candles, so I am later in coming around to the traditions surrounding it. For those of you who may also wonder about the celebration of Advent, the season is ushered in the fourth Sunday before Christmas, and with it begins a spiritual countdown of sorts to Christmas Day: the arrival of Christ.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

It is fitting, with the anticipation of Christ’s coming, that the Advent candle lit on the first Sunday of December symbolizes hope. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Israelite people had been waiting a L-O-N-G time for the Messiah to come. They had long carried hope for what had been promised to them by the prophets. Seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah wrote:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9: 6-7 ESV

700 years! That is a long time to wait for a promise. One generation passed their hope on to the next, verbally telling and retelling the old stories and prophecies. Generations died, and new ones were formed, and still they waited. Finally, the beginnings of change arrived in the form of small miracles foretelling the Messiah’s arrival:

  • The angel Gabriel appears (Luke 1:19, & 1:28)
  • A priest mysteriously goes mute (Luke 1:20)
  • A barren woman is suddenly with child (Luke 1:24)
  • A small baby leaps in the womb (Luke 1:41)
  • Angels are found singing in the sky (Luke 2:13)

These miracles were not broadly publicized. Most Israelites had no idea they had even occurred. After hundreds of years of waiting, baby Jesus arrived with little fanfare or celebration.

The chosen Messiah certainly did not come in the way that the Jewish people had expected. They had been waiting in hope for a Savior who, as Isaiah had prophesied, would come and set up his own government. They were living under Roman rule and felt oppressed. They wanted a strong leader to come and save them, not an innocent babe arriving practically unannounced. Their vision was too small. They wanted to be rid of Roman rule, and God had bigger plans. Jesus didn’t rid the Jews of Roman rule. Instead, He banished sin and death itself, providing salvation for all people. God’s ways of delivering on His promises often look very different from our expectations.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Advent is a time of reflecting on Christ’s arrival 2,000 years ago, but did you know that Advent also continues in the present? We are not just celebrating a past event, we are anticipating what is to come! Jesus has promised he is coming back again, and we can fervently await his coming. The hope of Advent continues today!

As I write about Advent this Christmas season, I want to make the experience multi-sensory. Advent is a time for meditation and worship, and using more of our senses enriches that experience. For this reason, I will be including a song in each Advent blog post that parallels with the week’s topic. Almost There, written by Michael W. Smith and sung by Amy Grant, is a beautiful song all about waiting in hope. Enjoy!

Pause: Take a moment to still and quiet your mind. Listen to the song above, then read Isaiah 9: 1-7. Allow yourself to slow down enough to really meditate on the words.

Renew: What are you waiting for this Christmas season? What does Hope mean to you this Advent? Take time to think, pray, or journal about how Christ’s coming has changed the world and how it has changed you.

Next: In the busyness of the Christmas season, it is sometimes difficult to focus on Christ. Think of ways that you can live out Hope this Christmas season. Maybe it will be in the form of beginning an Advent tradition with your family or perhaps in loving a neighbor who is grieving and has lost their own hope this Christmas. Pray and use your imagination!

May you be filled with Hope this Advent season.

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Valleys of Sorrow, Rivers of Joy: An Interview with Gina Carr, Part 2

In the second part of my conversation with Gina Carr, she continues her story of returning from Mozambique and beginning to put down roots in a new town. She explains how, due to caring for an ailing parent, she lacked the capacity to look for friends but how the Lord provided the community they needed.

Gina shares openly about the seasons of loss her family has experienced over the past few years: from losing a parent, to suffering a miscarriage. Walking through seasons of loss, Gina explains how she has “mined treasures” in her relationship with the Lord. Psalm 139 is near to her heart because she has learned that, whether she is at the top or the bottom, He is there with her.

During the podcast episode, Gina mentions two books that have ministered to her over the past few years. Through the book, Hinds Feet on High Places, the Lord encouraged her to take emotional risks, using this quote: “Love and pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know love, you must know pain too.”

Then, after experiencing a miscarriage, Gina says that the book Grace Like Scarlett, by Adriel Booker, ministered to her soul. She quotes a line from the book, “Grief commands our attention.” Gina says this quote sums up how she felt in the months after her loss. She spent time sitting in her grief, journaling, praying, reading, and crying through the pain. Through grieving, she learned that “it’s okay to feel disoriented with the Lord. He’s not disoriented with you.”

Even as Gina talks about her seasons of sorrow, glimpses of hope and joy are found throughout her story. Now, as a foster parent, Gina is experiencing love and joy through the gift of caring for a baby girl that has come into their home.

There is so much about this conversation to love, and it encouraged and challenged me tremendously. If something about Gina’s story resonates with you, comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. Please share it with others who you feel would be inspired as well.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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Burning Timber

For decades, a beautiful white pine has stood guard next to our home. It has withstood storms, snow, wind, and even a tornado. This summer however, we noticed a strange sound emerging from within its trunk and limbs. The distinct sounds of chewing could be heard from yards away, yet as closely as we looked, we could see no creatures eating it. Two friends who are knowledgeable about wood and trees mentioned that the culprit was most likely pine beetles.

Because our family has had a busy autumn, we put off dealing with the issue. As weeks passed, large swaths of the tree turned from green to brown. In quiet moments, we could still hear the gentle and persistent chewing. My husband spoke to his father about helping him chop it down whenever he had a free weekend.

One afternoon, a couple of weeks ago, I heard a chainsaw rev up. When I looked out of the window, there was my father-in-law, carefully sawing down the tree. My husband came out to help, and within the hour, I felt (more than heard) a mighty crash. Timber! The mighty tree had fallen.

The tree was almost as wide as I am tall!

This however, was only the first step, as the giant of a tree still needed to be destroyed. Because it was infested with pine beetles, it was necessary to burn each and every part of the tree, to prevent the insects from spreading to surrounding healthy trees.

Beginning with the trunk, we began burning. My husband worked for hours, sawing and throwing limb after limb into the fire. After the first day, only a fraction of the tree was destroyed. So far, we have burned for 3 days, have a bonfire scheduled next week, and still there is tree left to destroy. It will be a lengthy process.

As I watched the blaze last Saturday, the phrase “our God is a consuming fire,” came to my mind. I realized that a spiritual analogy can be found in our white pine. When sin, like pine beetles, infests our lives, the contamination is gradual. Days, months, or years can pass before the damage is evident. Still, the result is the same: disease and death. Like my father-in-law, the Lord comes and, in one fell move, chops the tree down to its roots. We are saved!

Even though salvation is immediate, the process of removing sin from our lives is life-long. When the Lord saves us, the Holy Spirit takes months, years, or decades to do the slow work of purifying our hearts. Piece by piece, branch by branch, he burns and purifies the rotting, parasite-filled parts of our lives.

The process of refinement is not always easy. Discipline and purification can be painful, but how thankful I am that the Lord takes His time. He is a consuming fire but has all of the patience He needs to carry out His purposes with mercy, day by day.

Pause: Find a quiet moment, and read Hebrews 12. What about this passage stands out to you?

Renew: Take a moment and reflect on your own journey with the Lord. Can you think of ways that you’ve seen the Lord slowly transform your life? What was that process like for you? If you have not yet given your life to Christ, take the plunge and watch what He will do!

Next: Be mindful this week, reflecting on how the Lord has been refining your mind, your relationships, and your behavior. Remember that transformation is slow and is not always a linear process.

May we be filled with gratitude for how our God is faithful to consume the sin that seeks to destroy us.

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Calling and Covenant: An Interview with Gina Carr, Part 1

We all experience seasons in our faith journeys that don’t turn out the way we envisioned. My guest, Gina Carr, understands this better than many. Over the course of two episodes, she shares the story of how her life has taken unexpected twists and turns through seasons of intensity and what the Lord has taught her along the way.

My guest, Gina Carr, shares about her experiences through the lens of faith and the Lord’s goodness.

In this episode, Gina tells about her family’s journey into mission work. She and her husband felt called to work in Africa, but their time living on the field was shortened greatly by unexpected and extended illness. For the sake of their health, they moved back to the United States, feeling confused about their calling.

Gina explains that through the ashes of their failed mission, the Lord changed her and her husband’s view of their marriage covenant. She shares that through a retreat they attended, called “Train to Reign” at Christian Training Center International, the Lord began reworking the fabric of their relationship.

This is only the beginning of Gina’s story. There’s so much more to come in the second episode! If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend and subscribe. If something you heard on today’s podcast resonated with you, comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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Hope: An Anchor for the Soul

Years ago, I felt the Lord whisper a promise in my soul.  It was a sweet promise of a gift that would come. He did not tell me how.  He did not tell me when. Somehow I just knew it was true though. I could feel it in my heart.

I prayed off and on for years over the matter.  I prepared myself both in my spirit and in practical ways, waiting for the moment it would occur, but it never did.  Just when I would begin to think I had made the whole thing up, somehow the Lord would confirm it to me again through Scripture or a sermon.  One time, he even confirmed it through a conversation with a stranger while on vacation. Still, time passed, and nothing happened.  

This month, during a vulnerable conversation with a friend I confided in her this promise the Lord had whispered.  Rather than shaking her head in disbelief, she said, “I have a similar story,” and as she shared it, it really did seem that our stories aligned closely.  Happily, her whispered promise is in the process of coming into fruition.

Honestly, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it anymore.  I don’t even pray about it regularly. I know that, if it is to happen, the Lord will bring it about, and it probably will come about differently than I expect anyway.

This makes me think of Abraham.  The Lord gave him and his wife a promise of something that seemed impossible: a baby in their sunset years.  What seemed ridiculous at age 75 must have seemed unimaginable as he approached ages 80, 85, 90, and 95. Perhaps he thought he had imagined the whole thing.  In fact, because the waiting was too hard, and his faith was so small, he and his wife set out to accomplish the Lord’s will in their own timing. Abraham had a son with his wife’s handmaid. We all know how that turned out. Trying to accomplish God’s will for Him is foolish indeed.

Finally, at age 100, Abraham’s promised son arrived.  He was the beginning of a long-awaited line of chosen people, through whom the Lord would send His Son.  He was worth the wait.

In Hebrews 6, the author references Abraham’s story as he writes about inheriting a promise. However, this time, a more permanent promise is spoken of using the language of hope:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner…

Hebrews 6: 19 – 20a CSB

We have reason to hope. As believers, we have hope in a great promise that includes redemption, forgiveness, new bodies, and eternal life. Jesus has entered before us, and hope anchors our soul as we wait for what is coming.  Hope is a beautiful thing. It rises up and holds our souls steady as we wait for the promise to be fulfilled.

Our anchor of Hope is solid. it’s not going anywhere.

Pause: Inhale and exhale slowly.  Find a quiet space to read Hebrews 6: 13-20.  Meditate on these verses. What stands out to you?

Renew: Think about hope as an anchor for the soul.  What are you hoping for? Who are you hoping in? How is thinking about hope as an anchor for your soul reassuring?

Next: Hebrews encourages us to “seize the hope set before us.”  How in your faith walk can you “seize hope” this week? Is it by clinging to a particular Scripture verse,  by praying through a seemingly impossible situation, or by acting obediently on something the Lord has called you to do?  

May we cling tightly to our anchor of hope.

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Favorite Things: with Abigail Carney and Kaley Brown

As we are entering the holiday season, it seemed the perfect time to have a relaxed and fun conversation all about favorite things. So, I invited two of my sweet friends, Abigail Carney and Kaley Brown, on the podcast to talk about their favorite things. We discussed what they are loving right now, favorite Mom hacks, and holiday favorites. If you are needing a relaxed half hour among friends, then you will love this episode.

During our conversation all kinds of topics arose: from grocery store pick-up, to podcasts, to redecorating, to family traditions. My guests also talked about people in their lives that inspire and encourage them. When asked about a favorite Scripture passage, Abigail shared that II Corinthians 4: 17 & 18 have been important to her. Kaley said that she loves Psalm 37:4 and explained how it applies to the season of life she is currently experiencing.

I loved hanging out with these two and talking about our family, holidays, and favorite things.

I so enjoyed spending time with these two ladies, and I hope you came away from this podcast feeling refreshed. If something you heard on today’s podcast resonated with you, please drop a comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and share it with a friend.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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When Grief Wells Up

There I was, listening to two first graders give a family presentation in front of their classmates when out of the blue, grief smacked me hard in the belly.  During their presentation, the girls shared that they had been born in 2013. Just like that, I was transported back in time, to a miscarriage I experienced that year. Incredulously, I realized that my baby would now be in kindergarten.  He or she could be giving a class presentation. Grief is funny like that. It comes in waves unexpectedly and reels us backwards into the past, allowing old feelings and sometimes tears to spring to the surface at the most inconvenient times.

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago while at an OB/GYN appointment. I was left in the examination room waiting for the doctor when, from the room next door, I heard the familiar whooshing, horse-beat sounds of a baby’s heartbeat.  Again, I felt emotions normally buried come rising to the surface with memories of the last time I heard a heart beat monitor…

I was at my first prenatal exam, and it was a routine ultrasound.  I had given birth to healthy babies three times, and there was no reason to expect that this fourth pregnancy would not be the same… …until I heard the heartbeat.  It was strong. It was steady, but it sounded unnaturally slow. I looked at the ultrasound technician, who agreed that it was slower than it should be. I was then ushered in to see the midwife, who was not gentle about preparing me for the worst.  Very little hope was offered. I was scheduled to return in a week for a follow-up ultrasound.

You can imagine what an awful week I had.  I left the appointment hysterically crying into my phone, telling my husband the news.  Over the following week, I felt every emotion possible: from hope, to gratitude, to sadness, to despair, to fear, to anger, and back again.  Mother’s Day happened to fall in the middle of that week, which definitely did not help matters.

Finally, I returned for my follow up appointment, this time bringing my husband for support.  There was no heartbeat. There were no longer any signs of life in the same womb, where the week before, I had seen my child and heard her heartbeat.

We were crushed. We grieved.  We cried. We explained the best we could to our children. We wrote a letter to our unborn baby, and packed her ultrasound pictures and the letters away. 

Soon, we began to prepare for a new future: one in which new life would come to our home through foster care and adoption. Hope was ushered in. Life continued.  New life was celebrated. Gratitude was felt.

Still, I think about the baby I lost.  I think about her when I think about heaven.  What will it be like to meet? I think about her at Christmas, because her due date was Christmas Eve.  I think about her when other friends are having babies. I do not grieve as one who has no hope. It isn’t something I think about every day, but it is imprinted on my soul. The Lord taught me much about His comfort through my loss.

So, for those of you who have also lost a baby, know that you are not alone. We are the 1 in 4.  Grieve. Tell your story. Reach out. It’s a grief that not enough people talk about, but many have experienced.  It is a grief that can be triggered unexpectedly and will touch your soul forever. May you be comforted by a Savior who counts every tear, and who loves your baby as much as you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-5

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What’s In a Number?

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on the scale. That number dictated my mood, my motivation, and my self-worth. Numbers of calories took up way too much mental and emotional space. Those numbers related to how much food I could eat, how much food I wouldn’t eat, or how much I needed to exercise. I knew the number of calories in various foods and could add or subtract them in my sleep. I was a slave to the numbers.

There was a time that I was a slave to the number on a scale.

Thankfully, those numbers hold less power over me at this stage in my life. In fact, rarely do I pay much attention to those numbers anymore. Still, I have found other numbers can quickly take precedence in my mind. The number in my bank account. The number of an upcoming bill. The number of days left until vacation. The number of friends who RSVP’d to my party. Numbers seem to take up a lot of my mental space.

In this season of life, however, the numbers I seem to focus on most are the number of friends, followers, and likes I have on social media. I’m not proud to admit it, but it’s the truth. I have a love/hate relationship with social media for all of the reasons that most people do. On the positive side, it means instant access to my friends, even those I don’t get to see in everyday life. Also, from a ministry aspect, it means I have an instant platform from which to advertise and reach an audience I may never see in real life.

Numbers of likes and follows can also become a source of bondage in the desire for approval.

On the other hand, social media stirs in me a constant desire for likes and approval. There is an addictive quality of needing to check and recheck, and, before I know it, my time has been wasted. Minutes and hours lost on social media are also numbers.

Numbers are not inherently bad. They are in fact just measurements. It’s what I am measuring, and the significance I place on the numbers that can turn them into a form of idolatry. An ideal number can quickly become bondage. God knows that our hearts are idol factories, and Jesus kindly warns us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;  for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 6: 19-21 NASB

How then, can we break the habit of getting caught up in the number cycle? We can begin by recognizing when we’re allowing ourselves to be controlled by them. For instance, when I find myself discouraged by numbers of followers or listeners, I tell myself that God can change the world with one individual, and if even one individual is encouraged or inspired, then all of the hard work was worth it. I can tell myself that my worth is not defined by likes on social media. When I’m worried about my bank account, I can remember all of the times the Lord has provided for me before and how He promises He will take care of all of my needs according to His riches in glory. My worth and security cannot be tied to how much money I have, my weight, or my number of followers.

It’s all about a perspective shift. Numbers are only numbers after all. They’re only measurements. They are not the treasure, and they will always disappoint. The treasure is Christ, and He means for us to enjoy the gifts we have been given, including our bodies, our friends, and our resources. Let’s not let the numbers take away our joy.

Pause: Breathe in and breathe out. Focus on the exhale. Read the above Scripture passage from Matthew and meditate on it for a few minutes.

Renew: Is there a place in your life where you are placing too much focus on numbers? What do those numbers represent for you? How have they become an idol or a kind of bondage for you?

Next: If you find that there is an area in your life that numbers have become too important to you, pray this week about how the Lord can change your perspective. Seek out a source of accountability for yourself so you don’t have to carry it alone.

May we store up treasure in heaven and enjoy the gifts we’ve been given!

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Esther Ahn Kim: Courageous through Suffering

In this biography episode, we’ll dive into the life of a little-known saint: Esther Ahn Kim. She was faithful to the Lord, to her family, and to her country, Korea. Her story takes place in the years preceding and during World War II, when Korea was under Japanese rule. Through Esther Ahn Kim’s story, we are transported to a different time and place, but her faith story is still just as challenging and encouraging today.

After counting the cost, Esther Ahn Kim’s devotion to Christ landed her in prison.
*Photo by Denny Müller on Unsplash

Esther Ahn Kim was brave, but her bravery came from the Lord, who took care of her at every turn. She was devoted, but her devotion came from the inner strength of the Holy Spirit. She prepared to suffer and disciplined herself to endure all that she must for the sake of being faithful to her Lord. Her story has much to teach us.

The material for this podcast episode came from two main sources: Esther Ahn Kim’s book, If I Perish, and Noel Piper’s book, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God. If you would like to learn more about Esther Ahn Kim’s story, her biography, If I Perish, is an easy and exciting read. There is so much more shared in her book than I was able to convey in a podcast episode.

I loved so much about Esther Ahn Kim’s story, but what I found most compelling was how she counted the cost of her actions and always found Jesus worth the consequences. What stands out to you about her story? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below or on PRN’s Facebook page. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, consider listening to one of these previous biography episodes:

Gladys Aylward: http://pauserenewnext.com/2018/12/04/woman-on-a-mission-the-story-of-gladys-aylward/

Sojourner Truth: http://pauserenewnext.com/2019/01/22/tall-within-the-story-of-sojourner-truth/

Josephine Butler: http://pauserenewnext.com/2019/04/02/an-advocate-for-the-exploited-the-josephine-butler-story/

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

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