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Released to Love

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Deep in a dark forest that few dare enter lies a meadow flooded with light. Wildflowers grow there, enticing little white butterflies robed in glory not their own.

In this meadow, there is a girl who is at once both youthful and aged. She is clothed in a white gown that shimmers and moves in the fragrant breeze as she runs free through the wildflowers.

Someone watches her play, smiling at her freedom. She catches sight of Him, and she runs to Him. Their eyes meet. He loves the perfect trust she has for Him as she accepts His outstretched hand, and they run together in the meadow.

It was a beautiful picture I had for myself—total surrender to God. I believed that if I handed my whole life over to Him, I’d be free to run in that lovely meadow under the smile of His love.

For years, I turned my focus inward, trying to reach a place where I desired only God. I walked aisles to dedicate and rededicate my life to Him. I prayed for peace, tried to trust, and hoped that somehow I’d find freedom from the part of myself that kept backing out of my desire to be fully abandoned to Him.

But as the years passed, I was no closer to that meadow than when I began.

I grew to hate myself, and the more I came to despise myself, the more afraid I became of God. I was certain that He would not love me until I fully surrendered to Him. I expected Him to lose patience with my failures and close that meadow off so I would never see His love-filled eyes.

Last summer, as my whole life began to come apart at the seams, I succumbed to despair. It seemed that to free me from me, God planned to strip away everything I held dear until I would willingly give my all to Him.

Finally, I quit trying, spent from years of fighting my own will and broken because I couldn’t fight God too. I felt trapped.

I blamed God for wanting my whole life when He promised nothing to me but Himself in return. And I didn’t want Him anymore because He asked too much. I was so far from that beautiful, trusting, surrendered life, and I dreaded the day I knew He would expose my failure.

It was in this place of defeat that God opened my eyes to behold Someone I had been missing: His Son Jesus, who came to free me from the condemnation that was shattering me (John 3:16-17; Romans 8:1).

I came to see that there was absolutely nothing that could hold me back from the love of God in Christ Jesus—not my lack of surrender, not my fear, not angels, not demons, not principalities or powers, not height or depth, or any other thing (Romans 8:31-39).

God began to revive my spirit with the fullness of His very present love, showing me there was nothing I could do or surrender in addition to what Jesus did at the Cross. The only work He had for me was to believe that Jesus Christ alone makes me free to walk with Him (John 6:29; John 8:35-36).

A few months later, I met Abigail through my blog.

The first email in our soul-searching correspondence made me think I had found a fellow believer. My heart leapt at her description of her close relationship with God. She shared about her own journey to surrender, and I wondered hopefully if she’d found that meadow I wanted.

It wasn’t long, however, before she shared her membership in a group whose leader was jailed for sexual misconduct, whose members were brainwashed, and whose website was flooded with aggressive writing that wielded Scripture in a way that had nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

Abigail was being deceived.

I knew from looking at her website that she would have an answer for any scriptural argument I tried to use to explain her bondage. The only response I could give her was the name of Jesus. The only testimony I could offer for the reality of my own faith was Jesus crucified for me.

In her final email, Abigail attempted to convict me and win me to her perspective. She asked the question I had been dreading for years: “Have you ever been completely, nakedly honest with God? Is your heart laid open before Him, totally given over and yielded to wherever His will may take you, no matter what that may cost you?”

Oh, how I wanted to shout a thoroughly surrendered, “Yes,” but I knew my defensive answer was only partly true.

I couldn’t tell God that I wasn’t yet ready to give Him all, that I wasn’t yet able to count the cost. I couldn’t admit the truth that I could never know my heart well enough to be completely nakedly honest with Him (Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Even as I paused, I knew God was aware of what was in my heart. And for the first time in my life, I understood that He didn’t want it all from me today. I could walk no closer with Him if I answered “Yes” to Abigail’s question than I already was. I knew without doubt that shattered, limping me was already incredibly whole in the love of God I owned in Christ.

The spirit that had deceived Abigail had directed her vision from Jesus’ work to the surrender I myself had pursued so long. Spiritually blinded, she couldn’t see that she was a captive. The voice she obeyed sought to dominate her, offering only an illusion of release as she surrendered to its will. It would never tell her of the real freedom Jesus had purchased for her at the Cross.

As Abigail demanded that I turn my life over to that same control, I realized that while freedom in Christ does not give me license to do whatever I want (Galatians 5:13-14), God would never, ever force me to do His will.

Jim Elliot wrote that a life cannot be surrendered in an instant, but that it takes a lifetime to surrender what is lifelong. Even Jesus had a Gethsemane in which He yielded Himself to the Father’s will.

When I was trapped under that law I set for myself to please God, I was literally estranged from Christ (Galatians 5:4). I couldn’t think about the Cross or Jesus’ work there. It was merely condemnation on top of my crushing guilt.

But this grace that comes through Jesus’ death has freed me to a lifetime of knowing God here without any immediate perfection. I can hold fast to this freedom as I wait clothed in Jesus’ righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21) for God to finish His work in me (Philippians 1:6). I am no longer a prisoner of my own failure, “[f]or we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Galatians 5:5).

There is a woman, at once both young and old, who walks through a path in the forest. Someone walks beside her, keeping His hand near hers, offering help over the rough ground and never insisting that she take His help. She talks a lot, and He listens a lot, and she doesn’t know where they are going.

But once in a while, she looks up at His face and sees that there is love in His eyes. Sometimes the tears run down her cheeks because she remembers where she used to live, and sometimes she smiles at what He tells her about where they are going.

She wants to get there so much more quickly than they are walking, but she is limping, and He must carry her sometimes. She will not be able to make it to the end of the journey on her own. But in His arms, she is freer than she has ever been.

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Kelly Sauer is a writer, wedding photographer, restless heart, wife, and mama to two. She makes fine art out of real life, revealing beauty where it wasn't. She shares her art and her real life at www.kellysauer.com. You can find her on Twitter as @kellysauer.

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When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.

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One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Facing Our Fears in Motherhood

Do you have fears tied to motherhood? If so, here’s encouragement for you.

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“Are you scared?”

I was taken aback by his question. Scared? Of what?

“Of anything,” he answered.

I had just shared my due date with a new class of trainees.

“He has three boys,” another new hire volunteered. So fear is to be expected, I reasoned. I’m just about to face the most frightening experience in my life.

Of course I was scared.

I was scared…

  • I’ll lose my temper.
  • I’ll whine about sleepless nights.
  • I’ll breastfeed too often or not often enough.
  • I’ll leave piles of unfolded onesies in the middle of the nursery floor because I’m too tired (or lazy?) to fold teeny-tiny baby clothes for the upteenth time.
  • I’ll go with disposable diapers when the better choice would be cloth.
  • I’ll work too many long hours at the office and miss precious moments with her.
  • I’ll sign her up for too many activities and push her to become Miss Achieve-It-All.
  • I’ll pass on to her my ugly pride, self-righteousness, and perfectionism like a dreadful contagious disease.
  • I’ll miss countless little joys in life while pursuing worthless dreams.

Facing Our Fears in MotherhoodIn short… I was afraid I was going to fail miserably as a parent.

And now, holding my second-born daughter in my arms, thinking back on that brief exchange just a few years ago, I realize those fears were well-founded. I’ve failed many times. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve raised my voice. I’ve worked too much and played too little. I’ve seen my own sinfulness reflected in my daughter.

Yes, I’ve failed, but over and above it all, God’s grace has covered my parenting imperfections and made me run to the cross day after day. The writer of Proverbs puts it this way:

Whoever fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge.
Proverbs 14:26

When it comes to fears, we have two choices: Will we fear the unknown or will we fear the Lord? Will we allow the uncertain to grip us in its clutch or will we turn to God’s Truth to set us free?

Scared? Oh yeah. There was so much to be scared of that day. And even now, if I’m completely honest, there are still fears nibbling at the edges of my consciousness. Fear that we won’t outgrow the temper tantrums. Fear that the two girls won’t get along. Fear that I’ll mess them up and cause them interminable hours on a psychologist’s couch.

I’m sure you have fears, too.

But rather than allow those fears to consume and paralyze us, we can take them to the Lord, acknowledging His sovereignty over our parenting, pleading His grace over our mistakes, and entrusting His provision over their futures. He is not only able to handle it all — He is far more capable to be trusted with it all.

If I say one thing to that frightened 9-month-pregnant me standing in that room years ago, I would say this: Don’t let fear rob today’s joy with tomorrow’s unknowns. Each day has enough worries of its own (Matthew 6:34).

Instead, let us keep seeking God, running to Him as our secure fortress and resting in the knowledge that He will care for us and our children one day at a time.

What are you scared of today? Name your fears and bring them to the Lord, allowing Him to replace them with His peace that passes all understanding.

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He Gives Shade To The Weary

If anxiety is a struggle for you right now, remember that He gives shade to the weary.

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Do you ever have those moments of fear because you don’t know what lies ahead? When do those thoughts tend to happen to you?

For me, most of those thoughts happen when I lay my head down to sleep at night. The vulnerability comes forth every time. That’s what happened the other night to me. I shut my eyes and immediately anxiety welled up inside me.

What if we don’t succeed in this new venture? What if we have to move? What if we can’t pay our bills?

I laid there with the covers drawn tight over my head (I still think that I am safer if the covers are over my head), praying scripture over my anxious heart. Assuring myself that God sees me and that He cares.

In the morning, I turned to Isaiah 41, specifically verses 10-20.

“Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10, NASB)

Yesterday, the “what if’s” piled up as I anxiously looked about me. My daughter needs tutoring, however at this point in life, tutoring feels like a luxury we can’t afford. So I listed some items online to sell hoping to make just enough to cover the tutoring. I’m buying groceries on a Visa reward card. I’m holding my breath until the next paycheck comes. But what did God speak over me: Do not fear. Do not look anxiously about you.

“For I am the Lord your God, who upholds your right hand, Who says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.’ Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; I will help you,” declares the Lord, “and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:13-14 NASB)

Why shouldn’t I be anxious? Because God will hold me up. God will help me. When I first read the word “worm” as a description, I took it as a slam against Israel. Like, gesh, God. What animal does He relate me to? But through further study, He calls them a worm because worms are helpless. They are viewed as insignificant, despised and weak. God will help me — seemingly insignificant, helpless me — because He is my Redeemer. He is my go’el — my next of kin. The Redeemer is the one who provides for all my needs. Rent. Car payment. Credit card bill. Gas. Food. Clothes. Debt. God will redeem.

He Gives Shade to the Weary

“Behold, I have made you a new, sharp threshing sledge with double edges; You will thresh the mountains and pulverize them, And will make the hills like chaff. You will winnow them, and the wind will carry them away, And the storm will scatter them; But you will rejoice in the Lord, You will glory in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 41:15-16 NASB).

God is transforming me from a helpless one to a powerful one. The description of that type of threshing sledge is like a modern day earth mover. Powerful. Strong. Immovable.

“The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, And their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the Lord, will answer them Myself, As the God of Israel I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 41:17, NASB)

He will come to our rescue. God, Himself, will answer you and me. Can you hear how personal that sounds? Have you ever pleaded with someone important whether your boss, public figure, or even a parent, and they responded to the need themselves? You expected for them to send their assistant, but instead they — the most important one — responded to you.

“I will open rivers on the bare heights And springs in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water And the dry land fountains of water. I will put the cedar in the wilderness, The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree; I will place the juniper in the desert Together with the box tree and the cypress.” (Isaiah 41:18-19, NASB)

This passage describes the wilderness-like times in life. You are barren. You are thirsty. You are hot. You are in need. God will provide what you need. God will quench your thirst. He will provide shade when you are weary. During those times, God can provide in creative, innovative ways. He can provide something out of nothing. Doesn’t that give you great hope? Even when you can’t answer how He will do it, He is creative enough to figure it out even when the odds are stacked against you.

“That they may see and recognize, And consider and gain insight as well, That the hand of the Lord has done this, And the Holy One of Israel has created it.” (Isaiah 41:20 NASB).

God will do all of this so that His glory will be put on display. People — including yourself — will see that He is powerful.

So you can see how after a night of wrestling with fear and anxiety, reading this was like shade and water for my soul. God is a god who sees. And God is a god who acts on your behalf.

What do you need His help with today? What are you fearful about today? What keeps you awake at night? Where do you need some shade?

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Hi, I'm Ashleigh Slater, founder and editor of Ungrind. Here at Ungrind, it’s our goal to churn out biblically-based encouragement for women. We strive to be honest and transparent about our struggles in a way that inspires hope, faith, and perseverance.

As you read, we hope you consider us friends, the kind you feel comfortable sitting across the table with at the local coffee shop. You can read more about me HERE and our team of writers HERE.

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Released to Love

by Kelly Sauer time to read: 5 min
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