Welcome to Midnight.

What a year it’s been y’all. 2016 has been an interesting but equally incredible year. There have been countless tears shed but also countless laughs. I’ve hit rock bottom but I’ve also found redemption. I have learned that the people God has placed in my life are the most beautiful and genuine people in the world.

Like most years, 2016 started out on such a positive note. I walked into the new year with some new friends and the possibilities were endless. Doing life and ministry with the people you love is such an incredible thing. But life quickly took a turn in the opposite direction when I could no longer ignore my depression or anxiety and they both began to get the best of me and almost cost me the very people I love.

And when I was certain that I had lost those people for good, to my surprise they stuck around. They got in the trenches and walked through hell and back with me. It was a hard road. But somehow, we made it.

I rediscovered my heart this year and the song that lives inside it. I have laughed and cried and everything in between. I have lost some people but have gained so much more than I lost.

I’ve learned that there is always beauty to be found in life and it’s usually in people. And I’m so thankful for the people I get to do life with.

In 2016 I will leave behind the mistakes that I made and realize that I’ve been made new in the eyes of the Father. In 2017 I will walk in the freedom that I have and in the hope that this will be an incredible year.

What will you leave behind in 2016 and what do you hope to find in this new year?

The ball will drop in a few hours and with it comes endless possibilities. There will be fireworks and confetti. What will you celebrate? What will you let go of? What will you welcome in?

Heavy and light. It’s a fine line. But one cannot exist without the other.

Welcome to midnight my friends. May you find the beauty that already lives inside you. May you fill the empty pages of this coming year with love and laughter. May you realize that those things have always been there.

Much love to you.

Even When it Hurts

It should come as no surprise that Hillsong United is probably my favorite worship group these days. I mean, they have some phenomenal and powerful songs that they have shared with this world, and you can find one that resonates with just about any season in life. And their new album does just that. From the highs to the lows and everything in between. But today, and in light of everything that has happened in our world as of late, I wanted to focus on the song in the title of this post.

I decided weeks ago that I wanted to do a blog about what this song has meant to me during this most recent season of life that I’ve found myself in. But life always seemed to get in the way of me actually sitting down and writing it. And then yet another act of violence took the lives of innocent and beautiful people and I felt like what a better time than this to write this post.

Have you ever noticed that when things are going well in your life, it’s really easy to sing our praises to the Father? I mean after all, He has blessed us with those things, so it’s only fitting that we give the glory to Him in those moments. But will those same words carry over in the face of adversity or tragedy? Will we still praise Him?

I mean when life is going grand, we can’t shut up about how great it is and about how great God is. But when we find ourselves in time of struggle, we oftentimes forget, or rather choose to forget, that He is still sovereign through it all.

When we have no song to sing, will we sing anyways?

Surely the people of Orlando and the LGBT community have nothing to sing about, right? After all, their lives were turned upside down in an instant. Loved ones gone. Families grieving. A nation in shock that things like this keep happening. Surely they have no song to sing, right?

Wrong.

I have seen video after video of communities all over the world coming together to honor those that were taken so violently from us in song. Standing in solidarity in song. That even when it hurts, they still have a song to sing. And maybe it’s not the song that you think they should be singing. Maybe it’s not the song that you would sing. But I believe that there is something so powerful in music. That there is great healing found through a song. And that God isn’t confined to moving through only a contemporary Christian song or old fashioned hymn.

When we feel like we are walking through hell, will we still praise Him?

If what these people are going through isn’t hell, then I’d love to hear what it is. Our valleys and the things that grieve us to the very depths of our being is different for everyone. No tragedy is worse than another. No one’s grief is more important than someone else’s. But what these precious people are going through, no one should have to.

But they have refused to stay silent. They have refused to lay down and surrender. It may hurt like hell right now for them to walk forward. Their biggest accomplishment of the day may simply be getting out of bed to face the day. But they are moving. They are breathing. They are fighting. They are singing.

Will you sing until the morning comes? Will you hold out for the miracle? Will you trust that even though what you may be walking through is difficult to face, that He is still good?

It’s really easy to praise Him when we find ourselves on the mountaintop. And those moments are important. Because He deserves our praise. But I think that we find out more about ourselves and who we are in the Father when we are able to praise Him in the valleys.

This is something that has taken me awhile to learn, and if I’m honest, I’m still learning. No one wants to walk through the storms and struggles of life, but it’s how we make it out of those that speaks volumes. Struggle produces growth. But only if you allow it to.

As for me, I will continue to sing. Regardless of if other people think I should be. Regardless of if they approve of the song I’m singing. Regardless of if I meet their standards. My life and every breath I take does not exist for them or because of them. But for the One that put that very breath in my lungs and song in my heart.

Even when it hurts, the light is still winning. Rest in that friends.

Sprinkling Hope Series: Be Radiant

Radiant: sending out light; shining or glowing brightly.

I think this word epitomizes what it means to not only be a follower of Jesus, but to be a carrier of hope. I’ve focused a lot on hope lately because honestly, it’s one of the only things that has gotten me through this last bump in the road that I’ve walked through. And I think at the root of it all, hope is the constant motivator to press through the difficult moments.

So how does being radiant sprinkle hope around? How does it bring hope to those who need it?

In Hebrews 1, we read that Jesus was the radiance of God’s glory. That he was the exact representation of his being. And if we are called to be like Jesus in all that we do, are we doing all we can to be radiant?

We are called to be light in a dark world. To bind up the wounds of a broken and hurting world. To bring hope to the hopeless.

So what better way to sprinkle hope than by being radiant?

For me, there have been several people lately that have been that light and that hope that I have desperately needed. For others, I have been their hope and light. And really I think that’s what it’s all about.

There will be moments in life where you need someone to bring the hope and light you need to make it through. And then there will be moments in life where you are the one bringing the hope and light. It’s a balance. Heavy and light.

In a world where hope is so hard to come by, be radiant. Shine bright. Change lives through hope. Give hope away freely. Throw it around like confetti. You’ll quickly learn that in the moments when we feel hopeless, throwing it around to others brings it right back to you.

Light is winning friends. Rest in that.

Sprinkling Hope Series: Own Your Story

We all have a story to tell. Regardless of if you think that you don’t, you do. And it’s up to you to not only share that story, but to also own that story. Where you begin to do those things is up to you. I know that for some of you, there may be parts that are difficult and painful to share. I encourage you to share anyways.

Life can be really really ugly sometimes. But it can also be really really beautiful. And sometimes we have to fight for those beautiful moments, but it’s so worth the fight. When we begin to own our stories, even the really painful parts of it, we begin to find a sense of freedom and healing. When we own the things that have happened to us instead of letting them own us, we save ourselves from a lot of heartache.

But sometimes we do let what happened to us own us. And it’s so important to remember that there is still good to be found in that. The good news is that we don’t have to stay that way. We don’t have to stay stuck in the moments that have brought us heartache and pain. We can stare that junk in the face and begin to own it. We can begin to walk in the freedom that is ours through Jesus.

And once you’ve owned your story, you get to do the most exciting and empowering and life changing thing ever: you get to share it! People need to hear your story. Each of our stories have such a unique role to play in others lives and their stories.

There will still be days that living your story will be painful and difficult. In those moments it’s important to have people in your life that are willing and able to pick up that pen and write for you on the days that you can’t. Because ultimately all of our stories are interconnected and co-written by the people we’ve chosen to walk through life with. And let me tell you, I’ve got some of the greatest in my corner.

Writing our stories is a lifelong process. Filled with light and with darkness. But remember friends, light is winning. Rest in that.

Laughter is the Best Medicine.

Today I’m starting a new series that in some ways could be the second part of my Reclaiming Hope series, but explores hope in a whole new direction.

I’ve talked about reclaiming the hope that I had lost and was so desperately searching for, and now I want to shift gears and talk about sprinkling that hope. I think that both can be done at the same time – reclaiming hope and also sprinkling it. I think that reclaiming hope is something that we’ll always be doing.

Much like this journey of recovery that I’m on, I don’t believe that one day I’ll wake up and be like “Oh I’m all better now and I’ll never struggle again because I’ve reach x amount of days,” I think the same is true for hope. There’s not some magical number or amount that we reach and can say that we no longer need hope. We will always need hope.

And I think that sprinkling that hope can be done in a lot of different ways. But laughing is by far my favorite way.

If I hear other people laughing, there’s a 99% chance that I will join in on that laughter. Why? Because laughter is contagious. Especially late night laughter. You know the kind I’m talking about. Where one person slowly starts to lose control and everything becomes funny. And before you know it, everyone is joining in. Moments like these can turn an otherwise ordinary day into an extraordinary one. And those days become my favorite days.

But have you ever had the perfect combination of people in your inner circle that you spend the majority of your time in tears with because you’re all laughing so hard? I’m so incredibly fortunate to have people like that in my life. These precious souls are not only the best people in my life, but have essentially become my family. And we’ve gone through some tough things together, but have always managed to make it through victorious. And laughing together is one of the best things there is.

I can’t even count how many hours we’ve spent laughing so hard that we hurt and some of us have tears in our eyes. These moments are usually take place in public and come with it’s fair share of looks from others, but we continue to laugh regardless.

I’m thankful for the moments that I can be silly with my favorite people and laugh for hours about the most ridiculous things. I’m also thankful for Snapchat for making most of those moments possible.

I think what it really comes down to in the end is that there is healing in laughter. And maybe that’s a new concept for you, it was for me. But in these past few weeks of self discovery and rediscovering who I am in the Father, I’ve learned a lot of things.

Laughter leads to joy. I just don’t think it’s possible to be upset anymore when you’re in the middle of a laughing fit.

And that same joy eliminates darkness. Heaviness and darkness can’t exist where there is joy and where there is light.

So ultimately, laughter equals light. And friends, light is winning. We have the final victory. Rest in that friends.

Reclaiming Hope Series: Tell Your Heart to Beat Again

This is the final entry of my series Reclaiming Hope. Next week I’ll be starting a new series also about hope, but taking it in a new direction.

I am infinitely thankful for those of you who have inspired a lot of these words and the words to come. You are precious souls in my life. Thanks for being a part of this incredible journey.

If you aren’t familiar with or have yet to hear Danny Gokey’s song Tell Your Heart to Beat Again, I highly, highly encourage you to stop what you’re doing and go listen to it. Right now. And then come back and read this. Or read it while you listen. But seriously, go listen to it. You’ll thank me later.

I’ve never found a song that has resonated more with a season of life than this one has. I think we’ve all come across those songs that we could swear were written about our lives specifically. And if I’m being honest, it sometimes makes me chuckle at how even in the simplest things, God is moving on our behalf. Like how crazy good is he to us??

These last few months have been some of the hardest ones I’ve walked in quite some time. In an instant, everything I knew, everything I thought I knew, and everything I thought I was laid broken in more pieces than I thought I could ever pick up. And there were plenty of days that I wondered what the point was in even trying to pick them all up and if I could ever put them back together.

And the answer to that second question was no. At least not by myself.

Trying to do things on my own was a large part of why things had become so terribly broken in the first place. I had pushed away those closest to me and pushed God away as well.

And then in traditional fashion, He graced me with one of the many “Shoulda had a V8 moments” that I think have become one of His favorite ways of communicating with me. Only this time, He used a song to do the talking.

I have learned more about myself in this past month than I have in quite some time. It’s almost like a new beginning. And in a way it is.

These past few months have brought a lot of tears and a lot of questions. And there were days when I wondered if those questions would ever be answered. Most have been. Some haven’t. But I’m learning to be content with the silence.

Leaving the darkness can be hard sometimes. I think we get so used to it that we’re almost afraid to feel the light again. But friends there is so much more freedom in the light than there ever could be in the dark.

Every fall, every tear, every difficult moment has prepared me for this new season of life that I’m entering. The time for looking behind me is over because looking ahead has never had a better view than it does now.

The heart is a remarkably strong thing. I can be broken but also has the ability to be repaired and can beat stronger than ever afterwards. But only if you allow it by allowing Him to work on your behalf.

Light is winning my friends.

Hope is winning.

Rest in that.

Happy Birthday TWLOHA!

Nine years ago today, one very broken girl’s story was shared. I don’t think anyone anticipated it to become what it did. After all, it was just a story. But it was a story that resonated with so many. And it was a story that would come to save so many lives. Mine included.

And because this story has helped shape me and save me and so many others, I felt it only fitting to share it with you all today.

These honest words have created a movement. A movement that has dedicated itself to helping others reclaim the hope in their lives.

I don’t think that Renee knew the impact her story would have on so many people. And I don’t think Jamie knew the impact that telling her story would have.

I am infinitely grateful for both of them.

Know that you aren’t alone friends. That hope is real. That rescue is possible.

Pedro the Lion is loud in the speakers, and the city waits just outside our open windows. She sits and sings, legs crossed in the passenger seat, her pretty voice hiding in the volume. Music is a safe place and Pedro is her favorite. It hits me that she won’t see this skyline for several weeks, and we will be without her. I lean forward, knowing this will be written, and I ask what she’d say if her story had an audience. She smiles. “Tell them to look up. Tell them to remember the stars.”

I would rather write her a song, because songs don’t wait to resolve, and because songs mean so much to her. Stories wait for endings, but songs are brave things bold enough to sing when all they know is darkness. These words, like most words, will be written next to midnight, between hurricane and harbor, as both claim to save her.

Renee is 19. When I meet her, cocaine is fresh in her system. She hasn’t slept in 36 hours and she won’t for another 24. It is a familiar blur of coke, pot, pills and alcohol. She has agreed to meet us, to listen and to let us pray. We ask Renee to come with us, to leave this broken night. She says she’ll go to rehab tomorrow, but she isn’t ready now. It is too great a change. We pray and say goodbye and it is hard to leave without her.

She has known such great pain; haunted dreams as a child, the near-constant presence of evil ever since. She has felt the touch of awful naked men, battled depression and addiction, and attempted suicide. Her arms remember razor blades, fifty scars that speak of self-inflicted wounds. Six hours after I meet her, she is feeling trapped, two groups of “friends” offering opposite ideas. Everyone is asleep. The sun is rising. She drinks long from a bottle of liquor, takes a razor blade from the table and locks herself in the bathroom. She cuts herself, using the blade to write “FUCK UP” large across her left forearm.

The nurse at the treatment center finds the wound several hours later. The center has no detox, names her too great a risk, and does not accept her. For the next five days, she is ours to love. We become her hospital and the possibility of healing fills our living room with life. It is unspoken and there are only a few of us, but we will be her church, the body of Christ coming alive to meet her needs, to write love on her arms.

She is full of contrast, more alive and closer to death than anyone I’ve known, like a Johnny Cash song or some theatre star. She owns attitude and humor beyond her 19 years, and when she tells me her story, she is humble and quiet and kind, shaped by the pain of a hundred lifetimes. I sit privileged but breaking as she shares. Her life has been so dark yet there is some soft hope in her words, and on consecutive evenings, I watch the prettiest girls in the room tell her that she’s beautiful. I think it’s God reminding her.

I’ve never walked this road, but I decide that if we’re going to run a five-day rehab, it is going to be the coolest in the country. It is going to be rock and roll. We start with the basics; lots of fun, too much Starbucks and way too many cigarettes.

Thursday night she is in the balcony for Band Marino, Orlando’s finest. They are indie-folk-fabulous, a movement disguised as a circus. She loves them and she smiles when I point out the A&R man from Atlantic Europe, in town from London just to catch this show.

She is in good seats when the Magic beat the Sonics the next night, screaming like a lifelong fan with every Dwight Howard dunk. On the way home, we stop for more coffee and books, Blue Like Jazz and (Anne Lamott’s) Traveling Mercies.

On Saturday, the Taste of Chaos tour is in town and I’m not even sure we can get in, but doors do open and minutes after parking, we are on stage for Thrice, one of her favorite bands. She stands ten feet from the drummer, smiling constantly. It is a bright moment there in the music, as light and rain collide above the stage. It feels like healing. It is certainly hope.

Sunday night is church and many gather after the service to pray for Renee, this her last night before entering rehab. Some are strangers but all are friends tonight. The prayers move from broken to bold, all encouraging. We’re talking to God but I think as much, we’re talking to her, telling her she’s loved, saying she does not go alone. One among us knows her best. Ryan sits in the corner strumming an acoustic guitar, singing songs she’s inspired.

After church our house fills with friends, there for a few more moments before goodbye. Everyone has some gift for her, some note or hug or piece of encouragement. She pulls me aside and tells me she would like to give me something. I smile surprised, wondering what it could be. We walk through the crowded living room, to the garage and her stuff.

She hands me her last razor blade, tells me it is the one she used to cut her arm and her last lines of cocaine five nights before. She’s had it with her ever since, shares that tonight will be the hardest night and she shouldn’t have it. I hold it carefully, thank her and know instantly that this moment, this gift, will stay with me. It hits me to wonder if this great feeling is what Christ knows when we surrender our broken hearts, when we trade death for life.

As we arrive at the treatment center, she finishes: “The stars are always there but we miss them in the dirt and clouds. We miss them in the storms. Tell them to remember hope. We have hope.”

I have watched life come back to her, and it has been a privilege. When our time with her began, someone suggested shifts but that is the language of business. Love is something better. I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions. Don Miller says we’re called to hold our hands against the wounds of a broken world, to stop the bleeding. I agree so greatly.

We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue, to be His body, to move for things that matter. He is not invisible when we come alive. I might be simple but more and more, I believe God works in love, speaks in love, is revealed in our love. I have seen that this week and honestly, it has been simple: Take a broken girl, treat her like a famous princess, give her the best seats in the house. Buy her coffee and cigarettes for the coming down, books and bathroom things for the days ahead. Tell her something true when all she’s known are lies. Tell her God loves her. Tell her about forgiveness, the possibility of freedom, tell her she was made to dance in white dresses. All these things are true.

We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.

I have learned so much in one week with one brave girl. She is alive now, in the patience and safety of rehab, covered in marks of madness but choosing to believe that God makes things new, that He meant hope and healing in the stars. She would ask you to remember.