King of Heaven: the Shepherds & Angels

KOH BLOG.jpg

Angels lighting northern stars

Guiding shepherds from afar

Unto Bethlehem to see

The King of Heaven

Wrapped in light and lying low

God incarnate has come close

Born a humble child and yet

The King of Heaven

Ivey and I were on our way home, singing along to the Christmas music playing on the radio—as I love to do this time of year—when suddenly the playlist stopped and the clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas began to play. It was the scene where Linus gives his speech about the true meaning of Christmas...

And there were in the same country, shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone ‘round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.’

This picture painted from Luke’s gospel is one I’ve seen and heard a thousand times. But as I’ve dug a little deeper into this familiar nativity story this Christmas, I don’t think it will ever be quite the same for me. Though I tend to focus more on the earthly side of things, this year I have found myself imagining what the perspective of the angels was that night. All of heaven surely knew that this moment was coming, and the angels understood the full weight of what Jesus’ birth meant for all of humanity. His coming would change the world forever, making right what sin had stolen and offering every single person the opportunity to be reconciled to God once again.

I don’t know of more exciting news than the news of a new birth. When I was pregnant with Ivey, I wanted to tell everyone she was coming. And when she finally arrived, I could barely contain my excitement! Can you imagine how the angels felt about Jesus’ birth? My anticipation times a billion! I’ve tried to picture the celebration of that night when Jesus arrived, wrapped in flesh for the first time. A baby so small and fragile and yet the King of Heaven! No earthly delivery room party could come close to the praise and pure elation of Heaven on that Christmas night. The angels must have been bursting at the seams as they readied themselves to be summoned by the Father to declare this glorious news to the earth!

And so God gathered His angel armies and sent them to tell the news. But to whom did He send them first?... To the shepherds. I’ve often wondered why God chose to send this earth-shattering announcement—this Gospel—to the lowly and outlying shepherds. But I know that God has purposed every detail of His story, and the angels coming to the shepherds gives us a glimpse of the Father’s heart for ALL people. No matter how unseen, unwanted or simple you and I may feel at times, our loving Father comes for us. And that is good news. But still, He could have chosen so many others who felt like outcasts. So why these shepherds?  Well…God is in the details, and He has purposed everything according to His plan.

Scholars believe that these shepherds were the same shepherds that cared for the sacrificial flock that was used for the daily sacrifices in the Temple. These shepherd boys, whose entire lives had been spent looking after the lambs that Jesus—the Lamb of God—was coming to replace once and for all with His Calvary sacrifice… these were the ones God chose to announce His coming to first. I can just feel the Father’s heart in all of this. It’s as if He was saying to them, ‘This is the end of an era. The days of sacrifice and the slaughtering of precious, innocent animals over and over again to atone for the sins of man has come to an end. All the brokenness and bloodshed and hopelessness is over. I have sent my Son—the King of Heaven—to BE the sacrifice and make all things right once and for all.’

Now when I sing about the angels and I read about the shepherds, I see it all lit up in new light. And I hope these few revelations can help breathe some fresh life into this Good News again this Christmas for you. I have SO loved reading the Advent story from the Passion Translation in this season, and so I pass it on to you. Take a few minutes to read it and breathe in the mystery and wonder of the infant King who came for us.

May His fresh light come to you this Christmas,

Ally

An Angelic Encounter

That night, in a field near Bethlehem, there were shepherds watching over their flocks. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared in radiant splendor before them, lighting up the field with the blazing glory of God, and the shepherds were terrified! But the angel reassured them, saying,“Don’t be afraid. For I have come to bring you good news, the most joyous news the world has ever heard! And it is for everyone everywhere! For today in Bethlehem a rescuer was born for you. He is the Lord Yahweh, the Messiah. You will recognize him by this miracle sign: you will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough! Then all at once, a vast number of glorious angels appeared, the very armies of heaven! And they all praised God, singing:

Glory to God in the highest realms of heaven! For there is peace and a good hope given

to the sons of men. 

When the choir of angels disappeared back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go! Let’s hurry and find this Manifestation that is born in Bethlehem and see for ourselves what the Lord has revealed to us.” So they ran into the village and found their way to Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in a feeding trough. Upon seeing this miraculous sign, the shepherds recounted what had just happened. Everyone who heard the shepherds’ story was astonished by what they were told. The shepherds returned to their flock, ecstatic over what had happened. They praised God and glorified him for all they had heard and seen for themselves, just like the angel had said.”

 (Luke 2:8-20 The Passion Translation)

 

Story behind 'When All Is Said and Done'

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”  (John 19:28)

Knowing what was about to take place, Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane saying, ‘Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will’ (Matthew 26:39).  Imagine the heart of the Father in this moment—hearing His only Son crying out to Him in sheer agony.  How it must have broken His heart.  But still, because of the Father’s great love for humanity, He willingly chose to fill the cup with the sins of the world and give it to His Son to drink. Knowing that its weight would surely crush Him.

When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter tried to defend Him with his sword.  But Jesus quickly subdued him saying, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me? (John 18:11).  The transfer of the cup had already been made, and Jesus obediently took it from His Father.  With every step He took towards Calvary, He took another drink from the sin-cup, transferring the sins of the world from the heart of man to His own heart.  The weight was unbearable.  

As He hung on the cross, abandoned by His Father and His friends, imagine the premature celebration that took place in hell.  The enemy threw everything he had into that cup, believing it would result in victory over the Almighty.  But as Jesus approached His final breath, knowing that all was now finished, said, ‘I thirst’.   A simple phrase becomes a victory cry!  He declares in the face of an enemy who thought he had won that the cup was not too much for Him; still, He thirsts!  And He will rise again in victory, for there is no power of hell and no scheme of man that can defeat our God.  He has overcome!  May we never forget the strength and power of our God.

Everyday Advent: His Arrival

Christmas day at my grandparents’ farmhouse was always a sweet combination of love and chaos—anyone with a large family can probably relate. Each of my grandparents’ four kids (my mom included) brought their entire family to the farmhouse with all of their wrapped presents in tow. All thirty or so of us exchanged gifts one by one—we’re talking hours upon hours of opening presents together. But before any gift was ever unwrapped, we always honored the family tradition of sharing the year’s highlights. From the adults to the kids, we all shared what God had done in our lives over the past year—tears and laughs always accompanied the stories. In reflection, those were some of my favorite Christmas memories. But at the time, I vividly recall feeling deeply uncomfortable and hesitant to talk about God and praise Him for what He was doing in my life. If I was to be really honest, I think it was because I had yet to really have a personal encounter with Him.

Authentic worship always comes from a fresh advent of Him.

Over the years that followed, I encountered and fell in love with God, and Christmas began to mean so much more to me than a pile of presents under the family tree. When my grandparents eventually passed away and my aunts and uncles’ families grew far too large to combine Christmases, we began new traditions at my parents’ home in Seattle. But just like Christmases of old, we still share our highlights before the gift exchange. Having now experienced a Holy Spirit advent in my life, I can’t help but boast about the Lord and His good work in my heart when my turn to share comes! I think that’s how it is with the Lord. When revelation of Him is void, our tongue is tied and our worship suffers. But when we experience everyday advents, it leads to a soft heart of praise.

The same is true for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Having spent five months in seclusion with the Lord having her heart deep cleaned and prepared for a fresh advent, one day Elizabeth is greeted by Mary the mother of Jesus (who had just had her own angel advent and supernatural conception). Scriptures say that ‘when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby ]John] leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ (Luke 1:40-41).  Because of the preparation that had already been done in Elizabeth’s heart, she was fully ready for this arrival of the Holy Spirit at her first encounter with Jesus (even in the womb). What a beautiful moment that must have been!

Mary ended up staying with Elizabeth for about three months, and at some point during that time she penned one of the most beautiful praise songs in scripture. Though Mary gets credit for writing the song, Elizabeth was present when it was written. So I like to think of it as a co-write: ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God, my SaviourHe has filled the hungry with good things’ (Luke 1:46-55). A Holy Spirit advent always leads to authentic worship!

In the same way, Zechariah’s preparation season of silence made ready his heart for a Holy Spirit advent of His own. While Elizabeth’s heart was prepared and filled in the fifth month of her pregnancy, it took the Lord a little longer to work on the lack of faith in Zechariah’s heart. Soon after their son was born, they had still not officially given him a name. Naming was significant in Jewish tradition, and it was custom to name a child after his father . So all of the friends and family naturally suggested they call him Zechariah. Still silenced by God and unable to speak, they gave Zechariah the last word on the child’s name. The significance of this moment is profound. After more than nine months of silence while God dealt with his lack of faith, Zechariah now had a choice to make—cave to the pressure of logic and his people’s tradition or obey, in faith, the word God clearly gave him, ‘You are to call him John’. The family handed him a writing tablet and on it he wrote his answer; we will name the boy, John.  An absolute act of faith! In that moment of obedience, Scripture says that ‘immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising GodFilled with the Holy Spirit, he began to prophesy’ (Luke 1:64-67). God cleared out Zechariah’s lack of faith and prepared him for a fresh advent of His Spirit.

And just like Elizabeth, his natural response was one of authentic worship! He, too, penned a beautiful praise song to God, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come toenable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days’ (Luke 1:67-75).  Out of this heart disposition, he then dedicated John to the Lord and anointed his ministry—charging him to ‘prepare the way for Himto shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace’ (Luke 1:76-79).  

Having been intentionally prepared by God, just a few months after this beautiful advent the earth received the most important advent in all of history—in the form of a baby named Jesus.

This advent season, if your worship has grown dull or your heart feels numb, perhaps you are in need of a fresh advent of His presence. And if that is the case, pray for a fresh anticipation for Him—look for God all around you! And do the hard work of preparing room for Himeven if that process is painful. Even if it leads you into the desert. Or into a season of silence. Or seclusion. Trust Him. Allow the hand of God to reach into the dark places of your heart that you’ve fought so hard to keep hidden.

An advent will come on the other side. And a heart of worship will come forth like never before. That is my Christmas prayer for you and for me. 

‘And heaven and nature sing. And heaven and nature sing. And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.'

Everyday Advent: My Preparation

When we arrived for Christmas at my grandparents’ farmhouse each year, it was always clear that they were joyfully anticipating our coming. But they didn’t just anticipate our arrival, they also intentionally prepared for it. The house was cleaned and decorated, the beds were arranged (including the famous ‘feather bed’ that all of us kids fought over), and the cupboards were stocked with holiday sweets.

Anticipation without preparation is hollow.

‘Preparation must precede God’s presence! God’s instruction for preparation is specific: repentance! This involves a complete change of mind, heart, will and behavior toward Him. He is Lord, and your life must be prepared to receive Him as your Lord. Anything less is inadequate.’  (Henry Blackaby Experiencing God)

The process of preparation is hard and often painful; it involves a lot of soul-work, surrendering to the conviction of the Spirit—letting Him clean up and clear out my heart, making room for more of God.

Back to the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

I may be giving away the ending, but God had a beautiful advent planned for them—not only would they bear a son, but they would also experience a pouring out and filling of the Holy Spirit. But before this advent could happen in fullness, God had to deep clean and prepare the hidden rooms of their hearts.

This process began immediately after the angel revealed to Zechariah that he and Elizabeth were going to conceive a child who would prepare the way of the Lord. Much was revealed about Zechariah’s heart condition by the way he quickly responded to this promise, but ‘how can I be sure of this? I am on old man and my wife is well along in years’ (Luke 1: 18). Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, and Zechariah’s sharp response fully exposed a heart that lacked faith and trust in God’s providence in his life.

Oh, how my Zechariah heart resonates with this trust-struggle.

The angel responded, ‘And now you will be silent and not be able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at the proper time’ (Luke 1:20). Though seasons of preparation are not always this dramatic, God knew exactly what was required to make His way to the hidden places of Zechariah’s heart to prepare room for His coming advent. What it took was nine months of absolute silence—no opportunity for Zechariah to talk back to God and question His providence. Though little is written in scripture about what exactly God did in Zechariah’s heart in that silent season, I would imagine a great deal of soul-work was accomplished. Sometimes I think I could use a nine-month prescription of silence in my life too.

In the same way, God was also preparing Elizabeth’s heart for her Holy Spirit advent! Luke 1:24 records that when she conceived the child that the angel promised them, she spent five months in seclusion.  Five months! Alone—with a silent husband and a whispering God. Unlike Zechariah, scripture does reveal some of what God was doing in the hidden places of Elizabeth’s heart during her season of preparation. She declares, ‘The Lord has done this for meIn these days [of seclusion] He has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people’ (Luke 1:25). Living most of her life as a barren woman, I can only imagine the pain and the shame that had permeated the deep corners of Elizabeth’s heart. But how gracious of God to allow a season of isolation—a desert experience—knowing exactly what her soul needed.  In her isolation, He was able to reach to the hidden places, to heal her and clear out her shame so that there would be room for His presence to soon come in. What a mercy of God.

‘Let every heart prepare Him room’

It is not human nature to welcome the deep-cleaning hand of God. But in order for us to be fully prepared for a fresh advent of His presence, it is necessary. Had Zechariah and Elizabeth not submitted to their God-ordained preparation seasons, the depth of the advent that was about to arrive would be missed.

This has been a hard truth for me lately. I often and earnestly ask the Lord to reveal Himself to me in deeper ways, but as soon as that revelation involves any kind of deep cleaning in my heart, I am reluctant. ‘You can go anywhere in my heart, God, just not therethose spaces are best left untouched. Unprepared.’ But He is a jealous God, and He wants all of me! All of my Zechariah lack of faith. All of my Elizabeth shame.  And though we don’t know what is to come, He does—so who is better to prepare us for the mystery of what’s ahead than Him? 

Everyday Advent: My Anticipation

Anticipation 2.png

Every Christmas our family reads aloud from the Bible. the story of Jesus’ birth. So as I was seeking fresh revelation this Advent season, this story seemed like the obvious place to begin. But as I dove into the scriptures, I realized that only two of the four gospels actually account the Christmas story. How could such an important, history-altering event be excluded from half of the gospels? And what is even more perplexingall four gospel books, within the first three chapters, do account for the advent of John the Baptist. I’m not suggesting that John is in any way elevated above Jesus; even John said emphatically that he is not even worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals. But I do think that all of this reveals something really significant about God’s heart for Christmas.  John’s entire existence was centered on building anticipation for the coming of Jesus—to ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths for Him.’  God wanted His people to be prepared and excited for His arrival, so He announced His advent ahead of time through the life of John.

God cares about our anticipation.

One of my favorite Christmas memories growing up was journeying the 16 hours from our home in Florida to our grandparents’ home in Illinois to spend the holidays with family. Our arrival was highly anticipated. Every year, as soon as we pulled into their snowy driveway, through the windows we would see our grandma throw her hands in the air. Overjoyed. Then she would scurry over to the dial-up telephone and call all of our family to tell them we had arrived. We could hear her announcing, ‘They’re here! They’re here!’ And as our road-weary family entered their farmhouse, she and grandpa would rush to greet us with smiles and tears.

Joy to the World, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. 

In the same way, God enjoys being received well. He wants me to look for Him with joy and anticipation! He wants me to stay sensitive to the subtle movements of His presence in my life—watching and waiting—so that when He arrives in a fresh way, I am ready to receive and announce His coming. But all of this begins with an initial anticipation of a Holy Spirit advent in my life. I have to look for Him.

John the Baptist modeled this kind of watchful anticipation. But, his parents on the other hand, well   I think the gospel of Luke includes the story of John’s parents—Zechariah and Elizabeth—before the story of Jesus’ birth for a reason. Zechariah served in the temple as a priest, and according to the scriptures both he and Elizabeth were ‘upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly’ (Luke 1:6). They were busy with the work of God and lived above reproach.

One day while serving in the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah and prophesied that, though barren and old in age, his wife Elizabeth would bear a child—and they were to name him John. He would be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth and go before the Lord to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ What a visitation; what a promise! But Zechariah was not anticipating this advent. In fact, the Bible says when he saw the angel, ’He was startled and was gripped with fear’  (Luke 1: 12).  

Unprepared. Inattentive. Zechariah was surrounded by the things of God everyday, and yet he was still caught sleeping when heaven showed up. Taken by surprise. ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it’ (Genesis 28:16)

I don’t know whether God attempted to get Zechariah’s attention in more subtle ways before this angel visitation.  Perhaps Zechariah was so preoccupied with his priestly work, that he was missing God’s everyday advent all around him. Maybe this was God’s grand gesture to finally, unmistakably get his attention. After all, He commanded the angel to appear ‘to the right of the altar of incense’—an advent, smack dab in the middle of Zechariah’s ministry-work. (The mercy in all of this: God meets us where we are and does whatever it takes to capture our attention and affections. What a Grace.) 

I have a Zechariah heart, too. It’s easy to lose my anticipation for God in the midst of my plans and routines, especially in ministry. And especially at Christmas.  I often miss fresh advents in my life because I have neglected looking and listening for Him. I become busier doing the work of God at the ‘altar of incense’ than I am on my knees—listening for His voice, eagerly awaiting Him to reveal more of Himself to me. This advent season, God has been calling me to forsake the things that distract. To slow my pace. To remind my heart to be present where my body is. And to look for His advent all around me.

He is here, but am I?

Everyday Advent

I can hardly believe that another Christmas season has already come. Time seems to move more swiftly the older I get, and each year Christmas seems to get bigger and better—a little more extravagant, a little more stressful. But my heart craves the Simple things. As I have tried to slow my heart in preparation for this year’s Advent season, I have intentionally asked God to help make the age-old story of Christ’s coming fresh for me. To strip away the tinsel and glitter and strip it down to the heart of the matter.  And so He has.

Advent.

I used to throw the word ‘advent’ around like I throw a bow off of a wrapped package. Mindlessly. But I have come to find that its meaning holds more weight than I have credited it. Advent means ‘an arrival; an approach’.

‘Jesus was born into the world, not from it. He did not emerge out of history; He came into history from the outsideOur Lord’s birth was an advent.’  (Oswald Chambers)

Though this simple truth is often concealed under layers of evergreen trimmings and glass ornaments, family gatherings and long-honored traditions (all good things), the Advent season always has been and always will be fundamentally centered on the celebration of our Saviour’s arrival from the outside in—His timely Advent! God, in a humble human frame, split the Bethlehem skies open and entered into our sin mess to save us from ourselves. As only He could. And that truth is our great source of joy; He came for us.

But living in the now chapter of the God story—with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit—I have found that God didn’t just come for me on that Christmas morning 2000 years ago. But He’s coming for me all the time. The Spirit of God has been pursuing me relentlessly and lovingly since birth, constantly splitting open the hard places of my heart to align me more closely with the Father (and Lord knows that’s a full-time job). So, yes, we celebrate the Christmas Advent, but what does it look like to experience an everyday Advent of the presence of God?  How do I live with a daily anticipation and sensitivity to Him? How do I prepare Him room in my heart?  

In the wake of my Christmas prayer this year, God has peeled back a layer of His heart for Christmas and given me a glimpse into what Advent is truly all about. So consider this your formal invitation to a three-part journey with me over the next few days as I wrestle through some of these questions—and as we anticipate and prepare our hearts for Christmas.

 

Anna Grace

A Hard Week...

This has been a hard week and tonight I find myself processing a lot and wondering at life and death and all that it means and holds.  How brief is this life?  How grand is eternity?  How consumed have I become with temporal things and fixated on things that just don’t really matter?  All questions tossing around in my head.  

I know, this is not the typical Christmasy, holly jolly post you would be expecting this season, but sometimes life happens —and so it has for us this week.  Sometimes we feel the weight of this cursed world more than other times and are reminded of the brevity of our lives here. These past few days with sudden and tragic loss of several friends and being faced with hard life decisions, I am so grateful that He is Savior and that He came for us.  Jesus, our rescuer, our victor came for us and He is coming for us.  The Spirit brought to my attention this scripture and I find great comfort here tonight…

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I sit staring at the lights on my Christmas tree, taking in the wonder of this season… it’s meaning and beauty runs deeper in my veins.  He came for us so that the sting of death could be swallowed up for good, forever.  Our victory is so magnificent that even death doesn’t win.  With so much pain circling around in my own tiny world, I know, more than ever, that this is a hard season for SO many who are grieving, who are alone, longing, hoping, missing, waiting…so much hard…and yet at the same time what a greater joy is this season to those who are waiting, missing, hoping, weeping to receive this gift of our greatest hope and eternal victory. The One who swallowed up death in Victory for us. Jesus, this Christmas story is so much more than a story or a season — this is everything.  All encompassing, all surpassing, all we need — this is it and what it means for us is beyond good news! Death did not win.  Sin has been defeated.  Jesus won!

As my heart aches tonight for those known and unknown who are weeping, missing, longing even more my heart is rejoicing in Jesus and what that baby that came for us on Christmas means. 

Rest

Since I was a little girl, I have always had an active mind and active hands. Days when my pastor- parents turned our home into a retreat from the busyness of the week—with resting hearts and unhurried hands—were nearly unbearable for me; I needed something to do. One of the questions I asked my parents the most was, ‘What do you want me to make?’ I always had a bent towards creating things; I love the process of putting material around a vision in my head and seeing it through the creation process to the end. Over the years, my parents’ answers to that question led me to create things like 3D colonial villages made from cardboard, cardhouses the size of the living room, amateur movies about saving the neighborhood from disease, and scripts to plays that we performed at the entryway of our house (yes, I cast Ally in those plays...and yes, I always made her play the male roles). When I finished one project, I was immediately onto the next one.  Idle hands are the devils workshop (Proverbs 16:27), right?

When I was young, I had a surplus of energy to keep up with this creative cycle. And though my love for creativity has not changed, as I have gotten older my energy and ability to sustain that creative pace has slowed. And at times, it has left me on the brink of burn out. That’s where I found myself in recent months. The past year was full. Ben and I bought and renovated our first home, dove into full- time ministry at Madison Park Church, welcomed our beautiful niece into the world (Ivey Ray), and we released our newest album We Hymn with Alanna Story. So many projects—so much energy expended—and my heart was swept up in it all. Tunnel vision is a beast; and burn out is its best friend.

We released We Hymn in April, and what a joy it has been to see how God is using it in His Church. I loved getting to create it, and I am honored to steward those songs in the years to come. It’s always a demanding journey to produce a new album, and I have found the hardest part of the creative process is the end. After expending so much time and energy on creating this work—energy that few people see—we inevitably arrive at the point where we determine that yes, now it is ‘finished’. And we let it go. To everyone around us, it is just the beginning of their encounter with it. But to me, it is the end of an exhausting affair. The sudden calm after a long whirlwind.

Typically after we have released an album, we jump right into a busy travel season. But this time was different. Because of having a new baby in the band, we left a lot of margin in our schedule. So literally overnight, I went from waking up every morning (for a year and a half straight) on mission with a to-do list that wouldn’t quit to waking up most mornings with very little on my schedule. In the days and weeks that followed the We Hymn release, I found myself wrestling with God. Actually it was more like an all-out brawl with His heart and mine. I was exhausted. But the child in me that is wired to stay active and bent towards producing naturally jumped right into nagging Him, ‘Ok Lord, what’s next?’—‘What do you want me to make now?’ But God was silent.

The silence paralyzed me. I didn’t know what to do with myself, with my time, with the sudden space to rest. Like Elijah in the desert after he defeated the prophets of Baal, I have never wanted to quit more than I did in that season. ‘I have had enough Lord’ (1 Kings 19:4.) I felt all washed up. Spent. Discouraged. Defeated. I had more margin in my life to rest than I knew what to do with, but I couldn’t slow my heart down enough to embrace it. And all the while my knee-jerk reaction was to try and jump into the next project. But God wouldn’t allow it.

One morning in May, I woke up and again begged God to assign me my next task—even though I knew I had little energy to see it through. And this time instead of silence He answered me plainly: ‘Anna, I have provided you the space to rest. It is a gift. Do not squander it.’

It felt like a loving yet serious slap across the face. It shook me up and woke me up. In that moment the scales lifted from my eyes, and I saw clearly just how intertwined my soul had become with my performance. Not performance in terms of what happens on a stage, but performance in terms of what I do. And when the doing was removed from my heart equation, I felt a little lost.

Performance says I am what I do. Rest says I am what He did.

My need for doing and my inability to rest revealed just how Old Testament I was. The law says that my standing with God is based entirely on my ability to perform and produce—and I can never do enough or be enough to meet that impossible standard. But the Cross is a beautiful permission slip to rest because there is nothing I can do to allure or repel God’s love; I get to just rest in knowing I don’t have to try so hard. Rest is God’s provision for my Old Testament soul.

I have always known that God has given me permission to rest in Him, but I had yet to fully give myself that permission. When I came to this realization in May, rather than getting overwhelmed with how far I had drifted and making a list of all the things I needed to do to return to fullness, I let the Spirit guide me in my recovery process. I love that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit our ‘Counselor’—oh, how much (free!) therapy He has given me over the years. And in this past season, the Spirit has helped unravel the tangled web of my heart and my production and create margin to relearn how to rest in Him. Like the angel spoke to Elijah in the desert, the Spirit whispered to my heart: ‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you’ (1 Kings 19:7). He gave me permission to take my eyes off the journey for a while and focus on replenishment instead.

I’ve been taking small, manageable steps; doing only the things I must do each day and filling the rest of my time with the things I want to do. I’ve spent time cooking, gardening, decorating, golfing. I’ve spent time around the table with people who inspire me. I started a new journal and bought a stack of new books to tackle this summer. Some days I crawl into bed having not produced anything tangible that day...and I’m learning to be okay with that! Slow and steady, my heart is returning to wholeness. I’m learning to lead authentically and to worship from a place of reality. To live and lead while being ‘in process’.

The Cross means something different to me now. Yes, it is the image of love and grace and mercy. But when I approach the Cross right now, I find rest. I find my permission to let go and just be. I am a mess that is being untangled one heartstring at a time. I am coming alive again, and the Cross is my inhale and my exhale—my permission to breathe and rest. 

Q&A | "We Hymn"

What special stylings, if any, have been infused into the music to make it fresh for today’s worshiper?

The challenge with the styling of this project was to bring fresh sounds to these songs while also keeping them accessible enough so that local churches can use the arrangements and recreate the sounds in their services. So while we definitely experimented with a lot of programmed sounds on this project (i.e. synths, electric drums sounds, etc.) as well as some of the folk instruments you would expect to hear from Alanna Story (accordion, mandolin, strings etc.), we also used a choir and a full band so that it reflects the kind of corporate sound that many churches use in their local context. 

Q&A | "We Hymn"

What about the words of the hymns make them timeless and influential in our walk with God?

I grew up thinking that the word ‘hymn’ was strictly a noun and included only the songs found in a hymnal. But as we dove into this hymn project, I looked up what the word ‘hymn’ actually means, and it isn’t just a noun; it is also a verb that simply means to praise. This struck me so deeply because I think as a Church, at some point, we conditioned ourselves to think only ‘these specific songs written before this date’ can constitute as a hymn—or a praise song. But our God is always moving and doing new things in each generation; and as we experience His goodness and faithfulness, just like the hymn writers of old experienced in their time, we too are compelled to respond with praise songs that declare our love and affection for God. Though the songs of old are lyrically beautiful and have stood the test of time, hymns aren’t just songs that can be found in a hymnal; hymns are being written and sung all the time by this generation and will continue for generations to come...because it’s all praise! I think this is why God asks us multiple times in His Word to ‘sing a new song’...to hymn Him; to praise Him! 

Q&A | "We Hymn"

Why did Alanna Story decide to record a hymns project?

We grew up singing hymns in church and with our family, and we have always loved the depth of the lyrics and the way the melodies get into your head and heart. But we have also seen how the heritage of our ‘hymns’ has often divided the Church’s worship culture in some ways. We have seen the young generation grab ahold of new choruses and melodies (which are so great and help many connect to the heart of God), but many times this is at the expense of losing touch with the songs of old.

We have also seen a generation who grew up singing hymns cling to those songs and the way they have always been done at the expense of embracing some of the new and powerful ways worship has grown and allowed the Church to engage with the presence of God in an authentic way. We need both in our worship! As a ministry, Alanna Story has often been called to lead both sides of this polarity, and we have struggled to discern how to help unify the Church’s expression of worship so it doesn’t become a generational ‘us and them’ mentality.

So over the past few years, we tried to get creative with how to approach this ever-growing gap. We started experimenting with taking the hymns that the generation before us loves (and we do too!) and put them in a modern context with fresh sounds and new, sing-able choruses in an attempt to connect both generations to the heart of God. As we did this, we found that whether we were leading at a youth convention or a pastor’s conference, these songs bridged the generational gap and helped usher the Church into engaging worship. And because we know that many churches and leaders are struggling to find the same balance in their worship culture, we are making available all of the tools needed to lead these songs in the local church context in hopes of helping to unifying the generational worship gap. The worship leader’s tool package will include all of the charts and scores (band, choir, strings) and live tracks (stems and accompaniment). 

To See His Face

This holiday season has felt so different for me.  Not only is it flying by, but I find my heart, being completely honest, a little distracted and more focused on the arrival of my little girl than the birth of Christ this year.  I suppose that’s to be understood, right?  

I have been nesting like crazy these past few weeks that we’ve been nestling back into home life and off the road for a season.  It has been so much fun putting the finishing touches on her nursery, pulling tags off of her tiny new clothes and washing and putting them neatly in her drawers.  I go into her room often and just stare, imagining what it will be like in a few weeks when she’s with us!  Hard to wrap my mind around.

A few nights ago I was in my bedroom putting some laundry away and I found myself looking, again, at her 18 week ultrasound photo (the one where we found out we were having a GIRL) which sits framed next to my bed.  It hit me not only how tiny she was then but even more how much she has grown and developed in the past several months.  The last time we got a peak at her she was roughly the size of bell pepper (strange that babies get compared to random fruit and vegetables but oh well) — only 5 and half inches long and few ounces.  And since then how she has changed and developed so much but I can only feel it.  I am aching to see her face! To see whose features she has, which I’m praying she has Stephens blue eyes.  I can’t wait to hold her and smell her smell and watch her be her.  I can’t wait to lay eyes on our little girl!  

Then it dawned on me… all this anticipation that I feel for her is only a glimpse of what it will be to lock eyes with Jesus face some day.  The anticipation that all of heaven must have felt when Christ came to earth at Christmas and now how heaven and His bride ache for the day He will come again for us, once and for all, to redeem and set us free!  It was a revelation moment for me as I stared at that picture.  My anticipation and story is only a shadow of the grandest story of all.  Still I say, Thank you Jesus that you give us glimpses into what you are doing on much grander scale.  A peek into His heart and how He loves and longs for us.

I anticipate the moment I lock eyes with our daughter.  It will be one of the grandest moments of my earthly life AND a taste of what’s to come.  Praying this Christmas season for a fresh longing to see my Saviors face and that the anticipation for His return would burn more and more in my heart!  

"Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall SEE him as he is."     

1 John 3:2

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year,

Ally

4 Seconds

The band spent this past week in Cedar Rapids recording drum and bass tracks for our new full- length record Ancient Gates at our family’s studio. We spent the last two years planning for this inaugural trip; so many hours of designing, drafting and researching went into building the studio space, and we were finally putting it to use for the first time. As sounds began to be made in that space on songs that we have been crafting for the past year, we were in awe and overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement for what is to come. But at the same time...

As we were driving to the studio, I heard report of a massive mudslide that demolished and buried the village of Oso in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. It was the largest mudslide in Washington state history, taking out a whole square mile of terrain, neighborhoods, and a major highway as the entire side of a mountain gave way with tsunami force. Though we live in the Midwest, western Washington is our home (our parents pastor an amazing church right on the coast). Oso is just north of my home, and it is where our family went to fish and camp. We drive I-530 (now obliterated by the mudslide) when we want to ‘go somewhere beautiful’.

As we drove in anticipation towards our new studio in Iowa, I looked at photos of the devastation and called my Mom to check in. With concern in her voice, she told me that our family friends, the Millers, did not show up for church that morning. Larry and Sandy Miller always sat in the row behind us at church. They ran the marriage ministry and led the men’s discipleship program. They were involved in everything—always serving, always present. Many years ago they had a dream of building a home that could be used as a retreat for couples they mentored in the marriage ministry. So they bought a stunning piece of property right on the Stillaguamish River and began the long, arduous work of constructing the home. My parents took motorcycle trips to the property on their days off to see the progress. The Millers spent almost every weekend working on the home, and they were only a few short weeks away from moving in.

Friends unmistakably placed Larry and Sandy at the home on the Saturday morning when the mudslide hit. Geologists say that from the time the land gave way, it took only 4 seconds for it to hit the Millers’ dream home, demolish it like it was put into a blender and spit back out, then cover it in upwards of 15 feet of mud. Only 4 seconds. My heart sunk as I heard the news and imagined the scene.

As my parents mourn the loss and also try to lead a large congregation through the tragedy, my Dad reminded me of his ministry creed: Preparing People for Christ’s Coming (PPFCC). At the core of his ministry, he wants people to be ready at every turn to meet the Lord. A few years back, he launched a church-wide campaign called ‘Are You Ready?’ They made pins to wear to begin conversations with people about their spiritual readiness. The Millers were the biggest cheerleaders for the campaign. In fact, Larry wore one of the pins everywhere he went. Even several years after the campaign was launched, he still wore a pin every Sunday on the lapel of his suit coat. He was ready, and he wanted others to be as well.

We arrived in Iowa and immersed ourselves in 16+ hour workdays. And though the project was coming together beautifully, I found myself on the brink of tears everyday, sitting in my little corner of the studio control room, trying to unpack why the tragedy was hitting me so hard. The Millers will be greatly missed by my family and the NCC community, and the photos of the devastation are enough to tear your heart apart. But there was something deeper in me that was stirred. I looked around this beautiful studio, and I thought about the years it took to dream up and build that space. So much of my heart was attached to that work. It was so much like the Millers and their dream home. And then I realized—it only took 4 seconds for nature to wipe out the many years of plans, dreams, work... and ultimately their very lives. It is really easy to obsess about building little kingdoms. We plan, invest, insure, and grow our little kingdoms so that some day we can retire, put our feet up and disappear in them. But when our focus is fixed on earthly things, our souls and the kingdom of God quietly suffer. ‘For what does a man have if he gets all the world and loses his own soul?’( Matt. 16:26). We cannot take any of our stuff with us, and one day we will be judged only for what is unseen—our own heart condition and our soul work. So shouldn’t we be investing way more in those things? The things that we will take with us. Because in 4 seconds all of our earthly things could be taken away. And in the same 4 seconds we could be swooped up to Jesus’ side.

Yes, the Millers had big plans and God-sized dreams. But their perspective was never fixed on the stuff; they always held it with loose hands. Their biggest concern was to ready their own hearts and prepare the kingdom. And that’s the kind of life I want to live. Always aware of the 4 seconds, but never fearful of them. A good steward with a loose grip. We celebrate the Millers’ lives and thank them for the reminder of the brevity of life and our need for a ‘readiness to meet Jesus at any and every turn’ (O. Chambers)

Power In Remembering

It is amazing to look back and remember where the Lord has brought us. I don’t take the time often enough to journey backwards and just — remember. I am so thankful for pictures and how they can so vividly and tangibly remind me and take me back. I would forget so much without them.

On our way down to Nashville a few nights ago the five of us were just talking and reminiscing about all the stories and experiences we have had up to this point — the good, the bad and the ugly. We were trying to pass time so I opened up an old folder of photos on my computer and just began to look through and literally see so many faces and venues, strange haircuts and awkward outfit choices, just laughing and standing in awe of ALL that God has done and all the places He has put before us.

It almost felt divine that we stumbled on those photos as we were traveling down for some very pivotal meetings and preparing to take some new steps of faith as band. To remember and see what the Lord has done over the years and to really savor the gifts of the journey thus far. Two little girls who loved music and were given the freedom to discover and uncover their passion for it could never have imagined that we would find ourselves here today with already such a story to tell.  When we choose to follow Jesus, life is such a glorious adventure ! I take such comfort and joy in the hand of the Lord on my life, on our lives and today I just delight in what he HAS done and look forward with expectation for what He is going to do.

Take some time to look back and see all that God has already done in your life. I hope you see so many gifts and how the faithful hand of the Lord has been with you every step of the way.

Here are a few of those photos that helped take us back and remember…

MORE: Counting the Cost

I am a firm believer in seasons. Looking back over my life thus far, I can see over and over how months and even years have looked like seasons… Seasons of joy and blessing, of challenge and faith, seasons of pain and loss.

In all of it I can see the mighty hand of God and how He has prepared and pruned me for the next chapter in the story. I love and have been clinging to this hope…

“By His divine power, God has given us EVERYTHING we need to live a Godly life.” (2 Peter 1:3).

He promises that in all things he is more and more equipping and shaping us into His likeness for his glory. If that was it and that was all that summed up my life in the end, what an amazing story, right?

I say all of this to hopefully bring you up to speed on what the Lord has been forming in us. It’s been a while since you’ve heard from us and in that time the Lord has been imparting greater vision and great excitement for the road ahead. With that we see that the days and weeks ahead will require more of us. More faith. More trust. More time and energy. So much MORE! But I can look back and see how God was preparing us in season for what He has in store for us now. I cling to that truth again that ALL I need is in Him. His strength and grace is sufficient, yes even in my abounding weakness and even when i think i’m not cut out for the job. Even still He is enough!

I was reading a few weeks ago in the gospel of Luke and reminded and affirmed of this “more” that is being asked of me through a very familiar passage. If you have some time, go and read Luke 14:25-35. Here Jesus is explaining what is required if you want to be a true & fully abandoned disciple. Taking up a cross, leaving behind all that you love and hold close. And then Jesus says this,

“But don’t begin until you count the cost.”

Those words hit me hard and I feel like I have settled there and for good purpose. I have never really been one to rush into things and almost to a fault I am cautious and careful to determine each step. But this time it has been important for me to consider a greater cost and the real worth behind this call of Jesus. If there is no cost, then what real value does it hold on my life. It’s so easy to live day in and day out so comfortable and content with a label –“Christian” “worship leader” — and yet it having no real deep costly impact on my life. Trust me, that is my natural tendency. I love comfortable and I want to run from those things that will disrupt it.

But the more I know and see my Jesus, the more uncomfortable I want to become because I know the more I will see and identify with him. In this moment in Luke 14, Jesus is not saying that everyone will choose to follow him in this way and I’m sure the majority of those listening to these words chose not to and I get it. It’s much easier to stay comfortable.

Can I be completely candid with you? — I am overwhelmed by the cost. I see God asking for more of me and part of me wants to ignore it and run and hide or maybe convince God that I am inadequate to be a truly abandoned follower. That kind of life is for those radical adventurous spirits, and that’s just not me. But like I mentioned at the beginning — the seasons where he has proven Himself over and over to me, the faith that He has been building, the trust that I have in who HE IS, the sweetness of his presence, all of it is so much greater than any fear I have about the cost. When I consider Jesus and all that he endured to offer us the cross, oh how it stirs and ignites my spirit. Courage begins to well up within me and I know that it is the MORE of his Spirit that enables the MORE!

I hope you can follow my heart on this and I hope that you can take some time to remember the seasons of your life. Remember and see how the Lord has revealed himself to you over and over and given you “everything you need!” I also hope that you will consider the cost of being a follower of Jesus. In this new year I believe God is calling his people closer than ever before. The enemy is putting up his best fight and trying desperately to take as many with him as he can and we must stay close to our Defender and Victor! Don’t let fear keep you from trusting and leaning into Jesus more. It is the best way and he is faithful.

I hope that you will embark on this journey of MORE with us. I am excited to keep you updated this year on all that God is doing and is going to do in the band. Again, we beg you to pray for us when God brings us to mind. There is such power in intercession and more than ever we need to be lifting up kingdom prayers for one another.

We hope this will be a rich year and full of the “MORE” that God has for you! Keep checking back for updates!

That’s all for now…

Ally

Welcome To Our New Home

IT'S HERE!!!!!!

Welcome to the new site! We are so excited to have a new online "home" to share stories & photos and to keep you up to date on all the happenings with the band as we travel and play. Our hope is that this would truly be an extension of us and a way for you to stay connected but also find encouragement in your own journey. 

I (Ally) am so excited to start writing again about what the Lord is speaking into my life, how He is continually challenging me and constantly pushing me to know Him more. God is constantly pouring new dreams and ideas into this band of Jesus lovers and it will be so fun to share that with you along the way. 

SO.....keep checking back with us, SIGN UP for EMAIL updates and when God brings us to mind please PRAY for us! We are so grateful for all of you and look forward to the next time we get to see you in person. But until that day comes, we hope that you will enjoy this new home!

Love & Blessings,

Ally

A New Van & a Blessing

Bear with me this time friends -- this is a long one for me :)

Faith is such a common word in our Christian language. I grew up hearing about it all the time, at home and in Sunday school, and until recently I thought I had a pretty good dose of it in my life. I think my understanding of what it means to have faith in God really was a definition much too small. I don't know what caused this sudden stirring afresh in me, but I have been challenged deeply to have greater and greater faith in my God. Maybe it's just the fact that the more I know him the bigger He is becoming.

I grew up praying a lot of prayers that were asking God for protection and asking him to be with me and my family - all true and sincere. I have known the Lord for a long time and walked closely with Him but this area of faith has honestly gone untouched without even realizing it. A few years ago, I began hearing stories of how others were seeing God move in incredible miraculous ways in their lives and I started asking myself why I wasn't experiencing God in this way. As this truth began to sink deeper into my soul I began to slowly pursue Jesus in a whole new way... asking him for things that ONLY God could do, things that were so far beyond my ability that in the end God and God alone could only get the glory.

To be completely honest, He didn't respond with great flashes of lightning or in miraculous signs and wonders... but he did begin changing my heart and shifting my mind to see him Greater. Friends, though He hasn't always responded in tangible ways my faith has increased and He is revealing himself anew as I have just said, "God I want to see a great move of YOU in my life and around me. I want to know this part of you that brings you great joy because of my great faith in you!" Hebrews 11: 5-6

I could tell you so many stories that have come since this change in my thinking but I want to share one specific and recent moment. Many of you that follow the band probably know of our great need for a van. When "Big Blue" went to automobile heaven a few months ago we knew that we were dependent on the Lord to provide. Thankfully our summer schedule happened to be quiet and we didn't really need for another van until the end of July. So we prayed and searched and prayed and asked and nothing was really happening. And my friends, this is when you can or at least I can start to feel like God doesn't really care about this stuff or that we already were blessed with a van and this time we needed to make it happen ourselves. The enemy is so good at messing with my mind... Still I kept fighting and putting it before God. I really wanted Him to have another opportunity to show up in our story!

I believe it was a Tuesday afternoon and we had about a month before we REALLY needed to have a van. I was driving around town just talking to the Lord and specifically about this situation. My heart was simple and just asked,"God we really don't need you to give us a van but we do need you to guide us. There are so many vans but would you just direct us to the right one. We don't need it to be free or anything, just the right one. We need your help in this God. It is beyond us." That was it. My heart was really trusting and confident! That night Stephen was sitting on the couch searching again and he told me he thought he might have found something.. It wasn't pretty or anything to write home about but it had low miles and looked to be in decent shape and a great price. (For those of you who don't know we have deemed Stephen as our transportation manager and we are so thankful for his knowledge in this area. Truly a gift from God!)

The next morning he called the number and the first words uttered on the other end were truly incredible. He barely had the chance to say hello before the guy on the other end told Stephen very directly that he was really praying this van would remain in ministry and that whoever had the van next would be able to keep using it to serve the kingdom. He went on to let us know that his son had struggled with addictions and it was purchased for a program to help him get his life back in order. Already this was enough to convince me that God was moving and providing in an amazing way! After the conversation Stephen was convinced that we needed to walk through this opened door.

Ben, Stephen and I traveled a few hours south to check out this potential new home on the road. To be honest, she was not a beautiful sight to behold as we pulled up the drive but we took her for a spin up and down the hills of a small middle of nowhere Indiana town. It just felt right and as we handed the money over we got the chance to hear a little more of his story. He told us that the night before, about the same time that I was praying, he was crying out to the Lord. They really needed the money and he was literally pleading with God to come through in a supernatural way. He started to tear up and you could see on his face that this whole situation was truly an answer to prayer for him too.

We had the chance to pray for this couple before we left that God would continue to bless them and use them to serve his kingdom. As we traveled home it all hit me how God not only answered my prayer and his, but more he used the whole circumstance to be a blessing in all of our lives. Isn't that God! So often I am not even aware of Him and I can't imagine all that I miss because I'm not asking, not seeking, unaware of His presence and movement all around me.

That verse that says, "Without faith it is impossible to please God," came rushing into my mind and the next few days I kept repeating it and meditating deeply on the simple but vast truth. Why is it so hard for me to have faith in God. I wish it was natural for me but I guess there in lies the challenge for us all. I love how this same verse reads in the message. It says (and may this really sink in)... "It's impossible to please God apart from faith. Any why? Because anyone who wants to approach God must believe both that he exists and that he cares enough to respond to those who seek him."

That part about believing that he will "respond to those who seek him" might be the hardest part for me. I struggle and have struggled with issues of self worth for as long as I can remember. It's just a place where the enemy knows I am weak. That being said sometimes I think I am convinced by lies that tell me God doesn't really care about this or don't bother him with that little issue or he has already blessed my life so much I should let him take a break on this one. But friends, I am CONVINCED more than ever that God DOES care and what He is after is not the specific requests or perfect prayers but He wants our confidence in Him. Friends, in the end God is after His glory and name going out into all the world. And how does that happen? FAITH! I believe faith is the greatest means for God to get the greatest glory for us and for those in our path.

Do we really trust Him to be all that He claims to be or are we content to just go about our self-centered lives and mediocrity that it often brings day in and day out? Or, are you ready for a life of true risky life altering FAITH? What abundance and joy is found in this kind of living!

I promise you, your days will change and your perspective will be dramatically different when we really begin to believe that our God is great and "able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we are able to ask, think or imagine and all to the GLORY of God!"

May your faith continue to you grow as you seek Him!

Ally

Removing The Veil

As many of you may know, we are in season of Sabbath and stillness.  It is so good to take time to just "be" and give true space for the Lord to fill me up.  I'll be honest, it takes me a good amount of time to unwind and settle but I am finally-- after a few weeks-- and finding myself really letting down and experiencing fresh revelations of the Lord.

The other day I was browsing through my sisters book shelf hoping to find a title that would inspire me.  I non-chalantly grabbed a book called "The Pursuit of God" by A.W. Tozer in hopes that it would satisfy my craving for a compelling and challenging read (often I am disappointed after a few chapters and stop reading).  I am sure some of you are reading this and laughing because you know this classic is all this goodness and more.

To my great delight this book has already, just 3 chapters in, been extremely life giving, challenging to my spirit and stirred up so much passion and love for the Presence of the Lord.

Going back a few months...I found myself feeling a little barren in my soul.  It's not to say that I haven't been walking with the Lord and He has surely been speaking and moving in and around me yet somehow beneath it all I still sensed a distance -- a coolness in my passion for the Him. Have you ever been there?  There was no "thing" that I could pin point, just a general feeling of stillness in my Spirit.

I am grateful for the words of this Christ follower tonight.  They have stirred up such desire and a greater understanding of our Great God.  I can already sense Him beginning to uncover new things.

I love that the beginning of experiencing more and more of Jesus is so simple--- desire.  I think too often I expect His movement in my life will depend on something I "do" instead of allowing the Lord to work as I draw near to Him.

I have been meditating on the verse in James 4: 8 a lot lately that says "draw near to God and He will draw near to you."  So simple and yet so profound.  Often I find myself in desolate places because I put forth no effort to come towards Him. But over and over in scripture the Lord says come!  And in our coming He responds! Again, the DESIRE is the beginning.

In addition to that desire I have been reminded over and over in my quiet time with the Lord to continually remember His presence is with me and to focus on that in every situation.  It is amazing how life changing that has been -- to constantly be aware of the Presence of God in every moment.  It changes everything!

Tonight, I was particularly challenged as I was reading, about what hinders our awareness of His endless ceaseless Presence with us.  Just as the veil was torn in the temple and the Holy Spirit was unleashed to roam about the earth and dwell in man - -  there is still a veil that comes between us and His presence and it is only the light shining on it that will bring it's very existence to our attention.  It is what Tozer calls "self-life" and it is so faint and unnoticeable that we often have trouble identifying it -- I know that I do and have.

He goes on to say that "they are not something we do, they are something we are and therein lies their subtlety and their power...self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self sufficiency, self-admiration...they dwell too deep within us and are too much a part of our nature to come to our attention till the light of God is focused upon them."

I think I was taught to believe it is what we "do" that will come between us and the presence of the Lord in my life not the subtle things that are a part of our flesh and a natural tendency to live for myself.  Yet, I am finding it IS my very, subtle, nature that can create the greatest chasm of all.  Daily I must die to the "self-life" that comes so naturally and choose to pursue a life in the Presence and for the glory of God.  Though that is my true identity -- I must fight for it and be awakened to the gentle veil that arises in my heart separating me from the Holy of Holies.

I desperately want His presence abiding with me, unveiled and unhindered.  Afterall, that is what our God fought with for with everything, right?  That His presence might return and we might live in oneness with him.  I love how Tozer puts it...

"The whole work of God in redemption is to undo the tragic effects of that foul revolt, and to bring us back again into right and eternal relationship with Himself."

What an amazing God to give us another chance for oneness with Him.  It is available.  His presence is with us always.  The fight will be to keep the veil lifted and for our lives to continually reflect and give Glory.  Even in writing this I am in awe of how God created us.  To be a part in reflecting His glory, all wrapped up in His grace and love with joy and passion shining through.  I hope it excites your Spirit as it does mine.

I'll leave you with one last quote and may this remind you of your entire life's purpose...

"Man's chief end is to Glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

May that be the pursuit and desire of our hearts!

Ally

At Home With The Girls - French Toast and Strawberry Jam

I wanted to invite you into a special memory and one that continues to live on for each of us girls -- for those of you that didn't know we have an older sister too!

I remember growing up that Saturday was always sort of a special day in our home.  Yes, we had a list of chores to do which often included cleaning our room (Anna and I shared so we got to tag-team it), picking up pine cones so that dad could mow the yard without destroying our John Deer Tractor and a few other random things that mom would throw on the list week to week.

But before all of this got underway, Saturdays in the Long household always began with "hot breakfast".  My husband makes fun of me now because still to this day I like to distinguish between "hot" and regular breakfast.  Mom would usually ask us what we were feeling... pancakes, waffles, bacon & eggs... but when dad was cooking it was very likely that we would have french toast!

Maybe you're wondering why I'm boring you with all of these details about our Saturday morning breakfast traditions.  Well, dad has a certain way of, how do you say, doctoring up his french toast.  He taught us that the best way to eat french toast was not with syrup and a fork but to spread mom's homemade strawberry freezer jam on one side -- a hefty portion I might add because it's sooooo good!-- and fold it up and eat it like a sandwich.  Soooo messy and so delish!

Just typing it right now takes me back to all 4 of us kids sitting around the kitchen table eating with dad our little french toast sandwiches in hand dripping with jam.  Such sweet times together.

Because we love this strawberry jam so much, we make it a tradition or maybe more a priority to take a day and go out to strawberry fields and gather buckets of strawberry to stock our own freezers now with a few jars to last us the year!  I wanted to share the recipe and some photos with you of our adventure to the strawberry patch this year!  Ben even decided to join us though I think he left with small red bumps and some sort of allergic reaction happening on both forearms, I think we convinced him it was fun and worth it!

Enjoy!


STRAWBERRY FREEZER JAM

What You Need:

  • 2 cups  crushed strawberries (buy 1 qt. fully ripe strawberries)
  • 4 cups  sugar, measured into separate bowl
  • 3/4 cup  water
  • 1 pkg.  SURE-JELL Fruit Pectin

RINSE 5 (1-cup) plastic containers and lids with boiling water. Dry thoroughly. Discard stems. Crush strawberries thoroughly, 1 cup at a time. Measure exactly 2 cups prepared fruit into large bowl. Stir in sugar. Let stand 10 min., stirring occasionally.

MIX water and pectin in small saucepan. Bring to boil on high heat, stirring constantly. Continue boiling and stirring 1 min. Add to fruit mixture; stir 3 min. or until most the sugar is dissolved. (A few sugar crystals may remain.)

FILL containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops. Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids. Let stand at room temperature 24 hours. Jam is now ready to use. Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or in freezer up to 1 year. (If frozen, thaw in refrigerator before using.)