A Replanting

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Earlier this year I was sitting at my neighbor’s table while she made fried pies. We’re both from Arkansas and although almost 60 years separate us, chatter can pass between us like we graduated high school together. We both moved to the neighborhood in 2012. I asked her that day what brought her to Jefferson City. “To die,” she answered with a small wry smile. I came here to grow up, I told her. But I’ve thought a lot about that moment that brought two drastically different lives to intersect over moving to Stonebridge in 2012 and a desire to eat fried pies.

I also came here to deepen my commitment to authentic community.

I came to see if I would be any good at a job I knew nothing about.

I came to reconnect with the Lord.

I’ve looked back at the last four years and six months and have also realized God moved me here to grow in the area of discipline, carve out a deeply rooted passion for the marginalized, for women who have never been told they are capable of leading, and children in foster care. I’ve wept about three gallons of tears over friends who have moved, struggled with infertility, miscarriages, deaths of husbands, grandparents, brothers, and moms. I’ve exploded with joy over news of dear friends moving to Jefferson City, seen friends get jobs I’ve prayed night and day for, I’ve witnessed my first birth, gotten tested for TB five times, seen a family of two that’s turned into a family of five, prayed over the little body of the first foster child I ever knew, readied a bedroom that welcomed two answers to the fervent prayer for children.

I prayed for roots in Jefferson City; I wanted to belong somewhere.

The problem with that prayer is that God answered above and beyond and the roots have sunk down deep and strong. I’ve stayed awake some nights worried about the kids down the street if they’ll have enough food when school is out. I walk into my hair salon and I could hang out there all day if they would let me. I talk to Lou at the Towne Grill while I sit at the bar and eat bacon and scrambled eggs on Fridays. I can walk across Lincoln University campus and hear someone holler my name. I have over a dozen kids under the age of 9 that have me wrapped around their finger at church. With each root, each blessing, each answer to prayer, comes an equal amount of responsibility.  I’m learning over the last few days that part of that responsibility is knowing how to grieve it when God uproots you.

There is very little I know about life but one thing I know to be true is that where God moves is where I need to be.

God has given me the opportunity to again see if I’m any good at a job I’ve never had before. This time, it’s giving support and ‘doing life’ with aged out foster girls in need of a home. This. Is. My. Dream. And I am honored to be a part of what God is doing at this nonprofit. In a few weeks, I uproot all that God has asked me to water and tend to and head south to Rogers. The excitement and the sadness is so present, it catches my breath.

As I’m caught in the craziness of squaring things away at work, looking for housing, packing up my stuff, and being present with the people I do life with here everyday, and thinking about starting new in community again, the weight of responsibility has been heavy. I keep thinking back to Moses prayer in Psalms 90 that says, “Lord, you have always been our home”

It’s grounded the anxiety, leveled the idealized future, and brings me back to the simple calling of just going where God goes. He takes care of the detail.

One particular area of responsibility in the uprooting I feel incredibly unequipped for is knowing how to close a chapter. I don’t know many people who are good with goodbyes but I’m unbelievably bad at them. Angela has asked me how I’m going to do it and I said “I don’t know” and hopped in my car sobbed so deeply I thought I had lost a cornea. Belonging is painful in the best way imaginable and I’m honored to have my heart shattered in this transition.

On my 26 birthday my church threw me a surprise party complete with piles of handmade cards from the dozen of kids under the age of 9 that have me wrapped around their finger, a beautiful homemade cake, and the most precious painting of a dark black winter tree. It takes effort to celebrate people, especially people who aren’t in your biological family, and this gesture to this day, just the thought of it, can melt me into a puddle of hot tears. I do not deserve these people in the least.

Tonight I was organizing a few boxes and came across the handwritten note that accompanied the painting of the winter tree from my birthday, written by my woe and kindred spirit, Angela. These words hit me,

“This painting is my attempt to represent a few things. One, in spite of the fact that this season has been hard and even dark at times, the backdrop of your life has always been the glory of God. He has brought forth color and illuminated your heart time and time again. He will not stop. I also chose a mature tree in winter because you are rooted and established in God. You display maturity and discernment that are rare at any age because your roots are deep; even in winter you do not lose life. Finally, each branch represents the words that were said of you [from each family in my church.] Those things are true and a result of your faith, trust, and roots in God. Never forget.”

Praise God if there is any shred of truth to these words because it’s only through His persistent grace in my life. Angela’s call to never forget His work lands squarely before me this week.

Roots are the thing that bind you to the Author and Perfecter of our faith, that grow so slowly and steadily that you miss when it happened, the thing that you must labor incredibly hard to uproot, the thing that sustain life.

So I labor. I labor with how to say goodbye to little ones you don’t want to traumatize with your tears, to find the words to your coworkers, friends, and students to adequately convey how important they are to you, to turn the key in to the couple that’s lived with you, cried with you, fed you til you popped, laughed until you were sick, and walked across the room to take communion together as a family.

I grieve and I rejoice. If that’s not life in a nutshell, I don’t know what is. I’ve never been more grateful for the bond we have in Christ as I am welcomed with open arms in this new calling and community and close a chapter here in Jefferson City.

I don’t know where exactly home is going to be in Rogers but I know without a shadow of a doubt that it will be more hospitable than it was when I left to move to Jefferson City. I know that it will be filled with new friends and partner’s in the Gospel, that it will house both grief and joy as He continues to work in and through me, and I know it on its walls will hang perfect painting of a winter tree to never forget what He has done.

I Thessalonians 5:24 says, “He who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it!”

Next stop, Arkansas.

Bri Goes to the UK and South Africa!

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Don’t ask how I waded through two weeks of vacation footage of Cambridge, London, Pretoria, Soweto, Johannesburg, and Kruger together in a weekend. It was ugly. I only expect Ashley, Britt, Celeste and Jan Suitt to watch this in its entirety (Celeste, because she’s the harshest music critic) –for the rest of you, all the babies can be found at 12:26. Safari starts at 15:15. You’re welcome.

SO blessed to be able to take this vacation! Thankful for the Lord for providing the means, sisters who I want to visit, my sisters’ respective churches and friends for being so hospitable, thank you to lions for making me poop my pants, and to anyone who has nothing better to do than watch this. You need to get a life.

xx, Bri

 

The Burning Church

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A woman, accompanied by a number of other people, sobs as she exits a funeral for victims of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963. The September 15, 1963 bombing killed four young African American girls. (Photo by Declan Haun/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

“We proclaim the dignity of humans in a dehumanizing age. The Christian Church believes that humans are made in the image of God and even though that image is marred by sin, it cannot be eradicated but it shines out everywhere before us in every person. We believe in the ineradicable and irreducible glory of human beings; but we live in an age that believes in dehumanization. It’s complicated because we live in an age that talks about dignity more than any other in history, it’s actually the foundation of our political systems, but in practice, we know what dehumanization is. It’s an age where we still can consume the bodies of women in the name of desire,  which we can still shoot unarmed African-Americans in the name of the law, we can shame teenagers in the name of popularity, an age in which we are taught to view one another’s weaknesses with scorn and call it insight. The Christian Church should burn against this and every single thing that denies the dignity of human beings and we should join our neighbors in doing this because so many of them are laboring against the dehumanization of this world. Whether through private therapy or public housing, we should join them. We should let what we believe about the dignity of a person burn inside of us and then burn outside of us against the dehumanizing spirit of our age.”

– Greg Thompson, Q Denver

I listened to Thompson speak about the burning church back in April and it’s haunted me ever since. Today I opened my Bible to pray through some scriptures and it was so heavy, I had to stop. The tears were too many. The Lord reminded me of Greg’s words this afternoon and I took the best 18 minutes of my day to remember that it’s never okay to just give up, sit down, or shut up until the pain or problem goes away. We. Should. Burn. And burn on behalf of truth and righteousness and justice. May I never lose sight of the power of the Jesus Christ in my life and in the life of my community, country, and brothers and sisters all over the world. We’re living in some dark days, but we have to shine the righteousness of God and live out this life we’ve been given as graciously, honestly, and boldly as the Spirit sees fit.

Abide in Him. Do not give way to prevailing culture or Pharisaic mindsets, do not dismiss a single human being, bear witness to the birth pains of our day, do not look away. “Burn against the spirit of this destructive age with all the prophetic fires of love” for both the sake of the Gospel and your neighbor. It’s past time to bear one another’s burdens.  Let’s rise up, Church.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.”

-Galatians 6, ESV

Looking to heaven today, grateful for my sisters and brothers that continue to remind me to keep seeking the Lord and doing good, thankful for another day to hash my heart out with the Alpha and the Omega, who is forever forgiving, forever calling me into holiness, who always offers hope in the worst of days.
xx

Bessie!

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Bessie has been a faithful member of my church since a few years before I moved to Jefferson City and has become one of my dearest friends here. We love Taylor Swift and babies and coloring and just hanging out. She’s one of those quiet, steady friends who I can enjoy silence with as well, which is a rare and beautiful thing. Her mom passed away pretty suddenly last month and is now starting a new chapter in life away from Jefferson City. She moves on Sunday. We grabbed our last meal together last night and I cried all the way home -good tears though. It’s a joy to know and love someone so well -it’s worth the tears. It’s hard to describe how much her friendship has meant to me and our church over the years but we tried to celebrate the best we knew how: lots of cookie cake and balloons. I wanted to make her something special to remember us by, so Bess, if you read this: my face is not in this but my heart sure is. I hope every time you watch this you are reminded how special you are to all of us, but especially me. I’m praying that Jesus will bless and protect you, that you will trust him with your whole heart as it’s grieving your mom and is anxious about making new friends. He will be with you every step of the way.

We are blessed to know you and can’t wait to hear all your news from Cape!

The Beginning of Birth Pangs

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I was sweating in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart in Independence when Tamika called me on a swampish July afternoon to ask me a question. She wanted to know if I would photograph her daughter’s birth. “I don’t know how you feel about that,” she laughed; I didn’t know how I felt about it either. There are several factors my mind quickly went to that could have kept me from saying yes, for instance, gratuitous pain or bodily fluid, both of which I’ve long assumed I have a low tolerance for. But Tamika has me wrapped around her finger and she makes everything in life feel beautiful and celebratory. I’ve known her for over three years now but only in the last year have we built a firm friendship and have become ingrained in each other’s lives. She’s taught me how to celebrate the mundane. She’s shared her family with me, her dreams, her precious tea. She laughs with me a lot and gives me a sassy look -a look I can’t help but imitate regularly. I trust my life with this woman. She is quiet, she is fierce, and she loves Jesus. She is also very intentional with her life and friendships. I didn’t understand fully why she wanted me there but when someone like that has loved you so well, a big question slowly turns into a simple answer: absolutely.

Close to a week before the birth I dropped by her house to talk through the details surrounding Tamika’s delivery. It should have been no surprise to hear the plan entailed being just as quiet and chill at seven centimeters dilated than when she’s sewing a peplum top sipping on hot tea. She wanted a peaceful and subdued atmosphere but I doubted this projection. I was leaving for Atlanta for a conference a few days later and texted her to suck that baby in until I returned. Baby obliged and they went to the hospital half an hour after I returned to Jefferson City. That’s what I call perfect timing.

I joined them at 10:20 PM on a Saturday night, a weary traveler who hadn’t showered in two days and smelled like beef jerky (Let it be known, I erased this sentence twice before I resigned to full disclosure) I anxiously walked through the deserted halls of Saint Mary’s, finally forced to face my small anxieties I previously squelched of what would happen that evening. The nurse buzzed me into the maternity ward. I could hear a fresh baby crying in a room down the hall; I smiled and breathed deeply as we entered our room. It was dimly lit, smelling of lavender and peppermint. Tamika curled up on her side in the hospital bed, smiling between contractions, happy to see me.

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Labor was less stressful than I had braced for but I imagine Tamika could tell a different story there. There wasn’t any drama. There were minimal monitors and beeping. Ryan wasn’t stressed. Nursing staff wasn’t rushing in mid-contraction to see if it was time to push. No one rushed anywhere. I’m not entirely sure why I was expecting these things. Too many episodes of Offspring, I suppose. Tamika labored quietly. Her friend, Louise, tended to her every need and encouraged her as she progressed in labor. I sat back quietly with Ryan, my camera always close. I’m one of those sense-ers, the people who can walk in a room, lick my finger, hold it to the wind, and come back with pretty accurate readings on tension and drama in the situation. Being in labor and delivery was a constant sense check, especially when you’re capturing someone’s pain. An hour into that room I came to the definite conclusion that there will always be something inherently awkward about sitting on a couch with your legs crossed sipping on a cup of coffee while watching someone agonize a child out of their body, or even worse, taking pictures of them. There’s just no way around it.

That evening reminded me that, like most things I’ve experienced in life, is experienced individually, but is done best together. It’s good to lean in the uncomfortable circumstances of life and stay with loved ones even when you feel incapable of healing or helping. Sometimes our presence and our attention can be enough; not enough to change people or pain but just enough to remind each other that we don’t have to be alone when we hurt; that when we absorb the desperate squeezing of a hand our willingness to sit with the suffering produces the courage to keep on. Tamika has sat with me as I’ve cried over heartbreak or confessed sin in my life or probably more commonly, where I’ve been unwilling to see the next best step. Andy Crouch says that persons created in the image of the triune God do not flourish unless they are placed in community. As I’ve flourished, this past year I’ve learned a healing community looks a lot like a delivery room; waiting, anticipation, and continual prayer. And when the time comes, change happens.

In the wee hour of Sunday morning, it was time. The doctor walked in followed by two nurses who stood in the back ground, waiting. The doctor asked me to help her tie her scrubs and she casually sat down on a roller chair and asked Tamika, “Are you ready to have a baby?” Ryan, who appeared relaxed all evening, crossed his arms expectantly. As Tamika readied herself, we all rose to our feet, like a palace waiting for their queen. The room grew quiet, Tamika’s pain the only thing heard. When she bore down to push, I looked around the room at the seven of us. I thought about each generation before us, who labored out the next, and on and on, that brought us here, to a darkened hospital room to bear witness the birth of this little one. Tamika grabbed Ryan’s hand and I thought of my own mother’s soft tan hands gripping a cold hospital rail and my dad’s arm, as if it eased any sort of pain. It is crazy how humans can love each other that much without the slightest clue of who they are bringing into the world and the heartache tethered to them. It is crazy knowing my mom –like many others- would do it all over again if she had the chance. It’s even crazier to know paradoxically, that even that sort of love leaves the deepest part of me wanting, aching and lonely to be filled with an even holier, perfect love that only God himself can satisfy.

It has always been mysterious to me why God came to us as a baby. I have wondered why he didn’t show his power by parting the sky when John was baptizing and instead a dove, drop a grown-up Jesus down then (or any other time and place, for that matter). But there, in that hospital room, I couldn’t help but think of Mary and how quietly the world changed when she gave birth and about how much the world that Jesus was born into desperately needed him as much then as we do now. Christ lived, died, and conquered death for that world and this one, with a promise to return. And so we have waited. At twenty-six, I’ve sat in front of enough television screens riddled with mass shootings, missing planes, abducted children, oil spills, and beheadings that at times life can feel so heavy that I’m sure it will split in two. Some days the goodness of life can be overwhelmed by the senseless viciousness of it. The earth has pretty much always been broken, as it has always been round. While Tamika labored to bring her little girl in the world, another friend’s days old daughter died that night in a NICU; the same night we stood in joyful anticipation of life, another room sat in grief. When I hear of these paradoxes, the wars and slavery, sometimes they just get called ‘life’, a pat answer for the worst kind of realities and confusion we live with. It has been difficult to look at the state of the world and not ask God what the heck is going on, what’s the plan here or ask ourselves, why can’t we just get it together for a second and stop killing each other? Over the years my trust in God has wandered in every direction–to his very existence to whether he’s even good to us. It’s inconceivable to me that God still wants me–the doubter, the naysayer of his love and kindness–and yet, I’ve felt his kindness in spite of my disbelief over the years. It’s wounded me in the best way; a wounding that has cut my pride down to size, picked me up, and loved me in spite of myself. There is so much in life I do not and will not understand but my prayer is that I, like Paul, will always say,

“How great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways! Or who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to give him advice? And who has given him so much that he needs to pay it back? For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever!”

So when my dear friend cried out in pain as the child that she’s hoped and loved and labored for came, Jesus spoke to me in that room, in the still small voice recounted in Isaiah. He spoke the very words he spoke to his disciples in Matthew 24, “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.”

And then he comes back.

For good.

And with one incredible push, a tiny Contessa Grace was welcomed into the world, quietly and wide-eyed on a dark Sunday morning. Her eyes moved about, as if she was taking in the new world and upon assessment, let out a pitiful grunt of approval. All seven of us chuckled quietly. It completely took my breath away. For the first time in my life, I understood pain and suffering in a whole new way. We can exist in a world of pain and still rejoice because we know hope is being born. It is all light and momentary affliction in view of the glory to come.

Half an hour later, I sat on the couch holding Contessa in all her un-bathed curly-headed, slender fingered, baby-grunting glory, pushing back tears. Tamika looked over at me at one point and just raised her eyebrows and gave me a half-smile, like we’d both experienced something crazy. We had. I will always be grateful for Tamika and Ryan inviting me into their sacred space and entrusting me with the honor of telling Contessa’s birth through my camera. I laugh thinking about the doctor looking at me before Tamika pushed and asking me, “Are you good?” –I can’t imagine what my face was saying. I can’t ever get it to shut up. Mostly, I’ve come away amazed at God’s design and how he is found at the start of every life, how he holds and tends to each one so carefully. I’ve seen his kindness and blessing in the face of suffering.

I’ve thought a lot since then about what I would want Contessa to know about that night if she ever finds herself leafing through those photos. I would want to tell her that when she was born all the lights in the hospital shined brighter that night because that’s how it felt, as if her birth charged the earth’s battery by two hundred percent. I would tell her that her mama laid her on her chest and locked eyes with her and just smiled and said, “Well, hello there.” like they had met before and her daddy looked her over a thousand times like the Sistine Chapel. There was a small party with nurses who cooed and a doctor that smiled and Louise who giggled and Bri who took pictures. God smiled and the angels rejoiced. And more than anything, I would want her to know that even though life is a struggle, we all count it a privilege to be here in a world with her, to live, to discover, to love, to yearn, to live life together, imitating the Creator.

Keep growing, little Princess. We are so happy you’re here.

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When God Doesn’t Feel Enough

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2015 was a hard year for me, in just about every way – professionally, personally, relationally. The year started out on all cylinders, per usual, but in the best sorts of ways. I felt confident, secure, work was going well, I created better habits -I was budgeting and exercising and flossing my teeth! I was investing in meaningful relationships and my relationship with the Lord was going really well. Then late fall hit and ‘life happened’. I hope I’m in the kind of company that can understand the complexity of that assessment.

Part of it was that a few people let me down, not because they’re bad eggs, but because they’re human. I decided my consistency wasn’t giving the results I wanted; the Lord shifted some details for my future, and my hope had somehow shifted from him to those details, which left me disappointed and a little kicked in the teeth. I was tired. I was tired from hoping and doing the right thing without the results I wanted. This is the worst kind of tired wrapped in shame and depression and a constant Willy Wonka meme face. It’s also hard to be inter-dependent on people who don’t have the same level of need or dependence for you. This is particularly painful and exhausting as a single person in a small community.

My modus operandi in these sorts of seasons is to immediately call God into question. My hope is that in the riper years of life, this will not be the case. I trust and pray the Lord to continue his good work in me that one day, this side of forever, praise falls first from my mouth, not accusation.

I’ve had a lot of time to mull over the year as it has come and gone and I’ve come to grieve the wasted opportunities to lean in my disappointment and turn it back to joy. This is especially hard for me to realize, when looking back at my birthday, which was an unexpected highlight. The word most often spoken over to me by my closest friends on that day was the word “joy”. I wanted to own that word last year. I would like to think I would have been content to know I had become an utter delight inside and out regardless of circumstances. I was not. God bless my little tribe being pulled in and out of my wake.

This year, more than most, I found myself with quite a few young people asking for my advice, which is quite a lightening storm to be in counseling students and praying God doesn’t strike you down for preaching against your own disobedience. I love students for many reasons -and one of my favorite reasons is how honest about where they are in life. I think adults can easily lose that along the way. Sometimes I feel God has placed me in the lives of so many college students over the last four years to simply spread two messages, the first being: adults are just as confused as you. Same fears, different context. We might just be a little better at diffusion and diversion. The second message being: don’t wait to change yourself to come to Jesus. He wants you just as you are, he shapes the rest. If I could apply this to myself every day, the expectations of myself and God would be rightfully aligned and I would finally be an utter delight. But I have not and I am not. Any person who would beg to differ extends to me what Jesus calls grace upon grace and it’s not merited in the least.

One particular conversation I kept having over and over with several students this year was the topic of expectation. Life just isn’t panning out the way I thought, they said. Mine too, I would think. I ‘got it’. It’s easy to say “if I could just change this one thing about me” or, “if only I knew what God was doing then all this would be better.” But I don’t find these, what I call, “band aid” statements particularly helpful or forward moving in our journeys with God. Self blame is a terrible motivator. I would ask you not to take my word for it, but I will. It’s an unnecessary lesson to learn through personal experience. So much of struggle is wrapped in self hatred and stamped “with love” by the enemy who, by the way, can take a vacation from distracting us from Jesus because we’re stuck loathing what we have or do not have.

I had so many of these conversations, in fact, over time the Lord began showing me where my heart had begun to stray. I have revisited a lot of my conversations, text, and email exchanges through the year and was deeply convicted to see where my actions had fallen out of step with my words. In the big picture, it’s good to have these sorts of moments that leave you with a more honest picture of yourself. I need to revisit the tumble out of 2015 and into 2016 so I don’t repeat this story.

So, I’m writing my lessons and reminders of 2015 for myself in 2016 and all of its bitter moments, in the hopes I will join hands with Jesus and let him turn those bitter moments to wine and prove again and again to me, He is always better.

1. Don’t belittle your pain

The sooner I stop comparing my pain to someone else’s, the sooner I can heal. I will not heal if I cover my unmet expectations with shame and belittlement; instead, haughty pride’s counterpart, self deprecating pride, grows in the dark eats away at me. Failure to humble myself and confess to the Lord is a missed opportunity to experience the joy of acceptance and completion in Christ. It also allows my heart to begin to draw lines where God is and is not welcomed.

2. Stop listening to your insecurities and speak your confidence

I’m sick of confirming my own worst fears about myself. It’s good to be in the practice of listening to your heart to understand where you’re at, but when the lies begin to spill out, at some point you have to stop listening and start speaking to it. If that’s you right now, start speaking to your heart. Speak whatever you know to be true about God and/or about yourself: My hope is in Christ alone.  He will never leave me or forsake me. He is unchanging. I am perfectly and wonderfully made in the image of God. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my sins.

3. Confess to the Kindhearted

One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned in 2015 was knowing that we confess to God to be forgiven but we confess to one another to be healed. After confession before the Lord, do not underestimate the healing of coming clean to a person who you have built trust in, who loves you a lot, but loves Jesus even more. There needs to be accountability behind our repentance. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”

4. Check your loyalty

I think it’s easy to assume because you’ve become a Christ follower, you are immune from a mutiny from him. Deep down inside, I think we all know this to be a lie, but in that one corner where the belief that your performance sometimes sways God’s favor, this little thought lives there too. Be so careful in your pain to recognize when you are struggling on behalf of your own pleasure. James 4 has some pretty sobering truth for us about that:

“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,

“God opposes the proud
    but gives grace to the humble.”

So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”

Maybe we don’t wage war in a physical way but we need to be constantly upholding our loyalty up to God’s loyalty. Whose best interest do I have in mind -mine or His? One is impossible to satisfy, the other is satisfied with himself and longs to satisfy all your pain with himself.

5. Choose to believe what your heart can’t feel in the moment

See number 2. You can’t change what your heart feels but you can change what’s fueling it. Have the maturity to know when the screens need to be powered off, the word opened, the sneakers put on, the mouth zipped, the music blasted on …whatever it is that helps you most naturally connect with Jesus. Let’s resolve to no longer be the sorts of Christians that cower and stew in our weakness but rather step out of the boat and trust that God will meet us and help us up in whatever clumsy mess we find ourselves. Let him tend to places of our hearts that feel too vulnerable to hand over. No one has regretted letting the Lord tend to those matters. Amy Carmichael, whose life is one of the most beautiful ones that ever was, once said that “it is a safe thing to trust God with the desires which he creates.” The song I’ve kept playing over and over lately in my awakening to my desperate need for Jesus has been a song whose chorus cries out, “You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free, I’m going under, I’m in over my head. And you crash over me and that’s where you want me to be I’m going under, I’m in over my head. Whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head Choose to believe what your heart may not be able to feel.

6. Preach the Gospel to yourself

I hope this phrase has not lost its flavor on you. This is the summation of life and death. It’s the story that allows us to come face-to-face with our creator and fundamentally changes not only the trajectory but every fiber of our beings and aspect of our lives. This rightly puts us humbly and gratefully at the feet of Jesus and reminds us that life is not about what I WANT but what God has for us.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, & fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller

Tell God’s love story to yourself over and over. Never grow weary of this story. Our problems and pains grow dim in light of this incredible news the world is dying to know. I need my people asking me this year, “Bri, what has God given you today?”, “Who is your hope in life and in death?” I wasn’t careful to remember these things some of this past year, and I despaired. Matthew 10:27 says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what I whisper to you, proclaim on the housetops.

Once we’ve preached the Gospel to ourselves there are three choices that can be claimed and claimed consciously and regularly to bind out the enemy and seal our affections for Christ alone:

Choose freedom

Choose wonder

Choose joy

Joy.

I’ve thought about that word a lot in the last month and I’m claiming it for 2016 again, whatever it holds. Maybe you need more of that in your life too. Write it on your hand, put a put a post it note in your car. Put it on the background of your phone. I’m doing this kind of silly stuff just to get the ball rolling. Sus texted me on a hard day this week, “What was your joy moment today?” FIND THAT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE. Dig into the Word. Join me! Joy is not rooted in the outcomes of our lives but rather a posture and choice of the heart before the Redeemer who loves us deeply. May we venture into 2016 with joy of the Lord on our hearts and may that same joy be our sustainer through and through.

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” -James 1:2-4

He is better. May his praise ever be on our lips.

Here’s to choosing a joyful new year, friends.

xx

A Whaley Good Holiday, Roberta!

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Two uninterrupted weeks with family was so great this year. I kept the camera around the house and it was put to good use. Enjoy Ashley and I SLAYING our golfing game. We’re the natural athletes of the family. We missed my sister Britt terribly but we were happy to Skype her in the festivities and hear about her first South African Christmas. Shoutout to the Barbs for the gift of the diy macarons! We had a blast making them, even if they looked pretty hilarious.

Wishing everyone a happy and blessed new year!

xx

The Man Who Watched Them Die

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Tonight I turned on the world news while I was organizing bookshelves upstairs. I absorb news coverage in cycles; it usually begins with guilt of not being informed and ends with me being overwhelmed by being over-informed on the crappiness of the world. And after a few weeks the cycle begins again. Anyway. Tonight I saw a reporter speaking with a man who was at one of the restaurants targeted during the Paris attacks waiting with the wounded until help came. The reporter asked why he stayed with them and the man simply stated very composed that there was nothing he could do to help them medically so he laid down beside them as they died, because in his words, “No one should die alone.”

I know this whole thing is a mess and as much as we promised ourselves we weren’t going to use this to make our points known on the refugee crisis or Islamophobia or national security, we all up gave up on that notion half an hour later. And now that we’re four days removed and we’ve posted our thoughts in ALL CAPS and strategically clicked “like” on all the articles that give us a sense of justice and order, and our poor little fingers can barely type another grievance against one another, there’s still just a sense of sadness that even our anger can’t cover up. I know many of us were upset that Beruit didn’t get the appropriate attention it deserved and it’s uncomfortable knowing some atrocities garner more public grieving than others. It’s all horrific. I always think about Jon Stewart’s comment about going back to work after 9/11, “Because apparently there are no positions open for grown men in the fetal position crying under their desks.”

I guess what I was absorbing tonight watching that segment is that in the thirty minutes we held our crap together, mainly by shock, while we watched what happened in Paris unfold, a man laid down next to strangers and looked them in the eyes while they died because he knew humans need each other. Guys, it’s never too late for us to start loving our neighbors. And Jesus raised the bar even higher and said love your enemies. We forget this is what it means to be like Jesus.

We are all made in God’s image and I couldn’t be more honored to live in a world, as messed up as it is, where a man in Paris reflected that likeness by loving his neighbors in their last moments with us.

I’m just going to crawl under the pile of books I’m organizing and have a good cry.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12:31-32

Smelling Salts

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“Instead of proudly trusting in his own or others’ expertise, [Namaan] was called to the soul work of humility. As a result, he not only got a cure for his body but a new relationship with God and a soul infused with grace and joy. Suffering led to his salvation. This does not even begin to answer the question, “Why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world to persist?” Nor does such an example justify suffering. And yet one of the main teachings of the Bible is that almost no one grows into greatness or finds God without suffering, without pain coming into our lives like smelling salts to wake us up to all sorts of facts about life and our own hearts to which we were blind. For reasons past our finding out, even Christ did not bring salvation and grace to us apart from infinite suffering on the cross. As he loved us enough to face the suffering with patience and courage, so we must learn to trust in him enough to do the same. And as his weakness and suffering, thus faced, led to resurrection power, so can ours.”
 
– Tim Keller, Walking With God Through Pain & Suffering
 
So much of who God is remains mysterious to me, as is faith in general, but the longer I’ve followed and loved him, the more desperately grateful I am to know that he shares in our suffering, that our pain is not wasted. He does not inflict grief or affliction willing, nor does He not lead us through something Christ himself has not gone through. He does not ask us to keep a stiff upper lip, rather he weeps with us because God feels the weight of death and pain even more than we do. May we have patience and courage to take the next step in our valleys in the hope and promise that he gives us himself in the midst of it. God is using this book to change me in big ways -it’s so dang beautiful and difficult to digest! I had high hopes of extrapolating what God specifically is teaching me through this book but any attempt would be to quote most of it front to cover. I’ve tried. If you lack a grieving community and are longing to connect with someone about the problem of pain, Dr. Keller’s got you covered. This is a special book and will be well worn for years to come.