Tuesday, December 17, 2013

wrappin it up.

This past year was a big one for us, in ways that were new and unexpected. 

It's funny- this is the first year in five years that we didn't have any more kids, move to a new state,  change jobs, or buy a house. 

Which makes me think we're either super spazzy or horrible planners. Or we just really love change and transition. Huh.  

Anyhoo, I've never done a year-end wrap up kinda thing, but there's a first time for everything, right?

There's a hymn that I refer to as a "Ricky Bender Classic,"  one of my husband's go-to's when he leads worship, walks through Target, gives the kids a bath, waits in an elevator, washes the dishes, drives a semi-truck, and you get the idea: 

What a Friend We Have in Jesus.  

If there's one song that sums up our 2013 with Jesus, this is it.  

What a Friend we have in Jesus, 
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry 
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, 
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry 
everything to God in prayer. 

We started the year unsure of whether or not we were supposed to be planting a church out here in Colorado. The only thing we knew for certain in our mission here was that the LORD had called us here specifically to pray for this land. But (little soap-box moment)  being a couple who loves God's word and prays for your city doesn't make you a church-planter, pastor or worship leader. It makes you a Christian. 

There was one thing as January kicked off that we purposed to be very intentional in:  praying together every night after the kids were (gloriously) in bed. The kind of praying together that involves open Bibles and knees on the floor. We needed vision! And while we weren't getting the green light in planting a church, the friendship and nearness of the Holy Spirit in those night-time prayer meetings was (and is) a tremendous blessing. In the absence of a church family and pastor, we were desperately asking the Holy Spirit Himself to come and disciple us in the things and the places He was setting before us. Truly, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! 

Have we trials and temptations? 
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; 
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful 
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; 
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, 
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, 
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? 
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; 
you will find a solace there.

This is where some of the new (to us) stuff came in. Together, Ricky and I have weathered  trials common in the first years of marriage and kids- the empty bank accounts,  broken down cars, getting laid off, sleepless nights with puking kids, black widow bites, terrible work schedules, unexpected medical bills- you know, life as a grown-up. But I wouldn't say that we had ever sympathized with Jesus as the Man of sorrows- we've never had relational trials and hardships. Sorry if I sound like a real jerk right now, but we like people and people generally like us. Being despised, rejected and basically thought poorly of by friends isn't familiar territory. 

Until this year. 

We experienced the rejection of friends with whom we had shared meals, clothes, books, money and music. People who had at one time met us in tears in our living room asking for prayer now despised us, because we had shared a word from the LORD that was difficult to hear.  Our hearts were broken as we became the "bad guys" to people that we still deeply loved and prayed over; we were accused of silly things covered up with Bible terms and it hurt. It sounds kind of terrible, but the confirmation of God's word to us for a specific group of  people was thrilling, whether it was well-received or not.  When we allowed Jesus to meet us in that painful rejection we met our Crucified King as the Man of sorrows. 

The Man who was "despised and rejected by men and acquainted with grief," (Isaiah 53.3) and who was willing to "make Himself of no reputation… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death of the cross. " (Phil. 2.7) Jesus became a curse for us because it's written "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." (Gal.3.13) We learned this year that your reputation is an incredibly hard thing to lay down. 
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the LORD in prayer. In His arms He'll take and shield you, you will find a solace there. 

In the midst of what could have been such a lonely and crummy time, the comfort and solace of the LORD brought joy, peace and rest. We were blessed with a little weekend retreat filled with dear friends and precious time in California. There were many tender words from Jesus over the course of the weekend that came in so many ways and through so many people- again, the nearness of the Holy Spirit and His willingness to meet us with comfort and encouragement was a treasure.

As we prayed one night in Oxnard with some friends, there was a great word that cut straight to our hearts from I Kings 19 in the best way possible. In this chapter Elijah feels totally alone in Israel as the one and only man left who's zealous for the LORD, ("I alone am left; and they seek to take my life!") and the LORD lets Elijah know that he isn't alone- there are seven thousand people in Israel still worshipping the LORD. Those were words that made our souls sing. (Thank you, friends.)

And it's true- we weren't and we aren't alone at all! We had a summer that was filled with new and precious friendships, meeting on Sunday afternoons to pray at parks around the city of Denver. Our hearts were established and strengthened in God's grace as we waited on the LORD and sought Him together with a group of people that had heard so many of the very same and very specific words from our Father that we had heard over the years that we'd been here. Fellowship brought life, joy and excitement as we prayed for Denver together. 

Ricky had been working on a song for a few months (the first one that he wrote on the banjo) called Pilgrim Song. It's a song about faith, hope and ultimately heaven- all about how we're pilgrims and sojourners, looking to the city who's Builder and Maker is God (Heb. 11.10). How fitting that we ended up at Pilgrim City Church. 

Now we find ourselves at the start of a new year incredibly excited and blessed with a church and family that we love tremendously, with friends who are as transparent, real and honest as friends can be. The legit Bible teaching that we've been craving since we moved out here is a reality (huge sigh of relief) and there's a humble like-mindedness in ministry that's breath-taking. I've been praying Romans 12.9-16 for our church home out here for a couple of years, and the ways that the LORD has answered those prayers so personally. it's beautiful. 

The Divine Friendship with Jesus over the course of this year has been the truest and dearest gift that we could know on this side of heaven. And we have much to look forward to, amen? 

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised 
Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to 
Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there 
will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship 
            will be our sweet portion there.    
Amen!We h

photo-cred the amazingly talented neighbor, friend and one of my favorite people in all of Colorado, Vanessa Kruse. http://vanessakruse.com/blog/

Monday, November 25, 2013


I read this in the wee hours of the morning, and I've been chewing on it for much of today. 

This is a quote from Bishop Festo Kivengere (1919-1988), a man often referred to as "the Billy Graham of Africa." He said this right before persecution in Uganda by President Idi Amin drove him from Uganda:

"Revival doesn't come to respectable Christians. If you think that because you're a good church member, or because you belong to such and such organization, you're going to be revived you had better forget it. The basis of revival is men and women shattered by their failures- aware that all is not well, helpless to do anything about it…. The church is like our African grasslands, where I herded cattle as a boy. Huge fires roar over it, and the land looks black and dead. But immediately after the first rain, the grass springs up more luxuriantly than ever. The plains turn green and the cows fatten. No fire passing over the church can destroy the seeds of victorious faith. And the church in Uganda today is springing up, rich, green and growing." 

I love that. 

Let's pray for the persecuted church and their seeds of victorious faith. 

And let's repent of our "respectable Christianity."  

The quote is from the book,  A God-Sized Vision- Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir. It's crazy good. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

lunch recess.

There are some lessons as a parent that are just painfully hard to learn.

My oldest, Caleb, just had his ninth birthday. In the last couple of years of moving and school changes, he has been such a champ. I love my kid. I love his corny jokes. I love how he snuggles with Finlee and pretends to be a puppy with her. I love how he'll struggle through practice spelling tests with me at breakfast every day because he really wants to get 100% on Friday's spelling test, and that's not a subject that comes easily to him. He's growing up and I emphatically and passionately love this little person that he is. Caleb's the best nine year old in the world.

He's in the third grade.
Do you remember the third grade?

I remember wearing a ton of neon, getting the chicken pox and trying to invent sweater pants. I also remember some of the insecurity and longing to be in the popular crowd that all started right about then. You know, the days when recess just hurt because you so wanted to be part of the other group of kids doing the other (much, much cooler) thing? You're doing your four-square, but all the cool kids are playing handball- so for recess you've just got a mean case of handball envy, even though you really do like four-square?

Tell me it wasn't just me.

For a couple of weeks when we ask Caleb about recess he tells us that he just hung out by himself. Or went on the swings. By himself. Or just ran around. By himself. Most of his friends are playing soccer, and he doesn't really want to play soccer because "the soccer kids" get in trouble, get hurt, fight, have bloody noses, break their ankles- basically soccer is ruining everyone's life.

Everyone except Caleb.

When I picked him up from school today, Caleb was bursting with news and smiles about lunch recess. One of the soccer kids was absent and they invited Caleb to play. He was stoked, telling me all about who did what and how exciting it was. Maybe I'm dense, but that was when it clicked- he's been on the outside looking in on those lunch recess soccer games.

He wanted in, but he was watching from the swings.

That realization broke my heart.

I would love to be able to shield Caleb from the hurts of lunch recess.

As I thought and prayed about it, the Holy Spirit brought this Scripture to mind:

"And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5:3-4

I daily pray that Caleb would grow up to be a man of persevering character, rejoicing in the hope of his King Jesus who faced the deepest pain of rejection on his behalf. I don't often think of any of my kids going through times of trial or pain- those are things that I would absorb for them if I could. But that's not always best. This is a lesson that's new for me.

In all of these musings I begin to see a little more clearly a shadow of the love that our Heavenly Father has for us. Able to shield us from the hurt and brokenness of this world, but in His wisdom and mercy refraining. Meeting us in our brokenness with healing arms and words of comfort that bring life to our weary bones, because that's best.

"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit." Psalm 34:18

I think of Isaiah 53 and I'm a little more humbled than I was yesterday by the greatness of our Father's love.

All because of a third grade lunch recess soccer game.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

the daily littles.

I am not naturally a patient person. 

In every sense of the word, patience is a hard thing for me; I walk quickly, talk fast, speed read, find shortcuts, anything that makes daily life move faster- I do that. I'm inclined to rush and hurry. 

Rolling three deep with a preschool attached to me 24/7 has really thrown a (super giant) wrench in my  (face) everyday tendencies, reminding me constantly (so constantly) of how great my need for Jesus is.  Because my inclination to hurry, added to a heap of little kids quickly turns into a frantic, angry, frustrated, whiny and unhappy mess. For all of us. 

Honestly, I'm not patient enough to be a mom. I get angry. Don't hate on me right now, but sometimes I wanna dropkick my kids out the window. Or lock them in the basement. Or shove them in the mud. Or get crazy sarcastic and mean. It is totally by God's grace that none of those (except the sarcasm one) have happened yet. Let's just get real- kids are hard and it's not always fun. Instagram might make it look like it's all babies posed next to stuffed animals, or fun art projects and silly happy faces, but that's just because no one's posting the pictures of their kid throwing a fit in the middle of Target, pooping their pants or trying to choke one of their siblings. Who takes those pictures? 

I took my girls to the mall today. Lately every errand, meal and bedtime with them has been especially trying. So imagine how hard it was not to die laughing when a woman in the bathroom told me that she's "just not patient enough to be a mom." I'm standing there, on our third trip to the bathroom (after one had already pooped her pants in between trips) with one kid in the stall and the other two trying to figure out the fancy soap dispenser thinking to myself that no one on earth is patient enough to do this. 

I laughed and said "Me neither." 

How great is the grace and mercy of Jesus that He doesn't wait until we're enough? Maybe you have kids and maybe you don't- but in the "daily littles" of life, isn't it good to know that you don't have to be enough? Doesn't it fill you with gratitude that the Holy Spirit would come with heavenly ability to do what seems impossible and unnatural?  

Sometimes it's really easy for me to read the Bible and consider theological truths for the big stuff- like that one's for pastors, that one's for missionaries, that one's for evangelists, that one's for the ultra-spiritual, and that one's for the totally lost. Or I'll put that one in my pocket for when I'm in the super gnarly, super hyper-spiritual moment. Because the mommy stuff is stuff that should be natural to me- like there's nothing supernatural or hyper-spiritual about parenting.

Lame, right? 

Because when I'm honest, in the daily littles and kid fits of my life, I need the Holy Spirit. Things like "letting patience have its perfect work in you that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing," or "being strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and long-suffering with joy," I need heaven to break through and make those theological truths my reality when I'm in a public bathroom with my kids. Oftentimes I need the Holy Spirit to enable me to respond to my kids with love over rage. 

Because I am not enough. 

I can't muster up the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness or self-control that I need to be a wife or a mommy. My junk's just not enough- it's not the hardy stuff that's gonna last through the poop of life. I want the hardy stuff. 

It's been as a mom that I've experienced God's Amazing Grace in my life most. The days that I let Him in on the struggles, anxieties and fits are the best; when I'm clinging to God's words to me instead of my agenda- that's joy. It's messy and sometimes slow, but those are the days that I notice chubby cheeks and hands, sweet hugs and funny mispronounced words with gladness in my heart. 

Today I needed the Holy Spirit to get through a trip to the mall with three of my kids. 

I'm okay with that. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

family ties.

I've been thinking about family a lot today. 

I don't know if everyone feels this about their family, but I've always thought that mine is one in a million. When I was in elementary school and learned that when a girl gets married she changes her last name to her husband's, that did it for me- forget that marriage junk. 

My grandparents are two of the most amazing people that I've ever known and wished that I knew more. They love people in a way that works hard and prays consistently. They have a testimony that is solid and true- two people who have run the race and fought the good fight together. 

I went to work in high school at the same camp, Thousand Pines, that my grandma and grandpa had worked for for decades. This camp was where my parents had met and been married; my dad was the "cool" lifeguard who had a crush on the "hot" counselor (my mom). He wooed her one summer with his pancake making skills and horse that he told her was named Wildfire, but was really named Cocoa. I could be getting this story totally wrong, but this is what you told me, dad. And mom. 

Anyhow, my parents met there. And that's also where I met Ricky. He did not have a horse. 

My grandma and grandpa worked at Thousand Pines with generations of staff coming and going for different summers. My grandma ran the kitchen and my grandpa ran what seems like everything else. Walking through Thousand Pines as a kid, I always felt like my grandpa had built the whole place. I loved this camp because I loved my family- it was ours, at least it was to me.  

I worked there for several years and even though my grandparents had long since moved on in retirement, I got to know them so much more in that time. People that I worked with who had worked with them had so much love for them- stuff like stories about how my grandpa had changed their life while they did maintenance together one summer, or how no one could run the kitchen like my grandma did. I'd be hostessing women's groups in the dining room and somehow someone would mention my grandma, and ladies with tears in their eyes would tell me what a dear friend or amazing boss she was and how blessed I was to be her granddaughter. 

And I am blessed. I'm blessed to have had the prayers of two fierce prayer warriors going before me in my life. I think of my husband who loves Jesus so much and who works so hard at everything he puts his hands to, my kids who are so darn smart and healthy and wonderful, and I thank God that He saw fit to give me such a heritage and testimony. My Grandma and my Grandpa are one in a million. 

My Grandpa joined Jesus today in His eternal and heavenly home, and while my heart grieves and realizes that this world is less one amazing man today, I know that my one in a million grandpa heard that "Well done" from His Savior and Friend, and I'm glad. What a blessing to have been someone who got to see and experience the fruit of that well done life.

I love you Papa Bear. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013


Colorado is literally under water right now. For real, google it. Floods are raging, bridges are collapsing and people are evacuating. 

Gnarly, right? 

Before I continue, I feel like I need to give this disclaimer: 

I am not someone who spiritualizes everything. I think that's weird. When Jovie throws a fit, I don't chuckle and say "that's so like me and Jesus."Just not my thing. 

 I am someone who really appreciates the pictures and symbolism in the Bible. Books like Christ in the Tabernacle (AB Simpson) and Christ Indwelling and Enthroned (J Oswald Sanders) are some of my faves, because they help paint those pictures of theological realities in ways that are vivid and real- easier to get my hands on.  Does that make sense? (I'm writing and trying to squelch a nap time rebellion at the same time, so please forgive me if there's editing that's yet to happen.) 

So Colorado is under water. 

For two years Ricky and I have been praying for moisture out here. Not literal moisture, but the Holy Spirit kind of saturation that comes through prayer. We've had several visions (don't kook out on me here) of floods, rivers and dams bursting forth in Denver as the Holy Spirit is poured out. We pray and we pray, and that feeling of standing at the edge of revival is real- like you can taste it in the air. And as we pray for revival, the pictures that we get are always water- gushing, rushing, pouring water. 

I do not think that Ricky and I convinced God to flood Colorado. Just throwing that out there. 

But I love this visual reminder that our God is able and powerful. 

This Sunday is a biggie. 

It's the first meeting of Pilgrim City Church. 

You guys, these are our people. And we're more excited about this than we've been in years. 

The LORD hears, friends. All of the crying out for people and fellowship- the longing that we've had for more than playing church out here (if you've been to Denver, you know what I'm talking about); the LORD hears. We've been pleading for a powerful move of the Spirit, and Jesus has been so gracious to remind us that we aren't alone in that plea; He's encouraged us tremendously through prophetic words from dear friends, early morning Bible times and corporate times of prayer. 

And that revival that's brewing.... 
God is able and willing, amen? 

"Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and latter rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the LORD is at hand." 
James 5:7-8. 

We're just waiting for that precious fruit. 

There are so many more specifics that I'm itching to get into, but that's another day, another nap time rebellion...... 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

psalm 23.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness 
For His name's sake. 

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;
I will fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD 

Lately I've been in Psalm 23 close to every day. 
It's not just for the kids, people. 

Have you ever thought about how sometimes paths of righteousness lead you into the valley of the shadow of death? 
I've been thinking about that, too. 

Sometimes, when you let your life be led in obedience to Jesus the valley will be dark. 

I don't think many Christians like to think about that. Or talk about it. 
Because we're more than conquerors, right? 
So if I can just squeeze out enough smiles on a Sunday morning;
if I can just get my Christianeze answers right enough, sprinkled with the appropriate amount of  scripture, when people ask me how I'm doing;
maybe I can pretend hard enough 
that the valley times don't hurt.
And that sometimes life is just plain hard,
people are mean,
good work isn't always rewarded, 
stuff breaks,
kids get devastating diseases
and it's hard to wake up and face the day. 

When these words of psalm 42 ring so very true in your soul, "My tears have been my food day and night... Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me?" 

I think of Abraham, leaving his comfy home in Ur because the LORD called him to leave.
Along the way, Abraham had to bury his father.
He almost lost his wife twice.
He lost his nephew when Lot went to Sodom.
He lost his son when he sent Ishmael away.

I think of Jeremiah the prophet, pleading with Judah to repent that they wouldn't be led into captivity- hearing from the LORD and prophesying truth in the midst of "holy" people who didn't want to hear it. 

He ended up imprisoned, put into stocks and cast into a pit.
He wrote a book called Lamentations... I mean come on, lamentations?
You'd think that book would be a real drag, right?
But in the midst of the lamenting, Jeremiah comes out with
Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion,"
says my soul,
"Therefore I hope in Him!" 
Lamentations 3:22-24

In the valley times of confusion and hurt, our Great Shepherd is willing to come
and meet us there.
Maybe He won't remove us from the valley, but
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;
I will fear no evil;
For you are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Have you ever noticed in psalm 23 that it isn't until David comes to the valley of the shadow of death that "He" changes to "You?" David isn't talking about the LORD in third person anymore.
Jesus wants to bring you near, weaving scriptures like John 16:33 or Romans 5:3-6 in the deep places of your heart.
That where bitterness would take root, the light and truth of
God's words to you would flourish instead.

Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget Your precepts,
For by them You have given me life.
psalm 119:92

Can I get an amen?

In his book A Future and A Hope, John Courson said this:

Why is it that some Bible teaching is powerful and impacting, while the same exact message, given by someone else, is devoid of power and anointing? It's because sermons, which are born in the head, only reach other heads. It takes a sermon born in one's heart and borne out of one's life to touch other hearts and lives. In any particular message, you may not 'give your testimony'; but if you've lived through the passage, if you've experienced it in some way, there will be an incarnational nature to it- human flesh embodying God's Spirit- which will impact hearts and touch lives. The power lies in allowing the message to become incarnational, the doctrine to become reality, the Word to become flesh.

For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
 2 Corinthians 2:5

Maybe you're in the valley of the shadow of death.
But Christian, take heart!
King Jesus is with you- He is near to the broken hearted.
He is Emmanuel, God with us- God with you.
He is for you-
working that you would be planted in His righteousness.

And truly,
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me 
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD 

This book is an oldie, but it's a goodie:
A Future and A Hope, by Jon Courson.
And Ricky's favorite book, A Shepherd's Look at Psalm 23 by Philip Keller.

This clip is just a little bit from our pastor in Santa Barbara, Britt Merrick, in a sermon after his eight year old daughter had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time. It's tremendously encouraging.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

ten years, baby.

Ten years ago I married my best friend. 

We were wee babes. 

We've lived in ten homes in three states, had four amazing kids, and countless beautiful and inspiring relationships. We've gone through times of loneliness, frustration and no cash to pay the bills. Then there have been times of abundance, joy and huge belly-laughs. I wouldn't change one moment. 

This life is a treasure. 

I'm so blessed to look back and remember that my God is faithful. The same God who was faithful in His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is faithful to His promises to us. The same God who told Abraham when everything was bleak and impossible, "Don't be afraid, I am your shield, your exceeding great reward," tells me that my inheritance is the LORD, that He will show me the path of life, and that in His presence is the fullness of joy. (psalm 16) 

God is faithful to keep His promises. 

In days filled with tears and faith that wanes in the dark and scary places: God is faithful. In the same way that He said to Joshua "as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you," my Jesus tells me not to let my heart be troubled; not only is He preparing a place for me in heaven, but while I'm here He's given me a Helper, the Spirit of truth- who dwells with me and will even be in me. (John 14:1 & 16-17) The Holy Spirit who intercedes for us, comforts us and leads us into truth- He is for me

In those dark days, Jesus is faithful. 
In the huge belly-laugh days, Jesus is faithful. 
In those prayers that feel unnoticed, cloudy and impossible, Jesus is faithful. 

Our faith changes with moods and circumstances. 
Praise the LORD we have a King and Captain who is the same yesterday, today and forever. 

When we only see impossibilities, weakness and unbelief, Jesus is faithful to hear our cries of "Lord I believe, but help my unbelief!" Our Redeemer changes us with the promise of His presence, His mighty and compassionate hands; able to change our unbelieving hearts that we would finally come to a place of rest, knowing that He hears, He knows, and He's at work.  

We can rest because our Father is faithful to keep His promises. 
We can prevail in prayer because we know that He hears and answers. 
God promised Abraham a nation through His son. 
Twenty-five years later that son was born. 
God isn't slack concerning His promises to us- even in the gaps of time when it seems like nothing is happening. 

Friends, God is faithful

We are finally, after ten years, beginning to understand that if there's one thing that Jesus would have us learn together it's simply to wait on Him, because He is faithful. To cling to Him in prayer, unwilling to let go until we receive the blessing that comes from His hand. We've laid down ministry, guitars, jobs, homes, friends- sometimes willingly in obedience, but often as a last resort. We've been impatient and frustrated for so much of that time, not understanding why we would be in such a season to wait, when it seems like so many people we know are moving forward in calling and in ministry. 

Maybe you understand what I'm talking about. 
Maybe you're in that same season. 

We wait with promise. We wait with hope. 

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. " I Thessalonians 5:24

Truly, when we're pressing in and clinging to our King in prayer we find new strength, renewed in His promises, anchored in hope that lasts because it's hope in the Risen One, our Conquering King Jesus, seated on the throne in heaven. The One who could calm the seas with His voice, make blind eyes see- the One who tasted death and was the Victor over it, crushing satan beneath His heel. 

For those friends and family members that you continue to intercede over- God is faithful. In those cities, workplaces and neighborhoods that seem impossibly dark and unreachable- God is faithful. 
Husbands and wives, as you seek the Lord together on behalf of your families, jobs and cities- God is faithful.

As you pray together He will show Himself strong in your home and in your marriage, that together you might shout from the mountaintops- like a battle cry in this world: 

Great is Thy faithfulness, oh God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

that the tears would flow.

I've been reading some crazy good books lately. 

The kind of books that'll rip your face off and change your life. 

I love those kinds of books. 

There's one story, though, of a man in Scotland that I keep musing over. And I feel like this little snippet in this little chapter just kinda, sorta puts into words the longings of our hearts in the Bender home lately. Not that we're there, but this is the there that we want to be. 

The chapter is from a book called Revival Praying, by Leonard Ravenhill (seriously best name ever, right?) And the chapter is titled Deep Calleth Unto Deep. Mr. Ravenhill tells just a bit of the story of a preacher in Scotland, Robert Murray McCheyne. 

He tells us how McCheyne was a great scholar, well-versed in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. He also wrote great hymns and painted beautiful pictures, but "Robert Murray McCheyne excelled in a greater art than any of these or all of them combined, for McCheyne is remembered as a man of prayer.... 'How real God is!' he once said to himself. 'God is the only person I can talk to.'" 

After McCheyne died and people would visit his church, the reality and impact of this praying man lingered. Visitors at this church are shown to the chair where McCheyne used to sit, told to put their elbows on the table and rest their face in their hands and then instructed "Now let the tears flow. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do." 

The visitor may next be led to the pulpit where this passionate preacher had stood and again, with elbows on the pulpit and face in hands "Now let the tears flow. That was the way Mr. McCheyne used to do!" 

As we've prayed over this city- this hard, broken and dry city- the Holy Spirit has at last brought us to this place where we would cry out, begging Jesus that the tears would flow- that our tears would flow with hearts broken by the mercy and grace of King Jesus. That as Jeremiah wept over Judah and Jesus wept over Jerusalem, we would weep over Denver. 

"We are wondering why God does not move; He is wondering why we do not break! We have His exceeding great and precious promises and wonder why He does not oblige; He wonders why we do not obey! We wish He would bend low; He wishes we would break down."

This is the kind of stuff that would change our lives. 

Hallelujah Jesus. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

number four.

My little girls are turning four tomorrow, and it's making me so darn introspective! 

I start thinking back to what it was like when we had these two pretty, perfect little babies and I can't not think about the friends that we had in our lives at the time. Like it's impossible. I had two babies and a four year old little boy. 

I needed help. 

And praise the LORD, I got it. 

I'm thinking about how I didn't have to cook for a month and a half- and I'm not exaggerating. Friends brought us food, strangers brought us food, Caleb's preschool teacher brought us food, all of the moms at preschool brought us food, more friends brought us food, people sent us gift cards; it was amazing. 

I'm thinking about the sweet friends who were so mindful of Caleb that they would take him to birthday parties that I couldn't get to with two newborns. Friends who would pick him up in the morning and let him just soak up in some glorious boy time at their house for the day. I'm thinking of friends that I could text on the way to church if Ricky was working, knowing that they'd help me with this crazy mess of kids that I was still learning to cope with. Friends who'd run out of their house when I pulled up to take a kid out of the car because I just didn't have enough hands. Friends who are incredibly thoughtful, generous, fun and kind. 

I love that I can't think of my two little best friend twins without thinking of so many of my own friends. 

To a recovering, struggling perfectionist who gets so caught up in her "I can do it all on my own, just sit back and watch me be awesome" attitude, needing and receiving all of this help was extremely humbling and an extremely practical way for me to see how lame it is to try to be super awesome all by yourself.  Friends. Family. Thank you for showing my family so much genuine and real love. 

Sometimes I wonder if the reason Jesus gave me so many kids is simply to help me get over myself. 

But that's another blog, another day. 

And now I have these funny, beautiful, thoughtful, often generous, (mostly) kind little girls. Jovie's not scared to sneak a handful of cake (yes, handful) and give it to Lotta before sneaking her own handful of cake. 

"Here you go, Lala."
"Sure, hon!" 

Friendship. It's a beautiful thing. 

Happy birthday, my Loretta Joy and Jovie Grace. You've brought more Joy and Grace into my life than I ever could imagined. I love you. And everyone who I'm sharing this birthday with: thank you. I love you, too. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

baby steps.

Do you ever go through seasons of life where you feel like you're telling yourself the same thing day in and day out? I'm thinking of Bill Murray in What About Bob, "baby steps, baby steps, baby steps, baby steps, baby steps."

For me these days it's, "eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus, eyes on Jesus." In awesome stuff, in weird stuff, in painful stuff, in exciting and fun stuff, in all the stuff, I want my eyes on Jesus.

Lately that's been hard. Sometimes I feel like I'm fighting myself. (Romans 7, much?) Or like my heart just isn't in it. So I need this reminder today- a reminder of who I'm setting my eyes on and why.

Eyes on Jesus- the very One who made Himself of no reputation, took the form of a slave and came to earth as a man. Jesus, the One who humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Jesus, the Risen One, the exalted One- the One to whom every knee is gonna bow and every tongue is gonna confess that He is LORD. (philippians 2:5-11) Jesus.

I write this because I need to hear it.

Seeing Jesus, who is crowned with glory and honor; Jesus, who by the grace of God tasted death for everyone. For me and for you. Jesus, the captain of our salvation. (hebrews 2:9-10) Aaaaah, Jesus.

Eyes on Jesus. The Risen One. The Captain and The King.

In the midst of whining and bills and friends and church and backyard projects and family and birthday parties and dinner and more whining and unsuccessful nap times and laundry and work schedules: Eyes on Jesus, Keri. Eyes on Jesus.

"Looking to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (hebrews 12:2)

All the junk doesn't just go away. (At least it hasn't for me.) But the Holy Spirit is able to do the impossible and change our perspectives- instead of this stupid egocentric thing I've got going on, the Holy Spirit brings that Jesus-centric focus and it changes my Thursday. It changes my parenting. It changes my relationships- we're freed from operating from a point of competing and getting what's owed to us. It's the gospel over legality- it's Jesus' work over mine.

It's life-changing.

He removes our need to compete and strive because our identity isn't wrapped up in us anymore. Our identity is wrapped up in our Victorious, Righteous, Faithful, Loving, Beautiful Savior; and there's nothing on earth or in heaven that compares.

Eyes on Jesus. Thinking about Him. Talking with Him. Enjoying Him. Loving Him. Eyes on Jesus.

"Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all."

please don't take this the wrong way, but:

Friday, May 17, 2013

My Bible sass rant.

I'm feeling pretty sassy this morning. 

That's a disclaimer for what's about to come. 

(Also, the vibe in my house right now is LOUD. I have four kids with leg warmers on their arms singing "Born to be Wild" as part of a "surprise party" they're throwing for Caleb. His birthday is in November.)

On Mother's Day some family of ours ended up at a church where the pastor taught through 1 Corinthians 13- you know, the love chapter. And since it was Mother's Day, he taught that mom was patient and kind; mom does not envy, parade herself or boast. I really can't even keep going with this because I already feel like throwing up a little. 

All week I've been thinking about this. And maybe that's why, as I sit down at my computer, I'm sassy.  

I'm mad. 

We cringed and squirmed through a very similar teaching last Mother's Day at a different church that we (fortunately) didn't attend for long. 

So I maybe I just need to vent a little. Maybe you heard something similar last Sunday. 




Already, I feel so much better. 

Pastors, do you want to encourage a mom on Mother's Day? How about this: Pray for the mamas. Lay hands on the precious mommies your church is blessed to have and pray that the Holy Spirit would enable them to do the impossible and love their kids. Young mommies, old mommies- moms who are seeing all of their kids walk with Jesus and moms who have wayward kids; moms who work, moms who stay home; moms who are weary, sad, guilty, tired, stoked, passionate and lonely. 

You wanna have a serious impact on the next generation? Start praying for those moms.

But please, don't get up there and teach that moms are the standard of love. Because that's more pressure than anyone needs (that, and it's totally not true.) Bring the mommies to Jesus. Remind them of how deep the Father's love is for them. Bring them to His never-ending well of mercy and grace and help them to draw from that- from Him. 

To my mom friends, who are in the trenches with me, who struggle to find time to read the Bible, who have a hard time praying much more than "Jesus, help. Please help," the work you're doing matters. You are not doing "lesser things." 

 "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28)

Find your rest in Jesus today. He's the standard- you can't be the standard. That's the gospel. Our standard wasn't good enough, not loving enough. And so we need to invite Jesus in- to let His standard and His love work in and through us. Are you having a hard time? Run to Jesus. When my twins were babies and I was pregnant with Fin, my refuge and prayer closet was my car. I'd strap those kids in, we'd drive up the coast and I'd pour my tired and overwhelmed heart out to Jesus. 

It's okay to let those perfect mom walls down. 

Proverbs says this: "He who fears the LORD has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." (Proverbs 14:26) 

Let's do that.

I feel like my soul just sighed with relief. 
Thanks for letting me vent. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

mother's day.

I have four kids. In those four kids, I have one who's just like me. Painfully so. If you've met me and you've met my kids for like a minute, you know- Jovie Grace and I were cut from the same passionate, explosive, bossy and sometimes tender cloth. I love her to pieces, she cracks me up, but that girl can be the turdiest turd. Just like her mama. Maybe you have one of those, too, and so you understand right now why I need to do this: 

Give me a minute to thank my mom. 

Mom, thank you for teaching me to use the toilet. 

Thank you for teaching me basic social skills. Like not strangling people, pushing them into walls or down the stairs when they touch my stuff. 

Thank you for not just whacking me with a hairbrush every time you brushed my hair and I screamed like a banshee. 

Thank you for not banning me from crayons, play-dough or food forever.  

Thank you for making me do chores. 

Thank you for not making horrible, awful fun of me (at least to my face) every time I liked a boy in Jr. High and High School. 

Thank you for not beating me when I painted Thomas with nail polish. 

Thank you for not beating me when I made Thomas eat bunny poop. 

Thank you for not beating me when I covered Keith in Vaseline. 

This could get really long and embarrassing, so I'm done. 

Being a mom is weird. 

And it's taught me more about the gospel and God's love for me than anything I could dream up myself. I'm not perfect. And my love isn't either. But even when my kids are wrecked, I love them. I'll take their sticky face kisses and their Dorrito cheese hugs. They can suck at every aspect of life and I love them. If you're a mom, you know. 

You think about them when you're away from them. You remember their sweet little smiles and tender hugs. You rejoice over their little victories like they just won the World Series- that poop that finally made it in the toilet is worth a standing ovation. You have hopes and dreams for them that would blow their little minds. You make sacrifices for them without even seeing them as sacrifices because you love them. You put them in time-out, spank or ground them because you don't want to raise little psycho-paths.  

If that doesn't remind you of God's great love for you even a little, I don't know what will. 



Remember the gospel. Remember Jesus. Remember that His love for you doesn't change when you're "good" or when you're "bad." He loves you when you poop your pants. He rejoices with you when you finally get it in the toilet. 

I have twins who are three.

Happy Mother's Day.