The night I walked into a strip club…and never wanted to leave.

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*The following has been edited and approved by several women currently working or have worked in the past in the adult entertainment industry. My intention is to respect these women and represent them well without causing any harm with my words. 


I grabbed my phone and ID, slipping them in my back pocket before throwing my purse in the trunk of my friend’s car.  Moments before, three girls prayed over me. What I was about to do was out of my comfort zone, and I had no idea how in a matter of minutes this night would change me.

Tell me a year ago where I’d be in this moment in time, and I would look at you with a certain look I give when I think you’re crazy. But God’s way is a not always what we expect, and here I was on the east side of Indianapolis…walking into a strip club.   In fact, this very strip club is the same club that Brett passed by in the back seat of his family’s car on the way to the park where his dad played fast-pitch softball every summer. At 16 years old, he joined the softball team and has continued to drive by this club for the past 15 summers. Now I have been in the car beside him for all these years. Did I notice the club? Sure. Did I think much about it? No. Only disgusted by the number of cars in the parking lot. And now, after all those years of passing by with apathy, I’m walking into this same club.

I followed my friends’ lead as we walked across the parking lot. I was excited but also nervous. I was told in a training session what to expect, but you never can be fully prepared until you experience it firsthand. I prayed and asked Jesus to give me peace and let Him do whatever He wanted through me that night.  Immediately my fear vanished as we walked up to the door.  It wasn’t from a supernatural jolt from the Spirit. It wasn’t because one of my friends gave me a word of encouragement or I felt safe with these girls. Jesus gave me peace in an unexpected way: from the response of two men standing at the entrance to the club.

As soon as these men noticed us, they had welcoming smiles and said: “Hey ladies!! How are you all? Good to see you! Oh, thanks for the gift! Have a great night!” One was the bouncer. The other, the manager.

“Wait…what just happened back there?” was my thought as we made our way into the club, passing the DJ and stages to get to the dressing room. I was aware that these men knew who we were, especially since my friends have been coming to this club for almost 4 years. Yet, this doesn’t seem right. I expected, “Hey,” and then apathetically let us pass by.

But as Christa Hicks, a sex industry survivor said, “Everything the Lord does, doesn’t make sense!” No, this doesn’t make sense that club managers and owners across the United States would be allowing women to walk into their clubs to bring gifts and dinner and talk about Jesus to their dancers. You think your boss would be cool with us coming and talking about Jesus to all your co-workers? Probably not. You see my friend, Jesus is in the strip clubs. Oh, Satan is there too. But my Jesus is the Overcomer and is setting the captive free from the grasps of hell in a place that is overlooked, forgotten, and looked down upon.

I walked into the dressing room and several girls were at their mirrors putting their makeup on and fixing their hair, while others were at their lockers pulling out their clothes and shoes.  We passed around the gifts we brought and started conversations. One girl was at her locker alone. My friend and I walked over, gave her a gift, and started talking. Before I knew it, another friend was getting our attention that it was getting late and we needed to get going. I looked at my watch. I had been standing there talking to this girl for over an hour!

I actually was disappointed that it was time to leave!  We walked to the car and prayed before we left.  I drove home that night and the Spirit clearly told me this is where He wants me. It was like a spiritual “high” and I couldn’t stop smiling. Can I tell you something else that might shock you?  I felt the presence of Jesus in that strip club more than I did in church sometimes. Yes, I just said that. You know why? Because when we actually act like Jesus did when He was here on earth, we can’t help but be filled and overflow with His presence. And I wanted more of Him.

And it’s not only in a strip club. Francis Chan says in his amazing book, You and Me Forever: “If I want to find Jesus, I should share the gospel with someone. That’s where He will be. He is on the battlefield. He is pursuing the mission. I hear people complain that they don’t feel Jesus with them, they don’t experience the Holy Spirit. I usually ask them: Are you busy making disciples? After all, His promise came on the heels of His command. Later, Jesus told His disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. But that power was given so they could be his ‘witnesses.’ ” (Acts 1:8).

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This was taken a year ago, before my first night in the club!

I will never forget that dancer I first encountered in the strip club. We talked like we were friends before. We discussed books, movies, family, religious beliefs.  Here I was on a mission to break down her walls to get to her heart.  Yet, I left the club that night with God breaking MY walls down. Any judgment, prejudice, preconceptions crumbled down around me like the walls of Jericho. The Israelites marched with trumpets. The dancers were scurrying around me with stiletto heels. Only then could I look into the eyes of each girl and see what Jesus sees: Loved. Cherished. Beautiful. His chosen daughters. Never forgotten. Chased after. Forgiven.

Of course I knew that Jesus loves all people. But there is a disconnect from being told over and over again, “For God so loved the world…,” (John 3:16) and actually taking the time to BE with people that He loves. And not the ones that know they are loved by Him, but those who may be hard to love, overlooked because they live a different life from me, or in this case, participate in a profession that is overtly against God’s will. (Because you know that our “secret sins” or sins against self that are prevalent in the Church aren’t AS sinful as obvious ones. {insert sarcasm})

heelsMy view before walking into a strip club was clouded by a plank in my eye. God used those stiletto heels to penetrate my heart and tear away my pride, legalistic beliefs, and plain.old.ignorance.

Because when I sit with a dancer and listen to her talk about her son and how she wants him to grow up in church, and I listen to the bartender share her story of God waking her up to the brevity of life by using a car accident, and seeing the fear and shame from a mom whose kids may be taken away from her, and the excitement of others who are going to school to be a nurse/correction officer/cosmetician… I don’t see a strip dancer.

Some of us may have read the statistics:*

→ 66-90% of women in the adult entertainment industry were sexually abused as little girls.

→ 89% of women in the sex industry said they wanted to escape, but had no other means for survival.

→ 70% of females who are trafficked are trafficked into the commercial sex industry. (This includes Porn, Strip Clubs, and massage parlors in the US.)

→ 89% were raised in a religious home, according to one study.

However, statistics are only numbers…not people…and don’t tell the whole story. Because when I walk into a strip club I see…

… a single mom who loves her children and is providing for their needs while being able to spend time with them during the day.

…a determined woman who is paying her way through school to achieve her dream job.

…a girl who loves to dance, read books, watch movies just like me.

…a wife who is contributing to finances as her husband is searching for a job.

…a girl who knows Jesus and is taking steps to completely surrender and trust Him with her life.

Am I justifying their actions? No. Jesus never did either, since He died to became the Justifier (so that we could be declared righteous before God).  He always offers grace and forgiveness.  In fact, He knelt at the adulterous woman’s feet and challenged the people who were about to murder her to throw the first stone if they were without sin.  Every person walked away because who is without sin, other than Jesus Himself? What a paradox that Jesus was the only one justified to throw a stone at this woman, yet He was defending her while everyone else was guilty and holding a stone of condemnation (John 8:1-11).

Honestly, there was a day that I held a stone. Maybe I wouldn’t have thrown it. But at the very least in my heart I was looking down. Again, how ironic that God would use stiletto heels to humble me. Because when talking to the majority of the dancers, I have to look up at them.  And as I look up I still don’t see a strip dancer; I now see myself, as God has been tearing away the layers of my own heart. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t be signing up for the next audition, but I have the same cravings to be loved, desired, affirmed, and my sinful heart is tempted to find it in the wrong places; I would struggle to do whatever it takes to ensure my kids are safe and comfortable; and heck, if I had all my dirty laundry hanging out, I’m sure a few would cast stones. I am a broken vessel. I am a hot mess. I’ve got issues. The stone is dropped out of my hand, and my position now is not looking up or down, but kneeling with Jesus alongside my new friends.

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“Like Jesus, we have only one aim and goal: to love. Our mission is passion and compassion; we are to love God and to love our neighbor. All that Jesus did flowed from the abandoned place of laid-down love. With compassion He…talked to the prostitute. Jesus is the ultimate example of God dwelling among us. Love Himself walked the earth. We fix our gaze on Jesus as the perfect model of life…We are created to bring the love of Jesus to those who are in need. Love looks like something, yet it has no limits.” ~ Heidi Baker from Compelled by Love.

This is why my friends and I involved at Unconditional Ministries walk into 6 strip clubs in Indianapolis to deliver gifts to the dancers, waitresses, house moms, bartenders, DJs, bouncers, and managers.  Because I guarantee you that if Jesus were here walking the earth, He wouldn’t be spending all His time at Church, doing church activities, and hanging only with his followers. Yes, He spent time at the Temple to teach and did life with his disciples, but much of His time was spent with people who needed His spiritual healing touch. Jesus is not in flesh on earth anymore, yet He said He would give us something even better: His Spirit to live in us. Therefore, we bring the love of Jesus to these girls every time we step foot into the strip clubs because His presence is within us. Our mission isn’t to rescue or save the dancers, or even get them to leave their jobs, but introduce them to the Savior who offers healing and freedom for all.

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Me, Kristin (social enterprise), Laci (art therapy), Gale (gift coordinator), Sarah (founder and director)

BCV_9715I wish I could have known your initial thought when you first read the title to this post. I love telling people that I’m involved in a strip club ministry and watching their reaction. If you know me at all, I’m not afraid to be blunt. Brett’s usually beside me ready to explain quickly the WHY I go to the club and WHAT I do there. We get a good laugh afterwards. But honestly, I hope that there will be a day soon that when I tell someone that I go to the strip clubs, they don’t give me a look of shock, question, fear, or even judgment.  I’ll be looking for the day when the person says, “Well, of course that makes sense! That’s who Jesus would hang out with!”


 

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If you live in the Indianapolis area and feel the Spirit tugging on your heart to learn more about this ministry, check out our website: www.UnconditionalMinistries.com  and Like our Facebook page. There are many ways to get involved: outreach team, prayer team, financial donors, gift donations, artists for our art therapy group, upcoming career development training. Fill out the form under the ‘Get Involved’ tab to learn more!

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If you do not live around Indy, check out the Strip Church network to find a ministry in your area that is also sharing the love of Jesus throughout the U.S., Canada, and UK to women in the adult entertainment industry!

*Statistics are from Treasures, a ministry out of L.A. reaching women in the sex entertainment industry. For more statistics, read here

 

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I’m Giving Up!

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Warning: This post is raw. Maybe one of my most vulnerable yet. But the overwhelming positive response I have received from those who have read my posts has inspired me to keep writing. Keep being vulnerable. Because I am finding that I truly am not alone. Each time I push the blue Publish button, I pray that at least one person be impacted by the words that the Spirit tells me to write.  And I hope that this post may resonate with that one person out there.

I am a wife. I am a full-time homemaker. I am a stay-at-home-non-working-homeschool mom. Everyone has a different story to share, different callings, and different convictions.  This is my perspective, my struggles, and the lessons I am learning through my lens.

The last few months have been rough. And that’s a big understatement. It’s been a really difficult time for Brett and me with changes in our current situation and the unknown of our future. Brett is seeking the Lord for direction but getting hit with brick walls and more unanswered questions. I am trying to be a supportive and an encouraging wife (which is not always the case). Then we have two little sinners in our house that thought it would be perfect timing to make Mommy miserable.  In fact, they thought it would be awesome to figure out how to push each other’s buttons so all Mommy hears all day is the older one constantly scolding and the younger screaming back. And the older….she’s 5 going on 15 with her attitude.

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I’m exhausted. Oh, I sleep through the night unlike my friend with twins who looks at me with envy because she knows my kids sleep until 8 am.  Or my other dear friend who has 3 children of her own, one being a newborn, while being the guardian of her two nieces. She had been taking care of 5 kids 6 and under.  They are exhausted.   But I’m not only talking about physical exhaustion, but mental, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

This wife and mommy stuff is hard.  No one can truly prepare you for it. You can read every marriage and parenting book. Read the best blogs. The 10 tips. The 5 must haves. The 3 don’t ever do’s. But when real life hits you between the eyes and you feel like you are drowning (and actually have tormenting dreams of drowning and waking up yelling for help), you have to somehow make sense of it all.  And it would be easy-peasy to be a wife and mom if life were not complicated.  No. It’s full of burdens, trials, temptations, sin, fear, disappointment, insecurities. The list could go on.

Am I doing enough? Is what I have to offer as a wife and mom adequate? Am I failing? These questions quickly turned into lies and twisted half-truths that Satan whispered in my ear. The conversation sounded a bit like this:

Serpent: You aren’t a good wife. Look at how you treated Brett when you……   You don’t seem to be a very good helpmate if everything you try to do does not encourage him.

Christina: Yes, I’m failing as a wife by focusing on myself when he needs me most right now in his own struggles.

S: Your kids are being disobedient and do not listen to you. You must be doing something wrong.

C: Yes, and they are driving me crazy. I feel like a broken record. I’m burnt out and about to check out.

S: I mean is this really what you want?  You are around them 24/7… oh look at another mom who is posting about her home business again…maybe that’s what you need. You need to do something for yourself! You are servant all day.

C: Yes, there has to be more to life than being a wife and mom!  Other moms got it figured out how to be wife, mom, and this #girlboss stuff. That’s what I need.

S: Yesssss….Because you are more than a wife and mom, right? You have goals and dreams and passions!  You need more to make you happy and satisfied. Being only a wife and mom will never…be…enough. 

Sadly, I caved into Satan’s lies.  And being deceived I took a bite of the darn apple by fantasizing a life of “what ifs”.  “What if I didn’t finish college in such a hurry and pursued more education or worked with my professor in nutrition research like he encouraged me to do? What if Brett and I waited to have kids so I could explore life more, travel more, be “myself” more? What if I worked at least part-time? What if I give up on this homeschool thing and put Kherington in school next year; then I really wouldn’t have to hear her attitude all.day.long and could do more of what I want to do!”   The what ifs kept playing on and on in my head.  Satan dangling the shiny apples of a “better” life.

The root of this apple tree was discontentment. And the bitter taste permeated my soul.  I wanted to give up. I lost hope. I was tired of fighting the spiritual race and wanted to hang up my running shoes. I was done waiting on the Lord and His timing for Brett’s and my life.  After crying and silently yelling at God in the shower one day, the Spirit revealed that deep down I was angry at God. Angry that we’ve been waiting for 3 years for something that we were 100% sure that He had called us to do: be missionaries who make movies.

Last fall, we had the “green light” on a film project that we had already been waiting for 2 years to be funded, that would have moved us for 7 months to a different country. I had the house half packed up and pulled us out of ministries, my part-time job, Brett’s freelance business, children activities, everything. Brett and I were pumped for the awesome opportunity to be Jesus’ light on a secular film set. However, the “green light” turned red when the investor didn’t pull through.  And now it’s June. And we are still waiting. We decided to stop living in suffocating “wait mode” and live in the here and now. I just put my house decor back up last month. Yet I still have an open moving box in my bedroom taunting me that I have yet to unpack.

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My heart turned ugly.  Discontentment had made it black. Blinded me from Truth. Entangled me in deeper sin. Fortunately because of the grace of God and His Spirit, I finally heard His warning over the lies that Satan was drowning me with. I needed to change my heart or I was headed for destruction. So I pulled out my journal and wrote a 12-page honest prayer to God. Here is a small part of what I told Him…

“I have been tired of feeling like a wife and mother isn’t good enough for not just the world’s standards but even Your standards. Because I believe the lie that I have to do more for You. My biggest fear is standing before You someday and I didn’t do enough. I don’t believe that I am doing enough as just a wife to Brett and a mom. Because it doesn’t seem very radical. It’s boring and mundane some days. I see people do amazing things and other women given platforms… And I feel like I’ve been asked to do nothing but be a wife and mom.”

There’s some honesty for you.  And as I was honest with God,  I finally shut out the lies of Satan and let the Spirit, whom I had been ignoring, speak to me.  I journaled His Truth as I sat and listened…

You have an identity crisis (Ephesians 1). You are being selfish and prideful (Prov. 16:18). You have not been willing to drink the cup I have given you right now in your life (Mark 10:38). Everything you have and these circumstances are divinely from Me (Colossians 1:15-18). Nothing is accident (Jeremiah 29:11). You are who I made you to be and where you are is where I want you to be in order to be who I created you to be (Psalm 139).  You have been deceived into looking for joy, happiness, acceptance, importance in other places. 

“Yes, you want me to be pleased by you but it’s not by selfishly being noticed or being used in a “big” way that you Americans like to categorize ministry. Any selfish motive will be burned away (1 Cor. 3:12-15).  I am the opposite of Satan’s counterfeits in this world.  The first shall be last (Matthew 19:30).  The cup and baptism is suffering, not always pleasures and happiness in this world (Mark 10:35-45). You must lose your life to gain it. Take up your cross and carry it. Die to yourself (Mark 8:34-38).  Be willing to be used, but be poor in spirit always before Me (Matthew 5:3).” 

I was immediately broken and responded to the Spirit…

“I have to give it all up, Jesus. I have to surrender everything. The question is: am I willing? To take the cup and drink it whole-heartedly, no matter what? Yes, I surrender to what you have asked me to be right now in this moment: a helpmate to Brett, mother to Kherington and Damon, a friend to those around me, and to just write.  No promoting my blog or trying to be “someone.”  I hear You telling me…’just write as I tell you to.’

“My identity is who You say I am. Nothing and no one else in this world can define me. I can be free to be nothing else. You made yourself nothing! Became a servant. Humbled. I now become nothing. I am Christina Varvel, Your servant daughter. I am done trying. I am done living “for” You. I need to live with You.  Seeking You, wanting nothing else but You. To be satisfied in You, hungering and thirsting for the rest of my days.”

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I posted this picture and the following on social media regarding what the Lord was asking of me:

“Life is heavy. It’s full of burdens. And if you are a driven person like myself, you tend to keep pushing through the pain, worry, and unknown. Can’t give up. Can’t give in. Pull it together. Muscle through it. Keep trying. Don’t let anyone know you are struggling.
Yet, there comes a breaking point. I can’t do it. I’m weak. I’m not strong enough. I need help.
I carried this 40 pound baby down a mountain. I wanted to prove I could do it. But I came to a point where if I kept trying I’d only hurt myself and drop the camera I was holding onto for dear life. So I handed it to someone else. I gave it up to someone stronger. And I walked down the rest of the mountain free. No fear of dropping what I was trying to hold onto because it rested in someone else’s arms. My arms were sore still with some pain of letting go, but in the end it was worth it.
So in the heaviness of life, I’m letting go. I surrender. I’m done trying to hold onto the things in life that only weigh me down. I hand it to Jesus. Because He said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I want to run down the mountain free with Jesus and experience all He has for me. What are you holding onto? What you think may be helping is actually hurting. Stop trying so hard. Surrender. Jesus is willing to carry it all for you because He carried a cross to die on to save you from yourself.”

Give it up Mom, friend, wife, Dad, lady boss, homemaker, whoever you are.  That was my first step. Then to praise Jesus for who I am and what I have instead of drowning into discontentment and the comparison trap.   I wanted to give up being a wife and mom, but I gave up my selfish desires in order to be a wife and mom. Because this is my highest calling and where I will have the most eternal impact.

So if you are looking for me right now, I’ll be at home.

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The Poor in Spirit is Next Door – My Neighbor’s Story from Desperation to Hope

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Where are the poor in spirit obtaining the kingdom of heaven?  Heidi Baker has found the poor in spirit in the hearts of the physically starving and orphaned people of Mozambique. Yet, where are the poor in spirit here in America?  I have found one …next door.

On the outside, this one poor in spirit wouldn’t look exactly poor.  She has a nice house, clothes on her back, a car. Food each meal. A hot shower. Dogs to keep her company. However, on the inside she was desperately needy. Hungering for something more than what her life had given her in 50 years of living. A starving beggar crying out for the Bread to give her life in the now and forever. Insecure in her future, finances, and failures.

Heidi Baker mentions in her book, Compelled by Love, how in Mozambique the poor are so desperate for simple food to survive that God shows up to multiply a small portion of chickens or bread to feed the masses.  People are miraculously healed, raised from the dead, and released from demonic torment. While the power of the Spirit is still evident in these ways here in the West, God sometimes uses different methods to open our eyes by bringing us to our breaking point of desperation.

My neighbor came to that breaking point in the form of banging on my door at 10 pm one night. Brett and I were watching a movie and I looked over at Brett thinking, “Who in the world?” I immediately thought of Tracey, our next door neighbor, but she usually texts me before coming over. I open the door to find her panicked with her phone to her ear barely able to get words out. The 911 dispatch was on the line. Tracey was afraid for her life.  Two hours and four cops in and out of our house later, she stayed the night with us.

That night was a turning point in her life. Let me start from the beginning of our relationship. Brett and I moved into our house almost 8 years ago.  We met Tracey, but we didn’t have much contact because she kept to herself and I was working and gone most of the time.  At this point in my life I was apathetic to sharing my faith and the gospel of Jesus.  Then I had Kherington and since I stayed home with her, I started seeing Tracey more, especially when we were out playing and she was walking her dogs, which Kherington always wanted to pet or hold a leash.

Over the next few years, little by little Tracey started opening up more about herself and her life. I tried to empathize with her even though there is an age gap and we have different life experiences. But I mostly listened. I discovered quickly that she was very alone and needed a friend.  More importantly, she needed Jesus. Jesus to be her source of joy, security, and identity. Tracey has lived a really hard life mostly of rejection.  She didn’t know her father and has a strained relationship with her mother, resulting in her grandmother raising her. She’s been divorced twice, had a traumatic experience with her son who is in prison, and tries to see her daughter and grandchildren as much as allowed.  She’s been verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. Suicide attempts have been a part of her past.  There’s been little hope.  When I looked in her eyes, I saw a soul who was hurting, alone, hopeless, lifeless, and trying to survive each day.

I had the answer to her desperation, loneliness, rejection.  I started sharing the gospel with her. Planting seeds of who Jesus is and what He has done in my own life. Telling her I was praying for her. Sending her encouraging Bible verses.  Gave her a copy of our film The War Within. Then one day last summer of 2016, I was enjoying peace and quiet in the sun at my parents’ house while the kids napped when I received a text from Tracey. She was done living this life of pain and loneliness. She was hungering and thirsting for what I had in Jesus.  She told me she wanted to pray and give her life to Jesus Christ. I asked her if she wanted me to call her but she said that she wanted to do it alone. I made the gospel clear to her again, told her she needed to confess and repent of her sin, acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God and Lord of all, and to surrender her life to Him.  I stared at my phone waiting, praying, crying.  She responded back and said she had finished praying.  She was filled with joy. She immediately told me that her room had become brighter and could feel a heavy darkness lift.  Praise God for another soul saved for all eternity!

However, her ex-husband who lived with her came home soon after and the darkness appeared again.  The following few months were very rough for Tracey.  Even though she was free in Jesus from her sin and past, she was trapped and controlled in her daily life. Then that day in November came when she banged on our door frantic for her life like I had never seen before. Something needed to change. The next few weeks, Brett and I encouraged her to make changes in the relationship with the ex-husband.  It was not healthy. Brett became mediator and tried to reach out to him, but he resisted.  God was telling me to love Tracey like Jesus loves her.  So I got up a few times a week to sit with her early in the morning while she got ready to listen to her, encourage her and pray over her, especially against the dark spiritual warfare. She needed a reason to get out of bed and live that day.  I told her over and over again that she’s worth something, she’s loved, she’s not abandoned. Jesus will never leave her or forsake her even when she feared she would lose everything: her house, her finances, her dogs, her sense of purpose.

Then finally it was over.  He was gone.  And then the pain of being torn apart from the soul tie she had with her ex-husband hit her like going through withdrawal from a drug. She knew she needed to do it because it was unhealthy, yet she was desperately crying out to Jesus to help her.  I always tried to be a text or phone call away to help speak Truth into her against the lies of the enemy, Satan.  Or I ran over to continue to sit with her, listen, hug her, and pray.

We encouraged her to come to church with us and since she was finally free to do as she pleased, she started coming.  Week after week, Kherington and Damon anxiously waited for Tracey to come to our door Sunday morning so she could ride with us and then eat Mexican with us after church (Kherington and Daddy’s favorite, of course).  Although Kherington was excited to have a friend come each week, Brett and I were overjoyed to notice changes in Tracey’s demeanor and spirit instantly.  It was evident: the power of Jesus Christ changed her soul.  He took her broken, desperate, poor spirit and gave life, hope, and wholeness.  A once anxious and fearful spirit was renewed with joy and peace.

A few short weeks ago I was on a flight to Florida alone to care for my grandparents. When I landed, I turned off the airplane mode on my phone to see I had a missed call and voicemail from Brett. My first thought: “Oh no!!! Why would Brett be calling me in the middle of church?!” I listened to hear Brett excitedly tell me that Tracey was getting baptized right then and wanted to FaceTime me.   I immediately called him as I was still sitting in my seat.  There was Brett and Tracey on stage while someone held the phone.  I literally was walking off the plane crying and trying not to bump the person in front of me to watch Brett baptize Tracey.

Our pastor had given an invitation that morning for anyone who needed to accept Jesus as Lord of their lives and/or for those who have already chosen to follow Jesus to then make a public declaration of their faith by being baptized.  Brett felt a tug of the Spirit and he had no idea why. Right then Tracey grabbed his arm and said, “I need to do this. But I’m afraid.”  Brett said, “That’s the Spirit. Let’s do this.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”   I didn’t have to go to Mozambique after all, even though I hope to someday.  I found the poor in spirit next door. And because Tracey was broken enough to realize…

her need for something more than herself…

her need for Bread that is fulfilling and sustaining when everything else she was striving for left her empty and wanting…

her need for security and peace when her world was crashing down…

now… hers is the kingdom of heaven. Where she will experience Jesus for all earthly and eternal time.

The desperate, broken, poor, insecure are all around you. You don’t have to go far. In fact… a few steps is all it takes to show someone where to find the kingdom of heaven.

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*Written with permission from Tracey.

 

 

The War Within on Amazon Prime

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With an Amazon Prime membership, you can now watch our latest movie The War Within for FREE!!! Please help us out and support by watching on Amazon Instant Video. If you have seen it, it’s a great movie to watch over and over to soak in the biblical truth! If you haven’t seen it, here is your chance to watch it for free.  Leave a review and share it with your friends. Help us get the word out and continue to see God move in the hearts of those who watch the film.

WATCH IT NOW by clicking here:   http://amzn.to/2qwShLt

 

Check out The War Within Facebook Page, Brett Varvel’s Facebook Page, and Gary Varvel’s Facebook and Twitter Pages for the latest content.

Blessed are the starving beggars…even in the rich land of plenty

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I’ve been desperate for more of Jesus and in order to know Him better, I am reading through all 4 Gospels chronologically and in harmony with one another.

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Recently I read Matthew 16:5-12 and Mark 8:14-21. Here is Mark’s version:

“The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. Be careful,” Jesus warned them. Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.” They discussed this with one another and said, “It is because we have no bread.

Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

“Twelve,” they replied. And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.”

He said to them, Do you still not understand?

Before this conversation the disciples sat and watched Jesus perform the amazing miracle on two different occasions of taking a small amount of bread and fish and multiplying it to feed thousands upon thousands with food leftover. The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ point here. It wasn’t even about the bread yet that was their focus.  Many times in my pride I read about the disciples and think, “Duh!!! Don’t you get it! Jesus is right in front of you! You can see His miracles, touch Him, and yet you still don’t trust Him or have faith?! C’mon!” Oh and then I immediately hear the voice of the Spirit in me…”Um…Christina? This is you. Don’t YOU get it? Don’t YOU understand what I’m doing? Don’t YOU see Jesus? I AM in You. Oh, YOU of little faith.”

Ouch. I hate the conviction but love when the Spirit speaks to me. Yes, I am the disciples in so many ways. When I am in one trial after another, I forget what Christ has done for me through the previous trials!  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has never left me. Even in times that I have strayed from Him, He was always there. He will supply all that I need, and not necessarily what I want in this life. Even when it hurts. But the bread that He offers me over and over again, Himself, the Bread of Life, is more than I could ever imagine. It’s more than anything I would ever desire on this temporary earth. Oh, why does my heart long for the things of this world?  Why can’t I see that Jesus is enough? That even when I don’t understand like the disciples…when I miss what He is trying to teach me to change my heart…when I take my eyes off Jesus and onto the storms of life like Peter….when I can’t seem to have enough faith that Jesus is the One that can help me conquer my temptations….Jesus has always been and always will be enough Bread.

I have to be humble enough to desperately need this Bread. But that’s the problem isn’t? We don’t know what it’s like here in America to be so needy for physical bread to the point that we are starving beggars; we can’t comprehend being that needy for the Bread who supplies the bread. Have you noticed that it’s hard to show people how needy they are for Someone to save them when they don’t believe they need to be saved from anything? It’s common to hear, “Look at my life. Why would I need God?” And for American Christians, we acknowledge that we need Jesus to save us from sin and hell, yet we are guilty of living the rest of our lives like atheists. We got the “get out of hell” card and don’t live each day desperate for Jesus.

What a complete contrast to what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It’s only taken me 26 years of being a Christ-follower to comprehend what this means.

As I’m passionately studying the life of Jesus, I am also reading the book, Compelled by Love by Heidi Baker. I read Always Enough last year and pretty much wept through it from conviction.compelled by love Heidi and her husband, Rolland, have a ministry called Iris Global. If you want to be so heavily convicted by our apathetic Western Christianity and your eyes open to the love and compassion of Jesus, you need to check out their ministry and read their books.  The first chapter in Compelled by Love is on the verse above about the poor in spirit. The Bakers minister to orphans and the poor in Mozambique, Africa (and their mission has spread globally). These people have nothing. And I mean…nothing from war, famine, floods.

Heidi asks the question that I started asking a year ago, “Many ask why Jesus reserves the kingdom of God for the poor in spirit. Why is it that the wealthiest people and cultures experience fewer miracles and less of the supernatural? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? There is something about the poor that delights the heart of God. They are contrite. They know they are in need. But what is it about them that draws the kingdom of God to Earth? The answer to this lies in their dependency, hunger, need, and desperation.”

What does that look like in Mozambique? She continues, “If God doesn’t show up, no one else will either. If God does not heal, we will be dead. If God does not deliver, demons will torment the people to death. Every day we depend on Him for our daily bread to feed the multitudes. We rely on God. In Jesus we have all that we need. He died that there would be more than enough. We watch God multiply food to feed the masses, just as Jesus took a few fish and loaves of bread to feed the hungry.”

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Picture from Iris Global. Click here for more.

What does this look like in America?  I pause. I pause at my keyboard because I’m perplexed. What does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world? Ask Brett, and he will tell you that some days I wake up and want to give away everything we own, and then other days I remember that God has blessed us with what we do have and we are to be His stewards. God in His sovereignty created me to be born in this century in upstate New York to a mid-class family. Raised in the Big Valley of Pennsylvania and corn fields of central Indiana. Not an orphan in Mozambique. I am in the land of the free and plenty. And God has placed me right where He wants me.

Many of you reading this may have a similar life. We have never had to live meal to meal wondering if there will be enough bread. I’m convicted: are we truly thankful for the food in front of us?  We ramble out a quick prayer of “God thank you for this food that we are about to eat” before our kids start to devour their plates. Oh and as a dietitian, my favorite is, “God bless this food that we are about to eat for the nourishment of our bodies.” I usually take a peek at the actual food we are about to eat and silently laugh with God when it’s pizza or some other type of food that barely has any nutritional value in it except for a bunch of empty calories to grow our waistlines or satisfy our food addictions. Here me out; I ain’t hating on pizza. Just making a point hey.

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We don’t take the time to look at the food in front of us and weep over the fact that we don’t have to worry about our next meal!  I don’t have to beg for food so that my kids can eat!  Or God forbid, sell myself so that my child doesn’t have to die or be sold herself.  I shudder at the thought, but it’s happening to other moms somewhere.  Or we are too busy worrying about which diet works best, try this new product or nutrition phenomenon, whether we should or shouldn’t be eating gluten, organic, or GMO foods when we’ve missed the point of eating and WHO the Bread is that supplies the food.  If you’ve read my previous blog posts that I am linking throughout this (which I hope you do to hear my whole heart), I’m all for eating healthy. I mean, I kinda went to 4 years of college, finished a certified internship, took a national exam, and take continued education to keep my passion for nutrition alive. However, I can’t help but think that the people in Mozambique wouldn’t even know what the word “organic” meant. (Do YOU even know what it means? Because the food industry, media, wants you to be confused. Ok…I regress…a topic for another day).  Someone puts food in front of the poor, they won’t care if it’s gluten-free, all organic, non-GMO, etc. It’s life-giving food. That’s it. It’s.that.simple. Just like the gospel is eternal life-giving food. Jesus really is.that.simple. Maybe we’ve complicated Him like we’ve complicated our food.

Then I can’t help but think, why can the poor who have no food be able to eat what is put in front of them without fear of the food damaging their bodies? I mean that is why we are trying figure out which foods are “good” and “bad” so that we can be healthy rather sick and miserable, right? Their bodies have not been fed the vast variety of what we have put in our bodies. They have nothing and are fed and healed by a small portion of bread that was multiplied. Why? Because they have faith in the One who supplies the bread to live and heal them from physical AND more importantly spiritual death. It then hit me. We in the West are actually killing ourselves with plenty. We have obesity, immune disorders, inflammatory diseases and many other preventable disease because of plenty. Because of too much of a good thing. Because the snack aisle has 1000 choices. Because of lack of self-control. Because of addictions. Because we act like we do not.need.Jesus.

Our lack of desperation for Jesus is not only spiritually killing us but may actually be physically killing us.  “Ok, Christina. You are being so extreme.” Yes, maybe I am but you know…maybe I’m not. God has tremendously blessed us with plenty, but we have taken for granted the bread He has provided rather than glorying Him with it, taking care of our Temples with it, giving it away, blessing and discipling others around the table with it, multiplying it rather than wasting it. Instead of using the bread for God’s glory, we’ve become sluggards, addicts, food snobs, made our bellies our gods, shortened our life expectancy, given into what tastes good at the expense of our health and pocketbooks, and even judged, secluded, and inflicted on others our own opinions on food.

And Heidi agrees with me: “The challenge in the West is that many are too full. We have smorgasbords, buffets, and restaurants at almost every corner. So, people in the Western world are often just not hungry…I see that the church is often surviving on spiritual crumbs…I was looking out on a conference crowd of people who all seemed to be well fed. But superimposed over these people, I saw bloated bellies like my malnourished African children. I saw these people scavenging in the garbage like our homeless children, barely surviving off crumbs under the table. Now, we need to get them to understand how God teaches us that He can feed all the hungry, both rich and poor.”

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Picture from Iris Global

We’ve missed the point. We are like the disciples and really don’t understand. We forget and have to be reminded over and over the reason why Jesus is the Bread of Life. That His body was broken for us, like He broke the bread to feed the masses. The miracle was in the breaking of the bread. The miracle is in Jesus’ body breaking on the cross so that we can find forgiveness, redemption, and eternal life. And when we are distracted by the bread that this world offers and are not desperate for the eternal Bread, we miss the miracles that Jesus wants to display in our lives every single day. He is the Bread that fills me so that I can be a miracle that overflows with His love. As I desperately eat, I am filled to pour out to others. To help feed the rich and poor alike who are starving for more, even in the land of plenty.

Looking deep in the waitress’ eyes, she is hungry because when we ask to pray for her, she says “that I’ll be happy.”  That neighbor is desperate for something more because after asking her to come to church she replies, “Maybe I will. I need to do something different.”  That dancer wants someone to love her and is doing whatever it takes to provide for her children.  That co-worker needs to be invited over for dinner to show him how to feast on the Bread of Life instead of sharing coffee and donuts in the break room.  And it doesn’t stop there as Heidi continues: “God calls us to the emotionally poor and broken….those who are hungry, sick and needy, the old and the forgotten…the latchkey children and the fatherless….prisoners, felons, the homeless, immigrants, addicts, and those in great pain. Those who know they need help and are desperate for God and hungry for His presence will be satisfied, as this beatitude promises.”

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Therefore, to answer my question: what does it look like to be poor in spirit living in the richest land of the world?  Heidi answers, “Poor in spirit is a posturing of the heart other than an economic position… I believe being poor in spirit is a choice – a decision – we all have to make to go low still, fully dependent on the One who is always dependable.”

Your belly is full and your pocketbook has plenty (don’t kid yourself…if you have a roof over your head, food on the table, and clothes on your back you are wealthy), but are you poor in spirit? Are you desperately depending only on Jesus?  In America, we sure don’t look hungry on the outside, but we are starving beggars inside.   Maybe it’s a trial you are facing and you are focusing on the storm rather than the One who says, “Be still.”  Your health is suffering and you are looking for the magic nutritional supplement instead of the Healer. Your finances are running out and you need the Provider. You’re under spiritual oppression and you need the Deliverer. You are in bondage to that sin when you need Freedom. You are running away rather than into the Arms of Grace. You are anxious about your children, marriage, job, [fill in the blank] and need the Prince of Peace. You are fighting depression and looking for happiness in your false idols instead of the Ultimate Joy. Your identity is in  _______ and not the One who purchased you with His blood. You are chasing the fleeting American Dream rather than the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Regardless of who you are, where you live, what storm is in front of you, how much bread you will or will not eat today, Jesus is speaking to YOU not only the disciples! And wants to bless YOU not only the physically poor… but only if you are poor in spirit; spiritually needy, desperate, insecure, and dependent only on Him.  I want more of this Bread. I don’t want to miss Him and His miracles in my life, even in my Western worldview and the land of plenty. I don’t need to fear tomorrow’s bread, so I surely don’t need to fear the next trial, temptation, and storm that comes my way. He is with me. He supplies everything I need to then go feed the spiritually hungry that I meet every day.

Oh, my heart’s cry is that we will finally understand. It gives me hope that the disciples finally understood; they all died as martyrs so the gospel of the Bread of Life will continue to be multiplied so the masses can eat this Bread and live for all eternity.

My desire is to someday go to Mozambique and look into the eyes of the poor in spirit there. I have been told that is one place where you will find the kingdom of heaven. But until then, I am striving to find the kingdom of heaven right where I am at so I pray…

“Oh, Jesus, help me with my unbelief and to understand how to be poor in spirit so mine is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Snapshots of the Christian Worldview Film Festival

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Here are snapshots of our broken journey at the Christian Worldview Film Festival. To read the powerful story behind the pictures, click here.  To view just a glimpse of what happened and a few of the many people who blessed us tremendously, keep scrolling.

Brett and I waiting for our flight to San Antonio.

Listening to phenomenal speakers.

Brett in his workshop on Directing Through Camera Angles.

Director’s Panel: Rich Christiano, George Escobar, Brett Varvel, Dallas Jenkins, Ken Carpenter

Love these actresses: Stacey Bradshaw, Leona Worcester, Heather Ricks, and Kari Fabian.

Brett had the privilege of praying over Stephen Kendrick‘s son on his 13th birthday.

 I had the opportunity to be on a panel about family and filmmaking and give my viewpoint as a filmmaker’s wife who isn’t in the film industry, but supports Brett in his passion.

Brett giving his speech on “What is Your Identity?” Click here to watch a quick video.

Brett was the MC for the awards ceremony. He totally surprised me by bringing me up on stage to film a fun video to put on social media to promote the CWVFF. Enjoy the video here.

With the girls and David Helling

Must give credit to these wonderful people from the Midwest Christian Filmmakers Academy for taking many of the pics above and throughout the festival.

“The Broken Way” at the Christian Worldview Film Festival

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CWVFF_Pic“I’m not going down there, Christina.  I’m telling Phillip that I can’t come and speak. Why am I even a speaker? I made one feature film and it didn’t do well because we didn’t make our money back, which means no money to make another film.  I can’t look at these people and tell them that for the second year in a row Disciples in the Moonlight is not being filmed this year. What am I doing?  I’m a failure.  Everything I touch dies. I get a lead on project after project and they are taken away or pushed.  Maybe this is not my calling.”

Tears are streaming down my face as Brett stands vulnerable before me. I put the weights down and sit on the ottoman because clearly my workout can wait.  This man before me, the one who is strong for me, fights to protect me, prays over me and takes on spiritual oppression when I’m under attack by Satan’s lies and fears, is baring his naked soul to me.  Through the blurriness of my tears, I look him in the eyes. Those same eyes that I have looked into a million times since 16 years old. It is one of the features that I love most about him because even as we age, his eyes and that look of unconditional love he gives me will never change. I can see his soul, and in this moment, there is fear. Insecurity. Worry. Failure. Lies. Bitterness. Betrayal. Hopelessness.   This is not the man I know. Because that man I know is who Christ says he is, not these lies from Satan.

This was only one of a few broken moments that Brett had in the past several months.  I asked the Spirit to tell me what to say or do.  I have told Brett over and over in past occurrences that those are lies. I’ve spoken truth into his ears. Laid my hands on him and prayed warrior prayers over him when I have found him paralyzed on the floor of our bedroom unable to get up because the fears and lies had overtaken him.   But now, I use my exercise shirt to wipe away my tears and honestly don’t know what to do anymore to help him.  I wanted to yell, “Shut up!”  Yet instead, my own fears and worries rose up.  How can I be a helpmate to my husband when I myself am battling my own insecurities, shame of sin, fears of the future?  I didn’t say anything. We were both broken. I just let the tears come. I nodded my head to say I understand.  We went our separate ways.  I don’t even remember if I finished my weight lifting.

Now, I’m on a plane flying back home to Indianapolis from San Antonio. We went “down there,” way down south in Texas.  The place that only a few weeks ago Brett was dreading to go.  And now tears are ready to burst from the overwhelming joy of what took place this past week at the Christian Worldview Film Festival (CWVFF).   Last night after a wonderful time at the festival’s ceremony and after-party with so many friends, I looked into Brett’s eyes.  And this time I see joy. Hope. Encouragement. Peace. Security. Surrender.  That didn’t come from news that his film projects are funded and off and running. Or that he got a role as lead actor for a feature film. Or that he took home a prestigious award…because all those things didn’t happen.  This is how it happened…

Brokenness. Vulnerability. Surrender. Community.

The past few years, God has been breaking Brett and me. We asked for revival a couple of years ago, and God has been answering. But that revival could only start in our hearts. A quote I read on the plane down to San Antonio spoke loudly where we are at: “Before God can use you greatly, He will wound you deeply.  Are you ready to be pruned by the Master?”*  We have been wounded in different ways, separate from each other and together. Oh and how the pruning hurts.  But it is necessary.   A week before our trip to the CWVFF, I devoured the book The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp.  This book is one that I will buy and put on my shelf, and that says a lot for an avid book reader who doesn’t buy books unless they impact my life, and I will read over and over for the years to come.  The Spirit spoke through Ann right to my heart and where I am at on this broken journey myself.

In my previous post, My Friend, You Are Not Alone, I wrote about loneliness and how relationships and discipleship is crucial in this life.  In The Broken Way, Ann expanded on this concept, specifically how brokenness and suffering in community are the way to heal our broken hearts. I have experienced “the broken way” this past year with my three discipling relationships and even other relationships I did not mention.  Through my suffering I fought to isolate myself but instead became vulnerable. I poured out my heart, confessed my sin, and opened my hands to give to others.    And because of it I have known this to be true:  “The way through brokenness is, and always has been, to break the sufferer free from the aloneness of the suffering by choosing to participate in the suffering with them – [community] – choosing to stand with the suffering, stay with the suffering, and let it all be shaped into meaning that transcends the suffering.”  (I give you permission to read that again and let it sink in! It’s pretty deep!)

Brett and I went down to the CWVFF not knowing what to expect. We prayed and asked the Lord to use us. Use our brokenness. Vulnerability. No answers for our future. Open hands ready to give. Humbled hearts surrendered.  I walked into that place and it honestly felt like I was given oxygen to breathe.  The veil of loneliness and fear disappeared from surrounding Brett as the week went on. When someone asked how we were doing, we didn’t say “great” and a bunch of fake comments to appease the person. We were honest. “It’s been a really hard year, but this is what God is doing…”  On Friday night, the Spirit spoke through Brett as he gave a powerful message on how a wrong identity leads us to fear and worry, distracts us from the mission, and makes us question God.    He shared his journey through the past couple of years of having a wrong identity. He was completely vulnerable and even the end wasn’t tied up with a pretty bow, since we still don’t have answers for our future. (Click here to listen and watch a short video clip from his speech.)

We found “the broken way” right there at the CWVFF.  As our walls came down, others’ walls came down too. My heart wanted to burst with gratitude for every person that came up to him and told their own story of fear and loneliness.  Others suffering alongside Brett in the filmmaking world. We are not alone. There is no judgment. This is community: Those who prayed with him. Hugged him. Cried with him. Gave written and audible words of encouragement.  And all those who engaged with me in conversations that touched me deeply, whether sitting at a table, the couch in the hallway, on the floor, mealtimes, crammed in our rental car, and even the bathroom. Talking to other filmmaker wives who really do understand me. Laughing with friends like we’ve known each other for years. You will never know how desperately I needed to hear your words: “Thank you for all you do for your husband. You probably are behind the scenes but your role as his wife is most important.” “Thank you for your vulnerability. You are a warrior princess. We need to be mentoring more warrior princesses.”  “Listening to how you have supported Brett has inspired me to find a wife like you.” (Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at that one! I had to fight to shut up Satan from reminding me of all the ways I have failed Brett through this journey.)

Many filmmakers went “down there” to the CWVFF hoping to bring back an award. Yes, some did, yet most all of us went home Spirit-filled, encouraged, and rejuvenated to continue the mission God has called us to in filmmaking.  If you want to find Jesus in filmmaking…come to the Christian Worldview Film Festival and Filmmaker’s Guild next year.  That is where revival is. That is where suffering happens together in community to bring about a purpose far greater than we expected.

As I was leaving the after-party to get to bed since we had an early flight home, I said goodbye to the founder’s wife. She told me what spoke to her the most this week was experiencing blessing through others’ suffering, which doesn’t seem right! I hugged her and said, “Oh I know. I really do know. It’s the broken way.” And Ann says it better than I can: “The fellowship of the broken believe that suffering is a gift He entrusts to us and He can be trusted to make this suffering into a gift.”

Flashback to a few weeks ago, I sat on that ottoman and at one point couldn’t look Brett in the eyes anymore because it was too painful. I stared at my weights feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders questioning, what was God doing?  We’ve been waiting for answers for a couple of years now. What more does He want with our brokenness?   Now, I know. I really do know. God has turned our suffering into a gift.  If God allowed us to suffer all this time so that Brett would share his vulnerable heart to all who heard him this past week so that lives could be impacted…then it was worth it all.  And now we come home still unsure if God will or will not allow answers for our future to come soon. Regardless, we will remain….

Broken. Vulnerable. Surrendered. Suffering with Community. A Gift.

Follow CWVFF on Facebook and check out more pics and videos from last week’s guild and festival: https://www.facebook.com/cwvff/

*From the book, The Busy Homeschool Mom’s Guide to Romance