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Great Expectations: Mary and the Empty Tomb

Happy Easter! Another year without a bunny in my basket, but I’m holding out hope! More importantly, Jesus is alive! I love the Easter story, I love the way Jesus presses his sacrifice into my heart a little deeper each year, and that it is something that ceaster-1an keep on changing us all year long.

My favorite kind of teaching is the kind that spends time unpacking verses and words, bringing context and cultural understanding — things I would probably never bother to sit down and figure out on my own (Judah Smith from Seattle is really good at this). I am no biblical scholar, but occasionally, things jump out at me with no Greek translation or contextualization needed and I get a little excited about it. This happened to me this morning at our Easter service.

In John 20: 11-18, Mary is at the tomb where Jesus was laid. She came expecting to see Jesus body, wrapped and laying inside, and to sprinkle spices over the body as was the custom. She has a mission, and she is prepared, mentally and physically to carry it through. But Jesus isn’t in the tomb and is (at first) no where to be seen. Mary’s expectations are not being met here, and she begins to weep because she doesn’t know where Jesus is. Two angels appear to her, yet still she thinks someone has taken Jesus’ body and moved it. Then she turns around and Jesus is in the entrance to the tomb.

15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

She doesn’t even recognize Jesus at first, she’s too caught up in the fact that Jesus is not where she expected Him to be. It takes two angels and the Messiah himself calling out her name before she realizes that Jesus is in fact standing right in front of her.

As I listened to our pastor read this scripture this morning, something struck me about the entire situation Mary was in, and how so often I find myself in a proverbial empty tomb, surrounded by signs and wonders, yet still completely missing Jesus because my expectations were for something else completely.

213A-051222_Savior-Red_09-lgIt’s the human thing to do, to make plans, to form expectations, to dream, and to put one foot in front of another in an effort to see those things come to pass. But what happens when they don’t? What happens when the car dies completely and the little extra money that was headed for savings now has to go into a car payment? What happens when the nursery is painted, the onesies have been decorated but the baby doesn’t ever come home from the hospital? What happens when the college applications are submitted, the scholarships applied for, but your very last hope for housing falls through?

We have these great expectations, dreams and plans, and they are wonderful, but what if they’re not what Jesus has planned for us? Do we find ourselves staring into an empty tomb crying out, “Where have you gone, Jesus? Where are you?” Do we miss the first sign of hope, that there is in fact money in the budget for that car payment? That the baby went straight to Jesus’ arms (please do not misread this and read that we should not mourn in these situations. This is one of the worst things I can imagine having to survive and I ache for those of you who have to!), or that there is still time to find a new housing situation for the fall?

“Where have you gone, Jesus? Where have they taken you?” You cry out to him in agony, because sometimes the pain of loss is just too much to bear. “This isn’t what I’d planned, Jesus.”

And he stands in the entrance to the empty plan, the unmet expectation and says, “Why are you crying? What are you looking for?”

You spread your arms out around you and show him all that you have lost, without recognizing him because, like with Mary in the tomb, Jesus wasn’t where you expected him to be.

And then . . . he says your name.

“Mary!”

The blinders fall off your eyes as your Savior speaks your name– the Bible doesn’t say He shouts or whispers, He just says it with an exclamation point, and that’s enough. As if He’s saying, “Stop, look. See me!” He says your name and suddenly everything comes into focus and you see that He has come to meet you in that empty tomb. He’s coming to meet your plans and expectations in His own way, the way He has been preparing for all of time. Selah.

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“She turned to him and cried out, 
“Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Mary finally sees Jesus and calls him the name by which she knows him, “Teacher!” But Jesus is quick to point out that things have changed. “I haven’t yet ascended” he says, in other words, “I’m not back back. I still have to go back to Heaven.”

Mary has to realize that things are not going to return to the ‘normal’ she knows, where Jesus is physically with them always, talking, teaching, and performing miracles. Things have to change, they will never be the same. He has more to do in order to fulfill the promises of God, so he can’t stay here on earth.

We also have to come to that place as we see that our plans have fallen through, that our expectations were different than what Jesus has planned. He is there with us in that moment, though. We recognize him now, but we can’t go back to the way things were. We have to move forward, change our plans, change our dreams, because Jesus has shown us a new plan, a new dream, and new expectations.

What circumstances are there in your life where you find yourself staring at an empty tomb, missing Jesus because things don’t look like you expected them to? We all need to look up and see that though Jesus isn’t where we expected Him to be, He is exactly where He intends to be.

Take heart dear ones, we are not alone. He suffered a sinner’s death so that we might have abundant life. Whatever your ache is today, I am praying that as you read these words, Jesus says your name and calls your attention to Him, and that in that instant you find peace and comfort as you run to His arms. So much love for you today, friends!

(All images found via Google Images)

A (sort of) Open Letter to My Mom

Spring is finally trying to eke it’s way out here in Texas which means it’s about time I shave my legs. Husband, you are welcome. Spring 1, Julie 0. IMG_7429

Spring break has come and gone, bringing with it ten days of Mama Dotti time for us, which was beautiful and fun and exhausting and as always, too short. We did, we saw, we spent and boy oh boy, did we eat. We didn’t even have to go in to Austin to take get good mexican food, Chuy’s did the trick, and she made that meal last for almost a week! Mexican for breakfast? Only Mama Dotti.

She left on Friday morning, early, and as always, it was so hard to say goodbye. I think that there is a grace period when it comes to being with family, a time in which all is well and only maybe a little tense occasionally, and when the grace period ends, it is indeed time to say goodbye, but it always sucks. It always hurts. I always go home and have a bawl-fest in my room and wish that I had been a better host, a better daughter, a better friend while she was here. I know she is reading this, she is in fact my biggest fan.

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So, Mom, I’m sorry that sometimes I suck and I get frustrated. I’m sorry that sometimes I close down and get quiet. I’m sorry that sometimes it takes you leaving for me to see that I was too caught up in myself while you were here and that I really missed out even though we were sitting right beside each other. I’m sorry that I didn’t post on Facebook about you being here, but let’s be honest, you usually get irritated when we post about you on Facebook (wink wink) (and I DID post on my author page, you just didn’t see it. You even have your own hashtag {#mamadotti} — don’t ask, i’m not explaining it.). I’m sorry that I didn’t let you take more pictures of us together, I’m so insecure right now and I let that get in the way. I regret it deeply.

I think part of the tension I feel is natural, the whole “leave and cleave” thing, and I’m sure it is hard on the other side of things to still be a parent but to not actively

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parent. I can’t imagine how hard that will be for me, but let me tell you that you handle it pretty gracefully, so you will be my example when my time comes (Jesus come quickly.).

You are a wonderful GRAND-parent. Seriously. I’m so thankful that my kids have you in their lives, even if they only get to see you once every two years. They adore you and miss you and talk about their memories of you often. It’s just not the same without you.

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I love you.

Love Me.

P.S. I really hope the airline finds your luggage quickly, we went through a lot for that huge brick of Tillamook cheese you took home!

I am the Spider of this Web

Wanna know how you know the Father is trying to work something out in your soul? Wanna know how you know something isn’t quite the way He wants it to be? I’ll tell you.

Whatever it is, let’s say, oh, I don’t know . . . envy, will pop into your head randomly one day, like so: Wow, your jealousy meter just went through the roof. That was weird. Then, a few days later, it’ll happen again: Whoa, why did you just give that status update the death-stare? An hour after that, you’ll slam your laptop down in frustration and vow to never visit the likes of Facebook again (oh come on, you’ve been there. But I haven’t. Ever.). Another day will go by and you’ll be thinking about a hypothetical situation you made up in your brain and you’ll find yourself going down the rabbit hole of envy once again, glaring down imaginary people in your head and then you stop yourself and say, “This might be a problem.”

The “problem” will resurface over and over and over again until you can’t handle it anymore and you either explode out of sheer willpower or you bring it to the cross and dump it where it belongs.

I have a confession to make (this is going to shock you). I have problems (I know, get your blankie and some chocolate and come lay your head down, it’s going to be okay). I feel like I’ve kind of been in a holding pattern lately, spiritually speaking. At times I’ve had to remind myself to be thankful for the “lulls” because last year’s roller coaster was more than I bargained for and to be honest, I’ve needed some down time. But that doesn’t mean that my problems have stopped growing or intruding in my life. They’ve just taken a back seat to being dealt with for awhile, but one of them is rearing it’s ugly head over and over and over again lately, and if you think it’s the aforementioned ENVY, then you’re right. Give yourself a gold star and another piece of chocolate.

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I have been struggling for a very long time with this ugly beast, in all shapes and sizes. From relationships to accomplishments to possessions and appearances. I’m sure that this all boils down to a level of insecurity that I haven’t dealt with yet, but it’s very clear to me that the time is now to get my booty in gear and start diving into the depths of my childhood to figure out where this crap comes from.

My envy wart pops out the most when I hear other people talking about writing, wanting to write or knowing someone who writes. Clearly I have the market on writing, it’s obvious, isn’t it? Haven’t you seen my billboards? “JULIE PRESLEY, WORLD RENOWNED WRITER OF ALL THE THINGS, ALL THE TIME.” With so many best-sellers under my belt, I find it hard to close that belt sometimes (that might be the best-selling easter candy though)! How dare anyone else try to write anything when writing is my job.

And this mind-set makes me want to jam a fork in my eye and call it a day.

I’ll be honest: Stones of Remembrance has gotten pretty amazing reviews, but our marketing plan was basically: “Publish a book and pray to God that the Facebook and Twitter fairies will launch it into best-seller lists across the country.” Yeah we see now what a stupid idea that was. We had no clue. We still barely have one — working on it though.

I put my heart and soul into writing and publishing that book and even though I steeled myself for the critical reviews, they were still heart-wrenching to read (and of many many amazing five-star reviews, there are only a handful of negative ones.) and at times they stopped me in my tracks and I couldn’t write anything but blogs for months even though it was clear that the reader had completely missed the point. But still, in big-book-world terms, Stones of Remembrance was a big huge flop. And I still have a hard drive full of other books waiting to see the light of day.

Here is where I say that I am incredibly proud of Stones, and the testimonies I have heard that didn’t make it to reviews are nothing short of amazing. People who have dealt with grief and loss have received healing and hope as they read through Allaya’s own healing process, others reconnected with the Father after spending years feeling far away from Him. This book was so well received by 99.9% of those who read it, and that is what drives me to keep moving forward with self-publishing and seeking out representation and hopefully someday a big girl book deal. I want to believe that the most important thing is simply getting the books out there into the world, but at the same time, I really want them to be successful.

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So naturally when that success is “threatened” by competition, I get defensive. I am the spider of this web and there can only be one spider on this web, so all you other “writers” out there, go get your own web, but it better not be nicer than mine . . . aaah jeez, this problem is bigger than I realized.

So why am I confessing this? Because I realized that it’s becoming a more in-my-face kind of issue lately and because I want to take the power away from the enemy by calling out my imperfections and giving myself some accountability as it relates to kicking this insecurity to the curb. I clearly see that my reactions are foolish and rooted in hurt and I have to get to the bottom of that. Also? Because I am a firm believer in being transparent, hopefully relatable and letting the world know that I am just as big a screw up as the next person is. The only thing good about me is Jesus IN me.

Food for thought: What is it that the Father is bringing up repeatedly in your own life these days? How are you going to kick that behavior/lie to the curb?

Settling

I know I’m a little late to the party, but um, has anyone else noticed that it’s two-thousand-fifteen? How the heck did that happen? Two thousand five was ten years ago. I can’t even . . .  In a few weeks, I will have a 7 year old instead of a baby. Time just keeps going and I feel like sometimes it just drags us along with it, unaware. Don’t even get me started on trying to write the date properly, I almost wrote 2010 today. Seriously, time, can you chill for a minute?

Damn I Feel Old

The thing about a new year is that eventually you get back into your rhythm and the date comes naturally and then you look up and realize that the year is already passing you by and you have barely had time to notice.

This is how it’s been with me and coming out of our period of transition into our new city. All of the sudden I looked up and realized that my surroundings are not completely foreign to me anymore and that there are faces I recognize and voices I want to hear as I go through my days. Things in the greater Austin area have begun to settle for the Presley family, and while I knew it would happen eventually, I didn’t notice that it was happening already.

We moved into our new house just over a week ago, it’s still somewhat surreal, this house is beautiful, I mean absolutely beautiful and while it’s a few square feet smaller than our house in Fort Worth, it has so much more character throughout it. I still can’t believe this home is ours. I am in awe of how the Father worked everything out for us to be here, for my kids to get to finish the year at their school, and that we actually got to purchase a home here.

On top of that, our little church family has been a really great addition to our family. We visited this fellowship at a recommendation from a friend of a friend and after a few months and a couple visits, we just couldn’t get the people out of our heads, so we committed and have become involved. Now when I walk in on Sunday mornings, I see a slew of people that I want to talk to (this is a huge thing for my introverted self) and there isn’t always time to get to everyone.

It feels good to be in this place. It feels right, and while there are still moments of difficulty and loneliness, and we still miss our DFW friends immensely, I know that we are here. It’s been a very long year of tilling the soil in my heart, I think it’s about time for a harvest. I see the Father’s promises starting to come to fruition, and though some of them require a good amount of effort on my part, I am so excited to see Him working out the details.

Stay tuned, friends, it’s going to be a great year! Cheers to two-thousand-twelve. Oops, I mean fourteen, erm . . . never mind.

You Are Okay

It was October of 2002, I’d graduated from two different schools at YWAM Colorado Springs, I was working in a restaurant/music venue, dating my future husband, living with roommates, paying my own bills and living my own life. I was writing music and dreaming of starting a band. Everything in my life was going better than I could have hoped for, except one thing: I’d never felt farther from the Lord in my entire life.

I actually remember shutting my bible one evening and saying to myself, “This isn’t doing anything for me.” I didn’t open my bible again for a very long time. The only place I felt like I could connect with the Lord back then as a 21 year old was when I turned on my keyboard and started singing. Inevitably within seconds I would be crying, and I would be heaping piles of shame onto my shoulders for my lack of interest or affection for the Lord outside of those melodies.

Those feelings lasted longer than I care to admit. Even on my wedding day I felt like I was forcing myself to acknowledge the Lord’s presence there. This one episode of “Touched By An Angel” where Monica was helping with a wedding has always stuck with me (listen, I was like 10 when it was on, it’s perfectly acceptable for ten year old’s to watch cheesy television.). At one point in the episode, she stops and says, “I forgot something. I forgot to invite you.” Of course she is talking to God as no one else is around. I made sure to invite God to our wedding, and it was truly a beautiful day. The only regrets I have about that day are the feelings that I believed dictated my relationship with the Father.

Many a time as I would be crying in a worship service during my ‘desert season’ as I’ve come to call it, someone would put their arm around me and say, “The Lord wants you to know that you’re okay. That the two of you are okay.” I would cry harder and wish for those words to be true.

I honestly don’t know that there was a moment when things changed. I can’t pinpoint a day or a sermon or anything in particular that stopped me in my tracks, brought me to my knees in surrender and turned my life around. It’s not because my amazing memory has failed me, it’s because it was a gradual ‘re-entry’ if you will, into my true self and into my true relationship with the Lord. There are some things that definitely made their mark in the timeline of my life, my 30th birthday being one of them, starting and finishing “The Healing Path” (which took about a year), and finally having some mommy-time as the kids became older and more independent.

In all of my dreary years though, I always knew I loved the Lord. I always knew I wanted to be closer to him, I just felt like I couldn’t get beyond where I was, and I was ashamed of it. I felt almost indifferent towards him, very regularly. He was just there, in the backgrounds, like a great uncle or something.

Then I would cry in a service and hear those words, “He says you’re okay.”

I remember one trip to Colorado where we were gathering for a retreat of sorts, I think we had both kids at this point in time, and someone said something about the guilt and shame that we put on ourselves for not being where we want to be in our walk with the Lord and I resonated with it deeply. The person speaking, who has pastoral permission in my life, pulled me aside and said, “Julie, it’s okay if you don’t read the Bible.”

Blasphemy! That was my internal reaction. I couldn’t fathom his words being true, and in fact, for weeks and months I wrestled with them. But then one day when we were on a family walk in Dallas, the Holy Spirit spoke to me very softly and told me that the condemnation I felt about our relationship was not from Him. That the guilt I felt about not spending quality time with Him was pushing me even further away. He told me that when I come to Him, He wants me to be excited and in anticipation of what we’re going to accomplish together, where we’re going to go. But when I come to Him hanging my head, reeking of shame and saying, “I screwed it up again,” it hinders our progress together.

It took time, but I got to the point where I recognized that there are so many levels to the freedom we have in Christ. While it is beneficial, beautiful, indescribable and necessary to spend time with the Lord in order to have a deeper connection, understanding and more fulfilled life, if you just can’t bring yourself to do it right now, guess what? You’re okay. You’re still loved. You’re still worthy of love.

The Bible is an invaluable gift from the Father, and I have definitely come back into the land of the living as far as it’s concerned — it has been my lifeline this past year, and it is the only How-To book that we can truly depend on when it comes to living life more abundantly. But if you look at it and feel nothing, if you shove it under your bed for a week or a month because you feel guilty about not opening it, guess what? You’re okay. You’re still loved and worthy of love.

The Holy Spirit is our guide, through the Bible and through life, and I would not be where I am today without His gentle leading and prodding, without His sometimes in-my-face truths spoken in love and without His strong conviction. But if you hear His voice and you roll in the other direction on your bed and let your tears soak your pillow because you just can’t get there, guess what? You’re okay. You are still loved and worthy of love.

What I’m trying to tell you is that nothing can separate you from the love of the Father. When I started my desert season, I was horrified at myself. I felt like the worst failure in all of the world. How could I not be passionately in love with the Lord? How could I put my Bible down like it was just any other book? Shame and guilt went forth and mulitplied all over my life, and I couldn’t believe that God would still give a crap about me. But He did and He always told me someway or another.

If you’re in your desert season, I want to remind you that He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. I want to remind you that the Bible has stories about people just like you and me, facing these kinds of things and coming out on top. Look at David, for Pete’s sake! Dude needs some mood stabilizers! But he always came back to humility before the Father, and the Father never left his side.

So just in case you missed it, and someone hasn’t whispered this in your ear yet, let me tell you again: You are okay. You are still loved and worthy of love. The Father is working in you and right now it just doesn’t look like you always thought it would. Don’t give up hope. Don’t stop believing (sing it if you have to), it’s okay to feel how you are feeling. Tell Him about it, He’s not scared of your truths, He’s not waiting to punish you for the things you need to confess. You are okay. You and Him? You’re okay. You will be okay, and then you will be better, and you’ll get to tell someone else what I’m telling you now.

Take a deep breath tonight as the clock starts counting down to 2015, and start the new year believing the truth of what the Father says about you:

You are okay.

The 9/11 Memorial Museum

Just like always, I have struggled to even start this post. I toyed with the idea of doing a Vlog (video blog) and a podcast-type post because I felt like it needed to be heard, not just read, but alas, my insecurities got the best of me and so I’m going to write it just like I would any blog, with feeling and deep emotion.

I’m sure it seems like I make some small things out to be big and in your face things, if that’s true, it’s because I feel things very deeply. I am full of nostalgia for even some of my darkest memories and experiences because of where they have brought me and because of what I have learned through them. This time though, it’s no small thing.

The events of September 11, 2001 will never escape me, just as I’m sure they won’t escape anyone who is reading this who was older than, say, eight at that time. It was the first major horrific national event that I was old enough to remember and experience in my lifetime. That day changed thousands and thousands of peoples lives forever and will continue to affect us long into the future as our government continues to step and misstep in their efforts to protect our nation. It is for those and many more reasons that when Rocky and I were offered a trip to NYC, we knew that we would be visiting the 9/11 Memorial. We did not have any clue, however, how completely overwhelming it would be.

While many hundreds of people experience this now tourist attraction day in and day out, I would bet that every single one of them holds their time in the museum as closely to their hearts as I do, I saw it in their tears, I heard it in their silence.

The line was long and winding and it was raining outside, our feet were sore and soaked from walking all over the city. We’d done the Statue of Liberty already and really wanted to sit down on a dry bench after being misguided by a walkway that led us away from the memorial instead of right to it. But we stood in line with other rain-soaked people and waited patiently, and then finally it was our turn to step into the dry warmth of the museum. Even as we were standing in line, we could see one of the exhibits — two support structures from one of the towers, standing tall in the lobby, immediately inviting us into their history.

We took deep breaths and began our journey which took us down into what was once the parking garage of the World Trade Center. At first, there were simply scattered images and quotes playing from a projector on walls and thick cement beams, easing us into the magnitude of the place. Then we came up on somewhat of an observation deck that looked down, showing a massive cement wall with what looked like enormous studs and bolts sticking out of it. It’s called “The Slurry Wall” and was built to keep the towers from being flooded by the Hudson River. You can read more about it here. It was one of the only standing parts left after the buildings fell. In front of it now, are benches filled with sight-seers and mourners — again, all of them silent of their own accord, and glass exhibits housing a wide array of things that were pulled from the wreckage.

We made our way to the stairs and found another of the remaining structures: The Survivors Staircase. It was a jarring moment for sure. Those stairs represent life and rescue to so many people who survived the attack on the Twin Towers. The cement steps remained on location at Ground Zero, exactly where they had always been, for a long time while officials decided how to proceed with memorializing them. Today they sit in between the escalator and a staircase on the way down to the main exhibits of the museum. That was the most sobering escalator ride I’ve ever been on. Suddenly my cold, wet, sore feet didn’t matter to me anymore.

Walking around the corner from the staircase, my emotions were immediately  — for lack of a better word — assaulted with the image of a twisted and mangled fire truck. I struggled for breath as the shock of it slipped away and I realized just what I’d committed to in walking through those doors upstairs. I had no idea what was ahead.IMG_6419I’m not going to share many pictures, in fact I don’t have too many from this part of the trip as cameras were banned in a large portion of the museum, but if you zoom in on the picture above, you can read about the heroes from the destroyed fire truck, Ladder Company 3, who gave their lives in order to rescue others. Additionally, Google has plenty of images for you to see if you’re so inclined.

I honestly don’t remember too much about the next few steps into that part of the museum. I was crying and it still felt like there was a lack of oxygen in the room as I made my way toward the wall we’d seen from above. In the middle of that observation room stood the support structure that became a memorial for many. It’s shown below before the museum was built (with the slurry wall behind it).

“The Last Column” Found via Google Images

The column is full of pictures and messages of love, grief and gratitude. Some of them are copies, the originals preserved in a glass case just a few feet away.

All around are glass cases holding different artifacts and memorabilia: a blackened, soot covered axe, twisted metal and even clothes — baby clothes. At the far end of the room is a case with a brick from Bin Laden’s house, along with the story of that historic day and the shirt worn by one of the men that brought the terrorist down.

I almost thought about skipping the next part — there was a line and it wasn’t clear what they were heading in to. It was the part where cameras were banned. That should have prepared me. At first we walked in and very basically, went through the timeline of September 11th from beginning to end. There were pictures and quotes, a smattering of artifacts including a woman’s pair of blood-stained high-heels from a survivor. There were small vestibules that played 2-5 minute videos with actual recordings from air-traffic control towers and phone calls, etc.

As we moved from moment to moment in the timeline, the exhibits were more and more shocking. Half of a police car door, airplane windows, more clothes, bags, structural debris from the buildings, and quotes faded in and out on the walls.

This woman stood there for what seemed like minutes, then she held down her skirt and then stepped off the ledge. I thought, how human, how modest, to hold down her skirt before she jumped.

Yes, there were those images too, the ones of people jumping . . . falling. I can’t even describe what it was like to see it all, layed out, almost decorating the stands, platforms and walls. I was weepy the entire way through, but then we walked out of one video vestibule and right beside it on the wall was a piece of paper with handwriting on it. It said, “87th floor, west office. 12 people trapped.”

Selah

Except that selah means “Pause and calmly think of it”, so that is definitely not the right word.

Stop. Just stop.

I grabbed on to Rocky who was in front of me and sobbed into the back of his shoulder and I cry every time I think of that note. That piece of paper that survived while so many human lives were lost. At that point I felt like I was done. I wanted to get out, I wanted an easy escape, but this part of the museum is very much like a maze and while there are exits sensitively placed, I knew I couldn’t just walk away.

We walked around more airplane debris, more ruined vehicles including ambulances and bikes, more backpacks and shoes, vestibules and quotes. Just when I thought I’d reached the end and would be able to breathe again, we turned a corner and I froze. The room opened up in front of us into an overwhelming display of ruins. If we thought we’d seen a lot already, nothing could have prepared us for what we walked into. An entire store display sat against the wall, designer shirts on hangers, covered in dust and fragments of . . . everything.  The iconic “cross” coincidentally formed from support beams that was pulled from the wreckage, a wheel from one of the airplanes, parts of the inner workings of the towers that were unrecognizable to me, phones and a mostly melted plastic desk address book — item after item after item making the event so much more real to those of us who weren’t there or weren’t personally connected to victims. Overwhelming isn’t a big enough word. At this point our silence was more from speechlessness than it was from respect and grief. It was too much and yet not enough all at the same time. I felt the walls closing in on me but I forced myself to stay and see it all — that’s not me inserting my own importance, it’s me being emotional and sensitive and knowing that I wanted to experience it all, that if it was the only thing I could offer as my sympathy, it was what I was going to give.

So we saw it all, and even with the gravity of what we took in, I can’t remember everything. The things that stick out, the fire truck, the wall, the stairs, the column, that piece of paper and the shoes, the quote . . . the airplane wheel . . . those will stay with me forever, just like the memories of the day it happened, like my mom waking me up to tell me what was happening, being glued to the TV and watching reporters breaking down on the air, and standing in line for hours at the blood bank on what was already a scheduled donation day for me. Then the aftermath: changing my flight from Vancouver to Seattle to get to YWAM Colorado Springs, spending hours in the airport while bags were searched, and being genuinely scared to fly for the first time in my life. And now the ever-present nervousness of seeing planes flying low near the city and wondering what will be next. What will my children have to live through? And Dear God, please let it be far from them.

I’ve struggled with how to describe in one sentence what the museum was like. I can’t use words like, amazing, incredible, or unbelievable because those words are so often used to describe the positive, but it was all of those things. Words like sobering and overwhelming are all I can really come up with to give an adequate idea, but even those words are lacking. I just shake my head, my mouth slightly agape. There are no words.

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9/11 Memorial Infinity Pools (by Rocky Presley)

My Heart Will Sing

It’s a cold and rainy Sunday here in Austin and after some quiet reflection, I need some writing therapy. I have what is referred to these days as “the feels” right now. My heart is heavy for loved ones that I know are suffering and struggling and even though I know that the Father’s promises are true and that one day there will be restoration and we will look back and see that the Lord used everything we ever travailed through for our good, in the moment the pain is overwhelming. Desperation is worn like a crown as we wait for God to move or give us a peek behind the scenes.

We led worship at our fellowship this morning and sang the song “Forever Reign” which always takes me back to February when life was especially hard for me. That song was played at another fellowship we had visited and right in the bridge where the words say, “My heart will sing, no other name, Jesus”, the Lord stopped me in my tracks and questioned whether or not I was really singing His name. It was immediately clear to me that I wasn’t. That I was singing everything else but His name. So today, as we sang that song, I shared that with our congregation and was overwhelmed with emotion, and with the heart of the Father for his people, for their pain and their suffering.

The answer is so simple that I can simply type it out, but putting it into action is a completely different issue. It means saying no to the fear that feels safe and normal because trusting in God seems ludicrous sometimes. It means saying no to the whispers that pull us into rabbit holes of defeat and anxiety, and it means ruling our thoughts and singing the only name that will bring us peace.

If we will just sing His name instead of all of the other things we sing, like success or failure, attention or insecurities or dreams and broken hearts, I know that we will see a change. That we will get that peek behind the veil. If we will just keep our hearts focused on Him, we will find that all we need comes from His perfect provision. We will find in Him our healing, our comfort, our joy. This world is so full of distraction, and the enemy has become the master of all lies and he weaves those lies around some our best intentions and favorite things. But we serve the Father of all truth and so again, if we will turn our hearts to Him — like really —  let’s not just sing the words, but let’s actually do it.

Jesus, right here, right now, my heart is only singing your name. None other. I worship you in spirit and in truth. Whatever you see in me that makes you sad, point it out so we can move past it. Draw me closer into your presence so that the folds of grace envelop me completely. And when I wander out on my own again in an hour or five minutes, pull me back in all over again. Overwhelm me with your love for me, your desire for me. You are my only hope. My heart will sing no other name but Jesus.

Movin’ On Up

Let’s pretend that it hasn’t been over a month since we’ve talked, alright? Thanks. I need some grace in this whole blogging/writing area lately. I swear, I think about blogging almost every single day, but unfortunately I only ever get that far. The thoughts never actually make it to the page. There is a lot of juggling and time management going on and unfortunately, the balls are dropping and the time is tick tock ticking away (props for the reference . . .).

BUT! Today I have a story to tell you that is burning in my heart! Here we go.

Last year when we were house hunting in Austin, life was too crazy and hectic to blog about all of what we faced in that season. It ranks up there with probably my top five most stressful moments of all times, but I’m pretty zen right now so I’ll just leave it out there ambiguously. It was stressful. Get the point? Good. We tried to buy a house and (thankfully!) that fell through for a few reasons. Then we decided that renting would be wiser and easier, so we started down that route. Well, it was wiser, but it definitely wasn’t easier. We had 2 houses rented out from underneath us while we were at the bank getting the deposit checks, within five minutes of each other, no joke. It came down to the point where I declared that we would just move into the La Quinta hotel because: 1. They did my laundry and cleaned my room. 2. The dog was welcome. 3. Free breakfast, and if we hoarded enough, free lunch too! 3. Free cable and (crappy) wifi and 4. We had adjoining rooms so the boys had their own little pad. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth as we continued our home search. It came down to the TUESDAY before the THURSDAY that the movers were coming to take our belongings and move them (to La Quinta) and then we got the call that we finally had an address in Pflugerville. YAY! We found a home and with two whole days to spare! Man that was a test of my faith, but I think I rocked it pretty good.

The La Quinta that almost became our home.

We always knew we would buy somewhere in this area when our lease was up, and we have flip flopped back and forth as to where and whether we would build or not. Our lease is up at the end of January, so the time for building passed in August, but we still didn’t have a clear direction as to where we wanted to end up. My preference is to go west (young man . . . reference anyone? This one is too easy) because there are more areas with mature trees and if I’m covered by trees, I can’t tell that there are no mountains holding us in. What is the opposite of claustrophobia? I’m totally claustrophobic in small crowded spaces, but when I drive down the highway and see NOTHING in the distance, it makes me feel pretty insecure in this world. This Canadian girl misses beautiful British Columbia. The other benefit to moving west is being closer to many of the connections we have made in Austin. So a few weeks ago, our realtor began sending us listings in the areas west of where we are now and we began preparing the boys to switch schools mid-year again as we planned to close on a house at the end of January.

Pulling them out of school last year was awful in and of itself. We had developed a wonderful little family at our school in Fort Worth and I still grieve that place, as do my boys. They still ask if we can go back to our beloved little neighborhood school. It kills me inside, and while I have never been a huge fan of our current school (the jury is out as to whether or not that’s a spiritual thing or just a ‘I don’t wanna be here’ tantrum), after our parent teacher conferences last month, we walked out of the school and I felt paralyzed at the thought of pulling them out of school in the middle of the year again. The thought made me want to hurl. I told Rocky and we discussed what our options were: buying in the area but not the exact neighborhood we are in, driving the kids in if we bought west of Pflugerville, and the original plan to make the move completely, school and all. As I looked at listings, my heart was extremely unsettled about the issue, and we hadn’t come to any clear direction or conclusions.

This past Saturday, Rocky got restless and decided to drive around to a few of the newer neighborhoods to look at some of the inventory homes and what not. He saw a floor plan that he really loved but had not been built yet, so he texted me and proposed the idea of extending our lease so that we could build after all.

Here is where I have to pause for a second and tell you something very important about me. Are you ready? Here we go: I do not love shopping for anything. I especially loathe and dread the idea of shopping for a home. Seriously. It. Wears. Me. Out. After all of the flip flopping we’ve done about this housing issue, and after the insanity of just trying to move here in the first place (I’m still recovering), Rocky’s text about sent me through the roof. I almost responded and said, “Or how about we move in to the La Quinta?” Instead I asked the appropriate questions and waited for him to come home and give me some context.

On Sunday we went to see the model of the floor plan Rocky had fallen for the day before. It was an absolutely beautiful home and I couldn’t believe it was going for the price on the paper Rocky had brought home. There were some optional things that we wanted to check out, so the realtor on site showed us the same house with some of the other options that we would need, but this house was already decked out with upgrades that put it outside of our budget. Sadly we trudged on to see another house that was also outside of our budget, but as we walked out of that house, Rocky looked across the street and said, “Isn’t that the same floor plan we were looking at down the street? Without the 3rd car garage?”

It was! The house was only framed out, but was the exact floor plan we were looking for, without the added costs! The realtor wasn’t sure what the bottom line was on the house, so we followed him to back to the office to find out and talk with his partner (who is also his wife). She checked her information and sadly informed us that the 2nd version of the house was also out of our price range. We were prepared to walk out but she looked at another sheet and pointed and said, “What about this one?”

Her husband peeked over her shoulder and said, “That’s the one we’re talking about!”

“Oh! Well we can get that one in your budget!” she exclaimed. She went on to explain that that house and four others qualified for an incentive that her manager had just ok’d in order to close on the sale before the end of the year. The incentive worked out to just about $20K off the retail value of the home.

*Cue elevator music while we pull our jaws up off the floor.*

Rocky got in touch with the company’s preferred lender to talk numbers and once again, we were told that the monthly payment was going to be outside of our budget. Having been through the ringer with this enough times, I let it go and started asking the Lord for clear direction on what we were supposed to do about our upcoming move. Even looking at houses in these neighborhoods was hard for me because I wanted to move west, dang it, not seven minutes northeast! WEST! DO YOU HEAR ME? WEST! TREES!!!!

Well, my husband, being the mastermind that he is, worked the numbers and figured out how to make the payment work for us rather than against us while I stood at a far distance in case his computer exploded from the stress of it all. The remaining issue was that the amount that our realtor’s (the one who was sending us the listings from the good ol’ west) lender had pre-approved us for a loan that was just a hair less than we needed for the new home.

“Rocky, we don’t even know if we can get approved for that much.” I said, oh me of little faith.

. . .Five minutes later . . .

“We’re approved!”

With zero hesitation in my heart, I said, “Do it.”

So Rocky called the builder’s realtors and told them we were in for the long haul and asked if he should come down asap. They assured him that was unnecessary, but after he hung up the phone he said he had to go stand in front of the house and make sure it was what the Lord was giving us. So, he took the earnest money and ran for the hills. Except not the hills because the hills are west.

Here is the important part of the story:

As Rocky was walking in to the office, the building contractor was walking out. He had just told the realtor’s that *our* house was not going to be finished by the end of December, which means that it wouldn’t be ready to close until January. The realtor was on the phone with her manager passing on the news. Remember that the incentive, the discount on the house was only good if the sale closed in December. In light of this new development, the manager said to pull the incentive and put the house back on the market at retail value. Dun Dun Duuuuuuuuun.

“But sir, I have a man in my office that was here yesterday and we quoted him that price and he has a check. In. His. Hands.”

*Pause for dramatic effect*

“DO IT!”

YOU GUYS! If Rocky hadn’t felt the pressure to go down to the house at the exact moment he did, we would have LOST IT.

YOU GUYS! The new neighborhood is only about 5-7 minutes away from where we live now and our kids can finish out the school year where they are now!

YOU GUYS! We get to close in JANUARY like we originally WANTED to AND we still get the incentive discount!!!

YOU GUYS! This house is beautiful and even nicer than our house in Fort Worth and I really never ever thought anything would compare to our first place.

YOU GUYS! To me this didn’t even really count as house-shopping because it was only ONE HOUSE! I’ve been dreading this process for months! ONE HOUSE! Okay, well, one house three times, but still . . .

YOU GUYS! The Father promised us all kinds of things about moving to Austin and about his plans and purposes here and this story is part of those promises being fulfilled!

And um . . . you guys? I think I can get over not moving west. . .  Just send me pictures of trees and mountains okay? Posters even?

It’s just a house, and I’d be okay if it hadn’t worked out, but I am receiving the Father’s gifts in all of this. I see His hand moving and providing and orchestrating and protecting and defending . . . I’ve seen it more in the past twelve months than I ever have. He is so good and His love is so completely perfect . . . and this is just one little story. There have been and will be others. Everything is not perfect, there are still things to work through, still plenty of mountains to climb up ahead, but He is faithful in the midst of that and right now I can see the beauty He is showing me today, I can see the blessings in this moment and I choose to receive them and honor Him above all else.10624806_10154819649285008_5340207334914686702_n

God is Not Dead, But is Heaven for Real?

**SPOILER ALERT**
(Heaven really is for real)

Now that we’ve established that, let’s talk about the movie, shall we? So this was the third epic Christian movie that was released this year. I think they were all released around the same time, kind of like how Netflix releases every episode of it’s original shows all at the same time. Mass consumption and binge watching anyone? I don’t think I could have sat through all three movies in a day though . . . I digress.

Here is my disclaimer about this post: I am not a theologian. In fact, I think that the more I read the Bible the less I understand it. So, but for one (maybe two) instance, I am not going to deal with the doctrine issues raised by this film. Also, I have not read the book, only seen the movie.

So, if you read my last two posts about the Noah movie and “God’s Not Dead” then you know I wasn’t particularly excited about watching this one. I left it for last on purpose because I expected the cheese factor to be through the roof and I figured I was going to need a lot of wine to go with said cheese. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the movie, though. The Christian film industry better be careful, it’s now got two decent ‘don’t-look-like-they-were-filmed-on-a-flip-camera-and-directed-by-a-ten-year-old’ movies under it’s belt (to be clear, the other movie I’m referring to is “Mom’s Night Out“). The bar is officially raised, people. I think that Todd Burpo should be very proud of how his book was represented — although, again, I haven’t actually read the book, so  . . . maybe not.

We meet the heaven-traveling Colton near the beginning of the film while his mom (pastor’s wife) hosts the church choir in her living room. I rolled my eyes at that scene, but Rocky was quick to point out how realistic it was. Smalltown, USA means First Small Church of Smalltown, which means, the rather unlikely group of women screeching “Come Thou Fount” probably meets in Smalltown Pastor’s house. So I got passed it, and focused on the cutest little boy I’d seen in that five minutes (I’m biased), howling like a dog with his father to drown out the mismatched harmonies of the ladies inside the house. He won my heart right there.

In keeping with the choppy-ness of books-turned-movies, there were moments where things happened quickly, for example, the pastor, Todd Burpo (based on the author and real-life father of the book, and played by his excellency, Greg Kinnear) experienced multiple physical ailments in about a three minute time span. It was kind of overwhelming, but I understand that they were trying to set the backdrop for the rest of the story. Todd went through financial and physical setbacks and then, whammo, his son’s appendix bursts and he’s taken to the emergency room to fight for his life, and apparently, take a nice long walk with Jesus. The stage for Todd’s crisis of faith had to be set.

When sweet, little, puckered lips, Colton wakes up and has an amazing story and descriptive images of spending the day in heaven with Jesus, everyone’s faith is tested. Dad wants to believe him, mom passes it off as a dream, the church board is offended and if I may say, frightened by the reality of it. Did Colton really go to heaven? But he didn’t die, his heart never stopped. How could he have gone to heaven? Burpo says from the pulpit, “ I stand here today with wounds that are still healing, doubts that are still echoing.  Was Colton in Heaven?  Yes.  He was in the Heaven that God showed Him.  Is Heaven for real?  Because if it is, wouldn’t we live different lives? ” (sidebar, I can’t even touch the last sentence in this quote. Not yet. Lots to think on.) I think that quote is key. “He was in the Heaven that God showed Him.” There are certain things that Colton woke up knowing after his surgery that happened while he was unconscious on the operating table. If you believe in the Holy Spirit’s gift of prophecy, then this is not a stretch for you to imagine. Same with the fact that Colton had sudden knowledge of the sister that never made it out of the womb, and the grandfather that he’d never seen in his four years. “Everyone is young in Heaven,” (Can we all stop and sing Hallelujah?) Colton says. I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt that Colton had a supernatural experience with Jesus (instance one in the journey we will never take called “Theology with Julie”). Did he see the real Heaven? He saw the heaven that God showed him. That’s what’s important. Stranger things have happened in this world. Elijah, for example. He was simply whisked away from this world, making another appearance during the Transfiguration in Matthew 17, no death or burial on record. If you really want far-fetched, take a few days and read Revelations. God showed Colton something and that something was a pretty big deal.

It was interesting to me that so many people doubted Colton’s story, but at the same time, it made both Rocky and I uncomfortable to watch. Isn’t it strange that after shouting from quite a large platform “God’s not dead”, Christian culture begs the question, “Is Heaven really real?” Is God who He says He is? Can He really do something so grand as to show a little boy a sneak peak behind the veil between mortality and eternity? Hmmm. Interesting indeed.

The celestial scene in the movie could have been cut or alluded to in a way that didn’t have the little boy staring into a sky of quickly moving clouds and bright shiny angels . . . that was a bit much, but maybe we needed to be reminded that this wasn’t a Hollywood-produced film. Got it. Thanks. Beyond that though, while I believe that what Colton saw was what God intended to show him, it’s still . . . unnatural. It defies our human understanding, which I think may be part of the point. God is the God of the impossible, and I believe He delights in absolutely blowing our minds with things that don’t make any earthly sense. Maybe He wants to remind us that we are so small, and He is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. But that is an uncomfortable feeling.

About a year ago we watched part of Louie Giglio’s series “Indescribable” where he attempts to show us just how small we really are. I highly recommend the series, but you might want to hold on to something attached to the ground (like a tree) while you watch it, because it is extremely unsettling to see that in the grand scheme of things we are like dust to the universe. With all of our bills and health problems, world hunger and disease, we could be blown away by less than a breath from the heavens. The point of that series is that though we are so small, God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit still love us, watch our every move, and desire to give us every blessing under the sun. Mind. Blown.

I got side tracked again. Sorry. I’ve been sick all week and my brain is still on vacation. Ok, so there is one character who’s consistently struggling with Colton’s story, Nancy Rawling, pianist and church board member whose son died a few years ago. There is a moment with her and Burpo in the cemetery where her son was buried which presented my main theological issue with this movie. In this scene she is expressing her real fears about the nature of Colton’s journey.

Nancy:  [I’m mad at God.]  Why God would give you your son back and take mine away…
Todd:  Do you love your son?
Nancy:  Yes.
Todd:  Do you think I love mine?
Nancy:  Yes.
Todd:  Do you think I love mine more than you love yours?
Nancy:  No.
Todd:  Nancy, do you think God loves my son more than He loves yours?
Nancy:  No.

This is a very heartwarming moment for people who believe that there are many paths to heaven, and that repentance and acknowledgement of Jesus’ death and resurrection aren’t necessary in order to get there. Does God love us, everyone? Yes. Of course, but the Bible explicitly states that we have to actively choose Jesus. I wish the film-makers hadn’t sugar coated it. Maybe Nancy’s son was already a Christian, but it’s not stated in the film. The very fact that she asked if Todd thought her son was in heaven alludes to the fact that she didn’t know if he’d received Christ or not. After a quick Google search, I find that the book does not sugar coat the truth at all. I should probably read the book. In fact, anyone who has watched the movie probably should in order to get the correct context and spiritual message intended.

At the end of the movie, while we were both unsettled by the story, I felt an urgency in my heart to believe that it was truth. To believe that Jesus visited little Colton and showed him a world beyond his dreams and that He is still the God of the surprising, that He is always on the move and always willing to stir the pot, to encourage people to become uncomfortable, to doubt even, so that they seek His reality, His supernatural abilities, and to experience Him intimately for themselves. From a cinematic standpoint, I thought the movie was great with a few hiccups here and there. From a spiritual standpoint, I believe that Heaven is for real, and that whatever it was that Colton saw or experienced, was valid and given to him as a gift from the Father.

God’s Not Dead

***SPOILER ALERT***

Number two in the list of movies Christians were supposed to watch this year, “God’s Not Dead” got rave reviews from people on both ends of Christian spectrum. “Noah” lovers and haters alike praised this would-be evangelical film. What did that mean in the Presley house? We were skeptical, for sure.

I was pretty jazzed that Shane Harper was the main character in this movie because of all of the annoying, make-me-want-to-stab-a-fork-in-my-eye shows that my kids watch, “Good Luck, Charlie” is actually super cute (Okay, Charlie’s cute. I really don’t pay attention to anything but her) and that’s where Shane catapulted into the spotlight. I did not know, however that he was a believer. So the movie has two points on the scoreboard for me: Shane can act and Shane loves Jesus.

Aaaaand then the movie opens with him walking through his college campus with a grin on his face, a Newsboys T-shirt on, and gold cross around his neck. Okay, they’re trying to make a point. I get it. Unfortunately the biggest point that came across in the first thirty minutes was in fact the Newsboys. They were all over this movie, but I’ll talk more about them in a minute.

There is this extremely cheesy moment where main character, Josh Wheaton (played by Harper) and his girlfriend run happily into each others arms for a sweet embrace. This is our first introduction to the most unlovable girlfriend of the year.  This is also the first of many, “that would never happen in real life” moments that are spread throughout the film and designed to make you absolutely loathe certain characters. Well done. I absolutely hated her character. Though she is a believer, she is adamantly against Josh taking a stand for God in one of his classes as he is eventually challenged to do by his atheistic philosophy professor. “Sign the paper and move on,” she says. The paper being a statement: God is dead. When Josh refuses and decides that he’s going to take up his cross and stand in front of his class trying to prove that God exists, blondie-girlfriend breaks up with him.

The redeeming parts of Josh’s storyline are in his arguments in front of his class. There were moments when I had goosebumps (I termed the phrase ‘ghost bumps’ during this movie. Get it? Holy ‘ghost bumps’? Okay, never mind. Rocky thought it was funny.) because of how powerful his words were. At one point his professor quotes Stephen Hawking, a big name scientist (who I only know from watching The Big Bang Theory) who says that science supports a universe without a supreme being. His theory talks itself in circles, and after some research, Wheaton comes back with this quote from another scientist and believer, John Lennox: “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when spoken by genius.”

Prof. Radisson:  This is the height of hubris.  You think you’re smarter than Hawking?
Josh:  No. [But I don’t believe in his infallibility either….  ] Hawking says, “Philosophy is dead.”  … If you believe in his infallibility, then there’s really no reason for this discussion.

Zing! Wheaton for the win! I think that’s one of the first moments where you feel like he’s actually going to convince his classmates that God is in fact not dead.

There were a number of different story lines going on, and all of the characters were inter-connected in some way, shape, or form. I won’t go into detail about all of them because some of them were so under-developed and mainly there to evoke emotion or prove a quick point that it really isn’t necessary to pick them apart. As many reviewers have already stated, the non-believing characters were portrayed as idiotic, abusive jerks living their lives based in fear, and it reminded me oddly of the way Christians are portrayed in mainstream films/TV shows. Pot, meet kettle. Not that that makes it right . . . Back to the movie.

One character, Amy Ryan, played by Trisha Lefache, is struggling with a diagnosis of cancer that her not-so-super boyfriend (Dean Cain) dismisses as easily as if it were a conversation about sorting laundry. She stands out because of her acting skills and the potential for redemption. She actually has two of the best scenes in the movie, one with a couple from Duck Dynasty (it’s clever and concise and clearly at least one of them is remotely used to being in front of the camera), and then another where she breaks down emotionally and begins a montage of moments of brokenness in a few of the characters lives. In turn, she also has (in my opinion) the worst scene in the whole movie, and sadly, it was the scene with the Newsboys in it, towards the end of the film. It was such a contrived moment, and it just didn’t sit well with me. I’ll admit, I was distracted by the fact that it’s supposed to be the Newsboys and only one of them sounds Australian. They’re not the Newsboys I grew up listening to. In fact, there isn’t one single original member in the band, and yes, DC Talk was my favorite band as a teenager, but I just can’t wrap my mind around Michael Tait as lead singer of that band. Aside from that, it’s clear that they’re not going to moonlight as actors anytime soon . . . yikes. Anyway, I get it, the *finger quotes* “Newsboys” are a big backer for the film because of their super catchy song titled . . . you guessed it, “God’s Not Dead”! (Edit: I’ve since been schooled on the way I read Wikipedia’s band member lineage and some of the guys in the current NB’s ARE in fact original members, mostly. I apologize.)

Now, what about the atheist professor? After some obvious soul-struggle, he does make a commitment to the Lord, right after he’s hit by a car and about to die. I’m not a fan of scare-tactic Christianity, which isn’t to say that I think death-bed conversions are invalid, I just felt like this particular storyline ended in such a typical ‘Christians telling a story” way.  I do have to say that earlier in the movie the scene where he is pressed about why he doesn’t believe in God is another one of the best scenes in the movie. I had those ghost bumps and real tears of empathy for the little boy who lost his mother even though he made promises and begged God for her healing.

There are definitely some powerful moments and some extremely poignant things said throughout the film. For example:

Mark (not so super boyfriend – Dean Cain): You prayed and believed your whole life. Never done anything wrong. And here you are. You’re the nicest person I know. I am the meanest. You have dementia. My life is perfect. Explain that to me!

Mark’s Mother (who suffers from dementia and has not been lucid through the entire film): Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God. Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to leave. The door’s wide open. Till one day, time runs out, and the cell door slams shut, and suddenly it’s too late.

That one got an “oooooh!” from me, and there were more than a few other moments where I sat and honestly thought, “I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show this scene to a non-believing friend.” But then I’d get hung up on the bad acting or the literally unbelievable exchanges between people and Rocky and I would have to wisecrack our way through the cheesiness to get to the next scene.

From the reviews that I’ve read, non-believers who saw the movie are still non-believers and are even more adamant about their stance because of the film. Some of them are out right offended by the religious propaganda spewed throughout the movie. Well . . . it’s not like it was a secret that the movie was about proving God’s existence. I think it’s safe to assume that many of them walked in, expecting to be offended, and unfortunately for the Christian film industry, the truth was not presented in a relatable, realistic way. I’m not surprised that the movie wasn’t taken seriously by atheists and unbelievers. As a Christian, there were large parts of the movie that I myself couldn’t take seriously. So then, I have to ask, what was the point of the movie? To make Christians feel good about themselves? I’m sure there have been heated debates and arguments spurred from this movie, but those kinds of conversations aren’t the kind that introduce people to Jesus. I wouldn’t doubt that there have been some constructive conversations as well, but on the whole, I don’t think this movie lived up to it’s potential.

That said, up until last night, I would have said that (though I was going to preface it and say, ‘this isn’t saying much’) this was the best Christian-produced movie that I’ve ever seen.  I watched “Mom’s Night Out” last night, though, and was totally blindsided by the fact that it was a “Pure Flix” film. Everything about that movie was done better than any other Christian film I’ve ever seen (Sarah Drew was absolutely awesome). Now I’m spoiled. I know that there are filmmakers out there who can make a wholesome film with a good message and actually entertain people at the same time. It wasn’t an excellent movie, but it was had the quality acting, writing and directing that has been severely lacking in the others that have gone before it. To be honest I’m always so disappointed in what believers put out into the mainstream film industry.  With all the money spent on chairs and parking lots, lighting systems and guest violin players on the weekends I just wish, with all my heart, that the body of Christ could empower these kinds of films with better quality budgets. There is still too much cheese in these movies, too many unrealistic moments and not enough real life in the mix to make them relatable. “God is Not Dead” makes a valiant effort, but unfortunately, still comes up lacking in my books. We can do better. We have to do better.

Next on the list is “Heaven Is For Real.” I’m not crossing my fingers.

 

 

 

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