The Posture of Pursuit

“Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart.”

Psalm 119:34

Obedience gets a bad rap. It’s one of those words that denotes a connotation of restriction rather than release. We, so often, misunderstand and misapply it to our lives. God knows, I certainly have.

My skin used to, literally, crawl when I heard words like “submission” and “obedience” and “surrender”. My mind would invent images of a cowering woman in a corner somewhere, beneath the shaking fist of a tyrant husband or deity. It’s an ugly image and one that will inspire fear instead of freedom. And honestly, fear leads to failure.

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I love how the psalmist, David, gives us the proper order of things in very simple terms. Give me understanding so that I can obey with all my heart. I find this beautifully refreshing because it reminds me that understanding takes time and intention.

Jesus also echoed this perspective in Matthew 22:34-40.  Love God first, then love your neighbor and everything else will follow. The abundant life, kingdom-focused, God-first life is not dependent on our behavior but on our posture.

Imagine, for a moment, that the love of God is a sturdy beam of wood anchored in the deepest foundation. Once we place ourselves and our love of others, deep into the beam, like a nail, we can hang anything on it.

Messy and complicated marriage? It will hold the weight.

Rebellious child? It will hold the weight.

The pain of loss and heartbreak? It will hold the weight.

The critical component is the placement of the nail in the beam.

Put that same nail in shallow drywall and it will collapse and crash to the ground with the lightest of burden. It will not hold. The key is its position… its placement.

Websters defines obedience as the quality or state of being submissive to the restraint or command of authority. This too, requires proper position.

All too often, we allow ourselves to be convinced that a good Christian is made up of his or her actions and words-good, bad or ugly. It’s true that these things stem from the heart, but our hearts can be deceitful. I was trapped in this mindset for years. I went to church, I sang the songs, I dressed the part and I played the role well. But it wasn’t until I sought out a real and lasting relationship with Jesus and positioned myself in a posture of pursuit that I got it.

Jason and I had a long conversation just a few nights ago about this same topic. The simplest way we could break it down was to compare it to our own relationship. You see, when we started dating, like most people, we did everything we could to spend time together. We shared meals, went on dates and talked for hours about everything under the sun. We became students of one another and as a result we experienced love so great that we wanted it to last forever. We were desperate for each other’s presence. We craved the time and attention of the other and wanted nothing more than to lavish ours on them.

Somewhere along the line we got distracted.  We began to struggle. We stopped trying so hard. We settled into adjacent-living, sharing the same space, but rarely the same heart. We let work, parenting, finances, our families and our own selfishness creep in. As you might imagine, things fell apart. We had hammered all of our nails into the flimsiest of surfaces.

Then, two and a half years ago, as we met to go over the final details of our divorce and sign our papers, we discovered that we were both seated in the same gut-wrenching position. Neither of us wanted to quit. Neither of us wanted to live without the other. Neither of us was ready to let go.  So, we once again positioned ourselves, very intentionally, in the life of the other. We took a long, hard, look at the kingdom we had built for ourselves and found that most of it was meaningless. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of painful junk to sort through. We both had to forgive the other for hurts that ran deep. But we refused to give up. And as we sorted through what was left of our crumbled home, we discovered that there was something worth actually building if we would just take the time and position ourselves to do it together.

I  had to learn to trust my husband. With EVERYTHING. That meant spending time with him, intentionally, and giving him the authority to make decisions that he was designed best to make. That process was born out of sheer obedience to God. It was not an easy one for me. I am incredibly strong-willed and stubborn. In fact, I’m almost positive that the first words I ever spoke were I can do it by myself when, in all honesty, I can’t because we were never designed to go through life alone.

The only way I knew to power through this challenging season was to make the main thing, the main thing. There were still times when I would search for scripture that I could use to make my argument or prove my point, whenever I didn’t like something; but every time I did, I settled on the same things-LOVE GOD. LOVE OTHERS. Everything else will follow.

So that is exactly what I did. I set myself in a posture of pursuit. I had a long way to go, but I was going to chase the cross as long as it took to get there. I placed my messy, broken heart at the feet of Jesus and refused to move. I realized, pretty quickly, that it wasn’t a question of whether or not God was faithful, but whether or not I would be obedient to those simple requirements-LOVE GOD. LOVE OTHERS. The more obedient I was to those great commandments, the more God demonstrated His faithfulness in my life and my home.

It’s an ongoing process of surrender, but I now know this for sure: as long as I maintain my posture of pursuing a tender, honest, and genuine relationship with Jesus, I have nothing left to fear and will not fail. As I open my heart, expose my true self and soak up the presence of the King of the Kings, I find all the joy, all the security, all the love and all the wisdom I will ever need.

As I sat, last night, hand-in-hand with Jason at the first service of a new church plant that we are humbled and honored to be part of, I couldn’t help but feel the tug of the Spirit reminding me of where we had once been. God has been faithful to us, even in our most broken spaces. He has restored us, renewed us, rebuilt us and released us to share our story with others.  And all of that because we anchored our nails in the right position. All because we made the choice to be obedient to loving God and loving others.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

XOX,

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The Magnificent Mundane

 

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (ESV)

It’s hard for some of us to imagine that our every day actions have an impact on the kingdom of God. It is all too common for believers to dismiss the mundane parts and pieces that make up the majority of our lives as insignificant. It may even seem a bit ridiculous to us that He cares about how many emails we send, or loads of laundry we finish, or diapers changed…but He does. Or, more accurately, He cares about the heart with which we complete those activities.

The truth is that God isn’t impressed by our grand gestures: He is infatuated with our pursuit of Him in the mundane.

We live in an age significantly influenced by image. Our homes, social media pages, job titles, paychecks, dress and even our weekly church attendance put us on display. We buy in to the enemy’s deception and worry more about the display of our feathers than the health of our hearts.

Steve Furtick once wrote, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Jesus addressed this topic when speaking to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.

(25) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. (26) Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

(27) Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. (28) In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

The choice with which we are faced is quite simple: we can live out our lives focused on maintaining the approval and acceptance of other humans or we can do so dedicated to giving every corner of our hearts to God.

So, what does that actually look like in our lives?

  • Maybe it’s changing every diaper with a thankful heart for the gift of your child.
  • Maybe it’s sending that 452nd email with humility, asking the Father for the right words and spirit.
  • Perhaps it’s writing that $25 tithe check with gratitude for and trust in God’s provision for your family even when you aren’t really sure how that electric bill will be paid.
  • It may even be driving that last mile home, exhausted, through horrible traffic, all the while praying for your spouse and asking the Father to help you love greatly the moment you walk in the door.
  • If you’re like me, it may mean looking in the mirror and accepting the person your Savior sees every day instead of criticizing who you think you should be.

It’s not easy, this messy life of ours. This is why we are reminded to not give up, to not grow weary, and that it will all be worth it in the end.

My prayer for you, today, is that you spend more time and energy focused on the internal and much less on the external. Believe me when I tell you that when your heart is centered on the beautiful and perfect things of Jesus, the superficial stuff will take care of itself.

Love you dearly,

 

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Your words matter, Mr. Trump.

*I realize that this post may alienate some of my readers: it may even alienate some of my friends and family. But there are moments in your life when it is necessary to break silences and speak truths. If this post does nothing else, I pray that it leads to open and honest discussion about real problems within my very small circle of influence. Great leaders realized long ago that the thoughts of men aren’t changed by grand gestures but by small steps made out of real conviction. That is what I hope this does. 

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Dear Mr. Trump,

I doubt that you will ever read this inconsequential little blog post of mine, yet, I feel compelled to write it to you. Perhaps it is more for those who will read it; those individuals still struggling with whose name they will put themselves behind when they cast their ballots in a few short weeks.

I want you to know that I am a registered voter. I will be voting. But I will not be voting for you. Nor will I be voting for Mrs. Clinton.

You see, I happen to find you both troubling, to put it mildly.

Neither of you exemplify my beliefs or worldview. To be perfectly blunt, I find you both unpalatable and embarrassing.

That being said, I want to share something with you. I am genuinely afraid for what may become of our country if you are elected President of the United States. I may be one of the few people who still truly honor that office. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the policies established or the lifestyle of the man (or woman) holding the office, I have a tremendous amount of respect for the person that has to sit behind that historic desk in the Oval Office and make some of the most difficult and weighty decisions never truly known to the rest of the country. It is not a position I would want for any of my children, yet, they are what has inspired me to write this.

Your words, Mr. Trump…they have been heartbreaking.

Or should I say, the way you dismiss them, has been heartbreaking.

You seem to think that words don’t matter–that they don’t hold weight or value or change lives or thought patterns.

They do, Mr. Trump. They really do.

I will honestly say that your words from a decade ago, in reference to your prowess with women, do not offend me. It is the attitude and flippant disregard of women as real people that offends me.

I have heard much worse in my life. I have been called much worse. I have been called a whore, slut, liar, b**ch, c*nt.

I was called all of those things by the young men who disregarded me as a real person. The same young men who raped me when I was only 14  years old. It took, literally, decades for me to recover from a single violent act committed by boys who believed that they had a right to my body. They spoke very similar words to each other during that event that you shared with Mr. Bush. They believed they didn’t have to wait. They believed they could do anything they wanted.

These young men believed that asking was not a requirement. They were convinced that my consent was completely inconsequential.

It wasn’t.

I can, gratefully, say now that I have moved on with my life. I am a successful and respected writer, wife, mother and friend. I have three sons and a daughter and they are what prompted this post.

I want my sons, who are athletes and spend a significant amount of time in locker rooms, to know that real men, God-loving men, men who respect and honor women, do not dismiss them. They do not own them or dominate them or have rights to their bodies or minds. My own sons, who I love more than my own life, have no privilege or duly-earned justification to allow the abuse or disrespect of my womanhood or that of any other female with whom they ever interact: not their sister, not their girlfriends, not their wives, their friends or total strangers.

I want my daughter, who is brilliant and strong and still finding her place in the world, to know that her womanhood is a God-given gift. She is the steward. She is the captain of her own ship and it is up to her to grant “permission to board” to anyone else who covets her beauty and strength. Anyone else is a rapist and abuser and violating her.

Everyone makes mistakes, Mr. Trump. We are all sinners. God knows that I earned my place in hell; it is only the grace of God that restores me to His side.

I do not judge you. I am praying for you and Mrs. Clinton.

I pray that you both understand some day the depravity that you each encourage and support. I pray that you meet Jesus, face to face, and get to know Him as I have. I pray that you hear clearly, in the quiet, what you seem to miss in the noise of this election.

But, until that day, Mr. Trump…I will be standing my ground against you.

I am convinced that when you dishonor the daughters of God, you dishonor the Father himself.

That type of disregard for my Savior and King is not permitted in my heart or my home.

Sincerely,

Brandi Cortes-Hickson

So, this is what new looks like…


Every time I come to Texas my heart swells with gratitude a little more. Over the past five years, I’ve made multiple trips to visit my two oldest boys. They are now breaching adulthood and making their marks in their own spheres of influence, but the beautiful city of Frisco, Texas is where they have called home for several years.  If you are paying any attention, you know that home for me is Florida. 

To make a long story very short, my two eldest children have been raised primarily by their dad and bonus-mom for the past several years. That is one of the truths of my story and often the one that people get very hung-up on.  It is usually the point in the conversation with others, including members of my own family, where I get to experience the confused looks, behind-the-back gossip and unfortunate judgement of people who I don’t trust enough to share the whole story.  However, regardless of the circumstances that led to it, my reality is that at the time the decision was made for them to stay with their father, I was in no place to care for them the way they needed or deserved. None at all. We made a desicion to give them the best possible life we could and that meant they would be raised by their dad and I would be there as much as was possible. 

This decision was simultaneously the single most painful and most mature I’ve made to date. It left me shredded, broken and oh, so wounded, but became the catalyst for my commitment to living the Jesus-centric life for which I’d been redeemed.  

Throughout my life, I have learned a lot about brokenness and restoration.  In fact, the process of being made whole makes up the entire story line to my book. But at the moment I am overwhelmed by the reminder of God’s grace and ability to restore. And that is what I want to share with you. 

Throughout the last decade, specifically, God has strategically placed and anchored people in my life who were committed to speaking life over me and to giving me the opportunity to be whole again. Some of them knew me in brokenness and others only met me after wholeness had been found, but all of them provided ongoing truth and encouragement which helped to hold high the light necessary to navigate some of the darkest and most painful places in my heart. Those that witnessed my self-destruction and prayerfully stayed nearby understood something that so many others fail to see. 

The broken are like severely wounded and caged animals. We are trapped in what appears to be our imminent doom and are terrified. And so we do what comes naturally to us in the moment; we bite, scratch, claw, attack, cower and growl. We lash out viciously believing that doing so is the only thing that can save us. While you are standing in front of the open cage door coaxing, encouraging and offering help, trying to draw us out of our own filth and tend to our wounds…we can only see you blocking the open door.  We cannot begin to trust you to help us while we still feel trapped in our own devastation. Sometimes it takes creating intentional space, backing away and sitting silent and still beyond the open door for us to see that freedom is not impossible. It may take us a bit-one slow and tested step at a time but once we realize that freedom and wholeness are even an option for us, we will let down our guard enough to accept your kindness and help. 

There were very few people patient enough to do this for me and still just a few gracious enough to hear me tell the story without judgment. Truth be told, we need more people with this kind of heart in the world in which we live. People that understand that wounded and broken people do not want to be wounded or broken. People that are so full of the love of Jesus that their primary goal is to tenderly and patiently create spaces for those precious souls to heal. 

That is where my calling has come to rest. In purposefully creating those love-drenched and grace-filled spaces where the broken have the opportunity to see the light of the open door and the Savior who patiently waits on the other side. 

As I drive down the streets of a town I do not call home, as I have lunch with my second-born at a school in which I know not a single teacher, as I write this very post from the guest room of a family who has only ever known me as the mom who lives in Florida and whose only connection with me is my son, I am consumed with the great mercy of my Father. Without it, none of this would be possible. I wouldn’t be whole. I wouldn’t be welcomed here. I wouldn’t be able to experience the sheer joy of watching my son play football or anticipating the arrival of my oldest and his girlfriend from college a few hours away. I wouldn’t be able to share my story over eggs and coffee with a lovely young woman who has stolen not just my son’s heart, but my own. And I most certainly wouldn’t be able to share it with you. 

If you are among the broken and wounded, I pray that you know that you are not without hope. Let me be the first to stop trying to fix you and to get out of the way of the door that leads to healing and wholeness. Jesus has swung it wide and is sitting, arms open, on the other side. He will heal your wounds. He will give you the nourishment and rest you so desperately crave. He doesn’t care that you are bleeding or filthy. He is not intimidated by your anger or heartbreak. There is nothing about you or your past that could ever scare Him away. 

He makes all things new-a truth for which I am immensely grateful. New: not old and refurbished, not recycled, not pieced back together…new…including me…including you. 

XOX, 

Brandi 

I Know WHO Holds my Hand


One of the greatest challenges as a believer for me has always been wrapping my head around the omnipresent nature of God. In the simplest stream of thought, it means accepting that God is everywhere. He is here in my backyard in Jacksonville, Florida as I write this post while He is also, at the same time, across the world in a country I’d have to Google in order to spell correctly. 

Everywhere at the same time. 

What we often misunderstand, because it is not often communicated from the weekly pulpits of modern churches, is that the omnipresent nature of the Father really means that He is present in all places at all times: past, present & future, simultaneously. That’s a deep, sci-fi-ish, thought and yet, to acknowledge God as the one and only deity, is to accept that time and space have no dominion over Him. 

Okay, so now that I’ve got you chasing your tail with “what-if” thoughts and dipping your toes into the vast pool that is theological study, let us circle back to the point of this post. 

I have spent countless hours in intense conversations over the topic of faith. Deliberate critics of Christianity are often intent on solving or having explained to them every mystery of the Bible before making their choice to ‘believe’. Yet, as they dig deep into major scientific theory, behavioral psychology and their own common sense, they found themselves tripping over the principle of faith. 

The Bible teaches that faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) 

Faith, demonstrated, can be as major as believing that God will ensure that your family is fed even when there is no money in the bank to buy food and the cupboard is bare. Or it can be as minor as trusting that your children will be safe while they are away from you at school.  At the end of the day, faith is about having certainty in the promises of God and total confidence that He is bringing them to fruition in your life even when you cannot see them coming to pass. For some of you this may seem simple enough, but for others this is a HUGE LEAP. The analytical human mind, practiced in making its own way in the world, will struggle a bit here. 

This is where I want to encourage you, my precious friend. 

You might be surprised to find out that I do not believe in “blind faith”. 

Romans 10:17 states that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” 

Most of us would agree that knowing the truth must come from exposure to the truth. If all we ever hear or listen to are lies, or even partial-truths, we will only every know and behave according to that knowledge. But when we are exposed to truth we behave differently. 

The message of the word about Christ is fairly simple: He came to seek and save the lost and He did so by living a life drenched in love, grace, mercy and kindness. Because He loved, He spoke truth as plainly as possible to all who would hear his words and welcomed them with open arms and taught them to do better, after they knew better. 

So what on earth does this have to do with the omnipresence of God? 

Everything for me. 

Remember when I told you that I quit my gainful employment based on the conviction that God wanted me to write? That was a massive leap of faith for me and my family, yet, it wasn’t a blind one. I didn’t wake up one morning with a wild hair and decide I wanted to be the next Beth Moore. Not at all. I spent months in the Word, studying, reading, praying and listening to the Spirit of God. I sought the support of my husband and the counsel of others much wiser than me. The decision ultimately became an act of faith when I chose to be confident about who God said I was and what I was supposed to do with my life. It became an intentional journey of obedience and adoration. Every day is a step made with trust in my Father.  

Even now, in those moments when fear and doubt creep into my mind, I have to shore up my faith. That doesn’t happen emotionally. It happens by diving right back in to the truth I trust: the Word. I read and re-read passages like Psalm 147 and trust that if God was able to clearly make a path for me to jump out here in the first place, that He will reinforce every single step by that same power. I meditate on the immense fact that not only is He here with me right now, in this moment, but that He is already present in my future and holding it firmly in His hand. 

Don’t doubt though, my friend, that faith is an active practice. The bible is full of great examples of godly believers walking “faithfully” before God. There are steps to be taken, choices to be made, and a commitment to keep. 

But we will talk more about that next time. Until then, I encourage you to take moment and ask “What does faith look like in my own life? Is it blind and shallow or deeply rooted in the truth of God’s immense power and identity?” 

Much love until next time…

Brandi 

Day 28: Finding My Groove

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I have new habits now.

I make the bed every morning, clean up the kitchen, do a load of laundry (I can’t even express how many loads of laundry I’ve done in the last four weeks). I make breakfast and lunch and dinner.  I clean the bathrooms and dust every Friday.

I’ve watched 6 full seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, read four books and am about 1/8 of the way through writing my own.

I put on a bra on every day…most days it is a sports bra, but still. I also shower daily and shave my legs at least twice a week (vs. the former twice a season).

I’ve also broken a few old habits. I don’t check my phone every 2.6 minutes for new emails; in fact, if I get 5 new emails in a day it’s an event. That’s saying something about the girl who used to send and/or respond to an average of 2000 emails a month.

I don’t stay awake at night organizing the next day; worrying about clients, peers or contracts. I sleep now. Like, real sleep.

I’m building new relationships and making peace with losing some old ones.

I smile and laugh quite a bit more. My family likes me a bit more, too, if I’m honest. Funny how that works.

Facebook shared some memories with me today and a post from this day, last year said…

Maybe it’s time to write it all down. 

It’s been a year since I listened to the prodding of the Holy Spirit: I’d heard him for a long time, but finally starting listening a year ago. It wasn’t long after that moment of clarity that I began to experience the same two words over and over in my life.

It’s time. 

It’s time to take a leap of faith. It’s time to stop mourning and dance. It’s time to do what God made me to do, not just what God gave me to do.

It’s time to cut myself off from those things I cannot keep in perspective so that I can focus on those things, that with God’s help, I can.

I’m finding my groove. A year, and a ton of laundry later, I can hear my song and actually dance along instead of just watching others do the dancing.

It’s time to shake my groove-thang.

XOX,

 

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