Wide Shots

Our church is celebrating TEN YEARS in ministry this weekend. My super hard-working, creative husband Sean got this iconic shot of Time Warner Cable Arena filled to the brim on Easter Sunday 2010. So much happened that year it would be a blur if we didn’t take time to look back and reflect on God’s faithfulness.

Our first Love Week, Egg the City for Easter and the opening of Elevation Blakeney.  It was a personal time of stepping out in faith to take the gifts God cultivated in me in 22 years of TV News to say yes to a call to come on staff at Elevation Church.

It’s funny how we can’t see what God is doing when we are in the midst of it. It’s when we zoom out and take the wide view and we can see how we get to be a part of something so much bigger than ourselves. When we FOCUS on God, his goodness, and all He has done for us, the struggles we’re facing seem to fade away into the background.

I love John 3:29-33 in the Message version. “That’s why my cup is running over. This is the assigned moment for him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines. The One who comes from above is head and shoulders over other messengers from God. The earthborn is earthbound and speaks earth language; the heavenborn is in a league of his own. He sets out the evidence of what he saw and heard in heaven.. anyone who examines this evidence will come to stake his life on this: that God himself is the truth.”

I had no idea how God would grow and stretch and love our family through the work we would get to do together. Or how God would strengthen, encourage, teach, and change us through the messages we heard from our Pastors Steven and Holly Furtick. Or how friendships with our first eGroups leaders Chunks and Amy Corbett would teach us how to lead and serve with passion, excellence, simplicity, and grace. Looking back, I can’t believe God would love us so much to order our steps in such unexpected, beautiful ways. Our marriage and family are stronger because we said YES to God’s leading in our lives.

As I become less, he gives me so much more.

Happy #Superversary @ElevationChurch. We love you. #Elevat10n.

Thank you #FMFParty for the Five Minute Friday word prompt, FOCUS.

Fierce Happiness

The phrase arrested me. Two words strung together in a sentence that don’t really seem like they should go together.

Fierce happiness.

Fierce: Intense or ferocious aggressiveness OR heartfelt and powerful intensity.

Happiness: pleasure, contentment, satisfaction.

I’ve been having great conversations with ladies lately about the things I love about Jesus.

His patience. His consistency. His grace. But I’ve been searching for something else in my understanding of who He is.

And there it was. It jumped out of my phone and into my heart like God speaking straight to me. I started thinking of friends who exhibit “fierce happiness.”

My friend Mary Catherine Garrett who co-leads the inner city youth ministry One7 with her husband, David. Ultra endurance athlete Meredith Dolhare who founded RunningWorks, a non-profit investing in the health and well-being of homeless neighbors. My pastors Steven Furtick and his wife, Holly. Suzanne Spantgos and her husband George, great leaders in our church on outreach, tech, and eGroups teams. Tony and Christine Schmitz who lead at our Weddington location. Christy Baker who leads at our non-profit partner Charlotte Rescue Mission. And I could go on, and on.

Each of these people has known deep sorrow and on the other side have come to a place of fierce happiness. If Tim Keller is right in his book, PrayerFierce happiness is found in the perfect truine relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It seems it is found in truly knowing someone and allowing oneself to be deeply known.

Somewhere along my journey with Jesus, I think I’ve both gained and lost some of who He is. Before I really knew him I’d mastered a sort of fake happiness. I didn’t entirely realize I was faking it. I felt happy, mostly. I gave up the fake me as much as I could. But I’ve traded in something fierce in me for a sort of abstract tranquility. I want my fierce back. But a new kind of fierce that’s grounded in who He is inside me. It’s a different kind of grrrrr… Let’s see if we can find it together… in letting ourselves be deeply known.

As we begin a new series called Moodswingers, we’re also about to launch into a new season of eGroups at Elevation Church. Get there. Be known. Be fiercely happy.

Inspired by “Prayer: A 14-Day Devotional by Tim Keller” on the YouVersion Bible app.


Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (‭1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬:‭16-18‬ NIV)

Can you remember when you first started praying? My first prayer was simple, and slightly terrifying.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

If I should DIE?!!! NOW???! I pray my SOUL to TAKE?

This prayer did not encourage me. It gave me nightmares. And just to see if I was overreacting, I showed the prayer to my 10-year-old, Cooper – who said, “That’s creepy.”

These are the humble beginnings of my prayer life. So clearly I’m no prayer expert. If you go to the Amazon.com bookstore to look up books on how to pray, more than TWO THOUSAND results come up. I’ve read only two of them, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and The Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie O’Martian. Both are really great, inspirational resources, and I loved them. But I think the one book that has helped me pray the most is Anne Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts.

Ann’s book guides us to begin always with gratitude. “Eucharisteo – thanksgiving – always precedes the miracle,” she says. My pastor, Steven Furtick has preached on this many times as well, particularly in a Thanksgiving 2010 staff teaching I will never forget – one of his points was – “Gratitude sustains joy and blessings.”

Those teachings guided me to begin my prayers always with a thank you. Now please don’t misunderstand – I don’t always FEEL grateful. I choose to SPEAK gratitude over my situations. And don’t get the wrong idea about my prayer life, either. When I hear people talking about “quiet time” or if they ask me “How often are you getting quiet time with God?” I chuckle – because I have two boys, and the only time it’s quiet in my house is between the hours of 10pm and 7am. So unless I make it a high priority to spend time in God’s word before 7am or after 10, it doesn’t happen. And, often when I pray in my head – I fall asleep… or my mind wanders… or I start thinking of things that aren’t prayers like what I’m going to make for dinner this weekend. So I like praying out loud – with friends, with my children, in my car, and with my husband.

Most of my prayers during the day are as simple as “Thank you, Jesus.” Or “Help me, Jesus.”

I wasn’t always like this. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to do everything on my own. I knew Jesus. I loved him. I invited him to be my savior and lead my life when I was in college. But without a community to believers around you to encourage you, guide you, and challenge you, you can fall farther and farther from God.

Living in Charlotte, being a part of what God is doing through Elevation Church and hearing great preaching every single week – I’ve grown closer to God, and I’ve learned to lean on Him when I feel like the world is crashing in on me. And this is give or take, about 15 times a day.

During a particularly challenging time in our marriage, I felt like God was telling me to “Talk less, and Pray more.” I went through another period of time where I felt like God was prompting me to pray some specific things for my husband for 30 days. And now, I’m in the middle of praying Psalm 91 for 91 days along with my friends in Young Life Africa.

I pray because I know I need Jesus. I pray because I know I can’t do anything that means anything without him. I pray because WITH HIM, I know I CAN do anything he’s called me to do. I pray because I know I am in control of so little. I pray because I want the God of the universe who made me and loves me and wants good things for me to know I’m grateful. I pray because being quiet and grateful and seeking God’s wisdom gives me clarity, and courage to take on whatever lies ahead.

I don’t feel like a prayer superhero. And maybe that’s the great thing about calling on prayer as a superpower. For me, choosing to pray when I feel weak, ungrateful, fearful, or angry means that I can release those negative thoughts and feelings – and accept the promises God has spoken over my life instead. Pastor Steven’s book Crash the Chatterbox is all about learning how to do this – and I highly recommend it.

At all times and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. (‭Ephesians‬ ‭5‬:‭20‬ AMP)

Thank you to my sister, Tris who asked me to share my thoughts on prayer. She’s been writing a 31-day series of blogs called “Celebrating your superpowers.” They’re beautiful. You can check them all out, here.

Choose Grace

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In my first attempt at five-minute Friday I’ve picked a way-too-big topic.
(on Sunday)

Grace is waking up in the morning.
… the running-me-down hugs my Asher gives me.
… clean, drinkable running water.
… a hot shower.
… an unsolicited, “I love you Mommy” from my Cooper.
… a kind word from a friend.
… another birthday.
… a good doctor’s report.
… a paycheck WITH health benefits.
… my beautiful savior loving me even when I’m being a spoiled, selfish brat.
… choosing to overlook an offense.

For one more minute – a quick thought on number 10.

Choosing to overlook an offense…

My friend Lysa TerKeurst writes, “He who holds the tongue holds the power.” I find that to be a beautiful and frustrating paradox. I see that I have the power to CHOOSE GRACE in situations where I could fly off the handle and be all messed up and offended. I’m working on choosing grace daily. I’m making imperfect progress. And I’m grateful for Jesus’ example. What are you choosing today?

Five Minute Friday

Pray more, talk less, LOVE always

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV)

We just wrapped up an epic night in the this history of Elevation Church. Hundreds of people got baptized at three of our locations. Though it was an incredibly public evening – with thousands of us cheering on each person in the tank – I can assure you it was an intensely personal experience for each of the beautiful people in line.

I know, because I was in that line in 2008 waiting to get baptized myself. Our church was only two years old. We were at Elevation Providence and I’d been waiting until my mother could fly in from Spokane, Washington to participate in a day that would be a turning point for me.

I’d been a follower of Christ since college when a friend walked me through what it meant to put Jesus at the center of my life. And when I got baptized, I remember being so happy, and so grateful for this refreshing new phase in my faith. I didn’t realize how far from God I had become in the way I led my life.

It’s been an amazing journey since then. I’m grateful for the people who’ve invested in me, believed in me, and encouraged me along this path. But the biggest change I’ve had to make is how I’ve had to learn to pray MORE and talk LESS. I’ve had to learn to trust God to work in people’s lives instead of trying to do the work for him. That just wasn’t working out so well for me.

I would often scream out loud, “Why will no one listen to me?!!!”

I suppose it’s because I was talking too much. Criticizing too much. Preaching too much. Loving too little.

So yes, my mantra these days is “Pray more, talk less, LOVE always.” In the working it out, I’m finding that God is showing up in beautiful ways I never anticipated. I’m finding it is true that LOVE never fails. And I’m grateful that I am raised to life in Christ.

Below: Family baptism gallery – Tonia 2008, Ciara 2011, Cooper 2013.

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