Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In Loving Memory

Three weeks ago, my Grandma Pyles (mom's mom) passed away. Although she had been on dialysis for several years, her death was quite unexpected and sudden. Most of us are still trying to wrap our minds around it all.

My grandma constantly tried to be in mine and my sister's lives - something I took for granted and hadn't really took note of until now. She took my sister and me to church with her when we were little and to VBS during the summer. She made our birthday cakes and attended every birthday party. She came up to see us (for she lived right down the road from us) in our dresses before we headed off to prom and attended our graduations. In fact, she even drove to Louisville to attend my seminary graduation. When we moved away, she did her best to keep up with us. She read my blogs and commented on them. She followed us on Facebook. She had stuff published about us in the local newspaper (like our graduations from college and seminary).

My grandma was a hard-working woman, working up until she was no longer able to drive (2011) due to Pasture's Syndrome. She used to make her own clothes and was known, at least in my family, for her cakes. I still can't eat a store-bought cake because I was so spoiled by eating hers.

As long as I can remember, my grandma went to church. She not only attended, but she served in many capacities. Even after she was no longer able to drive, she faithfully attended (the church picked her up).

I appreciate these things about my grandma, but I regretfully never her told her that. But the Lord did allow me to talk with her on the phone briefly a few days before she passed. Justus and I were even able to FaceTime with her that day (she never got to meet him in person). I told her I loved her, was sorry I didn't get to see her over Easter, and tried to encourage her with the hope of heaven (for she professed faith in Jesus Christ). She told me she believed, and I am thankful that I can grieve with hope. My prayer is that other people on my mom's side of the family will come know and be transformed by this hope - a hope that never fades or disappoints, and which is found only in Jesus Christ.

Kristi and me with our grandma: Velma Pyles (1933-2017)

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017: Brand New Territory

This year has been a whirlwind of changes and challenges. I usually write a New Year's post and a post reflecting on my new birth in Christ (which was Saturday). Time has been limited - and so has mental clarity - and writing has taken a setback to many other things. While I have a few moments to spare (and this is my third day working on this), I thought I would combine my three annual posts (New Year's, spiritual birthday, and Easter) into one. 

So much has happened since I last had the opportunity to write. This year literally began with change as we moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 1 for Daniel's new job. I was seven months pregnant at the time. We have had a lot of change in a very short amount of time (new job for Daniel, new church family, new city, new routines, new house, and a new baby). My introverted and routine-oriented self is still coming to grips with it all. Almost nothing is familiar, which is why I titled this post "Brand New Territory." 

As much as I did not enjoy living in the city of Pittsburgh, it was very painful to leave our church family and dear friends at Renaissance. God used the leadership there as well as the members to grow us in what it means to live by grace, to point others to grace, and to live in deep community with other believers. I miss them so much.

One of our biggest fears in leaving Renaissance was that we wouldn't be able to find a church where living in community with out believers was so central. The Lord was so very kind to connect us to Safe Have Church - Big Sandy the first week we arrived in Tuscaloosa. It wasn't long before the Lord started giving us new friends and opportunities to serve within the church. Even though the people there hardly knew us, they took it upon themselves to take care of us when we arrived and when our son was born. It will take time to develop the depths of friendships that we crave, but we are excited for what God has in store for us in and through this local body of believers. 

During the first month, I spent most of my time cleaning our new house (yep - we're home owners now!) and making it feel like home. I wanted to do a lot of the deep cleaning before our baby boy was born. I thought I had more time than I did, but he surprised us by coming two and a half weeks early. Justus Garrison* was born on Valentine's Day, weighing in at 8 pounds, 10 ounces. 

This is not only new territory for us, but uncharted territory. 

I expect this new year to keep up the theme of new territory as we settle in here and grow in parenting Justus. Even though we don't really have to teach him much in the way of verbal lessons, we can already see our lack of wisdom and strength for this awesome task.

As almost everyone had warned us, the first few weeks were rough. Add to this the fact that Justus was admitted into the hospital when he was two weeks old with omphalitis (an infection in his umbilical cord stump). He was in the hospital for a total of 9 days. It was a very difficult and dark time. It was so hard to see him poked and prodded so much. He had to receive strong doses of IV antibiotics and his IV blew 4 times. Every time they had to do a new IV, they had to stick him multiple times before they could get it to take. It was almost unbearable to watch. I struggled with understanding how this could be for Justus's good and became angry at God as the week wore on for allowing everything to be so hard and painful. He reminded me that He knew intimately what it was like to watch His Son suffer. 

Indeed, that is why we celebrate Easter. God was not only willing for His Son to suffer to save a people for Himself, but He ordained it (Isaiah 53). I confess that this truth, as marvelous as it is, only brought me a little comfort at the time. My heart was embittered towards my heavenly Father for what He was permitting to happen to Justus. I have since repented of my hardness of heart and apathetic spirit - which is why Jesus had to die, to save hard-hearted sinners like me. The cross of Christ proves the depths of God's love for me, even though I had lost sight of that at the time.

I mentioned that Saturday was my spiritual birthday - the day when Jesus Christ gave me new spiritual life (John 3). It has now been 16 years of following the Lord. As I grow in faith and in the knowledge of Him, I realize more and more how much I need His grace. He saved me by His grace and He sustains me by His grace. I bring nothing to the table, except the sin that required His death on my behalf. The Lord reminded me today as I reflected on Him saving me that it is only by His grace that I still believe in Him. It's only by His grace that I did not walk away from the Christian faith when enduring that dark week at the hospital with Justus. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We need it to save us from our sin and bring us to God and we need it to continue believing in God until we reach Heaven, where our faith will become sight. Reflecting on these truths helps me see Easter, as well as my spiritual birthday, in a different light. These were not just events that happened in the past, but they are events that continue to impact the here and now. 

As Christians, we have much to rejoice in as we think about the Lenten season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Our sins have been paid for. We have been redeemed. Perfect obedience has been imputed to us. We have been made right with God. We have been adopted as His sons and daughters forever. We have been given the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. And God Himself will see to it that we endure in faith until the end. Celebrate God's grace with me this Easter season. Without it, we would be hopeless and dead in our sins. But God, being rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)!

Photo credit: Gary Franklin Photography (
*We chose the name Justus (besides the fact that we just liked the name) because we liked its meaning ("just"). Plus, I liked how it was a biblical name (though not a common one). Garrison is a play off my dad's name, Gary, and means "fortified stronghold" and "son of Gary." 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Words that Support Life

As has been the case, I am behind on blogging. I haven't written my annual New Year's post, but still hope to find time to, especially before Baby Hurst arrives.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the loss of our first baby, Judah. He was eight weeks old in the womb when we lost him. Tomorrow, I have a routine ultrasound scheduled with the new practice I am going to here in Tuscaloosa. I am 35 weeks into this pregnancy with our second son and I look forward to getting another peek at him tomorrow. I don't believe in coincidences. I believe the Lord intentionally put these two events next to each other and He is very kind to do so.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to talk about these pregnancies and to know how to be pro-life in a non pro-life culture. What are ways that we can support the life and dignity of the unborn? Not everyone is called to lead a protest, to sit outside an abortion clinic, to volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, or even to give financially to support pro-life causes and organizations. We all have limited resources and time and must use them as God leads us. The Bible very clearly, though, articulates the worth and dignity of every human being from before they are born until the day they die. Their days are numbered by God and He alone has the right to shorten or lengthen them.

There is one way, however, that every evangelical Christian can express his or her pro-life theology and that is through our speech. How do you speak about the unborn? How about pregnancies and miscarriages? After our miscarriage, I have been thinking a lot about this. I am in my second pregnancy now and in conversations with others, both inside and outside of the Christian faith, I am inevitably asked (especially now that we live in a new city), “Is this your first?” Well, Yes and No. Yes, this baby will be my first delivery, but, no, this is my second baby. My husband and I didn’t get to meet or hold our first baby. But he did have life and he does have a name. It’s hard to know how to best answer that question. I know the meaning behind the question is “Do you have any children that are here in the flesh?” But regardless of whether a baby makes it through pregnancy or not, the baby is still a baby and the would-be parents are still parents.

I have answered the question both ways, struggling in my heart with the most appropriate reply. I want to give honor to our first baby, to his short little life, but I also don’t want to go into the details or some long explanation. As the months have gone by, however, I am becoming more convinced that choosing to acknowledge the loss of our first baby when answering questions about how many children we have or whether this is our first pregnancy says volumes about what I believe about human life and dignity. If our first baby would have been born and then passed, I don’t think I would have hesitated to say that I have two children with one being no more and that this is my second pregnancy.

We live in a hush-hush culture when it comes to miscarriage, even within the walls of the church. People, Christians and non-Christians alike, do not know what to do with women and families who have suffered through a miscarriage(s). Before my own miscarriage, I remember being in this same boat. I felt compassion, yes, but did not think deeply of the significance of a miscarriage or the impact it has on the parents. We expect the parents to grieve momentarily and then quickly move on, to “try again.” We don’t consider the loss of hopes and dreams that are quickly envisioned when that pregnancy test shows positive. We don’t think about the trauma for the mother from the miscarriage itself or even for the father who loved the baby just as much and experienced the trauma alongside his wife. For unbelievers, this is more understandable as they may or may not recognize an unborn baby as a baby. For Christians, however, could it be that we are too focused on the here and now, the things that are seen? Granted, my husband and I never met our first child. We never got to see him or feel him or hear him. We barely had the chance to announce his presence. But he was real. He was our baby. 

One of the most basic ways we as believers can challenge the culture of death is by speaking in ways that support life in our private conversations with both believers and unbelievers. It may be awkward or conversation-stopping, but should that stop us? The gospel can be awkward and conversation-stopping as well, but it gives life to those who believe it and we are commanded to testify to its truth and goodness. The gospel is life and gives life and will give life to the conversations surrounding the unborn if we are willing to lay aside our fears and stand up for what is true and beautiful and lovely.

So the question we must ask ourselves is: Do we really believe that every life matters? Do we believe that a miscarried life matters? Do we believe that unborn babies with genetic abnormalities matter? If we do, how will that translate into our speech and actions? Like I said, I am still wrestling through some of these questions (or maybe with just the boldness in speaking up in conversations).  

How will your words support life?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Unto Us a Son is Given

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7a
I have been struck this Christmas season with the wonder of God coming to us as a helpless baby boy. Being pregnant during this time of year, especially with a baby boy, has been especially sweet. It has made me contemplate the incarnation of Christ in a different way. I am in my third trimester now (!). I can feel this little guy moving around inside of me and the time of his arrival is quickly arriving. 

I can't help but think about Mary, the ordinary, humble, teenage, virgin girl chosen to be the mother of the Lord. She graciously accepted the plan God had for her, even though it interrupted her plans and probably squashed some of her dreams. Her reputation would forever be in question regarding her faithfulness to her fiance Joseph. I pray for her humble acceptance of God's plans. I often cling tightly to my plans for the future and don't trust His ways over mine (even though I know that His ways are higher and better). Before becoming pregnant with our first baby, I struggled with the idea of letting go of my independence to embrace motherhood. I could sense God leading me towards motherhood but wasn't sure if it would make me happy. Shamefully, I sometimes still wonder if this whole motherhood thing is for me. It's hard to die to myself - to die to my plans, my independence, my vision of ministry...

Mary was in her third trimester when it came time for her and Joseph to make their way to Bethlehem to register for Caesar's census. I can't imagine how uncomfortable she was riding on a donkey, on bumpy roads, for many miles. I was uncomfortable driving down to Nashville for Christmas and my ride was way more luxurious than hers. And I will be making an even longer journey in a week from Pittsburgh to Tuscaloosa when we move. It won't be comfortable, but the same God who sustained her on the back of a donkey will sustain me on the road in our Honda.

And even though I can relate to Mary in these different ways, my son will be much different than hers. Her Baby was no ordinary child. He is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14). He has always existed and He came to dwell with His people and to save them. And even though He is the king of Kings, He came in the humblest of ways, While my son will be born in a nice hospital, with relatives semi-nearby, and with the modern conveniences of life, God's Son was born in a stable, far from relatives, and wrapped in old rags. While my son will have a cozy crib, God's Son had a dirty feeding trough for his bed. Jesus came in way that no one would have ever expected and His life and death were just as mind blowing as His birth.

Jesus came with one purpose: to die for the sins of the world. Isaiah 9 says that He came as light to people who were walking in deep darkness (v.2). Jesus Christ has conquered that darkness by paying the penalty for our sins. The Son given to us at Christmas came to give eternal life to the world - including this little child within me. Because of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we can know God. God gave His Son over to death so that we could become His sons and daughters. I have been praying more consistently for my son's salvation and future, that God would use him in great ways for His kingdom. I pray God opens the eyes and mind of our baby boy to see and understand this Jesus at an early age. And I pray that I continue to grow in my understanding of who He is and what He has done.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

From Pride to Praise

Yesterday I turned 33. I know that's not really considered a milestone age, but I couldn't help thinking that this was the age that Jesus Christ died. He lived a short life and it was a hard life in the sense of being misunderstood and rejected and carrying the weight and sorrows of the world. His life ended abruptly by betrayal, an unjust trial, severe beatings and humiliation, and crucifixion. He died that we might live. His life purchased my life and restored me to God. I can live because of Him.

I have to admit my life is not what I imagined it would be at this point. That's been hard for me to accept in many ways, which shows my arrogance in thinking that I know better than God what is best for me. I was hit with this truth during last Sunday's sermon at Renaissance. We had a guest preacher who preached from James 4:13-17, about boasting about the future. He did not sugar coat what Jesus through James is condemning us Christians for: we arrogantly think we can make our plans without regard to God and when things don't go our way, we get bent out of shape. The preacher said that God, in His grace, sometimes painfully chips away at our plans to expose and crush this arrogance so that the arrogance doesn't crush us. Ultimately, Jesus Christ died for our arrogance on the cross.

I can see this arrogance in my own life. I had a particular vision of what I wanted my life and ministry to look like. And when God started messing with my plans, then I struggled. I became confused and grumbled against the Lord's leading, and sometimes I fell into despair. I was more sold out to my own vision of the future than I was to following Jesus wherever He may lead. I had my hands clenched tightly around my plans and over these past couple of years, Jesus has been prying my fingers off those plans. And it hurt. I felt like a failure. I felt like I was missing God's will, that I had gone down the wrong path. But the truth is that I was balking against God's work in my life because it didn't fit nicely into the path I had designed for myself. There is nothing inherently wrong with the dreams I had, but there was in my heart attitude towards them. In my zeal to serve God overseas and in dreaming about ministry, I had begun to idolize and worship them instead of continually seeking God and His guidance and allowing Him to guide and shape my heart.

Although the Lord has been teaching me to surrender to Him in all areas of life, this especially hit home while listening to this sermon. My problem was not only idolizing my plans, but my problem is arrogance. I thought I was wiser than God when it came to knowing how to best use my life. I wanted Him to bow down to my plans and make them successful like He was some genie who was at my bidding. This realization was hard and heavy. But God is so very kind to reveal these heart attitudes to me, so that I could repent and begin living in the freedom He has called me to in Christ.

I have continued to think about these things over the past few days. And yesterday it hit me: although my life isn't what I envisioned, God has blessed me with so many good things. I do like what He is doing in my life. I am thankful I am where I am. And with that realization comes so much freedom. I don't have to worry or wonder whether my life looks a certain way. Jesus only requires me to be faithful to Him and that means heeding His Word and following Him. He is not as concerned about the destination (career, ministry, etc) as I am; He is more concerned with the process of me getting there (knowing Him deeper, growing in Christlikeness and in community, being faithful, dying to myself). So, yes, I am not in Asia; I am not in full-time ministry; I have no idea if the dreams I am surrendering to God will ever be fulfilled; BUT God has blessed me with everything I need in Christ Jesus. He has been teaching me about living in His grace and living life in community. He has blessed me with a very sweet marriage to a godly man and we have a baby boy on the way. He gives me constant opportunities to minister to others in a variety of ways. He is good and does good (Psalm 119:68). I have so much to be thankful for.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Life After Loss

Things change when you lose a loved one. They change in a thousand different ways.

Today marks the third year since my dad passed away. It’s hard to believe he’s been gone that long, and sometimes the pain seems just as fresh as when it first happened. People always say that the first year is the hardest, and I can see how in many ways that is true. But I actually found that year two was harder. Maybe it’s because I had false expectations of what long-term loss looked like. I expected year one to be hard and then after that for things to immediately get easier. But they didn’t. Instead, the new reality set in: my dad is gone. No more phone calls. No more laughs. No more sharing life together. Life is still going on for sure…but without him.

This past year has been easier comparatively. But, grief can be a tricky thing. The pain sneaks up on when you least expect it and seems to be absent when you most expect it. And for everyone it seems to be different. And I guess one of the things I have noticed most is how I (and others close to my dad) still feel the loss, but how others have moved on. It doesn’t affect them regularly or cause the same void in their life. There’s nothing wrong with this. We can’t all feel every loss so keenly (how overwhelming that would be!). But for those suffering from loss, for those to whom the absence is noticeable, it seems like we are at times stuck in the pain or have regressed to an earlier stage of grief. The world carries on, but we experience the loss in some way every day. Time does heal the wound, albeit not completely, and we do adjust to the new way of living that God has ordained, but the loss becomes an integral part of our story. It doesn’t define us (or at least shouldn’t), but it does further shape us and what we believe. For Christians, it should sober their view of life and drive them to dependence upon Christ. That is one of the good intentions that God has in grief: to grow our faith and make us more like Christ. And we can only do that if we lean into Him and let others into our grief. 

God created us for community not just for fellowship and to share our joys, but to also share our sorrows and struggles. The local church should be the safest and best place to do this. We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). We are to encourage the fainthearted (1 Thessalonians 5:14) and comfort others with the same comfort that Christ gives us (2 Corinthians 1:3-7). If the one who died is a believer, we are to remind each other of their and our future hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-15). And, most of all, we should be encouraging one another and building one another up in the truth and knowledge of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Ephesians 4:15-16). But we can only live out these commands within our church families if we are open and honest and vulnerable with one another. We have to let others into our lives and be intentional in entering the lives of others. This is not easy to do, especially in our individualistic, self-reliant, put-on-a-good-face society. But this is what Jesus calls us to, and the local church is where I believe you will find true healing from loss and people to walk alongside of you during the bouts of reoccurring grief. This is where I believe God chooses to meet us in unexpected ways as He reveals Himself to us through His people. Can you find healing from grief outside of the local church? Yes. But I believe it will be a longer, more lonely road, and a definitely less grace-centered and gospel-centered healing process. I am thankful that the Lord has pretty much forced me to share my grief with my brothers and sisters in Christ. He has used them to confront my doubts and unbelief in God's goodness and to encourage me when I am hurting and discouraged. They may not feel the loss regularly like I do (or may not have even been there to experience the loss in the first place), but they are more than willing to patiently enter the pain with me and comfort me through it. Life after loss may look different for everyone, but the true source of Hope and Comfort is universal. His name is Jesus Christ and He often channels His hope and comfort through His people in the local church context.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Pushing Past the Seen

Things that are seen. These are the things that command our attention, that fight for our joy. And once again, I found myself fixated on what is tangible. I am in my second pregnancy. The first one ended in a miscarriage 8 weeks in. When I came to the seventh and eighth weeks in this pregnancy, I fought hard to trust the Lord and not give into anxiety. Yet, I was looking to the things I can see or feel to determine how well this pregnancy was going. Was I nauseous? Did I have food aversions? Yes. Good; the pregnancy must be going well. But I experienced spotting for over a week. What did that mean? Was that a sign of a miscarriage? If only my first appointment would come and I could hear the heartbeat...if there is a heartbeat…

Then the Lord brought me to this timely verse one morning:
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
I am well acquainted with this verse, but I needed a fresh reminder. I had been focusing on the visible; trusting in what I can sense or see or feel, instead of trusting in the promises of God. I was trusting in feeling nauseous and food aversions and the absence spotting to reassure myself that everything was okay. But the Word of God is more true that the tangible things around me, and He holds out beautiful promises of future grace to those who trust in Him – promises that never fail.

Yet, even though God brought this lack of trust to my attention, I continued to struggle. I knew I needed to focus on the unseen things, but visible things were what continued to consume my attention and fuel my fears. I needed specific unseen things to focus on. I needed specific promises besides the broader truths that God was sovereign and was working for my good.

Once again, God in His grace met me in my struggles and unbelief. That weekend the sermon at church was from Psalm 139. I studied it beforehand to prepare for the sermon and God used that psalm to remind me of His constant care and presence. He has been with this child from the beginning – before I even knew this little life existed – and He was the One fashioning him or her together. More than that, God has a plan for this child, regardless of how this pregnancy ends. Just like He has numbered and planned my days, He has numbered and planned the days of this little one, no matter how many or few. Furthermore, God promises not to withhold good from His children (Psalm 84:11). Therefore, if the birth and life of this child is good for my husband and me, God will not withhold him or her from us. The same was true with our first pregnancy. Even though we went through a valley of darkness and pain in miscarriage, we watched God work in our marriage and through our lives to strengthen relationships, minister to those suffering in similar circumstances, and draw us closer to Christ. It was good for us to be afflicted in that way (Psalm 119:71), so that we may grow in faith and love and the knowledge of Christ. 

So I am still waiting for my first appointment* and I still have the thought of miscarriage hovering in the back of my mind, but I have a renewed confidence in God’s wise care and plans. His abundant grace is available each day and His mercies are new every morning. They never run dry. And nothing catches Him by surprise. He knows how our first doctor’s appointment will go. He knows how this pregnancy will end. And I can lean into Him and trust what He has in store. Because He is not only working for mine and my husband’s good, but He is working for the good of this baby and of His church and for the glory of His name. I cannot control what is going on inside of me, but I can trust the One who is in control. He is working in the unseen places and in unseen ways, and what cannot be seen now will one day reveal His omnipotent wisdom and goodness and glory to all.

*This post has been in the works for several weeks. Daniel and I had our first appointment last Tuesday. And the Lord in His kindness met us in our doubts and fears and allowed us to hear the heartbeat. :) We are thankful for such a gift!