This last weekend I spoke at a women's retreat in the mountains of Arizona and God clarified the way forward. How appropriate. It was in leaving Arizona during the last week of 2011 that I was invited to let go of the titles and identities that defined me to that point and open myself to whatever was next.
In January of 2012, I sat alone in my California home, aware that Jesus was inviting me to let go of my job--my steady income, my sense of value, my security--and move into an undefined season of preparation for what was next. I was amazed at the opportunities God laid at my feet and I believed I had found my home. I mistook the preparation for the plan.
But in January of 2015, I once again sat alone in my California home with no job, no income, no sense of purpose or what was next. Until Arizona.
It was nearly thirty-five years ago when God first shared his plan for me but I had long since forgotten it. In the summer before I entered high school my family spent a week at Lake Okoboji in my home state of Iowa. We had spent plenty of time in this place and I felt comfortable in this Midwestern campground. At the age of five I had astounded my mother and filled my father with pride as I fearlessly boarded the historic wooden roller coaster at Arnold's Park on the shore of the lake. I had played hours of video games in the arcade and repeatedly reddened my white, Scandinavian skin, basking on the sands of the local beach.
On this particular week I had made some new friends. A few girls my age and an equal number of boys. Young love was in the air and I was intoxicated with the new freedom of being a teenager.
My mother had other plans. "Coincidentally", there was a Bible conference occurring at the Lake. She allowed me to test the boundaries of my freedom throughout the day as long as I would accompany her to hear a speaker each evening. It was excruciating. It seemed all the best fun happened in the two hour block I was gone each night from my friends. But I knew there was no escaping this arrangement.
As the week progressed I grew more and more hostile as I joined my mother each night at the conference. The kind of hostility only a teenage girl can muster. The precarious and confusing mix of hatred, sadness, judgement and self-loathing.
I sat with arms crossed, eyes fixed on the ground as the evening's speaker took the dais. She was a petite, freckle-face woman with long blond hair named Ann Kiemel. I hated her for taking me away from my independence that night. I hated her because she was happy and not concerned about what I was missing. I hated her because I didn't want to be like her when I grew up. I wanted to be more self-assured, less plain, more fun.
I don't remember when I started listening or when I raised my head to look at her, but by the end of her message I was locked in. And when she invited anyone to the front who wanted to say 'yes' to Jesus, I didn't hesitate. I grabbed my mom's arm and dragged her to the front with me. I wasn't saying 'yes' to a relationship with Jesus-that I already had. I was saying 'yes' to whatever plans God had for me.
I knelt on the floor in front of the stage and for quite some time I was alone up there as hundreds of onlookers witnessed my commitment. Eventually, a few others joined me and Ann began to speak a blessing over us. And then she said these words, "Some day you will tell people how much Jesus loves them." My mother looked up as those words were spoken and saw that Ann was pointing directly at me.
And there I was, last weekend, in Arizona telling women how much Jesus loves them. Such a simple message, really. But it's been quite a journey to get here. You can't give a gift you don't possess and accepting God's love for me has been a work in progress.
As I sat in my mom's room after my last talk of the weekend, (she came as prayer support) we reminisced about that weekend in Okoboji. How Ann's blessing was working itself out in my life. Neither of us had given it any thought for the last thirty-five years, but tonight God reminded us of his faithfulness.
And there God revealed my purpose for this next season--tell people of their belovedness in God and how that impacts all of life. On Saturday morning I prayed a blessing over the women who were gathered and many asked for the words so I've printed them below.
May the reality of God's love and your belovedness be as life changing for you as it has been for me.
"You were born at this time in history, in this place, into your family for his purpose. The hurt you’ve experienced and the hurt you’ve caused are all redeemable and able to be used for his glory. He brings beauty for ashes. You have a unique role to play in his kingdom and he looks at you with great affection.
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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