My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender

Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.

For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?

And most of all, would I have impact?

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How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World

Tucking my daughter into bed, I asked the routine question, “Is there anything you want to pray about tonight?”. With the start of school on the horizon, I anticipated prayers like “for my electives schedule, “for my best friend to get my lunch period”, or “for so and so to be nicer this year”. Pondering for a minute, she answered instead…

“I want to pray for North Korea.”

Surprised at her request, I asked some follow-up questions, gaining a much deeper picture into the heart and mind of my child. As I listened to her concerns, not based out of fear but on knowledge of the situation, I realized why God deeply values the faith of a child. Bold, unwavering, and full of trust, she believed her prayers could make a difference. The cause wasn’t too hefty, too complicated, or too messed up for our all-powerful Creator.

My girl had just massively challenged my own prayer life. And possibly changed the world in the process.

In the busyness of life’s demands, I often have a microscopic approach to prayer. Never lacking in need, our sphere of people always has requests. Laments for sick friends or family, daily life situations for our kids, or personal struggles of my own, fill the empty pauses in my car, moments before I collapse into bed, or occasionally the wee hours of a restless night. Add in a few personal wants and desires, and my prayer life is full. These thoughts roll off my tongue with ease. Constantly  at the forefront of my mind, they get attention before our King of Kings. I pray them often because they mean the most to me.

But in the mix of lifting up my own needs, I often forget to ask God for His bigger picture for our city, our state, our country, and our world. Instead, I choose to take a break from CNN, or turn off Twitter notifications when the world gets too crazy. Perhaps I even unfriend politically outspoken people from Facebook. I can, and have, too often become indifferent to the grandeur needs of this world.

Syrian refugees, unrest on Sudan, Christian persecution in closed countries, and racial division in our country. Oppressive leadership in South America, our own president and his advisors, the orphan crisis, and opioid addiction. All of these issues, God cares about, effecting people and world He created. Touching individuals He knows by name, every life matters in His eyes. And the responsibility to faithfully lift up each one of these issues, and others like it, falls on His people. Which means me and you.

We just have to care enough to remember.

The date we laid on her bed, praying for Kim Jong Un, was Sunday, August 13, 2017. The dictator had been flexing his nuclear power muscles all week, spilling rhetoric of potential missile strikes on Guam. There is no question that fear must have been capturing the hearts of people in that region, let alone the world. An uncertainty about North Korea’s capabilities and how, when, and where they would choose to show their prowess created much speculation and preparation talks. As we prayed for the dictator to back down on his threats, it never occurred to me that God would actually answer that request; truthfully, I doubted that on Monday, August 14th the heart of this man could and would be changed. But that is  exactly what happened when my sweet girl was bold enough to ask for mountains to be moved.

Hebrews 4:16 says, “Let us approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Let’s pray this, not only for ourselves, but for our countrymen and strangers across the globe. Let us approach God with the faith of a child as it says in Matthew 18, bringing our mustard seed’s worth as we ask for earth-shattering change.

“Help us, God, to trust You are powerful enough to intervene.”

Let’s be a generation of people who ask God, with a collective voice, to expand our view, praying, not just for what is in front of us, but for mass global change. Let our compassion lead us to not forget the oppressed, the poor, the under-served, or the under-represented. Let us deeply know God’s Word, so we can fully trust His sovereign plan for our world.

The time is now. Who’s with me?

What is one national or global prayer that God has laid on your heart? Share it with us, so we can collectively start asking God to move these mountains for our good and for His eternal glory.

Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

“Time heals all wounds.”

“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”

“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”

“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”

People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.

Does grief really get easier with time?

Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.

After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.

But the truth is…

No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.

In the midst of my mourning, God has reminded me:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

“[I] heal the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

“Cast all your anxiety on [me] because [I] care for you.” 1 Peter 5:7

God alone will carry my burdens. Rest will come from Him. My brokenness will be bound back together by His loving hands. My fear and anxiety are cast away. His right hand will hold me. I don’t have to be dismayed in His presence. Where my burden can feel heavy, His is light. I am not forgotten. And He alone is what can make my heart whole again.

Just as July 20th will always be a day of remembrance, other holidays will continue to be hard. Mother’s Day will forever be a day I ache to be with Mom. Not only next year, but in five, ten, or even fifty years. Celebrations will forever be sprinkled with the dream she were beside us. Does the pain get less intense over time? Perhaps. Does the reality of her death get easier to grasp? Maybe. Will everyone who experiences loss feel this exact same way? I don’t think so. Grieving looks different for every person ever created.

Let us free one another by recognizing that, just as God specially created each one of us, our mourning will be just as unique. No two people will walk through loss exactly the same way or on exactly the same timeline. Our family is a testimony to that truth. If you still feel the sting of death today, even years after your loss, that is okay. If you still cry walking into a place that brings back memories, there is nothing wrong with you. If you find yourself pausing during celebrations, wishing your loved one was with you, you are not alone. It is okay to still feel the loss, to wish things had turned out different, to desire to see your loved one’s face again. But just remember…God is there in the midst of that sorrow, waiting to lift you out of the despair. He has not forgotten your grief.

And that He alone can, and wants to, carry you through.

Today we remember my spunky, fun-loving, full-of-life Mom.  It is a hard day but a special one. I remember the things that I loved most about her, especially the way she cared for other people going through hard seasons. I think of you today too, those who have loss in your past and pain in your heart. No matter how you feel in this moment, know you are seen. You are known. You are loved. And you are carried by our good, good Father.

The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith

Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.

I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.

As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.

Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.

Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?

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My Yes Doesn’t Mean God Says Yes Too: Loving and Losing a Little Girl We Never Knew

Flashback to 2009. Living in Austin, Texas, my husband was attending a rigourous, full-time MBA program. With little income for the next 20 months, we rented an old house as close to campus as we could afford. Selling a car, we paired down, content to wrestle through the next two years of whatever adventures lay ahead.

Two precious little girls filled our home, and dreams of a third were fresh on our hearts. We knew we wanted to try for another biological child, and weeks later the test came back with joyful news. Excited, we began to prepare for her arrival.

About halfway through this pregnancy, I began researching adoption agencies. Though a weird thing to do while carrying a child in utero, I filled out an online inquiry form and hit SEND. I wanted information on international adoption. God had lit a tiny spark of interest earlier in our marriage, and I desired to get a window into the future possibilities. Though the time wasn’t right to start the process, I knew at some point God would give the green light.

Holding this paperwork helped keep that desire alive.

Fast-forward a few years and life looked much different than that day I first held the adoption packet. Grad school graduation had happened, a cross-country move had taken place, and that sweet little baby was now two years old. After prayer and contemplation, God gave that steady green light. It was go-time. Pulling out those dusty papers from long ago, I emailed the agency, and set off on the adventure of international adoption. It was August 2012.

Like many things in life, adoption is hard. The process, the emotions, the financial requirement, the transition home, the healing. All of it. Walking beside several close friends who have adopted, we have cried over doors being closed, rejoiced when new ones opened, lamented as timelines got extended, and watched families lose hope only to gain it back on the other side. It isn’t for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.

As of today, our family has been in process over four and a half years. We’ve dreamed, we’ve prayed, we’ve sometimes been low on hope and weary. After this many years, bumps in the road have oftentimes obstructed our view of the finish line, not sure if our family would ever see the day a referral would grace our kitchen table.

Two months ago it looked like that was all about to change…

Through certain events that can’t be shared here, we were made aware of a little girl that needed a new home. On paper, we were a perfect match. Pouring over her file, we prayed for her, as if she were our own. Having videos and pictures gave us a face to put with this long-hoped-for anticipation.  It brought hope in this journey, something we hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Bringing in our community, we needed their prayers. An urgency filled our bones. An assurance that we were meant to be part of her story. We truly thought she could be ours.

Last Friday the fateful email hit my inbox. This prayed-up, loved, and hoped-for girl was chosen for a different family. She was out of our life as quickly as she had entered (cue the tears.)

Y’all…Obedience hurts sometimes.

There are times where things just don’t  make sense. We hear God’s promptings, take a step forward in obedience, then feel like the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. Doubting whether it was God’s voice after all, we wonder if we made this up in our heads. Did we pray the wrong prayers? Did we take misguided steps? We can’t make sense of what He asked us to do, and we aren’t sure what plans He has for us. For her. For our future separated.

So, I have to go back to what I know…

I know that His plans are for me, not against me (Jeremiah 29:11)

I know that He loves this little girl more than I ever could (Psalm 139:16)

God makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

God’s ways are not mine, His thoughts not my own (Isaiah 55:8)

He will continue His good work in us until we see Him face to face (Philippians 1:6)

I know that His word (and voice) never returns void (Isaiah 55:11)

And I know that being obedient should be my goal, not getting my dream fulfilled.

Saying YES to God doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. It doesn’t insure that our desire will be satiated. It certainly doesn’t guarantee a happy ending to every story.

Yet, my YES shouldn’t hinge on Him saying YES too.

Sometimes it is good that we don’t always know the outcomes of things. If we had known this little girl wouldn’t join our family, we would have not pursued her. Would we have avoided this loss? Sure. But I believe God is less concerned with us going through a trial, than He is with the sanctification of our hearts. His desire is to build His kingdom here –  in our hearts, in our cities, on this earth. His goals aren’t ours. We don’t see through the same lens. His purposes are often beyond our comprehension. But, I can still choose joy, knowing we stepped out and lavishly, without abandon, said “yes” to what He was calling us to do. And that was to love and pray for this girl without boundaries for two solid months, helping bring her into the forever family God had chosen before the foundations of this world were made. We got to play a part in a story that will last for eternity. And that should be enough for me.

It is hard. The future of our story is unknown. But I am choosing to trust Him in my YES today, no matter what the outcome will be. And my prayer is that we will continue to step into obedience, unafraid of the outcome, but rather consumed with the process of surrender.

I know we aren’t along in this. I’d love to hear how God has called you to obey. When has it been hard? When it has felt easy? What has He taught you through it all?

The #Blessed Life I Never Knew I Wanted

A #blessed life. At times, we’ve all wanted it. Strived for it. Coveted it in other people. Beautiful kids, a Pinterest worthy house, a tropical vacation, and flawless skin. Not wanting to admit it, inwardly our flesh craves it. Comfort, security, success, accolades. Adventure, intrigue, beauty, acknowledgement. A quick search of Instagram produced 62,858,002 posts tagged #blessed. Scrolling through the pages you see pretty things. Pretty people. Pretty decorations. Pretty achievements. Pretty lives.

What if the #blessed life we’ve been chasing is backwards to the one we were created to live?

The #blessed life we put on social media tends to show what we have. What we think is good. What makes us happy. Not always the intention of our heart, what we consider #blessed can paint a picture into what we value, cherish, or chase. Most of the time, in my own life at least, it has been mostly about ME.

Simply put…I think we are chasing the wrong thing.

Jesus says in Matthew 5:

And he [Jesus] opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Will I say my life is #blessed when my mom dies of cancer, even if it pulls me closer to Him? Will I thank God for tight finances because it allows us to wait and see His provision? Will I have joy when I get diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, because it actually makes me dependent in a way I never knew possible? What about when I blow my knee, my car breaks down, my kid gets bullied, or my friend walks away? Where are these #blessed posts? Where are the proclamations of the hard getting re-purposed for good? We don’t see it because it is a backwards theology. 100% counter cultural. It doesn’t make sense to the world. And at times, hasn’t made sense to me.

Jesus says in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they  [we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Jesus humbled Himself by coming to this earth to give us life – life for eternity with Him, but also life on this mess of an earth too. The full life He came to bring doesn’t include a fancy new sofa or face wash that takes away my wrinkles. It isn’t about my children’s successes or my new dream job. It certainly isn’t about my  ambitions or achievements. Our #blessed life shouldn’t leave people jealous, coveting, or envious. It shouldn’t push friends away, cause division, or be self-seeking. The things that cause us to have a blessed life should bring people back to our relationship with our Savior. We are blessed because He redeems our pain. We are blessed because He strengthens our weak knees and feeble arms. We are blessed because He gives us courage to enter others pain. We are blessed because we have been granted the opportunity to believe in Him and suffer for Him. We are blessed because He is enough, and I am not.

So these are the two questions I have been pondering:

  • What about my life has produced eternal blessings? Things that matter? Things that last?
  • How can I use my earthly blessings to bring people back to the One who gave them to me in the first place?

Does this mean that we can’t buy nice face wash? No. Does it mean that we can’t pursue a dream or start a business? Not at all. Does it mean that we should hide our pretty things and pretend like they don’t excite us? I don’t think so. Does it mean we can’t step into a calling because of how it might be perceived? Absolutely not. And for heavens sake, please don’t hide the pictures of your beautiful children. Some of these things just make the world more comfortable. And that is okay! Others of these things could be our God-ordained calling. If so, we have a duty to step into them with obedience! All of these things are gifts that can point us back to our Creator and be used for His good purposes. And so we can and always should be thankful, celebrating with one another as they come.

The point is we have to stop CHASING after the #blessed life of this WORLD, pursuing it at all cost and for the end goal of having the life the world tells us to have.

Instead, let us be a generation of people that seek God first. Our motivation being love. Our intentions being pure. Our celebration of what God is doing being genuine. Let our desire be first and only for Him and the things He treasures most. Love for God and for other people.

The most #blessed men and women I know aren’t the ones with the biggest paychecks, largest platforms, most followers on Instagram, or nicest things. They are the men and women I have seen firsthand suffer with grace. Enduring hardship as discipline, they have carried others burdens in light of their own. They have chosen to trust God when the world says to curse Him, knowing what it means to have fellowship with the Spirit. They have lived and loved well despite their own pain or limitations. Their faith is secure. Their hope is contagious. Their joy complete.

THAT is the kind of #blessed life I want. It costs something, most of all my pride, selfishness, and propensity to compare. But my new prayer for today is that I seek Him first so that when others see my blessings they see Jesus before they see me.

Will you chase after this #blessed life with me?

Learning to be Thankful When Life Hurts

I had a breakdown outside of Safeway the day before Thanksgiving. Running to my car in the rain, I slammed the door behind me to endure my ugly cry in solitude. The trip should have been painless; I just needed to pick up a few last minute items. Yet, stopping by the florist department on my way to the checkout counter, set me heart into a tailspin. As I delicately placed a bouquet in my cart, the tears welled behind my eyes. Realization hit hard – while most of my friends were baking pies and cooking with their moms that afternoon, I was left to only deliver flowers to the cemetery. Holidays are hard. Triggers are everywhere.

Wiping my eyes in the parking lot, I pondered this question…

How do we be thankful when life hurts so bad?

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Why I Teach My Daughter How to Fall

Skiing down the majestic slopes of Mt Hood, my little girl raced ahead of me, weaving in and out of passing skiers. Uncontrolled in her movements, I watched in horror as she entered the tree-lined bank, crashing into a twisted heap of skis, legs, and gear. Rushing to her side, I found equipment littering the landscape and fresh tears falling down her cold, pink cheeks. Sprawled flat on her back, she muttered this one simple question,

“why does it hurt so bad to fall?”

Bending down, I gently picked her up from the ground. Dusting the fresh powder out of her hair, I looked intently into her eyes and replied,

“because I haven’t taught you how to fall properly.”

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Our Terminal: A Community of Hope Facing Terminal Illness

Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.

When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.

After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.

After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…

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My Bitter Root of Unforgiveness

Strong. Fortified. Impenetrable. Deep. The roots of our tallest oak tree spread under the surface of our yard like a maze of power. Unseen from the eye, they are hidden beneath layers of rock, soil, and mud. How vast they travel no one knows, until a bulge happens under the sidewalk or across the yard. When the root finally pushes through the surface, it is obvious and intrusive. No longer hidden from the world around it, the damage must be dealt with swiftly, to lessen the blow to the surrounding landscape or to a pedestrian passing by.

There are deep roots in my heart too.

Wounds happen, words sting, friendships fail, opportunities are lost, and we mess up from time to time. Living in a fallen world with broken people insures that. Not able to escape the ugliness of human nature, we grow weary from feeling slighted or forgotten. Consumed by continual disappointment, certain people reinforce long-formed hurts, growing deeper and more complex as time goes by. Yet sometimes we forget that we have done our fair share of hurting too. That other people might have been pushed down by our words or inclusiveness. Forgetting that our bitterness is hurting us more than them, our heart is weakened by holding on to the pain of past deed or present circumstance.

My bitter root of unforgiveness can’t be ignored anymore.

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