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?

Reflecting back, I am a different person than that younger woman who first raised her hand in service. Pouring into student’s lives has taught me to love deeper, to advocate harder, and to pray more fervently. It has taught me to risk for other people, while opening my eyes to the many ways God uses teenagers to shape culture and further His kingdom. Youth group can have deep, lasting impact, changing lives in the process. My life is no exception to that truth.

Last spring I began to hear God whispering to me. Always desiring to hear God’s voice, I now rejected the message hitting my ears. Frankly, I didn’t like what He had to say. Rest was needed in my life, the kind that isn’t cured by a Saturday morning sleeping in or by a good nap on the couch. I needed deeper, more lasting quiet, space to realign my heart with His and to begin the process of healing from my wounds. As the summer got underway I began hearing the whispers of God more audibly.

He said…

“You aren’t fully surrendering.”

“You have more to lie at my feet.”

“I am waiting to carry your burdens.”

“Why are you being so stubborn?”

“Don’t you trust My plans for you?”

Making excuses, I began to argue away His promptings. God’s whispers slowly morphed into shouts, persistent against my resistance. Most mornings I awoke with heaviness on my heart. I was disobeying His calling on my life. Scared of the unknown and sad to step down from a ministry that I love, I argued with His promptings and ignored His voice. Finally, the reality of my next step became so clear I couldn’t run from Him anymore. The only way forward was through surrender.

In our walk with the Lord there are seasons to sow seeds, water plants, see fruit bloom, and collect the harvest. There are times when we need to raise our hand, take the risk, join the team, and serve God and His people with wild abandon. In these moments we feel alive and useful. Our impact makes our calling feel secure and our life filled with purpose. The community fills a need we all possess – to be needed and accepted, part of something bigger than ourselves.

But in the excitement of doing good work, we can’t ignore the call to rest.

God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 2). Jesus reclined at the table and stole away to the hills alone to pray (Matthew 26 & 14). Jesus invited the disciples to come eat and experience rest from the crowds (Mark 6). God commands us to not forsake the Sabbath throughout the Old Testament and New (Exodus 23 & Hebrews 4). The Psalms are filled with David’s cry for peace, rest, and healing (Psalm 4, 23, 55, & 127). Knowing these truths, why do we feel the pressure to stay busy for Him? Why do we feel like we only matter when we are seeing results? Why is our worth so tightly teetered to our producing and striving, when our calendars are full and the accolades abound?

Why do we think He cares more about our service than resting under His care?

This season of rest is going to be hard for me. The loss feels great and the void is palpable. My new-found free time is foreign, and in my weakness, I will question His calling for this year. Yet, I cling to the pillars of faith laid before me in Scripture; those who pulled away from the busyness of this world and found value in resting under the shadow of God’s wing.

After all, being close to His heart is the best place to find healing for my heart and rest for my weary soul. He is my refuge and my strength, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Anyone else feeling weary out there? What does God-ordained rest look like for you?

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.

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?

My encouragement today is this…

Your influence as a Christian teacher doesn’t depend on your ability to openly talk about God.

Matthew 5:16-17 says,

“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead, they set it on a lamp-stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Oftentimes, we feel like we have to say a lot. Trying to slip the name of Jesus in somewhere, we hope to spark a conversation. Leaving our Bible on our desk, we pray someone notices and inquires. Growing discouraged, we feel like our spiritual light is being forced under that basket. Our lamp is being snuffed out by rules, boundary lines, and jurisdictions. If we can’t talk about God, how will people know about Him? If we aren’t allowed to share our testimony, then when will students hear about His life-changing ways? If we are suppose to put it on a lamp-stand, what do I do when I can’t speak openly about the thing that matters most to me?

Jesus brings encouragement by saying,

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

If you work in an environment where you can’t openly share your faith, don’t think for one second that you aren’t having influence for the Kingdom of Heaven. Fight the temptation to think your hands are tied and your impact is stifled. God’s love will be seen in the way you invest in those around you. The listening ear you provide during your lunch break. The encouragement you freely give at events and activities. The way you call out other’s strengths and encourage people in their weaknesses. The cheering on of other’s success. The respect you give to authority. The way you are devoted to your family. The grace you show during times of hardship or failure. It is your unspoken testimony. It has impact, and it matters.

Leaving the corridors of high school, I realized that I didn’t just believe in God, but I needed Him. Desiring to live a life that reflected His glory, I wanted to love people well in His name, fully surrendering my life, my passions, my giftings, my future.  The change that began in my heart at nine years old was finally getting a chance to grow. I knew I was different and wanted to change the world because of it too.

As an adult, I have reconnected online to Coach P. and Dr. B. Still men devoted to students, they continue to leave an impact on others wherever they go. What I didn’t recognize at the time, I now know. They were set apart because God’s love poured out of them onto those around them. HE was the one creating the impact that I still get to live out today.

Christian teachers…do not be discouraged. Do not be dismayed. You are doing invaluable work for the Kingdom of God. Your love matters. Your influence is immeasurable. The seeds of hope you are planting today will be harvested in God’s perfect timing and for His eternal purposes.

Keep it up. And thank you.

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?

I have spent most of these past two years learning how to be grateful for the days I have been given, despite grieving the loss of my mom. Keeping a gratitude journal has helped, opening my eyes to small blessings along the way. Continuing to serve in our youth group has provided new reasons to be grateful, seeing the ways God is at work. Creating new experiences with my husband and girls has brought fresh memories and laughter. Though despite these things some days my heart just hurts and joy is hard to find.

Pain is a guaranteed part of this life. As much as I hate this truth, it is reality. This fallen, broken world is full of suffering. People will die, circumstances will disappoint us, and we will make decisions that create a mess sometimes. The question isn’t WHETHER we will suffer, WHEN it will come, or WHAT it will be. The thing we must ask ourselves is  HOW we will respond to it.  Will I wallow in my self pity or constantly grumble to my Creator? Will I doubt His goodness at every turn, denouncing His genuine love for me? Will I become paralyzed with fear, dreading the path that lies ahead?

Or will I trust His words, His promises, His faithfulness?

I cling to the very words of Jesus in John 16:33,

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

A few verses before this truth, Jesus reminds us, “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” (vs 21-22)

There will  be seasons where we weep and mourn while others around us are content and happy. It isn’t their fault, just as it isn’t ours. Healing comes as we sit with Jesus in this grief, giving ourselves permission to feel the feels and mourn the losses. As our heart begins to heal, Jesus promises that our sorrow will be turned to joy. Only through fellowship with Him, can we release our stories into His care, trusting that one day soon, when we enter His presence, our tears will be wiped away and our joy will be complete, never to be shaken again.

Thankfulness comes when I reflect on the truth that, though our pain is temporary, God has eternal purpose for it. Oftentimes, He takes the hardest pieces of our story and weaves them into the lives of others, bringing hope and encouragement along the way. Refashioning our grief into a beautiful picture of redemption, He doesn’t let our suffering be in vain.

Our hardships can actually be one of the most powerful instruments God uses to help heal other people.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 teaches, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”

I woke up the morning of Thanksgiving with names on my lips. Names and faces of families I know who are hurting. People we love who have lost family members, endured significant suffering, or experienced much pain. The list isn’t short. The longer I live, the more suffering there seems to be. Maybe because we are growing older. Perhaps because our sphere of community is bigger. Most likely because I am just more aware. Being able to support and comfort others has been one of the greatest joys of this past two years for me. Though I wish I could reverse time and take away their grief, I am thankful to be able to enter in. To hear and understand their heart even though our stories are different, our pain unique, are circumstances only ours.

The truth of Scripture and the way God is redeeming my pain have helped me be thankful in this tough season of sorrow. Even on the hardest days, I have learned to trust that He is for me, He is good, and His purposes are far better than what my eyes can see.

If you are experiencing pain today, be still and rest. Soak in the truth that God has overcome yesterday, today, and whatever tomorrow brings. Be assured that He sees you, hears your groaning, and will use your sorrow to bring others closer to His heart.

And take courage, “Jesus has overcome this world.”

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.”

Falling is inevitable. Not just on the ski slopes but on the treacherous avenues of life too. There will be times we fail. Occasions where we get knocked down. Moments or seasons of discouragement and pain. This fallen, broken world guarantees it. Hardship will come. Suffering is inevitable. Trials will surface.

Affirming this truth, 1 Peter 4:12 says,

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the present trial, as though something strange were happening to you.”

As parents, it is hard to watch our kids hurt. Wanting to avoid it at all cost,  we step across boundary lines and try to make things right. We advocate for better grades. Beg the coach for another tryout. Plead for a re-test in math class. We even help position them to make the right friends.

Likewise, we employ ways to prevent our kids from seeing us struggle. We hide the truth about the job layoff. Skirt around the facts about how bad Grandma’s cancer really is. Wipe the tears away before they get home from school. Maybe we think hardship makes us look weak. Perhaps it undermines our authority. Surely they would see that we don’t have all the answers and aren’t perfect after all.

Teaching our kids how to fall is one of the most difficult, yet loving things we can do as parents. It can help them avoid the scariest consequences and encourage them to cope appropriately. It allows them to see that we aren’t defined by that mistake or dream gone awry. Providing a playing field for God’s power and faithfulness, His grace is on display for them to experience firsthand. After all, His desire is to produce things of lasting value in their lives, like the ability to persevere and run their race with endurance.

Romans 5:3-5 says,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

James 1:2-4 teaches,

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

Perseverance, character, and hope. Maturity and completeness. I should value those above the safe and easy road, even though it goes against my human nature and motherly instinct. I must teach my children, not how to avoid falling, but how to fall with grace on their side.

As we arrived safely down to the lodge, I led my daughter over to a small hill where we could practice falling. Modeling it for her, she traced my steps and followed my lead. Laying beside one another on the cold snow, I showed her how to pick one ski up at a time, lining them up for an easier ascension. Grabbing hands we safely got back on our feet in unison.  And with a smile on her face, she turned and asked to ride up the mountain once again. Ready for the next adventure, undeterred by the risk of falling once again.

One day she will journey the mountain of life on her own. I won’t be by her side every day to catch her or help pick up the pieces. My prayer is that she will have experienced God’s steadfastness throughout her life, so she can lean on Him to help place her back on solid ground.

And that takes practice, and me willing to show her how.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

As time marches on and we seek to live a life that honors God, these negative feelings get buried. Ashamed that they lie within us, we mask and hide our bitterness, rage, and unforgiveness under kind words, righteous acts, and friendly smiles. Feeling like we can “fake it until we make it”, we yearn to feel different towards people, but we think it is best when it come from them. Maybe it they change their behavior. Perhaps if they ask for forgiveness. Always if they come to repentance and seek reconciliation. Feeling like our feelings are justified, even righteous, we make excuses for our thoughts. We justify our actions. Last night Jesus showed me something profound:

“I can wave my banner of righteous anger all day long, but, in the end, my sin is still my sin.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 commands, “Get ride of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Hebrews 12:14 states, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

Colossians 3:13 says, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

Job 12:22 promises, “He [God] reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells within him.”

Today I am saying, “ENOUGH.” No longer will I let hurt feelings consume my attitude towards people. No longer will I be a bystander to gossip that only strengthens my notions. No longer will I make excuses for my feelings or excuse my actions.

I will pray instead of lash out. Think before I speak. Put on the banner of love for the sake of my own heart and for the ministry God is doing through His people and His church. It is not going to be easy. My pride will take a hit. As the shovel busts up my now-exposed root, I will come face to face with my own flesh and ugliness. But I trust that God can and will begin to do a good work in my heart by slowly laying down these things out of obedience to Him.

Freedom is contagious. As we are released from old wounds, it gives someone else the courage and boldness to say “ENOUGH” too. For the glory of the God’s kingdom, let’s bring our dark thoughts to light and see God redeem our hearts and relationships of all  kinds.

If you need to bring a bitter root to light today, be brave. Lay it before God’s throne. And, in FAITH, ask Him to renew your heart and mind today and for all the days to come.

 

 

The Nuances of Being a Nice Girl

Imagine being an 11-year-old girl walking into her first day of middle school. The unfamiliar sites, sounds, and smells bring anxiety, excitement, and a healthy dose of fear. Will I be able to open my locker? Will I have a friend to sit with at lunch? Will I survive dressing down in PE? Will I be prey to the notorious middle school mean girls?

Being a middle schooler has never been harder than it is today.

During my junior high career, I managed life fairly well. Being both a cheerleader and band member, I straddled a wide divide of friend circles. To most, I was known as being a “nice girl”. Making good grades, kind friends, and staying above the fray. Do I have regret, sure. Do I wish I could redo some conversations, definitely. The most blaring injustice I committed was my keen ability to be silent.

One fateful week in early February, the student council was prowling the halls with Valegrams in hand. Being a gifted, cheesy poem writer, I had been asked to write a poem to be given to a certain boy from a particular girl. After writing this labor of love, I handed the masterpiece over to the proprietor, soon to realize the poem was going to be signed from someone else. A girl who had no idea she was sending this. Someone who often was the center of teasing. A person who needed to be defended.

And I let it slide. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, I stayed silent. Maybe she wouldn’t find out I was the one who penned the poem. Maybe she wouldn’t be upset after all. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t really matter.

As I sat in math class, on Valentine’s Day,  I shifted nervously in my seat watching the Valegrams be passed out. To my horror, the boy receiving the card read it aloud in front of the class, sending the unsuspecting girl into a hysterical fit of sobs. In that moment reality hit like a dagger to my heart….My silence had made me a mean girl.

Our daughters don’t have to be silent. They can adopt the nuance of being nice.

Nuance = a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, sound.

What if our daughters shifted the meanings of their words to bring life? What if their expressions reflected compassion, love, and friendship? What if the sounds coming from their mouth were joyful noises instead of  insecure jealousy? What if they gave voice to the bullied, included the outcast, showed compassion for the lonely? What would it look like if our teenage daughters embraced the nuances of being nice?

Change would begin to happen. The climate of our middle schools would shift. Students would start to believe they are good enough. Valuable. Loved. Cherished. No longer would the middle school years be clouded with a veil of insecurity and sadness. Our hallways would look different because nice is contagious and preciously rare.

In four days my oldest daughter will take her first steps into an unfamiliar middle school hallway. Some moms and daughters have collectively decided that this class of girls will CHOOSE NICE. When others slander, they will speak up. When others insult, they will encourage. When others isolate, they will include. This is a new class of girls who will commit to loving well, despite their own insecurity. Instead of waiting for others to set the tone, they will be the cultural trend setters. Will it be hard, yes. Will they be ostracized for it, maybe. Will it make a different, absolutely.

And we can’t challenge our girls to choose nice, if we don’t choose it first. Will you join us in this pledge to adopt the nuances of being nice? The return is well worth the things we have to lay aside.

 

 

 

Running Towards Grief

I AM A RUNNER. 

When stress overtakes me…I grab my sneakers and hit the pavement. When people hurt me…I desire to seek refuge as far away as possible. When life gets hard…I search for the greener pasture. This is a part of my DNA. My makeup. For as long as I can remember, my propensity has been to run. Flee. Take flight. Escape the uncomfortable.

On the other hand…

MY MOM WAS A FIGHTER. 

When stress overtook her…it motivated her to dig deeper and challenge the obstacle. When people hurt her…she confronted them, desiring reconciliation or at least a chance to be heard. When life got hard…She rose to the occasion, passion pulsing through her veins. This was who she was. Her default. Mode of operation. For the 34 years I knew her, she stood up, faced the hard, and conquered the awkward.

The summer after my senior year in high school, I came home from a month-long camp to find a friend problem waiting at my doorstep. As teenage drama happens, people misunderstood people, circumstances got twisted out of focus, and real feelings got hurt along the way. All the while I was living on the Slovakian mountainside.

Heading off to college, I was content to just let things play out. After all, I’d probably never see these people again, right? Mom couldn’t have disagreed more. Before I could raise my hand to object, the phone dialed a few numbers, and Mom was slamming my car door shut as she drove out of the garage. By the end of the day, I had made four house calls, talked through the disagreement with each friend, and felt a burden lifted. That day allies were restored, relationships salvaged, and wounds forgiven. With Mom behind the wheel, my running days were coming to an end. Quick.

Yesterday would have been the perfect day to just hide away and pretend like it wasn’t happening. Try to stay comfortable and just move on. Staying extra busy, I could have glossed over the hurt, stuffing it a little bit deeper into the corners of my soul. Being the one year anniversary of Mom passing away, I had navigated 365 days without the lady I turned to in my deepest pain and brightest joy. Grief is just plain hard. The hurt cuts to the core. Doing most anything to make it go away, this monumental marker felt like an enormous end-cap to the hardest year of my life.

But just like Mom that summer day in high school, God had other plans for my troubles…

“You have to feel this day, Sarah. REALLY FEEL IT. The pain. The loss. The heartache. The memories. The longing. The emptiness. You can’t run from it. You have to let it come. Trust me…”

“Your tomorrow depends on how you navigate today.”

Crawling out of bed before day break, I yearned to escape back under the covers and sleep the day away. Forcing myself to get up, I threw on a fleece, grabbed my keys and headed to see Mom. It felt more like an act of obedience than it did a desire of my heart. Perched on the hillside, I watched the brilliant, full moon fade behind the clouds to the West as the yellows, pinks, and purples summoned the sun from the East. Sitting cross-legged in the damp grass beside her beautiful headstone,  I reflected on all that transpired that day last year; the sites, the smells, the endless hours of waiting, the raw grief all felt real again. I will never forget holding Mom in my arms, watching her take her final breath, seeing this life I loved come to an end.

As tears spilled down my cheeks,  I was reminded of these verses:

Matthew 5:4: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

2 Corinthians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

The day was long and hard. Seeing my child lay prostrate on the grass, trying to give her Nana a hug, ripped me in two. It is so hard to help others navigate their feelings in light of your own. Singing worship songs at youth group brought a sizable lump to my throat. Every song seemed like it had been picked out just for me, for that space, for that day. Though hard to get the words out, worshiping became the perfect way to end the day, signing praise to the One who brought comfort despite my sorrow and my pain. Had I spent my day hidden under my silken bed sheets, I think I would have missed all the tender ways God showed me His peace and His care. The flowers left on my doorstep. The messages from friends who remembered. The conversation with my sister. The ice cream eaten around our kitchen table as conversation was shared. God was there in the little things. Glimmers of hope, love, and joy. And as my pain became exposed, my burden shifted a bit farther off my shoulders, firmly resting on the One who had promised to carry it for me all along.

In all its ups and downs, I went to bed thankful I had felt the day. And as promised…

Today dawned brighter because of the pain of my yesterday.