A few weeks ago I spoke with the youth group at our church about 4 Lies That Keep Us From Our Divine Destiny (click here). In it I focused on my experiences as a teenager, how what I believed about God affected the way I lived. I thought about how what I saw in the lives of the adults in our church shaped what I thought Christians looked like and how God worked in the world. I thought about my own example both for our children and the kids we work with at church and in other ministries. And I want my life to point people to genuine relationships with the Savior of the world, Jesus. When people see me and see my life, I want them to see Jesus. I want them to know I need Jesus, that I have failed at saving myself and He accepted me when I fell down at His feet. I desire a life that’s impossible without God, a life that is so reliant on His provision and His grace, that people can’t help but see Him when they see me.
Praying for a life that is dependent on God is dangerous, frightening even. But I’m slowly coming to realize the truth that even my next breath will only come by the grace of the Creator who designed and fuels my body. I cannot live without Him, literally.
A life in full pursuit of God and His will for our lives can only be accomplished by being rooted in the truth. And Truth is found in the Word of God. I talked about how I’m attempting to read through the Bible in a year in Where is Your Gaze? (click here) Today I want to share some of the verses that have touched my heart and I hope will speak to yours. I’ve created them to be printable so they can be hung up around the house, the car, or stashed in a purse.
Lord Jesus, we know your Word is living and active, able to speak directly to our souls. When we read your Word we find Truth. Speak to us today through these verses. May Your words cover us in Grace. Strengthen us to leave behind anything that’s a barrier to living fully for you. Free us to do the good works you have prepared for us. In the powerful name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
Recently a friend asked me to speak to our church’s youth group about my experience as a teenager. I started to look through old pictures and my journals, remembering me as a teen. Seeing the pictures and reading my own words in my teenager handwriting brought me back to the complicated girl trying to grow into a woman that I was twenty-some years ago. When I considered what to share, I knew it had to be more than just about me, it needed to have a take-away for the kids listening. Lately God has been speaking to me about the lies I’ve believed in my life. And reliving my teenage self revealed four of them that almost derailed what God wants to do in and through my life. Here are the four lies I found woven into my life.
I Am Alone
As a teenager I believed I was all alone in this world. I felt isolated because I was afraid if anyone really knew me, they wouldn’t like me. I carried shame from some things I did as a child which led to a profound lack of self-worth. My only real friend was my dog Cody. I worked with him and showed him in 4H from the time I was 10 until I was 16. He was an amazing listener, never judged me, and was always happy when I came home.
But as funny and sad as that is, I want to let you know today that we are not alone. There is One who understands us, because He created us. And because of His great love for us, He humbled himself to take on the form of a human to die for us. But not just to die. He came to conquer death so we could live.
Having a living, breathing relationship with the God of the Universe is more than good and bad and right and wrong. When we give our hearts to God, He makes us new. He gives us life that will go on forever, and He sets us on a path only we can walk, our divine destiny. And God will never leave you alone. Hebrews says:
You are not alone. And I want to tell you having even one person (or a dog) in the world who sees you can be enough. But don’t be satisfied with just being seen by another person. We all need friendships. Don’t waste years of your life being afraid of other people. You have to risk, put yourself out there, and be vulnerable with people in order to have deep connections and deep friendships. You may be rejected by some, but remember your identity is not dependent on what everyone thinks about you. Go back to God and ask Him to help you find the people you need. As a grown woman who can only now tell you I’ve found my people in this world, don’t waste years of your life hiding. You can’t live the life God intended for you without godly friends standing by your side, calling you out, and holding you up when you need it.
Nothing Will Ever Change
High school seemed to drag on forever for me. I hated it, well a lot of it. And I couldn’t imagine life beyond high school. I felt completely stuck. But I wasn’t stuck. And neither are you. If nothing else, time will carry you forward. You are not now who you will always be. You are not now where you will always be. Make decisions, deliberate choices to do new things, meet new people, go new places when possible. But don’t lose sight of what you already have. God is with you now. And He’s already in your tomorrow. In a world of constant change, He’s your constant. He has always been and always will be. Get to know Him so you can trust Him as you go. He has made you new. He is making you new.
I couldn’t have imagined the life I have now when I was a teenager. I know time sometimes feels like it moves very slowly. But I want to tell you that it moves faster and faster the older you get. So learn what you can and do what you can where you are now. Because you have no idea where God will take you tomorrow.
What I Do Doesn’t Matter
What you do now will affect your path for the rest of your life. When I was 16, I was recruited by a friend to go to downtown Grand Rapids with a man serving the city’s homeless population. As a sheltered, suburban teenager, it was eye-opening. It was like seeing the “other side” of life. It was faith in action, more than words, more than songs. That man was doing something that mattered. We walked all over the city, visiting with people under highway overpasses, in alleys, and all the dark, forgotten places in the city. After my mom found out where we went, I was forbidden from going again because it was too dangerous (She was probably right). But I couldn’t unsee the injustice and poverty. That one night shaped my compassion for the poor and those on the other side of society.
Partly as a result of that experience, when the opportunity came up to tutor kids in the Black Hills, I said yes. And that led to us moving to the Black Hills and serving there for nine years.
The decisions you make and the opportunities you say yes to now will shape you for the rest of your life. Don’t take it too seriously or brush it off as just something old people say. And don’t let anyone discredit you because of your age. You have the opportunity to get involved with meaningful and world-changing experiences right now. Think about what stirs your heart, what moves you, and find a way to get involved. You don’t have to wait for the perfect time. Because there will never be a perfect time. One of the earliest verses I ever memorized was Micah 6:8. It talks about what God desires from the work of our lives.
I Need to Know What Happens Next
I’m a planner. I’ve spent years of my life trying to plan it out . I’ve struggled with anxiety and panic attacks because I felt totally out of control. I’m going to drop this truth on you right now: Life is unpredictable. There will be victories and tragedies. The only constant is God. He will be with you through it all.
When I graduated from high school I had my whole life mapped out. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in physical therapy then go around the world with the Peace Corps, meet a handsome man somewhere out in the field and get married. One problem, I met the man I would marry on the first day of college. And he had no intention of joining the Peace Corps after college.
Turned out the joke was on him because as I said before, we ended up living in the Black Hills, which can be like another world at times.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about tomorrow or make plans for your future. It just means we need to take into account the big God we serve and that He has the right to alter our plans. In James it says:
Make plans. But let God be the ultimate authority on where you go and what you do. When making decisions, you won’t always get it right. So when you fail, which you will, I hope you understand that God is strong enough to redeem your wrong turns. He will use them to teach you, to grow your faith in Him, and give you compassion for others who struggle in the same way. God’s plan, with all the up’s, down’s, and sideways is better, more meaningful, more transformative, more incredible than anything I could have planned out. Get to know Him. Knowing Him will help you make better decisions. Don’t be paralyzed by fear of the future. Some choices you make will be good and others will not. But don’t miss out on what He has for you because you’re scared or because you think you can do it better. Trust me, I know how that works out. Life is much better when you live within the will of God. And you can know His will by knowing Him. And if you let Him, all those life experiences – both good and bad – will transform you into the person He created you to be.
A Prayer for Us
My greatest prayer for all of us today is that we would come to know and love God, surrendering our lives to Him. Because He is who He says He is. He loves us all and can be trusted to take us where we’re supposed to go. My hope for you is that you go into the day knowing that you are not alone, that other people struggle too, and have made mistakes. But know this. God will be with you and will never leave you.
It’s been almost 20 years since I graduated from high school. I didn’t know all the twists and turns my life would take from then until now. Trust God to give you what you need for right now. Let Him guide you in His Truth and you’ll end up right where you’re supposed to be.
On a good day, when we give directions and discipline to our kids we ask them for their hands and eyes. Because if we have their hands, we’re connected (and there’s a better chance they’ll hold still for a minute) and when we have their eyes, we have their attention. When we meet our children’s gaze, we know they’re listening, they’re watching us, and there’s a much better chance they’ll follow our instructions or hear our correction.
It got me thinking about my relationship with God and where are my eyes, where is my gaze? The Bible says:
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
But what does that mean for how we live, for how we relate to God?
If I want a life that is defined by God’s grace and love, my eyes must be fixed on Him.
It means staying out of comment sections and unfollowing people who are toxic on social media.
It means paying more attention to where I go and what I do when I’m sad, angry, stressed, or bored.
It’s paying attention to what kind of television I watch, what videos I stream, and how long I keep my gaze fixed on them.
I don’t want to miss anything God has for me because I’m distracted, distraught, or unavailable.
In my work as a physical therapist I occasionally work with patients who are suffering from vertigo. They feel like the world is spinning around them or they’re spinning around in the world. I think sometimes we get spiritual vertigo. This world can be dizzying with its demands, distractions, and temptations. As a way to cope with the symptoms of vertigo, I tell them to pick an object in front of them, focus their gaze, and walk toward it. In Proverbs, God instructs us to live in a similar way:
“Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
God wants our attention, He wants our eyes, our gaze. He wants to know we’re thinking about Him, seeking Him, and that we love Him. And in turn, if we seek Him, if we’re looking to Him for our meaning, our direction, and our fulfillment, He will honor us with His Presence, His guidance, and His Love.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
It’s not always sin that distracts us from running the race God has set before us. Sometimes there are good things that take our gaze from God, promising they can fulfill us. But God calls us to singular pursuit – Him. If we love Him, we will love our neighbors. If we seek Him, He will be found and will give us direction. If we look to Him for meaning, He will sustain us in all our earthly duties and callings.
What are some of the things that distract you from seeking God? How can you refocus your time and energy on pursuing God in the coming year?
“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.”
The story of Christmas is said to be the greatest ever told. It’s the story of the Creator of the Universe, the All-powerful One, “I Am” coming down and humbling Himself, taking the form of an infant human in order to save the world. I love hearing the story. This year as I was reading through it, I was struck by Mary’s faith as she carried the Messiah in her womb. And as I continued reading, there was Joseph, himself faithful to be the earthly father the Son of God. They both took incredible risks and demonstrated great trust in God and in one another parenting the Promised One, the Savior of the world.
The Faith of Mary
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee namedNazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph,of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings,O favored one,the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, foryou have found favor with God. And behold,you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, andyou shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son ofthe Most High. And the Lord Godwill give to him the throne ofhis father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacobforever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”
By becoming pregnant out of wedlock, Mary risked being executed for adultery. In those days the maternal mortality rate was high and she risked complications during her pregnancy and dying in childbirth. But Mary depended on God. She believed the promise the angel delivered to her, that she would be protected and would deliver the Son of God without complication and raise Him to adulthood.
But Mary didn’t just risk bodily harm or death by carrying the Messiah. She also risked her relationship with her fiance Joseph by carrying a child that wasn’t his. And even if Joseph didn’t end the relationship or have her executed, he may resent her for their entire marriage for having to raise a son not biologically his.
Mary also knew being Jesus’ mother would bring her pain. It was foretold by Simeon when Jesus was dedicated in the temple:
“Andhis father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a signthat is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”
Being the mother of God would not be easy, but Mary trusted her Father and became the most blessed among women.
“And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.”
The Faith of Joseph
“Now the birth of Jesus Christtook place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with childfrom the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus,for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.”
No one would have blamed Joseph if he had quietly dissolved his relationship with Mary upon finding out she was pregnant with a baby who wasn’t his. We may not have read about him in the Bible, but if he’d still made it in there, he would have been an honorable man. After all, agreeing to marry Mary meant Jesus would be his first-born son, the heir to his household. He would essentially be adopting her Son and raising Him as his own. But Joseph was not just a man of integrity, he was a man of faith. When the angel visited him, he trusted God. He took on the risk of being head of the earthly family of the Messiah, the Chosen One.
When Herod threatened his family, Joseph, along with Mary and their Child, fled to Egypt, becoming refugees. He left his home, his extended family, and his livelihood to protect the Messiah from the murderous wrath of the king.
“Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet,“Out of Egypt I called my son.”
Joseph embraced Jesus as his Son, teaching Him the carpentry trade. But all the while, Joseph knew he was Jesus’ earthly father and that His Father in Heaven was the ultimate authority.
A Marriage of Faith
Both Mary and Joseph risked everything to be faithful to God. Fleeing the country to protect their Son separated them from all earthly support systems. They relied on God for provision, for safety, and trusted they were raising the Savior of the world – together.
And when they returned to Nazareth, they risked scoffing looks and gossip about their family. How many knew Mary was pregnant at their wedding? And what about as Jesus grew up and he didn’t look like His father Joseph?
What a love story! What incredible trust between them and faith in the Father of all.
Maybe that’s why God chose them to be the earthly parents for His Son, because of their great faith in Him, their incredible relationship with each other, and their willingness to be living sacrifices for the Lord their God.
What a marriage! I mean, can you imagine having a relationship built on mutual trust and service to God? It’s absolutely incredible. May we all aspire to their faithfulness.
I’ll admit to being in a spiritual funk for the last few weeks. I was discouraged by prayers I didn’t see answered and dreams unfulfilled. Doubt set in about hearing and understanding God. I wondered if it was time to give up, stop praying, stop dreaming, stop hoping. I find when I feel completely out of control, when what I think is best doesn’t appear to be happening, it can trigger an anxiety down spiral. I find myself asking, “Is God good? Does He care? Does He even see what’s going on?”
Sometimes the answer to our questions and the confirmation He cares lands unprompted right in our arms. His Presence just comes close and we find the strength to press on.
I’m still waiting to see Him move in power in the circumstances around me. And I know many who are also struggling with forgotten promises and impossible dreams. Losing loved ones. Waiting for healing. Stuck in an unfulfilling job. Wondering if life can be bigger than repeating the same cycle day after day and week after week. People who feel alone – in marriages, in friendships, in families.
Still we press on.
We have a hope in us that will not fail and cannot give up. Because we know how the story ends. What we see now, in the flesh, is not all there is. We know there is a reality beyond what we can see here.
There is more to life.
Through divorce, addiction, violence, and affliction. Triumphs and heartaches. Celebration and mourning. On the mountaintop and in the valley. Through love, loss, reunions, and separation.
We press on.
Because the hope we hold is greater than anything this world has to offer and the security we have in Christ can never be stolen away. Our treasure, our prize, our crown is in Heaven, along with our Savior.
We press on.
Because Jesus is at the finish line. He waits for us – the first victor over death promises we will share in His victory in the end. We press on – following the model of our Savior.
Life is hard. It’s full of obstacles and disappointments. At times we feel overwhelmed and out of control. We feel hollow and lost.
Why do we keep going even when it’s hard? Why do we hope even when the darkness surrounds us?
Because God is still moving. He is still in control. We can find victory in Christ, here, now.
Through Christ we have hope for this life and for the next.
Hold your head up brave warrior, beloved child. We are made new – now. He walks with us – now. Our King is victorious. And He’s coming back.
We press on.
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 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 4:8-12,16-18
I pray today you feel God come close to you as you walk through life. I pray you find the strength to continue to hope in the promises of God and that you are strengthened by His Spirit to continue to work for good in this world. I know He is real. I know He is near. And I know He is good. Be encouraged today as we press on together.
Last week one of my favorite Christian entertainers was exposed for sexual sin. I found myself angry and sad at the same time. One of my friends, who was also a fan, texted me saying she too felt angry with him, as well as with sin itself, and sad for the people he’d hurt. I saw threads online where people expressed anger while others seemed to want to pardon the behavior immediately, because forgiveness, right? I’m not sure that sits so well with me. Yes, we must forgive. But it’s usually a process, not something that happens immediately. The other thing that occurred to me is that ALL sin has consequences. Whether in the physical or spiritual, immediate or delayed, there’s always a price to pay for sin. It separates us from God and often from our Christian brothers and sisters. How should that play out? Is there room for reconciliation? I believe relationships can be restored but only through the healing blood of Jesus. Whether or not leadership can be restored, I’m honestly not sure. Jesus doesn’t mince words when it comes to leaders who lead their followers down a sinful path:
“And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”
He does continue saying:
“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him,and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Luke 17: 3-4
Forgiveness is offered to those who turn away from their sin. But what about avoiding it in the first place?
My friend and I exchanged messages and she asked some great questions: “Who was he accountable to? Who was pastoring him?”
It’s something we should all consider for ourselves. Who can we go to when we’re in trouble? When we want to avoid trouble? Who speaks God’s holiness into our lives and helps us stay on the narrow path following Jesus?
I don’t personally care for the phrase “accountability partner” because I think it sounds more like an arrangement than a relationship, but it’s a good concept to think about. Because we all face temptation and we need someone who is willing to walk the path to righteousness with us. I talked a little bit about it in “The Importance of Christian Friends” (Click here) but I want to explore the accountability aspect of friendship further today.
It’s difficult to be accountable in isolation. When the shame of our past failures and the appeal of present temptations come to visit, there aren’t many who are strong enough to walk away without the strength and support of a true friend. Yes, the Holy Spirit always provides a way out:
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted,he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
1 Corinthians 10:13
But finding the door out of a situation can be difficult when we’re standing in the dark. A friend can see our situation from another angle and even provide a little light so we can find our way out.
Friends who hold us accountable inspire us on our journey toward wholeness and holiness. They walk beside us when we’re doing well, not just when we’re struggling. They see the good and call it out of us.
I have multiple women in my life who hold me accountable. But they can only enter in to the degree that I let them in. Accountability demands vulnerability. It can’t be accomplished through shallow conversation or in passing friendship. It demands time and a commitment to each other’s well-being. This kind of deep friendship is costly. It may mean late nights and making time for face to face conversation. In a world of busyness, a friendship of accountability means finding time to sit down and actively listen to another person. It means adjusting our priorities and putting another person at the top of the list.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
It’s against the grain and contradictory to culture, for sure. It’s not Instagram worthy and can be full of ugly tears and uncomfortable conversation. But it’s worth it. Because Jesus is worth it. He calls us to holiness, to Himself. And if we are following His example, we will stand in unity with other believers, dive deep into friendships, and pursue holiness together.
Do you have someone who holds you accountable in your walk with Christ?
If not, pray for opportunities to connect with other believers on a deeper level. And if there aren’t any, make them. See my article “Created for Connection” (Click here) for more ideas on how to connect with other believers in a deep and meaningful way.
In the world of storytelling, there’s a point called the call to action or call to adventure which marks the point where the protagonist, or the hero of the story, faces a challenge. They can decide whether to take on the challenge or go home but either way, the decision changes their story-line in such a way that life can never be the same.
I’ve loved stories and storytelling ever since I can remember. My dad used to read to my brother, sister, and me at bedtime, making shadows on the wall, bringing the stories to life. Our favorite book was Postman Pig by Richard Scarry. We would giggle, crowded around the book, trying to find the pickles on each page. When I was old enough to write, I wrote stories in school that my teacher would make into books by covering pieces of cereal boxes with construction paper to make a cover and then binding the pages together. Later I discovered poetry and filled notebooks late at night when I couldn’t sleep.
Stories were limitless, full of possibility. As a child I regularly got lost in my own imagination, creating worlds and story-lines for an audience of one. When I was in high school, my AP American Literature teacher introduced me to literary classics like Animal Farm and Lord of the Flies. I continued writing, keeping a journal and a writer’s notebook with poems and my thoughts on life. My imagination became a place of escape when I was depressed and a way I could process my feelings in a safe place. Stories and writing were a way to see life as it could be and escape the boredom of a “normal” life.
But I wanted more. More than just an imaginary life. I wanted a life I could write about, that people would read about.
After my husband Chad and I were married, we started looking for a house. We were living in my college apartment in downtown Grand Rapids and wanted to find a place in the suburbs. But it didn’t feel right. Moving out of the city seemed predictable and safe. One night I suggested that instead of looking in the suburbs, we should look in the neighborhood where we’d been serving for just over a year. “Maybe we should buy a house in the Black Hills, “ I said. It caught me off guard when he answered, “Yes. We should.” And we were faced with our first call to adventure.
I dream big dreams but I panic if they seem within reach.
Wait, we’re really doing this?
God has implanted in me an insatiable desire for adventure. I love routine and predictability but it can quickly progress to being boring.
I’ve been wrestling with the boredom since we moved out from the Black Hills neighborhood two years ago. At first it was a welcome rest; the safety, the routine, the predictability of life. But as time went on I started to get restless. My life moves in patterns and is essentially the same day after day, week after week. Could there be more than this? There has to be more than this, I found myself saying.
And finally, after talking with my sister and friends about wanting more out of life, God gave me a vision for the future. I started to notice how disconnected people were and how lonely life can be, even when it’s possible to be so connected through technology. I thought about how I got connected with my friends and realized connection is fostered by shared experience. I started to envision a retreat center – part camp, part farm – where people could come together to connect with God and with one another. I talked with my husband Chad about it and he agreed it was something we should pursue.
Then on Sunday, a friend of ours came to Chad with a dream. He dreamed that Chad was running a camp with himself and another friend. He had no idea about the conversation Chad and I had just days prior.
I don’t know how we get there. But I know God has placed the dream in my heart for a reason. For now, I need to continue to work, continue to mother, and continue to write. Right now, I’m starting to work on my book again, about our first big adventure together while I’m on a journey to the next.
I won’t let Chad be boring. And he won’t let me stop dreaming.
There’s too much to do, to experience in this life to waste it on being normal. God loves impossible stories. We’re too quick to settle for boring ones.
Dreams and visions often come with more questions than answers. I believe God wants to meet us in the mystery and sustain us in the uncertainty.
So, this is it. Your call to adventure. Maybe it’s just telling someone your dream. Maybe it’s taking the first step.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
If you knew you would succeed?
If the mountains between you and your dreams could somehow be moved?
What would you do if you believed God was for you and He put dreams in your heart so you could change the world and bring His grace to the lost?
What would you do if you believed God gave you access to all His riches and His power through His love?
What would you do if you knew you already have everything you need living inside you through the power of the Holy Spirit?
I pray today we answer God’s call to an abundant life through Him. Stepping out of the boat into the storm and onto the waves won’t be safe, but Jesus is there and He won’t let us drown.
Holy Spirit, reignite your fire within us. May be be bold in your name, living out the adventure you’ve planned for us. Grant us faith in Your power and give us Your presence as we step out, believing You have called us to abundant life, extraordinary life. Amen.
Halloween is tomorrow and we’ll be meeting friends and walking around the neighborhood with our kids in costume, collecting candy at the doors of perfect strangers. They will squeal with excitement when they get the “good candy” and trade with each other at the end of the night to get rid of whatever they consider the “bad candy”. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year. I love the whimsy and the fun of it. In fact, I didn’t realize it was controversial until I was well into adulthood. How I missed it is beyond me, but there are some people who disagree with me about allowing children to participate in the festivities of Halloween.
And I hope those people don’t judge me. Because they don’t know me or my reasons for allowing our kids to participate in Halloween traditions and celebrations. They wouldn’t know that I have great childhood memories of Halloween, dressing up in costume and walking around our neighborhood in all sorts of weather from rain to snow, not caring about being cold because we were collecting candy. They wouldn’t know that for years my husband’s family got together on Halloween for dinner at his grandparents’ home, handing out candy together and taking our littles out to meet their neighbors dressed up as Elmo, an elephant, and a cute little pink monster. They wouldn’t know that for me the holiday pressure feels like it’s off. Halloween is absent of family tensions and obligations, meeting expectations of gift-giving or meal-hosting. I don’t get into all the spooky stuff and I hate horror movies, but I believe there’s joy to be found in the holiday. Halloween for me is the final celebration of my favorite season.
And yet, there will be those who feel it’s their duty to inform me of the satanic elements of Halloween, it’s origin, and will shake their heads as we walk around or if they see pictures of our kids in costume. Because it is all the rage to have an opinion, a conviction even, about, well, just about everything. You only need to read through the first three comments on any social media post to understand our culture loves to judge others.
I won’t stand here and pretend I don’t do it too, making snarky remarks about people who don’t agree with me or do things “the way I would do it”.
We all have our own standard by which we measure other people. Anything we see, hear, or read is fair game for our criticism and subject to that personal standard. Jesus warned against passing judgment on others, holding them to our own moral convictions, stating that when we stand before God for the final judgment, He will use our own standard to assess our lives:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”
It’s always easier to see the defects in others and “know” how to fix them than to turn our gaze inward to see the shadows in our own hearts. But that’s exactly what Jesus is talking about when he said,
“‘Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.’”
I’m not saying we shouldn’t have convictions or we shouldn’t take a stance against the evil in the world. I’m saying we need to know the heart of other people before we start pointing fingers and making accusations, especially when it boils down to personal convictions.
In Romans 14, Paul warns Christians against judging our brothers and sisters in Christ from our own personal convictions. He writes,
“Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
The only way to know the motivations and convictions of our brothers and sisters is through relationship. We must humble ourselves and enter a vulnerable state in order to know and love other people. It is our divine purpose, what we were created for:
“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”
In this time of deep division, may we be a people of unity. May we come together as children of the Living God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and love one another well. May we see personal convictions as just that, personal, and extend grace to each other as we all pursue Christ.
A friend recently asked me if I would talk to our church youth group about my experience as a teenager. I gave her a funny look, wondering why anyone would want to hear about a lonely, awkward teenager. Then she told me other kids, especially the girls, need to hear those stories so they know it gets better.
Fast forward to last Thursday night when I had the opportunity to see For King & Country in concert with a friend of mine. At one point, the music stopped and Luke came forward to tell the story behind the song and the album title “Burn the Ships” (See the story here). The entire arena was silent. Every person in the building stopped to listen to him tell the story.
As my friend drove us home, I said, “It must be so painful for him to tell his wife’s story at every concert.”
And she answered, “Yeah, but think of what it does to break the stigma.”
There is power in our stories.
Power to bring healing and understanding. Power to inspire and to call forward.
When We Tell Our Stories
It’s important to tell the stories that shape us, the stories that made us who we are today. But how we tell our stories is extremely important. When we tell our stories we must be sure that we speak from a place of victory, even if we’re still fighting. Because we believe that through His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus has already overcome the world.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The victory is already won. Yes, we struggle here on earth. Yes, we fight and we suffer. Yes, there is injustice and oppression. But we believe our Savior will return one day and He will make all the wrong right.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
It’s also important that we avoid getting nostalgic about bondage. When the Israelites left Egypt, they looked back at their slavery and romanticized it in comparison to their struggles in the desert.
“The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.’”
Exodus 16:3 NIV
Keep in mind they were not just slaves in Egypt but were being worked to death by Pharaoh making bricks and were commanded to kill their own children! Doesn’t sound like a situation anyone would want to return to. But the known is comfortable and the unknown is frightening, even when you’ve seen the power of God through multiple miracles.
We can be tempted to focus on the little bit of good in the bad situations of our past. But we must orient our storytelling in the direction of Truth. And tell the whole story, not just the parts that make us feel good or look good. Any reminiscing about or recounting of our past that paints slavery as freedom discounts the power of God to transform our lives.
When We Hear Stories
How we listen to stories is just as important as how we tell them. Jesus used many stories to communicate the principles of the Kingdom of God and to rebuke the religious leaders at the time who thought they were “in” when they were decidedly “out”.
I contend we need to be graceful listeners. Resist rushing to judgment. Cherish their choice to be vulnerable with you and offer a safe place to unload, even if the other person doesn’t know how to process or even tell their story yet.
Not every problem needs fixing. By you. Right now. Sometimes just saying our stories out loud is enough. If someone wants an answer, support, or help, they will ask. Try to listen without thinking about what you’ll say next or how you can provide an answer to the other person’s problem. There is only one Savior…and it’s not you. Pray for God to use you to support other people. Pray He will work through you to help them. Pray for the Spirit to whisper how you can come alongside them. Ask them how and if they would like you to walk with them. Love in action is gentle and compassionate, not overbearing and all-knowing.
Me As a Teenager
So I’ve decided to say yes to speaking with the youth about what it was like for me to be a teenager. I was awkward. I was lonely. At times I was depressed.
But I also had a hope that wouldn’t leave me. I knew God was out there somewhere and I was convinced that I would eventually find Him if I kept looking. I believed there was more to life than my present circumstances, that someday my life would be different. I believed God was calling to me, even in the midst of my sadness.
And I was right. God has chased me down through all sorts of circumstances and called me to Himself. He has been faithful when I have not. He has walked beside me through the darkness and challenges of life and given me a passion for storytelling.
This girl became a woman who is so deeply in love with God she surrendered everything to Him.
Find the courage to tell your stories. It’s how God chose to write much of the Bible. There is power in your story to change not only the lives of those around you but to strengthen your own heart by recounting God’s faithfulness in your life.
I’m going to admit something awful. I didn’t want to write today’s post. Last week was crazy; between dance and soccer, vet appointments and work, I was already exhausted. Then I hurt my back over the weekend and found myself unable to put on my own socks Sunday morning because of the pain. Thankfully with some medication and rest, it improved enough that I was able to return to work. But I was empty. And out of words. I found myself staring at a blank screen, desperately searching through my writing notebooks to find a coherent thought I might be able to share. I came up empty. Nothing stuck out and nothing came together.
Then I received an email from a friend with a word from a teacher urging writers to keep writing, not to give in to the resistance, because God is working through words right now.
She had no idea I was sitting home at that very moment ready to give up on writing. “Just take the week off,” I was telling myself. But something in me knew that if I gave myself an excuse once, I would certainly use it again. And her encouragement came at just the right time.
I write in the hope that people find the love of God in my words. I write to encourage people to find freedom in Christ. I write because He saved me. And I find that stories have a way of speaking directly to the heart.
I’m not taking this week off. God has things to say, even when my own words seem to fail me.
I was reading a verse I’d previously highlighted and wanted to share it with you:
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed;”
2 Corinthians 4:7-9
I am empowered with an unrelenting conviction that good will triumph over evil, that Jesus is coming back and resurrection and redemption are waiting over the horizon. I am emboldened by His invitation to partner with Him, working to bring His glory here and now. It’s a conscious decision to place myself, my life in the midst of His moving. Whether He returns while I breathe life or after I meet death, I will always be standing where Grace is found. I will always be in a place where I need God, where I need to see Him move; a place where I never have it all together or all figured out; where I’m not tempted to believe I can do it on my own.
It’s a choice to stand in His strength over mine.
This week I call out to you to stand up and keep going. Don’t let your circumstances hold you back from your destiny. Find a moment to connect with your Maker and ask Him how He wants to move through you today. We are Daughters of the King, each with a unique, divine calling on our lives. Even when we’re confused, walking in the quiet times (See: When God is Quiet), there are opportunities for growth and glimpses of our destiny. Ask God to give you the strength to keep going today. Whether that means running, walking, crawling, or letting Him carry you, keep going.
“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;”
Go out in peace today knowing your life is in His hands, and He has work for you to do.