Heart Stuff

  • God’s Faithfulness in the Unexpected

    “Okay Lord.”

    As life has taken its twists and turns over the years, this phrase has woven its way into my everyday conversation with God, with a wide variety of intonation depending on the situation. Sometimes I’ll proclaim the words confidently in full agreement with where He is leading me next. “Okay Lord!!!”

    Other times there’s a hesitation in my voice, as I strain to see what lies ahead, cautiously inching one toe forward into the unknown. “Okaaay…Lord.”

    Still other times I’m downright bewildered as I am blindsided by an unexpected situation. In the unexpected, it can feel impossible to guess how God is working. While I trust God, my voice still forms the phrase into a question wondering what He is up to. “Okay. {Big sigh} But…Lord?”

    Regardless of the scenario before me, there is one common thing that enables me to say “okay” to my Heavenly Father: His unwavering faithfulness.

    In Scripture and in my own life, I see evidence of His faithfulness everywhere. When I look back over seasons of uncertainty or difficulty or unexpected transition, I can see His fingerprints in every detail, carefully and lovingly guiding me through. It is God’s faithfulness in the past that anchors my faith in the present, and gives me hope for the future.

    This past year, my husband and I found ourselves in the middle of the unexpected. We discovered that we would be adding a third baby to our family, eleven years after our last kiddo had been born!

    I can still remember staring at those two pink lines in total bewilderment. A rush of emotions flooded in. I felt shocked, happy, scared, excited and anxious all at once. Having another baby wasn’t on my radar at all! Our older boys were 11 and 15 and we were loving this stage of life with older kids. This was going to be a huge adjustment!

    My brain went into overdrive grasping for any shred of a plan. We had just bought a bigger house, so we had the room for another baby. My husband had a great teaching job that he loved. Plus, I love being a mama and we always dreamed of three kids, it just had never happened. I felt slightly reassured and so I nervously said, “Okay Lord”.

    With all my emotions still swirling around in my brain, I walked downstairs to tell my husband the news. As soon as I saw him, I knew something was wrong. His shoulders shrugged forward and his head was down and I could see a crease of worry and stress across his forehead. Before I could share my big news, he told me he had just found out he had been laid off from his teaching position because of COVID cutbacks. The great job and a way to pay for our big new house was gone in a flash. My nervous “okay Lord” turned into a stunned silence. This was definitely not our plan.

    I told my husband about our upcoming new addition and we sat together quietly wondering what God might be up to, wishing we could get a sneak peek at how this was all supposed to work out. After what felt like forever sitting there in shock, we started praying about what our new life might look like moving forward, trusting that God indeed had a plan. So, we said, “Okay Lord”.

    I began to do the math on when our bonus baby would arrive. I discovered that my C-section would be scheduled for the same weekend as the Revive! Conference. Revive Ministries is an extension of my own heart and our annual conference was a decades-long dream come to life. Not only was I one of the keynote speakers, but I needed to be there to help as the co-founder of the ministry and co-planner of the event! I had been pouring my heart into my talk for months, excited about the message I felt God had given me to share with the ladies who would attend.

    While I was absolutely thrilled about the baby, I was also heartbroken that I may not get to speak or even be at the conference at all. I desperately tried to make sense of the timing and as the conference got closer, I decided to record my sessions ahead of time, so that I could still speak even if I couldn’t be there in person. I thought I had figured out a way to have my cake and eat it too. After all, God had called me to speak, why wouldn’t He allow me to do this good thing for Him?

    The night before I was scheduled to record my keynote message, I started having contractions. I had been having false contractions for a while, so I didn’t think much of it since we were still a couple weeks out. As we headed to the hospital for a checkup, I told our oldest son that we’d probably be home in an hour. While my husband drove, I was busy mentally rearranging my schedule in case I was going to be late to record later that day. I was not prepared for the nurse to tell me that my water had broken and we were having a baby…like, right now! “Uh, okaaay, Lord?!”

    I couldn’t wait to meet my baby boy, but I also needed those last two weeks! I was still tying up loose ends at work getting ready for maternity leave. I began to realize that I definitely wouldn’t be able to do the conference now, even with all my careful planning. Then, I remembered that the older kids didn’t have anyone coming to stay with them for another 2 weeks! My mind was frantic as I struggled to hold on to the control I foolishly thought I had.

    Usually I pride myself on being able to roll with the punches, but this final huge change of plan left me feeling like I was stuck on a roller coaster, slowly click-clacking up a big hill, just before careening down the other side. It felt scary and precarious, until I remembered the Lord.

    Psalm 145:13-17 says, “The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and faithful in all he does.”

    As I turned my eyes to the Lord, He helped me to stop striving to control my plans, and helped me submit instead to His. My husband and I prayed and the pieces started to fall into place, because even though we hadn’t planned ahead for an early delivery, the Lord did. The thing I worried about the most was that my doctor wouldn’t be available since we weren’t scheduled to have a baby that day. We had barely said “amen” and the nurse announced that my doctor would be here shortly and just happened to be on shift today. Praise God! My parents went to stay with the kids until another family member could arrive. The delivery went smoothly and a half hour later I was holding our little miracle in my arms.

    When the conference came, I watched it online from home, with my precious baby boy sleeping peacefully by my side. I let the tears fall as I prayed for everyone there, and again surrendered my will to God’s with a quiet whisper, “okay Lord.” I still couldn’t understand why the timing had worked out the way it did and why I didn’t get to be a part of the conference, but I believed that God’s faithfulness was sure, and that I could trust Him.

    My best friend and ministry co-founder, Melissa, spoke in my place at the conference, and within a day, emails started to come in from women who had been impacted by her message. They needed to hear exactly what God had put on her heart to say, in the way that only she could say it. In God’s faithfulness, He had spoken to the hearts of His beloved daughters so they could experience His love and grow in their faith.

    Not only did God provide spiritually, he provided for our physical needs as well. My husband received a call a couple days after we got home from the hospital offering him a long-term sub job that would last the rest of the school year. The job would start a couple of weeks later, just long enough for him to be home with me while I recovered. As amazing as that was, God gave me even more reason to marvel at His goodness.

    At a postpartum appointment with my doctor, I found out that if I had carried the baby until my due date, or even stayed home from the hospital and continued to labor, I would’ve been at risk for some very serious, potentially life-threatening complications that none of us could have known about. But God knew. In His faithfulness, He allowed me to miss the conference, so that I could deliver my baby boy safely and without complication. His total faithfulness in every possible area both humbled me and bolstered my own faith.

    Now when I look at my little one, I can’t imagine life without him. Our family has been blessed beyond what I ever could have dreamed with the addition of Daniel Jacob. In his short two months with us, he has brought more joy and laughter (and maybe a little less sleep 😉) to our lives. The Lord continues to strengthen our relationships with one another as we navigate life together as a family of five. God’s faithfulness transformed our nervous “okay” to a joyful one.

    The only reason I could keep saying “okay Lord” time and time again throughout this whole journey was because I knew without a doubt that God could be trusted to know what lay ahead and believed that He had me firmly in His grasp. I could trust where He was leading, knowing that His faithfulness in the past would see me through anything I might be facing now.

    God is not just faithful in the huge, life-changing details. He is faithful a thousand times a day with the little things too. We can’t always see it in the moment, but God is there. He is working on our behalf, because He loves us so very much. When we hurt, He is faithful to comfort us. When we are discouraged, He is faithful to cheer us. When we pray, He is faithful to listen and meet us in our need. He does what He says He will do. He can’t help it. His goodness and faithfulness are part of His character. You can trust and rely on Him in every way.

    As you finish out your week, look around for ways that He has been faithful, big and small. You might be surprised to see His loving touch in the details of your life too.

    One of my favorite songs, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”, has been an anthem of praise when I clearly see God’s faithfulness displayed in my life, as well as a prayer of remembrance & trust when I can’t see Him clearly in my circumstances. These lyrics echo my hearts cry:

    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Great is Thy faithfulness!
    Morning by morning,
    New mercies I see.
    All I have needed,
    Thy hand has provided.
    Great is Thy faithfulness,
    Lord unto me.

    Wherever you find yourself today, whether singing God’s praise, or praying for Him to reveal His faithfulness to you, I pray that God will meet you right where you are and fill you with a sense of His loving and faithful presence, so you can joyfully say, “Okay Lord!”

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  • When It All Comes Crashing Down

    ***Our friend Amy shares a part of her story in this devotional that includes pregnancy loss. If pregnancy loss is a tender topic for you, please feel free to circle back to today’s devotional in your own time, if you wish.***

    When we experience a crisis (I’m looking at you 2020 👀) it drives people two ways: towards faith or away from it. It often becomes easier to question our faith and allow panic to creep in than to replace that chaos with the peace that Jesus offers us. While it can be difficult to see how God is at work in our circumstances, we have a choice whether we will look for His faithfulness and anchor our hope in Him.

    I remember Aug 12, 2009 like it was yesterday. Nothing could have prepared me for the loss I was about to experience. I was alone in a sonogram room hearing my OB tell me that the 16 week baby I was growing in my belly, no longer had a heart beat. I was devastated. I couldn’t think or understand words–everything just stopped. I left her office in tears, and quickly called my husband from our car. I said “Babe, you need to come home. The baby has no heartbeat.” He was silent and then whispered “Not even a little one?” Next, we had to call our parents and tell our friends. Sitting with our then 4 year old son and telling him that the baby was in heaven now was an experience I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I was experiencing feelings I didn’t know I could even feel.

    I woke up one day, a week or so later, and knew I was at a crossroads. I knew I could either choose to cling to Jesus and trust His path for me (even when I didn’t like it) or I could choose to walk away from my faith and believe that a good God wouldn’t take my baby from me. I chose to cling to my faith, because I knew that this God I loved, this God I had had my faith in since I was a child, was a God who could work all things together for my good. Even this unbearable loss. I wasn’t sure how He would do it, but I knew in my heart that He would.

    In the early days after our loss I would wake up with worship songs in my mind, most often it was The Old Rugged Cross, “I will cling to the old rugged cross, And exchange it someday for a crown.” God was reminding me through this song that hurt is temporary. Loss hurts and that is ok, we have to feel the pain of these situations, but through Jesus’ death on a cross, the loss is not permanent. God gives us hope when we are able to cling to the cross. In His faithfulness, He shows us that we can look beyond what we experience in this world. He will comfort us in our unimaginable pain. Choosing to believe that God is good even when our hearts are shattered into a million pieces, allows space for God to nestle deeper in our hearts and sooth our pain so that we can bring Him glory.

    When we face personal crisis, global pandemics, senseless violence, divorce, a child who walks away from the faith, financial insecurity, addiction, disappointment in your spouse or whatever else your “crisis” is, it is easy to doubt God and His faithfulness and try to get through it on our own. We have the choice to cling to our Creator or to look to the world for comfort. The world doesn’t offer true, lasting comfort–only God can do that.

    God’s word reminds us that God is ever present and always faithful. There are so many verses that show us God’s faithfulness, but one I love dearly is 2 Thessalonians 2:16:

    Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope, comfort you and strengthen you in every good thing you do and say.”

    2 Thessalonians 2:16

    We know this world will hurt us, but ultimately those painful experiences can drive us into the loving arms of Jesus, allowing us to feel the comfort only He can give. Our experiences give us the opportunity to point others to that same loving kindness & heavenly faithfulness. Our initial response in the wake of hurt or uncertainty may be to run from the pain, or try to drown it out. But because of God’s faithfulness, we can bring our hurts to Him, experience the hope that we can have in Him, and draw others to His peace through the comfort He gives us.
    We do NOT have to live like those who have no hope. As Jesus followers, we have the assurance that Christ died for us. We have seen His hand and His faithfulness in our lives day in and day out (especially when we experience crisis). So when disaster strikes we are not broken because we know that we will never be abandoned by our God.

    God never promised us this life would be easy, but He does promise this: He is bigger than any storm we face in this world. And He’s always working for our good, even in the places where we can’t see, even in the circumstances that we don’t fully understand.

    One of my favorite verses that I run to when my heart hurts, or my brain is panicking is John 16:33 which says, “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.”

    Did you catch where our peace comes from? Jesus! Jesus is the only place where we can find a peace that doesn’t change regardless of what problems we face. That is faithfulness at its finest. Nothing we do can change God’s love for us. And because of what Jesus has done for us, we can be encouraged because we know how the story ends.

    One day, God will make all wrongs right.

    I am so excited to be a part of Revive Ministries and have this opportunity to share what God has put on my heart. My prayer as I begin this journey with you is that today you would know hope & peace in a way that can only come from Jesus Christ. I want you to know that when your world looks shaky, that in Christ, we have an unshakable hope that doesn’t change based on your current circumstances. Please don’t live without hope. Please don’t live in fear of this world. Please know that there is a God who loves you, even when you don’t know Him. He offers the gift of peace and it is a gift you’ll never regret accepting.

    “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” ~ Romans 5:13

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  • Learning to Receive God’s Love

    A few years back I was sitting in a coffee shop with a friend (oh how I long for the days of sitting in a coffee shop with friends) and we were talking about our ability to receive love. I confessed to her that for many years it was hard for me to receive love from others and especially from God. I mean how could God love me when I kept making mistakes or breaking my promises to really change for the better this time?

    But that’s the great thing, God’s love is not conditional, rather it’s unconditional. It’s not based on our successes or our failures or if I have earned it, rather His love is always there for us, we just have to receive it. Do you ever find it hard to let God love you?

    As we sat in that coffee shop that day, I was reminded of John 13 where Jesus was bending down to begin to wash the feet of his disciples. If you are familiar with the story, you may recall that when Jesus gets to Peter, Peter refuses to let Jesus wash his feet. Peter is rejecting Jesus’ act of love. How many times have you rejected receiving Jesus’ love because like Peter you feel it would be selfish, or that you were not worthy to receive such a lavish gesture?

    If you look at verse 8, though, Jesus responds by telling Peter that “unless I wash you, you have not part with me” (NIV). Then in verse 14 Jesus goes on to say “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet” (NIV). This isn’t just a one-way gesture. Jesus isn’t just instructing the disciples to give, but also to receive as He just showed them how to do.

    The nature of God’s love is generative and relational. God’s love towards us creates new love for us to give back. We have the opportunity to multiply love when we receive it, but when we refuse to receive love, we diminish its possibilities. When we do put into practice the act of both giving and receiving love, Jesus reminds us in verse 17 that that’s when we “will experience a life of happiness enriched with untold blessings.” (TPT)

    So how do we receive God’s love? There is an exercise I practice and recommend to others. The truth of God’s love for you is woven throughout His Word and so I encourage you to go on a love scavenger hunt and find the verses of God’s love that speak directly to you. Once you find 5-10 of these verses, read through each statement as you picture God speaking these words over you. In each statement, place your name in the verse. For example, if I were reading Zephaniah 3:17 I would speak out loud “Dawn, for the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs” (NLT).

    You might find it helpful to write each of the verses you find down on index cards or post-it notes so that you can easily flip your way through them as you go through this practice. Repeat this exercise daily for several weeks and soon you will find that these seeds of love begin to take root in your heart.

    Here are a few other verses to get you started:

    “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV)

    “This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5, NIV)

    “The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

    Remember God loves you just as you are. God’s love is the purest form of love. So pull down the barriers that have prevented you from experiencing His love and allow Him to show you how much He loves you. And as He shows you, receive it. Allow His love to come into your heart, for my dear sister, you are His beloved.

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  • This is Love

    Not too long ago, my family and I celebrated the Advent season together. As the Christmas season approached, I went searching for an Advent calendar to keep us focused on Jesus and connected to each other through the season. I ended up choosing one on “the names of Jesus.”

    Each day we turned over a different card with one of the names of Jesus written in beautifully scrawled lettering, surrounded by soft, Christmas-y designs. I bought it because it was beautiful, but I soon discovered how impactful it was to dive into those twenty-four different names of Jesus and the deeper meaning behind each one. I began to experience a fresh understanding of the vast-ness of God with each new name we discovered. He’s so all-encompassing that there’s really no way to sum up what He’s like in one, two, or even twenty-four names! Each day’s name was so simple yet so profound. “Shepherd.” “The Word.” “Messiah.” “Redeemer.”
    One after the other.

    One of His names especially seems to get mentioned a lot, especially this time of year: “Love.”

    Love. Everyone wants to experience it, to know what it feels like, and to know what it looks like. But will we ever agree on the answers? We were all created with a need to experience love.

    Some people might think Valentine’s Day holds the key: “Well you buy cards and chocolate and lots of balloons, and you eat at a fancy restaurant, and maybe there’s a proposal, and that’s what “love” is!” Well … maybe that’s not the whole story.

    I don’t know if we will ever fully understand what it means for Jesus to be the embodiment of “Love,” but let’s take a closer look together because I believe there are some amazing treasures to be found along the way. Let’s start with a look in the Bible.

    When the New Testament was written, there were four different words in the Greek language used to describe love. I wish we had four different words for love! The variety of experiences we call “love” each look vastly different from each other. Between our families, our friends, our romantic partners, our coworkers, the larger world around us, and even our own relationship with God, there’s just no way that we could sum up all of these experiences into one single word. And that’s how it is with Jesus – there is no way that His love could only be expressed one way. And yet He alone is able to offer sustaining love to all of his creation in the ways that they need it the most.

    Let’s go back to the beginning for a minute. The VERY beginning. To the garden of Eden. Genesis 1:27 (ESV) says, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  

    There’s a simple yet profound truth I’ve come to understand in recent years about God and His image – the image that He created you and I to bear. I didn’t hear this truth in a church service, and I didn’t hear it listening to a podcast or going to a conference. It happened over time during my own personal quiet times reading the Bible and observing how God has interacted with His creation throughout history.

    The truth I discovered is this: God experiences emotions! 

    Maybe you already knew this and you’re thinking “THAT’S your big discovery?!”  Or maybe you’ve never considered this thought before in your life and you’re thinking, “wait … what?!”

    As I read through the Bible, I encounter story after story where God expresses emotions and feelings. Jesus also expressed an immensely broad range of emotions while on earth.

    John 11:1–44 tells us the story of Jesus and his friends, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Lazarus became sick to the point of death and word was sent to Jesus asking Him to come. When Jesus finally arrives in Bethany and encounters Lazarus’ death and the grief of His friends, the Bible says that “Jesus wept,” John 11:35. Jesus was moved by the sadness of His friends. He knew what was going to happen next. He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, and yet He still allowed himself to feel the grief of the moment with his friends. Different translations describe Jesus during this story as being “moved,” and “touched,” and state how much Jesus “loved” this family. So why did Jesus allow himself to feel so much pain when He could have avoided it and just focused on the joy that was to come – raising Lazarus from the dead? I believe there’s an important truth here.

    Jesus allowed himself to feel all the big feelings of being human. He didn’t shy away from them. We, as people made in God’s image, need to realize that Jesus set the example for us to experience this broad range of emotions in life: joy, grief, sadness, anger, thankfulness, compassion … love. Most of us will spend a lifetime learning to identify and unpack the emotions that surface inside us on a daily basis. It’s hard work, and often really uncomfortable! But from what I read in the Bible, allowing ourselves to experience this range of emotions is appropriate, and is actually an example that Jesus himself set for us.

    If you go back and re-read stories from the old testament through this lens, you will begin to notice over and over again just how often God expresses big emotions regarding His people: compassion, love, anger, mercy – some of which we ourselves experience, and yet we sometimes condemn ourselves for having them. Having emotions, even the difficult ones, does not define us. Emotions do not have the power to make us bad, shameful or wrong. In fact, it’s totally normal! It’s part of being made in the “image of God” to feel all the many experiences of life. Where we get to encounter God is in our response to our emotions. This is where we get choices – choices to sin or not sin. Choices to stay stuck in a difficult emotion, or to cry out to God for help. Choices to remain faithful to our word or not.

    “But God is so rich in mercy, and He loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, He gave us life when He raised Christ from the dead. It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!” Eph. 2:4-5 (NLT)

    This rich mercy of God toward us, His creation, overflows into all of His actions. Because of God’s great love for us, we get to experience His grace that saves us, His resurrection that brings us to life, and His presence that sustains us. Throughout history, God has never once failed to keep His promises to His people – His promises to remain faithful, to care for us, to redeem us, and to cleanse us. This is such a humbling reminder! As I follow Jesus day by day and become transformed to be more and more like Him, I hope to gain a greater capacity to experience the many emotions of life and also continue to stay in tune with the Father and His goodness, and His purposes for my life.

    “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He (GOD) will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your hearts as you trust in Him.” Ephesians 3:16-17a

    “This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us.” 1 John 3:16a (GNT)

    As we approach Valentine’s Day, ask yourself what it looks like to let God’s love overflow from your heart onto those around you. Maybe it’s through a card, or a thoughtful gift, or a phone call, or even simply a prayer. It’s ok for that love to look a little different in each one of us.

    Whether married or single, surrounded by family or alone in our homes, let’s remember that no matter who else we may or may not have in our life, God promises to be with us. This Valentine’s Day if you’re single, know that married women still have to lean on God. And if you are married, remember that your husband is not God – he is simply a man in need of mercy and love, just as we are.

    Let’s remember that God is Love – He is the very definition of it! Without Him, we cannot fully experience the love, joy, or peace we were created to feel. Without holding back from the pain of relationship, God made us in His image, came to earth to have a relationship with us, and then gave himself up to redeem that relationship. This Valentine’s Day, I’m especially thankful for Jesus and the love that He gives us so freely.

    This is love.

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  • Experiencing Belovedness

    It had been one of those days. You know when you just feel like you can’t do anything right and everyone is mad, or at best, annoyed with you? One of those days when my insecurity seems to have me firmly by the reigns, controlling my every thought and word. The kind of day when tears sting behind my eyes, blinking with sheer will-power not to lose it completely, at least not before lunchtime. “Let me get through half the day without a meltdown, Lord” I silently pray.

    I would love to blame it all on tiredness and hormones, as nursing mama with young baby, but the truth is I woke up not feeling very beloved that day. And it felt like everything around me was confirming that lie. My husband was running late that morning and barely had time to inhale breakfast and head out the door with a distracted goodbye. The kids with whom I had spent at least two hours the night before doing homework with, were cranky and tired and complaining about more school work ahead today.

    As my cheerfulness faded to irritation, and feelings of being unappreciated surfaced, the tension in the room rose. I sulked at my husband and was short with the kids, because honestly, I felt like they were all sucking the joy out of the room. I barely had any reserves and they were zapping the last of them with all their negativity and distractedness. I got the kids out the door and off to school, all of us a little worse for wear, and as I sat in my now quiet car, the nagging sensation of conviction set in.

    In the stillness, I began to reflect over the truth of how the morning had really unfolded, separate from my tiredness and fragile emotions, and began to see things more clearly. When my husband was in a rush and hollered “bye, love you” on his way out the door, he wasn’t loving me less by neglecting to swoop in and embrace me Gone-with-the-Wind-style, he was just running late. When my kids were frustrated about school and homework, they weren’t unappreciative of the help I had given them, they were sharing their real feelings about school and homework being a drag. It had nothing to do with me, but somehow, I internalized everything hard that day. And just like that, the enemy had me right where he wanted me–feeling invisible and doubting my own belovedness, and neglecting the belovedness of those around me.

    When I start to doubt my own belovedness, my focus turns wholly on me. The temptation is great to stay powerless in that place, feeling pitiful and dangerously justified because, yes, families should appreciate and love one another and show it. But they are also human and ultimately not responsible for my happiness, confidence or sense of belovedness. That, my dear friend, is an inside job.

    I drove slowly home and offered a meek prayer to God. “Lord, I feel small and powerless and discouraged. How can I feel “beloved” when it feels like the enemy and the world around me is trying to strip me of my belovedness at every opportunity? I need you to take care of me and remind me that I am loved and cherished and precious. Help the kids have an okay day today, and help this afternoon to go better. Amen”

    It felt like a selfish prayer, with more uttered on my own behalf, than that of the ones I had been cross with that morning. But there it was, simple and honest.

    I got home and opened my Bible app, only half believing that I would stumble across a verse that would lift my spirits a bit. Ephesians 3:19 jumped up and smacked me right between the eyes. 

    May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”

    Ephesians 3:19 NLT

    I mouthed the verse softly aloud a few times, thinking about the ways I’ve experienced the love of Christ. His love has been made known to me in so many ways. In the lean times, when money was tight and He provided for us, in the times when blessing seemed to overflow beyond anything I could imagine, through the friend who just “had me on her heart” and thought to reach out, only to discover it’s what I desperately needed in that very moment. He has loved me through His Word, pouring out His words of love.

    As I remembered how Jesus interacted with others in the Bible, I see Him relating to me as well. Tender, patient, kind and cherishing me not as just a person who is loved, but as one of His beloved. Set apart and precious, worthy and treasured. More than liked or tolerated, but worth dying for. A deeper love than I could ever imagine, just like the Bible says, “too great to understand fully”. I was experiencing the love of Christ in that very moment as I reflected on Him, instead of me.

    It was then that I felt my worth return, then that I began to feel truly beloved again, because it is from experiencing the love of Christ that all-sufficient grace flows. It is the place from where I draw my reserves, where I find contentment and peace that passes understanding, and where I find the strength and patience to plod ahead on tough days.

    The love of Christ sustains me when I am weak and restores me when I am weary. And true to God’s promise, it was then that I felt complete and content. Refilled and ready to live in the fullness of life again, instead of the empty place where the enemy would have left me. It was then that the power of the Holy Spirit that comes from God, lifted me out of my funk and set my feet back on solid ground.

    I picked up my kids with a different attitude that afternoon. My circumstances had not changed one bit, but my perspective and the source of my power had shifted dramatically. Instead of feeling small and powerless against my own emotions and the emotions of others, I felt steady and secure. God had reminded me of who I am and that He alone determines my worth and my belovedness. And when I stopped to remember how I have experienced the love of Christ, and who I am because of it, it changed everything.

    We went on to have a lovely day after that and by God’s power, I was able not only to be content in my own belovedness, but I was able to affirm to my family that they are God’s beloved as well. The change in the air was palpable.

    While I have shared about a situation with my family, any of us can find ourselves in the same murky waters in any season or circumstance of life. There are plenty of opportunities out in the great big world that can easily wear on our sense of belovedness. A harsh word from a friend or co-worker, wrestling with loneliness, insecurity or heartache, being overworked and burned out, or just plain waking up on the wrong side of the bed. The devil is always on the lookout for ways to get us stuck feeling less than beloved. But Jesus is ever present, all powerful and faithful to pluck us up out of our despair, and restore us to wholeness in His love.

    Today my dear friend, that is my prayer for you. That you may experience the love of Christ, even though it can feel like a bit of a mystery, so that you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Lean into His love, make your home there and let His joy and peace fill you to overflowing.

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  • Clearing the Clutter

    Ah, January! The long-awaited, longest month of the year, famous for inspiring millions to make resolutions of forward progress and to clear out the old to make room for the new.

    Also (in case you hadn’t noticed) we have officially entered 2021! Although it has already swooped in with some pretty sticky messes, we will, and must, keep pressing onward with our sights set on Jesus. Always.

    All things considered though, I think we can all appreciate the beginning of a new year and the opportunity for a fresh start. Personally, I find the beginning of each new year to be an especially helpful motivator to declutter my home. Anyone else relate? Webster’s dictionary describes clutter this way: 1) n. a crowded or confused mass or collection; 2) adj. to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.

    I don’t know about you, but I do not like clutter impeding my movements or reducing my effectiveness. I often don’t even know where the clutter in my house comes from, but oh boy, does it come! I also know that once it lands here it immediately becomes my responsibility to figure out what on earth to do with it. Whether the clutter needs to be thrown out or “re-homed,” it generally falls to me to make those decisions around our home and to remove the excess of things no longer serving myself and my family.

    It can take a lot of time and energy to clear out our physical clutter, but in the end, it is always hugely rewarding. Clearing out spaces in our homes that help us to be more efficient and effective in our daily lives is totally worth the effort!

    But there’s more than just one type of clutter that comes at us and can impede our lives. The type of clutter I want to talk about isn’t any of the things I just listed. In fact, it’s not anything you can hold in your hands at all: it’s what I call emotional clutter.

    I’m going to guess that all or most of us are familiar with the idea of emotional baggage. This is a term I’ve heard tossed around for years, generally in relation to unresolved pain and memories from the past which we can often end up hauling around with us (not by choice) that can interfere and weigh us down from living the beautiful life we were born to live.

    When severe enough, emotional baggage can hold people hostage from living any life at all! I won’t dive too deeply into that level of emotional baggage here, but I hope you know that if you find yourself needing to unpack a significant amount of baggage, this ministry would love to point you toward safe and appropriate resources.

    What I do want to address here is the smaller, often less noticeable collected moments of emotionally negative “clutter.”

    Emotional clutter can show up in a variety of shapes and sizes and can genuinely impede our effectiveness on a daily basis. It could look like a lot of things: like being in a nasty funk all day after getting stuck in traffic that morning; not being present with our family because we’re actively worrying about things we can’t control; it might look like not trusting an authority or other important figure in our life because we’re focusing on a time when someone else close to us betrayed our trust in a hurtful way; it could look like finding someone to blame for that thing that went wrong at work and gossiping about that person behind their back, or criticizing our partner for the one thing they forgot that day instead of thanking them for the things they did well.

    We can have all types of clutter gathering dust in our hearts at any given time, muddying the waters of our mind and spirit. If we’re not making time for self-reflection and introspection on a regular basis, we can often remain unaware of how much that clutter is impeding our movement in the world and reducing our effectiveness. Once that clutter begins to gather dust for long enough, it attracts more clutter, and more, and before we know it we are packing yet another suitcase of “baggage.”

    In order for this not to happen, it’s crucial that we begin to learn sustainable ways of partnering with God to clear the clutter from our hearts and minds. It might take some time and energy but trust me – just like cleaning out that closet, it’s going to be so worth it!

    Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

    Romans 12:2

    When we examine our thoughts and take stock of our emotional clutter, it allows God to help us discern what His perfect will is for us. We are able to see ourselves, the people around us and our circumstances from His eternal perspective, instead of our limited view.

    I encourage you to take some time this week to pray and ask God what kinds of emotional clutter might be collecting in your own heart. What types of emotions are weighing on you right now? Is there a conflict happening with someone in your life? Are you struggling to make a difficult decision but you don’t want to disappoint people?

    Try to name the first things that God brings to your mind without judging yourself or others for it. Ask God to help you sit with some of the clutter that He shows you and take a deep breath. These things aren’t too hard for God to handle! He understands, and He loves you, and He wants to carry your burdens for you. He’s that good!

    Remember that your clutter doesn’t define you, but it can sometimes impede your movements and reduce your effectiveness, just like physical clutter. It can limit our perspective and wisdom to what’s right in front of us, instead of being able to hear God’s gentle guidance and see His perfect provision. When we allow emotional clutter to accumulate, we can miss out on the fullness of all of the blessing and goodness God has for us.

    2020 might not have been my favorite year, but it taught me (along with a host of other lessons) that no matter what craziness life throws my way, my hope does not and cannot rely on the circumstances of this world. Instead, I am compelled to reaffirm my faith and trust in the One who never changes, who never becomes weak or weary – the One who hung the stars in the sky and causes the seasons to change – the One who put you and me on this earth for such a time as this. He is the solid rock in shifting sand on which we would do well to build our house. (Matt. 7:24)

    To an uncluttered New Year in Christ!

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  • Beholding the Savior

    Often when we think of the Christmas story, we think of the early days–the angel appearing to Mary, her miraculous pregnancy, Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, Mary giving birth to Jesus in a manger. Every detail of the story is incredible and inspires awe and wonder. 

    But Jesus continued to grow, and even though Mary knew before he was born that he was Immanuel, God with us, Jesus was also her little boy. She tended to his scraped knees when he fell down, and made him soup when he wasn’t feeling well. As he grew into a man, and his ministry began, Mary was no doubt filled with a sense of wonder at hearing about him healing the lame, the sick, and the blind. Mary must have marveled at how God was working in their midst through Jesus. As a mom, I can’t help but think she would have been filled with nostalgia as she remembered cradling Jesus as a baby, and overwhelmed with awe as she watched him turn water into wine and raise Lazarus from the dead. 

    I wonder when the moment was that she began to see Jesus, and all the incredible gifts He had through the Father, and realized that she was beholding the Savior. Was it a certain miracle that He performed that made her stop and recognize God in flesh standing before her? Was it something He said or a Holy Spirit feeling that would prompt her to see Jesus as Lord and worship? 

    What will that moment look like for you, when God’s love breaks through the noise of our everyday hustle and bustle and you behold the Savior in your midst? 

    Perhaps it will be in the soft glow of the Christmas lights as you soak in God’s peace and feel His presence wrapped around you like a warm blanket. Maybe it will be in the face of your child as you pray over them, or in the lyric of your favorite Christmas carol.  It could be in the kind word from a friend or loved one who sees you when you feel invisible and forgotten. Maybe you’ll see Him holding you up in a storm you are currently facing. Whatever it is, in every moment, Jesus is with us, miraculously breaking through the noise and chaos of our world to be our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father and Strong God. 

    Advent is a season where we wait, expectantly for Jesus to come. We celebrate what God has done in the past, marvel at what He is doing now and wonder at what He will do in the future, thankful for His hand of love and provision at every turn. Look for Him in the details, see Him guiding your steps and holding your heart. He promises He will never leave us, that He is always with us. This advent season, may we cease our constant striving, be still and behold the Savior.

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  • Peace of Christ


    This evening after work, my husband discovered a leak in the very old hot water tank of our newly purchased home. So instead of enjoying the relaxing evening we’d planned, curling up on the couch with our kids and the latest Mandalorian episode, we raced the clock to pull up wet carpet and subfloor, buy and install a new copper pipe, cook supper, and get everyone fed before bedtime … all while trying to stay calm and be nice to each other.

    It almost seems laughable how frenzied we all became so quickly. It became increasingly difficult to give each other grace and margin for our disagreements and different priorities throughout the evening.

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

    John 14:27 (ESV)

    I don’t know about you, but this promise from Jesus to his disciples sounds almost too good to be true. Especially right now. I’ve been a Jesus-follower for a number of years now, and I’ve heard this particular passage more times than I can count. But I have to be honest: after a year like 2020 I feel as if I’m reading these words for the first time. How can Jesus make such bold statements? Is His peace really so accessible, even today? How can we keep our hearts from being troubled and afraid of the pain and chaos around us? How do we gain access to God’s incredible gift of peace?

    Let’s look a bit further down in John 16 where Jesus is once again speaking to His disciples about peace:

    Jesus asked [His disciples], ‘Do you finally believe? But the time is coming – indeed it’s here now – when you will be scattered, each one going his own way, leaving me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

    John 16:31-33 (ESV)

    This one hits hard. Jesus is describing His upcoming betrayal and abandonment from the very people he’s sitting next to – His best friends. I cannot imagine a worse scenario to foresee. If anyone had foreseen the tragedies of 2020, would they have been able to handle the grief and the apprehension? Would they have been able to hold the tension of gracious acceptance and brave fortitude? Jesus saw the future as God revealed it to him and He spoke of supernatural peace, even in the darkness of those events. What mattered most was not actually the events themselves, but more so Who was still present and offering peace in the midst of tragedy.

    Jesus confirmed over and over again throughout the Bible that life on earth will be hard, with trials and sorrows guaranteed to come our way. But the trials and the sorrows aren’t the end of the story because God is present through it all, and His promises stand firm.

    Let us open our hands this Advent season, to give Jesus our pain and sorrow and receive His supernatural gift of peace.

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  • Gratitude During the Holidays

    I came across an interesting article recently that stated, “you have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving.” The author went on to share how he was going to choose a humbug mindset this holiday because 2020 has been a rollercoaster of emotions and challenges. To be honest, I get it, this holiday season is filled with tough choices and changes for families, but gratitude and thankfulness are to be expressed not just when things are going smoothly. Rather they are an attitude to be displayed both in the trials and blessings of life.

    Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (ESV) I italicized the word “in” for a reason, because I think we often replace it with the word “for” which changes how we see the practice of gratitude. God isn’t asking you to be grateful for your family not being able to gather this Thanksgiving. He is not asking you to be grateful for the pandemic that has caused loss, hardships and hurts. God is asking us to find the things to be grateful for in these challenging times. I can be grateful for technology like Zoom that has allowed me to stay connected to loved ones. I can be grateful to have a job that allows me to work remotely. I can be grateful because of the daily walks I get to take with my housemate. I can be grateful for an amazing gluten-free pizza that gets delivered to my house way more often than I care to admit. I can be grateful that even though my travel plans have changed throughout the year, I have found different ways to refuel the wanderer in me. I can be grateful that I got to still do my digital detox weekend at the coast which helped to renew my spirit. I can be grateful for all the amazing people in my life who are still here, even if we are socially distanced or having to connect differently. 

    Practicing gratitude isn’t about forced positivity and it doesn’t mean that you ignore all the challenges you are facing. You most certainly can take time to grieve, but my prayer for you is that you don’t stay stuck there. God can empower you to be an overcomer, someone who is resilient and can find the good even in the hard times. Every time I visit my colleagues and the students and families who are part of the Africa New Life community in Rwanda, I am reminded that gratitude can be found whether we have plenty or little.  For many Rwandans they are not just being challenged by the pandemic, but they have been dealing with poverty and loss from a genocide that took place in their nation over twenty-five years ago. And yet they find ways daily to rejoice and to share their joy and hope with those who come to visit, or through the letters our students send to sponsors here in the United States. That gratitude is not based on their circumstances, but based on their faith that God’s promises are true even if we can’t see the evidence of that in our lives currently.

    When we talk about practicing gratitude, a lot of people immediately think of doing a gratitude journal, which I absolutely love and highly recommend doing, but here are some other ways to not only think about what you are grateful for, but to express your gratitude this holiday season. 

    1. Make a gratitude jar: Find a mason jar as big or small as you want. Then take some construction paper and cut it into slips of paper. Put a marker or pen and the pieces of paper next to the gratitude jar then each day leading up to the holidays pause every time you walk by the jar and jot down something you are grateful for and fold the slip of paper and place it in the jar. On whichever holiday you choose, Thanksgiving or Christmas, plan “gratitude breaks” where you go to the jar and pull out a slip of paper and read out loud what you have to be grateful for.  
    2. Send gratitude cards: If you are sad about not getting to see a family member or friend this holiday season, create a gratitude card for that person and send it to them for a sweet surprise in the mail. Inside the card you could write something as simple as “I am thinking of you.” Or you could write a personalized note filling in the blank, “Because of you….” and share what they have done in your life that you are grateful for. 
    3. Make “thank” calls instead of prank calls: Sit down on the days leading up to the holidays and make a list of people who have done something nice for you lately or in the past. Then set aside time on or around the holiday to call and say thanks. 
    4. Send virtual care packages: You might not be able to get together in person, but you can have fun and send a bunch of photos or silly video clips that will spark a smile and let them know that you are grateful for them this holiday season. 
    5. Create gratitude rocks: My niece and I did this a few years back where we painted rocks with messages that inspire gratitude. Then you can take a walk and set the rocks in special places to surprise other walkers/hikers. 

    This holiday season, what if you focused less on who you are not with, and what you are not doing and more about who you are with and what you are doing? What if you focused on what you have, rather than what you may be missing out on? What thanks can you give in the middle of our hard circumstances? Gratitude amplifies positive emotions and increases your resilience in facing future challenges. Yes, this pandemic holiday season may have its challenges, but I still believe we can put the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and choose to give ourselves permission to create a gratitude habit that shines God’s light and hope even during the dark times. Who knows? Your thankful attitude may just be what someone else is thanking God for this year. 

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  • Be Still and Know

    1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress. 8 Come and see what the Lord has done,  the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord Almighty is with us;  the God of Jacob is our fortress.

    Psalm 46:1-11

    One of my favorite verses that has brought me comfort and peace over the years is Psalm 46:10. “Be still and know that I am God”. It has been a gentle reminder of God’s sovereignty, love and provision, especially in times of stress and difficulty.

    Today, however, I read the whole Psalm instead of just my favorite verse, and noticed some things I hadn’t noticed before. My favorite verse that brings me so much peace is surrounded in the Psalm by chaos and destruction. In verse 2 and 3, Scripture paints a picture of a world in tumult and crisis—mountains falling down, and oceans roaring and foaming. In verse 6 it speaks of nations in uproar and kingdoms falling. I couldn’t help but reminded somewhat of the state of the world today.  Honestly, there are days I don’t think I’d be the least bit surprised to hear that a mountain had fallen into the sea or that some other new calamity had befallen us. It is 2020 after all.

    But all of this chaos described in Psalm 46 is also contrasted with the true and steady character of God. He is described in verse 1 as an “ever present help” in trouble, our refuge, our safe place. In verse 7, we are reminded that God is with us. And in verses 8-9 we see that God will bring about an end to fighting and strife and make wars cease.

    The truth is, God is far bigger and more powerful than any worst case scenario we can imagine, and I can imagine a lot! Even when the world seems out of control, God is always in control, so there’s no reason to be afraid. This amazing truth was exactly what my heart needed to remember.

    In verse 10, God is giving a gentle but powerful command to us to “be still” and know that He is God. He tells our frantic hearts to cease striving, with the same loving authority that He commands the winds and the waves. He calls us to surrender, cease striving and rest assured with absolute certainty, that He is God.

    Dear friend, as turmoil and chaos seem to swirl around you, run to God, our refuge and strength. He is mighty and immovable, and with Him we are safe and secure. He is here and He is in control. We don’t have to fear. In Him we are more immovable than the mountains themselves. Lean back into His loving and capable arms, and rest assured. Breathe deep of His presence and find peace.

    Almighty God and Father, 

    Today our world feels chaotic and overwhelming. Our hearts are weary and we need to find refuge and rest under your wing. Be our help and present hope. Help us to cease striving and fighting and remember that you are greater than anything we will face in this world. You alone are strong enough to hold us steady when the wind threatens to blow us over. Help us to lean into your loving arms and feel the power of your presence and protection. Thank you that we can give you our worries and burdens and you exchange them for peace. Hold close each person praying this prayer now. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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