No Matter What, You Are Loved by God

Yesterday morning my four year old John scooted our bench over to the kitchen countertop so he could stand on it. He wanted to spread his own peanut butter on his toast, which happened to be a first.

“I’m going to make Daddy’s for him too. He will love me for it and give me a kiss on the cheek!”

I thought how sweet that was for him to do and I figured I’d turn his little comment into a teaching opportunity.

“Well John, did you know that you don’t have to do anything to make Daddy love you more? He loves you just for you, no matter what,” I replied.

“Oh,” he said thinking about it.

He continued spreading in between the crust and topped it off with some banana slices and honey, just the way Daddy likes his peanut butter toast.

Then I could only naturally think about God’s love for us.

God loved us while we were still sinners and loves all sinners presently. He doesn’t need us to prove anything to him. And contrary to popular opinion, there is nothing we can do to earn his love.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

I admit that at times I have a hard time accepting these truths about His love. Sometimes I feel that if I’ve screwed up and failed to be the person God has called me to be, that my behavior changes God’s view of me.

Or sometimes I feel I have to “do” more: read more of my Bible, pray more, do more ministry,  go to church more, walk in the Spirit more, give more… you get the point. Those are all blessings and necessities that come with following Christ- not a checklist or legalistic duty. God uses all those means as gifts and tools to help me love him more and know him more fully. But they don’t for one second change the way He loves me.

The truth that God’s love is a gift of undeserving grace is mind boggling and so incredibly freeing. It’s like the image of grace you’ve probably sung about in David Crowder’s, “How He Loves” song:

And we are His portion and He is our prize,  Drawn to redemption by the grace in His eyes,  If His grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking. 

I don’t know about you but in 2013, I want to know His love more deeply because I haven’t even swam close to the deep end when it comes to understanding his unending grace, love, and redemption. There is so much more my heart has yet to be filled with. And as I get more situated in to this new year, I’m excited about the new truths God has yet to reveal.

Well John got to enjoy his toast with his Daddy and heard words of gratitude for his hard work. Even though later in the day John disobeyed, fought with his sister, and had a few fits, Daddy corrected him and disciplined him and showed him love.

And even as a young child, I think John is able to understand that he’s still loved no matter what he does.

7 Years of Marriage, Newtown & Faith for the Future

Well today marks seven years that I’ve been married to my husband Jeremiah. It’s crazy how much life can change in just seven years and honestly it really doesn’t feel like that many years have passed by.

I’m grateful for the gift of marriage. God continues to use marriage to sanctify me, show me my sin, and teach me selflessness. Daily, I’m humbled that God gave me such a loving, hard-working, godly, selfless leader to follow, who I proudly call my husband. Just like any other couple, we’ve had our share of struggles and trials but God has been faithful through every step and we give him glory for all that he has done.

We are committed to one another till death do us part and we will continue to do what it takes to keep our marriage from merely surviving to thriving. And we have learned over seven years that this is hard work.

Just last night, we were watching the CNN vigil for the community of Newtown, Connecticut. We heard President Obama’s thoughtful speech and watched the slideshow of photos of the children and adults whose lives were taken from this world on Friday.

And I wept in Jeremiah’s arms. Tears were all I had. Tears for those precious children and for our nation as a whole. I thanked God that I had someone to grieve with. My heart ached and I longed for Jesus’ return. I asked the “why’s?” and dealt with the anger.

And today, on our anniversary, that ache is still very present. I’m celebrating these past years with my husband but I’m also praying that God would heal our nation and comfort grieving Newtown. I’m praying that the next seven years Jeremiah and I will have a fervency in our faith like we’ve never had before.

There is work to be done and it starts with us. It starts with the church, whom God uses as a means to bring light into the darkness. And I have needed this wake-up call out of mediocrity and waiting for others to start the conversation.

I want to love louder and unashamedly share the gospel.

There is no other choice and as Obama had said in that speech, “we can do better” as a nation. But I also know that the church can do better too and that it starts with me.

My prayer is that the next seven years will be less about “us and our marriage” and more about Christ and his kingdom and how he can use us to make a difference. Time is running out in reaching this world with the hope that is found in Christ.

And I think more than anything that is where the real ache inside me is coming from.

Until then I hope you will join me and take a look at your own faith and life and how God might use your time, talent, and treasure to make an impact in this world. I promise to do my best to encourage and spur you on as we seek God’s will together as broken, feeble people yet nonetheless people who have been radically changed by Christ.

To Marvel and Mend This Christmas

And this will be the sign. You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12). 

The sign had been fulfilled. The angel’s words were true.

And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child (Luke 2:16).

And the shepherds’ desire to see this sign was no Sunday stroll in the park. I can just imagine them running as fast as they could, sweating, hearts racing, maybe even stumbling through the fields because it was night.

I can imagine their hearts pumping through their chests as they reach their destination and look Mary and Joseph and Jesus in the eye for the first time. I doubt many words were uttered on their part but just sheer amazement. And this amazement could only lead them to make known what they had just seen.

The glory of God had just come down from heaven- a shining light in the midst of evil and darkness. Love had come down to save them and set them free from their sins. God had chosen them, lowly shepherds, to be the first to see this humble King lying in a manger.

They couldn’t help but spread the news that Peace was here. They shared the news to everyone and it spread far and wide.

And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:18).

But not only that, all the hearers of this good news marveled too.

And it’s this word “marvel” that jumps out at me today. It’s a word that I can’t skip over when I’m reading Luke’s account of Christ’s words and works.

Do I marvel at the gift of God sending his son Jesus down to this earth to save us? Has this good news so impacted my life that others see it and believe it as well?

Have I taken the time in these days leading up to Christmas to sit, reflect, be still and marvel at the mighty, mysterious works of God?

Because truthfully, I know there is a marveling that needs to be done in my own heart that has yet to happen. And there is a mending of brokenness needing to be done too. Both of which require God’s hand to awaken and heal.

And then I am reminded again of why Jesus came…

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me,
Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

I want to see Jesus for who He is. To know him more. To put him first. To share his love to everyone he puts in my path. But I have to understand that this can’t be accomplished in my own strength. It has to be his mighty work through me for his glory.

Like the shepherds, when we see Jesus for who he really is, we are changed forever. Light pierces through our darkness. Our lives are radically different. And we can’t help but desire to see that change in other people too.

Congrats to the Winner of Fierce Women – Ashley Pratt!

Thank you for participating in the book giveway last Wednesday for Fierce Women. Using the sequence generator on Random.org, the final winner is:

Ashley Pratt!

Congrats Ashley! Praying this book will have a great impact on your marriage and in your ministry in New York! 

I wish I could give all of you the book, but hopefully you’ll be able to get your hands on it anyway. In the next coming months, I’ll be doing a few more book giveaways so stay tuned.

Giveaway: Win a Copy of Fierce Women by Kimberly Wagner

This week I’m really excited that Moody Publishers has given me a copy of the new book Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior by Kimberly Wagner to give away.

Fierce Women is one of the most honest, refreshing, and engaging books I’ve ever read on the marriage relationship when it comes to how wives relate to their husbands. Within our inherited sin nature and living in a culture where women have the tendency to dominate, manipulate, and take charge over men, I appreciate that author Kimberly Wagner has unashamedly called out this kind of behavior, or shall we say heart issue, as sin.

Not only that, Kimberly shares her personal stories and struggles of how her own behavior and treatment of her husband almost led to the destruction of her marriage. She gives women hope that they can change too. But rest assured, this is not a self-help book designed to repair marital problems.

Kimberly makes it clear that real change didn’t occur until she realized that what she calls her “emasculation” of her husband was tied to God’s glory. God opened her eyes and helped her see how damaging her selfishness was to their oneness. Humility, grace, and dying to self is what led to the restoration of her marriage.

Every woman has a type of fierceness within her and God desires to use that fierceness for good. Kimberly describes a  “soft warrior” as a woman who uses her fierce strengths to encourage and inspire her husband toward greatness. A soft warrior trusts in her husband’s leadership, doesn’t try to “fix” him, accepts, admires, appreciates, affirms, and prays for him. She allows him to take the lead because that is his God-given role.

What is at stake if we fail to use our fierceness for God’s glory? Kimberly reminds us that “God designed the most intimate of all earthly relationships to serve as a real-life parable to depict his commitment to his bride. Marriage is God’s platform that displays to the watching world a physical picture of a spiritual reality.”

Fierce Women spoke volumes to me personally because I am a fierce, strong-willed woman myself (just ask my husband!) and I have seen the “bad side” fleshed out in my marriage. I felt like I was seeing myself all over the pages. I was so encouraged that my fierceness can actually be a beautiful thing God can use if I am willing to surrender.

You will want to get your hands on this book as soon as you can. There is so much more to the book that can’t fit into this blog review.

Kimberly Wagner is a frequent guest on Nancy Leigh Demoss’ Revive Our Hearts radio program, as well as a regular contributor to the True Woman and Beyond Bath Time blogs.

To win a copy, simply leave a comment below. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced Monday, Dec. 3.

* (Male readers: please feel free to enter the giveaway as you might benefit from this yourself or consider it as a gift.)

What I Wanted to Tell a Young Woman Wanting an Abortion

Yesterday my four year old John, four month old Hannah, and I waited at the doctor’s office for their check up appointments. While we waited to be called, a tall, red-headed woman in her 50s marches out of the exit door and into the waiting room where her husband is sitting.

This woman isn’t happy with the news she’s received. The elderly couple sitting in front of me is looking at her as well. She storms over to her husband and plops down next to him. She’s mouthing off words to him and I can’t help but listen. They’re sitting just a few feet away from us.

“I told you!” she quietly yells. “I knew it and you didn’t listen!”

His eyes grow wide and he looks distraught.

“She’s 20 weeks along. She’s measuring 20 weeks! This must have happened right after her miscarriage. She had talked about how she’s been feeling so bloated!”

My eyes grew wide and I listened intently. Hannah is fussy so I stand up and bounce her around.

The young woman who is most likely her daughter had been pregnant before, I thought.

“She wants to have an abortion but she can’t at 20 weeks! No doctor will allow for that. She’s in there crying and I told her we’d be out here waiting.”

The husband says a bunch of words back but they are muffled and I can’t understand him.

“I told her she has two options. Keep the baby or give it away!” the wife said. “She’s too far along.”

The conversation was getting more heated. I wanted so badly to make my way over to them and offer some counsel and I was just about ready to.

The husband kept shaking his head and looking down at the floor.

“She needs to know she has support all around her,” the wife said. “Alright, Let’s take this outside. We don’t need to be talking about this in here.”

They headed outside and I was still trying to gather all that I was hearing.

Their daughter would eventually make her way out the exit door. I formulated a plan in my head as to the words of encouragement I wanted to to tell this young woman. My heart was racing and everything in the room felt like it was in slow motion.

I imagined what she looked like and if I’d be able to see her baby bump. I waited and watched the door swing open as people walked out and the assistant called in new patients.

I was ready to speak truth into her heart. What if God had placed me there in that exact moment for a reason? Legally she had to keep the baby but she seemed so insistent and you just never know.

A nurse opened the door to the office: “Hannah?” She called out. “Hannah?”

I stood up and picked up our belongings and we headed through the door and down the hallway to our room. Time had run out and I didn’t get to see her. My heart was still racing thinking about what happened.

Most likely the parents of this young woman were okay with an abortion up to a certain point. They were outraged that their daughter was further along than expected. Of course the mom claimed she knew all along.

In addition to the anger and sadness I felt, my heart broke for this family and young woman. I had never witnessed a conversation like that. Obviously I didn’t know the whole story- only what I heard in the dialogue. The opportunity didn’t exist for me to reach out to her and even if it did, there’s no guarantee the young woman would’ve been willing to listen.

But if I had the chance to pull her aside and whisper a few words to her, I would have said:

God knows all about this. And he cares. He really, really does.

If abortions have been in your past, God knows about those too. There is no sin too great for God to forgive. He still loves you and is calling you to do what is best for the baby and for you. And what is best is allowing your unborn baby the chance to live. 

The act of an abortion will not heal or fix any hurt or pain or problems. From women I know personally who’ve had abortions, they’ve said the emotional, spiritual, and sometimes physical pain is devastating and something you never forget.

You’re not alone. Other women have been in your shoes and are in the same situation. Even Christian women.

If inconvenience or fear is the reason, God has a way of working out things for the good. Trust him. Go beyond your personal desires and wishes and think about God’s plan for your baby. Think about your baby’s dreams. 

If finances, your career, the responsibility of raising a child on your own are all concerns, don’t allow your fears and worries cast a shadow on the present reality and the joys and blessings that the future could hold. God has a way of providing when we trust him.

If you fear shame among your friends and family and what people will think, don’t live to please other people. Do what is right and true.

There is no feeling in the world like holding your newborn baby for the very first time. The love you’ll have for him is indescribable. You won’t understand it until he is here. Looking into his beautiful eyes, smelling and touching his soft skin, kissing his cheeks, rocking and cuddling him, singing to him, nursing him on your breasts, and watching him grow up to be the man God created him to be brings no greater joy.

When you choose to give your baby life, I promise you there will be challenges and hardships but you’ll be okay. God will give you the strength to endure and carry on. 

If you still feel you cannot handle the responsibility, you can always give your baby up for adoption. There are plenty of wonderful families who can raise your child and give them a loving home. 

Your Creator God, who created you, values and treasures all human life. He loves you so much that he died on the cross and rose again so that you could have life. Remember that He has a way of redeeming and healing the most difficult situations. He turns ashes into beauty if you will only ask him. 

Choose life. I beg you. Choose Life.

Well during the remaining time at the doctor’s office I never ran into the young woman. But God used the experience to teach me a lot. As a woman who follows Jesus Christ, I’ve been encouraged to speak up for the innocent and vulnerable, who cannot speak for themselves. I’ve become more aware of the beauty and life around me and the precious lives of my own children and family and friends. And I will not be silent or negligent to pray for those women at such a crossroad in life.

Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. – Isaiah 49:1

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.  – Psalm 139-13-18

A Special Thanks to You, My Reader

My husband had a seminary professor tell him once that if you ever go into a church to preach or speak that you should always first thank your audience for having you. Because the truth is that no one has to listen to you. No one has to spend an hour under your teaching. It’s a privilege and honor to communicate to the hearts of your hearers and for someone to take the time to listen to what you have to say.

As a communicator, always thank your audience.

That was the gist of what his professor was urging his seminary students to do. I think his professor was also stressing the importance of humility and I thought it was great wisdom for writing as well.

No one has to read what I write on this blog or in any other publications. It is a privilege to even have an audience who will take 10 minutes out of their day to read a post or an article. And I’m grateful and humbled that you as a reader do this.

Whether it is one person, 10 people, or 50 people, I care about each of you. I care about what is going on in your daily life and I care about your relationship with Christ. In addition to my love and passion for writing, I consider writing as a ministry to you.

I also want you to know that I pray for you and think of you when I write any post or article. While many of my posts are personal narratives or begin as personal stories, I’m always thinking of you and how God might use my words to speak truth and life into your heart. I’m always praying that God would show you more of himself.

And in return, I love hearing from you even if it’s just to say “hi.” Your comments and feedback encourage me and spur me on in this journey. The Lord knows we all need it!

So… that’s all I really have to say. Thank you being the best readers any writer could ever want.

A Prayer for Thankfulness in Times of Pain

Father God,

We acknowledge that you are the giver of all good things. We live and breathe because of you. From your hands, You supply all that we need and so much more. But we confess that sometimes we are:

ungrateful…

unthankful…

selfish…

sinful…

hurting people…

I confess that at times I don’t see all the gifts you have given, are giving, and continue to give in my life. I confess that my ungratefulness at times has left me angry, bitter, and wanting. My unthankfulness has made me blind to all that I have. And even as I approach this Thanksgiving, I know my heart needs radical change.

Some of us are unthankful because we’ve experienced a great amount of pain and suffering this year. We’ve lost loved ones and unborn children. Our marriages and relationships are broken. We’re dealing with sickness, injustice, and depression. We’re struggling financially and need a miracle. Circumstances don’t seem to be in our favor. Ever. Some of us wonder why in the world you work the way that you do.

I confess that at times I have caused my own pain and have projected that hurt onto other people.

God, help us to lean into your grace when we’re weak and feel like giving up. Because Lord we are so frail apart from you. Help us to give you thanks because when we choose not to we know that our wounds and pain only grow deeper.

Will you teach us and show us that you are good regardless of the pain and hurt we may feel in this life? You are worthy to be praised in the valley and on the mountaintop. Remind us that you still:

turn ashes into beauty.

instill life into dead bones.

give the oil of joy for mourning.

soften the hardest of hearts.

change sinners into saints.

transform brokenness into wholeness.

wash our sins and make them white as snow.

redeem and restore the years the enemy has stolen.

And let us remember that you have already endured the ultimate shame and suffering on the cross for your glory and our good. Help us to persevere to the end until we see you face to face.

In the meantime, may today, this week and all of November give us a renewed sense of genuine Thanksgiving in each of our hearts regardless of our circumstances. We love you.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

A Letter to My Single Self

Dear Self:

You’re 21. You just graduated from college but, to your dismay, after four years of rigorous studies, you never got your MRS degree. All your roommates had serious boyfriends who became husbands, but you’re still wondering when it’s your turn.

You’ve dated some really good guys but nothing serious ever came about. You’re remembering the advice from your dad who said you didn’t need a serious boyfriend in college. But… college is over. You’re on your way to Nashville for a publishing internship and you’re praying God will bring you someone special.

Well at this season in your life, if I could have a heart-to-heart conversation with you over coffee (or rather tea—your Starbucks addiction won’t come until you have a newborn), there are just a few things I’d say to you while you’re still single…

Continue reading over on StartMarriageRight.com

30 Things I Know Now That I’m 30

Well, it’s true friends. As of today, my 20s are behind me like a vapor in the wind. It’s surreal to say and I’ve been a bit nervous to approach this day, but so far it’s going well.

My 20s were some of the best years of my life. I graduated from college, got my Master’s, ran a marathon, started my writing career, married my husband, moved across the country, landed a real job, bought a house, became a Momma to three children 3 and under (whoa!) and more. There is so much to be grateful for.

The following is a random list of things off the top of my head that I know to be true about myself, faith, and life coming out of my 20s. Maybe you’ll find some things to be true if you’re no-longer-in-your-twenties.

1. All of life really comes down to two things: Know Jesus and make him known

2. Don’t cast judgment or assume something about someone until you know more of the story

3. Fear and worry do nothing for you except cause stress and unnecessary problems

4. Working out and staying fit is a non-negotiable

5. When you get older, you start to see the sad reality of death & disease more

6. Life doesn’t get any easier. In fact, it gets harder with more responsibility

7. Marriage to my husband is my favorite thing in life

8. Switching from a PC to a Mac has made life so much easier

9. I hear my mom’s voice in my head and quote her with my own children

10. It’s impossible to live life in isolation. We were created to know others and be known and loved in return

11. Celebrating my child’s birthday is way more fun than my own

12. Starting a family and sharing my children with my parents, sister’s family, and in-laws brings so much joy

13. The people you hang out with is who you’ll become so choose your friends wisely

14. God uses pain and suffering in our life to make us like Him and to trust him more fully

15. I was the perfect mother (parent) until I became one

16. You can’t trust your wavering feelings but you can trust truth. Always side with truth.

17. My parents are the wisest, most loving people I know

18. Driving a mini-van isn’t so bad after all

19. Being a mother is the greatest, most challenging calling

20. This world needs to see more married couples who love each other, have fun, and are committed to one another for life

21. Comparing yourself to someone else is foolish. God made you unique and has a purpose for your life

22. Coffee is a necessity in motherhood

23. Good relationships and friendships require vulnerability and authenticity

24. My husband should receive several crowns in heaven for putting up with me, especially on the “ugly” days

25. Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others must happen daily

26. It’s okay to dream big, but don’t forget to enjoy where you are and what you have in the present

27. Facebook is awesome but so addicting

28. Being intentional is a must to get anywhere in life

29. To lead is to serve & love well

30. 30 sounds so much older than 29!

What would you add to the list?

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