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?

Writing and The Ups & Downs of Social Media

I’m linking up with Sarah Markley today discussing social media in the writing world.

In college and seminary, I wrote primarily for magazines. I had no idea who my readers were personally. I didn’t have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or an i-Phone.

Shortly after I got married, I joined Facebook. Then after a writer’s conference in 2007, I was encouraged to start a blog. A few years later I joined Twitter for the purpose of networking with other writers and authors but I wasn’t sold on it for a while. I questioned:

Do I really need one more thing to put my energy towards? Will this become a distraction? Do I really need to be on it?

After becoming a stay-at-home mom in 2010, I started to see that being heavily involved in social media was a big deal in order to be a successful writer. You had to let others know about your work and gain a following. And you needed social media to build relationships that could lead to being published.

I understood the necessity of having a good platform but my love and passion for writing was getting shoved under the bus by the hype and noise of social media and self-promotion. I realized this more vividly through Jeff Goins, who helps writers get back to the basics of loving the craft. I wondered:

Could I just write for writing’s sake because I loved it, felt close to God through it, and wanted to encourage others?

Social Media and the Heart of it All

I felt like I couldn’t keep up with everyone else in the social media world. I found myself overwhelmed rather than enjoying it as a tool for connection, edification, and outreach. My heart desired to be noticed by others and my mood was sometimes dictated by how many retweets, responses, blog stats, comments, likes, and shares I had.

After a lot of wrestling the day came when I realized I had to make a choice. My time spent on social media would have to be limited and I would have to be okay with not being excessively involved for the sake of my relationship with the Lord, my husband and children, and my love for writing.

As I started to ask God to help me live in moderation, I found more freedom from the desire to people please, compare myself to others or feel like I wasn’t “being” or “doing” enough in the online world.

The Art of Disconnecting & Connecting

I wrote when I sensed God leading me to write something. I got on Twitter and Facebook a few times throughout the day but it wasn’t the end of the world if I went several days without sharing anything or reading other feeds. I practiced the art of turning my phone on silent so I didn’t feel the urgency to respond to every chime or notification. I set limits on how often I would check email and blog comments. It was more challenging than I thought!

I connected with people and readers more individually through email or a personal message rather than publicly. I started to enjoy the benefits and blessings of social media rather than feeling exhausted or overwhelmed. 

With the ability to share posts on Facebook and Twitter, God has given me the opportunity to connect with friends and readers I never guessed were reading and minister to them in unique ways. He’s also given me the opportunity to guest post for authors that I love and to become a contributing writer to a few sites.

I’ve learned new things and gained fresh insight through social media. And probably the thing I love most is getting to know readers and connecting with them in a more personal way that can’t be done through magazine writing.

Life is Happening Where You Are

I don’t have it all together when it comes to balancing the benefits of social media. It’s a daily choice and discipline to make sure my heart is in line and I’m using it for the right purposes.

Will I continue to use social media in the future? Absolutely. But as a writer, wife, and mom my time will be guarded. Life is happening where I am right now and I don’t want to miss out. There will always be time later to post, share, reply, connect, and write.

What about you? Do you ever struggle with finding a balance with social media? What do you like/dislike about it?

 

Finding Peace In God’s Presence

A few weeks ago I headed out to run an errand at the end of the day. I was tired, feeling discouraged, and had anxiety about God’s plan for our future. Jeremiah is in a career change right now and we’re in a season of waiting. You can read more of the detailed story over on his blog.

Well as I was driving, I felt this great tension between trusting God and trusting in myself for answers. I questioned God:

Are your promises real, God? That you will never leave me or forsake me?

Are you going to take care of us?

Do you really love giving good gifts to your children?

Deep down, I wanted to know if God was truly involved in what we were going through. I had prayed a few days ago that He would show himself in a real way. I even prayed for some “signs” to know he was there. And let me to tell you I’m often hesitant to do so because I know that my faith shouldn’t be placed in the “sign” or the miracle alone but in God himself.

But I also know that God gives us signs to encourage us along the way and that if we ask for anything, in his name, according to His will, He will do it.

It wasn’t raining and hadn’t rained all day. As I turned right to get on the ramp, out of nowhere I looked up at the sky and saw half of a rainbow. It wasn’t even half really, more like a quarter of a rainbow. The sun shined brightly and some shades of grey peeked through the clouds. I kept gazing at the rainbow while trying to keep my eyes on the road.

And it was as if God was saying directly to me,

“This is for you. See, I’m here. I’m really here.”

My eyes filled with water and I smiled. I took another glance to savor it before turning. After I got off the ramp it was no longer in my sight. Instead it was like a seal upon my heart.

I’m so weak, God. My faith is small. But You are big and you are actively involved in creation and in my life. Thank you for your presence.

It has been a month since this job transition for Jeremiah. He has been working like crazy at applications, networking, and interviewing for temporary nursing and full-time ministry positions. As of now, we haven’t sensed God’s leading in one particular position yet but we are trusting.

On the days where I’ve been panicky and tried to take things into my own hands, God continues to remind me that He is here and I often think about the rainbow in the sky.

The Next Step

It has felt like boot camp every time I’ve gone. The women to my right and left are trim, toned, and can lift the heavy weights. My mid-section is a bit pudgy being six weeks out of having my third child and I have to choose the light weights as a beginner.

As we dive in to chisel class, my fitness instructor, Galey, wastes no time through each workout and each set within the workout intensifies. My arm, back, and leg muscles strain and ache from the barbell lunges, squats, and dead lifts.

During pushups and abs, my arms are shaky and I wonder if I can keep going. I gaze at the clock wondering if I’m at the end yet. I’m starting to feel a little sick, but I know I can do it.

“This is hard,” Galey yells while crunching her abs. “Remember that’s OK!”

Finally, the ab drills are over. My whole body feels like jello and I can barely muster up the strength to do the stretching exercises. I put away my barbell and hand weights and smile at the other women. We all have that look of relief on our faces.

As I head out the door to pick up my kids from childcare, I overhear Galey talking with a new member of the class, “The key to these classes is you have to keep coming. Then you’ll start to get the hang of it and get better.”

I nod my head as I hear her talking. I know that the key is faithfulness if I want to see results. But not only would I need to be faithful…

Read the rest on Ungrind.org

That Moment When You Truly Find Life

hand-stamped Scripture spoon by jessicaNdesigns (Etsy)

Last night, we had our good friends Josh and Jenny and their little girl Jayla over for dinner. Jeremiah grilled some tasty barbeque chicken drumsticks and we had corn on the cob and asparagus for sides.

Our little Rebekah, who barely sits still for 5 minutes, was fussy the whole time and wouldn’t eat. It was difficult to talk among the noise and my plate was neglected. I kept trying to get her to eat something but she only ate a few bites. I got up to clean her off and shortly after I sat down, Jeremiah asked if I could get him a napkin. I had used his on Rebekah.

“I just want to eat my chicken bone!” I said in desperation.

Josh and Jenny started laughing. They understood the life of a mom and they were quite amused at the way I expressed my frustration. Jeremiah ended up getting his napkin and we all started chuckling. When I finally got the chance to eat, my chicken was cold. In fact, my whole plate was.

It’s funny… that moment reminded me that there’s so much that “I” want to do in life, similar to wanting to eat my chicken- in peace preferably.

  • I want more time to myself. You know, more breaks as a stay-at-home mom.
  • I want to take a trip with my husband. Just the two of us. Somewhere romantic. Really romantic.
  • I want more time to write and blog. I have a lot on my heart, but little time.
  • I secretly wish I could drive to Starbucks every morning, plop down on the sofa with a latte and just write and read my Bible alone.
  • I want to make a difference in the world. Not just a scratch, but a really big dent.

But really, is life all about me and my dreams and desires or is there something more? 

Scripture says that even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45). And that when we lose our life for the sake of Christ, that’s when we truly find it (Matt. 16:25).

The lie, however, tells us that we’re happier if we look within ourselves to find true joy and happiness. The lie tells us to hold on tightly to our life and to reject Christ’s authority.

But my selfish, sinful nature wages war against my spirit. And living in a culture where everything is about me, it’s difficult to remember that life is about bringing glory to God and that is most often fleshed out through serving others…

Even when it’s difficult, inconvenient, messy, or unpredictable.

In my case that evening around the dinner table, I was tired of Rebekah’s fussiness and I wanted to eat. I wanted to fellowship. It had never crossed my mind that helping her was pleasing to God. It was an act of worship. And patiently serving her was exactly what I was called to do in that moment.

Later on in the night, I realized that serving her, every day as a mom, is such a gift. An eternal investment that will impact future generations. Serving her is an opportunity to teach her about God’s love. Most of all, serving her is serving God. I determined to be more aware of that the next day.

Yes, God cares about the big and small desires of our hearts. Even lattes and getaways. But He doesn’t want us to be consumed by them because He is already taking care of those things for us. Greater joy in life is found in giving ourselves away to the people God has put in our lives.

Article: Kitchen Wars

* Today I’m writing for StartMarriageRight.com on conflict, love, and the power of the gospel in your marriage. *

After a long day of traveling home from this particular summer vacation, my husband Jeremiah and I got into a big argument. We were over-tired and not thinking straight. Words flew carelessly in the air and we threw verbal punches at each other.

Shortly after the conflict, I reflected back on one of the evenings during our vacation that Jeremiah watched the kids so I could hear Christian songwriter Sara Groves in concert where we were staying.

In between songs Sara told usContinue Reading over on StartMarriageRight.com

On Man’s Sinfulness & God’s Goodness

Since hearing the tragic news about the shooting in Aurora, Colorado, I have wanted to write out my thoughts because everything in my heart seems so jumbled.

Many bloggers, authors, journalists, newscasters, reporters and more have an opinion and a voice they want to bring to the table in light of such a tragedy. I think in some way, we all want to voice our feelings. But at the end of the day, more than anything, we want to know why? 

More specifically, why God?

I was flipping through Twitter on Friday morning and saw a tweet about praying for two people who had been shot in Colorado. I wasn’t sure what it was all about so I went to Fox News and that’s where I saw the story. My heart grieved and my mind instantly went back to my high school days when the Columbine shooting hit the news.

I can vividly remember my fears as a junior in high school. I remember the bomb threats our school had and being let out of school early because of those threats. Of course, the being let-out-of school part wasn’t so bad.

But here it was again in a different town. Darkness, evil, and sin exposed like no other. This time not in broad daylight but at midnight. In a movie theater of all places where people go to kick back and relax and have a good time. My heart raced as I read more details and it broke for the victims and the shooter.

As a follower of Christ who loves Jesus and strives to live by faith, I have struggled and wanted answers. I have wondered if God is still good in the midst of such horrific evil. I have questioned:

What in the world will God do in all of this? Is He concerned? In control? What about the victims who didn’t know Christ? Why do innocent people have to die? Will justice be done?

Then a few days ago I read a post that went viral by a woman named Marie who made it out of the theater with her two teenagers. Marie’s post didn’t answer all my questions, of course. Only God has most of those answers. But these words did strike a chord with me:

God is always good.

Man is not.

Don’t get the two confused.

I thought about the historical event in the Garden of Eden when God gave man a choice to obey or disobey his commands. He didn’t force Adam and Eve to follow His ways but out of love, He gave them a choice. They could choose to eat from the forbidden fruit or abstain.

Tragically, they ate from it, choosing sin over God. And their sin ushered in death, brokenness, and pain for all mankind. For you and for me. No one would be exempt from such a consequence.

The bottom line is that left to himself, without God, man is not good. And does not choose good on his own.

But thankfully, God already had a plan in place to restore what had been lost. He had a plan to heal all brokenness and to help man choose good again, instead of evil. He sent his Son Jesus, in place of you and I, to die a horrific death on the cross to save us from ourselves.

Jesus’ death allows us to live. To know Him and live life to its fullest. But we have to accept His gift of grace into our life. We have to acknowledge that we are broken sinners and cannot make it in this life without Him. We have to allow Him to change us from the inside out.

This is the gospel story that you and I have heard countless times but we can’t allow it to get old. We must embed it in our hearts and remember God’s story isn’t over.

Thank goodness.

In the midst of trying to make sense out of such evil, God continues to welcome our questions, doubts, anger, and frustrations. And even though we may not receive the answers we want in our timing and even though some questions remain unanswered, that’s okay because God is still working and God is always good.

And that is enough to trust Him in our lives today.