Category: God’s Love

When He Speaks Your Name


I remember it with the poignancy of yesterday. I’m fiddling with the latch on my green Care Bears lunchbox, when Mrs. Nagel gently encourages me to take a step to the left.  It seems I’m the juxtapose member of an otherwise pencil-straight line of kindergartners.

I’m missing my mom like it’s nobody’s business, and this whole mess of leaving her for approximately 3.5 hours a day is just about more than my five-year-old heart can take. I have no idea how I’ll ever get married and leave the house.  But I leave that thought alone and just try to swallow the tears that rise every time I think of her throughout the long half-days in the kindergarten classroom.

The colossal correction from Mrs. Nagel triggers the tears again, and I gulp hard, staring at the Care Bears and the rainbow on my lunch box. That’s when I hear the word.  “Stacey,” she says it gently, and somewhere behind the words, I hear all the love in the world, and something about her voice reminds me of my mom.  But it doesn’t bring tears this time.  I look right into her eyes, and I see a kind of compassion that wraps me comfort.

When she says my name, I know she sees me. I know she sees my heart, and she’s telling me it’s alright.  It’s all going to be ok.  We’re going to get through this, and she’s going to walk with me.

“No tears now,” she softly says, touching my arm tenderly.

I nod. I want to tell her I’m trying not to cry, that we’re on the same page, that I’m on board, and that we’ll get there.  Instead I just nod my little head and clench my lunchbox handle with two hands, eyes straight ahead.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this standing in line thing, and this getting on the bus thing, and this leaving Mom thing.  We’re gonna make it.

We did make it. Mrs. Nagel and I soared through kindergarten together, and by the end of the year, the tears were a rarity.  Her kindness and gentleness walked me through the hard transition.

This is the memory that comes to mind when I read the account of Mary, searching for the body of Jesus at the tomb. Her grief is deeper than that of a kindergartner missing her mom, but it is grief, nonetheless.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus with oil, and something about the act feels like a comfort to her.  She has lost him, but she focuses on what she can now do for him in his death.

She arrives at the tomb to discover the body is gone. Double grief.  Not only is she grieved over his death, she’s now distraught over the fact that someone has taken his body.  It’s disturbing.  It’s disheartening.  It’s terrible.  Someone is going to rob her of the final consolation of at least giving him a proper burial.

That’s when it happens. A gardener comes to the tomb beside her.  She glances at him, then begs him to tell her where they might have put the body.  Her mind is racing, and her eyes are blinded to the reality that this is no gardener; this is the very Lord she vehemently seeks.

She doesn’t know it’s him until he says it. He says her name, “Mary.”

I imagine the tone. It’s direct, yet filled with compassion.  It’s an assertion that he sees her.  He sees her heart and her desperation.  It’s an assertion that good things are coming.  Surely, he knows the awe that will fall upon her when she recognizes him.  Surely, this brings him joy, and there’s anticipation in the proclamation of her name.

She recognizes him the moment he says her name. She responds, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).*  And from that moment, everything changes.  The redemption of humankind is at hand.  His body was not stolen; he is alive!

The scene reminds me of Mrs. Nagel’s gentle proclamation of my name – of the day she saw into my heart and reminded me we’d get through it. It also stirs in me a deep longing for the day when I stand before the throne of God and hear Jesus speak my name.  It reminds me of the way he drew me to himself as a young girl.  It reminds me that just as he knew Mary by name, he knows my name.  He is watching, waiting, and walking with me through this season.

Jesus knows your name too. Imagine the day he looks into your eyes and speaks your name.  The day will come for each one of us.  Let’s live with prepared hearts, waiting, longing, and anticipating the day he calls our names.



*John 20:16

The Morning Invitation


A fine white mantle of fog rests on the fields at dawn. I went to the deck to retrieve the coffee cup I left outside overnight, and it seems I’ve encountered God on the journey.  I sink onto the damp patio chair in the corner of the deck, and the chill of the dew on my bare legs feels like an awakening.  An awakening to what is uncomfortable and raw – real and tangible.

Dew on flesh. Fog on young goldenrod chutes.  This earth breathing life and promise and hope.

It’s so exhilarating that I fill my coffee cup inside and return to the chair with a jacket and my Bible. I forget the bookmarked app on my computer – the one that tells me what to read each morning, and I open tattered pages to Psalms:

Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. (Psalm 96:12-13)

I close my eyes and drink black coffee. I consider what it will look like to live this day as a woman who honors God and lives with the expectancy of a bride, waiting for her groom.

I think of the words of Jesus: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

His words ring true. Loving God must come first.  Have I kept it first?

Before anything else, my life is about my relationship with God. It’s about drawing close to him and growing in relationship with him.  I am deeply convicted as I reflect on what my prayer time often looks like.  I’m convicted that I’ve spent too much time asking for things, praying for direction, praying for ministry needs, and praying over priorities.

While all of these things are important, what is most important is that I learn to rest in God’s love. What’s most important is that we grow in relationship through these quiet, set-apart moments.  My life is primarily about this relationship with God.  The way I carry his love to the world is secondary.

A mourning dove coos, and I realize I haven’t kept the first thing first. I’ve put praying for direction above basking in his affection.  Looking at the fields, it’s all so clear: He wants to wrap me in his tender affection like the fog that shrouds the fields at dawn.  He wants to cover me in the warmth of his love and stay together in this place.

Tim Keller says it like this: “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.”

This time is first about basking in his presence. The priorities, decisions, and requests will flow from this place.  I sit long on the damp chair and don’t do much at all.  I rest in him.

I think of the words of Mother Teresa in an interview with Dan Rather.

“When you pray, what do you say to God? Rather asked.

“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”

“Okay. When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?” Rather tried again.

“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”

Baffled, Rather didn’t know how to continue.

“And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.” Mother Teresa concluded.

And so we sit. In the stillness.  In the newness of an emerging day, we sit in silent communion, and I don’t plan a single part of my day or seek direction over a single priority.  When the coffee is gone and the fog begins to lift with the silent chorus of a rising sun, I rise with it, and I’ve never felt more certain of what matters most.





Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2014).

Mother Teresa, quoted in Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).



Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

Friday isn’t my usual day to post, but I’ve been guest posting quite a bit lately.  It’s an honor to write alongside John Piper and other gifted writers at Desiring God.  The links below will lead you to these articles and a few more:

Desiring God:

Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

God Carried Us with Promises: Five Truths Strong Enough for Any Trial

The Praying Woman:

Five Prayers Every Mother Should Pray for Her Children

Her View from Home:

To the Mother Who Feels Like She Doesn’t Belong

Christian Devotions Ministries:

The Promise for Your Affliction

You Are Cherished

Thanks for reading and sharing!  Have a blessed weekend!

How God’s Love Can Change Any Life



Bekah was born on a Tuesday, and nothing about the day really went as expected. I didn’t expect my water to break at 4 a.m., five days before my due date. I didn’t expect my body not to go into labor on its own, warranting an induction. I didn’t expect them to wheel me to the operating room after fourteen hours of labor. And when they pulled her from me, wrapped her in her striped hospital blanket, and brought her to me, I didn’t expect the violent flow of love to pour from me like it did. I didn’t know I was capable of that kind of love or that such love even existed.

I cried often throughout our first few weeks together, and while I hear it’s common to cry at every commercial and break down at every sentimental thought, I mostly cried because I couldn’t believe the love we shared. My desires to protect, nurture, and care for her were stronger than anything I’d experienced.

It was during those early weeks of Bekah’s life that the power of the cross captivated me in a new way. There was absolutely no way I’d send my daughter to die in anyone’s place. Ever.

The willingness of God to send his child to die for me completely transformed my perception of his love.

Throughout my life, I’ve battled with the feeling of not being good enough, lies that tell me rejection from other people means I’m less-than, and the ongoing feeling that I simply don’t measure up. Most of us face these thoughts at some time in our lives. Whether it’s the child who made fun of me on the playground in second grade, or the coworker who criticized my fashion sense in my fourth decade of life, the words of other people hold the power to inflict deep wounds.

For nearly a decade, I listened to messages from well meaning Christian leaders who spoke of finding our identities in Christ. They said things like, “You are a beloved child of the Most High God. You are precious and dearly loved.” All these words were nice, but while women around me cried and rejoiced at their newfound identities, it just wasn’t getting to my heart. And I knew it.

Things changed when I held my own child. I experienced love like I’d never known, and I came to the striking realization that God loves Jesus far more perfectly and deeply than I can love my precious child. He feels for Jesus the way I feel for my children — and more – and yet he sent him to suffer and die so I wouldn’t have to receive his punishment for my long list of mistakes.

The heart of my identity is this: God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for me (Romans 5:8). We all long for a deep encounter with the love of God, but let’s not get so caught up in seeking an experience that we fail to contemplate the truest thing about God. When I long for an encounter with his love, I simply need to step back and consider the cross. He loves me so deeply that he sent his Son to a place of agony for me. Encountering this truth is the quintessential encounter.

I don’t love anyone enough to send my child to suffer and die on a cross for them. How deep this love truly is. Understanding the depth of his love transformed my identity. When I begin to feel less than, left out, or not enough, I think of how much I love my children. Then I ponder God’s love for me, to send his child to die in my place. I know this is real love.

I know I don’t need to please others, measure up, or be someone others admire, because I am loved crazily by my Father.

Three Things to Remember in the Valley


I slip to the woods on a Saturday evening after groceries and prescriptions and new socks for littlest one. The ground is soft and muddied with footprints of dog walkers and bird watchers. I immediately see why they came. The sinking sun blinds me to the west, but to the east, the ponds reflect perfect paintings of cobalt skies and grey hills – hills on the brink of bursting into glory, hills that are waiting for redemption.

I walk long through the mud and embrace the patches of soft grass that clean my shoes and offer traction. Geese linger in a pond to the south, and I follow the winding valley to its deepest place –where the sun hides behind the hills, and the darkness of night has already descended.

I’ve always been captivated by the shadows cast by mountains. Summers spent in Wyoming’s granite canyons bore witness to sun scorched peaks that stared down at the dark valley for hours. I lived in the valley, and I longed for the warmth of the morning sun each day. I missed the sunsets over Plain Grove’s hayfields and grew accustomed to watching the sun fade behind mountains early in the evenings to the west.

The geese are speaking words of warning about my presence as I tread farther along the path – less worn this far from the parking area. I pull my hood over my ears and hide my hands in my sleeves. It’s cool in the shade of the valley. Sitting on a rock at my turn-around point, I stare at the still water, look up at the illuminated hilltops, and consider the valleys of my life. I consider the hardest stretches, the darkest times, and the most painful trials. A few truths come to mind – truths for the valleys:

You are not alone

Some valleys exist solely on the precept of feeling alone. We believe we are alone, and the isolation of the season creates the valley. Feeling misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned, or without support leads us to feel alone, and there seems to be little hope for escaping the valley. Not that anyone cares.

The truth for this valley is this: “God will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I generally wish God’s presence felt more tangible. I need to remind myself that just because I don’t see him or tangibly feel him, this doesn’t mean he’s not present. He walks with me through every valley, and he will never leave me.

This will be used for good

God holds the power to use all situations for good in the lives of those who love him. Some of my hardest valleys have taught me to be grateful for seasons of health and “normal” living. Some of the darkest valleys have helped me make better decisions in the future. Some of my most painful valleys have made the sunshine on mountaintops far more glorious than they would have been without a climb from the deepest place.

Our valleys are used to comfort others

Most of our valleys hold the power to comfort others who go through the same struggles. The hard breakups of my teen years later enabled me to mentor teens walking through the same trials. The difficult days of my pregnancies enabled me to comfort friends going through the same struggles. The challenges at my job gave me empathy to encourage others who are in difficult situations in the workplace. God uses our valleys to comfort others in their valleys.

If life has led you to a valley today, be encouraged. You are not alone. Keep clinging to the One who won’t let you go.

*On an entirely unrelated note, I’m writing at one of my favorite parenting sites this week: Your Budding Biologist Should Hatch Frog Eggs This Spring.  And right on time, our deck is now home to one large tank of hopeful bullfrog eggs.

Four Lessons from the Woman at the Well

The dust from the road sticks to the roof of her mouth as she forces her feet to carry her heavy jar just a few more steps. The reprieve of a cool drink of water awaits her at the well, and her motivation for continuing forward is the satiation of her thirst.

She glances up and sees him sitting there, right beside the well – a Jew.

She thinks little of his presence. Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. She’ll simply draw her water and be on her way.

“Will you give me a drink?” he startles her with the question, and she studies him for some sign of ill-intent or misaligned motive. She doesn’t trust Jews, and she really doesn’t trust men. Men have only let her down.

To read the rest of this post, join me at Live Nourished.

The Astonishing Goodness of God

“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ― Brennan Manning

The daffodils are wilted under the weight of the late winter snow. We all thought we’d made it through, when it came back and pounded relentlessly, the tempest fighting for one last victory. The yellow blossoms that seemed to promise sunshine and hope a week ago have lost their first battle. Life’s not as gentle as we often wish.

Somehow, despite the disappointment of more cold weather, something about the whiteness of the world feels holy this morning. I let the daffodils rest under the weight of the snow and seek refuge inside, where the whitewashed tree line out the window speaks of a silent kind of waiting. It’s as if we’re all waiting for spring together. Waiting for warmth. Waiting for redemption. All together, we sense there must be more, and so we stand and we keep waiting.

The snow and the hidden flowers and the buds that sprouted too early remind me of the emptiness that sometimes comes late in the day. When the world sleeps, televisions are stilled, and the darkness of a world turned from the Light sits in blackness, we find ourselves empty and longing for more. We long for greater fulfillment from our jobs, greater joy in our days, more satisfaction in our accomplishments, and deeper union in our relationships. Even when life is relatively purposeful, joyful, and complete, there’s still a deep ache for something greater.

Looking at the fields, I consider these things, and I consider the reality that this very spot might just be holy ground. What if we don’t need to wait for the burning bush to encounter God? What if he’s here, in this moment with the fields and the daffodils – in this place with the longing and searching? What if the simple fact that he bothers to call me by name is enough to bewilder me to such a degree that I live captivated by him in my ordinary life?

Jesus prayed these words in the garden before he went to the cross: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3).

We’re all walking around with a longing for heaven that won’t be fulfilled until we get there, but we don’t have to wait for heaven to embrace the eternal life we receive when we come to the cross. Eternal life is knowing God – more and more and more – right now, in this life. We step into eternal life the moment we become followers of Jesus, and eternal life is more than a ticket to heaven. Eternal life is the privilege of knowing God in this life.

The privilege makes every moment an invitation to stand on holy ground, mouths gaping in awe that he loves us so tenderly. He longs to speak of his love to us in a thousand ways: in the purity of the late-winter snowfall, in the daffodils that rose too soon, in the child who gazes across the room with a smile, in the gesture of a friend.

I sit with Caleb by the window, and I open to Psalms, reading aloud as we watch for birds at the feeder. He presses his little eyelids shut with a grimace, like he’s fighting to keep them closed, folds his hands in a mishmash of tangled fingers, and lets me read the whole psalm. We bask in God’s love for us and count all the ways we’ve encountered his love today. There’s no doubting it: We’re standing on holy ground.

When You’re Stuck in a Pit


It’s maple syrup season. I didn’t know maple syrup had a season until about ten years ago, when Darrell took me to the smoky barn of a farmer in Sullivan County. In the far corner of his barn, a huge stove held the biggest pan I’d ever seen. The pan contained gallons of sap from surrounding maple trees, liquid slowly boiling off to leave smoky sweet syrup coveted by pancake eaters across the nation.

Syrup season comes when the first signs of a winter thaw bring afternoons that are well above freezing and nights that continue to dip low on the thermometer. About five years ago, Darrell decided to undertake the pastime of collecting and boiling sap in a stove he built near our garage. It’s a fascinating process. He spends long nights stirring his syrup under the light of the moon and collects hundreds of gallons of sap for the process. It takes about forty gallons of sap to create one gallon of syrup. That’s a lot of cooking.

What’s all this have to do with being stuck in a pit?

Syrup season hits at the same time of year when the lull of winter has worn many of us down. We find ourselves in the low place that comes from too much cold, too much darkness, and too little movement. It feels like a pit. I get it because I find myself somewhere on the fringes of the pit every year when syrup season hits.

Last week I wrote about the value of simply doing the next thing during hard times. This week I felt led to share a handful of strategies that get me through the last lingering months of winter. These ideas uplift me when I’m stuck in a hard season. They breathe life into my soul when I’m struggling. I hope they are an encouragement to you as well.

Put something fun on the calendar

Knowing there’s something to look forward to is essential in boosting morale. It doesn’t have to be a huge event; it simply needs to be something you enjoy. When winter starts to get me down, Darrell often encourages me to go to the woods on a Saturday afternoon. We plan it a month in advance. A long walk in the woods, a little bit of time lingering by a creek, and even an hour in my car with worship music refreshes me. Some of us are refreshed by an afternoon at a coffee shop with a good book, a long visit with an old friend, or an evening out in the city. I find that simply having something enjoyable to anticipate is deeply satisfying and helps pull me out of the pit.

Spend a few minutes outside

Even if it’s cold, even if it requires bundling up, some time under the open sky is refreshing. Stepping outside reminds us of the greater world around us. It opens our eyes to God’s creative work. Even if you only walk around the block, time outside is good for the soul.

Force yourself to create something

This might seem ridiculous to those who aren’t creative types, but activating the creative part of the brain stimulates energy. Take a stab at painting an inspirational quote on a piece of cardstock so you can hang it in your car. Download a coloring page and get to work with your child or by yourself. Try a new recipe. Paint the chair that’s looking weathered. The sense of accomplishment is uplifting. For the past eight years, I’ve painted a different room of the house every time February rolls around. My February painting projects are an immediate countenance booster.

Encourage a friend

It’s true that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When I’m feeling down, it helps to take my eyes off my circumstances and pray about which of my friends might need a word of encouragement. Sending a text, email, or an actual card in the mail will brighten someone’s day, and it will brighten yours as well.

Count your blessings

In her first book, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp encourages her readers to create a list of reasons to give thanks. She shares her journey of counting 1,000 gifts from God and continuing after reaching her initial goal of 1,000. Gratitude journals have been a hit or miss trend since the nineties, and there’s a reason we keep hearing about counting our blessings. Focusing on all that is good is restorative. It magnifies God. When we make God big, we are reminded that he is bigger than even our worst problems.


Whether these words find you soaring high on a surprising warm stretch at the end of February, mucking through the depths of a pit, or somewhere in between, my prayer is that you will find encouragement to keep pressing forward. And if you see Darrell, that sweet smoky smell will follow him for at least the next three weeks. He’d love to share the anatomy of a syrup stove with you.


What to Do When You Can’t See a Way Out



There’s a pileated woodpecker pounding at the birdfeeder, and Caleb stands entranced at the window. It’s fully winter now – the thick of it. The color of autumn is a distant memory, and there are long, dark weeks until the first signs of spring.

What do you do when you’re in the thick of it and can see no way out?

Elisabath Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, penned a poem titled “Do the Next Thing.” A portion of the poem speaks these words: “Fear not tomorrow, child of the King, trust that with Jesus, do the next thing. Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand, who placed it before thee with earnest command.”

I think of her words as I watch the woodpecker, as I long for spring and a release from this season. I feel like lying motionlessly on the couch this afternoon, watching old episodes of Gunsmoke on MeTV. I utter a quiet prayer for guidance to carry us through another winter day, and before the words are fully whispered from my parted lips, the buzzer on the dryer in the basement beeps.

I think of folding laundry with reverence, and I’m reminded of Brother Lawrence, the monk known for peeling potatoes with a worshipful heart, fully fixated on God. He knew the secret of living in communion with God through the most mundane tasks.

There are times when it’s hard to see a way out. I’ve walked with others through these times. There have been broken relationships, financial emergencies, health struggles, and the deep grief that comes when a life is taken. I’ve walked with those who could see no way out of their sin, their struggles, and their destructive lifestyles. I know about these struggles because I’ve walked this road as well.

When I can see no way out, I can choose to wallow in the thick of my pit, or I can do the next thing that is set before me. It might be a load of laundry, a stack of dishes, another day at the office, another diaper to change, or answering a phone call from a friend.

We move forward when we continue to put one foot in front of the other and do the next thing.

I roll off the couch, grab Caleb’s little hand, and we head for the laundry room. He’s singing something, and I can’t quite make out the words. We’re half-way through matching the socks when I realize he’s singing only one word – softly, over and over: “Hallelujah,” again and again. We worship together, and thank God for the gift of simply doing the next thing.





How to Encounter God in a Way that Satisfies

Lake Arthur is flat and gray, and the life I breathed in here when the October tree line burst forth in color seems to be a distant memory. The hills roll lavender beneath a ashen sky, and I selfishly pray for just a glimpse of blue overhead. Winter in western Pennsylvania is bleak.

I close my eyes and ask God to speak to my soul. I ask for an encounter. I ask to be filled.

In the silence, a startling truth shakes me from all my asking: God wants to fill each of his children as we radically encounter his love, but meditating in silence, waiting for shocking revelations from the sky is not the primary means. The primary way God wants us to encounter his love is through the written words he brings to life in the Bible.

When Darrell and I were in the early stages of love, we wrote long emails to one another. Our emails bridged the gap between us while he finished his undergraduate degree in Maine and I taught special education in Pennsylvania. We poured over the words, cherished them, and fell more deeply in love as we expressed our innermost thoughts. Read more… »