Category: Transformation

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!

The Mystery of Life from Death

 

The lingering daylight leads us to the woods again, and I sink into a moss-covered log while the kids throw sticks in the water. The peepers have crawled from their winter homes and cry out for love, and something about the whole scene just feels completely alive and right in the most organic way.

I’m thinking about life and fresh starts, as the moisture of the sphagnum moss permeates my thin wind pants. It seems the rotting log is literally absorbing my weight, as I enhance the decomposition and press into the dirt. The moss is all around me now, sucking its life from the rotting log’s decomposing nutrients.

My mind shifts to Christ and his illustration about the wheat. There will be no harvest without a complete decomposition – a complete breaking – of the kernel of wheat. Life comes from brokenness. It’s the same with the moss. Because the tree gives of itself, the moss grows lush and abundant.

Christ took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

Christ took the loaves, broke them, and distributed them for the multitudes.

He who loses his life finds it.

Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow.

~~~

I think to the birth of our two children – the breaking that comes with emerging into the cold world. A mother’s body is broken on behalf of her child. I think of the cross. His body broken so that we might have eternal life. I think of every hard season in my life – dying to myself so that fruit might come. I count the reasons to embrace the breaking:

If we want him to make old things new, we must let him break the old to refashion the new.

I’m not who I was ten years ago, and I hope to be different ten years from now. It took breaking the old ways of life for God to reshape me into a new creation. When I longed for freedom from destructive behaviors, he broke me, so that I might be set free. When living in my own strength became the greatest obstacle in my life, he broke me so that I had to live in his.

If our hearts are never broken, he can’t reshape them to the image of his heart. If our lives are never surrendered, he won’t reach his hand in and reform that to which we still cling. It must be set at the feet of the cross and offered for his recreation.

His light shines through the cracks of our broken parts.

My life felt most broken when a long string of unwise decisions left me reeling with pain. Though I’ve been healed and transformed, there are parts of my story that aren’t fun to relive. I often find that he uses these parts to shine his light through my own story and offer hope to those who are dealing with the same struggles I once I faced. His light shines through the cracks of my failures, and he receives the glory for his redemption. Life springs from death.

Redemption awaits the broken, not the ones who assume they are whole.

We are all broken. Doing life on our own leads to striving, and striving leads to emptiness. Only the broken realize they need put back together. Only the broken realize they can’t save themselves. I spent many years living in my own strength, thinking my good works would earn my ticket into heaven. Only when I was broken – when I came to the end of myself – did I realize that I had no power to redeem my life. Only the sacrifice of Christ can redeem my life.

Because he was broken, we are called to lay our lives down as well.

Dying to my desires feels like the hardest kind of death some days. Sacrificing sleep to stay up and talk with a hurting friend, sacrificing meals because a fevered child is resting in my arms, and sacrificing my comfort so that I can invest in the lives of others feels like death. It’s only when we die to our own desires that we are set free to live for the benefit of others.

 

Regardless of where you’re encountering something that feels like death today, my prayer is that you’ll look to Christ. He knows about the sting of death, and he overcame it at the cross. Victory is coming. Until then, may we continue to lay our lives down so that he might live through us.

 

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.

When There Are Cliffs on Both Sides

 

The cold mountain wind rips at me like the dead of winter, while the sun scorches my chapped hands with desert-like heat. I spit gritty sand – miniscule molecules of the beige granite surrounding me – and continue my ascent. Glancing upward, I’m only sixty yards from the summit. Sixty grueling yards of rough rock outcroppings and sheer drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.

I’ve barely begun the decade of my twenties, and I’m certain I’m invincible. Certain I’ve figured out most of what I’ll need to know for life. I have no idea.

I claw my way to the summit of the 12,000-foot mountain and lie flat in the flogging wind, the bandana in my hair whipping like sheets on a clothesline. It’s my day off work at AWLS, the wilderness leadership school where I’m spending my summer. Climbing mountains is my greatest passion in life, and I can think of nothing that would ever be more important. I have so much to learn.

I stare at MacLeod Lake, over a thousand feet below, and I plan my descent. There’s no easy way. There’s only a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on each side. I’ll have to risk it.

~~~

Much to my parents’ relief, I survived my summer in Wyoming’s mountains. I’m a little embarrassed as I look back at my unwise risks and poorly discerned decisions, but I thank God I’m not the person I was. This all came to mind this morning, as I opened my Bible to my daily reading plan.

Chapter 14 of first Samuel finds King Saul’s son, Jonathan, preparing to advance on the Philistines. Verse 4 reads: “Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.”

Jonathan needed to make forward progress to achieve his goal, but he found himself in a precarious situation. He needed to cross a mountain pass with a sharp crag on each side of the pass. I can relate.

The Hebrew word “Bozez” refers to something that is gleaming or slippery. The word “Seneh” means thorny. On one side he faced a steep slope of thorns. On the other, a dangerously slippery descent.

Despite the risks, Jonathan pressed forward, advanced against the Philistines, and overtook them. He braved the thorns and the drop-off, and he pressed forward toward his goal. Because I’ve climbed many mountains, the analogy strikes me poignantly: When the journey grows perilous, keep your eyes on the goal and keep walking.

Jonathan’s goal was to overtake the Philistines. My goal at age twenty was reaching a literal summit. Our goal as followers of Christ is to love him and make his love known to others.

The lesson from Jonathan’s journey is relevant, regardless of the goal. Whether I’m aiming to start a business, hoping to overcome the pain of a past heartbreak, wading through the deep waters of troubled relationships, trying to parent with love and compassion, or seeking healing in a difficult matter, I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and keep walking.

The slippery slope of fear will threaten to take me down. The thorny path of painful self-sacrifice, slow progress, and failure will threaten to stop my progress. But I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and press forward.

I’m thankful for the author of Hebrews, who reminds me exactly where to fix my eyes when things get tough: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus could endure the cross on my behalf, I can endure this trial on his behalf.

Wherever life has you walking a delicate chasm between a thorny downfall and a long slippery slope, be encouraged by Jonathan. Keep stepping forward. It will be worth the journey.

 

 

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.

When You Don’t Know Which Choice to Make

 

“. . . the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)

Otto Lake shines like glass, and I find myself looking to the hills for help. Somewhere in the recesses of my memory I remember something about help coming from the hills, and I’m desperate for help. I’m just into the decade of my twenties, and I think I’m grown up now.

Mosquitoes hum around my headnet, a constant reminder that I am far from home. I wonder if they might speak the truth of my future and catch myself listening for just a moment.

I came to Alaska to find answers about my career, myself, and mostly about God. I don’t know it yet, but he’ll graciously provide answers to all three.

A fish jumps, casting tiny circles that ripple the whole way to the shore.

I’m praying about whether to leave my home in Pennsylvania to pursue a teaching career in Alaska, or whether this summer job at the gas station will be my final stay in Interior Alaska. I’m waiting for an answer from God, and I’m weighing it all out. I love the endless mountains, the sense of adventure, and the constant daylight of the Alaskan summer. But I miss my family, my friends, and the freshly cut hayfields of Plain Grove.

I open my Bible for the first time since arriving in the land of the midnight sun. I don’t read it much these days. I believe God let me down, and I’m offended. But I still believe he’s there, so I open it and start reading in the book of Galatians. I make it to chapter five without noticing much anything at all.

A mosquito penetrates my headnet, and I smash it between the green netting with a bloody pinch.

Then it hits me: “. . . the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).

I’ve been sensing God’s voice often throughout my summer excursions, but most of the time, I’m looking in all the wrong places. But this day, on the lake, God’s voice is clear and sweet. It has to do with my calling, and I have no doubt this is a Word just for me.

I can move to Alaska to teach, or I can search for a job in Pennsylvania. What matters most is that I live a life of faith expressing itself through love. If my decision is based on love, if it seems wise, I will simply weigh my options and make the best decision I know how to make.

I gaze up at the mountains surrounding the quiet lake, and I know the answer. I don’t really want to abandon all that I know and everyone I love. I don’t really want to relocate to a place where the sun won’t shine in the winter months. I don’t want to miss birthday parties, weddings, and funerals. I want to love God well and serve him a little closer to home. I’m afraid of where life might lead if I stay here with all the temptations of dark winter living. I close the Bible and stare at mountains reflected on Otto Lake. I will let my faith express itself through love and make the best decision I know to make.

~~~

I left Alaska with tears that summer, and I haven’t returned since. I’m pleased with my choice to teach in Pennsylvania, and I’m pleased with all the doors that opened as a result.

I used to mostly wait for God to speak to me with clarity in the form of a small whisper in the depths of my soul. And while he can speak in this way, more often than not, he simply calls me to make the most prudent decision I can make, always assuring it’s rooted in love. I still get hung up on this at times: whether to launch a writing career now or in four years, whether to start a blog or not, whether to say yes to extracurriculars for Bekah or not, and the list goes on.

While God has a plan and purpose for each of his children, sometimes we get caught up on hearing him just right and executing the details of our lives perfectly. What if we simply committed to make the best, wisest, most love-rooted decisions possible, and stop stressing over when, where, how and why? I believe it would set us free in ways we never imagined. What if we really trusted him to hem us in, behind and before? I believe we’d learn to walk in the assurance of his love and provision.

Someday I hope to return to Alaska – to sit on the porch of the cabin where I lived with Anne Marie, to walk along the Tenana River, to watch the Mountain glow at 2 a.m., and climb to the summit of Mount Healy. Someday I hope to sit along Otto Lake with buzzing mosquitoes and thank God for the quiet guidance along the journey.

What the Midwinter Thaw is Teaching Me about God

Wolf creek is overflowing its banks, and this normally languorous stream is raging with a fervency that borders on terrifying.   It’s what they call “break up” in the Yukon. The ice that has covered the river all winter is cracking, breaking up, and crashing downstream with a thunderous ferocity. It happens in spring in Canada, and river dwelling homesteaders anxiously watch the water flow, hoping the ice doesn’t jam and cause floods that threaten their cabins and sled dogs.

It’s not spring here in Pennsylvania; it’s midwinter, and this thaw has captured my attention. I’m a child of the woods, and I encounter God most profoundly through nature. When he wants to get my attention, he often leads me to a quiet piece of woods or a raging river. Nature shifts my focus from worries of this life to the character of the God who created the world.

Today the ice is flowing, and pausing to notice shifts my gaze toward my Creator. Ice chunks the size of refrigerators plunge and bob down the chocolate-colored stream, crashing off rocks and smaller chunks of ice. I stay far from the bank. But even from a trail ten feet back, I notice a deeply submerged layer of ice beneath the brown current. The bottom of the creek remains frozen.

Listening closely, a guttural grinding noise is coming from the depths. I watch as a crack in the submerged ice layer widens, eventually allowing an enormous chunk to break free and cascade downstream. The grinding continues, and one piece at a time, I watch the ice that took so long to form in the depths of the creek as it is carried off by the current.

I think of the work God’s done in my life over the past two years. Most of it has gone unseen on the surface. But he’s been doing deep, guttural work in the subterranean chasms of my soul. He’s been transforming my identity in the deepest way, changing my desires – even the ones I thought were godly and honoring , and revealing attitudes that don’t bring him glory.

God wants to go deep in each of his children and set us free in the hidden places. He wants to transform our identities and our desires. Let’s look at four common desires and the way God might want to transform these desires in our lives:

The Desire to be Right

Most of us struggle with this one. We find it necessary to have the last word, to be an expert on the topic at hand, to prove to our husbands or our parents that we have the answers. This desire manifests itself when I can’t let a conversation drop, when I feel obliged to defend my stance at all costs, and when every conversation with my child turns into a lecture.

We need to let go of the constant need to be right. Instead, God wants to transform us to people who simply want to listen, care, love, and empathize.

The Desire to be Heard

Not unlike the desire to be right, some of us will go to extreme measures to voice our opinions. Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about your own life when someone else is talking? Do you spend most of the conversation thinking about how you’ll respond, instead of truly listening to a friend who is hurting? Do you make it a point to make your opinion known, even if it might hurt someone in your midst?

God wants to transform the desire to be heard into the desire to listen.

The Desire to Look Like You Have It All Together

It’s commendable to take care of ourselves. It’s simple good stewardship of our bodies, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. But we cross the line when we pretend to be what we are not, when we obsess over appearances, and when we refuse to be vulnerable. It’s never been easy for me to let others into the vulnerable parts of my life, but I’ve realized it’s necessary, possibly even essential.

If we’re going to go deep in relationships with others, we need to let them see who we really are. God wants to transform us from those who focus on putting on a good appearance to those who let others see their weaknesses. It’s only when we show the world our weaknesses that Christ’s strength can actually be made perfect in us.

The Desire to be Needed by Other People

Most of us want to be needed. Being needed brings purpose, and purpose leads to fulfillment and satisfaction in life. But what happens when the kids move out of the house, your husband signs the divorce papers, you lose the job, or you’re asked to step down from the ministry position?

God wants us to be defined not by our positions, not by the roles in which we’re important, not by where we’re needed. He wants us to be defined by the singular fact that he loves us. If my world is suddenly stripped away, is sitting alone in the midst of God’s love enough for me? Would it be enough for you?

He’s calling each of his children to a deeper encounter with his love. He wants to break up the icy depths of our souls and seal our identities as children dearly loved by the Most High God.

Today’s invitation is to pause and pray through these areas of desire in your own life, and ask God to reveal additional areas of desire: the desire to be liked, the desire for attention, the desire to appear intelligent and beautiful. None of these desires are wrong, but when they become all-important pursuits in our lives, we need God to come and break up the depths of our souls. Will you pray about where God wants to change your desires and let him speak truth into that place?

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… »