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!

Fifteen Ways to Find Refreshment

 

I take her to the river on a Saturday. Billowy cumulous clouds make promises about what’s to come, and I lean in for the quiet whisper on the wind.  It seems to be an invitation to refresh our souls.

She’s five, but she’s begged me to take her to the woods with a tent for months, and I finally concede. I want to go too.  I want to tell her about the nights on this river with friends and open Bibles.  I want to tell her how I encountered God on these rocks – how I memorized Psalms and felt like new life poured down through the summer rain showers that always caught us unprepared.

I strap fifty pounds to my back: two sleeping bags, two sleeping pads, the tent, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes, a baby doll, playing cards, and more. I push the rest in a double stroller, and she bounces into the woods for three whole miles, overflowing with the excitement of this novel adventure.

We’re two girls in the middle of the woods, and our cares slip away. After erecting the tent, gathering firewood, and hanging the bear bag, we wander to the river.  The water slips past emerald, and she asks if I have my Bible.  We read Psalm 97 and I tell her about the rainy day when I memorized this very Psalm along this very river.

She smiles, thoughtfully, and asks, “Did you bring communion?” She wants to remember him on the river.

We retrieve a small hotdog bun and the bottle of juice I brought for her breakfast, and I break the bread. We eat it in his memory and give thanks for the new covenant.  We pour the juice into metal camping cups and drink, remembering the blood he shed.  It’s a holy moment.

After a song and prayer, she scampers up the riverbank in search of toads, and I think of the words of Job: “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12).

Something about this place makes me long to open a Bible and recite beautiful words. It apparently stirs something in my child as well.  But I pray that it won’t end here.  I pray that I’ll treasure these words more than my necessary food, even when we return home with the demands and requirements for daily living.  Do I really treasure these words?

“These are more than just idle words; they are your life” (Deuteronomy 32:47), I read, and I wonder how much I’m really drawing my life from these words. Bekah returns with a snail, and she’s jumping in sheer delight.  We put it into an empty peanut butter jar, and she hurries back to the rock where she found it.

This river feels like it’s refreshing us in the deepest way, but these words in my hand offer even better promises of life and rest. I cling to these promises and rest in them until the sun sinks low.

When the shadows fall long on the water, we go back to the tent, cook dinner on the fire, and talk about dreams and hopes. She sleeps deeply, and I watch her all night, this protective shield rising within me, keeping watch for bears and raccoons.

I also consider what it might practically look like, in this season of life, to stay in a place of refreshment. I turn on the flashlight and scratch words on waterproof notebook paper:

  1. Treasure the written Word of God more than food (Job 23:12)
  2. Get away to quiet places when I can.
  3. Spend time with people who refresh my soul.
  4. Stop striving.
  5. Stop hurrying.
  6. Count blessings.
  7. Look for toads and snails more often.
  8. Give thanks for the work I get to do.
  9. Stay in community.
  10. Speak words that bring life.
  11. Cast my cares on the Lord.
  12. Turn away from perfectionism.
  13. Stop trying to prove something.
  14. Laugh more.
  15. Live vulnerably.

I close the book and close my eyes. I trust that the One who led us on this journey will protect us from bears and raccoons, and I drift into the deepest sleep I’ve found in months.

~~~

For more thoughts on refreshment and joy, check out this link and receive a free printout: 10 Steps to Greater Joy

 

The High Cost of Disobedience

 

We’re standing by the murky waters of a place we call the frog pond when I tell him. I tell him not to step into the water.  It’s sulfurous black swamp mud, and he’s wearing white socks under his sandals, upon his own insistence.  It has something to do with the cut on his foot that mysteriously appeared in the basement last week.

Maybe it’s because he’s ten feet away and he figures I can’t get over there in time to stop him. Or maybe he simply can’t resist the temptation.  He has a rebellious streak that’s so unlike his sister’s conservative temperament.  I pray every day that I might rein it in.

He doesn’t disobey with a toe in the water and a glance in my direction; he’s an all-in sort of guy, so he literally plunges into the mysterious murky water in a sort of leap. He sinks to his knees before he realizes what happened, and I find myself hurrying to the rescue.  I pull his little body from the muck, and we lose a sandal in the process.

The sobs start as soon as he sees his blackened socks, and I cringe at the thought of the microorganisms burrowing into the laceration on his foot. But there are greater issues to which I must attend: I plunge my arm into the stirred up, stinky water and begin grasping through the mud in search of the missing sandal.

There’s stinking mud under my nails when I pull the tiny shoe from the water, and we walk to the creek to make an effort to clean ourselves. This is a scene that’s played out in my life more than once over the past six years, when I decided to cultivate a passion for catching frogs in the lives of our children.

While Caleb splashes in the much-cleaner water of Wolf Creek, I’m reminded of a passage I read in Scripture not long ago: “‘If we have found favor in your [Moses’] eyes,’ they said, ‘let this land be given to your servants as our possession. Do not make us cross the Jordan.’ Moses said to the Gadites and Reubenites, ‘Should your fellow Israelites go to war while you sit here? Why do you discourage the Israelites from crossing over into the land the Lord has given them?’” (Numbers 32:5-7 NIV)

After forty years of wandering through the wilderness, God’s people have finally reached the waters of the Jordan River – the gateway to the Promised Land. Their inheritance waits on the western side of the river.  They must simply find a way to cross the river and receive the promise.

Not everyone in the crowd is excited about the journey across. A few of the leaders look at the land where they stand, on the eastern side of the river, and they decide this land will be good enough for them.  They’re comfortable.  This spot looks quite welcoming.  They approach Moses, their faithful leader, and convince him to let them stay on the eastern side of the river.

Moses relents. He simply asks that they contribute to the conquests on the western side of the river, and they may then return and settle to the east.

But the happy ending never comes. Jump forward a few books, and we find that those who settled to the east of the Jordan River were attacked and enslaved, and the right eye of every Israelite was gouged out (Samuel 10:27, 2 Kings 10:32). Failing to obey God’s command cost them dearly.

I’m thankful my children are learning to obey. The half-hearted Israelite clans set a good example for us all.  Partial obedience is disobedience, and disobedience has a cost.  We’re called to honor God for our own protection and benefit, not to stifle our fun.

I share these truths with Caleb while we clean his shoes in the semi-clear waters of Wolf Creek.

“No more mud,” he says.

“Right, no more mud,” I affirm.

 

Giving Thanks for the Wearying Workload

 

There’s a pile of luggage at the bottom of the stairwell.  An array of minion-decorated backpacks, colorful duffels, and pink handbags adorned with flowers and fairies.  We’re leaving town for two short nights.  Two nights.  And the pile is taller than our toddler and large enough to fill a small moving van.  I have no idea how we’ll fit it into the hatchback trunk of the CRV.

My mind races through the contents of the bags. There are lists in every room of the house.  There are enough snacks to feed a small family for weeks, enough emergency medical supplies to last our family close to a year, and enough extra diapers for a week.  You just never know.

Trying to remember everything for a short family trip with young children is enough to induced mild chest pains in my anxiety-prone diaphragm. I once decided to compile a master list of needed items, which is a great idea – in theory.  The problem is that the needs of my two-year-old are entirely different than his needs a year ago.  A year ago, he needed jars of runny baby food, the baby chair, multiple bibs, and baby spoons.  This year he’ll eat the same foods as his older sister.  In addition to the changing needs the come with passing years, winter trips are entirely different than summer trips, and the packing also depends entirely upon the destination.

The pile looms in the corner as the sun peaks over the pine trees out the window. I pick a cuticle and open God’s Word for some truth to center my racing mind.  I’m reading in 1 Chronicles these days, and the thin ribbon opens to a page I must have read before.  The black ink is highlighted neon yellow: “Oh give thanks to the Lord, call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples” (1 Chronicles 16:8).

I chew on the words and drink down black coffee. Fuel for the day.

Too often, I forget to chew on the words. Too often I take them in like one more task to complete – like dishes that need cleaned or pillowcases that need folded.  He doesn’t want it to be like this.  He wants it to be like a love letter – pondered and memorized and cherished.

I think of how life would be without these two small people bouncing about in need of snacks and dry pants and crayons. I look at the worn blue backpack at the bottom of the pile.  Ten years ago, that backpack was the only luggage needed on every weekend trip.  Ten years ago, I could fit all I needed for five days in that pack.  Things were simpler.  But simpler doesn’t mean better.  There was less work at home, but it wasn’t better.  It’s better now.

I ponder these things and forgive myself for disdaining the work that sometimes comes with parenting. I give thanks.  I call upon his name.  I commit to make his goodness known.  Are opportunities to serve others not opportunities to give thanks for the honor of sharing in Christ’s heart for investing in others?

The work set before me today is stacked higher than the bags on the steps. There is laundry, cooking, and an article assignment that will take at least three hours.  I’m not looking forward to it.  It’s the gritty kind of work that feels more like a college research paper than a soul-satisfying outpouring from my heart.

I give thanks anyway. I thank him for the opportunity to create with my hands and bless others.  I thank him that there are words to write and dishes to wash.  I thank him that though it feels like a heavy weight, it’s more like a minion backpack filled with purpose and blessing.

 

How to Live Fully

 

The tulip poplar leaves are just beginning to emerge – tiny hands waving at the cobalt sky. I consider their short lives.  For six fleeting months, they greet the dawn with their flapping waves.  When October comes they’ll grow worn and weathered, thick and leathery, and they’ll fall black to the deck, swept away by the autumn winds or the broom that comes to prepare the worn boards for winter.

Six months isn’t long to stand under the sun, to dance wildly in the breeze, to laugh in the rain. Six months feels so fleeting – like a vapor.

You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away, James writes. We’re much the same.  These tiny waving leaves and my oh-so-short life.   Am I really using it well, I wonder as I watch the shadows flitter on the pollen-smeared boards.  Am I wishing away these days that will never come back?  Am I chasing something that’s been right here all along?

How do I live this one life well?

A red-winged black bird glides over the field behind the house, and our caged quail calls for a mate. I turn the pages for words about how to live this day to its fullest, and I find them: This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Could it be so simple?  I ponder the implications of these words and strain to apply them to my life:

I will acknowledge that the Lord has brought this day to pass.  I’ll receive it all as grace and count the blessings and the trials as grace.  Unmerited favor.  His hand working all things for his ultimate glory and my ultimate good.  I’ll give thanks for the muffins baked in the light of early morning, and I’ll give thanks for the little hands that drop all dozen eggs in the middle of the kitchen floor.  I’ll choose to believe that the long line of traffic is all part of some divine plan, and I’ll leave space in my days to talk to strangers.  I’ll hurry less and take photos of flowers in the yard.

I will rejoice. I will rejoice when we hold hands on the way to meet the bus, all three of us linked together in love, and I’ll rejoice when the littlest one falls down on the way back to the house.  I’ll rejoice over the food in the cupboard and the crumbs scattered across the kitchen floor, imitating the line of ants that will soon carry them away.  I will rejoice as I wipe fingerprints from the faucets and smudges from the mirrors.

I will be glad in it. I will be glad in the midst of this actual day.  I will be glad because I’ll see God in it.  I’ll see him in the leaves bursting forth from the poplar tree.  I’ll see him in the eyes of the delivery man when he comes with his tired shoulders and forced smile.  I’ll see him in the tenderness of my child and the frustration of the computer software that refuses to download.  I will know that he loves me in all my imperfections and that he is my great reward.  I will cease from striving and refuse to live in a hurry.  I’ll leave dishes in the sink and dirt on the floor.  I will commit to do whatever I do with my whole heart, as unto the Lord, and I won’t worry about what I can’t do.  I’ll believe the best about other people and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts.  I’ll let go of grudges and let go of what I cannot change.  In all the letting go, I will be glad.

 

I commit to embrace the days in a different way, here on the threshold of spring bursting into summer.   I commit to be all here, to live fully, to still myself and know  . . .

The breeze picks up, and the poplar leaves point heavenward – tiny hands, praising their Maker.

 

 

Scriptures: James 4:14, Psalm 118:24 NASB

Four Reasons to Ponder What Is Beautiful

 

A man should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day of his life, in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The awakening of spring feels like a rebirth of sorts. Something about the sound of geese overhead, the emerging jack-in-the-pulpit rising from black earth, and the pungent scent wafting from the once frozen creekbed stirs a sense of vitality in my soul.  I sense this rebirth speaks of some greater longing within me – a longing for heaven, a longing for the day when all things are made new, a longing for the face-to-face embrace with the One who created me.

Throughout the most stress-filled seasons of my life, pondering beauty has been my greatest source of relief. When college classes weighed on me, I pulled poetry books from the shelves of the library and memorized poems about leaves no step had trodden black.  When my teaching career was straining, I took walks in the bitter December afternoons – towering spruce trees ushering me into a canopy of protection.  When pregnancy rendered me immovable, Mom pulled the old green reclining chair from the porch so I could watch the wrens flutter from their box.

In this season, I can think of lists of reasons to join Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in seeking what is beautiful. Here are four motivations to ponder beauty today:

Magnifying the beautiful magnifies God

In every moment, I have a choice. I can magnify my problems, or I can magnify God.  The mouse pointer disappears on the computer, rendering my day’s plans inoperable.  In this moment, I can magnify my frustrating problem, or I can magnify God.  The kids are literally screaming at one another over who gets to load Lion King into our antiquated VCR.  I can magnify the fact that they’ve now screamed at one another sixteen times in two hours, or I can magnify God by remembering how grateful I am to be a mother.  The daily grind of my life is wearing me down.  I can magnify all the reasons I’m disappointed with my life, or I can magnify the many blessings.

Magnifying God puts my problems in perspective

The benefit of magnifying God in my life is that keeping my eyes on him keeps my problems in perspective. The immovable mouse on my computer changed my plans for the day, but it’s not as big of a deal as it seems.  The yelling kids are unnerving and frustrating, but this is part of learning to cooperate and relate with others.  I’m glad they’re learning to navigate relational frustrations in a safe place.  In the grand scheme of my life, many of my troubles are light and momentary.  Even the heavy burdens will be used for God’s glory.  Keeping my eyes on him reminds me to endure hardships with strength and courage.

We were created to crave beauty

Snow-capped peaks and waves crashing to sandy shores elicit responses of awe because we were created to crave beauty. Ecclesiastes 3:11 reads: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart . . .” We all long for the beauty of encountering God face-to-face. Until then, our hearts are set on fire with passion for him when we see the beautiful works of his hands. Encountering beauty through nature, the arts, architecture, and other people reinvents the awe we were designed to crave.

Gratitude elevates

Gratitude lifts our eyes above ourselves. Thankfulness displaces negativity.  Even the smallest flame dispels a room of darkness.  We’re called to give thanks in everything.  The more we count our blessings, the less we keep track of wrongs.  Gratefulness and grumpiness simply can’t dwell in the same space.

Wherever life finds you today, may you embrace the joy of the journey, find something for which you can give thanks, and keep looking up. The geese are northern-bound.

 

There Are No Small Moments

 

I’m on my knees, camera lens inches from a dwarf ginseng, its tiny snowflake head bobbing in the breeze, when I realize we’re not alone. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” the khaki-clad elderly gentleman greets, and I’m drawn from my small moment with the ginseng.

“Sure is,” I say, somewhat embarrassed by the black dirt on my knees and elbows.

“Did you see the trout lilies?” he asks, and I notice the camera strapped over his neck. I’m less embarrassed.

We talk for a long while about trillium and bluebells, and he finally meanders off along the path. Returning to my photo shoot with the ginseng, I remember the way I once looked at thirty-somethings with cameras and wildflower books.  At twenty-two, I kept track of miles logged and elevations reached, not dwarf flora, like violets and ginseng.  At twenty-two, I mostly lived for big moments – summit moments, and the thought of bending low for small moments seemed nothing short of condescending.

We walk farther down the trail, kids running ahead in search of toads and moths, and I consider these changing seasons. When did small moments begin to take on such an authentic kind of glory?  It must have been before I dug the wildflower books out of the dusty boxes in the attic of the garage.

I remember when I started taking pictures of tiny mushrooms and sphagnum moss. I believe that was the moment.  The moment I pulled out the camera and committed to capture the miracles I miss every day, when I brush past in all my hurry, with my large-moment focus and my desire to prove something.

What if we could all live like we have nothing to prove? What if we never again needed to prove our worth through demonstrating our intelligence, beauty, humor, and talent?  What if these things were simply gifts with which we blessed others, and we were fully content to live in the midst of our quiet moments in utter contentment?

Have I really learned the secret of being content in any and every situation?

What if there really are no small moments – just quiet moments . . . And what if the quiet moments are worth every bit as much as the loud moments performed before the multitudes?

I think long on it, while the kids build castles along the sandy creek, and I’m sure of it: These quiet moments of walking with children in the woods, baking cornbread, stirring scrambled eggs with a rubber spatula, folding tiny T-shirts, and wiping down dusty furniture are the moments that will make up the bulk of our lives. There may be loud moments, platform moments, and moments that are broadcast before the world, but these big moments won’t make up the majority of our lives.

So what are we doing with our quiet moments? Because the quiet moments are the ones that seem small, but they’re really the ones that comprise the essence of our lives.

Sitting along the water, I commit to live with more gratitude. I commit to recognize the gifts that surround me and magnify God through naming them: dwarf ginseng, blue phlox, garlic mustard, and wild geranium; sandcastles at the creek, lunch on a hilltop, holding hands along the road; the mounds of dirty laundry that remind me of the gift of my family, the meat simmering in the crock-pot, the green crayon on the living room wall.  I won’t write these things off or roll my eyes.  I’ll embrace them and give thanks.

I commit to speak life. I commit to ask direct questions and bite my tongue when I’m in a bad mood.  I remember to tell the kids that I love them just because they’re mine, that their mistakes will never define them, and that they make my world a better place.

I commit to live intentionally.  We role play the whole way home from the creek, and Bekah thinks of responses to every playground dilemma I can conjure up.  We read Bible stories before Caleb naps, and I pray specific prayers over each of them before he sleeps.  We turn off the TV and dive into imaginary play on the carpet with our assortment of mini characters.  I make some calls and send some cards.

When the sun sinks low that evening, Bekah and I put together a pocket guide of wildflowers from our sanctuary at the Wolf Creek Narrows Natural Area. We find Latin names and study the history of each plant.  It all feels a bit small, but when she looks at me with dancing blue eyes, filled wild with life and passion, I know for sure that none of this day was small at all.

To check out our pamphlet, just click the link below. You’ll be asked to give your email address, and it will come to your inbox.  This is actually a terrific resource for anyone up for an outdoor adventure this month!

Western Pennsylvanian Spring Wildflower Guide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.