Time for something new

I don’t make a lot of changes with the new year. I consider resolutions, but don’t actually set them, because I feel like I’m just setting myself up for failure. I don’t do well at sticking to something for a long time. Self-discipline is an area in which I could stand to improve :-). At ...

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I don’t make a lot of changes with the new year. I consider resolutions, but don’t actually set them, because I feel like I’m just setting myself up for failure. I don’t do well at sticking to something for a long time. Self-discipline is an area in which I could stand to improve :-). At the same time, though, I think it’s important to look for the new, because making changes to my prayer life is the only thing that has helped me work through so many of the stumbling blocks I’ve faced in my lifetime.

Because here’s the truth: God promised to make all things new. We are new creations in Christ. We put off the old and put on the new. The Bible is full of references… so let’s take this opportunity—the new year— to shake up our prayer lives, while we’re already thinking about new beginnings. My January Prayer Prompt Calendar is about trying new things, praying for those in the process of change, giving thanks for things that are new and things that are not.

Beware, though: in keeping with that idea, the dates are all out of order, and some are sideways or even upside down!

Click here to go to the Downloads page, where you can get your calendar for free by simply entering your email address. Then tuck it into your Bible, journal, or notebook, and start asking God to lead you in the new year.

While you’re here, though, will you enter my giveaway? You have until Saturday, Dec. 30 to leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for this key necklace. In keeping with the idea of trying something new, I had a lovely friend make these for me—as a reminder to pray, perhaps even upside down! I’d love for you to share a tip or trick you’ve used to help yourself pray… but if you don’t have any suggestions, just leave your name and you’ll also be in the drawing for this necklace.

A prayer for when Christmas has lost its sparkle

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored. In reality, though, some of ...

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Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom six years ago, and my dad this summer, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?


Dear Heavenly Father,

I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to give You, but all of my brokenness is taking up space that I’d rather fill with other things. So I offer You what little I have—my pain, sadness, grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, worries, finances, broken dreams, shattered expectations, floundering relationships, lack of passion, messy home, scattered mind, and lack of focus—I let go of it all to make room for You. 

I know that You change the atmosphere of every place You inhabit, so I invite You to dwell here with me. When Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago, the world didn’t recognize the Savior, and no one made room for Him. But we have the privilege of understanding the enormity of the gift You gave us in this vulnerable little child. In this season of gifts, we know that Jesus is the One that matters.

So, precious Lord, I invite You in. As You abide in me, warm my heart from the inside out. Surround me with Your peace, comfort me with Your Spirit, whisper sweet thoughts into my mind.

Push aside all my worries and replace them with worship.

Replace fear with faith.

Stress with song.

Anxiety with awe.

Christmas is the time when love came near. So I’m stepping forward in faith, moving towards You, the One who loves me. The One who woos me, even when I’m not feeling it. The One who changes every life He touches. Hoping You will turn things around, I hold out my hands and trust in Your grace, which says You love me even if I don’t deserve it. Even if everything else in my life isn’t perfect.

I offer all that I have, what little I have to give, with abandon. And I trust that You know my heart—You know that I love You, and You know that I want to overcome this feeling of blah and instead live full of passion and joy.

Please, Lord, accept my invitation.

I welcome You back into my heart. In the place of all my imperfections, I instead receive Your wholeness. I release all of my expectations for a picture-perfect holiday and turn instead towards You, the reason we celebrate. The hope of glory. The promise of eternity. The miracle of new life.

The joy of the world.

And I marvel, because all of that—all that You are, all that You promise, all that You’ve done—is right here within me.

And suddenly I understand that the lights and the wrapping paper and the caroling are fine, but they fade in comparison to the sparkly wonder of who You are.

Merry Christmas, my sweet Lord. Thank You. And amen.


A version of this post originally appeared at Crosswalk.com.

Your answer may already be right next door

I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway! It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it. But can I let you ...

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I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway!

It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it.

But can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think I began to know what the gift really was until about ten years after I got it.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:11, NLT

Many of you have already heard some version of this story. In 2007, my husband and I decided to buy the house next door to the one my sister lived in. We weren’t looking for a new home, but this old house being put on the market by her elderly neighbor was everything we hadn’t realized we wanted until we saw it. On top of that, it was cheap. It needed tons of work—all-new electrical, ugly shag carpets removed to reveal hardwood floors, lots of wallpapers stripped and walls painted. But we knew we could renovate it, sell the old house, and make a profit. So we got to work. My dad and I rebuilt the kitchen and everyone in the extended family pitched in in some way. This new house was so much better suited for our family of five and my home office, and we felt God’s peace there.

We were certain God was in this.

And yet the old house would not sell.

Our credit card balances rose steadily, as did my stress. I’d sneak downstairs in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the financial disaster we were facing, and I’d cry along with the Psalmists. The bank wouldn’t refinance our mortgage, but my grandmother had loaned us the money to buy the new house—and she decided we didn’t need to pay her back. It was a gift. The house was a gift. (Spoiler alert: as amazing as that is, this isn’t the gift this story is about.)

After many months on the market but hardly any showings, we finally had one scheduled. As I vacuumed in my bedroom, I got real with God. “Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t sell this. We are going to be in real trouble.”

And, without even a hint of hesitation, God spoke to me. “Pray for the woman who will someday buy your house.”

I sat down on the bedspread in silence and awe. I’d heard from God. I knew I could hold on a little bit longer to help her, whoever she was. So I prayed. As I wrote my mortgage check every month, I mentally gave it to God. “This is my offering. I’m doing this for her.” I knew I could manage to go a little bit longer without selling the house as long as I knew God was in it, that He was at work. I believed with all of my heart that was true. So I put more stuff for the house on our credit cards, worked more, and prayed more.

And yet nothing happened for a long time. So we moved. We were declined when we tried to refinance our first mortgage. We anointed the house and prayed for all who would enter it.

And nada.

As we neared the two-year mark, a woman who’d looked at the house earlier came back with an offer that, while low, was one we had to consider. Even so, we couldn’t make it work—until our realtor waived his commission, we got a first-time-ever tax refund, and my mom gave me the rest so we could pay off the bank, at least—never mind the credit cards. Less than ideal, surely, but we felt we had to say yes.

I was like a sulky teenager. Even though I should have been rejoicing, all I could see was that it hadn’t happened like I had planned. And then I saw what God had done during that time in the life of Rosanne, the woman who bought the house, and I realized that He really had answered me. He used our house to answer so many of her prayers. And because I was praying for her instead of focusing on myself, I got to be part of it . When I really looked at the situation, I got to see what God really did.

There’s a lot more to the story, and you can read a little more here; it also became the basis for my first book, Praying Upside Down.

For years, I’ve been talking about this—about how sweet God is, that He brought Rosanne and I together as friends, that He cared enough about her to go to such lengths to provide just what she needed. And how He used the experience to launch my writing career.

But you know something? I was wrong. Maybe not completely, but I guess it’s safe to say, at the very least, that my understanding was woefully incomplete.

In late June, my dad went into the hospital with what we thought were AFib issues. After a few weeks, with my sister and I flying down to Florida for alternating weeks of being with him, surgery revealed cancer—everywhere. It was bad, and Dad didn’t have long. I was in Florida when the surgery happened, but by the time we realized that Dad was likely not to recover enough to come home by means of a regular mode of transportation, my sister Kerry was with him. As a nurse, she understood the situation intuitively and she made the call to have Dad flown back to Indiana via a med flight.

Because I lived next door, it was easy for me to oversee the setup of a room at Kerry’s house and to coordinate with the doctors on this end. I met the oxygen delivery people, set up hospice care, and arranged for delivery of the hospital bed, rolling tray table, and so on. I bought privacy curtains and all the random things we’d need to care for him there.

When Dad got here, he wasn’t doing very well. He was trying to recover from his surgery, deal with a pleurex drain, and the cancer was causing him a lot of pain. From the beginning, he needed someone with him at all times.

It was horrible. And yet it was the best possible scenario. I could walk across the driveway in my slippers, carrying my own coffee, and sit with Dad while he watched the Today show and dozed. While I was there, Kerry could shower and throw in some laundry. I stayed on the days she worked, and on her days off I came home to do my own work—switching off shifts to accommodate our various appointments. Our families shared meals, our kids could come see their Bebop in between activities, and Kerry, her husband Doug, and I took turns sleeping on a futon in Dad’s room each night.

For years, I’d believed that the whole story about selling my house was about seeing God’s answers to prayer, about a new friendship, about giving me insights and the opportunity to write about them. Still true. However, during those tumultuous and overwhelming three weeks before Dad died, I saw the true gift in it all: God was establishing Kerry and me next door to each other so that we would be able to care for Dad like we did. My dad kept saying, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “It’s so neat what you girls are doing here. Who would have thought it would work out like this?”

God knew. Ten years ago, He looked down the road and saw that the only way we could get through the incredibly exhausting and emotional time coming up was exactly the way we did. Side by side, helping each other out, seamlessly interchangeable.

Such a beautiful gift, and one that was planned years ahead of the need.

This is what is so amazing about our God. Nothing is wasted. He sees beyond our immediate needs and He puts answers in motion long before we even know to ask.

Sometimes it feels to me as though God has stopped answering prayers. And then He nudges me, points my thoughts in a new direction and lets me really see: The answers haven’t stopped. Some are still coming. Some look different than we expect. And some are only partially fulfilled—so far. There may still be layers yet to be revealed.

None of what is happening is a surprise to God. We just need to keep hanging on, confident that our God will keep giving to us good and precious gifts. And remember—we don’t necessarily need to look far and wide to find them—they may be waiting for us right next door.


To enter to win this sterling silver charm bracelet—hand-crafted by yours truly with blue and green stones and beads—leave a comment below. Tell us about a gift you remember that God gave you, a gift hidden within a gift, or simply leave a comment or prayer request. I’ll draw names to select a winner one week from today.

Joyful sorrow

I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13, NIV Those weeks before my dad died were a blur, a photo montage, like quick takes from a movie. Hourly care schedules, changing almost daily. Trading nights with my sister, sleeping (but not sleeping) on the futon ...

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I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31:13, NIV

Those weeks before my dad died were a blur, a photo montage, like quick takes from a movie. Hourly care schedules, changing almost daily. Trading nights with my sister, sleeping (but not sleeping) on the futon in his room, alert to every movement my dad made in his sleep. Jumping up, once I finally started to doze, to comfort Dad that his dreams/hallucinations weren’t real. Sitting in the dark, holding his hand, trying not to let him see the tears.

The constant mental countdown to his next dose of oxycodone. The other mental countdown until morning, keeping track of how many hours I was unable to sleep. Meeting the hospice people, juggling the changes to his meds, listening to the oxygen machine drone on, taking his blood pressure and dutifully recording it in our book.

The mornings when I’d go over to have coffee and Dad would drift in and out of sleep, the Today Show playing way too loudly because he wasn’t wearing his hearing aids. His sweet personality showing in the way he’d compliment everyone who came in to care for him—even if it made him wince in pain. He even praised the oncologist, the one who told him he didn’t have much time, for his good bedside manner and his clarity in explaining things.

It was a time of constant motion during which my absolute physical exhaustion seemed to be at a level appropriate for the emotional turmoil I felt.

My mom died six years earlier, also from cancer, and I just didn’t think I had it in me to get through losing my dad, too. When Mom went, it felt like divine cruelty. But when Dad died, it was different. Every situation—every loss—is different, but I knew something this time that I hadn’t known before. I understood how big the pain would be, how it overtakes everything else, how it cuts you to the very core and cannot be resisted.

So this time I didn’t try to fight it. I absorbed it. I didn’t brace myself against its impact, but instead, let it wash over me. Through me. Fill me. I knew it would become a part of who I am forevermore so I didn’t bother to resist. I’d learned that grief is not something to “get over.” It is not something that goes away. It seeps in, changing the color and tone and very foundation of who I am, forevermore.

Yes, I’m changed by the loss of my dad, and that loss will come to partially define me. But more so, I’m defined by being his child in the first place. When Dad passed, it felt like compassion, not cruelty. I felt a kind of exhilaration that I never expected, a joy, and the “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7).

Not having Dad here is hard—and yes, that’s an understatement. But sometimes it doesn’t feel as much like a loss as an addition to who I am. I wasn’t losing something, but adding something. I get to carry forward the traits of my dad that he planted in my genetic code. I get to live in a world that knew him, that respected and honored him, and share him with others who miss him too. I get to pick up where he let off. I get to take him forward with me as I move forward, which I inevitably will do—because there really isn’t a choice.

Because I’ve discovered that even in my grief, even in the face of my pain, there is joy to be found. Contentment. The soothing balm of faith. Glimpses of beauty even in times of sadness.

Joy isn’t only found in the sunshiny moments, in the happiness and cheerfulness of things going right. Even more beautiful is that which comes in the face of mourning, in the shadows of sorrow. Because when we can find joy in those ordinary and less-than-ideal moments, there is no doubt where it comes from. When we can see joy then, we know without a shadow of doubt that God is present.

And that is enough to make my heart rejoice.

Dear Lord, You are a compassionate God and You mourn when we mourn. But You also promise to turn our mourning into gladness. To give us comfort and joy to replace our sorrow. To be with us in every moment. Your very presence brings with it unexplainable, unspeakable joy. We praise You for this and ask You to be with those who are learning to live with a loss. Let them find beauty—let them see You—even in their pain. Because Your compassion is boundless and Your love is without end. Amen.


Join me over at Real Women Ministries for study questions and to continue this discussion—and while you’re there, check out this whole series. Lots of women being real… lots of inspiration to be found.

A month of gifts—and Talking to Jesus

If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh ...

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If you read my post last week, you know that I decided to give away something each week during December. Last week it was a book called Over It! by Kristine Brown. Read to the end of this post for info about a giveaway of a copy of this new book, Talking to Jesus: A Fresh Perspective on Prayer, by Jeannie Blackmer.

I’ve written two books (and countless blog posts) about prayer, but it had been a while since I spent any focused time in prayer. So the other morning I searched high and low for my journal, which had gotten put away weeks ago and forgotten. After I found it and sat down in the quiet, I felt heavenly light shining down on me, and I just knew the Holy Spirit was there with me, and my eloquent, holy words tumbled over themselves as they poured onto the pages…

Except that wasn’t how it went at all.

I had nothing. NOTHING. I don’t feel like I’m in a “crisis of faith,” and I’m not mad at God, and I do believe prayer is important. But I sat there and my mind was a complete blank.

That day, my 17-year-old son was home with another headache. Three days in a row of missed school. I got the emailed updates of his grades, and he’s falling behind. When I try to remind him to do something, or—heaven forbid—inquire in the slightest way into his life, he snaps, “I’ve got it, Mom.” The truth is, I know he doesn’t have it together as much as he thinks he does. I do think he is capable, and I believe he has the best of intentions, and he is a really awesome kid. But I also know he gets stressed when he gets behind, and the stress triggers more migraines, and he misses more school, and gets farther behind, and so on. We went through this last semester (not a good experience) and his older sister has been battling migraines since she was 15, so even though my worries are for him (and her), they come with a bunch of residual stress for me. I’m the one who has to call in to school, get homework, negotiate doctors appointments and prescription refills and have my son take out his frustration on me.

On top of that, he had a bad wreck a couple weeks ago. Thank God he was OK—just some burns from the air bags—but he totaled the car. We had to find time to drive an hour to sign over the title and then find a replacement vehicle. The past few weeks have been busy and stressful, with a sale of the paintings my dad, a professional artist, left behind when he passed away this summer. Work deadlines. Lack of writing time. Financial decisions to be made. Several speaking engagements. Some travel.

It’s not all BAD stuff, just a LOT of stuff. I’m emotionally exhausted. Physically worn out.

And I sat there in the quiet feeling like a failure. Have I learned nothing? Am I a hypocrite? Why couldn’t I pray?

I looked at the pile of devotional-type books on the table beside me, and I picked up a brand new one, Talking to Jesus. Have you ever noticed that sometimes it’s easier to read about prayer than to actually pray? Maybe it’s just me.

Anyway, I started reading. As you might imagine, I love the topic of this book, so when I was given the chance to write a review, I jumped at it. However, I wondered if it would truly be a fresh perspective on prayer—after all, that’s how my books have been described, too. But I immediately discovered this is a different approach from mine in several ways:

  1. This is centered around the idea that prayer is nothing more than a conversation with Jesus—and because of that, any of the conversations people in the Bible had with Jesus qualify as prayer—and can be the basis for your own prayers.
  2. As Jeannie tells the stories (which all come from the book of Matthew), she fictionalizes each as a way to help the reader put herself in the story.
  3. Each short chapter (about 6 pages) ends with a few related scriptures for reflection as well as a few observation questions to help you apply the concept to your own life. The book is not long and intimidating; it’s a good size for a personal study or devotional workbook.

Jeannie’s motivation for this book was trying to find ways to pray on behalf of her teenage children. As she searched the Bible for tips, she realized some of the New Testament stories were about parents approaching Jesus on behalf of their children. As the parent of three children who are now 24, 21, and 17, believe me—I can relate to Jeannie’s desire to come to God on behalf of my kids (can’t you?). And I began reading right when I was faced with doing just that. But the approach isn’t limited to praying for your kids. It applies to all kinds of situations—facing doubt, praying for friends, feeling burnt out, having trouble forgetting… It’s comforting to be reminded that these same problems were faced by people in the time that Jesus was walking the earth. And to remember that just as Jesus answered them, He will answer us.

So that morning, I let these conversations others had with Jesus serve as a stand-in for my own prayers. And I felt a little less empty. A little more sure.

Because I was reminded that I don’t have to bring the faith to my relationship with Jesus. He has enough for both of us. All I have to do is show up.

So let’s pray together. My prayers are for my son (because that’s what’s been on my heart lately), but your prayer requests can be about anything.

Leave a comment below with the basic info about a prayer request you have, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a copy of this book. Keep your comments vague to protect the privacy of those you’re praying for, but let’s go together to God and lift up these needs. Also, would you take a moment to pray for the comment before yours? It’s easy—all we have to do is talk to Jesus. Because it is in those interactions that we get to see who He really is. And we come to believe that He will do all He says He will do.

I’ll announce the winner next week… and tell you all about the sparkly bauble I’ll be giving away instead of a book!


Jeannie Blackmer was the publishing manager for MOPS International where she helped create more than 20 books for moms. Now she writes full-time and runs the blog for her church, Flatirons Community Church outside Denver, CO. She has spent the last 3 decades professionally writing everything from articles to press releases, and ads to several books. She has a passion for storytelling and spending time with her husband and three sons who are in their 20s.


 

Struggling with joy

I’m honored to be part of a devotional series at Real Women Ministries about finding joy in everyday life. Sign up to receive the complete series (which will last about a week) here. I was flattered when I was invited to participate in this devotional series as one of the writers. Honestly, I wasn’t feeling all ...

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I’m honored to be part of a devotional series at Real Women Ministries about finding joy in everyday life. Sign up to receive the complete series (which will last about a week) here.


I was flattered when I was invited to participate in this devotional series as one of the writers. Honestly, I wasn’t feeling all that joyful, but that was OK. I figured I’d get past it. I kept moving the task forward on my to-do list, waiting for inspiration. Finally, it came—in the sense that my devo was due in two days and I needed to get off my rear end and write it.

So I wrote, and what I wrote was true. I’ve been in a rough season, a time of grief and stress, and “joyful” is not how I would describe it, but as I wrote, God reminded me of the reasons I have to feel joy. He reminded me who He is, and that joy is different than happiness. Happiness is fleeting, but joy comes from a much deeper place. A place of abiding in God. Of choosing to walk alongside Him even if the place you’re walking through isn’t all that pleasant.

When I hit “send,” I felt much lighter. More joyful.

And then one of the other writers posted in our private Facebook group about how she was struggling. She confessed that she didn’t feel joy right now and she was dreading writing about it. Several others chimed in immediately, full of understanding—because they’re struggling, too.

That’s when I decided to write another post – this one. Because if we’re all struggling—women whose ministry consists of encouraging other women and sharing God’s truths, women who were approached to share their insights about joy—then you probably are, too. Maybe you need to know you’re not alone. This isn’t a failing on your part. Your feelings don’t indicate a lack of faith or an absence of God.

The other thing is this: even when we weren’t feeling it initially, if some of us have been able to turn that around to find joy, you can too. Because I think living joyfully is a choice. It’s about focusing on what we know, not what we feel.

When we CHOOSE joy, we’re choosing to have faith. We’re choosing to trust. We’re turning away from our own fickle emotions and declaring that the bad stuff doesn’t define us. Evil, sadness, worry, misery, fear, darkness—those traps of the enemy do. not. win. Jesus does. Choosing joy is declaring that we’re not staying stuck in the muck and the mire but instead we’re believing God’s joy will dry the mud and pull us out of the pit we’ve fallen into.

So if you’re looking at this series and feeling like you do not belong here, do not despair. Joy IS there to be found. It can be seen when we abide in God. When we go to Him because of who He is, not because of what He can do for us. Let’s pull back from our problems and pray.

God, my hope is in You. You have saved me. You love me. You declared that I am worth everything You did for me. You want me to be with You. You take joy in me.

And I will not let that go unnoticed. I will not waste what You have given to me. I will live with joy. I will let You prevail. Because You are good and holy and kind and merciful. You are love, and You are light, and You are my hope and salvation. You are the very essence of joy, and I will allow myself to let Your joy shape my life. Amen.

Head on over to my post at Real Women Ministries for some study questions and to take part in our conversation about joy. And know that, whether you’re feeling it now or not, you are not alone.

A month of gifts—and when my greatest obstacle is me

I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-). This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At ...

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I know Christmas isn’t about things, but it’s also true that anyone who knows me knows that I love to give gifts. So that’s what I’m going to do this month… offer giveaways every week. Just because :-).

This week we’ll kick things off with a guest post from my awesome friend Kristine Brown. At the end, I’ll tell you how you can enter to have a chance to win a copy of her book.


When My Greatest Obstacle Is Me

I stood on the other side of the auditorium door, just steps away from the moment that stirred in my heart just weeks before. I had seen the flyer advertising open auditions, and I wanted to be in the school play more than anything.

There was just one small problem. This wasn’t a play. It was a musical, and I couldn’t sing. At least, that’s what someone told me once, and once was all it took for the words to stick.

I thought I’d moved beyond that self-defeating thought. For the past three weeks, I’d planned and practiced a ballad taught to me by a family friend. A ballad I would be expected to sing by myself in front of total strangers.

I committed to follow through, to open the door and step into whatever happened next. But now, so close to that moment, the doubt came flooding back like a raging storm set to destroy.

I’d like to say I marched with confidence onto the stage and sang my heart out, not worrying about the outcome, but that wouldn’t be true. After staring at the back of that door for a few minutes more, I turned around, walked straight to my car, and drove home. I’d let myself become my greatest obstacle.

“And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!’ But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed.” Acts 12:13-16 ESV

Rhoda knew what it took to stop the ugly voice of doubt from invading her thoughts and causing her to lose confidence. Just a young girl, Rhoda served in the house of Mary. Many believers gathered there that night for a massive prayer meeting. Peter had been arrested by King Herod, and Christ’s faithful followers came together to pray for his safety.

When Rhoda heard Peter’s voice on the other side of the door, she knew it was him. They’d been praying for his release all night, and God answered their prayer! No one in the house believed her, but that didn’t keep her from opening the door.

“They said to her, ‘You are out of your mind.’ But she kept insisting that it was so…” Acts 12:15a

From the actions of this innocent servant girl, we can learn an important truth.

We stop words of doubt from invading our thoughts by insisting on God’s promises.

Inside each one of us, there’s an unsure teenage girl still waiting behind the auditorium door. Every day we face circumstances where words from the past creep in and try to build an obstacle inside our very hearts. It’s hard to stay positive when negative words plant seeds of doubt, causing us to lose faith in what we know to be true.

Rhoda’s story brings hope when we’re tempted to give in to self-defeat. So let’s join together today and insist on what God says to be true. We are worthy. We are loved. We believe.

And with the promises of God in our hearts and minds, we become our biggest ally instead of our greatest obstacle.

To enter a drawing to win a copy of this book, leave a comment below. Share with us one of God’s promises, a truth that you hold onto when times are rough. And then, if you would, pray for the person who commented before you. I’ll announce the winner next week.


Kristine Brown is a communicator at heart who teaches about God’s powerful, relatable Word. She is the author of Over It. Conquering Comparison to Live Out God’s Plan and founder of the non-profit organization, More Than Yourself, Inc. You’ll find Kristine’s weekly devotions and Bible study resources at kristinebrown.net. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

When God doesn’t heal: 4 tips for facing your grief

I stood in the sanctuary during church, my heart hurting for all the other hurting hearts in the room. One of our own wasn’t there with us. We’d lost someone way too young, way too soon, a vibrant woman who touched countless lives. And many of us were left wondering how to pray now. Because ...

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I stood in the sanctuary during church, my heart hurting for all the other hurting hearts in the room. One of our own wasn’t there with us. We’d lost someone way too young, way too soon, a vibrant woman who touched countless lives. And many of us were left wondering how to pray now.

Because we’d been praying for healing. We’d hoped to see a miracle—genuinely hoped, believing that our God is able to do anything. He is.

But when He doesn’t do it, what then?

When the behaviorist B.F. Skinner did experiments on learned behavior with rats, he discovered that once an animal discovers that pushing a lever would produce a food pellet, that animal will continually press it. But what happens when the result is erratic, when he tries again and again with no reward, when sometimes he gets a pellet and other times he does not? He stops trying altogether.

Maybe it’s irreverent—or somehow warped—to stand in church, listening to praise music and contemplating the behavior of rats. That may be, but I think it’s relevant.

Because here’s the thing. We go to God asking for healing for so many people we love—husbands and fathers and grandmothers and children and friends. We go because we know that only God can turn around that situation. We believe what we read in the Bible, so we know that God can do miraculous things. The lame can walk; the blind can see. We genuinely believe it. We know it’s possible.

And if we’re lucky, we do see healings. Sometimes they’re miraculous—Nathan’s aneurism is visible on the x-ray he brought to church so that we could pray for him, but the next day, the doctors couldn’t find it any longer. Sometimes they’re smaller, less dramatic, but still clearly bear the imprint of God. A person diagnosed with less than a year lives for three, or the doctors fear a serious scenario and the tests all come back normal. Is this a miracle? Did God heal?

Honestly, it feels like a cop-out to say that sometimes healing consists of someone leaving this earth and stepping into heaven. Even so, I believe it’s true. But that feels like a consolation prize, doesn’t it? Something we say we’re grateful for, even though it hurts and makes no sense to us. A way to still think our God is good, when we think what happened is bad.

So what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to stop praying, stop asking? I don’t think so. The Bible says to pray about everything, to pray without ceasing, to ask and you shall receive.

But, if I’m being completely honest, as some point it begins to feel like our God is capricious, heartless, acting on a whim, arbitrarily deciding, “no… yes… no… definitely not.” Deciding whether to give us a reward, perhaps even playing a game with our emotions.

And it seems as though we’re rats in a box, pushing a lever again and again, beginning to grasp that the food really isn’t coming this time.

How do we get past that?

1. Remember that God knows more than we do. Not just about science, or the details of someone’s life, but He sees from the beginning to the end. He is aware of the repercussions of every action, not just in this physical life but in the eternal, spiritual realm. When we only have a little bit of knowledge, we can’t accurately judge which events are tragic and which are merely sad. Which ones will forever change the direction of our lives, and which will just detour us briefly.

2. Remember that Jesus came to give us life with him for all of eternity. When someone dies, our hearts break. We see unlimited potential brought to an untimely close. But if God’s ultimate plan for us, borne of a love so great we can’t really fathom it, was to unite us with him forevermore… then when someone goes to be with Him, can we really say that it’s not a good thing? There is no place better for the person we love to be than physically present with God.

3. Remember that God understands our hurt, frustration, even our anger. We cannot ever forget that God knows our hearts—and He loves us anyway, even when our thoughts are less than holy, less than generous, less than grateful. In Luke 7:22 (NRSV), Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” This passage reminds us that Jesus healed, but the more powerful part, in my opinion, is what He says next: “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” I think God knows that seeing healings—or not seeing them—can become a stumbling block to our faith. We start to wonder, “Why him?” and “Why not her?” We feel that our prayers aren’t heard, or we didn’t pray right, or wonder if something we did caused an undesirable outcome.

But Jesus promised that anyone who does not take offense at him is blessed. So don’t despair if you are struggling to stand strong in your faith, and don’t presume all is lost when you find yourself wrestling with doubts. A friend once asked me, after losing her husband unexpectedly, “So when I yelled and screamed at God and told him how mad I am, is that prayer?” I (emphatically) said yes, which brings us to my final tip.

4. Be real with God. Don’t try to hide how you feel; He knows. Don’t ignore your feelings, because they’ll tear you apart if you don’t let yourself express them. But know that God is your refuge. Go to Him with your pain; allow Him to provide comfort (Matthew 5:4). He created you, and He can handle anything you have to throw at Him. And right now, if you are hurting, I promise you that He wants you to let Him in. He’ll help carry the weight of your sadness (Matthew 11:28), and He’ll hold you close while you mourn. He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and He knows your heart (Psalm 139). Whatever you feel, He has the answer. He is patient, and He will not leave you, so trust Him with this. And remember, no matter how weak you feel, He is strong. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).

It goes without saying that you don’t WANT to do this. I don’t want to face losses like this, either. But the truth is, you CAN. When my mom died, I fought against it. I resisted with everything in me, and it took me years to feel like I was somewhat okay again. When my dad passed away this summer, I knew something I hadn’t known when Mom died: I will forever be changed by this. The loss won’t destroy me, but it does go with me and forever become part of who I am. Knowing that helped me. It doesn’t make it stop hurting, but it does feel bearable.

Pray with me? Dear Lord, you are the hope for the brokenhearted, and we come before you today, hurting, aching, feeling less than whole—maybe doubting what we believe about you. Maybe wondering if our faith will recover from this blow. Help us to tear down the walls we use to protect our fragile selves just enough to let You in. Because it is only WITH You that we can see the light again, that we can open our hearts enough to be able to remember the good and beautiful memories, to honor the legacies of those we love, and to someday feel whole again. Please help us. Amen.

Rush, Rush, Rush (and why that’s a good thing, in this case)

Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and ...

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Months ago, when I asked for ideas in my Prayer Prompt Calendar Contest, my friend Jayme Mansfield mentioned her forthcoming novel to me. You could tell she is an artist, because the themes in her historical fiction book are all things that lend themselves to an interesting visual approach. Her novel, RUSH, releases November 1—just a few days from now—and you can buy it on Amazon or wherever you prefer to purchase your books. The story is based on the life of her great-great-grandmother in the 1893 Oklahoma Land Run and the themes are so relevant to our busy lives today—living in the moment, having the guts to take risks, independence, carrying heavy burdens, starting over, comfort, courage, restoration, tenacity. I had a lot of fun putting this together. I hope you’ll check out her novel, but even if you don’t, I think you’ll relate to the prayer prompts inspired by it.

Click here to download the November calendar.

In other news…

1. It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of speaking events and tons of wonderful people I’ve met. This busy season of speaking kicked off with a weekend retreat with Suzie Eller for the launch of her new Come with Me Devotional. I met some wonderful new friends and will be sharing posts from them on my blog in the upcoming weeks or months. It’s so inspiring to be around people who are not just talking the talk, but truly walking the walk. These are some amazing people, and the love of God shines through them so very brightly.

I’m scheduling other speaking events for next year now, so I hope you’ll reach out to me if your church or writing organization is interested in talking about prayer or creativity. In the meantime, you can find me at the Lew Wallace Author Fair on November 25th at the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, IN.

3. Can I just say that my dad was an amazing man? He was so much more than simply a talented artist, but as I’m working through his paintings in preparation for a final sale, I’m blown away all over again. If you live in the area and want to see what paintings and prints are available, come to the Rob O’Dell Studio in Ladoga, IN on November 18, 2017, from 1-8 pm. This graphic is small, but here’s a sneak peek at some of his artwork.


4. It’s been five years since I went to Italy to learn about writing from Elizabeth Berg. Facebook had to remind me several days in a row. I’ve put my essay, Amazing Grace, which won the inspirational writing category of the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, into a PDF ebook format. The essay itself is on my blog (here) or you can download the ebook if you want to see more of the photos. The essay is all about God’s grace, and how he wooed me back to Him when I was struggling after losing my mom.

Someday I’ll write more about losing my dad. It’s so hard, but somehow it’s a completely different experience. Maybe I’ve learned that it does me no good to fight it? Because I really can’t change it, and the loss WILL change me. Now I know that all too well, unfortunately.

Because we can always use some brain candy

When I remember to save them, I’m going to start sharing some completely random articles that I have enjoyed over the past month. Here are a few I think you might like.

What the Brain Looks Like When You Pray—I love scientific evidence to show how prayer really does change things—if nothing else, it changes me. This is about how the ritual of prayer or meditation, regardless of personal faith, affects our behavior.

How to Keep Leading When You Feel Like Falling Apart by Kristine Brown—Great article about how to keep serving even in the midst of loss, tragedy, or turmoil

Why I Am a Progressive Christian by Philip Gulley—He’s made a couple statements I don’t completely agree with, but overall, I love what he has to say. Such a simple, clear perspective on thoughts close to my own.

Check out this brilliant ad concept—love it when people turn something upside down.

Last but certainly not least…

I had my Prayer Prompt Journals professionally printed and can now sell them through my website! I’m clearly biased, but I think they’d make great Christmas gifts for your prayer group, teen girls, Bible study friends, or lots of other people. People at my speaking events have really loved them so far. They’re similar to my prayer prompt calendars. Each spread is filled with creative prayer prompts and room to write your prayers. They’re $10 and you can find them here if you’re interested.

Hope your November is filled with many, many good things—evidence of God all around you.

Make me strong again

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. ~1 Timothy 1:15-16, ...

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Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. ~1 Timothy 1:15-16, NIV

My friend (and pastor) Nathan is kind of how I picture Jesus. Cowboy boots, faded jeans, and crinkly eyes—the kind of crinkles that come from smiling so much. He lights up when he sees you. Everything about his demeanor is wide open. He walks through a room and people lean towards him, like flowers turning towards the sun. He exudes warmth and acceptance. And wherever he goes, whether he’s having dinner at Applebee’s or sitting with village elders in Afghanistan when he was deployed in 2005, the conversation turns to Jesus. It doesn’t feel contrived. It just is who he is. It’s what his whole life is about.

But Nathan tells a story about how years ago he didn’t know how to evangelize. And he prayed, “Jesus, take what is least in me and make it the greatest.”

Whenever I talk to a group about prayer, I usually say this: I’m not teaching you because I’m so good at this. I’m not an expert. I think God put me here, though, so I could tell you it’s OK not to be perfect. It’s OK to mess up, to forget to pray, to get busy and distracted. Because I’m the poster child for those things. But if anything sets me apart at all, it’s that I don’t beat myself up. I just try again. And again. And again.

As I was working on a message for an upcoming event and read the scripture above, I was thinking about this. Which made me think about Nathan. I didn’t pray for God to use my weakness, but he did. And I started wondering what else God wants to use of mine—what flaws, what failings, what untapped potential. I want to say, Lord, take what is least in me and make it the greatest. But what a scary prayer.

What if He wants me to talk to strangers? Travel to a foreign country or scene of a natural disaster? What if he wants to send me into the jails? What if people don’t like me? What if I have to say hard things? What if I mess up? What if my teaching is wrong? What if … well, I don’t even know what He might want.

And to this control-freak personality type, that is a scary situation.

But God reminds me that I’ve done this before. I’ve written devotions in my church bulletin that I eventually signed with my own name. I started a blog, where anyone in the world could read about my faith (even those closest to me, with whom I didn’t really talk about these things). I’ve written two books, which have gone out into the world, to people I’ll never know about. I’m being invited to speak and teach groups of women about prayer. I’ve never been a gifted speaker, and yet I keep finding myself in front of rooms of people. I don’t like to be wrong, and yet I openly tell people about all the ways I’ve acted wrong—against God, to make it that much worse. My books are all about the “upside down”-ness of what Jesus taught: Let the children come. Walk the extra mile. Do your good deeds in private. The least shall be the greatest.

And I think He uses my less-than-perfect self to reach people. I feel like I’ve been on the right path, but lately the path has felt less defined. I’m not exactly clear where it’s headed, and it’s become hard to follow. Frankly, I’m tired of barging forward and pretending I know what I’m doing. I’m tired of taking my own ideas and implementing them. Sure, I pray about most of these things, but for how long have I taken the lack of resistance to mean that God is telling me to move forward? I don’t want to do that. I want to err on the side of caution. Doing things on my own power is wearing me down, and I feel less than whole. I feel this burgeoning potential rising up, but I don’t yet know where it’s leading me.

I’m trying to learn how to wait for true direction and yet be open enough to respond without hesitation when I hear God’s voice.

A couple weeks ago, I attended Suzie Eller’s “Come With Me” retreat celebrating the launch of her new Come With Me Devotional. There’s no way to capture the breadth of the messages I heard that weekend in a short blog post, so I won’t try. But here’s the shortest possible version: Jesus is saying, “Come with me.” Wherever it leads. He’s asking us to come back to the purest and most stripped-down, authentic version of faith possible. Listen closely. What is your invitation? What is He inviting you to do?

I’ve stepped out in faith before, and God always leads me to a better place. He makes me stronger. More refined. Better. It’s not always fun during the journey, because sometimes I find that I have to change. I have to let go of my self, put aside my ego, and spend time in uncertainty. But I emerge from those seasons stronger, feeling closer to God and more fully me.

I want that. I need that.

And the reason I’m telling you all this is because I think some of you might want it, too. I don’t think this is just for me. Let’s pray this together. Take a deep breath…

Lord, take what is least in me and make it the strongest. Whatever that means, wherever You lead, no matter what is required. Help me trust that You have my best interests at heart, and that whatever You do in me will also be used to show others who You are. Your power will be multiplied. My faith will be expanded. Your desires will be fulfilled. And You will be magnified. Amen.

Will you share what you’re hearing? Tell us where God is leading you? And let us know how we can stand beside you in prayer? And will you also consider following Suzie Eller on a 21-day adventure to discover where Jesus is leading you? Learn more here.

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