The Fear of Relationship (+ A Special Invite)

I’m thrilled to welcome you to a guest post written by Kelly Balarie. We have something really cool to offer you, but regardless of whether you’re able to participate, I think most of us can relate to the words she’s sharing with us below.   This is my confession to you: I am a stinky ...

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I’m thrilled to welcome you to a guest post written by Kelly Balarie. We have something really cool to offer you, but regardless of whether you’re able to participate, I think most of us can relate to the words she’s sharing with us below.

 

This is my confession to you: I am a stinky friend.

I don’t call people back until at least a week later. I don’t remember birthdays. I get myself spread so thin I rarely reach out like I intend to. I get nervous and run away. I wonder if they are sizing me up in their mind. I consider what they are considering and figure there is no way they could like me. I can only deal with short bursts of time, where I call the shots…

But I am learning.

I am learning, because I am pressing into what scares me: women. Usually, I’d turn myself around and walk the other way from their perfectly aligned necklaces, sweet smelling perfumes and highly organized houses—like they are mosquitoes looking to bite me with their perfection. I think, they’ll: 1. Hurt me 2. Judge me, or 3. Hurt me.

You see where this is going, right?

But, lately, as I’ve pressed into what scares me—women—I’ve noticed something. They don’t bite. In fact, when I draw near to them, God seems to have this way of drawing love out of me. I come home and my husband is all, “You had fun, didn’t you?”

Everything in me wants to get all Negative Nelly and pretend I still don’t like them, but, in reality, I’ve actually grown to love them. This is what happens when you spend time with them. When you really listen. When you ask and when you seek their heart.

You find out they are more than appearance: so many of them care about the heart.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. You see, I just got finished with spending time with 35 amazing authors and love-forgers in the world. I chatted with them about home life, work life, worries, fears, marriage, sex, love, friendship, the unexpected and the unfair. We talked about every fear under the sun. I laughed and I cried. I related to their words. I shared their feelings. I understood their stories. I learned a whole ton of stuff without it feeling hard to digest or unsettling to my stomach.

These 35 fear fighters all make up The Journey Together Summit. Spending time with these women changed me.

Rather than judge them, I started to grow fond of them.

Rather than thinking they were better than me, I saw they were just like me.

Rather than believing I was alone, I learned, we are all in this together.

Life is not easy. Friendships are hard. But, when you get a helping hand from a woman who has lived the pain you are walking, something clicks. It clicks like a bracelet reminding you of the ongoing nature of God’s love and it’s tight hold on you.

As I conducted interviews with these women, it was like each one extended me a bracelet. Their stories made me believe I could press on, they reminded me of faithfulness, they lifted me up in God’s Word, they drove home truths and they helped remove debilitating thought patterns of fear. I am so grateful for them. I love them for this.

I believe you will love them too—and find new courage, and drive into what fear is stopping you and come alive in your own way. Why not see what happens? This event is free. Sign up today for The Journey Together Summit as we talk about fighting your fears from June 5-8th.

There are topics for everyone, including: unmet expectations, an unfair life, shame from the past, uncertainty of the future, worry, anxiety, feeling like a bad mom, marriage, intimacy, work issues and so much more.

Can’t attend then? No problem. You can get the All Access Pass giving you availability to all the sessions, at any time.

If you feel alone, down or debilitated in life, I am confident, these women, like they did when I talked to them, will give you a breath of fresh life.


 

Now it’s me again, the other Kelly. I just want to thank Kelly Balarie for including me in this line-up. I’m not kidding or being falsely humble. I cannot believe I’m seeing my name alongside some of the other authors who are included. This is when you know God is working in spite of you. I’ve talked about this before, but I learned that one way to follow God is to stop dreaming up plans and asking Him to bless them. Instead, look around and see where God is already at work, and then get on board.

That’s how I feel about this. God is already working. He is changing lives and drawing people to Him through the words of this amazing group of people. I’m delighted to get to walk alongside them and watch and see what God is busy doing. I hope you’ll come along with us. This isn’t just a sales pitch—I really mean it. And I hope you’ll be part of this.

 


About Kelly Balarie Author and speaker Kelly Balarie didn’t always fight fear – for a large part of her life, she was controlled by it. Yet, in her book, Fear Fighting: Awakening Courage to Overcome Your Fears, with God, Kelly charts a new course. Join Kelly, on the journey to go and grow with Christ’s bravery, the Spirit’s counsel and God’s unending love that squelches fear. Get all Kelly’s blog posts by email or visit her on her blog, Purposeful Faith. You can also find a variety of resources for your fight against fear at http://www.fearfightingbook.com/. Don’t forget to take part in The Journey Together Summit.

No matter what… Grace.

Do you really understand grace? I don’t. But oh, how much beauty there is in the sliver of comprehension that I can wrap my head around. I recently read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and it transformed my faith. Well, maybe that’s not exactly accurate. It validated the beliefs I’d already formed and pushed ...

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Do you really understand grace? I don’t. But oh, how much beauty there is in the sliver of comprehension that I can wrap my head around. I recently read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning, and it transformed my faith. Well, maybe that’s not exactly accurate. It validated the beliefs I’d already formed and pushed me even farther in that direction.

I think grace is one of those words we throw around in the church and don’t really think about.

It’s often defined as unmerited favor, but even that us misleading. It’s true that it’s not dependent on us; our merits don’t qualify us for it.

But it’s also true that in the very act of offering so much to us, God makes us worthy.

We’re not qualified, but God loves us enough to give us absolutely everything we need for all of eternity: His love. His forgiveness. His mercy. His compassion. His transforming power.

Grace means that God loves us no matter what. He calls to us, woos us, pursues us, transforms us.

It means that there is nothing else we could do that would make God love us more than He already does.

It also means there is nothing we could ever do that will make Him love us less. There is no way to stop Him from loving us. There is no way to earn more—He’s already offered it all. Every last bit of it. It’s all held out to us, His Almighty arm fully extended.

He doesn’t love me more after that really powerful quiet time I have than He did before I sat down to spend time with Him. That floors me.

No matter what we do, His love remains the steady, life-giving force that defines us.

When we make derogatory comments and participate in ugly political debates, He loves us.
When we crumple on the couch, surrounded by tissues and consumed by tears, He loves us.
When anger consumes and lust ignites.
when our brains work for our benefit and when they turn against us.
When white-hot jealousy and righteous indignation bloom, even then, God loves us thoroughly and completely.

When grief topples and faith wobbles
and addiction beckons
and overspending prevails
and children rebel
and bodies die too soon
and terrorists destroy
and marriages combust.

Even when hope is but a teensy spark, an ember about to extinguish itself,
how wide and long and high and deep is the love God has for us.

God’s love remains when families crumble
and teenagers fumble
and consequences loom
and purpose is thwarted and bank accounts dwindle and temptations seduce and wounds break wide open and despair devastates and malignancies lurk and darkness holds our secrets and when light reveals them.

And you know what else? His love consumes and changes and colors our lives when things are okay, too. When we’re bored but steady, when we’re lonely but not alone, when we’re serving the least of these with fervor and compassion, when we’re leaning on Him for strength and sheltered in the wings of His love.

When we’re standing at the mountaintops rejoicing, and when we’re kneeling at an altar, and when we’re studying the words He’s spoken and when we rest quietly in His presence.
When we’re at the extremes, and when we linger in the middle.
When we frequent places we don’t belong and behave in ways that aren’t like us at all.
And when we behave in ways that are too much like us, and we wonder if we’ll ever be able to change.

When we wonder how we could ever stand before God with our heads held high, and when we fall on our faces in fear and trembling and awe.

When we’re unforgiving and stubborn
When we’re gracious and yielding
When we believe we deserve what God offers, and when we understand the fundamental nature of our flaws and inadequacies and failings.
When we write Him love letters, and when our words fail.
When we feel Him, and when we do not.
When we love Him back, and when we push Him away.

Even then, especially then, God’s love prevails.

That is the sheer beauty, the mind-blowing simplicity, the overwhelming gratitude and unbelievable truth of God’s freely-given grace.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. ~Ephesians 3:14-19, NIV

3 things Jesus didn’t pray for

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus gives us instruction about how to live, serve God, and love others. And of course, he tells us to pray. We know prayer is important because the Bible says that Jesus prayed regularly and Paul tells us to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But when we study the New Testament, we ...

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Throughout the Gospels, Jesus gives us instruction about how to live, serve God, and love others. And of course, he tells us to pray. We know prayer is important because the Bible says that Jesus prayed regularly and Paul tells us to pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17). But when we study the New Testament, we discover that, with the exception of a whole chapter in John (chapter 17), we aren’t privy to many of Jesus’ actual words spoken in prayer.

To put it simply, prayer is communication with God, and none of us is exempt. Even Jesus did not neglect his relationship with the Father, and communication is essential to build a strong relationship.

In Matthew 6:5, Jesus says “when you pray” (not if) and then shares an example of how to pray. On the other hand, since He tells us the Father knows what we need before we ask Him (Matthew 6:8), why pray at all? Because it is in these conversations that we build a relationship and come to understand the nature of God.

Jesus was known for turning things around, for giving surprising and unexpected answers that were contrary to expectations. Even if you’ve been praying for years, you may learn something new by looking not at what Jesus did pray but at what he did not pray for.

He didn’t pray for provision. 

If I told you Jesus prayed for a nicer home, a job promotion, or a luxurious car, you wouldn’t believe me. Neither did He ask God to stretch what money He and his disciples had. Yet how often do our prayers center on material things? Is it wrong to ask God to help you pay your bills? No, but don’t be surprised if God instead tries to teach you about living within your means and being content with what you have. When Jesus taught His followers the Lord’s Prayer, he told them to ask for their daily bread—basic essentials, what they needed at that moment to survive—but nothing beyond that.

Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25, NIV)

Instead, Jesus trusted that God (and His people) would provide everything He and the disciples needed. He understood that by following his instructions about sharing our possessions, feeding the hungry, and clothing the poor, we will have enough. Instead of asking for more, Jesus gave thanks for what He already had. He blessed the food in front of Him, and He thanked God for hearing Him and giving wisdom to those who believed in Him.

He didn’t pray for the sick. 

When someone came to Jesus for healing, He didn’t hesitate. He didn’t pray, but He simply put His hands on them and healed them. He surprised people by starting with what was on the inside—the state of their hearts—and then He moved from the spiritual to the physical. After forgiving them of their sins or declaring that their faith made them whole, Jesus healed their bodies.

We can learn an important lesson from this—prayer must not replace action. Just as Jesus often withdrew by Himself to pray, so should we. He teaches us that it’s ideal to pray in private and not for show. But after Jesus prayed, when He encountered someone in need, He acted. He didn’t use prayer as reason or excuse to delay. (How often have we said, “Let me pray about this and I’ll get back to you?”) Neither did He denounce the sick for a lack of faith. He recognized the faith it took to ask for help, and He responded with compassion. Immediately.

“But He was Jesus! Of course He could heal! How am I supposed to do this?” you may wonder. I’ll answer you in Jesus’ own words: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do.” (John 14:12, ESV). His instructions were specific: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!” (Matthew 10:8, NLT)

He didn’t pray about tomorrow.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself consistently asking for revelation, for God to show me His plan, to give me some kind of insight into where I am going so I know what to do to get there. But here’s the thing: God doesn’t have to tell us what He is doing, and sometimes we might be better off not knowing. If we can learn to listen for God’s voice—if we can develop a strong relationship with our Heavenly Father through prayer—then we will hear and respond when He nudges us in a certain direction.

Jesus already knew God’s plan for His life, but still He approached God and asked if there was any other way it could be played out. It’s alright to tell God what you think you want. But then, in humility and full obedience, even when facing crucifixion and suffering, Jesus ended His prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane by asking for God’s will to be done.

Instead of relying on our own knowledge or ideas, God wants us to depend on Him. God doesn’t necessarily want us to be enlightened about every step of His plan, but instead to lean on Him daily for help. To turn to Him with each step we take. To understand that He can be trusted with all of it because He knows what He is doing. And not to worry but to live in the present.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:33-34, The Message).

Praying like Jesus

The things Jesus prayed—and the ones He didn’t pray for—provide guidance for our prayers. But just because Jesus didn’t pray for something doesn’t mean that we should not. Although Jesus was fully man, He was also fully God. He was privy to God’s plan in a way that we are not. He didn’t need faith because He knew beyond a shadow of a doubt who God is and what He could do. To pray like Jesus, we need to nurture those seeds of faith that God has given us—trusting and giving thanks for what has been provided, spending time in prayer so that we are ready to act when the time comes, and leaning on God to help us live in His will in each moment. Our days should begin and end with prayer—bookends to the miraculous answers and blessings we’ll see as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

This post was originally written for Crosswalk.

The Journey Together Summit

Friends, Today, I am overjoyed to share a FREE online event I’m confident you’ll love: The Journey Together Summit, June 5-8. I’m joining hands with 34 leading authors—some really amazing women—with the sole mission of helping you discover new bravery. Whether you desire to be brave at home or at work, in your marriage or with ...

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Friends,

Today, I am overjoyed to share a FREE online event I’m confident you’ll love: The Journey Together Summit, June 5-8.

I’m joining hands with 34 leading authors—some really amazing women—with the sole mission of helping you discover new bravery. Whether you desire to be brave at home or at work, in your marriage or with your children, in ministry or in the mess of the day, dealing with a surprising life or just organizing it—this is the event for you. There is something for everyone with over 34 topics of fear covered (wait ’til you see them all!).

We’re also featuring an awesome line-up of authors who will give you practical, relevant and biblical tips for stepping into peace, purpose, and passion.

This is an event you won’t want to miss! Afraid you can’t “be there”? Don’t worry!

The 2017 Journey Together Summit is a FREE, VIRTUAL online conference!

You don’t have to travel—we bring the interviews to you! They’ll be broadcast over the web, so you can watch from the comfort of home.

What’s more? It’s FREE. Check out the lineup and see the agenda here. I can’t believe I get to be part of this.

 

So what are you waiting for? Join me and 34 other experts at the 2017 Journey Together Summit. Grab your FREE ticket today! And, if you can’t attend June 5-8, we have you covered. Get the All Access Pass and you’ll be able to watch the videos post-event.

I can’t wait to see you there! And I hope you’ll invite a bunch of your friends to join you. It’s a great way to initiate meaningful conversations and share this journey we’re on together.

Kelly

P.S. You can download my brand new e-book on prayer — for free — when you subscribe to my newsletter. Click here to sign up.

Revealing the Truth—interview

Just wanted to share this with you, if you have a little spare time and want to hear us talk about prayer. Rabbi Eric Walker is a great interviewer and a talented speaker—check out his show, Revealing the Truth, on Igniting a Nation right here....

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Just wanted to share this with you, if you have a little spare time and want to hear us talk about prayer. Rabbi Eric Walker is a great interviewer and a talented speaker—check out his show, Revealing the Truth, on Igniting a Nation right here.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one ...

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I wrote this last year, but it seemed to resonate with a lot of people, so I wanted to share it again. Love to all of you who can relate, and praying that you can find the joy again. xo


Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

Color me confused

Jesus … said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19 Modern art scares a lot of people. What is the blue square supposed to mean? The squiggly lines? The warped, misshapen body? I don’t always know, ...

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Jesus … said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19

Modern art scares a lot of people. What is the blue square supposed to mean? The squiggly lines? The warped, misshapen body? I don’t always know, but there are some pieces that I like, just because I do. On a gut level, judging solely by emotion, something in them resonates with me.

But some pieces — well, it takes me back to my college honors humanities class, you know, the one at 1:00 in the afternoon during winter quarter, right after lunch, when the warm classroom and full stomach and last night’s all-nighter would catch up with me and I didn’t stand a chance. But on the rare occasion when I could stay awake, I was frustrated. How am I supposed to know that this author wrote his satirical essay in response to the politics of the day or that he composed this poem in response to the loss of his entire family to the plague? Why does a red hat have to mean anything besides that it’s a red hat? Did the author intend for all the symbolism we’re now studying, or is it just something made up by literature teachers everywhere?

In other words, I sure could’ve used a translator in that class. And that’s what I think occasionally as I stare at a piece of art, wondering what on earth qualified it to be placed in a museum. If you’re right there with me, don’t feel bad for your confusion or uncertainty. The art is simply speaking a language we don’t understand.

Language is designed to help us communicate, but sometimes it has the opposite effect.

Look back, all the way to the Tower of Babel, when God used language to separate us. In today’s high-tech society, global communication issues have been more or less solved, but in our towns, communities, schools, churches, and even on Facebook, language can be a giant barrier. Words of judgment, division, separation, accusation — of course those things push people away. But so do many innocuous-seeming words used by well-meaning, sincere believers.

On my walk… we must die daily… I’m broken… covered by the blood… I crucified my old man and put on my new man… feeding on the word… born again… I’ve been delivered… God has brought me to the Promised Land… I’ve been to the mountaintop… victory march… is she showing any fruit?

I confess, I’ve used Christianese myself. Sometimes the jargon just seems easier — it’s the shorthand we use among others who share our beliefs, simple phrases that communicate profound meanings. But here’s the danger: it can make other people feel like they’re not in the club. It becomes a tool for exclusion, not inclusion. Instead of sharing your testimony, you may have created a stumbling block, another way for someone to doubt their faith (I don’t know what she’s talking about; I’ve never felt that before; my faith must not be real or right; who are you to decide if I’m ‘saved’?).

As believers, we’re all looking at the same things: The same Bible. The same miracle-working God. The same Savior. But we’ve had different experiences. Different expectations. Different issues and prejudices and hurts and lives. Because of this, the same words won’t work for everyone — the one telling the story or the one listening. By all means, use whatever words you have to tell people about the wonderful God you serve. I’m not suggesting that you stop. But watch for eyes glazing over, people shifting in their chairs, glancing at their watches.

What people want — in art, in relationships, in their faith — is authenticity. Understanding. Connection. Something that will draw them in, not push them away. Something real, something true, something that will resonate with them at a gut level, way beyond intellectual understanding but with deep emotion. Something they can understand without a translator.

#HonorAllMoms—and May prayer prompt calendar

Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely ...

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Today’s post is written by Sarah Philpott, an online friend of mine who posted here once before. When I held a prayer prompt calendar contest, Sarah approached me about designing a calendar for the month of May to recognize all the women for whom Mother’s Day brings sadness rather than the expected joy. I was completely on board, because after I lost my own mom, I’d had a similar experience. I’d rather cry and go off on my own than “celebrate” on that day—even though I have three kids who I love with all my heart. Sometimes the pain overshadows the joy. And sometimes, people aren’t in a position to feel joy because the reminder of their loss is too great.

I’ll stop talking now so you can hear from Sarah, but don’t forget to download the prayer prompt calendar here or on her website.


Mother’s Day was celebrated in a big way where I grew up. As a child, I’d sit alongside my family in the slick wooden pew and gaze at the fetching flower arrangements crowding the floor of our sanctuary.  Roses, peonies, and spring blooms sat ready to be awarded to the ladies of my small Southern Baptist church.

Ms. Nita, smartly dressed in a pastel dress and a Sunday-go-to-church hat, always seemed to be in charge of the program. After we sang from the hymnal, the kids were beckoned to retrieve a bundle of roses from a basket and encouraged to hand the blooms to beaming mothers, grandmothers, and aunts. After the hugs ended, Ms. Nita took to the center stage and said, “Would all Mothers please stand?”

My mother and grandmother would rise and stand amongst the females of my community. It was like a battalion of matriarchs. Then, the ceremony of awards began. We’d quickly find out who was the oldest mom, who was the youngest mom, and who was the mom with the most children. This tradition of honoring mothers is still one of my fondest memories of my childhood.

But it wasn’t until I was an adult, sitting in church on Mother’s Day fresh from the heartache of my first miscarriage, that I realized how many women actually had hurting hearts on Mother’s Day.

I sat recollecting my childhood and recalled how at my old church the mother with the most living children was awarded one of the biggest and most beautiful bouquets.  The congregation always erupted in applause for this dear soul who had her hands full.

But now, with a babe in Heaven and one in the church nursery, it struck me as an odd banner of honor. I realized that beneath smiles many women silently mourn on Mother’s Day. I instantly thought of my mother-in-law. She has five children. But only three are living. Jesse died at the age of two and Lauren at the age of twenty. Then I thought of my mother. She has three children. But only two of us are living. A gravestone in the church cemetery only marks one tiny soul, who was stillborn. Then the face of a friend, who wanted nothing more to be a mother, came to mind.  Infertility had robbed her of the chance of becoming a mother and finances had prevented her from adopting. She too hurt on this special day. It made me realize that these sweet women—and those just like them who had endured the death of their own children or a dream that never came true, were women who also deserved an extra special bouquet.

My grief opened my eyes to the invisible grief that many women bear on Mother’s Day. We often forget these brave women, don’t we?

But we shouldn’t.

Mother’s Day is still one of my favorite days of the year, and it should be celebrated with unbridled jubilation, breakfast in bed, and homemade cards.

And I love how, at Ms. Nita’s gentle encouragement, my childhood church always collectively gave a big applause to mothers.  Mothers should receive a standing ovation.

But we should expand our celebration of Mother’s Day by showering love and support to all mothers—including those who view Mother’s Day as a stark reminder of what doesn’t exist. Each year, in the United States alone, 1 in 160 deliveries end in stillbirth, 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, 3,500 babies under the age of 1 die, and 1 in 8 couples experience infertility. Let’s stand in solidarity as individuals and as the church to #HonorAllMoms this Mother’s Day.

Let’s also set aside the month of May to pray and encourage all sorts of women—those who have a baby to hold in their arms, those who do not; those who wanted to be a mom but never got to be, and those who were placed into that role by circumstance; children who have lost their moms and moms who have lost their children.

I think Ms. Nita would want all these special women to have a beautiful bloom.

“After women, flowers are the most lovely thing God has given the world.” Christian Dior


SARAH PHILPOTT, PhD lives in Tennessee on a sprawling cattle farm where she raises her two mischievous children (and one little baby!) and is farmwife to her high-school sweetheart. An award-winning writer, Sarah has contributed to academic books, scholarly journals, and outlets such as the Huffington Post. Her book, Loved Baby: 31 Devotions for Helping you Grieve and Cherish Your Child After Pregnancy Loss, will be published in October 2017 by Broadstreet Publishing. Sarah is a lover of coffee (black), rocking chairs, the outdoors, and Hemingway. Visit allamericanmom.net where she writes about life on the farm and cherishing life in joy and sorrow.

 

The beauty of playing with prayer

Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary ...

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Is this art, or is it just play? This particular image was made by melting crayons and letting them run across the page in different directions. (And then they turned it upside down — what a great idea.) Sounds like play to me. But it’s also a kind of art. Maybe it doesn’t require extraordinary skill, and possibly you have no interest in making an attempt to copy it. I certainly can’t profess that I am dying to melt crayons in the name of art.

But what I do like is that someone wasn’t afraid to try something different. They used a common drawing tool in a completely new way.

As adults, I think we overthink things, and we’re afraid to look stupid. But give a group of young kids in an art studio or classroom, and you probably won’t see them freeze when you hand them a blank piece of paper. Probably they’ll grab it out of your hand, quick. So they can start experimenting.

What happens when I put a blob of yellow paint on top of the blue square I already painted? What happens if I tilt my paper? Hold my brush like this? Push it instead of pull it? Dip this sponge in it and randomly blot parts of the paper? Swipe through it with my finger? My whole hand? What happens when I paint over paint that’s already dry? Does the paint run down the page if I use too much water? What if I don’t rinse my brush out between colors? What if I paint with the wrong end of the brush?

Everything I know about prayer has come from experimenting — and observing. When a friend told me she’d prayed for two hours one night, I turned around and went to God and said, I don’t get it. What is there to pray about? Don’t you know everything? And then one day I tried it. And two hours flew by. I wouldn’t have believed that until I tried it. (I’ve also had times when five minutes seemed to last forever.)

I’ve watched people dance in the aisles. Kneel at the altar, sobbing — or laughing. Genuflect as they duck into a pew. Bow silently in the back row of a church. Circle round a hurting friend in her living room. I’ve squeezed the hand next to me in circle prayers, signaling that I’m done and the next person can pray, and I’ve prayed alone in the shower, and while driving, and in line at the grocery (though those prayers tend to be ones asking for patience so I don’t strangle the person in front of me who’s paying with five different types of payment and has three separate orders and the cashier is going off duty so she has to count out her change before the next one logs in and I have to be somewhere in five minutes).

OK, so I digress. And I’ve now proven to you just how desperately I need prayer.

I’ve recited The Lord’s Prayer. Read Scripture, aloud and silently. Written my own prayers. Read those written by others. Cried great big heaving wordless sobs. And closed my eyes tighter when I’ve gotten uncomfortable with the way someone else is praying — which is when my prayers switch to “Help me understand. Forgive me for judging.”

The point is, I’ve given myself permission to play around. It doesn’t mean I don’t take prayer seriously, and it doesn’t mean I’m holier than you or anyone else. It just means I believe it’s OK to experiment. And it’s acceptable to have fun. It’s fine if one type of prayer doesn’t really fit you, or if the way you pray doesn’t match that of anyone else that you know. It’s all right to learn from watching someone else or to try something you’ve never seen or heard before.

Don’t worry if you have doubts about the effectiveness or veracity of a particular approach. After all, everything created on a canvas is not art. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth experimenting a little. You’ll never really know what you’re able to do until you try.

So won’t you? Try something new? Meditate on a prayer, poem, or Bible verse. Try writing out your prayers, in a journal or as a list — and consider sending a friend the prayer you prayed for her. Talk out loud if you’re normally silent. Kneel in silence if you’re normally vocal. Recite a liturgical prayer if that’s not your usual style. Listen to gospel music, or contemporary rock, or whatever it is you don’t normally listen to. Stay home one Sunday to pray alone if you’re usually busy and distracted at church, or if your faith is more private, consider attending a new church. Visit a church that worships differently from yours. Pray for each friend and family member as you scroll through your phone contacts. Just try to keep an open mind.

The beauty of it is, you can’t mess this up. From God’s point of view, any attempt you make is a beautiful, courageous thing.

A genuine work of art.

How to worship when you’re not in church

Around the time my husband and I were married (25 years ago), we both felt the pull to attend church. Until then, it had never been part of my regular routine—I’d always preferred sleeping in on Sundays—but I discovered, to my surprise, that I loved going to church. My only complaint? I wished there were ...

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Around the time my husband and I were married (25 years ago), we both felt the pull to attend church. Until then, it had never been part of my regular routine—I’d always preferred sleeping in on Sundays—but I discovered, to my surprise, that I loved going to church. My only complaint? I wished there were some way to carry that feeling with me when I went home. I remember sitting on the end of my bed one morning after we came home, the songs repeating endlessly in my mind, feeling a longing for something more.

I browsed the gospel and hymn cassette tapes in the music section of various department stores and tried to pick out titles that sounded familiar, but I couldn’t find anything similar to the songs we sang. So I randomly picked out some tapes, eagerly plugged them into my car stereo, and felt disappointed when I recognized nothing. The tapes made their way into the garage sale pile, and I was left, once again, wanting something I couldn’t define.

At that time, I did not know that there was a kind of faith that went beyond the walls of a church. I didn’t realize that there was so much more to faith than showing up for an hour on Sundays. Nor did I know that I could have any kind of relationship with God, let alone one that sustained me minute by minute, giving me strength and clarity and guiding my steps. I had no idea that I could live my life in a state of worship. Once I learned that it was possible, it changed my faith for good.

Yet I think there are a lot of people with similar experiences to the ones I described, who haven’t witnessed examples of people living a life of worship but feel a vague hunger for something they can’t explain. No matter how strong your faith is, no matter whether it plays a dominant role in your life or a tiny one, the reality is that we were made to worship God. Sounds simple, right? But the truth is that our concept of worship may be incomplete and limited. When we expand our ideas about worship, we will begin to see God more clearly. We’ll realize He is present all the time, and we’ll discover a sense of fulfillment that is deeper than we imagined it could be.

Romans 12:1 serves as a great guide to how to worship, even when you’re not in church. In this verse, Paul urges us, “in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” 

In many churches, we’ve gotten in the habit of referring to the song portion of a service as “worship,” but in reality, true worship isn’t confined to what happens at church, nor is it about the music. In fact, worship is even better when you bring it into your daily life, letting God flow through you and around you as you do your ordinary, everyday tasks. By taking this verse apart, we can discover how to let your whole life reflect a state of worship.

In view of God’s mercy. In order to accept God’s promise that when we believe we belong to Him forevermore (even after death), we must first recognize our need for what He offers. When we see the enormity of our sin, we understand the extent of the sacrifice Jesus made—willingly—on our behalf. When we grasp that there are no limits to God’s mercy, it changes the way we interact with others. We see that what we’ve been given is special, but it’s not exclusively ours.

The same love and forgiveness and acceptance is available to anyone who wants it. Because of this, we are able to act with mercy towards others, and when we do so, we’re glorifying God. We’re acting in a state of worship.

Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice. Worship isn’t just an abstract state of mind. Serving God and bringing glory to God are done through our actions, by living a life that represents the truth of God. It’s about revealing the character of God and showing His love to others.

Ask God to help you behave in ways that exemplify His character and portray His message of acceptance and forgiveness and kindness. When you act as His hand extended towards others in need—by giving, by helping, by listening, by encouraging—you are offering your body as a living sacrifice. It’s not a sacrifice unless you give up something valuable, but this kind of sacrifice brings with it great rewards.

As you build relationships with others, you will find opportunities to share what God is doing in your life. And as you see more of Him, your faith will deepen, and you’ll find yourself worshipping God more and more often.

Holy and pleasing to God. Fill your mind with what is good and pleasing and holy (Philippians 4:8). It doesn’t have to be labeled “Christian” in order to be uplifting and edifying—but you do need to guard your mind and heart against temptations because there is no one else who will do this for you.

For me, what this looks like is listening to contemporary Christian rock more often than any other music—not because the other is inherently bad, but because if I’m going to have song lyrics stuck in my head, I want them to be good. I want to dwell on something inspiring, to meditate on something hopeful, and to wrestle with complex truths. I read all kinds of books, but I’ve learned to shy away from gratuitous violence and demeaning relationships in the fiction I read, because I don’t like the way that makes me feel.

The truth is we can find God in non-religious movies, books, and activities if we set our mind on Him and remember to watch for Him. Each of us has to decide what to feed ourselves to bring out the best in ourselves, and then to turn it around to offer it to God.

This is your true and proper worship. It’s not enough to simply like God; the truest worship is when we go all in. This extravagant love and extreme submission includes wanting whatever God thinks is best for you, in all areas of life.

We have a human tendency to compartmentalize—this box is for church, and that one is for the other parts of life. Make a conscious effort to keep the boxes wide open and allow them to overflow into other areas. Be open about how you see God in your life, but don’t bash someone over the head with your belief. Simply live it, authentically.

Let your life be your worship. Offer it as a gift to the God who has given you so much. That’s the most powerful kind of testimony, and the most beautiful kind of worship—whether you’re in church or not.

Originally written for Crosswalk.

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