A prayer of gratitude for my dad

Lord, Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me. I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it. I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears. But somehow my heart sings because I got to ...

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Lord,

Over these last few weeks, I’ve barely been able to pray. My brain can’t seem to form words, but I feel Your love cradling me.

I’m tired—so tired that the word “tired” doesn’t seem to touch it.

I’m sad—so sad that I’m practically beyond tears.

But somehow my heart sings because I got to have him as my dad.

I got to hold his hand when we crossed streets or walked around art fairs or when I sat beside his hospital bed.

I got to share his red hair and freckles and calves that are bigger and sturdier than any girl ever wants them to be.

I got to stand beside him at art shows, listening to him brag on me to his fans when they asked if any of his talent rubbed off on me. And I got to hear his wonder after reading my first book, opening the door to conversations we’d never had before.

I got to have him criticize my paintings—because, let’s face it, no one could outshine him. But I also got to watch him discuss his mistakes, see how he took them and cropped or painted over or lifted the paint or added a fence or found a way to make the mistake beautiful. And when that didn’t work, I saw him put them in a drawer so he could try again another day.

I got to witness the way he walked to the studio in the back yard after breakfast because he couldn’t wait to paint again. And watch him load his golf clubs when he didn’t feel like it—or when it was just too pretty of a day not to golf.

I got to hear his critique of my softball skills, ride behind him on a three-wheeler and snowmobile until I could drive them myself, sort through old art school projects in his attic, and abscond with his discarded typography books and art supplies. I got to ride home from art fairs listening to him reminisce about the 40-some years that came before, when people lined up and bought paintings from the back of his van before he could even unload. I heard about him painting all night after selling out the first day so that he would have something to sell on the second day.

I got to watch the way he loved Mom in her last days, the way he would hold her hand to steady her as they walked together. The way that, even when the toxins in her brain turned her mean, he’d wait until she was sleeping and walk by and kiss the top of her head when no one was looking.

I got to eat countless lunches with him (lunch combo #3 or a steakburger with cheese, pickles and mustard), talking through whatever he felt like talking about. I got to walk across the driveway to eat dinner with him and Kerry’s family, fortunate that because we live in the “complex,” he got to visit us both at the same time. We drank wine and talked, always something more to talk about—or not, but either way, feeling comfortable enough to simply relax together. I got to hear in detail all of his health complaints, the small and annoying ones, and yet when it got really bad, his complaints seemed to decrease. I got to hear how his pain level was always the same—“it really hurts, probably a four or five,” and “not bad, probably just a four or five”—and smile across the bed at Kerry as we reached for the next dose of medicine.

I got to watch as he drove an hour to return the extra change a server gave him at dinner the night before. I got to listen as he found reasons to praise the oncologist who gave him the bad news, and the aide who helped bathe him, and the nurses and therapists who came in—always, even in his pain, commenting on something good that they did. And meaning it. And I got to know that generosity was one of his defining marks.

I got to see the way he opened his arms to our friends who wanted to have a dad like him. And I got to see the loyalty of his friends, the character of the men he chose to let into his life, and the tears shed by some of these big, strong, masculine men as they said goodbye.

I got to fill his water glass and hold his straw, set my alarm to give him his meds through the night, and lie there at night, silently crying for him as the medications gave him hallucinations. But I also got to sit beside him, rubbing his arm, his hand gripping mine, as we talked about what he dreamed, knowing he was comforted simply by my presence.

I got to be one of only two people in this world who could say about him, “You probably know my dad,” expecting to hear nothing but good stories about him. And I got to be proud of that, to let myself be defined by who I belonged to.

And now, even though he is no longer here with us, I still get to be proud. I still get to be the person he and Mom made me to be.

So, Lord, I thank You for this. For all of this. For all of the ways my life was enriched by my dad. By the fact that he always made me feel loved, always made me feel special, never left me wondering.

Dad helped me see what unconditional love looked like because he modeled the kind of love You have for me.

I don’t really want to let myself think about what I lost. I don’t want to face that he is really no longer here. I know it, but I haven’t let myself really, really go there yet. Maybe it’s denial, but maybe it’s also the fact that I want to dwell in this place of gratitude.

When Mom died, I was making a list of things I was thankful for, trying to make myself truly feel it and falling woefully short. But when Dad died, I wasn’t looking, and I saw it anyway.

And I don’t want to over-examine that. I don’t want to rationalize away this feeling that it is well with my soul. Because the truth is, it IS well.

I want to remain in this attitude of thankfulness. I want to thank You, Lord, for every single thing, for all the ways my dad made me the person I am, and for all the moments we got to share. Please help cushion my slow return to the regularly-paced world, to the meetings and work and appointments and to-dos that fill page after page. Give me strength to take care of the business aspects of my loss, but even more, help me to not collapse under the emotional aspects of it.

Thank You, God, for showing me after losing Mom that even if I don’t like the outcome, You are still good. You are still there. You still love me, and You still hear me. Thank You for revealing to me that a bad thing does not even begin to cancel out the good of who You are.

Even when I’m sad, You are a sustaining God. Even when I’m lonely, You are a loving and compassionate God. Even when I feel alone, You are my God. Even when I lose such a good, strong, talented, kind and loving dad, You remain. And You will never leave my side.

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

7 simple ways to find faith in the chaos

My friend Peggy laughed when she bought me a coaster for my desk that says, “More ideas than time.” It couldn’t be more true. Even when I’m not frantically working to meet a writing deadline or revise a graphic design project, my brain spins in overtime. I have notebooks filled with ideas for blog posts, ...

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My friend Peggy laughed when she bought me a coaster for my desk that says, “More ideas than time.” It couldn’t be more true.

Even when I’m not frantically working to meet a writing deadline or revise a graphic design project, my brain spins in overtime. I have notebooks filled with ideas for blog posts, books I’d like to write, ways to promote them, merchandise to support them. All of this is on top of my full-time job as a graphic design business owner—and my simultaneous careers as a mother and wife. I have hobby supplies calling to me from stacks in the corners, books to read, and the normal detritus associated with living with three teens/young adults is strewn around the house. Even when I have sufficient money, I can’t seem to find the time to pay my bills.

My computer monitor is lined with post-it notes containing lists of things to do RIGHT NOW, plus errands to run this week and appointments to schedule and random to-dos that I move from one list to another and never manage to complete. There are reminders of birthday gifts to buy, printer toner to order, moving dates for my college-age daughter, tuition bills due, calls to make, checks to deposit, cards to send, messages to write.

There’s too much going on to squeeze it all into the tiny squares of my calendar, let alone keep the details straight in my head. The alerts on my phone chime 15 minutes before my son is due at basketball or I’m due at the dentist. My email makes a quiet but distinctive sound that causes me to salivate like Pavlov’s dog—I can’t seem to resist a quick look to see what else I need to do. Even when I can slow down and spend a day alone at home, the noise level in my life is loud.

I want faith to be an important part of my life, but some days there seems to be no room for it because everything else is pushing it out of the way.

However, Jesus told the disciples, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). Does that excite you as much as it does me? This means that our faith doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be present, and from it, great things will come.

It may seem impossible to spend time finding faith amidst the chaos, and I agree, it’s not always easy. But I encourage you to steal moments wherever you can find them to reconnect with God in the jumble of your life. These seven tried-and-true tips revive my faith, no matter how busy I am, and I think they will help you, too.

Be still. Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10). That’s all it takes. A moment in which to remember. Stop. Breathe deeply. And let yourself be aware that He is right there with you. Take that knowledge with you when you ease back into the day.

Put God first. I’ll confess: I do not set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. so I can have quiet time with God before my family wakes up. (And I believe that’s okay.) But I do have to mentally commit to putting God first, to spending time talking to Him and learning about Him. When I can do this near the beginning of my day, everything else is a whole lot more manageable and I feel more balanced. Even if I just have five minutes.

Forgive yourself. Right now, ask God to forgive you for being distracted and not paying Him the attention He deserves. (Go ahead. I’ll wait.) Now—here’s the harder part—forgive yourself. And then let it go, knowing that God does not hold grudges. With this out of the way, you won’t need to work past the I’m-sorry/I-should-haves when you turn to God to initiate a conversation.

Keep an eye out for God in the chaos. Peace infuses the atmosphere when you slow down and feel God’s presence, but that doesn’t mean He is not also present in the too-cluttered, hectic activities crowding your days. God is with us all the time. Just think how much more meaningful your day will be if you spend it noticing Him. When we see Him, our faith increases, and in turn we focus even more on watching for Him.

Pray without ceasing. Think of it like a radio playing in the background. The music you hear is not always in the forefront of your mind, but it’s a part of everything you do. Practice keeping up a running commentary with God, thanking Him for the blessings you see and the people you encounter. Prayer is the primary way we communicate with God to strengthen our faith. And it’s the kind of soundtrack that can change your perception of the day’s events.

Be present in the moment. When our minds are consumed with upcoming events, we don’t enjoy our current endeavors. For example, when you’re stressed about getting somewhere on time, you miss the casual conversations in the car with your kids or spouse. These moments can reveal what matters to them and strengthen your relationship. So whatever you do, give it your all. It’s smart to dedicate some time to looking ahead—but, whenever possible, grant yourself permission to enjoy the little moments that make up the life God gave you.

Learn to see the good in things. You could complain because you’re too busy. Or thank God for the lifestyle that allows you the financial ability to provide voice lessons for your kids, and the leisure time that makes it possible to watch the high school soccer game. You can complain about the piles of unfolded laundry and stacks of dirty dishes. Or you can thank God for a home and a family and a full life. For having more clothes than you need and enough food to fill your belly. There’s nearly always a way to turn a complaint or a struggle upside down and find the silver lining.

Pray with me? Dear Lord, help me—every single morning—to find faith in the midst of the chaos. Give me the desire and ability to see You, hear You, talk to You, and give thanks to You. And as I do, I pray that I will draw nearer and nearer to You, and that my faith will multiply exponentially as I understand in new, deeper ways that You are everything I ever hoped You would be. And so much more. Amen.

This post originally appeared on Crosswalk.

Dwelling in God’s Sanctuary

(Reposting this piece from a few years ago, in honor of Father’s Day and my amazing Dad.) “The one thing I ask of the LORD—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections 
and meditating in his Temple.
 For he will ...

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(Reposting this piece from a few years ago, in honor of Father’s Day and my amazing Dad.)


“The one thing I ask of the LORD—
the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, delighting in the LORD’s perfections 
and meditating in his Temple.
 For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
 he will hide me in his sanctuary.
 He will place me out of reach on a high rock.”
 Psalm 27:4-5

My dad told me about a meditation class he attended a few weeks ago. The instructor asked them to close their eyes and picture the most beautiful mansion they could imagine. She then guided them through the rest of the scene—notice the peak of the mountain in the distance behind it. Look at the sky. And so on.

Afterwards, she said, “Rob, you’re creative. This should be right up your alley. Tell us what you thought about.”

He said, “Well, I started with Downton Abbey. It’s the most beautiful house I can imagine. But then you said mountain and there are no mountains there so you lost me.”

She said, “You should have just gone with that. It’s OK.”

And he said, “Well, I did. I pictured one of my barns, you know, like I like to paint. With the patina of the wood and all that. Because it’s like a sanctuary to me. When I paint it feels like that. I’m just there. My mind isn’t anywhere else. So I pictured that instead.”

That, to me, sums up the beauty in creating art. Finding that place inside, the place where you can quiet your mind and open your heart and breathe. A place where you can dwell, delighting in what you’ve found. A place of safety and of peace.

Here’s the thing. You don’t have to paint to find that. It’s available for all of us—whether we’re artists or not—when we do the things we were made to do. Maybe that thing is being an attentive mom, listening with care to an especially long story, even if the phone is ringing. Perhaps it’s wiping down counter tops after spreading peanut butter on bread, content because your family is fed and you find satisfaction in caring for them. Maybe it’s what you feel at the front of a boardroom, when all the managers present are focused solely on you. You might find this peace in the middle of a chaotic classroom as you try to retain control of a math lesson. Or possibly you find that moment with headphones on, typing away at your keyboard as the novel you always wanted to write begins to come to life.

The Bible reminds us that God came to dwell with us, that we are His holy temples. And I believe that when we do the things God made us to do—as hard as it is sometimes to figure that out—that we’re essentially abiding with Him. Delighting in the Lord, meditating in His Temple. It’s where He wants us to be, safe and protected from the cares of the world. Fully alive. Completely in touch with Him.

So today, if things feel out of control, if deadlines threaten to strangle you or chaos overwhelms you, sit down for a moment. Close your eyes. And imagine that place where you can find Him. Touch Him. Open your soul until you can see Him again. And if you can stay there with Him, let yourself. But even if someone or something else is demanding your attention, try to hold on to that connection as you go about your day.

Because wherever He is, wherever you are with Him, it’s the most beautiful place you could possibly imagine.

When God speaks to you—using your very own words

I know what I know… until that moment when I don’t. And in those moments that I no longer know, God often speaks loudest. When I write about my faith, I search the deepest parts of my soul for the purest of truths, the most true of the true things I know. I don’t write ...

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I know what I know… until that moment when I don’t. And in those moments that I no longer know, God often speaks loudest.

When I write about my faith, I search the deepest parts of my soul for the purest of truths, the most true of the true things I know. I don’t write it if I don’t feel it, believe it, know it, and can back it up. And often, the writing comes easy. Not always, but the best words I write are the ones that seem to come from someplace else, the ones that pour out onto the page.

I truly believe what I say. I try to live out my faith with authenticity. I don’t hesitate to admit my failures and hypocrisies. When I struggle, I say so. And yet, I still have times when what I’m living through is too much, when my faith wavers, when anger or doubt surfaces, when I know in my head what to do but my heart feels broken. When it feels as though God has abandoned me, or forgotten me, or just never cared about me in the first place.

My family is facing something now that is devastatingly hard. Heartbreaking and earth-shattering. We’re just at the very beginning of it all, and it will get harder. I don’t mean to be secretive—I will share it all soon—but that’s not what this post is about.

The day after this new journey began, I opened my email to find that a post I’d written nearly a month earlier for a site I contribute to had just gone live. When I wrote it, I knew it to be true. When I uploaded the post, I was certain that I understood and believed and had lived it out.

But then, suddenly, I found that I didn’t know anything anymore. My world was rocked in a whole new way, and I was sitting outside, journal in my lap, trying to figure out how to pray, how to face this, how to have the strength to get through.

That’s when I decided to check my email—because clearly prayer wasn’t working for me. And I came face to face with my own words:

Prayer is the way our souls find peace. It is the one place we can find rest. We can take it with us. We can lean on it and allow it to help us stand strong and firm. We can let prayer soothe our anxieties, declutter our minds, and keep us focused on the big picture—keeping our eyes on Christ. Even if you can’t find the time you think you need to pray.

Prayer doesn’t have to be complicated or involved or time-consuming. Think of it as a radio playing in the background. If you can keep the lines of communication open, you will discover that you feel calmer, you remain more centered, and life feels a little less crazy.

People often ask me how they can know when God speaks to them. Whenever I talk about a time in which I believe I heard clearly from God, I see the baffled looks and quizzical expressions. I watch people try to believe me—and I see when they just really aren’t sure. (And that is okay.)

God speaks in a lot of ways—through the Bible, when a scripture opens up inside your mind and you can dive down deeper and deeper into it, wading through layers of meaning and insight.

He speaks through the words of a song, when the radio plays just the right one for exactly that moment in time.

He speaks through the wisdom of friends, the messages of pastors, the blogs of writers, the questions and insights of children. He speaks through secular music and books, through nature and sunsets and science.

He speaks through email or snail mail, sending just the right message through just the right person at just the right time.

He speaks into our spirits, gently placing simple but profound truths into our souls.

He speaks through articles and podcasts, revealing answers to questions we’ve only recently formulated in our minds. Like the time I asked a friend a question about God that I didn’t understand, and I came home to find a link to a podcast in an email newsletter… something made me click on it, and this man (a well-known pastor who I tend to disagree with about a lot of things) gave the first and only direct answer I had ever heard to my question.

And when I’m really lucky, He speaks to me through my own words. Words I barely remember writing, ones that didn’t seem particularly profound or weighty at the time.

So yesterday morning, I read the post I myself had written, and as I remembered what I already knew, tears flowed. My answer was prepared before I even asked the question. Because God knows what’s going to happen. He already knows what I need, and it has been prepared and provided well in advance.

Nothing surprises God. Not the situation you’re going through. Not the way you will react. Not your doubts or anger or fear or rage or heartbreak.

Lord, I am in awe of You.

Lord, I am grateful for You.

I love the way You work, the way You speak, the way You listen.

And even though the news is still devastating, and circumstances have not changed, my heart rejoices.

Because whatever happens, Lord, I celebrate You. The One who knows. The One who speaks. The One who remembers when I do not.

The One who remains faithful, even when I do not.

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

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.

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.

Church and the power of a shared story

One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What ...

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One day during a writing workshop I attended, the teacher (a well-known author) assigned us the task of sitting for 30 minutes in three very different locations and writing down every single detail we observed. That evening, after we shared the details with each other, she told us that now they belonged to us. What the other women observed became part of my repertoire, and my observations became part of theirs. Now I can take these ideas and absorb them, hold them close, make them part of my story — weave them into the fabric of who I am.

There are a million reasons I could give for getting involved in a church — not because you have to be in church to have faith or practice it, but because it is the ideal place to learn from other people who are, at least in theory, trying to live out the faith we share. No, the people there won’t be perfect. They most likely will fail miserably, as we all do, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. It also doesn’t mean you have to go early for Sunday school or sign up for all the Bible studies — although you can. It just means that it’s a good place to observe. Open your eyes. Listen. Talk. Share. Ask questions. See how someone clings to God in the darker moments of her life — or notice how she doesn’t — and watch how that changes her. Don’t hide your secrets. If you want to have a perfect little life on Facebook, be my guest. But somewhere in your life find people with whom you can be real.

Because it is in the sharing, in the seeing, that you find the knowing. And it is the knowing that strengthens you and develops a faith that is lasting. When you look through the eyes of faith and notice how God works, it will change what you see when no amount of money-juggling will prevent overdraft fees. It will help you distinguish Him when your nephew responds again to the siren song of his addiction, or your child fails another class, or a herniated disk cancels your golf vacation. It will help comfort you when the biopsy shows that you really did spend too much time in the sun or that there’s no getting around it, you have to seriously change your diet because your health has hit critical stages. No matter how much you love chocolate. Or salt. Or bacon. He will guide you when your reputation tanks, or your investments do, or when the tanker jackknives on the interstate and kills a four-year-old child. It will sustain you when you can’t please a boss or seem to make a smart decision or salvage your marriage. It’s not dependent on you — because the Bible tells us, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NLT)

Sweet and precious Lord, help us not to overlook the gifts you’ve given us, the ones surrounding us in the pews at church (or surrounding us in life, if we don’t go to church). Teach me, Lord, to see You, honor You, pay attention to You. Grant me Your unfathomable peace. And thank You for putting people in my life to walk alongside me. Help me learn from them, no matter what I’m going through. Amen.


P.S. If you don’t go to church, please don’t think I’m criticizing you. We each have to find our own way and our own place and I’m glad that my blog is part of your spiritual life. In fact, I wrote an article called Should You Feel Shame for Missing Church?, and the short answer is no :-). But I have been forever changed—in a good way—by the people at my church and I know the powerful things that can happen when you find a church to call home.

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