A peek into my journal

I thought about titling this “Naked and unashamed,” but that would make it look like I have a whole lot more confidence than I really have. With me, naked just is never a good thing! Whatever you want to call it, though, this post is about getting real. I wrote this in my journal recently, ...

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I thought about titling this “Naked and unashamed,” but that would make it look like I have a whole lot more confidence than I really have. With me, naked just is never a good thing! Whatever you want to call it, though, this post is about getting real.

I wrote this in my journal recently, and then the next time I picked it up I felt so strongly that I should share it—not because it’s amazing writing, and not because I have the answers, because I don’t—but because I think someone out there needs to know that they are not alone. Here’s the truth: We don’t all feel inspired all the time, and we don’t always know how to pray. Even me—and I’ve published two books on prayer. So please read on and know that each person’s faith life will ebb and flow. Prayer may come easily sometimes and be more difficult at other times. But God remains the same, and He always wants to hear from us. I am so grateful.

It’s Saturday morning—really almost noon—and I’m feeling that familiar resistance. I should work; I want to read. I should pray; I want to read. I should be productive—I have so much to do—but I’m tired and just want to indulge myself.

Lord, what is it in me that wants to do meaningless, selfish things over spending time with You? Is it the fear—the knowledge—that You know me? That You see through my BS? That You know how far my heart and thoughts are from You in the daily grind?

Revive that passion in me, Lord. Please. It was so good for me to spend the last few days with Cindy and share our stories about You, about our faith and discoveries. To be reminded, through my own words and experiences, how amazing You are. To remember what a gift You’ve given me and all the ways in which You’ve revealed Yourself to me.

I already know that my prayer life will probably never look like it used to. I’ve changed; You have not.

But what I have now feels stagnant and boring. Distinctly uninspiring.

The irony isn’t lost on me: I write about how to invigorate your prayer life, how to try again and again, to do something new to shake it up. I tell people I get to write, not because I am a better pray-er, but because I want You more than I want to stay where I am.

I do want You, Lord.

I want to hear You and see You—but I really want to know You. To let my days be changed by Your presence. To let my life be changed by Your participation and provision. To let You so permeate my being that every particle of me is transformed into something new—unrecognizable as me but fully recognizable as YOU.

Sometimes it seems as though the leap between where I am and where I want to be is impossible to traverse. No obvious path; seemingly impassible obstacles.

And yet I know—and believe—that nothing is impossible for You. My failings don’t even enter into the equation.

Do this impossible thing, Lord. Whisk me over the chasm I sense between us. I’m not asking You to deliver me from the hard work of it. Just for You to show me the footholds I need to navigate across. To inspire me, step by step. To coach me, coax me, whisper encouragement to me. To never leave my side—and yet, inexplicably, to be waiting on the other side when I arrive, arms wide open for a deep embrace.

Help me to get there, Lord. One tiny step at a time.

Dear Lord, thank You for hearing our prayers—and for always wanting to answer them when we’re simply wanting to grow closer to You. Help revive my passion; restore my lagging faith; remind me how amazing You are. I know these things, and I believe in my heart, but sometimes my head gets in the way. Thank You for loving us so much. Thank You for wanting us to lean on You. Thank You for always, always being there and for knowing the desires of our heart. Amen.

20 Prayers to Pray Throughout a Busy Day (free printable)

Prayer is our primary means of communication with God, and it is only through God that we have the strength, abilities and wisdom we need to face a busy day. But when we’re so busy, when is there time to pray? My answer may surprise you: Always. It’s true, though. We don’t have to stop ...

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Prayer is our primary means of communication with God, and it is only through God that we have the strength, abilities and wisdom we need to face a busy day. But when we’re so busy, when is there time to pray? My answer may surprise you: Always. It’s true, though. We don’t have to stop everything in order to pray. Instead, let these short, simple prayers run through your mind as you go about your everyday tasks—your conversation with God will become a soundtrack underscoring your ordinary days, transforming them into something extraordinarily beautiful and meaningful.

1. Thank you for this day.
This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it. ~PSALM 118:2,4

2. Be with me.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. ~PSALM 118:6

3. You are so good.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. ~1 CHRONICLES 16:34

4. Give me strength for this day.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~GALATIANS 6:9

5. Protect me.
I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. ~LUKE 10:19

6. Thank You for the work that keeps me busy.
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands. ~PSALM 90:17

7. Lord, give me rest.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. ~MATTHEW 11:28-30

8. Help me to love.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. ~ROMANS 12:9-10

9. Let me see You.
“You will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord. ~JEREMIAH 29:12-14

10. Fill me with joy.
I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. ~JOHN 15:11

11. Show me how to glorify you.
There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours. All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, And they shall glorify Your name. For You are great and do wondrous deeds; You alone are God. ~PSALM 86:8-10

12. Give me a generous heart.
A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. ~PROVERBS 11:25

13. Erase my worries.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. ~JOHN 14:17

14. Help me.
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. ~PSALM 34:17

15. Let my words be uplifting.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

16. Forgive me and help me forgive others.

Jesus said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” ~MATTHEW 6:14

17. Thank You for being in control.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ~JEREMIAH 29:11

18. Teach me. Guide me. Show me what to do.
Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me. ~PSALM 25:4-5

19. Purify my mind.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~PHILIPPIANS 4:8

20. Thank You. Again. Always.
Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. ~1 THESSALONIANS 5:18

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com September 12, 2016

Click here to download the free printable list of 20 prayers.

Faith in a rear-view mirror

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake ...

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If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake lights, and THEN proceeded to drive below the speed limit for the next five miles as I watched my rearview mirror for flashing lights, heart pounding, chanting, “Sh&%” under my breath.

We all break the law in one way or another, no matter how careful and/or good we might think we are. Sometimes we even get away with it, like I did. (Thank goodness.)

From there, though, my mind wandered, and I started thinking about how this applies to God’s laws, His standards, His holiness.

I am not legalistic at all. I believe God’s defining characteristics are love, grace, and forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion: that we couldn’t—and don’t have to—pay the penalty for our lack of perfection. I think I have a healthy view of my faults, but I don’t dwell a lot on how lowly I am or beat myself up for my inherent failings and wrong behavior.

Because wouldn’t it stink if someone followed us around all the time, watching for the chance to say “GOTCHA!”? If every time we turned around, someone was waiting to throw a penalty at us? What kind of life would that be?

You know, I think that is possibly part of the reason why God did what He did. Conventional teaching says it was because of His great love for us, that no man should perish. It explains that God is holy and perfect and therefore it is greatly offensive for Him to be confronted with anything less than perfectly holy, and there had to be a sacrifice to bridge that gap.

I’m not disagreeing. I know all of that.

But have you ever considered that maybe it was also a way of God giving us a life we could enjoy (the abundant life discussed in the Bible)? I think it was partly about creating an environment in which we’re welcomed with open arms, not afraid to come to Him—because even though God knows all about us, and is clear about who He is, he doesn’t want a barrier between us. He designed us to have relationships with Him and with each other.

And how amazing is that?

A friend recently said that if your idea of sin is small, your God is small. If you don’t see how lost you were and how much you are in need of a savior, you can’t truly celebrate the enormity of being found. So I started praying about it—do I lean too far towards the concept of grace? Am I shortchanging God or living in denial about all that I’ve done wrong? Have I truly turned away from my sins and been changed? Am I full of pride or ego, or am I realistic about how badly I need God?

The next day, I was practicing the talk I was to give at a prayer workshop the following day, just checking the timing and smoothness of it. It was all about grace. About how God doesn’t beat us up, but just wants us to turn to Him. About how I’m flawed and not more holy than someone else, and how ironic it is that someone who fails as often as I do could write not one but two books about prayer. About how I think that’s why I got to write those books—to tell people it’s okay to not be perfect. The only thing that sets me apart in even the slightest way is that when I fall short, I try again. I don’t let shame keep me away; I want God more than I want to dwell on what I’ve done wrong. And I believe that God wants me to come to Him. So I return to Him, again and again and again and again.

And as my words came out, so did the tears. I kept practicing anyway. By the end, I was sobbing—tears of thankfulness because of how deeply I believe it all to be true. Because I don’t deserve God’s magnanimous grace. I didn’t earn it. I can’t, on my own, be truly good. I can try, and I do. I get some things right, but I seriously mess up others. I sometimes deceive myself, and sometimes I have profound insights into who I am.

Sometimes I may think about it more than other times, but I do recognize what a gift it is. Because always, always, I try to remember who God is. 

And to me, He is a God of second (and third and 482nd) chances. His face lights up when I turn back to Him. His arms are open to welcome me. His head is inclined towards me, eager to listen, interested in what I have to say. Am I the center of the universe? Of course not. But God is big enough to be this personally invested in each and every one of us. He loves each of us enough to delight in us. When we turn to Him, we’re not keeping Him from doing bigger and better things. We’re being who He created us to be.

He’s not following us around looking for reasons to penalize us. He doesn’t rejoice when we mess up. But when we come to Him because we just want to be with Him, I believe He celebrates.

He’s not hiding behind a barricade, waiting to pounce. We can relax, let down our guard. And open our hearts to the knowledge that He’s not trying to trip us up. He’s not setting us up for failure.

When we live life as though He is the God of “gotcha!”, we’re belittling the fulfilling life that He has given us and we’re shortchanging ourselves.

We can’t pretend the law isn’t there. We shouldn’t overlook our transgressions and missteps. But we don’t have to live in that place of remorse and regret and shame. Once we’ve acknowledged what is in our rearview mirrors, we need to put our eyes back on the road ahead—the one He’s on with us.

And floor it.

Reclaiming my voice

You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh! I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new ...

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You’ll notice that this makes three posts from me this week! Have I been inhabited by aliens? Sheesh!

I’ll never be able to sustain this pace, nor will I try to. But here’s the ironic thing: I may have published three posts in a week, but this is the first one in which I have something new to say. My first post was an excerpt from Designed to Pray and a coloring page. The second was a guest post. In the midst of putting those together, and uploading a post for Internet Café Devotions, I realized a truth I’ve been hiding from. Well, that’s it, I guess: I’ve been hiding. But now it’s time to come clean.

I feel like I’ve lost my voice.

I want to bring hope and encouragement, not despair and criticism. And over the past few months, I’ve struggled. What I’ve had to say hasn’t been popular, and knowing that several people will unsubscribe as a result of each of those posts has silenced me. (I’m not kidding: while I typed this post a few days ago (just after posting a different post), I received a notice of four new unsubscribes.)

I’m not complaining, I promise; I’m just being real.

I’ve struggled through the election and aftermath, knowing that my opinions are not popular ones, including among many within the Church. I’ve wrestled with what to say and how to say it. I’ve tried to stay focused on God and not politics, to only voice opinions if they’re backed by the Word of God. To only talk about it if there’s a bigger issues—living as a Christian, and what Christianity is about—not about a political issue. I’ve wondered if I have an obligation to use what little “platform” I have to try to effect change, or if I should just shush.

I’m certain that I’ve offended people, in spite of very sincere efforts not to. If you’re one of those people, please accept my apology.

The unfortunate consequence of it all is that now I feel as though who I am, what I think, and how I try to live my faith are not acceptable to a bunch of people I like and admire. (Please know that I’m not asking for affirmation. Truly, I regularly hear from people expressing gratitude for what I do and say and I’m moved by every one of those messages.)

But I’m human, and I want people to like me. Even more than that, though, I want to write and remain true to my God and my faith. And I’ve let myself go silent.

So consider this my public confession. What is kept secret often holds a kind of power over us and brings shame, but I want God’s light to fall on this. So I’m revealing my insecurities to you, trusting that this is a safe place for me to be real. I’m asking God to start fresh in me. To ignite new passion and point me in the right direction.

I’m asking Him questions like: What do I write next? What do people want to hear from me? And more important even than that: what does He want me to say?

Now I’m bringing this to you to ask for your prayers. To thank you for walking this road with me. And to admit that I don’t have it all together.

Yet I know who does have it all together—and in spite of my cynicism and disillusionment and lack of direction, I’m entrusting this to God. Because His will is my deepest desire. I don’t want to do anything if I’m not doing it with and for Him. And I’m not accomplishing anything of value on my own.

Pray with me? (And then leave a comment to let me know how I can pray for you, or what struggle you want to reveal in order to let God prevail over it.)

Dear Lord, I find that I’m withdrawing into myself, even though I’ve experienced firsthand the truth that healing is found in the company of friends, in the sounds of laughter and tears, in the breaking of bread together and the sharing of lives. Expand my view, Lord. Let me look beyond myself, reach past my emotions and opinions and ego and instead lean on Your truth. Let me remember Who You are… All that You are… All that You have been to me—and all that You want to be to me. Give me the desire to embrace it, and let me be willing to change. Even if it’s painful or embarrassing or complicated. Because I don’t want there to be a wall between You and me. You came to remove those barriers, to give us unlimited access, to build intimacy with us and to share our lives. This is one gift that I don’t want to throw away—or leave in a gift bag stacked in a corner. I want to use every gift You’ve given me to its full extent. I want to come alive again, to be used by You, to be revived by You, and to be Your instrument, fully obedient and passionately dedicated and weary from overuse, not lack of use. I offer my life to You, again, fully surrendered and releasing control. I walk forward in obedience, not sure yet where I’m going, but doing my part to keep moving forward until I get clear direction. And I feel my hopes rising up as I anticipate finding You on this path in a deeper way. I am Yours, Lord, in every breath, every thought, every dream, every hope. Yours and Yours alone. Because there is no One else like You. Thank You for wanting me. Thank You for hearing. And thank You for the answer I know You have for me. Amen.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ~1 Peter 2:1-5, NIV

Seeing you, being seen, and seeing Him

My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, ...

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My friend Tami and I are very different, although we’ve been close friends for years. We are on different ends of the spectrum politically and in many other ways. But the other day I met her for lunch and ended up pouring out my heart—how I feel, what emotions have come to the surface lately, and so on. I told her these things knowing she had different opinions, and she shared a little about where she’s coming from. We could do this because we were in a safe place—we both knew we were loved, differences and all, and we trusted each other to listen with an open heart.

It was a really healing moment for me. A reminder that differences don’t have to divide us.

One thing Tami and I have always had in common is we hate to be misunderstood. If you want to be mad at me, fine, but only if you’re basing it on the things I actually did or what I actually meant. We can’t rest until we’ve corrected mistaken impressions.

A big insight I’ve had lately is along those same lines: We all want to be seen and know that we’re heard.

[I promise this isn’t about the election… bear with me. REALLY. I promise. It has a God point and doesn’t take a stand about sides!]

I’ve heard analysts say that many thousands of people who supported our President-elect voted in large part because they felt like he understood their plight and was on their side. They supported him because for years they’ve felt overlooked by our government and media and now they feel as though they have finally been seen.

On the other hand, many who are disappointed about the results think that the people who voted the other way do not care about people of different colors, religions, sexual persuasions, and so on. And they want to be sure people understand the implications of that and what it means for the people who feel as though they’ve been overlooked.

See? Not politics.

It’s about being seen.

As I’ve been praying and thinking and talking and wrestling with my emotions and beliefs lately, I’ve landed here: Am I putting my money where my mouth is? Am I living the life and faith I believe we’re directed to live? I won’t go into all of those questions and ramifications—unless you have several hours to spare, you can thank me for that. But one of the conclusions I’ve reached is just what I said earlier. People want to be seen and understood. It’s a basic, driving force in human existence.

And it’s something we can affect, no matter who’s at the helm of this country.

In Psalm 139, David says:

“O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6, NLT

Today, I’d like to suggest three basic steps towards healing, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Because the truth is we’re all on the same side. God’s banner over us is love. And it’s over all of us—people of all varieties and backgrounds and persuasions.

1) Spend time with God and be open about your conflicts, turmoil, confusion, anger, joy, frustration with acquaintances… whatever you’re feeling. Because He already knows you, and He created us to live in relationship. We grow closer to God when we share with Him who we are. Healing happens when we get real with God, and time in His presence can bring clarity and peace.

2) Seek out time with a trusted friend. You certainly don’t have to talk politics. Share your life. Let yourself feel safe and understood. God created us to live in relationship, and healing often takes place in community, rarely alone.

3) Reach out to someone today and let them know they are seen. It doesn’t require a personal or controversial discussion—simply pay attention to the people around you. Praise your child for a small act of kindness. Kiss your husband on the cheek and thank him for taking out the trash. Compliment the server at a restaurant for her efficiency. Tell a stranger you like her sense of style.

One person at a time, we can begin to change our understanding, to recognize the beliefs that drive a person. We can make a difference one life, one moment, one baby step at a time. And over time, as this kindness and generosity of spirit spreads, maybe—just maybe—it will impact the toxic environment in which we live.

Because people will be seen. And in the process, they will see the love that drives us, and it will point them to the God who inspires us.

Dear Precious Lord, help us today. Soften our hearts toward others. Increase our compassion. Enlighten our understanding. Thank You for seeing us and knowing us. Thank You for caring. Thank You for being our safe place to turn. You are mighty and altogether lovely—and I want to show You to others through the way I care for them. Help me. Teach me. Go with me. Amen.

Maybe this is a good place to start

  Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the ...

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Every time I see another person say “suck it up” or “stop whining and move on,” I feel more bereft than before—because those statements show that people don’t get it. This isn’t about politics, and suggesting that my sadness isn’t valid is belittling. Honestly, this response only underscores the reasons I’m upset in the first place.

Since hearing someone else’s story always changes my understanding, I’m sharing mine with you. I’m sure there are plenty of people who are whining and pouting and just like to be mad. But there are lots and lots of other people who, I think, feel much like I do. Our rights may not be compromised, but we see that those of others might be, and we feel the pain on their behalf.

If anything unusual happened during these past few months, it is that people went public with their thoughts and opinions and our social media environment helps remove social filters. Which should be good. We want honesty and authenticity, right? Except that in so many cases the thoughts and opinions exposed were ugly. Downright hateful and mean and insulting.

(I know this goes both ways, although among my friends, I’ve seen next to nothing of the sort coming from the liberals and tons of bashing from the conservatives—but many of the conservatives I know tell me that all the liberals are hateful and violent. And that’s exactly my point. When we make broad generalizations, we’re insulting actual, specific individuals. Most of us are not extremists, and general statements like that are, quite simply, not fair. And I’m genuinely sorry I didn’t realize that sooner.)

Am I happy with the outcome? No. I accept that Donald Trump will be my President, and I will try to give him a chance. But my political disappointment is no more extreme than that of a conservative when Obama was elected. About half the time, simply because of the way democracy works, we will all be disappointed. No big deal.

Am I grieving? Yes. But the reason is not because “my” candidate lost the election.

It is not because Donald Trump was elected. It’s because grief is sometimes the appropriate response when something is lost. It’s right to feel sad when you see wrongs and injustices.

These past few months, we all witnessed new levels of hatred and division, name-calling and bullying. As I watched the results pour in on Tuesday night, I started to cry because I realized that the conclusion of the election will not conclude the problem.

We’ve seen too much to go back. We’ve seen who we are—as a country, as different political groups, as a Church. Maybe Trump didn’t cause the ugliness in individual people but he inherently, by his own words, gave permission to people to speak out. They felt comfortable letting others see parts of themselves they would have once kept hidden. And now millions more feel acute rejection—because even if, as a Trump supporter, you’re not hateful or bigoted, Trump’s victory seems to many to be an endorsement of those traits.

When people are hurting, we—as Christians—should feel empathy and sorrow. It’s not sadness about Democrats “not getting our way.” It’s about having compassion for the millions of hurting people who need to know that even though Trump won, we believe they have value. We see them.

Here’s just a little bit of what else we’ve seen.

  • Many people—who are anything other than straight, white, middle class Christians—are feeling justifiable fear. Countless individuals are being taunted, facing hatred, and experiencing violent backlash simply because of their ancestry or a stereotype.
  • Millions of women are victims of sexual abuse, and many men simply cannot understand what mainstream acceptance of sexism and abuse does to a woman’s soul.
  • Not all Christians believe the same things—or if we do, we choose to live out our ideologies very differently.
  • Many Christians (and to be fair, probably many other religions, too) feel threatened by those who believe differently.
  • Nobody likes to be stereotyped; we want to be evaluated on our individual merits and behaviors, not someone’s opinion about a group we belong to.
  • Our actions have a real impact on others’ perceptions of who we are—especially as Christians, who are called to show God to the world. People (within and outside of the Church) are questioning if Christianity is all they thought it was, and if our God is worth following if His followers act this way.
  • Minorities and differences are not as accepted as we thought.
  • Thousands (probably millions) have spent their lifetimes feeling ignored, so when Trump made them feel seen, they responded to him. At the same time, countless others feel unseen now because of the number of votes for a platform seemingly opposed to their beliefs or lifestyles.
  • Because so many voted “against” rather than “for”—we know that negative emotions like dislike and distrust are extremely powerful motivators.

These issues aren’t about politics but basic human decency—the lack of it and the necessity for more of it. Now that we know, it’s not as simple as just “dropping it” and moving on.

This could be a really good thing. It could. When something is hidden, it can’t be addressed. Hidden things hold a dark kind of power over us.

But now we can change.

So, as a liberal, am I packing my bags and leaving the country? No. I won’t deny that in the midst of my emotions, I didn’t wish I could. But I don’t usually run from a problem, even if I could. So instead I’m spending time with trusted friends who make me feel safe to be me. I’m talking to God and trying to come to terms with our new reality. I’m praying for insight and direction and inspiration.

And I’m hoping—fervently, passionately hoping—that this will be the start of something amazing. That this will not be an era of hate, but that people will pull together to find the good. That we will work together to help people who aren’t just like us feel they belong. That we will learn to look beyond our own experience and be aware of someone else’s.

Recently, we’ve focused on our differences, but if we look harder, I believe we can find more to bring us together. And if we believe what our faith teaches us, we all have work to do.

  • As Christians, we have to forgive—not because it’s our gut response or because we’re feeling magnanimous but because we were first forgiven by Christ.
  • We have to love others—because we were loved first with an extravagant love whose depths we cannot begin to fathom.
  • We must stop judging because God is the righteous judge. We must stop casting stones because we are not without our own sin.
  • We need to accept others, because Jesus turned no one away. God’s love is freely offered to everyone.

But it’s not all hard stuff.

  • We get to hope because God alone brings hope into impossible situations.
  • We get to remember that these trials in our world are nothing for a God who is not limited by place or time or circumstance. No need is beyond his capacity for repair or his ability to procure.

We do know this, right? Then let’s act like we believe it. Let’s build genuine relationships with all types of people and not be afraid of that which is different. Let’s attempt to understand where those we disagree with are coming from. Let’s not get bogged down by despair but let’s do find more, better ways to extend kindness and generosity with sincerity and grace. Let’s show God’s love in more genuine ways. Let’s acknowledge that the Church will never be perfect because it’s made up of imperfect individuals—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be better.

It’s not all on us as a country or community, though. We each have our own personal work to do—getting to know God better, seeking Him sooner and more often. Turning from selfishness and ignorance toward the light of His understanding. Putting our trust in God, who never fails us. (He may do things we don’t like, but He doesn’t fail us.)

So even though I am mourning and hurting, and even though I’ve been insulted and am disappointed in others, and even though I’m overwhelmed with despair, I will keep trying to do what’s right. Because I know that someone else’s misbehavior doesn’t justify my own. Lashing out to hurt someone else doesn’t heal the wound they inflicted on me.

I have to believe that mankind is better than the examples I’ve seen lately. I have to trust that every insult directed at (pick one) liberals/Democrats/Christians/women isn’t a personal attack. I have to give people the benefit of the doubt, even when I don’t want to, even when it would be easier to skip church or cancel lunch with a friend or unfriend someone on Facebook. I have to be all right with knowing that lots of people don’t understand me and never will.

And it’s okay. Because in the end, I don’t have control over anyone else. I can only be responsible for myself, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be bitter. I don’t want to hold grudges and be bogged down by despair. I want to be better. I want to let other people know they matter. And I want to be able to look God in the face and hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

I want His best. I want Him. I want to be quick to embrace and slow to take offense. I want to live true to my faith and convictions. I want to see that in you and I want to develop that in myself. And that, my friends, is something that goes way beyond politics and elections, and it provides a solid start on a place in which we can agree. I hope you’ll join me there.

Jumping into the deep waters of your faith

Several years ago, my husband and I went snorkeling in Belize. The boat took a group of us way out into the sparkling, glittering turquoise water. No land to be seen in any direction. Nothing but a couple of buoys. And lots (and lots and lots) of water. Well, I’m not much of a swimmer. ...

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Several years ago, my husband and I went snorkeling in Belize. The boat took a group of us way out into the sparkling, glittering turquoise water. No land to be seen in any direction. Nothing but a couple of buoys. And lots (and lots and lots) of water.

Well, I’m not much of a swimmer. But I had a life jacket and had convinced myself I could do this.

Until it was time to get out of the boat. Everyone else jumped in. My husband was swimming around, minus a life jacket, diving down to look at coral and coming back up, having a blast. And I was still stuck on the side of the boat. I couldn’t do it. It was too hard, and I was paralyzed.

Our guide got back into the boat with me and talked to me. He sat beside me on the edge. He held my hand. And eventually we jumped—together.

As my friend Peggy taught last weekend at a women’s conference, Ezekiel is led into progressively deeper waters in chapter 47. I, too, started in the shallow waters of faith. There were moments of fear, but the water rose slowly and I acclimated. Lately, as I’m maturing in my faith, as I seek to go deeper and become more discerning, I have realized I’m swimming in deep, endless waters—and I confess, I am afraid.

But when God takes us into those waters, we don’t go alone. He grabs our hands and jumps along with us.

God is showing me that the reason I feel tired and scared and unsettled is because I’m not trusting Him to hold onto me. To lie back and float, to give in, to yield. Instead, I’m frantically treading water. Gasping for breath. Using every ounce of power in my muscles simply to stay afloat. I’ve let my imagination take over—what horrendous creatures lurk below the surface? What if the floatation device fails?

But that day in Belize, I learned a lesson. Sure, it’s hard to take that initial leap.To relax and move on the surface of the water, letting the floatation device do its job. And it’s frightening to put your face into the water. It’s challenging to convince your brain that you will still be able to breathe. To trust the plastic mask to protect your eyes so that you can open them without them stinging or burning.

Because once we’ve leapt and taken a deep breath and let go of our trepidation, we get to open our eyes to look into the depths. Witness the mysteries. Occasionally, we may be startled by the sights, but for the most part, when we gaze into the deep, we see unfathomable beauty. Discover new things. Observe the nuances and intricate shapes and breathtaking forms of life and impossibly vivid colors.

We experience wonder.

We are humbled by the enormity of all that we see, the things we didn’t know even existed. And we enter into a place of awe of the God who creates such beauty.

And that is when it happens. We stop struggling to remain afloat by our own power. We stop kicking. We start to trust that when we breathe in, the air will come—full of life, free of danger. We let God cradle us, and we allow ourselves to float on the gentle waves of His love.

When you don’t realize you’re bound by fear

I am no longer a slave to fear I am a child of God. This past weekend, I was at a women’s gathering and we were worshipping to this song. I love the song but don’t think of myself as someone who is fearful. I wasn’t relating to the fear part, so I closed my eyes ...

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I am no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God.

This past weekend, I was at a women’s gathering and we were worshipping to this song. I love the song but don’t think of myself as someone who is fearful. I wasn’t relating to the fear part, so I closed my eyes and asked God what He had for me. And as soon as I asked, I felt the reply.

All resistance is rooted in fear.

Oh my. He’s right. Lately I’ve been aware of keeping God at arm’s length. Of resisting the teachings I hear. Of evaluating everything and having trouble soaking it in.  I never would have believed that it had anything to do with fear, but I can see now that it does.

Fear that I’m not enough. Fear that He’ll disappoint me. Fear that I’ll look stupid for believing. Fear that I misheard Him. Fear that I’m a hypocrite. Fear that He doesn’t really want me. Fear that I don’t belong. Fear that my sins will come to light. Fear that I’ll open my heart and then be hurt deeply. Fear that I can’t sustain this kind of intensity. Fear that I won’t like how God answers. 

Fear that I’m wrong about Him. 

It’s all fear.

But as the song reminds me, I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God.

And because I am His child, these fears no longer have the power to keep me away, to hold God at a distance.

No more resistance. No more fear. Only God. The Father. The One who can always be trusted to love His daughter. No matter what.

My prayer for the church (for you, for me)

Lord, I am tired of all the ugliness I see in the world. I’m frustrated by the way some people use your Word as a weapon. I’m ashamed by the way we treat each other. I’m horrified by the hatred and violence. I’m disappointed by the lack of authenticity and by the differences that once ...

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Lord, I am tired of all the ugliness I see in the world. I’m frustrated by the way some people use your Word as a weapon. I’m ashamed by the way we treat each other. I’m horrified by the hatred and violence. I’m disappointed by the lack of authenticity and by the differences that once made us interesting and unusual but now simply drive us apart.

It makes me wonder what in the world I am supposed to do. Where—and if—I belong.

I want to believe in You, and I do—but I see people professing to have faith in You who do not offer the kind of grace that You do. Who condemn rather than embrace. Who don’t seem to represent what I think Christianity is supposed to stand for.

So I have to ask: do I have it wrong? Who or what is the problem, and how do we fix it? I want to be part of the solution, because I want to be part of Your Church. I need the relationship with others. I need the teaching. I need help living this life of faith, but sometimes it’s hard to want to be a part of it because it doesn’t look like I think it should. Am I partially to blame for any of it?

Because I am far from perfect. I try to overcome it, but my gut instinct is often judgmental and unkind. I am no better than anyone else.

I mourn, overwhelmed by sadness that You are being misrepresented. Worried that we, as a church, have gotten so much wrong. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying the church is the cause of all of our problems, or even that it’s necessarily the cause of any of them. The online world is suffused with people expressing the damage done to them by the Church. Whether it was the Church as a whole or a single individual, whether the actions were done with good intentions or were purposely cruel—whatever the situation is—the pain is real and it remains.

Through it all, I’m having a hard time relating to the religion I’m supposed to identify with.

I say that with love, fully aware that I’m in no position to judge, fully prepared to offer grace. The whole point of grace is that we can’t earn it, yet it’s given freely anyway. I’ve received it, and I want others to experience that, too.

As the Church, we’ve done some things right, and we’ve gotten other things wrong. So, dear Lord, I ask You to help us. Help the Church get it right. Help us welcome people and show them who You are by the way we treat each other. Help us dig deeper into Your word and fight fiercely to grow our relationships with You so that we will be changed, and through that, so that others will know that the gospel message is true and that Jesus is real. Help us to teach Your truth, as You reveal it, and not to promote personal agendas. If change is needed, work inside each of our hearts individually, and let the enormity of our love for You prompt us to do better.

Because here’s the reality: The Holy Spirit is what changes us. Not someone else telling us we are sinners. Not someone pointing out scriptures we may or may not be violating. Fear and anger and judgment are not strong motivators—well, they might cause us to run away from something, but when it comes to running towards something, we need to feel love. No one held up a sign when I joined the church saying “You’re welcome here—after you make some changes.”

And oh how grateful I am for that.

We don’t always have the right answers. But we have a God who does.

So help us, God, to lean on You. To seek Your direction before we act. To receive Your mercy so that we know how to offer it. To love You without limit, freely, and in so doing, to shine that glorious light of Your love into the darkness.

And never, ever let us take for granted the depths of the love You hold for us. Your Love is what inspires us. It’s what teaches us, comforts us, and sustains us. It’s the basis for all that we are and all that we have been given, and I pray that You will show us how to make it universal. For everyone. In all situations. In every possible way. Your love for us is at the very core of who we are. It defines us. Or it should. So let it also be the spring from which everything we do bursts forth.

Let the Church accurately represent You. Let us be known for our love. Let us reflect who You are. And, please, let us all—every last one of us—be changed in the process. By You. For You. With You.


When I found grace (it really is amazing)

Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have ...

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Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have of grace? Do we get to pick and choose who receives grace?

I don’t have answers, except to say that I want to err on the side of grace rather than judgment. On inclusion rather than exclusion.

Because here’s what I know: I don’t deserve God’s grace, and He gave it to me anyway.

Today I want to re-share a post from 2013. I wrote this while attending Elizabeth Berg’s Writers Workshop in Positano, Italy, in October 2012 (and it also happened to win the Writer’s Digest writing competition in inspirational writing). It’s from a time I was shown the depths of God’s grace, from a time when I was lost and truly felt like I had been found again. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, probably because God made Himself so present in my grief and anger and enabled me to find Him again—in spite of the fact that I knew I didn’t deserve Him. I hope you enjoy.

Amazing grace

Lost, I wander down Positano’s serpentine winding roads, pulling in my toes and elbows as maniacal men on motorbikes speed past, honking their horns and weaving between two cars passing in opposite directions on a road barely wide enough for one. I am drawn to the crates of limone, peaches and braided onions taking their afternoon siesta, lazily awaiting transformation into culinary delights. A girl, whose long bronze legs aren’t obscured at all by her tiny miniskirt, kisses the cheeks of the brothers who run the fish shop, then climbs on her moped, leaving as quickly as she came. Now, though, she holds a white plastic bag sagging low with dense, moist meat.

Minutes later, I slow, stop, then sit on a sun-warmed, salmon-colored bench, transfixed by a woman across the piazza. In between bodies of darting boys, scrambling for the orange ball — a kick here, a header there, triumphant shouts, men in white shirts smoking on benches as they watch — she sits, massive bosoms spread as wide as her legs. These aren’t boobs, mind you; there’s nothing sexual about them. Lounging against her stomach, they’ve nurtured babies and gotten in the way of her kneading bread. Sighing, she takes up residence in her doorway, watching everything and yet nothing. Her knee-high pantyhose fight the urge to roll down her calves into her orthotic shoes. The elastic waist of her black polyester slacks cuts into her flesh beneath the embroidered pink flowers burgeoning across her chest. Forearm resting on her knees, still spread widely, her weariness echoes my own. She’s maybe 65, with coal black hair, the places where her face would be wrinkled made smooth by years of eating good food, made with oils and butters and fats. Nothing self-conscious in her manner, she is stolidly unaware that anyone would notice her. She is heavily present, loudly quiet, taking up all the space in her little corner of the world.

I want that, I think. To be solid again. Real. For months, measuring now more than a year, I’ve been lost. Oh, I can find my location on a map, but since my mom quit fighting the cancer that consumed not just her body but also my understanding of who I am, I’ve wandered, free of her anchor, devoid of direction. I wander quickly, mind you — racing from cheering on my daughter in backstroke to perching on aluminum bleachers as my son dribbles down the basketball court. I careen into the driveway, leaving the car running long enough to revise a client’s ad and answer three more e-mails, then head to the grocery for Pizza Rolls for dinner. I fill up squares on my calendar as quickly as the lifeblood drains from my soul. I replay over and over a conversation we had right after my mom’s diagnosis. “It is not tragic,” she insisted, “for a 70-year-old woman to die of cancer.”

“You are so wrong,” I muttered, as daughters have since time began.

The orange ball bounces my way and I jump out of its path. I turn away, beckoned by the sound of the sea drifting over the wall that surrounds the plaza. Roosters crow, birds call, and motorboats circle the deep blue, teal at the edges, that gently fades to the clear blue of sky, anchoring the majestic cliffs adorned with sorbet-colored buildings, clinging, climbing up the hills. The light here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. The life here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. Like the embrace of a mother. The softness of bosoms that nurtured babies and got in the way of kneading bread. A mother nothing like my own, yet completely mine.

positano composite1How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me

Hidden from view by the twists and turns of the stone stairway, cooler here in the shadows, I stop to peer through a rusted red gate, topped with a starburst of metal points, and I notice the jewel-colored tile cemented into the wall next to it. Number 11, it reads, crossed out with ochre paint, the numero 13 roughly stenciled below. A thing of beauty now marked and ugly. Redefined. What happened?

A very good question, my God whispers into my soul. Why have you changed, baby girl?

I picture my mom’s face, her bald-baby-bird head tilted up but no longer in need of sustenance, lips crusty, the whites of her eyes yellowing as the plastic bag beside her ceases to fill. My sister and father and two family friends sit in the kitchen, methodically lifting bites of meatloaf and buttering the rolls left behind by Mom’s friends, glancing occasionally into the next room, where she lies. My sister’s fork stops moving. “I think she stopped breathing.”

It’s just like my mom to do it this way. Two days earlier, as I sat beside her, she awoke, her brain poisoned by her body’s toxins, eyes crazed: “What are we gonna say?”

“What do you mean, Mom? About what?”

Dad rushed in, and looking from him to me to him to me, she insisted, “We can’t say ‘surrounded by family and friends.’ Promise me. Promise me!”

Her biggest fear was underlined by the standard obituary boilerplate: that we would have to watch her go. That that moment would be tattooed onto our psyches, indelibly scarring even the deepest layers. That her last act on earth would harm us rather than help.

My sister’s face traced by silky tears, she clutches Mom’s hands. “You did it, Mom. You did it well! I’m so proud of you. You did it!”

All I can do is gulp in sobs of air. I feel the nudge of my God, offering comfort. As he whispers, Oh, my sweet child, I shrug away his embrace, turning instead toward the relentless, stinging pain of the needles tattooing the image of her still form in pure, vivid color deep inside my mind.

positano composite 3I once was lost…

Another day in Positano, I walk down hundreds of stone steps toward the beach, peeking in doorways, looking behind the public façades for what is hidden. Green gates reveal empty crates jumbled in the corner, broken bottles, smelly trash. Water settles in the grout between misshapen stone blocks and I step around the puddles, pausing to give my aching knees a rest, letting the breeze dry my sweat. A man exits a courtyard (“Ciao, ciao-grazie”), and I consider sliding through the gate before it latches, stepping through the rooms to finger the softness of the worn towels and aprons fluttering on the balconies. Instead, I turn and let my eyes rove over his white shirt unbuttoned halfway down, sleeves rolled up, torso long and lean and trim and lovely, before he folds himself into a miniature military-looking truck and lurches down the crowded street, clutch popping and brakes squealing in protest.

I round another bend — they’re all bends here, no straight or level paths — and a shockwave of beauty presses me back to the wall. The tableau before me is spread with orange tiled terraces with curvy iron tables. Fuchsia bougainvillea climb and preen on this stage, gaudy showgirls begging for attention. The peach and pink and salmon and butter and gold and cream buildings with striped awnings beckon from their perches, while, inside, tourists sip bellinis. Lemons ripen in the sun and olives fall from their gnarled trees onto stretched, waiting nets. Relaxing my shoulders, I turn my face toward the sky, stretch my tight neck from side to side. Envisioning myself open, stretched open waiting to receive, I am able to breathe again.

I duck into a church, where street sounds are hushed and air stifles and Italian women genuflect, loudly kissing their fingertips and offering the gesture up to God. I automatically look up, to the tops of the beams and jewel-colored glass, knowing that the builders of these churches hid tiny details up high, where they could be seen only by the eyes of God. I see nothing, but I know He does. I can’t hide from Him forever. Closing my eyes, suddenly filled, I drop my chin and pray. Lord, I cry. That’s all — one word — Lord. In a rush of emotions lacking coherence, I quietly offer it up to Him, what little I have to give.

positano composite 2 …but now am found

The shops here beckon through tiny doorways. As white linen shirts flutter from hangers, silken scarves dance across baskets of fragrant lemon soaps. Shop owners greet me, so obviously a tourist, in my own language. Around me, couples discuss purchases in French, German, English and Italian. Behind glass cases, cheeses lie down with salamis. Mouthwatering smells of spicy paninis and buttery pastries filled with chocolate or peach further crowd the narrow pathways. Trinkets hang from placards as foreigners grab up postcards and wine stoppers with shaky “Positano” lettered around the pastel scenes. At the top of a hill, I find colorful tiles and bowls and olive oil containers, painted by hand with lemons and vines and intricate patterns. The women in the back stop chattering in their expressive, fluid ways long enough to nod hello, then go back to their tales of men and children and love and loss, voices swelling and expanding to fill the space.

Mom would love these tiles, I think. She was always the first person I bought for, her gifts the easiest and most obvious choices. She knew me the same way. I ask a shopkeeper, “Quanta costa?” What’s the cost? Will this loss simply change me or completely define me? Help me, Lord, to find value again — not just outside but within.

So very tired of navigating alone, I buy a ticket for the orange bus that will take me back. I hope. The driver doesn’t understand my question, but on impulse I climb on anyway, believing the bus to be pointed in the right direction. As we climb up and up, curving around cliffs with stunning buildings stretching toward the heavens, I feel lighter. We pick up speed as we near my stop and fly right on by. My stomach lurches, dropping down the sheer mountain faces into the sea. No, I decide. This is an adventure. I can do this. I take a deep breath to slow my rapid heartbeat and sit back. Minutes later we reach the turnaround which positions the bus the right way to follow the one-way (down) road, and within moments, the bus stops just feet from the entrance to my hotel.

Va bene. “See, it’s all good,” I hear Positano remind me. You just have to be willing to take chances now and again. Let the vibrant colors thrill you. Stop trying to make out words; listen instead for nuances. Kiss noisily, grasp shoulders and stand close to those you love. Savor delicate flavors, letting them thrill your tongue. Hurry all you want; get where you need to go. But once you’re there, once you finally arrive, linger. Open yourself, even to the pain. Because although the streets are busy and crowded, they run in both directions. And when you open to let out the pain, good things come rushing in. The outside world hushes and you find yourself behind that façade, in that secret place where not everyone can go, head nestled on that ample bosom, a beloved child once more.

Was blind, but now I see.

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