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.

Searching for that elusive bigger room

The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this. I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s ...

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The dream resurfaces, time and again. And it’s never quite the same, but it goes something like this.

I’m in my house (which never looks like my real house). And there’s a door that I’ve forgotten to open, or maybe I just hadn’t noticed it. So I open it and am absolutely amazed because there’s a whole wing to the house that I didn’t know about.

Sometimes there are bedrooms with lots and lots of closets and I start brainstorming the possible uses of all those rooms. Once in a while I discover a wing that looks almost exactly like the second floor of my grandparents’ house, but with additional bathrooms with giant showers. One time it was a beautiful writing room—sort of a screened in, second-floor porch with white trellises and wicker furniture and art on the walls and a peaceful wooded view. But most of the time—on its own or in addition to the other rooms—there is a ballroom. A great big, beautiful room. So large that I am shocked by the sheer volume of space. Shiny hardwood floors. So very much potential.

Imagine my surprise when I set foot in that ballroom—fully awake, although completely exhausted—last week. This ballroom exists on the 2nd level of the Ball State University Student Center, which is where we held the Midwest Writers Workshop this year.

I’d seen the room before, as an undergrad at Ball State 25 years ago. I think I was looking for a different room on that floor, where I was interviewing to be an arts and crafts counselor at a summer camp in northwest Pennsylvania. (Even then I wasn’t much of a kid person, but I really wanted to spend a summer not at home.) But for some reason, that room has stayed with me. In my dreams it’s dark and shadowy, unused. Last week, it was full of light and voices and smiling faces.

A quick, highly professional and scientific Google search tells me that in dream interpretation, discovering a new room has to do with expanding your territory, trying something new, branching out in a new direction.

Fitting, since that was what the Midwest Writers Workshop was about this year, on multiple levels. After more than 40 years, MWW is becoming a stand-alone, nonprofit entity. We’re expanding our tent stakes, now offering a membership organization, webinars, and various events throughout the year. I credit MWW with all of my so-called writing success because it feels like I’ve taken advanced courses in publishing, in all aspects of the book proposal and querying process, and in honing my craft. I knew how to navigate through these past few years because of what I learned at MWW. And I found my people there. A wonderful, inspiring group of writers who are exceptionally talented, but even so, are somehow even better at being friends than at writing.

A couple years ago I joined the MWW board and have loved being on the inside of the planning process. But this year was something new because for the first time I was officially part of the faculty. I got to stand in front of people—once, I was even in the ballroom—and pretend to be a real writer. (You don’t have to argue with me. I do know that I’m a real writer. I’ve published two books, so this writing thing is definitely real.)

Even so, there are times that I feel like an imposter. I love to write and I think I’m good at it (some of the awkward sentence constructions in this blog post notwithstanding). And yes, I’ve had the privilege of writing two books that a publisher believed in enough to publish them. But I’ll confess that I’m still a bit starry-eyed when confronted with people who have had more success than I have—they’ve been doing it longer, or written more books, or sold more copies, or simply are better writers. I feel good about what I do, but like any artist I harbor insecurities about my craft because it’s so personal. When I write, I feel as though I am most fully me, so when someone doesn’t like my writing, or when I don’t meet sales goals or have a monumentally huge blog following, it feels like I have failed. Like I’m somehow not enough.

Which is why last week at MWW was so good for me. As faculty, I taught some sessions. I got to talk about inspirational writing, creative book structures, and creative marketing and branding ideas. I realized that the content came naturally to me. That I have learned some things along the way.

And I saw a few people listening to me the way I’ve listened to so many others over the years. Taking notes. Eyes wide, intensely watching. Hesitant to ask questions, but hanging around in case there’s more to talk about. Treating me as though I have “made it” simply because I have two books to my name.

I felt legitimate. Accomplished. Like I had finally expanded into that shadowy, unknown space and become somehow fuller, more present, more real. The truth is, yes, I’ve accomplished my goal of being published, and not everyone can say that. In reality, whatever we achieve, most of us will probably never quite feel we’ve done all we were meant to do. Through MWW, I’ve learned that we aren’t competing with each other, but we’re better together simply because we share this love for writing and we’re pursuing it together. If we’ve been published, it’s because the stars were aligned or the timing was right and we happened to actually get a contract. We’re not better than those who don’t yet—or maybe will not ever—have one. At every stage, there’s more to strive for and tons of work required. And yet, as hard as it can be to reach the place where we finally feel accepted, the bottom line is that it’s the process that’s more important than the destination. We don’t write for money or fame, clearly, but because of the people we get to know and the chances we have to discover who we are and what we were designed to do.

Today, on the official release day for Designed to Pray, my overwhelming emotion is gratitude. I am humbled by the support so freely offered to me. And, although I’m happy with the rooms I’ve inhabited so far, I’m excited to see what will come next. Because there are endless possibilities, numerous other places to go. So many new rooms to explore—whole wings to discover.

And not only in my dreams.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

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 ...

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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.

When you want more

Last year I read several posts by bloggers I admire encouraging people to use the cloth napkins and burn the good candles—in other words, stop waiting for some vague perfect or special moment and enjoy what we have. There’s nothing to be gained from locking the nice dishes in ...

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[Originally posted at Internet Café Devotions.]

Last year I read several posts by bloggers I admire encouraging people to use the cloth napkins and burn the good candles—in other words, stop waiting for some vague perfect or special moment and enjoy what we have. There’s nothing to be gained from locking the nice dishes in the buffet or drinking from paper cups when crystal is available.

I loved and embraced that idea. Sometimes it felt kind of indulgent, but the money was already spent (or the gifts already given), so the only way to make them worth the money was to use them. Enjoy them.

So I did. And then I expanded that concept—I wanted only the best food. When servers delivered incorrectly prepared meals, I got huffy. I complained about inefficient service. I sulked when things didn’t go my way. I bought clothes because I read that you should love everything in your closet—if it didn’t make you happy, you should get rid of it. I drank better wines and only a certain kind of coffee. And so on.

And, truly, I’ve never felt less content.

This ugly feeling of dissatisfaction with anything less than perfect pervaded my internal world, as well. I started comparing myself to others. Instead of rejoicing for writers who experienced success, I felt cheated. I am unhappy with my weight, so I disliked those who were smaller and healthier and prettier. I became all-too-aware of the loose skin and crinkly lines under my eyes—and the lack of it on those who were younger. I started seeing all that was imperfect about me, about my life, and I felt sad. Insecure. As though I were a failure.

I’ve had a lot of good things happen in the last year. I have a wonderful life, a loving family, a huge network of friends, a career I love (actually, two), and nothing in the world to complain about. I released a book, got good reviews, and wrote another one.

So why was I so discontent?

Because I took something that could have been good… and then went too far. This is not what those articles suggested. They were talking about living life fully—embracing the moment, giving thanks for our blessings.

If I have nice things (possessions, relationships, opportunities), should I appreciate them? Of course. But I can’t let that turn into feelings of not-enough, or of wanting more.

I don’t need more to be happy. I need less. Less of me, at least. Less desire to single-handedly control the outcome of a situation. Fewer attempts to single-handedly fix things. Less of a conviction that I am capable. A diminished belief that I “deserve”, well, anything.

What do I need more of? God. More time with Him. More knowledge about Him and His love and His teachings. More reliance. More dependence. More trust. More hope.

Because what I know—what I’ve always known, but temporarily lost sight of—is that I can’t find God when I insist on having control. There’s no room for Him if I think I can do everything myself. The sad truth is that, no matter how much I try to do it all, I can’t. No matter how capable I think I am, I will always have limitations. The more I look at myself, the more I insist on appreciating the nicer things or noticing when others have more than I do, the less I see God. And the more flawed and incompetent and dissatisfied and unhappy I will feel.

God is more than enough. He really is. I know this in my heart, but my head is having trouble remembering. So while I don’t typically make new year’s resolutions, I am setting a goal for myself: I’m going to try to believe that.

I’m going to remind myself, every time I appreciate something good or beautiful in my life, to give thanks. To gratefully accept what was given but not actively pursue more. I’m going to send up prayers of thanksgiving every time I hear of someone else’s achievements and opportunities. I am going to think about what I have to give to the people I come into contact with, not how others can help me.

And I am going to surrender control. I will trust God to provide. To open doors. To navigate tricky paths. To improve impossible situations. To stop believing I need or deserve anything other than what I already have.

Because God always surpasses expectations. As soon as we let go of them.

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.
~Philippians 4:8-9, Amplified Bible

His faithful love endures forever

And this is why I am thankful today. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles. His ...

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And this is why I am thankful today.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords.
His faithful love endures forever.

Give thanks to him who alone does mighty miracles.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavens so skillfully.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who placed the earth among the waters.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to him who made the heavenly lights—
His faithful love endures forever.
the sun to rule the day,
His faithful love endures forever.
and the moon and stars to rule the night.
His faithful love endures forever.

He remembered us in our weakness.
His faithful love endures forever.
He saved us from our enemies.
His faithful love endures forever.
He gives food to every living thing.
His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26, NLT

Looking for gratitude

I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the ...

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[As posted today on Internet Café.]

I drove down an Indiana highway recently, marveling at the crimsons and scarlets, the oranges and pinks and golds and yellows, the nearly-purple reds and the rich camel browns of the landscape. I almost couldn’t enjoy the magnificence because I knew it would end all too soon. With the next rain, the leaves would fall, withering and crumbling on the hard earth in preparation for winter.

As the colors awakened a joy inside me, they also stirred up something I couldn’t ignore.

Because the truth is I do not always feel grateful.

What do you want to show me, Lord?

Gratitude and beauty are tangled up together. As an artist, I am proud of my ability to observe my surroundings, to recognize God in the midst. I actively look for the Who behind the what, and because I see Him, my prayer life begins with gratitude. As I give thanks, I feel God lean nearer. I see Him more clearly.

But what about those moments when gratitude isn’t so simple? When we’re facing loss, bottling up anger, frantically performing for the world, knowing that underneath the façade we’re a mess? What do we do then? Show me, Lord.

I filled page after page of a gratitude journal with exquisite details the week I sat beside my mom’s deathbed. Desperate for the redeeming beauty. Desperate to find something to praise God for. But did I find it in the dust motes floating through the sunlight, the curves of shadows on a hardwood floor?

No. I couldn’t see it anywhere, in fact. Not for a long time afterwards.

Because gratitude isn’t shallow, and I was looking at the surface. All the while, the pain churned down deep, unable to be touched by fleeting moments of superficial beauty.

And as I prayed, “Where are you, Lord? Show me,” for a long time all I saw were the barren branches, devoid of color, clacking together in the wintry breeze.

Later, as I slowly processed those days, my eyes roaming the surface again and again, I began to see more deeply. I turned my feelings upside down, burrowing into the center of each kernel of memory—and witnessed God embedded in each moment, unable to be separated from suffering. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin. I’m sad because of how much I loved her. I miss her because of the closeness of our relationship. I’m lost because she was such a strong force in my life.

Our God isn’t shallow; most often, we find Him in the depths. Reclaiming my gratitude was about inviting Him into that place I didn’t want to be—about Him entering into the pain with me. It was about recognizing the gifts of my mom’s life, the unconditional love of my family, and finally seeing that our prayers were answered in the years she lived after her cancer diagnosis and in the shortness of her final suffering.

In these glimpses, I saw something beautiful: God’s presence embodied in each detail. My gratitude bubbled to the surface—almost against my will. Oh, Lord, thank You for what You’re showing me.

It’s easy to give thanks when the kids are staying out of trouble, you’re feeling loving towards your spouse, finances are comfortable, temptation has stopped hounding you, your family and friends are healthy, and God feels near. But whatever you’re facing, it’s worth fighting to find Him in the middle of it—because gratitude is the key to entering God’s presence. And if we look long enough at the bare branches, the piles of dried up leaves billowing in the chilly breezes, we see that winter isn’t about death at all, but about rebirth. About turning within to become more fully rooted. About getting ready to grow, about preparing for a burst of phenomenal beauty. About overflowing with gratitude for what we don’t yet see.

He loves to show us. We just have to keep looking. Yes, Lord, I want to see.

One plus one equals so much more than two

Today is my wedding anniversary. 24 years ago today (which might help explain the curly bangs and pouffy sleeves that are mercifully hidden in the photo.) So naturally I’ve been thinking. The number seems so high. Kind of hard to believe. But here’s the magic in the midst of it all: the equation is simple ...

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Today is my wedding anniversary. 24 years ago today (which might help explain the curly bangs and pouffy sleeves that are mercifully hidden in the photo.) So naturally I’ve been thinking. The number seems so high. Kind of hard to believe. But here’s the magic in the midst of it all: the equation is simple (1+1) but the result is exponential.

1+1=24 years
I’m 47, so my marriage has now lasted more than half of my life. I was 23 when I got married (so young and yet I felt so mature). If you count the two years Tim and I dated, we’ve been together for 26 years. 312 months. 1,352 weeks. Something like 9,464 days. Those are a lot of numbers. Think about how hard it can be to spend a weekend with someone you don’t know very well. Or about years living with college roommates. Even if you like these people, it can be difficult at times. Which is why I believe that a happy marriage is truly a miracle. How else could two people spend so much time together and still like each other?

1+1=3 kids
3 kids, and all the many numbers that breaks down into:
2 girls, 1 boy; 3 different personalities; 27 months of pregnancy; about 10 years from buying our first box of diapers and celebrating our last; approximately 4,522,768 activities, swim meets, 4-H projects, baseball/basketball/soccer games, band concerts and parent meetings attended; 2 colleges in 2 states; 21 years + 18 years + 14 years of learning our way as parents.

1+1=4 places to live
An apartment in Indy, a house in Indy, and two houses in Crawfordsville, including two years during which we owned both of those houses. Approximately 7,551 coats of different colors of paint on various walls. Hundreds of light bulbs and furnace filters and utility payments and broken hot water heaters. 4 houses—4 very different (but all wonderful) homes.

Tim and me collage1+1=2 different votes
Yes, in this household we lean towards two different political parties. Two different opinions on most things—except the things that matter the most. God. Family. Integrity. Kindness. We’re proof that people with different perspectives can still get along and can show respect towards viewpoints with which they disagree. Or at the very least, we’re proof that Tim knows not to be really vocal with his opinions when we disagree and we’ll get along just fine.

1+1=1,000 crises
Bounced checks, credit card balances that were sky high; shoulder surgeries, ankle surgery, ER visits, food allergies, dental procedures; the loss of my mom, all of my grandparents, and his grandmother; 4 parents fighting cancer; the transition of changing churches and even denominations; lost jobs and clients; the ups and downs of self-employment; rocky patches in friendships and relationships; moving; outrageously high tax bills; having children; not getting enough sleep, not having enough money, not having enough time… Whether you’ve been married one year or 70—or 24—I’m sure you agree. There’s always something. But it’s possible to survive even when things seem too big and too hard.

1+1=1 life
Through it all, the best thing I can say is we’ve been in this together. We don’t always understand each other. (OK, we rarely understand each other.) We’re not your typical, romantic-movie kind of relationship. We read different books, like different movies. I’m always hot and he’s always cold. He’s mechanical and logical and I’m, well, not. I’m arty and creative and he prefers facts. I like to go-go-go on vacation and take a million photos. He’d rather lie on the beach. He loves his Harley; I’m petrified and would rather stay home. He thinks I’m too easy on the kids and I think he’s too tough. We don’t always agree about the best way to handle situations. I know sometimes people look at us and wonder how it works. And sure, we have our frustrations.

But I can’t imagine this life without Tim. We’ve built a solid foundation—and I know that no matter what I do, he is standing behind me supporting me. If I believe I can achieve something (and even when I do not believe it), he does. He finds me beautiful, still. My sense of humor still makes him laugh. My singing still makes him cringe. He never wavers and he never doubts. He’s a good husband, a good dad, and a good man.

I’m pretty sure God knew what He was doing when He put us together. I’m so glad we were both smart enough to choose each other. And I’m thankful that when God is in the center, the numbers always add up to more than we expect. So very much more.

 

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #7

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who helped you find God This could be anyone from a nationally-renowned pastor or Bible scholar to a grandmother who taught you to pray. It could be a friend whose ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who helped you find God

This could be anyone from a nationally-renowned pastor or Bible scholar to a grandmother who taught you to pray. It could be a friend whose calm spirit draws you to her, while her words point you to the Almighty God. Maybe you’ve learned about God from your spouse, whose faith never wavers. Or from a child, whose enthusiastic faith knocks down your barriers of doubt and cynicism. Whether their influence has been small or large, whether it’s something easy to define or something abstract and elusive, reach out today. Let that person in your life know that their faith has inspired you or that the lessons they taught changed you.


When I first walked into what is now my church, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong. I didn’t struggle with feelings of not being worthy or have worries that my less-than-perfect past disqualified me. (I certainly didn’t think I was better than anyone else. But somehow I “got,” right from the start, that God welcomed me anyway.) But I was strong and independent. Liberal and outspoken. A career woman who, at that time, earned more than my husband. In this church, though they’d walked away from old traditions governing the way people dressed, most women wore skirts and conservative shoes, had long hair and little makeup. They usually worked, but the jobs came after God and church and other family obligations. Husbands seemed to have authority over their wives. People shopped at thrift shops and bought bargain brands, while I bought high-end shampoos and didn’t have time to clip coupons, let alone a sane enough life to remember them when I went to the store. Moms carried their kids around with them—contentedly, rather than constantly looking for ways to get a break, to temporarily escape their duties, as I did. When someone taught them, they believed what they were told, without question. They already knew the Bible stories. And when music played, they danced.

And then there was me. I didn’t dance. I didn’t lose myself in the Spirit. When I finally raised one hand in worship, I held tight to the pew with the other hand, anchoring me in this physical world. When we gathered at the altar to pray, I’d keep one eye open. I’d pray, but I’d also notice the stack of hands as we prayed for individuals, hear the individual voices in the jumble that surrounded me. I watched. I listened.

But from the start, even though a part of me held back, God drew me in. And one of the key people in that process was Bishop Robert Miller.

In my mind, when I remember visiting that first week, he was standing on the platform, tall and dignified. Thin, in a well-cut suit, hair combed back, sideburns and a big smile. He stood at the podium and preached. I don’t know what he said. But I remember being intimidated. He was so slick, so polished. So knowledgeable. So holy. Not long after I started attending regularly, I remember Bishop stopping by my office one day to see how I was doing. I wanted him to like me. I wanted to impress him. But I always wondered what he must think of me because I didn’t feel like I fit.

Yet he welcomed me anyway. And when he taught, I was hooked. In between bites of donuts and sips of coffee, he talked to the adult Sunday school class. And  I took notes frantically, afraid I’d miss something. I filled the margins with my questions, then I went home and looked up what I didn’t understand. He challenged and engaged me. His messages were always spiritual—stories of faith, deep studies of the Scriptures—yet they captured my mind. Every week, without fail, I’d follow along. And by the end, as he brought the message around full circle, as he tied up all the loose ends, I was surprised. Fascinated. Amazed how all of these different pieces fit together into something whole and inspiring.

In the last few years, Bishop’s son Nathan has taken over in the role of pastor, and he gets much well-deserved praise. But to so many of us at Grace & Mercy, Bishop played a huge role in drawing us in, in pointing us to God.

At church on the morning that I’m writing this, we were singing “How Great Thou Art,” and Bishop sang a verse into the microphone. Tears ran down my face as my heart felt like it would burst with love and gratitude. This man has shown me so much. He stood strong in his faith, never wavering, as I wrestled with my questions, as I struggled with doubts. And he never failed to pour out his faith for all of us. The man who once intimidated me has softened. He reaches out an arm to hug me when he sees me. He reads my words and offers encouragement. Kids climb in his lap and make him laugh. His eyes crinkle when he smiles. And when he walks into the sanctuary, we all stand taller. He’s given so much to each one of us and we want to make him proud. We want to show him that he did well. That all of his serving and teaching mattered. That he was a conduit through which God spoke—over and over. Through which God revealed, illuminated, restored. And loved.


Who helped point you towards God? Let that person know that they made a difference. And please share your stories in the comments. I’d love to hear them!

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #6

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone under the age of 18 When we think about people who have influenced us, we often look to our past. But young people can have an impact, too—because of their hard ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone under the age of 18

When we think about people who have influenced us, we often look to our past. But young people can have an impact, too—because of their hard work; or compassion for pets, siblings, or others; or their willingness to do what is asked; or because of their sunshiny smile. Write and let a young person know that you noticed them.

Today I’m going to share part of one of the chapters in my book (What He is Made Of: Drawing the Underlying Structure). It talks about how if we look closely, if we watch to see Who God is and what He is made of, it helps us learn to lean on Him. This is just one small segment about a sweet little girl I adore (written a couple years ago when she was just five).


vanessaOne morning, I watched a little girl make the rounds during the worship service. Five-year-old Vanessa is irresistible with her pale translucent skin, dark blond hair, green eyes, and a sweet smile that camouflages her somewhat devious personality. She walked up the aisle with little flouncy twists of her skirt, chin tucked down into her doll, big eyes taking in everything. She stopped at the end of a row, watching until Peggy glanced in her direction. When Vanessa ran to her, Peggy laughed and picked her up and swung her around.

After a few minutes, Vanessa headed to the other end of the row, waiting until Katie beckoned her over. She giggled, snuggling in, prepared to be adored. Just as she was about to doze
off in Katie’s arms, Vanessa suddenly extended her arms to me. I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her tight. Before long, she climbed over the pew to sit next to Jordan. When he smiled at her, she scooted closer and showed him her doll, waiting for him to light up in delight. He did. We all had, the moment she shifted her attention to us.

Vanessa was in a safe place, where she knew without a doubt she was loved and would be welcomed with open arms. So she made her way through the church, letting one and all adore her. Because we’ve loved her since she was born, she knows what to expect. When she leaps into the air, she expects to be caught. When she reaches up, we’ll reach down. When she climbs into our laps, she will feel loved. Doubt doesn’t enter into the equation. Vanessa feels safe because we’ve never disappointed her.

When we learn the underlying structure of God, we, too, can feel that security. When we read stories about the convoluted paths of men and women failing over and over again—
killing and lying and cheating and complaining and rebelling—when we hear about miraculous deliverances, of complete change, of God’s unfailing love, then we learn what to expect. We start to believe we can trust Him. We don’t know exactly how He’ll react—in Vanessa’s case, she may not know if we will hug her or spin her or cuddle her or tickle her or give her our last piece of gum—but we do know that He has our best interests at heart. That He’s going to do what’s right. And that there are no limits to the ways He will solve our problems or the lengths He will go for one, just one, lost or hurting soul.

So we study His Word. We pray. We write. And when the time is right, when we are sure we have His attention, well, then we run toward Him. And leap.


Is there a young person in your life who has caught your attention? Let them know you’re noticed them. Remind them that their actions—or their mere presence—matters.

Gallery of Gratitude—Week #5

15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here. Someone who loved someone you loved When my mom died, I wasn’t the only one who felt a loss. She had coworkers, a priest, friends, and kids who came into her clinic ...

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15 weeks, 15 letters, 15 minutes. To start the new year, 2015. It’s never too late to join us. Learn about the challenge here.

Someone who loved someone you loved

When my mom died, I wasn’t the only one who felt a loss. She had coworkers, a priest, friends, and kids who came into her clinic at school. Today, send a message to a person who might also miss someone you’ve lost. Or write anyone who’s recently experienced a lost of any sort (divorce, death, loss of a job) and let them know they’re not alone.

Grief is a funny thing. Sharing a loss can cause people to grow apart—sometimes people don’t want to see someone who reminds them of what they’ve lost. On the other end of the spectrum, though, the shared loss can also pull people together. When I run into one of Mom’s friends, it triggers a little bit of sadness—but that’s trumped by the comfort of knowing that someone else gets it. Someone else shares the hurt. Someone else misses her too. She influenced lives outside of our small little family. There are so many people I could name right now, but Judi comes immediately to mind.

She and Mom were friends from high school, and in Mom’s last few years, even though Judi lived in Texas and Mom in Indiana, they grew closer than ever. Judi had been fighting cancer for years, and now Mom was. They sent each other quirky gifts and made each other laugh. I’m so grateful for that, for the way their friendship grew during those years. For the fact that Mom knew that someone out there “got it.” Dad insisted that Mom was gonna be OK. So did I. But Judi, I think, is the one person who would go down those “what if” roads. Who would talk about the fears and really understood what Mom was facing. She didn’t love Mom any less than we did. And she fought and prayed for God to heal Mom. But she let Mom be real.

A few months after Mom died, my sister and I got a package in the mail from Judi, with cards saying she knew how hard it must be to face the date of Mom’s birthday without her. A year or two earlier, Judi bought herself and Mom matching bracelets which contained a single charm—a coin from the years of their births. Now she wears both hers and Mom’s on her own bracelet. But that year Judi sent what has to be the most thoughtful gift I’ve ever received: a silver dime from the year Mom was born, mounted and hanging from a silver chain. She sent Kerry and I each one.

I know that gift was from Judi. I know she loved my mom, and that she promised Mom she would continue to remind her girls how much they were loved. But that necklace feels like a touch from Mom, a gift from the woman I never thought could give me a gift again. I wear it when I wish she could be there to see what I’m doing. I wear it when I need courage. I wear it when I just want to remember. I wear it nearly all the time. And I give thanks for Judi, for instinctively knowing just what I needed. For understanding that Mom is the thread that connects Judi and I, and that when I think of Judi, I feel closer to Mom.

Is there someone you can reach out to today? Someone else who feels a void, someone who also misses a person who used to be present in both of your lives? Or is there someone who you know is feeling a loss, and even though you don’t share that loss in the same way, would you just let them know that you remember? That you’re thinking of them, and of the person they loved, and that you wanted them to know? Mail a letter, or post a little bit about them on Facebook, or comment on this blog post… or pick up the phone and tell them hello.

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