Joyful sorrow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that is enough to make my heart rejoice.

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


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

A month of gifts—and Talking to Jesus

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

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

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

Except that wasn’t how it went at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


 

Struggling with joy

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But when He doesn’t do it, what then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we get past that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to download the November calendar.

In other news…

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

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

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


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

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

Because we can always use some brain candy

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

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

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

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

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

Last but certainly not least…

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

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

Make me strong again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want that. I need that.

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

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

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

Bubbles of Prayer

This post appeared at the Internet Café today, but I wanted to share it here with you as well. Praying as I drove, I felt my heart bursting with affection for the names that popped into my mind. LeeAnne—Lord, heal her. Be with her, inspire her, comfort her… Our pastors, Lord, thank You for them ...

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This post appeared at the Internet Café today, but I wanted to share it here with you as well.

Praying as I drove, I felt my heart bursting with affection for the names that popped into my mind. LeeAnne—Lord, heal her. Be with her, inspire her, comfort her… Our pastors, Lord, thank You for them and the way they love You. Anoint them and inspire them… Another friend who I won’t name here… heal her marriage. Bring about change. Give her hope…

And suddenly the tears were flowing.

My heart went from one desperate need to another. As the requests flowed and my heart and mind aligned in prayer, I felt like each prayer was a little bubble floating upwards. Released from my heart and directed towards God. But that’s not what made the tears flow.

I could imagine God on the receiving end of these prayer bubbles, watching each one rise towards Him and then gently cradling it in His hands before tucking it away. He treat4ed each one with tender care, like rare and special and fragile artifacts.

They are. Sometimes I think I’m too careless with my prayers. It’s like I’m pitching a baseball in God’s general direction. Plenty of energy and speed but no time to aim. Many of them go wild. And then, there are times when I realize how important these prayers are. When I recognize them as God’s love in my heart, giving me supernatural affection for the people He has placed in my life.

When the prayers I pray come from my heart, which comes from God’s heart, and go back to God’s heart, there’s something special that happens. The prayers change me. The love overflows and rubs off onto my own life.

Because God told us to love as He loves. To put others before ourselves. To pray in accordance with God’s will. To believe that God loves His children so much that Jesus came to redeem us.

So as I send up these beautiful, shimmering bubbles of prayer, I am in are of the God who cares that much. The One who waits to hold those needs close to His heart and cradles them with His gentle love and attention, treating each of them as a fragile and precious thing. Allowing us to have a part in this, by using prayer to generate these objects of true beauty.

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Dear Precious Lord, thank You for letting us be part of this beautiful act of creation. Receive our needs with gentleness and mercy, and help us to entrust You with them. Also, Lord, help us to always remember just what a beautiful gift prayer can be. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.

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I’d love to pray for you today. Leave a message in the comments and I’ll start releasing some beautiful, shimmering bubbles of prayer on your behalf. God is waiting, and He is listening.

A prayer of gratitude for my dad

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

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Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

His banner over me

Lord Jesus, You are here. Whether I feel You or not, whether I talk to You or not, You permeate the atmosphere. I know this is true. When my pleas begin—and end—with “Lord Jesus…” because I don’t have the capacity to form another syllable, You are here. When I lie down to sleep, You cradle ...

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Lord Jesus,

You are here. Whether I feel You or not, whether I talk to You or not, You permeate the atmosphere. I know this is true. When my pleas begin—and end—with “Lord Jesus…” because I don’t have the capacity to form another syllable, You are here. When I lie down to sleep, You cradle me. When my tears fall, I feel Your comfort.

Even so, I don’t know how to do this.

When I lost Mom, I felt as though You’d abandoned me. Later, I realized that if I didn’t feel You then, it was because I had pushed You away.

Oh, Lord, I want to lean on You this time. I want to abide in the shelter of Your wings. I want to draw my strength from You. I want to find joy and I long to worship you in the midst of it all.

But honestly, I don’t know if I can.

I’ve been functioning on auto-pilot. Facts, statistics, details. Because that’s all I think I can handle right now. Facts don’t require emotions.

But you know what else I know? Your banner over me is love. (Song of Solomon 2:4)

When I hold Dad’s hand in the middle of the night, soothing him in the wake of the hallucinations caused by his pain meds—when I show him love—You are here.

When we make his favorite foods or order carryout from Little Mexico, hoping to find something he’ll eat, Your banner of love is waving overhead. When he commented that the sunflowers I bought for his room reminded him of Van Gogh’s famous painting, I smiled because I already knew that, and You were here.

When we set our alarms to give him his meds around the clock, when we help him brush his teeth or adjust his oxygen or refill his water glass or hold his straw or call the hospice nurse with questions or respond to people’s messages or lie in the dark alongside him, tears streaming, unable to sleep, You are here. When we sit beside him, hearing the sounds of his labored breathing, checking his skin for mottling, watching him grimace in pain, squeezing drops of liquid pain medicine into his mouth, listening to the incoherent words he’s mumbling, even when we know he is no longer aware of us being here, You are here.

Wherever love is present, You are too.

Love isn’t the problem. This is: I am certain that I am not strong enough to do this. I don’t know how to move forward after the inevitable conclusion, even though I simultaneously long for it to hasten to arrive.

When Mom died, I felt as though there was nothing to tether me any longer. I felt like I was loose, lost, free (but not in a good way). I lost all sense of who I was when she wasn’t around to define me, to know me. I don’t know what losing Dad is going to do to me. Mom’s personality was strong, and I spent much of my life resisting her. It didn’t stop me from loving her, or calling her three times a day, but it was a different relationship than the one I have with Dad.

Because Dad and I have always just fit together. We enjoy each other. Understand each other. Notice the same things. We can sit together and be comfortable, whether we’re doing something or not. I can easily grasp the kind of unconditional love the Heavenly Father has for me because of the sweetness and completeness of the love Dad has always shown me. I have never ceased to feel adored and cherished and valued with Dad.

What do I do when he’s not here to show that to me any longer?

I try to rest in You, Lord. I want to lean on You, but the distance between where I am in this moment and where I’d have to be to turn to You seems impassable. In order to let You in, I have to lower my defenses. If I open my heart, I will have to feel pain. To get to You, I have to step out from behind this brittle wall protecting my heart. And I just don’t think I can do that, because in that split second of time between the two, it seems as though my heart might disintegrate. The vulnerability in that moment of transition might just obliterate me.

I want You, Lord, but I just don’t know how to get to You right now.

I’ll have to rest in the certainty that Your banner over us is love. Your love is freely and boldly declared, visible for all to see, marking me as belonging to You, just as our love for Dad marks us as belonging to him.

Love is Your defining characteristic. You are the source of all love and the embodiment of it. And there is most definitely an abundance of love in this room. In my heart, and in Dad’s, and in the hearts of those who are here with us.

So please, Lord, know my heart. Don’t abandon me or withhold Yourself because of my failings in these moments. Be bigger than I am. Stronger and more faithful. More true, more understanding, more gracious. More forgiving, more hopeful, more solid. More loving. More present. More certain, and more comforting, and more…everything than I can imagine or dream or articulate.

I’m so glad that You are my strength when I am weak, because I’ve never felt weaker.

When the end comes, let Dad pass peacefully from here, where he is cradled in our arms, to there, where he is cradled, forevermore, in Yours.

Please don’t ever let go of me. I will need You then even more than I do now.

And even though I can’t seem to tear down these barriers I’ve erected in self-preservation, I do know how much I need You and love You. I thank You for this incredible man who is my father, and I pray that I don’t need to find the right words in order for You to know that and hold me tight when I collapse. In that moment, please, Lord, whisper to me of how much more You adore and cherish and value me than even my dad ever did. Let me know that, believe it, and in those moments, let me feel him with me.

Because I will always be my daddy’s little girl.

And I will always belong to You, too.

Amen.

7 simple ways to find faith in the chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on Crosswalk.

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