Prayer is no excuse

Periodically, the internet becomes collectively outraged at those offering weak platitudes (“our thoughts and prayers”) in the aftermath of whatever the newest tragedy is, whether it’s the latest shooting or natural disaster or terrorist attack. (I also hate that we have to apply the label “latest;” I hate that all of these are commonplace.) And ...

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Periodically, the internet becomes collectively outraged at those offering weak platitudes (“our thoughts and prayers”) in the aftermath of whatever the newest tragedy is, whether it’s the latest shooting or natural disaster or terrorist attack. (I also hate that we have to apply the label “latest;” I hate that all of these are commonplace.)

And I get it. I write about prayer, and yet I’m right there with them.

The thing is, for a Christian who really lives what he or she believes, prayer absolutely must come first. It’s the immediate response to a situation in which we need help. Or clarity. Wisdom, discernment, direction. Or hope, to save us from completely crumbling into a pit of despair. It’s how we draw near to the God whose very presence brings us comfort. The One who can somehow lead us through these incomprehensible moments in which it seems the world is insane and hateful and depraved.

But here’s the thing: Prayer does not excuse us from taking action.

Prayer should come first, if we believe what we say. If we have come to believe that Jesus is our shelter and our strength. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But there is no excuse for stopping there. We still have to live in this world. We have to do what we can do to make it better. God hears us, He really does. But He uses His people to carry out many of His answers. He uses us to speak words of encouragement and hope to friends. He uses our arms to wrap around and hold close someone in the midst of tragedy and grief and suffering. He uses our minds to craft and implement solutions. He uses our passion to fuel us to make change, to find new and better ways to protect each other, sustain one another, connect with each other.

So, yes, when the unthinkable happens, offer your thoughts and prayers. Do it with all sincerity.

But recognize the truth that that’s not enough. You can’t just stop there.

Ask for wisdom from the God who knows all, who feels our pain, who already knows ways we need to change. Ask for guidance in showing compassion and offering meaningful help. Ask for direction in channeling your anger and frustration and despair in productive ways that will make these tragedies happen less often. Ask God what you can do to help. Ask God to forgive us for letting things get to this point. Ask God to heal the minds and tortured souls who think hurting people is the answer to their pain. Ask God to show the gun lovers the distinction between guns for hunting and personal protection and guns that shatter the lives of countless innocent people, and to help our lawmakers find the right levels of compromise to protect our individual rights while also protecting those we love (which are also those that God loves—every single one. There are no exceptions.).

Beg God to help us put a stop to this. To not let “another shooting” be so commonplace it doesn’t even slow us down as we scroll through our newsfeeds.

Lord, have mercy.

25 life lessons from 25 years in business

Twenty-five years ago today I made one of the scariest (and best) decisions of my life. I had a three-month old baby and one (count ‘em—one) freelance client who paid me a few hundred dollars a month. Oh, and a husband who fully believed I could do it—can’t overlook that. So I left my job ...

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Twenty-five years ago today I made one of the scariest (and best) decisions of my life. I had a three-month old baby and one (count ‘em—one) freelance client who paid me a few hundred dollars a month. Oh, and a husband who fully believed I could do it—can’t overlook that. So I left my job as an art director at an Indianapolis ad agency to start my own graphic design business. I designed logos with a sleeping baby in my arms. I formatted newsletters with one hand while wiping off pacifiers with the other. I closed doors and hunched around the telephone receiver so the client couldn’t hear the screaming toddler in the other room. I worked all day. I worked all night sometimes. I stressed about money (sometimes it poured in, other times it was several months late, and although my husband worked we also needed my income to make ends meet). I took my daughter to a babysitter two or three days a week so I could attend meetings and get some work done. But I made it work.

Then I had another daughter less than three years later. When she was born, I had my computer set up in the living room so I could keep an eye on both girls while I tried to get something done. I hired my sister to help for a while, answering phone calls and getting project estimates and doing my billing. I experimented with moving my office outside my home, thinking I would find separation between work and life. I didn’t. So I moved back home—and had my third child, a son.

Throughout these 25 years, I’ve kept on working. Through crazy levels of work and a variety of clients and sometimes virtually no work but almost always there was plenty to keep me as busy as I wanted to be. I started writing books (and the occasional copywriting project), but I kept on designing. I designed and sold sterling silver jewelry for a while. Once my first book was published, I developed what some would call a ministry of my own, and I did that stuff, too—some speaking, building a social media presence, and so on. I’ve attended writing conferences and retreats, but through it all, I’ve kept my business going. I’m fortunate because, for me, it all feels related. It’s all about creativity—in design, in writing (in whatever form), in prayer. Rather than keep all the pieces separate and distinct, I was able to merge it all into one. My thinking was this: it all comes from the same place, from the same skill set, and it’s too complicated to have multiple businesses. So whatever I do in the “creative” realm falls under the umbrella of my business. Some parts of it earn money, some don’t, but I do it all anyway.

One year ago, with two of my kids on their own now and my youngest in high school, I moved my office again—into the building that served as my dad’s art studio until he died. I love being in that space, and I’ve finally found a decent work-life balance. Over the years, I’ve learned plenty, and although many of these lessons are specific to me and the industry I work in, many of them apply across the board. So in celebration of 25 years of building my own life, I wanted to share 25 lessons I’ve learned, in no particular order.

  1. Don’t try to be something you’re not. Embrace who you are. Be real. Don’t exaggerate or puff yourself up. Authenticity makes up for a lot of other flaws. If you work at home, say so. Most people are jealous that you get to work from home, or that you’re able to set your own hours, or what have you.
  2. You’re in charge of “marketing” yourself. Figure out how you want to be known before people ask. “I own my own graphic design business, and I work from home.” For me it was important to establish that—not because it made me any less professional, but because my way of working was affected by my being at home. A client might hear my kids in the background. They might call while I’m at the grocery. But on the flip side, they also might send me a big project at 5 pm and have it waiting for them the next morning because I sometimes work crazy hours.
  3. Just because you’re self-employed doesn’t mean you’re less of a professional. Don’t act like it or be embarrassed. Working from home, working for yourself, is a legit way to do it.
  4. Put on makeup. Get dressed. Put on shoes. Go “in” to the office. Many people who work from home love the fact that they don’t have to do these things, but honestly, when I don’t, I feel unprofessional. When I get ready for the day, I feel like I’m on equal footing with the client… especially now that some of my clients like video calling.
  5. You don’t have to apologize when asking for payment. You earned it. The client agreed to it. It’s yours, so don’t be embarrassed to remind them when the payment is late. You don’t owe them reasons why you need the money—that isn’t any of their business. But getting paid is a crucial part of being in business, and they have to understand that.
  6. Just because you work from home or have a flexible schedule, you are not obligated to “volunteer” for anything and everything. If you want to volunteer, having a flexible schedule is one of the perks, so go for it. But if you don’t, don’t accept any perceived pressure from others about it.
  7. If you do want to volunteer, find ways to volunteer that tie in to your particular skill set. For instance, I don’t volunteer to chaperone groups of teenagers or work behind the scenes at a production my kids are in—but you need a t-shirt or an ad or a program designed? I’m your girl. These are legitimate ways to contribute, and they come with the added benefit of being able to do them on your own time.
  8. Sometimes you should ask questions, not because you don’t know, but because other people need the chance to weigh in and be the “experts.” Offer people the gift of not always being on the receiving end of your expertise.
  9. This business isn’t life and death. Some things are—but not this ad deadline or whether the layout is emailed to the client on Thursday or Friday. That’s not to say deadlines aren’t important. Part of succeeding in business is living up to your promises. But don’t get caught up in unnecessary drama because when a real life or death situation happens (you have to have your dad flown home from Florida because they just discovered the cancer is everywhere and he doesn’t have much time, for instance), you realize how non-crucial the other things are. They may be important, but they’re not the most important things.
  10. Don’t give away your work for free, unless you specifically want to. Maybe you believe in a cause and want to help. Great. But non-profits still earn money and can pay for services they need. And someone else’s charity or ministry does not have to become your own. You have bills to pay, and you are offering a professional service. When you let yourself do too many things for free (or discounted rates), you will become resentful.
  11. Sometimes, even when you want to help someone with a lower rate or no rate, you should still let them pay you. Yes, people appreciate cost savings, but if they’re not paying you, you may not be as diligent about deadlines or details. There are times when I insist on paying someone else more than they asked because I need to be able to know they’ll take the job seriously. Because free or not, it’s still important to me.
  12. When you hire someone to do sub-contracted work for you, ultimately you’re responsible if they do not come through. Prepare for that. Allow extra time in the schedule. But you don’t have to be a martyr and do everything yourself because no one else delivers at the same level as you do. If you need help, get it. And try to learn how to better direct others to give you what you need.
  13. Actually, in general, be prepared to accept responsibility. For success as well as failure. Don’t play the blame game. If you screw up, admit it and apologize. If it’s not your fault completely, own your role in it. Maybe it will cost you a client, but alternatively, it might earn you greater respect. Whatever happens, though, at least you’ll know you handled it well.
  14. If there are professional services you can hire out, do it. If you can afford it (even if it’s a stretch), let someone else—who is better and more efficient—do things to help. It’s not failure to “farm out” accounting or invoicing or cleaning or computer work. If it makes your schedule more manageable, or if it’s something you don’t know how to do (or don’t want to), don’t hesitate to get help.
  15. Don’t always let other people decide for you. Part of the reason you work for yourself is so you can make choices about your work conditions and quality of life—who you work for, what projects you accept, and what tasks you will do. So don’t hold on to clients way too long simply because you want the money. Or if you do, don’t blame the client. Acknowledge to yourself that you’ve made the choice to go through all of it because you want the income, then don’t waste energy being upset about how the client does things.
  16. Pray about it, whatever “it” is—whether to accept a new client, go in a different direction, end a long-term business relationship, move offices, put together a project estimate, whatever. I don’t always do this, and I don’t always stop in a busy day to remember to ask God if a particular situation is one I want to be in. But when I do, when I take that time to say, “God, ultimately, this business is yours. My talents come from you. My life is at your pleasure,” those are the times when God clearly directs me and helps me make the best choices.
  17. There’s no sense in trying to keep your spiritual life separate from your business life, because you are a spiritual person and your beliefs inform your morals, your work ethic, and how you treat people. Use wisdom and don’t talk about faith at inappropriate times, but you don’t have to hide it or apologize for it, either. It is part of who you are. If your clients don’t like it, they don’t have to hire you. Just don’t beat anyone over the head with it. (Ever. Even if it’s not a business situation.) I struggled with this for a while, because I wasn’t sure whether to let clients know I published a spiritual book—but I got nothing but respect from my clients when they found out.
  18. Know your limits. It’s one thing to stretch and grow. It’s another to get in way over your head. Don’t set yourself up to fail, and be humble enough to know when to admit failure or ask for help. (Those are two different things. Asking for help is not the same as failing.)
  19. Allow yourself to change. You can adapt and evolve your skills, your services, your way of doing business, the industries you work in, and how you charge people for your work. Just because you did it one way before doesn’t mean you have to do it that way forevermore.
  20. Believe in yourself. Not everyone else will support you the way you need them to, and not every client will be a good fit. Those things don’t mean you’re not qualified or competent. You have to have a sense of your inherent worth and hold onto that. I don’t mean you should be arrogant or boastful, just that you can’t let your sense of self-worth hinge on your clients’ responses to your work.
  21. Don’t take it personally. Not every client will like everything you do. The changes will seem arbitrary and frustrate the snot out of you. Some clients’ thought processes will baffle you. Chances are good, though, that they’re not rejecting you or saying you’re not a good designer—just that you haven’t yet given them what they had in mind.
  22. Learn to read between the lines. You’ll have to become proficient at understanding what a client is not saying, of figuring out what they can’t seem to articulate. This is one of the hardest things for me, because I don’t really do nuance—I am what you see, and I say what I mean. But recognize that people do not always communicate effectively, and part of your job is to learn to translate what they say into what they mean.
  23. This is business, not a social club. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the client or other contractors may become your friends. Feel free to let them into your life and ask about theirs—but watch for clues, don’t push that on someone who clearly maintains a line between personal life and business, and know when you need to get back to work. I’ve been fortunate to work with people who have become good friends—which is great, because when you work a lot, it’s nice to enjoy the people you’re working with. But being friends isn’t a requirement for working well together.
  24. Do unto others… If you want respect, offer it. If you want consideration, be considerate. If you want honesty, don’t make up lies and excuses. People are perceptive and they know when you are not sincere, when they’re being taken advantage of or when they’re barely tolerated.
  25. Live life with a spirit of generosity. I’m not just talking about money. Cultivate an attitude of “what can I offer to them?” Or “how can I leave them better off than when I got here?” Go the extra mile. Do that little bit of extra. Don’t be afraid to share tips and tricks—just because someone else can do something doesn’t threaten your job security. You still have talent and experience others might not. Do not hold tightly to your work, your clients, your ideas, your business model, your skill set, your time. Offer it to God and then respond when He nudges you to offer it to someone else. There’s always more (of whatever it is) where that came from. And giving freely cultivates an attitude of kindness and generosity that overflows into all of your life.

When prayer loses its meaning

Dear sweet girl, You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast ...

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[Excerpt from Designed to Pray]

Dear sweet girl,

You lie there in the angle of light bent around the door, in that sheltered, private spot where the light illuminates your papers, but your parents, in the living room downstairs, can’t see you from where they are reclining. The white-painted posts from the stairs in the hallway outside your door cast striped, curvy shadows across the carpet, and you hear the faint noise of a laugh track from the television below. You can’t see her, but you know your mom is wrapped in a soft blanket, quietly turning the pages of a book until she yields to her yawns and goes to bed.

In that sheltered place, you make charts on graph paper, carefully checking off each prayer as you pray it daily and transferring your prayer list to a new sheet of paper when you’ve filled every box. Maybe your prayers aren’t prompted by passion. You’ve never seen that before and don’t know to aspire to it. You’re not sure what your mom would think of you praying, but you’re certain that it’s wrong to be up past bedtime.

At the same time, you’re strangely determined to master this prayer thing. To do it right. You feel your way through. But you’re on your own. This isn’t a lifestyle you’ve witnessed yet. Your eyes slide down the list, praying lofty wishes—that God will heal the sick and handicapped. That He will help you stop all your bad habits and become a better person. That He will forgive you of all your sins and help you follow all the rules.

You don’t know yet that religion is not what you want. What you want is Him. But all you know are the words you’ve heard a handful of people say, so you mimic them, offering big, general, dutiful prayers.

You pray the same words, night after night. Over time, they will lose their meaning.

One day prayer itself will lose its meaning.

You’ll run out of words when your mother is no longer downstairs—or anywhere on this earth—because you aren’t entirely sure who you are without her. As a teen, you haven’t experienced God speaking to you personally yet—but later, when you stop hearing Him, you’ll feel the loss deep in your gut. As an adult, you’ll stare at the occasional lines printed in red ink in your Bible and fight an internal war. A part of you has always believed, has always yearned for the balm that those words might bring. Something drew you to these words long before you knew why, but eventually the time will come when you begrudge every spark of hope you felt reading God’s promises because now you know that there isn’t always a happy ending.

Thirty-some years from now—when the house you grew up in has been sold, and your dad has moved south to a warm climate and a new relationship, and Mom’s Lands’ End bathrobe has been donated to Goodwill and her contact deleted from your phone—you’ll ache at the memory of the young girl who was so sheltered and naive.

You’re no longer tiptoeing around the shadowy edges of your room, avoiding the squeaky floorboards. Now you’re tiptoeing around the edges of your faith. Wanting God, but not wanting to be caught wanting Him. Wanting to hold tight to promises that sometimes seem to be false.

But yet? You’ll marvel at the fact that God saw fit to plant those tender shoots of faith in the stripes of light falling across your bright blue carpet. That in the silence between the creaking floorboards, He whispered into your soul a desire for words that you wouldn’t need for many more years. The funny thing is, through all the changes over those three decades, one thing never changed.

What you need now is what you needed then. And it’s not a cute boy. A flirty look. Or straight As on your report card.

You feel a bit of desperation, wanting to exist in that world again, the one where the worst thing that can happen is that you’ll be caught out of bed at 11:00 p.m. You want to go back to wherever it is that Mom yawns in her bathrobe and prayers can be mastered with nothing more than graph paper and colored inks.

But sweet girl? That sheltered place? It still exists. It doesn’t reside in the house your family no longer owns. It’s not to be found only in a church. Because even if you don’t always like the words you hear, God still whispers. He still holds you close.

And you’ll find that even in the midst of pain, God’s presence is the only balm. When you hurt enough that you’ll finally fumble through the words to ask God to fill your soul, to smooth over the gaping wounds of loss and disappointment and loneliness—well, that’s when He will pick you up in His arms and hold you in the shelter of His heart.

And you’ll know that you were never alone. That you were never abandoned. That when you face the crippling sorrow, when you let God back in to feel it with you, you’ll find something new. Reminiscent of the past, and not always easy, but in some ways better.

Because along the way, you’ll discover that you’re safe in your Father’s arms, and that you’ve found your way home.

10 Things Christians Get Wrong about Loving Their Neighbor

“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31). Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement? When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of ...

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“Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus said (Mark 12:31).

Who among us wouldn’t agree with that statement?

When I’m sitting in a pew on Sunday and my pastor teaches that concept, I nod my head in agreement. When I’m having quiet time and I happen upon that verse, I feel confident and slightly proud. Of course I love my neighbor. God told me to.

It’s easy, right? Well, yes—until it’s not.

Because reality is rarely as simple as the theoretical. I love the idea of loving my neighbor, truly. I profess love and try to live in such a way as to practice it. I want to offer to others what God gave so freely to me.

But when I look, literally, around my neighborhood, what do I see? Houses I pass every day filled with people I’ve never seen. People to nod at as we drive past, but whose names I do not know. Houses that are suddenly empty, and I can only assume someone passed away because my impression is that an elderly man once lived there, but I’m not even sure.

What kind of neighbor does this make me? I’m not wanting to beat myself—or you—up, but the truth is, we all make mistakes when trying to love our neighbor. Even if we mean well, even if we’re intentional about reaching out, there are likely things each of us could do better. Let’s look at 10 of the mistakes every Christian makes when trying to love their neighbor.

1. We forget that loving our neighbor is the second most important commandment, and we skip the first one.

 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”

In order to love our neighbor, we must first love God with our whole selves. It is this kind of love that equips us to reach outside of ourselves to love someone else—because once we have personally been on the receiving end of the love of God, we can’t help but share it.

2. We think we’re going above and beyond, when actually this was a basic, foundational instruction.

It feels good to help someone, and it’s nice to get recognition. But just like a student doesn’t get extra credit for merely completing the original assignment, we don’t get bonus spirituality points when we show love to our neighbors. Jesus didn’t say this was graduate-level work; he just said to do it. None of our excuses matter.

3. We pick and choose which neighbors to love.

Have you ever thought, Sure, I love my neighbors—but not that one. Not the one who is difficult to love. Not the one who lives in the bad neighborhood—or a mansion. Not the one who worships another God (or none at all). Not the one who makes bad choices. Not the one who doesn’t like me, or makes me feel inferior. 

If the Bible gives qualifiers like that, I’ve never seen them. Jesus continually leveled the playing field. No one sin is greater than another. If we think it, we have done it. The least are the greatest. The poorest are the richest. In God’s economy, it all balances out—and it all comes back to one thing. We cannot earn God’s love, and He withholds it from no one. So who are we to think we get to stipulate who should receive the love we have to give?

4. We assume “love” equates to “help” or “rescue.”

We think of our neighbors as projects rather than people, or we enter into the relationship with an ulterior motive—if I help them, they’ll have to come to church. But as a friend pointed out, “Jesus didn’t heal the blind man and then say, ‘You’re welcome! And hey—I’d love it if you came by the shoreline later to hear me preach.’” When we make our love conditional, it ceases to look like the love of God.

5. We think that loving someone involves voicing all of our convictions about their sinful life.

God is the one who will convict someone of a sinful lifestyle or need to repent. It’s hard to convince anyone our love is genuine if it’s phrased, “I love you, BUT…” Live your life in a way that shows the generosity, kindness, mercy, and compassion of God; if you do, people will see that and will want to find what you’ve found. Live for God yourself and let the Holy Spirit work in people’s lives.

6. We ignore a need because it looks too big, or hard, or time-consuming, or complicated.

We resist entering into someone else’s life because our own lives are messy and it’s not a convenient time. The problem with that line of reasoning is that problems don’t wait until we have time for them. And people need us now, even if it’s inconvenient.

7. We think we have nothing of value to offer.

It’s easy to be paralyzed by the thought that we aren’t qualified, don’t have enough, or can’t do enough to make a difference. Often, what people need is simple: to be seen, heard, noticed. To find a safe place. To share a fleeting moment or two of a life. To have a friend. We attempt to quantify and solve a situation before we step into it. But if God has something for us to do, He will equip us. The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t mean we need to identify and solve our neighbors’ needs, just that we should show up—and pay attention to what He asks us to do.

8. We do it with our own power and forget to seek God’s direction.

We don’t need to ask God if we should love our neighbor; He made that clear. But beyond that, we can show love by lifting our neighbors to God in prayer. By interceding in a way that can make a difference in even the most impossible situation. It’s not our job to guide our neighbor’s life and decisions, but we can—and should—pray about the extent of our involvement and what God is asking us to do.

9. We convince ourselves that someone else will step up if we do not.

One day as I prayed for a woman at my church, I said, “Lord, surround her with people who can help her.” I felt God’s reply: “You’re a person.” True, maybe someone else is better equipped or has more free time. But that doesn’t get us off the hook. If we feel that love is an obligation, we’re not truly loving. Ask God to help change your heart so that you’re connecting authentically and without reservation.

10. We think loving our neighbor is about us, or even about our neighbors, but really, it’s about God.

 “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). The most effective way to witness to someone is to live it, not to preach it. God changes lives, and the most powerful way to tell that story is to let other people see how He has changed you into someone more like Him.

Please pray with me: 

Dear Heavenly Father, “love one another” is such a simple command, yet we make it complicated. Release us from the biases and judgments and insecurities that keep us from obeying. Open our hearts so that we may love our neighbors freely and without reservation. Equip us, guide us, and shine through us as we show others the love You already gave us.

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How to pray without ceasing

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV). Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there ...

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“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV).

Impossible, right? Maybe in the olden days, when every task directly affected your family’s survival—of course they prayed, because if the crop died, they’d starve. If someone got sick there was no medicine to help. Life was dangerous and fragile, and people weren’t distracted by social media and cell phones. But today? Who could be expected to keep their mind on God at all times? Surely God wouldn’t expect that of us, because He knows more than anyone how flawed we are, and how short our attention spans are.

Except that nowhere in the Bible is there an asterisk after that verse that says, “*unless you’re really busy.”

Here’s the good news. Not only is it possible to pray without ceasing, but it’s possible to do so without making any significant changes to your schedule or time commitments. It’s all about shifting your thought process and turning everyday moments into prayer. My friend Lisa gave me the best explanation I’ve ever heard: it’s like keeping the radio playing in the background. Keep that connection open and talk to God as you go through your day. Here are nine ways to pray without ceasing:

1. Begin with gratitude.

Psalm 100:4 says “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

In other words, start by telling God what you’re thankful for. Prayer doesn’t have to be asking for something; it can simply be thanking Him from your heart for what He has already done.

2. Get real.

If prayer had to be a stiff, formal language—“our most holy and mighty God, we beseech ye…”—first of all, we’d be bored and feel out of our element most of the time. And secondly, we would find it hard to keep that up for an extended period of time. But prayer is simply a conversation. Talk to Him the way you would talk to a friend. Sit down with a cup of coffee and just let the words pour out, casually, simply. Just be real.

3. Incorporate prayer into everyday chores.

Let your everyday tasks become acts of worship by turning them into times of prayer. As you fold laundry, pray for each family member—and then if your laundry piles are as high as mine, and you’re done praying but not done folding, branch out from there. Pray for your child’s soccer teammates, for the teachers standing in front of your children’s classrooms, for the partner who works hard to pay the bills, for health to stay active, for the workplaces where the clothes are worn. Or simply give thanks for the warmth of the home where you relax in those pajamas.

4. Tell Him what He already knows.

When my first child was in kindergarten, I realized that although I had a pretty good idea what she did at school, I didn’t need to know the details. But when she told me about how she and Jacob played at recess, or laughed as she tried to tell me the story her teacher read that day, it deepened my connection with my daughter. I got to see her life through her eyes and I reveled in her unique perspective. Of course, God already knows what’s in our hearts—but when we offer our thoughts to him, it turns what might be a solitary life into a richer, more meaningful relationship. And I think God delights in this.

5. Pray while you wait.

Most of us waste a lot of time while we wait for our daily grande nonfat mochas—or whatever. A quick online search reports that we each average two years of our lives waiting in line, and the average commuter spends 38 hours a year in traffic. Turn your car into a prayer closet, or let your mind take you someplace else while the person in line ahead of you buys her drink using four nearly-empty gift cards and then empties her coin purse of pennies.

Transform that “wasted” time into something meaningful—pray for the people you expect to encounter that day or the tasks you need to accomplish. Give thanks for your day, for the job paying for your favorite caffeinated beverage, for the young man working as a cashier to pay his college tuition, for the extravagant blessing of a giant store stocked with more products than we need. Count your blessings—because they’re everywhere—and make those minutes count.

6. Sing a song of praise.

“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).

Often, we think of prayer as what to do when we need God to fix something or when we’re unhappy. But the Bible encourages us to pray at all times. Remember the idea of prayer being like a radio playing in the background all the time? Make that literal by listening to worship music. As you sing along, offer it to God as your prayer. Or, better yet, make up your own song along the way. Nobody is listening but Him, so don’t worry if you’re out of tune.

7. When you mess up, admit it.

I don’t know about you, but I could spend most of my praying-without-ceasing time simply confessing a litany of my sins and failings: I just yelled at my kids; I’m jealous of the perfect little family one my friends posts about daily on Facebook; so-and-so is a real jerk and I don’t like him… and so on. Luckily, when we confess, God forgives us, so we don’t need to dwell there. That in itself is another reason to praise Him.

8. Give up worrying.

Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We’re not meant to worry, and we waste too many minutes doing just that. Next time something weighs heavy on your heart, envision yourself extending it up to God and letting Him hold it for you. Ask Him what your role is and if there is something you need to do; if so, do it. But don’t take back the weight of the worry. Then start thanking God for who He is and what He has already done for you, and you’ll feel the weight lifting off your shoulders as the words come.

9. Stop talking once in awhile. Instead, just listen.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

The number (or quality) of words you use in prayer doesn’t matter, because prayer is about God, not about us. Allow yourself to contemplate the nearness of God. Trust that He is your constant companion. Don’t monopolize the dialogue, but spend some of your time just being, simply sitting and resting in His presence. And keep in mind that the best conversations are two-sided, but you won’t hear anything if you never stop to listen.

Start Praying Now

Dear Lord, I believe that prayer matters, but I also think that we shortchange ourselves by limiting our definition of prayer. Open my mind to all that it can be. Help me become aware of Your nearness and abide in Your presence. Teach me to talk to You—and remind me to listen. Overflow my heart with gratitude for all that You’ve done and who You are. Let my life become a never-ending prayer to You. Amen.

This article first appeared on

When the joy is hard to find

Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always. If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, ...

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Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right? Except that, if we’re honest, it’s not always.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time you already know this: I lost my love for Christmas about the time I lost my mom. And then when I lost Dad seven years later, well, let’s just say whatever wisps of joy I’d managed to salvage fizzled out too. Nothing was the same, and I didn’t feel like celebrating. Not a big surprise, but also not something I had much desire to change.

Along the way, a little over a year ago, I met this sweet, sunny, vivacious woman named Jodie at the Suzie Eller Retreat. Loved her right away, and enjoyed her even more the second year we attended together. She’s all about prayer and spreads love, genuinely, wherever she goes.

Last year I discovered that she had hit upon a meaningful way to celebrate Christmas. It was all about meeting God under the tree in prayer, and she had written prayer prompts for each day of Advent—kindred spirits, right? When she asked me if I’d put together a prayer calendar to go with the release of her new Advent devotional, of course I said yes.

And then the unthinkable happened: Jodie’s 22-year-old son died suddenly in a tragic incident. Every time I looked at my own son, I could barely hold it together. I saw pictures she posted online with her son, and the way they interacted in those photos reminded me so much of my son and me that it completely broke my heart. A group of us who were brought together by this retreat have been praying our hearts out for her and her family, feeling the loss so deeply that it can only be explained by God’s intercession. That’s one of the most beautiful gifts of praying for someone else—I can’t explain how it happens, but I’ve experienced firsthand how God allows us to experience some of the love HE has for that person. It changes your connection to them, and it expands your awareness of the loving character of God. It’s a beautiful thing—even when the prayers are initially prompted by sorrow.

I haven’t written about what happened to Jodie anywhere because it felt too private. I don’t want to attempt to co-opt her tragedy for my own purposes, nor do I want to suggest that what I feel in any way compares with what she feels. But today I’m telling you about her for one important reason. Watching Jodie’s faith, seeing how deeply rooted she is in the truth of God’s goodness and love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s impossible, even when she is hurting and angry… well, it has changed me. I now have witnessed first-hand what it means to have a sustaining, life-giving faith. I’m watching her feel her way forward, spending time with God in prayer, feeling compassion for others affected by this horrific accident, always looking for God in the midst of the sorrow and pointing people towards God without fail.

Jodie inspires me tremendously—because she reminds me that the joy God offers is not dependent on circumstances. But this is not something new. She’s having to live out her faith in a way she never wanted to, but it didn’t just start right here. Rather, the roots of her faith go deep, and they were planted in joy.

Jodie’s brand new book, Jingle and Joy, just came out last week and popped straight to #1 in Amazon’s prayer category. I had the privilege of reading it before it released, and what struck me the most was the joy filling the pages. It’s full of deep insights in short devotions, just right for busy women during the busiest time of the year. And to make it even better, it’s all about finding that joy through time spent in prayer. Prayer is where we can find peace, and it’s where we grow closer to God.

I look back now at my stubborn refusal to enjoy Christmas because it wasn’t on my own terms, and I see how immature that response is. We all have situations and people and losses and sorrow that interfere with our ability to celebrate sometimes. But I think this book is a great first step towards finding our way back.

So today I am honored to be able to offer you my free December prayer calendar with Jodie’s prayer prompts. To download it, click here.

And since this is a season of giving, I’ll also be giving away a free copy of her book. To enter, leave a comment after this post (or on my post about this book on Facebook) sharing what your biggest struggle is with keeping your thoughts on the meaning of the season. I’ll pray through your responses, because prayer can change things we can’t, and because this time of year can be especially hard. I hope that you will consider grabbing a copy for yourself, and one for a friend. As another friend said, this book is a great addition to your nightstand this season. 

More than that, though, it’s about what it will do for your heart… what God longs to do, if you’ll just slow down and sit with Him. He’ll show us, individually, personally, the abundant gift we have to celebrate at Christmastime—and always.

One quick note: you’ll see that this calendar looks different than my usual ones. For one thing, it’s vertical, and for the other, it was designed as a perpetual calendar, which is meant to be used year after year, and therefore does not have the prompts in a calendar grid under headings for each day of the week. I was going to create a version of this in my usual format for use by my subscribers, but honestly, I liked the one I did for her better. So if you’re someone who collects these and is aggravated by the inconsistency, please forgive me. It’s a one-time thing, I promise :-).

Giving Away “Giving”

I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to ...

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I am a giver.Years ago, when Pastor Peg walked us through The 5 Love Languages book at church, it verified what I already knew: giving is my love language. It’s my favorite way to express love to the people in my life. It’s not about things, yet I love to find just the right thing to do for someone, the perfect quirky gift, the thoughtful and surprising things no one even knew they wanted until they opened it… But I also like to give money when I can—to people, to my church, to other organizations I believe in. Which is why I’m excited today to announce the release of a new book, which I cannot wait to share with you.

My friend Kelsey Timmerman is an all-around great guy. He adores his children, is kind to everyone he meets, tells great stories (and founded a nonprofit to help communities share their stories)—he’s simply a ton of fun to be around. The more I am around him, though, the more I realize how much depth and kindness and compassion and integrity he has. He also just happens to travel the world and write about the stories of those he meets, which is way cool—and he does so with a sense of empathy and awareness. I loved his first two books, Where Am I Wearing?: A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes, and Where Am I Eating?: An Adventure Through the Global Food Economy with Discussion Questions and a Guide to Going “Glocal.” Today his latest book comes out, and it’s called Where Am I Giving?:A Global Adventure Exploring How to Use Your Gifts and Talents to Make a Difference.

I want to give generously—and I think this book will help me know how best to do that. What I can do that actually helps. What might not help as much. And what qualifies as “giving” besides sending someone money. (That’s probably the part I’m most excited about.) At the same time, it is filled with Kelsey’s stories of the people he met around the world, what they had to say, and how they actually give, so it allows us glimpses into these lives around the globe that we would otherwise never encounter. I’ve ordered a copy for myself, but I want to give away two more copies.

To enter a free giveaway for one of two copies of this book, comment below (either on my blog or on Facebook or Instagram) and tell me something about giving: a quote that inspires you, or a story about a time you were the recipient of a thoughtful giver, or about what you would like to be able to someday do for someone else. Drawing will take place August 21.

I have not had a chance to read the book yet, but I did get a sneak peek at a couple chapters, and I think this is going to be his best book yet. If you’d like to know more, you can click the book image below or click here to read the description on Amazon. The book even includes discussion questions and a guide to giving locally and globally, which means it would be a great book club pick, too. Buy it today for someone you know who likes to give or wants to know more about giving thoughtfully and with wisdom—a great way to ignite a trend of giving, don’t you think?

It’s a process (how I create my prayer prompt calendars)

Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I ...

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Several people have asked me to write about the process for creating the prayer prompt calendars. Creating them is one of my favorite things to do. It’s difficult to capture the stream-of-consciousness thoughts that lead to one, but I kept notes and took screen shots as I put together the calendar for August, so I could try. (If you’re not really interested in the process, I won’t take offense—simply click here to go straight to the August calendar download.)

Before I tell you about how I create these, let me back up and tell you about why I started doing them in the first place. In order to find a publisher, an author usually needs a good “platform”—which, simply defined, is the audience the author has influence with, usually consisting of social media followers, blog readers, and so forth. One of the tried-and-true ways to increase blog followers is to offer free downloads as an incentive for subscribing. Many other Christian authors offer free downloads of inspirational quotes or scriptures. As a designer, it would be simple for me to do the same thing, but then I realized that as nice as those are (and I hope to offend no one when I say this), those weren’t really something I wanted or downloaded for myself. So I started researching, looking for something I could offer that related to my book (Praying Upside Down) and seemed specific to me. My Pinterest board from that time was filled with downloadable quotes, prayer journal pages, etc… but nothing really jumped out at me. I didn’t want to do something just for the sake of having something, but I wanted to create something useful. Then I saw a calendar somewhere, and I thought, hey, what if I made a monthly prayer calendar? When I sat down to do it, I grabbed a bunch of random, colorful photos and started playing around. The first several months were completely haphazard.

Over time, the process evolved, becoming less random and more intentional. I started thinking about themes (beginning with giving thanks for November), and then, apparently, I got tired of bring confined to the straight calendar grid and started breaking out of that structure.

People started responding to the calendars, and I started keeping a list of potential themes or graphic ideas when I saw something that inspired me. I’ve done a few calendars tailored to the content of some books I loved (Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, Rush by Jayme Mansfield, and The Spirit-Led Heart by Suzie Eller), and some just based on fun or graphic images I found.

Somewhere along the way, these calendars became one of my favorite things to do. They’re all about prayer… creativity… coming up with something new… having fun… finding a new look, a new approach—a combination of words and images and prayer that I’m uniquely suited to create. I’ve been making these monthly since March 2015—over three years—and I’m not tired of it yet. As you can see, especially when you compare these to the first calendars I did, they’ve definitely evolved over time!


OK, so now that you know the background of the calendars,
let’s talk about the specific process of making one.


I start with just a vague idea about possible themes, usually tied in somehow to the month. If it’s spring, it might be focused on growth, or words and phrases connected to the color green. Summer might be about freedom. September might be back-to-school (even though our schools start in August—old habits die hard)—perhaps a chalkboard theme, or teaching or learning. Some of the holiday months are pretty obvious—gifts for Christmas, gratitude for Thanksgiving.

For my August calendar this year, I considered some concepts related to the month—the colors of the August birthstone, definition of “august,” checked out the holidays that month. In the end, I chose the theme of travel/exploration/adventure, simply because I was preparing for a trip to Malta and that was the mood I was in.

From there, I went to, a stock photography and illustration site I subscribe to for my graphic design business. I scribble ideas on a piece of paper and start searching related words, looking for some kind of overall graphic look. It might be a complicated illustration, or a border and a bunch of little pieces. I collect them in a “lightbox” until I have plenty of possibilities. Using Adobe Illustrator, I can change colors, modify shapes, and so on.

I decided that I loved the look of the retro travel stuff, the postmarks and luggage tags, so I started playing with the airmail envelope border and then filled in with smaller graphics related to the individual prayer prompts. I also picked one graphic to use as my primary color palette (the six postcards in the third graphic in the row above this paragraph). Starting with my calendar template in Adobe InDesign, I began copying and pasting individual elements to try to come up with a workable structure.

After playing with images for a while, I went back to words. First, I searched for travel idioms to inspire the prompts…

  • Mile a minute
  • Bad news travels fast
  • Have __, will travel
  • Travel light
  • Off the beaten track
  • Travel broadens the mind
  • Travel with someone
  • Right up my alley
  • Whatever floats your boat
  • Jump ship
  • Train of thought
  • Step it up a gear asleep at the wheel
  • At a crossroads
  • At a fork in the road
  • Backseat driver
  • Put the cart before the horse
  • Cool your jets (calm down)
  • Fifth wheel (someone who’s superfluous)
  • In the driver’s seat
  • Ships that pass in the night
  • Middle of the road (moderate)
  • My way or the highway
  • Road rage
  • On the right track
  • Going nowhere fast

Then I looked for more graphics on Shutterstock related to some of the key words that seemed to have potential.

  • travel
  • map
  • suitcase
  • Airport/airplane
  • cars
  • trains
  • boats
  • tickets
  • world
  • globe
  • stamps
  • coins

Next, I pulled out some of those pictures and scattered them around the page, then started typing in (in a random order) some of the prayers inspired by the images. I keep paper in front of me so I can jot down ideas as they come.

  • Someone who feels lost
  • Sunglasses – what people see
  • Camera- something you’d like to capture, seeing the beauty
  • Vintage travel – suitcase
  • Suitcases – heavy – carrying something they shouldn’t
  • Wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round – someone who’s spinning in circles, getting nowhere
  • Give thanks for the life you have, not the life you want
  • Train tracks, ships that pass in the night
  • Train coming out of a tunnel – pray for someone to get to the light at the end of the tunnel, or pray for someone passing through

From there, it’s simply a lot of back and forth… a few prayers, a few more images, a few more prayers inspired by those images. It’s like a giant crossword puzzle, and I keep moving things around until they fit. I add some color here and there, add things in, take a few things away, substitute shapes and color blocks for some of the calendar squares… Eventually, all the squares are filled, and I’ve squeezed in whatever graphics I can and found a reasonable overall balance to the page….

And voilá! The calendar is ready to download.
[Click here to download your August prayer prompt calendar.]

It’s always just a trial and error process, one in which I follow my gut instinct and operate on a whim. I try to find funny twists on the words and graphics, and I don’t shy away from irreverence. I want this to be fun, and real. I want people to know that prayer doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, that it can be fun and whimsical.

And from there, I hope people will take the same approach I used to create these—and run with it. Use the prompt to get you started but let your mind roam freely from there. Follow the seemingly random connections. Let God bring people to mind and use your individual thought processes in a creative way to guide your prayers.

I can provide a starting point, but it’s up to you—and God—where you go with it from there. Just as I go back and forth, following whatever obscure connections I see in the space between the words and the pictures, I hope you will follow those trails through your own brain. We’ll never get it all. We’ll never pray about every situation that needs prayer. We’ll never remember everyone we care about. The world’s needs are too great. People are too numerous. We’re too limited.

But our God is a creative God. I believe He delights in us when we offer our creative selves to Him, when we try to channel that creative energy that is at the foundation of who He is and all that He creates. I believe He uses these calendars—not because of anything I did, in particular, but because each one of you opens yourself up to His leading when you open your mind to prayer.

I’m thrilled that I get to be a part of it.

Pop Quiz: Evaluate Your Thoughts

Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14. Ever ...

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Happy to welcome Kelly Balarie back to my blog with a guest post about her new book, which releases TODAY! Leave a comment below to be entered into a drawing for one of two copies! Just list your go-to Bible verse that encourages you when you’re struggling. I’ll draw the winners on July 14.

Ever felt that panicked feeling?

It’s that oh-no sense you get when you ram your car against the one behind you. Or when you smash a heavy door right on your baby’s 10-month-old toe (yes, this did happen to me). Or when you speak what should have remained the unspeakable. Or when your deepest fear is about to come true.

Panic steals peace. You cannot have both. Which is why, about a year-and-a-half ago, I decided I needed to learn how to be Battle Ready. I was tired of the same old trials and tribulations tumbling me to the floor with stress, worry, and panic. Something had to change.

Are you in this place? Do horrible things keep on happening to you? Do those same feelings of angst, trepidation and fear keep coming? Do you easily lose faith in God’s ability to come through for you?

It doesn’t have to continue. Just because you’ve always done something, doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it. Just as we love to see our children grow and learn, so does God love to see us forge a new direction with Him…

…especially with our thoughts. How do you think? Consider…

Scenario 1: You trip over the shoes that you left in the hallway last night. Your chin hits the floor with a loud thud! You mean to move them earlier, but you forgot.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I’m so stupid, I am so forgetful,or I am always doing dumb things?
  2. Or, It’s okay. Everyone forgets things sometimes.

Scenario 2: You blurt out, “When is the baby due?”, or some other statement that you immediately wish you could take back. You know you shouldn’t have spoken like you did, but it is too late. The words are out.

Do you say to yourself:

  1. I am such an idiot, I am rude, I am always making a fool of myself or I am horrible.
  2. Or, I am learning how to use wisdom with my words. God will be faithful to teach me.

Scenario 3: You share a lot one evening when you’re together with a group of friends. You talk about things you’re excited about. You tell people about some things you are going through.Do you say to yourself:

  1. I over-talked. I take up too much space. I come across too (smart, much, arrogant). People think I’m annoying.
  2. I can be who God created me to be. I don’t have to fear what people think of me. God made me just right.

How we think in specific scenarios says a whole lot about how we think in life. Begin to observe your thought-life patterns. Thoughts are usually clear-cut: you’re either hard on yourself or full of grace, full of God’s truth or dwelling on lies, standing in faith or faltering in doubt.

You either think: God is for me or God is against meGod is with me or God is abandoning meGod will never…or God will certainly….

But know this: how you think can change.

People who are walking full of God have to work on it. It doesn’t come naturally. They renew their mind in Christ Jesus, they filter their thoughts, they consider the strategies that work so that they walk with God continually. These are the attributes of a person who is Battle Ready.

There are, in fact, specific strategies to stand strong and firm with Christ. Did you know them? Do you know how to respond proactively, rather than reactively? How to change bad habits? How to renew your mind in Christ?

Many people think it starts with these 5 steps…

  1. Think about what you are thinking about.
  2. Check to see if aligns with God’s truth.
  3. Replace the lies with truth.
  4. Take action based on that new thought.
  5. Notice the better outcome.

…but a life full of faith, full of peace and joy, transcends this. This is a good start, but not the finish line. The finish line is a life that stands on God’s Word as if it is the ground it walks on. It is a hope so secure it feels it is as though it is already won. It is belief so strong, that no man can shake it. It is a life so on purpose, it does with no regrets.

You can get there. You can be full of faith, strong in battle, sure when challenges hit and unwavering when enemy forces come up against you. You can be Battle Ready. There are scriptural tips, biblical stories, practical wisdom and scientific studies that will help you seize new habits, forge new thought patterns and change your life.

Why not proactively prepare your thoughts today to seize great faith?

About Battle Ready: Train Your Mind to Conquer Challenges, Defeat Doubt & Live Victoriously

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!” ~Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

Buy Battle Ready here:

To get Battle Ready freebies – printables, devotional reminders, a customizable daily Battle Plan and the “Find Your Battle Style” quiz, visit:  

To order the companion Battle Ready Daily Prayer Journal that will help you practically change your thoughts, then your life, click here. 


Kelly Balarie, an author and national speaker, is on a mission to encourage others not to give up. Through times of extreme testing, Kelly believes there is hope for every woman, every battle and in every circumstance. She shares this hope on her blog, Purposeful Faith, and on many writing publications such as Relevant, Crosswalk, and Today’s Christian Woman. Kelly’s work has been featured on The Today Show, 700 Club Interactive, Moody Radio and other television and radio broadcasts. When Kelly is not writing, she is chilling at the beach with her husband, a latte, and 2 toddlers who rightfully demand she build them awesome castles.

And Then I Blinked

My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her ...

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My dear friend Terri DeVries agreed to let me use one of her posts on my blog. It’s been ten months since I lost my dad, and I’m still deep in the valley of grief. Terri lost her husband five years ago, which is a completely different thing—and yet I draw such solace from her wise observations and the truths she’s learned. I hope you do, too.

I’m not the same person I was five years ago. There are the obvious reasons, such as the fact that I am five years older, and my energy level has changed. But those things are not the real reasons. Five years ago I was one-half of a couple. Five years ago all the major decisions were made by two people. Five years ago we were both working; my husband full time and me part time. Five years ago we went on vacations and planned new ones to places we wanted to see. Five years ago I was grudgingly picking up socks and underwear and towels and papers and dishes…

And then.

It was a phone call. And a whole string of what-ifs. Followed by a thousand why, why, why, whys. It was a thundering of blood pumping in my ears, my heart beating so fast I thought I might pass out. It was my body shaking so hard I couldn’t imagine driving myself anywhere. And it was the end of normal as I knew it.

March 17, 2013. St. Patrick’s Day. Beautiful, sunny, deceptively peaceful and perfect. You can’t imagine such a thing happening to you on a day like this. But it did. Life as I had lived it for almost forty-seven years came to a halt.

It was entirely the fault of the widow-maker, that type of heart attack that kills quickly and surely. My husband was healthy, in great shape, training for his third marathon, eating well and doing everything right. Then I blinked, and he was gone.

Reality is like a sharp knife. It cuts your past from your future with an accuracy that stuns. Like magic, what was is gone and what is to be is hidden behind a curtain of grief, the sorrow weighing you down so that you find it impossible to stand. And then in that weak moment come the henchmen; anger, denial, depression.

Wow. So where was my faith in all of this, you ask? Great question. And I’m not sure I have a clear-cut answer. Looking back over these five years since I became a widow (a word I hate with all my heart), I’ve searched for the threads that lead back to that day. Five years ago I was indescribably angry. I spent day after day ranting at the God who took away my husband. Betrayed, let down, disappointed, heartbroken, so alone, discouraged, weary, and feeling deserted, I was certain God had left me. I couldn’t find Him or feel Him anywhere. What kind of God leaves you like that? Consequently, I lost the faith I’d had in Him my whole life, or so I thought.

But here’s the thing. Anger is black, opaque, un-see-through-able. And necessary. God stood beside me, watching, loving, and protecting all the while I was ranting at Him. As the anger diminished, His presence gradually became obvious. He’d never left my side as I thought He had. In fact, He had spent much of that time carrying me as He allowed the anger. And although my faith took a real beating in those weeks, it was always there. The result of my loss was to learn that no matter what happens in your life, no matter how bad it gets, if you believe in the same God I do, He will stay with you always. ALWAYS. Especially in the hard times. Even when you can’t understand the why of it all.

The best way to explain it is to refer to an old story describing our lives as a tapestry we see only from the back side. There is a dark and ugly mass of strings in varied colors, some cut and woven back in and others continuing on. It’s messy, with knots and jumbled threads. None of it makes sense. It isn’t until we see the finished workmanship on the right side of the tapestry that we realize what a magnificent masterpiece it is.

This is what I take from that; I’m still seeing the underside of the tapestry, and for the past five years I’ve been trying to follow the threads that run consistently through the it. The thread of faith can be hard to find because it’s hidden for a time under other threads, but it always reappears at some point. It always reappears. Imagine someday seeing the right side and saying, Oh, look what the Master Weaver did with my life!

I am not the person I was five years ago. I’m older, yes. But that’s not the point. I have learned so much about trust in God, a God who loves me more than I can fathom; I have learned about my own faith, a faith which has grown and blossomed and become the center of my life. I have learned about dependence, a complete surrender to the God who planned out every second of my life before I was even born, and who knows exactly what will happen every second of the life I have left. I have learned how strong I am. I have learned how hardships and difficult circumstances molded me. I have learned how much I still have to learn.

That thread of faith that seemed to disappear right after my husband’s death? It was there all along, and now I’m learning to embrace it, holding it close and letting go of all the doubts and fears, and yes, the anger, that I used to allow free reign.

Because I don’t have the ability to see what’s ahead for me. But I know Who does.

If you’d like to read more about her journey, or know someone else who’s on this road with her, check out her book. It’s wonderful (and so is she).

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