Prayer is no excuse

The internet is collectively outraged at those offering weak platitudes (“our thoughts and prayers”) in the aftermath of the latest school shooting. (I hate that there’s a “latest.” I hate that 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 ...

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The internet is collectively outraged at those offering weak platitudes (“our thoughts and prayers”) in the aftermath of the latest school shooting. (I hate that there’s a “latest.” I hate that 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, fine. Offer your thoughts and prayers. And I truly hope they are sincere. But know that that is not enough.

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 keep this from happening every few days. (Every. Few. Days. This is outrageous.) Ask God to forgive us for letting things get to this point. Ask God to heal the minds and tortured souls who think shooting 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 those we love (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.

A prayer for when Christmas has lost its sparkle

Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored. In reality, though, some of ...

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Expectations abound at Christmastime. In every crowded store, colorfully-lit neighborhood, and Hallmark movie, sparkle and glitter and joy prevail. Marriages are miraculously saved, teenagers’ surly attitudes are softened, perfect gifts appear like magic under trees, generous strangers rescue people from financial worries, everyone sings happy songs, and goodwill is restored.

In reality, though, some of us struggle this time of year. Since I lost my mom six years ago, and my dad this summer, I tend to feel sadness and loneliness more than I feel joy. Some of you may have lost spouses to death or divorce. You may have children who don’t spend time with you or demand too much of you, or parents who aren’t themselves (or are no longer there). Maybe your job requires you to work rather than worship, or you have so many past-due notices you could wrap presents with them—if you could afford to buy presents. Perhaps you’re jaded, knowing that, as a believer, Christmas should be spiritually significant, but your emotions are crowded out by material excess and a to-do list a mile long.

So when Silent Night seems like a quaint, far-off dream… when Deck the Halls provides pressure to be Pinterest-perfect… when O Holy Night feels, instead, commercial and crazy… won’t you pray along with me?


Dear Heavenly Father,

I feel like I have nothing worthwhile to give You, but all of my brokenness is taking up space that I’d rather fill with other things. So I offer You what little I have—my pain, sadness, grief, loneliness, fear, anxiety, worries, finances, broken dreams, shattered expectations, floundering relationships, lack of passion, messy home, scattered mind, and lack of focus—I let go of it all to make room for You. 

I know that You change the atmosphere of every place You inhabit, so I invite You to dwell here with me. When Jesus came to us 2,000 years ago, the world didn’t recognize the Savior, and no one made room for Him. But we have the privilege of understanding the enormity of the gift You gave us in this vulnerable little child. In this season of gifts, we know that Jesus is the One that matters.

So, precious Lord, I invite You in. As You abide in me, warm my heart from the inside out. Surround me with Your peace, comfort me with Your Spirit, whisper sweet thoughts into my mind.

Push aside all my worries and replace them with worship.

Replace fear with faith.

Stress with song.

Anxiety with awe.

Christmas is the time when love came near. So I’m stepping forward in faith, moving towards You, the One who loves me. The One who woos me, even when I’m not feeling it. The One who changes every life He touches. Hoping You will turn things around, I hold out my hands and trust in Your grace, which says You love me even if I don’t deserve it. Even if everything else in my life isn’t perfect.

I offer all that I have, what little I have to give, with abandon. And I trust that You know my heart—You know that I love You, and You know that I want to overcome this feeling of blah and instead live full of passion and joy.

Please, Lord, accept my invitation.

I welcome You back into my heart. In the place of all my imperfections, I instead receive Your wholeness. I release all of my expectations for a picture-perfect holiday and turn instead towards You, the reason we celebrate. The hope of glory. The promise of eternity. The miracle of new life.

The joy of the world.

And I marvel, because all of that—all that You are, all that You promise, all that You’ve done—is right here within me.

And suddenly I understand that the lights and the wrapping paper and the caroling are fine, but they fade in comparison to the sparkly wonder of who You are.

Merry Christmas, my sweet Lord. Thank You. And amen.


A version of this post originally appeared at Crosswalk.com.

Your answer may already be right next door

I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway! It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it. But can I let you ...

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I’m giving away one gift every week this month. Be sure to read to the end to find out how to enter this week’s giveaway!

It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given, and I’ve talked about it ever since. I even wrote a book about it.

But can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think I began to know what the gift really was until about ten years after I got it.

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him. Matthew 7:11, NLT

Many of you have already heard some version of this story. In 2007, my husband and I decided to buy the house next door to the one my sister lived in. We weren’t looking for a new home, but this old house being put on the market by her elderly neighbor was everything we hadn’t realized we wanted until we saw it. On top of that, it was cheap. It needed tons of work—all-new electrical, ugly shag carpets removed to reveal hardwood floors, lots of wallpapers stripped and walls painted. But we knew we could renovate it, sell the old house, and make a profit. So we got to work. My dad and I rebuilt the kitchen and everyone in the extended family pitched in in some way. This new house was so much better suited for our family of five and my home office, and we felt God’s peace there.

We were certain God was in this.

And yet the old house would not sell.

Our credit card balances rose steadily, as did my stress. I’d sneak downstairs in the middle of the night, unable to sleep because of the financial disaster we were facing, and I’d cry along with the Psalmists. The bank wouldn’t refinance our mortgage, but my grandmother had loaned us the money to buy the new house—and she decided we didn’t need to pay her back. It was a gift. The house was a gift. (Spoiler alert: as amazing as that is, this isn’t the gift this story is about.)

After many months on the market but hardly any showings, we finally had one scheduled. As I vacuumed in my bedroom, I got real with God. “Lord, I don’t know what we’re going to do if we don’t sell this. We are going to be in real trouble.”

And, without even a hint of hesitation, God spoke to me. “Pray for the woman who will someday buy your house.”

I sat down on the bedspread in silence and awe. I’d heard from God. I knew I could hold on a little bit longer to help her, whoever she was. So I prayed. As I wrote my mortgage check every month, I mentally gave it to God. “This is my offering. I’m doing this for her.” I knew I could manage to go a little bit longer without selling the house as long as I knew God was in it, that He was at work. I believed with all of my heart that was true. So I put more stuff for the house on our credit cards, worked more, and prayed more.

And yet nothing happened for a long time. So we moved. We were declined when we tried to refinance our first mortgage. We anointed the house and prayed for all who would enter it.

And nada.

As we neared the two-year mark, a woman who’d looked at the house earlier came back with an offer that, while low, was one we had to consider. Even so, we couldn’t make it work—until our realtor waived his commission, we got a first-time-ever tax refund, and my mom gave me the rest so we could pay off the bank, at least—never mind the credit cards. Less than ideal, surely, but we felt we had to say yes.

I was like a sulky teenager. Even though I should have been rejoicing, all I could see was that it hadn’t happened like I had planned. And then I saw what God had done during that time in the life of Rosanne, the woman who bought the house, and I realized that He really had answered me. He used our house to answer so many of her prayers. And because I was praying for her instead of focusing on myself, I got to be part of it . When I really looked at the situation, I got to see what God really did.

There’s a lot more to the story, and you can read a little more here; it also became the basis for my first book, Praying Upside Down.

For years, I’ve been talking about this—about how sweet God is, that He brought Rosanne and I together as friends, that He cared enough about her to go to such lengths to provide just what she needed. And how He used the experience to launch my writing career.

But you know something? I was wrong. Maybe not completely, but I guess it’s safe to say, at the very least, that my understanding was woefully incomplete.

In late June, my dad went into the hospital with what we thought were AFib issues. After a few weeks, with my sister and I flying down to Florida for alternating weeks of being with him, surgery revealed cancer—everywhere. It was bad, and Dad didn’t have long. I was in Florida when the surgery happened, but by the time we realized that Dad was likely not to recover enough to come home by means of a regular mode of transportation, my sister Kerry was with him. As a nurse, she understood the situation intuitively and she made the call to have Dad flown back to Indiana via a med flight.

Because I lived next door, it was easy for me to oversee the setup of a room at Kerry’s house and to coordinate with the doctors on this end. I met the oxygen delivery people, set up hospice care, and arranged for delivery of the hospital bed, rolling tray table, and so on. I bought privacy curtains and all the random things we’d need to care for him there.

When Dad got here, he wasn’t doing very well. He was trying to recover from his surgery, deal with a pleurex drain, and the cancer was causing him a lot of pain. From the beginning, he needed someone with him at all times.

It was horrible. And yet it was the best possible scenario. I could walk across the driveway in my slippers, carrying my own coffee, and sit with Dad while he watched the Today show and dozed. While I was there, Kerry could shower and throw in some laundry. I stayed on the days she worked, and on her days off I came home to do my own work—switching off shifts to accommodate our various appointments. Our families shared meals, our kids could come see their Bebop in between activities, and Kerry, her husband Doug, and I took turns sleeping on a futon in Dad’s room each night.

For years, I’d believed that the whole story about selling my house was about seeing God’s answers to prayer, about a new friendship, about giving me insights and the opportunity to write about them. Still true. However, during those tumultuous and overwhelming three weeks before Dad died, I saw the true gift in it all: God was establishing Kerry and me next door to each other so that we would be able to care for Dad like we did. My dad kept saying, with a sense of wonder in his voice, “It’s so neat what you girls are doing here. Who would have thought it would work out like this?”

God knew. Ten years ago, He looked down the road and saw that the only way we could get through the incredibly exhausting and emotional time coming up was exactly the way we did. Side by side, helping each other out, seamlessly interchangeable.

Such a beautiful gift, and one that was planned years ahead of the need.

This is what is so amazing about our God. Nothing is wasted. He sees beyond our immediate needs and He puts answers in motion long before we even know to ask.

Sometimes it feels to me as though God has stopped answering prayers. And then He nudges me, points my thoughts in a new direction and lets me really see: The answers haven’t stopped. Some are still coming. Some look different than we expect. And some are only partially fulfilled—so far. There may still be layers yet to be revealed.

None of what is happening is a surprise to God. We just need to keep hanging on, confident that our God will keep giving to us good and precious gifts. And remember—we don’t necessarily need to look far and wide to find them—they may be waiting for us right next door.


To enter to win this sterling silver charm bracelet—hand-crafted by yours truly with blue and green stones and beads—leave a comment below. Tell us about a gift you remember that God gave you, a gift hidden within a gift, or simply leave a comment or prayer request. I’ll draw names to select a winner one week from today.

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.

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.

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.

A prayer of gratitude for my dad

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

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Lord,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank You, Lord. Amen.

7 simple ways to find faith in the chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post originally appeared on Crosswalk.

Dwelling in God’s Sanctuary

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When God speaks to you—using your very own words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lord, I am in awe of You.

Lord, I am grateful for You.

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

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

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

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

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