What You Need to Know about Making New Friends

“And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make!” Psalm 16:3, The Message My friendships haven’t always been perfect. Trust me. I had a falling-out with my best friend early in my senior year of high school, relegating myself to a long year of walking the halls alone. I’m the one whose mom left ...

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“And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make!” Psalm 16:3, The Message

My friendships haven’t always been perfect. Trust me. I had a falling-out with my best friend early in my senior year of high school, relegating myself to a long year of walking the halls alone. I’m the one whose mom left a paperback copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People on my bed (which I promptly threw back at her, devastated by my interpretation that she didn’t think I could make friends on my own). I’ve injured people with my words and actions and I’ve been hurt by theirs. I’ve been awkward and selfish and self-centered, and I’ve watched friendships fall apart.

But I’ve also experienced the power of friendship—to change me, to help me get in touch with the heart of God, to enrich my life and teach me about community and relationship. I’ve been transformed by the lessons I’ve learned through my failures. Genuine friendship is about walking through the deep waters of life side by side. It is inevitable that we will face death, despair, hurt, pain, and betrayal in this lifetime—but when we go through it together it changes us. Abiding friendship is about pointing each other to the God who never fails us, and believing that God often answers our prayers through the words of our friends.

Friendship gives you a chance to try out who you want to be (and who you already are, deep inside). You get to practice acceptance. You get to learn what your best traits are, hone your strengths—and face your weaknesses. Meeting new people provides an extra opportunity to practice the things that matter in relationships. Jesus said, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command… Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:12-15, NLT)

We’re commanded to love each other in the same way he loved us, so I can’t help but think there’s a measure of Jesus in the making of new friends. As you open your life to new people, let these simple ideas help you transform a mere acquaintance into a true friend.

There’s always room for one more.

Whether your life is overflowing with people, or your day-to-day existence is pretty lonely, there’s room for another real friend. Most of us have more obligations than time—but the truth is most of us haven’t mastered managing our priorities. It’s not easy, but if you want to spend time on a relationship, chances are there is something you can change or remove to make room for it—whether it’s one night a month during which you do not binge-watch Netflix so you can have dinner with a friend. Or spending your coffee break catching up by phone. Or texting something just because you know it will make her laugh. Or occasionally waking up an hour early to power-walk together before the rest of your house awakens. It’s worth the potential sacrifices. (Or so they tell me. I’m not a morning person.)

Go first.

I keep reading about how hard it is for women to truly connect. How rare it is to have one or two deep, abiding friends. How often people are hurt—and as a result, people tend to keep friendships at a pretty shallow, superficial level. But there’s so much power when we are willing to go deep, together. In my writing, I’ve learned that if I share my stories, other people will feel safe in sharing theirs, so I now apply that approach to all of my relationships. Any positive relationship is founded on authenticity. When you put yourself out there first, you’re betting that once your new acquaintance gets to know you, they will like you. That may not always be true, but you’ll never know—nor will you be able to find common ground to connect you—unless you take a deep breath and go first.

It’s not all about you.

Share your own stories and be real—but remember that friendship is a two-way street. A one-sided friendship goes nowhere fast. As interesting as your stories might be, they’re better if I can share mine, too. We all want to be seen and heard and understood, so ask questions. See what you can learn. Gaining new perspectives will enrich your understanding—even if this friendship doesn’t last. Instead of wondering what you will get in return, ask yourself what you can offer. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and often results in reciprocal kindness.

Don’t force it.

Not every friendship will be deep or immediate—or, for that matter, permanent. Don’t pressure someone to spend time with you. Even if they really like you, they probably can’t drop everything to spend every waking moment with you. The friendship has to fit into both people’s lives in order to last. In time, if it’s meant to be, it will find its place.

New isn’t necessarily better.

Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s more fun—and quite a bit easier—to start fresh with a new relationship than try to fix one that’s been around for a while. We get stuck in our grooves. After a while, we see the imperfect sides of friends, too. We might have even been on the receiving end of their sharp wit or hurt by an unkindness. Over time, hurt feelings and misunderstandings can grow into big problems—making a new friendship sound really good for a change. Friendship isn’t always easy and it requires effort and energy to maintain. Go ahead and invest in new friendships, but hold on to the ones you already have, too. We can learn a lot about ourselves with lifelong friends, but we can also be greatly enriched by the presence of someone new.

Practice selflessness and generosity.

Many friendships die because one person resents putting forth all the effort, so decide now to be the person who does most of the work. People are busy, and their lack of communication may not be a rejection, but a normal response to a busy life. Don’t take it personally; try again. When you invest time in your friends, they’ll know they are valuable to you—and even if they don’t respond, you will know that you tried. Anytime we open ourselves up, we risk being hurt—but when our efforts are met with the same kind of generous spirit, the relationship expands exponentially and becomes more than you could have imagined.

Above all, before all, and through it all—love one another.

It seems obvious and sounds trite, but it is true: love is the answer to nearly any question. In all things, err on the side of love. By doing so, you’ll brighten the life of anyone you’re involved with, and as you practice living the way Jesus taught, you’ll see more of him in your friends, and they’ll see more of him in you.

A Prayer for Friendship

Dear Lord, teach me to love others the way you first loved me. As I build relationships with others, let them see you in the extent of my generosity, the authenticity of my kindness, and the depths of my love. All of those things are only possible through you, the God who abides with me and calls me friend. Amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

How to be Friends with Your Pastor’s Wife

This should be easy, right? Intuitive? We don’t need checklists for how to be friends with our other friends, so why do we need this? Because we do. There is something inherently different about being friends with someone who holds a position of authority. It doesn’t mean one position is better than another—in fact, my ...

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This should be easy, right? Intuitive? We don’t need checklists for how to be friends with our other friends, so why do we need this?

Because we do.

There is something inherently different about being friends with someone who holds a position of authority. It doesn’t mean one position is better than another—in fact, my pastor says that pastors aren’t at the top but at the bottom. This kind of leadership is an inverted pyramid, and everything filters down—to and through the pastors. The church members come first, at the top, and below that, the elders and teachers who serve them. And below that are the pastors, who serve all those above.

For many years, my husband and I have been close friends with Nathan and Peggy, our co-pastors. Ours is a small church, like family, but sometimes that means everyone gets up in everyone else’s business. I’ve watched Peggy struggle to maintain relationships as she’s embraced her role within the church. Seeing the ways she has been hurt—but continues to faithfully serve, pray and teach—has made me try that much harder to be the kind of friend she needs me to be.

Here are some of the rules I set for myself, reminders of how to make the friendship enjoyable for her and not another obligation. Relationships thrive when you intentionally work on improving them. You, too, can adopt these ideas to help you be a better friend to someone in a leadership position.

1. Realize that she is both your friend and your leader. If you don’t respect her authority and leadership, you’re rejecting her personally. Some people want to separate the roles, happily embracing the fun friend while believing they are immune from their friend’s authority. Doing this, though, undermines the leader’s authority with everyone else in the church. Why should church members follow their pastors if their closest friends don’t?

2. Know that not everything is about you. The best friendships are a give and take. But in this type of friendship, in particular, you should err on the side of giving. A pastor’s wife is called upon to solve countless problems, often pulled into situations that ordinarily wouldn’t concern her. She probably truly does want to know what’s happening in your life, but sometimes your life needs to take a backseat to the issues she’s facing. Other times, she will welcome the chance to think about something else and will want to hear every detail.

3. Don’t ask questions she can’t answer. Pastors’ wives know quite a bit of personal information about those in the church. Respect the need for confidentiality and the sensitive nature of her position. She’s most effective as a leader when she is able to earn the trust of those who confide in her.

4. Be her safe place. Not only should you provide a judgment-free zone, but you can offer her a safe place to vent or work through issues. But only if you can stick to rule #5, below.

5. Keep her secrets. When she feels it is appropriate, she might confide in you. Don’t gossip. Don’t tell other people what she reveals in confidence. And if she does happen to tell you about someone’s struggles, do not let that change your interactions with or opinions of that person. As Christians, we’re called to forgive others of their transgressions—however we come to learn of them.

6. Know where the bounds of your influence end. Sure, offer advice like you would to any friend. But when it comes to leadership decisions, don’t offer unsolicited advice. Support her, ask questions if it seems appropriate, and help problem-solve if she wants your help. But know that your friendship does not entitle you to sway her decisions toward your self-interests.

7. Don’t use your friendship to get special privileges. Even if you are “best friends,” you will damage her position if you push your way into the forefront. Feel free to sit beside her sometimes. But know that it’s important to share her with the rest of the congregation because her relationships with others are integral in her role as a leader. If you’re jealous or possessive, it will damage her other relationships and your friendship will not last.

8. Be okay with coming last. This goes along with the previous point. Be intentional about creating opportunities to spend time with her, but realize that many situations will arise at the last minute over which she has little control. She may be late. She may have to cancel. If she doesn’t cancel, she may spend half the time you’re together on the phone talking to someone else. Be patient. She needs a friendship that can fit around and between the gaps in her schedule, rare as they might be.

9. Find ways to spend time together within the limitations of her schedule and responsibilities—inside and outside the church. Just because you’re friends, you are not required to volunteer for every church activity. But the fact that you are friends means you will want to help when you can. Go together to get the paper products and decorations for the upcoming ladies meeting. Ride along with her to visit new moms in the hospital or to pray for those having surgery. Attend conferences together when you can. And when she calls, suddenly finding herself with some free time, drop everything to join her for dinner and a trip to Target.

10. When you do have time with her, let her be herself. If she needs to talk about work or ministry or spiritual matters, let her. But if she wants to be silly and laugh, or buy a new pair of high-heeled shoes and eat chocolate, join in the fun. She’s a leader, but she’s also a real person who wants to enjoy all areas of life.

11. Maintain your spiritual life separately from her. Pray on your own. Study your Bible, read books, spend time alone in worship. What she needs more than anything is someone who will support her spiritually, someone she can walk beside rather than always leading. Be willing to learn from her, but don’t depend on her to carry the responsibility for your own faith.

12. Pray alongside her. If she asks you to pray about something, be diligent in doing so. She wouldn’t be a leader in church if she didn’t believe in the power of prayer, and this is one important way that you can be involved and help make a difference.

13. And above all, pray for her. Pray for her family, her ministry, her leadership, her spiritual walk, her closeness with God, her renewal, her energy, her passion, her friendships, her vision, her marriage. Pray for those who hurt her and challenge her, those who add stress or cause division within the church. Pray for those under her leadership as well as those she interacts with outside of the church walls. Spending time in prayer on her behalf is the most valuable gift you can offer her.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

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.

This article first appeared on crosswalk.com.

 

 

 

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 :-).

A letter to the woman who hates Mother’s Day

I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails: Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special? Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3 Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination ...

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I woke up on May 1 to an inbox full of emails:

  • Stitch Fix—Want to Give Mom Something Special?
  • Walgreens Photo—Get Mom’s Gift in Time with 40% Off
  • Apple—Show Mom your <3 with gifts she’ll <3
  • Lightstock (stock photography)—Celebrating Mothers

And they just keep coming. It’s out of control—they really think I should buy lamination supplies to celebrate? Don’t get me wrong, I love office supplies more than the average bear. But still.

The thing is, Mother’s Day is the holiday I like least. It’s never been a particular favorite anyway, but since Mom died almost seven years ago, I’ve really loathed it. Some days I feel as though I must be totally alone in this. After all, when someone at church mentioned that this is the month of Mother’s Day, people cheered. Apparently, I’m an anomaly—but I don’t think I’m alone.

So I just want to say a few things to some of you who might be reading this.

To the woman who loves her kids but is exhausted and just wants someone else to clean up the kitchen for once…

To the woman who had to somehow walk away from the grave of her child, or spend months in hospitals watching her suffer, and lives in fear that they’ll find themselves back in that place again…

For the woman who has felt lost ever since her mom left this earth…

To the one whose mother really screwed up her head…

To the one who misses the grandmother who essentially raised her…

To the one whose child has cut her out of his life for reasons she cannot understand…

To the one who wonders if she’ll live long enough to finish raising her child…

To the woman who quietly mourns the child she miscarried, that no one wants to talk about…

To the mom who chose to let another family raise her baby but never stops thinking about him…

To the one who’s overwhelmed by all that her kids demand…

To the mother whose teen is out of control, who lies awake at night wondering what she did wrong…

To the one who always wanted a baby but the timing was never right…

To those who went through crazy amounts of medical intervention (or months of ashamed silence) waiting for the stripe on the pregnancy test to finally show up, but it never did…

To the woman whose mom means well but drives her crazy…

To the woman whose mom doesn’t mean well and is just flat-out mean…

For the one who is watching her mom (and her memories) gradually fade away…

To the one whose body aches from the hard work of being her mother’s caregiver…

For the one who has a dysfunctional relationship with a mom or step-mom or mother-in-law…

For the one whose mom lives halfway around the world wearing a soldier’s uniform…

To the one who raised a strong, independent child whose career took her far away from home…

For the woman whose mom disapproves of her…

For the one who struggles and fails to make the right choices…

To the woman who chose not to become a mom, but no one seems to understand…

To the one whose mom wants nothing to do with her…

For the one who has no help at home and no one to remind the kids to celebrate you…

To the one whose memories of her childhood bring sadness rather than joy…

To the one who never had anyone show her what it looked like to be a good mom…

For the one who doesn’t know why, but just feels ambivalent about this day…

To all the women who struggle to celebrate, for whatever reason…

I acknowledge you. I see you. I feel for you. I hurt for you.

And I want you to know this: in spite of your pain, because of your pain, I celebrate you today.

Even if people don’t seem to see what you do. Even if your wants and needs and actions are overshadowed by everyone else’s. Even if you feel as though no one else understands. Even if no one acknowledges you today. Even if there is nothing about this day that makes you happy.

Because you are wonderful. I am praying for you to find the strength to get through this holiday. The good humor to endure. The grace to forgive those who hurt you. The ability to smile, and someone with whom you can trust your true feelings. The faith to believe that God can heal whatever is broken inside—and for you to believe me when I say you are worth celebrating.

I see you today—and God sees you every day. You are not alone.

And you are so very loved.

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.

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

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

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

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

But when He doesn’t do it, what then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we get past that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to download the November calendar.

In other news…

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

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

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


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

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

Because we can always use some brain candy

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

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

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

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

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

Last but certainly not least…

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

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

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