When the joy is hard to find

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Giving Away “Giving”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Faith in a rear-view mirror

If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake ...

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If you’ve been reading me for long, you know I’m not ashamed to admit all of the many ways I do things wrong, right? In that spirit, let me tell you about what I was thinking the other day when I passed a cop going the other direction, slammed on my brakes, saw his brake lights, and THEN proceeded to drive below the speed limit for the next five miles as I watched my rearview mirror for flashing lights, heart pounding, chanting, “Sh&%” under my breath.

We all break the law in one way or another, no matter how careful and/or good we might think we are. Sometimes we even get away with it, like I did. (Thank goodness.)

From there, though, my mind wandered, and I started thinking about how this applies to God’s laws, His standards, His holiness.

I am not legalistic at all. I believe God’s defining characteristics are love, grace, and forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus’ crucifixion: that we couldn’t—and don’t have to—pay the penalty for our lack of perfection. I think I have a healthy view of my faults, but I don’t dwell a lot on how lowly I am or beat myself up for my inherent failings and wrong behavior.

Because wouldn’t it stink if someone followed us around all the time, watching for the chance to say “GOTCHA!”? If every time we turned around, someone was waiting to throw a penalty at us? What kind of life would that be?

You know, I think that is possibly part of the reason why God did what He did. Conventional teaching says it was because of His great love for us, that no man should perish. It explains that God is holy and perfect and therefore it is greatly offensive for Him to be confronted with anything less than perfectly holy, and there had to be a sacrifice to bridge that gap.

I’m not disagreeing. I know all of that.

But have you ever considered that maybe it was also a way of God giving us a life we could enjoy (the abundant life discussed in the Bible)? I think it was partly about creating an environment in which we’re welcomed with open arms, not afraid to come to Him—because even though God knows all about us, and is clear about who He is, he doesn’t want a barrier between us. He designed us to have relationships with Him and with each other.

And how amazing is that?

A friend recently said that if your idea of sin is small, your God is small. If you don’t see how lost you were and how much you are in need of a savior, you can’t truly celebrate the enormity of being found. So I started praying about it—do I lean too far towards the concept of grace? Am I shortchanging God or living in denial about all that I’ve done wrong? Have I truly turned away from my sins and been changed? Am I full of pride or ego, or am I realistic about how badly I need God?

The next day, I was practicing the talk I was to give at a prayer workshop the following day, just checking the timing and smoothness of it. It was all about grace. About how God doesn’t beat us up, but just wants us to turn to Him. About how I’m flawed and not more holy than someone else, and how ironic it is that someone who fails as often as I do could write not one but two books about prayer. About how I think that’s why I got to write those books—to tell people it’s okay to not be perfect. The only thing that sets me apart in even the slightest way is that when I fall short, I try again. I don’t let shame keep me away; I want God more than I want to dwell on what I’ve done wrong. And I believe that God wants me to come to Him. So I return to Him, again and again and again and again.

And as my words came out, so did the tears. I kept practicing anyway. By the end, I was sobbing—tears of thankfulness because of how deeply I believe it all to be true. Because I don’t deserve God’s magnanimous grace. I didn’t earn it. I can’t, on my own, be truly good. I can try, and I do. I get some things right, but I seriously mess up others. I sometimes deceive myself, and sometimes I have profound insights into who I am.

Sometimes I may think about it more than other times, but I do recognize what a gift it is. Because always, always, I try to remember who God is. 

And to me, He is a God of second (and third and 482nd) chances. His face lights up when I turn back to Him. His arms are open to welcome me. His head is inclined towards me, eager to listen, interested in what I have to say. Am I the center of the universe? Of course not. But God is big enough to be this personally invested in each and every one of us. He loves each of us enough to delight in us. When we turn to Him, we’re not keeping Him from doing bigger and better things. We’re being who He created us to be.

He’s not following us around looking for reasons to penalize us. He doesn’t rejoice when we mess up. But when we come to Him because we just want to be with Him, I believe He celebrates.

He’s not hiding behind a barricade, waiting to pounce. We can relax, let down our guard. And open our hearts to the knowledge that He’s not trying to trip us up. He’s not setting us up for failure.

When we live life as though He is the God of “gotcha!”, we’re belittling the fulfilling life that He has given us and we’re shortchanging ourselves.

We can’t pretend the law isn’t there. We shouldn’t overlook our transgressions and missteps. But we don’t have to live in that place of remorse and regret and shame. Once we’ve acknowledged what is in our rearview mirrors, we need to put our eyes back on the road ahead—the one He’s on with us.

And floor it.

Searching for that elusive bigger room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not only in my dreams.

Prayer for the mom without a mom

Dear Lord, Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer. It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels ...

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Dear Lord,

Mother’s Day is hard. It’s difficult to celebrate this role when the one who taught me the most, the one whose opinion mattered so much, isn’t here any longer.

It’s hard to think about how to be what my children need when I face this gaping hole, an absence where it still feels like my mom should be. When, even after several years, I feel lost… adrift… permanently damaged, even as I go about my days. I’m not depressed. But I miss her. I feel perpetually lonely without her.

On a day like today, all I can think about is what my mom did for me. How she—even through her criticisms—was my unconditional place. My biggest supporter and strongest cheerleader. How she saw what was bad, misguided, or just plain wrong in my actions—and didn’t hesitate to say so—because she believed I was capable of so much more. Because she thought I was so much better than that.

I wonder now—when I rebelled, did it hurt her the way my own kids hurt me?

Did she stand firm in her opinions anyway, simply because there was no other choice? Because she had to be the mom she knew I needed, rather than the one I thought I wanted?

Did she lie awake at night, wondering if she was doing right by her kids?

Did she fume all day when I yelled at her unjustly?

And even so, did she defend me, instinctively, against any and all criticisms?

Did she mourn over her inability to protect me from people who would hurt me, injure my opinion of myself, break my heart?

I’m certain she did. As a teen, I was oblivious to that. As a parent myself, I now understand her better. Lord, You gave me wonderful mom, and I’m so grateful. And You’ve blessed me with remarkable, amazing children. So why do I feel more like crying than rejoicing?

Because I fully recognize all that I lost. All that she was to me. All that a mom should be to her child. And I’m afraid I can’t live up. I’m afraid I’ve already failed irreparably. I’m afraid my kids will never understand the depths of my love for them. My desperation to shield them from all that could harm them. My unlimited hopes and aspirations for them. They may never understand how deeply I feel the things that hurt them. Or how much I believe in them.

Maybe they’ll get it when they have children of their own.

Maybe someday they’ll cling to You when they realize they don’t have control over their own kids’ lives. Maybe they’ll live in awe of a God who loves us with a Father’s love. Maybe they’ll understand that we are forever connected, whether we’re both on this earth or not. Maybe they’ll grasp the reality that parenting well involves huge risk. It involves making unpopular decisions and hard choices and knowing that we can’t fix everything. It requires being hands-off sometimes when our instincts tell us to cling tight. It consists of a love so great that it isn’t changed by circumstances, actions, achievements—or by disappointments or failures. Our hearts are forever tethered to each other.

Lord, as I write this, I feel my heart loosening. My gratitude welling up. My sadness is still there but not bringing me down… instead, it’s lifting up my head, directing my sight towards You. Because I do have reasons to celebrate. Reasons so much greater than flowers and gifts or the perfect card.

I have You. And I had her (and will always have her, even if she’s not here). And I have my kids.

And I do have joy… in spite of the sadness. But on this day, with Your help, I will let joy prevail. Thank You, Lord.

Amen.

When you want more

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

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[Originally posted at Internet Café Devotions.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why was I so discontent?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His faithful love endures forever

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

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And this is why I am thankful today.

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

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

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

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

Looking for gratitude

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

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[As posted today on Internet Café.]

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

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

Because the truth is I do not always feel grateful.

What do you want to show me, Lord?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One plus one equals so much more than two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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