5 Problems Rooted in Pinterest (and 3 tips to get past them)

I am already anticipating a mob of angry people reacting to this headline, so let me start with this: Pinterest is not bad. In fact, it can be pretty wonderful. I’m as guilty as the next person of getting lost in time, clicking and pinning and planning and thinking. I have inspiration boards for clients’ ...

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I am already anticipating a mob of angry people reacting to this headline, so let me start with this: Pinterest is not bad. In fact, it can be pretty wonderful. I’m as guilty as the next person of getting lost in time, clicking and pinning and planning and thinking. I have inspiration boards for clients’ logos, customer service campaigns, my daughter’s forthcoming wedding, ideas for handmade jewelry and organization projects, and (of course) recipes. I have boards of books to read and writing tips and inspirational quotes and prayer journaling. It’s a great source for inspiration and ideas. It’s all good and fine.

Unless it isn’t. And you’re the only one who can judge that. Hear me out.

I don’t mean to pick on Pinterest here. Much of this could be applied to any social media or online pursuit, but Pinterest’s very nature makes some of these potential problems more likely. As you read, ask yourself if you’ve let any of these five aspects get out of hand. And then ask God to help you restore balance in your life.

1. Pinterest makes it easy to compare ourselves to others—and believe we don’t measure up.

We are to establish our identity in Christ, not base it on others’ opinions. But when we spend enough time online, we may feel we don’t measure up in real life. Those perfect birthday parties? I don’t have time to make an elaborate cake, personalized invitations, themed party games, and take-home goodie bags filled with healthy, nutritious, delicious and beautiful snacks. So I may feel as though I’ve cheated my child, and carry around guilt that doesn’t do me nor my child any good. Or I may feel dislike for others who seem to be outshining me. The reality, though, is that I was fine until I saw what everyone else (supposedly) is doing. And perhaps the only reason I burned our dinner tonight, showing I don’t fit among the ranks of the world’s chefs, was because I spent too long scrolling through the picture-perfect “quick and easy crock pot meals” board.

2. Skewed expectations for ourselves may lead to unnecessary, unwanted pressure.

When I think what I see online is “normal,” not only do I feel as though I’m not as competent or accomplished as everyone else is, but it may lead to setting outlandishly high, time-consuming goals for myself. When they serve to motivate us, goals are beneficial. But when they cause us to continually strive (rather than learn to rest in our identity as a child of God who can never “earn” favor), unrealistic goals will just lead to disappointment. When rooted in a desire to compete, rather than being founded on God-given direction for our lives, outlandish goals gobble up time that could be better spent on other pursuits.

3. Dwelling on picture-perfect, Pinterest-perfect lives may lead to dissatisfaction with our own.

So many people have dream home boards (myself included), which can make me long for a bigger, prettier, more expensive house. Fashion boards, showing expensive clothing on unhealthily thin models, tempt me to overspend so I can look better (or under-eat to fit into that dress). Screen after screen filled with picture-perfect family portraits, creatively orchestrated and perfectly coordinated, makes me jealous of the family who doesn’t have anything better to do, and who has the time and money and ability to coordinate the whole family’s schedules to make it happen. Each of us has our own insecurities, so what bothers me may not faze you, and vice versa. But when we’re saturated with the ideal instead of focusing on reality, we’ll feel disappointment with our lot in life.

4. Showing off your material blessings—or presenting yourself as someone who’s “all that”—is rooted in pride.

When I go online, I get to create the impression people will have of me. If I post Bible verses and photos of my coffee mug sitting next to an open Bible, people will think I have a strong faith life. If I post lots of child-rearing tips, healthy recipes, and sappy family pictures, people will think I’m a good parent. Trying to make yourself appear to be something you’re not is not good for you, and it’s not helpful for all those who will see it and think they can’t measure up.

5. Using Pinterest (or Twitter or Facebook or Instagram) too much may be a way to avoid real life.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that when I spend hours browsing in a Christian bookstore (or on prayer boards on Pinterest), it’s often rooted in a hunger to go deeper in my faith. But because I am human, I will spend all the time I could have used to finish that Bible study or start that prayer journal by reading about different ways to do it, studying tips, gathering supplies, and so on.

Losing yourself in the world of Pinterest—even when it’s a wholesome or positive topic—can be a sign that you’re avoiding the real world or simply a distraction that keeps you from getting anything productive done. If finding those housekeeping tips enables you to spend an extra 20 minutes reading your child’s favorite book, or gives you time to take a stress-releasing walk, then thank God for Pinterest. But if you’re viewing life as nothing more than a stage for you to create the perfect post, you probably need to reset your thinking and try to live in the moment, enjoying the life you’ve been given.

If you see yourself in any of the problems above, try these three simple tips for maintaining balance.

1. Set limits.

Don’t give time to Pinterest that you can’t afford to lose. If you know that you lose track of time when browsing, set a timer. And then go back to interacting with actual people in your actual home in whatever flawed and authentic manner you’re able to do.

2. Log off…

…when you find yourself intimidated, discontent or envious. This may mean you need to take a long break, or maybe just come back tomorrow when you’re rested.

3. Pray.

Dear Lord, we are fortunate to have all of these luxuries and technology, including access to Pinterest and the leisure time to spend using it. Help us use it for the right reasons—to enhance our lives, not disrupt them. To offer inspiration (not unattainable perfection) to others. To simplify, not complicate. To be inspired and motivated, not be distracted from what matters. Forgive us for all the ways we allow the priorities in our lives to be unbalanced, and help us keep our sights and priorities set on You. Because You never fail. You never judge or envy or condemn us for failure. And unlike anything else we’ll ever see, You alone are perfect. Amen.

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

11 Bad Ways to Study Your Bible

I struggled with this piece, because really, I could write it in one sentence: The only bad way to study your Bible is to NOT DO IT. See? Easy and simple. Done. But nothing in life is ever that simple, is it? And studying the Bible is a complex and often intimidating endeavor. Just like ...

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I struggled with this piece, because really, I could write it in one sentence: The only bad way to study your Bible is to NOT DO IT.

See? Easy and simple. Done.

But nothing in life is ever that simple, is it? And studying the Bible is a complex and often intimidating endeavor.

Just like with any practice of our faith, and no matter how good our intentions, we will fall short. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to assure you that it’s normal and that no one (including God) expects perfection. If I can be real for a minute, I’ll confess that I have approached reading the Bible with a bunch of attitudes that have prevented me from getting the most out of it. Somehow, probably because God is more generous than I can fathom and because there’s such depth to the word of God, I’ve walked away, nearly every time, with a nugget of wisdom or a deeper sense of peace. I bet you have, too.

Read on and see if any of these thoughts have passed through your mind, and then let’s pray together for help overcoming and understanding.

“I’ll take this… and this… but not that.” (Picking and choosing individual verses)

You can find a verse to support nearly any opinion you want to express. But the truth is, this only works if you take the verses out of context—if you neglect to look at who the author of that passage was, who he was speaking to, and how the verse fits into the scope of the whole gospel story. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on one verse or finding related passages as you study a topic. But there is danger in pulling it all out of context, because that’s when we can accidentally assign meaning that wasn’t originally intended. Our search for God is a search for truth-with-a-capital-T, and deceiving ourselves by not looking at the whole story won’t get us there.

“What she said.”(Relying only on other people’s teachings and interpretations)

I love a good Bible study—workbook pages with blanks just waiting to be filled in. Busy-work of copying verses, videos that set the stage, lay out the story, and lead you to the desired conclusion. There’s value in that—but will you remember it in six months or six years? When we learn something on our own, it stays with us longer. The Bible is one of the ways that God speaks to us today, and we have to interact with it personally in order to hear God’s voice and direction. Trust your instincts and look for meaning on your own. I promise you, it is there.

“I’m smarter than that; what does he know?” (Ignoring other people’s teachings and interpretations)

On the other hand, it’s arrogant to believe that we have a deeper understanding of these complex stories than men and women who made it their life’s work to study what God said about those gold-edged pages. When you want to go deeper, or when you’re struggling to make sense of it, turn to other sources to enrich what you’ve found on your own.

“Abracadabra…” (Randomly opening to a page for a “message”)

Don’t get me wrong: at times, I think that God leads me to a certain verse for a particular time. But we cannot expect that whenever we ask God a question, the first verse we see will be a direct answer, tailored to our situation, from the God of all eternity. God’s Word has unfathomable power, but it’s not magic and it’s not a lottery. We can’t treat the Bible as a buffet—picking and choosing whatever sounds good, leaving behind what doesn’t. God’s answers aren’t always easy, and sometimes the hardest thing to digest is exactly what we need.

“I’ve got this.” (Reading the Bible without benefit of prayer)

The Holy Spirit—the Helper—gives us understanding. The Bible’s pages only have meaning when viewed through the lens of prayer. We cannot come to an accurate interpretation or their meaning in our life until we allow God to lead us there, and when we forget to bathe the whole experience in prayer, we’re missing the most valuable thing: God’s presence and guidance. Faith is not a solo experience—we cannot have it without inviting God to be part of it. To get the most out of your study time, pray before, during, and after.

“Ain’t got time for that.” (Reading it just to be done with it)

Those year-long Bible reading plans don’t work for me, because I find myself treating it like homework—hurrying through so that I can say I’m done. When we rush, we’re cheating God, because in effect we’re saying, “Hurry up, God, I don’t have time for you.” Slow down. Ponder what you read, and listen for God to reveal meaning.

“God had better bless me for doing this.” (Reading the Bible resentfully)

Reading the Bible can be incredibly fulfilling—or a dry, laborious task. It all depends on your attitude. If you’re only doing it because someone said you had to, you’re not going to get much out of it. Reading the Bible does not earn our salvation, but it’s important because it strengthens our faith and encourages us to stand firm.

“I don’t think this part matters.” (Forgetting that God inspired every bit of the Bible)

Whether you take it all literally or figuratively, and whatever version of the Bible you read, it’s all important. We’re tempted to skip over the “boring” stuff—the genealogies, for example. But did you know that the meanings of the names, even in those long, dry lists, often tell a deeper story? Expect there to be more than initially meets the eye, because there usually is.

“I’ll show them.” (Reading to get “ammunition” against someone)

Ask anyone who’s ever been “beaten over the head” with Scripture—some people use God’s word as a weapon, wielding these holy words to prove you wrong, to back up their prejudices, or defend their sins, or (somehow) to make themselves appear more holy. God’s word should be used to guide our lives, strengthen our faith, and to teach us to live as Jesus did, not to allow us to say “gotcha!”

“That’s old news – irrelevant.” (Ignoring the Old Testament)

We now live under grace, right? The Old Testament no longer applies—or so many people think. The truth is that the New Testament is all about Jesus and the sacrifice he made for us to give us eternal and abundant life, but that doesn’t negate all that came before. The gospel story is rich in its heritage and history. The Old Testament is filled with references to the Messiah, situations in which Jesus is foreshadowed, and revealing the problems for which the only answer is Christ. Getting a grasp on the whole story can deepen our faith and enrich our understanding, revealing even more to us about the Messiah.

“Been there, done that.” (Assuming you already know everything there is to know about a passage)

I’ve read that the most-skipped parts of any book or article are Bible verses, because if we spend much time in church or study, we’ve heard so many of them before. Our gut response is to skip a familiar section, but even the most-studied passages can often yield an unexpected, insightful nuance if we approach them with an open mind. Slow down and you may be surprised what you discover.

A Prayer to Start Your Bible Study

Dear Lord, You are the author of this book, the author of our fates, the author of our lives. Give us a passion for hearing from You through the Bible, and open our understanding. Let us approach the Bible with belief that it is true, You are real, and Your Word will add meaning to our lives. Thank You for this gift and opportunity to get to know You better. Amen.

 

This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com.

10 powerful quotes that will change the way you live

Have you ever looked at a familiar verse in an unfamiliar Bible translation? Most of us have a preferred version, but reading it in a different translation often sheds new light on its meaning. It may reveal nuances, clarify details, or otherwise point us towards a deeper understanding. As Christians, we view the Bible as ...

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Have you ever looked at a familiar verse in an unfamiliar Bible translation? Most of us have a preferred version, but reading it in a different translation often sheds new light on its meaning. It may reveal nuances, clarify details, or otherwise point us towards a deeper understanding.

As Christians, we view the Bible as the ultimate authority on life—but sometimes, a fresh way of wording it is like having a new translation, providing additional revelation. As you ponder these 10 powerful quotes (and related Bible references), let them change the way you live your faith.

Prayer requires more of the heart than of the tongue. ~ Adam Clarke

How many times have you thought “I have no idea what to say” in prayer? When situations wear us down or circumstances make us weary, it may be difficult to put our thoughts into words in prayer. Lucky for us, words aren’t necessary. God knows what’s in your heart, even if you can’t find language to express that. Simply be still, and know that He is God. (Psalm 46:10)

Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them. ~ Elisabeth Elliot

Faith is not the absence of doubt, but a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9). God is big enough, powerful enough, and certain enough to withstand our questions and lead us to the answers. His gift of faith takes the pressure off us. Our role is to simply accept it, use it as a tool to navigate life—and know Who to turn to for answers when we inevitably have questions.

Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all. ~ Catherine Marshall

A friend once asked me, “So when I yelled at God and said I was mad at Him, was that prayer?” Without hesitating, I answered, “Absolutely.” Think about it: if prayer is simply communication with God, then isn’t any kind of expression of feelings—whether loving or angry, gentle or harsh—a form of prayer? Authenticity touches the heart of God and reveals just how merciful and generous He is. Honestly, whether we admit anger or not, He already knows what we feel (1 Samuel 16:7). So talk to Him openly and freely.

If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others. ~ Brennan Manning

I once heard someone say that having all our sins broadcast on the 5:00 news would be the best thing that could happen. Can you imagine the shame and horror of everyone knowing it all? Terrible, right? Until you realize how that would rob shame of its power over us. When our sins are exposed, they can be healed. Until we’re healed (and forgiven), we won’t be effective at shining God’s light into other peoples’ lives. You never know who might need to hear how God rescued you, so don’t be afraid to share your story. Nothing in your past is too dark to be overcome by God’s light. (1 John 1:5-7)

No one has ever become poor by giving. ~ Anne Frank

You hear words like faith and love and peace mentioned in relation to God all the time. A word we use less—but which is no less important—is generosity. God gives abundantly, beyond what is required, and Jesus taught us to do the same. You can’t out-give God, and you can’t lose. Give cheerfully and not grudgingly, out of the overflow of gratitude in your heart for all that God has done for you. The gifts He gives us in return far surpass anything we had to offer in the first place (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, Luke 6:38), and, along the way, you’ll find that you have more than enough.

Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him. ~ C.S. Lewis

We have free will. Even though God is present everywhere and nothing happens without His awareness, He doesn’t cause the bad things to happen. There are natural consequences and ramifications to our actions, and we often make poor decisions. What is amazing is the way God can take any situation—betrayal, grief, loss (of health, relationships, security), despair—and bring something good out of it in spite of us. But just imagine how much better life would be if we didn’t get in His way in the first place. (Romans 8:28)

Prayer trumps panic every time. ~ Rachel Wojo

Worry about nothing; pray about everything. Sounds good in theory but it’s harder to hold on to this when panic sets in—when the disconnect notice is waiting on your door or the test results make your heart sink or the person you love turns their back on you. But panic gets us nowhere, and in fact, it keeps us from being able to see the truth of who God is. Jesus told us to ask, to seek, to trust, and to have faith. Panicking isn’t the most productive (or fun) way to live out those ideas. (Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:6-7)

Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is its most essential part. ~ Andrew Murray

When I find myself babbling nonstop, it’s either because I’m extremely excited—or I really don’t want to hear what the other person has to say. Perhaps I’m afraid of their response, or too self-centered to care about their opinion. Think about the ramifications of that in a conversation with God. No good conversation is ever one-sided—but if there was ever a time that it would be, it would be when God is the one doing the talking. Many of us approach prayer as our chance to tell God what we think, but in humility, we should recognize that His words carry much greater weight than ours. I believe He wants to hear from us—but because He loves us, He also wants to teach us, guide us, and comfort us. In order to receive those things, we have to stop and listen. (John 10:27)

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. ~ Brennan Manning

Jesus said in John 17 that the world would know that His message is true when they see the unity of His followers. If I am a walking advertisement for God, do I want to be responsible for misrepresenting the God of the Universe? Not only that, but if I truly welcome Jesus into my life, the reality is that people will see Him in the way I live. If you don’t see Him in your life, or if you think others would not have a clue Who you belong to, take a step back. Ask God to become real to you, and be willing to let yourself be changed by Him. (1 John 3:16-18)

All you need is love.~ The Beatles

In the end, love is all that matters. Jesus said the greatest commandment was to love God with all our hearts, mind and strength—but, second, we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. The Bible says love covers a multitude of sins. It is the hallmark and very genesis of our faith, and our faith is a response to the enormous love God offered to us in the beginning. If all the other concepts overwhelm you, if you can just handle one at a time, focus on this one. The Author of love will be more than enough—all that you need. (1 Corinthians 13:13, 1 John 4:7)

Dear Lord, speak to me. Live in me and instruct me. Guide me and help me to honor You, so that when the world sees me, they ultimately notice You. Amen.

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.

How to pray without ceasing

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

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

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

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

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

1. Begin with gratitude.

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

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

2. Get real.

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

3. Incorporate prayer into everyday chores.

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

4. Tell Him what He already knows.

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

5. Pray while you wait.

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

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

6. Sing a song of praise.

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

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

7. When you mess up, admit it.

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

8. Give up worrying.

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

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

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

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

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

Start Praying Now

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

This article first appeared on 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 :-).

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

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

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

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



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

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



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

___________________________________________________________________

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

__________________________________________________________________

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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.

Empowered by the Spirit (freebies and a giveaway!)

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32 Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels ...

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They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” ~Luke 24:32

Have you ever had one of those moments? Where you’re going about your ordinary business, trying to make sense of things, when all of a sudden it feels as though your heart is on fire? When the hope wells up and overflows? When emotions are high and everything feels possible?

When you know—just know—that God is near?

This verse from Luke kept running through my mind as I read Suzanne Eller’s new book, The Spirit-Led Heart.

I have always connected closely with the idea of the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s because I go to a Pentecostal-ish church and we operate by the Spirit, seeking after Him, not making excessive plans for the service but instead trying to connect and follow the Spirit. Maybe it goes back to the early, exciting days of my faith, when God opened my eyes to see Him in new ways, and I devoured books like Catherine Marshall’s The Helper. Whatever the reason, the minute I heard the name of Suzie Eller’s new book, I knew that it would be one that would be important to me.

When I had the chance to be an early reader, I jumped at it, and even so, it exceeded my expectations. It’s one thing for someone to inspire you, and Suzie is one person I watch and learn from. She’s the real deal, and I’ve learned to trust her guidance because I’ve seen how she truly lives her faith and always points people back to Him. She tries to never get in the way but to do her part and then get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

But it goes deeper than that. This book woke up my spirit again. It reminded me why I love my God like I do. It reminded me of how the Spirit enlightens and informs and encourages and empowers. And it made me realize how much I was shortchanging myself by not embracing the Spirit in every step that I take.

It showed me that I may be walking that road to Emmaus, just as the disciples in the book of Luke, and I may be talking about God, but so often I find myself oblivious to Jesus’ presence and forget that He is RIGHT HERE. RIGHT NOW.

Here’s the promise: that God is near. And WITH GOD, all things are possible. The gift of the Spirit isn’t something for a select few—it’s a treasure that we can open again and again, every single day. It will shape every moment and change the way we live.

When I finished reading, I asked Suzie if she would consider allowing me to design my May prayer prompt calendar around themes from The Spirit-Led Heart. Graciously, she said yes.

So this month, as always, I’m sending you a prayer prompt calendar to help jump-start your prayers for the month. But this time it feels different to me. The gift Suzie gave to me when I read her inspired words is impossible to measure or quantify, but it was huge. By offering this calendar to you, I hope that I am offering you so much more than another colorful piece of paper. And when I recommend this book to you, I hope you believe me when I say this is not a lukewarm recommendation. I’m not supporting the book’s message out of obligation or charity. I’m involved with it because it changed things for me, and it has the potential to do the same for you.

So right after you download the calendar for May, I hope you’ll click over to Amazon (or your favorite bookseller) and order a copy or two. Ask God to show you who you should share them with. Give yourself this gift and let the book open up discussions about the Holy Spirit with your friends and family.

DOWNLOAD THE CALENDAR HERE
and then read on to enter a GIVEAWAY and get some awesome freebies!

If you order the book before May 1 (the release date), Suzie is offering some awesome pre-order bonuses on her website.

  1. Two chapters delivered immediately to your inbox so you don’t have to wait to get started reading
  2. A gorgeous printable Spirit-Led Heart Manifesto
  3. Be entered to win full registration fee to Suzie’s fall women’s retreat (I’ve been and it is awesome!)
  4. And, of course, the printable 30-day Spirit-Led Heart prayer calendar designed by yours truly (which you can get anyway since you subscribe to my newsletter)

The details of how to get your downloads are on her website, too.

Also, I’m giving away two copies of this book! To enter to win, simply tag a friend on Facebook below my post about this and say why you want her to read the book or download the calendar. If you’re not on Facebook, print an extra copy of the calendar to share with a friend and comment below this blog post telling me you did so. If your name is drawn, I will mail you twocopies of the book (one for you and one for your friend), along with print-outs of this month’s prayer calendar. Deadline to enter is May 5 (date randomly chosen because 5 is the number of grace), so be sure to comment now so you don’t miss your chance to enter.

Lord, I pray for every person reading this prayer, that they may come to know the fullness of the power of Your Spirit. That they might embrace it and see You. I ask You to banish their fears and let them be confident in Your love. I implore You to empower them with supernatural power—inspire them, heal them, lead them, inform them. Love them as only You can love. Amen.

A Prayer for Those Who Are Moving Forward—like it or not

Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until ...

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Last week, I hired movers to haul a ridiculous number of boxes filled with office supplies and art materials. They unloaded them in Ladoga, Indiana, in the building that was my dad’s studio. Some of you know that he was a professional watercolorist, and he worked out of his old, small-town-downtown storefront from 1990 until this past summer. Losing him was devastating and heartbreaking and all that you would expect it to be.

I’ve had my ups and downs. This past couple weeks has seen more tears than usual, though, because for these past seven months, we’ve been trying hard to do things the way Dad would have—matting and framing his art, putting on a sale of his remaining pieces that he would have been proud of, steadfastly refusing to move a thing on his credenza. It was like if we didn’t disturb his brushes and paints, we could hold on to him a little longer.

But the truth is, we can’t get him back.

Nevertheless, when I hired a guy to repaint the walls (going from Dad’s country blue and tan to my bolder eggplant purple and warm gray), I felt like I was painting over him. Erasing his presence. When I moved his painting stuff out of the way of the painter, I fought tears, because it felt wrong to change things.

And then I came home and cried all night.

Sunday morning, as I stood in the second row of my church, I felt the words of the praise song wash over me. We sang the chorus again and again and I felt a kind of exhilaration rising up within me—hope, God’s promises of renewal. Quietly, I stood there, eyes closed, arms raised, thinking about moving forward. Wanting God to heal me, to make me new and whole again. To help me stop hurting.

We were singing the song “Moving Forward,” and it contains these lines:

I’m not going back, I’m moving ahead
Here to declare to you my past is over in you
All things are made new, surrendered my life to Christ…
Yes, you make all things new and I will follow you forward

I think when people talk about wanting to put their pasts behind them, they’re usually talking about their sins… Mistakes, what we’ve done wrong, destructive behavior. Regrets. We all have plenty of that. But what I realized Sunday morning is this: sometimes the past is behind us even if we don’t want it to be. I’d give anything to go back, for my dad to still be alive. But I can’t make that happen.

And although it’s tempting to try to hold on to that—to create a shrine to my dad, to tiptoe around his studio space and blow the dust off of his things that I’m refusing to move because of the fact that he was the one who put them there—it doesn’t bring him back. It doesn’t make me miss him any less. It doesn’t help me heal.

I feel like God showed me that being there, inhabiting that space in my own way, is part of my healing. That there’s healing in moving forward—in looking towards what God has for me, and not dwelling in the sorrow. It doesn’t mean I’ll stop missing him. It doesn’t mean I’m glad he’s gone.

It just means that God’s not done with me. I’m still here and there’s still hope. There’s still redemption. There’s still growth and joy and happiness. And they don’t only exist behind me, but they’re waiting for me when I take some small steps forward.

Oh, hey, what a moment you have brought me to
Such a freedom I have found in you
You’re the healer who makes all things new…

Lord, let the Holy Spirit wash over those who are reading this, who are listening to this song… soothe the hurts and heal the wounds of those who are missing someone. Who feel lost or alone. Who are sorrowful or paralyzed by their grief. You are with the ones we love. You are closer to them than we are, and we know they’re in good hands. We also know that those very same hands can hold us close and bring us comfort. Lord, hold us tight and don’t let us go, and let us find hope and empowerment and renewal with you. Amen.

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