All My Hope is in You

How many times have I sung that song? How many times have I breathed that prayer? How many times have I told hurting friends that God is in control?

And yet weeks like this – weeks where I can’t figure out just how you are going to work something out so I drive myself crazy trying to figure it out for you, where my fear overwhelms, where that human instinct to control and correct and protect myself kicks in as if you are not my shelter and provider, so before I know it I am running full-bore seeking comfort and answers everywhere but you, these weeks show the lie of my heart.

My actions show that my hope is not in you.

I confess all this poisonous doubt in my heart.

Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you! Jeremiah 32:17

My confession today is that I don’t believe this verse and the thousands like it, even though I want to.

My confession today is that the things we face are so much bigger than us, and we need you to work miracles again, and I feel needy and weak for asking, even though I know you are good and I know you love me. I see you sometimes as a last resort – instead of the lover of my soul who wants me to come to you first.

My confession today is that I so quickly forget how PERFECTLY faithful you have been to provide for us. You have never let us down, you have never let us fall – and yet each time I test you again as if I don’t know that.

My confession today is that I am so quick to doubt, and I ask you to give me more faith. You are the author of all that is good in me and I want you to have more of my heart – all of my heart.

I’m sorry my faithful mighty God. I remain, as always, lost without you.

My biggest confession is that all my hope is in you. I’m so grateful for that truth today. And I’m so grateful for forgiveness and grace deeper than the ocean.

The Revolution of Motherhood

When I became a wife, I advanced as a person. I (slowly) began to consider another person’s feelings, I (slowly) began to realize that my way of thought and action was not always the perfect path, and I (slowly) grew into someone grateful for the protection and release of control that my husband brought into my life. Going from single to married was, and in fact still is, an experience of sanctification, where I am slowly transforming from sinful and selfish to graceful and considerate.

Becoming a mother, however, was a revolution for me. It wasn’t slow, in fact it was instantaneous. And the change in me can only be defined as “a sudden, radical, or complete change”. 2

I became, literally overnight, a creature that I myself didn’t recognize. I transformed from a very practical person into one who was often driven by sentiment. I was overwhelmed with the insecurity and enormity of parenthood. I remember being in the hospital with my oldest daughter Grace on her second day of life, looking at this beautiful frail little human reliant on me for survival, and feeling utterly incompetent for the task. I was humbled. Before I was a mom, I was convinced I would be great at it. Since becoming a mom, I am painfully aware of how far I have to go. I have cried many tears over my girls, begging God to make me more than I am for their sake. I want to be better for them. I want to be rid of the things in me that hurt them – the anger and selfishness and coldness to their needs that often stubbornly remains. I am changed. Even my body changed, from angular and thin to curvy with pounds I cannot seem to ever shed. I was shocked at the power, both during my pregnancies and immediately postpartum, of the hormones that rushed through my system. It was profound, definite, and sudden. I was altered by things completely out of my ability to control. I was vulnerable. My first daughter was sick through most of her first year of life with kidney and esophageal reflux, and I was acutely aware of how little I could do to control her health and welfare. I would pray over my girls’  beds as they went to sleep, begging the Lord to protect them and fight for them through the night. I so often felt powerless, but for God. It made me desperate for Him – fully aware of my dependence. As they grew older, I would watch them on a playground, praying to calm my anxious mother-heart, watching for slights or falls and telling myself the truth that letting go is good for me and them. I have had to learn to hold my children in an open hand and not a clenched fist – daily lessons in trusting my Father’s heart for them. Parts of me have died, replaced by stronger stuff. My friends laugh about even the small, silly ways I changed. I went from a fast, reckless driver to a hands-at-10-and-2, slow, deliberate driver and I went from a person impatient with silliness to regularly shopping on the Disney aisle of Target and actually enjoying it. It was revolutionary.

When we left the hospital with our first child, we were terrified. We had this little person in our backseat, and we didn’t feel up to the task. If the hospital would have allowed it, I would have loaded my nurse Diana into the backseat with me. I was frozen with fear that I could not do this without her. Driving home (so slowly and carefully that we laugh about it now), the world looked different to me. I kept staring around me in shock and exhaustion. Was I really that different? Why did everything look so weird? The actual road to our house looked different, and it took me a moment in my ‘new mother haze’ to realize what had happened.

Here in Texas, we have thousands of different variations of pear trees. And during the 4 days I was in the hospital, the pear trees that lined our street had gone from fully green to fully bloomed with white. It was beautiful, and completely unexpected. In the dark little cave of a hospital room where I met my daughter, I didn’t see the gradual but complete transformation. But it happened, and driving home I experienced it, and I cried because it seemed a metaphor for what I was feeling.

It was like the world was new, and I with it.

My girls’ birthdays are a day apart and this week, as they do every year on their birthdays, the pear trees have begun to bloom. Every year when I see them change I am moved – remembering the change in me now 5 years ago. I tell my girls that all of these trees are their trees – that they bloom on their birthday as a sign from God that they are loved and special. And I believe it is true, and that I share in that blessing. The girls even call the trees “Gracie and Bekah Trees” and they squeal in glee when they see them. And I’m touched by them too. Every year their bloom is like my own personal love-note from the Lord – a reminder that every little death in me is good and only serves to bring life because of our resurrection Savior.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and springs in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:19

Becoming a mother was a revolution. It has been the most difficult, overwhelming, priceless, beautiful thing that has ever happened to me. I am forever altered by it. I am constantly reminded that in my weakness, He is strong. I know now that I need Jesus desperately, and I’m so grateful for that lesson of dependence.

I have loved being a mother. This week, as my girls turn five and three, and as the pear trees bloom transforming the world once again, I am grateful that I was chosen, incompetent as I might be, to be Grace and Rebekah’s mother, by a Father that does not leave us in our sin and selfishness, but transforms us into people of grace and holiness like His Son.

We are all being made new, friends, and that is revolutionary.

*I am always aware as I write a blog like this that many of my friends, despite a desire for marriage and children, have not yet been granted that desire. I pray nothing in this blog would discourage you. A friend once told me that she believed she had gotten married early because the Lord knew she needed the sanctification of marriage to grow. I thought that was a great perspective and that idea resonated. I am fully confident that the Lord who loves us is good, whether He chooses to sanctify us through marriage, through greater lengths of singleness than we would desire, through financial or other difficulty, or through parenthood. I pray that today you would rest in the truth that the Lord has a perfect plan for each of His sons and daughters and that He loves you and has not forgotten you.

Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me

So I have a new person I want to be when I grow up – Dr. Karyn Purvis. She’s a precious, lovely, brilliant child-development guru who wrote The Connected Child and spoke at the Empowered to Connect Conference this weekend that Justin and I attended. She has spent the last 15 years of her life helping adoptive parents and adopted children heal and connect and I just fell in love with her heart for children from hard places.

Sometimes I feel like a bit of a poser when it comes to the adoption thing. I love it, know we are called to it, but also know that our time has not yet come. So we go to these conferences and we’re surrounded by people in the trenches who are giving their lives, time, money, energy, and hearts to adopted and foster kids in the room, and there we sit with our two bio kids and a dream. And sometimes I feel a little foolish, frankly. But I also know that there is purpose in waiting, and that our vision for adoption has shifted even in these 3 years we have waited. I know that I am a better mom now than I was even a year ago (partially because of the amazing parenting strategies taught at conferences like the one I attended today). I know that the Lord is realigning my priorities even this week to focus on my family and He continues to shave the rough edges off the crazy woman that is Jen Wells. I know that this past few years, while we’ve waited, I’ve identified pretty unrealistic expectations in my heart of how this will all turn out, and I’ve watched those expectations die. I’ve learned to trust my Father more this past 3 years. I’ve become more of a person my kids can trust. So I can see that this wait has definitely served a purpose.

But still we wait. And we pray. And we read books and blogs. And we attend conferences. And we try desperately to be a light for our friends who have adopted, and be a safe person they can vent to and turn to when they need to take off their capes and be human and frustrated for a second.

He must become greater, I must become less. John 3:30

Now that verse sounds holy, right? But in recent weeks the life of John the Baptist, who made that beautiful statement of faith, has come up time and time again in my personal studies. This guy had spent his life predicting and proclaiming the coming Messiah. And He comes! John gets to baptize Him and hears the voice of God proclaiming that this is His Son. All of this is a huge mountaintop event – John is rare in humankind in that even while he is touching the shoulders of the flesh-bearing manifestation of the Son, He is seeing the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and hearing the voice of God the Father. So in essence – He experienced, with human senses, the Trinity. And that’s pretty amazing.

But then he’s sent to prison. While in prison, He sends Jesus a question – “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Basically John is suffering, and he wants to make sure he’s got it right. And Jesus sends a message back confirming miracles that have been prophesied about the Messiah – but He leaves one really important part of the prophesy out. He leaves out the part where the Messiah sets the prisoner free. And at the end of His message, He sends a note to John, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I’m not an expert on the Bible – but basically if I’m reading this right, Jesus’ message to John says something like this: “I am the Messiah. But I’m not going to free you from prison, my plans for you are different from what you expect. But you’ll be blessed if you still love and trust Me even unto death.”

That is some crazy deep stuff. I’ll be honest, that is hard stuff for me to wrap my mind around. But in so many ways – this idea of living unoffended is the message of people I admire and respect, was the message of this conference, and is the message I think the Lord has been trying to teach me during the last 3 years of my discomfort (it’s hard to call what we’ve experienced a trial after being in the room I was in today with people who have experienced real trials and who are parenting kids who have come from unimaginable trauma). We can choose to not be offended by Jesus in those places of pain and suffering, and because of that choice, we will be blessed. It isn’t natural and it isn’t easy to experience suffering and remain unoffended. It kind of makes you an oddball in this comfort-driven world, actually. But by God’s grace, we can choose to live that way. We can find joy, peace, and grace in the absolute middle of impossibly hard places and we can choose to love Jesus with every pitiful ounce of strength we have left in the midst of trial and pain – and when we do, we are blessed.

Today I sat in a room full of people who have counted the cost, and who have joined widows and orphans in their distress. They get this concept. They live unoffended while they live out James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” That verse took on new meaning to me this weekend. I think in my mind I saw adoption as rescuing orphans from a world of chaos and bringing them into our world of safety and love. But today I was taught that James 1:27 says we’ll visit them in their distress – so more often it is us entering into their pain, their suffering, and their trauma so that we can walk with them to safety and healing. It’s messy and beautiful and holy.

I don’t really know how to wrap this blog up, as I so often like to do. I just know that I want to love and encourage people who are doing their best to be faithful, even in suffering. Jesus said it, and I believe it – “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” God please help us to live unoffended.

It is not that simple

I am pretty fired up about something, and when I’m fired up, sometimes I come across as harsh. I pray that I would not come across as harsh today, but I do have something I’d love to lay out there for thought and discussion.

I have gotten, in my life, to hate oversimplification. When I do it, it is a pretty good indicator that I am judging based on pride and self-righteousness, instead of truth. It will drive me away from a politician, a preacher, a commentator, a professor, and even a friend. I think oversimplification is a tool to divide and destroy other people, and I am over it.

On the other hand, I have grown to LOVE people who have walked through deep pain and get the complexity of life, and are filled with grace because of their experience. There is a woman named Becky at my church and I’m drawn to her every time I am around her because she doesn’t try to figure out the Lord and His ways. She trusts. She prays. She loves her Bible, despite the confusing parts. She radiates peace and grace because she has come to accept the idea that the things that are important, and the things that are true, are incredibly and deeply complicated.

Like spaghetti tangled in and around our lives.

Instead of striving to untangle it, she takes that spaghetti to the foot of the cross and she lays it before the One who made her, and she leaves it there for HIM to untangle. She walks away in peace.

I love it. That is who I want to be. I want to be like Becky – calm and at rest with a God bigger than our understanding.

Because when we pretend that there is one truth or one idea that we can grasp onto that captures all of that spaghetti and straightens it out, we insult the person going through the challenge, and the complicated God who made us. We are not smart enough to figure out most of the ways of God and the trials people around us are going through, so why do we hurt each other when we try?

Pain isn’t simple. It is incredibly complex. When you talk to someone going through a dark difficult trial and you oversimplify it with cliché words and “memory verse” ideas – you can hurt them. When you give the trial a black-and-white reason or a purpose and don’t acknowledge the incredible pain of their circumstance, you alienate them. Why can’t we as people just say we are sorry, just pray, just draw near to God on their behalf, acknowledging we don’t know what they are going through, don’t know their pain, don’t have any words of wisdom, but are waiting on God to speak through us peace and blessings? Pain is complicated! Look at Job, look at Paul, look at Jesus – the reasons for their pain, and the delayed answers to their prayers, weren’t simple. Would we tell Jesus “God won’t give you more than you can handle” (which by the way – isn’t a Bible verse) as he cried and sweated blood in His pain? As the flesh was torn off His body? No! Because that isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right. So why do we tell each other that?

Conflict isn’t simple. You give me any conflict between brothers or friends or church members, and there will, every time, be people on both sides insisting on their righteousness and insisting on the other person’s guilt. But it’s not that simple. Conflict is spaghetti in itself – full of hurts and gossip and misunderstandings and reactions and ripple effects and there is rarely just one person in the wrong. But then the “advocates” get on the scene, and they take sides and oversimplify and point fingers and blame and suddenly this complicated reality of two sinful people in disagreement becomes this oversimplified and false “cause” one side against another. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.

Forgiveness isn’t simple. You can come across a friend processing the hurt and betrayal of conflict, and you see them at different points of their process, and you can judge that they aren’t forgiving, but you’d be wrong. Forgiveness takes time, and you daily fight off the replays that play and the emotion that overwhelms. Some days you fight those replays and emotions off all day long. And sometimes it doesn’t feel like forgiveness, but in the Christian life there is no condemnation and Jesus just wants us to take these hurts to Him, every time, as slowly He stops the replay and gives peace in place of the emotion. But for us to walk in the middle of that process and judge it as unforgiveness is insulting to your friend living out their holiness with fear and trembling and an insult to the God who doesn’t wave a magic wand over our hearts to change us, but instead works often in the quiet as we surrender our hurts and pains and needs to Him each day. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.

This is a small one – but politics isn’t simple. And to oversimplify and vilify one side, while pretending the other side is full of virtue, isn’t helpful. No party is full of demons or of angels, free of selfish influences or filled with them. Each party has great people who want to make the world a better place, just as each party is filled with entities only out for selfish gain. And when we vilify each other, acting like people are the enemy, we ignore the real enemy of our souls, seeking to destroy. It isn’t helpful, and in my opinion it is why an entire generation is over it. God did not send a party to save our country – and no party will do it. And to give a party, or a politician, the power to destroy us is just as harmful as giving them the power to save us. There is no Savior or Antichrist that will show up in American politics (in fact, there is great reason to doubt America will play any role in the end days). So to oversimplify one party as righteous, while vilifying the other, is a meaningless endeavor. It isn’t helpful. It isn’t holy. It isn’t right.

Here’s the deal. God is complex. The Bible is complex. I doubt in history there has ever been a more confusing and sometimes contradictory thing as the revelation of the God who created everything to a people who aren’t even built to understand Him. And I would rather people be in love with a God we cannot understand, forcing our minds to rest in that lack of knowledge, begging Him for moments of understanding when things are so incredibly complicated, than to oversimplify things to bite-sized nuggets perfect for crocheting on our Bible covers while we miss His heart altogether.

God can not be simplified.

We cannot understand Him.

Why do we even try? Outside of His grace, we miss Him altogether. I am studying the human body in school. Do you know that for every heartbeat, there is a series of about 100 chemical and electrical events that have to happen in perfect harmony? For.every.heart.beat. In our mouths, there are over 100 kinds of bacteria, most of which have not been named or identified, each with a purpose and function (gross, right?). Our bodies are astonishingly complex. We are made in His image, and any scientist worth his salt will tell you that the human body, and in fact the entire universe, is full of mysteries and every time we discover something, we uncover more questions than answers.

We are complicated. We are made in His image. God is complicated. Times about a billion.

Can we all just stop with the prideful oversimplification? Can we all just get to a point where we are at peace with the fact that God is hard to figure out, and His ways are confusing? Can we acknowledge that the things we call simple (the Bible’s condemnation of certain sins, for example) are not simple. That in fact, the Bible talks more harshly in places about my lying and gossip than about the sins we put on t-shirts and bumper stickers as unforgivable.

We are all, but for His grace and His revelation, doomed.

But in His mercy, He swoops down. He made Himself small (infant small) and even today, He reveals Himself in small moments and revelations to our tiny little minds, because He is kind. But it is all Him revealing and not me figuring Him out, and at any point He can do anything to me or allow me to go through any struggle He wants for His glory and my good (not my comfort or profit).

So what do we do with the complexity? Do we chuck it all because we can’t wrap our minds around it? I don’t think so – I think we ask Him for more faith, for eyes to see and ears to hear, we grasp at concepts when they float near and give ourselves grace when they float away. We hug people in pain and we pray because we know that it isn’t simple. We give people (and ourselves) grace in conflict. We take our unforgiveness back to the cross over and over  and over again and allow the Lord to work in our weakness. We acknowledge that we just don’t know much about what is going on around us most of the time. We fight the prideful urge to oversimplify and try instead to be full of grace for all people.

God is complex, and by His grace, we are able to still believe.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord, 
   or who has been his counselor?” 
“Or who has given a gift to him 
   that he might be repaid?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. Romans 11:33-36

Jen the (Very Worst) Minister’s Wife

So it’s official. I am married to a minister.

Last week, Southlake Baptist licensed Justin as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I can’t tell you what the past year has meant to me as I’ve seen my husband valued by this church. I’ve prayed since we were engaged that men, especially, would believe in him and mentor him and that prayer has definitely been answered.

They love him. I mean, love him. They trust him, they recognize his brilliance and wise heart, they think he is hilarious, and they encourage him everyday. I have watched him bloom (I wish I could think of a more manly way to say that, but it’s true and that’s all I can come up with. So he’s bloomed, but in the most masculine way possible like a cactus or a pine tree). He is more himself than I’ve ever seen him be. Even the technical aspects of his job have improved. He’s more comfortable on stage – more real. His leading perfectly fits who this church is and where they want to go. And people respond to that – they connect with and worship the Lord under his leadership. It has been really fun to experience.

He’s a minister. He always has been one , really – but now we get the awesome tax benefits.

And I am a minister’s wife. That part, truthfully, kind of freaks me out. I sometimes fear that by being myself I might screw this whole thing up for him.

I’m far from perfect. I mean – really far. I often wish I could sleep in on Sunday, I have my doubts about some of the more confusing aspects of our faith, I am strongly opinionated about  the role of women in the church, I can be proud and stubborn about almost anything (even stupid things), I really dislike most contemporary Christian music and Christian subculture, I have recently discovered a love for wine, and I think a well-placed curse word can be absolutely hilarious.

Sometimes I feel like being a minister’s wife means I have to change who I am. But I’m 35 years-old and I’ve lived most of my life uncomfortable in my own skin, and by God’s grace I’ve finally gotten to a place where I feel at home being Jen.

I don’t want to pretend anymore. I like who God made me to be. I think I’m finally getting pretty good at it.

I love authenticity. I like confessing my sins to others and seeing how God redeems and deepens community after confession. I love messy relationships and complex conversations. I love having a drink with a searching person and seeing them open up to discuss the Lord from an unexpected angle. I see God in art and music even when the people creating it probably don’t know they are reflecting the Creator of all. I believe that God can redeem anything – and I believe being in the world but not of it means just that.

So here I am – a newly licensed minister’s wife. And I have a choice to make. Be myself and trust, or hide who I am out of fear of retribution. I choose to trust. I think that just as Justin has trusted the staff and elders of SBC with every aspect of his being and personality, I need to do the same. We’ve come to know them well and we know that they believe in redemption, not perfection. They have treated us with nothing but grace and love, and they seek the heart of the Lord. I choose to trust and be myself.

I will never be a perfect minister’s wife, mostly because I am a sinner saved by grace. But I have a God who is sanctifying me and smoothing over my rough edges and who chooses to use me despite my failings. And for that I am so incredibly grateful.

So here I am, quite possibly the very worst minister’s wife ever*, but excited to see what God does with this stage of our life. We are grateful for you, people and staff of Southlake Baptist, and for Christ in you. Thank you for trusting Justin and honoring his commitment to the Lord. You have been used by God to encourage our family in more ways than you can know.

(*Bekah adds “ever” to the end of every sentence when she is mad. It’s hilarious. For example, “Grace, I will eat my sandwich and you won’t get a bite, EVER!” To see that little person so passionate makes me laugh every stinking time. So in her honor, I threw an “ever” in there for emphasis.)

‘Schooled’ on Fear

The LORD is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:11

Have you ever been around one of those people, those “light” people? The people who radiate peace and joy, grace and wisdom, and when you leave, you are changed? My brother Joe and sister-in-law Lori have a friend named Hillery who is one of those people. For months, my brother told me about her and her husband and how encouraging they were as friends. When I visited this past summer, spending time with Hillery was definitely on the agenda. I love being around “light” people. They don’t hammer you with rules or truth, but somehow they just seem to “get it” in an extraordinary way. They challenge me and excite me and I absolutely love being around them because they’re mirroring Jesus as they walk through the world, reflecting His light.

So I meet Hillery, who has no idea that I’m watching every move she makes like she’s a creature in a fishbowl (I try to contain myself and demonstrate some semblance of normalcy around these people. I do, after all, need to appear somewhat cool). We were talking about school and about the options available to us as our kids enter Kindergarten this year – a simple conversation that should not have been memorable. But I’ve found that when I am around “light” people, they can casually drop wisdom into even the most mundane conversations. I was talking about my struggle as I considered options for Grace’s school and I mentioned the battle I was having against fear as I looked at sending my little girl into different environments I couldn’t control. I was babbling away, explaining the battle going on in my head, when Hillery spoke up.

She said something like this, “I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever. If God isn’t the author of fear, then when I listen to my fears I know I’m not listening to the voice of God.”

It was simple. Grace-filled. Not harsh or corrective or instructive. Just right.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

She can’t know how many times I’ve played that sentence in my head this past year. How I’ve grasped at that idea as it slips in and out of my hands, wanting to make it my personal philosophy as well but struggling to change a lifetime habit of doing the opposite.

I don’t believe in making choices based on fear. Ever.

My confession is this: I do listen to fear. I think I always have. I’m pretty sure sometimes I give it an equal voice with the Holy Spirit who should have the loudest voice in my spirit – leading me in the way I should go. Now I don’t call it fear. I’m way too smart for that. I call it “discernment” or “wisdom” or I say I have a “check.” I can ‘church it up’ in the most expert ways.

But I know – in my heart – that it’s fear. 

So take the choice of Grace’s school. Fear says oh-so-much on this subject. Fear of influences. Fear of bad educational practices. Fear of failure. Fear of finances. Fear of isolation. Fear of making a terrible mistake. When I listen to fear, there is one tiny right decision and a million-and-a-half wrong decisions that can cause damage. That is the fear-based perception.

But something else speaks loudly on this subject. Perfect love. Grace has a Father who loves her with a perfect love (Jer. 31:3). He is mighty to save (Zeph 3:17). He is her help and her shield (Ps 115:11). He will never leave her or forsake her (Deut 31:6). I could go on and on about the promises available to my sweet little girl because of her loving Father.

So a fear-free attitude says something very different. It says my daughter is in the hands of the One who made her and that no decision is outside of His control. It says it doesn’t truly matter, in the end, the location where Grace goes to school. God’s love and protection can reach into even the darkest environment and the most bleak situation and give light and life. The fear-free perspective reminds me that I can’t make a decision that can 100% insulate her against the struggles of this world. I don’t have that power. There is no “perfect” decision that can cast out all of my fears.

Only one thing has the power to defeat my fears. Perfect love has victory over my fears (1 John 4:18). My perfect Savior demonstrated that when He died for me and then defeated death and rose to live forever. I can’t even justify fearing death as a follower of Christ, because He has even that under His control. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” Romans 8:15

It’s all about the power of the One who lives inside of us. That’s the “remedy” to fear.

He is the way to be free of this voice of fear in my life.

I am re-reading Grace-Based Parenting (for the 5th or 6th time). I love this book. I cannot recommend it enough – it’s my favorite parenting book. This same idea resonated with me this week as I read it. Take a look at what Dr. Kimmel wrote about fear-based or legalistic parenting vs. grace-based parenting.

The difference with grace-based families is that they don’t bother spending much time putting fences up because they know full well that sin is already present and accounted for inside their family. To these types of parents, sin is not an action or an object that penetrates their defenses; it is a preexisting condition that permeates their being. The graceless home requires kids to be good and gets angry and punishes them when they are bad. The grace-based home assumes kids will struggle with sin and helps them learn how to tap into God’s power to help them get stronger.

It’s not that grace-based homes don’t take their children’s sin seriously. Nor is it that grace-based homes circumvent consequences. It isn’t even that grace-based homes do nothing to protect their children from attacks and temptations that threaten them from the outside. They do all these things, but not for the same reasons. Grace-based homes aren’t trusting in the moral safety of their home or the spiritual environment they’ve created to empower their children to resist sin. . . . They assume that sin is an ongoing dilemma that their children must constantly contend with.

[Children in a grace-based family] are accepted as sinners who desire to become more like Christ rather than be seen as nice Christian kids trying to maintain a good moral code. Grace is committed to bringing children up from their sin; legalism puts them on a high standard and works overtime to keep them from falling down.

Grace understands that the only real solution for our children’s sin is the work of Christ on their behalf. . . .  Legalism uses outside forces to help children maintain their moral walk. Their strength is based on the environment they live in. Grace, on the other hand, sees the strength of children by what is inside them—more specifically, Who is inside them.

Isn’t that good? It isn’t about the environment in which my child is schooled, it is about the inhabitant of her heart and His reign in her life.

And for me – it isn’t about my ability to control and protect, it is about the inhabitant of my heart and His reign in my life.

Jesus create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me.

So as we reach the point where we decide what school we will walk our little girl into, with her backpack as big as she is, may fear have no voice in that decision. May we listen to the voice of the One who loves us and who has a perfect plan for our Grace, a plan to prosper her and not to harm her, to give her a hope and a future. And may I drop her off in peace, knowing that my God is bigger, stronger, and more loving than I can grasp.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? Psalm 56:3-4

My day with a king

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change his mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?  Numbers 23:19

Several years ago, I thought my professional life was over. I went through an incredibly difficult trial, and aside from the love and faith in me demonstrated by my family and friends, my future seemed dark. I was jobless. Churchless. Hurting.

I struggled to hope.

In the middle of this, a precious friend reached out to me and told me the Lord had given her a verse for me – and that I should not give up. This was the verse: “Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank.” Proverbs 22:29

When she gave me this, part of me thought it was just the encouragement of someone who was “obligated” to believe in me. But she was sure. Confident. She saw in me a gift and a purpose beyond the circumstances that overwhelmed my vision at that time. She believed that God had a purpose.

Today I think that prophesy was fulfilled.

This morning I worked with President Bill Clinton. We of course don’t have kings in our country, but I think a President is about the closest we will get to it in our time.

So in my own way, today I served before a king.

So what’s the moral to this story? Is it just to brag about my cool day? Not really (although I’m not going to lie – it was a pretty fun day for me).

It’s to encourage people in the place where I was, the dark place where hope is hard to find and the future looks dim.

God is faithful.

His Word is true.

He sees in us more than we often see in ourselves, and by His grace He allows people near to us who are close to His heart to see with that same vision.

Today I served before a king. But the really amazing part of today? Today I knew that I was loved by a KING and that I have never been out of His sight – even when I thought I was forgotten.

I will exalt you, my God the KING; I will praise your name for ever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.  Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;  His greatness no one can fathom. Psalm 145


Giving Grace

As most of you know, my oldest daughter’s name is Grace. It completely fits her, actually. She has singlehandedly taught me more about grace than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The other day we were listening to Christmas music and she heard the line “He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…”

She asked me, quietly, “Mommy, why is my name in this song?”

Suddenly I had to try to explain the concept of grace to a 4 year-old. All the Sunday school answers I’ve ever learned ran through my head – unmerited favor (no), sanctification because of His righteousness, not ours (no).  All true but far too complicated.

I said “Gracie – this is talking about how God rules the world with truth and absolute love.” I think that was a pretty accurate answer – I was grateful the Lord gave it to me.

God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

There has been some serious tension and strife in my extended family this past year. Like the historic kind that divides families and tears each other apart until people miss funerals because of it. It’s bad. It’s been really difficult to experience and hurtful on all sides.

And it’s human nature in strife like this to believe the ABSOLUTE worst about the other person, while believing the best of ourselves. We’ve seen that on all sides of this argument. We stop communicating, stop working towards peace. We start presenting the best version of our side to the people on “our team” while demonizing the other side. Suddenly small differences that were before simply topics to avoid become vast valleys that separate and divide us because grace is gone.

But God rules the world with truth and absolute love.

What I think the Holy Spirit is teaching me is that to live out Christ in me, I have to live in truth and grace. I must love.

When I am offended? Realize as a Believer in Christ who is told to forgive, I don’t have the right to live offended. I must love.

When I am hurt? Realize I am constantly, unknowingly, hurting those around me. I must love.

When I am tempted to demonize? Realize I am but a miserable selfish sinner saved by grace who doesn’t deserve an ounce of the grace given to me by Christ. I must love.

My sweet Grace is aptly named, and again she teaches me about grace just by her very existence.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes (ME, a sinner saved by grace) prove, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of his love…

We can show the world, and our families, the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love when we choose to live as Christ.

The best way I can show my daughter the precious concept that her name represents is to prove His righteousness and his wonderful love as I give grace in my relationships with others. God help me. That’s so hard sometimes!

God forgive me for my part in the disunity in our family. Help me to be better – to prove your glory, righteousness, and love better than I have this year. Please work and move and heal and restore. We need You.

I Will Praise Him.

Something amazing happened this week. A friend reached out to me with a pretty strange request. She wanted to come meet with me and pray with me in our home. She knew the Lord was telling her to do this and when she called me, I knew the Lord was telling us to do this. I gathered my sister to join us, and called a couple of women around the country to join with us in spirit. We didn’t know what the Lord was going to do – but we knew He had something to do.

All day I felt a sense of anticipation and excitement.

We gathered and prayed – walking through our house. These precious women lifted each member of my family and our struggles to the Father as they walked. They prayed over our home, over our stuff, over where we sleep and eat and live each day.

In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

We sang in gratitude. We cried in need of God. We spoke scriptures of truth and power over each area of our life and over the center of our home.

Every crevice of our need, and every inch of our house, was bathed in prayer and lifted before the Father.

It was powerful. It was grace. It was church.

This morning the grace continued. Our Pastor preached from Daniel on the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (the three men who were told to worship a false God, but they refused because they were faithful, so they were thrown into a fiery furnace by an evil king. But the fire did not burn them, and when the king looked in to see why they did not burn, he saw a fourth man in the fire. The king pulled them out, repented, and worshipped God because of what he had seen). It was good to be reminded of the fourth man in the fire – Jesus Himself. Our Pastor wept before us as he talked about how near Jesus is to us when we are waiting, in the fire, for rescue.

God not only sees us in our pain, but he joins us there.

But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.  For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Isaiah 43

Justin and I both were moved by the service. We can testify to this truth. We have waited, and while we have waited, Jesus has been near. This week, and that prayer time, was another example of His faithfulness and love for us.

I don’t know why this week is different, but I know it is.

I don’t know how it is a turning point, but I believe that it is.

And I don’t know what the Lord’s plans are for us, but I know they are good.

I know we are loved with an everlasting love.

I know we are free and we have power and grace available to us to have victory in what we are facing.

I will praise Him.

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says. “I will surely gather them from all the lands where I banished them in my furious anger and great wrath; I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so the they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them; I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul.  Jeremiah 32: 37-43

One Thousand Gifts

I’ve started reading Ann Voscamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. It is admittedly not the easiest read, but I’ve found it really powerful and inspiring.

The book is about the ingratitude inherent to our sinful human nature (evident from the beginning in the story of Adam and Eve) and how choosing to give thanks in our day-to-day lives is an act of deliberate redemption. Focusing in particular on the life of Christ, Ms. Voskamp demonstrates this idea by showing how often Jesus chose gratitude, particularly in challenging times, and how this was a part of His redemption of the world. She theorized that when we acknowledge the grace all around us and give thanks, we begin to see the Lord more fully. Just as ingratitude is inherent to our sinful nature, gratitude is a defining characteristic of the redeemed life.

In the book, she began keeping a journal of things she was grateful for, and it changed her. She kept in her purse a book full of micro-moments that proved to her that God was real and loved her completely. In the end, she had listed over 1000 things she was grateful for, and her attitude and countenance had shifted in the process.

“The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. He who has learned this knows what it means to live..He has penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” – Albert Schweitzer

“The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.”

“We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our YES! to his grace. Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life.”

Many women, myself included, have taken up the challenge to list our blessings. In doing this – I have found that my prayer life has definitely shifted. I have realized just how surrounded and covered I am by grace, all day everyday. My blessings will easily number in the thousands when I have finished listing them (if I ever really finish). In addition, I have begun to acknowledge, even in the challenging things in our life, that there is always a thread of grace and provision. Seeing those things with gratitude has begun to lift some of the weight of this past few years, and for that I am grateful.

I think there is definitely something to this book and this idea. I won’t share my 1000 gifts (although rest assured most of you number among them) because it is so personal to me – but I wanted to share about the book for anyone like me who needs to view life through a slightly different lens.

I’m grateful.

And I’ve realized that’s a pretty powerful thing.

(All of the quotes above come from One Thousand Gifts)