Where is the king?

Have you ever come to a place where you felt you were at the end of your strength? Couldn’t go another step or face another day? Inwardly you just had nothing left and were ready to throw in the towel and give up. Perhaps that’s where you are at this very moment.

A few years ago I was re-reading through the Chronicles of Narnia. (I know these are considered children’s books, but there’s so much that speaks to the hearts of us grown-ups. It’s like peeking through an imaginary world and seeing real world truths behind it.) There is a scene in “The Horse and His Boy” that resonated deeply with me. The main character Shasta had been on a grueling journey, running for his life from what he thought was a ferocious lion that sought to devour him. He sought the king to warn him of the enemy closing in, and finally reached what he thought was his destination, completely spent. He encounters an old man, hoping this was the king, but the old man informs him that, no, he is not the king.

“If you run now, without a moment’s rest, you will still be in time to warn King Lune.”

Shasta’s heart fainted at these words for he felt he had no strength left. And he writhed inside at what seemed the cruelty and unfairness of the demand.  He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.  But all he said out loud was: “Where is the King?”

I feel ya, Shasta. I imagine perhaps what he really wanted to do was throw a hissy fit, kicking and screaming and shouting, “NO! I won’t do it! It’s not fair and you can’t make me!” Or maybe he just wanted to curl up in a ball and sleep for a few days. Either way, that’s not how he responded. He saw the bigger need and all that was at stake and knew he must keep going.

I’m gonna level with you. I relate with this so much because I have so often felt this way in recent years.  We have five kids and are in full time ministry (so basically two full time jobs). These last few years I’ve experienced some personal challenges, our marriage has had some growing pains, baby number five showed up unexpectedly, and then of course throw in COVID and all the challenges and complications that has brought. As delighted as we are to welcome this fifth child into our lives, it has been an adjustment. This is the first time I’ve had a job outside the home while also caring for an infant and I often feel stretched thin. There have been and are so many moments where I feel like Shasta…once I finish one good deed, the reward is to be “set to do another and harder and better one.” My insides writhe at all the demands, but in action, “out loud” I need to be what the people in my life need me to be. It often feels like I have to keep showing up for them “without a moment’s rest.” The rest I long for seems an unattainable luxury.

I know many face much harder things than this. But hard is hard, and this is my hard. What’s your hard?

(One benefit of the hard is the necessity for creativity and adaptability that it breeds. Even as I write this, I am nursing a baby while wearing earbuds playing white noise to drown out a busy household. We have five children ages 2 months to 17 years with virtual learning still happening and a too small house where we are often on top of each other – not exactly conducive to efficient blog writing. Truly I’m not even sure how I have any functioning brain cells to put some sentences together, but somehow it happens. Adaptability.)

Hello doctor, how much Benadryl is too much to give to my children?

I wish I had some great encouragement for you! And of course, there is encouragement.  From God’s Word we pull promises that tell us “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), that God is in my midst and will “strengthen me when morning dawns” (Psalm 46:5). I cling to the truth that God is my provider and will give me what I need. It is these simple but powerful reminders that carry us onward.

But sometimes it is just hard, and we are weary. Let’s just take a moment and give ourselves permission to acknowledge that.  That is at least part of the comfort, in knowing we don’t have to force ourselves to “just be okay,” in the kinship of knowing “the same sufferings are being experienced by your brotherhood around the world” (1 Peter 5:9). And then we continue to put one foot in front of the other because there’s too much at stake to give up, others are relying on us. The King had to be warned of the enemy closing in, after all.

My prayer for you today, dear reader, is that you will be strengthened in your hard place. As Paul says in Ephesians 3:16, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” The present circumstances may not change, but inwardly we can be changed.  God has done this for me, many times, and I know he can do it for you. If nothing else, take heart in knowing you are not alone. When, like Shasta, your insides writhe at the unfairness of the continued demands placed on you or the hardship that you feel you can no longer bear, when you feel you lack the strength to complete the unfinished task in front of you, may God give you the courage and strength to simply say, “Where is the king?” 

Also, meet a friend for coffee, or take a walk, or watch a sunrise, or soak in a bubble bath, or get a massage. Make time for a little self care…because really there’s no king in your story and anyway he can wait.

Daddy, hold on to me

When one of my daughters was potty training, she had a fear of public restrooms.  The loud noises from the toilets flushing and super sonic hand driers were unsettling to her.  She also found the size of the toilets intimidating.  She must have been afraid of getting flushed because every single time she would say, “Mommy, hold on to me.” She’d say it multiple times, mentally preparing for the experience while we were walking to the restroom and saying it a few more times for safe measure once we reached the bathroom, just in case.  At home she had a little potty seat that fit on top of the regular seat, making it the perfect size to ensure her toddler sized self would stay safely perched above the basin. Without that security, faced with the daunting experience of using a public restroom she was always prompted to repeat her mantra, “Mommy, hold on to me.”

Most of the time this made me smile.  It’s cute, right?  “Mommy, hold on to me,” she’d say in her sweet little voice as she marched herself to the bathroom.  Sometimes, though, I admit I found it a little irritating.  I didn’t need her to remind me every time, she’d said it enough I knew the routine, and if you’ve ever had a toddler you know how tiresome their inclination toward repetition can be.  But there was no use trying to tell her she didn’t need to remind me.  She continued to every time.  

I began to realize my daughter was teaching me something about prayer.  We tire of asking God the same thing over and over.  As a parent, I get tired of hearing the same thing over and over.  Not so with God.  God is infinitely young and does not grow weary like we do.  As G. K. Chesterton says, “It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”  As a child does not tire in monotony or repetition, neither does God.

Why does God want us to bring our requests to him?  With my daughter, she didn’t really need to ask.  I already knew what she needed.  I already anticipated her fear and knew how I could ease it and was willing to do so.  I also knew she wouldn’t actually fall in the toilet, and I certainly wouldn’t have let harm come to her, yet I still held on to her just the same.  Why?  Simply put, because I love her.  I knew her fear was irrational and unwarranted, but when she looked at me with that sweet little face and reminded me to hold on to her, my heart filled with tenderness and I assured her I would most certainly hold on. It would have been of no use to assure her she need not worry about falling in.  I’m smarter than her and have a better understanding of how things work, but she didn’t need my rationale.  She just needed the security of feeling my hands around her, holding her up to ensure she didn’t fall.  God is infinitely more loving and gracious than I am, and also immeasurably more wise and powerful.  If my heart as a parent is inclined toward tenderness for my daughter, how much more so must God’s be towards us? What a secure feeling to imagine him holding me up with his sure and loving grip.

So back to the question, why does God want me to ask Him if he already knows?  Why does he want me to keep asking for the same thing over and over? Isn’t he smart enough to know what I need without asking? 

In the asking, it reveals my need for him.  As my daughter needs my help, so do I need the help of my Father.  The places of need in my life teach me to rely on him.  It also reveals where I should place my trust.  My daughter trusts me completely.  I never once let her get flushed (in case you were worried).  She continues to look to me in simple, sweet faith.  Trusting God to provide the things I need or talking to him about my fears reminds me that because God is who He is, I have nothing to fear.  That’s an important purpose that prayer serves, reminding…and boy do we need reminded (enter 2020).

Sometimes as adults it can feel like our own lives or the world around us (or both) are precariously close to getting flushed down the metaphorical toilet. Job loss, relationship issues, financial instability, health concerns, political unrest…while we may outgrow the fears of childhood, all that really happens is they are replaced with the fears brought on by adulthood.  In our minds they’re justifiable fears, based on real grown-up stuff. I imagine God looks at us the same way I looked at my daughter, a loving smile, knowing everything is going to be just fine and there’s nothing to fear, reaching down with his assuring arms. 

Let’s take a lesson from my 3-year-old daughter’s sweet, simple faith in my ability to keep her safe from falling and say to our heavenly Father in the face of our own fears, “Daddy, hold on to me.” And we can ask again and again, as many times as we need to.  Sometimes in the face of all the complexities of life that’s all we need, the simple reminder that he’s got us.

Reflections for Ringing in 2020

I love the feeling of a fresh start, a new beginning.  This is why I love the New Year holiday.  It feels like an opportunity to leave the old behind and embrace the new.  I love the beginning of each month, I even love Mondays!  The dawn of each morning reminds us daily of “the new” happening.  I think it’s God’s gift to us that the ability to start fresh is built right into the calendar, nature’s liturgy that continually reminds us of the opportunity for the new.  It’s like he’s inviting us to remember his promise, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:19).

As we enter a New Year it’s time for making resolutions.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not particularly great at keeping mine.  According to Forbes.com, apparently neither are most people:

“The statistics on how many people actually follow through and accomplish their New Year’s resolutions are rather grim. Studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them.”

Some of you may know people who are part of the 8% who accomplish their resolutions.  You know, those people who don’t even really need to make New Year’s resolutions because they’re disciplined all of the time.  If they make a goal, they stick to it.  It’s quite admirable.  (And sometimes annoying because I wish I was more like that!)  But not all of us are this internally motivated.

Rather than becoming discouraged by my past or future failed resolutions, I’ve chosen to approach the New Year in a different way.  For me it is a reminder of God’s faithfulness, not the lack of my own.

 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.”
Lamentations 3:22-23

The hope found in this verse is that we don’t have to wait a year for another fresh start.  His steadfast love for us NEVER ceases!!  His mercies are new EVERY morning!  What a wonderful promise.

Years ago we started a New Year’s Day family tradition with a prayer jar, a gift from my wonderful mother-in-law.  We write different things we want to see God do on little slips of paper, put them in the jar, and pray over it.  Then the next year we pull it back out and see how God has answered.  It’s been pretty amazing to see the ways God has answered prayers for our family over the years.  We keep the ones that are answered separate from the ones that we are still believing for.  They all go back in the jar as a way to remind us what God has done and what we are still waiting for him to do.  The words on the front of the jar from Ephesians 3:20 remind us to dream big and to never give up praying, “I can do more than you can imagine.  Love, God.”

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Let the New Year be a reminder of the God whose mercies never cease, who desires to do more than we could ask or imagine, and who made the sun to rise each day as a way to remind us of the infinite opportunities to start fresh.

It could be simple things, like missing your quiet time for several mornings in a row and knowing this morning is the day to start again.  Or perhaps you’ve started eating junk again after making a commitment to better health, or missed a few days or a whole week of making it to the gym.  Today is a new day.

It might be big things, like that struggle or addiction you’ve prayed for deliverance for, and maybe you were really on track and then slipped up.  Or maybe there’s a friend or family member who is far away from the Lord and you’ve been praying for them for years and it seems to make no difference and you want to give up.  His steadfast love never ceases…great is his faithfulness.

Let this new year, this new decade serve as a reminder to you that God is always in the business of doing a new thing, and that work of his is never complete.  The old has gone, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  The enthusiasm for our resolutions may wane, but his faithfulness and mercies never do.

Happy New Year!!

Being the mom I am, instead of the mom I wish I was

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.  I played house as a girl, had cabbage patch dolls, and ALWAYS loved babies (still do), especially my younger cousins.  As I approached college and needed to choose a major, I began to pray about what God wanted me to do with my life.  In my heart began to grow an even stronger desire for motherhood, and I knew that was my number one calling.  I still went to college to pursue a degree in Psychology, but my sights were set on a stay-at-home mom life.

I couldn’t wait.  The women who mentored me as a young girl were stay-at-home moms, and I admired them so much.  They were amazing, loving moms and in my mind, it was gonna be a sweet life.

So, got married, we moved to Iowa, and my husband and I began our ministry.  I worked a few jobs to save money as we began this life together, but the baby fever eventually won out and we ended up pregnant with our first child.  Oh, I was so excited!  I couldn’t wait to be a mom!  It was all I really wanted to do with my life and I couldn’t wait to get started.

The day finally arrived.  I won’t go into detail, but the birth of our first child, our son Noah, was slightly traumatic.  He ended up being delivered by C-section after a long labor.  I wasn’t even conscious when he made his entrance into the world.  The first time I laid eyes on him, we were in the recovery room when I regained consciousness and looked to my right to see him cradled in his Daddy’s arms.  He was perfect.

But reality hit fast.  Recovering from a C-section was difficult and he had a bad case of jaundice.  Our hospital stay ended up being almost a week and I was more than ready to take him home, but things didn’t improve much.  I ended up in a really bad place, crying all the time, struggling with overwhelming feelings of despair.  After a visit to the doctor I realized I was struggling with post-partum depression.   And on top of that there were the usual challenges: sleepless nights, learning how to breastfeed, constantly changing diapers.

Here I was, finally living out my dream vocation, and it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be.  In many ways, that’s how I’d describe motherhood…not what I thought it would be.  And I think I speak for a lot of moms when I say that it wasn’t so much motherhood itself that was a disappointment.  I was disappointed with myself.

I wanted to be my ideal version of mom, but as is often true in life, ideal and actual don’t line up.

As a mom there are all these “shoulds.”  I should be completely thrilled to have these babies.  I should love spending every moment with them.  I should find joy in teaching them things.  I should be able to meet their every need.  I should be consistent.  I should be patient.

And then there are all the “shouldn’ts.”  I shouldn’t yell.  I shouldn’t let them watch TV.  I shouldn’t let them eat junk food.  I shouldn’t feel resentful.  I shouldn’t feel like this is boring and monotonous work.  I shouldn’t get them in trouble for just being kids.  I shouldn’t grow weary of their endless questions.

The truth is, it isn’t how I thought it would be.  I’M not the mom I thought I would be.  I thought I would love it so much more than I often do.  I didn’t know how exhausting and overwhelming it could be.

I wish that I loved having them cook in the kitchen with me.  But the truth is, I just want to get it done as quickly as possible.

I wish that I loved doing arts and crafts with them.  But the truth is, I’d rather not deal with the mess.

I wish that I loved cuddling in bed with them at night.  But the truth is, I usually just want to get them in bed so I can have some alone time.

I wish that I was easygoing and relaxed about things, but I get irritated a lot more often than I care to admit.

Slowly, I’m learning to accept myself as the mom that I am, not the mom I wish I was.  I’m not the home schooling, chicken raising, gardening, Pinterest-crafting mom that soaks up every moment with her kids and responds to all their childish mistakes with kindness and gentleness. (Does this type of mom exist?  The kind that joyfully “does it all”?  If you’re out there…you want to do some stuff for me?)

This is more the mom that I am…

I need alone time.  And if I give myself freedom to have it, I’m a better mom.

I love to read.  I always have.  So I read to my kids because that’s an activity we can enjoy together.  I love to read the books they’re reading so we can talk about it and share something together. (Not all of my kids love reading as much as I do, but I hold onto hope…and keep nagging a little.)

As my kids get older, I’m finding we have more things to talk about, and it’s fun developing friendships with them.  I’m a good listener and advice-giver and they come to me to talk about what’s bothering them.

I’m a woman who’s passionate about her relationship with the Lord, and while I am far from perfect, I certainly hope I am modeling for them a life that is defined by a love for God and his people.

I’m learning to embrace the mom I am instead of feeling disappointed in not being the mom I wish I was.  I’m learning to lean into my strengths instead of focus on my weaknesses.  The truth is, in spite of my failings, there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids.  I want their absolute best, and the fact that I sometimes fail them doesn’t diminish that.  I seek their forgiveness when I let them down, and in doing so teach them about humility, and they teach me about grace with their sweet, quick-to-forgive spirits.

I’m also learning to become a better version of the mom that I am.  I’m learning to relax about the mess in the kitchen because of the value of that time spent together.  I’m learning to push past my exhaustion late at night because those are opportune times for important conversations.  I’m even learning that it’s not worth it to get so irritated about little things like spilt milk and a coat on the floor instead of hanging on the hook where it belongs.  I’m learning that the best mom for my kids isn’t the ideal mom, but a better version of the mom they have.

There will probably always be moments and days where I wrestle with this disappointment with myself and this feeling that I don’t measure up to my own expectations.  But when my teenage son gives me a hug in the parking lot of the grocery store he works at for all the world to see, or when my daughter tells me I’m the “best mom ever” even though I lose my patience with her frequently…I guess if they love me as the mom I am, I don’t need to be the mom I wish I was.

New Wine

Are you familiar with the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel chapter 1?  There’s not a lot about her in the Bible, just one chapter and a little bit of a second, but her story is one worth mentioning.

Hannah was a woman who desperately wanted a child.  In her time, as a woman, bearing children was everything.  And for whatever reason, she couldn’t.  Can you relate?  Any pressing desire in your heart, a hunger for something that will not cease, no matter how much you try to reason with yourself?

It’s a hard place to be when you have a deep persistent desire that doesn’t line up with your reality, and you don’t know if it ever will.

This must be how Hannah felt.  Her desire for a child was at the point of desperation.  To make Hannah’s situation worse, verse 6 tells us that her rival, the other wife to her husband Elkanah, provoked her greatly, harassing her over the fact that she had the ability to bear children and Hannah didn’t.  (Sounds like a sweetheart, doesn’t she?)  This happened until Hannah “wept and would not eat.”  Her husband, who loved her and actually favored her over his other wife (the mystery of why she’d provoke Hannah suddenly becomes less mysterious) says, “Why are you downhearted?  Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”  Have you been there?  When you are overwhelmed with heartache and people around you try to talk you out of it?  Doesn’t do much good does it?

Hannah went to the house of the Lord to pray.  Verse 10 says, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”  Oddly, I really like this part of the story.  It reminds me where I can take my deep anguish.  When it seems no one else understands or truly sees the depth of my heartache, God sees.  He listens, he knows my pain.  My bitter tears do not shock or unnerve him.  There is no better or capable place to bring my sorrow.

But sorrow is not the end of the story.

She continues praying to the Lord and the priest, Eli, happens upon her.  He actually mistakenly assumes she is drunk (again, another example of when people JUST don’t get it) and tells her to lay off the wine.  She tells him of her deep trouble, that she has been pouring out her soul to God.  He says to her, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

This was good enough for her.  She goes away, eats something, and her face was no longer downcast.  She takes the word of the priest as a promise from God, and sure enough, Hannah ends up pregnant with Samuel, one of the great prophets of the Old Testament.

Something about her story really strikes me.  Verse 6 tells us that “the Lord had closed her womb.”  God closed her womb, prevented her from conceiving a child.  So essentially, God broke her heart.  Hard pill to swallow, isn’t it?  It seems so harsh and unfair.  Doesn’t seem like something a kind and loving God would do.  And yet we have to admit that is what it says, we have to accept the reality that sometimes the breaking and crushing of our heart is part of God’s journey for us.

Why doesn’t he just grant her heart’s desire?  And of course we ask, why doesn’t he grant ME my heart’s desire?  We know he can, so why doesn’t he?

When Hannah goes to the temple to pray, she tells God that if he will give her a son, she will give him back to God.   Because of her anguish, because of the low point she has been brought to, it drives her to God in complete surrender.

You hear that?  Her anguish, her heartbreak, drives her to God in complete surrender. 

She has been brought so low, her heartbreak so complete, she has nothing left but her faith in God.  In her emptiness, she turns to God in total trust.

It was the breaking and crushing that purified her heart and prepared her to be the vessel God needed to accomplish his purpose.  This is often what separates the faithful from those who turn away…a willingness to accept the task God has for them, however painful.  A choice to blame God in anger, or yield to him in complete trust.

God had closed her womb.  That’s how the story reads.  But as we will see, it wasn’t for nothing.  If God shuts us out from what our hearts most desire, it is for a greater purpose, and we will be able to look back and be glad, to see that it was worth it.  There is always a bigger picture.

We see the same with Job.  This guy gets one piece of bad news after another.  He lost it all – his livestock, his servants, his house, his children – and what did he come up with as far as how to make sense of it?  “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  That’s it.  It doesn’t feel like much, but sometimes that’s all we have to hold onto…and it can be hard to hold on.

But what we see with these examples is the things that were developed in them.  Greater strength, perseverance, character, and faith.  The process of these things being developed is often apparently fairly unpleasant.  But from their stories, we hope and trust that it will be worth it.  “For the joy set before him, Jesus endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).

Perhaps one of the hardest things is to do what Job did, praise the name of God in the face of complete loss.  But it must be done. Because it is our purpose and because he is worthy.  And perhaps if we worship him in the loss it will make our worship of him in the good times all that much sweeter.

We don’t know how long Hannah waited for God to give her the son she was waiting for.  The Bible simply says, “in due time Hannah conceived.”  In due time…isn’t that just like God?  But God kept good on his promise, and so did she.  When Samuel was born, she gave him back to God.  “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him.  So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

God had closed her womb…and he opened it when it was time, when she was ready to give all back to him, when she could fully recognize that all she had was never hers to begin with.

If it hadn’t been such a struggle for Hannah to have children, would she have recognized that Samuel belonged to the Lord?  If things hadn’t played out for her the way they did, would she have been willing to give her son back to God?

Samuel was instrumental in God’s story, and therefore I think so was Hannah’s heartbreak.

But heartbreak wasn’t the end of her story.  It was never meant to be.  She goes on to worship the Lord in chapter two, “My heart exults in the Lord, my horn is exalted in the Lord…The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn.”

She comes to a place where she recognizes her heartbreak, her season of barrenness as a gift, and it becomes an instrument for singing praise.  But it happened with a perspective shift, it came after complete surrender, and ultimately she stayed in that place of surrender, recognizing the gift of her child as something that belonged to the Lord before his conception.

Her heart exulted not in her son, but in the Lord…the only thing that brings true, lasting joy, that nothing and no one can take away.

In the pressing, crushing, breaking, and rending of the heart, God is producing something good.  We cannot usually see it in the midst of our suffering because our pain blocks all else from view.  And so we put our faith in a promise, in what is hoped for and not yet seen.  We trust that in all things, God’s vocation is redemption.  If God is who he says he is, our heartbreak points to hope.

“In the pressing, in the crushing, you are making new wine
In the soil I now surrender, you are breaking new ground
And so I yield to you and to your careful hand
When I trust you I don’t need to understand
Make me a vessel
Make me an offering
Make me whatever you want me to be
I came here with nothing
Than all you have given me
Jesus bring new wine out of me.”
(New Wine by Hillsong)

The Potter Knows Best

I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting close to 40 and finally beginning to learn this lesson, but lately I’ve realized that I have spent most of my life trying to be a certain something, a person that I have deemed good or ideal, rather than seeking to be the best version of myself.  I have wanted to hand pick certain personality traits and make them fit me, unsuccessfully of course.  A square peg never fits in a round hole.  We can try and jam it in, but it will always fit loosely or uncomfortably.

A lot of my intentions in this have been good.  Part of my effort to do this has come from my desire to better help and serve others, and I sort of decided in my mind how I should be in order to help others or, less nobly, be liked by others.  There were people I admired that I sought to emulate (not all bad – I had some pretty good role models), and of course, there are certain traits we should all aspire to make part of who we are that do not always come naturally, like patience or generosity.  It’s more about the WAY in which I exercise these good things.  Am I allowing God to use me the way he crafted me, or am I trying to be like someone else, trying to live up to the ideal my mind has created?

If it’s the latter, I’m beginning to see how this might actually cause me to be less helpful because I am imposing a false self on others in a frantic need to be liked, admired, or useful. If I can learn to be my best self, to not impose it on others but instead withdraw in order to create space for them, it gives us both freedom and space to be ourselves.  I love how Henri Nouwen words it in “The Wounded Healer,” that I can help others be free because I am free, “free to let others enter into the space created for them and allow them to dance their own dance, sing their own song, and speak their own language without fear.  Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding but inviting and liberating.”  I am better able to do this if I have learned to “dance my own dance.”

So how does one do this, exactly?  Learn to be the best version of oneself, or even get in touch with their authentic self? Well, I’m definitely still on that journey, and imagine it’s a lifelong one, but for me it’s been a process of self-examination (the Enneagram has played a huge part in this for me, but that’s for another blog), and the willingness to “enter into” myself, especially the places I most fear, the places of pain and, well, dysfunction.  The process of accepting ourselves means facing all of it, including the places we are ashamed of.   We all have those places, and if I have had the courage to go there myself, I can help others do so as well.  When we go there with Christ, we need not fear, because he meets us there with tender love and compassion.  We can face who we are when we know there is already one who fully knows us and deeply loves us.  If he already dwells in my innermost being, I need not fear entering it.  I can try to hide it or hide from it, like Adam and Eve in the garden, but it is not hidden from him.  Here, at the intersection of his love and my broken self, my true identity can begin to emerge.

Why is it so hard to accept who we are?  We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, weaknesses or flaws we’d give anything to be rid of.  Isaiah 45:9 says, “What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’”  God has created us each so uniquely and purposefully. We aren’t meant to be the same as any other pot.  If he has chosen to make me a certain way, or allows certain things to happen to me, so be it.  It is better to yield to the Potter’s hands, accepting the way he made me and allowing him to continue shaping me however he sees fit.  His artistic style is perfect…he does not make mistakes and always produces something good and beautiful.

If I live my life from this perspective then I can begin to face who I am, the measure of myself that has been crafted through personality, experiences, hurts, victories, relationships. Once I face it, I can begin to work on accepting it and living into it more fully and authentically, and even grow beyond it.  I might as well.  Trying to be something other than who I am doesn’t really work, or can only take me so far. I can be of more service to this world and the people around me if I learn to be and do and live from my authentic self.

Let me give an example. As a Christian, I am called to extend hospitality to others.  I used to see good hospitality as being someone who loves to have people over to my house, spending hours making a delicious meal with a perfectly set table, ready to entertain with sparkling conversation and a smile on my face throughout the entire process.  If I haven’t done this, then I’ve failed at hospitality.  Well, I know people for whom this does seem to be their authentic expression of hospitality (at least it seems that way), and God bless ‘em, they bless me in their doing!  But that is not me.  I can try and force that, but frankly I’ll be miserable and a ball of stress (just ask my husband).  I’ve begun to realize that for me, expressing hospitality looks more like being a good listener, being fully present and comfortable with someone who is hurting or in pain, giving my time and full attention.  That is what comes naturally for me.  I can and certainly should practice other methods of hospitality.  I believe it’s good to stretch myself, and I do open my home to others in my own more relaxed version of entertaining.  But I want to be able to uncover what my natural strengths are, operating primarily out of those to most benefit others.

The Bible illustrates this truth in talking about the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12, how we are all many parts of one body, each given different gifts for the good of the whole body.  Vs. 15-16 says, If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.”  Here again we have an example of those who resist the way they’re crafted, the gifts they’ve been given, wishing instead to be made differently than they are.

There’s another almost opposing side to this idea.  God loves and accepts us as we are, yes, but he doesn’t leave us as we are.  Sometimes the shaping process can lead to doing things that at first feel unnatural or foreign.  Let me be really clear: when I talk about being your authentic self, I don’t mean follow your heart, or do what feels right, or be who you want to be.  It goes way beyond that.  The pot has to yield to the potter.  While this does mean accepting and operating in the way he’s made us, another important part of this process involves letting go and allowing him to shape us, and this is often not pretty or pleasant.  It can be downright painful.  It may mean letting go of something that feels precious or even sacred.  It may mean losing something that feels like part of your identity.  When we follow Christ, we are called to put off the old and put on the new, to die to the old self and find a new identity in Christ. Keeping with the analogy of a pot and potter, think of what clay goes through before it becomes a beautiful pot! There is pounding, kneading, shaping, cutting, firing, grinding.  But the end result is beautiful and worth it.  It is simply a matter of the clay trusting and yielding to the very capable and loving hands of the potter.

The great paradox in Christ is that when we fully give ourselves up to him and yield to his shaping hands, he takes who we are and makes it more, makes us better.  We may even see new gifts and strengths come to life.  One of the most amazing things he does is bring good from our pain, if we’re willing to trust him with it.   He came to give us life to the full and he does not make mistakes.  Every scar, every blemish he artfully adds to the masterpiece of each life with it’s own unique design.  Because of this hope-filled truth, I can more readily accept who I am, trusting him with the process of being made new.

Mary’s Desire

Have you ever had a really hard time letting go of something?  Like face on the floor, gut wrenching, ugly cry kind of hard?  Maybe you lost someone you love, or someone you loved left you.  Maybe the future you once envisioned is seeming less and less likely.  Perhaps a lifelong dream got crushed, or physical challenges limit you from doing the things you love.  Maybe there is something in your life you know God wants you to let go, but you just can’t seem to muster the faith.

Letting go can be really hard.  We make plans or place our hope in things or people we think will always be there, and suddenly they’re not.  We’re left feeling empty and disoriented.  It can even feel like a bit of our identity has been lost.  Sometimes God moves us in a direction where we begin to sense it will mean letting go of something precious to us, or maybe something comfortable and familiar, and we cling to it, our tightly clenched fists raised to the heavens, pleading for another way, hoping to walk through a door that we already know has been shut.

If this is our posture, oh how much we risk missing out on!

We look to the story of Mary, mother of Jesus, one called to a task that required her to let go of the life she had planned.  “And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid Mary, for you have found favor with God’” (Luke 1:30).  Usually our idea of God’s favor means an easy life – wealth, prosperity, the love of the masses.  What we learn from Mary’s story, however, is God’s favor meant a great and noble calling, yes, but also loss of all that was familiar, public humiliation, and heartbreak.  As Simeon said to her in Luke 2:35, “a sword will pierce through your own soul.”

When the angel appeared to her, we would assume she had questions, wondering how people would respond when her belly started growing, Joseph in particular.  In those days an illegitimate pregnancy was major scandal, punishable by death.  But what was her response?  “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Let it be to me…

Mary’s response reveals her humility and desire.  She received her task with humility, fully submitting to and embracing God’s plan.   Her words also indicate an expression of desire, not the indication of doubt.  She desired God to do a great work, and trusted he would do it.  She goes on to say, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior..for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (Luke 1:46-49).  This does not carry a tone of doubt, fear, or hesitation.  She only looks back to remember the great things God has done and looks ahead with desire and anticipation for what he will continue to do.

She understood that what was being asked of her led to something good because she recognized the one asking as the Giver of all good things, the one who satisfies the desires of those who fear him.

Recently I was having a difficult time with letting go.  One day I was struggling with it in prayer and I asked God to speak a word to me.  After waiting a few moments, I heard him speak…

“Embrace.”

I knew instantly this was a word from him, and I knew what he was saying to me: “Instead of focusing on what you are letting go, embrace what is in front of you.”  Notice he didn’t say, “Let it go.”  He said “Embrace.”  He was urging me to stop looking behind and instead look to what was ahead.  To stop trying to hold on so I could fully embrace what was being held out to me, to move forward with desire…because he always leads us to something better.

When we understand this, when we really believe it, the pain of letting go is eased…because we realize we are letting go of something in order to free our arms to embrace something more.

Sometimes we are so consumed with things not going according to our wishes that we lose sight of God’s promises.  Our wishes are very limiting.  If we try and dictate how our lives should go we eliminate the extraordinary possibilities that could be accomplished when we fully embrace the work of God.

This is when something really new, something beyond our expectations can happen.

That’s what Mary did. She fully embraced the calling God placed on her even though the future was uncertain.  She didn’t ask a bunch of questions, needing to know how it would all play out.  God’s favor on her life led her to some places she probably would have preferred not to go.  Who wants to see their beloved child die a public, gruesome death?  But her willingness played a part in the redemption of the whole world…and I’m sure God exceeded her expectations when she learned her son was brought back from the dead in order to free her once and for all from the bondage of sin and death.

Mary teaches us it’s not about us or our wishes.  It’s not about how we would prefer things to go.  “I am the servant of the Lord,” Mary said.  “Let it be to me according to your word.”  In other words, let it be to me according to HIS wishes, HIS design, HIS plan.  I willingly let go of what is familiar and safe, of what I believe will make me most happy and fulfilled.  Not out of duty but desire; not just because that’s what I should do, but because I really believe his plan is better!! I am optimistic because he is a God that always exceeds expectations, always delivers on his promises.

“Embrace.”

We can rest assured God will always enable us to accomplish his purposes, however daunting the task ahead may seem.  Mary asked the angel how it would be possible that she, a virgin, could conceive a child. The angel’s response to her tells us all how God will accomplish his purpose through us: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

What a promise.  I would rather see God’s power work in me according to His promises than grant me my wishes.  As I trust Him with this, the more I will see Him exceed my expectations, and the more likely I will be to readily respond as Mary did: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord.  Let it be to me according to your word.”

The Power of Vulnerability

Think of the most vulnerable places in your heart.  The weak spots, the deepest wounds you carry.  Our instinct most often is to guard and conceal those places.  We don’t like feeling weak and vulnerable.  It’s uncomfortable.  It’s scary.  Revealing our weakness feels risky.  The reality is many of us have experienced pain as a result of our vulnerability.

A few months ago I was watching a Ted Talk called “The Power of Vulnerability” with Brené Brown.  Really interesting, I recommend watching.  Here’s the gist…Brené, a qualitative researcher, was working to uncover what it is that allows people to find a strong sense of belonging and connection.  In other words, what do people with fulfilling relationships have in common?  After six years of research and thousands of interviews, what her findings came down to was this – vulnerability.

People with real, authentic connection in their relationships fully embraced vulnerability.  They saw it as necessary

I like her definition of vulnerability – she says it is the willingness to be seen.  She shares openly about her reaction to this finding.  She didn’t like it.  She didn’t want to accept it.  She wanted to believe she could outsmart vulnerability.  Like many of us, she was uncomfortable with the idea that it is necessary, but she couldn’t deny what the research was saying.


A thought struck me as I was watching.  This was not a Christian research project, there is nothing to indicate that Brené herself is a Christian, but what stood out to me was the parallel between this concept of the power of vulnerability and the Biblical story.  When we think of the way Jesus came to us, as a tiny human baby, born in a barn to a very ordinary young couple, we realize how vulnerable he made himself.  Through the life of Jesus, God allowed himself to be seen.  This display of vulnerability is a necessary component in God’s story.

This is incredibly powerful.  Because Jesus made himself vulnerable it means he can sympathize with us.  

He understands weakness, knows what it is to wear human flesh.  Hebrews tells us he is able to sympathize with us because he suffered (Heb. 2:18) and was tempted in every way we are (Heb. 4:15).  Because of this, in him we find mercy and grace. We can approach him without trepidation because we know he looks on us with compassion.  He understands what we wrestle with!  In fact, he understands temptation like none other.  In the words of C.S. Lewis,  Jesus “was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.”  Never can we say to him, “You don’t understand!”

Bring to mind again those deep wounds you carry.  When you encounter someone with similar wounds, someone walking the same difficult road that you have walked, are you not stirred to compassion?  Is it not your desire to help and encourage them?  Jesus has this same heart for us.  Because he has walked the same road we walk, he is able to look on us with tender compassion and understanding.  He too has experienced pain as a result of being vulnerable.


Hebrews 5 talks about the role of a high priest, which in the Old Testament was one appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God.  A high priest was able to deal gently with the wayward because of his own weakness, and he was obligated to offer sacrifices for his own sins as well as for the people.  Jesus is the ultimate High Priest.  Only, in him, there is no sin, and he was under no obligation to offer a sacrifice. He MADE himself weak, he CHOSE to offer sacrifice on our behalf.  God appointed him, and he went willingly.  He did not exalt himself to be made high priest (Heb. 5:5), he humbled himself as the sacrificial lamb.  Not only did he offer the sacrifice for our sins as a high priest does, he BECAME the sacrifice.  He is the only High Priest who could do this because he is the only one who is perfect, and he was made perfect through suffering (Heb 2:10).

Because he is without sin, he is our source of salvation, and because of his suffering, he is also our source of mercy

We tend to picture him as one who looks down on us with disappointment.  We should rather think of him as one who looks eye to eye with us and says, “I get it.”  This is why we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb 4:16). He is both our perfect Savior and sympathizing friend. 


As we learn from Brené’s research findings, vulnerability is the key to human connection.

The vulnerability of Christ is also the key to our connection with God

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers for us. In his period of human weakness, he interceded for us and was heard because of his obedience (Heb. 5:7).  He still continues to do this today and will ultimately do so on our behalf when we stand before God.  Because of his obedience and willingness to be vulnerable he serves as our connection, our bridge to God.  He is our connecting point.


What does this mean for us and how we live?  How does vulnerability become powerful in us?  We do not like our vulnerability, our weakness.  We mask it, we run from it, we plead with God to remove it.

We want his power to work in us without the weakness.  But that’s not how it works.  Apparently, not even for his own Son.

So we look to the example of the Son.  We must be willing to take on weakness, to embrace vulnerability, to see it as necessary.  In this way God’s power will be made perfect in us.  In this way we can sympathize with others in their weakness.  If we allow ourselves to be seen, we can experience real connection, with others and with God.  We can even be a source of connection between others and God, just as Christ is.

While transparency is essential, embracing vulnerability does not necessarily mean revealing all our flaws to everyone.  It is more about seeing our weakness from a new perspective.

It is willingly accepting weakness so that God’s power can be made visible through us.  So that HE can be seen.

We want God to use us in a powerful way, but we don’t want to have to operate out of a place of weakness.  But this is exactly what Jesus did.  He took on vulnerability, allowed himself to be made weak so that the power of God would be made manifest through him.


So let your weakness shine. Remove the mask, let the walls fall down, allow yourself to be seen.  May your life serve as a connecting point between others and God.  Embrace the power of vulnerability.

The Hidden Work of God

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The older I get the more I realize life isn’t simple, how sometimes there are just no easy answers to be found.  Even when the answer is clear, it doesn’t mean it’s easy, and sometimes the road ahead can seem really long.  I look around me and know I’m not alone…

There’s the husband whose wife is diagnosed with an incurable disease at an age much too young that makes her physically and mentally disabled, an invalid for life.  He faithfully takes care of her, year after long year.  It’s the parents who lose their child, left to deal with the laborious, wearisome road of grief.  It’s the person living with chronic illness, waiting for healing that doesn’t come, or the addict wishing he could be set free.  It’s every Christian who continually chooses to walk in self-denial, adamantly and unwaveringly pursuing God’s call.  For many of us in this life, there is no big fanfare, no celebratory climax when everything becomes clear, when all is made better or easier.

In the quiet, daily dedication of those who faithfully, humbly accept their unwelcome burden, there is a hidden work of God taking shape.  It’s a tedious evolution, produced slowly over time by a series of everyday events common to the human experience, seemingly inconsequential to us.  This work in us is hidden, often even from ourselves.  “A seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown…this work happens even when we do not feel it” (Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love).  He is the vine, we are the branches.  As we remain in Him, He promises to remain in us and bear much fruit (John 15:4).  As we patiently endure through our harsh realities, a gentle beauty is born, beauty that we cannot conjure on our own.  He produces a different, better kind of life that we cannot understand until we experience it, until we see it begin to take form in us as we trust him in our pain, as we submit to his higher calling of self-denial.  This is where we begin to understand what Jesus meant when he said, “If you choose self-sacrifice, giving up your lives for my glory, you will embark on a discovery of more and more of true life” (Luke 9:24 TPT).  In our experiences of loss, there is also the birth of something new.

It’s about the willingness to be led where we would rather not go, trusting his strength is made perfect in our weakness, about looking to Him to supply what we need when we reach the end of ourselves.  Just like he provided manna from heaven and water from a rock for his people as they wandered through the desert.  It won’t be everything, but it will be enough…and the Promised Land is ahead.

But aren’t we supposed to be joyful and live in victory?  John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress portrays the Christian journey as one fraught with danger, temptation, and much difficulty.  There are seasons of respite, glimpses of Paradise ahead, but this story reminds us that the way to glory is found through suffering.  We aren’t promised the fulfillment of every desire, a life of ease, every prayer answered.  Jesus said, “Narrow is the road that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:14).  He also told us in this world we would have trouble, and yet we are still somehow surprised by it.  Many of us have had those moments when we shake our fist at the heavens, begging for an answer to our question of “Why?”, and we are met with silence.

So what is our response?  Even the apostle Paul suffered with a thorn in his flesh, and he pleaded with God to remove it, to which God replied, “My grace is sufficient for you.”   Paul’s response?  “I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:9).  Sometimes we are healed, sometimes we do get the victory we seek…and sometimes we are left in our weakness, day by day learning to rely on Him to supply what we need.  If we pay attention, we will begin to see the quiet, hidden miraculous take shape.  We discover that in Christ, our weakness produces strength; what appears to be the basis for despair proves to be the basis for hope; what looks like defeat proves to be victory.

 And so we look to the joy set before us, knowing that “the tested genuineness of [our] faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7 ESV). When Jesus was on the cross, the victory was hidden.  His disciples were afraid, defeated.  His own mother watched, her heart shattered.  God’s work of redemption was hidden on that day.  It may at times appear the same to us today, but it is there, and it is glorious.