I Told My Kids They Belong on The Naughty List. Here’s Why…


Two Decembers ago I took this photo of my son and captioned it: Wait… what naughty list?  

The expression on his tiny face still makes me laugh every time I see it.

The other day, I saw a similar expression on his face when I told him (along with his older sister) some harrowing news about the naughty list. Here’s what happened:

I was reading the kids some cutesy Christmas book about a little boy who dreamed he was on the naughty list and woke up to a stocking full of coal. When the story was over, my daughter asked, “How do people get on the naughty list?”

“What do you mean?” I was buying some time. I do this a lot when answering her questions.

She proceeded to ask if her brother might be on the naughty list. “Because he does naughty things sometimes,” she said.

I nodded. Valid point. (Almost-three-year-old boys can be a bit of a handful.)

It could’ve been such an easy conversation. I could have said, “No, he’s not on the naughty list.” Then we could have moved on.

But I didn’t say that. Because apparently I’m not one for easy conversations. Instead, I felt a tremendous burden to take this opportunity to tell my little girl something. I asked her, “What does the Bible say about this? Does the Bible say we’re naughty?”

You could see the wheels in her head spinning. After a long time she answered, “The Bible says we’re… nice? Right?”

I shook my head. “No, sweetie. The Bible says we have all done naughty things. This is called sin. And we all have sin. We all belong on the naughty list.”

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23 ESV)

My son, who had been shoving fistfuls of Cheerios into his mouth this whole time, paused, mid-bite. His eyes widened.

“Even me?” my daughter asked. “Do I belong on the naughty list?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Even you?” she asked.

My mind went back to a few days earlier, when I dropped a 42-pound double jogging stroller on my foot while unloading it from the van in a crowded parking lot. The pain was so fast and intense, without thinking I let a word fly out of my mouth that was neither holly nor jolly. I remembered a whole lot of other things, too. Things from long, long ago, that still have the power to make me cringe if I let myself dwell on them.

“Yes,” I said. “Even me. We all have sin. Every last one of us.”

“Does even Jesus belong on the naughty list?” she asked, her voice louder than before.

“Well, no, actually. That’s the whole point. Jesus did not have sin. But he took the sin of the whole world onto himself, and he died so that we could be free from the penalty of our sin.”

She furrowed her brow. I tried explaining it again, in terms more appropriate for a preschooler.

“Every last one of us belongs on the naughty list,” I told her. “There’s nothing any of us could do to earn our way off the naughty list. No matter how good we are, no matter how hard we try, we could never be good enough to measure up to God. The Bible says the only way to be right with God is to accept the free gift that Jesus gave to each of us. The gift is called salvation. Jesus saved us from being stuck on the naughty list forever. And even if you’ve done something really, really bad—even if you’ve done the worst thing you can imagine, you can still be saved because Jesus gave this gift to everyone. That’s what the Bible says.”

“So I belong on the naughty list?”

“Yes, sweetie. You belong on the naughty list, and so does your brother, and so does Mommy. We all belong on the naughty list, every last person. But because of Jesus, we don’t have to stay there. And that’s why Christmas is such a big deal. That’s why it’s so very, very special.”

We talked a lot more after that. My daughter learned a big new word, Redeemed. (Which, by the way, sounds super cute coming out of her mouth because she pronounces her R as W.)

And, as far as I can tell, getting the news that they belong on the naughty list didn’t ruin Christmas for my kids.

We focus a lot on that, as parents—on not “ruining” Christmas. We focus on making Christmas magical and perfect for our children. We feel this pressure to bring the wonder of the season to our kids. But I want to be ever so careful, in sharing the wonder of Christmas, not to miss the mark.

I want to be careful to avoid the cultural pressure to teach my kids that they need to strive to be good, because someone’s watching, and they’ll be judged on how well they strived to measure up to this standard of “good”. I want to avoid teaching them this because it’s just not true. The truth is none of us could be good enough. Ever. That’s the whole point of Christmas.

I want to be intentional about teaching them not to strive to make the cut, but rather to accept that they could never make the cut on their own. I want to teach them to embrace their spot on the naughty list, and my hope is that someday, they’ll embrace the Savior who was sent to rescue them.

Here’s the thing: I’ve talked to a lot of grown ups about this. We don’t use the phrase naughty list, of course. Instead, we talk about regrets, about shame, about feelings of not being good enough. We are living in a world that is very much focused on being good enough—on striving to be liked and accepted. Perhaps it’s because we start striving, as children, to be on the nice list. And perhaps we take this mentality of earning our way onto the nice list into our relationship with God. We think we first have to be on the nice list, and then we can have a relationship with God.

Then, this “try to be good” mentality turns into a very vague and dangerous lie: that if we’re generally a good person, we’ll hopefully make the team and go to Heaven.

That’s not what the Bible says at all. The Bible says the only way to go to Heaven is to accept that we’re not good enough, and that we need a Savior. The Bible is clear that our only hope is to accept the free gift of salvation that only Jesus can offer, because we can’t earn it, no matter what we do.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9 ESV)

So let me be the one this Christmas to say something very important to you, if you haven’t heard it:

You don’t have to strive to measure up. You never will measure up. None of us will. Please don’t miss out on knowing Jesus because you think you’re not good enough. That’s the whole point! It’s why he came, and it’s why he died. Because you’re not good enough. Neither am I. We don’t have to pretend to be. I hear far too many people joke that, “If I walked into a church, it would burst into flames.” If that were true, there wouldn’t be a church still standing, because every person who will walk into a church this weekend has struggled and will struggle with sin. The truth is, all of Heaven rejoices when someone full of sin decides to drop the pretense, to stop pretending they’re okay, and come to Jesus, broken and real.

Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue. (Luke 15:7 MSG)

We all belong on the naughty list. But we don’t have to stay there.

If you haven’t embraced your place on the naughty list yet, if you’re still striving to measure up, and if you’re exhausted from all that striving, why not lay it down this Christmas? A good way to start is to head to church. You don’t necessarily have to be at church to get to know Jesus, but it helps. It helps to spend regular time learning about who God is and who you’re called to be. You might be very surprised at what you find out.

If you’re local, and you’re looking for a place to go, get in touch! I know a place, and you’ll even have someone to sit with… a fellow sinner who belongs on the naughty list, too.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

Real Rest for Real-Tired Moms


(Transcript from my talk at a gathering of amazing moms on November 16, 2017)

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Matthew 11:28-30, MSG

In a room full of this many moms, it’s safe to say a lot of us, if not all of us, are tired. Worn out. Burned out. If you came here today feeling this way, like you’re running on empty, then I’m especially excited to speak with you. I’m going to tell you about my journey to find real, soul-level rest – “rhythms of grace” in the middle of the knee-deep crazy of motherhood.

I’m going to tell you about Sabbath – regular time set aside for rest and worship.

Now I know that word – Sabbath – can sound outdated and kind of scary even. At least, that’s how it used to sound for me. So right off the bat, I want to tell you I’m not going to be slamming you with a bunch of rules today. I hope you walk away with some helpful ideas for how to experience God’s gift of rest on a deeper level, but these ideas are in no way meant to be strict rules to follow in order to “do Sabbath right”. This is not about giving you a bunch of spiritual hoops to jump through. This is about stepping away from expectations, our own and those others place on us. This is about breaking the chains that are holding us back from living the abundant life we already have in Jesus.

I also want to confess that I’m not sharing with you today because I’m really good at this whole Sabbath thing. In fact, by nature, I’m really bad at it. So very bad at it. But God, in his mercy, has called me (and all of us, really) to a different way of living. Through studying what the Bible has to say about Sabbath, I’ve learned that we are not called to be constantly overwhelmed, stressed out, and exhausted. My journey to discover this different way of living has been an imperfect one, but it has also been a beautiful and transformative one, and I just can’t wait to share it with you.

If you’re here today and you’re not in a relationship with Jesus, stay with me, because I’m confident you will still glean some good takeaways from this time. Takeaways that will hopefully strengthen you in your role as a mother. Because we all could use deeper, soul-level rest; reminding us that we are human beings, not human doings.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for creating everything, including rest. You made us and you know how much our bodies, minds, and souls need rest. And yet, we run from resting in you. We search for rest and rejuvenation in places where there is none to be found. Forgive us for turning to empty sources of fulfillment. May our weary and burdened hearts learn to seek your presence and find real rest. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Okay. So. The first job I had out of college, I worked as a recruiter for a foster care agency. My job was to find potential foster parents, vet them, and then take them through the licensing process. The job sort of forced you to get up in people’s business, so I got to know some of these people pretty well.

I worked with this one particular woman for a while, and as I took her through the process to become a foster parent, she decided if I was going to get all up in her business, it was only fair that she’d get all up in my business, too. So she was always calling me out and challenging me on all sorts of stuff. And she had this go-to phrase that she said over and over again. Whenever I asked how she was doing, she’d respond with, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

So one day, I go to her house and ask how she’s doing. And she says, as expected, “I’m too blessed to be stressed.” But then she says something unexpected. Then she goes… “Are you?”

And I say, “Am I what?”

And she goes, “Are you too blessed to be stressed?”

I could already see where this was going.

I was partly joking, partly serious when I said, “I think I might be doing it backwards. Is it possible to be too stressed to be blessed?”

Well… we had a conversation. Because as you may have guessed, she indeed thought I was too stressed to be blessed. Our conversation didn’t really change anything, but I mention it because it helps to set the scene for who I was before stepping into the regular rhythm of Sabbath. Apparently, I was someone who gave off a “too stressed to be blessed” vibe.

Fast forward to a few years later, I didn’t have any kids yet, and I’d met one of my girlfriends from my minichurch for a walk. So we’re out walking, and she goes, “I tried to call you Sunday, but your phone went straight to voicemail.”

She assumed I had turned my phone off in observance of the Sabbath, and she went on to explain how she thought it was amazing that I was so disciplined to set boundaries for quiet space with the Lord.

The thing was, though, that my phone wasn’t off in observance of the Sabbath. Quite the opposite, actually. My phone was off because it had died while I was running around like a madwoman that particular Sunday. At this point in my life I was in a much more demanding marketing and public relations job, and I had a ton of stuff to tackle before the work week started. And when my phone died, I was so frantic and stressed that I didn’t even have a minute to spare to charge it. (If you’re wondering how I survived, this was back in the flip phone days.)

So I sheepishly admitted this to my friend. Honestly, at the time, even hearing the word Sabbath felt really strange to me. It was a word I didn’t really understand. Here’s what I did know, or what I thought I knew: Sabbath was for like, the SUPER Holy people. The people who have their stuff together. The people who come early to church with their Bibles in the quilted carrying pouches. Those kinds of people. Surely this whole Sabbath thing wasn’t for a stress-mess like me. I figured someday, maybe, I’d arrive at this place where I finally was together enough to incorporate Sabbath into my life. Someday. Maybe.

Fast forward a little more, to a time when I was a mother, and my husband and I welcomed baby number two. Things got crazy during this time. My daughter was two and a half when my son was born. Just having a toddler and a newborn at the same time… I don’t even need to explain. You girls know. Things were more complicated than usual though, because in the first few months of my son’s life, we moved not once, but twice. And for two months we lived among boxes with our two small children at my in-laws’ house. Meanwhile, my mom got diagnosed with cancer and passed away from it. It was a very, very hard time. And everything felt completely upside down and chaotic, as it would on even a good day with very small kids. But so much more so with all of this major life change and grief to deal with.

My soul was not rested. I was completely burdened. I wasn’t living freely and lightly at all. I had no time for rhythms of grace, whatever those were. You see, I have an incredibly task-oriented personality. And part of the way I coped during this season – once I landed in a new house with two babies, more boxes than I could count, and no mom – was by increasing my productivity. By keeping my mind and my body too busy to actually process the life that was happening around me.

I’m one of those people who makes to-do lists simply because I love marking things off the list. It gets really ugly sometimes. If left unchecked, my tendency toward productivity majorly gets in the way of my ability and willingness to love and invest in the people in my life.

I could give you lots of examples, but my time is limited. The point is, I kicked my already task-oriented personality into even higher gear after this major upheaval in my life.

But there was an exception: Christmastime. I mean, not actually Christmastime. Christmastime was as chaotic as ever. But after Christmas. December 26th through January 1st. I still don’t quite know how it happened, but in 2015 we had the most glorious week of rest in our home that week. We were all together, with no real commitments. And there was this found time to reflect, real, significant time to restore. It was truly beautiful. I thought it was a fluke. A welcome fluke, but a fluke nonetheless. I didn’t realize it then, but a seed was planted in my heart that week.

One year later, the seed was watered. We had the same kind of week after Christmas. A glorious, restful, restorative week. This time, I didn’t think it was a fluke. This time, I knew it was a gift. A welcome, wonderful gift.

I was savoring the last bits of this gift, late in the evening on New Year’s Day. So this was January 1st of this year. It was a Sunday – I’ll never forget that detail. Everyone in my house had fallen asleep. It’s so rare for me to have time alone like that. I sat there enjoying the Christmas tree and the fire in a quiet room. I remember praying silently, thanking God for this wonderful, peaceful week. I was sad, because I knew it would be another year before I had this kind of peace again. The next morning it would be back to the grind. But that night, I wanted to soak up every last drop of this amazing, unusual time.

So in these last few precious moments of peace and quiet, I did something which at the time seemed pretty inconsequential, but would actually end up changing my life. What I did was reach for this book.

This is a compilation of stories people have contributed, sharing their memories growing up in West Virginia. This is where all my relatives come from, and my cousin wrote a story about my grandmother in this book. My dad had the book and thought I might want to read the story about my grandmother, so he brought it to me over the holidays.

Here’s what I read about my grandmother: “Once, it was a Sunday night, and so hot we could not sleep. Grandma had a rule of not working on Sunday, so she waited until after midnight that hot night, and then we started doing laundry. Technically it wasn’t Sunday anymore, and the laundry needed to be done…”

I read this part of the story over and over again.

This story – this anecdote about my grandmother waiting until midnight to do laundry because she refused to work on Sunday – it totally rocked the foundation of who I thought I was. Because I never knew this about her. We lived far away, and I was a child when she passed. So of course there were some things I didn’t pick up on. I knew my grandmother to be an incredibly hard-working lady; a lady who could often be found – no exaggeration – outside with an axe, splitting wood, when she was well into her eighties. I knew she was tough and I knew she was fierce. But I didn’t know she was so serious keeping the Sabbath. I didn’t know that my grandmother was just as fierce in her dedication to the Lord as she was in swinging an axe over her shoulder.

Perhaps “this is just who I am” was no longer an adequate excuse for the exhausted and stressed-out way I was living. Perhaps my legacy was to be something altogether different.

Have you ever had a moment when something just clicks? A moment when you can sense God orchestrating details in your life?

This was one of those moments. It didn’t seem like an accident or a coincidence, that I was sitting by myself on the first day of the New Year (which happened to be a Sunday) wishing I didn’t have to let go of this restful time and reading these specific words about my grandmother not working on Sundays. It didn’t seem like a coincidence at all. It seemed like a divine appointment.

I was paying attention in this moment. More so than I usually do. And I realized something:

I realized I didn’t have to wait until next year. I could experience this same level of rest and peace next week. Literally. Next Sunday.

In fact, that’s what God would want for me. It’s what he’d asked me to do. Commanded me, even.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God…” – Deuteronomy 5:6, ESV.

I’ll be real for a second. Up until this point, I always viewed this as “the old fashioned commandment”. Like, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t commit adultery – all those still seemed to be relevant. But this one… I always secretly thought of it as the outdated commandment that I could brush aside. I wasn’t hurting anyone by disregarding this one… at least I didn’t think I was.

Ordinarily, I would have continued to brush the idea of Sabbath aside as an obsolete, if not impossible notion.

But in the quiet of the room, in this beautiful, peaceful moment – I had a new understanding that this was important – so important – for me to finally get hold of.

I knew it was the beginning of a different kind of journey. It was the first day of a New Year, and God had already given me a gracious head start in having rest on the first Sunday of 2017. So I asked myself this question:

Would I commit to doing life this way every Sunday of 2017? Would I dare to commit to a whole year of Sabbath keeping?

I want to pause and emphasize that this was not a New Year’s Resolution. This was something much bigger than that. But our God is a God of making all things new, and I do love the way this new journey started on the first day of a New Year.

I was one hundred percent sure this was what God commanded of me through his word. And for the first time, I wanted to obey it. I knew it would be good, because “all his precepts are trustworthy” (Psalms 111:7).

But I’ll be honest, this was a really tough moment for me. And I’m going to tell you why in a moment. But we’re going to transition. Up until now, I’ve given you this chronological story of how I got on this Sabbath journey, but from here I’m going to share my journey within the framework of three practical takeaways you can use if you want to take a step of faith and incorporate Sabbath in your life. Again, these aren’t going to be rules. But if you’re approaching this for the first time, you probably most want to know, “Where do I even start?” I’m hoping these takeaways will give you a jumping-off point, and a grace-filled landing place, too.

Okay, so here’s takeaway number one.

1. If you want to embrace Sabbath rest, first examine your heart.

This is so important, because this is the way you will figure out who – or what – you’re really worshipping. Most people associate Sabbath with rest. And yes, it is about rest. But it’s very much about worship, too. It really begins there, because if something has taken up too much authority in your life, you’ll find it very difficult to put this thing aside and experience real rest.

For me, as we’ve talked about, I’m very task-oriented. I like having the house clean. I like being caught up on my to-do list. The Bible is very clear that we should have no other gods (or idols) in our life, and when I got real with myself, I knew that I valued productivity so much, I’d made a god out of it.

I had made an idol out of being “done”. And I went to great lengths to chase this false “god of doneness”. I fooled myself into thinking that once I was finally done, sitting in my perfectly clean home, all caught up on my work and my to-do’s, then I could feel rested. Then I would be restored. Then I would have peace.

Early on in my Sabbath journey, I had to come to grips with the truth: The false “god of done” is an ugly liar. There is no done. Guys, I had to come to grips with the fact that I will probably die with things still on my to-do list and possibly even dishes in the sink. There. Is. No. Done. There is only, as the Bible says, “a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There’s a time to do, and a time to stop.

For me, the first step in even mustering up the courage to make room for Sabbath was deciding that I would no longer serve this false “god of done.” Once a week, I would put aside my need to feel like I was staying on top of everything and getting ahead. In that first moment, on New Year’s Day by the fire, I had the desire to do it. But it went so against my nature that I wasn’t sure I could change.

The funny thing about false gods – things we’ve let become too important in our lives – is they carry with them this illusion they can somehow fulfill us. The truth is, they don’t have anything to offer at all. Logically, I knew that my life would be more impactful and meaningful if I could find a way to stop relentlessly chasing after “doneness”. And yet, the thought of loosening my grip, even for just one day a week, made me very anxious.

If you’re wired like this, you can probably relate to feeling like the world might crumble if you stop. If this isn’t you, I wonder if you might take some time to reflect on whether there’s anything similar taking up too much space in your heart and your life. Is there anything you’d be anxious about giving up? Even for a small period of time?

Maybe you’ve put too much faith in spending money or accumulating material things. Or maybe it’s an attitude – constantly comparing yourself, scrolling social media feeds to see how you measure up to others.

Maybe it’s technology, like your phone. Maybe it’s something that seems restful, like your Netflix account, but only allows you to turn off your mind and go numb, rather than restoring your soul the way God intended Sabbath to do. We often associate “vegging out” with resting, but numbing out and resting are actually very different things. Jennie Allen writes, “Most of the ways we try and rest actually make our insides more chaotic. Surfing Facebook can end with us angry over someone’s post or comparing our lives to our friends’. Binge watching a show can suck us into fictional stress and distract us from connecting with our real-life people… When Jesus promises rest, he is almost always talking about soul rest… nothing but Jesus can issue rest for our chaotic insides.”

There are all kinds of false gods out there, vying for our attention with empty promises that they’ll fill us up.

So many people, upon hearing about my journey to incorporate Sabbath into my life, have said the same thing: “I really want to do this. But I don’t know how. What are the rules?”

Please hear this. The Sabbath is not about us measuring up to a bunch of legalistic rules. Rather, it’s about meeting up and filling up with the One and Only source of life and rest. I would be lying if I said it doesn’t take discipline and obedience – because it does. But if we approach Sabbath from a place of striving for it based on this list of rules we’ve created, we’ll miss the mark entirely.

If you take an honest look at your heart you’ll know where to set the boundaries so your soul can rest – whether that means taking a rest from social media, turning off your phone, refraining from spending money one day a week, or letting a home project go and choosing to do something restful instead. Perhaps all of the above.

It’s hard to find the courage to let go of whatever false gods we’ve been serving. But there is a very real freedom to be found in resting from these things and trusting God with our time.

I have a heartbreaking, but sweet story to tell you before we move on to our next takeaway. When I first made the decision to incorporate Sabbath, I knew I needed some accountability. But I was afraid of too much accountability. So I went to my husband and told him I planned to try a Sabbath day the next week. I didn’t even have the guts to tell him that I was feeling called to try it out for a year. Because what if I wasn’t strong enough to change?

So I told him about the one day, and he was so excited even just to hear I wanted to do this once. Because he knows me well, and he knew how I had over-prioritized my desire for productivity. So the first week came, and it was so very glorious that I knew I was never going back. Not ever. I was a forever-Sabbath girl after just one week. Please don’t hear me saying the time spent in rest was perfect, but it was good.

After the first couple weeks, I don’t even think it was a full month yet, I was in the BJs parking lot, loading kids and groceries into the car. And my daughter said, “Mommy, is tomorrow Sunday?”

I told her it wasn’t, and her face fell. She said, “Oh. I just really want it to be Sunday. Because that’s the day we snuggle a lot. It’s my favorite day.”

My daughter, who was four at the time, picked up on the fact that Sundays looked different all on her own. We hadn’t told her yet. She just picked up on it. It was shocking to see how much and how quickly she caught on to this change in the rhythm of our lives. It was heartbreaking because I knew we’d all missed out on this rhythm – this beautiful gift from God – for far too long.

I mention this because when we allow something to take too much priority in our life, it doesn’t only affect our relationship with God. It affects all of our relationships.

But rest brings restoration. I’m learning that.

Okay. Takeaway number two.

2. If you want to embrace Sabbath rest, plan for it. (And be prepared to fight for it.)

When was the last time you discovered you had a whole day with nothing to do? I might as well ask, when was the last time you saw a unicorn doing cartwheels in your backyard?

We’re moms. There isn’t going to be this magical moment when everything falls into place and we can kick up our feet. We are wading through a flood of crazy every single day.

So, if you’re going to incorporate Sabbath, realistically you’re probably going to have to do some planning to contain the crazy and create this margin space. How much or how little detail you put into planning will depend on your personality, and that’s totally okay. You can make a spreadsheet, or you can make a mental note. But we have to be intentional with our time at some level in order to create margin in our lives.

Here are some things to consider:

When will your Sabbath be?

Find something that works for your family. It doesn’t have to be Sunday. It doesn’t even have to be a whole day (but I do think there’s something to that, if at all possible). Don’t be afraid to start small, with even a few hours at first. You can build from there.

How can you plan your week to make margin?

Planning ahead creates the space for peace. My Sabbath is Saturday evening to Sunday evening. I found it extremely helpful to make a schedule and plan out how I would spend my time Monday-Saturday so I could get to Saturday evening and stop without feeling stress or guilt or fear of what might be lurking in the pile of laundry. I planned out when I would grocery shop, when I would do certain chores, and when I would get my work done. It took some shuffling around at first, but eventually I got into a rhythm that worked. For the most part now, I’m generally able to stop with peace of mind when Saturday evening rolls around. And when it feels like I can’t stop, that’s when trust and obedience comes into play. When this happens, I have to ask myself, do I trust and obey God enough to put down my own agenda? Here’s something cool about this – As a result of making this space for Sabbath margin in my life and planning ahead for it each week, I’ve found myself living from Sabbath to Sabbath. I’ve found myself planning my time with Jesus at the center, instead of planning my time with ME at the center. And that has made all the difference, because it turns out life is very exhausting when everything revolves around me.

Is there something you need to say “no” to?

The world tells us that we need to find balance. And in order to find balance, we have to spread ourselves out neatly across all of these little categories, and strive to keep it all together in all these categories. And then, the world tells us we should look around at how everyone else is doing it and make sure we’re doing it right. Then readjust, repeat. Readjust, repeat… always striving for balance but never quite achieving it. The Bible tells us something totally different. I love the way The Message version puts it, in Galatians 6:4-5: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.”

Here’s the truth. It is utterly exhausting and draining to look around this room in order to become more like each other. But it is invigorating and life-giving when we look to Jesus in order to become more like him. God made you with specific gifts and passions and life experiences that are completely unique, and you were made that way for a purpose. You were not made to be like the woman who is sitting to your left or your right, even if that woman happens to be totally awesome.

In making a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, you may find that you have to say “no” to some things. You may find you can’t volunteer for every little opportunity that comes up, even though it seems like another woman is always able to do so. You may find that your family’s list of extracurricular activities needs to be scaled back, even though your neighbors are at a different activity every night of the week. It is okay to say no. It is okay to do things differently than someone else does. It is okay to live with some margin. It really is.

I came across this podcast, and I heard Dr. Robert Lewis explain his definition of biblical womanhood. I’m paraphrasing a bit, but here’s the basic idea of what he said: A real biblical woman is one who embraces her core callings. Out of those core callings, she chooses wisely, because she’s always keeping those in mind. There will be times when she’s confronted with situations that challenge her core callings, and then she’s going to have to live courageously. In living courageously, she’s expecting, by faith, that ultimately she is going to live a life that’s rewarded by God.

I love this definition because it acknowledges that it takes courage to say no. And that’s hard. As a result of being on a Sabbath journey, I’ve had to find the courage to say no a few times this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve said a lot of yesses, too. But some no’s along the way. It’s been tough for me to say no. And yet, it has been easier for me to discern what I need to say no to as a result of being more intentional with my time.

That is one of the things that has totally blown my mind in doing Sabbath. It has made me much more intentional with my time. I assumed stopping to rest would result in being way behind on everything else in life. But it has actually had the complete opposite effect. The Bible tells us to “walk carefully and make the best possible use of our time” (Ephesians 5:15), and it has truly surprised me to see how directly Sabbath rest is tied to making better use of the other days of the week.

It hasn’t been easy, though. It’s been really hard for me to trust God with my time. It’s been hard for me to let go of my agenda and just… rest. It’s been hard for me to say, “I’ll loosen my grip and give this time to you, God.” But it’s been insanely rewarding. I’ve learned that God is much bigger and much more personal than I imagined. I’ve learned that life isn’t nearly as crammed as I thought it was. I’ve learned that there’s more opportunity than I thought to take big risks for the Kingdom. I have more precious memories of actually being with my husband and my kids and simply enjoying their company. I’m more creative somehow – I can tangibly see a difference in my ability to be creative and spontaneous as a result of regular rest. And I think – I don’t know for sure but I think – that for the most part I’ve stopped giving off a “too stressed to be blessed” vibe. I hope my friend who called me out on that all those years ago would agree.

That’s something I’ve grieved a lot – the fact that for the vast majority of my life as a follower of Jesus, I’ve given off the “too stressed to be blessed” vibe. Stress and striving don’t communicate hope to a weary world. If we’re following Jesus, we can rest in who he is and what he’s done for us. We can say no to the cultural pressure to push, push, push. We can – and should – look different.

Last takeaway.

3. If you want to embrace Sabbath rest, give yourself grace. And then give yourself more grace. And then wrap yourself up in a warm, cozy grace-blanket.

At this point in my year of Sabbath journey, I’ve had about forty-five Sabbath days of rest. Not one – not one – of these days has been perfect. Because let’s be real. I still have to feed the kids, wrestle them into their clothes, and haul them to church. I mean, that alone can be a whole lot of work.

We are moms, and even the most intentional rest won’t be totally quiet and serene all the time. And that’s okay. One of the important things I want to emphasize is that Sabbath rest has a whole lot to do with resting from our expectations of how this restful time should look. It won’t be perfect, ever.

I read some words one mom of young kids wrote about realistic Sabbath, and I want to share this with you, because I’ve found these words to be true over this past year. This is from Shelly Minter’s book, Rhythms of Rest. This mom writes:

In the context of practicing Sabbath as a mom of little ones, I found that making some clear distinctions between Sunday and the rest of the week was extremely helpful. No, I can’t lie on the couch and read books or spend hours in prayer or devotion as I’d like to, because kiddos still need my near-constant help and attention. But I found that even in the midst of mothering I could establish some workable parameters that would help the Sabbath feel set apart…

Initially, this mom decided there were certain things she would not do on the Sabbath – dishes, laundry, extensive cooking, opening the computer, engaging in social media, or emailing from her phone. Then she decided there were things she would do on the Sabbath – nap, read a book while her kids slept, spend intentional time with family by playing a board game or LEGOs, and watching movies together. These aren’t specific rules that create a legalistic Sabbath practice, but rather boundaries that allow greater flexibility in rhythms of rest. She writes:

The beginning weeks and months often felt cumbersome and awkward. But over time I found something remarkable: I looked forward to Sundays with increasing excitement! I got better at planning my week in the areas I needed to be freed up on Sunday to rest. There really was time to get it all done in the other six days. And what had to fall by the wayside probably wasn’t that important to begin with. More than a sacrifice, Sabbath-keeping started to feel like a gift…

The one thing I want moms of little ones to know is my Sabbath doesn’t always feel super spiritual. Yet I know for certain that resting is a spiritual act of worship, and God is using it to transform my heart. Practicing Sabbath has been huge in minimizing that feeling that so many young moms like me have of just going, going, going, without a break.”

It’s still real life, but we can find rest in it.

I want to share so much more with you. I could probably talk about this every meeting for a whole semester and still not be done. No joke. But we need to wrap up.

I know if you’re not in a regular rhythm of rest, it can feel totally impossible to ever find one. I want to take a quick moment to address anyone who has been listening this morning and thinking, “That whole Sabbath thing works for her, but I could never do it because I have more kids, more responsibility, etc.” If you’re thinking this way, I just want to encourage you that you can find rest. The Bible does not prescribe Sabbath rest only for those who have time. It’s for all of us, and the busiest among us are the ones who need rest the most.

Remember, you don’t have to do this on Sundays. And you can start small, even for a few hours. I know it can be hard and maybe even scary to stop, but I promise you that your life will never be the same if you take a courageous step of faith and make regular time to rest and fill up with the One and Only source of life.

Thank you so much for letting me share my heart with you today. May we all find rest in this season of life when we need it the most.

Discussion Questions:

Do you ever feel like there isn’t enough time to get everything done, or that you’re constantly striving to catch up?

What thing (or things) have taken up too much importance in your life? (work, household chores, your phone, t.v., social media, negative thought patterns, etc.)

Rest can feel risky. What would you have to risk in order to stop and rest? How would this require you to trust God more?

Do you want to try and incorporate Sabbath into your life? If so, tell someone! Get accountable with someone from your table. Don’t be afraid to start small.

Tell Your Father All About It 


I have some unofficial, but pretty reliable scientific evidence which suggests there’ll be a high volume of tiny Moanas roaming the streets this Halloween.

I’m basing this on the fact that there was only one Moana costume left at Target when we were there several weeks ago. My five-year-old spotted it from afar, as if she were equipped with some sort of advanced Moana-costume-tracking-radar.

She raced toward it and yanked it off the rack, breathless with excitement and babbling on about her sudden plans to dress up as Moana this year and wasn’t it so perfect that there was one costume left and we found it at just the right time and could we get it Mommy, could we, Mommy, please could we, Mommy? Please?!

I stood there trying not to cringe. You see, I’m not a huge Halloween mom. It partly has to do with the fact that as a kid, I was terrified of costumes, even happy-looking ones. So I didn’t love having to be out and about in a sea of masked faces while trick-or-treating each year. To this day, I’m still a little uncomfortable around mascots. Once not too long ago I was heading into Chick-fil-A and the cow was standing there, greeting people at the door. I turned around with a shudder and went through a different entrance.

I’ve probably got some weird, deep-rooted psychological issues to work out.

The point is, I’m not a huge Halloween mom. I’ll let the kids dress up for costume parades at school, and we’ll go trick-or-treating with friends, but the kids’ costumes are usually low-key; something we’ve borrowed or made with minimal time and effort. I found this one for free on a consignment website when my daughter was a baby:

Is it a kitty? Or perhaps some sort of pink wolf? Who knows? But it was free.

This year, I was hoping my little girl would choose something from her dress-up box. She seemed okay with that idea. Until she saw the Moana costume, that is. As she stood in the store clutching the costume and looking up at me with big, excited eyes, it was clear there’d been a shift. In that moment, her very happiness hinged on leaving the store with this costume in hand.

“I don’t know,” I told her. “We need to think about it.”

Her face fell. “Why?” she asked.

“Well…” I took the costume from her and examined it, buying some time. That’s the thing about parenting. There always seems to be a pop quiz you didn’t study for. One minute, you’re minding your own business shopping for lightbulbs, and the next, you’re trying to find an age-appropriate way to explain to your preschooler that you can’t give in to her every whim because it would set her up for a lifetime of unrealistic expectations and disappointment. It’s tricky business.

I got lucky though, because I noticed the costume was two sizes too big. “Well, for one thing,” I said, “this costume isn’t the right size for you.”

“We can make it fit,” she said. “Please, Mommy. Please!”

“Let’s think about it a little more.” I ushered her away from the costume, and she strained her neck to look at it as we went.

The costume remained a hot topic of conversation all throughout the store, and in the car on the way home. She didn’t understand why she couldn’t have it, right then and there.

At one point as we were driving, after I’d explained to her (again) that the costume was the wrong size, she said, “I know it doesn’t fit me… I just want it so much.” Her tiny voice was raw with emotion.

Now, let me just stop and acknowledge that this definitely falls into the category of first-world problems. There are children with much, much greater needs in the world than a perfect Halloween costume. I am not trying to magnify this desire into an actual need. It doesn’t even hit the radar.

But, oh, how I could relate to those simple, honest words, “I just want it so much.”

I know as my little girl grows, she will learn what it is to have real heartache. It’s an inevitable part of living in a broken and fallen world. She fell into thoughtful silence after her confession, and I reflected on the I-just-want-it-so-much moments of my own life: longing for a child after a loss; dreaming for a house when it seemed like it was impossible; wanting nothing more than to wake up one morning and realize cancer wasn’t a reality, but just a bad dream.

We don’t outgrow the I-just-want-it-so-much moments. We learn to live with them a little better, perhaps. We learn to hide our suffering. We learn to put on a brave, everything-is-okay face, reserving our true feelings for our innermost thoughts.

And somewhere along the way, as we condition ourselves to quiet the I-just-want-it-so-much voice, we get to a place where we learn to keep that same simple and honest voice from crying out to God. I know I have, at least – I can pinpoint times when I’ve come to the Lord in prayer as my “cleaned up” self; praying what I think I should pray instead of trusting God with my real I-just-want-it-so-much heart. As if he can’t handle my true, uncensored feelings. As if he doesn’t already know all about them.

Paul Miller writes in his book A Loving Life about the importance of crying out to God in our moments of despair and disappointment: “A lament puts us in an openly dependent position… it’s pure authenticity… to not lament puts God at arm’s length and has the potential of splitting us. We appear okay, but we are really brokenhearted.”

Pure authenticity… my five-year-old has it, and I love that about her. I want her to hang on to it. I want her to develop a relationship of pure authenticity with her Heavenly Father as she grows.

So I figured we could practice. I figured we could practice now, with her earthly father, while it was still something as easy and trivial as a costume at stake.

I turned down the radio and told her, “There will be times when you feel this way. There will be times when you want something so much. And when that happens, what you need to do is go to your father and tell him all about it. Then wait to hear what he says.”

“You want me to tell Daddy?”

“Yes. I want you to tell Daddy.”

“And I can ask him for the costume?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “You can ask him for the costume.”

She considered this for a while. “What if he says no?” she asked.

I thought this question might be coming. “Well…” I glanced at her in the rearview mirror. “There will be times when you want something so much, and you tell your father all about it, and you ask him for the thing you want. And the answer is no. Or, not right now. That will happen sometimes.”

“But, Mommy… what if he says no?

“Your father is good. And he loves you very much. And he knows what’s best. So if he says no, you can still trust him no matter what. Even if you’re disappointed. Even if you’re sad. He will still love you. And he will still be good. And he will still know what’s best.”

I glanced into the mirror again and saw her purse her little lips.

“Will you tell your father all about it?” I asked.

“Yes,” came her determined voice from the backseat.

When that little girl’s father came home, he heard all about the Moana costume before he even set foot in the house. He didn’t know he was part of this big-important-practice-drill, helping his daughter practice talking authentically with her Father in Heaven. But my little girl is blessed with the best dad ever, and he did exactly what I suspected he would do. He listened to her every word with a delighted expression on his face. And when she asked if he would take her back to the store right then and there, he told her no. He explained it would be best to wait a little while before making a decision. He told her he wanted her to have a costume that fit her perfectly.

It went on for a little after that. It was a purely authentic conversation, and I pray she will remember it always.

I’d do well to remember it, too. I’d do well to follow my daughter’s example and talk to my Heavenly Father with that same brand of pure authenticity. We all would.

The thing I most want to share with you today is this:

You can talk to God like that. You can trust him enough to tell him your biggest desires. You can lament if you need to. You can tell him when you’re disappointed and terrified and utterly discouraged. You can do all this even if you don’t know God too well. Perhaps one of the biggest roadblocks to being close to God is authenticity. There is this illusion that God only wants to hear from “happy” and “whole” people, but open the Bible and you’ll see lament after lament – gut-level honest prayers in the book of Psalms.

It’s okay to get real with God. It’s okay to deal with difficult emotions in prayer, to open up the ugly places of our hearts with pure authenticity. It’s okay to tell him your I-just-want-it-so-much feelings, even if you’re afraid of what the answer will be.

It feels risky, sharing our hearts with pure authenticity. We’re not used to doing it, because we live in a culture of “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?” But God already knows the not-fine places in our hearts. Perhaps it’s time we start getting to know him a little better, too.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7

In case you’re wondering how the costume business worked out:

After the initial disappointment of not getting the costume she so desperately wanted, my daughter did end up getting to dress up as Moana this year. We made her dress together, carefully selecting fabrics and trims. And yeah, I didn’t want to spend a bunch of time making an elaborate costume this year, but I did it anyway, because I wanted to show her something. I wanted to show her that when she brings her purely authentic heart to her father, she won’t always get exactly what she wants exactly when she wants it. But, in the right time, she just might get something which fits her perfectly.

Perhaps to really drive this point home, I should’ve had her dad make the costume. Next year, I guess.


Do You Do Anything Purposeful? 


I overheard the question come from a stranger who’d approached the other end of the table I shared at a restaurant with a small army of fellow moms.

We were all clad in matching t-shirts, and originally the stranger had approached to inquire about what the t-shirts meant. Someone responded with something along the lines of, “We’re a group of moms who get together regularly to encourage one another.” And that’s when the question slipped out.   

“So, do you like, do anything, uh… purposeful?”

A laugh escaped from me without warning, and I clapped my hand over my mouth. As far as I could tell, the question wasn’t delivered from a place of rudeness. It was just… honest. I couldn’t help but find it funny, because it’s the same question I ask myself sometimes when I’m scrubbing chocolate milk stains out of the carpet, navigating a public tantrum, or shaking sand out of tiny sneakers.

Apparently, being a mom who encourages other moms didn’t fall into this particular person’s category of purposeful. We got lucky though, because we’d just come from pulling off a large community event which was easier to define as “purposeful”. So we shared a little about the event, and this seemed to satisfy the inquisitive stranger, who walked away nodding in affirmation. 

A few days later, I was walking through the grocery store. More accurately, I was running through the grocery store, chasing two kids who were overflowing with excitement about life in general, the way kids often do. We came upon a pregnant mother who was bent down picking yogurt-covered raisins off the floor while her toddler munched happily in the shopping cart. 

She could’ve easily left the mess for someone else to pick up, someone who would get paid to do it. But she took it upon herself to bend down and pick up every last one of the scattered raisins. In the most mundane moment, this mother showed the character of Jesus to her child, by willingly (and literally) lowering herself and serving. 

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45 (ESV)  

We went over to help gather the raisins, and I recognized her from the group of women who gather to encourage one another. My kids fell to the floor with a collective thump, eager to participate in this raisin-gathering game. She let them help, and in doing so, she gave them the opportunity to reflect the same character of Jesus she was modeling for her kid, my kids, and anyone else who might be observing the situation. My kids beamed, thrilled to help clean up a mess for once instead of make it. 

“I bet you find these raisins in your washing machine a lot, huh?” I asked her as we finished the job and stood up.

“My pockets are full of them,” she said.

“Been there.” I dropped a handful of raisins into my own pocket. “For solidarity,” I explained.  

We said our goodbyes, and later that night I had the very rare mental presence to remove the yogurt-covered raisins from my pocket before throwing my pants in the hamper. (Win!) 

I looked at the pile of raisins, reflecting on the bent posture of the mother I saw in the store, and reflecting on the stranger’s question, “So, do you like, do anything, uh… purposeful?” 

It’s not just a question for moms. It’s a question for anyone. We all ask ourselves this at times when we’re in the grind. We ask ourselves this on the days which seem so very uneventful, and we find ourselves wondering… 

Is this going anywhere?  

Where’s the payoff?  

Am I doing anything purposeful? 

Being faithful day-in and day-out right where God has you doesn’t always seem very exciting. It doesn’t always seem very purposeful. Not by the world’s standards, anyway. 

But what if those days, when we are unseen and unsure of where it’s all going, are the most purposeful? I’d say they are, if we’re submitted to serving and pleasing God in the small (no matter how small) moments. I’d say these small moments could add up to something very big, indeed.  

I’m reading a gem of a book by Jay Pathan and Dave Runyon. Here’s what they have to say about this topic: 

“In our culture, we have a fascination with celebrities and talent. We are riveted by movies about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, because we want to be inspired and wowed by the lives of others. So imagine watching a movie about a man who goes to work every day, has dinner with his family five nights a week, and reads books to his kids before they go to bed at night. He also is a great neighbor… Imagine in scene after scene of this film, we watch a man who is consistently faithful… This would be a terribly boring movie. No one would pay to see it. The movies we watch tell us a lot about what we value in our culture. We don’t value consistency. On the whole, we are convinced that we need to make a big splash to make a difference… This simple truth can change everything: small things matter. They really do… We all wish we were a bit more of something – smarter, funnier, or wealthier. Often we have a hard time recognizing what we do have to offer… It may not seem that we have much, but when we give from what we have, something sacred happens. God uses the small things that we bring to him and multiplies them into a miracle.” 

In the past month, I keep stumbling across the Scriptures which describe Jesus feeding 5,000 – making a miracle out of five loaves of bread and two fish from a single boy’s lunch. I’m hearing about this event in church, having conversations about it in life, coming across it in various books I’m reading. Over and over again, it seems I can’t escape these Scriptures.  

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I wonder if the boy, who simply showed up and gave his lunch to Jesus that day, had any idea we’d be talking about it, studying it, writing about it, and reading about it more than two thousand years later. I wonder if he ever dreamed that his meager lunch would become an epic miracle.  

And I wonder what this boy would’ve said, after watching Jesus create a miracle of abundance out of his small offering. I wonder how he would’ve answered the question, “Did you do anything purposeful today?” 

The Scriptures don’t say, but I like to think the boy would’ve shrugged, pointed to Jesus, and said, “No. I didn’t do anything purposeful at all. But He sure did.” 

Because I’m finding so much freedom these days in realizing it’s not my job to manufacture purpose. It’s not my job to garner anyone’s approval or applause. My job is to show up and offer what little I have to Jesus, again and again. 

I hope I get another chance to answer the question someday, “So, do you like, do anything, uh… purposeful?” 

If I do, I hope I won’t be so quick to burst into laughter. And I hope I’ll resist the urge to respond in a way that elevates myself as purposeful. I hope I’ll be confident in saying, “No. But I show up and give everything I have to the One who does.” 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

The Big Question


Today as I was buckling my five-year-old into the car before school, she said something I didn’t expect. She looked at me and said, verbatim: “Mommy, people keep telling me God is real. But I can’t see him. So how can I know he’s real?”

I think I was so thrown off by the question because I figured I had a few more years before I had to answer this one. I assumed it came sometime between “where do babies come from?” and “can I get my belly button pierced?” (Do girls still get their belly buttons pierced? I don’t even know anymore. In any case, I was caught off guard.)

We only had a five-minute drive to school, so there wasn’t much time to tackle all the things we could’ve talked about. But I want to share what I told my little girl in those five minutes.

I told her there are lots of things in this world we can’t see even though they’re real. I turned the air conditioning on full-blast and asked if she felt the cool air blowing on her in the backseat.

“Is the air real?” I asked.

A big smile spread across her face and she nodded.

“You’re right. Air is real. In fact, we can’t live without air. We’d die without it, but we can’t see it. Air is very real.”

We went on to talk about the wind outside. We talked about how we can see the effects of the wind, and we can discern that the wind is extremely powerful, capable of knocking down buildings and trees. We can learn about the nature of the wind, but we can’t control it, no matter how we try. The wind is usually gentle, but we know it’s stronger than we are. And though we can’t see it, it’s very real.

We talked about temperature – how we can’t see hot or cold, but we can feel hot or cold. We talked about how we can see things affected by temperature; steam coming off Mommy’s cup of coffee, frost blanketed across the morning grass.

And then we talked about cookies. I asked her, “If you came home from school and saw a plate of yummy chocolate chip cookies on the counter, what would you think about how they got there?”

She said, “I would think you made them.”

We went on to talk about how when something is complex, like a cookie, it implies it was made using a recipe, or a special process using special materials. I told her about DNA, that inside every single human being is a recipe made up of billions of parts. I told her that even though we can study and learn the recipe for humans, no one can make one on their own. (Not from scratch out of absolutely nothing anyway!) And I told her about the fact that this recipe is evidence of intelligent design, it’s evidence that there’s a baker. Someone made the recipe, and then followed it. And yeah, she may or may not picture God as a chef now, because we got out of the car around this time, but she’s five. She’ll get there.

So why am I dropping everything to share this? Because I know that as adults, we can have this question, too. There was a time in my life when I had this question, and deep down, I was terrified of the answer. So I wandered away from God, looking for answers elsewhere. I was afraid that if I found the answer to this big question, then I’d realize God was just an illusion, and I’d have nothing to hope in.

Because there’s this awful lie floating around that God and science are in competition. And it’s just not true. The truth is God can handle your big questions. The Bible can stand up to the toughest scrutiny with respect to historical accuracy, archaeological findings, scientific data, etc. No, really, it can. Don’t be afraid to ask the big questions, and then actually look into the answers. Look into them for yourself. Open the book and see.

There are all kinds of brilliant people who set out to write books disproving the Gospel, and then once they actually studied, ended up writing books supporting the very thing they set out to disprove. Perhaps one of the most well-known books like this is Lee Strobel’s The Case For Christ. It’s a great book to pick up if you’re interested in finding answers to big questions, and if you’re not a book person, the movie is pretty informative, too.

God’s word is not going to crumble against your big questions. You can bet your life on it. Literally.

My heart was urgent to drop everything and write this message as soon as possible. Thanks for letting me share it with you today.

And hey, also… someone’s gonna have to help me out when she asks where babies come from. 

The Nature of Fungus


Two summers ago, we were outside and we smelled the strangest thing – a distinct aroma of mushrooms wafting through the air.

It wasn’t necessarily a bad smell, but it was incredibly powerful. If you can imagine someone spraying an aerosol can of mushroom air freshener right in your face, then you can grasp how intense this smell was.

We thought we were losing our minds for a little bit there, because we couldn’t figure out where the smell was coming from. But eventually, we determined the source: an army of mushrooms was growing in the mulch beds lining both sides of the driveway.

It was easy to discern where they’d started growing, because the older mushrooms were rotting, and they were covered in swarms and swarms of gnats.

We got to work clearing them out. Many, many, many wheelbarrows were filled with mushrooms and hauled away. After hours of work, we figured our mushroom problems were over.

We were wrong, though.

A couple days later, the mushrooms were back. They’d grown up half the driveway. We couldn’t believe how fast they multiplied. So we went to battle again. And as we battled these mushrooms throughout that summer, we learned about their nature. (Note: We don’t even know what type of mushrooms these are. We haven’t read up on them or anything. Everything we’ve learned about these mushrooms has been from practical experience and observation.) Here’s what we know:

They favor certain conditions. For whatever reason, they seem to love these particular mulch beds by the driveway. They also love the heat. When it gets hot and stays hot for a few days, we know to be on the lookout. It’s only a matter of time before they show up.

They multiply quickly. If left unchecked, these mushrooms will double or even triple in volume every single day. Evidently, a little fungus leads to a lot more fungus.

Eventually, they rot. You have to get the mushrooms out as soon as you can, because it doesn’t take long at all for them to rot. When they rot, they attract an unbelievable amount of bugs. And they stink.

So we did battle that summer, and we learned. This past summer, we stayed diligent, watching for the mushrooms and attacking them as soon as they showed up on the scene. Because we didn’t want our home to be surrounded by fungus – rotting, stinky, buggy fungus.

Who would want that? No one.

And yet, we can be so passive in letting the same exact thing happen in our minds and in our hearts.

In my last post, I told a story about a stolen macaroon to illustrate what happens when we let our guard down and invite attack from the enemy. I said we have a responsibility to “identify the thief at work” and to “pay attention and close up the gaps we’ve left open to attack.” And I mentioned we had a responsibly to do something else, too. Something I’d elaborate on later. So here it is:

We have a responsibility to be diligent in keeping our thoughts from becoming like these mushrooms.

One more Priscilla Shirer quote and then I promise I’ll try to stop quoting her for a while.

“How have your emotional health and behavioral choices reflected any patterns of defective thinking that the enemy has suggested and that you have perpetrated?

When I read this question, I felt so convicted I could’ve crawled under a blanket and hid. Because it’s such a point-blank reminder that we’re responsible for what we let our minds dwell on.

You see, I’d like for it to be enough to just be cleaned up on the outside. To say and do the right things, but to let my thoughts wander where they will. It just seems like too much work sometimes, to clear the mushrooms out of my mind and throw them into the wheelbarrow where they belong. The truth is, though, it’s incredibly important work. Because it’s all connected. Our thoughts influence our hearts. And eventually, our hearts influence our actions. The Bible is clear that we should guard our hearts, because everything we do flows from our hearts. Every last thing. (Proverbs 4:23)

I don’t want everything I do to reek of fungus.

So I’m working on being more diligent to watch for the fungusy thoughts. And yeah, fungusy isn’t a word, but you get what I mean.

Fungusy thoughts show up when the conditions are right. Every time we dwell on fears and let our minds consider worst-case scenarios; every time we let disagreements fester into strained relationships, every time we scrutinize the character of someone else when Jesus makes it so clear that we’re to focus on ourselves (Matthew 7:3-5).

Yes, the fungusy thoughts show up, all right. But we are in control of what happens next. We decide whether we let them multiply and rot, or yank them out of the ground and throw them into the wheelbarrow before they have the chance to turn into a disgusting, overwhelming mess. We have the ability to choose to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5), to be renewed in the spirit of our minds and to give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:23 & 27). We don’t just have the ability to do so, we have the responsibility to do so.

Clearing out the fungusy thoughts isn’t a one-and-done deal. Because fungusy thoughts, by their very nature, are recurring and persistent.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wheelbarrow to fill up this morning. Maybe two…

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. (Psalms‬ ‭139:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬)‬‬

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:8‬ ‭ESV‬‬)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Lessons From An Adorable Thief


A tiny hand can fit in some surprisingly small spaces.

I found this out the hard way a couple weeks ago.

The kids and I were out getting breakfast. I ordered at the counter, doing that thing moms do when we reach down without looking to pat kids’ heads once in a while, just to make sure everyone’s still accounted for. Right as I finished paying and took my receipt, I glanced at my two-year-old and noticed he was eating something.

I bent down in a panic, worried he had gotten a penny off the floor… or worse. That’s when I noticed his little fist clenched around an unidentified object. I pried his fingers open and found a macaroon.

After a moment of investigating, I discovered there was a small opening, maybe two inches at the most, between the counter and the glass on the display window. Apparently he saw the macaroon at eye-level, reached his hand under the glass, and took it. Like he was at a cocktail party or something.

By the time I made my way back to the register to explain what happened and pay 97 cents for the stolen macaroon, he was making a big show of eating it. He shoved it into his mouth, letting crumbs fly everywhere and loudly saying, “Mmmmmm,” as he ate. He’s a character, that one.

The cashier and the customers in line behind me marveled at how his tiny hand fit through the gap, and how he even thought to do such a thing in the first place. My little man finished his macaroon and shouted, “That was yummy!” to his audience through a mouthful of crumbs. Everyone thought this was adorable. They all had a good laugh and agreed the incident made their day. Glad to be of service, folks. We’ll be here all morning.

I sat the kids down to eat and reflected on how quickly my adorable thief was able to make his move. He didn’t need much of an opening – the two-inch gap did the trick. And he didn’t need much time, either. I was distracted for maybe thirty seconds, and that was enough time for him to pull off his caper.

It was a fitting illustration of what a not-so-adorable thief had been doing in my life lately.

Here’s something that perhaps we don’t talk about enough: we have an enemy. The Bible makes this very clear. This enemy is a thief who stands ready and waiting for us to let our guard down so he can wreak havoc in our lives, and he’ll use whatever gap we leave open to do it.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 (ESV)

That morning at breakfast, I could clearly see areas in my life where I’d let my guard down over a period of time and in doing so, invited attack. I’ll spare you the details, because they don’t add to the story, but generally speaking, I was coming off a period of about two-three weeks during which:

• I let stress and worry over a big decision take center stage, rather than fully trusting God to lead this big decision. I lost sleep worrying about certain outcomes relating to this decision.

• I’d bought the lie that “Things are really busy right now, but they’ll calm down in a week or two. I just have to get through it. ” -and I’d put off drawing the boundary of Sabbath rest that has become incredibly important in my life.

• I’d let distractions dull my passions and diminish my purpose. (Notice I haven’t written here in about a month? Not a coincidence, not an oversight, but a direct result of this time.)

And all of this led to me walking around during this period of time with a major lack of peace. Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, fearful, and defeated. Unable to invest well in those around me, because I could barely keep myself afloat. Have you ever been there?

I was grateful to my adorable thief that day for opening my eyes to the work of the not-so-adorable thief who had stolen my peace when I let my guard down. It took that cute little hand, covered in sticky macaroon remnants, to help me see the work of this not-so-adorable thief in my life. Worth the 97 cents, I’d say.

Friends, whether we realize it or not, we are all fighting a battle.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)

Over the summer I completed Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God study. She had some awesome stuff to say about this battle, and I want to share it with you here:

“Everything that occurs in the visible, physical world is directly connected to the wrestling match being waged in the invisible, spiritual world… Your real enemy – the devil – wants you to ignore the spiritual reality behind the physical one. Because as long as you’re focused on what you can see with your physical eyes, he can continue to run rampant underneath the surface. The more you disregard him, the more damage he is free to do. The enemy may be invisible, but he is not fictional. He is very real, and very persistent, waging war against us constantly. The effects of the war going on in the unseen world reveal themselves in our strained, damaged relationships, emotional instability, mental fatigue, physical exhaustion. Many of us feel pinned down by anger, unforgiveness, pride, comparisons, insecurity, discord, fear… the list goes on and on. But the overarching, primary nemesis behind all these outcomes is the devil himself… The enemy’s approach is cryptic. He keeps his activity so cleverly hidden that we almost forget his existence, or, at best, only recognize his presence in a theoretical, non-threatening way… We’ve become a culture relatively unaware of the enemy’s presence, unaware of his conspiracies to destroy our lives, unaware that he’s distracting us from reaching our destinies… Spiritual victory is directly connected to your ability to ‘undisguise’ the enemy. To uncover him, Unveil him, Unmask him. That’s half the battle. But it’s the half your enemy doesn’t want you to pay much attention to, because once you do, you automatically begin to threaten his tyranny in your life.”

Where might the thief be invading in your life lately? Start by looking for the places where you’re afraid, discouraged, angry, overwhelmed, exhausted, etc. Here is where we will find the enemy’s fingerprints all over the place.

When we notice our macaroons going missing (metaphorically speaking), we have a responsibility to open our eyes and identify the thief at work. We have a responsibility to pay attention and close up the gaps we’ve left open to attack.

We have a responsibility to do something else, too, and I’ll elaborate on that in my next post.

In the meantime, I don’t know about you, but I’m gonna work on guarding my macaroons… and keeping a closer eye on my two-year-old.

Unseen Broken Places


We tried to get rid of it.

One sunny Saturday morning, we hauled the cement garden statue of a woman onto the front lawn with a collection of other unwanted items, in preparation for a neighborhood yard sale.

Moments before the early shoppers began to arrive, a little voice asked, “You’re not getting rid of Sarah, are you?”

I turned to see my four-year-old daughter clinging to the statue, which apparently she’d named Sarah.

“You can’t sell Sarah, Mommy. She’s my friend!”

My husband emerged from the garage to see her nuzzling the statue and whispering comforting words into its cold, sculpted ear.

“That’s Sarah,” I explained. “We can’t get rid of her.”

“Because she’s my friend, Daddy!”

He placed an armload of boxes onto the grass, shrugged, and hauled Sarah back into the garage.

And just like that, Sarah found her new home, pushed up against the garage wall, safely nestled between a step ladder and a bag of insulation.

In the months following her rescue, Sarah transformed from an unwanted piece of junk into an honorary member of the family. All was well. Until the day when, as my daughter watched and waved, the passenger-side mirror of my husband’s car knocked into Sarah while he backed out of the garage on his way to work.

Sarah wobbled and crashed to the floor with a sickening clang, breaking into several pieces.

My sweet girl burst into tears and ran to her shattered friend’s side. She dropped to her knees with a wail. “I loved Sarah, but I can’t love her anymore because she’s too broken!

It occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to teach her not to love the things of this world. And yet, there was something more pressing I needed to tell her. Something more important.

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Why I’m a Little Too Enthusiastic About Bookmarks


Yesterday, I shared a story about meeting God in the grocery store during an incredibly difficult time in my life. It was a very personal story, and I mentioned I would follow up today to explain why I shared it.

I guess I should start by telling you about my fondness for bookmarks.

I really appreciate a good bookmark. I’m serious. And it seems like there’s never enough of them. A few months ago, after spending an amount of time I won’t admit searching for the perfect bookmark and not finding it, I wondered if I might be able to make one.

So I went to Pinterest and found a tutorial that looked quick and easy enough. (I’ll admit though, I was wary. Generally, the quicker and easier something looks on Pinterest, the more likely I am to lose a thumb and twelve hours of my life while attempting it.) But much to my pleasant surprise, this project turned out to be just as quick and easy as it seemed. Better still, it used scrap materials that would’ve otherwise gone to waste. Double win!

So, you know, I made about 40 bookmarks – no exaggeration – because like I said, I’m a little too enthusiastic about bookmarks. (I used to be cool.)

I gave the homemade bookmarks out as little gifts and tucked them into books all over my house. And now I’m pretty much swimming in bookmarks. I see them all over the place, so I’ve thought about them a lot. And here’s where I’ve determined my love of bookmarks stems from: I love being in the middle of a story. Generally, I find things start to get good there. That’s where I become most invested in how things are going to turn out. It’s where I start to sense that everything is going to come together, even if I can’t quite be sure how it will happen. There’s a lot of hope and drama and excitement there, in the middle of a story. It pulls me in.

Lately, I’ve started to look at all these bookmarks around me as a tangible reminder that I am somewhere in the middle of God’s big story. And within that big story are countless smaller stories (my own included), weaving into one another with incredible intricacy.

Of course – and this is the hard part – I’m not the one writing the story. I’d like to think I am, and sometimes I trick myself into believing I am for a little bit, but the truth is I have very little control over the plot. I can make my own choices, yes, but I don’t always know what’s coming next. Sometimes what’s coming next in the story is just what I’ve been hoping for, and other times it’s something altogether different.

The Creator of the Universe is the author, and He does know what’s coming next. While He doesn’t need us to finish writing the story, He does invite us to join Him in being a part of it. But He won’t force us to. We have a choice to make. So in a way, I guess you could say each of the little stories we’re in is a “choose your own adventure” story.

The wonderful thing about God’s story is that it’s a comeback story – a story of redemption. Every follower of Jesus has chosen to be in a redemption story. Not because they deserved to be redeemed, but because they knew they didn’t deserve it. They knew they needed a Savior. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24 ESV)

It’s an indescribably amazing thing to make the choice to enter God’s story of redemption through Jesus. It’s life-changing. Eternity-changing.

And I wonder if people are missing out on joining us in the big story because we’re too comfortable in it.

Do you know what I mean? We go to church and sing our worship songs and drink coffee in the lobby and it’s easy to just bask in the big story and forget about our smaller stories, especially the hard parts of those smaller stories. Because we’re in the big story now. We’ve closed that little book. We’re redeemed.

But… what does that look like to people outside of the big story? I wonder if people outside the story look in and see a bunch of people who have it all together. Or a bunch of people who pretend they’re all together when they so clearly aren’t. I wonder if they look in on us there and think, I have real problems, so I guess I don’t belong in that story.

Because the truth is we’re all messy and broken people. We all know it. That’s what brought us to Jesus in the first place. We aren’t doing anyone any favors by hiding our struggles with sin, heartache, or the times when we’ve wrestled with and questioned God. And I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we need to talk about that more. I’m convinced we need to become more comfortable with telling the hard parts of our stories. The ugly parts. The painful parts. The parts we’ve been redeemed from. We need to be willing to expose our weaknesses more, because that’s precisely where God’s strength can be seen.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

Of course, it’s not always appropriate to share every detail of our stories with everyone on the planet. I’m not suggesting we do. But I am suggesting we each take a look at our own small story, find the places where Jesus showed up in the midst of our struggles/suffering/sin, and bookmark those places. Because perhaps those are the parts of the story we need to be willing to open up and retell from time to time. Perhaps people on the outside of the big story will see a glimpse of themselves there and think, Maybe there’s a place for me in that story after all.

Perhaps we all need to be a lot more willing to say something like this:

Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof – Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off – evidence of his endless patience – to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever. (1 Timothy 1:15-16 The Message)

Next week, I’ll be guest writing at (In)Courage, sharing a little more about this topic. Until then, I’m going to leave you with one more excerpt from the Jesus Storybook Bible to finish out this week. (And if you need any bookmarks, you know where to find me.)

The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything – to rescue the one he loves…. There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together; and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.

God in the Grocery Store


Where is God when life is hard?

He’s in your local grocery store, at register twelve, standing in line with you as you cry into a shopping cart on a rainy day in October.

Let me back up a bit.

I love talking to people about Jesus. I mean, I won’t corner someone and force them to have a conversation or anything, but I do love a good, long talk about all things eternal. I especially love the honest kind of conversations, when people lay out their doubts and frustrations; when they have the guts to ask hard questions. Most of the people in my life know this about me, and every so often someone will come to me looking for such a conversation. I’ll drop everything to have a conversation like this – except my coffee. (Because for real, I maintain a constant death-grip on my coffee.)

Here’s the most common theme of these drop-everything conversations; this is the thing I’m asked most often: If God is real, if he cares, if he’s even there at all, then why did He let <insert hard thing here> happen? How can I trust a God like that? If I can’t count on God to keep me and the people I love safe, what’s even the point? Why would I ever want to put my trust in the Son when I can’t begin to trust the Father?

Today I figured I’d quickly answer this question in a blog post. Should be easy enough.

Except… it’s not easy – and I can’t quickly answer a question like this. I so can’t. There are things we won’t ever fully understand this side of Heaven. I’m certain though, there’s someone right now who is wrestling with this question. I’m certain there are a lot of someones who are. And while I can’t provide a quick and easy answer to put your soul at complete peace with the fallen world we live in, I can take you grocery shopping with me. So let’s go there, because I have something to show you.

On the morning of Friday, October 2nd, 2015, I went grocery shopping with my two small kids (ages three and nine months at the time) in the pouring rain. You may find it strange that I remember this shopping trip so specifically, but there are some things in life you can’t forget. I can’t forget this particular trip because it was the morning my mom, who was afflicted with pancreatic cancer, was admitted to the hospital. Things were declining very quickly. So much so that I’d been told if I hopped in the car right then and drove as fast as I could for four hours, it would likely be too late to say goodbye.

So I went grocery shopping. You may also find it strange that I went grocery shopping under the circumstances, and if so, perhaps you’re right. Even right now as I think about it, I’m questioning the decision. The thing about having a three-year-old and a nine-month-old, though, is they don’t stop eating because Mommy is sad. We didn’t have enough food in the house to make it through another day – and I mean that literally, because we’d just moved. I had a house full of boxes, a pantry full of dust bunnies, a heart full of grief – and two kids who just wanted some macaroni and cheese regardless of the circumstances. If memory serves me correctly, there was also a hurricane coming in that weekend. Perhaps this played into my decision not to make a long drive with the kids and to run to a nearby grocery store instead.

In any case, I went. Upon entering the store, I snapped this picture of my daughter in her rain gear, making good on a promise to my mom that I’d take a happy photo every day of her battle. Even if today was her last.

As pictures often do, this one portrays things far differently than they actually were. By all accounts this is a photo of an adorable, cheerful little girl who is making the best of a rainy day. How could her mama not be on the other side of the camera beaming?

Of course, on this particular day, this little girl’s mama was not beaming. This little girl’s mama was just hoping people would mistake her tears for rain. Because, like I said, it was pouring.

I made my way through the store, trying my best to stop crying – and failing miserably. At various points throughout the store I passed a certain woman, and each time we passed one another I could feel her eyes on me. I didn’t look directly at her, because everyone knows crying in the grocery store only counts if you make eye contact with someone. And I was not going to do that.

In the checkout line, I loaded items from my shopping cart onto the conveyor belt and accidentally let a fat tear escape from my eye. The tear fell onto a box of cereal and made exactly the pathetic splat sound you’re imagining.

The woman was hovering nearby and at that point she could no longer contain herself. She approached me and positioned herself in such a way that forced me to look up at her. I don’t quite remember how she introduced herself, but I do remember her telling me she had pushed her own young kids through the grocery store with those same tears in her eyes many times before. She told me her kids were older now, in school at the moment, but she would never forget how hard those little years were. “You’re doing a good job,” she said. “And you’re going to be okay. It gets easier.”

She thought I was crying because I was having a hard day with the kids, I realized.

Oh, how I wished I was crying over spilt milk and sleeplessness and one too many tantrums. (Let me just stop and say, if you’re a mom, there’s a good chance you’ve cried over such things in the grocery store. There’s no shame in that. We’ve all been there.)

Of course, I wasn’t crying over tantrums and sleeplessness, but I didn’t intend to tell her so. I intended to muster up a smile and say, “Thank you.”

But a strange thing happened. I opened my mouth to say “thank you” and said something else entirely.

“My mom is dying,” I said. “Right now. She’s in the hospital dying. For all I know she’s already gone.”

Several people glanced in my direction, and then quickly averted their eyes.

“My mom is dying and I’m…” I waved my hands over the heap of groceries on the belt and sobbed, unable to finish the sentence and unable to stop the tears. I was making a bit of a scene now. I was full-on losing it. It was uncomfortable, for me, and for everyone in the vicinity.

For everyone, that is, except this woman. She nodded as if she already knew all about my situation, and was just waiting for me to admit it. Then she took another step closer, and lowered her voice. “My mother died, too, when I was about your age. My kids were little, just like yours are. I still needed her so much. I thought it was very unfair.”

We looked at each other for what seemed like a long time. Then we said our goodbyes and she pushed her cart to another checkout line.

The cashier was ringing me up a moment or two later when I heard something like a commotion. I looked toward the sound and saw the woman abandoning her own groceries on the belt. She just left them there and made a beeline in my direction. She pushed her way through the crowded line to get to me, and began shoving my groceries into bags.

“I’m helping you,” she said.

“You don’t have to-”

I’m helping you,” she said, sternly this time.

She packed my bags and loaded them into my cart. “Thank you,” I said.

“I’m not done.” She put raincoats on my kids, buttoning top buttons and lifting hoods over their tiny heads while I stood there in shock, hiccuping and sniffling. Then she said, “Come on. Let’s go.”

I didn’t move. I was too stunned to take a single step. “Go where?” I asked.

“To your car,” she said. “I’m helping you. We’re doing this together.”

“You really don’t have-”

“I’m not leaving you alone,” she said. “I’m going all the way with you. Come on.”

We left the shelter of the store and stepped into the cold rain. The drops came down harder and faster than before, bouncing off the pavement. We arrived at my car and she lifted my daughter into her car seat. (I need to pause and emphasize that I usually don’t let complete strangers this close to my kids, especially not in parking lots. This was a very bizarre circumstance.)

I was buckling up my son when a truck pulled behind my car and screeched to a stop. A man jumped out of the truck. I checked to make sure my kids and my purse were still accounted for – because this was the part where I got mugged and/or abducted, right?

No, it wasn’t. Without saying a word, the man opened my hatchback and loaded my groceries into the car. In the pouring rain.

To this day, I have no idea who the man was. It occurred to me months later, as I was reflecting on the situation, that perhaps he was the woman’s husband, but then again, I didn’t see him in the store with her. Who knows. Whoever he was – wherever he came from – he certainly deserves a mention in this story, because it shows how over-the-top these strangers were in helping me.

I don’t remember saying goodbye to either of them. I don’t remember thanking them. But I do remember sitting in my car for a while after they left and letting the windshield fog up in the rain as I cried my eyes out.

Here’s the truth: when I knew I was going to lose my mom, I was very afraid about what it would look like to live “less loved”. There’s just no one on the planet who can love you quite like your mother, and my mom was an especially good one. So, faced with the prospect of losing her, I was certain that I wouldn’t be loved anymore. Not like I used to be, anyway. Not perfectly. Not unconditionally. When I pictured a future without my mom, I pictured myself having to strive every second of every day to be lovable. Because otherwise, I pictured myself being left alone.

This was the moment, sitting in my car in the rain of the impending hurricane, when I realized my theology had been very misplaced. I realized I didn’t have a fraction of an understanding of how much God loved me. Which is funny, because I spent so much time telling other people how much God loved them. But I’d never really believed it for myself, because I never had to depend on it before.

I realized I’d never rested in God’s love before because I’d been substituting my mom’s love for God’s. A mother’s love is a really good thing, don’t get me wrong, but even a very good thing is a very poor substitute for God Himself.

So I had to come to grips with, then and there, the fact that God loved me more widely and deeply than I could comprehend. He loved me so much that he orchestrated this crazy encounter with this woman who had been through the very thing I was walking through. Maybe she could sense God’s hand in it too, or maybe she couldn’t. But he brought her to the store at the exact same time as me, and He nudged her heart again and again as she saw me throughout the store until she finally gave in and approached me. Let me tell you, there was nothing about me that was approachable on this particular day.

And then, He gave her the words to say – the exact words – to speak His Truth loudly into my soul. Because He loved me enough to meet me in the middle of my mess and get right up in my face and tell me something. I sat there, replaying her words in my mind, and here is what I heard.

“I’m helping you.”

…I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)

“I’m not done.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11)

“We’re doing this together.”

…Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

“I’m not leaving you alone.”

…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“I’m going all the way with you.”

  “…And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

Loud and clear, I heard from God in the parking lot that day. I sat in my car crying for so long afterward because I was still sad, yes – I want to emphasize that this encounter didn’t suddenly take away the sadness of the situation. Some things we have to walk through are incredibly hard, and it’s just flat out okay to be sad and to grieve. But another big reason I sat in my car crying was because I was sorry. I was sorry for not ever really leaning into God’s love before this moment, and I knew I was just scratching the surface of it. I knew I’d spend the rest of my life with my eyes open to how God was pouring down his love for me – His wonderful, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love, as the Jesus storybook Bible I read to my kids puts it.

I promise most of my other grocery shopping trips are very boring. Really. But now that we’ve gone on this not-so-boring trip together, I want to point out a few things before we go home and put the groceries away, so to speak. Here they are:

No one is immune to heartache, loss, sin, sickness, or death.
Deciding to put your trust in Jesus is in no way a ticket to living a life free from troubles, trials, and pain. There’s nothing in the Bible, not one word, promising you won’t have problems. In fact, there are all kinds of words promising you will have problems. For instance: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Sometimes, when people ask me this “Where is God when things are hard” question, I get the sense they’re longing for a life that is free of pain. I get it. I long for that, too. The Bible says God has written eternity on our hearts – deep down we all sense that things in this fallen world are very wrong, and we long for them to be made right. Forever. There is a sense in all of us that there must be something more. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” The promises of the Bible don’t fall apart when life gets hard. Quite the opposite, that’s exactly when they start to come together. Hope doesn’t end with death; it begins there.  

God can bring purpose out of the ashes of our pain.
When life got hard for me, I can testify God was still intricately orchestrating the most ordinary moments of my day in incredible ways – in many more ways, probably, than I even know about. This trip to the grocery store I shared was one very small example. I can also testify that the Lord has brought purpose out of my pain. In this present fallen world, full of sin and sickness and death, God can take the worst possible circumstances – the things that don’t make any sense at all – and redeem them into something eternally purposeful. (More on that some other time.) He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hearing God depends on knowing what He says.
If I didn’t know what was in the Bible, I never would’ve heard anything that day in the store beyond the literal words the woman said. I wouldn’t have recognized the Truth God was speaking to me between the lines of her words. If we long to hear God, we must first find out what’s in His Word. This doesn’t mean you have to become a Bible scholar overnight. And you don’t have to be “all in” to start taking a look at what the Bible says. But you may be surprised at how much and how quickly you start to hear from God by reading even the smallest bit of His Word. For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Hebrews 4:12) 

I’ve shared a lot with you today, and I want to finish out this week with a final bookend to explain a little more about why I’ve shared it. Tomorrow, God willing, I will.

But first, I want to mention my mom held in there that day, and a couple days later the hurricane passed through. I got to drive down and spend two weeks with her before she left this world. During those two weeks I had the privilege of caring for her, and we got to laugh together and cry together and even bicker a little bit, which was strangely comforting. You can bet, too, that my mom – who was a phenomenal cook – spent considerable time dictating detailed plans for her final dinner party. And when she did go Home to be with the Lord, I once again ended up in the grocery store, following her instructions to buy petite croissants and sweet Gherkin pickles, among other things.

And while I certainly could’ve cried into my shopping cart once again, I found myself doing something else instead. I found myself resting in the peace of God’s wonderful, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love for me.

And lastly, I want to get right up in your face like the lady in the store did for me, and I want to tell you God loves you that way, too – with a wonderful, Never Giving up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. You don’t have to strive to be lovable. You don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. Whether you know it or not, you’re already loved more than you could even begin to comprehend.  May you rest in that today.
And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. (Ephesians 3:18)