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)

Night Vision: What Can You See in the Dark?


This field was behind a hotel we stayed in a few weeks ago.

Though it may not look like anything particularly special, this field held a wonderful secret. At nighttime, at least on the nights we were there, this field came alive with fireflies.

I consider myself sort of a firefly connoisseur. I spent a significant portion of my childhood running around at dusk with the kids in my neighborhood, capturing fireflies and stuffing them into milk jugs. It was an official team activity, and we took it pretty seriously. So, yeah, I’ve seen some things when it comes to fireflies…  

But I’ve never seen that many in one place. I mean, really, it was incredible. As the sky grew darker, more and more fireflies seemed to congregate, dazzling the otherwise unremarkable field with a sparkling light show.

In the light of the sun, these fireflies were nowhere to be found. Or at least, they weren’t noticeable. In the dark, though, they glittered and glowed as they danced through the air in droves. It was breathtaking.

Sometimes, in the darkness, we come to understand things about the light that we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. We see new, beautiful, awe-inspiring things; things that’ve been there all along, but only become evident when the distraction of the surrounding light fades.

And here’s the thing about light in the darkness: a little goes a long way.

Last week there was a storm in the middle of the night. Both the kids woke up, afraid, during this storm. I had just gotten them settled back down when the power went out. This meant no night-lights and no hallway light – total and utter darkness.

And, consequently, total and utter panic.

They both screamed and clung to me. It was clear they wouldn’t be sleeping in their own beds, so we began making our way down the hallway to Mommy and Daddy’s room. (I probably looked ridiculous, inching through the darkness, fumbling around to find my way, with a kid wrapped around each leg. But that’s besides the point.)

As we got closer to our room, we could see a beam of light coming from inside.

A little voice shouted, “The lights are back!” Then both kids sprinted toward the light, which turned out to be the glow from the (battery powered) baby monitor. The lights weren’t back on, we realized, but that tiny bit of light was noticeably bright under the circumstances.

There are times when light is easier to see in the darkness.

I’m not saying darkness is good. But I am saying we can find purpose there, if only we keep our eyes open, and pursue the light we can see – even if it’s just a glimpse.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:5 (ESV)

More on this topic to come…

What You’ve Probably Forgotten About Riding a Carousel


Guess how many times you can ride a carousel in one day!? Actually, don’t. Just take my word for it… it’s a lot.  
I know, because my kids set out to break the world record recently. We took a family trip to an amusement park, where they were able to enjoy two consecutive days of carousel-riding bliss. And I do mean bliss. These kids loved the carousel. Every time the horses lurched forward at the start of a new ride, their two little faces lit up with delight. The thrill of riding the carousel never faded. If anything, each ride seemed even more exciting than the last.

It’s funny, because I can remember feeling the same way as a kid. I remember it was a thing, riding with my dad whenever I could. And while I remember feeling that way once, at some point I lost the why behind it. I can’t quite remember what made the carousel so appealing. Because at some point, the thrill of riding the carousel does fade, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful being on the carousel with my kids, watching them enjoy it so much. I treasure that time. It’s just… after the fifteenth ride I’m tired of being dizzy and would rather sit and watch, if we’re being honest.

At some point during our carousel marathon, I set out to grasp the joy of it again. I studied my kids in an attempt to learn some best practices. 

Hands on the pole… check. (They probably weren’t thinking of the germs festering on those carousel poles, so I tried not to think about them either.) 

Feet kind of dangling, because kid legs are too short for the stirrups… check

Laugh a little, smile a little… check.

Nothing. I mean, still fun watching the kids and all, but something was missing. I had a lot of time on the carousel to figure it out, and eventually I did. Here was the problem:

My eyes weren’t forward.

I realized I’d spent my entire adulthood watching other people enjoy riding the carousel and wondering why my own experience wasn’t quite measuring up. I was watching tiny, adorable other people – but other people nonetheless.

I turned my eyes forward and in an instant I could see it again. I could remember. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but it was actually kind of thrilling. The way all the horses went up and down at various intervals made it look like we were racing in a big pack. I could feel the wind on my face. The ride seemed to speed up and the lights and music made it feel beautifully chaotic and exciting.

Sometime after we took our last ride on the carousel, I found myself wondering if we occasionally do life in this sideways-looking way. In this era of social media, we dedicate time each day to looking and seeing what everyone is doing. It’s not wrong, necessarily, to be alongside one another and root for each other and learn from each other. But it becomes damaging when we altogether forget to look forward.

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. – Galatians 6:4-5 (The Message)

We were each created by God for a purpose with specific gifts, life experiences, skills, and passions that are 100% unique. Let us not miss out on the joy of knowing and living this. Let us not forget to look forward once in a while.

Better yet, let’s look up.