When Life Gives You More Than You Bargained For

Have you ever gotten something you’ve hoped for, something you’ve wanted for a long time, only to realize it’s a lot more than you bargained for?

Well, my husband recently bought some chickens.

SIXTEEN CHICKENS, to be exact.

Actually, he didn’t really buy the chickens; his company bought some property and the chickens came along with it.

Did I mention there are 16 chickens?!!

Now, I’m not going to lie… I was super excited. I have wanted chickens for YEARS and now my dream was finally coming true! Do you have any idea how many eggs our family goes through in a week? I transitioned to buying the “5 dozen Eggs” box from Costco about a year ago when my boys learned how to cook eggs by themselves. Having our own chickens seems like the perfect solution!

But there’s a problem.

Our neighborhood covenants do not allow us to have chickens. Oh, and the property where the chickens currently reside? It’s two hours south, on the other side of Atlanta from our home. 

Yeah, that might be a challenge. 

Sometimes something we really want ends up being a bit more than we bargained for.

When I was a senior in college, I got a car- a used Chevy Cavalier. It was silver and beautiful and all mine! I was so excited. And while it got me where I needed to go, we soon discovered there was a tiny hole in the oil tank which required me to refill it with oil every month or so, or I would ruin the engine. 

Growing up, I always dreamed of marrying my handsome “prince” and living happily ever after, only to get married and find out marriage is actually more about denying yourself and doing everything in your power to make the other person happy.

It took us several years to have a baby, and after all the longing, I couldn’t wait to hold a little one in my arms. We were so happy when the Lord blessed us with Sarah! But it didn’t take long to realize that gaining a new addition also involved loooooong days, sleepless nights, and changing and sacrificing so much of how I was used to living my life.

The first house we bought had four bedrooms and two bathrooms, and I was in love with the yellow walls and the Berber carpet. We budgeted for new furniture, only to watch all the extras add up- rugs, shower curtains, appliances, a lawn mower… not to mention all the unexpected expenses when something broke down or needed replacing. It was a rude awakening!

I could keep going, but you get the point. 

So often the things we long for bring with them way more than what we bargained for. 

In 1 Samuel Chapter 8, the nation of Israel tells Samuel they are longing to be led by a king, just like all the nations around them. God orders Samuel to “warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.” (v. 9) Samuel tries to explain to them that while they want a king to lead them in battle, it will bring a whole lot more than what they are expecting

But the people insist, so the Lord answers, “Listen to them and give them a king.” 

The Israelites end up with King Saul, who, though he starts off as the king they so desired, eventually disobeys the Lord, goes mad from jealousy of David, and loses the favor of God. He ends up being way more than they bargained for, and not in a good way.

Fast forward many years and the Israelites are longing for a Messiah. As in previous times, they are expecting one who will defend their cause and lead them in battle, making them the envy of the nations around them. 

Instead, they get Jesus.

He did not lead them in battle or make them the envy of the nations around them. Instead, He led them in love. He forgave their sins. He laid down His life for them- not in battle, but on the cross, ushering in a new covenant with a promise of eternity.

In Jesus, they got way more than what they bargained for.

But in the best way.

“The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect.” –Jim Elliot

Are you longing for something and growing weary of waiting? Or are you in the midst of something and finding it more than you bargained for? Maybe you got that new job, but didn’t expect it to be so hard/easy or boring/challenging. Maybe you wanted more time with your family, but didn’t realize how much patience it would require. Maybe, like Peter, you are stepping out in faith towards a dream and feeling overwhelmed by the size of the waves and the force of the wind. 

In times like these, I find myself asking if what I’m pursuing is truly God’s will or simply my own selfish desires. When I’m honest, the answer usually comes pretty quickly. 

And if I am pursuing the Lord’s will, then I must believe that whatever comes with it, even the hard stuff, is “good, acceptable, and perfect,” and will “work together for the good of those who love Him.” (Romans 12:2, 8:28) If it’s not God’s will, I need to find a way to let it go.

Now, back to the chickens…

Eli bonding with his favorite chicken, “Tina”

We are still determining what to do with them. Is it God’s will for us to keep them? Time will tell. They definitely came with some challenges!

But they also came with eggs...

A little more than we bargained for!

Pandemic Roots: Are Your True Colors Showing?

Well, friends, we’ve reached that point in the pandemic in which our true colors are beginning to show… 

It’s a little embarrassing.

It turns out some of us are not quite the shimmering blondes (or brunettes) people thought we were. Others of us are perhaps a little, well, grayer than we appeared in March. Let’s just say there are definitely no “Pantene commercial locks” flipping around our shoulders right now! 

As the days turn into weeks, and the weeks turn into months, there is a steady demarcation line working its way down our scalp, slowly revealing our true colors to the world. 

And y’all, these roots aren’t pretty.

If you’re like me, you might be hiding them under a hat or pulling your hair into a ponytail, hoping no one will notice. I’ve even been spending time outside, hoping the sun will lighten them up a little and make them blend in better. 

Are you having any luck?

Yeah, me neither.

Or maybe you’re like some of my friends who have decided to take this opportunity to boldly show their true selves to the world. Instead of covering up those roots, they are putting them on display, vowing to no longer conform to societal beauty standards, but to be their own person, gray hair and all! 

I admire them, I really do. 

But it turns out I’m not that brave.

Maybe if I had that real pretty silvery gray hair, I would consider it, but I don’t. No, my roots are kind of a muddy-blonde-infused-with-clumps-of-mousey-gray color. I’m not sure they even sell shades like this in a bottle, because it is not exactly the look people are clamoring for. 

“Ladies, spread a little ‘dirt gray’ on your hair and get that ‘still-stuck-in-quarantine look’ in no time!”

Yeah, not really a hot seller.

I have never really considered myself a vain person. I mean, I barely wear make-up, I detest clothes shopping, and my boys think I’m dressing “fancy” when I put on a pair of jeans. So it has kind of surprised me to realize how much it bothers me to have other people noticing my roots. And they are noticing! 

Which got me thinking…

I’ve realized the longer we remain enclosed together within the boundaries of our home, my hair is not the only thing showing its true colors

It’s definitely easier to point it out in those around me, but it’s been happening enough now that I can’t deny what is evident in my own heart. Some of the “roots” growing out of me during this unusual, uncomfortable time, like my hair, are also not so pretty. 

Selfishness. Laziness. Impatience. Gluttony.

And I am not the only one. This break from our normal routine is revealing many of our heart-roots: 

As a nation, we have seen hoarding and arguing, disagreements and name-calling, all over things as silly as toilet paper.  We have found ourselves resistant to surrendering our individual “rights” for the well-being of others. We have found a way to make even a virus political, opting for divisiveness and slander when there are such great opportunities for generosity and compassion.

Our “busy-ness” has been stripped away, and we have found not just empty schedules, but also empty hearts, revealing idols we didn’t even know we had. We miss our entertainment… perhaps we hadn’t realized until it disappeared just how much time and money we spend on those “extra” things.

Families are gathered around the dinner table every night, which is unusual in many homes. We have been given the gift of time together, and yet, often we find ourselves choosing the numbing comfort of the digital world over investing in our spouses, our children.  It’s just easier; after all, Netflix doesn’t talk back, and our Facebook friends like everything we say!

Misdirected worship. Laziness. Selfishness. Pride. 

Thankfully, these traits are sneaking out only at the roots- most of our lives are dominated by our better virtues. Someone must look closely to see these unsightly “grays”. However, the more time that passes, the more these traits become evident…

Unless we do something about them.

Just like with my hair, my initial instinct is to hide them. Cover them up, pretend they’re not there, and no one will notice, right? Only, roots have a way of continuing to grow until they can no longer be hidden.

Then what?

Well, I could just accept that they reveal who I really I am inside, and put them on display for everyone to see. After all, if this is the real me, I should be okay with that and so should you, right? This is just the way God made me. 

But it isn’t really. I know that, and so do you. 

While I am all for being genuine, there is no value in pursuing the worst version of myself. Just because the roots are there doesn’t mean that is all that’s there. 

Do we let weeds continue to grow in a garden? If so, after awhile they will choke out the real plants and take over the entire space. But  the weeds weren’t planted there by the gardener. So, when people look at the garden, they aren’t actually seeing a true reflection of what the garden was intended to be, but something it became on its own.

I don’t want to hide my roots, but I also don’t want to wear them proudly, embracing a tainted version of myself. So then, what’s a girl to do?

When I go to the hair salon, I ask my stylist to help me be the best version of myself. I don’t want to leave looking exactly the same, nor do I want to look totally different. I still want to be me- just better! So she looks at my hair, my skin, and my roots. She points out the mousey grays (thanks for that) and the uneven bangs, and then she begins to work her magic. Somehow she is able to blend them all together, adding highlights and shades of my real hair color, transforming it into something new.

Something real. Still me, but better. 

So I find myself bringing these heart-roots to Jesus. I don’t want to ignore them, and I don’t want to embrace them. I want to name them, learn from them, and then allow Him to transform them. By adding Light and Truth, He can blend impulsiveness into boldness and change greed into generosity. He can add shades of patience and kindness and humility, transforming my whole character into something better. 

Still real, still me, but better.

More like Jesus.

Unforgettable Quotes: Lessons I Learned from “Free Burma Rangers”

Photo from website: Freeburmarangers.org

Have you ever heard someone say something and it really stuck with you? It’s as though those words implant themselves in your brain and swirl around for a bit, before finally circling their way down to your heart?

Well, that happened to me this weekend. 

The week before the Coronavirus hit the “pause button” on life, several friends posted about a movie that was going to be in theaters for only two nights. It was a documentary about a missionary family who has spent the past 20+ years serving the people of Burma, as well as some additional time bringing food and medical aid to Iraq and Sudan. My friends were raving about the movie, but we were busy preparing for our teen drama production the following week, and I knew there was no way I could see it. Missionary movies are my jam, y’all! To say I was bummed is an understatement.

Fast forward six weeks, and I was thrilled to find out Lifeway was going to live-stream the movie on their Facebook page! 

So, on Friday night I put our boys to bed a little early, grabbed a blanket and some tea, and sat down with my computer to watch “Free Burma Rangers.”

Wow.

If you know me, it is not often that I am speechless, but this movie left me without any words at all. Dave Eubanks has a unique calling from God as a missionary soldier, and he and his family live out every verse in the Bible about laying down your life for others in ways you and I cannot even begin to imagine. 

This is not a great movie; It is a powerful movie. It is difficult to watch (definitely not recommended for children), and yet I could not turn away. It is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming, all at the same time. You may need some tissues. 

And you may never be the same after you watch it.

I don’t want to share any spoilers, so that’s all I’m going to say about it. However, I did want to share a few quotes from the movie that impacted me and have been floating around in my head ever since. 

(I actually typed these up in my Notes app as I watched because they hit me so strongly.  I tried to dictate them as accurately as possible; any misquoting is completely unintentional and hopefully still conveys the same sentiment.)

1. “Go to the sound of the guns, go to the sound of need, and trust God to show you how to help.”

Wow. Am I the person who runs towards danger and need, or am I the one who runs away from it? Lord, help me trust You enough to run towards it.

2.  “Vengeance looks a lot like justice, but it is driven by hate. They both start in the same place- an injustice occurs. However, one response is done in a spirit of love, the other a spirit of hate. It’s not our job to bring vengeance or justice… we are simply to obey Jesus (in a spirit of love).” 

Think about that for awhile. When I watched Dave Eubank process this truth (God’s answer to his prayer for what clearly seemed like justice but in reality was vengeance) and then willingly submit, I was floored. Lord, help me listen and obey like that.

3. “Be bold in the things of Jesus and humble in the things of yourself.” 

I think I often get this backwards. Lord, change me!

4. “And so I prayed: Lord, what do I do, no matter what it costs?” 

And in this moment, what God was asking would cost him everything. Yet, this was his prayer. Lord, help me be that faithful!

5. “When bad things happen, I dare not complain. I believe where there is suffering, God is there. He will show us the way to go.” 

This quote was actually from one of Dave’s fellow Burma Rangers, his right-hand man and close friend. Lord, help me have eyes to see You in the midst of suffering. Help me look for You instead of complaining.

6. “Surrendering is saying YES… saying yes to all the good things God wants for you…” 

(…even, and especially, when they look different than what you expect). YES!! THIS!!

So often we think of surrendering as giving something up. How willing would we be to loosen our grip and let go if we realized that in saying “no” to ourselves, we are really saying “yes” to God’s best? Lord, help me surrender my desires and say “Yes!” to all you have for me!

This last point is a recurring theme for me lately, so you’ll probably be hearing about it quite a bit. But for now, I wanted to share these thoughts with you and encourage you to watch “Free Burma Rangers” if you get a chance. It is streaming right now HERE for free.

If you watch it, let me know what you think!

What are some movies or quotes that have made an impact on you? I’d love for you to share them!

Somewhere In Between

I went for a walk the other night, right at dusk. It was still light outside when I left my house. The air was warm and the sky was a beautiful, bright blue. As I neared the halfway point, the sun was dropping behind the trees, shining through in glimpses of pink and gold. By the time I returned home, it was not yet dark outside, but the sky was shadowed. It lingered in that place of twilight- no longer day, but not yet night…. somewhere in between.

That is where I find myself today as I write, and where I imagine many of you find yourselves as well.

After a month of social distancing and sheltering in place, the doors are slowly beginning to open and we are all holding our breath.

How is this stepping forward supposed to go? Do we fling open the gates and rush out, arms open wide like Maria in the Sound of Music? Or do we approach it with caution- cracking the door open just a smidge and peeking out, trying to catch a glimpse of what’s out there waiting for us?

To be honest, I am somewhere in between.

I have embraced this time with my family, because I know how fleeting time is and how much I will miss these days. I am grateful for this pause, for this time at home together, especially before our oldest daughter goes off to college. Sure, I have a few regrets, things I wish we had done differently, but overall it has been a gift- one we have opened every day. 

Still, I miss my freedom, and I miss my friends. As much as I love my family, a lunch date with my girlfriends has never sounded so good!  The chance to laugh, to catch up, to just be together- that would be a gift, too. 

And yet, it seems like it’s all happening so fast; a little too much, too soon, maybe. Our communities seem so fragile, as though a gust of wind (or a huff and a puff) might just blow the whole house down. 

And then what?

So if I’m honest, I’m feeling a little grateful, a little excited, and a little scared, all at the same time.

That sounds about right for the in between.

I find myself looking back at our life before the Coronavirus pushed the pause button. With a family of six, it’s bound to be busy, but it was too busy. I filled my time with a lot of good things, but over the past few weeks I have realized some of those good things have been crowding out some of the best things. When the restrictions are lifted and the busy-bus revs back to life, there are things I’m looking forward to, but there are also several things I need to let go of, even if it’s hard. 

I find myself listening now, in this space in between. Listening to my heart, to my family, and to the Lord. As I experienced on my walk the other night, there is a shifting taking place in my soul. One season is ending, and a new one is beginning. I am on the edge right now of something new God is doing; He is turning my gaze away from the past and out towards the future. I have used this time, this in between, to dig into His Word and listen for His voice. “Behold, I make all things new!” He declares. I am ready.

And I find myself looking forward to whatever lies ahead. Like the Israelites overlooking the Promised Land or the disciples eating breakfast on the beach with the risen Christ, I can’t help wondering what comes next. I don’t know exactly where He is leading, but I know He will lead me and that’s enough. I choose obedience.

 What about you, friend? Do you also find yourself somewhere in between? 

Let me encourage you to:

LOOK BACK… What should you hold onto and what should you let go of?

LISTEN NOW… What haven’t you missed from the daily rush, and what are you most grateful for in this pause? What is God whispering to your heart?

LOOK FORWARD… What are your next steps? Where do you go from here?

If you let Him, Jesus will meet you somewhere in between.

Let’s Celebrate Easter Like Never Before. Oh, wait…

Friends, it finally dawned on our kids last weekend that we would not be able to go to church this Sunday. 

“Wait, you mean we’ll be stuck at home on EASTER SUNDAY?? Mom, it won’t be Easter if we’re not at church! That’s never happened before! This is not okay. We have to do something…”

If you know me well, you can imagine how excited I was about seizing this teachable moment. My girls say I have a “small group leader voice” that I use in moments like this…  umm, whatever. But if I do, I’m sure I pulled it out for this one!

“Well, guys,” I said (probably in my SGL voice), “that’s not exactly true. What are we really celebrating on Easter? Think back to what happened that first Easter morning…”

  • Where do we find the disciples? (hint: They weren’t at the temple, where they?)
  • Where do we find Mary? (hint again: Sshh! She wasn’t at the temple either.)
  • And where do we find Jesus? (okay, so they got the point!)

The reality is we have never had a better opportunity to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus more authentically than this year. After all, the first Easter happened outside in a garden and inside a living room and wherever else people happened to be when they heard the good news. The life-changing news.

“I have seen the Lord!”

Do you remember what it was like the first time you saw the Lord?

I mean, when you truly realized what Jesus had done for you- that He loved you enough to die for you, suffered unspeakable pain and loss for you- and not because you and I were worthy, but because we are worth it to Him?

I was a teenager when someone shared with me that I wasn’t here by accident; that God created me and loved me and had a purpose for my life. For the first time I began to understand how much Jesus willingly went through for me and what it cost Him. It still overwhelms me to think anyone could love me that much!

And then I found out the rest of the story… He is alive! He rose from the dead, appeared to a bunch of people, and went up to heaven, leaving His Holy Spirit here to live within us and guide us. Wow. 

He didn’t just love us in the past, but He loves us now, and He wants to love us forever!

That’s pretty good news! And it changed me.

Friends, have you seen the Lord? I mean, really seen Him? Have you seen Him working in your life, changing your heart, guiding you in wisdom, transforming your perspective, bringing beauty from ashes? When you do, it changes everything.

He changes everything.

So this Easter, as we gather in our homes with our children, let’s make the most of this opportunity to tell them the Good news. Let’s not just read them a story from a Book (although we should!), but also share the truth of a God who is alive today, who loves them unconditionally and is active in their life. Let’s help them connect the dots between His story and their story, so they too can tell others, “ I have seen the Lord!”

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Easter 2012

In case you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few things the Heath Fam is planning to do over the next few days to celebrate Easter and Holy Week at home:

(Btw, you should know I always have A LOT of ideas… and we usually only do about 20% of them! But I figure 20% is better than 0%, right? #winning)

  • Talk about what was important enough for Jesus to do and say in His last week of life.
  • Thursday morning: Read/discuss how Jesus washed the disciples feet (John 13:3-17) and think of ways our family can serve others, then do it- make cards, give to the Food Pantry, etc.
  • Thursday evening: Remember why they were celebrating Passover Feast (read about Moses and the plagues from a Children’s Bible or watch The Prince of Egypt) and make the connection between Passover & Easter, then read Mark 14:12-26 and take Holy Communion together. Maybe take the kids outside to pray, as Jesus did, for God’s Will to be done here on earth, even when it comes at great cost to us.
  • Friday evening: Recount the events following the Last Supper leading up to Jesus’ death. Maybe watch a reenactment from a Jesus movie? We are hoping to do an informal Good Friday service with our kids using readings from the events preceding the crucifixion and Jesus’ last words from the cross. If we do, I’ll try to video it and share it on Facebook in case it’s helpful to some of you. *Editing to add a link to an on-line Good Friday Service with Chris Tomlin and Max Lucado!
  • Saturday: Discuss how sometimes God is silent and it feels like He’s not working, but it’s only because we can’t see what is happening behind the scenes…
  • Sunday: Time to celebrate!! Lots of ideas:
  • Wake the kids up with some jammin’ praise music!
  • Read about that first Easter morning when Jesus appeared to His friends. 
  • Worship online with our church family (First Redeemer) and… possibly have a cul-de-sac worship service with everyone in their own driveways.
  • For littles, use Resurrection Eggs or make resurrection rolls. 
  • Download The Chosen series and/or watch the Jesus movie from Sights & Sounds theatre.

Your celebration can be simple or extravagant; do whatever works for your family. And feel free to share more ideas in the comments! But don’t miss this opportunity to celebrate Easter like never before. Oh wait…

Palm Sunday Reflections

Where was I as You entered the city?

Was I walking near You 

while the people shouted Your name?

Was I leading the donkey 

or walking beside You,

Feeling important

because those who had gathered

finally knew who You really were?

This was what we’d been waiting for!

“Hail King Jesus, Son of David!”

Or was I in the crowd

among those who were cheering,

Swept up in the excitement,

the emotion of the day?

I think He’s the one…” we whispered,

laying our cloaks down before You,

recalling the rumors, the stories, the hope…

Hosanna! Hosanna! 

Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!

We waved our branches and sang Your praise,

and then…

went on our way.

Or perhaps I was standing apart from the crowd,

wearing my robe of importance,

hiding my envy beneath a veil of self righteousness

Unwilling to bow and quick to accuse.

Teacher, rebuke them!” 

I said condescendingly,

threatened by how Your humble sovereignty

revealed my arrogant soul.

You looked at me and laughed, 

knowing nothing could silence Creation’s praise 

in the Presence of the Creator!

Lord, if I’m honest, I see myself in each of them:

The sincere, yet self-seeking, destined to flee disciple

The self-serving, easily swayed crowd

The self-righteous, “better than thou” Pharisee…

Oh, forgive me, Jesus!

Rid me of all these “selves”

which might hinder me 

from recognizing, revering, and remaining with You.

Make me willing to lay down my life

and take up my cross

to follow You.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” -Matthew 16:24 (NIV)

Coronavirus, Toilet Paper, and Slowing Down Time

Friends, we are living in crazy times. Schools are closing in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, fear and cynicism are rampant, and people are hoarding toilet paper… I don’t think any of us ever expected this! 

I have read a lot of different perspectives and comments over the last couple weeks, and the words I’ve been noticing are frustrated, frightened, irritated, unnecessary, confused, and afraid, to name a few. 

The one thing I haven’t heard anyone say is, “I am so thankful for the coronavirus and the quarantine.  I wish time would slow down so we could really enjoy it!”

Nope, I think most people are just ready to get through this uncharted territory and get on with life… 

**************************

I don’t usually choose a “word for the year.” I’m not sure why; it just hasn’t been something I felt compelled to do. 

But this year, a word chose me. 

As I prayed over all the changes and transitions this year would hold for our family, especially with Sarah graduating and going off to college, I found myself dreading the days to come. The years we spent homeschooling have created a strong bond within our family, and the thought of this stage of life (having all my baby birds in the nest) ending just makes me sad. I get teary-eyed even thinking about her last show and last prom and graduation. I never would have dreamed it would be so hard to launch a child into adulthood! How I wished I could rewind the clock or at least just slow down time!

So I poured all these things out to the Lord, all my grief and fears and dreading. And as I sat there lamenting the change of this season, the Lord whispered a word to my heart.

Embrace.

Embrace these moments, I heard Him say. Don’t dread them. Savor them, treasure them, immerse yourself in them. For you are right, they will be gone in the blink of an eye, and you don’t want to miss any of it because you are too wrapped up in your own pity party. Lift up your eyes, open your hands, and receive these little gifts of joy. You can’t make time slow down, but you can slow yourself down enough to embrace it.

Embrace.

That word has changed everything for me this year.

I find myself returning to it again and again. I’m not going to lie- there are still tears in this season of “lasts.” But they are joyful tears, the kind that overflow from a full heart, marking these moments as something to be treasured.

And that word- embrace– it shifts my perspective when I start holding on too tightly. It reminds me that all our days and years and moments are known and numbered by One much greater than me. It enables me to rest in His promises and seize the day, leaving the future in His hands.

***********************

This word, embrace, has been echoing in my mind these past few days as well. 

Obviously, I don’t rejoice in people getting sick or being afraid or missing work. I realize it is a hardship for many, and it has altered everyday life for all of us. People need help with childcare and groceries. Events are being cancelled, and school and worship services are being held online. These are strange days we are living in… I mean, we just delivered a package of toilet paper to some friends, for goodness’ sake! Definitely strange.

Am I really suggesting we should embrace it?

That is exactly what I am suggesting. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us to “Rejoice always, pray continuously; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Give thanks in all circumstances, not for them…

Sure, our lives are being disrupted. But in the midst of this strange circumstance, what can you be thankful for? Gratitude is the key to embracing.

For me, I am grateful that, just for a little while, time is slowing down. Our hybrid school has transitioned into a more academic, private school model over the past few years, and while there are advantages to that, I have really missed our homeschooling days. Between school, church, drama, small groups, college ministry, sports, Jeff travelling, and the girls working, it is not very often that all six of us are in the same place for very long. It has become difficult for us to even eat dinner together one day a week! 

And I miss it. 

So, the thought of having all of us under the same roof for a whole week, maybe two, with no outside activities and no place we have to be is like an unexpected gift! As I watch these not-so-little-anymore people growing up before my eyes, I have longed for time to slow down… and now, just for a little while, it has. 

For just a few days, we will sit at the table and do school work together, just like we used to. We will look for opportunities to be generous to those in need and share with our neighbors. We will eat home-cooked meals and play board games and watch movies. There are books on my nightstand and cookies ready to go in the oven. And yes, like any good mom, I have several cleaning projects for us to tackle as well!

On a bigger scale, I am not really sure what the next week or two (or more) will look like, or how this epidemic will ultimately affect our country, our world, and perhaps even our family. The reality is, it is way out of our hands and far beyond our control. Dreading it or resenting it will not help anything; it will only rob us of peace. 

Instead, I choose joy. I choose gratitude. 

I choose to let time slow down, and embrace it.

(And I am happy to bring you some toilet paper if you need it. Just sayin’!)

Putting on my Peace Shoes (and Walking What I Talk)

It never fails.

Have you ever heard the old adage, “Be careful what you pray for, because you might just get it?” Or maybe “Don’t pray for patience or the Lord will put you in situations that require you to use it”?

Well, whenever we are teaching on Biblical truth, you can bet that we will promptly be presented with opportunities that require us to put that truth into practice. 

Yesterday was no exception.

I have been leading my 12th grade girls small group through Priscilla Shirer’s Armor of God Study for teens over the last several weeks (which, btw, I highly recommend!), and this past Sunday we talked about the “shoes of the gospel of peace.” 

We discussed how peace is not the absence of chaos or conflict, but a sense of calm in the midst of it. We mentioned how Paul associated peace with the Roman soldier’s shoes because God’s peace moves with us wherever we go and the spikes help us keep our footing when we are on rocky or slippery ground. This kind of peace isn’t natural to us- it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit living inside us, and has to be accessed. Like shoes, it is something we have to intentionally “put on” each day. 

I had them write down some areas in which they were struggling to feel God’s peace, whether in their mind or heart or relationships. We talked about different things people substitute for the peace we so desperately long for, things that numb or distract us, such as social media or alcohol or relationships. 

We finished our discussion by looking at what the Bible says about how we go about putting on those “Peace Shoes;” how choosing to focus on Jesus and be grateful enables us to access peace in the midst of the crazy circumstances of our lives. They went through each of their areas of unrest and found something in each situation for which they could be grateful- a way they could see God working, the fact that it caused them to depend on His strength, an opportunity in which they could be a Light, and so on.

And then, before we left, we prayed that the Lord would help us intentionally put on the Shoes of Peace this week; that no matter how crazy the chaos around us became, we would choose to be grateful and stand firm in His peace.

Do you see where this is going?

I should have known. The Lord is faithful to always give me the chance to live out the truths I claim to believe when I teach. But more than that, the enemy is not going to let me teach a lesson like that and not use it as an opportunity to make me feel like a hypocrite!  

So, when the bottom dropped out yesterday, I should not have been surprised. 

And yet, I was. 

Jeff and I are in the middle of preparing for multiple major events this week, and just about everything that could possibly go wrong yesterday did. I won’t bore you with all the details- I’m sure you’ve had a day like this before. But we spent all afternoon working through challenges and putting out fires, only to have another one pop up somewhere else!

Let’s just say I wasn’t really feeling a lot of peace when I woke up this morning.

Before I even opened my eyes, I was going over my endless to-do list in my head, and before my feet touched the floor, I already felt defeated. 

Where are you, Lord?  

As the wind and waves of my circumstances swirled around me, I couldn’t even concentrate. How are we supposed to handle this, Lord? What do we do now? How are we possibly going to get everything done? Help me, Lord!

Help me!

An image popped in my mind of Peter standing out there on the water, storm raging around him, arms outstretched towards Jesus. “Lord, help me!” And that’s when I remembered our Peace Shoes from Sunday. 

Peace is not the absence of chaos, but a calmness in the midst of it”… and boy, was I in the midst of it! I wish I could say my first response to the craziness was fixing my eyes on Jesus and finding something to be grateful for, but it wasn’t.

Not even close.

It wasn’t until I was neck-deep in the waves of my chaos that I remembered where to lift my eyes. When I finally looked up, I saw Jesus. And something began to change. 

I remembered that peace doesn’t come naturally to us; we have to choose it. 

So, I took off the fear and frustration that were consuming me and strapped on my “peace shoes” in their place. I reached out to my sweet Small Group girls for prayer. I looked around at our shifting circumstances and then focused on Jesus, my solid Rock.

I thanked God for the opportunity to show my girls that I am willing to live out what I’m teaching them. I thanked Him for answering my prayer, even when the answer didn’t come in the way I wanted. I pried my fingers open and turned my palms up to the Lord, willing to receive whatever He would give. And with each exhale of thanksgiving, I breathed in peace.

His peace. 

The kind of peace that can’t really be explained, that defies all logic. The kind that helps you catch your breath and makes you feel grounded, even when the terrain around you is uneven.  The kind that expands to fill all the crevices which were carved out by the fear and frustration, until it all becomes a little easier to let go of. 

I’ll be honest- it took some effort. My thoughts kept returning to those stressful conversations, while my emotions fluctuated like an EKG. But 2 Corinthians 10:5 says we can demolish the enemy’s strongholds by taking “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” and so I did. 

I visualized Peter, walking on water, keeping his eyes fixed on Jesus while the storm raged around him. I found myself singing an old hymn from my youth, proclaiming in faith, “It is well with my soul.” And I continued to look for reasons to be thankful. 

More peace.

So, I am grateful tonight for the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days we sometimes face, as they provide an opportunity to lean into Jesus. I am grateful for the chance to put legs on my lessons and walk out what I teach, even when it’s hard. I am grateful that a delayed response to my Savior does not disqualify me from receiving all the good things He offers His children. And I am grateful most of all for His unexplainable peace.

Now… what should I teach about next week?

Open Hands

Last weekend, our Student Ministry hosted U-Turn, our annual discipleship weekend. Our theme was “20/20 Vision,” but by the end of the weekend we all left with a different take-away. God’s message was clear- He wants us to approach Him and our crazy, unpredictable lives with a posture of  “open hands.”

Open Hands.

What does it really mean to come to God with open hands?

It means coming to God desiring what He wants more than what we want. Our hands are open to receive whatever He gives, even if it is something we wouldn’t choose.  It requires recognizing that He is God and we are not; His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. But He is good and can be trusted.

This all sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, it is not so easily accomplished. 

Why?  Because our hearts are deceitful. 

We think our hands are open, willing to receive whatever the Lord has to give. Yet, so often when I come to God believing that my hands are open, I am already clutching something else in my grasp. 

“Lord, heal me!” I cry, reaching out in faith for healing. 

“Lord, guide me!” I plead, seeking answers and direction.

“Lord, empower me!” I say, looking for opportunities.

And the whole time, I think my hands are open. I believe He will answer, and I know He is able to give me what I’m asking for. Surely I will receive it, according to my great faith, right?

Only I don’t realize I cannot receive anything because my hands are already full. If I look closely enough, though, I begin to see what fills them up… 

My expectations. 

I am reaching for healing, not the Healer

I am seeking direction, not the Guide.

I am seeking opportunities, not the Source.

I do not recognize Him when He comes because He doesn’t look like what I’m expecting. I do not receive what He has to give because my hands are too full… and yet, still empty.

Now, friends, we come by it honestly. The Bible is filled with people’s stories who were given what they desired and expected because they believed:

  • Hannah prayed in her barrenness and God gave her a son. 
  • Jonah prayed and God rescued him from the belly of a whale. 
  • Elijah prayed and it didn’t rain for three years.
  • Blind men cried out to Jesus and were healed.
  • A bleeding woman was healed by just touching Jesus’ robe. 
  • The servant was healed as a result of the Centurion’s great faith. 

And on and on and on…

Surely all these examples confirm that God rewards those who trust in Him with whatever they are expecting from Him, right? After all, “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16, NIV).

But, wait. 

Paul was given a “thorn in his flesh” and pleaded with God to take it away, but He didn’t. Instead of fulfilling Paul’s expectation, God told him His power would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)

When John the Baptist, from prison, had his followers ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Mt. 11:3 NLT), Jesus sent them back to John proclaiming all the miracles he was doing as confirmation that He was indeed the Messiah. Yet, John still ended up beheaded at the request of Herod’s stepdaughter. (Matthew 14:3-11)

Probably not quite what he was expecting…

I don’t know about you, but I am not one to question the faith of John the Baptist or the apostle Paul. So, maybe there isn’t a magic formula after all!

Which leads us back to Jesus. If ever there is an example of how we are to approach the Father, it is Jesus. The Son of God could have commanded the heavens to open and the angels to come to His rescue, but He didn’t. He could have zapped the guards and turned the Pharisees into pillars of salt, but He didn’t. He did plead with His Father to let there be another way, though He already knew there wasn’t, since He was part of the plan all along. So what did he do?

He opened His hands.

“Not my will, but Yours be done.”

And there it is. Open Hands. No expectations, no demands, no hidden agendas. Just a surrendering of self and a willingness to receive with gratitude whatever the Father gave.

Which, in this case, turned out to be a far greater gift than we could ever have imagined.

Friend, what do you need to let go of in order to open your hands to Jesus? What hidden expectations are getting in the way of receiving what He desires to give you? What is it you’ve been desiring more than Christ Himself without realizing it?

It has been a week, and I am still asking myself those questions. 

My hands are open, Lord. Thy Will be done.

The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together.