My March Book Stack

Well friends, one of the good things about being at home indefinitely is that it frees up my evenings for reading!

I entered the month of March with several of my February books unfinished, so I wasn’t sure how this month was going to go. Fortunately, I have had plenty of time to catch up! I was even able to sneak in a quick trip to the library before everything shut down, so I grabbed a few YA fiction books (my guilty pleasure!) to get me through this month. I just found out our local used bookstore is offering call-in purchases with curb-side service, so I plan to utilize that in April!

I lightened up my list a little this month with some fun books, and I even read one authored by a longtime friend of mine! So exciting! Here are some quick reviews for those of you looking for books to add to your reading list.

Made to Move Mountains: How God Uses Our Dreams and Disasters to Accomplish the Impossible by Kristen Welch. I so enjoyed reading this book! Kristen Welch has a gift for communicating her heart in a very authentic manner, and Made to Move Mountains is no exception. I love that she doesn’t try to wrap her stories up in shiny packaging and pretty bows, because how often in life is that really the case? No, one mountain often leads to another, and we rarely have time to recover before we are forced to start climbing again.

And yet, we don’t climb alone. Kristen continually points our eyes to Jesus and His faithfulness, reminding us of His invitation to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Kristen’s books always challenge me to live beyond complacency, and this one is no exception! Reading it on the heals of David Platt’s book, Something Needs to Change, made it even more impactful!

The Cage Series (which includes The Cage, The Hunt, and The Gauntlet) by Megan Shepherd is a trilogy in the YA Fiction/Fantasty/SciFi genre. The first book drew me in quickly with likable, well-developed characters and great world-building, and the plot carried well throughout all three books. I found myself especially drawn in by the action in the third book! Overall, the characters and writing were engaging enough to keep me reading, which is exactly what I look for in this genre!

The Cowboy’s Twin Surprise is a romance novel written by my dear friend and amazing author, Stephanie Dees. I do not typically read romance novels, but I have wanted to read Stephanie’s work for a long time and finally got around to ordering one of her books. It did not disappoint! This was a sweet, well-written story with many layers beyond just romance. Reading it felt like watching a Hallmark movie! Stephanie did a great job tackling some tough, real-life issues with compassion and hope. If you like romance novels, you definitely need some Stephanie Dees books in your life!

And finally, Living Prayer by Robert Benson. This is another book that has been on my list for awhile, and I am so glad I finally ordered it! It is, in essence, Benson’s journey into the world of liturgical prayer and what he has learned about faith and God Himself through the rhythm of the Ancient prayers. I’ll be honest… I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book. But it is rare that I am unable to find something redeeming in a book, especially when I like the author, so I kept reading.

Y’all. There is so much good stuff in it, I don’t even know where to begin! My prayer journal is filled with quotes and passages that have been speaking to me as I read, and I have been reminded of experiences along my own journey which have paved the way to my understanding of prayer. I have one chapter left- I have been reading a chapter a day during my God Time- and I am actually sad to finish it; it’s that good. Benson kind of has a folksy flair to his writing (and life), so if that style irritates you, then maybe you should skip it. Otherwise, I highly recommend it!

And that’s what I’ve been reading this month! What’s in your book stack? Any books you recommend? Feel free to share in the comments!

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.

My New Year’s Prayer

Lord,

As I turn the page from one year to another, one decade to the next, there are many changes ahead. Some are known and some are unknown. A daughter leaving, a family changing, doors opening and closing before my eyes. 

The evil one whispers all the things that can go wrong. My mind begins to wander down dark, twisting paths where shadows linger and fear lurks. There is so much I cannot control! What if I make the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t happen like I planned? What if they walk away from You? There are so many what ifs…

But then I hear Your voice, a quiet whisper. 

“Do not fear, for I AM with you.” 

Your Spirit blows a fresh breeze of truth, and the darkness scatters like thieves at dawn. You are with me! 

I am not alone on this journey into the unknown. You go before me, shining Your Light onto the path ahead. I do not need to worry about the shadows; I will simply focus on the next step. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. You will lead me, step by step. 

I reach for Your hand.

I glance back at the past, the road that has brought me to where I stand.  I now see only the blessings, the thread of Your Spirit woven intricately through each hill and valley, guiding me onward, closer to You. I stare in wonder at what You’ve made out of all my wrong turns and attempted short cuts. The dark times are still there, but as they blend into the design of Your tapestry, they are transformed into something more, something greater, something deeper.

Something beautiful. 

I breathe it in, and I am thankful. 

You stand behind me, shield raised, blocking the arrows of regret and shame and missed opportunities and whatever else the evil one can muster. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” lie lifeless on the ground, slain by the only One with the authority to raise them up. 

Yet, You do not. 

You cast them away from me and nudge me forward, into the Light. This is the path You have chosen for me, and I will not choose another!

Slowly, I lift my eyes from this course I travel, and I turn my gaze to You. 

I am reminded that You cannot be confined by our expectations or our calendar.  You are eternal; the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. You exist outside the bounds of time as we know it, and nothing is hidden from You. Not my past, not my future, nothing! Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence?

“My child, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So, when I am consumed by the complexities of the moment, 

or anxious of the days ahead, 

or regretful of the years behind, 

this truth brings me comfort. 

You are the One who was, and is, and is to come!  

My life is in Your hands.