When Life Spits in Your Face, and You Trust Anyway…..

I’m thinking of the brave father who listened in when God asked him to sacrifice his dearest earthly treasure.

I’m thinking of how he leaned in and absorbed the words of God when his natural flesh cried everything contradictory.

Of how he obeyed when God’s command seemed to contradict God’s promise.

Abraham, the father of faith. He wasn’t always perfect, and he was cowardly enough to put his wife in a place of extreme vulnerability because he was afraid.

Sarai was beautiful enough to grab the attention of every man in town. And Abraham wondered if the king would have him killed so he could have one more beautiful woman in his harem.

The father of faith succumbed to his fear and told his lovely wife to lie. Then, he allowed her to be taken to the king’s palace.

The father of faith succumbed to his fear, because he wanted to save his own skin. But, this is not what he’s known for.

Down through the ages, Abraham’s faith has been held as an example because when rubber met the road, he obeyed at all costs.

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He waited thirty years for God’s promise of a son to be fulfilled. Thirty years. Thirty years feels like a life-time, and at thirty years of age, many feel as if God failed them if desires and promises remain unmet. But Abraham waited thirty years for a single promise, then turned around and was ready to sacrifice it all.

He didn’t ask God why. He didn’t remind God of His promise to give him a heritage so great it was likened to the sand of the sea. All he did was walk, and trust, build the altar, and raise the knife.

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His faith showed through his obedience. This, my friends, is why he was called the father of faith. If he hadn’t obeyed, his faith would have been void. And today, if we don’t obey, our faith is of no effect.

Friend, what treasure is God asking you to sacrifice today? Of what are you afraid?

Abraham raised his hand to slay his only son, and the angel of God cried out to stop him. Abraham gratefully put down his knife and spotted the lamb stuck in the bush. He had told Isaac that God would provide a lamb for their sacrifice as they trudged up the mountain.

I think he knew, deep down. With no visible proof, with everything (including God’s direct order) seeming to contradict the promise, he knew, by faith, that things would come full circle.

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He had nothing to go by, but he knew God, and He knew God’s heart, and he trusted what he knew by faith more than what he saw with his eyes.

He knew that God is good.

Friends, when we take hold of grace, but don’t follow with obedience, our faith is vain. When we truly believe, we obey, and when we obey, God reigns.

Hear this, we don’t truly believe if we don’t have the courage to live our faith. And if something’s worth living for, it’s worth dying for—and we don’t get to choose what we live and die for, because God has us, and He has the world, and He masters all of it.

Including our lives. Our sometimes messed-up lives. 

When you believe this, you’ll see that out of every mess in your life comes a message for your life.

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You may be afraid enough to want to save your skin today. You may have an order from your saving Christ that seems to deny you access to the things dearest to your heart. And you’ll obey, because when you accept God’s grace, you also embrace His Lordship.

You’ll make mistakes, but in the end, you’ll also be known as a woman of faith—because you believed God’s goodness when life seemed to defy it and spit in your face, instead.

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You followed through when life seemed to laugh at you, and the thing you clung to so tightly crumbled right out of your hands.

Still, you’ll be a woman of faith. Rubber will meet the road, and you’ll follow God with a yes. In turn, His promises will be, to your heart, yes, and yes.

He has overcome the world, your world, and He says to you, “Be of good cheer. If I have overcome the entire world, I’ve certainly overcome the trial in your life, today. Overcome it, with ME.” 

Trade Real Living for an Alternate Screen Life?

Everyone’s on their phones,” I mused as I stood in line at the check-out counter. “I wonder how it must have been a few decades ago when people had no phones to fill every spare minute. Did they actually talk to each other?”

The next day one of my kids says, “Mom, you’re on your phone so much of the time.”

Ack. He’s right. My first i-phone was a great luxury compared to the small phones I’d always owned previously. I love people, and it’s a great way to stay in touch with those I love the world over.

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It’s also a great way to loose touch with those I love in my own house. In my small town. In the line at the grocery store and post office.

Just last week I navigated snowy roads with a rented car and four kids, twisting through curvy roads to a place in Ohio I’d never been. I was so grateful for Google maps as I crept along, holding my breath as we threatened to slip. In that moment, my phone was nothing short of goodness.

But hey. If I’m consumed by this good thing, I actually fall short of goodness consuming me.

Because it’s more important to give people your undivided attention than your unlimited time. Where ever you are, be all there.

It’s more important to make time for your friends than to take even more hours for your favorite show.

More important to invite people into your home than to sit in your home with your mind out of it completely.

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People rush home from Sunday services with more thought of the screen than they have of the hurting lives surrounding them all morning.

Everywhere, there are silent people begging for an ear. But they are silent, and it is up to us to find them, love them, live life with them.

And when you’re taken with screen life, you’re likely discouraged with your own very real life. Few things in real life flash as quickly and engagingly as a film.

And few women look as beautiful as the actress. Few men as buff and handsome as the actors—and few of them as “perfect” when it comes to loving a woman.

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Screen life can make forbidden love look sweet, and committed love look sour.

It can feed attitudes more than refine them, and cause us to be restless more than resourceful.

My little boy’s screen time can pick momentum ever so slightly, and before I know it, I have a child on my hands who wants nothing but to sit and stare rather than run and do.

Addictions come in many forms, and we have one on our hands. We are trading many good things in real life for a glorified, unrealistic picture flashing before us so quickly it sucks us right out of pursuing good for our own lives.

Depression and constant screen hovering often seems to go hand in hand. When there’s little to your own life, you want to find it in some one else’s. What would God want to give you if you pursued your own good thing, instead?

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The screen also offers alternative sex in the form of pornography. Ladies, don’t be confused—the grief you feel over this one is justified because what happens with a stranger on a screen is a hidden form of cheating. Your heart says so because it is not more right to cheat in hidden places on a screen,  than to cheat with a person in front of you. 

The screen steals time away from couples and offers an easy emotional or sexual fix where there’s no work involved—just a high dose of “feel good”. And then the repercussions of emotional distance, hypocrisy, and betrayal with your own spouse.

And with social media spouses can reach out to anyone, at anytime, for a fix for their loneliness rather than ask themselves why they’re in a lonely place. What do your relationships need, and why are they suffering?

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We are in an epidemic, but there’s a cure. Use wisdom. Say no before it happens. Refuse to engage on your phone in ways you wouldn’t engage in person (especially right in front of your spouse).

If you have to hide anything, it’s not worth doing. If you have to hide your phone, it’s not worth having.

If you hide your own life in exchange for watching anothers, try to make your own worth living instead!

Look at the one face next to you rather than the thousand faces smiling at you across the globe. That smiling face wasn’t happy all day, either. Judging relationships by on-line perfection is unfair and damaging to your own very real, struggling spouse, kids, and life.

Look into their faces, and look away from the screen. They will love you for it!

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Pick up a book and fill your soul. Invite a friend over and create space for relationships. Say no to constant texting of the opposite sex so your heart is ready to engage fully with your spouse. Find your deepest needs met there, and with God.

The world is on a major hunt for a cure for cancer, but cancer is not the only epidemic. How will we fight this alternate reality so we can create a better reality for our own lives?

How Bethlehem’s Babe Brings Love in When We Can’t Keep Life Out…….

It’s Christmas Day, and my extended family is cozied up in a lodge nestled in the rolling hills of Ohio, spending time together before my youngest brother’s wedding to his long-loved girl.

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I’ve just had a fifth cup of hot tea, coffee, or chai for the day, and am settled at the table writing while my sisters paint—because water colors drive me crazy while weaving words delights me to the core.

Dad and I just had a chat on the couch. He’s sixty years old, and life has traveled at a breathtaking pace while he’s done his best with it all. I look at the faces of each family member as we play ice-breaker.

The game is fun and has us rolling in laughter. I get to choose the questions, and I pose personal ones to that brother in law who is quiet and composed. We shake with laughter when he smirks an uncomfortable grin before he answers.

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I also pose more thoughtful, difficult questions. “What was the hardest day of your life, and why?” I read the question aloud to my father.

Even as I asked, I knew what he’d say.

The day Peter died,” he said.

Ah, yes. Of course. That day was a living nightmare, and it didn’t stop for awhile, not until his body finally appeared on the water’s surface three days later.

It didn’t even stop then. His refrigerator still had his butter dish to be emptied, his phone still rang, and we were just flat out heart broken.

This Christmas, we’re smiling again. Life has been unexpectedly difficult in some aspects, but here we are on Christmas Day, deeply in love with Bethlehem’s Babe in the God-form of Jesus Christ.

Because when we pause enough to rest on the Father’s chest, we get to feel the rise and fall of His heart. His heart.

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Our own hearts may tell us otherwise, that God doesn’t see and doesn’t love and doesn’t care—and we won’t be okay because some aspects of life aren’t okay, and we don’t know how to fix them.

My sister leans in as she tells me how raising teens takes every ounce of her energy and she’s just a little drained. The other sister’s heart is in Greece with her loved refugee women, the ones she’s keeping safe from sex traffickers.

I got to voice chat with the girl who was taken into prostitution at an early age. She’s smiling, and safe. No matter that life robbed her of goodness—she’s fallen in love with the Ultimate Gift, and she’s smiling. 

She’s smiling more than some women I know who have it all, but aren’t grateful and alive with purpose. Because some of us hide behind dishes and laundry while we allow our minds to be dull and void of vision—all in the name of Godly womanhood.

And sometimes, we refuse to rest until we’re stripped bare and forced to reach inward to the Spirit of Christ and the strength He offers.  We know true rest when we cease trying on our own. 

More than circumstantial change, we get to be changed by a loving God.

We get to hear God’s whisper more than the roar of our circumstance. And the gift of Christmas is that we don’t have to do things we can’t do. We get to rest, to end the struggle, to simply do what He prompts us to do and leave the load for Him to carry.

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Even if the load is raising kids and we fear making mistakes. Even that load, we get to cast aside while we choose peace.

We let go of our idea of perfection in order to be perfected in love. When we do so, Perfect Love begins to shape our lives, our mothering, and all we do.

We get to shatter our past and burn our reasons not to live fully in grace, today.

We don’t have to—we get to. When our flesh isn’t coddled temporarily, we still get to be embraced eternally.

I’m tucking my boy into bed, wishing just a tad that all of life, for everyone, could be as warm, safe, and cozy as this lodge on Christmas Day. But we can’t avoid the duties of life. And when we can’t keep life out, we get to bring Love into that life. 

Bethlehem’s Babe is the Ultimate Gift, and He will go with us, everywhere, while we follow Him, anywhere.

TruthBytes for Moms

Hey, Moms! It’s Christmas season and we are about to take our family of six on a wild trip east to visit family and attend my brother’s wedding. In the hub-bub of daily family life, I’m thinking some thoughts on encouragement and kids, what training looks like, etc.

I also want to let you know that there’s a new app for moms, called Daily Truthbytes for Moms. My friend, Stefani Stoltzfus, has recently founded it and asked me to join her and others to provide a devotional for mothers each day, accessible with a quick tap of your fingers, anywhere and everywhere. This is great because it’s hard to open a book every time, or carry one with you when you need a Source not your own!  You can find her  app on Google Play, Facebook, or Etsy.

Daily TruthBytes for Moms

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Perhaps giving and receiving the riches of His grace looks a little more like encouragement to those around us rather than constant disapproval and condemnation.

The true definition of training up a child looks more like training an athlete for a marathon than scolding and disciplining like a dictator. Training for obedience, respect, hard work, and excellence in a positive style versus a scolding, condemning style can turn a home around.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

The grace of Christ is so rich toward me, and sometimes I don’t feel it when I’m condemning everyone around me. I get inward focused and hurt when I should be able to look with compassion on whoever has the need. Then, I crack down hard because I hate the hard tossed my way. I turn into a hard thing because of the hard things, and I don’t actually extend grace while I bark my way through the day demanding others to extend grace to me.

At the end of the day, let’s make sure we forgive our families for the rough day. Let’s release them, and wake them with positive vibes the next morning rather than give another scolding from yesterday’s mess. Let’s embrace them, hug them, and warm them with encouragement.

Perhaps go to the problem child with an expression of acceptance, something like, “I know you’re the perfect child for me, and God knew exactly who I needed in my life. God also knew you needed me for a mother.”

God knows, mama. He landed that child in your womb and on your lap, not so you could be destroyed, but so you could grow better.

Speak it out, life for you and him. Reach it out, that hand extended to him. Hold it out, your offer of walking side by side toward better things.

 

Cupcakes and Culture

Cupcakes, laughter, and serious talks filled the evening of our girl’s group, after which my co-teacher and I pondered things of culture and how our group of girls was affected by them. “Culture is like a rushing wall of water all around us, and we need to stand tall while it rushes about us and nearly over the top of our heads,” I had shared with her.

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She nodded in agreement. We are here for more than to have fun and allow daughters of the King to be blithely swallowed up by their surroundings. Because Christians are here to permeate culture rather than allow culture determine what we do and who we are.

I’ve long been intrigued with ambassadors. Leaving one’s own country to live in another for the sake of your own, must be a challenging but fulfilling occupation.

Ambassadors are fulfilled in a sense of greater purpose than walking the streets and enjoying a house in a certain country. They are there to speak out for their country.

You’d be there for a reason greater than seeing sights and enjoying ethnic foods. You’d even be there for more than to love on native folk. You’d be there for your own country’s sake, and everything you did would have a mission to benefit your country.

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I can’t speak up for anything lately without being told I’m judgmental,” I shared with my friend. “It’s as if the truth of God is wiped off the slate because all people want is the mercy of God.”

We fail to see that the truths God asks us to hold on to are a display of His mercy, that His no is not deprivation, but an invitation to greater blessing.

That when He asks us to put down our phones, He’s not asking us to shut out relationships; He’s inviting us to embrace the love right before us, to be engaged where we are because we miss out when we don’t do so.

That when He asks us to hold on to “old-fashioned” views of marriage and sexuality, He’s not unloving—He’s calling our land to a solid foundation of love that will bless this culture rather than imbalance it.

That when He prompts us to reduce our screen time, He’s inviting us to a life of good rather than staring at a screen with the good (or not so good) things of another’s life, leaving our own destitute of fulfillment. Because we won’t be as rich from watching a life as we’ll be from fully living a life.

 

That when He asks women to honor their husbands, He’s inviting them to a place of honor for their own hearts, a place where they can be at rest and receive the care they  end up craving even when they try to prove themselves equally capable.

Do we remember this, His way is perfect, His word is tried, that every good gift is from a good Father Who lives in the light and longs to bring us to life?

The truths of God lead us to be changed by the mercy and grace of God.

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Cheap grace lulls us to sleep; real grace leads us to vibrant life. Cheap grace gives hand-outs; real grace holds a hand.

We are ambassadors of a heavenly kingdom, and less we be distracted from our mission and lose our calling, let’s keep referring back to the heart of God so we can be a true representation of His heart!

When Glaring Teens Need to be Heard

Those eyes, they glare at me. And my heart wilts just a little more.

I’m so done. How can you be a mother, give so much, and get that? Like, don’t they know I gave up my own life for theirs, that I don’t always feel glorious about home schooling one more day, that I make those green smoothies because I love them?

Don’t they know I’m a good mom—as in, a really, really good mom?

The twelve year old son, the one who looks at me contemplatively and asks me how my heart’s doing, well, he turned into a brat for awhile. And I’m done being weak and disrespected and known as the softie who can’t take anything, so I clamp down.

These kids—don’t they know I’m fully human and I have feelings, and they can’t –I mean, they really can’t—talk to me with that edgy tone?

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My husband calls me into the room for a talk, and shares with me how I could be hearing their hearts more than clamping down on the edgy parts of their hearts. “Perhaps”, he says, “that would help them not be so disrespectful. They want to feel heard, and sometimes not everything comes out all pretty and sweet.”

We empaths feel deeply. The slightest tone of voice, especially when we’ve been raised by a father who never, ever raised his voice, can drive us over the edge. We avoid conflict like the plague and all we want is to be honestly, truly loved and communicated with in the same love.

But kids aren’t perfect, and even most adults will have an edge to their tone every once in awhile. I’ve clutched my heart many times in a desperate quest for escape when a family member or friend has looked at me with less than warm vibes bouncing from their eyes.

How not to go over the edge when you hear the edge?

Just the other day, I literally ran out of the house when conflict happened with one of the kids and I had to send him to his room. And my husband says, “Maybe try to listen more before you discipline?”

So yeah, I’m the softie trying to prove herself strong. If they can bark, so can I—and I can send you to your room, too!

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I look at the hats sitting on the shelf of the shop I clean, and I see the slogan, “Don’t tread on me.” I feel it within, this cry of the heart—please don’t tread on me, kids.”

Somewhere, there’s a wound deep within that rises hard core to a fizzing top when I hear the edge. And I’m taking it out on the kids, this inability to handle it and get to the bottom of the heart behind it—because I’m stuffing my own hurt way down deep.

I sit them down for Bible time after daddy goes off to work his night shift, and I say it, loud, to hearts seated round the living room. “I’m sorry for not listening well to your hearts. I’m sorry for not giving you what I want for myself.”

Kids are forgiving beyond belief, and a few of them cuddle up close . The next day when fights simmer, I pause, and I ask this heart, then that one, what’s going on. I do it again, and again, and again. Sometimes, I listen and talk it through, then discipline because the need is obvious—but often, we simply talk.

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When relationship is there, the love is there, and when love is there, the heart wants to do good. There is no need to discipline a heart in the right place, no need to prove yourself to a heart already in a proven place—even though they’ve made a mistake.

The air clears, and I listen more. I take time to talk it through, to get to the bottom of the frustration rather than send the frustrated child upstairs with no answers. I focus on training the littlest bratty child rather than attack the older child for scolding bratty behavior. I try to be fair, just, and approachable—for everyone, not just the littlest one.

The twelve year old is hugging me again, and my heart is at peace. Not all is perfect, and it never will be. But love covers us in a blanket of acceptance. 

Children know when they are accepted for their performance or loved in spite of less than perfect behavior. I’d rather have a child vibrantly loved than have a silent, performing child working for my love. And this is where I was headed until I repented of my very own inability to work through conflict.

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Teens may need the mercy seat right along with this mama, and I feel the need of it keenly. Mercy—we are all in desperate need of it, daily. Repentance mingles with grace, and the soul is at rest. Perhaps the heart, rather than wilt, can be made alive with the glory of grace in an edgy world where all is not always as it should be.

Perhaps, we all need to be heard a little more, and condemned a little less? That spouse, friend, or child who makes you want to shy away—perhaps they need to have the deepest places of the heart heard and cared for? Perhaps, just perhaps, the ugly coming out is a sign that they are affected in an ugly world? 

Perhaps we could be like Jesus, and send the teen off with mercy, to sin no more, rather than condemn him for sinning against us?photo

When Stillness Fights Your War

The two armies approached each other on the screen, and I cringed.

I hate war. Like, hate it with a passion unlike most other things. Killing each other to win anything seems contradictory to love—and what is worth more than love?

But if wars need to be fought, I’m glad some men have stamina enough to face ammunition whizzing through the air and puncturing human hearts. In olden days, the bayonet was only faced by the brave of heart who refused to turn away at any cost.

Some people would rather die than surrender. To them, surrender means weakness.

Soldiers of the kingdom fight under a different set of values. We fight just as hard, or at least we should. The enemy can be as slicing and deadly as the bayonets of old, piercing ourselves and those we love to the death, unless some powerful warfare is waged.

To us, surrender is the most powerful warfare and always means victory.

We don’t give up and we don’t give in, and we fight strong. But because our war is between the flesh and spirit, surrender is one of our most powerful tools. Exodus 14:14 says, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

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Sometimes, we fight needlessly because we refuse to give in to what we know the Commander says to us. We want, we desire, and we strive for things God is not giving us.

The war wages on, and while it wages in our hearts, we become occupied with it, consumed by it. Being caught in a fight of our own making because we refuse to surrender our desires brings us to spiritual exhaustion. We become so taken with ourselves that we are no longer taken with grace.

How can we constantly be engaged in our own world and at the same time be releasing love, joy, and peace into the atmosphere around us?

You must surrender the things that take your heart away and cause you to be in a ceaseless inner fight. Release your desires, and surrender. God will overtake your heart with peace and then, you will have space for the work He has for you.

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A clean heart allows God to create His business in your life. A pure heart will see God.

Today, surrender. In God’s kingdom, surrender marks the strongest and toughest soldiers. The brave know how to follow their General’s lead, no matter what. And He always leads them to rest.

After leading them to rest, He leads them to fruitfulness. A soldier is always occupied. When surrendering in warfare of our own making, we become free to return home, where we engage in the growth of all the things God calls us to.

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I don’t believe we realize how much of our time is taken with distractions of our own making. We exhaust ourselves, and for what? Sooner or later, the inner turmoil must cease, and it will cease when we hand over the reigns.

We may be without, but we will be full within. Only the brave know how to say no to the enemy and yes to God. Only the strong soldier knows how to walk faithfully when all else calls you to quit, veer to the left, or take an alternate route.

Let the bayonets slice the air around you while you surrender into peace and blessing.

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