Category Archives: Encouragement

A Blind Mile

It was over a month ago that I was sitting on the floor in the back corner of a church in Guatemala City, listening to Sunday morning’s message, translated so that I could understand it.  The message titled, A Mile of Faith, it’s subject, the walk of the blind man in John 9.  It’s this muddy eyed walk that I have been thinking about. Jesus is walking with his disciples and has cause to stop, stoop down, spit into the dirt and make some mud, then smear it on the blind man’s face. He then commands the blind man to go and wash it in a certain pool of water. Unseeing, (and since he didn’t ask to be healed quite possibly thinking “Um ok, what in the world just happened?”) the blind man trusted and with mud smeared on his eyes, he walked to the pool. He didn’t get halfway there and stop deciding it was a fools errand.  He didn’t just turn and wipe the spit and dirt from his eyes, thinking to himself “crazy man.” The blind man trusted and he walked.  He obeyed and he gained miraculous sight.

How hard is to keep walking when we can’t see where we are going?  How difficult is it to be obedient when the path is long? Blind faith…it looks different for all of us.

What a path I have found myself on. Not one part of it makes sense to my orderly, obsessive compulsive mind.

In the last 12 months,

We moved to my “never house”  in an effort to “do more with less.” This was a sacrafice for all involved and required a buy-in from the entire family. Our project house is still in various forms of completion. 

We started a non-profit in an effort to love on others (, please check it out if you haven’t yet) and Do Good.

We opened a store (something I said we would never do)  to help fund said non-profit. (And having already been there 6 months have  just agreed to extend our lease another 6 months.  This is for real now…no more “playing store.”) (You can check out our online store at Our online inventory is always changing as does our brick and mortar location.)

Through the generosity of others in this venture, we have funded 6 causes – in Columbia and Zambia, Guatemala, South Dakota, and locally in both Sandusky and Norwalk. And I am excited to share that we are well on our way with another 3!

Most recent, and most impactful, was the trip my 14 year old daughter and I took to Guatemala City for a week to serve at an orphanage. 

We had our eyes opened to a heartache that has changed our world.  We had to see it to truly understand it. All the reading, researching, and memorizing of statistics fall short of the reality.  David Platt said “orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names…see their faces…hold them in your arms.  But once you do, everything changes.” 

 I believe that the same can be said for the poverty that they have come from. Once you see it, everything changes.   For so many reasons, I keep waiting for my heart to settle back down after this trip, and one very special life-changing encounter, but it hasn’t.  I am not sure it ever will.

None of this is about me though. To God be the glory in all of it. He has made this possible. This is His work.  I am just trying to walk obediently, blindly but trusting. He is using my “nevers” for His purposes – His good. If this had been left up to me, if the past 12 months had followed my plans, this is not what it would have looked like.  Suddenly, a passion and fire have been ignited, fueled, as I begin to see where this path may be leading. But, it is on the horizon still, and until I get closer, until my eyes are opened to seeing the fullness of it, I will just keep walking towards it.

What does your path look like?  What would happen if you had the courage to walk blindly in the direction that God has called you to?  Where would you be standing 12 months from now?

I would encourage you to have the courage to start, and to have the patience and fortitude to keep walking when you can’t see, so that you may experience the exhilaration of first sight as you travel your own path. 

And oh yes, Happy Valentine’s Day!

When The Alarm Does (or Doesn’t) Go Off

packyourbagsA door downstairs flew open, jarring me from my peaceful sleep. “Oh NO! What time is it?!” Fumbling for my phone to check the time I see that we had already overslept an hour. I was tumbling out of bed, down the stairs, asking “What do you need?” while gathering socks, Gatorade, and miscellaneous lunch items.  This poor grown child looked at me with terrified, sleep filled eyes and said “This has to be a nightmare!”

Football two-a-days.  This is a taboo phrase in our house.  Not to be spoken aloud, basically like a four-letter word times four (so you know it’s really, really bad!) If you have had any part in them ever, the memory will stay with you eternally. So, when the alarm didn’t go off at 4:55 for the first time or 5:05 for the second time, we slept until the 10th phone call woke my blissfully unaware son at 6:00.  Thus inducing the Fear Of Coach panic that flooded each of us.  He was out the door in record time and I collapsed into a chair after and remember these words from two years ago during the same season of life …

We had spent the day at the ballpark watching a double header and our friends’ son in his Major League pitching debut.  However, with all of the poster-making, jumbo-tron dancing, hot dog eating excitement of the afternoon it wasn’t until we were on our way home (at 10:30 pm) that I realized I still had two pair of football pants that needed to be washed (spray the Shout, scrub the stains, wash, rinse, repeat if necessary) and more importantly dry by the wee hours of the morning.  Fun has a price.  So, while I waited on the washing machine to do it’s thing, I thought, “You should pack Ty’s lunch.  You will thank yourself in the morning when all you have to do is roll out of bed, grab a coffee, and head out the door.”  I also searched out socks (why does this always seem to be the one missing item?) and had his football bag otherwise packed and ready to go because I knew neither of us would be functional this morning.  And I was right.  And I did thank myself.  On my drive back home from the football field as the coffee began to work and my brain began to wake up I had a thought. I remembered something I had heard a very long time ago and thought it was a great reminder for all of us.  I was as true then as it is now!

You have to live ready.

Tomorrow may be a good day or tomorrow may be a nightmare.  Will you be ready?  Is your faith something you are building and strengthening everyday?  Is your relationship with Jesus something you are nurturing?  Or, are these just things that get dusted off, possibly on Sunday, and otherwise left alone only to be unpacked In Case Of Emergency.  Are you waiting for “tomorrow” to explore this Jesus-thing a little bit deeper? If this is where you find yourself, please, wake up!

When the alarm goes off (hopefully when it is supposed to) at 5am after too few hours of sleep, is your bag packed?  Do you have clean matching socks and a lunch or are you scrambling to pull it together? We have to live ready because we don’t know when the crisis alarm is going to go off.  We don’t get a notification in the mail that says, next month you will be diagnosed with a life-altering disease, please plan accordingly.  We don’t receive a call that says, please make sure you have appropriate clothing you will be attending a funeral next week. (Maybe yours?  I am sorry.  That is harsh but it is also reality.)  Ready or not, here it comes, with no warning.

We have to live ready!  We need to use and strengthen our “faith muscles” every day because if we wait until crisis strikes they will be sluggish and sleepy when we need them most. We will have to dust our faith off and hope that we remember how to work it.  It is so very easy to let our faith and relationship with Jesus rest in hibernation, only to be awakened in crisis.

This is a slippery slope.  I know.  I have been there.  I grew up in a solid Christian home, was involved in church.  We were bringing our children up to love and fear the Lord.  I thought I got it.  Then God let me really have it! Oh, foolish proud heart.  I have realized that I had nothing without Him. I am nothing without Him.

The problem with crisis is that we don’t know when the alarm is going to go off.  When crisis strikes, your brain tends to go into default mode. So what is your default?  You want live ready?  Nurture your relationship with God.  If you don’t have one, start one!  If you don’t know how, ask me, I would love to help you figure this out.  Dig into His Word for nourishment, spend time in prayer, communicating with our Father.  Listen for His voice instead of just talking at Him. I don’t have all the answers.  There is not an Easy 5 Step Plan For Readiness but we can stumble and bumble through this together. There are some things you will never be ready for but with faith you can survive them with hope for a better day ahead.  The point is, don’t wait.

I can remember playing Parcheesi with my son and mom, 8 years ago at least.  In the spirit of competition there was a little smack-talk going on and my son looked at my mom and told her, “Pack your bags your going home!”  This my friends, is great advice, pack your bags.  Live ready.  You’ll thank yourself in the morning.

Dehydration – The Word of the Week

 Fraternities and sororities have a version of it, the Navy SEALS have their version, in our house Monday morning ushered in our own version of Hell Week.  Football and volleyball conditioning began, effectively ending summer and ushering in the fall sports seasons where our lives and schedules no longer belong to us.  Gatorade has been flowing like the Nile River this week and our too often evening trips for Tofts Ice Cream and a walk to the beach have been curbed. Bodies that have been on summer vacation were pushed to their limits.  The very first workout of the week ended up in a trip to the ER for a cocktail of IV fluids, a little something for nausea, and a blue popsicle for good measure. Since then the week has passed quietly, albeit painfully (and with too little ice cream.)  
As we all push through these last few moments of summer it is easy to feel the effects of soul dehydration.  Summer starts out lazily enough with a bucket list of fun to be had and a string of unplanned days stretching out ahead of us.  But, come August we’re exhausted because we have been so busy checking it off, packing it in, and “vacationing” which for us was camping this year, a week’s worth of fun spawned at least 2 weeks of clean-up and we still have a pile of stuff in the garage to be sorted through and put back into it’s designed place. The pace we have been trying to keep to make sure that we pack in as much fun as we can is taking it’s toll.  As moms we have been pouring ourselves out all summer in an effort to meet everyone’s needs and our responsibilities.  And now there’s the whole “back-to-school” thing with list after list staring us in the face demanding more of our time and finances.  

Max Lucado writes, “Dehydrated hearts send desperate messages. Snarling tempers. Waves of worry. Growling mastodons of guilt and fear. You think God wants you to live with these? Hopelessness. Sleeplessness. Loneliness. Resentment. Irritability. Insecurity.

These are warnings. Symptoms of a dryness deep within. Perhaps you’ve never seen them as such. You’ve thought they, like speed bumps, are a necessary part of the journey. Anxiety, you assume, runs in your genes like eye color. Some people have bad ankles; others, high cholesterol or receding hairlines. And you? You fret. And moodiness? Everyone has gloomy days, sad Saturdays. Aren’t such emotions inevitable? Absolutely. But unquenchable? No way.

View the pains of your heart, not as struggles to endure, but as an inner thirst to slake-proof that something within you is starting to shrivel. Treat your soul as you treat your thirst. Take a gulp. Imbibe moisture. Flood your heart with a good swallow of water.”

Here is where the meaning lies in “Run and Be Still.” Run (literally or metaphorically,) be busy if you must, be crazy, but find some time, even (especially) “in the midst” to quiet your mind in the chaos. You don’t have to cease moving to “be still.” Drink deep from the Living Water.

Invite God into the crazy, into the chaos, into the summer fun. This is where something beautiful begins to happen…not just God with us…us with God. Include Him, weave Him into the fabric of your everyday life. I have found that with God’s calming presence, the overbooked and overstretched doesn’t have to result in a “snap.” Life becomes a little more fluid. 

Sometimes in our family we do get wound a little too tight which means we get to practice forgiveness (both giving and receiving.) We can use our failures as teachable moments for grace and mercy and humility. This is where faith intersects with life, where God gets taken off His Sunday shelf, and invited into the present. God with us…us with God. Here you will find refreshment, renewal. He does for your soul what water does for your body. 

Summer’s finish line is in sight. In our house it’s going to be an all out sprint to the finish. We are not going to let summer go gently into that good night! But after the way this week began we will be sure to stay hydrated while we do it! 

Stay thirsty (and hydrated) my friends!

There Goes My Life…

let me love

Being a mom is one of my very favorite thing to be. It really isn’t a secret, if you know me, this is one of the things you must know. For all of my fellow moms, step-moms, grandmas, aunts, surrogates, and “like-a-moms”out there, Happy Belated Mother’s Day!  This one is for you…

About a month ago I watched my kids head out the driveway together with my son at the wheel of his “new to him” wheels and that snippet of a thought, there goes my life, flashed through my mind as did the mom mantra prayer of safety. “Please Lord keep them safe and bring them back home to me.” There goes my life…these two growing up versions of the babies that I have been pouring myself into for the last decade and a half just had just flown from the nest for their first time, completely solo, unaccompanied, unsupervised, un-“momed.”  There goes my life…a sappy country song from way back about kids growing up that made my eyes leaky on this particular afternoon.

We are deep in the trenches of “in-between.” This is that place where all of the hard work of little ones is paying off but now, with the finish line in sight, we’re in an all out sprint to be our best parent-selves, creating as many memories, and imparting as much wisdom as we can to these pieces of our heart before we turn them out to their own-ness in the world.

Every stage of mothering is difficult. These days are harder in a different way than from when they were teenies. The days themselves pass easier than the little days. In fact, part of the problem I think, is that they pass too fast and easy. There is still so much I want to say, to teach, and to hold onto and it’s like trying to keep sand from slipping through your fingers. Looking back at the sleepless nights, crying jags, and hard discipline, and then ahead to what I am sure will hold sleepless nights, crying jags, and hard discipline I realize what a cycle mothering is. It’s shushing, and hand holding, and doing the hard things “for their own good” that make your heart break. And praying and praying and praying, for their soul, their safety, and your own sanity.

I love (and deeply identify) what AnnVosKamp had to say about mothering.  I think we all need to hear it, not just with our ears but with our hearts.  It’s not just a message for Mother’s Day but for everyday.

“Because I ain’t no Hallmark mother – and none of us are, if we’re being really truth-telling here. If we’re honest – and what else is there really – there were burnt dinners and yelling mornings, and neck strained words over lost shoes and scattered Legos and unfinished homework and there were crumpled tears behind bathroom doors.

Not to mention the frozen pizzas and no clean underwear and the wild words no one would want the camera rolling for.

And the realization – that a mother’s labor and delivery never ends and you never stop having to remember to breathe.

What you really want is to be extraordinary, obviously good at this.  At this mothering thing.

You wanted to be the best at this. You wanted to be more.

You wanted to be more patient – you wanted to never lose it, to always have it together, to keep calm and that is all, always, and yeah, take their tantrums with a grain of salt instead of throwing one of your own that turned out to be a first class tsunami and a tad bit more dramatic than theirs.  You wanted more flashes of wisdom in the heat of the moment when you had no bloody idea what was the best thing to do, when you flung up an S.O.S prayer and you crawled into bed feeling like a heel who always gets it wrong when everyone else gets it right.

You’d about give your eye teeth and your left arm for more time.  More time to get it more  right and less wrong.

More time so that you could leave that one more thing that ended up not mattering a hill of beans in the long run, so you could take the time to lay there in the dark with them after prayers and talk about the deep things that only come in the exhale of the last light out, and rub their back till they fall asleep.

More time to not hurry them, badger them, nag them, or manage them like some to-do list that needs to get stroked off, done and tossed before tomorrow’s start s again – but just more time to slow down, smile into them, simply enjoy being.

What you really want, desperately, wildly, in spite of everything – is for them to remember the goodto remember enough of the times you whispered, “I Love You”to know how many times you broke your heart and how hard you really tried.

What every mother wants, her most unspoken need – is a truckload of Grace. Grace that buries her fears that her faith wasn’t enough, and that her faults were too many.”

So what do we do?

“Find each other and hold onto each other and offer the hug of the broken who know the relief that homemaking is about making a home, not perfection, that motherhood is a hallowed space because children aren’t commonplace, that anyone who fosters dreams and labor prayers is a mother to the child in us all.

We’ll be the holding on broken who know that it’s not that we won’t blow it but it’s what we’ll do with it afterwards, whose priorities aren’t things that get us noticed, but priorities are all Things Unseen, who keep praying to only speak words that make souls stronger and keep getting up when we fall down because this is always how things just fall together.

And there will be tears and there will be laughter – because what messes our life up most – is the expectation of what our life is supposed to look like – and there will be a mess of dishes in the sink and a pile of laundry and the clock will just keep on ticking and we’ll grab onto someone right in the kitchen and just hold on and let go.”

We can do this…maybe not as well as we’d like, but with the gift of Grace, the release of our expectation of what it is supposed to be and the holding on broken hug of a commiserator, we can do this mothering thing. It takes a village!

A Playlist Mashup – Life and Death

width and depth

“Will you be going to the cemetery?”


The magnet thumps dully against the metal as the flag declaring our intentions is put on the roof of the car. The sky is a brilliant blue, unfit for grief and I think back to a similar sky on a similar day over a decade ago.

What do you say to the boys who have lost their mother?  What do you say to the husband who can’t make sense of how cancer laid claim to a body within a span of days?  Not years. Not months. Days.

“I am so sorry…”

Troubled soul don’t lose your heart
‘Cause joy and peace he brings
And the beauty that’s in store
Outweighs the hurt of life’s sting

There will be a day with no more tears, no more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place,
Will be no more, we’ll see Jesus face to face
But until that day, we’ll hold on to you always (1)

There will be a day with no more suffering, no more pain, no more fears.  Even and especially when we don’t understand Jesus please flood our hurt with your comfort. Peace that passes understanding.  The assurance that covers all hurt – not removing it but allowing you to breathe through it and heal in spite of it.  And I know it and believe it and have laid claim to it.  I pray that they do too because mere words fall hollow on both ears and breaking hearts.

“The doctor will see you now.”

“You’re blood tests look great.  So, you know you are in remission…”

I grab hold of these words and hang on as if my lives depends on them, because it does.  But for how long?  And how will I know when I’m not?  And what happens then? Will I have the grace to declare God’s sovereignty over my life? When the fear becomes paralyzing, the unknown too heavy to carry, lay it down…take courage. God is striding ahead.  And if that day comes, if the results are different, He promises He will be right there with me.

This has been a week of paradigms of opposition, of declarations of continued health and the sweeping hand of death.  It’s been a week where even a diagnosis of remission is terrifying because it isn’t a continued guarantee of anything. Life’s fragility has been at center stage.

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You (2)

“Hey, Mom. My homework is done and the top is still off of the Jeep.  Can I go get ice cream before I put it back on?”

The clock says its almost 9:00 on a school night.  That brilliant blue sky of the morning has faded and darkened.

“Sure.” Then, running out the door after him, even though I am ready to call it a night, “Wait! I am coming too.”

And with the now night-cooled wind blowing our hair and the heater cranked warming our feet he looks at me and says, “Thanks for coming along.”
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.

And in his sincerity, my eyes fill and my heart spills over as God wakes me up to how much life there is to live in every single day. I think about how quickly time is passing us by and how I don’t want to miss a second of it because as I have been reminded there aren’t any guarantees.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long. (3)

Praising and leaning in and holding on for dear life because Oh God, how I need You.


(1)There Will Be A Day, Jeremy Camp (2) Lord, I Need You, Matt Maher (3) Blessed Asurance, Frances Crosby


Is Jesus alone enough?


I am working my way through Alan Stadtmiller’s book, Praying For Your Elephants for the second time because of excerpts like the one above. Challenging, with substance and biblical backing and deeper than the fluff and “sound bites” that so many of today’s Christian books fall back on, this book has nailed my heart with conviction time and again.

Stadtmiller goes on to say, “Let me ask you a tougher question. It’s a question that makes people put down books that don’t make them feel good, but it is a question that must be asked. Is Jesus alone enough for you?”

I know my “church answer” to these questions but let’s be real and honest because this struggle is real and “church answers” aren’t always our heart truth. This is the place of scary-change-me-God prayers. The place of self-dream sacrifice so that we might live the life we were meant to not the life we’ve planned. So my answer is, I want Him to be. I want to be able to answer in heartfelt honesty -YES!!!

I challenge you today to sit with these questions for awhile. Spend some time just soaking in them.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭10-13‬ NLT)

Walking On Water Or Drowning In It

  Eight weeks ago two things happened. I ran for the first time in 8 months (and not again since!) and the next day our basement flooded. Three inches of water covered our basement from wall to wall after a spring melt combined with a sump pump failure.  We were literally walking on water, watching the carpet (finally laid and finished in November) wave and ripple under our feet in response to our footsteps. Since then we have been hit with wave after wave of frustration, fear, and heartache. I have at times felt like I no sooner get to grab a breath before being broadsided by another wave that leaves me sputtering. 

Unexpected car repairs and unfortunate speeding tickets in the wake of the basement flood. Walking with family members through unexpected deaths, broken hips and surgeries, cancer scares snd mysterious illnesses, countless doctors appointments, another minor basement flood when we were hundreds of miles from home, job stresses, kid worries…crashing waves…sputtering breaths. 

This is what life looks like sometimes. There are days and weeks sometimes when it’s difficult to tell if you are walking on the water or just simply drowning in it. 

I think of Peter and the storm that he and the disciples were in the midst of when he got out of the boat to walk towards Jesus on the water. I am sure he was being pounded by the waves-it was storming! This, the waves and the wind were eventually what caused him to take his eyes off of Jesus and to sink.  

It’s where your eyes are focused as the waters pound you that makes all the difference between the walking and the drowning. It’s not the waves themselves. It’s an internal peace running parallel with the turmoil and strife that buoys your spirit.  Satan would love nothing more than to pull our eyes off of Christ in the midst of struggles. Satan is the founder of frustration and distraction. 

There have been many times over the last weeks when I have been worn down-by frustration, by fear, by the exhaustion of treading water. But I keep coming back to the morning after the flood and a promise that God has made.  We were exhausted and still facing a mountain of ruined, sopping wet carpet and padding and accumulated basement stuff that had to be hauled up and out and I had this one thought-God works all things-even basement floods-for good.  I don’t know what the good is going to look like in any of the pounding waves that we will face.

It’s been eight weeks…and while the waters have begun to calm I am still waiting on the good from the flood. I am looking for the rainbow and the olive branch. In the meantime we’ve been living like hoarders with all of the basement stuff packed into the dining room and music rooms, paths running through each room, and a towering pile of it in my garage.  Here is the bottom line, I do know that this is more about the process than the product. This is about the refining of gold, the structuring of faith. This is about the building of trust when nothing makes sense and everyday seems like a fight.  

God uses it all…even flooded basements. 

(And to all of my email recipients, He even uses the random deleted text that shows back up when you publish it!)

Laughing Along With Sarah

plansChickens are really noisy but I think I might prefer the noise to the silence. (Read my last post, A Tangled Mess and Chicken Thoughts to understand what I mean.) The tangles are working their way out though.  However, each provides questions for which I have no answers. Do you have a list of questions that you don’t have answers to? Are you left wondering how God is going to work out the impossible promises He has made for you?  Is God pulling you out of your comfort zone into the faith-filled unknown?  Let’s see…yes, yes, yes.  God does some of His most profound work in the silence when we don’t have all of the answers.  It’s where we, or better yet He, is really able to get to the heart of the matter…for me, I am finding, it’s a matter of the heart.  And sometimes the heart just doesn’t understand…

It’s appropriate I suppose that Valentine’s Day is coming up and I’m digging into matters of the heart. Coincidence, timing, societal influences, who really knows? What I do know is that everywhere you turn there is talk about love and my intention is not that this turn into some God-loves-you-Valentine’s-Day-post. If you’re struggling with the question of God loving you this is not the post for you.  Please read Love Is In The Air.

I get that God loves me. I know this and I rely on this daily. That box has been checked. But my heart is crying out right now and what it’s crying out for is the need for a plan (says my type A personality.) There is no problem that can’t be solved with prayer, a good plan, and a checklist. (Again, my type A personality). Right now I have no plan and the only item on my check list is Pray. Not a bad list but the song that comes to mind is, “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.” (Possibly not an appropriate song choice in this instance but please forgive my chicken-pecked thought process.)

Sometimes faith is doing.  Sometimes faith is sitting still and answering questions honestly with “I don’t know.”  For me, the second is (obviously) the harder of the two. What I do know is that I am not in control, no matter how many times I try spin it some other way. God has never asked my advice or opinion, although I have given it freely at times. He doesn’t need me to tweak His plan.  What I am being reminded of, learning on a whole new level,  is that when God draws you out in faith, you don’t always get to see the full blueprint of the plan. Most often you don’t see the full picture, that’s why faith is, well, faith. It calls us to stand fast on God, not the circumstances we find ourselves in. This is living in freedom, although my heart doesn’t always see it that way.

I would love to tell you that I am living bravely in the Matthew 6 promises and not worrying about a thing. The reality is while I am living in them, it looks more like a panicked clinging to them while constantly wondering how. In these days I find my  heart easily aligned with Sarah in a story from Genesis 18.  Maybe you can also relate…

God had promised Abraham and Sarah a son. But try as they may it wasn’t happening in a timely fashion, so they helped the plan along a little bit.  Instead of Sarah and Abraham having a son, Sarah’s plan became to have a son through her servant Hagar. She convinced Abraham of this and a short time later Abraham and Hagar indeed had a son, Ishmael.  Then, having taken the plan into her own hands instead of leaving the heavy lifting to God, Sarah becomes jealous and things get a little messy (Doesn’t this usually happen when we try to go it alone and make something happen? Things just don’t work out the way they should.) Sarah forces Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. But we serve a God who is full of mercy and grace and second-chances for allowing us the opportunity to get His plans right.  Despite their own failed attempts at growing their family and fulfilling His promise in a round about way, God reiterates his promise to give Abraham and Sarah a son. This time he gives them an indication that it will happen within the year.  Sarah, who is now very old, is eavesdropping on this conversation between Abraham and three heavenly visitors.  (Unfortunately although I could pretend otherwise, I totally get Sarah’s response to this reiterated promise.)  Sarah laughs.  Here she is, hiding behind the tent flap and she overhears this bit of news and she laughs to herself, thinking of all the reasons that it is impossible for she and Abraham to have a son. Sarah doubts God in the reality of her world. But it gets better. The Lord calls her on the carpet asking, “Why did you laugh? Why are you questioning my power? Is anything to hard for The Lord?” And Sarah’s response? She denies her behavior, saying “I didn’t laugh.”  Sarah plays dumb. Does she not realize who she is dealing with?  God knows her heart, her desires, her dreams, and her struggle to believe.  I can just see her, wanting to disappear under His gaze, her cheeks burning with embarrassment.  First she doubts and then she denies it…matters of the heart.  But guess what? Sarah and Abraham, at the age of 90 and 100, have a son.  God delivers on His impossible promises.

Human and flawed, I can easily find myself with Sarah, listing all of the reasons that the impossible it just that…impossible. Laughing in disbelief at dreamer’s dreams, afraid to believe it might be possible.  But our God is so much bigger and I think sometimes it is so easy, in the face of our realities, to forget that. It becomes easy to become impatient in the face of waiting on His timing, to take matters into our own hands, to try to fix it.  But I am reminded of some of my very favorite verses…

Moses told the people, (as they faced the impossible situation of the Red Sea on one side and an advancing Egyptian army on the other) “Don’t be afraid.  Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today.  The Lord himself will fight for you.  Just stay calm.” (Exodus 14:13-14)  Stop! Knock it off!  Quit trying to save yourself and do the impossible. Are you going to swim?  Are you going to fight? It will not turn out well for you. God has a plan so get out of the way and let Him work!

God has a plan.  If I can hold on to that certainty – and sit on my hands, my heart will be stilled and quieted in the one item on my list – prayer.  That is a promise…

A Reflection….A Resolution

imageHappy New Year! What a great day for sleeping in and taking naps and football. Lots and lots of football! I have 5 sleeping boys in the basement, 2 sleeping girls upstairs, cinnamon rolls fresh from the oven and a steaming cup of strong coffee. 2015 is shaping up to be a great year! (Now if my Buckeyes can just bring home a win tonight!)

Today is also a great day for reflection and resolutions. Where have you been? Where are you headed?
Part A – A Reflection…
Wordpress put together a 2014 in review report for me, that as a numbers geek, I thought was pretty cool. Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 8,100 times in 2014. (Compare that to 4500 times in 2013.) If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

This made me think about a post I wrote last February, I Will Be A Subway Preacher and I went back and re-read that post and found it to be such a good reminder, especially today. Here is the reader’s digest version,

Start something…do something…be something. It’s a pressure I feel on a daily basis. One that I quite admittedly make much larger by my obsessing on questions like…Am I living up to my potential? Am I following God’s leading and teaching? What is God’s will for my life? Start something…do something…be something. My self-talk mantra.

I was ready to embrace Ephesians 3:20, “Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” To infinity and beyond…God definitely knows how to accomplish the “big gesture.” This is the pressure I was putting on myself…Start something (big)…do something (big)…be something (big.) Instead I have felt like I was languishing, particularly in regard to my book and this nebulous idea of a “ministry.” But recently the sand under my feet has begun to shift and I am seeing things in a different light.

So I have begun pouring myself into the here and now instead of looking ahead to the future and waiting for it to happen. I need to throw out the idea of “ministry” by my definition and walk in faith. Maybe I will walk in place for a little while. Maybe I will feel like I am walking in circles but God is in control. He has me exactly where I am supposed to be right now. I can’t second guess that. Maybe someday we will jump on another train and head out, but for today I am going to grow where I am planted. And suddenly, I have found myself at peace in the subway.

Are you growing or are you spending your time wishing you were being re-planted somewhere else? Are you giving God your best in the here and now, wherever that may be? Have you placed expectations on God that He isn’t meeting and you find yourself frustrated? A lot of questions that dig a little deeper than we are sometimes comfortable looking. I have one last one…do you believe the words of Jeremiah 29:11? “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God has plans for us, sometimes they line up with ours, sometimes they don’t. But He knows what is best, His plans are for our good, even when we can’t see it and we don’t understand it. I challenge you to trust God to do what is best for you and to use you for His purpose and for His glory. And if you do, look out. You may get to experience “more than you could ask or imagine” and never have seen it coming!

Part B A Resolution…

I read this and was dually challenged to set a WOW goal for 2015…

A WOW goal is a goal so big that you don’t want to tell it to the whole world not because you fear you might fall flat on your face when you attempt it (although that is a factor) but because the enormity of it makes the goal very personal and close to your heart. A WOW goal is so big you can only accomplish it if God really did lay it on your heart and therefore He comes in and holds your hand every step of the way, picking you up when you fall, sending you words of encouragement when those voices of doubt say you can’t and patting you on the back when you make it one step closer.

A WOW goal…but you can only accomplish it if God really did lay it on your heart. To find it we have to release God of the expectations that we have for Him. Where, in the quiet and the stillness of listening, we are able to realize God’s dreams for us. These are many times a different thing than our dreams for Him.

This reflection and resolution could stand in stark contrast to each other…accepting “small” assignments and setting WOW goals. Not feeling like you are going anywhere but setting the moon as your destination. They come together in Isaiah 28 and it’s where I am able to begin reconciling the two.

Listen to me; listen, and pay close attention. Does a farmer always plow and never sow? Is he forever cultivating the soil and never planting? Does he not finally plant his seeds— black cumin, cumin, wheat, barley, and emmer wheat— each in its proper way, and each in its proper place? The farmer knows just what to do, for God has given him understanding.The LORD of Heaven’s Armies is a wonderful teacher, and he gives the farmer great wisdom. (Isaiah 28:23-26,29)

Timing…planting…and finally harvesting. Our WOW goal may not be recognized in 2015, but that isn’t the point. At least not for me. Having a goal, working towards it, and seeing it develop, step by step, one subway train at a time, only by the grace of God, that’s….well…WOW.

So set your goal and then cultivate it, tend it, and when the time is right it will be harvested. Just don’t lose sight of it in the smallness of the everyday.

Happy 2015!

Deer Lord, Rifle-Shot Prayers

This is for all of my deer hunter friends. A little hunting season homage to praying without ceasing.
deer lordI love the light-hearted look that the Skit Guys put on this (I am pretty sure I have uttered some of those same Deer Lord prayers.) I also wanted to share with you some real words of encouragement, a real life guide to prayer, that I have gone back to many times since first hearing this message from Matt Chandler. In this sermon from 2013 he is studying from the book of Nehemiah and introduces us to two essential types of prayer, big block prayer and rifle-shot prayer.

First up, big block prayer…

You have a big block of prayer. You have this kind of set-aside block of prayer. If you have a background in church, in your teenage years you were taught it. It was called a “quiet time,” that you are to set a part of your day aside for the sole purpose of being in the Word of God and praying.

I always thought we probably should have named it something other than “quiet time.” That sounds a little bit like discipline, like you’re in trouble. “You get in the corner and think about that.” We probably could have done better at that, but it’s called a quiet time, a set time of your day you are to just commune with God in Bible study and prayer.

And then there are what Chandler has dubbed rifle-shot prayers…

What I want you to notice is also on top of this communion with God that was day and night, this set-aside time, you also had these kind of rifle-shot prayers. “Okay, God. I prayed about this earlier today.” It’s a rifle-shot prayer. So you have these two kinds of prayers being established here, where you have a built-out set of time just between you and the Lord, and then you have these little rifle-shot communications throughout the day.

If you have a set time where you’re saying, “I’m going to pray, I’m going to lay these things before the Lord,” wouldn’t it make sense that it would overflow as you… Let’s take that guy at work you don’t like. Let’s take him, whoever he or she is. You have that person at work you kind of struggle with being kind to, having compassion for, showing patience toward.

If in your prayer time in the morning you say, “Lord, help me with this person. I just do not care for them. I know you love me and I have ugly stuff in me, but I just lack patience with this person,” and then you say, “Amen,” and you get in your car, and there’s Bill walking up to you as soon as you walk in, you’re aware, “I’ve laid this before the Lord.” Now you can Nehemiah rifle shot and go, Here we go, Lord. Here we go. “Bill, how are you? Are you doing all right? No, I can’t have lunch. Good to see you this morning, though, Bill. Blessings,” and then run and lock your door and hide behind the desk. Those little blocks bleed out into the rest of your life.

Now, if we were honest, for relationships to really flourish and have a lot of vibrancy, both of these are necessary. If human relationships work this way, how much more do our relationships with our heavenly Father work this way? Here’s what I’m saying. If you don’t have a set block or you don’t rifle shot prayer, I’m not saying you’re not a believer. I’m just saying the vibrancy of your relationship with God has suffered. You’re not robbing God; you’re robbing you, because to behold Jesus, to have a relationship with God, is to be transformed by him. I fear so many of us are stuck in bad patterns simply because we won’t connect with the relational component we’ve been rescued into. If you’re thinking morally and not relationally, you’re thinking wrongly.

Now, I want to say this, because I believe it’s true and it’s helpful. You will live your life or it will live you. You are never going to fill your spaces with prayer…ever. If you get an hour to kill, if an hour opens up… I don’t even know if that would happen in your world. It rarely happens in mine that “I have an hour here with nothing to do. How should I fill it?” If that happens to you, you will never fill that with prayer. You’re going to catch up on The Walking Dead. You’re going to do whatever else it is you do, but you’re not going to fill that hour with prayer.

I’ll tell you why. Because there is a war, a spiritual war and tear occurring about you connecting relationally with God. If all God is is an ambiguous idea to you that you love…you love the idea of God, but not necessarily love God and have a relationship with God…transformation is slow or doesn’t happen at all. So you begin to be churchgoers who are not walking in the fullness of life God has brought about in Christ.

But if you connect relationally with God, if you set aside periods of time to pray and consider and then from there have that overflow into the rest of the areas of your life, now we’re moving. Now transformation is occurring. Now you’re a bit dangerous to what is evil and dark in the world. If you don’t think our Enemy has a vested interest in us not praying, then you’re walking in some foolishness. That’s why you don’t fill your space with prayer. That’s why this is a struggle.

Prayer is one of those really weird things. I’ve said this over and over again. We all know we should. No one in this room right now is going, “Wait a minute. Are you saying…? You cannot be saying that as a Christian I’m meant to pray.” I just don’t think anyone is doing that. We know we should, but we’ve taken this poll (about seven times since I’ve been the pastor here) about how well we’re doing at that, and we generally have a consensus in the room that we stink at it.

So here’s the way I want to encourage you this week. If you’re one who struggles with setting aside a block of time, you’re going to have to say, “This is when I’m going to do it.” If you don’t, you’re not going to do it. Here’s what I would encourage you. Don’t try to go Michael Jordan right off the bat. Don’t go, “I’m going to set aside an hour a day this week.” Go for it if you want, but I’m saying I’ve seen guys come into the gym and set aside an hour of hard labor and then haven’t ever seen them again. They’re somewhere in an ice bath.

What I would do if I were you is set aside 5 or 10 minutes. You have 5 or 10 minutes. Set aside 5 or 10 minutes just to pray to the Lord, and part of that prayer needs to be, “Help me be mindful of you during the day.” One of the things I do is pray my calendar. I’m praying for the meetings I’m going into. I’m laying those things before the Lord, so that when those meetings come, I get to circle back around and do the rifle shot and go, “Okay, Lord, I laid these things before you. Recall to my mind, strengthen my heart, give me the courage I need,” and then I move into the meeting.

You need to get in your head now, “This is when I’m going to do that,” or you’re not going to do it. Then don’t make it law. If you make it law and you miss for this reason or that reason, then you broke the law and you’re not going to have a tendency to go back, if it’s just, “This is when I set aside time to pray.” Listen. I’m going to throw this out there. I miss sometimes. I have my little block that occurs right after I get up in the morning, and there have been times, because of situations or scenarios or other things, I miss that time.

I don’t think in that moment God is like, “You make me sick.” I think the blood of Christ covers that, and I’m going to rifle shot prayer that day, and I’m going to wake up the next morning and start over, and the mercies of God will be new. God will not be disappointed, although I do believe he’s a jealous God who longs for time with us. You’ll have to set out a little section to do this, or it’s simply never going to occur. You don’t need to view it as law, and you don’t need to view it as “Jordan-esque.” You need to start somewhere small and let it build. That’s how everything good works.

Then maybe you’ll get up to like a Calvin and Luther, praying an hour and a half a day or something. All right? I don’t know. But it should start small and sustainable, and let the Lord grow it from there. Don’t overestimate your own awesomeness. If you can take the posture, “I really stink at this,” then you can set up goals that are attainable. If you think, “I should be able to do what people who have been following Christ for 30 years should be able to do,” then I love you, but you’re a fool.

Don’t overestimate your own awesomeness…but don’t let your life live you either. Just start the conversation and you will be amazed what happens.

Dear Lord…