How To Keep Your Heart Alive

At sixteen it all seemed so obvious. You either had a cross around your neck and a Bible in your locker, or a drink in your hand on the weekends. Back then, it was follow Jesus or party. My best friend and I slid each other Bible verses on scraps of paper in between class, just to remind one another to “stay the course.” Both of us had had our typical high school experience interrupted by this God-man — the wide-eyed nature of young adulthood was still working its way through us.

Walking across the stage, receiving my diploma and still professing Jesus felt like a tremendous mile-marker. I’d survived high school and was still reading my Bible.

Twenty-plus years later and the threats against the vibrancy of my faith are far more subtle.

But they’re there.

Read the rest of this post over here…

The Illusion of Fame

My sister was on homecoming court two years in a row.

For many, that means nothing, but when you grow up in middle America (where the best of life happens under the Friday night lights), homecoming court makes celebrities out of seventeen year-olds.

I was in the seventh grade then. And I knew I wanted to follow her. This was before she breezed through college and landed a lifetime career and found her husband. In the seventh grade, I saw my sister sitting next to the cutest boy in the school, atop a decorated convertible, circling the football stadium for the whole town to applaud, and I wanted to be her.

Really, I wanted her fame.

Except, I never made it to the final five when I was seventeen. My friends rode the convertibles with the cute boys while I leaned against the fence that lined the stadium track and watched. Celebrity evaded me.

I’ve since distilled high school down to one box of photo albums, varsity letters, yearbooks and an old pair of Birkenstocks, but the memory of my friends circling the football field while their names reverberated through the PA system into the autumn-night sky still hangs in my memory.

Continue reading here on The Edges Collective…

Hidden {… but not unseen}

Sometimes you need to live a moment three, or four … or seven times, before you see that it’s purposed.

We were 23 minutes late for the party that was only planned to last for two hours. I know, because I counted each minute that passed and had eyes only for the digital clock in my car at every single stoplight, calculating and re-calculating the time we might arrive. My children tumbled over the seats and out of the car, one by one, disheveled and grumpy. We’d skipped naps and snacks and we were still late.

I was received by a crowd of friends and some strangers — all holding full plates of food with their manicured hands and with their children playing, happily, and who seemed already to be carrying an ownership over this party that wasn’t theirs. Some had brought finger hor d’oeuvres and others had hung decorations and still others had arranged boutique-like bouquets of flowers. It seemed that everyone was a contributor to this event for which I’d arrived but barely managed to dress. They were chit-chatting and my mind was roiling.

I exchanged a quick hello with my friend hosting the party. She had a simple request of me and I was preoccupied — lost in my own head — I said “no” (when it wouldn’t have been very hard), and in less than three minutes I had disappointed her. Not as much as I’d already disappointed myself.

Less than two hours later, a handful of sweaty-bodies with sticky fingers piled back into the car and I pulled away from the party wondering: what happened?

Not with the party … but my life. {Continue reading over here —>}

Why the Times You Feel Unseen by the World May be the Best Times of Your Life

“He said He loves me, Mommy,” my daughter Hope told me as I tucked her in, her words whispered with her hand to her mouth and cupped around my ear. Apparently, it was a secret. And I remembered her first dance recital, not long after we’d adopted her.

She had practiced her routine in and out of class for a semester. Every one of us in our family knew the steps. She’d spent weeks pirouetting through our kitchen with a dishcloth in hand, performing with confidence on our living room hearth.

But the night of the performance, I could feel her hand shaking in mine as I walked her down the hall to her lineup. I hurried back to my seat in the auditorium as she waited for her group to be called. I was nervous for her. I so wanted this night to be a win.

 When she relevéd out on stage among twelve other girls, I, like all the other parents, narrowed my eyes onto just my child. But several beats into the routine, I widened my scope and realized she was a step or two behind. Then three. Then four.

The other children moved in synchronized motion while my beautiful girl carefully performed her routine, too focused on her steps to notice how far behind she was. Too inexperienced to skip steps to catch up.

For seven minutes, I looked beyond her slippered feet—out of sync, arms moving in one direction while her classmates’ moved in another—and fixed my mind on her story. Alongside the others, my daughter may have been out of step, but she was also stunning. Light and joy cascaded out of her with every twirl. She had come through the fire of loss and death and hardened dreams, and tonight she was dancing.

From my seat, I could see her counting steps, her expression serious and focused. But her eyes were alert and glistening under the stage lights, not dull and weighted as they were when we’d first met her at the orphanage months before. She wasn’t posing as someone she’d learned to mimic—a common orphan survival skill. She wasn’t dancing to impress others. If she had stopped to notice others, she probably would have frozen in panic. Instead, she was costumed in God. He was making a dancer out of a street kid. This was a child who was learning to be loved.

“He said He loves me” weren’t words Hope had learned in a Sunday school song. They’d  {oh, ya’ll, I have the privilege of writing over on Ann Voskamp’s blog today. You can continue reading this post over there –>}

At 40, What I Would Say to My Twenty Year-Old Self

My diploma was still in an unopened manilla envelope on my apartment desk when I stood in front of a crowd of 300 sets of smiling eyes to tell them about what I’d committed to doing for the rest of my life. Though I didn’t say it in so many words, at twenty-two I knew I wanted to change the world for God.

It was the night of our ministry fundraising banquet and I was in high heels and a brand new pencil skirt, dressed like I felt. Pulled together, tight, and ready to inspire.

I arrived at the hotel just before the banquet started in a flurry. I brushed past moms of teenagers and grandmothers who were on the committee of this organization and business men and women who had careers about which I knew nothing. Tonight we’d converged around the truly significant. I didn’t think much about what they’d left outside the door in order to be here. We had vision to impart.

At 20, I was a sprinter. 40 felt old and 30 not yet worth considering. I’d known God for a few years now and time was already lost — there was so much to be done for Him. I was full of vision; never-mind an entry-level position when there was a front of the pack.

I wanted my life to show up on the map. My name, written across lives and stories and kingdom-impact. (My laundry could wait.)

And this was all before social media.

I could blink and I would be right back there, except now what I remember about that night is the greying 50 year-old who grabbed my hand after the evening was over and told me she’d been praying for me in the dark of the morning. The worn creases along the corners of her eyes looked like pencil markings, years of experience shadowing the fire behind them. I remember the mother of four who had a dignified weight to her countenance but yet spent her days carpooling teenagers and unpacking back-packs and warming the sidelines of soccer games. I remember the sixty year-old business man of very few words — must be boring to be him, I thought back then — who, many years later, taught my husband how to pray through his own dark night.

I’m days away from forty and scanning that crowd, all over again. Except this time I’m not behind a podium, wanting that each person in that room would give their lives to something significant. I’m standing in the back, valuing all that isn’t seen but which holds great value — great opportunity — in a room like that, on a night like that.

At 20, what I couldn’t yet see was that things like having a name, being a point on the map for someone’s life or their day, wouldn’t sustain me until 40.

At 20, I didn’t know that three hundred sets of hands applauding would never come close to how I would feel when I got a private whisper from God, a look my way from the One who made me.

I hadn’t considered, at 20, that being snubbed by a friend or overlooked by a leader wasn’t actually the end of me, but the beginning of a conversation with Him that would alter my insides. I didn’t realize that hasty judgment by man could be turned into great validation from God.

All these things that felt like roadblocks at twenty, ended up being the very circumstances that made me find Him. In the tireless paper-chase for adoption that didn’t include ultrasound pictures — about which few friends could understand — I found His eyes on me. When the big church with the beautifully profound vision we helped to start, folded, I saw Him … seeing me. While I was turning out the lights in a mostly-empty home with mostly-empty bedrooms at night, He was most near to me.

God gives a gift in being hidden. Himself.

I didn’t expect that I could find Him, just as much, in sweatpants scrubbing the grout along the corners of my bathroom tub on a Saturday as when I was hearing scores of teenagers tell me that I’d changed their lives. (I didn’t know that His sending place, for those who actually do change the world, often happens in the rooms without doors or windows, with just Him.)

The “likes”, the applause, the fanfare and recognition — we crave it because we were made for it. We scan our social media feed, subtly wondering how we might posture ourselves to be seen and yet (let’s just admit it) so often ignorant of the reality that only one single set of eyes can validate the parts of us that He uniquely made.

We resent being overlooked … and yet, could it be that He hides us just so that we might find that single set of eyes? Masked, by Him and for Him.

At 40, I’m finding the craving for that set of eyes on me is the only deep-unto-deep passion that can keep me up at night and make me reach toward changing the world, but perhaps in a way that can mostly — only — be validated by Him.

At 40, I’m becoming a distance runner.

When I was 22, I ran a marathon. The hardest part of the 26.2 miles was when the spectators thinned and fatigue set in. I’d been pounding the pavement for hours and now no one but the other racers — fatigued, themselves — could see or cheer or celebrate. Though I was mentally prepared for this stretch, I can still feel the tiredness in my bones when I think of running that stretch, unseen.

Just after I finished the race, I likened the last stretch before the finish line, where there were wall-to-wall fans (including a dozen who came just for me) to my wedding day. It had been one of my top five best moments of life. The unhinged cheers of fans whose brothers and girlfriends and children had trained for months for this — sometimes even two times a day, running and forcing their un-trained bodies into a submission of the road ahead of them — were knowing. They celebrated from a place of understanding. And I loved that celebration. I was received into the finish-chute by volunteers who had been versed in how to care for ones like me who had given months of their life to this. That last stretch was powerful.

At 40 though, I look back on that race with different eyes.

It’s mile 21 that I revere.

Months of work, both mental and physical, planning and prayer, and only One saw the point at which I wanted to quit. Only One could truly know how Saturday long-runs at 6am in the dark danced in my mind as I considered forfeiting it all, 21 miles in.

At mile 21 I met with God — in a way I didn’t when the crowds swelled with applause.

It’s in that unseen, hidden stretch, that I moved from being a runner to a marathoner.

Now here I am, near-forty, and being unseen is no longer drudgery. I can’t wait to find His eyes on me, there.

We are made in secret. (Psalm 139:15)

In just a few days, a book I’ve written — and lived — on the gift of being hidden in a world that loves to be noticed will be released via Zondervan. We’ve made a short film and even a blink of a 30 second preview to tell the story behind this story.

Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World That Loves To Be Noticed

[Zondervan, August 29th, 2017]

 

 

Jesus Calls You Beautiful

When I heard from Dee Brestin that she was writing a book about His love for us as demonstrated in the Song of Songs I thought: “I have to get my hands on this book.” And it did not disappoint. Several times as I read the pages of her book it was as if He was near enough for me to feel His breath on the back of my neck …tender and fathering me through His own words in the Song of Songs. If you’re hungry for a fresh brush with Him in His Word, Dee’s book will take you there and give you a grid. Today I have the honor of hosting her, here, on the blog –>

Hearing the Voice of Jesus in the Song of Songs

I love speaking in women’s prisons. There is a deep hunger there I seldom see outside the prison walls. I leave tingling in amazement, thinking: O God, you are still making the blind to see. It happened again in a Wisconsin prison with something only God could have orchestrated.

I’d been sensing that I should teach these new believers from the Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon). But as I made the long drive, doubts clustered like storm clouds:

What am I thinking, presenting such a challenging book to babes in Christ?

They’ll go back to their cells, pour over this book, and think: “What in the world? What could this intimate love story have to do with Jesus and me?”

I went through security and walked down the cement hall to the chapel. When the women caught sight of me through the plexi-glass window, they began jumping and clapping – cheering as I entered the room. How I wished we were allowed to hug! There’s no bond like the bond of Christ – stretching across age, ethnicity, and social class. Their enthusiasm melted my doubt and I plunged ahead with my plan.

THE BEST SONG

I asked them to open their Bibles to a book at the heart of their Bibles, a book they might never have read: the Song of Songs.

It’s called the “Song of Songs,” because like “Lord of lords,” or King of kings,” it means the very best. And what is the best song? It’s always the gospel, the love song of Jesus to His bride. And we, as believers, are His “bride.” He sees us both as individuals, but also as a body. And oh, how He loves you and me!

Love-starved, they were listening intently. So many were victims of abuse and neglect.

The Song is a Cinderella story of a great king who falls in love with a peasant woman. It is an earthly love story, but it is intended to shed light on a much deeper mystery, the love story of Jesus coming to earth to woo, win, and eventually wed His bride. When the king first meets this woman, she is so aware of her unworthiness. She’s been working all day in the vineyard and she asks him not to gaze at her because she feels dark, not meaning anything about her ethnicity, but about feeling sunburnt, sticky, sweaty – anything but beautiful or worthy of a king’s attention.

They nodded. I didn’t have to explain to them what it felt like to feel unworthy.

She says, “Don’t gaze at me…” (Song 1:6) but he can’t stop. He tells her how beautiful she is to him, calling her, “O most beautiful of women.” (Song 1:8)

Julia, a slim blond seated near me, gasped and began to tremble visibly. I didn’t want to embarrass her by drawing attention to her, so I kept teaching.

You can see the gospel here – for she feels dark, but he tells her, no, she is beautiful – as pure as a lily. A theme throughout the Song is her beauty – he says: “You are altogether beautiful, my love. There is no flaw in you.” (Song 4:7)

Now Julia was sobbing. A woman passed her a roll of toilet paper, a staple in prison Bible studies. I paused and said, “Julia, do you want to share what’s going on?”

She nodded vigorously. We waited while she composed herself. Finally, she said:

All of my life I wanted someone to tell me they loved me – that I was beautiful. It didn’t happen in childhood, but when I got older, I determined to make men say those words to me – I’d do whatever they wanted – just to hear it. (Tears) That’s how I wound up in here.

The day before I was to be incarcerated, I looked in the mirror and screamed: “I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU, I HATE YOU.”

I saw women nodding. How they identified! Julia continued.

But in here, Jesus found me. Just this morning I told Him, “Jesus – You are so beautiful.” And then … I thought He said, “Julia – you are beautiful.” I wondered if I’d imagined it. I pleaded: “Say it again!” But there was only silence. Then tonight, you come in here, open your Bible, and … He said it again!

We sat in silence, sensing this holy moment. Finally, I said, “Julia, you’ve just been kissed by the King.” I explained how the Song opens with her pleading to be kissed – and how, according to Rabbinic tradition, “a kiss from the King” is a living Word – like when a verse leaps out at you, giving you exactly what you need, or when circumstances so align that You know God did it. I said, “In fact, we’ve just all been kissed!”

They nodded. God had met us all.

How badly women in prison need this message of His love – but it isn’t just women in prison. We all tend to look at our hearts, our failures, and doubt that God could love us. We keep losing our grasp on the gospel.

Up until the early 1800’s, the Song of Songs was the most preached on book in the Old Testament, for nothing, pastors thought, was more important in overcoming temptation and trials than understanding the depth and breadth of Christ’s love. Today, you seldom hear it preached on, but if you do, it is almost always primarily on the earthly picture of marriage, with a brief addendum at the end to singles, to remember that Jesus in their Bridegroom. Yet there is a fresh wind blowing that sees both pictures, earthly and spiritual, as essential. When both pictures are seen, they illumine one another. Marriage and the marriage bed is seen as beautiful and sacred, but the mysterious relationship of husband and wife, as Ephesians 5 tells us, is intended to illumine a more important and lasting mystery, the relationship between Christ and true believers. How badly we need to recover this lost book, to restore our confidence in the depth of His love, and to respond to His call:

Arise, my love, my beautiful one,
And come away,
O my dove, in the cleft of the rock
In the crannies of the cliff,
Let me see you face,
Let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.

Song 2:13-14

As a young woman Dee became known when her book The Friendships of Women was released and went on to sell over a million copies. Other bestsellers include Falling in Love with Jesus and A Woman of…series. Dee is perhaps known best as a Bible study author and speaker. Her studies are beloved for their penetrating questions that help women experience the power of God. She publishes a free weekly Bible study on her blog (www.deebrestin.com) that has thousands of readers from around the world. She has a prison ministry and a video curriculum for women behind bars. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and has studied at Covenant Seminary. She is the mother of five and grandmother of thirteen. She lost her husband to cancer in his fifties, but is so grateful for the marriage they had. She believes passionately in the power of gospel-centered teaching. She has seen the power of the gospel to set women free – not just from the wrath of God, but from debilitating sins. He Calls You Beautiful (Hearing the Voice of Jesus in the Song of Songs) was just released. See the trailer here: Movie trailer for He Calls You Beautiful

Messy Beautiful Friendship

I had a circle of 9 friends in high school and lived with about the same number of friends all throughout college — I always had a “group” … I thought, then, isn’t that just supposed to be how friendship works? It mysteriously comes together and is always available and easy. (Ha!) In high school and college, we bonded over Friday night football games and chips and salsa and raw cookie dough splurges at midnight. As I got older, however, I began to learn that friendship is something that is forged. It is not happenstance and you need a whole lot more than salsa and cookie dough to keep it together.

Christine Hoover’s book Messy Beautiful Friendship spoke right to where I am — yes, pushing forty and still learning how to do friendship well. (And the sweet thing is that Christine and I met, through a mutual, beloved friend who has since gone home to the Lord — so we share this common desire to do friendship well, and through thick and thin.) Today, I get to share Christine’s words with you below and encourage you, if you are like most every women who struggles to figure out how to do Godly friendship, well … go buy her book

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 The words came through an email and, as I skimmed through, I at first assumed I hadn’t read them correctly. My heart began beating quickly as I reread the first few lines and saw that, in fact, I’d read it right the first time. The biting words sunk in deep. A friend had misunderstood me and not given me the benefit of the doubt, and she was writing to let me know I had disappointed her.

We’ve all been hurt by someone we considered a friend, whether it’s an inconsiderate word or an unexpected betrayal. I’ve discovered that when it happens to me, as it did through that email, it’s my natural tendency, like many others, to pull away, erect protective barriers around my vulnerability, and let the friendship fade into the background as if it never existed.

Sometimes, when the wound is especially deep, our tendency is not just to write the friend off but also to write friendship off. We’re hurt so badly that we give ourselves over to cynicism, bitterness, and resentment, and we wonder if friendship is worth the risk of wading through the emotions and hurts, attempting reconciliation, and making ourselves vulnerable again. We are friendly and sociable at a safe distance, but heart-level friendship? It’s too hard and too risky, and it never quite lives up to our exacting wish-dreams. With that ideal view in mind, it’s far too easy to feel insecure about or frustrated with reality.

I tend to want to cast the responsibility or the blame for my imperfect friendships on others, but it works both ways. Sometimes I am the one that hurts others, something I inadvertently did this year. Although my friend whom I hurt brought it to my attention, at first I remained blind to the way I was wounding her, wanting to blame her instead. But she brought it to my attention again, just as clear and gentle as the first time, and I finally saw what my protective barriers had kept me from seeing and how they had been used as weapons instead of defense. This friend challenged me to stay in the friendship and work through our differences rather than keep my distance, something that felt risky to me but in the end has been worth it and, I know, honors the Lord.

Isn’t this what true, biblical friendship is about: being willing to love, forgive, and bear with those we might not necessarily always understand? And being willing to confess sin, inadvertent or not, and receive the grace that helps us grow? This is certainly more what it’s about than dinner parties and game nights. Biblical friendship is what helps us grow; it sharpens us just as we are used by God to sharpen others.

Over coffee, a young woman in my church and I discussed these things together, about how we have this stubborn belief that friendship can actually be what we ideally picture in our heads. She said she wished people would invite her to more things and talked about how it seemed like everyone was always getting together without her. I said I sometimes envied certain relationships and resented that I wasn’t included in them. After confessing our self-focused thoughts to one another, the conversation turned to what true friendship is and what it looks like in reality.

Isn’t it, we said, an ongoing effort? Doesn’t it require commitment and perseverance? Isn’t it having to deal biblically with our inevitable hurts, being quick to forgive, crossing life-stage boundaries, and refusing to put other women in categories? Isn’t it pushing through discomfort and refusing to give up on people even when they disappoint us? And perhaps the most important question: isn’t it the greater blessing to be a person that seeks this type of community rather than clinging to false ideals and waiting for it to just “happen” to us?

While it is a greater blessing, we determined that it’s also risky. We must look to serve rather than be served, which means it’s possible that we might not be served in the ways we hope. We must be ever willing to broaden the circle, which means we must have an eye for the outsider rather than an eye for how we can be insiders, and it’s possible we might be forgotten in the process. We must be willing to address sin and conflict in an appropriate way, which means it’s possible we might be rejected. We must be willing to be vulnerable, which means we might be misunderstood and grace might not be extended to us.

Instead of holding fast to our ideals, we need to cling to a new definition of friendship, one that allows for awkwardness and risk and fumbling through, because isn’t the road to true friendship paved by these very things? Paul offers us a definition for friendship that we’d do better to cling to than our false ideals:

“Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15).

Paul certainly goes beyond vacationing together and small talk and waiting for someone else to initiate. He exhorts us to actively pursue being a godly friend to others–to actively pursue being patient, forgiving, loving, and being thankful for others as we relate to them. The focus is on what we give to others, not what they give to us. We don’t do these things because we hope to get something in return, friendship or whatever else. We do these things because that is how Christ showed His love toward us, and because biblical friendship will always model itself after Him.

Until Heaven, our community will never be perfect; it’s inevitable that we will experience hurt and disappointment in our relationships. But it’s worth the risk. By actively pursuing others in the way Christ pursues us, we extend an invitation for the friendship we desire but we also discover the beautiful and always-faithful way in which Christ relates to us. Because we have an anchor that’s sure and steadfast, because we recognize friendship as a gift, we’re willing to embrace the reality of friendship—messiness and all.

This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Christine is a pastor’s wife, mom to three boys, and the author of several books, including From Good to Grace and Messy Beautiful Friendship. Through her blog, www.GraceCoversMe.com, she enjoys encouraging the people of God to apply gospel truths to their honest thoughts, especially in the areas of grace, community, and friendship. Christine and her family live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

 

When You Find Yourself Hopeless on Mother’s Day

There’s one kind of woman that still makes me cry.

She stretches big bows around pink wrapping paper and makes casseroles when the mama is still hobbling the stairs and bleeding after-birth and she might as well start a pinterest account just for one year-old birthday parties — she’s been to so many.

But her womb is empty.

She laughs as parents recount toddler antics and celebrates when that gurgling little thing becomes mobile and holds her friends’ babies in the back of church … but it’s not just her womb that’s barren. There’s a hollow part of her heart that’s been carved with each new month of waiting. She has more questions than answers. The God she knew at 19 seemingly granted to her friends health and wealth and happiness and she wonders what it was that landed her with this curse.

Life isn’t like that present anymore — wrapped in a big bow. Hers has been unwrapped. Shucked. And she’s not sure what was even underneath it all, anyways.

Her eyes cloud over in worship and she sings the words out-loud next to her friends with big bellies all the while asking more questions on the inside.

This friend, this me, this woman who is living one big riddle is wrestling with question of all of life: why would I ever subject myself to hope?

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It was in an email, not in person, that a friend shared these heart-felt, deeply considered lines that all could be summarized with this one statement:

It’s time to accept what you have and not ask for more.

She wrote what so many had thought. She was bold with what others danced around. She cared enough to want my heart to stop bleeding at the hands of forever-uncertainty.

She put words to my own wrestling: Why keep praying for God to heal my body?

Why let this shucked life — this unwrapped mess of a story — stay this exposed to the elements? Why hurt this bad, over and over again? Why give myself over to some crazy notion of hope, month after month, only to throw ten bucks, and another plastic test, away? Again. Why even ask when the answer 43 times before was “no”?

He is sovereign. He rules over all and is the only Sovereign. His plans and purposes can not be thwarted. Every part of my story was under His watch and direction and decision. And it was under this authority, that my womb was vacant.

As this vacancy moved from months into years — brushing a decade — why did I still buy pregnancy tests and chart my temperature and look at bellies-bursting women with any of sort of longing or desire?

Why did I still pray prayers in secret that God would do the seemingly unthinkable?

You see, I absolutely adored the (then) four children God had given us through adoption. These were minethey were children of my own. They were an answer to years of longing and waiting and we were (are!) crazy about them. If this was the case, why did I still pray prayers in secret that God would do the unthinkable?

Because God made me for fellowship with Himself.

He made me so that He could enjoy me.

And He enjoys it when His people ask Him for the unthinkable. Faith for the unseen is His paradigm for relationship that delights Him. 

So, you — with your womb that has an echo — what if your decision to “accept” where you are and stop asking Him for what you really desire isn’t coming from some stalwart understanding of God’s hand, but is really just an attempt to preserve your bruised self? 

What if you’re wrapping yourself right back up, with broken scraps and a tight explanation — clamping down your heart — only to miss the thing for which you were created? What if the nexus of this barren womb and your insides, alive with hope in the God of the unseen, is how He made you to bring Him glory?

What if all this is less about a baby and a plan and a neat-and-tidy life and more about moving the heart of God with your … hope?

At twenty-seven or forty-eight — if your womb is still empty and you’ve spent years wrestling through hope — what if it meant that you allowed your heart to remain soft to the God-Man who spends every one of our days calling us into the unseen?

This season so full of unconventional pain that 90 percent of your world can’t understand isn’t “just” about a baby. It’s about a Man who witnesses every single tear you cry when no one’s looking and is moved because one more day, barren for you, meant one more chance that you’d call Him the God of the impossible and ask Him to do what you physically can’t conceive. 

You have a chance to walk out what few on the earth can.

You have a chance to believe that who He is is greater than what you can see right in front of you.

 

Is today your day to live in that uncomfortable nexus of physical limitations and an internal, steadfast expectation for the unseen God? Barrenness — in any area of life — when you lean into it (instead of dismissing the desire underneath it) invites Him to breathe life into the dark crevices of your heart. 

The juncture of barrenness and hope (you know, the intersection we all want to avoid) grows a lost little waif into a daughter who expects good things from her Father.

Barren woman, is today your day to live?

For Your Continued Pursuit: Hebrews 11 | Ezekiel 37: 1-11 | Romans 5:5 | Isaiah 54:1-17 | Psalm 27:13

What Does it Mean to be Successful?

It’s Sunday night, and the only light in our foyer is from the moon, stretching its arm-beams across our lawn and bringing the outdoors inside with its reach. The house is at rest. Finally. It’s as if we all sighed — the walls, the keyboard, the well-loved doormats and me — when the last child turned off her light.

Time lapse would have revealed sparkling white dishes unloaded, piled high, scraped (licked?), and rinsed for a reload — all in twelve hours. Blankets, folded then strewn across the family room and folded again.

My life sometimes feels like “rinse and repeat”.

What does a creative-type do when 90% of their day feels so … uncreative? When the margin for imagination appears to be small?

So, it’s Sunday night and I sit down to my desk that faces the dark foyer. I see the moon through the glass french doors, aslant on the floor, except now the light is on in my office and the GE bulbs are crowding out the remnants of organic outdoors. My fingers click against the quiet. I’ve been planning to write tonight.

My music is set. I’ve listened to the same song on repeat for 3 years of writing. One single track.

I write the first sentence, read it in my head and I delete. Three times. Then four. I start on my next paragraph with hopes to circle back to the first after I’ve gotten into a flow. Except I’m in no flow. I’m stuck.

I don’t have the kind of words that feel like they sing when I move from reading in my head to reading out loud — which I always do when I feel good about what comes out of me. I have words, but not music. Just clicking of the keys.

Ten. Twenty. Thirty minutes of this and I have a decision. I can push through with what feels like filling out paperwork in a doctor’s office or I can wait to sing later.

This “stuck” isn’t unique to writers, it’s the influenza of all creators. It comes and goes as if in a mystery — at least that’s how we treat it. Who knows when a glorious stint of writing books or composing songs or sketching or choreographing a performance might just one day … fall sick? We creative-types can live under a low-grade anxiety about this flu that might come and leave us bedridden and unaware of what exactly hit us.

As a creator, “stuck” isn’t a barrier getting in the way of what I’m supposed to do, “stuck” is the indicator telling me that something isn’t quite right on my insides about how I perceive God and how I’m approaching what He has given me to do to bring Him glory. And this principle goes beyond creativity: “stuck” in life and in creating, in raising children and growing a marriage and cultivating a new ministry — it isn’t something we need to begrudgingly just get past and over. It’s the gift He has given us to pause.

I write because I love Him. And I write best when I’m most aware of His love for me.

This whole thing — the creating, the inventing, the mothering, the ministering — isn’t transactional, in which He gives me a task and I perform it. He’s not the Proctor In The Sky. He’s a Father, wanting to continually grow deeper with His people. The work He gives us is merely opportunity for this communion.

These days we are all tempted to work against a clock. We feel the deadlines like a metronome: always ticking, always reminding. Because in many ways creating has been whittled down to what can be monetized and followed and shared and spread wide.

From this perspective, “stuck” feels especially terrible. Every part of being stuck in every season feels exactly what the word implies.

I write because I love Him. And I write best when I’m most aware of His love for me.

But for us God followers, any time we’re stuck … He is moving. Hedging. Getting our attention, alluring the eyes we wouldn’t necessarily give to Him when we’re in a flow or when life is producing as it should.

“Stuck” is a gift for the believer, for the creative type, creating with Him. It simply means “there’s more dialogue with Me to be had, right here. Let’s sit and stay a while. Your project can wait and it will be better for the waiting.”

Throughout scripture, He has held up His people in prisons and deserts and way-stations of their own making. Paul was held up from sharing the gospel because he was in chains. Stuck, we might have called Him.

Invited, God might say.

Your project can wait. And it will be better for the waiting.

(Life as you want it to be can wait. And it will be better for the waiting.)

The dialogue that happens with God in the waiting is what changes a person, what grows a person.

Now it’s two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and I’m at a coffee shop. The plan is for me to write. Two hours before, I was prepping dinner and prepping kids for an afternoon at home with Daddy and prepping myself to create. Except on this particular day that ominous “stuck” overshadowed me. One option is to push through. The other is … to wait. To talk to God about what He might want to reach in my heart. (These barriers to my creating are actually barriers to my communing with Him.)

Three hours later and I’m home without a single sentence, but a heart just a little more engaged with His work in my life and His Word.

THIS is success. Not cranking out work towards a deadline, not prolifically producing, not being ranked as “best” in your field.

Success as a creative (as in most vocations) is engaging with the heart of God and having it bleed out into your work such that those who receive from it (when and if, in His timing, others may receive) are truly receiving … Him.

{On a practical note, my best work has come after multiple delays and hiccups that seemed to be roadblocks but were what He’d created to slow me up so that I might talk to Him. And I mean in life — my best work in life — not just my writing.}

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The Gift of Limitations

It was a rambling college-town that hosted the race that was to be my last for a long time. It is a town where narrow dirt-and-dust roads lead to horse farms with near-perfect views of the Blue Ridge and millionaires shamelessly drive beat-up old Volvos. Eccentric.

Every year, the allure of this four-miler, with its humanitarian push and socialite atmosphere, makes runners out of walkers and athletes out of those who don’t like to sweat. Women train all summer long to run Garth Road on Labor Day weekend.

I was one of many. 

I’d placed in my age group in the past and after seeing the winning time from prior years, I decided that I wanted to try to win this race. I spent my summer mornings following a training plan that my friend (who was also a running coach) devised for me. On race-day, however, I hadn’t accounted for the handful of Olympic Trial-ers who were, unexpectedly, going to run the race this year. I’d also trained at 6:00am during an unusually cool summer. The start time for this race was 8am and we ran on black-top roads in an 80-degree thick heat, that day. 

I ignored the weather and I focused on the runners around me edging their feet towards the starting line, and on the split-times I’d written in permanent marker onto my hand. 

And three miles later I passed out.

Well — before I passed out (in delirium), apparently I stopped to ask the fans lined up along the race course just where I might find the finish line. The heat and the pace set by the top runners and my thick-headedness made for the perfect cocktail. I served myself up a heat stroke.

Weeks later, as I researched the implications of this heat stroke, I came across information that indicated that people who suffer heat strokes are often the ones who don’t know their own limits.

Hmmm….  

That was nine years ago. Before children. Before the circuitous path to adoption. Before the pursuit of our children’s hearts post-adoption. Before yet-longer years of infertility and losing my dad and rocking a babe to sleep at 3am and riding the roller coaster of my husband’s fledgling business.

And here I am, now, with six children and the most predominant data point I have of myself and my life is this: I’m limited.

I’m grossly limited. 

My limitations press in around me, all the time. The babe wakes at the very moment the toddler decides he’s ready to potty train and my thirteen year-old wants to talk about her heart. Not only can I not avoid these limitations, but they *are* me. I could add much more to this list, but you probably have your own list to harken to as you read this. I suspect I’m not alone and that this issue of limitations is not merely the struggle of the mother of six who moonlights as a writer. But even the mother of two or three (or one) or the woman who finishes a deadline at work just to face another, all while her dry cleaning collects dust, awaiting a pick-up. 

At twenty-five I wanted to conquer my flesh. (I wanted every area of my life to have a six-minute-mile pace.)

But these days, I have learned that what I really want is to surrender it.

More than resenting my failures, I’m starting to (more deeply) resent the days when my heart sinks because I see my failures. This should not be so.

Because in the kingdom of God, it is weakness that incites the miracles. It is weakness that incites the gaze of our Father God. Today, I want those stories more than I want a six-minute-mile pace. 

More than being able to rock the babe, potty-train the toddler and solve my thirteen year-old’s problems (all at once), I want that deep peace that comes with surrender to God. The deep peace that accompanies the safest of friendships. (He never asked me to be limitless. He just asked me to be His.)

This surrender is one of the most becoming things I’ve seen in a person. I’ve found myself scouring faces for it in the way a freshman does at the senior class on her first day of school. What is it that I see in these few sages in my life who finally rest at peace in their pursuit of God — who are relentless but not fearful, reaching but not anxious, determined but not proudly ambitious?

I want that

Because in the kingdom of God, it is weakness that incites the miracles. It is weakness that incites the gaze of our Father God.

You see, being settled within my limitations — seeing them as extensive and forever-lasting and likely growing, as they are — doesn’t actually relegate me to a boring and “mundane” life. It sets me up for the miraculous. 

I suppose it’s touching the part of me that sees the value of putting down my phone and sitting in the quiet, before God, with the acute sense of these limits that I now know I have.

In a given day, faced with all these needs and my inability to even come close to meeting them … I can push harder and plan better. I can Get Things Done™ and multi-task to keep up and shame myself when I don’t. I can scroll for minutes or hours and remind myself of every other person who’s hustling and “killin’ it” with their life.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In a moment where I simply can’t meet the expectations of the people and the projects in front of me, I can use the midnight hours to work and sweat or run it around my head in sleeplessness.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

In the swirl of my children’s ever-growing needs I can solicit even more help. Make more appointments. Research more options. Troubleshoot.

But He just asks me to bring what I have. To pray. To watch what He does with my lack.

The quiet spaces in my life offer me perspective: I’m only five loaves and two fish away from some of the greatest miracles in my life.

His simple words in Matthew 14:18: “bring them here to me.

Perhaps today is your day to put down your phone full of lists and apps and reminders and pins that remind you about the wells that you’re not digging and the birthday parties you’re not throwing and the workout you didn’t finish and you take what little you have and bring it to Him.

Who knows but that basketfuls of overflow might fill your soul?

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