On Smallness and being out of control

This morning I was walking and talking with God, as I’ve come to do these days. I have been terrible at praying and abiding lately, and getting up early enough to drink my coffee on a fifteen minute walk has been a recent sanity saver for me.

But this morning I was tired; I have been so soul weary of late. I didn’t have much to say. So I asked God to keep up his end of the conversation. And this is what He said.

Look up! Look around! Do you see all of this? I made all these things. That bush and that grass. That tree and that flower. That moon, and that mist hanging over the stream. Look up! Look around! Do you see it?

He spoke joyfully; His voice exultant in my ears. And I know that my smallness before Him is my comfort; it’s a comfort I can always come back to, no matter how grand and lofty I am tempted to think I am becoming.

Yes. Yes I see it. Quiet me in my smallness, O Lord.

It was Emily P. Freeman who first inspired this thought in me, that smallness is a gift. That we can be small like the child; held by the One who loves us, who will never let us go.

It easy to see the beauty of this when I look at my baby boy, finally asleep in his crib. His newly emerging teeth have been keeping him up at night of late, but I can’t stop thinking about how sweet it is that now he holds onto my neck, and squeezes me tight. At the same time, it’s beautiful to think that just because he wasn’t holding on to me before, doesn’t mean he wasn’t held.

I held him and grew him for nine months in my womb, and then the day he emerged, I held him in my arms like the gift that he is and thanked God. THANK YOU GOD.

Did he know he was held? Could he understand? Or is it only now that he can crawl to the back of my legs, fussing along the way, pulling himself up by fists full of fabric and looking at me with those furrowed brows. I need you. Hold me. But I am always holding him. And I have held onto him long before he even knew it was me that he wanted.

Isn’t God the same way?

Holding us always, whether we acknowledge him or not. Carrying us where we need to go, meeting our daily needs like a Father—and a Mother—both.

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.”

Isaiah 49:15

My lack of abiding has nothing to do with my actual state of being held by God. My refusal to acknowledge who is actually in control, does not change who is in charge. The only thing that changes is my peace, as I tune into the underlying sustaining presence of the One who can ultimately meet each and every one of my needs, and has the sovereign ability to truly do so.

He holds me. He nurtures me. He hears my cry, and carries me. Sometimes I like where we are headed; and sometimes I am screaming from the top of my lungs because I don’t understand. But as a Mother I know what He is longing for; He longs for me to wrap my tiny arms around His neck. To hold on to Him, even as He is holding on to me. Because that sign right there; that shows us both that we belong together. That we always have, and we always will.

Being a grown-up is overrated. Being “big” is overrated. To the child, perhaps being a grown-up looks like the closest thing to being like God—to that control that we all inherently crave. But then come the taxes and the bills and the clock-in-and-out job, and our clothes only agree to keep fitting us properly if we give up on that whole ice cream for breakfast idea. Our desperate grasps for control are so often fruitless and tempt us to despair. In short, being a grown-up almost always feels like a let down.

Now for the good news: for those of us who are in Christ, we can, and should be the child. Always and forever, we can revel in our smallness, in our lack of control. We don’t have to be afraid. Because we worship a God who was holding onto us with His mighty and sovereign hand long before we even knew to try and wrestle that control away from him.

Whatever your current season, Dear Reader, I ask you to remember this today: that the God of all grace has been holding onto you longer than you can imagine, and He will never let you go. Yet, in our faith, we have the privilege of wrapping our arms around His strong neck, and the comfort we receive there is not in our perceived control of situations and circumstances. No. The comfort we receive as we bury our faces in His neck, is the child’s comfort of knowing that he is held, and abiding in the loving plan of the one holding him.


Are you walking through a season of hardship or suffering? If so, I made this for you. CLICK HERE to get your FREE DOWNLOAD Scattered: a seven day journey toward planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering.

This free resource is fueled by my desire to see lives changed by the hope that comes through faith in the God of the Bible. Nothing is too broken for Him; though the damage may be irreparable, it is not irredeemable. My prayer is that the stories, scriptures, and questions in this resource help you to see that for yourself in the midst of your own story and journey.

Cultivating Margin in the Midst of Hardship

I used to think margins were a luxury for the very, very rich. I thought that if someone felt good enough about their work done in the main hours of anything to cultivate spaces in between it all, then they must have been rich indeed. Or maybe they really just had money seeping out their ears while they slept on the couch after a movie marathon, and that was how they could justify the rest. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.

But just the other day the thought struck me; that it’s more than margins. It’s more like refusing to do the opposite of leaving margins. It’s refusing to cut it too close.

“Well, you probably missed that one,” we heard from under the furrowed brow of the man clicking on his computer at the Air Canada check in desk. My best friend and I had just enjoyed the most magical week on Prince Edward Island. We saw some sights, walked on the red sand beaches and ate Canada’s most famous Cow’s Creamery ice cream. But when it came time to leave early that Friday morning, we had forgotten that we needed to put gas in the rental car.

I secretly wish there had been a camera filming the action as we struggled to figure out a) how to open the gas compartment on a mini-cooper b)how to pre-pay in liters for enough gas to fill said mini cooper, and c) how to realize earlier that google was taking us on a 45 minutes detour instead of just telling us to make a u-turn, on our way back to the road from the gas station.

When we ended up on a one-way dirt track we realized it: we had cut it all way, way too close, and we were very possibly going to miss our flight to Toronto. But we had a hope, that since the airport we were leaving from only had two gates, that we would probably be able to sneak in 30 minutes before our flight left.

“I don’t suppose you can get two more suitcases on the plane Brody…” the grouchy man with the furrowed white brows spoke into the walkie, he seemed to be willing Brody to say no.

“OH YEAH…” we heard the cheerful voice on the other side, “No problem at all!”

We owe the happy ending of this story to a man with a cart who was not afraid to come and get our tardy baggage. We made it on the plane just as the sun was coming up over the Island, but as we stood on the stairway waiting to board, there was no doubt in our minds, that aside from blindly following google’s directions, the main problem was that we had cut it all way too close. Though this week of rest with my best friend was in so many ways a testament to my learned ability to rest in the midst of seasons of intensity and hardship, I had forgotten to leave margin at the end of it all, to leave room for inevitable hiccups that come when you are traveling, especially in another country.

For so many years I lived a “cutting it close” kind of life. I respected following distance when driving to be sure (I was and am, a rule follower by nature), but when it came to cultivating any kind of personal margin to preserve my sanity; I wasn’t into it. I think I actually felt crazier when I tried to STOP what I was doing in order to rest. As newlyweds, my husband saw this monster of perfectionism up close and personal, as I obsessively cleaned late into the evening and refused to respect my bedtime. Always to my own detriment, and his. How would it be that years later, when I became the parent of a daughter who suffered from terrible tummy pain, that I would finally learn how to rest?

I think so often when we are faced with suffering of any kind, but especially the suffering of our children, it can be so easy to swing the pendulum the opposite direction, and try desperately, to control the situation. And to be sure; as parents we are called to steward our children as best we can, to keep them safe from harm and to help them heal when harm has been done. But there is also peace in realizing that it is not all up to me. There is a heavenly father who loves my daughter, who cherishes her, even as He cherishes me. He watches over Ellie on the couch when I take five minutes to go get a glass of water and wash my face. He comforts her in the quiet dark when I can do nothing more than sit next to her and rub her feet. When I am hungry in the middle of the night, having stayed awake every hour when I would normally be resting to take care of a little girl in flare-up, it behooves me to leave enough margin in my own heart, to accept the rest that God wants to give to me: to heat up a bowl of the soup a loving friend brought for me, and then go and resume my place next to her on the couch.

This is how I refuse to cut things too close; not that I take or fight my way for what I feel are my own personal needs—but that in those moments, I quiet my heart before the Lord, and I accept the rest that He wants to give me. I leave room. As I provide, I must also accept His gracious provision.

It is in the spaces in between; the space between the loading of the groceries and the drive home. The space between the laying down of the last sleepy head, and the laying of my own weary head on the pillow. The space between the alarm clock ringing, and the words I write so early on the page. These are the spaces that God invites me to rest in the fullness of who He is; and who I am as a result of that. He invites me to create space in my mind and my heart, to welcome Him into whatever difficultly, I am currently facing.

If you are suffering; or if you are walking through suffering with someone else, what would it look like for you to cultivate a little margin today? How can you accept the rest that God wants to provide to you, even in the smallest moments, so that you can endure the trials and cheer on others who are enduring with you?

Dearest Reader, it takes a recognition that we are not in control to sit down for a moment and rest in the midst of hardship, but in the end, that surrender is where peace comes. Here we make space for the small things that could become as urgent as a missed flight if left unattended. Here we make space to fill up a glass of water for ourselves, as well as for someone else. Here we make space to acknowledge that God is God, and we are not. We are finite, and so needy, and that is not a liability, it’s an opportunity for God to meet us.

The Gift of Presence

Ann Voskamp once shared on her blog about what it means to minister to those who have suffered so deeply, that is seems like there is nothing you could possibly say or do. She spoke about listening to the stories—about making eye contact—and then she used the phrase that has become a part of my own vocabulary: being a witness

So often when we see those that are suffering deeply our first response is to try and fix it. We want to make it all better, to make the pain go away. But these attempts are often not only futile, but damaging to the one who suffers. Like giving a makeover to someone with a bullet wound.

You would think that being one who has suffered, I would always make the right choice in this department, but I don’t. I am a controller by nature; a fierce and loyal protector. My first instinct is to make the pain just go away. My second is to go “mama bear” on whoever has hurt one of my precious ones. And if the thing is something you can’t actually punch with fists, like cancer for instance, then if I’m not careful my perceived helplessness can turn to apathy. As you may imagine, neither of these first instincts is particularly helpful.

But when I remember what it meant for someone to hold space for me: to be a witness to the way I was suffering and had suffered, to look me in the eyes and say, “I’m so sorry that happened to you.” Then I come back to the power that is present in my presence alone: I get to be a witness.

As someone who walks often through seasons of suffering with others, this can be a dark task at times. But I don’t believe in a God who cannot take the darkest night and turn it into brightest day; so even as I stare into the black of present difficult circumstances, I imagine what God may do. Not to try and predict the future, or control it in any way, but, as Emily P. Freeman says, “to cast a hopeful vision for the future.”

With tears in my eyes, and my hands in yours, Dear Reader, I stand on tip toe and whisper words of hope: what might God do? How might he begin to redeem every broken piece of your shattered heart?

I am the little girl hiding in her closet, wondering what it would be like to be a “normal” child; wondering if God will keep his promise to work all for my good.  I am the little girl who at seven years old already felt like “damaged goods,” though I couldn’t have put it into words. I am the little girl who was hurt not only by the abusive actions of one, but by the silence and apathy of many, many, others.

Sometimes the wounds feel too deep for words.

I have been the one holding the box of tissues for the heartbroken wife. I have been the one sitting across from a friend discovering piece by piece, an abuse that so damaged her life that her mind tried to erase it. I have been the one in a hospital room, hearing the words, “it’s as we suspected. She has leukemia.” And how in the world do we go on living in a place where babies get cancer?

Sometimes all you can do is sit with a person. To hold their gaze. To not be embarrassed by their grief, but to enter in with them. To hold your friend in your arms and tell them that you love them. And though you don’t know what the future will hold, or if you should ever make any kind of comforts based on your assumptions of the future (I.E. “she’ll be fine,” “he’ll come back,” “that probably won’t happen”), you do know who is holding you both. The Lord of hosts. Who doesn’t promise us a pain free life, but does promise us always and forever, His Holy Spirit presence with us. 

I find it terrifying sometimes, the places God asks me to go, both personally and with others. But one phrase continually comes to mind, like a mantra and a command: Stare into the black, and refuse to be afraid.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. I don’t find myself all that bold or particularly daring. I’ve got fear riding like a tiny hitchhiker in my back pocket. Insecurities like radio static in my ears. My hands shake on these keys sometimes, and I am far from adequate for the task.

But God. How wonderful that He does not call the qualified, but qualifies the called. It’s humbling. I pray it may always be so.

For you, dear Reader; I stare into the black and refuse to be afraid. Because you are suffering, either personally or through choosing to enter into the hurt of someone you love, and it’s painful, and you need to know there is hope. You are not alone. While you mourn the loss of normal. While you suffer in the presence of pain, both that belonging to you and that which you bear with others. While you grieve the very existence of death, and sin and suffering; I stand with you. I weep with you. I groan with you and with all creation for that day when all will be made new. Wrong will be made right. Every tear will be wiped away from our eyes…oh how I long for that day.

Until then, I stand as a witness. I refuse to remain indifferent or apathetic, and instead choose to practice the with-ness of Jesus, trusting that it will be enough. I practice the presence of God with me, and with us, and I practice also giving the gift of my own presence. It is my greatest honor and privilege to hold space for you here in this corner of the internet. So come as you are. With all your broken pieces. With the darkness you feel that surrounds you. You are not alone. You have never walked alone.

Now I leave you with the words of the Apostle Peter. May these words point you to a hope greater than the worst thing that life could ever throw at you

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more previous than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

(1 Peter 1:3-7 ESV)

Waiting in the Wilderness

Four years ago, April 2015, we were in the final stretch of our time living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After a long year lived far away from our families, which neither my husband nor I had ever done up until that point, it was almost time to pull the boxes we had saved from our move a year ago out of the detached garage of our apartment. To say I was excited was an understatement. I was counting down the literal days to the day when I could “reasonably” start packing for our trip home. In my defense, I think I was probably nesting just as much as I was preparing to head home. I had dreamed and planned my second baby in Wisconsin, but my plans included him being born in Colorado.

It had been a bit of a wilderness season for us out there, beautiful as it was and as many new friends and new adventures as we were privileged to enjoy on those strange shores of lake Michigan. In May of 2014, Willy drove a truck loaded to the gills with all our worldly possessions, and I, who had made my own parents grandparents only eight months before, said goodbye to them at the curbside of the airport, and held my own tiny daughter in my arms on a one-way flight to a place I’d never been.

Wisconsin was a season of waiting in the wilderness. We had been told right from the outset that the assignment would last a year, and though we felt this to be a blessing in so many aspects, it also felt like a curse. It would be hard to choose to get attached to people and to a place that we would certainly be leaving. And in turn, I found that people were hesitant to get attached to me in turn. That waiting place, like most waiting places, was extraordinarily lonely.

May 2015 my husband’s work informed us that they needed us to extended our time in Milwaukee by a month. And though 30 days was far from long in that grand scheme of our time there, that extra month that I had to wait to start packing felt like an eternity.

But there was one fear I held onto while I filled those boxes and taped and labeled them for our longed for journey home. What if they don’t recognize me?

I was 30 weeks pregnant with our second child when we finally made our journey home. I remember the heat of our new rental house on that July day; the stale air of a house that had been sitting empty, to me smelled like the sweet aroma of a longing fulfilled. But it wasn’t the growth of my belly that made me fear the lack of recognition by my family and friends; it was something much deeper than that. I was different now.

The wilderness had changed me.

Recently, we were talking with our small group about waiting on the Lord. We talked about seasons of waiting, what was hard about them, and what they produced in us. One of my good friends mentioned how seasons of waiting, are often seasons of being stripped down to the bare essentials. God whittles away our idols in seasons of waiting, in seasons of wilderness. In those times more than any others, it becomes easy to see what things we are truly waiting for—what we are truly hoping in.

That year was a stretching time. That summer, removed from every support system, like scaffolding, we wondered if we could stand on our own two feet. Now, when I look back on that time, though I still feel the ache of that deep loneliness I experienced there, I also see roots of strong relationship between my husband and I. When the last piece of scaffolding fell, and the last apron string was cut, we held on to each other, and to the God who had brought us to the wilderness for a reason.

As a people pleaser in a season with very few people to please, God revealed to me that my longing to be useful and needed, had the potential underbelly of inflating my ego. My longing for connection, though good, revealed my unbelief in the sufficiency of God and His presence with me in all circumstances. It was there that I battled idols of entertainment, which made my hollow life feel less lonely, but which were steadily whittling away the time which God had purposes and intentions for, if only for a year.

My definition of a full life changed dramatically that year. When we had once had friends for dinner almost every night of the week, for months there was nothing. By the end of our time there, I was overjoyed to have one playdate every other week, and I deeply enjoyed the one night a week when we were privileged to host our neighbor for dinner.

Our waiting changed us. That time created in us a pure desire to not only be apart of community, but to help create it. That time cemented us in our marriage in ways that would not have happened otherwise. That time revealed to me the idols in my heart that desperately needed to be dethroned. And it was there again, and the desk in my living room, that I finally began writing again. The Lord began to stir passions in my heart, many of which I couldn’t yet name.

All this and so much more. And I wouldn’t trade that wilderness for anything; not because it was easy, but because it was just another step on my journey to becoming the woman that God has always planned for me to be. I’ve seen glimpses of her in a window pane sometimes, just a sideways glance, nothing more. She’s beautiful and fearless. She loves fiercely with bold affection. She speaks words of truth and is always ready to hold out a hand in forgiveness and in grace. She knows that her life is not her own, and she’s okay with that. She trusts in the sufficiency of Jesus in the midst of all circumstances, and she helps others do the same.

I want to be her. I want that more than anything.

And if the wilderness has helped me get there? Then I thank God for the wilderness.

Spring is coming

I had a dream last night that my daughter was making paper mache at church. Her hands and face were covered with the sticky white glue/water/flour mixture. For a Mom of a child with severe gluten sensitivity, this was an actual nightmare.

It’s been seven weeks since her last flare up. It’s been a long hard season, but it feels like maybe we are getting towards the end of it…? I’m always afraid to say that. Like maybe I’ll be jinxing it somehow. Maybe I am just waiting for the other shoe to drop. 

But part of me is almost ready to dare to hope. To hope that maybe this season of intense hardship is ending. Maybe we have done a better job keeping her safe. Maybe we are finally figuring some things out. Maybe there isn’t another shoe hanging above our heads, but just the same shoe at our feet: that she has severe issues with gluten. And maybe it’s celiac and maybe it’s not.

We were told by the pediatric gastroenterologist that we will not be able to get a celiac diagnosis, even if we did a scope, because she has been on the gluten free diet for so long already. 

“Even though she’s still been having flare ups?” I said.

“You could make a case for it,” she said, “but I don’t think it would show up definitively, no.”

She said the only way to get a celiac diagnosis would be to feed her gluten for six weeks straight and then do a scope. 

You can probably guess what my answer to that was. 

Heck NO.

I am not so obsessed with answers that I will purposely hurt my child to get them. 

I am not so obsessed with control that I will break the well earned trust that she has built into me, that what I cook for her, to the best of my knowledge and ability, will not make her sick.

I do not need answers that badly. 

It helps that she’s doing better. Right now, that feels like answer enough. 

She still has tummy aches from time to time, a few every week. I try to keep on top of her enzyme as best I can. I make sure to follow rigorous hand washing when we go anywhere and I wipe down a table before she sits there.

I don’t take her down the aisles with bulk bins and I warn her not to touch the open baskets of bread at the grocery store. I don’t take her to Willy’s hockey games anymore; that was the tragic scene that we are fairly certain caused her last flare up. Gold fish cracker crumbs littered the bleachers, and who knows what other specks that could not be seen. It was probably just a few too many small exposures in one day.

No matter how we covered her hands with her sleeves, I laid out a blanket for her to sit on, she washed hands repeatedly during and after our time there as well as changed her clothes the moment we got home. I thought I had thought of everything. But then next day when she woke up sick, I remembered the dog licking her face. I hadn’t accounted for that. Most dog food contains gluten of course, and I would never let a person who just ate a slice of bread lick her face.

So we try to be careful of that now too. 

It could be easy to start feeling sorry for myself, but when I think back to that season of intense suffering that has only appeared to end a few weeks ago, I remember to give thanks for the little girl with the strength to be sassy to me about how “unfair” it is that she can’t eat/touch/do XYZ. 

It’s understandable she’s upset. But the fact that she calls it unfair and doesn’t automatically shy from that thing in fear, just goes to show how the Lord is healing and protecting her little psyche as well as her body. She is forgetting how bad it all is, and I am okay with that.

Maybe that’s what this in-between season is all about. Learning to be okay. Learning to live with the unresolved. The lack of answers. The lack of certainty about whether or not what we are doing is working, or if it’s something else all together. Time may reveal some of these. But either way; God is with us in the middle places just as he was with us in the darkest nights.

My youngest child has always been a good sleeper, but these past few weeks he’s taken to waking multiple times at night again like he did when he was a newborn. I could bemoan this fact, or I could thank God that he’s doing this now and not while I was dealing with a daughter in flare up in the middle of the night.

A friend has needed temporary childcare help with her sweet 2 year old daughter, and though adding a fourth kid, five and under, does make some things (like a trip to the grocery store) a little more interesting, it’s also just so amazing to me that God has orchestrated this timing. If this had happened a few months ago, I wouldn’t have been able to help.

Another friend’s daughter has been in the hospital for the past four weeks; they just finally moved her out of the ICU. And the thought in my mind and heart is that I’m so glad I can offer my help in some small way. Watching your daughter suffer is no easy task, I know it in new ways now that I hope help me to be a compassionate companion.

And you Dear Reader, I am working hard for you; like I’ve never worked before. If you would like to be one of the first to receive my (almost finished) FREE DOWNLOAD: Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of hope in the soil of suffering, just click here to sign up, and as soon as it’s finished I’ll deliver it to your inbox.

In Colorado we are transitioning—from winter to spring. And it comes slowly here, where we often still get snow even through the month of May. But the crocuses are opening in the morning light. The tulips and the daffodils are emerging from the front beds that I neglected to clear of leaves last fall. The chorus of birdsong now greets me and my morning cup of coffee. And the clearest sign; the delicious light that lingers over me as I prepare supper in the evenings.

Though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of winter’s chill, this time does feel like a change in the air. Like the spring that we hoped for might be just around the corner, after all.

It’s almost time to plant some seeds.

Our Story

“Are you ready to tell Our Story?” 

A year ago I was preparing to share my testimony with our small group. It was a chaotic day; one in which I felt inadequate in nearly every way. The kids were crazy, the house a mess, so I stuck my (then) two kids in the stroller and took a walk in order to gain some sense of peace and gather my thoughts.

Then the voice—so familiar and yet so startling: “Are you ready to tell Our Story?” 

It caught me like a lover’s indiscreet kiss. It sent shivers down my spine. I’m not sure if I was even ready then—but I am now Jesus.

Yes Jesus. I’m ready to share Our Story. 

Here is where it all began:

I was eight years old.

Sometime in the recent past I had finally got up the courage to tell my Mom that I was being sexually abused. She believed me, sheltered me, fought for me. Both my parents did. But there were, and are, some things no parent can give to a child in that situation—and it was something I desperately needed. It’s what we all need when we feel stuck in a darkness too deep to ever escape from on our own.

I needed Hope.

I was in the messy middle of recovering from an abuse that I was too young to understand. I knew the darkness that plagued me to the the depths of my soul. I sensed the evil that lurked around each and every corner, threatening to gobble me up. In my childish mind, I just wanted it all to go away.

God found me there on the rough carpet of my bedroom. On my knees in front of the solid wood bookshelf, I was kneeling as I often did when searching. Searching for something to read. A bibliophile from a young age, I looked for the answers to my needs in books, but none of them seemed to meet me here and now. None of them held the answers to the questions I was asking. Bending over, peering down at the volumes on the bottom shelf, turning my head sideways to read all the words on their spines. Then the Bible caught me. That large volume which I considered to be both Holy and wholly intimidating. The thing I had tried to force myself to read, but just couldn’t quite get into. I was only eight years old after all. 

I pulled it out and didn’t know where to begin. Then, a miraculous whisper. Romans. It said. Chapter 8.  It said. 

And I opened up to these words in the 28th verse. 

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

(Romans 8:28, NIV)

There on my bedroom floor, kneeling at my bookshelf, God captured my heart. And I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that somehow, someway, the suffering I was going through, and the abuse I had endured was going to be worked for good. Down my eight year old cheeks streamed tears of peace—tears of joy.

That was the beginning of my love story with Jesus.

About seven years later, I started blogging. Blogging for other survivors of sexual abuse. Blogging so that they would know that they weren’t alone.

Though I think my readership was near non-existent, I haven’t even actually deleted the original blog because it has a sentimental special place in my heart. And now, it’s just so beautiful to me to see how God was planting seeds in my heart to serve others who are, or have gone through suffering; that you would know that you are not alone, and that there is and always will be, a glorious redemption plan for every broken piece of our shattered hearts.

This one thing I know for sure: that God is in the business of making all things new. He’s done it for me, over and over again. I wish that I could say that my childhood trauma was the only really hard or scary thing that I ever faced; in fact when I was younger I was pretty sure that the fact that I had dealt with hardship at such a young age meant that I had gotten that part of my life “out of the way”, and it was going to be all rainbows and sunshine from there on out.

Go ahead and laugh if you want to. I can’t think about that sweet naiveté of mine without chuckling either. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought this way. Because believing that life is will often be dark and difficult? That can make you want to give up right there on the spot.

But for those of us who belong to Christ Jesus, suffering doesn’t get to have the last word. Abuse doesn’t have the last word. Sickness and death don’t get the last word. Whatever current hardship you are facing; it doesn’t get the last word because we live by the Power of the Living God, and there is nothing that is so dark that He cannot bring the light of His redemption to it. We walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and He gives us all that we need to survive this crazy life, and to make it a life worth living. For now, and for Eternity.

How do I know? I’ll tell you. I have so many stories. I’m sure you have them too.

Stories of joy in the pain. Of beauty from the ashes. Of eternal weights of glory being made from these comparatively, light and momentary afflictions.

The truth is that God is the Good Gardener in my life, pruning me that I may bear fruit. Planting me often, in the soil of suffering, that I may bear fruit. Showing me that His presence with me always was, and always is, enough.

And it’s enough for you too.

I’m working on something right now: It’s called Scattered: A seven day journey to planting seeds of Hope in the Soil of Suffering. It’s not finished yet. But if this sounds like something that might help you, I’d love to get it into your hands.

All you have to do is click here, and give me your email address. A few minutes after you put in your info, you’ll get an email welcoming you to my email list, and as soon as I am finished creating this content, I will send it directly to your inbox for absolutely free.

Even better news: if you sign up before I finish making this resource, you may even get to help influence it by sending a reply to my first email and telling me what you are struggling with.

Because these words aren’t just for me anymore, Dear Reader, they are for you.

That together we may bear fruit, by God’s grace and for His glory.

Better Gifts

“Do you want me to be happy?” She demanded.

We were out on a girls shopping run, and I had allowed my daughter to pick a couple things from the dollar section; a unicorn page with heart gel stickers, and a stack of unicorn note cards.

But it wasn’t enough. Each and every thing she saw she wanted for some reason or other. Her reason for wanting the thing? “But I LOVE __________, and I don’t have any ___________ yet!”

I kept saying no. Calmly, by God’s grace, to her innumerable requests. But she was getting angry now.

“YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO ME!” She insisted.

“I’m listening,” I told her, “but my answer is no.”

And that’s when the real question came out:

“Do you want me to be happy?” she demanded.

I replied, “happiness does not come from getting everything you want. Happiness comes from learning to be content.” If you are a parent maybe you are quick to nod along; this is sound teaching. Contentment is a better and more important gift than allowing her to have everything she wants and sees.

Now imagine that you are the child. And God is the loving parent.

How many of us have accused God of not hearing us? When we don’t get our asked for request? How many of us have hated Him for his apparent indifference? How many of us have demanded with fists shaking towards the sky, “DON’T YOU CARE! DON’T YOU WANT ME TO BE HAPPY!?!?”

This metaphor is often used to apply to a child that is asking for something dangerous. Like, “Well of course you wouldn’t give the child matches…”

But what about when the request doesn’t seem obviously dangerous or evil in any way? What about when the request is for something good? Like a glitter unicorn candle making kit? Like answers and a path forward for a sick child?

I would like to propose something: that God also says ‘No’ to good things. Even as He longs for us to pour out our hearts and desires to Him, He often answers those prayers with a ‘No.’ And this is still His kindness to us.

“…which one of you, if his son asks him from bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Matthew 7:9-10 ESV
God knows how to give us good gifts; and sometimes when He is saying ‘No’ that is just another way that He is giving us a better gift.

He is giving us better gifts. The gift of trusting Him in the middle of the unknown. The gift of His tangible presence in the midst of horrible pain. The gift of Hope in the darkest places; the Hope that He is God and He is Good and all will be made into Splendor and Glory in the day of Christ.

Every tear will be wiped away, one day. And now, as we rage against the wrongness of it all; the wrongness of war and slavery. Of illness and death; God cups our chin in His mighty hands and says, “I see you. I am with you. Look at me.”

I wish He would tell us right off the bat what good could possible come from the wreckage of our present suffering; from the suffering of those around me whom I love. But I think if he did, I’d be short circuiting part of the miracle.

Instead, He reminds me of where I’ve been. What hells He has already led me through. And He paints a hopeful vision, that is as beautiful as it is undefined. It’s the wrapping on the better gift that I have yet to understand or open.

Photo c/o Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Six months ago, during one of her tummy flare ups, my daughter asked me if God forgets things.

“No sweetie, no, God doesn’t forget things. Why do you ask?”

“Because we prayed for Him to help my tummy, but my tummy is still hurting… I thought maybe…maybe He forgot.”

“No baby. He hasn’t forgotten you. Sometimes, God doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want Him to. And do you know what that means?”

“What?” She sniffed, wiped a tear from her cheek.

“That just means that He has something else in mind for us right now.”

And as the tears threatened in my own eyes, I knew it was true. And laying next to her on the couch that day, I painted for her a picture: a picture of a God so powerful that not only could He prevent bad things from happening (which of course He could) but that He can take even bad things, and turn them into good things. A God of incredible, beautiful, miraculous, Redemption. That is the God we worship. That is the God that is worthy of my life-long praise; and all of my praise for joyful eternity after.

He has something else in mind for us right now. As the answers refuse to come. As we are left instead with more questions. Because in the midst we know that God is for us, and He is good. Even if.

Perhaps this faith that He is growing in us is the better gift. Or perhaps it is something even more glorious than I can currently fathom.

It’s probably the latter.

When all is unknown, and nothing feels comforting

It feels like a full fledged onslaught. The battle for my mind is raging every moment that I am present to my actual feelings and thoughts; and if I’m not present, then I’m just plain numb.

We heard these words of doubt last week: “I’m stumped.”

From a doctor, especially your child’s doctor, those are words you never, ever, want to hear. She looked sad. She looked tired and concerned. She has labored for us and with us for well over a year, and now, we are at the end of her expertise. The end of her possible answers.

“That’s what specialists are there for,” I heard her say. And I wonder if she wasn’t just saying that for us, but for herself. To remind herself that it’s okay that this time she didn’t have the answers we were looking for. In fact, we seemed at a loss for answers at all.

We have run out of non-invasive options. Our next right thing is to head to the pediatric gastroenterologists at Children’s Hospital, and hope they can help us find an answer. A diagnosis. Something, that will help our baby girl feel well more than 50% of the time.

The last time I was at children’s hospital, I stood as a witness as one of my best friends received the news that her 18 month old daughter had cancer. What had seemed like a fractured ankle from a crib injury ended up quite different than any of us could have anticipated. I can’t say I’m excited to go back there.

No solutions feel very comforting right now. Even if it all goes perfectly “well.” Sometimes the diagnosis makes things a lot better, other times, it’s the devastating last blow that seals just how much “worse” it all is.

And even if it’s not worse. Even if it’s all fine; I’m not excited to put my daughter under extensive and invasive tests. I don’t want to watch as she fades from consciousness from anesthesia. I don’t want to let anyone wheel my baby away on a gurney. I don’t want to put her life in any one else’s hands. As I looked at the faces of the pediatric gastroenterologists on the Children’s Hospital website, I just kept thinking to each face, “Do I trust you to take care of my baby girl? How about you?

The truth is I trust no one. And I know enough now to know that I can’t necessarily even trust myself: I mean, I haven’t been able to keep her healthy have I? No matter how much I slam down the control all around us and our life in attempts to keep her well, it’s never enough. I’m sure there’s been a time more than once over the past year and a half, when I’ve encouraged her to eat something that ended up making her sick. I try not to dwell on those times, but sometimes I do.

All I know is that I know her, and I love her. I remember when she was one-year-old she smelled to me like butter, and sugar cookies. That when she’s happy she doesn’t always smile, but her face is smooth and peaceful. She doesn’t always show her pleasure in the demonstrative ways you’d expect from a five-year-old. And she’s always been that way. I know that she’s happiest when she’s making art. That she’s an extrovert that needs her alone time. That she is more thoughtful and capable of compassion than I often even give her credit for.

A little over a month ago, I found myself making an hour long drive with a car full of sleeping babies. And through the gentle words of a scripture lullaby CD, I heard an almost audible whisper:

If you never find the answers, will you still trust me? 

And through the tears, my whispered answer came, “Yes.” 

The challenge now is one of memory: remembering the peace that comes when I choose to rest in the sovereignty of God. Remembering and keeping before my consciousness moment-by-moment, that God knows her and loves her even more than I do. That He has not abandoned her. And challenging as this thought is, that He has good for her, for us. Even here, smack dab in the middle of this pain; this terrifying unknown.

What that good might be? I don’t know yet. But I’m on the hunt for it. I’m ravenous. I’m parched. And I need to taste that spring of water that never leaves you longing for more. Especially here in this desert season, as I feel myself walking towards this valley of shadows and death. Come near to me Lord Jesus.

I believe He will.

If you too are walking through a season of suffering, or uncertainty, or both; I’m so glad you are here. I hope to create a place here where we can Cultivate a Fruitful Life, and I know that paradoxically, God often does His best work in the soil of suffering. Will you let me kneel down in the dirt next to you? CLICK HERE to sign up.

Praying for you Dear Reader. I know you’ve been through a lot. I have too.

But together, let’s keep before us, the truth of Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (ESV)

If you are planted in the soil of suffering like I am right now Dear Reader, then maybe, just maybe, God is in the middle of cultivating fruit.

The blank Page; a New Years Eve Reflection

New Years Eve, 2018

Dear Reader,

This may be the first year that I’m actually ready to put away Christmas.

Always, each year of my life until now, there has been this mourning at the end of Christmas day. This sadness that it’s over. And like I keep having to tell my three year old son, it is now 360-some-odd days until the next Christmas Day.

But this year it’s different. This year I find myself looking forward to the New Year with equal anticipation. Maybe it’s because December of this year was so supremely hard. Maybe it’s because we got a new couch and the Christmas Tree is currently making it difficult to see how the living room is going to be arranged. Maybe it’s because this year I find myself especially hungry for a clean page and a fresh start.

As a writer, a clean page both appeals to, and terrifies me.

On the one hand, a clean page is a blank slate, full to the brim of potential and space for ideas and dreams to come true.

On the other, a blank page means there is nothing to show, there is nothing to even edit, because I haven’t even yet begun. Though my first draft is likely to be crappy, and riddled with errors, at least something on the page means I am working in the right direction.

I wonder if this might help you too? In the midst of all your New Year’s celebrations and resolutions—if you are staring at the January calendar page like a blank slate before you—maybe remember this; the first draft is never right. But that doesn’t mean, what you write won’t be beautiful.

That means just this: don’t expect perfection from a New Year when nothing you’ve ever written on that first calendar page has been perfect previously. Don’t expect perfectly kept goals and resolutions. Don’t hold yourself to the standard that you know in your heart of hearts is not achievable.

Instead, be content to start on a draft.

Write some words. Make a few mistakes. Set some goals; change them later if you need to. Push forward in a meaningful direction, even if that meaningful direction doesn’t take you where you think it should.

Show Up.

I have lots of little goals and ambitions for this year. Some small and seemingly inconsequential, some grander; the subject of my wildest dreams that I’m actually daring to believe may happen.

But the most important thing I’m resolving to do in this New Year? It’s something I’ve begun the draft on already. Something I have been chiseling at for awhile. A notion, and an idea that has been taking shape in my heart and mind and I realize now that maybe it will resonate in yours as well.

In 2019, I am going to show up as myself in the world.

Maybe it seems too ordinary. But this idea is not even original to me. I have heard Emily P. Freeman speak on this idea most often, (check our her super short, inspirational podcast The Next Right Thing if you haven’t yet.) In essence, this idea to show up as myself in the world, is an invitation to not only fully be who is is that God has created me to be, but to also extend that to the world. To offer my words and my work. To open my hands like a generous hostess and say, “Help yourself! I made these for you.”

The truth is, though no one would usually be so rude as to insult your cooking to your face (small children excluded of course), people on the internet rarely hold back from a desire to criticize.

I have felt too afraid of doing it wrong. Too fragile to try. Too fearful that all my efforts will be for naught, and that it will all be a giant flop. Cooking is a mastery activity for me. I could do it my sleep.

Figuring out how to make my blog do things…how to create things on the computer and then offer them to you Dear Reader…well that just isn’t my forte. And I’ve given that excuse 1,001 times. But no more.

If I’m going to show up as myself in the world, then I need to show up with my words full of encouragement and hope that God has given me. And if I’m going to extend that to the world in a meaningful way, then that means I need to work harder and more intentionally to, as Ed Cyzewski once said in an interview with Hope*Writer’s, “get [my] words where [my] reader can see them.”

So that’s my big scary goal. And whether you are a writer, a manager, a gardener, a janitor, a cook, a nanny, or an executive…I’m betting it could be your goal too.

Choose this year, to show up as yourself in the world, and offer what it is God has given you to share with open hands and an open heart.

Stop making excuses of why you can’t. I know it’s scary. I know it’s hard. The fear of rejection still makes my heart pound sometimes. But in the end, it really isn’t about us is it? It’s about the God who made us. Who put us here on this planet for a reason. Who has good works set out for us to do. I don’t want to get to heaven only to realize that I buried my talent in the sand because I was afraid. I want instead, to hear those words of what C.S. Lewis describes as “the Divine Accolade”; “Well done good and faithful servant.”

But if we’re going to hear those beautiful words, we first need to be faithful. And the first step to faithfulness? It’s to Show Up.

So here’s to marking up the blank page. To writing the first draft. To making mistakes.

Here’s to trying new things. To not making excuses. To staying present in the things that scare us.

Here’s to pressing on in the midst of discouragement and even failure, knowing that each misstep can be our teacher if we let her.

What might it look like for you to show up as yourself in the World? Is there something God is tugging at you to do, that you’ve been afraid to step out into? How might you begin to mark up that blank page in courage and faith today?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Remember, Cultivating a Fruitful Life is an activity best served by community. So leave a comment. Grab a couple friends over coffee. Share your heart and listen as they share theirs. Because the world needs us to show up as ourselves. And it will be a more beautiful place when we do.

We ourselves are the dwelling places of the infinite God of the Universe. Where we go, we never go alone. And this year, I guarantee, He has work for you to do beyond the failures you may see lining your January calendar.

Advent: the waiting

Anticipation is half the joy. At least, when you know the thing that is coming is really really good. 

It was a week before Christmas last year that I learned I was expecting our third child. This child was something we had been hoping for and anticipating; even as the thought of going through all it takes to get a child here, and especially all it took to get our second child here, was more than a little terrifying. 

But still those two pink lines showed up exactly one week before Christmas, and as the waiting to celebrate the holiday and the significance of God incarnate ended, a new waiting began.

It brings fresh to mind the way we wait in the dark. So often. For someone or something. Sometimes we aren’t even sure which. Our lives can feel like a fog more often than not; but we have this secret hope, and this light on each and every step, and we take them. Even though we aren’t at all sure where it will take us, that hope carries us. 

The hope of Advent is ultimately the hope we all carry; the hope for a Savior. Every human heart, whether believing in Jesus as Lord or not, hopes for a future. For the fulfillment of longing; for the arrival of joy. It’s pregnant within us, and no matter how jaded and discouraged we get sometimes, I rarely dies. If it does, that’s when you know you are in real trouble. A human heart cannot live without hope. At least not here.

We have been studying 1 Corinthians with the Women’s Bible Study at church, an just a few weeks ago we talked about how there won’t be hope in Heaven. Because all our deepest longings will have been fulfilled, we won’t need hope. There won’t be faith either, because our faith will be sight. You don’t need faith to believe in something when it’s right there, in flesh and blood, staring you in the face. 

Strange as it may sound, I think it took a little faith to know that Isaiah was going to be such a good gift. It seems foolish I know, for all children are a gift and I believe this to be true. But I didn’t know it enough. I knew it because I believed it, but now I have seen his eyes sparkle in good humor. I have smelled the sweetness of his breath. I have heard the iridescent sound of his laughter. I have kissed his face until he shrieked for joy, and I myself felt my heart full to absolute bursting with it. 

The waiting takes faith. The anticipation of the coming is joyful, but we rarely know enough of what the coming will look like to anticipate it properly. I couldn’t have known what a precious gift Isaiah would be, without knowing him. I couldn’t have known how redemptive and healing his birth would be, until I experienced the very real presence of the Lord during that laboring time, and he continued to lavish gift upon merciful gift, to me. We carry our hopes and our dreams, but we try not to let them carry us away, because we don’t want to be disappointed. And in a broken world, where God’s ways are so much higher and wiser than our own, I think it wise to hold our own plans loosely. But we need to learn this perspective; that we cannot even begin to fathom the joy that is to come.

Did Mary even know? As she carried this child and this promise for nine months in her womb. As she was given confirmations and signs from Elizabeth and Joseph. As the Lord prepared the way for his son to come into the world, in the most unusual way. 

I have seen birth in the hay before. Just this past April, my goat Carmela kidded in the straw of our loafing shed. It had been warm the day before, but that particular day it was windy and cold. The fresh straw smelled clean, but even still i couldn’t get her to lay down in the cleanest spot. And she just kept pawing the ground to make a space for her babies, but all she was actually doing was making things dirtier. I myself was 20 weeks pregnant, and I kept thinking how much I admired her zen…chewing her cud between pushes and contractions. But I did not at all envy her job of giving birth in the straw. Even with all the spare towels I could muster the whole scene was a gory mess when all was said and done. 

I’m sure this scene would not have been the one that Mary pictured for herself when she imagined giving birth to the son of God, even if she was a poor girl from Nazareth. Even a poor girl from Nazareth could have done better than a filthy stall. 

But that was how he came.

When the waiting was over, the way Jesus came was stranger and more wonderful than anyone could have imagined. He came in the lowest of ways, because he is the King of the lowly. And if a King stoops low, we all ought to stoop low.

It was the incarnation of the upside-down Kingdom of God. The world wasn’t expecting a Messiah to show up. The Israelites were expecting a Messiah, but they didn’t recognize him in the way he came or the way he carried himself. 

Jesus, never in a hurry. Never in a rush. Jesus slow and steady. Jesus eating with sinners. Jesus, the King of the Universe, and of the lowliest of sparrows. Jesus dying a torturous death in our place. We couldn’t have imagined how wonderful he was, until we were staring him straight in the face.

We still can’t can we? 

But just like my precious son Isaiah, the longer that we spend time with Jesus, the more we see what an incredible blessing he is. He doesn’t just save us, he heals us. He sees us. He knows us. And he leaves no stone unturned in the pursuit of redeeming every last broken piece of our hearts. This is the ultimate gift of the with-ness of Jesus. Of Immanuel. 

We still don’t get it. Not really.  But someday, we will.

Someday we’ll understand fully, but for now we wait. We hold onto hope; onto faith. And just like you might stare at the ultrasound picture and imagined what it will be like,  you can stare into the scriptures and catch angles of him. Glimmers of him. The more you look, the more you make out the shape of him. 

So let the anticipation build, let it be pregnant within us. Let it mold us and make us, even as it unmakes us all together. Someday, we will see him face to face. But in the advent of his second coming, as in the advent celebration of his first coming, we wait.  

{Featured Photo c/o Anton Darius on Unsplash}