who you should be running to first

looking to him

After ten days of staring at turquoise waters with white sand between my toes, it was hard to walk through the door of our home.

Because the changes that we were slowly preparing for were now so very close.

A new place to call home, a new baby on the way, a new school for our daughters.

Which meant there was a long to-do list waiting on us.

With packing as the first and foremost.

As much as I was excited, I was also feeling a bit terrified.

Anxiety was creeping in as I pulled the luggage behind me and set it near the couch.

The girls wasted no time in running to their room and becoming engrossed with their Barbie house.

Hubs was already taking stuff out of his suitcase.

And I was simply telling myself to not freak out.

. . . . . . .

At church, a friend shares how she was having an off day.

Wondering if there was anyone that cared, anyone that was praying for her.

In the midst of these emotions, her phone rang.

It was her dad.

Just randomly calling to see how she’s doing.

He tells her that he loves her, that he’s always praying for her.

And she’s sees right there and then what God is trying to say to her.

How there is no need to question whether anyone cares, no need to feel alone.

Because she’s got Him, her heavenly daddy who loves beyond all comprehension and is always working on her behalf.

As I listen to her story, I feel all weepy.

Maybe it’s the darn hormones raging all over the place.

Or maybe I wholeheartedly understand where she is coming from.

There are mentors and counselors and close friends.

Our natural inclination is to turn to them.

We vent, we cry on their shoulder, we pour out the mess that makes us feel so heavy and weary.

It’s all valuable – a blessing to have this listening ear.

But I have come to see and understand that they can’t do what God can do.

He has the ability to make something out of my nothing.

He takes my every word as a precious seed and plants it into the rich soil of His endless possibilities.

Choosing Him first brings in comfort like no other.

Because He doesn’t just listen.

He gets straight to work. He makes things happen.

. . . . .

Of course, we are forgetful creatures.

We read about the Israelites in the Old Testament and gawk at their constant worry and despair.

They witnessed miracles upon miracles of God providing, God rescuing, and still the slightest discomfort had them acting like they were doomed, like they had been forsaken.

And so we shake our heads in disbelief and call them foolish.

We tell ourselves that if we had witnessed the Red Sea separating before our very eyes, then we would never doubt.

Instead, we would believe and believe and believe no matter what came against us.

But let’s face the truth.

We really aren’t any different.

Nothing has changed under the sun.

Even though God has shown Himself in every situation I have ever walked through, I still have moments where I wonder if He’s genuinely there when another storm rolls in.

And it’s got nothing to do with whether I have enough faith.

Because it’s not about faith.

It’s about the spirit of unbelief.

It doesn’t sleep and will sneak up repeatedly.

The key is what you do when it does come.

. . . . . . .

A few months ago I found myself thinking about Paul in the book of Acts.

Each morning I would wake up with this specific scripture on my mind.

And I knew God was trying to tell me something.

Paul and Silas were both beaten with rods and thrown into prison.

Wounded and in serious pain, they had every right to feel anguish.

But they chose to glorify the Almighty.

They refused to believe He was far from them and made the conscious decision to sing praises to His name and it was their praise that broke the prison gates.

I had read and heard the story countless times before and only now was it seriously blowing me away.

Because here was my answer.

In moments of desperation, of unbelief, of feeling like there is no miracle in sight, I needed to worship Him, I needed to delight in Him, I needed to lift His name up in adoration.

It all sounds so simple, so textbook, like “duh” that is exactly what a believer should be doing, no big surprise there, I’m preaching to the choir, etc.

However, let’s be real.

How many of us actually feel like praising Jesus when all hell breaks loose?

. . . . . . .

At our new place, there is chaos with all the boxes.

I force myself to sort through the dishes and the clothes and all the little knick knacks and feel a heaviness dragging me down.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know it’s unbelief.

I feel it pushing me into a corner.

And I’m just too overwhelmed with grief to rise above it.

Because it hurts.

This waiting game, waiting for answers to countless prayer – it hurts.

And the girls are whining about everything.

And dinner needs to be made.

And husband walks through the door with the weight of hopelessness upon his shoulders.

And there are explosions in Israel and people dying in Ukraine and planes crashing.

And I look at myself in the mirror and completely lose it.

I know I need to pray, to worship, to press in harder, to do what Paul and Silas did.

Yet I can’t.

My mouth feels like a ton of bricks and it reminds me of the apostles walking with Jesus.

He asked them to stay awake, to intercede, He knew His time had come to be taken captive and even though they didn’t really understand what He meant, they felt something too, a heaviness inside them, a grief so exhausting that they couldn’t bring themselves to utter a single word.

Instead, they fell asleep.

And it’s what I wanted to do as well.

I wanted to hide under my covers and numb all that was in me with sleep.

However, the Holy Spirit was nudging me to follow Christ’s example.

He was struck with deep anguish and it was painful.

But He didn’t let it consume Him.

There, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed with intensity beyond comprehension.

He pressed in so hard that His body sweat drops of blood.

. . . . . . . .

In the morning, I get up and think about how our faith goes beyond “feelings”.

How it’s about having the discipline to always worship, to always rejoice even though everything around us tells us we have no reason to do so.

It’s a choice we have to make every single day.

“Sing praises to Him, rejoice in Him,” the spirit beckons.

And I don’t always want to.

As my flesh groans, I turn on some music and reach for my prayer journal and start looking through all the promises God has spoken in the last few years and listen to Nicole Binion sing about how when He draws near, all fear is swept away, distractions disappear, how she is not moving, she is here waiting on Him, how He is so good, always good and she is standing on His promise and the lyrics engulf me like a tidal wave.

Life can be too much sometimes and it feels like my small voice gets lost in the rubble of this world, it feels like He is far from me.

But we all know that’s foolishness.

Because the moment I cry out to Him, He bends his ear to me as if I am the only one and gets straight to work.

No one else can do that.

No one  . . . . . . .

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raising daughters: little girls watch and learn

raising daughters

It was year 1996 and I was 15 years old.

Sitting on the floor, daydreaming to Backstreet Boys new radio release “As Long As You Love Me”.

I had it playing on repeat on my little black boom box and a part of me felt it was written just for me.

I had this vision of being at their concert.

Front row.

And out of all the girls there, Nick Carter was going to be mesmerized by me.

He was going to take my hand and pull me up on stage and sing that song without ever having his eyes leave mine.

There would be a spark that neither of us thought was possible.

A connection beyond words.

The beginning of a love story.

Where we were going to become absolutely inseparable.

Meant for one another.

To be together forever.

. . . . . . .

After dinner, I am packing up the leftovers and hubby is wiping off the counters and I tell him the story of how I was convinced I was going to marry Nick Carter.

“I just knew that all he needed was to simply see me,” I say, “and it would be love at first sight.”

 “Wow,” he chuckles, scratches his head.

Clearly speechless and amused all at the same time.

And I laugh out loud because oh my goodness all of it sounds so ridiculous, so hilarious.

I was a typical bookworm teenager with long brown hair, big round glasses, trying to cover up the pimples on my forehead and waiting for my prince charming to sweep me off my feet.

I was a girl uncomfortable in my own skin, admiring the beauty queens in a Seventeen magazine, buying that blue eye shadow or that voluminous mascara, hoping it will make me pretty.

Now I was a mom.

Where did the time go?

. . . . . . .

Day in and day out it feels like my daughters will be little forever.

Then I notice the shoes are getting tighter, clothes are getting smaller, and they are getting taller.

They are growing into women.

Slowly yet so quickly.

And I look at the reflection in the mirror and see that I’m aging as well.

I am convinced I am still 22 but the fine lines around my eyes, the way my skin feels, the way my body looks, the way my face has changed – all of it reminds me how fast the clock is ticking, how fast everything is moving.

Slipping into my pajamas, I observe the cellulite, the sagginess, and voice the distaste with my body out loud.

Husband hears the words and frowns.

He tells me, this time more seriously, how it really wounds him when I insult myself.

He asks me to stop.

Reminds me that I am fashioned by God’s hands.

“And the girls hear it,” he says, “Don’t give them that example.”

A knot forms in my throat as I listen and nod and fall even deeper in love with this man.

. . . . . . .

A few years back I was at an outlet mall and didn’t think much of the advertisement ahead of us.

In fact, I don’t think I even noticed until my oldest, who was 5 at the time, spoke up.

“Why is she doing that, mommy?”

She pointed to a large poster plastered on a window of a Victoria’s Secret store.

An image of a models backside.

Wearing absolutely nothing but a lacy black thong.

Arching her back with her arms up against a grey wall.

Legs slightly parted, derriere sticking out high.

“Why, mommy?” she asked again.

I looked at the ad and sighed.

“They call it modeling,” I explained, “The truth is, it’s inappropriate.”

I took her hand and together we kept on walking while my mind was racing all over the place in trying to figure out how I could further this conversation with words that were easier to understand.

I wanted to tell her that what she saw was not the definition of beauty, not the definition of being a woman.

And it angered me.

To be in a situation where no matter how I was going to put it, no matter what I was going to say, it was still going to be TOO much for an innocent 5 year old to grasp.

. . . . . . .

We live in a world where self appearance is idolized now more than ever.

Wherever we look, women are being told to be sexy, to be flawless, to flaunt what they’ve got.

Young girls and mamas are chasing beauty above else.

Flipping through Victoria’s Secret catalogs and provocative fashion magazines.

Vying for the perfect hair, perfect makeup, perfect outfit for a perfect selfie.

While little daughters everywhere watch and learn.

One pastor’s words immediately come to mind.

“Some people have the entrance of a palace and contents of a hut.”

It makes me think about my girls, how I want them to be far from that description.

I think about their self image, their future, what I want them to value most.

They sit beside me as I put on mascara and blush.

They ask me to paint their nails and beg me at the makeup aisle to buy them that shimmery lip gloss.

With fresh curls bouncing against their face, they twirl in their new Easter dresses and feel beautiful.

I watch them and smile and know how there is so much fun in being a girl.

They will have latest obsessions and boy crushes and relish in the moments of getting all dolled up.

And I want them to enjoy this process of flourishing and maturing and discovering.

But my heart is overwhelmed with a desire for them to hunger for God more than anything.

I want them to awake each morning with a strong sense of who they are in Christ.

To start each day with the question of how they can serve others instead of trying to look like some vogue ad.

I want them to become women of substance.

. . . . . . .

Two summers ago I read this prayer.

A prayer for a daughter.

As a mom, I knew this was the declaration I needed.

I needed to hang these words somewhere where I can see them, where the girls could read them again and again.

A daily reminder.

A discussion starter.

So I finally pulled some blank canvases out of my closet, squirted a tube of black paint onto a dish and began to write.

May she be bread and feed many with her life and her laughter
May she be thread and mend brokeness and knit hearts
May she be dead to all ladders & never go higher, only lower, to the lonely, the least & the longing.

Truth is, at the end of the day, it all comes down to more than just words.

It all starts with leading by example.

And I pray they see in me who I yearn for them to be.

That they won’t see a mom struggling with insecurities or a mom busying herself with the things of this world.

Instead they will see a mom after God’s own heart . . . .

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is your faith costing you anything?

my faith costing me anything

I read about a little girl sold into sex slavery.

Seven years old. Tied to a pole and raped again and again every single day by multiple men.

Then I read about another little girl who is abducted. Molested. And buried alive in a trash bag.

Her body found days later, clutching to her teddy bear.

And I’m boiling with anger, cracking at the seams, weeping into my hands because my God, this stuff is so hard to digest, hard to comprehend, and stabs so deep, and why, why, why does it have to happen!

The evil running rampant makes me feel so helpless.

It almost makes sense to just look away because what can I possibly do?

But as I observe the life around me and my so called problems, I wonder if my faith is costing me anything.

. . . . . . .

My flesh constantly wants to be comfortable.

It is constantly afraid of opposition.

My beautiful daughters. My incredible husband. My little circle.

In an instant I can lose it all, everything can come crashing down.

And I tell God I don’t want it!

I pray for everything to go well, be well.

I plead with Him.

Thing is, what my heart should really be crying out for is a steadfast spirit, a spirit that is not afraid, a spirit that is brave.

Because who are we kidding?

Even though there is power in our words and in what we believe, even though great faith pleases God, it’s not always about what we want and how we want it.

We can’t twist God’s arm.

We can declare again and again but we can’t avoid trials.

His plan involves struggle.

Genuinely following Him means walking through the fire.

Yet none of us want to.

. . . . . . .

While driving in the rain, stressed out and running late, I listen to Chris Fabry on the radio discussing the topic of faith.

“Faith without pain is what,” he asks, “what would you put in the blank?”

The calls start pouring in.

People from all over the nation share what it is to them personally.

One woman takes the words right out of my mouth.

“Faith without pain is shallow,” she says.

And ain’t that the truth!

You can say all you want about how much you trust God.

You can say all you want about how much you love Him.

You can sing and dance when everything is always flowing like honey.

But if you haven’t walked through raging flames, you have very little idea of what it means to truly worship Him.

To praise Him when no miracle or breakthrough is in sight.

To seek comfort in Him when it’s hard to hold on, hard to go on day in and day out.

I listen, I wipe my tears and nod.

Yes, yes, yes!

Faith without pain is shallow indeed.

. . . . . . .

Our desire for peaches and cream, cherry on top, blue skies and smooth sailing is completely understandable.

We are human.

We don’t want to hurt.

And there is one popular website that helps us chase the ideal life.

Pinterest.

I know it stirs creativity and inspiration.

But, it also encourages self preservation.

I scroll through all the beautiful images and within 20 minutes I am thinking about how I need to do something nicer with my hair.

I need to do my nails that color.

I really need to work on my thighs and my abs.

I need that denim vest.

I need that Chevron maxi skirt.

I need to put some festive pillows on my couch.

Actually, I probably need to redecorate my house altogether.

Soon my mind is flooded with thoughts of what I don’t have and I’m sitting there thinking about how to better my outer appearance, how to better the appearance of my home, how to dress my girls better, how to make my little world perfect because apparently it’s not perfect enough.

Make yourself comfortable, it whispers.

Focus on yourself.

Make yourself happy.

Fulfill those wants.

Seek more.

Get more.

I shut the computer off and dwell on the truth Ann Voskamp shared here.

She says it so well.

How we all want the prettiness of Pinterest but true beauty is found in wrestling with the ugliness of the world.

It’s about facing the injustices head on instead of turning a blind eye.

Being activists instead of hiding in our palaces.

Living sacrificially by disadvantaging ourselves.

This is what matters, this is the definition of beautiful.

. . . . . . .

I feel like sometimes our faith in Christ is filled with a whole lot of empty talk.

“Tell me what a man owns and I’ll tell you what he really believes in,” I read, “track a man’s time and it will show you who he really worships.”

I stare at the words, scribble them in my journal, and repeat them again because I am blown away.

This faith walk.

We make it all about us.

Our little bubble and it better not pop.

Then I watch this short film and every fiber of my being wants to scream in everyone’s face to snap out of it, to wake up.

Because my God, if our faith isn’t costing us anything then what do we really believe in, who are we really worshiping?

There is a world that needs us.

Us, believers, who talk so much about how blessed we are, how fortunate we are.

It needs us.

And yet we go on our merry way, filling our schedules over and over with pretty and splendid and fun, doing whatever feels good and easy.

. . . . . . .

Saturday morning I sit with my husband and we discuss taxes and bills, my next prenatal appointment, and what’s for dinner.

It’s the same ol’thing of dirty laundry and dirty dishes and the toilets need to be scrubbed and the girls are running wild in their room.

He drinks his coffee, I sip my tea and I tell him how tired I am, how the mundane sometimes drives me crazy, how I want to go on a vacation.

A long, long, long vacation where I can forget about everything.

And we dream for a bit then wander into the topic of suffering.

I tell him all the horrid stories I read about, how mind boggling big the harvest is, how the book Your Church Is Too Safe is wrecking me.

“I don’t want to live in that bubble of self worship,” I say, “I want to be brave.”

Many women out there are walking on a cloud of elegance and I want to ask them if they would be willing to get their hands dirty, if they would be willing to step out of their fancy brunch outing and into a world that is filthy and dangerous.

I think of the priest in Russia.

Father John Sergieff.

His every day thing was to go where none of us want to.

While people of privilege and status insulated themselves from that crowd of muck and misery, Pastor John did the opposite.

He would walk into the ugliest parts of the city filled with addicts, thieves, prostitutes, predators, orphans and widows.

He would lift their downcast faces with his hand and look into their eyes and tell them the most beautiful truth.

“This is beneath your dignity. You were created to house the glory of the living God.”

. . . . . . .

On my way home from a farmers market, I wait at a traffic light.

I look to my right and see a woman sitting on the edge of a sidewalk.

She’s covered in dirt, lost in thought, with no shoes and empty hands.

And I think of the words Sergieff spoke and they fill me with so much sadness.

Because I clearly see how much I have yet to learn about loving like Jesus does . . . . .

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the words spoken over me

Sara Joy

My phone alerts me that I am 20 weeks, that I have hit the halfway mark.

And I click on the app.

I read about how my baby is now the size of a banana and feel a bit queasy at the thought of my upcoming ultrasound.

There is excitement in finding out the gender but then there are also fear-stirring questions.

Because my mind tends to go there.

To that place of wondering if everything is okay.

No one ever walks into the exam room and expects to hear bad news.

Yet it happens.

Pregnant women receiving bomb dropping words that shake them to the core.

Baby’s organs not developing.

No kidneys.

Or no liver.

Or spinal cord complications.

Or no heart beat.

I hear the stories, I read the stories and they stop me dead in my tracks, they turn my stomach into knots.

. . . . . . .

It never really occurred to me that I could be pregnant.

My cycle was a few days late which was something I was accustomed to.

And it felt like I was moving into a different season in my life.

Where I was now a mother of much older children, with more time to accomplish some goals for myself.

But two nights before Christmas, as I quietly slipped into bed and made myself comfortable, I felt a leap in my stomach.

“You are going to have a girl.”

“You will name her Sara.”

“She will fill your home with joy unspeakable.”

And all of a sudden it seemed like I couldn’t catch my breath.

There were goose bumps all over me and I pulled the duvet over my chin and started to cry.

Because did the Holy Spirit really just whisper into my ear?

. . . . . . .

The following day I took the pregnancy test.

I went through a wave of emotions.

Shock. Fear. Anxiety. Doubt.

I have shared it all here and here and here.

All the while I have kept the precious moment of that one night all to myself, wondering if I heard correctly, if it actually happened and at times forgetting about the whole thing altogether.

Family and friends tell me I need boy.

Random people at the park, the deli department, the cashier line, they all tell me it’s a boy belly, that they’ve seen it countless times, and I smile and nod and tell them a healthy baby is all that matters.

Every night, my oldest clasps her hands together, shuts her eyes real tight and asks God to give her another baby sister.

And I go to bed dreaming the same scene over and over of bringing a little boy home.

Deep down in my gut I know it will be the exact opposite.

Then one evening, over dinner, my husband and I are discussing baby names and I decide to tell him the words that were spoken over me.

“Then it looks like it’s a girl for sure,” he says.

“Well . . . . lets just wait and see.” I respond.

. . . . . . .

When the ultrasound technician calls my name, I realize how tense I am.

My husband and I follow her through a long hallway into room #3 and quickly settle in.

She spreads the cold gel on my bare belly and before I know it, I see tiny legs and tiny hands at the screen in front of me and it all becomes even more real than before.

There is indeed a miracle growing inside me and I can’t help but feel all emotional and excited and anxious all at the same time.

After doing all the measurements, the technician looks at me and smiles.

“It’s a girl,” she says.

And a laugh escapes my mouth as I hear the words.

I look at my other half sitting beside me and we both laugh again.

A girl.

Another little girl!

Perfectly healthy and almost a pound.

“It sounds like you already knew. Do you have a name for her?” she asks, handing me some print outs.

“Yes,” I answer, “Sara Joy.”

Our sweet Sara Joy.

. . . . . . .

This morning, my oldest, who so fervently prayed, stuffs her mouth with cereal and looks at the profile image of her new baby sister hanging on the fridge.

“God heard me, mama,” she giggles, “He answered my prayer.”

And at that point I start to sob because I am in utter awe that God would speak to me.

That in the middle of all my plans, He came and ever so gently revealed His great plan and is beckoning me to trust Him . . . . . .

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