“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”—Deuteronomy 4:9
This past weekend, I attended a workshop about writing and God. It was called Field Notes, put on by the truly beautiful Jennifer Gerhardt, and it was all things wonderful and right and good. Jennifer shared her heart for community and relationships, her wisdom about writing, her eyes for…
Yesterday I drove from Austin, TX to Huntsville, AL in the pouring rain with two small children and no DVD player. And it was hard and good and long.
I forgot my auxiliary cord so I spent the day turning the radio dial, celebrating every clear, strong signal—no matter the station. I listened to Stuart Scott”s ESPY speech and an argument about the Seahawks’s chances next year. I listened to a sermon about light and to a guy who said immigrants ruin the economy. I listened to talk about GAZA and the Malaysian plane. Also to disco music and country music and songs about God.
I was listening to a song about God—to God, really—when my daughter London poured her crayons into a cup holder and stirred them wildly with her fingers. Loudly. So loudly. It was one of those chaos sounds that makes your skin crawl.
We’d been in the car for ten hours. We’d be in the car for six more.
And this sound was not stopping.
I was impatient and on edge and ready to pull over and leave the girls in the car and start walking. At the very least I was going to freak out about the crayon sound.
But then these lyrics came over the radio, a guy singing “let them see you in me.”
In the song, the speaker addresses God, asking God to shape him in God’s image. But in that moment, my knuckles white on the steering wheel, London stir crazy in the backseat, it was more like I heard God talking to me. I heard the lyrics inverted: “Let them see Me in you.”
And that was all the realignment I needed. I smiled at London in the rear view mirror. I asked her what she was doing—in my nice, asking-cause-I-actually-want-to-know voice. She said something about coloring. I told her I loved her. She smiled. The sound stopped.
And I drove down the road.
So often I hear God in short phrases like this one, in quick truths that re-frame the way I see in a moment.
When I watch my girls play I’ll occasionally call out to them. I’ll ask, “Are you being kind?” I’ll remind: “Don’t forget to share.” Or, my favorite, “Love your sister!”
I feel like God does the same thing for me, prompting me to make the right choice, reminding me of the life I’m committed to live. It’s like bumpers in bowling, His words keeping me out of the gutters.
Tonight I scrolled through my pictures, looking for some to feature in this weekend’s Field Notes workbook. I looked for pictures telling stories, pictures I took to remember, pictures I took to say thank you.
I found dozens. A hundred. Two. So many beautiful and true.
At this moment I’m sitting in bed writing, the blue computer light washing my little girl’s sleeping face. She tripped in the hall sleepwalking to the bathroom. Now she’s beside me, and she’s beautiful.
And sometimes awkward. And not always obedient. And occasionally a mess.
But so beautiful. Deep down beautiful.
She told God tonight in her prayer that she had a secret to tell Him, a secret about math, and that she’d tell Him later when I wasn’t listening. She called Him her Holy Master. She said, “We’re not like you” five or six times, lifting Him up as wonderfully different.
This is the daughter I’ve been given?
Just a minute ago I sent a message to a friend who’s doing me a gigantic favor. I’m still thinking about her and the favor and all the grace piling up on the doorstep of my life.
I told my mom about the favor. Mom said, “You have a generous friend.” I said, “She wasn’t even the only one who volunteered.” Mom said, “You have generous friends.”
In a few seconds (maybe before I finish this thought) I’ll make coffee. Texas pecan flavored coffee. My favorite. And I’ll write for my workshop on Saturday, a workshop full of women who love God with whole hearts, women alongside whom I’ll spend an entire day learning and growing, sharing and discovering.
I began these thoughts tired and distracted and ill, frustrated at to-do’s I didn’t want to do.
But then the pictures. And my daughter crawling into bed…
As I write, I’m reminded God is here. In the coffee. In my little girl. In my family of friends. In my work. In pixel-painted memories on my hard drive.
Writing has a way of reminding. Not just that. Writing has a way of minding…
This weekend I’ll host Field Notes: A Workshop in Writing to See. I’ll argue for the power of writing to shape a life. I’ll tell you writing opens your eyes to what’s close, forcing you into awareness and focus, enabling gratitude and joy. I’ll tell you writing can lead you closer to God. Or maybe that writing will awaken you to the God who’s close.
Please Stop Throwing Grenades: Thoughts on Polarity, Truth, Wisdom, and Not Being So Pokey on the Internet
It’s exhausting to be on the Internet these days.
Scrolling through my Facebook feed feels like navigating a war zone. With every click I cringe and prepare to pull shrapnel from my not thick skin.
[I know, I know. I should get off. But that’s not so easy for a blogger.]
My problem is less with the world being its inevitable fallen self and more with Christians—good-hearted, well-meaning Christians—who, like an annoying little brother, can’t seem to refrain from saying every thing they think about everything, tossing accusations into crowds like candy from a parade float.
Or like grenades…
I wonder how we found the time and space for so many quarrels that matter so little.
I worry we’ve made all of life into a quarrel, every decision an either/or. We can’t talk about anything important without arguing a side.
We see it in politics, a nation painted in blue and red, hardly even in shades.
We see it in parenting—attachment vs Baby Wise. breast vs bottle, home school vs public.
We see it in churches—Armenian or Calvinist, Amillenialist or Pre-Millenialist, Liberal or Conservative…
As if truth is tidy and always on the far end of a spectrum.
Here’s a simple example:
I read a status recently that said (in effect), “Stop posting so many pictures of your kids on Facebook. That’s inauthentic and self-aggrandizing and you’re missing your life.” I think there’s a grain of truth in that. I think we can photograph our children in an effort to fake happiness.
But it’s not true, not fully. Not when you know people who struggled for years to have children and who’re now giddily photographing every moment of a life they feel beyond blessed to parent. Or when you meet a friend who prays through her kids’ photos daily, photos she takes to remind herself of every God-given blessing, photos she shares out of joy, joy put in her heart by the Holy Spirit.
[I didn’t find a meme for that.]
Things, even simple things, are not always so easy to put in boxes.
Wisdom isn’t found in polarity, in screaming our ideas through a megaphone from one end zone to another. The wise man listens to all the voices, allowing them to commingle and cooperate, sorting them, pulling what’s good, discarding what’s bad.
Wisdom is thoughtful, measured, and often quiet, rarely found in the hyperbolic titles of online articles.
Meaningful discussions of important ideas require context, compassion and relationship. They allow for two things to BOTH be true.
So that homeschooling AND public schooling can both be good for the kingdom of God.
So that investing in small businesses AND investing in welfare can both be ways to love the poor.
So that kids who play games on tablets AND kids who’ve never touched a tablet can both grow into upstanding citizens and terrific human beings.
So that eating raw foods AND eating “regular” food can both be done in ways that honor God with our bodies.
So that people worried about men lusting AND people worried about women feeling shame can both appreciate and endorse healthy modesty.
We realize this when we stop accusing one another and start listening, when we stop injuring one another with our too-sharp words, aiming instead to understand.
My most popular blog posts have been the ones with punchy titles.
And I hate that.
But for a while I decided that’s just what I had to do.
So I accused you of not loving God.
And I tricked you into thinking maybe I didn’t like Sunday morning church.
I used the word “Sexy.”
And I called Peyton Manning a loser. To great effect.
It tires me to think that titles must be aggressive to be effective. But that’s what I’ve seen.
Back when I first started using Facebook, people would “poke” me. I never really knew what that meant. I figured, like Eve poking my shoulder at lunch, they wanted my attention.
But poking is the worst way to get attention. It’s annoying. And it hurts the people we’re trying to reach.
People don’t use the actual poke feature as much anymore. But they definitely still poke.
I’ve been known to poke.
And I’m going to stop.
Because injury incites injury and inhibits communication. Because oversimplification isn’t truth. And because life isn’t about picking sides.
As it is impossible to represent truth fully in any short blog post, here are two things I said that are both true and not true:
"As if truth is tidy"—Sometimes truth is tidy. Often it’s not.
"Because life isn’t about picking sides."—In a way it is. The purpose of life, it could be argued, is to align ourselves with God’s side. Of course, that means choosing good over evil, love over hate, peace over violence. In that way, life is definitely about picking sides.
Long Days, Prayer, and The Comfort of Familiar Words
Days with my daughters are long in June. The sun rises early and is stubborn to set.
Last Thursday for instance, up with the sun, movies and pretend, children racing through the hall, toys like debris, everywhere, I pushed through a day thick with chaos, wanting for routine, messy fun splashing, the kind that bruises and exhausts and leaves puddles.
At day’s end, I limped to their room, patience long gone, yawning… I stood above their beds, racing through a story and blessing. As I turned to extricate myself from the room (and the day) London called out, “Don’t forget the prayer!”
I turned, sat on London’s bed and prayed the only words I could muster:
"Our Father Who is in Heaven…"
And like water from a faucet the words tumbled out.
My girls joined me and together we prayed for the kingdom and bread and deliverance. Our words echoed, bouncing between our tired hearts.
Saying that prayer was like slipping into sweats, comfortable and reassuring and right.
I didn’t grow up with memorized prayers. I couldn’t quote The Lord’s Prayer until I was twenty nine. But saying it now, with my girls, all of us certain of each next word, is a gift—the gift of habit and routine and second nature.
It’s the gift of clean teeth we give our kids when we train them in tooth-brushing. The gift of manners we give them with every reminder to say please.
We train our children to do some things with their eyes closed. Because they are important things. And because sometimes we won’t want to do them but we should do them anyway.
Sometimes I feel like praying. I stretch out on the ground, face to the floor or lean back in my chair with a prayer journal and coffee. I prepare for those moments. I stretch out. I swim in the Spirit.
But sometimes I don’t want to pray. I’m tired or angry or just done. And I can’t make the words mean anything.
If in one of those moments, by some stroke of luck or blessing, I happen to start The Lord’s Prayer, I am rescued.
Rescued by a script that says the things I want to say but forget to say in the clutter of everyday living.
Rescued by a prayer that carries the memories of past times I prayed it, moments when God came close, moments when the kingdom did come.
I pray that prayer and the words, words written on my heart, stir something inside me—something I couldn’t have stirred on my own.
The Lord’s Prayer is second nature, something I can hardly override, the voice of God inside me speaking through me (despite me) to the the Lord my God in Heaven.
Thursday night I stayed in bed with the girls after the prayer. We talked about our day. We giggled. London kissed my cheek.
Like a reset button, our routine prayers had jarred us and set us right…
Dodgeball, Black Eyes, and Glorious Triumph: A Story About Trying Again
Last week my husband and I, my parents, and my kids went to Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park in Rochester, NY. If you’ve never been to a trampoline park, you Must. Go. We dunked basketballs, flipped into giant pits of foam, and played hardcore dodge ball. Yes, I’m 33. My dad’s 53.
So, we’re having a wonderful time—London is loving the foam pit. Eve’s bouncing in the trampoline room like some kind of adorable wind-up toy. Justin’s elbowing small children for a spot in line at the basketball goal—when we decide we should probably play dodge ball. We love dodge ball.
Justin and I saunter up to the dodge ball court, our five and six year olds in tow.
The dodge ball ref, probably amused at our grown-adult-ness, giggles a little. Then, he looks down at the girls. He cocks an eyebrow. “Are you sure?” he asks.
I pick up a ball and examine it. I look around the room at the players, and make quick calculations. I think, “They can handle this.”
The first round just Eve and I play. She jumps in the back for the entire game, hopping from here to there like a woodland fairy. Nobody ever throws a ball her way.
I am encouraged.
The whole family plays round two. Eve continues her practice of intentional disengagement. London though, she’s IN it. She chases balls. She throws them. She positions herself in highly vulnerable areas…
About two minutes into the game, London is flanking her dad when a nine year old boy pulls back and takes his very best shot at Justin’s left thigh. Justin, reflexes like a mongoose, jumps out of the way unintentionally opening his much-shorter daughter up to the full impact of the ball.
And it hits her. In the face.
I sweep her up into my arms and jump-run off the court to a nearby bench. London cries. A lot. Her eye swells. I watch people watch me, my face painted in guilt.
I tell her she’s tough.
Later her dad gives her the good and bad injuries speech (earned through bravery=good, earned through stupidity=bad). He tells her she’s brave. She cries a little less.
We try very hard to make her feel better.
We abandon the dodge ball court for the foam pit where she and I resolve to do infinity twist jumps (her favorite) to erase all memory of the incident.
But after jump twelve or so she grabs my hand. I look down at her precious swollen face to find her serious and resolved. She says, “Mom, I’m ready.”
"Ready for what?" I ask.
"For dodge ball," she says, one eyebrow lifted, her smile cocksure. "Let’s go."
And off she ran to the dodge ball court where she and I played dodge ball for twenty minutes, her playing like a rookie soldier at war—terrified, cocky, inexperienced, determined, reckless and brave.
It was one of my favorite parenting moments ever.
Because she tried again.
In the face of failure and pain and so much fear, she decided, without prompting, that she should give it another shot.
Theodore Roosevelt once said in a speech called “The Strenuous Life,”
Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
Last week I watched London, her very face checkered by failure, achieve a glorious triumph.
And I was so proud…
*I never said the word “God” in this post, but I imagine you see Him there as much as I do—the God who called his son to much suffering and pain in pursuit of the ultimate, truest, glorious triumph, who calls his sons and daughters to risk, to shake off the dust of failure, and to be people who are ever and always trying again.
I doubt God cares much about dodge ball. I suspect He cares very much about resilience and courage and hope.
I was thinking of giving up on my "BIBLE READING BLOG" . ."PURESILVERWORDS" until you responded to me That morning I prayed &asked the father to show me a sign to keep trying "then" BLESS YOUR HEART " I got my answer GOD bless You !
:) Praise God for using us small people. Keep up the good, hard work!
So many of you said this is the reason, the actual (ugly) reason for your failure to read. And I was so impressed with your honesty.
Yes. We’re lazy.
Scientists say it’s because our body is always fighting to expend the least possible energy—never know when you’ll run out food and need fat stores. Thus, our constant effort to conserve.
It also has a lot to do with habit. Every time we choose against action our body becomes more likely to make the same choice again.
We don’t read our Bibles for much the same reason we don’t exercise.
So, I’ve decided to approach your Bible reading like a workout plan. Imagine #operationreadmybible is a Couch to 5K.
Follow these steps to crush laziness:
1. Start where you are. If you’re new, start small and start with what you understand. Read for five minutes a day in the book of Mark. If you really like poetry, start in Psalms. If you want super-practical, go with James. Slowly increase how much you read and the complexity of what you read as you build endurance and strength. If you try to overdo it on the first day, you’ll burn out.
2. Make a habit. Whatever you decide (five minutes on your lunch break, twenty in the morning over coffee, an hour after work…), do it. Do it every single day. Even when it hurts. Even when you don’t want to. And eventually it’ll be second nature. Habits are powerful. Harness them for good.
3. Seek accountability. Even if it’ just crossing “Read my Bible” off a to-do list, find a way to hold yourself accountable. You might tell two or three friends what you’re doing or join an online Bible study group.
4. Reward good behavior. What’s rewarded is repeated. Give yourself a treat after a week of faithful reading. Maybe a month of reading earns you a new Bible. Too, be watching your life. Notice the improvements in your thoughts and behavior. When you pay attention to the good work God’s doing through His Word, you’re way more likely to return to it.
5. Pray for help. What? You don’t pray before your workouts? ;) Remember, God will help you beat laziness. Ask for help and He’ll provide.
My friend Rusty confessed sometimes he doesn’t read his Bible because he’s afraid of “transformation.”
This is a good reason not to read the Bible.
Because transformation happens when you read it.
And transformation sometimes hurts.
[You know the saying—don’t pray for patience… Friends of mine say "Don’t read James…"]
When we’re thinking clearly, when the wisdom kicks in, we know transformation is good. It’s butterfly stuff—pulling us up off our dirt-smudged bellies, sprouting wings—wings waiting inside us—through the skin and bones of our burden-heavy backs.
Psalm 130 reads:
"So I wait for the Eternal—my soul awaits rescue— and I put my hope in His transforming word.”
Hope comes in the Word that makes princes of paupers, daughters of orphans, luminescence grown in the dark.
Transformation is rescue.
And if you read the book, you will find rescue…
Rescue from your master—food, sex, approval, money.
Rescue from your forever fate.
Rescue from the boring life you’re destined to lead apart from the life-giving, life-shaping Word, ever-calling you to live with courage and compassion.
Yes, if you skip out on Bible reading you can escape the pain of transformation, but you’ll also miss the thrill of flight.
#operationreadmybible (Part 6: What if I don't like it?)
Here’s what I’ve learned about the most beautiful things: they’re hard to appreciate at first.
Like, I don’t know, mothering, let’s say. Mothering is exhausting. And hard. And, at least for me, the early “pay off” was pretty low. A smile every so often. Maybe, if you’re lucky, your kid will say say your name before he learns the word for dinosaur (but inevitably after he learns dad, plane, and dog).
You have to work really hard at mothering but eventually, after a long time, you get the hang of it and it’s not so hard, and you start seeing the blessings in the effort.
Reading your Bible is like that.
Or like learning to drink black coffee. Which is gross at first. Ten cups in it’s still gross. But a year from that first cup you’ll be rhapsodizing and posting memes to your Facebook wall.
Reading the Bible for the first time isn’t exactly gross (it can be great), but it’s nothing like reading the Bible for the hundredth time.
It gets SO MUCH better.
If you struggle to read your Bible because it’s not delicious, don’t worry, it will be. If you keep reading.
My advice: Get yourself a habit.
Sit down. Open the book. Read.
Do that every day for thirty days and you’ll be well on your way to learning to like Bible reading.
To close, here’s a thought from my friend Jennifer on what a Bible reading habit can grow into:
I read my Bible because it reaches deep into me with words I cannot express on my own.
I read the Bible because it speaks to me and reveals a God my soul longs for.
I read the Bible because the story is fascinating.
I read the Bible because it really is food. I read it because it admonishes, and teaches, and encourages, and slaps me across the face sometimes.
I read it because it is lovely.
But it took years of reading and years of studying before I finally got to this point.
So, we hit on this earlier with the I’m too tired excuse, but I think there’s more to say about busy-ness.
If you’re not reading your Bible because you’re too busy, you’re probably not too busy; you’re either bad at managing your time or you don’t think reading your Bible is worth prioritizing.
No judgment. Just the facts.
The priorities thing is a decision you have to make: Do you actually want to read your Bible? If you do, you have to decide that it’s more important than watching Homeland. You can do both if you have time. But if you’re only going to do one, pick the one that’s your priority.
A couple years ago, I chose five priorities, five things I would do every day no matter what. And I did them. Every day. Lots of other stuff didn’t get done, but those five things always did. Because they mattered most. Reading my Bible was on that list.
Some of you do see Bible reading as a priority, but you’re not-so-good at managing your time. When you aren’t intentional with your time, it leaks, and you can’t get it back.
Do you ever find yourself on Facebook or Tumblr and you look at the clock and realize you’re been there for twenty minutes and you don’t even remember logging on? Or maybe you’ve been watching episodes of your latest binge show on Netflix. You meant to watch one episode and now you’re three in.
This is what happens when we don’t take command of our time, when we allow distractions to eat our schedules.
What if instead we set limits for our Internet use and stuck to them? What if we set up boundaries for how much tv we’d watch and stayed within them?
What if we said “I will not answer work emails after eight o’clock” and then we actually kept our word?
That’s the kind of intentional scheduling it takes to live the life you want to live instead of the life thrust upon you. That’s what it takes to have time for meaningful interaction with God’s word. You have to eliminate the junk to make room for the good stuff.
Once you’ve made room, commit to a daily practice of reading. Choose a specific time and place.
For some of you, it’ll be first-thing-in-the-morning breakfast with the Holy Spirit or lunch in the break room. You might read the minute the kids are in bed. Maybe the best time for you is after school before soccer practice. Maybe you’ll read your Bible every day in the pickup line at your kids’ school.
Whatever the magic time is for you, preferably a time you’re not sleepy, grab it. Stick a flag in the seven a.m. spot and claim it for Bible reading. Make it your standing appointment and don’t cancel it for anything.
Okay, so what do you do when you know it would be good to read your Bible, you want to encounter God in the Word, BUT you hate to read?
Maybe you’re dyslexic. Maybe you just haven’t ever found the right book. Maybe the idea of sitting still for more than two minutes distresses you. (My cousin Timmy says he has a “math brain.”) Maybe you’re one of the 32 million American adults who can’t read.
Whatever your reason, you’re not alone. Almost a third of Americans didn’t read a single book last year.
That makes Bible reading a hard sell.
Lucky for you, you don’t have to read the Bible. You can listen to it.
Just about every Bible app for you phone will include an audio Bible.
Plug it into your car during your daily commute.
Listen to it while you fold laundry or pay the bills.
Or, if your problem is reading skill, open your Bible and read along.
My friend Kelly recently started listening to her Bible. Here’s what she says:
“ I have been doing very well recently with my audio Bible on my phone. I’m finding it very easy to listen when I’m doing mindless tasks like laundry and dishes. I never realized before what an auditory learner I am; I’m able to study longer than other methods and I’m having many insights that never caught my attention before.
Listening to the Bible isn’t second-class reading. It counts just the same. :)
For those of you who’re visual learners, you might consider the growing options in Bibles modeled after graphic novels like The Action Bible. Here’s a sample page:
Finally, for the person who really dislikes reading, I’d suggest joining a Bible study group. Lots of you reading-haters are extroverts. Sorry for the stereotype, but, alas, it’s a stereotype for a reason. You like being with people, not sitting alone in a room with a book.
Why not sit in a room of people with a book? :)
Reading the Bible with a group is a great way to get your Bible-reading feet wet. My church offers Bible study groups for men and women during the week. Lots of churches do. If yours doesn’t, Google. It’s highly likely you’ll be able to find a church close to you offering just what you need.
When I asked the question “Why don’t you read the Bible as much as you want to?” one of the most frequent responses went something like this:
I’m tired and thus selfish with my free time, and I want to be entertained. I’m too worn out to think or learn.
I completely understand.
You’ve spent all day at work, stayed up all night studying for a test. Maybe you spent hours chasing and wrangling and teaching and punishing your brood of kids. You paid bills and made phone calls to your landlord. You mowed the lawn. You sent like six hundred emails.
Of course you’re tired.
Who wants to pile on another responsibility at the end of the day?
If this resonates, I think you need to hear this:
Bible reading is NOT something you do for God. Bible reading is something God does for you.
Reading your Bible isn’t another task to be done. It might feel like that at first, but it’s not. It’s a help for doing all the tasks. My friend Whitney said it’s like taking your vitamins. And it is, but more.
I know it’s hard to believe, but making time for Bible reading dramatically changes the course, pace, and mood of your day (and life).
When I read the Bible, I get stuff done. I smile a lot. I respond to my kids with patience. When I don’t read the Bible, I don’t.
Bill Hybels wrote, “You’re too busy not to pray.” I feel exactly the same way about reading the Bible.
When you read the Bible, God fills you. He grows you. He shapes you. He comforts you. He leads you into joy and hope.
He doesn’t just tell you to become a better person; the act of reading itself awakens the Spirit inside you and begins the work of transformation. And when you’re a better person, life is easier to live. You make fewer consequence-spilling mistakes. You build more bridges. You have healthy priorities…
You can’t handle your life by yourself. It’s too hard. You will certainly run yourself into the ground.
But. If you look to the Word of God for strength and courage and hope, you can make it.
If you’re tired, you’re too tired not to read your Bible.
I challenge you to read every day for three weeks and see if you’re more or less tired at the end.
We’ll end with these words from David in Psalm 119 about the Word of God:
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life…
Let me live that I may praise you, and may your laws sustain me.
P.S. Here’s a list of people who (at the height of their power) weren’t too tired to regularly read the Bible (this is not a blanket endorsement of these men, just a clear indication that anybody can make time for Bible reading):
I don’t read my Bible (even though I want to) because
I don’t understand it.
This is one of the harder reasons to get past. Because you can’t just muster some willpower and understand your Bible. You can’t discipline yourself into understanding the words on the page.
So how do you go about understanding what you don’t understand? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Concentrate. Don’t read in front of the TV. Put away your phone. Turn down the radio. And focus on the words.
2. Pray. Before you read, ask God to help you understand what you’re reading. I like to pray this from Psalm 119: “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.”
3. Pick a modern translation. If you’re struggling to understand the Bible, it might be because your translation’s out of date. Consider two brand new translations (NOT paraphrases): The Voice Bible or The Kingdom New Testament (Message me if you’re wondering what a translation is).
4. Read the introductions and footnotes. If you’re not using a study Bible, use one. And when you do, be sure to read book introductions and footnotes. Those things are money. They explain context. And context is key to understanding.
5. Practice good reading habits. Here’s where the English teacher in me comes out… When you read, you are guaranteed to comprehend more if you intentionally interact with the text. Meaning: Highlight stuff. Make notes. Jot questions in the margins. Write modern examples beside Bible commands. In other words, talk back. A messy Bible is a happy Bible.
6. Use the Google. Never before in history has it been so easy to get answers to your questions. Who were the Pharisees? What’s a tabernacle? What makes a prophet a prophet? Why is this book broken up into numbered sentences? All of these are easy questions to answer. Ask the Internet.
7. Phone a friend. You probably have a friend who knows more about the Bible than you do. Text questions. He or she will be delighted to help.
8. Don’t get hung up. There are things in the Bible you will not understand. Don’t worry about it. Focus on what you do understand. I promise you’ll find plenty. Each time you return to a text you’ll bring more knowledge and more experience. So what you miss this time, you’ll probably catch next time. I mean, you’re going to be reading this book for the rest of your life. Leave something for later. :)
Do you have more suggestions for confused Bible readers? Share in the comments.
For those of you who don’t read the Bible as much as you wish you did, Why don’t you read more?
What’s the obstacle/hang-up?
Be real here, folks.
And, alas, you were so real.
I received more than fifty reasons. And they are very familiar…
I asked the question because even though I do read the Bible on a pretty much daily basis, I still (STILL) struggle to get my rump in a chair and pick up the book. That’s despite the fact that I think it’s one of three things most changing me into the image of Christ and despite the fact that I LOVE doing it.
STILL it’s hard.
So, I thought I’d spend the next couple days responding to your (our) reasons, taking them one at a time.
I’m not going to guilt anybody for their struggles, but I am going to challenge you to push past the excuses. My goal is to equip you for the fight. Because it’s a fight worth fighting.
Reading the Bible will, I promise, change your life.
So, let’s get started…
Reason #1 I don’t read my Bible:
I don’t even know where to start.
Excellent reason. :)
A lot of people pick up the Bible and try to read it like a novel: start at the beginning and read straight through. If you don’t know much about the Bible, this is probably a bad idea. Genesis isn’t too hard (a little weird, for sure), but pretty quickly you find yourself in Leviticus waist deep in Levitical law, reading about weird stuff like pus and how to butcher a lamb.
Here’s the advice I give all beginning readers of the Bible: Read a gospel. That means Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Mark’s the shortest. And Luke’s good because it leads straight into another book written by Luke: Acts.
I like the gospels because they’re about Jesus. And you probably know Jesus. At least a little.
Start with what’s most familiar.
Next, I suggest Acts. Then maybe one of the smaller epistles like Colossians, Phillipians, James, or I John.
With the Old Testament, Psalms is great because the chapters are short, and again, some of them are familiar. Read the Psalms like you’d read song lyrics.
So, that’s where to start.
You just have to jump in. Pick an easy book and read it. Devotedly. Read a chapter a day. Or half a chapter. Whatever.
Follow this series of posts by searching the hashtag #operationreadmybible
I read your "I Hate Talking About Modesty" post. I agree with you in that modesty should be about a mental state rather than physical. I am a devoted Christian but when it comes to summer, I love bikinis. Although just because I wear them doesn't change the fact that I try to love and show God's compassion in my everyday life. At times being more conservative with clothes is appropriate and I do respect and follow that. But like you said, modesty shouldn't be about shaming a girl's choices.
Hey! Thanks for reading!
On your comment: Exactly—modesty ought not be about shaming. I hate that discussions of modesty so often end up there.
I do though think modesty is manifested in our physical choices. And I think we have to wrestle with what we wear on a personal level. Every individual needs to ask questions of her clothes (like the ones I mentioned in that post).
When we separate our spiritual health from our actions, we disembody our faith. Faith wears flesh, and what we do with that flesh shapes the way others understand faith.
So… once you’ve thought about what modesty should look like (read, pray, ask wise people), make sure you follow through and set some personal standards for dress and behavior.
All I ever want is for girls to seek God, following Him into further discipleship every day. Tie your heart to God, and then follow your heart.
Have a great day!
**If you’re interested in studying more about modesty, consider my resource "(Not that) Modesty." It includes articles, links, a video interview, and a study curriculum—all of it centered on shaping our HEARTS and allowing our hearts to direct our choices.
Hard Is Good: Encouragement For Hard-Working Women
It’s hard to be a human.
I say that to my girls almost every day. Because it’s true. And because sometimes we need reminding that “hard” is a natural (and healthy) state.
Life doesn’t have to be easy to be good. In fact, hard is usually better, more satisfying, more rewarding.
I read Proverbs 31 tonight, read about that infamous woman selling and cleaning and cooking and sewing and respecting, up before dawn, up late into the night…
A lot of people talk about the virtuous woman like she’s some kind of pipe dream, an ideal but not a reality.
Last night, really looking at the text, I was surprised to realize I know a lot of women living into the Proverbs 31 path—diligent, hardworking women selflessly serving their families and the kingdom of God.
The virtuous woman is up before the sun to make breakfast and dress the kids, to get one to school and another to just, please, come on and put on her shoes.
She bounces between paying bills and running errands and washing clothes and doing dishes and writing blog posts/checking in with her Etsy store/editing a photo shoot/working a full time job.
She prepares to teach Bible class and helps out with her husband’s work, dropping off food at the office, grabbing that thing he needs from Target. She’s kind to him even when it’s hard.
She serves God by mentoring young mothers or painting or planning fundraisers for God honoring non-profits.
She reads bedtime stories and does the dishes again and folds laundry and writes/sews/grades papers some more until it’s midnight and she’s still at her desk.
Does that sound at all familiar? Of course it does. The virtuous woman isn’t some pie-in-the-sky ideal. You know women like this. You might be a woman like this.
I hear people read this passage and say, “That sounds exhausting.” And I laugh and say, “It is.” I know from experience and I know from observation, offering up your life to hard work IS exhausting. I hear from women every day who’re tired. But they keep waking up before the sun, buying groceries, making sure their kids have coats, baking cupcakes for school parties, planning museum events, writing poems…
After I read Proverbs 31, I flipped to Isaiah and read the first chapter I came across, chapter 40.
I read this:
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Perhaps you, like me, sometimes feel weary. Maybe hard seems too hard and you’d just prefer to give up, to crawl under the covers and take a month long nap.
I feel you.
Maybe you’re in a marriage that’s entirely one-sided. Maybe you’re working a sixteen hour day, chasing toddlers, changing diapers, disciplining and cleaning and crying. Maybe you’re living on a super-tight budget, scrimping and saving so you can give. Maybe you’re devoting hours every day to a dream that doesn’t seem to be gaining any traction.
I know it seems hard. It is hard. And it’s good.
This work you’re doing is good work. It’s the kind of work that lasts and matters.
The Proverbs writer says of the virtuous woman: “Honor her for all that her hands have done and let her works bring her praise.”
What this woman did charted the course for her family. Her daily self-discipline and industry are an eternal blessing to her husband and children.
It’s okay if you’re tired after work like that. It makes sense. Winston Churchill said, “The world is run by tired men.” (I’m sure his wife said, “The world is run by tired women.”) People who work hard are tired.
Remember, too, that God is here for you. He wants to enable your hard work, to renew you and strengthen you.
He will help you run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.
You cannot do this without Him, no matter how hard you try.
Pray for His help.
Walk with purpose into the works He’s prepared for you to do.
Read His life-giving words in your Bible.
Seek perspective in hope.
Find comfort and courage in the community of believers.
Depend on the Lord and not your own failing strength.
And I promise, if you do that, you will always have all you need—enough energy, enough strength, enough joy, enough.
Being a human is hard, but with God, it’s the best kind of hard there is.
Remembering Our Heroes: A Post For The Day After Memorial Day
Last Sunday my husband and I prepped for Bible class together. We’d been studying I Corinthians. As we finished, Justin prayed—that we’d speak clearly, that God’s message would be heard, that people would change and grow in the light of God’s truth. But then he shifted gears and began thanking God for the writer of I Corinthians, Paul. He thanked God for a man who would give up so much of his life for the kingdom, a man who loved God’s people with all his might, a man faithful to God’s call. And by the time Justin finished praying, we were both crying.
About Paul. -
Yesterday was Memorial Day and as my husband and I pickled radishes and diced pineapple we talked about our heroes, people who gave their lives in service to something honorable and good.
London said her hero was Jesus. London is always playing the trump card too early, making all other answers seem small.
Justin mentioned Martin Luther King. I thought of writers who’d tried to understand the world, writing themselves into dark corners, devoting their lives to understanding pain, suffering, and hopelessness. I’m blessed by their sacrifice.
We thought of veterans, of course, but quickly we started thinking of another sort of veteran, too. We thought of the men and women in our Bible, people who so often sacrificed everything to further the reign of God.
People like David who didn’t choose what their lives might look like, but walked with trust into the role God asked them to play.
People like Moses, the most humble man ever to live, who spent every day of his ministry in the company of a difficult to lead, hard to discipline, not particularly grateful nation—all because God asked him to do it.
People like Abraham who were willing to give up everything, even the things most precious to them, in service to a plan they didn’t quite understand.
People like Peter and John, Mary, Stephen—people who lived lives much harder than the lives other people lived and (likely) died deaths harder, too. Because they loved Jesus. Because they served God.
People like the faithful in Hebrews 11, people “of whom the world was not worthy.”
For a moment yesterday, standing in our kitchen, tears welling in the corners of our eyes, my husband and I paused to remember the fallen, our brothers and sisters who gave up so much in service to the growing kingdom of God, the kingdom to which I belong and in which I serve.
As I think about those heroes, warriors of light who’ve gone before me and prepared the way for me and my children, I think two things:
1. We don’t give them enough respect.
On Memorial Day, everyone respects soldiers. Even us pacifists respect soldiers. We speak only of honor and bravery and sacrifice. Sure, we realize soldiers aren’t perfect people. We know they’re actually just normal, messed up humans. But in the face of what seems like such an enormous sacrifice, we skip over that stuff. Cause it’s not what’s most important.
I’ve noticed lately that when we Christians study the Bible, we sometimes approach the people in it with an air of superiority—like kids do when they grow up and look back at their parents, eager to point out the mistakes.
We say Peter, for example, was impetuous. Sometimes we say he was stupid. How could Jesus tell he and the apostles something a dozen times and not have them understand? How thick-headed must a person be? And it’s like we forget that Jesus said the kingdom would be built on Peter’s confession, that three thousand people came to faith during Peter’s first sermon, that Peter walked on water, and that Peter likely died a martyr for the cause of Christ.
I’m hoping at my funeral people aren’t sitting around talking about that time I doubted at the expense of the many more times I chose faith.
I wish we respected the people in the Bible more. They were noble and honorable, people of integrity and courage. Sometimes, as all people do, they made mistakes. But their legacy is one of service to the King.
2. We don’t give ourselves enough respect.
I think the reason we don’t heap respect and honor upon our brothers and sisters who’ve gone before us, the reason we hesitate to make them heroes, is that we don’t see ourselves as heroes. And we want to believe we could be like them.
So, we emphasize their mistakes and play up their “ordinariness.” Because it makes us feel like we’re like them.
We are like them. And they’re heroes.
That means we can be heroes, too.
Our calling as people of God is to live as servants to the mission of God, to give up everything to further the kingdom. We are called to be brave, to persevere in hardship, to be full of joy in trials, to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are light and salt.
We are warriors, servants, rescuers. And we do it all for the glory of God.
We’re nothing, of course, without Christ. But with Christ, we are sons and daughters of the King—noble and worthy of respect. Especially from ourselves.
Let’s live into the lives for which we were created.
Hebrews 12 begins:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
People have gone before us. Brave men and women. And because of them, we are inspired and encouraged to run the race set before us, to lay aside sin, to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed and to live anew in the presence of the throne of God.
Today, on the day after Memorial Day, I ask you to join me in honoring those who are asleep. In their memory, fight on and fight well.
Why Preschool Graduation Doesn't Freak Me Out: Two Ways I'm Parenting With The End In Mind
Today is preschool graduation. I spent the morning convincing my youngest to wear her cap and gown. The only thing she he hates more than uncomfortable clothing, most all clothing really, are uncomfortable and unnecessary accessories. This cap and gown thing is pretty much worst case.
She’s excited about graduation though. I’ve heard her sing the “Kindergarten, Here We Come” song a dozen times, even walked in on her singing it in the mirror, clearly pleased with her own performance. She’s ready for what comes next.
And you know, I think I am too.
After today, after Eve walks down a church aisle in her ridiculous cap and gown (assuming we convince her to wear it), both of my children will be school-aged.
I won’t burden you with a sentimental digression—it seems like only yesterday when…—but I will say it goes by so quickly. And so slowly. But also quickly.
What will I do with these tiny people rapidly transforming into medium-sized people, determined to grow up into big people?
I spent the second half of my morning researching acting classes for my eldest.
This is a preposterous notion—that MY child would ever take acting lessons. I can’t imagine anything more terrifying. Crazier still, that Justin Gerhardt’s child might be an actress. Justin, who was so shy as a child he had to call his mom and go home one day in kindergarten because he’d worn his pants backward and couldn’t bear going back to class—too humiliating.
We are a socially cautious pair, self aware and restrained.
But we have this daughter who is so unlike us. She’s full of energy, wild in the best way. She talks in voices and dresses like a super hero to go to the store. She doesn’t care what people think of what she wears or how she does her hair or what book she picks at the library. She is entirely herself (when she’s not pretending to be someone else).
I started writing this morning without a clear path in mind, but what’s emerging for me as I consider my girls growing up is the reality that my job as their mother is to prepare them for the future by empowering them in the present.
My goal as London and Eve’s mom is to help them grow into the people God made them to be.
To do that, I have to:
1. See them as individuals, made by God and gifted by God uniquely.
2. See them as a someday-adults, not just as a right-now kids.
Both of these tasks are terrifically hard.
Because it’s so easy to see our kids as tiny versions of ourselves. They look like us. They talk like us. But they’re not us.
So, we ought to consider them, listen to them, watch them and prod them, trying to figure out who they are and what they were made to do.
I ask my kids questions constantly. I ask questions about what makes them happy, questions about what’s hard and what’s easy, questions about their favorites and least favorites. I observe them closely in new situations. And I try to assess what it is about certain tasks or experiences that make them light up or turn off.
My goal in all of this is to put them in the best stream—to equip them for their future, helping them compensate for their weaknesses and run unfettered in their areas of strength.
That’s why I’m looking at acting classes for London instead of signing her up for soccer. We tried soccer. Her dad played soccer as a kid. Soccer’s fun for us to watch. But London was not made for soccer. That became abundantly clear at the first practice. (Eve’s not made for soccer either, at least right now. She’s going to need to get over her accessories abhorrence.) So we’re trying something else, something that seems right for her, exactly as she is.
It’s also hard to see our kids as soon-to-be adults, to parent in light of their inevitable future.
[I say this all the time, and I promise you I’m not kidding, my goal for my girls is to have them ready by the age of 14 to run a household. We are woefully behind on this plan, but still.]
We live this out by doing things that may seem a little unconventional. For example, we let London cook on the stove with supervision and we let her use a real knife to cut vegetables.
We let Eve go to the bathroom by herself as restaurants.
We make the girls clean up after themselves at dinner.
We let them play in the front yard without our needing to be present.
But it’s not just about teaching them to be independent, it’s also about training them to live out their calling.
So that means we take London to hospitals and funerals, even when she might seem out of place, because she has a clear gift of empathy and needs opportunities to train in how to use it.
With Eve, we’re exercising her gift of making friends with strangers, teaching her how to be safe and wise in addition to encouraging her to strike up conversations with our neighbors and random kids on a playground.
One day our kids will need to navigate the world without us. We want them to be ready to step into the good works God prepared ahead of time for them to do.
My sister in law asked me to write about parenting recently, and I laughed. I know she thinks my kids are great, but she’s very biased. They’re growing…
I think the reason she brought it up had more to do with my parenting attitude, meaning: I’m calm. I’m not the best parent. But I’m not freaking out.
These two priorities are the reason.
When I consider that my goal is to get my kids ready for being who they were made to be, I don’t stress out about who they are now. I realize they’re in transition. I realize we have time to make changes. Parenting is about playing the long game.
Also, when I see my kids as individuals, I learn how to parent them well. I have parenting tricks for London that don’t work for Eve. I don’t even try them on Eve. Similarly, I don’t spank London. No need. I have better tools in my belt.
Also, I don’t spend time trying to cram my kids into a box. And there’s so much freedom and peace in that. Small example: I don’t make them wear bows. London does—she loves bows. Eve doesn’t—she hates bows. Either way, I’m not fighting with my children about unnecessary head wear. Accepting your kids’ quirks eliminates unnecessary conflict.
So, for those of us who are parents, I’m convinced we need to see our kids as individuals, made by God and gifted by God uniquely, and see them as a someday-adults, not just as a right-now-kids.
These two guidelines are good for our kids, and they’re good for us. It’s a delight to have children capable of independence. And it’s so much easier to parent your children when you understand the way they work.
Okay—gotta go; it’s graduation time. And I’m excited.
Where Everybody Shares: Reimagining The Sunday Worship Gathering
Sometimes I wish I could peek in at a Jerusalem worship service during those first few months after Peter’s message on Pentecost. I’d sneak in the back door of some guy’s house and make my way into the courtyard and push into the crowd. I’d listen to men and women prophesying. I’d pray with whoever felt called to pray and sing with anyone who “[had] a hymn.” I’d sit at a crowded table and dip my bread in oil as I laughed and listened to stories over communion.
I’m a worship junkie. I’ve loved going to worship (in whatever form) my whole life. I’ve attended all night singing meetings and 24 hour prayer vigils, Good Friday mass and Christmas morning service. I will sing and pray and listen to the Word of God read and explained however and whenever I can.
I love all the kinds of worship.
My favorite worship experiences though are the ones that feel home grown—the times I gather with a group of God-loving people and worship just seems to erupt, when one person says something they’ve been thinking and another person reads a scripture that comes to mind and the next thing you know we’re singing for an hour and praying, hand in hand.
I think of communion over breakfast in my apartment in Brooklyn, blessings shared, praise offered, as we each answered the prompt, “Because Jesus died and rose again…”
I think of singing in China with a house church, everyone crammed in a tiny apartment living room, English and Chinese co-mingling in song, sermons interrupted by thoughtful, submissive questions.
I think of a Sunday night at Pinellas Park church of Christ when I was thirteen maybe and a man I knew and loved came forward and asked to talk to the congregation and he told us about his addiction to cigarettes and asked us to help him break free.
I think of all the times at South Johns Street Church of Christ when members would sing like their lives depended on it, throwing in flourishes and rolls and the occasional “Thank you, Jesus.”
In those moments, worship felt like something shared.
In I Corinthians 14:26 Paul writes, “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.” I’ve mentioned this before, but what I can’t help noticing about this passage is Paul’s certainty that everybody would bring something to worship. He describes the gathering as a time when people shared.
I don’t think that’s the way most of us think about Sunday morning church.
We structure Sunday worship around the member’s receiving something—from the Bible class teacher, the preacher, the song leader—and that’s not bad. Not so long as members are also encouraged to give something.
The Sunday worship gathering is not somewhere we go to take. It’s somewhere we go to share—to teach and be taught, to encourage and be encouraged, to hear a word of instruction and offer one, too.
It’s the place we pour out what’s spilling over from our week of walking with God. And the place we sop up what’s spilling out of everybody else.
When I first made notes for this post I jotted down the phrase “the importance of hearing all the voices.”
It was inspired by a panel discussion in my Sunday Bible class. We had four people, two men and two women of varying ages, answer questions about a time or way they’d experienced God’s power in their weakness.
We heard from a woman who’d been diagnosed as ADHD as an adult. From a man with bipolar. From a woman who’d recently lost her brother (and his family) to a car wreck and who was now raising her brother’s only surviving child. From a man once crippled by insecurity.
All of them told beautiful stories of the way God had worked in their lives, quoting scripture, offering encouragement… It was perfect.
The whole time I was listening to them talk I was thinking, this is what I want to do every Sunday. I want to listen to my brothers and sisters—people who’re walking in the light as He is in the light. I want to be reminded that faithfulness is possible. I want to be reminded that I’m not alone in my struggles. I want to know how to beat temptation and persevere in joy and grow in knowledge, and I want to learn it from my family—these people who are following Christ into victory.
My church family tries very hard to make this kind of thing happen. We have an entire section on our website called “stories” where we catalog in video form the testimonies of our members. Too, our preacher regularly requests and includes stories from our members in his sermons. We have a long way to go—so many more stories to be harvested and shared—but we’re trying. Because every one of God’s children has something worth sharing.
Bottom line: We need to hear from more of the body more of the time. We need to make Sundays a place where people feel comfortable fully participating, a place where meaningful sharing happens.
It’ll look different in every congregation, and it may require some creativity. But regardless of how it plays out, it ought to be a goal.
Because God wants to speak to your church, and while He’s happy to do it through your preacher, He also wants to use your grandmother and the recovering alcoholic at the end of the pew.
Lately my girls are obsessed with “perfect days.” I was too when I was little. I chased them like the unicorns they are.
A perfect day is a day in which you make perfect choices, a day with no missteps, no failures, and (especially) no sin. My girls say it’s a day when you never (not even one time) listen to temptation.
I remember sitting at my desk in fourth grade just after the sun had gone down, all the lights in my room turned off, hiding, hoping my parents wouldn’t find me. I didn’t want to see anybody; the risk was too high. I’d finally achieved the perfect day, and I knew, given the chance, I’d blow it.
Eve’s crying in the back seat. I tell her, “Eve, it’s not a big deal. You said you were sorry. I forgave you. It’s okay.”
But Eve can’t stop crying. She says, “Mom, it’s a terrible day. I’m having a bad day. I’m bad all day today.” And she cries and cries…
Later I pick up London and it’s a bad day for her, too. She got on yellow at school (she never gets on yellow), and the minute I bring it up she weeps.
Both girls are volcanoes of guilt and angst. Over the next hour they whine about not getting ice cream. They push and kick one another. They disobey me again and again. Each girl is a mess, a puddle of her worst characteristics.
I tell them, “You’re okay. It’ll be okay.” But they protest: “Mom. It’s a bad day.”
I understand. I have bad days, too.
Tonight I drank a Coke. After committing to not drink Coke. After going almost a week with no Coke. I ordered a Coke. And once I’d ordered it, well, I was going to drink it. Inevitable.
Here’s the thing about drinking that Coke: Once I drank it, I wanted to drink another. Because I’d already blown my perfect day. So why not?
I have a friend who struggled for a long time with porn and for him it was always that way. He’d go months without watching anything, and then, in a moment of weakness, he’d watch something, one video. And once he’d watched it, it was like he couldn’t help watching something else. Why not watch all the porn on the internet?
Because he’d already blown his perfect day. Might as well start over tomorrow.
You guys know you do this…
With food. You eat one big meal, go way over your calories or far outside your boundaries, and you think, “Might as well eat all the cookies.” All. The. Cookies.
Or you say something mean to your spouse and you know you shouldn’t have said it but now you can’t shut up. You find yourself saying all the things you’ve been meaning to say but knew were better left unsaid.
Or you buy a shirt you can’t afford, and you think “That blew the budget.” And then you think, “Well, since I’ve already spent too much… What’s twenty more dollars?” And soon you’re walking to the parking lot with seven bags.
What is it with us? Why does one mistake make it so much more likely we’ll make another?
I think it has something to do with our “perfect day” complex. Either today is a perfect day or it’s a bad day. One or the other. That means once it’s bad, it’s bad. No do-overs.
Justin and I have some friends struggling in their marriage. There’s a lot of baggage—past indiscretions, a history of disrespect—so much bad to lug around. They’re not having a bad day; they’re having a bad couple of years.
Justin and I were talking about it on side by side treadmills at the gym the other day, about how hard it is to turn a marriage around when it’s gone for so long in the wrong direction. Justin said, “It’s always possible to start over. You just have to believe that’s true.”
On the Day Of The Simultaneous Breakdowns I pulled my daughters London and Eve into my lap. I held them tight, kissed their foreheads. I said, “Tough day, huh?” “Yeah,” said London.
"You know girls," I said. "Just because the day’s been bad so far doesn’t mean it has to stay that way."
Eve glared with furrowed brow.
"Did you know," I said, "You can start over any time? Whenever you want to?"
Both girls seemed unsure…
"I mean it. You can start over the second after you’ve made a mistake. You can do something wrong and then immediately try again and get it right."
I said, “Jesus loves helping you start over. He says you can always start over. Right now, you can make today a brand new day.”
Mentioning Jesus did the trick. Both girls’ eyes lit up, smiles creeping across their faces.
London said, “I can start over right now?”
"Right now," I said.
"You can always start over" is our new family mantra.
One of our girls will say something rude and we’ll say, “Try again.”
Justin will forget to do that thing I’ve been asking him to do for a week and he’ll say, “I’m sorry.” And I’ll forgive him and totally forget about it.
I’ll order a Coke and throw it away before I’ve finished it.
Because you can always start over—even half way through a bad decision.
In marriage, in parenting, in any relationship you have to be able to start over. You have to be able to say something stupid and come right back in the next breath and say “I’m sorry. That was stupid. Let me try again.”
Personally, too, you’ll never develop discipline or self control if you don’t let yourself start over. Right away. Now. Before it gets worse.
Christians have to be people who are constantly starting over, because when we adjust after each misstep, we never get too far off course.
In I John, the apostle John writes,
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
This is a complicated passage of scripture. John says walk in the light. He says there is no darkness in the light. And then he says, if you’ll walk in the light, Jesus will purify you of all sin. If you just stopped there, you’d be totally confused. How can a person walk in the light and still sin?
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Somehow, walking in the light doesn’t mean never messing up. It doesn’t mean a string of perfect days. It means living into the truth that you can always start over.
And if you will, if you’ll confess what went wrong and turn back toward what’s right, you will find those sins forgiven even as you walk, sins falling off like water wicked from a waterproof coat.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said,
“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
That’s my prayer for you today, that you’d not let a string of bad decisions in the past cripple your future, that you’d drop the weights of guilt and self-loathing, that you’d realize you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to start over.
Is It Possible God Sent Me a Bouquet of Bunnies? (A Story About Scouting God)
This is a story I don’t tell. It’s a little bit embarrassing and honestly, I don’t know exactly what to make of it.
Yesterday I was reminded of it and thought I should write it down. And in writing it down I figured this was a story you’d like. So here goes…
A year or so ago I went running at a local park. I was feeling tense and distracted, but the day was beautiful and just being outside really started to change my mood. I prayed as I ran. Simple stuff: Thank you God for the sunshine. For the breeze. For a moment of quiet. It was already turning into a great run when I saw the first bunny.
Folks, there are few things cuter than wild bunnies. And there on my beautiful run on this beautiful day right in the middle of my prayer I saw one. I prayed, “Ahhh!!! God, I love bunnies. Thank you for bunnies.”
I kept running.
Five steps down the road I saw ANOTHER bunny. And I thanked God again. This time though, I added a request. I said, “God, I know this is weird and I know you are very busy and not my personal genie, but, um, could I maybe see more bunnies?”
It was a ridiculous ask. But I really liked seeing the bunnies. They made me happy. They made me stop for a second and look. With that second bunny, I found myself totally present, watching this perfect tiny thing.
So I made the request and ran on.
I saw two more bunnies in thirty seconds.
People, this was not a bunny sanctuary. Yes, it is common to see a bunny or two at this particular park, but four in five minutes?
I kept running, but now I was running with a mission—to see bunnies.
Closing in on the last leg of the run I’d seen nine bunnies.
Here’s where it gets complicated…
So I’m running and I’m asking God to let me see bunnies. And I am fully aware that God has no responsibility to answer my stupid prayer. But I keep seeing bunnies. Like, everywhere. And while I’m super hesitant to say God’s making the bunnies appear, I’m also reluctant to chalk up to chance what may be the most preciously personal answered prayer ever.
So I say, “God, let me see ten bunnies. And if I see ten bunnies exactly—not one more or less—I’ll know You were behind it.”
[Y’all, I am cracking up laughing as I type this. RIDICULOUS.]
Anyway, I’m running and it’s been a while since the last bunny, and I’m looking like crazy, barely even running really, and finally I see it—one lone bunny in the tall grass to my right.
I stop and stare. He’s light brown with short, strong ears—not the floppy kind those coddled pet bunnies have. He’s in the exact position of a chocolate Easter bunny. He seems totally unaware of me. He’s beautiful.
I have no idea what to do with this moment. I don’t know whether to get down on the ground and take off my shoes or to run on as if nothing’s happened.
Because I can’t be sure anything has happened, really.
I finish the run and don’t see another a bunny.
I pray, “God, I have no idea what just happened. But just in case you arranged it, I loved it.”
I’m not going to tell you God sent me a bouquet of bunnies to show me He loves me. But I will say that in seeing ten bunnies, I was reminded of God’s love for me.
Because here’s the thing: God made the bunnies, y’all. Every one of them.
He made the sunshine and the trees. He made me, with strong legs and a cute-animal reflex I simply cannot squelch.
Did I experience the presence of God on that run?
Yes. For sure. No question.
When you’re looking for God you have to remember, God doesn’t have to change the space-time continuum or take time away from saving starving children to show up for you.
He’s worked showing up for you into the very fabric of creation.
If you expect God to show up and you look for Him, you will see Him. That’s the God Scout’s manifesto.
It’s possible there were always ten bunnies lining my jogging path. I’d never looked. But when I did look, I saw.
God is probably all over your life right now, but if you’re not actively looking for Him, you’ll totally miss Him.
I know this is a somewhat silly story, but I want more stories like it to tell.
I want more ten bunny days.
I’m going to ask for them, and I’m going to expect them.
I’m not going to blame God if I don’t get them. But I’m going to thank Him when I do.
I stood at the back door watching the rain, light but steady. I put down my coffee, turned the knob, and stepped outside, bare feet on cold concrete. I walked to the middle of the yard, rain falling on my shoulders, dropped to my knees, lifted my arms and prayed until rivers ran down my cheeks, tears and rain twin tributaries, indistinguishable…
About a year and a half ago my daughter London turned five. We threw a storybook party. Twenty kids—a unicorn, a wizard, knight, viking, ballerina—all sat at one long table, their Peter Pan celery boats and If-You-Give-A-Mouse-A chocolate chip cookies on mismatched china plates.
I’d planned to set that table in my own backyard. But the day before the party, stacking pieces of a twenty-five-foot fallen tree, spraying ant killer on every square inch of “lawn” (pokey, crunchy weeds cut short) my husband and I came to a realization: Our yard was not fit for humans.
We sent an email the night before London’s birthday: Party moved due to ants. We spared everyone the full details.
Not long after that our friend Matthew asked about the yard. He asked, “So how bad is it?”Justin, private-by-nature and not super excited about sharing the extent of his lawn troubles, mumbled something about the tree and the ants.
Matthew said, “I have ant killer and weed killer. Let’s go spray.” Justin smiled. “Sure.” But then Matthew got up and grabbed his keys and went to the backyard to get the supplies and Justin realized he meant right now.
Matthew was a new friend. Justin had been studying about Jesus with him for two years at that point, and Matthew had just decided to follow Jesus. It had been a long two years, but when Matthew finally decided to jump, it was a canon ball in the deep end.
Our yard became an initial exercise in selfless service.
Over the next three months he and Justin (and a team of others gathered by Matthew) would uproot every weed, every growing and not-growing thing, in our backyard. They hauled in a dump truck’s worth of new dirt. They planted seeds. They installed a sprinkler system. They spent weekend after weekend covered in dirt and sweat.
When the work was done, the seeds planted, we had a giant square of pregnant, milk chocolate dirt.
And we protected it with our lives.
I remember standing on the patio one day brandishing a tree branch, yelling at a murder of crows eating my grass seeds.
I remember our water bills as we pumped water into earth, earth that drank greedily, parched every morning, cracking as if we’d never offered it a single drink.
And I remember the weeding, full days spent yanking new weeds up by the roots, piles of weeds taller and wider than me. I remember pushing my hands forearm deep into dirt, trying to pry loose those pesky bulb roots.
I took to calling that year “the season of seeds.” Because we couldn’t see a thing.
I’d lay on my belly on the patio and wait for the grass to sprout.
Saul Bellow said, “A ‘symbol’ grows in its own way, out of the facts.”
And that’s right. Because God does the heavy lifting with symbols. We don’t make them up. We find them.
My yard is, of course, a symbol—a picture of the life we’ve lived these past few years, a life full of seeds and largely lacking grass, a fight against chaos, a fight to impose order and beauty.
I think of the seeds we planted in people, people who became friends, friends coming to know God, friends struggling through adversity.
I think of the seeds we planted with our children, the weeds we pulled, the water we lavished upon them, all the while waiting to see something, anything good growing in their hearts, watching them throw fits and disobey, wondering when the purposeful parenting would pay off.
I think of the seeds I planted with this blog, hoping something beautiful might grow from it.
The seeds planted in difficult relationships.
The seeds planted in the well-tilled soil of a small but eager church.
Seeds planted in our bank account, after very, very much weeding…
Last year was hard work, hard work after years of hard work. Every day we would walk out to the patio and stand, my husband and I side by side, watching tiny little sprouts of green dotting our dirt, and we would pray—pray that God would multiply our small efforts, pray that God would do the magic of growing our seeds.
This past Easter my husband and I hosted an Easter communion meal in our backyard. We invited several friends, among them Matthew and his wife Natalie and their three children. We invited Justin’s sister who lived with us for most of the “season of seeds,” a woman we watched blossom under the protection of our roof, a woman even more lovely now than she was when she came. We invited my friend Lisa who came back to God this year, Lisa who’s seen God light her darkness with stadium lights over the past few months. And we invited our friend Ken who’s being instated as an elder this month, one of five new elders our growing church will add.
We all sat at a single table stretched across the width of our backyard. I sat at one end, my husband at the other, and we listened to friends offer toasts—toasts to new life, to transformation. Our daughter London stood on a chair and thanked God for her blessings. She lifted her glass and said, “Cheers!”
During dinner I took off my shoes and put my bare feet on the thick grass under my chair.
The grass is growing. It’s thick and green. For a while we’ve had one big swath where it hadn’t filled in, but yesterday, standing at the back door I looked out and saw dozens of new grass patches, hope polka dots.
It was raining. I walked out into the rain, thankful for it, knowing how powerfully God works in storms, and I knelt beside the new grass.
I spent the next twenty minutes praying and crying as the rain turned from light shower to downpour.
I thanked God for the hard times. I thanked Him for the helping me pull the weeds. I thanked Him for walking with me when I didn’t feel like any of my work would ever pay off.
And I thanked Him for the grass. So. Much. Grass. Growing all around us. Growing in our hearts and in our friends’ hearts. Growing in our girls who are suddenly and beautifully showing fruit—kindness, generosity, compassion. Growing in our ministries—people who’ve never known God coming to faith, people seeing God more clearly because of words on a computer screen.
I thanked God for making the unseen seen, for giving us the chance to watch the seeds grow, and for giving us the patience to work and wait.
To the Beautiful Young People Who Follow Me on Tumblr:
Here’s what I suspect about you:
You are tired of living a lifeless life. You want adventure and excitement, passion and fireworks. You ache for a quest, a challenge to test and refine you. You want to do something that matters. You need desperately to belong and be loved.
I suspect, too, you believe, at least hope, God is the One Who can fill your holes, answer your aches, and light your soul on fire.
You’re so, so right.
But I want to remind you that to find God, you have to look. You have to do more than repost memes and gifs. You have to search further than your own experience. You have to make more room in your heart and your mind and your schedule for exploring Him, exploring with Him, and exploring what’s His.
You need to get out into those mountains you <3 pictures of in your dashboard.
You have to talk to old people. Actually, you should mostly listen to old people. But still, get out and talk with people like the ones on Humans of New York. Those people actually exist.
You have to read a Bible. Like actually sit down and read a whole book in a sitting. Don’t just read scriptures short enough to tweet, devoid of context. Wade in; swim out; let the words wash you like waves while you look for what God wants for you and what God wants from you—because He does want something from you, no matter what you’ve been told in a handwriting font across a picture of a sunset.
You have to talk to God. Not just about Him. You have to ask for an adventure, ask for eyes to see Him, ask for strength and courage and more beauty than you can stand. You have to confess to Him—not anonymously in the comments of some person’s blog—but directly and eponymous-ly to the One who can wipe everything away in an instant.
You need to be grateful in private, listing your blessings not just on Instagram, curating your life like an exhibit, but on paper where only you can see it, seeing God’s work in the absolutely boring, sometimes hard, not-very-flashy moments, too.
You need to live a better life. And you need to live the life you’re living better.
Looking for God takes work. It’s a practice. A discipline. An adventure. And when you get up the courage to do it, you will be led into the very life for which you so desperately long.
So start looking, God Scouts—really looking. May your searching eyes see the unseen…
For Husbands: 17 Things To Write Inside That Mother's Day Card
You stood in the aisle at Walgreens for forty five minutes wading through gold foil and pink glitter, sacharine-sweet cards with truthy sayings alternating between the extremes: “You’re the best mother who ever lived ever in the history of the world.” and “I’m sorry I never say it, but you’re a decent mom.” And still you emerged with something you’re not totally embarrassed about. Way to go!
Now you have to write in it. For real. You MUST write in it.
If you’re not sure what your wife needs to hear, perhaps you’ll consider the following list. It grows out of conversations with mothers of young children and just might put into words the way you really feel about your wife.
If my husband says any of these things in my Mother’s Day card, I’ll be jello…
1. I’m proud of you. I can’t believe you married me.
2. You do good work. Everything you do for this family is valuable and important. In a rational universe moms like you would drive Bentleys.
3. You are beautiful. Even with baby puke on your shirt.
4. I can’t believe how much you have to deal with. You are patient and full of joy. Way to persevere! (P.S. How could I be more helpful?)
5. I see God in you. He works through you every day to bless me and our children.
6. Our kids have beautiful hearts. They get that from you.
7. Thank you for always doing the laundry. Laundry is terrible. You are a magical fairy.
8. I’m so glad you don’t care about laundry. I love your priorities.
9. I would starve without you. You are a wonderful cook! (But if you want me to cook more I’d be happy to.)
10. You make me want to be a better dad. Would you help me?
11. You make me want to be a better partner. Would you help me help you?
12. Here are the things I love about the way you mother our kids:
13. You deserve a break. Please go do whatever you want to do today. As our children are also MY children, I will happily care for them without a hint of incompetence (or whisper of the word “babysit”).
14. Even if you can’t see it now, what you’re doing for our children is shaping their eternal future and changing the world. You are a conqueror, Mom-Warrior.
15. You always put us first. Thank you. Let us serve you today. (Also, we’ll try harder not to run all over you on the other days.)
I saw this on Tumblr tonight and my soul sank, lead-full of empathy.
The darkest moments of my life have been the hopeless ones, the times I decided tomorrow wasn’t enough, the times I gave up on a future I couldn’t imagine ever blooming into present…
The only doubt I’ve ever experienced is this doubt—the feeling that maybe I’m waiting for something that isn’t going to happen.
That maybe Christ is standing me up.
When I was ten years old, two girls in my fourth grade class invited me to go to the movies. I’d never, in my entire life, ever been to the movies with friends. These girls weren’t friends exactly. They were better than friends; they were popular.
I went home, put on my favorite denim vest and jeans, curled my bangs, applied a bottle of hairspray and sat on my grandmother’s hibiscus print couch in the living room, my hands on my knees, my back straight, the curtains pulled from the window so I could watch the street.
My memories of that night are the colors of sunset, first golden, then pink, then purple, then gray. I remember my mother tenderly turning on the lamp by my side, its light cutting a path across the brown shag floor.
I didn’t move from the third couch cushion for three hours. The girls never came, but I waited until my mom called me to bed.
That night on the couch I waited for something that would never come; I watched a robust and sure hope dissolve into crushing despair.
It wasn’t my first taste of that bitter fruit and it wouldn’t be my last.
Sometimes I feel that way while I’m waiting for God, like I’m looking out a window, down an empty street as the sun sets on my hope.
Christians are a waiting people.
Our eager anticipation of something to come defines us and drives us.
Jude writes, “But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”
Paul says to Titus, “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
James: “Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”
I look at those people in the first century, so sure he’d be back any moment, and I want that kind of hope, that kind of right-around-the-corner certainty. But I have two thousand years between me and them and those years dull the clarity that came from Christ-proximity.
I’ve never seen Jesus; so when I imagine Him returning I can’t see His face or hear the tenor of His voice.
Too, I’ve been waiting longer than they did. I bear the burden of a hope deferred for generations.
I have devoted my entire life to waiting. And if the thing I’m banking on doesn’t happen, it will all have been a waste.
"If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."
I’m sitting here staring at a blinking cursor, wondering how to transition…
I want to explain that while hope in Christ is hard and always a risk, it’s good hard and the most exciting, least risky risk of them all.
I want to tell you that even on the nights I’m looking out the window, or the mornings when it all seems to good to be true, I refuse to give up on my God and the reality of rescue.
I have never been more sure of anything in my life than I am of the second coming of Jesus.
I don’t know what Jesus looked like when He lived here on earth, but I know Him. I’ve walked beside Him and I’ve memorized His words and I’ve followed Him up and down mountains and across deserts and beside still waters. And I trust Him to keep His promise.
I’ve waited a long time, sure, longer than makes logical sense. But in my waiting I’ve been carried, fed, healed, loved, led. We Christians wait wading in words of love and promise, assertions of God’s faithfulness to His pilgrim people.
Waiting on God has been nothing like that lonely wait on my couch years ago.
Waiting on God looks like a long meal with friends. No, the food isn’t anywhere near as good as the food’ll be with God, and no, the company’s not as great either. But I’ve never had dinner with God, not exactly, so this meal will do just fine until that one comes. I will be fed and I will be loved. I will have shoulders to cry on and hands to hold, voices speaking words of hope.
The waiting, far from lonely, is bearable, because I’m waiting for something that IS going to happen..
"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23)
"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Heb 6:19)
God proclaims, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
What To Do While You Wait For Something Big (Part 2)
I met my husband for the first time when I was nine years old. He tells me this is true. I don’t remember.
I do remember meeting him again when I was thirteen and he was fifteen. He was beautiful (and smart and funny and Jesus-y).
One month into my fifteenth year, he and I stood on a dock overlooking the Dunedin Marina. He whispered, “You’re the kind of person I want to marry.”
Within a week we’d decided we’d love each other forever as husband and wife.
But first, we would wait. For five and a half years.
(That’s us almost 20 years ago.)
My friend Megs is waiting for a baby.
She, her husband Hayes, and their three boys are adopting a little girl.
I don’t know a lot about adoption, but I know this: it involves waiting. A lot of waiting.
I talked to Megs the other night and she made a joke about how long it was taking. She said her attorney advised her: “Just pray and wait.”
While most people sigh really loudly when they talk about waiting, Megs didn’t. She said, “I’ve never been more dependent on HIM minute by minute than in the last few months.”
Her mantra is Psalm 27:14—“Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
Did I mention Megs is awesome?
I told her I was planning to write about waiting this week and that I wanted to know what she’d learned.
She said lots of good stuff, but this was what struck me most:
Recently, I’ve tried to SERVE during my waiting. I’ve intentionally looked for ways to give time and thought to someone else. Just like when I’ve run races before and get really tired…and I find someone else who is struggling and I cheer for them. It’s like I automatically feel a surge of energy to keep going. To keep waiting.
I loved that.
Waiting to get married to my wonderful boyfriend was hard.
"Wouldn’t It Be Nice" by the Beach Boys was our jam. Sometimes we cried when we played it in the car.
I hung a chart Justin made on my wall detailing our “road to marriage” plan. Every once in a while we’d send each other letters with a countdown to the wedding. But the numbers were so big…
It’s possible to look back at that time and roll my eyes. Kids…
But today I am married to that wonderful man. And I daily experience the joy and satisfaction of total vulnerability, unconditional love, and full commitment in Christ.
This marriage was worth waiting for. Worth fighting for. And totally worth being a little dramatic about.
But the waiting would have been a lot easier if we’d known how to wait well.
I wish we’d taken more time to actually live out our season.
I wish we’d stop dreaming about our future and started dreaming about our present—how we could glorify God and serve one another in the moment.
I wish we’d gone on mission trips together.
I wish we’d taken more time to build and deepen friendships with other people.
I wish we’d spent more time in prayer.
I wish we’d done what Megs is doing—looking for ways to give time and thought to someone else.
We were so nervous we’d lose one another, so afraid this beautiful relationship would slip through our fingers, that I think we held on too tightly, exhausting ourselves in the waiting, refusing to trust God’s timing and God’s plan.
Waiting is about trust. It’s all trust, you guys. Trust God with your future. Trust God with your present. Trust God with what might be. Trust God with what might not be.
And in the meantime, look outside your longing. Look for someone else to serve. Look for something good to do. Look for God, wherever He is.
You can’t push pause and expect the story to still unfold.
When you get that thing you’ve been waiting for, enjoy it. Treasure it. Steward it. Be grateful for it.
But for now, live the life you have today. Enjoy it. Treasure it. Steward it.
***P.S.: If you’d like to help my friend Megs as she raises money for her adoption, send me a Facebook message or leave a comment. Those three boys are going to be superstar brothers. :)
What To Do While You Wait For Something Big (Part 1)
I saw this meme the other day:
I found it convicting.
In my twenties I found waiting impossible. It only took my husband and I four months to conceive our daughter London, but I whined all through it like this “waiting” was Job-level testing.
My daughter Eve was a few days overdue and you’d have thought somebody stole all the chocolate in the world the way I griped.
I actually wrote this in my pregnancy journal:
"Waiting for this baby is like waiting for Jesus’ return; every day she doesn’t come makes me think perhaps she might not come at all."
Christians have been waiting for the return of Christ for close to 2,000 years. Waiting for Jesus is a little bit harder than waiting two days for a baby.
All waiting is hard.
Waiting for the phone to ring.
Waiting for news.
Waiting for a car to pull in the driveway.
Waiting to finally “make it.”
Waiting for relief.
Waiting for help.
Waiting for love.
Waiting for God.
The Psalmist wrote, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits.”
You might know what that feels like…
I want to write about waiting. I sat down to write this post and thought through all the times I’ve waited. I messaged a friend who’s waiting right now. I read Bible verses about waiting.
I realized not all waiting is created equal.
Today, I’m going to share a story about a time I waited for something to happen when I should have been making something happen.
On Friday I’ll share a story about waiting to get married and a story from my friend Megs about waiting on an adoption.
On Monday we’ll talk about waiting for God to show up.
About a year and a half ago I had a book proposal universally rejected. I’d spent a year writing the book and four months on the proposal.
Before that book, I’d spent probably ten years brainstorming book ideas. I had journals full of them. I kept files and collected magazine clips and highlighted copies of book pages—all of it preparing for the book I’d one day write.
I asked God to let me write. And I meant, “Let me write a book.” With my name on the cover. And a reputable publishing house’s name inside.
My favorite compliment was, “You should write a book.”
Until I wrote a book and nobody wanted to publish it.
Then I hated that compliment.
I’d waited ten years to be a writer. How much longer was this going to take?
For a while there after the flood of rejection letters, I flailed. I thought about going back to teaching. I drank a lot of Coke. And I stopped writing.
I don’t know what I was waiting for, but I was definitely waiting for something.
I decided (in the meantime) to blog. I’d blogged before. I liked the way it forced me into disciplined writing. I liked the opportunity it provided for me to take risks with style, tone, and content. I knew it would help me find my voice. And maybe I could help people, too—not many people, but a few.
I committed myself to serious, focused blogging—two to three posts a week, every week, with a clear guiding focus (read: no pictures of my kids or random book reviews).
Soon I had a post get 3,000 views in three days.
That isn’t the most impressive number for a blogger. Probably lots of you have had posts that big.
What you might be surprised to know is that 3,000 is a very impressive number for a book-writer.
A Wall Street Journal best-selling hard cover book might sell 3,000 copies in a week.
When I realized that, that my little blog was reaching more people than my obscure book on God and Clothes ever would have, I realized this: I’m not waiting. I’m writing.
I’d been thinking all this time that a book would somehow be the magic mark, the making of my vocation. But all along I’d had the resources to do exactly what I wanted to do: write.
I opened up Tumblr this morning to post and saw this quote on my dashboard:
“Don’t wait. Writers are the only artists I know of who expect to get somewhere by waiting. Everyone knows you have to dance to be a dancer, you have to sing to be a singer, you have to act to be an actor, but far too many people seem to believe that you don’t have to write to be a writer. So, instead of writing, they wait. Isaac Asimov said it beautifully in just six words: “It’s the writing that teaches you.” Writing is what teaches you. Writing is what leads to “inspiration.” Writing is what generates ideas. Nothing else-and nothing less. Don’t meditate, don’t do yoga, don’t do drugs. Just write.”
Introducing Field Notes [a workshop]; Sign Up Today!!
Long the domain of scientists, anthropologists and archeologists, field notes are, by definition, “accounts describing experiences and observations the researcher has made while participating in an intense and involved manner.”
Field notes capture, define, question, and explain. They’re made by explorers, discoverers, scouts… Field Notes are for people who’re looking.
Our Field Notes is a workshop in writing to see—writing to see yourself, to see God, to see your place in a bigger story. During this four-hour experience you’ll learn how to use writing as a tool for processing your emotions, struggles, guilt, questions, and circumstances. You’ll practice looking for God in your writing and through your writing, and you’ll witness writing’s power to bring peace, understanding, and direction.
Field Notes is a hands-on workshop. Participants are encouraged to write and discuss. The day will include engaging instruction, video content, conversation, writing, reading, and prayer.
Registration fee includes instruction, a workbook, and unlimited coffee. Spaces are limited to 25 per workshop; so don’t wait to register!
*Field Notes is led by me, writer and speaker Jennifer Gerhardt, creator of JLgerhardt [God Scout]. Jennifer has more than ten years experience as a professional journalist, writer, and writing instructor.
Recently I read an article that questioned the way we traditionally talk about blessings. He said (and I summarize), We shouldn’t say we’re blessed when we receive money or a job promotion or something like that. We should say we’re grateful. He said saying we’re blessed suggests others who haven’t received what we’ve received aren’t blessed.
I struggled to accept his premise—especially as material wealth is explicitly called out as a blessing by Paul (For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings).
While I can’t agree with the bottom line, I understand the tension out of which it grew.
Are poor people not blessed by God?
The question is bigger than that though. Because blessing inequality is everywhere.
My husband is a blessing. He loves me. He takes care of me. He’s a terrific father, great at his job. He makes me dinner and partners with me in my work. I can’t deny that I daily experience the grace and love of God through him.
But I have friends without Godly husbands—friends who love God just as much as (or more than) I do.
Are they not blessed?
My kids are a blessing. They fill me with joy. They push and challenge me to be more like Christ. They’re funny and smart and kind. They draw the most beautiful pictures of our family and lay in bed beside me in the morning, smiling, sunshine in their eyes.
But I have friends who can’t have children, friends who would be wonderful mothers, friends who sincerely and desperately want to be mothers.
Are they not blessed?
And what about little things, the things we take pictures of and post on Instagram. Meals with friends, a hike on a 70 degree day, sunsets, an extra order of fries in your bag at Chick-fil-a.
I tend to think all those things are blessings.
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”
The other day I picked up my daughter London from school. As soon as she buckled her seat belt her sister Eve said, “I had a cookie for snack today before we picked you up.”
London cried. Why do you always get treats without me?
The next day London got in the car and said, “Friday is field day and I won a bracelet and I get to go down the big slide.”
And Eve cried. I wish I could go to London’s school. I hate my school. Her school is so much better.
This sort of thing happens all the time. My girls can’t bear uneven blessing. And it’s more than that. They need the blessings to be identical in every way. If one sister gets something, the other should get exactly the same thing in exactly the same amount.
I do not approve.
In fact, it is my least favorite of their bad behaviors. Because it grows out of the worst parts of our humanity—our compulsion to compare everything, our inability to celebrate another person’s plenty without looking at our lack, our instinctual ingratitude.
Why is it that one person’s joy must result in another’s sadness?
I don’t think that’s what God intended for humanity.
God says to the church in Rome, the Jews’ spiritual blessings have spilled onto you. Share your material blessings with them.
Repeatedly in the Old Testament He tells the Israelites, I’ve blessed you so you might be a blessing.
In the kingdom of God, everyone’s blessing is a blessing for everyone.
To those of us who’re experiencing blessing (of whatever kind) that’s an invitation to share.
God intends that money, that new truck, that child to be a gift for the world—not just for you.
To those of us observing the blessing of others it’s an invitation to celebrate.
Your friend’s promotion has the potential to bless every person around her.
Those baby pictures on Facebook represent a joy that will inevitably overflow onto you.
When London gets to slide down the big slide on field day, she comes home happy and her happiness blesses her sister.
When Eve gets a cookie, London benefits from Eve’s good mood.
But more than that, Eve’s enjoyment of the cookie stirs her to bless her sister the same way. Just yesterday she suggested on the way to pick up London, “Mom, we should go to McDonald’s and get London a cookie. She’d like that.”
I have a friend who struggled for years with the question, “Why would a good God let people in developing countries suffer like they do?” He looked at his own life, overflowing with material wealth and health, and felt intensely guilty.
And then he spent a summer with the Ugandan people.
He doesn’t ask that question anymore.
What he encountered there were people who didn’t feel less because others had more (of a certain type of blessing). He met people full of peace and joy and love, people gratefully receiving the blessings of generous Christians across an ocean and actively sharing that generosity with others—blessed and blessing.
They didn’t have much, but what they had they celebrated and shared.
Y’all. God is blessing His people—people all over this globe.
He doesn’t bless us all in the same ways or in the same amounts. But that’s a part of the plan. He blesses each of us to bless all of us.
Because We're All Dying: Thoughts On Living In The Present
My grandfather is dying. Not in the immediate sense. He doesn’t have a tumor or a months-to-live diagnosis. He’s dying in the eventual and inevitable sense, like we all are really, but more palpably. The doctor says he’ll probably die of a stroke. He has them every so often now.
I saw Papa just a few weeks ago. He can’t sit up anymore. He can’t leave the house. But he still knows who I am, and he can still tell stories.
I sat with him one day with my daughter London. I asked her to tell Papa her favorite Bible story. She said something about Jesus, got distracted and fell off the bed.
Then I asked Papa to tell me his, and he said, “I like Samson. But that’s not a story for little girls.”
He explained, “Samson wanted to be a better man than he’d been.” He seemed focused on that moment in Samson’s story after he’d been blinded and imprisoned, when he was for the first time in his life weak. Papa said, “Samson asked God for the strength he’d once had, and God gave it to him.”
I left that day thinking about how hard it is to die. How everyone talks about you in the past or future tenses. They tell stories of the life you lived before. And they whisper about the approaching tomorrow, making Hospice plans, asking delicate questions about your funeral “wishes.”
When the people around you are (with the best of intentions and hearts full of love) waiting for you to die, it’s hard to remember you’re alive.
When my friend Belinda was dying of brain cancer she said, “If God wanted me dead He’d have taken me by now. Evidently he has work for me to do.”
My Papa is trying to live. He and I prayed that God would put his hands on pillars, that he would have all the strength he needed to glorify God today.
Papa lives 17 hours away from me; the drive home was long. Between Dallas and Austin I ran into standstill traffic and took a detour of my own invention, wandering through cotton fields and cow pastures just as the sun began to set. The afternoon sun spilled light like gold, washing my drive with color.
At first, I couldn’t take my eyes off the view. I praised God. I sang songs. I pointed to every change in the landscape, yelling to my daughters in the back seat, “Look! Look! Look!”
But then I got distracted and stopped paying attention. I started thinking about where I needed to be, how much laundry I had to do, what tasks needed tackling this coming week.
And then I looked back at the sunset and wondered why I ever stopped looking.
A perfect sunset is a thing not to be missed.
So I watched. I considered the long shadows cast by barns and water towers. I enjoyed the wildflowers, on fire with light. I ooh-ed and aah-ed.
But then I got distracted again.
This cycle went on for three hours. It was the longest, most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. I spent all three hours trying my best to ignore my phone, postpone planning, keep my hands off the radio and stay present.
Dying people aren’t the only people who struggle to stay in the moment.
I was talking with some friends the other day about how hard it is to live in the present.
My older friends said they spend too much time reminiscing, wishing things could be like they once were or regretting what they can’t change now.
My younger friends said they spend too much time looking ahead, planning for a future that might not even come.
Jesus said, “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
But that doesn’t stop me from jumping ahead or reaching back, dwelling on the days and moments just out of reach, ignoring the life in my lap, the sunset unfolding right before my eyes.
We all want to play with our kids and grandkids, to listen to music with our eyes closed, to take walks, to do good work without distraction, to give without worrying about tomorrow’s account balance.
But instead we go over the check book ledger three times and we spend hours re-hashing in our heads conversations we had two weeks ago. We scroll through our old Instagram pictures while new photo-worthy moments pass us by.
Justin and I were studying James chapter four recently, particularly this part:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Clearly, James is concerned about people making plans without God, banking on a future of their own making.
But what I thought was interesting was the way James discounts the future. Like my friend Jim Gardner once said, “The future doesn’t exist.”
James says, You don’t know anything about tomorrow. And then he finishes the thought by saying, basically, do the good you know you ought to do TODAY.
Today, you have buckets of opportunities to do good, to gaze upon beauty, to live fully.
Do. Gaze. Live.
And don’t waste one moment bothering with the opportunities you missed in the past or worrying about whether or not you’ll have opportunities tomorrow.
If we can do it, if we can manage to stay present in every day, we will see God everywhere as we step with confidence into the works he’s prepared for us.
That night, as I watched the sun set, I saw God in a whole-earth transformation. I saw the ground soaked in color and then watched the clouds sop it up like a sponge until the earth turned grey and the sky flooded with raspberry, lilac and poppy red.
I thought of my grandfather, a setting sun, and of the way he soaked me in color even in dying. And I imagined I was a pillar, touched by a man strengthened by God to live fully, contagiously, in the present.
Tonight my husband crawled into bed with my girls and told them the story of the crucifixion. I came home from the store, and he told me he’d told them. He said London cried. He cried.
I walked to their room and crawled into bed—my turn.
“Dad told you about the cross?” I asked. They nodded.
"I cried," London said. "I cried tears from my eyes… I don’t know if they were sad tears or happy tears."
It’s nine at night as I write this. I’m sitting on my porch under a string of lights listening to melancholy music thinking about London and her cross-colored tears.
I’m thinking of Crime and Punishment (my favorite book) and of Raskolnikov who found Christ at the cross…
"The darker the night, the brighter the stars, The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
I find it hard to look at the cross straight on…
From one angle, I look and I see God, the Beginning and the End, dying. I see the inky black of sin exploding and dripping and seeping until the whole world, even the Son is blotted out. “Darkness over the whole land…” I see depravity and desolation.
But if I step two feet to one side and tilt my head, I don’t see the sin so much. I see a savior. I see courage. I see an Atlas carrying the world’s sins, sins heavier than the world itself, on His noble, Deliverer shoulders.
Then I drop to my knees and look up and the view changes again. And I see my friend, my brother, suffering, sweating, bleeding, thirsting, gasping. And I love Him, and I wish He’d come down.
Last night I looked into John’s account of Jesus’ death and I saw Jesus as volunteer. Willing. Obedient. Submissive. And I raised my hand, ready to take up my cross, ready to be a Christian, a follower even (especially) unto death.
Sometimes I look at the cross and I just feel guilty. Sometimes I look and feel thankful. Sometimes I’m confused.
Most of the time I feel completely and utterly unworthy.
And when I try to take it all in, to feel everything at once, I end up crying like London, not sure if the tears are happy or sad.
A cross is an intersection, where one thing meets another.
THE cross is THE intersection. Of death and life. Sin and holiness. Light and dark. Love and hate. God and man.
It is explosive and magnetic.
Should you ever find yourself overwhelmed or confused or crying inscrutable tears at the foot of the cross, know you’re just where you ought to be doing just what you should.
Last night I attended a Good Friday service. We read John’s account of the crucifixion together, aloud. As we read the words, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” every soul in the room went silent as every knee suddenly and simultaneously dropped to the floor.
How to Be Hosanna People (OR The Post Where I Kind Of Go Off About Everything)
On Palm Sunday my preacher talked about Jesus, Jesus riding on a donkey like a hero, King Jesus parading toward His destiny as the Savior and Deliverer of God’s people.
The crowds that day cried, “Hosanna.” And while Hosanna was proclaimed with joy at the triumphal entry, it is a joyful, hopeful desperation. Because “hosanna” is a hungry word, a dying man’s word, a slave’s word, a word on the tip of parched tongues.
Israel saw in Jesus a Savior and she wailed, “Hosanna!”
Literally: Save. Us. Now.
Palm Sunday is the moment when hopeless, tired, oppressed people catch a glimpse of salvation to come.
Oppression is defined like this: “The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner.”
The Jews were certainly oppressed—oppressed by Rome, oppressed by their religious leaders, oppressed by a scheming upper class, and oppressed, most significantly, by the power of sin and death.
Jesus came to set the captives free.
And He did. And He does. And He will.
But today, some of us are still captives. Many of us, even those of us faithful to Christ and freed from the sting of sin, are a people oppressed, a people under the thumb of rulers and powers, principalities and the like—all out to eat us, to use us for parts, to steal what we have and what we might have later, too.
No, we’re not slaves to Rome…
We’re slaves to Capital One. And Apple. Target. Coca-Cola. Blue Cross, Blue Shield. Pharmaceutical companies. Monsanto. Vogue magazine. Facebook…
Just because we call America the “Land of the Free” doesn’t mean we are.
We are a people who can’t eat well even when we want to because good food is expensive and bad food is cheap.
We are a people told at every turn, “You’re too fat.” And told seconds later, “Eat more chicken.” Told “You’re beautiful as you are” by the very companies hawking products to make us more beautiful.
We are a people who can’t climb out from under the mound of debt we accumulated as child-adults, mailed candy-colored cards the minute we broke free of our parents’ supervision.
We are a people who want to be pure but can’t unsee the images forces upon us on billboards, in a magazine on a table at our best friend’s house, on the web page that was supposed to be about the White House but was actually debauchery.
We are a people who can’t make a cup of coffee for fear we’re drinking the sweat of ill-paid, mistreated workers in a faraway land. And who can’t sweeten it without fear of cancer.
We are a people who want to know the truth but don’t know where to find it. No one speaks straight—not Fox News, not CNN, not our schools, not even all our churches.
We are a people who would be happy with our small houses and old cars if we didn’t spend all day watching people on TV complain about their houses and cars, nicer than ours but not nice enough.
We are a people who will never be enough. Never have enough. Never know enough. Never do enough. Never make enough.
Here in this land of plenty, we are daily convinced there is never ever enough. We call it ambition and the pursuit of happiness, but it is oppression.
Because if there were ever enough, if for one moment we were all content, profits would stop growing and stock prices would drop and the rich people who get rich on the backs of discontented consumer cattle would be bothered.
We are a people, friends, who should cry “Hosanna!”
Because we need saving.
It seems proper to write a post like this before Easter, before the resurrection, before the whole of hope breaks loose.
But, of course I’m writing it after Easter, too, and I can’t completely make sense of that.
I think many of us need to break free today, to be reminded that Christ has broken the shackles of sin and death, to walk away from the burden of our guilt and shame, to know that salvation has come, that freedom is free.
Some of us feel oppressed by the natural consequences of our bad choices, ankle weights slowing our run to a jog when we long to sprint. We need to keep running, to pray for strength, and to make better choices, to remember that every good choice makes the run tomorrow easier.
Others of us cannot avoid the burdens we bear, heaped upon as they are by the forces of evil, reminders that the kingdom of Heaven has not fully and finally broken through.
Some of us, especially the poor and the weak, will continue to suffer under the weight of a fallen humanity.
What I suspect is this: Most of us reading this post are both oppressed and oppressors. We suffer under systematic violence, misogyny, hatred, idolatry and greed. And at the same time, we feed the system.
We keep buying cheap coffee and cheap clothes and cheap tomatoes, oppressing workers all over the world. And we do it partially because so many among us can’t make enough money to support a family and buy fair trade.
We pay for pornography, oppressing women and (yes) children, abused in an industry unconcerned with the health and well-being of its victims. And as we make slaves of them, we become enslaved ourselves.
We buy seventy inch television screens to replace our fifty inch ones and stack our rejects in landfills, 175 million tons of it each year. We oppress the land and future generations in our slavery to advertisers and professional football and our own greedy thirst for spectacular entertainment.
We starve ourselves to measure up to some arbitrary definition of beauty, a definition the beauty industry intentionally changes to discourage contentment and fuel sales, and at the same time, we enroll our daughters in beauty pageants, parading them before a panel to be judged on an appearance they cannot change.
When I look at the children of Israel on Palm Sunday, I see a people aware of their oppression, a people desperate to be saved from a life they cannot bear.
But when I look at us, a people equally burdened (although in different ways), I too often see a crowd drugged into apathy by the momentary satisfaction of a house in the suburbs, a new car, a closet full of clothes, and a yearly vacation to Disney World.
You guys. It’s bad out here—the kind of bad that makes you want to kick and scream.
Scream “Hosanna!” Yell it at the top of your lungs. Yell it in the grocery store. Yell it at the nursing home and in hospital halls and in your child’s elementary pick-up lane. Yell, “Hosanna” because you cannot save yourself and you cannot save the world.
But, people of God, Body of Christ, don’t just yell Hosanna. Be Hosanna.
Step up and step in and save the world. Be the light and the love Christ called us to be.
Fight for the poor and the weak. Fight for our children. Fight for the people in actual, literal slavery right now today.
Fight for freedom by spending only what you have on only what you need. Fight for freedom by turning off your radio and turning off your TV. Fight for freedom by feeding the hungry and feeding them well. Fight for freedom by refusing to crash diet or phototshop your wrinkles in family pictures.
Support a community garden.
Buy used clothes or fair trade clothes. Or just buy a lot less clothes.
Adopt a child through Compassion or World Vision. Teach your child that other people matter just as much as she does.
Give more money. To your church. To your friends who need it. To charities and missionaries and Bible translation committees and whoever else can find a good way to spend it.
Get rid of your stuff. You don’t need it; it’s just weighing you down, tying you to this world in which you do not belong.
On Palm Sunday, the children of God cried “Hosanna” and laid palm branches and cloaks at the feet of their Deliverer. Hopeful, expectant.
Today we echo their hope-filled cries of desperation. And we answer them with kingdom lives, our whole selves offered in the fight for freedom, our whole hearts confident the One who brings rescue has come and is coming.
The other day Eve and I were hanging out at the house. She played with Barbies and her new plastic penguins. I folded laundry and wrote a post.
After a little while she came into my office and, as is her custom, climbed into my lap in the most awkward way imaginable—her hands in my hair, her elbow in my eye, her feet entangled in the computer power cord, almost knocking the laptop and my coffee to the ground.
Then, settled, she sat in my lap, her huge five year old self blocking any chance I might have at the keyboard.
She held my face between her hands and lifted her (stinky) feet to my shoulders. [She’s quite flexible.]
We sat this way for thirty seconds.
Did I mention Eve’s an extrovert and her love language is touch?
Did I mention I’m an introvert and fundamentally bothered by invasion of my space?
In an act of motherly love (and extrication), I kissed Eve’s forehead, told her I loved her, and lifted her off my lap and onto the floor.
I said, “Go play.”
She said, “But I want to be with you.”
I said, “You are with me.”
She said, “No, I want to be WITH you. I want to FEEL you.”
"God With Us"—it must have meant something much different to the apostles and to Mary and to Lazarus. For them, Jesus Emmanuel meant a conversation over figs watching the sun set behind Jerusalem. It meant washing one another’s feet and rubbing shoulders in a crowd.
I forget sometimes that people actually held Jesus’ hands. I forget they helped Him into a boat. I forget they carried His cross and rubbed His skin with spices.
"God with us" looks different today.
Often I find myself trying to climb into a lap I can’t reach.
Because I want to be WITH God. I want to FEEL Him.
Before Jesus died He talked to His apostles, trying to prepare them for His absence. He said:
"And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will bein you.”
I find it interesting that when Jesus leaves, He doesn’t say, “remember that I was with you and that’ll be enough.” He doesn’t say, “Even though I’ll be in Heaven, I’ll still be with you but in a different way.” No, He offers two points of hope: 1. He says He’s coming back. And 2. He says He’ll ask the Father for another advocate (an advocate like Himself), the Spirit.
For us, Christians living post-incarnation, “God with us” is the Spirit.
And it’s not just sitting beside us on the couch in the body of a single man who comes and goes. The Spirit is inside us, permanently, perseveringly present.
Do you want to be WITH God? Do you want to FEEL God? Consider the gift of the Spirit…
I don’t know every way the Spirit of God works. I know the Spirit works through the Word. I know the Spirit works in prayer. I know the Spirit tills the soil of my heart, fertilizing virtues until they bloom into fruit.
I know when I feel alone I can crawl into bed with the Living Word and feel held.
And I suspect there’s more…
For me though, the Spirit most powerfully presents Himself in the lives of the saints. When I need God, when I need to FEEL God, I seek out His people, people full to spilling of Spirit.
I sit in their living rooms or beside them in a truck or across a table at Chick-fil-a and I experience the very presence of God.
I look into God’s eyes—blue, brown, and hazel. I see God’s smile—sometimes crooked, sometimes straight, so often beaming. I touch God’s hands—giant, wrinkled and tan or small and ivory with glitter-painted finger nails.
Sometimes I take walks with God. Sometimes I laugh with God. And occasionally I climb up into His lap and let Him stroke my hair.
Because sometimes it’s not enough to know God’s close.
Let God Use Writing To Change Your Life (Featuring A Super Exciting Announcement)
I know something about writing. I studied writing for six years. I taught college writing for four. I’ve written (by my calculations) more than 2 million words.
I am an advocate for writing. Through it God has shaped me, challenged me, led me, and healed me.
When I’m worried about a friend in a failing marriage, when I’m concerned about a destructive voice I’m hearing, concerned I might start listening, when I’m scared or nervous, anxious, tired, mad, or overwhelmed—I write.
I write the things I’m feeling, all of them. I dump them on the page. I spread them out like Scrabble tiles, pushing them apart, trying to see. I read and re-read them, listening, trying to understand myself and my/your/our problems. I look at the sentences one by one—not in the mound but alone—brushed of the dust of problem proximity.
And as I read the words I wrote but often didn’t know I felt, I come to understand my self, my situation, and my context.
Next, I pray. I read. Perhaps I have a conversation or two with wise people.
And I return to the writing. To talk myself down. To give advice. To offer perspective. To tell myself a story.
I pour God’s wisdom into my hungry heart.
In writing, I see my life from a thousand feet and place this experience or this new question within the narrative of a full, God-led life.
By the time I close my laptop or wrap the rubber band around my notebook, I’m already healing.
Joyce Carol Oates says of writing about her husband’s death, “The act of writing is an act of attempted comprehension.”
Studies consistently show that people who write—in a diary, on a blog, in a memoir or poem—have a much higher ability to contextualize their experiences and recover from trauma.
I imagine that’s what made King David so resilient.
Writing’s not just for the hurting though. It’s an avenue for praise, a help in focused prayer, an opportunity for testimony.
Writing is a way we understand and share the love of God.
At this point it’s likely you’re thinking, “That sounds great Jennifer, but I’m not a writer.”
I understand. But I promise, you could be.
This summer I’m offering a workshop designed to help women find everyday healing, hope and help in the act of writing.
This is NOT a workshop for writers. It’s an opportunity for women who might be interested in writing as a spiritual discipline, an opportunity to be shaped into the image of Christ through the act of journaling, blogging, or writing poetry.
Over the course of this half day experience I’ll help you…
Listen to the voices in your head and heart.
Process your questions, doubts, temptations, struggles, joys, blessings, and victories.
See the big picture, understanding your present situation and emotions through a whole-life lens.
Seek God and the hope He provides.
Find your place in God’s ultimate story of redemption.
I’ll talk. You’ll talk. We’ll all write. And, by the grace of God, we’ll change the way we see and live.
If you think you might be interested in a workshop like this contact me via Facebook or by email: email@example.com.
I’ll keep the fee low (under 60 bucks) and (depending on interest) try to plan a location close to you. Right now I’m considering Nashville, TN, Huntsville, AL, and/or Austin, TX.
I’ll post more details as summer nears.
I pray God uses this opportunity to bless you richly!
Pornography, Oppression, and A Call to Break Every Yoke
Yesterday, sometime in the afternoon, I put my girls down for a nap. I climbed into bed beside them and watched them dream while I read. It was in that context, beside the most precious and pure of my gifts from God, that I read [this] most powerful and disturbing set of facts.
Before you click through I want to prepare you. It’s a set of statistics related to the porn industry. It is graphic, includes lots of foul language and intense descriptions of the most vile acts of sexual abuse imaginable. If you have a filter on your computer you probably won’t be able to read it.
It is the largest single compilation of information about pornography I’ve ever encountered. Reading it in list form, fact after terrifying fact, paralyzed me. And I am not easily shocked.
While this list does include some of the familiar negative consequences viewers reap when they watch pornography, the figures also include a glimpse into the debauched mindset of industry leaders and expose significant and rampant abuse against women and children.
[Child pornography is one the fastest growing online business in the U.S. Fifty-eight percent of child pornography depicts sadism, penetration by an animal, or similar abuse. In adult pornography 88% of scenes contain physical aggression, including spanking, gagging, and slapping. Following those instances of aggression towards women, in 95% of cases the women expressed pleasure or neutrality.]
Pornography is one of the most influential forces in the world. 25 percent of daily search engine requests are for pornography. Mobile phone pornography alone is a billion dollar industry. As a result, the pornography world view is changing the way millions and millions of Americans think and behave.
And it’s only getting worse.
Today, 53 percent of boys and 28 percent of girls (ages 12-15) report use of sexually explicit media. By the time they’re sixteen, it will be 9 in 10 young men.
As I sat on my bed reading these crushing facts and testimonies, I wanted to drive to Hollywood and Vegas and gather up those girls (and children!) and take them somewhere safe and love them.
I wanted to shut the Internet down. Just shut the whole thing down.
I wanted to wipe the minds of a whole generation of young people who will never be able to fully shake the violent images they’ve been shown.
I wanted to go Old Testament minor prophet, Jesus with a whip, on the directors and producers, in-the-flesh oppressors, leading an entire generation to Hell (literal, figurative, all of it). Woe to you…
I told my husband I really needed to beat someone up.
And I’m not embarrassed about that. I don’t think that feeling is “wrong.” I think it’s born from something righteous.
After I’d prayed and asked God to calm my spirit, I opened my Bible to the Psalms.
I cried with David as he said, “They devour my people as though eating bread.”
It’s wrong to view pornography. I believe that. I believe every person who views it feeds the flesh-eating beast the industry has become.
But, to some degree, we are victims of oppressive forces. We live in a world that wants the worst for us. We walk to a chorus of self-destruction. We proclaim freedom in a culture devoted to freedom and we are all, so close to all of us, slaves. Slaves to the porn industry. Slaves to the fast food industry. Slaves to the cartel. Slaves to people who own islands and don’t know our names.
And, for me, that can be so overwhelming.
Until I read the Psalms. And I stand next to David, so aware of his enemies, so keen to injustice and pain, and I see God through His eyes, God as a defender of the weak, God as our stronghold, God as light in dark, God above all.
I read these words in Psalm 12, and I know they’re true:
"You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked, who freely strut about when what is vile is honored by the human race.”
That’s the world we live in and that’s the God we serve. He will keep us safe and protect us from the wicked “who freely strut about.”
As I send my daughter to school tomorrow, knowing (statistically speaking) there is likely a boy in her kindergarten class already exposed to pornography, knowing his exposure makes him significantly more likely to abuse one of his classmates, I’ll pray to my God who protects the needy.
But, as powerful as prayer is and as much as I trust God to work, I’m not going to sit around and watch the wicked prey on my children and their friends. As a member of the body of Christ bearing the Spirit of God here on earth I’m going to do something.
For one, I’m writing this post, small as it is. For another, I’ll commit to never ever consume even a drop of pornography’s poison. I might decide to mentor kids in London’s class at school.
I’m still brainstorming what I’ll do, but I know this: I’m going to do something.
Because I am the Lord’s, and I fight for the oppressed.
A while back I wrote these words on a wall in my living room, and slowly they’ve made their way into my bones. I’ll end with them, a rally cry from God to His people:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? […] Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.”
So I was at a retreat this weekend, a work-heavy retreat, the kind of retreat that isn’t so much a get away thing as it is a jump into the deep end thing.
It was great. And exhausting. And hard.
It was all brainstorming and problem-solving (which I LOVE very, very much). So that was awesome. But also not awesome, because sometimes in brainstorming/problem-solving situations I get too excited and freak out all over everybody with much too much talking and hand-waving and maybe even crying. [I have ideas, people. And I am very passionate about them. Very. Passionate.] As that can be, shall we say…off-putting, I have to exercise a lot of self discipline in these situations.
The last time I participated in a full day of brainstorming I went off the rails.
This time, I prayed about it for a week.
During the retreat we were encouraged to take some time to listen to God. We were told to be completely quiet, even to quiet our thoughts, for ten minutes.
Here’s how that went for Jennifer on the day of a brainstorming/problem-solving marathon:
Inner Voice 1: Let’s think about all the things everyone just said and weigh them and decide which ones are the most helpful.
Inner voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: Let’s brainstorm ten more possible ways to re-imagine that environment we were talking about.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: I think I’ve said at least seven stupid things today. Let’s go over them all and see who needs an apology.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 1: I am terrible at this. Maybe I’m not made to do this. Maybe I’m just a thinking person. I have so many thoughts. I’m gifted.
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 3: Maybe we should count or say a mantra or something.
Inner Voice 2: Fine. 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2…
Inner Voice 1 (over the top of voice 2): This is totally going to work. I think this is how meditation works. It’s just like that guy was talking about in that TED talk. I wish that had been a better talk. If only he’d offered a few practical suggestions…
Inner Voice 2: Shut up.
Inner Voice 3: It’s so pretty outside. Maybe God is talking to me in the sunlight, warming my skin, like a hug…
When we gathered together to share any insight we’d received from God, I didn’t say a word. Because if I’d heard Him, I’m pretty sure the message was, “Shut up.”
My calling is words. And it’s a tricky calling.
Because very wise people have said things like this:
"Many words mark the speech of a fool." Eccl. 5:3
"Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions." Prov. 18:2
I read a fascinating article earlier this week titled “There Are No Opinions In This Article.” The point was that in today’s culture, we all feel both entitled and compelled to share our every opinion.
And you know that’s true…
We get on Facebook, Twitter or our blog and sound off, experts in everything:
Who’s going to win the game? Who’s fault is it they didn’t win the game? What does the coach need to do this week to prepare for the next game? How long before we should fire the coach?
Who’s the best singer on American Idol? Who’s overrated? Who got robbed?
What should the preacher preach on more? What should he preach on less? How many minutes should he preach? What about those weird shoes he always wears?
Why is the teacher so boring? Is she too hard? Is she too easy? Why does she hate you so much?
What should America do in response to Russia’s invasion of Crimea?
We all have answers to all the questions.
Even as I write that, my flesh is saying, “Well, I sure do.”
But I don’t.
And because I know, when I’m being most objective, that I don’t have all the answers, I have a responsibility to keep my mouth shut more.
"The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly." Prov. 12:23
That’s so true, right?
How many times have you opened your mouth, spoken too quickly—before you’d listened to the thought, before you’d weighed its worth and its helpfulness—and ended up embarrassed?
How many times have you thought, “I shouldn’t have said that”? I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought it.
According to the writer of Proverbs, wise people don’t talk a lot. He says it a dozen times. And I can hem and haw and try to get around it, but the bottom line is I would be wise to shut up way more often.
Not everything I think is worth saying.
Not everyone needs to know what I think.
And if I’d take a second and think through my thoughts, pray over them and weigh them, I’d realize that.
For me, writer of words, shutting up looks like forty two drafts sitting in a folder, drafts of things I’ll probably never publish, ideas you don’t need to hear because they’re self-indulgent or stupid or not very helpful.
It looks like not writing about the Noah movie (even though it would do wonders for my traffic) because I don’t feel compelled to tell you what I think, because my thoughts are neither original nor informed.
In general, it looks like writing more about what I know than what I think.
I’m not always getting this right. But I’m trying.
Outside of writing, in conversations and discussions and meetings, it looks like counting before I talk, training myself out of reflexive speech.
Like really listening to other people without trying to comment or argue.
Like planning my words instead of letting them rush from my mouth like a geyser, inevitable, forceful and chaotic.
And like realizing that most of my thoughts don’t need sharing.
I am not great at this. But I’m trying.
If today you’re looking for a message from God, I’d be happy to share the message He’s giving me. It’s helpful and simple and re-orienting.