Last summer our family of five loaded ourselves and a ridiculous amount of luggage into our mini van and headed out West.
We set out on a road trip adventure to meet up with some of our dearest friends. It was a week full of hiking, sunshine, and laughter and was exactly what my soul needed after those uncertain first few months of the pandemic.
Mixed somewhere in the heap of things we had packed was my Bible. At home when I am in my routine, I rarely skip a beat when it comes to spending time with God. Vacations however, are an entirely different story. Although I packed my quiet time supplies with every intention to get up early before our long list of daily activities began, I wasn’t exactly batting a thousand by the week’s end. In fact, my Bible never even saw the light of day.
Some days I'm grateful for masks. Especially on those no-make-up, tired-eye, or swollen-tear-faced kind of days. Some days the mask I wear isn't to cover bare skin, under eye bags, and signs of age. This mask I put on to cover who I am. To cover my past. My flaws. My hurt. My brokenness. My fallenness.
I have fallen more times than I care to admit. Fallen into a "little" sin that seemed to creep in without me realizing. Fallen quietly without anyone noticing but me.
But other falls? They have been not so tiny. They have been not so private. And they have been not so quiet. We all fall and often when we do, the mask we have been hiding behind is removed.
A few years ago, I felt a nudge. My husband and I were coming out of a hard season with a renewed commitment to follow God wholeheartedly. We felt God moving us in a new direction, but we didn’t know where He was leading. So, we prayed for God to show us His will for us. What I really wanted was GPS, turn-by-turn directions. Yes God, I want to follow You, but please show me exactly where and how we are supposed to get there.
As I prepare my heart for Easter, I tend to experience it in three parts: the trauma of the crucifixion, the silence of the burial and the joy of the resurrection.
Usually, I skip over the “Silent Saturday” - or Sabbath day as it was known. This is because nothing seemed to be happening. With Jesus’s last breath, any hope of rescue was silenced. No more accusations or pleas fill the air. On this particular Sabbath, there was nothing to do but sit in solitude with empty, hopeless, confusing and consuming sorrow. “Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of Jesus) were sitting across from the tomb and watching.” Matt. 27:61 NLT
This year, I was drawn to it, this Silent Sabbath, or Saturday, as we call it.
I overheard my son trying to describe to my husband a place that makes him feel happy and in his element. When words failed him, he finally sighed and said “Well, you know, it’s exactly how Mom feels about the beach. It’s her happy place.”
Far too often, I run to everything else but Jesus. I buy into the lie that I can find my peace and rest elsewhere. That if I just find my purpose, create margin, exercise, love myself, think positive thoughts, solve my problems, discover my true self, make memories, manage conflict or accomplish more on my to-do list, then I’ll finally be at rest.
But these things offer temporary relief with no lasting impact. Too often we “spend money on what is not bread and [our] labor on what does not satisfy” (Isa 55:2). Sooner or later, we find ourselves chained once again to the burdensome cycle of performance and weariness because the material world never provides what we really need.
I met my husband at a pool party. Horror of horrors— he was sitting on my towel! I saw him just sitting there comfortably on that towel and so, of course, I decided to wait it out in the pool. He would have to move eventually, right? I was too self-conscious to step out of the pool in my swimsuit and ask him to please move.
Eventually the cold got the best of me and at dusk I forced myself to take brave steps toward my towel and the guy sitting on it. I couldn’t even look him in the eye when I blurted out “you’re on my towel!” You see, I was embarrassed to be seen that way—shivering, mascara-smudged, limp-haired, and curves in all the wrong places: awkward, uncovered and ashamed.
We all have those feelings of being unacceptable, unworthy and unpolished.
This year has had a way of exposing what we worry about the most. Over the last several weeks, I had the opportunity to be part of a women’s Bible study that read through the Gospel of Luke. Recently I came across this all-familiar passage that struck me differently than before.
“Do not worry about everyday life...these things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers all over the world, but your Father already knows your needs...wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:22, 30, 34
Jesus had just finished telling His disciples they needn’t worry about death or the harm that others could do to them. Instead, He encouraged them to entrust themselves to the One who holds all authority and power in both this world and the next. It is after this interaction that Jesus launches into his famous words on anxiety and the cares of this world.
Do not worry, He says, about how you will get your needs met. And while I may not worry about my next meal, there is one need that has dominated my thoughts continuously this year:
I believe the gospel writer of Matthew gives us some strong hints when he records Jesus’s genealogy. Matthew writes about the Christmas story by beginning with a list of names- 40 men and 5 women in order to prove the royal bloodline of Jesus.
The fact that he mentions 5 women in this lineage of 40 men should cause the reader to stand up and take notice. Another Gospel writer, Luke, did not mention any women in his version! Why are they included in Matthew’s account? Many have pointed out that these five women have all been tainted by sexual scandal or abuse.
After one very long year, I’m ready for a bit of cheer. With anticipation running high, we’re eager to usher in the happiest season of all.
But what if you don’t feel very thankful? What if your season isn’t bright?
More than ever before, there will be pressure to put the happy in our holiday this year. Cancellations, illness, financial hardship, and family tension can easily turn your mood into the most primitive bah-humbug.
So if there’s one message I want you to hear, it’s this:
We were heading home when the nurse called with news for my husband, Patrick. I was driving when he answered his cellphone. It was a quick exchange, but when I glanced over at him writing on a scrap of paper, I could see the word “cancer.”
It’s true that hearing the “C” word is like being punched in the stomach. I wanted to throw up. We both sat in silence.
It was a mean email. The woman had fussed at me up and down, made untrue accusations, questioned my spirituality, and then threw a little Jesus on it.
So, what did I do? I typed an email response that fussed at her fussing at me, defended myself left and right, and threw a little Jesus on it. Then … I deleted what I had written and never sent a reply.
A few days later, I received a second email from the woman, apologizing; she had been having a bad day.
Oh, how I love the “delete” button.
Social media is rife with unkind comments, vicious venting and vengeful vindictiveness. Fiery tweets spawn heated replies; opinionated posts provoke resentful retaliation. I’m convinced people type what they would never say face-to-face. How many times have I clicked “send” then wanted to climb into my computer and get the words back? How many times have you?
Maybe we have a vision of a calm morning with a cup of coffee in one hand and a well-loved Bible in the other. Maybe this idealized quiet time includes soft worship music playing in the background while watching the sun slowly rise.
We tend to have these ideas of what our time with God should look like, but what happens when the sound of silence is replaced by the crying baby, the roommate’s Zoom call, “Mom, I’m hungry...”, or texts from work demanding attention?
Corrie Gerbatz of Proverbs 31 writes about finding God within the day-to-day moments that many of us view as distractions from “real” quiet time. She says...
For the past few years, we have been carefully working at reclaiming this area little by little from invasive weeds. It has been quite the process that can occasionally feel as if we are going nowhere. We succeed with new growth in one area only to have what appears to be more weeds growing in another. At times our hard work seems futile, but there is no area of my garden that reminds me more of God’s sovereignty, plans, and purpose.
Sometimes those prayers come out of a difficult season. Some of those prayers are born out of poor decisions we have made, out of trials we are suffering, or out of circumstances within or around us. Some prayers end up blooming out of important lessons; prayers that help train us and build faith that could not be built quite the same under other circumstances.
“You keep track of my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8).
All Scripture is God breathed, and the book of Psalms can be especially powerful as we face difficult times. The Psalms reflect a wide range of human emotion from complaint to praise; fear to faith, and sorrow to joy. Sometimes all in the same refrain!
Listen, “hate” is a strong word. I use it sparingly – in writing, anyway. But, this whole “social media fast” trend has got me fed up (or should I say, passionate) enough to use it.
Fasting from social media seems totally peachy and admirable from a single glance, but it is imperative that the root desires of the fast are internally investigated. What is the purpose of fasting to begin with? Why do we want to fast? Why do we so deeply feel the need to fast from social media specifically?
We bought a BarxBuddy for our dog. It’s a handheld training device that uses ultrasonic sound to get a dog’s attention and redirect his behavior. We humans can’t hear the noise, but apparently to our dog it sounds like an annoying tuba.
I was super ambitious and decided that since Thanksgiving fell so late, I wanted to have all Christmas shopping done before the big turkey day. That way, I would have the entire three and a half weeks to decorate, watch my share of Hallmark movies, and enjoy one of my favorite holidays with my family. For those of you that know me, yes, I admit that this is shocking as I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator. However, I've been recognizing the need for a bit more structure in my life and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to bring order to chaos and to make way for Christmas.
Did you know that God also made way for Christmas?
Who doesn’t love an old-fashioned Christmas- a crackling fire in the fireplace, twinkling lights on the tree, something yummy in the oven, and favorite Christmas songs on repeat? I know I do! My music students have been working on Christmas songs for weeks now, and everyone loves the holiday cheer it brings into their homes.
One of my favorite carols is Hark! The Herald Angels Sing! I always get a kick out of asking my students— what does “hark” mean? It’s not a word we use anymore. According to the dictionary, “hark” means to listen, pay close attention, or listen intently. In the song, it means Hey! Everyone listen up! The angels are singing!
What is Advent and why would a few books about Advent help me this Christmas season?
Advent is traditionally known as the period of four Sundays and four weeks before Christmas and means “Coming” in Latin. You know, as in Christmas is coming- I better get the gifts, bake the cookies, deck the halls, and …why am I doing all this? With this type of “Advent” I need more than four weeks! It helps my perspective when I remind myself that my hospitality mentor and Christmas décor muse Martha Stewart did end up in jail for something that may or may not have been related to Christmas preparations.
Over the past two years my secure, predictable way of life has become uprooted. My future has become uncertain. Many roads lay open before me, but none of the pathways come with a guarantee. I like predictability. I like a good plan. Truth be told, I am a plan addict. I create plans purely for my own enjoyment. But I am currently at a crossroad in my life and I have no idea which road to take.
I want to be happy for her, really I do, but as I scroll past her latest social media post a look of criticism spreads across my face. This week her children smile at me in their perfectly coordinated outfits with a beautiful oceanside view in the background. Last week I couldn’t contain my eye rolls as I scrolled through her son’s over-the top perfectly themed Birthday celebration complete with a homemade 3 layer cake.
Logic tells me that anything can be made to look a certain way through a camera’s lens, but doubt forms and jealousy grows… just a small seed at first, but my collection of these seeds seems to be growing lately and I don’t like what it is building inside of me.
“I am sorry,” the doctor stated, “we will not be able to do your daughter’s procedure this morning.”
I could feel tears begin to well in my eyes. I couldn’t hold them back. I had gotten up in the wee hours of the morning to arrive at the hospital. Elena desperately needed this procedure. In the past it had helped to prevent the pneumonias we were continually fighting back to back. I knew it would be a game changer for her.
What poured out of my mouth I am ashamed to say was not characteristic of a Christian woman and actually resembled an angry mamma bear.
I was expecting that things would go as planned.
I was expecting that my Elena would benefit from our scheduled procedure.
I was expecting that the long drive to and from Milwaukee would not be for nothing.
When we place our hope in the things of this world, we can often end up feeling frustrated and deceived when things do not go according to our expectation.
But as Christians we are called to place our hope and expectation in the Lord (Psalm 62:5) and in His many promises (Psalm 89:34).
One Sunday morning in March, I was spending personal time in God's Word between services at Appleton Alliance. While I was reflecting on the passage in my journal, I couldn't help but notice two small children, no older than five or six, playing a game of hide-and-seek with their grandpa near where I was sitting. As I was writing down a prayer concluding my devotional time, my attention became fixed on this seemingly insignificant game before me.
As a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom, my comfort zone is a 1,500-square foot ranch. The same painted walls, the same piles of dishes, and the same precious faces make up the scenery of my days. My minivan travels to the grocery store, school, church, and occasionally Starbucks for a coffee date. Adventure for me these days is a stroll through the outlet mall.
I’m okay with that. In this season of life, I like to focus inward—on my family, my faith, my casserole recipe book. I don’t suffer from wanderlust because there’s enough to juggle in my six-room home.
My world is small. So sometimes I forget that my God is big—really, really big.
I remember Holy Week as a child: reading the Gospel accounts of the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection, attending Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and discussing the stories as a class. If you asked me what I remember most about those studies as a child, I would love to be able to say that I was humbled by Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, or angered by Judas’s betrayal, or horrified that the crowds chose to have a violent criminal released to the public rather than Jesus.
But in all honesty…the part that most fascinated me was Peter cutting off Malchus’ ear in his attempt to defend Jesus. I mean, really…when you are eight years old, how great is that?!
What do we do with circumstances or people that legitimately cause us frustration, anger and sadness? We can’t go around putting on a happy face and pretend everything is ok. Grumpiness can’t be stuffed! (I personally think that would make a good bumper sticker.)
My son has a favorite stuffed animal. It goes everywhere with him. In the car. To the store, the park, to Grandma's house. When he is scared or scrapes his knee, that stuffed animal is there to comfort him. He may need me too, but that little animal is what calms and soothes him. One look at this bedraggled stuffed animal and you know it is well loved; precious in the eyes of my little boy.
When my son fell the other day and hurt his arm, he reached for that animal, and it got me thinking. As adults, we don't have a favorite stuffed animal to comfort us (at least most of us don't - if you do, it’s ok! no judging here!). So, if not a stuffed animal, what do we cling to when we are scared or hurt? What do we reach for in the dark and lonely places? When everything around us seems foreign and chaotic, where do we turn?
I love to read. I tend to have a few books vying for my attention at any given time. I think the books we read reveal a lot about our passions, dreams and personalities.
I realize not everyone likes to read, but when it comes to ministry it is rather important to keep up on our reading so we can stay fresh, informed and motivated as we seek to minister to the people we are called to.
Having said that, I thought it would be interesting to get the top three books that have impacted some of our ministry staff. What are they passionate about? What books have influenced their faith and ministry? What would they recommend?
I received a lot of great information and I came back wanting to read everything on the list! So many books…so little time…