Thursday, December 8, 2016

when birthdays are hard...

Tuesday, my brother would have turned 36.

I would have teased him tremendously, poking fun at the fact that he was inching closer and closer to 40 while I was still closer to 30.

I would have complained about having to have that gooey red cherry stuff on top of the cheesecake again--but I would have grinned while I ate it.

Instead, I was a little too quick with an answer when the kids at school asked for the date.

"The 6th" is what I said, but in my head the answer went on with my big brother's birthday.

I didn't say it, though. Sometimes I hesitate to say anything about him because I'm not sure how other people will react, but I can usually count on a look of pity, an "I'm sorry," followed by an uncomfortable silence while I smile to show that they don't have to be sad.

His birthday is hard. It makes me wonder what he would be like at 36...maybe a couple gray hairs for me to make fun of? A few extra pounds around the waist? Smile lines starting to form around his eyes and mouth?

The questions are too much sometimes. The unknowns get overwhelming; the what-might-have-beens choke me up.

The lump in my throat gets hard to swallow.

I've heard people say that they don't celebrate their birthdays anymore, that they stopped with #29 or some other number. But the thing is, birthdays should always be celebrated. Yes, we're getting older with every candle that gets added, and sometimes it's a rude awakening to think about how many years have passed since we were 20 (12 for me...)

But for some people, birthdays stop way before they should. Some families put "would have been" before a new age each year.

There has only been one birthday that I didn't want to celebrate, and that was the year I turned 24. That was the year I was first older than my big brother, and to be honest I wanted to just skip the whole day. I wanted to go to sleep the night before and wake up the morning after and just avoid the entire day. There was something wrong about seeing a birthday my big brother had never seen.

My own birthday has gotten easier, and for the most part Michael's birthday has gotten easier. There are moments in each, though, when I can't breathe and when I have to swallow the lump in my throat--just like on normal days sometimes.

If birthdays are hard for you sometimes, please know you aren't alone. So let the tears spill over if they need to, and then smile and celebrate.

Happy 36th birthday, big brother. You are deeply missed.

Monday, November 7, 2016

time to take a stand

You hear it all the time: "I'm not going to vote, because one voice won't matter."

How about 90 million voices? Because, you see, that's the approximate number of eligible voters who didn't stand up to be counted for the last election. And among those 90 million voices, at least 4 million are evangelical Christians.

As believers in and followers of Christ, we know that God is ultimately in control. He knows exactly how this election is going to turn out. The thing is, we shouldn't be using that as a cop-out to excuse not going to the polls tomorrow. You see, God uses His people to carry out His will. If we don't stand up and speak out, we aren't doing our part.

Yes, God can use anyone and anything to fulfill His plans. If He wants, He can change people's minds when they start filling out their ballots. But here's the kicker: sometimes, God lets us get our way.

Sometimes, God gives us exactly what we're asking for so that we figure out just how bad we are at doing this ourselves. When His people cried out for a king, God told them that they didn't want one. He warned them that a king would take advantage of the people. He told them that He was the only Ruler they needed.

The Israelites answered, "That's all well and good, but how about You give us a king anyways? We want to be like everybody else." (That's my paraphrase of the events of 1 Samuel 8).

I'm afraid that we as a nation have quickly put ourselves in that situation. We've stopped trying to be different. We've started sliding down hill so fast that we can't get a hold on anything to stop ourselves. We've taken our eyes off of God and turned them to the rest of the world, and now we're desperately trying to look like everybody else.

That's not what we as Christians are called to do. We aren't supposed to be like the rest of the world. We aren't supposed to value what the rest of the world values. We are called to reflect God, the One who made us in His image.

"So, first and foremost, I urge God's people to pray.
They should make their requests, petitions, and thanksgivings on behalf of all humanity.
Teach them to pray for kings (or anyone in high places for that matter)
so that we can lead quiet, peaceful lives--reverent, godly, and holy--
all of which is good and acceptable before the eyes of God our Savior
who desires for everyone to be saved and know the truth.
Because 'There is one God and one Mediator between God and us--
the man Jesus, God's Anointed, who gave His life as a ransom for all
so that we might have freedom.'" 
~1 Timothy 2:1-6
So pray. Pray for our country. Pray for those who are voting, and pray for those who are running for election. Pray that our country will return to God. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God said,
"if My people, who are called by My name,
will humble themselves
and pray and seek My face
and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven,
and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Pray for your fellow believers, for your brothers and sisters in Christ. Pray that we will all humble ourselves before God and ask His forgiveness and healing for our land.
I know that the 2 main presidential candidates are far from anything we want--both of them. Neither one seems to be a reflection of the God I serve. But I feel it is my responsibility as a Christian to stand up and speak out. I can't in good conscience sit back and watch our country slide further down the rabbit hole, and I think that is what will happen if we as Christians keep quiet.

I also think it is my duty as an American citizen to vote. That's a right my brother fought and died for, along with many other brave men and women who would give just about anything to be voting tomorrow. We owe it to them and to the men and women who are currently fighting to vote for a Commander-in-Chief that our military can stand behind, someone who will support them, believe in them, and never leave a man behind.

Don't worry about the "politically correct" candidate tomorrow, because I've found that "politically correct" is most often the choice that stands in stark contrast to what God says is right. So pray, then vote, then pray some more. Pray that every follower of Christ will base their vote on God's word and His will. Pray that we will become a nation after God instead a nation intent on our own desires. Pray that our leaders will draw near to God and base their decisions on His word.

Vote--and if you don't, remember that you have no right to complain about the direction our country goes following the election.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

when you're lost...

So, I just realized that it has almost been an entire month since I last wrote...ouch. I have to tell you, I can feel that it's been that long because I can feel a little bit of my sanity melting away. My husband will tell you--I'm a much better person to be around when I write. In the past he's called writing my therapy, and I guess there are a lot worse things I could do to decompress.

I have to admit, though, lately words just haven't come easily to me. For a long time now I've been struggling with the thought that I'm a bit lost in the grand scheme of things. I've been begging for God to show me where I fit in His plan, but for some reason He seems to be silent on the matter.

Have you ever felt that way?

So often, I hear people talk about finding God's will as if it is a simple thing: just say a prayer, and God will tell you exactly where He wants you. Can I be totally honest? Sometimes, those people make me want to pull my hair out.

Because, you see, I've been begging to know God's will for at least 6 years now (though it's probably been longer than that, just not quite as desperately until I was getting ready to graduate from college). I can't even start to tell you the hours I've spent on my knees, the verses I've poured over, the prayers I've written out, and the tears I've cried.

But God has kept track of all of them.

That's the amazing thing that we lose sight of--God knows just how many tears I've cried as I've poured out my heart to Him. He remembers every word I wrote. He whispered to me through the verses, and He knelt down to listen to me while I was on my knees.

No matter how I feel--despite the little voice telling me that I've been forgotten and left on my own--God is faithful. No matter what our fickle hearts tell us, He never changes. In James we're told,

" Every good gift bestowed, every perfect gift received comes to us from above,
courtesy of the Father of lights. He is consistent. 
He won’t change His mind or play tricks in the shadows.  
We have a special role in His plan.
He calls us to life by His message of truth
so that we will show the rest of His creatures His goodness and love."
~James 1:17&18

I know that. Really I do; the answers are there in my head. The issue is sometimes just reminding myself of that. Even when I feel like I'm stuck on the periphery, out there by myself just watching everybody else fulfill their role in God's plan, God is consistent. He's got me in the palm of His hand. Even more amazing than that, God says "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands." (Isaiah 49:16)

God has made me a part of Himself. If I'm engraved on His hands, there is no way that He can push me aside and forget about me. I'm not lost, even though I can't see exactly where I am. The path may be hidden from me right now, but God still knows exactly right where I am and where I'm headed.

And in the midst of my misgivings, insecurities, and messy issues, that is a thought I need to cling to.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

when self-reliance becomes something else

I'm big on self-reliance. My whole life, from the time I was little bitty, my mantra has been, "I can do it myself!" One of my dreams is to one day have a self-sustaining farm, one on which we can totally support ourselves and our loved ones without counting on anyone else.

Worldly self-reliance isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God tells us to work and to support ourselves so that others won't have a reason to speak against us--"make it your goal to lead a peaceful life, mind your own business, and keep your hands busy in your work, as we have instructed you. That way you will live peacefully with those on the outside, and all your needs will be met without depending on others." (I Thessalonians 4:11 & 12, VOICE).

The problem comes, though, when my self-reliance comes ahead of my reliance on God. It usually sneaks in a little at a time, starting with something tiny, something I can handle on my own without "bothering" God about it. I want to handle things myself, but in doing so I start trusting in my own power and stop trusting in God.

"My goodness, how you've turned things around! You seem to think that the potter is equal to the clay; should the pot say about the potter, 'He didn't make me'? Or does the thing formed say about the one who formed it, 'He doesn't understand anything'?"
~Isaiah 29:16

When I start trusting myself instead of God, I'm like the pot saying that I know better than the Potter.
God doesn't expect me to take care of everything on my own. In fact, it's quite the opposite. He doesn't need or want my help taking care of things.

"Listen! The Lord, the Eternal, the Holy One of Israel says,
'In returning and rest, you will be saved.
In quietness and trust you will find strength.'"
~Isaiah 30:15

God doesn't need my strength--He doesn't even want it. To Him, my strength is nothing. Instead, He wants me to let go. He says, "This is the way; here is rest for the weary. I am showing you rest." ~Isaiah 28:12
That's hard for me, that "rest" thing. All I do is look around and see all the things that are being left undone, all the things I should be doing, all the things that I need to "fix." I have a tendency to do the same thing with God. He calls me to rest, but I start looking around and seeing all the things I think I should be doing.

In James, we're told, "Those who depend only on their own judgment are like those lost on the seas, carried away by any wave or picked up by any wind. Those adrift on their own wisdom shouldn't assume the LORD will rescue them or bring them anything. The splinter of divided loyalty shatters your compass and leaves you dizzy and confused." ~James 1:6-8
When I rely on my own strength and wisdom, I usually get myself lost at sea. And when I'm lost, being tossed around by the waves and getting more and more disoriented, I start paddling frantically trying to get myself back to shore. It's only when I'm undeniably lost that I start asking God to show me where I'm supposed to be. He can't always show me right away, because sometimes I've gotten myself so far off track that He has to lead me back through the waves and across the open sea before we're even in sight of where I'm supposed to be.
And it's only when a storm comes along that rips the paddles out of my hands and leaves me totally incapable of doing things myself that I finally give in and let God. I don't want to do that. I want my first thought to be like the Psalmist's:

"When struck by fear, I let go, depending securely upon You alone."
~Psalm 56:3

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

what do I know of holy?

I've written a few times about songs that have meant a lot to me in some way, from childhood songs that God's used to remind me of truths I'd lost sight of to songs that helped me through some of the darkest moments of my life. Recently, I heard a new song that really got to me. It's by Addison Road, and it's called “What do I Know of Holy?”

If you haven't ever heard this song, here's a video. I highly recommend listening to it. I can't get blogger to work with me right now, so you'll have to watch at youtube. I'll try to fix that soon...

I have to admit, the first time I heard this song it was as if somebody had stepped into my thoughts: “I tried to hear from Heaven, but I talked the whole time.” Wait a minute—so that's not just me? Other people tend to carry on entirely one-sided “conversations” with God, too? I can't tell you how many times I've begged and pleaded for God to tell me something—anything—but never stopped long enough to actually listen.

“Be still and know that I am God.”
~Psalm 46:10a

“I think I made You too small...” I wrote an entire devotional about the power and magnificence of God, yet I'm still guilty of this on a regular basis. Every time I let fear overwhelm me, letting the stress and anxiety pile up until I feel like I can't breathe, I'm making God small. When I let the fears take over, I'm telling God that I don't trust Him to take care of me through all of it. I'm telling Him that my fears are bigger than Him.

“So do not fear,
for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
~Isaiah 41:10

“I guess I thought that I had figured You out...
I knew all the stories and I learned to talk about
How You were mighty to save--
but those were only empty words on a page.
Then I caught a glimpse of who You might be;
The slightest hint of You brought me down to my knees.”

I've grown up knowing what we always called the “Sunday School answers.” I can tell you all the stories about all the heroes, all the times God worked on behalf of His people. I asked Jesus into my heart at a revival when I was 9 years old, and I have no doubt that I will spend eternity with Him. I can sing the hymns and quote the verses and name the books. But even with all of that, there are times when all of those things kind of blur together into a single, shapeless mass.

Don't get me wrong—I know I'm blessed. Sometimes, though (and too often than I want to admit), I forget just how amazed I should be at the very idea of being blessed by the Creator of the universe.

I've written about how studying physics and biology has given me a different view on how faith and science intertwine. Sometimes, I get a tiny glimpse into the absolute enormity of God's power, and I'm left in awe. I see brilliant minds who are humbled by the unbelievable simplicity that can be found buried underneath even the most complex of physical systems, and the complexity that lies within seemingly simple things. In those moments, I realize that I really don't know much of anything about God.

“For the LORD gives wisdom;
from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.”
~Proverbs 2:6

“Are You fire? Are You fury?
Are You sacred? Are You beautiful?
What do I know? What do I know of holy?”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

what about when your faith is broken?

Sometimes, life breaks you. It gets to be too much, pressing you flat to the ground with your face in the dirt. You know what you're supposed to do—pray--but you just can't seem to find the words. Everything has crashed down around you, overwhelming you, and you feel like you can't breathe. People tell you, “Everything will work out. Just have faith.”

But what if your faith is broken?

What if you simply don't have it in you to “just have faith”?

I've been there. I've found myself down in the depths while the people around me are saying all I need is the faith that everything happens for a reason (please believe me when I say that those words are seldom comforting) and that it's all part of God's plan. I've had my faith shattered into so many pieces that I didn't think it could ever be repaired.

“if we are faithless, He will remain faithful...”
~2 Timothy 2:13a

God knows that we will face things that shatter our faith into a million tiny pieces. He knows that we will feel abandoned, lost, and alone. He knows that sometimes it's hard to even remember to breathe in and out, and that everything else is simply too much.

Through all of it, though, He isfaithful. It doesn't matter when my faith is shattered, because His faithfulness can't be broken. And eventually, He gathers the shattered pieces back together. Piece by piece, He slowly mends our faith. He reminds me that I don't have to remember how to breathe, because He breathed into my lungs and they automatically strain for more of His breath. He quietly reminds me that He holds all of creation in place, keeping it from spinning out of control, so what makes me think that I can spin out of His control?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

sunrise rainbow

I saw something this morning that I've never seen before--a rainbow in the middle of the sunrise.

Believe it or not, I've seen a lot of sunrises. When Pop and I would milk in the mornings, we got to watch quite a few of them. There were even a couple of times when I was in the milk barn when Pop came in and had me stop to walk outside and watch the sun come up.

Every sunrise I've seen was beautiful; if you haven't seen one in a while, it wouldn't hurt to take the time to get up early one day and watch. It's a whole different world at that time of the day--it's quiet and calm and gorgeous.

I've seen amazing rainbows in the past. In our little corner of the Ozarks last spring, we got to see a double rainbow that stretched from one side of the sky to the other, touching bright green rolling hills on each end. The bright colors were spectacular against the bright blue sky. 

This morning, though, there was something amazing about seeing the sky on fire with the rising sun--all filled with pinks, reds, and golds--with a rainbow shining in the middle of it. It was just one end, hardly anything that filled up the whole sky, but it made my breath catch.

It didn't last very long, and the rest of the morning has been gray and dreary. There hasn't been a storm, just a constant drizzle that is enough to get everything wet but not enough for me to carry an umbrella.

Rainbows are reminders of God's promise, and this morning His promise to be with and to take care of His people struck me when I saw the rainbow in the sunrise. When the rain came, the rainbow wasn't visible anymore. The colors of the sunrise were replaced with clouds that hid the splendor of just a few minutes before.

Isn't life like that sometimes? You are given glimpses of God's awesome power, of His beauty and magnificence, and your breath catches. In that moment, everything seems right. You know that God has you, and that you can face whatever lies ahead. After all, He's right there.

But then, the gloom comes. The beauty of God is hidden by the dreariness of life, and you start forgetting about His promises.

Do you know what's amazing about a rainbow? The light is always there, even when you can't see the colors. The only reason you can see the rainbow is because the conditions are just right, with the light splitting because it travels through the rain. All those colors are still there; it's just that you can't see them all the time.

The same is true of our relationship with God. He is always there, and His promises are always true. We can't always see Him, but that's just because the conditions aren't always exactly perfect.

And just like it's the rain that lets us see the beauty hidden in the light, sometimes it's the hard times in life that let us see God's beauty. 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

I can never be enough.

People are living in darkness--some because they've chosen to scamper back into the darkness after they've seen the light, others because they've never seen the light and don't know there's something other than the darkness they've always been in. Our job is to walk fully in the Light so that other people will see our deeds as being from God. We are called to love because He loves; we are called to speak the truth.

Judgement will come to the earth and to everyone who has ever walked on it. We are promised that over and over again, and reminded that it's a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Hebrews 10:31). All of us will face judgement for what we've done, and by our actions we are all condemned to death. On our own, we are far from worthy. In fact, we're closer to being worthless.

God's judgment--His wrath--is a terrifying thing. It is unrelenting and absolute, and no one can stand under the scrutiny of the Perfect Judge. As it says in Micah 7:9a, "I must bear His anger because I have sinned against Him." Isaiah 8:13 says, "After all, only the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, should terrify you. Only God is holy, only God should leave you trembling."

On my own, I have no chance. I could never do enough to earn my way into heaven--I can't be good enough or help enough people or give away enough of my own possessions.

I can never be enough.

If my story ended there, it would be a pretty dismal story. It would be hopeless, leading to an empty, worthless life that might as well be spent in the dark.

But amazingly, that emptiness is where the story--His story--starts. God looks at us and sees us in the midst of our failures, in the midst of our sins, and He offers us grace.

We could never be perfect, so God gave us an "out," so to speak. In the middle of the Darkness, He sent the ultimate Light. Jesus lived a perfect life, the only One in all of history who could do that. His grace was offered in the form of the perfect, blameless sacrifice--in the form of the One who could look down over the people who hung Him on a cross and pray that they be forgiven, even as the blood ran down his face to make Him see through a veil of blood.

The rest of that verse from Micah says, "until He argues on my behalf and rights all my wrongs. He will bring me out into the light, and then I will see His saving justice."

When we step out of the Darkness into the Light, it's a scary thing. Every fault and flaw is exposed; we can't hide anything. His Light shows us for everything we are. But then, just as Jesus saw people through a veil of His blood while He hung on the cross, God sees us through a veil of the blood of the Perfect Sacrifice. The blood of Jesus covers all our flaws, sins, and faults.

God sees us through His grace.

It doesn't matter that I can't ever be enough, that I can't do enough to earn God's favor, because the Perfect Sacrifice will always be more than enough. Jesus forgave
the ones who called for Him to be crucified,
the ones who drove the nails through His hands and feet,
the ones who shoved a crown of thorns onto His head,
the ones who spit on Him and mocked Him.
What makes us think that we're so different, so special, that our sins are too much for Him to handle?

Micah 7:7 says, "But as for me, I will look to the Eternal One, and my hope is in the True God who will save me. My God will hear me."

Despite all I do that drives a wedge between me and God, my God hears me. His grace covers all my sins, no matter how horrible they are.

Friday, July 29, 2016

born to fly

I've written before about how different songs have had an impact on different phases on my life. Music has always been a huge part of my life, starting with the songs my mom and her mom taught me when I was little—The B-I-B-L-E, He's Still Working on Me, Mares-e-dotes, Sunbeam, Jesus Loves Me...the list could go on for a while. In school, my first heartbreak came when I didn't make the elementary choir in 5th grade and one of my proudest moments came when my high school choir teacher looked at me in shock during my audition one year and asked, “Where did that come from?”

Music has a way of reaching all the way to my heart. I've fallen to my knees listening to a worship song that broke me, I've been lifted high by another that made my heart soar. I've had songs of all genres made a difference in my life. My now husband but then boyfriend told me how he felt about me with Coldplay's Yellow. I've sung along with songs that said what I couldn't—or didn't dare—say. I have lyrics from a song written in the scrapbook I made after Michael was killed. There are lyrics from another song that I hope to paint on the wall of my house some day when we finally have a house of our own instead of a place we're renting.

And today, when I was feeling overwhelmed, I was reminded of another song that's meant a lot to me since high school. It's by Sara Evans, and the chorus says:

How do you wait for heaven?
And who has that much time?
And how to you keep your feet on the ground
when you know you were born to fly?”

I was searching through some of the blogs I read faithfully, looking for something that would speak to what I've been feeling lately. One wrote of being overwhelmed and overlooked, but she was talking about being overlooked by the world and handpicked by God. There is great truth in her words, but what about when you're feeling overlooked by God? I read another that was about having the wrong girl, about feeling like you've been called to do more than you're capable of doing, of being asked to run when you barely feel able to walk. Again, while I understand the sentiment, what about when you feel like you're standing still, growing stagnant? Yet another wrote about what happens when God calls you to do something hard. But what if you're trying to figure out what He's called you to?

What about when you feel like you were meant to do something, and you just can't figure out what that's supposed to be? How do you come to terms with feeling like you were meant to fly, but instead you're sinking below the waves?

I have a really hard time with the mundane. I joke that I must have gypsy blood in my background or something, because I find it really hard to sit still and simply walk through the everyday life I find myself in. Don't get me wrong--I know I'm blessed. I have a husband who supports every crazy whim, kids I would give my last breath for, and an amazing family most people can't even imagine. I teach a great bunch of kids in one of the most beautiful places around. There is a roof over my head, food on my table, and a gorgeous view outside my front door.

I've been blessed with way more than I deserve, and I know that.

But there's part of me that is still searching, still desperate, still longing. There's a part of me that wants to be used for something bigger than myself, something...more.

I'm sure it comes down to a trust issue with me; it usually does. I know that God is in control, and I know that He has a plan for my life. The thing is, I want to know right now what exactly that plan is. I fret and I worry and I stress, and I lose sight of the fact that all my worry is doing is telling God that I don't trust Him to work everything out in His timing.

Because, as hard as it is for me to admit, His timing is perfect. Looking back, had I been able to see what all God would lead me through I'm pretty sure I would have said Thanks but no thanks. Maybe, then, the waiting is all part of God preparing me for whatever He wants me to do. Maybe, before I can do something more, I have to learn to be content--to be faithful--in what I see as the mundane.

Let me tell you, that's a hard lesson for me to learn.

Friday, July 15, 2016

I'm tired...

I'm so tired of all this mess.

I'm tired of hatred being spewed in the name of “progress.” I've tried to simply ignore it, taking the ostrich approach of sticking your head in the sand and hoping it will all just blow over. Surely, we're better than this—smarter than this. Surely, people will get tired of the fear-mongering and race baiting and police blaming. Surely we'll look at those who stand up and rant about how we can't "discredit one person's experience" (though it is perfectly fine to discredit the experiences of millions of others) and see them for what they are—pitiful, insecure, lost people.

The thing is, that's not happening. While I'm trying to ignore the chaos and hatred, it's tearing everything down around me. It's taking this country that I have always loved, the country that my brother fought and died to defend, and it is twisting it into something dark and scary that I don't want my babies growing up in.

We live in what has, from its very conception, always been one of the greatest nations on earth. Through a commitment to God and each other, we have lived a blessed life. We haven't been perfect—because we're human, something people have somehow forgotten—but together we've moved forward. We've pushed past the pain because that's what it takes to make things better.

But now? We've stopped moving forward. So called “leaders” are using their positions to create division by preying on the fears and emotions of the very people they claim to help. The President uses a memorial service for 5 slain police officers as a platform to promote himself, to malign the men and women who put on a uniform each day to step between the good and the bad, and to tell us that we are racist and bigoted.

We are told that it is racist to say all lives matter. We are told that being white makes us racist—and if we don't agree, it's just that we don't realize how biased we are.

We have always poked fun at the “Monday morning quarterback,” the one who sits on the outside looking in and talks about how he would have won the football game if he had been in the quarterback's place. Why, then, do we take it as gospel when people start talking about what a police officer should or shouldn't have done in a life-threatening situation? Someone like me—someone who has never worn a badge and has never put myself in harm's way, someone who hasn't been trained as a law enforcement officer—shouldn't watch a youtube video or a facebook video and decide that I have suddenly become an expert in self-defense tactics and in the instant assessment of threat that our police officers are tasked with on an almost daily basis.

Lies are spewed from pulpits, news desks, and stages. And the sad thing is, even though the lies are wrapped up in undisguised hatred and anger, people are swallowing the lies and feeding them to their children.

Racism and hatred are taught. Our kids are born without it. The first time my daughter noticed a black girl (not the first time she had seen someone of a different race, but the first time she pointed someone out as different), she told me, “That girl has beautiful skin.” Fast forward a couple years to Raiden in kindergarten in a Toledo public school. She came home crying the first week because the girls in her class wouldn't play with her because she had “ugly white girl hair.”

Racism is ugly. And yet right now it is being held up as something good, a cause to be championed by Black Lives Matter.

What happened to “love your neighbor as yourself”? What happened to “be kind one to another”? What happened to living a life worthy of respect instead of demanding that those around you don't “disrespect” you? Why have we fallen victim to the race baiters who want nothing more than to drive us apart and stir up fear?

We should be better than this. You know what's pitiful? There are people who call themselves Christians who are standing on both sides of the “protest” lines, hurling insults and hurtful words at each other. As followers of Christ, we are called to be different. We are called to be salt and light in a fallen world. And right now, when our country has been so suddenly plunged into darkness by our “leaders”—now is when our light should shine the brightest.

"Remember His call, and live by the royal law found in Scripture:
love others as you love yourself."
~James 2:8a
Stop blaming.
Stop hating.
Stop using your words to cause division and fear.

"The tongue is a blazing fire seeking to ignite an entire world of vices.
The tongue is unique among all parts of the body
because it is capable of corrupting the whld body.
If that were not enough,
it ignites and consumes the course of creation
with a fuel that originates in hell itself.
Humanity is capable of taming every bird and beast in existence,
even reptiles and sea creatures great and small.
But no man has ever demonstrated the ability to tame his own tongue!
It is a spring of restless evil,
brimming with toxic poisons.
Ironically this same tongue can be both
an instrument of blessing to our Lord and Father
and a weapon that hurls curses
upon others who are created in God's own image."
~James 3:6-9

Start loving.
Start reaching out.
Start helping each other, because it's awfully hard and lonely to navigate this fallen world on your own.

"Who in your community is understanding and wise?
Let his example, which is marked by wisdom and gentleness,
blaze a trail for others.
Any place where you find jealousy and selfish ambition,
you will discover chaos and evil thriving under its rule.
Heavenly wisdom centers on
purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy,
and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.
The seed that flowers into righteousness
will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.
Where do you think your fighting and endless conflict come from?
Don't you think that they originate in the constant pursuit of gratification
that rages inside each of you like an uncontrolled militia?
You crave something that you do not possess,
so you murder to get it.
You desire the things you cannot earn,
so you sue others and fight for what you want.
You do not have because you have chosen not to ask.
And when you do ask, you still do not get what you want
because your motives are all wrong--
because you continually focus on self-indulgence."
~James 3:13, 15-18 through James 4:3 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

equally wise, equally foolish

From the very beginning, Satan's best trick and favorite method seems to be to tell us, "Sure, God said this, but you're smart enough to know that what He really meant was..."

We get ourselves into the most trouble when we start thinking that we are somehow smarter than God, that we know better than He does. We chase after our own plans as if somehow what we have in mind for ourselves is better than what God has had planned since before time began.

We take what God has said, and we twist His words to fit our own purposes. We take what He has spoken out against--greed, envy, lies, sexual immorality, hatred, anger--and we try to say that He isn't really against those things. We say that His words were meant for a different time, and that they don't apply today.

What makes us think we're smarter than God?

Why do we think we need to interpret His words, that somehow we've "evolved" to be above what the Scriptures tell us?

Jeremiah 10:6&7, 12-14a tells us
"O Eternal One, there is no comparison:
You are great; even Your name is powerful.
Who wouldn't worship You?
It is only right; You are the King of all kingdoms.
The wise and powerful men of all nations in their realms
are still nothing compared to You. [...]
Know whom You are dealing with!
God alone is powerful enough to create the earth.
He alone is wise enough to put the world together.
He alone understands enough to stretch out the heavens.
His voice thunders through the heavens,
and the waters gush from the sky;
He summons the clouds to build up over the earth.
As the rain falls, the lightning flashes at His command;
the wind rushes in from where He alone can store it.
All of humanity is stupid and bankrupt of knowledge."

There is a quote from Einstein that says, "Before God we are all equally wise--and equally foolish." To God, our knowledge is nothing. We take our stands, fighting over human knowledge and what we say is right and wrong, and I think sometimes God just shakes His head.
Proverbs 3:5-7 tells us,
"Place your trust in the Eternal,
rely on Him completely,
never depend upon your own ideas and inventions.
Give Him the credit for everything you accomplish,
and He will smooth out and straighten the road that lies ahead.
And don't think you can decide on your own
what is right and what is wrong.

God has told us what is right and what is wrong. He didn't disguise His words. He didn't make them hard to understand, or something that needed our interpretation.
Because, to be honest, He knows that we can't figure that stuff out on our own.

Our country is spiraling out of control. And really, it boils down to the fact that we seem to have decided that we're smarter than God. We tell ourselves that we know what's best. We get outraged over what we see as social injustices, but we are blind to God's declaration that those things we are standing up in support of are wrong.

When we set ourselves up to judge what we deem right and wrong, we are setting ourselves up to fall.

And when we fall, we are going to hit hard at the bottom.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Declaration of Dependence

I've got a treat for you today—instead of my words, I've asked my dad to share his thoughts on Independence Day. So without any other introduction (because his words speak pretty clearly for themselves), here are Pop's thoughts.

picture from

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Someone has called this sentence the most consequential statement in the history of human politics.

As we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence—the declaration that we are free from the king of England and the beginning of our national history—a careful reading reveals a clear implication that the Founding Fathers included in the document another declaration: a Declaration of Dependence upon the Sovereign God that, as Benjamin Franklin said, “guides the course of human affairs.”

Four times the Declaration refers to God, twice when the opening argument for Independence is presented and then, after a listing of specific grievances, twice more in the concluding paragraph. In each instance, there is a direct and clear declaration that their action and its success is dependent upon God and His blessing.

~ “...the equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.” The justification for their rebellion is not their own self-interest or quest for political power. It is rooted in that which God entitles them to.

~ “...that they are endowed by their Creator...” The rights they claim are endowed by, or a gift of, the Creator. These rights are solely dependent on His grace and love, not the actions of any human government, and these rights do not exist independent of Him.

~ “...appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...” The moral righteousness of their rebellion was not based on the opinion, reason, or logic of their fellow man. The Rightness of their Cause was dependent upon the verdict of the Holy Judge who knows the heart of man.

~ “...with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence...” If the Supreme Judge should rule their cause just, then only be dependence on His diving intervention could they hope to defeat the greatest military power on the earth. The final conclusion rested solely in the hands of God.

The Declaration of Dependence was a foundation of our great nation. But now we live in a time when we, as individuals and as a nation, want to declare our independence from our Creator.

But independence from the Supreme Judge leaves us dependent on the faulty logic, reason, and appeal to the emotions of fallen man.

The result? We can no longer depend on His divine protection.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

what's it like to lose your brother?

So, I did something hard yesterday--I visited the Pea Ridge Battlefield.

That may not sound hard to you, but for me it made my heart ache. Not just for the soldiers who fought and died on those grounds, though that in itself was enough to make my heart hurt.

No, it was hard for a whole other reason.
You see, my brother was a Civil War scholar. He studied the Civil War--reading books, taking part in reenactments, watching movies--basically anything he could get his hands on. I remember going to the Pea Ridge Battlefield when we were little. I remember going to reenactments, where Michael was adamant that his hardtack be authentic, where his haversack was hand-sewn, and where everyone was thrilled when someone mashed a finger in the cannon because that meant they could have real blood on their bandages.

Yeah, I know. Craziness.

I'm in Bentonville right now, wrapping up the last of my 3 weeks of teacher training. I spent the first 2 weeks in Pop & Mom's trailer, but this week I'm going all out and staying in our tent. And let met tell you, northwest Arkansas is hot right now. As a result, I'm taking some time after class gets out to go to antique stores in the area--I'm big on searching for treasures amidst all the junk! Yesterday, though, after I picked up 6 skeins of yarn for $4, I decided to do something else before I headed back to the tent. I decided to take my notebook and go sit at the battlefield and write.

The theory was, sitting at a battlefield while I wrote would help my mind operate in a different way. I'm working on The Darkness: Book 2 of the Sons of Tundyel. It's a sequel to The Prophecy, and this entire book is based around a battle with the Shadows and the Darkness.

As is common in my life, though, what sounded good in theory isn't what happened.

When I pulled into the parking lot, I was overwhelmed. That wasn't something I had expected. I took my notebook and pen and found a place to sit along the edge of the battlefield, at the treeline next to a split log fence. I pulled out my notebook, intent on shaking off the heaviness that was weighing down on me. I even opened my notebook and put my pen on the paper.

But I couldn't write.

My mind couldn't focus on what I wanted to write. Instead, I had a lump in my throat and couldn't get my mind off of my brother.

I could see him--us--little, visiting that battlefield. I could see him in his reenactment uniform, proud to be part of the unsullied Gray.

And I flipped my notebook open to the last page, one I'm pretty sure I won't get to with my story because I think there are 450 pages in this notebook.

And I poured my heart out onto the paper.

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's like having a piece of your soul cut out,
     only to have people say, "That's alright--you'll live without it."
Sometimes it's like your lungs forget how to breathe,
     or maybe it's just that they don't want to remember.
It's having people ask, "How are your parents?
     This must be really hard on them," and wanting to scream,
     "They aren't alone--I lost someone, too!
Someone who was part of the definition of what it meant to be me:
     Oldest daughter, but middle child; 'Little Mike' at school.
Someone who taught me to throw a punch--and take one,
     but who gave his little sister a valentine with the words
     'Sometimes I may pick on you (just a little)
But you should know I still love you.'"

What's it like to lose your brother?
It's being thrust into the role of oldest child
     with no earthly idea of how you're supposed to fill those shoes.
It's constantly living in a shadow others can't see,
     but one that's so real you can feel it in your bones.
It's trying to decide if introductions are worth it
     because people always ask, "How many siblings do you have?"
     and the debate on how to answer isn't worth the effort:
"Do I say two? Because then they'll ask what they do
     and the pity that follows 'He was killed in Iraq' is too much.
Or do I say one, and lie to make things easier?
     Not easier on myself, because I'll be racked with guilt,
     but easier on the person who didn't know where that question leads.
And nobody bargains for the painful silence."


~by Mandy
21 June 2016
at Pea Ridge Battlefield

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

He remembers your vows...

"I still remember the way you clung to Me in your youth;
in the early days of our union.
Like a young bride, you loved the vows you made."
~Jeremiah 2:2b

Newlyweds. Everything they find out about each other is exciting and new. They can even be annoying with all the crazy things they point out about each other, the things that would drive any sane person up the wall but that are somehow "so cute" in the early days. They want nothing more than being together--the rest of the world could fade away and they wouldn't mind. In fact, they would just about prefer it if that would happen. All they need is their love for each other.
And then they start spending less time focusing on that love. Life starts getting in the way--the kids, the jobs, the money issues, the dreams they wanted to pursue but aren't realistic now--and, though it happens without conscious thought, they drift apart. It's not that the relationship becomes unimportant--it's just less important.

Our relationship with God often works the same way. When we first get a glimpse of His love for us, it is all consuming. We are desperate for Him; His extravagant love is all that matters. We want nothing more than to spend time with Him, reveling in His glory and grace. Sometimes, we even get so caught up in our amazement that the rest of the world sees us as crazy.

And then, slowly, life gets in the way. We start spending less time with Him. Everything that seemed so amazing--His love, grace, mercy, and power--start to seem commonplace. It's not necessarily a conscious thought, but the busy-ness of life sneaks in and our relationship with God just starts to become less important. We abandon the Love of our youth.

It's easy to fall into a rut with your walk with Christ. It's easy to let the things of this crazy world get in the way of trying to spend time with God. In just the same way that you have to make a conscious decision to make your marriage a priority if you want it to flourish, you have to make a conscious decision to make your relationship with God a priority. Sure, both relationships will be there if you just drift through.

But do you want a marriage where you are just drifting through, or do you want one like this?
One where you still hold hands on a walk, 35 years after you said "I do."

We're told that we should have a regular "date night" when we're married. I want to challenge all of us to take that same idea and apply it to our walk with God. Set aside a time when you can just be with God. Time you protect; time when you step away from the demands of your everyday life and simply spend time getting to know your First Love again.

He's waiting, remembering the vows you made.

Friday, June 17, 2016

but God...

"But Mom..."

How many time have you either said or heard those words? They're usually only partially decipherable, stretched out and masked with a whine. Typically, they come about because the Mom in question didn't give the speaker what he or she wanted, holding her ground about something. If we're honest, it's usually something Mom's right about--though when you're the one asking, that's hard to see and admit.

How often do our prayers sound like that? How often do we plead with God to just do what we want Him to do? We may not use the words, but I wonder if God hears our prayers sometimes start off with "But God..." poured out in a whine?

Of course, the words probably sound different. We tend to fill our prayers with pretty words, as if our choice of words will be the deciding factor in whether or not we talk God into answering our prayers the way we want Him to.

Do you think that sometimes we just sound like little kids trying to use big words?

What if we changed our "But God..." statements?

What if, instead of thinking that God should be doing what we want Him to do, we remember where we would be... but God.

We were lost, buried in our sins.
We were worthless, incapable of being good enough on our own.
We were sinners, every one of us.

"But God, with the unfathomable richness of His love and mercy focused on us,
united us with the Anointed One and infused our lifeless souls with life--
even though we were buried under mountains of sin--
and saved us by His grace."
~Ephesians 2:4&5

We were lifeless...but God.
We were buried...but God.
We were worthless...but God.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

the mundane or the unknown?

I'm praying one of the hardest prayers for a control freak like me to pray. I say praying, because it's not a “one and done” kind of prayer. It's one of those prayers that I'll have to repeat time and time again—not because I think I need to repeat it for God's sake, but because it will take repetition to get it through my own thick skull and heavily guarded heart.

God, let my pride take a backseat to Your purpose.

Since I was little, I've wanted God to use me. I listened to missionaries talk about their time in exotic countries; I worked VBS on a regular basis; I went on mission trips with the KS-NE Acteens to Wyoming and Tennessee. I dreamed of being the one in the field, of living in a grass hut somewhere far away, of having a Story (with a capital S) and doing the Hard Things. I wanted--still want--the adventures.

The thing is, not everyone does the big things. Sometimes, the hard thing is to be right here in the middle of your own story (lowercase s). The hard thing is to follow God into the mundane instead of into the unknown. The hard thing is to be okay with not having a big story. The hard thing is to keep following God when you can't see Him leading you anywhere—and you feel stuck where He has you right now.

So for now, I'm going to take a deep breath. I'm going to keep praying my prayer—Let my pride take a backseat to Your purposeso that one of these days it will sink in. I'm going to keep doing the hard thing of simply being right here, in the middle of my ordinary life, unless God tells me to do something different.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

dear younger me...a contest

I've gotten the opportunity to listen to just Christian music every day while I've been in Bentonville, and it has been wonderful. It may sound odd, but I've found that I've been more optimistic (not all the time—I'm human), less stressed, and more settled. Okay, I know I'm sounding a little bit like I'm trying to sell snake oil...but there's a purpose to my story.

The station I've been listening to is holding a contest right now called “Dear Younger Me,” based on the song with the same name. The idea is to write a letter to yourself, and the winner of their contest gets concert tickets to a show at the AMP in July.

I've decided to hold my own contest. In the comments, submit your own letter to your younger self. It can be written out in the comment, it can be a link, or you can send me an email—it's entirely up to you. I'll leave the contest open through the weekend. Then, the winner will get to pick a couple of my books for free.

I'm going to post my own letter to get you started:

Dear Younger Me,

You think you have life all planned out. You think you have everything all together—and that's just how you like it. Oh my goodness, you have no idea what's coming. There's something you need to learn: life doesn't go according to plan. You don't get to have all the answers, as hard as that is for you to accept. You are getting ready to run into more dead ends and detours in life than you ever would have thought imaginable.

I know you want to have a road map. I know you want to be able to see God's plan laid out before you, all the “i”s dotted and the “t”s crossed neatly. The thing is, God doesn't work like that. His plans aren't your plans, and there's no way for you to even begin to understand His mind.

Your life is about to veer so far off course that you'll think it will never get back on track. And if you're only considering the track you're on right now, I guess you're right. Life will never be “normal,” at least not with your current definition of normal. But you know what? Life will keep going.

There are so many things I want to tell you, to prepare you for, so you aren't knocked off your feet so much. The thing is, if I told you everything right now you would think there would be no way you could handle it.

And on your own, you won't be able to handle it.

You need to learn to let go of control. Because, you see, you aren't really in control to begin with. Your life is in the palm of His hand—and like His hands, your life will be scarred and pierced. The suffering will be agonizing, so much so that at times you'll think you can't take another breath.

Let go. You aren't holding onto Him; He's holding you. He doesn't need your strength. You don't have to be strong for everyone all the time.

He's got you, and He'll get you through.

An Older, Slightly Broken (and more humble) Me

Monday, June 13, 2016

are you alive or dead?

I didn't want to write this blog post.

Well, that's not entirely true. At first when I read the verse, I knew it needed to be a post. But when I started thinking about why it needed to be a post, I didn't want to write it anymore. It hit a little too close to home—honestly, it stepped on my toes and I just didn't want to have to admit it.

I started reading Revelation again. I've tried it before, and it's just plain hard to muddle through. There's so much stuffed in that book, and a lot of it goes over my head or seems to be just out of my grasp. There's this crazy thing that happens when you read the Scriptures, though. Even the stuff that's so dense that you just can't understand has some little nugget hidden in there that can hit you in the gut.

Can you tell I'm procrastinating? I really don't want to have to write this. I even changed what I was writing in my notebook and started writing my thoughts as a prayer instead. Because, you know, from time to time I actually get to put my thoughts into a prayer instead, and then I don't have to post them out there for everybody to see.

But even while I was writing it out as a prayer, I knew I had to write it.

When I started this blog, the whole plan was to be truthful and transparent. If I'm going to do that, it means being willing to put out the stuff that steps on my toes, too.

So, here's the verse I read:
I know the things you do—you've claimed a reputation of life, but you are actually dead.
Wake up from your deathsleep, and strengthen what remains
of the life you have been given that is in danger of death.
I have judged your deeds as far from complete in the sight of My God.”
~Revelation 3:1b&2

Sometimes I feel like a fraud.

I write these things on the blog—words meant to encourage or to inspire or to just try to make some sense out of life—and I feel like a hypocrite.

I've spent a lot of time “waiting for my life to start.” There have been more prayers and tears than I can count that have poured out while I've tried to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing. It's always focused on something that's not now, something still to come.

It's almost like I'm ignoring the life that I'm in the middle of right now, so that I can figure out some elusive dream for the future.

I don't want to do that. I don't want to waste the life I've been given. I want to leave each moment for God, not just keep looking to the future and trying to figure out what I'm going to do instead of what I'm doing now.

Whatever God's purpose for my life, I want to fulfill it. And I don't want to just be focused on the idea of doing something “big.” I want God to be able to look at my life and say that I have completed the work He has for me.

God, please wake me up from my deathsleep. Ignite Your passion in my life so that I see every moment as what You have for me to do, not just some abstract future.

God, I want to be “shamelessly committed” to You. (Revelation 3:19)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

alone in suffering?

I don't know about you, but for me suffering makes me draw away from everyone and retreat into myself. I've spent a lot of years trying to “be strong” for those around me, and as a result I tend to try to deal with heartache on my own.

Or more accurately, I don't deal with it—but I do it on my own.

When it comes to dealing with heartache and suffering, we have the ultimate example to follow: Jesus.

As the oldest son of a carpenter, I doubt anyone would say Jesus was weak. And even when He knew the cross was coming, He didn't walk away. His heartache was so intense that night in the garden that He sweat drops of blood. No matter what I've faced, it's never been that intense.

Jesus stood on “trial” where He was mocked and beaten. The flesh on His back would have been ripped apart by the whip, the thorns on the “crown” shoved into His scalp and forehead. Through all of it—the nails being driven through His hands and feet, the excruciating pain of pushing His weight up with His pierced feet in order to draw each breath, then carrying all that weight on His torn hands to relieve His feet—He could have simply stepped down from the cross.

The One who walked on the water and commanded the storm to be still and fed thousands from 2 fish and 5 little loaves of bread didn't have to hand on that cross with the weight of my sins—your sins—on His shoulders. Yet He chose to face that suffering.

No matter what I'll face in the future, it can never be that agonizing.

Through all of it, though, Jesus didn't just face it on His own. Hebrews 5:7 tells us that He cried out to the only One who could save Him:

“When Jesus was on the earth,
a man of flesh and blood,
He offered up prayers and pleas,
groans and tears
to the One who could save Him from death.”

Now, you and I both know what happened after Jesus called out to God—He took His last breath and died on the cross.

But here's what I found pretty remarkable. The end of that verse goes on to say, “He was heard because He approached God with reverence.”

He was heard.

As He hung on the cross, asking God why He had been forsaken, forgotten, left--
He was heard.

In the middle of your suffering, when you cry out to God with tears and groans and feel alone and abandoned--
You are heard.

Verses 8 & 9 go on to say,
“Although He was a Son, Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered. And once He was perfected through that suffering He became the way of eternal salvation for all those who hear and follow Him.”

As hard as it is, there's something to be learned from suffering—and if you're like me, maybe it's something you're too hard-headed to learn any other way. Jesus suffered because through His suffering He was being used for something glorious. Through your tears and pain, perhaps God is preparing you for something far greater.

Parents, step up

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