The Work He is Doing is Far More Spectacular When You See What He Started With

I have a bit of a rebellious spirit in me that occasionally gets me into trouble. It often causes me to speak before I think about the mood of the room or to let sarcasm seep into a conversation that requires more professionalism.

But that same spirit also allows me to be incredibly vulnerable because I have zero patience for pretentiousness. I can be an over-sharer because my feelings run deep and wide, and I don’t always see the need for societal rules that say we should keep our mouth shut. I struggle when people expect me to hide or not talk about parts of my life that they feel are shameful or inappropriate. This rebellion in me sometimes makes those people feel uncomfortable.

Most of the time, this way of being hurts no one. It can make my children walk far away from me, so no one realizes they belong to me, but that’s normal for teenagers, right? My husband occasionally kicks me under the table at dinner with his coworkers, but I always tone it down when that happens. I have never been someone who intentionally seeks to cause shock and awe; I am just someone who appreciates thoughtful honesty.

I never want my life to be something that turns people away from or off of Jesus. He has called me into a life of leadership and I don’t take that role lightly. I want to speak truth in love, listen well, and share the truth of God’s Word. I want those around me to feel welcomed and loved, accepted and heard, comfortable with who they are with no need to pretend. I would be so sad if I thought someone felt like they couldn’t be real with me; it would seriously break my heart! I try to model this realness in all my relationships, within reason. I, of course, don’t share my deepest, darkest secrets with everyone, but I also think most things aren’t as deep and dark as some might. So therein lies the rub.

There are people who are very uncomfortable with deep levels of vulnerability. There are people who feel like sharing is meant only for a precious few – and that’s okay! One of the greatest blessings about being in God’s family is that we are each unique. God gave us all different talents, abilities, and personalities; he never intended us to be robots!

On the flip side of my rebellious spirit, however, is a desire to please others. So while I may walk where I’m not supposed to walk or talk when I’m not supposed to talk, my soul feels crushed if I find out I’ve disappointed you or let you down.

This week someone who I hold an enormous amount of love and respect for, let me know they were incredibly disappointed with me. It was over a post I had made, with very little thought, on social media about a year that happened a long time ago and the music I enjoyed during that year. The music was not Godly. It wasn’t holy or pure or lovely and didn’t bring praise to God. But it was music that was sort of a battle cry for young women at the time when most of our generation was being told to be quiet and wait patiently for the older generation to hand us our role. It was vulgar and angry music and it felt very rebellious to an eighteen-year-old version of myself. The intention of the post was less about the music and more about me realizing all the things that happened that year, including that music, happened a long time ago. It was me, remembering a time in life that felt so big and weighted and is now but a memory.

But my post had brought offense and I felt the weight of that offense handed to me as shame. It felt hard and heavy in a week that already felt hard and heavy in a year that feels so hard and heavy I want to scream and cry and kick until it goes away. I allowed the words that were questioning my judgment, my character, and my ability to lead families to be spoken over me as fact instead of opinion. I immediately began to beat myself up and question the legitimacy of my life, choices and career. I allowed the enemy to use something intended to be a spiritual rebuke as shame. My head knows that shame never comes from Jesus, but my heart wasn’t hearing it.

This morning, however, God spoke to the deep places of my heart with an invitation of love.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” -Matthew 11:28

I was reminded that I never have to perform for God. Because of Jesus, I am always acceptable in His sight. God doesn’t need me to look a certain way or pretend to be someone I am not in order to fulfill His plan. There is nothing I can ever do or say to make Him love me any more or any less than He does at this very moment in time.

This doesn’t mean I rebel against God’s laws or sin against Him freely and expect to live a blessed life. No, it means that when I am walking with God and doing all I can to follow His ways, I will receive the blessing that comes in relationship with Him! I can rest in knowing that I share this walk with Christ alone. When I try to walk for religion or church or man, I exhaust myself. Jesus calls me to walk with Him, so He can carry my burdens for me, and I don’t have to be bothered with putting on a show for others.

I always want to reflect who Jesus is, and I never want my life to cause anyone else to stumble. But in my life, Jesus is full of love and grace and mercy. In my life, Jesus loves me for the person our Father created me to be. It is much more freeing to take Christ’s attitude of gentle, humble service and love to a world that is as imperfect as I am than to try to be someone I am not and not know how to reach anyone. It is so much more satisfying to laugh and love and allow people to see the power of Christ working in me in real time than to pretend He put me on this earth already knowing how to follow Him with ease.

I am working every day to be more like Jesus. I struggle every day to allow Him to work a miracle of healing in me, overcoming my character-flaws, addictions, and sinful ways. And I will never hide the work God is doing in me for the shame of who I used to be. The beauty of the woman He is creating is far more spectacular when you see where I started, how many times I have fallen along the way, and the grace He generously pours over me when He calls me to His arms to rest for the day. My prayer is that my life, and all that God is doing in me, will always point to the richness and beauty of a relationship with Him.

I know there will be many days when I mess up. I know there will be times I run ahead, thinking my way is better or faster. I know I will stick my foot in my mouth, sing the wrong words to the wrong songs, and dance off beat. I will laugh too loud and be way too much for some. But I am never too much for my Lord. I am also thankful for a long list of people in the Bible who were louder and more embarrassing than me; people who God used to build His Kingdom despite themselves. I am thankful the path to eternity does not depend on me but has already been carved by Jesus. I am thankful He has put people in my life that remind me to stay on the path, remind me of His love, and remind me of how far He has brought me. I am thankful He never shames me but instead invites me to rest in His arms of love.

Healing From the House That Built Me

When I left my small home town at the tender age of nineteen, I all but tossed a match over my shoulder as I drove that UHaul out of town. I was leaving great friends, people who loved me, and a lifetime of memories, but I was also running from a path of destruction that had just about killed me.

I had spent my whole life there, short of the very first nine months, and it was pretty much all I knew, but I knew that if I stayed, I wouldn’t be able to uncover myself from the rubble of my family’s implosion. The heartache was too big, the damage spread too wide, and the ashes were too thick for my to see past. My dad had moved away and remarried, my mom was dead, and my depression was building a fort around me. I knew that it was impossible to run away from heartache but I knew I needed to start fresh and build something new on new land. I needed a new frontier to forge.

Chuck and I started our life in Texas because it was familiar to the both of us. I had spent at least a quarter of my life in East Texas, visiting my mom’s family, and he had spent his formative years in the Houston suburbs. It was a fresh start for both of us but not in completely new territory. His parents were here and their friends were here, he had some old friends who had stuck around or left and returned as he had. We settled in and started building a life together. We bought a house and had kids, and found our church family. We didn’t make a trip back to my hometown for eight years.

That first trip back was hard for me. I had two babies in tow, we wanted to see friends, and it was our ten-year high school reunion. The ten-year reunion is funny because half of the people have married and started families and the other half are still finding their way in the world – foot loose and fancy-free! We saw old friends, held each other’s babies, and went to Sunday Worship at my old church. We were in and out so fast that it didn’t feel real.

But over the years we started making trips back, not for specific parties or reunions, although those happened, but just to visit. We stayed with friends who had stayed in touch over the years. We would sit on back porches and watch the sun set together as our kids chased lightning bugs across the yard. We hiked trails and boated on the lake and started making new memories on old stomping grounds.

My heart made peace with my hometown and it became a place that welcomed me, evening beckoning me when I spent too much time away. Eventually, I reached a day when I had spent just as many years living away from my hometown as I had spent growing up there, and my heart began to whisper that it was time to make peace with my old house.

I lived in a handful of houses over the years of my youth, but there was one house that held the most memories. There was one house that we moved into as a family when I was only eight years old and didn’t move out of until we weren’t a family anymore. It was the house that was home to hundreds of slumber parties and games of flashlight tag. It was where I cried the first time a boy broke my heart and where every single Homecoming and Prom picture was taken. The yard contained years of live Christmas trees, my mom planted after the ground thawed each year, and we have many pictures of Easter Egg Hunts in the back yard. The road next to the house is where I learned to drive and it’s the house I returned to after leaving the hospital when I had my first car accident. It’s the place I think of when I think of my family and it’s the place where my family disintegrated.

Several years ago, Miranda Lambert released a song called “The House That Built Me.” Every time I heard that song I would sob. I’m not talking about tiny tears to dab from the corner of your eyes. Sob. Like, pull over the car because I’m going to have to go home and redo my makeup sob. Quit listening to country music until this song isn’t played anymore kind of sobbing. At first, I didn’t make the connection. I’m slow like that sometimes.

But after a few years of visiting my hometown and falling in love with it all over again, my heart started to whisper it was time to go walk the yard. We had driven by it over the years but I knew it was time to go back.

I didn’t want to seem like a stalker and, since we have a dear friend who is a State Trooper, I knew the stalker activity would not bode well for me. Instead, we reached out to the family who lives in the house and it turns they are the same family who bought the house from my parents so many years ago. They invited us to come over, pre-warning me that they had changed a few things over the years, which I, of course, knew from the drive-bys.

When we pulled up, and they met us in the drive, they were so kind and welcoming. They immediately began apologizing for the changes they’d made and I, of course, brushed that back. It has been their house for more than twenty years. They’ve raised their family there, building a lifetime of their own memories.

They graciously allowed us to walk the yard, and I was able to show my kids a towering pine tree I had planted when I was in the fourth grade. I had brought it home from an elementary school Arbor Day celebration. My mom helped me plant it, all the while assuring me it would not make it through the winter. But there it stood, strong and tall, defying the odds of almost thirty-five snowy winters.

Most of the yard had changed; they had added a pool and a beautiful deck and the old weeping willow had died. Some of the Christmas Trees hadn’t made it. The corn field behind the house had been turned into a neighborhood of houses holding families making memories of their own. The pasture across the street, where cows had roamed, was also a neighborhood, more proof that life just keeps moving and changing.

After we walked the yard, this sweet couple tenderly invited us to come inside. We enter through the garage, which had been an attached car port when I lived there, and through the entry way I had entered every day as a child. We walked into the family room, sunken from the rest of the house, and saw the long four steps up to the breakfast area and kitchen. Those steps hosted a good deal of slumber party games and dance picture photo ops over the years.

The Valentine Dance my freshman year. I’m in the middle of the front row.
Getting ready for Prom 1992

They had changed out the fireplace and hearth from wood burning to gas, something my mom always talked about doing and never got around to in our time there. They had also expanded the kitchen. But for the most part, the bones of my old house were still there.

It felt smaller, which I have learned happens when you grow up and visit childhood memories. And although there were many differences, I still felt the love and grace that had been present over the years. The laughter and joy from my past spilled over to the places of heartache and soothed old wounds. The slicing and gutting of my family falling apart and causing us to sell that house and go our separate ways sealed up. I felt God’s hand on my back, gently caressing me, reminding me that He is bigger than any heartache; He is capable of making beauty from ashes.

When I left my hometown I was still a teenager. I ran as far and as fast as I could, thinking the pain I felt would never allow me to go back. But over the years God has worked in ways I never would have expected. He has been working a healing from the inside out. He has connected my heart and soul with people and places that remind me, every time we connect, of His generosity and grace. God rarely works in ways I would have expected. He rarely does things according to the plans I suggest. But He always surprises me with an over-abundance of joy I never could have seen coming.

A Vision Board for 2020

The first time I ever heard someone talk about a vision board I thought they were part of some new-age looney cult. The idea of sitting at a table, cutting out pictures from a magazine, and gluing them to a poster board felt like something I did with friends when we were ten-years-old. And there was nothing about it that seemed rational for a grown woman.

And then one day, as I was sitting on the couch, laptop in lap, frantically pinning fall decor ideas to my Fall Pinterest Board, it occurred to me that I not only believed in vision boards but I had already created a ton of them.

I don’t always adhere to the ideas on my Pinterest Boards and I have created many boards for things that may or may not ever happen but I like to envision them happening. Some of them are just for dreaming and some of them help spark other ideas for me that also may or may not come to fruition.

I have boards dedicated to rooms in my house and I have boards dedicated to birthday cakes. I have boards dedicated to house plans and clothing and glittery eye shadow looks. I have boards to help me plan parties and boards that function as recipe books. I have lots of visions so I have lots of boards. And sometimes these boards help me transition from one season in life to another. Summer to Fall, Fall to Christmas, Christmas to Spring. Little Girl birthday parties to Sweet Sixteen parties, little boy bedrooms to teen boy rooms.

2020 has felt like a season all of its own. I mean, we started Spring Break in March and just went back to school last week but Summer Break was canceled in between. Now that school has started and Starbucks is starting to advertise for the Pumpkin Spice Latte, transitioning feels like something we should be doing but it’s hard to have a vision for what it’s going to look like. And the two tropical storms racing each other into the Gulf of Mexico makes coming up with a vision for what’s to come even harder and fuzzier.

Not knowing what’s coming is normal but it can certainly bring on some anxiety. Not that we ever know what’s around the next bend but in years that weren’t 2020, we at least felt we could plan ahead for things like Halloween parties or Thanksgiving. 2020 has let us down repeatedly when it comes to planning for parties and holidays.

Today I decided, however, to create my own vision board for what remains of this year. I’m going about it in the same way I have started other boards in the past. I started thinking about the mood I want, the colors, the theme, and looked for photos to support them. What are the sights I want to see? How do I want it to smell? Who do I want around me? I know I can’t force the rest of the year to turn out how I want but if I am intentional about how I spend my days, what I choose to look at, and surround myself with, I can create a mood to embrace whatever comes. I have to ask myself what situations make me feel peaceful and what activities help get me there. Are there textures, patterns, colors that I can surround myself with to soothe me? What are the scripture verses that remind me of God’s faithfulness?

Going into the rest of this year is nothing if not uncertain but it doesn’t have to be awful. Yes, the weather is getting hairy. Yes, we are still wearing masks. Yes, school is weird and not the way we’ve ever done it before. Yes, church is strange and new and not what we’ve ever expected of church. And yes, the politics in our nation have gone berzerk and turned angrier than they’ve ever been in the history of our country. But none of that should gain power over our sense of peace. None of it should get to wreck our lives. God is still on His throne and He has already been past 2020 and knows how it happens. So I’ve decided to make a vision of how I want it to go. I’m doing this with prayer and scripture and asking God to show me the steps to take. I’ll use words and photos and color swatches to create the vision and keep it before me. Jesus told us time and time again that worrying about the future and gave us a visual of God taking care of the flowers in the field and the birds of the air so I think this is kind of the same thing.

The Quickening Pace of Rage

Have you read much about Chernobyl? Or better yet, have you watched the HBO series Chernobyl? No one thought the nuclear power plant would ever blow up and, when it did, no one expected the damage to be what it was. It was huge. I learned about it in school but watching the HBO series allowed me to put some faces to the story. I love that about movies and television. Even when the story isn’t one hundred percent accurate or they’ve taken liberties with some details for the sake of entertainment, I still love it.

I was sitting at my desk today, dealing with all sorts of fires. Fires for work, fires for school, fires for health, fires, fires, fires. I got up to go get a glass of water and take a breath. As I crunched a piece of ice in my mouth, allowing the cold melt down the back of my throat, not only quenching my thirst but the fire within, I started thinking about Chernobyl. I started thinking about the people who knew there were problems before it blew, who knew there was a problem after it blew, and denied the problems all the while.

I reached out to friends today, asking them to pray for a handful of the fires I was dealing with. I was feeling stressed and worried and was doing my best to tick off each item. I was being kind and professional and behaving as I should with each issue yet I still felt like I could blow at any minute. The pressure was huge and now I was feeling guilty for the pressure. I had a sudden wave of guilt for even stressing about my life.

The little voices in my head whispered to me, as they are known to, “Who do you think you are? You don’t have real problems. You are a white suburban mom. Your kids are healthy. Your husband has a job. You have no right to complain about anything. Shut up.”

More ice. More crunching. It’s true. I live a very cush life. But does that mean I don’t have a right to feel my feelings?

I took a deep breath and prayed, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you, Oh Lord.” It was the prayer I used in the children’s message I recorded today. It’s a prayer I say frequently. So why was it now bringing tears to my eyes?

Because that’s where the world wants us to live right now, isn’t it? In fear. We are told to fear the virus, fear going back to school or church, fear going outdoors without a mask. We are told to fear the politicians, to fear the government, to fear the police. And if you have an opinion about anything, you learn to be afraid of sharing it because you may offend someone. And if you have a fear of anything, you have to be afraid to share it because someone may jump all over your fear and tell you why you do or do not deserve to have that fear based on the privilege you may or may not have experienced. It’s sort of like when Forest Gump went to Vietnam and his commander kept yelling, “GET DOWN! SHUT UP!” If you say something publicly or on social media and someone disagrees with you, there’s going to be an explosion. Someone is going to tell you to shut up.

What has our world come to that we can’t share what’s on our hearts? And why is it that if my problem is perceived to be smaller than yours, then I am whining? Or if you disagree with me then you must hate me and tell me I am stupid? When did we become so uncivilized? When did hate become so mainstream?

Please don’t comment and tell me it’s Trump’s fault. He is certainly not the picture of civility and charm but this is a problem that has been rising for a long time. It’s pre-Obama, too, so leave those comments alone. I don’t think this is political at its root. It’s been a slow boil, maybe since the dawn of time. And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe, as this world continues to turn, the sin in the world will get bigger and angrier. I suppose it’s possible that shame will feel deeper and worry will feel harder and all the things will burn at a quicker pace. I am praying that the quickening pace of rage in the human race means the clock is ticking closer and closer to the return of Jesus.

If I could wave a magic wand and fix a few things in this world, I would sprinkle a light dusting of empathy over all the people. And I would toss out handfuls of grace. And would give time-outs to people who yell and blow up online. Shaming would not be allowed. Ever. Ice cream trucks would be in every neighborhood and pass out goodies for free because when you’re having a bad day, a fudgesicle with your best friend usually makes it better. Families would sit down together to dinner and hold hands when they pray. And if you got stressed out, you could take a nap without fear of someone telling you you’re weak or lazy. When you cried because your day was a mess, there would always be someone there to give you a hug. And when the world told you to live in worry and fear, you wouldn’t do it; not out of shame of someone knowing you worried but because you would know that Jesus is bigger than your fear.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” -Jesus (Matthew 6: 25, 34)

Forward This to Five People if You Love Jesus

I know this is going to age me when I tell you this but here it goes. When my husband and I got married we did not own a computer. It wasn’t a thing yet. I mean, computers were a thing but not everyone had one. The Internet was still sort of new and exciting and computers were really expensive. Websites were static and a place where you would go to just see that a company existed.

You know what else we didn’t have? Cell phones. I know – we are practically dinosaurs. But I tell you this so you understand that passing memes wasn’t a thing. Texting jokes wasn’t a thing. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, and no Twitter. What we did have, however, were chain letters.

Shortly after we got married I received a letter from a woman I knew telling me about a really awesome way we could all get new kitchen towels. All you had to do was buy a towel and mail it to the first woman on the list and then mail a copy of the list to the next five women on the list. Or something like that. The idea was that you would only buy one towel but over the next month, you would receive fifty. Or five hundred. Or something like that. It was a long time ago. Long story short, I felt really compelled to participate because the woman who sent the letter to me was kind of a big deal at our church and I didn’t want to let her down and break the chain. So with money we didn’t have, I went to the store and bought a nice dish towel, a big envelope, and mailed the towel. I also bought a book of stamps, paid for copies of the letter at Kinkos, and mailed the letter to the women on the list. I then went home and waited for all my new kitchen towels to roll in.

They never came. Not one towel ever showed up at my house and I learned my first lesson in adult peer pressure.

Shortly after we got our first computer we got our first email account and I learned about email chain letters. They were the ones that said something like, “forward this email to fifty friends, including me, if you love Jesus.” That was a lot of pressure! I mean, what if the person who sent it to me doesn’t get it back and thinks I don’t love Jesus?!?!?!?!?!?!

Then social media came along and there were posts with pictures of angels and pictures of Jesus holding baby lambs and if you didn’t “like” it then something bad would happen to you within thirteen minutes. If you did, though, you would receive blessings untold and unnumbered.

I think most of us are past those sorts of posts now. And it’s been ages since I received a letter asking me to mail a gift to a list of women. But there is a new kind of pressure and it’s very specific to 2020 and it looks like this:

It’s a selfie of someone wearing a mask and the words underneath say something about the way we love our friends, family, neighbors, and the world around us is to stay home. And if we have to go out, we wear a mask.

Listen, I’m all for loving my people. And if the government says I have to choose between wearing a mask and receiving a fine, then I will wear a mask. COVID is a very real virus and people have died from contracting it. I’m not arguing that fact. I’m not arguing anything. Well, I guess I am. I am arguing against passive aggressive shaming. I am arguing against selfie shaming. I am arguing against short social media posts that make people feel like they are either pro-quarantine or they are pro-death of the elderly and babies. We’ve jumped hard into the “honk if you love Jesus” place where there are only two choices – those who love Jesus and those who don’t honk.

I think we can all agree that we don’t want people to die of COVID. No one wants that. President Trump doesn’t want people to die of COVID. Joe Biden doesn’t want people to die of COVID. No governor of any state wants people to die of COVID. All politicians are making decisions right now. Some are making decisions based on medical experts. Some are making decisions based on the economy. Some are making decisions based on what they think their constituents want. But screaming that any of them are making decisions because they want people to die is probably not helpful right now.

I am able to mostly work from home. My husband is also working from home. Some people cannot work from home. So posting that people who leave their house are irresponsible is probably not helpful right now. I am so thankful for the police and firefighters and doctors and nurses who are putting their lives on the line every day – not just during COVID but all the days. But during this time I am also very thankful for the people who are working in the grocery store and the bank. I am thankful for the people in the gas stations. I am thankful for the people in Whataburger. And I am extra thankful for the people working for delivery companies who deliver my groceries or dinner when I order those things so that I can stay home if I choose to do so. So to show my appreciation, I tip those people a little more than I normally would. And if I do leave my house, I make sure to smile extra big (with my whole face so my eyes show I’m smiling even though I’m wearing a mask) and I use kind and patient words with all of those people. I know that the service industry can be a thankless world on a good day but during a worldwide pandemic, it has to be extra hard. I want those people to have all of my appreciation.

But mostly, my frustration with the whole “this is how you love your neighbor” thing is that none of us know the road our neighbor is walking down. I don’t know my neighbors claustrophobia. I don’t know my neighbors breathing issues. I don’t know how many hours my neighbor has been wearing a mask today and the reason they’ve pulled it down for a brief moment. I don’t know if my neighbor (because on social media our “neighbors” are all over the world, right?) lives in a county with zero cases of COVID.

Listen, I’m all for following the rules. I’m all for being safe. I’m all for taking care of my family. And if I’m sick, I’m always going to make choices to prevent the spread of my sickness. And I pray that others are for the same things.

What I’m not for is shame. I’m not for telling people there is one way to love others. I’m not for someone telling me if I am not loving my neighbor in the exact same way they are. It seems to me that there were some people in the Bible who often criticized Jesus for not loving people “the right way.”

Maybe this sounds too extreme. Maybe I sound like I’ve gone off the rails. But here’s the thing – social media is one of the few ways we can be in touch with each other these days. We aren’t allowed to worship together. We aren’t allowed to hang out in big groups. So we stay in touch via social media. To me, it seems like now, more than ever, is the time to be offering grace.

Can we all assume that we don’t know what our coworker has going on in their house right now? Maybe we hold back our judgement towards other parents who aren’t controlling their children the way we wish they would. Or perhaps we could consider holding our tongue or our typing fingers when someone at the grocery store is too close to the next cart. Can we take a minute to take a breath when we see someone not following “the rules?” And when we take that breath maybe we step back a few extra feet so when we spew our self-righteousness we don’t spit on anyone.

A long time ago I watched a movie where a little rabbit taught me a very helpful phrase that went something like, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” and I took it to heart. And a guy I really love told me to love my neighbor as myself. I also took that to heart. So I do. I love my neighbor. And I love my neighbors neighbor. And most of that love involves me assuming that everyone is doing the very best they can in the moment. And none of it involves mailing a towel to five women.

Let’s Get Off the Roller Coaster

I loved roller coasters when I was growing up. I loved the clink-clink-clink of the cart as it slowly made its way up the highest hill of the ride. The anticipation of the fall was almost as good as the actual fall. And then the cart would get to the top and drop, full speed, to the lowest low of the ride. I would scream with both delight and terror and get back in line to ride it again.

I don’t like roller coasters anymore. I don’t like the feeling of being out of control. If my sponsor was reading this she would surely be rolling her eyes because she knows that I know how much I try to be in control of life when it’s simply not a reality for anyone. I can control my actions and reactions and nothing else. I still try though.

The hubs and I were listening to a Stephen King novel in the car a few days ago and the story was set in 2020. It was clearly written well before 2020 because the story told was in no way as terrifying as the real 2020. I saw a meme a while back that said something about 2020 being written by Stephen King and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. I have never felt a meme to be more accurate. I turned to the hubs and commented on the fact that the story we were listening to was far more believable that our actual lives right now.

The roller coaster of emotions, the ups and downs of fear, and the speed of how fast news changes. We were heartbroken at fires in Australia and then terrified of a virus with no cure and then enraged at social injustices. Add in a presidential campaign and we have a year of madness that is only half over.

My daughter and I were talking last week about how many people in her social media feed were angrily announcing to their world of followers that if “you” aren’t posting about racial equality or social injustice then “you” are uncaring and would swiftly be unfollowed. As if one Instagram post or Snapchat story could possibly sum up the totality of anyone’s heart.

I have felt so discouraged in the last few weeks. The hard lines drawn by all sides of every issue are so alienating. We are told you either agree or you are wrong. We have to be totally informed, totally involved, and totally wrapped up by every issue surrounding us. And were this not the kind of unprecedented year we are having, that might be an easier demand. But in a year that has clearly gone off the rails and so many people are hurt by so many issues, there is way too much hurt for any one person to carry.

This makes me wonder about our purpose as followers of Christ. I’m starting to believe that when Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world to share his love, he didn’t mean all the world at one time. He specifically instructed them to go to one place, then the next, then the next, dusting off their sandals when their love was not accepted or understood.

Twenty-four-hour news coverage lets us know about the heartache around the world at any given minute. We can know about fires in Australia and earthquakes in India in the same newscast. We can read about the unemployment rate in America and the starving children in Africa in the same article. And news produced this morning is old and out of date this afternoon.

Social media allows anyone and everyone to share their beliefs and with that, they can try to get you onboard or shame you for not jumping on fast enough. It just seems that maybe God didn’t design our hearts to know all the things at all times. We weren’t designed to process and handle the heartache of the entire world when we have not yet completed the work of processing our own.

It’s so easy for us to read all the news and form opinions and jump into fear-based action or to react with anger. We are told our “likes” matter and show we are in total alinement. We are encouraged to “share” in order to inform and make a difference. But I’m just not sure that typing some words on a screen and sending them into the universe is true compassion as God intended (Says the woman typing a blog post).

It feels like the energy spent online reading charts and graphs, listening to the news, and scrolling feeds can drain us of the compassion we need to be sharing with people face to face. And maybe because the government has forbidden us from being face to face for so long we have come to a false belief that online interaction would be a suitable replacement. It’s not.

There was a time told in the Bible when the people tried to build a tower that would reach heaven. They wanted to be as great as God himself. So God mixed their words and languages to make it nearly impossible for anyone to communicate efficiently with each other. Their tower plan failed. These days we are in feel sort of like that. Have we become so full of ourselves, thinking we have access to the best and latest information, that we know better than God? I don’t think any of us would be so bold to say those words out loud but it feels like we just might believe we are capable of some level of omniscience; that the technology we possess allows us to know all. And when we believe we know the most about any given topic, we tend to live as if we are better than those who know less than us. And when we believe we are better and know more, we listen to other ideas, other points of view, other hearts much less. It’s a total breakdown of compassion and empathy.

I have found myself on both sides of the breakdown lately, so trust me when I say I write this without the purpose of finger-wagging. I write it more as a confession. I also write it as a plea for everyone to take a deep breath, put their phones down, take a walk, go for a swim, pick some flowers, or have lunch with a friend. Hug someone. Hold someone’s hand. But most importantly, get off the roller coaster. It only runs when we stand in line, get in the cart, and strap ourselves in. If there are no riders, no one runs the ride.

In the Light of God’s Mercy and Grace

I was a very good student in elementary school. I was smart and I made good grades. I was afraid of breaking the rules and disappointing my teachers so I was very careful to always listen to instructions. I was kind to most of the kids, although I’m sure someone somewhere has a story of a time when I wasn’t. I imagine, if I thought really hard about it, I could come up with a story of my own. But for the most part, I was a good kid and I was well liked.

However, one year, in my elementary years, when I was still sweet and kind and studious and a rule follower, I had a teacher who did not particularly like me. It wasn’t just that I wasn’t the favorite; she was often annoyed with me. She would snap at my questions, rarely smiled at me, and was very harsh in her judgement of my art projects (I was excellent at coloring!). I know I didn’t imagine this behavior and she didn’t treat everyone in the class the same way. It was very obvious who she liked and who she didn’t.

I never figured out why she didn’t like me. It was hard for me back then but I really have let it go. I have come to accept that I am an acquirred taste and not everyone wants to take the time or energy to learn to love me. I get it and I’m fine with it.

When I was in high school, there was a man who volunteered with our church youth group who didn’t like me. He liked the kids who came to all the events and lived their lives the same at church as they did at school and in the community. I was not very authentic as a teenager. I didn’t always make the right choices and this man knew it. He liked to call me out on some of those choices and, since the only time I ever saw him was at Sunday School, he would do the calling out in front of all the other kids.

As an adult I find this sort of behavior appalling. Shaming a teenager in front of their peers is not the ideal way to help them grow a vibrant relationship with Jesus. But I’ve forgiven him because I like to imagine he didn’t know better. And frankly, I only have so much energy to get me through each day and I don’t want to waste an ounce on holding anger at someone like that.

When I was a young married woman I took a job as a receptionist and book keeper for a small business. My job was to answer the phones, take messages, and record receipts in a big ledger book. The owner of the business was always looking at me in a creepy way and then, after only two weeks there, he ran his hand up my leg. I punched him and walked out. He was an old fool and I refused to be disrespected or abused in that way.

These three people all have something in common in my life. All three were terrible at their job. All three showed disrespect. All three could have caused emotional damage. But none of them had the power to change my view of all the other people in their position. I don’t think all teachers are mean. I don’t think all church workers are shaming. And I don’t think all old men are perverts.

In my lifetime I have had bad doctors, bad waiters, bad contractors, bad dentists, bad hairdressers, bad… You name it. But I’ve also had good ones. I could make a list of hundreds of teachers and professors I have had or my children have had who are kind and loving and genuinely care about their students. I have known youth pastors and senior pastors and music leaders and Sunday School teachers who offer grace and show love and point people to Jesus. And I have had bosses who are respectful and kind and have taught me much about leadership.

As a rule, I try to assume that other people are doing the very best they can with the resources they have at hand in that moment. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Are there people who should be fired from their position because they’ve done such a terrible job or caused harm to others? Of course. Are there people who, despite being told of an unacceptable behavior many times, refuse to stop that behavior? Yes. Do I need to keep those people in my life? No.

Our country is going through some crazy times. Actually, the entire world feels sort of mad this year. When I heard of the police officer who murdered a man in Minnesota a few weeks back while other police officers stood and watched, I was completely heart broken. No human being should be treated that way-criminal or free person -no one deserves the treatmant that man received. I have to wonder what those officers have gone through and seen in their lives and careers that calloused their hearts. I am curious where they went off the rails of empathy and compassion for their fellow man and landed in the ditch of hate. I hope those officers are never allowed to work in any position of authority ever again. I hope they are put away. And I hope they find remorse in their hearts and repent.

I also hope that police officers everywhere are taught the proper procedures to handle criminals. I hope they are given resources to manage the stress of their job – counseling and therapy – so they can learn how to process some of the horrors they see in their daily grind without causing horrors for others. I hope there are systems put into place to decipher ones mental capacity to handle the taxing job of being a police officer. But all of these things take funding and will never happen if we defund police.

Last week we watched a dear friend, who is a police officer, work to form teams who would work at local protests of all that is happening in our country. He spent hours on the phone and on his computer, carefully placing structure around what everyone hoped would be a peaceful situation. His desire was to keep the peace but he knew he had to be prepared for the worst.

As he put on his uniform with his bullet-proof vest and his gun in holster and prepared to leave the house, his wife kissed him good-bye. I felt my heart cracking wide open but couldn’t show emotion or fear for him because his teenage children and mine were watching wide-eyed. As he pulled out of the driveway they asked lots of questions about the protests and we all did the best we could to answer those questions. The reality though was that we all knew he was going into a situation where there could be people who see him as the enemy; people who carry so much hate for the police officers in Minnesota, and for other police officers who have been bad at their job, that their hate spills over to all police. We knew that there could be people there who are not capable of seeing past the badge on his chest because, in their minds, all badges are the same and all badges are evil. The irony of the situation was lost on none of us.

I don’t have answers for the system. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything other than Friends and The Office. I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot about many things. What I do know is that I pray every day for Jesus to come back and take us all home. I also know Jesus rarely does things according to my time frame or my plan. So in the meantime, I have to guard my heart. I have to guard against fear and anger. I have to guard against judgement and hatred. I have to guard against idolatry and pride. And I have to remind myself over and over and over that God created each of us in His image. I am an image bearer of God. My husband and children bear the image of God. My neighbors bear His image. My boss, my doctor, my dentist, my exterminator…all image bearers. My teacher from elementary school who didn’t like me? Yep. God created her in His image as well. And the youth guy and the perve boss? Also, created in God’s image.

The problem is that this world is full of sin. So the image we were designed to reflect can get smudged and distorted and messed up. But God knew that! So He sent His only child, His Son, to take the punishment for all that sin. When we are baptised in Christ, we take on the pure and holy image we were meant to reflect. We don’t reflect it here on Earth but when God looks at us, all He sees is His own reflection. God sees Jesus in us.

I have hurt people and I have helped people. I have made poor choices and I have shown wisdom. I have judged people and I have trusted people. I have been the target of hate and disrespect and I have been the benefactor of undeserved privilege. I pray no one ever looks at me and sees all or nothing; one or the other. And I pray I never look at others in any light but the light of God’s mercy and grace.

When I Think God Is Hiding

One of my favorite games to play as a child was “Hide and Go Seek.” The very act of playing the game meant that I wasn’t alone because it’s not a one-person game. As an only child, I learned to play a lot of one-person games.

The thing about “Hide and Go Seek” was that, even if I was only playing with one other person, there was another person. Even if they were hiding in the very best hiding spot, even if it took me a really long time to find them, there was another person in the game with me.

So often, when we face trials in this life, we feel like we are playing a one-person game; like we are all alone. The truth is there are very few new experiences on this planet; very few roads that have never been walked before.

Grief often feels so isolating. We enter in feeling like no one could have ever felt a pain like this one and we will never be able to find our way out. And while it’s true that grief is unique for all of us, it’s also the same, and we never have to walk through it alone.

There is so much grief swirling around right now. There is my own grief, grief that belongs to my friends, grief that belongs to our country, grief that belongs to the world. And in the midst of grieving, it’s easy to wonder where God is hiding.

Does God hide? I don’t think so. If he did, that would mean we could be separated from him. I know that there are times when I feel like God is far away from me and I can’t find him. But when I call out, he’s always right there. I can get so wrapped up in my own head, my own fears, and my own grief that I start to hide from God’s truth.

Even then, my hiding from God is like when my kids would hide from me when they were little. They, too, loved to play “Hide and Go Seek.” They would hide behind the sofa and their little legs would stick out the backside. Or they would hide behind the drapes and I could see their tiny feet. I always knew where they were. So when I am tempted to think God is hiding from me, I have to remind myself of the truth of Romans 8:35 – 39.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”[a]37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[b] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.

Sometimes we walk through valleys and we question why God would ever allow us to experience such a dark place or why he would take us down a path that seems so out of the way. We could never fathom the places God wants to take us. God’s plans for us are so much greater than we could ever imagine for ourselves. So when God walks us down a road we’ve never seen before, we can rest assured that he knows exactly where we are going. And when the road seems longer than it should be, we can trust that God wants us to learn as much as we can along that road.

God’s grace is all I need when life feels bigger than I can handle. When I am at my weakest, when I am sad, when I can’t see a way out, it is God’s power that carries me through the darkness. I can try to comfort myself. I can try to find my own way out. But I can only be saved when I release myself into God’s care. I can trust that on my hardest days, in the middle of my trying times, wrapped in my own weaknesses is when God’s strength is revealed.

Saying Good-Bye

I grew up without a close relationship with any grandparents. I was always jealous of kids who had grandpas and grandmas and mimis and nanas who came to plays, concerts, and such. My dad’s parents died before I was born. My mom’s mother died when my mom was a girl. Her dad remarried a woman named Patsy but Mom did not have a good relationship with her step-mother. I can count on two hands the number of times I saw my Granddaddy when I was a child.

As a child, I didn’t know for certain why my close cousins and I didn’t see Granddaddy and Grandma Patsy very often. I knew there was tension and hurt between Mom and her 5 natural siblings and their father. I occasionally heard stories but I never saw the whole picture. I do have a vivid memory of visiting Granddaddy when I was four-years-old. He took me outside and when I saw a tree swing, I asked him to push me on it. He told me he was too tired to swing and I quickly answered, with my hands on my hips, “Grandpas are supposed to push their grandkids on swings. It’s in all the books.” Bless. I have no idea what books I had been reading but I remember standing there, locked eye with him, and thinking I was not about to budge on this. I knew what Grandpas did for other kids. I had read the books and seen the evidence and I wanted in. He pushed me.

I saw him at a couple of family parties over the years. He came to my high school graduation, my mom’s funeral, my wedding, and Shelby’s baptism. I didn’t see him again for several years.

A cousin texted me in 2015 that Grandma Patsy had passed away and I felt God stirring in me to go to the funeral. Granddaddy, nearly blind at that point, cried when I walked up to him. He hugged me and told me he was so glad I was there. God started opening doors for healing. Later that year, it was Thanksgiving when God worked a massive miracle in my family. You can read about it here. And suddenly, there it was, a relationship.

Me with Granddaddy and my mom’s siblings, minus one sister.

Granddaddy turned 101-years-old this last November. At Thanksgiving, he sat next to me as we ate and told me he’d been invited to ride in the Fourth of July parade in his hometown. He fought bravely in Europe in World War II and in recent years, had been the subject of a few newspaper articles. There aren’t too many WWII Veterans still living so I could totally understand the parade plans. Knowing that July 4 is my birthday, he told me that if he was still alive, I could ride with him. Of course, I agreed. Like my Granddaddy, I rarely turn down a chance in the spotlight and a parade was ideal for both of us.

Two weeks ago, however, I received several texts and phone calls from family members letting me know his nursing home had reached out to say the end was near. He wasn’t expected to make it through the night. And then he wasn’t expected to make it through the next night. And the next. And the next. No one will ever accuse him of going down easily without a fight. His children and step-children were all invited in, one-by-one, through a back door of the nursing home, to say good-bye. Quarantine due to COVID-19 has made saying good-bye hard for so many families this year. For almost two weeks, Granddaddy waited for his family to say their farewells, and then finally, a little after midnight, while we all slept last night, he passed peacefully from this world to the arms of Jesus.

Thanksgiving 2019

I am grateful for the last few years I’ve had to spend time with him. He wasn’t a perfect man. He wasn’t a perfect father or grandfather. But in the end, he was gentle and loving and funny. He longed to be accepted and loved – a longing I think we can all understand.

I cried a little bit this morning, thinking about the hurts of the family that were never addressed or healed but then I thanked God for the ones that were. I thanked Him for His promise of eternity when those things won’t matter anymore. I’m thankful for the salvation we have in Jesus and the hope that we all get to be together again one day.

We don’t know when we will be able to gather for a memorial but I know it will be a party. We will laugh and tell stories and eat good food and love on each other in the way only family can. And we will be thankful for Alfred Preston (Whitey) Birdwell because, without him, we would not be here to share his love.

An Invitation for the Weary

Weary has taken on a new meaning for our world. The level of weariness is unprecedented and unfortunately, there seems to be no end in sight. We know it will end…we just don’t know when. And that is part of what makes this particular weariness so hard.

This morning, as I opened my Bible, praying for a message that would be relevant to my current state of heart, which frankly can change by the hour, God gave me what I needed. He’s got a habit of that.

Matthew 11: 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I don’t know when the fear of Coronavirus will end. I don’t know when we will leave our houses again and be allowed to stand next to each other. I don’t know when I’ll be able to hug my friends or go to the grocery store and find toilet paper with ease. I don’t know how many more lives will be lost.

But God knows.

God knows when it will end and He sees us now in our weariness. He says we don’t have to carry the burden because he will carry it for us. And some of us have been carrying some burden for quite some time.

It occurred to me a few days ago that in my town, there has been an extended time of burden; there have been several years of loads to bear. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2017, our town was flooded in a devastating way. It wasn’t simply from the storm but from a late-night release of water from a lake north of us. People made poor judgment calls in a moment of panic and thousands of lives were sent into chaos. Homes were flooded, lives were lost, businesses shut down, and the way of life in our town was forever changed.

Then in 2019, another decision made by an unscrupulous builder teamed up with never before seen flash flooding and several neighborhoods in our town were flooded. Once again, stress and chaos came to us as schools and businesses were shut down. Families were displaced. It was heartbreaking.

And the only thing that could make the Spring flooding of 2019 any more heartbreaking is that the builder, who had promised to fix his mistakes, did not do so in time for another flash flood that came in the Fall. The same families in the same houses who had flooded in the Spring were now flooding again. Plus some extras; some of which had flooded during Harvey.

So just as these families were all getting their repairs wrapped up and moving back into their newly refurbished homes, COVID-19 hits. And we all know what it has brought thus far.

I want to cry out to God and scream, “Enough!!!!!” And yet I know that things could be so much worse. I can look at areas of the world who are war-ravaged and poverty-stricken and politically oppressed and easily remind myself that we really don’t have it that bad in our town; that we can’t complain. But I also know that there are enough feelings for all of us and that I don’t have to save all my empathy for one place. If I neglect to acknowledge my sadness for my friends because they don’t have it as bad as someone in say, Iraq, it doesn’t make the situation in Iraq better. I could say that I shouldn’t pray for the mom of three toddlers who feels like she’s losing her mind right now because she has it so much better than the mom who is struggling to feed her children in Africa. But saving that empathy and prayer doesn’t bring a miracle to Africa any faster.

No, God reminds me to bring my burdens to him because He is big enough for all of it. God can love and care for my town at the same time He cares for Africa. He can see the mom who rebuilt her kitchen twice after flooding twice and also see the mom without a roof over her head. He can provide for the nurse in the hospital in Houston who is short on supplies at the exact time He is providing for the nurse in the refugee camp.

Weariness is relative. There is no comparison to our fellow man. What makes me weary today may seem like a cake-walk to you. And what makes you weary tomorrow may be a dream day for me. Weariness is weariness is weariness. And God can handle all of it. He sees us, He knows us, and He wants to carry the load for us. His heart is humble and gentle and He will not rebuke us for coming to his arms to curl up for a rest. In fact, He has given us an open invitation.