Friday, November 21, 2014

The Joy and Gratefulness of Being Aunt Lala

I love my sister. I love that our personalities are completely opposite. I was reminded of this recently when we exchanged cars so I could keep Canyon for the afternoon. I stepped out of my car that was clean and vacuumed into my sister’s car—with more water bottles than you could count and last month’s mail in the front seat. Some people might call that motherhood, but I know the truth. (And by the way, that new reality may be true for me someday.) But Michaela’s car has looked like that for as long as she’s been driving. I know this because I would shove the papers and the water bottles out of the way as I sat in her purple blazer, waiting for her to drive me to school. I say waiting because I was downstairs and ready a good 20 minutes early every morning…so I could wait…

People have asked me: Is it hard being around Canyon? Have you struggled since your sister had a baby? I would say there have been hard days, but we—Michalea and I—we have wept together. That’s how we do things in our family. Together.

I’ve never been around a lot of babies in my lifetime. Apart from holding a baby here and there once or twice a year, I hadn’t been around babies. And getting to be around Canyon these last six months, I now know it was God’s gift to me that my sister got pregnant before me. I don’t say that lightly. I say that with genuine gratitude. I would not want to walk what I’ve watched her walk for six months without first watching her walk it.

I’m so proud of my sister. She’s an incredible mom. Of course, I knew she would be. When it came to playing with baby dolls, she had the whole mom thing down. But watching her in action, in real time, my heart just swells with joy. I’ve spent my whole life watching her, observing, learning from her choices. Why would I think motherhood would be any different? God knew what I needed.

Canyon is her gift from God. Her blessing. I prayed for him as fervently as I’ve prayed for anything. But in an indirect way, he’s my blessing, too. I love being his Aunt Lala/Lulu (depending on who you ask!). I love him deeply.

I’m not a gifts person. I’m not a words of affirmation person, either. I’m a quality time person. It’s how I show love, and it’s how I receive love. I cultivate relationships with time. That’s my thing. So after Canyon was born, I wanted to spend as much time as I could with him—and when school started again, I wanted one day—at least one—that I could spend with him. Come hell or high water, I don’t care how much grading I have to do, Wednesdays are my day.

I know he won’t remember it. To him, it doesn’t matter if we played games or if I held him while he slept. But it matters to me. I’ll remember.

This last week, I cried almost the whole way to Lubbock to pick him up. My heart was so full of joy as I prayed for him and for my sister and for Jaime. And when, after his afternoon bottle, after he had exhausted himself playing in his bouncer, after we had sung songs and made silly faces—when he fell asleep on me for almost an hour, I cried some more.

God knew that I needed this experience. He knew I needed a baby to hold. And while we wait for our own joy and blessing, I have this gift, this sweet boy. And one day a week, I get to practice being a mom.  

This year has been a precious time for Hal and me. And although life hasn’t always turned out how I planned it, I have never felt more fully the goodness and the faithfulness of God in this season of my life.   I am grateful for His timing, for His perfect plan, and I feel so blessed. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Trusting God with our dreams AND our finances: God's 'how' with our 'what'

On Sunday, our church had a message on finances, and I was struck by one comment in particular: finances fall under the law of sowing and reaping.

You see, we make financial choices today, good or bad, but we may not feel those effects for years to come. I've been thinking about that. We are pretty budget-conscious when it comes to our finances. We tithe, give, and save from 30% of our budget, and we try to pay our bills and live on 70%. We're not perfect, and we're not debt-free, but this practice has worked pretty well for us. 

There are days, however, when it's so tempting to think, man, if we could just use this for this, then we could have X outcome, maybe pay off X amount of debt; man, if we could just have a little more here and there, we would be set!

And that's the danger. Not the planning, the budgeting, certainly not the savings--but the mentality that if we can get to X place, we will be worry-free, our future secure. 

The danger lies in who controls your finances, in where you place your trust, in how you lean when uncertainty arises. 

The danger is forgetting that all we have is His. 

In our culture today, we like the law of immediacy, the law of "I snap, and it's done." And we look around to see where everyone else is in comparison to where we are. There's a reason keeping up with the Joneses is still a thing. 

But it's such a trap, with no long-term reward. 

I've been reading Psalm 37, and David describes two time frames: the right now and the future. Over and over, he is saying, now, it looks like this, but then, it will look like that

What does the future look like for the righteous man*? His righteousness will be brought forth (v. 6); he will inherit the land (vs., 9, 11, 22, 29, 34); he will have abundant peace (v. 11); he has a heritage that lasts forever (v. 18); he has abundance in the days of famine (v. 19); he is generous (now and then) (v. 21); he is not forsaken; his children are taken care of and are a blessing to him (v. 25 - 26); he is preserved (v. 28), not abandoned (v. 33), defended (v. 33). 

What an incredible list of promises! But it's a future list, not a present-day list. It's about sowing today for a harvest tomorrow. 

So what does the righteous man sow today? 
  • He trusts in the Lord (v. 3, 5)
  • He does good (v. 3)
  • He delights in the Lord (v. 4)
  • He commits his ways to the Lord (v. 5)
  • He is still before the Lord (v. 7)
  • He waits for the Lord (v. 7, 9)
  • And he gives generously (v. 21)
That last bullet is not an accident. The big idea of last Sunday's message was that we cannot follow Jesus if we are out of balance with our finances. The righteous man in Psalm 37 is a faithful, patient, surrendered servant of the Lord. He does not compare himself to others (v. 7). He is not worried about the Joneses. 

He keeps his eyes on God, and he continues on the path before him. 

We've been reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, and we have been dreaming some pretty big dreams, asking God for the impossible, the unlikely, circling desires we only whispered about as silly pillow-talk before bed. 

Big prayers don't scare God. They scare us because it's not the what but the how: how could we do that? 

And when it comes to the how, it often returns to money. That's why I think Sunday's message was so timely. Finances operate under the law of sowing and reaping. You know what? So does prayer. We sow prayers today that may not be answered for 5, 10, 15, 20 years. 

The how is God's place of miracles; the what is our heart of dreams. 

The what puts us on a path... 

Sometimes, we forget that we are 28 years old. It's okay that our savings isn't overflowing with tens of thousands of dollars (or even the Ramsey recommended 3-times your monthly expenses!). It's okay that our kids' college funds aren't fully funded (yeah, we don't have any kids yet; I think we've still got time!). And it's okay that our combined retirement funds don't even equal one-third of what we make in a given year. 

God's got all the time in the world. 

Our job is to dream big, pray big, and say yes when He asks. May we be patient, trusting, giving servants today! 

*If you're a woman and the list of 'man promises' here is hard for you, I always insert she when I read (i.e. She will inherit the land; she will have abundant peace, etc.). God's kingdom is full of righteous men and women. :) 

Monday, August 18, 2014

For God Gave Us a Spirit... (Part 2)

"For God gave us a spirit, not of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind." 1 Tim 2:7

A few weeks ago, I shared how fear has recently been revealed to me as a stronghold in my life. And in May, I started meditating on this verse and trying to understand how to combat this spirit of fear.

I began this journey by recognizing the many, many ways that fear ruled in my life: fear of lack, fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, etc. From worrying about whether my straightener was going to burn down the house to worrying about future bills and uncertain outcomes--fear had a full foothold in the door of my heart.

But lately, God has focused me on the other three components of this verse: power and love and a sound mind. I have a spirit of power: What does this look like on me? I have a spirit of love and a sound mind: What does that look like?

I mentioned a little in the last post that fear is the antithesis to faith--and faith unleashes the power of God in our life. 

Ephesians 1 calls His power immeasurable toward us who believe.

When we put our faith in Jesus--in the power and the message of His finished work of the cross--it reveals to us the mystery of the gospel, the good news: that we are made righteous, that we are given an inheritance--our status as sons and daughters--and that we are filled with grace.

Grace. His power, His ability, working in us. 

It is sufficient. 

By His grace, we get to be powerful people. 

So, fear is the antithesis to power, to faith. Fear is also the antithesis to love.

I'm reading Danny Silk's Keeping Your Love On, and it's no coincidence that the chapter I just started is titled, "The Battle Between Fear and Love."

Fear of rejection, fear of (dis)connection, fear of vulnerability, fear of loss--that's the battle; each is the hindrance to our ability to be real and genuine, to be sincere in our love toward each other.

Silk writes, "Learning to partner with the spirit of love requires you to become powerful. That is a serious challenge. When Paul told Timothy that the spirit of love is also the spirit of power and a sound mind, he implied that the opposite, the spirit of fear, is the spirit of powerlessness and a weak, divided mind. When you grow up partnering with the spirit of fear, as most of us do, you learn to simply hand over your brain and your power, letting fear take control. But as soon as you decide to partner with the spirit of love, you have to think and make powerful choices" (p. 53).

Last post, I said that we are powerful people, and I love how Danny calls fear a spirit of powerlessness.

To be powerful is not the same as being a bully, manipulative, aggressive, or even controlling. In fact, one of the most freeing things I've heard recently from the pastors at Harvest is that control is an illusion

Danny says it this way: "The only person you can control--on a good day--is you" (p. 51).

So let's talk about this last component: a sound mind. Some translations calls this a spirit of self-control. How appropriate!

Fear in relationships creates distances, disconnection, anything that looks nothing like love. Sometimes fear in relationships translates into the pseudo-power we tend to recognize: manipulation and control.

But for us to have healthy relationships, for us to love sincerely, we have to break the spirit of fear in our life. We have to take control of our minds--our thoughts, our worries, our assumptions, our judgments, our hypothetical conversations (I know I'm not the only person who does this :)). We have to learn to control our minds--to find self-control.

But the good news is God has given us a spirit, and it's not of fear. Like the gift of righteousness, like the fullness of grace, this gift is ours to choose, to believe, to receive His spirit of power and love and a sound mind. 

I can't control others, but I can stay connected to my Father's heart. I can, by faith, receive the fullness of His grace. I can, through Him, be powerful in my relationships.

And what does it mean to be powerful? It means I'm free from fear--and more so, I'm free to love, to really love, with sincerity, with a genuine heart, without expectations, without fear, without shame.

I'm free to be vulnerable.

Last night, I heard a message on shame and the fear of loss, and like the spirit of fear we've been talking about, the pastor concluded that we fight shame by being vulnerable.

I'm still mulling this over, but I pray if you're reading this, I pray for myself, that we would recognize the strongholds of fear in our life, and that we would especially fight the battle of fear in our relationships with others, and that fear of lack, fear of rejection, fear of loss, insecurity by any name we want to give it would be broken in the name of Jesus.

May we be powerful and vulnerable people today. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

For God Gave Us a Spirit...

"For God gave us a spirit, not of fear but of power and love and self-control." 2 Timothy 1:7

Most of us probably know this verse, so maybe it feels pat, but I've been meditating on this one verse all summer. It started when I read a book by Jackie Mize last May that used this acronym:
F - false
E - evidence
A - against
R - reality

Fear. False evidence against reality. Jackie writes, "Fear motivates Satan as faith motivates God. Fear is Satan's tool as faith is God's" (p. 100).

Satan's number one tool is fear; it is the antithesis of faith. Yet, we so rarely recognize fear. We mask it as stress, worry, insecurity, busyness. But at the root--it is all fear.

  • Fear of the future, that something won't be accomplished
  • Fear of the unknown, that something won't work out the way we want or need
  • Fear of failure, that something will fail and/or that we will be failures
  • Fear of insufficiency, that the "work" we do (i.e., at our jobs, in our marriage, with our kids, in our friendships) won't be enough 
  • Fear of lack, that He won't provide, that He isn't enough

  • Fear of lack, that we aren't enough, that we aren't sufficient (i.e., body size, hair color, personality, what we do, where we live, how much we make, etc.)
  • Fear of rejection, that again, we won't measure up, that others will reject us

  • Fear of feeling, that if we stop, if we slow down, if we feel, we'll be vulnerable; we'll have to be real and get to the root and deal with our heart, and isn't it just easier to be busy? 

For the last two months, I have prayed against a spirit of fear almost daily. And I've found that Step One is just praying to see the evidence of fear, to recognize it, to call it what it is. It's more than stress: it's fear. It's more than insecurity: it's fear. 

And we have to see it from the seemingly insignificant worries to the major events that keep us up at night. For weeks, almost every time I left the house, I was convinced I had not unplugged my straightener. This, naturally, led me to believe that the house would burn down, that my dogs (my babies!), who are inside, would die, that I would lose all my possessions, my journals, my writing. Life itself would be over. That is fear, my friends. Did I unplug my straightener? Did I close the garage door? Did I lock my car? These obsessions are Satan's tools, insignificant as they seem. 

If we never identify fear's strongholds in our life, we cannot break the spirit of fear over us. 

God gave us a spirit. 

It is not a spirit of fear.

It is a spirit of power and love and self-control. 

I want to look at each of these traits of our spirit individually in the next few posts. But today, remember that you are filled with a spirit of power. God's grace--His ability--fills you. I believe Paul lists power first because it's believing that the power of God dwells in us that enables us to overcome fear, and it's believing that the power of God dwells in us that equips us to love and to have self-control. 

You are a powerful person. Don't walk in fear today. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

A letter to my dad on his 60th birthday


If there’s a word to describe you, it’s consistency. I can’t think of one time in my life where I have been uncertain whether you were coming or uncertain whether you would be there for me. I’ve never doubted that. Not once.  

You’ve always been an incredible dad, and most incredibly, you were present. Even when life was stressful, money was tight, or schedules were busy—you always made time for us. You attended dance recitals that may or may not have lasted for hours upon hours. You watched me play basketball at an age when watching basketball could not have been on the short list of your favorite things to do. When I think about how hard you work even today and how long your hours were when I was growing up, from making rounds in the morning to clinic all day to more rounds in the evening, coming home at 6 or sometimes 7—I see now more than I ever could what a sacrifice it was to attend those week-night events.

When you took Michalea and I away for our Daddy/Daughter weekends, you didn’t just take us to cool restaurants and buy us nice clothes and help us pick out our prom dresses. All of those activities were great—and our shopping trips for prom dresses are some of my favorite memories with you. Not many dads will do that—in fact, I don’t know of another person’s dad who has done that. You sat on many benches outside many dressing rooms for hours and hours and hours. Why? Because you love us so. You spent more money than I can probably imagine not just on clothes and dresses, but on hotel rooms and fancy dinners. Why? Because you love us so. You invested in our hearts, you invested in our daddy/daughter relationship, and you taught us—literally taught us—how to search out the hearts of our potential husbands.

And, Dad, if there’s one thing I’m most proud of, it’s not the things you said to me; it’s not the lectures you gave, or even the advice. It’s the way you lived. You lived the husband that I wanted to marry; you lived the dad that I wanted my husband to be. You lived it, and I saw it, and somehow I knew there would be a man like you who was worth waiting for.

I’m also forever grateful that because of the time you took to invest in us; because of the lessons I learned from you about men, you instilled in me standards for myself and for others. I know I didn’t always make good choices with my boyfriends, but I made the right choice in the end—the only choice that ever mattered so much. You had a lot to do with that choice. And I chose well.

You’ve taught me more lessons than you can imagine, and again, it’s not because of what you said but because of how you lived. You told us that we should find something we love doing and do it; that it’s not about how much money one can make, it’s about how satisfied he feels at the end of the day; that it’s not about how much recognition one can get, it’s about how happy he can be when he’s walking in his gifting and passion. My personality may have already been “set” to be driven and goal-oriented, but you encouraged me and supported me to pursue what I love. There were many, many hard days to get to where I am, and you listened to countless hours of my stress and complaints—but you always believed in me. And because you believed in me, I could believe in myself.

You taught us to be wise with our money. Even as early as 16, you showed me how to apply for a job and how to interview. You helped me open my first checking and savings account. Because of all that you taught me, I saved and bought my first car at 17. A nice, good, reliable car that lasted me for 8 years. Something that seems so simple as budgeting is not simple at all: it’s life-changing. And having seen others who were not taught the same skills, I’ve never been more grateful. We own a house we can afford; we don’t purchase things we can’t or shouldn’t—and we have been richly blessed in ways that money can’t buy. You taught me how to tithe. And you taught me how to give. Because you were and have always been generous, you instilled in me—in all of us kids—a heart to be generous to others.

You taught me that character is built from the inside, from a heart and a life of integrity, from a person who is the same at home as he is at church as he is at work. That’s you. And it’s who I want to be. You work hard. You never quit. You’re never lazy. And you never expect someone else to do what you can do yourself. Your character speaks. I want mine to speak like that, too.

Thank you for sending me to London. I grew up in London in ways I am still processing. I learned so much about being alone, about navigating a big city, about who I am and what I wanted to be. I fell in love with learning in London. I fell in love with language—with linguistics—which carried me all the way through my PhD. And today, I get to teach courses like Advanced Grammar that make my heart more happy than you can imagine—and somehow, I know, it started with London.

Thank you for buying the ranch. It is a safe place for us all, and I’m thankful for the hours we’ve had to spend together out there. Sometimes working. Sometimes talking. Sometimes doing nothing at all. It’s one of my favorite places to be—and it has less to do with the location or the building or the land and everything to do with who I get to be with when I’m there.

Thank you for coming to my recitals and plays and games and for telling me I’m beautiful and for buying me roses on Valentine’s Day and for helping me to have confidence in who I am.

Thank you for being a dad who was present and consistent. Thank you for being there—wherever there was.

I tell you all the time I’m the luckiest girl in the world to have you as my dad. It’s true. You have played a huge role in who I was and who I am and who I will become. I know that life is precious and that it’s never guaranteed. I’m thankful that we are here—and God has given us today. One more day. One more breath. I won’t take it for granted.

I look forward to the days of our growing family—as we all add children and grandchildren to the mix. But I’m so thankful for the foundation. You built that foundation, and God has honored it and graced it and blessed it deeply.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dad!
I love you!


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Training for our minds!

In a sermon once, I heard about a study where they put mice in a tank with water. For the first group, most of the mice showed signs of giving up after treading water for seven hours. But for the second group, the scientists took the mice out and gave them a break around 5 or 6 hours. That group—those mice—swam three times longer.

Why? Because they found hope. A glimmer of light. A breath of fresh air. A brief moment of freedom. And it was enough to push them forward.

Our mind is a powerful thing. I was thinking about this yesterday when I kinda felt like dying during my first experience with a core and strengthening yoga-ish class. If I listened to the music or thought about something else, the 60 seconds of [insert painful move here] didn't seem so bad. But if, at the 30 second mark, I heard the instructor say, "halfway done!", and I started counting 30 seconds in my head—each second seemed more difficult than the one before. 

I wasn't treading water in the core and strengthening class, and it wasn't for 6 or 7 hours, but it felt a little like that. As sharp pains are pulsating through my thighs, and my abs feel like they are about to explode out of my stomach, and I'm aching in places I didn't know I could ache. And if I could just. not. think about it, I could survive. But when I really thought about it... well, I felt like giving up. Sometimes that's what waiting fells like. Mind over matter: it's not just a thing people say; it's so very true.  

In that process, though, the Lord really spoke to my heart. When we fixate on the pain in our lives, it only feels more painful. Dwelling on negative feelings—especially in our mind—is a dangerous indulgence. This is why we’re told to renew our minds daily (Romans 12:2) and to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).

Why? Because Jesus is our hope—and hope is more powerful than anything.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthian 10:3-6 that this battle we war is not in the flesh. So where is the battle? It’s in our mind.

He has already previously told us in 1 Corinthians 2 that we have the mind of Christ, through His spirit, which is given to us. For that reason, Paul can later say we have the weapons we need to put down strongholds, cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God—bringing every. thought. captive.

This is no easy thing. It requires practice. And discipline.My mind is highly, highly analytical and logical. Although I know that comes in handy for solving problems or being a scholar, sometimes I wish it weren’t so. I wish I could be carefree and laid back and just ignore the uncertainty or not allow myself to think about the unknown; that, instead, it would just literally “not cross my mind.”

But, for me, that isn’t the case. It’s a matter of my mind, my will, my emotions—each has to be surrendered daily, hourly, every second if I’m going to fixate on Jesus instead.

On my mirror, I have God’s 10 promises to me. And I read them daily, even when my mind, my will, and my emotions say otherwise.

That’s our battle. Maybe it’s cliché, and certainly I agree and know from experience that it’s easier said than done. James 3 talks about the power of the tongue—but I think the mind is doubly so, for it controls both what we speak and what we think: the thoughts we dwell on, our anxiety and worry, our fear and insecurity. It all starts in the mind.

Practice today fixing your eyes on Jesus—our savior, our healer, our defender—our hope. Your circumstance may not change. Your pain may still be there. But when we change our perspective to His, it changes everything. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Seeing as HE Sees

Luke 15:11-32

This is one of my favorite parables, and as I continue with the #LentChallenge, I'm still thinking about Luke 15 because, in various seasons, I have been the lost daughter and the jealous daughter. This is, in most Bibles, the parable of the lost son, but like the two parables in Luke 15 that precede it (the lost sheep and the lost coin), I feel this parable says far more about the Father's heart than that which was lost.

1) Sometimes our Father initiates the search for us, and sometimes, He is waiting for our return, but always, He meets us; always, He is filled with compassion. 

This view of our Father--especially depending on how you view your earthly mother and father--is not normal, if normal is defined by earthly standards. A child who rebels, who is wasteful, who squanders, who avoids, who willfully and intentionally goes his own way: that, by any parenting standard, is cause for discipline and reproach.

The response we might expect is anger, silence, crossed arms, a tapping foot, and the words we fear most, "Son, I'm disappointed."

But not our Heavenly Father: "While he was still a great ways off, the father saw him and had compassion and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him."

Even when we are in the midst of bad choices, even when we are ashamed and self-loathing, even before we open our mouths to repent, our father sees, and has compassion, and runs to us, and falls on us, and kisses us.

I'm not downplaying sin, rebellion, or repentance, but too often, our worldly view gets crossed with our spiritual view, and we forget that it's the Lord's kindness, His mercy, His love, that leads us to repentance. 

It's not our shame. It's not our unworthiness. It's not about how low must I get to be forgiven.

It's about Him, and His heart, and His compassion.

He meets us. He pursues us.

2) Even in our sin, He still desires to reaffirm us as sons and daughters, to confirm in us how HE sees us. 

The jealous one--ever been her? When you're just serving and obeying and doing all that your Dad asks you to do, but yet someone else gets acknowledged, gets rewarded, gets that blessing you really feel you deserve?

What does the Father do? He pursues: "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore, his father came out and pleaded with him."

Therefore. HIS father. His father CAME. His father came and PLEADED.

So much could be said about that one sentence. He didn't scold. He didn't tell him to grow up, to be self-less, to be mature, or to get over it.

He says, "Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours."

What an affirmation! What a declaration! What a promise!

Son. Daughter.

He calls us by name; He calls us HIS, even in the midst of our jealous fit.

He offers the promise of His presence. We are with Him. He is with us.

He offers the promise of sufficiency. "All I have is yours." You have enough because I am enough.

Grace, that unmerited, unearned favor. Grace, that supernatural power and ability. Grace, His total and utter sufficiency accomplished in me by faith because of the finished work of the cross. 

Because He is enough, I am enough in Him. 

Because He is sufficient, I am lacking nothing in Him. 

Our Father wants to know us, and more than that, He wants to be known by us: that we would really see His heart, not the reaction we expect to find, not expecting the punishment we deserve, but with opened eyes to see all that He's done, out of His great love and grace and mercy. 

Jesus died. And God's wrath was satisfied. And the punishment for our sin was satisfied. It is finished. 

And when we believe--when we put our faith in what the cross accomplished, the finished work of Jesus Christ--then we are not only transformed from death to life, from lost to found, but with unveiled eyes, we get to behold Him--to really see Him, our Heavenly Father. 

He is all good. He is all grace. 

He runs to us. He meets us. He pleads with us. And above all, He wants us to see ourselves how He sees us. 

Daughter, I am with you. Daughter, you are mine. Daughter, you have enough. Daughter, you lack nothing.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Desiring Mercy and Not Sacrifice

“Go and learn what this means, for I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 9:13
“But if only you had known what this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” Matthew 12:9

The Pharisees couldn’t get what Jesus was saying—first to “go and learn” and later “if only you had known.” With all their knowledge of scripture, with all their rules, with all their duty and obedience, and with—in their mind—their righteousness, they could not understand this truth. Jesus’ words did not compute with their tradition.

Sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can have the same tendency to desire sacrifice more than mercy. What does this mean? As I’ve said elsewhere, we are bent on works because it’s more natural. It’s more natural to do than to be.

As long as I’ve been saved, I’ve loved the Word of God. I’m highly analytical and can spend hours reading scripture and commentary and translations and the original Greek or Hebrew meanings. But, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 8:1, “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.”

Knowledge without mercy is a dangerous state.

To know scripture is important, but before we can receive fully, before we can fall in love with God’s word, we have to first fall in love with its author. When we are so filled by the love of God, His love and grace becomes a lens through which we can read and receive His word.

Here Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6. The full verse is this: “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

The knowledge of God is not mutually exclusive to mercy. And while He desires mercy not sacrifice, He desires knowledge more than burnt offerings. Under the Old Testament covenant, God is not negating or replacing what must be done for atonement. We know from Romans 3 that in His forbearance, He passed over their sins, yes, but their account was not settled.

So why does Jesus not quote—in both places here—the full verse from Hosea? Is it because knowledge of God is no longer important? Of course not. The problem is the Pharisees had all the knowledge in the world.

But under the new covenant, we get to know God in a different way. Because of the finished work of the cross, we have a mediator, who is Jesus, and we have the Holy Spirit. And that revelation—when we believe in what the cross accomplished—that changes how we know God. We, with unveiled faces, get to behold Him. And it transforms us.

I’m doing the 40 day reading challenge, reading through the New Testament for 40 days of Lent, but my heart must be bent on loving God and discovering Him in His Word. When it becomes doing or duty or an item to be checked off, then I’ve lost sight of what it means to desire mercy and not sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Lent: Not Giving Up but Giving More

Lent is about giving up, about sacrifice—and as one who tends to love duty, as one who craves to do lists and tasks to obey, I secretly love self-discipline and the rewarded feeling at the end of 40 days when I've accomplished my "task," whatever it is I've chosen to give up: “Yep, I still got it.”

This year, as many of my friends begin thinking of what to fast, what to give up, I feel God gently whispering: don’t give up, give more—more of your time, more of your energy, more of yourself to me and to others.
Don’t give up TV or soft drinks, give up your life for me.

If Lent is about preparing our hearts for Easter, about reflecting on the great exchange: my guilt, my sins, my shame—my ashes for His beauty, then may the next 40 days, for me, be about reflecting on Him: on who He is and what He did and who I get to be when I’m hidden in Christ, when I’m made righteous, when the work of the cross is finished—really finished—and I get to be made whole, complete, perfect, lacking nothing.

Not because I’m those things, but because He loves me so; He loves me so much; He loves me so much that He gave.

And if I’m to give anything these 40 days, let me give of myself fully.

I’ve read some blogs today promoting Margret Feinberg’s 40 day reading challenge, and although (if I’m honest), I get excited when I see little check boxes (That feels like a “to do” list for me to accomplish! Yes!), I have decided to focus these 40 days on the New Testament, as Feinberg encourages—not as something to do, but something to reflect: the story of the cross, of redemption, of the great exchange.

If you’re interested in joining me, you can read more here or print the reading plan here.

May the challenge for me—and perhaps for you, too—not be about legalism or about what I can accomplish with the right motivation and all the wrong motives; may these 40 days be about pouring out all of me and pouring in more of Him. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The closing of a chapter and the beginning of something new

Our journey with fertility, at least for the foreseeable future, has come to an end. And as we close a very long chapter in our lives, my heart is filled with mixed emotions. On the one hand, I feel relieved to be free from the stress and demand and expense and hormones of fertility treatments. No more mixing shots to give to myself. No more pills to manipulate my hormones. No more painful procedures. No more rollercoasters. In many ways, I have been defined, confined, and consumed by fertility—or rather infertility. And I get to lay that down. I’m free.

On the other hand, I’m laying down very real hopes and expectations that we’ll ever get pregnant. It’s possible that God could surprise us down the road. I pray consistently—and have for years—that He would heal my body. I fully believe He can. And maybe in His time, He will.

But it’s also possible that He won’t. Not because He can’t, but because He has a different plan. People like to say things like, “I bet you’ll adopt, and then you’ll get pregnant.” Or “I’m sure it’ll happen when you least expect it.” Well, maybe. Certainly I’m up for any surprises God wants to give us. But maybe not. I have two aunts who never had babies from their womb, but who cherished and loved and parented their children. People like to tell the stories of so-and-so who waited X years or who after adopting Z times, had a baby. But my aunts’ stories are real, too, and no less valuable.

This struck me most this week, when a friend of ours—who after 7 years of trying to get pregnant has adopted a baby—said to me, “I wish I hadn’t spent those 7 years agonizing and worrying over whether or not we were pregnant. Because now, holding my baby, he is mine, and I realize God never intended for us to get pregnant. That was never His plan. THIS is His plan, and it’s perfect.”


So, as I finish this chapter, I want to reflect on a few things I’ve learned. For anyone reading this who is struggling on this journey, I hope you’ll be encouraged:

1. God really is a good Daddy, and He withholds no good thing from His children. If you’re not able to get pregnant (now or ever), God is not punishing you. Fight that lie with the truth that He loves you, and out of His love for us, He gives good gifts.

2. Everyone’s journey is unique. Our deepest desire is to be known and understood, and even on the journey of infertility, there’s no pattern or script. Some women may have a child or multiple children and now find themselves infertile. Some women may get pregnant, but miscarry multiple times. And some women, like me, may never know what that “plus sign” feels like. And whether you’ve been trying for 6 months or 6 years, whether you have one child or none, whether you’re 35 or 25, your journey is no less difficult or painful—and neither is someone else’s. Our hope is in the truth that He deeply understands us and our own unique experience. He is El Roi—the God who sees, and He knows our story personally.

3. People mean well, even when their answers seem pat or trite. Women like to encourage. We do this on all levels. When we’re married, we tell our single friends to just wait and God’s best is coming—like we know what their journey will be. We tell them they have to be completely content to be single, then God will bring their spouse. And we like to give these success stories of ourselves and others who waited X years but found the perfect someone. And so, in that same vein, women—especially mothers—like to tell trying-but-not-pregnant women to just relax, to just wait on God’s timing, and to just be patient.These pat answers used to make me angry—because, again, I felt misunderstood. But here’s what I’ve learned: people really do have good intentions. And even though just saying, “I’m sorry” or “That’s hard” could go a long way, people—normally mothers—don’t know what to say to us, the trying-but-not-pregnant. But the motive is almost always to encourage and uplift. So receive it as truth, or let it go, but don’t be offended. It’s not worth it.

4. Be grateful. This is a command to myself and a charge to anyone on this journey. Be grateful for your spouse; be grateful for your life. Be grateful for any good thing you have. On this journey, it’s easy to be consumed by the negative—the prayers unanswered, the hope deferred, so be intentional to find the good gifts in your life for which you can be grateful.

5. And finally, it’s not my fault. And it’s not yours either. This has been the hardest lesson for me personally, and I am finally free from the guilt and self-blame I have carried all these years. For some couples, it’s both the man and the woman who have fertility issues—and again, everyone’s situation is unique. I used to secretly wish that was our case because Howell was perfectly healthy, and I had all the diagnoses and “issues.” As a result, I carried all the blame. And although Howell never once blamed me—and has, in fact, tried repeatedly to reassure me of the opposite, I always felt responsible, like it’s on me to create this miracle of life! 

But I have learned to battle those lies with His truth—that grace is really in spite of me and not because of me, that His love is great and gives and is unconditional; it’s not based on me or my performance at all, and that my job is only to believe and trust—not do. Because of the finished work of the cross, because I put my faith in what Jesus accomplished in that, I am whole, complete, perfect, lacking nothing. He bore my guilt, my shame, my punishment—and I get life instead.

If that’s a struggle for you—to blame yourself—I encourage you to really release that guilt and let God fill your ears with His truth of your identity in Him.

For three years, this has been my journey and my identity. Infertility has defined me. But it doesn’t, and it won’t, as we go forward. I want to walk in the fullness of all that He has for me, and I want to see myself as He sees me. Not being a mother—especially when it seems most of the people in my life are mothers or soon-to-be mothers—has made me feel inadequate or like I am not enough; I have nothing to contribute. But that’s a lie; that’s not walking in my true identity as whole, complete, lacking nothing. May this new chapter be about letting God—not infertility—define me as I step into the fullness of all that He is calling us to do.

So my heart is expectant as we begin a new chapter. We have cried and grieved, but we are excited to live the life God has for us today. I don’t want to spend 4 more years agonizing over the plan God has for us. I want to walk in the fullness of His plan today. We don’t have children yet—that’s simply a fact. So what does God want us to do now, how does He want to use us in this season of life—before we have kids? That’s the journey I want to embrace!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Part 2 of Lessons in Grace: Car Repair Adventures

The theme for part 1 was that grace ≠ merit and that our very culture, my deepest ingrained ideologies, is a deterrent to fully walking in grace, to living by and receiving freely God’s grace every day. Our culture says that we work to receive, that you can’t or shouldn’t receive something for nothing, and so pride and self-sufficiency is our great hindrance to grace, which freely gives what is so undeserved, which freely gives in no regard, whatsoever, to our merit or demerit.

Sure, we can admit our needs when we are desperate—as I was desperate that day I stood in the middle of 5th street in the cold with a police officer blocking traffic while we wait for a tow truck to pick up the pieces and the tire and the three-wheeled 4Runner sitting lopsided. Of course, I was desperate then.

The problem is that because we are our own hindrance to grace—by living and operating based on earthly cultural values—when we get desperate enough, when we truly need God because we just. cant. do. it., even then we pick up a different hindrance to grace: entitlement.

I’ve written about this entitlement thing before, but I feel like I see it in two different ways now. The first is when we begin mentally checking our magical piggy bank to see if we have stored up enough credits (enough merits) to ask our wish-granting God if He will hear us. When we are desperate, we are all-the-more demanding.

And this goes two ways, too (back to work-therefore-entitlement): either we say, but I’ve done this and this and this, so can’t You just do this one thing to get me out of my desperate bind? Or, we say (as I did), well, my sin is so great this week, my piggy bank is pretty depleted; I guess I’ll just take my consequence now.

All of this is a very wrong and very limiting understanding of grace.

So, part 2 picks up the second half of our second cultural hindrance: entitlement. And I’ve already said entitlement is related to our sense of works (I worked; therefore, I am entitled). But there’s another kind of entitlement game, and I play it a lot. It’s called the game of justice: what is right and fair.

I’ve been reading through a Bible study written by Paige Allen, and toward the end she talks about the verse in Micah to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. And she comments that she sometimes loves justice more than she loves mercy.

Me too.

Blame it on my personality—that I’m so black-and-white, but I have a very strong sense of justice and fairness, of right and wrong. And it’s not always just for me—it’s for others who often face great injustices that make me so angry I cry out, But why God? It’s so unfair!

Before you think I’m only selflessly carrying the justice torch for others, let me tell you, I carry my own torch really high. Most people like to get the fair deal and to be right, but I really like it. In fact, the greatest issue I have had to work through in our marriage is this very thing: marriage is about compromise, about humility and selflessness; it’s not about being right or “winning.” (If you’re a newlywed, and you’re bull-headed like me, put that on your mirror. When I let go of the need to “win,” it changed our marriage forever.) Okay—soap box over.

Here’s the deal, though, I still very much like to be right—and more than that, it’s hard for me to get over what I think is unfair.

Example: $3,000 worth of damage (a conservative estimate), and we likely aren’t responsible for any of it.

So, enter again, Day 8 of the lessons-from-my-car-repairs: I’m reading about the parable of the rich landowner, the one who gives a very fair pay to the laborers who worked all day and a very generous and equal (but unfair) pay to the laborers who only worked an hour.

Jerry Bridges in Transforming Grace puts the parable in a modern perspective: a class of students who take an exam. Some studied very hard and earned an A; others did not study at all and deserved an F, but the professor gives everyone an A—both earned and undeserved.

If you know me, you know I was highly concerned with grades in college and grad school, particularly. So, as a student, this makes something inside me go, Ahhhhhhh!!!!! As a professor, I think Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Either way, my heart cries out—but that’s not right…it’s not fair!

And yet the landowner says, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15).

God is indeed very generous; it’s in His inherit nature to give. But when we feel entitled to receive, we lose sight of His generosity.

Bridges writes, “But for Christians, such a high sense of entitlement is especially detrimental to our spiritual lives. For one thing, God is the ultimate supplier of all our needs and desires. Every good gift is from Him, regardless of the intermediate means through which it is supplied… If we do not receive what we think we have a right to expect, it is ultimately God who has withheld” (p. 65).

The bottom line is this: “None of us wants to get what we actually deserve” (p. 69).

God doesn’t owe us anything. And any gift He has given us is by His grace, His inherit generosity—to give what is undeserved.

Through Jesus, I am made righteous; through Jesus, I can do anything; through Jesus, I am more than a conqueror. But when I begin to think it’s really me that’s so great and awesome: I am not. Apart from Jesus, I am nothing. I have nothing without His generosity. And I can never give Him anything He hasn’t already given me.

So I began to pray last week that God would pierce my heart with this truth. I don’t deserve to have my car fixed on my time table; I don’t deserve to pay nothing. It’s not my right nor is it justice.

It’s only grace to get what we don’t deserve, but if we think we deserve it, then we miss the gift—we miss grace.

If you’ve made it this far and are, at this point, really only interested to know what happened, here it is: By God’s grace, the service manager took most of the weight of the repairs, and we paid less than 10% of what those repairs should have cost—and by His grace upon grace, our initial estimated cost was even lower when we picked up the car on Wednesday.

Did we deserve it? Nope. Not at all. But we have a generous Father who gives gifts of grace upon grace, and when our heart releases our culture and ideologies, we see and receive His grace everywhere.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Day my WHEEL FELL OFF on 5th Street... (Part 1)

So, it's no secret that my car has been in the shop, and let me tell you, there's nothing more testing of your Christ-like-ness than being at the mercy of a repair shop.

Here’s the short and edited version: my u-joint needed replacing (I still don't know exactly what that is, btw), and the wrong part was ordered—that was week one, plus throw in some broken promised call-backs, lots of time on hold, a little rudeness, and in general, good ole waiting. And then, you know, the day we go to pick it up (Day 7), my wheel fell off while we were driving, on 5th Street. (Fortunately, the service manager and the technician were in the car to witness it.) So, the next week of work involved wheel replacement, axil repair, and good ole body work to the entire side paneling and bumper bracket.

About this time, our church started a series on judgment. Oh boy. Did I attach significance to that event? Um, yes. Did I get angry and offended? Oh yes.

I don’t generally consider myself an angry person, but if you’ve been around me at all—and if I love you enough to be real with you—you’ve heard my rant. And, of course, because I’m not confrontational enough to take it out on the repair personnel, I end up just being really angry in my heart and head—and in my head, let me tell you, I can say all kinds of rude things and do lots of brave things that I would never actually do in real life.

Here’s a better summary version: I am proud and arrogant, and I’m convinced I could do a better job, more quickly, than 10 technicians put together. I’m also impatient and am the most important customer you’ve ever had. And, while we’re at it, I’ve added a “because” to every “observation” for why the work isn’t done and X person was rude (which, of course, is also my own perception). And again, I’ve attached significance to all. of. this.

This is where God got me and ever so gently reigned me back in—around Day 8.

When the wheel fell off and caused greater damage to the car (Day 7), there was this question of who is responsible and who will pay? As Hal and I are not confrontational people, we listened to lots of versions of why the company should do the right thing, or our being justified to ask them to pay. We needed little help coming up with all the reasons, but, in short, my mind played on two key phrases: they should pay because it’s only fair; it is the right thing to do.

Because God’s word for me this year is grace and because I want so badly to wrap my head around this concept, I began praying—really more like questioning: Daddy, where is grace in all this? Why are we not favored and blessed with a fixed car already? Why do more problems keep coming?

So, as far as my understanding of grace to this point, read: grace = granting wishes.

Then, of course, my performance/punishment system sets in, and I begin thinking, Well, I guess you don’t want to be gracious because I’ve been angry in my heart and judgmental toward the service people. That’s fair; I know I’ve repented of those things, but I deserve the consequences for my actions, and this is my consequence.

Read: grace = works.

But the morning after my wheel fell off, I read the parable of the rich landowner, and let’s just say, God humbled me completely.

Jerry Bridges writes, “The landowner could have paid [the eleventh hour workers] only what they had earned, but he chose to pay them according to their need, not according to their work. He paid according to grace, not debt” (p. 50).

His goodness, His grace is not in regard to my works or efforts; neither is it suspended by my sin. His grace is not in regard to works or sin—it is beyond what we could have ever deserved or earned. His grace meets our need, not our merit.

Our deterrent from understanding God’s grace is pride; we still want to place some work and effort on ourselves. It’s not in our nature–certainly not our American culture—to receive something for nothing. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” we say, so we resist living on a spiritual welfare system (Bridges, p. 59). Who needs a handout when I’m perfectly capable? This: pride.

God began to show me that the root of my anger and pride was fear, and my fear was connected to lack: that the repairs would be expensive and that it would be a strain on our finances.

He also began to show me that it was by His grace, His favor, that my wheel didn’t fall off while I was going 80 mph down I-27—both before we took my car in and after we got it out. What if it hadn’t made the noise when we picked it up on Day 7? It was in His graciousness that the wheel fell off at the exact time that it did.

So, humbled, I thanked Him for His favor, I thanked Him for His grace that meets every need, and I thanked Him that even if we had to pay, He would provide.

But there was still this pesky business of who would pay and what was right or fair…

(Coming up in Part 2!!)

Friday, January 10, 2014

How do we LIVE by GRACE?

I’ve been reading Jerry Bridges Transforming Grace—a book I once read in college that has collected 7 or 8 years of dust on a bookshelf. Given that God’s word to me for this year was grace, I’ve read countless verses and commentary on verses over the last couple weeks, trying to understand grace as more than the undeserved gift of salvation. My favorite verses and commentary so far—and likely my “theme verses” for this year:

2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
James 4:6: “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says, ‘God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
John 1:16: “And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.”

The Greek word charis in these verses is defined in a two-fold manner: 1) the undeserved gift of salvation, the freeness we have in Christ, given by God with no expectation of anything in return (i.e. getting what we don’t deserve); and 2) the joy or gratitude we experience because of this favor or gift.

I feel like I understand—at least in some small, in-my-head kind of way—the saving grace: that I’m a sinner and the wages of sin are death. Not getting what I deserved: mercy. I am saved by grace; I have eternal life; I am made righteous—the wrath for my sin is satisfied. Receiving what I don’t deserve: grace.

One commentary for John 1:16 talks about “grace for grace” being literally “grace upon grace”: “…and that grace for grace is the same with grace upon grace, heaps of grace; and that phraseology is the same with this Jewish one, ‘goodness upon goodness,’ an additional goodness; so here, grace upon grace, an abundance of it, an addition to it, an increase of it” (emphasis mine).

I like that.

But what does it mean to live by grace. What is grace upon grace? And what does it mean that His grace is sufficient? What grace is this? 

Grace for the moment. Grace to accomplish. Grace to teach. Grace to love. Grace to grow. And more… Grace to face the challenges. Grace to wait. Grace to heal. Grace to trust and hope.

What I read today was particularly convicting—and enlightening. First, that the Biblical definition of grace is always the same—whether we’re talking about salvation or our daily living (p. 26). And in that vein, we must understand that the Biblical view of grace is not about God supplying grace to make up our deficiencies, as if we needed to fill a 20L bottle of salvation, and we have 5L of our own goodness and only needed his 15L of grace. Bridges writes, “The invitation to come [Isaiah 55:1] is addressed to those who have no money—not to those who don’t have enough money” (p. 27).

So this presupposition is important: that all grace is not only always undeserved but also totally and completely sufficient, separated from anything we could offer.

Later, Bridges notes, “Neither our merits nor our demerits determine how much grace we need because grace does not supplement merits or make up for demerits. Grace does not take into account merits or demerits at all” (p. 32).

For some reason, it seems to be easier to accept this truth when we’re talking about salvation: of course, I’m a sinner; of course, I couldn’t save myself; of course, His gift is not of my works or merit. We know this—and believe it—and say it—because it’s the biblical doctrine that’s in our hearts, which is great—if we’re talking about salvation. But why doesn’t this translate to our daily living by grace? How do we take this truth and incorporate it into our everyday living?

At the end of this chapter, Bridges writes,  “To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life” (p. 33).

In the first chapter, he puts it this way: “We are saved by grace, but we are living by performance.” He continues:
Not only are we legalistic by nature, our Christian culture reinforces this attitude in us. We are exhorted to attend church regularly, have a daily quiet time, study our Bibles, pray, memorize scripture, witness to our neighbors, and give to missions—all of which are important Christian activities. Though no one ever comes right out and says so, somehow the vague impression is created in our minds that we’d better do those things or God will not bless us.

Then we turn to the Bible and read that we are to work out our salvation, to pursue holiness, and to be diligent to add to our faith such virtues as goodness, knowledge, self-control, and love. In fact, we find the Bible filled with exhortations to do good works and pursue the disciplines of spiritual growth. Again, because we are legalistic by nature, we assume our performance in these areas earns God’s blessing in our lives. (pp. 17-18)

I know I’ve been told these things—not to be legalistic with a quiet time, not to perform. I’ve even written about them: that His goodness is not conditional to my performance. (Thank God!)  So, on some level, I know I know this. But I don’t walk it out—certainly not consistently. I’m so driven, type-A, black-and-white, a “Rules Rule!” kind-of-person that I don’t know how to wipe away my nature and replace it with His grace—with a living by grace, a life that chooses to walk in heaps of favor, chooses to believe I’m immersed in His blessing, regardless of my behavior or performance that day.

Maybe that’s why He gave me the word grace this year. Not just that this would be a year of blessing, of gifts underserved, of heaps and heaps of His goodness for our family (although I pray it’s all those things!), but that I would breathe grace, that it would be on my tongue and in my heart and on my mind—all. day. long.

Jesus come. I have no money—not just that I don’t have enough; I have none. May that concept be so deep in my heart that all I can grasp for is Your fullness—for grace, upon grace, upon grace. Infinitely so. Infinitely forever.  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Reflecting on 2013; Praying for 2014

Like most people, I feel like January 1 is a day of reflection and a day for looking forward. Most people use this day to make New Year’s resolutions—and I’ve done my share of that. It’s usually always the same list: eat better; work out consistently; pray more, worry less; stay ahead at work; read, write, and publish, etc. I always begin with good intentions—and then, well, there’s a reason my list is usually the same. J

As I think about the last few years, it seems every time I reflect, I find the year hasn’t been all that I hoped. I blogged about 2010 here—my darkest year of struggle with the Lord despite His faithfulness to me. In 2011, we lost two grandfathers and our dog. 2012 was a year of bad news—from Tomi’s battle with breast cancer that sent our family reeling (read about our journey here) to my battle with infertility: from doctor to doctor and test to test, all saying either I’d be unlikely to conceive on my own or even if I could conceive, my uterus may not even successfully carry a baby. 2012 ended with three failed fertility treatments and a house on the market that hadn’t even showed.

When 2013 began, I asked the Lord to let this year be a year of promises and blessings, of dreams fulfilled, of prayers answered. It’s crazy to think that this time last year (literally—this week, this month, a year ago), we were praying, as always, for God to give us a baby, for Hal to get the safety specialist position at Airgas (a promotion!), for us to sell his truck and buy a fuel-efficient car, for us to sell our house and move to Plainview, for Erika to find a teaching job that was close (closer than 10 hours, anyway!), for Jaime and Michalea to get pregnant, and for Tomi to be cancer-free. And even though He hasn't answered all our prayers, I can truly say that this year was blessed, a year of promises fulfilled, of prayers answered. He heard our cries.

  1. In February, I got to stand next to my future sister-in-law and watch my brother get married. I’ve never been so proud of him; I cried through the whole thing.
  2. In March and April, the Lord provided the money we needed to re-plumb our whole house in Lubbock, to sell our house for the price we needed, and to purchase our dream home in Plainview for far less than we ever thought we would get it for. 
  3. We moved to Plainview in May, and the Lord provided an incredible church family for us and brought us friends like we’ve never imagined. From Scott and Pam Roberson, who have acted as our surrogate parents, helping us move and get settled, to KB and all my friends in our department who make working at Wayland a joy and a gift; to Bryan and Amber and Thomas and Erin—and our entire life group—who have loved us and prayed for us and welcomed us as friends. I can honestly say we’ve never been so surrounded by so many friends as we have here in Plainview and at Harvest Christian Fellowship.
  4. At the end of August, Tomi finished her last chemo treatment—and both her scans and blood work last summer and fall were cancer free!
  5. At the first of October, my sister and Jaime found out they were pregnant—and this year, I’ll have a little nephew! Some may not see that as my blessing, but if you know me, if you know my family, it is! When Michalea was diagnosed with PCOS and endometriosis, like me, my journal immediately filled with tear-stained pages, begging God that she wouldn’t go through this, that He would spare her from walking this journey I’ve been on. And by his great love, and mercy, and grace, He did! People asked if I was jealous or angry. Absolutely not. And you better believe I will hold and treasure and spoil that little boy to pieces!
  6. I’m continually amazed by the love and support of my family—and that includes Brandi, who is another older sister to me, and Erika, my best friend. From trips to Plainview, to painting, to hanging pictures, to, well, you-name-it, my family is the best. And Erika—she should have a whole post dedicated to her. She has sacrificed her time, again and again, to be there for me this year.
  7. And lastly, my greatest blessing of all—who has been my greatest gift all these years, even the ugly ones: my husband. This year we celebrated five years of marriage! He is my best friend, my partner, my greatest fan. We do everything together, from yard work to house cleaning, from TV watching to front-porch sitting—and I wouldn’t have it any other way. He has seen me through some pretty rough seasons—and probably more emotional breakdowns this year than in the eight years he has known me. But he is an incredible leader for our home, he prays over me daily, and he encourages me and loves me like none other.

So here’s my prayer for 2014: May this be a year of grace. Sometimes prayers aren’t answered in the way or the timing that we want (or think or hope). Sometimes, as Jason Craft once said, favor means “no.” And sometimes I’ll be weary—when plans change, when things don’t work out, when gratitude is forgotten. But today, I can say with full certainty, my God is faithful, my God is good, and my God has a plan for us this year. I can’t wait to see how He pours out His grace on us in 2014!