Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Lesson from Two Tenacious Women

This week I have been drawn to two different places in the New Testament—one, a parable, and the other, a testimony of Jesus healing a woman.

The story of the woman with the issue of blood has always intrigued me—even as a child. When I was six, I was diagnosed with von Willebrand’s disease, and I spent much of first and second grade in the nurse's office for one or two hours with uncontrollable nosebleeds. It sure felt like an ‘issue of blood’!

The story resonates with me still—as a woman diagnosed with various infertility diseases and negative reports.

I know how it feels to “spend all my money on a physician” and “not be healed by anyone” (Luke 8:43).

And so I’m inspired by this woman who knows what she has to do—and she reaches out to touch Jesus.

She acts in accordance with her faith to receive her healing.

She doesn’t know if it will work, but she does it anyway: “If only I may touch the hem of his garment” (Matthew 9:21).

Source: YouVersion Bible App
Not only is she healed, but Jesus says her faith has made her well.

It seems like a crazy leap from here to the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18—but both women are tenacious.

Persistent. Relentless. Determined.

When I was 16, a woman prophesied over me that I have a spirit of tenacity. I had to look up the word at the time, but today I hold onto that when my soul needs encouraging.

The persistent widow is tenacious. She, too, acts in accordance with what she believes.

As I was re-reading the parable this week, I was struck by Jesus’ last statement: “I tell you [God] will give justice to them speedily, but when the Son of Man returns will he find faith?” (v. 8).

What a question to end with!

When I don't see the outcome, will my faith remain? Will my belief persist? 

Bill Johnson once gave an illustration about faith that will forever stay with me. He said that when we go to a pizza place and ask for a large pepperoni, we get our receipt—that ticket with our number that proves we’ll get the pizza.

While we wait, we don’t actually have the pizza.

But we have the confidence that it’s been purchased, and we have the ticket, the words—that’s our faith, our assurance that the pizza will come.

Dear friends, what are you believing God for? What are His promises for you?

If you don’t see them delivered today, don’t lose heart.

Hold on to your ticket—your faith and assurance—that He will always deliver on His word.

You may need to act. Or you may need to wait and persistently ask.

Both require boldness and courage and faith.

The Lord’s heart is always good toward us—to heal, to restore, to defend, to redeem

He is rich in mercy.

Your answer may be immediate (Luke 8:44), or it may require night-and-day persistent prayer, but take heart because His word is truth, and He always keeps His word. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

When Your Spouse Has a Dream

Let’s talk about supporting each other’s dreams. There are big dreams of new careers or kids, and there are smaller dreams of visiting a specific country or owning a record collection. I rarely hear someone give marriage advice without referencing this in one way or another. I even heard John Tesh talk about it on his radio show a couple of days ago. 

Given all this advice swarming around, you would think everybody would have this down, but this is a very common issue in marriage. If God put something on you or your spouse’s heart to pursue, it will take both of you to accomplish it.

First, let’s get to the root. Most often, this is a communication issue. Either you get married without being on the same page about what your goals in life are, or they change and the couple can’t adequately communicate their way to a solution. 

One way to bridge either divide is to write down each person’s goals and dreams on a sheet of paper and sit down and actually discuss them. Make a timeline for pursuing and achieving them. Obviously, this will have to be a flexible timeline because dreams don’t always come true on a schedule. It always amazes me how when Laura and I get everything clearly communicated, whether it be our weekly to-do list or a major life change, we can be very effective at making it happen.

It also takes a loving heart to help see your spouse’s goals accomplished. This requires putting them before you. We’ve talked about this before, and it is a key to a great marriage. 

I’m a big Cleveland Browns fan and have been all of my life. I’ve never seen them play in person, but that dream has been on my bucket list. For my birthday this year, Laura is getting tickets, and we are going to go see them. Let me tell you, I know Laura’s desire to go to a football game in Cleveland, Ohio, is about as strong as her desire for cauliflower, but she did this for me because of her loving heart. What an amazing wife! 

On the flip side (as you know since you are reading this blog), Laura wants to become a published Christian fiction author. We believe God gave her this dream and her gift for writing to change lives. I will do everything in my power to see this vision become a reality.

What are you and your spouse’s dreams? What would you like to see, do, or accomplish? It may take time, but to maintain a great marriage, your spouse’s dreams must have a priority in your life. 


Click to Tweet: If God put something on you or your spouse’s heart to pursue, it will take both of you to accomplish it. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Getting Back on That Horse!

Last week, Howell and I vacationed in Colorado to celebrate our birthdays. We both turn 30 this year (Howell turned 30 Monday), and we wanted to do something fun to commemorate the year!

We stayed at an all-inclusive ranch resort where we were pampered by excellent staff for three meals a day and where we could do all the activities we wanted from snowshoeing to backcountry skiing to horseback riding (and more!).

We were so active on our trip that we came home sore (Ha!), but we loved it!

Some of you may or may not know that I had an accident on a horse in 2008—just a few short months before my wedding. It was not my first time to fall off a horse—not even my second or third—but it was pretty significant, significant enough that I feared riding horses, which I never had before.

I won’t go into the details (they’re not really important for this post), but the short version is that I blacked out before I hit the ground, so I landed on my face.  My jaw was moved, my teeth were affected, my brain had a little swelling (thankfully, nothing damaging ;)), and my face was all banged up for weeks, if not months. I was trying on wedding dresses with a black-and-blue face and one eye swollen shut—what a moment to feel pretty. J

The thing is, I grew up around horses. My grandmother had a horse that I rode all the time, and I grew up with friends with horses that I rode. I know how to saddle a horse, handle a horse, and clean a horse after riding.

But after that accident, I was too scared to ride. I attempted to get on my mom’s horse a few years ago, but I only rode him for maybe 5 minutes before I felt scared and got off.

Then last week, while we were in Colorado, I had the chance to “get back on that horse”—and I really wanted to try. I wasn’t sure if I would ride, but I wanted to see how I felt.


It felt great. I wasn’t scared. It felt natural again—and we had a good afternoon (despite the freezing cold temperatures and blowing blizzard snow!).

So, why am I talking about riding horses?

Well, the Lord reminded me of my experience this morning while also reminding me of Proverbs 24:16—that a righteous man falls seven times and rises again.

I was really rude to Howell one day last week. It wasn’t anything overly dramatic; I was tired and grouchy and ended up saying something rude and sarcastic. But, although he forgave me, I’ve had a hard time letting it go.

This morning the Lord reminded me that my new nature is righteous. That’s who I am. It’s as it should be between me and Him.

It’s not that the righteous man doesn’t fall. In fact, he may even fall seven times.

But he doesn’t stay down.

I remember having it presented to me like this: you can know whether you believe you’re righteous, whether you believe everything is as it should be between you and God, based on how long it takes you to forgive yourself when you mess up. If you feel like you have to wallow in pity, or do penance, or do more to earn favor again—then you’re not believing you’re righteous.

Jesus paid it all.

As simple and basic as that truth is—one that I’ve heard a thousand times, I’ve learned this week that I still have this feeling that if I misbehave God will be mad at me; if something happens that I didn’t want or ask for, then God must have ill-intentions toward me.

He so gently whispered to me this morning—Get back up.

I am good and always loving. My intentions toward you are good. The thoughts I think toward you are never evil—never ill-intentioned. You can trust my heart—it’s full of love for you; it wants good things for you.

Isn’t it great that we serve an all-loving God? 

Do you ever have a hard time believing it? 

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Tribute to Howell for His 30th Birthday!

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

Prepare yourselves, this post will gush—a lot. Howell turns 30 on Monday, and I wanted to honor him today with my 30 favorites.

1. That he pursued me even when I was coy, cold, or flat out rude. It's truly God's grace! (And that he pursues me still today--with flowers, and sweet notes, and FaceTime when we're apart.)

2. That he embodies patience—all.the.time. I can’t wait to see him with our children. He is an amazing example of what it means to imitate God’s “slow to anger” characteristic.

3. That he prays for me every night.

4. That he likes to travel. We have so many great memories from London to the Caribbean to San Diego and all over Texas and New Mexico.

5. That he makes the coffee every morning. I know coffee pots are simple, but seriously, y'all--I just can't do it!

6. That he puts the dishes away after I run the dishwasher and that he does the laundry on days that I can’t and takes out the trash without me asking—not because he has to but because he loves me, and he knows it’s one less thing for me to do.

7. That he helps me clean house frantically every Wednesday as we get ready for life group.

8. That he snuggles with me every night.

9. That he keeps his beard because he knows how much I love it—and how handsome I think he looks with it.

10. That he supports my dreams. He created a One Note after the ACFW conference for what “we” need to do on this road to publishing—not to mention the endless hours he sat by me as I read (or wrote papers) for grad school.

11. That he holds my hand—when we're riding in the car, as we walk into the grocery store, when we sit on the couch. I never get tired of his hand in mine.

12. That he loves to worship—raising his hands, lifting his voice.

13. That he loves to read and learn as much as I do.

14. That he serves and is a leader at church.

15. That he loves to give money to others. He is an incredibly generous man!

16. That he sends me bitmojis of his adorable bitmoji-self that make me laugh or smile.

17. That he takes me to Sonic at 10:30 p.m. in our p.j.s because I’m craving a peanut butter fudge shake.

18. That he loves my family and my best amiga as much as I do.

19. That he pushes me to be the best version of myself I can be.

20. That he has a complicated spreadsheet for our finances (complete with our “net worth” and “liabilities” and “liquid assets”) that is titled and saved as “Stewardship of His Money.”

21. That he makes me laugh until I cry with his sarcasm, his one-liners, and his silliness.

22. That he lets me have the last bite, the last piece, the last sip—he always puts me first.

23. That he reads everything I ever write and offers his help.

24. That he knows me and sees me and loves me still.

25. That he stays up with me to watch Downton Abbey on a work night when I know he is tired.

26. That he builds me fires—and spends hours cutting wood for our future fires.

27. That he leads me and is always a rock of stability—if I feel uncertain or need direction, I can trust his leadership and gladly submit to him because I know he has my best interest at heart.

28. That he brings me Sonic cherry limeades or coffee or lunch when I’m at work just to see me and say hello and steal a kiss.

29. That he believes God for the future of our family—some days, his faith carries me.

30. That he loves and honors God with all that he does.

I’ve said before that I feel so lucky to be married to Howell, and I know, I know—our marriage functions well because of our commitment to communicate and forgive.

But some days, I really just feel lucky—to be the girl that got everything she could have imagined and more.

I think about the young man who brought me Starbucks after my Medieval Lit class when I know he only had $20 in his account.

I think about the man who wooed me relentlessly and ruthlessly and proved to me that faithfulness and loyalty still exist.

I know the movies are false—that marriage isn’t always a fairytale.

But sometimes it really is. And it’s not the stuff of fairytales necessarily, but it’s surreal and supernatural—and I consider myself blessed beyond words.

Happy birthday to the greatest gift God ever gave me.

Happy birthday to my forever partner and best friend and soul connection.

I am eternally thankful for your birth, and I can’t imagine my world without you in it.

I love you, babe—with all my heart!

Happy 30th!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Staying connected when you’re apart

As I type this (which is actually over a week before it will post :)), Howell and I are in different cities—in different states. This month feels particularly busy for us, and we found ourselves spending several days apart from each other, not by choice but by the circumstances of work and life—all of which seemed to hit at the same time.

Out of 16 days, I think we were spending 10 nights apart. That’s very unusual for us.

We are quality time people. Time away does not feed our love language or fill our love tanks. 

But I was encouraged tonight after we talked to think of how connected we have stayed despite the distance.

When we were first married, time apart—even a night apart—almost always resulted in at least one fight, and I’ll admit that it was almost always related to me as the instigator. Inevitably, if Howell was out of town, one of the dogs would throw up all night or destroy something or some terrible mess would happen that I had to clean up—and then I would feel the need to act like a martyr: You’re not here. If you were here, I wouldn’t have to do this ALL. ALONE. Etc.

Or, if I were the one out of town, I would start to feel insecure about the plans Howell made: I guess you’re not missing me, you’re so busy; you have so much to do. Good thing I’m not there—sounds like you’ve had a lot of fun without me. (ETC!)

I’m happy that we’ve arrived at a place (and I like to think I’ve matured, too :)) where we both feel comfortable and secure in our marriage. We can celebrate each other’s successes and share in the emotions for the bad days or the hard days apart without having to compete or without feeling insecure.

So, I was thinking tonight how to articulate the ways we’ve learned to be intentional with our communication when we’re apart, and I wanted to share some strategies that work for us:

1. Communicate more than normal. During a normal work day, Howell and I don’t usually talk on the phone. We might text once or twice, but really only if we need to answer a question (e.g. Did you transfer that money to savings? Can you stop by the store on your way home?). But when we’re apart, we try to text far more often than we usually do. We’ll text in the morning to say hello. We’ll keep each other updated during the day with what we’re doing.
Usually we’ll talk on the phone two or three times a day, and (if you know me) you know talking on the phone is not my favorite. It’s not Howell’s either. But when we’re apart, we know we need to be intentional about communicating—even if it’s just to say, “Grabbing a bite to eat and heading to the next session. Love you! ;)”

2. Affirm more than normal. So, speaking of “I love you,”—we say it every day, but for those mundane texts (i.e. What’s for dinner tonight?) we don’t feel the need to add those affirmations too. When we’re apart, however, we say “I love you” and “I miss you” a lot. It’s nice to hear—and we need to know it. 

3. Use technology. FaceTime is an amazing creation. If you don’t have an iPhone, consider using Skype or something similar. There’s just something about being able to see your spouse’s face. It helps. I promise! The other day, Howell and I were facetiming; he was in Dallas, and I was packing for Minneapolis, and I carried the phone around as I moved from room to room getting everything ready. I know it’s not exactly the same as having him in the house with me, but it felt so nice to feel like we were just having the usual “What should I pack?” conversation we would have had if he were there.

4. Be aware of what triggers insecurity or what triggers arguments. In most areas of your marriage (or any relationship), knowing yourself is a powerful weapon. The enemy is out to destroy our marriages; I firmly believe that—and most of the time, he doesn’t have to work very hard because we do it to ourselves. We believe lies and let insecurity define us rather than the confidence of who we are in Christ. I used to feel very insecure when Howell and I were apart—especially if he was going to be social and have fun without me, but now I can be happy for him to have that time, and it doesn’t have to mean he doesn’t love me or doesn’t enjoy our time too.

When you are apart from your spouse, there’s nothing that fully compensates for being together. The other night, after FaceTime together as we brushed our teeth and got ready for bed in our respective but separate bathrooms, after Howell prayed over me, after I hung up and turned out the light—I felt a deep sadness in my heart. I missed him so terribly I felt like crying, and that was only Day One of a five-day stretch apart—our longest ever in almost eight years of marriage.

So there’s no full-proof remedy, nothing that makes being apart normal, nothing that can make you miss your spouse less. 

But it IS possible to stay connected and to continue to affirm and love each other well, even when distances separates.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Happens When We Notice

I was recently sharing with a former student that when I was in graduate school, the Lord showed me how important it was for me to put people first.

As a type-A individual and a highly focused and motivated student, I could spend hours immersed in homework and readings for my graduate courses. When a friend would ask me to go to coffee or lunch, I would cringe inside a little. A social encounter—a few hours of ‘fun’—was often not a part of my ‘to do’ list that day.

I was halfway through my master’s program when the Lord showed me His heart for people. I began to see in Scripture how much Jesus took the time to notice. He might be in a crowd, people pressing in all around Him, but He felt a tug at his garment. He might be tired and thirsty, but He saw the woman at the well—He looked deep into her soul.

He was never too busy to stop and delay His plans for the purpose of an immediate need: the person in front of Him right now.

So “people first” became my mantra in graduate school, but as I was talking to this former student about those early lessons of balancing graduate work with relationships, I realized that maybe I needed to reintroduce that mantra for my life today, in this season.

Although I do try to place people first—people I know—I don’t take the time to notice strangers. And usually not noticing has more to do with the distractions at my fingertips.

And by distractions, I mean my cell phone.

And by that, I mean Facebook. Or Twitter. Or what I can scroll through while I wait in line for these five minutes.

Last week my colleague and I took a group of students to a conference in Minneapolis, and on our first night, we heard Charles Baxter give a lecture as a prelude to talking about his book The Soul Thief.

He mentioned that the beautiful thing about being a writer is that we notice people—we pay attention to conversations. We notice behaviors and reactions. We listen to strangers and consider how they would appear as characters in our novel.

I always love to hear creative writers talk about their writing process because it reminds me that there are others like me—the people who hear dialogue and imagine characters and think of how every mundane encounter could be captured in a story.

But when I’m scrolling through Facebook, I’m not noticing.

Technology becomes not only distracting, but a barrier to the creative process.

When I’m too busy to notice, I’m not only self-focused and limiting my ability to minister to others, I’m also missing out and limiting my ability as a writer to capture the world with my imagination when I later put pen to paper (err, fingers to keyboard).

Jesus was never too busy. He was also flexible, willing to change His plans for the sake of people—for the sake of one person’s need.

I want to see people—strangers, too—as He does.

And as a writer, I want to capture people through His eyes for them.

But first, I’ve got to notice.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Redeem: Part 2

Do you ever struggle to hear God’s voice?

This last week, I really needed to hear from the Lord. I needed an answer from Him—and yet, I felt so uncertain.

The more I tried to hear Him, the more anxious I felt. Am I hearing you? Is this you? Is this me? What is the problem?

Later, when I was still and my heart was ready, I did hear from Him. I got my answer, and I got His peace.

But in that moment of anxiety, I needed to be redeemed.

I told you last week that God’s word for me this year is REDEEM. We already talked about the ultimate redeeming act—the exchange made at the cross to give us righteousness and grace.

But redeem is more than the one time finished work.

One definition notes that redeem means to compensate for fault or poor past performance.

Yep—Jesus does that all the time for me.

Some synonyms for this definition include save, vindicate, absolve, atone, deliver.

The other definitions I love deal with an exchange:
- “Gain or regain possession in exchange of payment.”
- “Exchange (coupon, voucher, etc.) for merchandise, a discount, or money”
- “Pay the money to clear a debt”

Some synonyms here would be exchange, cash in, clear, honor, discharge, reclaim, retrieve, recover, regain.

And my all-time favorite definition—“To fulfill or carry out a pledge or promise.”

He always redeems His word. He “makes good” on His promise.

It’s easy—and encouraging—to think of these definitions as each relates to salvation or justification.

But every day, we are being sanctified too.

Every day I still need His redeeming help.

Maybe I need to ‘reclaim’ who I am in Christ.

Maybe I need to ‘regain,’ ‘retrieve,’ or ‘recover’ my thoughts to be the thoughts God thinks toward me.

Maybe I need to be ‘discharged’ or ‘cleared’ for my mistakes or shortcomings that day—the offense I took, the angry response I had, the pride, the insecurity, etc.

“Forgiveness restores the standard of holiness.” That’s my favorite Kris Vallotton quote right now.

Even if I mess up, he still redeems, and I am restored to a place of honor.

And, of course, my favorite:

Maybe I need to be reminded that He redeems His promises.

When I feel anxious like I did last week, He redeems my anxiety for His peace. What a better exchange.

What do you need to exchange—to be cleared of or discharged from?

What do you need to retrieve, reclaim, or regain?

What can He redeem for you today? (Click to Tweet)