Refining Identity {a book review}

The way you think about yourself affects every aspect of your life. Your view of yourself and your view of the world are intimately entwined. And at the very core of both is what you believe about God.

When I am talking with women about various struggles in their lives, I often notice a basic problem - lack of understanding of who God is, and who they are in Christ. If you haven't spent time in God's Word, your view of God will necessarily be shaped by your life experiences and your own personality. It is essential to dig into scripture to know God's truth about Himself, and about you.

"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." - John 17:17

This is so important for all believers. So when I met Courtney Cohen at the Declare Conference, and heard about her new book Refining Identity, I knew I would want to read and review it for you all. Courtney welcomed my enthusiasm and graciously sent me an advance copy.

The title is based on the analogy of God as Refiner. Throughout the book you will find references to the process smelters use to refine gold to purify it, just as God purifies us.

Refining Identity begins with a scriptural study of who God is. Courtney leads you through the bible, seeking His nature and character. There is space for you to jot notes as you look up each scripture and discover for yourself what it says. Courtney adds her own observations and personal stories.

Then Refining Identity takes you through a process of addressing challenges and weaknesses you may have as you relinquish your identity to the refiner of your soul. This is followed by a beautiful embracing of the renewal that comes as the Lord builds you up as He created you to be. All throughout this journey you will be in scripture, seeking God's truth in His Word.

Near the end is an important chapter on spiritual warfare. Committed believers can expect to experience this challenge, and it is critical to be scripturally equipped to understand and deal with it.

And of course the precious completion of the refining process is when we are like shiny golden mirrors, reflecting His love. Not one of us will be perfectly refined until we are face to face with God, but the power of Jesus Christ in our lives shines even in our weakness and failings.


We all find ourselves at some point asking the question "Who am I?" For a Christian, the answer is a combination of how God sees you through the lens of Christ, and the specific gifts He has given to you. As Courtney puts it:

"I am who I AM says I am."

Each of us was put on earth to glorify God and love others. But we often get caught up in distractions and become confused about our identities. Because of this we feel trapped and are unable to love with the freedom and joy that we have been given.

Only Jesus can set us free, only in Him can we be fully who we were created to be. If you are feeling trapped, if you are not really sure who you are, I encourage you to consider reading Refining Identity, and commit to the process of working through the scriptures Courtney has lovingly laid out. Meet your Refiner in His Word!


You can hear a little bit of Courtney's heart for this book in the above video.

Also, take a moment to stop by Courtney's facebook page today (November 26, 2013) for some special giveaways in honor of today's launch. You may even win a free copy for yourself!

disclosure: affiliate links are included in this post

We Interrupt This Blog...

Sometimes God blindsides you.

Sometimes He has plans so big that you could never have conceived of what He was about to do.

God ambushed me last week.

I have been surprisingly worn out by the intensity and emotion of a day and a half of God's hijacking. I have not written anything here, or on our other blog Blossoms and Posies. I have been mostly quiet on social media.

I feel quiet inside. Small and awed.

I had plans. Plans of 31 days of writing about teaching kids to serve. I still have those plans. But those 31 days will not tidily fit within October.

Abbie and I had plans for a wonderful little ebook with beautiful Christmas projects for kids. We had plans to finish it in October. It may or may not be done in November.

God had plans to show me, and others, how big He is... how much He loves. How nothing is impossible for Him.

His plans are always better.

I have really enjoyed writing the Teaching Kids to Serve series. I will resume, possible even tomorrow.

But for today I will leave you with a post I wrote a year and a half ago. Another time when my plans did not work out.

We struggle to reconcile reality with our ideas. We can't implement them all and we wonder, are we trying hard enough? Are we committed to these wild dreams? Sometimes it really is us. We get discouraged, beaten down. Sometimes we give up.

But sometimes it isn't us. It is life. Sometimes it isn't in the master plan, or more accurately, the Master's Plan.

You can read the whole post here --> When the Plans Don't Work Out.

Now I am off to make cookies for my children. At least that's the plan. :)

Volunteer at Your Local Pregnancy Resource Center {teaching kids to serve}

Many pregnancy resource centers welcome children's help. While obviously there are sensitive areas and adult topics that are addressed at such a center, there are plenty of ways for children to become involved.

If the center has a donation area, children may be able to help sort and fold donated baby clothes and blankets. If there are certain items that are in low supply, they can start a campaign to collect those items.

Fundraising is always important. One year my younger children helped me bake items for a bake sale fundraiser for our local center. We packaged them up prettily, then helped at the sale table. My daughter especially enjoyed holding a sign and waving at passing cars to let them know about our baked goods. Kids can also help at a garage sale fundraiser - there is always plenty of folding and sorting to do!

You alone will know how best to explain the center's purpose to your child, and how much detail to go into. For my very young children I simply told them that the center is to help women who are going to have a baby or who have recently had a baby. I explained that for various reasons sometimes people don't have the money or support they need to provide everything for their baby, and it is our privilege to help! We are a baby loving family, so that is incentive enough for my kids!

Your family may even find itself developing a relationship with a young family being helped through your work at the center. This can be a blessing all around!


Learning to Extend Hospitality {teaching kids to serve}

Opening your home to guests is an easy way for your children practice serving others.

Before the big day, teach your kids how to make your guests feel welcome when they arrive. Have them run through greeting one another... maintaining eye contact, giving a smile, a handshake, a welcoming word.

Involve your children in preparing your home and the food for the meal. If they wonder why you are going to special care to get ready, explain that one way we show love for others is by treating them specially and helping them feel comfortable.

If any fussing occurs about the extra preparation, you can always remind your children that we are to:

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. - 1 Peter 4:9

Teach your children to offer your guests a drink once they arrive and are settled. Guests should be served food first, and the children should clear the guest's plates for them. I like to use the word "bless"... "It will bless our guests if you offer them a drink." "It will bless our guests when you clear their plates so that they can sit and relax."

If your children are young and you are expecting visitors near their age, you may need to prepare them by revisiting the concept of sharing toys.

Extending hospitality in your home is a great first step for young children learning about serving!


Crochet Sleeping Mats for the Homeless {teaching kids to serve}

Have you ever heard of a crocheted plastic sleeping mat?

This is such an unusual project! I know not all kids will be able to do this, but it is so clever I had to include it. It is especially suited to older children who enjoy handwork.

Using rings cut from plastic grocery bags (smaller children can help with the cutting), you start by making plarn. What's plarn? Plastic yarn! Seems I am not the only one who likes to make up words!

Next, with a crochet hook size 10 or larger, you will begin to crochet your plarn following the simple pattern. You will end up with a mat that is waterproof and springy enough to make a soft place to lie. You will also keep hundreds of grocery bags out of the landfill!

These mats are being made by church groups around the country and handed out to homeless folks.

Detailed instructions and a pattern can be found here. You'll even find video instructions!

photo credit


Do Someone Else's Chore {teaching kids to serve}

Stealth chore-ing (yes I made that up) is super fun because it involves a surprise!

Every so often I will pull a child aside and conspiratorially whisper "What can we do to bless your sister/brother/father today?"

Then we plot out how the child will sneakily do a chore for the other person. Everything is more fun when it is a surprise!

Generally chores are not looked upon as fun activities in my house, so I see this as a double blessing. Not only is my child serving a member of the family, but doing work with a cheerful attitude. Maybe Mama is the stealthy one, eh?

Needless to say the finished chore is always well received by the recipient. Another win for sibling relations!

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Visit a Nursing Home {teaching kids to serve}

One day when I was in 8th grade, I was sitting in my English class discussing a story about a family who had abandoned their elderly grandfather. The conversation came around to the lack of respect in contemporary America for the elderly.

For some reason this conversation bothered me deeply. I kept thinking of old people abandoned and ignored by their families. I was so upset I decided to start visit nursing homes.

With my mom's help, I connected with the activities manager of one of our local nursing homes. She introduced me to several elderly ladies who did not receive visitors, and I began going to see them every week.

After a while I got in touch with the animal shelter, who allowed me to pick up a kitten or puppy once a month or so to bring it along. Oh how the residents loved this!

Young people, young animals... they bring joy into a nursing home that is palpable. Many residents are old in body but young in mind, and they feel free to let down their guard and enjoy themselves when they have youth nearby.

Before you go to a nursing home, let your children know what they might expect. Explain that most of the people who live in a nursing home have bodies that aren't working as well as they used to, so they need some help. You can also tell them that some of them have a sickness that has made their thinking a little different.

When you are there, it is important that you help your child balance discomfort with serving. Don't push your child to reach out, but encourage him to. You may have a child who feels quite awkward and overwhelmed. Be engaged with the residents yourself and set a good example. Over time your child's reluctance will wear off.

There are many things you can have your children do while visiting:

  • play an instrument
  • sing
  • read aloud
  • play board games or cards with the residents
  • make crafts with the residents
  • hand out cards or decorations

But really all they need to do is be themselves. Just taking time to talk and ask questions can make someone's day!

photo credit

Thank Your Local Firefighters {teaching kids to serve}

This idea is bound to be a hit with the little boys in your life! Few young men wouldn't be delighted to visit the fire station to say thank you to the men and women who serve your community.

When we are bringing a treat to thank folks we don't know personally, I usually make a plate of cookies or a pan of brownies because they are so universally beloved. But you should feel free to make whatever suits your fancy - it will surely be appreciated. It doesn't have to be sweet!

I like to involve my kids in the decision making process to some degree, offering them choices from a range I know will work for us - "Shall we make chocolate chip cookies, sugar cookies or brownies?" Package the goodies in a recyclable container so no one has to figure out what to do with your pan or dish.

While you are baking, talk about what these folks do for your community, the dangers they may face, and their family's willingness to support them as they serve. Around here, we have a very keen sense of the sacrifices our firefighters make to keep us safe. In the fire department up the road from us, twenty of the twenty four volunteers lost their homes during the 2011 Bastrop County Complex Wildfire.

Your children can make pictures and cards as well. Some volunteer fire stations are not staffed around the clock, so you may want to call first. If you don't know where your station is located or the phone number, try searching here or here. Don't call 911 to find your fire department!

photo credit


Make Shoes for Children in Uganda {teaching kids to serve}

I recently came across a unique ministry whose purpose is to cover the feet of impoverished children in Uganda.

Sole Hope was founded in 2010 by Asher Collie as a response to her heartbreak at seeing children ravaged by disease caused by jiggers that infested their bare feet. Now Sole Hope not only provides shoes for kids in Uganda, but also teaches Ugandan women the trade of shoe making.

What can you and your children do?
  • Host a shoe cutting party, where you will help cut fabric that will be sent to Uganda to be sewn into shoes.
  • Raise money and donate to Sole Hope
  • Buy shoes
  • Join the "Junior Ambassador" program specifically designed for kids under 18 who want to help.
For more information, email


Share Gifts from Your Garden {teaching kids to serve}

Does your family grow a garden?

Teaching children how to raise vegetables and herbs, and even flowers, is a way to help them learn the value of steady work, and the fruit of faithfulness.

"You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth." - Psalm 104:14

A basket of home grown veggies or a bouquet of flowers from your yard - even wildflowers - is a lovely way for children to bless someone in their lives.

While it is God who provides the sun and the rain, our family has learned from experience that if we don't do our part and cultivate (with the exception of wildflowers!), there is not much to harvest.

What satisfaction your children will have knowing that their hard work has blessed someone with food and beauty!

Gather Cans to Earn Money for a Cause {teaching kids to serve}

Sometimes situations arise about which your children feels burdened, but with which he or she is unable to physically help.

For example, most natural disaster clean-up areas are not safe for children to be in. But tornadoes, floods and fires get a lot of media attention, and your child may express a desire to help. In this case, raising money to donate can be a way for them to get involved.

Your children can earn money by collecting aluminum cans. Some states have a refund program, and in states that do not run such a program, you can sell the cans to a scrap metal company.

Be sure to do your research before you donate the money. Sadly, there are people who make a living scamming people in unfortunate situations. We experienced this in our area after a wildfire, when some less-than-honest businesses sprung up around the recovery process. Charity Navigators is a good resource for checking out a charity's reputation.

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Bake Cookies for Your Pastor {teaching kids to serve}

The second Sunday in October is Clergy Appreciation Day, an opportunity to show pastors how much we value the time they take to minister to us. Kids can show their appreciation too... and what better way to show it than with cookies?

It's not too hard to get kids excited about baking cookies. Gather everyone in the kitchen to measure, pour and stir. While the cookies are baking and cooling, the children can make thank you cards or pictures for your pastor(s). Help them think through what pastors do, and why they are thankful.

You can dress up a simple plate of cookies with a ribbon or bow. Even a paper plate of cookies covered with foil looks a little prettier this way. Of course most pastors will be thankful no matter how the cookies are delivered!

On Sunday morning, have the kids wait until an appropriate time after church to give the cookies to your pastor, and if they feel comfortable, express their thanks in words as well.

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Let Others Go First {teaching kids to serve}

You don't have to go out to begin teaching your children about serving others. The best place to start is right at home.

Help your children to develop the habit of letting others go first. This might seem like an overly simplistic concept to you... and if that's the case you have probably already been training your children to have an attitude of giving!

For children who are not used to sharing or allowing others to go first, this can be quite a difficult exercise. Don't worry if your little one doesn't especially like it, no one does at first!

Make a game of it... play the "After You Sir" game. You can set the example by saying "After you, sir/miss" and allowing your child to go first. The next time, have your child say it to you, and you go first. Be enthusiastic with your thanks when you are the one to go first.

You will probably have to remind and encourage your child, over a span of time, to think of allowing others to go first. But eventually you will start to see the habit laid down.

Reinforce your child's choice to allow others the first turn by observing it out loud every time you see it. Using servanthood terminology helps enforce this worldview. For example, "Joey, I saw you letting Sara go first. You showed your servant's heart."

A giving heart starts right in your own living room, and will walk out the door to bless the world!

 photo credit

Rake Leaves for Your Neighbor {teaching kids to serve}

Sometimes, due to illness or circumstance, home owners can't properly care for their yards.

Do you know someone who is elderly, or a family with a deployed parent? Maybe you know a single mom, or people who are out of town for an extended period.

Helping them tend their yard can be a great blessing and relief.

This time of year, the pressing yard work in most areas of the country is raking leaves. Take your children, one rake per person and some big bags, and head over to a neighbor's house to tidy up.

Be sure to check with them first... some folks prefer to allow their leaves to remain on the ground. It could also be awkward for home owners if you show up on their property unannounced!

At other times of the year you might shovel snow, mow the lawn, or pick up sticks. Whatever yard work you do, be sure to encourage your children to be cheerful as they work, and to work with vigor.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
A nice big cup of hot cocoa at home would be a wonderful way to finish out a time of service together as a family!

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Make Christmas Cards for Unsponsored Compassion Children {teaching kids to serve}

Compassion International is a well respected ministry to children in poverty around the world. Since 1952, Compassion has maintained programs allowing families to sponsor children in need.

There are many children on Compassion's waiting list who have not yet received a sponsor. These children would love to receive a card from your child!

Have your children write as many Christmas cards or letters as they'd like, and send them to Compassion with a note that you would like the cards to go to unsponsored kids.

You can send them to this address:

Compassion International
ATTN: Suzanne Hall
12290 Voyager Parkway
Colorado Springs, CO 80921

Happy coloring!

photo credit

Clif Bars for Deployed Soldiers {teaching kids to serve}

Soldiers stationed around the world welcome care packages, even from strangers.

Involve your kids in blessing soldiers - help them package up a much enjoyed and requested item, like a big box of Clif Bars, and mail them off with cards and letters. While you are certainly welcome put together an assortment of items, it's also fine to just keep it simple and send a whole lot of one item.

Your children could run a Clif Bar drive, much like a canned food drive, or you could take the kids to the store and let them pick out the varieties to send. Large warehouse stores, like Costco or Sam's Club, usually carry volume quantities of items like this.

Troops will generally share what they receive with other soldiers so be sure to send a bunch!

Any Soldier is a great place to find the address of a soldier who will accept care packages. Be sure to read through all their great suggestions for making your package a welcome treat!


Pick Up Trash {teaching kids to serve}

Help improve everyone's view by having an outing to pick up trash with your kids. Picking up trash along the roadside or in the park is another way your children can bless their local community.

Older children who are reliably aware of passing traffic can be very effective roadside trash pickers. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, roadside trash clean-up is probably not the ideal activity, but they may be able to help in a park that has plenty of green space around you.

These supplies will come in handy:
  • leather gloves for each person
  • lots of large trash bags
  • space in your vehicle for transporting the garbage
  • hand sanitizer or wipes for when you are done 
You may want to advise your children to allow you to pick up any broken glass or sharp objects. 

Talk about why this activity blesses others, and how God calls us to care for the land around us. I have found using the phrase "Leave things better than you found them" has had an effect on a child's decisions even when I wasn't around!

photo credit

Canned Food Drive {teaching kids to serve}

Children can get involved in serving the local community by running a canned food drive for your local food pantry.

Food pantries are always in need of items, and while they do not limit donations to canned food, keeping it simple (and non-smashable) for the kids is best.

When we are planning to make a food pantry donation, I call ahead to find out what they most need at the time. Pantries gladly accept any non-dented non-expired canned goods, but they often have frequently requested items that they run low on.

Find the nearest food pantry

To run the drive, have your children tell their friends, or you can associate it with an activity, like a park outing or party. Older children might feel comfortable making an announcement in church.

Be sure your children are with you when you deliver the items! Depending on the food pantry's policies, the kids may even be allowed to help stock the shelves with their donations.

Do you know where your local food pantry is?


Make a Meal for Someone {teaching kids to serve}

Even young children can get involved in serving by helping to prepare a meal for another family.

Do you know someone who:
  • Is having a baby?
  • Is sick?
  • Just lost a family member?
  • Is going through a hard time?
  • Is elderly and alone?

Everyone needs to eat! A meal is a simple and usually much appreciated way to show love.

If you don't know the family's dietary needs already, be sure to ask, unless you are planning the meal as a surprise. If it is a surprise you might want to ask someone who knows them well if they have any allergies or special restrictions.

Children can be involved in all aspects of the food preparation, as well as delivering the meal. I always make a main dish, which generally is a stand-alone like a casserole. Often I will add a salad and dessert.

One of our favorite recipes to make for a delivered meal is Bird's Nest Pie. It is a somewhat unusual way to present spaghetti, and always gets rave reviews. It is also a super kid-friendly recipe. In fact Josh and I made it for a Build A Menu a few months ago. This is a dish that you can also freeze ahead. We usually make at least 2 when we make this, and freeze extras in foil pie pans for giving away.

Get the recipe for Bird's Nest Pie

Kids can help wash lettuce and tomatoes and peel carrots and cucumbers for the salad. They can spoon cookie dough onto cookie sheets or stir brownie mix. We always sprinkle chocolate chips on top of our brownies before cooking them... sprinkling is a much sought after kid-job!

When it is time to deliver the meal, if it won't make the recipient feel uncomfortable, have the children help carry the food to the door.

Your turn: What type of dishes do you like to give or receive in times of need?

You Set the Example {teaching kids to serve}

I am doing something wild and crazy over here, and after posting only a few times a month for, oh, a couple of years, I am going to try to post every day for a month!

Told you it was crazy. 

Two things converged...

First, I decided I wanted to put together a list to answer a question I get fairly regularly from moms with young children: "How can I teach my kids to serve?" The list keeps growing and growing, and soon I hope to have the whole thing compiled for you to download and print.

And then I remembered the "31 Days of..." meme, and figured, hey, I can not only put together that list, but also highlight thirty one of the ideas in posts!

So for the month of October you'll find short daily posts here with all sorts of practical ideas for growing servants' hearts in your kids. I hope you'll check back throughout the month and share your ideas too!

And now for day 1 of Teaching Kids to Serve...

You Set the Example

Yes, teaching your child to serve others starts with you. Little eyes are watching every move you make. Little ears hear. And where your feet go, so will go your children's.

You don't necessarily have to take your children out of the home to see you serve. Involve them in "Blessing Daddy" by choosing to do things for him that you know will make him feel loved. Show them how to serve family members cheerfully.

And when you do serve outside the home, involve them as much as possible. In the coming days you will find many ideas here for out-of-the-home ways for kids to serve.

Use words that help children grow in understanding serving others
... talk about growing a servant's heart, about blessing others, about choosing to put others first.

In our house we often frame it in terms of love:
  • What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation?
  • What would make me feel loved if I were this person?
  • What need does this person have that I could meet?
And we talk about the truth that the love we show others is a reflection of Christ's love for us. That we are His hands and feet here on earth.

We have also memorized this verse...

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4

 ... and say it out loud sometimes together to remind ourselves.

The way you speak and act will be the foundation on which your children will form their ideas about what it means to serve. It starts with you!


Why You Shouldn't Give Up Writing Online

There are some days I just want to give up writing altogether.

It's not that my love of words wanes, or the pressure to write goes away. It is simply fear. My struggle to be authentic as I write collides with my fear of hurting someone... or my fear of being hurt.

And the fear is not unfounded.

A very brave friend recently shared that something I had written had hurt her feelings. Honestly, it didn't come as a surprise. Yes, maybe I was surprised that it was this friend and this situation, but I feel like I have been waiting for this since that day in 2004 I started writing online.

I have rejected countless post ideas over the past nine years, and have scores of drafts waiting for courage. I questioned even writing this.

I just don't want to hurt anyone.

And, selfishly, I don't want to be hurt. I hold passionate, and controversial, beliefs. I suppose we all do. I am a tender soul, and really, I think I'd feel most comfortable anonymously scribbling away in a little garden all day.

But that's not my life. And it's not supposed to be. Because my most passionate (and controversial) belief is that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. Anyone who truly means that had better get ready to be uncomfortable. And misunderstood.

I am so thankful my friend was open with me. And she unknowingly gave me a gift later in our conversation when she shared how profoundly a post by a well-known Christian blogger had impacted her. I know that this blogger has also been misunderstood, and has also had brokenness in relationship because of her conviction to write.

Yes, writing wounds... and yes, writing heals.

So here is what it comes down to: I am a broken vessel. Jesus... He's the treasure.

I am trying, oh, trying so hard, but I am going to fail. I am going to fail the people I love, I am going to fail Him. I am trying to be brave, but sometimes I get my signals mixed up. If I have hurt you, please tell me. I want to know... I want things to be right between us.

God never gives up! So we don't have to either. Every relationship can be mended in Him. And not just mended... made into something life-giving and beautiful.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

So I'll keep writing. And I'll keep stumbling. But the messing up is worth it if God can make something beautiful come of even that. 

He has made everything beautiful in its time.  Ecclesiastes 3:11

To all my writing friends - be brave. Keep speaking truth. Keep baring your soul. Because you never know which words God will use.

I am not saying write every word you think... none of us should do that. Write with love. But don't write in fear. Don't censor yourself so completely that you are paralyzed. Write!

If you hurt someone unintentionally, make it right. As soon as you possibly can. Find the beauty in restoration.

And to my friend... thank you. Thank you for your courage in speaking truth to me. And thank you for offering me the grace of believing me - that it was never my intention to hurt you. You are a beautiful soul and I am in awe of what God is doing in your life. I am so grateful that this wall has been torn down and we can grow together. I love you!

Epilogue (note? addendum?): I just couldn't publish this without having my friend read it first. She did, and she gave me permission to share it here. I am so thankful for her!

artwork by Amanda Hovey for the Declare Conference


When Life Seems Without Beauty, Love Pushes In

I need beauty.

I feel desperate for it some days.

We live in dust, surrounded by dirt. I hope for something beautiful all day long. I know it is here, but oh these long summer days that stretch into September and October and November... they burn right through you. I crunch across yellow grass and the air puffs with dust around my boots while I try to catch my breath in the waves of heat.

It aches, this need. It is a physical sensation, an inconvenient need I don't want to have, but that I can't deny.

I find myself drinking in the faces of my children. Staring long at the curve of their brows, the depth of a dimple. I watch the muscles move on their arms as they talk.

I scour the ground for one tiny weed flower. Stare at the sky needing the white on blue.

It is hard to find the words to explain this... I don't really fully understand myself... but I grieve still. I also feel guilty for grieving.


It has been two years since the fire. One of my dearest friends just moved into her replacement house. Just moved in.

Grief? She has experienced grief. Over and over and over. So my welling eyes and my stopped up throat seem like so much child's play.

But I can't deny the truth. I hurt deep for what is still gone. For what was ravaged and still lies naked and black.

I told Stephen the other day that I feel like I've had no beauty in my life since the fire. Is that really so? Of course not. Because there is a beauty wilder than those black sticks. There is gorgeousness in all the faces, in the skies and in the stars. In the reaching out hands. In the loving.

I know this.

But something more than just trees was burned to a crisp in that fire. I can't say what, I don't know, but I miss it.

Maybe it was a child-like sense of security. Truth: nothing is secure this side of heaven. But the illusion feels comfortable, doesn't it?

I think about this for my children. How the fire has shaped who they are now, who they will become. For the children whose homes were so much ash? Not a shaping as much as a pounding, a kneading.

Even still, for my children, with their home intact, there was much impact. If your childhood world had burned down... if every time you went to the grocery store you drove through a forest of pointy, falling over matchsticks... if everyone you knew was divided into two groups - burned out or not... wouldn't that affect your way of thinking?

Stephen made a new rule a few weeks ago and posted it on the fridge:

I didn't want to do it. I stopped regularly reading fiction years ago because once I start I don't want to put it down. If I could, all I would do is read. It's too hard to stop. But, I agreed. Abbie wanted me to reread Anne of Green Gables, because she had just finished it.

When I sat on my bed with Anne of Green Gables in my hand, I was doing it for the two of them. It was not where I wanted to be.

My husband is a wise man. From the first page I was lost. I soaked in that book, gulping down the lightness of the words, and the beauty of Anne's world. I sat there for an hour, a dried out raisin plumping up on words penned over a century ago.

A huge cherry tree grew outside, so close that its boughs tapped against the house, and it was so thickset with blossoms that hardly a leaf was to be seen. On both sides of the house was a big orchard, one of apple trees and one of cherry trees, also showered over with blossoms; and their grass was all sprinkled with dandelions. In the garden below were lilac trees purple with flowers, and their dizzily sweet fragrance drifted up to the window on the morning wind. - Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

And when I stood up, I was refreshed.

That man of mine went all analogizing on me the other night. He asked me what an engine needs in order to go. "Fuel," I said, wondering where he was going.

"Ah," he said, "but it also needs oil. A little something nice to make things run smoothly. Or else the engine seizes up. If it it isn't ruined, it is damaged. Forever. You need a little oil. A little something fun."

I think beauty is my oil.

I've tried to make a habit of finding beauty. I know that it is everywhere. But sometimes when the weight becomes heavy and the shoulders bow down, my head is just not lifted enough to look.

The other night I was pecking away at my keyboard, writing this and that, a deadline looming. It was after dinner. Everyone else was outside in the dismal overcast fields and the house was quiet. I was grim and grumpy and struggling... the words weren't coming and even my hands seemed to scowl. I started writing this very post.

The door slammed and I kept typing. Then in my left ear I heard my name. I turned and saw this.

It was a simple offering, love from the heart of a little boy who didn't even know what his mama needed. The grace of that small burst of flowery sun tamed my selfish storm.

I wrapped my grubby little boy up in my arms and nestled my face in his curls and thanked him and the good Lord who made him.

Everywhere, everywhere, there is beauty, and on the days when my eyes see only the dust at my feet, the love of those in my life bends in and puts it in front of my bowed face.

Grace abounds.

And though the base of that cross was charred two years ago, it still stands.

Stephen's gift of time to lose myself in beauty every night inspired another post which I shared on the HelloMornings blog. If, like me, you are burdened with more to do than you have time, and to-do lists that rule like tyrants, take a moment to breathe deep and read Love Gives the Gift of Grace.

Hearts for Home Blog Hop
Thought Provoking Thursday
Faith-Filled Friday


Do You Have the Habit of Prayer?

One of my all time favorite verses is from First Thessalonians:
Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
It encapsulates three major areas in which God has dealt with me. I don't count myself as unique in some way... He calls all His children to rejoice, pray and give thanks. But for some reason this passage is especially dear to me.

The matter of prayer... oh I have wrestled with God over this one. Why does prayer matter? Why would God bother to listen to me? Can a puny human really impact the sovereign Lord?

And pray without ceasing? Is it even possible?

I am still in conversation with God about all that. I expect I will be for my whole life. I am confident at this stage of my journey that praying without ceasing is possible, but actually doing it still eludes me.

Over the years I have tried or learned about many ways of praying, many ways to keep praying. Laying down little habits is a helpful first step on the road to praying without ceasing.

Cultivating Prayer -

I have written about some of them - and know I am barely scratching the surface - over at Do Not Depart in a post entitled Cultivating the Habit of Prayer. There you'll find all sorts of practical ideas for developing habits that keep you in conversation with God. I hope you'll go read it.

With a little living water from the Word and some Sonshine, the soil of our hearts will be ready to sprout prayers. ;-) Sorry couldn't resist.

What about you? Do you have a habit of prayer? What routines have you found help you to remember to pray?

Or is it a way of thinking? I think that there is a major piece in the pray-without-ceasing puzzle.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!


How to Have a Faith that Walks on Water

This summer has been an especially busy one. I am startled repeatedly when I look at the calendar and find that school is upon us again. It does not seem like we had much rest this year.

The busy-ness of family life, along with extra commitments I made this summer, have consumed my writing time. Very few words eked out of this word girl that weren't practical and purposeful. No blog posts here, no books. So I have been feeling breathless, airless, needing to pen words, to peck on keys.


For four weeks in July we trekked to our state park for swimming lessons, and some of those sunny days I brought a notebook. A notebook and pencil. And in my almost illegible scrawl, I covered the paper. Oh how I wish I could write more clearly; this terrible handwriting does hinder me. My mind races and the pencil can't keep up; my hand cramps, and even I can barely read what I have written.

Still... sometimes the power of the words overtakes even my reluctance to make a mess on the paper, and I write write write. The impact of a moment pushes my hand to pencil and I can not stop...


It's peaceful here poolside. The breezes feel almost cool under the pines. It is an unusual July in the middle of Texas.

The kids are taking swimming lessons. Two hours a morning I sit under the trees and watch the twenty or so children, with four instructors, splash in the sparkling blue water.

They are at many levels. From a three year old learning to get his face wet, to our sixteen year old working on perfecting his strokes.

It is relatively quiet. No endless chant of "Marco! Polo! Marco! Polo!" like in the afternoon when the pool is open to the public.

So I notice when a teacher says loudly "It's okay! It's okay! You did it! You're okay!"

I look up from the other side of the pool, and see a little boy clinging to her in the water with his head on her shoulder. He is silently sobbing.

With much encouragement he makes his way back to the side of the pool and sits on the steps, his head turned away from the water. A visible sign of protest.

He sits quietly. He is still shaken, still scared. But he is trying to be brave.

Then in front of him, on the deck, a man appears. He squats down and lays his hand on the boys head.

The man's lips are moving as he speaks softly to the child. Then he pats the boy's back.

The man stands and walks away. And the boy turns back to face the water.

I see her there right in the middle of that moment.

I see myself.

Scared, overwhelmed, small. Turning away from that which terrifies.

From the thing that threatens to suck me down, draw all life from me.

Trying to be brave. But utterly shaken.

How often does my Father gently lay a hand on my head? How often a reassuring pat on my back?


I still can see that little head turned away from the water.

The thing about water is that when you can't touch bottom, you realize how important it is to know how to swim. The murky deep is a vague and dark threat... it is an unknown.

Fear wraps itself up with the unknown. With the what-ifs and the worried hypotheses.

I have felt the beckoning from the water. I know it is time to step out of the boat and walk to Him.*

But how timid I am! Those depths, oh those depths.

All too often I try swimming instead. I struggle and heave and flail through the water. Heading in the right direction, but using the wrong method. Terrified that something sinister is about to pull me under.

How can a girl skim right over those swallowing waters?

By seeking His face. 

It's the only answer I can find.

I seek His face.*

His face on the side of the pool. His face standing there on the water, hand beckoning.

And I have to keep my eyes fixed on Him... because as soon as they fix on me? Or on that water? Down I sink. Down down down.

I have spent a fair share of time looking at myself this summer. Sinking, spluttering, wearing myself right out.

When Jesus beckons, He doesn't make the water shallow. He says "Come." That's all.

The unseen depths are still there.

He says "Come."

My frailty is still there.

And He says "Come."

A faith that walks on water is a face looking only at Jesus.

Some days, most days, I feel like He asks the impossible. I know He is asking me to dig deep into something that is far beyond me. And when I assess my life, when I see the obstacles, I am sure I can not do what He is asking.

But when I look at Him? I remember - with God all things are possible.*

I want to have a faith that walks on water. I want to walk right into His arms. Your face, oh Lord, shall I seek.*

* Matthew 14:28-3, Psalm 27:8, Matthew 19:26

On the Days You Feel Like Nothing You Do Matters

I see you, Mama.

I see you on the side of the pool with children clinging to your legs. They scream, then run away from you, and from the swim instructor waiting to guide them out of fear. I see your pasted smile, your clenched jaw. I see the what-do-I-do-now look in your eyes as you chase fleeing little feet.

And I hear you Mama.

I hear you in the restroom at the grocery store, voice a little too loud, a little too harsh as you berate the small person on the toilet for not telling you sooner, as you wonder what on earth you will do with these soggy pants and a half-naked child.

I feel you tremble, Mama.

I feel your shoulders shake as I wrap my arms around you for a gentle hug after you tell me how exhausted you are, how the baby is teething and your husband is working overtime and your house is a disaster and you need to lose the weight but you just can't get off the couch.

Some days it all feels just too hard... doesn't it, sweet weary Mama? Some days it's all correction and breaks and spills and tears running down cheeks. Everyone's cheeks.

Those people, those tiny little sinners given over to your care, oh they wear you right out. Yes and how.

And the day ends and you look in the mirror and wonder what you got done and think how pretty you used to be in the old days. But now your face sags and your hair is limp from the quick wash and ponytail. Your clothes are stained and wrinkled and you don't even care.

And you wonder if what you do matters any more.

If you matter.

So let me tell you this, Mama.

Those little sticky smelly people? You are their world.

You are their Queen, their teacher, their Julia Child. You are master of their domain... exquisitely beautiful... everything they want to be.

You are their best friend.

With fat crayons they scribble love notes to you that look like so many scratched lines, because they are your secret admirers. The crushed handful of flowery weeds is a giant bouquet for their beloved.

You're it Mama. You're the only mama they have. You are The One. You matter in their lives more than anyone else right now. More than anyone, Mama.

What you say to them today will mold and shape them in ways you can't comprehend. How you live love for them will teach them what it means to be God's girl, what it looks like to walk that right out where you walk every day.

Every giving, every offering makes a difference. Each time you take a deep breath and speak cheerfully instead of shouting blesses. You're being refined by fire Mama. Fire.

This. Is Worth. It.

Get right on your knees when you feel like you can't take one more moment. Go squeeze yourself into a closet, lock yourself in the bathroom, find a place for a moment and cry out, cry hard, Mama.

Cry out to God and tell Him that it's too much. Tell Him how much you need help. How they make you crazy and you're afraid you'll mess up and you're just plain worn out.

He is faithful to hear you. You're His girl. He will hear and He will help.

Lay it down. Lay it all right down at His feet, Mama, all that fear and worry and exhaustion and loss. Choose to be a servant. Choose to walk in His shoes and give it all. Give it all to these little wild ones growing in your house.

This is forever work. It doesn't look glamorous, but this service has fruit that lasts for eternity. This is soul shaping and mind growing work that matters.

As you raise those little people and continually, gently point them in the right direction, you are continually and gently being pointed in the right direction yourself. You can't do this without Jesus, Mama.

He's your direction.

Wipe your face, beautiful daughter of the King. Stand tall, stand firm. Walk in love. It matters.
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