When the Path is Steep, You Are Not Alone

In the economy of my life, words are the currency.

I am fascinated by language, find greatest internal clarity when I write, and am bolstered by encouraging words from others.

Yet it is my eyes that direct my words.

The eye is the lamp of the body. - Matthew 6:22

I am such a visual person that I can not think clearly when there is clutter around me (and if you know me well you now understand why I never think clearly!) My prayer life is filled with images.

I take visual snapshots - I still remember the first time I did this, a tender moment with my two dearest friends from college when I was about 20 years old. We lay on a futon on the floor talking about deep and precious things, and their gentle faces and tousled hair all mixed together was so beautiful I yearned to freeze the image forever. So I took a picture with my mind. I can see it still.

When I write, I am often simply describing what I see. Ideas have form and color and light in my mind. Analogies and allegories are commonplace. I don’t make this happen. It happens to me.

So perhaps you will understand when I tell you that the past four months, maybe longer, yes longer, I have been on an arduous trek through a most difficult mountain range. I have crossed parched deserts, dragging my feet in deep sand. Climbed and climbed and climbed steep summits. I have come out unexpectedly into glorious meadows filled with the most beautiful wildflowers, and been served by angels. I have rested by deep and clear lakes. My feet have been tangled in dark thorny weeds, and I have fallen and bled again and again.

I have been on a journey and I am bone weary.

In non-allegorical life? Financial stress, uncertainty, new businesses, deep relational challenges, a gloriously beautiful trip to China with my father, unidentified health problems, failure, success, failure and failure again. 

There are days when I feel like I am staring into the face of the lion that wants to devour me. Because I am. When life gets rough, when things become uncertain, don’t we begin to wonder? To doubt a little?… Did I have this all wrong? If I had done it all the world's way, would things be different?

Those are the waverings the enemy watches for. The opportunity he hopes to exploit.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. - 1 Peter 5:8

Hurts and fears and missteps pile up, and without solid ground to stand on, even the most faithful find it hard to stand firm. How wary we sons and daughters must be of stepping onto shifting sands! Only the Rock of our salvation gives true footing.

My soul, wait in silence for God only,
For my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
My stronghold; I shall not be shaken. 
- Psalm 62:5-6

We all come to crossroads in our lives. Indeed, most of us encounter such intersections more than once as we walk the path we have been given. Which way do I go? Do I go the way that seems easy, the wide road that everyone would tell me to follow? Or do I take this hard dirt path that my heart and His Word say to walk?

I always pray to take the Lord's way, but sometimes it is so painful. The way of service and love is the way of hard work. Not just hard work with my hands, but the hard work of allowing God to transform my heart and mind.

It is not in our nature to give and give. It is not in our nature to put others before ourselves. When people argue against Christianity I wonder if they understand what Jesus said and how He lived. Who would suggest that the best way to chart the course of your life is by giving everything up for others? This is not an idea formed in a human mind. Jesus’ way is completely upside down from the way we think the world should run. The first shall be last? It defies human logic! 

This is what the LORD says: "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16a

This year my family has chosen to walk differently. To take a leap into the unknown in many ways and try something that we know God has been calling us to. I wouldn’t change a thing. God’s plans are always the best plans. But they don’t always look the way we expect. Our leap did not produce glorious financial results, but it has borne the eternal fruit of deepened love and family ties upon which no price can be set. We have made difficult sacrifices in the name of relationships. We have faced painful challenges and done all we could to walk uprightly. We have wept. It has been a season of much feeling. 

As we have struggled, we have not been alone. We have been blessed with tangible assistance, real help with real needs. And the hands that have helped meet our physical needs have also been hands that have folded in prayer for us, hands that have lifted ours when we could not lift our own. (Exodus 17:11-12)

Gratitude is a paltry word to describe the swell of emotions just writing this brings. 

Two verse snippets have been my companions:

Hope does not disappoint
- Romans 5:5a

Love never fails
- 1 Corinthians 13:8a

There have been times when it has only been the dogged choice to hold onto and believe those verses that has kept me from drowning.

Sometimes it seems like hope is being disappointed and love is failing.

But it is all about perspective. When I train the microscope of my attention on a string of seeming losses and failures, there is nothing allowed in the picture but despair. Yet when I set the microscope down, take a deep breath, and stand back... stand way way back… I begin to allow an eternal perspective to gently filter into view.

I see people who are growing, sin that is being dealt with, something lasting and beautiful that is being built. 

The road is exhausting. The ups and the downs seem like they want to kill me some days. I long for the security of my warm soft bed… a place sometimes I would prefer to stay all day.

This is real life.

And Jesus is right in the middle of my real life. Because of His grace I can say, “I have failed” and not feel condemned. Because of His forgiveness, I can say to those I have wronged, “Please forgive me” and I will be freed from the burden of guilt.

I am still walking this hard road. It has real impact on my daily life and on my health and on my work. I am a writer who is struggling to write, and that is not a fun place for a writer to be. But because I am walking this road with the lover of my soul, I will survive the agonies and the exhilarations. And astonishingly, He will use them both to make me more like Himself. What an impossibly loving Lord He is.

For I, the LORD your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.” - Isaiah 41:13

The road will level out, I know it will. It always does. And in these steep parts when I stumble, His strong hand holds me firm. I am still gasping for breath some days and my muscles tremble from the effort, but I am not alone.

Is your journey steep today? Hold tight to His holy hand. Take heart. There is purpose in your pain. And who knows? This might be just around the next bend...

He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

- Psalm 23:2-3a

This song from Christa Wells kept playing in my head as I wrote this post...

I’ve been climbing my whole life
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain,
at the bottom of the mountain 
Rising up from my feet
in the daylight
rising up into the clouds and out of my sight
is the height of that mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Lord, these shoes are gonna need some help
so we can make it to the top of the mountain 
to the top of your mountain
Many feet have gone before us
with a habit of faith and courage
they’ll meet us at the road’s end

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day

Yes, yes I think I will
Oh Yes I know we will
Yes yes I know we will
Oh yeah, I know we will

I’ve been climbing my whole life 
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain
at the bottom of the mountain
All along this road
when it feels so
far to the top, you say, just hold on to the mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it
but my soul is gonna get there one day
No, my hands cannot reach it
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day
Well my soul (oh, my soul) is gonna get there one day

(press play below to hear the song)

To a Young Writer: Why You Should Write Even When You Are Afraid

Recently a young writer friend of mine shared on social media how the pressure to write was building inside of her. Building and brewing... she knew something was going to pop out…not yet, but soon.

Words, waiting and pressing.

I understand. Some days it feels as if my chest will explode if I don't sit down and make words happen with my hands. Talking doesn’t release the pressure. Only writing. And half the time I don't even know what words will come. But come they will.

Many writers I know battle fear daily. Perhaps it is because so many writers are deeply sensitive souls. Often shy and quiet in person, these wanderers and wonderers have internal rivers that run deep.

The vulnerability of putting thoughts and feelings on the page can be overwhelming. The thought of being truly known can paralyze.

So when another friend responded that everything this young woman writes on her blog now will be “lame" in 10 years, my writer’s heart stage-whispered, “Tread softly!”

Our mutual friend is an artist too. A musician. So what he probably did not realize is that this is a deep-seated fear for most writers. That what we write is stupid, that what we think doesn't make sense and isn't important.

Fear is a death knell to a well of beauty and inspiration.

And I wonder. What if Tolkien had succumbed to this fear? What if Shakespeare decided people wouldn't understand his jokes? What if Dickens worried that his stories were too dark and that exposing the true underbelly of the industrial age would get him in trouble? What if Paul had said, “Enough is enough. I'm being persecuted, people are trying to kill me on every side! Writing letters just incriminates me more!"

What if writers didn't write?

And what if musicians didn’t make music?

If Beethoven gave up because he couldn't hear? If John Newton gave into thinking people would criticize him for being vulnerable about his faith journey in Amazing Grace? If all those Christian worship songwriters whose work we enjoy every Sunday threw their hands up in the air and said, “This is just too hard. And maybe I’ve got it wrong somewhere. Forget it.”

We all have incredible worth in the eyes of our God. We have each been created to do something beautiful in the world in His name. Yet none of us is perfect. And none will be this side of heaven.

So our work must be imperfect. Do I look back ten years to my very first blog entry (yes, coming up on a decade in one week) and cringe? Maybe a little. But I also see a snapshot. I see a snapshot of a woman on whom God was working. I remember the things He was doing in my life because I recorded them. And I am reminded of the person I was and how He has grown me.

Will I cringe reading this very post in ten years? Possibly. I have written far more important things (and pray I will continue to) that will probably make me cringe more.

And in the end?

The why.

Why write? Why make music?

For me it is because I was made to do it. The Creator chose this thing for me, I didn’t choose it. In fact I have downright rejected it at times. It is scary and uncomfortable and frankly a whole lot of work. Little recognition, a lot less pay. And did I mention uncomfortable?

If we are His, then we must be who He made us to be. We must write, we must make music, we must saw wood, or bake bread or teach. If we don’t then we are missing the glorious joy of being right in the middle of His will. Who knows what He has in mind to do with the gifts He has given us? We have to just walk in it.

And along the way we absolutely will stumble. We'll say wrong things. We may even hurt those we love.

Yet how do muscles strengthen without hard work and pain? How does the seamstress make perfect stitches without starting with sloppy ones? How does a drummer learn a new beat without missing it a jillion times and trying again and again?

If we keep our eyes fixed, fixed on the Lover of our souls, if we humble ourselves and give Him everything we have today, He will be glorified. The sacrifice of vulnerable words is not missed by the one Who Himself is the Word.

My sweet young friend, yes, maybe (but not certainly) what you write today will seem “lame" to you in ten years. Write it anyway. Twenty years ago you yourself were essentially lame. Today you walk expertly. Then you were mute. Today you are a fluent English speaker. We all begin as infants in all that we do. And we grow.

Grow gloriously in what He made you to do.

The True Balm for a Festering Heart-Splinter

photo credit

It was not what I wanted to be dealing with at 10:30 pm - a splinter embedded completely beneath the skin of my palm. The area around the splinter was swollen and red and hurt like crazy as I steadily peeled back thin layers of skin with tweezers. Deep breath in, short burst out, as I ripped away.

It could have been easier. I had gotten the splinter that morning, while helping friends on their final frantic packing day as they prepared to sell their home. I don't even remember how I got it. But what I sure didn't have was tweezers. Or time.

I had picked at it a bit with my fingers, succeeding only in making it worse by severing the splinter. And after I left our friends' house, my evening was spent feeding children and transporting them to activities. No time for silly splinters. It wasn't until I was getting ready for bed that I had the time and supplies to deal with my now pulsing hand.

That tiny black sliver was tenacious. It was so small, yet hurt so much. My skin had done the healthy thing - closed up a wound. Unfortunately it had closed the splinter right in.

And I thought about how sin is like that. How a tiny black sliver in the heart can cause so much pain and infection. And how sin unattended to gets closed right in.

If I had taken the time, found a way to get the splinter out as soon as it entered, it would have hurt some, yes. But not as much as it did now.

The damage to my skin was real. Instead of a small hole needing cleaning and maybe some ointment, I had a raw swollen palm that needed careful attention. Needed home surgery and lots of babying.

Ah, how often do we let in the heart splinters and don't bother to take them out? The longer they stay, the deeper in they work themselves. And the more they infect.

I have splinters alright. I am forever turning this holey heart over to Jesus for home surgery. My splinters are perfectionism, fear, laziness... oh and so much more. In His presence His balm cleans out those wounds and I am free!

Yet somehow, somehow, I let those splinters back in. Sometimes I think I might just catch myself shoving them back in.

I wonder... every day, if I go to Jesus and ask Him to heal my wounds, not waiting until they show up pulsing again, not waiting for the stinky behavior that belies the rotting... if I start the day acknowledging my inclination to self-injury, will the splinters come out fast and easy and my heart be healthy?
My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
- Psalm 73:26

The sweet balm of His love, His tender mercy, it is my hope. And it is truth that the wounds He accepted, the horrible things that pierced His flesh, are why I can be healed. He took the biggest splinters already.


What Scriptures Should Your Children Memorize?

As I've written about here in the past, scripture memorization is an important part of the faith life of our family. The way that has looked has changed over the years... recently our younger kids joined an Awana club and they are flying through new verses! Like everything in a family, flexibility and change are part of the package, but we keep our core priorities.

Laying the foundation of Scripture memorization when your children are young will help them develop a habit that will bless them for their whole lives. There are many ways to creatively encourage children to memorize scripture, even programs that they can join. But really the only “program” necessary is a willing parent with a bible.
Once you have decide that you want to develop this habit in your children, how do you choose which scripture to teach? read more

I've pulled together a few resources to help parents select verses for kids to memorize (and grown ups too!) and listed them at Do Not Depart.  Click here to read the whole post "Choosing Scripture for Children to Memorize."


Writing a Book = Open Heart Surgery {gulp}

I am writing a book.

I have dreamed of writing books. I have dreamed of having written books.

I have imagined that I could write a book that could capture all the beauty that my heart yearns to express.

But I have not actually written a book.

I am writing a book.

Writing a book is... revealing.

The one thing that all finished books have in common? They are finished. Completed. The author kept going and going and going and <pant pant> going... then one day found closure and moved on from a dreamily perfect ideal to release it to the winds of the world.

Writing a book has revealed to me that all the going takes a very long time. And that finishing is not for the faint of heart.

It has shown me that I have even more left to learn than I thought. About writing... about my topic... about myself.

It has cast a spotlight on my fears... there are times when I think about this book and I feel like the whole world is a blinding beam silhouetting all my deepest anxieties... all the tender parts of me exposed to the heartless throngs.

Oh there are so many reasons not to write this book. The lack of a long string of letters after my name (credentials!); the bookshelves that need organizing; the baby goats to watch; the possibility that maybe just maybe I am not smart enough or talented enough to pull it off; the cookies to bake; the laundry that needs folding; the wrenching pain in my soul when I realize that what I am writing about is the hardest thing in the world to live but I must try in my every waking moment to live it; the deep knowledge that I do in fact fail to live it every waking moment...

... but...

I am writing a book.

I am relying on God's grace. I say this with all my heart: if this book is ever finished and published... if you ever see a copy of it that is not an email from me of some word document of a chapter (ha!)...  yes, if there ever is an actual book... this is why:

For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves
- 2 Corinthians 4:5-7

Not me. If this crazy thing ever comes to completion... no, when this crazy, gloriously beautiful journey comes to completion, it will be because of Him. I am not fit for the task. I am out of my comfort zone. Way way way out of my comfort zone.

And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- 2 Corinthians 12:10
Yes, I'm relying on His grace as I slowly stitch words together. Lord, be glorified!

{Author friends: it would bless me greatly to learn your favorite tip for keeping head down as you soldier onward with your writing projects. Would you tell me in the comments? I have learned so much from other writers! My burning question right now... is it just me and my pace or does writing a book really take forrrrrreeeeevvvvver?}

 photo credit

Do You Feel Just Ordinary?

Do you ever feel too ordinary to be used by God? Too busy cleaning up messes and bandaging knees to be important in the kingdom?

The alarm rings. You get out of bed, like every day, and stumble to the kitchen. Your hair is lopsided as you start water for tea, rustle around in the fridge for a bite to eat. You were tired last night and left crumbs, so you grab a cloth to wipe down the counter while the water boils. As you reach for the sink faucet, your bare foot kicks the pile you swept after dinner but forgot to sweep into the dustpan. You mentally add things to your to-do list for the day.
By the time you settle with your bible to snatch a moment with God, you feel the weight of the ordinary bending you down.
You and I are steeped in the ordinary aren’t we? Swimming in the mundane details of daily life. Yet when I crack my bible open, the extraordinary… the supernatural… flies off the page and into my heart. Do you feel it too?

To read the rest of my post today at Do Not Depart, click here...

YOU choose - get the good in your head

Do you ever feel like your brain belongs to someone else?

You know what is right and what you want, yet you keep thinking about the opposite?

Like... you know you want to feel well and not eat things that make you sick, but you just think and think and think about eating sugar.

Or you know that your friend really loves you but you can't stop thinking about the thing she said that hurt your feelings.

How about this - you tell all the other moms you know not be so hard on themselves about how hard it is to keep up with the house, but deep inside you are sure you are a horrible human being because YOU can't keep up?

It's ridiculous.

All that stinkin' thinkin' gets you nothing and nowhere, but it sure delights the enemy of your soul.

As a stinkin' thinker myself, I'm not exactly in a position to preach, except for I'm going to preach, sisters!

Look, what a way to distract, right? I mean, you could be thinking about an absolutely gorgeous plate of life-sustaining food, but you're distracted by that sugar. You are feeling sorry for yourself because you can't/shouldn't/whatever and are completely ignoring the fact that GOOD GRIEF you are opulently wealthy and can eat just about anything you want and it can all be good for you! What a gift!

Be thankful.

Or that friend? The one who loves you and oops isn't perfect? Did you ever say anything that came out differently from how you meant it? Or maybe you meant it and were just being thoughtless?


And your house... oh your house. Ugh. Houses are just, just... endless. An endless experiment proving entropy.

When you are lying on your deathbed, will you be saying, "If only I had spent more time cleaning my house!"? I think not.

Let it go.

Can we be more intentional about our thinking? How about this (the girlie version of Philippians 4:8)...


Whatever is
of good repute
worthy of praise


Dwell, sisters.

Live there. Live in the true. Live in the lovely.

Live there in your mind. Find the beauty, choose the pure, look toward what is right and good.

You choose it, girlfriend, only you. You want power? You and only you have power over what you think about.

If you feel like you can't control the thoughts? Get your head right into the good book. Crack that bible. Read. Read quiet, read loud, just read. Get the good in your head.

Get your thoughts off yourself. Get them onto God.

Seek His face.

Trust me, when you are looking in the face of Jesus all that other mess? Fades away.

Focus. Use the power you have to choose where your thought life goes. Go to the light, friends.

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