setting them up for success

I went to the bank to cash Christmas checks my kids got from their grandfather. The teller looked at me like I was crazy when I asked for each check to be broken down into certain, specific increments. Why complicate it that way? Because I wanted each child to have, readily available, the exact bills needed in order to tithe. They would do so anyway, but it would be much more complicated. Tim and I would be frantically trying to make change and come up with the necessary amounts ten minutes before church started. It would be chaos, so I decided to take things into my own hands and simplify the process.

Driving home, I was thinking about the ways in which we, as parents, try to equip our children for success. If we want our children to carry down their dirty laundry, we have to give them laundry baskets and a deadline. If we want our family to eat healthy, we have to have appropriate foods available, easy to get to, and already prepared. Sometimes I have to do similar things for myself. In order to make sure I will read and study the Bible, I have to put it in front of me. I moved a big soft chair into my office and spread out my lovely, shiny new concordance and my study Bibles. When they’re sitting on my shelf, I don’t remember to use them. But now, every time I walk into my office, I see before me a cozy, comfy spot that already has everything I need. All I have to do is sit down. I don’t do it often enough, but it’s all there for me when I am ready.

Just as we take care of our kids, God wants to take care of us, to give us every opportunity to succeed. He has already given us every single thing we need, as He’s done throughout time – He provided manna in the wilderness; He put a lamb in the bushes for Abraham to sacrifice; and He prepared a manger to receive a very special baby. And He instituted the dispensation of grace, knowing that we would never be able to meet all the requirements of the old laws – and declaring that we didn’t have to. Showing His wisdom, knowing our weaknesses, He took matters into His own hands. He stepped off His heavenly throne and came to us in the form of a tiny infant, then allowed those very same hands to be nailed to the cross. He rose again to show us nothing more is required. There is nothing else for us to do. It’s not about our ability to do the job. We can’t. But we don’t have to. He took the burden off of our shoulders and set everything
in place. Our part of the job is simple. All we have to do is say. “Thanks for your help, Daddy. I couldn’t do it without you.”

Not now

Not now, honey. Not yet. I know you want to drive, but you’re not old enough. I know you want to sit in the front seat, but if the airbag went off, it would crush you. I know you don’t want to buckle up and stay in your car seat, but I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you. I know you want to go to that party, but there aren’t going to be any adults and I don’t trust teenage boys alone with you. I know that cupcake looks good, Bobby, but it might have milk in it and would make you really, really sick.

Sometimes we ask God for things, and we feel sad because he won’t give us what we believe to be our heart’s desire. But maybe, just maybe, we aren’t ready. It’s not that He doesn’t know we want it. He’s doing it for our own good. The Lord takes care of us just as we’ve taken care of our children, guarding them from unnecessary danger, avoiding risk, doing whatever we can to protect them. Sometimes the thing your child wants is not inherently bad; it’s just wrong for that moment. Babies might put quarters into their mouths and choke; a six-year-old would buy a gumball and have fun playing with the machine; an older child would put it with several other quarters to buy a Coke.

How we handle things depends partly on our stage of development. How often are we simply not ready for what we ask for? Maybe instead of recklessly giving us what we want, God is waiting, possibly even leading us through a process to show us how to be ready. Helping us grow up. Teaching us how to use the gift we’re about to receive. I don’t know, and often we aren’t granted the explanation behind God’s answers. But one thing is for sure. He will answer us, but we’ll only get gifts that are age-appropriate.

Starving

My son forgets to eat. He does what most of us do not, and only eats when his body tells him he’s hungry. This is great, except for one thing: sometimes he can’t rely on his body. He can skip lunch, no matter what I pack him to eat, and when he comes home from school he still insists he isn’t hungry. The thing is, his behavior indicates otherwise. He’s grumpy, irritable, emotionally volatile. When I notice this behavior, I’ve learned that he needs to eat. Sometimes I have to practically force feed him, but inevitably he calms down, stabilizes, and soon is back to normal.

I have a friend who knows she’s hungry, but who doesn’t eat. She’s not anorexic, and it’s not about a diet. She hungers spiritually to belong to a church, to be fed on a regular basis. The only problem is, she doesn’t go to church. She knows why it’s important to be there; she understands the value of fellowship and corporate praise, but she’s had some bad experiences and doesn’t want to go. The thing is, she’s starving. It’s kind of like a person who got food poisoning, and no matter what, even though there’s nothing else to eat and it’s obvious to everyone else that the food in front of her is safe and edible, she won’t let herself try it. Maybe it’s the fear of going through that again. Maybe it’s simply a case of her body not telling her she’s hungry. Maybe it’s telling her and she won’t listen. But maybe, just maybe, she could realize that what made her sick was a piece of bad chicken and this other church is offering prime rib. It doesn’t have to be the same. It’s possible for the food in front of her to nourish her rather than make her sick. Maybe it will even do more than simply provide her with the nutrients necessary to survive. Perhaps it could renew her energy. Perhaps it could drastically improve her outlook on life.

Just like with my son, sometimes I have to be pushy. So that’s what I’m doing. Reminding her, because I love her and want to see her thrive. Because her spiritual health is suffering. Because maybe she doesn’t see what is obvious to outsiders. She is craving something, and she doesn’t have to deprive herself. Even if her family doesn’t want to eat with her. Whether she feasts or nibbles a tiny bit at a time. Either way, it’s good for her. I have heard that when someone is physically starving, if they go long enough without what they need, their body turns against them. It will reject the very thing necessary for it to survive. I pray that my friend will sit down at the table. At least open the menu. See what’s on it.

transformed

She was radiant. I always thought my friend was beautiful, not just on the inside but on the outside, too. But she didn’t think so. Today, you could tell she felt pretty. She felt good. At church she was the center of attention and everyone was lavishing genuine compliments on her. Although she’s never cared much about clothes, she tried something new. A friend helped her select several new outfits, and you could see a world of difference in the way she carried herself. She was transformed. It was all about feeling good in what she had on.

As Christians, we are robed in salvation. When we were baptized, we were dressed in heavenly robes. If we truly understood this, we wouldn’t mope around. We wouldn’t feel unattractive, uninteresting, or all alone. We would carry ourselves completely differently, heads held high, knowing that the robes we wear allow our inner beauty to shine forth. We may have been fairly pretty – or above-average handsome – before, but it’s not until we realize how much those garments do for us that we really shine.

When the natural isn't working

I haven’t written much lately. I just haven’t felt like it. I’ve been grumpy and impatient and tired. I don’t want to be around myself. Nobody else wants to, either. I’m finding myself closing in, not wanting to do things with friends. I’m worried about the economy, about making ends meet, about what’s going on in the world. (And since I typically live on Planet Kelly, a secluded alternative world unaffected by international news or current events, that’s saying something.) People tell me it’s understandable; I’m under a lot of stress. My mom has cancer; my old house has been on the market for 18 month with no offers; my workload is heavy and I have a lot of responsibility. On top of that, I’ve read a couple books lately that sparked a bad attitude about church. I love my church and I love God and there’s no reason in the world to stay away, but I’m finding myself pulling back. I’ve let a belligerent attitude seep into all areas of my life, and I find myself eschewing obligation, avoiding my duties, and resenting things that used to bring me joy. My attitude has rubbed off on some friends, or theirs have rubbed off on me, or a little of both, because every time I see anyone it seems to turn into a gripe session. So what’s going on?

God’s been trying to tell me, but I’ve been in such a funk I haven’t heard him. Until enough people told me in enough different ways that it finally got into my thick skull.

My pastor, Nathan, mentioned that when the natural isn’t working, we need to turn back to the supernatural. Of course. It’s so simple, but we make it complex. But the truth is, I’m not relying on God. I heard about a sermon in which the minister declared that sheep aren’t supposed to be pack animals. It’s not for us to carry. A scripture that is oft quoted to me pops to the surface: My yoke is easy and my burden is light. So if it’s heavy, I have to assume it’s either not of God, or I haven’t really handed it over to Him to carry for me. Cast all your cares upon the Lord, we sing in a worship song. And lastly, someone tonight quoted another Scripture: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts. Nothing works as long as we’re the ones doing the work, as long as we’re trusting in our own power and abilities, as long as we believe we are able to do it on our own. The minute I try to do it on my own, I’m withdrawing my trust from God. I’m not relying on Him for my daily bread. Manna is only good for that day; we can’t store it up or it will rot. He has new blessings waiting for us tomorrow, so there’s no reason not to take what is being offered today. And what he’s offering me today, and every day: to carry the weight of this world’s burdens. To lift them off my hunched shoulders and effortlessly hoist them onto His strong ones. To do the impossible, to do the tiresome, to do the weighty, boring, overwhelming. To do the large and small things both. To do the things I want to do, and the things I don’t want to do. To lend me His might, and His power, and His strength, and His kindness, so that I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. He has promised, and He is faithful.

Boring

I used to think of myself as fairly interesting. I enhanced my education with as much “extra” as possible, all the classes and I thought would be fun or beneficial but were not actually required. I was a graphic design major, but I did an undergraduate fellowship in mathematics. Worked in a photo lab. Campaigned for a political party. Designed theater posters. I traveled when I could. My summers during college were filled with different types of experiences – working as an arts & crafts counselor at a summer camp, squeezing in some extra classes at college, backpacking around Europe and then studying in England, interning at a cutting-edge ad agency.

But now? Now I look at my life and think how boring I’ve become. Inside, I still feel like the same person, but I sometimes worry how others might see me. I’m a mom to three children, which means I’m often filling a behind-the-scenes role of support, preparation, and practical things like driving and doing laundry. I’m a wife, which means that I willingly gave up my own identity and name to build something new with Tim, but I cannot now be separated from an identity shared with him. I’m a graphic designer, and I do work that is seen all over the country, but no one ever knows or cares who did it, just whether it does its intended marketing job or not. I have a bunch of lovely, dear friends for whom I would do anything, but the very nature of true friendship means that it cannot be all about me. I am only a good friend (or daughter/mother/wife) when I put aside all that I am and become one who helps bring out the best in someone else.

When I left college, my achievements were fairly impressive on paper, but inside, I never felt good enough. I was driven to perfection, and always aware of how far below that mark I was. Now, I beat myself up less often for my failings, and instead put most of my energy into becoming less self-absorbed and more involved with others. I’m fine with who I am, what I’ve done, and who I’ve become when I’m around the people I know, secure in their acceptance and love of me, but when someone who knew me “back then” comes along, I feel almost desperate to prove my success. Why does it matter, I wonder? Maybe it proves to me that I haven’t done as good a job as I would like to think, that I haven’t mastered the art of being humble, of selflessly nurturing and caring. Or maybe it pulls me out of this sheltered cocoon in which I live and reminds me of my competitive nature. Or maybe it’s simply the awareness that these people may not use the same standards to measure success and achievement, that they may not see the value in willingly serving others, in giving support versus receiving accolades. I sometimes fear that they might think I’ve sold out, given up, failed to achieve what I set out to attain.

Lord, help me to stay true to course – help me to continue to see my worth through your eyes. Give me the faith to renew my belief that I’m right where you want me to be, because I know there is no other place that I’d rather be than where I am with you right now.

Have I mentioned...

...that two of my pieces received Honorable Mention in the Writer's Digest 77th Annual Writing Competition? The letter informs me that "this year's contest attracted over 17,000 entries. Your success in the face of such formidable competition speaks highly of your writing talent, and should be a source of great pride as you continue in your writing career." Both pieces were entered in the Inspirational Writing category. One, fittingly enough, was called The Whole Box of Donuts and contained 5 or 6 of these short essays that are on my blog (ending with the one about the donuts, of course). And the other, titled The Changing Faces of an Unchanging God, consists of short "snapshots" of different moments that I've seen God throughout my life.

Several of you have believed in my writing ability for some time now; maybe this will be the thing that finally allows me to believe I could someday be more than just a wanna-be!

A parent’s legacy

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine…

(from Mercy Me’s “I Can Only Imagine”)

In my mind, envisioning heaven is not the hard part. The hardest part, I suspect, when thinking about dying, is leaving behind those you love. Feeling like you might be missing out on their lives. And thinking maybe you didn’t make enough of a difference, that maybe you won’t be missed after all. Maybe you aren’t necessary.

Since Mom was diagnosed with cancer, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of her legacy. What will remain when she’s not physically here. I can’t ease her fears, erase her sadness, or give a good reason why this had to happen to her. But I can promise her this: no matter what happens, her presence in my life will never be diminished. Do I want her here forever? Absolutely. But even when she is not, I will know what she thinks about things and what she would tell me to do. I will continue to want to buy her quirky gifts that are just perfect, that no one else would appreciate the way she does. And I will continue to enjoy the houseful of peculiar objects she’s given me over the years, knowing better than anyone else what I would love and what pleasure I get from things others would think are strange. I will cook from the recipes she wrote down for me when I went to college – and when I don’t, I’ll remember all the times I tried to avoid letting her know we were going out to eat yet again when we really should have been saving our money and watching our waistlines. I will see her reactions in my own reactions to situations. I will laugh, knowing what she would find funny, wishing I could call and tell her. I will notice the things in this world that are unjust, the people she would want to take under her wing and help in her own unique, thoughtful ways, and I will want to pick up where she left off. My kids will talk about her, just as they talk about my grandfather, who died before they were born. He’s not here, but he left a legacy of love and education and they admire him tremendously. They know him, even though they didn’t get to meet him.

A couple years ago, when my friend Nancy lost her dad, I wrote this to her: “You will always be your father’s daughter, and you can still give thanks for that every day of your life. He helped make you who you are, and because of that, he will never be gone. I’m glad to know you and to know a little of your dad through you.” Until the moment I wrote that, I hadn’t known that to be true. But it is. As long as I live, people will see my mother. Most women vehemently deny that they are anything like their mothers, but we know every one of the ways in which we are (even if we won’t admit it to our husbands). I never thought I'd say this, but I’m one of the lucky ones who can be proud of those things.

When Jesus was preparing to leave this earth, He didn’t want to suffer, but He knew there would be comfort for those He left behind. He knew He would always live inside the hearts of those who remained, both in those who walked beside Him on those dusty roads and those who would not be born for 2,000 years. He’s not gone, nor is He forgotten. We don’t see His physical body, but He remains visible (or should) through all of His children, all those who allow His wonderful traits to show in their lives. As long as we are present, all those around us will see and remember our Lord — seeing a little bit of Him in the way we talk, the things that make us smile, our mannerisms, our expressions, the way we love each other. They can know Him, because they know us.

I know that nothing will be the same without my mom here, and I’m hoping and praying for many, many more months with her. My heart is already broken — but our several-times-daily phone calls and spontaneous lunches and shopping trips are currently holding it together. But when that day comes, when my mom is face to face with the One who will remove all her sorrow and pain and sadness, when she is basking in the light, overcome with joy, not remembering that she had doubts about what it would be like, no longer caring about the questions she always thought she’d ask, experiencing an intensity of sweetness exponentially greater than the most amazing moments we’ve had with God here on this earth… on that day I will stand proud, holding onto the things she has made me, holding on to the parts of her that I want the world to continue to see… praying that God will shine through me, but knowing that when He does, He will also let those parts that are her remain. With Him, in Him, and in me. A part of me, forevermore.

Looking up

This past weekend, I attended a spiritual retreat. Several times a day we walked along a driveway between the conference center and chapel and dining hall. The path was several feet wide and made up of thick, chunky gravel. One side was deeper and harder to walk on; the gravel on the other side was worn down by traffic and was packed and smoother, but there were some ruts and potholes along the way. Several women discussed how precarious it was. We walked back and forth all weekend, heads down, careful not to step in a hole or twist an ankle by stepping on a large, loose rock.

On the third day, as we walked along the path for about the twentieth time, a woman beside me pointed and said, “Look at those trees! When did they change?” Lining that stretch of the path were several maple trees, and they were ablaze in the beautiful vibrant oranges and golds and reds of fall in the Midwest. The colors were so impossibly vivid and saturated against the clear blue sky. Wow. Had they been this way all along?

We spend much of our lives, I think, looking down. We don’t mean to, but we’re so concerned by the things that might trip us up. We watch for potholes and fear losing our balance. All our efforts go into spotting potential traps, not just for ourselves but for our friends, too, to keep them “safe.” And that’s OK. But when we do this, we sometimes forget to look up. If we did, we might be amazed by what we see. There are blessings all around us — some are small, but some are so breathtakingly beautiful that you have to stop walking for a moment to soak it in. Moments like these remind us that, although our walks are important and we don’t want to stumble along the way, there is beauty throughout the journey – if we’ll only look up and open our eyes. Who knows what blessings we’ve missed that have been there all along?

My soapbox

Welcome to my first ever (and likely last) political blog post. I want to say up front that I mean no offense, and I don’t expect most of you to agree with me, and I’m truly not doing this to open up a heated debate between sides. But it’s time for me to respond to the statement/accusation I encounter practically every day: “But… but you’re a Christian. You can’t be a Democrat!” I just want to state my case, just once ... just because I can.

To me, the very foundation of Christianity is the right to choose whether to accept or reject God. We choose when to come to Him, how to come to Him, how much of Him we will accept into our lives, how closely we will follow His Word, and if we will come to Him. The ultimate gentleman, He never forces us to receive Him. He could, you know, but He doesn’t. He loves us beyond anything we can fathom, yet He wants us come to Him because we want to, not because we have to. The New Testament teaches us that serving God is not about the law; it’s about the attitudes of our hearts. That’s how we find Him, that’s how He knows us. Throughout our whole lives, God gives us free will and then He roots for us to make the right choices.

So when I look at politics, I take the same approach. If God, creator and ruler of the universe, allows us free will to make choices – choices with eternal ramifications, the most important choices we could ever make – than who am I to make those choices for someone else? I cannot choose whether someone should be able to have an abortion. I cannot decide what someone can or cannot say or how they will express their freedoms. (If I do, they’re not freedoms.) I mustn’t declare that some people have rights over others, and I mustn’t judge that simply because someone lives in a state of sin (according to my standards, or even those of God), they do not deserve the fundamental rights the rest of us have. Christ died for all of us while we were yet sinners. We cannot regulate morality. Even the Lord did not do that. He offers guidelines; He gives us rules; He rewards us for following them. But it all boils down to individual choice. If we, as followers of Christ, will choose to operate within the freeing realm of His will, politics and party affiliations really become irrelevant. When we act right, there won’t be a need to regulate us.

I don’t believe I have the right to make crucial life decisions for someone else. But I do believe, rather than slinging mud and bashing those who disagree with me, I should put my focus into educating people. Teaching them about God. Showing them through my actions and by example that I genuinely care. Helping and counseling them to make Biblical choices. I am more likely to have an impact that way than by voting for a particular party. And I also think about this: who is more likely to effect change? Someone who’s never struggled, someone who shouts judgments at a woman who is deciding whether she can go through with an abortion … or someone who has experienced the same struggle, someone who can say with genuine emotion and empathy that she’s been there, and these are the consequences she’s experienced from the decision she made? I’d prefer, rather than taking it all into my own hands, to give God the chance to work through His imperfect people. As He has always done.

As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors. We are to be Jesus’ hands extended. To me, one way to do this is to feed, shelter, nurture, educate, protect, and nurse the sick and the poor and the underprivileged. We cannot decide certain people don't qualify for kindness, and we cannot take away opportunities simply because there are people who will abuse the system. In my mind, the Democratic party’s approach more closely embodies what we are to do as individual Christians and allows us the freedoms we are granted within our chosen faith.

And no matter the outcome, no matter who ends up in office, I will pray for our leaders’ wisdom and right choices. I will pray for compassion and peace and provision and blessings. And I will thank God daily for putting me in a place and time in which I am allowed to express my views and find my own ways to give glory to the Almighty God.

Petty theft

“She’s stealing my chalk!” Anna yelled, outraged. “What?” I ask. “What are you talking about?” “Some girl just walked by and stole my chalk!”

After colorfully decorating our whole sidewalk, my kids left a tray of chalk sitting in front of our house. Some girl (probably junior high age), walking with an adult, both of whom presumably know better, picked up the tray and took it with her. When Anna and I went out to check, the girl was a block away. She looked back and saw us watching her in disbelief, but she kept going, looking back every little bit but holding the tray in front of her so we couldn’t tell if she had it or not. The kids wanted to chase after her, but I said no, it’s their own fault for leaving the chalk where it didn’t belong.

Later, we discovered the tray – missing half its chalk, but at least we got some of it back. It was in the grass on the far side of a tree about a block from our house. My kids were still in shock. They couldn’t believe someone would take something of theirs. Even though they left it there, she should have known they didn’t want her to take it. They felt personally violated, and didn’t want to accept any of the responsibility for what happened.

How often do we blame someone else for what we’ve allowed that person to take from us? Satan is the author of confusion, and Jesus is the Prince of Peace. As soon as we stop watching, the enemy will try to steal what God has given us. If we suddenly notice our sense of peace is gone, we need to stop and think:What opportunity did we create for someone to come in and steal from us? What door did we leave open? Sometimes it’s not even that we actively did anything wrong. We didn’t open the door, but we didn’t lock it, either. Maybe we didn’t start a misunderstanding – but we also didn’t actively stop it. Maybe we allowed questionable behavior rather than taking a stand and making sure our friends understand our position on right and wrong. Perhaps we perpetuated a false assumption or an implied insinuation because we didn’t want to risk being judged once we declared where we stood on that issue.

When it comes right down to it, though, we’re here as ambassadors for Christ. We are to represent God’s holy standards to His people – and make sure all the credit for doing right is pointed back to Him. People watch us, you know, waiting for us to fail. They jump at the chance to expose us, because it makes them feel better about their own failings. Sure, we’ll mess up, probably over and over again. But when we do, we need to learn a very important lesson: don’t do it again. And never, ever leave our chalk in the middle of the sidewalk.

Meeting the family

Why is it so terrifying to take someone to meet your family for the first time? We tend to forget how charming our dad can be, or how gracious our mom is, and instead focus on the bad. Sure, Mom’s a great cook, but will they think her spaghetti sauce is just weird? Dad’s funny, but will they get his sense of humor? Will my sister tell the story of why I was called Grace through my teen years? Will my grandmother, an interesting but spunky woman, start spouting harsh opinions of my guest’s weight, religion, moral values, or marital status? What if I turn back into the ugly me, the temperamental one, the one I keep hidden from most everyone else but that my family knows so well how to provoke?

It’s easy to forget that, besides the quirks and flaws and downfalls, there’s a whole lot more someone else could notice. Kindness, funny stories, quirky traditions, a sense of belonging. Unconditional acceptance, and a whole lot of love. We tend not to notice the good traits — they’re easy to overlook when we’re being analytical and trying to see things through a stranger’s eyes — because they’re an inherent part of who we are. We don’t think about the fact that the person we’re inviting to dinner already (presumably) likes us, and therefore will also recognize some of our characteristics in our family. After all, that family is the source, the raw material, which helped form us.

Sometime, when I bring a guest to church, I find myself feeling this way about my church family. Not that I don’t like you all, because I do. In fact, I adore you. All of you. I like our worship, I like our relaxed structure, I like they way Nathan preaches and the way Gran plays the piano and the comfort of hearing people pray aloud all around me and the way we flock to the altar when someone approaches with a need. I feel completely, happily, utterly at home. But when I’m sitting beside someone new, I start to worry. What will they think? Will they decide our worship is weird? Will they jump if someone shouts out a “hallelujah?” Will they see me raise my hands and decide I’m a freak?

God chided me once as I prayed for a friend who was visiting. As I said, “I’ll stop worrying. I give this to you,” He replied, “It’s not yours to give.” He’s right. After all, this is ultimately His house, not mine. I don’t need to defend anyone, just keep on loving them like I always have. The endearing qualities I notice every day are not cancelled out simply because my family might be a tiny bit different than the family they grew up with. I need to relax. My friends will see the good things in my family that I’d like to think they’ve also noticed in me. So I need to sit back and relax. And wait for my Father’s hospitality to make my guest feel right at home.

Writing Prompt - Am I a Writer?

In response to this week's (give or take) writing prompt, so thoughtfully provided by the Gentleman Savant. The question (in its short form, because my response is so long no one will read it anyway, especially if I add 10 or 11 lines of questions): how do you write? What process do you use? And do you consider yourself to be a writer?

Am I a writer? Good question. Sure, I write, but is that enough?

I would propose that it is not the act of writing that makes one a writer so much as the act of seeing. For me, it is all about looking at an image or event – in life, in my head -- and writing in order to allow someone else to see the same picture. Maybe it’s because I’m also an artist, yet I’ve noticed my inclination is to render a scene with words rather than with paint. The tools have always been there, and I have always been able to construct a sentence and quickly put down thoughts. But it took a certain amount of maturity to discover that I had something to say. Whether anyone wants to read what I have to say is another question, which I’ll avoid in the interest of preserving my fragile writer’s ego (and using backwards logic, I suppose if I have a fragile writer’s ego, then I must, in fact, be a writer).

Writing, to me, begins with recognition. Recognition that there is something valuable, something funny, something heartwarming, something quirky, something insightful, something absurd or something ironic – whatever the adjective, that there is something worth preserving. In my younger days, I tried to hold onto those moments with a photograph, but as an adult, I’ve discovered things that cannot be captured that way. The way it felt to hold my toddler as she sat on my lap, stretching her chubby arms up to wrap backwards around my neck, fingers locked, trusting, tender, still, my arms wrapped all the way around her tiny chest, fighting the urge not to squeeze her as thoroughly and tightly as my emotion would dictate — the absolutely heart-wrenching sweetness of the moment. Or the poignant beauty and sadness, all wrapped into one gigantic wave of grief, standing beside the tiny grave of my friend’s infant daughter, four women bonded by friendship and pain and compassion, dark dresses fluttering in the gusts of wind, damp, tattered tissues clutched in our hands, wondering how Tisha will ever bear to pull herself off her knees, rise up off the wrinkled carpet of Astroturf covering the clods of dirt that will soon envelop her baby’s body in the dark earth. How is it possible to walk away from that place? Literally or figuratively?

It is moments like these that I have to write. Not because of any particular talent with my words, but because I am an observer. A translator. (Does anyone else feel that way?) If I can ever take the poetic beauty I see in my mind and translate that into language that will evoke the same ideas in another person’s mind – then, only then, will I be able to call myself a writer without feeling a bit like an imposter.

When I read Stephen King’s book on writing, he said something along the lines of this: develop your characters, really figure out who they are, put them smack dab in the middle of a situation, and then write them out of it. I guess that’s sort of what I do, even though I write non-fiction. Know where I’m starting, and then write, waiting to see where I end up. Looking for truth. Insight. Resolution. I can write just about anywhere, noisy or quiet – in the coffee shop, listening in on other people; on the couch in the living room with feet up and laptop propped on my lap; sitting upright in front of the 30” monitor in my office; or by hand in my journal. Process: pen held between my teeth (I bite down when I concentrate, sometimes hard enough to split the barrel down the middle — but it also keeps me from eating the whole box of donuts I write about), general direction or outline already roughly worked out in my head before starting, and then just pour it out. I jot random thoughts and phrases at the bottom of the page until I’m ready for them. Writing by hand is fun for me because it forces me to edit as I go, but on the computer, I love to play around with the words, sounds, paragraphs, order, structure, etc. I remember the first paper I ever wrote on a computer, and it was like there was angel light projected from the heavens, shining down on that little mechanical box... so many choices, so many possibilities. No more retyping a whole page just to change two words. Ahh, the excitement of it all…

Or maybe I’m just a geek.

A geek who juggles the schedules of three kids, a husband, and her own clients. So I have never been in control of when or where I write… but for me, writing is my “me time.” I’m not official enough to justify setting aside specific times to write. I just take what I can get. And hope that someday people will take me seriously enough that I can call myself a writer without feeling the need to write nearly 1,000 words to justify it. (Is anyone out there still reading? Which makes me wonder… if a tree falls in the woods… if no one reads it, am I still a writer? Yeah, but probably not a very good one.)

Spiritual Nutrition

This past summer, my family went on a diet. Or, more accurately, made a lifestyle change. We started counting calories, but the key was learning correct portion sizes. For spaghetti, that is a cup. For vegetables, a half cup. It’s not enough to simply guess, because we will usually take more than we’re supposed to have. We think it doesn’t hurt to cheat a little. After a while you do learn how to estimate the serving size visually, but it’s important to continue to use measuring cups. Why? Because, over time, your perceptions change. One cup might expand to a cup and a half, because you aren’t paying close attention anymore, and you don’t have an accurate standard against which to measure. It’s been a while since you saw what a true cup looked like. An additional 25 calories isn’t much, but if you do that four times a day, you’ve consumed an extra 100 calories. You still think you’re dieting, and you wonder why your “diet” isn’t making a difference anymore.

How often have you heard someone order a salad, claiming to be eating healthy? It may have quality, nutritious ingredients in it, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Look at all that cheese, the meat, the high-fat dressing, and the enormous bowl it is in. I looked online before going to one of my favorite restaurants and discovered that my favorite salad there contains almost 1,000 calories – over 2/3 of my daily calorie intake. If I hadn’t looked at the store’s nutrition guide, I would have happily chosen it, and felt virtuous for doing so.

We can apply all these concepts spiritually, as well. Sometimes we get busy and stop reading the Word, stop studying, stop questioning – not thinking anything has changed. But over time, we find that our judgment has slipped a little. What we used to know to be wrong doesn’t seem quite as bad anymore. That harsh line between black and white, right and wrong, blurs to gray. It’s like the extra portions — without the Bible to provides a standard against which we can measure our actions, thoughts, and attitudes, we feed ourselves all kinds of unhealthy things. Things we might even think are nourishing. We need to read labels, consult the guidelines. God’s Word tells us, clearly, if something is good or bad. We never have to wonder if we’re following a fad that will change. It’s the eternal lifestyle plan. And it’s always the perfect size.

Before and After

A little over a year ago, we bought an old house. We could see the potential, but the amount of work involved was overwhelming at times. Before we started, I took tons of pictures – every room, every corner, every angle. Now it’s (more or less) finished and I love to show it off. The people who are the most impressed are the ones who saw it before, with the faded wallpaper and gold, threadbare carpet where the clean, bright colors and shiny wood now exist. Sure, it looks nice enough if you don’t know what we did, but it’s so much better if you understand the magnitude of the changes, the turmoil and trials and extent of the process. Maybe that’s why I keep a small photo album handy when showing the house to someone new.

Looking back at some intense situations I’ve experienced, I’ve noticed the spiritual parallel to my photo album of home repairs. I could have kept everything to myself, not telling my friends about it until the end, when I’d already come through it all and triumphed and achieved the “right” result. After all, isn’t the finished product all that matters?

No. If my friends didn’t know about the situations as they were happening, they could not have required me to remain accountable for my actions. But it’s not just about accountability. I also wanted them to see the drastic changes God was making in me. Without firsthand knowledge, they might not truly believe it. And they certainly wouldn’t know how huge they were. I’ve never been after praise for myself; if anything, it’s dreadfully humbling to let your friends know how badly you have failed. But I do want God to get the glory for His mighty works. I want people to know that He is good and He is faithful and He does answer prayer. So I’ve had to allow people to witness the whole painful process… which, rather than highlight my many faults, simply makes the end result that much more breathtaking. And God’s mercy and kindness that much more miraculous.

Writing Prompt - "Me Time"

The latest writing prompt from the Gentleman Savant is this: What do you do to give yourself a private moment, a moment of self-reflection, just for you? Do you take in a movie by yourself, or walk the dog in the park, or do you get away from it all with a big chocolate milkshake? How do you take your ‘me time’, as they call it?

Time to oneself is critical. Without it, one cannot rejuvenate, relax, or decipher the events of the world and of life. So I work very hard to find that time. I don't understand all those folks who say they have no time, who think their families or work or other commitments take precedence over their own mental stability. It's really very easy. This is what I do:

Wake up, shower, wake up my girls. Check e-mail and answer a few quickly. Apply styling products, quick application of makeup. Open web browser; go to weather.com to decide what to wear and if my kids need sweatshirts. Looking at my calendar, I quiz the kids on their after-school whereabouts. I make sure my husband is gone to work (he walked out the back door at 7:30, but is he really gone? is his car still out there?). Fix breakfast for my 7-year-old, throwing together a milk-free lunch while it cooks (he's allergic). The kids -- all three of them -- leave for their three respective schools, with their respective start times, backpacks and lunch boxes in hand. (I drive the youngest.) I check my e-mail for the second or third time, make my morning call to my mother, answer a call or two from friends wondering if I want to meet for coffee. (Sometimes I go, and if it's Tuesday, I stop halfway down the driveway and run back in to leave a check and a half-Spanish, half-English note for the cleaning lady.) I frantically finish up the two ads that clients forgot to tell me are due today, and the three urgent requests for revisions to a logo, a poster, and a flyer in multiple formats. I answer a call from a friend asking if I want to meet for lunch at Little Mexico, my favorite restaurant, and before I agree, I call my husband to see what his lunch plans are. Successfully coordinating that and selecting a meeting time of 11:30, I walk into the kitchen. Oops, forgot my daily meds (allergies and rather-early-onset arthritis). Take those, wipe down the kitchen counter. Walk back through the sunroom, turning off the TV and lights left on by the kid, grumbling at the mess they left. Answer six more e-mails from clients and read the latest Gentleman Savant post. Check the other 5 blogs I read regularly. Revise one of the ads again and send high-res version to publication. Respond to the latest "ding" announcing more e-mails. Quit the mail program so I won't be interrupted right away. Lock the front door on the way to the living room couch. Collapse in relief. Take a deep breath, which is interrupted by my husband honking his horn in our driveway since it's already time for lunch -- and bounce back up, totally rejuvenated from the quality time I just spent with myself.

Just ask anyone: Working from home allows you to relax, work in your pajamas, enjoy the silence and find peace. What a great opportunity for a professional who also happens to be a mother. Going into work at an office can be rather stressful, they say. I can see that. What with the time alone in the car during the commute, with no one arguing over radio stations or if someone is touching them. And that whole working-for-eight-hours-without-the-distractions-of-maintaining-a-household? How does one ever focus?

As for me, I find no need to make time for enriching, restoring activities. I get all the peace I could ever want right here at home.

(But when that doesn't work for me, I shut out the world and hole up in my funky, comfortable chair, the one with the big swirl pattern all over it, in the corner of the living room by the enormous front window. I open one of my beautiful journals, and hand-write page after page with blue fine-point Tul gel pen in careful handwriting on the lovely smooth lightly-lined pages, waiting for God to speak, waiting for Him to calm my soul and soothe my spirit and make me whole again. I write to discover what I believe. I think someone much more famous than I said that originally, but I find it to be a monumental, fundamental truth.)

Thursday Writing Prompt

In response to the latest Gentleman Savant Thursday Writing Prompt: What is the best compliment you’ve ever gotten in your entire life? Alternately (or in addition), tell us about the most backhanded or worst compliment you’ve ever received. Was it the fact that it came from a certain person that made it so good/bad? Or was it the culmination of events leading up to it? The world wants to know!

Apparently I have issues. Self-confidence issues. You might not know it to look at me. If you were around me, you'd think I think the world of myself. But apparently I rarely take a compliment at face value.

Take, for example, the time I was backpacking around Europe in college. I was young, thin, fairly physically fit. (It's from walking up all the stairs, I'm convinced. Could not the ancients have invented some kind of pulley elevator or the like? But I digress.) Somewhere in Italy, a man walks up to me, points to my calves, and asks if I'm a football player. He smiles, winks. He probably thinks I'm hot, this young, naive, redheaded American girl (because I think they think we're all rather easy. I digress again.). I run off to my boyfriend, devastated. I think he laughed. I'm humiliated, searching for a pair of long pants to cover my shamefully large calves. (Actually it was too hot for jeans, so I didn't actually change. But bear with me for the purposes of this story.) It takes a while for it to sink in that the only people who mean "football" when they say "football" are Americans; I'm picturing giant men with shoulder pads and helmets and thighs two feet across, but he's talking about soccer. Soccer players who are not huge, but who have lovely legs. It was probably a compliment. Muscles and all. But what I heard? Look at your big honkin' legs.

I forgot about that right away, and in my well-adjusted way moved on with my life. For 20 years now I've hidden my calves whenever possible. On the rare occasions I've exercised, I've avoided any heavy weights and worked on high reps with low weight to tone without adding bulk. (OK, so that was only three times, so it probably didn't matter much.) But I finally got over it... and I have proof. Just three weeks ago, when working with a trainer at our local gym, she sat me down at this weight machine. I don't know the name, but it's the one where you sit down and put your feet on this vertical platform in front, and push with all your might. Since she knows I don't work out, she tried to start me with 75 pounds. Oh, no, that would not do. I had to show off a little. I did 150 without flinching. She was shocked. Proud. I think I saw tears in the corners of her eyes. For once I was proud of these legs of mine. But I'll never change my mind about shoulder pads. Adding foam to increase the bulk of a woman's silhouette? Crazy. No, shoulder pads are most definitely not gonna happen. Not for this linebacker.

Luke Menard, Crawfordsville's American Idol

Crazy as it seems, I've been asked to model for an upcoming style show here in Crawfordsville. Not something I've been asked many times before, believe me. But they finally convinced me to do it when I found out all proceeds will go to benefit Luke Menard, the man from Crawfordsville who made it to the Top 16 on the most recent season of American Idol. I don't know him, but I'm so impressed with how he's dealing with his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and career. His faith is amazing.

So why am I telling you all this? I know people will not be attending because they want to see ME. But you can check out his blog, come to the style show (and see how crazy I let them go with my hair), pray for him and his family, or even donate online (info here). The fashion show is at the Holiday Inn here in town on Sept. 30th, from 11-1, and tickets can be purchased at Hair Express, 765-362-7837.

Living in the Midwest

I love the Midwest. Most people don’t understand that; they’re here not by choice so much as by circumstance. My father is an artist who paints realistic scenes in watercolor, so perhaps I’m predisposed to liking the subject matter. For years, though, I didn’t understand his fascination with Indiana. Where are the hills, the mountains, the oceans? I’ve seen those things, and they’re breathtaking. Each one is different; God created such variety. One beach may have fine white sand and salty blue skies; another thick, coarse tan sand whiskered with grass; another smooth pebbles and deep aquamarine water that almost glows from the intensity of its depths. What is there to see here?

It took a little bit of maturity to learn to appreciate what is around me. The land is not awe-inspiring; it is not dramatic. It has a peaceful kind of beauty, but for all its quiet reserve, once I was able to see it, it made my heart swell with a deep contentment. Winters, mostly gray and slushy, still hold beauty… the bluish-purple hue of shadows in the whiteness, broken by the rich gold of the broken corn stalks pushing through the crusty, sparkly snow. Fall is a riot of intense, deep, passionate colors, maple trees thrusting their orange-red leaves proudly against the flawless blue skies, the ground carpeted with countless variety, each leaf shaped and colored in its own unique way. Spring: the promise of new life, the hope and excitement, the bright greens competing with each other, purple and yellow flowers leaping up in excitement. And summer – the rich, almost obscene lushness, the damp overgrown grass and trees and plants displaying an indulgent abundance that makes me sigh with happiness.

There’s something genuine about it, something peaceful and unpretentious and true. It’s real and it’s reliable. It wraps me in its tender quiet and holds me tight – safe and secure and steadfast.

In life, it seems we gravitate towards the flashy things. When we dream, it’s not of the flat fields undulating gently in the breeze or the subtle play of light and shadow that defines the topography of the land. We dream of the dramatic peaks, the magnificent canyons, the enormous waters stretching around the curves of the earth, moving rhythmically and powerfully.

But sometimes we need to stop and notice the nuances of beauty God has put around us. Our blessings won’t always be obvious. Our spiritual growth may seem stagnant until we sit up and take notice. But we must learn to see the reality surrounding us and not waste time wishing for the extremes. It is only then, only when we love what we already have, that true contentment can be born.

A weed is a weed

I have allergies, I don’t like to get dirty, and I don’t particularly care for the heat. Those are just three of the many reasons why I don’t do much yard work. I love the saturated colors of the flowers gently swaying in the breeze, and the rich perfume that saturates the air, and thick, smooth green grass. I always notice beautiful landscaping elsewhere, but it takes a lot for me to do something about my own yard.

Two of my good friends, knowing this about me, decided to clean up and plant my front flowerbed for my birthday. Unusual purple flowers, cheerful yellow mums, no weeds, and a pretty, multi-colored stone now greet me when I come home. While they were working, I asked about a particular plant that grew straight up out of the ground cover. It was tall and ungainly but had a pretty flower. Was it a weed? Yes, I was told. Anything that grows where you don’t want it, no matter how pretty, is still a weed. It’s not about the plant itself; it’s about whether it belongs where it is.

I’ve been conversing lately with someone who hurt me many years ago. I didn’t realize how much anger and bitterness I harbored in my heart until confronted with it. I realized I needed to let it go, and since I did I’ve been overwhelmed by the feelings of healing and wholeness that replaced the ugliness. Until I found peace, I hadn’t been aware of its absence.

Turns out, although my hatred was there all along, I had mistaken it for something it wasn’t. I’d tried to convince myself that, though it wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t exactly offensive, so it didn’t have to go. I thought that I was doing the right things, acting as a Christian should: loving my friends and family, accepting myself, and being aware of my shortcomings. What I didn’t realize was that among the colorful blessings in my life, sown in the midst of the daylilies and irises and roses, was a big old honkin’ weed. Somehow, gently and quickly, God has pulled the hatred out of my heart, removed that bitter root and replanted. Now that ugly weed is no longer choking out the things that are supposed to grow there. All of the sunlight and nourishment I am given will be used to cultivate something beautiful.

I can’t wait to see my garden when it’s full-grown.

Wednesday Writing Prompt - Saved by the Brit

I've been reading blogs of some very talented women, and I decided to take a deep breath and throw my words out there, too. This is from Princess Nebraska: Tell a story of a time that 1) something that you were looking forward to turned out to be a disappointment or 2) something that you were dreading turned out to be something fantastic.

He was British. Twinkly blue eyes, studying at Cambridge, a camp counselor from the boy’s side. Did I mention his wonderful accent? We first kissed in the backseat of a friend’s car the night we met. We camped out once a week, on our precious nights off, in the tangled woods by the lake between our camps, rarely leaving the muggy, shaded privacy of our little green tent. We talked about everything and reveled in the differences between our cultures, schools, families, childhoods. He wrote me romantic notes on textured blue stationery with a chisel-point fountain pen, always signed “All my love, Michael.”

We left camp, frantic to spend every moment of the next two weeks together before he went back across the ocean. We tiptoed across the creaky floorboards of my parents’ old farmhouse, late at night, to whisper to each other. He spent two weeks with me as I settled back in to my dorm. Our months apart were filled with anguished longing. We didn’t yet have e-mail, and he didn’t like to talk on the phone, so I checked my mailbox anxiously for those blue envelopes. When they came, they would be stuffed full of 20 or 30 tidy pages of writing, the words as endearing as the elegant script. He sent my roommate money to surprise me red roses delivered with a hand-written card on Valentine’s Day. I mailed him pictures of myself wearing his rowing crew sweatshirt. I cried myself to sleep listening to tapes of Pachelbel’s Canon playing behind Mick’s voice, brokenly and beautifully telling me of his love.

Finally, the school year ended and I was ready to leave for my semester abroad. In preparation, I’d mailed an expensive airmail package, scented with perfume, containing champagne glasses. I bought a new outfit, stuffed my backpack full and triple-checked that I had my Eurail pass. My window seat was next to a father and son who didn’t believe in wearing deodorant. As the long flight neared its end, I shimmied past them, let out my breath, and went to the lavatory to make myself beautiful. I looked down in horror. My over-dyed indigo blue skirt had rubbed off all over me. My arms from the elbows down, my legs from the knees up, all were a dusky shade of navy. No amount of soap would change that. I cried, until I realized that he hasn’t seen me for 10 months and what color I am is probably the last thing he will notice.

I could hardly wait to disembark. I took a deep breath and walked out of the passageway, envisioning a passionate embrace like in the movies, looking anxiously for his spiked hair and blue eyes. I don’t see him. I walk, ever more frantically, between the gate and the luggage claim, pushing through the crowd, panicking because I'm in a foreign country and Mick isn't there. How could he not be here?

Suddenly, I see this short little man, – shorter than I remember, especially now that his hair is shaved and no longer spiked – dart past me, pushing a luggage cart. I whip around and grab his shirt. It’s Mick. He pecks me on the cheek, picks up my bag, and heads for the car, shouting over his shoulder that there are two international terminals and he went to the wrong one because the U.S. flights rarely come into this one. He drives the little car recklessly through winding roads to his mum’s house. I don’t think she likes me, but she tries. Mick chastises me for leaving some cooked carrots on my dinner plate, because it was very insulting to his mother. When we go up to his room, he chides me for not packing the champagne flutes better, because they shattered in transit, so he threw them away. He’d never mentioned their pets, and my allergies are extreme. So after a chaste good-night kiss and a few puffs on my inhaler, I still can’t breathe, so I spend the night sleeping in the hard ceramic bathtub, the only spot in the house not infused with cat dander.

I followed him around Europe for a month, submitting to his every whim, financing all the luxurious extras on which I insisted (like a scoop of gelato or Nutella to spread on our bread). I endured conversations in which he insulted our educational system in general and my abilities in particular, compared to the far superior British institutions. I stood meekly behind him as a Greek hotel owner berated him for stealing the drain plug from the sink. Of course, we also walked along the beaches at sunset, where he wrote “I love Kelly” in 3-foot letters in the sand. We took turns reading from the same novel, and shared a pair of headphones to listen to music. After we returned to England, I rode the bus between Oxford and Cambridge on weekends, foregoing the field trips planned by my instructor in favor of college parties and rowing crews and bike rides along the canal. Three months later we parted, another teary goodbye.

Back at school, peering day after day into an empty mailbox, I spun the combination over and over, hoping somehow I just couldn’t see the envelope for the reflection in the small glass window. Finally something was there, but it wasn’t the crisp blue envelope I expected. Instead, I found a flimsy airmail letter, written not in fountain pen but scribbled in ballpoint. No “all my love, Michael” at the end; instead, it is signed “Mick,” and the only other thing I saw before tears obscured my view was the opening line, “I don’t love you anymore, Kelly.”

He never wrote again.

It took months before I could think of him without crying. It took me years to be able to genuinely say I was grateful that he could see what I couldn’t. I needed a man who respected me, who thought of me as an intellectual equal. It sounded glamorous to move to Europe and marry a British Naval officer after he completed his studies in engineering, but would I have ever fit in among a class of people who would always see me as inferior, coarse – a vulgar American? Would I have been happy with an atheist, even with my immature, barely-formed Christian beliefs? Could I have truly married a man who was shorter than I? Would I have ever been able to become the woman I am today, the woman I have come to like, the woman who walks confidently and trusts in her mind and stands behind her choices and gladly gives and receives friendship and laughter and love?

When, out of the blue, Mick Googled me twenty years later, my heart pounded at the sight of his name in my Inbox. But then I gave thanks. Thanks that I didn’t quash down who I really was anymore in order to be liked by a man. Thanks that people out there believe enough in my brain, my words, and my thoughts to hire me. Thanks that God brought me back home and helped me find the church that helped me truly find Him. Thanks that He had given me the life I now have, with an adoring husband and three interesting, all very different kids. Thanks that I was given the opportunity to remember that part of my life and understand that I truly now had all I could ever want. Thanks that he had seen what I couldn’t. Thanks for this man who, not so graciously but nevertheless truly, saved me from that and allowed me to become me.

Waiting

My mom is undergoing chemotherapy. Or, more aptly, she is supposed to be getting chemo this week, but the doctor postponed her treatment by another week. A day or two before each round of therapy, she has to have blood work done to determine whether she is physically able to have the chemo. But this week, her white count was low. White blood cells are the ones that help you fight infection; without them, she is not strong enough to withstand the heavy drugs. She’s had a great attitude all along, but this gets her down like nothing else. She feels well physically and doesn’t want to wait around; she wants to take charge and do something.

It’s frustrating when you have to wait for something, whether with excited anticipation or simply a let’s-get-it-over-with attitude. We’re impatient by nature. So why is it that, when it comes to spiritual matters, we’re willing to sit and wait for that indefinable moment when we decide we’re finally ready to go out and work for God? We’ll wait for years. We wait for signs. I may not be talking to you, but I’m certainly speaking to myself. Pouring over my journals from the last several years, I’ve found there’s a recurring theme: waiting for God to fill me up. Waiting to be properly equipped. Waiting to feel what I believe in my heart. Waiting to understand my purpose. Waiting, waiting, waiting. The other night as I flipped through my Bible, I was stopped by this Scripture:

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 28:30-31)


He didn’t wait. He acted. Even when conditions weren’t ideal. Even when imprisoned and persecuted. He didn’t say that he just wasn’t feeling it, or that he needed to come across the right person, the one to whom he could connect, or that he’d do it if he ever got out of that place. No, he just did it. Jesus, too, went forth. He waited for only one thing: for the Holy Spirit to come upon Him. After His baptism, He went forth and began His ministry.

Why haven’t I? I need to reclaim my natural impatience and get out there. I don’t have doctors or anyone else telling me I can’t. All I need is the Holy Spirit, and it will always make me strong. Even if I’m scared, or tired, or nervous, or uncomfortable, God has already equipped me, and it’s time to move forward.

Looking the part

Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the LORD looks at the heart. ~1 Samuel 16:7 (NIV)

Recently I joined a fitness center. I bought shiny white running shoes and a couple sets of new workout clothes. My membership card hangs on my keychain. Sporty water bottles are half-empty all over my house. My family is exercising and discussing things like whether today is a strength-training day or a cardio day. Pilates tapes line our movie shelves. I’m trying to plan around things like yoga classes and personal trainer appointments. It’s crazy.

The thing is, even though I’m surrounded by all these trappings of fitness, even though I’ve started going to the gym and have learned about nutrition, calories, and stretching, I’m still not physically fit. I’m not an athlete; my muscles aren’t toned; it’s all I can do to get myself there and make myself keep going when it gets hard. Because of the objects around me, it may look like I exercise (if you look at my thighs, you’ll know better), but this is a whole new world to me. I have a trainer who knows what she’s doing, who’s already fit and healthy, but I haven’t yet begun to emulate her or learned how to do it on my own.

It’s a lot like Christianity. We can line our bookshelves with Bibles and books on spiritual growth and tell people we’re praying for them. We can hang Scripture plaques on our walls and listen to Christian music. We can go out to dinner on Sunday, dressed up, so everyone knows we went to church. We can surround ourselves with the paraphernalia of religion, but that doesn’t automatically make us Christians. To develop a closeness with God requires work. Training. Discipline. Focus. Exercise. Time. Especially time. Sure, if we have all the tools around us and experienced people to help us, it’s a lot easier, but—if the truth be told—we don’t need the stuff. We just need to buckle down and get to work. We need to dedicate ourselves to learning about the Lord. We need to flex our spiritual muscles by praying, studying, learning. Soon, it won’t seem like hard work. And before long, you’ll notice that you have become what you looked like you were all along.

Grace is just a phone call away

My grace is sufficient for thee. ~ 2 Corinthians 7:9

The name of my church is Grace & Mercy Ministries. When the person at the phone company entered the name into their system, though, they typed it as “Grace and Merci.” When I first noticed it, I was annoyed by the misspelling. But, after thinking about it one day, I realized the typo is perhaps even more appropriate than the original word would have been.

Grace, as you know, means “unmerited favor.” That means we are given a gift that we do not deserve. We are granted riches and blessings beyond our worth, beyond anything we could possibly earn. One dictionary defines grace as “any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon; a state of acceptance with God; enjoyment of the divine factor.” When we realize the enormity of this gift, the staggering depths of the love that is behind it, we can become overwhelmed. Words escape us as we bow under the weight of our gratitude. But in simple terms, we feel thankful. We want Him to know we appreciate what He has done for us. The word “merci,” in French, means “thank you.”

So every time I see the name on my Caller ID, I glance up at the heavens with a silent tribute. Thank you, my Lord. Merci.

Learning by doing

When I was in high school, I wanted to be an architect. It was a respected career; besides, I loved the angular handwriting with the slanted horizontal letter strokes. I did all I could to prepare: took extra math and drafting classes, and attended an intensive summer workshop in architecture. That clinched it for me – the atmosphere and professors and students were so very cool, and I wanted it so badly. So I applied to only one college, the third-highest-ranking college in the U.S. for architecture, because I was so sure of where I belonged. It was great… but as the focus became more real and less abstract, it became less fun for me, until finally I knew: it wasn’t for me. I had talents, but those weren’t my strongest ones. Still, it was hard to give up the image of myself I’d created, and, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t want people to think I had failed.

Eventually, I switched to graphic design. My whole life had prepared me – the hours doodling and coloring intricate design books because I was bored, the hand-drawn type, the “newspapers” I wrote and designed to send to my pen pals. I found that my time as an architecture student was rather valuable preparation. Learning to look at things in a different way, to find out-of-the-box solutions to a given problem? I learned that in the architecture program. The math? Helpful to me as I’ve run my own business these past 14 years. No matter how much we prepare for something, though, until we actually try it, we don’t know if we can do it. Would I be a better architect or designer? I didn’t know until I actually stepped into those roles.

I’ve always thought I had very strong faith, but I also knew it had never really been put to the test. Again, I prepared diligently: I spent years praying, learning the Word, and seeking the face and heart of God. The training was there, but not the practice. Now my mom has cancer, and I have to step into a whole new role and try it out. The problem? I don’t feel like I belong there, or that I’m strong enough to stand upright, or spiritual enough to find the good in this. I’m so afraid I don’t have what it takes to allow others to see God through me as my family walks this path. I’m fearful that my weakness will make everyone think I’ve been an imposter all this time, that I’m not really what they thought I was. My eloquent prayers have evaporated and I sit in silence, not knowing what to say. I’m scared.

But, even if, to my deep disappointment, I discover that my faith is not what I thought it would be, that I’m not very strong and I’m not very sure – even if that’s true – at least I can take comfort in knowing that all my preparation is not lost. It’s still there, deep down inside. The Word is written on my heart, if I’ll only dig down deep to find it. The Lord is leaning down, reaching out His gentle hands to hold me, if only I’ll grab on to Him. Though it’s hard to believe at this moment, I think I will find that I do, in fact, have the faith I always hoped was there. I didn’t believe that even as I started writing this, but I feel God assuring me now that I do. He has already filled me with His love and His hope and His faith; it’s not about my abilities at all anymore, just His. I just have to step forward into this new role, and believe. With Him, I can be anything He wants me to be. I can do anything. Even something I really don’t want to do. Even this.

Oxygen masks

I sat on board the plane, waiting for take-off. When the flight attendant started her safety spiel, I zoned out. It’s important stuff, I know, but I’ve heard it so many times I can’t seem to force myself to pay attention. I look down at my book, and glance up again as she demonstrates how to use the oxygen mask. If the plane loses pressure, the masks will drop out of a compartment above you. Tug gently on the mask to start the flow of oxygen. Secure your own mask before helping a child or elderly person sitting beside you.

That has always struck me as backwards. Shouldn’t we be selfless and help the needy first? After all, they may not know what to do, or they may be less able to follow the instructions. But, to be practical, if you don’t have air, you can’t help someone else. Neither one of you would be able to breathe. As a Christian, this idea seems particularly hard to justify. Aren’t we to help others? To give the coat off our backs to someone in need? To feed them, clothe them, pray for them and love them and show them God’s love? To put ourselves last, to be the least among our brethren? It seems obvious – we are never to help ourselves first.

But as soon as I had that thought, a still, small voice told me I was wrong. It’s just like the oxygen masks. Yes, of course we are to do for others, in all those many ways. But if we do not take care of ourselves, we aren’t much use to someone else. If we don’t feed ourselves with the word and fill our faith tanks with prayer, we have nothing inside us to give to the needy person next to us. God created us, and He breathed into us the breath of life. In John 20, it is written, “He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.” If I’m not nourished by the presence of God in my life, I have nothing helpful or valuable to give to the person beside me.

I wrote these words many weeks ago, and now the oxygen mask means a different thing to me. When I wrote, my world was not crashing down, I was not falling topsy-turvy through the sky, I was not gasping for air. My mom has been diagnosed with cancer, and I feel like I’m free-falling, waiting to crash. During this time, I have to remind myself of two things. One, that God will give me what I need to be able to breathe, to be able to survive. And two, it is the blessing of my loving friends and family beside me who, thank God, have kept their air tanks filled and are holding the mask to my face for me. When I can’t help myself, I find myself grateful beyond words to those who sit right next to me, holding me up.

An envelope full of leaves

One day, walking to the post office, I noticed the leaves were starting to turn colors. Fall is my favorite time of year, and I walked slowly, stopping to pick up the prettiest leaves, gently shuffling through the blanket of leaves, trying to uncover the most colorful and interesting ones. Bright green centers with orange and red edges, some all red – you know, the vivid-beyond-anything-you-can-imagine red/orange/pink color of maple leaves in all their fall glory. Each one is a work of art. At the time, Pastor Nathan was in Afghanistan, and I missed him so much. So, that day, I gathered a handful of the prettiest leaves, and when I got to the post office, I laid them between sheets of white paper, sealed them inside a cardboard envelope, and sent them off to Afghanistan. I figured by the time they got there, they’d be all brown and brittle, and it was likely Nathan would end up with an envelope full of crushed leaves. But I sent them anyway, because I love the colors so much it makes my heart hurt, and because when I studied overseas during college I missed seeing our version of autumn, and because it broke my heart to think of Nathan missing out on this beauty, this annual display of God’s splendor that takes our breath away every single time.

Of all the care packages and letters I sent, this is the one Nathan most often mentions. I don’t know why it affected him, but I know why I sent them. I missed him, and I wanted him to know I was thinking about him. And the colors were too beautiful not to share. I thought Nathan needed to see this quintessential part of life back home, and remember all the things he loved, and long to come home so strongly that nothing – no matter what, nothing – would keep him from returning.

I think this might explain why God gave us His Word. He loved us, and long before we had been born, He already longed for us to return to Him. He knew of the incredible beauty waiting for us and wanted to stir up a longing in our hearts that would sustain us. And, being the Creator of all, He knew intimately of the beauty of His home, and of His love, and of the beauty He placed within each of us. It was all too beautiful not to share. So He did.

Going back

I went to my daughter’s swim meet this weekend. It was held at my old high school, in the pool in which we swam in P.E. The whole building has changed around it – new wings added, new hallways and entrances and classrooms, but the pool is just the same. Sitting there looking around this place I didn’t even know I remembered, memories flooded in. The fear of having to jump off the diving board, feet first, going all the way to the bottom of the pool before I was allowed to resurface. The humiliation of wearing suits color-coded by size, stretched out in front by girls more “developed” than I, tied closed in back with a shoestring. P.E. teachers giving first aid demonstrations over there. My asthma making it hard to catch my breath; always swimming in the lane by the wall so I could stop if I had to.

With distance, sometimes we forget. But when we go back to a place from our past, emotions and feelings and events and details float up from the depths of our memory, fresh and strong and vivid. I was surprised at what I remembered after so long (gasp! It’s been 25 years!). Maybe we need to go back spiritually sometimes, too. Back to the place where we first found God (or where He found us). Back to the spot where we were when it happened. Back to the way we used to pray or worship. We need to remember how He got our attention. Why we fell in love with Him. What He said to us, and what we were doing when he said it. We need to let His love wash over us in waves. We need to flood our senses with the feeling of His presence. We need to dive right in, into the deep, deep waters of faith, without any fear. Without hesitation. Just jump right in.

I'm not a cat lover

I am not a cat person. Never have been. Never planned to be one. I could not have imagined any circumstances in which I would have any possible reason to be persuaded to be one. I just don’t like them – and, if that’s not enough, my whole body joins me in my resistance. I touch one, or get near one, or spend time in a car with someone else who held their cat before meeting me, and I sneeze and wheeze. My eyes itch and water and turn red. If I mistakenly touch a cat, even if I wash immediately, I get hives. Trust me, cats are just not my thing.

A few months ago, we moved into the house next door to my sister. They have an outside cat named Hudson. My daughter Anna adores him and carries him in her arms like a baby. She brushes him, feeds him, brings him cat toys. My husband stoops to pet him whenever he walks by. Did I ever touch Hudson myself? No. Did I pretend to like him? No. But, perversely, he took an instant liking to me – me over anyone else. It seems that is what most cats do.

So, anyway, as the weather turned colder, my family became worried about Hudson. Never mind that he has a thick coat of fur and that animals were designed by God to live outside. But finally I gave in to the pleading and allowed them to let Hudson into our laundry room, just inside the back door. He cannot go into the house because my allergies truly won’t permit that (however, try explaining that to a cat).

Many times this winter, I would notice Hudson looking through the door at me. He would stand on his hind legs and paw at the glass with an anxious look on his face. So, assuming he needed to be let out, I would go back there and open the back door. Hudson would sit down and look at me, or walk over to his food dish and nibble on a bite or two. He would then proceed to ignore me, pretending that the door is not being held wide open. Exasperated, I’d go back to whatever I was doing. A little later, I would notice him again, and go back to let him out. Again, he would ignore the door and come towards me, doing figure 8’s around my ankles or just looking at me. A friend of mine who IS a cat person explained it to me. Cats choose their humans (not the other way around). I am his human, and it’s an irreversible, irrevocable thing. It’s not because I wanted to be, or did anything to earn it. Not because I was nice to him or loved him first. It’s simply because he chose me. When I thought he wanted to go out, he really just wanted me to come spend time with him. She said her cat will only eat when she’s there watching him. It’s a sign of affection and attachment.

Although I hate to say it, I see a connection to God. He chose us, simply because He loves us, not because we first wanted Him, not because of anything we did for Him. It’s an unshakable thing (much more permanent than the affections of a feline, no matter how determined). Sometimes we feel Him calling to us and wonder what He wants. Perhaps he wants us to come to Him and just sit, quietly, together. And one of the millions of really great things about Jesus? He won’t make you itch or break out in hives. He might make you dance, though, or lift your hands in praise, or feel compassion on your neighbor or rethink the way you treat people. He might change your heart and mind and soul from the inside out, and transform you into someone you never thought or even dared hope you would be. But no matter what, he’ll never make you sneeze.

Sibling rivalry

I have three children. My oldest, Katie, was the center of everyone’s world for two and a half years. The first child. The first grandchild. Who needs TV? We would sit in a circle around her and marvel at the brilliant things she said, laugh at the funny things she did, and give her pretty much whatever she wanted. Then, when she was nearly 3, her sister Anna was born, and it rocked her world. Suddenly I was busy with the baby, and didn’t have time to focus exclusively on her. Anna became our focus for a while, because she was so little and cute, and had such curly hair and little shiny yellow boots and a feisty personality. Eventually, just as both girls were getting self-sufficient, along came Bobby. The first boy. Silly and chubby and then diagnosed with food allergies, we ended up paying a lot more attention to him than to the girls.

As parents, we don’t do it on purpose, but it seems to happen more than we want it to. We take care of whoever needs us most at the moment. We don’t want your kids to feel left out, and we don’t love them any less than you did before. We still know exactly where they are and what they’re doing and we’re just as interested in them. But we spend more time with the baby, whose needs are urgent, because he is helpless without us.

This could explain why sometimes, as “mature” Christians, we feel like God has left us. Or, not “left”, exactly, but that He just isn’t paying us as much attention as he used to. The love He has for us is just as strong as ever, and although we know that, we’re struck by moments of jealousy. We watch someone new to the faith, and see how closely they’re walking with the Lord, and we feel left out. Maybe it’s because we’re no longer babies; we’re children, teens, adults, even – spiritually. We’ve become a little more self-sufficient. We know how to feed ourselves the Word. We know who to hang out with, and who will be a bad influence. We think we know what He would tell us to do in a given situation, so sometimes we don’t even ask. We may not even go to Him unless we’re in trouble. When we can no longer fix things on our own, or a situation becomes dangerous, He’s the first one we call. But other times, we forget to even ask.

Consequently, sibling rivalry may flare up, with resentment and envy creating a wedge between us and the “babies” in the family. I think sometimes we just need to be reminded that we are loved just as much as ever, and that the little ones look up to their older brothers and sisters for direction.

God told us to come to him as little children. I always thought that meant to come innocently, openly, without doubts to cloud our faith. But perhaps it also means this: we can’t delude ourselves into believing we don’t need Him. He’s still our source and our provider. He’s our Creator and He adores us and marvels over every single step we take, every new thing we discover, and all the stages of our growth. When we venture out into the big, scary world, He still wants to hold our hand in His large, comforting one. He is still our loving Father, and He’s never left. Maybe He’s just waiting to hear us cry, “Daddy!” before He picks us up again and
cradles us in His lap.

The whole box of donuts

We used to always have donuts in our Sunday school class. Every week, we’d pass around the flat white boxes of Krispy Kremes and lick the icing flakes off our fingertips. Coffee and donuts. Yum. No better combination.

Once, not long after I started attending our church, I was talking to our pastor, Nathan. I had questions about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Everybody talked about it, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it. I didn’t understand it, and I thought possibly I’d be just fine without it. He asked me if I’d ever watched someone being offered donuts. Sure; every Sunday morning. What does he do? He looks through the box, carefully selecting the one he wants. He eats it, and enjoys it, and it is good. But, usually he will stop there. One is enough. It’s all he needs.

That’s how many Christians are about spiritual gifts, he told me. Someone finds God, and he thinks he’s only supposed to take a little bit and leave the rest for someone else. Even just a small bit is good, and sweet, and wonderful. Many are satisfied with that much. But Nathan told me that he wants the whole box. Jelly-filled, cinnamon twists, glazed, cake, cream-filled with maple icing and sprinkles. One just isn’t enough. He doesn’t just want to read the Word without living it. He doesn’t want to pray without the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want to read about the Apostles and not practice their acts. It’s all freely offered to us, and no matter how much of it we accept, there’s still an unending supply for anyone else who wants more. He wants it all. Me, too. Pass the donuts.

Just showing up



I am part owner of a crazy car called Lola. Last summer, my husband used a Sawz-all to turn the old Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight into a convertible, and my friends and I painted and glued and turned her into a crazy beach car. When a friend from church hosted a car show, we agreed to enter her, just for fun. (Lola’s kind of a show-off, anyway.)

To our great surprise, Lola received a trophy for best of show. It was a popular vote, and kids had stuffed the ballot box (or so we were told by some of the disgruntled serious car collectors who were there). My dad overheard some men at a meeting one night talking about the “car that isn’t even a real car,” and how it never should have been allowed to enter in the first place. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” became her motto. So this year, when the car show came around, my friends and I felt strongly that we should not enter Lola. She was created for fun, not to upset anyone, so we made other plans for that day and didn’t think twice about it.

But then a funny thing happened. Several people asked about Lola at the car show, so someone called my husband to ask him to bring the car down. He was very clear that we did not want to enter her, and was told that was fine. But when he got there, he was handed a trophy. The president of the car club felt bad about the way we’d been treated, and wanted to make it up to us. So, even without entering, Lola got her second trophy. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? We didn’t even pay an entry fee. We got something for nothing.

A similar thing happens with God. We didn’t pay the price. We don’t deserve it. Frankly, we don’t even belong in the same category. But, against all odds, he calls us. And when he does, we get blessed just for showing up.

Sitting in St. Patrick's Cathedral


I couldn’t wait to see it. I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, full of awe. Cool, hushed, and soothing, the very air inside this type of church feels holy. The ceiling arches reach hundreds of feet into the air, and the skill of the craftsmen who built them centuries ago is unparalleled. The builders of the great cathedrals went to great lengths (of time and expense) to lift up God. Intricate, elaborate stonework. Innovative engineering and design. They built these monuments to glorify God, and that’s what these buildings do.

I wandered around, looking into the chapels — ornately decorated, wrapped in flowers, gilded with gold. I saw the candles flickering in their amber glass holders, visual remembrances of individual prayers. I read the inscriptions on the plaques, and studied the stone reliefs depicting scenes from the crucifiction and resurrection. I could smell the lilies, left over from Easter, blanketing the altar. Finally, I sat in one of the pews.

I was overcome with a feeling of sadness, and I didn’t know why. Years ago, I would have thought this place felt holy. The cathedral is stunning. God is absolutely, unquestionably deserving of every bit of effort that went into building that place. No amount of glory is too great for Him. Yet tears began to stream down my face. I looked up and realized why: the tall, elegant spires seemed to be stretching to the sky in a vain attempt to reach Him. The carved stone, ceilings, arches, and ornaments appeared to be pushing Him farther away, rather than elevating Him. The magnitude of the decorated ceiling only emphasized the great distance between heaven and earth.

I realized how much my perception of God has changed over the years. Once I prayed to Him in a church slightly reminiscent of this one, knowing that way up high, somewhere, He was watching over me, and He was looking down as I prayed. Suddenly I slid out of my seat to kneel, thanking God for being so personal, so real, so touchable. We are so blessed to know Him, to feel Him, to see Him in our lives. To be certain that He is right here beside us, not some great distance away. Sometimes I think I don’t show Him the reverence that is due Him, and that I am almost too familiar with the King of the Universe. But Jesus came so we could see Him, know Him, touch Him. He came, wanting us to meet with Him face to face. So I bowed in that great stone church, in humble reverence and adoration, whispering words of gratitude and love to the One True God, who sat right there beside me.

I'm his favorite

I have one younger sister. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes us laugh, and depending on how we feel that day, we give him a different answer every time. We know he things we’re both. The thing is, my dad has found a way to always let each of us know we’re special to him. If you would ask my sister, she’d claim she’s his favorite. So would I.

One night at church, someone testified and said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, just for that moment, know that you are God’s favorite?” At the time, I was stumped, because I couldn’t imagine feeling that way, feeling as though I was that special to Him. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. But the thing is, we are that special to Him. He would do anything for us. When He prayed that this cup would pass from Him, when He suffered the agony of the beatings, when He carried His cross, and when He hung on it, dying, He was saying, “I love you the best. I would do this just for you, even if you were the only one on earth. You, my child, are my favorite.”

Christian show and tell

My son got off the bus one afternoon, telling me his friend doesn’t believe in God. Another little boy decided he can’t be friends with the boy who doesn’t believe, because, he said, “If I’m around someone that doesn’t believe, he could change my mind.” My son chose to still be the first boy’s friend, but couldn’t figure out what he could say to him that would convince him to believe otherwise.

I explained to Bobby that day that if his beliefs are strong, if he believes them with all his heart, he has nothing to worry about. Other people won’t change his mind. Maybe, in fact, he will end up changing theirs. “But what could I say to convince him?” Nothing, I said. Sometimes, if you do things right in your life, and treat people like you should, and give God credit for the good things in your life, they will see God through you and start to believe. He said, “But, Mom, if God didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist… I mean, it proves Genesis 1 and 1.” I wish it were so obvious and so simple for all of us.

It was a great opportunity for conversation with my child, but thoughts continue to run through my mind. How many Christians do what that one little boy wanted to do – separate themselves from the very folks who need them? We want to preach it but don’t realize how powerful it is to simply show it. So many Christians seem to want to remain apart from those who believe different things. But how will either of us ever grow if we don’t get to know each other? It is through interaction that we refine our beliefs, have a chance to share our faith, and learn to stand firm. We do need to stay fed spiritually to remain steadfast, and there are times that that can only be done in seclusion. But our wonderful Lord didn’t remain aloof. He walked out among people, and because of that interaction, many, many people believed.

Why do I know what I know to be true about God? Because someone showed me. Not by pointing out a scripture, not by singing well at church or holding up their hands as they prayed, not because I saw a big billboard telling me to believe or I’ll go to hell. But I know what I know because I have felt compassion. I have been treated with consideration. I have watched people give of themselves selflessly and without reservation, and I have seen their peace even during times of turmoil. It is true what the Scriptures say: blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe. I want that kind of faith. But I say, I have seen, and it helps me believe.

My favorite dessert

We’ve all been to weddings. White and lace and flowers and hope in the air. Some are elegant and elaborate; some are simple. Some brides and their families make the bouquets from silk flowers, some choose white roses, some select colorful bursts of spring flowers. Long, sleek red dresses, like celebrity evening gowns, may adorn the bridesmaids, or they may wear soft ruffly pastels. Tuxes — with tails or without. One attendant or twelve. Some wedding receptions consist of three-course catered dinners for hundreds of people with an instrumental quartet and dancing. Some are quiet gatherings of a handful of close friends and family. But the one thing you will consistently find at any wedding you attend is the wedding cake.

Occasionally, a bride will serve a lemon cake, or half chocolate and half white. Very rarely, you might find someone who breaks with tradition and has gourmet cheesecakes. But usually it’s the old stand-by: white cake with white icing. I think the reason for this is it’s safe. It’s tried and true. Everybody likes it, and we’ve come to expect it.

But one of the amazing things about our God is how personal He is. We’re told in the Bible that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, wanting to be let in, wanting to come in to His bride. That’s us. His beloved. He comes to each of us in a different way, and woos us based on our unique personalities and desires. If white cake is your favorite, He’s got that. But for some, it’s a caramely turtle cheesecake. Strawberry shortcake piled high with whipped cream. Sugar cream pie. Creme brulée. A Snickers bar. A box of donuts. Homemade ice cream that churned noisily for hours on the back porch in the July heat. Whatever it is, whatever is your heart’s deepest desire, that’s what Jesus has for you. He doesn’t always offer you what’s safe or expected. He created us as individuals with varied talents, tastes, and personalities. So it only stands to reason that when He first pursued me, He did it differently than when He first began chasing after you. We need to relish the differences and understand that there’s no need to be jealous of anyone else’s relationship with the Lord. He has given them just what they need. But if it’s not like the relationship you’ve developed with Him, don’t despair. Maybe instead of white cake, He’s busy baking up a quadruple chocolate cake with different flavors of fudge between the layers, and is waiting for just the right moment to surprise you with it. Open the door wide, and wait for Him to show up. It’s guaranteed that He will, and it will be sweeter than any wedding cake you’ve ever had before.

photo from istockphoto.com