Small Stories…and a Great God.

Can I share something with you? Let you in on a secret?

I have a very small story.

I have a husband who is a godly man, who loves me and our girls sacrificially and selflessly.

I have three beautiful daughters whose lives continually reflect to me the astonishing miracle of grace that I am the one who gets to be their mom.

But my story is very small.

I wake up, I sip on a cup of coffee, sometimes two, I spend time in God’s Word, I wake up my girls, I make breakfast, I make lunches, I fix more heads of hair than I can count, I take people to school, I do dishes, I clean the house, I pay bills or answer emails or sometimes sneak an hour or two away alone once or twice a week, I run errands, I drive carpool, I take people places like swimming or piano or ballet, I help with homework, I fix dinner, I do dishes again, I put people in pajamas, brush more heads of hair than I can count, I put people to bed, I read a page or two in a book before falling asleep myself, and then I wake up the next morning and do the whole thing over again.

But can I tell you something else?

I serve a very big God who is telling a Great Story.

And because of His mercy, He lets me be a part of that Story.

Jason and I went to a conference last weekend to listen and learn about the Bibleless peoples of the world and what the Spirit of God is doing all over the face of the earth to draw men, women, children, and entire people groups to Himself. Drawing them from darkness to light. From suffering, sickness, and sadness into mercy, joy, and hope. From having no language with which to know and be known by God to learning that God does, indeed, speak their language.

And He invites us to be a part of that Story through our giving, through our going, through our praying, and through our speaking on behalf of those 2000 people groups who have yet to have one word of the Only Word that saves.

This story of the Great Commission has been going on for the past 2000 years since Paul took up the baton by taking the message of the Gospel to the Gentiles, yet our generation is the first generation in the history of the world to be able to stand and see the finish line in sight. In the next ten years, ministries from all over the world are coming together to see that those last 2000 people groups have God’s Word in their heart language and hear the message of the Gospel – the message that Jesus is the Only One who Saves.
The culmination of this Story will be when a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people group, and tongue stands before the throne of God and the Lamb and cries out with a loud voice, “Salvation to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9-10). But until that day, we are to run hard with the Hope of the Gospel in our hearts and our earthly treasure in our hands, ready to give it to the building of the church of King Jesus here on the earth and to those who have yet to hear that He came, He died, He rose, and He waits to come again…until every last people group has heard.

Learning about that Story and our very small part in that Story lifted my head above the smallness of carpool, the smallness of my own story, and given me eternal perspective. Eternal Purpose. It put a weight of glory in my soul that far outweighs the trivial trip-ups and irritations of every day life.

I came back on Sunday night…content. All of a sudden, the size of my house, or the ugly brown carpet, or the lack of landscaping, or the gaps in my wardrobe, or the stresses of end of year scheduling, or the imperfections in my children, my family, and myself did not matter anymore.

God is doing awesome things all over the face of the world that no other generation in the history of the world has ever had the privilege of seeing or being a part of…and I am worried about carpool??

I don’t know where your stresses lie this week: maybe they are financial in nature, or relational. Maybe you feel that God has been sloughed off in a corner and you are not sure where to find Him, or your heart is consumed with the cares and worries of this world, and, like me, you need a good shot in the arm of the reality of eternity. But my encouragement to you is the same to me:

“Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient door,
That the King of Glory may come in!
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of Glory may come in!
Who is this King of Glory?
The Lord of Hosts,
He is the King of Glory.”
Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads from carpool, from a full schedule, a full life, from a sink full of dishes and a house full of little ones, from a desk full of papers and an inbox full of emails, from a life full of stresses, from a heart full of sickness and pain, from a past full of darkness and a present full of despair…and let the King of Glory in!

He stands at the door and knocks, He stands at the gate and pounds, He stands at the highest point of the city and calls…to be let IN.

And I can promise you this: you might still have a small story. But you will be LOST in the JOY of knowing a Great God who takes every story, especially the small ones, and weaves them into a great and glorious Story that spans the ages, spans continents and cultures, and culminates with all peoples before His throne worshipping Him.

Invite this King of Glory into your story. The pages of your life will never look the same.

(One more thing, if you want to learn more about the Bibleless peoples of the world and how you can be part of the Story of helping them to know Christ and be known, click here – www.theseedcompany.org – and check out what The Seed Company is doing in Bible translation all over the world.)

Lenten Lights

This week marks the halfway point in our journey through Lent. How is your journey going? Have you caved in on sweets yet? Surrendered to an urge to abandon your convictions that now seem like they were made so long ago (as in three weeks ago)?

I certainly have. I have been sorely tempted more than once to stuff one of my mom’s homemade cupcakes in my mouth in one fell swoop without feeling any remorse whatsoever about the decision.

What was the big deal about Lent anyway? And why in the world did I promise to forgo all of these delicious sweets?!

If you are in need of some Lenten Light to refresh and remind you of why you decided to take this journey in the first place, take heart from these words from one of my favorite authors and sojourner, Leanne Payne (it is a long quote, but well worth the read):

“Our journey in time is for the special ordering of our lives and passions. The church wisely has set aside a special time-within-time, the Lenten Season, for us to stop and look at our lives in view of eternity and to check our spiritual temperatures for any worldly virus our souls may have caught. It is not accidental that this period precedes Easter and prepares us for the Feasts of Christ’s resurrection and ascension that follow:
The grace of abstinence has shone forth,
banishing the darkness of demons.
The power of the Fast disciplines our minds.
Lent brings the cure to our crippling worldliness.

As Fr. Thomas Hopko writes, Lent stands as the great reminder that: ‘We are in exile. We are alienated and estranged from our true country.’

To forget God is the cause of all sins. To be unmindful of Zion is the source of all sorrows. To settle down in this fallen world, which is not God’s good creation but rather the Babylon which the wicked have made, is death to the soul.

Christians await the ‘holy city, new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,’ which is the true homeland of all human beings (Revelation 21:2)….They already live in it to the measure that they have discovered their authentic humanity made in God’s image and likeness in Christ.’

There is a dangerous forgetfulness on our part that this world is not our true and final home. This has been greatly exacerbated by the fact that our educational systems, drawing their theories from materialist philosophy, have claimed heaven to be off-limits and have taught us to look within ourselves and to this earth for the ultimate good. As C.S. Lewis points out, this progressive subjectivization has resulted in an ‘evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years….Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.’

I think this explains why we have such difficulty in understanding and celebrating Lent in beneficial ways. We are no longer sure deep down that we are exiles, that this is not the promised home. Therefore, we’ve accommodated ourselves to Babylon and then are overwhelmed at the sickness, fear, hatred, and violence we see here. It is a strange fact that we Christians continue to be unduly shocked and even overcome by the sight and the extent of the evil we discover in the world – as if we didn’t know it to be a fallen one.

Lent is to remind us that it is all too easy to settle in here, to warn us that perhaps a ‘crippling worldliness’ has indeed overtaken us.

‘See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving, heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.’ Hebrews 3:12-13

This is what the Lenten Scripture readings and teachings are meant to correct in us. They would teach us how we can live in the midst of Babylon and not be destroyed by it, even as Christ prayed: ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.’ John 17:15-16

The journey through life then, if made successfully, requires that we order our inner and outer lives. We do this through prayer, and keeping an effective listening prayer journal; those are the best means I can recommend. For those who have difficulty ordering all that an effective vocation has brought into their orbit, or for those who have grown dangerously passive, slothful spiritually and mentally, you may want to read – on your knees – Richard J. Foster’s books Celebration of Discipline and Freedom of Simplicty, or Godon MacDonald’s book Ordering Your Private World. It is essential that we order our lives and our ‘loves’ this side of glory – in time.

We are often said to be creatures of time, and that we are. But time too is a creature. It is created. It will not always be. This is, for me at least, an overwhelming concept to grapple with and keep before my eyes; it is one I cannot really ‘think’ of or fully grasp. But the truth of the matter is, God is outside of time, and not subject to it. Somedy we too will no longer be subject to time. Meanwhile in our pilgrimage, it is important to see time as gift, as treasure not to be squandered.”
Leanne Payne, “Restoring the Christian Hope of Heaven and Grace,” Restoring the Christian Soul

Leanne’s quote is a lot to process; but I walk away with two main things:

#1. Lent helps to “bring the cure to our crippling worldliness.” It is the antidote to the worldly virus that has infected our souls and helps us to remember this world is not our home. It also ushers in reminders of the Hope of Heaven, our true home.

#2. Lent helps us to order our gift of time rightly. We forget that time is a gift from God, a created thing that will not last forever. Part of our job as Christians is to order our time, to subject it to the rule and reign of Christ and use it to usher in the rule of His Kingdom, first in our own private lives and then in the differing spheres where He has placed us.

So this week and in the remaining weeks to come, if you are tempted to cram that cupcake down your throat…stop. Remember that in remembering Lent, you are doing a good thing. You are forcing your heart and mind to forgo the “sweetness” of the world for the sanctity of Heaven. And you are rightly ordering your time. You are pausing for a season each year to force your heart to yield to the Lordship of Christ, to remember the cross, remember His suffering, and remember your journey towards your true Home.

So don’t give up or give in halfway through. Keep on fasting. Keep on forgoing. For within the fast lies the freedom to turn our hearts towards a Great God and greater things.

Sweet Lorraine

My husband sent me a link to a short video this week called “Sweet Lorraine.” I don’t want to ruin the story line for you, so take a minute to watch, and then get back to me. Here is the link:

If you needed a kleenex (or two), you were not alone. Like Fred, I am not much of a singer or melody maker, especially when it comes to the tune of life. Lately, it seems, I’ve been more prone to squawking my way through my days instead of singing sweetly. I’ve been grumpy lately, disgruntled, short with my girls, and a bit down on life. Days have seemed long and dreary rather than airy and light. Which is unusual for me this time of year when everything is “springing” up around me. So that’s what got me about Fred’s story. It wasn’t so much his song or the melody he created, it was the studio and musicians who came in and brought his lyrics to life.

I know someone like that. He listens to my lyrics and the melody I am trying desperately (if altogether unsuccessfully) to sing, and takes it out of my imperfect hands and gives it…life. He takes my squawking and makes it singing.

The first person like that is my husband. More often than not, he takes the time to see beyond my outer, imperfect melody, and dubs over my mistakes with steadfast love. And lots of patience.

And in doing so, he has pointed me towards Someone who is perfect. No matter how imperfect my melody and my efforts here, He promises to one day make all things new. Give beauty for ashes. And add His professionalism, His perfectionism, to my imperfect praise.

I spend so much of my life worrying about not finishing well. Closing out the journey of life with a “Not so well done, half-hearted and unfaithful servant.” But what if the heart of Jesus is much more like Green Shoe Studio than my own faithfulness heart? What if King Jesus’ heart is to hear the longing behind my lyrics and to make it sweet? To dub the perfection of His voice over my imperfect one?

Thank you, Jason, for pointing me to the faithfulness of Jesus. Hopefully, one day, you can write a song about me called “Sweet Susannah,” although at the rate I am going, “Farewell, Susannah, I
Survived” may be more appropriate!

But thank you, most of all, King Jesus, for loving me despite myself. For taking my sour and making it sweet. For promising to look past the imperfections of my heart and dub it over with the faithfulness of Yours. I look so forward to the day when I can see You with my own eyes, hear Your Voice with my own ears, and listen to the melody You have created with my life.

The 300

Lent began yesterday. 40 days of fasting. 40 days of trial. 40 days of leanness for the body in exchange for fatness of soul.

What did you decide to do for Lent? Yes, you. The one sitting behind the computer screen. Because we don’t know how many more days we have on this earth to prepare for the great and coming day of the Lord; but we know we have this day. This Lent. This season of 40.

Which brings me to the 300. My small group has been studying the story of Gideon in the book of Judges. Gideon blew his trumpet to gather soldiers to fight against Israel’s enemy, the Midianites. And 32,000 men responded and said they would take up their weapons and fight.

But God told Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me’” (Judges 7:2).

So God whittled the mighty army down from 32,000…to 300. Yes, you read that correctly. 300. 300 soldiers to deliver Israel from approximately 130,000 Midianites. By every human estimate, those are terrible odds. And Gideon’s battle plan (see Judges 7:16-18) was a terrible plan. Unless you consider the fact that in God’s economy, less is more. Less is powerful. Less is lean. Because our less glorifies, beautifies, and magnifies God’s magnificent more.

Is there an area of life where you are lean right now? Perhaps it’s in your bank account. Or your health. Or your emotional energy or strength. I have a word for you, friend. Less is more. Especially when it comes to Lent.

The question I have for you is, “Are you ready?” Are you ready to be one of the 300? Growing up, it was Gideon who always impressed me. I instinctively thought God must have chosen him because of how mighty or devout or humble he was. Not so. When the Angel of God found him, he was hiding in the bottom of a winepress threshing wheat. He was way more of a wimp than a victor. A coward than a warrior. Which is precisely why God chose him. There is no way any of us could feasibly give Gideon the credit for winning such a mighty victory. The credit could only go to God.

But before this Spring, I had never before noticed or given any thought to the 300. But God chose them from among the 32,000 for two reasons:

#1. The Lord told Gideon, “Now therefore come, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is afraid and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead.’ So 22,000 people returned, but 10,000 remained” (Judges 7:3).

Think about this for a moment: Out of 32,000 men, 22,000 admitted they were afraid…and turned back. If you want to do great things for God, if you want to be ready for battle and alert for war in and out of season, take two little words to heart: Fear Not. Fear paralyzes us from being used by God. Fear of the future, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of our loved ones suffering, fear of pain, fear of the past, fear of loss of control, and the list goes on and on.

How do you get rid of fear and become ready for battle? Psalm 119:165 tells us, “Great peace have those who love Your law; nothing can make them stumble.” A deep-seated love of the Lord and a love of His Word roots and grounds us in peace, in reality, in eternity. A deep trust and faith in His Word removes all stumbling blocks and pitfalls along the way and obliterates all fears that makes us stumble. First and foremost, the 300 were men who did not fear the enemy around them because of the greatness of the One who had called them.

But the 10,000 were still too many. Israel could still take credit for the victory. So God thinned out the crowd once again:

#2: “So Gideon brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘You shall separate everyone who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, as well as everyone who kneels to drink.’ Now the number of those who lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was 300 men; but all the rest of the people kneeled to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, ‘I will deliver you with the 300…’” (Judges 7:5-7)

What was different about the 300? Catch this: they were alert. Just one valley away was an army of 130,000 Midianites ready to eat the Israelites for lunch. But 9,700 apparently weren’t aware of the nearness of their enemy. Or they didn’t care. Their desire to slake their thirst outweighed their sensitivity to the enemy.

But not the 300. They scooped water with the hands, brining it up to their mouth to drink so their eyes never had to leave the horizon. Their senses were on high alert; their physical needs were in submission to the bigger picture and the greater story going on around them.

What about you? Yes, you again. Sitting there behind your screen. If your physical senses were put up in a fight against your spiritual senses, which one would win? If your physical needs and desires were forced to submit to the bigger story going on in the heavenly realm around you, would they? Would your desire to eat physical food dominate over the desire to feed your spirit with the Word of God? Would your spiritual ears stay submissive to hearing the Voice of God even if other voices were chiming in? Voices that come from often times seemingly “good” sources? Would your spiritual eyes be able to see past the angry person in front of you and into their aching heart within?

This is what Lent is for, my friends. It is to hone us into the 300. Because I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be one of the 22,000 that walk away from the battle out of fear, nor do I want to be one of the remaining 9,700 that succumbs to slaking my physical thirst before remaining alert to the unseen story around me.

Go lean on sweets the next 40 days. Go slim on screen time, television time, entertainment, sports, or shopping. And go long on God. Go long on learning how to listen with your spirit, how to see with the eyes of your heart, how to taste and see that the Lord is good, how to smell the fragrance of the forgiveness of Christ instead of the stench of self, and how to use your hands to build up the Kingdom of God instead of destructively tearing down to the glory of self.

Go ahead and go lean. Be one of the 300. And take your place in a story where less is more, victory is certain, and all the glory goes to God.

Walking with Limps

Some days I want to throw in the towel. Not because I am tired of my life but because I am tired of my limps.

I am tired of the things that hang me up from my past. Tired of wrestling with the same old memories, the same old wounds, the same old words. I am tired of tripping on the same old shoelaces of my weaknesses and making those around me trip as well.

In the deepest part of my heart, I want to be big for God, bold for God, consecrated to God, do great things for God, but most days I can’t seem to shake the thought that I will always be stuck in the same old ruts because He only uses people who walk without limps.

So when I read this line from Ann Voskamp’s blog A Holy Experience, that my friend, Melissa, sent me, it stopped me long enough to pick up my proverbial towel and continue trudging on:

“Do whatever makes you a God-wrestler, that makes you push and press into Him, till He wrests your hip socket and you never walk the same. There are swaggers and there are talkers and there are pundits and cynics and megaphones, but there are annals that bear blatant testimony: The real leaders only limp….Never trust a leader who doesn’t limp. The Limpers lead you lower. Limp into service and prayer and limp under that cross you carry and you walk as the greatest.”

Never trust a leader who doesn’t limp…if that’s the case, then you can trust me. Truly. I have more wrenched more sockets from wrestling with the Lord than Jacob on his worst day. But if I will stop viewing my limps as things that keep me from greatness and start viewing them as the only things that press me in to true greatness, then perhaps I can learn to live with my limps.

For if the Kingdom of God was a classroom, the first and foremost rule would be: To become greater, you must go lower. Limp slower. Grow lesser. In fact, the Teacher Himself said it in Luke 9:23-24: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.”

What are your limps? Are they from your past? Do you feel some days that you will never be able to rise above its paralysis or pain? Never be able to overcome the un-dones or the re-dos? Never be able to shake off your sin or the sin of others?

Are your limps from your present? From fears you are facing, battles you are fighting, relationships you are fleeing? Are they from the races you are running and far too many miles logged on your running shoes?

My limps come from my past, they come from my present, and they come from fears of never measuring up in my future. But if my limps are the very things that make me lean on Jesus and look like Jesus, let go of myself and my pride and my expectations of myself, then maybe I can learn to live with my limps. Or, at the very least, not despise them quite so much.

Oh, Lord, let us embrace our limps. Let us embrace the things that make us less in the world’s eyes, in our own eyes, and press us hard into You. Let us go lower to get higher. Let us pick up our crosses, bear up under the weight of humility, and follow You. Because if following You means walking with a limp, then let us limp hard right behind You until we see You Face to face when all of our limps are healed, whole, and we made new.

Room for Hope

For the past two years, two angels have hovered above the dirt in our front pillar pot, announcing tidings of Joy and Peace to all passer-bys. But the two have always bothered me. Probably because I have three girls, and hey, let’s face it, girls care about this sort of thing. Three girls equals three angels in the pot, not two.

So this year I did my due diligence and ordered a third angel to stick in our pot, and Wednesday afternoon, Hope arrived. As I trooped back inside with Caroline in tow from adding Hope’s glad tidings to the other two, the significance of what I had done hit me. This Christmas, I added Hope. Stuck her in the pot. Dug her post down in the dirt. And allowed her to proclaim her glad tidings along with the other two. In the past several months, with news of job loss, news of cancer, news of death, and news of despair, Hope seemed a necessary addition to the entrance to our Home this year. She added a concrete reminder that the Hope of Immanuel’s coming trumps the arrival of anything else. Hope that because Jesus came, His Presence ushered in all that is real, all that is sacred, all that is worth fighting for, standing for, waiting for, believing for, and yes, even dying for.

I opened up an email this morning from a dear friend who is an advocate for women in persecuted places all over the world and watched a video from a link in the email. I wept through most of the it as I watched a young woman give her testimony of Hope. Hope that comes only when the Person of Jesus steps into your room, your cell, your home, your life. If you have a moment, click on the link and watch the video for yourself: http://www.bethel.tv/watch/1933/christinas-story/2013/12/07?session=897

But more importantly, invite Hope in this morning, this weekend, this week, this year. Stick her in your front pot. Hang her from your Christmas tree. Herald her news wherever you go in your words, your action, and your focus. Not only has Hope come, not only is Hope here in the present in the hearts of those who believe in the babe in the manger, but Hope is coming for all those who bend their hearts and their knees to King Jesus. Don’t waste any more time on despair. Plant the seeds of Hope that will today and one day bring an eternal harvest of Joy and Peace in the living Presence of our King.

Blackest Night

My husband and I visited the Frick Collection in New York two weekends ago. Cloistered on the Upper East Side of the city between 5th and 6th Avenue, right off of Central Park, The Frick is home, among other things, to a small collection of masterpieces of European paintings and sculptures. Housed in the New York City mansion built by Henry Clay Frick in the early 1900′s, the collection is displayed throughout the library and study, drawing room and gallery, and visitors have the privilege of viewing the paintings much as Mr. Frick did himself. Standing inches from a Rembrandt or Whistler or Turner in someone else’s living room is an amazing thing indeed, so I savored each minute in the collection, taking my time wandering from room to room, simply trying to absorb all the beauty and majesty around me.

The last time I was at at The Frick was in 1995, the summer after my graduation from high school. My mom took me to New York, just the two of us, and she indulged me by not only going to art museums to my heart’s content, but by listening to me talk about the paintings I loved and why I loved them with all the conviction, passion, and “wisdom” of an 18 year old’s heart. Thanks, mom.

It was interesting to me to wander around the museum this time, looking at the paintings with the eyes of a 37-year-old as opposed to the eyes of an 18-year-old. As an 18-year-old, I was captured by the Romantics, loved Renoir (I still do), and did not have much time to waste standing still enough to look at other people’s portraits. I wanted to see paintings of action, drama, and romance. But as a 37 year old, I couldn’t get enough of the portraits. I stared in the face of an aging Rembrandt whose face looked creased and marked by the crevices of time and sorrow. I stood and pondered at ceiling-to-floor portraits of women painted all of their finery, some sitting inside to show their sedateness while other posed outside with the wild wind whipping through their hair.

But the portrait that intrigued me the most was by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer and is called Girl with a Pearl Earring (c. 1665). The painting is on loan to The Frick and shows a young girl, head wrapped in the soft colors of a blue and yellow turban. Her body is angled away from the viewer but her head is turned back and her lips are parted, almost as if she is trying to say something to those on the other side of the frame. On her right ear, she wears a large pearl earring that hangs just above her collar. The translucence of her skin, the position of her head and her glance backwards, the parting of her lips, and the luminousness of her eyes all arrest your attention, compelling you to take a second look. But the most compelling part of the painting is the background. Nothing surrounds the young woman except a sea of black. I do not think I would have been able to articulate exactly what was so compelling about this nameless young woman and her beauty, but the commentator I was listening to on my viewer’s guide said it well. I had to rewind it at least 4 times to get down the whole sentence: “Vermeer’s decision to position his figure against a darkened, uninhibited background leaves us nowhere else to look but at the luminous young woman.”

His words were profound. They struck a cord deep within my soul, perhaps because of all the hard news we have received lately about suffering in the lives of friends and family. It is not the beauty of her dress or skin that make this young woman stand out. Nor is the mysterious expression of longing on her face. Nor is it her single pearl earring. It is the darkness surrounding her. The darkness is what forces us to notice the beauty of her face. It is the darkness that compels us to take notice of the brightness of her skin and countenance. And it is the darkness that causes the luminousness of the pearl to shine forth.

As much as we chafe against it, isn’t that what a background of darkness does to all of us? It forces us to stare at the person, consider what she is made of, and take into account her beauty, or lack thereof.

As an 18 year old, I wasn’t much concerned with my portrait. I wanted romance. And action. But now, now all I can think about is my portrait. My legacy. That which will be passed down to the generations who come after me. I am not concerned with perfection or outer beauty or my skin’s translucence, but what I do desire is for Christ within me, the hope of glory, to shine ever brighter within me when darkness is the background the artist has chosen.

So many women have modeled that for me this fall: Shannon, Kathe, Robin, Kristen, and Kathy.

Have you ever considered your portrait? Have you ever wondered how others perceive your face when darkness hits? If not, I suggest you do. Take a moment to consider…and to ask. Ask the Artist Himself to paint less of you and more of Him. More of the glory of the One who has come, who is Light in the presence of the greatest of darkness, who is God with us, Immanuel, even in the blackest night.

Nothing.

Are in a season of you life where you have…Nothing? Nothing left in opinions. Nothing left in answers. Nothing left in the emotional tank. Nothing left in energy. All that’s left is emotional weariness. The blankness beyond questioning. The weariness beyond walking where you can only stand still in your tracks and say, “I’ve got Nothing.”

That’s a bit where I’ve been. Walking in the land of Nothing. On Monday, I received the news that my third friend in four months has been diagnosed with cancer. All three friends are healthy. Strong. Young. Two of them each have three children, all of whom are under the age of 10. In a matter of days, I turn 37, and I thought one received news of this sort when turning 77. Or 67. But 37? Come on. This is the season of life when we are supposed to be attending birthday parties for each other’s children, not prayer sessions fighting for friend’s very lives.

So yesterday, I was feeling like I had a whole lot of Nothing. Nothing in my proverbial pockets. Nothing up my theological sleeves. Nothing left to say or to give or with which to encourage.

That’s when, out of the corner of my eye in a bookstore, I saw a stack of t-shirts neatly folded in their plastic sleeves. They were normal looking as far as t-shirts go, but it was the word on the front that grabbed my attention and caused me to look twice. It said: Nothing.

That’s it. Just the word “Nothing.” But right below it, it had more than a word; it had a promise that infused that word with meaning. It said: Romans 8:38.

Now I know that verse. I know it because seven years ago, I had a beloved cousin take his life, and that was the verse my God-fearing aunt clung to.

Romans 8:38 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message, says it this way: “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing – nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable – absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”

That infuses a new meaning into the word Nothing, doesn’t it? My Nothing has a bunch of brokenness behind it and empty pockets attached to it. But God’s Nothing has His love infused into its very core. His fullness behind it. His Promises bolstering it. And as only God can do, He takes our Nothing and turns it on His head. Instead of becoming a recipe for disaster, it becomes just one more way for Him to astound us with the richness of His love.

So that’s what I am clinging to today. Trust me, I still feel like I’ve got Nothing. And my friends have Nothing. But it’s a kind of Nothing that leaves no room for anything else but Jesus. It’s a kind of Nothing bolstered by the Arms of the Father wrapped around each person that loves and trusts Him. It’s a kind of Nothing that fills our pockets with radical, reckless promises of hope when all we see is weary death. It’s a kind of Nothing that pursues us with the radical grace of God and fills our pockets with the richness of His love when everything else around us is falling apart.

I’m banking on Nothing today. For my friends. For their families. And for me. What about you? Are you ready for Nothing? Then emblazon Romans 8:38 on your heart and mind, and hold onto your pockets so that they don’t burst. His Love is enough for all of us who say we’ve got Nothing…Nothing but Him.

The Table

My children have taught me many things about many different subjects, but one thing they have taught me a great deal about is the table. I never thought much about the table, or cooking, or food before I had children. I didn’t really care what was served at the table or how it got there as long as it was there. And don’t blame my mom – she tried to teach me, she really did. But she finally gave up after I almost burned the whole house down when I left a pot of broccoli on the stove because I didn’t want to put my book down. It not only blackened the broccoli, turning it to a crisp, but it scorched the entire stove top as well. Almost set the whole thing on fire. Who cares about broccoli, or anything for that matter, when you are a few chapters away from finishing Lloyd C. Douglas’ classic book The Robe ???

But then I had children. And while poor Jason subsisted on cowboy stew and frozen biscuits for the first five years of our marriage (sorry, babe), I knew browned beef mixed with cans of minestrone soup wouldn’t cut it for my toddler. So I set out to learn how to cook, much to my mother’s (and husband’s) relief. And if I may say so myself, I’ve done an ok job of it. I not a gourmet chef by any stretch of the imagination, nor am I that creative with the dishes that rotate off and on our table, but I have come a long way from canned soup and cowboy stew.

As a mother of three young children, many days, life seems to revolve around the table. Organizing meals, shopping for meals, preparing meals, forcing people to eat their meals, and then, finally, cleaning up the meals….only to start the whole process over the very next morning.

With as much thought and effort that I, and every mother out there, puts into what goes in front of our children, that is why it just galls me to no end to have to force people to eat. Threaten. Cajole. Give the evil eye. Wake up from a dead sleep (see the picture). Because in all honesty, it’s usually pretty darn good stuff.

While I can’t count on many things during my ever-shifting day-to-day routine, what I can count on is that at some point, I am going to have to threaten somebody to eat my food. To set the timer. Give a consequence. Battle it out over broccoli.

But at the core of my mother’s heart, what I really wish is that each of my children would learn to simply and gratefully receive the provision that’s been set before them. Because as Lizzie learned yesterday, eating eggs and toast at 7:15am when it is hot and fresh tastes much better than having to eat it at 4:15pm when everything is cold and soggy from sitting in the fridge all day. (By the way, that consequence was a stroke of pure genius. I think she literally licked her plate clean this morning without me having to say a thing.)

And I am pretty sure that is a lesson my Heavenly Father wants me to learn at His Table as well. Most mornings, I have to be cajoled out of my bed. Set my timer. Given the threat of no hot coffee. When all the while, a plate of the most delicious food has been set before me in the pages of Scripture in my study below. Nourishment awaits me in the discipline of prayer. Sweetness beckons me in the intimacy of relationship. And while many nights I go to bed with a heart heavy with burdens I cannot carry, the meal served to me when I awake is just what is needed on the table of my heart and in the course of the day ahead.

But the question is, why is it so hard for me to eat the meal? To regularly and gratefully pull up my place at the table? To eat while the food is fresh, hot, and ready? Why do I insist on skipping meals or taking my plate out of the fridge later when the food still provides sustenance but isn’t nearly as good as it would have been in the dawn of my day.

One of my greatest desires is to be a regular participant at the table of the Lord. To never miss a meal or a morsel. To appreciate and show gratitude for each and every course, each and every cup, each and every bite.

My God is a much more patient parent than I am. He doesn’t threaten, cajole, raise His Voice, or set the timer. He simply removes the plate. And then waits. Waits for me to run half-starved to the table where I frantically look for my place. And the amazing thing is, my place is always there. Still set. But wouldn’t the meal have been better freshly served? Eaten when I was still half-alive instead of half-dead? Take a lesson from Caroline, Lillian, and Lizzie: don’t waste time missing meals at the table. Pull up a chair. Grab a cup of coffee. Sit down, and eat. Savor every bite. Because the meal that’s been set before has been planned for the menu of your day and the state of your heart long before your eyes ever opened or your feet hit the floor. As a child of God, relish in your plate and in your place at His Table. It’s a meal worth eating every bite.

True Heart: Robin


This blog is a tough one for me to write. Not because I don’t love the subject (she’s my sister-in-law, after all). But because putting down onto paper how I really feel about Robin Ince has left me at a loss for words.

Watching someone you love walk through the valley of the shadow of death from the opposite side of the world is difficult. Because all you really want to do is give the person a hug. Just wrap your arms around them and let your tears mingle in real life rather than on the phone. And sometimes the ache of missing the person you love mingled with the pain of grief seems almost too much to bear.

But. And that’s a very necessary and important word here. But when you see the people you love struggle well, struggle for splendor and not just for sorrow, it makes the grief easier to bear.

And Robin and my brother Taylor have struggled well. The splendor radiating off of every stage of their sorrow has touched almost every continent of the world, and for that, I am grateful.

When they went in for an ultrasound at 10 weeks and were told that the baby’s leg was not developing past the thigh, something like cysts were forming around the stomach, and there were possible chromosomal issues, they wept. But they wept in hope, believing that the purposes God had for this child went beyond the suffering.

And when they went in three weeks later and found out that the leg still was not developing properly and that the cysts were actually life threatening, they wept again. But this time they wept in strength. It was a strength I could feel from this side of the Atlantic, washing in with the waves, pounding out the beat of the sovereignty and strength of a God who does not waste our suffering.

Robin wrote a blog that testified to this strength while they were waiting for the news from their next scan. If you want to read her post, you will be as blessed as I was. You can find it at www.taylorandrobin.blogspot.com/2013/09/fearfully-and-wonderfully-made.

Then came the final blow at 18 weeks of pregnancy. The little life they had loved and prayed for so fervently went to be with the Lord, and in His presence, was ultimately healed. For the second time, Robin had to go through the labor process with no reward of life at the end. (They lost their first child, Tristan, at 20 weeks in the womb, and she had to deliver her as well.)

But not once did I hear self-pity in Robin’s voice. Not once did I hear fear…or blame…or even anger. I did not hear the sorrow that leads to death, but only the sorrow that leads to life, rest, repentance, and joy (II Corinthians 7:10).

And that is why, only one of the many reasons why, I love Robin. Her life is not her own. It is lived for Another. And through her season of struggle, I saw that truth played out on an even deeper level in her life. I first saw it when she married my brother, Taylor, six years ago and willingly embraced the life of a pastor, a missionary, a student, and all of the hardships that lifestyle entails. I saw it when she moved to North Carolina and then back to Houston and then to Scotland where they now live. I saw it when she delivered their first child, Tristan, at 20 weeks and delivered her to the grave instead of into her arms. And I see it here. Now. Again. Standing as strong by the grave as she does in life.

That is why when I think of my sister-in-law, I think of a True Heart. A Heart that sings the song of life to the tune of Psalm 73:25-26: “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing that I desire on earth besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

While she was still pregnant and in the waiting process, I asked Robin a few questions about her definition of a True Heart:

My Question: What is your definition of a True Heart?

Robin’s Response: My definition comes from the words of Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

My Question: Looking back over your journey and walk with the Lord, what are things you did, perhaps unknowingly, that prepared you to walk through the trial you are now facing in the present?

Robin’s Response: Through the years, time spent studying and meditating on God’s Word, memorizing Scripture, and participating in Bible Studies like Waiting on the Lord and Beth Moore’s study, Breaking Free, have all helped tremendously. But most recently and profoundly, your teaching on Psalm 139 prepared my heart to walk through the trial with this baby.

(Side Note from Susannah: This past summer, the girls and I spent three weeks in Edinburgh with Taylor and Robin, and Robin and I led a Bible study together for women in her apartment complex on Psalm 139. We spent two weeks talking about all of the intimate, detailed ways God knows us and our children, beginning with our conception in the womb.)

While looking at Psalm 139, I had just started feeling pregnant and had no idea of what was to come with this baby, but the study was such a powerful reminder of how much care the Lord puts into knitting us together and writing our story. It was so comforting having this branded in my mind so close to the time we got our initial diagnosis for the baby.

Also, what has helped me develop a True Heart is by walking with the Lord and consciously working out my salvation with fear and trembling since middle school. Knowing what I believe and the One in whom I believe has helped to build my faith in a sovereign God. So in the midst of this trial, I am not plagued with asking the question of why – knowing that it is all for God’s glory and our sanctification is enough. I look forward to seeing the character and fruit this produces in our family.

Lastly, going through the loss of our first baby, Tristan Joy, helped to prepare my heart for the circumstances of this baby. The Lord used her life to prepare us that babies aren’t always healthy – we are not guaranteed to get to parent them here. This lessened the shock when we heard this baby’s initial diagnosis. Losing Tristan forced me to walk through such a deep valley of grief, but it also taught me how to press in to the Lord in ways that would not have happened without that loss. Ecclesiastes 11:5 has become an important verse to us because of Tristan and now this baby:

“As you do not know the pat of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.”

My Question: What is the greatest challenge to keeping a True Heart in the midst of the circumstances you are walking through?

Robin’s Response: The greatest challenge is not knowing the outcome. Will our baby make it to term? If he does, will he be healed completely or will he be born with a disability? How will this affect our family? How do we prepare Seth and Avery? Ourselves? I feel like if I knew what to expect I could start coping. But the Lord gently reminded me the other night after a precious friend prayed over us that He doesn’t want me to cope. He doesn’t want me just to survive this but to be refined by this. He wants to redeem this and for us to come out more joyful on the other side. And so I wait and trust – it’s all I can do.

My Question: Who, or what, inspires you to keep a True Heart to the Lord during this season?

Robin’s Response: Mostly, it is my family and friends who do not know the Lord. I want Him to receive glory from how we walk through this suffering and for our friends to see we can only survive this because of our relationship with the Lord. We want to see their salvation because of our story, our suffering, our Hope.

Also, our children inspire us to keep True Hearts as well. This will be the first major suffering they have seen us go through, and I want them to see how we lean on the Lord and walk through it (hopefully!) graciously. I pray that as they see us walking in the suffering of uncertainty, that they themselves will turn to the Lord in their own suffering down the road, whatever form that suffering may take.

Like I said in the beginning, I really love my sister-in-law. The soil of her heart has borne rich, ripe fruit from which many have tasted of the Lord’s sufficiency, goodness, and grace, not despite her suffering, but because of her suffering. Her heart gives me hope for my own heart – that if I will chose to walk closely with the Lord through suffering, believing in His Sovereignty, I too will be like that tree planted by water, that does not fear when heat comes, and whose leaves remain green nor cease to bear fruit, even in a year of drought (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Every time I hear Christy Nockel’s song, For Your Splendor, I think of Robin. So it seemed appropriate to end with those words instead of mine:

I’m so concerned with what I look like from the outside
And will I blossom into what You hope I’ll be
Yet You’re so patient just to help me see
The blooms come from a deeper seed
That You planted in me

Sometimes it’s hard to grow
When everybody’s watching
To have your heart pruned by the One who knows best
And though I’m bare and cold I know my season’s coming
And I’ll spring up in Your endless faithfulness

With my roots deep in You
I’ll grow the branch that bears the fruit
And though I’m small, I’ll still be standing in the storm
Cause I am planted by the river
By your streams of living water
And I’ll grow up strong and beautiful
All for Your splendor, Lord.

For Your Splendor, Christy Nockels

(Since writing this post a week ago, Taylor and Robin found out that their baby was a boy. They gave their Scottish boy a thoroughly Scottish name – William Lachlan Ince – William meaning “Will or Determination,” and Lachlan meaning “Light.” Yesterday, they buried William in a cemetery close to their house in Edinburgh, Scotland. The words on his tombstone read:

In Memory of

William Lachlan Ince
Son of Robin and Taylor
Brother of Tristan Joy, Seth, and Avery
October 13, 2013
Edinburgh, Scotland

Ecclesiastes 6:3-5

We look forward to a glorious reunion one day and smile knowing that William and his big sister, Tristan Joy are playing together at the feet of Jesus.)

Ince_Family_Edinburgh-6