Monday mornings crowd in on us like a rush. A rush of thoughts, responsibilities, commitments made and to-do’s to be checked off.
If I’m honest, sometimes I’m afraid to even get out of bed. The demands of the day and the week seem to be too much for my heart to handle.
But then I read this:
“Being in the world without being of the world.” These words summarize well the way Jesus speaks of the spiritual life. It is a life in which we are totally transformed by the Spirit of Love. Yet it is a life in which everything seems to remain the same….What is new is that we have moved from the many things to the Kingdom of God. What is new is that we are set free from the compulsions of our world and have set our hearts on the only necessary thing. What is new is that we no longer experience the many things, people, and events as endless causes for worry, but begin to experience them as the rich variety of ways in which God makes his presence known to us.” Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved
When the rush and demands of a Monday morning crash in upon my head and heart, vying for my peace, for my trust, for my confidence that God is enough and will be enough for all that is ahead, I am free to focus on just one thing: the Kingdom of God.
I am free to set aside the compulsions of my culture – compulsions to be enough, do enough, and have enough – and to focus on the one thing that matters and that cannot be taken away from me – the nearness of God in my life.
He isn’t my Father; He is my Father-with-me. He isn’t just an all powerful God; He is God-with-me. For me. Strengthening me. Guiding me. Leading me. Holding me. Steadying me. Focusing and directing me to look only at Him, allowing all other things to fade away.
Does anyone else need to hear this on a Monday morning at the beginning of a new year, a new season, a new day?
God is with you, and He is enough. You are free to set down the burdens of the day and shoulder the one thing that is needed – His presence.
May we have the confidence and courage to set our compulsions down and take up Jesus, the only one and the only thing who really matters, and who is necessary for all that we need.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
Two weeks ago, I shared a new tool I created called How to Turn Loss Into Gain. If you haven’t already seen it, click HERE to download.
I would encourage you over the next several weeks as the year draws to a close that you take some time to pause in a few moments of quiet and use this tool to help you process all of your losses that have accumulated throughout the year.
Because let’s face it: we have all endured loss this year. Lots of it. But hoping and praying for a new year to start and all of our loss to be erased isn’t realistic or even possible.
Loss doesn’t go away when we bury it, ignore it, or wish it away.
Loss is transformed as we honestly process it before the presence of a good God and a faithful Father.
And as we think, pray, and process through all of the loss, one thing remains clear. If 2020 has taught us one thing, it has taught us this: God alone is our stable, secure, all-satisfying treasure.
Period. That’s it.
The economy, money, and job security? Nope.
The reliability of our rhythms, routines, and schedules? Not a chance.
Our school systems and educational opportunities? Not that either.
Our kids’ after-school activities? Hah.
Face-to-face encounters with family members, friends, and people we hold dear? No way.
Oh, wait, our ability to meet on Sundays and gather together for worship? Not that either.
It’s crazy. In one single year, through one single pandemic, every single source of stability and security went up in flames and left many of us floundering in the process.
But through it all, God has remained stable. Every morning when I’ve woken up, He’s still been there. Every time I’ve opened His Word, poured over His promises, prayed and asked for His Presence, He’s come. Without a mask, without conditions, without social distancing, God has been there through it all.
God hasn’t secured all of my circumstances; in fact, some of them still remain pretty shaky. But God Himself has remained secure even when my circumstances have not.
And isn’t that the real treasure? Isn’t that the goodness and the gift we have all been hungering and aching for?
Deep down, buried underneath our desire for stable circumstances is our desire for a stable God who uses all of our circumstances for our good and His glory.
You can’t beat that kind of a deal.
But here’s where I get stuck.
I still want my treasure and my security to be the thing I’m holding onto so tightly rather than God.
I try to demand security and success from things that just aren’t stable. Things like people and friendships and job security and bank statements and my hormonal teenage daughters’ attitudes and outlooks on life. Things like school schedules and school days and after-school-sports and activities. Things like church services and ministry opportunities and gatherings for worship and prayer.
While many of the things on my list are good things, they aren’t things that are fault-proof and immune from instability.
There is a deep crack that runs through everything, whether we can see it or not. Sometimes it takes an earthquake to realize the fault line is there buried beneath the surface as the structures you always thought were stable come tumbling down around you. But it wasn’t that the structures were ever really that stable; the fault line was always there. We just couldn’t see it.
The only stable one is God.
That’s because He is the only thing and the only one in this world without the fault. Without the crack. He alone stands apart from the curse and the crevice of sin that shook the foundation of this world in Genesis 3 when everything fell apart.
That’s why in Matthew 11:28, Jesus says, “Come to Me.” Come to Me. Because coming or going to anything else is like building your house on the San Andreas Fault and just crossing your fingers and hoping like crazy when an earthquake comes, your house will be the only thing left standing.
Spoiler alert: it won’t.
2020 has shown us that.
But 2020 has also shown us a God who, in His severe mercy, sometimes allows the earthquakes to come. He allows us to tremble, crack, and even fall so that we will move the foundation of our hearts from a fault line to Him, our only stable, secure source.
A process that has sustained me through this year is a way of praying I started when we brought our youngest daughter home from China. During those first few years we had her home, every morning, I woke up a wreck. And every morning, I would sit down with my cup of coffee, my journal, and my Bible, and start writing and praying my way through the Psalms. During that season, I was forced to deal with places in my heart where I had built on a fault line instead of the steady, secure presence of the Lord.
Over the course of several years, God moved from me from insecure to secure. From unstable to stable. Not because I changed. But because where I went to for my security changed.
I stopped going to my people, my parents, my friends, my kids, and spouse, and most significantly, I stopped going to myself, and I started going to God.
Because I couldn’t hold it together anymore, I started going to the One who held me. And once I did, He started building my broken heart back together.
If you are in the same position today, I am holding out hope for you. This is not hope or healing that comes quickly, easily, or magically. It comes slowly, quietly, purposefully, and deliberately as you commit to praying and processing your life before the face of God.
There are six steps in processing and prayer I used and still use to this day:
- Get Real.
- Root It Out.
Get Real – I set my timer for five minutes, and I get real before the face of God. During those five minutes (and sometimes it stretches to ten), I word vomit everything that I have been holding in from the day before. I admit who I really am, what I really feel like, who has hurt me, and how I have hurt others. Sometimes my pen doesn’t even lift off of the page. My sentences are strung together word after word and line after line and the only one who can really understand or know my thoughts is God alone.
Repent – Once I’ve gotten everything off of my chest, I repent. I name my sin as sin and I call the evil in my life for what it is. I cry out to God and ask Him to deliver me and heal me from the separation and hurt my sin has caused in myself and others. If someone has sinned against me, I use this time to name that sin as well but then to forgive and leave the person and the offense in the hands of God, hands much more capable than mine.
Root It Out – This step is the game changer for me: I then take a few moments to process and think through what led me to my sinful or stressful behavior in the first place. Behind every sinful, fearful, angry, disdainful, lustful, hurtful thought, action, or attitude is a lie I have been believing about who God is or what He can do. Because of this, I have to root out the lies I have been believing about the character of God and people or things I have looked to secure my footing instead of God Himself. Many times, my sin is a recurring pattern in my life, not just a one time offense. So stopping to think through, Why did I say what I did? or Why am I so envious? or Why was I so quick to take offense? or Why can I not forgive? or Why did I react with so much anger? is huge. This is what moves me from staying stuck to freedom on the other side.
Replace – Next, I replace the lie I have believed with the truth. I diligently and actively search God’s Word and take the truth and the promises that He shows me and begin to apply them to the beliefs in my heart and head. I think through the implications for His goodness and character in my life, and I stop agreeing with the voice of the enemy who condemns and accuses me. I start to actively agree with the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ who speaks to me through His Spirit and His Word, who forgives me and pardons me, who loves me and covers me, and who restores and directs me down path of right relationship with Him and with others for His Name’s sake.
Release – Then I release my day into God’s capable hands. Sometimes this looks like sitting quietly for five minutes and thinking through a verse in Scripture word by word or line by line. While I pray and think through the words, I release worry, fear, or shame, and receive God’s forgiveness, mercy, and steadfast love. Sometimes this looks like getting down on my knees or sitting with my hands, palms facing down, to release or surrender specific people and events in my day to the Lord. If certain emotions of fear or stress pop back up during my day, I can go back to those few minutes in the morning and remember, “Stop. I don’t have to worry, I don’t have to stress, and I don’t have to fear. I have already released this into God’s capable hands and He’s got this. To try to pick it back up again is trying to carry something He alone can carry.”
Receive – Finally, I receive. I receive the reminder that the Spirit of God is with me for every step of the journey ahead. Sometimes I do a slow breathing exercise for 1-3 minutes of breathing in for four seconds and then exhaling slowly for eight seconds. While breathing, I focus on a particular word or verse God has used to speak to me during my time in prayer and His Word. Sometimes this looks like turning my palms up to receive the reminder that the Holy Spirit is with me, and I am not alone. The life I live is lived by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20). I am not able to believe or live out His promises in my own strength. I am not able to build the foundation of my life on Him alone without the help of His Spirit. I do all those things through Another who lives in me. And I must continually remind myself of this and position my heart and body in such a way that receives the life and help He has to give.
Does this process take time in my day? Yes.
Does this process take time before I see consistent change in my own life? Yes.
But let me tell you something: it works.
It works not because I gradually become a better person but because the foundation of my heart is moved to rest upon the only stable, secure source that exists. I grow more stable, more secure, more confident, and more at peace because my heart is rooted in an unshakeable God.
Be on the lookout in the next two weeks for a new downloadable PDF to help you with this process. You can subscribe by clicking HERE to have this tool delivered straight to your inbox, or you can check back on my website under Free Tools in two weeks.
But for now, set a timer for five minutes each day, and give yourself permission to get real about your day, about your year, about your losses.
Start to immerse yourself in Scripture (the Psalms are a great place to start) and root out the lies you have been believing about who God is and what He can do.
Start by repenting of your sin and unstable ways as God shows them to you.
Start replacing the lies with the truth of God’s goodness, power, and desire to work on your behalf.
And finally, start to receive. Receive the power of the Holy Spirit in your life (John 20:22) to help you live out your identify as a fully loved, stable and secure child of God.
2020 is almost in the past, but God’s goodness, love, and power to redeem is what’s waiting in the future.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram, @baker.susannah.
It’s been a minute since I’ve posted a blog. Actually, it’s been a month. A long, hot, August month to be exact.
But I’ve found I need to pause in the middle of the summer in order to have enough breath in my lungs to exhale throughout the fall.
The odd thing has been when I stepped back into “normal” – normal schedule, normal fall, normal start-of-school, normal pace of after-school activities – nothing is “normal” anymore. And I’ve been left floundering, a little uncertain as to how to walk into this new season.
I know what “normal” fall looks like, but I don’t know what this fall looks like. This particular fall with school delays and the looming possibility of school closures. This particular fall with mask requirements and a fight-to-the-death presidential election ahead. This particular fall with some things open and some things still closed. This particular fall with so much uncertainty and waiting still fogging the air around us when all we want is “normal” again.
Or do we?
Last Sunday, I stepped back into our church to worship in person again for the first time since March. March. But while I was back in my normal worship setting, I wasn’t the same, normal person anymore. The person who stepped back into the worship center in August is different than the person who worshipped there in March. I’m humbled by my frailties, more aware of my needs, more hungry for authentic fellowship, more desirous of rest, deep rest, than constant, hurried busyness and striving. I’m more aware of my sin and tendencies towards sin, but I’m also more aware of God’s desire to give grace. I’m more confident of my place at His table; I’m more confident of the meal of His broken body and poured out blood that is consistently set before me; and I’m hungrier and more aware of wanting to offer the same meal of mercy and grace that I’ve tasted to others.
So the real answer is “No. I don’t ever want to go back to ‘normal’ again.” I deeply desire the new normal, the new sharpened vision of and taste for the Kingdom of God and my place at His table.
I know so many of us feel that same way. Going back to “normal” sounds unthinkable and undesirable (except for the normal of our kids going back to school and staying there – please, Lord). But the new normal has yet to unfold.
So how do we go back to restaurants and gyms, churches and schools, office buildings and after-school activities with us looking so differently than we did before? How do we go back with our security more firmly planted in the love of the Lord and His firm, unfailing faithfulness than before? And let’s be honest – why would we want to go back when our security in things we thought were unshakeable was ripped out in a moment? Why we would ever want to go back to planting ourselves in shakeable things?
If we all have learned one thing throughout COVID-19, we have learned this: the only unshakeable thing and the only shakeable one is God alone. Schools? Shakeable. Stable healthcare? An illusion. Wealth, bank accounts, portfolios, investments, our entire economic structure as a nation? Gone in a moment.
The only thing that holds us up is the unshakeable Hand of God. Period. End of story.
But please don’t hear this is an admonition; this is truly an admission and a request.
I don’t want to go back. But I also don’t know how to step into “normal” again while maintaining the changes God has worked from the inside out these last few months.
I so keenly want rhythm, routine, and a predictable schedule, and I really, really, really want, my kids to go to school and stay in school.
But more than that, I want my unfailing support to be God Himself. And He alone knows when our time of waiting needs to be finished. Until then, every moment we have in the uncertainty, in the fog, in the waiting, is a gift from Him.
So let’s not waste it.
Let’s press into it. Let’s make the most of it. Let’s allow God to do the work only God can do – uprooting our hearts from shakeable things and planting them in the only thing that lasts – Himself.
So don’t stop pressing into the goodness of God and faithful presence of God in this season of still waiting. Don’t stop seeking Him first and foremost in His Word. Don’t stop crying out and telling Him how you are really doing, not supposed to be doing. Don’t stop doing the work of digging, and seeking, and knocking, and asking, and listening that this season of waiting has given us pause to take.
Every moment of waiting, every week of uncertain pausing, every day of dependent searching, is a gift. Because as the people of God, we are promised the presence of God every time we ask, seek, and knock. And we are promised that door we have been knocking on all of our lives will be opened when we seek God with all of our hearts. And when it is, what we will find on the other side is God Himself, and we will not be disappointed. God alone is worth all of our waits.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened…If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:7-8, 11
For more encouragement on waiting, asking, seeking, and knocking throughout the week, consider going through my Biblestudy Waiting on the Lord, found HERE by clicking on this link.
While I expected things to be different this fall, I didn’t expect to still be so weary. And I think it’s because waiting has it’s own particular burden of weariness. While we are not carrying anything tangible in the physical realm, our hearts can strain under the emotional and spiritual burden we carry in the spiritual realm.
If you, like me, find yourself still weary in this season, listen in as I share how to draw on strength and encouragement as you wait.
I’ve been a follower of Christ for almost 40 years. My friend and neighbor, Kori Biller, began her relationship with Christ a year and a half ago. But we both use the same tools each and every day to grow in our relationship with Christ. Length of time in knowing God and being known does not matter; it’s the passion and availability of your heart. As Kori shares, when you show up consistently with a Bible in one hand and a hunger in your heart in the other, God begins to uproot, plant, and change you from the inside out.
Join Kori and I in our conversation as we talk about the habits she has formed, the tools she has used, and the studies that have shaped her the most this past year and a half to become a Woman in the Word.
To see a list of the studies and tools Kori talks about, click HERE.
If you want to know more about Kori’s story, click HERE.
For more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
It has been a season of both personal and national shaking, and as God’s people, we are in desperate need of God’s Word. Listen to today’s video as I share about the personal journey God has had me on over the past few months and the tools He has used to draw me deeper into His Word.
To access the books and tools I talk about in the video to help you dig deeper into God’s Word, click HERE.
To listen to the teaching series on prayer I mention in the video to help you connect with God’s Word, click HERE.
Be on the lookout over the next few weeks for more videos and tools to help your kids, family, and other people in your life dig deeper into God’s Word during a season where God is speaking, uprooting, and planting in His people’s lives.
To access this same video and lists, and for more encouragement throughout the week, you can find me on Instagram @baker.susannah.
For the past week, my daughter Caroline has been conducting an experiment in science involving seeds. She planted two seeds in a cup and placed them in the dark, and she planted two more seeds in another cup and placed them in the light. And over the course of a week, she tracked their growth through drawing pictures and making written observations.
So, before we talk any further about the seeds, let’s be honest here: as a part-time homeschool mom, some of the disadvantages to having your children at home include more than normal greasy mom hair days (because, let’s face it – who has time to wash their hair when math is calling your name?), the ability of your children to invade your personal space and ask for your help all of the time, finding the drain in your bathroom sink clogged because it’s filled with orbies:
And, my personal favorite, finding papers like this behind the spelling tab in their binder:
This is the real world, people. Don’t have any false homeschool ideas in your head like children are fuzzy angels on a cloud smiling and saying, “Yes, ma’am” and perpetually blessing your name as you drill them on math facts. Picture kids crying, pencils breaking, moms yelling, everyone stinking. Both literally and figuratively.
But there are advantages to being a homeschool mom as well. Advantages like finishing up spelling while sitting outside together on a beautiful day, taking nature walks, reading good books, and watching seeds grow.
And as I’ve watched Caroline’s seed grow, I’ve been reminded of how much our life in Christ is like this planted seed.
Nothing has happened above the surface. All of the activity has gone on down below. And what looked like one ordinary, solitary, shriveled seed contained the material to produce an entire root structure in just one week.
And here’s what I’ve been challenged with – I spend most of my time looking on the surface.
I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror and deciding what kind of woman I am by the appearance of the reflection staring back at me. Greasy mom hair that hasn’t been washed in four days, tired bags under my eyes, and melasma spots on my face from pregnancy and too much time out in the sun equals a woman not significant enough to be noticed, much less thought beautiful.
I spend a lot of time looking at my past and deciding the trajectory of my future by the poor decisions I made. A missed opportunity of going to graduate school, a passed up opportunity to go on the mission field, a late start as a writer, and not enough discipline or go-get-’em attitude equals a woman with a future ahead of her as dim as her past.
I spend a lot of time looking at my present and deciding what kind of harvest I’m going to yield by the size of the tasks I am accomplishing. Homeschooling four kids around one scratched up kitchen table, remodeling a house that has taken (thank you, Hurricane Harvey), almost a year and a half to complete, and spending more hours than I can count organizing other people’s schedules, play dates, and piano lessons, equals a woman whose harvest is small, not large, ordinary, not radical, and mundane, not risky, daring, unique, bold, or exciting.
That’s what I see when I look on the surface.
But God is teaching me to look at the roots. To trust that underneath the layers of the soil in my life, there is growth going on under the surface, growth that would amaze even me if only I had the eyes to see.
Last week, someone passed on a podcast to me that was eye-opening. The podcast is about forests, trees, and a tree’s system of roots. And it’s about what’s going on beneath the surface of things that we simply cannot see. (Click here to listen.)
But here are a few take aways that God has been using to encourage me ever since I listened:
- In a forest of trees, the tallest, strongest, oldest trees are the most connected. Their root system connects with many other trees in the forest, giving life, receiving life, sharing information, strengthening the weak, and receiving strength when they themselves need it. (And if you think this sounds too much like sci-fi, just listen to the podcast. It’s amazing.)
- Underneath the ground in the root system of trees are two things: fungus and tubes. The fungus lives and thrives because the trees give the fungus sugar, and the fungus gives the trees minerals they need to survive. How does this exchange process of sugars and minerals take place, you might ask? So glad you did…it’s through a tree’s roots and a highway of hundreds of miles of hollow tubes, tubes so tiny that they measure 1/10th the width of a single human hair. And through the tubes, the great exchange happens: sugar for minerals, minerals for sugar, and the forest grows, thrives, and is happy.
- Through these tubes, when one tree is sick or damaged, struck by lightening or being eaten from the inside out from a fungus or mold, it shares information, warning others trees of what’s ahead. Strong trees share sugar with weak trees, and weak trees passing along whatever sugar they have before death.
- And if that isn’t strange enough, scientists say that there seems to be one “intelligence” that controls it all. Yes, I promise. Just listen to the podcast. Like a brain, in the soil, under the earth, directing who gets what, knowing what lies ahead, warning, encouraging, strengthening, sharing nourishment and information.
What I just described can only mean this:
In his book The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien was closer to the truth than we ever dared imagine, and his walking, talking, intelligent trees are closer to reality than what we’ve ever dared to believe. There is intelligence underneath the soil; and that brain is either a freaky, white and green glowing mass that should make us never want to tread in the forest again…or…it is the wisdom of God Himself directing and speaking to His creation in places we cannot see.
I’m going for the second option.
And I’ve thought a lot about how that applies to life.
When I shared last week about my depression and the ways I am learning to hand God the map of my life, trust His leading, and feed on His faithfulness, your responses were overwhelming. You took cups of courage and poured them into me, helped me see I wasn’t alone, and held out the hope that this is many of your struggle too. I don’t need to be embarrassed or ashamed because I am not alone. So thank you, thank you for that encouragement – it meant more than you’ll ever know.
And what I’ve realized this week is that in the midst of seasons of depression, or anxiety, or struggle, or hardship, we are not to walk this journey alone. The strongest trees are the most connected. We are given what we need for each and every struggle, each and every day, through God, His Word, His voice that speaks and creates and nurtures and gives life, and through one another.
How beautiful is that.
And life is not found or measured by what we can see on the surface of our lives. We are to peel back the layers and look underneath the soil of our lives, trusting God is doing more than we could ever ask or imagine through our roots.
So today, stop looking at the surface of things. Stop fearing the scrawny harvest that can only come from the solitary, shriveled seed of your life. Every seed was made with the capacity to grow tremendous roots. To connect with an entire forest of trees. To give nourishment and receive nourishment. To hear the voice of the Master Creator who does far more underneath the surface than we could ever imagine up here on the wrong side of the door, the wrong side of the soil, the wrong side of here and now. One day, the soil will be split open, the door will be flung open, and we will be able to see. Not what we falsely imagined but all that is radically, really true because of the Man who hung on a tree to pay the price for all of our sin.
Hang all of your hopes on that tree, on the seed of that death and resurrection, and I promise you, you and I both will not be disappointed.
“…and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” I Peter 2:24
Valentine’s Day is just one day away, and while it isn’t categorized as a “major” holiday like Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, it is still a holiday. And holidays have this strange ability to highlight in our hearts all that we’re not as opposed to all that we are, or all that we don’t have as opposed to all that we do.
For instance, on Christmas, we can tend to focus on all the gifts that we don’t have as opposed to all the gifts we do. Or on Thanksgiving we can dwell on who isn’t around our table as opposed to who is. And on Valentine’s Day, we can focus on the ways we aren’t loved instead of the ways we most certainly are. And you don’t have to be intentionally or unintentionally celebrating Valentine’s Day to feel this way. Certain feelings just pop up uninvited, in untimely places – like passing the card aisle at the grocery store. Or overhearing a conversation about what so-and-so is doing on Valentine’s Day and comparing your ho-hum schedule. Or listening to how so-and-so’s husband brought her a card, flowers, and a gift while cooking the whole family a special dinner, while your husband forgot the whole darn day even existed.
But let me offer a word of hope and encouragement for the day of the celebration of love that is just one day around the corner. While romantic love is a part of the celebration of Valentine’s Day, it certainly does not make up the whole. It is simply a side course to the main course of the all-consuming, life-creating, soul-sustaining love of God.
It is a love that enables us to walk confidently through any and every life circumstance, no matter if our hearts are rejoicing or breaking. And that is the love I want to focus on this Valentine’s Day.
When I was in college, my grandmother sent me a bookmark with these words on it: “You are a fragrance of God to those who are in need and a sweet aroma of the one of God in this place.” The words are a paraphrase of 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 which read, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in His triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”
It is a bookmark I still have and use, and the words on it hold a special place in my heart.
But while I have had the bookmark for over twenty years now, the words took on new and special meaning a few weeks ago.
My daughter Caroline, the same daughter from last week’s blog (click here to read more), came home a few weeks ago and said, “Mom, I’ve made a new friend, and I told her about Jesus, but I don’t know if she has a Bible. Can I get her a Bible and give it to her?”
After saying “Yes!” as fast as I could, I drove Caroline to the store and helped her select a Bible for her new friend. As she brought it home and time wrapping her gift, I thought, “Why don’t I do this myself more often? With my friends, with the people God brings across my path on a day in, day out basis, why am I not more bold and purposeful about sharing and spreading the beautiful fragrance of Christ?” Because, really, let’s face it – is there any other fragrance sweeter, any other expression of love truer, than telling our friends about the ultimate love that will hold them and ground them and never let them go, no matter what in life they will walk through?
Several days after Caroline bought the Bible and journal for her new friend, I went to a store to return some perfume I received as a gift for Christmas. The saleswoman in the store could not have been more helpful or kind. She spent time with me helping me select a new fragrance and then showed me how to apply it so that it would last. First, she had me wash my hands, then she applied the scent to my wrists and tops of my hands, and then finally, she massaged lotion onto my hands that was the same scent as the perfume. The lotion, she explained, was the key that would lock in the scent. (Who knew there were so many steps to applying perfume?!)
And she was right. The rest of the day, every time I used my hands to gesture, emphasize, “speak,” or serve in one way or another, a sweet fragrance greeted my nose. I have never enjoyed the scent of my hands more. And it was a scent that lasted all day.
And I thought, “Isn’t this how my life in Christ should be?” Every time we use our hands in His Name, there is a fragrance, a scent of His unfailing love. Every time we “speak,” a scent wafts up to the nose of the one who is listening, and we have an opportunity to “speak” of Christ, simply by the fragrance of our hands.
So here is my challenge to us this Valentine’s Day: instead of focusing on all that we’re not, let’s focus on all that we are. And if you know Christ as your Lord and Savior, two things are clear: number one, you are loved with a love that will not let you go. And more than that, you are Christ’s beloved. Because as we all know deep down in our hearts, it’s one thing to be loved, but it’s another thing to be someone’s beloved, cherished as the apple of their eye. And in Christ, we have that confidence: we are the beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And number two: as His beloved, you are His fragrance. And wherever you go, you spread the sweet aroma of Him, His fragrance in every place.
So here’s the practical part of my challenge: after knowing who you are, purposefully go and be that fragrance in someone’s life. Because someone in your path today, this week, needs the Word of God, calling them, reminding them, telling them that through relationship with Christ, they are Christ’s beloved too. So like Caroline, as an expression of great love towards a friend, give someone a Bible, the greatest love letter of all time. It might feel awkward, it might feel weird, you might wonder if your relationship with that person will ever be the same, but why would you and I ever withhold a fragrance from someone’s life that can change them forever from the inside out?
Isaiah 55:10-11 reminds us, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God’s Word does not, in fact cannot, return void or empty. It will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. Caroline gave her friend a Bible like this – it’s a great option for adults or children. And if you aren’t sure who in your life to give God’s Word to, just ask. Ask the Lord to show you exactly who the person is, and wait on His perfect timing this Valentine’s Day. I think you will be amazed at just how specifically and clearly He answers.
And as you wait this week and give your hands in loving service to be the fragrance of Christ to someone else, that same sweet fragrance will come in and refresh and restore your own soul every time the are not’s and the have not’s hit you unawares.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
The decrees of the Lord are firm,
and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the honeycomb.
By them your servant is warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
Happy Valentine’s Day to you, our Great, Good God’s beloved.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, I’ve been thinking about all different kinds of love – love in marriage, love in friendship, love in relationship with God. While we often spend lots of time thinking about love within marriage or in our relationship with God, past the age of about twenty-two, we don’t usually spend much time thinking about love within friendship. It’s a topic often relegated to our younger years.
But friendship is an important topic because it is such an important part of our lives. And recently, no one has taught me more about friendship than my daughter, Caroline, and her constant compadre, Tess (also known as “Dr. Phil” when it comes to relationships in Caroline’s world – click here to read about that from last week’s blog).
Tess Tredennick, affectionately known as “Tessy” around our house, is one of my favorite people on the planet. She’s about four feet tall, has a tangle of blonde curls that always look like they may or may not have been brushed, wears cute purple glasses, and never does anything without a leap, skip, laugh, skid, or cartwheel.
Like my daughter Caroline, Tess is seven years old, and for as long as I can remember, Caroline has called Tess her “twin.” Whenever her sisters try to correct her (and trust me, lots of correcting goes on over here with two big sisters because what in the world would we do without their wise and insightful direction in our lives?), Caroline says with passion (she doesn’t really say things without passion), “Tessy IS TOO my twin! I’ve known her since before we were BORN, and I LOVE her!” Obviously, Caroline has a lot to learn about the birds and the bees, but for now, to her, being a twin means knowing and loving someone since before they were born and loving them still just as much seven years down the road.
Caroline and Tess celebrated their first birthday together along with their friend Gray, and they have had almost every birthday party together since.
I think what amazes me the most about these two is that they don’t seem to see or at least dwell on each other’s faults or imperfections. They see each other through rose-colored glasses, loving and accepting each other exactly as they are. And they have always been that way. I can’t remember a time when Caroline didn’t love Tess and Tess didn’t love Caroline. And when they are together, I never have to intervene or referee and blow the whistle or pull one aside and have “the talk” about how one needs to include the other one. They always seem to be completely content in each other’s presence. And when Tessy leaves town, well, life just isn’t quite the same…
That amazes me. I think partly because I remember having a best friend like that when I was little – a friend who could do no wrong, and every available second I wanted to spend in her presence. And partly because somewhere along the way as women, we begin to see each other through jaded, green, envy-colored glasses instead of rosy, I-love-you-just-the-way-you-are kind of glasses.
I’m not sure why or when that transition happens, but it’s a transition that I’ve been trying to undo or fight against now for years. Because as women, our natural, sin-cursed inclination (thank you, Eve) is to see what people are not doing, or not saying, or not being as opposed to embracing exactly who they are, where they are, and with what they are able to offer.
So the past few years I have been taking lessons from Tessy and Caroline and working on trying to come alongside my friends, instead of standing from far off envying, coveting, and viewing life through the lens of a closed circle instead of an open one (click here to read more on that).
Caroline and Tess have also reminded me in a season of life where the needs and wants of family seem to take up every waking moment that friends are not “icing on the top” reserved for dessert and special occasions, but my friends are the necessary stuff of everyday life. The course that goes in the plain, smack-dab middle instead of reserved for special occasions or time at the end. They have given me permission to stay present and enjoy and delight in my friends when there is always the possibility of choosing to complete one more task instead of practicing the presence of people. And that’s been a necessary lesson for a task-driven, tight-margin momma like me to learn during this season of life with four young children.
None of us have time or space for playdates and sleepovers like we did when we were little, but all of us need to be reminded of the necessity and delight of weaving our friends into the everyday fabric of our lives. Because in modern times, friendship, as CS Lewis writes in his book, The Four Loves, has become “something quite marginal; not a main course in life’s banquet; a diversion; something that fills up the chinks of one’s time. How has this come about?…Friendship is – in a sense not at all derogatory to it – the least natural of loves; the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary. It has least commerce with our nerves; there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale…Without Eros none of us would have been begotten and without Affection none of us would have been reared; but we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it…but few value [friendship] because few experience it.”
In other words, friendship doesn’t cause anything warm or fuzzy to rise up in us like romance, or give us anything back like the love of a child. Friendship requires you to give the most with the least likely promise of reward or return. In other words, friendship requires risk. But friendship also offers great reward.
“Friendship, unlike Eros [Romantic love], is uninquisitive. You become a man’s Friend without knowing or caring whether he is married or single or how he earns his living. ..In a circle of Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares two-pence about anyone else’s family, profession, class, income, race or previous history. Of course you will get to know about most of these in the end. But casually. They will come out bit by bit, to furnish an illustration or an analogy, to serve as pegs for a anecdote; never for their own sake. That is the kingliness of Friendship…Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
In friendship, we have the opportunity to love and be loved simply for who we are, no strings attached. Not because of what we can give someone or what they can give us. But simply because we stand side by side and and see and love the same truth. “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).
And as we live and fight and read and pray side by side, friendship also teaches us to love not for the sake of getting anything back but simply because in doing so, we are loving others in the way Jesus Himself loved us: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, emphasis mine). And in laying our lives down, we finally are able to take our eyes off of ourselves and become the people God has called us to be while encouraging and beholding the image of God in one another. And as we do so, “each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others….Life – natural life – has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
In light of the knowledge of the gift that friendship is and because of the strong, steady, life-giving friendships God has given us, Jason and I are constantly encouraging and reminding one another: pursue your friends. Not because we are such great friends, but because we can tend to be such poor friends. It’s easier to check something tangible off of a list than sit in connection over a cup of coffee. Yet over the cups of coffee is where our souls are known and valued and loved for who we are rather than for the things we do. And in those places of total transparency, vulnerability, and friendship, we are free to let our guards down and let others in to walk alongside of us, imperfections and all, on the road before us.
I wish making time for friends was as easy as an adult as it was as a kid. I wish someone would come in with a pencil on my calendar and schedule playdates and birthday parties and sleep overs for me and my friends just like I do for my girls and their friends. But those days are over, and now it is my responsibility to have intentional time with friends who see the same truth and challenge me to lay my life down and grow more into the person God has called me to be. And it is when I weave these times of friendship into the main course at the table of life instead of the dessert at the end, that I am most whole, balanced, full, and richly blessed.
Lewis closes his essay on friendship with this: “[I]n Friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our birthdays, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of the Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends ‘You have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’ The Friendship is not a reward for our discrimination and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each the beauties of all the others….At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should, preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.”
When we understand that God is the one who has set the table of our friendships and brought specific people into our lives for “such a time as this,” we begin to fight for our friendships instead of against them. We take off our prickles and put on grace. We set aside our tasks and pull up a chair at the feast of transparency, accountability, and love. And we begin to delve into the feast of friendship, if we are seven or seventy-seven years old.
This Valentine’s Day, as I look at the table God has set before me of Godly, strong, humble, kind, wise, beautiful women, I am astounded and humbled that I have a place at their table. And each time I sit down in their presence, I encounter a Christ-like love that shapes me into a better wife, a better mom, a better teacher, a better person, a better friend. And, let’s face it, they give me the necessary tools of laugher and permission to eat as much chocolate as I want or need to make it through one day, one week, one season, one year at a time.
This Valentine’s Day, take an honest evaluation of yourself as a friend and the table God has set before you. Are you a good friend who loves others for who they are, right where they are? Or are you always standing off at a distance waiting to be asked in instead of being brave enough to day in and day out simply walk alongside? Do you make enough time for your friends to really speak into and shape your life? Not just an occasional lunch or cup of coffee, but true iron-sharpening-iron, a true love that stands the test of time and can speak truth and hear truth because it is spoken in love?
If not, don’t despair. But take off your jaded, green, micro-managing, task and time driven glasses, and put on lenses that see through the rose color of love and grace that true friendship offers one meal, one conversation, one encounter at a time.
Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching, and apart from purchasing the necessary supplies for my daughters’ Valentine’s Day school parties or get togethers, it’s not a holiday I think a whole lot about. Usually Jason and I exchange cards and a quick kiss over a crock pot meal while hustling everyone out the door to swim practice, ballet, or basketball games.
But all week I’ve been thinking about Valentine’s Day because of a conversation I overhead between my seven-year-old daughter Caroline and her friend Tess.
Tess was at our house before basketball practice, and I was feeding the girls a healthy, protein-packed dinner of cinnamon crunch cereal and apple slices with peanut butter (don’t judge me; it had been that kind of a day), and I was half-way listening to their conversation as they talked and ate, and I puttered around the kitchen. Well, ok, let’s be honest – I was REALLY listening to their conversation because Tess talks at a volume LIKE THIS, and sometimes it’s hard NOT to listen to their conversations.
And out of the blue, between cereal bites, Tess says to Caroline, “Yeah, I’ve heard that boys don’t like to get married as much as girls. Girls like to get married, and boys like to stay single. But girls are more organized than boys, so boys get married so they can have someone to help them get organized.”
Out of the mouths of seven year olds…but yep, that pretty much sums it up.
And the best part about it is that Caroline listened like she was listening to Dr. Phil, and Tess’ comment led to a deep discussion about who they were both planning on marrying once boys were ready to have a little organization in their closets and in their lives. (My lips are sealed; I’m not telling who their choice of perspective mates are, but at least I know now to start praying fervently for the spouses of this dynamic duo!).
But ever since Tess made that comment, and especially with Valentine’s Day coming up, I haven’t stopped remembering and thinking about the fiery trials of dating, romance, and wondering whose manpiles you would end up organizing one day (if you need a definition of “manpiles,” click here).
Because let’s face it: figuring out who in the world you are going to marry is tough stuff. Awkward stuff. Confusing stuff. And sixteen years down the road into marriage, I am still relieved I emerged in one piece from the search for a soul mate.
I remember one Valentine’s Day my senior year of college, a friend of mine asked if we could have a “talk.” Notice I said, “friend.” We were not dating, nor had we ever had any discussions of dating, nor did I ever want to have any conversations about dating. Yet during this “talk,” at a cafe decked out for Valentine’s Day with red roses, chocolate cake, and a man walking around singing operatic love songs, my friend proceeded to tell me that after thinking long and hard about it, it turns out I wasn’t the girl he was supposed to marry, so we were free to just be “friends.” Which is so weird because I thought that’s what we already were. And at the end of our incredibly awkward conversation with a man singing a love song beside our table, he proceeded to tell me he forgot his wallet, and I had to pay the $60 bill (which might as well have been $560 to a college student).
Like I said, dating is a fiery trial and an awkward experience, one I would rather not have to repeat in this lifetime if I can help it.
But with Valentine’s Day coming up, I know lots of thoughts are going on in the minds of seven-year-olds, seventeen-year-olds, and forty-seven-year-olds about love in general, or at least about love according to our culture’s definition of the word. Because our culture is crazy-consumed with talking about love, which has really become another word for self-serving sex and ways you think another person should make you happy.
But after spending sixteen years married to a man who has lots of piles for me to organize, my definition and understanding of love within the context of marriage has changed dramatically.
Jason and I started off our journey together on rocky footing. After dating for almost a year, we were engaged and then broke off our engagement two months before we were supposed to get married. Both of us were carrying around a hundred pound sack of unresolved issues from our past that felt like deadweight in our relationship. In God’s mercy, as painful as it was, He allowed us to begin to unpack that deadweight outside of marriage instead of inside. It took a lot of counseling and a lot of humbling ourselves before God and one another, but we were re-engaged and then married seven months after our original wedding date.
During that time of separation, counseling, and healing, we learned how to come back together as two broken pieces that would humbly and dependently make a whole instead of two whole, independent pieces dead set on our own way or the highway.
During that time, Jason read Sacred Marriage, a book by author and pastor Gary Thomas that completely changed his view of marriage and set the trajectory of our relationship for the future. In the book, Gary writes, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?,” a thought that bears as much weight in our marriage now sixteen years down the road as it did so many years ago.
Because it’s true. “If you want to be free to serve Jesus, there’s no question—stay single,” writes Gary. “Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become more like Jesus, I can’t imagine any better thing to do than to get married. Being married forces you to face some character issues you’d never have to face otherwise.” Because marriage, as my mom says, is holy sandpaper. It is designed by God to rub off and wear down the edges of our self-centered habits, goals, and desires and transform us into others-centered, Christ-centered creatures. And let me tell you, it can be one painful process.
Three weeks into our marriage, we were knee deep into wearing the selfish edges off of one another. It was Thanksgiving week, and we were preparing to leave to go to celebrate the holiday with one of our families. And we. Got. Into it. I mean voices yelling, doors slamming, anger rising, “what-in-the-world-have-we-done” kind of arguing.
I ran into my closet, slammed the door, locked it, and curled up in a heap on the floor crying.
Not a great start to start a first holiday during the first few weeks of marriage.
And Jason says in that moment, he knew he had a choice. He too could slam the door and leave me and my hurts to myself, continuing the same pattern and cycle of leaving he had always done in relationships, or he could stay and pursue me, choosing to let the unconditional, covenantal love of Christ wear the edges off of his leaving and teach him how to stay, even with a wife who was an emotional, crying mess on the floor. And he chose to stay.
And his first act of staying was kneeling beside our bed and praying, “Lord, I don’t know how to do this thing called marriage. But I know you do. Help me to love her as You love her, and teach me how to stay.”
And the next thing I knew, I heard a knock on the closet door. He chose to pursue me, even with all my faults, and work through the issues at hand.
I wish I could say that after that incident, marriage was rosy…but it wasn’t. We had a hard first few years because both of us had such hard hearts.
But more than we stayed committed to one another, we stayed committed to Christ, and because of our love for Him, we stayed committed to our love for one another.
I want to offer this hope and healing this Valentine’s Day: a good marriage is not built on the foundation of two good and perfect people. A good marriage is built on the foundation of two broken people who have committed together to love Christ, the Only One who can put our broken pieces back together. Our marriage is living proof of that great reality.
Men, if you really want to love Christ and love your wife this Valentine’s Day, can I tell you what the most attractive thing about my husband is to me? It is his position of humble prayer before the Lord every morning. Every morning, Jason wakes up at 4:30am and spends the first hour of his day on his knees in God’s Word and in prayer for his family, his co-workers, and his friends. I usually stumble out of bed about an hour after he does, and my favorite part of the day is catching him in this act of prayer.
I do not know what the day holds for me or our girls, but I do know that we have been covered in prayer by the person whose prayers are the most powerful and effective on our behalf. And Jason’s habit of praying and humbling his heart before His God helps me trust him and trust his leadership and decision making for our family. And it helps me stay attracted to him in the day in and day out routine of marriage, work, and kids. Someone who serves me like that, loves me like that, is someone I can safely give my heart to, even when life is hard or circumstances are tough.
And ladies, can I tell you what Jason says is the most attractive thing about a woman? It’s not her wardrobe, or her body, or her achievements, but her confidence. A confident woman, confident in her God, confident in her identity in Christ, confident in the body God has given her, confident in joy, confident in grace, confident in contentment, no matter what her circumstances may be. And it’s a confidence that can only be gathered from time spent before the face of God.
I wish I could say I have arrived in this area of confidence and have figured it all out, but I am still a learner. But I can say with confidence, I am further along today than I was sixteen years ago as a newly wed in a heap on my closet floor. As I have dug into my commitment to Christ and listened long and hard to who He says I am, and then learned to confidently embrace who Jason says I am through his love and faithfulness, I have become more confident than I used to be. And it’s a confidence in which I am continuing to grow.
Maybe it seems like feeling love or tenderness towards your spouse is just asking for too much this Valentine’s Day. That’s ok. Maybe it is asking for too much. But what’s not asking for too much is cultivating or feeling tenderness or love towards Christ, the One who never leaves or forsakes you, and who then helps you act in love towards one another.
Like I said at the beginning, marriage is tough stuff. Dating and engagement is tough stuff. It’s a journey that forces you to face yourself as you really are, and not the pretty, flawless person you’ve convinced yourself you are.
And having those pretty edges worn off through the holy sandpaper of marriage is a painful process. But it’s also a beautiful one. Because through a fierce commitment to loving Christ and loving one another, you can actually become the person God has called you to be.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you are in touch place when it comes to love and marriage, don’t be discouraged by the hearts and glitter and chocolate that abound. Cultivating holiness and happiness in marriage is hard work. But it’s good work.
And if you are knee deep in hurt or curled up on a heap on your closet floor, take heart. Don’t leave. Stay. Stay committed to Christ, committed to prayer, committed to confident relationship with your God and with your spouse, and His faithful love can heal any heart. One step, one season, one year at a time. And that’s what the real love of Valentine’s Day is all about.