Clothespins and Gummies

I felt incredibly silly as I pulled out a stool and clipped them to the fan with clothespins. My daughter watched, eyes wide. “If you can stay all night in your bed without crying or throwing a fit, then you may have this pack of gummies when you wake up.” Her scrunched-up face told me she wanted to protest because she couldn’t have them right then, but she was so puzzled by the whole thing that she was speechless.

I was texting a friend later and she asked how sleep training was going. “Well, I just clothespinned a pack of gummies to her fan, so that’s code for desperate, right?” She said, “I love the point of visibility for maximum temptation!” It brought to mind something that my aunt said a few years ago at a retreat: We crave what we see everyday. 

And that makes sense to me. In a remote village in Africa, I don’t think they’re craving sodas and potato chips. They don’t even know they exist to know that they want them. And the same thing is true of me: when I was still dead in my sins, I didn’t know Jesus existed to know that I so desperately wanted Him. I knew I wanted something or someone to save me… because I felt the affects of my sin, but it wasn’t until I met Him that I knew He was what I was after.

This principle holds true for all matters of the heart. Whatever I put before my eyes is what I am going to crave. And this is what Tara-Leigh was getting at: I must put Jesus in front of me every single day. It will not be enough to see Him occasionally or once a week or on holidays. The thing that I fixate on every day will be the thing that navigates and motivates my life. If I spend hours pouring over magazines and television shows with impeccable living rooms and patios, that is where my focus is going to be. If I stalk people on social media, I will compare my life to theirs whether I realize it or not. If I stock my pantry with Kit Kat bars and Chips Ahoy, those will likely be the first things to go. We will always gravitate towards the things that are familiar, comforting, and satisfying. But until we pay attention to how shockingly unsatisfying the world’s goods are, we will never know the disservice we cause ourselves.

And if we pay attention to how empty we feel with all the things the world offers, we will then discover how ultimately satisfying Jesus is.

So— how do we go about craving Jesus? 

I often feel silly, asking Him to help me want Him more than the things that entice me. It feels akin to asking my husband to help me love him more. But with God, He already knows my heart. He knows I lack the want-to. He knows this because He gave us Holy Spirit, Who draws us to desire Christ in the first place. Holy Spirit quickened our dead souls to believe that Jesus was the answer to sin, and He continues to call us out of our deadness into true life and fellowship with the Father every single day of this Christian walk.

So it’s okay to ask Him to allow us to WANT to want Him. To call on the Holy Spirit to do His thing…to hover above the waters of futility and joylessness in our lives and create sustainable life (Genesis 1:2-3). 

And sometimes, God shows up on the road to Damascus and blinds us with His light. Other times, He asks us to take some steps in His direction.  He asks us to perform simple acts of faith and obedience to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that He is what we live for. He asks us to open our Bibles and hear His voice (2 Corinthians 3:16-17). He asks us to communicate with Him in prayer and form relationship with Him far deeper than a rote prayer three times a day before consuming carbohydrates (Ephesians 6:18). He invites us to meet daily with other believers, exhorting and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25). He asks us to glory in our weaknesses, because then we have died to ourselves and allowed God to get glory instead of us (2 Corinthians 12:9). He asks us to be on mission for Him, building His Kingdom instead of our own (Matthew 6:33). Not because He is a God Who is full of Himself: but because He knows that we can only find true life and purpose and joy outside of ourselves. He asks us to love Him above all else, because this kind of love is the kind we’ve been searching for all of our lives.

So maybe a better question would be: how do you let go of a love like this? By looking at everything else you don’t have instead of looking at the greatest thing you possess: a relationship with the God of the universe. 

How do we grasp on? We choose to see Him. We choose to place Him before us. We place His will before us. His plans before ours. HIs desires above our own.  He knows we are dust, and naturally such a forgetful and ungrateful people.

The answer to how to crave Him? It’s not a magic formula or a program or a degree. It begins with a choice. It might flesh itself out in a Bible study or a prayer reminder app or Bible memorization. It might look like changing the radio station or having a yard sale and evaluating where we spend money and place priority. It may be decreasing the mental and physical clutter around us so that we can be one in heart and purpose, and so that we don’t crowd out what’s truly important. It for sure will look like time spent at Jesus’ feet, in His Word and in sweet conversation with Him, and in church with other believers who adore Him.

It may look like keeping the Bible open on your counter, asking someone to check in with you and ask where your focus has been, writing verses on notecards to leave in your car and around the house, using prayer prompts to inspire you to pray about every little thing.

Deuteronomy 6 talks about it like this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Look at Him as often as you can, and you will find that He is worth any sacrifice that you might have to make. Gaze on Him to discover that He is altogether lovely and desirable.


Over and Over Again

As I get older, I am realizing some things about my salvation. The biggest one is that salvation is not simply a one-time occurrence. It is something that will happen on a day by day basis as I walk in communion with Jesus. Yes, I initially need to have the “Damascus road moment”, where I make the connection between my sin and Jesus the Savior. After that, I do not need re-salvation. But I do need to be saved from my sin, from my shame, from my guilt, from my past, from myself. Way more often than once.

I have spent the 26 years since I got saved trying so hard to save myself. To make God proud that He chose me. And it’s been 26 long, exhausting years. Somehow I have perverted God’s plan into a mixture of part-Gospel, part-self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s because I’m a first-born, but I don’t expect God to come and save me from my failures. I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps, whip myself into shape, conquer that debt myself, take action to work on my gluttony with the newest fad diet, clean up my house to make my life feel like it isn’t in shambles. But you know what? I’m a miserable failure.

And while I have claimed for years that one of my favorite things about this God we serve is that He didn’t just save us and then leave us here to struggle on our own, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Don’t get me wrong— I pray for help. I seek forgiveness for the umpteenth time that I have tried to do things on my own, but I never quite understood why I always felt like such a huge failure.

The enlightening has been life-changing. In a recent message by JT English at The Village Church, the role of the Trinity was defined:

God initiates our salvation. Jesus accomplishes our salvation. Holy Spirit applies our salvation.

Hi, my name is Cara and I’ve been trying to replace the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I believe God initiated my salvation. He gave me the faith to believe. He chose me. I believe Jesus made a way for this to be possible by His sacrifice on the cross. And yes, of course, I “believe” that Holy Spirit is my helper who convicts me of sin, but I thought it was all up to me to apply my salvation: to my diet, my lifestyle, my wardrobe, my housekeeping skills. I felt called to be responsible… to stop praying for things when I knew I just needed to put on my big girl panties and do the right thing. But it never worked out for me. Even in good moments of “success”, it felt empty at best and precarious at worst… precarious because I wondered how long I could keep it up. I know myself too well and began to expect failure.

God has been gracious to allow me to fail. Every. Single. Time. He has been gracious in not freeing me from my food addiction. He has been gracious to allow my child to be strong-willed. He has been loving to allow me to marry a husband who doesn’t know the word “organization.” He has been so, so kind. Because had I been able to conquer all of these things? I wouldn’t have needed Him. I would have completely believed the lie that I was able to apply my salvation to all of these areas all by myself. I would have taken the credit. And I have, in the past. I have given credit to Fitness Pal and books on the market for how to get organized. I have given the credit to my discipline. I have given the credit to my first-born tendencies (eh hem, perfectionist tendencies.) I have given the credit to accountability partners and mentors. (And let’s make this clear: they deserve a LOT of credit!) But ultimately, I left the Spirit out of it altogether.

I am becoming more and more aware of the times I have quenched Him. And more and more aware of how much I need to rely on Him if I want any sustained progress in my Christian life. And one thing that has helped a lot is realizing that I don’t need to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW. I don’t need to be as perfect as I expect myself to be. I don’t need to have everything under control, everything all together.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems, or things that urk us, or things that steal our joy. In fact, it’s okay to not be okay, and there is no shame in admitting that. That’s why we all need Jesus. We STILL need Him.

If I were perfect now, what would there be to live for? There would be nothing left to strive for, to attain to. Even Paul (who in my book had it all figured out) said to CONTINUE running the race, to attain the prize. Why do I want to attain it immediately? Therein lies the pride, and the lie that I can do this on my own. Holy Spirit’s way is more gentle, more subtle, less time-sensitive. He isn’t worried that I might never arrive (like I am). He is patiently prodding, convicting, guiding towards the next thing to work on. He wants it to stick… to be a lifelong change, and not a temporary fix. A relationship with God is not a rat-race, just like marriage isn’t a contest. We aren’t in it to become perfect spouses with the perfect marriage and home. We’re in it to enjoy each other.

A verse you’ve probably heard more than once in 2 Corinthians 5 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. I looked up this phrase “have come”. It is an imperfect future tense:  a verb form which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state.) This is what theologians call the already and the not yet. We have already become a new creature but we are still becoming that new creature. It is okay to still be becoming.

I hope you heard me. Can we all give ourselves grace? There is not only grace for the sinner. There is grace for the believer.

My accountability partner told me at the end of last year that she didn’t feel like I actually ENJOY God. That stung a bit, but I never questioned its truth. I spend more time trying to please God and serve Him than I do just enjoying Him. I think of Him when things are on edge, when I’ve failed Him…again. When I have forgotten to be in the Word. This manifested itself when I began only talking to my daughter about Jesus when her behavior was poor: “Jesus doesn’t want us to act that way.” Instead of in everyday moments, like when the sunrise is breathtaking, and when the dentist office gives us a free ice-cream cone, or when my grandmother buys us mini animal crackers. It says a lot about when MAMA thinks about God, and it’s devastating to realize that at the end of the day, you may have served your way through your existence, but you didn’t truly enjoy any of it. That you may have mastered marriage, but didn’t enjoy it. That you took a bath every night to be clean, but not to enjoy it. That you shoved down food to satisfy a part of you that you could never satisfy, but you didn’t actually enjoy eating it. That you cleaned your house aggressively, but didn’t just enjoy it. That you knew God, but didn’t enjoy Him. What a travesty.

So this feels like the year that my words from the past 3 years have collided….and I get chills to think of how He has brought that about.

Steadfast in 2015.

Joy in 2016.

Necessary in 2017.

Expectant in 2018.

It is because of God’s steadfast love for me that He wants me to take joy in Him, and if I am to take hold of that joy, it is necessary that I rely on Holy Spirit to dash my false expectations and put my expectant hope in His ability to apply my salvation instead of my own efforts.

A series of unsuspecting and seemingly unrelated things have brought these discoveries to my attention.

A sermon series in December at my local church about expectations and how they rob us of joy.

A book given to me by a friend called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. The premise so far being that there is joy in denying ourselves, in carrying our cross, in being a little hungry. Creating space to need God, instead of filling all of our needs before we even feel them.

An Instagram live by a friend who is doing a fast this month. To hear that a fast doesn’t have to be eating nothing: but could simply be eating things that your flesh doesn’t crave. And realizing for the first time that a fast is not only to have more time to focus on God, but to create a space where we HEAR Him, instead of the distractions of what our body says we need constantly.

A series of marriage counseling sessions from some people we admire and respect. Their advice to stop looking at irritations as the problem itself, but as an opportunity to lean into sanctification, was a relationship-changer. To realize that we will conquer one problem, only to face another. (Encouraging, right?) We will never arrive, and so knowing this lets down the expectation easy that we will one day have marriage all figured out. And it encourages us to take one thing at a time, thanking God for sanctifying us through this thing called matrimony.

A podcast and a new study on the Trinity in my discipleship group, and a re-acquaintance of sorts with the Person of the Trinity that is talked about the least.

It is a beautiful web God is weaving in us. It is not on our time-table, but I’m beginning to appreciate His timing. Learning this at age 31 instead of 5 seems disappointing, and yet more of a game-changer at this stage.

Can we slow the pace of attaining perfection and simply appreciate the places where we are weak, so that He can be strong? It is God’s kindness that allows us to struggle with the same things over and over again, not because He wants us to doubt His salvation, but to realize how much we STILL NEED IT.

The Gospel is not just something I needed as a child. It is not just for unbelievers, as I always assumed. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS for me RIGHT NOW. Because I will never be enough. I will never perform enough. I will never be good enough to live this life without Him. Every failure and every sin is simply a reminder of how much we need Him. I pity the person who thinks they don’t, because I have spent a lot of my life being that person. I have believed things in my head, but functionally operated as if post-salvation, it was completely up to me to save myself from my sin, hang-ups, failures. What a relief it is! To admit that I cannot ever be enough. But He is. 

If you feel like your salvation was not genuine because of how often you mess up, saturate yourself in the Psalms, and in the story and life of David. A man after God’s own heart who did things we would never conceive of. Thank Jesus that when He allows these failures instead of preventing them, He is whispering the Gospel to you again: He is enough for those things. Not just past sins, but present sins, and future sins. How arrogant of us to assume that we need Him for past sins, but that the ones we commit today are on us.

Jesus, save us from ourselves. Not once, but every single day of our lives. 

A Letter to 2018

Welcome, 2018.

2018, we all have big plans for you. We have resolutions, ideals, dreams, desires. We’re making our plans over here, like we run the world. Like we can delay or skip or fast forward any of your days and months. We’re racing the clock to see how many minutes we can save, in the name of time management. We’re trying to change our destinies, with every program we sign up for and every extra dollar we try to earn in each of your tiny squares. We all hope that the dawn of 2019 will reflect all the things we have accomplished.

We want you to be a good year for us. We want to say that you’ve been good to us. We have big expectations, for you, 2018. I thought it was only fair that you knew it.

Because how can you give what you don’t know we’re expecting? And truth be told, we make it all about ourselves when we focus on what we accomplished.

So you don’t need to be good to us, 2018, because we have a Father Who is. You don’t need to deliver health, wealth, and happiness. We can rest knowing God will decide which of those things He wants to give us. And even in unfortunate circumstances, God is still good. His character doesn’t sway according to the things He allows.

2018, nothing that you can throw at us amidst any of these page flips or numbered squares will change our destiny. We are children of God. Our accomplishments don’t define us. Our failures don’t condemn us. Only our Father can do that.

So just for you, 2018, I’m changing my expectation system. I’m going to stop expecting misfortune. I’m not going to cuddle up next to negativity. I’m not going to project those things onto you. I’m also not going to expect you to be flawless and fabulous. What I AM going to do is let go of the expectations I have of what my life should look like. I’m going to stop comparing myself to others and wishing I had what they have. I’m going to stop expecting that if I do all the right things, my life will be a bed of roses. I’m especially going to drop the expectations I have of people—friends, family, authorities, and not the least of all, myself.  Heaven knows I expect myself to be and produce and succeed more than is feasible for one human being. Maybe if I stop kicking myself for letting me down, I won’t be so disappointed with others when they do.

I don’t know what you hold for me, 2018, but I’m expectant. I’m expectant that God will do what He said He will do. That when I fail myself and don’t cross off my resolution list, He is still faithful. That when others let me down, He never does. That when tomorrow and the next day and the day after that throw me unexpected chaos, I can stop looking for someone to blame, and instead look for Someone to thank. Because all of your minutes and hours and days serve to increase my sanctification. I can look at the future squares on your calendar without dread or anxiety, because I know Who already resides in them.

So, 2018? You can breathe easy. You’re off the hook.


Psalm 62:5 “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.”

Surviving Christmas: A Word about Self-Care

It’s been a little quiet around here recently. And by quiet, I don’t mean silent. (I have a one-year-old.) But I have been a little more unplugged, a little less prone to screen time, a little less-present on the interwebs. Due to finances, we cut our cable, and subsequently internet, about two months ago, and it’s been a welcome distraction gone. I was also getting a bad taste in my mouth for all the buzzes and beeps coming from my devices, so I turned off all notifications. I thought I would miss it. I don’t.

This time of year, I immerse myself in all the Ann Voskamp Advent books, as well as various other Advent studies. I am trying to simplify: clean out a closet I’ve always felt sure I needed, so that we can knock down a wall. Giving lots and lots and lots of things away. I’ve been more likely to meet up with friends for coffee. I’ve put the house aside and given my daughter a bit more hands-on attention. I’m working less than I ever have in my life (or so it seems), and yet I might be the happiest I’ve ever been with my house that will never keep up with the Joneses. Sure, there are things I want, things I think I need. Depending on the day, parenting is hard, or marriage is hard, or both. I am not even close to having life figured out, but I’m finally becoming okay with that.

I think about this community a lot. I want to connect here. I want to do ministry. I want to do what I love and write more. And there are seasons for that. But sometimes the Lord intentionally shelves all of those things for a while to draw me to Himself. To quiet my heart and remind me of what’s most important. I can get caught up in all the good things and miss the best thing.

So I’ve been asking a deep question. What do I want my legacy to be, and are my daily actions proof that I believe this? Do I want to be known for knowing Jesus? YES. This is it. I want to be known for pursuing Jesus. And so when it comes down to it, my house doesn’t need to be perfect. (Said closet contents are currently taking over an entire couch in my living room, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m sitting here typing instead of clearing that pile off.)  My value doesn’t lie in what I accomplish today, or in how much I weigh, or in how much money there is (or isn’t) in my checking account. I can’t neglect those things entirely, but what have I truly accomplished if I’ve tended to all those things but neglected the thing I’ve claimed to be most important in my life?

What if I gain the world (lose the weight, check all the lists off, have a spotless house, be financially secure) only to lose my own soul? I’m not speaking of heaven or hell here, although that is surely what the text means. But what if, in pursuit of all these things, I neglect my own soul? I neglect my relationship with the Lord? I fail to pass on my faith to my children? What have I really gained?

My friend texted me yesterday and said, “Would it be weird if my word for 2018 was self-care?” I looked up the definition of self-care: any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.

This concept has been taken to the extreme in our society, where we often speak of loving yourself and the quip “take care of yourself, because no one else will.” But why did Jesus tell the story of the Good Samaritan? Because He was asked the question: What is the greatest commandment in the law?” His response? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” How can we love our neighbor like we love ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How do we know how to care of others if we don’t take good care of ourselves? Tell me: do you think the Good Samaritan was overweight and in poor health, bad with money, or a person whose family and home were a wreck? I doubt it. He was able to stop and help the man on the side of the road because he had taken care of himself. He was physically able to stop and load him on his donkey. He was mentally able to fit in one more thing into his day. He was  spiritually-minded because he was looking for opportunities to give of himself. Only a healthy person could behave in this way.

This is Biblical in origin. Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:20). I discipline my body and keep it under control so that when I have preached to others, I myself should not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh (Proverbs 14:30). There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Taking inventory of our heart and emotions, disciplining our body, establishing tranquility, and entering into rest. Going back to the definition of self-care, it is deliberate. Self-initiated. It is something we must be intentional about, something we must put into motion. Keeping ourselves fit and active by exercising, taking time to inventory what’s going on within us, and entering into rest in non-slumbering ways are all methods of self-care. I’ve written posts before on Sabbath, and will write more in the future, but there are many different ways to “Sabbath.” And each of our Sabbaths will look different, because each of us have different things that stir our affections for Jesus. We avoid the things that steal our joy and immerse ourselves in the things that allow us to focus on Jesus. For some, it may be taking a nature walk. For others, it may be taking a bath. The Sabbath is a built-in facet of Christianity; Jesus mandated it. Rest for our bodies, our hearts, our souls. So that we know that we can cease striving. So that we can remember what’s truly important. So that we have what we need to serve the body of Christ.

What does that look like for me in the middle of Christmas season? Saying no to things I actually really want to do because it will make my life hectic. Writing down my victories and losses from 2017, and jotting down goals and prayerful resolutions for the new year. Slowing down to take time to appreciate all that’s around me. Buying a dessert for the next gathering instead of trying to make a delightful Pinterest recipe that will likely turn into a fail (because we’re real here.) Taking my daughter to visit a widow. Meeting with my mentor and accountability partner. Spending drawn-out time in the Word and in prayer. Exercising. A bath here and there.

And, hopefully, a cheeseboard.

Because nothing stirs my affection for Jesus like cheese.

Toddler Tales

Before I had children, I asked about 8 people to pinky-promise me that if my child was ugly, they would be honest and tell me.

Either those 8 people are liars, or Eden hasn’t turned out so ugly after all. But do you know what I realized last week? When someone tells me that Eden is cute, they are just as much talking about her personality as they are her facial features. This compliment means even more to me than I ever thought it would. I mean, no one wants to have ugly kids, but it’s more important to me that my children have beautiful souls, not just a pretty face. We have enough of those.

But as Eden has gotten older, it’s getting old that people keep telling me how well- behaved my child is. That her personality is so docile and perfect and that she is so sweet- natured and kind-tempered. You know why? Because while it may be true in public, she saves her real face for me.

I’m especially sad for all the moms who are in the middle of disciplining a full-fledged toddler fit, and who look at me and say, “You probably don’t have this happen, do you?” So, I have threatened to record one of these tantrums if people keep telling me they don’t believe me.

So, it happened last week. I asked, as I always do, how Eden was at preschool. One lady started chuckling and said, “I’ll let Deneise tell you about that. Let’s just say, they saw a side of Eden today they never saw before.” Uh-oh. As soon as I appeared at the door, both teachers looked at me with awe in their eyes and both started talking to me at once. They explained the fit she threw, the kicking and screaming and all-out temper tantrum. I told them that I hoped they disciplined her. They replied that it was kind of cute. Kind of cute? I don’t remember ever thinking that when I saw a fit in the mall.

I had her give the teachers love on out way out and then talked sternly to her all the way to the car. As soon as I strapped her in, I got a dose of what they had been talking about. And yes, I’m going to post this on Facebook under this blog post because it’s unfair for any parent to think that there is a child who doesn’t act this way.

But do you know why the teachers said it was cute? Because they knew her. They knew how out-of-character it was for her. They know that this is not her normal personality. But this IS her sin nature. Call it the terrible twos if you’d like, but it’s just her strong-will surfacing. And the Bible talks a whole lot about how important it is to submit our will to God’s will. If our children can’t submit their will to ours, how on earth will they ever learn to submit to God?

If it happened every day, I assure you it would get un-cute in a hot minute. I know this because it has happened to me every single day since. Not every child responds the same way to a certain form of discipline, so prayerfully consider what works best for your child. Always with the mission in mind of teaching them that they are not in control of their life– God is. They can control their choices, but very soon they will learn cause-and-effect, also known as consequences. We are putting them at a disadvantage if we let them grow up thinking they can control their circumstances. They don’t understand all of this yet, so it is crucial that we behave towards them as God does.

Parenting is darn tough. It has been no cake-walk for me, either. As parents, we have the HUGE responsibility to prayerfully consider how we are representing Jesus to our littles. This is no small task. This is HARD, and it requires dying to ourselves, and submitting ourselves to Him, just as we are trying to teach our children to do one day.

I’ve seen parents punish for every little thing. I see little grace in this. I’ve seen parents threaten and count themselves to death, and I see the need for a bit more reinforcement here. My friend Megan said something to me about this topic of the (exhausting) consistency required in parenting: “I think both sides of parenting are equally as lazy. One side lets the child do whatever they want because it’s too hard to tell them no. The other side only wants to beat them over and over for every offense because it’s too hard to discern a correct punishment.” So how in the world are we EVER going to find a happy medium here?

Lots of prayer. Humility. Unconditional love. Well-known expectations. The Holy Spirit.

This is our job. We’ve got one shot to raise these kids. So how do our children view God? The way they view us.

In which ways are we representing Him wrongly?? God doesn’t ignore bad behavior, not in the long run. He doesn’t threaten without following through. He is not a pushover. He never says something and forgets to act on it. Now, we give ourselves some grace, because we are forgetful and we are human. But overall, we want our children to learn that God expects a lot from us, because we have been given much (Luke 12:48.) And we want them to know what to expect from God. He does not let sin go unpunished. Our sin will find us out.

After over a decade of nannying, babysitting, teaching, and now parenting, I’ve learned that there is a secret to it: consistency. It doesn’t matter as much what you do, as long as you see results from what you’ve chosen and you do it consistently.

I’ve also learned one other thing: if you question whether they are manipulating you, they probably are. We don’t give kids enough credit. They’re super smart. (Also, they can put on their own jacket and do their own breathing treatments much sooner than you think they can. Resume reading.) And just like all children, we are born with a will to rebel. God has granted us the huge privilege of identifying the areas where this rebellion exists and nurturing their hearts toward Jesus. All of life is about digging up more sin roots and surrendering our lives to Jesus, so why not give them a head-start now? Because it’s too hard? Because you’re tired? Because it’s embarrassing in public not to just buy them that candy bar? I hear you. And I know it is. But, oh, friend. It’s so worth it. Do the hard work now, and then the foundation will be laid when they become teenagers. You’ll make your job then and their lives so much easier.

The terrible twos turn into the terrifying threes if you don’t deal with the twos. And the terrifying threes turn into the ferocious fours if you don’t deal with the terrible twos. Read Proverbs and ask the Spirit for direction and wisdom with each parenting decision you make. Pray with your children. Fold them in your arms after you punish and tell them how much you love them, and how much God loves them. I don’t do this perfectly, and we mamas need to pray for each other! This is tough stuff. Right now, I am weary feeling that we may never escape this boundary-testing stage.

The day after the episode at preschool, Eden’s teacher sent me this picture. She said, “This beautiful and blue-eyed baby girl even on a rainy day is sunshine! Sweet, sweet, sweet, even when she is having a ‘moment’.” This is how God looks at us, friend.IMG_0402.JPG

He is waiting with open arms to receive us back into the fold again. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how cute their clothes are or how pretty their hair bow is. What matters is that they learn that when they see ugliness inside, Jesus can turn their ashes into beauty.


Oh, the Things You Could Do!

The most common thing that people assume I do for a living is teach. Apparently I have that air about me. I’ll start by telling you that my degree is in legal office administration. That being said, I have been a preschool teacher, a bookstore assistant manager, a hostess at a barbecue restaurant, a nanny, a housekeeper, a secretary, a writer, a Bible study facilitator, a professional organizer, and a social media manager. I have sold scrapbooks and photo preservation products, healthy skincare products, and Bible study resources. I have been approached about taking over an in-home preschool, managing a coffeeshop, and being a children’s minister, just to name a few.

I think I’m realizing that people mean well when they are sad that I don’t stay in one particular vocation because “you’re so good at that.” But I think what they want MORE than just “someone who is good at what they do” is someone that they can trust. Someone they can trust to be reliable, dependable, integrity-driven, etc. Someone who will make smart decisions on and off the clock. They want someone who loves God. They want someone who loves people.

And when someone fits those qualifications? Honestly, they could be good at anything in the world they wanted to do.

Sadly, I’m finding, there aren’t a lot of people like that out there. There are a lot of people who think they need another degree, or more experience, or more qualifications. And while those things are helpful, what people really want is someone who will do what they say they will do.

Realizing this helps me feel like I can take pressure off myself for not pleasing everyone. I’m not missing a calling. I’m actually LIVING my calling. By God’s grace and unmerited favor, I’ve been told that I am reliable, dependable, integrity-driven, a God-lover, and a people-lover. I take NO credit for this. My parents raised me to be a leader, holding me back a year so that I started kindergarten a year older than everyone else. The Lord gave me the title “first-born”, and all the amazing (and annoying) personality traits that come with it. I was homeschooled with top-of-the-line curriculum, giving me a chance to excel. I went to a wonderful academic college, that prepared me for real life experiences. But more than anything, the Lord made me who I am.

Because of this, I could be good at most anything (except needles or anything requiring math skills.) I am trained at being a legal office assistant, and yet do everything but work in a law office. But I cannot, and I’m not supposed to, do everything, not even all the things I might want to! Right now, anything that I even might want to do that makes me unhealthy at serving God or my family is not for me.

We may be awesome at a million things. But we can’t do a million things. And we aren’t supposed to. We are supposed to do only two things: Love God and love our neighbor. Which can really be wrapped up into one large concept: We are supposed to seek first the Kingdom of God— loving Him and loving His people. 

Just seek His Kingdom. And He will do the math.

He will add all the things to us that we need.

He will subtract from our lives what shouldn’t be there.

He will divide our responsibilities until they are manageable, with His help.

He will multiply our efforts and reach more people than we ever could on our own.

He will multiply our time so that there is enough time to do everything that needs to be done.

He will multiply our strength so we can rise with wings as eagles.

Maybe you have far too much on your plate. You wear too many hats. You continue to be volunteered for things. A friend of mine and I were discussing this when she was handed 26 students this year. It was an extraordinary number of kids for one teacher and an assistant to manage, to keep safe, and to succeed with increasing each of the children’s personal abilities. There just weren’t enough hours in the day. There weren’t enough hands to guide. And there were way too many mouths talking.

As we brainstormed how to make the impossible possible, I kept thinking of the boy with five loaves and two fishes. It was a laughable gesture, presenting his lunch to Jesus. It was barely worth offering. The sacrifice was meager. But God takes delight in using our weaknesses and less-thans to bring Himself glory. At the end of that day, there were so many loaves and fishes that there were TWELVE BASKETS. Not twelve baskets to feed the 5,000 people. Twelve baskets leftover, after every single mouth was fed and every belly was full. When God shows up, He doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t just fill our cup halfway. He flat-out OVERFLOWS it.

Maybe that’s the miracle He is trying to write in my friend, in her lack. Maybe the fact that the administration thought she could perform well with 26 kids was because she WAS living her calling. She was reliable, they could depend on her,  and they could trust her to teach well and love those kids well.

When things get hard, let’s not immediately back out. Let’s pray and ask for wisdom to know if God is asking us to step away. But let’s also be willing to stick it out and see what He will do with it. And sometimes, living our calling will require giving up something we love, something we cherish.

Living your calling isn’t always going to be easy. But it’s always worth it in the end.

That’s the miracle He wants to write in you, too.

Bring the little time and energy and ability you have to Jesus, and just watch what He will do with it.

Christmas Brings Thanksgiving

As long as I can ever remember, I have never been good at living in the moment. I am sad that we have come to the place where time flies by so fast and we so over-commercialize that people dread Christmas. (I understand if you dread your own birthday. But dreading someone else’s? That’s taking it to a new level.)

Three years ago, I decided I couldn’t have Christmas. We were not able to travel to see my family up north, and I was a real Scrooge about it. (Turns out, retail at Christmas will kill you if you don’t have any holiday cheer.) Two years ago, I was nine months pregnant and willing the child with everything in me not to come until after the new year. Last year, I was ready for Christmas to come, and found myself seeing Christmas through a child’s eyes. It was beautiful, but also spent running around so that everyone could see Eden and we could deliver Christmas gifts. By Christmas Eve, I was exhausted! So, it’s been a good long time since I’ve just savored the season. I’m eager this year, and 75% of me wants to put up my tree and put on Bing Crosby. (If you’ve already made the leap, I’m with you!)

But something the Lord is teaching me as I get older is to learn to live in the moment. I don’t want to miss what’s happening right now because I’m looking to the next thing. It has struck me more this year than ever before that people have complained all year about the weather. Too hot and then too cold. I’m just so thankful that I live in a place where there are seasons and we actually get a change in climate. Summer held on a little longer this year, and so fall is now in full swing. For once, I don’t want it to be summer and I don’t want to be winter. I want it to be fall. I want to light my pumpkin spice candle and decorate my porch with gourds. I want to stare at the changing leaves and go on hayrides.

As Christians, we constantly live in the tension between the “already” & the “not yet”, as commentators call it. Christ has come, yet we wait for Him still. Christmas has come to my heart this year, and I’m so ready for it. And yet, I slow down enough to enjoy The Right Now. I’m learning that it’s possible to do both at the same time. I was honored to co-write an Advent devotional with my sweet friend Kristin Schmucker, and it sold out in less than a week. You know why? Because we are all desperate for Jesus to make this season meaningful again. We all need more of Jesus. More of Him in our Thanksgiving, more of Him in our holiday, more of Him in our Christmas. When we see more of Jesus, we will marvel at the Thanksgiving that Christmas has brought to our hearts.

IMG_1862.jpeg*You can sign up to receive a free reading plan in your inbox for the Advent devotional here.