Banana Bread Crumbs

Even though it’s October, the air is a bit muggy and humid in the carport, where I usually run on the treadmill. Last week, the 10-point- something acres got mowed for hay, and I looked at the dips and valleys down that field in a whole new light. I have often wished it was flatter, so that it could be a nice space for entertaining. But with my 5K around the corner, I suddenly saw it as a training ground. As I ran across the stubble, I noticed threads of leftover grain, strewn in random piles across the field. My mind immediately fled to Ruth, the gal who deserted all she had ever known for a grieving mother-in-law and a new faith.

For all of Naomi’s bitterness, Ruth was a breath of fresh air. She was delightful, hardworking and beautiful. And though she, too, was grieving, she dove headfirst into serving others and minimizing her own pain. When she set out to gather food for her and Naomi, she found a field and humbly and gratefully began to gather the grain that was left behind. The boss-man Boaz noticed her, and instructed his men to leave larger chunks behind than usual, allowing her to glean a generous amount.

When I ran into the lowest dip, the air got cool and it was a welcome foe for my sweat. I mustered up strength to get up the hill and my mind went back to Ruth. She could not have fed her family without the grain they left behind. And not only did she find sustenance in that field, but she found grace. Grace enough for the journey, and hope that she might just survive in that new land.

If I could only survive this run, I’d be happy. It was so much easier to run when there was a pleasant breeze blowing. I found myself drawn to the heaps of hay, wanting to salvage them, even though I had no earthly use for them. I made a bit of a path along the tractor treads, following those lines and piles.

Joanna Gaines said that there came a time when she realized she was just surviving, despite a growing business, a beautiful family, a delightful marriage, and finally being out of the financial dumps. Doing what she loved every day, designing, and yet every day wanting something more. Specifically, a clean house. She realized she was missing out on the kids’ childhood by being on the hamster wheel of perfection. She resolved to stop feeling overwhelmed by the mess and intentionally put that aside while the kids were awake. To stop designing their house to be a showroom and begin designing it to be family-friendly.

I stopped to tie my shoelace. Had Joanna not changed her perspective, she might have left an entirely different legacy behind for her family. One that sought after perfection over enjoying life, things over people, mess over moments. These things we leave behind us… our kids are picking up what we’re throwing down. Those heaps of grain can be beautiful for those after us to glean, or they could be painful, hurtful, and debilitating.

Am I choosing to leave behind a legacy of spiritual things, or will my life only speak of materialism, perfection-striving, and hours wasted on social media? Will my children glean wisdom from my life, or have to sift through the junk to find gems? Will they find that I sacrificed pleasure for what’s important, or that I spent more time on the ballfield than I did in the pew?

It was getting harder as I went longer, yet oddly easier since the path was already determined for me. I spent less time deciding which way to go and simply focused my energy on running. I recalled a conversation I had with my husband a few weeks ago. I was taking a spiritual gifts test, and I thought it would be fun and eye-opening to hear his answers. One question asked how often my conversations turned to things of the Lord. With 1 being never and 5 being always, I knew that of all the questions on this test, this one would score a 5. Because I don’t talk about the weather, or politics, or the stock market, or shopping. I was shocked when Brandon gave me a 2. At first, it sort of stung, like he was reprimanding me. And then it occurred to me: he wasn’t around for the majority of my conversations.

He doesn’t observe the texts I type out or the direct messages I reply to every day. He doesn’t tag along to my coffee dates with my mentor, or lunches with the girl I disciple. He doesn’t read my blog posts, and he isn’t on social media to see my posts or comments there. And while we do occasionally talk about the sermon or compare notes on Scripture passages, the conversations I have with my closest girlfriends would probably blow his mind.

My ankle turned slightly as I attempted to make a sharp turn. I needed to be more careful or I would be unfit to run the race next month. The last thing I needed was a sprained ankle. I also recalled our neighbors telling us they had seen coyotes at dusk in our garden, and so my eyes were peeled for any frightening shadows.

It occurred to me that I didn’t want to spend all my time avoiding dangers and keeping myself healthy. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it (Luke 17:33). I wanted to focus on what I was leaving behind. What was I passing down? For starters, I want to talk about the Lord more around my family. I want to spend less time discussing food and more time dialoguing about the Father. I have been more intentional to talk about Jesus with with Eden, but it bothered me that my husband really had no idea what my life’s bent was all about. He knows I love Jesus, but I want my family to know that I don’t just know Him. I’m passionate about Him. I want to be on my phone less, teaching those around me that people are my number-one priority. I want to help college kids write argumentative essays and invite them to church. I want to take a meal to someone that I don’t know. If my home isn’t big enough to host hurricane refugees, I want to offer to cook, clean, and babysit for the ones who can host.

I used to be a planner to a fault. Anything that upended my schedule would send me into a panic at worst, or a bad mood, at best. The older I get, the more I feel the Lord softening me. He is reminding me that time can be structured and lassoed until it suits our lifestyles and needs perfectly. We are to redeem the time, because the days are evil. But my days aren’t like clockwork anymore. Today, they’re more messy, more spontaneous. There is more lingering with a friend who needs prayer. There are more phone calls and Facetimes with friends who need advice and encouragement. There are more afternoon trips to visit widows and extra batches of banana bread to take to new moms. This is where the fullest life I’ve ever had is found.

As I began my cool-down, I wondered what my life would look like ten years down the road. When the sun sets on my life here, what will I be remembered for? Will my children have tools to study God’s Word because they’ve seen mama do it? Will they see me using my gift of hospitality and my card ministry to encourage the body of Christ, so that they can find their gifts and do them well? As I do my work and prepare my meals and mop my floors, I’m leaving something behind. And at all times, those around us are in the gleaning business. 

I don’t know what field you find yourself in, but I can promise you there are people walking it behind you, searching for joy, happiness, and sometimes just a smile. You may wish your calling was somewhere else, doing something else, being someone else. But there is a reason you are where you are. Listen for the Holy Spirit’s prompting, to pay for the person’s coffee behind you, to compliment a perfect stranger on the way that necklace looks on them, to open the door for a wheel-chair bound lady.

So today? My goal is to leave bigger chunks behind than usual, so that others can pick up on the Gospel and understand what being consumed with Christ looks like.



Ushering in the Season

When you are 17, everything is either absolutely wonderful or absolutely terrible. Thankfully I missed out on most of the drama, because I was homeschooled. But we had recently moved back to Tennessee and I felt so alone. My only real community was church and the friendships I made there. Over time, church morphed into my god… I was completely obsessed with it. And it felt so right, because, after all, wasn’t I really just obsessed with God?

It wasn’t until extenuating circumstances caused us to leave the church that I made this discovery. I remember sitting in that business meeting feeling like my entire future weighed in the balance. I was surrounded by people that I knew genuinely loved me, and they would never know much I genuinely loved them. But, when it came down to it, I loved them more than I loved God. And He would not have it. 

Perhaps one of my favorite attributes of God will sound weird to you. I love that He is jealous. I love that He pursues us and gets jealous when He sees us running to other lovers, believing the lie that they will satisfy and fulfill us.

When I was younger, I read the Ten Commandments and dismissed the very first one. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. “Oh,” I thought. “That’s for the Hindus.” I was about to find out how close to home that command was.

Perhaps the most dangerous thing is when you make a god out of spiritual things.

It’s so sneaky, the way the enemy works. The way he allows us to have just enough spirituality to make us feel good about ourselves, without ever having to be on fire for Jesus. How he can tempt us with just enough service and being good and being better than someone else to keep us from falling in love with Jesus.

That night was the last night I sat in that pew. We left in search of a new church. I left in search of new friendships and meaning and in search of where in the world God was. I have never cried more tears than I did in that six month period. It affected me so deeply that there are still days here and there scattered amongst adulthood where I just have to have a good cry over it. It was the axis of my spiritual life.

During one of those crying spells, I remember sobbing into my bedsheets as I knelt on the floor. How could you, God? You left me with nothing. Why did You give it to me, just to take it away? 

And as clearly as I know my name, He softly said, “You don’t know how long I’ve given you on this earth. I want you to influence a lot of people, and you can’t do that if you always stay in once place.”

It wasn’t especially comforting at the time. An itinerant wanderer wasn’t on my list of “things I want to be when I grow up.” I went off to college, desperately trying to find a group, to be accepted, to know that someone wanted to be my friend, still in search of someone who would tell me I was valuable.

If we had not split from that church, my life would have gone in a totally different direction. I would have stayed more local for college, and would not have met some of my best friends… ones who would later accompany me down to the marriage altar, knit me free scarves, provide me with deep and lasting friendship, and even offer me a job. It was the distance from Tennessee to Florida that ripped in half the cord of attachment and taught me to make my faith my own…to find out Who God really was. I had believed so many lies about Him.

As a teenager, I sat on my friend Christa’s couch and told her and her husband that if I had a big event coming up, and I was trying really hard not to offend God so that I would look good. They looked puzzled, so I tripped over my words to explain. If I have a zit on my face, I think God is punishing me. When their chins dropped, mine did, too. I didn’t realize I actually thought that. It was a huge moment for me when I discovered that I didn’t truly know God’s character at all.

I had been reading the Bible faithfully, like a good first-born girl should do, but I was reading it looking for myself. Something to help me, to comfort me, to make me feel good. I was searching for meaning and value and narcissism in its pages, looking for ways to feel good about myself, to improve myself, to find worth in life. I highlighted passages that told me how loved I was, how valuable my existence was. I clung to anything that promised me prosperity and affection. I was in a very dangerous place indeed.

My life verse was Philippians 3:10, but it was like I totally skipped over the part about suffering. I wanted to know God, but I wanted it to be painless. I didn’t truly know the heart of God.

Once in college, I began to actually search out the things I was being taught in class each semester about the Bible. I began to see the Book as something that truly had nothing to do with me.  It wasn’t my road map, primarily. It wasn’t solely a love letter to me. It was a book about God, and that would change everything; from how I read it, to how I applied it, to ultimately how I saw God for the first time.

When I no longer had anyone I loved and respected at church to teach me what the Bible said, I began to spend time getting to know Him. I have basked in His Word, searching for Him. And it’s actually very freeing and refreshing to realize that life isn’t about me. That the Bible wasn’t written to give me value. It was written to show me how much God loves the world, yes, but ultimately, it was to written to paint a picture of this God we serve. The Bible was written to reveal The God of the universe to us. How it must grieve His heart when we use it only to benefit ourselves. When we only open it when we are in crisis. When we only use it as a magic 8 ball, flipping open to a page and mindlessly pointing to a verse to find our fortune.

I look back on those tear-stricken days that turned into weeks and months, when I mourned my new reality, and the losses that were so deeply felt by a girl who was lonely. But God was gracious in allowing me to feel the loss, because I had a void inside of me that I was trying to fill with everything but God.

“When has a loss of some kind ushered in a season of new possibilities, hopes, changes or responsibilities for you? How does the knowledge that God is with us help us navigate times of change?” Jen Wilkin posed this question in Bible study last week. I now know how I would answer that last part.

With everything that I grasp at to fulfill me or determine my value, I self-destruct.

With every change, He remains the same.

With everything He takes away, He replaces it with something way better.

With every loss, there is tremendous spiritual gain.

With every no, there is a greater yes.

Yes, He is true to His promise to work all things together for good in the end. It might not look good now. Sometimes, it means living in prison for over a decade for nothing you’ve done wrong in order to become Pharaoh’s second-in-command. Sometimes it means being accused of unfaithfulness in marriage in order to birth the Messiah. Sometimes it means having everything you love on this earth stripped away from you in order for God to show you Who He is. To show you that what He does? It doesn’t have to make sense.

But the greater promise that I cling to? Not just that He gives me better things than the things I desire.

But that He replaces the idols with Himself. 

Whatever thing you’re holding onto? Empty your hands so that you can take His. Let Him lead you through the green pastures and by the still waters and through the dark valleys. Let Him usher you in, to joy mingled with pain. Into a new season. But more importantly, let Him usher you into His presence.

Missing the Chaos

I knew better than to take a nap today. I’ve been up since 2 a.m. and I finally gave up tossing and turning and came to the couch. One of the Trantham hobbies is sleeping. Anytime, anywhere. Cars, airplanes, couches, floors. Morning, noon, late noon, early evening, night. The last time we got a sitter for our anniversary, we came back a half hour early to take a nap before we picked up Eden. (It’s kind of a problem.) But, we tell ourselves, it doesn’t cost any money. (Spoiler alert: super cheap date night activity. You’re welcome.)

But it does cost in a good night’s sleep for me, the older I get. When you live in 1200 square feet, you don’t sneak around well. I heard Eden wake up and fuss for a while. I went in to pick her up and she immediately laid her head on my shoulder. This is a good sign. She’ll probably go back to sleep easily. I headed for the rocking chair and began rubbing her back. That’s when it hit me.

When did I start rubbing her back instead of patting her? I couldn’t remember. When she was quite small, I would pat her, and I even got it down to a science as I went from the fast burping-pat to the slow, synchronized lullaby-pat, to the slowly-air-lifting-my-hands-off-her-back-pat, hoping she would stay asleep. Those days were well behind me, since I started putting her in her bed awake and letting her learn to put herself to sleep. But when did I stop patting and start rubbing? I honestly couldn’t remember. This made me sad.

Today at church, my friend and I were talking with a sweet grandmotherly lady, the kind who smiles constantly and sways slightly during worship and nods during the sermon and puts her graying hair up in multiple butterfly clips. She asked my friend and I how old our children are now.  Almost 5 and 2. She set her purse down on the chair and leaned in.

“Do you know what I miss?” I shifted my weight to be sure I was ready for her answer. I’d heard almost all of it. Fingerprints on the windows. Cheerios on the floor. Their little coos. The way they sleep at night. Breastfeeding. Their jibber-jabber. (I have never heard anyone said they missed the carseats. I was silently hoping she would be the first, followed by the ISBN of the miracle seat they used and a coupon code.)

“I miss the chaos.” 

My friend and I looked at each other with big eyes. Really? Well that’s a new one.

“I miss the kids running around and everyone talking at once and the flurry of activity.” 

It was like she had been to my house and come as a messenger: embrace it. Stop trying to do it all. Stop trying to make it perfect. Stop wiping off the countertop for the tenth time today and get on the dirty floor and stack blocks. Stop obsessing over the budget and go outside and chase her. Make her laugh until she has the hiccups. Count the seconds until she sneezes when she sees the sun. Push her in the swing, with both hands… not one hand on the phone scrolling. Multi-tasking is for work, not for play. Menu planning and cleaning and budgeting can come at 8 p.m., but for now, just be.

“Smile and laugh a lot.” Because when you’re budgeting and cleaning and checking social media, it struck me… that isn’t what brings laughter. It might bring temporary security and fulfillment and entertainment, but those things don’t bring the belly laughter that can only come from interaction with the people you love. Even watching a funny youTube video is better when you have company.

And so isn’t that what Sabbath is, after all? That this planet doesn’t depend on us to keep spinning on its axis. To remember that it’s not about what we’ve done…. but what He’s done. For the next six days we can pinch our pennies and scrub our toilets… but for now, for this chunk of time right now, we can let the world move on without our performance and control. Those things can wait.

Because one day, we’ll wake up and the chaos will be gone.

“I told myself that I would gladly send the last child out. But instead, I cried and wished it all back.”

So tonight I held her a few extra minutes, rubbing her back and trying to figure out when she became such a big girl. I tried to memorize the way she would startle and begin sucking her paci, multiple times with a bit of a squeak. The way she tucked her arms under mine, close to my chest. I looked around at the pile of dirty clothes, books who hadn’t found their way back to the bookshelf, and half-full diaper boxes, and I gave thanks for the early morning wake up call.

Those things can wait.

Because some things don’t wait.

Grilled Cheese Prayers

Two weeks ago, a friend asked if we could get together. So I invited her to my house for a late lunch and we scheduled it for this past weekend. In the ensuing days, my husband decided to start a project in our home that would leave dust on every single square inch of surface. The morning of our approaching lunch date, my daughter spilled a whole bowl of dry Cheerios on the floor. The ShopVac stood in the middle of the kitchen. The dirty dishes piled up higher than the dust. The drop cloths (designed to prevent the dust) was scattered abroad. But I was gone all morning and had no time to remedy the problem. I walked out the door to help my sister with her first cleaning job, and walked back in the door 4 minutes before my friend arrived. I had no makeup on– and a sightly pimple on my left cheek. I was wearing sweaty workout clothes, and I probably had a subliminal stink about me. I was self-conscious about my appearance, about my house, about my level of exhaustion. I didn’t feel like I was “mothering” well that day.

But this was my life. And I couldn’t cancel. She had been gracious enough to come an hour later, when my job with my sister ran over. She walked in, graciously fed my child and swept up the Cheerios; never commented on my unkemptness. I made us salad and grilled cheese, and although it took a while to prepare, we talked about life and the things that are bringing us joy and the things that are bringing us grief. Before she left, I asked if I could pray with her, for the burdens on her heart. For the kids, and the school, and the stressed-out husband, for the lack of direction spiritually, for a church to feel like home to her. For Jesus to come and fill in the gaps.

And when she left, she looked around at the mess one last time and said, “Your home is so…. peaceful. It feels like Jesus lives here.”  I couldn’t have been more stunned. Scripture flew to my mind, from years past. We had been newly married, and renting an 1180 square-foot house that my grandaddy had built half a century prior. It was perfect for us, but quite small compared to the majestic brand-new homes of our friends, with mountain-range roof lines, crown molding, and 30-year-mortgages. I desired to host women and Bible studies in my home, but I didn’t have a large space or what I felt to be a welcoming gathering place. Yet my desire persisted, and so we crammed in like sardines and opened our Bibles. And Jesus met us there.

One night, after Bible study, I sat down to read in 1 Kings 8-9, where Solomon dedicated the Temple to the Lord. But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place (1 Kings 8:27-29.) Tears began to form and roll down my cheeks.

And I was floored when I read verse 3: “And the LORD said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time‘” (1 Kings 9:3, emphasis mine). To think that Jesus would reside in my lowly abode, and use my home as a habitation for Himself? That He would hear the worship and petitions made here? That His eyes would reside here, seeing the mess, yet seeing through to the heart? That He wouldn’t flee when the dust kicked up and the dishes embarrassed Him and the dirty diapers fumigated the place? Could He? Would He? This became the prayer of my heart for the years to come, not knowing that we would eventually purchase this house and property, make it ours, and keep it in our family for yet another generation.

And that’s when I realized… my friend wasn’t here to be wowed with magazine images of perfection, or for a chef-worthy meal, or even a well-manicured friend that she could sit across from and envy. She may have come for lunch and fellowship, but what she really came for was more of Jesus.

Isn’t that what we’re all really after? Isn’t that what we’re really searching for in all of our pursuits? We think we are after clean houses and Joanna Gaines’ new Target line and Paula Dean cookware and buy-one-get-one deals at Publix.

But deep down, we have a void that only Jesus can fill. We need someone to point us to that Someone to give us the thing our heart craves. More than a grilled cheese, we need the Bread of Life. More than good friends, we need the Friend Who sticks closer than a brother. More than clipping coupons and saving money, we need to be saved from ourselves; we need a Savior. More than beautiful homes, we long for heaven. Because, after all, home is a Person. All that we crave is simply pointing us to the only One Who can satisfy. Jesus… He is what we are really after.



The Secret Garden

I headed out the door right before six, so eager to revisit what had been my Secret Garden. It had been nine years since I had frequented this trail, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. A friend of mine had found it, and she and I would wake up bright and early and hike it in solitude. I couldn’t wait to do it again. Thinking back, I remembered reaching the top and just basking in the breathtaking views and the awesomeness of God. We would hit it right about dawn, and the sun peeking over the mountains was a sight to be seen.

I left my purse in the car and grabbed my keys and my phone. I knew I would want pictures. (I may have also been a little concerned that I would lose my way.) It had been almost a decade, after all. The trail was grown up, which wasn’t a total surprise to me. It had been grown up when we first discovered it, as well. But this time, I had to dig through deep foliage, meander around weeds and spider webs, and avoid chiggers and my worst nightmare, poison ivy. If it hadn’t been already 80 degrees at 6 a.m., I would have worn jogging pants. I then remembered why hiking this in the fall was a good idea.

I came to a fork in the path and hesitated. I tried to see in my mind’s eye which way we had followed. I just prayed that I wouldn’t get lost and headed to the right. It kept circling up and up the mountain, or what surely felt like a mountain. I was out of breath and yet exhilaration was flowing through my veins. I couldn’t believe I was finally able to revisit the location that held such sweet and amazing memories for me. I knew the top would not disappoint.

As I came out into a clearing, I looked around in all directions. There was surely a path I was overlooking. This couldn’t be the top. There were no views. I walked to the edge of all the sides, hoping to glimpse the city below. I was befuddled. This could not be the place that I have dreamed about for nine years. Maybe I had taken a wrong turn.

And yet, there was no other place to go higher. This was it. I had expectations of being so wrapped up in God’s creation and love and spending a few minutes up there in prayer and meditation. I knew I would be out of range for my Bible app to work, but I had allowed myself some time to just soak in His beauty.

As it was, I snapped a few pictures (of what, I wasn’t sure) and headed back down the trail, confused, disappointed, and sad. I kept my eyes peeled, not only trying not to get lost, but hoping that maybe I would see something on the way down that would right my confused memories.

I realized something that day. My position in life had affected the view at the top. That previous year had been a tough one. I had been rejected and betrayed that year at college by some dear friends of mine. I had spent the majority of my last semester in the vending room, crying out to Jesus and trying to find my identity and worth again. I had gone to camp as a counselor that summer, hoping to find meaning and value there, hoping to find healing from my pain and invest in new people. In fact, one of the friends who had caused me hurt would also be there, but I had fresh hope that we could reconnect in the absence of some other influences. But, as it turned out, she found another friend who was funnier, lovelier, and more attractive than I, and so had begun a heartbreaking summer of realizing that I would never be enough. I had graduated from college only to find myself back at home, with no husband, no friends, and what seemed like no future.

I had always struggled with food, but four years at college had magnified this. I often skipped the hefty dinner lines on Sunday night after church to eat Ramen in my room and study. I hated Sundays. I knew I was missing out on the grilled chicken sandwiches with cheese, and Ramen was no substitute. The real issue was that someone rarely invited me to go with them, and I didn’t want to eat alone. At camp, I had found my weight issues come to a peak as I faced anew the rejection and sadness that comes from dashed hopes. I wallowed in moon pie sundaes and Bosco sticks that summer, hoping to mask the pain I felt. Moving back home didn’t help this at all. It suddenly seemed like food was my best friend, and the cure to all the sorrow I felt for what was my life.

But this trail represented self-discipline. During this time, I also went through a Bible study called A Call to Die, and had chosen to give up dinner throughout the week in order to spend time in God’s Word. This turned out to be such a sweet time for me, but something I never thought I could do. Willingly, of course. I used to pine for the people who had lives and friends to go to dinner with. But now, I was perfectly content to spend time with my best Friend and eat a pack of crackers. My stomach growled a whole lot, but I was more spiritually full than I’d ever been. Between that sacrifice of supper and the sacrifice of sleep to hike this trail in the mornings, I felt renewed like I never had before. Maybe there was hope that I could knock this food issue out of the park once and for all.

This trail represented new friendships. I had decided to stop seeking the popular crowd, and instead seek the crowd who wanted to go deeper with Christ. They weren’t the friends that I had expected to hang out with in that season of life. They were new friends that God knew I needed to lead me back to the place I needed to be with Him.

This trail represented severing my worth from people and anchoring my identity in Christ. I had finally emerged from hiding and decided to make my own path. My life wasn’t what I expected, but moping about it wasn’t going to make anything better. I was tired of caring what other people thought of me. I was tired of letting others dictate my life. I was exhausted from my identity being attached to other people. It was a roller coaster of emotions, being whipped every which way as I attempted to prove my worth. I was done with that way of life.

This trail represented solitude. Drowning out the noises of the world in order to focus squarely on Jesus. To leave those things below and go higher with Him.

So the views that I thought this mountain top had? They were the views, not of sunrises and lush meadows, of countryside cottages and Amish farmlands, but of accomplishment, discipline, and new spiritual heights with Christ. They were the views of the homeland, heaven, where I would be able to see nothing but my Lord. It was on the mountain top where I was able to carry up my burdens and walk down without them. It was a feeling of being made into the image of God, not only as my physical body changed, but as my spiritual heart changed. It was the decision to stop trying to manipulate and shuffle around the pain but to rest in Him. IMG_7850

I realized on the way down that the way I remembered it was certainly very different that reality. But actually? It was entirely accurate. It was a beautiful piece of heaven-on-earth.

Lessons from a Zookeeper

My daughter and I rounded the corner into the shade. It was a perfect day for the zoo… a beautiful 72 degrees in August, with a gorgeous breeze that was almost a bit chilly. We had already seen camels, albino kangaroos, flamingos, and we were headed to the giraffes. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a creature with lots of hair walking around the cages of monkeys, parakeets, and lemurs. An older lady with a stretchy band of keys on her wrist was picking up fallen tree limbs and hosing off the cages from the outside. I noticed that she wasn’t smiling. The parakeet was making loud noises and the monkeys were swinging like acrobats around their cage. The giraffes were stretching their necks to see what all the raucous was about. Eden was enthralled with the monkeys, their beards and their chatter. I was admiring their upper arm strength, wondering how many reps I would have to do to be able to swing around like that.


I noticed that the zookeeper wasn’t smiling. How odd, I thought. She had the opportunity to be just feet away from some of the most amazing animals, and it didn’t appear that she even noticed them. Perhaps she was having a bad day, or had a lot on her mind. But I began thinking of what amazing privileges I take advantage of in my own life. That I have a job and can significantly contribute to my family’s needs while staying at home with my daughter this summer? That I’m surrounded by Cheerios and feel like a human Hoover and forget that I have a precious toddler at home that God has given me to take care of? That I get wrapped up in the busyness of life and fail to take notice of the Presence of Jesus? How often do I read His Word out of duty, instead of relishing His love for me? I wonder how often I walk through this life, ungrateful for my one-and-only job description on this earth: to love and know Jesus more. How have I gotten over this privilege??


A crowd assembled, watching the hyperactive animals respond to the water and the up-close-and-personal human. The lady didn’t speak to the animals. She didn’t make eye contact with them as she targeted the poop on the cage floor and aimed her hose at it. How often am I, too, focused on the crap in my own life… the failures, the opportunities missed, the inconvenient interruptions, the sticky countertops…that I forget to notice the people around me that I love? Matt Chandler speaks of husbands and wives who bring their phones to bed at night, frustrated with life, creeping on old classmates’ present-day careers and scrolling through social media, seemingly without thought to their beloved lying in bed next to them. This is so often me.


The lady filled up the water basin and added new food, but I noticed that the monkeys were still picking at the old banana peels that she was trying to hose away. How ridiculous, I thought to myself. Do they not see the amazing treasure trove of fresh fruit right over there? How silly to desire the leftover peels. But how often am I content with the leftovers? How often do I scrounge around for food that is half-eaten, picked at, and non-sustaining? Do I really think this is the best there is? I settle for what Billy Graham says about God, what that devotional tells me God is like, what that podcast tells me the Bible says. But do I feast on the riches of God’s Word myself? Or do I simply roam around the cages of the men and women of God who have sat at Jesus’ feet for years, and pick up bits and pieces of what they’ve learned and take what they say as truth? Hearing from pastors and wise leaders is an important privilege, but it should never take the place of seeking God for myself. When I do this, I am missing out on so much. I am trading communion with Christ for allowing someone else to attend the feast and tell me what it tastes like. I wonder how often I am content with the crumbs instead of dining on steak at the Master’s table.


Just as we decided to go on our way, I heard the zookeeper say something to the monkey. I expected something like: Hello there, handsome! Nice moves! This sure is a pretty day for swinging! But instead, I heard, “Are you going to help me?” Ouch. Does Jesus feel this way? How many times have been blinded to His beauty because I am only there to ask Him for help? How often am I unable to see the miracle of God-in-flesh, the God Who gave up all of His heavenly glory, and became the most vulnerable of all humans- a baby. Instead of bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh, I come empty-handed, expecting to leave with my arms full.


As I pushed the stroller towards the zebras, I prayed that I would gain a renewed sense of my privilege as a daughter of Christ. I asked the Lord to make me more aware of His Presence, and to never let it get stale. I prayed to be like the Psalmist who begged to be a doorkeeper in God’s house than to be separated from Him (Psalm 84:10.)  His majesty and glory is paralleled to none.


Jesus, may I never get over it!

You’ve got a friend in me

Toy Story may have been the first to make the line “you’ve got a friend in me” popular, but it’s basically been my unspoken motto for years. I have always dreamed of having that inseparable, totally amazing best friend. Every time a new friendship started, I hoped it would be THE ONE.

Sometimes, that friendship would work out… for a while. As long as I kept in touch, made plans to spend time together and talk, listen, and sympathize, gave them a birthday gift each year, and interacted with them on social media, we stayed friends. As long as I made an effort, they would typically let me. And I kept at it, hoping that they would become as interested in being my friend as I truly was in being theirs. That maybe one day, they would text me first and want to get together — and not just to tell me about their new pet, problem, or crush.

But each time, that special friendship didn’t quite work out. At all. Things would be good for a while until I finally noticed something: I was initiating almost everything. I started conversations; issued phone calls, invitations, and gifts; and committed a lot of time to these perceived friendships. I went out of my way to show interest in their lives, listen as they talked about things that were important to them, and make them feel special and loved. I didn’t have entirely selfless motives; I was hoping to get a best friend out of the deal. But I wanted to be there for them and help them as much as I could; to be the friend to them that I hoped they would be to me. Perhaps instead of being so desperate for a friend, I should have considered the type of girls I would even want to be friends with. I mean, this is what I was dealing with:

The attention-seekers ~ “It took me way too long to realize that you shouldn’t be friends with people who never ask how you’re doing.” The first group of perceived friends wanted all of the attention all the time. They gave no apology for taking up tons of my time talking only about themselves. In the name of being a good friend, I would listen to endless complaints and rants, just hoping that talking would make them feel better. I would offer them some biblical advice and attempt to encourage them in the Lord, only to be met with more complaints (usually about the same thing) the next time we spoke. If I got brave enough to interject something about a time when I had a similar experience that related to the discussion, they listened wordlessly until I was finished speaking before resuming their monologue. (“Enough about you…back to me.”) No matter what tact I tried, the attention-seekers never respected my time, advice, or kindness; they took as much as I would give them as long as I would give it.

The hit-and-miss girls ~ “I decided to put as much effort into contacting you as do with me – that’s why we don’t talk anymore.” This group just didn’t make an effort. They were generally willing to hang out if I asked and seemed content to let me make all the effort, but they didn’t express any disappointment if we never saw one another, talked, or spent time together. They just didn’t try. No amount of effort or care or concern on my part impressed them enough to invest in me the way I had invested in them.

The part-time friends ~ “I am not a contestant. I will not fight for a spot you’re entertaining others for…” The third group was much more subtle than the first two because these girls really seemed to care. They asked about my life and offered their help. They actually seemed like good friends and were fun to be around; they seemed to think I was great too – until one of two things happened. Either someone they liked better came along, or they became too busy to make time for me anymore. Suddenly the wonderful feeling of having a friend was replaced by the realization that I wasn’t nearly as important as the new girl or the newest thing in my friend’s life. Instead of trying to regain the lost attention, I would usually wait for my part-time friend to remember me or move on. No matter how good this person’s intentions were, I realized I couldn’t count on them to be the committed friend I needed.

So, can you relate? Although dealing with these people can be extremely disappointing and frustrating, I want to encourage you to do two things. First, be friendly. Proverbs 18:24 shares this seemingly obvious truth but sometimes this gets overlooked in its simplicity. Even if you’ve had tough experiences with the groups I just described, you shouldn’t stop being friendly. You won’t find good friends sitting back and waiting for them to come to you. Don’t give up on friendship; instead, become more aware and quicker to identify the people in these categories before you invest too much time and commitment to the relationship. You can be friendly without being friends. Don’t hesitate to reach out, but enter cautiously into friendships.

Secondly, keep reaching out! Even if you know people who wouldn’t be the best friends, don’t stop reaching out to them. It could be that God put them in your life for you to have a ministry to. If you go into the relationship with the mindset of serving, you can ungrudgingly be a friend to them without expecting their friendship in return. Ministering to others without return expectations frees you from bitterness and hard feelings. I’m finally starting to see what true friendship looks like and let me assure you that it looks nothing like the one-sided relationships I had convinced myself that I needed. Pray for the right kind of friends and be the right kind of friend. “Don’t change so people will like you. Be yourself and the right people will love the real you.”