Tag Archives: Religion

Compelled By Love & Shaken Free


At this time in 2007, only 7 little years ago, my family had just taken a huge, scary plunge of faith. After thinking about it and praying about it and talking about it every which we way we could, we finally just did it. Patrick quit his job so we could work full-time with an international missions organization.

We’d raised some support, but not enough. We didn’t know for sure how we’d make our house payments. But detail after detail had lined up and prayers had been answered, and we just knew it was time to go all in. So he quit his job and we put all our time into calling and writing and visiting churches and getting our house ready to sell and packing up everything we owned.

During those months, a lot of people wondered why. Why would a man with six little kids quit a good-paying job? Why would we leave the community we loved? Why would we subject ourselves to poverty to do this? Why would we leave our network of support? Really, truly, I think many people wondered if we’d up and lost our minds.

The answer we gave then, and the only answer I can still summon, is we felt compelled by the love of Jesus. Patrick and I grew up in loving families, in the church, in relative comfort. We had each had little tastes of hardship, but nothing earth-shattering. We had been blessed with such advantage. And we knew from our own travels and from the stories of our friends that so many people in the world have not known the blessings we have known. Weighing especially heavy on our hearts were the stories of people who live feeling enslaved to and frightened of the spirits their culture worships. So many of these people live in constant terror and horrible oppression. We and our friends have heard their stories first-hand. And Patrick and I felt our hearts stretched and pulled to help these people experience the joy and freedom that can come from knowing Jesus.

And so we went. Though we had hoped to go somewhere far, far away and foreign, God aligned circumstances so that we only went so far as Florida. There, we lived in an apartment on the mission property and worked in the communications department of the home office, partnering with more than 3,000 missionaries around the world.

Our four years there were wonderful and awful and sweet and sad and everything good and everything bad all rolled up. We were disillusioned and encouraged and broken down and built up. Though we had traveled to foreign countries, it was our time there in Florida, living outside the Bible belt and among people who did not grow up in the protective casing of a church-going, Christian home, that truly expanded our view of the world and, really, our view of God Himself. Separately and together, Patrick and I found ourselves in conversations that challenged us to examine our beliefs and hold tightly only to the very core essentials, loosening our grasp on the things that were mere traditions and preferences.

As we were deeply hurt by believers, our co-missionaries, who held their pride and their right to be right more strongly than they held love, we grew angry. And then, layer by layer, God’s Spirit pointed out to my heart the ways I was guilty of the very same thing.

During our four years in Florida, we were completely shaken from every sense of security. In the very beginning, we had no strong friendships, no church family, no financial security. Then Patrick got very sick and almost died, and we spent more than a year facing a very uncertain future and praying for miracles and hoping for life and time. And I am not, by nature, a risk-taker, and I really don’t like heights. And for the last half of our time in Florida, I felt like our family  was walking on a very thin, very high bridge without a harness or safety net. Most of the time, I was either setting my focus on Jesus and clinging tightly to Him or I was nearly hyperventilating and feeling like my foot was about to slip off the bridge at any second and trying to remember to have faith.

And then, three years ago, as our fourth year in Florida was beginning to wind down, we wrestled with whether or not we should stay. Ironically, the decision we made because we felt compelled to make a difference in the world had taken us to a community of people who already knew Jesus. We knew people from church and Bible study and the mission organization. Those were our circles, for the most part. Though we certainly tried to show love and light to the homeless people in our neighborhood and the doctors and nurses we met and the people we communicated with through social media, our personal interactions with people outside our circles were limited — because of our finances, because of Patrick’s health, because we spent so much time in survival mode. We did not doubt that our work was important for our missionary partners in foreign countries, but we were no longer convinced that our service there was the best way to respond to the pull we felt on our hearts.

Add to all of that some serious misgivings about some situations involving our children and some major personality clashes with some of our co-missionaries, and we ultimately felt released from our work there and urged to move on to the next thing.

When we packed up for Florida in 2007, we were compelled to get a message of good news to people who were living in fear and holding tightly to traditions and beliefs that oppressed them and narrowed their world. We felt sorrow for these people who were afraid and who were performing to appease their spirits. As we packed to leave Florida in 2011, we realized that God had used our time there to free us from so many fears and to show us how we held tightly to traditions and beliefs and preferences that oppressed us and narrowed our world. He showed us how we often thought we could appease Him or please Him by performing the Christian act. He shook us from false senses of security. And He brought us to the freedom in Jesus that we thought we were going to show others.

Those lessons did not come easily. Like I said, it was awful and good and hard and sweet and sometimes dark and sometimes lonely and beautiful and scary and painful. But as we loaded up our stuff and headed back to Virginia, we came compelled by the love of Jesus to offer our light and love and service to our people here. And He has expanded our circles so very much! Sometimes I just cannot believe the wide circle of people God has given us to love and offer hope to! Three big public schools full of teachers and students, soccer teams, basketball teams, cheerleading squads, neighborhoods, a church full of teenagers and children, so many friends on Facebook and Twitter and this blog, rooms full of moms needing any bit of light and hope I can hold out, and on and on. So many people. And now I can truly offer a message of freedom and grace and love because I have been shaken free from all the other stuff; and when I try to grab back hold of it all, He gently shakes me free again. All I have to offer now is Jesus and His great love and mercy. This is all I know, and I am compelled by love to tell you.

If God urges you to take a giant plunge of faith, let me encourage you to do it. Take big risks for the sake of love. If He places a passion in your heart, pursue it. And if it seems like everything is falling apart, hang on. He may just be shaking off the traditions and fears and false securities you are holding onto so that you can hold onto only Jesus and His love and mercy.

Swimsuits, Modesty, Sexism, and Respect

This video about the evolution of the swimsuit keeps popping up in my Facebook newsfeed. It is a nine-and-a-half minute, anti-bikini argument filmed in a TED-talkish sort of way. Jessica Rey, founder of Rey Swimwear, is marketing her product — expensive, modest swimwear designed with Audrey Hepburn as an inspiration.

And Rey makes some good points. I love that she questions how and why wearing less fabric gives women power. I love that this young woman chose to act on her beliefs. She saw what she perceived was a problem, then used her talents and gifts and knowledge to do something. I love that. I respect that. I also love that she references an actual scientific study. I remember reading about this study more than a year ago. I probably read about it in an article like THIS

The study describes brain scans done on men who were viewing photographs of women. When viewing photos of women in bikinis (in which the heads were cropped off), the men associated the women with first-person action verbs like I push,  I handleI grab. When viewing photos of fully-clothed women, the men associated those women with third-person action verbs. Based on these tests, researchers deduced that men are more likely to view women in bikinis as objects to be acted upon, rather than as people in charge of their own actions.

The study also shows that the part of the man’s brain associated with using tools lit up as they looked at the headless images of women in bikinis. Again, this reinforces the idea that men are more likely to view women in bikinis as objects to be used.

Most interesting to me, though, is that some men actually had an extreme physiological response to the photos of women in bikinis. The part of their brains responsible for analyzing another person’s thoughts and emotions and intentions completely shut down. These men essentially stopped viewing these women as humans. 

All of my Facebook friends who have posted this video have hopped on Jessica Rey’s bandwagon, using this information as solid evidence that women and girls should not wear bikinis, lest they be objectified by men.

And they have a point. I’m a mom of two young ladies in their teens. I don’t like the idea of men ogling them. And as of right now, we have a no bikini policy. My older daughter asked to buy a bikini this summer. And after listening to her respectful, well-planned presentation, my husband and I were not convinced that our teenage daughters in bikinis would be a good thing.

Some women argue that women should be allowed to wear whatever we want and that we shouldn’t be held responsible for what reaction men have to our clothing (or lack thereof). Though I can agree with this (no woman deserves to be attacked or abused or used based on what clothes she is or isn’t wearing), I also think that we humans, especially those of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ, do have some obligations for helping each other out. And if we understand that men have physiological reactions in their brains, completely subconsciously and without intention, based on our clothing choices, then it would be wise and helpful and compassionate to take that into consideration when purchasing our swimsuits.

And if I know this happens inside a man’s brain, and I know there’s not going to be a whole lot I can do about changing the brains of men I don’t know, then I certainly am going to consider these scientific facts when deciding what I will and will not allow my teenage daughters to wear. Because I don’t want men to see my daughters as objects. I don’t want men to stop viewing my daughters as humans with thoughts and intentions and feelings all their own. As a mom, I am compelled to consider these facts when granting or refusing permission for my daughters to wear bikinis.

The thing that has surprised me, though, is what I have not seen in conversations about this scientific study. Every conversation centered around this study ends up being a discussion about whether or not women should wear bikinis or whether or not we should allow our daughters to wear bikinis. I have not seen one conversation about what this study reveals about the way we’re raising our sons. 

You see, those men whose brains completely shut off the section that analyzes the thoughts and feelings and intentions of another person, the section of the brain that lights up when viewing another human — those men who stopped viewing the headless bikini-wearing women as people — that group of men was the same group whose questionnaires revealed their attitudes were associated with the most hostile sexism. These men viewed women in an adversarial way.

Their attitudes and thoughts toward women physiologically altered the way their brain responds to photographs of women. Their subconscious, unintentional reaction came about because of thoughts and attitudes which had somehow been learned.

(*I know some would argue that perhaps men’s physiology controls their thoughts. That men with super-high testosterone levels or men whose brains automatically think “I use that tool” when seeing a woman in a bikini have developed sexist attitudes based on the chemical makeup of their brain. I reject that notion because I believe that thoughts and attitudes are learned and chosen, not the product of some brain chemistry we cannot control. Quite the contrary, science has proven our thoughts and attitudes influence the chemistry and functions of our bodies.)

Suddenly, based on what the study actually shows, this marketing video for modest swimwear and the articles on this scientific study are not only about whether or not I allow my daughters to wear bikinis. No, this video and this study are screaming alarms to me as a mother of four boys!

What my husband and I teach our sons about women matters. It matters greatly! If we allow sexism in any form to settle into their thoughts, into their hearts, we are impacting the subconscious, physiological reactions of their brain chemicals.

Just as much as I do not want men to ogle my daughters and view them as objects, I do not want my sons to ogle their female friends and view them as objects. I don’t want my sons to see women in bikinis and stop thinking of them as fellow human beings with emotions and intentions and thoughts all their own.

I refuse to believe that my sons will inevitably view women as objects after the amount of fabric on their bodies gets below a certain square-inch amount. And this scientific study supports me in that belief. If it was only the men who view women with the most hostile sexism whose brains stopped viewing bikini-wearing women as humans and instead saw them as tools, then other men, those men without hostilely sexist opinions, still viewed bikini-wearing women as fellow human beings. I want my sons to fall into that camp!

As the mom of both girls and boys, I have an obligation to teach all my children to respect and care for all people. This includes teaching my daughters to respect guys enough to not toy with physiological reactions the guys may not be able to fully control.  This also includes teaching my sons to respect girls, to challenge sexism in any form, to view women as valuable human beings whose feelings and thoughts and intentions matter every bit as much as any man’s.

I’ll be honest with you – it frustrates me that so many people have been posting this video and seem to be saying, See, girls, guys can’t help it. It’s inevitable; men are going to objectify any woman in a bikini. So it’s your job to put on more clothes. I disagree with that. Firstly, I think that the study indicates that when men have a respect for and appreciation of women as people, their brains still view women as humans even when tempted to objectify them (when the tool-related parts of the brain fire up). Secondly, we know that men rape and abuse and objectify women who are wearing more than a bikini. Women in burqas are even raped and objectified. So we can’t blame it on a bikini. Or a miniskirt.  The responsibility for whether or not men objectify women does not rest on women as we choose our clothing for the day.

But the responsibility for helping mold my sons’ attitudes toward women does rest on me. That is a responsibility we women who are raising sons do have! And it troubles me that I do not see this conversation circling around this video. I see far more, FAR MORE, internet conversations about teaching our daughters modesty than I do about teaching our sons to reject sexism, to reject the idea that women are objects, to value women as equal human beings whose feelings and ideas and intentions and emotions are equally important.

As a mother to both girls and boys, I am committed to both conversations — teaching my daughters modesty and teaching my sons to value and respect women.

A Love That Covers

This scripture has been rolling around in my head lately,

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
~1 Peter 4:8

I love people. I mean, I would consider myself a people-person. But, let’s be honest – people are annoying sometimes. At least, the people around me are. The people around me have never mastered the art of reading my mind and doing my bidding without my even asking. Seriously! When will these people get with the program? The people I know have needs that sometimes interrupt my plans. Like, when I’m in the middle of a good book, they still want to eat meals! They have emotions and mood swings and personalities that do not always match my emotions and mood swings and personality. Sometimes, the people around me are like sandpaper or like nails on a chalkboard or like that annoying stink bug that keeps buzzing out of the light fixture just when I start to doze off.

And that’s only the stuff people do unintentionally! Sometimes these people in my life actively hurt me. Sometimes the little people scream, “No, I will not do that!” or “Leave me alone! I don’t like you!” And the big people say with their actions, “What you want is not important to me.” Sometimes the people I know abuse my kindness or take me for granted. They make selfish decisions that impact me. Sometimes people say untrue things about me or they find delight in my mistakes or shortcomings. Some people lie to my face, insulting my intelligence. I mean, for real, some people are a knife in my back, a pain in my neck, a rip in my heart. 

Not only do I have to deal with annoying people, sometimes I AM the annoying person. I am selfish and prideful. I am arrogant. I can be lazy and forgetful and scatter-brained. When I am tired, I can be extremely grouchy and impatient. I can be critical in others of the very things I myself do! Sometimes, I am so annoying I want to get away from me!

The only remedy I know for dealing with such human humans is LOVE. Love can cover all of these grievances and annoyances and sins.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. . .
~1 Cor. 13:4-8

Wow! No wonder love can cover a multitude of sins! Patient, kind, humble, polite, not self-seeking, not angered easily. Yes, those attributes would cover all the grievances and annoyances and sins that need to be covered.

But, goodness! I need help! Because there is no way I can muster up that kind of love on my own. I know me. I know my limitations. Loving like that? All the time? Or, at the very least, when it is most needed, when a multitude of sins needs to be covered over? No. Can. Do. Thankyouverymuch!

Fortunately, I have help.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope . . .
~1 Peter 1:3

We love because he first loved us.
~1 John 4:19

We can love others above all else because He loves us and births us into His Spirit. God is Love. And God’s Spirit lives within us. Love lives in us.

When I tap into the Love living in me, I can love others with kindness, patience, humility and perseverance. I can straight-up 1 Corinthians 13 love them even though they annoy the ever-living daylights out of me.

I don’t know about you and the people in your life, but the people in my life and I need this LOVE that covers over a multitude of sins.

Are you weary?

I’m tired. Deep in my bones, deep in my soul – tired.

Do you ever feel that way? Exhausted from all that life demands. Weary.

Lately, my mind keeps returning to this sweet Bible verse

Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.’

And so I wearily stumble back to Jesus. I need His rest.

Come on; stumble with me. We’ll hold each other up and help each other along. Jesus is gentle and He will give us rest for our weary souls. And I do need His rest. Because I’m tired. Deep in my bones, deep in my soul – tired.

Will you come with me to Jesus for rest?

Deep Craving


When I was pregnant with my first child, there was this teeny tiny building in the nearby Food Lion parking lot. Bahama Snow Shack. They sold the most incredible shaved ice. The ice was perfectly shaved, exactly the right texture. The flavors were just sweet enough without being too syrupy. Strawberry. Piña colada. Aaaaaahhh. It was a tiny bit of heaven in my mouth.

I craved the delicious goodness of Bahama Snow Shack. Spring was unseasonably hot that year. I was enormously pregnant. And I made near-daily visits to that little shack.

In the interest of helping our budget, I attempted to substitute popsicles for the Snow Shack’s tasty creations. No brand of popsicle could compete with a giant cup of flavored ice shavings. I borrowed an ice shaver and tried to create my own little Snow Shack in my goldenrod yellow leftover-70’s kitchen. It just wasn’t the same. Nothing quite satisfied my deep craving for tropically-flavored, perfectly-shaved ice like the little building on the outskirts of the Food Lion parking lot.

When I was pregnant with one of the boys, I desperately wanted this chicken dish from a Brazilian restaurant about an hour away. I tried to satisfy that craving for spiciness with tacos and nachos. I searched the internet for recipes and attempted to re-create that flavorful, spicy dish at home. Nothing could satisfy that craving except that exact dish from that exact restaurant.

I’ve been thinking lately. We are all made with this unyielding craving for deep unconditional, perfect love. We are created with a profound desire to be fully known and fully loved. A holy discontentment. A gaping hole in our souls. And the only thing that will truly satisfy this craving is God Himself. 

We try to satisfy this craving with all sorts of other things. People who don’t believe and accept Jesus look elsewhere to satisfy this desire. But believers do it too. We try to fill this hole with things – we shop, we decorate, we keep up with the Joneses. We try to fill it with degrees and jobs, with popularity and acceptance. We eat. We drink. We seek fun and excitement. We want our friends, our families, our marriages to fill us up. We think sex or being desired will satisfy this longing. We may even serve and study and work hard to be good and do good, thinking this will surely satiate our souls.

I do it too. My restless soul wanders looking for fulfillment. Not necessarily in bad places. But any time I try to satisfy this soul-craving with anything other than Jesus Himself, my hunger won’t be assuaged.

As Pascal said,

There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, made known through Jesus.

Just like a popsicle is a pretty sorry substitute for the delicious tastiness of a Bahama Snow Shack shaved ice, anything other than Jesus is a poor replacement for our deep soul craving. We are made for Him.

* Photo credit: Matthew / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

Crowded Loneliness

CoolBabyThingThe other night, I told BabyThing to go take a shower. He started up the stairs, then came back to the dining room. “But I feel so alone up there,” he whined.

I wasn’t going to let him get out of taking a shower. Seven year olds can have some stinky aromas at the end of a hot day! So I said, “Ummm, you’re supposed to feel alone in the shower. That is one place you should be alone!”

He finally did take that shower. Alone. And he survived the five minutes of torturous solitary confinement required to bathe.

But I think he’s onto something. We’re not really made to be alone. Oh, we’re made to enjoy enough solitude for bathing. Like a long, hot bath with candles and a Ray LaMontagne playlist and no children knocking on the door. We’re made to thoroughly enjoy some of that. But we’re not made to be alone for long. Even introverts need other people.

Years ago, I heard someone at a conference use the term crowded loneliness. Those words jumped out at me. Crowded loneliness. Isn’t that the truth? Wal-Mart is filled, crowded even, with lonely people. Our shopping malls and football stadiums and convention centers, our skyscrapers and factories and truck-stops, our schools and parks and, sadly, even our churches are all filled with lonely people.

We have more opportunities than ever to connect with people — Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email, text messaging — and even the internet is crowded with lonely people. I think sometimes all that surface connection stirs up a greater longing for real, meaningful interaction. We long to know and be known. We are made for this — to know and be known, to belong in community, to be part of something larger than ourselves.

Those of us who follow Jesus are part of the Body of Christ. We are a part of something and Someone larger than ourselves. We’re supposed to have a lot of other body parts connected to us. So why are we so lonely?

I once heard a woman say that she had memorized the hairline of a man a few rows in front of her at church. She knew how tall he was from the shoulders up, above the pew. She knew what he had worn the week before. Yet she had never had a conversation with him. Each Sunday, I know what faces will appear in which seats in my church auditorium. But I haven’t actually spoken to many of them. I don’t know their voices, their names, their stories.

And I know it’s not realistic for me to be BFFs with everyone in my church or everyone in my neighborhood. But I do know that I need to find real connection with some people. Today, I am finding that in small groups — growth groups at my church, a handful of moms I have breakfast or lunch with, a group of ladies who do regular Girls’ Night Outs together. These are the people who share their stories with me, the people who are helping me know and be known. We are intentional about belonging to each other, doing life together. Each interaction we have dissipates loneliness.

Church, one of the greatest blessings we have to offer people is belonging. Community. We belong to Christ, but also to each other. One conversation, one connection at a time we can chip away at the crowded loneliness surrounding us.

It’s good to be alone in the bath with a good book or a cup of cocoa. It’s not good to be alone in life.




Is 20 Long?

Several years ago, we were traveling and the children started asking that awful question, “How much longer?” My husband told them 20 more minutes.

Then sweet little ThingFour, who was four at the time, called out from the back seat, “Is 20 long?”

Is 20 long? The question made us smile. So innocent. So sweet.

Is 20 long? ThingFour didn’t grasp the concept of time yet. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Those words don’t mean much to preschoolers. Unless we explain it in terms they can understand. We would say, “Twenty minutes is a little bit less than a Veggie Tales video. We wouldn’t have time to watch all of Rack, Shack, and Benny.”

Is 20 long? How often do our questions to God reflect this same innocence, ignorance, inability to understand? Explaining God’s character to humans. His infiniteness to our finite minds. His love to selfish people. His wisdom to foolish people. His otherness. Well, that must be as difficult as trying to explain 20 minutes to a child who has no concept of time.

We come to God, the Creator of all the universe, with our deep, theological questions. We debate with each other this doctrine or that. We feel intelligent and grown-up and wise because we grasp some crumb of Truth. But I bet God hears us the same way we heard my son — a sweet little voice calling out, “Is 20 long?”

Jesus Is Nice

ThingsOneandFiveWhen ThingOne was about five or six years old, she sat beside me in church one Sunday morning. Our pastor was teaching that story in Matthew 14 about when Jesus walked on the water.

Jesus had sent the disciples out in the boat with instructions to go to the other side of the water. After the disciples had rowed out far into the water, the wind picked up and the boat began to toss in the waves. Already undoubtedly stressed and fearful of the storm, the disciples grew terrified when they looked up and saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. As Jesus reassured them that He wasn’t a ghost, Peter stepped out onto the water and walked toward Jesus. And for the short time he kept his eyes on Jesus, Peter defied gravity and walked on the water. But the minute he focused his attention on the powerful wind, his fear returned, and he began to sink.

Our pastor stepped to the edge of the stage and smiled as he told what happened next. Peter cried out for Jesus to save him, and Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught Peter. As our pastor reached his arm over the stage toward an imaginary Peter, little ThingOne gasped and loudly exclaimed, “That was so nice of Jesus!”

Of course, everyone around us in church chuckled at my daughter’s lively response. It was cute. She was adorable in her innocence and wonder. And all these years later, I still vividly remember this — not only because little ThingOne was so stinkin cute, but because of the truth that struck my heart that day.

• I want to read the Bible with fresh, innocent wonder. I want to gasp in delight as I notice the obvious. Because sometimes I can be so serious, looking for some deep spiritual truth that I miss the obvious. It was really nice of Jesus to rescue Peter!

• When we lose faith and falter, taking our eyes off Jesus, He might point out our lack of faith and ask us why we doubted Him; but He doesn’t get angry and abandon us to drown in our own faithlessness. He kindly reaches out and rescues us.

• When we row smack into the middle of a big ol’ windstorm and we’re scared half to death at the waves thrashing us around, Jesus arrives like a gravity-defying Super Hero to save us.  He might show up in an unexpected way, initially scaring the bejeebies out of us. But He comes to us and He brings peace to our boat.

• Jesus is nice. He reaches out, reaches down, to pull us up. When we start to fall, Jesus wants to catch us.

If your boat is thrashing and bobbing in the middle of the storm, if strong waves are buffeting you, if you’re wondering why God would instruct you to row straight into a severe wind advisory — look up and see Nice Jesus, step out in faith and walk to Him, and grab His hand when He reaches out to rescue you.

The Missing Fruit

photo-31Several years ago I had these nine small magnets on my fridge. They looked something like that picture up there. Each little colored piece of cardstock named one aspect of the Fruit of the Spirit. I kept them stuck to the side of the fridge. Each time I walked through the kitchen, each time I opened the fridge to get out a jug of milk, each time I opened the freezer to store a bag of breastmilk, each time I raced into the kitchen to coax ThingThree down from whatever he had climbed on — every time, I saw the Fruit of the Spirit listed out, jumbled up, dancing down the side of my fridge. Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. 

But then one day, some of my magnets were missing. It had been a crazy day. The children were all little – nine and under. We were trying to homeschool and pack our stuff up to move and finish home repair projects so we could put our house on the market and raise support to join a mission organization. And it had just been one of those days. Patience was gone. Tempers were short. Nerves were frazzled. As I pulled the hot dogs out of the freezer, I noticed that some of my magnets were gone.

“Who knows where the rest of the Fruit of the Spirit magnets are?” I called out.

My daughters came running. ThingOne quickly blurted that her little sister knew where they were. “Ask her!” She prompted.

Then with a quiet grin on her adorable little face, eight-year-old ThingTwo reached behind the calendar stuck to the side of the fridge and slid out Love, Patience, Kindness, Peace, Self-Control, Gentleness. Silently, she lined them up in a neat little row beneath the calendar.

“Ask her why she hid them!” ThingOne blurted.

ThingTwo shrugged.

“Ask her. Really! Ask her!” ThingOne would not let up.

I took the bait. “Why did you hide the magnets?” I was curious.

In a soft voice, ThingTwo explained. “Earlier today, when we were all acting so badly, I started taking away the magnets we weren’t showing. So I took away Love and Kindness because none of us were loving or being kind. And I just kept doing that. And so that’s why they were hidden.” She shrugged again.

OUCH! It was that obvious to an eight-year-old girl that my actions were not being controlled by the Spirit. I was demonstrating the Fruit of the Flesh – hatred, grouchiness, discord, impatience, selfishness, impurity, faithlessness, harshness, and free reign for my emotions. Why hadn’t I noticed it sooner? Or if I did, why hadn’t I felt as convicted as my little girl did?

That whole day (and so many times since), I chose to live in my own strength, my own control. And I can’t muster up the Fruit of the Spirit on my own. Left to myself, I won’t demonstrate Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control. And I can’t work hard enough to produce this fruit in myself. No, this is the Fruit of the Spirit. Producing this fruit is God’s work. His work in me. Through me.

To see this Fruit in my heart, in my actions, in my words, in my life – requires abiding in the Spirit. Staying connected to God. I can’t try harder, do better, be better and make it happen. Oh, maybe I can for a minute or two. But even then, it’s pretty fake and very short-lived. No, to have REAL love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, I need to be constantly connected to God’s Spirit within me.

And when I’m not abiding in and controlled by God’s Spirit, it’s obvious. Even to a small child.

Today, after my kids get home from school, I hope they don’t just see the Fruit of the Spirit listed on the side of the fridge. I hope they see it flowing from their momma.

Terrible Good


Twenty years ago, when I was a twenty-year-old girl, I took a class called Oxford Christian Writers. Taught by my favorite professor, filled with some of my favorite friends, this class would impact me more than any other one class. Still, after all this time, I regularly have flashes of memories from that classroom. Snippets of truth I learned by studying The Inklings.

Not as famous (nor as talented, most would argue) as Lewis and Tolkien, Charles Williams nevertheless wrote on a theme that has settled its way into my soul. Terrible Good. The notion that something can be both terrible and good. Terrible Good. Awful  and Awe-full. This idea has hummed along in my conscious and subconscious mind for all these twenty years. A sort of background music or backdrop to which and on which the scenes of my life have played out. Terrible Good.

This morning I read in Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts,

I awaken to the strange truth that . . . All new life labors out of the very bowels of darkness. . . . It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life. It is suffering that has the realest possibility to bear down and deliver grace. And grace that chooses to bear the cross of suffering overcomes that suffering.

The terrible suffering in darkness gives way to the good, to life. This is grace.

I have seen it. I have lived it. I live it now. I will, no doubt, live it again and again. That which seems so dark, so black, so terror-full, so terrible actually gives birth to goodness and light and life and something so much better. That which seems so awful, when seen in eternity’s perspective, is truly awe-full, awe-inspiring, good.

In ancient times, suffering Job asked, “Shall we accept good from God and not trouble?” But I have seen on the pages of the Book and on the pages of my life story, I have seen that over and over and over that which seems trouble often blossoms into good in the hand of my God.

God does this thing. I’ve seen Him do it again and again. He takes something that seems so terrible, so dark, so much like The End. And He transforms it into good, into life, into a beginning. I love that about Him. I love that no Terrible is beyond His Goodness.

As I sat in a classroom filled with friends listening to my favorite professor introduce this obscure author, a self-educated Charles Williams, who would drink ale and discuss theology and writing with Lewis and Tolkien, I had no idea that this strange man with his dark fiction would so greatly impact my life with Truth.

I had no idea that one class would continue to challenge me for twenty years (and counting) to find the awe in the awful, to find His goodness in the terrible, to trust that out of the darkness will break forth Light.