Happiness Makes the Heart Grow Stronger

It catches my eye every time I walk through the kitchen– that poster on my fridge, with the flowers in the border reminding me that we need a new ink cartridge in the printer– and I keep reading it over and over, trying to wrap my brain around words I know are true, but sound as off-kilter as the oddly colored flowers around them. “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be…”

Everyone gets to decide? Even the ones that get stuck in situations beyond their control? That’s the hard ceiling on free will, finding out that in so many ways you are not free at all, and have no choice in the matter. And who gets to decide a quantity of happiness, as if it were an opportunity or a favor granted? Isn’t everyone allotted a certain measure of happiness in this life, and some people are just more blessed than others? There is an inequity of circumstances that we all have learned to put up with, ever since we were toddlers and discovered the painful truth that we can’t always have what someone else has. And right about that same time we laid the responsibility of our happiness on the shoulders of circumstance, let it roll on the unpredictable winds of fortune. I see how we often live on that thin knife-edge– balanced between hope that things will go our way, and fear that everything will crash down around our ears; can see how we lean toward worry or toward control, trying to manage it all. And some of us just give it all up and do whatever we can to pretend the tug-of-war doesn’t even exist. The world we live in makes no sense of the first part of that sentence.

But the truth of the second part skewers through the uncertainty of that first bit, anchoring it firmly. “Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be… because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.” (Ann VosKamp) And I know this spiritual sister is speaking truth, even though my heart doesn’t completely get it yet. Because gratitude is precisely what we are free to choose– or not– in response to the circumstances we are given, and the way we respond shows what is in our hearts toward the Giver.

In his letters to the early churches, Paul writes it over and over again, rings out the insistent call: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” (Philippians 4:4) He hands out this command boldly, as the standard for believers, regardless of their circumstances. And given the circumstances of his own life, we can surmise that he was no rosy idealist about life; he had no illusions about how hard it could be to hold onto hope or contentment or joy. His answer to the hurting, to the lonely, to the failing and the fallen is the same: Rejoice in the One who loves you and will never leave you.

This happiness is something stronger and braver than we give it credit for: no whim of emotion but the obedience of an unswerving heart. The answer to all the hurts of this world is the Savior who came for us, and because of Him we can always rejoice, can always give thanks for Grace. But it’s a choice and we have to be willing to submit to what He has given this day, open our hands for what He supplies and be content there. Paul’s words stand firm: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

So maybe happiness is really up to me and I do get to decide, because while the circumstances are not in my control, my response to them is, and gratitude is always a valid option. Choose to see Grace, be willing to acknowledge the Giver’s goodness and provision in the midst of circumstances, and find happiness in His presence? I get to decide.






“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)





“Life is a battle — and Joy is a kind of courage and a smile slays all kind of dragons.” (Ann VosKamp)

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Of Faith and Fleece

In this world of so many things gone wrong that we cannot fix, uncertain outcomes, unpredictable circumstances, sometimes all you want is assurances to hang onto. Super-powers would be nice, but I would settle for a burning bush, or fiery chariots, or a shepherd’s rod that can turn into a snake. In our small group we sometimes joke about how neon signs would be helpful when we go looking for direction and assurance, but the joking is just a cover-up for a little bit of frustration and a very real fear that we might get left on our own.  

I think how I might cheerfully throw myself at new under-takings, could bravely face the unknown, if I only had a fleece like Gideon did, letting me know for sure that God’s power was overshadowing me and everything would turn out well. But then I realize how crazy that sounds, because I have seen a fleece in real life: a shaggy, raggedy thing of indeterminate color, and smelling to high heaven when wet. Gideon’s confidence-booster was not very impressive when you take a good look at it– no more significant than any of the things I might hang onto as divine signposts, and isn’t it funny how seriously we wish for them to help us out? Especially when Jesus says to Gideon and to us, “I will be with you….I will stay…” (Judges 6:16,18) Shouldn’t the promise of the Almighty be sufficient?

When I really think about it, what made the fleece significant was the concrete evidence of God living and active, reaching down into the gritty everyday details of a farmer’s life. Because that is what Gideon needed to know most of all– that he was not alone and that there was a God who could work in the many situations Gideon could not control….things like where the dew fell… and who lived and died…and the future of his family. Isn’t that what we all need to know, when it comes right down to it? No wonder we are so keen about that smelly bit of wool.

God was very patient with Gideon’s need to see with his own eyes, touch the wet wool with his own fingers, smell the evidence of divine power with his own nose. But then, Gideon was just meeting the Almighty for the first time, had nothing but old stories handed down through generations to inform his faith. And I hold the God-breathed record in my hands, the revelation of who God Is, the inked words of the Word coming in flesh, and I feel ashamed. Why do I sometimes think it would be easier to understand a piece of wool or wood or weather for answers (just because I can touch them and see them) rather than God Himself? If I cannot put my trust in God’s assurances, cannot trust the Spirit who has made His habitation with me, isn’t looking elsewhere just a fancy word for idolatry? And why would I expect God to indulge my desire for control, even if it is only an illusion after all? Granted, there is a learning curve in following the Spirit’s leading, and God is still very patient (and we do have to be ever wary of our tendency toward deception), but sometimes I just need to step out and act on what He has already said, and trust Him for the outcome.

Interestingly, when Gideon saw God face to face, he named Him Jehovah-shalom…The Lord is Peace. There was an old superstition that to see the face of God meant certain death, so when Gideon realized that it was the Lord Himself who had come to visit him, he was sure it was all over. The Lord is Peace came from his relief that God intended good, not ill, for him. That is what stood out to Gideon about the whole encounter. But after the fact, when he was neck-deep in the logistics of leading an army of beaten-down farmers against a superior foe, when the memory of Voice and Fire had blurred at the edges, he needed to know for sure that the calling was true, and the power was real, and the Presence remained. So he pulled out that raggedy fleece and laid it out under the stars, begging God to do all the things he could not, in this very real, very uncertain world; I’m not sure which is more remarkable, that the farmer trusted enough to ask for yet another sign, or that God stooped to touch his dirty rags, or that the Lord’s promise to His people still rings out clear through the centuries: “For I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) Because this is still what we need to know most of all, and God still bends to assure us of His presence: His presence is peace, and He is good, and He is with us. “…Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) No temporary fleece, but a blazing Presence in our hearts, the Living One who is able to control all the things we care about most and are unable to change. “For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.'” (2 Corinthians 6:16)  What more do we need?






“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” (James 1:5-8)





“We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear;
We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near;
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love,
As if every promise from Your word is not enough.
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea,
And long that we’d have faith to believe.”
(Blessings,Laura Story)


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Making All Things New

He was an unpromising hero, keeping his head low to avoid unwanted attention and trying to be safe, even while on the inside he re-told the old stories of legacy and glory, miracles and powerful deliverance. He had no intention of stepping out of the familiar, even though the everyday was almost unendurable and fear was in the very air he breathed. Until one day God showed up on his doorstep, or more accurately in his field, and called him “mighty warrior,” as if he were not just a young farmer trying to feed his family. And Gideon scoffed, but there was this thrill of adrenaline and hope, this seed of change that might sprout into something bigger.

See, God knew Gideon better than he knew himself– the way he was wired, what he admired and longed for, what held him back. God knew Gideon because He had put him together; more than that, God knew how Gideon’s particular personality strengths and weaknesses interacted with his environment and shaped his perspectives, knew the exact circumstances it would take to spark change, move him along in his growing process. The Musician-King sang of God’s personal involvement in our shaping, His intimate knowing of who we are and who we are becoming: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:15-16) 

In these days after Easter, with each branch sending out new green and flowers springing up in corners everywhere, it seems like anything is possible, a thrill of change in the air that might take us from where we are into something bigger and better. The women I know are cleaning out basement storage totes and upstairs closets, opening windows to air out bedrooms, and sweeping off porches, gathering up the accumulated debris in the yards from the Winter storms. And who knows where we could go from here as the world comes back to life? But the visible clutter is the easy part; on the inside we may be stumbling over piles of debris we think no one can see but us. And “The Living One Who Sees Me” (Genesis 16:14) knows just what it will take to get rid of the stuff that gets in our way: our logical evaluative minds, our self-sufficiency, our achievements, our to-do lists…..and our self-doubt, our past failures, all the ways we measure ourselves in this world and fall short. God knows how we are made, what we long for, and who He intends for us to be. God shows up on our doorsteps and calls us by the name He gives us, no matter how crazy it may sound or how unlikely it may appear as of yet. So Gideon the farmer is called Mighty Warrior, stumbles out of a winepress-turned-threshing-floor and becomes the leader of a miraculous army that can set his people free, because God goes with him.

I know a little girl who loves crawly things with a surprising amount of focus and passion (and entirely undeserved, considering the objects of her affection). One poor creature has made a cocoon despite his less-than-comfortable accommodations. He is in a countdown to transformation, his improbable cocoon a testament to the miracle of rebirth…and the Little One eagerly waits to see what will emerge from the tomb-wrappings. She has more faith than many of us older, who tend to forget that New Life is more than just a season of the year. Maybe we have grown used to the baggage cluttering up our insides, learned to live crippled because we don’t know how to clean it all out…or maybe we are just afraid of the change and what might come next. Better to keep your head down and stick with what you know (no matter how it presses and chafes) than listen for Someone calling you to a new name that makes no sense and means stepping out into the unknown; the older you get, the more transformation can feel impossible.

But this is the other side of Easter Sunday, and the angels are reminding us “…the child to be born will be called holy— the Son of God. For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:35, 37), and “He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come, see the place where He lay.” (Matthew 28:6) And a little girl waits beside a cocoon for a new creature to emerge, and the Holy Spirit keeps on blowing this wind of change, calling us to throw open the windows and let Him make us new.







“…we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, The Message)






“Fragments of brokenness,
Salvaged by the art of grace–
You craft life from our mistakes.
Black skies of my regrets,
Outshone by this kindness;
New life dawns over my soul.
Countless second chances
We’ve been given at the cross…”

(Second Chances, Rend Collective Experiment)


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Real Life

Someone lost her job this week. And someone lost her child. Someone is packing up her child to leave home. And someone is counting the days till they can be together again. Someone rekindled a special friendship. Someone didn’t get the call she was waiting for. Someone is longing for a little one to come home for good. Someone made a commitment to healthy good habits. And we share and we listen everywhere we go, as women of grace, and I see how we are all intertwined– strengths and weaknesses and hopes and disappointments reaching out and holding each other up as we walk through this life. And the Apostle Paul says we are parts of one body, our differences making each other strong as we work together.

It is the count-down week toward Easter Morning, and we remember each day what Christ did in the last week of His life…such an eventful week leading up to the day that would change the world. But the disciples don’t bother to record the little Real Life events of that week: breakfast shared at dawn under spreading fragrant trees, how the birds sounded and the way the wind blew, walking together on dusty roads and how this one joked and that one was quieter than usual, the way dusk fell and the noises of the city faded into night-time, and how the oil lamp flickered soft shadows on the walls. It’s easy to forget that Jesus and His friends were real men, people who shared the little moments and the ups and downs of real life. Like us. And God calls us The Body of Christ and somehow as we live out our lives together He is present with us– He that was broken for us in that week, is making us whole, using us to help each other get through this world in one piece.

Because the Kingdom of God is all about restoration, putting the pieces back together till everything has been made new and God can look at what He has made and pronounce it good, as it was in the Beginning. “‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) And the restoration process begins at the cross, with the very real death of flesh and bone, the sacrifice of a perfect Lamb  to purchase righteousness for everyone– re-creation spilling out from this one improbable place, the old things passing away and being made new in His blood and resurrection power. “…This is My body, which is broken for you.” (1 Corinthians 11:24)

This is the Body of Christ, us in our good days and bad days living out our faith honestly before each other, in flesh and bone and blood, and it is raw and gritty and often difficult. He knows because He lived it too. In this Easter week as we walk toward the cross, we remember and give thanks, offer ourselves to one another…all these broken pieces being made whole in Him.




“… we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)





“The way you find the threads to suture up the fractures of your heart — is to let your frayed places be tied to someone else’s frayed places….Your story matters — because God is using it to mend the world, to change the world.” (Ann VosKamp)

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Almost Spring

Here in this season of Lent, instead of fasting and acts of self-denial, we are counting our thanks out on paper, feasting on Grace. We are looking ahead to Easter and the resurrection, and rejoicing in the Giver of life.

And I find this to be true, that when eyes are wide open to see “Every good and perfect gift…from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights” (James 1:17), there is joy welling up that has little to do with visible circumstances. The Musician-King’s song echoes here: “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Maybe not that we get some unspecified list of treats, as if we were spending the weekend with grandparents, but that the more we live in His presence, the more we experience the depths of grace and the more we can see glory all around. No wonder the saints of long ago wrote down that the primary purpose of man was to glorify God and enjoy Him forever…relating to an Eternal Almighty Being is liable to take forever, and the psalm writer says it is all joy.

And you can tell, when you spend time with people, the ones who get this mystery of thankfulness, because the daily choice to recognize Grace– when you name it in every little manifestation and offer your praise back up to the Giver– has a way of changing you on the inside. The daily discipline of humble thanks-giving stocks my Thought Closet with more of Him and less of me. Thankfulness chases away resentment and discontent, calms the spirit, focuses my thoughts on the things that are true and honorable and lovely, just like the Apostle Paul advised. He made that same connection between rejoicing and thanksgiving– said it should shape our lives and our prayers, promised good results: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

So as we prepare for Easter and look forward to new life springing out of the ground into green, we go on counting, day by day, tuning our hearts to see Grace, to sing God’s praises, and it’s like we are setting the cross of Christ in the middle of all our days. Because these many little blessings are only glimmers of that one rugged signpost to Grace, where God’s Passion made all things new.




“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32)






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The Stories We Tell

We are all story-tellers at heart, and the stories you keep well-dusted and within arm’s reach are the most important ones. Because the memories you recite to yourself most often are the ones that take up residence in your Thought Closet and color the walls. And the way you interpret those stories– the meaning you assign to them– shapes the way you see yourself and others, your understanding of God, your ability to trust and hope and face the world. In the book of Deuteronomy God tells His people over and over to remember, to tell the stories of His deliverance and love to one another, to their children, day by day, so that they do not forget Him. Remember even the hard times, and see God’s protection and faithfulness in the midst of them. So that their lives will be colored by His presence and the significance of His plans for them. “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” (Jeremiah 29:11) Remember this.

Paul underscores the why of remembering in his letter to the Roman believers: when you forget what God has done you begin to lose sight of Who He Is, and that is a downward slide into darkness. Forgetfulness is what the Enemy has been cultivating ever since he first started planting seeds in the Garden, whispering to the First Woman that maybe she didn’t know God as well as she thought she did. So God tells us to remember…remember what He has done… remember Who He Is… and tell it over and over to each other so we don’t forget.

When I remember God’s power to help and deliver, His beauty and holiness, then my heart bows down and worships the way it was made to do, and I discover who I am and who I want to be. When I take the time to acknowledge His many kindnesses undeserved, thankfulness wells up naturally, the created responding to the Creator. When I recognize His faithful love to me that gave up His own Son, how can I help but love Him in return and praise Him for Who He Is? The Wise King told his sons that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10) Remembering the right things is the way to grow wise, the way to make good choices in life, the way to paint your Thought Closet in shades of Light.

And we do get to choose what memories we tell ourselves, and how we interpret those stories. One of King David’s worship leaders sang about his choice to remember God in the middle of his distress, feeling alone and hopeless, ready to give up…but he remembered what stories to tell himself at night…he chose what to recite to his soul. “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your miracles of long ago. I will consider all Your works and meditate on all Your mighty deeds.” (Psalm 77:11-12) And as this singer focused on God and on what God had done, the atmosphere of his Thought Closet changed to praise and joy and hope. “Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God?” (verse 13)

What the worship leader says poetically, Paul reiterates as warning for the early church, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21) It is dangerous for us to forget, to tell ourselves stories that aren’t true or that focus only on our needs, our pain, our fears. Open your eyes to see God at work in your life, and be thankful; tell those stories often, to yourself and others, so that you will remember. Especially when you grow weary of walking, and feel the sorrow of living in this world, and when you can’t see your way clearly. Especially then, choose to tell the stories of God’s presence and power, so that you can remember that He is God and He is good, and you are His.



“When I feel the cold of winter,
And this cloak of sadness, I need You;
All the evil things that shake me,
All the words that break me, I need You.

Over the mountains,
Over the sea–
Here You come running, my Lover to me.

Do not hide me from Your presence,
Pull me from Your shadows– I need You.
Beauty, wrap Your arms around me,
Sing Your song of kindness– I need You.”
(Song of Solomon, Jesus Culture)




“Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him….For the word of the Lord is right and true; He is faithful in all he does. The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of His unfailing love.” (Psalm 33:1, 4-5)

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Faith Answers the Door

Fear came knocking this week. I am not by nature a brave or adventurous person, so I know that visitor well. I am very familiar with it in all of its manifestations, have learned in the trenches to fight back with the Truth of God’s Word, found that maybe faith isn’t so much about banishing fear as it is about stepping off the cliff anyway and believing that there is Someone Whose everlasting arms are beneath you. Nevertheless, this week fear showed up on my doorstep again. It underlined the uncertainties of trying something new, pointed out all the ways this could flop sideways into chaos and frustration for a whole roomful of people, and I would be responsible. It called on the telephone with a whole list of what if’s for the future, all the possibilities for pain and loss. It chirped in text messages about questions left unanswered and days long waiting, wondering what end will be written to their stories. It tied itself in knots about wrong choices made that will have any number of miserable consequences, and fretted about people not having more sense. It crept in through the cracks… seeping into my dreams at night, hovering in the background of everyday activity, piling up in my heart till I could hardly breathe under the weight of it.

And by the end of the week I could see how George MacDonald was right in that old classic children’s tale, when he observed “But that is the way fear serves us: it always sides with the thing we are afraid of.” (The Princess and The Goblin) And I see yet again how fear magnifies the waves around me, drains my strength, makes me forget the One who walks with me and speaks “Peace, be still” to the storm. I am no Peter, to jump out of the boat at a moment’s notice. Never mind that he actually managed to walk on water with his eyes on Jesus for even a few minutes; the fear-tentacles pulling Peter down into deep dark water is what always stands out to me in that story, and the way Jesus grips His hand hard. ” ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said. ‘Why did you doubt me?’ ” (Matthew 14:31)

See, it wasn’t about the stormy waves at all. It was about what a man could trust and where he could plant his feet solidly enough to stand. And if there is one thing I have found, it is that Jesus keeps calling us into the unknown, asking us to follow Him, and we need to know what to stand on. Someone remembered in our small group about a saying she always heard at home: “When fear comes knocking, answer it with faith.” Indeed, faith is the only good answer to that familiar, unwelcome visitor. Faith ignores all the uncertainties, all the what-ifs, all the unknowns and mistakes and regrets, and does what is right anyway. Faith stands in the middle of the dark amid crashing waves that threaten to swallow up the world, and fixes its eyes on Jesus, finds peace.  Paul wasn’t writing a pleasant Thought for The Day when he said “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-8) He was telling us how to answer the door when fear comes knocking, giving directions on how to find calm when storms surround (in the same place Peter and his friends found it, on the Sea of Galilee).

Pray, ask specifically for help, give thanks…. it reads like a prescription for peace.

It’s a choice, naturally, like everything else in our faith-growth process. Which voices we will listen to, what we will focus our thoughts on– how to answer the door when fear comes knocking.





“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)




“You call me out upon the waters:
The great unknown, where feet may fail.
And there I find You in the mystery;
In oceans deep,
My faith will stand….

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders;
Let me walk upon the waters,
Wherever You would call me.
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander,
And my faith will be made stronger,
In the presence of my Savior.”
(Oceans, Hillsong United)

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A Wake-up Call

Last week we talked about what we treasure most, and how the distractions and demands of daily life conspire to make us forget, run rough-shod over our days till the things that matter most get shoved to the back shelves of our closet. And it is no small thing, to let our deepest treasures (the things at the very heart of us) collect dust. We could fill an entire life with accumulated baggage and clutter, just trying to keep up with the whirl, eyes on the here and now, and lose the unique and beautiful person-God-made-us-to-be in the process…forget where we are headed and why we are here.

It is a conspiracy really, big enough to excite the most paranoid of theorists– the complex web of deception laid down by an Enemy who prowls around us night and day; who seizes every opportunity, every moment of weakness to steal away the potential God created in us; who sings us to sleep with what we can see and taste and touch… until we can’t see anything clearly any more. We might even get to feeling that it hardly matters if we live half-asleep; after all, aren’t we fairly inconsequential individuals in the grand scheme of things? It takes a bright ray of clarity to cut through the clutter and confusion and wake us up to Truth again.

Until we wake up– open the eyes of our souls to God’s way of doing things and His plans for us– we will not be able to keep our Thought Closets cleaned out, put the most important things we treasure on the front shelves and guard them the way we need to. As long as we live half asleep, comfortable under the blanket of deception, we will miss out on Real Life. The Singer rejoices with eyes wide open, saying “Many, LORD my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us.” (Psalm 40:5)  And “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.” (Psalm 139:17-18)

Praise is an undeception–a moment of waking– that opens our eyes to who God is, and reminds us that all is gift; all flows down from the Father of Lights as grace. And when we wake up and focus on God, we can see the Enemy’s lies for what they are– just part of an elaborate plot against the Divine Ruler, with us as pawns to use and destroy. When I choose to acknowledge God’s awesome power and His utter faithfulness and kindness, I do what Satan refused to do: I acknowledge my place in the universe as a being created to worship; I remember that I am made for the pleasure and glory of the Creator; I recognize that it is right and good to serve His purposes and not my own. When the eyes of my soul are open and attentive to my Father in Heaven, I become more Myself than I have ever been– the person God had in mind when He hand-knit me together. Thankfulness is, at its heart, remembering who you are and who God Is, and finding your right and meaningful place in the grand scheme of things again….it is a restoration of the way things were in the Garden at the very Beginning, working out salvation in one small corner of the world.

Wake me up out of lethargy and tune my heart to sing Your praise. “…for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.” (Ephesians 5:14-15)





“All the wickedness in the world begins with the act of forgetting — forgetting that God is enough, that what He gives is good enough, that there is always more than enough to give thanks for.”  (Ann VosKamp)



“You are my one desire,
You are the holy fire
That burns in me;
The lover of my soul,
God, You don’t let go,
You make Your home in me.

You are my everything–
All I need is in You;
 And all I have,
All I am is in You.”
(My Everything, Jesus Culture)

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Mid-Winter Cleaning– Part 2

Some things we need to do ourselves, and no one can do it for us. I see him out of the corner of my eye on a Sunday morning, as soon as we begin to sing, making a beeline down the aisle with his shirt tucked into khaki pants, dark hair combed neatly, eyes fixed on the front like a man fixing to make something right. He can’t be more than seven. Straight to the altar, and onto his knees, clasping his hands in front of him so naturally you can tell this isn’t the first time he has talked to God. Everyone keeps on singing, and I look around to see who he belongs to, but there are no signs of parental hovering. Just one small boy with a need, and I marvel at how completely unselfconscious he is, wonder what inner workings propelled him to the front. There is something innocent and holy right there in front of us all, Jesus’ words echoing: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Some things only I am accountable for, regardless of how I might squirm to escape that burden of responsibility at times: my thoughts, my emotions, my choices, my health and growth. Wise child to realize that this was something he needed to do himself, for his own good; wiser still to know where to go to fix it. Looking at the rows of a couple hundred adults standing in the auditorium, the contrast is striking; it makes me wonder if we are that much less needy, or if we only grow more skilled at covering up, as the decades pass. Or maybe it is just that stubborn self-sufficiency cropping up again.

Through the first two verses of Amazing Grace the boy stays serious on his knees. It is his choice to come, his space to make things right with God, and after an elder finally walks over to pray with him he goes up the aisle again; later I see him sandwiched between a young couple, the mother’s dark hair draped down as she whispers in his ear. Wise woman to understand that no amount of her own good intentions can accomplish real change in someone else’s heart. It’s a lesson all women have to learn at some point, that no matter how deeply we love someone or how far off the path he goes, how much he is hurting, there are some things we cannot fix. Only the one who is looking for change can come to the Cross and find it. Paul expressed that hope to his readers this way: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This mid-Winter housecleaning is tough, making us face the grubby ragtag collection in our Thought Closet and take responsibility for it. This is something we need to do ourselves, and no one can fix it for us. Rooting out old prejudice and narrow assumptions, shameful memories that brand us deep…wrestling with the expectations of others we took to heart without even examining…looking honest at who we have grown to be after all these years, the bad habits we have cultivated in the dark. God’s Truth is like a lens focusing fresh on mental furnishings we were so used to seeing that we didn’t even notice how cluttered and shabby it had become. But once we have a clear view, our responsibility is also clear, and the choice. We can shut the door again and make our excuses about “too hard…too late…too ugly” or we can never mind what anyone thinks and make a beeline for the Cross….set our faces toward hope and let Jesus make all things new.

It’s really up to us.






“To the cross, I look, and to the cross, I cling;
Of it’s suffering, I do drink, of its work, I do sing.
For on it, my Savior, both bruised and crushed,
Showed that God is love and God is just.

At the cross, You beckon me;
You draw me gently to my knees,
And I am lost for words, so lost in love.
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered.”
(Sweetly Broken, Jeremy Riddle)

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Mid-Winter Cleaning

We seem to be back at the matter of vines and branches, this week, and Jesus is reminding us again “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) If we are serious about housecleaning in our Thought Closet, we need the power and work of the Holy Spirit.

Life transformation is not something we can manage on our own, and it keeps surprising me how slow we are to learn that; it’s not like the old life of doing it on our own was actually successful. But pride and self-sufficiency die hard in us, apparently; Paul was similarly shocked at the first-century believers’ missing the point: “How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing?” (Galatians 3:3-4)

The very word salvation is all about needing a Savior to rescue and deliver, because those who are in trouble cannot help themselves.  Paul is incredulous at the saints’ ability to whitewash the situation, exclaiming “Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.” (Galatians 3:1) The eternal God died. Because of you…..for you. How does a universally climactic event like that get taken for granted? As a teacher, he must have been pulling out his hair at his students’ short memory. I am guilty as charged. If I was so helpless that I needed a divine Savior in order to escape death and judgment, then why would I think my life now would be any different? As a person rescued, my life is dependent on Christ the Savior, bought by Him, hidden in Him, “for from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”(Romans 11:36) When I slide into living on my own resources, it should not surprise me that I run dry very quickly.

Paul follows through logically, laying it out so the believers can see it plain. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.” (Galatians 3:2) And I see that, am reminded again of how I got here and how I must go on from here.

Of course Jesus said it quite clearly as well, telling His disciples how to live in Him. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4)  But my figuring out what that means in practical terms is taking a lifetime of trial and error. After all this time, still I need His reminder, “…apart from Me you can do nothing.” Not ministry. Not relationships in the Family of God. Not marriage or motherhood. Not the little every day stuff even…at least not with any resemblance to Jesus. Because you can’t have it both ways– can’t be both rescued and independent. If you truly need a Savior (and we all do beyond words), you’ll need to give up your old life and let Him save you completely, so you can live completely new. “For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.” (Romans 6:4)

So we are housecleaning in our Thought Closet this week, throwing the door wide open and inviting the Holy Spirit in, to do what only He can do: spotlight the self-deception, sweep out the laziness and apathy, root out the false assumptions we have been building on. We will ask Him to guide us into the Truth, and show us Christ’s love and power that can transform even the shabbiest spaces. And we will stay close and keep listening, put into practice what He tells us to do. That’s how we vines grow and produce anything worthwhile.






“Falling on my knees in worship,
Giving all I am to seek your face–
Lord all I am is yours.

My whole life
I place in your hands,
God of mercy;
Humbled I bow down,
In your presence at your throne.

I called, You answered
And You came to my rescue, and I…
I wanna be where You are.”
(Came to My Rescue, Hillsong United)





“So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise…. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do….be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:15, 17-20)


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