Examples to Follow

The waiting room at the doctor’s office wasn’t much bigger than a shipping container. We were packed in like sardines except for maybe two empty chairs. An elderly man eagerly talked to whoever would listen. He spoke with another couple near his age sitting across from him, right beside me. I sat amused and slightly horrified as he conversed openly and joyfully about the Bible and attending church. He asked the man and woman where they went to church as well. “This isn’t normal,” I thought, especially in public with complete strangers! A twinge of embarrassment and shame came over me as I saw this man doing something I should be too.

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Jesse and I stepped out of the waiting room to find a restroom. I needed a moment to regroup anyway. What in the world had I just seen and heard? Why was I ashamed? I asked God to forgive my initial reaction and help me to be like this man, who was bold and unashamed for what he stood for. He didn’t seem to care what people thought of him. Loving the stranger, a soul, was more important because he clearly loved the Lord.

As we re-entered the waiting room two women came out of the doctor’s office to sit as well. In one of the last available seats a Bible sat on it. When the older gentleman realized his Bible needed to be moved he cheerfully offered the Book for one of the women to read before he picked it up. He exclaimed that there was no better Book and that it was full of wisdom. I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open like a fish, dumbfounded at his confidence and sincerity. You could feel the tension mounting in this confined space. In a politically correct society this was a major taboo. “Doesn’t he know the social norms?” the thought flickered somewhere in the back of my mind. His actions seemed ludicrous but I wonder if Paul, Peter, or John the Baptist would have been tight-lipped.

 

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Over the past year I attended a Bible study going through the book of John. God began placing on my heart a desire and conviction to intertwine boldness with humility when speaking about my faith. I wondered what this would look like and saw wonderful examples starting with John the Baptist. Now I was seeing a modern-day John the Baptist of sorts. He was plain, simple, and straightforward, even in how he dressed, clad in an Alabama t-shirt and ball cap with jeans. This man simply started conversations and spoke truth. I saw a faith that was bold, yet humble and cheerful.

I kept thinking we need more believers like this. I wanted a backbone like that too, made from a place of love for people. Why is it that I can stand for God inside the walls of my own home, or at church, in places we deem “acceptable” but not in a doctor’s office, or the grocery store, or my neighborhood? I thought about what persecution for Christians in America would look like. What if I was arrested or worse for speaking about Christ in public? Who would still stand? Would I?

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I needed this man’s reminder to set my perspective on things of eternal worth. It wasn’t just what he stood for, but how he did it. Boldness with humility makes the Christian faith attractive, if not curious, for others to witness. Sometimes it is hard to “practice what you preach”, but the only way I know to do this is when I rely on the Holy Spirit to work in and through me. It starts with one small step of obedience after another. This older believer taught me more than he’ll ever know, and I didn’t get his name, but he left a lasting example to follow.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Need to Belong

The other day The Andy Griffith Show came on T.V. as I was eating lunch. I grew up watching this family show on recorded VHS tapes in the early 90’s. My dad is a huge fan and by default, my sister and I were also. It’s something I look back on with fond memories, watching television together as a family, not worried about anything offensive or awkward popping up.

 

This particular one was the only Christmas episode in the entire eight-year series, and is one of my favorites. But something occurred to me this time while watching. The character Ben Weaver is a local storeowner in Mayberry, and also a grouch. He keeps purposely breaking the law to land himself in jail. Sheriff Andy Taylor lets him go because “it’s Christmas” and his Season One pharmacist girlfriend Ellie, begs him to do so.

 

Andy, his family, Ellie, and a local family in jail for moonshining celebrate Christmas together at the jailhouse. The scene then pans to Ben, miserable and alone, standing on a trashcan outside the jail looking in at the joyful party. At that moment, the audience can’t help but feel sorry for him as he secretly joins with the others, sorrowfully singing “Away in a Manger”. We get a glimpse that his tough exterior isn’t all that it appears to be. Ben is in fact, lonely. He’s especially reminded of this at Christmastime.

 

Ben takes a tumble on the not so sturdy trashcan in the alley behind the jailhouse. When Andy goes to check on the commotion he finds Ben sprawled out, hitting rock bottom. Exasperated and dumbfounded, Andy at first begins to lecture Ben until it occurs to him that he would do this on purpose. Could the town grouch really want to join in celebrating Christmas with others? Andy is filled with compassion and the episode ends with Ben “arrested” but not before he generously hands out presents to the other guests at the party. Like the audience, Andy finally understands what Ben wanted all along- to belong.

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The universal message of needing to belong is what struck me. We all have a desire to be understood and accepted. God did not create us to live on our own tiny islands, but as a community, a family even. Every created person has a soul, and if nothing else we all have this in common. God enjoys fellowship within the Trinity, so why wouldn’t He fashion us to crave connection too?

 

Similar backgrounds, experiences, and interests are ways we connect to each other, but the one way that goes deeper than all the rest is a shared love and faith in Jesus. The Spirit knits are hearts together. I love getting to talk with another believer about the One we love most. It’s refreshing and encouraging knowing that I’m not alone. You don’t have to be alone either. Those who know the Lord as Savior belong in the same family. No matter what we look like on the outside or to the rest of the world- black or white, single mom or married, varying economic statuses- none of it matters when we are folded into the family of God.

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We are not on the outside looking in; we are guests at the Christmas party! And when we see someone like the character Ben, on the outside longing to join, we can share the joy and hope we have with him or her. Jesus came as a baby so that you and I would never have to be alone. Jesus accepted us even after looking at our resume. Believers have the assurance of belonging – we get to celebrate Christmas all year round. We belong to a family that will never cast us out and will never end.

Insta-faith

I like Instagram. It’s my favorite form of social media because it gets to the point, along with posting a visual that ranges from inspiring, funny, or cute. We are wired in our culture to hustle, no time to waste, even in recreational things. Our society has transformed into an instantaneous one.

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The reason I know this goes no further than my own lack of patience. Whether it be corralling my son each morning, getting him ready for school, or waiting in line at the Starbucks drive-through, or impatiently tapping my foot for the Internet to load faster. I hate to wait. I’ve been trained for instant gratification. But this doesn’t follow the model for deep faith in the Christian life. On some level I know this, but I also want the fast track for spiritual maturity. There must be some corners to cut, right?

Last summer I decided to find an older woman in the faith to soak up all her Biblical knowledge like a sponge. There isn’t anything wrong with wanting to be mentored; in fact it’s a very good thing! I was just going about it the wrong way. Instead, it became a works based attitude (the more I know, the more I’m validated as a Christian) and a source of pride.

It seems that most of my sanctification does not happen mainly by acquiring facts about the Bible but through daily decisions, responses, thoughts, and people. People and situations are real sticklers for personal growth or failure. Honestly, sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back. Although new life in Christ IS instantaneous the moment we trust Him for our salvation, spiritual maturity takes an entire lifetime.

             For those of us who like to “get to the point” this is not great news, but it is gracious news. We learn to abide in His strength and remember once again that God is the Only One who makes things grow. So we wait. He reminds us to do this, as we trust in His limitless power.

We are limited beings and it isn’t until we realize this that humility can nourish faith. In Hannah Anderson’s book ‘Humble Roots’ she uncovers this wisdom with each chapter. She says,

“In God’s wisdom the very process of learning binds us to Him in a way that simply knowing the answers cannot. And so He asks you to trust Him. He asks you to live in dependence. He asks you to humble yourself to wait for Him.” (p. 130)

There isn’t an “Insta-faith” for deeper fellowship with the Lord. This is what makes it so beautiful and organic, something worth being patient for! Over time and trials, when we allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts, our character is transformed to look more like Christ.

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It’s a little ironic that the more I seek communion with God, I see how deeply underground and twisted the vines of pride around my heart are. If we take Anderson’s analogy of gardening, the uprooting and pruning of our hearts is tedious and painful. But we also know that it is needed for spiritual health and abundant fruit one day. Weeds of pride, disease of instant gratification have to be dug up, pulled out and treated if we want to persevere in this life.

You and I don’t have to become discouraged and give up either. God is faithful to finish all He does, and that includes the good work He is doing in you and me. The Bible says we can be confident in knowing this (Philippians 1:6). And that is gracious news.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

A Gracious Receiver

 

I just finished a Bible study in the Gospel of John with a group of women all over my city. One of the questions in our lesson asked, “How have you seen the Lord’s love and knowledge of you in the way He tailors His correction especially to fit you and your circumstances?”

For me it continues to be a lesson of accepting God’s grace and forgiveness. I’m no longer “just a sinner”, but covered in Jesus’ righteousness. God wants to show me the freedom I have in His forgiveness over my sins, yet I stay wrapped up in all the ways I fail Him. Isn’t that silly? He has made believers as new creations but I cling to dust and ashes. I resist receiving what is already mine.

The past few months have been painful to learn this lesson. I feel like it should be the easiest one to have down pat. Grace is grace and believers live in a “sea of grace” (BSF Notes, Lesson 28, p.4). Yet growing in spiritual maturity is sometimes remembering that we forget the easiest lessons. And I need to remember every day.

Quick to acknowledge that I’m a depraved sinner, I often miss the very real truth that because of Jesus I am forgiven; redeemed. How many times we miss this life giving principle. When we can’t even accept our own failures as forgiven, how in the world do we forgive someone who has wronged us? Or ask for forgiveness from someone else?

We are hidden in Christ, cleansed from all shame. And the best part is that we have done nothing to deserve such mercy- it is all by the grace of God. That is the most humbling and gracious news.

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The Lord is actively at work in us, in the world, through all the brokenness. He is redeeming all things for His Glory, and He first starts with His Beloved- you and me. If we want deep faith than acknowledging our deep sin that cannot be cleansed apart from Christ is the first step. Then we move forward and receive the gracious forgiveness extended to us, bought for you and me on the Cross.

Live in freedom.

Walk in freedom.

Satan thrives on paralyzing Christians with our failures, but we have an Intercessor who prays for us- Jesus Himself (John 17; Luke 22:31-32). Even though we might stumble and fall, God is faithful to love us perfectly and patiently. All praise belongs to God, because anything we have already comes from Him, even faith. You and I can receive His grace and not live as one condemned.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

For the Overwhelmed Christian

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I sat next to a woman in my Bible study group that spoke words of freedom to me. She was addressing our entire small group, but what I heard was permission to live guilt-free as a Christian. A lot of my life as a believer I have felt the need to serve whenever the church doors were open.

Being a Christian meant serving at all times.

While there is truth in this, it isn’t the full truth. We as Christ followers must serve others because we are the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world. However, when we read about Jesus’ earthly ministry, He did only what was right in front of Him. Jesus didn’t multi-task, healing every single person with disease and sickness. He stayed on the tasks that were given to Him, doing the Father’s work at all times, perfectly obeying.

The woman in my group talked about how she and her husband intentionally prioritize their service to others. Each New Year, they write down a list of responsibilities first that are non-negotiable, like being a wife and mother to young children. Then she lists a few passion and gifts, and together they pair down realistically what works within both of their schedules. If it can’t fit inside the square calendar box, it’s thrown out for that year.

What a genius idea, I thought, because honestly I can often become over-zealous in my desire to do everything, wanting to “save the world”. I forget that Jesus already did that, and I’m merely called to participate in service right in my little suburban neighborhood.

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So I went home that day after Bible study and wrote a small list of areas I can practically serve in. The first two are my husband and son because I believe the family God has given me is my first priority. Then I left room for 3 other things that I can do, some of which I am already doing but never really viewed them as ministry opportunities.

The point is that the list shouldn’t be immense but instead focus your service. Sometimes we place false guilt on ourselves, or unfortunately sometimes the Church does. There are endless needs around us and it can feel overwhelming. When I try to do it all I end up fragmented and depleted. I forget that there is no output of eternal value without input as well.

Service first starts with my own heart seeking the Lord, growing deeper in knowledge, faith, and love. When I expend all my energy and time in service production mode I leave no room for God to teach and speak in the quiet.

Believers end up doing ourselves a disservice when we think we can fill every opportunity.

It is a privilege to participate with the Spirit in His work but God doesn’t need me or you. He wants our obedience not our guilt to love in His Name. This was so freeing for me to realize. I’m called to be faithful in the place, the responsibilities and the gifts God has given me. My tasks won’t look like yours and yours won’t look like the next woman’s.

Still feel overwhelmed?

Think about where you spend your time each day and how you could make an impact. Are you already in a Bible study? Maybe start investing in some of those relationships or perhaps they need a greeter at the door in the mornings. It doesn’t have to be big to be life changing. We can encourage through writing notes to people who may feel forgotten, or mentor the young woman on the brink of marriage or teach the 3 & 4 year old Sunday school class.

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Also leave room for the small, one-time opportunities to obey. Those acts of kindness are just as sweet to the Lord; a bottle of water for the over-heated air conditioning guy in the middle of August, opening the door for a mom juggling a baby stroller and toddler in tow, greeting a stranger with a smile.

We do the next thing right in front of us. Not everything is Tweet-worthy and that’s just fine because the One who sees it all is the only One worth pleasing.

God is always at work and we get to join Him, but He hasn’t called us to “save the world”. The Lord desires for you and me to live out of the unique personality, circumstances, and calling He has given us. Our concentrated list might even change over our lifetime. What matters is how we love, how we are faithful with what is right in front of us. Only then does our joyful obedience blossom into fruitful obedience. And that aroma is very sweet to our precious Savior.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broken + Free

I woke up the next morning wondering if I had really hugged Ann Voskamp, shaken hands with Rebekah Lyons, and talked with Christy Nockels.

Surreal.

I can honestly say that these women have a contagious love for the Lord. You want what they have. And what they have is Jesus.

 

At their event, the Broken + Free Tour in Nashville, these 3 women received every single person who stood in line waiting for an opportunity to speak with them. They were generous, breaking their time and giving it away. They were living the messages they proclaimed on stage.

Of course as my turn drew nearer my hands became sweaty and all my insides started to melt. I was fighting extreme shyness, trying to find my tongue somewhere back inside my dry throat before Christy Nockels turned to my friend and me. I wanted to tell her what a gift she has been to me, a spiritual mentor through her podcast, Glorious in the Mundane. Christy has a great gift for storytelling, laced with truth and encouragement. Instead, for this event, she led the worship team, calling us all to delight in the Lord through music.

I didn’t know who Rebekah Lyons was until the afternoon of the event. I drove down I-65 listening to her interview on a podcast. I didn’t know she also has a special needs son. Rebekah is further along in this journey than I am, with her son being a teenager. I was instantly drawn to her after that, gleaning any wisdom she might have in special needs parenting. Something about finding someone who has a similar story to yours, like in the special needs community, forms an instant bond.

Rebekah also shared her personal story of fear, panic attacks and learning how to truly be free. After living with her husband and three kids in New York City for a couple of years and experiencing panic attacks for a year, God used these hard experiences to shape her story. In a desperate moment to be set free from her anxiety she cried out to the Lord. The Lord heard her cry and slowly began to help her see freedom through Jesus alone. Only He has the power to save, to heal all sorts of brokenness.

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“Live Cruciform” signed by Ann Voskamp in her new book The Broken Way

Coming face to face with Ann Voskamp was a joy and a privilege. Still in my introverted frame of mind, I stared down at the table, mumbling gratitude for her words and shoved my copy of her book under her nose. Classy. And yet, she embraced me with a hug, this woman who I’ve highlighted countless lines in her books and quoted numerous times. This woman who doesn’t know me from Adam, hugged my neck.

My shoulders relaxed a bit as I began to see that these women weren’t any different than me. They were seeking to bear fruit for God’s glory and look more like Him in the process. That is why we are drawn to those with a bigger platform for the Lord. It is usually because they look an awful lot like Him and we all desperately want to be seen and loved by Jesus.

 

I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to go to Nashville and attend the Broken + Free Tour. Singing songs of praise to the Lord, and listening to the Spirit speak through His own, reminded me to delight again in the God who saves, the God who heals our broken. A smile crept across my face in the midst of singing to Him. I’m delighting in You, Father, as You always delight in me, Your daughter, Your Beloved.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Grace in the cracks

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Before Jesse was 8 months old he had no trouble sleeping. What I mean is, he slept like every other baby. In the early months, a couple times a night he would wake to nurse. Then came a few longer stretches of sleep. Usually rocking would work or the amazing mechanical baby-swing. Wind it up and he was as good as gold.

I thought we were nearing the edge of the woods in the sleep deprivation world. My mom always said you can endure anything as long as it doesn’t last forever. Her words rang in my ears those 3 a.m. nights that seemed endless.

And yet, somewhere around Christmas his sleeping habits grew worse, and so did mine. Frustrated and foggy-brained, I went into survival mode. Just make it through this day. Steal sleep in the cracks. An hour here, a cat nap there, or just close my eyes for a few minutes.

As Jesse out grew the baby-swing, he struggled to sleep through the night. When rocking didn’t work even his naps grew shorter. He woke up crying most days and I scooped him up, weary and defeated, to cradle him on my chest while we both laid on the couch.

Jesse would often finish his naps cuddled safely in my arms. This forced me to stop everything else and just rest and be present. His breathing became steady and calm again, as I watched his little body relax into sleep. It was in these moments two verses came to mind as I marveled over God’s way of taking care of me:

 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters”

 Psalm 23:2

 

“He gives strength to the weary and

increases the power of the weak”

 Isaiah 40:29

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            God made me physically rest when I needed to. He does this in a way that isn’t militant or harsh, but lovingly.

Tenderly.

Like a Shepherd over His sheep, God knows what is best for us before we do. And I remember laughing over the irony. I was trying to help Jesse rest as God helped me rest. I was a child in need of a nap!

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We sometimes forget how important physical rest is and that it can affect our spiritual health as well. We think we can “do it all”. It humbled me to find out that I can’t. Something has to give. It was about this time that Jason and I started praying at night for Jesse, and for us as well, to have the gift of sleep. I didn’t realize sleep as a precious gift until it was taken away.

And rest came in ways I didn’t expect. Even though the nights were still interrupted with Jesse’s hyperactivity, God’s grace took shape on that couch during nap time. There were dishes in the sink, laundry to be washed, and a list of to-do items, but the only thing that mattered was the only job I had in that moment: to be still.

And that was enough.

The Lord taught me that I often forget how much I need Him to take care of me as I take care of the sweet, autistic son He has entrusted to me. God delights in ministering to our hearts as well as our physical bodies! He reminds me that He will provide grace even in the cracks.

 

Grace upon grace,

April