Are We There Yet?

Another lifetime ago, we lived overseas. And during that time, we were able to take a family trip to London. On that trip, one thing stood out to my children above all others. Bigger than the London Eye, more impressive than the Crown Jewels, even more memorable than the mac’n’cheese at the Hard Rock Cafe.

The walking.

We walked everywhere. And we walked for ages, and ages. At least in their little minds, and to their little feet, we did. Now bear in mind, at the time, we lived in a small village in rural Ireland. There just wasn’t that much within walking distance, and if you did walk somewhere, you were likely taking your life in your hands because there were either no sidewalks, or they were really, really narrow. So, needless to say, we drove just about everywhere we had to go.

This trip was before we moved to Vienna and utilized public transport everyday, so I was worried about how they would fare navigating the underground, hopping on and off buses and trains, being schlepped here, there and everywhere by their well-meaning parents who were going to “show them some history.” However, there’s apparently something highly exotic and exciting about getting to go somewhere with no seatbelt and standing up! Exotic and exciting aside, there was often just One thing they wanted to know:

Are we there yet?!?

I couldn’t blame them, really. Sometimes the question was asked out of excitement. Take, for instance, the Crown Jewels. Having watched the royal wedding, and nearly every Disney princess movie known to man, they were giddy with excitement about seeing the queen’s crown. So, the hour long tour we took before entering the jewel house was, to them, nothing short of medieval torture. Other times, it was asked from sheer exhaustion. Like when we walked for over half an hour in the wrong direction towards our dinner destination, only to have to retrace our steps and cross the city and then still have to wait nearly two hours for a table.

In either case, every time they asked the question, I tried to point out all of the great things we were seeing along the way. But they just weren’t interested. They had their eyes on the “prize”, and nothing was going to distract them.

It was sometime during one of these lovely little exchanges with my wee cherubs that it hit me like a ton of bricks. I might as well have been a pot trying to get the attention of my two little kettles. My entire life flashed before my eyes (only not in that weird pre-death sense).

A good chunk of my life has been spent riding the “are we there yet?” underground train. I hop on the train, wait for that one thing – an engagement ring, the wedding, a baby, the book contract – and then surface just long enough to see my destination. Then I submerge again until the next thing. In the meantime, how many wonderful things do I miss out on along the way because I just want to be there?

I think, if only I can get there, I’ll be happy and can enjoy the journey. The only problem is, there never feels like there! There will always be another there. Another tooth to break through, another grumpy teacher to deal with, another pound to lose, another medical battle to fight.

And these days, following the signing of my very first book contract, it is so tempting for me to wish for the next there. The title to be finalized. The cover to be set and revealed. The book to be done and in my hot little hands already!

Meanwhile, I’m missing out on life. You see, it was in those two hours in London waiting for a table that we had some of the best conversations with the people we were with. It was on those long walks between sights that I got to hold my daughter’s hand, or carry my son, and listen to their stories and questions and songs. The best parts of my vacation happened between all of the “must sees.” And it was in the years of waiting for this contract that I built incredible relationships with unbelievably kind people who helped me learn invaluable lessons I needed before I could even be ready for a book! I just need to take a lesson from London and experience and enjoy the journey as much as the destinations along the way.

What about you? What is your “there” right now? Are you missing out on things you could be enjoying?

This post is an updated version of one that appeared on this blog back in 2011.

My Newest Travel Obsession

This post contains affiliate links

It’s summertime, and that means lots of us are on the road — a LOT!

Admittedly, we don’t travel nearly as much as we did when we lived overseas, but with my husband’s family 2 hours away, and my family 3 states away, we still have our fair share of road time.

So, I was so excited when I got the opportunity to try out the latest and greatest from The BeLOVED Life. Their new plush travel pillows are seriously my latest obsession when it comes to anything remotely related to travel. 

We got to try out the For God So Loved the World plush travel pillow recently, and I cannot say enough great things about it!

Photo courtesy of Dayspring

My 13 year old daughter used it on her school choir trip to Disneyland recently. The over-the-shoulder strap made it so easy to carry her suitcase, paperwork, and everything else, while still being able to bring a comfortable and stylish pillow along for the ride.

The phone pouch on the strap was amazing. It was the perfect size for her phone, and allowed her to keep it close by without risking it falling out of her pants pocket — not to mention it was much more comfortable for the 6 hour bus ride to not have a phone in her pocket!

There’s also a pocket/pouch on the backside of the pillow where she could slip a couple of snacks and a blanket.

When we got all settled in, she laid her head on it and said, “Oh my gosh, mom! This thing is so soft, I want to stuff my whole body inside the pocket!”

All in all, the pillow was a huge hit. Her friends all wanted one by the end of the trip.

Of course, as a mom, I love the positive messaging on the pillow itself, as well as the opportunity for my daughter to share the Bible with her friends and classmates in a non-threatening way. I also love that there are several different options of styles of pillows. Each has a unique positive message, and there are even ones the boys will love!

I mean, just look at this:

But even more than the adorable designs and positive, faith-filled messages, I love what Mimi and The BeLOVED Life are all about. Mimi says, “I felt like there was a void in the Christian market for colorful, trendy products that pre-teens could be proud to have and share with their friends.”

Mimi’s designs have been featured in Seventeen Magazine’s “Top 10 Back to School Products,” and reviewed by the TODAY Show.

“This new product,” Mimi continues, “was designed to bring life and energy and vibrance back into the pre-teen product market, and to get the kids excited about learning God’s Word, and growing in their faith.” How can you beat that, right?

Well, Mimi takes her faith and messaging to heart. That’s why The BeLOVED Life has “committed to joining the fight against physical, emotional, and cyber bully attacks” by pledging to donate 10% of each sale towards anti-bullying programs and non-profits for children.

Can you guys see why this product, company, and entrepreneur tick all the boxes for me?

Click here to get one of these adorable pillows, and know that you’re not only investing in your child’s spiritual well-being and growth, but also making a difference in the life of a child affected by bullying. Win-win if you ask me!

Pregnant With Hope

Pregnancy, by and large, is a phenomenon that happens to a woman.

The moment of conception, gender, hair color, and even moment of birth are completely out of the mother’s control.

The mother who is expecting a child wields very little – if any – control over the pregnancy, yet a tremendous amount of influence over it.

The choices she makes in a myriad of little things yield drastic differences. It seems nearly everything she does makes a difference in the health of her own body as well as that of the child within.

A baby can be born perfectly healthy with the mother living through pregnancy with a “life as usual” attitude; a baby can survive even when the mother makes catastrophic choices. But a baby and mother can thrive and enjoy an even higher quality of life and bonding when she takes steps to nurture herself and her unborn child – even in less than ideal circumstances.

Several years ago I came across the phrase “pregnant with hope” while reading. I don’t remember the context or in what I read it. But I do know the image that conjured in my mind.

I pictured someone so full of hope welling up inside them that they nearly burst with it – with no effort of their own. An incessantly, almost sickeningly, happy person with more naïveté than wisdom or desire for a real view of the world.

We live in a dark world. A dark world full of dark people capable of unthinkable evil. And hope, like a newly conceived baby, is fragile and can be easily trampled by the realities we face everyday in our neighborhoods, cities and on the television.

It’s easy to let the darkness reign and fill in the cracks where faith can’t provide a tidy answer or wrap life up into a pretty little object lesson with a perfectly packaged solution at the end of the puzzle. Hope gets buried among the grief, disgust and confusion of it all.

Yet hope, like that tender growing babe, while fragile and delicate is also strangely resilient; shockingly strong with a penchant for life.

Hope can survive throughout unimaginably difficult circumstances. Hope can grow and thrive and multiply without any outside effort on our part. The Author and Creator of our hope can do amazingly magnificent things through the medium of hope; and, lets face it, He needs no help from us just as a babe needs no concrete help from his mother to develop a heart, hands, fuzzy hair on his head.

Yet if we take time to nurture hope…

To feast on Food that nourishes and strengthens; to drink deep the Water of Life; to dream and plan and dream some more about what this hope might become. To take intentional steps to protect hope at all costs from the pollutants of this world… Oh how much deeper and stronger would that hope be that lays dormant within us so many days? How much more bonded would we become to the idea that hope can endure?

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. – Philippians 4:8

So if we think happy thoughts all will be well? No, not even close. Yet if we fight against the darkness, beginning with our own thoughts – the ones so dark and misty it scares us to even acknowledge them – and consciously transform them to things of light, things of life, things of hope… Imagine the rebirth of spiritual brightness that would return to your heart. And then I do it and he does it and she does it… Oh I can see the hope blooming even now.

It seems to me, the more hope in this world that is set in things that are noble, honorable and lovely; nurtured in excellent, commendable things, the better off this world would be. Agreed?

You see, a hope nurtured does not remain merely hope. Hope spurs one on to action, to enforce change, to be the impetus of tangible deeds that plant a seed of hope in another. A hope nurtured grows and matures and transforms from unseen to seen. A hope nurtured and birthed into tangibility, by nature, breeds hope in those with whom it interacts. Hope begets hope; kindness begets kindness; honor begets honor. The hope you nurture within your own soul can become life-changing hope to someone else. Someone that might not have anyone else who can implant that first seedling other than you – and you might be completely unaware of it happening at all yet it is dependent upon the hope birthed from you.

So whether hope is but a tiny seed in your own heart or a burgeoning bloom nigh to tangible for those around you, can I encourage you to take time to nurture it? To protect it? To feed and encourage it to grow?

Tell me, what is something true, noble, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable or excellent to which you can turn your thoughts when the darkness threatens to crush your hope? Share it in the comments and let’s nurture a bit more hope in the world together. Who knows, what you say may be the very thing someone else needs to hear to pull them from the pit.


What Little League Taught Me About Faith

A soft breeze, warm with the heat of an Arizona October, brushes my face. The scent of stale popcorn, bubble gum, and dust hangs in the air. I squint against the bright sunlight and scan the field.

Ah! There he is.

My 6-year-old-the-size-of-a-9-year-old has assumed the ready position way out in left field. Again.

Never mind the pitcher hasn’t even made it to the mound yet, and that this is his third time in left field this game. He’s ready.

At last, the pitcher saunters to the mound, a wad of gum bulging his cheek.

“Alright, c’mon, kiddo. Just like we practiced!” A man’s voice rings louder than the din.

The kid, with scruffy hair hanging out the sides of his cap and his shirttail untucked nods decidedly as his dad. He stands tall and raises his gloved had in front of his chest. He squints at the catcher. Shakes off an imaginary call, checks the bases for stealing runners—never mind the fact that this is the first batter—and his shoulders rise and fall with a large sigh. He winds up and fires the ball. It sails far over the catcher’s head, clanks into the backstop, and a mad scramble ensues. Pitcher, catcher, and third baseman scramble for the ball. Dust and limbs flying everywhere.

“What was that, son? Don’t try to be Randy Johnson out there. Just. Play. Catch!”

The ball finally recovered, all the players return to their posts and in unison my son’s team assumes the ready position.

I smiled at the scene now so familiar. Every game was the same. Sure, the players rotated positions and a different pitcher took the mound every few innings, but the basic play was the same.

And it reminded me, oddly enough, of me.

It’s funny the things you ponder sitting in dusty camp chairs every Saturday for weeks on end, watching little boys and girls strive to be like their big league heroes.

And one thing I’ve realized over the weeks is that Little League baseball is a lot like my spiritual walk. And I’d venture to guess, it’s a lot like yours, too.

So, I wanted to share with you a few things Little League taught me about faith.

1. The game rarely ever goes like practice. So many times, I sat at practice and watched my son nail hit after hit. Or make stellar throws and speed around the bases, a wide grin splitting his face. But on game day. Oh, things were always different on game day. It was serious. He was nervous. He struck out far more often than he did in practice. And those throws? They never seemed to hit their mark. Sound familiar? Sitting in my cozy spot on the couch, dog in my lap, Bible in hand, my “practice” time is a joy. God’s word sings in my soul, profound insights burst in my mind and renewed purpose steels deep in my soul. Then comes Game Day. My kids wake up, the dog pukes on the rug, and my perfectly engaging lesson falls flat for my middle schools students. Suddenly those insights are a lead chain around my neck. The joy from my morning practice shoved aside by annoyance and frustration. Then comes The Big Game. You know, Game 7 of the World Series big. The notice of layoffs comes. Or the doctor calls. Or another bill arrives. Yes, it’s true. The game rarely ever goes like practice.

2. Ready Position is a big deal. It never failed to amuse me. One kid building sand castles at short stop. Another crawling around, tracing the path of a beetle. Yet another is picking his nose, confident he’s far enough in the outfield no one will notice. Suddenly, a voice splits the air. Coach. “Ready position, boys!” Obediently, they snap to Ready Position: forearms rested on thighs, knees bent ready to spring into action, eyes on the pitcher. After every play, they return to ready position. From this position, they can spring into action in any direction at any given moment. It’s designed for maximum speed and efficiency so they can pounce on the ball or lunge to make a catch. We have a ready position, too. Sometimes we need reminding. That’s why we tape Bible verses on mirrors and save them as lock screens on our devices. We listen to worship music in the car and start our day with prayer and Bible study. We need our hearts and minds in ready position. Postured with ears open, eyes wide, hearts softened, ready to spring into action at the slightest nudge of the Spirit. And if we get shaken, or after the action, we return. Ready for action. Ready to listen. Ready to jump when the ball comes our way.

3. Listen to the coach. Little boys like to run. Better yet, they like to run in dirt. I lost count of how many times a little leaguer sprinted around the bases, slid into home, only to be met by serious eyes. “I told you to hold off at second base. That is the fourth run, and now we have to change sides. If you had stopped when I asked, more people would have had the chance to bat.” Oh. Sometimes, we’re running full steam ahead, goal in sight. The light at the end of the tunnel has been turned on. We can see our destination. We’re so close we can taste it. And then we hear that Still Small Voice imploring us. Slow down. Stop. Not yet. The tug-o-war of the heart ensues. But, it’s right there. I’m so close. “Stop.” We need to listen to our Coach. We were given the Holy Spirit as a gift. A guide. A coach. He knows what is best for us, and the best way for us to get there. He doesn’t tell us what to do just for the joy of hearing the sound of His own voice. No. There’s a game plan. A strategy. If we barrel ahead, we may interfere with what He has for us. Or for someone else. We may risk the entire game thinking we know better. We need to listen to the Coach.

4. Have fun! Many’s the time we had to remind our little baller that it was just a game. And while, yes, there are winners and losers…well, not in this age of Little League, but still. Work hard? Yes. Try your best? Absolutely. Take it seriously? For sure! But taking it seriously doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it! Sometimes we make following Christ look about as enjoyable as latrene duty or grave digging. Yes, it’s serious business. Eternity is on the line. But Christ himself said He came to give us life—abundant life! It’s ok to enjoy this life. This world. Our families. Our jobs. Our churches. There is great joy and freedom found in Christ and we would be well served to allow ourselves to fully embrace and experience that joy.

5. Cheer on your teammates. Our son’s coaches did a great job trying to instill the character of sportsmanship into the members of the team. They celebrated one another well. It can be all too easy to view others as competition. Especially when they are playing the position we wanted to play, better than we know we could play it. We need to support one another. Cheer one another one. Dust each other off when we fall, and celebrate the successes of those on our team. By the way, our team is humanity.

So, what do you think? Do you see yourself in these Little Leaguers? Which one do you sense the tug to work on? What other lessons have you found in the ordinary things of life?

Does Your Heart need a Total Christmas Makeover?

I absolutely love Christmas. I always have.

This year, however, as the blessed day draws nearer, I feel a tightening in my chest. A heaviness settling on my shoulders and my teeth grind just a bit harder. I feel it…the suffocating pressure for a solid Christmas “performance” in my home.

I don’t usually feel this way, but I think the year of working full time outside the home for the first time in over a decade, combined with re-acclimating to the American culture and mindset to Perfect-All-The-Things has left me feeling a bit drained and, if I’m totally honest, a bit on-guard.

And then, I received a copy of Total Christmas Makeover by Melissa Spoelstra in the mail.

You guys.

I may have cried my way through the first chapter because it was such a freeing reminder.

A reminder to remember.

To recall and ponder and mull over what Christmas is really all about.

This book of 31 short devotions starts each day off with a Scripture, and then Melissa walks through an encouraging, inspiring (and even somewhat convicting) devotional thought. She also includes a few questions for reflection.

But my favorite part—aside from the Scriptures—are the A Practical Approach sections at the end of each day. Melissa offers practical, hands-on, and simple ideas for incorporating meaningful traditions into your family’s holiday season. And, no, it’s not a bunch of Pinterest-perfect crafts, and activities that will make you want to pull your hair out. Some of them even call for removing some of the traditions that are no longer working for your family, or have lost some of their meaning.

Total Christmas Makeover is freeing, uplifting, and just the breath of Holiday fresh air this frazzled mama needed. Especially since my kids have all but outgrown the Advent activities we’ve used the past several years (which I still love, by the way), Melissa’s practical and easy ideas for making meaningful memories and traditions are particularly welcome.

I received a copy of Total Christmas Makeover for the purposes of this review. All opinions are my own.

The Blessing of A Bloom

This post first appeared on my old blog a few years ago. It’s message resonated with me today, so I wanted to share it with you again.

We planted it back at the beginning of summer. Along with the strawberries that never quite made it, and the sweet pea that bloomed in beauty.

It was the first of the three plants to sprout, and the excitement was palpable. Day after day we’d rush to the pot to see what progress had been made overnight. Then, it just…stopped. Long, green shoots waved in the breeze with nary a bud in sight. Eventually we surmised it was a dud. Or we did something wrong. It just wasn’t going to bloom, and that was that.

I really need to just throw that thing away, I’d tell myself each time I’d walk in or out of the front door. It’s just taking up space. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Then…one day the tips began to change; to look a little like wheat. Ooh, this is it! We all thought. It’s going to bloom after all! And yet, there it sat in it’s wheat-like state for week after week. Such a disappointment. It had so much potential. It served to taunt me of all my own failures; a daily reminder of all the things that had promised to bloom, only to come up short in my own life.

Or in her life over there…she’s been working at that for years with nothing to show for it. Hrmph. She doesn’t know when enough is enough does she?

The morning dawned bright and clear with a brisk chill in the wind. We headed out like any other day for school, groceries, coffees and friends. And we stopped in our tracks. There on that useless, dud of a failed plant was the most striking purple and yellow bloom – and there were four more buds surrounding it!

I stood and stared at that delicate bloom, tears stinging my eyes. As the squeals of my children’s delight wafted on the air around me, a Still Small Voice whispered in my heart of hearts –

This is a promise. For you.

My mind immediately flooded with the myriad of tasks He had called me to before. Some days, some years before. Dreams and visions, some of which had nigh faded into the oblivion of just another thing I must have heard wrong.

Yet, just as we never know what is going on just under the surface of a tree or flower, so can one never be sure what is churning, germinating, growing, pushing through just beneath the surface of a heart; of a soul. He has not forgotten those things to which He has called me. Or you. He has not sat back and hoped for the best. No. Just beneath the surface of it all, yes, even way down deep, He has been cultivating and pruning and working.

And He has promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him. To weave the beauty and passion, heartache and hardship, into a tapestry the likes of which are not to be found anywhere other than here. In this heart. It won’t make life perfect, pain free, flawless or easy. But it will ensure that not one thing will be for naught. Not one tear will be wasted. Not one prayer will float beyond His hearing.

This weaving, this working, this mysterious melding of mundane with glorious takes the toil, pain, joy and sorrow and works it to the very best for the one who places it all in the hands of the Weaver. And to be in His hand, His gentle yet infinitely strong hand…oh how that is the very best place to be.

So now, as I pass that pot time and time again in the comings and goings of this life of mine I am reminded of that promise. And I cling to the hope of things unseen. This heart flutters with anticipation of what is to come. Eager to see how the beauty blooming just beneath the surface will push through the filth and dirt and manure to burst forth in glorious color. For I know it is coming.


When You’re Missing Out on the Blessing

The air hung thick and hot as the sun beat down on my face. The usually dry heat so familiar to this place had given way to a muggy and heavy blanket tucked over the city. On the horizon, circling all around our neighborhood, clouds towered high. Thunderheads rose tall and powerful, teasing with the promise of the sweet relief of rain.

Rain that would never come.

In the small towns surrounding us, at least a few drops fell. But for us in this little valley at the north end of Phoenix, our fate was a dry one.

I remember this from my childhood. Having grown up just a couple of miles down the road from where my children now grow, I remember well the disdain and disappointment every time the monsoon forecasts would come. Oh sure, we’d get a storm every now and again. But there was something about our little valley within the Valley of the Sun that repelled rain. I remember vividly clouds circling our area, gray strings of rain feathering the horizon. The sweet, earthy scent of the creosote bush wafting on the breeze…and the rain falling on everyone but us.

Do you ever feel that way? Like God’s blessings are on the horizon…you can see them, smell them, feel them heavy in the air. So close it awakes an ache in your heart you didn’t know possible?

So you watch with hopeful anticipation for the rain of His Blessing to fall. And fall it does…but not on you.

You feel as though you’re standing in a spiritual desert, parched and withered, desperate for the water that quenches like none other. Only to see the faces of others dripping and dew-kissed while your lips crack in dehydration.

Then the wondering begins.

Did I hear You wrong, God? Am I in the wrong place? Did You not say to come here? Do this?

You wonder why the blessings fall so heavily on others that they can hardly keep their heads above it, while your spirit wastes away to dust.

You know the Rain will come. It has to. But it never seems to fall as frequently or fervently as it seems to for those around you.

Have you ever been there?

I have.

More frequently than I care to admit.

However, God has shown me an oasis in the desert. He’s wiped the matted dust from my vision and allowed me to see more clearly.

The material things of this world are not God’s blessings. The accolades, the platforms, the raises and financial depth. The prayers answered with a yes rather than a no or not now. Those are not His blessings.

God’s blessing—His real, true, deep blessing—is Jesus. It’s God Himself.

As people who identify as followers of Jesus, we should be more about Him and His fame than the gifts He can bestow upon us.

Does God give us good gifts? Allow good and fun and over-the-top extra into our lives? No doubt. What father doesn’t delight in giving good gifts to his children?

But our motivation, our drive, our desire should be for Him, and Him alone.

And when we finally shut our mouths, stop begging for one minute, and allow ourselves to sit in His presence and really soak in who. He. is.? It is then we can really and truly begin grasp the depth and breadth and weight that is the blessing of knowing Him.

So, if you find yourself in the desert, spirit withered and weary, fighting bitterness as those around you bloom and thrive? Turn your focus to Him. Spend time in His word and at His feet for no other purpose than knowing Him. If you’re not yet a follower of Jesus and wonder if He even hears you, if He even cares, give it a try, too. Quiet your spirit, present yourself before Him, and ask Him to help you know Him. And He will.

And the more you know Him, the closer you’re drawn to Him, the more your spirit will drink deep the Living Water and the circumstantial deserts that inevitably come will no longer drain your soul of it’s moisture. And you will thrive in the desert, and thirst no more.

Are You Building Your Own Soil?

Have you ever heard of the Aran Islands?

They are a set of three small islands off the west coast of Ireland, famous for their rich wool sweaters and being a heart of Irish cultural preservation.

When we lived in Ireland, we could see these islands from our living room window—when it wasn’t raining, anyway. Folk used to say, “If you can’t see Aran, it’s raining. If you can see them, its gonna rain.”

We had the privilege of visiting the three islands a few times during our time there and the place is truly enchanting.

One of my favorite tales about the islands is about how the early inhabitants made the ground suitable for growing spuds and other root vegetables.

They built the soil.

You see, what wasn’t beach was solid rock. I don’t know much about agriculture, but I do know it’s fairly impossible to plant anything in solid rock. However, the stalwart Irish weren’t to be outdone by an island and they set their plan to work.

The gathered large amounts of seaweed—of which they had an endless supply—and sand from the shore. They layered seaweed and sand, seaweed and sand, again and again and again.

Over time, the seaweed broke down, the sand was enriched with the nutrients and a fertile soil was formed. With the sustenance obtained from the sea, and the crops grown on these new fertile plots, the inhabitants of the Aran Islands found their livelihood.

It was truly ingenious. A true feat of human ingenuity, creativity, and strength to create good soil where there had been rock.

Sometimes I think we attempt to apply these same ideas to our spiritual lives as well.

We read in the Bible the parable about the types of soil. We read about the heart that is like the path, packed down and hardened. When God’s word falls on these hearts it is snatched up by the predators of the world before it can even take root. Or the weeded patch. God’s word quickly sprouts and spiritual growth seems promising, but then the weeds of worry, greed, and selfish living choke out the seed of the Truth. Or the rocky soil. When the seed God’s Word falls on this soil, it also sprouts quickly, promising a good return, but without deep, rich soil for the new growth to take root, it is quickly scorched by the heat of strife and dies away.

Then. Ah, yes. The good soil. It takes root, grows deep and tall, and produces a crop up to a hundred times more than was sown.

I want to be the good soil, we think. I can’t let myself become rocky or weeded.

And so we start to build. We drag layer upon layer of good deed. Go to church every week? Lay that down. Teach Sunday School or VBS? Sprinkle that on top. Spread out a generous helping of financial generosity. Yes, this surely will create the good soil.

We toil and strive and hustle and work to drag our own goodness and pile it up in an attempt to cover up the rock-hard state of our souls and somehow create fertile soil from our good intentions.

However, what we end up with is not a bumper crop of spiritual growth. Rather we end up feeling defeated, beat down, worn out.

You see, we can’t take our stone-hard hearts and will them soft and pliable, ready to receive God’s Word and grow.

It is not up to us—it has never been up to us—to create goodness within ourselves.

No, it is only by God’s grace, through the work of His Holy Spirit.

All those good things we attempted to cobble together? Those should come from the overflow of what God is doing in and through us, rather than in our own strength as an attempt to make it all better.

Read the Bible everyday? Yes. Go to church? Yes. Serve others? Of course!

But those things should be the avenue through which God works and molds and softens and does what He does best—create. It is through seeking Him, pursuing Him, soaking in His presence that our hearts are changed.

Only the One who transformed water to wine can transform a heart of stone to good soil. Sometimes the best thing we can do is cease striving, say no to the ‘holy hustle’, and simply be still. Be still and listen to Him. Talk with Him. Open the darkest places of our hearts where we hide all the hurt and filth and muck we pray no one discovers, and let Him clean it out.

Friend, are you trying to build your own soil? Are you striving to be good enough? Are you weary from dragging around your own works hoping they will somehow produce the life-zeal you are desperately seeking?

Can I encourage you to just lay it all down? Lay it in the hands of the One who created everything from nothing and let His transforming love do it’s mighty work in your heart.

Why I’m Doing the Job I Didn’t Want to Do

I recently accepted a job. This job was an answer to prayer in so many ways—and it’s a job I said I’d never do again.

Before we ever went overseas, I taught first grade for a year. That was one tough year. First year teacher, mid-year created class, and a group of students who hadn’t been told why they had been moved made for a deadly combination and one defeated teacher when the end of the year rolled around.

When we moved back from Ireland the first time, the plan was that I would teach while my husband went to graduate school.

Well, you know how to make God laugh, right? Make a plan.

It wasn’t in His plan for me to teach that year…or any of the following ten years. As time went on, the realization grew stronger and stronger within my heart. I never wanted to teach again.

I love kids, and I love learning, but the farther removed I was from the classroom, the happier I became.

When we returned to the states and knew we would be staying, we had no idea what we would do for jobs. I really did not want to teach. As in, I would feel physically ill thinking about it.

“I told you, I never want to teach again!”

I said that to my husband, to anyone who asked about if I would return to the classroom, and I said it to God. A lot. And it was true!

However, I now find myself planning curriculum and activities for a middle creative writing class this fall. And you know what? I’m excited.

It all started when I renewed my teaching certificate when we returned to the states. You know, “just in case.” I wanted to be willing to do whatever it was He wanted/asked me to do, including teaching. And I really thought I was willing.

However, when I landed a different job, I was overjoyed and quite proud that I had been willing to “sacrifice” and God had allowed me to do something else.

Then, towards the end of that year, we needed a little extra income. My husband was already working long hours and I felt it wasn’t fair to ask him to be away from home even more—nor was it fair to our kids. So, after talking with him about it, and praying about it, we decided to explore me tutoring for a company just down the road from our home.

It was just a couple of hours a week, but the money helped and I noticed something changing in me.

My heart was softening towards the kids, and my mind was beginning to spin with ideas and possibilities for lessons that would help the concepts finally click.

Over the course of the last eight months, God has been working in my heart and changing me from the inside out. I had asked Him to change my heart if He was going to have me teaching again. And friends, He is doing just that.

So, when I accepted this middle school position, it wasn’t with dread and clenched fists. It was will a heart full of joy and hands open wide and lifted in gratitude for His faithfulness and provision.

Friends, I learned a long time ago never to tell God never. He has a funny way of working around our demands and ultimatums. Is there something you’re saying never to? Is it something you sense He is actually leading you to do, and you just flat don’t want to?

You’re in good company! The Bible is chalk full of folks who felt the same way. Noah. Moses. Jonah. And Saul, who eventually became Paul and wrote a good chunk of the New Testament, just to name a few.

However, those folks also discovered the key to spiritual happiness and growth. They were honest with God, and then let Him change their hearts and equip them for the job.

Is there something you’re white-knuckling, terrified or too exhausted to consider?

1. Pray. Be honest with God about how you are feeling. Explore why you feel so strongly, and let Him hear all the reasons, excuses, fears, and fatigue fueling those thoughts. Then, ask Him to help you be willing should he ask it of you. Ask Him to change your heart so that you can step out in obedience when He asks.

2. Seek wise advice. Talk with your spouse, pastor, counselor, or trusted friend. Talk through the same things you’ve been praying about. Ask them to pray with you for heart-change. Even if God never asks you to do that thing, the freedom you enjoy from releasing your never is worth the work.

3. Decide your yes. This is where the rubber meets the road. We have to decide if God has our ultimate and eternal yes. Will our answer always be yes, no matter what He asks? Choose now and it makes obedience down the road much easier.

4. Stay close to God. Nothing is more spiritually draining or frustrating than wondering whether or not a certain tug you feel in your heart is from God. Keep your relationship with God close through talking with Him daily, listening to Him, reading His Word and gathering with others who follow Him. The closer your relationship, the easier it will be to discern His voice when He speaks.

So, yes, I’m doing a job a never wanted to do again. But do you know what? It’s no longer drudgery. There is joy, excitement, anticipation. So don’t fear, dear one. He can do a mighty work in you and grow love where you never thought it possible.

So, friend. Are you clinging to a never? Do you need to put your yes on the table? Share in the comments and let’s lift each other up.

When You Feel Marked by Life

Have you ever felt like no matter what you do, you can’t escape your past?

Somewhere along the way, something you did, or something you said, or whoever you are or whoever your parent is came back to haunt you. And it keeps coming back.

Like whatever your mistake was – or perceived mistake, or guilt by association – is branded across your forehead and life has taken notice.

You’re getting whatever you deserved and then some. Worse yet, you’ve started to believe it yourself. That you are that person who did that thing, and you’re living in a swamp of guilt and shame. The quicksand has a hold of your ankles and the more you struggle, the deeper you sink so it’s easier just to resign yourself to the fact that this is who you are, and this is your life now. And will be forever.

In The Mark of the King, Jocelyn Green weaves a compelling and gripping tale of a the-mark-of-the-kingmarked woman trying to escape her past.

Julienne Chevalier is not who she used to be. Once respected, honored, and highly regarded in her most noble of professions, she now finds herself branded for death, exiled, alone, and having lost everything – and everyone – that ever mattered to her.

Finding her way in Louisiana in the 18th century proves more difficult than you or I could ever imagine – and being marked as a murder doesn’t help her any.

Everything in Julienne’s new life points to an existence defined by condemnation, despair, and judgement. How will she ever make it alone? Can she overcome her reputation to make a real difference in New Orleans? Can she truly forgive the many who have wronged her so grievously?

The imagery of Jesus so masterfully woven throughout each page, each scene, each paragraph, moved me to tears on many occasions. Without relying on the obligatory “plan of salvation chapter” so many Christian authors fall victim to, Green weaves the Gospel and good news of Jesus Christ so seamlessly and beautifully that at one point it literally took my breath away.

With expert historical accuracy flawlessly woven together with drama, suspense, love and heartache, Green takes the us on an unforgettable journey that moves beyond the lives of the characters into the very heart of the reader.

I was undone by this book in the most exquisite ways, and my heart is still pondering the question of am I truly living a life marked by freedom? Or am I still a slave to my past?

If you’re struggling to find your purpose, identity, and perhaps a new normal marked by the shadows of your past, I can’t recommend The Mark of the King highly enough. Even if you aren’t a Jesus type of person, I promise you won’t be brow beaten with hoity-toity Christianese and stuffy-headed sermons. I wager you’ll see yourself within Julienne, and be moved by the sheer beauty of true and utterly unconditional love.