November 25, 2015

A Taste of Home at Thanksgiving

I grew up in East Texas, where the chicken is fried, the pine trees grow tall, and the accents drip thick with “honeys” and “bless-your-hearts”. On Thanksgiving, it was my family’s tradition to take the two-lane highway straight-shot over to my grandparents’ house for lunch. I’d perch on a stool in the kitchen in order to watch my grandmother turn “a little of this and a little of that” into a traditional turkey feast, or run with my sister through the leaves that the huge oak had molted in their backyard, seemingly for our pleasure alone. After second and third helpings of lunch, my grandfather would send me to the freezer for the Blue Bell ice cream. He’d dish it out on top of oversized slices of pecan pie for each family member, and we’d all retire to the living room to watch the Cowboys’ game, take a nap, or contentedly combine the two.
When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of home, and when I think of home, I think of my grandparents’ house in East Texas on Thanksgiving day. I smell fried chicken crackling on the stove. I hear my grandfather spinning yarns about growing up in the Depression or going to war or working in the oil fields. At the table I see my parents in their youth, my sister and my cousins playing at cards, and the aunt who taught me to drive in the high school parking lot down the road.

This is my home, although I don’t live in East Texas anymore. I find myself saying “you guys” far more than “y’all”, and my grandparents recently moved out of their house into assisted living. Their huge oak tree was felled by a storm years ago, and now I’m the one standing at the kitchen counter arranging pecans on the pie while my kids look on.

The world has shifted with age and time, and the will of God has taken me from my home, but my longing for it has only grown stronger. Some might call this longing homesickness. Others might call it sentimentality or romanticism. Still others, a desire for the simplicity of childhood. But do we not all long for home? Do we not all long for that feeling of settledness, of familiarity, of being known in all of our ages and stages? Do we not, even more, long for a place, a time, or an assuredness that all is right with the world, that it’s been freed from its turmoil and unspeakable atrocities?

Whether our home has been in a high-rise in the city or a farmhouse tucked away in some far-flung place, we think back with warmth to the traditions, the smells, the tastes, and the voices at the table. We who’ve not had a sanctuary in our youth try to create it for our own children. We desire the simplicity of a satisfying meal and togetherness with others around a table. We long for a laborless rest and a sense of peace. We crave time to stop, that we might try to fully ingest the overarching story of our lives and God’s gracious hand weaving there throughout.

My grandmother will not whisk gravy at her stove this Thanksgiving, but I have learned home from her, and I have become the whisker and masher and baker. I will make mashed potatoes for my sons, and perhaps while I work at peeling them, my boys will perch on a stool at the counter and watch, taking in the sights and smells. More likely, they will wrestle in the leaf pile or run through the house with their cousins while the Cowboys’ game blares in the background.

Home, I’ve realized, is something we receive, something created and cultivated for us. I work tirelessly to create a place, a feeling, of “home” for my children, but my feeling of home is what was created for me. I imitate what I saw and smelled and learned from those before me. We’re all, in effect, imitating the One who’s set a longing for home in our hearts. It is a whisper we must lean down to hear, an invitation to carefully investigate. We think the longing calls us back, to the places and faces we’ve known, to the traditions and tastes we’ve enjoyed. Instead, it is coaxing us forward, to look for the place and the face we’ve not yet known by sight. We know by faith what we’ve not yet seen, but we only know it now as longing.

Our Christ is preparing a home for us, you know.

The longing rises, even in the midst of our thankfulness. Something is not yet complete. The world strains under its own pressure. Our hearts cry out¾for redemption, for settledness, for rest from this darkness and this flesh. We cry out for our God. The ultimate longing underneath all we crave is to be at home with Him, at the table, studying every contour of His face, hearing the tenor of His voice, enjoying His delight, trying the heavenly mashed potatoes, and relating to others without sin. Perhaps the only remaining holiday in heaven will be Thanksgiving.

In this liminal space, we live with thankful longing. We know that the world has been set right, and this is why we’re thankful, but its rightness is still being disseminated. We are left longing, because God is not yet done pursuing. We must humbly give Him space for His own longing.

In this in-between, we create imitations of our real home through the table, the talk, and the giving of thanks. When we gather with friends and family and lift our meager words of thanksgiving to God, we pause the advance of age and time if just for a moment and, with our traditions and tastes, foreshadow our heavenly home. As we will do there, we turn our attention to the host, who has provided a bountiful feast of celebration and gladly serves all who’ve accepted the invitation to the table. We enjoy the company of our brothers and sisters, named so by blood. We accept with gladness the offered food that satisfies and drink that quenches. We receive all we’ve been given¾oh how much!¾with humble thanksgiving and, here only, a prayerful desire for more.

Friends, let this Thanksgiving be a taste of home. Make your family’s traditional foods, watch your family’s traditional movies, and play your family’s traditional games. However, when a twinge of longing attaches to your thanks-giving, remember that this was set in our hearts. We’re all hungry. We’re all thirsty. We’re all weary and heavy-laden. Let the longing for a true north lead you to Christ and an anticipation of what’s to come. In your rest from work, know that He who began a good work in us will carry it onto completion. Pass out appetizers of grace and truth, preparation for the feast to come. Love wildly. Forgive tirelessly. Thank Him unabashedly. In all things, imitate and anticipate the final Thanksgiving table and a place where all our longings will finally find their home.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you!

November 18, 2015

Advice for First-Time Writers (and Other Creatives)

Thank you to all who entered my Boatload of Books for Ministry Wives giveaway in celebration of my updated ebooks Partners in Planting and Partners in Ministry! The winner is Brianna Q., whom I've contacted by email. Congrats, Brianna!
Almost nine years ago now, I shared a secret with my husband that I'd held inside: I wanted to be a writer! I write it breathlessly in italics because my secret felt fragile, as if saying it out loud would ensure my desire's demise.

Apparently, the secret was not a secret at all. My husband simply turned to me and said, "I know." My desires related to write had evidently been oozing out of me and all over him since our newlywed days, but I had never taken them seriously enough to wrap them all together in a definitive statement. I hadn't admitted my passion to myself. 
I'm often asked about writing, from people whose passion for it is oozing out of them. In all the questions, I hear the same timidity to just say it out loud already that I had all those years ago. It's like something is bursting inside like a firework but we try to silence it. We're afraid to admit that we have a passion, mostly to ourselves.

If you're wrestling with a desire to do something creative, whether it's writing or not, I bet I can name your most common thought: This seems selfish. I'm probably making this up and trying to say God is leading me to do it. Followed close behind with this: Who am I to think I could do this? And then: I'm wasting perfectly good time that could go toward something else, like my laundry or volunteer work.

After I told my husband I wanted to be a writer, he told me to go for it, and I did. I spent two hours a week at Starbucks with a notebook (a notebook!) and a pen. For one hour and 45 minutes, I would wrestle with all the thoughts of selfishness and stupidity, and for 15 minutes I'd actually write something, typically something embarrassingly bad. And I loved it. I didn't love the thought-wrestling, but I loved the actual writing, and so I kept doing it.

I read somewhere that when you do something that feels like worship, you've found your calling. Well, that settled it for me, because writing, even from the very beginning, felt exactly like worship. Like I was made for it. Like something was released that had been trying to get out of me for years.

So if you're wrestling, I say good, because I think that's part of it. If you're still going at it after years of wrestling because something in you feels like hitting a bulls-eye, then God has certainly worked out your motivations and your desires and sharpened them to become worship.

That's the most important advice I can give you: if it feels like worship, do it. Use your creative gifts to say gospel truths with beauty and nuance and color. That doesn't mean it's not going to feel like work. My writing routine is something I schedule and requires hours of intense work. It's not romantic at all. If you're like all other writers in this world, you'll definitely have to put the work in too, especially if you want to get better at what you do.

Here's something important to know about creative endeavors: you have to not care about results. Sure, you can hope for results, but if the sole reason you do something is to have followers or get comments or get a book contract, nothing will ever be enough. You'll lose a sense of why you're doing what you're doing, and your worship will turn toward yourself and others. Instead, do your thing because you were made to do it and because God is delighted when you use the gifts He's given you.

Finally, know that there is no formula. Everyone wants the formula that will guarantee the results they envision. I myself sought that formula. Unfortunately, there aren't any magic jump-ahead steps. The good news is that, specifically for writers, there are general steps that the industry lays out. If you want to get a book published, read up on those steps.

Basically they are: put together a book proposal, go to a writer's conference to pitch agents or publishers with said book proposal in hand, or query an agent or publisher by email with your book proposal.

Most publishers will not look at an unsolicited book proposal or manuscript unless it comes from an agent, so it's best to focus on getting an agent. When considering whether to take an author as a client, agents are generally looking for three things: good writing, a good idea, and a solid platform. Those are all things that take time to build, so put the work in, don't give up, read great writing, grow in your craft, and take the necessary steps.

These are the steps I took from my first inkling of a desire to write to becoming a published author:

  • Started a family blog in 2005, along with every other person in the world 
  • Wrote words that, thankfully, no one ever laid eyes on
  • Lots of time passed
  • Attended a writer's conference, immediately became overwhelmed at all the information (especially on building a platform, which I didn't have), and started sifting through it all
  • Transitioned my family blog into this blog, with much fear and trepidation (Who I am to think that I have anything to say?)
  • Wrote a book that, thankfully, few have laid eyes on
  • Lots of time passed. Still blogging. Still writing words no one reads.
  • Wrote for a local family magazine; Got paid for my writing the first time ever: $50/month
  • Wrote a second book
  • Read lots and lots of books on the writing industry
  • Created a book proposal for book #2
  • Queried agents and publishers. Heard back from none.
  • Attended a writer's conference and landed an agent who told me I was a long shot. I was.
  • Two publishers out of three said no. The final one said yes. 
  • I cried.
  • Rode the roller coaster of writing and editing words that I hoped people would read but wasn't exactly sure and that felt like opening my heart for all the world to see and review on Amazon
  • Currently: riding said roller coaster again and praying, somehow, God uses these words

I consistently recommend the following resources and tools for writers:

Books on Writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, On Writing by Stephen King, and On Writing Well by William Zinsser

Blogging and Social Media Tips: Amy Lynn Andrew's blog

Follow bloggers and writers who are doing it well.
I personally enjoy following Emily Freeman, Jen Wilkin, and Jared Wilson.

Follow publishing blogs. I like literary agent Rachelle Gardner's blog.

Book Proposal Tips: Michael Hyatt has templates for both fiction and nonfiction book proposals.

Find an Agent You'd Like to Query. Michael Hyatt has a helpful list here for Christian authors.

You Gotta Start Somewhere: Check websites, blogs, and magazines in your area of interest for submission guidelines and submit articles accordingly. I wrote for free for many years trying to build my writing credentials.

Attend a Writer's Conference. Get all the industry information in one place at a conference. While there, you'll also have the opportunity to sign up for 15 minute meetings with agents and publishers. I have attended Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer's Conference and She Speaks and would recommend both.

What questions do you have about writing, publishing, or creative endeavors? I will try to answer as many as I can in the comment section. Also? If you're writing, blogging, or pursuing a creative endeavor, leave us links in the comments so we can stalk you see!

November 11, 2015

A Boatload of Books for Ministry Wives {A Giveaway!}

A few months ago, I slipped a few words into a blog post to let you know that I'm currently hard at work on a new book. Most days, I can't wait to share it with you! The other days are a mixture of sweaty paranoia, staring at my screen waiting for words to magically appear, wondering what I've gotten myself into, and typing furiously just to get it down. Bird by bird, as the writer Anne Lamott says. I have many more birds to go. 

As is typical when I'm working up against a deadline, I found something else to do. Some might call it procrastination; I like to call it unnecessary stress. Or a fun little side project. 

The book is not done, but the fun little side project is, and it's for you! I've given full head-to-toe makeovers to my ebooks for church planting and ministry wives and have made Partners in Planting newly available on Amazon. Aren't they pretty? 

The fun news is that I'm celebrating with a giveaway of books to encourage, bless, and help you in your ministry! The giveaway includes:

A seriously beautiful leather-bound Holman Christian Standard Study Bible
The Pastor's Family by Brian & Cara Croft
The Pastor's Kid by Barnabas Piper
Mom Enough (I contributed to this lovely little book)
A Moleskin notebook


I'm throwing in a $50 Amazon gift card to cover my two ebooks, Partners in Ministry and Partners in Planting, and whatever other books you've had your eye on. 

As Leisel says after her gallop around the gazebo in The Sound of Music: wheeeee!

This is a perfect gift to win for a pastor's wife in your life or, of course, for yourself. So what are you waiting for? Get yourself entered below.

And I suppose I best get back to work. Bird by bird. Pray for me?

a Rafflecopter giveaway

November 4, 2015

When You Want to Be Known and Understood

I recognize in myself a deep desire to be known and understood. From Facebook and Twitter, I gather that we all have this desire in common; there is almost a desperate and sometimes angry clamor for others to understand the challenges associated with everything from certain occupations to marital statuses to joys and griefs. All these words ("Open Letters", anyone?) may have only served to make us afraid--afraid to say the wrong thing, afraid to empathize or relate, and afraid to even enter into the lives of others.
I have been the desperate and angry clamorer, even on this very blog. I have at times craved for those around me to walk in my shoes, and this craving, I admit, has led to self-righteousness and self-pity and subsequent pain for others. Even when some have tried to walk in my shoes, internally I've pounced on their efforts: It's not enough. You don't get it.

Do you know why it's not enough? Do you know why this desire turns to craving and gives birth to resentment? Do you know why we're so easily hurt and offended, even when others try to enter our griefs?

Because we've taken a good desire to be known and understood and laid it, seeking, at the feet of people. We've crafted people into our gods, requesting a satisfying drink of validation and love out of broken cisterns. We've believed that if people just finally understood, somehow the challenges we face would be eased or erased all together. Somehow we'd find peace in the midst of our difficulty. Somehow we'd feel better. Somehow we'd be satisfied.

A sense of satisfaction does come for a time, and this is the elusive elixir we seek, although it vanishes as quickly as it came through the cracks in the cistern. We're left with more hurt and more resentment, which only makes us louder and harsher in our clamoring. It's not enough! You don't get it!

Do you know why it's not enough? Because only God can know us fully. Proverbs 14:10 says, "The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy." In other words, no one can fully know our joys or our griefs. We can spend 50 years sleeping next to someone and they will never know us anywhere close to how God knows us already at this very moment. Other people don't have the capacity that God does, so we shouldn't expect God-like capacity from them.

The good news is that we have the Christ. Through Him, we have access to the ear of our Father God, who actually requests that we throw all of our needs and cares upon His strength. He is a cistern that doesn't break, who can handle our deepest pain without running away or offending. And in trusting Him, it becomes perfectly okay to be a little misunderstood by others. Because we're safe, being watched over and nurtured in the most intimate parts of ourselves.

So we share with others what we're feeling and how we're struggling through life, yes, but not with the expectation that they will meet all of our needs. Our greatest efforts, instead, go into seeking to understand others-- entering into the griefs and joys of others as much as we humanly can, offering compassion and truth and mercy. This is biblical friendship, this is the Church--esteeming others above ourselves and bringing one another over and over into the love and care of our Father, not seeking a savior in anything but the Savior.

October 28, 2015

Suffering is Not the Opposite of Blessing

Last week, when I was in the middle of discerning God's pressing and asking Him to simply lift my head to see Him, my Bible study teacher said, "Suffering is not the opposite of blessing."

My heart perked up at those words, because I know them to be true. In fact, suffering, if we trust ourselves into the loving hands of our Father, can in the end be one of our greatest blessings. Bittersweet blessings. Hard-won blessings. Internal-hope blessings. 1 Peter 1:6-8 says it like this: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love."
Suffering isn't always a result of circumstances or external pressure. Sometimes temporary pain comes from discipline, and, again, we are wise to consider God's discipline as His loving, protective hand.

Suffering is not the opposite of blessing. There is blessing in the suffering.

Thank you for your concern for me, both online and in person. I apologize if I alarmed you in any way. I simply wanted to give voice to the very real experiences of suffering, confusion, doubt, and spiritual attack that all of us have experienced or will experience at some point. I didn't want to give you the cleaned-up version after the fact. I wanted to put my in-process into words, because I know I'm not the only one. We all are in process, working out our salvation with fear and trembling. As long as we run toward God with our questions and pain, we shouldn't be afraid of the squeezing, the distress, the emotions, and the wrestling that come along with working out our salvation.

Suffering is not the opposite of blessing. There is blessing in the suffering.

I can tell you first hand that there has been blessing in my suffering. I hit a wall going 60 miles per hour and that wall was put there by a loving God to stop me in my sinful and self-destructive tracks. The aftermath of that collision felt as any collision would: disorienting and painful. But I finally came around to realizing that God loved me enough to stop me and--oh how important this is--to take responsibility for changing my heart and mind. There has been no condemnation in that wall, although sometimes I've felt overwhelmed at what God has shown me, things to which I'd previously been so blind. No, there has been love and hope and a reorientation around the God who rebuilds out of the rubble.

What has helped me? Four things: my tender husband caring for me; my loving friends listening, helping me process, and also saying hard things; my complete surrender (after a week of fighting) to the process of God's loving discipline and willingness to transform me; and the beautiful, life-giving words of Scripture.

Perhaps you're in a similar place--you've hit a wall going 60 miles per hour or your circumstances have overcome you like a ocean wave. Remember, suffering is not the opposite of blessing. Entrust yourself to the loving hands of your Father. He will bring hope and blessing in the suffering.

I leave you with the words that have most ministered to me:

"The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands."Psalm 138:8

"Therefore my spirit is overwhelmed within me; My heart within me is distressed. I remember the days of old; I meditate on all Your works: I muse on the work of Your hands. I spread out my hands to You; My soul longs for You like a thirsty land. Answer me speedily, O Lord; My spirit fails! Do not hide Your face from me, Lest I be like those who go down into the pit. Cause me to hear Your lovingkindness in the morning, For in You do I trust; Cause me to know the way in which I should walk, For I lift up my soul to You." Psalm 143:4-8

October 21, 2015

Lift Me

In these days, which are leading us through fall and into the coming winter, the light is slow to wake, and so is my oldest son, who is barreling through childhood and into his coming teenage years. This morning, I turned on the hall light outside his darkened room just before 7:00, advanced warning--by way of light below his door--of my coming invasion. Giving him a moment, I opened the door to the room opposite his to find the younger two fully dressed and chatting away, immediately pushing past me to get downstairs for breakfast.
I cracked the door to the oldest's room, letting the hall light fall across his face. Despite the light, he remained tightly cocooned in his blanket, eyes closed and hair splayed with its usual morning gusto. I rubbed his head, just as I used to do when he was a toddler, when his hair felt like a brillo pad up against my chin anytime he'd plop himself in my lap. I leaned down to kiss his forehead, breathing in his scent, trying to erase the teenage must for the Johnson shampoo smell of his first years. While he continued in sleep, I took in the moment of sweet stillness, marveling and trying to remember at the same time.

I remember opening the door to his room in the mornings of his babyhood and seeing a little fellow standing in his crib, hands gripping the railing, with a big-eyed, scraggly tooth grin. Sometimes he'd been crying moments before, hungry at first light. Sometimes he'd been playing with his feet or making noises for his own amusement. As soon as I walked in the room, however, he'd always stand, move to the railing of the crib, and reach his hands up to be held.

Before the hall light and the chattering children and the sleepy almost-teenager this morning, I read Psalm 131:2: "Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me."

In the past week, following the Lord's pressing, I have felt a whirlwind of confusing emotions and dwelt on unhelpful and even harmful thoughts that have never entered my mind until now. I have uncharacteristically had difficulty discerning what is true and what is not.

At first, I wondered what the Lord was saying. When He didn't answer, I questioned what He was doing and if He loved me, and then if He was even there at all. I've cried tears of fear and anguish and confusion. I've wondered how my faith could crumble so quickly and how I could question a love that I've been certain of for so long. I felt as if I'd unexpectedly run into a wall, a wall that felt crushing and defeating.

Somehow it was reading Psalm 131:2 that did something in my soul. I thought of myself as the babe in the crib, not caged in but cared for. Protected. Loved. And I thought of God coming to me as my good, perfect loving Father, eager to find me in the morning.

Whatever this is--this moment of crisis that is so painful--in the end is His loving care of me. I resist. I wrestle. I want to escape the painful pruning and the call to submission. I want to find my way around the wall and continue on as before without changing.

But at the same time, I see that the wall is stopping me in my tracks and causing me to consider things about myself and about God and even about other people that, if I'm honest with myself, have to go. This wall is forcing my change, and that is a good thing.

I lift my arms to Him. That is literally all there is to do. I lift my arms to Him, and He holds me. I am grown, like my almost-teenage son, but I will never outgrow being a child. Perhaps the wall is a humbling reminder of this very thing.

I lift my arms to Him, not in happy delight but in tears of desperate need.
Of presence.
Of comfort.
Of help.
Of love.

October 14, 2015


Without advanced warning, God called me to answer for myself yesterday, pointing to a new line on the account sheet that I hadn't ever really seen. 

Isn't it amazing that we can be so completely blind to our own sin? And then one day, God takes our hand and graciously and patiently points it out, and only then is it so clear.

In those moments, I am prone to despair. I'm embarrassed and overwhelmed. I want to look away and perhaps pretend I never saw it in the first place. 
He is pressing hard and, although He promises not to crush, I wonder if He might and I might be overcome. I wonder if I really want the transformation, because it requires repentance and confession and submission and surrendering to the pressing. I don't want that. But yet I do. 

I haven't slept well. I wake in the night and my mind takes me places I don't want to go. I can feel the spiritual pull battling over my soul, one toward despair and the other toward hope. I fear falling into the abyss if I let the pressing continue, but I also fear desiring the quieted clamor more than true repentance and cleansing. It's difficult to look at sin and at the same time look at God and trust that He hasn't grown weary of me. It's not natural to run to a holy God for help when all your unholiness is showing. 

How will I ever change? 

I feel imprisoned by myself and by the ruts plowed so deeply in my heart. I am tired of myself. My mind is hazy, my body heavily oppressed by sin. 

And then the next moment I am intent on changing myself. I can do it! I will do it! I've got this! I see that clearly too though, because God will not stop pressing. I see all too well where my can-do spirit has gotten me--into this mess. I see all too well that His intentions are to press on me until I'm done with that.

Until I'm free of me. 

I fight the surrender. I fight the process this will be. I fight the confession this will require.

This morning I reluctantly opened my Bible and myself to God. As I read I randomly thought, "This is the exact Bible I was reading when God moved me from legalism to understanding His grace." That felt important to me, as if it were God Himself reminding me of what He's done in my past to transform my mind and revolutionize my life. 

A sliver of hope. If God has brought me this far, He can take me further. He loves me enough to not be finished. He loves me enough to press. 

So what do I do? How do I respond? When God presses, it feels like upheaval. 

I am prone to despair when I see that I am poor and needy and oh-so blind, that I am captive to myself and oppressed by my own desires.

But Jesus comes to meet me in that exact place:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Luke 4:18-19

Although I have so far to go, I can breathe again. The weight sitting on my chest, threatening to crush me, has been lifted by hope.
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