Have you learned to rejoice?

 Rejoice always,  pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) No, I do not rejoice always I did not rejoice when my daughter went to the emergency room. Five months later, there was no rejoicing when my husband took a trip there. The following year, when I took my own trip to the ER, there was no rejoicing. No, I did not rejoice when a friend’s husband walked out on her and their children. Rejoicing was nowhere to be found when I found out a dear friend was given a diagnosis of an invasive, aggressive cancer. In these moments, there was heartache. My head spun, and my emotions were a train wreck. But rejoicing? None was found in the middle of those moments. During the disagreements and disappointments in life? No, I do not rejoice. Seriously, Paul? Did Paul honestly mean to say we are to rejoice always, and to give thanks in all circumstances? Surely, he wrote that on a good day: a really good day. But alas, I have looked and I have studied, and I cannot find a loophole in Paul’s words. Trust me, I have tried. Paul, who was imprisoned, beaten, stoned, and imprisoned again, tells us to rejoice always, pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. Do you know what this means? We are to rejoice, even on those hard, horrible days. And, we are to pray, not just during our morning quiet times. We are to give thanks in all circumstances. What? All circumstances? Yes, all means all. When...

When God doesn’t heal: 4 tips for facing your grief

I stood in the sanctuary during church, my heart hurting for all the other hurting hearts in the room. One of our own wasn’t there with us. We’d lost someone way too young, way too soon: a vibrant woman who touched countless lives. And many of us were left wondering how to pray now. Because we’d been praying for healing. We’d hoped to see a miracle—genuinely hoped, believing that our God is able to do anything. He is. But when He doesn’t do it, what then? When the behaviorist B.F. Skinner did experiments on learned behavior with rats, he discovered that once an animal discovers that pushing a lever would produce a food pellet, that animal will continually press it. But what happens when the result is erratic, when he tries again and again with no reward, when sometimes he gets a pellet and other times he does not? He stops trying altogether. Maybe it’s irreverent—or somehow warped—to stand in church, listening to praise music and contemplating the behavior of rats. That may be, but I think it’s relevant. Because here’s the thing. We go to God asking for healing for so many people we love—husbands and fathers and grandmothers and children and friends. We go because we know that only God can turn around that situation. We believe what we read in the Bible, so we know that God can do miraculous things. The lame can walk; the blind can see. We genuinely believe it. We know it’s possible. And if we’re lucky, we do see healings. Sometimes they’re miraculous—Nathan’s aneurism is visible on the x-ray he brought...

Why it Matters that Jesus Wept

I stopped on the story of Jesus and Lazarus the other day. Stopped right at the part about Jesus weeping. He wept. Fully. Compassion poured from His eyes and ran into His hands, hands which would soon enough be torn up on a bloody cross. Maybe He bent over in grief, pressing those hands to His mouth, without words. See, the God of the universe did not simply blink extra and ignore the well of emotion coming to His holy eyes. Didn’t choke it back and cough gruffly. Didn’t mumble out something about how everything happens for a reason after all, and what a beautiful life this one lived at least. I couldn’t get over that scene of Heaven’s Glory grieving long and hard over His friend, Lazarus. Why? Because certainly Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Certainly He knew that death would never keep this one: not this time. Certainly He knew it was within His perfect power and awesome sovereign ways to fix this situation. Yet, for the moment or maybe for many moments, He wept. He grieved. He entered into the loss with compassion. He stayed there silently and let His human heart break with the brokenness of sin and death, for which He alone had the capacity to redeem. Jesus wept – willing to feel what He knew He could fix. And that’s where I stopped because I’m not sure we know what to do with that. How often we’d rather fix something than feel anything. We’d rather give a hand than grieve. We’d rather move on than mourn. It feels better...

The Garden Prayer

For years, the account of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane puzzled me. I couldn’t get past the following train of thought: “If Jesus is God, then He knows what God knows. If God knew that the only way to redeem humanity was for Jesus to be crucified, then Jesus knew that. Then why on earth did He ask God to ‘let this cup pass from me’ if He knew that wasn’t an option?” I dissected the account of Jesus in the Garden more times than I can count. I looked for answers, prayed for answers, asked others for answers… and got a lot of nothing. I was trying to make sense of my second cancer diagnosis when I was drawn back to the account of Jesus in the Garden … and it finally clicked. In the Garden, Jesus showed us how to go to Our Father and ask Him to take the hard things from us. He asked for another way to deal with the sin of mankind while remaining completely submitted to God’s will. The account is there for me (and for you). Scripture says this: Going a little farther, He fell facedown and prayed, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” Matthew 26:39 HCSB Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, Your will be done.” Matthew 26:43 HCSB   In the Garden, Jesus shows us this beautiful truth… When life presses on you so hard that you can’t rest, your chest hurts, and you have a hard time breathing…...

#honorallmoms on Mother’s Day (and a free gift for you)

Years ago, on a Sunday night, I sat in the back row of my church and watched a newly-pregnant woman walk by. Suddenly I knew: I was pregnant again. I wasn’t late. I wasn’t trying to have another baby. I didn’t have morning sickness, I hadn’t gained weight. I had no symptoms. And I’d given away our playpen and stroller. I thought I was done. This was not what I had in mind. But, still, I knew. I herded my 4- and 6-year-old daughters through CVS to buy a pregnancy test, shielding the box from the prying eyes of my avid reader, embarrassed by the imagined judgment of the teen boy working the register. I stuck the girls in front of the TV and locked myself in the bathroom. That stupid little plus sign practically leaped off the stick. Crap. I was pregnant. It didn’t matter that I was 33, happily married, reasonably financially stable. This wasn’t what I had planned for my life. Three kids was too many; I always said no more kids than hands to hold onto them. Being a mother of three didn’t make sense for someone who isn’t naturally nurturing, who doesn’t adore children, for someone who worked all the time, for someone who was educated and smart enough to not have an accident like this happen. I was devastated and not sure how to break the news to my husband when he got home at 2 am from work, but he didn’t even hesitate: “There’s enough love in this house for one more.” Seventeen years later, I see that he was right. I...

Just Be With Me

During my time in Asia, I visited this place called the Home of Hope. The name is kind of a misnomer, however, since the atmosphere seemed to suck every breath of hope out of my lungs. I remember my eyes stinging, whether from the equatorial sun radiating off the concrete slab beneath my dusty flip flops or from the literal stench of death, I’m not sure. Either way, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for the holistic, embodied suffering I was about to come face to face with. I shuffled my eighteen year old body across the cemented field, fighting back tears as I smiled at the very bodies of dehumanization. Women literally left to lay out in the sun, crapping in their pants, and scratching the lice in their hair until they die. If there was anything that was going to strip any “savior mentality” view of service and missions away, this was it. Lotion bottle in hand, I was here to just love these women; there was literally nothing effective or practical that I was equipped to do. That sounded more romantic than it felt as I sat down next to a woman whose sun-leathered body looked older than her eyes told me she was. I motioned that I could rub lotion on her hands, if she wanted. Without hesitating, she pulled down a piece of fabric that could barely be considered basic clothing and patted her arms. Looking into her desperate eyes, I began rubbing lotion on her arms and chest, smiling awkwardly and fighting the urge to find a corner that I could lose it in. Suddenly and without warning, she...

What If Church Was More Like a Hospital?

I made several trips to the hospital with my dad while he battled cancer, sometimes in emergencies and other times for regular appointments and treatments. He received exceptional care. My mom received generous support. And I got to witness much of it. As I did, I wondered what made this hospital and its staff so special. What if the church was more like it? People are always welcome. I saw people in a variety of conditions—physically, mentally, financially, and emotionally—enter the doctors’ offices and hospital, whether it was a planned or emergency situation. Everyone received the same warm welcome. Each person was treated as a valuable person: not a project, nuisance, or uncomfortable inconvenience. People have time to talk—in plain English. Doctors and nurses rarely rush in and out of rooms. They sit down, look people in the eye, and speak in a language others can understand. They listen to questions and are patient through confusion and off-topic stories. One of dad’s doctors didn’t know dad had been admitted on a weekend, but stopped by once he heard the news and talked for a half hour. We’ve been approached by doctors we didn’t know, when we apparently looked lost roaming hallways and staring at elevator panels, and asked if we needed help getting somewhere. People followed up. Not once did we have to follow up with anybody who said they would call, make an appointment, or give more information. Many times, doctors and others went above and beyond even when they hadn’t obligated themselves to contact us. The head of a department, who didn’t even treat my dad any...

Faith That Can Rest And Move

I pride myself on being able to say the right things at the right time. Okay, I know how this sounds…and that’s why I’m clenching my teeth as I type it. For the record, I don’t see myself as wiser, more intelligent, or more sophisticated than anyone else. And I definitely do not have my nose in a crystal ball…if I’ve ever said anything relevant at all, only God could’ve imparted those words. In truth, this admission comes because of the old bones of doubt that have resurrected in my heart as I’ve longed and wished to say the right things to a dear friend of mine who lost her 4-year-old son. Our recent conversation stirs fresh in my mind. At one point I said, ‘I don’t understand God’s ways, but I know that He is good.’ Later that same day, the statement replayed in my mind, but in a question. “Do I really believe that God is good? Is He good when a child dies?” My throat burned with questioning. I felt like a liar. I was confused and altogether troubled at how difficult it was to answer with a resounding YES. How could I have told her something in confidence, when I was harboring doubt? So, I’m going to ask you the same thing…Do you believe that God is good…no matter what happens? If you are squirming as much as I am, do not lose heart. In John chapter 6, verses 60-71, the disciples wrestled with believing and accepting the words of life, spoken by Jesus. They were hard to swallow. “When many of his disciples heard...

Walk through the chaos and find the calm

  The line of cars extended beyond what we could see. We were not expecting so many people. In my head, everything worked out so perfectly. We would arrive, easily find a place to park, and walk inside. We would have enough time to settle in before the concert started. The picture in my head and what was happening did not match. We wound around streets, around parking lots. Every spot seemed to be taken, and time would not cease to wait for us. I had not considered simply entering the arena being such a challenge. Maybe it was the volume of vehicles, the long lines, or the unfamiliar campus, but my nerves became rattled. Friend, I promise I tried to take my thoughts captive and tame my tongue. I tried, and I failed. Taking an alternate route, we found a place to park much closer than we could have anticipated. Climbing the stairs of the arena, we entered and found an unoccupied row of chairs to sit. Away from the crowd, my husband, daughter, and I sat together. The large screens were enough for us. We were there to hear a phenomenal group, a group that drew us into the Father’s presence. Everything worked out better than the what my mind had imagined. God seemed to gently whisper, “If you will trust me in the chaos, I will lead you somewhere better.” We could not avoid the chaos; we simply had to keep going to find the calm awaiting us. A man named Lazarus fell ill. His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus. How the women...

It Is Well

You may not know the story, but you definitely know the song. This famous hymn, “It is Well with My Soul,” was written by Horatio Spafford in the 19th century. He was a successful lawyer in Chicago. He waited until his thirties to marry the love of his life, Anna. They had four daughters and a son. Their Christian fellowship included the family of Dwight and Emma Moody. They were living a beautiful life in ministry, serving the Lord and loving people well. Life was brimming with blessing. Until everything was shaken. Their only son caught Scarlet Fever and died at the age of four. Then the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed all of the investments they had spent years building. Horatio did what any good father would do. Sensing his family’s need for space and rest, he planned a trip to Europe for his wife and four daughters. Held back by some sudden, unexpected business, he would meet them overseas and then travel to a evangelistic campaign in England. Family, ministry, rest. He was only supposed to be a few days behind them and then they would be joyously reunited for a much needed time of healing. As he finished up work in the States, he got news that there had been a collision. The boat had sunk. His four daughters had drowned. Only Anna survived. With unimaginable heaviness, Spafford boarded the same means of transportation that had just claimed the lives of his beloved children. He knew that his grieving, devastated bride, the woman who had held her young daughters while the waves ripped them from her arms, waited for him on...