Heart Check

James 1:19-21:
Understand  this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.

I was really angry this morning.
REALLY angry.
Like, irrational anger sprouting out of anger.
[This is one of the many qualities of my personality that makes me marvel at God’s grace because these are the moments that I am little more than a wretch.]

And yet I serve a God Who is not only full of amazing grace, but foresight.
Last night, before going to sleep, God brought the above verse to my attention. And that middle verse in particular, stood out to me:
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

Can I tell you, friends?
Anger will come (ooooh will it come). That’s not what we’re commanded against . It’s in the dwelling.
Staying there.
Letting it fester.
Willingly standing to allow it saturate your mind and seep into your heart.
[In a word: exactly what I wanted to do earlier today.]

When I received news this morning that I would not, in fact, be receiving what I had been promised. I was angry. And being so entitled, I wanted to be angry. I let the irrational thoughts rage. I had no interest in hearing reason.

But then somewhere in the storm of my head, that verse came floating back:
Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.

I remembered who I am.
I remembered Whose I am.
And how I am called to live: in constant striving toward the righteousness God desires.

Yesterday morning’s sermon reiterated the calling on our  lives to live as members of God’s “upside down Kingdom”. Where the last shall be first; and the angry are still commanded by the Spirit.
I knew without question that this pit of anger was not what God has for me.
Maybe that’s obvious, but it sure wasn’t so blatant in the midst of my anger a few hours ago.
Sitting in it would produce little more than wasted time. Missed opportunities. Forfeited calling.

God allows “life” to happen to grow us.
Everyday, we experience emotions. They can be tools. To signal the finer points of our lives where our hearts are not quite aligned with God’s.

And that’s OK.
But don’t sit and wait for circumstances to change while you sulk, pout and cry.

I am so grateful for a God who gently prepares our hearts for the raging storm of emotions He alone can anticipate.
And for the unlimited storehouses of grace He is in command of; ever ready to lavish upon those who remember Him above–and in spite of–all else.

Cue the Movie Soundtrack!

God has a sense of humor.
He also has great timing.
Well-wishers and encouragers throughout my lifetime have always referred to this as “His Perfect Timing” but let me tell you, I never bought it. Even if was as true then as it is now.

I was always the girl that would have been a shoe-in for the academy awards of “Best Supporting Actress.” My life was a romantic comedy… I just never got the lead role.
Ok, let’s be real: I never got the guy.

So, ladies (& gentleman) reading this who feel qualified for the gold in the supporting role you’re living, bear with me. Because I want to tell you a story… IMG_1424bAfter what felt like an eternity of epic dating fails, I was done.
The whimsical dreams I had as a kid of Prince Charming were slashed by the realities of the Mr. Right Nows. Several shallow, insincere, even so-called Christian guys later, I was absolutely done.
I came home from a particularly disappointing date last summer and prayed, “Alright, God. I get it. You want me single. Fine. Let’s do this. But please, start changing my heart now because finding someone to spend my life with has been my deepest-seated dream for as long as I can remember…”

And clichés aside, it wasn’t long after that that Nick came into my life.

I met a former colleague to catch up just a few weeks shy of my 30th birthday. The conversation soon turned to include, “So, I’m not pushing anything here but my sister knows this guy…”
Oooh, here we go again. Cue the movie soundtrack!

My attitude was admittedly terrible. I saw meeting this guy as a favor to a friend; and another set-up doomed for failure.
Oh no, I’m sorry. EPIC failure. I had done this first date thing too many times before to think this one would be any different.
And at first, it wasn’t.

“So you mentioned that faith was a big deal to you… what do you mean by that?”
“Well, just that. I’m a Protestant, which basically means I follow Jesus.”
That was my line. The slam-dunk to never hearing from a guy again.

I never said it with the intention of pushing a guy away (though Nick would tell you otherwise) but more, why shouldn’t I? I decided a long time ago that I was going to live my life to follow Jesus. If a guy came on the scene who wasn’t in the same boat, why pursue the high seas disagreeing at the helm?

Nick didn’t get up and run—or let on that he might have even been considering it—as I essentially gave a Cliff Notes version of the gospel in 60 seconds. And let me tell you, I know it wasn’t my charming good looks that kept him in his seat. As I said, at this point, I was done before we even started. Seriously. I wore my clunky rain boots and never even took my coat off throughout the time it took to chat while draining the contents of our Tim Horton’s cups.
Folks, here’s the first part of the secret: God had this whole thing worked out well before that first date. It made very little difference that I didn’t have the slightest clue of it.

As I got up, thanked him for the coffee and gave him a quick hug, I headed to my car and thought, “Hm, nice guy. I’ll never see him again.”

But this time, I was wrong.

First thing the next day, my friend texted me to ask how the date went, along with more question marks than would be appropriate for even one of my blog posts. I responded simply: He was a really nice guy but I just think we’re on different pages faith-wise.
Her response was immediate: I am SO SORRY.
I chuckled and started drafting a response about how this is just how it goes, but was interrupted by her incoming call: “No, no, Marissa, I’m sorry, he really likes you.”

Well this was new…

I started to feel a little nervous. Did he hear what I said about Jesus? Maybe he didn’t pick up on the fact that I mean it when I say I’m a Christian.
Like, for real.

Sure enough, he called and we arranged to meet the next week for dinner, followed by a walk around the Glenn Falls park. As we walked I laid it all out–in what was likely one drawn-out breath (and run-on sentence): “Listen, I just need you to know… I am a really slow mover and I have no intention of sleeping with anyone I’m not married to and really I’m not interested in dating anyone who doesn’t share my faith. So…”
“I respect that but would you be open to just being friends and seeing where it goes?”
“Well… sure! I don’t have a problem with that.”
“…because, you know, I don’t even know what my faith is.”
“Sooooo, what I hear you saying is that you want to come to church with me Sunday, huh?”
“Well, I’d be open to it!”

He was.
And did.
And has every Sunday morning since; rolls up to my front door with a coffee ready and waiting in the consul and Bible in the back seat. Paying no mind to the fact that he had to drive a half hour to get to my house before driving the additional half hour to get to our church downtown.

This man could only have been from God, I tell you what.

What ensued from there was a hilarious season of “non-dating” as I resolutely insisted that we were just friends, while the rest of the world just looked on and smiled politely.
Until he asked my dad for permission to date me. (You need to know my father, his house rules and family history to fully appreciate this but I’m ok if you just read that and brand it as purely Duggar-family strangeness. Judge away, it was the sweetest thing ever.)
In and of itself, Nick’s asking was hinged on his own decision to make a commitment to follow Jesus. Not necessarily to instantaneously share my level of spiritual maturity, but fervor. And he certainly did. He knew this was no small decision and wanted to be sure he knew what this was all about before making any sort of commitment (just one of the many qualities that made me fall very quickly for him). We talked a lot about church, about Jesus, about the Bible. After a few months, he recognized–not just to ‘win’ me–but for himself, this was what he wanted.

Nick and I talk all the time about how we wish we’d met sooner but how that might have actually messed our story up. He might not have cared to pursue a girl quite so complicated (and religious! Bleh!) and I might not have even agreed to go on that first date with a guy that didn’t really give any thought to his faith. Who knows? Only God.

All I can say is I have never been so grateful that God knows what He’s doing. And He doesn’t answer all of my requests in the way and time frame I ask Him to. IMG_1466b Because Nick couldn’t be more perfect for me.

I don’t mean to trigger your gag reflex, but all I can say is this man is everything I have always been told fell under the category of “Oh, honey, you’ve got to adjust your expectations.”
Everything branded as “hoping too high.”
Sweet, kind, caring, compassionate, open-minded, wildly considerate, generous, patient, thoughtful, persistent, honest, tender-hearted, appreciative, respectful—never late! We complement and balance each other out in so many ways.

And today, in the falling spring snow (!!!) of late March, he got down on his knee in the same park we walked that night several months ago.

If you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you know the reaction of Toula’s family to the news of her engagement. Her boisterous aunt and uncle crowd around her and too-honestly let her know: “Toula! Toula! Oh! We never thought this day would come—tell her.” “NEVER thought this day would come.” “—and it CAME!”
That line was looping in my head all day today.
I NEVER thought this day would come.
And it came.

I am engaged to the man of my dreams.
Not the dreams I saw coming; the ones God had planted and I was convinced were too beautiful, too sweet, too perfect to ever really cross into reality.

Ephesians 3:20 tells us that “God is able to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine.”
It’s true. It really is. And the blissful reality of my life today is living proof. IMG_1480b Thank God.

In the Middle of Mundane

In the world we live in today, it’s easy to get caught up in the mundane of our daily routine. Trivial problems become mountains that obscure what should be a truer version of reality for us.
I’ve been thinking lately about the power of perspective. Especially as it’s been challenged.


I work in Customer Service, which could easily be labeled as mundane as jobs come. Other than the variety of personalities I deal with in the span of 8 to 5, it’s pretty much the same old routine every day. And unguarded, that attitude can creep in and overthrow the basis of my spiritual life.
It’s easy for daily quiet time to slip out of the routine; prayer to become more a meaningless mantra than an actual conversation. And to be honest, that’s where I was heading.

And yet, thankfully, the God I serve isn’t ok with letting me wander far.
The life He’s given wasn’t given to be mundane by any stretch.
And that’s why I think He directed Helen’s call to me today.

It was a routine call. A simple solution to a simple request.
In the name of professionalism, I was aiming to keep the call brief, as I always do. But before I did,  Helen happened to mention something that stopped me.

“The reason I have to change my address is because I’m going to stay with a friend for a while.”
My response was mechanical. “How nice! I hope your friend lives somewhere warm!”
“Oh no, she’s just down the street but I fell on the ice yesterday and broke my arm. I need help just to do everyday things.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that. This ice has been terrible lately…”
“Yes it has, but you know, I think this was a purposeful thing that happened. It was the Holy Spirit. See, I’m a believer—”
“So am I!” I couldn’t help but interrupt.
“You are? Oh, how nice to talk to a sister! Well, as I said, I really do think this was a Spirit thing. I looked at the area off to the side of my walkway and it was dry but I still went ahead and walked on the sidewalk anyway. And that’s where I fell. I know that if I had walked the other way, it wouldn’t have happened.”

I found myself nodding as I offered occasional, “Mhm”s to encourage her to continue.

“And, you know, last night I was in terrible pain. As I lay in bed, thinking about how much it hurt, I thought of Joni—have you heard of Joni Eareckson Tada?”
“I have! What an incredible testimony she has!”

Read about Joni's story on her website: http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/jonis-bio/

Learn about Joni’s story on her website: http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/jonis-bio/

“Oh my, yes! Amazing… when I think about what she’s gone through—such intense pain—and then how it’s just my arm that’s hurting me, it really isn’t so terrible. And besides, just like Joni, I think God means to use this.
This was a purposeful thing, you see.
I don’t think God likes to see us in pain but sometimes it’s what we need most—to refocus us back to Him.”

It was then I noticed the tears gathering at the corners of my eyes.

“This time at my friend’s, I think this is a respite. A time to remove myself from my routine and redirect myself to the One Who truly matters.”

And sometimes He achieves it by interrupting the daily grind with a phone call.
A reminder.

Of pain.
Of redemption.
Of redirection.

I might have murmured an “Amen” before ending my conversation with Helen but I can’t remember.
Once I hung up, I just sat and thought for a long time.

Thinking about how purposeful our God is. And how often I miss it. How often I miss Him.

Until it hurts.

And so, friends, please be careful of the ice out there.
And even more, of the distractions that threaten to absorb your attention. And rob you of your chance to live out the purpose God intends you for.

It’s not worth the pain—unless it brings you back to the One Who can redeem it.

BENding Prayers

I used to just pray for things.

“God, please be with them.
Give them exactly what they need.
Help them feel Your presence in this moment.”

The cry of my heart was for peace. Comfort. Order. Happiness.
These things are important to us, you know?

When Ben got sick, these were the requests I begged God for–second only to healing. And, if you’ve been following along, you know that God chose to answer those prayers differently than I had hoped.

People ask me how my family is doing now. To be honest, I struggle to respond. Mostly because we’re all “doing” (handling, processing, grieving) differently from one day to the next. But my immediate reaction is one I’ve adopted from my wise sister: one day at a time.

Recently, though, I’ve noticed a change God has brought about. Life in general seems to be falling back into routine. Aside from the blog updates, most of Buffalo doesn’t think of Ben everyday–like we do. Not that I’m saying this to inspire guilt but just to grant perspective. It’s a strange reality. And within it, I have been changed.

I used to view life (and God) through a rose-colored scope; one that offered the luxury of pressing for requests of comfort rather than survival. One that knew the wonder of His presence while remaining ignorant to His power, sovereignty, and our desperate need for Him.
Now, I do.

I miss Ben terribly. I miss the wholeness of our family. The warmth that filled the room when we were all together and no one was missing–or hurting as a result. I ache for my sister, my brother-in-law, and the kids. As I’ve said, pain is something experienced differently by everyone and theirs is one none of us will ever know.

And yet…

God promises us that He works all things out for our good. (Romans 8:28) All. No exceptions. And in view of that fact, my prayers have changed.

I still ask God to reveal Himself–to show up in hopeless circumstances to bring His peace, healing and modern-day miracles–because He asks us to share our heart and His own is bent toward restoration. It’s just that I don’t ask for comfort’s sake anymore.
I ask so that we might see Him.

Because comfort is temporal. It is dependent on circumstances. It fades.
But my God never has.
And never will.

God Has Brought Us (Katherine) Hope

I woke up praying yesterday morning.
Thinking of several people I love, but especially for the new life that was so highly anticipated. The little one whose story has inadvertently marked the timeline for the hardest struggle our family has ever known. But it is not the struggle that has defined them in the end. These 9 months have marked the growth of this sweet little life, while they have simultaneously–& continue to–proclaim the strength, goodness, and faithfulness of an unfailing God.

Just a few hours before her arrival, I read the following unintended dedication of her birthday: “And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.” -Romans 5:5

He is good.
He is faithful.
He is here.


Welcome to the world, baby girl. You truly are a reminder of the hope we have in the One Who continually proves His goodness and love to us.
Most recently, in bringing us you.

An Open Letter, 30 Years Later

Today is the first day of July. That means there are exactly 30 days until my birthday. And this year July 31st will mark my 30th year.

There’s a lot of hype around the big 3-0. I’m not entirely sure why but I think it has to do with a sort of life assessment. Any birthday stands to inspire reflection, for sure. Reflection on all you’ve accomplished, neglected, experienced, learned, and discovered you want to learn more about.
Gearing up for the turn of the month that would bring me to this quasi-milestone, I began to think about my 30 days to 30. What do I want to accomplish before then? Or within them?

I thought about coming up with an adventure for each day to maximize the last of my 20’s. Or maybe some sort of fitness challenge to improve myself before I reach 30. Finding a song, copying a verse, or capturing a photo each day to remember my final month of 29.
What is it, after all, that I want to remember?


Really, when I thought about it, that’s all I want my life to say. Who God Is. Who He’s been. And Who He promises to be.

So, that’s where I came up with the idea of this open letter. It’s to myself, 30 years ago. (I know, so original.) But if I could go back and talk to that little girl, I wouldn’t spoil the ending. What good would it do to share what happens, how life would unfold, who she would meet, whether or not she should do this or that?  Not only is that obviously impossible but it would deny the experience. (Besides, 30 isn’t the end of the line!) Instead, I would simply want to assure her that she will one day be within reach of 30 with a deeper, richer understanding of life. Of death. And of the God who is above it all.

And so beginning today, you are welcome to join the conversation.


Welcome to the world, baby girl:

You are not promised tomorrow but I have it on good authority that you’ll make it to 29 years, 11 months and 1 day at the very least. And within each and every one of those days, you are going to learn so much. So much of your life will be defined within your struggle through the answers. However, there are also elements that though you may question them repeatedly, have answers that will never change. These are the things I want to tell you.

1. It is not all about you.
These first few weeks and months will prove absolutely contrary to that statement, of course. You’re an infant, small, entirely dependent on the incredible parents and family God blessed you with. And they will be there. Be so thankful for that. But also be mindful that while your needs largely dictate every aspect of their world right now, the entire world at large is not, in fact, rotating on its axis to meet your needs.
“It is not all about you.” You’ll hear this phrase so often that its meaning will stand to numb as a cliché, but don’t let it. The sooner you realize that, the less bitterness you’ll harbor when it doesn’t bend to your will. Because, girl, it never will. (7/1/14)

2. God is good.
You will feel this before you know it and question it innumerable times after you first hear it. But it will never be any less true.
There are so many things you will come to know as “good” that may not be God’s good–or best. This is a very hard Truth to learn when you strive to do everything right only to be rewarded with the “wrong” results. Resist the temptation to translate that as a reflection of who you are or what you deserve. Bless your heart, little one, you are going to be a rage of emotions throughout the next few decades. Just a heads up. In view of that fact, let me tell you right now: deny your emotions the power to muddle the goodness of God. Refinement requires actual fire to burn away impurities; but to a beautiful end.
So the most I can tell you is that when the storm rages, hold on to the fact that you are unwavering held by an unshakable God, who is good. All the time. (7/2/14)

3. All that glitters is not gold.
The world is full of such beautiful things. So many are good; several of which will occupy precious pieces of your heart. But be weary of allowing them to become idols.
Jonah (a guy you’ll learn about–and often identify with–throughout the course of several Sunday mornings to come) might have put it best. From the interior of a giant fish’s belly, he confessed in prayer: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could have been theirs” (Jonah 2:8). Idols are things that compromise God’s place in your life. Anything you prioritize above Him and His plan for your life. And they cost more than you realize. Those beautiful things I mentioned? They’re vying for your worship. And it’s all too easy–often even unnoticeable–to let them take it.
But no one can serve two masters. When you choose them instead of God, I promise they will disappoint, leaving an even deeper sense of emptiness behind. Weary wanting unfulfilled. God is the only true satisfaction that is incapable of letting you down. What He says is True. He is Truth itself. But it’s up to you to choose Him.
My greatest advice to you then is to wear the remaining words of Jonah’s prayer as a banner over your heart: “But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to You. What I have vowed, I will make good. Salvation comes from the Lord.” …and nowhere else. (7/3/14)

4. Freedom isn’t free.
You are free. This itself is an incredible gift that you must never lose sight of.
Not only do you live in a magnificent country which earned its name as Land of the Free because it’s also Home of the Brave, your soul was bought for a price ages before America came into existence. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As you grow up and live your life, you will run the danger of taking this for granted; of forgetting the price of the freedom you enjoy. But, little one, always remember. The cross, the military gravestones, the soldiers still fighting to protect your claim to the gift of freedom today. Each of them represent the bravery and honor of ultimate sacrifice. Fully consenting to surrender their own lives in order that you might truly live. This is the ultimate gift. The True definition of love. Never forget. (7/4/14)

5. Life doesn’t cater to your comfort zone; don’t get comfortable.
Success, comfort and convenience are among the things that this world prizes and praises highly. But don’t let that deceive you into thinking they’re all that matters. Or that they matter at all.
It will be a few years yet before you’ll pray a prayer in the basement of the old Methodist Church during Sunday School; Jesus will come into your life and make it worthwhile. You won’t fully understand what that means then–and will in fact spend your life learning it–but that single decision will redefine your entire purpose. It will veritably shift it upward. And as much as your instinct will always be to preserve your comfort zone, remember that this is not your ultimate goal or purpose. In fact, it will be in some of the most uncomfortable and inconvenient seasons of your life that you will encounter the most significant opportunities to know the Author of your purpose.
When life knocks you down to your knees, you’re in the perfect position to see God most clearly. Take each one. (7/5/14)

6. You’re worth it.
L’oreal may claim the tagline but it’s true on a much grander scale and it’s a question you will struggle with throughout your lifetime, though there’s no need.
The world around you will advertise ideals of beauty that are intertwined with its concepts of worth. And whether or not they are attainable is irrelevant because they are illusions at best. But they will hound you still. Pop cultural implications will seep through the holes of your confidence to convince you that your life doesn’t really ‘count’ until you reach a certain age, pay grade, title, relationship status, status quo… As a result, you will struggle to identify your worth in view of heaps of shortcomings. But even if your failure to meet the world’s expectations matters to you, it does not–and could never–change your worth. Because little one, long before you even had a name, God knew it, and engraved it on his hands (Isaiah 49:16). The market value of anything in life is determined according to the price someone is willing to pay for it. And your soul was dearly paid for. God sent His son to die as payment for your soul; there is no greater love. No greater confirmation of worth.
So on the hardest days, when you can’t seem to get it right, no one seems to care, pain is raging a silent war on your heart, and the enemy is making a convincing argument against your value; on those days especially, don’t forget who you are–or even more, Whose you are. Because that’s who you truly are. Entirely worth it. (7/6/14)

7. Your hair is curly. Go with it.
I’m telling you girl, you do not have straight hair. Not a bit. Whether by the wonderful or fearful design of your Creator, it is within your hair’s design to inevitably wave, curl and/or frizz in any level of humidity outside a vacuum. There will be days when you look with envy upon impossibly straight hair that shines and retains its form in spite of the weather. You’ll wrestle with the hair dryer and dodge the raindrops to achieve a frizzy semblance of straight but it’s not worth the fight. Trust me.
Thing is, God made you the way He did for a reason. Every detail He infused with purpose. Matthew 10:30 says He even knows the (ever changing) number of those frizzy strands on your head. So don’t waste so much time trying to tame the rough edges. Embrace the beauty in the quirks. Because God’s crazy about you just the way you are. Just the way He made you to be. (7/7/14)

8. You’re an overcomer.
More accurately, there is One in you who has already overcome the world.
I’m not gonna lie, baby girl, this life will get hard. So much so that it will feel overwhelming sometimes. Your  heart will convince you that the pain of some days, some tragedies are beyond your threshold to withstand. It’s in those moments most of all, loved one, that I want you to remember that it’s not up to you (your strength, your skill, your wit) to win the battle. It’s already been won.
When you accept Jesus, you welcome His Spirit to take residence in your heart. That means that even when you feel utterly defeated, you have within you the power of God.
Just stop to absorb that for a moment. The Creator of the universe, who also knit together every fiber of your being, who is perfection, amazing grace, and very definition of love. Death itself had no power over Him. It’s His Spirit in you, translating the prayers you can’t even muster to the God Who already knows your heart. Your pain. Your brokenness. He has and will continue to prove Himself bigger in overcoming them all. “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” -1 John 4:4.
You’re an overcomer, little one. Live like it. (7/8/14)

9. When you think of someone, tell them.
This may sound like a no-brainer but it bears mentioning. Life gets busy and thoughts pass so quickly through your mind so you have to be intentional. Because there’s a reason someone comes to mind when they do. (PS: for that reason, it’s not a bad idea to grow into the habit of praying for those you think of as you do. And stock-piling note cards and postage stamps.)
You’ll hear a great deal about “love languages” throughout your lifetime and it won’t take long for you to realize that yours is words–both given and received. The words themselves don’t have to be clever, sophisticated or even complete sentences; in fact, some of the most profound encouragement you’ll receive will be the simplest words given at a crucial moment. But they have to be said. So write a note, mail a card, make a call, or send a message. I guarantee you will never regret it. (7/9/14)

10. Jesus is your legit BFF. Love like Him.
Friendship is such a beautiful gift. But as much as the need for it is natural, the art of it is not. That’s why I’m telling you: love like Jesus.
As you grow and meet so many colorful, incredible, beautiful friends, you’ll love them so dearly. And they will love you back. Bear in mind though, that when you love like a human, you will expect the same measure of love given to come back.
(It doesn’t work this way.)
But when you love like Jesus, you do so out of love already fulfilled. You love because He’s already demonstrated His love for you (1 John 4:19). This love will never disappoint.
Somewhere along the way you’ll fall into the trap of assuming that it is within your role (or capacity) as a friend to fix problems, be an emotional crutch or the stability they need. No, love. No. Every one of those tasks fall under the power and grace of God alone. Your role, then–as in all things–is to point to Jesus.
The Son of God was never selective in who he loved but was very particular in how he loved. He invested his life into the lives of others; not by exhausting himself in effort to be well-liked or accepted (clearly) but by sharing the Good News of salvation, redemption and grace at every turn. He is the one friend who literally could never let you down. So why not live a life fulfilled: make every effort to love like him. Point to Jesus. (7/10/14)

11. Pain is a reality; one that is experienced differently by everyone.
You’re going to know hurt in this life, baby girl. It’s an inescapable reality of a fallen world: broken bones, sickness, hurtful actions, let-downs, spiteful words, grief; they’re coming. Jesus even gave a head’s up in John 16:33: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! For I have overcome the world. (See #8) Don’t anticipate pain with fear, instead anticipate God’s presence in the pain.
Also, remember that because you’re you (an anomaly of unique talents, quirks and experiences) you will inevitably feel and cope with pain differently than others. Keep this in mind. Under no circumstances should you tell someone, “I know what you’re feeling because I’ve been there.” This is entirely untrue. See, words are tricky in suffering. So my best advice is to just be there. Be available. Drop off a meal with a note that lets them know you’re praying and available if they want to talk. Refer to #9. Don’t try to formulate answers you don’t have. Just love them like Jesus. Nonstop. Because sometimes the ache never goes away and they’ll need reminding that God is still there. Through you. (7/11/14)

12. Patience is a virtue. One that feels very, very cruel.
Let me tell you right now, you will very often be the last kid picked up in Sunday School. Just be ready for it. (I’m leading with this example on purpose so stay with me here.)
There will be a great many opportunities to practice building patience–and ultimately endurance in long-range seasons of waiting. And it will never ever be your default setting to willingly opt to wait and pray, “You know, I really don’t need [that great thing] in my life just yet. I’m good waiting, God. Take Your time.”
Nope, you live in a culture saturated with instant-gratification. One that pummels you with messages that tell you to take what you want when you want it. Oh but little one, you are not here to serve these gods. And they certainly will not serve you the way(s) you expect them to. The God you live to serve communicates an entirely different message, most often translated as: wait.
When you get this response from God , through the lens of your culture, you will take it as punishment. As if God’s saying, “You know what, you’re not living precisely the way I commanded you. Time-out for you. Go sit in the corner and wait until I call you back. Then maybe if you’re good, I’ll give you what you want.” Girl, ditch that thinking immediately. Because God is not dependent on you for anything (please refer back to #1). He loves you dearly and is constantly working for your good and His glory.
So come back to my spoiler alert of your earliest lessons in patience late on Sunday mornings. You’ll pout about having to wait for your parents but you know what? They’re not hiding behind the corner, snickering at your frustration, conspiring about how to keep you there longer. Chances are they’re talking with someone who needs encouragement, helping an elderly person to their car, or praying with someone who needs Jesus. You just can’t see it from the nursery. So it is with God. Keep the grand scheme in mind, little girl. And don’t waste opportunities to thank God that He’s the One in control.
You’ll see His goodness yet. Just wait. (7/12/14)

13. Action trumps intention.
You will have–and encounter people who also have–the best of intentions. But they don’t count for a blessed thing without follow-through.
One of the greatest expressions of love you’ll know in life will be shown by the people in your life who show up. In good times and bad. To help celebrate or offer a shoulder as they cry with you. To allow their presence to do the talking, to remind you that you’re not alone.
You have been richly blessed to have been born into a family that is really good at showing up. Your parents will be in attendance for just about every presentation you ever make, grandparents will be waiting at the doctor’s office when you go for x-rays, a fiercely protective aunt will tail you on a first date when you don’t answer your phone, and your entire family will make the drive and cram into the allotted seats (and overflow) for your graduation. They are among your earliest models of how to love without words. Follow their example.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Don’t leave goals strewn on to-do lists or promise things you can’t fulfill. Live–and love–on purpose, with more than words. (7/13/14)

14. Expect the unexpected and you will never be disappointed.
One thing you will excel at in life is designing beautiful and intricate expectations. Unfortunately, this is not a life skill that is incredibly conducive to eternal significance.
I’m not going to discourage you from making goals in life but little girl, don’t invest your life in your plans. Because if you recall I mentioned a decision you’ll make in a few years? Inviting Jesus in to take control means, well, just that. Everyday you choose to follow Jesus means you’re surrendering those plans.
If you live your life according to the blue-prints you map out now, you’re only setting yourself up for disappointment. I’m tell you now, life will not go according to plan. Ever.  I think this is part of the reason the Psalmist says in 34:7: “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This isn’t just a sweet little promise, it’s a command. And for good reason. If you truly delight yourself in the Lord, your desires change. You change. For the better.
The funny thing is you’ll fight God on this time and time again but you’re only prolonging the good things He has for you. With surrender comes freedom. It’s only when you release the death grip on your plans, that you’re open to receive what God’s had waiting for you all along. And it’s better than you ever could have expected (Ephesians 3:20). (7/14/14)

15. The title of being the “bigger person” is likely won by the one who eats the most humble pie.
In this world, there are people who are intent on putting others down; in pointing out faults and mistakes, in making anyone else feel terrible in order to elevate their own status. They’re called bullies. I’m telling you this now, knowing it well enough by now, and yet it still stuns me every time. Understand that half these people may not even realize how cutting their tone is, hurtful their actions are, or care how much it stands to unravel your  confidence.
Regardless, they need love. They don’t deserve it, but then, neither did you deserve the grace of salvation. As a Christian, you are commanded to love. Matthew 5 sums it up in this way: “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (v. 44). This is another one of those nuggets that is much easier to give as advice than receive, but it makes it no less of a command. So buckle up, buttercup. You’re going to have plenty of opportunities to taste humble pie… and offer a slice or two to the bullies on the playground, in more than grade school. (7/15/14)

16. Castles made of sand are only fun at the beach.
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” Jesus said these words (in Matthew 7: 26). And as in all things, he knows what he’s talking about.
One of the useless life skills you will come to perfect will be your ability to invest in sand castles (amazingly, in spite of the fact that you live miles from the shoreline). Anytime you plan out your life according to your own plans, that’s just what you are doing. Building sand castles. They will look beautiful and each time you will convince yourself, this time it’ll work. I’ve researched, compared notes with tons of other people, and I have a good feeling about this one. And then… “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (v. 27). Harder each time.
See, little one, Jesus didn’t deliver those words for his own benefit; they were for you. And are still. He knew all too well how you would take small victories to heart and immediately convince yourself that you’ve got it figured out, you’re in control, and you don’t in fact need him. And then the winds pick up, doubt reigns, and reality smacks you upside the head.
So keep the sand in the sandbox and turn exclusively to His Word before making any plans. Because sand castles were never made to last. (7/16/14)

17. Pain is an indicator.
As much as pain is inevitable, it is… well, painful. Therefore it is in your best interest to avoid repeated exposure once you learn its cause. Whether it is a bone that needs to be reset, a food you should no longer eat, or a relationship that you need to break off, pain is the natural result of something that is wrong. Something that needs to be changed-and often let go. Just a heads up: this sounds simple but it’s not. Especially when you start justifying fictitious “REAL” reasons for the pain. The best I can say is this: listen to the symptoms over your wishful thinking cuz baby girl, you will come to make some very convincing arguments to a heart that desperately seeks them. (“The heart is deceitful above all else…” Jeremiah 17:9.)
Don’t waste the lessons offered by your present pain or encourage future inflictions. Instead, make a change. And don’t look back. (7/17/14)

18. Prayer doesn’t change God; but it will change you.
Very fortunately for you, you were born into a praying family. So early on, you will learn that prayer is a simple conversation with an all-powerful God.
Typical child that you are, you will come to use that portal to unload your list of requests: asking God to heal boo-boos, help find lost puppies and be with family far away. God hears each of these prayers. He welcomes each one. He loves to hear you voice your heart. Never stop.
However, that simple supposition will extend right on through your early adulthood. If you’re not careful, disillusionment will set in as you begin to doubt God because He doesn’t answer your requests; or worse, answers them differently than you prayed He would. But, little girl, don’t you ever forget just who is God—and Who God Is. This is what prayer was designed to teach you.
Prayer is an incredible gift, not because it grants us access to God’s blessings but because it grants us access to God. It lifts our eyes from our circumstances to the One who is above them; the One who has the power (and plan) to redeem even the worst of them for your good and His glory. And He will.
So heed Paul’s advice in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Keep looking up. Opening up. Listening up. And get ready for God to change things up.
Starting with you. (7/18/14)

19. Blessings aren’t meant to be counted, but invested.
There’s a lullaby you will come to love that sweetly suggests that you “count your blessings instead of sheep.” Certainly this seems a more productive method of falling asleep but even still, little one, it’s a flawed practice. Because the rich blessings God pours into your life are not given just for you. In fact, it is easier to destroy your life by investing in the “stuff” God gives you rather than investing the gifts themselves–or, even more, the One who gave them.
The Bible will tell you–and life will confirm–“where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) It’s a law of nature: the more you physically attain, the more you find the need to keep it safe. The more you prize it, stress, worry, and obsess over it; forget where it came from and how quickly it can be taken away. You yourself house a wealth of gifts that God purposely designed you with. Withholding them out of pride, fear, or selfishness not only denies a world who needs them but denies you the joy of giving them; of fulfilling rather than desperately seeking the purpose your life was intended for.
It’s not a bad thing at all to be aware of your blessings–count away! But even more, be cognizant of what you are doing with them. And how they are (or are not) serving to invest in any sort of eternal significance; inward and outward. This is what it truly is to be blessed. (7/19/14)

20. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Paul described this principle in 1 Corinthians: “I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. Oh, that the world lived by such a standard. But regardless, hold to it yourself.
In general, “bad choices” are easier to discern (i.e.: don’t do drugs, end relationships that undervalue you, and use your blinker instead of select hand gestures in traffic). It’s the good choices that get complicated.
You will encounter plenty of options that seem like good opportunities–and good they may be–but they are not for you. This is a tricky business for sure and I’m not qualified to explain it thoroughly, seeing as I’m still struggling to understand it myself. But the best I can offer is the advice I am currently taking myself: pray. You don’t have access to the “big picture” but you have access to the One who does. And rather than barging forth in a blaze of good intentions (thereby potentially robbing someone else of opportunities they might have needed), ask. Listen. Wait.
Trust me, if it’s something God wants you to do, there will be no question. He will open doors and give you what you need to walk through them. But He can’t guide you if you’re not seeking His direction.
There will be a multitude of choices offered to you in this life, little one. Choose wisely. And start by looking in the right direction. (7/20/14)

21. Less is more.
Trust me. (7/21/14)

22. The left lane is for passing only.
Of course you have a few years before you get behind the wheel but consideration is a big deal both on and off the road. (It’s just that when it is particularly lacking in traffic, the resulting expressions of rage are exceedingly dangerous.)
Your first words will invariably include “no” and “mine” because it is inherent in your human nature to think of yourself first.
But that’s no excuse.
Remember that you have been called to be like Christ, who lived each breath for the ones he loved, which excluded no one: “So whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever you do, do it all for His glory. That includes bosses that aren’t easy to respect, friends who are reliably unreliable, and people who just plain don’t deserve your kindness. I’ll be real with you: they don’t! But then neither did you deserve the kindness demonstrated on a cross centuries ago. Don’t ever lose sight of grace, loved one.
Keep # 15 in mind, while also being mindful of the fact that love is not merely reactive; it’s proactive. Put others before yourself, their needs above your own, even when it’s really really hard. Because especially on the bad days, they need to see Jesus. And I guarantee you he wouldn’t be found clogging the passing lane. (7/22/14)

23. Hope is found in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
More often than not, your conversations with God will seem to mirror the Psalmist’s; ranging from pure joy of praises to frustration, angst, and screaming at God. All within thirty seconds. What you need to understand is this: first, this is normal. God is never shocked nor offended by your irrationality. This is why you have the assurance of hope at all; because it is found in Him.
Understand, little one, that for as much as your life will feel tumultuous and torturous sometimes, it’s never because God has let you down. No, it’s much more a sign that you’ve placed your hope somewhere else. In someone, something, whatever it is is much less than God–which is why it’s sure to let you down in the end. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).
The good news is that God doesn’t love like the world loves, dependent on your ability to earn and keep it. Even when you blame God for your own mistakes, He neither loves you less nor denies you access to hope. Truly, when you accept Jesus, you receive real hope. It’s real because it’s been tested and found True. Because it is placed in nothing less than Christ, a Source both worthy and unshakeable. It will never let you go; so make every effort to keep yourself from letting go. (7/23/14)

24. The early bird may get the worm but the worm that sleeps in avoids being breakfast.
Plenty of people have plenty of advice. Well-intentioned as it may be, remember to take it as it is: advice. Suggestions. Sometimes warranted, other times not, but never mandatory. You need to recognize the difference between the suggestions and requirements or else you will feel compelled to run in circles making rearrangements to meet expectations that are entirely unnecessary (and even more  a waste of time, effort and frustration). The thing you are without a doubt, a people-pleaser. You want to do everything in your power to make everyone around you happy. But let me tell you, little girl: this is NOT possible. I am not dolling out a challenge here, I’m stating a fact. When I advised you to love everyone, you’ll notice I said nothing about making them happy. That’s not your job. In fact, there will be times that loving may make them very unhappy. Love them anyway.
Some people are rooting for the bird, others defend the worm but in the end, you need to make your decisions based on more than temperamental input of the people on either side.
Though, for the record, it’s never a bad idea to get up early… just sayin’. (7/24/14)

25. A rainy day is full of sun from a new altitude.
Perspective is a game-changer. Always, always remember this.
It’s so easy to lose hope when fear is clogging your vision and stress absorbs every bit of your energy. Hard times will fall and it really will feel like the end of the world. But it’s not. It never is.
Thing is, you’re a sucker for happy endings. You yearn for closure in everything. So when things don’t go your way, you’ll immediately think up imaginary reasons why–to fashion your own ending. They’re terrible reasons; so far-fetched and unrealistic, but you hold to them, and ultimately get angry at God for allowing these things to happen. (Sounds irrational, right? Sorry, baby girl, I’m just laying out the female mind to you here. Take notes!) It’s likely for this reason that Paul says in Colossians 3:2: “Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.” Because mole hills look like mountains when you deny yourself access to the reality to stand in comparative size. When you bury yourself in a pit of despair. Frustration. Anger at God who never intended you for that hole in the first place. Remember that no matter how deceived you are by despairing circumstances, nothing will ever change the Truth.
Look and live heavenward, little one. Don’t sweat the small stuff or forget that there is One above the clouds; even when those clouds are all you can see. (7/25/14)

26. There will always be someone that does it “better” but that doesn’t negate your talents.
Alright baby girl, you’re coming on the scene behind two older sisters and they’re already setting the bar–high. I’ll tell you right now, you’ll never match Ellie’s ability to talk her way out of anything or Mindy’s expertise in rocking the gymnastics floor–and leotard. However, that doesn’t mean you should entirely avoid talking or exercising. Deny your insecurities the ability to cower you into quitting. Stick with it. Don’t be afraid to stick your neck out, share the work you’re proud of, try out for the parts you don’t think you could ever get and for goodness sake, don’t quit piano. (Mom and Dad are right; you’ll regret it someday.) You never know the people to be met and lessons to be learned  along the paths you would might otherwise have been afraid to tread.
Don’t strive to match others’ ability level; reach for the best version of yourself that you have the capacity to be. Because God never intended you to be the best; only to know His best for you, which is inaccessible to those who ignore opportunities to become better. (7/26/14)

27. In your weakness, He is strong.
Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.
The world you live in endeavors to build up strength by knocking out weakness. And yet, at its most basic level, strength is found in surrender.
Sure, you can work hard to build up your muscle (physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually) but the rubber meets the road when your strength is tested. And it is in that moment that you will realize your strength indeed is small. This, little one, is when life proves to you that you need more than brute strength.
You can’t muscle your way through fear, grief, cancer… what you can do is lean wholly into the Savior who invites you to come to him, to leave your burdens in His hands. And leave them there. It takes an immense amount of strength to admit your weakness; but it’s the only way to accept His strength. And His is the only strength you need. (7/27/14)

28. “A person’s name is to that person, the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” -Dale Carnegie
It’s true. All anyone in this world wants is to be seen. Known. Thought of. Welcomed. Such simple acts carry a profound impact.
If you think about it, anything we deem as important is given a name. It should come as no surprise then, that God knows yours. He calls you by it, in fact: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
Did you catch that? Regardless of the number and order of letters in your signature (which, bearing a name on the more unique end of the attendance list, you will have a particular appreciation for), you are seen, known, thought of and forever welcomed by Him.
Don’t lose your grasp of this beautiful truth, little one: He not only calls you by name, He has deemed you worthy of His. (7/28/14)

29. God knows what He’s doing.
The Bible (right up to modern-day history) is full of stories of ordinary people that God used to do extraordinary things. Though when I say “extraordinary” I’m not saying it was all beautiful skies and smooth sailing. Oh no. Sometimes God messes things up, big time. What you perceive as unnecessarily severe plot twists are not intended as torture but as an opportunity to demonstrate–undeniably–Who He Is.
Take Gideon, for example, whose story is in Judges. He was heading into an intimidating battle in which he was grossly outnumbered. Not quite an ideal situation. And yet when we pick up the story in chapter 7, God tells him to reduce his army: “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her… I will sift them for you.” Uhh, thanks God?
This would be one of those classic life moments when God’s motives are called to question. I mean, it just does not make sense. To us. Don’t forget that what you see, know, and plan for represents just one small piece of a ginormous puzzle. Only God has view and command of the whole thing–so would it not make sense to trust His vision?
Be aware that sometimes God will alter circumstances to gently remind you that you’re not the one in control. He is. And He knows what He’s doing. Trust me; trust Him. (7/29/14)

30. You are blessed.
There is no question, though you will be blinded to this fact throughout any difficult season of your life. But never, never forget it.
You have been born into an incredible family; praying parents, siblings who are best friends, and a legacy of faith. The friendships God will enrich your life with are genuine, generous and wildly supportive. You will encounter several church families and career venues that provide incredible relationships, mentorships, and memories. And yet aside from all the beautiful people and “stuff” God so generously lavishes you with, you have the gift of salvation. If He never gave you another blessed thing, you would still have everything you need. Because everything you could ever possibly need is in Him: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:8).
It is not my intention to spoil the ending, little one, but I will tell you that tangible blessings are not eternal. They don’t last. You will lose things you love and ones you love. It is for this reason that as you live richly and love deeply, you must guard your heart. Invest it exclusively in the One from Whom all blessings flow–and has authority to take them away. Remember all the while to Whom they belong, and Who knows best how they are to be used.
You, my dear, truly are beyond blessed. Live within–not for–the blessings; in addition to being one yourself as you journey through this world that is not your Home. (7/30/14)


There is a disconnect between my head and my heart.

In one, I know that God is good. Bigger. The only Thing worth pursuing in this world.
In the other, my emotions wreak havoc. Stirring up doubts. Questions. Anger.

But the sole encouragement that remains through it all is that none of those things change the Truth. Including my misperception of it.

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of walks. Not only because the weather has been warmer, thawing the residual frost left by a long, hard winter, but because I find the need to be alone. To disconnect. I suppose it is, in part, an attempt to distance myself from the sadness, the remembering, facing the reality that is the new normal. Of course that’s a feeble attempt at an impossible task but the quiet is good for a soul.

Want to know what else is good for it?

By the time I get home from another long day of burying myself in the distraction of endless to-do lists and tasks, the sun is just setting.
Have you seen–really seen–the sun set lately?
God doesn’t hold back.


The color, the brilliance, the rays that shine uninhibited by the clouds.
All just a small taste of God’s glory.
A glimpse of Heaven.
Our view of Ben’s new Home from the other side.

It’s in those moments, where my feet are frozen and eyes are fixed on the light, that I remember I am not walking alone.
The same God Whose Hands paint each sunset hold mine.
His arms are more than wide enough to embrace my doubts, my anger, my questions–and still wrap around me.
And they do.

While I still feel so irrational, inconsolable, angry, confused, and at a loss… those sunsets continue to shine. A new one every night.
It’s almost as if God knew I needed the reminder. My emotions are–and will forever stand to be–a storm that cloud my view of a world I used to know in brighter hues, but that sun is still rising. And setting. Shining perhaps all the brighter against the defeat of the clouded contrast.

He hasn’t gone anywhere.
Nothing can diminish the Light.
Even on days when I fail to see it.

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

He Was Too Good for This World

ImageTrying to grapple with reality has been tough. I’m the person who would rather ignore sadness. I avoid books and movies with heart-wrenching plot lines and unhappy endings for this very reason.
But voluntary ignorance does nothing to alter circumstances.
And does no credit to faith.

I’ve heard it said that when a child passes away, it’s because they were too good for this world. I’ve never felt this to be more true.

When I think of Ben, I think of goofy faces. Belly laughs. And the softest of hearts. He was the first to go in for the hug. To help. To make you laugh. To hold his sister’s hand. To reach for his mom’s. And whose absence will continue to fray the strands of my heart.

There aren’t words to adequately express the pain that’s lodged itself in my heart. The brokenness. To be left standing bereft of any remedy, to watch your precious nephew endure the rampage of a malignant tumor is heart wrenching. To see its effect on your sister is even worse.
Our family has always been so good at being there. The moment hard times fall, we mobilize every resource imaginable to fix the problem or at least ease the pain. But these past weeks, we have all stood dumb-founded. Helpless. Unable to do more than huddle together, cry, and pray.

It’s hard to fathom the ability of life to continue. To know that we’ll move on. Go on with our lives. Be ok. I guess that’s the initial impact of grief. It saturates your heart.

The morning of Ben’s last day was so gray. I felt it before I saw it. Rain pelting the side windows. A muggy fog enveloping the house. The granular light filtering through the clouds was the only evidence of the sun that typically shone so brightly.

But the air was clean. The buds hindered by a long, hard winter were tentatively but resolutely peeking out of branches. It was the first I’d seen them since last year.

Spring is supposed to signal new life, not death. Last May, I remember thinking on the same conundrum after my grandfather’s funeral. They lowered the casket as the lilacs bloomed. It felt like such a contradiction. One I never dreamt our family would relive. Especially like this.

But as much as we can never anticipate tragedy in our lives—and detest its invasion with such a fierce grief that leaves our lives and hearts broken—this is not the end.

Spring does bring new life.

One of the greatest comforts to me in preparing to say goodbye to Ben was the assurance that he would be receiving new life. For those that know the Lord, death is merely a departure from the body we know. One of the token phrases of my favorite earthly saint has always been, “This body is rotten—I’m ready for my new one!”

This world is full of suffering. Pain. Heartache. Ben’s final days showed us more of it than any of us want to remember.
But he’s with Jesus now. The arms of our Heavenly Father embracing him now more than figuratively. How much is God sparing Ben in this world by taking him now? Neither do I want or have to imagine. Because he’s Home now.

We mourn his loss on this end. Deeply. We always will. I don’t know that I’ll ever see our family as complete without him.
We might have lost him; but he’s not lost.

God has him.
God has us.

He’s just holding us on different ends of eternity.


Thank you for your continued prayers for our family (Mindy, Andy, Jack & Meg especially) as we lean into God to grieve the loss of one of the sweetest gifts He’s lent us for the past five years.

Perfect Grace

It was rainy and cold but we decided to meet for FroYo anyway. Accountability is no joke (and FroYo, even less). I only wished I could embody the carefree spirit that a cup of ice cream typically inspired. Moving the melting remnants around the bowl, I tried to cover up my sigh with a worn-out smile.

There was no denying the cloud hovering above my head. And sucking me in.

I wanted to put on the familiar old smile. Glaze over the pain; the fear; the crippling taunts of the unknowns.

Ordinarily, I could. The pangs felt up to now were small enough to cover up. That pain that seemed so hard then stands as trivial compared to the giants I know now. Still, I got pretty good at pretending the ugly didn’t exist, at least for the span of a visit. I could dodge permeating questions, gloss over the heartache in my quick update before I dove into questions directed at and about the person across the table.

But lately, even I can see it. When I look in the mirror, I see a girl who’s undeniably scared.
And today, she saw it too.

Twisting the spoon in my hand, I confessed: “I’m not myself. And I hate that.”

Her head was cocked to one side as her face betrayed the culmination of her thoughts.

“No. You are still yourself.
You are yourself, experiencing grief. You need to recognize that in order to allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling.
Marissa, you need to give yourself grace.”

It’s always been one of my favorite aspects of my God. Undeserved favor. The beauty and very character of a God Who offers continual blessings—even beyond eternal salvation.

But it hadn’t occurred to me to extend grace to myself.  I felt too guilty about my own weakness. Strange as it sounds, I really did try to “live perfect.” Or at least look the part. I must have believed that if I was strong enough, I wouldn’t have to deal with the pain. Or share it with others. If I could just bottle it up, stuff it down far enough, it wouldn’t seep out.

Oh but friend, no one is impermeable.

And it suddenly struck me. There, in the middle of a dark downpour with my melted FroYo:

I’m not perfect.

(Sorry if you’re in shock, I should have prepared you for that one.)

I’ve always held myself to a standard of perfection. And that’s all good and well. I mean, it is Biblical: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That’s a high standard. An unattainable one, in fact.

God knows that full well. He made us. He knows our limitations better than we do ourselves—but He doesn’t harp on them. Instead, He sees us through the lens of grace and intends us for betterment. And that continual improvement flows naturally out of a life that reaches for Him rather than a perfect version of our imperfect selves.

So, that means if you ask me how I’m doing for real, I might start crying. Imperfect people do that.
The update I give you might not offer any closure or happy endings. But it would be unfair to you if I continued to pretend that I have it all figured out. Or that I can keep it together when I’m feeling so scared and unglued.
Please understand that I don’t trust God any less. I’m just allowing myself grace in being honest about the fact that I have no idea what He’s doing.

All my life I have both strived for and expected perfection from myself.

Well, if my life has taught me anything lately, it’s that there is no room for perfection in suffering. Nor a need. It does no more than waste energy to pretend. When life itself seems too miniscule in view of the pain it’s subject to, there is no doubt that God alone is the only perfection we need. The only thing that exists. That remains.

Meanwhile, I’m just a venue. A vessel. Imperfect but full of grace.
Given and received.

God Has Ruined My Life

Growing up, I was your typical American girl; maybe just a little more imaginative than most.


My bedroom window opened up to a field that felt never-ending and beckoned dreams to fill it. I dreamt of a prince. A house. A family. The white-washed picket fence. All while singing Disney songs that ignited my heart with the belief that all I had to do was believe in myself to conquer the world.

Never in my small mind did I envision an almost-30-year-old woman waking each day to report to a cubicle in order to answer questions and complaints; to come home to a house, yes, but to no one but a family of questionably-alive plants.

Needless to say, I am one of the multitudes of people whose life has turned out differently than I had hoped. One who has, for all intents and purposes, missed that illustrious American Dream. By a long shot.
Certainly I could blame one of the millions of factors we are all tempted to point to when we feel we’ve failed at life. But with the passing of each event as it transpires in my life, I’ve reached a different conclusion: God has ruined my life.
Messed it up completely.

I had a plan. It was a good plan. It would have served to sustain the status quo so beautifully. I would have lived it so well.

But, see, I made a decision around 5 years old that rerouted those plans.
Surrendered them, actually; I invited Jesus in to take control. To do what He wanted with this life of mine.
But I forgot.

I graduated from Kindergarten and moved up in Sunday School. Each week, I learned more about how the alphabet worked and who Jesus was.
But I forgot.

I packed up my things and moved off to college. A Christian college. Continually building and moving toward those life goals I set as a kid.
But I forgot.

Those dreams were so much bigger. Well-defined. Mapped out.
Just out of reach.
Each year, more of my friends lived out the blueprints they had written. I was in more weddings, attended more house-warming parties, threw more baby showers.
I felt forgotten.
Where was this God that I had invited into my life so long ago? Wasn’t He supposed to make my life better?

Sure, I went on dates. The guys were cute, kind, polite. Some even had dimples and were great with kids (swoon). But one after another, these guys all had “different views” on life—and faith, in particular. I knew myself and my God enough to know that I couldn’t “settle” for someone who didn’t share my views. Who didn’t really care about God beyond dodging the lightning bolts in response to poor choices.
These guys didn’t hold God as the God of their lives. And those dates didn’t progress very far before one of us realized the variance and knew it was pointless to go for a second round.
I walked away from these dates deflated by the realization that I had hit another dead end. So many times, I beat my head against that proverbial brick wall convincing myself that there was something wrong with me.

Yes, there was.
There is.
But it’s not a physical flaw, personality drawback, or quirky mannerism (though, Lord knows, I’ve got ‘em).

It’s God.
I have God. A God Who has always been counter-culture. Less than popular. Radical.
A God Who promised that my choosing Him wouldn’t win me any friends—or boyfriends, for that matter. (John 15.)

Hear me out, here, because, fellow Christ-followers, I don’t want you to forget, too.

The bottom line is this: Life is not about following your heart. Pursuing your dreams. Reaching deep down to redefine yourself.

I know we live in a world that advocates these things as the epitome of success.
And truly, it’s not that any mode of self-improvement is inherently bad.
But as Christians, we are not the ones calling those shots to direct our life to where it should be. It’s not up to us to find the answers; to draw up self-help plans and coordinate the changes.
Our purpose is to surrender them all. To increasingly learn what it means to invite God in to take over; to “ruin” our lives.

Choosing Christ means choosing a surrendered life.
Letting go of my plans.
Every last one of them.
The prince
the house
the family.
Even that picturesque fence.

Because as long as I hold onto those plans, I’m closing myself off from receiving what God has for me. For this life that is His.

I’ll be honest with you; I don’t like not being in control.
And I can’t say I’ve appreciated all the things that God has revealed in His plan for me thus far.
In fact, I really don’t like the path He’s given me to walk right now. It’s absolutely opposite to the plan I want in so many ways. But this life is not my own.
I can’t forget.

The God I committed my life to never guaranteed any fulfillment of my dreams. What He did—and does—promise is His good. His best. (Romans 8:28)
I lived for a long time under the misconception that His good was the same as mine.
But even the best of my good plans are entirely selfish. And let’s face it; I don’t reign over the universe. I have no way of knowing if my good is good for the world. Or even myself. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

So, it’s true. God has wrecked my life. That life I drew up with crayons in my backyard.
But you know what? That little girl in pigtails had a pretty limited concept of what life meant. Of what life would bring. Or how to live it.

And standing here today, this nearly-30-year old can tell you with full confidence that I have only a slight edge on that little girl. While I have no idea how my life will continue to unfold, I’m finally living a life worth living.

Because it’s not mine at all.