3 Of the greatest gifts young parents can give their kids

I was recently asked if I would write an article in a newsletter for a young moms group. As I started thinking back to the time when my girls were little, I was flooded with warm memories and deep regrets.

I have been very blessed, not only to have enjoyed that magical time when my kids were little, but also to have survived it.

If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, what would I say?

Being a young mom is a thrill ride. There are new challenges and milestones every day. You learn as you go. And nothing can prepare you.

I remember when we were leaving the hospital with my oldest daughter, Emily. I was thinking, ‘How could they let ME walk out of here with a baby?! Were they crazy?

Day by day we learned, and the kids grew. My husband and I fumbled around going this way and that, doing the best that we could as young parents. We were tossed to and fro by well intentioned advice and made many mistakes.

Now our girls are in high school. Where did the time go?

Just when you think the teenage years are so far away, there they are, staring you right in the face!

Looking back, there are 3 pieces of advice that I would give to young moms (and dads!).

1. Show your kids that God comes first

My greatest regret in parenting is not being a Christ-centered family when my kids were little.

We were typical American parents. God wasn’t our number one for most of our marriage. If you would have asked us, we would have said that He was. But He wasn’t. We were very much living for the American Dream.

We were raising our girls to be good people because we were good people. Wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing?! Wasn’t that enough?

We taught them to say please and thank you. We taught them to be nice and polite and do what they’re told. We took them to church on Sundays to learn about God. And we taught them the importance of a good education.

Purposefully or not, by mirroring things we observed from our parents, the media, the culture, the church and our community, we put our family first.

It saddens me to think about it. We were wrong.

*God Must Always Come First*

Not only should God come first, there shouldn’t be a close second. Nothing should come close to God in our lives.

It’s no wonder that most kids grow up to be young adults that care very little about God or their faith. Why would they put God first when their parents didn’t?

Our kids will do as we do.

We must put God over our families, the way He intended. Only then can our families and our kids be healthy and strong. If we put God first, then the family will be as it should be, UNDER His Lordship.

Read my blog post, 5 ways to put God above the American Dream

2. Give yourself grace

Someone once said to me, ‘If you were a perfect parent, your kids wouldn’t need a Savior!’ Amen to that!

As a young mom, sixteen years ago, I put a lot of pressure on myself; pressure to be the perfect mom and to have the perfect kids.

I felt pressure to . . . . .

  • raise geniuses
  • potty train by the time they are 2
  • have my kids reading before they can walk
  • have the perfect amount of activities; playdates, music classes, soccer, etc.

I remember people having opinions about everything; breastfeeding or formula, thumb sucking or the pacifier, potty training, putting the kids to bed, daycare, homeschool, etc. The list goes on and on.

Everybody seems to have opinions when you have kids. And, for some reason, they feel they have to right to share them with you.

Don’t let your kids use a pacifier or suck their thumb, they will need braces if you do.
Don’t give them a bottle too soon.
Don’t pick up your baby every time they cry.
Don’t let your kid have a tantrum or make noise at the grocery store.
You should start piano lessons early, it helps their brain develop.
You must give your kids the flu shot.
They shouldn’t ever watch television when they are little.

Pressure, pressure, pressure! There is so much pressure!

The advice that I give young moms is . . . . lower the bar.

The house doesn’t need to be clean all the time. Let it go. So what if the house is messy? Do you want your kids to remember that their mom spent time with them, or that the house was clean?

Kids don’t always need to be dressed, or wear matching clothes, or even wear clean clothes. Sometimes, they don’t need clothes at all! They don’t need to have perfect manners, a clean face and groomed hair.

Lower the bar.

If little bobby has a temper tantrum in the grocery store one day, and you give in. So what?! It’s one time. It’s not the end of the world! If you need to buy those groceries and book it out of there, than buy that Hershey bar this time!

Give yourself grace.

Other people will judge you. Count on it! But, so what?! Don’t worry about what other people will say or think. At the end of the day, one of the best things you can do for your kids is to take care of their mom!

3. Don’t put too much weight on ‘milestones’

Don’t worry about milestones. Your kid will eventually walk, she will eventually stop sucking her thumb and wearing pullups at night, she will learn to ride a bicycle, learn their A,B,C’s, and so on.

Some kids walk when they are 9 months old and some when they are 16 months. Some kids crawl first, some scoot, and some skip all that and go straight to walking! Some kids talk in full sentences from the womb, and some don’t say a word until much later. And some don’t stop wearing pullups at night until they are 10!

So what?! Let your kid be who he is. Let him have his own milestones, not be forced to have someone else’s.

The shoulds of life can imprison us. Let them go. Take the word should out of your vocabulary, especially when it comes to raising your kids.


The greatest success in parenting is raising kids who know and love God.

Our job is to raise kids to become adults who chase after holiness, not happiness, and seek God’s will more than the American Dream. Our job is to create adults who put God first.

If our kids grow up knowing and seeking God in their lives, not much else matters. In other words . . . . don’t sweat the small stuff! Cut yourself some slack, and enjoy the ride! It will be over before you know it!


What are your struggles as a young parent?

If you are a seasoned parent, what would you have done differently when your kids were young?

4 Things that I never would have thought of if I made up God

Atheists who argue that God doesn’t exist assume that a human being could have made up the God of the Bible.

I disagree.

I have heard many arguments for the existence of God. However, I have never heard the argument I would make. My argument is that we NEVER could have made up the brilliant complexity that is our God . . . . NEVER!

How do I know God exists? Because He is infinitely more complex and brilliant than I or anyone could have imagined. Our finite, human minds could not have even close to dreamed up a God like ours.


If I made up God, there are 4 things that I would never have thought of.

1. I would not have made up a God whose glory is directly tied to our satisfaction

A god who is indifferent to the satisfaction of his creation seems more likely than a God who goes above and beyond for us. Why shouldn’t God require us to obey him in order to receive love and blessings? After all, humans are cause and effect beings. It makes more sense to us.

However, our God requires very little and gives abundantly. He is good, and He desires good for us. Because God is good, we can be satisfied in Him.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

Our God is good, wholly and completely, and He wants good things for us. He wants us to be filled . . . to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:29).

How wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ   Ephesians 3:19

I could never have made up a God in which . . . .

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Psalm 23:5

My cup overflows?! Nope, I would never have made up a God like that! We have a God that goes above and way beyond for us. Why is it necessary for Him to do this? It isn’t.

While everything that He does is for His own glory, according to John Piper in his book, Desiring God,

“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

We want God to be glorified and He wants us to be satisfied. It’s mutually beneficial. The way He designed everything is perfect. He goes on to say,

“We get the mercy; He gets the glory. We get the happiness in Him; He gets the honor from us.”

He is so good! And when we live to glorify Him, our lives are transformed. No one would have ever made up a God that was so good.

The more I walk with God, the more I realize that everything he says and does works. Everything that He commands us to do brings Him glory, and in turn brings us the most good.

2. I could not have made up the story of Jesus

Earning our way to heaven seems logical. You get what you work for. The Big Man Upstairs doesn’t need to concern Himself with the tiny inhabitants of this insignificant planet.

We know that grace is freely given through Christ. However, earning our way to heaven seems much more logical.

Christianity is the only religion where God is really God. Because it’s the only one where God saves the people instead of the people saving themselves
~ Why So Many Gods, Tim Baker & Kate Etue

Even if I included a savior in the story of my made up God, it wouldn’t have been one like Jesus.

Jesus Walks On WaterI would not have made up a savior who was a servant of all. Before Christ, the idea of a servant king would have been absurd. Jesus was not who the Jews were expecting.

The Gospel writers never would have made up a savior that washed the feet of his disciples; or, a savior that during most of his ministry didn’t have any possessions or a place to call home; or, a savior that was born to an unwed mother in the midst of barn animals!

Who would make up a savior like that?! Especially if you want people to worship Him!

Even if I had made up a God who sent a savior that was a servant king, I could never have thought up the crucifixion story. No one could have. It’s unimaginable.

Jesus needed to die to save the world. Blood needed to be shed, the blood of a lamb. The horror and miraculous power of the events of Jesus death and resurrection is incomprehensible. No human being could have ever made it up.

The story of Jesus is perfect; it is divine. A finite mind would never have come up with a story of redemption so perfect as the story of Jesus.

3. I could not have made up the concept of Church

Who would ever make up the idea of a group of followers that make up a ‘body’ with the savior as the head? Uh . . . not me! It’s kind of a crazy concept!

As the church, we are part of Him, and part of each other as He is part of us. There is a divine connectedness between us all and our God.

 

 

4. I would not have made up a God who uses suffering to annoint us

I definitely would not have added this on the list if I made up God! I would never have made up a God that would require me to walk through the fire; to face the trial head on; or, to walk through the storm. The fire is hot and it burns. Storms beat us up. Trials push us to our limit and are exhausting.Untitled design (11)

I would make up a religion that included avoiding pain and suffering because that is consistent with human nature. Our instincts tells us to avoid pain at all costs.

When everything in me says ‘go around’, God says, ‘I will get you through’.

Our God perfectly designed us so that we gain when we lose. Through suffering, we receive that which we could not without it.

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. ~C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain

God knows the human condition. He knows that most humans will not surrender their will in the midst of comfort. And, God does not require that we do in order to follow him. He has made a way. It is called suffering.

It is through suffering that the scales come off our eyes and we begin to really see and know God intimately. Who knew?!


God’s story is beautiful. It’s perfect in every way. It’s divine. It’s brilliant beyond what the greatest storyteller could ever write.

 

The 2 sides of the coin of faith

This past semester I taught a worldviews and apologetics curriculum at my church that required a lot of supplementation and additional research. As I prepared, I found myself swimming in a sea of endless philosophical, theological and scientific statistics, facts, and arguments. This was a whole new world to me. My head was spinning! Who knew that the world of Christian apologetics was so extensive?!

For more than a decade, my brother has followed theologian, Christian apologist and philosopher, Dr. William Lane Craig. Since I started watching debates several months ago, however, I have gained a great deal of respect for him.

Aside from the fact that Dr. Craig is brilliant and intellectually WAY over my head, his heart and his faith make him a compelling evangelist as well. It isn’t often that you see someone who has a healthy balance between the intellectual and the emotional side of their faith.

In his debates, he speaks of five arguments for the existence of God.

  1. God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe
  2. God is the best explanation for the fine tuning of the universe
  3. God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values in the world
  4. God is the best explanation for the historical facts pertaining to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
  5. God can be immediately known and experienced

The first four deal in the realms of science, philosophy, theology, history, and are basically facts and proofs. Then you get to the fifth argument, and it is purely personal and experiential.

A statement about knowing and experiencing God is emotional and quite bold for such a scholarly environment. It takes tenacity, and a humble heart to make such claims in the presence of highly esteemed intellectuals. Often, the world of academia has divorced the heart from the mind.

“Arguments for God could actually distract our attention from God himself”
~ William Lane Craig

I greatly admire him for not putting all of his eggs in one intellectual basket. Believing in God purely based on Kalam’s Cosmological argument, the teleological argument, or Leibniz’s contingency argument, as interesting and intellectually stimulating as they are, can only get you so far. At some point, one has to go beyond the intellectual realm to the heart and soul. For that is the realm of faith.

God is personal. And, The most wonderful part of this life is to know and experience Him.

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.   James 4:8

I do believe that we can experience God intellectually as well as emotionally. My brother has said this for years. After all, He is the source of all knowledge.

For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.  Proverbs 2:6

I would encourage the more emotional believers to not neglect the intellectual side of God’s character. It’s sad when people assume that apologetics is dry and boring. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It is like saying God is boring. How absurd!

When I started exploring apologetics, I was like a kid in a candy store! I found so much joy from gaining more awareness of this awesome God I serve. It added to my awe of Him. Discovering new aspects of God’s character is absolutely thrilling!

Similarly, intellectual and scholarly Christians should seek to know God on an experiential and emotional level. Things like singing praise songs or raising hands to God in worship may seem trivial to a scholarly person. However, exploring the different aspects of God’s character can only enrich your faith.

God is so immensely . . . . well, immense!! There are so many aspects of His character that it would take an infinite number of lifetimes to explore them all.

Life in the ring; wrestling with God

Whys and hows seem to fill my life. So many more questions pervade me than answers. I have been wrestling with God for years about a specific issue. My heart aches and I find myself exhausted.

As I was taking communion one Sunday and thanking God for who He is, I felt the warmth of His sweet comfort and mercy. He is so good.

I have often thought as many of us have, ‘why me?’ or ‘ why does this have to be so painful?’

Then, it hit me, something that I have known all along. No matter how painful, no matter how extreme the heartache . . . . HE IS WORTH IT!

The heartache that I experience is nothing compared to the great worth of knowing the Almighty God and my savior, Jesus Christ.

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

My Sunday school class is going through Job. I love this story. 

This is a man who lost everything; everything down to the last donkey.  You know the saying, ‘You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health!’ Even that was taken from him. He was left a shell of a man crumbled in a heap on the ground.

And he begins to wrestle with God and with his ‘friends’.

Round 1 = Job and Godwrestling-40804_960_720
Round 2 = Eliphaz and Job
Round 3 = Bildad and Job
Round 4 = Zophar and Job

 

Rinse and repeat. It’s like clothes in a dryer spinning around and around, but never seeming to get anywhere.

The injustice of it makes us all a little uncomfortable. Job was a good man who obeyed God. So why did God allow such awful things to happen to him?

Many have tried to explain or make sense of this story. I am not sure that anyone has been successful. I doubt it.

Why would a loving God allow so much tragedy in the life of an upright and righteous man that He dearly loved? Why would He allow His beloved child to be broken?

“Why is light given to those in misery,
    and life to the bitter of soul,
 to those who long for death that does not come,
    who search for it more than for hidden treasure,
 who are filled with gladness
    and rejoice when they reach the grave?”   Job 3:22-24

I am not sure that anyone has lamented more thoroughly than Job did.  Some may say that he was complaining. God couldn’t have been pleased with him acting this way . . . could He? We are supposed to praise God even in adversity, right?

It isn’t that simple.

Some may say that God is using Job in this story to show us what not to do in the face of a great trial.

I don’t think so.

Speaking as someone who has had many trials, I am convinced that there is nothing wrong with lamenting. I’ll even go a step further and say that as human beings it is necessary and unavoidable. And, God doesn’t count it against us.

We are human beings; finite and inadequate. The chasm between us and our Creator God is immense. He is transcendent. We are not. Therefore, there are many things in this life that transcend our understanding.

What if God designed human beings in such a way that we must wrestle with Him through pain and suffering? What if it is the only way?

What if to ‘suffer well’ is to wrestle with God? What if it is necessary to bring us to our knees?

God is not like a critic throughout the Old Testament explaining right from wrong. He is often just narrating. Many stories were told in a very matter-of-fact manner. He tells a story and leaves it to us to wrestle with it.

Why doesn’t God tell us what Job should or shouldn’t have thought or done, or what Eliphaz, Bildad, or Zophar should or shouldn’t have said when counseling him?

Why doesn’t He tell us the err of each person’s ways?

Why didn’t God always explain the shoulds & shouldn’ts in Scripture? And, why does He leave the ‘why’s for us to contemplate?

In Genesis 29, the story of Jacob, Rachel and Leah, God merely narrates. He never says what is right or wrong.

I wish God would have just said . . . . .

Jacob shouldn’t have picked someone to marry based on outward beauty.
Leah and her father shouldn’t have deceived Jacob into thinking she was Rachel.
Rachel should not have given her slave Bilhah to sleep with Jacob.
Leah should not have given her slave Zilpah to sleep with Jacob.
Jacob should not have slept with so many women!

Or, the story in Genesis 25 when Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. God could’ve said . . . .

Esau should not have sold his birthright just because he was hungry.
Jacob should not have deceived his father, Isaac, into thinking he was Esau

Or the story of Joseph and his brothers . . . .

Jacob should not have favored Joseph
Joseph should not have told his brothers about his dreams
Joseph’s brothers should not have sold him into slavery
Potipher’s wife should not have tried to seduce Joseph

In these particular stories, the rights and wrongs are obvious. However, in many other stories such as Job, they are not.

Why should we expect to understand everything in scripture? God is God, a unique and much greater being than us. Thinking that He would relate to us like one human to another doesn’t make sense. God is extremely NOT human! More importantly, we are extremely NOT God!!

I am convinced that wrestling with God is what we must do during times of suffering. It may be the only way to walk through pain that is obedient to God. Being tossed this way and that is moving us through the process of pain and growth. It is leading us to something better.

Wrestling with Him allows God to give us something more. Something extra that he promises us for persevering.

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.   James 1:12

I know that without the trials in my life, I would not be as in love with my God as I am today. And, I know that there is nothing greater in this life than being totally and helplessly in love with the One who created us, and His precious Son Jesus who saved us. 

The love that we can share with God far surpasses any romantic love, or love of family and friends that we often settle for here on earth.

So, I am grateful for the wrestling. I may be beat up and bloodied at the end of the match, but as I heal, I am always stronger, wiser, and a more powerful human being then before.

It is as if God imparts His power onto us when we wrestle with Him.

I praise God for my relationship with Him everyday! God and I have a good thing going. My times of wrestling with Him have only made me love Him more.

I wouldn’t give up any part of my journey that has allowed me to be where I am at this very moment for anything.

Are my days of wrestling with God over? Probably not.

No matter what lies ahead of me, whether it be better days or worse, I will follow Him; even if it means painful wrestling in the valley of the shadow of death.

I will follow God because . . . . HE IS WORTH IT!

No one is worthy, no, not one

“Have you renounced all confidence in your own moral or religious efforts and turned in faith completely to Jesus to be clothed with His righteousness? If so, you do have eternal life. But do you have it to the full? Are you experiencing both the peace of God that comes with salvation and the joy of God that comes with living by grace each day? If not, you may be saved, but you are living by works.”  -Jerry Bridges, Transforming Grace

It breaks my heart when people think that they are outside the grace of God; that they aren‘t worthy of grace. Because, no one is. No one is worthy, no, not one!

 “None is righteous, no, not one;
    no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”   Romans 3:10-12

My brother is very hard on himself.

He is very much like my dad who doesn’t accept failure from himself. ‘Failure is not an option,’ I can hear my dad say. And, as a result, my brother has always set the bar really high for himself.

The problem with that mentality is that we will fail. It is a mathematical certainty. Our fallenness necessitates it.

What if we set the bar so high that we never reach it? We feel like a failure. We end up focusing on what we aren’t doing instead of God’s plan in what we are doing.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   Jeremiah 29:11

Sometimes we need to lower the bar. Possibly lower it a lot! Not because we’re losers, but because we are human beings not gods.  

I have a really low bar, I always have. Having a low bar allows me to exceed it daily because I am reaching for the really high bar set by my precious savior, Jesus Christ. I am not saying that we should all have a really low bar. I am saying that we need to do our best and let God do the rest.

In the wise words of my brother, Greg, “God’s bar is all that matters, and when we don’t reach it, Christ bridges the gap.”

It (Grace) contains the essence of the gospel as a drop of water can contain the image of the sun.”  Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?

Where would I be without God’s grace? I shudder at the thought!

I know what a wretch I am . . . . believe me!

  • Do I pray perfectly or regularly enough? No.
  • Am I in His Word enough? No.
  • Do I love others enough? NO!
  • Am I focused on making disciples enough? NO!!!!
  • Do I love God enough?! Not even close!!!

But I take His grace and let it cover me. His grace is sufficient for me (1 Corinthians 12:9).

The more that I really understand this ‘grace’ thing, the more precious my relationship with God is to me. And, the more that His Word is becoming my very life and breath.

As I take in more grace, I become more aware of the huge chasm between God and myself! I realize how small and insignificant I am compared to an all-powerful God! The smaller I get in my mind, the bigger He becomes.

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”
-C.S. Lewis

Therefore, I exalt God and am increasingly grateful for the price Jesus paid for me. I don’t deserve His amazing grace. Not even a little!

There is a difference between receiving grace and making excuses. We know that God doesn’t want us to be lazy. However, we can’t use our shortcomings and imperfections as a reason for not accepting His grace. In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! He is offering you grace, take it.

You don’t have to be the perfect husband/wife.
You don’t have to be able to fix everything.
You don’t have to be the perfect worker.
You don’t have to be the perfect mom/dad.
You don’t have to be the perfect missionary.
You don’t have to be the perfect student.

Just run the race marked out for you.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us  Hebrews 12:1

The weight of the world may be on your shoulders. You may be a ‘people pleaser’ and take care of everybody. So, who takes care of you? You are not the top of the food chain, so let Him care for you and give you rest.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30

God says that He is gentle and humble in heart. So, quit beating yourself up and be the treasure that you are!

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”
-C.S. Lewis

Blessed are the poor in spirit; A Christian perspective on depression

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Psalm 40:1-3

Matthew 5 says, blessed are those who are poor in spirit for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

Do we really believe that those who are poor in spirit are blessed? Or do we believe that those who are poor in spirit must be cursed?

People with depression are our modern day ‘lepers’. They are often outcast, and judged. They are also blamed; they must have done something to cause it.

Depression is the three headed monster that no one wants to acknowledge. It might as well be the plague. The words depression and anxiety make us squirm. Our society is much more comfortable with people who have cancer, diabetes or heart disease than a mental illness such as depression.

The Christian community is no different. And we may even be worse. There is as stigma with depression that says that we must be doing something wrong. This was the case even in the story of Job. His friends assumed that he must have done something to deserve such calamity.  

However, even the most devout Christians can suffer from depression. Often times, it is something that happens to us not something that happens because of us. And, we can’t always reason it away.

Brothers and sisters in Christ with depression need compassion, prayer, and love. Using cliches, or giving unsolicited advice, judgments, or opinions can be cruel. We must not be naive about depression. It can happen to the best of us.

My story

At 33, I was sick all time, 40 lbs overweight, depressed and I had no idea why. I had eaten pretty well all my life (so I thought), so why did I feel so crappy all the time? I had exercised 4 to 5 days a week since high school, so why couldn’t I lose any weight? I had 2 beautiful daughters, an amazing husband, a loving church family and great friends, so why was I so depressed?

I went to numerous doctors, none of which could help me. I tried just about all of the antidepressants at one time or another.

At one point, a doctor told me that I had bipolar (which I did not) and put me on Zyprexa. So, my brain pretty much turned to mush.  I might as well have been catatonic.

Another doctor put me on the antidepressant Effexor which is known to increase anxiety, a side effect that she neglected to tell me. This doctor increased my dose each time I told her that I wasn’t feeling any better, and I started having panic attacks.

My body and mind were a wreck and I was spiraling out of control.

A couple of years prior, I had started my own business as a wedding photographer. As much as I loved the work, it was very stressful. During wedding season, the workload was enormous, and the pressure was intense. Between the stress of the job, 2 little kids, severe clinical depression, and the everyday demands of life, I was a ticking time bomb.

My last wedding of the year was in October, so I forced myself to keep it together until then.  As my assistant, who was a good friend of mine, and I walked to the car from the reception hall that evening, I started to sob. The very next day I went to the hospital.

Lights out . . . . I was done.

I never thought that I would find myself in such a place as a mental ward at a hospital. It felt like I was in some kind of Sandra Bullock movie. The door to my room was locked, the walls were bare, and everything had been taken from me. My head was spinning. It was the worst night of my life.

That was almost 10 years ago.

I have been reflecting back on that time because several of my friends right now are dealing with depression. My heart breaks for them.

At the same time, I am almost perplexed.

Each one of these depressed friends are deeply in love with Jesus. These are people that are living out their faith. They are the real deal. They are not people who don’t know the Lord or have necessarily strayed off the path. They are not casual Christians.

It just goes to show that faithful followers of Christ will suffer. Jesus told us that we would.

We don’t belong here. The more we become like Christ, the more separate and set apart from this world we will be. And it is lonely. We know where our home is, and it isn’t here.

We are strangers. We are aliens. We are not of this world.
(Not of This World, song by Petra, 1983)

As I wrote in an October, 2015 blog on Anguish called Jesus Wept, many of the faithful people of the bible experienced deep sorrow and anguish. David, Hannah, Nehemiah, Elijah, Paul and even Jesus.

Then he (Jesus) said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Matthew 26:38

Depression is real and it is dark. Depression looks different for everybody. Only the light and hope that Jesus Christ brings can save us from the darkness.

 I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.   John 12:46

In addition to praying for people suffering with depression, this is what I would say to them as someone who has been there.

Don’t accept shame.

Shame is a tool of Satan. He will dish it to you, but, don’t take it. If you are a follower of Christ, shame has no place with you.

“Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.”   Romans 10:11

“Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.”   Isaiah 54:4

Keep your eyes on truth

The sobering reality for me so many years ago was that medical professionals weren’t going to help me. I had to find my own way to survive the depression.

So, I bought some wall hangings and plaques with scripture on them. I am a visual person and had to get God’s Word in front of my eyes. I knew that I couldn’t trust my feelings and sometimes even my mind, and definitely not the health care professionals. Even in my shattered mental and emotional state I knew that I had to trust God.

I put a wall hanging in my bathroom that pictured Jesus with the lost sheep and the other 99 in the distance (Luke 15:4). It said, Lost no more. I was very much lost, so it was a powerful reminder that Christ would always find me . . . . even in the merky depths of depression.

I also had one that said Be still and know that I am God. The scriptures I chose were ones where God spoke to me and said, just sit there, and I’ll do the rest. I’ve got ya.

The only way that I survived that time was by keeping my eyes on ‘thy rod and thy staff’. It was Psalm 23. I visualized Christ leading me through the valley of the shadow of death. All I had to do was keep my eyes on Him.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of ,the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The Word of God was no longer just some words on a page. It was life to me. It was my parachute as I plummeted to the depths. I couldn’t have made it without those powerful words, and other scriptures that I placed strategically around my home.

Ask people for help.

There may be a voice inside that will scream ‘no! you can figure this out on your own!’ However, we were never meant to live in isolation. Sometimes we just can’t do it on our own. And the longer we deny this fact, the longer we stay stuck.

When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.   Exodus 17:12

Remember also that when you ask somebody for help, it not only blesses you, but it blesses them. It affords them the opportunity to serve God by ‘loving their neighbor’. Don’t deny others the opportunity to store up treasures in heaven through you.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.   Hebrews 10:24-25

Flush the Formula

In life, A + B does not always = C. There is no equation to life. The only thing that we can count on 100% of the time is God. Following the law does not necessarily keep bad things from happening.

This life is not just. If it were, the formula to have a successful, happy and fulfilled life would work every time. However, it doesn’t. Only eternity, through God, is perfectly just. We either get our reward here, in this life, or in heaven, to enjoy for eternity.

Answers, explanations, or reasons may elude you. Sometimes, as in the story of Job, we cannot wrap our minds around what is actually happening. Depression is complex and comes in many forms. Sometimes causes are obvious and sometimes they are not. We must acknowledge that there are things that we cannot know. So, don’t beat your head against the wall trying to figure it out.

The answer is God

During my darkest times, I pictured myself hanging over the deepest, darkest canyon. God was holding on to me and keeping me from falling to my death and destruction. It was just Him and me, hand in hand. He was all I needed. He saved me . . . again.

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I hope in Him!”   Lamentations 3:22-24

Recently, my family and I were talking with my mom about her giving and what her passions were. She kept asking us what we thought she should do with her money, and how she should serve God best. We discussed it with her for a while. But finally I had to answer her this way:

“we don’t have the answer. The only way to get the true answer is to ask the One who holds all things together. Only God has the answer. God is the answer.”


 

I cannot give my friends the answer to why they are depressed. Or how to get out of it. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know where the answer lies. God is the answer to everything. God knows my next steps and yours. And He is for us, not against us.

If God is for us, who can be against us?  Romans 8:31

In the wise words of my awesome brother, Greg, “Wherever I am headed, either to better days or worse, I know that My Redeemer lives and that He is all I need.” Amen and Amen!

Hope in the age of violence; How should Christians respond to the terror and violence in our country and around the world?

As I was watching Dr. Oz and folding laundry last Wednesday afternoon, ‘Breaking News’ cut in to the station just as the show was ending.

‘Uh, oh,’ I thought. The live video appeared.

It was an all too familiar scene: a public place filled with cop cars and police officers in tactical gear; people lined up coming out of buildings with their hands in the air; paramedics and people on stretchers filling the streets.

What happened in San Bernadino, California is tragic. I can’t imagine the grief and sorrow the families must be going through. Not to mention the fear that the community must be experiencing.

My heart breaks when I hear the story of a school, a mall, or another ‘soft’ target under attack. Those intent on hurting people seem to be targeting common people who were just going about their business. When they got up to go to work that day, they had no idea it would be their last.

I have tried to imagine what I would be feeling if a mass shooting happened in my town. How would I process it?

How would I be feeling if the Wal-mart five minutes from my house was on the news because a shooter was gunning down people there; or, an office building along US-31; or, my church just down 146th street; or, the Regal 17 movie theater where I recently saw Jurassic World.

It could happen anywhere.

To be honest, I don’t know how to feel about another tragedy. I am torn between being filled with  compassion and sympathy and feeling annoyed and angry. I am worn out with tragedy. The whole country is, I suspect.

It seems as though about every week or two we hear about another shooting. In the previous week it was a shooting in Texas. I can still see the face of the gunman with wild hair and a crazed look in his eyes.

And before that was the attack on Paris.

I remember Columbine so many years ago. It was April 20th, 1999. 12 students and 1 teacher were killed after a couple students went on a violent rampage. It was this nation’s first big school shooting where students were killed, at least in recent history.

Our nation was so naive and innocent up until that fateful day.

Gone are the days of feeling like our kids are safe when we send them to school. Gone are the days of feeling safe going to work or to the mall or to a movie or to a concert. Gone are the days when we could drop our kids off at college and know that they would be safe.

Gone is the innocence of the ‘wonder years’ in this country.

Maybe, we as a country were ignorant. ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ they say. Little did we know how drastically our country would change in the decades to come.

I remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20 children and 6 adults were killed. It crushed me to my core. I know many people across the nation experienced the same sorrow.

How can this happen?
How could someone hurt little children? . . . . practically babies?!
What is wrong with people?!

And then there is terrorism. The violence in Paris is a sobering reminder that it is not just the U.S. that is under attack, it is the whole world.

No one is safe anymore. Maybe we never were.

So, what do we do with all of this? How am I as a Christian supposed to react to these events? How is the body of Christ supposed to answer to the societal woes of the day?

We could . . . .

  • become depressed and cynical
  • become paranoid and paralyzed with fear
  • get up in arms about politics and foreign policy
  • stick our heads in the sand and pretend these events aren’t happening

As followers of Christ, we cannot let these events make us depressed or cynical. Why? Because we have too great a hope in Jesus Christ our Lord. We have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb! That has not changed, nor will it ever. No matter what we see on the news.

They can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.   Luke 20:36

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.   Hebrews 10:23

We need to show the world that our God is still the Lord of the universe. He is still The Creator, The Healer, The Comforter, The Lover of souls, and the Great I AM. He is unchanging. What a great comfort that is!

“I the Lord do not change”   Malachi 3:6

Neither can we be gripped by fear. God is still on His throne. And He is still the Lord over all.

So do not fear, for I am with you;
   do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.   Isaiah 41:10

He tells us not to be afraid–He’s got this! The world may fall apart, but we are His, and nothing can touch us.

For in the day of trouble
   He will keep me safe in his dwelling;
He will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
   and set me high upon a rock.  Psalm 27:5

Some are called to stand up and work the political/governmental system to bring about change and solutions. God bless those people. I am not one of them.

Those who are, must guard against appearing self-righteous. We don’t have all the answers, so let’s not pretend that we do.

And, for the world’s terrorism and violence, there may not be clear answers. In fact, I am quite sure there aren’t. At least not ones that will likely satisfies us.

God warned us of the trouble to come on this earth. We shouldn’t be surprised.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.   Matthew 24:6-8

Nor can we just ignore the situation. We must show love and compassion when tragedy strikes. The parable of the good Samaritan tells us that we cannot just walk on by.

Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.   Philippians 2:4

Therefore, I won’t become depressed and cynical. I won’t give in to fear. And, I won’t stick my head in the sand.

So, what is a Christian to do?

The answer is never far from the old rugged cross. Where Christ paid the ultimate price.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,Holy Bible And Rosary Beads
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.

The answer lies in knowing who the true victor is. We know how this thing ends. God wins in the end. And God is good. Therefore, good wins!

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15:57

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings   Revelation 17:14

We must ask ourselves → “What is God calling me to do in response to the events of the last few weeks?”

Pray. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

I pray when I don’t know what else to do. I pray when there seems to be no answers. I pray when I need the comfort of a loving Father.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”   John 16:33

Our God is a big God. He is way bigger than anything that happens on earth. He has overcome the world! Halleluiah!! Nothing is too big for our God.

Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You,  Jeremiah 32:17

Remember this Christmas season that we have good news of a great joy! For all the evils of the world, a baby was born. A Savior, that is Christ the Lord! Because of His great sacrifice and love for us, the things of this world no longer have power over us. Amen!

Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.   Luke 2:10-11

Where Does My Help Come From?

I woke up several days ago in a fog. The motivation to get out of bed just wasn’t there. My brain protested consciousness as I blinked my weary eyes open. The extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings didn’t seem to be helping. The bright sunlight made me squint as I slid my way out of the covers.

Ugh! It’s Monday!

I managed to get myself dressed and even worked out. That should clear my head, or so I thought. Nope. I came downstairs to an empty and eerily silent house. I sat at the computer and stared at all the things I had open from the night before.

As I stared at the words in front of me, my mind was blank. I couldn’t write a single word. Then the thought hit me. Everything that I have written so far, this book, is all garbage! How can I begin to talk about the things of God? WhoStressed man profile vector am I?!!

My head was a jumble of thoughts. So many things to do. Today was the day that I had time to write. The pressure was on.

Crickets.

Ok, Plan B → coffee. Over the river and through the woods to Starbuck’s and back I went! Yes, I’m a Starbucks snob, don’t judge me!

Back at home with a warm, frothy cup of happiness in hand, I confidently sat down at the computer. This was going to do it, yes, the juices will be flowing now.

And, I sat, and I sat. Waiting, waiting. . . .  aaaany minute now. With an impatient sigh, I drummed my fingers on the desk.

Nothing brilliant did come from my hand that day. Shocker! Not one poetic sentence, not one brilliant thought, not one project completed. The words just weren’t there.

The Holy Spirit moves when He moves. Who am I to try to force His hand? God has given me something to say. He has given me a message to share. And I have said from the beginning that if they are not His words, than I don’t want to write.

It is on these frustrating days that the enemy takes notice of me.

“Ooooooo . . . opportunity,” he says. “Let’s kick her while she’s down.” And, Satan’s arrows start to fly.

I often fight discouragement. The enemy knows how to push my buttons, he knows where he can get a foothold in my life. He knows how he can be most effective with me. He is cunning and subtle and ruthless.

I am of the sort that has always battled the demons of discouragement. They seem to  be ready at any moment to take me down. We all have our demons, as they say. And, this was mine.

Down, down, down, into the ground he pounds me.

Would my platform ever get off the ground?
What if the words stop coming?
What was I thinking when I thought that I could write a book, much less sell it?!
I can’t do this, I just can’t!

Satan likes to play with me. Discouragement is his toy of choice. He hands it to me and I just take it. I am a fool for believing the lies if even for just a moment. I am such an easy target. He knows it. I know it. God knows it.

When I was younger, I never thought very highly of myself. I didn’t have a lot of encouragement during my adolescent/teenage years. I don’t remember hearing a lot of

“it’s going to be ok”
“you can do it”
“hang in there”

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of divorce.

When a family unit dissolves, the kids tend to lose their cheerleaders. I very much did. And when you don’t have cheerleaders growing up, you believe the lies of the enemy, you are easily decieved. I have been easily discouraged my entire life.

How do I make sure that discouragement doesn’t stop me from loving God and doing Kingdom work in my life?

What do I do when the big ‘D’ is heavy on my back?
Where does my help come from?

Waterfall in the forestI lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
-Psalm 121

Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord. It comes from above and all around me. God is always with me, reminding me that I am His, reminding me that I am deeply loved. And, He reminds me that I am a daughter of the King!

Discouragement and fear are not of God. He doesn’t deal in those emotions. He brings good news! And, He commands us to be courageous.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:9

When I am discouraged, if I am still and listen, I can hear my Father’s still, soft voice.

Lean in, I hear Him say.

Lean in to Me when the storms rage around you
Lean in to Me when fear and discouragement grip you
Lean in to Me when the silence nearly crushes you
Lean in to Me when your mind is a mess
Lean in to Me when your heart is broken

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61:1-3

So when you are beaten down and discouraged, lean in to God, and know where your help comes from.

Christ be all around me

Above and below me, before and behind me, in every eye that sees me, Christ be all around me. These are the beautiful words from a song by Leeland that I recently heard at a Michael W Smith concert. Doesn’t that just say it all?

Our Lord and savior is everything. He is above all and before all.  He isn’t the first thing, He is EVERYTHING. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, and everything in between. Christ be all around me. That isfilepicker-e6qpKbXRmqiuPntnYpag_god_over_everything my prayer.

God, the Father is benevolent, merciful, and compassionate yet He is all-powerful, and just. He is in all things and over all things.

For the past few years, God has ignited a fire within me that I cannot quench. He has been filling me with His grace, goodness, and the power of His Word.  I have been absolutely raw to receiving more of Him with eagerness and anticipation. Sometimes all that I can see is Him, and He is beautiful, and He is enough.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,” Ephesians 3:20

At 42, sometimes I ask myself, ‘what have I been doing all my life? Why has it taken me so long to see how big and beyond measure God is?! What has kept me blind all these years to a God that ached with love for me? How did I not see? How did I not know? How did I not hear? Why did I not listen?

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God.”  Isaiah 40:28

How many time have you heard someone say, ‘I was raised in a Christian home’? Many of us have said and heard that. It is the story of the lives of numerous Americans. I, too, grew up in a Christian home. My family was heavily involved in a church, yet my mind wasn’t really renewed (Romans 12:12), and my eyes weren’t opened (Psalm 119:18), and I did not seek to partake of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). I was a Christian, but I wasn’t sold out to Christ.

So, the question crossed my mind; can a young person have a deep relationship with the heavenly Father and an understanding of how great He is? Can a teenager live like Christ is their everything? Can someone grasp the difference between the things of this world and the things of an all-powerful and mighty God while they are still young? Can a young person have right priorities; God first, and then everything else? Or, do we, as humans, have to go through 30 years of life before we can grasp the enormity of the things of God?  That is my question.

If I think about those questions through the lens of what I know about God, my answer would be yes, of course. God certainly would give us the ability to see truth at any age. We are His creation. It seems to me that truth would be a more natural part of us than the ways of the world. Because we were created by God in His likeness. So, where do things go wrong? Where do we stop believing in true things and start believing the lies of this world? Where or when did we fall asleep?

I am sadly aware that most people probably never see a God bigger than their church building. To us, God is as big as we need Him to be. If we don’t need Him, he is not on our radar. If we are going through life and things are going pretty well, then we tend to we_have_a_big_godcompartmentalized Him. We don’t really need a big God so we put Him in the same category as family, jobs, health, school, and whatever else our lives consist of. The word, faith doesn’t mean much, and God is, for the most part, forgotten.

God is forgotten until the you-know-what hits the fan! Crisis hits and we are broken. We are stripped of everything that we love and hold dear. And all of a sudden, God is the only thing keeping us from falling into the abyss. He has to be bigger or we won’t make it.

As I look back on trials in my life, some very recent, I realize that I needed my God to be everything. I needed an ENORMOUS God. At some of the darkest times of my life I would picture myself dangling above a huge canyon or valley. The only thing keeping me from falling to my death was the mighty hand of God. And He never let go. He was big enough to single-handedly hold me and give me exactly what I needed. If He weren’t a big God, I wouldn’t have made it.

Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell your storm how big your God is”

So, why didn’t I get it that our God was so much bigger than we could ever think or imagine when I was young? Why did I have to wait until now to recognize how big our God is?

The verse, Proverbs 22:6,  “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.,” comes to mind.

Are we training our kids up in the things of God? What are our priorities when it comes to our parenting?  How are our kids going to see the importance of a God-centered life unless we show them?

Kids need to be told the truth of God before and above everything else . . . above their education, above sports, and above clubs and activities. Yes, I said it. God, and the teaching of His Word should come before education and sports.

Education can be an idol. Anything can be an idol when we put it before God. We think it noble when we spend so much of our time and energy lobbying for education reform and stressing about it. We have made education a God. Our schools cram more and more facts and figures into our kids’ schoolday than ever before. And our kids come home exhausted. And, after the school year is over, what have they learned that is eternal?

Sports and other activities can be an idol. Where is our time and energy spent? How many American families run around every afternoon and evening carting kids to this activity or that sport?  How many of us have our weekends tied up by games and tournaments. Even our Sundays are filled.

When is church time? When is family time? When is the time we pass on our legacy of faith to the next generation?

The truth is, our kids aren’t going to ‘get it’ if we don’t make God number 1 in our homes. It starts with parents. Our children will see a small God if that is what we show them. And if we show them nothing at all about God,  then they will live for the world. They may come to know the Lord when they are older or they may not.  If God is not a priority to us, then He’s not going to be a priority to them.

The world speaks loudly to our kids. It speaks through absent fathers, broken families, and childhood abuses. The world speaks loudly through public schools, the media, and their peers.  The world speaks loudly about the issues of pain, suffering, and morality and how to handle them. It is like the snake luring Eve to the forbidden fruit. And, they will listen to whoever is loud enough.

If the world is the only one speaking loudly to them, then the things of this world are what they will hear and learn.

So, the answer to my question of whether young people can see a big God depends on us. Will be speak louder in the name of Christ? Will we be bold and show the next generation that our God is more than enough?

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,”  Ephesians 1:18