Today I turn 40 years old. To some, this seems so young. To others it feels like a far away and ancient place they will not see for so long that it’s not even on the horizon. 40 has been a hard pill for me to swallow. Many of my friends are looking forward to the new decade and all that 40 has to offer. For me, life seems to be slipping through my fingers faster than sand. My babies are growing up and growing independent. My oldest is almost in middle school. My baby is going to kindergarten. The season of having little ones at home all day which lasted for over a decade is coming to a close this fall. So I’ve been on the struggle bus with this 40th birthday.

But, I’ve decided many times before in my life that gratitude is a much better approach to life than complaint. So I’ve taken some time for reflection these past few weeks to ponder all that God has taught me over these 40 years. My mother knew when I was a young child that I would someday be a teacher after some fashion, so in true form, here’s 40 lessons that I consider indispensable for life.

  1. Don’t underestimate yourself and what you can accomplish with a little hard work.
  2. Gratitude is essential for a healthy perspective in life. It is a choice, a practice, not a feeling.
  3. Age is just a number! (Thanks, Dad!)
  4. Words matter greatly. With them, you hold the power to bring life into someone else’s life. It costs you nothing to be generous with kind words, and you can literally speak life into another person’s heart, mind, and identity.
  5. Do your best to believe the best about others – there’s so much we don’t know and understand about what someone else is going through.
  6. Approach conflicts with humility. Starting with what I did wrong usually yields a better outcome than bringing an accusation. “Lead with love,” (a quote from Lara Price.)
  7. Don’t take yourself, or your life, too seriously – laugh and play often. (Another good one from Dad.)
  8. Life was meant to be lived in community. Isolation is the devil’s playground. Find good people and do life together.
  9. Eliminate the words “I can’t” from your vocabulary, unless you are using them to set needed boundaries in your relationships or your schedule. Eliminate them in a self-limiting way.
  10. The easy way out doesn’t usually end up being easy… in fact it usually comes back to bite you! So take the time to do it right the first time.
  11. Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. I said it. Without him, life is meaningless.
  12. Never leave the mixer running while you are cracking your eggs into the bowl. If a shell falls in, your batter is doomed.
  13. Always make sure you have a good grip on the pot lid when you go to drain the noodles.
  14. Contentment is better than comparison. Comparison is the thief of joy. Focusing on what we have instead of what we lack yields contentment.
  15. Functioning in your gifts and strengths daily is important for success and fullfillment in your career.
  16. We have access to the power of Christ through the Holy Spirit every moment of every day. We don’t necessarily need to pray and ask for things like peace or joy. We have access to these through Him at any moment. Though asking is often for our benefit, because it realigns our will with his.
  17. Confession prayer is more for me than for God. He already knows my sin. But I need to acknowledge it and ask for forgiveness (which he has already given.)
  18. Obedience is essential. “Blessing follows obedience.” (Quote from Ron Grubb)
  19. Our understanding of what is really going on in the big picture of life is incredibly limited. It’s best to trust that God knows what He is doing. 
  20. Don’t hurry through life. A jam-packed schedule isn’t life-giving. It may give the allusion of giving life, but what we really need is authentic connection with others – not a million events surrounded by people we barely relate to on a surface level.
  21. Simplicity is better than excess. In everything. Too many possessions becomes chaos in your home. Too many appointments creates exhaustion. Too much of even good things is still too much.
  22. Serve others regularly. Nothing gets me out of a negative spiral like taking time to serve another human being in some way.
  23. Bring the cross into view each and every day. Acknowledge what Jesus did, for me, because of his love. (Thanks Mom.)
  24. God loves me as much on my worst day as he does on my best. His love is totally unconditional. And this is my example for how to love others.
  25. There is protection for me in honoring and obeying my husband. Letting him lead is important. (Another lesson from Mom.)
  26. Life really isn’t about me. I’m part of God’s story, and I’m here to share his love with others.
  27. Every good thing I have is a gift from God. There is nothing good in me, except what Christ has done in me.
  28. Getting an education is a privilege. (I tell my children this at least weekly as they complain about going to school.)
  29. Children need parents, not friends. They need older, wiser people to guide them and help them with boundaries.
  30. When I speak, I must combine both truth and love for my listener. One without the other is not beneficial. (A lesson from Pastor Mitch.)
  31. Never go to the grocery store without a list. And try to go as infrequently as possible, because that’s how too many things fall in the cart.
  32. Never underestimate the power of a snack and a nap.
  33. You only get one body on this earth, so take good care of it! (Dad, I realize now how true this is!)
  34. Sabbath/Rest is essential. You will work better if you take time away from work. Make space for margin in your life!
  35. Everyone should own an electric toothbrush. They are so far superior to regular brushes.
  36. My God is personal. He meets us in the middle of ordinary circumstances. In our despair, in our joy, at church or in the middle of the kitchen. He’s not a God who is far off. He cares deeply about our every moment.
  37. God cares more about our character than our comfort. If we are suffering, we can be assured that he is creating the image of Christ in us through our trials. He loves us too much to let us stay in weaknesses.
  38. You are not a prisoner, nor a victim, of your thoughts. While negative thoughts can nag away at us incessantly, we do have the power to change our minds and form positive thought patterns. New thought patterns take time, but repeatedly meditating on a Bible verse or the right thought can destroy a negative thought pattern and create a new healthy one.
  39. It’s ok to fall short. No one said you had to be enough. Our mistakes are a way for God to showcase his grace. Our weaknesses are a place for him to show his strength. Others can connect and relate to your failures more than your successes, so don’t hide them. Let God use them to show himself off.
  40. I don’t have to earn God’s love. I don’t have to strive through life trying to make myself a better person for him. His goal for me is not behavior modification. It’s relationship. Through relationship with him, the goal is to become more like Jesus Christ, not “the best version of myself.” The goal is to walk closely in relationship with him, not to “live my best life.” My best life is waiting for me on the other side of death, in eternity with Jesus. Nothing here on earth can compare. I know that I am blessed beyond measure in this life, yet that all pales in comparison to what awaits me in heaven.


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Do You Want to Get Well?

In my quest for freedom from back pain there has been a lot of hard work. I’ve been rowing for three months now. There were many days that I didn’t feel like doing it. At all. But, the payoff has been huge. I was able to go to my mom’s this weekend and do very labor-intensive yardwork, only coming away with minor aches and pains. Praise Jesus! Before, this type of labor would have left me with debilitating pain for months. I am so thankful to be feeling well — it has been worth the work!

When I think about this journey, I am reminded of the man Jesus healed by the pool in John 5. The man has been an invalid, laying by this pool, for 38 years. That’s almost the whole of my life. When Jesus meets him, he asks him this question, “Do you want to get well?” This seems like a wild question to ask someone who has been laying invalid for 38 years! Of course he wants to get well! Or does he want to BE well?

You see, rather than answering Jesus with the resounding “YES” we expect, he immediately makes an excuse. “There’s no one to help me into the pool.” Ahh, how many times have I made a similar excuse? Sure, I want to BE well, but there’s no one to help me GET well. So many people, myself included, want to BE healthy, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there. Or we want to be a mature Christian, but we don’t want to put in the effort to get there.

Despite the man’s excuse and misdirection from the question, Jesus chooses to heal him, immediately. His power is more than enough for the man’s healing. But there is work on the man’s part that must be done in this healing process. Jesus gives him three instructions: Get up. Take up your mat. Walk.

Can you even imagine the amount of effort and faith that it must have taken for this man, an invalid of nearly 4 decades, to stand up? To lift his mat? To take those first steps? What if Jesus had offered him healing, but the man chose to remain in his crippled state? What if he continued to be unwilling to engage in his healing process? What if he just sat there? He would never have walked into the healing that Jesus offered him.

This is where so many of us live spiritually. Jesus has given us eternal life through his death, and, by the Holy Spirit, everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). He has given us the means to BE well spiritually, to be right with God. Are we going to continue sitting in our crippled state, or are we going to walk forward into healing?

Do you want to BE well? Then you have to want to GET well. Jesus has done everything to conquer sin and death so that we are no longer crippled by those. (This is not a matter of earning our salvation through works, or being perfect enough to atone for our own sin.) But we won’t stumble into holiness or patience or faith or forgiveness or humility. Getting well spiritually is a process just like getting well physically. We have to put in the effort just like the man in John 5: Get up. Take up your mat. Start walking.

What this looks like for me is going hard after spiritual wellness by tackling study in the Word in areas where I am weak. I chose rowing because it would target my core, where I was weak, and it is actively strengthening me in that area. If there is an area of your life, spiritual or physical, where you need to be strengthened, follow Jesus’ instructions and go for it. Remember that it is his power that unlocks your healing, but it is your effort that is required to walk out that healing.

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Filthy Rags: An Easter Reflection

Photo by Pisit Heng on Unsplash

As Easter was approaching this year, I’ve been contemplating the magnitude of Jesus sacrifice anew. It is almost impossible not to sanitize the crucifixion narrative, because the reality of it is so horrific. Even the sanitized version is hard to contemplate. Jesus was a real person, who suffered real pain, who felt real fear and real stress over the torture he suffered. And he did it for me. That’s the part that wrecks me every year. He did it for me. The thought of anyone suffering for any reason is hard for my heart to bear, but the reality that he suffered his torment out of love for me brings me to tears.

The verse that I’ve been dwelling on during this Lenten season (like the Easter version of advent at Christmas, Lent is when we prepare for Easter) is a phrase from Isaiah 64: “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.” Earlier this spring, God convicted my heart of pride and a sinful desire for my own fame. This verse reminds me that even on my very best day, I am not enough to earn true righteousness on my own. All of the good things that I do are just like filthy rags compared to the surpassing righteousness and perfection of my Savior Jesus Christ.

This week I completed my deep clean of my kitchen rags. About every three months I soak them in a super-duper laundry detergent so that all the deeply absorbed gross dirty mess can come out of them. What appears in the water after this soak is pretty gross. This is such a great visual for what I’m talking about.

My righteousness = these filthy rags. Gross. There is no room for pride here.

When I realize the depths of my own sinfulness and my complete and utter inability to ever be good enough on my own, my heart is overwhelmed with thanks that Jesus did indeed pay it all for me. And through my faith in him, I can be clothed in his righteousness. Paul writes about this in Philippians 3. He presents his amazing pedigree and spotless record when it comes to the law. But in the end, he realizes none of that counts compared to the righteousness Christ offers us.

He says, “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 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.”

This is what I celebrate this Easter. Even though I am a lost and hopeless sinner, I can have a righteousness that is not of my own that comes from being perfect, but I can have a righteousness through faith in Christ Jesus. His astonishing sacrifice makes that possible. It hurts my heart to think of all that he suffered for me, so that I could receive his righteousness as a free gift. And all I can really give him as thanks is myself. My life lived for him, for his glory.

Whether you don’t know Jesus at all, or you’ve been walking with him for years, remember this Easter that he’s not asking for your righteous acts. He’s not asking for your perfection. He just wants you. Your salvation is free, unearned and paid in full because of his loving sacrifice.

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The Hamster Wheel

This winter held some very busy weeks and weekends for my family. I am a staunch protector of our time for margin and rest. But there are seasons where the schedule gets away from me, and we find ourselves over-committed. In these seasons, life begins to feel like running on a hamster wheel. I’m doing all the things, and I’m getting really tired, but I’m not actually going anywhere. And the more I spin, the less productive I become. But the list never gets shorter, so I just keep on spinning, trying to catch up. Am I the only one who feels this way about life?

Surely there must be a better way.

After a couple of months on the hamster wheel, I said to myself, “Enough is enough.” I am taking a day off.

How could you possibly do that? How could you step away from your to-do list knowing that with each passing day, hour, moment, it only grows longer and longer? Taking a day off means a day for all of the things to continue accumulating into an even larger pile for tomorrow. How can taking a day off be the remedy for the hamster wheel when it just makes more work for the next day?

I know, I know.

But here’s the thing. If we only rest when the work is done, we will never rest. Because the work is never done. God doesn’t tell us that we must first earn our rest by completing our to-do list, or by working 40 hours, or 60, or whatever insane amount of hours you’re working. He doesn’t mandate that our homes be spotless before we take a break. He doesn’t require all our projects to be wrapped up first. No, by example, God mandated rest, for an entire day, and he commanded it for us as well. Why? He certainly didn’t need the rest… He’s God! But, WE do desperately NEED rest in our lives. Resting is a good practice, regardless of where we are at in our massive to-do lists!

So I took my day off. To-do list, be quiet. Mess, you can wait. Work, I will get to you tomorrow. What a wild idea, you guys!

But guess what happened when I obeyed God’s mandate to rest? He provided.

I had no way of knowing what the next day was going to hold when I threw caution to the wind that Monday and took the day off. Tuesday should have held plenty of things. But, God gave me a surprise snow day. Wait, what? Your kids were home, adding to your chaos and this was somehow provision? Yes, in fact, it was. Because it meant that the hours I spend providing the mom taxi services were suspended for the day, and it meant that the two older children were home to entertain the preschooler, and it meant that I could DIVE IN, refreshed from my day off, with no interruptions, drop offs, lunches to pack, etc, and tackle my massive list. And it was an incredibly productive day. Because I chose the rest that God knew I so badly needed, he provided a way for me to accomplish all that I needed to do.

How often do you rest? Do you have a day off? Or is every minute of every weekday filled with activity? Is every weekend booked up from now until eternity? Do you ever have days where you just leave the schedule open so you can do nothing? If you haven’t tried this, you need to. I know that some people out there just “love to be busy.” That’s so great, for you. But here’s the thing, just because we love something, that doesn’t make it good for us in boundless amounts. Case in point, I love ice cream. But if I consume boundless amounts of it because I love it, I will have major problems in my body. You may love to be busy, but the reality is, your body was created to have one day out of seven that is just for rest. Period.

When I take a step back and look at the typical schedule for most American families, I am, to be totally transparent, filled with horror. I would never ever want to be that busy! Now, don’t get me wrong, I am an incredibly productive person. I love to get things done, and I really do get a lot done. I am not a “sitting around all day” type of person! I have my mother to thank for this. She passed the gene to me. We are high-output, productive people. But we are not burned out, usually. Because we do protect our margin. We do make time for rest. We do say NO to things that overcrowd our family schedule. We limit our children to one activity at a time (such as a sport, club, team, group), and they are not allowed to begin an activity until they are in first grade, and fully adjusted to going to school full-time. Call me crazy. That’s fine. But I refuse to have my children’s lives overcrowded by too many sports practices and activities AND HAVE THEM THINK THAT THIS LIFESTYLE IS NORMAL. We need time for family. We need time to rest. We need time to take care of ourselves. We need time for church. And we need all of these things REGULARLY, not as the exception once every couple of months.

I hate when I get into a hamster wheel cycle of life. But I love that God offers us a remedy when we get to feeling so drained and manic in our activity. He gives us the gift of rest. We need it, our children need it, and quite frankly, our world needs it.

Here are a couple of my favorite verses about rest:

Psalm 127:1-2 “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.”

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

Isaiah 30:15 “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

Hebrews 4:9-11 “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

I know that for some of you reading this, what I’m talking about feels impossible. Your hamster wheel is whipping along at about 90MPH. If you try to get off, you’re likely to break a leg in the fall. I understand that for some, this busyness thing is really out of hand. But this is not unattainable for you. Start small. Here are some practical ideas for you:

  • Make one night a week a family night, where you eat together and no one does an activity, goes out, has a friend over, etc. (Contrary to their belief – kids won’t actually die if they have to miss an activity!)
  • Schedule your rest wherever you keep your calendar (paper or electronic) so that when you are tempted to schedule something in that “empty” hour or day, you’ll remember that you’re scheduling a break for yourself and your family.
  • Leave one weekend a month open, unscheduled. Or if that feels too dramatic, try for one of the weekend days. And make it Sunday so you can go to CHURCH!
  • Remember that rest doesn’t equate with: sleeping in (not possible in homes with small children), or doing something totally mindless such as scrolling on your phone or bingeing on Netflix. Real rest is something that restores your soul. For me this is making time to write, or read, to pray, or worship with music, or to be outside in nature in some way, to play with my children, or sit and enjoy their presence, or even to do an organizing or decorating project. These are things that restore me. Restoration is always the goal of rest. By all means, take a nap if you need to, but do things that are good for your soul too!

One step at a time, we can reclaim our lives from the busyness that has totally overtaken them. Are you ready to rest? You’re going to love it! It’s so great!

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Peripheral Vision


A few weeks ago, I was highly focused on my exercise routine on our rowing machine when my five-year-old daughter came bursting into the room. She hopped up on the spare bed in the guest room and said, “Mom! Look what I can do!” These words always bring a certain feeling for parents. We hear them a lot. Kids love to invent moves or master talents that they can show off to win their parents attention and praise. So sometimes, the feeling parents get when we hear these words is a bit of an eye roll feeling. But sometimes, these words garner excitement for me as a parent. Because my kids do some weird things. They make me laugh. And I love to give them that verbal praise and affirmation.


But in this particular instance, I was so focused on my exercising. I’m new on the rowing machine, and I still need to really focus to make sure my stroke is correct. As it turns out, you can, in fact, row incorrectly, even though it seems fairly straightforward. You can also row in a way that doesn’t engage your core as much. As I am learning the skill, my focus on my body position is intense. So, I gave my daughter a sideways glance and said, “Okay.” And then I continued to focus on my stroke.


Hannah began to show me her new move, but she quickly realized I wasn’t actually looking at her. She said, “No, Mom. Put your eyes fully on me.”


It just so happened that I had the song, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” on the brain that day, and so her words really struck me on a different level.


Hannah wanted my eyes fully on her moves so she knew I was giving her my full attention and focus. She didn’t want to be in my peripheral vision. Guess what? Jesus doesn’t want to be in our peripheral vision any more than my five-year-old wants to be in mine. He wants the focus of our lives to be completely on him. He’s not off to the side, where we glance occasionally, say for 5-15 minutes a day when we pray or read a devotion. No, he wants to be front and center throughout our whole day, our whole life.


Who is leading as you go throughout your day? Are you following Jesus? Or are you leading yourself? If you are on a journey and following someone, it’s best to keep your eyes on them, otherwise, you might lose your way. Jesus is our guide through this life, but in order to follow him well, we have to fix our eyes and our focus fully on him. We can’t allow life’s distractions to lead us astray. Oftentimes, these are very good things that we shift our vision towards – I want to make sure my kids have a good childhood, OR, I want to attain financial security, OR, I want to focus on getting healthy. Some distractions are disguised as very good things. But they are still distractions if Jesus is not at the center of your gaze.


Hebrews 12:1-3 says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.


What entanglements do you need to cast aside today? Is there sin you need to deal with, like this Scripture passage mentions? Or have you just turned your eyes onto a very “good” distraction of some sort? What is taking the place of Jesus’ leadership in your life? Who or what is guiding you? Place him at the center today and trust him to lead you. He blazed the trail for you, and he’s a good guide. But the guide of your life shouldn’t be living in your peripheral vision. Where is your life’s focus? Is it on your kids? Yourself? Your finances or career? Bring Jesus back to the center, turn your eyes fully on him. There’s no better guide to help you navigate life’s path.

vintage path in nature

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Eleven: A Reflection (Sophie’s Story)


Every year on Sophie’s birthday, I feel very reflective. We are now 11 years into her journey. I think after 11 years I actually have developed some hindsight. For a long time it felt like I was only able to see everything about our life up close, like a picture book mere inches from my face. But after 11 years, I feel like I have been able to finally take in a bigger picture, to see more of the scope of our journey.


Landscapes are on my mind this year as I reflect.


Some parts of her journey were made in the darkness. We could not see beyond the very next step, and that only became visible as it was time to take the step. These were seasons of blind faith. There is no explanation for a faith like this. You are in the dark, and you know the unseen obstacles are very big. But you choose trust anyways. Faith has carried us through the darkness until we can see again. In these seasons we have seen that our God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all (I John 1:5).


Other parts of her journey were rocky and craggy, like a mountain climb. Now, I’m not a mountain climber, but I can appreciate the beauty of the mountains. I can also appreciate the challenge of the climb, and the training and equipment needed to succeed. These are the tough seasons where the work feels endless. Everything is harder for Sophie. Progress feels minute. But suddenly, we’re at the top, and the view is breathtaking. If you’re in a season of difficulty and challenge right now, know that the peak is coming, and you will not be disappointed by the view. Victory is sweet when the climb has been tough. Our God promises to make our feet like a deer so we can tread on the heights (Psalm 18:33).


Some places have felt like quicksand. We’re stuck. And the more we struggle the more stuck we become. But those are places where God has been our rescue. There is no other explanation than God doing what only he can do. He is truly the God who fights for us when we simply stand still (Exodus 14:14).


Other places feel like a desert. Lonely. Isolating. Harsh. A place of weariness. There are many aspects of the special needs journey that are unique to us and to Sophie. But we have seen that God works in the desert place too. He works in the wilderness and wasteland, bringing forth streams (Isaiah 43:19), and making a path through our desert. And he loves to bring us to sweet places of oasis. Places of kind care, acceptance, love, and support from the many who rally around us and journey with us through our life. The oasis is sweeter because of the dryness and loneliness of the desert. Don’t mistake that. A soaking wet sponge doesn’t appreciate water in the same way a dry one does.


Still other parts of the journey are marked with peace and sweetness. These are like a peaceful walk on a warm sunny day through a beautiful meadow next to a quiet stream. We simply enjoy parenting Sophie. Her quirks are normal to us, and they bring us so much joy. Her heart for others is so big. She loves to be a helper. She gives the best hugs. I don’t know if I know anyone who works as hard as Soph. She inspires me. And she cares so little about what others think… There is so much freedom in that for her.


Our world is a bigger place because of all the landscapes we have experienced with Sophie. As with all the trials I have walked through, I can honestly say that I would not be the person I am today without those different landscapes. So much good has come from our personal family journey with Sophie. We are blessed and favored to have her, to care for her and journey with her.


There’s a new song out right now that has a bridge I really resonate with: “I may not know what a day may bring, but I know Who brings the day. In the darkest night when I cannot see, still my soul will say … I believe in miracle power, in a wonder working God.” I may not know what’s coming up next, but I know the heart of the Giver. Whatever part of the journey you are in right now, trust in the One who brings forth the day for you. He is for you, and he is always working for your good. There is always hope.


This year I’m holding fast to the words of Philippians 1:6 for Sophie: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Let it be so, Lord.

Last day of 3rd grade for Soph
Sophie started therapeutic riding this year! She loves it!
1st day of 4th grade
She always knows how to make us laugh!
Sophie was an angel in the church Christmas pageant and had half the play memorized!
Sophie’s first year as a swimmer in Special Olympics
Happy 11th Birthday to my beautiful Sophie Girl!


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The Purpose of Pain

Photo credit: Joyce McCown


We’ve all heard it said before that pain is actually a gift, because it alerts us to the reality that something is wrong in our bodies. I have been a long time struggler with back pain. When we are in our 20s, we sometimes do stupid things. These things can hurt our bodies for so many years to come. If only we realized that when we were 20something…. My back problems began one snowy winter’s day when I was in grad school and living with three girlfriends. Two of those girlfriends were not in grad school, but were workin’ ladies, and they had to go to work despite the snow. (It was indeed so much snow that college classes were canceled, if that tells you anything.) Being a dutiful friend and roommate, I purposed myself to help the gals get their cars cleaned off and on the road. But four ladies living on their own for the first time don’t happen to own a lot of snow removal equipment. So we turned to the only things we had: cleaning tools. 20 something Catherine thought that shoveling snow out from around the cars with a dustpan was a good idea. Stupid. So that is where my back problems began. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with my hips rotating. As I approach 40, my body just doesn’t want to cooperate, more and more. It’s really frustrating to live with back pain. It prevents me from doing the things I want to do with my kids…. It keeps me awake at night…. It interferes with my gardening…. THE NERVE.


This fall my chiro took some new x-rays because my pain just wasn’t improving. She showed them to me, and even with my untrained eye that has no medical background whatsoever, I let out a low gasp and said, “Oh my!” My hip was horribly rotated. No wonder I was having so much pain! The pain was an indicator to me that something wasn’t right. So my doctor began treating my hip with this new knowledge in view. She told me in no uncertain terms the things that I was not to do which would put undue strain on my hip and cause rotation. For months I was vigilant about these no-no’s. I was SO careful. I continued my exercises and stretches, and I stayed away from the restricted postures, movements, etc. And my hip got better! It was amazing to be pain free!


But as the months passed, I got lax. I didn’t stop exercising or stretching, but I ventured into some of the no-no positions, like crossing my legs while seated, or getting down onto the floor to play with the kids in certain positions. I cocked my hip as I was making my shopping list. I lifted with my back, not my legs. I wasn’t vigilant any longer because there wasn’t any pain. You probably aren’t surprised to hear that the pain came back.


Isn’t this just like my walk of faith? I am a faithful Bible-reader, morning and night. I pray. I listen to worship music. I attend church and Bible study. But sometimes, I also venture into postures that God says I should not take. Sometimes I grow lax against wrong behaviors. I notice that this is especially true when I am not walking through something painful or difficult. Just like I grew lax when my back pain went away, it’s in the good, easy times that my faith can become lax, that my posture can slouch before the God of the universe.


The painful times emotionally and spiritually often serve as an intense motivator for me, spurring me on towards growth in Christ. So I’m thankful for those hard times, for the pain, because it keeps me vigilant. It keeps me careful to avoid wrong things. It keeps me moving in the right direction, rather than the wrong ones. Pain motivates growth.


James 1 speaks to this: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (vv 2-4).


I have been noticing in myself lately that I’m not terribly good at “considering it pure joy whenever I face trials of many kinds.” But when I take a step back and consider the issue of physical pain in my life, I know that I should be grateful for the trials in my life, because they keep me from becoming lax. As the text says, they do produce perseverance in my faith. They do make me mature. The trials I experience are to my benefit if I face them with joy and perseverance. When I meet a painful trial, the choice is up to me:


Will I face it with joy and faith? Or will I grow frustrated and anxious?


Will I persevere? Or will I give up and give in to defeat?


Will I allow it to produce growth and maturity? Or will I become angry and bitter instead?


Just like the pain in my back spurs me on towards physical growth and healing, I want the trials of my life to spur me on towards spiritual growth and maturity. I want them to make me better, not bitter.


Is there a trail in your life that you need to view with new eyes today? Ask the Lord to show you how it can be to your benefit and do your best to embrace it with joy. Even behind hard gifts, the heart of the Giver is good and is always for you.

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Lavish Kindness

I guess God really has some things to say to me about my words lately. I shared recently about what God showed me when I caught one of my kids moving her messes instead of cleaning them up like she was supposed to. God convicted me that I was guilty of moving my messes with my words when I spread negative talk about situations, or when I vented too much about others instead of going directly to them with my offense. Shortly after this thought-provoking clean up session, I had an experience where someone showered me with the kindest words. It was the icing on the cake to this lesson. I know what negative words can do – I’ve experienced that so many times. But the generosity of this stranger’s words really showed me the impact of being so generous with kind words.


Hannah and I were recently out shopping in Home Goods. We had some time and some gift cards to squander. We were looking at all the pretty things. Feeling all the soft blankets. Wandering to our hearts’ content.

In the kitchen organization aisle (one of the BEST aisles in the store!!!) we happened upon a kind older woman with her little dog. We exchanged a bit of small talk about the dog and the store. And then she proceeded to ask me if I was Hannah’s mom or sister. I chuckled and told her I was mom, and I appreciated her kindness so much because my 40th birthday was fast approaching. She was dumbfounded! Truly flabbergasted. She gushed on about how I “couldn’t possibly be….” I looked “far too young to be…” Now, she was a complete stranger to me, so maybe her eyesight wasn’t the best?! But I will never know! All I will know and what I will remember forever, was how kind she was to me, how generous, how lavish her words were. And she was a complete stranger.


There are many wonderful friends and family members in my life who are generous with their kind words towards me. I know the balm that the words of a friend can be. But I have rarely been so positively impacted by a stranger’s words. Until this experience, I never considered the potential of my impact as a stranger to someone else. What I realized through this encounter is that every person I cross paths with, stranger or not, is an opportunity. There are three choices on the path: I can say nothing, leave no impact. I can be rude, and leave a negative impact, or I can be lavish and generous with kind words. That stranger in Home Goods left me feeling like I was walking in the clouds that day. To think, I could have that kind of impact in another complete stranger’s day, if I took the time. I’m often in a rush when I’m out and about, or working, or just doing the daily grind. What if I slowed down enough to really see people? What if I was generous with kind words, intentional about lavishing them on others?


Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” I certainly learned how true this verse is on that day in Home Goods.

Both of these lessons on my words – the messes of negative words, and the power of kind words – are also reflected in a well-known Proverb. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring life or death.”

Every word is an opportunity. If only we were more careful when choosing what to say! What would your world be like if you considered your words each time you opened your mouth, if you filtered them through these two verses:  

Are these words bringing life, or death? 

Will these words be sweet to the soul of the listener?  

Because of this experience, I want to slow down, to see people, to be intentional, and to see the opportunities to lavish kind words on another, to choose words that bring life and sweetness to someone else’s soul.

It costs you nothing to be generous with your words. And you never know the impact you may have on some nearly-40-year-old’s day!

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Moving the Mess

We have a nightly routine around my house to help stay on top of the kids’ mess. About 15 minutes before their bedtime routine begins, play ends and clean-up begins. Anything that’s left out after the clean-up session ends and the bedtime routine begins, Mom picks up and takes possession of for the next 24 hours. So if the kids want to keep their toys, they’ve got to clean them up off the playroom floor. Otherwise, they’re mine.


This has been a fairly effective policy for managing the messes around my house. However, the littlest cleaner found a loophole last week. After our clean up session had ended, we moved to the bedrooms to start getting ready for bed. And what did I discover when I entered the girls’ bedroom? The floor was covered with items that had formerly been littering the playroom floor. Hannah had not actually been putting her toys away; she had just been moving the mess.


“Hannah,” I said, “moving the mess is not the same as taking care of the mess. You’ve only created more problems for yourself now, because the stuffed animals that you want for bed are not in your bed, but still all packed up in this backpack. And clean up time is over. Now we’re getting ready for bed, and you won’t have the things you need for bed.”


A resigned answer followed, “Sorry Mom.”


Yes, it was a quick fix to unpack the stuffies from the bag that she needed for bed. But a spiritual lesson hit me as we talked about moving the mess. Something I have struggled with in the past is spending too much time venting my frustrations or spreading outright negative talk when I’m upset. If you think about it, this is just like moving the mess. I’m upset about something, but instead of actually taking care of the mess, I’m just offloading it onto other people. There are certainly times where it is appropriate to discuss a problem or emotion with a close trusted friend. I have a few of those friends in my pocket, and they are more valuable than gold to me.


But what I’m talking about here is the times we unnecessarily bring negativity into an environment by being overly negative about something or someone. For example, on a recent Sunday, I was frustrated about some issues we were having with a volunteer shortage. I was venting my frustrations to a coworker when another dear volunteer greeted me. He immediately sensed my frustrations and asked me about it. I tried to grin and downplay it, but the damage was done. I had allowed my negativity, my mess, to move into two other lives, instead of simply releasing it to the Lord and trusting that he was going to take care of my volunteer situation (which he 100% did!). I had lost an opportunity to have a positive conversation with my volunteer, and I moved my mess into his space.


In other instances, we may be upset with a specific person, but instead of going to that person, we go to someone else. We move the mess of hurt or frustration from our own hearts to someone totally outside the situation. As a verbal processor, I understand that this is sometimes helpful in working through my thoughts and emotions. But the words I choose to speak into existence about others have power. And they have the power to build someone else’s perception of that person, too. Wouldn’t it be better to do my verbal processing with God, and then go directly to the person who hurt me or upset me? Otherwise, I’m not really taking care of the mess, I’m just moving it. Case in point, my kids come to me ALL. THE. TIME. when they are upset with another sibling. They want me to handle the mess. Now that my kids are 11, 8, and 5, there are a lot of messes that they can handle for themselves. They know what to do when someone hurts their feelings, or physically accosts them, or won’t share! So when they come complaining to me, I’ve started to send them directly to the person who offended them. I listen and decide for myself if they can appropriately handle the dispute, and usually they can. I’m not the one who needs to know about their hurt feelings – the one who hurt them is! How many times have I been guilty of moving my mess in the same way? Instead of going to the person who upset me, I unload on someone else. The mess isn’t taken care of because the person who upset me never even knows about it to be given the chance to fix it. Then the hurt stays in my heart and the relationship is damaged. There’s no advantage to moving messes in these situations.


Ephesians 4:29 is a verse I memorized a long time ago to help deal with this wild mouth of mine. It says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.


What if we all did this? What if we did our verbal processing with God and then went directly to the person who offended us so that our relationship could be strengthened through forgiveness and grace and open communication? And what if, when circumstances disappoint us, we take those feelings to God, and speak positively, with faith, about the situation even when it doesn’t look good? Think of how uplifting our conversations would be if we quit verbally dumping all the time and instead tried to meet the checklist in Ephesians 4:29!


Nothing unwholesome.


Helpful for building others up.


Focusing on others’ needs.


Benefitting anyone who is listening.


This is a hard list for me. But I know it’s good. If all believers put this into practice, our world would be a very different place!


Are you guilty of moving messes too? Is there a mess you can take care of today? Seek the Lord for an opportunity to clean up your messes today so they don’t cause more problems down the road.



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Sophie’s Story: Feeling the Heat

Earlier this month I took my littlest love out for a mommy date at the local pottery shop. Hannah loves to paint, anything, any day of the week, so this a perfect outing for her. This time she settled on a playful looking puppy for her painting project. We headed to the paint station to fill her pallet with various colors – brown, black, red, pink, blue (who knew a dog could have so many colors?!), and she eagerly took the first strokes of brown, her base color, on the dog. She paused after those first strokes. “Mom, I don’t like this color at all! It looks horrible!” Sadness and distress filled her voice.

Before the heat is applied, the colors look rather pale and dull.

I quickly reminded her of the projects that she had done in the past, and how the colors change when they go through the heating process. I took her back over to the paint station and I showed her the brown paint that she had chosen on a baked tile which was displayed to show the finished color. She was greatly relieved as she recalled her first project, how dull it looked at first, but how brilliant it looked when we picked it up after its time in the furnace. And her confidence was restored when she viewed the chosen brown color on the demo tile. She had forgotten that the beauty of the project was forged in the heat of the furnace.


…. The beauty of the project is forged in the heat of the furnace…. I think I had lost sight of that too.


Our oldest daughter Sophie has been struggling with her anxiety this winter. It is one of her daily battles, but it is always worse in the winter, for a whole variety of reasons. It’s so dark for so many hours. There is so little outside time. So little active playtime. There are time changes, schedule irregularities, holidays, birthdays, and swim meets. Even the positive stressors are simply added to the brain as “STRESS.” Having experienced true anxiety in brief seasons as an adult, I wish more than anything that I could remove it from her, or at least speed up the process by which she grows to learn how to cope better with it. I hate to see her struggle. She acts out at school and at home, she has meltdowns, she can’t cope with her big feelings. And I can’t fix it.

Sophie’s first Special Olympics swim meet took place this month!

But as I talked with Hannah at the pottery shop that day, the Holy Spirit reminded me that the beauty of Sophie’s life is forged in her struggle. None of us want to see our kids struggle – it’s so hard! But the truth of the matter is that struggle is where our character is formed. Struggle is where we run out of ourselves and run to Jesus. Struggle is where we grow more like Him. I am who I am today because of every struggle I have endured in my life. We do our kids a great disservice if we try to protect them from every struggle, if we fight every battle for them. They need these opportunities to grow their character. And God is in this with them. Sometimes we think that our role as parents is to make life easy for them – to fix it all, control it all, protect from it all— but they won’t grow if everything is always easy, every mistake fixed, every problem shielded. The truth is God is developing character and beauty in Sophie’s life, and in all my children’s lives, because of their struggles. It’s hard to watch her struggle in the heat of this furnace, but I know God is making something beautiful.


How timely that Sunday’s message centered on Philippians 1 where this amazing promise is found: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (v. 6)


Just like Jesus Christ has been at work in all of my struggles to complete the work he is doing in me, he is continually at work in my children as well. As they go through difficulties, I am confident that he is building beautiful character traits in them, forged in the heat of their struggles. He sees the scope of their lives and the character that they need to build now for the plans and purposes he has for them down the road. What a gift to be able to trust Jesus with my children.


Whether you are the one feeling the heat of the furnace right now, or you, like me, are watching your children struggle, I hope you are encouraged by the words of Philippians 1, and by the lesson I shared with Hannah that day in the pottery shop. Look back on your past projects, if you will, where your character was shaped by a struggle. Remember that the beauty of your character was forged in that furnace. Even if the colors of your struggle look dull and unappealing right now, know that He is working to make something beautiful. Even as you’re feeling the heat, know that beauty is being forged.

Finished product!

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