Made for a Purpose

A friend sent me this picture a few days ago. It was 2006 or 2007, and our church didn’t have a baptismal, so we did baptisms in the river or the local pool. As the children’s pastor, I had the privilege of baptizing the kids who were taking this amazing step of faith. This was so special to me. I was a neighbor to this sweet girl’s family before I married Matt in 2006, and I loved these her and her siblings so much (still do).

A couple years later, I was still a pastor on staff at the same church and a licensed minister, but I was not allowed to participate in baptisms that year. I’m not gonna lie; it was devastating. I loved serving this church, and I was unexpectedly not included with the other pastors in this incredible, life-changing moment. I still remember it all very clearly almost 11 years later.

I was blessed with so many friends, fellow ministers, and encouragers through this time. But I learned something that you might be familiar with: it is hard to get past one naysayer, one person who doesn’t believe in you or your gift, one who refuses to see what God has placed within you. Even when others remind you of the truth, the lies are so loud. The truth whispers, but lies scream. They get in your face and beckon you to doubt who you are and what God wants to do in you.

You have met a naysayer. It doesn’t have to be related to ministry, for God has placed a call on each of us to use the gifts we have been given no matter what they are. Maybe it is a family member, a grandparent or parent whose doubt and negative words have riddled your self-confidence with so many holes that you can no longer put it back together. Maybe something happened and there is someone in your life who will never let you forget it.

If God has placed a gift in you and called you to use it, He does not change His mind. Romans 11:29 says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (ESV) There are seasons of life and ministry, but the gift you have within you is still there.

A few weeks after my first baby was born, I was at a wedding and saw my youth pastor and his wife, two of the greatest spiritual mentors and friends in my life. He said to me, “God still wants to use you, you still have a call on your life.” I clung to those words for years. I still do as I live in the preschool years with my last child. God put him in my life at age 15, and still at 41 his words have immeasurable impact on my life.

God has been so good and so gracious to place loving, encouraging friends and leaders in my life. If you are in a place of discouragement or uncertainty concerning the calling God has placed in your life, please know that you are not alone. Just because one person has decided that they aren’t interested in what you have to offer does not mean you have nothing to offer. If that discouragement and negative feedback has caused you to tuck your gift away in what feels like a safe place, can I encourage you today to think about using it again? It may look different than it has in the past, but if look carefully, I know that God will show you ways to use the gift that has been sitting there inside you.

Don’t let a lie from the father of lies convince you that there is no way God needs you in His service. If you still have breath, He has a purpose for your life and a reason that you are still here. Ignore the lies, and find those who will speak truth, encouragement, and life today.

Here We Go Again

17 years. Today marks 17 years that I have lived in a Waverly of my 41 years, the same amount of time I lived in Des Moines from birth until I left for college. About a year ago, I found myself in a frustrating place. Some very dear friends of ours made the decision to plant a new church, and they asked us to consider joining them. It meant packing up our lives here and moving a couple states away.

I was ready. I spent a couple years pretty broken by life and was ready for a fresh start. I wanted to wipe the slate clean and join with friends I had been in ministry with. I got my hopes up. I dreamed of leaving behind what I saw as a couple of terrible years that I just wanted to forget.

Unfortunately, as Matt and I talked about it, I saw that it was not going to happen for us. I was unhappy as I had confidently assumed that it was clearly God leading us in this new direction, and to see it fall apart hurt a lot. I thought my chance for a fresh start was gone and I was going to be stuck in the same frustrating place for the foreseeable future. Stuck not just physically but emotionally and mentally. It’s winter and we just had a lot of snow. I picture getting stuck in the snow, wearing a groove with your tires and not being able to get out no matter how hard you rock the car back and forth, back and forth. I needed and desperately wanted a push out of the rut.

But God. He was stirring my heart, and even as this beautiful opportunity passed right on by, behind the scenes He had not forgotten me. Matt and I started to discuss changing churches. Our kids are growing and getting to an age where friendships become increasingly important. The church we had helped to start was half an hour from our home in another community. It was a very different picture than what I wanted for my kids to experience as they grew and entered the stage of youth group and all its activities and friendships.

One of the best decisions my parents made for our family was changing churches to one with a more vibrant youth group when I was in elementary school. They did it early enough that I could make friends and be established at the new church before entering the teenage years. I could never thank them enough for that decision. So much of my formative teen years was shaped by my youth pastor and his wife who came to that church as I entered eighth grade. The friendships from that church were my lifeline in high school, and all my experiences there led to the moment I felt called to full time ministry and decided to attend Bible college. God chose to use the church we joined and the people there to influence and guide my life for years to come and still now. I held that thought in my heart as I considered the church experience I want for my children through their school years.

We decided to visit a church that had been started by a group from the church where I served as children’s pastor and staff pastor for about 7 years. I really had no idea what to expect from seeing so many people I knew again, but we could not have received a warmer welcome in those first visits. We finally decided to leave the church we had helped start 7 years ago and the wonderful church family there to attend this church back in our own community again.

God has worked in some amazing ways since we decided to join Crosspoint Church. I will take more time to describe it later because it just fascinates me how He works when we have no idea that He is doing anything, and one day, things fall into place that I never knew were even a possibility. He had a plan to give me the push I needed out of my rut. It looks different than I thought it would, but it is beautiful and exactly what I never knew I needed.

Another year has come and gone in Waverly, the town I was going to live in for a year or two. But God had plans I couldn’t see. He still does as He unfolds our lives day by day, showing us just what we need to take the next step forward. And today, I can sincerely say that I am so grateful He kept us in Waverly.

He Never Ends

As we drove home from school a few weeks ago, Jack (6) asked me when God was born. I explained as best I could that God was never born. He has always been and always will be. The kids were curious how Jesus could be born but God was not, so I offered a brief explanation of the Trinity, how God the Son became a man and was born, but God the Father was not.

I said that God has no beginning and no end, and as soon as I said it, the enormity of the truth just hit me.

“Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers? Who else knows the weight of the earth or has weighed the mountains and hills on a scale?” Isaiah‬ ‭40:12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The God of this world, this universe has no beginning and no end. The fact that I doubt His plans, that I wonder if He knows what is going on in my life is a bit laughable. How could He not know? It sounds overwhelming when I try to explain to my children that He knows everything about everyone and He cares about each of us. But this is the God who created something out of nothing. What could be too difficult for Him?

“’Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah‬ ‭32:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

I can list 6-7 areas in my life right now that are open ended. We have prayed, we have asked God to work in this person or in that situation, and we are waiting months and years later. We still ask, we still pray that He will heal or we ask that He will provide a way out of struggle. Nothing is too hard for Him. Nothing. Not one thing.

The job that feels like a dead end with no way out.

The struggling family member who is caught in a never-ending cycle of destructive choices.

The ongoing physical pain that mystifies every doctor you see.

The pain of a child who wants nothing to do with you.

The trauma that continues to haunt your days and nights.

Not one situation is too difficult for Him to break through. Not one heart is too hard for His touch. I am well acquainted with the struggles that seem to never end. You pray, you wait, you pray, and you wait more. Can I remind you (and myself) that there is most certainly a purpose to God’s plan and to the way and the timing in which He works? He wants us to seek Him, to know Him beyond our desire to get the answer to our desperate prayers.

He has no beginning. He has no end. Marvel at the thought today, and remember that this ever present God catches each tear as it falls from your eyes. You do not walk this road alone.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalms‬ ‭56:8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Hope for the Weary

img_0058I went to bed last night frustrated, weary from the constant struggles of the day. It had been a very hard day with my daughter, and I regretted some of my reactions to her choices. It has really been a rough few weeks, and I hoped that it might be the craziness and excitement of Christmas break and the lack of a normal schedule. I feel exhausted and frustrated so many nights. I have three children, but the one who breaks me gives me constant reminders of my desperate need for God’s grace. Before I became a mother, I had a pretty good feeling that I mostly had things together. But from day one, this child has been determined to prove to me that I don’t.

And it’s true. I am painfully, excruciatingly aware of my shortcomings these days. I am daily faced with the decision to give my children to God, and I am very willing to admit that I need God’s help and wisdom on an hourly basis. I am in the middle of the battle, where the ending isn’t clear and I cling desperately to the hope that He is working where I cannot see.

I spent a few years listening almost constantly to podcast sermons, and Matt Chandler was my favorite. He is honest, and he speaks directly from the Word of God without fear. His honesty about the hard seasons of life drew me in when I was struggling through a very hard, lost season. And now in a different and very hard season, I have been brought back to many of the sermons I heard and verses that speak to hope.

“For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:24-25‬ ‭ESV‬‬

My eyes were opened to the idea that we hope for what is unseen. Hope is such a nice, pretty word. We name our daughters after it and use it as a positive, uplifting idea. But hope is HARD. It is painful. It is not easy to hang on in the dark, waiting for the speck of light to appear, showing you which way to go. If you can see the end, if your answer is near, there isn’t any faith required to hope for the outcome. The hope I have is based on the promises of God that I find in His Word. It is based on His faithfulness to me and His faithfulness to all generations.

I hope for things I want to see in my children, I hope that the daily struggles of raising a very challenging child will someday subside and there will be more moments of joy and less struggle. But as I pray for Him to do His work, I do my best to remember who is with me on every single hard, emotionally exhausting day. I am saved by Jesus, and in Him, I have all I need for this battle.

Are you in the middle of a hard thing? You’ve lost sight of the beginning, and you have no idea when the end will arrive. I encourage you today to call His name. You don’t need to have the right words to say His name. He is listening.

Many nights after the kids are in bed, I listen to worship music that feeds my soul. This song is on repeat tonight.

Can’t go back to the beginning,

Can’t control what tomorrow will bring

But I know here in the middle

Is a place where You promise to be

I’m not enough, unless You come,

Will you meet me here again?

‘Cause all I want, is all You are,

Will you meet me here again?

Longing for Home

Eighteen years ago, Christmas was sad. My parents were separated at the time, and I will never forget meeting my dad in a mall food court to give him a present. For various reasons, I was the only family member to see dad that year. I was living in Springfield after college and working in the Assemblies of God youth department, and I considered not going home at all. Even though it was hard, I really wanted to see my dad and let him know I loved him. So I remember bringing him York peppermint patties and a few of his favorite things. I don’t remember much else about that trip home, but by the grace of God, my parents were back together for the next Christmas.

Thirteen years ago, Matt and I were engaged on December 10, 2005. We were only engaged for a few months, so it was a busy and exciting and joyful time in our families.

Six years ago, I had a one month old at Christmas. It was such a gift to nurse and care for an infant while celebrating the birth of Christ as an infant.

Holidays are full of family memories, some wonderful and some heartbreaking. The Christmas season in particular holds so many loved traditions that it is an exhilarating few weeks for some people. It is also a devastating time for others who are reminded yearly of painful events or the loss of someone who will never be here again to make new Christmas memories.

The birth of our Savior was the beginning of a promise fulfilled, of God’s promise to make a way of salvation for His people. It is the beginning of hope realized. The Israelites who watched for their coming King were about to meet Him in a way they never imagined.

You may enter this holiday season with hope realized. You hold a baby in your arms or your belly, you are celebrating new love, a new job, or some good news for which you waited. God is good and He gives good gifts to His children. Rejoice and praise Him for His beautiful gifts.

You may enter this holiday season barely hanging on to hope. Life looks nothing like you expected right now, and it is really hard to see how it could ever be good again. You may feel a huge hole in your heart and the thought of celebrating Christmas without a loved one makes you want to crawl in bed and get up on January 1.

Sweet friend, no matter where you are today, the hope of Christmas is for you. The hope of Christmas is not that Jesus will make life on this earth perfect. The hope of Christmas is that we get Jesus. He is the gift, and He is everything. Hold on to Him, cling to Him when the days are dark and the way forward is unclear. Hold on to Him when joy is abundant and life is full. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17 ESV)

When life is hard, Jesus is the gift, the hope to which we cling in this life and the hope of a life to come where there will be no more tears, no more sorrow.

“Here Comes Heaven” Elevation Worship

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cjdEBdNfCd4

The Secret to Leaving My Kids

*Photo credit: Shane Long Photography

It was approximately 9 days after we became parents that we left our baby for a couple of hours to celebrate our anniversary with dinner out. We have never hesitated to leave our babies with friends or family for an evening or a few days (if anyone wants to take them longer…let’s talk later). Our firstborn was colicky, and we were happy for any chance to get a break from the crying. We were used to quite a bit of travel before we had kids, so it was an adjustment to not be able to enjoy those trips as frequently or easily as we once did.

This summer, our oldest two kids each spent a few days on their own visiting my parents. I told my mom that once school got started, we would work out a time for Evangeline to stay with them as well. I made the very familiar drive toward my parent’s home, and we met halfway. 5 year old Jack was with us. It was a little different to send Evie off for a weekend. She is my little sidekick. Now that the kids are in school, she’s my buddy at home. By the time you have three kids, the offers to take them all for, well, anything are rare, so I am pretty used to having this one around. I wasn’t worried about missing her, though. I felt that nagging anxiety of watching my child ride away down the interstate and knowing that for the next few days, I could not do a thing to keep her safe or protect her throughout her day. I completely trust my parents with that job, but it doesn’t prevent scenarios from running through my mind of accidents that could happen or situations out of their control.

As the anxiety rose, my mind kicked in to remind me of the only thing that gets me through each day as a parent: I can’t protect Evangeline from everything that could possibly harm her even if she is right next to me. The One who can protect Evangeline from any and everything that threatens to harm her was going with her. He was beside her in the car, and He watches over her life far better than I can. He sees all, He knows all, and I can rest in the confidence that she belongs to Him, anyway. He sees her at all times, when I do and when I don’t.

“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.” Psalms‬ ‭139:1-2‬ ‭ESV

We picked up Evangeline yesterday. She was thrilled to see us. She is currently fond of saying, “I like you, Mom.” I was so happy to hear that sweet voice. I am so grateful that, while she was gone, I had a half day to myself which I enjoyed immensely because I chose not to worry about my baby and trust God to take care of her.

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A Special Place in My Heart

“So it is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a special place in my heart. You share with me the special favor of God, both in my imprisonment and in defending and confirming the truth of the Good News. God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭1:7-8‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Yesterday I was talking about a good friend of mine, and the other person said, “That’s wonderful. It is so hard to find a good friend.” I was taken aback by her statement. I honestly have not found this to be true for me. God has overwhelmingly blessed me time and time again with amazing friends. My high school crew from church was rock solid. I still have so much love in my heart for my college roommates from 20 years ago. I worked with some amazing people in Springfield who still hold such a special place in my heart. My first few years in Waverly were hard because I held back. Once I jumped in, I was just floored that so many deep, spiritual, Jesus-loving people were all at this amazing church I was blessed to serve. I have met lifelong friends here, friends who have walked with me for 10-15 years now (much longer than I told God I wanted to live here).

This summer, I feel like God has been giving me songs to soak in. This week’s song is “Defender.” A couple of days ago, I opened my email to see the name of one of the best people I know. She just wanted to share this song with me. Yep, the same song I was already living in. How awesome is God, that from 8 hours away, He puts this song into the heart of my soul sister, and she sends me a message reminding me that God is with me and fighting for me when I feel weak.

This stage of life for over 8 years, staying home with kids, has looked so much different than I ever expected. So much harder, so lonely and isolating. I didn’t realize that, as a pastor on staff at a wonderful church, I was sure used to a lot of encouragement, support, a lot of validation in my ministry and the work to which I had committed myself. I had no idea how stepping away from that into full-time raising kids for a few years would test my faith and foundation more than I had thought possible. At the same time, when I feel woefully inadequate for some of the challenges God has placed before me, I have been gifted some amazing friends to cry, pray, hug, and carry me when I couldn’t walk on my own.

Jesus, You are so good to me, far better than I deserve. I sometimes feel guilty for the abundance of lifelong friends you have placed in my life. Thank You for knowing that life is hard, harder than we expect many times, and we need to lift each other up and allow ourselves to be lifted as well. Thank You for the reminders this week that I am not alone, You have not forgotten me here. Praise Your beautiful Name.

If you are looking for a good friend, send me an email. I don’t have all the answers, but I know the One who does.

I’m sharing this version that I listen to whenever I can. The second song in the medley is another one I have soaked in the past month or so.

Defender + Do It Again