Rest for your Soul

I was exhausted.

I hadn’t had much sleep the night before…and that was just the night before. The last several weeks had rolled one into the next without me ever getting a break that felt like a break.

So…needless to say, it felt good to be headed home with something of an evening left. I planned and re-planned what I would do with it several times. And of course, every plan ended with: go to bed early.

I needed rest. Not just physical rest…but sleep would be a good start.

I did a few things on the way in—take out the trash, grab the mail, let my dog out, and take a deep breath. It felt so good to be home. In a quiet house. With a quiet evening in front of me.

But as I opened one of the letters I found in the mail—from my mortgage company—I felt my blood boil. I have only had this mortgage for about six months and it has already given me a lifetime of grief. Just for example, in February, they sent me a letter saying my monthly payment would go up by $600 a month. $600!

I have called the company multiple times and spent a considerable amount of my life listening to their hold music. The last time, I had been assured they would adjust back the payment and all I needed to do was wait for confirmation in the mail. That’s what I was expecting this letter to be.

Instead, it was a delinquent notice.

A delinquent notice was especially maddening because: 1. The customer service rep had told me that I did not have to pay until we got it all straightened out; and 2. I had gone ahead and paid anyway.

And this was the thanks I got: A delinquent notice.

I waiting through the first twenty minutes of music. When a rep finally came on the phone, she transferred me to someone else. Another twenty-five minutes of waiting.

Meanwhile, while my evening disappeared, so was my patience. When the next poor soul came on the phone, I had had it. My weary brain just didn’t care.

I started at the beginning and gave her the blow by blow of how this happened and how many times I had been assured that this was all straightened out. How I had made the payment. Then been told they wouldn’t accept it. Then been told that they would. Then been told that they had…and now this notice…the longer I talked, the madder I became until I am sure I fulfilled every stereotype that customer service reps in India have of rude Americans.

She put me on hold.

I wanted to throw my phone in the bath tub.

When she finally came back, she was again apologetic, but she explained that they wouldn’t accept the payment because it was $92 short. There was no way to dispute this since I have no idea what my payment should be since I hadn’t received the letter they would supposedly send to tell me what my new payment should be. But it was important to me that I not be delinquent.

My coveted evening was gone. I was deliriously tired, so, in a tone that would remove all doubt about whether or not I was happy with their services, I said I would pay the $92 dollars over the phone and be done with it.

She said that was fine and proceeded to take my bank routing number and account number.

As I read the routing number, she stopped me to clarify, “so this bank is America’s Christian Credit Union?”

I was so embarrassed.

Regardless of how incompetent this company was, I regretted that I had represented Christ and Christians with this attitude.

Consider the level of abuse that Jesus took. Meekly. Quietly. Without fighting back.

And here I was…upset with the poor little girl in India trying to help me get my tangled mortgage straightened out.

Yes. I said finally. That’s the one.

I attempted an apology to her, but hung up the phone ashamed. The situation was extremely frustrating, but I knew Christ would not have treated her that way.

As I crawled into bed, my adrenaline still pumping from my anger, and my shame still flowing from my sin, I thought about the words of Christ:

“Come to me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me. For I am meek, and lowly in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus doesn’t promise us no work. No labor. No yoke.

Life in Christ is not an extended vacation. It’s not a day at the fair.

But what struck me was that the antidote to weariness was a Christ-like heart—one that is meek and lowly.

This is profound.

How much of our weariness is from our own anger? From fighting for our own way? From trying to change circumstances that we can’t change? From frustration with people who don’t do what we want them to?

How much of our burden is trying to meet the many demands of pride? Of trying to live up to the empty shadow she casts of life as we think it should look?

Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your soul.

Rest. For. Your. Soul.

I don’t think it’s coincidence that I keep running into that passage—morning reading, a friend’s wall, an index card that surfaced where I had jotted it years ago. There’s a lesson for me in it.

And I don’t think it’s coincidence that April 28, seven days after my mortgage company promised me I would get a letter, I did. That is, I got not one, but four letters. One said I owed $92. One said I owed $600. One said I owed $1700. And one said I owed $2700.

I laughed. I called them. I waited on hold.

After thirty minutes of waiting, I was informed I have actually overpaid and have a credit. They apologized for my four letters and said they are dealing with a computer glitch.

Ya think?

I may have to sell my house to get away from these people, but I was kind on the phone and dealing with it took considerably less energy than the last phone call (which had left me completely spent).

Maybe they will get themselves straightened out before they have a class action law suit on their hands. And maybe I will learn the secret to rest for the soul.

Neither are terribly likely, but I’ve come to appreciate the progression:

Come to me—you who are weary; Learn of me—for I am meek; And you will find rest for your soul.


Lessons from a Dirty Dog

I ate cookies for breakfast.

That was the only thing handy in the kitchen besides potato chips. And everyone knows you shouldn’t eat potato chips for breakfast.

Would it help if I told you it was 11:00? It seems a little more forgivable to have cookies for lunch. But then I would have to admit that the day was half over when I entered the kitchen for the first time. It was 11:00 and I had accomplished nothing. Nothing but finishing a good book that had kept me reading into the wee hours and then kept me glued to my bed in the morning.

I guess it goes without saying that I recommend the book–Laura Story Elvington’s, “When God Doesn’t Fix It.” I can’t remember the last time I read any book over a single weekend. I’m not even sure when I last finished a book. But the deeper look into the struggles Martin and Laura faced during his brain tumor and dealing with his resulting memory loss had me pondering through many of her insights about the God who sees and yet lets us suffer. God allows circumstances to show us that our problem is sin.

By 2:00 pm, I could still only claim to have crossed two things off my list. I was still in workout clothes–which means I hadn’t had a shower.

And I hadn’t actually worked out. I was just dressed like I was going to when I pulled in at Peaceful Way to pick up Julie Ann. She had spent several days there playing with Jack while we were in Kentucky.

Julie Anne seemed happy enough to see me when I entered the garage. She quickly lost her enthusiasm, however, when she realized what was coming next. But I had to do what I had to do because my little white dog looked more like a nasty grey wolf. She had dirt, grime, grease, and just general filth matted through her coat. It was a good thing I hadn’t bothered with clean clothes and a shower because this was going to be a mess.

Julie Anne fought me as I placed her in the sink and held her under the stream of water. She squirmed and slithered in my grip as I lathered whitening shampoo into her nasty fur. It was not coming clean easily and she was certainly not making it any easier.

I didn’t enjoy it any more than she did, but it had to be done. It was fine to run around the farm like a street urchin, but I knew once I took her home, she wasn’t going to want to be outside. She was going to want to be with me. She was going to want to cuddle in my lap, perch in my chair, snuggle on my couch, lounge on my carpet, and roam through my office.

I couldn’t let that ball of dirt do any of those things. I just couldn’t. If she was going to be with me, she was going to have to be clean.

But she sure wasn’t happy about it.  As I adjusted my hold on her soapy, squirming self, she seized the opportunity to try to spring from my hands.  I let out a bit of a shriek as I struggled to maintain my grasp.  What she thought was a leap of freedom would likely be death by concrete.  It was a long way down and there was nothing between my soapy hands and that garage floor.

By some miracle, I was able to hang on.  Barely.  So rather than a dead dog, I just had a half clean drama queen slithering back into the sink.

I was too relieved to be irritated at her.  And even more than the relief, I felt a twinge of humility that came from a pointed picture of myself in the hands of my Creator–perhaps more freshly in my mind after my read of “When God Doesn’t Fix It.”

He comes for me.  He picks me up when I am a mess.  He wants me to be with Him, so He takes me straight to the sink.  In love, He begins to clean me up.  I squirm, I twist.  I try to get away.  And He holds me close.  Directly in the way of the constant stream of cleansing water.  Patiently scrubbing the dirtiest, nastiest, most unattractive parts of my being.  He isn’t trying to torture me…It just feels that way.  And it takes longer and hurts more because I fight Him all the way.  We’ve been through it hundreds of times, and I still don’t trust that He knows what is best.  I’m convinced I’d be happier if I could only jump out of his grip.

When Julie Anne was back to a recognizable state, I set her down and she shook violently.  No gratefulness, just good riddance.  She couldn’t wait to get away from me.  She would look 100 times better when she dried (provided she could stay out of the dirt long enough), but she didn’t seem to care.

She is a dog. And some things she will never fully understand. That’s why I don’t let her make her all own decisions. Because she would go splat.

She would probably do things like eat cookies for breakfast.

So…I haven’t learned this lesson: this lesson of embracing the scrubbing process. I venture to guess you haven’t either. And neither has Laura Story Elvington.

God doesn’t have an obligation to “fix it.” He might. He might not.

But He does have an obligation to clean it. To purge it. To make us more like Him. If we want to be like him, He must clean us up. And while I may feel broken in the process, I’m learning to embrace every reminder that helps me squirm a little less and trust a little more. Fight a little less. Rest a little more. Complain a little less. Praise a little more. Be a little less like myself and a little more like Jesus.

My Revenge

1eSOfG.AuSt.91It was no surprise.

In a very short period of time, shorter than my lifetime, the “gay rights” movement sold Americans the message that “gay rights” are “civil rights” and should be protected and respected on the same level as the color of one’s skin or the faith an individual chooses to practice.

This particular sin, which the Bible calls “Sodomy,” is now not only tolerated, but celebrated and—by some misguiding folks—considered the equivalent to the union God established to demonstrate His special relationship of love and faithfulness to the church. To be the foundation of the family. To be the fabric of society.

But, as I remind myself, the whole reason why Christians should care about this is the same reason why we do not have to fear or fret. Because there is a much higher authority than the US Supreme Court. And God is fully capable of defending His own rules. Justice Kennedy will not be writing the majority opinion for God’s court. And to God, it was just that by the way: an opinion.

But here on earth…what should our response be? As I pondered the crowds of jubilant protesters reveling in their momentary victory, I found myself grasping for a meaningful response.

I felt so helpless. And, in so many ways, disqualified from leading a charge for faith and family. Who would even listen? Who would care?

The only thing that will help us is revival.

But haven’t we made a lot of attempts at revival? Haven’t some of the best Christian leaders of our century tried unsuccessfully to stem the tide of society running amuck? Who could truly bring us to our knees in the stillness and quietness of hearts obedient to Christ?

I may not be able to light a fire of revival in our nation. But I am determined that there will be plunder. I’m determined that I can come through this more of a danger to complacency and disgusting lukewarm Christianity than ever before.

So here is my revenge:

I will love harder and give more; but most of all, I will worship more sincerely.

No more worshiping by rote. No yawning through church services half-heartedly singing words. No alternately thinking about what people are wearing, what is for lunch, and what the song-writer was prompting us to sing to our Savior. No more bowing my head to pray and drifting off into “to do” land—making lists in my head of what needs to happen that afternoon.

I will take more time to worship alone. With my phone off. The radio off. The TV off. I will take note of songs that are particularly meaningful to me. I will worship with Scripture. I will worship when no one is watching.

I’ll take everyone down the road with me that will go. And if that is zero, I’ll go alone.

I will look back and say, “Obergefell v. Hodges, that’s the day that changed me.” Five people handed down an opinion and it prompted me to turn up the heat on my Christian walk. It made me want plunder. It made me repent of sins I wouldn’t repent of before. Let go of selfishness I wouldn’t have let go of otherwise. Forgive people I didn’t want to forgive. But most of all, it made me clear the stage so I can worship.

I’m still imperfect and my zeal will fade with time, but every time someone tries to redefine “life” or “marriage” or change any truth Scripture, they will heap coals on the flames of my passion for Christ.  Let there be plunder!

At first, I was disgusted with the picture of the White House lighted up in rainbow colors. But now, I think it’s beautiful. Because the LGBT community can’t define the rainbow. God made it and He got to define it. He said, I have set MY bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between ME and the earth… Genesis 9:13 (ESV).  Every time I see the rainbow, I will be reminded of God’s love and of His justice. And I will worship.

Because I have nothing to fear. God still loves. He is still just. And the rainbow is still a reminder that God is on His throne and a refraction of light cannot hit a water droplet without the heavens declaring His glory…And this humble soul doing its best to join them.

Let there be plunder.


And…I have a few more ideas for revenge…and I would love to hear yours…

Faithful to the End

cropped-cropped-img_2164.jpgWe were all shocked and saddened by the tragedy in Charleston this week. Lives taken needlessly; heartlessly. What a cruel demonstration of misplaced and unchecked emotion. What complete disregard for the sanctity of human life.

But today, that is not my point.

And we probably shouldn’t be shocked. Here is a young man who grew up in a world crowded full of movies where people pull out guns to get their way. To make their point. Or just to create excitement. He’s probably played thousands of hours of videos games where shooting is just a function of the thumb to get to the end goal.   All the fiction figures that die are laughable collateral damage that don’t matter. We live in a culture of extremely violent entertainment that gives little regard for the aftermath.

But that is also not my point.

After the initial arrest, this young man seemed to be almost enjoying his new found notoriety. He did something “important” by his own estimation. What sickness. What callousness. It makes me want to vomit. It also makes me want to figure out a way to keep him from the limelight since he seems to be a believer of the adage that no publicity is bad publicity.

But that is also not my point.

Perhaps we have farther to go with race relations in America than we realized.

But that is also not my point.

Here is my point:

I envy those nine faithful Christians.

They lost their lives in a mid-week church service. They had taken time out of their Wednesday to pray and study the Bible with other believers. Sure, they didn’t know they were risking their lives at the time, but they did have other things to do. They had lunches to pack. Classes to miss. Homework to finish. Kids to spend time with.

Even absent other responsibilities and demands on their time, I’m sure some of them were tired from a day of work. Some of them were tempted to catch the next episode of a TV show. One lady was 87; no one expects an 87-year old to get out and go to church on a Wednesday night.

That night, as they carried out their simple act of worship, they had a visitor. They welcomed him. They accepted him. Even though he was not “one of them,” they received him into their church and treated him as part of their group.

For these nine people, their last act on earth was simple; but it was an act of faithfulness. Faithful devotion to their Savior that brought them there that night; and a faithful witness that kept them there and caused them to reach out to a visitor.

While I cannot see their hearts, I strongly suspect that there are nine people in heaven that Jesus welcomed this week with open arms. Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful in the little things.

And that’s the part that I envy. I wish was me. I hope is me.

I hope that when my Savior calls me, He finds me faithful. Maybe doing simple things. Maybe worshiping in a little group. Maybe serving in a quiet way. Maybe eating a potluck dinner. But faithful.

Our church also had a prayer service that night. But I was out of town, so I wasn’t there.

Needless to say, I felt convicted by the lives of these nine. They motivated me to make and keep church a priority. Because if a gunman ever comes for me, I hope he finds me in church, not at home watching TV or scrolling Facebook.

We can all take some comfort in knowing that this young man failed utterly with his mission. He did not start a war; he brought a city to its knees. He did not cause us to hate; he spurred us to show love. He did not make us fear; he made us want to be faithful.

Therein lies what I hope that there is another unexpected consequence of his actions: that it drives us to church. Even if we’re never called to greatness or notoriety, we’ve been called to faithfulness. Let’s show it by showing up in God’s house. Let’s gather for prayer and worship. Let’s eat a lot of casseroles together. Let’s greet a lot of visitors.

If an 87-year old can get out on a Wednesday night, so can we. Coach…Librarian…whatever your story, let your life be made up of prayer, Bible study, fellowship with other Christians, and reaching out to strangers.

And when we die—because we all will—may Jesus say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” because we were faithful unto the end.

Go to church.  That is my point.

God of Every Story

Listen to Laura Story’s song “God of Every Story.”

You might find it unremarkable unless you understand it for what it is: her story. A newly wed girl whose husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A surgery that left him in good health, but not quite whole. A lifetime with a man who is not able to remember that he married her. That would be tough.

But God was not done writing their story and he held their family together. In 2012, they welcomed a baby girl into their family. And in 2014, their family expanded with twin boys. It is little wonder why she is not writing a lot of new music these days. Their house probably hums to the tune “the wheels on the bus…”

Their story is still not all told, but even the part we know now is amazing. Especially when Laura tells it in worship.

God of every story. The timing of this gentle reminder was not a coincidence. Just a few minutes before hearing that song, I had been on my way to work, minding my own business, when I had been suddenly struck with eminency of my own fears. The radio was tuned to a conservative talk station where I had been listening to Dave Ramsey rant the night before. Mind you, my commute is only about three minutes long. And in that three minutes, I expected to hear about Benghazi, Obamacare, or Common Core. But instead, the topic of discussion had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with the reality of my deepest fears. There. I heard it. I couldn’t unhear it.

I won’t tell you what it was because it isn’t the point—but you might be able to guess. It may seem silly to you. That’s okay. It isn’t your fear; it’s mine. It might mean nothing to you; you might be able to explain it away; tell me I’m foolish; or tell me you’re sorry for me. But you can’t make it go away. Only God can do that. And so far, He hasn’t.

God of every story.

When my faith is tested, I often let my fears rule my heart. I often take my gaze off my Savior and my feet begin to sink. But this time, I resolved I wouldn’t do that—I wouldn’t get caught in the storm of my doubts but instead focus on the proof of His love.

I looked around at the stories I’m seeing God write. In fact, scrolling through Facebook was like paging through God’s brag book. Budding romances…blooming families…the glory of God’s creation…good gifts in small packages! I saw my adorable nephew swinging on a swing; a friend of mine named Jaime loving her new baby—a story God is writing that I can’t wait to hear more of.

My eyes locked on a photo of pink ballet slippers, “It’s a Girl!” it boasted and I was moved to tears.

My cousin was told as a young teen that she would never be able to have kids. For the last 15 years or so, she’s believed that she would never be a mom. For a girl, that’s a big deal. And I suspect that even to guys who might have otherwise been a big part of her life—that was a big deal. But from what I know about Joelle, she was faithful. She loved the Lord even though she didn’t love the facts as she knew them.

A wedding was long in coming for her. Then about a year and a half ago or so, she got married to a man who had cancer. He had fought it in the past and he was getting ready to go through treatments again. They got married knowing that they didn’t know what the future would look like. Which says a lot about the kind of girl Joelle is.

And the doctors said because of his numerous cancer treatments, he also was not able to have kids.

And that’s why this post is such a beautiful thing. Because now there are three in their family. Three miracles: A wedding. A sustaining. And a birth. Because God is the God of their story and He saw fit to trust them with one of His most precious gifts. Regardless of what the doctors had to say.

Then there is me. What is my story? I don’t know exactly.

Perhaps I’m up too close to even see it. When people even ask me “what’s new?” I don’t know what to say. No miracles.

But I guess I could say what’s new is what God is doing in me. What’s new is letting go of fears. Peace in the storm. Love instead of jealousy. Kinder words. A cleaner heart. A life less driven by fear and more driven by faith.

It doesn’t sound exciting and it’s not, really. Not a thriller or a romance. There are no ballet slippers with that. A work in progress isn’t “new” I guess, but it just that—a work. A story still being written.

But when God finishes, I’ll write a song about it. And I suppose I’ll have to work hard to come up with a title since “God of Every Story” is already taken.

Are there any happy people out there?

Yes, it has been three months since I’ve blogged.  I pretty much gave up blogging.

But recently, some friends encouraged me to continue.  The type of friends that I’m honored even take the time to read my writing–much less miss it when it isn’t there.

One kind soul even took the time to ask if I was “okay.”  So here is the short story:

October and November were difficult months.  I’m not gonna lie.

December was peaceful, pleasant, and even fun.  But with the peace came sort of a spiritual “dryness” that left me really with nothing to say and definitely, nothing to shout above the din of viral videos, cute cartoons, pithy comments, family photos, Christmas music, personal notes, and far, far better blogs than I’ll ever write.

My theory is, when I have nothing to say, I should be quiet.

Then there is a competing theory that there is never a perfect time to write.  Life will always be messy in some respect or another.  Sometimes, I just have to do it. Even when it is easier to just be quiet.

Anyway, so in December, I was kind of a cautious happy, not a confident happy.  I tried to blog a few times, but I wasn’t quite able to pull it off. And this week, my spirits seemed to be in a steady decline and by Tuesday afternoon,  I would listen to anyone who would tell me a tale of woe.  And when anyone else would listen, I would tell my own tale of woe.  Pretty soon, I felt like one unhappy person surrounded by a world of unhappy people.  6 billion unhappy people is a lot of unhappy people.

And we would all say, “Oh, and Happy New Year!”  at the end of the tale.

Like suddenly, the clock would strike midnight and we would all reset to happy.

Seriously, though, I found myself asking, “Are there any happy people out there?”  The poor aren’t happy.  The rich aren’t happy.  Students aren’t happy.  Working people aren’t happy.  Retired people aren’t happy.  Parents aren’t happy.  Kids aren’t even happy.  How messed up does a world have to be for kids not be happy? 

I’m willing to wager that if I had been at Disneyworld on Christmas Day, I could have found for you boatloads of people singing the blues to “It’s a Small World After All.” If the happiest place on earth is devoid of people living happily ever after, what hope is there for the rest of us?

I read somewhere that the key to happiness in a relationship is the constant belief that the other person is better than you deserve.  The more I thought about that, the more I have realized there is a lot of wisdom in that simple statement.  Perhaps because, whether they realized it or not, the author’s conclusion was essentially the biblical principles of humility and gratefulness…with a touch of contentment.

I’m convinced that the same truth applies to happiness in life.  Choose to believe that your life is better that you deserve.  And that is the truth—whether you believe it or not.

I don’t intend to be trite—I know that some of us were created to think constantly, feel deeply, and care passionately (not only about our own hurts, but about others’ as well). It can seem cold and even irreverent to cast aside feelings of hurt for feelings of hope.

But, nevertheless, it is never wrong to embrace the joy that humility and gratefulness bring. So, I started to do something new this New Years.  Not a resolution, but maybe a new tradition.  I decided to write down one hundred things I was grateful for—one hundred.

Some came quickly…and in no particular order: New Kitchen cabinets. Working heat.  Ministries I get to be a part of.  Grandparents.  My Sunday School class.  The Bible.  A working car.  Dish soap.  My phone.  Salvation.  Julie Anne.  Photos.

Some brought to mind a negative counterpart…my health (but not migraines).  My paycheck (but not taxes).  But I put a lid on that: no list of things I’m not thankful for.

My resolve was tested before I even hit 20.  My day included poorly timed reminders that all was not well in life—or at least not the way I want it.  But when you keep in mind that what you deserve is hell, that kind of puts a different perspective on things.  Life is good when it is better than you deserve.

I got to 50 without too much trouble. Then I started again:   Roses. Indoor plumbing. Nieces and nephews. A hope of heaven. The USA. Our troops. Sundays.

I named people God has brought into my life; current and past. The Lanes—who let me stay at their house and drive their car for free for 8 weeks while I studied for the bar exam. My sisters and brother – who let me buy annoying toys for their kids. Candi Grinder – my high school yearbook advisor who told me I was good at graphic design. The Kinzers – Clients who have come to be special people in my life.

That brought to mind a story that I just have to share…I was in Kentucky by myself and the weather was an ungodly 1 degree. I needed to leave and I couldn’t get the car to start. It was bitterly cold—my brain was frozen and I couldn’t really think of what to do next.

Jerry Kinzer—one of the wealthiest men I know—happened to call and asked about something. I confessed that it wasn’t the best morning in the world and that I couldn’t get the car to start. Jerry could have done nothing at all. He could have said he was sorry. He could have given me the phone number of a tow company. He could have sent one of the 100 or so men that work for him to come and give me a jump.

But a few minutes later, he showed up in the 1 degree weather, hooked up the cables he brought with his ungloved hands and jumped the jeep so I could get on the road.

There are a lot of stories like that in my life. There are a lot of people like that in my life. And before I even got to 100—I was wholly convinced that my life is much better than I deserve.

Are there any happy people out there?

I don’t know. But there is at least one happy person.

In here.

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

What if the sole indicator of your spiritual health was your prayer gauge?

What if the only fuel for your spiritual engine was the steam from your prayer room?

What if the only offering you had to lay before a loving king was the incense of your prayer?

I was never good at algebra. But one thing I learned is the importance of isolating a problem. Instead of being daunted by a long string of numbers, narrow the equation down to the offending variable. And so often, when all is not well with my spiritually, I dig down only to find that I lack a healthy prayer life. Prayer is so elementary that I forget it is like the alphabet that makes up every meaningful word we will encounter for the rest of our lives. We will never graduate from the need for prayer.

In Sunday School recently, we were taught that prayerlessness is a form of pride. It is me thinking I can handle life on my own. Occasional prayer is using God as my life saver instead of as my boat. It may keep me alive, but it won’t keep me heading in the right direction.

Lord, teach us to pray

When the disciples went to Jesus and asked him to teach them to pray, it was not the urgency of a critical need that drove them. It was not because of some puzzling dilemma. When the disciples needed something or had a question, they asked Jesus. Any why not? He was God. And He was right there. He was eating, sleeping, breathing, and walking next to them. He had shown himself infinitely powerful and ridiculously patient. Was walking with Jesus not enough?

The disciples didn’t yet understand that Jesus would die and ascend back to heaven. They didn’t yet grasp the importance of the relationship with a God who was unseen. But they did understand something: Jesus spent time—serious time—talking with the Father. Somehow they knew the importance of that time to Jesus. It was not Jesus’ daytime TV fix. It was a powerful communion between Father and Son.

And so they asked him to show them to pray.

Many books have been written and many sermons preached over the simple prayer Jesus taught to the disciples. He wasted no time and no words providing for the disciples a pattern for approaching the gates of heaven.

But clearly Jesus didn’t intend for them to memorize those simple phrases and repeat them with rote discipline day after day. Paul’s writings are replete with prayers—none of which are repetition or patterns. David, years before Jesus came to earth, had earned a place close to God’s heart by pouring out his soul to his God—sometimes in song; sometimes in grief; sometimes in despair. Moses had forged a close relationship with God through some unconventional prayers which include songs of praise recorded for us to read thousands of years later.

Jesus modeled a prayer life that went far beyond the six or eight verses we call the Lord’s prayer. He spent days and hours. He retreated to the garden. He sent His disciples away. And when it was crunch time, he was incredulous that his disciples could not focus for even one hour. An hour of prayer to Jesus was like a penny to Donald Trump. Jesus had spent 40 days in prayer and fasting. And unlike me, when Jesus spent time in prayer and fasting, he was probably praying and fasting.

Forty uninterrupted days of prayer.

Lord, teach us to pray.

We don’t make time to pray because we undervalue it. If we understood it as unfettered access to the riches of God’s grace, as an appointment with the King of the universe, as a luxurious retreat into the safest of refuges, we would do it.

We would just do it.

We would ask God to teach us.

We would ask the Holy Spirit to help us when we had no words to say.

Prayer may or may not change the world. But it will change us. It will feed our faith. It will anchor our hope. It is the source of our joy.

The more I pray the more I am able to hold loosely the cares of this world until I find myself casting them on the Lord in faith that He cares for me.

Lord, teach me to pray.


Hurting Deeply

Well, if you’ve noticed me walking with a slight limp, here’s the story: I was carrying in my groceries when my shoe got caught on the top of baby gate (doggie boundary dividing my living room from the kitchen). My arms were too full to even soften the fall, so one second I was quickly trying to unload the hot car, and the next second I was sprawled flat on the kitchen floor surrounded by lunch meat, five different kinds of cheese, peaches, and a pear tree.

Julie Ann felt bad for me in my pitiful state and came over to lick my face while I surveyed the damage to my knees and tried to untangle my feet from the gate.

It was a humbling moment in time.

And…It was funny the effect that simple spill had on my emotions. I was tempted to let my spirits crash right along with me. I could almost see all of my troubles lying in the heap of meat, cheese, and peaches.

And frankly, I have it pretty good.

I thought of the girl I had seen earlier that day parked in an empty corner of a parking lot crying her eyes out. I thought of another friend I had dinner with who is in serious physical and financial trouble. Another friend whose kids are struggling. Another who may lose her house. One who recently lost his job. One whose husband is dying. The list goes on.

I care. I even hurt for the girl in the parking lot whom I don’t know. Maybe she was crying because she broke a nail or woke up with a zit. But, hey, I know what it’s like to be ambushed by a baby gate and find yourself suddenly flat on your face  surrounded by all your troubles and being licked by a dog. It isn’t always the circumstance itself that hurts. The circumstance just reminds you once again that life hurts.

I know a lot of hurting people. Hurting deeply. And I feel powerless to help. I’d fix it for them if I could, but I can’t. I can’t bail everyone out of their financial problems. I can’t make people get along. I can’t heal their bodies.

I can’t fix it. I can’t fix it for myself and I certainly can’t fix it for others. I often even feel like my attempts at words of encouragement are kind of like an iceberg lettuce salad. Just filling space.

It sounds trite to try to give someone a recipe for happiness–even if I had one. If they choose, they can accurately point out that I have never been in their shoes. I don’t understand. Not really.

God provided for hurting people the best friend we could ever ask for. He listens. He cares. But unlike us, He never says, “If I could fix it for you, I would.”

Instead, He often says, “I could fix it for you, but I won’t.”

Even that hurts.

But it’s the truth.

And, in hindsight, I’m grateful to the people who spoke the truth to me when they knew I was hurting. They listened. They sometimes even cried with me. But they spoke the truth.

And the truth was this: humility, gratefulness, and joy are three of a kind. They like to hang together. When I am proud or self-centered, I won’t have joy. I won’t be happy. End of story.

I need humility. I need gratefulness. I need to see beyond myself and focus on what really matters. It won’t fix the circumstances but it will go a long way toward lifting my spirits and changing my outlook. It can turn me into an energy giver instead of a leech.

I make no effort to compare my troubles with the grave challenges some of my friends face. As I said, I have it pretty good. But as I learn to bear the burdens of my friends, I need to learn to listen, to love, but to speak the truth.

Sometimes, when I splat, it is time to stop and be humbled. Sometimes it is time to reflect and be grateful. Sometimes, it is time to move the baby gate (it is probably a bad idea to try to carry arm loads of loose groceries over an obstacle in flip flops).

And sometimes, when I’m hurting deeply, you might need to be the one to encourage me to do one or more of those things.

And no matter what I tell you or what excuses I give, be a true friend and tell me the truth.

Everything else is just iceberg lettuce.

Driving School

The room was full of 15 year old kids. All the girls were wearing the exact same style of short gym shorts. Most of them had their hair up in a messy bun, but a few had it hanging down in their face where they could flip it over their shoulder every so often.

By contrast—I was wearing—actually, I don’t really remember what I was wearing. It didn’t matter. It was a Saturday. I was across town serving a sentence.   It wasn’t as if I was trying to impress the row of boys trying to get their driver’s licenses.

He started by having them go around the room and state their name and what school they are from. “Wando” teen after teen said, naming the local public school.

Then he got to the two whispering, gum cracking girls in the middle. “B-E” They both said.

I figured out B-E stood for Bishop England—a nearby catholic school where the tuition is so astronomical that you pretty much have to be astronaut smart to make it worthwhile. They did not come across as astronaut smart. But here I am, judging.

“I went to B-E.” The 50-something teacher said.   “That was back when it was taught by nuns. They used to whack us with rulers if we didn’t behave.”

The wanna be astronauts did not look impressed. They have probably never been whacked with rulers. But here I am, judging again.

“It isn’t so bad…” one girl admitted. “If it wasn’t for the uniforms. And all the rules.” She said with emphasis.

They are not going to be astronauts.

Then he got to me. Instead of stating my school, he had me state my crime. I guess the fact I was not in short gym shorts gave away the fact that I was twice the age of this room full of fresh, new accidents waiting to happen.

I got a ticket for going 67 in a 55.

My first ticket. Ever.

In Wise County, Virginia.

Where they give out tickets like participation ribbons.

And hate passers by.

And don’t care about tourism.

Or the economy.

Or my insurance premiums.

Or my feelings.

Or my bad day.

Of course, I didn’t say all that, just my name and my crime.

For 16 years I could have been the poster child for the ACE driving course. But that all ended in one bad day when I became a victim of the Virginia conspiracy. And here I was—having shelled out attorney’s fees, court fees, driving school fees—spending 8 hours on a sacred Saturday listening to a man who was bitter about being hit by a ruler 40 years ago.

And the teens were looking at me with faces that said—I will never be the old person sitting in the back of the room stating my name and my crime to a room full of cool teenagers.

Okay, well then, my advice to you, O wise ones, is this: stay out of Wise County, Virginia.

A college girl sitting next to me similarly had to confess: believe it or not, she also got her first ticket driving through Wise County, Virginia. Were you listening, astronauts? This is proving to be the most important thing you’ll hear all day.

He handed us each a booklet full of blanks to fill in and started up a power presentation. Vaguely, in the back of my mind, there were faint memories forming. My first few times behind the wheel. A few more gray hairs on my dad’s head.

I remember one driving moment well—

Dad: Danielle, slow down.

Me: But Dad, the speed limit is 45.

Dad: Danielle, the driver in front of you is going 35.

He had a point. Too bad he didn’t also tell me to stay out of Virginia.

It was one of the longest days of my life. I decided that before the lunch break. I decided that before 10:00 am. There is nothing like being in a room full of 15 year olds to make you feel like you need to stop on the way home and get measured for dentures.

When a question starts with “Like, okay…well…like, I mean, like…okay…” You just know it isn’t going to be a question that you need to hear the answer to.  I felt sorry for the teacher who, after this exciting day, was going to be doing behind the wheel with these teens. I might rather be hit with a ruler by nuns.

He tried to get their e-mail addresses and some of them looked at him with those looks that say… “What? Do you think this is like 2005 or something?”

I tried to stay awake. I really did. The teacher methodically plodded through the material. How to change lanes. When to change lanes.

Then he started talking about drinking and driving. I suspect that sometimes the old people in the back of the room are serving a more serious sentence than I. I thought perhaps it was for my benefit or the college girl next to me.

But apparently not.

“I know you guys are going to drink.” Mind you, he was a retired cop. “I know you’re going to party. I know you’re going to do what kids do.”

And then he started on the whole “don’t drink and drive: it might kill you” scare.

I was really sad. I was sad because he told those kids that he expected them to break the law. He expected them to get drunk. He expected them to spend their teen years doing stupid, foolish, and even illegal things. Other kids did, so these kids would too. He was just hoping that they would avoid dying in the process. And it would be good if, in addition to not killing themselves, they avoided killing other responsible drivers.

That was his advice to them.

I could hardly keep my mouth shut. I wanted to get up and preach. Don’t set your bar so low. Don’t make it your boundary not to get in a car so drunk that you won’t make it home alive. Don’t treat the law like it is subject to a popularity contest.

Do the right thing. Being a teenager doesn’t give you a pass. Being a teenager doesn’t free you of other consequences of sin. Believe it or not, dying in a car wreck isn’t the only potential hazard of alcohol. And alcohol isn’t really the issue. The issue is the mindset that you can do whatever you want…So we have to try to convince you that you don’t want to drink and drive or undertake other harmful behaviors.

Why can’t we ask teenagers to do right because it right? Why can’t we set the standard a little higher than “don’t kill yourself and others?” Regardless of the dangers, regardless of the consequences, regardless of what everyone else is doing, do the right thing. That’s why God created the concept of authority, so you would know what the right thing is. When you reach a place in life when you wish people would tell you what to do and what not to do, then you are probably mature enough to start making your own decisions.

And for Pete’s sake, if you are the authority, tell a kid to do right.

When the officer pulled me over, he didn’t care that I was driving with the flow of traffic. He held me to the standard of the law. Admittedly, I didn’t like that. But that’s life and teenagers need to understand that just as well as adults. Anything less is chaos.

I suppose the teacher that day meant well. He was probably just afraid of sounding like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. He wanted the teens to feel like he understood them. So he encouraged them toward foolish behavior—as long as they stopped short of wrapping their new cars around the Charleston oak trees.

And I suppose, if I had been given the opportunity to rant from the back of the room, they would have regarded me like a crabby nun waiving a ruler. But I cared about them. Not just that they stayed alive, but that they did right.

So there you have it. I’m preaching to myself again: Do the right thing. Doing right will avoid all the consequences of doing wrong—not only the most severe—and it brings its own rewards.

And in case you make a mistake, stay out of Wise County, Virginia.



I read his e-mail; and I was ticked.

First of all, he was wrong. What he was telling me was bogus and I knew it.

But it wasn’t so much what he said as how he said it that had me irritated. He had baited me for a fight and I was inches away from taking his bait.

I went back and re-read my prior e-mail to him. Looking at it subjectively, I had to admit that even though I hadn’t meant for it to sound ugly, someone who didn’t know that or know me might have understood it as ugly. So he had responded by taking things down a notch. And now, here I was, tempted to take us lower still.

There is a word for it. A five letter word that starts with a “P.” Proverbs tells us that only by pride comes contention. And in the legal world and in the real estate world, there is ton of it—both pride and contention—that is.

And sometimes, I get sucked right in. Like right now, when a realtor is trying giving me a legal lecture. I don’t need a realtor to tell me what the law is. That’s what I went to school for. What did he go to school for? Interior design? Auto repair? Landscaping? Tell me about those things.

When we are called on to “zealously” represent a client and to negotiate with other professionals, it is so easy to get caught in a battle where words become barbs and barbs become hooks that we use to drag others down.

I couldn’t count the number of days that have been ruined by a nasty exchange with another professional as we both try to do our jobs. I’ve been yelled at, I’ve been chewed up, I’ve been lectured, I’ve been educated, I’ve been blamed, I’ve been accused, and I’ve been just generally provoked.

And sometimes, I’ve fallen right in the trap. (I never create the trap, of course. Just fall in. Like the innocent victim of…well…of pride.)

Our egos, or rather, our pride doesn’t want the other side to get the final say. We want to win. Unfortunately, there is nothing to be won usually; just something to be lost—a relationship, a reputation, a testimony.

I have often regretted my words: what I said, and even more often, how I said them. In fact, the longer I work, the more I recognize the wisdom of kind words.

The problem with kinder, gentler, more peaceful responses is that they often require more humility than I have. I’m often not willing to be told I was wrong when, in fact, I could make a good case that I was right. I am often not willing to be told what I already know without saying, “I already knew that.” I’m often not willing to listen to someone else’s idea without saying, “I already thought of that.” I’m often not willing to take the blame that I believe belongs to someone else. Just writing these thoughts has brought back many things that came off my tongue that I could line up as “Exhibit A,” “Exhibit B,” and so on through the alphabet.

Mother Teresa is often quoted as instructing us to “speak kind words and receive kind echoes.” And she is right. If you live in a hollow tube. Personally, I would say that speaking kind words does not guarantee a kind response, although it greatly increases the chances.

Unfortunately, the chances are still good that sometimes, kind words will be greeted with an unkind response. Sometimes, my best effort at peacemaking will be misunderstood or just plain rejected.

And sometimes, I will still have to give orders, make offers, and tell truths that other people don’t want to hear. Sometimes I will have to ask people to do projects they don’t want to do; follow up with people who don’t want to be followed up with; change my plans and other peoples’ plans; and even reject their ideas. Sometimes I will be right and they won’t see it. And sometimes, I will be wrong and they will point it out.

So regardless of what I do and say, I will probably never win a popularity contest.

But I’m not trying to win a popularity contest.

I’m trying to please an Audience of One. I need to make sure the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart will be acceptable in His sight.

Regardless of what the other guy does. Regardless of who understands what. Regardless of how the other side chooses to respond.

And that is why it requires humility. Because Mother Teresa is only partly right. Kind words won’t always get you what you want. Not even echoes of what you want. There is no selfish reason to be nice all the time.

So this is me reminding myself to choose kind words—not for the kind echoes—but for the One Listener who is more concerned that I learn Christ-like humility than whether I have a cute post, a funny tweet, or a winning argument. Then, no matter what, the echoes of my words will be true and right…and they will probably be kind.