Indwelt Bible Study: Zealous (An Honest Review)

If you know me, you know I love reading. I also love Jesus, and leading others in the spiritual disciplines. Over the years I’ve closely followed the Christian publishing industry and blogosphere, reviewed books, and recommended those that I really love. My dream life would include living in the woods, running a retreat center where I read, lead spiritual retreats, and recommend great books that will help others grow in discipleship–so I guess this is great practice for that dream life!

Recently, Maggie from the Everleigh Company reached out to me to see what I thought of her new study, Zealous. If you follow Maggie on Instagram @everleighcompany, you know she’s wise and sweet. I couldn’t wait to dig into her new study. 

For those of you who pay attention to the Christian publishing and the blogosphere, you know there is no shortage of great studies. The thing that sets this study apart is the gentle pace that leaves room for listening to the Holy Spirit. As a busy mom, surrounded by noise I so appreciate the format of this beautiful study. Working through the reflection questions really helped me to refocus my identity and purpose in this season of life. The beautiful images and layout helped to settle my spirit without being distracting. I highly recommend working through this study with a group of mom friends this summer.

You can find Zealous and Maggie’s other studies at everleighcompany.com

Mother's Day Prayer

This squishy little nursling is suddenly a curious, funny two-year-old. She was washing her belly button in the tub tonight and told me, “You be a tiny baby, Mommy. You go in my tummy.” She laughed, imagining it I suppose.

“It doesn’t work that way, baby.”

I look at photos from her first months and barely remember parts of it. Major life transitions and sleep deprivation are to blame. Only two-years removed, and I’m already overwhelmed with guilt sometimes, and wish I knew then what I know now.

I can tell myself, it doesn’t work that way. 

Time is linear and fleeting. Wisdom is slowly acquired, often through difficult circumstances. Pain can’t be avoided. Memories are slippery.

Motherhood magnifies all of it–the beauty and the brokenness. Consider birth itself. Even when all goes as well as possible, the baby is left with a little wound. Our first scar forms at our belly button where our in-utero-life-sustaining connection to our mother is ended. It served its purpose for that season then needed to be severed in the interest of growth and development.

My prayer for my children this Mother’s Day is that I’m the one caring for their wounds, not inflicting them. That I call out their God-given gifts and speak life into them. That I remind them of who they are and allow them to do the same for me.

When the Buzzards are Circling

A few years ago, I was reintroduced to the idea that we can actually hear from God. When I consider it, the thought is still staggering—that the creator of the vast and intricate universe speaks to me. Even more, when I don’t hear him the first time, he repeats the message until I finally listen. God loves us and wants what is best for us, so of course he wants us to check in from time to time for some guidance. 

Have you ever heard or read the same passage of scripture several times in a short span before you realized God was using it to tell you something?

He speaks to all of us in different ways. Once, he spoke to my husband through a guy who isn’t even a Christian. God knew something very specific my husband needed to hear in just that moment, and he used a normal guy—a guy who doesn’t believe in God—to speak it. That’s just like God, though. I thought, good one, God.

Most often, God uses analogies from nature to speak to me. I grew up playing in the woods and have always felt more peaceful in nature. By understanding how detailed and interwoven life in a forest can be, I understand the how good and inexplicable God is. How he plans things in advance, how dependent one life is on another, and how wildly creative he is.

Now that I know he wants to tell me things about my life, I make it a point to really listen. It’s like when I first got married and joined a women’s Bible study with a bunch of women who had been married for decades. They taught me so much and prayed for me. Seeking godly wisdom is like taking a short cut and saving ourselves so much trouble.

Seeking God’s wisdom is even better because he loves us more than anyone ever will and knows us better too. He made the future, and wants us to make the most of the path he set before us.

A few weeks ago, we were in the family minivan leaving our neighborhood when a giant turkey buzzard swooped in front of our car. My husband and I remarked how strange it seemed to see one in our Nashville neighborhood, with the houses close together and people everywhere.

Miles down the road, we saw a several vultures feasting on a deer carcass, while others waited a few feet away for their turn. Later, we witnessed an even larger group of carrion-feeders doing what they do. All weekend, these scenes continued until we began to wonder if God was giving us some kind of warning. Apart from God’s wisdom, this recurring theme was quite unsettling.

Monday morning, after dropping my children at preschool, I decided to take a Sabbath for myself at Radnor Lake to be in nature and seek God’s wisdom, almost fearing a response about what he might be preparing my mind to receive. He had my attention, but I still needed to quiet myself enough to hear from him. On my way I saw more buzzards on the side of a busy road. I wasn’t surprised, but I knew it was finally time to ask and prepare my heart for what it might hear.

As I prayed and hiked I finally asked, Lord, what’s with the carrion-feeders?! Is something terrible going to happen?

God’s peace rushed over me as his voice said, Remember, I made the buzzards, and they serve a function in the ecosystem—to carry away what’s already dead. They’re not coming for you. They are coming for what’s already dead.

A few days later, through circumstances completely out of my control, it became clear what was dead. Had God not prepared me, it would have felt like a devastating loss, and a huge betrayal, but I have peace about it that doesn’t make sense. Only God can provide that.

Rather than leaving a difficult situation in front of me to rot, he’s sending something to carry it away. Without his preparation, I would still be reeling. New life will come in its place, and I’m so grateful.

What is God speaking to you today? If you quiet yourself, I’m sure he will speak.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 12.56.48 PM.png

Growth Begets Growth

When life gets busy and out of balance, sometimes we neglect the aspects that aren’t immediate needs. Items don’t even make our to-do list if they’re not crying out for our attention. For example, sometime in mid-August, I was backing out of the driveway and noticed that our entire lawn had died. I guess when one is caring for small children, a small business, and other aspects of the home, and when the Tennessee summer is relentlessly parched, the entire lawn dies. There were some scraggly patches still holding on, and some areas of just dirt. Oops.

As a sometimes-responsible homeowner, I purchased a bag of grass seed. I spread it and watered regularly, yet my efforts weren’t as fruitful as I would expect. Eventually some seeds took hold and began to grow.

Perhaps if you’ve taken time to watch the grass grow, you can guess the next thing I’m going to tell you. The first seeds to take hold and begin to flourish were in the areas where some brown scraggly grass was still trying to survive in the first place.

Some of the seeds I scattered over hard, dry soil were blown away by the wind or washed away by the sprinkler, but they took hold where roots were still hanging on to some life. The ones that stayed in the dead places never grew.

I want you to consider this metaphor if you’re a person who wants to grow. It will be much harder to grow on your own, but if you can find some friends who want to grow too, you’ll be of great help to one another. You won’t thrive on the surface. You will need to dig down, receive nourishment, and be willing to break your little seed shell open to where the life exists. You’ll have to grow roots into the soil and send beauty into the world. And you’ll have to be on the lookout for little seeds on the loose. Catch them and pull them into your little cluster of thriving and beauty.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 1.03.23 PM.png

How to Discover Your Word

Out with resolutions; in with words!

A few years ago, I noticed a trend of people selecting a word to embody their goals for the new year. At first, I thought it was kind of silly, like how in high school people would have a song that was their song, but really it wasn’t about them. They just claimed it as such. For example, my friend had this weird boyfriend and their song was K-Ci and Jojo’s All My Life. So maybe it was a song that has significance for them, but it made the rest us feel awkward when we were in the car with them and it came on the radio, and they forgot we were there. Anyway, I digress.

Choosing a word is much more personal and significant than your favorite make-out song or another New Year’s Resolution. Rather than a vague resolution like, “I will be healthy in the new year” or, “I will quit [this bad habit]” they chose a word that gives depth or creates a theme. After all, with a resolution, we feel kind of like it’s all or nothing, and when we fail, we tend to scrap the whole thing. Resolutions require sudden change, and we humans just aren’t set up that way. We are made for transformation and growth, but not at the flip of a calendar page. In that way, New Year’s Resolutions are almost designed to fail.

As a former literature major, I love themes and deeper meanings and, of course, words. I love words so much that it’s difficult to narrow it down to one word for the whole year.

In 2015 I adopted, “surrender and expect” as my words–and they’re still words I’m carrying with me. I’ve repeated them, written about them, and meditated on them so much, they’ve become woven into my being. I pray them when I don’t know what else to pray, even two years later.

2016 was all about overcoming fear and launching into bigger and better things–breaking old, tired, unfruitful ways. The phrase that has rolled around in my head is from Steven Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. One of the seven habits, “Begin with the End in Mind.” I hope I haven’t become too preoccupied with morbidity, but I have been thinking about this path I’m on and where it will eventually end. My word for 2016 has been “Legacy.” I’ve highlighted verses in scripture that relate to legacy and generational living. Much like my words from 2015, I’ll carry this word with me, kind of like the rings on a tree–each year, another layer builds on the one before. We don’t just dispose of it as we move on to the next.

Last week my friend said she was praying for me and God gave her a word picture of sorts, and I feel like that is leading me to my word or theme for 2017. As I seek more wisdom on this, I thought I would share my process with you, in case you’re hoping to have a word that has meaning. Rather than just arbitrarily choosing a word, go through a process to find some deeper meaning:

  1. Quiet yourself and pray. God already knows what he wants to do with you and through you in 2017. Borrow my words from 2015 and surrender to what he has for you, and expect him to provide it.
  2. Invite others to speak into your life. When someone offers a word of encouragement, advice, or even correction, take it to God to sift and discern its value. God often uses other people to speak to us to draw us into relationship with one another. (Also, people sometimes say awful things that aren’t from God, so you need to run it by Him for wisdom, and let it fall away.)
  3. Free write some words. I loved teaching free writing to my students, especially when they felt stuck. Keep in mind, no one will be seeing what you’re writing, so feel free to unload your subconscious and see what comes of it. Spend some time making a list of every word you think of. Next, pray and ask God to eliminate what’s not from Him.
  4. Look for repeating themes or words that continually get your attention in your everyday experiences.

Eventually, a word or theme will emerge for you about what God wants you to study this year and how specifically he is inviting you to grow.

Do you already have a word this year, or have you had words in the past that are a focus for the whole year? I’d love to hear them!

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 1.15.11 PM.png

Small for the Sake of Others

Have you ever made yourself small for the sake of others?
Small waist?
Small dreams?
Quiet voice?

Have you adjusted your seated position to keep your thighs from spreading fat?

Adjusted your life trajectory to stay on course with a companion?

The guessing game of perceived approval is a waste of breath and life.

While you are focused on how they see you

God already sees you redeemed, prepared, brave, whole.

His Kingdom is for this broken old world, but He needs you to bring it.

Everyone gets to play.

But don’t miss your chance.

These days should be stewarded carefully.

Love loudly.

Don’t shrink, shine.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 12.51.53 PM.png

The 5 Regrets of the Dying.

Last year when we moved to Nashville, I signed up to receive notification emails for upcoming estate sales in town. I browse through the photos to see if it’s worth dragging the children with me on a Friday morning, early enough to get the good things. As you might imagine, it’s tricky to properly browse an estate sale with small children in tow. We avoid the rooms filled with crystal and other breakable things, and stick to our search for records, vintage books, or other folksy treasures.

Screen Shot 2018-04-19 at 12.47.25 PM.png

I can’t help but wonder about the people selling their things. Lately I’ve noticed a ton of big collections: coins, china, figurines—the sale announced today features a large collection of pocketknives—and sadness strikes me. Is this what the owners thought would happen as they spent years amassing collections? That strangers would riffle though and offer a few bucks for it?

In Bronnie Ware’s book, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she unpacks a few big themes that she experienced while working in palliative care. Can you guess what the top five are? What about what’s not on the list?

On the list:
• I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
• I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
• I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
• I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
• I wish I had let myself be happier.

NOT on the list:
• I wish I had kept my house perfectly immaculate every day.
• I wish I hadn’t wasted all that time with my children.
• I wish I had collected more stuff.
• I wish I had watched more TV instead of finishing my novel.
• I wish I had spent less time around a campfire having all those great conversations.

These are a few of the things I feel are keeping us stuck on the surface of life, when we’re really created dig deeply.

We’re created for meaningful relationships and experiences, yet many of us are stuck on hamster wheels that generate that list of regrets.

Meeting others’ expectations instead of our own—or God’s.

Working to buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like. (Dave Ramsey paraphrase)

Stewing on ideas or feelings without knowing how to authentically and meaningfully communicate.

Having thousands of “friends” on social media, but not investing well with those who matter most.

Doing the things that keep us busy instead of feeding our souls.

What small steps can you take today to be on the path to fulfillment rather than regret?

Whoever said time heals all wounds?

This time of year reminds me of the time five years ago when our extended family was gathered at my grandparents’ small home waiting for my grandfather to pass. It had already been a little over thirteen months since we did the same as my grandmother lost her short battle with cancer, and we knew he wouldn’t last long without his companion of over sixty years.

Various health issues, mostly heart-related, caused us to think his time would come before hers, but God knew otherwise.

In that span of a little more than a year without her, he was brought to the end of himself. He was a tough guy who didn’t mind if people were a little afraid of him, especially during my mom’s dating years. But finding his way without her made room for a know-it-all, tough guy to become pretty soft. He asked me questions about God and Heaven like a child—or a desperate old man.

My sweet grandmother, a Sunday school teacher, letter writer, slipper knitter, and dear friend to everyone, left a gaping hole when she died. If it were true that one member of a family could save the rest, we would all be in good shape.

He, on the other hand, felt as if he didn’t belong in the church. Fully aware of his brokenness, but unaware of the real gospel, he thought the church was just for those who had already gotten it together. My siblings and I were baptized as infants in my grandmother’s Methodist church and at one of the events—I’m not sure which—the minister joked as my grandfather entered the sanctuary that the roof would cave in or lightning would strike. “Only joking, only joking,” my grandfather re-enacted. But he carried that judgment with him.

In the last year of his life we talked about these themes often, but as his body grew weaker and weaker in the October days near the end, he really wanted to talk about pain he carried with him from his childhood. Our conversations all pointed back to his father and his father’s father and their sin and anger. And it was all released just in time for him to move on—or perhaps God kept him earth side until he got to the root of it, for the sake of grace. There’s no way to be certain.

Whoever started the notion, time heals all wounds, probably died from a festering infection. The thing is, we need to deal with our brokenness—the wounds caused by others and the ones we’ve brought on ourselves—because it will all rise to the surface eventually.

It’s never convenient to do the hard work of healing, but it is crucial as a process if you want your life to bear fruit. Here are some strategies that may help.

Set aside regular time for silence and solitude. I’ve known several people over the years who have neglected this practice or used busyness to hold the surface together over their brokenness. Eventually a time comes when they find themselves alone and the old stuff they’ve worked to bury, rises to the surface uncontrollably. It’s far less painful to schedule time.

Open your heart for healing. God’s intention is for us to be emotionally healthy people who can do the work he has for us, but he doesn’t go where he’s not invited. It is not the nature of God to invade the places of your life you’re keeping from him. Pray and invite God to begin his work where he sees fit. Be specific and patient in your prayers. Expect miracles.

Make an exchange with God. One of my pastors, Danny Meyer, has been preaching on this for years. We get to take our broken, fragmented life and give it to God. In return, he gives us wholeness. That looks like grace to forgive ourselves and others, peace we can’t even understand, and a life that can be used to bring the kingdom of God to this crazy world. Sounds like a good deal.

Talk to someone. In my grandfather’s case, the minister from the Methodist church began checking on him after my grandma passed away. The minister didn’t exactly meet the legalistic criteria of the older congregation he served, but his openness with my grandfather literally brought miracles. His simple confession to my grandfather that he sometimes experienced anger literally broke a century of generational sin. If you don’t have a wise, trusted friend, peer-counselor through a local church, or other counselor, pray for God to send you someone.

Do you have any suggestions for dealing with old wounds? Add to the conversation in the comments.

Nurture. Grow. Lead.

First published August 31, 2016

A few weeks ago, my little guy and I scattered some zinnia seeds in a bare patch in our yard. We watered them and waited. Eventually, green sprigs then blooms appeared. Had we not scattered, and watered, and waited, we wouldn’t have known which ones would be orange, or fuchsia, or pink, or red. As seeds, they all looked the same, yet the potential awaiting within would be different for each. Some have two layers of petals and others even have small, yellow, star-like blooms in the center. Isn’t that amazing? One little bag of seeds held all those secret beauties. There isn’t one that’s just like another. Yet they had been planned all along, hidden away in their tiny, unassuming, boring seed form, but we had no way of knowing for sure until we saw them with our own eyes.

This has me feeling blown away by the vastness of God’s creation. These are just the zinnia–we’ve yet to discuss other flower varieties, and we wouldn’t have time or knowledge to make an exhaustive list.

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 3.39.18 PM.png

My question for you, then, is if God has given this much attention to the flowers, what does it say about the intricacies and variations of our gifts and contributions we are to lend this wild world? Ask God to show you which hidden-away gifts you should be nurturing in yourself during this particular season of your life. Share some beauty today.

Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 3.52.59 PM.png
Screen Shot 2018-04-18 at 3.53.34 PM.png