Do They See Love?

When our family first moved overseas, I had a pretty definite “battle plan” for adapting to daily life in another culture.  It involved keeping my head down, blending in, being a watcher, flying under the radar, letting the Russian people yell at me if they wanted to (they did)—pretty much anything to avoid lengthy scrutiny or confrontation.  In short, my battle plan was NOT to battle. There were occasions, however, when I was less reticent, especially if I felt there was a threat, even a small one, to me or my children.  

One afternoon I was coming out of a shop with our two daughters in tow, stuffing change into my wallet while juggling two heavy bags of groceries. In no time, a swarm of gypsy children surrounded us, waving hands in my face and clamoring for money. I berated myself for letting my guard down. Groups of gypsies were common in the summertime in Moscow. Flashing money around in plain sight, as I was doing in my carelessness, was an open invitation to be mobbed.

I paused a moment, considering my options and concerned for my daughters. The goal of the gypsy children was to have the cash they could plainly see, but common wisdom said that it was best not to do anything that would make them bolder in their begging. I surely did not want them following me! The bottom line for me was simply to get out of the middle of this group as quickly as possible.

One girl, taller than the others, had positioned herself next to my left hand, which still held my open wallet. In the midst of the clamor, she suddenly grabbed my arm, and just like that my battle plan of reticence went out the window. Jerking my arm up and away, I turned on her, looked her in the eye and gave her the full blast of what my husband refers to as the Death Look. Her big eyes opened wide in fear. She ducked as if avoiding a blow, and she and her friends scattered, vanishing as quickly as they had appeared.

This is a story I have told often because it was a time—perhaps the only time—when  the Death Look produced a good result.  My husband, who became familiar with the Death Look in the early years of our marriage, had identified it quickly and studiously avoided it.  While it seemed to give me immediate control of an argument or disagreement, it really only created an environment of anger, distrust, antagonism—not exactly things you want in a marriage. We fortunately moved on to healthier ways of communicating as the years passed. But in the midst of a group of gypsy children who wanted my money, the Death Look shifted control from them to me and served me well. 

Some years later, I am sad to say that the Death Look resurfaced as a way to control the behavior of our oldest daughter.  When she was 10 or 11 years old, I developed the habit of fixing her with the Death Look when we were in the company of others and I wanted to avoid an open argument but still let her know she was not behaving as I wished.  I don’t know if she remembers this, but I do because I was pretty smug about my ability to control her with a single look. I began nailing her with the Look at home, as well.  The fact that she came to avoid my eyes altogether should have been a clue as to its real effect, but for a while I enjoyed the power I wielded.

Then came the day when I picked up a tattered little paperback in a pile of used parenting books at our school rummage sale. As I began to thumb through it, a heading to this effect caught my eye: “When she looks in your eyes, does she see love?”  My gosh, how my heart suddenly hurt as I faced the truth. I could hardly bear to think what my daughter saw in my eyes when I fixed her with the Death Look.  Why was I so intent on showing displeasure to one whom I loved so deeply? The book further explained that a loving look is especially crucial when our girls are 10 or 11, and when our boys are four or five.  Our son was five at the time, and and our second daughter was fast approaching the crucial pre-teen years. How often had I used the Death Look on ALL of them?

Shortly after this, my daughter and I were in the kitchen together cleaning up after dinner. Whether she dropped or spilled something I don’t recall, but she stole a furtive glance in my direction. I knew the look that she was expecting, and I knew exactly what I wanted her to see. I locked my eyes on hers with all the love I felt for her, and I smiled. She stared at me with a look of shock, followed quickly by relief. To this day my eyes fill with tears as I recall that moment. She glanced down for a minute, then back at me. Like a time-lapse video of a seedling unbending and reaching upward, she stood a little straighter, looked up into my eyes in wonder, and returned my smile fully and openly.

I am a sinner, and I have no doubt that the Death Look surfaced again in the years since that time, but if ever there was affirmation of a simple but powerful bit of parenting wisdom—one I deem worthy to pass along to my own children and anyone who is a parent—that was it for me.  When they look in your eyes, do they see love? It’s hard to describe the thrill I got for a while, just seeing my kids’ reaction to a simple loving look. I think we like to believe our kids know that we love them, but in times of bad behavior and disobedience, it’s tempting to trust a look of disapproval and disappointment that most kids wish to avoid. We forget that a Death Look is a pretty big barrier for any message of love to pass through.

Do they see love?  As a new mother, I read an article that urged parents to consider carefully what we want our children to think about every day as we choose the things to hang on their walls. When I saw a picture of Jesus looking deeply into the eyes of a little child (half price!) in a Christian bookstore, I suddenly knew what I wanted our kids to see and think about every day. The child laughing up into Jesus’ eyes could have been either of my own, surrounded by friends or siblings. Jesus was in their midst, and his eyes were filled with love. This picture has traveled around the world with us—during times when my own look was less than loving, or I needed to see that look myself, I have been grateful that we all have had this reminder of Jesus’ look of love.

You may know this picture, titled “Jesus and the Children,” by Frances Hook (1962).  It was popular when I was a child in the mid-60’s. In recent times, and having lived in other cultures, I’ve been all too aware that the children in the picture are light-skinned, with light brown hair and round eyes. I think it would be marvelous to be able to reproduce this scene for children of all colors and types of skin, hair, and eyes, so any child could have a version in which Jesus is gazing into the face of a child who could be them. Because this is something children should know—that the look they receive from Jesus is not a Death Look, but the look of absolute and unwavering love, meant specifically for their eyes to see.

The fact is, God has every reason to give us the Death Look. Our easy and self-centered neglect of him—to the point of denial—and our desire to control things with our own “rules,” and in our own way, puts us in a place where he has every reason to look on us with anger, disappointment, displeasure. But Jesus’ Death Look for us is limited to the one that came after he uttered the words, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” and died in our place to bear our sin of defying and neglecting his love-based will.  Jesus’ Look is one of love—love that gives Life, as he plainly told his disciples in the Good Shepherd passage of John 10:10:  “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”  

My husband says that he is now amused by the Death Look, and to be honest I have a difficult time producing it in his presence. But I AM one of those people who has a “naturally sober” expression. It is often perceived as disapproving and, really, I can more easily put people off with a look than put them at ease. This is something I think about. In an age when eye contact seems to be reserved for screens and looks of approval seem to be reserved for those who have somehow earned it, I wonder what my eyes say to people. Whether they are my loved ones or simply ones to whom I can show love (even a gypsy girl wanting my money)–do people in my life see yet another frowning, disapproving face when they see me? Or, instead, do my eyes reflect the self-sacrificing love that I see in the eyes of Jesus?

A couple of months ago, via Facetime, our daughter Louisa showed us Katrina playing with her baby boy during a weekend while Louisa was visiting.  At one point, Katrina turned her wiggly son toward her and leaned forward until their foreheads touched, her eyes locked on his. Forward and back she went a few times, eyes fixed on him, as he stared at her, mesmerized.  I was mesmerized, myself, as I watched my daughter as a first-time parent, her eyes filled with this amazing love.

I hope and pray that my children will not be tempted to trust the false power of the Death Look in their relationships—in their marriages, with colleagues, in their friendships, but especially as they meet the challenges of parenting their own children. I pray they will trust and reflect the look of amazing love they receive from Jesus, just as I pray that my own eyes will more consistently be reflective of the love I receive from my Savior, love that saves me from death—and from resorting to the Death Look.

A look of love for the next generation

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Raise your hand if you have ever served as a summer camp counselor. I 10/10 recommend taking the opportunity if ever given to you – no other experience will break you down to the core and help you build confidence, faith, trust, perseverance, encouragement, and strength. I could go on, but it’s best that I stick to the story (is it ironic that camp also taught me the art of storytelling?):

Although I love the outdoors and spent much of my high school and college weekends hiking, before working at camp I had only truly camped (like, in a tent and everything) once in my life. Within my first week at Lutheran Valley Retreat in Florissant, CO, however, that sad fact was fixed multiple times over. I mean, they even threw us out in a field with nothing but a couple of tarps, 10-gallon buckets, and sleeping bags.

Our week of training was not indicative of the entire summer, however, as most of my group assignments were to retreat groups. I spent my time belaying high ropes and rock-climbing experiences, working groups through the challenge course, and supporting adult leaders in their Bible study, campfire, and worship times before heading back to my cabin (ok, shed) for the night. But about halfway through the summer the camp director threw a curveball and assigned me a group of 2nd – 4th-grade students. And they wanted to camp out. In the woods. I thought another counselor would be able to join me but I ended up by myself (well, and with the 6 girls from my cabin) and I was terrified all night long. The entire night I marveled that the camp would trust such an inexperienced human to sleep in the dangerous woods, left alone to fight off the wild animals and protect six sassy and sweet students.  Every sound in the wilderness was a mountain lion. Every time the wind moved the tent I was certain a bear had come to eat us (had I cleaned up all the s’more supplies carefully enough?) I was not at peace. 

Our little tent in the woods

When you’re not at peace it’s hard to fall asleep. 

Your brain ponders injustice or failure and you toss and turn. 

Another time, I was fighting with my husband. Angry and feeling justified in my anger (I wasn’t) I kept rehashing our argument, convinced of my blamelessness. I wasn’t at peace until I realized my fault, apologized, accepted his forgiveness, and forgave his fault as well. 

Yet another night I went to bed as a failure of a mom. Exhausted by my third pregnancy, I drank more coffee than recommended. Impatient with my 2-year-old, I raised my voice in anger. And, I didn’t give my 4-year-old the attention he so desperately needed that afternoon and missed the opportunity to listen to his sweet voice tell stories. My guilt washed over me and deprived me of the rest I needed. I wasn’t at peace until a new day of better memories occurred.

When have you lost sleep for lack of peace? Have you received bad news late in the evening? Waited up for a loved one who didn’t come home at the promised time or call at the expected hour? Been caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place when making an important decision?

While thinking about this lack of peace, I read Psalm 4. Check out verse one:

Answer me when I call to you,

    my righteous God.

Give me relief from my distress;

    have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

King David (author of Psalm 4) experienced many peace-sucking, distressful situations in his lifetime. Camp out in the wilderness with a bunch of people placed in his care? Check (oh, plus the fact that they were hiding from a crazy king who wanted to kill him…) Receive bad news at a late hour or a long wait for someone to check-in? Check (his kids had some major issues.) Marital problems? You could say that. Sinful, guilt-ridden days? Oh yeah.

But for all of his flaws, sins, and problems, David knew what to do when he was in trouble. He turned to the Lord. And at the end of Psalm 4 he explains why:

Psalm 4:8

In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone oh Lord make me dwell in safety. 

Despite whatever was happening around him, whatever he had done that day, David rested in the peace of God.

My infant daughter knows a thing or two about resting in peace

Americans (and probably others as well) are lacking in sleep. We’re depressed, anxious, exhausted, overcommitted, and overwhelmed. We need to rest. We need peace. But this seems elusive unless we know the Prince of Peace.

Do you know a person of peace? Being at peace and resting in God is easier said than done. I’m sure those people have occasional restless nights, and I’m sure they experience seasons that knock them over, but the secret is that they come back to the keeper of their soul.

I want to leave you with a familiar Sunday school story:

Jesus suggests to his followers one day that they cross to the other side of a lake. They’re in the boat and everything’s going well until, “Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat.” (I haven’t personally experienced this, but being on a boat with waves crashing over it sounds pretty terrifying and definitely NOT peaceful) “But Jesus was sleeping.”

Jesus SLEPT through a crazy, terrifying storm?

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure I know why he was sleeping. He held the same secret as King David (except better than King David). He knew who was in control. He slept because he trusted his father, and he already knew the last part of the story: 

“The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker. He doesn’t just keep the peace; he makes peace. So he can sleep in peace.

What about you?

Battle for the quiet…

“I love your shoes.” said I to the woman who had rushed to join me in the Orlando Airport Starbucks line at 5:00 am this morning. We had both made the crazy decision to book a flight that left before 7 am – meaning our wake up had been much earlier. Coffee was a must.

In the span of time that it took to order and deliver our precious caffeinated treats I learned the following about my new friend from Denver:

Cute… right?!

Besides having fabulous taste in running shoes (Red SPARKLY Adidas) she has 2 teenage sons. They love baseball and play or train for it year round. The colors of their team are Red, White and Blue – thus explaining the choice of running shoe color and the justification for the $200 price tag. They recently switched to online high school since their grade point averages were hovering around 1.5 and their social choices were suspect. She had run a marathon at Disney World in November and was presently returning from a Rachel Hollis ( Girl Wash Your Face) Conference which she described as Life changing. When my non-fat chai tea and her english grey were delivered I was a bit saddened that we would need to go our separate ways. “Safe travels” she said with a smile and off she went. It was the kind of conversation that lead me to believe we could be friends. The reality is I will probably never see her again.

As an extrovert I live for moments like these. I adore connecting with people – learning their stories and seeking to discover why our paths have crossed. I find the human race fascinating and hold my relationships with others and time with them as one of my all time favorite activities of life. I have found the passion to be stretched a bit though in a world were the opportunities to delve into the lives of loved ones and those we’d like to love has grown exponentially. Over the first 16 days of January I have done much thinking about my need to turn down the volume in my life. On January 3rd I wrote some thoughts that I am processing today as I now sit quietly in my living room after 3 days of intense connect time with my business peers on both business and personal topics. I share them below believing that like me, wether introvert or extrovert, you may be feeling the world a bit loud. What God has reminded me of in this start to 2020 is that I have complete control of the voices I allow in my life. May you be reminded of this too.

Make time for the quiet moments a God whispers and the world is loud.

Jan 3. 2020

We left early. It was too much talking and not enough listening. Not because we didn’t want to….

we just couldn’t hear each other.

It was my 10th high school reunion. A banquet followed by dancing DJ’d by the same man who had lead our high school dances so many years ago. Kind of felt like prom- which is great – if your 17.

I’m pretty sure the DJ, after years of spinning the vinyl had lost some of his capacity to hear. Or at least he thought our 10 years of aging since graduation had caused similar hearing loss.

The music was loud. Sooooo loud. The kind of loud that prohibits  good conversation because you are screaming to be heard. You wonder what words actually hit the ears of the person next to you as they pushed their way through Kool and the Gangs “Celebration.” 

After a couple of hours I looked at Tom and said – I have to leave.  The desire to catch up with old friends would not be met. I felt frustrated and disappointed with expectations unmet.

As I evaluate my current world- I realize it can feel like that high school reunion noise. The amount of voices I have access to increase everyday. I recently heard there are over 50,000 podcasts with thousands more starting each day. I have access to hundreds of lives and hundreds of stories and hundreds of opinions with just one click of access to my social media feeds. It’s just too much. 

The one voice I desperately need to hear is waiting patiently on the sidelines of my life for me to armor up, push through the noise to sit in the quiet with him. 

This is the time of year I am encouraged to set goals and timelines and vision boards for the upcoming 12 months. There are dozens of calendars and life planning systems I could purchase. Business and life coaches that promise if I follow them I will increase my productivity 10 fold. And they may be right. 

But before all the planning, and visioning and proclaiming my claims of an amazing 2020…. I’m going to do one thing…


I’m going to do the work of battling for the quiet.  To walk away from the noise and the temptation to want to be heard and recognized. It is only then that truth will reign, connections formed and expectations met. 

Jesus settle my restless, overstimulated heart so I can listen to you. 

Sunrise over Orlando at 38,000 feet

Confessions of a Present-Over-Planning Person

Hi. My name is Christa, and I am most comfortable living in the present.
I don’t easily see into the future.
I have a hard time being motivated by something that is not directly in front of me.
I don’t strategize about what to do today so that tomorrow will be different.
I work best for people, not for goals.

Making goals around New Year’s is often overwhelming to the point of debilitation. Here’s what goes on in my head:
“I’m supposed to plan for what will happen in the next twelve months…52 weeks…365 days…8,760 hours?? It sounds nice, but I don’t even know what will happen this afternoon! I don’t know how needy or how independent my four year old will be. I could have two hours to work on my goal or two minutes. And if I can’t know that for this afternoon, how can I know that for the year? How am I supposed to make a goal with that kind of unknown before me?!? Anyway, do I really want to focus on some ethereal goals when I know that there are dishes to be done, a floor to be vacuumed, games of Uno to be played and books to be read to little people?”

Anyone else out there like me? My husband is not like me. My best friend is not like me. There are people out there who see goals in front of them like they are physical entities. They easily see how today’s small actions move them closer toward accomplishing the goals that they have set in their hearts. I am jealous of those people. I wish my brain could work in the present with a focus on the future, but it is not how I am wired.

yearly goals

So, should I throw in the towel on goal setting? Is the yearly act of looking ahead strategically at the coming months simply for the forward-thinkers among us? Should those of us who are people-driven and present-driven just live in who we are?

I don’t believe so. Simply because something is hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. The hard things are often the things that are most valuable.

So, how do non-goal-oriented people make (and stick to) goals?

Let me share with you what I have learned through years of fumbling with this.

First, work with what motivates you. I am externally motivated, so I need a person who will hold goals out in front of me. Having a friend, a coach, or a mentor hold me accountable to things I want to do is vital. Five years ago, I was able to enter a coaching relationship, and I was amazed at the change I was able to see in my own life when I had someone else encouraging me to think critically and act with intentionality. If you are motivated by people, find your person. He or she is out there, I promise.

Second, set goals that are flexible. Goals that are very specific, like “run 13 miles every week,” are too static for me. This week, I might be able to do that, but next week, I might have a friend who needs to grab coffee, and I like the freedom to be able to say yes to her. I want to be able to stay true to who I am by saying yes to present needs without feeling guilty for reneging on my goals. A goal that gives me flexibility helps me to both be intentional with my time and be open to the needs that pop up on a daily basis. A running goal that works for me is “sign up for two 10K races in the next year.”

Third, write them down and find a way to keep them in front of you. Perhaps this is in a weekly meeting with your accountability person. Perhaps this is writing them down 52 times in your planner so that you see them every seven days as you turn to a new week. Perhaps this is a strategically placed Post-It note. One thing that has been helpful for me has been setting a reminder in my phone to alert me each week of the thing that I want to do.

Let me give you an example of one way I’m doing this this year. “Using my prayer journal regularly” is one thing that God has placed on my heart for the coming year. When something weighs heavily on my heart, that’s a good indicator that I should make a goal around it. Within that broader goal, I specifically want to be praying for the people I am discipling. That desire leads me to the goal of praying for them weekly. I see them on a weekly basis (which helps inform my prayers for them), and I have an alarm that reminds me to set aside time Wednesday mornings (before my kids wake up) to pray for them. If I begin struggling with following through on this goal, I can ask my husband to keep me accountable to it by asking me about it at our weekly business meeting. Before you know it, I will have spent over 1000 minutes in prayer for them by the end of the year! Pretty amazing, huh?

prayer journal

Did you see how my prayer goal was not necessarily motivated by the end product? (All the strategic goal-oriented people reading this just shuddered. And I’m ok with that.) Because product goals do not motivate me, I organized this goal around people (who do motivate me) and around present needs (like the weekly struggles they experience).

Not all of us are wired to be motivated by year-end goals, but that doesn’t mean that goal setting is only for the strategists. It’s for those of us who prefer to live in the present, too.

I invite you to press into some goal setting, even if it is hard. Bring a friend alongside you—let them know you need their help to achieve the thing that is pressed upon your heart. That thing on your heart is important. Treat it as such. God gives his people wisdom and understanding to know the things we should be doing, but there is plenty in this world that would love to distract us from doing that which is most important.

Setting (and sticking to) goals that help us do the things that God puts before us is some of the most valuable work we will do all year.

What about you? Are you goal-motivated or present-motivated? What goals have you made for 2020?

A fool-proof writing strategy

When I sit down to write (a blog post, a birthday card, an APA-style paper for school), I have an almost overpowering urge to start it all off with a little disclaimer. I must think that doing so will intercept any potential critiques from the person reading what I’ve written. It’s sort of a personal challenge, like, Dear Reader: Just try to find a flaw in this that I haven’t. For example, the disclaimer at the beginning of this blog post (which, for reference, is going to be a very fun one about the insecure thoughts I have while I’m writing things) might read something like, Is it totally self-absorbed to think that you’re interested in hearing about my writing process? I’m pretty sure that people aren’t interested in hearing about how other people write until a person has written something that’s objectively good and has had some level of success, probably evidenced by a lot of followers on Instagram. I don’t have either of those, so I can’t vouch for this information being very useful. But I’m writing it, because I’ve been wanting to for a long time, and I’ve heard at least two people advise to “Write what you know.”

Generally, me writing something goes like this: I am excited about an idea from the time it’s conceived in my brain until about 45 seconds after I start trying to find the words for it. At 45 seconds, I become suspicious that what I’m writing is, in fact, inconsequential and doesn’t deserve the space I’m giving it on Microsoft Word. I consider the bajillions of books that I’ve seen collecting dust in used book stores, laying half-read on coffee tables, and signaling professors’ importance and knowledge from shelves above their desks. I estimate the size of the archive of unread blog posts and newsletters in my email inbox. All evidence points to the conclusion that there are for sure enough words written already. Statistically, what I want to say has already been said, by at least twenty-seven other people. I wish I’d been born a little earlier, when I’d have had a better chance at saying something new. A couple of sentences later, I’m convinced that the topic is far too deep for me to take on and I’m making a fool of myself, at best. I definitely don’t know enough to do it justice. I’m too young and have had far too easy of a life to have insight. By trying to write about it at all, I’m coming off as pretentious, a know-it-all, holier-than-you, pointing a finger, and all the worst things.

Most of the time, I realize that I don’t fully believe all of that for long enough to muscle my way through a few paragraphs. I convince myself not to start the post with a disclaimer. I tell myself that if what I’m writing matters to just a couple of people, that’s worth it.

When I reread the few paragraphs that I fought so hard for, I often realize that they now don’t seem to make sense. I was the one who had the ideas I wrote about in the first place, and suddenly I can’t follow Allie From Twenty Minutes Ago’s train of thought. Also, I have used the word “really” way too many times. My descriptive language is trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s (a writer to whose work I have no business comparing mine, but to whose work I usually compare mine anyway). And two paragraphs in a row say exactly the same thing, reminding me of a professor whose class I used to dread. And also, is this post actually just a summary of the book I just read? Is it all just a plagiarized mess?

I try to fix most of the mistakes. For the second time, I convince myself not to start with a disclaimer about all the mistakes I’ve found in my writing. I worry that too may of my sentences start with “I”. At this point, I’m usually starting to get anxious to get the thing out of my possession.

Eventually, I hit “Submit”, print it off, tri-fold it and stick it in an envelope, publish the blog post, or whatever, and the words are off. They’re “out there”. Sometimes I come back later to reread what I’ve written and realize that it was much better than what I’d feared (although my descriptive language might always be trash compared to David Foster Wallace’s, and that’s okay). Sometimes I reread things and cringe. More often than not, I experience both of those reactions, to the same thing, depending on the day.

The part of writing that I consistently have a hard time with is the end. Birthday cards are easy, because there’s a finite amount of space. Nobody’s asking why you didn’t keep writing, because the answer is obvious: I’ve said all I physically can, due to the constraints of this card. Academic papers for class aren’t too bad, either; sometimes there’s even a section in the rubric called “Conclusion” that tells you exactly how to wrap it up. Monologues about what goes through your head when you sit down to write, though? Totally different beast. If I took a motivational approach, I could end with, “I think it’s okay for things not to be easy or for them not to turn out how you wished. Do the thing!” Which I think is a pretty good take away from this monologue. Or I could be empathetic and point out that if your mind kind of turns against you when you start to do something you care about, you’re not completely alone. At the very least, there’s me. Better yet, I think it’s likely that there are people other than just the two of us who feel that way. If I was being realistic, ironic, and / or self-aware, I could just tell you that I didn’t have a well-thought-out purpose when I started at the top of the page, and I didn’t find one along the way. This is just what I wanted to write most today, and I like to write (despite what you may have been led to believe by the above paragraphs). Maybe it makes the most sense to write until I’m done saying what I want to, and then stop.