The Sounds of Silence

The collective rooms were silent – the three connected by zoom over 3 states. If our arms were long enough we could form a human chain starting in Central Missouri reach up to Nebraska and then south west to Colorado. That picture gives me peace – knowing that I am within a days driving distance of each of my favorite people – emphasis – days – not hours or minutes. I’m incredibly grateful for technology that allows us the opportunity to sit together for an hour a week and get caught up on life happenings, the good, the bad and the ugly. It just so happens that on this particular day… the news shared fell heavily into the bad and somewhat ugly category.

Silence.

If you have or had young children you are very aware of the power of a $4 box of cartoon embossed band aids or a Mc Donalds happy meal. A small scrape on a knee or an even heavier gushing wound – when covered by a brightly colored band aid – makes it All Better. A hard day at school or disappointing little league game can make a dramatic turn with a quick run though the drive through for chicken nuggets, fries and and orange drink – don’t forget the prize. The mood shifts for your child which shifts the very air the rest of the family breaths and life feels back on track. I’m so thankful for those boxes of pink band aids and greasy cheeseburgers. Powerful tools in the hands of weary parents.

Silence.

The news shared on our most recent connect time though – would not be fixed by a colorful band aid or a happy meal. The challenges faced by my young adult ‘children’ involved answers that required medical specialists, surgery, second opinions, cancelling credit cards, sitting in heart ache…… and there was not one thing I could do to fix it.

Not. One.

Silence.

There is an important transition that occurs in a parents journey that allows the silence to sit. As a fixer, natural encourager ( there is always a bright side – right?) this has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding skills I have learned. Ok – lets be honest – learn ING. My gut instinct when my children are facing challenges are to rush in to sharing solutions not to sit with the silence. The silence of unknown solutions. The silence of pain that will take days sometimes years to fade. The silence of recognizing real consequences that come from real choices.

It is uncomfortable.

It can cause discouragement.

And it is absolutely necessary.

Necessary.

Recently on a beautiful Friday afternoon I found myself enjoying the spring weather with five of my neighbors. Our chairs were overturned 5 gallon buckets and our drinks were cold and refreshing. Stories were shared about past life experiences and future plans. As time passed we turned to topics of our children, their current life status and our role as parents. We confessed our desires and struggles to want to continue to micro manage their young adult lives. If they would just listen to us they would certainly be protected from the pain that this world most certainly can give.

As we shared our situations and sought advice we shifted out thoughts to our own early days of transitioning into adult hood. We recalled days of poor financial choices, crazy career moves others didn’t understand, missed opportunities. We laughed as we connected knowing each of us had some proverbial skeletons in our closet. And then …. then the turn. The shift from our struggles and hard times to the ways we had each seen God provide in them. In our own seasons of silence.

One friend shared stories of generosity from family and friends in the early years of their marriage. Another recalled how important it was to feel the consequences of a bad decision. It brought much needed wisdom that still impacts their life today. Over and over again we saw God. We saw his goodness, his provision, his unconditional love. That can only be seen and felt…

In the Silence.

When I rush in to fix, I fill the space where God wants to meet my loved one. I can take away the opportunity for them to see His goodness, his provision and his unconditional love. The things that will fill that space when we sit in it long enough to turn our eyes and hearts to see it. The space that allows God’s best answers not mine.

I reached out to one of my children via a text late last night – “Hey – how are you doing?”. The response came long after I had fallen asleep. I drifted off in my own silence. No answers about their well being but I rested in peace. God is teaching me to rest in the silence, His peace despite the still unanswered questions in my life and those of the people I love most. I am finding the contentment that reflects the encouragement of the writer of Psalm 62:5.

“Find Rest o my soul in God alone, my hope comes from Him.”

It is real, it is lasting, it is true.

Her response was the first thing I read this morning,

“Hey mom, much better!” Followed by the provisions God had provided to some of her hard questions. Answers that came in the middle….

of the Silence.

my favorite 3

2 Lists

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12 NIV

“I know how to get along and live humbly (in difficult times) and I also know how to enjoy abundance and live in prosperity. In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret (of facing life) whether well-fed or going hungry, whether having an abundance or being in need.” Philippians 4:12 AMP

“I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am. ” Philippians 4:12 MSG

It began as a conversation between 4 friends over zoom. We were sharing bible verses that offered encouragement. Sitting in the midst of so much global strife felt overwhelming and we were looking for answers to the growing anxiety among us. One friend pointed to Paul and his words to the Philippians about “learning to be content.” He was able to look at all circumstances good or bad and sit in contentment. What a super power. The more we talked about it – the more I too wanted it – the ability to be content in any situation. Like Superman’s Cape, or Wonder Woman’s invisible jet – I wanted the tool to help answer all the questions created from the things in my life that left me feeling simply out of control.

Later that night I hung up the phone with my sister and the weight of the conversation settled on my shoulders. Along with sharing the same parents, same upbringing, we also share some unique parenting experiences that involve childhood trauma, healing and life on the other side. I am so grateful I have someone in my life that completely understands one the hardest seasons of my life. I love and respect her opinion and her always listening ear. We don’t always, if ever, come up with solutions to the challenges we discuss but it brings me peace knowing I always have a safe place to process life. As I pondered the conversation with my sister and the sharing with my friends earlier in the day I began putting together an idea that has since been my version of a super power – the key to contentment.

Over the last month I have had the opportunity to teach this idea to hundreds of women both virtually and in person and now I want to pass it on to you. SO, Plot twist…. you are now moving from a sit and passively take in content by reading this blog to a, hopefully willing and active participant in an exercise that I believe could change your life.

Take out a piece of paper.

Drawn a line down the middle – creating two columns.

Label one side “Content”

Label the other side “Discontent”

(No it doesn’t matter which side you put these on.)

Start with the Content side and DUMP. Everything in your life that leaves you with a feeling of peace and contentment.

Here are some of mine today…

Knowing I put clean sheets on my bed this morning and will crawl into them later tonight. ahh.

Sunshine and 60 degree day.

The coffee shop where I’m currently sitting that makes the best, strongest coffee on the planet and is located 8 miles from my home.

Now move to the Discontent side and DUMP everything that triggers feelings of stress, anxiety, fear… discontentment. all of it. All. of. it.

Personal, Work, relationships, health issues, global crises, parents, kids……. Dump it.

Now take the discontent list and draw a line through everything of which you have zero possibility of controlling the outcome. Go ahead – use a thick black line and block them out. Don’t worry – we will come back to it. It needs to blacked out – totally.

What is left are 2 lists –

1 – A gratitude List – things that are currently bringing you joy and peace and blessing. So many things on this list are 100% gifts from God that you did not seek or ask for. Many are things you have worked for and that effort has had a direct impact on the results. It is so good to spend time recognizing the blessings that abound in our lives ever single day.

2 – A “What I can control but may possibly be pretending that I can’t” discontent list. A list that we may rehash with friends, post about on face book, but wont take responsibility for working on.

Let me give you an example.

For the last few weeks I have enjoyed the beginnings of pre menopause life – HOT FLASHES. They are indeed a thing and they have impacted my sleep which impacts my productivity, my attitude and my general view of life. I’ve discussed (complained about it) with a few friends in my demographic, my entire bible study group of 100+ women, my physical therapist, my sister and my husband. Each gave encouragement, suggestions, and knowing sighs but ultimately none of them can take this item off my “discontent” list. It’s up to me to call a doctor, make a much over due appointment and begin looking for solutions. Which I did.

I dread my yearly trip to the girl doctor. Despite birthing three children and making countless visits with some fantastic doctors in three different states over the years… it is still a date I wish I could skip. And I did – for the last 4 years. The year before Covid I received a letter that my doctor that I had just found after our move to Missouri, and really liked, was moving out of state. Just like that. Ugh. A few months later our world shut down and it just seemed like everyone stopped doing routine check ups so I jumped right on that very comfortable band wagon. Then the hot flashes started, then they got worse and I realized I was spending A lot of time complaining to anyone who would listen. I also recognized I was using the fact that I lost my doctor as reason for not figuring out the answer to a problem that was figure out able. The phrase I use with business consultants I coach is…

“Defending my limitations.”

I don’t have time to find a new doctor.

I’m sure this will just all go away ( especially if I keep talking to people that cant do a darn thing about it.)

It’s not that bad.

I’ll go over Spring Break.

I’ll go in the Summer.

I’ll ask a few friends for the names of their doctors.

Gas prices are rising and the closest doctor is 30 miles away.

blah, blah, blah.

Defend, defend, defend.

I had and have complete control over many things in my life ….

and

so.

do.

you.

Sometimes we need to hear it. Many times I need to hear it. And then I need to move into action to do something about it.

So… have you made your lists? What do you see?

Are you amazed at the gifts you’ve been over looking? I am.

Are you convicted by the things that have frustrated you that you can actually control? I am.

Finally – have you released the things you blacked out with a thick dark line, the ones you can’t control? Like really put them in the hands of our God that is quite capable of holding? Have you? I’m trying.

When I think about Paul’s words to the Philippians – I like to believe that he understood the idea of 2 lists. He had solved the mystery of feeling content in any and every situation. He was able to see the good in any situation he was in – the content list. His letter of encouragement to the Philippians was written while he was in prison. He gave instruction to those around him and put effort into things he could control – The discontent list. He lived each day trusting all the big, hard, out of control things into the hand of a God who could hold them – the blacked out list.

The Secret….. and now you know it too.

Finally, I have found it so helpful to remember a couple of things about these lists….

  1. Everybody has them. Every. Body. Every body. It may appear that others lives are one big list of blessing but don’t be fooled. Behind every filter covered social media post touting the perfect husband, job, home, children is a discontent list. Lists that are filled with events they cannot control that would shock you if you knew the truth. Lists of things they wrestle with taking responsibility for. Yep- we all have 2 lists.
  2. We can’t wait for our entire world to land on the content side of the page to move into the callings we have on our lives. Paul did not let his discontent circumstances stop him from proclaiming the gospel, starting churches and equipping leaders to lead them.
  3. We have a God that will provide for all we need, every darn thing, so that we can clearly see the blessings in both the content and discontent side of the lists. I have found that He is present on both sides. I have realized that He works in both to teach me to trust his ability to use all things for His glory and my good.

Earlier today I had a conversation with one of my college kids that are in the process of finalizing summer job and living plans. Some of the challenge is that she is simply waiting on answers to job applications, housing requests etc. These are totally out of her control. The other challenges are in her control, reaching out to other possible opportunities, making firm decisions about what she won’t do. As we wrapped up the conversation – we reflected on her lists. First, the content list. We thanked God for the blessings of several opportunities she has for her summer that will provide income and experience. Second, the discontent list. We recognized that patience was needed as she waited for answers from employers and landlords – things she could not control. Finally, she looked at the items on her list that she could actually put effort into effecting and prioritized her focus for her day. The Superpower, The Secret to being content….

all wrapped up in 2 simple lists.

Pull out your pen and start writing.

Going Over the Line

Today we welcome Guest to the fire, Melissa Koonce, my neighbor and friend. She recently messaged me and said she had story to share. I LOVE when people do that. I LOVE the story that Melissa has for us today. Melissa is a nurse and a wife and a mom and a volunteer and a light for all of us.

Another trip around the sun. As I sit and reflect on year 43, I am reminded of God’s amazing grace. 

I spent the first quarter of year 43 in God’s preparation for the storm I was about to endure. I started giving him the first 30 minutes to an hour of my day. Well, what I started doing was talking to the holy spirit as he walked with me on my morning walk. It was always dark and very early so I’m sure the neighbors didn’t notice me “talking to myself.” I spent the whole walk unplugged just talking everything through. I always started by thanking him. I thanked him for all the good things and then asked him to help me with the hard things. At first, I didn’t have any out of the ordinary hard things to pray about.

He was preparing me

At the very end of this period, I spent some time with an elderly patient at my hospital. He shared with me a very long story (so long I didn’t really have the time to give him, but I sat down and listened.) He explained his life and that of his family. He, his son and granddaughter believed in God and went “over the line” and were richly blessed. Meaning, they shared freely with others the word of God. His wife and his daughter believed in God, but never went “over the line.” They had blessings, but not as abundant. They kept the word of God to themselves. At the end of his long story, we were both in tears. He said, “I don’t even have to ask you if you are a Christian honey, I can see it in your eyes.” More on this later.

The second quarter of year 43 was hard. The storm came and swept everyone up into their own tornado. Every one of us! It was so overwhelming! That kind of overwhelming that you know you aren’t strong enough to handle the storm and you fear you might not make it. The kind that brings you to your knees. One morning while walking with Jesus I wept and didn’t know what to even thank him for or ask him for. I wasn’t thankful for the storm, and I didn’t know what I even needed to get through the storm. I was desperate and I wept and said, “I give this all to you Lord. I cannot bare the pain anymore.” 

THIS is what God was preparing me for.

He prepared me to be able to lean on him, give all my worries to him, and have faith that he will see me through.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication and with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Phil 4:6

The moment I said those words, “I give this all to you Lord,” and I meant it, a weight was lifted off my chest. I have never felt so at peace before in my life. I have always believed and had faith. I have always gone to church. I went to a Lutheran grade school. BUT… I had never had an intimate relationship with God. There was one other time I can remember that I prayed, and my prayer was immediately answered. I don’t know why it took me so long to catch on, but God’s timing is always perfect.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7

He works all things according to His sovereign plan, for the good of those who love him, and for his glory. Romans 8:28.

From that moment on, every day I thanked him for the hard. I had faith he would turn it into his good, in his perfect timing. I also cried many tears to water the seeds he had planted. We made many family changes that set us up to be a united strong family unit, so we could brave the storms together instead of fighting our own battles. Things as simple as family dinner, game night, and family meetings. We had let life get in the way and we were busy…too busy. God knew we needed it.

and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. Psalm 50:15

In quarter three, I started seeing God’s blessings. It felt too slow, but it was happening. God was answering my prayers in his way and in his timing and I knew he would. I did wish at times it would have happened faster, but I had faith that he would make it wonderful, and he was. During quarter three the clouds were parting, and I realized how powerful my prayers were. How powerful they were because I wasn’t just asking God to make things better, I started every morning by praising him for the lessons he was teaching us and for what he was preparing us for. Then I prayed that he would continue to wrap his arms around us and help us to do his will. I also started sharing with friends my experience with prayer and having an intimate relationship with God along with the Christian podcasts and devotions I was listening too. Something I never used to do, because you never know how people feel and I didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. This is where I went “over the line.” Do you remember the patient I spent time with in quarter one? THIS is what he was talking about.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6.

In quarter four, God abundantly blessed my family. The storm was ending, and God’s light was shining through. The number of blessings he showed to my family were undeniable gifts from him because we were faithful. We did not ask for or pray for all of the gifts we were given. We simply trusted that if we were faithful, in his timing we would be blessed. We not only endured the storm, we grew in it. He made clear our path.

  Praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

In this short yet very long year, I’ve learned that the key to dealing with difficulty lies in trusting the one who is in control of all things. No hardship can overpower God’s provision for enduring it. That’s because we walk with the holy spirit. Our peace and joy come from our relationship with God, not from our own circumstances. God showed my family his amazing grace. 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Friends, I urge you to spend time with God first thing in the morning. Talk to him. Put him first and form an intimate relationship with him. Get into his word and absorb his words into your heart. Then go over that line and don’t ever look back. God’s amazing grace is waiting for you on the other side. 

God wants you to live in his grace, rely on his strength, and put your hope in his unfailing love. Ps 147:11

Amazing Grace

Devotional & Sermons:

In Touch Ministries by Dr. Charles Stanley – mobile app – This is my favorite. He has 2-3-minute daily devotions and has daily sermons. He is very easy to follow. This is a MUST have! 

Podcasts:

The Bible Recap By D-Group – Reading the bible in a year

The Healthy Christian Women podcast by Dr. Melody Stevens – For following Christ centered health

The Strong Confident His podcast by Kim Dolan Leto – For following Christ centered fitness

Valentine’s Day Reviewed

Today we welcome guest writer Brooke Lange to the fire. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska studying Psychology/Behavioral Science. These thoughts were first shared on the campus website blog http://www.cune.edu.

When I was in my early stages of growing up, Valentine’s Day was the cause of much joy, or at least a slight release from the painful monotony of winter. I would eat lots of sugary, heart-shaped foods and exchange a plethora of store bought Valentines with other elementary schoolers, which pretty much checked all of the boxes for what constituted a good day for third grade Brooke. 

The way we celebrate Valentine’s Day is not too different from the way we typically celebrate holidays: Eating food and giving people things. Except this day is different because the expressly stated purpose for celebrating Valentine’s Day is not always one we want to celebrate: Love. 

More specifically, romantic love. 

Romantic love is like writing a research paper, in the sense that everyone seems to go about it at different paces and using different (occasionally questionable) methods. 

But at the same time, it is not like writing a research paper. Although it may cause the same amount of stress, loving and being loved by someone is unfortunately not as clean cut as a paper due at midnight. 

With love, there are no clear deadlines or rubrics. Valentine’s Day can feel like it challenges that notion. It can cause all these other neat types of love in our life–like the love we have for our friends and family and dog and campus squirrels–to feel deeply, painfully, insignificant. It can feel like a deadline; one that passes year after year, one that if you have not accomplished the goal of being in a relationship, you have somehow lost. 

We can become so inundated with the idea of a relationship we should have, that we can lose sight of a lot of other, arguably more important things. 

My last Valentine’s Day was spent a few months out of a breakup. So, as you may be able to infer, I was sad. I spent the afternoon crammed in a dorm room, eating pizza with a few of my friends, and talking about our years and lives and how we had changed and why we were thankful for each other. I don’t think I recognized it then, but it’s what I really really needed at that time. In fact, I think it was love. 

And I think that might have been love as much as the way my sister and her husband beamed  as they exchanged vows, slow dancing with someone you really want to slow dance with, when my grandparents stood arm and arm with each other in their kitchen and told us again how they first met. 

And I think that might be love as much as love is difficult but necessary conversations, a professor willing to critique you because they know it will make you better, when coworkers bring snacks to share, a parent who takes a call late at night, being there for the people who need you, allowing yourself to be chased by a horde of children for hours on end, just because they think it’s fun.  

Romantic love is love, and it’s important. But there are also a billion different ways throughout your life that people show love to you and you show love to other people. Those should not be disregarded. Those interactions form the basis of our being, they bring us joy, they’re what drive us to make the decision to wake up and try again to love other people better. 

I don’t know how you’re spending Valentine’s Day this year, but I do hope you realize that there are people who love you and people you love. Love has a way of ebbing and flowing; everyday it challenges our growth and teaches us things about ourselves. It is indisputably complicated, sure. But it’s necessary. 

My grandparents – A legacy of love

Gifts in the dark

But I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love EVERY morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to you my SOURCE of STRENGTH. You, GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me. Psalm 59:16

It wasn’t a polite request. I wasn’t dressed in my Sunday best repeating the printed prayers in the bulletin. I wasn’t cozied up in my over stuffed chair with my coffee, my journal and my bible. It was dark and the room was cold. The increasing tightness in my chest and swirling thoughts in my head had pushed me to my bold middle of the night demand. No waiting until morning…

GIVE ME A WORD.

A.

WORD.

YOUR WORD.

Something, anything that will move me from this place of confusion and discouragement. Not tomorrow, not next week not after I run through the list of my ideas for solutions one more time…

RIGHT NOW.

1:30 am – Why is it always the middle of the night when the worries of the day invite themselves back into my mind – demanding a solution? When all I want is sleep. When what I really NEED is sleep. When I know that if I don’t sleep I can pretty much count the next day as loss.

Maybe, just maybe….. that it is in the dark, when my resources feel empty, when my thinking is foggy, when I am most vulnerable… maybe it’s in this time that God knows I’ll be ready to pay attention. Maybe its when my mountains that feel conquerable in the day in my personal strength become hopelessly impossible with what I have to offer in the middle of the night. Maybe it is what is necessary to move me to the recognition that I don’t have what it takes. That I will never be or have enough to fix or answer the questions in my world. Maybe the darkness and the cold and the middle of the night wake ups are actually God’s beautiful invitation to seek the thousands of promises for peace and power and provision that I “claim” all day long… and ask…

“But do I really believe them?”

Thousands of them. Over and over and over again – repeated truths of love, hope, provision, strength , peace. Promises from our all loving, all knowing God. Spoken so many times so we cannot possibly miss them.

But gosh… I do.

I quickly read them, sing them, text them to friends that need encouragement…. and then at 1:30 a.m. I hear God saying…

“…but do YOU believe them. In this question, with your issue, in your pain?”

And in the dark and the cold… I make a demand.

GIVE ME A WORD.

A WORD.

YOUR WORD.

and I do what many of us do in the middle of night when we cant sleep.

I pick up my phone.

But I don’t go to social media, or email or my business website….

I click on my Bible app and go straight to the verse of the day. I don’t have time nor do I want to wait another minute for the swirling to stop, and the tightness to leave my chest and sweet sleep to return… I need a word right now. And my generous, faithful God shows up and meets me right where I need him.

But God, I will sing about YOUR STRENGTH. I will rejoice in your love every morning. You have been my place of safety, the place I can run to when troubles come. I will sing praises to YOU my source of strength. YOU GOD are my place of safety. You are the God who loves me! Psalm 59:16.

A WORD.

THE WORD.

In one verse I felt God take my face and turn it off of my unanswered questions and turn it towards …..

Him.

HIS STRENGTH. He didn’t remind me that I had what it took. That I could continue going it alone. He reminded me that He. Is. Strong. PERIOD.

Strong enough to hold every one of my questions. To carry them in his capable arms. No need for me to feel the weight when he had what I did not.

I sat up in my bed, reading the promises over and over…. HIS STRENGTH, HIS STRENGTH. My responsibility is only to

…. sing about HIS STRENGTH.

I rested my head down on my pillow and drifted off to a settled, deep sleep. HIS STRENGTH.

The gift of the dark…was a desperate searching for the light that was met with the soft glow of the peace of God’s truth. Open arms ready to give what I didn’t know I needed.

The morning light brought with it …

the same unanswered questions.

the same health diagnosis of loved ones.

the same relationship struggles.

yet a new perspective, a new hope, a new peace.

Oh darkness…. did you know you could usher in such a sweet gift?

Oh friend… did you know YOUR darkness could be a doorway to your greatest gift? The greatest gift?

Light in the darkness

If you have a few minutes at the end of this read…. Here are some promises from Psalm 18 and an invitation to ask yourself… Do I believe them… in my unanswered questions, in my darkness, in my sleepless nights?

YOU GOD make me strong. God is bedrock under my feet. The castle in which I live. My rescuing knight.

Rescuer

Shield

High tower

Stronghold.

Saves me from my enemies.

He hears my voice- my cry goes to his very ears.

He rescues me from strong enemies-those who hated me and were too strong for me.

Lord is my support.

Merciful

Faithful

Cause my lamp to be lighted and to shine

Illumines my darkness

By Gods strength I can crush a troop and leap over a wall.

He encircles me with strength.

He makes my feet like hinds feet ( able to stand firmly and tread safely on paths of testing and trouble) He sets me ( securely) upon high places.

Trains my hands for war, YOUR right hand upholds and sustains me.

YOUR gentleness ( gracious response when I pray) makes me great.

YOU enlarge the path beneath me and make my steps secure so that my feet will not slip.

Rescued me from the contention of the people.

Placed me as the head of nations.

For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does. Psalm 33:4-5

Loyal to the King

Today we welcome guest writer Jonah Lange to our fire. With two published poetry books to his credit he is now enjoying the world of short stories. Jonah has a BS in psychology/social science and will continue his education pursuing a degree in career counseling. We are delighted to welcome him to the growing circle of story telling friends around the fire.

Loyal to the King

The message was important. That’s one of the few things he knew about his task. He was to deliver it immediately to the kingdom just south of where he lived.

He didn’t know why he’d been chosen for the task. He was no one of particular importance in his city. The local ruler had just come, given him the message, and told him to hurry to deliver it. With little time to think or consider it all, he rushed on his way. 

The way to the kingdom was a rough one. There were high hills, low valleys, and the threat of running into some unfriendly creatures. As he made his way through, he was constantly looking left and right to keep an eye out for any trouble. 

He hoped the message he was delivering was a favorable one. Though the ruler of his town was respected, he also had a reputation for being awfully harsh with his subjects. It had been out of fear as much as anything that he was going to deliver this message. 

Suddenly, he tripped over a tree root. Stumbling down the hill, he lost his grip on the important message that he’d been given. Hopelessly rolling out of control, he only thought that he might be fortunate enough for the message to end up near where he’d stop.

Eventually, he ended up at the bottom of the hill. Though dizzy, he trudged back up looking for the message. When he found it, the seal had been broken and the message lay open before him. He was shocked to see what it said. He was bringing a message of his own execution.

The man was shocked at this. He didn’t think he’d done anything that would warrant this; however, as his loyalty was to the town and to the ruler, he went on with it, thinking that if the ruler saw it better for the town for him to die, then he’d honor that decision.

Before long, he reached the kingdom and walked up to the king’s palace. There were two guards at the front. One talked with the man about why he had come and the other went in to tell the king. Eventually, the man delivering the message went in with the guard that he’d been talking with to deliver the message of his death.

The guard brought the man up to the door of the throne room. He told the man to wait while he spoke with the king. After a few brief moments, the guard brought the man in and had him stand before the king.

“I can see that your journey here was a rough one,” said the king.  

“Yes,” said the man.

“And, as the seal is broken, I assume you know what it was you have delivered to me.”

“Yes,” said the man, preparing himself for the worst.

“Well,” said the king “I’ll let you know that you were not the only man sent to deliver such a message. Others were sent and went the quickest, yet roughest, way as you did. Similarly, the seal broke on their messages. Upon seeing it they fled. Others did not take seriously enough the message that they were given and went a longer, safer way. They made it here, but upon seeing that their messages were still sealed, I knew they did not give it the importance that they should have. But you have come before me today, sweaty, dirty, and scratched up from your journey with the seal of your message broken and with full knowledge of what it says. Thus, I see that your loyalty to me, as I gave your ruler that message to deliver, is great.”

The king then stood up, walked over to the man, and put his crown on his head. 

“As you were willing to take on death for loyalty to your ruler and for the good of your people, you have proven yourself worthy and a true servant to others. I therefore make you king of all the land. May you continue to be a man of loyalty to all you serve.”

welcome to the fire, Jonah!

Jump Ship

Seven weeks.

Then the next was 4.

Then 3.

Then maybe an every other week scenario.

Unheard of.

At least in my mind and heart.

But apparently in 2021 I dropped the ball…

Possibly needed too..

but no more.

As I looked back over the Sign Up Genius I use for friends to commit to a week of sharing around this virtual campfire I noticed in 2021 there were some gaps. BIG ONES. Season 3 of this blog felt like we were barely holding on and as the writing captain I was ready to jump ship. And I did …. for weeks on end. The longest – 7. I thought season 2 /2020 was hard to keep the fire going but 2021 actually proved worse. Interesting. Concerning, really. The realization that something that had once held so much joy had turned into a….

“Meh.”

You know –

the feeling you have when you just don’t care.

A missed week would have never happened in Season One. If I knew that no one was scheduled to share I would personally find a way, a time, a story to share. I would prioritize writing over dinner or laundry. I felt a responsibility to show up every week because I promised we would. And then the every week felt too much.

Just.

Too.

Much.

Thank God for New Years.

And Fresh Starts.

And new mercies every morning.

And God’s word that always gives me what I need.

As I turned the calendar to 2022 I turned to the words of the book of Hebrews. Tom and I have been reading a chapter a day for our after dinner devotion time and I’ve been going back on my own. The voice of the unknown writer of this book seemed to be yelling.

“Goodness – turn it down” – I thought.

The words leapt off the pages of Chapter 6 in an effort to get my attention.

Get.

My.

Attention.

“But we long to see you passionately advance until the end and you find your hope fulfilled. So don’t allow your hearts to grow DULL or lose YOUR ENTHUSIASM, but follow the example of those who fully received what God has promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.” Hebrews 6:11-12 TPT

As I thought about this blog and the dimmed desire for keeping it going – I realized it wasn’t just a blog thing. It was an over all numbness that had grown in all areas of my life in a sneaky, subtle way. It’s the way the enemy works. Often discouragement can come from one tragic event but in my case it seemed to slide in, unannounced and settle in making itself comfortable enough so that I didn’t even notice. My heart felt a bit dull and my enthusiasm for life in general a bit dim. Not stay in bed all day dull and dim…. just dull enough and dim enough that the energy needed to find writers to fill slots or write myself was gone.

The words of Chapter 6 were like a blast of cold air on my warm, cozied up in my comfort zone self.

Can you hear the longing?

“But we long to see you PASSIONATELY ADVANCE UNTIL THE END.”

Can you hear him begging me to not settle for a dimmed, dulled version of myself or my fellow writers?

“So don’t grow dull or LOSE YOUR ENTHUSIASM…”

Can you hear him prodding me now more than ever to shine bright with all the enthusiasm I have?

“Follow the example of those who fully received what God promised because of their strong faith and patient endurance.”

I could feel the writer pointing my face in the direction of the many that have endured life and pushed through the temptation to coast.

And the tough love felt so good.

So needed.

Like a good coach that won’t let the team member play small.

Like a parent that will not let their child out of a responsibility.

Like our loving God that needs us to stay in the game…

Til the end.

I have two friends that became widows this year.

One because of cancer.

The other because of Covid.

Neither planned on this.

I know they would give anything to have another day with the men they loved.

The two men used their lives to shine and they each stayed as bright as possible until their life on earth came to a close.

Its people like them that I look too. Its their wives that now must chose daily to keep on that I remember. I recognize the true gift of each day I have been given. I shake my head of the fog that wanted to lull me into complacency. I boldly dismiss the lie that it’s just not worth the effort to push past comfort and the safety found in not creating, not stretching, not sharing, not growing.

The hope we have is too good. The promises we’ve been given too precious. The strength we receive so needed.

Shine bright friend, the world so needs what you have to offer.

Every.

Single.

Bit.

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and NEVER. LET. GO. Hebrews 6:18 MSG

New Year. New Mercies. Shine Bright.

Here.

Today we welcome Guest writer Brooke Lange. Brooke is a sophomore at Concordia University Nebraska majoring in Psychology and Social Science. She is one of the best question askers I know and always challenges me to think out side of the box. My life is better because she is in it.

A few weeks ago, as people were preparing (in several senses of the word) to embark on Thanksgiving break, there was a lot of talk of “here.”  

I hate it here. 

Here lies my motivation to do schoolwork. 

*I don’t want to be here anymore.  

We haven’t been very fond of “here” lately. 

I (and maybe you too) have a tendency to think that the goodness I want in life is just outside of the bounds of Here, that if I just moved There or was There in my relationship with that person or if I got  a job There, then There will become my Here and finally, I would be at peace.  

 When we believe that we are prone to the circumstances of Here, that we are mercilessly thrown from one place that is not quite where we want to be to another that is not quite where we want to be, life can feel helpless – joyless even.  

David Foster Wallace addressed this circumstance in his commencement speech given at Kenyon College, This is Water. 

“It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same thing that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.” 

I’ve seen that fire before. It’s the feeling that comes in sparks, usually during Events Engineered to Ponder Life, otherwise known as weddings, funerals, graduations, confirmations, and bar mitzvahs. The ones that make me think about all the people who have gotten me Here and how far people have traveled to come Here. This Here, if approached correctly, invokes a great sense of comfort and joy that is almost overwhelming. The connectedness of my life to what the people in my life have done on the behalf of my well-being in Here, makes the physical Here, no matter where it happens to be, seem sacred.  

Unfortunately, life is not all Events Engineered to Ponder Life – often it is not that. But we can take our own physical Here and mental Here and recognize the work and the changes and the sacrifices people had to make only for us to be Here, in both senses of the word. 

Here is fleeting. We may frequently return to the same places, but who we are changes constantly. Find what makes your Here good and beautiful and sacred. Hold on tightly to it and use it to make Here a good one. It’s all we can do.  

*Overheard while walking through that nasty Nebraska wind. It’s not that deep.  

Dirt.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted them. I was transferring the wet clothes to the dryer. It was intended to be a quick stop in the laundry room on my way back to my office to finish my tasks for the day. I was originally drawn to the laundry room by the smell of a too full cat liter box, in the same room as the washer. After cleaning the liter box I remembered the wet clothes that lead to the clothes transfer. After pushing “start” on my dryer my eyes drifted up to the warm box of Lacroix that need to be loaded into the refrigerator that when moved revealed the forgotten package of tulip bulbs that had been hiding behind the LaCroix…… which lead to….

my afternoon in the dirt. whew.

Missouri dirt is no joke. It is actually more like clay. When combined with water it becomes a mass of sludge that forms to what ever it touches. It is shocking to me that anything grows in it. It is equally surprising that anything put in Missouri dirt in November would survive through a cold winter and emerge as a beautiful beacon of hope with the first glimpses of Spring. But they do. They have and they will.

Which is why I spent some time …..

in the dirt.

Fall planting is an investment in my future joy. It is my last horticultural act of a season that begins in early spring and fizzles by late September when I pull up all my summer flowers and replace them with one red mum. The mum holds me over until November when I put the mum in the garbage, grab my shovel and my bag of tulip bulbs and start to dig.

A shovel, hard ground that forced me to work to create a warm place for my little bulbs and a bit of time in late afternoon was just what my soul needed. The first turn of the soil unleashed a fragrance that brought me back to afternoons of my both my childhood and those of my own children.

Dirt from my moms summer garden.

Dirt from the campsite we where we vacationed in Northern Michigan.

Dirt that held the worms my sister and I dug up in preparation for fishing with my Dad.

Dirt from the playground behind my elementary school.

Dirt from the fire pit we built on a youth group weekend canoe trip.

One of my favorite dirt memories with my own children was the afternoon my oldest two dug for roly- poly bugs in our back yard. They hunted and dug and hunted and dug and filled their bug catcher with what looked like hundreds of little bugs that had the ability to roll up in a ball. Their smudged faces and beaming smiles when they presented me with their work brought me such a feeling of mom pride. I loved that my kids weren’t afraid to get dirty. I love that I’m not afraid to get dirty… to embrace the joy of messing up my physical outside appearance to bring a future beauty that will last for weeks in the spring. There is nothing like the first pokes of green through thawing flower beds to give hope needed to make it to summer.

Brother Sister Bug Hunt – I love their focus

The warm, soapy water felt good as I rubbed my hands together in an effort to clean my hands following my afternoon in the garden. I stood at my kitchen sink and let my mind wander to my favorite dirt memories and I realized that my love for dirt goes much deeper then the 12 ft wide flower bed in my front yard. As I watched my dirt caked hands return to their clean, flesh colored state I was reminded of the one who loves me, dirt and all.

Miriam Webster gives some interesting clarification of the meaning of the word Dirt.

NOUN

1.a. excrement

b. substance, such as mud or dust, that soils someone or something,

c. archaic: something worthless

d. : a contemptible person

2. Loose or packed soil or sand: EARTH

3.a. an abject or filthy state

b. CORRUPTION

c. scandalous or malicious gossip

d. embarrassing or incriminating information

In John chapter 8 we are introduced to a woman who was covered in a thick layer of the kind of DIRT we see in definition 2.d and 3. c and d above. a contemptible person, scandalous, embarrassing or incriminating information.

“The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught red- handed in the act of adultery. “

Wait, I need to pause for a moment – Did they even let her get dressed? Was she standing in the middle of the Temple wrapped in a sheet?

So.

Much.

Dirt

The story continues…

“Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the DIRT. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, “The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the first stone.” Bending down again, he wrote some more in the DIRT.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. “Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?”

“No one, Master.”

“Neither do I,” said Jesus. “Go on your way. From now on, don’t sin.”

Jesus wasn’t impressed nor afraid of the woman’s dirt, as ugly as her persecutors wanted her to appear. He was also very clear that the dirt in the temple that day did not just rest on the woman. He called out every single finger pointer in the room. In one simple sentence he shown a light on the ugliness that covers all of them and us and he just kept…

drawing in the dirt.

I’ve often wondered what he was doing. I’ve had long conversations with friends over coffee deliberating the message he was scripting. Until we get to heaven and can ask him face to face, I don’t think we will ever know.

But I can take my best guess.

I imagine as he was swirling his fingers in the dirt he was talking to his Father. He was asking for the words, the ability to love, the divine wisdom that would clean up the mess in front of him. As he patiently swirled he eagerly listened. As he knelt low he lifted his prayers high and he gave the most beautiful words, the woman and you and I could ever hear.

“Does no one condemn you?”

“No.” she replied.

“Neither do I.”

Neither

Do

I.

Seriously.

As I dug in my own dirt, in my yard and in my heart, I rejoiced in the lessons I have learned in my dirtiest seasons. The times when I deserved punishment and was given grace. The times I felt shamed, discouraged and disappointed in myself. The times when I stood at my sink and couldn’t rub hard enough. I remembered the times I was the one doing the dragging of someone elses dirt into the public square. It was disguised as a prayer request or prefaced with a “just between you and me.”

And I weep.

I shed tears of repentance.

I shed tears of gratitude.

I inhale deeply of the fragrance of the grace that rises from the dirt swirled message that our Father God gave his Son, our Savior….

and I pray for its transforming power to take root in the depths of my heart,

dirt and all.

.

Romans 8:1-2 The Message

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Put it on my tab.

“You want to join?”

My husband was attempting to pay for our first round of golf at the ‘country club’ located 4 miles from our new home. The gal behind the counter/bar in the club house was trying to convince us that a membership to the club was the most fiscally responsible thing to do. The amount we would pay for one round for each of us would more than cover a month of membership fees. Our entire family of five could enjoy unlimited golf for less a month than the two rounds we were about to play. But…. I’m in sales – I know how this works and I wasn’t about to jump into a long term commitment. We are in the most expensive years of parenting – called the college and wedding years- and I keep a pretty tight lock on our budget. A Country Club membership sounded excessive. My immediate response was a firm, “No thanks.”

My husband wasn’t so easily convinced that this was a bad idea. He loves to golf.

Loves it.

He will go play a quick round as a form of stress relief. A walk on the golf course does wonders for his attitude. I, on the other hand, need to be pretty happy and relaxed before heading out to play. If I am stressed or pre-occupied, attempting to hit a little white ball is that last thing I need to do. We stood at the counter – he formulating his sales pitch and me running some numbers to prove him wrong. In the end it actually did make sense to make the jump into Country Club life. Membership would also give us unlimited access to a pool – a nice perk during our hot Missouri summers. The extra special touch is that our names have now been engraved on a brass name plate on display for all to see on the club house wall.

After almost 5 years of enjoying our membership privileges this past summer we were granted an upgrade. I guess we have proven our trustworthiness because we have now been given access to ……

A Tab.

You know, the thing that allows you the privilege of enjoying some type of food or drink without actually paying for it at the time you consume it? You order and simply say….. ‘Put it on my tab.’ You can sit around with friends after 9 holes, enjoy a cold one and say – next round is on me! Yep – just put it on my tab. It feels free, and fun and important. It shows you can be trusted. It announces to the world that you are part of the community…

and isn’t that what we all want?

To know that we belong?

I’ve been told that I will never get over the feeling of being ‘new’ in my small town. I have friends that were born, raised and now are raising their own children who are also raising their own children here. All in the same place. It’s something I will never understand. It does not mean it is wrong. It just means its not my experience. They know they belong because this is all they know. They have a lineage that goes back generations. Their good old days happened right here – not some far away place with even farther away memories. The difference between their life experience and mine feels vast.

Until.

Until I start asking questions.

And I start listening.

It turns out that no matter what path of life you have meandered, you can still….

Find your forever soul mate that becomes your spouse.

Enjoy great success in your professional life.

Fill photo books with countless happy memories.

Fill hearts with deep hurts from loss and regret.

Endure both financial windfalls and financial ruin.

Receive a cancer diagnosis.

Lose a child.

Get voted High School homecoming Queen.

Save up and buy your first car, your first home.

Struggle with the choices of your children.

Feel the void that comes when all that the world promises to offer keeps falling short.

When it comes down to it, we are all really more alike that different – in the most humbling way.

We all, no matter where we’ve lived or where we havn’t lived, all have a need to be filled. A need for completion. A need to feel loved. A need for peace. A need for forgiveness. A need for redemption. A need to belong.

I’ve just started a 10 week journey with a group of friends through the book of John. It’s one of the four gospels – or accounts of the life of Jesus. If you are not familiar with his life and mission – some time in this book is a great place to start. If you are familiar – this is a great place to re-visit. In just the first 34 verses of chapter one I have been reminded of the gift that he was and is to me and all that chose to follow him. I’m reminded that from the creation of the world he was. I’m reminded that when man blew it, the plan was for Jesus to come and clean up our mess. I’m reminded that Jesus was a light in our darkest places and that he did his most profound work outside of church walls.

At a wedding.

With a parent whose child was dying.

In a crowd of hungry people.

He touched people whom others shunned.

He dined with the scum, the forgotten, the sinners.

When entrance into eternity held a price tag large for us to pay,

Jesus came to pick up the tab.

Pick.

Up.

Our.

Tab.

My tab.

your tab.

He walks into the clubhouses of our lives and covers it all. No matter what we add to our bill, through poor choices, past regrets – he promises to cover it all. He wants you to know that you can belong.

That you can be loved.

That you can be redeemed.

He’s got you covered – for eternity.

It’s on…..

Him.

To God be the glory.

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John 20:30-31

Sunset at the Country Club: Membership has its privileges