Please welcome my friend Ashley Luciano to the fire. She is a writer and digital artist residing in Upstate New York with her husband and two stepsons. She’s spoken at churches across the state, a message of hope and redemption through Jesus. With humor in her writing she seeks to empower women to hold joy and grief together as she shares personal stories of God’s presence in stormy seasons.
It wasn’t long after the unfaithful breakdown of my first marriage, that I found myself in another’s grief. Grief that I didn’t agree with. Grief that I tried to pass off to someone else, so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. Grief that I didn’t deem worthy of grieving.
Not even a week had passed since I saw my world crumble in a way that was unimaginable. It was then I found myself holding the hand of a man that actively crumbled his own world and marriage. I spotted him in the balcony after church, weeping uncontrollably as people were scurrying to break down stations and clean up the venue in the hopes of catching the tail end of bottomless brunch, before heading to the evening service, spirit(s)-filled.
As a member of the prayer team, I approached him with a card to take down all of his info, thinking he was so moved by the service and we could say we got another salvation on the roster. As I got closer I could see that this wasn’t going to be the case.
I ducked my head down to get into his line of vision, how ever blurry it may have been from the tears, and got his attention. I gave him my prayer-team spiel, but before I could finish he grabbed my hand and blurted out “I cheated on my wife last night.” This revelation was laced with the smell of hard liquor and lime, which I previously assumed was coming from the rented club venue that was flipped into this church every Sunday for years on end.
My blood started to boil, and I hoped he couldn’t see it in my face, but my heart hated him right then and there. “Uhhhh… let me see if… uh… I can find…” I said, as my head swiveled for a male presence to pass this dirt bag off to. Mind you, this is the second confession of adultery I was getting in the last 7 days.
I was a mixed bag of emotions, but in that bag, the rage of a thousand suns was right at the top. Going against my want to snap every finger of the hand that I was now repulsed to hold, I started praying for this man.
It was not what I wanted to do. I didn’t want to feel his grief and his sorrow for making a mistake that he could have avoided, or feel the weight of his failing marriage compounded with the weight of mine. I saw myself as innocent and him as guilty.
What I wanted to console him with was something to the effect of, “You made your bed, and you let everyone lie in it”. But with a deep staggered breath, I gripped his hand tighter and said, “Holy Spirit, you are here now…” And we grieved together.
It was hard.
It was not want I wanted to do.
It was only possible with God’s strength.
I still don’t agree with what he did. But I know without love, I am nothing.
With so much division in this world, news, culture, etc. I have to ask…
When’s the last time you grieved with those you don’t agree with?
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new … It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment …” (Revelation 21:5-6).
My husband and I recently watched Station Eleven, a post-apocalyptic television series based on the 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel. In the show, most of humankind is wiped out from a deadly flu virus. The few survivors must find ways to cope in a world without technology, governing systems, or modern conveniences.
I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone want to watch a show about a fictional pandemic when we’ve literally been living through the real thing?
For us and many others, the appeal of Station Eleven is that it’s ultimately a story of hope. The pollution-free landscapes are lush, the waters clear, the night skies crowded with stars. Lonely characters find community. Aimless characters find meaning.
In an article for YES! Media, Leigh Finke argues that part of our culture’s long-held fascination with apocalyptic stories is that, even amid death and destruction, they often offer hope for a reimagined future. Literature scholar Wes Burdine, quoted in Finke’s article, puts it this way: “End-of-the-world narratives allow us to imagine large scale rebirth and play into our utopian desires.”
In other words, the popularity of apocalyptic stories reveals an important truth about humanity: We yearn to see the world reborn into a better version of itself.
Christians know that our innate desire for utopia exists because God’s design for the world wasutopic. In the beginning, the world was perfect, untainted by sin. The landscapes were lush, the waters clear, the skies crowded with stars. Humans lived in harmony with each other and with God.
Then, of course, sin entered the world and brought with it disease, corruption, destruction, and death. But God made a promise—through the death and resurrection of his son Jesus, the world would one day be restored to perfection.
Scripture makes it clear that we cannot know when the world will end. But we do know that it won’t be anything like in the movies, where our only hope for restoration lays with feeble, fallible humans. As Christians, we rest in the assurance that when Christ comes again to make all things new, it will be more wonderful than even the most creative human minds can comprehend: “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2:9).
Prayer: Almighty Father, the Alpha and the Omega, forgive me when I place my hope for renewal in the things of this world instead of in you. During these especially strange and trying times, help me to surrender my anxieties to you and to trust in your perfect promises. Amen.
I love May – the bustling activity, the outdoor gatherings, the blooming gardens, the excitement over the end of school, and the promise of summer adventures. Simultaneous exhaustion and thrill. My current season of life with babies and young school-age children means that I feel a sense of accomplishment for getting to the end of the year. We made it. Perhaps you feel the same, but perhaps you also haven’t gotten the affirmation you earned. Today’s post is for the parents who did their best this year (or any year!)
Here’s to the parents who got their kids to school on time (most of the time)
Here’s to the parents who color-coded their calendars by kid
Here’s to the parents who didn’t
Here’s to the parents who could’ve made a fortune working for Uber
Here’s to the parents who forgot what time practice started and showed up a little late
Here’s to the parents who bought Happy Meals, packed sack lunches, and purchased snacks
Here’s to the parents who stirred supper on the stove while calling out spelling words
Here’s to the parents who stayed up late washing that special shirt
Here’s to the parents who made grocery runs on the way to school because they forgot something needed for a project
Here’s to the parents who made sure their kids had breakfast
Here’s to the parents who sent their kids with a kiss and a prayer
Here’s to the parents who prayed for their kids’ teachers, knowing the kind of morning they’d already had
Here’s to the parents who honored their kids’ teachers
Here’s to the parents who are teachers
Here’s to the parents who cried with their kids
Here’s to the parents who didn’t know the answer but learned it with their kid
Here’s to the parents who resisted the urge to shout out the answer
Here’s to the parents who grew
Here’s to the parents who signed hundreds of slips of paper
Here’s to the parents who lost slips of paper and gave themselves grace
Here’s to the parents who know they aren’t perfect but do their best to point their kids to the one who is.
He sees you. He knows where you failed, he knows where you succeeded. He loves you and he loves your kid.
“fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…For I, the Lord your God,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….
Introduction: When Annalyse and I both had toddlers, we met weekly for a playdate. While the children bustled around the house making messes in various rooms, she and I talked about God. We didn’t follow a set devotion or Bible study. Instead, we shared how God was speaking to us through where his word and the circumstances in our lives intersected. During those playdate years, I learned so much from Annalyse, who holds a BA in Biblical studies. Our friendship is now long-distance, but she continues to bless me and others by taking her love and talent for Biblical/Historical research and weaving it into a relatable story with modern application.
Deeply researched and brilliantly presented, this new novel from Annalyse Mower puts us in Pharaoh’s shoes at the time of the great Biblical Exodus. Creepy? Yes. But, it challenged me to truly put myself at the feet of the Almighty God and realize that nothing, and no one, can stop the love he has for his people.
If you struggle with the problem of evil and suffering in our world, I especially invite you to read this alongside the story of Jesus, the ultimate Passover lamb. -Molly Poppe
Then You Will Know: The Crushing of Pharaoh
Take heed, O unrepentant nation. Beware, you of hardened heart. He can humble you – I know that of which I speak.
I am the son of the gods, the incarnation of Horus, in league with divinity: they heed my voice. I was chosen as the best from among my brothers, each a perfect and beautiful prince. I came from the lineage of warrior kings who live in immortal memory. My sons were many and my dynasty was assured. I was strong of arm, swift of chariot, mighty of army: I built cities of gold; I led conquerors and ruled kings; nations trembled before me.
Egypt was a perfect jewel, a heavenly oasis in the desert. It pleased the gods to give us all that was good, to build us into the mightiest nation on earth. My empire was sovereign; faraway nations trembled at my name. Tribute flowed from the north and the south, turquoise and copper from the wilderness. No other kingdom enjoyed strength like Egypt’s. I ruled the world.
But then, the Troublemaker arose.
He was weak. Despised. A traitor to the people who had opened wide their bosom and nursed him with the best of their land. He was given the choicest of everything and the fool threw it away for nothing – for nobodies. He aligned himself with slaves and followed the leading of a prideful delusion. It would be his destruction: I would see to it. It could be nothing else. The God of slaves could not conquer the sun-god, the king.
For I am Pharaoh.
Derisive laughter echoed from the room’s painted plaster walls, careening off marble columns to assault the ears. It circled the knot of dusty, threadbare slaves before me like a horde of demons. They cowered closer together, their lips tight in pale faces, their hollow eyes darting nervously from face to snarling face in the crowd behind them. Good. They remember their place, despite this one misjudgement. I felt my spine harden. It will not happen again.
Only two stood firm, like men. They were almost equal in height, but the one on the right wore the same threadbare clothes and stooped shoulders as the terrified mob behind him. I sniffed. Slave. The man beside him, however …
My lip twisted in a slight, mocking sneer and I raised my hand for silence, disgust pleasurably warm in my depths. As the court stilled, menace thickened the air. The slaves’ anxiety accentuating my unparalleled power was a sensation to be savored. Delicious. The mob shifted nervously, cringing, their wide eyes glinting like rabbits in the shadows. Except for their leaders. The two men stood still – an old slave and his foreign brother. The younger of the two stood tensely, his knuckles white as he grasped his staff. But he met my gaze.
“Who is Adonai, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” My booming condescension pushed the slaves into a tighter huddle, eyes on their filthy feet. Power surged through me with its familiar tingle and I sat, mighty and upright on my throne. “I do not know Adonai and I will not let Israel go.”
The simpering slaves deflated and I turned from them unceremoniously to beckon for wine. A tentative, unexpected voice arrested me.
“The God of the Hebrews has met with us.”
He dares to answer? I turned to face the speaker, my soul dancing with bemused incredulity. The two leaders clustered tightly together, the Traitor whispering into his older brother’s ear. Both were pale and pretended they could not feel me gaping. After a moment the slave spoke again, his gaze fixed on the wall behind my head; the Troublemaker stood beside him, rooted and upright as the dictated words echoed through the room. His shoulders tremble, though.
“Now let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to Adonai our God, or He may strike us with plagues or with the sword.” The slave’s weak, choked voice failed as doubt filled his face. He knows, as the others do – they have no hope.
Kenamun, my royal steward, approached the dais. After offering a formal bow he ascended the steps, his eyes carefully on each marble tread. When he reached the top, I perceived a smothered jeer and his derisive amusement goaded my own; I rolled my lips to stifle the undignified chuckles bubbling in my throat and instead took a deep swallow of wine. “What is your God’s vengeance to me, slave?” The traitor’s spokesman wilted and took a tremulous step back toward his brethren. I smirked and raised the cup to my lips again, its sweetness sliding over my tongue and down my throat, and eyed the audacity before me. “Moshe -” contempt dripped from the name “- and Aharon, why are you taking the people away from their labor?” I rested my elbows on my knees, basking in the anxiety that drank in my every movement. “Get back to your work.” The low growl danced on the menacing chuckles of my men.
The Hebrew slaves behind Moshe and Aharon bowed deeply and retreated, fleeing the confinement of my Great House and the guards who pursued them like dogs. Seething foremen collared some of the slower-moving elders and shoved them toward the door. But still Moshe and Aharon stood. I raised myself from the throne and ambled to the edge of the dais, my arm gesturing toward the sounds of construction and labor that seeped through my walls. Whips, groans, and straining ropes permeated the mud bricks.
“Look, the people of the land are now numerous – and you are stopping them from working.” My oozing sarcasm hardened into disdain. I rule this world. Did you really believe you could sway a god?
Aharon’s face blanched and he inclined his head, slowly inching his way out of the reception hall. Satisfaction tickled my innards and I allowed my arm to fall. Good. You remember this. Moshe remained stationary and defiant, his lips twitching with unspoken words.
“Yes?” I leaned toward him with glinting eyes. “You desire an audience with the son of Amun … prince?” The ridicule electrified my veins – powerful, warm, intoxicating – and made my head giddy. Moshe’s lips snapped tight, eyes hard in his pale face. His humiliation simmered pleasurably in my core and I sighed with contentment. And now you bow.
But he did not.
Instead, he strode from the hall without a backward glance, his shepherd’s staff clicking off his paces. My complacency turned cold and anger pricked my skin. He defied me. Before my men, he dared to defy me. Seething offense made me quiver as hot resentment kindled in my chest. With a grunt I flung my cup against the wall, its wine trickling in scarlet rivulets to puddle at the base.
“Captain!” Exasperation tore my throat.
Mahu, the captain of my bodyguard, came running, his plain sandals slapping the plaster floor as his short sword bounced against his thigh. “Your Majesty.” His low voice was steady, despite his run. He dropped to one knee with head inclined.
The flick of my fingers lifted him to his feet. “Gather the foremen and slave drivers. Tell them that they are no longer to supply the slaves with straw for the bricks; let the people go and gather it for themselves. But their quota remains unchanged.” Arms folded across my chest, my brow was furrowed with offended irritation but wicked delight stirred my soul. Sunshine from the doorway streamed into the reception hall, invigorating the colors on the floor with yellow light – but in my eyes, they had been stained by the Traitor’s presence. He will bow. My voice was smooth, low. “The Hebrews are lazy. Let us give them something else to think about.”
Mingled double-pipes, harps, and laughter stroked my ears, their music enhanced by the comfortable heaviness of the wine. I took a deep breath, the savory air flooding my tongue with saliva. My private courtyard was bright with flickering lamps, and the shimmer of dancers’ lithe, glistening bodies bewitched my eyes and intoxicated my senses as I relaxed into the merriment’s gentle caresses. Beyond the walls, the frogs and the Nile whispered lullabies to the deepening dusk. All was ma’at – the world was balanced, its harmony upheld by my might – and I was pleased.
The twinkles of light rippling across my dark wine satiated my soul, and I tilted the cup to better admire the gleam of its silver. A good world. Lifting it to my lips, I quaffed deeply and nudged the companion on my right. “And how is my son, Iuty? He is a true prince of the blood, is he not?”
The tutor politely inclined his head with a gentle smile. “He is indeed, your Majesty. A strong youth. I can hardly get him to leave the archery range for his other studies. But he is intelligent, like his father. He shows great promise for one so young.”
A lazy grin seeped over my countenance and I nodded. “Good. He should! The son of the King of Upper and Lower Egypt!” Chuckles danced over my thick tongue and I shook an unwieldy finger at Iuty. “Do not let him distract you into neglecting the arts. I would have him surpass me just as I have surpassed my father – both as a warrior and an artist.” My cup swayed as I drew it toward me and I carefully monitored its progress. “But let his first excellence be the battlefield! May he exceed even me … if he is able.” The wine drowned out my amusement at my own wittiness.
Again Iuty inclined his head politely, the quiet smile still in place. “Of course, Per’ Aa.”
I stared across the table at the girls gyrating to the music, a fire burning in my groin. “And when the time comes, make sure you teach him to fight hand-to-hand. He will need a good sparring partner.” I extended a wavering finger toward the tutor. “You are your father’s son. He taught me well – and you too. Do the same for my son.”
“To the best of my ability, Per’ Aa,” he murmured. “I will always do my best for your son.”
I nodded, enjoying the unbalanced sensation in my head, and slapped a hand on his shoulder, sloshing the wine in my cup precariously. “I know, my friend. That is why I chose you!”
My lecherous view of the lithesome beauties was spoiled by the decrepit figure of my father’s relic stumping toward me. The old man offered a bow stiff with arthritis and, without awaiting my leave, lowered himself into the open place beside me with a sigh. I ground my teeth and turned my head to avoid the stench of his advancing age. “Vizier Rekhmire.”
“Majesty,” he wheezed. He nodded to Iuty before beckoning to a nearby slave bearing a tray of honey cakes. “The only thing I can eat anymore … everything else is too hard to chew,” he panted through a congenial, toothless smile. I nodded, sparing the trouble of a reply with another gulp from my cup. Take what you want, old man. Just do not make me watch you chew it.
Rekhmire snuffled a few bites. “Is it true, what I heard about the court today?” He searched my face with watery eyes as he wiped the crumbs and spittle from his chin.
“That depends on what you heard.” My sight found more interesting fodder than his wrinkled face, and I let myself devour the tight, firm figures of the dancers.
He leaned close, his foul breath now intolerable with the sweetness from the cakes. “Has Moshe returned?”
I rolled my eyes as I lifted the cup to my lips. “What would that matter?”
Rekhmire gawked and puffed out his cheeks in over-dramatic shock, accepting a proffered cup of water from Iuty. “I have been in the Great House many years; I have seen many things.” He nodded to himself with a slosh. “Moshe – he was a great man. Would have done great things, if he had not … but that was before the … and now …” His tongue tied itself around words better left unsaid and he devolved into silence, still nodding while he sipped his cup and watched the girls.
I snorted without shifting my gaze, twitching with the irony. “And now he has aligned himself with slaves.”
“Slaves?” Rekhmire’s focus flew to my face, the wrinkles in his forehead shifting like sand. A light dawned in his mind and he took a deep breath. “Yes, the slaves. With Moshe, it is always the Hebrews.”
With a sigh, I glanced over my shoulder in his direction and fastened my look on the flickering lamp suspended above his head. “Apparently the slaves’ God demands a sacrifice. He demanded their release, to allow three days’ travel to perform His rites.”
“Hm.” Rekhmire sucked his gums. “And will you let them?”
Surprise choked me, wine burning my throat, as Iuty exploded. “Let them? My lord Vizier! Are you mad? Why should his Majesty release our slaves?”
Rekhmire surveyed us calmly. “I did not say he should. I asked if he would.” His normally weak eyes shone with a disconcerting light. “Have you made your decision, Per’ Aa?”
I shook my head and wiped the wine from my chin, my voice heavy with condescension. “Certainly not. Who is their God? Why should I let them go? Their quarrel with their God is no concern of mine.” They would never have made this request of my father. The remembrance of Moshe’s mocking defiance knotted my gut and ruined my enjoyment of the women. “They will learn that a greater warrior than even the mighty Thutmose holds the throne!” The declaration was loud with conviction and wine, and I raised my glass for a refill. When the cup was brimful of comfort again, I relaxed back against the cushion. “Besides, I have ensured that the slaves will have no more leisure for worrying about any maleficent deity – other than me.” Iuty joined in my merciless chuckles but Rekhmire remained strangely silent. I eyed him over the cup’s rim. “I did not realize you had so much love for the slaves, old man.”
His stooped shoulders startled and his eyes darted, his mouth slack with surprise. I grinned into my cup and glanced toward Iuty, himself hiding a smirk. Rekhmire swallowed and shook his head slowly. “No, not so, Per’ Aa. Not love. But,” he inched his way toward me, his foul, whispered breath offending my nostrils, “as your Vizier, I would caution you about the man Moshe. He is … there is …” I sighed impatiently and Rekhmire concluded, “he is not an ordinary man.”
Old fool. I scoffed and turned back to the naked dancers, my voice disdainful. “Then it is well that I am a god.”
Then You Will Know is now available for purchase on Amazon. Buy now
My Children’s eyes reflected the flashing lights as they stared, wide-eyed at the display. Whistles and mechanical gears filled our ears. The older gentleman darted around the converted barn with the joy-filled energy of a child on Christmas, turning knobs, pushing buttons, flipping switches, breathing life into the tiny machines.
Every train had a story, “This one my wife and I built together when we were first married. We lived in a trailer and didn’t have any extra space.” He indicated the miniature train track, set into a coffee table, glass top covering the intricate village. “We could eat pizza on it or play trains!”
Walking over to another, larger display, he pointed out the wooden lid, propped open. “This one was discovered in a nursing home, fifteen years after its owner died. They had been using it as a buffet…cutting cakes on it and such. Didn’t discover it until they were doing renovation and the contractors lifted the lid.”
Hundreds of toy trains, hundreds of stories to be told.
I love stories. Upon meeting someone, I love to hear them share theirs. Where they came from, what motivates them, and who they love. It’s what I love about this blog – people sharing their stories and how God is working in their lives.
Stories carry memories, they bond strangers, heal hearts, bring laughter and tears. We love to read or watch a good story. We recount them to our friends, tell our children, write them down.
On this night, a little over two thousand years ago, Jesus told an important story around the dinner table. The story of a people in bondage, rescued through a tragic victory, their freedom bought through a spotless lamb. The Hebrew people were told to celebrate this story every year so they could remember the deeds of the Lord especially in their darkest moments. In a goosebump-inspiring-moment, the disciples reclining at the table were with true and better Lamb of God, the Son of Man, who would die less than twenty-four hours later in a beautiful, tragic rescue, saving His people (everyone who calls on His name) from their bondage (sin).
The story of Passover, foreshadowing the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection, is the story worth telling over and over again, with increasing joy every time as we realize more and more our broken humanity and the depth from which we have been raised up through Jesus’ sacrifice. This weekend, I pray you take the time to listen, to read, to experience the story anew and share it with even more intensity of joy than our train collector sharing his treasures.
Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!
“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 ….
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….
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.
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.
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….
“You don’t look like swimmers to me. You look like a bunch of Ooompa Loompas,” the coach said, glaring at the nervous group of dripping teens. Just a minute before he had called us all out of the water, disappointed by our form or times or something. I looked down at my own post-puberty hips and full thighs, feeling completely exposed by my racing swimsuit. Compared to the tiny, fit swimmers around me I felt like the only Oompa Loompa. After another 20 minutes in the water, I mumbled an excuse and escaped to the bathroom where I waited until my parents pulled up outside the aquatic complex, confidence broken.
One of the girls on the team had Olympic-qualifying times. At one swim meet, I swam the wrong stroke during a medley event – twice. Swimming was not a natural gift of mine, nor did I feel supported to put in the effort to try.
However, one day at the pool, Coach Emmet called me and a few other c-team swimmers over after practice. “I’m starting a conditioning program,” he said, “I want you to join me to run before practice twice a week.”
I had pretty much given up on my ability to advance in swimming, but still, I convinced my parents to bring me to practice early so I could join the group of runners. After a few weeks, I could complete the entire mile without stopping, and soon after that, I was finding time to run on other days of the week as well, increasing both my mileage and my speed. Eventually, I left the swim team, but I continued to run. In my adult life, I have completed three marathons, and for my 30th birthday last year, I ran a 30K (18.6 miles). Running is a source of stress relief, exercise, and friendship.
Coach Emmet knew I was not cut out to be a great swimmer, but instead of calling me out for being a disappointment as many other coaches had done, he simply invited me to a higher view of self and inspired me to do better. His quiet invitation changed my mental spiral of discouragement into a positive outlet.
Today, what is your spiral? Disappointment in self or others? Lack of ability or resources? Continued failure or repeated sin that you cannot seem to break free from? Jesus came to gently lift us out of our spirals with a gentle invitation:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt. 11:28-30
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
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!
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
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.