Sunday, March 8, 2015

Why Lent is not about trying harder

The scene we witnessed as a student team was both beautiful and haunting, watching a devoted follower crawl through the streets of a large Central American city on hands and knees, a bleeding, thorn-crowned, impersonation of Christ. This happens all over the world this time of year, and we might find this both shocking and moving. Recently, we also saw 21 martyrs answer the call of Christ to face death rather than turn from him. These dramatic events cause us to tremble, and look at our own lives. What sacrifice am I being called to? Is daily faithfulness just as important and sacrificial? Perhaps God is not calling you to something that appears to be as difficult as these examples, but the daily surrender to grace can be difficult as well.

The idea of 'giving something up' for Lent is relatively new to me, coming from a church background that was not especially liturgical. But the idea fits my personality quite well, being the over achiever that I was for years.

This year, I arrive at the Lenten season tired. Can you relate? The year has just started, but do you look at your goals for the year and sigh, knowing you'll never quite meet them? This is the perfect storm for many of us to approach the Easter season with a works-righteousness mindset, myself included. Coming to Christ needy, rather than with something to offer, is just plain uncomfortable.  Does this mean that God might still be calling you to sacrifice greatly this year? Yes, of course, but our response should be obedience more than sacrifice. I often find myself signing up for more than God is ever asking of me. Like my goal to read through the Bible this year - not a bad thing, at all, but why? Motivation in all our actions is key. I'm not going to say my motivation in that goal was bad, but why then have I resisted the Spirit's prompting to let go of that goal, and rather just focus on one passage? One. Not exactly what this goodie goodie wants to hear. I'm finding comfort in that one passage, in this book, and in the resources listed below.

What is God calling you to this Lenten season? Is he calling you to give up worry (like me), to find rest for your soul? Is he calling you to give up consumerism, for the joy of simplicity and contentment? Is he calling you to really just give in to his love, rather than giving up in general, like you might be tempted to do? Can we see the joy of what he is offering, rather than the contrived self-sufficiency that only serves to make us weary?

May we all find relief in his sacrifice this Easter season, rather than striving for righteousness in a way that leads to death rather than life, guilt rather than glory, unnecessary pain rather than purpose, misery rather than marveling at his grace. Because it really is all about him, isn't it? Let go of your need to feel good about yourself with self-imposed deeds of righteousness, and instead, find your worth in having been chosen as the focus of his sacrificial love, before all time and eternity.  By HIS stripes we are healed, not our own.  That's where I'm camping out right now, and the view is amazing.

Additional resources to fill your soul, cover you with love, and release you from guilt...

Resources from Ann Voskamp for Lent (and why failing at Lent could be better)

Ann's weekly Multivitamins post - don't miss this!! Sure to delight and inspire.

She Reads Truth Lent series

The Fringe Hours - Finding Time for You (what if God is calling you to give up busyness, to better care for yourself?) and online book club to go along

Emily Freeman's blog - a space for your soul to breathe

Emily's podcast and Art of Simple podcast (both are fun and refreshing)

Beautiful Enya video - Perhaps the grace of our Savior will keep you singing?

(Photos from some lovely friends at our church in Florida - really missing the sunny people and weather up here in the frigid north...)

Monday, March 2, 2015

Join me for the Winter Bloom Book Club :: The Fringe Hours

Hey friends!

Just a quick post to let you know that I'm still alive, haha, and have something great to share! Do you feel like your schedule is bursting at the seams? Do you wish you had more time for yourself, or even any at all? Do you constantly juggle several responsibilities and roles, and yet never feel like you can keep up?

This could be the book for you. I received a free copy of Jessica Turner's new book, The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You, and today is the first day of the (in}courage Winter Bloom Book Club!

Here is the schedule at this link.

You can view the first video book discussion below. Please join us! I can add you to the secret Facebook page for the group as well, just request that in the comments or send me an email at No guilt here for taking a few minutes a day to do something for yourself. I am so passionate about godly self-care and pray this book and online club can be a time of refreshment for all of us!


Monday, February 2, 2015

Grace for the messy middle

I usually write about what I know, but today I will write about what I don’t know. I don’t know what I’ll eat tomorrow, when we’ll need new tires, and I certainly didn't know who would win the Super Bowl. I don’t know where her life is going, or how he’ll respond to my words. Honestly, I don’t know what God is doing in my own heart & life much of the time. What if it is better that we know so little about the future? Could it be merciful of God to show us such a small part of where our story, or a friend’s, is going? Why do we desperately grasp for control, when we are assured so little? How can we live into the mystery without being paralyzed by our lack of control? 

I love this quote, but find it much harder to live:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke

Living into the mystery of life, one day at a time, and letting go of control, can be liberating. You won’t find a formula for this peaceful, contented and messy life. By nature, we humans like things to be defined, black and white, bottled up and sold for a reasonable price. Honoring the mystery and unresolved nature of life…is a sacred journey. Embracing grace as we take slow steps forward, and many more backward. I am often harsh with myself for not knowing exactly how to respond to X situation or Y comment. Much of life is gray; words from the friend who kindly shared the above quote. I’m beginning to understand just what she meant, and it is both freeing and terrifying. 

In this season of life, I feel safer with the black and white; it is much easier to stay where I’m comfortable, or work towards the expected, rather than stepping out into the gray, with passion and conviction, despite the resistance I might face. But it is equally dangerous for a bold and self-assured individual to risk without wisdom, like a bull in a china shop, so confident in his/her opinions and choices that hearts are damaged left and right. Staying in step with the Spirit is the only way forward. I’ve been hearing Jesus’ words roll around in my head over the last few days - I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Holding onto this truth will lead us forward, and most likely, in very different ways. Will we allow our fellowship with Christ to inform our way forward, his words to become ours, his life to continue through ours? 

I’m becoming aware of how little I desire fellowship with Christ, but long instead for results, answers, direction. Prayer becomes empty when it is devoid of fellowship. In the same way, life becomes empty when we are always looking for resolution, eager to find answers and completion. The messy middle is where life really happens: tough conversations you were brave to attempt, pursuing a new venture with no guarantee of success, offering thanks and praise when the answers still don’t come. This is the substance of life, not the extras. What I do know, and am coming to embrace more assuredly, is that he is WITH me regardless of the path I take. Keeping company with Christ, in the midst of the unresolved, directly affects our posture towards others as we all ‘fail forward’.

Can we give each other grace, and assume the best of each other’s hearts, even if we make very different choices, and come to strikingly different conclusions about gray issues? Can we remember that we are all 'in process'? There are certainly truths to live and be transformed by in the Word, directives that are not up for dispute, but I grieve at the judgement I see in my own heart and others’ over the gray areas. Find kind companions, who open new possibilities and bring unexpected joy, wrapped up in mystery just as we are. Be kind to your own soul as well. Embracing the tension of our responsibility and our Creator’s wise guidance in each choice, deepens our trust, joy, and peace. Resist the urge to leave the waiting rooms of life too early, or approach the next assignment with a consumer mindset. But do leave the waiting room when it is time, even if the knees still wobble. 

Sacred rhythms such as the Sabbath, fellowship around the Word, daily worship and generous living refresh our souls. Buoyed by these graces, we can patiently look for signposts and clues along the way. But let's not forget to lose ourselves in the wonders of nature, a child's laughter, and the deep unknown places of God's heart, expressed through a friend. I have a small sign above my kitchen sink that simply says, LIVE. One small word, with a very powerful message. Live today, entering the beautiful possibility of the unresolved season you are facing; perhaps you’ll find me waiting there too. There is glory in the messy middle, just as much as in the decision made, the project completed, the child all grown. Can we find grace for our hearts and others’ hearts as we stumble forward?

Bible passages for further study: Matthew 6:25-34 and James 4:13-15

What are your questions? Will you honor your heart in the midst of your unfinished story? Who will you invite into your mystery?

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Meet Nicole : powerfully changed from death to life

Nicole Gallagher - changed by God
Last week, many were reflecting on the Roe vs. Wade decision and Sanctity of Life Sunday. Rather than entering the conversation in an abstract or hostile way (which is sadly often the case), I asked my dear friend to share her personal story of God's work in her life--how he led her to choose life when it would have been much easier not to do so. Many women are aware of the obvious effect on the child, but rarely is the fuller picture of how the abortion will affect the mother discussed. I asked Nicole to speak to this issue as well. Her passion for God is evident from the moment you meet her! It was such a blessing to get to know her when we attended church together before moving back north. Our Presbyterian church needed her 'Praise Jesus' and Hallelujahs' and many were moved by her tears of thanks to God during the services (and still are, I'm sure). Read on, and may you be blessed and encouraged by Nicole...

I want to begin by saying that my story is not at all one of how I found Jesus, but instead of how Jesus picked me up out of the literal pit of destruction and set my feet upon a rock.
I was 27 years old and had already been on the path of destruction for seven years, before my eyes were opened to the consequences of what I was doing. I had been going hard all day, every day, getting high on crack cocaine and doing everything I was grown enough to do to support my monstrous five hundred dollar a day habit. Which sadly was most easily funded by street prostitution. Prostitution was an epidemic in Sanford at the time, the city I had run away to when I was 21. I hated what I had to do to get high, but being young and pretty made everything I needed readily available. This included being shacked up at the drug house, with the dope dealer’s brother, who also got high and loved the cliental I brought his way. This was the place I called home for the majority of the seven years I wasn’t in jail. At that point, I had frequented the jail more than 30 times. 
I was appalled when I found out that I was pregnant; who was going to want me if I was pregnant?? This was really going to put a damper on my everyday activity. So I asked one of my sugar daddies to pay for an abortion. He said he would, but only if I went and talked to someone first. I remembered how painful my first abortion was, as well as the promise I made to myself that if I was dumb enough to ever get pregnant again, I would give the child a chance. It is one of the worst physical pains I have ever experienced. Also, now knowing the infinite love of God for both me and the child I aborted, I realize that it is a spiritual pain that breaks the heart of God and leaves a scar on your soul.

I highly suggest that any woman who made the choice to abort a child, as I did, seek counseling through any pregnancy center in her area. When a woman (or man) comes to know the depravity of the sin of abortion, she will need healing and deep restoration. There is loving forgiveness from the Father in heaven, who can heal any pain that sin has caused. Seek the opportunity to honor that child's life through sharing your pain with someone who can help you. To any woman who is considering abortion, please know that you have other options for this child's life, who God has created on purpose for a purpose. Please also be mindful of those who cannot have children and would consider it the blessing of a lifetime to teach and raise your child.
The day I walked into the Sanford Crisis Pregnancy Center, which was oddly enough on the very same corner where I worked as a prostitute, I was greeted by a warmth and kindness that I will never forget. The ladies at the center told me that "life or death" was a choice. How could they be so kind to me after watching me jump in and out of cars with different men on a daily basis? I remember the words that Andrea spoke to me even today, “Why should I judge you Nicole, you just sin differently then I do."
I spoke with these ladies and let them know that I would be open to adoption, but made it very clear that I had absolutely no intent to stop doing what I was doing. I had no idea that from that moment, a spiritual war was waged concerning whether or not I would continue to self-destruct and possibly destroy the life inside me. I had no idea that I had been befriended by warriors in the kingdom of God that specialized in saving and preserving life in every form.
After meeting with the couple that would adopt my child, I wondered why such a nice Christian couple would want my baby, knowing that the father was African American and that it would possibly be born with some defects because of my selfishness. I had no idea that my blind eyes would be open to Christ’s love for me through this child's birth. Annalise was born on December 25th, a bit premature as an effect of my rampant drug use. Miraculously, she was not born with any defects or addicted to drugs and alcohol; Annalise was born with a 100 percent clean bill of health!!

It was three more years before I would be supernaturally delivered from addiction, and I have my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to thank, as well as the ladies at the crisis pregnancy center. The women continued to encourage and pray with me every time they saw me outside, and the adoptive parents of my daughter funded me to go to a rehab facility. Andrea, the director of the center, three years later continues to encourage me in who I am in Christ. She is my biggest cheerleader in every moment of victory that I have in my new life in Christ. Truly He makes ALL THINGS NEW!!

A couple of final notes from Ruth: Though I do not know your story, dear reader, and how your life may have been touched by abortion, I know you can find comfort in Jesus, the Friend who will walk with you every step of the way. He is WITH US and FOR US.  I will also add that having recently experienced an ectopic pregnancy, I was assured by many that this is one of the few situations where there is little to no chance for the baby to survive (and that the mother's life could be at risk). Thankfully, I did not have to choose to end my own child's life, though it was quite painful to experience the natural loss of our child. Because of my own struggle with infertility, I can relate to Nicole's encouragement that a mother consider adoption when she does not feel able to care for the child ...and am saddened by the many who do not know about or consider the women who can not carry their own child to term.

One last story... when I attended a prominent church in Colorado Springs, I was in a college and career group with a brave single woman who had been raped and yet chose to carry her baby to term! She humbled herself and moved back in with her parents for support during the pregnancy. I do not know if she put the baby up for adoption or raised the child herself, but I will never forget her testimony. She always said that it 'was not the baby's fault' and she did not want to add a second wrong to the first wrong.  

Additional resources for your encouragement or to share with a friend:

Focus on the Family Dignity of Human Life video
Article on how Abortion Harms a Woman's Health from FRC
David Crowder - Come As You Are - worship song

May God shower you with grace as you walk the road ahead of you...

Monday, January 19, 2015

Belief in God's love {our fuel for the joy battle}

Weary in many ways, we walked into the church service yesterday and were greeted by a group of precious elementary aged children singing Jesus Loves Me. It had been so long since I'd heard those words, or rather, since I'd really listened. Their sweet introduction led the congregation into Tomlin's worship song with the same title, and I fought to hold the tears back. Sometimes life just feels like a fight, and without the proper fuel and armor, we are left naked in the battle. I was fueled by that simple reminder of God's love, and ironically, didn't hear much more of the service because I was not feeling well. God knew that, of course.

In her new book, Fight Back With Joy, author Margaret Feinberg drills down to the source of the joy we all long for, especially as we face trials: 

What is the genesis of this joy? I believe that, at its core, joy emanates from the abiding sense of God’s fierce love for us….When we embrace this love and cultivate an awareness of it, our hearts are filled with joy. Such awareness strengthens our resolve that no matter the fight, we face it confident that God is with us and for us. When we fight back with joy, we no longer size the character of God according to our circumstances, but we size our circumstances according to the character of God and his great affection for us… When we fight back with joy, we embrace a reality that is more real than what we’re enduring and we awaken to the deepest reality of our identity as beloved, joyful children of God."

I couldn't agree more! I have fought this battle to embrace God's love. In fact, it's at the core of my story. Letting go of my perfectionistic tendencies, and finding my hope and help in Christ, rather than my own abilities, has changed me body, mind and soul. No longer must I find my confidence in what others think of me, my achievements, or any other shaky ground. The firm foundation of God's love is the basis for the joy I experience now, and that can never be shaken.

I am a firm believer in the holistic nature of our body, mind and spirit, and passionate about encouraging women (and men) to pursue health and vitality that will encompass every part of their being. Joy is no small part of this pursuit towards wellness. The author knows this quite well, as she details in her book. She chose JOY to lead her fight against a cancer diagnosis, and surprised many at what a profound impact that choice made. We are not guaranteed health and wellness simply because we follow Christ, however, choosing to fight for joy can be one part of the remedy that leads us back to health in body, mind and soul. 

God finds delight in us, and delights to show up in our daily mundane schedule, often in remarkable ways. I have experienced the delight of this daily joy hunt over the last few years, and have seen what a profound impact that has had on every area of my life, health, relationships, and faith. Are we looking for God to show up? Are we creating, gathering, and spreading joy? This is part of 'cultivating an awareness of God's love', as mentioned in the quote above. I'd argue that self-care is part of that cultivation as well (but more on that in another post.)

Many of you may not believe that joy is a struggle for me, as I'll most likely greet you with a huge smile and a big hug, and have been told on numerous occasions what a joyful person I am. Hearing those comments brings ME joy, because it doesn't come easy. For any of you who have faced painful trials, you know the real depth of darkness they bring. I am not a stranger to that darkness. Perhaps you are in that place now, whether it is brought on by physical issues, life circumstances, or a struggle of faith.

It is so easy to give in to despair when life is hard, instead of seizing the day or rejoicing in the Lord, as the Word commands on numerous occasions. A former pastor often reminded us to avoid the Eeyore - Christian mentality (Eeyore is the pessimistic, stuffed donkey friend of Winnie the Pooh, if you're not up on children's literature :). In the words of C.S. Lewis, "Joy is the serious business of heaven." Our response to what life throws us will not only affect our lives, but those of onlookers. But don't take my word for it... pick up Feinberg's book, and dive into the meat of her search through hundreds of Scriptures on joy.

As Feinberg says, "Joy is more than a feeling; it's an action. We don't just sense joy; we embody it by how we respond to the circumstances before us." If you're facing any kind of darkness, or know someone who is, I'd highly recommend you pick up this book! Let that be your first action in the fight for joy. And then join me (and the author) in spreading that joy everywhere you go... it's contagious and irresistible!

Find Fight Back with Joy on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Or click here for the 6-session DVD Bible study, sure to encourage and inspire!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Adjust your expectations, Miss Piggy!

I have to admit, I haven't laughed as hard as I did watching Muppets Most Wanted on Christmas Day... in quite some time. Not sure what that says about me, but there you go, think what you will! :) Regardless of whether you see the movie or not, you really MUST watch this music video. HI-larious, as my family would say! Paul and I got a good laugh out of it for days, really :) The movie and this video in particular got me thinking though, what have my expectations been lately - for myself, my marriage, my life, my faith, etc? Are they healthy, godly expectations, or are they self-centered worldly expectations? Okay, I'll be honest, a little of both. You too?

When we were newly married almost four years ago, Paul and I read Paul David Tripp's book, What Did You Expect? {Redeeming the Realities of Marriage} together, and it was revolutionary for us. I suspect Miss Piggy has not read this book (and Kermit is wise not to pop the question until she does! :) Expectations are tricky little boogers. Unfortunately for most of us, we don't realize we even have expectations for a certain relationship or situation until we find ourselves disappointed with the realities we are facing.

This time of year, I think it is safe to say that we are all faced with expectations for the new year before us. Whether those are positive, healthy expectations, guilt-ridden expectations, or simply selfish expectations, that's for you and God to evaluate...sharing with a friend is good too. Expectations are not inherently wrong, and in fact, can sometimes be helpful. Healthy expectations can help us make wise choices, enjoy the blessings around us, and dream about what God could do with our gifts and talents, among other things. Selfish expectations can do the opposite, often robbing us of joy, leading us down fruitless paths, and distracting us from God's best for our lives. As we move forward into our year, might we consider what our deeper motivations and expectations are? Why are we doing/planning/hoping for the things we are hoping for? Are our goals and expectations informed by truth, selfless love, and joy in Christ?

I've also seen that my dreams and expectations can be too small, as well! God-centered hopes and expectations are fixed on the person of Christ, HIS goals in the world, who we are in the image of God, and His power that can make all things possible. Only God knows if our hopes/dreams/expectations for ourselves this year are what HE would want. Have we asked Him to lead us in this area? Are we more focused on changing someone else, than being focused on surrendering to the amazing things God wants to do in and through us this year?

For added encouragement on this topic check out Emily Freeman's book, A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live or Holley Gerth's You're Made for a God-Sized Dream: Opening the Door to All God Has for You, as well as the Paul David Tripp book I mentioned above.

Please consider leaving a comment with your favorite book or resource on the topic! I'd love to learn from your experience. I'm also curious about the new movie Into the Woods, as I've heard it displays the down side of getting what we want. Have you seen it? What do you think?

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thoughts on the new year...from my desk :)

It's been a great start to the new year in some ways, and a humbling reminder of my brokenness in other ways! So thankful for friends coming to visit, and thankful for a marriage that can hold the ups and downs of life with grace and truth. I've had just a bit of time to see bloggers and friends posting their new year's thoughts, goals, and dreams online, which is both exciting and intimidating!

I was once that girl. You know, the one with the color-coded, sectioned off goal sheet for the new year, complete with step-by-step subgoals and pictures. Go ahead and roll your eyes, my family certainly did! Thankfully, I've learned to give myself (and others) quite a bit more grace since my pre-teen years, and making new year's goals is not as overwhelming and oppressive to myself and others. I went through the phase of not making goals for a while, but instead determining new habits to focus on (life goals), and I've also tried making quarterly goals. Both have been great! I think I might do a little combo of that this year, but I'm also adding the ONE WORD challenge to my list. 

True to form, I've waited for the 'one word' phase to become a little less trendy, but I couldn't help myself this year. As I've spent time in prayer and conversation with friends over the last few days, the word PEACE keeps rolling around in my mind and heart. Not just peace, but the deeper and all-encompassing Hebrew word, SHALOM, the world and everything within it being made right, whole, complete, and as it was meant to be. For weeks and months, this word, shalom, has been popping up in various places...a sermon preached at a church we attended only a few email from my sister...the Spirit's prompting...a deep desire for shalom in our lives and the lives of unrelated conversation with a friend, etc. Okay, so you get the point, and I do too! God is up to something and I just need to pay attention. Isn't that really what it comes down to so often? God is doing something in our lives, we just need to surrender and embrace it. 

I'm still working on my quarterly goals, but I might just resurrect some from last quarter...that I didn't quite master. That still counts, right? Here you go: 

~ Eat something green every day
~ Keep water with me at all times (and guzzle it!) Best beauty habit ever.
~ 20 min reading / 20 min writing / 20 minutes yoga & meditation daily

And some new ones, considering it is a new year (quarter):

~ Finish the Tribe Writers course (next course starts in June, if you're interested!)
~ Emphasize conversation and interest in others on social media
~ Can I say it? Read through the Bible this year...Okay, so now you know and I have to do it! 

I'm excited about what She Reads Truth is doing to help us out with this, and optimistic that with community support, this last one might come to fruition. Whether you make this your goal or not, please do check out SRT. Great site! I will say that God is renewing my desire for the Word, and I'm only approaching this Bible-in-a-year goal by His grace and not in my own strength. Maybe chewing on the book of John is more your style?

Getting back to habits/life goals...take a look at Jonathan Edward's resolutions. Does it get any better than that? I'm pretty sure I can't master even one of them this year, but I plan to look them over regularly and ask God to help me move in that direction. Another idea is to write a vision statement, but I'll talk about that in another post, when I'm feeling a bit more motivated. It's not something to take lightly, and to be honest, it's been a while since I re-wrote my vision statement. Maybe it's time... maybe next quarter? :)

One more thing, a question for you, dear reader... could you take a moment and email me at I want to hear what topics would be a blessing to you this quarter/year! My overall focus is wellness + spirituality, but anything within that umbrella is an option. You can add this to my goal list : serve my readers well! I'd be happy to lift up any prayer requests as well. Just drop me a line! 

Hoping with you, for a new year and new quarter that is filled with the goodness of God, because no matter what happens, HE IS GOOD!