Friday, April 10, 2015

Unending Love, Amazing Grace

I want to write. I love to write. I even have an idea for a book (or three). Slowly, I’m getting closer to making that dream less of an idea and more of a reality. And each time I take a step towards it, my fear of reality rachets up a few notches.

What if I make the effort to achieve my dream, and I fail miserably? What if I put all this effort into writing a book and NO ONE wants to read it? What do I do on the other side of failure when I don’t have that dream to fuel me any longer? And then the real terror sets in, because the fears transfer from my dreams and onto my value as a person. Who are YOU to write a book? You don’t know the first thing about that. Are you stupid? You don’t have anything of value to put in a book. Or a blog. Or even a LIFE, for that matter. You aren’t special. You aren’t worth listening to. And you certainly aren’t interesting, not even one little bit!

Dude. Just writing those sentences makes me want to close my laptop and curl into a ball, and never. write. again. – even to finish this blog post! The fear is real, and it’s paralyzing. And I’m so tempted to listen to the voice of the Dream Killer and stay in my comfy little life and simply stop.

But the shouts of fear can’t silence the whisper of God in my heart. So, for some crazy reason, I found myself in the Christian section at Barnes & Noble. I was doing some research to find out what kinds of books already exist that are similar to what I have in mind to write. Before I got to the bookstore, I figured my book idea was not exactly original but also not saturating the market. It turns out I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right, either. I poked around and found books just like what I had in mind, and some that were even better.

I sat on the ground in front of the Christian section, and looked at this massive collection of books. There were books by Mother Teresa and Charles Spurgeon and A.W. Tozer and Lysa TerKeurst and Ann Voskamp and Shauna Niequist and Todd Eldredge and… and… and I felt hope seep out of me. I felt my dream curdling in my stomach, and the heaviness of failure before I had even started to give my dream any true weight.

After a time I got up and left the bookstore, full of negative self talk and words like, “You’ll never be…” and “No one would ever want you to…” and the worst of all: “After seeing all those books in the store, what do YOU have to offer, Elizabeth? There is nothing significant or worthwhile that you can add to the conversation. Those REAL authors in the store have captured the essence of God in theological ways your little, pitiful mind can never fathom. Don’t even THINK you can play in the big leagues with those rock stars! Everything important has already been written. Everything that matters has already been said. You have nothing valuable to add to the conversation, so shut up and sit down.”

Sidebar: as I’m typing this blog post, I just got a text from a friend. This is what she sent. Wow! What perfect timing!image1

Back to the story…

I left the bookstore, got in the car, berated myself, then started driving. That’s when the Holy Spirit convicted me and I realized I needed to change the route my mind was taking. I prayed out loud and said, “Okay, God. Let’s turn on some music so I can sing to You instead.” I turned on the local Christian radio station (JoyFM) and the notes from a song that has special meaning to me filled the car:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.”

It’s a song that reminds me of my parents. And it’s a song that reminds me of God’s ability to change me because I no longer cry like a baby whenever I hear the song or sing it at church. And then the chorus of the song started playing:

“My chains are gone, I’ve been set free.

My God – my Savior – has ransomed me.

And like a flood, His mercy reigns.

Unending love, amazing grace.”

For a brief moment, I flashed back to the first time I heard that song and I was at the end of myself. That song was a lifeline for me that first day. Now on THIS day, in the car after leaving the bookstore, it became a lifeline again. As I was thanking God for that song on the radio at that specific moment in time when I needed it, He gently whispered to my heart and I realized this: I am so grateful that Chris Tomlin wrote a new version of the song Amazing Grace.

Do you think he ever thought, “Why keep writing music? Every note has already been played and every word has already been sung. And why should I take a song that’s already been written – Amazing Grace – and add anything to it? That song is a classic and there is nothing little ol’ me can add to it.”

But Chris Tomlin didn’t listen to the Dream Killer, and he wrote lyrics and music that deepened a classic spiritual hymn and made it fresh for a new generation of believers. When Chris Tomlin listened to God, God showed him how to write in a new way. A way that’s authentic to God’s call on Chris Tomlin’s life. And HIS life only, regardless of whether anyone else sang the songs or played the music.

For me, that last part is the key to silencing the Dream Killer. It doesn’t matter if I write a book or a blog or even a letter that no one publishes or compliments or even reads. The point is not doing something because of the way it’s received; the point is doing something because it’s what my Father has asked me to do.

If God has placed words on my heart and dreams in my head, then who am I to say His dreams are less important than mine? And what if, just maybe, God is so good and so loving that He makes sure to intersect His dreams with my own?

God has placed a passion in my heart that needs to be expressed. He has given me spiritual gifts that He intends for me to use, which makes those gifts a Gift I get to extend back to Him. How amazing that The Giver of All Gifts lavishes us with love that becomes an offering back to Him and ultimately glorifies Him? God is the best recycler/upcycler/regifter of all!

“Unending love, amazing grace.” Indeed!


[A few weeks after my bookstore revelation, I got to attend the Chris Tomlin “Love Ran Red” concert tour. As he sang “Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)” live, I took this photo. Look at the way people worship and sing along. It would have been a shame for Chris Tomlin to say no to writing a new arrangement of the hymn Amazing Grace. Thank You, God, for making all things new!]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Provision and PayPal

Health insurance. Gah! I know I’m not the only one who is frustrated and annoyed with her insurance and what feels like a lack of benefits.

On Tuesday, Dan stopped off at home in the midst of a rain hail storm as he was on his way to a physical therapy appointment. I asked him about how he planned to pay for the appointment, since our Health Savings Account had been tapped dry the week before. We talked about the lack of funds compared to the abundance of bills, and then I bemoaned a bill that had not even been incurred yet: my annual eye exam and contact lenses.

I’ve already made my lenses stretch for as long as possible (Yes, I’m guilty of – gasp! – wearing my daily lenses for more than a day. The horror!), but I’m down to a short supply and it’s time to bite the bullet and order more. While talking with Dan, I said, “The HSA is empty and contacts will cost $300. Where are we going to find that?”

In the back of my head, I already had an answer.

I met with a friend last week and we discussed a regular photography gig. She offered to hire me to photograph property as a part of her job. It intrigued me, and I told her I would pray about it. I tucked the idea into my heart, asked God to mull it over for me and let me know what He thinks I should do. While I don’t think that gig would be my ultimate employment answer, I do think it would provide income while I’m pursuing other callings from God (creative photography, writing, preparing a book). It looked like a good idea to me, but I wanted to sit on it and wait for God to confirm it.

Then bills started huffing at the corner of my shoulder and my unemployment guilt started elbowing me in the ribs a couple extra times. Add in a $300 need for contacts, and I felt like it was time to get back on the horse and pursue that photography gig. Dan left for his appointment before I voiced any of this, but I figured I could approach it with him later that night.

I went about my morning and tackled my To Do list. One of the tasks involved ordering a copy of a sports identification card so Katie can play on her softball team. Payment was required through PayPal, so I logged into my account to make sure I had the $5 to cover the order. The last time I checked, the account balance was less than $20. I figured I had at least $5 left. I was wrong.

The account balance was $300. Let me repeat that: THE ACCOUNT BALANCE WAS THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Immediately, my mind raced back through past transactions and I couldn’t think of any reason there would be $300 in my account. I opened the screen that lists every transaction for the last 14 months, and got out my calculator and did the math. THREE TIMES. I should only have $16 in that account! So I called PayPal and spoke to a woman named Sandra. I started by saying I don’t understand my account balance. I’m pretty sure she must have flinched, because her response to my next words (“There’s money there that wasn’t there before!”) was: “Oh! Usually people call in here mad, but you’re not mad!” I chuckled and told her I wasn’t mad, but I needed her to help me understand how this money appeared. She went through the transactions too, and said the $300 is legit and I must have forgotten some money from long ago. Regardless of where it came from, the $300 is actually mine and I can spend it. I sputtered, “But there’s no way to explain how it got there!” She again confirmed that it IS there and it’s not a mistake.

Then I told her I was just talking to my husband about medical bills and needing $300, and she said, “Girl, the Lord works in mysterious ways!” To which I replied, “Amen, sister! He really does! I can’t believe He even works through PayPal!” I’m pretty sure our call was the highlight of her day, because it was definitely mine!

And now, there is a $295 balance in my PayPal account. (I used $5 to pay for the ID card, remember?) But even more than the $295, I received something of much greater value: I had a specific need and God gave me a specific answer. “I will provide for you, Elizabeth. Do not go running off, searching out your own solutions to problems. Sit. Wait. Give me time to work and I will bless you in ways that don’t make sense and can’t be proven with math or scientific reasoning or logic. I AM and I am providing for you. Trust me, dear one!”

In my life, I’ve heard people tell stories about being in financial need and God bailing them out in ways that seem “random” (unclaimed money or a neighbor dropping off a “random” gift card or a long-forgotten I.O.U. that gets paid or an anonymous donor paying for Lyme Disease treatment). I love hearing stories like that because it is always obvious to me that God isn’t random and His provision isn’t a coincidence. It’s an easy thing for me to say when a person is telling me a story about their “coincidence.” But when the “coincidence” happens to ME and God gives me a first-person reminder that He is taking care of me in ways I didn’t even bother to ask Him to, my mind is blown and I am left shaking my head in wonder at His might and majesty.

Later that day, I told a friend about finding God’s provision through PayPal and explained to her how I had been on the verge of taking on a new gig as my solution to a problem. She wisely pointed out that God is telling me to sit still and keep waiting through this unemployment, and He will lead me to the place He has prepared for me. It doesn’t mean this gig is a NO, but it does mean I don’t have to keep running around making my own answers to problems without waiting for God to confirm it first.

I can’t explain how thankful I am that God is a persistent God who speaks in ways meant only for me. He is generous, patient, and faithful to keep His promises to provide! (Psalm 54:4, Jer. 29:11)  And while I know $300 is merely a drop in the bucket (some people are in much greater need) and we aren’t in dire straits and we will get by, it’s reassuring and encouraging to know that God cares about even the smallest worries that stick like Velcro to my soul. Thank You, Abba!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Catastrophes = TROPHIES

Ten years ago, we had half of the basement finished. The day the carpet was installed, I grabbed some Sharpies and wrote lyrics, scriptures, and quotes all over the concrete before it was covered up. I also wrote a letter to the person who would uncover it next, not relaxing that person would be ME.IMG_0407

Yesterday, when our basement flooded, this was the first quote I saw when the carpet was pulled back. Right next to it was the entirety of Psalm 23. It spoke calm to me in the midst of a very stressful moment, and I'm so grateful that Elizabeth-of-Ten-Years-Ago was weird enough to go writing things on concrete. Elizabeth-of-Today needed the reminder that life is more than a series of catastrophes. Not only are WE bigger than anything that can happen to us, but GOD is!

Catastrophes = TROPHIES for God's glory and mercy.

[And for you @crossingstl folks, the Sharpie quotes were written 3 years before we ever stepped into church. I love that God placed me in a church that speaks my Sharpie love language, before I even knew there was such a thing!]

Friday, April 3, 2015


IMG_0060I started Good Friday by reading John's account of the crucifixion to my children. It's hard for them to not skip ahead to Easter, because they are used to living in an Easter world. Oh, how we all take hope for granted!

Today, may we rest in tetelestai, the last word on our Savior's lips. He says it is finished. The debt is paid and we can claim lavish freedom we don't deserve. Tetelestai means we get to go HOME one day. Thank you, Jesus.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Katie is Hooked on Holy Yoga

Katie attended her first Holy Yoga class with me this week. She loved it so much that she asked for her own yoga mat in her room. This morning we started the day with Pigeon and Child’s Pose while the sunrise came through the windows. Bliss!


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Tomorrow Starts Tonight

Words of wisdom to my 11 year old daughter. At bedtime, we talked about rest tonight bringing calm tomorrow.


Thursday, February 26, 2015


When I’m old and gray, and you’re bald and still handsome, this is one of the points of our lives I will look back upon and wish we could do over. Not the college days, not the early marriage years, and certainly not the early parenting years. (I happen to like sleep, thankyouverymuch.) This middle-aged time of working out the details of life.

Our current lives aren’t, by any means, stressless and idyllic. There are too many stains on the couch and dings in the wall. There are too many piles sitting on the counters and frantic rushing to make it to the band concert or ball practice or evening class on time. There are moments when I wonder what we’ll eat (not “if,” but “what” because I have to keep feeding these people I live with, for Pete’s sake!). I wonder how we’ll afford both kids’ college educations and how much longer our cars or washing machine or dishwasher will hold out. I wonder when I’ll get a job. I wonder when the pace of your job will slow to manageable. No, this time of our lives isn’t perfect; your morning back pain that lasts until bedtime and my hips that have to be popped into place each morning tell me we are both far from perfect.

But I do know this: perfect is overrated, and I kind of like messy! Being messy means being real. It means letting your junk hang out of its trunk in literal and proverbial ways. It’s a cliché, I know, but the love I have for you gets better – and more REAL – with time. (The reasons clichés are clichés is because they’re true.) It’s far from the polished perfect I dreamed of as a girl, and I’m so very thankful for that!

Your love is REAL for me and it becomes more real every day. You make it real in the way you seek me out for a hug when you arrive home from work each night. It’s real when you clean the dishes after dinner even after a long day at work. It’s real when you tell me to go for my dreams and promise to be on the other side no matter how things turn out. It’s real when you roll over in bed and spoon with me. It’s real when you walk that dog of ours that I know you weren’t overly eager to adopt (and it turns out you love him anyway). It’s real when you hold my hand at church and give me the sort of glance that reminds me of the singular biggest gift God has ever bestowed upon me: salvation with you.

I could write a book (!) about the ways you have loved me, and a sequel about the ways your love has shown me redemption and reconciliation and restoration. In fact, I am writing a book about us. It isn’t one that anyone can hold or flip through, but it’s a book we will get to read out loud to each other one day, later. When I’m old and gray, and you’re bald and still handsome. And still mine.

I love you, Dan.20090718_0284

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Owning and Honing

At the start of February, I started taking the online photography course I purchased two years ago. It was time to finally tackle it! Whenever someone asks me to photograph them, I undersell myself because I don’t feel like I’ve had the formal training I need to charge what I’m worth. Finally, God spoke to my heart and told me to stop minimizing myself. I have access to the knowledge, so GO GET IT. Make it official, Elizabeth!

I started with lessons on photography basics. Yes, I learned new things. Yes, I gained a wider spectrum of knowledge. The course showed me that I already knew how to make the camera do what I wanted it to do; I just didn’t know the  mechanics of why. However, the most valuable part of the course for me was the realization that I already know much more than I give myself credit for. The hard truth is I don’t trust myself as enough of an expert to tell myself that. My self-confidence doesn’t feel qualified enough to make that sort of value judgment.

Which brings up this question: Why do I feel like something outside me needs to validate me?

I act as if  some external force needs to validate my internal self before my internal self has enough weight to be valid. The external “tests” and assessments seem quantifiable, while my opinion or belief does not. Why can’t my inner experiences and the Holy Spirit’s convictions speak louder than some external measuring stick? And when did I start placing so much value on the external instead of the Eternal?

God gave me a specific skill to be used in His honor. He wants me to own it and hone it. He wants me to stop minimizing who I am because it minimizes WHOSE I am.IMG_9592

I love photography. It is a spiritual pathway for me, and I feel like I’m communing with God when I get my camera in my hands. It can be my fancy Nikon D200 or my low-tech iPhone; the vehicle doesn’t matter. When I’m behind any sort of lens and capturing images, time stops and the world goes still for me. I’ve always said I might be the one who pushes the button, but it’s God who helps me capture the image.

Behind the lens, I notice details of the world I normally wouldn’t: emotions pouring out of someone’s heart.grahams

A drenching of water that represents a life forever changed.baptism water

A moment of holy.New Harmony

A moment of freedom.flower run

The demanding, noisy need of animal instinct.bird nest

The first few raw moments of life.Owen

Pure, happy, blissful joy.dune jumping

The beauty of God’s fragile creation.spiderweb

The delicate details of frost on glass.IMG_7473

The strength in a dandelion puff that reminds me of Strength with a capital “S.”Quietly Trust Me - Isaiah 30

Other people have told me they don’t see the world like that. I can’t imagine how that’s possible, because seeing the world the way I do when I’m behind the lens feels as second nature as breathing. It feels so easy, so how can it be a talent of mine or something I’m set apart for? From what I’ve been told, that’s what a spiritual gift is: something that feels so inherently natural to you (and is affirmed by others) that you can’t NOT use it to shine light on who the Creator is.

At lunch with friends two Fridays ago, I told them how I didn’t “feel” like a photographer. One of my friends said, “You take pictures, right? You get paid for it, right? You’ve been told you have a talent for photography, right? I’d pretty much say that YOU’RE A PHOTOGRAPHER.” I blushed. It felt weird to be called something by someone I love and not be able to say it myself.

It’s time to OWN IT, Elizabeth.

So this past weekend at church, my friend Jim said his son needs senior portraits and his family needs photos. He asked, “You’re a photographer, right?” In the past, I would have hemmed and hawed and said, “Well, sort of. On the side. It’s a hobby for me but…”

BUT, this time, I simply said, “Yes!” Owning and honing. Thank You for trusting me, God!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Small Cages and Broken Wings

I once found a cocoon in the fall leaves. I wasn’t sure whether anything might be alive in it, or even if it was definitely a cocoon. I suspected, and decided to keep it and see what might come of it. I put it in one of my kids’ little plastic bug catchers and stored it on top of the fridge in the garage, and kind of sort of forgot about it through the winter.DSC_0881

About six months later, a flutter of movement on top of the fridge caught my eye. When I realized an enormous polyphemus moth had emerged inside the bug catcher (one just like the moth I wrote about here), I jumped into action. I showed it to the kids, and quickly realized we had two problems: the bug catcher was WAY too small for this huge creature, and he was too big to fit through the exit. I opened the door to the bug catcher, but it just wasn’t going to work.IMG_2056

I realized I would have to take the plastic and metal screen pieces apart to free him, but each movement of the  cage made him agitated. He would flap his wings (because, you know, he was made to do that), but because he was so big and his cage was so small, the flapping soon started wearing holes in his wings. Yes, holes.DSC_0879

I worked as fast as I could and finally pried the bug catcher apart. I placed Paul (by this time, the kids and I named him Paul the Polyphemus Moth) into a large, netted cage. But, sadly, the damage had already been done to his wings. He sat on the floor of the cage and flapped pathetically, and couldn’t rise.IMG_2060

I let him out of the cage to give him more space (and to take photos), but the holes in his wings had crippled his ability to be what he was made to be. I put him back into the bigger cage and pondered what I should do. If I let him go free, he would quickly be eaten by another animal. (He was big and juicy and meaty, y’all. Tempting for a predator!) Should I release him so he could die quickly or keep him caged and try to feed him until a slow death overtook him? I knew he would die in the near future anyway. (Once eclosion [hatching] is complete for a polyphemus moth, they live only about a week.)

I stared at him in his cage. I felt regret because I was the one who, in effect, clipped his wings. I put him in a cage that was too small for him, and limited his ability to grow and fly. I devastated him. And in his panic to be set free, he rubbed holes in his wings and killed his chances to take flight.DSC_0860

At this moment of my life, this moth’s fate felt so very much like my own. I was in a stage of my life where I felt caged. I was defining myself on my surroundings, and letting my “cage” dictate my abilities. I had stopped looking to my Creator to shelter me, and flapped my wings uselessly against walls that were suffocating me. I based my worth on what the relationships around me told me I was. I couldn’t see glory because of all the routine tasks of life that were squeezing my heart into a small space. The things my heart was soaring towards felt unattainable and I felt undeserving of fulfilled dreams. I was agitating and flapping and doubting myself, which kept tearing holes in my wings. I ignored my spiritual gifts and, honestly, looked at them like curses instead of blessings. And then the Holy Spirit convicted me of this truth:

The longer I stayed in my “cage,” the less likely I would be able to fly.

I HAD to get out. I needed to get out. I wasn’t quite sure what it would look like to be outside my cage, and the unknown was terrifying to me (because even though it was suffocating me, at least I knew my cage’s parameters). But I knew the longer I stayed where I was, the closer I would be to rubbing my wings into little bloody stumps. Painful, bloody stumps have a way of splashing pain onto other people because it’s tortuous to be around someone whose potential has been stunted. I realized leaving my cage wasn’t just for my own good, but for the good of Dan and my kids and those people who surrounded me with their love. But even more than that, leaving the cage was what my Father made me to do.

I decided to keep Paul until he died, and do my best to feed him whatever it is that moths eat. I couldn’t just set him free to be destroyed, and I selfishly wanted to keep him near me as a reminder to be brave in leaving my own cage. So I kept him until he died, then gently mounted his body and cocoon in a shadow box that sits in a place I can see him and be reminded to spread my wings and fly.DSC_0907

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Sample Day in Our Life

Long ago, in the early days of my blog, I wrote an entry detailing what a typical day in our life looks like. I wanted to write it down because I knew I would eventually forget how we spend our days. Today, I thought about that blog post again and decided to write a new one that shows what our life is currently like. So, here’s a typical school day in our house.

6:15am: I wake and shower. The dog thinks I should walk him first, but I keep him in the kennel so I can get through my morning routine a little faster.

6:50am: I slip into bed beside Katie and wake her gently. I stay beside her and whisper about any number of random things: dreams she had last night, plans for the day, or a book she’s reading. Sometimes, she is so groggy we don’t talk at all. This is when I listen to her breathe and silently pray for her, our whole family, and anything that comes to mind. An alarm on my phone goes off at 7:02am. That’s our cue to say our morning prayers together and start her day.

7:05am: I head to Jackson’s room and do the same thing for him that I did with Katie: snuggle, talk, pray. Since he doesn’t cuddle as long or as quietly as Katie, his alarm goes off after 5 minutes so we can start our day.

7:10am to 7:37am: I make the kids’ breakfasts (usually peanut butter toast and scrambled eggs, and Jackson slices a banana on his toast) while the kids pack their lunches and get their bags ready for school. One of the kids feeds the dog (Katie gets odd days because she was born on an odd-numbered day, and Jackson gets even days because he was born on an even-numbered day), I do Katie’s hair, then we all eat breakfast together until my phone alarm goes off at 7:37 and the kids know it’s time to get shoes and coats on and head to the bus stop.

7:45am: Jackson’s bus arrives.

7:5oam: Katie’s bus arrives.

This is where the most variance happens in my days. I like to start my day by going into my devotional time, but some days I go straight into another appointment or task. For example, today (and every other Monday), I went to Jackson’s school and volunteered with his teacher and one of Katie’s former teachers (she’s still my favorite of all). Then I bought groceries and went home to walk the dog and ate lunch and started a blog post. At 1:00, I met a new friend at Leftovers because she had never been there. I showed her around and shopped with her, and headed home at 3:00. On other days, I might have a coffee appointment (sometimes it’s at a restaurant, but I try to have people meet at my house because I have a coffee machine and don’t have to spend money), or I might have lunch plans or a doctor visit or any number of errands to run. Right now, one morning each week is devoted to a women’s group at church and soon that will be ending and I’ll start a book study with another group of women next. [When I used to work, I would get the kids on the bus and have devotional time until I left the house at 8:30 to make it to work by 9:00. I worked until 3:00 and raced home to meet the kids off the bus at 3:30.]

3:35pm: Jackson’s bus returns home, and Katie follows about 5 minutes after.

3:45pm: Most days, this is snack time with the kids, followed by Katie’s homework and Jackson playing outside or reading. But on Mondays, Katie often has a club after school and Jackson has a specific buddy over for a play date. I have down time with the kids, and then start prepping dinner.

5:30pm: Dan arrives home around this time, and we have a family dinner together around 6:00.

6:30pm: Kids take their own baths and we clean up after dinner. (Usually Dan is the champ who tackles that.) We read or sometimes play a round of Bananagrams (our new favorite game) or color or craft or any random set of things.

7:45pm: Kids brush teeth and Dan tucks Jackson in first. Lately, he’s been allowing Jackson the freedom to read another five minutes while he tucks Katie into bed. Katie gets to read until 8:30pm, then it’s lights out.

8:30pm until bedtime: Dan and I watch TV or email or sometimes he works on a puzzle while I read out loud to him. We try to head to bed around 10:00, but that isn’t always the case.

So, there you go. A day in the life of our family, set down for future posterity to read the mundane intricacies of life. For those of you I put to sleep with my drivel, you can wake up now!


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