Thursday, December 24, 2015

Breath of Heaven: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 24

​These lyrics are a prayer my heart beats every day: "Breath of Heaven, hold me together."

Genesis tells us God's breath is what brought the very first human to life. God's breath still sustains us, and it is the only thing that holds us together. I pray you take a breather in these last hours of the Christmas season and allow God's breath to fill your lungs. Whether you're singing Silent Night at church or staying up late to assemble the last gifts, may you inhale and exhale and remember His goodness.

Day 24: Breath of Heaven (Mary's Song) written by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant, performed by Amy Grant

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tips for My Children on "The Marrying Type"

Katie and Jackson,

Today is the 20th anniversary of the start of our family. On December 23, 1995, your father gave me the honor of becoming his wife.

In a few years, you might think your mother is terribly dull and dim. You'll wonder where her brains went and why she doesn't understand much about life. While you are free - and might even be encouraged - to think that, I DO want you to know I fully, 100% understand life... especially the hardest and best parts of it, like marriage.

In an effort to help you find a person you might want to spend the rest of your days with, I thought of some things you might want to look for in a spouse. I hope you will indulge me as I dispense a little advice, and you might even laugh a little along the way. Look for someone like this:
  • ​The kind of person who will help you mop up a flooded basement
  • And dance in restaurants with you
  • And look at you with love-filled eyes
  • Who will want you no matter how many stretch marks you have or jean sizes you've gone through
  • Who will tolerate stopping to take hundreds of photos in a town you want to explore
  • Who, on the 23rd anniversary of the day you met, will rub your head in the emergency room and sit on a tiny bed to hold you
  • Who will change ALL the dirty diapers for your newborn in the hospital, not permitting you to do it yourself because you're recovering from surgery
  • Who will encourage independence for you in pursuing outside friendships, knowing spouses don't have to be your everything - and, honestly, shouldn't be anyway
  • Who will trust you to stay connected to high school friends, even a select few of the opposite gender
  • Who will trust your judgment enough to say yes to church and follow the dance steps you show him for dancing with Jesus
  • Who will ask you to stand beside him when he goes public about surrendering his life to Jesus
  • Who will pray for you in the dark hours of every morning before leaving for work
  • Who will get up at an ungodly hour to get to work early so he can make it home for the Cub Scout meeting
  • Who gives his word and keeps it
  • Whose chin trembles at sappy movies
  • Who is the first to say sorry
  • Who will stand beside you at funerals and hold you while you weep... and weep WITH you
  • Who reminds you every single day in the pit of postpartum depression that you will be okay
  • Who will indulge your love for kitchen gadgets by buying you an avocado slicer for Christmas
  • Who tolerates you cross stitching silly sayings on pillows
  • Who will drive an hour out of the way to get a geocache in another state for your children
  • Who will clean the disgusting shower without being asked
  • Who will change the dressings on your wounds
  • Who will set firm boundaries while living in a state of grace and second chances
  • Who will not keep a record of your wrongs, even when you do
  • Who will not give you what you deserve and always believes the best about you
  • Who loves you enough to stop chasing you when you storm off during a fight
  • Who looks at you with a twinkle in his eyes, as if you share a secret no one else on this earth will ever know
  • Who (sometimes annoyingly) knows you better than you know yourself

To my daughter and son: please find someone you can trust even more than yourself. Don't settle for "good enough" and don't sell yourself short. On the other hand, don't think more of yourself than you should! Your future spouse will change everything about you. He or she will bring out every worst characteristic you don't even know you have, and polish off more than a few rough spots. He or she will also deepen you and help you grow in magnificent ways. This person is the one you will have an unbreakable bond with, so make sure it's a person you'll want to stay bonded to forever. There is no going back when you make a promise like marriage. It's a covenant, not a contract!

To my husband: thank you for giving me more than just a new name. I will never be able to measure up to you and the ways you give yourself to me. Your loyalty, passion, security and sense of adventure is unlike anyone I've ever met. Even after 20 years of marriage, there are days I look at you and say to myself, "I cannot believe HE is MINE!" Thank you for loving me deeply and for showing me how to allow that love to heal me in some deeply broken places. You make me feel safe and wanted, and I am still so in love with you. Happy 20th anniversary!

To all three of you: twenty years is a drop in the bucket, and we have so much more ahead of us! I pray we keep each other safe, encouraged, and loved.

Always and forever,

O Holy Night: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 23

​Love means helping someone know his worth. It's showing another person she matters and is worth fighting for.

This lyric from O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, is the epitome of God's love for us. Our souls didn't know their true value until Jesus came and showed us we are worth dying for. Can you fathom that? It hardly makes sense!

I bet the song O Holy Night has been recorded hundreds of times, but my very favorite version is by David Phelps. I love his version so much I listen to it year-round.

My only regret about it is I wish my parents could have heard this version before they died. Dad would have come unglued listening to David Phelps sing, and Mom would have sobbed the ugly cry because she always teared up when we sang O Holy Night in church. David's version of this song would have unraveled her!

Day 23: O Holy Night, written by Adolphe Adam, performed by David Phelps

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Winter Snow: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 22

Like yesterday's lyrics, today's song is one I first heard at church. I don't remember the sermon or even the year, but I will never forget my friend Emily singing it on a darkened stage. It was simple and quiet and one of the holiest moments I've ever witnessed.

This song is just that: simple, quiet and holy. It's the best reminder for me of God's ability to restrain His magnificent power in order to save the people He adores; the same people who can't quite handle magnificent power because it would shock us. God is - thankfully - willing to become quiet, soft and slow so we can understand Him better.

This is why God gives the best gifts. He gives in a way the recipient would be most comfortable and receptive. It's unconditional love!

Day 22: Winter Snow, written and performed by AudreyAssad

Monday, December 21, 2015

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 21

Oh, this song STILL gives me chills! Not necessarily the song itself, but the memory of the first time I heard it in a live setting.

It was at Christmas Eve church services in 2010, and the sermon was about bells being a reminder of God's presence in our lives. At the end of the service, this song was sung.

At its peak crescendo the song morphed into the chorus of Glorious One by Steve Fee, which was a throwback to the key song we sang at church the Easter before. Imagine going from "The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men," straight into "Glorious One! Glorious One! Light of the world, You outshine the sun!" and at that very moment, bell ringers and chimes and all sorts of clinking filled our church auditorium. OH. MY. GOODNESS. This memory is why the song "I Heard the Bells" is so deeply embedded in my heart!

Want to see a recording of this exact moment I described? Here's a link to the YouTube video.

​Day 21's song is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, performed by Casting Crowns.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Joseph's Lullaby: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 20

Joseph's Lullaby is a song that knows no season in our house. We listen to it year-round, because it is a lullaby we play when tucking the kids into bed. When I snuggle my kids in the dark at the end of the day, this song reminds me how God's presence lives in my children. Neither of my children are baby Jesus, of course, but they are both precious to Him! (Spoiler alert: so am I and so are you!)

I love this song especially because it bucks tradition: most Christmas songs that focus on the Christ child are centered on Mary and Jesus. This song is written from Joseph's perspective, and it is so tenderly and quietly beautiful.

Day 20: Joseph's Lullaby, written by Fred Pratt Green & Russell Schulz-Widmar, performed by MercyMe

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Here with Us: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 19

Think about it: God made the woman who birthed Him. God made the innkeeper who turned His family away. God made the shepherds and Magi who worshiped Him. God even made the people who crucified Him. This song reminds me only God could be big enough to become small.

Day 19's lyrics come from the song Here with Us, written by Joy Williams and Jason Ingram, performed by Joy Williams.

Friday, December 18, 2015

While You Were Sleeping: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 18

CONVICTING. If I had to describe this song in one word, "convicting" is what I would choose. While You Were Sleeping, written by Mark Hall and performed by Casting Crowns, is day 18 of my lyrical Christmas countdown.

This song is especially unique because there aren't a lot of Christmas-themed songs that compel me to look at my life in a different way, and While You Were Sleeping definitely jars me awake from the sleepwalking life I sometimes live.

May each of us wake from our darkness by allowing the Light of the world to shine into our lives!

"Wake up, sleeper!" (Ephesians 5:14)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Belleau Wood: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 17

Day 17's song is ​Belleau Wood, written by Garth Brooks and Joe Henry, performed by Garth Brooks. The Christmas truce of 1914 has become a military legend, and this song tells the story of what happened.

I don't think Christmas truces are a common occurrence, and I don't think one will happen this year. Our military is engaged in battle every single day, regardless of the holidays. I pray for them and their families daily, but especially on Christmas.

I am eternally thankful for the Christmas trees in bunkers, lights strung across barbed wire, Santas spiffed up in full military dress, and the men and women who find ways to celebrate even in the worst circumstances.

May we all look for Heaven in our muck and own personal war zones. "Heaven's not beyond the clouds, it's just beyond the fear."

Please take a moment to watch a YouTube video of this song, which gives you an idea of Christmas for our military.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Same Old Lang Syne: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 16

You thought this Lyrical Christmas Countdown was going to be all classic carols and hymns, didn't you? Nope!

Day 16's song isn't a carol, but it DOES have lyrics and the event the song describes happens on Christmas Eve. And most qualifying of all, I like it! I'm not quite sure why, but the melody and the lyrics get my heart all twisted into a knot. Maybe it's the "what might have been" factor (which I can relate to because I often think of what might have been if my family members were still alive) or maybe because it's a song about the relentless passage of time (which keeps speeding up for me, even more at Christmas time). Either way, the song doesn't just pull on my heartstrings; it strums them and plucks tears into my eyes.

One more thing: what exactly is "lang syne?" It's from a 1700s Scottish song called "Auld Lang Syne," which can be translated to "times gone by." Substitute these words in the lyrics above, and the song becomes: "reliving in our eloquence another time gone by."

On this 8th anniversary of Dan Fogelberg's death (12/16/07), take a moment to pause and remember your own "times gone by."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Away in a Manger: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 15

The first two verses of the hymn Away in a Manger were said to be written by Martin Luther and originally called Luther's Cradle Song, written for his children. Originally, it didn't have a tune attached to it. When it was published in 1885 it was titled Away in a Manger and had a tune with it. The third stanza - my favorite - was written by Charles H. Gabriel and published in 1892. Wikipedia says Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title Cradle Song.

But it turns out some people think Luther didn't write it because there is no record of it in his papers. Some say it was written 400 years after Luther's birth and attributed to him as a marketing ploy. 

Honestly, I don't have a dog in this fight and don't much care who wrote it. I simply love those lyrics because they are a prayer: the quietest cry of the human heart.

Be with me, Lord Jesus! Stay close by me. Amen!

Monday, December 14, 2015

We Have a Savior: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 14

This countdown is officially moving in to my really REALLY favorite Christmas songs!

Day 14 is the song We Have a Savior written by Ben Glover & Reuben Morgan and performed by Hillsong: "We are no longer lost, 'cause He has come down for us. We have a Savior."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

He Shall Reign Forevermore: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 13

Often, things don’t quite turn out like we expect. Today, my Not Quite involved rain, a dog bakery, a broken birthday bone, and an accident under the Christmas tree.

Day 13’s lyrics are from He Shall Reign Forevermore by Chris Tomlin and Matt Maher. The lyrics speak to another Not Quite: the world’s Savior came in bleak darkness and his throne was a dirty stable. While looking up information about this song, I heard about another Not Quite. Here’s the story:

This song was written by Matt Maher and Chris Tomlin, and can be found on Tomlin’s live worship album Adore. The day of the live recording event, Maher was sick and had to back out. The concert went on and the song was recorded without him. That’s a big Not Quite, isn’t it? But there IS an online video where the two singers recorded an acoustic version instead. If you’re interested, here is the link. Forward to about 6 minutes in to hear the song, or watch the entire video to hear the whole story.

The song is an echo of a poem written by Christina Rossetti in 1872 for the magazine Scribner's Monthly. Here are some of her words I really like: “But His mother only, in her maiden bliss, / Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 12

IMG_7982Like a few other songs in the countdown, this one was written for a movie. In this instance, the movie was Meet Me in St. Louis.

In 2006, an Entertainment Weekly article reported that the lyrics “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight” were originally written as “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.” Whoa, baby!

Personally, I’m very glad the lyrics became “Let your heart be light.” I’m glad the lyrics don’t say something like “May your heart be light.” The “let” part implies that lightening my heart and my spirits is a decision *I* have to make. It is my responsibility to allow light in; I must choose to twinkle. Today, let each of us choose light!

{During this countdown, I’ll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Friday, December 11, 2015

I Pray On Christmas: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 11

IMG_79802015 has wrenched my soul. The world seems to be unraveling every day: terrorist attacks, protests at colleges and clinics, natural disasters, health crises... the list is unending. I have spent hours this year begging God to “show us what love's about.” Pray. Pray! Who's with me?

The lyrics for Day 11 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown are from the song I Pray on Christmas, written & performed by Harry Connick, Jr.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mary, Did You Know?: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 10

IMG_7978In my mind, this song has a closely-related sibling. There’s another song from the musical Les Miserables that quotes Victor Hugo’s words, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” What both songs have in common is the truth that love is the closest we can get to seeing the face of God in this lifetime. I think of Jesus’ mother, and what it must have been like for her as the first human being to lay eyes on Salvation. That thought makes me breathless!

The lyrics for Day 10 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown are from the song Mary, Did You Know? written by Mark Lowry.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Take a Walk Through Bethlehem: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 9

IMG_7975You know Christmas isn't meant for only December 25th, right? It isn't about staying off the naughty list or hanging tinsel. We've turned it into that, the way we sometimes take the best and brightest things of life and try to one-up and add more more more! More isn't always more, y'all.

Peel your eyes off the glittery tinsel and slow down. Walk. Breathe. Be intentional. If you let it, Christmas will last past December 25th. Do you want it to?

The lyrics for Day 9 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown are from the song Take a Walk through Bethlehem, written by Ashley Cleveland, John Barlow Jarvis and Wally Wilson, performed by Trisha Yearwood.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite #lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

2000 Decembers Ago: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 8

IMG_7952Right now, our world is overcome by ache and pain. There are days we can hardly see any light, much less imagine what it would be like to witness heaven and nature sing. Your challenge is to look at your circumstances today and see potential and promise instead of pain and darkness. Can you look at a dirty stable and envision Rescue? Can you look at your circumstances through eyes of hope for Redemption?

The lyrics for Day 8 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown are from the song 2000 Decembers Ago, written and performed by Joy Williams.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite #lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Monday, December 7, 2015

O Come O Come Emmanuel: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 7

IMG_7950Day seven’s lyrics are a plea that a rescuer will come and redeem His captive beloved. For centuries, the people of Israel were told they were God's people and yet they were in deep despair: civil unrest, unfair treatment, attack from all sides. Their hearts begged God for freedom from tyranny, never realizing God would bring big “F” Freedom from big “T” Tyranny.

God is like that: He gives us more than we could ever ask for!

Day 7 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown is from O Come O Come Emmanuel, the version translated by John Mason Neale.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite #lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Sunday, December 6, 2015

O Little Town of Bethlehem: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 6

IMG_7946O Little Town of Bethlehem has a melody that makes my heart think of still, quiet moments. This is why the lyrics are some of my Christmas favorites.

Imagine the little town of Bethlehem, not knowing the day Jesus was born was THE day they had been hoping would arrive for so long. Imagine living in fear for centuries, and not seeing the wings of the Almighty unfolding at your front door to bring relief?

His feathers, right on your front steps.

Day 6 of the Lyrical Christmas Countdown is from O Little Town of Bethlehem, written by Phillips Brooks.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite #lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Silent Night: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 5

IMG_7943One of the definitions of “pure” is “free from any contamination.” When I think of the life of Christ, I see “pure” in its purest, truest form.

These Day 5 lyrics from Silent Night by Father Joseph Mohr point me to the spotless, blameless Savior who became dirty so I could become clean. Thank you, God!

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite #lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Friday, December 4, 2015

I’ll Be Home for Christmas: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 4

IMG_7941The lyrics for Day 4 come from a song everyone’s heard over and over through the years. It’s a song that can be somewhat tired and not one of the ones I instantly seek out when the Christmas season starts.

But when I forget the tune and think only about the words in it, I remember this song is about longing and separation. And THAT speaks to me!

I will spend the rest of my life longing for Home and the hope of being reunited with the people I’m separated from – the ones still alive and the ones who have died. At the same time, I know that Home really isn’t a place – it’s the state of my heart and whether I’ve invited the Creator of the world to live there. This year, Christmas Eve will find me… at home and at Home.

{During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.}

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Do They Know It’s Christmas?: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 3

IMG_7939Day 3 of my Lyrical Christmas Countdown brings a more mainstream, popular Christmas song. Today's lyrics are from Do They Know It’s Christmas?, written by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure and performed by Band Aid.

In researching lyrics and finding my favorite songs, I’ve realized there are so many Christmas songs that mention light – even songs that aren’t faith-based. I love how the Light finds a way no matter what!

During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Our Lullaby: Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 2

IMG_7937It's Day 2 of my Lyrical Christmas Countdown.

Today's lyrics are from a song called "Our Lullaby," written and performed by MercyMe. It's from their brand new Christmas album, called MercyMe It's Christmas.

During this countdown, I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the bustle of my heart this Advent season.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Singer (Let There Be Light): Lyrical Christmas Countdown, Day 1

IMG_7930Welcome to my lyrical Christmas countdown! I'll be posting my favorite lyrics as a way to engage my soul and slow the hustle of my heart this Advent season.

Day 1 also reflects the theme for the day of my #sacredholidays Advent study: lights!

These lyrics are from a song called The Singer (Let There Be Light) written and performed by David Phelps.

“And let there be #joy and #echoes of laughter. And the singer sings on and still writes the song of the #redeemed. / Every time a soul receives that joyful #Christmas song, He rises from His throne and all #creation sings along.”

Monday, October 26, 2015

After 19 Years

1991-12 MAJSAfter 19 years, you'd think I would have overturned every stone in the grief process. You'd think there's no new territory to cover, right? You'd be wrong.

Over 19 years, I've learned grief has no ending except your own death. I don't advocate that, of course! So in the mean time, I learn to wear my grief like a sweater. Some days it is too hot to wear it, and I try to shrug it off. Other days, I'm freezing without it and it's the only thing that makes me feel comfortable.

The good news is after 19 years, it doesn't scratch and cut me nearly as much as it used to. The itch has worn off, the snags have given my garment personality, and I am comforted by the pilling and nubbies that have developed from wear and tear.

But then I remember his smile, and I lose my breath. And I hear his voice still echoing my nickname in my memories. I think of all the things we missed out on: the births, weddings, and celebrations as well as the deep valleys. Today, the sweater itches a little more. But after 19 years, I've grown to expect that on October 26.

Here's one thing I hope none of you ever say to someone else again: "It's time to just get over it." After all this time, I know there is no such thing as "just getting over" devastating loss. When you love someone deeply, love creates a hole when that person is gone. I've been living with a hole for 19 years, ever since my brother Jackson died.

If you're living with a hole too, I hope you know you aren't alone!1989-10-08 MMS, MAJS, EAS, MAS at West Point

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Stitching My Scarf

IMGP8332I am struggling with a burden I shouldn’t be carrying.

Someone I know hurt me with her words and I felt tossed aside and grace-robbed. I quietly began to tend my gaping wound. I begged God to put stitches in it, and He did.

But before He could finish, I took the needle and thread from His hands. I kept stitching on my own and created a woolly, heavy scarf.

I stopped stitching my wound for healing and started stitching for self-protection and to justify my anger for this woman. She hurt me! She went after me like a predator! So every time I remembered that wound, I slipped on another stitch. Every time I heard her name, another stitch. Every time I heard how she wounded someone else, another stitch.

I’m ashamed to admit I’ve been stitching for almost two years now. Two years!

My scarf is unnecessarily immense and I keep gleefully adding stitches, simply for the sake of knitting and not for practicality. Here’s the thing about scarves: they’re good for winter, for protection from cold. But in summer, they are stifling and can put us in danger of strangulation.

God is helping me see the absurdity of wearing a scarf in summer. He’s asking me to allow Him to unravel some stitches by showing me what forgiveness looks like. The theme keeps appearing in conversations, texts from friends, books I’m reading, and songs on the radio. At first, I bristled at the idea of forgiveness. Wouldn’t that make what she did right?

“No,” God says. “Forgiveness doesn't invalidate your hurt or sanction her attack on you! I won't unravel and erase your hurt, and I won't negate what she did to you. But could we make this garment into a shield of protection for you instead of a scarf that strangles you? Can you remember that I alone will cover you and hold you? Take off your scarf and let me heal you.”

Very intentionally, through prayer and submission, I’m asking God to take the needle and thread from my hands. I’m asking Him to transform my scarf into a simple scar. A scar reminds me wounds are real, but a scar won’t choke me like a scarf could.

Stitches are for wounds and garments. The healing my heart needs is the kind that comes from Light shining in my darkness, not the healing that comes from a needle and thread.

Friday, August 28, 2015

What I Learned from Flawed and Imperfect Photos

At the start of June I attended and photographed a Holy Yoga retreat, which I wrote about here. When it was over, I promised the attendees I would soon post photos on Facebook for them to view. I delayed that promise almost three months.

Confession: I dragged my feet about posting the retreat photos because I saw flaws and imperfections. They are blurry. Grainy. Crooked. Disorderly. Misframed. The color balance is off. There are lots of technical issues, and the photographer in me sees them and challenges myself to improve. But I posted them anyway, because I promised! (And I begged for grace, knowing I had lots of moments of low light with two pro cameras and a phone camera that each have different settings and limitations!)

The day I finally posted the photos, I sat on my couch after a particularly grueling morning battle with Jackson before the school bus arrived. My heart was ravaged from his daily war with me, and I was so irritated with him that I couldn’t even unfold my fingers to hand the situation to God.

I ended up on Facebook because I wanted to post the photos from the last day of retreat. I started organizing the photos and looked again at every single one. Click by click and beat by beat, my heart stopped hammering from anger and slipped back into my Daddy's rhythm. My breath slowed and I could tangibly feel the peace and the rest I experienced in the room where we gathered for retreat. My frustrations were crowded out from the front of the line as memories cut into the queue and my eyes were filled with holy images.IMGP5431-2IMGP5434IMGP5455-2IMGP5513IMGP5515-2IMGP5530

Imperfect, yes. Flawed, yes. Technically terrible, yes (some!). But this is where the holy intersects the horrors of daily life: when I see imperfections magnified, I'm humbled at how my best can't even pretend to measure up to True Perfection. When I am confronted with Grace, I know crooked and disorderly are simply toeholds God uses to climb the rock wall around my heart. When I consider the blessing of getting to capture moments of pure surrender, I remember the reason for the blur in the photos is because God's Beloveds were moving their bodies to worship Him.

The air in my house remained lightly scented by the morning shakedown, but thankfully the rot wasn't so pungent anymore. I still don't have an answer to those battles, but I don't expect a quick fix anyway. As much as I would love it, there is no PhotoShop for eight year old boys. I don't have enough editing software in the world to fix the flaws and blurs - the ones from this morning, the ones in the photos, or the ones in my heart.

I'm okay with that now, and I'm resting in Daddy's arms today.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Was the Conference?

SheSpeaksGradButton300“How was your trip?” or “How was the She Speaks conference?” or “How did your book thing go?” is the question of the month for me. And while I want to give a quick answer because I know most people are asking as a nicety, I also want to give an honest answer.

The problem is the honest answer is convoluted and complicated.

I could reply with the shortest answer and say, “It was a great experience. I learned so much, met so many lovely people, and had encouraging meetings with publishers.” The people asking about my trip as a nicety are happy with that answer and reply, “That’s good news!”

Then there’s the medium-length answer: “It was a great experience. Nine of us began a deep friendship in 72 hours, which formed the foundation for a weekend where God blew my mind. I got an inside look at the life of a writer and how it affects so much more than I expected. And my publisher meetings answered a lot of questions and gave me good feedback about where to head next. Then I ended the conference with a clear conviction from God about taking a pause for intention and direction.” The friends who are interested and intrigued are satisfied with that answer and follow it up with a few questions to flesh things out and may even end it with a promised prayer or a request to keep them updated on the way the book and process unfolds.

Then there are lovely souls God has placed in my life who specifically request set-aside time with me so they can say, “Tell me EVERY detail!” and they truly want to hear every. stinkin’. part! The rest of this post is partly for them, and partly for me so I have a record when the day comes and my memory has fuzzed over the details.

It’s been a month since the conference, and I’m just now sitting down to wade through all it entailed. Yes, I’ve thought through it since then and I’ve talked about it too. But writing it through a keyboard is a deeper level of processing for me, and it’s something I didn’t feel ready or free to do quite yet. Until today! So let’s start at the start.

IMG_3799The first best part of the conference is the part about my Group of Nine. The night before the conference officially started, I had dinner with eight women God hand-picked for me. These women immediately plunged in and loved with abandon. They asked about the details of each others’ lives, cried with each other, laughed and encouraged. It was incredibly beautiful and a rare gift. These women stood by me throughout the conference, saved seats for me at meals and breakout sessions, fed me gluten free food when I couldn’t find anything to eat, prayed over me without being asked, invited me into their hotel rooms and their hearts, and stood beside me in worship. They are one of the biggest reasons I had such a moving experience at the conference.

IMG_3833The second best part of the conference is the education I received. From the opening session (where Lysa TerKeurst’s family joined her on stage to talk about how Lysa’s calling has changed the course of the family’s life) to the closing session (where God used Whitney Capps to speak painful – but necessary – truth into my life of MEnistry instead of ministry), every single session I attended gave me an irreplaceable education about not only the publishing industry, but the social media world we live in and the majestic God we serve. I learned from national bestselling authors, an English professor, small business owners and engaging speakers. They pointed me to God’s mission of redemption and reminded me even the slightest, smallest details can point to our Creator. Yes, even the sessions about concise writing and using active versus passive voice. If writing is the megaphone God asks me to use to get His message out, then you’d better BELIEVE concise writing and word power matter when I share His message!IMG_3838

But learning the tools of the trade is only a third of the educational part. You see, I’m such a nerd about learning that I geek out when I meet professors and authors and teachers. One of the coolest parts about She Speaks is attendees have access to authors and speakers, so I made it a point to meet almost every speaker after his or her session to give my thanks in person (and a handwritten thank you note). I saw quite a few women getting selfies with authors, too. While that isn’t my style and I’d rather have a photo of the speaker herself (instead of a photo of ME with the speaker [I mean, who really needs to see more of ME?!]), I did take one with a speaker to send back to my friend in Missouri.IMG_3841

The last third of the educational part of the conference is the two meetings I had with publishing companies. I pitched my book, explained  why it matters in God’s kingdom, and got the best news I could ever hope for (besides a publishing contract right there on the spot, which I’m not convinced would be the “best” news anyway): I. AM. NOT. CRAZY.

Glory, hallelujah! Do y’all need me to repeat that again? Let’s do it anyway: I. AM. NOT. CRAZY. And not only am I Not Crazy, but I also got great feedback on how to make my Not Crazy reach a new level. I left my last appointment floating on air, like driving with the windows down and my favorite song cranked to MAX VOLUME. And then… and then I settled in for last session of the conference, taught by Whitney Capps.

This is where the BEST best part of the conference intersected me. This is where God pulled up a chair, put His hands on my cheeks, and gently drew my gaze away from the lights and dazzle and turned my eyes toward Him. He had been there all along, through the dinner on Conference Eve to the notes we sang in worship to the one-on-one publisher meetings to the “You got this!” signs posted in the ladies’ restrooms. Except… my eyes had been dazzled as I repeated, “Yes, *I* do ‘got this’ and I am gonna rock it!” and quietly bought into the idea of my dream coming true because of me.IMG_3847

Through Whitney’s teaching about ministry (calling focused on God) vs. MEnistry (calling focused on me), I was asked to let God shape my treasure instead of trying to shape it myself. God used Whitney’s words to remind me of the ministry I am already President and Coach and CEO of: the ministry of Dan, Katie and Jackson. During the session, the Holy Spirit plainly whispered something to my heart:

Let it go.

How do I know this was the Holy Spirit and not my own self talking to me? Because my response was to say “No way!” and run away as fast as I could, and keep driving with my windows down and my favorite song cranked high. In a moment of prayer I even said, “But, God! I got great news about my book today and I have a PLAN and isn’t this what you called me to do anyway?”

The words “I” and “MY” echoed in my ears as I realized somewhere along the way, I turned His dream for me into my dream for what I want regardless of the cost. In His loving-kindness, God was faithful to His promises and still blessed me in my self-centeredness. And He whispered a response to my heart that amounted to this message: You have to let it go, so I can make it even better than you ever dreamed, Elizabeth. I responded with, “For how long? Forever?” And I felt Him say, “No, just until we’re both ready. Let it go, be the mom and wife I need you to be through the end of the summer, and we’ll talk more about this when things settle down.” I know from past experience that God blesses my obedience, so I opened my hands and said a small, tiny, “Okay.” And then He said part two:

Give it away.

“WHAT?!” was my response right before I realized exactly what God meant. In the process of writing my photography devotional, I’ve been very protective of my art. I haven’t put it on social media or even let anyone keep a copy of my samples for fear they might take it and repost/steal/abuse it. (Don’t laugh. It happened for real to my friend Danielle!) I had crossed the dividing line of Savvy on Social Media and crawled into Greedy and Possessive Mine-Mine-Mine! God knew this and could see where my heart had been clawing at keeping His truth all for myself. If I believe my purpose in living is to be an Encourager, Name-Caller and Truth-Teller for God, then I need to be willing to actually give the truth to people who need (and want) to hear it. Give is contrary to hold-on-to-it-and-only-let-others-peek-at-it. Give means letting it go and trusting God with the very thing that was HIS TO BEGIN WITH ANYWAY.

Oh, yeah. Can I get an amen and a hallelujer?IMG_3882

I sat at the end of the session at the end of the conference, and knew in my core God was right and He would be with me through the Letting Go and Giving Away. I knew – and still know – that He is worth my trust and He always exceeds my expectations. As a response to His requests, when the session ended I pulled the two copies of my book out of my bag and found two women I met at the conference. I presented a copy to each of them, spent the rest of the evening saying goodbye to friends, stuffed my conference notebook in my bag, and walked away from She Speaks. After that night, I only pulled out my conference stuff once when I was at my sister’s house, to show her the pamphlets and giveaways I had received and to organize my notes so I could keep them boxed up for a while.

Did y’all get that? I walked away.

I spent the remainder of summer being present. No more waking two hours early to write. No more plugging the kids into a screen so I could research books for my proposal. No more emailing friends and acquaintances for networking and endorsements. I closed the laptop for two weeks straight.

I spent a week at my sister’s, saying yes when we decided to drive to the beach…IMG_3931

…and yes when Jackson wanted to play Foosball…IMG_3780

…and yes when Katie wanted to lay in the Eno hammock…IMG_3677

…and yes to tree climbing in Boone when we visited my niece’s house and college.IMG_4114

When we returned from Missouri, I said yes to date night at a Hillsong concert with Dan…IMG_4358

…and yes to more swimming with the kids…IMG_4369

…and yes to exploring a creek with friends.IMG_4273

Saying YES to God looks a lot like saying YES to the people I love.

Now where does this leave me? School is back in session. After quite a few days to sit still in God’s presence and adjust to the new routine, I felt God give me the green light – NOT to race ahead, but the green light to start sniffing around and asking questions. I have lots to learn about blogging and platforms and expanding God’s reach through me. (Not “expanding my reach for Him.” There’s a subtle difference!) But as my friend Jon Cook counseled me last week, “Nothing about this should be rushed. Let God build your platform in His timing.”

Long ago, I read a quote that said God answers prayers in three ways:

    1. Yes.
    2. Not yet.
    3. I have something better in mind.

I can face the future knowing His timing is right for me!

“In all things, God works.” (Romans 8:28)


Thursday, July 9, 2015

It’s Been Quiet for a Reason

If you’ve been hanging out at Six Golden Coins for any length of time, you’ll notice that things have gotten a little quiet around here recently. I promise a good explanation!

Here’s the small answer: I’m finally, really, not-kidding-for-real writing a book! [Dude, it is terrifying to write that sentence and put this part of my heart out there in cyberland!]

The medium answer is: I’m writing a book and attending a conference called She Speaks. It’s a conference for writers, bloggers, speakers and ministry leaders. I will attend sessions focused on topics like giving books their titles, how to combat procrastination, how to write a chapter, and how to move forward in God’s calling.SS15_iamattending_button-01

The large answer is: I’m writing a book, attending a conference, PLUS I will be meeting with two publishing insiders, which means I will be pitching my book to them.

The Extra-Value-Meal answer is: I AM SCARED OUT OF MY MIND AND ALSO EXCITED BEYOND BELIEF. At any given moment of any given day, I have butterflies in my tummy that make me want to puke while feeling so jazzed that I want to giggle like a maniac. I feel so happy and in my groove while fighting my inner dialog and self talk that keeps saying “This is a BAD idea!”

This is not a new step in my life that I have taken lightly. (Surprising, huh? Ha.) I have a sister and husband and friends who have all but hit me over the head and dragged me towards this step. And I’m not gonna lie: there have been many days I have wanted to punch them in return for it! But I am endlessly grateful for them too, because I have learned so much about myself and God’s faithfulness and goodness through this process. I have cried on my driveway after opening letters from people who blessed me with encouragement only God could have sent. I have sat in a restaurant booth and been the recipient of grace in the form of monetary support. I have been texted and hugged and prayed over by friends. I have been encouraged and convicted by sermons from visiting pastors who had no idea the truth they spoke was being sowed deeply in my soul.

Oh, the grace God gives me – us! – is staggering! And it’s the only way I’ve made it this far, because once Dan and I made the decision and I registered for the conference, life got messy.

It started with a flooded basement and a subsequent basement reconstruction project in April. The day that job was finished in May, Dan had back surgery and spent a while at home recuperating. As soon as he returned to work, school ended and the kids have been home enjoying summer. That brought June which included a Holy Yoga retreat in Nashville for me, church camp for me and Katie, and sleep away camp for Jackson. June ended with a broken air conditioner and a big repair bill. Throw in a terrifying leap of faith, late hours writing my book and adding in a book proposal, and you’ll know why the ol’ blog has been kind of quiet.

It’s hard for me to sum up the stress and worries that came along with the events of that last paragraph, so I won’t. You can imagine.

Time is dwindling and there is still so much to do. I have kids to pack. And myself! I have a haircut to schedule and allergy-friendly food to buy. I have an adored sister arriving in a week, and a house that desperately needs cleaning before she pops in. I have two kids who are eager to have summer fun, while the rain has been incessant and the neighborhood pool is a barely-used fantasy. I have insurance deductibles and hospital bills and HVAC bills to pay. I have a dog who needs late-night baths because his paws are muddy (see: incessant rain) and tummy trouble got him.

“So. Much. To. Do.” These four words feel like my mantra lately.

But yesterday, four words started to replace those. These words are: “Be. Still. And. Know.” Psalm 46:10 appeared in random ways yesterday and today, and I think God is using “random” to speak to me. He’s calling my name and I’m trying to be a human BEing instead of my frantic rush to be a human DOing.

It might be a while until I post again. Never fear! I’m still here, plugging away and staying up late to type. Wish me luck and pray hard!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Broken, Blessed and Wet

So far, St. Louis in the summer of 2015 can be marked by one word for me: RAIN. It has rained so much, and I think I’ve mostly rolled with it. But tonight, I hit a wet wall on the way home and realized I am desperately missing sunshine. It made me start thinking of all the times I’ve prayed for relief from heat and sun, and the times I’ve wanted the opposite of what I have.

Sometimes, I treat my blessings like curses and vice versa.

In an effort to see things with a different perspective, I thought through what the rain might mean to different people.

The rain is a curse to farmers whose crops have rotted in the ground before the seeds were able to germinate and send a frail green shoot upward to gather what little sunshine cracks through the clouds.image4

The rain is an annoyance to outdoor businesses like Six Flags, who get very few customers on wet days. Only the crazies show up!image5

The rain is frustrating to kids’ sports programs when game after game gets rained out and the deadline for finishing the season is a week away, with more rain in the forecast. And it’s frustrating to the kids who desperately want to play and keep getting rescheduled!image8

May we all see our curses as blessings and have wisdom knowing what breaks us can serve to bless someone else.image3

The rain is a blessing to construction workers and lifeguards whose skin is usually scorched by the summer sun.image6

The rain is a boon to landscapers who are usually in a client lull by mid-July because the heat has scorched the lawns they are paid to mow.image2

May we all have wisdom to see our blessings can be a curse for someone else, knowing what blesses us can break another’s soul.image7


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