Category Archives: faith

the Good News of the Gospel and my faith walk

The Vine and the Branches

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

My family has traveled a lot this summer. We also have a large vegetable garden. Those two things didn’t go together terribly well. While we had some friendly neighbors come water in exchange for picking whatever they wanted while we were gone, we still had a few of our plants die, or stop producing earlier than they should have. We also acquired some serious weeds… and I mean REALLY enormous and gnarly ones.

The worst, perhaps, was a vine. Now, I don’t know much about most weeds, but I do recognize most of the common ones I see in our garden. Obviously we try to get them out before they’re huge, but this vine escaped my clippers for long enough to be quite entwined with our okra plants and was starting on the kale. It seemed to all originate from one spot, but it had spread across the ground, and climbed up every single okra plant, of which there are eight, and they’re all taller than me. You can imagine my disdain for this vine once I finally got around to pulling it up and out of the garden bed.

As I hacked away at this stubborn vine, snipping here, pulling there, rescuing my plants from the surprisingly strong vine that had almost consumed them, I kept remembering Jesus’s words from John 15: I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (ESV) Jesus had likened himself to the vine, and the Father to the vinedresser. He likens us to branches, knowing that we may not do anything on our own, if detached from the vine. But stemming from Jesus, being nurtured by his love, his encouragement, and even his admonishment, we are to bear much fruit. In fact, no fruit can be borne if we aren’t being filled by the Holy Spirit.

The more I thought about this strong vine, I noticed the way it had almost lovingly curled itself around each plant, not too tight, but swirling its way up the stalks, around each leaf, splitting off in different directions to leap across to the next plant, and the next. There were also little white flowers sprouting from a few parts of the vine that had been there the longest. This gently flowering vine had made its home, nestled in the garden bed with the good soil I had prepared and tended and watered. The more I noticed the vine’s intricacies, the more I almost began to admire it. You know, if it hadn’t been smothering my beloved (and thankfully resilient) okra.

This strong vine began to serve as an example of how when we allow ourselves to be rooted in something as powerful and good as Jesus, we can be the branches, sent out into the world, lovingly coming alongside others, blossoming and bearing fruit. We can accept and share the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5), those gifts that Jesus has offered, knowing fully that apart from him, we really can do nothing.

Call It a Win.

Our church used to have this banner in our worship space that read “Seek, Find, and Win for Christ”. I never really liked it, mostly because for me, it called to mind a crusade-style jaunt into foreign places to force them into being Christians. I know that isn’t how they meant it when they hung them up, but for some reason, that’s what it conjured in me.

However, this week my century-old church launched its third campus, its second remote (in comparison to the original church building) worship venue. This has been over eight months in the making, including hundreds of people working, volunteering, making calls, donating money, crunching numbers, designing spaces, planning (and planning, and planning some more) and finally executing our first public worship service in the venue this morning. It was a beautiful thing to behold, all our work, prayers, and hopes for the project actually coming to fruition. I knew that God had shown up. He had shown up by preparing the space. He’d shown up by preparing hearts, working out kinks, bringing new people into our space, and just showing up there, in the moment, present in our worship and our teaching, in our conversations and prayers.

After I had time to slow down a little bit, and think on the morning, I was reminded of that banner. I think that for the first time, I felt the sort of victory that the banner had intended to depict. I thought of our advertising we’d been putting out over the past couple of months, preparing a community for a new opportunity in their area to get connected and hear about Jesus – the seeking of new people to come alongside us in our journey. I thought about people who told us they came today in response to invitations of current members, or those who came as a result of a radio ad or a Facebook sponsored post – people who had found us and would now hopefully be wooed by their Savior. I thought of the wonderful morning. A morning wrought with hard work and months of planning, but a morning that went off mostly without a hitch, a well-attended and genuine worship service that planted its first few seeds in a community, in a group of peoples’ hearts – indeed, a win for Christ.

Because, as our pastor mentioned this morning, Christ is center of our services, and of our lives. He’s the reason we do what we do. He’s not just the reason for a season or a guy we idolize because there are some cool stories about him. He’s the reason we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). Everything we do should be about him, even if it’s just raising our kids, going to our job, ordering coffee from the barista, or getting our groceries. Building his kingdom is what everything’s about. And if I had to guess, I’d say that he would consider this morning a win.

Thanks to Elaine Garrison for this amazing photo!

Here’s to shedding some tears.

This post also appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I’m a mom of three. I’m a wife. I’m a friend, sister, daughter, writer, singer, colleague, and foodie. Which of those things says I should cry a lot?

Apparently all of them.

Recently, I’ve found that I cry at almost everything. Things my friends say. Books I read. Podcasts I’m listening to (I’m looking at you, Annie F. Downs!). Songs I sing, or hear on the radio. Literally every time I crack open my Bible. It’s a lot. Am I too emotional about some stuff? Maybe. Am I going through something difficult? I don’t know. Probably. Aren’t we all?

Recently, my boys (ages 3.5 and 2) got their first “official” haircuts. They went to see my dad’s barber, in my hometown, as my parents’ house was literally going under contract that afternoon. It was a lot – an emotional day. There were some tears involved, and rightly so. My 11-year-old self was looking around, appreciating the house I’d grown up in for the first time. My 15-year-old self was remembering sleepovers and cramming for exams and late night ice cream sundaes. My 20-year-old self was wondering why I came home from college for the summer, because it was a little boring comparatively, but actually loving the slowness. My 31-year-old self (at present) was wishing my kids would grow up vacationing to that pool and huge front yard forever, and wishing that we had been able to come “home” a little more often.

You see? Tears flowing, even now, weeks later.

Call it hormones. Call it motherhood. Call it “too soft”. But I’m a crier now, more than I ever was. But I know that it just means that Jesus is softening my heart to some things that I haven’t been softened to before… Relationships with incredible women in my life. Shoes that are quite big that it’s my job to fill. My headstrong daughter with ideas all her own, my sensitive middle child with a need for a schedule and some sugar, and my baby, who I equally want to rush into independence and coddle forever. I am torn, in limbo between the already and the not yet, unsure of how to proceed. And then I sit and cry.

I’m not ashamed. I’m really not. I joke about it a lot – and you can call that my coping mechanism. But I really don’t feel bad about the tears I shed. Because it means that I care, I feel deeply, and I love big. I’m okay with those things, because it means I got those traits from Jesus. He cared. He felt deeply. He loved big. And if, in me, it manifests as tears, I’ll take it.

I wrote a song.

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

A few months ago, I went to a worship leading conference with Paul Baloche. (Hey, Paul! You’re great! No, we didn’t meet. But yeah, I love you. Totally.) Anyway, I ended up in his songwriting workshop. Before I go on, let me make myself clear: I have never fashioned myself a songwriter. I was a music major in college, complete with composition classes and arranging classes and task-oriented composing all through theory classes and the like. But no assignment or little ditty I wrote was ever very good. I have never assumed that if I sat down to write an actual song, something would actually come out.

That being said, this songwriting workshop inspired me to give it a go. I actually had a moment of inspiration (weakness?) where I thought up a couplet in my head. Isn’t that how the greats do it? “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and French-fried potatoes…” Anyway, so this couplet just popped into my head, and I made a voice reminder on my iPhone with it. You know, so I wouldn’t forget.

Well, that turned into me digging in the Psalms, texting back and forth with my worship pastor (ever the encouraging friend) and making my husband tell me if it sounded like crap. Which turned out to be him saying that it didn’t sound like crap! It was about a week-long process of simultaneously being unable to stop thinking about and wanting it to be finished but not knowing how to get there.

Paul Baloche’s suggestions were all things like “Keep writing even if it’s not good.” and “You’ll write a hundred bad songs for every good one.” and “Use your journal for inspiration.” which was how I had come up with that couplet: journaling. I used to have time for journaling a lot, but since having kids, and then staying home with them, I somehow have less time than I used to (cue all the moms cry-laughing, agreeing with the lack of time). But when I do sit down to do it, it tends to be heavier, albeit shorter. But just a moment of me writing my prayers landed me in a songwriting mood, culminating in an actual completed song. I guess there’s no reason I should’ve been so hard on myself about it, since I did really enjoy the process. I’m a little nervous that like Paul said, now that I’ve got one song that didn’t totally suck, the next hundred will be bad ones. But if my heart is in the right place, and I’m writing something because I’m worshiping Jesus, it’ll be pleasing to Him anyway.

Looking for My Patience

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I’m a parent; of course I lose my patience sometimes. It’s just what we do when things go awry, or when the day’s been too long, or when we’re pushed and stretched to the point of breaking. I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, or that it is built into our systems as humans, but I don’t know a parent who has never lost their patience.

But I find that I have stretches of time where I lose my patience more than I keep it. I could blame it on hormones. I could blame it on low sleep. I could find a hundred other excuses for not keeping my cool, but what it all comes down to for me is relying on the Lord for my strength and patience, instead of relying only on myself. What do I mean?

I mean that  I can’t do it on my own. My striving, my best efforts, my standards for myself… none of those things can hold up without some divine intervention. I know that I need to ask my heavenly Father for patience before I need it, not during or after. I have to make the prayer for patience my mantra, and I have to keep reminding myself that my own patience isn’t sufficient unless it’s supplemented with His patience. I know I can’t be the best mom without His help.

While I don’t always find time for those long, elaborate, journaled prayers each day that I loved to write before my life was full of parenting, I need prayer even more than I did then. I find that I’m more conversational in my prayer times, coming and going through prayer throughout the whole day, praying for and with my kids, praying for help in a moment of weakness, for healing booboos, for bedtime to come quickly, and for more patience.

Who knows best how to parent more than God does? He is the perfect Father, the One whom our parent-child relationships should be modeled after. We can be frustrating children, I am sure. Reading the Bible can show us example after example of children who disobeyed, and made terrible choices. But God is full of patience, full of grace, and full of love for us at our most insolent of times. So when I am an imperfect parent, I try (even if it seems too late) to draw support from the perfect Parent, a Father who loves me – and my children – with all the patience we can imagine.

5 Reasons I’m No Longer Organized 

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles

By nature, I am an organized person. I love order, labels, color-coding, and fancy pens. Y’all know that last one falls under the same category, right? I love it when the toys in our house have all their own pieces in their own receptacles and are under the correct labels. Talk about a happy place! But how often does my home actually show that I’m organized? Very rarely. Let me tell you the reasons why.

1. I’m a busy person. I know – we are all busy in our own ways. To be honest, busyness often enhances my productivity. I have five spare minutes, and I cram as many things into those five minutes as I can. But where I start to slip is when I let go of the organizational systems I have in place. My clothes are put away according to what type of garment they are. Pajamas here, workout clothes there, casual shirts here, blouses there. But then I have a pile of gently worn clothing that doesn’t fall into the “dirty laundry” category, but hasn’t been refolded or hung back up? Talk to me, huge stack of clothes I tried to lay out nicely but instead are all now wrinkly so I either have to iron them or throw them away. (Ahem. I will never iron. So you see the problem.) It’ll take more than those five spare minutes to put you all away, so destined you are to stay there on the ottoman at the foot of my bed.

2. I don’t live by myself. I know, you’re so surprised that since I’m an organized person, my family can’t just fall in line with me! I, too, frequently fail to see why if there is a labeled bin for toy cars, why are there toys cars not only in every crevice of my home, but also in the bins labeled “Dress Up Clothes” and “Kitchen Items”? Or how about when I have special places for canned goods in my pantry, but there are often canned goods, sitting lonely on the shelf that IS NOT FOR CANNED GOODS. It must be that the leprechaun that haunts kindergarten classrooms in March also haunts my kitchen. All the time. I digress.

3. I love organization so much that I am always finding new and better ways to organize my home. Pinterest is a win AND  a fail for me. I find a good way of doing things, use it for a while, and then I see a new idea. Well, let’s try it! Oh, Hubby and the kids can’t follow my train of very organized thought, packed away into separate see-through containers, stacked on the bottom two shelves of that bookcase in the guest room? Okay, fine. I guess it was a little confusing. Let’s go back to the other way!

4. We have a lot of clutter. I used to think that clutter was knick-knacks from flea markets and bric-a-brac from trips I’d been on in the past. I have very few of those, but I still have a lot of clutter. Nowadays I think my “clutter” is the coupons I don’t want to throw away in case we want to replace our windows this month, and the book my mother-in-law lent me that I honestly do want to read but should probably give back since I’ve been borrowing it for a year and haven’t cracked it open. I’ve heard about the Konmari book, and I think I’d be all about it: if it doesn’t give you joy, toss it. Okay, great, toss that spinach and the annoying bedtime book my kid won’t stop asking me to read.

5. I’m too tired. I know that being organized is energizing for me, and will absolutely save me valuable time with many tasks around my house. The systems we have in place that work are wonderful ones, and I’m always raving about how I’d love everything to be that orderly. But the truth of the matter is that if I have an extra few hours somewhere, I’d rather be taking my kids to the park, sneaking in a date night with my husband, or having a glass of wine with a friend. I don’t have the energy to organize the laundry room’s cabinets or to choose which cloth napkins give me the most joy. You can find me snuggling my babies, watching Moana for the thirtieth time.

If you can get organized, I highly recommend it. It saves time, effort, and often some of your sanity. But if you’re like me, and you just haven’t kept it all together, that’s okay. Empty nesters have a lot of time, I hear.

10 Reasons Laundry Is the Worst

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

No parent is ever surprised when I tell them that laundry is my least favorite chore. They know all about the endless piles and stubborn stains and tiny clothes that shouldn’t even have to be folded. Yes, I know that lots of laundry means I should give thanks for my family and for the ample clothes we have to wear each day. But the chore part is tedious at best. But I firmly believe that laundry is the actual worst way I could spend my time. I’d rather floss my teeth. Here’s why:
1. It takes SO MUCH time. You have to retrieve it from the far reaches of your home. You have to lug it all the way to your washer – or worse – the laundromat! You have to spend ten minutes turning socks, pants, and shirts right-side out, because your family members all flip them inside out when they remove them. You have to wait for the washer to actually wash the clothes. You have to wait for it to dry. You have to wait five days before folding it, per house rules. You have to wait for it to be unfolded by the baby at least once before refolding it and putting it away. It practically takes a week just to do a single load!
2. It’s not easy to remember. After it goes into the washer, it takes so long in there that you go do something else. So after you’ve vacuumed (or, come on, watched the latest episode of This Is Us), you’ve totally forgotten you even started that load.
3. It never stops getting dirty. I don’t know about your family, but my family is constantly wearing clothes, and using towels, and sleeping in between sheets. It’s so annoying. What’s more annoying? My kids want a fresh pair of pajamas for their naps. THEIR NAPS.
4. Socks. Do I even need to explain why 45 single socks that don’t have matches is the most frustrating thing on the planet?
5. Towels. Why do they need two whole dryer cycles to actually get dry? They’re just going to get wet again when we use them.
6. What someone needs is always dirty. I promise I do a lot of laundry, but no, those pants aren’t clean. Why not? I don’t know. I washed them, but now they’re dirty again. Maybe you should stop wearing them.
7. Dry clean or hand wash items. WHY DO THEY EVEN MAKE THESE?! Better yet, why do I bother buying them?
8. The way clothes smell when they’ve been in the washer too long. It’s hard enough to remember I put them in there at all, and now you’re telling me I need to remember they’re there in less than 12 hours? Yeah, right.
9. Folding. How is it that folding, separating, and putting away is so time consuming? I put on some Netflix, and I fold. And I fold. And I fold. And I have a basket full of clean laundry delivered to almost every room in the house. And now Netflix has asked me three times “Are you still watching?” and it’s midnight… of the following day.
10. Red stuff. Mixed in the whites load. Accidentally. Every time. And now pink. EVERYTHING IS PINK.
Is it just that I’m terrible at doing laundry, or do you hate all these things, too?