My life has been a journey full of twists & turns, highs & lows. Honestly, I'm not sure I could really define where I'm headed. But one thing I'm learning, the journey isn't all about the final destination but more about how we travel. And fulfillment is found in all that we learn & experience as we journey, not just getting to the end of it. I can't even imagine making mine without Christ before me, behind me, and beside me...

Monday, March 28, 2011


     Chad shared a message he received from a young man in Brazil who has been reading our book in his own language. It is so exciting and awe-inspiring to see God use our words to encourage and empower people in other countries--especially in a language we can't even speak. When we started writing, we never even dreamed He would take it beyond the US...
     For this young man Hugo to share a little of his story is humbling for me...An honor and blessing that is cherished. When Chad read the message to me, one statement lingered in my mind and found its way to my heart. Hugo spoke of his life before Christ when he stood far from Jesus... No doubt he struggled and often felt alone in it and these next few words seem to stand out from the rest: "But in the end, a pastor had the courage to fight for me..."
      Lately, it seems there are so many battles surrounding us. We see so many who are hopeless as they "stand far from Jesus."  Too often, just a passing word is not enough to bring hope but to do more means sacrifice especially time. It means believing when the one we are fighting for can't believe in himself. Even when the battle seems too hard and the spirit, sacrifice means finding the strength to fight when the one can't find the strength nor the will to fight for himself. It means not giving up when everyone else has. To be willing to sacrifice and fight against the odds for another takes courage...the kind of courage many can't even muster.
     I've stood on the edge of that chasm too often myself with the enemy hot on my heels. No hope and no bridge to cross to get to life beyond the moment. On my own, I would have fallen prey to the enemy or fallen into the nothingness below. But each time when I was ready to give up, someone from across the way would fight for shoot arrows at my pursuing enemy. Battles don't always come in the way we would expect and those arrows--prayers on my behalf, words of encouragement, even admonishment, and sometimes heroic acts and charitable deeds--pierced the enemy and defeated him. The warrior waged battle and all the while, Christ would reach out His hand to me and call until I heard Him, "Just take a step. Walk by faith not by sight. Take my hand and cross to the other side. I am here. I won't let you go." A bridge invisible from my own perspective had been built because someone had the courage to stand in the gap for me.
     When I pause to think what would have happened if no one had taken up my cause, I tremble knowing that but for the courage of the few willing to make the sacrifice to fight for me, I wouldn't be here. They had nothing to gain and everything to lose, but still they fought for me. Sometimes, my mind still can't fathom or understand it--the rhyme and reasons of a warrior's heart. But I know this: I want to be that warrior--that one who would fight for the sake of others...for the hopeless and downtrodden...just as was done for me. I want to be a voice for those too afraid to speak up for themselves, to be the marksman and warrior willing to fight battles when the odds seem insurmountable. I want to be the one that stands in the gap so that one who is hopeless can see His hand reaching out and hear His voice, "Just take a step. Walk by faith not by sight. Take my hand...I won't let you go."
     I can't help but remember some of Paul's last words, "I have fought the good fight..."  He was a warrior and he never gave up no matter what the cost. Though he thought himself nothing, Paul so often stood in the gap for those who didn't have the strength or the will. He fought the good fight and because he was willing, today the whole world can know there is a Savior...there is HOPE. At the end of his life, he had no regrets because he had given his all.
     I realize that all battles are not mine to fight. I must let God choose them for me. And when the battles seem overwhelming and I don't think there's anything I can do, I want to remember those who fought for me. Though I can't always understand the why, I know how they fought--with strength that was not their own but of Christ. And I must remember that--no matter what--it isn't my strength that wins the battle. All that flows through me comes from Him. He has chosen and empowered me to fight for broken and the hopeless.
     When I come to the end of my life, I want to be able to speak the words of Paul with all my heart:

"As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God....I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me... And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing..." - 2 Timothy 4:6-7 NLT

      I want to be a warrior and when all is done, I want to know there are those who found hope in His outstretched hand and will stand with me on the other side of eternity. But in meantime while we fight, the battle--well, the battle belongs to the Lord and I will remain faithful.

Monday, March 14, 2011


     A few years ago, a desperate mom asked me pray for her grown daughter--we will call her "Elle" for the purpose of this story. A few weeks later, I was able to meet that daughter in person and pray with her at a revival. She was a mother of three already but her life was totally out of control. She was caught in a vortex of self-pity, sex, alcohol, and cocaine. There's nothing she wouldn't do to get high. Over the next few months, Elle let me in her life little by little. I saw her in the worst of conditions but she was hardened by a lifetime of abuse and traumatic events. No help had come for her when the worst things happened, even as a little girl. Her heart had become stone. The idea that her life had any meaning was foreign to her. The only comfort or escape she could find was in cocaine--her one and only one faithful "friend." But I saw so much more in her and wasn't so easily turned away.
    Fast forward through the next few years...Though she let me in her world to a certain extent, she wouldn't step with confidence into mine. I told her I knew a love that wouldn't fail her but she couldn't or wouldn't trust it. She would laugh and make snide remarks...but she  listened all the same. That was all I could ask for. She trusted cocaine more than me...more than God, and her chosen path led her deeper into darkness. She lived a life completely different than mine, yet her hurts and her needs were so very much the same. I saw myself in her somehow and I couldn't give up on her. I wanted to save her just as I had been saved. I have to admit, Elle was not an easy person to love--she was harsh and uncouth. Her thinking and her life was pure chaos and sometimes very ugly, but I loved her--I saw something redeemable in her. All she needed was Jesus.
     I reached out every time I got the chance, praying for one tiny seed to take root. One Sunday morning, I received a call. Elle was six months pregnant and doing two eightballs of coke a day. For the first time ever, I saw her cry. She needed and wanted help. I was determined that nothing would stand in the way. She went to treatment and began to believe that her life was worth saving. She stayed at a recovery center for four months, came home, and began to rebuild her life. Her baby was born miraculously healthy. She and her four girls were looking forward to a better life...Then the baby's father entered back in the picture and she turned her back on all that she had gained for the sake of another fix. Her oldest daughter called me and told me her mom was at the old dealer's house.
     This wasn't what I had planned! I wanted to save her and I wasn't willing to lose her to that world again. After a harrowing and crazy confrontation with her drug dealer and about 20-30 of his clients and "business associates"...(I have no doubt God held them back to protect me that night just as He protected Daniel by shutting the lions' mouths centuries ago)...After a wild car chase, and a wildly desperate prayer, Elle finally got in the car with me and tried to refocus on what God had already done in her life. 
     She was safe again...but was she really? Cocaine and alcohol were just symptoms of a deeper problem--a problem I couldn't fix. I wanted so much to save her but all I could do was point her to Christ. She got back on track, found a job, became involved in church, and finally moved into her own apartment--Elle and all four girls. But life had too often been a tumultuous journey. This family didn't know how to be "normal"--all they had known was chaos so chaos reigned. Elle was far too dependent on me and less dependent on the Christ who redeemed her. Her progress began unwinding...
     Another professed Christian "leader" stepped in to help Elle learn to discipline her unruly girls but that leader's motives weren't so pure. She had deeper issues of her own and their relationship became destructive and unhealthy. I was so intent on saving Elle myself, I didn't see it. Like Thelma and Louise, they took a dangerous and deadly dive off a proverbial cliff into the raging abyss. Elle had an even deeper need that hadn't been met. She traded in cocaine for other addictions trying to find what she was looking for. Bad choices, alcohol, sex, and manipulative relationships were just the surface scum of this cesspool. No matter what I said or did, Elle was more determined to circle the drain. Both women turned their back on God's grace for self-gratification.
    I  had done everything imaginable to prove to Elle that her life was valuable and precious to God--no matter what she had done or where she had been. I so desperately wanted her to recognize that life holds a higher purpose. She seemed so fearless and tough, I misgauged her loneliness and lack of confidence. I couldn't grasp how she could throw grace back in God's face... or in mine. And I was mortified that she sacrificed her hope for this new baby for her own selfish desires. Though I really had no right, I was hurt and offended by Elle's choices and so very angry at the one who used the name of my Savior and "ministry" as a ploy to undermine Elle's life for her own self-interests. I wanted to give up--not just on Elle but on ministry. I was ready to walk away. It was too hard.
     But God wouldn't let me go. I wish I could say Elle was the only one that I went so far beyond what God required...when I tried to be the savior. Knowing me so well, He put strong leaders and support in place for me--those who would speak wisdom and truth and teach me--not just in words but also by example. Time and again, I was cautioned about boundaries and replenishment. Too often, I was told, "You're not Superman."
     In frustration, I sometimes ranted, "Lord, you move mountains, heal the lame, and give sight to the blind. You can do anything. Why would You let her go? Why should we invest so much in others just to lose them. I wanted to save them."
     He quickly reminded me, "I didn't ask you to save them. That's MY job." What a humbling reminder! Too often I try to do more than He be overzealous. (Maybe that's why I relate so well to the disciple Peter!) 
     As I began to deal with losing Elle and her girls to another world, I realized that loving someone as Christ loves is NOT about the outcome. If I love as He does, others will see HIM not me. It is not my job to save--only Jesus can save. My responsibility is simply to be obedient to His call--to do whatever He asks of me. And in reality, all God asks of me is to love: to love Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love others as He loves me....He wants me to love others enough to point them to Him. Elle's salvation--or anyone else's for that matter--was and is not up to me. My identity cannot be directly tied to their choices or outcome. It's not about what I can do but about what God does when I'm obedient...when I point the way and they see the Cross that redeems.
     I wish it was easier. I wish I could just say the right thing so that someone I care about would be saved. I wish that people would choose the right way without being completely broken before they finally turn to Christ. I still hear from Elle once in a while--when she's longing for something more than she has. Her chosen path is not so gratifying after all, but she can't admit her choices were wrong. She chooses to be lost. And even so, I still see something redeemable in her but I am no longer responsible for her redemption. All I can do is point the way to the Cross and pray. I may never see the outcome of my efforts on an earthly level, but I have to be faithful to do my part--my 50%. I can only play to half-court. The one in need of a Savior must be willing to go the rest of the way--to cross the finish line herself. She must be willing to follow Him--to CHOOSE Christ. It's up to them.
     In Heaven's eyes, Christ has already accomplished the greatest part--His eternal 100%. Before any of us were born, He gave His own life to redeem even the worst of us. Grace is such a beautiful gift and it costs us nothing. But for it to fully be known, anyone in need of a Savior must accept and receive His gift with her whole heart--to unwrap grace, cherish it, and follow where He leads. Along the way, her heart of stone will again become a heart of flesh.

"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD." -- Ezekiel 11:19-20

Tuesday, March 8, 2011



     Do you ever have those days when hurt so deep that it doesn't have a bottom strikes you out of nowhere?  When a "God-thing" that should bring peace also brings unfaced hurt and unshed tears? And then small things that don't really matter open up wounds that have long been ignored? Some wise person told me once that it's really okay to not be okay. Well, I'm not a fan...I don't want to be un-okay. I want to be able to ignore hurtful circumstances and those things I can't control so that I can forge ahead to master the things I can control. I prefer to focus on that which can do some good for someone else. If I can't fix me then I can fix someone else and I don't feel so helpless and vulnerable--especially when to let myself hurt or to acknowledge that I hurt might just leave me undone.
      Somehow, growing up in "churchy" churches, I grew accustomed with the practice that it was NOT okay to not UN-okay--to be vulnerable, injured, or broken. If we are Christian--especially in any kind of leadership--then we should be invincible and untouched by hurtful circumstances. And God forbid if we admit that we struggle with sin or even doubt. We couldn't possibly have messed up lives if we are in ministry. And if somehow we do, we should at least sweep the visible mess under the rug and out of sight, paste on that good Sunday-go-to-meetin' smile and when asked, turn it about, "I'm fine. How are you?" And through it all, we keep trying to convince ourselves it's true. "God is good, I'm good, it's AAAALLLL good!"
     Pain or struggle or an unkempt life had no place in the Christian life--or so I believed for many years. Struggle was identified with sin--you know, the ones people whisper about when they don't really know what's going on. Their guessing games made for good gossip.  If you went to the altar at church, you must have done something wrong and that made you unfit for service until you were good enough again--when the imperfections didn't show anymore--at least to the general public. And you know what? I got through a lot of stuff that way. I mean, seriously, if we say there's not problem then there isn't a problem...right?  (I know--I can already hear a certain one of my HOPE women point a finger, "DENIAL! It ain't a river in Egypt!"  
     So we move on. We ignore the problem. We push through it. Especially, as any kind of ministry leader, we "take care of business--I do anyway. Shepherds tend the flock, mother hens tend their brood, and the business of ministry gets done. We are productive. "I'm FINE." And as long as I keep saying it, then I AM fine. But Truth whispers, "Denial..." 
     But (sputter, stutter), I AM fine--really! Besides, I don't have time to not be okay. I have things to do, people to care for. And I don't have the right to hurt or complain NOW. It doesn't make sense. It's long past the time to hurt--it shouldn't bother me now. Have you ever "decided" not to hurt about something months ago, even years ago? And then WHAM! But I can't open that can of worms. How would I explain it? Why NOW?....When hurtful or traumatic things happens, sometimes that's what I do. I DECIDE not to let it affect me--I ignore the pain. And if I gave up, ignored, or gave away part of my life, then I let circumstance callous me so I can push on and be normal. I don't have the right to undo it or to be undone...especially now.
    And you know what? It works! I can easily consume myself in the plight of others or in the busyness of ministry, family, work, or various projects. And, by all appearance I am fine...I can almost convince myself. But something is missing and I feel empty. Whether PTSD, pride, fear, denial--whatever the motive or reason, somehow I don't think I'm the only one. The pain or the circumstance may be different but I know there are others who may secretly think, "I know what you mean."
     So I pray that prayer psalm and in the middle of this aching emptiness, I mean it:

"Let Your love, God, shape my life with salvation, exactly as You promised. Then I'll be able to stand up to mockery because I trusted Your Word. Don't ever deprive me of truth, not ever..."  - Psalm 119: 41

    And the prayer makes it better--just saying it. But then God answers that prayer: He surprises me with TRUTH. And that bottomless, seemingly endless hurt digs in deep with its heels. No more denial or evasion or putting a lid on it--the pain of TRUTH. He has given what I asked for but sometimes it's not what I expected. It's supposed to "feel good," isn't it? Surely not like this. I can't help but wonder, "God, how does this all work out for good? How does this hurt glorify You?"
     Sometimes there is just no turning back the clock. It's too late--I can't get back to the source of hurt. It can't be explained or undone or fixed...Sometimes the remnants of a life leave more questions than answers and more confusion than understanding. Though I don't want it to show, there's a part of me that isn't okay--a hurt so deep that can't be explained by death or grief or what unknowing others might guess. The temptation is to let it appear to be the obvious if it can't be hidden--but that isn't how Truth works, is it?
      I don't like to NOT be okay. I like to be able to push through and make the best of what I've got. I don't want to grieve yesterday. I don't want to wish for what I didn't get. And I don't want to waste more time wondering why hurts were inflicted when words told a different story. It's a whole lot easier to hurt for others than to hurt for me...if that makes any sense.
     So I stuff it back in where those things go and I think I just about have it handled (keyword here is "I"). And then it happens: that ignored or hidden hurt blindsides me and I'm broken. I wonder, "How can I possibly be any good to You Lord when I'm not okay---when I'm broken?" 
     And then Truth (that was really there all along) whispers, "Jesus was bruised, beaten, and mocked. His body was pierced and broken. Nails ripped through flesh and bones, and He died under the weight of it all...But God used Him." 
     I suddenly remember His anguished words that day so much like my own sometimes, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?!" His cry calls out to mine, and I finally grasp what it means when the Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings that words can't express. I finally understand the words of the psalmist--"deep calls unto deep"--as he cried out in his own anguish. I grasp what Truth was trying to tell me Sunday in those strange unexplainable moments. He KNEW this pain...

"Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; all Your waves and billows have gone over me.  The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night His song shall be with me--a prayer to the God of my life. I will say to God, my Rock, "Why have You forgotten me?" -- Psalm 42:7-9 NKJ

     So I can't deny what exists. When bad things happen--even when evil seems to reign, He knows. He hears what isn't spoken and He intercedes even when I try to sweep it under the rug. Jesus had to be broken for God's ultimate plan to be revealed and fulfilled. His brokenness was the path to redemption. And He wants me to know that this brokenness--this bottomless hurt--may be my path to true healing. It's necessary. In brokenness, I can't deny that I need Him. "But how long, Lord? How long?...When does the thorn become a blessing? When does the pain become a friend? When does my weakness make me stronger? When does my faith make me whole again?"
     It's such a paradox--a twist of irony--that we must be broken to become whole. Once again Paul's words that are already so precious become even more dear:

Concerning this thing, I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." - 2 Corinthians 12:8-9

I still can't say that I "like" it--that there are no easy answers or quick fixes for this deep, deep hurt. I don't like that I don't have assurance that it will go away. But I know this one thing: Deep cries out to deep--I am not alone. Whether anyone else understands or not, HE does. He endured it too. That has to be my comfort for now. He KNOWS. "His love will go to any length and reaches even now to where I am..."

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? HOPE IN GOD; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God." - Psalm 42:11 NKJ
"Blessing in the Thorn" - Phillips, Craig, and Dean. Album: WHERE STRENGTH BEGINS (c)1997 Chordant

Sunday, March 6, 2011


     When my daughter Brittany was younger, she wanted a fish aquarium. I thought, "Well, that's a lot less hairy than cats, a lot less hungry than dogs, and a great deal less haunting than her first pet choice--a tarantula! Fish should be the perfect pets--no noise, no mess, no bother--right?...So one Christmas, Brittany received a fish aquarium with goldfish, black mollies, guppies, and angel fish. (Well, actually the first attempt included only goldfish that "steamed" on the fireplace but that's a whole other story! We didn't give up though. The variety of fish were quick replacements for the three goldies who met such an untimely demise!) Brittany was thrilled for a while and eager to feed them and show them off to her friends. But let's face it: fish aren't the most cuddly and affectionate creatures and keeping aquarium water clear and fresh wasn't an envied task. Brittany and the boys soon lost interest so who do you think ultimately ended up becoming the keeper of the aquarium?...Well, here's a hint: it certainly wasn't Brittany! 
     I made sure the fish were fed appropriately, kept the pump running properly, and cleaned the algae and scum out of the aquarium (a dreaded and tedious task). Although watching the fish was a tranquil distraction when I needed to zone out of the normal chaos, I soon began to have compassion for these poor little fish weaving in and out of plastic seaweed, back and forth from wall to wall in this glorified glass fishbowl...They were created to swim free, to reproduce, and to live out some other purpose in a lake...a river...or an ocean. I could envision them seeking exciting Nemo-like adventures in seas far beyond the confines of this small household aquarium. 
     I know, I know! It sounds a little pathetic but maybe as a mother of five young children in a rather uneventful small town, I was feeling a little like I was stuck in a fishbowl myself. Maybe I dreamed of "swimming" in oceans far more vast than this small redneck town. Life wasn't meant to be lived in a fishbowl....
     This week we were asked if we would like to be known as fishers of men or keepers of the aquarium, and my thoughts went back to this sad little aquarium of fish as I considered God's purpose for each one of us. Faith and ministry isn't meant to be lived out in a fishbowl either. In Jesus last words to the disciples, He commissioned them to live in the ocean. 

"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age." - Matthew 28:18-20

     Jesus Himself has sent each one of us out into the world's "oceans" to be fishers of men...not just to "catch" men but also to train them and "release" them so they too can share in the adventurous life of being fishers of men. Oh sure! It's safe in the fishbowl being handfed, swimming with the "right" people, the right environment, and without the dangers of intimidating predators, but we are called to be fishers of men in a catch and release system--not to devour but to train, encourage, and to take our young disciples along with us on this fishing adventure and journey of faith, teaching them and showing them the way until they are ready to venture out on their own. None of us were meant to be "keepers" of the aquarium. Christ never intended for any of us to remain within the walls of the church but rather to go outside the safe confines of "church" into a sinful and dangerous world to bring in the lost--to nurture, train, and equip them so that they too can make their way in the world and bring others to Him. 
     Fishing for men isn't necessarily a safe or easy calling for any of us...Nor is it meant for just "some" of us: He has called ALL of us to be disciples and fishers of men. Jesus told His own disciples to MAKE disciples--to create a ripple effect, even a tidal wave that reaches from one end of the axis to the other. Then He gave them AND us a guarantee: "Go out into the world and make disciples. Bring them in and send them out. Dare to join the adventure, and no matter where you are or what happens, I WILL BE WITH YOU for I am the Master and Keeper of the seas." 
    Nope, no aquariums here--just the wide open sea! Let's go fishing!

"How many are Your works, Lord! In wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number--living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which You formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
When You hide Your face, they are terrified; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When You send Your Spirit, they are created, and You renew the face of the ground.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in His works--He who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord." - Psalm 104:24-34 NLT