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Dear 16-year-old Me,

God is watching out for you. I know things aren’t really going the way you’d like them to, but God has a (better) plan for you and He cares for you, every little tiny detail, not just the big things. He’ll provide what your heart desires, you just have to be patient.

In the meantime, talk to your mom. She understands more than you think. And talk to your sister, she does, too. Talk to your friends. Talk to anyone! Tell others what you REALLY think and what you feel. Your opinion and your feelings matter. And sharing will deepen the connection with friends and family, which is what you really desire. Even if your thoughts are silly or “wrong” or illogical or immature. Or make you vulnerable. Having feelings you know aren’t right doesn’t make you a bad person, just human. It’s okay, you’ll learn and grow from it. Keeping everything to yourself will allow doubt and negativity to fester. And the sooner you learn to process and share your feelings, the easier it will be to avoid some mistakes when you are older.

I know you think it’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and prove it. But you aren’t a fool. You aren’t perfect! Nobody is. You don’t have to be perfect for people to like you. And once people know you, they will know you aren’t perfect, but they will like you anyway even more! You love to make people laugh and eventually will learn it doesn’t mean they are making fun of you (never mind the time your friend laughed at your shoes, you liked them so who cares what he thinks). You’ll discover how much people actually embrace quirks and think perfection is boring! Embrace who you are, and if you don’t know, start the process of figuring it out. You are so much more than just a “pretty face” or a “silly girl.” You don’t have to take calculus or physics to prove you are smart! You are just going to get frustrated. Math is not your thing, but that’s okay, you’ll marry a guy who can do that for you. It’s okay to let others do things for you. Of course, you’ll learn that when you are struggling in computer science classes in college, and that’s not quite what I’m talking about. But you’ll get it. Let people see your weaknesses so they can support you. Be vulnerable. And not knowing something doesn’t make you stupid, so admit you don’t know everything and ask lots of questions.

It’s okay to be shy, but it’s not okay to be impolite. Think about how you come across to other people when you think they don’t like you, when in fact they think you don’t like them. If you didn’t worry so much about what other people thought, you would see that everyone was worried about themselves, too. There are so many people who are lonely and could use a friend. Smile. Say hi. You won’t be shunned for being nice. I know it would devastate you to find out people thought you were stuck up. People like you more than you think. That college boy doesn’t ride his bike to your house before you leave for prom because he wants the exercise …

You are creative! Maybe not in the way you usually think about it. Use your creativity to express yourself, not as a means to finding perfection. And you love to run. It’s a part of who you are so don’t stop because your friends don’t understand it. Find some friends who can relate to that part of you after high school. But don’t let it consume you either. I don’t want you to miss out on other good things God has for you. You are so passionate, if you could just find what you want to pour your energy into.

You are loved! Not because you are beautiful (though you are. seriously. puh-leaze you are NOT fat.), not because you are creative (though you are), not because you are fast (though you are) or smart (you are!) or because you TRY SO HARD (even though you do). You are loved because GOD loves you, you are His precious daughter. There’s nothing you can do to make Him love you more and nothing you can do to make Him love you less! Soak in that grace and then pass it on to others.

–38-year-old you

Free to fail

As a perfectionist, failure is not an option. I am afraid of failure. As a mom, a writer, a wife, a friend, a coach, a mentor. Even though I fail–continuously, I don’t acknowledge or admit it very often. But what I have come to learn is that failure is not optional … because it’s required.

To reach perfection, you must fail. To do anything otherwise is to come close maybe, but yet be so far. Because it’s just not possible to be perfect. At least not on my own.

If fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, failure is the beginning of perfection. Because failure is how we come to know and experience and rely on God. In the midst of failure, we see God because we are not distracted by our own “glorious” self. Failure, according to Webster’s, is “to fade or die away, to be inadequate, lack, to leave undone … a defect in character or ability.” Call it what it is: failure is the inability to accomplish on my own. If I can be perfect–or think that I can–I don’t need God. When I fail, I know I need Help (yes, that’s Help with a capital “H”).

When I recognize myself as the failure I am, only then can God accomplish perfection for me. Jesus was perfect so I don’t have to be. Free to fail.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

Sold.

SOLD.

No word could be quite so exciting … or scary.

As soon as we received an offer on our house, which felt sudden even though it has been on the market 9 months, I went into almost complete panic mode. Was this what we wanted? What are we doing? WHY? Are we really going to do this? Suddenly what seemed a difficult decision before became even harder. I trust you, Lord.

The offer was low so it felt like we were having to give up the home that we loved for next to nothing, especially with all the blood, sweat and tears—and, oh yeah, money—that we put into it. I trust you, Lord.

God reminded me about Abraham and his sacrifice of Isaac. Similarly, God had asked us to let go. Yes, our home is of value to us. But God has a different plan for us and we are being obedient by not holding back. We believe God’s command to let go of our home and believe God would be faithful to His promise to provide for us. I trust you, Lord.

We waited a day—one long, nerve-wrecking, emotional, tear-filled day. Then we countered, giving our realtor the power to negotiate. And then we waited. I trust you, Lord.

Praise God the buyers accepted the first counter offer by the next evening, which was only $2,500 below our asking price and meant that we would not have to bring money to closing. It was bittersweet. We weren’t sure whether to celebrate or mourn. We are sad to leave our home and community but also excited for how God was working in our lives and what He has planned for us next—and hoping that He reveals that plan sooner rather than later!

I trust you, Lord.

“And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.” Psalm 9:10

Christmas compassion

It was Saturday afternoon. I was walking around the Dollar Store with Avery as she prepared a “girl” box for Operation Christmas Child. She was sorting through the hair accessories to find just the right pretty things to add to her box, which already had a stuffed animal, cute socks, ring pops and Hello Kitty toiletries, while dad and Charlie were going through school supplies. She asked me quietly: “What about the mom?” I hesitated at first. But realizing what she said, and feeling tender-hearted at her question, I bent down to see her face to face. With eyes tearing up, I hugged her with one arm and said: “Oh, honey, the mom’s gift is seeing her child smile and to watch her child receive a fun box to open.” She nodded and smiled. I knew she understood.

Christmas is a great time to instill a heart for giving and to put into perspective how rich and blessed we truly are. We had talked plenty about these needy children. Both kids were excited about the “big” bag of goodies we went home with to fill the boxes, so we didn’t pass up the opportunity to contrast that with the pile of gifts they get each year for birthdays, Christmas and who knows what else …

The next day, we went through the Samaritan’s Purse gift catalog as a family. As part of our Christmas shopping last year, we included gifts for those in need and continued the tradition this year, each of us making selections.

Avery was already disappointed she couldn’t put food in the Christmas Child gift box, so it was no surprise that she selected Fruit Trees first thing out of the catalog. We also have talked a lot recently about the need for clean water in other countries so I was glad to see her choose a Freshwater Well, too (having updated it from Clean Water for a family because it “would help more people”). Matt and I agreed that we would have added the well if one of the kids didn’t pick it, it was marked “urgent need” after all. I told her to pick 3 items but these were the two most important to her so we focused on those. Charlie can’t help himself, it was harder for him to narrow it down; he chose 4 so it evened out. The first thing I read, he wanted to give. “Of course they need that!” It also touched my heart that he selected Training and Equipping an Evangelist as well as Transform the life of a Disabled Child. Instead of the soccer balls. I shouldn’t be surprised by my sensitive boy, but I was. Of course, watching a child select any item to give to someone in need brings joy to a mom’s heart.

We all have a lot to learn. I know how easy it is to think only of myself. But every act of compassion makes it that much easier to think of others. I hope, for me and my family, the trend will continue after the “giving” season.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore, I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ ” –Deuteronomy 15:11

My first half marathon

I had carefully planned out how to prepare for my first half marathon, the Hillstriders‘ March Madness event in Cary. It was outside my comfort zone for me to register for this run in the first place (and I had to get up at 6am on New Years Eve, the thing sold out in less than 2 hours!). Not only as my first half marathon but as a very competitive race on a tough course (traditionally in inclement weather). This is a race that names its primary hills things like Sneaky Hill, Substantial Hill and Lung Buster hill, oh and Big Hill. I was ready though, at least 4 weeks out. I love hills and I’ve been training on Huntington Hill and the hilly Hanson Rd, not to mention the unpredictable terrain of the single track trails.

But how does the saying go? “The best laid plans of mice and men …” Even the best ideas can go awry. Another reminder to trust God and not myself. Because spring sprung and my respiratory infection became bronchitis that wouldn’t give up, my training plan for the past few weeks instead consisted of sleeping (all day in some cases), catching up with the kids’ and other projects and running all of … 4 times in four weeks. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to finish as fast as I had originally planned, but I was beginning to think I wouldn’t be able to finish at all.

Because I was sick, not only was I unable to run, but I was so fatigued I barely could do anything. Depression started to set in, which made me even more tired and continued a downward spiral for me. I knew there was a combination of mental and physical obstacles that I would have to overcome to snap out of it. Thankfully, God used this time to grow me. He reminded me that while I am a runner, it is not where my identity is found. It was then that I was free to begin to let go of the pride I have in who I am (because of what I have done) instead of who God is and what He can do through me.

After weeks of anticipation and anxiety and an attempt to keep my perspective, the eve of March Madness finally came. Because the run was on Sunday, we went to church Saturday night. There are times I wonder if I should feel guilty for running a race on the Sabbath … but I have discovered that I actually enjoy attending church the night before a race as a last-minute reminder (when my nerves are getting the best of me) that it’s not about me. And in light of the fact that I have been struggling for breath the past few weeks because of the bronchitis/allergies/asthma trifecta, wouldn’t you know it God gave me a song that I had never heard before to close our worship, with the line: “Your breath fills my lungs.” What an amazing gift to me! I can thank God for every breath, even as I am huffing and puffing on the roads of northwestern Illinois. And although I was still nervous for what the next day would bring, I went to bed with a sense of peace I would never expect before a race (especially one like this). The next morning, I woke up with lungs that felt clear and full and I didn’t cough once during the race. To Him be the glory!

Now, fatigue on the other hand, I definitely experienced. I could feel my lack of recent training in the second half of the race.

Once I hit mile 11, I have never wanted to quit so badly in my life. I was embarrassed at first to admit it, thinking that my mental breakdown was a sign of defeat. I. felt. horrible. I whined and complained and dragged my feet for more than 2 miles! I just wanted to be done. But, I continued on. I didn’t quit (though I did walk, which I would NEVER do in a race. Ever.).

I think this experience will only make me stronger. In the end, I finished at 2:05, which I realize is meaningless to most people. My goal was under 2 hours, considering it was a tough course (and a warm day, I didn’t have nearly enough water).

I am disappointed, only because I know I could have done better (I have run longer training runs at a faster pace than this) but the effort I put in went way beyond what my time reflects. It could have been “easy” for me to run the race the way I had planned with the proper training, but I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be challenged and allow God to strengthen me through it all.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” James 1:2

In the beginning …

How do you explain the concept of evolution to a child?

In attempting to do so last night when she was reading a scientific book about brown bears, even my daughter could hear how ridiculous it sounded. Try it. Uh, okay. “The author believes the mommy brown bear had a baby. Then that baby became a mommy and had a baby. Then that baby became a mommy and had a baby … and so it continued until the brown bear became a polar bear.” Her response? “Whaaaat? That doesn’t make any sense!” Smart girl.

Okay, so maybe I am a little biased in my description of evolution. But it did make me stop to think. If I really did believe in it, how would I explain it? I really couldn’t come up with a better way to make sense of it for a 5 and 7 year old.

What I can make sense of (and I know this isn’t true for everyone) is that the Bible is God’s Word. And God’s Word is true. In God’s Word it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” How much simpler is that?

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Gensesis 1:1

My Portion

I’ve been asking God to speak to me LOUD and CLEAR. I so desperately want to hear His voice in the chaos of life. I’m being more intentional about taking quiet time, literally being quiet, to make myself available to what He wants to say. But sometimes it just doesn’t go the way I want.

I’ve been thinking about this and wondering what God’s trying to teach me by being so darn quiet lately. On Sunday, we had a time of reflection where our pastor asked us to think about the chorus from Hillsong’s “You are My Shield:”

You are my Shield, my Strength,
My Portion, Deliverer,
My Shelter, Strong Tower
My very present help in time of need

I wasn’t really sure what we were supposed to do during that time. But at the last second the pastor said to focus on one characteristic and think about what that means to you. I read through the lyrics a few times. Again, feeling a little unsure about whether I was connecting with God through this exercise. I began to wonder if I was doing it right at all? Nothing was shouting out at me.

But I started to think about “Portion.” What does that mean exactly? He is the fulfillment of all my needs, not anything from my own doing or from those around me or anything in this world. I decided for me it meant God is exactly what I needed when I need Him. I don’t know if that’s what the songwriter meant, but it was a powerful statement. Soon, the moment was over and we sang the song together.

When it ended and we were standing to continue worship with another song, Avery–who I didn’t think had been paying attention at all and I was about to “shush” for talking–leaned over to me and asked: “Mom, what does portion mean?”

I blinked back my initial shock that I had been just meditating on that very question and was able to give her a quick but thoughtful answer.

It was comforting confirmation that even when God’s not SHOUTING in my ear, that I can hear Him guiding me when I am willing to listen. He is faithful to provide wisdom when we ask for it.

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26