day 14: New Jersey

new jerseyIt’s called the “Garden State,” but I grew up thinking of New Jersey as the epitome of everything “Northern.” And I hate to admit it, but as a Southern girl, that was not a flattering adjective.

Then I met a real-live person from New Jersey, and I found myself inexplicably drawn to his candor and – when he took me home for the first time – to the unexpected beauty of his state. Yes, New Jersey is more than turnpikes and industrial zones (what most see as they drive through on their way to NYC). There is beauty there. Wildlife, greenery, and people who are truly and deeply kind. My parents-in-law and all of their friends, for example.

There is a loyalty with someone you become friends with from New Jersey. They will be your friend for life, through thick and thin. Now, of course I’m biased since I’m married to a New Jersey man. And I do think God must have chuckled when he saw the younger version of myself making fun of New Jersey accents/etc. He must have been saying – “Just wait … just wait!”

So New Jersey? It’s home of the best tomatoes and blueberries and it holds some of the kindest, most candid, and most loyal people I’ve ever met. Plus it really is  beautiful. Don’t believe me yet? I’ll include a few photos as proof. If you dare, take an exit off the turnpike and visit one of the many charming towns – and you might think you’re in small-town America, not the big industrial New Jersey you’ve always imagined it to be.

IMG_0153 IMG_0157***

This is part of the 31 days of five minute writing series I’m participating in for the month of October. Find more here.

day 5: Mexico

Guadalajara, Mexico, in summer of 2000. I was there to take my Spanish to the next level and to assist missionaries in their outreach to college students. Both happened quite differently than I expected, and both happened in the context of a country unexpectedly beautiful.

photo credit:

photo credit:

I pictured poverty and cardboard shacks and drug cartels, for that’s the Mexico we often think of in the USA. But what I found was extravagant wealth, beauty in the hospitality of the people who were patient with our very broken Spanish and who embraced us because we came to love them. I found a land rich with break-taking sunsets, tropical foliage, and markets bursting with handmade goods of talented artisans. Of course, there were also the pockets of poverty – of a family of 6 living in a room smaller than my dorm room, of the black market CD’s and movies that we just didn’t ask too many questions about as we purchased them. How is this movie already out here when we haven’t even seen it in the theaters back home? 

I remember ear-to-ear smiles of the people whose church we helped to whitewash. I remember the generous Mexican family who invited me and a few of my gringo friends into their home. I remember the waiting and the waiting for dinner as our stomachs growled and we tried to be polite in this Latin take-your-time culture. (I don’t think dinner was served until 9:00pm). I remember that I really knew Spanish by the end of that summer because I had conversed in it and built relationships through it, which became a lifelong motivation to continue with it. guadalajara

Will I return to Guadalajara? I don’t know. But it will always stay with me – the loveliness and hospitality that I hope to emulate to others among us who don’t speak my language or call the US their first home.


[to read the entire series of 31 days of five minute free writes in 2014, click here]

Day 3: new

new snow

photo from

“Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:5) Who doesn’t love new? Like a white blanket of snow unmarked by footprints, “new” begs for us to venture forth in joyful exploration. And new is what the world will be one day, and new is what we in Christ already are. We are the ones who display the “new” to come – the first sign of what will be fully realized at the end of time and the beginning of eternity.

New means we get another chance, that I never run out of grace to cover my sins and failures, that there is always hope for tomorrow and the next minute to be different. New means that I am not defined by who I’m not – I find new identity daily in grace and mercy that hides me securely in Jesus Christ.

What could this look like today, for you and for me? Not only that I walk in the joyous adventure of my new freedom in Christ, unfettered by past sins or future anxieties, but it means I can relate to you with forgiveness. Giving you a new chance to be who God is making you to be. At the end of a difficult day with my daughter, I lean in close as I’m kissing her goodnight and remind us both that tomorrow is a new day. What hope! What lightness – what fresh beauty awaits and what new mercy will cover tomorrow’s imperfections! I can continue to fight against idolatry and to invite you into the same. You will never be outside of the reach of redemption.

For behold, he is making ALL things NEW.


Posting as part of 31 days and Five Minute Friday today.


Day 2: view

I peer over the edge to the water spraying up from 50 or more feet below. The Cliffs of Moher in all their grandeur.cliffs of moher It’s breathtaking and I can’t get enough of the ethereal view.


I wake up early to catch a sunrise. Rare for this non-morning-college student, but that summer I am eager to be reminded of fresh mercies and new glory with the rays of sunlight peeking over the ocean’s horizon. So I set my alarm for 5:00am, and it’s like an appointment with my Creator.myrtle beach sunrise

The pinks and purples stretch across the twilight as the golden ball of fire dips beneath the blue-ridged mountains. There it is again: an unforgettable view that is etched in my memory.NC sunset

Like hidden glory, something to recall on the days when all that I see is the view out my suburban windows of a cloudy sky or a sink piled with dishes and a floor littered with legos of all sizes. To know these views exist in the world, and that I have seen them and drunk deeply of this beauty – it stays with me. Keeps me moving, reminds me of the glory inherent in my world. I will see it again, and to think that in a soul, the beauty of this view of God is even more breathtaking? Oh, let me love the people who inhabit my view as I peer into the glory hidden in these little ordinary 4-year-old souls!

September Book of the Month

photo credit:

photo credit:

All of you who follow my blog know how much I love to read and how much I love to write about what I’m reading. I want to try something new and do an online book report of my favorite book each month. For September, I’ve chosen Made for More by Hannah Anderson (2014: Moody Publishers).

Her subtitle says it all: “an invitation to live in God’s image,” and her book delivers just that. I’ve found on every page a call to reexamine what it means personally and relationally that we as humans are made to image God. To literally be a reflection of the divine. Have you considered this lately? What dignity that gives you and me! And how far we fall from our destiny every day! But Anderson’s book invites you back, invites me back. To live out of my identity – who I truly am. She takes what’s a basic theological truth and states it in new ways. No small thing for this raised-in-the-church seminary grad whose biggest downfall is that I know it all while my life is far from the truth I profess. Passages like these have given me reason to ponder and to live differently:

“…we are by nature image bearers. So when we turn from God, when we refuse to base our identity in Him, we are compelled to find it somewhere else because we must reflect something. … And as we image this false god, our very personhood crystallizes around it. … When we center our identity on these ‘lesser glories,’ we become defined by them, and we end up defining reality by them as well.”

A natural question that follows is what am I reflecting if not God? In looking at my life, too often I see my gaze shift to materialism, success, and productivity. When I image these “gods,” relationships become transactional, time shrinks to my to-do list, and failure causes me to erupt in frustration and anger.

Anderson calls me back to who I am created to be – who Christ has recreated me to be – with the following:

“The paradox of personal identity is that once we accept that we are not what we should be, we are finally in a place to be made what we could be. … Once we admit the inadequacy of our lives, we are finally able to discover the sufficiency of His. And this is what Christ offers us. He offers us His identity; He offers us Himself. When we are joined to Him, when our lives are ‘hidden with Christ in God,’ we can finally die to our old selves because as His image bearers, we become whatever He is.”

A close corollary and outflow to identity as those reflecting Jesus more than the god-of-the-hour is that it changes how and what we love. We pursue what we love and “what you love will determine who you are and what you do.” How are we changed into our true selves? By loving truly because we know we are truly loved.

In a word, this will look like grace. Generous grace. Anderson again pierces my layers of cynicism as she writes –

“In a world where we routinely hurt each other and where little is certain, being generous is risky business. So we refrain from giving; we hold back; we protect ourselves. And in the process, we become cynical, hopeless people who cannot believe in grace for ourselves because we refuse to offer it to others. …nothing could be more damaging to a society than walking away from grace. Because when we walk away from grace, we walk away from the only thing that has the power to heal our brokenness. … we walk away from the only thing that can make us human again.”

Amen, sister! I would go on, but then you would miss out on journeying along with Anderson through this exquisite invitation to your truest identity. Made for More is by far the best book I’ve read about identity – both identity lost through our false image-bearing and identity found in the hope and grace of Jesus as he restores and transforms us to who we were created to be.

beauty in darkness: what’s good about “Good Friday”

I had skimmed over the verse countless times in the 30+ years I’ve read and meditated and studied this familiar account. Good Friday is the time to read the crucifixion story. A story of horror turned beautiful. Yet if you’re like me, too often I jump to the “turned beautiful” part without staying with the horror of what Jesus endured. It’s uncomfortable to sit with the events that culminated in the most gruesome of deaths on a Roman cross. But this week – this Holy Week – asks us to do just that. To sit. To see. To hear. Because in the horror, we are saved. We are deserving of all that the King of Glory endured innocently. And we who bear his name are called to endure similar suffering for the sake of love. Love enters into the messy, the broken, even the so-gruesome-you-can’t-bear-to-hear-it and Love takes it. Love endures. It does not run away. It stays. It shows up.

What feels impossible for you to endure today (and yet you must because of Love)? How can Good Friday become truly “good” for you today? What brokenness do you run from in your own heart and in the lives of those around you?

In my calling as a counselor, I often sit with those who have endured stories of abuse that are too difficult to name. And to think that what I have a hard time hearing is what they lived through. Well, that causes you to pause. To pray. To beg for redemption, for healing, for a Justice to make it all right. 

On Good Friday, we are given just that. Not only in the cross, but in the events leading up to the cross. Here’s the verse that stopped me in my tracks this morning (from Matthew 27:27):

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.

Do you know how many soldiers are in a battalion? I didn’t either, so I checked the footnote and saw that a battalion is “a tenth of a Roman legion; usually about 600 men.” 600 men. Quite different than movies who portray this portion of the scene with a couple soldiers kicking Jesus around. That’s bad enough, but this has an arena quality to it. 600 soldiers. That’s a very full auditorium hall. And what did they gather to do? Well, read on:

And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

Utterly shameful. Shameful if it’s an audience of one, but for these horrors to happen before an arena-size audience of 600? Shame magnified. Shame too great for words. Twice he was stripped of his clothes. In addition to the emotional abuse of this mockery, there was the physical abuse of being “crowned” with thorns and beat on the head with a reed. What is striking is Jesus’ response. Nothing. The one who was God incarnate – who could have called down fire from heaven to devour these fools – stayed still and endured. That is the miracle. The miracle that turns bad into good, abuse into redemption, mockery into honor.

Centuries before, a prophet called Isaiah wrote about this and puts words to the what and the why of all that Jesus endured on “Good” Friday:

Surely he has borne our grief
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed. …
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth …

Because Jesus did not open his mouth when enduring abuse, we can open our mouths and beg for healing and redemption. Healing from our own abuse and from the ways we have abused and oppressed others through our sin – through our brokenness seeking false healings.

In the place of your abuse, there is healing. Because he took the shame for you.

In the place of my sin, there is peace. Because he carried the guilt for me.

In the places where you and I have been silenced, our voice is restored. Because his was silenced this Good Friday.

So go. Walk as one who is healed, who is at peace, who can speak up and speak out and speak of darkness turned beautiful on this most good of Fridays. 

This moment is for lingering …

It’s 5:07 pm. The sunset lingers on a crisp winter day (and quite cold – high of 20!). It’s my favorite time of day actually. And instead of asking “what do I have time to do in the next hour?” I am asking, “what is this moment for?” A question prompted by Katherine’s blog, which you can read here:

There are a thousand ways I could answer that right now. Dishes have piled up in our kitchen from a week busy with concerns more weighty than dinner clean-up. I am preparing to speak at a women’s retreat in March, and after meeting with a mentor to talk this over, I’m aware of the next stage of work needed. Textbooks for a January term class on “Professional Orientation” call out to me. And I haven’t yet finished the book for book club tomorrow (“Joy in the Morning” by Betty Smith).

But now is a time to linger. It’s been a long week. Many burdens to bear, much praying, asking for wisdom. It is good to rest in this moment. To remember how beautiful creation can be and how good the Creator is.

What kinds of moments do you take time to savor? What distracts you from lingering?