the value of the hidden work of love

“How do you do it all?” It’s a question I often hear in response to the oh-so-complex question of, “What do you do?” When I reply that I’m a mom to 4-year-old twins, pastor’s wife, part-time counselor at our church, and writing a book – it does sound quite “impressive” (or overwhelming). I often reply tongue-in-cheek – “Not very well!” – to the aforesaid question. Most people don’t believe me. Except for those closest to me.

Seth, my husband, sees the dishes and laundry piling up alongside my frustration to try to do it all. My daughters experience the always-weary mama who too often opts for screen time so that I can finish a writing project or just get a nap. (They’ve almost completely dropped their afternoon nap.) My parents and in-laws and siblings and siblings-in-law and nieces and nephews and aunts and uncles and cousins don’t get as much “Heather time” as I wish I could give them. Life right now feels like a delicate balancing act that I can’t do too well.

loving lifeAnd, true, I need to learn to prioritize (and identify “posteriorities” as DeYoung describes in Crazy Busy). Yet I also need to learn to embrace the hidden work of love that is my life with a family of young kids. To see this as a grounding point of my life rather than a distraction from work/writing/etc. Enter the so-good and so-convicting words of Paul Miller in A Loving Life

We usually recoil from the cost of love, thinking it is an alien substance, but it is the essence of love. … True glory is almost always hidden – when you are enduring quietly with no cheering crowd. … We experience a strange and powerful presence of God during those moments of hidden love. When you hang in there on the journey of love, when you endure and don’t take the exits of distance and cynicism, God shows up.

The parts of my life that are public are quite frankly, the easiest parts of life right now. Sure, it takes time and thought and work to prepare a talk for women, or to write the next chapter of my book, or to teach Sunday school, but I always get affirmation in these public areas of service. Motherhood and marriage? Not so. If I am loving my daughters and husband well, there is not an adoring crowd to let me know. If I’m not loving them well, I can hide this from others or gloss over my failures as “hard days/weeks/stages.” For me, it is this hidden work of loving family that shows me where I most desperately need the grace of a Savior and the endurance of the Spirit. 

Miller talks about this in his own life, capturing it in this sentence that aptly describes the past few weeks after a great deal of public ministry:  “God was giving me a hidden work of love to balance out the public ministry of teaching.” He talks about this in the life of Ruth, saying that in relation to Naomi, she “cheerfully pursued the bondage of love.”

It is so counter-cultural and counter-self-actualization to love like this. Which is why I cannot love like this without Jesus’ life at work in me. As Jesus’ love takes deeper root in my heart, there will be more joy in the hidden work of love – which will have the happy effect of enriching the public ministries of love, too. I end with this description:

…if I love only when I feel like it, then I’ve really not understood love. … Love like this strips us of self-will and purifies our motivations. It is surprisingly liberating because we’re not trapped by either our feelings or the other person’s response. When neither preserving the relationship nor our feelings is central, we’re free to offer the other person a rich tapestry of love.

Five Minute “Friday”: share

It’s been a good week. Dare I say, even one of the *best* weeks of my life because of thrilling news: Crossway accepted my book proposal! I have been dreaming of writing a book since I was a girl who loved to get lost in the worlds (and words) of Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and Nancy Drew. It’s been a dream I have been afraid of naming, much less pursuing, until the last few years as my writing/blogging grew and so did my courage. But in June at The Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, God opened doors that led to a contact with one of Crossway’s acquisitions editors. He patiently walked me through the process of creating a book proposal over the last 5 months, and then he delivered the happy news of its acceptance on Thursday afternoon! Now my real work begins of *writing* the book … but I’ve never been more ready in my life. And you, dear readers, are a large part of my growing courage to venture so greatly. So thank you for your support, and for reading, and for your comments, and for your cheerleading all along the way. I am excited to have *you* on this journey with me!

Ok – now on to Five Minute Friday and today’s word: “share.”



She offers her homemade gift with eager hands and a shy smile. It’s a picture of me with her and her twin sister – “to help you feel better, Mommy!” [I’ve been sick in bed with strep since Thursday.] It is easy for her to share this – but ask her to share her favorite toy with her twin? How dare I suggest such a thing!

And isn’t that how it is for me, too? I am eager to share on my terms, in my way, with what I’m willing to give. When God asks me to share past the point of comfortable, well, now, I am not sure I am so excited about this whole concept. I can think of many reasons to hoard my resources. I feel entitled to “my” rights and “my” time and “my” things. But God is patient. He gently unfurls my clenched fist, reminds me that all that I have is a gift from him. He assures me that I can never out-give his ability to provide for me, his ability to generously restore any “loss” on my part. Even if it’s not a material restoration – it will be better. Treasures in heaven. And the joy that comes with giving beyond what duty requires.


Five Minute Friday is an online writing community who writes for five minutes on a given topic every Friday – unedited, simply for the joy of writing. Hosted by Kate Motaung here.


2015 word of the year: focus

My parents knew I needed glasses because I complained that I could not read the daily homework assignments in fourth grade. I squinted often, come to think of it. When they took me to the eye doctor, he confirmed what they suspected: I needed glasses. Badly. Once I slipped on my first pair, I could not believe the high-definition that existed in the world around me. What had been obscure was now crystal clear. 

Life is not so dissimilar. It is easy to lose focus, easy for the world to become blurry in my fast-paced crazy busyness as I jump from one task to another. When life moves at the speed of a high-speed train, the landscape around me becomes obscured, and I forget where I’m going and why I am here. To-do lists rule my daily agenda, and tasks can loom larger than people. My mission too easily shifts to “put out another [relational or logistical] fire” in a life of full-time ministry – which is not unique to me, since all of our labor as Christians is ministry regardless of profession. The contours of my life specifically exacerbate this tendency: part-time counselor, full-time mom to 4-year-old twins, wife to a full-time pastor, daughter-in-law to aging parents recently moved to town. Crises arise with some frequency and with varied degrees of perceived urgency. It is hard to decide what should be shifted to accommodate the need of the week (or day or hour).

What I need is focus. I need my world to stop racing around me in a blurry whirl and to be able to focus on the one thing that is needed, like Mary as she sat at Jesus’ feet. In this moment, what do I need? Who is before me? How can I ask God and others for help to lift heavy burdens? Where is the joy that I might miss right now if I’m focused on the stress of tomorrow or tonight or next month or next year? And how does remembering the big picture – the long-term – bring focus to the immediate so that I don’t get caught in the urgent, neglecting the important?

I need focus, and I need to focus. Focus is the word of my year for 2015. Not as poetic as last year’s light or 2013’s new. But oh so needed! I love that focus is both what I do (verb) and the object I am looking at (noun). And I sense God inviting me to to allow space [white space/margin/boundaries] to help me to focus better on what I profess to be my priorities, both in how I spend my time (what I do) and what I give my attention to (my focus). Focus implies intense gaze and intent – direction. It’s where you’re going and how you are going to get there.

I am indebted to a few great thinkers and writers who have helped me in mulling this over – Kevin DeYoung’s book Crazy Busy being the top of my list, followed by Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection and Emily Freeman’s A Million Little Ways, and one that brought it all into focus as viewed through the lens of parenting is Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting.

Most of all, I am indebted to my Redeemer, who is patient to continually draw his distracted-by-many-things daughter back to the one thing needed: sitting at his feet, focusing on the one whose love is constant and whose gaze never leaves me (as many times as mine leaves his). These passages of Scripture are prayers for me in 2015. Join me?

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

“And a woman named Martha welcomed [Jesus] into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

how to survive your husband’s mission trip (or business trip)

A post I wrote a few weeks ago when my husband was in Peru for a 10-day mission trip. For obvious (security) reasons, I’m just now posting it. I hope it’s helpful. And, hey, I did survive that trip. The two things that were MOST crucial were (1) my mom coming to visit and help out for the second half of his absence (just when I felt like I might pull my hair out, or someone’s hair out) and (2) LOTS of grace extended to me and the girls by Jesus – good sleeping, no illness, presence of mind to take breaks when I/they needed them.


Two years ago, my husband led his first mission trip to India. Our twin daughters were 18-months-old, and they were just rounding the bend of that quite difficult “terrible two’s” stage that lasted for quite too long. Needless to say, the ten days he was across the world serving God in vibrant, spiritually energizing ways, I was pulling my hair out exhausted and worn out from solo-parenting these girls. He returned home, and as he shared stories of seeing God work in incredible ways, I grew increasingly resentful and jealous. I told him in bitter jest that I would not allow him to go on another mission trip until our daughters were in school full-time.

Three days ago he left for Peru for another mission trip. And you know what? This time around it’s been so much better. I have taken a few pages out of the books of my amazing Navy wife friends who are called upon to endure MONTHS of deployments, sometimes at little more than a few weeks’ notice. As I have seen them (you) endure these long days and weeks and months without your husband, I have learned a few tips that I tried to implement this time around. I share them in hopes of encouraging you who may be in the same boat.

  1. Say yes to help. Myriads of people in your community really want to help you. If they offer, take them up on it. Say “yes”! Write their names down; call them when a need arises. We cannot do this alone. Just like it will take an entire team to do the missions work my husband is engaged in, it will take a team (of your “village”) to help sustain you while you await his return.
  2. Plan fun activities. I’ve tried to do things we do not usually do, and to plan one main fun activity each day. Like going swimming; eating ice cream; having a sleepover with friends. This has made the days pass more quickly for them and for me.
  3. Be especially intentional and attentive. It’s not just hard on me – it’s also hard on my kiddos not to have Daddy around to break up their days. So I’m trying to stretch myself and do more spontaneous play than I usually do – and if the dishes don’t get washed by the end of the day, no big deal. There’s always tomorrow … !
  4. Join with them in prayer. I joined with the other wives of team members to pray for our husbands and their team. It was encouraging to lift up this team together and feel like we were a very real part of their missions work. It also helped to build camaraderie among us “left behind.”
  5. Stock up on supplies. Day one (when we had the most energy), we went to the grocery store and loaded our cart with lots of “happy food.” Meaning, ice cream and chocolate syrup and frozen meals and sugary snacks we don’t usually buy. I put a few beverages of choice in the cart, and we went off on our merry way into the week ahead.
  6. Remember that Jesus is my provision as much as he is my husband’s provision. Part of God providing for Seth to go on this mission trip is an implicit promise that he will also provide for me as I’m at home alone with our girls. I also have an opportunity to trust God more fully and to watch him show up in surprising ways for me.

5 Mentoring Lessons From Beverlee

It’s been more than four years since I last met with Beverlee in her living room over a cup of steaming Lady Grey tea and chatted about life, ministry, and relationships. She invested in me, a barely-one-year-into-marriage new seminary graduate beginning to counsel and serve on staff with a church plant. She was an older woman with decades of experience in ministry, including overseas missions and full-time campus ministry. She was not strong during those two years we met weekly. I did not know it, but she might have: those were the last two years of her life, and she suffered from complications of diabetes that often robbed her of sleep and forced her to be homebound.

Yet she taught me more about mentoring, discipleship, gospel-centered friendship than almost anyone else in my adult life so far. Her legacy of gracious, selfless love and care for others even in the midst of her own pain lives on while she lives in glory. I hope to continue that legacy by sharing with you some of what she taught me.

1. Gospel mentoring flows out of weakness, not strength.

She was physically weak for most of the two years that we met together. She easily could have complained and focused on her own pain and ailments, seeking my comfort and prayers. I certainly did pray for this dear woman and seek to comfort her, but it was not because of her complaints. The pain was written on her face, and yet she repeatedly asked me how I was doing; what she could be praying about; and entered into what seemed like my petty struggles (in comparison).

[read the rest over at The Gospel Coalition today]


For  another article on mentoring I wrote:  “When Mentoring Exposes Your Idol of Being Needed.”

When Father’s Day hurts

I was blessed to be raised by a dad who loved me well as his daughter. He cherished me, led me to Jesus over and over again, and proudly gave me away to the man I married almost eight years ago. This man has been a father for four years to our twin daughters, and I daily thank God that my girls have such a father to call “Daddy.”

This isn’t an article about my pain, but it’s an article about the pain so many of you carry on this day. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and in my calling as a counselor and friend, I have heard your stories, and I hurt for you today. I wanted you to know that someone notices, sees, and acknowledges today’s pain.

Today may be painful because you’re grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you’ve tried to fill a thousand other ways.

Pain may show up in many different ways. …

Read more  here at The Gospel Coalition Blog where this article is published today.

reflection on “crazy busy”

crazy busyHow many times this month, this year, my lifetime have I answered the question, “how are you?” with a one word response and a glib smile, “Busy!” We wear busy like a badge of honor at times. I’ve worn busy like a shield. It “protects” me from engaging relationships and my heart. Busy is not an answer to how are you. Busy is a status update and a state of mind. Busy has kept me from needful reflection. Busy fills in the gaps I don’t need to fill. I need margin in my life, and so do you. 

Enter in Kevin DeYoung’s brilliant and appropriately titled book, “Crazy Busy.” I think this will be my #bookofthemonth. (or better yet, #bookofmylife) Full of zingers written not from “above” (meaning the place of “here’s my wisdom for all of you down there who struggle with overcommitment and lack of margin in your life”) – but right alongside. I found his honesty refreshing, and his insights convicting. For example, his one sentence diagnosis of the problem of our busy lives:

We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.

Not until they’re absent, that is. Like for me most recently as I emerged from a three-month period of time where I had overcommitted to work, and I found that I’d missed so much in terms of connecting with my family and friends, and nurturing physical health, and saw abundant evidence that I’d been running on empty in terms of emotional availability to those I love most. DeYoung speaks to this:

Most of us fall into a predictable pattern. We start to get overwhelmed by one or two big projects. Then we feel crushed by the daily grind. Then we despair of ever feeling at peace again and swear that something has to change. Then two weeks later life is more bearable, and we forget about our oath until the cycle starts all over again. What we don’t realize is that all the while we’ve been a joyless wretch, snapping like a turtle and as personally engaging as a cat. When busyness goes after joy, it goes after everyone’s joy.

He discusses the question of why with seven diagnoses. Why so busy? Why do we (you, me) get into these cycles of crazy busy? And not seem to fully disengage from busy? What gets me so often is the lie of indispensability. That I am irreplaceable, and that if I don’t do [fill-in-the-blank], then it won’t get done – or it won’t get done well. And he rightly says, “the truth is, you’re only indispensable until you say no.” This is under Diagnosis #1 of “You Are Beset with Many Manifestations of Pride.” And in case that doesn’t get you, wait until Diagnosis #5 – “You Are Letting The Screen Strangle Your Soul” and #6 – “You’d Better Rest Yourself before You Wreck Yourself.”

DeYoung presents the quest to let go of “crazy busy” as a community pursuit. And how that resonates with me! I need the example of friends who say “no” graciously and who live joyfully within their limits. I also need to learn to give others space to not reply to my email or text right away. And I need you to remind me of these words I’ve placed before you – a resolution to say “no” to crazy busy and “yes” to life. Real life. I end here:

The antidote to busyness of soul is not sloth and indifference. The antidote is rest, rhythm, death to pride, acceptance of our finitude, and trust in the providence of God. The busyness that’s bad is not the busyness of work, but the busyness that works hard at the wrong things. It’s being busy trying to please people, busy trying to control others, busy trying to do things we haven’t been called to do.


Countdown to 2014: top 10 books read in 2013, part 2

The countdown continues from yesterday. Without further ado, here are the next three:

#7 Gospel in Life by Tim Keller (2010)

Our community small group from church did this study together this fall, and it was excellent in every way – from the “homework” to do on your own each week to the DVD we watched together and discussed each week. We were challenged to see how faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ should make a difference in our hearts’ affections and attentions, resulting in a changed perspective in our work so that we would make noticeable, positive differences in our neighborhoods and cities. Keller began with the thought-provoking idea that as much as our cities need the gospel,  we Christians need the city in order to more deeply and fully live out the gospel in our own lives (through meaningful engagement in the issues of our city, especially regarding mercy and justice). Well worth a read!

#6 Seven by Jen Hatmaker (2012)

This book talks about ways to be engaged in social justice and pursuing less – rather than the “more” I assumed I’m entitled to when I live by the American dream.  Hatmaker takes readers along on her journey through seven radical experiments of “less is more” including these particularly hitting-close-to-home areas for me: clothing, waste, spending, and technology. I wish I could say that I’ve continued to live up to these ideals she discusses, but I haven’t. What I have started is being mindful about small choices in all areas, and to begin considering how to make “less” on earth translate into “more” for the kingdom of heaven. I probably should re-read this one every year to be shocked out of my comfort zone and reminded of a bigger perspective. 

One quote from her that bears repeating (from my initial reflections when reading this book earlier this year):

Jesus’ kingdom continues in the same manner it was launched: through humility, subversion, love, sacrifice; through calling empty religion to reform and behaving like we believe the meek will indeed inherit the earth. We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.

#5 Carry On, Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (2013)

Not many books are laugh-out-loud funny, deeply insightful, and thought-provoking all at the same time. Glennon has done this beautifully in stories from her own life that are real and honest and brave, as she calls her readers to do the same. “We can do hard things,” is a favorite line that I need often, and that I try to give to my daughters, too. Equally important, if not more so, is how she talks about the practice of being kind (in contrast to how we often teach our kids: “be right! at all costs! no matter who gets in your way!”). My friend-in-real-life who’s also a talented blogger, Mary, gave a favorite review of this book on her blog here


Stay tuned for more of the countdown tomorrow …


Thursday free write

I sit in a quiet, secluded room of the Y, looking out at the Norfolk skyline on the fourth rainy day (or so) we have had this week. A welcome respite for the dry ground, which has not received actual rainfall that counted since August 10.

And here is a picture of my soul this past month. There have been waterings occasionally, but nothing substantial. It’s been busy, busy with good and beautiful things like one last vacation at the beach and the twins’ third birthday and retreat speaking and community group and women’s Bible study and preschool. So I took a soul time out this morning, and I did a yoga class followed by this space. This space of breathing. Of noticing life rather than letting it rush me by. Yoga felt slow to my fast-paced world of efficiency. And isn’t that illuminating?

On a date with Seth last week, I realized a few things – that writing helps my soul to breathe and I haven’t been doing that enough this fall; that when exercise is pushed off my plate it means the plate is too full; and that weekends need to be empty when the weekday rhythm of a pastor and counselor’s family leaves us all coming up for breath at its end.

What am I doing about it? Well … this. Starting to get in the habit of writing again. Saying no to external demands to say yes to Christ’s whispered invitation to my soul to “Come … all who labor … and R E S T.” What helps you to rest? What keeps you from it? Do share. We all need reminders and ideas of how to pursue the rest for which we have been redeemed.

mentoring lessons from Beverlee

It’s been over four years since I last met with Beverlee in her living room over a cup of steaming Lady Grey tea and chatted about life, ministry, and relationships. She invested in me, a just-one-year-into-marriage new seminary graduate beginning to counsel and serve on staff with a church plant, from her place as an older woman with decades of experience in ministry including overseas missions and full-time campus ministry. She was not strong but weak during those two years that we met weekly. We did not know it, but she might have: those were the last two years of her life and she suffered from complications of diabetes that often robbed her of sleep and forced her to be homebound. Yet she taught me more about mentoring/discipleship/gospel-centered friendship than almost anyone else in my adult life so far. Her legacy of gracious, selfless love and care for others even in the midst of her own pain lives on while she lives in Glory. And so I hope to continue that legacy by sharing with you some of what she taught me.

  1. Gospel mentoring flows out of weakness, not strength. She was physically weak for most of the two years that we met together. She easily could have complained and focused on her own pain and ailments, seeking my comfort and prayers. I certainly did pray for this dear woman and seek to comfort her, but it was not because of her complaints. The pain was written on her face, and yet she repeatedly asked me how I was doing; what she could be praying about; and entered into what seemed like my petty struggles (in comparison) of a new counselor and wife seeking to find my way in marriage and ministry.
  2. Offer what you have. She could not leave her house, but she reached out to me through phone calls; invited me weekly to come for tea to chat and pray; followed up in tracking me down in my busy, cluttered life of overcommitment. When I first began mentoring/discipling younger women, I was a college student with more free time than I realized. I met with a small group of younger women weekly for 1-2 hours of Bible study and prayer, and then sought to meet individually with each woman weekly outside of that time. After graduating from college, I volunteered with a campus ministry and discipleship/mentoring took a very similar shape then, too. Fast forward 10+ years, and my life as a pastor’s wife, mom to twin preschoolers, and part-time counselor does not allow me to devote the same kind of time to mentoring. Yet it is freeing to remember that mentoring involves offering what I have. And what I have is much less than before – but I still have something to offer. Meetings now take place in the evenings, during naptimes, or on weekends. Sometimes they include meeting somewhere where my kids can play. If I meet with a younger woman even once a month, that’s my “regular” during this season of my life.
  3. Mentoring begins with prayer. She prayed for me when I wasn’t with her, and we prayed together when we met weekly. She followed up about what she was praying for, and there was no secret to the source of the power she depended on herself. Only Jesus sustained her during her most painful days and nights.
  4. Mentoring at its simplest is being intentional to care for another. She initiated getting to know me when I first came on staff with the church plant she helped to start, and she intentionally “took me under her wings,” so to speak. She would call me if we hadn’t seen each other for awhile, and she invited me to meet regularly for the soul respite I so desperately needed.
  5. Gentle challenge embedded in love is an essential part of mentoring. When I had a petty complaint about marriage, she gently challenged me to love. She gave examples from her own life about love as thinking of your spouse often during the day, and then telling him about things that brought him to mind. She shared everything with her beloved Collier, as he did with her. And she encouraged me to do the same – speaking words of reproof into my life as needed.

Do I follow Beverlee’s example perfectly? Far from it. And she herself would be the first to remind me, if she could, that she was not perfect herself. But the call of following Jesus in the ministry of mentoring is a call to lay down your life – as it is – for another. It’s a call to find the grace and strength needed in the midst of my weakness in the cross, not my false notions of self-sufficiency. It is to offer to another the Life I have found and to encourage her to seek Life from this source with me. Until the day when instead of seeing dimly we will, like Beverlee now, see face-to-face the Glory to which we witness. [1 Corinthians 13:12 – “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”]