“I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.” Psalms 138:14
You arrived in a whirlwind, a little over a month ago, forever changing the lives of those around you. With your dark hair, chubby cheeks, and rosebud lips, you have already enchanted us. We can’t wait to see your personality unfold, your interests develop, and your heart grow towards God.
I offer this letter as a prayer for you, sweet baby Eva. Not raised as Christians, both your Nana and I came to our faith as teenagers and young adults. Already shaped by our environments, we embodied inaccurate and wounding messages about our worth. We have submitted to the Holy Spirit, allowing God to change us, but this is a process. Unfortunately, some of those messages stuck hard, shaping us as wives, mothers, and friends. They influenced how we viewed ourselves in relation to God. And through the Holy Spirit, we are still dismantling those messages.
This world has a lot to say about how a young girl should measure her worth. Some measure her worth by her appearance: how she looks and what she wears. Some measure her worth by what she accomplishes: what her grades are like or what talents she develops. Still others measure her worth by their opinions, motivating a young woman to seek the approval of others. But God doesn’t measure your worth through your appearance, accomplishments, or approval of others. These are cheap imitations that lead to an unhealthy self-image, competition, and unfulfillment!
Eva, you are precious in the sight of the Lord, because God created you in His image. You reflect the image of God, and this reflection will be as distinctive as your very fingerprints. David, in Psalms 139: 13, records that God knitted you together while still in your mother’s womb. This majestic being took the time to craft you together. In the next verse, David goes on to say that wonderful are the works of God.
Someday, you will go to see a valuable piece of art in a museum. They carefully display these pieces in rooms under supervision, temperature control, and limited lighting. Irreplaceable, they preserve these artworks for future generations to enjoy their beauty. Any necessary preservation work is done carefully with state-of-the-art materials to keep the essence of the original artist’s creation.
Eva, just like those art pieces, you are valuable to God. Your parents are responsible for raising you in a safe environment where you can display the glory of God in your life. They will also share with you the gospel and how God’s light will lead you to comfort, peace, and joy. I pray this environment, in harmony with the gospel, will help you develop into a godly woman who is confident, compassionate, and seeks collaboration. I pray you will be confident, knowing who you are in God. I pray you will be compassionate, knowing that God is more interested in what kind of person you are than in what you do. I pray you will collaborate with the body of Christ, knowing that as you work with others, you are working together for the kingdom.
I pray you will be a strong woman like those depicted in the Bible. Be a Ruth, choosing to serve the one true God despite her mother-in-law’s despair, changing her lineage forever. Be an Abigail, choosing to be a gracious hostess, soothing a future king from making a fatal mistake. Be an Esther, courageously coming before a king on behalf of her people, declaring if she perished, she perished. Be a Mary, who declared definitively, “Be it unto me, according to your word” despite facing possible rejection and death from her future husband. Most importantly, be the woman God has called you to be!
Eva, strong women surround you, including your mama, your Nana, your Aunt Maggie, and myself. I hope that, despite our woundings, you also see the different ways God’s image is reflected in us as individual women of worth. But ultimately, I pray that we always point you back to the creator, who is the ultimate source of your worth!
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34
The package was small and compact; I knew it was a book of some sort. Delighted, I tore open the wrapped gift, glimpsing the title, “Jane-a-Day”. It was a five-year journal prompted daily with a witty quote from one of my favorites, Jane Austen. And so, I started the journal in 2015, dropping it for most of the year, picking it up again in 2018, and then, in 2020, developing a consistent habit. Limiting myself to a few sentences about my day was hard. Sometimes I tried to spring off Austen’s quotes, quickly recognizing I am not witty. Other times, I wrote a brief prayer. Finally, a habit of writing short conclusions of my days, hopes for the future sprinkled in with major events of my life, filled my book. These events include the weddings of both my children, the births of my grandchildren, and visits from family and friends. But the events also include some hard moments, including accidents, unexpected deaths, and disappointments.
One of these events happened four years ago, marking an unwelcome anniversary of some sort in my marriage. Although this event changed us and our marriage for the better, it still isn’t the journey either of us would have chosen. I don’t want to celebrate this event, but inked words are an echo of what happened. And on that date, four years later, my shoulders scrunch up with tension as I desperately try to write something new, hoping to redeem the day.
It’s no secret: I love to read. I read across genres with old and new writers. My TBR list (for non-bibliophiles that means “to be read”) grows daily, aided by recommendations made by podcast hosts. I am often at the mercy of the library system, reserving books and waiting for whatever shows up. It might be a collage of fiction, cookbooks, or memoirs. There are few modern writers that I admire so much that I automatically purchase their new books instead of waiting for the library. This year, two of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp and Shauna Niequist, came out with new material. I have already talked about Ann Voskamp’s Waymaker in a previous blog. Her poetic prose challenges and inspires me. No less talented, Shauna Niequist crafts words into sentences that make me pause and reflect. Her words seem to synthesize random thoughts in my head, like excellent coffee, sipped slowly to taste the undertones of citrus, blackberry, or bourbon. If you gulp the coffee, the flavors become muddled, but when I read her words slowly, clarity emerges in my life.
Shauna Niequist’s, “i guess I haven’t learned that yet”, was released in April (and, no, the lower-case “I” is not a mistake). It chronicles her last couple of years of hard moments and a major move to New York City with her family. Amid wedding planning, I put the book on my nightstand, hoping to read snippets of it in the evening. But time got away, and the book got shoved under other books, gathering dust. Recently, I rediscovered the book and began my journey of reading and underlining whole paragraphs.
On page 32, Niequist titles the chapter, Hello to Here. She tells us, “A wise friend of mine says that true spiritual maturity is nothing more and nothing less than consenting to reality. Hello to here -not what you wanted or longed for or lost, not what you hope for or imagine, Reality. This here. This now.” I took a deep breath as I read and reread her words again and again. Events in my past and future possibilities collided. And I stopped, thinking again about what she had to say, drawing some conclusions.
I need to stop pouring emotional energy into unwanted anniversaries. Mistakes I’ve made in parenting and relationships have no do-overs, only apologies and acceptance of forgiveness. I can’t change my past at all, none of it. And that is hard to swallow. But as long as I live in the past, I can’t move forward.
I also have some major uncertainties in my life for my future and the future of others I love. These uncertainties sweep over me like waves, threatening to pull me under. But the reality is they are completely beyond my control. I have pleaded with God asking him to reveal a glimpse of what the future holds, so I can rest in peace. I want to know that some things I have prioritized in my life and in others were worthwhile, yielding the outcomes I had planned. I want a sign so that what seems so difficult now is easier to process because of a hope I can see.
But God calls me to the present, not to my past or my future. Yes, I should learn from my past and prepare for my future. But I need to live in the here and now only moving forward second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. The prophet Isaiah records in chapter 43, verses 18-19, “Remember not the former things, no consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
This living in the here and now is hard! So hard!! It’s letting go of both, the narrative of the past and the control of the future. It is positioning myself before God in complete humility, recognizing I don’t have the answers or solutions. But when I choose to live in the here and now, I learn to trust God, who has all the answers. He does a new thing, something unexpected, making a way in the wilderness and a river in the dry desert. He is such a good God!! And when I trust and recognize His goodness, I can rest with a hope that I can’t see.
Recently, I spent two weeks with my grandson and my brand-new granddaughter. There are not a lot of photographs to record my stay, partially because I am a terrible photographer. But the other part is hat I choose to be present with my family, not worried about photo ops. Maybe someday I will regret not having more pictures, but right now, I am choosing to be present in the here and now, and it feels good! My journal ends in two months. The idea of a five-year-journal is good. But I am glad that I will no longer have that day remembered. Instead, I plan to continue to journal, not wanting to change the past or predict the future, choosing instead to live in the here and now!
“However, as it is written:”What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”, the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
1 Corinthians 2:9
When I was in the fifth grade, I entered Narnia for the first time when I discovered The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe on a shelf in the Sheboygan Falls Library. Taking the book home, I devoured the pages as fast as Edmund devoured his Turkish Delight. I imagined discovering a wardrobe, climbing inside, and being transported to a new land. I wanted to meet a faun and have dinner with talking beavers. I cried when Aslan died at the hand of the White Witch and rejoiced when he came back to life. I continued with the other books in the series, but they did not really capture my attention until later.
I rediscovered the land of Narnia as a new mother, when I was looking for some light reading while caring for two active toddlers. I quickly realized that what I thought was light reading was really a treasure trove of spiritual insights. I celebrated the beauty of creation reading The Magician’s Nephew. I longed for the boldness of Reepicheep, a little mouse, when defending the kingdom. I was moved to repentance when I saw Eustace, a boy who was turned into a dragon, have his pride stripped away along with his dragon skin by Aslan’s claws. I longed for heaven reading The Last Battle.
C.S. Lewis, the author of The Chronicles of Narnia series, is considered one of the foremost apologists of the twentieth century. He not only wrote children’s books, but also many books on Christianity, discussing, among other things, the concepts of faith, joy, and grace. He is often quoted by many modern theologians. Although his Narnia books can point someone towards God, Lewis would be the first to argue that the Bible, a rich living text, should be the ultimate source for understanding God. He had a rich understanding of the Bible and how it applied to the bigger picture, the picture of our story fitting into God’s story.
The whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is the epic story of God. In Women of the Word, Jen Wilkin says, “the Bible is telling us about the reign and rule of God. Its topography speaks of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration in every vista.” It is not just a manual on how to live as a Christian or a map pointing our way toward heaven. It is God’s story, revealing His character. His majesty and artistry are displayed through His words as He speaks creation into existence in Genesis. He bestowed a special status on humans when He created them in His own image, longing to fellowship with them. Yet, this state of perfection was marred when sin separated man from his creator. Despite this fallen state, God had a merciful plan fully revealed in the life of Jesus. Jesus redeemed man from sin by dying on the cross, bringing to us the hope of restoration through His resurrection!
This epic story, the Bible, has lots of supporting characters, such as Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Esther, Daniel, Peter, and Paul. All these characters have different stories in different settings. Some spent their lives wandering in deserts while others lived in palaces. Some were fishermen while others earned their living through prostitution. Yet, despite the vast differences in these characters and their various circumstances, God ordained these stories to be a part of His written word because they played a part in His larger story. For example, Rahab, although she was a prostitute, recognized the power of the God and chose to hide the Hebrew spies. This simple act of faith resulted in her family being rescued from the fall of Jericho. Furthermore, her reputation was restored when her name was recorded in the lineage of Jesus! She had no idea that generations later, despite her past, her DNA would play a part in the redemption of the whole world.
It is easy to get a microscopic view of our lives. We get caught up in our day to day living, not realizing that our lives are bigger than the short years we live on earth. Our story, with God’s hand, plays a part in not just the lives of those immediately around us, but in generations to come, as well. Like Rahab, we have an epic part to play in God’s story.
Although I am in the process of writing a book about my own epic story, my story starts with my Uncle Dennis, as a young man searching for God in 1975. Dennis, my mom’s older brother, had his hunger stirred for God by a friend’s testimony. He attended a church service in a different city from where he lived and immediately saw his need to be baptized. He left that service, having given his heart to God and with a desire to know God more. He started reading the Bible, found a local church to attend, and has served God ever since.
Although Dennis has an extensive knowledge of the Bible, he never felt called to preach. He has never been a Sunday School teacher. He does not write a blog or make Facebook posts expounding on his faith. Yet, in his quiet faithful way, he has impacted many lives, including mine and, as a result, the lives of my children and my grandchild. First, as a little girl, I can remember my uncle being the first man to compliment me on my appearance. As a five-year-old, I would twirl around in my strawberry peasant dress, soaking in his compliments, grinning from ear to ear when he called me “strawberry shortcake.” These simple words acted as antidote to the insults I heard at home, giving me hope that I was something more. He was also the person who introduced me to God by bringing me to Sunday School as a child. For a short season, those few hours every Sunday morning provided me with peace from the swirling chaos at home. Later, after I stopped attending regularly, he continued to pray for me, sometimes prompted by dreams God had given to him. I believe these prayers provided a hedge of protection around me and my family. Finally, my Uncle Dennis and Aunt Brenda, despite being in the middle of one of their darkest moments, reached out to me when my brokenness came to light. They embodied the love of Christ by setting aside their own pain and reaching out to a shattered teenager, giving her hope when she felt hopeless. This simple act was the beginning of my restoration process!
My story was not the only story impacted by my uncle’s life. The obvious transformation of his life by Jesus gave him the boldness to invite a co-worker, Marvin, out to a revival service. Later, Marvin shared with his wife about the invitation, while their son, Wayne, who had been searching for God on his own, overheard the conversation in his room. Wayne instantly felt a stirring in his heart and, of his own volition, attended a revival service that Sunday evening. He walked into the church not knowing anyone personally, but knowing only the name of his father’s coworker, Dennis. Wayne was later instrumental in leading his whole family and others into a relationship with the Lord. In addition, Dennis and Brenda ministered to countless teenagers, mentoring them in their walks with God. Finally, Dennis provided a source of consistency and strength in the life of his wife and daughter. This quiet man would not describe his life as being epic, but his impact, like most supporting characters in the Bible, is impacting generational stories in the epic story of God!
As an adult, I understand more of the symbolism in the stories of Narnia. I get chills every time I read the last chapter of The Magician’s Nephew. The main character, a young boy named Digory, has brought darkness into the newly created world of Narnia by his sinful behavior. After partially redeeming himself for his mistake, Digory later plants a Narnian seed at his home in London. This seed grows into a magnificent tree, which is later cut down and the wood used to build a wardrobe. This same wardrobe becomes the gateway for others to enter the land of Narnia. My story and your story, just like my Uncle Dennis’ story, can become the gateway to the redemption of others by God, leading to their own story of restoration!
In The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis ends The Chronicles of Narnia series with the following paragraph:
“And as He spoke He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
Our stories may have different characters, settings, and conflicts. However, despite these differences, we all need to find resolutions to our own individual conflicts through the life of Jesus, taking our place in His epic story. What is amazing is that our story can continue to be written for eternity, finding complete restoration with God. With our finite minds, we cannot imagine what God has in store for us. 1 Corinthians 2:9 declares, “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love him.”
Enjoying snuggles with my new granddaughter. For the next two weeks I’m posting done oldies. I hope you enjoy!
“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Ephesians 3:20
Fall has arrived, arraying the trees with reds, yellows, and oranges, while fields turn golden as harvest is nearing completion. My favorite farmer’s markets are filled with pumpkins, squash, and apples. Ingredients for soups and chili fill my pantry shelves. My heart echoes the same sentiments of Anne in L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
Although I appreciate all the seasons, autumn is my absolute favorite. I have fond memories of going to Waldo Apple Orchard as a child and eating a caramel apple. I love hiking, hearing the crunch as I step joyously through the leaves. I love wearing warm, cozy clothing and sipping mulled apple cider. It stands to reason that I also love to decorate my home for fall.
My fall decorating started off very humbly. Having a limited budget, I started with a homemade leaf garland. My husband and I cut out hundreds of leaves in different fall shades of construction paper. We then misted them with water, crumpled them and let them dry. After attaching them to twine, the leaf garlands graced our home. For years, this was our only fall decoration.
Then I discovered Hobby Lobby. As I had more disposable income, slowly I started adding to my fall decorations. This included a more elaborate leaf garland, some fall signs and even a few critters. I continued to make some of my own decorations, including a thankful tree and a short acorn garland to hang above my kitchen sink. My fall décor collection now fills two large storage crates. Every year, shortly after Labor Day, my home transitions into autumn while “Punky Pumpkin” by Rosemary Clooney plays. When its all done, I sigh deeply, ready to embrace the cooler weather and my fall traditions.
For the past few years, I have attempted, unsuccessfully, to decorate my front porch. To be honest, my “porch” is not really a porch at all but just a small slab of cement in front of my door, lacking any curb appeal. In summer, I typically have a few flowerpots greeting guests as they enter my home. As the weather cools, I place a few pumpkins and mums on my front porch to create a fall ambience. For some reason, my fall ambience seems to fall flat. Being a bit spatially challenged, my pumpkins and gourds are either too small or too few and my mums are too low or wither quickly because I forget to water them.
This year, I decided to go big. Instead of grocery store mums, I went out to a local Mennonite market and purchased two large pots of bright yellow and wine-colored mums. I then went to my favorite farm stand for pumpkins. It is such a great time to be alive, where we are no longer limited to only traditional orange pumpkins! Now, they come in all shades, including white, green, gray and my favorite “warty pink”! I gathered a few pumpkins and gourds and headed home. As I started decorating the porch with my treasures, I realized something was still missing. A week later, I made a second trip, purchasing more pumpkins along with a small hay bale. As I loaded them in the car, I realized I might have gone a tad bit overboard. In jest, I sent my husband a text saying, “Remember how much you love me.” After unloading the stash and rearranging my porch, I realized I needed one more small orange pumpkin to make it complete. So, I made one more trip, grabbing the last pumpkin (or two), to complete my porch display.
When all was said and done, I somehow ended up with thirteen pumpkins and gourds on my small porch. I won’t tell you how many fake pumpkins are inside my home or you might start to think I have a problem. Now, I know the current philosophy is “less is more”. There are books written about the concept of minimalism along with new vocabulary like “Konmari Method” and “Capsule wardrobe”, encouraging us to be mindful of how much stuff we have. In fact, the opposite of minimalism is looked down upon. We have reality shows depicting the shocking lives of hoarders! Thrift, resale, and vintage stores abound, helping us to get rid of our excess “stuff”. Even restaurant menus and food labels are embracing the concept of simplicity with emphasis on fewer but better ingredients.
Even as a Christian, we are encouraged to live in moderation. Paul challenges Christians in Philippians 4:5 by saying, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” He also says in Galatians 5:23 that temperance is one of the fruits of the spirit. Temperance is defined as self-control, and no one could argue that a hoarder is modeling that fruit of the spirit. In 1 Timothy 6:6, God also encourages us to live in contentment by linking it to godliness, concluding that we will have great gain. The scripture continues in verse seven with Paul’s words, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” This implies that we must be careful not to attach ourselves to “stuff”. God clearly wants us to avoid materialism!
For the Christian, the contrast to materialism is living an abundant life. Jesus told a crowd of Pharisees in John 10:10, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”. Paul reiterates Jesus’ words in Ephesians 3:20, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” Jesus came so that we can live an abundant life. This life is not measured in possessions or status, but rather an abundance of love, peace, joy, and hope. We can show unconditional love to others, not because we are self-righteous, but because God has shown us love. We can have abundant peace in our relationships, not through the absence of conflict, but because we know that God will work it all out for our good. We can have joy overflowing in all situations, not through a lack of sadness, but joy in knowing that God has it all under control. We can have abundant hope in desperate situations, not by being eternal optimists, but because our hope is not in this world but in heaven to come.
My sweet mother-in-law had a dismal view of fall, she saw it as a season of dying. She dreaded the cold Illinois winters, and saw the changing of leaves as the first indication that winter was on its way. I always found her perspective a little sad and depressing. From my perspective, fall is the opposite of dying. It is the time to celebrate the abundance of our natural world though harvest and the plethora of colors on display. The fruit of the harvest spilling from the cornucopia, the horn of plenty, depicts the season so well! Furthermore, fall climaxes with Thanksgiving when we acknowledge all of God’s blessings at a meal with family and friends. I may have gone a little overboard with my pumpkins this year, but maybe, just maybe, it is a reminder to us all of God’s desire for us to live in abundance!