Saturday, August 9, 2014

Life comes in seasons


If we could sit on a sunny patio and chat leisurely over iced coffees tomorrow, I’d want to ask you, “What’s the best part and worst part of this season of your life?”

What would you say, dear one?

What’s making your life painfully difficult right now? And what’s making it beautiful and sweet?

We might shed a few tears together as you answer. Some seasons feel more bitter than beautiful when you’re in the midst of them.

Or maybe I’d laugh with joy as you describe a long-awaited hope fulfilled. We’d talk fast and excitedly, and the time would fly by.

Most likely, though, we’d do a little of both, wouldn’t we? Some tears. Some laughter. As Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “Rainbows are made of sunlight and rain.”

So in lieu of that patio conversation, I’ve settled into my couch tonight with a cup of chamomile tea, to share a few things I’m reminding myself these days:

This season of life is a gift. The precious and the painful, they are entwined by gracious hands that never stop doing us good. The very thing that brings us to our knees, makes us weep in despair, or feels like our undoing—that is an integral part of the gift of this season. In time (His time), we will see that our desperation was the beginning of our deliverance.

Sometimes the bitter aspects of life can overshadow the beautiful. Don’t miss out on the joys of this season.

Years ago I had a young friend who was married to a faithful man who loved her and provided lavishly for her. She hated working and wanted nothing more than to get pregnant. She griped constantly. Her husband made it possible for her to quit her job, but even then she was miserable. Soon she became pregnant and gave birth to gorgeous twins. But she couldn’t stop complaining about how easy working used to be and how hard being a mom was now. In every season she had neglected to enjoy the gifts God gave her, so when she finally got what she wanted—she was shockingly unhappy.

Don’t compare seasons. We’ve all lived through those long winter months of life when the dearest ones around us seem to be enjoying a balmy summer. Their joy may feel like the final blow to your hurting heart, and it takes all the grace you can muster to rejoice with them.

But seasons change, sometimes quickly, and someday they too will know their winters while you celebrate your summer. In this mysterious dance of seasons, we learn to offer both comfort and joy to one another, each in our turn.

Some seasons last a long time, but none lasts forever.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”

Motherhood is teaching me this in spades. I thought I was going to lose my mind when my newborn son had colic and screamed for hours every night. But then he’d nuzzle into my neck and finally fall into a peaceful sleep, and it was magic. By the time he was six months old, both the colic and the newborn nuzzling were gone.

Singleness was a long season. But my twelve-year wait came to a sudden end, and in the blink of an eye a new season was upon me, with brand-new joys and challenges.

Psalm 116:7 says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” So dear one, here’s what I keep preaching to myself:

1. Embrace today’s hardships. They are gifts from God.

2. Embrace today’s joys. They are gifts from God.

3. Stop playing the comparison game. It robs me of these gifts from God.

4. This season will soon pass. Don’t miss out on these gifts from God.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Other Side of Jealousy {guest post}


It is my joy and honor to introduce you to my precious friend Danielle Walker. Danielle is a beautiful, witty, intelligent lawyer who resides in Charleston, South Carolina with her dog, Julie Anne. Of all the amazing descriptions I could use for Danielle, the one that comes to mind most quickly is "forgiving." For some reason, despite my countless shortcomings, Danielle has chosen to remain my friend and speak great encouragement into my life over many years. Her love for and obedience to Christ is compelling, and I'm thrilled to share with you here some of the overflow of her rich spiritual life....  



I call it “In your face-book,” she told me. “I hate Facebook.”

I nodded, absorbing her reasons not to post updates on a given topic.

She didn’t say it, but I had to guess that perhaps her abhorrence of Facebook was at least partially related to the fact that God had not yet given her the desire of her heart in the form of a baby.

God knows that I know it’s impossible to get on Facebook without seeing “in your face” reminders of un-motherhood: pregnancy announcements, birth announcements…babies, grandbabies…videos, photos…funny sayings, cute faces…pajama pictures, pool pictures...ultrasound shots…maternity photos…My Little Pony cakes—you name it. Kids unapologetically brighten up the world and lighten up the Internet. And I’m glad they do.

Just the same, I could understand why my friend might avoid Facebook like the Gaza Strip. It was a constant assault on her deepest pain. Everyone else has what she doesn’t have. And it hurts.
It wasn’t Facebook’s fault exactly; deep down—deep, deep down—the problem was jealousy. I don’t know what it is about jealousy, but we do not want to call it that. I suspect jealously has worn more nametags than just about any other sin.

Admit it or not, of all the people who have told me they quit Facebook and of all the reasons they have given, I suspect that jealousy is the one unnamed deactivator of many an account.

Because other peoples’ lives tend to be perfect on Facebook. I confess there have been times I clicked through someone else’s photos and thought, She has everything: she’s beautiful, married to a good man, wonderful kids, nice house, nice vacations… and eventually closed the screen with an overwhelming sense of discontentment. My life stinks…

I’ve struggled with jealousy. It has chewed me up then spit me out in worthless chunks like a redneck, tobacco, and a country road. In fact, there have been full weeks—months—years—when the only times I wasn’t struggling with jealousy was when I had given up completely. It can still ruin a good day quicker than my alarm clock.

I know I’m not alone.  I remember times when two of my friends confessed to me that they were jealous of me. I wanted to laugh. But they were serious. These were painful confessions for them.

I wanted to laugh because both came at particularly low times for me. I knew if they really, truly knew my life, they would be anxious to take their own set of troubles and go home. If they knew the tears I cried, the pressures I faced, and the mistakes I’ve made, they would probably be whistling on their way to work—thank God, I’m not her!

And when it comes right down to it, I wouldn’t trade with them either. Not even with the gorgeous girls with successful husbands and adorable kids. Not the movie stars; not the world-class musicians; not even the ice skaters.

There will always be someone out there—probably on the edges of my circle of friends—who is prettier, funnier, nicer, smarter, richer, and just happier than me. They will be young and interesting when I’m old and boring. They will be available when I am tied up. They will think of the right thing to say when words have failed my completely. They will make friends when I can’t even make hot chocolate.

But now that perfect girl is affecting me less.

I have a wonderful life. In fact, I am richly blessed beyond what I can ever deserve.

But that is beside the point.

The point is that I am learning the truth about jealousy. If you are jealous of someone, you either don’t know them well enough or you haven’t known them long enough. The fact is, their life either has troubles or will have troubles. Serious troubles. And unless they have chosen an attitude of gratitude, they probably think their life stinks too.

On the other side of your jealousy is a hurting, confused, lonely, and even scared girl that you just don’t know yet.

I thank God that even though I will always struggle, I’m coming to the realization that jealousy is me believing the lie that I would be happier if my life were different; when in reality it would only be…well…different. In the process, God has freed me to see Facebook as God’s brag book—budding romances, happy families, new opportunities, God’s creation, and, of course, God’s amazing gift of new lives in small packages. As friend after friend has gotten married and had kids, I’ve been able to genuinely say, “I’m so happy for you!” Because I am.

Just the same, if it causes you to stumble, or if you just don’t like it, there is no harm in staying away from Facebook. And unless you are truly ready for war, this would be a good time to stay out of the Gaza Strip.


Visit Danielle at Law, Grace, and Real Estate to enjoy more of her writing. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

An airplane and a cave: lessons in courage and compassion

Photo Credit: (c) 2012-2014 Paullus23 on deviantART.

It was the last place on earth I wanted to be.

I’d always loved flying, but this airplane, with all my worldly belongings crammed into the luggage compartment below me, symbolized the death of my dreams. I’d scored a job as an editor on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., but a 3:00-a.m. trip to the ER had changed everything.

Now suddenly I was on my way home to California minus my health, car, and job. I looked out the window as my dream life vanished beneath me.

In the midst of my daze and despair, God began stirring my heart to chat with the girl sitting beside me. I discovered that Rachel was a Jewish girl from San Francisco and was deeply skeptical of Christians....


Join me over at Kindred Grace today as I share how life's disappointments can be turned into divine opportunities to courageously, compassionately share Christ. 



Monday, June 2, 2014

Loving someone in their mess



Her message left me shaken. She said if we had just thirty minutes together, she could get things off her chest; she was angry and needed to tell me the specific ways I'd hurt her.
We'd had this same conversation a couple years prior, so I knew that another venting wouldn't liberate her. I'd tumbled off the pedestal she'd placed me on, and she'd discovered that the woman she considered her mentor was, in reality, a mess.
What she wanted was my perfection, but what she needed could only be found in Christ.
Yet what my heart longed for her to do for me—to love me unconditionally—I've so often failed to do for others. I've demanded their perfection. I've wanted to extract profuse apologies from those who have wounded me. I've itched to unload the silent rant that's been playing on repeat in my head.

And while I knew all of this in my head, there was still a tender space in my heart that longed for her to look past my faults, to realize I was just six weeks a mom, rendered useless by exhaustion and illness. I wanted her to love me in spite of me.
I've actually expected others to make me happy, to help preserve my emotional equilibrium....

Join me over at True Woman today as I share what I'm learning about love....in my own mess, and in others' mess.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

To the barren one (on Mother's Day)

Photo credit: Wallpaper by Tamila. 2009.

This Sunday, you will not be far from my thoughts, dear one.

I’ll wake early to my son’s voice, “Mommy? Moooooommmmy!” and my heart will spill over with joy as I welcome my third Mother’s Day. But mixed with that joy will be a keen awareness that you are still waiting. Longing. Aching.

With every fiber of your being you long to be a mom. You were made for motherhood, and everything within you cries out against your barrenness.

I remember.

I was 35 when I gave birth to my first (and only) child. If I’d scripted the story of my life, I would have had my first at 22 (he’d be 16 now) and at least two or three children after that. But instead, my fruitful years were spent celebrating everyone else’s babies—one shower and birth announcement after another. I often felt empty, left-behind, a misfit.

Whatever could I do with empty hands that were made to hold children?

God met me in my emptiness with strong words that forever changed me. He sang Isaiah 54 over my longings, and as I clung to this Scripture through those waiting years, its truths were engraved into the marrow of my soul.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor.

For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married, says the Lord.

Could my childless life truly be as rich and full as my friends who had children? Could I sit through yet another baby shower or Mother’s Day assured of some glorious purpose in my pain?

God said so, right there in the pages of Scripture—so I took Him at His Word.

I poured out my life and love into my students and teenage and college-age girls. Over the course of my single years, I opened up my heart and home, discipling countless women, counseling kids in crisis, and leading Bible studies where God showed up in spectacular ways.

I wasn’t always faithful to invest well, and sometimes my sorrow and longing overshadowed my ministries, but by God’s grace I began to feel the weighty truth of Isaiah 54: although I was not yet a mother, I had dozens of spiritual children. I felt rich… unspeakably, filthy rich.

But there was yet another aspect of Isaiah 54, a far scarier aspect that compelled my heart to continue hoping for children of my own. While I felt wealthy with spiritual children, the longing for marriage and motherhood wouldn’t go away. I didn’t quite know what to do with these words:

Enlarge the place of your tent,
and let the curtains of your
habitations be stretched out;
do not hold back;
lengthen your cords and
strengthen your stakes.

For you will spread abroad
to the right and to the left,
and your offspring will possess the nations...

Although God wasn’t signing on the dotted line, promising to give me my own flesh-and-blood, I wanted my heart to be full of faith that He could. I wanted to hope past the taunting tick-tock of my biological clock. I wanted to believe that with just one word He could turn my barrenness into fruitfulness as He had for Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, Ruth, and Elizabeth.

Hope is scary, but it is our lifeblood.

So I fought to cultivate hope first and foremost in HIM, and then a lesser hope that He would one day fulfill the longings of my heart for children.

The years passed by, and while I continued to “bear” spiritual children, marriage and motherhood still eluded me.

Isaiah 54 sustained me again and again:

Fear not,
for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded,
for you will not be disgraced;

For you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach of your widowhood [singleness, barrenness]
you will remember no more.

For your Maker is your Husband,
the Lord of hosts is His name…

I have a friend who waited till she was 41 to become a mother. I have other friends who continue to wait, well into their thirties, forties and even fifties. I had a lesser wait at 35. But those lessons learned while sitting in church every Mother’s Day, as long-stemmed roses passed me by and I sat alone while seemingly every other woman stood to be appreciated—those lessons will never be forgotten.

And so this weekend, I’m thinking of you, dear sister. Although we may never meet on this side of eternity, I’m praying that your Maker, who is your Husband, will grant you hope in Himself, faith that He can do the impossible, and a quiver-full of spiritual children.

Sing, O barren one… for you are precious and fruitful and honored in His eyes. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Risking and Resting

Photo source: Srininja Appalaraju Photography.


I'm an obsessive thinker. I can get stuck in my own head for weeks at a time. But I'm also a textbook Feeler. I feel everything far too intensely.

So when God is carving convictions into my soul, when His hand is at work preparing and impassioning me to do something uncomfortable and risky, or to love others at great cost, I tend to over-think and over-feel the whole process. What He is doing in power, for infinite good and glory, isn't improved by me trying to work it all out in my head and heart.

But I want to make sure I make the RIGHT decision. I want God's very best. What if I misunderstood Him? What if this isn't the right trajectory? What if I fail? What if I hurt or offend dear ones in my life by doing this?

It's a little like watching a master carpenter build a beautiful house while the future resident keeps dropping by, anxious to see that every nail and board is placed just so. He loses sleep over the stucco and wonders whether the neighbors will mind the daring design. 

Have you been there? Have you wasted thoughts and feelings and energies on trying to improve designs God has already perfectly planned out?

Psalm 127 is a familiar Bible passage, but its truths can seem elusive to me if I don't press myself into them to believe them:

"Unless the Lord builds the house, 
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil,
for He gives to His beloved sleep."

Yes, there is a time and a place for me to wrestle deeply with issues and questions and ramifications. But there is also a time when God says, "Colleen, be still and know that I am God."

Sometimes being still and believing is the hardest work I can do. Isn't that crazy? I have to work so hard at quieting my heart before God and trusting Him. When He's calling me to walk forward by faith to places I've never walked before, where neither past experiences nor present pragmatism can offer safety or guarantees, I need a ginormous view of God to hold me steady and press me forward.

A prayer from The Valley of Vision cared for me so tangibly over the course of this past week:

"Grant that I may never trust my heart,
depend upon any past experiences,
magnify any present resolutions,
but be strong in the grace of Jesus."

Dear one, Christ understands how nerve-wracking obedient faith can be. (Remember the Garden of Gethsemane?) He is intimately acquainted with our weaknesses; He meets us with His compassion where we are tender, fearful, tired, or anxious. He stands ready with resurrection power to strengthen us for the task at hand. We don't have to strive and stew over the plans He has for us (nor over what others think of those plans.) Rather, we learn to echo the psalmist's words:

"O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me."

May God grant us the grace to quiet ourselves before Him today, to hush our insatiable thoughts and feelings in His love. "The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it."


In what area of your life is God calling you to walk by radical faith? What is one way you can quiet yourself and trust the Lord today?



References: The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett; Proverbs 3:5,6; 1 Peter 3:4; Psalm 131; 1 Thessalonians 5:24