The house of the Lord

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”

Psalm 122:1

When does worship begin? What does worship look like? These are rather thought-provoking questions, right? The first verse of Psalm 122 gives us, I believe, a glimpse of the answers. This psalm of David reveals much in just a few words. Many of us trek faithfully each Sunday morning to our respective churches. But how many of us look forward to it, honestly? How many of us can say that our attitude is one of glad expectancy? How many of us eagerly anticipate Sunday’s arrival when it’s only, let’s say, Thursday, for instance?

I’m not asking so as to incite guilt, by any means. But reading verse 1 of Psalm 122 gave me pause to examine my own heart. Can I say, as David, that I am glad to go to church on Sunday? Am I excited, and do I look forward, to worship? Do I realize the awesomeness of stepping into church, “the house of the Lord”? Or do I view going to church as a routine, a duty, a chore to check off the “How to be a Good Person” checklist?

More than that, how do I approach worship? What does it look like? Am I motivated to attend church solely to get rather than give? Do I come with the right attitude? Am I there to worship God? These are convicting questions, and I want to be honest in reply. I want to wake up the sleepy members of my church body, to rouse them to worship, to collectively participate with them in worshiping God. I urge and encourage all of us, myself included, to open our heavy eyes, stretch our tired arms, and meet gladly in His house together to worship him.

When was the last time you were glad to go to church? How long has it been since you invited someone else to church? Friends, I know there are those who mock the church, who want nothing to do with it. They don’t want to be associated with a bunch of hypocrites. Some of their biggest hurts in life have come from the church, the people in it. But what if we persisted? What if we acted more like Jesus? What if we provided an example of worship to them, showed them what worshiping Christ looked like on a daily basis and not just on Sunday?

My worship isn’t perfect. I’m not always a good example, my impatience and strong personality rub people the wrong way. But I want others to have what I have, what only being part of a church body can give: corporate support, prayer, and godly encouragement from a Christ-centered perspective. Corporate worship allows me to see what God is doing in the lives of others. It beckons me to extend myself and live beyond my own selfish wants, to minister to others. The house of God, the church, my church, is the building God uses to work in and through. What if we allowed him to work in us, fully?

I don’t have this worship thing figured out, by any means. But I do know this: we are invited to worship God together. Additionally, we are called to worship him in spirit and truth; it requires vulnerability and honesty before God and others. It calls us to humility, to let go of our agendas and let him lead, even to places we may not necessarily want to go or serve in areas in which we may not feel comfortable. However, we glean much insight and growth through worship, both corporate and individual. We gain more of God when we worship.

Come, let us go to the house of the Lord.





Failing, failing, all the time

Every day I fail. I fail as a Christian, as a person, as a woman, as a friend, a wife, a mother. I fail to be kind, considerate, and loving. I fail to be humble and hold my tongue. What about you, Friend? Do you feel like a failure, too?

Failure can be demoralizing. It can immobilize. It can feel like a chokehold, a foot on one’s neck, strangling the breath out of us. Failure is condemning.

But condemnation? It’s not from God.

Romans 8:1-2 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Do you see what the enemy does with our failures, my friend? He throws them down as evidence in front of us, in front of God, in front of others. He yells out accusations and screams our failures from the rooftop. He convinces us that our failures disqualify us, define us.

But God? God doesn’t condemn. He convicts, yes. There’s a huge difference between conviction and condemnation. Don’t get them mixed up, my friend. Too often, satan convinces us, the liar that he is, that our failure is final, that failure is reason to quit. We give up without a fight when the enemy takes us to “court.” But what we fail to remember is this: We have an advocate with the Father. (1 John 2:1) Jesus Christ is our divine defense attorney. He stands before the Father in our defense. Actually, more than that. He takes our place at the table before the Judge. Though we are guilty, he enters a plea of “Not guilty” for us. He takes the punishment for our sins. Our failures and shortcomings are transferred upon him, and he bears the sentence incurred. And we, through repentance and forgiveness, are set free. We are free. Our failures can no longer tie us down like stakes in the ground.

The enemy can point his finger, proclaiming our failures day in and day out, but they are no match for God’s mercy. His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22) My failures, your failures, are not dead ends. They do not kick us out of the kingdom. Contrary to the lies of the deceiver, we can rest confidently in knowing that the love of God, the sacrifice of Christ’s life on the cross, enables us to go forward in faith.

What do we do when we fail, then?

We don’t live in condemnation. We admit our failures, and, as poet and author Maya Angelou said, “…When you know better, do better.” (In Christianity, it’s called repentance. Repentance means you stop, turn around, and go the opposite direction. In other words, you stop doing wrong and start doing right.)

When you’ve failed, admit it. Then start doing the right thing. When you fail, ask forgiveness from God who gives it generously through Jesus Christ. Then when you have believed his word of forgiveness, start doing the things he’s called you to do through the help of the Holy Spirit. Don’t rely on your own strength to live righteously. Satan would like nothing better than to convince you that you can do things yourself, that you can be all and do all on your own. Pride was his downfall. Don’t let it be yours.

Finally, when you have failed, don’t let it define you. Failure is not who you are. The enemy will tell you that your failures comprise your identity, but your identity is in Christ. The Liar will tell you that because you haven’t had victory in a certain area (or areas) that you will never have victory. That is nothing but, please excuse me, crap. Total bull. Do not swallow that lie, friend. Christ has plenty to say about who you are! Look it up for yourself. Discover what God has to say about you in his word. If you need a bit of help on this, feel free to start here with Priscilla Shirer’s list: or do an internet image search with the term words “Identity in Christ.”

Look, I am not perfect. You are not perfect. There is only One perfect person: God. Imperfect, failing people are who God works on, in, and through. We will not achieve perfection here on earth, friend. No, but we are being sanctified, every day a new opportunity to become more like him. This shouldn’t discourage us, either, this unachievable goal. No. It should only serve to draw us closer to him, closer to the heart of God, for it is “…in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts. 17:28) Only God is able to transform our failures into faith. Will you let him? Will you trust him?



Finding myself in a dark place

The promise of spring hangs in the air. The sun glints off the snow, and the black-capped chickadee lands on the feeder outside my window. The sound of my children’s voices rings throughout the house, yet somehow I am alone. Several attempts at getting together with friends over the past several months has failed, each having canceled for one reason or another. I have never felt so alone. I have much to be thankful for, yet I am weary of this day. I am sad. Try as I might to dispel this darkness, I cannot. My usual attempts at staving off discouragement are to no avail. Late nights, interrupted sleep, bodily aches and pains, Seasonal Affect Disorder, and worry over loved ones has overtaken my valiant efforts to swim out of this current of depression. Worship and praise music, devotions, and prayer seem to be ineffective. Dark thoughts persist, prowling, pacing, waiting for opportune moments to devour.

Several days of this, and I keep thinking, “I need to tell someone. I need to be honest about the struggle.” Of course, God already knows. Oh, yes, I’ve told him. I’ve cried out to him as David, the man who hid in caves, surrounded by enemies. I’ve tried praying, but no words come. I’ve kept the praise and worship music going, yet I fail to be uplifted. I keep reading my daily devotions, but the words fall like arrows missing a target. Where do I turn? Who will listen? Again, I go back to God. He hears, though I fail to see Him bending toward me. I think of those whose pain was too great, who chose to end their lives. What’s the difference between them and me, I wonder?

But I continue life “as usual,” keep going through the motions because I don’t know what else to do. I know there has to be an answer. I’m doing what David and Job did, giving voice to the One who holds all things, but I know, deep down, I must do what others did not. I must tell someone. I must be vulnerable, real. I must not stay isolated.

And so, I, quite unexpectedly, tell someone. I confide that I am struggling, that life is hard right now. She understands, as she’s “been there, done that” with loss, as well. She acknowledges the hard. She listens and doesn’t try to fix. She hears and doesn’t offer advice, only validation. This, this is my key to getting out of the dark place. Validation.

It was then that I realized what I had failed to do: Give myself validation. I had failed to acknowledge what I was feeling. How crazy is that? I mean, I live with grief every day, yet failed to name it for what it was. See, because this was different. This wasn’t just a “loss of child” grief. This was a tangled ball of grief all wrapped up in a crazy mess of other things that life throws your way. Things like your children growing up, reaching adulthood and the reality of them actually leaving hitting you like a ton of bricks. Things like the enormity of dealing with a young adult child whose future is uncertain because they’re still dealing with the effects of their brother’s death, yes, six and a half years later. Things like realizing one of your other children may have a learning disorder.

These things, I finally realized, are grief. (Slow learner, that I am!) On top of all this, contemplating Matt’s annual memorial scholarship and upcoming birthday threw me deeper into the pit of despair. What’s more, I have no one to turn to for these things, no one who has gone ahead or “been there, done that.” Where are the mentors? Where are the older women who will come alongside me and share what they learned? Why haven’t I found them? Why are we not being vulnerable with one another?

But for this woman I shared with, I think I would still be in the pit. After sharing, I realized this was grief, but more than that, I realized that giving voice to it was the key to climbing out of it. God gave us people, community. He gave us one another. We are not, as poet John Donne correctly penned, “an island.” Are you struggling? Are you feeling alone? Have you told someone? We weren’t meant to carry our burdens alone. Of course, God gives us Himself, but He also gives us those with skin on, other humans with which to commiserate, share sorrow (and joy).

I felt significantly better after sharing with this woman and continued to play worship and praise music and read my devotions. This morning, I woke with hope again, the bony grasp of despair’s grip blessedly less. I watched one of my grief mom friend‘s Facebook live video and was reminded of important truths when grieving: Keep your eyes on Christ, not looking ahead in apprehension. Trust Him for the future. Make your plans, but hold them lightly, knowing and trusting God’s Sovereignty. More than that, take hold of the peace He gives freely and abundantly. Finally, praise Him. Praise Him in the dark, for the opportunity it gives to draw you close to God. Praise Him for His faithfulness, comfort, and peace.





The end of winter

We were inundated, once again, with winter weather advisories this last week in Minnesota. A snow storm on Monday and another on Saturday brought icy roads and fresh, deep snow, much to the delight of children. The children’s sledding anticipation ran high, while the adults’ grumbled expectantly, shovel in hand. My Facebook newsfeed resounded with shouts of, “Enough, already!” So many are done with winter.

A few of us, however, smile secretly and tuck away the white scene in our minds, knowing that this season is exactly that. A season. The slowly falling flakes bring hope; hope that covers the emptiness of the hard ground. The sparkling layer of fresh snow glints off yards as if to shout, “Look at me! Notice the beauty in the barrenness!” An acquaintance on Saturday also remarked, “The snow is a wonderful reminder to me of God’s words in Isaiah.” What hope these words bring!

“…Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow…” Isaiah 1:18a

The newly fallen snow also reminded me of other words from the book of Isaiah.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;..” Isaiah 55:10

I try not to complain about the snow because I know that there is purpose in it, and there is a limit to it’s presence. I know this to be true, though it feels like winter will never end. I have certainty, proof, of this truth: Every year winter ends. Every year winter gives way to spring. Winter has never lasted 12 months. There has never been a year where winter did not end.

As I thought of the winter season and anticipate the budding of the pussy willow trees in my yard sometime in the next several weeks, I was struck by the thought of God’s faithfulness, how these seasons reflect His very character. He is faithful. Just as the seasons faithfully come and go year after year, God remains faithful. Year after year, season after season, He is faithful. How awesome it is, too, that He shows us His faithfulness through His creation, through the passing of seasons. Does that not give you hope, hope that winter will, indeed, end? Hope that your season of hard things, whatever they are, will, indeed, end, too? Though the trees remain barren and the ground bereft of color, may the snow upon them remind you of this: He is faithful. He is faithful. Winter will end. Spring will come, my friend. Spring will come. Until then, hold on to hope.




Life after loss is, well, a lot of things. The loss of a loved one is often compared to an amputation. The death of a loved one is permanent. There is no re-growth of a limb. Of late, however, I’ve described child loss akin to a house fire where one’s house is literally burnt to the ground with only the foundation left. (Yes, I’m a “This Is Us” addict fan!)

After loss, you have to decide to rebuild. See, the only other choice is to sit in the ashes, never rebuilding, never recovering. (Of course, we must sit in the ashes for a time; allow ourselves time to process our loss. But at some point, we have to rise up and begin the rebuilding process.) It is much like recovering from a house fire. Grieving loss is like sorting through the ashes, the rubble. It takes time. It takes intention. It requires help and outside resources. Can you do it alone? Sure. But it will take longer and you will miss the benefits they provide. (And there are many!)

Rebuilding after loss is incredibly overwhelming, every step painful, but necessary. The process is not quick, and once the ashes have cleared, monumental decisions remain. One has to answer the questions, “Who am I now?” “What is my life going to look like?” “How do I want to rebuild?” As with a house fire, loss destroys everything. But loss doesn’t always involve material items. Loss causes one to question one’s identity. Bereaved parents often wonder, “Who am I?” and “Am I still a mother/father?” after their child dies. The loss of relationships and friendships after a loved one’s death is also common. Daily life and certain routines, too, never get back to what they once were. Assuredly, just as a house is recognized as a house from the outside, the reality is that the inside is drastically different. Suffice to say, grief is complicated.

Rebuilding is complicated, too. For the bereaved, it is a process of redefining one’s self. You are no longer the person you were before your loved one died. That person died the day they did. But the foundation remains; you, your physical body. Now the question becomes, “What is this new me going to look like?” This is the question I’ve been asking myself for some time now because the death of my son stripped me of who I was. It’s taken time to figure out since loss also creates insecurity, fear, and mistrust.

This is why rebuilding and reinvesting is so difficult. It’s one thing to build and reinvest when one has confidence and assurance. It’s another when one’s not sure they can trust the future, or be secure in themselves. Can you blame them? Their once secure world came crashing down into a billion pieces. They are never again a naive participant in the world.

This is where many of my bereaved parent friends and I are at right now, this reinvesting in the world. We navigate with caution, confusion, and hesitance. Do we, essentially, want to risk having our world crash down upon us again? We’re not ignorant any longer, we now know that, indeed, the unspeakable can happen. And we’re not talking smack or exaggerating. It’s real. We speak from experience.

So this? This post from Ann Voskamp the other day spoke volumes to me, made me cry, in fact, when reading it: Told You’re Too Much? Or Feel Like You’re “Too Much”? Dear Me: Lifelines to the Person I Long to Be

See, child loss makes you question everything. It causes you to doubt who you are anymore and question whether certain parts of you even still exist. You wonder if any part of you remains, if anything in the foundation of the “old” you remains. I am, I believe, coming to the conclusion, at last, that yes, one thing, at least, remains: My strong personality.

I think the biggest thing I’m learning lately is that, as Max Lucado puts it, “God loves you just the way you are, but He refuses to leave you there.” (Just Like Jesus) Meaning that I am a “strong” personality; that’s how God made me. And it is 100% okay. BUT, I have to also temper it, learn to be gentle, patient, humble, and speak for the right reasons, not just to win an argument or prove a point. Losing my son definitely humbled me; grief will do that. But after Matt died, I sort of lost my voice, if that makes sense. I’ve been afraid, really, to reinvest in people, in life. I no longer care to discuss surface issues; trivial matters grate on me. Yet so much of building new friendships and relationships rely on this, so I have avoided them altogether. Additionally, I no longer have the desire to prove a point or win an argument. That sort of pride died when my son died. (Not that I don’t, on occasion, fall into the temptation! But as a way of life, it’s pretty much been stamped out.) While humility is good thing, the flip side is, because of that, however, I stopped investing in relationship, in pursuing earthly connection with those outside the realm of grief. Grief has a way of silencing one’s voice like a fire extinguishes the living, leaving only ashes.

I recently realized I was afraid to be that person again, the vocal one. I have been fearful of reinvesting in relationships, of risking depth. Deep hurts, like child loss, can make a person withdraw from the world and from others. Pain has a way of making a person feel invisible somehow. I can’t explain it, but pain is isolating and lonely, even if you are surrounded by a plethora of people.

So this reinvesting is hard. The me I used to be? In some respects, I still feel like a pile of ash, and reinvesting is like blowing on those ashes, trying to rekindle a flame. Or, it’s like the frame of the new me is in place; built on the foundation that remained, but the inside needs furnishing yet. Again, I don’t know how to describe it. I’m trying to find my voice, establish my place in the community of life once again. To be honest, I’ve resisted reinvesting. I didn’t want to invest. Investing takes energy, energy I didn’t care to expend. I don’t want to risk loss, risk losing any more relationships. Yet I know that this is reality in this fallen world; not everything lasts. People move away, relationships change, and life on this side of heaven is not perfect.

But reinvesting is necessary. As a believer in Jesus Christ, we are called to community. We are, like it or not, a part of a body. Each member of the body has a part to play, something to contribute, a responsibility to fulfill. Fear cannot be an excuse to excuse myself from stepping into others’ lives. God is calling me to invest. He gave all for me, experiencing grief and sorrow for my sake, willingly. And so, I, too, must willingly give all for the sake of others and to glorify my Father in heaven. With His grace and strength, I will triumph…and the house, this earthly tent, will some day be finished…and beautiful. Because of Him.





When Seasonal Affect kicks your butt

I woke to a sunless sky this morning. Freezing rain and a forecast of snow showers makes for a gloomy day. My SAD therapy light clicked on, and my mind grapples for brighter thoughts than the depression that threatens. I know this battle well, and I know the effort it takes, effort I don’t have. But thanks be to God, I know Who does!

I showered and dressed for the day while praise and worship music played in the silence of the morning. I need these words of truth, this music that echos the truth of scripture. My head knows that the sun is there, above the clouds and gray sky, but my eyes plead proof. Depressing thoughts duke it out with chants of courage and comfort.

I know better on days like these that the battle for light will not likely be won, and I lower my expectations for the day. The streets are slippery with a sheet of ice and the hourly weather projection shows consistent precipitation; the snow cloud symbol boldly posted next to each hour. Where is my hope? I know that today the sun, in all probability, will not shine.

Hope may lie beyond the clouds, but it is not dead. It whispers, “I’ll be back.” I take refuge in God’s word, in His promise that He will give me strength, that HE is my strength. While this gloomy day may hide the sun, I will give thanks for the SON. I will praise Him still.

Psalm 147

1 Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant and praise is becoming.
2 The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers the outcasts of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
4 He counts the number of the stars;
He gives names to all of them.
5 Great is our Lord and abundant in strength;
His understanding is infinite.
6 The Lord supports the afflicted;
He brings down the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises to our God on the lyre,
8 Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who provides rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.
9 He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens which cry.
10 He does not delight in the strength of the horse;
He does not take pleasure in the legs of a man.
11 The Lord favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness.

12 Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
13 For He has strengthened the bars of your gates;
He has blessed your sons within you.
14 He makes peace in your borders;
He satisfies you with the finest of the wheat.
15 He sends forth His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes.
17 He casts forth His ice as fragments;
Who can stand before His cold?
18 He sends forth His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow.
19 He declares His words to Jacob,
His statutes and His ordinances to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any nation;
And as for His ordinances, they have not known them.
Praise the Lord!




Praying without ceasing

Have you ever grown weary of praying? Has the question, “What’s the point of praying?” ever crossed your mind? Have you, in fact, ever given up on praying?

I have.

I’ve experienced all of the above and more when it comes to prayer. For many people, prayer is tough. For even more, it’s an enigma. Many find it difficult, too hard to bother with, too uncomfortable and awkward to pursue. For some, it’s a last resort, applied only when absolutely necessary; for emergencies only.

But for others, it is a daily habit, as involuntary as breathing. It comes easy, like a native language. It wells up within, begging release. Prayer is their outlet, their priority, their first response, not to just the tough stuff that gets thrown their way, but to the daily things of life. Prayer for those steeped in a relationship with God is considered as no different than conversing daily with their best friend or father.

Prayer, for me, has been all of that. Decades ago as a new Christian, it involved desperate pleading and awkward attempts at communicating with a God whom I knew little about. In times recent, it was willful refusal to speak to the One who could have healed, but didn’t. Praying has been both easy and hard. I have both forsaken and embraced it.

What about you, friend? Can you relate?

God’s word has much to say about prayer. Most recently, as I’ve been studying spiritual gifts in an evening Bible study, I came across this verse from Acts 4:22:

“…for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.”

While I was looking up cross-references to teaching in this chapter, I couldn’t help but take note of this man’s miracle. It was 40 years in the making. 40 years. I wondered if this man and his family prayed for healing. If so, I wondered how long they prayed for healing. After all, he had been lame from birth. (Acts 3:2) If there’s anything that would want to make a person quit praying, surely waiting 40 years to be healed would do it, wouldn’t it?

But I know something of what it’s like to pray for decades without an answer. I wrote about it here: The 30 year prayer I stopped praying. To be sure, there were years I gave up, times I quit praying. But I went back to prayer. I kept at it even though there was no evidence of hope. I kept at it, not because I am faithful, but because God is faithful. I kept at it, not expecting the gift, but expecting the Giver. Absolutely, I wanted my prayers to be answered, but more than that, I wanted my prayers to be about Him, and not about what I could get from Him. More often than not, praying is about getting God.

But prayer continues to be a “both, and” endeavor. It’s not an “either, or” exercise. It is both challenging and freeing. Prayer challenges us to trust God, to wholly remove our hands from the circumstances that try us. Yet it frees us to live in recognition that God is sovereign, that He is holy and just, that His love overwhelms and His grace is sufficient.

When my son died, I quit praying for a time. I questioned the purpose of prayer. I mean, really, what’s the point of praying for God to save and rescue if He’s just going to do what He wants, anyway, right? Oh, I remember the struggle with prayer! I also remember the faltering steps back to prayer, much like when I was a new Christian trying to figure out what living for Jesus looked like. My prayers were timid and doubt-tinged.

But thanks be to God, I don’t have to have the perfect prayer or the right words to say. I don’t have to have all understanding or all the boxes checked in order to pray. I can pray, knowing that God is sovereign, and still trust that He is good even if my prayers go unanswered. I can trust that prayer isn’t about me; it’s about what God is doing, both in others, and in (and through) me.

I’ve once again been praying, praying for a loved one trapped in addiction, praying for my church body, my pastors, and my sisters and brothers in Christ. I am often overwhelmed by how many people and things to pray for and about. I’m prone to discouragement as my prayers for my loved one move into yet another year of pleading with God to rescue. I am impatient at times with the slowness of prayer, but I am assured of this: God never is. He is never discouraged, never overwhelmed. I am encouraged to know that God hears even 40 year old prayers. I am relieved to know that circumstances are never beyond His capability to accept the prayers of His children. Praying has no expiration date.

Easy or hard, we are called to pray. Pray without ceasing. And when we are bereft of the ability or the desire, we can rest in knowing that despite our lack, God never lacks. He’ll be there waiting for you.