Category Archives: Christian Living

Dangerous Daydreams

daydreamFor as long as I can remember, “imagination” has had a good rep.  And I have had a good supply of it.  As a kid I didn’t just “wrap Christmas presents”—I performed surgery on anxious patients with nothing but pink safety scissors and a roll of Scotch tape.  I didn’t “iron clothes” for my mother—I hosted a televised special on how to get wrinkles out of an Oxford.  Imagination, I quickly learned, was a great way to pass the time.  And the sorrow.

If I didn’t make the team, I imagined I was the star player.  If the cute boy didn’t like me, I imagined that he did.  And if the cute boy turned out to be a real jerk, well that was the beauty of imagination!  In five seconds flat I could turn him into the man of my dreams.  I always assumed I’d quit daydreaming once some of these dreams were actually realized.  After all, when I had the amazing job, and the exciting life, and the man of my dreams I wouldn’t need to daydream, right?

Unless I didn’t have those things.  Unless somewhere along the way I had created dreams so lofty no reality could compete with them.  No man fulfill them.  No set of circumstances live up to them.   I was probably in my twenties when I finally realized daydreaming could be dangerous.  That it could pave a fast track to discontentment.

I think a lot about it now as I raise two young girls—girls who have already fallen in love with the notion of princesses and fairytales.  On the one hand, I’m a major advocate for imagination.  If I were a fictitious character I’d be Anne of Green Gables, scarcely able to fathom the dreariness of a world without imagination.  But as a woman who’s a smidgen wiser than I used to be, I sidle up to it warily.  Imagine we’re in a fort cooking dinner out of pine cones?  I’m all about it!  Imagine we’re digging for dinosaur bones?  Let’s do it!  Imagine one day every fairy tale wish will come true and life will be perfect?  Don’t do it.  Oh, my sweet little girls, don’t do it.

Because the truth is, you and I were never made for the fairytale.  We weren’t made to live comfortable, easy lives that always make us feel good.  We were made to live one real life, with a real God, who offers real hope in a real and broken world.  My previous post has opened up a floodgate of real Moms sharing their real stories.  It has made me cry, and pray, and rejoice that I am not alone.  I am not journeying with Cinderella and Snow White.  I am journeying with real people—overcomers in Christ with real testimonies.  And I believe that’s exactly the way God intended it to be.  Shortly before leaving His disciples, Jesus warned them that suffering was coming.  He said He was preparing them for it so that in HIM they may have peace.  And then He made this promise: “In this world, you will have prince charming, perfect kids, great hair, loads of free time trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

The answer to the reality of pain—the reason we can stand up under it—has always been and always will be found in Jesus.  That’s the mistake I made so many years ago–when I didn’t make the team, when the cute boy didn’t like me.  I didn’t run to Jesus to remind me that my worth is securely kept in Him.  I didn’t let Jesus satisfy my longing to be known and loved.  Instead I crafted a really puny version of fulfillment and daydreamed about it.  And as soon as the daydream was over, so was the satisfaction.

If there’s one thing I’m realizing the more I blog, it’s that I don’t know your story.  I don’t know whether you love to daydream, or haven’t done it since you were five years old.  I don’t know if the life you’re living right now fills you with joy and peace, or if it leaves you empty and longing for more.  The only thing I know, with wholehearted certainty, is that Jesus is passionate about you.  He is passionate not only to rescue you (John 3:16; Romans 6:23), but to give you an abundant life in Him (John 10:10).  Don’t settle for the daydreams, the way I did for so long, foolishly believing they’re as good as it gets.  They are just a shadow of joy and fulfillment.  Jesus is the real thing.

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On Leaving a Legacy

I ate an energy bar tonight thinking it was a granola bar, and two hours later I’m still wide awake.  The house is unusually quiet, and for some reason my mind has drifted back to an old friend, one I find myself thinking about often.

199944_4308977105_6032_nWhen I was in Bible college there was this unbelievably beautiful girl in my education classes who one day slid her lunch tray beside mine and struck up a conversation.  You know the kind of friend who grows on you slowly?  Aimee wasn’t like that.  She was more like a diamond you find at a gas station–an extraordinary treasure in a completely ordinary world.  She spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese, had dreams the size of Antarctica, zero pretenses, and a heart as genuinely alive as her bright blue eyes.  That day we talked and laughed at the lunch table until every last scrap was cleared up and put away.  And from then on, I loved Aimee Powell.

We would go out to eat, order something loaded with carbs and talk about all the things college girls love to talk about–class, and boys, and friends, and Jesus, and all we hoped to do and be.  I saw her giddy, and I saw her heartbroken.  And I never once doubted that Aimee would lead a very grand life.

Then three years after graduating from college, on a boring January morning Aimee was killed in a car accident.  And just like that, in two seconds flat, I learned that she was gone.  You want to know the truth?  Part of me still can’t believe it.  Three years later I still cry when I think about her.  I cry for myself because I miss her.  I cry for the future I imagined she would have.  I cry for her family because I know that if in four years she brought such joy to my life, she must’ve been sunshine in theirs.

But amid all the tears, I have a profound sense of peace when I think of Aimee.  On the one hand, it seems maddeningly unfair.  She never got to marry the dashingly handsome man I just knew she was destined for, never got to raise a house full of children or become famous and change the world.  But as I watched the newscast about the accident, I listened to an anchor woman who didn’t even know Aimee testify about Aimee’s life–the students who loved her, the mission trips she took, the Facebook page that shared her passionate love for Jesus.  And like lightning it struck me, Aimee did it.  She ran the race all the way to the very end, and she crossed the finish line, faithful.  

She hadn’t led the extraordinary life I always imagined she would lead.  Instead she’d led one ordinary life, with extraordinary faithfulness.  You know what?  I think that is more inspiring than marrying a dashingly handsome man and changing the world.

Tonight I am proud of my friend.  I am grateful to have been part of her beautiful life.  And I am encouraged to follow her example and live this one, ordinary life of mine with all the extraordinary faithfulness only Jesus can supply, so that one day I, too, will cross the finish line victorious.  This one’s for you, my beautiful friend.  Wish you were here with me tonight.

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The Woman I Wish I Could Be

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Do you ever feel like there’s a gigantic gap between the woman you are and the one you want to be?  I do.  The woman I want to be lives in my mind, somewhere between the endless to-do lists and the names of all the Sesame Street muppets.  She is innately patient.  Fearlessly radical.  She believes that God is faithful, even when it feels like He’s forgotten her.  She always chooses the better thing–to feed her soul instead of her flesh, to submit instead of defy, to rejoice instead of complain.  She never snaps at her children or nags her husband.

In fact, the only person she ever irritates is me.  She eludes me and haunts me at the same time.  She is the woman I think about five seconds after I say the thing I shouldn’t have said.   The woman I think about when my kids are in bed and I’m wishing I hadn’t been so impatient with them.  I think about her when I meet someone really sunny who never seems to doubt God.  And I think about her on the really cloudy days when I feel guilty for not climbing out of my own discouragement.

I used to think I could bridge the gap between her and me in one giant leap.  Maybe a Beth Moore conference?  A weekend prayer retreat?  But I never could make the leap.  At times I thought I had, and then inevitably I would disappoint myself.  Struggle with the same old sin.  Fail in the same old way.

Sometime this summer it finally clicked with me.  The journey from me to her is a small step journey.  It is not made up of grandiose conferences or life-altering experiences.  It is made up of millions upon millions of tiny moments.  Paul David Tripp taught me this when he wrote, “the character and quality of our life is forged in little moments.  We tend to back away from the significance of these little moments because they are little moments.  [But] these are the moments that make up our lives.”

In context, he was writing about all the little thoughts, words, and choices that shape a marriage and set the stage for the future.  But I am finding this “small-moment approach” is a great way to live all of life.  I have come to pray a very simple prayer throughout the day.  Whether I’m believing a lie, battling idols, or itching to erupt, in the heat of the moment all I pray is, “God, help me win this small-moment battle!”  That’s all I focus on.  I don’t think about overcoming every battle, or making a personal sanctification plan, or donning a cape and painting supermom across my forehead.  I just focus on the one small battle before me, and by God’s power with Christ’s help, I fight to win.  Then, ten minutes later, when the baby dumps a bowl of spaghetti onto my mother-in-law’s carpet, I pray, “God, help me win this small-moment battle!”  And so it goes.

You build a house one brick at a time, write a book one word at a time, and live a life one moment at a time.  You and I don’t have to become the Proverbs 31 woman tomorrow.  We just have to throw ourselves upon the grace and power of Christ to live faithfully today.  To make the wise choice.  To say the kind thing.  To reject the awful thought.  To repent and get back up again.  And one day we will look back and realize that over a lifetime–over a million small moments–God grew us.  

Mother Theresa, Adolf Hitler, Martin Luther, Jessica Simpson–they all have one thing in common.  They became who they are one small moment at a time.  And so will we.

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To Those of Us Who’d Like a Fresh Start

imagesCABXM5D0It’s hard to believe summer is almost over.  When I was a teacher I always loved this time of year—unlocking the door to an empty classroom and starting all over.  Stapling up bulletin board paper, organizing my desk, filling out a brand new grade book with brand new names and dreaming big dreams for a brand new year.

This summer I’ve had a small taste of the same feeling—a sense that God is doing something fresh in my life.  Instead of decorating a bulletin board and organizing my desk, I’ve gone on a mission to organize our whole house (courtesy of the first housekeeping book I’ve ever read in my life!  More on this in a future post.)  I’ve allowed myself to dream big dreams with my husband.  And most importantly of all, I’ve taken an honest look at my life and decided I want a lot more out of it.

There was a time when I took God at His word.  I mean literally took Him at His word.  As a kid in the Philippines, my parents used to give me ten pesos a week in allowance.  They taught me to tithe one peso to the church.  I still remember the day I told my dad I wanted to give 100 pesos to the church.  He asked me if I was really sure, and I can remember feeling excited and pragmatic at the very same time.  It made so much sense to me.  If Jesus is the most valuable thing in the world, and eternity is all that truly matters, what could be better than giving my money to Jesus’ church?  I got it as a kid.  I wasn’t afraid to follow a radical God with radical faith.

But as I grew older I began to realize that Christianity could be a lot more convenient if I sort of took God at His word.  So I gathered His mandates and mixed in a couple of qualifiers, added some safety precautions, threw in a few exceptions, and pretty much developed a comfortable blend of Christianity that could co-exist with my own desires for a secure and easy life.

But this is what I’ve discovered–if you want to water down God’s calling, then you also have to water down the blessings of obedience to God’s calling.  You have to settle for an average marriage, relative peace, mediocre satisfaction.  And I don’t want any of those things.

I want ALL that God has for me.  I want the joy that comes from genuine devotion to Christ.  The peace that comes from true submission.  The love that comes from walking with Jesus.  I want the freedom that comes with surrender.  The hope that comes with faith.  The perseverance that comes by grace.

I want a fresh start.  Not a legalistic attempt to never make another mistake, or a resolution to “try harder.”  Just a quiet, moment-by-moment surrender to Jesus.  A humble prayer to regain some of the wonder I once had as a child.

What about you?  Would you like a fresh start?  Don’t be afraid–because of His grace, it’s yours for the taking.

Is There Such a Thing as Calling?

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A friend asked me this question several months ago.  In context, I knew she wasn’t referring to a “general” or “primary” calling to live for Christ.  She was asking me if I believe there is such a thing as a “specific” or “secondary” calling, like the calling to become a doctor or a missionary.

I understood the question because people talk about this sort of “calling” all the time.  They say things like, “I just felt called to do it.”  Called to marry him.  Called to plant a church.  Called to adopt.  Called to give.  Some people love to talk about calling…so much so that you wonder if they go to the grocery store and feel “called” to buy Crest toothpaste instead of Colgate.  These sort of people used to frustrate me.  It felt like they had a private line with God, and He just told them everything to do, say, think, eat, and moisturize with.  To be honest, I was jealous.  Many times it felt like I begged God for discernment and heard crickets in the background.  I always wanted to exclaim, But how do you know you’re called?  

Suffice to say, I’ve pondered my friend’s question long before she asked it.  I usually find myself thinking about calling in one of two life scenarios–either before making a major decision, or in a season of difficulty and discouragement.  In the former scenario, I’m hoping not to make a mistake.  In the latter, I’m wondering if I already did.

The funny thing about “calling” is it’s deeply tied to our view of God.  The person who is wondering about calling is the person who is secretly hoping God actually has a plan for her life.  Secretly hoping she hasn’t somehow fallen out of His hands.  Secretly hoping He loves her enough to be intimately involved in the details of her life.  I should know, I am that person.  So instead of rambling on inconclusively with my friend, this is how I wish I would’ve answered her question:

Yes.  I believe God has a specific calling for every single person, including you and your husband.  I believe this because the God of the Bible is vastly personal, with the power to bestow wisdom (James 1:5), to direct your steps (Pro 16:9), and to equip you to do His will (Heb 13:21).  The God of the Bible is so completely sovereign that even the sparrows don’t fall to the ground apart from His will (Matt 10:29).  He most surely has a sovereign will for you and your husband–people created in His image, whom He rescued at tremendous cost.

BUT, the tricky thing is, He may not reveal it to you right now.  If there is one thing I have learned from this year’s BSF study on Genesis, it’s that callings from God are revealed and fulfilled in His timing.  Abraham waited twenty-five years for God to give him Isaac.  Joseph was seventeen years old when He had a vision of his brothers bowing before him, and he was thirty-nine years old when the vision came to pass.  Clearly the presence of waiting is not the absence of calling.  In fact, it might be the hallmark of it!  I cannot think of a single instance in the Bible where God revealed a calling in its entirety, and then fulfilled it immediately.  Which brings me to the second thing I’ve learned from our Genesis study: Callings from God are not free of suffering.  Look back at Joseph again.  It amazes me to think that while he sat in prison, he was in the very center of God’s will for his life.  I would’ve been begging, “Surely there is a plan B!  This cannot be Your plan for my life!”  But it was.  It just wasn’t the plan in its entirety–it was a piece of the plan.  It was a dark and painful season that transformed a cocky 17 year-old boy into the God-fearing governor of Egypt.  In other words, there is a purpose for the suffering!  There is a purpose for all the waiting, and all the painful growth.  It’s not a deviation from the plan; it’s part of it.  In the meantime, you can plant your hope firmly in the fact that callings from God are for His glory and our good.  All along, God loved Joseph.  All along, the plan was intended to glorify God and to bless Joseph, something Joseph himself understood when he told his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).

Dear sister (or brother), if you belong to God, you will never fall out of His hand.  You will never be big enough to thwart His will, or ruin His ability to use your life for His glory.  There is always a plan.  Even in the silence.

While you wait for God’s specific calling for your life to come together, the Bible overflows with His clearly revealed general calling for all people.  He has called us to holiness (I Thess 4:7), to share the gospel of Christ (Matt 28:18-20), to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to love and forgive like Christ (Jn 13:34, Eph 4:32) to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances (I Thess 5:15-18).  God has called us to Himself.  To a relationship with Him, in which we become like Him by His own power and grace.  He has called us to surrender, to be at peace with the things we do not know because we are at peace with the One who controls them.

Lest you think I am writing this from a position of great comfort and security, I am not.  I am writing it from Joseph’s cell–from that place of quiet and painful patience.  But the more I do what Joseph did–embracing the season, serving the cupbearer and the baker and working with all my heart as unto the Lord–the more I see that this is a place of great freedom.  This is the place where fear runs and hides, because it is the place where you finally believe that nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.  It is the place where character deepens, faith blossoms, and hope overcomes.  It is the very center of God’s will.

A Romanian Bride and the Bigness of God

247585_10151581273069528_753205824_nTonight we attended the rehearsal dinner of an American groom and a radiant Romanian bride, and I remembered again what I love so much about culture.  When I was little and my family went on furlough, I could step off the airplane and literally smell America.  I can’t put my finger on it, but every now and then it comes back to me.  Out of nowhere I’ll exclaim, “Clint!  Do you smell that?  That’s what America smells like!”  Clint doesn’t smell it.  But I do.  It’s the smell of specialness—all the specialness of America.

Tonight I felt the specialness of Romania, and I’ve never even been there.  When the bride’s grandfather made a toast, I felt it in the lilt of his accent—in the beautiful way he said her name.  And when her uncle and her grandmother spontaneously played the piano, I felt the peace and joy of a culture that knows how to celebrate.  A culture less bound by agendas than by the heart.

The truth is every culture is beautiful in its own way.  When I think of starkly different cultures, such as my mother’s Chinese culture and my native Filipino culture, I love them both.  I love the efficiency and order of Singapore, as if the entire nation understands the value of taking pride in all that you do.  I love taking my shoes off at the door, and eating my Aunt’s Chinese food in the kitchen.  And I love the exuberant chaos of the Philippines—the bustle, and life, and joy of a culture more enamored with people than tasks.  I recently went to Chick-fila with some Filipino women and listened to them talk in Tagalog, and reminisce about Jollybee, and felt for a moment as though I’d come home.

But my very favorite aspect of culture is the way in which it enhances the bigness of God—the vastness, and creativity, and incomprehensible depth.  With every glimpse of a different culture, I catch a glimpse into the heart and mind of a God more infinite than I can explore.  I will never forget visiting Botswana as a teenager, and witnessing throngs of African men and women worshipping God in their native language.  It was the first time in my life that it really dawned on me that God isn’t American.  And just like that, He was so much bigger, and so much more mysterious than I’d dared to imagine.  And all I wanted to do was worship Him right along with them.

Tomorrow morning, Bret and Sabina will be married.  And together we will rejoice in the God of Romania, the God of America, the God of all the cultures in all the world!  The God of the Universe.

P.S. Here is a picture from the ceremony.  The cute pastor is my husband.

P.S. Here is a picture from the ceremony. The cute pastor is my husband!

Egg Hunts, Losers, and Other Thoughts on Easter

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The first time Aubrey went on an Easter egg hunt, she found five eggs.  Well really I found them, which was quite an accomplishment given all the four-year-old boys with Spiderman-like vision.  Not only could they spot an egg ten yards away, they could thrust their entire torso into a prickly bush to get it.  Me, not so much.

At the end of the hunt, everybody sat down to eat their candy.  I couldn’t help but glance at the overflowing buckets around me.  With a sigh, I began to pop open Aubrey’s eggs.  Two of them were empty.  She ate her candy in roughly three seconds and looked around. I wondered if she realized what a losing team we made.  I can still see her wearing her little pink chick shirt, watching everybody else eat their candy, clutching an empty yellow basket in her fist.

I’ve never loved her more.

Any parent will tell you that we love our children unconditionally.  Like the rope that tethers a boat to shore, our love braves calm and stormy weather.  But there’s something about seeing a child in a moment of vulnerability that elicits special affection.  Ask any parent how they felt the first time they watched their child be rejected by peers, and you’ll glimpse the emotion.  It’s loyalty and love, compassion and tenderness all mixed together.  And now as Easter approaches a single thought keeps running through my mind.

I wonder if God sees me in my vulnerable moments, and feels the same way toward me as I felt toward Aubrey.  I wonder if His heart is touched in a special way when I’m the child with the empty basket.  The child who’s hurting.  The child who’s failed, or lost, or been rejected.

Because God is omniscient, I sometimes picture Him unaffected by the sorrows of my life.  I assume He’s always calm, cool, and collected—reminding me that He has a plan, so why don’t I quit my sniffling and get on with it?  But the Bible reveals a very different God, One who meets His children intimately and passionately in their lowest moments.  The God of the Bible is One who longed to gather His wayward children into His arms as a hen gathers her chicks (Luke 13:34).  He is the God whose compassion overflowed at the very thought of giving up on faithless Israel (Hosea 11:8).  The God who saw Hagar.  The God who communed with Job.   The God who wrestled with Jacob.  Even when it was their own sin that put them in the pit, God met them where they were.

I love that about Him.

I love that the God of the Universe doesn’t watch us from afar, but gets His hands dirty in the messy reality of our lives.  I love that He wrestles us until we no longer resist Him, but cling to Him and desperately beg for His blessing.  Is there any other god in the history of world religions who would condescend to such a level?  Who would allow Himself to be so intimately involved, so emotionally affected, by the lives and hearts of humans?  And yet the God of the Bible goes even further–not only meeting us where we are, but becoming one of us.  Can you just imagine God Almighty as a baby?  The God of the Universe sitting in His own poop, waiting for someone to come clean Him up?  It’s baffling!  Could He have taken any form more vulnerable?  More utterly defenseless?  More humble?

And to think I imagine Him unaffected by the sorrows of my life.  Unable to relate.

He literally came down from Heaven and walked in the same human flesh I now walk in.  Only He did it perfectly, and then died a gruesome death–enduring the wrath I deserved–in order to rescue me.  You know what I think?  I think the maternal love I feel for my children in their empty-Easter-egg-basket moments doesn’t hold a candle to the depth of emotion He feels for us.

And I love that about Him.

I worship that about Him.