We will never have a perfect marriage - but we can try!

Last night Dennis and I sat together with our laptops while he worked and I listened to praise music. A comment here, a question there ... both of us relaxed and comfortable. It was WONderful.
And I'm sure that sounds odd, strange, or even lame. Computers + work = good? Um ... Michelle?

Okay, here's the deal. It was not what we were DOING that was good ... it was US that was good.

And "good" is not an adjective either of us would use to describe our past month as husband and wife. One or both of us have been irritable, short, unkind with our words and tone of voice, impatient, lacking sensitivity and compassion, not seeking to understand the other, inattentive, dismissive, selfish, and rude. Don't you wish YOU were married to one of us? <she says with thickly dripping sarcasm and a roll of the eyes>

It was a bad month.
Neither of us happy.
Neither one content.
Both keeping lists of offenses and grievances.
Neither one enjoying the other.
Both wishing the other would change.
Mutual encouragement and support? Um, no.
Both of us hating every minute of it but refusing to be the one to surrender first.

When you are first married you receive much grace. You are both clueless, ignorant, blind, and inexperienced as a spouse. And why wouldn't you be? You've never done this before! You HAVE to fight through the unknown pitfalls that come with living with another sinner day after day because there is no other way to do it. Experience is a great teacher.
After a while, you start to figure things out - cause and effect if you will - and you begin to do things differently. A long list of "Note to Self" items are collected, and you eventually learn how to love, respect, encourage, and challenge your spouse the way he/she needs to be loved. Your desire to meet your own needs begins to diminish as the desire to meet the needs of your spouse increases.
It is a beautiful thing.
It is a necessary thing.
It is a biblical thing.
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:10
We are newlyweds no longer. "I didn't know" just doesn't cut it anymore. We DO know. And we are accountable.

We love each other.
We respect and cherish each other.
Enjoy each other.
We cannot imagine sharing life with anyone else.
We raise children together.
Serve in ministry together.
Walk through trials and hurts and pain, together.

But there is this pesky little thing called sin that continues to cling to us as the months and years of marriage roll by. Within the mutual love and affection, pleasure and joy of living and serving together, selfishness is always lurking nearby, waiting for the chance to show itself. And sadly, his opportunities are frequent.

Giving up self.
Thinking of another first.
Serving without expectations.
Loving unconditionally.
Encouraging consistently.
Not keeping a record of wrongs.

All of these are a CHOICE.
Regardless of how the other person is acting, behaving, or speaking.
I get to choose whether I will love, honor, and serve my husband ...
or if I will serve - myself.

Dennis and I both chose to serve self for almost a month.
And because we chose poorly, we suffered the consequences of that choice.
Disappointment, lack of affection, annoyance, frustration, and apathy.
Not the fruits the Lord intended a husband and wife to enjoy when He designed marriage!

We will never have a perfect marriage.
But we can certainly make a better practice of perfection by intentionally choosing to outdo one another in showing honor.
In the little things.
In the big things.
In the everyday and the mundane.

Because the truth is, when Dennis and I love, serve, respect, and submit to one another - we are loving, serving, respecting, and submitting to the Lord.
And above everything else - even our selfishness and pride - that is EXACTLY what we want to do!
Honor the Lord.
In our marriage.
In our parenting.
In all things.

Oh, Lord, please continue changing us from the inside out!
Our greatest desire is to look like You.
May we be found faithful!


No one needs a perfect friend - they just need an authentic one.

Every year the Lord sends me into a deep and thorough internal search.
It is always good, but it is not always pretty.
I love that I am not the same woman I was five years ago, but I still have much work to do!
And in order to grow, I must be willing to look at the good, the bad, and the ugly ~ no matter how uncomfortable ~ and see where I resemble Christ, and where I still look way too much like Michelle.
During this recent time of introspection, the Lord had me walk through my role as a friend.
And I came up with some questions.
I started with Dennis, then sent them to another friend, and will continue to do so as the Lord directs.

There is always a bit of risk in questions like these because each person perceives and defines things differently.
For instance, I ask if they feel pursued by me.
While I may pursue a friend once a week, she needs/wants me to do so three times a week, so she would respond that I do not meet this need and I fail her in this area.
Therefore, a discussion about current expectations (met and unmet), and adjusting them to reflect realistic and mutually-satisfying expectations becomes a priority.

I think one of the hardest parts of friendship, or any relationship, is the continual need for examination and conversation about expectations. We all have them. We all describe and define them differently. And it is absolutely impossible for anyone to meet all of them consistently and intentionally day after day.
We are flawed, forgetful, selfish people.
Though we desire to think of one another above ourselves, and seek to meet each other's needs, we will blow it. Either unwittingly or simply because in that moment we just don't care about anyone but ourselves.
Relationships endure hardships.
Offenses and hurts.
But that is when Christ steps in and says, "Confess your sins one to another, and forgive one another just as I have forgiven you."
It is awkward, embarrassing, and sometimes humiliating.
But when we do it, we are walking in obedience.

I am not a perfect friend. I am not a perfect anything. And it is because of this truth that I am willing to hear the hard and painful answers.
A real friend ~ a Biblical friend ~ will tell me what I need to hear, even if it is awkward to do so.
The wounds of a friend are faithful. And once the sting wears off from the initial blow, growth happens. Maturity happens. Sanctification is at work. And more of those rough edges are smoothed out  ~ and made beautiful.
I will never be a perfect friend because I cannot be all things to all people all the time.
I will hurt, offend, and disappoint. More than once. Even when I am not trying to.
But I cannot declare myself a 'failure' and avoid the human race. Instead, I need to confess, apologize, seek forgiveness, and then start fresh ... forgetting what lies behind and pressing on to what lies ahead.

This time of looking at myself from the inside out was challenging, profitable, difficult, and encouraging.
It is good to see that I have not been stagnant, but the Lord brought to light the things that need attention and care.

My friends do not need a 'perfect Michelle.'
They need a real, vulnerable, humble, sincere, and Spirit-filled Michelle.
And the only way they will ever have her is if she is seeking so hard after God they have to find HIM, to get to her.

Lord, may this be true of me!
Thank You for this time of reflection and taking a hard look inside. It was necessary ... and it was good.
Never stop showing me where I can grow, Lord! It is not always easy, and sometimes I fight You, but it IS what I want because in order to look more like You, I have to remove more of me.

A "What kind of friend am I?" Survey

~ If you had to describe me in 5 words or less, which words would you choose?
~ How would you describe me specifically in the role of a friend?
~ Am I a Biblical friend?
~ What do you consider my greatest weakness(es)?
~ When we talk, are my faith, my biblical convictions, and my love for the Lord evident, or are they difficult to see?
~ Do you feel encouraged and refreshed after spending time with me, or do you leave feeling like I am inattentive and self-focused?
~ Am I a good listener?
~ Am I quick to bear your burdens, or do you feel I neglect your hurts and cares?
~ Am I faithful to follow up after you share something vulnerable and personal with me?
~ Do I push hard enough when you need correction/rebuke?
~ Am I tender and gentle when you need a safe place to be broken and hurting?
~ Are you confident in my love and friendship, or do you doubt my commitment to you?
~ Do I pursue you?
~ Do I encourage you in your walk with the Lord?
~ Do I encourage you in any area of life?
~ Do I ask questions that matter?
~ Do you trust me?


Quote ~ on suffering and affliction.

"Affliction is one of God's medicines! By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity and worldly comfort, are what we all naturally desire, but losses and crosses are far better for us if they lead us to Christ. Let us beware of murmuring in the time of trouble. Let us settle it firmly in our minds, that there is a meaning, a “needs be”, and a message from God in every sorrow that falls upon us. There are no lessons so useful as those learned in the school of affliction. There is no commentary that opens up the Bible so much as sickness and sorrow. The resurrection morning will prove, that many of the losses of God’s people were in reality, eternal gains. Thousands at the last day will testify with David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted”" Psalm. 119:71
                                                                                                         ~ JC Ryle


Living or dying - we praise Him!

The Lord gave me a unique gift for my 43rd year.

He had me sitting in the pew of a church for a funeral on Saturday
and enjoying the blessing of a birthday on Sunday.

Such a contrast in purpose, and yet there is great wisdom in it!

Remembering a life that is no more - while celebrating a life that continues to live on.

Life and Death.

We cannot change or avoid either,
and God determines both.

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because death is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

Rarely do we leave a party wondering if we should love better, set priorities in their proper order, or examine our hearts under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.

But it is virtually impossible to leave a funeral without thinking about our own lives ... how we live, what we count as most important, how we spend our free time, memories, regrets, broken relationships, disobedience to, or flat out rejection of, the Lord, or simply the futility of life in general.
Death forces us to THINK.
And often, we see something we do not like.
Which is exactly why it is BETTER to be in a house of mourning than a house of feasting - because we are still ALIVE and able to make a change. Large or small. Significant or not.
And the Lord is standing right beside us, waiting for us to hand over everything we have - everything we are - to HIM. Never asking us to do it alone. Never asking us to do it in our own strength.
Just mercifully, graciously, faithfully leading us to the place He wants us - and never once letting go in the process.

While living - we praise Him for all things, and in all things.
When dying - we do the same.

Let me live so I might praise You. Psalm 119:175

Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints. Psalm 116:15



"Our generation is more concerned about the toxins in their food than the sin in their souls."

This is a quote by our pastor during our current study of Luke 2 - the story of the men who bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus, lowering him through the roof, so he could be healed.

As humans we seek to heal, and control, the body.
Jesus looks past the body to the true source of decay and death - the SOUL.

When the faith-filled men believed Jesus could heal their friend, Jesus astounded everyone when He healed his SOUL first. "I say to you, your sins are forgiven."
And then He healed his physical disease. "Rise up and walk."

Oh, Lord, make us care about the things YOU care about - first.
And then - trust You with everything that follows.


Quotes ~ "Hindrances to Prayer" by Spurgeon.

I highly, highly, highly recommend this book!
It is incredibly convicting and requires full attention and focus when reading - but WOW WOW WOW does it pack a punch and change your thinking about prayer!

My copy is filled with annotations - way too many to share - but the last chapter I read was so good and so practical that it propelled me to write them out so others may be encouraged, and challenged, in their own personal prayer life.

I think my favorite part of Christianity is the intimate, personal relationship we have with the Lord. We have full access to Him ANY TIME we want Him! No appointments, no rituals, no dependence on other men to take us before the throne. Just continual and welcome conversation with a holy God - all day long.
How blessed we are!
Chapter Ten "Hindrances to Prayer"
(Emphasis in non-italic bold are mine)

~ To be hindered from prayer may be done by falling into a generally lax condition in reference to the things of God. When a man becomes spiritually cold,indifferent, and careless, one of the first thing that will suffer will be his prayer life. Prayer is the true gauge of spiritual power.

~ Prayers may be hindered by having too much to do.
The rich man in the parable had no time for prayer, for he was busy planning new barns wherein to store his goods, but he had to find time for dying when the Lord said, "This night thy soul shall be required of thee" (Luke 12:20).

I have never heard of anyone who was burdened with too much praying. The more we do in this life, the more we should pray. We cannot labor too much if prayer is proportionate, but I fear that some of us would do far more if we attempted less and prayed more about it.

~ There can be no doubt that prayer also is hindered by having too little to do.
People who have nothing to do generally do it with a great deal of fuss. From morning to night they waste other people's time. Having nothing to do, they are hired by Satan to hinder and injure others.

~ Some people hinder their prayers by a lack of order.
They get up a little too late, chase their work all day,and never overtake it, but are always in a flurry with one duty tripping the heels of another. They have no appointed time for communion with God, and consequently, something or other happens, and prayer is forgotten or so slurred and hurried over that it amounts to little.

Other duties should be done, but prayer must not be left undone. It must have its own place and sufficient of it.

~ Worldly cares are frequent and most mischievous hindrances to prayer.
A Christian man should be the most careful man in the world, and yet without carefulness. (worry) He should be "Casting all your care upon Him; for He cares for you" (I Peter 5:7). To receive everything from God's hands and to trust everything in God's hands is a happy way of living and very helpful to prayer.

Faith gives peace, and peace leaves the soul clear for prayer. But when care (worry) comes in, it confuses the mind and puts the heart away from pleading.

Oh, for more grace and less worry! More praying and less hoarding! More intercession and less speculating!

~ Earthly pleasures, especially of a questionable nature are the worst of hindrances.
You cannot roll in the mire and then approach with clean garments to the mercy seat. How can you come before the throne of God with petitions when you have just been dishonoring the name of the Most High? 

~ Prayers may be hindered equally by worldly sorrow.
Some give way to sorrow so extremely that they cannot even pray.
The sorrow that prevents a man's praying is flat rebellion against the will of God. Our Lord was "exceeding sorrowful, even unto death" (Matthew 26:38), and therefore He prayed. It is right to be sorrowful, but when sorrow is right, it will drive us to prayer - not drive us from it.

With all your grief, bowed into the very dust of afflictions, still be like your Lord and Master and cry, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (I LOVE this!)

~ There are cases in which prayer is very greatly hindered by a bad temper.
You cannot speak crossly to workers or family or join in a big fight or in small squabbles and then go and pray with power. Get up and go and settle the matter before you try to talk with God, for the prayer of angry men makes God angry.
You cannot wrestle with the Covenant Angel while you are under the power of the devil. (Whoa)

~ Prayers can be hindered when we dishonor the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
If children of God are not obedient to the Father's will, they must not wonder if they find it hard to pray.
Take care that you vex not the Spirit of God in any way, especially by shutting your ears to His gentle warnings, His loving calls, His earnest entreaties, His tender admonitions. If you are deaf to the divine Comforter, He will be speechless to you.

~ There must be holy living in a believer if his prayers are greatly to succeed with God.
If we compare prayer to shooting with a bow, you must have clean hands or you cannot shoot, for this bow refuses to bend to hands polluted with unrepented sin.

~ In addition to obedience there must be faith. Faith obtains a promise, unbelief goes empty-handed.
"But let him ask in faith, without wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. Let not that man think he shall receive anything from the Lord." (James 1:6-7) The prayer that avails most with God is the prayer of one who believes that God will hear him and who therefore asks with confidence.

~ There must be holy desires, or else prayer will be a failure.
If we are wholly living for God, our prayers will run side by side with His purposes, and none of them will fall to the ground.

The approach to the mercy seat is holy ground and not to be played with or made to minister to sin. If we walk contrary to the Lord, He will walk contrary to us. 
I say to every Christian who is in trouble, take the straight path out of it and do the right thing. If it brings you trouble, bear it like a man, and then go to God and say, "Lord, I have, by Your grace, chosen a plain, honest path; now, help me," and He will.

May God grant us grace as Christians to walk with Him in the power of His Spirit, resting alone on Jesus. May He make each of us mighty in prayer. A man whom God has taught to pray mightily is one with God's mind and is God's hand moving among the sons of men. When the man acts, God acts with him. He must, however, be careful and watchful, for the Lord is a jealous God and most jealous where He loves most. God grant you to walk humbly with God and to live near Him, "that your prayers may not be hindered."
Oh, Lord - make me aware of any hindrance that keeps me from praying with You so I can remove it.
I so want the pure, perfect,and passionate prayer life that You promise to every believer if we come before You with clean hands and a pure heart.
Remove my sin, Lord, and make me like YOU!


A powerful QUOTE - on sin.

"A benumbed snake is still a snake. A washed sow is not changed. Just so, our natural corruption does not always break out in full."

There may be a winter to our corruptions - as well as to animal and vegetable life. And then the sin which dwells in us may be quiet, as though frozen into a rigid powerlessness - but what of that? The weather will change, and then the nest of vipers will be all astir again, each one with envenomed tooth aiming to destroy!

Experience has taught the wise observer that sin may be bound by sin, and one evil passion may hold the rest in check. One man is kept from immorality, by covetousness: he would be glad to revel in vice - if it were not so expensive. Another would be a profligate, but then it would not be respectable, and thus his pride checks his passions. This restraint of sin by sin, is no proof that the nature is one jot the better - but that it only puts on a fairer appearance, and is more likely to deceive.

Nothing will overcome with inbred sin, but the killing of it!

When Joshua had captured the five kings in the cave, he was not content to simply shut them in with large stones. No, he took special pains to fetch them out, and hang them up! The condemned race must die - and then Israel can breathe freely.

Sin will be our death - if we do not put it to death! Checks and restraints are of small value; what is needed is the root-cure - crucifixion with Christ! To cure sin by sin, is a mere piece of stage playing, which will never answer before God.

O Destroyer of the serpent and his seed - break the head of sin within me, so that it may never lift up its usurped power within my soul. Let the sword of the Spirit do a thorough work within my nature, until not a single rebel lust shall remain alive in the wide domains of my being. Furbish your sword, Almighty Captain, and do Your office within me, for I cannot rest until sin is slain!

                                                 (Charles Spurgeon, "Flowers from a Puritan's Garden" 1883)



You only fail to see the goodness and faithfulness of God that surrounds you when you are completely focused on yourself.

May I be found FAITHFUL!

The other day I was picking up items around the house, and I found Ellie's sandals next to mine.
The contrast in size - the contrast in color - the contrast in how they are used ... all of these things struck me, and made me smile.

As I kept staring at the sandals, however, another thought entered my mind.
I am an example for Ellie to follow!

She is going to learn how to be a woman - by watching ME!
How to walk, speak, dress, take care of a home, honor and submit to her husband, love her children, worship, obey the Lord, and minister to the body of Christ.

I am used to being the mother of sons who naturally begin to emulate their father around the age of two. They want to talk, walk, run, and BE like him because he is a man, and they are little men who itch to be big and strong like their father.
I teach them how to be gentlemen, help them understand the thoughts/ ways of women, and train them in righteousness as Scripture calls me to do. But never in my wildest thoughts have I envisioned myself teaching them how to be MEN. Because I can't! I am a woman - and there is only so much I can do for my sons in a practical sense. God did not create woman to model masculinity for their sons, and there is a reason! He created men for that role! Purposefully and intentionally. (Which is why the church needs to be diligent and faithful to fill in the gaps for boys who do not have fathers.)
Boys need men to model manhood - pure and simple.
Girls, on the other hand, need women to model womanhood.

I am a mother of a GIRL!
I knew this truth, of course, but seeing Ellie's little pink sandals sitting next to mind was a profound moment. She is a child - speaking, thinking, acting and behaving like a child. So I treat her accordingly. We do not discuss gender roles, or her place in the home, or how God designed her to be a help meet to her husband and a faithful servant to her children.
She is four!
We color, take walks, play games, read books, and talk about snacks.
While she loves pretty clothes, she is the baby sister of five brothers - there is not a lot of femininity flowing through this house! She will put on a princess dress and then shoot guns with the boys outside in the dirt.
She chews with her mouth open (AAH!), YELLS every time she speaks, puts Hot-wheels in her purse, and rides a Big Wheel in the middle of the street without shoes on.
That's my girl!

And you see - that is exactly my point! Ellie is a GIRL.
She was designed by the Creator to be a girl.
He chose her gender.
He chose her personality and her strengths.
He made her the youngest of five brothers - for a reason.
And He has a purpose for all of it!

I have no idea what kind of woman Ellie will become.
Will she be shy, strong, independent, behind-the scenes or out in front?
Will she love music and art or numbers and science?
Will she marry and have a family or will the Lord keep her single?
Will she be a faithful friend who pours into the lives of others?
I don't know!
But the Lord DOES.

And He is not asking me to "design her" for the future. He is not asking me to imagine her future.
He is asking me to be FAITHFUL, day by day, year after year, to do what He has commanded me:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:6-9

Everything I pour into Ellie - whether she is four, fourteen or thirty-four - will become a part of who she is when she is a woman.
My choices affect her ... good and bad ... and will shape the heart and mind of this little girl as the Lord grows her into maturity. She will be watching me. Listening. Examining. And copying.

He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Luke 6

I am Ellie's teacher! I can say all of the right words and read all of the great Scriptures, but if I am not LIVING those truths day by day she will respond to, and mimic, my actions far more quickly then she ever absorbs any of the words I utter.
Oh, how the Lord uses our children to refine us!

If there is one thing that will push a mother towards holiness ... it is knowing her children are seeing their God through HER eyes. They are hearing His voice in HER words. They are seeing His love displayed in HER actions.
And though she knows she is imperfect and will fail them at times, her desire to see them boldly loving their Savior, seeking Him daily, and utterly dependent on Him in all things knowing He is all-sufficient and ever faithful, is what drives her to her knees in prayer and keeps her buried between the pages of Scripture.
Because she knows that without a real, authentic, and personal relationship with Jesus Christ that consumes her life in every way ... all of her labor is in vain.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. III John 1:4

If we want our children to walk in truth ... we must model what truth-walking looks like!
Every day.
Whether we are in the mood or not.
Whether it is convenient or burdensome.
F A I T H F U L L Y.

And if we do this, through the help of the only One who can give us the selflessness, strength, and desire we need to be faithful in such a calling, we will enjoy the fruits of our labor when one day ...

Her children rise up and call her blessed. Proverbs 31

May I be found faithful, Lord! To Ellie, and most of all - to You!


I can trust Him for the future!

This stack of books is a lovely sight to my eyes because it means it is almost time to open the doors of The Eastman Academy for the 2014-2015 school year!
Our 10th year of homeschooling! WooHoo!

We are going back to a completely pure homeschooling model this year. No classes, no outsourcing - just me and my children day by day as we pursue the course of study and character training the Lord has called us to ... for such a time as this.

My highly-skilled, and more-than-qualified groom has been gracious to talk, plan, pray, and read with me as we prepare for this year. And there is much to prepare for, though I remind myself continually, "The Lord has this, Michelle!"
Much like the apostles in the boat being tossed by the storm who cried out, "Lord! We are afraid! WHY are You sleeping?" - I have to be reminded by my Savior that HE is not afraid. The same God who controls the wind and the waves and the salvation of my children also controls their character, intellect, and spiritual gifts. What curriculum we use and where they go to college is hardly a cause for an emergency meeting of the Trinity!

Over the past three years the Lord has graciously freed me from the burden of believing that the future, intelligence, and success of my children rests on my shoulders. I cannot do anything to "create" who they are or what they will become. Nor am I called to do so!
The Lord commands us as parents to train our children in righteousness ... to discipline them ... and train them in godliness and wisdom. But never does He command us to secure their futures or prepare them for the workforce.

HE is the One who created them!
HE is the One was has a plan and a purpose for them.
HE knows their every strength and weakness, their passions, skills, and desires.
HE is the One who will continue to mold, shape, prepare, and purify them for the calling He has already placed in their hearts.

My responsibility is to show them the face of God - every single day.
Pray for them - and with them.
Model Christ in my actions, words, and relationships.
Remind them that the Cross is the only place they will find healing.
Teach them the Word of God so they can hide it deep within their hearts so they are able to turn away from evil.
And remind them day by day the beautiful truth that their Lord is ALL SUFFICIENT - in all things - and He is FAITHFUL.

Math, science, history, writing and grammar - they will happen.
But if my children gain a terrific education while following the way of culture, living like the world, and rejecting the Savior ... I will have modeled for them the frightening verse that declares, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?"
And my labor will have been in vain.

I LOVE that the Lord has released me from the burden of claiming the successes and failures of my children.
I love that He knows them intimately and designed them not only in His image, but fearfully and WONDERFULLY.
I love that He has shown me boldly, and without room for doubt, that each of my children - Micah, Luke, Caleb, Josiah, Isaiah, and Ellie - are not my children ... but HIS.
He created them in the secret places of the earth, and His work has never ceased since the moment they were formed.

I remember the first year we opened the doors of The Eastman Academy. Micah was going to be in Pre-K, and the night before our first day of school I broke down with Dennis crying, "What if I ruin him? What if he never gets into college because of my mistakes? How will I ever be able to DO THIS?"
He waited until I finished, looked at me very seriously and said, "Babe, he's FOUR. Read some books, pull out some Play-do, teach him to cut with scissors and call it a day!"
The father of our child was not at all worried about what was going to happen to his son during the day - because he trusted ME. He knew that my love for Micah would overpower any deficiencies in my lesson planning or craft ideas. His confidence in me was greater than the confidence I had in myself.
And guess who had it right?
It wasn't me.

I can recall that night with the utmost clarity, and I am so glad I am not that same woman!
I have made mistakes in homeschooling.
I have made mistakes in their Biblical training.
I have failed to show them a gentle and quiet spirit, and responded in anger instead of grace.
I have been lazy when I should have been diligent.
But you know what is amazing about all of these failings? The Lord was right there for every single one of them! In all of my selfish and sinful moments He never left me. And what's more - He never left my children.
He was there ... watching ... convicting ... challenging ... and encouraging me as I moved through each day. The good and the bad. The exciting and the discouraging. The fun and the frustrating.

And now, as we are about to embark on our tenth year of homeschooling, I am more passionate and excited than ever before. Nerves, insecurity, and fear are no longer a part of my curriculum. Not because I have it all together - but because I know the God who DOES!
He promises that I can do ALL THINGS through Him. And when He makes a promise - He means it!
So I can surrender this school year to Him. I can surrender each of my children to Him!
And I can trust that the One who created each of them will guide, shape, and prepare them for the future
that HE has planned.



A true friend is one who walks IN the door 
when everyone else is walking out.


Get rid of the old! Put on the NEW!

The Lord has given me the delightful privilege of meeting with a new believer in a discipleship relationship.
After our initial meeting to investigate whether we are a good match for one another, we spent the next session talking through expectations, desires, needs ... and purpose.
What are we striving for? What do we desire to accomplish? What is our goal for our bi-monthly meetings?
And then I remembered the passage in Scripture that was presented during our leadership training for the youth group. I grabbed my Bible, looked it up, and BAM! That was it!
We had our purpose - and our theme.

And then I realized - it is not just fitting for this precious young woman ... it is fitting for ALL discipleship relationships. According to Titus 2, we as older women are to be teaching younger women. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.
This is a big deal!
This is important!
And it is incredibly humbling.
Because in order for older women to TEACH such things, they must be LIVING OUT these very characteristics in their own lives.

As I read the passage it became clear that while it is a perfect model for teaching a young woman/young believer how to walk in the Spirit rather than in the flesh, it is also a perfect model for the older woman/more mature believer to continue imitating so she may grow more like Christ day by day.
In short - it is a terrific model for a reciprocal, mutually encouraging relationship that will be a challenge and comfort to both women as they pursue Christ - together.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Ephesians 4:17-24

Isn't this great??

PUT OFF your old self.
Everything you did before Christ - remove it! You are a new creation. Your desires for the things of the world must fade away until they are no longer visible.
But this does not mean you disappear!
We put off the old self - and PUT ON the new self! The things of Christ. The fruits of the Spirit.
And when we do, we are even more beautiful because instead of reflecting ourselves - we reflect our Savior.

It is not a one time event, however.
Our sin nature does not evaporate at the moment of salvation. It remains within us, but with less power because the Holy Spirit is also living within us - able to give us the strength and desire to say NO to the enticements of the world, and YES to Christ.

Think of it like changing after a workout.
You peel off the sweaty, stinky, dirty clothing.
You shower.
And then, you put on clean, unwrinkled, fresh-smelling clothes.
Aah! Such a nice change!

That is the continual exercise of the believer.
Put off the old ways - the LIES of satan and the world.
Put on TRUTH!
God's promises. His character. His ways. His dealings with His children. His holiness.

For every stinky, sweaty lie you take off,
it must be replaced with the truth of your heavenly Father.

It will take time. You do not know Him. You do not understand His ways. The pull of the world is quite strong and you have been a slave to it for years, perhaps decades. Learning a new way of thinking, speaking, behaving, and living requires a heart and mind that are willing to be INTENTIONAL.
Every ugly, evil, lustful, lying, jealous, self-loathing thought MUST BE REPLACED with the truth that you are a beautiful, loved, forgiven, and cherished child of God! A child who can learn to be kind, thoughtful, content, and confident - IN CHRIST - because He promises that the work He began in you will continue until He returns to take you Home!

But I promise! The more you replace the old with the new - the lies with the truth - the easier it will become! It will feel natural, though never effortless. Our flesh refuses to yield and must be constantly put in its place. But you know what? You will never be doing it on your own! You have the power of Christ to draw from ... a well that never runs dry. This is EXCITING! This is AMAZING!

God says, "Be ye holy as I am holy."
And this starts by ridding ourselves of the "old" - and replacing it with the "new." The joy, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness of a wonderful and loving God who desires to give good things to His children.
It is His job to give good things. It is our job to dispose of and destroy the bad.

Thank You, Lord for this Discipleship Theme! I LOVE it, and am so excited to have a purpose and a plan for our time together as sisters in Christ. What a privilege it is to be allowed into the heart of another, and what a JOY it is to see them look less like themselves and more like YOU!


Ready to do it again!

On Thursday we spent nine hours at the beach. And for almost two of those nine hours I was in the ocean! It was absolutely delightful.
The sun was blazing hot which made the icy waves feel like a refreshingly cool blanket wrapped around me as I swam. I gained the courage to swim out farther than where I could stand up and touch the sand. And you know what? I LOVED it!
I felt free, uninhibited, and relaxed. I even started floating on my back! I discovered that the farther I went, the waves rolled softly without breaking, so I didn't have to worry about managing the waves or being tossed about. I laughed a couple of times when I thought of the visual of me bobbing around the vast ocean ... the same ocean I have avoided, and even feared, for the past two decades. It was peaceful. Quiet. The perfect place to just be ... and reflect.

Surprisingly, I did not do a lot of thinking while I was in the water.
I never really believed "not thinking" was even possible, but there is something about the ocean that puts my mind at such ease that all matter of thought ceases. And I LIKE IT!

However, once I was back on land and living daily life again, my mind kicked into full gear and I discovered an encouraging spiritual analogy about my ocean experience.

Getting IN the ocean is the hardest part.
The water is cold when it hits your skin, causing you to second guess if you actually want to keep going.
The tide may be in or out, the waves small or large ... both a determining factor in your level of commitment and bravery. Wading into soft, easy waves is one thing. Willingly moving toward hard-crashing waves is quite another.
Until you get past the break line of the waves, you get knocked around a little. Or a lot.
You swallow the salty water.
And now you have a choice:
Ditch the water and go back to the sand where everything is constant and easy, and snacks, ice water, and a cozy, warm towel await you.
Gather your courage, plunge into the cold waves, push through the break, and swim out until you get to the calm, peaceful water where you can finally cease striving - and just enjoy the beauty of the ocean.
Your eyes see far into the distance. You can observe the oncoming waves and have plenty of time to prepare for them.
You can look toward the shore and see the sand, the umbrellas, children frolicking, and hear the voices of people talking and laughing.
You are able to take in the WHOLE scene ... the good, the bad, the easy, the difficult, the simple, and the complex.
And you are quiet.

But to get to that place - you HAD to work your way through the tumult - you had to TRUST that there was something better waiting on the other side ... even though you had no proof. You had to have CONFIDENCE in your own ability to maneuver through the waves and swim on your own.
And because you did, you found success!
And now, the next time you go out, it will be even easier. You will attempt to go farther, and you will not second-guess yourself as often. It will become second nature. And before you know it, you will be inviting others to join you - teaching THEM how to push through the difficult part, encouraging them to go farther, because you know that what is waiting for them is wonderful!

And it all happened because you took that FIRST STEP.

Isn't this just like our walk with the Lord?
When we stand on the outside looking into what is required of a Christian, we see high standards required by a holy God, sacrifice, trials, suffering, the need to give up self, commitment, faithfulness, having to trust in the unseen and unknown, hurt, pain - and the need for grace.
It is overwhelming, and seemingly impossible.
We hear the crashing of the waves, but we cannot see the beauty of the calm that lies right behind.
We fear what we see, and refuse to trust in what we cannot see.

But Jesus says, "Come. I am the way, the truth, and the life. When you see me, you see the Father. I can help you do this. I can give you the courage to start, the strength to stand firm when the waves crash around you, and the perseverance to keep going - farther than you ever dreamed possible."
His hand is always extended towards us - never to be taken away.
And all we have to do is accept it, cling tightly, put one foot in front of the other, and keep our eyes focused on Him.
It is never easy.
Never perfect.
We will look away and get thwacked by a wave.
We will choke on the bitter salt water.
We will look back towards shore, wishing we could just plop down in the sand where there are no risks or reasons to fear.

But if we keep our eyes locked on His, never let go of His hand, and trust Him without wavering ...
we will learn how to walk.
We will soon start to run.
Our strength will build.
Our confidence will increase.
We will want MORE of what we have experienced.
We will see that behind the storm there is calm.
And the longer we walk, the easier it will be to KEEP walking.
Without fear.
Filled with joy.
And ready to do it again and again and again.

Thank You, Lord, for being a strong and powerful God who is able and WILLING to draw us to the hard places ... the places You KNOW we need to be. We would most likely never venture out on our own, but Your kindness is like a magnet that cannot be resisted, and once we surrender to its pull, we are drawn in to a place of exceeding joy, bountiful rest, and consuming love.
Never stop pulling us to You, Lord.
Oh, how much we need You!


21 years ...

... of wedded
and LOVE.

Happy Anniversary, Dennis!

I pray the Lord will give us 50 more years!

I love you ~ Michelle



Mountaintops inspire leaders, but valleys mature them.

                                                                                           ~ Sir Winston Churchill


Quote. On worldliness.

"A 'worldly Christian'? Can there be such a thing? Or is this a term that the backslidden Church came up with to try to appease their guilty consciences and to excuse their ungodly ways? The concept of a 'worldly Christian' is a total absurdity! A true Christian is devoted, dedicated, or consecrated to God's service - not worldliness. We are either devoted to Jesus - or to the world. Which is it for you?" C. Giordano

"Some people want only as much of God's salvation as will keep them out of Hell, and they measure out with unconscious precision how much worldliness and sin they can still hang on to without jeopardizing their chances. This is 'conversion' without repentance. Flee from it!"
David Shepherd

"Nothing worse can happen to a church, than to be conformed to this world! Those who would be transfigured by Jesus, must not be disfigured by conformity to the world." Charles Spurgeon

"If I find anyone who is settled down too snugly into this world, I always doubt whether he's ever truly been born again." A.W. Tozer

"No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and wealth!" Matthew 6:24


Quote ~ on loneliness.

When you experience loneliness, let your emotions be a signal that you need God.

View your time alone as a grace gift from God.  Realize you are never really alone. God is always there.  "I will never leave you or forsake you."  Hebrews 13:5.
Talk to Him often throughout the day.  The more lonely you feel, the more you should let God talk to you.  He will talk to you through the holy Scriptures either by your reading them, singing them, meditating on them, or recalling previously memorized verses.
Long for God as King David did -
I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that You have done;
I ponder the work of Your hands. I stretch out my hands to You;
my soul thirsts for You like a parched land.  Psalm 143:5,6
                                                                                       ~ Martha Peace, The Excellent Wife


Quote ~ on sin and repentance.

"Godly sorrow works repentance." 2 Corinthians 7:10

Genuine, spiritual mourning for sin is the work of the Spirit of God. Repentance is too choice a flower to grow in nature's garden. Pearls grow naturally in oysters - but penitence never shows itself in sinners, unless divine grace works it in them. If you have one particle of real hatred for sin -then God must have given it to you, for human nature's thorns never produced a single fig! "That which is born of the flesh is flesh!"

True repentance has a distinct reference to the Savior. When we repent of sin, we must have one eye upon sin, and another upon the cross. It will be better still, if we fix both our eyes upon Christ, and see our transgressions only in the light of His love.

True sorrow for sin is eminently practical. No man may say he hates sin, if he lives in it. Repentance makes us see the evil of sin, not merely as a theory, but experimentally - just as a burnt child dreads the fire! We shall be as much afraid of sin, as a man who has lately been stopped and robbed is afraid of the thief upon the highway. And we shall shun sin, shun it in everything - not in great things only, but in little things, as men shun little vipers as well as great ones.

True mourning for sin will make us very jealous over our tongue, lest we should say a wrong word. We shall also be very watchful over our daily actions, lest in anything we offend.

Each night we shall close the day with painful confessions of shortcomings - and each morning awaken with anxious prayers, that this day God would hold us up, that we may not sin against Him.

Sincere repentance is continual. Believers repent until their dying day. This sorrow for sin is not intermittent. Every other sorrow yields to time - but this dear sorrow grows with our growth. It is so sweet a bitter, that we thank God we are permitted to enjoy it until we enter our eternal rest!

                                                                                             ~ Charles Spurgeon


Not like me - just like Him.

One of our youth pastor's most often used quotes for our students is this:

"Who you are at home is who you are."

He follows it by saying, "I don't care what you show me for 90 minutes at youth group.  Anyone can be kind and gracious and submissive to authority for 90 minutes. 
It's how you act, what you say, and how you submit when you are home - 24 hours a day - with people who irritate you, frustrate you, invade your space, and require you to sacrifice your own wants.
How you respond to them - day in and day out - is WHO YOU REALLY ARE."

And you know what?  I believe he is 100% spot on right!

Not just for teenagers - but for everyone.  Old, middle-aged, teen, or toddler.
Who we are at home is who we are.

I have watched 30 teenagers say please and thank you, offer to help clean up huge messes, and willingly work until they sweat.  All while smiling and laughing and having a great time as they engaged in the task at hand.
And either 24 hours before, or after, I have listened to their own parents cry out with frustration that these same children refuse to do chores at home, are purposefully mean to their siblings, and whine and complain about the most menial of jobs.

I have watched couples hold hands and smooch in public while smiling and gazing lovingly at one another.
And either a week before, or after, that same couple sits on our couch, the woman weeping, the man clenching his jaw, as they share the truth that they can hardly stand each other.

I have stood up in front of groups of women encouraging them in their role as mothers, challenging them to embrace the truth that motherhood is a high calling that is to be taken seriously - and enjoyed.  It requires constant sacrifice and selflessness - which can be hard - but is not an option.
And either an hour before, or after, I can be heard screaming at one of my children (or all of them) because they are not performing the way I want them to.  I am not getting my way.  And I am mad.

What causes this seeming dichotomy of character?  This hypocrisy?

I think the answer is ridiculously simple:  P R I D E.

We have an amazingly acute ability to reign ourselves in when we know others are watching.  We may slip and allow others to catch a glimpse of our "dark side" from time to time, but overall we are quite skilled at presenting our 'best' to the public.
Especially the public that sits in nice clothes, in pretty pews, in a large building - called church.
Heaven forbid we let our brothers and sisters in Christ see the REAL us.

Imagine every church member rolling these questions through their minds:
What would they say if they knew about my temper?
What if the Pastor knew about our debt?
What if the elders knew my child is rebellious and out of control?
That we have not spoken to certain family members for years because we absolutely refuse to forgive them?
Our teenager has an addiction?
Pornography has been viewed from our home?
My spouse had an affair?
I am driven by envy and jealousy?
Our marriage is a farce and we live only as roommates?  And we don't care?
Someone in our family has had an abortion?
I am bitter and angry about my infertility?
I live in fear, worry about everything, and trust no one?  Including the Lord.

What would happen then?
Everyone would see what our families sees - every day.
Nothing would be hidden.
Everything would be laid bare.
The mask we keep so well groomed, always polished and ready to wear, would crumble to pieces because everyone would know it is a lie - something we use to hide the truth ... just so we will be accepted.

But are we accepted?
If people like us, even love us, based on what we choose to show them when we are controlled and on our best behavior (Bible study, mission trip, book club, moms group) - is that acceptance?!?

They are not seeing who we REALLY are.  They are only seeing the person we want them to see. The BEST parts of us.  The beautiful parts.  The desirable parts.
And then we go home to the spouse who has committed to love us until death - no matter how bad things may get.
We go home to the children who were gifted to us by a gracious God.
And we unleash.

We whine, complain, scream, lash out, overeat, overindulge, neglect them, spend money we do not have, make excuses for sin, gossip, slander, refuse to forgive, refuse to submit, show disrespect, ignore, criticize, blame, worry, fret, live in fear, neglect the Word ...
and our spouse and our children see us ...
as we really are.

"Who you are at home is who you are."

Our youth pastor is right.

The question is:  Why do the people who CHOOSE to love us - our spouses - and the children who WANT to love us because we are their parents, and desperately desire our love in return ... why do they get the worst of us?
Why do they have to bear the brunt of our sin?
Why should they have to endure the ugliest parts of us when we so diligently clean up and present the best (and sometimes false) version of ourselves for casual friends, coworkers, and even complete strangers?!?

Though there is unspeakable beauty, comfort, and security in being wholly accepted and unconditionally loved by another ... it ought not be abused.  And it can certainly never - EVER - be an excuse to sin.

When I read Scripture ... the living and active Word of God ... I see clear, concise, purposeful commands, given by a holy God, about how we are to dwell with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
There are no loopholes.  No conditions.
Just commands.

Be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50
Love one another – John 13:34Romans 12:10; 1 Peter 4:8; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12
Build up one another – Romans 14:19Ephesians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Be of the same mind toward one another – Romans 12:16
Give preference to one another – Romans 12:10
Greet one another – Romans 16:16
Esteem others as better than yourself – Philippians 2:3
Serve one another – Galatians 5:13
Receive one another – Romans 15:7
Be devoted to one another – Romans 12:10
Rejoice or weep with one another – Romans 12:15
Admonish one another – Romans 15:14Colossians 3:16
Care for one another – 1 Corinthians 12:25
Show tolerance toward one another – Romans 15:1-5Ephesians 4:2Colossians 3:13
Be kind and forgiving to one another – Ephesians 4:32Colossians 3:13
Submit to one another – Romans 12:10Ephesians 5:21; 1 Peter 5:5
Comfort one another – 1 Thessalonians 4:18
Encourage one another – 1 Thessalonians 5:11Hebrews 3:13
Be compassionate with one another – 1 Peter 3:8
Pray for one another – James 5:16
Confess your faults to one another – James 5:16
Accept one another – Romans 14:1; 15:7
Be truthful with one another Colossians 3:9

And the last time I checked?
Dennis, Micah, Luke, Caleb, Josiah, Isaiah and Ellie are my personal "one anothers."

Which means that I am absolutely without excuse.

I can be kind, thoughtful, gracious, forgiving, joyful, patient, loving, gentle, and long-suffering with a thousand people outside of my home.
But if I am not exercising those same fruits of the Spirit IN my home?  With the husband and children the Lord chose for me?  The people He purposefully positioned for me to walk through life with day after day after day?
Then, my friends, I am a hypocrite.
And I am a liar.

I can spend a lifetime presenting a perfectly polished Michelle to the world ... but if my husband and children cannot look that same world in the eye and confidently proclaim, "The Michelle you see is the same woman we see every day - in every situation.  She is the genuine article, authentic through and through." ...
then I have a whole lot of work to do.
And it starts with falling to my knees, begging the Lord to forgive my duplicity, and letting Him destroy my flesh so that I can walk in freedom - without fear - never to seek the approval or applause of man again.

And you know what is so beautiful about this?
He will DO IT!
More than once!
For a lifetime if need be.

Because He loves me that much.
He loves YOU that much.
He loves us with such passion and intensity that He sent His only Son to DIE for us.
Then, to make it even sweeter, He promises that He will never leave us or forsake us - AND - that His mercies are new every morning.  EVERY morning!  Mercy, grace, forgiveness - and healing.

That is who our God is.

Who I am at home is who I am.
And if I am really honest ... super duper, completely and vulnerably honest ...
I like the public Michelle much, much better than I like the private Michelle.
I can control public Michelle and make her look good - pretty much all the time.
But the private Michelle battles with the flesh so often, and sometimes for so long that I can barely catch my breath before I am sucked under again, fighting and beating against the waves of sin and selfishness until I can hardly stand myself.

And it is in that moment - that horrifying moment when I see my sin as it really is - putrid and horrifying and filthy ...
the blood of Jesus sweeps through and washes it away, wrapping me in a shiny, bright, gleaming cloak that reflects HIS beauty - HIS mercy - HIS forgiveness and HIS glory.

And then, no matter where I am ... at home or in a crowd of strangers ... I no longer look like Michelle.

I only look
like my Savior.


Where I want to be.

There is a part of me that I do not share often ... partly because it is incredibly personal, and mostly because it is embarrassing.  Embarrassing because I feel like I should know better.  I read the Word.  I have heard dozens of sermons on the topic.  I have encouraged others with the same truths the Lord uses to comfort me.  And yet I struggle.  Not often, but when the battle ensues it is overwhelming.  I feel myself being dragged back into the darkness that I fought so long and so hard to escape from.  A darkness that consumes many - usually in silence - and makes them afraid to say what they so desperately want to say.  What they need to say.
"I am lonely."

The Lord has taken me through many seasons of loneliness, some more painful than others, and each time He reveals more of Himself in precious and meaningful ways.  But there is always one overriding lesson that He refuses to let me miss:  I am enough, Michelle.  Every need you have can be met in Me.  Every concern, every hurt, every sorrow, every joy ... bring them to Me.  No one else will ever be able to completely satisfy you.  You might feel alone, but you are not.  I promised that I will never leave you or forsake you, and I always keep My promises.  Your season of loneliness is not without purpose, Michelle.  You will be refined in it.  You will mature.  You will learn more about who I am and how I love you.  I know you don't like it, but that's okay, because I know what I am doing.  And for now - that has to be enough.

Loneliness is frustrating.
And it is REAL.

I have looked into the bloodshot eyes of countless women as they pour out their stories of loneliness.  Their hurts.  Their feelings of neglect and being excluded.  And I have wept my own tears, refusing to take the hand of the Lord when He offered to pull me to Himself and show me how much He loves me, even if it felt like the world didn't.

How thankful I am that I have learned to run to Him faster, and stay with Him longer.  But more than anything, I am grateful that I have learned to identify the purpose of my loneliness.  Because it is in those moments that I hear my Savior calling me - to Himself.

And in His arms, His mighty, powerful, everlasting arms is exactly
where I want to be.

A quote - on loneliness.

The Loneliness of the Christian

“The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.

The man who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided, and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart.

It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.”                           
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       ~ AW Tozer


Quote - on compassion.

There are sorrows that hang no crape on the doorbell, and wear no black, and bow no shutters, and drop no tears that men can see, and can get no sympathy save that of Christ and perhaps a closest human brother.
If you knew the inner life of many of the people you work with and do business with and meet socially in the common days, you would be very gentle with them; you would excuse their peculiarities, their absent-mindedness, their seeming thoughtlessness at times.
Grief makes life hard for very many people.
It is a wonder they can be as genial and loving as they are, in view of the burdens that crush them.

                                                                                                  ~ J.R. Miller

Do to others as you would have them do to you.  Luke 6:31


I only want them to see HIM.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  
John 15:4-5

In the past few weeks the Lord has made it very clear that I have absolutely, positively nothing to offer anyone - apart from Him.

All of the counseling, discipleship, study, sin, weakness, failings, successes, and triumphs I have experienced are meaningless unless the Lord chooses to use them for His purposes and His glory.

This truth is difficult to swallow because it is so easy to rely on our own experiences, knowledge, and self-proclaimed wisdom when we are called to minister to someone who is walking through the same thick, burdensome mire that we have already been dragged through by the hand of the Lord.  We think we can lead the way because we know the terrain.  We know where to find spots of refreshment, and we know how to identify the pits of quicksand that will suck us further into despair.  So in our arrogance, we grab the hand of the new traveler and begin to yank her through the maze, never stopping to seek wisdom or confirmation from the One who allowed her to enter the labyrinth in the first place.  We follow our own dusty footprints, assuming that the way we escaped is the same route she should follow.  It took us to freedom, didn't it?  So why wouldn't it produce the same results for our sister?

All the while the Lord is sitting on His throne, watching us run in circles, frustrated and exhausted, as we wonder why in the world we are not finding success.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, it is he that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing

What?  What do you mean I cannot do this by myself?  Come on!  I have so much experience!  I am intelligent.  Discerning.  I have been through this battle before so I KNOW what needs to happen ... what she needs to do.  I have helped other people.  Why should this be any different?

Apart from Me you can do NOTHING.

Are you listening, daughter?  I created you, I have plans for you, I have given you specific gifts to use for my Kingdom and My glory.  But without Me, everything you do is in vain.
So instead of trying to convince me that you can do this, how about you quiet down for a minute and listen to My words again.
Abide in Me.
A branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in Me.
Whoever abides in Me bears fruit.
In ME, Michelle.
Not you.
You have nothing, and can do nothing, unless I give you the tools you need.
Wisdom, discernment, compassion, perseverance, mercy, forgiveness, gentleness and truth ... all of these are found IN ME.  Unless you abide in Me, you will never possess these spiritual fruits, and you will not be equipped to minister to your brothers and sisters in Christ effectively because you will be doing it in your own strength, instead of Mine.
And rather then being satisfied,
they will be left wanting.
Every time.

Why is it so easy to rely on self, Lord?  As many times as we fail and mess things up, we do it again and again and again.  Instead of praising You for the successes and affirming that every good thing comes from above, we replace dependence on a holy God with a false confidence in self.
How do you never grow weary of us, Lord?
How do you endure our foolishness and our pride?
How are you able to offer forgiveness and new mercies every single day to stubborn children who think they know best?

Thank You for being a perfect, righteous, never-changing, omnipotent God who loves His children and withholds the wrath we so justly deserve.

I want to bear fruit, Lord.  I want to be a branch that buckles under the weight of the fruit that has been so carefully cultivated and pruned by a God that loves me enough to care about my holiness more than my happiness.  Pruning is uncomfortable and painful, but it is the only way to bring forth the best parts of the vine.  And it is always worth it.
But before You even do the pruning, You command one thing:  To abide in You.
to accept or bear
to stay or live somewhere; remain or continue
to wait for 
to endure without yielding  
to bear patiently  
to accept without objection 
to remain stable or fixed in a state
to continue in a place

This is a powerful word.  An ACTIVE word.  
You are asking me to completely commit everything I am to You, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what You ask me to do.
You are asking me to be patient, flexible, constant, accepting, and focused.

Teach me HOW to do this, Lord.  How to abide.  How to remain in You - all the time - even when I know I can do something on my own.  Show me how to surrender everything to You, even the strengths and gifts You gave me so I can learn to completely remove myself until the space is filled with only YOU.

I'm sorry, Lord.  For all of the times I walked into a ministry opportunity without first seeking You because I thought, "I got this."  How arrogant.  How embarrassing.  Forgive my pride.  REMOVE my pride.  And never, ever stop reminding me of the truth that without You - I can do nothing.
I love You, Lord.  I know You love me.  And it because You love me that you chastise me, and turn me from my sin, even when it requires force.  Remove my resilience and my stubbornness so that I can be fully yielded to You - in every situation - in every conversation - in every motive.
I want to disappear so that the only one anyone ever sees ...
is YOU.


I may not be the only one - but I want to be at the finish line!

When I was the College & Career Counselor at a private high school, I spent my entire day with students. My job was to meet with every single student during the school year, starting with seniors and working down to the freshmen, to make sure they were on track for graduation and meeting the standards required by the colleges and universities to which they would be applying.

I LOVED that job! It is one of the highlights of my young adult life. I was 23 years old when I accepted the position, and spent the following three years enjoying the unique energy, enthusiasm, and zest for life that can only be found in teenagers.

My office was filled with hundreds of college catalogs, posters, financial aid applications, and SAT packets. My desk was clear but for one old-school computer, a multi-line telephone, and my always-present-and-absolutely-necessary roll of Scotch tape. Two comfy chairs were stationed next to my desk inviting students to sit and relax while they asked questions and voiced their concerns about the future. Sometimes we talked about college admission requirements, and sometimes we talked about life.

I loved my kids. Some of them were confident, secure, focused on the Lord, and supported and loved at home. Others were broken, hurting, and needed someone to listen to the cry of their hearts, regardless of what came tumbling out of their mouths.
Difficult struggles, countless tears - laughter, excitement, and successes.
All of these were shared in that little office, with mutual trust and affection.
What a privilege I was given to be a part of their lives for that time.
I will never forget it.

On my desk sat one personal item.
A small frame in which I had written the words, "What if I'm the One?"
I was challenged with that question after reading something - I don't even remember what it was. But it resonated deeply with me because I realized that I had a unique opportunity every day to make a difference in the lives of each student that walked into my office, sat in my chairs, or passed me in the halls.

What if I'm the only one who will offer him a kind word today?
What if I'm the only one who will smile at her?
What if I'm the only one who will tell her she is smart?
What if I'm the only one who will give a much needed hug?
A word of encouragement?
Biblical counsel?
Emotional support?
An enthusiastic response to his achievement?

I was profoundly convicted by these questions, and equally motivated by them. I wanted to make sure that every time students left my office they felt BETTER than they did when they arrived. I was not perfect, of course, but I can honestly say that I sought to give my best to my students. I loved them, pursued them, invested time in them, cried with them, and rejoiced with them. And we enjoyed each other.

That little frame kept me focused. Because there were hard days.
Angry parents. Bad report cards. Missed deadlines. Rejection letters. Defiance. Sin. Disappointments. LIFE.
When you are 17 years old, everything in life seems big - and forever.

Asking myself, "What if I'm the One?" reminded me that college scholarships and straight A's were not the priority. The only thing that mattered at the end of the day was if my students felt valued ... appreciated ... respected ... and loved. Not just by me, but by a wonderful, amazing, and holy God who created them with a purpose and a plan, and loved them - just as they were - flaws and all.

I'm sure I missed many opportunities to speak this beautiful truth into the lives of those precious kids due to my own immaturity and foolishness, but I am confident the Lord filled in those gaps, and did His work despite my ineptitude.

It has been almost twenty years since I sat at my desk gazing at that little frame, and I am more convinced of its truth now than I ever was then. So much so that I can say this with unwavering certainty: Every time the Lord gives me the privilege of reuniting with one of my students, I will never, ever miss the opportunity to speak truth to them. Face to face. Eye to eye. Encouraging them with the truth that they are valuable, worthy, important, needed, and loved.
And then reminding them that they are created by a God who adores them, wants them, pursues them, and will never, ever let them escape His strong grip.

I may not be the "only one" who stirs them up to love and good deeds, or screams and cheers as they run the race set before them, but I most definitely want to be at the finish line applauding and rejoicing as they cross over to hear the Father say, "Well done, my faithful one! Enter in."
Oh, what a joyous day that will be!

To my sweet, fun, faithful, diligent, tender-hearted, and loving students at BCHS ... you always have been, and will always remain, a precious part of my past. I loved you then, and I love you still. And I will always, always pray for you. Michelle



Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil's reach, as humility!

"God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble!" 1 Peter 5:5

                                                                  ~ Jonathan Edwards


Rejoicing - and mourning - on Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is bittersweet.

For some women it is filled with flowers, cards, gifts, and breakfast in bed.  Their children shower them with hugs and kisses, and their husbands remind them that they are valued and adored.

Other women enjoy a tea, luncheon, or shopping spree with their mothers, making wonderful memories as they talk and laugh together.  

This day is wonderful for both ... a day they look forward to with delight and anticipation as they wonder what their husbands and children have in store for them, and find creative ways to honor their own moms.

But for some, Mother's Day is filled with absolute dread.

The woman who buried her beloved mother and no longer has a reason to shop for the perfect gift or write thoughtful sentiments in a lovely card.
The woman who is estranged from her daughter and knows she will not be receiving a phone call, a card, or any acknowledgement at all.
The woman who longs to be pregnant, but her arms remain empty.
The woman who surrendered her baby for adoption and wonders if he will ever know her.
The woman who had a nursery designed, and clothes lovingly folded, but lost her baby through miscarriage.
The woman who buried her living child after an unexpected accident.

While others revel in the attention of their spouses and children on this day, these are the women who are forgotten ... ignored ... overlooked ... and grieving in a way that breaks their hearts into pieces so small that only the Lord can put them back together.

We need to be careful.
We need to pay attention to the women who surround us.
We need to think before we speak.
Seek to understand.
And ask the Lord for wisdom and grace to know how to love one another on this day.

Just because a woman is not holding a baby does not mean she is not a mother.
Just because a woman appears happy doesn't mean she is not trying desperately to hold it together when all she wants to do is run from the room and weep in secret.
Just because a woman is surrounded by her children, it does not mean they have a relationship that is mutually enjoyable and loving.
Just because we have our mothers with us, it does not mean that every woman around us will have the privilege of honoring the mother she loved for decades.

Mother's Day is a good day.  A fun, lovely, heart-warming, joyful day.
Mother's Day is an incredibly difficult, lonely, and devastating day.

And the worst part is - the women who feel the latter will usually not tell us.  They suffer in silence wishing that someone, anyone, would notice the ache in their eyes and reach out to show affection and grace.  To say, "I know your heart is breaking today as you remember your sweet baby and wish you could hold her again, and I want you to know that I remember ... you ARE a mother.  And today is your day!"

It is not wrong or sinful to enjoy the attentions of our husbands and children. Children are a gift from the Lord, and we need to give Him glory and praise for allowing us to experience the joy of motherhood. 

But in our joy we cannot forget our sisters that wish this day would end before it even starts.
We cannot forget their pain.
Their sorrow.
The ache that tears at them until they feel like their hearts will burst, and they will never recover.

Pray for her.
Hug her.
Ask about her mother.
Remind her that she is not forgotten.
Her baby is not forgotten.
Her child is still a beautiful memory in your heart and your mind.
Ask her how she is ... what she needs ... how you can be a better friend.
Let her talk about the baby she miscarried or the child she buried.  
Let her show you her mother's heart - even though you cannot see her child.

And love her.

Scripture is clear ... "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn."

Even on Mother's Day.