If You Think It's Not Supposed to Be This Way . . .

You’re not the only one! In fact, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered—by Lysa TerKeurst—has become a New York Times bestseller because it speaks so eloquently to broken hearts. Why? Because Lysa shares transparently from her own life-shattering experiences, opening her heart to expose both the pain and the healing she found during her struggle to survive and eventually overcome the unthinkable that happened to her.

For a starter, have you ever heard the old saying that God will never give us more than we can handle? Lysa reminds us that this in not true! God sometimes does give us more than we can handle so we’ll stop trying to do everything on our own. He isn’t being unfair or unkind; rather, He’s at work transforming us into the image of Christ. That may be something you’re resisting, or it may seem impossible to you, but what you now think of as a terrible tragedy may actually be intended by God for your good. Sound unbelievable? Are you willing to surrender to God and see what happens?

Potter working on a wheel made from an old rubber tire in India

Lysa is an artful story teller, and her book is full of fresh insights into the age-old problem of dealing with pain and heartbreak. One of my favorites has to do with the story from Jeremiah 18 of a visit to the potter’s house, where the Lord reminds Jeremiah that we humans are like pottery being crafted by the Master Potter. When Alan and I were in India, we watched with fascination as a potter formed vessels on his wheel, and so the idea of the clay protesting about how it’s being formed made perfect sense. No, we are not mindless clay; God has given us a will, so we can either submit to the will of the potter or try to manage things on our own. But, if we resist the Potter, we will never be as exquisitely beautiful as we can become if we allow God to mold us, paint us, and fire us.

Something I’d never heard before is that broken vessels can be ground up into dust-sized particles that—when added to the clay as “grout”—will actually make a new vessel even stronger and more able to withstand pressure without breaking. Lysa likens us to being intentionally ground to dust sometimes in order to become something new, stronger, and better. I know none of us like pain, but God’s promise to make beauty out of ashes if we’ll let him is very comforting to me.

If you, or anyone you love, is feeling like your world is upside down these days—or completely burned to ashes—consider reading It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way. If you live in Grand Rapids, you can buy the book tomorrow at the Kregel’s Parable store (Rivertown Mall) for $5!! (Otherwise, you can always buy it online.) Speaking of great books for Christmas, if you’re on Face Book, the “Kregel Parable Christian Stores” Face Book Page provides many helpful ideas and opportunities for spiritual growth. If you’re not on FB, their catalogues are hosted at www.kregel.com/catalogs. I’ve also subscribed to their mailing list from their homepage (https://www.kregel.com/) so I know ASAP what they’re offering! (No, I’m not on their payroll, but I am prejudiced! 🙂 This particular book is published by Thomas Nelson, but Kregel has the best deal tomorrow!)

But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter;
and we all are the work of thy hand” (Isaiah 64:8).

Dealing with Tragic Loss

“All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming”—Helen Keller.

If you’re struggling with betrayal, abuse, or the loss of your spouse for any reason, you may be dreading the holidays rather than looking forward to them. Thanksgiving is just past, but we’re facing a month of holiday cheer that will be choked with tears for many lonely and hurting people, and if your heart is broken right now, I’d like to recommend He Left God Stayed. Annalee’s book records her journey from the devastation of being abandoned after twenty years of marriage to finding her way through the pain to wholeness . . . over the course of nearly twenty years, learning to lean on the everlasting arms of her Lord and God.

At first I read the book on the recommendation of a girlfriend who’s had a similar experience on the theory that it might be inspirational for any of my readers who are living through heartbreak, but I quickly realized this book is full of rich insights for all of us. Each chapter begins with some of her story but ends with “insights to grow by” and a prayer. I am not a fiction reader, but Annalee’s book became as fascinating to me as the page-turner mysteries that so engage my husband!

By the time I finished, I had been challenged in many areas personally, especially in reflecting on my own life, learning more about forgiveness, growing in submission to God, and desiring to be more compassionate as a Church toward those who’ve been abandoned. I’m not charismatic, but I appreciated reading about Annalee’s experiences. Her faith is sincere and her walk with God in many ways very like my own. Besides all that, I’ve ended up with three new books to read, based on insights she’s gleaned from them. It reminds me of the good ole days of grad school when every worthwhile research paper needed to end up providing new leads for further study!

To bless you with some bits of wisdom from her book, and possibly to whet your appetite for more, let me share a few favorite quotes:

“He [God] wanted to heal me and replace the anger with forgiveness, the fear with peace, and the shame with joy.”

“I needed to mature and respond, rather than react, to life’s circumstances. Learning to walk the road to wholeness was scary—it felt so unfamiliar.”

“The Holy Spirit wants to reveal the hidden things in our lives that keep us from being free to love and serve God with our whole being.”

“Praise is more spontaneous when things go right; but it is more precious when things go wrong” (—Author unknown).

“Praise was an important key to finding the life I’d longed for—a life free of fear, anger and shame.”

“When we are broken, we have to make a choice. Our way, or God’s way. We can turn our back on Him, or surrender everything to Him.”

“Brokenness is not the opposite of wholeness; it is the continuing precondition for it” (—Roberta Hestenes, quoted on p. 89).

“Forgiveness is not an option for a follower of Jesus Christ. If we fail to forgive, it affects our relationship with God and interferes with our spiritual growth . . . Forgiveness is for us. It’s to help us move forward and choose to live instead of staying stuck in the past with all of its pain.”

“Don’t be afraid of the future. God is already there” (—Bill Gothard).

“If you do God’s work, God’s way, God will provide” (—James Hudson Taylor).

“You have as much right to believe what you believe, as others have to believe what they believe” (Annalee’s mother).

“It’s everybody’s business if you sin. When you’re tempted to sin, ask yourself what it will cost you. . . It is your family’s business if you sin . . . It’s the church’s business . . . it’s the world’s business” (—Dr. Crabtree, speaking at Annalee’s ordination). He also said, “Allow God to interrupt your agenda with glorious surprises.”

From one of her prayers: “Help us to forgive those who have done evil acts against us and forgive those who weren’t able to protect us. Reveal to us those whom we need to forgive. We release anything from our past that would delay the bright future You have planned for us. Please give us the grace to walk in your ways and the courage to move forward in life.”

“My life was fuller than it would have been without the suffering . . . I had become what God intended for me to become. Instead of merely surviving, I had thrived. And so can you.”

“For your Maker is your Husband—the Lord Almighty is his name—the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth” (—Isaiah 54:5).

P.S. —He Left God Stayed is available on Amazon, but Annalee will send it to you at a discount if you contact here personally between now and December 8 at: rev.annalee.davis@gmail.com

This Is the Day I Became Thankful for Tim Tebow

Speaking of giving up our doubts and letting go of our lives to serve God—I was blown away by the inspiring ideas and example of Tim Tebow, which he shares in his latest book, This is the Day.

Maybe you’ve heard about Tim Tebow for the past 15 years, but I literally knew nothing about him until my son (who’s in Christian publishing) mentioned that he’d written a really popular best seller. Since I love biographies, I was immediately intrigued, and when I discovered it was available on Scribd, I couldn’t resist. So, on a recent trip, I listened to This Is the Day: Reclaim Your Dream. Ignite Your Passion. Live Your Purpose.

Before sharing some inspirational insights from his book, let me tell you a few amazing stories about his birth and childhood. Tim was the youngest of five children, born of American parents but in the Philippines, where his parents were missionaries. Tim’s mother contracted dysentery and fell into a coma before she knew she was pregnant, and the medicines used to help her survive caused a placental abruption. The doctors feared a stillbirth so recommended an abortion, but Tim’s parents refused, and today they have a very unique, superstar-healthy son!

As a Christian mother who home schooled all seven of my kids, I was particularly interested to note that the Tebows home schooled all their children too. Among the many unusual honors Tim has received, Tim was the first home-schooled athlete to be nominated for the Heisman Trophy. He also managed to play the entire second half of a game with a broken fibula, which included one play where he rushed for a 29-yard touchdown! That year, he was named Florida’s Player of the Year! Tim Tebow has a string of athletic honors too long to list. To name a few, he is the only three-time recipient of the Gators’ most valuable player award. By the end of his college career, Tebow held 5 NCAA, 14 SEC, and 28 University of Florida statistical records!

Since then, he’s played five years of professional football, started a career in broadcasting, and is now pursuing a career in professional baseball. Even more astounding than his athletic prowess (at least, to me) is his unflinching faith in God and his incredible life of loving others for the sake of Christ through his Tebow Foundation. Tim seems to have unbounded energy for such ministries as visiting men in prisons and his “Night to Shine” program: “An unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs ages 14 and older.”

I could go on and on, but you get the picture! What’s not to love about someone with a heart of gold, a body of steel, and a will of iron to love Christ and make His love known by serving others?

At any rate, the book was a total “upper” for me from start to finish. If you need a lift or a little bit of inspiration to “reclaim your dream, ignite your passion, and live your purpose,” think about reading This is the Day!

Bits and Pieces of Wisdom from “Timmy” (which is what his family and close friends call him):

“YODO” You Only Die Once: Motto of Sarah, who was terminally ill and wheel-chair bound but somehow managed to go to the Night to Shine prom and dance on her own two feet before dying the next day!

Don’t just show up for the party; be present during the process.

God can take us from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the sky!

Ask God what he wants and be willing to dream God-sized dreams.

Don’t “numb out” on media all the time, or you’ll miss the real world and all the good God has in store for you.

It’s all in the process: Wake up, work hard, and get better!

Don’t let your past define you, but learn from it.

“Clear your mechanism:” Stop. Breathe. Pray. Focus on the present.

“Only a life lived for others is a life worth living” (quoting Albert Einstein).

Transcend the journey: Choose to believe in God and that God can make even our darkest days into light.

“Flip the Script:” Instead of thinking in terms of negative “what ifs,” turn them around into positives to move forward.

“Confidence is Key:” If you’re feeling disenfranchised, go back to the Well (God and his Word).

Remember your title: “Child of God.” He loves us! This can give us the confidence we need to reach out to others with the hope we have.

Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God; And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:22-24).

(*All photos found on-line via a google search, most from Wiki Commons or official photos of Tim Tebow.)

The Birthday Club: Time to Stroll Lowell

Do you have trouble finding time to get together with your friends no matter how much you want to be together? I’ve found that “time” has gotten to be more of an issue than ever before. Who would have guessed you get busier as you get older? I remember my father joking after he retired that he needed to go back to work so he could take a week off. Thirty years ago, I just thought it was funny. Now, I know what he meant!

Nevertheless, six weeks after the fact, Susan, Cindi, and I met up for a “Stroll through Lowell” (Michigan) to celebrate my birthday!

We started with coffee and tea at the new coffee shop, Brody’s Be (actually in Ada, the little berg next door to Lowell).

Brody’s Be was inspired by Brody’s mom, who opened her heart to make room in this world for the developmentally disabled, starting with her Down Syndrome son.

It was a great place to fill our cups and souls, remembering again how God can bring joy out of sorrow and goodness from grief.

Lowell is a little community about eighteen miles east of Grand Rapids, and it looks like it’s straight out of a Hallmark Christmas movie! (They have a Christmas Parade coming up on December 7th that looks like it’s going to be a really fun event.)

Lowell has all sorts of cute shops on their Main St., and although I didn’t think I had anything on my “Wish List” as we wandered about, I quickly found several items that I’d actually been wanting but hadn’t taken time to track down in Grand Rapids, such as some blue netting for my orchid plants and a Christmas Advent calendar. Springrove Variety also has great prices on their spices. Believe it or not, this tiny 5&10 cent store saved me both time and money! Who would have thought?!!

After just enough shopping to get a flavor for the town and whet our appetites, the girls took me to the Flat Iron Grill for lunch. Definitely excellent food, and the company—as always—was unparalleled! 🙂

However, we were apparently taking a tour of all the best eateries in the area as well as enjoying the shopping, because “the best” in desserts (according to hearsay Susan had learned) was to be found at the Sweet Seasons Bakery, which is renowned for providing cheesecakes for certain celebrities in town.

I tried their pumpkin cheesecake, and it was wonderful . . . definitely worth attempting to imitate!! (I’ll work on it!)

Of course, no party would be complete without cards or gifts, and I got both!

Among several thoughtful and useful gifts, I particularly enjoyed the children’s book Cindi gave me, called Miss Rumphius (because, she said, it reminded her of me). I know my grandchildren are going to love this book about a librarian who travels the world and scatters flower seeds!

“A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of nature.”

Susan found “the perfect” card that says it all. What would the world be without friends?

Ability Weavers: Weaving with a Purpose

We finished our stroll through Lowell with a four-hour craft project, making handmade rugs and table runners. I hope to tell you more about our experience weaving, but for today, I want to share that this weaving shop, “Ability Weavers,” is another not-for-profit ministry borne out of the love of a mother for her autistic daughter with a heart to provide meaningful employment for people with disabilities.

Honestly, I was blown away by the commitment of these two families in caring and providing for their disabled kids. Beryl (in the photo above) was a pharmacist who gave up her career in order to start a business where her daughter (and others with special needs) could have work, respect, and hope. They pay more than minimum wage and provide an opportunity for many young people to contribute to society by making beautiful rugs. Isn’t this brilliant? Praise God for mothers who sacrifice themselves and choose to invest their time and energy in their children and communities!

One last sidebar, and I’ll quit, but I’m halfway through reading Kisses from Katie. Oh, wow! If you want to read a wonderful (true) story of love for those in need, read this! It will break your heart and make your day! Talk about using time well and living with the purpose of loving others!

The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.”
(Psalm 9:9)

Have You Found the Joy in They Call Me Mom!?

Do you ever find yourself trying to conjure up a smile while your kids are screaming and some little old lady pats you on the hand, smiling sweetly and trying to encourage you with, “Enjoy them while they’re young. Just remember: These are the best days of your life!”? If so, then next time try reaching for They Call Me Mom and a cup of coffee rather than rummaging around in your medicine cabinet for something to get rid of your headache.

They Call Me Mom is a heart-lifting, laughter-inciting look into the lives and loves of two every day moms* who wrestle with the same world of dirty diapers and vomit-scented tees that every young mom faces daily, and they’ve collaborated together to share with you their worst experiences and their best tips on how to survive and—even thrive! (Well, least . . . sometimes! I mean, let’s be honest, we’re never perfect, and our days don’t always end well, even if we are livin’ the dream. Right?)

Thankfully, Michelle and Bethany are open about sharing the ups and downs that come with living the dream of marriage and motherhood. Personally, I remember the days when I’d pray my way through sleepless nights with sick babies and start the mornings feeling like an explorer lost in Africa, trying to chop a path through the jungle, machete in hand and a trail of seven little ones behind. Life is never easy!

Nothing on earth quite so special as home and family!

Bethany Jett is the wife of a military man who gets regularly deployed. She is often left to parent her brood of boys alone so has lots of empathy and insights for single moms. Michelle Medlock Adams has two grown daughters and is starting that magical age of being a grandparent, so she can conclude with pleasure that—although every day is really the stuff of “the best day” and should be lived with joy and pleasure— grandparenting is also a new season of “best days.” Personally, I resonate with this too; I truly keep enjoying my children and grandchildren more and more as they (we all) continue to grow!

They Call Me Mom: 52 Encouraging Devotionals for Every MOMent

So, if you’re a young mom, or love a young mom, consider looking into this delightful book. Each devotional addresses some aspect of mothering, such as being called “supersleuth, mean mommy, cheerleader, worrywort, overprotective, beautiful, embarrassing, rainbow recorder” . . . and 44 other names delineating our job descriptions as mothers. Each devotional gives vignettes from both women, healing thoughts from the scripture as to what our loving Heavenly Father has to say about us (and to us), and then concludes with a short section of helpful strategies for solving problems.

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 6:33).

(*Yes, the authors are “every day mothers,” but they are also both successful authors who know how to write a good book! 🙂 )

Is Jesus Calling You?

For those of you who’ve never heard of Sarah Young’s devotional book, Jesus Calling, I want to recommend it. It’s formatted as a 365-day devotional book, but I was so intrigued that I listened to the whole book on one flight. My (publishing house editor) son mentioned that it’s a New York Times’ Best Seller, has sold over ten million copies, and is so popular it can be bought at Walmart!

However, Jesus Calling has gotten a lot of criticism for being based on the supposition that we can hear from God and share what we’ve heard with others. Really? Is that strange or wrong? Sarah Young does not claim to be a prophet; her claim is that God speaks to her, and she has shared with others what He has said to her. Does God speak to you? He speaks to me! Do I share what I learn with others? Of course! Don’t you? Her writing is not as profound as the Scripture, and it is not inspired in the way that the Scripture is inspired, but her meditations are filled with Scripture, and I didn’t find the thoughts running contrary to Scripture.

Are her thoughts the very words God spoke to her? I can’t vouch for the complete purity and inspiration of anything besides the Bible, but I do know that I pray daily for God to inspire and direct my writing, and from her book, I believe that God at least inspired and directed Sarah’s thoughts and writing. I appreciated the gentle reminders of God’s love and presence and the continuous encouragements to seek Him, trust Him, and grow in our relationship with Him. As we seek God in the Bible and through prayer, and as we rest in his presence, we will find Him and experience peace: “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).

Is Jesus Calling a replacement for meditating on Scripture? Of course not! I meditate both morning and evening on the Scriptures alone. That is my daily spiritual bread!! But, if you—like me—enjoy reading a quick devotional at some point in the day (our family has devotional books for both breakfast and dinner readings), you might enjoy Jesus Calling. It’s addressing believers, not unbelievers, so it’s not full of the gospel or the need for us to repent from our sins (which believers understand fully already), but my heart was touched and my spirit uplifted by the gentle reminders of God and his everlasting love for us. If you’re looking for a daily devotional for this coming year, don’t be afraid to listen to (or read) Jesus Calling. Because, He does call us, and if we’ll listen, He does speak to us!

Jesus Calls Us
—Cecil F. Alexander, published 1852 (Public Domain)

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

Finding Our Way Into the Presence of God

Want to get closer to God but sometimes feel confused by all the voices out there describing their experiences in ways that seem contradictory to your understanding and foreign to anything you’ve experienced? How can you tell what’s real, what’s imaginary, what’s possible, and what’s impossible?

Tim Anderson’s new book, Into His Presence: A Theology of Intimacy with God, comes out of more than thirty-five years of his own life experience in studying, practicing, and teaching the Bible. His book is a truly helpful resource for systematically working through the scriptures in order to understand intimacy with God as communicated in His own words (the Bible)—and as distinguished from some of the contemporary cultural ideas which may (or may not) be consistent with orthodox teaching.

If you’re anything like me, most of the time you want to just “sit and soak” in the soothing presence of God. I love to start each day by meditating on the Bible and praying, memorizing especially helpful passages and worshiping our great God. As a wise friend once said to me, “No day is wasted that’s begun with worshiping God!” Amen.

However, if you have more time to invest and are serious about developing intimacy with God, not simply soaking in the sunshine of our loving Father but in delving deeper into His glorious complexities, then Anderson’s book is definitely worth the wading. It’s very dense. Not a one-night stand! It took me weeks to study and process, and I didn’t agree with everything. (Specifically, I spent over ten years meditating my way through the Song of Solomon and am convinced that it’s a gorgeous [non-sexual, spiritual] allegory of God’s relationship with Israel and the mystery of Christ’s relationship with the Church as well as a human love song.)

That one exception aside, I found myself very much enriched and deepened as I did the hard work of pondering the scriptures focused on the various aspects of people in relationship with God. I especially appreciated Anderson’s chapters discussing intimacy with the Holy Spirit (chapter seven), the role of suffering (chapter 8), and how to assess songs (chapter 9).

Have you ever heard a worship song and said to yourself, “That doesn’t seem right to me!”? Well, it may be wrong! Tim helps the reader develop an ability to analyze music for content, which I think is very needed for our worship leaders! A great song isn’t simply about the music. We all love singable songs, written between C and shining C (at least if you can’t sing like a meadow lark). We all love catchy tunes. We all love lyrics that are fresh and have something new to say. However, if the lyrics aren’t consistent with what we know of God from the scripture, then no number of catchy hooks or riffs can justify a message that’s adrift.

Finally, and this isn’t one of the points in Tim’s book, but as a warning to those of us who’ve spent years in academic circles exercising our brains, the Bible says: “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). Talk about pulling no punches! If we want to experience intimacy with the God of the universe, who is not only love and light and life but the epitome of goodness and holiness, then we’d better be prepared to pray earnestly: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). Ultimately, to draw near to the God of Goodness, we must be willing to “abhor that which is evil” and “cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). Otherwise, no amount of study will help us come into the presence of God. “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isaiah 57:15). At the end of the day—and beginning of each new day—the bottom line is: Are we trusting and obeying God? If we are, we’ll be growing in intimacy with Him.

But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

Trust and Obey
(—John H. Sammis, 1887, Public Domain)

“When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.

Refrain:
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

“Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies,
But His smile quickly drives it away;
Not a doubt or a fear, not a sigh or a tear,
Can abide while we trust and obey.

“Not a burden we bear, not a sorrow we share,
But our toil He doth richly repay;
Not a grief or a loss, not a frown or a cross,
But is blessed if we trust and obey.

“But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.

“Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet,
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way;
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.”