First, you’ll need a giant Post-It pad….

I love Christmas!  The joyful music, the decorations, the way we make time to show family and friends how much they mean to us, and the change in attitude it seems to bring to everyone.  We dedicate time to the beauty and love in our lives, and it makes life more joy-filled for that magical season.  Then January 2nd rolls around and the decorations are returned to their boxes and we go back to work.   The house looks naked, the holiday music seems out of place,  and the whole month seems rather cold and bleak.

Instead of focusing on the beauty of winter, it’s been too easy for me to let the problems of life take center stage again.  But this pattern changed for me a few years ago when I hung a giant Post-It pad on my pantry door.

I had been reading Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts and how creating a list of the “gifts” in her life, had changed her outlook on life from anxiety to joy.  The practice of keeping a “gratitude journal” has also been scientifically proven to raise the level of happiness in the lives of those who keep them.

I have a tendency to worry and focus on what needs “fixing”, rather than what is positive and beautiful in my life, and I knew I could use a “reset” as well.

So I started the list in a journal, but it was not visible enough for my forgetful self to remember every day, so I bought this pad of paper – two feet wide and two-and-half feet long – and hung it in the kitchen.  It was hard to miss.

Initially, my first entries were the more obvious blessings:

–       Children to love

–       Parents who pray for you

But quickly they changed to things that I took for granted:

–       My grandmother’s wedding ring on my finger

–       Laughter on the screened-in porch

And then I started looking for them. And it was not difficult to record at least three every night.

–       Breakfast with Andy

–       A pink sunrise

–       Taking a Bible class with Allie

–       Rain that makes the gutters sing (some were more poetic than others!)

Interestingly, a number of them are food or food-related:

–       Coffee

–       Coconut Cream Pie

–       The smell of bacon cooking

–       Mexican food (I don’t know what it says about me that this is number six!)

And many are about nature:

–       Chick-a-dees at the bird feeder

–       A sleeping cat curled on the bed.

–       Bright orange pumpkins.

But most were about people:

–      An “I love you” from Kasie

–      Meals made with the family

–      Game night with the 20-somethings

–      Shopping with Allie

–      A visit from Jill

With many repeats:

–      Laughter around the table

–      An unexpected call from a dear friend

And answered prayers:

–   An opportunity to heal a wound long forgotten

–     Epiphany’s that relieves you from a lie

–     Friends with Godly advice

What I found as I recorded my gifts every day, was that the list was not the purpose of the exercise. 

It was a catalyst to change my mind-set.   My list was documentation of a pattern of beauty and joy, and evidence of God’s goodness and faithfulness in my life.

And as I recorded the blessings of the day on the ever-growing list, I became more aware of God’s presence in my life, because “All good and perfect gifts are from above.”

And that awareness became my default instead of worry and fear.

The reminder of the certainty that I will find Him in every day has brought peace and insight.

The List is also a reminder that many of the things I have to be thankful for are not in my control.  This epiphany helped me realize a lie I had lived with for quite awhile – that I had to do everything right in order to be blessed.

But He loves me relentlessly, bringing beauty into my life every day.  

After a while, when keeping the list became more habitual, I moved it to a journal, where I could record  the evidence of goodness in my life before I went to sleep.

But I’m thinking of bringing the pad back to the kitchen this new year – where the blessings that are “new every morning” greet me each day.

Have a joyful  year!

Life is made of moments….

The calendar is made of months and weeks, but lives are marked in moments.   Graduations, first kisses, newborn cries, and whispered promises….these are the moments that define our longings, create bonds, and change our lives forever.

Recently, in a garden full of flowers, my son, Andy, knelt in front of  Taylor Brianna Knopff and told her he couldn’t  imagine his life without her.   The smiles say it all……

Welcome to our family, Taylor.  You make us all smile!

More than a Valentine – Love that Will Not Let Me Go

This wasn’t the news expectant parents want to hear.

A few months into a much wanted pregnancy, the tests validated their fears.  They listened as terms like “congenital abnormalities” and “severe impairments” were used to describe the condition of their precious unborn girl. But the words that broke their hearts were – “incompatible with life.”

Their joyous anticipation quickly turned into grief.   There would be no cheerful birth announcements. No anticipation of first smiles or first steps or a first birthday. They prayed that they would have the opportunity to hold their daughter.

In spite of the test results, they decided to do everything they could for their child.  They named her Emma Grace and made arrangements for her to be delivered in a hospital 80 miles from home that would give her the best chance for survival.  They told a few friends the details of their situation but they requested that there be no baby shower.  They asked instead for prayers of blessing on Emma Grace and their family.

Emma Grace was born with the ability to breathe on her own, but the specialists that attended to her were saddened to see her condition was worse than anticipated.  But Emma Grace surprised everyone by hanging on to life.  Her parents brought her home.  There was nothing they could do to heal her, nothing that they could do to nurture her, but they longed to love their child in any way they could.  So they committed to hold her for as long as she was with them.

From the moment she was carried into her home, she was never laid into a bed to sleep, never placed in a baby seat.  For sixteen days she was cradled in the loving arms of parents and grandparents as they gently sang lullabyes while kissing the top of her head.  For sixteen days, whether sleeping or awake, night or day, Emma Grace was held in their arms and in their love.

“O love that will not let me go.”

It’s an unusual kind of love to find in a world that promotes a me-first philosophy of life.  The kind of love that expects nothing in return.  It’s not a love you can “fall” into or out of.   It’s a decision to put someone else’s needs in front of your own – even if it’s at your expense.  The kind of love that you arrange your life around instead of seeing if there’s room for it to fit.

It’s sacrificial love. The kind of love that changes the world.

It’s a love that compels us to its presence and and is impossible to ignore.

It is the love that is born of God. The image and author of Love. And He offers it to us, calls us to His love again and again.

I have loved you with an everlasting love.

See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

You are precious and honored in my sight, and… I love you.


The parents of Emma Grace knew that opening their hearts to loving her would also mean their hearts would be exposed to more pain at good-bye.  But a heart that knows Love cannot withhold it.  It flows from the Source.

And in their outpouring of love we see Him and are reminded of how deeply He loves us.

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

Hymn by George Matheson

Scripture References:  Jeremiah 31:3, Isaiah 49:16, Isaiah 43:4, John 15:13



Whose Song are You Dancing to?

It was a beautiful wedding.

The bride was radiant.  The groom was handsome.  The flower girl carefully, and charmingly, placed each petal on the floor of the aisle to the altar.  And after the vows had been taken and the kiss had sealed the deal, we gathered at the reception to celebrate.

We cheered as the bride and groom swept in as husband and wife and made their way to the dance floor, but before they began, the bride made an unusual announcement.  The song that they would dance to was recorded by a very special group of people. Her school music class wanted to be a part of their teacher’s special day, so they recorded this love song for her first dance with her new husband.

As the music wafted onto the dance floor and washed over us, the children’s voices rose pure and clear:

“Tomorrow morning if you wake up  and the sun does not appear … I will be here.

As sure as seasons were made for change, our lifetimes were made for these years.  So I will be here.”

And they danced to a serenade sung by people who loved them.

They danced to music made by  love.

And we all stood, teary eyed, as witnesses to a dance of joy.

We should all be dancing to the of voices of those who love us.

Our lives are filled with beliefs and and judgments that affect how we see ourselves, and how we “dance” each day.   We can allow the opinions of others determine our self-worth, or sometimes it’s our own voice we trip over  when we find it difficult to forgive ourselves and move past our mistakes.

But there is One voice that is True and we can believe what He says about us:

“Those mistakes you made?  I don’t even remember them.”

“Those wounds from others?   I can heal and restore you so completely that there is no trace of bitterness in you.”

“There’s nothing you can do to keep Me from loving you.”

Love changes us.  It gives us hope.  It’s safety when we fall.  It encourages us to move forward,  and reminds us who we are.

Listen to the One who Loves you say:

“I will rejoice over you with singing”,  and dance with joy as the voice of Love sings!

Whose song are you dancing to?

I will be Here

Scripture references – Psalm 103:12; Joel 2:22; Romans 8:35-39; Zephaniah 3:17

You Don’t Smell Like Smoke

They must have thought He was crazy. 

 Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”   Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven!”

Seventy times seven.  Four hundred and ninety.  490!

We know any long term relationship, whether it is with  friends, family, spouses, or children, will be filled with both joy and miscommunications,  comfort and challenges.   To forge any lasting bond, forgiveness must be part of the love language of any relationship.  

The point Jesus was making when he said we should forgive “seventy times seven” was that we should always forgive.  But are there any situations where we would need to forgive one person so many times? 490?

Sometimes it’s not individual offenses that add up.  

Sometimes it’s the repercussions.  

Because some sins have an echo that lasts a lifetime.

When commitments are broken, when trust is shattered, or when we are victims of abuse or negligence, there is more to an offense than the initial wound.

– Infidelity in a marriage may lead to a divorce where there is loss of  financial security.  We may have to give up a house or even file for bankruptcy.  We may need to go back to work and put the kids in daycare.  Now the children are shuffled back and forth on holidays and weekends.  We may suffer from depression. All because of infidelity.

– A friend betrays us at work and now we are out of job.  Our reputation may have been tarnished unjustly.  We may have financial hardships that affect our family.  And we question our judgement in people and whether we should trust again.  All because of a betrayal.

–   A drunk driver crashes into our car.  There are medical bills that will not be covered by insurance.  The physical wounds can take months to heal and during that time the emotional toll can be severe as we can’t live our life.  All because of an act of negligence.

Every time there is another consequence to the original offense we have two choices – we can forgive or we can choose bitterness.

We don’t think we’re choosing bitterness.  We think we’re holding the people who harmed us accountable for the pain they’ve caused.  It seems reasonable.  And we should all be accountable for our actions.

The problem comes when we hold others accountable for our happiness.

When we hold them responsible for our wholeness, our pain, and our future and we decide we can’t be happy until we get what we deserve from them we are living in unforgiveness.  But we’re the ones that hurt.

But holding anger or pain in our heart towards anyone,  means we live in anger and pain.  And that creates a  bitter heart.

Bitterness keeps us living  in the past as we focus on the one who wronged us.

 Bitterness keeps us living as a victim as we wait, in vain, for the one who hurt us to heal us.

That’s why Jesus said we must forgive even “seventy times seven”. Forgiveness doesn’t release the person from accountability.  Forgiveness doesn’t erase the past.

Forgiveness is surrendering what has been lost to God knowing He is the source of our joy, our wholeness, and our future.

Forgiveness releases us from living a life of bitterness.  It means we stop spending our time counting offenses and start spending our life counting blessings.  Forgiveness means we stop looking  to the one who betrayed us to fix us, and turn the One who Loves us to free us!

Forgiveness allows us to stop clinging to the idea of a resurrected past as the only way to happiness, and start living the life in front of us!  

Because it’s the only life that matters.  It’s the only life  we have.

 And it can be enough.

One of my favorite promises is “I will restore the years the locust have eaten.”  He doesn’t change the past, but He can create a future where you are whole.  Fixed.  Like you were never broken. Or as a friend of mine says- even though you’ve come through the fire, you don’t smell like smoke.

So we must forgive.  Every time.  Every time the phone rings and it’s a bill collector for a responsibility that shouldn’t be ours.  Every time we kiss the kids good-bye on a holiday that used to be a family affair.  Every time we think about the fact that our pain is a result of someone else’s actions – we forgive.  Even 490 times.

Because when we forgive, we turn our attention from the imperfect person who hurt us,  to a perfect God who is for us!  

We change our focus from weakness to Strength.  From pain to Love.  And as we look for the gifts from the Giver of all good and perfect gifts, we see that we have more than we imagined.  That He is working in our life and we are not alone. 

You don’t have to carry those offenses any longer.  You don’t have to focus on the pain. You can give your pain to the only One who can heal it.  And start living a new life.

One where you don’t smell like smoke.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10:10

Scripture References:  Matthew 18:21-22; Joel 2:25

If Faith Were a Horse – A Dating Conversation

In conversations with unmarried Christians, a common and passionate topic is dating or marrying non-believers.  Is it biblical?  Can it work?

In the Cornell Marriage Advice Project, a research team did in-depth interviews with more than 700 people aged 65 and older, who were married for an average of 43 years.  When gerontologist Karl Pillemer asked them to tell him the secret to a happy marriage, they poured their hearts out.  They said that “marriage is hard. It takes spirit and resilience. It is something that you work at and get better at, but it is never completed.” One of their insights was to marry someone with similar values about religion, money, child rearing, how you want to spend your time, and the importance of careers.  They said some differences can work, but if you have real differences in core values you’re not likely to last very long.

There’s a big difference between enjoying someone’s company, even caring deeply for them, and being compatible for life.  You can overlook the “elephant in the room” for awhile but eventually differences in core values are impossible to ignore as they shape our lives and even our personalities.

I believe conversations about core values should be had early in a relationship.  It’s not a conversation about which church to go to; it’s a conversation about lifestyle, and priorities, and relationships.

If Faith Were a Horse – A Dating Conversation 

He asked, “What are you skeptical about?”

“I need to know how you see God in your life” she answered.

“What do you want to know?”  He offered, “I go to church.”

“It’s not about church.  It’s about a world-view.”  She decided to plunge in, “Do you want God’s purpose for your life more than any other definition of success? Do you trust Him to love you and provide for you  and does that trust lead you to follow Him in the decisions you make in business and your personal life?”

He looked puzzled.

“It’s like this, “ she offered an analogy, “Let’s say faith was a horse, and I had a horse and loved it.  The perspective I had from riding the horse changed the way I looked at life, at the world and my purpose.  I rode it every day and it gave my life meaning and joy.   But if you didn’t have a horse of your own and you didn’t want one, our perspectives on almost every part of life would be different.  It would make it impossible for us to align our priorities and to share life.”

“Are you asking me if I have a horse?” He asked.

“I’m telling you- I have a horse- a faith in God and a relationship with Him that is more important than any other relationship I have in my life.   It permeates my life.  It is the air that I breathe, the compass by which I set my sails.  I don’t want to make a move without  Him, and if you don’t live the same way, it would be impossible to partner in life.”  She took a breath.

“I get it”, he said. “You like horses,…you like faith!”

“I don’t just like faith”, she corrected him.  “I am a horsewoman.”

From “One Single Purpose – Trusting God with My Life, a Single Woman’s Journey of Faith” copyright 2012

More than “Here Comes the Bride”

Almost anyone who has been to a wedding is familiar with the “The Wedding March”.  It’s saved for the most important part of the processional.  All attendants are standing at the front of the church, the organ sounds with the familiar notes, the doors of the sanctuary are flung open and the bride walks down aisle to her waiting groom!

Most people don’t know the words to this music, or think the lyrics are the same as the irreverent children’s rhyme that starts with “Here comes the bride, all dressed in white”.  But actually (and thankfully) the words are far more beautiful and meaningful.  They originate from an opera by Wagner.  As I was raised in a church that frequently sang acappella music at weddings, this was a song I heard often.  Here are some of the lyrics –

“Faithful and true, We lead ye forth.
Where love triumphant, Shall crown ye with joy.
Star of renown, Flower of the earth.
Blessed be ye both, Far from all life’s annoy.
Champion victorious, Go thou before!
Maid bright and glorious, Go thou before!
Earth’s noisy revel Ye have forsaken,
Tender delight for you now awaken.
Fragrant abode, enshrine ye in bliss
Splendor and state, in joy ye dismiss.”

Isn’t it romantic and tender?   Even regal?

So why am I sharing this with you?

I almost always wake up with a song in my head.  Most of the time it’s a hymn.  Sometimes it’s a song from my childhood – usually an annoying camp song that’s irritatingly catchy.   Recently, it was this song. (I have several friends getting married soon so I am thinking that was the trigger.)

As I found myself humming it though the day it occurred to me how these lyrics could represent our love story with God.  What if, instead of a wedding, it represented our relationship with Him and the promises He gives us?  What if instead of being sung to a bride and groom, it was being sung to the beloved of God?

Here are scripture verses that came to me as I thought about this:

 Faithful and True

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True”  Rev. 19:11

He Leads Before.

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31:9

 Where Love Triumphant

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 15:13

 “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 15: 55-57

Will Crown thee with Joy

 “Those the Lord has rescued will return.  They will enter Zion with singing;     Everlasting joy will crown their heads” Isaiah 35:10

Star of renown, Flower of the earth

“I, Jesus…. am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”   Rev. 22:15

Blessed thee are filled, far from all life’s annoy

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”  Matthew 6:25-26

Champion Victorious, Go thou before!

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:37

Maid bright and glorious, Go thou before!

“You are the light of the world.” Matthew 5:14

Earth’s noisy revel, thee have forsaken.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Romans 12:2

 Tender delight for you now awaken.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived, the things God has prepared for those who love Him”—1 Corinthians 2:9

 Fragrant abode, Enshrine thee in bliss

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20

 Splendor and state, In joy thee dismiss

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  Phillipians4:12-13

 So,  what do you think?  It’s still romantic and tender, but now it’s coming from the One who created Love.

May you look for Him today and find Him in work, in song, in sorrow and joy.  And know, He’s always here.


“Do whatever He tells you.”

There was a time in my life when I was certain I would never work for a church.  I was happy with my secular job and volunteering.  Then God arranged the circumstances in such a way that it was apparent working in ministry was my next step.  (How many Singles Ministry Director/Real Estate Project Manager positions can there be in the world?)  And I have loved it.  I have loved the people and the opportunity to have a front row seat to life change.   I was positive that working in ministry would be my vocation forever more.  But God has presented me with the next step and I have been called, unmistakably, to the secular workplace again.

When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”  “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  John 2

That “more than you can ask or imagine” is often completely unexpected.  And totally wonderful.    More than a few years ago, I knew I was not to date while my kids were in high school.  During that time, our family became even stronger, their faith became more their own, and God blessed us in more ways than I can describe.

I have found that when I follow Him into circumstances only He could create, the blessings are abundant and profound, and I have more opportunity to testify to His faithfulness and His goodness.  It’s always humbling (as I have frequently followed Him while questioning His navigation skills) and yet completely rewarding and even fun as I see wherever He leads is someplace He’s already prepared for me and prepared me for.

I used to think I could do a reasonable job of predicting the next steps for my life.  How each move in my career would lead to the next.  That I could use my “vast experience” to forecast my future.

But He makes the best wine.

 “They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

At this point I have no idea what the next 10 years, or five years, or even what next year will look like or where it will lead.  I’m certain of only one thing-  I want to go where He’s leading me.  And that’s enough.

“Do whatever He tells you.”

“Are you ready to let me go?”

“Are you ready to let me go?”

She smiled as she said these words to me outside the security gate in the airport.   Her plane would be boarding soon, and she’d be off to Peru for a week to teach at an orphanage.   I looked at her sweet face, full of anticipation.  Even at 25, she looks so young that the ticket agent had asked if she was old enough to travel alone.

Am I ready to let you go?

You’re the three year old who subsisted a year on chicken nuggets and peaches.  You’re the six year old who would only wear dresses with flowers on them.  Just yesterday you were the teenager in braids.  You’re the animal-lover responsible for every pet we ever owned, and the cross-country runner who consistently downs everything on your plate and asks to finish what’s left on mine!

Am I ready to let you go?

For so many years it’s been the three of us – you and your brother and me.  There were the dark years, early after the divorce when we all grieved not seeing each other every day.  You and I would hang onto each other until the last minute.  I would work into the night, filling my time until you both returned home.  But God is faithful.  He restored “the years the locust have eaten.”   He healed our wounds.  Our family is loving and close.  I love laughing with you and the joy you bring to my life.  And now, you are a young woman, surprising me with your wisdom and maturity and your rock-solid faith.

Am I ready to let you go?

Is anyone ever ready to let their loved one go?  Neighbors move, co-workers leave, lives are cut short, children grow, people age and change.  Whether friends or family, they leave holes in our lives where our hearts met.  It’s inevitable that the joy of love means the pain of loss.  It’s the flip side of the coin -we only mourn those we love.  Comfort is found when we know we are losing them to something better.  Especially as believers, we are willing and eager to see them follow God – even if it means away from us.

Am I ready to let you go?

Your eyes are shining and you are eager to board this plane alone and go where you know God has called you.

Am I ready to let you go?

Only to Him so you can follow His plan for your life.

Only to Him so we can journey together in His love.

Only to Him.

But come back soon, and we’ll share stories of His goodness.

Here is Hope

Its Easter week.

Daffodils wave their bright bonnets in the cold March wind.  Lively, early birds sing to trumpet a season soon to arrive.  And we wait on this Good Friday for Promises yet unseen.

All of us awash with Hope.

The Cross takes our breath away reminding us of not just our failures but our complete and utter inability to be enough.  Perfect enough.  Right enough.  Pure enough.   There is no hope for self-sufficiency. No work that leads us towards redemption.  We cannot be righteous in our own skin.  It’s not possible.

That’s why He did it.  The Perfect One.  The Righteous One.  The Holy One.  Because He is the only One who could.

The One who is Love carried His cross and allowed Himself to be hung by our sin so that we could know–

–          His perfection covers our imperfection.

–          And His sacrifice removes our sins from us.  As far as the East is from the West.

Like they never existed.

Here is Hope and Life.

We are not the sum of our mistakes.  We don’t have to be marked by our past.  We have nothing to pay, nothing to earn.  We just need to believe – that His sacrifice was enough for anything we have done or will do.   And then we live a new Life in that Love, with Hope and glorious Peace.

It was darkest hour of man’s creation when He took our place as payment for sins on the cross.  But it was the brightest of mornings when the hand of God brought Life out of a tomb.

He’s still in the resurrecting business.  For the lost soul, the wounded heart, and the broken life.

It’s Easter Week. Here is Hope.

We put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe. 

1 Timothy 4:10