Ecclesiastes and a Pandemic

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I didn’t keep a journal during this pandemic. I wish I had. I find myself scrolling back through my iPhone calendar trying to figure out how many days we’ve been like this. Arizona “reopened” on May 15th. We’re eight days into gyms, restaurants and many retail stores being open for business. But life is by no means business as usual.

For me, as a nurse working in a hospital during this crisis, I have not experienced the shelter-in-place like so many have. The big changes in my family’s life has been having our two high school boys doing school at home via online learning and my husband being mandated to work from home until May 1st. The 2019-2020 school year officially ended yesterday.  Not being able to hug my friends, pick up their kids, sit on the floor with elementary students and talk about Jesus and sing loud with them all on Sundays is by far the biggest area I’ve felt the impact of Covid-19.

I’ve been doing my shopping weekly for groceries and feed for my animals. People are shopping, some with mask, others without. To me it seems about a 50/50 split. I can now find toilet paper at Walmart and the pasta isle at Fry’s is almost back to being fully stocked. No one has harassed me for wearing my homemade mask. People have been polite and I’ve been thankful for the efforts of grocery clerks and cart runners who continue to serve me with a smile I can’t see. I may not see the smile, but the way their eyes sparkle as they nod makes me think the smile is there.

We aren’t big out-to-eat-ers so we haven’t tested the reopening of restaurants.

All in all, life feels fairly normal for my family. The strangeness is in the buzz on social media and news stations. My Facebook and Twitter feeds are tattered with anger, accusations, suspicion, conspiracy theory, blame and divisive politicizing. All those people I miss from church, see at the store, work with in the hospital, drive by running errands… they all have feelings and thoughts about all that has happened in the pandemic. A handful of them I’ve spoken to personally. And of those there’s a handful of differing opinions about what went wrong, who’s to blame, what we should do, what we shouldn’t do, and where we go from here.

I’ve been listening to the audio version of the ESV translation of Ecclesiastes lately. I’m drawn to this long meditation on, “What’s the point of life?” This global pandemic has brought me face to face with my utter lack of control over life. As a Christian, I believe my God is good. Jesus showed me that. And if he’s God, and he’s good, I can just ride the wave of this pandemic and trust he’ll make everything right in the end. But it’s not that simple.

I can’t just ride the wave. People all around me are getting knocked out by the wave. Ecclesiastes reminds me that death comes to us all. Whether by Covid-19 or a car accident, cancer or coronary artery disease. Pick your reaper, either way, he’s coming. And you don’t even get to pick your reaper. So what am I to do with this life? It sometimes feels like all my concern for my neighbor, my desire to share Jesus with my friends, my heart-work to become more emotionally intelligent and aware of the logs in my eye, the work of loving a husband and raising men is for nothing.

Listening to Ecclesiastes I’m reminded that life is painful and sometimes seems fruitless. The point of it all is found in the God who made it and rules over it.  Even there I find Ecclesiastes telling me to stop trying to figure out what God is doing, and do my work, be a good friend, be thankful, love my neighbor, enjoy my glass of wine, go outside, take in a sunset and laugh when the dog chases his tail.

Tonight I’m sitting on my back porch listening to a bird sing in one of our sissoo trees. The sky is a faint peach and grey, the aftermath of a blazing fiery orange sunset that was a few minutes ago. Tonight one of my friends is sick with Covid-19. His wife is scared. Tomorrow the sun will rise, and I pray my friend gets up feeling much better. Life with Covid-19 will go on. At least until the One who makes the sun rise says it’s all over.

Practices with your Bible that will keep you humble (and make William Tyndale proud)

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The accessibility of scripture is something people before us have given their lives for.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) laid down his life so that, “… the boy who drives the plow,” could know the scriptures even better than the Pope of his time. The stories of how the translation of the Bible, at the blood, sweat and tears of many, was preserved and made readily available to us should humble us. It is a treasure we have on our phones and bound in board, paper and leather. But for many of us, it’s a relic or a good luck charm or a reminder that we “should” read it, but we don’t. Our Bibles and the broken and beautiful people of God are the way the Holy Spirit feeds us, comes alongside us, leads us, teaches us, helps us see, and gives us faith.

I’m not a boy who drives a plow. I am a low-energy, struggles-with-depression, mom and wife who drives a Ford Edge with a dent scratched right through the Ford symbol on the back because I closed the garage door while the back hatch was open. Mr. Tyndale’s life was not spent in vain. His work to translate the scriptures into English has reached me. I don’t claim to know my Bible better than the Pope or a Bible scholar, but I have reaped the benefits of growing in my faith as I’ve wrestled with, prayed through, chewed on and shared what the Spirit teaches me as I read my Bible and hear its message proclaimed.

The Bible can be and has been misused. Like a sharp knife, it can be used to heal or kill. Throughout time, the word of God has been wielded to serve the self-exalting interest of the person or people holding it as a weapon of power or self-defense.  It can also be ignorantly misused, like a child playing with his daddy’s hunting knife.  I think when we pick up our Bibles we should do so with a kind of trembling. We should be aware that when we, prone-to-wander sinners by nature, redeemed though we are, read our Bibles we will tend to see it applying to everyone else, and turn every story into a moral lesson for making our lives more successful. But you don’t have to be skilled in Bible memory sword drills or have a degree in theology to be changed by God’s message in the Bible.

Here I offer these modern-day plow boy (or girl as it were) practices that will help you pick up your Bible with a holy fear and childlike faith that will serve to transform you, keeping you humble and growing in grace.

Look For Jesus

Look and listen for sights and sounds of Jesus.  In one of my favorite stories in the Bible, the risen Jesus walks alongside some men who, dejected and disillusioned walked a road processing what had just happened at the crucifixion of the one they thought would be their king. When Jesus, hearing how lost and confused they were spoke to help them, the story says, “…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27). The Bible is meant to lead you to one person- Jesus! Looking for him in long genealogies, or poetry, or details about dimensions of a temple is challenging. One practice that helps (some good pastor taught me this), is when reading about kings, priests and prophets, let them speak to you of Jesus both in comparison and contrast. Jesus is the greater of all the kings, priests and prophets. In much of your reading it will take time, like following a long road home, to begin to see how these stories are leading to Jesus. But as you begin, ask yourself, “What does this tell me about God? How did this lead to a need for Jesus to come? What does this tell me about humanity?” Over time, like the men on the road to Emmaus in Luke, you’ll begin to see the things concerning Jesus. And when you do it’s beautiful! It’s so worth it.

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:44-49)

Study to Teach a Child

Tell your kids, or grand-kids or neighbor kids and kids at your church’s children’s ministry what you see of Jesus in a story or text. One of the most important things the Bible says we’re supposed to do with his message is tell it to the next generation.  I have been an attender at many Bible studies over the years. They are good. Don’t get me wrong here. But the best kind of Bible study is not the one done among people just like you- all women, all men, all of a certain affinity- (and study books written by Christian authors does not constitute a Bible study). The best kind of Bible study is the one done in an effort to pass the message of the Bible on to someone else. Taking the rich feast of scripture and making it palatable and digestible for a child is a Christlike posture of humility that is sure to produce gospel fruit.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 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. (Deuteronomy 6:5-7)

Insert Your Name for the Bad Guy

Every time you read about the “bad guy” or cringe at some evil or bad choice someone makes, put your name there. Your first tendency will be think of your spouse, parent, neighbor, president, child… anyone but yourself. When you catch yourself thinking, “I wish so and so would read this, or believe this…” Or, “That’s just like such and such…” stop! Stop in your tracks right there. Put your name in the place of Sarah telling her husband to take another woman and impregnate her, then turning on the same woman abusively. Put your name in place of drunken Noah and his shady son. Put your name in the place of runaway Jonah, and mocking Peter, and money-hungry Judas. And then remember that Jesus died because in your heart and mine dwells the same sin that brought these to such shameful places. Then thank God. Sing. Praise him for saving a wretch like me and you and Noah.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:7-12)

Insert Your Name for the Righteous

Every time you read the word “saint” or “righteous” or “redeemed”, put your name there and get on your knees. In you and I dwells the fallen tendency to feed the sinful, deadly instinct of our flesh. But thanks be to God, Jesus has put the shame and guilt and condemnation of that nature to death and given us a heart tender to his beauty and love. Let what you read about the saint and the righteous and the redeemed inform your identity as a child of God by expensive grace. The work of Jesus has made you and me saints. We are holy ones because Jesus died for us. We are righteous because Jesus has given us his righteousness. We are redeemed because the blood of Jesus paid the price for your life.

“…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:29-31)

Take up your Bible today, even now. Start at the beginning, or start where your church is currently at in the Bible. Use a Bible reading plan. However and wherever you start, start. Let the lives of those before you who suffered so you could have the Bible in your language be honored. Let the life of Jesus who embodied every truth, won every victory, fought every battle, presides as the righteous judge over every judgement and became for us every bit of our sinfulness, bearing the curse of death in our place, making us children of God- let his life be feasted upon and resurrected in you.

10 things to do with your Bible that will help you grow in faith

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It’s true, you can have a PhD in Old and New Testament studies and be what Jesus called, “a blind guide” because like Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Knowing your Bible doesn’t mean you know the one it speaks of (John 5:39).  Nevertheles, you shouldn’t throw Bible reading out with the bathwater of pride. Just throw the pride out and look for Jesus.

For you, the practice of reading your Bible may be hard, uninteresting, confusing, overwhelming, intimidating, etc.  Over the years I’ve been blessed to have good pastors and Bible teachers in my life help me learn how to read my Bible. There are many great resources out there from expert Bible teachers and pastors: Look at the BookThe Bible Project, and online study tools like  And here are 10 practices I’ve grown from over the years.

1. Before you start reading, ask God to give you eyes to see beautiful things in the Bible and ears to hear his message as lived out perfectly in Jesus. “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalms‬ ‭119:18)‬ ‭ This prayer of the Psalm-writer has become my prayer. God is faithful and happy to open our eyes to “wondrous things” in the message he has preserved for us.

2. Don’t JUST read your Bible- meditate on it. That’s a full blogpost, but in short meditating on the Bible is what the Bible tells us to do with the Bible. And that involves chewing on what you read over time.  Psalm 1 contrasts the habit of chewing on God’s message in the Bible to passively going along with the ways of the world. One results in a fruitful life, the other is a waste.

3. Write down words you don’t understand, and questions you have. Look up the meanings of the words. Ask a Christian you trust your questions. Many times there won’t be answers that you find practical or helpful. That’s ok. Let the question be part of your prayers. Over time you may see answers, or not. It’s a deep well, the Bible. We’ll never drain it dry.

4. Discuss what you’re reading with other Christians. This is so important! The church is a body! People who follow Jesus need each other to grow into maturity and Christlikness. We don’t grow alone.

5. Ask questions of the text? While you’re reading ask, “What does this tell me about God? What does this tell me about the situation? How does this apply to me? How does Jesus model/demonstrate/fulfill this?”

6. Do 1-5 habitually. Starting a new habit is hard. Another reason why we need a community of believers to meditate on scripture well. Use others to help you start the habit. Schedule it in your routine in the morning or evening (or both!).

7. Pray what you know so far from the Bible. If all you know is John 3:16 (which is the whole message of the Bible in one sentence so that’s pretty good) pray and make it personal. Pray the verse for yourself.  “For God so loved Sheila, that he gave his only begotten son…” Pray it for a friend/family member.

8. Do what you know. Don’t walk away from your reading and do nothing (James 1:22). Do what you know God’s word is telling you. And repent when you fail to do what you know. 

9. Tell your kids, other people’s kids, your friends, your neighbors… anyone who’ll listen, what God is teaching you while you read. Psalm 78 is a comissioning of adults who have put their faith in Christ to pass on what God has done to the next generation.  Deuteronomy 6 tells us to teach our kids the word of God that is on our hearts!  Jesus tells us to tell anyone and everyone what we have learned from him, teaching them to obey everything he says (Matthew 28:20).

10. If you can’t read, listen. Listen to the Bible online for free in many different versions. 

There ya go. Practicing these 10 habits that, by the grace of God the church has helped me form over time, has rooted and grounded me in the love of Christ. And has helped me through bouts of depression, guided me through hard times and good times and has given me a nose to sniff out something not right when I hear the Bible taught.  

You may not think of it this way, but when you loved and followed Jesus, a whole new you started growing.  Psalm 1 describes this new you as a tree nourished and healthy, growing by meditating on God’s word day and night. You are a tree God is growing. Let your roots go down deep into the grace that saved you.


Psalm 42- My paraphrase

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Fathom Mag (my favorite Christian magazine) recently offered up a writing contest- your own paraphrase of a Psalm in honor of Eugene Peterson who recently went home. I didn’t submit a piece to Fathom because I’ve done some re-prioritization this past couple weeks. I’ve stepped back from putting out effort to write anything besides my own journal entries, curriculum thoughts for the children’s ministry at my church, and my evidence-based practice project for my BSN (which is completed on December 2nd- there is light at the end of the tunnel…). But chewing on the Psalms helps my heart so much. So I thought I’d give a go at Psalm 42 in my paraphrase here.

Psalm 42

Like the goats on my farm
hang their tongues out their mouths,
standing round the water troughs
in the punishing Arizona summers,
everything in me thirsts for you God.

The mouth of my soul is parched
I’m thirsty for this God
I’ve never seen but love.
For the God who made
spring streams in the desert
and stars that dust the night sky.

I long for the God I read about
in my Bible.
When will I get to stand in front of him?

I can’t see him but I love him
and I ache for him.
I feel a deep satisfaction when I
sob into my pillow at night
and raise my tear stained face to heaven during the day.
A quenching of my thirst.

People I love, people around me
they don’t see my God either
and sometimes they mock me.
“What god? Where?”
I know you’re real
I’ve drunk from your waters
only you
can satisfy.

I sob and ache deep
longing for them to know
longing for them to see
longing to see myself
remembering the times
I’ve joined with people I don’t know
to raise hands, and tears and confessions
and then shouts and smiles and cheers
because we’ve drunk from your
deep waters and now only you will satisfy.
I remember.

So why am I so depressed?
Why is my gut in knots
and my stomach burning with acid?
Self, why are you so hopeless?
This God you’ve never seen but love
he is your hope!
You’ve tasted. You know. He’s real.
He ripped you out of a dark pit of hopelessness
and set you on a high hill of confidence.
He is your hope.

I ask you self, why?
But I know you have no answers.
You just are where you are.
You’re down there in a pit.

But listen to me.
Remember when you didn’t even care?
Remember when Jesus meant nothing to you?
Remember when you didn’t love God or people?
That’s where Jesus showed up and took you by the hand.
That’s where he called you daughter.
Just like he rescued you then
he’ll never stop rescuing you.

And when he pulls you out of this pit
you’ll raise your hands
and smile
tears streaming down your face
and kiss him again.

Amen! Amen! My heart aches
deep within me
echoing the sounds of God-
truth rushing over me like
a wave crashing against the rocks
and my soul responds
“Yes! Yes!” like cymbals
responding to your deep roar.

I’ve been in a pit
but all day long
this God I’ve never seen but love
he’s been moving mountains
to love me
he’s been singing how he loves me
all night long while I sleep.
My life is like a whispered, hopeful
“Thank you Lord!”

I look around
from this high place of worship
from this sweet taste of
quenching waters
from the God I’ve never seen but love
and I start sinking.

“Why am I sinking God!? Are you here? Did you forget me?”
The accusing voice in my head threatens.
“There’s no point!”
“You mind as well give up.”
I sink beneath the weight of the thought.

It’s as though I have cancer in my bones
and there’s no shaking the voice that
condemns me to hopelessness.
Like the threat of malignant cells
these threats accuse me of being deluded,
of hoping against hope in the God I’ve never seen.

Oh self! Why do you give in so easily?
Why are you so depressed?
Don’t hope in threats.
Hope in the God who you have never seen but love.
One day this dark fog of hopelessness
will give way to the truth
and without sinking ever again
you’ll see the one you love
and oh what endless shouts of thankfulness
will pour from your mouth toward him.

Why it’s important to meditate on the Bible: A conversation between mom and son.

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Until about 7 o’clock this evening I felt like the walking dead. Doing some night shifts at the hospital is taking its toll on me.  But I’m always surprised at how much I notice God’s presence and help when I feel especially weak. Today was no exception.

My 13-year-old is new in his personal walk of faith following Jesus and as his mom it’s priority for me to intentionally disciple him in the love and teaching of Christ. I look to the Bible, prayer and the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help for this.

It’s a funny thing when you think about it, we look to a book to learn about this God we have been captivated by. Christ has captured our hearts and given us a desire to love him and others like we never had before. But we can’t see him. We have a book- actually a collection of books in the Bible, and we have the church.  Yes, we have nature and other relationships through which we learn more about this God we love and have never seen, but the meat and potatoes of our spiritual growth diet is the Bible and the church.  When I look back over my years following Jesus, it’s chewing on the messages of the Bible, alone and in community, that has sent tap roots of faith down into the soil of my tumultuous life.  I want my sons to have that same deeply-rooted faith.

The Bible can be misused. And sadly is. In the Bible Satan uses the scriptures to tempt and lie to Christ himself. Reading or knowing the Bible is not a sign of humble faith or a regenerated heart. But without taking in the scriptures, chewing on them and spitting them out in prayer and community, with questions and responses, we will be weak Christians easily tossed by the storms and droughts of life.

I’ve been asking my youngest to form habits of reading scripture, asking questions, praying and discussing it with me. Today, we read the daily reading from our church’s app.  It was from Isaiah 53.  After we listened to the reading of the passage, we began a discussion.  Actually, I started preaching. And my son obliged and listened. I was surpised to find that in my crawling skin, bowling-ball head, tired, burning eyes and foggy brain Christ was bubbling up “rivers of living water.”

My son doesn’t like to read.  He’s part of this generation that gets most of its information from technology like his smart phone and social media. It a social norm I feel very wary of.  And without selling all our possessions and moving to Pennsylvania to become Amish, I try to push back against the strong current of information passively wearing my sons down to flatness. I urge them to grow deep roots and strong minds by reading the Bible and reading other good books.

Reading Isaiah 53 today with my son it just hit me: God has given us two ways to eat.  One is through our mouths into our stomachs, and the other is through our eyes and ears into our minds and hearts.  When we read, we are challenged to grow strong through asking questions and seeking answers.  Our diet is healthy.  When we passively take in information through phones, T.V. and social media our diet is unhealthy.

I’m convinced the need for picking up a Bible, chewing on it like a goat or cow does hay, and continuing this ruminating, meditative practice of digesting, regurgitating and digesting again God’s word is the healthy way God has given us to grown strong in our faith.

I’m thanking God for the promise tonight that he will not send out his word in vain.  It went out from me into my son today.  It was impressed upon him.  And it will achieve the purposes God has for it.

We need to read our Bibles!  We need to chew on what we read, ask the text questions, pray what we read, and spend time in community talking about what we read.  We need a healthy diet for our hearts and minds.

‘ “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.’ -Isaiah 55:10-11

‘ but his delight is in the law of the Lord , and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.’ -Psalms 1:2-3


Reflections on 2017 and resolves for 2018

The last three days of 2017 will be mostly spent at the hospital where I work.  So if not now, I won’t have much of a chance to reflect on 2017 or make plans for 2018 before it’s here.

Today I went to the gym after waking up late (7:30 am is two hours of sleeping in for me), took my teenage sons to their dental cleaning appointment, got a replacement florescent light bulb for our kitchen and then stopped here at our local library to capture maybe an hour of intentional, prayerful thinking on what has happened this year and what I am aiming for the next.

I asked my 13 and 14 year olds this morning to consider three questions:

  1. Something you’d like to learn?
  2. Something you have questions about?
  3. And something you are interested in?

They looked at me like I was from Mars.  That’s pretty much where it stands right now as far as their opinion of me anyway, so I wasn’t offended.  Somehow, in the last year, I’ve become the parent that doesn’t know anything, and does things that NO other parent does to their kids. Things such as, ask them to put away their youtube/snapchat/instagram, video games, phones and take their earbuds out so they can consider three questions.  Yep, I’m that parent.

This leads into both a reflection on 2017 and a resolution for 2018 when it comes to being a mom raising men.


A Hard Year For My Kids

My kids had a hard year.  If you’ve read my blog much, or my about me page, or if you know me well at all you know that I am working the mom thing from a difficult marriage point of view.  The difficulty specifically lies in what I’ve dubbed being a One Peter Three Wife.  Another way I’ve coded this kind of marriage is an “even if” marriage.  1 Peter 3:1-2 in the CSB version says it like this:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that,even if some disobey the word,they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live when they observe your pure, reverent lives.

See that “even if” in there.  All marriages are hard, or at least have hard seasons somewhere. But the man or woman who finds themselves in a marriage to a spouse that doesn’t love God’s word, doesn’t follow Christ, doesn’t “obey the word”… we find ourselves in a particular kind of hard marriage.  The kind where some might think you should bail because a divided house is sure to fall anyway.  But Peter doesn’t say that.  And neither does Paul.  Peter says, “Even if you find yourself in a difficult marriage to an unbeliever, try to win them over without preaching to them!”  And Paul says, “If they are willing to stay married to you, stay married.  You might win them over!” (my paraphrase of 1 Cor. 7:12-16).

So, I’ve been in one of these “even if” marriages for 24 years.  And it hasn’t been easy.  We’ve been separated and on the verge of divorce more than once and 2017 was one of them.

This year my sons have had to live through the fear and sick feelings that come with having parents who aren’t in a stable marriage. I remember those feelings.  I was one of those kids too.  But I see God’s grace so much in this hard year for my kids.  They have seen first hand what it looks like to trust Christ in relational trouble.  They have seen and heard their mother’s prayers.  They have seen God work repentance in their parents.  And they have seen God work reconciliation and healing and true change.

Good In the Midst of the Hard Stuff

In 2016 Connor had told me he didn’t want to go to church anymore and was very adamant about it.  In 2017 I’ve seen God use Valley Life Church to draw Connor and Ryland into relationships at church through the youth there.  Connor now goes to youth group almost every Sunday.  Ryland wanted to proclaim is faith in Christ and be baptized this year.  God is so faithful!  He’s been with me and my boys through the fire this year.  He’s heard my prayers and he’s at work in my sons and marriage.

2017: The Year God Put Us In A Church

I had been bouncing from church to church for a couple years before 2017, but after summer vacation I decided to commit myself to Valley Life Surprise.  Valley Life is a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and Acts 29 Ministries.  So I guess you could say I’m a Baptist now, but I would say I’m a very grateful Christian.  Valley Life Surprise is a church plant in the west valley.  Just weeks ago, we purchased a building so that we have a base for the mission of reaching out to our community with the gospel.  We’re a small church, but I’m confident God is adding to his church, even in this little spot in the world.  I love that the gospel is preached at Valley Life every Sunday no matter what passage of scripture is being preached.  The good news that God has give his Son in our place for our sins so that we could no longer live for ourselves but for Him is pointed to constantly.  I love that!

First Step In A Dream-Direction

In 2017 I, finally, started working on getting my bachelor’s of science in nursing through an online program at Grand Canyon University.  This is really a first step in following a direction I’ve been dreaming and praying about. It won’t be long and my teenage sons will be out of the house on their own.  When that time comes, I’d like to be ready to give myself to the needs of whatever people God would lead me to, as a nurse.  Possibly a nurse practitioner.  Maybe it’s because of the healthcare changes I hear about politically. Maybe it’s because I work in a hospital and see first hand so much of the fruit of our broken system and unhealthy lifestyle as Americans.  Maybe it’s because I just happen to be a nurse and feel Christ’s love compelling me to give to those who can’t give anything in return.  It’s probably a conglomeration of all those things.  And it’s pushing me in the direction of wanting to further my degree in nursing so as to put myself in a position to provide healthcare for those who can’t access it.  So far the classes are going very well.  There’s lots of reading and writing, which I enjoy.  Sometime soon comes the dreaded statistics class.  That might not be my favorite.


As I look back at 2017 and see God’s faithfulness and mercy, I feel encouraged by His ways and words to take hold of his promises for 2018. Not that he has specific promises that I know about for 2018, but he has specific promises.  And I want to lay hold of them in 2018. God’s word is true.  He does what he says he’ll do.  And his ways are made known to me in Christ.  So I can look to the scriptures, and look to Jesus and believe that he will do certain things.

I resolve to lay hold of the promise that God will work all things together for my good to conform me to the image of his Son (Rom.8:28-29).  In 2018 I want to have a constant view of my life that says, “This is God’s tool to serve me in making me more Christlike.”  And the only way to change the way I think about life so as to have that view spill out of me when I’m shaken is to renew my mind!  And the only way I know to renew my mind is to start putting God’s word in it more.

With that desire in mind and that promise in view, I resolve to begin memorizing scripture.  I’ve never followed Beth Moore, read any of her books or done any of her Bible studies.  Nothing against her at all, just never have read her.  But, I tripped over her launch of a group on Facebook the other day where she is starting a community online committed to memorizing the book of Galatians.  It’s intimidating.  I’ve failed at completing goals for memorizing large portions of scripture before, but I want to do this!  I need it!

When I told my kids I was considering memorizing Galatians the critical response I got emboldened me to do it even more.

This leads to another resolve:  To read my Bible from my Bible in the house, not from my phone.  I do most of my Bible reading on my phone.  And that’s fine except I’ve been thinking about how often my kids see me on my phone.  They don’t know what I’m doing, they just see me on my phone.  I want them to see me in my Bible.   Here’s a promise I can cling to in seeking to press God’s word into my memory:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. John 15:7-8

This leads to another resolve: Read 4 books other than the Bible this year.  I love to read, but I rarely get through a whole book in a year.  I know that sounds crazy, but I usually only get bits and pieces of books or articles. And that’s really because I don’t carve the time out to read.  In 2017 I read 5 books other than the Bible.  All of them assigned books by our marriage counselor.  I can make a goal to read 4 books and do it.

Don’t Grow Weary In Training Your Kids

This is a big one.  I grow weary in doing good often.  And I see in myself a tendency I saw in my dad: to “give up” whenever things don’t turn out how I want or people don’t respond favorably to me.  The giving up I’m talking about is an attitude of despondency.  Not a surrendered trust in God, but a faithless, hopeless pouting about how hard things are.  This attitude is what I see in the story about Israel fearing going into the promised land because of the giants.  God scolded them because they looked at the giants but they didn’t look at the greatness of their God!  I do that.  I hate it that I do that, but I do.  And I when I catch myself I wanna smack myself upside the head and say, “Shape up Sheila!  Look up!  Your God is the Creator of heaven and earth!  He could have wiped this earth off the map a long time ago but he waited for you!  You are HIS!  You have Christ and all that is Christs forever!  Stop pouting.  Get your tail out from between your legs and get out there and restrain your kids from the evil their bent towards.  Teach them the gospel.  Teach them God’s ways!  Don’t pay attention to their eye-rolling responses.  Keep tilling the ground of their hearts.  Keep planting the seeds of truth.  Keep watering with prayer. God will be faithful!  It won’t be for nothing!”

A promise I can cling to for that resolve:

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” -Deuteronomy 11:18-19

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty,but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

There’s more in my heart than I can fit in this blog post.  God knows.  I’ll spend time writing in my 13 year old “Faith” journal probably sometime on New Year’s day.  But I better wrap this up for now.  I have hungry teenage sons and a husband on his way home from the gym.  They might eat each other alive if I don’t get there and cook something.

Just keep reading


(Image credit: Paul Gauguin, Te Tamari No Atua (Nativity),1896)

*Before I begin, you should really go to that image credit link and read about this painting of the Nativity.*

I’m not a Bible scholar. I really enjoy reading and studying the Bible, but I don’t have any formal education in the Bible.  I have had some really good pastors and Bible teachers teach me how to read the Bible for myself and without fail that still small voice of God speaks to me through the words on paper and pixel.

I don’t think I’ve ever read through Isaiah.  Today I read Isaiah 7-9.  Honestly, I had to read it several times and listen to it read to me on my YouVersion app on my phone.  I get stuck on spots like:

In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it… – Isaiah 7:1

Who’s Ahaz?  Who’s Jotham? Who’s Uzziah and Rezin and Pekah and Remaliah?  I want to go investigate (and I probably should) but I can’t let these foreign names stop me from reading.  I need to just keep reading.  And reading.  And reading.  And listening.  And then when something sticks out to me, dwell on it.  So that’s what I did today.  Although I would like to know about Ahaz and all those people with strange names in the first sentence to help me get my brain around what was going on when Isaiah wrote this, I don’t need to know them to hear what God would say to me about himself and his ways in these chapters.

In a little gathering of believers who called themselves Pathway Bible Church I had a pastor who did such a great job of teaching me to stop devotionalizing every scripture to see what I could squeeze out of it for myself, but rather to ask what the passage was teaching me about God and the people in the passage and about his ways in the world.  I’m so thankful for that.  And him.

Seeing God, especially Christ in the scriptures has much greater impact on my life than trying to see myself in the Bible.  The Bible is not about me. It’s about Jesus. Isaiah is not about me.  It’s about Jesus.  Israel is not about America or me, but about God’s people everywhere.  And how God relates to his people, everywhere, is shown in how he relates to Israel.  Now I know there are theological trains of thought about Israel and God and times and such, but what I mean here is, Israel is at least in part a picture of God’s people universal.

In Isaiah, Israel was being told of “God with us” (Immanuel) coming to be the ruler they desperately needed.  The Creator of the Universe says to his sin-laden, man-fearing people, “Stop fearing rulers.  Fear me.  I will come.  And you will stumble and break on my humility. The rule of power is on my shoulders.”

When I read today’s section for the #IsaiahChristmas reading in chapters 7-9, I was struck by a couple things about God and his people both then and now:

  • God’s people need to be told not to fear.  The phrase, “Do not fear,” appears fifty-one times in my ESV Bible.  God tells his people not to fear because they do.  We’re afraid.  And we’re afraid of things that seem reasonable.  This guy Ahaz was afraid of the, “fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.” But despite these guys’ power and anger, God calls his people to trust him.  He tells us his perspective on the fierce anger of those we fear: their just irritating smoke.  And He declares our problem:

If you will not be firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. -Isaiah 7:9b

  • God’s ways are not our ways.  His sign to Israel that he will deal with oppression:  a son born to a virgin who’s name will be Immanuel- God with us.  God won’t simply deal with angry rulers who threaten his people.  He deals with the fear of man that oppresses his people.  Instead of fearing God, they fear people.  And so do we.  God won’t come to be with us the way we want, making us oppressors of the people we fear.  He comes to be a sanctuary for those who trust in him and a stumbling stone to those who don’t.  He breaks apart the chains of the fear of man by his humble coming as a child.  A child who bears the government on his shoulders.  He will make things right.  But he won’t sanctify the oppressive fear of man that keeps his people trapped in sinful cycles of loving men’s praise rather than God’s. He comes not to give us what we want, but to give us a new want, new eyes.  He comes to us in our darkness, shining brilliantly so we can see our real state where our real hope lies. 

And it won’t be Israel’s zeal to pull herself together again to begin another cycle of obedience, idolatry, suffering, crying out, rescue, repeat that will accomplish this freedom and seeing.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. -Isaiah 9:7


Sunday summary

Every Sunday when I get to go to church I leave with something from God’s word pressing on me.  Every time.  But I don’t always sit down and spend some time chewing on what struck me.  Being involved in a community group helps cause every Thursday our group talks about how the sermon impacted each of us.  I don’t want to wait till Thursday.

Today we heard from Psalm 32.  I’ve read this Psalm before but this time around I discovered treasure that’s been right there all along.

If I had to summarize the Psalm in a 140 character or less tweet it would be:

“Godly people sin, run to Christ, confess it and rejoice in his forgiveness. The time between sin and confession crushes. – Click to TWEET

Listening to my pastor Jason preach the truth out of Psalm 32 had me marveling at how we miss the gospel of Jesus Christ with our attempts at covering our own sin.  I shouldn’t say “we”.  I do that.  My human, broken heart and mind keep trying to avoid the reality of my sin.  And not just mine, I want to avoid the reality of other people’s sin too.  I don’t want to take up my cross and follow Jesus and suffer because of other people’s sins!  I mean, my natural self doesn’t want to.  But Jesus is in me. And he’s moving in me to will and to act like him.  God-like. Godly.  I’m one of his “godly” ones.  I had a hard time typing that.  But it’s true.  I’m one of his godly ones, not because I don’t sin, but because I do and I run to Jesus with it and call it what he calls it.  And when other people sin, I don’t hold it against them.  That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in justice or laws.  It just means I don’t make myself their personal judge.  I don’t compare my sin to their sin and condemn them according to my self-made version of righteousness. And when I do, I feel the conviction of being unforgiving and I run to Jesus and confess it.

And that space between sinning and running to Christ to confess it is crushing!  The longer I wait and the more I try to hide and cover what I know is sin, the more I feel the crushing weight of the guilt and shame Christ bore for me.  I can’t bear that.  And I can’t hide from it.  The only way to escape is through the covering of Christ.  He bore my guilt and shame in his body so that I could bear his righteousness and joy in mine!  What love!

This is what the Psalm says godly people do.  It doesn’t say they don’t drink and don’t smoke and don’t go with girls who do.  It doesn’t say they read their Bible a minimum of so many hours a day and wake up before dawn for “quiet time” with God.  Godly people run to Christ as the covering for their sin rather than trying to cover it themselves.

My pastor summed it up so well when he said, “We’re not meant to hide our sins from God.  We’re meant to hide ourselves in God.”

The wonder of what the God of the Bible has done for those who love Christ is what makes me run to him.

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.
-Psalm 32:1-7

3 lessons from a seminary podcast

I did a lot of driving yesterday and today.  The German Shepherd we rescued late last year was scheduled for neutering today in east Mesa, about an hour and 15 minutes of heavy traffic metropolis driving away. Driving on a six lane highway through Phoenix in 112 degree weather is not in my top 100,000 favorite things to do.  But since the dog’s procedure was paid for by the previous owner at this location it was the option I chose.  The first half of today I was Uber-Mom.  Transporting child B to beginner saxophone practice, then child A to the high school summer conditioning program for incoming athletes and then picking up child B and enjoying a 1 hour break before taking child B to summer advanced band practice with his clarinet.  That brought us up to 11 am.  A quick trip to the grocery store, then to pick up child A and B from their various locations rounded out the morning.

For me, lots of driving equals lots of thinking. I talk to God, to myself, solve problems in my head, sometimes create problems in my head, and chew on various ideas and thoughts.  There are a few podcasts I enjoy listening to also.  This morning I listened to the For The Church podcast out of Midwestern Seminary.  It was about lessons learned from the collapse of Mars Hill Church.

I’m a mom of teenage boys, a wife, a nurse… I have no theological education.  I only have an associates degree in nursing.  So why listen to a podcast from a seminary?  I find teachings geared toward pastors and teacher and missionaries have much application to me as a mom and wife. In those roles I feel the call on my life to be a disciple-maker.  And as a woman in the Christ’s global and historic church, I feel the need to listen to the leaders in my time and culture in the church.  I listen to know how to pray.  I listen to get sober eyes.  I listen to identify truth and truth-twisting.  I love the church.  I love the people who, like me, peculiarly love the Savior they’ve never seen.  Listening to this podcast today about the fall of Mars Hill Church I took away a couple applications for myself personally.

1) Don’t get fixed on one preacher.  I should take inventory of my habits in listening to preachers.  Am I at church because that preacher is there or because God’s word is being preached?  Does the church have other men besides the lead preacher/teacher who preaches on occasion?  Am I using “celebrity” preachers/teachers as my main “diet” of God’s word, or am I in the word myself, studying what I have heard taught?

2) Read your Bible! Often!  The way God works in my life when the preacher preaches is something special.  Faith does come by hearing and often that hearing is through the preaching of the word of God. But it’s the word, not the preacher that I need.  If I don’t know how to get to the word myself and how to digest it and apply it to my life I’ll be immature and dependent on a preacher… which is dangerous.

3) Even when things don’t go the way we want in church, it’s still God’s church.  He is working all things for good for those who love him… to conform us to the image of his Son.  Even the falling apart of a huge church like Mars Hill is under his sovereign design for the good of his people and for his glory.   My own experience in loosing a church I loved (which was not due to the same issues as Mars Hill) was hard.  But through it, God has refined my faith and has caused me to see the church world-wide and local in her many branches as a beautiful work of Christ in which I too am a part.  No one preacher or teacher or even denomination should be how I identify with Christ’s church. Paul corrected people in the Corinthian church for saying they followed Apollos, or Cephas, or Paul.  I take the warning.  I don’t follow any pastor or teacher.  I am Christ’s and he is mine.  The pastor functions in his role in the body.  I function in mine.  And we both worship the same Lord.

I’m looking forward to getting to know the people at Valley Life Surprise.  I love the preaching of the word that happens there and the gospel centrality of everything I hear. But I pray Jesus always captivates me… no man.  No preacher.  And I pray I can be even a tiny part in building up His church here in Surprise, AZ.

Sunday Thoughts

I want to be a better writer.   I’ve decided to challenge myself to a series of writing prompts, which I plan to post here.
Writing for me is a way to digest life.  Reading what others have written is like going out to dinner.  Journaling is like making my own meal.  Writing publicly on a blog is like having everyone over for dinner.  I want to have my own food truck/catering biz- freelance?  And maybe even my own little hole in the wall restaurant- book?  If I am going to reach those goals I need to sharpen my culinary, uh-hem, writing skills.  No more margarine.  Time for real butter.   Maybe the challenge of writing prompts will help me refine my menu.

Today at Valley Life Church Surprise, the guy who leads the team that helps people get connected at the church, Michael, preached about the second commandment from Exodus 20. 
It always hits me when I’m at church how strange we are.  We Christians.  I mean what we do on any given Sunday in most Christian church gatherings.  We sit and listen to someone proclaim truths gleaned out of reading a book that is thousands of years old.  Our souls sing… hence for many raised hands, eyes closed, tears flow.  We sing songs about God’s sovereignty and power and grace and love and we sing amazed.  We eat bread and drink juice and remember Christ’s sacrifice.  We confess our sins and weep over them and rejoice at forgiveness and the help we find in the scriptures and each other.   I mean, I don’t know first hand what happens in gatherings of Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists, but from what I read and hear, these religious gatherings are more like corporate prayers. Memorized prayers and chants.  But not adoration in singing and proclamation of God’s self-sacrificing, heart-changing love.  And for the irr-religious, its even more weird what we do.  A morning spent singing songs of praise to the unseen God for an act done in history 2000 plus years ago that has changed the course of life for a millions of people from the inside out, causing them to no longer live for themselves but for the One who died for them?  Why?  Why not just clean the garage.  Or binge on Netflix.  Or work on your golf game.  Why do all that stuff?
Listening today to the comparison between the God of Israel and the multiple gods of the peoples Israel lived amongst (and got entangled with) I realized thousands of years may have passed, but the God of the Bible and his people still stand out in a world full of idols as different.  And we still get entangled in idol worship.  John’s closing sentence at the end of 1 John is a relevant and needed message that we shouldn’t pass so easily over:  Little children, keep yourselves from idols.  
The God of the Bible wants all of me.  My heart.  My affections.  My love.  He has given himself to me in covenant love.  No easy access idol that makes me feel good about myself for a little while should ever get between God and I.  
I start my online Introductory Algebra class on Tuesday.  I have no idea how this will work, but I am anticipating lots of hair pulling and frustrated Facebook posts.  Hopefully at the end of summer I can test into the math I need to get into the BSN program.  
Math is my nemesis.