Typical: bleh

Following is an excerpt from a manuscript about discipleship and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 


The typical Christian of today is a nice person, hung up on certain sins, and hiding their true heart from others because they really don’t want others to know about them. The typical Christian shows up at church and looks happy and right. The typical Christian walks out of the business place of church and doesn’t think much about God the rest of the week or month or year until the next time they show up at the business place of the church.  The typical Christian is attacked with guilt, resentment, bitterness, and self-loathing because of the things they can’t get right and take to God. The typical Christian will passionately argue against something to hide that very thing in their own life.  The typical Christian has a closet full of skeletons with chains and locks all over it so no one can see or get into the closet or even get past the chains and locks. So walking in power and purpose seems basically impossible.


I don’t want to be a typical Christian.

That’s a life without

  • power
  • passion,
  • purpose
  • direction
  • victory
  • transformation.

I want to live a life worth imitating.


In Memoriam

Some days, like today, are filled with reflection. Five years ago, I wouldn’t ever have imagined thinking about my big brother with nostalgia and sentiment. But today, I do.

My brother left this world much too soon. I still had things to learn from him even though we didn’t talk much. I still had stories to share, although time spent together became stretches that were further and further apart.

He was my first hero. He saved our younger brother and me from a fire when I was very young. I vaguely remember the bounds up the staircase under his arm. Our younger brother thrown in front of us. And he bounded back down to put out the fire started by the vaporizer near some curtains in a room in which we had been quarantined.

He let me read books to him and, in turn, read books to me. He brought me gifts from when he had to go have a surgery on his knee. He would let me switch his lights on and off on his brown Opal GT as long as I wanted. Everyone else had to bug off.  I can hear the impatience in his voice when someone else wanted to see the headlights transform from the smooth front-end of the sleek sports car. But if I asked to see it again, he would humor me.  He extended me patience and kindness and was gruff, short, and sarcastic with my friends. He liked the quietness of fishing, the camaraderie of the story, and the time connecting with nature. Maybe that’s also why he enjoyed painting so much. He painted portraits that are amazing. And he would guide me through his record collection — away from Sticky Fingers and on to Kraftwerk. He sold me my first car — for $25 a month — and never once asked if I wrecked it. And then he bought it back when I needed one with a heater that worked. He encouraged me to do well in school, to finish college, to be a better me.

Life happened in full force, and we didn’t talk much. I know we would have communicated endlessly during our sister’s horrifying nightmare after a head-on collision. I know we would have prayed in unity as our younger brother had a battle with cancer and came out a survivor. He would have been an encourager, a fighter, and a comedian to help everyone through.

We do miss you. We miss the idea of you. And we miss the sly smile when you had a fish in your hand. We will see you again.

I still believe in miracles

Have you ever had a Christmas miracle in your life? How could you keep that quiet?

It was a cold December day eight years ago. My father-in-law dropped dead of a heart attack on his way out to the garage to have a cigarette.

Clearly, our family needed a miracle on that December night. What happened was unlikely, maybe slightly unbelievable, and definitely God showing his love for my family.

My songwriter friend, Michelle Patterson, penned it this way in her take on Psalm 66:

Come and see what God has done

His work on my behalf: awesome

He made a desert out of sea

We crossed the water on our feet

Come and see what God has done

My mother-in-law heard a loud bang as she was waking from a nap. She was a bit bent out of shape that Jerry would slam a door to wake her. She thought about taking a bath, but instead when downstairs to check on him.

She found him on the floor, dead. Lips blue. No heartbeat. She grabbed the phone, called 911, and began CPR. They had moved into a house my husband and I both hated just a couple months earlier. We didn’t understand the appeal of the outdated floor plan, the style, everything about it. About 20 seconds after she hung up the floor, the first responder who lived across the street came running through the door.

Come and see what God has done

His work on my behalf: awesome

They were able to revive Jerry enough to get him onto a helicopter to transport him to a hospital. The pilot questioned them about which hospital to take him; no one was able to give him any answer, so he decided to take Jerry to he hospital he would want his own father taken to, which happens to be the best hospital for heart patients. We raced to the hospital – a couple of hospitals, actually – and were there before he arrived. We saw the gurney and his white tennis shoes on his feet. And the grim look on the faces of the doctors.

A cardiologist came out and told us that we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that this is a life altering event. That he very well may not make it out of this. He was, indeed, in very bad shape.  They sent him to the cath lab to check the extent of damage to his heart. They were able to get one tiny wire through the blockage – every artery was 100 percent blocked. They inserted a balloon to help his heart beat because it was so weakened.

The same cardiologist came out to tell us that what the balloon would do, and we would have to wait to see how his heart declared. We caught onto that word: declare. By that time, at least 10 to 15 friends had arrived and were gathered around our family. We began to declare life over Jerry’s heart.

Come listen all you who fear God

Let me tell you what he’s done:

I cried out to Him with my mouth

And He has not withheld His love

Come listen all you who fear God

Word spread like wildfire – before twitter and mass texting and even a lot of people being on facebook. We know a couple thousand people prayed for Jerry during this time from our small church in Texas to believers around the world.

The cath lab doc took time to explain his results. We couldn’t understand how an event like this could happen. Jerry had to get a stress-test done each year for his physical for his health insurance. He always blew the top off their charts. “Healthy as a horse,” was a phrase used all the time. The cath doc told us there would be no way of knowing about this unless you were to inject with dye. Jerry was so athletic, so healthy, so strong, that his heart compensated for the blockages by creating ancillary and auxiliary vessels that covered his heart. His heart looked like a web covered it, there were so many ancillary vessels. “And then, suddenly, there was this event they couldn’t compensate for any longer. But, he came in here with a heartbeat, so I wouldn’t count this guy out yet.” Those were words of life that we clung to!

 I cried out to Him with my mouth

 And He has not withheld His love

 Jerry’s heart did declare life. He was alive the next morning, much to the amazement of the hospital staff. And the next morning, and the next. His ejection fraction – the volume of blood pumped out of his heart – was a frightening low 10 percent. (Normal is about 50-55%.) He survived to be able to have open-heart surgery where he had a quadruple by-pass done by the best heart surgeon in the world – who happened to be the one to pick up the case.

He made a desert out of sea

We crossed the water on our feet

Come and see what God has done

The day after the surgery, the director of cardiology at the hospital came by Jerry’s room while I was there. He wanted to meet the Christmas Miracle. Everyone in the place had heard about Jerry’s case, and about how he had circled the abyss. At this point, Jerry was so happy and loved everyone. He thanked the docs and nurses. Just three days later he would leave the hospital against medical advice to go home and be angry for six months. He has mentally and physically recovered, and each day he lives longer than doctors thought he would.

During the event and the recovery, we clung to the truth in Psalm 66 and listened to this song a lot.

“Come and See What God Has Done”

Come and see what God has done

His work on my behalf: awesome

He made a desert out of sea

We crossed the water on our feet

Come and see what God has done


He rules forever by his power

His eyes could make a rebel cower

Oh let the sound of praise be heard

for the life He has preserved.

He rules forever by his power


All of the earth bows down to You

For only You can hear prayer

All of the earth will shout to You

So great is Your power!

Sometimes it takes a major event like this to look for the miracles in our lives. Some may say that miracles happen on a smaller scale every single day. No doubt that can be true. But when something major like dropping dead and surviving to tell about it happens, don’t you have to share it? Don’t your bones just cry out to share what God has done?

Not long ago I recalled this story to a group of women who were examining their own hearts. My take away is that everything in the spirit realm is represented to us physically.  How often do we rely on our ancillary vessels – our schedule, our talents, our passions, our crutches, our habits – to function? Sometimes those look healthy (like Jerry looked on the stress-tests) and sometimes they don’t look healthy (like the 2 packs of cigarettes he smoked each day). We spend so much time and energy – usually without realizing it because the lie we believe in has become such a comforting partner —  that it takes a massive event to stop us in our tracks. And those events are life-altering.  Jerry took a long time to stop being angry about what had happened. He was disoriented and frustrated because he was different both physically and mentally. How long have you been mad about your spiritual heart attack? Have you found treatment? Have you found accountability and help? What has been your spiritual heart balloon that has helped you keep going for a little longer until you can handle the open heart surgery the Holy Spirit wants to complete? Sometimes it takes a miracle to get our attention.

What’s your Christmas miracle? If it hasn’t happened yet, be on the lookout and still believe in miracles.

Michelle Patterson and her husband, Barry, are amazing artists. Check them out at www.barryandmichelle.com and www.michellealisonpatterson.com.

It’s just anything

“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts.”

1 John 5:21


pronoun 1. any thing whatever; something, no matter what: Do you have anything for a toothache?
noun 2. a thing of any kind.
adverb 3.in any degree; to any extent; in any way; at all: Does it taste anything like chocolate?
Question of the day: Is anything taking God’s place in your hearts? With all the scandals and news stories breaking in the last month or so, it’s easy to let it happen.
Obamacare and failed websites. Benghazi. Common Core. Tea Party. The Hunger Games movie release. Elections in 2016. States’ rights. Discrimination. Progressivism. Conservatism.  Government cutbacks. Bullying. Zimmerman — again. (insert your thing here.)
Your heart can even be focused on good stuff. Marriage. Volunteering. Church. Mentoring. Pro bono work. Working with the poor. Teaching. Guiding. Worship. Arts. Your kids. Sports. Dance. Creating a great atmosphere for Thanksgiving or Christmas. (insert your thing here.)
When we become so obsessed with our “thing” that we can’t hear God’s voice, we quickly become our own focus.  The focus improperly turns from Him to me. And when I am my own compass, good becomes not enough and then distorts to something it was never meant to be — demands and ultimatums, obsessions and control. When I become my own standard, my bents and distortions become good.
Why do you think John encouraged the readers of his letter to stay focused? Even without social media, the first century Christians needed reminders to not forget their focus.
Sure, go ahead and re-read the paragraph above one more time.
The first century believers needed to be reminded to not forget their focus. 
So today, I encourage you to position yourself so that you can keep anything from taking God’s place in your heart. Here are a few steps:
1. Control your newsfeed. I’m a Facebook junkie sometimes. (my family will say all the time.) I keep up with friends and what’s going on because they are so spread around the world — or 60 miles away. I’m a sucker for the newslinks everyone posts. I read them a lot. Especially the talk show hosts that have pages I’ve liked. So today, I’m reading them less or not at all.
2. Control your airwaves. As the mother of three teens, my radiowaves are inundated with lots of pop music. The horrible part about it is that I tune so much out that I have to hear a song about 10 times before I actually hear the lyrics. Even yesterday, I commented about how gross a song was. The girls asked why? what does he say? All I can say is I don’t want to listen to the song (and long gone are the innocent days of Hannah Montana because Miley is in a deep valley doing whatever she wants). Especially if you have kids in your car, remind them that it is your car. Remind them that is is your television. Shut it off. Turn the channel. Guard your heart. In turn, you guard and protect theirs.
3. Fill your wellspring. Carve out time to read scripture. If you don’t know where to start, search for Bible reading plans on google or grab your smartphone and download youversion. There are all kinds of plans available there to get you started.
Paul put it this way: whatever is good, pure, noble, right, honorable, lovely and admirable — think about these things, not just


What the secondary teacher wants to tell you

I was a middle school teacher for 15 years. The one year in fourth grade counts in my teaching, but I got back to middle school as quickly as I could. I have taught some of the most unloveable people you can imagine. I also have taught some of the most fantastic people you can imagine. Sometimes those characteristics inhabit the same eighth-grade body.

After basically 17 years in eighth grade (if I count my own one-time-through as experience, too), I was promoted to high school. But if you have a kiddo in middle school/junior high or even high school, here is what every teacher wants to say:

Be the parent in your house. 

What does that look like? You set the schedule. You set and enforce the boundaries for … technology, phone usage, doing homework, not quitting, dating, not dating, or even how your student speaks to adults. You hold your child accountable when they drop they ball. Research shows that one of the leading indicators of student achievement is a supportive and accountable home environment. He is the best thing you have to send to school every day. Encourage him to remember that every day.

Homework deadlines are actually deadlines.

I have three teenagers of my own. I get that you are busy. I get that you have to be the taxi-cab driver all over creation to get them everywhere. Me too. But as a teacher, I have a fairly strict timeline that to which I must adhere. My deadlines are set so that I can give your student the proper amount of feedback. You may know the “hard” deadline for the six weeks grade is at 4 pm the Friday before the report card. This does not mean I am willing to take a pile of work from the previous four weeks so that your student remains eligible for his/her sport.

Partner with your child’s teacher, please. 

You are your student’s biggest cheerleader. Believe it or not, your student needs to become his own best advocate for his own learning (because learning doesn’t end when that kiddo walks across the stage to get a high school diploma or even a college degree).  As a teacher, I am your partner to help your student become the best she can be. I am not your adversary. I am not the sum total of every negative teacher experience you had when you were a kid. By the way, I am very sorry that you had a negative school experience. Your experience doesn’t have to be you child’s. Let’s help each other and partner in helping build a great person.

Your struggle in school is not your child’s just because it was yours.

As a math teacher, I have heard “I was never any good in math so that’s why RayRay struggles so much.” Not necessarily. While you may not be able to offer any help about what step to do next in a math problem, you can encourage your child to remember what they learned in class. Ask questions like “What did you write in your notes?,” or “Do you think we can search for some help online?” or — even better — “Do you have a friend in class you can call?” If all else fails, sit down and have your student teach you what they learned.

Give me your most current contact information and always update it.

Teachers use class websites, email notifications, phone calling trees, etc. to keep parents up-to-date on information. One of the most frustrating experiences to to continually be unable to contact a parent about their kiddo. Most teachers truly want to be pro-active in helping students curb bad habits and establish good study and work habits — just like you want for your own child.

Blame is not accountability.

After so many years in middle school, I’ve seen plenty of middle school girl drama. I’ve heard and learned plenty about bullying. Blaming someone else for your victimhood is not holding them accountable to anything; it gives them more power. And if your kiddo seems to bounce from drama to drama, please carefully consider the possibility that the drama originates from her. Blaming everyone else is not holding her accountable to her negative choices and acting out. As a teacher, I can give you feedback on what I see about your child, not anyone else’s child. I can give you facts I know about a situation. I cannot provide boundaries that are yours to set. And just because it looks like “nothing ever happens” at the school in terms of discipline,  that is likely not the case. I am not allowed to give you any information because of federal privacy laws, and neither is anyone else at the school. Bottom line, your child is the one who controls her own behavior. No one else can be blamed for that, but she can certainly be held accountable for it.

Attendance does matter.

Seat time — time spent in that class — does matter. All those important doctor appointments and other things that have to be scheduled should be moved around throughout the day so your student doesn’t miss one class consistently. This is particularly important for a class like science or math. As your child progresses to high school, this becomes even more important as (in Texas at least) state attendance requirements become more stringent. So get your kid there to the school, and keep him there. And just as important as your child’s attendance, your attendance — to games, open houses, parent conferences, PTA meetings, or even lunch — is just as important.

So as school is gearing up for the fall semester, be open to it being a different experience this year (especially if it’s been a bad one in the past). Let’s make it the best year ever: at home and at school.

Running On Empty

Ding! “FUEL LEVEL LOW” in brightish orange lights up the dashboard. I push the button to see how low. 

“8 miles to empty”

Of things in life I don’t trust much, it’s the fuel level warning on my vehicle. It’s very picky and cranky and has a hard time telling the truth. Even though I feel that way, every once in a while, especially when the warning approaches “0 miles to empty,” I think about the possibility of it actually being accurate this time. 

“8 miles to empty” …

This time I know I may be in trouble. I am on my way home — out in the country a bit — and need to get back into town.  I drive about three miles to home and park in my driveway: “3 miles to empty”. I think about why I forgot to get some gas in the vehicle. I plan a way to call for help. I text my husband about gas in the gas can for the lawn mower. Score! There’s a little. That should work.

Filling up at the gas station and pouring gas from a gas can are two very different experiences. The first is fast and furious; the second is filled with self-doubt and questioning if it’s even working and oh-this-is-so-slow!

And after the wrestling with the gas can, the fuel gauge didn’t change. At all. Not at all. I think about a gallon poured into the tank. And, no, a gallon didn’t spill on the ground, thank you very much. It is disturbing to see that you have added something, but everything that is to help you determine what you have doesn’t show an increase at all.

On the drive back to town, at the end of my one-mile-long driveway, the warning light says “1 mile to empty.” I decide to truly not believe this unreliable gauge because I know I refilled — albeit just a little. 

I end up driving eight miles on “0 miles to empty,” with my daughter wondering what we will do if we run out of gas. I think that’s an easy fix: she and her basically six foot tall, 200 pound right guard brother will push. For some reason, she isn’t keen on that plan. In spite of every indication we shouldn’t make it to the gas station, we do. 

Then I think, there must be something about this because I usually remember to get some gas. And here it is:

I usually start my mornings with a quiet time, a time to spend by myself reading scriptures, sometimes a book I’m studying, time for worship, prayer and journaling. The consistent parts of my mornings are my coffee, my Bible and my journal. Some days I spend a long time and get to fill up a lot. Other mornings, I run short on time and just get a little bit of a refill. Kind of like the difference between filling up my vehicle at the gas station and putting just a little bit of fuel in with the gas can. 

Either way, even with just a small refill, I can look at the circumstances and events of my day with a faith and confidence knowing I have fuel in my tank. Even if I am seeing my spiritual “fuel level low” light, I know that even a tiny refill can keep me going until I can get filled up again. Especially for those times when all signals indicate “0 miles to empty.” It reminds me of Paul’s encouragement in Romans, “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Questions I ask myself from this experience:

Am I running on empty? Where do I put my trust? What gauge am I using? How am I being intentional to refill? Who encourages me to refill? What do I need to hear to keep the “fuel level low” light from coming on in my life? 

What questions come to mind for you?

Give it up, Stress

As I sit and listen to the final moments of my summer break tick by, I have become keenly aware of the visitor who returns each August.  I’ve never longed for him. I’ve never truly greeted him. I’ve never wanted him. In fact, my entire family has never wanted him around. But I’ve always just let him in for the ten-month long ride that is my school year.

Stress, don’t try to feel comfy or relaxed around me this year. I’m on to you. More importantly, my husband is on to you and your schemes.

My husband and I shared an incredible moment just the other day. He pulled me close and said, “I can see Stress sitting in the corner of this room, and he is not welcomed here.” As he held me tightly, I felt so secure and protected. An unbelievable peace came over me as my husband spoke over me, of how he would protect and guard me, of how Stress would have no seat in our house this year.

Is it absurd to think that my husband can keep Stress out of my home? Have I lost my mind by thinking he has that kind of power?  How can he do that?

Here are three things to do to keep Stress in his proper place: away from you.

1. Agree with one another to not relent to Stress and his schemes. Decide to be united in thought about this. It’s a choice; walk it out together.

2. Allow your husband to encourage you to keep Stress out of the home. He reassures you when he sees you have need.

3. Assess your stress levels to make sure you are letting go of things over which you have no control. Stress loves to make you think you can control it all; alas, you cannot.

When the pressure and strain of my school year want to take form and Stress tries to catch a ride into my home, it is totally proper and even expected for my husband to kick it right out.  Send Stress packing! We are.

Incense, Refried Beans, and Black Coffee

I talked to my friend Linda recently. She has known me more than thirty years (and, trust me, we are both too young for that, but oh well). She watched me grow up and move away from home. She saw me in my parents’ nest and leaping out to fly on my own. And I always thought she was a little disappointed that I walked away from the church of my childhood.

I used to go to her house all the time; it was a quick drive. Her girls were little, and the house often smelled like incense, and she was always on a quest to recreate Taco Bueno refried beans. (We were in Wyoming, so don’t chuckle too much.) We’d listen to Billy Joel songs and talk a lot about what God was doing in our lives.

Then she moved away … far away. I even went out of country to see her. And we drank amazing coffee, took train rides, and talked a lot. I told her about the guy I wanted to be the last person I talked to before I flew out of the US. (And he’s the guy whose name I have now.) I remember sharing some of the dissatisfaction I had with the church and what I thought God was doing in my life. And that’s probably when I started believing that she might be disappointed with me.

So we talked on the phone although we live less than 80 miles apart. And that hour was full of authenticity, reality, and a rawness that reminded me so much of incense and refried beans, of the blackest coffee ever, and hours of conversations thirty years ago, twenty years ago.  I realized I need more of those conversations. And I realized Linda is proud of me, not disappointed.  I owe part of the way I live — my transparency and just “keeping it real” — to what she modeled for me years ago. And I hope I’m modeling it for young women in my life like she did and continues to do.

Who are the people in your life that dream with you? Who are the people in your life who cheer for you? Who are the people in your life that laugh with you — and occasionally at you? Who affirms you, and whom do you affirm?

And here is a crazy call to action for you: tell those people what they mean to you.

On Being a Buzzkill

I began studying Habakkuk about three years ago. Mulling around some thoughts. Pondering what applied to my life. Wondering why in the world I would land on this ancient piece of writing just three chapters long.

I began to see the foundation of a fundamental work that applied to my life that was laid out in Habakkuk.

What did Habakkuk do? He WARNED – Here’s what/who is coming if you don’t obey God. He must have been a major buzzkill. I’m thinking if I were rocking the life in the small nation of Judah, I wouldn’t be interested in hearing this guy say “The Babylonians are coming. You won’t even believe it, but I’m telling you anyway. The Babylonians are coming!” Even though the message wasn’t one he may have wanted to share, Habakkuk shared the vision the Lord gave him with the people of Judah.

But he did it with proper perspective.

Habakkuk was written somewhere around 640-610 B.C. The Babylonian invasion of Judah happened in 605 B.C. And in less than 200 years, the walls of Jerusalem were being rebuilt by Nehemiah.

If I view Habakkuk as a foundation, I see that he promoted these building blocks of faith:

1. God’s perspective isn’t mine.

2. God’s timing is perfect.

3. I need to submit to Him to rely on His strength during this trial.

These truly are fundamentals that a believer of Christ should possess. But like the people of Judah, we are forgetful and easily distracted. We lose perspective.

What do you need to do today to refocus?

What are you waiting for?

What strength do you need for that wait?

So maybe my world is falling apart, but I …

I’m not sure how many times I’ve spoken with friends about the circumstances that surround us. Marriages in shambles, rebellious children, financial nightmares, aging parents, health issues, workplace woes… The list can go on before we get to more cultural issues: the failure of the church to take care of the poor and widowed, racial tension, the failure of the justice system, sex trafficking, the economy and its impact on our area… This list could go on and on as well.

But then I read something like this:

“I have heard all about You, LORD.  I am filled with awe by Your amazing works. In this time of our deep need, help us again as You did in years gone by. And in Your anger, remember Your mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:1-2)

Ah! Perspective!

The prayer in Habakkuk 3 describes the destruction going before the Lord and coming behind Him as He sweeps across the land.  Habakkuk peppers the prayer with phrases and imagery like “the mountains watched and trembled,” “the mighty deep cried out, lifting its hands to the LORD,” “the sun and moon stood still in the sky,”  and “You marched across the land in anger and trampled nations in fury.” Then Habakkuk turns to his personal reaction to what the Lord’s actions:  “I trembled inside,” “my lips quivered,” “my legs gave way beneath me,” and “I shook in terror.”

After the description of personal terror, Habakkuk makes an incredibly bold statement: “I will wait quietly for the coming day when disaster will strike the people who invade us.” (Habakkuk 3:16b) How is that bold, you ask? Because of the remaining verses in the chapter:

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the LORD! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign LORD is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer able to tread upon the heights.” (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

The bottom line, though, is my personal reaction, just like Habakkuk’s. He saw his nation would be in shambles and destroyed, and he decided, even though that would happen, he would rejoice in the Lord Adonai – his Lord and Master. In the same way, the only thing I can control in my uncontrollable world (see lists above) is my reaction and resolve to rejoice in the Lord Adonai, my Lord and Master. The Hebrew meaning of Adonai is the Lord as master, provider and authority. When you submit to authority, you submit to the process and wisdom of that authority, which is, to me, is a great relief.

Take a minute today to think about three things in your life that are out of your control – despite your best efforts, the problems remain the same. Then stop and think about three amazing works of God you have seen recently. Lastly, write down one thing you will submit to God and let Him have authority over.

As an encouragement to others, what is one thing you submitted to God today?