"Last year I used to think that maybe I didn't believe in God, but now I know I do." He announces it at the dinner table, and I pause, a spoonful of lentil curry soup poised halfway to my mouth.
"You thought you didn't believe in God last year?" I ask, trying to keep my voice light and bouncy.
"Yeah, but I'm good now. I feel better again," my ten-year-old son Noah says.

...I'm over at Ginny's place today. Will you join me there to hear what I learned from my son about faith?

I'm sharing this story with Jennifer Dukes Lee's brand-new link-up community. Think about how God is nudging you in a particular direction or way, and then hop over and share your story!

And with Ann, as we write about preparing our hearts for the season...


Hear It On Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Awakening

It used to be that the month leading to Christmas was a time of increased stress and responsibility for me. I felt burdened by the extra shopping, decorating, baking and socializing, and often resented the fact that as a mom, wife and woman, much of the Christmas load fell on my shoulders. Don’t get me wrong – the start of Advent still brings out my grumpy side from time to time (just ask my husband what my mood was like on Friday around here, as we transitioned from Thanksgiving to Christmas in 24 hours) – but in recent years I’ve also learned how to approach the season more mindfully.
As December’s weeks pass, our family participates in several traditions that we’ve established over the last few years. We set the nativity on the coffee table. We bake mini chocolate chip pumpkin loaves for the kids' teachers. We blast Christmas carols as we drive slowly up and down neighborhood streets to admire the decorations. At dinnertime we read from the Advent devotional that our church provides for us each year. And we volunteer a couple evenings of our time to help the less fortunate in our city. All of these small traditions help us create a more meaningful Advent and a sense of eager anticipation, not just for Santa Claus but for the arrival of Jesus himself.
I’ve learned over the years, too, to make an effort to carve out a bit of quiet for myself amidst the bustle of the season. Once or twice a week when Brad’s out playing basketball and the kids are in bed, I shut the laptop early and sit alone in the glow of the Christmas lights. And I never miss the evening of quiet contemplation, prayer and communion at my church. I sit toward the back of the sanctuary in warm darkness and take as long as I need to steady the frenetic buzz of my mind.
I look forward to these rituals. They’ve become a way for me to remember who it is I await in this season of anticipation, a time of quiet renewal and new beginnings. They awaken joy in my heart and bring peace to my restless spirit.
"And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake." (Mark 13:37)
What traditions do you and your family enjoy during the Advent season? Do you have any particular rituals that help awaken your senses to the season?
Please join me this season as I write about our Advent traditions here for Hear It, Use It on Mondays in December.

Emily Freeman over at Chatting at the Sky is doing a special Tuesdays Unwrapped link-up community during the month of December. Please do visit and participate - her community has really helped me slow down and open my eyes, and I guarantee it will do the same for you.

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community, a place where we share what we are hearing from God and his Word. 

If you're here for the first time, click here for more information. And if you are a new participant, would you leave me a comment or send me an email to tell me it's your first time, so I can be sure to stop by and say hello at your place?

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Weekend Meditation: Rest

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Exodus 33:14 (NIV)


The Sweet Scent of Slow

I roll the windows all the way down so my hair whips my cheeks and the Starbucks receipt flies off the dashboard. Patsy Cline croons as the mini-van soars over empty roads. I'm headed to Norfolk for an evening work event, two and half hours up to Northeast Nebraska, two and half hours back.
You know, you can cross the entire state of Massachusetts in two and half hours. In Nebraska you barely make a dent in that time. That used to bug me – that I couldn’t get anywhere fast in Nebraska. Sometimes it still does. But now mostly I’m just glad.
It’s not entirely a stereotype, that life moves more slowly in the Midwest. When I visit my family in Massachusetts I notice it right away as we cruise up I-91 from the airport to my parents’ house. The pace is nothing short of frenetic. Traffic snarls the roads. Drivers weave in and out of lanes, tailgating, swearing, leaning on the horn. Even my mother tailgates for crying out loud. “Jeez, Mom, you’re right on her bumper!” I gasp as we follow my best friend out of the neighborhood. When did we start tailgating even people we know, I wonder.
I didn’t always appreciate slowness, on the road or otherwise. When I first moved to Nebraska I earned a cache of speeding tickets. In fact, I once got pulled over for speeding twice in two weeks. By the same cop. [try explaining that one to your husband...or to the cop -- thankfully he didn't recognize me!]
But more recently, the sweetness of slow has grown on me. I don’t rush like I used to. I don’t pack my day with a half dozen activities. I don’t try to squeeze in just one more errand. If I arrive at my destination early, I turn off the car and sit. If the weather is warm I sit with the windows open and listen to the breeze stirring golden leaves. I close my eyes and breathe in the earthy scent of autumn, oak leaves disintegrating into dust by the curb.
What about you? What's one small way you work a little bit of slow into your hectic life?


The Pre-Guest Prettify

We are having guests for Thanksgiving this year. My parents are coming to Nebraska, and we’ve also invited some good friends and their two boys to join us for dinner.
As I prepare for the holiday, I review the state of my house with a critical eye. Am I the only one who does this? Am I the only one who embarks on major house projects in anticipation of guests? I’ve been known to repaint entire rooms a day or two before the arrival of houseguests. One time I even dashed over to Pier One and purchased a new leopard-print chair just 45 minutes before dinner guests arrived.
Last night when I got out of the shower and toweled off, I caught myself thinking, “I really need a new shower curtain…and new bath towels and hand towels, too.”
You should know, this is a ridiculous thought. My shower curtain is just fine. And really, why am I suddenly concerned about the state of my bathroom towels? My parents are surely not going to care about or even notice my towels. In fact, my mom and dad line-dry their towels. Drying off with one is like rubbing a burlap bag over your skin. They are stiff and hard and can sometimes even stand independently. Mine feel like cashmere in comparison.
Also this week I suddenly feel the need to purchase a new runner for the dining room table – mine is simply a disgrace, rumpled and stained and faded. I’m too lazy to wash and iron it, and plus, I’m rather tired of looking at this one, so I tell myself that I need a new runner because I don’t want to be embarrassed in front of our guests.
I suspect that my urge to prettify for guests is really a flimsy excuse to justify buying more stuff for myself.
Truthfully, I know neither Laura nor Richard nor my parents will judge me on the basis of my table runner. In fact, I suspect no one will even notice the table runner…or the hand towels…or the shower curtain…or the fact that the fringe on my living room rug is unraveling.
No. They won’t notice.
But I do.
This is my hang-up, not theirs. I’m the one who feels the need for more, new and better. And frankly, it’s not fair for me to foist my neuroses on my guests and use their impending visit as an excuse to buy more stuff.
So this week I won’t run to Kohl’s or Target or Pier One to buy pretty new things for a three-hour Thanksgiving dinner. Instead I’ll probably give the toilets a good scrub and vacuum the (frayed) rug. And I suppose I’ll wash and iron the rumpled table runner and set the table with my grandmother’s china.
But mostly I’ll simply enjoy the company of my friends and family who come to laugh and chat and eat and drink -- who come to enjoy not my house, but me.  
Do you ever have the urge to buy new stuff before you have guests to your house?


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Umbrella

Bunk bed made, suitcases and boxes unpacked, clothes hung neatly in the closet, I kissed my parents goodbye, watched their car drive away and then made my way down the hall to the community room where the rest of the Dwight Hall fourth floor freshman were gathering.

It was quiet as we filed into the space, and I warily eyed my new floor mates, all strangers, as I scanned the room for an empty seat.  Settling into a worn chair next to a girl with straight blond hair and blue eyes, I stared at my feet while the RA reviewed the dorm rules.
It was only when I stepped outside a little while later to walk across campus to the freshman convocation that I noticed the torrential downpour.
I don’t recall who had the umbrella or who made the offer to share. What I do remember well is that the blond-haired girl and I shared an umbrella all the way across campus. And in those soggy minutes as the rain pattered hard over our heads, all the sweaty nerves and pit-in-the-stomach fear of college vanished.
“Hi, I’m Raechel,” she’d said, extending her hand beneath the umbrella. And we’d laughed at the absurdity of the rain and the wind and the fact that we were two strangers suddenly foisted together beneath one umbrella.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that in our simple act of sharing, a life-long friendship was born.
Yesterday morning in church when I listened to the reading, from Acts 2:42-47, and heard the word "share" repeated four times in five verses, I was reminded of that first rainy day of college:
1. They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord’s Supper and in prayer. (42)

2. And all the believers met together constantly and shared everything they had . (44)

3. They sold their possessions and shared the proceeds with those in need. (45)

4. They worshipped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity…(46)

The apostles shared worship and prayer. They shared their possessions with each other. They shared their wealth with those in need. And they shared in fellowship and community.
In sharing they opened themselves up to God and to one another. In sharing they grew in their love for God and for each other. In sharing they grew their community and their faith.
Sharing was the catalyst, the entryway, to their transformation both as individuals and as a community.
The truth is, when we share our possessions or our time or our money, when we share our compassion or sympathy, our joy and our praise, we share a little bit of our heart, too. We open ourselves up to vulnerability, we crack the door, and in doing so, we foster the possibility of connection between ourselves and those around us.

That exactly what happened for Rach and me that rainy afternoon on our first day of college. We dared to share not only the umbrella but a little piece of ourselves, and it was the beginning of something wonderful.
So today I’m asking myself what I can share to further connection and relationship in my community. My time? My money? My faith? My home? My prayer?
And I ask you the same.
What little bit can you share today to help further God’s kingdom on Earth? You never know, it might be something as simple as an umbrella.
: :
One thing before we get into the Hear It, Use It link-up. I wanted to mention that I am also writing over at the WordServe Water Cooler today about a humiliating but ultimately fruitful platform-building lesson I've learned (I wrote about it about a year ago here...but it's too funny to miss if you didn't catch my story then about how I emailed Jon Acuff. If you have time, will you pop over there and give it a read? Thanks!).

Today I'm delighted to be linking with Jen:

And Laura:

And I'm joining a new writing community today with Stacey and Katie, two wonderful, inspiring women I met at Relevant! 

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up. I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

Each week we write about what we are hearing from God, usually in the Bible, or a hymn, a prayer or the sermon.

I don't get all crazy and delete the posts if they don't have the Hear It, Use It button or anything, but if you can, please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!

And if you want to tweet about the community, please use the #HearItUseIt hashtag.

**This week we won't have the usual Hear It, Use It Round-Up on Thursday, because you know, we'll all be too busy eating turkey and pie!  So have a lovely and blessed holiday with your family and friends -- I am certainly thanking God for you and this community!**
If you want to use the button, you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post.


Weekend Meditation

Giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me.
Psalm 50:23 (NLT)

Have you heard about Deidra's new link-up community?
Head over to Jumping Tandem to join in!

And Kelly has a new Saturday link-up, too. Hop over to visit her beautiful [I Love] Saturdays photo community!

{Between the two of these lovely women, we've got the whole weekend covered in beauty and grace!}


The Chair {Part Two}

{The saga of the chair continues. If you'd like to catch up, read Part One of the The Chair here.}

Brad has a great idea, he tells me later than night after I mention the $750 upholstery price tag.
“Let’s keep the chair just the way it is,” he suggests. “Let’s not spend the money. The chair can be a concrete symbol of our decision to refrain from unnecessary spending.”
I know where this idea comes from. We’ve been reading The Hole in Our Gospel  with our small group, a book about the vast disparity between the rich and the poor.
It’s a great idea, isn’t it?
In theory.
“No way!” I blurt to Brad. “No way am I going to live with that ugly fabric for the rest of my life! It doesn’t even match our furniture. It’s not even our style. It’s a good idea, really it is, honey. But I don’t want to do it. I’m not going to do it.”
I think about having friends over for dinner. I'm afraid they'll assume I had a lapse in decorating judgment. I know I'd feel compelled to explain the existence of the pink and green striped chair. 
I'm not sure I'm up for having that conversation for the rest of my life.
I feel a little bit mad at Brad for making the suggestion.
"What does he care?" I fume. "He doesn't care that we have an ugly chair. He won't even notice the chair after a week, but I'll have to live with that stupid ugly thing every day for the rest of my life!"
Later I explain the chair conundrum to the members of our small group. They think they know the ending of this story. They nod their heads, agreeing with Brad’s suggestion, supporting our decision to keep the chair as is. But when I get to the part where I refuse to agree to Brad’s noble idea, they laugh, surprised. And I laugh, too, to hide my shame. I'm ashamed that 2.6 billion people live on less than $2 day while I balk over sacrificing my pride for a silly chair.
I refuse to live with the ugly chair because I am selfish and vain.
And because I don’t have to.
It’s been three weeks since I stripped the worn slipcover from the chair. Three weeks since I closed the door of the upholsterer’s shop. Three weeks since Brad suggested we live with the chair as it is, and three weeks since I refused. I’ve been living in limbo – not able to spend the $750, not able to not spend the $750.

{I blame the Ecuador Compassion bloggers in part -- reading posts like this one every day last week reminded me of the fact that the $750 I might spent on a ridiculous chair could sponsor TWO needy children!}
And then we get a note from Brad’s dad in the mail.
And with the note is a $500 check.
Jon saw the worn slipcover and the hole last time he was here. He didn’t know about my epic struggle over the chair. He’d simply observed its dilapidated state, and, because it’s his favorite chair, he sent us a check to help cover the costs of reupholstery.
It seems like this check could be the solution to my quandary, doesn’t it? I might even argue that it's God solving the problem for me.
But I don't know. I find that I am still stalling. 
I haven’t been back to the upholsterer’s shop yet.
I feel silly even writing about such a topic, but I have to ask: what about you? Have you ever really struggled with whether or not to spend money on a frivolous item?

{An addendum since I wrote this: Curt, a friend from church, left a message on Facebook after he read Part I of the chair saga. He knows someone who makes custom-made slip-covers! This could be the perfect and much more economical solution! There very well may a Chair, Part Three post!}


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up

Greetings, friends -- welcome to the weekly Hear It, Use It Round-Up. Lots of good stuff for you this week, so pour yourself a cup of coffee (or a glass of wine, depending on the time of day!), grab a snack and get cozy for some good reading.

This week's picks:

"Goals, Aspirations, Dreams and Failure?" at Fan the Flame -- This post by Abby couldn't have come at a better time for me, as I often feel frustrated by the lack of publishing progress that seems to be the case for me right now. I think, too, of my move to Nebraska ten years ago, and how it was a rock-bottom time for me, and Abby's words ring so very true: "He laid me low in a life-altering way and has been building this journey piece by piece ever since."

"Time, Talent, Pride at So Much to Say, So Little Time -- Kathleen writes about the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), and I just love, love this take-away she shares: "The more I learn about God, the less certain I am of anything except that absolute certainty is more likely to be a harbinger of pride than stewardship." Amen, sister! [check out Kathleen's books, too -- this one is particularly timely!]

"On What Happens When You Get Off the R in the Wrong Place and Dreams" at Amy L. Sullivan -- Amy writes a powerful post about seeing and hearing, really seeing and hearing the suffering of those around us. Her simple question, "Who needs you to hear them today?" really stuck with me.  

"What's Your Story?" at Lisa Notes -- Lisa's post grounded me this week and helped me think about my story, how I am writing it, and how God and grace are present on every page. I read these lines in particular about three times in a row: "In my story I find grace. Because my story is being written by God. How I tell it is up to me. How it ends is up to Him. How I live it is all grace." Is it just me, or do you have the chills, too?!

"All I Got was a Rock" at Love Pats -- Pat writes so honestly and truthfully about the state of her heart (figuratively and literally!). I especially appreciate her raw admission that she hasn't let God completely transform her heart. I know I can certainly relate to that (and her photography is amazing, too!).

Thanks, lovely friends -- and do come back tomorrow for Part Two of the chair saga [I am the only person who could write two posts about a single wing chair, right?!|

If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you!

Or if you prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!


The Chair {Part One}

{You wouldn't think a homely chair could produce enough fodder for two blog posts, but then, I am a wordy girl, you know. Today and Friday I am writing about my grandparents' wing chair and the epic struggle that's ensued over it.}

I wiggle my finger into the ragged hole; a hint of striped upholstery peeks from beneath the threadbare cotton. The floral slipcover on the arm is worn right through.
Dust billows, glittering in a shaft of light and then settling in a grey film on the end table as I strip the wing chair of its slip cover. When the boys come home from school they notice right away. "What happened to the chair?" Noah asks. "Why's it striped and pink now? Where are the big red flowers?"
The chair was my grandparents'. When I tear off the worn slip cover and see the original pink and green-striped fabric, I remember sitting primly with my silky dress smoothed over knees, white socks with lace ruffles, black patent leather shoes. I smell acrid incense twirling smoke ribbons next to the bottle of pink poodle shampoo in the bathroom. I hear Papa singing Michelle My Belle as he flips pancakes on the griddle.
I see that chair, and I am a child again, tucked into the Cape Cod house on the hill for a weekend sleepover at my grandparents.
The problem, of course, is that despite the memories it provokes, the chair itself is hideous without its slipcover. The original pink and green fabric clashes with my ruby velvet couch, leopard-print chair and gold walls. It’s not quirky or eclectic or funky. It's  just plain ugly.
Yet I want to keep it. They don't make chairs like this anymore, sturdy and solid, with a swooping back and elegant cabriole legs. This chair is too rich with memories, too rich to donate to the Goodwill.
I stop by the upholsterer’s shop on the way to work. The man behind the counter estimates that it will be $750 for the labor and fabric to recover the chair and its matching footstool.  I page through a heavy book, chenille and cotton and tweed between my fingers. Then I slide the book back onto the shelf and close the shop door quietly behind me.
...On Friday the saga continues. To pay to have the chair reupholstered...or not?


If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you!

Or if you prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!


On Teaching Our Children the Art of Dying: A Guest Post by Emily Wierenga

{She's been here before, the lovely Emily and her perfectly Imperfect Prose...but really, can one ever get enough of Emily?}

we walk, and we remember: trent's papa, the man who did magic tricks and made gun powder in his kitchen and ate fried chicken every sunday, we remember his life and the lives of the saints, here in the snow. flags placed by the stones of the veterans, souls dug deep and we walk where they rest, their bodies holding up the world.

my sons' cheeks all rose and round, flesh brand-new and trent and i, finding crow's feet and the slowing of step as we pull blue sled in the quiet. "he left so peacefully," auntie marg told me on the phone, uncle jim passing after years of suffering, and she cries, this snow-haired lady from pine creek, and she misses him she says, but he's with God now. and jim spent his whole life preparing for the day he would die. the day he would meet his maker. a leaf, falling, orange edge curling and impressing the snow and there's beauty in the drifting down: in the tree losing color. and age is the wind that blows us gently to God's doorstep.

we unfurl hats, mitts, scarves and cling to each other by the wood-stove and the art of dying is in knowing how to live. in knowing how to let go of the branch, in drifting down and letting the wind blow us... while others marvel at our color, and remember.

{Thank you, Emily friend.}


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: The Privilege of Giving

We still have a lot of Halloween candy around here, despite my single-handed attempts to obliterate the stash. I noticed the other day, though, that Rowan’s bucket is significantly fuller than Noah’s. And I know why.
You see, Noah freely distributes his candy to whoever expresses a hankering for it. Not only does he share his candy, he offers up the best pieces: the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Butterfingers and Milky Ways. It’s not that Noah doesn’t like candy as much as Rowan – he does – it’s that he delights in sharing it with others as much as he enjoys eating it himself.
I was reminded of Noah’s generosity this morning when we read these verses from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, about the Macedonians’ joyful generosity:
“They are filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.” (2 Corinthians 8:2-5).
Here are the points I noticed about this passage:
1.       The Macedonians’ abundant joy resulted in rich generosity.
2.       They gave even more than they could afford.
3.       They gave of their own free will.
4.       They viewed their giving as a privilege.
5.       And they gave themselves first to God.
Compare that with what is often my approach to giving:
1.       I give out of habit.
2.       I give less than I can afford.
3.       I give because I feel obligated.
4.       I view my giving as a burden.
5.       I forget who I am honoring in the act of giving.
Quite a disparity, isn’t it?
I’m not saying this is always my approach to giving. Sometimes, like when I read a story like this, or see pictures like this, I am moved by love and a true desire to give, rather than by obligation or habit. Sometimes I do view giving as a privilege, an honor, rather than burden. But I admit, more often than not I mindlessly write the check, seal the envelope and drop it into the mailbox or the offertory basket.
It’s easy for me to get complacent in my giving because I’m not often faced with the real recipients of my gifts. I haven’t met the children we sponsor in Tanzania and Bolivia. I’ve never visited the People’s City Mission or Friendship Home in downtown Lincoln. I don’t see the need with my own eyes, so it’s easy for me to distance myself from it.
That’s why it’s critical that I get out of the comfort and security of my own house and into the neighborhoods and communities that are suffering and face-to-face with the people who have so much less than I do.  
I’ll be brutally honest: I don’t love to hand out loaves of bread and plastic containers of day-old muffins at the Center for People in Need here in Lincoln. I don’t look forward to serving plates of mashed potatoes and chicken at the local soup kitchen.  It’s awkward. I have trouble making eye-contact. I don’t always don’t know what to say. I act overly cheerful because I am nervous.
But it’s important and necessary that I serve in this way because it shifts my skewed perspective. I am accustomed to looking with envy at the people who have more than I do.  Serving reminds me that the majority of people here in Lincoln and around the world have a great deal less. And that helps to remind me that giving is a privilege, not simply an obligation.
What about you? What helps you get perspective? How do you give from the heart, with joy?

Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!].

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

Don't forget to come back Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up. And if you want to tweet about this link-up community, would you mind using the hashtag #HearItUseIt? Thanks! 


The Green-Eyed Monster

Last year I was jealous of all the lucky writers who went to the Relevant conference. This year, I was still jealous, and I was there.

You see, I have a problem with envy. A big problem.

I spend a lot of time and energy comparing myself to other writers, primarily writers who are farther along on the publishing journey than I am.

Why did she get the book contract? I wonder. Why did she get chosen to write for that group? Why does she have that many readers? Why does she get so many retweets on her posts or likes on her Facebook page? Why do all the good things happen to her and not me?

I know. It’s ugly.

The irony is that while I listened to the Relevant speakers talk about this very issue, I vowed to let my jealousy go. I vowed I would no longer compare myself to other writers. That I would simply write for God and for the readers who showed up at my door. That I would put the publishing journey entirely in God’s hands. That I would rejoice over the accomplishments of my fellow writers and cheer them forward onto greater successes. And I meant it. I felt these promises in my heart, and I was encouraged to begin anew. I felt light and free and joyful.

It lasted four days.

The very same week I returned from Relevant, I read online about two deserving writers who signed book contracts with two major Christian publishers. And rather than rejoice and celebrate with them, my instantaneous reaction was envy. I felt the sharp spike of jealousy sear my core and settle into the pit of my stomach, where it smoldered, a hot ache.

I prayed about it, I did. I put my head in my hands right there at my desk at work, with my officemate sitting three feet behind me, and I prayed that God would destroy my jealousy. I prayed that he would cure me of envy, bitterness and resentment and replace the ugliness with warmth, joy and love.

And nothing happened.

I didn’t feel any better.

In fact, I felt a good bit worse, because now, not only was I rife with envy, I also despaired that God had even heard me, that he had ever heard this particular plea (after all, it wasn’t the first time I’d asked God to cure me of this ugly jealousy; this has been an ongoing conversation between God and me for a while now).

I admit, sometimes I feel so much pressure as I walk this believing life. I expect that as a Christian, as a believer, I should pray and through that process of prayer and repentance, I should be transformed. I don’t expect that it will happen overnight. But I do expect that transformation will happen eventually.

So where does that leave me, when the much-anticipated, much-desired transformation doesn’t occur?

I wonder, how can I be a real Christian, a real believer, if I wrestle with the same sin over and over again, day after day after day? Wouldn’t a real believer have moved beyond this by now? Wouldn’t a real believer, through the grace of God, have grown up and tossed this insidious jealousy aside once and for all? How can the same sin persist in me, despite the fact that I don’t want it, despite the fact that I pray to be rid of it? Why isn't this working?

I don’t have any answers. This post doesn’t have a happy ending (which is a real bummer, because I prefer happy endings). I wish I could say I prayed last week in my office, and then I turned around and my officemate offered up a lovely and timely piece of wisdom that changed my perspective on everything.

But that didn’t happen. In fact, when I confessed a bit of my angst, she asked if I had a meeting lined up with my pastor anytime in the near future.

Clearly I am in a bad state.

What did happen was that I went back to my job, accomplished what I needed to, and then packed my bags, trudged down to the parking lot and began the ten-minute drive home. I popped in the “Jesus CD,” as the kids call it (yes, we only have one), sang Come to Jesus really loudly along with Chris Rice and felt (marginally) better.

So what about you? Have you ever been caught in the relentless sin-repent-repeat cycle? And if you broke free, how in the world did you do it?

And if you're like me and maybe need a bit of the "Jesus CD" this week, sing along with this. It might make you feel better (marginally).


The Hear It, Use It Weekly Round-Up

I hope you were able to read some of this week's posts -- there's just so much wisdom, truth and good teaching being conveyed through the verses you are reading and the sermons you are digesting each week. I love what you share here! Thank you, thank you!

Here are the picks for the week:

"Thankful Moments of Retreat" at Heartprints of God -- I don't know about you, but sometimes I want to book myself a day at the local spa...or at least get a pedicure and a half hour of R&R. I go looking for solace and solitude everywhere else but the true provider of such comfort. Stacy reminds me that I need not look further than my own Bible, where Jesus offers the best kind of retreat possible.

"Navigation" at A Seed Inspired -- T writes about the need to keep moving along the path God has set for us, despite rocky obstacles and the occasion plunge into a frigid creek. Her words are poetic, and her photographs are beautiful, too. Breathe deeply and just "be" as you read this quiet post.

"Blessed Beyond Measure" at My Reflection of Something -- Branson admits that she struggles with feeling like she needs to earn God's favor (I can relate!), and I love how she walks us through the Sermon on the Mount and especially concentrates on that opening line: "Blessed are the poor in spirit..." {make sure you click around and check out some of Branson's photos, too - they are gorgeous!}.

"Passionate about Your Work?" at Susan DiMickele, Author -- Susan's description of the most passionate flight attendant ever made me smile...and it made me think about how I approach my own job. Her question -- "I wonder, what would our daily work look like, I mean really look like, if we were passionate about our work?" really got me thinking.

"When the End of the Waiting is in Sight" at Journaling my Patchwork Mosaic Life -- I've been doing an awful lot of waiting lately, so Sarah's revelation that this period can be more than just stagnation and frustration really appealed to me, especially this: "The experience of waiting is a practice that can be not only active, but productive." Sarah wrote a whole 30-day series on the subject of waiting, and I read a bunch of her posts this week -- I recommend you do the same!

Thanks for coming by for the Round-Up this week. And will you stop by tomorrow? I'm tackling a tough subject (and one in which I am an expert): jealousy.

If you haven't done so already, would you kindly consider "liking" my Writer Facebook page by clicking here? Thank you!

Or if you prefer, you can get a dollop of "Graceful" in your email in-box or via the reader of your choice, by clicking here. Easy-peasy!


On Roller Coasters, Tidal Waves and Letting Go: A guest post by Abby Alleman

I'm honored to introduce Abby Alleman to you today. I've been reading Abby online for a while now, and was delighted to meet her recently at the Relevant conference, where it was obvious to me that her heart for God is just as wonderful and true in person as it is online! Abby and her husband and two young children will be leaving for Hungrary soon, where they will live out the Gospels as missionaries. Please spend some time over at her blog, Fan the Flame -- I guarantee you will leave inspired and empowered to live in God's love! And please, will you keep them in your prayers as they make this life-changing commitment?

As we were preparing to go overseas to Hungary for the summer of 2010, I remember sharing with some friends how I felt like I was about to get on a very tall, very fast, and very scary roller coaster.

It must have been a bit prophetic.

I felt that way anticipating taking our family of four, which included one not quite three year-old son and one not quite one year-old daughter and thankfully, one very hands-on father, across the ocean for five weeks.

I came home after those five weeks with the full weight of a long-term call, which, although it included much joy and excitement, had the undeniable mark of a great upheaval for our little family.

Fast forward fifteen months and I am still on that roller coaster. The ride has felt too much like the clink, clink, clink up to the summit and my nerves on overdrive with anticipation of the high speed fall to come.

Filled with logistics that have included the massive overhaul of all of our belongings, the leaving of a life and friendships we love, travelling most of the way across the country and back, five moves in four months {yes, you read that right} and the pending leaving of our families and dear friends at home, it has certainly felt like a life-sized quadruple loop thriller.

The anticipation is always what gets me. I give into fear. I try to picture this completely new life where we take our little family with one-way tickets to a place that we know a bit, but never as the long-term, raise-our-family home we now choose it to be. I feel my stomach tie into knots as every sure look at my weak little self shows how I don’t have what it takes to do this even nearly well.

And that is where I am both right and so very wrong. Just like a roller coaster, this can be fun, exhilarating even, when I let go. When I fix my gaze on the One who moves me along, inching up to heights and flying free down the other side.

But, I am liking another analogy better right now. It is that of a tidal wave. I stand on the shore and this wave is massive and intimidating and I know I am a lousy swimmer. I am sure I will be drowned.

And yet, in an instant I can change my perspective on what that wave really is. Instead of an overwhelming set of circumstances and changes, I can choose to see it as the fullness of my God. His grace, love, joy, peace, hope, goodness, as they rise up high and command the focus of my heart of hearts. And the crashing in of this wave holds not the possibility of death, only life.

In letting go and breathing deep that salt air, drinking in that salt water, I am preserved and sustained. And the fullness of God becomes my own. So when language foibles brand me witless, when I get lost on obscure European roads, when I can’t understand my children’s teachers, when all I want to do is come home but that must wait a long time, I can crumble into that wave and rise in a strength where my God is All the Glory.

That sounds like a pretty amazing way to live, do you agree?

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse
everything I know of you,
From Jordan depths to Hermon heights,
including Mount Mizar.
Chaos calls to chaos,
to the tune of whitewater rapids.
Your breaking surf, your thundering breakers
crash and crush me.
Then GOD promises to love me all day,
sing songs all through the night!
My life is God's prayer.

~Psalm 42: 6-8
{The Message}

How is your life a roller coaster? A tidal wave? Are you embracing it as an opportunity to know Him as the One who overwhelms in the best of ways? Let’s walk this journey together.


Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday: Saint Bradster

We celebrated All Saint’s Day at my church yesterday. I don’t know if other churches do this, or if it’s unique to Southwood, but my church defines ordinary people as saints – our friends and neighbors, parents and siblings, children and spouses and partners, those who have gone before us, and those with whom we continue to share our time on Earth.

Throughout the service I thought a lot about my mother-in-law, Janice, who so brightly shined God’s love through her selflessness, generosity, patience and joy. But when I heard Pastor Michael say that “God plants saints in your life, specific people who shine the light of God in your life” – I thought of someone else, someone very much like his mother in his quiet, selfless ways: my husband, Brad.

From the time I met Brad back in graduate school at the University of Connecticut until now, 18 years later, he has exuded a quiet, steadfast faith. Brad isn’t the type to broadcast his faith dramatically from the soapbox. He’s Nordic you know, and the Nords are a subtle, stoic people. Instead, he quietly serves his family, his neighbors, his co-workers, his friends and the strangers he meets on the street. He doesn't boast about it. He doesn't even talk about it. He just does it.

I wasn’t a believer when Brad and I first met. In fact, I still wasn’t a believer during the first seven or eight years of our marriage. The fact that Brad married me in spite of that is nothing short of a miracle. But, you see, he had faith. He had faith that I would come to know God. He trusted that God wouldn’t let me go, that he wouldn’t give up on me.

As it turned out, he was right.

In the beginning of our courtship Brad tried to engage me in theological discussions. He had a divinity degree, after all – this is a man who likes to chat about God. But I wouldn’t budge. I simply told him I didn’t “do deep conversations.” In reality, I was afraid. Strangely, I hadn’t admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in God. While I knew it in my heart, I had never said it aloud.

Later, I spent several years in a period of limbo. I had finally admitted to myself that I didn’t believe in God, but oddly I found that I wanted to believe. I wanted to find faith, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t know how or where to begin. We still didn’t talk about God or faith much during those limbo years, but when we did, Brad would always tell me the same thing: that he believed I would come to find God.

While I didn’t exactly believe that was true, Brad’s faith in God, and his faith in the fact that I would come to be a believer, gave me hope. I clung hard to that hope during those limbo years.

Brad was the first person I told when I began to suspect that I believed in God. I remember the night clearly. We were celebrating our anniversary at a fancy restaurant in Omaha, and I told him, “I think I might believe in God.” We talked long that night, from our gourmet appetizers all the way through the decadent chocolate torte. I was giddy, and honestly, I think Brad was, too ( because he’s a Nord, it’s often hard to tell...but I knew).

I still can’t believe that this is the road God has paved for me during these last five years. What’s funny is that Brad can’t believe it either. “Sometimes I’m still surprised this is you now,” he’ll say, and then we laugh when I remind him, “But you were the one who always told me this would happen!”

One thing is for sure though: while God planted Brad in my life for many reasons (I could write a whole blog post on his pancakes alone), chief among them is this: he knew Brad would shine the light of faith like a beacon of hope, lighting my every step along the way.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Romans 8:26-28, The Message)

[And I'll beat my dad to the punch: just the fact that Brad married me makes him a saint!]

Still counting...

760. Coming home to my own bed.
761. A husband who does the laundry, grocery shops, bleaches the sink clean and remembers to buy the Halloween candy while I am out of town.
762. Meeting online friends in person.
763. Rerouted trips that create new friendships.
764. Kids doing the "robot" dance.
765. Lighting candles.
766. A husband who scrapes my windshield in the morning.
767. Great Harvest blueberry-peach Savannah bars.
768. Laughing with Viviana.
769. "I love you" written by Noah in the steamed bathroom mirror.
770. The Bradster, whose faith lights the way.

And linking with Jen and the Soli sisters, too:


Welcome to the "Hear It on Sunday, Use It on Monday" community! If you're here for the first time, click here for details and instructions on how to link up.

Or you can simply copy the code for the "Hear It, Use It" button in the sidebar to the right, and paste it into your own post. [Please include the button or a link in your post, so your readers know where to find the community if they want to join in! Thank you!].

I love hearing what you have to reveal each week about how God is speaking to you through his word, and I am so very grateful for your participation here!

Don't forget to come back Thursday for the Hear It, Use It Round-Up. And if you want to tweet about this link-up community, would you mind using the hastag #HearItUseIt? Thanks!  [look at me, talkin' about hashtags!].

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