God is faithful – do you believe this?


What is your normal response when God seems late?
There are many Biblical reminders that even when God doesn’t make sense, God is faithful. Even when we have doubts, God is present.

The first reminder is in John 11, where Martha shares an extended discourse with Jesus about her brother’s death. Martha believes in Jesus’ power. She trusts in Jesus’ ability to affect change. She is not an outsider to the life of faith. And even before Jesus speaks, we see that Martha knows several things.

  1. She knows Jesus could have prevented Lazarus’ death.
  2. She knows that God will give Jesus whatever he asks.
  3. She knows that Lazarus will rise again at the last resurrection.

Yet Jesus still needs to remind her of his power over death, of his existence as both resurrection and life. I imagine Jesus leaning in toward Martha, just to make sure she understands what he’s saying, as he asks Do you believe this?

Martha needed to be reminded that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seemed late, God was present.

Another reminder is from Psalm 78. Far more than random personal prayers collected into a unified book, the Psalms were intentional, fixed forms that were used in worshipping communities and transmitted from generation to generation. In fact, the same Psalm notes “we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the lord, the wonders God has done.” With Psalm 78, the Psalmist records dozens of events in the history of Israel where God intervened and met their needs. So as the Israelites gathered to worship, even during the Babylonian captivity, they sang these Psalms to encourage each other. Verse by verse, the Israelites are reminded of God’s faithfulness, and I imagine God leaning toward his people after each reminder to ask Do you believe this?

God divided the sea and led them through – he split the rock and gave them water…But they speak out against God and ask “Can God really spread a table in the wilderness?”

So the Psalmist replies God rained down manna for them to eat, he gave them all the food they could eat. “Do you believe this?

The Israelites needed to be reminded that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seemed late, God was present.

Of course, sometimes I need to be reminded too, and no more frequently than this past year. When a child dies, and God fails to “show up on time for a miracle,” I need to be reminded of God’s faithful presence. I take comfort in knowing that even the disciples who followed Jesus the most closely struggled with this. Remember in Mark 6, when they see Jesus feed a crowd of 5000+ and then TWO CHAPTERS LATER (!) they ask “But where in this remote place can we get enough bread to feed 4000 people???”  The disciples needed a reminder that even when God didn’t make sense, God was faithful; that even when God seems late, God was present.

Finally, the disciples need another reminder in Acts 1. They’ve seen Jesus crucified and raised, and he’s about to ascend to heaven. So the disciples ask “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” They were still assuming Jesus would be a political savior who would set up an earthly kingdom. But Jesus reminds them “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

You see, to those disciples, Jesus was late at getting his kingdom established. But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. Jesus’ kingdom is a spiritual one. So our responsibility as Christians is to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth…

  1. By living into the power of the Holy Spirit and being God’s witnesses in our neighborhoods, in our region, and in our nation.
  2. By breaking down barriers and showing hospitality to strangers because all are welcome at God’s table.
  3. By treating all people as equal in rights and dignity because all are created in God’s image.
  4. By being willing to listen to those with whom we disagree, because dialogue builds community while silence breeds separation.

In this difficult election season, where friends have lashed out against friends, where fear has overtaken faith, and where walls are being erected in place of bridges, we need to cling to each other in solidarity and call out for justice in the face of oppression. We need to continue doing kingdom work whether or not the political system is broken, whether or not our neighborhoods are broken, whether or not our hearts are broken.

We need to be reminded that even when God doesn’t make sense, God is faithful.
We need to be reminded that even when God seems late, God is present.
Do you believe this?

This was originally shared as a communion meditation at Grandview Christian Church, fall 2016

Home is where the heart is…

Home should be where the heart is
Never were words so true
My heart’s far, far away
Home is too.

There’s a map of the United States in my kitchen, with pins marking cities where dear friends and family live. When you make college memories in both Michigan and Arkansas, and move across the country twice in a decade, you leave a trail of memories marked by time and place. Bits and pieces of my heart are left behind in the lives of others.  Imprints from others exist on my own life and heart. I’m a different person than I was when I left home at 18, or even when I left for seminary at 49. For this, I am truly thankful. As Thomas Wolfe said, “you can’t go home again” and even if I could, neither home nor I would be the same.

I’m not the first to recognize that sometimes friends are more like family, and sometimes family shapes us as much in their absence as they did with their presence. Who we are is due, in part, to those who invested in us years ago. But “who we are” is also shaped by those who preceded our generation without any intentional investment at all. Their existence shaped us indirectly by the choices they made, the places they lived, and the people they loved. I’ve sometimes been surprised at how easily I found my way “home” in new cities, new churches, new communities. It may be because I’ve offered my heart in new relationships wherever I’ve lived. I’ve always discovered new people and places to treasure – and “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). My map of memories is marked with heart-shaped pins in recognition and celebration of that.

There’s a place called home I can almost see
With a red front door and a roaring fire and a Christmas tree
Yes a place called home…full of love and family
And I’m there at the door watching you come home to me…

My mom died earlier this month after a long illness and the painful effects of separation during COVID while in an assisted living facility in Arizona. I doubt that she thought of that room, however sunny and spacious it was, as “home.” Each time she had to downsize some (3 times in 3 years) it broke her heart to let go of more possessions. She was longing for home – the home she’d curated for years. In her mind, home always included husband and kids (and later, grandkids). Home was family. Home was a kitchen filled with good smells and large quantities of baked goods. Home was being surrounded by family photos, dad’s puzzles, and furnishings she loved. On second thought, maybe she felt a little “at home,” since she did have some favorite furnishings and nearly all the family photos.

Except for a brief, outdoor visit on Mother’s Day, even my brother and sister in law in Phoenix weren’t allowed to visit very often. They would stop by and chat through the window screen. We would call or FaceTime from out of state, but towards the end Mom struggled to hold onto her phone, or understand what to click (or not). Sometimes when we talked, her mental clarity was fading, and she spoke of “going home from work” and “making cookies yesterday.” She thought she was back home in Indiana. I’m sure in these last few months, she was missing family. And in her mind, family was a jumble of those still living, and those who’d passed on. She was longing for home – a different one.

This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore

The last year has been a painful season of loss for our family. With our granddaughter’s diagnosis in July 2019, we entered a world of hospitals, chemo, questions, and fear. A few months later, my dad passed unexpectedly after a short illness, weary of life and day to day caregiving. Isla and my mom entered hospice care, miles apart but within days of each other. And after Isla died August 11th, we said our goodbyes to mom only weeks later. The older I get, the more loss I experience, the less I feel “at home” here on earth. The more I long for home.

When I think of home, I think of a place where there’s love overflowing
It would sure be nice to be back home where there’s love and affection…

We all long for home, even if “home” means something different to you than it does to me. If your parents provided you with “love overflowing” but it seems lacking today, you think longingly of that earlier time. If you were in a relationship that ended painfully, looking back on happier times may be easier than imagining what’s next or what’s new. But to be fair, all of life is a mix of blessings and curses, highlights and dark days. We may look back nostalgically to our memory of home, but we know there were good days and bad then, just like in our current reality. When we were in them, they weren’t necessarily the “good old days.” Our longings are elusive. We’re not really sure what we need. But God knows. God is the only one who can satisfy. You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you… Because your love is better than life… (Ps.63:1–4)

“Sometimes I feel lost,” said the boy.
“Me too,” said the mole, “but we love you, and love brings you home.
I think everyone is just trying to get home.”
“Home isn’t always a place, is it?” *

When all seems lost, when death wins, when chaos reigns, we long for home.
But longing for home will prove insufficient. Home is not a place, but a person.

Only Jesus is a steady rock on which to lean. A home for our longing hearts.
Always, only, Jesus

*from The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse (Mackesy, 2019)

A Time for Everything: the Life Cycle of Cosmos and Butterflies

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die… (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Nothing about the death of a child makes sense.

In our limited, logical understanding of life and death, of time and mortality, we expect death to come for the elderly. And as we ourselves grow older, it is always and only those “even older” than us that we identify of as “elderly.” There is a paradox often mentioned that as we age, time seems to pass with even greater voracity and speed. What seems like only a moment ago was my high school graduation. What happened yesterday is often forgotten.

Parts of the last year seem to have taken very long indeed. So much waiting. Such a long winter. Certainly spring will come – but how long? Yet, parts of this last year vanished like a mist with Isla. When I was at the hospital with her in July, we laughed and sang and looked forward to healing and transplant and…life. Now, only 8 weeks later, time is flipped on its head and death leaves us waiting again for spring, for resurrection.

Spring in the Midwest is its own paradox, sending out hyacinths in February only to be blanketed by snow in March. Wednesday’s sunny breeze invites hope, but Friday’s bitter wind confirms a cold reality. But spring eventually came, right? It is possible I missed it this year. But even during COVID, we still had daffodils and 70 degree days and new shoots of green grass.

In the heat of an August afternoon, we forget.

“Teach us to number our days…” (Ps 90).

When I dream of spring, a couple of images come to mind. One is a butterfly, a perpetual reminder of rebirth, transformation, and resurrection. Isla loved reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle did his homework on that one – caterpillars really do eat and eat and eat, multiplying their weight exponentially! How fascinating to see an egg hatch into caterpillar who makes a cocoon, before the stunning metamorphosis into a butterfly! What kind of creator goes to all that trouble for the beauty of a butterfly, whose life cycle ranges only from a week to a few months?

Another image is a flower…in so many shapes and colors that it’s not one picture, but dozens. From the earliest lily of the valley to April lilacs; from June roses to the sunflowers towering overhead in August, here is another species where God simply shows off.  Their fleeting beauty and lasting fragrance are visual reminders that creativity and beauty are part of our heritage as God’s image-bearers. Isla loved flowers too, including the tiny yellow ones she gave me in May, now pressed in my bible.

That same month, just after the kids found out Isla would need the trial drug before transplant, Autumn ordered beautiful matching necklaces with an imprint of a cosmos bloom for herself and Isla. Regarding her choice, she wrote, “Not only is cosmos the flower for her birth month, October, but it represents peace, wholeness and joy in life. Cosmos is a hearty flower than can thrive in a variety of soils and conditions much like Isla.” And Isla did thrive in a variety of conditions, her young personality evolving from shy toddler to courageous preschooler during her year in the hospital. She won the hearts of doctors and nurses, therapists, and friends with her fierce determination and joyful spirit, even in the midst of leukemia treatments.

I wish Cosmos were perennial.

Hope does not disappoint… (Rom 5)

Autumn’s post continues, “It is my hope that her body will find wholeness, our family can find peace, and the years ahead will be filled with joy…” Reading her post again today reminded of the scripture that says  “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).

I’ve seen suffering produce endurance, character, and hope in our family this year.
But I choke on the phrase hope does not disappoint…

Hope disappointed us this time.
Isla’s body did not find wholeness. Peace is still illusive. Joy seems unimaginable.

And then, I remember the butterfly.

For those of us who believe in the power of metamorphosis, of resurrection, we trust that her body will find wholeness in transformation, in the wonder of a life to come.

We believe that which is sown in weakness is raised in power (1 Cor 15:43).

We believe that the peace of God surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7) even when the death of this child doesn’t make any logical sense.

We believe that the God of hope will fill [us] with all joy and peace (Rom 15:13).

Maybe not today. But there’s a time for everything…

Letting Go*

Mt 14: 23-27

…he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking toward them on the sea, they were terrified…and cried out in fear.

But immediately, Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.” 

This boat I’m in

Battered by waves

Filled with saltwater foam

I can’t see my feet any more

Much less the shore

The wind is against me

Terrified

Storm magnified

Grief till I’m beside

Myself.

A distant shape

Shrouded in mist

Veiled in mystery

Yourself.

Do not be afraid.

Mt 14:28-32
“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
He said, “Come.”

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened. Beginning to sink, he cried out “Lord, save me!”

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying, “You of little faith – why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Letting go of the side of the boat

Letting go of control

Of fear

Of assumptions

Of belief in miracles and

Walking on water

Anyway.

But the wind is strong

And my faith is small

And I fall.

Again.

We get back into the boat together

Anyway.

*photo credit Sarah@thestudiobythesea

Another grief, observed*

Last week doctors told our family “There’s nothing else we can do.”
When people ask how we’re feeling, finding words is excruciating.
Metaphors and mystery are all we have.

No words.
Phrases form and
Fall flat

Shards of glass
Pierce, slash, and tear
An open wound

Slammed into curb,
Knocked into neutral
The car unaffected
(or so it seems)
I keep driving

Waves of nausea
Froth under the surface
Crash against the shore
When least expected
Unrelenting.

I can’t breathe,
Drowning in pain
Suffocation a proclamation of my
Indignation at
the [in]justice of God.

I can’t sleep
but dream in color.
Nightmare with no end
Falling with no place to land
And wake in pain.

In-between diagnosis and despair
A thin blue line forestalls my
Descent into chaos
Fear in the rearview mirror.

Panic in the pandemic
Unmasked
Unheard
Undone

Only prayer and pain in a
Quarantine of grief
Holding my heart in Your hand
Broken

*in recognition of the book by C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed.

Remembering Dad

When I was in third grade, we moved into a Cape Cod house in Nashville, Tennessee. The magnolia tree begged to be climbed, mimosa blossoms scented the yard, and a sloping driveway went all the way around back to the basement sliding door. The basement included a den along with bedrooms for my brothers and me. Upstairs was a rented apartment accessed only by an outdoor stairway; the flat roof of the garage served as its porch. The formal living and dining areas were reserved mostly for Sunday dinner guests who entered the front door

But our family entered through a breezeway between kitchen and garage. The year dad remodeled that kitchen, I fell in love with home design watching the 1930s galley become a 1970s L-shaped wonder with avocado green appliances. At one end was the door to the formal dining room. At the other end were two doors; one led to the garage, and one to my dad’s study. That door was always open.

Dark paneling and carpet sucked the sunlight out of the study, window to the front yard notwithstanding. Along one wall, bookshelves extended ceiling-ward, and along the opposite wall was my dad’s desk. There were lower bookshelves next to the desk, and stacks of Bibles and commentaries across the top. And on a plastic mat in the middle of the floor was my dad’s office chair. Curved and smooth, the well-worn arms of tiger oak radiate strength and stability just like my dad. The base was a metal post with four swivel feet and it rocked backward. But dad always leaned toward his desk, eyes straining at the text as he hand wrote sermon notes for Sunday.

Decades later, I’m in another study of dad’s, helping them pack for a final move to Phoenix. Because I’ve moved quite a bit myself, I’m incredulous at some of the items my dad kept. What in the world was he thinking? The reason behind such choices is surely subconscious; we’d be hard-pressed to describe those selections to anyone else. But what we choose to keep communicates something about what we value.

A glimpse of our past; what we treasure most.

Dad’s desk was like a paper trail of the last five decades. I found pocket calendars dating to 1994; mail from siblings as well as high school classmates; programs from musical performances he was in or directed; ancestry notes on his family; term papers from high school. Of this last category, one was titled “That Inferior Feeling” and described the uncertainty of not-quite-measuring-up to (self-imposed?) standards. I imagine my dad at that young age and I wonder whose expectations he was trying to meet. I think of myself at that young age, and my dad making note of the one “B” on my report card of mostly “As.” Compassion and empathy increase as I realize that his parenting grew out of his own experience, with parents and teachers alike. We are all products of our past, sometimes broken, doing the best we can with what we’ve received.

One entire bookshelf was filled with 9×6 inch black notebooks, each one a three-ring binder of sermon notes, carefully typed outlines from his decades of preaching. In the mid-90s (when his old typewriter died but he hadn’t yet made the move to a personal computer) you see a shift to hand-written sermon notes, still in outline form. As the years progress (and his job becomes part-time) the hand-writing becomes more wobbly and the dates of sermons less frequent. As far as I can tell, he kept every single one, noting both date and location of its delivery. They are didactic in nature, not reflective or contemplative. Still, I struggle with whether or not to keep them as is, let them all go, or translate them all into an eventual festschrift of his preaching career. The notebooks serve as a window into his belief set, a time-worn record of his lived-out theology.

I always loved dad’s study. I loved the books, and the sound of my dad’s pen, and the atlas that rivaled the size of my younger brother. I loved the swivel chair so much it now sits in my own office where I write blog posts, research papers, and yes, sermons. My path to ministry has often been a winding and surprising journey. My daughter and I both followed in his footsteps as ministers, an ironic detail he missed in his commitment to a men-only church leadership model. We are shaped by our past, but we don’t have to be permanently defined by it. I think I honor him best when I follow God’s will, just as he did, even if he couldn’t understand the path I travel.

Maybe someday Dad’s chair will belong to my daughter. Maybe she’ll look through my books and files someday, wondering why I kept and wrote what I did. She’s walked a different road than mine, finding affirmation for her call through her college years, and ministry with a Chicago church plant. She’s also published articles, and walked through lots of open doors. Sometimes I think about ministry doors that slammed shut because of my gender. But the door to dad’s study was always open.

March Madness, Social Distance, and Doubting God.*

It’s been nearly nine months since a blog post.

It could be that the job I started in July has kept me pretty busy. (It has.)
It could be that an academic presentation eclipsed my blog writing. (It did.)
It could be that after waiting so long, it seems trivial to write when the world is turning upside down. (It does, and it is.)

But here we are.

Last year, friends told us 2018-19 was one of the hardest, longest, snowiest winters ever in Omaha. This year’s weather pales in comparison to last year’s. But oh my goodness, how long the winter has seemed. Not because there was a ton of snow, but because we’ve been counting hospital stays, logging miles, and waiting for test results for our granddaughter, Isla. And now, on top of our family struggles, the world’s gone mad about COVID-19, social distancing, and self-quarantine.
Uncertain times indeed.

We’re longing for spring…aching for the promise of Easter.

While our life has had twists and turns, it’s been pretty easy overall. Except for one scary car accident where both of our kids needed stitches, parenting was a cake walk for us. We always had a comfortable home, plenty to eat, and jobs we enjoyed. You know, it’s easy to be faithful and obedient when things go well. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency when life is easy. It’s easy to fall for a“good life” prosperity gospel when everything is going your way. Our first 34 years of marriage and parenting were pretty great.

And being a grandparent is even better. As Nana and Pops, we have the unique blessing of enjoying all the fun and little of the day to day stress. It’s easy to think that our good fortune is somehow related to our good behavior. Even the Psalmist agrees, saying “the Lord’s love for those who respect him continues forever and ever, and his goodness continues to their grandchildren” (103) Obviously, according to this author, God blesses those who obey the rules.

But last July we found out that our 3 year old granddaughter had cancer – Acute Myeloid Leukemia. Nothing really prepares you for news like that. It’s been hard to put words to my feelings over these past several months (another reason for not writing, perhaps). But I found some words now.

Anger. Confusion. Denial. Frustration. Doubt. Sadness. Despair. Uncertainty.

Obviously, this diagnosis either did not align with the Psalmist’s theology, or someone in my family must not be living right for this horrible thing to happen. How in the world could this be? Why my kids? Why my grandkid? Who wants to live in a world where 3 year olds get leukemia?

Job had some questions like that for God. In his response to unhelpful friends, he cries out  (Job 29:2) –  “I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me…for the days when the Almighty was still with me and my children were around me”  

Like Job, I didn’t just feel like God was inattentive. I felt like God was absent.

Life was much simpler when our kids were little and the biggest problem we had was trying to get them to eat their broccoli at the dinner table. But as the song Here Again reminds us, we can’t go back to the beginning. And we can’t control what tomorrow will bring. But we can choose to trust God’s presence in the middle of the pain, in the middle of the doubt, in the middle of the suffering. 

We can choose to “let God’s love rise above every fear”.

Yet every day, if I’m honest with you, can feel like a battle. So many unanswered questions. So many unknowns. So many medications and treatments. I think of the verse in 2 Chronicles 20 where they cry – “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on you.”

We don’t know what type of treatment to choose,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know what the outcome of this battle will be,
but our eyes are on you, God.
We don’t know how to navigate this uncertainty,
but our eyes are on you, God.

When I think about this battle (against time, against leukemia, against doubt, against pandemic) I’m thankful for the God who goes before us and stands behind us. The song Defender begins with the line “You go before I know that you’ve even gone to win my war.”  Our eyes are on the God who is already there in the hospital, already there in the chemo in her bloodstream, already there in the room where a doctor will report her prognosis. Like Moses reminded the Israelites at the Red Sea, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Be still.

“God is our refuge and our strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…The Lord says – “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46)

The Lord Almighty is with us.

*I shared a version of this post as a worship testimony at our Mar 1st Access service at CCC (starts around 17 minutes in).

Surprise us, Lord!

Twice in the last month, I’ve been prayer circles where someone prayed “Surprise us, Lord!” It stood out, partly because I heard it twice, but also because I couldn’t remember ever praying for that, specifically.

Not that God never surprises me, as previous posts affirm. It just that I don’t remember asking for God for those surprises. Looking back, I was definitely surprised by our move to Omaha. Before then, I was surprised by a sense of deep loss during a season of transitions. But I can’t remember a time when I was any more surprised by God than I am today.

Over the last several months, as Harold and I have settled into life with our new church here in Omaha, I’ve reached out to leaders to brainstorm ways I might volunteer. We talked about how to equip people to serve, the need to mentor younger women, the possibility of teaching a class or training volunteers, ways to help guests become regular attenders, and many other passions – the possibilities are limitless! I love my work teaching and mentoring students, but also want to invest my gifts well in our local church.

Those conversations opened a door I never expected. About 7 weeks ago, our lead pastor asked me to consider applying for a position on his executive team. Harold and I prayed about it for 3 full weeks, and sought prayer and counsel from others who knew me well (across the country, and over the last 3 decades!) After another 3 weeks (and 7 interviews!) I was offered the position and will be joining the ministry staff at Christ Community Church on July 10.

Sometimes when you’re in the middle of the “every day,” you don’t see how dots connect, or how random experiences and incidental choices may set you up for the next chapter God has in mind. That has certainly been true for me. In May, I shared some Facebook reflections with the hashtag #MayMinistryMemory. In fact, if you look back at some of my posts over the last two months, the quotes, prayers, and songs I’ve shared bear testimony to the journey I’ve been on. It’s been a blessing to look back to see how God’s been moving, even when I wasn’t fully aware of the plan.

A few days after the initial phone call, I’d scheduled a day away for prayer and reflection. Early that morning I spotted a bald eagle, teaching her baby to fly. Since I was in retreat mode, I immediately started spiritualizing the experience. Could God be using this experience to speak into my situation?

Is this a sign from God that I should continue coaching and teaching my college students?

Or wait – is this a sign from God that I should lead and teach ministry staff, and mentor other women?

I’m not sure exactly how many moments passed before I laughed aloud and realized… God is the eagle parent.
You’re the one who needs to follow.

In 2016, I wrote “I am confident in my calling to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ is built up (Eph 4:12) but I do not yet know what doors might open for me to do that.” Even then, God was working, and now the door has opened wide. The same day I was away on retreat, Rachel Held Evans passed away. Her ministry inspired me to lean in to hard things, to obey courageously even in the midst of fear, to “rise up” as a woman of valor. But courage and confidence are not enough, and should not be based on our own strength or ability.

So I am confident that this will be the most challenging, stretching, and yet rewarding role I’ve been asked to fill. My responsibility and my privilege is to lean on God’s strength, even in my own weakness. And I am confident God’s faithfulness will see me through.

Remembering an Anniversary

I grew up in churches that didn’t practice anything “like” ordination, and where they didn’t have women serving in any official leadership capacity. (There were plenty of women leaders, nevertheless). In the 90s, we attended a church where women had a more visible presence in worship and in leadership. Later, through more than a decade of struggling through the biblical text and participating in discernment conversations in seminary, my view on ordination (as a practice) and women in ministry (as theology) continued to be shaped and formed.

Part of that time I was serving in ministry as a volunteer. Part of that time I was serving full-time on a ministry staff. But it wasn’t until being part of the family of God at Grandview Christian Church (Johnson City, TN) that I was invited to consider the possibility of an official “setting apart.” I can still remember the elders’ hands pressing onto my shoulders, the salty taste of tears that flowed freely, and the words of affirmation shared by so many church friends and seminary professors.

Often scripture reminds us to “remember what God as done.” The Israelites remembered with feast days and weekly Sabbath celebrations. The early church remembered as they celebrated the Eucharist. In these last two “anniversary” dates of my ordination, I’ve made it my practice to go back and remind myself of the words spoken over me (and my friend Brandon Waite, ordained the same day). Below are some of the words of blessing that are helping me “remember what God has done.”

from Michael L. Sweeney’s charge…
Ordination doesn’t change your personality. It doesn’t make you more pious than you were before. The fact that you are ordained won’t make people more anxious to open up to you or lean on your every word. Heads of state won’t call you in for spiritual guidance.

Add to that, our culture can’t possibly understand what ordination means. We’re all about the individual. We decide for ourselves what we’re going to be when we grow up. We choose what we’re going to study in college and where we’re going to work. We make our vocational choices on the basis of personal interest, period. None of this family-or-group-decision stuff about OUR future that we find in Asian and African cultures. The American way would have us lay hands on ourselves – or, at least, pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.

So ordination just doesn’t fit the mold of our culture or our church movement. But, in spite of all that, it really does have a special place in the life of the church. Outsiders looking in may not get it. It defies analysis and precise definition.

…the decision to ordain someone does not belong to the person being ordained. We often think it does. After all, most of us who have been ordained asked to be considered for it. But this isn’t the same thing as applying for a job.

When you’re called to ministry, you are called to the impossible. No one is really qualified for vocational ministry. No amount of preparation will ever be sufficient to make you successful. The amount of skill you have will fall short. The results of our labors are always out of our control. In fact, part of the message that Paul wanted to get across to the church in Corinth was that he was way out of his depth, but that God seemed to be OK with that. In fact, it was a good thing, since Paul’s weakness was an opportunity to show the strength of God. And so it is with us.

In Acts 13, setting Saul and Barnabas apart was God’s idea, and it was communicated to the leaders of the church in Antioch because they were deeply involved in worship, prayer and fasting. They were connected to God and attuned to his will. And so today, by their willingness to ordain you, the leaders at Grandview are saying that they believe it is God’s will that you be set apart for ministry. It’s not just their idea of a nice thing to do. But it’s because, through their prayer and worship, they have been led by the Spirit of God to call you in this way.


From my daughter Elizabeth’s prayer…
Like Paul, knowing he was likely to face many trials and hardships, may Brandon and Dawn face the unknown and say, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.” Holy Spirit, may Dawn and Brandon hear your voice over and above the voices of this world. Grant them with your wisdom, courage, and discernment as they continue to follow your lead in vocational ministry.

From my friend Theresa’s prayer…
May this body, Grandview Christian Church, sustain and support Brandon and Dawn in their work, whether they minister among us or be sent out from us. Let us offer encouragement and instruction when needed and love and grace always.Guide their steps. Invigorate their spirits. Fill them with wisdom. Remind them of the responsibility and privilege they have accepted in being set apart as your servants

Many church leaders (and denominations) have widely varying practices regarding ordination in general, or the ordination of women in particular. This is not an invitation to debate its theology or practice. Rather, today’s post is a celebration of an anniversary, one that causes me to both look back at what God has done, and look forward to what God can and will do through obedient servants. I thank God for the privilege, and pray that I may finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus Christ – to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.

Solo Deo Gloria!

God’s sense of humor

In this anniversary month of many ministry moments, including our call to Omaha last year, I’m sharing again the story of how we laugh with God along the way. (Originally posted in May of 2018 on the old site)

Have you ever laughed at God?
I have. In May of 2011, my husband and I were moving Elizabeth into her house for the summer. She was staying in Johnson City for a ministry internship after her first year at Milligan, and we were getting ready to head back home to Indianapolis. That spring I was considering graduate school and we had visited Emmanuel while we were in Tennessee. We both loved the area, but I wasn’t sure if a residential MDIV program would work for me, or how we could afford it while Elizabeth was in college. We raved at the beautiful mountain scenery and talked about the possibility of someday settling here. I remember saying “Man, I love it here, I hate to think of waiting 3 more years till Elizabeth finishes school.” At which point my husband said “Well, you never know what might happen, but I’m sure God will make it clear to us if and when we’re supposed to move.” As we came across a hill to a (literal) crossroads, this truck (pictured above) was parked in the neighborhood directly ahead of us.

We laughed a long time.
It was not the last time God would amuse us with an ironic hint at what was to come. When we got home there was a CD of new worship music that our minister wanted us to learn for praise team. The fourth song in was called “Moving Forward” by Israel Houghton. Later that summer, I was invited to speak for a women’s retreat in Indianapolis and the theme was, “A Time to Move.” I had been praying for a while about how God might use my leadership and teaching gifts in the church where I currently served. But it seemed like everywhere we looked, we were reminded that when we open ourselves to God’s leading, God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.


Of course, some of you know how this story turned out because we’ve been living in Johnson City since August of 2012. We laughed at God’s extravagant grace and provision often over the next several months. A full tuition scholarship. Selling the house in two days. Surprise payment of travel expenses. Generous gift card to stock our pantry. Managing our daughter’s college bills while being under-employed. The joy and delight of a “secret Santa” during our first Tennessee Christmas. We laughed at the realization that every time we threw our hands up in frustration or despair, God was ready to clasp those hands and laugh, saying “Hold on! I still have another plan!”


We’re not the first God-followers, of course, to be amused at God’s promises or provision.
Then one of [the messengers of God] said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh? … Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
Gen 18:10-14

We can’t really fault Sarah for this incredulous response – she’d already been waiting more than 20 years! She knew about God’s promise to give them a son (Gen 15 and 17). She even tried to help the process along by stepping in with her own plan (Gen 16). So here she stands, at the door of the tent, hearing the promise repeated once more. Of course she laughs! And then she settles in to wait and see that indeed, nothing is too hard for God. Her laughter is contagious when Isaac is born and she says “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me. (Gen 21:6)

We’ve continued to laugh with joy at God’s provision over the last six years. Harold got a good sales job and we found a wonderful church family to serve alongside. I completed my MDiv in 2016. We put down roots, buying a house and investing in relationships – a community of friends who laugh with us in celebration when God shows up and answers prayer in unexpected ways. After graduation, I was equipped and educated, ready for whatever God had in store. I claimed complete faith and trust in waiting for God’s provision.

But then, like Sarah, I made some assumptions and put some plans into play to “help God out” with the timing and resolution to my season of waiting. I sent out resumes to some local jobs I thought might fit. I volunteered my time and networked for connections. And yet, every door I approached remained tightly shut. Don’t misunderstand – there have been some surprising open doors as well, including community theater and teaching a writing class. I don’t feel my past two years have been wasted – they’ve just not been invested the way I thought they would be. “Hold on!” God says. “I still have another plan.” God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways.

Because God has quite a sense of humor.

Part two –

Throwback to July of 2014. My daughter and I were attending the North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis. We were in the hotel lobby eating breakfast and I saw the Academic Dean from Nebraska Christian College, whom I’d met through a conference a couple of years previous. We shared a bit of small talk as I walked by his table and then he asked the question, “Do you think we might convince you to move to Nebraska to teach in our Children’s Ministry program?”

I laughed out loud. (It’s usually no big secret as to what I think or feel)

Mark took it in stride as I gave him a few clarifying, and emphatic, comments as to WHY I wouldn’t consider a move to Nebraska.

  • #1 – SNOW
  • #2 – Tornadoes
  • #3 – We JUST moved to (and expected to retire in) Tennessee.
  • #4 – We LOVE our church.

I was only halfway through my residential seminary program, anyway, so it was not time to move. But I probably shouldn’t have laughed.

Over the next few years, I began to have opportunities to teach at Nebraska Christian College. Their focus on ministry training and “creating church leaders” resonated well with me. Because of this focus, they offer one-week “intensive” classes for students often involved in off-campus residencies. In both 2015 and 2016 I taught an August intensive in Children’s Ministry. Then last spring, they had a faculty position open up and I was able to join the team part-time, teaching both ministry and Bible classes.

About the same time, the dean revisited his earlier question as to whether I would be interested in relocating. This time I didn’t laugh, but knowing my husband’s reticence to move to Johnson City in 2012 (and how he was finally feeling settled here!), I assumed that he would nix the idea completely. In other words, I hoped to not have to be the one to decide, and figured my husband would just say NO at the outset. After all, he’d moved to Tennessee for my education/career goals – it was only fair he be the one to decide if and when we ever (which I didn’t expect!) moved anywhere again.

But he didn’t say no.

We spent the last year praying about the possibility. Assessing his current job, and changes that were happening in his profession. Becoming acquainted with the culture and faculty at Nebraska Christian. Realizing that flights to visit family in Phoenix and Chicago are half as much from Omaha as from Tri-Cities. Exploring Google Maps to note that our grandkids are 6 hours closer to Omaha than here.

That might have been what tipped the scales for him.

For me, the decision was gradual and painful. My own reticence was based on all the same reasons I gave in 2014; none of those have changed. But I have come to realize that when you follow God and walk through doors that are opened to you, you aren’t promised “comfortable” or “easy.” We certainly aren’t promised good weather! (This year’s endless winter, in both Tennessee and Nebraska, has brought that point home clearly!)  I absolutely love teaching, and am incredibly impressed with both the people and the programs at Nebraska Christian College. I’m well aware that higher ed jobs are few and far between. Add to that the reality of my being (1) a woman (2) in the Restoration Movement tradition (3) who wants to teach Bible and ministry classes (4) who doesn’t yet have a Doctoral degree, limits the opportunities quite a bit. Even so, I didn’t go searching for this opportunity. It came searching for me.

For more than 15 years, I’ve prayed that God would use my gifts, experience, and education to equip others for ministry. That has been my passion since 2003, from the personal ministry mission statement I wrote for one of my earliest seminary classes. God often answers prayers in surprising and unexpected ways. A couple of years ago, I would never have imagined I’d say “We’re moving to Omaha!” But now we are, and I’m incredibly thankful that God has opened a door for me to teach full time at Nebraska Christian College in the fall.

Please pray for us during this transition. Knowing we have to leave our church and say goodbye to dear friends is heartbreaking. There are many details to pull together. But nothing is too hard for God, and we’re excited to see where this next chapter of our lives will lead. And knowing how God was faithful through our previous move gives us great hope and grateful courage for this upcoming one. Just like Sarah, we trust a God who loves surprises…and laughs with us.

Solo Deo Gloria!