Such a big question that so many of us ask for a variety of reasons throughout our lives, yet during this virus season I have been hearing it  more often.  Where is God?  How can I be sure He’s good?  Why?  How?

The summer of my 8th grade year I was sitting in evening chapel at summer camp. It had been a great week of swimming, worship, late night scary stories, and sunshine.  I remember it being later in the week, probably a Thursday.  It was ‘salvation’ night (or as some campers call it, cry night) and after four days and nights of building a relational connection, the speaker shared with us all about the gift of salvation through Jesus.

I had accepted Jesus into my heart at 7 years old, walking to the front at Vacation Bible School. Yet, as the speaker shared the opportunity to accept Jesus, I had raised my hand to respond.  I’m not really sure how many times I had done this before, but every time Jesus was offered, I responded.  I had to make sure.  I mean, I knew how much I sinned, and I wasn’t sure if I had committed the unforgivable sin…PLUS I didn’t want to miss out on eternal life.  So, each altar call, I responded.

The reason that particular chapel time stands out is because of what the speaker did when he was finished with the prayer.  He asked if any of us had ever asked Christ into our lives before but still felt we needed to ask again – just to be sure.  I remember thinking, how does he know?  Do I look guilty?

He encouraged us to stay after chapel if we had any questions. I almost didn’t stay, I mean, who wants to admit that they have doubts about Jesus?   I was nervous because I thought I’d be the only one, but I sucked it up and stayed.  There were about ten campers in our little circle in the front of chapel that night.

After everyone else had left the chapel, he smiled and sat down with us.  I remember being excited to have answers as he opened his Bible to Hebrews 13:5.

For God has said,  “I will never fail you.
    I will never abandon you.”

He reminded us of how loved we are and of God’s promise to the Hebrews – and to us. He shared more verses and patiently answered question after question, but my heart zeroed in on I will never abandon you. I had NO idea that was in there!  I can remember feeling relief and joy as we closed in prayer. My life was secure in His hands.

I wish I could remember the speakers name, I would thank him for taking time with a bunch of middle schoolers to explain that although this promise didn’t mean easy and pain free, it meant that God would be with us through it.  I have clung to this verse ever since.

In Hebrews, the author is reminding the readers in chapter 13 to live for Christ and shares this quote from Deuteronomy 31.  The Deuteronomy chapter is the recording of the words of Moses as he passes the leadership mantle to Joshua.  In both verses 6 and 8, Moses reminds Joshua to be strong and courageous reminding him that God wouldn’t fail him or abandon him.  He also told Joshua to not be discouraged or afraid.

The author of Hebrews knew that the readers would understand the words of God through Moses.  They had the benefit of hindsight and knew that God had honored his promise.  He hadn’t abandoned his people even when they failed him. Even when they abandoned him, God remained faithful.  The same God who honored his promise to his people then, honors his promise for his followers today.

We live in an uncertain world, preparing for whatever is next.  The words from Moses continue to stand true – God will not fail.   He will not abandon us – He is personally going ahead of us.  I continue to hold on the words of Moses shared by the author of Hebrews:

So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and
do not panic before them. For the Lord your
God will personally go ahead of you.
He will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
Duet. 31:6

A couple summers ago, I stood inside a circle of middle and high school campers.  I had shared the gospel in the Thursday night message and had invited anyone who felt that doubt – the need to respond just to be sure – to join me.   The circle was full of expectant eyes silently asking, how can I be sure?

I smiled and opened my Bible to Hebrews 13.

There are many moments that stand out to me as change moments in life and ministry.  A time when I either needed to quit or change my thinking and attitude.  None of them were pain free – believe me – but in hindsight the pain was worth it.

Before I was a parent, I sure thought I had it down.  I was a teacher, therefore I knew kids, right?  But, being part of a student’s life and being their parent are two very different things.  I was a part-time middle school leader at church when I learned the critical lesson – we don’t know what we don’t know.  Even though I had my own kids, they were under 8 years old meaning I had no idea what it was like to be a parent of a teenager.

That day as I hung up the phone, I slipped down onto my kitchen floor and cried.  I had never been chewed out so thoroughly by a parent. I felt humbled, hurt, surprised, and small.  She had every right to be angry and she made very valid points, all I wanted to do was quit.

It had been a great day at an amusement park, kids had a blast riding rides and eating junk food.  I had carefully put them in groups to go around the park, made check-in times, and sent them off to enjoy it.  They were in middle school; I was confident they could handle it.  This mother was not.  Although everyone returned tired and happy, she fully and thoroughly informed me of all the dangers at the park, how young middle schoolers are, and that any one of them could have been snatched and I wouldn’t have known until check-in time.  Her children had not been safe and she let me know that I was irresponsible.

Didn’t she know I gave my whole day to her kids?  Wasn’t she thankful I created this full day so her kids could have an adventure?  Maybe. Could the middle schoolers handle the park? Yes.  Was she right?  Yes.

Although the kids did great, her anger at me stemmed from the fear that something awful could have happened – I totally get it.  I can now see how scary a park like that can be and the trust it takes to send your child off on a trip – with anyone.

Dr. Henry Townsend tell us that “People don’t make other people angry.  Your anger has to come from something inside of you.” (Boundaries)   I have found that almost every time a parent has been angry with me the bottom line is fear for their child, their amazing gift from God, and whether founded or not doesn’t really matter.  The bottom line is that if they are unsure of the safety of their child with me it will hurt ministry, and that is on me.  Empathy, and good counsel, have helped me understand the fear that can lead to anger and that led to a better awareness of how to walk with parents.

In this case, I had to admit what I didn’t know and change my thinking. Do you need to realize you don’t know what you don’t know?   Like so many young youth workers I thought I knew exactly what I was doing, but I didn’t.  This was a turning point as I moved forward in ministry.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know – what was I going to do about it?

I had to realize they are her daughters, not mine, and I needed some help in understanding parents of teenagers.  I apologized to this mom and asked for her help.  She became a number one volunteer, graciously helping me in so many ways.

I could have quit, I could have just said deal with it, or I could humble my heart and realize I wasn’t a middle school parent.  Have you had a run in or conflict with a parent? With anyone?

Who’s right?
Does it matter?

Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation.
 Prov. 14:9

Proverbs tells us, the godly acknowledge the wrong and seek reconciliation. It’s one thing to acknowledge an issue but as followers of Jesus we are called to seek reconciliation – to heal relationships. This might mean that we don’t get to be right.   We need to humble ourselves, take that knowledge, and seek change not only in the relationship but in ourselves. In what area do you need a change of heart in order to reestablish or reconcile a relationship?

I know, great title right?  But for those of us that get motion sickness – this is real!

Sometimes change just makes me feel seasick –  the change that you see coming, don’t like, don’t want, and yet it’s coming. You know it’ll be hard, uncomfortable, and will most likely require growth.  It’s not that you don’t want to grow, but growth requires change and you would rather just pick a different way to learn it.

My husband, Bill, is a Master Diver.  In fact, he calls himself a “Diva” Diver.  He has all the gadgets and gizmos, wet suits and a dry bag, tanks, and a mask with his eye prescription in it.  I think he would live underwater if he could.   He is fascinated by all of it: the colors, sea creatures, the water, the quiet, the shipwrecks. I, however, have no desire to be that far underwater.  I think coral is pretty but I really don’t need to see it up close.  I like fish – in a tank or on my plate.  The main reason for this – I really don’t like to swim.  I don’t mind a pool or even a lake now and then, but I really don’t have any desire to hang out and be wet.  Another reason major factor – I get seasick…easily.

I do try – really!  Bill would love it if I enjoyed it like he does, but I’m perfectly content in my beach chair reading a book while he explores under the sea.

Why share all that?  Because on a trip to Jamaica a couple years ago, God gave me interesting perspective on change that I continue to hold on to.  We were staying at a great resort and I thought it would be nice to at least snorkel with my husband in that incredibly blue water.  Off we went, my full-face snorkeling mask, cool swim shirt, fins, and life jacket.  Anyone on the boat would have thought that we did this all the time.  As we got in the water, everything was going great.  We saw colorful fish, beautiful purple coral, and reefs full of sea creatures.  But, after only 15 minutes of snorkeling, my stomach was done.  The motion of the waves did me in – and I really did take my medicine!

For those of us that suffer from motion sickness, we know the drill.  Fresh air, deep breaths, find the horizon and lock on.  I laid back in the water and looked at the blue mountains of Jamaica as my husband teetered between the desire to snorkel or stay with me.  He stayed with me – good man.

As I looked up at the mountains, God brought this verse to mind:

I look up to the mountains –  does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 121:1-2

My help was literally coming from the mountains – but I know my true help comes from the Lord. Motion sickness occurs when our balance-sensing system senses that our body is moving but our eyes say we are not.  We have to look at something that stabilizes this for our eyes and helps us see the movement while focusing on something stationary.  It gives our bodies a sense of balance.

I think that change can affect us the same way.  Our balancing system senses that things are happening and taking us off-kilter, the imbalance threatens to take us down.  Just like I needed to that day in the water, we need to pause, breathe deep, and lock onto the horizon.

Loss, divorce, transition, a new baby, or even a new home can throw us off balance.  We can put on a good face and get in the water but it isn’t long before we can’t really move forward. Life is overwhelming and we can physically feel it. That’s when the words from this Psalm really come into play.

Just as Bill helped me back to the boat and encouraged me every stroke of the way, our Maker does the same.  He created the horizon that doesn’t falter, He is our constant help. He stabilizes us, reminding us to breathe.  He didn’t promise us a life without change but he does promise that He is with us. My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

Are you in the midst of unsettling change?   One way to fight seasickness it to adjust your position.  I had to adjust my position to overcome my upset tummy that day in Jamaica which was fairly simple.  I realize that whatever change you face may require much more. What do you need to adjust so that you can navigate the waters ahead? And as you adjust…remember,  He is your help.  You are not alone.



As I entered the preteen ministry space that Sunday morning, I discovered a gaggle of girls in the sound booth with their leader.  They were full of life and laughter pretending to be DJs and as I rounded the corner they flocked around all speaking at once.

“Aren’t you the lady that was speaking the other week?” a bright brown-eyed girl asked.  As I began to answer, another girl spoke up, “You talked about grace.”  I nodded.

Every now and then, there’s a moment- a moment when it’s like something has unlocked and become profound and you feel a quiet knowing.

The brown-eyed girl, hand on her hip, said, “Yeah, last week I told my parents they needed some grace.”  “Oh really?” I inquired smiling. We shared a few words about the rings given out that morning and then they were off, as young girls will do.

I was happy the girls remembered the message from two weeks earlier– that in itself was pretty great – but that wasn’t the moment that hit me.

I grew up in the church, attended Christians schools all the way up, even taught in the Christian school system.  Although they were great places of learning and encouragement, it never entered my mind that I would someday be standing with young ladies talking about a sermon I had given.  Being a woman in the pulpit just wasn’t in my realm of thinking when God called me into ministry, I hadn’t ever had that modeled for me, it never occurred to me that I should.

Throughout my years of teaching in youth ministry, I found that I really loved leading and teaching students – but the main service still felt daunting. I was teaching men and my upbringing had instilled in me ‘my place’ without ever really saying outright – this is a man’s role .  But I knew that whenever I gave a message, whether to students or adults, there was a feeling of rightness – of being where God wanted me to be.

I know that gender does not determine call or gifting and it doesn’t determine mine.  It has taken me years to acknowledge my anointing, years of stretching into what God has called and gifted me to do as I pushed passed the ceiling placed there by others.    As a woman, I know what I am called and anointed to do yet it had been hard for me to fully embrace it.  I am blessed to serve in a church community that affirms my gifts.

That Sunday morning with 4-5th grade girls I felt a quiet knowing.  It was that sense of knowing I had finally become confident in what God has gifted me to do.  I’m not sure when it happened, but in that moment I knew it was there.  Have you ever felt that?  I pray you have.  It’s a moment when God gives you a sense that you are doing what he has created you to do and it matters.

For these girls, my speaking in Big Church is a normal part of their world.  They are a part of a church that acknowledges the call of women to preach and has a bench of women that fill the pulpit.  It hasn’t occurred to them that they can’t be whatever God calls them to because they are girls.  They are excited to be at church, are being raised to know Jesus, and may someday be called to serve him in a pastor role.   I get to be a part of that – an example of an area that God may call them to one day.  What a gift it was that morning to feel God smile – may we continue to empower young women and men to follow God’s call on their lives wherever it takes them.


Curious about the message the girls remembered?  You can watch it here: The Gospel within the Gospel

How do I talk to God? 

This is a simple but critical question students, and adults, ask all the time.  As a student ministry leader, I didn’t want one student to leave our ministry without knowing the answer to this question because they had learned it, used it, experienced it.  I bet it’s the same for you. There are so many books on this (and I encourage you to check them out) but here just a few ideas that we use to help our students experience prayer.

What follows are three ideas from our youth group, they’re not new or revolutionary but it they really us help us maintain an atmosphere of prayer.

  1. The Prayer Chair.

A prayer chair is a simple wooden chair, that is used by a small group for intentional prayer.  The chair is put in the middle of the group and anyone, leader or student, may sit in the chair and ask for prayer.  The request needs to be personal or directly connected to the person in the chair, not ‘my friend’s Aunt’s sister’s dog’ kind of request.  Once the request is given, the group prays for the person. We have used Waterfall Prayer, which is everyone praying out loud all at once.  Popcorn Prayer, which are prayers popping up from different people one at a time.  Or, one Leader or student prays. 

After the prayer, the person puts their name tag on the chair as a reminder.  (Yes, we use name tags every week.)  For the weeks that follow, their name is a reminder to check in on the issue and see how God is at work.  The chair stays with the group as they move up through ministry.  The chair pictured here was actually gifted from a senior class to a freshmen class so that they could  build on the prayers before them.  Those freshmen are now seniors, this chair holds eight years of prayers!

  1. Prayer Circles.

Mark Batterson’s book The Circle Maker changed my prayer world.  The idea of circling a person, a place, or even an idea challenged me to put physical steps around my words.  It helps me create holy space.  Hula Hoops work great to help visualize this.  At retreats, the worship team circles the room and draws a spiritual line around the space for God’s anointing and protection.  At camp, we circle the space for worship to draw a spiritual line around the learning and lives we are entrusted with for the week.  When I speak in big church, I walk a circle around the worship center drawing a spiritual line around the hearts of those that will come – asking God to help them hear what they need to hear whether I say it or not.

On trips, and in team meetings especially, we circle up and pray.  Leaders circle up and pray every week by linking our arms and standing together.  It’s a symbol of team, linked in Christ, standing together for our students.  On mission trips the entire team will link up for community, connection, and strength.  It’s a reminder that we are all one in Christ.  On trips, the first day in the circle is pretty quick and quiet, but by the end of the week we could pray all day as students and leaders pray out loud over everything.

Another part of circle prayer that is amazing to me is the laying on of hands.  In a world where touch is questioned and often not given, we can lay on hands in prayer showing care and connection to the person.  If you’ve ever stood in a circle and had the laying of hands on you, then you know the incredible power and deep feelings of community this brings.

As with all prayer, pray expectantly.  Look for the answers and celebrate them, no matter the answer.  Depend on them.

  1. Prayer Stations.

We all have different ways that we connect to God.  At my first National Youth Workers Convention years ago, I was able to walk a labyrinth and experience a prayer room. This rocked my world!  I loved the guided labyrinth and the physical responses to God in prayer in the prayer room that I hadn’t ever experienced before.  I enjoyed the personal creative ways that I could rest and listen as I worked with my hands, touched water, looked at art, or tore cloth.  I knew that if this worked in me differently, it would connect for students as well.  From the beginning, I’ve incorporated full experiential nights into ministry.  We need to touch, taste, smell, feel, and hear in different ways as we discover more of God.

I’ve always loved seeing how students use art to express their hearts in ways their words can’t seem to.  It’s a window into what’s there.  If art and music aren’t your thing, remember that you lead students that might need this outlet to connect to God in greater ways.

My son connects to everything through art and music.  When he hit middle school, I could see that he was struggling to do everything verbally – what he needed to be able to do is share through his hands.  His art spoke volumes…and so did many other students. 

Having art supplies, journals, prints of art, and a great playlist are fairly easy to put together yet so often we default to the simple message and questions.  Creating experiential moments takes time yet Brene Brown said once that creativity is the way that what is in our heads moves into our hearts.  It’s also the other way around, it helps us move what is in our hearts into our heads. 

As we walk with students in ministry, this is our hope right?  We pray that the movement of knowledge into lives of faith and the movement of heart-felt experiences into lives of trust will be a part of our student’s spiritual journey.

There are so many resources on prayer stations; the Book of Uncommon Prayer, Imaginative Prayer, Experiential Prayer, and more.  Use them.  They take work to set up, some planning and personal preparation but the effort is worth it.  The more you practice it, the more relaxed students will be in it.  The more open they become.  It’s also teaching them ways to connect with God that they can use long after they leave our ministries.

Pray with eyes wide open.  Pray in response.  Pray expectantly.

Do you pray expectantly?  What or who do you need to circle in prayer?

When your students graduate, do they know the value of prayer and incorporate this practice into their lives?

There’s no wrong way to pray, there’s no perfect way to pray – the point is – to pray.


Title Photo by Diana Simumpande on Unsplash

What do you want to be known for?  One of the things I would love to be known for is that I pray and have encouraged, taught, and experienced prayer in my life. Not because I think it’s all about me, but to know that I sought to depend on God in every circumstance and led others to do the same. I’m not there yet, but I can’t think of a better thing to be known for.

We know Jesus prayed.  He went off alone to pray (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16 and more).  He taught his disciples how to pray (Matthew 6:9-13).  He prayed before meals (Mark 6:41, Luke 22:17-19) and he prays for us (John 17:9).  I can just imagine Peter and John watching Jesus as he heads to the small hill behind the home of Mary and Martha.  They have seen him do this many times; he is going to talk to his Father. They watch as he paces, gestures with his hands, and speaks with his Dad before lying back on the grassy hill and resting in it.  They are having a holy conversation.  Prayer.

I believe that part of our job in ministry, and as parents, is to help teach and practice the disciplines that will help those we lead walk with Jesus long after they leave our ministries or homes.  I have learned that prayer is a key discipline for my own walk, so therefore it has become one of the key elements to teach and practice in ministry. The best ministry, the best parenting, flows out of what we have learned or are experiencing with Jesus.

Prayer is one of those mysterious elements of faith.  We, little-human-us, get to talk with the Almighty Creator God.  Think about that.  Little me and you, specks in the Universe, can talk with the Lord God Almighty and He actually wants to hear from us!  That blows my mind.  Another mystery, He answers. I’m not always a great listener, but I aspire to become able to hear his quiet whispers as well as I hear the loud words He speaks.

I wasn’t always this way.  I prayed, read my Bible, and served but I can see, looking back, that I didn’t truly value prayer.  I hadn’t yet experienced a level of connection in prayer that would change how I prayed.  I knew I was talking with God, I knew that Jesus prayed, but I have to say that I didn’t honestly respect the miracle we have by being able to have conversations with God.

What do you believe about prayer?

Prayer is defined as a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or an object of worship (that’s the internet dictionary).  If you’re reading this, then you might know Jesus and have some kind of prayer in your life. You might even say you believe prayer is important, because it’s talking to God, and some of you may even say it’s foundational to your life.

I think there can be a lack of understanding about what prayer is and how valuable it is to our walk with Jesus.  Prayer is simple, it’s communication with Jesus.  It’s speaking and listening to the Lord Most HIgh. It is a discipline, it is a gift, and it can be learned.

When it comes to prayer, I never really doubted God could answer and even do miracles through prayer.  But, if I’m honest, I really believed that for other people.  It’s one thing to know God will answer someone else’s prayer, it’s another to know he’ll answer yours.

Now, ask yourself, do I do it?  I mean, I hope so – especially for your own walk with Jesus but I have found many people that believe in Jesus don’t actually find time to talk with Him. Maybe like me, you’ve noticed that when you’re busier, or life is good,  you seem to forget this discipline and when you’re in need you cling to it like a life preserver.  We all do, even the disciples did this at times. 

When my daughter was born, my son was three years old.  He had been experiencing night terrors as so many toddlers do and during that first week with a new baby, he woke us up screaming.  My mom was staying with us so she quick went to our daughter as we ran to my son.  He was inconsolable and overwhelmed with fear.  My husband picked him up as I went to make sure my mom was ok. I found her rocking our sweet baby and praying. 

When I got back to my son’s room, I found my husband sitting on the floor with our son in his arms, I could tell he felt helpless. Our little three-year-old’s body writhing in a fear we couldn’t understand. Then, we realized we needed to pray.  I know, that should have been our first thought, but at least we came to it.  I laid my hands alongside my husband’s on our son as he commanded fear to leave in the name of Jesus.  As soon as he said Amen, my son went quiet and was sound asleep.  No lie!  We learned our lesson.  Every night as we tucked our kids into bed, we prayed protection in Jesus’ name.  There has never been another night terror in our home.  I have read that we are in a battle against principalities and I knew it was true. When that becomes a reality in the bedroom of your child, you pay attention!  Jesus also tells us to ask in His name and we will receive.  The reality of this moment became a defining point in my life.  The power of Jesus and the understanding that he hears is truly amazing.

If you believe in prayer and you do it…do you teach it?  Model it?

By that I mean, do you create purposeful practices, experiences, and expectations around this spiritual discipline?  Do you incorporate it all the time or is it a one shot moment that helps you check the box and move on? 

1 Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to make our life a prayer.  (TPT).  Pray continually.  What if we did that?  It seems to me that most families only pray together over meals and bedtime.  Since many families don’t seem to have time for meals together, this would limit prayer opportunities.  Bedtime prayers with parents fall away when either the child or the parent decides it’s time to end that ritual because the child is old enough to do it themselves.  Kids know that God listens to their prayers as children, but when they get older, they seem to lose sight of this.  Whether it’s because parents stop modeling it or the church hasn’t helped them practice, we have an opportunity to help those around us learn the value and necessity of prayer.  I believe it is a completely under-utilized part of many ministries and families.

I’ve had incredible role models in my life.   When I was little and got up early, I would find my mom in the living room sitting in her favorite chair spending time the Jesus.  We weren’t allowed to interrupt, in fact, if we came into the room she would just pray a bit louder so that we’d know that we needed to wait.  If we didn’t get the hint, she would pray louder.  Jesus came first. I didn’t value my time with Jesus like she did back then, but she was teaching me an important priority.  My dad has always led with prayer. He faithfully modeled this and continues to today.  As I got older, I began to understand the value of their time with God.  I didn’t necessarily do it but I couldn’t say I didn’t know of it.

In college, I did the whole pray when you need something kind of prayers and I tried to start a habit of prayer many times. It’s so apparent when someone is praying out of a relationship or praying out of duty.  There was something different about the way they prayed that I wanted.  I knew my parents had it, but I came to desire that kind of connection for myself.  I discovered how you get there – practice, belief, and trust. 

I wanted the be able to pray with the expectancy and urgency of someone that realizes the incredible power and wonder of God.  I wanted to hear him and see his answers.  Don’t we all?  The more I dove into prayer, the more I realized I had to learn but I did know that if I wanted this, others probably did as well.

Over time, I began to incorporate prayer into ministry in more meaningful ways so that students were learning how to pray as well as experience the precious gift it is to talk with God.  Jesus died so that we could have direct access to his Father, a real on-going relationship. When we pray, we are utilizing one of the very things Jesus died for.  As we pray, our eyes are more open and we look expectantly for answers.   The first tangible answer to a prayer is so powerful for everyone.  It’s that moment when we realize that God really did hear us and we need to take note and remember for those times when we feel like God isn’t listening. I wanted students to have those moments like I had – not only like the one in my son’s bedroom but so many more.

One of my underlying goals in student ministry was to help students practice, experience, and prioritize prayer.  We get to talk with and listen to the God of the Universe and I wanted students do know how incredible and powerful this is!  What isn’t practiced, isn’t kept.  If you feel you always have to be the one to pray, then your students will grow to believe that you have to be the leader in order to have a voice in prayer.  If you never expect students to pray out loud for each other, they might not discover the incredible blessing of praying over someone else’s needs.  If you don’t pray expectantly, then you won’t see the answers. I have found that although I can teach on prayer, it’s more powerful to actually just pray and, through that, we teach. 

We have prayed for God to bring people to events with a specific number and watched as he delivered.  I’ve also seen prayers for healing that God chose to answer in different ways.  I’ve watched as God changed the direction of rain storms and I’ve stood soaking wet  in cold rain. We expect students to use their voices to speak into it and we allow quiet.  The point, pray.  When it begins to be the first line of defense, the first way to help, and the first reaction to a problem – then we’ve made a dent.

People that pray together, stay together.  This isn’t a new phrase but it is still true.  The more our students and leaders pray together, the more we pray as families, the more connected we are to each other and Christ.

Pray with eyes wide open. 
Pray in response. 
Pray expectantly.

May you discover the wealth of blessing that comes as you bring everything to the Lord in prayer.  Not because he answers like you’ve asked, but because it gives him your trust and control.  If you pray, then you get it.  If not, I challenge you to begin. My mom is a bit over 80 years old as I write this and she would say that she still wants more through prayer…it’s the example I seek to follow. 

Did you know this?  I didn’t know this!  In preparing for a study of 1 John, I was doing some word research to share with those in the study.  As I studied the word love, which is so prevalent in 1 John, I came to see that John specifically uses one word for love in almost the entire letter –  AGAPE.  Ok, maybe you did know that…but keep reading.

I’ve heard this word many times, received teaching on it, and have shared on it myself.  Agape is one of the Greek words for love in Scripture.  There are four different words in the Bible for our one word in English and they each have a different meaning.

  • Storge— think family love, or the love a pet. It’s a love anyone can feel and it’s comfortable and comforting.  C.S. Lewis described it as a soft blanket that wraps around you.
  • Philia or phileo—think friendship bond – community and care, at one level this can be a friendship born from shared experiences to that deep friendship you have with a friend you haven’t seen for years yet can pick up right where you left off.
  • Eros— sexual, romantic love,  which can be amazing but it’s also distorted at times, fluid at others, and is conditional.  It’s still a beautiful thing, but often not a lasting state in a relationship.
  • Agape—unconditional love – sacrificial, unbiased, limitless

One commentary pointed out something that I hadn’t realized before.  He stated that Jesus used the word agape in the New Testament but the word agape is not found in this form in the Old Testament. Not that the word didn’t exist, but that it hadn’t appeared in Scripture up to this point.  So I dove deeper and discovered that the word agape is first used in Scripture by Jesus as he spoke to his disciples.  Before this, there isn’t record of it.  Did Jesus introduce his disciples to a new way to understand this word for love?

John uses this new word often in his gospel along with the word phileo, while the other gospels don’t use it as much. For instance, Mark uses the word agape 4 times in his gospel but John uses it 27 times in his.  Why?  It made me wonder, did John call himself the one Jesus loved (agape) because he actually “got it”.  Did he realize the incredible love Jesus had for them, that Jesus loved unconditionally, sacrificially, and fully while others were still didn’t quite see it like he did?

Agape is directionless, holds no biases. All the other “loves” have a direction to them but agape is love open to all.  Agape is limitless, endless.  The more we love, the more it expands. Agape is condition-less and is fully experienced when we let go of conditions and limits.

John didn’t write his gospel until much later in life, in fact he wrote his letters around the same time as his gospel. As he reflected on the story of Jesus, he seems overwhelmed with the thought of how much Jesus loved him.  His identity isn’t John – apostle; it’s John – loved by Jesus.  His first letter is FULL of the use of the word agape.  He desperately wants the people to understand that Jesus’ love is what sets them apart.

As I got to thinking about this word and where we find it in the gospels, I was reminded of Jesus’ early morning conversation with Peter on a beach after the resurrection which is only recorded in John 21:15-17 .   As Jesus asked Peter, do you agape me – Peter answers, I phileo you.  This is often used against Peter but – think about it – agape is a such a big word.  Peter had totally messed up and he doesn’t comprehend that Jesus could have agape love for him but he knows phileo love (a deep bond love) and that’s what he uses.  (Keep in mind that Peter is the one that John Mark is writing for – and Mark uses agape only 4 times.  Therefore, my impression is that Peter doesn’t relay this word often in his sharing with John Mark because he stayed true to his walk at that time.)  It isn’t until he is filled with the Holy Spirit that Peter seems to fully understand the kind of love Jesus has for everyone.

As the conversation goes forward, Jesus closes with –  Peter, do you phileo me?  Jesus isn’t compromising, he’s speaking a word that Peter does understand.  His three questions offset the three denials, yet Jesus is also reminding Peter how to love.  Jesus is like that; he pushes us to new understandings yet he is willing to meet us where we are.

As John recounts the story, I think he shares the difference in the use of the words for love because it matters.  John hits this home in 1 John as he seeks to help his readers know that agape love is the element that sets Jesus apart, it’s the love that changes lives,  and it’s the love we are called to share as his followers.

Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us. 1 John 4:19 (TPT)

So, no, Jesus probably didn’t create a new word culturally, but he gave it a whole new intentional meaning that was meant to help us realize his deep love for us.  He was the embodiment of Agape, living among us.  His love is forgiving and open.  No conditions, no limits, no biases.  Just love.  And He loves me and He loves you like this!  This overwhelms me, humbles me, and challenges me to be more like Him.  What about you?

Jesus loves you with full Agape – how does knowing that affect you?

You are loved.


I can remember it like yesterday.  My husband had been let go from his job due to restructuring, I was just starting a master’s program while working full-time in ministry, my kids were barely teens and we were struggling to make ends meet.  The disappointment of saying no to drum lessons, the checking of the bank account and putting a few groceries back on the shelf, the hurt in my daughter’s face as I said no to a play date because I didn’t have the gas to get her there and still get to work the next day were very real.  The reality of humbly borrowing money to make the mortgage, trying to make the simple, inexpensive gifts seem more than they were.

Financial change is hard.  It’s amazing how many things in our world depend on money.  As I sat in my chair one August morning, I remember feeling overwhelmed.  We had gone from living comfortably to just keeping our heads above water in a matter of months.  I watched other families take their kids school shopping without thought, while I had to figure out how to explain that this year we would be shopping at the thrift store and making the shoes last a bit longer.  Don’t get me wrong, thrift store shopping can be fun, unless it’s the only place you can shop…that changes everything.

On that morning, God brought me to Matthew 6.

 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Matthew 6:28-34

The questions were so real – what will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?  These were my actual worries.  How would I find the money for groceries that week?  My kids were growing and needed new shoes, where would the money come from?  God whispered to me through those verses, I know your needs.  I’ve got you and your family.  Seek me, let me show you how I can care for you.  The tears flowed as I let the truth of Jesus’ words sink into my heart.  It was a new level of trust for me in my walk with God.

I’d love to say my husband got a job the next day, but he didn’t.  He felt God calling him to start his own business which meant many more months of schooling and training before he would begin to make an income.  Yet, we sought to remain faithful.  It wasn’t easy but I can tell you God knew our needs.  Brand new boots in just my kids’ sizes showed up at my door, a check in the exact amount I needed to pay for a school bill came in the mail from a source we didn’t expect, a loan was forgiven, and I could go on and on.

I learned a lot through those years of pinching pennies and sacrifice.  Humility, understanding, budgeting, and how to take joy in small things.  Change brings new perspectives, and this was no exception.  I understand how easy it is to find yourself homeless, I know the feeling of returning bottles for groceries and standing in line at the food truck, asking for help to pay for a prescription.  May I never forget what that feels like as I walk with families that are walking that journey today.

A few months ago, my now grown son and I had an interesting conversation in the kitchen. Somehow the conversation came around to when he was younger and I said, “I’m sorry we weren’t able to give you more opportunities during those years.” I was feeling shame over all the things that we couldn’t give him.  He said this, “Mom, don’t feel that way.  You taught me that God provides.”  Wow, who knew? I sure didn’t.  It was a shame and hurt I had carried a long time and God reminded me in that moment that shame isn’t how he works – that was all me. That simple kitchen chat healed a long time hurt that I carried even though my son didn’t. Oh, how God provides!

Financial change can really challenge our trust in God’s provision. Maybe you’ve found yourself feeling forced to put your faith where your pocketbook is, and that’s often a hard place to give up control.  Yet, I encourage you to hold onto Matthew 6.  Jesus meant it when he said, the Father knows all you need.  Seek him first and he will give it to you.

God is faithful. He hears you. You are loved.

If you are in a time of financial change, are you remaining faithful in your tithing?  What kind of attitude do you bring to your day as you learn to live with less?

We tend to lean out rather than in when life gets hard.  I’ve watched people blame God or withhold from God during seasons of hardship and I’ve wanted to do the same. How about you?  Do you find it easier to blame God then trust him?  If you’re in a season of struggle, with whatever issue it is that you face, are you staying in the Word?

One of the most important things I learned from that season, is the power of God’s Word to speak into our lives and I found His Word to be trustworthy and true.  He has promises for you as well.  Lean in, ask, see what God will do.

I love trees. Oak, apple, willow, maple, elm, they all have a beauty that fills our world with texture, shade, and life.   There is something about the majesty of the tall trunks and branches everywhere that moves my heart.  The wind in the leaves, the snow on the branches, or the full bloom of apple blossoms all bring a sense of being and wonder at the world God created.  As I look at seasons, I can only think of trees.  Trees, in Michigan, change with seasons.  They reflect the world around them yet they continue to stand uniquely in their own spot whether in the bare branches of winter, the buds of spring, the full foliage of summer or the elaborate colors of fall.  Trees pull their life from the roots and ground, they spread their branches to the light and are covered in the rough bark that protects the life within.

In the fall, the wind pushes through the trees making branches sway and leaves fall.  The orange and red colors float to the ground as other leaves hold on tight not quite ready to let go.  Yet, even though the leaves will all eventually fall, the tree remains.  It’s trunk reaching upward while the branches stretch and tangle with others.  We know why trees sway but don’t fall easily – it’s their roots.  The unseen arms that reach down into the earth and create the foundation the tree stands on.  And even though the leaves die off, the trunk holds onto life for a future season of growth and green.

You can probably already feel the analogy here – we are so like trees with our seasons and need for strong roots.  We feel the bareness of winter and the full bloom of spring.  Our bark can show the signs of life and carry a few scars.  Yet, we stand reflecting the season we’re in as we look to the next one wondering how long it will last. Change is our wind. It makes us sway and loose leaves at times.  We sway with conflict or transitions, we let some relationships fall while others seem to hold tighter.  The key to sustaining life through seasons is our roots.  The unseen arms that reach deep within to the places where faith and trust dwell.  And even when it seems all our leaves have fallen, the roots give life to our core that promises a future of life, growth, and even smiles.

As temperatures drop, our world looks different, we feel like we’ve lost something, and yet we cling onto the leaves we have for as long as we can.  That’s change.   We’ve all experienced change and if you’ve lived life for any amount of time, you’ve learned one thing is certain, change will always come.  We can handle, even like, the change we see coming, mostly because we’re prepared for it.  It’s the unexpected change that often turns our worlds upside down. It’s a move from what you felt was ‘normal’ to something that’s, well, not.

In the summer of 2007, God gave me these simple words.

Love them.
Love them well.
Help them to love themselves.
Empower them to love others.

It’s the great commandment – yet it’s my call.  I’ve always felt driven to love well, and when it comes to kids/students – I feel driven to help them see the loveable selves God made them to be.  We all need help in this.  I found, as many do, that when we empower students/adults to love others – they in turn learn to love themselves and discover purpose and meaning.  It’s all tied together.

Yet, in each season of life and ministry, these simple mandates can become so hard.  In each season; seasons of change, burnout, growth, and firehose busyness, I’ve discovered that these words ring out loud and clear.  Jesus was pretty smart – actually genius right?

Take a breath and remember that although change can be harsh and unexpected it can also be beautiful.  Think of Spring and the beauty of new growth, think of Summer and sunsets. Whatever changes you’re going through, I can’t say everything will be fine, but I can say that God is good and He is at work.


A Woman In Red

Her image kept coming to mind.  A woman in red.  Red headscarf, red dress, a smile. That’s it, no defining face or figure, just an impression that she was waiting for us.  Over the months of preparation, her image continued to come as I prayed with the team for our upcoming trip.

We had been invited, in conjunction with World Missions and Zoe Waters, to lead a women’s conference in Fissel, Senegal.  Fissel is an hour and a half van ride from Mbour just outside of Dakkar.  Pastor Albert had invited us to come and lead the women in his community in their first ever women’s conference.

As day one of the conference opened before us, we prayed and wondered if anyone would come.  This isn’t a place with internet marketing or Facebook boosts.  Yet, as women arrived to the cement block church full of plastic chairs, the room began to fill.  Many had started walking at sunrise, in the heat, to be to the conference on time.  Women who never really have time to get together, women hungry for discipleship, women willing to stay the night on a cement church floor just to hear God’s truths.  As I looked at their faces, it was overwhelming.  Women with babies strapped on their backs, women sitting on wooden benches with no support (for hours), a couple younger women serving the older by walking around with a shared cup of water as the heat increased throughout the day.  Women who love Jesus, who wanted to know Jesus, and who want their children to know him.

While one of our ladies was teaching, I had the opportunity to just observe the women and pray as they listened.  Then, I saw her.  Esther.  My eyes grew wide as I realized she was dressed completely in red. No other woman had red on – just Esther.  She looked beautiful.  And, I knew her.

When we had arrived in Senegal a few days earlier, it was a Sunday morning.  As a team, we were able to attend a church in Mbour and connect with the pastor and his family.  His wife, Alice, and two other women from his church cared for us that first day through meal preparation, kindness, and prayer.  Esther was one of those women.  While we were together, we had learned Esther’s story.

As a follower of Jesus, Esther had paid a high price.  By choosing Jesus, her family had cut her off and her husband divorced her.  She was alone.  Yet, as I watched her across the room in her amazing red dress, I could see the peace and joy radiating from her face.  Later as I shared with her that I had been praying for her specifically for the past five months, we shed tears of amazement and wonder at how God works.

Just like the Esther of Scripture, she had left her family to be with the King and she continues to come to her King for reassurance and love.   Her faith comes from the deep places, one that says she knows hardship but chooses joy. Her life is hard, yet she smiles.

The theme of the conference was; You are loved.  It was our hope to encourage these women to know their incredible worth in Christ and his love.  As we closed the conference on the second day, we were able to tell each woman personally how loved they were as we placed a necklace around their necks that read, I am loved (in French).    Placing that necklace around Esther’s neck is a moment I’ll always remember.  A sister in Christ, on the other side of the world, she taught me so much about faith and sacrifice. 

Women walked miles to hear of Jesus, they applauded the words of Scripture, and they drank in the truths of forgiveness and grace.  As a part of World Missions, we were able to give each woman an audio Bible (Treasure), in their own language. The Treasures will allow them to experience the Word of God personally in a culture that is illiterate.  Children will be raised hearing Scripture.  Generations will shift because God’s Word is being heard and shared, discussed and believed.

I’m humbled to have been able to play a small part in it all and it has led to ask myself some hard questions as a Jesus follower, a parent, and a leader in ministry.  Maybe they’ll make you think as well?

  • What am I willing to do to hear the Word of God? Would I walk a mile?  Would I walk 30?  (one man walked 35 miles to come to our women’s conference – can you even imagine?)
  • How much do I take reading my Bible for granted? Is it a pearl of great price?
  • What am I willing to do to help my children connect to a Christian community and learn more of God?
  • Am I willing, here in my own city, to share Jesus? Not metaphorically, not to a group, not just though actions, but with a simple look-them-in-the-eye question that asks –Do you want to know Jesus?

Oh Jesus, may I never take for granted the wonder and access I have to Your Word.  May I realize the privilege it is to be able to read and share it.  May I never back down from showing my kids who you are and do whatever is necessary to point them to you.  And, most importantly, may I never hesitate to share your gift.