Set the Captives Free

My Country, Tis’ of Thee

America the Beautiful

God Bless America

The Star Spangled Banner

Patriotic songs are one thing our country does well.

This week while eating lunch, my girls and I watched a children’s DVD titled, Songs of America by Cedarmont Kids. Included in this collection of songs was the Battle Hymn of the Republic (Glory, Glory Hallelujah!)

I know I’ve heard this song a hundred times, but this time, as we watched, the fifth stanza of this classic American song caught my attention.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.

As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

When I heard these lyrics my heart swelled with pride not just for my country but for my God, for the way He transfigures, for the way He makes us holy.

Our God is marching on. And while this is a perilous time in our nation’s history, our God is still Lord of all. He still transfigures. He still makes us holy. And there are men and women still fighting for this country, for us, and for freedom.

And I wonder, as an American and a follower of Christ what am I willing to lie down, to die to, so that my fellow man can be free? My pride? My fear? My sense of comfort?

Because we are at war and there are people all over our neighborhoods, our communities, our schools,  our churches,  our workplaces, our country, our world, who are living in bondage, who are desperate to be free.

Your neighbor. Your hairstylist. Your daughter’s teacher. Your son’s coach. Your boss. Your co-worker. Your sister. Your brother. Your best friend.

Everywhere; Young, old, rich, poor, our nation, our world is teeming with people who need to be rescued by soldiers of Christ and the truth of His saving grace.

Perhaps the best way to celebrate this Fourth of July isn’t in eating hot dogs or watching fireworks. Perhaps it’s in making a sacrifice, be it big or small, so that someone in your world can experience the love of Christ.

We all know that freedom isn’t free. It was bought for us with the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and in terms of our nation, with the precious blood of countless American heroes. It is a gift from our past, a privilege for the present, and a responsibility for our future.

On this Fourth of July, what are you willing to die for? What are you willing to sacrifice so that others can know the love, the saving grace, of Jesus? What are you willing to do to set the captives can be free?

Crazy Love

Last week my brother-in-law, Jeff, called with a special request. He and his wife, Crystal, had been given a chance to go on a missions trip to Joplin, Missouri and they needed to find someone to watch their son Zach.

Having just moved to Michigan, their list of possible babysitters was pretty short. At first I felt a bit hesitant. In terms of “babysitting,” a week seemed like a long time, but then I realized what a special opportunity this was.

Jeff, Crystal, and Zach have lived in Pennsylvania for the past two years, and my time with my sweet nephew has been limited. With this in mind, my hesitancy vanished as I became excited for this time with Zach.

When I broached the subject with my husband I was surprised that he didn’t seem as excited as I was. I could tell he was questioning my sanity and wondering how I was going to handle three children, four and under, all day, every day, for a whole week.

In need of some advice, I sent a text to my sister:

I know you are often willing to help out your friends by babysitting their kids, and sometimes I tell you you’re crazy for doing it, but, ultimately, I know you do it because you want to be a blessing. Do you think I’m doing the right thing by agreeing to keep Zach?

My sister wrote back with the words I needed to hear:

Yes, you are!  And everyone will survive. You will have your moments. Breathe deeply, smile, and find something to laugh about.

The Lord has been working in my heart lately on reaching out to those around us. It has been neat to see some of the opportunities He has brought my way. They are never convenient, but if I wait until a time when they are, I will live in my own little world.

I am SLOWLY learning that often times I perceive things to be overwhelming when really they don’t need to be. I can put a lot of pressure on myself when I set the standard at perfection.

My sister’s response encouraged and challenged me. I began to question what my own standard tends to be. When opportunities to reach out to others come my way, I, too, tend to feel overwhelmed or caught by the standard of perfection.

As I thought about these tendencies I remembered God’s command in Luke 10:27.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (NIV)

In the end, love is the standard. Love for God, love for myself, love for others. It really is that simple.

Perhaps my decision to take care of Zach was a little crazy, but sometimes “crazy” is a good sign that you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes the only craziness we need to worry about is the craziness of our love.

After all, it’s crazy love that is willing to:

Keep your neighbor’s kids for a Saturday afternoon so that she can get caught up after a long week at work

Invite the co-worker who is going through a difficult divorce over for coffee or even to church

Mow the lawn of the elderly couple down the street

Spend that bonus check buying groceries and diapers for a single mom

Clean a friend’s house as she recovers from an illness

Use this year’s vacation serving others on a mission’s trip in your part of the globe or across the world

Say,  “I’m sorry” or say, “You’re forgiven”

I know I have been loved with God’s crazy love. I  know I can crazy love others. And this is the economy of God: When I am willing to be the blessing, I am the one who is blessed.


NetI’ve been thinking a lot this week about fathers, and daughters, and memories.

Partly because Father’s Day is this Sunday.

Partly because a dear friend lost her dad this week to pancreatic cancer.

And partly because my husband tore down my old basketball goal on Wednesday night.

Perhaps you’re wondering what a basketball hoop has to do with fathers, daughters, and memories. Well, in the case of my dad and me, this particular basketball hoop meant everything.

My mom said it was time for the hoop to go. In her mind the house would boast better “curb appeal” without it. My husband jumped on board, happy at the chance to save $100 in removal fees and an excuse to be destructive.

But for my dad and me, it was a sad decision. As I watched my husband pull and tug at the rusted poll and half rotten net, all I could see was a thousand memories being torn down as well.

Back HoeIt’s not like we even play anymore, my dad and I. To tell the truth it’s been years since we’ve challenged each other to a game of H-O-R-S-E or Around the World. A combination of my dad’s bad shoulder and my interest in other things brought our days of heated rivalry to an end long ago. But despite this fact, our memories remain and, in our hearts, we hate to see what has become a symbol of our time together, torn down and thrown away with the rest of Wednesday’s trash.

So what do memories like these mean to a daughter?

I can see us now, my dad and me, on warm spring nights, in the heat of summer or the chill of fall. Nearly every night we were out there, firing away, “Sweat Buddies.” It was fun, it was joy, it was a thrill to see my dad so proud of me whenever I made that net go swoosh or even prouder still when I missed shot after shot but refused to quit for the night until I could end with a made basket.

To me these memories are priceless because more than anything it was my dad and me together. Every time my dad put his wild schedule aside to spend time with me in the drive way, shooting hoops, he showed me that his love for me was wilder than any deadline, report or phone call that was waiting for his attention.

Isn’t this what we all need to know, that the love of our Father is wild? And when we stop and take the time to make memories with the people we love isn’t this what we’re saying? “My love for you is wild. Wilder than everything else.

This is what memories mean to a daughter.

I’m not sure why and how but there is something unique and special about memories made between fathers and daughters, and now that I have girls of my own, I love to watch my husband follow in the footsteps of my dad.

Whether it’s a fishing trip, a walk around the block, or a family movie night with “pop-pop-corns,” I am proud and privileged to have a husband who refuses to let the demands of his work come between regularly scheduled time with his girls.

Time moves quickly, but memories hold time still. And the memories we make today are what will “re-member” us in the future.

HoopAnn Voskamp writes about this term, “re-membering.” In her simple yet profound way she explains how the act of remembering God’s goodness to us, through the practice of thanksgiving, draws the fractured pieces of our minds and hearts together and makes us whole in Him.

I think it’s the same with memories, with good memories of the time we share and the people we love. Whether it’s with our children, our family, our friends, the special moments we share today, both big and small, will draw us together tomorrow. When our lives become fractured by time and distance, memories re-member us.

As sad as I am to see our basketball hoop go, I am thankful for the memories that remain. Precious memories that time, distance, and the general unraveling of a life can never take away.

And just in case you’re wondering what my dad is getting for father’s day: A half rotten basketball net that screams, “My love is wild too.”

My No, No, No Day

No No DayIt’s amazing to me how the start of the week can dawn so bright, full of hope and potential. Each Sunday I dream of how the coming week will be different. How I won’t get behind. How I’ll get this and that accomplished, but before the ink is even dry on the calendar, the planner, the long to-do list, my head is spinning like load of laundry No. 1 of 10.

My daughter has recently fallen in love with a picture book by Rebecca Patterson titled, My NO, NO, NO, Day. It’s all about a little girl who wakes up to find her little brother chewing on her favorite piece of jewelry. The rest of the day is a downward spiral as the little girl tries, but fails, to recover from a string of dreadful incidents that happen throughout her day.

Allow me to state the painfully obvious: Mommies have NO, NO, NO Days too. And I had one on Monday.

It all started at the UPS store. My mom and dad needed me to next-day mail a package to them. I gathered the items and took them to the store for packaging. Evidently, it costs $215.00 to overnight a package from Battle Creek, MI to Boone, Iowa. Regardless of the cost, I decided to go ahead and mail the package.

As I buckled my girls in the car, I started to second guess my decision. Unsure about what to do, I called my mom and tried to sort through the situation.

Everything worked out in the end but by the time the matter was settled I was long overdue for a visit I planned with a friend.

Putting the UPS debacle behind me, I was on my way to my friend’s house when my husband called and asked if I could go home and find some forms he left in his office. He said it was an urgent matter that couldn’t wait. I called my friend and canceled.

As all good friends do, she understood completely, but it was still a disappointment and another cause for stress in a day that seemed to be crumbling around me.

For the past few months my husband and I have been dealing with a dispute, and the forms he asked me to find stated that we needed to turn in paperwork by the end of the day; Finding that this deadline was upon us sent me into a tailspin.

A few weeks ago I blogged about the way inconveniences can be instruments of God’s grace, and last week I wrote about the many ways we can find beauty, goodness, and joy in the midst of life’s messes.

As I fussed, and fumed over the pitfalls of my day, I kept hearing an accusing voice inside my head ear. What a phony, you are,” it said. “How can you write about inconveniences being grace, and messes being beauty, and then go and live the opposite?

I knew it was Satan, I knew it was attack, and yet the words felt true.

In need of a break, I sought a few minutes of peace and quiet while putting my girls down for their afternoon naps. With my youngest in my arms, I prayed for God to show me His grace in the inconvenience, His beauty in the mess.

As I pictured each incident, I forced myself to look not through my own eyes, but God’s. I strained my mind’s eye to see what He sees, the grace and the beauty.

And this is what I found:

In the inconvenience at UPS:

A chance to come through for my mom and dad, two people who have come through for me a million different times

In the canceled visit with my friend:

A friend who understands, forgives, and loves me in my failings

The promise to try again soon

In the mess of our frustrating dispute:

God gently saying to me, “Let me fight for you. Stop trying to do this on your own and remember who’s on your side.”

Remembering that “…In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Grace in the midst of inconvenience. Beauty in the midst of mess. Blessings, instead of pitfalls, that should not be taken for granted.

On a mangled, messy Monday, I decided to turn my focus and my heart back to God. To His grace, His beauty, His blessing.

In the wake of my NO, NO, NO Day, I am thankful for the opportunity to take the things I write about and learn them again by heart. To stumble but also to grow. To be struck, again and again, with the truth, the goodness, the love of God.



The Mess

A few days ago, after fixing dinner, eating with my family and washing dishes, I set to sweeping our kitchen floor. It was a mess! Somehow, it had gone from just plain dirty to literally crunchy with bits of who-knows-what underfoot.

As I swept, I noticed a myriad of tidbits mixed together in my dust pile on the floor. Bits of blue play dough, dirt from my husband’s work boots, and crumbs fallen from highchairs and sticky fingers. I don’t make it my general practice to analyze the tiny particles that fill up my dust pan, but for some reason I felt forced to take notice.

It occurred to me that I wasn’t just sweeping up dust and debris from a day full of dirtiness and mess, but crumbs of life that had fallen from each one of us as we truly lived this day.

A smile crossed my face, and as I continued to get at each speck of dust, I replayed in my mind scenes of the day’s activities. I pictured my girls choking on laughter as they squished and mashed play dough into lumpy shapes and round little balls. I pictured my husband, rugged and handsome with dirt on his face, his hands, his boots, after a long day of hard but fulfilling work. I pictured myself, singing and dancing to my “Fixing Supper” playlist, sometimes so captivated by the words or melody of a favorite song that I didn’t worry about spilling a few crumbs here or a box of pasta there. I pictured my family circling the table, talking, laughing, and coming together at the end of our day to break down bread and life together.

With all this in mind, I stared at the mess and found it beautiful.

And then I thought of relationships.

Of the hard ones, the messy ones. I thought of hearts severed, torn to bits, and how I wish I could sweep the mess of a broken friendship into a pile and bring it together again.

My daughter loves to look at scrapbooks, and a few days ago she asked me if we could look at the scrapbook I made of the day she was born and the brand new baby days that followed.

Together we turned pages, and I narrated the stories behind the pictures. As we came to the end of the book, we stumbled on a photo spread of friends that came to visit my daughter in the hospital when she was only one or two days old.

This group of pictures has a way of catching me off guard. Somehow, I always forget that it’s there, and every time I look through this scrapbook it sneaks up on me, and sort of hits me, and I feel slapped across the face, across the heart.

These friends, so dear, were family to us, and I thought it would be this way forever. Sadly, four years later, we are no longer in relationship with them.

How this happened, why it happened, are questions that still circulate inside my head and the details of the struggle our friendship has faced are not for this blog.

My husband and I have tried everything we know to fix things, to work things out, but nothing, it seems, can be done.

Sometimes you can give everything and end up with nothing.

We pray for them. We think of them. We love them. Perhaps these are the things that will never change.

I keep thinking about the pictures, about how it hurts to look at them, how it hurts to remember, how it hurts to hear my daughter say, “Mommy, who are those people?” And I wonder; should I take them out? Remove them from the book and throw them away, so that my eyes won’t have to see them and my heart won’t have to feel the raw ache of a friendship lost?

The answer, I found, is in the dust pan, in the pile of life on my kitchen floor. No matter how you look at it, it is a mess. But in that mess there is beauty, and goodness, and life lived well.  

The same is true of my pictures and of all friendships broken.

Just as I replayed the scenes of my day and found joy and goodness in the midst of the mess, I can look at my friendship, lost and broken, and pick out the most amazing bits of joy and goodness from amidst the debris.

Instead of throwing the pictures away, I can close my eyes and sweep together the memories, the crumbs that made our friendship. I can replay in my mind scenes of Riccio’s Pizza and swim meets. Scenes of laughter that made my head hurt and tears willing to fall together over moments of loss and trials to great to bear alone. I can see cookouts, and pranks, and “Hey, come on over.” I can see, with the eyes of my heart, my friends, my brother and sister in Christ, holding my firstborn in their arms, praying over her as a newborn soul, praying over me and my husband as newborn parents.

I know that people are flawed and relationships are messy, but even when the worst case scenario becomes the worst reality, there is beauty, and goodness, and life lived well, and life lived together.

Sometimes you can end up with nothing and find that you have everything.

In the midst of life’s broken, dirty mess, take notice. Sometimes our messes need to be swept up and thrown out. Sometimes in relationship we need to move on and make room for new loves to grow.

The mess is there, for sure, but it’s the tiny pieces within, the love, the joy, the goodness, that are treasured and stored in the heart, never to be swept away.