Somewhere Between Disappointment and Trust

 

I watched his shoulders as he walked up the mountain through the fog, hoping his posture would tell me how he was feeling. Raindrops trickled down his suit coat, and I thought to myself, I will never forget watching my son climb this muddy mountain to wait for his bride.

Josh and Brandi had spent weeks looking for the perfect setting for an intimate wedding. Eventually they chose a beautiful mountainous area with hiking trails and gorgeous views. They would say their vows and read their hand-written covenant promises on the peak of a mountain at sunset, with layered ridges in shades of blue as their backdrop.

The forecast had been sunny and clear that day, but as we drove up the Blue Ridge Parkway, thick fog settled over the mountain and rain poured from the clouds.

I had envisioned us all in the parking lot greeting each other with hugs and smiles, celebrating this day we had been waiting for. Some would be meeting for the first time as two families became one. Instead, we were all in our separate cars, staying dry as long as we could.

Earlier that morning, Josh told us if it rained, we would follow each other to another parking lot, walk a shorter trail, and squeeze under a gazebo for a wedding without a view. Unfortunately, one of the grandmothers had been taken up the trail before the rain started, and now they needed to get her back down safely.

My husband, J.J., got out of our car to see if he could help while I sat inside shaking my head in disbelief. I silently questioned God, Why did You let this happen? You know how hard they worked to prepare for this day, how little they asked for. Sunshine was all they needed.

I wanted their wedding day to be perfect. I wanted them to feel like God was there with them, taking care of every detail. I wanted beauty and sunshine, smiles and laughter. I never thought it would rain, and I definitely didn’t anticipate fog as thick as cotton.

I pulled out my phone to take a picture, and suddenly I remembered: God knew all along. God knew what their wedding day would look like. I didn’t understand it or like it, but it wasn’t up to me to fix it. It was up to me to decide if I was going to stay stuck in disappointment or trust God with the details.

J.J. knocked on the car window, jolting me out of my bewilderment. He told me we were going up the mountain but not all the way to the top. Josh decided we would walk up the trail together until he found a clearing. Brandi and her dad would wait in their car until the rest of us were in position and ready for the ceremony to begin.

Following behind my son, I noticed how deliberate he was with each step. Eyes on both the path and the horizon, he looked for an open area where we could all fit.

I knew their wedding day could be marked by disappointment, yet I sensed unexpected hope. Somewhere between disappointment and trust, heaven touched earth as God slowly revealed His presence was with us.

Less than halfway up the mountain, Josh stepped into a wide open space, and we all stopped. Thick fog rested on the outer edge of the clearing, but we were all under a covering of light as the sun filtered through a canopy of trees. A small waterfall trickled down rocks to our left, and a huge knotted tree root lay across the forest to our right. This was it!

Standing on the edge of rocks, surrounded by mud, greenery and roots, we waited and listened to a violin playing the bride’s procession as Brandi walked up the mountain through the fog. It became a wedding unlike any other. A scene only God could create.

They stood beside gigantic roots of an ancient tree, beautiful bark woven together by the hand of God, and we stood in awe as our pastor read the passage Josh and Brandi had chosen weeks before, sacred words they wanted as a banner over their marriage:

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us . . .
Ephesians 3:17-20 (NIV)

Not one drop of rain fell during the ceremony, and though it was not at all what they planned, it was better than they could have imagined. God knew all along. And in the end, He gave them more than what they could have given themselves. He gave them Himself and a beautiful wedding, too!

More than anything I was grateful He gave them His peace and evidence of His presence in the midst of  disappointment, crumbling plans, and unanswered questions.

He offers us the same today. No matter what disappointment we are facing, God is with us, working in ways we may not yet see.

Photo Credits: David and Sarah Whitlow, Two Cents Photo + Film

Join me at inCourage where I’m hosting today’s conversation around the table.
I’ll be saving a seat for you!

 

While You Are Sleeping

 

Startled by the silence, I sat up in bed so I could see the neon red lights that told me it was three in the morning, time to feed the baby. But Andrew hadn’t made a sound.

Was something wrong? Or was he sleeping through the night?

Wavering between panic and joy, I felt my way down the hall to the nursery and leaned over Andrew’s crib. I listened for the sound of his breathing and carefully rested my hand on his tiny chest to feel the gentle rhythm of its rising and falling.

Moonlight slipped through the blinds, helping me to see he was perfectly fine.

Most sane mothers would have gone back to bed, but not me. I stood there for a while delighting in my child. My heart simply longed to be with this little guy who set my days in motion with his cries and smiles.

How can I love someone this much? I wondered.

Even after Andrew started sleeping through the night regularly, I would still listen for him, hoping for an excuse to see if he was okay. And sometimes, while he was sleeping, I’d sneak into his room just because I wanted to be with him.

Whispering prayers over him, I’d ask God to calm his fears, fulfill his dreams and lead my son’s steps to follow His. This continued for years. Even when Andrew and his brother were teenagers, I’d sneak into their rooms to pray over them while they were sleeping.

It didn’t matter that they weren’t doing a thing to make me proud or happy. In fact, they may have driven me crazy that day, but I still wanted to be with them just because they were mine.

God feels the exact same way about you, you know?

He watches over you and delights in you. Not because you’re doing anything for Him, but simply because your are His.

He longs to quiet your heart with His love. And to calm your fears, insecurities and doubts with His presence.

He loves you, and He loves to be with you. Even while you are sleeping.

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
Zephaniah 3:17 (NLT) 

Lord, thank You for the reminder that You are always with me, watching over me, every minute of every day – even while I am sleeping. Help me believe this truth about Your love towards me and rest in it today. 

 Let me know how we can pull up close and sit beside you in prayer at @InCourage.

Why Do I Feel So Empty?

It was a source she’d come to depend on. A place she went to get her needs met, but it was never enough. Every day she came back for more.

Filling her jar with water, the woman looked up and heard a man asking her for a drink. Then he offered her something in return: living water. Unlike the water she came to get that day, the he said the water he offered would satisfy her so deeply she’d never thirst again.

Questioning His offer, she said: “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” (John 4:11, NIV) 

She didn’t know who He was, or that all He needed to draw with was His Spirit, for it would draw her near to Him.

As far as the depth of the well, it was her heart He was looking into. And she was the only one who could stop Him from reaching the empty places that needed Him most.

I know that place of needing Jesus to look into my heart and show me the emptiness only He can fill.

Like the woman at the well, I’ve depended on other means to get my needs met. Yet when I look to them, instead of Him, they are never enough.

I’ve looked to family and friends, bosses and boyfriends, teachers and mentors, my husband and kids. I’ve longed for their approval and the affirmation that comes with it.

I’ve looked to possessions and positions, and put my hope in recognition, thinking: “If only I had…. If only I could…”

Yet it’s never enough. No matter how much we do or how much we have, it is never enough to fill us up because it was never supposed to be.

We see this deep soul thirst even in King David, a man who had everything: the highest position, unlimited possessions, and great power. Yet none of it was enough. He described himself as parched and thirsty for God…

Then David went on to describe what he experienced when he drank deeply of God’s love… (keep reading here)

Are there places in your heart Jesus wants to fill with His love and acceptance, places where you might have been looking to someone or something other than Him?

Join me at inCourage today where we’re sharing our
thoughts on filling our empty places and praying for each other!

 

How In The World Am I Going to Do This?

 No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. I will be with you, just as I was with Moses. I will not leave you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you will distribute the land I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance.
 Joshua 1:5-6, CSB

Has God ever called you to something that felt completely impossible in your own strength?

When our sons were eleven and thirteen, God called us to adopt a little girl from Ethiopia. After mountains of paperwork and mountain-moving prayers we sensed God leading us to adopt a two girls between four and six years old so there wouldn’t be a huge age gap with our boys.

But in the end, God didn’t give us two little girls that fit nice and neatly into our family.  He gave us a baby: a six month old baby girl who weighed eight pounds.

We knew without a doubt she was to be ours, but we also knew she was severely malnourished, which meant high risks of neurological struggles and many unknowns.

However, what scared me most was that I was forty-two years old, had aging parents with health issues, tween and teenage boys I was desperately trying to figure out how to parent, a very full-time job and no memory of anything I ever knew about babies.

How in the world am I going to do this? I wondered.

I imagine Joshua may have asked the same thing when God called him to step into Moses’ shoes and take on the assignment of leading the nation of Israel into the Promise Land.

I love this story so much because God didn’t just call and commission Joshua, and leave him that to figure it out on his own.

God prepared Joshua through decades of serving beside and learning from Moses.

God equipped Joshua by allowing him to see the struggles and victories, blessings and battles of a Godly leader, and God’s favor and faithfulness to a person fully surrendered to God’s calling.

God empowered Joshua with confidence by reminding him  it was God who would fulfill His promise to give them this land. Joshua’s assignment was stay dependent on God’s presence and obedient to God’s direction.

God commanded Joshua to stay strong and courageous and then He told him how. Keep reading here. 

Has God called you to something that requires supernatural strength and courage? Read the rest of my post over at inCourage where I share two ways God told Joshua he could find the strength and courage he would need. 

What’s Wrong With Me?

How often do you think, “What’s wrong with me?” 

It’s a question I’ve asked myself way too many times. When I forget something important, when I’m late for a meeting, lose my keys, miss deadlines or walk into a room in my house and can’t remember why I went there.

But one day, I realized every time I asked, “What’s wrong with me?” I was actually telling myself something is wrong with me. 

And I was tired of trying to figure out my elusive fault so I could change it. 

I needed to change the way I talked to myself. How about you?

God doesn’t want us berating ourselves with questions and statements that make us feel defective and defeated.

But, we have an enemy who loves to cast a shadow of self-doubt over us by playing into our self-defeating thoughts. He tries to get us to focus on all that is wrong with us (real or perceived), instead of anything that is right with us.

Scripture tells us when Satan lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). The word lie means a falsehood with the intent to deceive.

Satan intends to deceive our hearts by getting us to take our eyes off of who we are in Christ and focus on our flaws — then spend our days figuring out how we can hide them.

One of his goals is to get us to believe lies that leave us feeling inadequate and unsure of ourselves. It’s just what he did with Eve in the garden. In fact, I wonder if Eve might have thought, What’s wrong with me? when she became aware of her inadequacy.

Then the eyes of both [Adam and Eve] were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden…and they hid from the Lord God…But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” (Gen. 3:7-10, NIV)

In verse 11, God responds with a question, asking Adam who told them they were naked. In other words,“Who told you that something is wrong with you?”

In asking this questions, He acknowledged there was someone else involved in this story, someone casting shame on them — and it wasn’t Him….

What self-critical thoughts and condemnation are you battling this week? 

Read the rest of my post over at inCourage where I’m sharing some powerful truths to replace Satan’s lies. I’d love to meet you there!

 

What if this is God? { guest post & GIVE*AWAY }

A door opened in my work that, while wonderful and exciting, would be way over my head to accomplish. Without even a single prayer, I headed to my office to write the email. Fearful to how hard the task would be, I didn’t have the kind of confidence it would take to say yes.

Then I stopped. What if this was God? Would God ask me to do something that was beyond my normal strength?

Yes, that did sound like it could in fact be a plan He would create. He would plan to put me in a place beyond my ability, so He could be fully seen.

There was a group of women in the Bible who also had every reason to also be fearful, yet they found the confidence they needed to make their move.

In Numbers 26, The Promise Land is being divided up among the sons of the tribes of Israel. This where we meet the daughters of Zelophehad (or the daughters of Z as I call them). Their story begins with their problem. Tradition dictated that only men were land owners. During the passage to Canaan, their father had died … with no sons. This would mean when the five daughters entered the Promise Land there would be no promise land awaiting them.

If they didn’t do something, they would be homeless.

They had a choice: listen to the voices of their culture’s tradition, the voices possibly whispering in their own minds or make their move.

In Genesis 17:8 God had said to Abraham, the daughters’ ancient grandfather, “The whole land of Canaan, where you now reside as a foreigner, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you.” I believe the Daughters of Z knew this promise; the land was for all of Abraham’s descendants, even his granddaughters.

Confidently, they made their move. 

They “… approached the entrance to the Tent of Meeting and stood before Moses, Eleazar the priest, the leaders and the whole assembly, and said, “…Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” Numbers 27: 2 & 4

Look at these gals!

Did they shrink back because that is “just the way it was”? Hiding behind their problem, this rejection? Allow it to paralyze them?

No. They were bold and confident.

The daughters of Z claimed what was theirs’s because they knew who they were and whose they were. They didn’t allow their confidence to be in doubt because of who others said they were.

What have you faced, what are you facing, that is blocking the way of you being a more confident you? Standing in the way of you making your move?

Maybe like the daughters of Z, it has been what you haven’t had. You’ve felt that in order to be confident, you needed more. You see others experience the success you want, but you don’t have the self-worth it takes to step out, take a risk. Daily, you compare yourself to her. You know who she is. The one you wish you had her life: her job, her family, her husband, her body. No wonder she’s confident. I would be too if I had what she’s got. If I just had more.

I get that. I, too, have faced situations where I felt I needed more; more education, more connections, more creativity, more opportunities, more favor.

Perhaps you have felt confident in the past, but it just doesn’t seem possible any more. Your someone is gone, your someplace you no longer are or your something you no longer have … and you no longer have your confidence.

But you want it! You want to be brave, bold and go after the desires in your heart.

The daughters of Z knew what belonged to them as granddaughters of Abraham and daughters of God. This knowing gave them the confidence they needed to do what they needed to do.

I’m discovering, as I learn of and believe what God says about me, confidence comes!

My thinking is switching from what I think about me and my circumstances to what He says. Putting down confidence-crushing thoughts allows us to pick up Christ’s Confidence.

  • He says He is my confidence.” for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” Proverbs 3:26 (ESV)
  • He says I am blessed when my confidence is in Him. ““But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him.” Jeremiah 17:7 (NIV)

These are messages we have to tell our heart: His truth.

Today’s our day to get the confidence we desire – Christ Confidence.

We can choose not to build our confidence on someone, someplace or something – things that we can lose or have taken from us. Unshakable confidence is built upon our unshakeable God! We can choose to dig into God’s word for ourselves and discover His promises. We can stand on those promises, becoming wise and confident women like the Daughters of Z!

ENTER TO WIN LYNN’s GIVE-AWAY
Has there been a time when your confidence was shaken? Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Lynn’s Make Your Move Bible study book and DVD bundle. (Due to high shipping costs, we can only consider U.S. entries.)

In Make Your Move, Lynn Cowell explores how confidence-in-question keeps us from boldly experiencing what God intends for our lives. Learn more about her new Bible study and download 10 Verses to Build Your Confidence here. 

My friend Lynn Cowell is a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker and the author of several books, written for women of all ages. Her new Bible Study Make Your Move: Finding Unshakeable Confidence Despite Your Fears and Failures for women empowers us to find our confidence in Christ. Lynn calls North Carolina home, where she and her husband Greg, and the occasional backyard deer, are adjusting to life as empty nesters. Along with their three adult children, Lynn and Greg love hiking, rafting and anything combining chocolate and peanut butter. You can connect with her on Facebook at Lynn Cowell.

When Concern Consumes Me

 

As we drove home from a weekend away in the mountains, I felt a heavy sense of dread and sadness. Laying my head back on my seat, I told my husband, JJ, “I don’t want to go home.”

The stress and strain of countless commitments at home and at work were taking a toll on me. If only I could return to that little mountain town where no one knew me or needed me. 

J.J. asked some clarifying questions, and then suggested I make a list of everything on my plate so I could ask God what needed to be cut back. At first I resented the fact that he had just added one more thing “to do” on my already-overwhelming-list of things I’d never get done. But I knew he was right.

Later that week I wrote out all my commitments and concerns, along with a list of deadlines and dates on my calendar, including every appointment, event, conference-call, and meeting I could think of for the next six months.

And I prayed: Please, God, show me where I need to make changes.

I assumed the Holy Spirit would suggest big adjustments in my schedule, but that’s not what happened. God didn’t tell me to make cutbacks at work or in ministry. He didn’t show me our family had too many activities. He didn’t challenge me to take a sabbatical, although I was hoping He would.

Jesus showed me it was worry, not my workload, that was making me weary.

During the weeks leading up to my “meltdown,” I let my thoughts dwell on the possible negative outcome of several different circumstances and decisions, all at the same time. And without realizing it, I spent as much time thinking and worrying about concerns, commitments, circumstances, and deadlines as I did working on them.

It was not only how I spent my time, but how I spent my thoughts that left me depleted.

But, it wasn’t until I brought it all to God and wrote it all out, that I recognized what was happening.

Instead of escaping to the mountains where no one knows us or needs us, Jesus invites us to come to Him so He can give us:

Rest for our weary hearts and minds.
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1-2)

Freedom from the captivity of our concerns.
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the LORD, ‘and will bring you back from captivity.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14a)

Are there are worries that are making you weary? Jesus is gently inviting you to come to Him, seeking and trusting Him, no matter what. Over at inCourage we’re sharing how we can remember this truth:

God’s heart is big enough to care and strong enough to carry all that concerns us. 

Lord, when concerns consume us, help us remember You are there inviting us to come to You and talk about all of it. Everything that’s weighing us down. Show us if it’s our commitments or concerns, our worries or our workload, and help us trust You more with both. Amen.

Join us over at inCourage, and share a concern that we can pray for, for you. 

He Bends Down

It had been a hard day, running too many errands with two small children. My three-year-old didn’t understand why we couldn’t buy every toy his tiny hands could touch. And he insisted on climbing in and out of the grocery cart, which led to whining when I stopped him.

I was not a happy mama and wondered how all the other moms in the store seemed to know what they were doing. Their children listened when they told them no, and they had on cute matching outfits too.

I wondered how in the world those women pulled it off with a smile. I could barely get a shower, get my kids dressed, and get us out the door before lunch. When we got home that afternoon, I put my boys down for an early nap and searched for pink construction paper so I could write “I QUIT” on it and turn in my “pink slip” to my husband when he came home from work.

I was tired of feeling like such a failure as a mom. But ironically, I couldn’t find pink construction paper, so I decided to pull out my journal and file a complaint to God.

Filling blank pages with scribbled thoughts, I wrote:

I hate who I have become. I’m such a horrible mom. Why didn’t someone tell me how hard this was going to be? I’m frustrated with my kids and myself. I have no patience and I don’t know what I am doing! I feel guilty all the time. I couldn’t wait to be a mom and now I want to quit.

Just as I finished writing that sentence, I sensed God whispering to my heart: Renee, you are so critical of yourself. You focus on your mistakes and beat yourself up with accusation and condemnation but those are not My thoughts.

That afternoon, I sat before God and choked out the words, “I can’t do this.” (Read what happened next over at inCourage.me

Being Present Always Trumps Being Perfect

 

I had it all planned:
when they would all arrive
what I needed to do beforehand
how I wanted my heart to feel when they got here

Not wanting to become “the frazzled friend” I turn into when hosting a get-together, I banned myself from Pinterest and my own desire for perfect.

I wrote out a timeline and recruited help from a friend. Together we would be prepared. Simple appetizers and decorations. A few pretty touches. We could do everything ahead of time so I would be ready before anyone got there, with time to spare and room to breathe.

I wanted to feel calm and happy when friends arrived. I wanted to greet each one, face to face. I wanted to let her know, not only was she welcomed, she was wanted.

But even the simplest of plans don’t always go as planned.

A crisis at work kept my husband from getting home in time to help pick up the house clean. Traffic was horrible and my friend/co-host got stuck on the other side of town, unable to come early and help with setup. The food wasn’t ready. The kitchen was a mess. And my three hungry kids kept asking when dad would be home to take them out for pizza.

I was not calm. I was not happy. Things were not getting done, and I could feel myself coming undone…

Join me over at inCourage where I’m talking about my struggle and my shift from aiming for perfect to being fully present, mess and all. Click here to join us. 


 

I know I’ve been pretty quiet the past few months, so if you wondered why I’ve been missing on the internet, it’s because… summer. And we’re moving!  I didn’t see that last one coming but it’s consumed every bit of me. Despite the chaos, I see simplicity and goodness on the other side, and I can’t wait to get there.

Looking forward to being back in your inbox this fall, encouraging you each week! ~Renee

 

When You Don’t Know What to Say or Pray


I used to be hesitant to pray and kind of stumbled over my words when talking to God.
Yet, I desperately wanted to say the right things because I thought if I prayed the right way God would listen and answer my prayers, the way I wanted Him to. 

It took me a while, but eventually I got up the courage to talk with a friend about my fears and struggles. She assured me I was normal, and shared how she had dealt with the same hesitancies and misunderstandings about prayer. And she walked with me through Bible, showing me verses about prayer and encouraging me to talk to God in a conversational way.

As I think back on that time, over twenty years ago, there are two powerful lessons I learned:

Prayer isn’t about saying or asking the right thingsit’s about building a relationship with God by talking to Him. 

If you’ve ever struggled with what to say when you pray, take a deep breath and know you are not alone. There is no formula to getting prayer right and God isn’t listening for the perfect combination of words or measuring how well we pray. 

Yet there are still days like today when I want more power in my prayers. Days when I want to feel more confident in what I’m asking for from the One who rules our nations, the Maker of all things, the Shepherd of my heart, and the Creator of the ones I love.

And on those days, when I’m not sure what to say or how to pray, I turn to God’s word remembering “the confidence which we have before Him, (is) that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” 1 John 5:17 (NAS)

When we pray God’s Word, we pray God’s will.

When I long for my prayers to be filled with power and my heart to be infused with faith, I look for verses about God’s will and His ways. One is Hebrews 4:12, where God teaches us that His Word is “alive and active.” Some days I pray that truth, asking God to make His Word come alive in a situation and active in the person’s life I’m praying for, or my own.

Often times while I’m praying, verses in the Bible that I’ve memorized will rise up to the surface in my prayers. When it feels like plans are spinning out of control, Jeremiah 29:11-13 will come to mind. On those days, I’ll pray:

Lord, You know the plans You have for me, plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a future and a hope. You say that if I come to You and pray, You will listen and will lead me. So, today I surrender my plans for Your plans. Please guide my decisions and thoughts to match Yours so I can experience hope and not harm. Even though things aren’t going so great today, I trust the plans You have for me.

I’m so grateful for the grace-gift of talking to my Heavenly Father without hesitancy. Now that the pressure to say the right things is gone, prayer feels more like a comfortable conversation. Sometimes I just sit still and let God whisper His promises into my thoughts, and then I ask for their fulfillment in my prayers.

What is a favorite verse of yours that you could pray for yourself and someone else today?  

Be sure to DOWNLOAD my FREE Scripture Prayer Printable.  Enter your email below, click “Please send me the prayer printable!” button, and you’ll go straight to my FREE Printable PDF page. ( I promise to never share your email with anyone.)