To Smile at the Good, and To Smile at the Bad

While enjoying new and different books with my children these first few years as a parent, I’ve rediscovered lots of favorite books from my childhood. One lovely rediscovery I enjoyed from the Bear’s kindergarten year at homeschool was Madeline.

Ludwig Bemelmans’ simple, rhyming narrative is wonderfully engaging, and his matching illustrations, which guide you through the streets of Paris are so charming:

In two straight lines
they broke their bread
and brushed their teeth
and went to bed.

They smiled at the good
and frowned at the bad
and sometimes they were very sad.

In the book, the twelve little girls who walk in those two straight lines smile at a nobleman caring for his horse, frown at a thief running off with a purse and are very sad at the sight of a wounded soldier walking on crutches in the snow.

Over the past few weeks, it seems like memories of a dozen different experiences in my life have come to mind, and I (mostly) smile at them now, seeing how good they were for my life, my soul, my walk with the Lord.

But at the time? There was a lot more frowning.



When I finished my Masters’ degree and my first job was at a Pawn Shop, or when Hero Hubs and I were in our first year ministering in a new country together, and life was hard, and we felt isolated, and it was totally unclear how we were going to make it financially… I can furrow my brow just remembering what it felt like. Frown.

No one has the ability to completely step outside themselves and see their situation from an un-invested point of view, but once each challenging season has finished, and I’ve had a chance to regroup, perhaps heal a little and catch my breath, I’ve had the privilege of beginning to recognize a few of the incredible things that the Lord was doing in my life during that hard time.

A friend of mine lost her grandmother last week, and as she shared about how she was feeling and I talked with her about that long and strange journey called grief, the opportunity to remember and think about my own grief in losing my Dad arose. While I still frown at the thought of losing him, I can also smile in thinking about how near the Lord was to me in that brokenhearted season. He gave me so many gifts, as I heard important words I needed to hear from complete strangers at the hospital, or received smiles from my four-month-old baby girl who was a fountain of joy in a season of sorrow.

While none of us knows for sure what lies ahead on the path of our lives, if there is a lesson I could permanently seal on my heart (and perhaps yours?) from watching this pattern over the years, I’d remind myself of this truth:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord will give grace and glory.
No good thing will He withhold 
from those who walk uprightly. {Ps. 84:11}

Even though our walks with God may not be perfect, because we are covered in the upright walk of Christ, we can trust that God is a sun — giving us light — and a shield — giving us protection. He breathes grace and glory into every situation we will ever face.

And the things that we would initially want to frown at — a job that will teach us a lifetime of lessons, including humility, or a season that will teach us to trust Him — are actually good reasons to smile. He knows that the difficult seasons produce beautiful fruit in our souls — and, how beautiful!,  He does not want to withhold those good things from us.

So here’s the challenge in all this, for both your heart and mine: the next time we receive some bad news, what if we just tried to smile at the bad? And to breathe words of faith through those teeth that we’re gently bringing together — God, you don’t withhold good things from Your children. You breathe life, You give grace and You make hard places glorious. I trust You, right here.

Lord, help us all to see, in our lives, Your glory.



For Erin and for Sydney

Day 10: The Gift in Giving

Day 10: The Gift in Giving

Hi there! This post is part of a 31-Day writing adventure I’m embarking on. I’d love for you to join me and read along. You can find the introduction to the series, and a “Table of Contents” as each day goes live, right here. Thanks so much for dropping in!

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Yesterday, I shared some thoughts on the concept of losing your life to find it — and ended asking if you, Dear Reader, perhaps get a little itchy with the idea that God wants all of your life. I’d like to take a little more time for that concept to “simmer” in the pot before it’s poured, so I’m going to switch gears and discuss something different today, and then come back to that when the timing seems right.

Sound okay?

Great, let’s dig in!

How do you feel about birthdays?

A few weeks ago, I celebrated a birthday. I really like birthdays and generally don’t struggle too much with focusing on the fact that I’m clocking additional laps on the track of life, and this one was just so special there was really no good reason to be bummed — other than it being my first birthday without my Dad, and there being a few moments where his absence was a little tough.

Hero Hubs, like always, lived up to his moniker by organizing a perfectly special day for me. My Mom, as always, blessed me in countless ways and reminded me for the hundredth time that week that I’m so fortunate she’s my Mama. And a new friend of mine made all these special efforts to make the day super-great and it was SUCH a treat!

Among the gifts I was showered with were some birthday cash, which I happily received. I regularly tend to avoid spending money on myself, but with everything arranged for my friend and I to get out of the house childless and go shopping for a wee while (very big deal people!) I was very excited to grab a couple of necessities for the change of season upon us, and pretty much some stuff that I like to call additions to my “Momiform.” Which is the uniform I found myself in almost every day — jeans and a basic t-shirt, because why not?

We scooted off to the next town over and found some deals (including a steal on a much-needed new bathing suit, which was not as needed as I thought since our beach vacation has been RAINY.) And after all that fun I still had some extra cash in my pocket.

For some reason, I decided to try to spend the rest of it on other people.


In the days and weeks that followed, I enjoyed paying for a friend’s coffee as we enjoyed an afternoon out without our kids. I bought my Mom some much-deserved flowers (it was on the to-do list for weeks) and enjoyed taking the Bear and my sweet nieceypoo to a movie.

And, it might come as no surprise, I think I got more joy out of blessing others than I would have if I’d found a few more options for my Momiform. My Mom’s flowers lasted for ages and brought us both a lot of joy. I loved getting special time with my niece – I don’t get to see her often and my son. And MAN OH MAN is it a treat to just sit down with another Mama and have an adult conversation sometimes!!!

In His glorious goodness, the Lord built a gift into giving.

But let’s be honest. Giving isn’t always easy. Sometimes when it comes in the form of serving, and especially if that serving seems to go unnoticed, you can begin to really feel like you’re getting the short end of the stick. {You remember that God is all-seeing though, right?} And sometimes, when you’re asked to give, you might also have concerns about whether there will still be enough for you.

Our photography business has been asked to give a lot since we did our first photoshoot in the Carolinas, and we’ve clung to one particular principal to remind us to keep it up:

The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. {Prov. 11:25}

As a result, we have been privileged to begin to catch a glimpse of this reality. We’ve answered nearly every inquiry by giving. Our business is growing and we’re beginning to get excited about the dream becoming a reality. {We already have four weddings booked for 2014 — and I could wet my pants!}

Remember that first giveaway we did, for a Quiver Tree photo session over a year and a half ago? The family we met, who won the giveaway have since become dear friends that we LOVE LOVE LOVE.

The hard part of giving — almost every time — is usually trusting that if you give, you’ll still have enough for you and your family at the end of the day.

This is where that hard “T” word comes in — Trust.

But here’s the promise you can stand on to help you Trust, so that you can enjoy the gift in giving and enjoy it often:

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. {Phil. 4:19}

Is it sometimes hard for us Westerners to recognize the difference between needs and wants? Probably so. But we can absolutely trust the God who sees everything (and knows everything) to supply what is best for us, and to water us when we demonstrate our trust in Him and water others.

Have you seen an unexpected gift from deciding to be a giver? I’d love to hear about it.

I’d like to challenge you to choose to be generous today — and let me know how it goes!


For When Your Soul-Boat’s Rocking

I‘ve pondered for a while that night in the boat, when the disciples were so afraid of the wind and the waves and Jesus was asleep on a cushion. That was the time they woke Him up, shouting,


Least it went something like that. Maybe if they were Pirates.

{I imagine that if the disciples were teenagers it would’ve been more like:

“Uh, Rabbi… DUDE! OMG! We are NOT ROTFL back here. OMG! Don’t you, like, care? OMG! HELLLLLP! K THANKS.”

And if Jesus was a present-day teenager He might’ve replied:

“OM-Me. Whatever dudes. Why are you such pansies? Do you have, like, no faith? Fo rizzle. I’ve got this under control. A’ight, waves, chillax. K thanks. Wind, TTFN. See, dudes? Sweet n breezay. “}


Swiftly getting back to the real version…

Jesus’ response to the disciples always seemed a little harsh to me:

“Why are you sissies afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Okay maybe He skipped the sissies part.

But I’m guessing there were some serious waves, and there was some serious wind, to scare the pants off a group that included some seasoned fishermen.

{By the way this story is in Mark 4, in case you don’t like my version.}

Those brothers were scared. Fo rizzle.

This crazy little thing called life has presented me with some scary possibilities. And, even recently, I’ve just plain been afraid.

Weak-willed and worried — and maybe even losing sleep but I think the baby is mostly to blame for that.

But when I remember the God who hasn’t let me down yet — the One who has always been there, always demonstrated His love — I realize why fear is an amateur response to the scary stuff.

The disciples were right in bringing their concern to Jesus — there is never anything we shouldn’t bring to Him.

But where they were off beat was in questioning Jesus’ care and concern for them because they were experiencing hardship.

We’ve all been promised trials and tribulations. But we’ve also been promised the peace that will carry us through — the walking-through-that-shadowy-valley-with-my-head-held-high, fearless kind of peace that surpasses all understanding.

But when it’s hard, it’s hard not to ask: Don’t you care, God?

That seems like a familiar response in my own heart when the storms are raging with high seas and my little soul-boat feels tossed about.

But His Word reminds me what Paul and Barnabas told the believers in the early church:

“We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22, NKJV)

And I remember His sovereignty over all:

Does disaster come to a city unless the Lord has planned it? (Amos 3:6b, NLT)

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies have sworn this oath: “It will all happen as I have planned. It will all be as I decided.” (Isaiah 14:24)

So how do we rightly respond, when the waves are high, when the ship is tossed, when we are afraid and have no idea how it is all-gonna-be-otay?

Job said, “The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20, NLT)

Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38)

The Key Word that ties it all together? Trust.

Right now, I am remembering these words, holding onto them, savoring them like a quality slice of key lime pie:

“The LORD directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble they will never fall, for the LORD holds them by the hand.” {Psalm 37: 23 & 24, NLT}

{Doesn’t that taste good?}

Even when the wind is blowing a hoolie and the waves are crashing over your soul-boat’s bow, the Lord, the Lord — He is faithful, and absolutely worthy of trust.

I am preaching these words to me today — just thought I’d share them with you, too.


P.S. Have you had a chance to Come Outta the Closet yet? Please won’t you click over to my last post and answer a few brief questions for me? Preez with brown sugar and bacon on top?

When a Season is Like a Straitjacket

We are firm believers in the swaddle. Any clue what I’m talking about? I’m talking about the baby swaddle — the thing you do with a blanket, where you put it beneath a baby, put their arms down by their sides and wrap the blanket tightly around them, tucking it underneath so that it constrains them and holds them snug. At first it might seem like an unpleasant thing for the baby, constraining them with the baby version of a straitjacket, but by and by perhaps I’ll convince you that it’s a good thing.

Something you may or may not know about newborns is that when they’re fresh out of the box, so to speak, they have absolutely no control over their arms or legs. Maybe very little control, but it seems pretty much like none. They hit themselves in the head and wonder who did it. They scratch their own little faces with their sharp little baby nails, and then cry as if to say, “Who’s scratching me? Stop it!”


With the Bear, and again with the Tank, we found swaddling a really effective method of sleep training. Wrapping them up tightly inside a blanket or a thin sheet (when it was summer and too hot for a blanket) became a signal to them that it was time for a snooze. A swaddle, a pacifier/dummy/binker/whateveryouliketocallit in the mouth, a snug spot in the crib and they don’t need much more direction for the route to dreamland. Apparently it also mimics the feeling of being snuggled up inside the womb, which is a bonus.

Initially, both of our boys fought the swaddle.


You’d wrap them up snug and they’d wriggle and squirm and sometimes cry. The Hubs often stood by their cribs, holding each of them to his chest, firmly swaddled, and he’d gently swoosh them back and forth while they struggled against his firm grip. Eventually, it {almost} always settled them down, and once they learned that it was a cue, it became a tool for good.


I believe there are seasons in our lives when God “swaddles” us. For one reason or another, His hand is holding us firmly in one place, even though we feel like we’re ready for movement, for breakthrough, for a chance to use the arms and legs we’ve been given.

You might feel swaddled:

  • By a job you’re ready to be out of, but the job hunt is getting you nowhere.
  • By your finances constraining you and hindering your movements
  • In a relationship with a roommate, a professor, a colleague at work — you’re ready for it to be done, but you’re stuck for now.
  • In a season of life that’s just hard, but not over yet.

The thing is, sometimes we’re kind of like the newborn flailing her arms because she doesn’t know any better. God in His graciousness is appointing this time and this season, as a time for growth, perhaps a time for us to rest, a time to learn to trust Him, and a time to gain strength.

Most of us know that a beautiful butterfly doesn’t start out that way. They start out as little caterpillars, not particularly exciting creatures, definitely incapable of flying. But after munching on leaves for a good wee while, their metamorphosis begins. And during the pupa, or “chrysalis” stage, growth and differentiation occur. The caterpillar is becoming a butterfly.

The hard skin that surrounds the butterfly, called a chrysalis, keeps it swaddled until this life phase is finished. Once the butterfly is ready to shed the chrysalis, she uses her wings to break through. The strength that she gains while pushing her way out with her wings is a necessary part of the process. Once she’s out, she’ll sit on her old shell, harden her wings and get ready for take off!

Without the chrysalis stage, the butterfly will only ever be a caterpillar. But if she allows the process to do its good work, she will emerge on the other side, strong enough to fly.

If you’re in a season that feels like a straitjacket, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to sit still. You are a part of the process that will grow you and help you become who you are meant to be. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it makes a button of silk to attach itself to a leaf or a twig, and then it sheds its skin to reveal that chrysalis layer — the hardened skin underneath. Some butterflies are able to move their abdomen while inside their chrysalis to make sounds or scare away potential predators.

Isaiah 30:18 says:

Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for Him.

Trust the God who created the seasons as a part of life — the God who is also sovereign over them. Though it seems like He is waiting, He is being gracious. Though it seems like He isn’t listening, He is showing mercy. Like a year of work at a pawn shop, or a week of extra waiting for a baby’s arrival, the Author and Finisher of your faith has blessings in store for those who wait on Him. And in the waiting, you’ll gain the strength you need for the road ahead.


There’s Hagar, and there’s Sarah.

People around the world are experiencing financial crunch right now. I think it is sometimes a good thing to be reminded of that when we get overwhelmed about where the money’s coming from for this or that, or whether your family could make it two months if you or your spouse lost your job. What Mark and I have been challenged about for quite some time is something I think a lot of us might struggle with, so I thought I’d chat about it, and tell you I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

Mark and I were both convinced that living in debt was not God’s way before we got married. There are certain things we see as reasonable reasons to go into debt (a home or a car, basically, but we’d prefer not to even go into debt for a car) and there are a lot of things that honestly, I think most people could learn to do without, but would rather go into debt for, than do without. As we’re building our marriage, we’ve recognised that the challenge to follow those principles meets us at regular intervals. (We have sometimes failed, and we are in debt at the moment, mainly for a car, but also because we’ve used the credit card crutch, too.)

Son of Promise

Here's our little "Son of Promise" ... occasionally confused for a daughter of promise these days. He likes raisins.

When Mark finished his work in financial services and we went back to North Carolina to raise support to work for a church plant in Scotland, we knew we weren’t signing up to be rolling in the big bucks. When our visa situation meant we had to leave the US before we’d finished raising a full partnership team, we knew we’d really signed up for a life of faith, and the journey began. We’ve continually had to trust the Lord for the finances for things like making it home for my sister’s wedding, or just making ends meet at the end of the month. But the struggle has been that the credit card is always sitting on the back burner… available for emergencies… but more than willing to also offer its shiny little self for non-emergencies.

We are in another one of those faith-situations at the moment. We decided not to go to North Carolina this Christmas because the finances weren’t there and we weren’t going to play chess with the space on our credit cards to make it possible. We hoped this would mean we’d perhaps be able to go back in April, because two of our dear friends are getting married, and my sister is having a baby. We would love to be able to visit family, meet the new baby, watch the Bear be the “Ringbear” in our friends’ wedding, and perhaps have the opportunity to visit some ministry partners and attempt to find some more. (We still don’t have a 100% partnership team).

Here’s where I’m going to really open up the honesty box. I would’ve been willing to put a North Carolina Christmas on the credit card if Mark said it was okay. When I realised that, I really had to repent. (I may have shared this with you already.) I had to submit to the Lord and decide that I wanted His will more than I wanted to see my family. And it was hard to get to a place where I could say that and mean it. As the time for making a decision about the next opportunity to go home approached, I discovered the same thing was in my heart again. If Mark would’ve said it was okay to credit card the adventure home, I would’ve said “Yeah, baby!” and not have blinked twice. But when we do things in our own strength, where do we give God the opportunity to supply all our needs according to His riches and glory? (And to decide which things are the things He wants to provide for.)

As we sat across the room from each other and talked about this a few weeks ago (not because we were arguing, but because we were in single beds at Mark’s parents’ house and they are across the room from each other…very Lucy & Desi) Mark commented that the credit card was kind of like our Hagar. And it’s so true. When God promised to provide Abraham with a son, it was clear that it would be a thing of God, and not something Abraham needed to do in his own strength. But his attempt at making it happen in his own strength, at Sarah’s suggestion, was how Ishmael came about, by Hagar and not by Sarah.*

There are so many moments in our own lives where we have the opportunity to trust God, or to fall back on our own crutches and attempt to make things happen in our own strength. If God wills for us to be here for this or there for that, I believe we can trust Him to make a way for us, as long as we are obedient and listening to His guidance and direction. So as we had that chat a few weeks ago, we decided not to settle for trying to make things happen with Hagar, in our own strength, but to trust for the promises of God to be fulfilled. In Abraham’s case, through his wife Sarah, and in ours, by not falling back on the credit card crutch, but pressing forward to trust that living God’s way is better, even if it’s harder.

I don’t know exactly how all this is going to come together. But I thought I’d share a bit of what the “life of faith” looks like in my neck of the woods these days. God is a good and most definitely a trustworthy God. (Have you seen my new dishwasher? 🙂 ) And I look forward to sharing with you how all these things come together, for His goodness and glory.

*See Genesis 15 – 21 if you’d like to read the whole story.