Learning to Listen

I had a list. There were people that needed prayer and situations for which I needed answers. This was probably why God called me to retreat from my busy life for 24 hours—24 beautifully quiet hours at a place where all I could hear was a roaring creek—so that I could pray without interruption. I had two little boys at home, and it was pretty much impossible to even think one thought through from beginning to end, let alone concentrate on praying.

Only a few weeks before, my dear friend told me she was going away on a week-long retreat, just to be with Jesus. The idea struck me with strong emotion. Crying silently on the other end of the phone, I imagined how God must feel to know that she wanted to spend that much time just with Him. I realized then that I wanted to spend special time with Him too. But a week seemed absolutely impossible for me. Even one day was a stretch.

I started to pray for just one day that I could go away somewhere to just be with Jesus. I had no idea when or where, and we didn’t have much money to spare. But it was amazing how quickly a plan came together.

My husband found out about an empty room in one of the residence houses of the International Christian school where we worked. This house was on the side of a mountain, way up a winding road in the Black Forest of Germany. We found a day that my husband could be home with the boys, and before I knew it, there I was in this gorgeous, peaceful, quiet place—alone with God.

After settling in, I got right to it. I did the usual: reading my list to God, inserting scripture when I thought of it, asking Him to help this situation, heal that person, and to please give me patience with that other person. But as I talked to God, which was more like leaving a message on His voicemail, I sensed something new. It was a strong sense of His presence, and with that, an impression that though He was listening politely and carefully to my list, He wanted to tell me something He was excited about. He wanted to change the subject, and that was new to me. So God and I took a walk.

As we walked slowly through the ancient forest together, I felt the weight of His presence like never before. It was nearly a physical feeling—his nearness, his hands on my shoulders. I felt very small, totally protected, and deeply loved. As we walked, I wept. He so clearly had the floor, and I couldn’t remember any of my prayer requests. But it didn’t matter because I found out then what He was excited to talk about—he just wanted to tell me how much he loved me. As simple as that sounds and as basic as that concept is to Christianity, that day it hit me hard and went deep into my heart.

His love for me was the main emphasis of those pivotal 24 hours. He loved me. Me! And the most important thing to Him is my relationship to Him, not what I do for Him.

That day I went from doing for God to being His daughter—belonging to Him. Servant to beloved. That changed everything else, especially how I prayed. It was the beginning of learning to let Him be in charge of our prayer times together, learning to let Him speak, and learning to really listen and hear his voice.


(originally published on 9/15/2019 at




What Good is Humility?

Humility isn’t a very popular topic these days, is it? We are encouraged to put ourselves first, share every accomplishment on social media, post daily selfies, and make a name for ourselves. As Christians, we know that not all of this is good. But it is very difficult to pick our way through this minefield while we are immersed in our own culture—to know what is OK and what could lead us more and more into a self-focused life. 

As an artist, I post my work on social media, and like most people I’m happy when a post gets likes and comments. Sometimes I do struggle with putting my work out for the world to see, though. Am I showing off? Is this all about me? I know God gave me any abilities that I have, but am I trying to “make a name for myself”? Well, yes, I guess I am. In order to build my business, it’s important that people see what my work is like and associate my name with it. Anything wrong with that? If I am truly “making a name for myself,” like the ambitious tower of Babel folks (Genesis 11:1-9), the answer would be . . . yes. So, when I find myself in this position (which I have more than once!), what should I do?

I think the key is where my eyes are focused. On self or on Christ? Sounds simple, but it’s not a once-and-done choice. I chose to follow Christ a long time ago, but staying near to him involves tiny, directional adjustments that keep me walking beside him and toward him. “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:6). One of my favorite ways to acknowledge his presence is to ask him questions. Even a simple “Is this OK?” before I make a decision, or even post something on social media has been helpful, especially if I was hesitant for some reason. If I sense a smile or a go ahead, I go ahead. Sometimes scripture pops into my head at that moment, or even just a feeling that he is shaking his head causes me to reconsider. Conversations are deeper and better when we have eye contact. Once I look away from his gentle and humble eyes, I am so easily distracted. It’s natural then to look where I want to go and take steps toward my selfish inclinations. 

As always, Jesus draws us to himself to teach us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29). More and more, I am realizing that each separate problem I face is an opportunity to go to him for a big hug. As I confess my sin to him, he never shames me but kindly teaches me how to think differently. And here’s the heart of humility: He knows everything. We don’t. Sounds stupidly simple, but how often do we think in the back of our minds that we know better than God how to handle things? When this happens to me, I go to the verses that my mom instilled in me when I was little, so that I remember that I am still little, and he is big:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

From this basic place of humility (knowing our position under God), we can better follow him into humility with other people. More difficult. But again, he teaches us and leads by example. 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:1-8)

The closer we resemble Jesus, the closer we are to being truly humble. And the more we humbly realize we are totally dependent on him to be genuinely humble, the farther we are from false humility (arguably worse than pride!). Jesus’ humility drew people to his heart. Humility attracts; pride repels.

I was recently shown this in a relationship that I value highly. We were arguing. I was right. He was wrong. Seriously, though! I did not want to admit it to myself at the time, but my pride in being right completely took over. It was a tricky situation, because looking back, I still see the other person’s wrong as greater than my own. But in the moment of anger, in my zeal to prove their wrong, I totally overlooked mine. It was obvious what my pride did — it repelled this person I love and created a gap in the relationship. I asked the Lord to take over, realizing I could not manufacture humility. The next day my thoughts became clearer, and I admitted to the person how wrong I had been and said I was sorry. I felt the immediate change, as two magnets pushing away from each other suddenly click back together when turned around. He was genuinely humble and also apologized, and together we calmly talked about how we would handle things differently in the future. 

Relationships are obviously super important to Jesus. He prayed for unity among believers, even stating that by our unity the world will know that God sent Jesus and how much God loves them (John 17:23). This might be the most important reason God talks so much about humility. It is essential for unity and ultimately attracts others to Jesus. In these last days, when pursuing humility is so deeply counter-cultural, it may be more important than ever to learn from the only one who is completely humble in heart.

Originally posted on the blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA at

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace) · prayer

The Power of Being Thankful

Being thankful is so powerful, I’m surprised at how often I need to be reminded to do it. Recently I was struggling with anxiety because of some unanswered questions. I had been losing so much energy, joy, and mind-space to the fearful possibilities on which I was focusing. Fear is such a thief.

One good thing: I spent a lot more time with God because I knew I needed Him. He somehow kept patiently reminding me of what He’s told me hundreds of times before: Remember to be thankful.

Sometimes journaling helps. In an old journal I have written, in large, frustrated letters: “THANK YOU FOR GUACAMOLE.” It was clearly the only thing I could think of to be thankful for at that moment (oddly enough). Being thankful can be hard work, especially when we are stuck in a negative mindset. It often requires creativity. But I find that once I begin, it comes more easily, and can be fun once I get on a roll. 

Being thankful changes our focus, helping us to realize we are not in charge. It digs us out of the trap of negative thinking. And I think there is also an element that can’t be easily explained in the natural — being thankful somehow changes the spiritual “air” around us, and intimidates the enemy of our souls.

Best of all, being thankful is like a GPS driving us in the most direct route to the Presence of the Father. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name” – Psalm 100:4. And from there, seeing Him more clearly without negative thoughts to blind us, we are more free to worship Him, and to just enjoy being near him. The enemy flees. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” – James 4:7. Being thankful is an excellent way to resist, and it brings freedom.


The Parties of Heaven (part 2)

“I saw the common things drawn into the bright shadow.” – C.S. Lewis

I saw a photograph of deeply green forested mountains. Far away in one of the valleys was glimpse of a ferris wheel and colorful carnival tents. There were no roads, cars, or parking lots. It looked as if the only way to get to the carnival was to walk or ride horse through the woods. 

The picture had a strong effect on me, a feeling that has occurred several times in my life. Has this happened to you? — It felt like an invitation, and a memory of something I hadn’t yet experienced. In C.S. Lewis’s book, Surprised by Joy, he describes experiences like this (which he says were actually very instrumental in his conversion from atheism to Christianity).

“…the memory of a memory…and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It was something quite different from ordinary life and even from ordinary pleasure; something, as they would now say, ‘in another dimension.’”

“He has planted eternity in the human heart” (from Ecclesiastes 3:11). And, C.S. Lewis again: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world” (Mere Christianity).

My picture of the forest carnival set my imagination stirring about the parties of Heaven. God loves parties, festivals, and celebrations which is clear from a quick skimming of the Bible. As He also loves variety (clear from a glance a Creation), I believe there will be a variety of parties and festivals in Heaven. The Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9), which I am so excited about, will be the party to end all parties — and/or — the party to begin all parties. 

There will be a New Earth to explore, besides a City of enormous proportions (about 1400 x 1400 miles (Rev 21:16 and see 1 Cor. 2:9-10)). This means, for party planners and goers, an endless variety of locations! Forests, beaches, mountain tops, riversides, city parks, ancient buildings of the City that will make what we know of Paris and Prague look boring and ordinary in comparison. (Remember, “the architect and builder is God”! Heb. 11:10). I’m guessing the whole universe will be ours to explore, as well, so go ahead and imagine a party among the stars. “Join us tomorrow at 38:31 among the twinkling Pleiades! Dinner and Dancing. Dress: Black Tie and Diamonds.”

I mentioned in my last post that I am hoping to be involved in the design of invitations for the some of these parties. I have been working on a sample invitation for the Forest Carnival party I’ve been thinking about, which I hope to have finished for a future post (The Parties of Heaven (part 3)). 


The Parties of Heaven (part 1)

I enjoy thinking about and imagining the parties in Heaven. “Look on Zion, the city of our festivals.” (Is. 33:20). There is one happening today — a birthday party for my sweet sister-in-law, who went to be with the Lord this past August. Today, her daughter posted on Facebook that this is the first birthday in many years that she’ll be celebrating with her parents and grandparents. I wonder how many generations will join in — I can imagine her talking with a great-great-great grandmother, perhaps, and noticing family resemblances. Maybe some of her favorite heroes of the Bible will show up. I was thinking of all of this, and I asked Jesus to please take pictures for us! He might have shown me one right then, because I could clearly picture my sister-in-law, her face glowing with joy, health, and the golden candlelight of the cake in front of her. Her mouth was open with laughter at something someone had just said. I could tell it was one of those belly-laughs that only come when something strikes you particularly funny, and you are among people that make you feel completely comfortable. 

It was wonderful thinking about the reality of where she is now. Of course we should at least occasionally remember how brief our lives are here on earth so that we live each day fully, but I like when that leads to thinking more about the permanent Home we are heading for (if we are at peace with God through Christ). We are Citizens of Heaven, and “foreigners and strangers” here (Heb. 11:13). Have you ever felt the reality of that? Some may think it strange to spend much time thinking about Heaven. But isn’t it stranger to be spending a majority of the time thinking about the place where we’ll be spending the very least amount of our eternal existence? 

The Bible gives us many glimpses of what it will be like there. And the fun part of imagining from those starting points is knowing that it will be even better than the best that we can possibly imagine. Once I am there, I hope to be involved with designing invitations to some of the parties and festivals. More thoughts on that to come. 

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace) · prayer · Uncategorized

Too Many Details

I used to think I was a “detail person.” But over time, I realized that pretty much applies only to my artwork, and even in that details can overwhelm me. That’s why I prefer painting a close-up of an object rather than a landscape. I know a lot of amazing people who do so many things and handle so many details with energy and confidence. I’m just not one of those people. And I’m ok with that, until the schedules, needs, and expectations of my family, others and myself go beyond a certain point. My brain goes haywire and I can turn into a rather unpleasant person.

Life can be overwhelming. Besides the necessary things of daily life, and the unplanned surprises (pleasant or unpleasant), we are more or less under the influence of our culture, which pressures us to be busy, to have more, volunteer more, have a clean house, a mown lawn with no dandelions, make more money, be more social, be doing all the time. Some people thrive on lots of activity (you go, you extrovert energizer bunnies! I admire you!). But some of us are drained by it all, overwhelmed by all the details of life. We require more simplicity, peace, and quiet in order to function well.

Even though we haven’t read it yet, my husband and I often talk about the basic principle of this book: Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson. Some of us do just fine with 1/4” margin all around their “page.” Some of us do better with one or two words on the page and a whole lot of white space (yes, give me that!). But no one does well with zero margin, words to the very edge of the page in every direction — everyone needs some space to deal with the unexpected, whether it’s a friend (or stranger) that needs help, or a tree falls on your house during a storm. And everyone needs some time to process life and not to hide behind a busy schedule.

Each detail of life carries a bit of weight. The more anxiety or worry attached to it, the heavier it is. I’m continually learning to “Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Some time ago, during worship at our church, I had a vague mental picture of Jesus smiling at me. It looked like there was something in His hand. I was mostly wondering if I was just making this picture up in my head, but also felt I should ask, “What is that in Your hand?” So I asked, and added, “By the way, I don’t have enough faith today to even hear your answer.” At that exact moment, our worship leader prayed, “Thank You that You hold the details of our lives in the palm of your hand.”


Wish You Didn’t Have to Go

My “little boy” will soon be graduating and going off to college. My affectionate boy who has never stopped giving me hugs, even in front of his friends, even when he was in middle school. My sweet, thoughtful boy who loves to sit down and have deep talks about any subject, who is a friend to everyone. I have been trying to process all the last things in the past months — last musical, senior prom, last choral concert — and it seems appropriate that I came across these thoughts from my journal from when the boys were 10 and 6 years old:

Thinking about how quickly my little boys are growing up, and the magic of childhood slowly evaporating. I feel a deep sadness that only another mother might really understand. Crying over this sense of loss…they are slipping through my fingers and things will never be the same again.

But somehow…and I cannot imagine at all how…God will make even this right. When the four of us are all together in Heaven, everything will be all right. Better than all right. Whatever is precious that has been lost here on earth will be more than restored. There, I will have no cause for these heavy tears, no matter how much I think back on this. I trust my creative God to think of a way to restore and redeem anything and everything.

There is something about childhood magic, pure innocence, simple joys, and sweet, deep parent-child relationships that echoes Heaven. I think at least part of this sadness is really a longing for Home.

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4  I love the thought of God taking the time to wipe every tear from my eyes. Knowing how He likes to get to the root of issues and heal the depths, I believe the wiping of each tear we have ever shed will include healing the depth of each hurt that caused those tears. I’m thinking this will take quite a bit of quality time with the Father to discuss and heal each tear from the past! Sounds good to me. Imagine, then, being free from every thought that now makes you angry, cringe, cry, regret, ashamed, guilty, or deeply sad. I believe that this process can begin even now, and has for me; but will be completed and perfected in Heaven.




How Are You?

I was driving to the grocery store and suddenly started to pray. “Jesus, would you please…” And then stopped. I was suddenly reminded of how I felt when my (always hungry) boys came home from school and abruptly asked, “Mom, did you get groceries?” before they even said hello to me, or asked how I was doing. I knew they loved me, but it did leave me feeling a bit like a vending machine.

So, I started over with, “I’m sorry, Lord! How are you doing?” I love asking God how He is doing, or what is on His heart. Sometimes He shows or tells me. Often I just sense His pleasure in my nearness, which gives me the impression that I was on His heart….that He was just waiting for me to notice that He was near. Isn’t that astounding? That the God of the universe is happy — overjoyed, even, as the perfect Father who is never too busy for us — to have His children come to be with Him? He loves when we simply want to be near Him. I love when my boys take a moment in their busy lives (and they are very busy right now) to ask me how I’m doing or to come give me hug (or even just to text me one of those blow-a-kiss emojis). Isn’t it amazing that the most important thing to God isn’t what we do for Him, or how “good” we are, but our relationship with Him?

By the way, as soon as I got home I realized He had answered my “Jesus, would you please…” prayer.

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace)

Best Case Scenario

nap at noonI have such a well-developed habit of thinking of the worst case scenario. People have asked me, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” (meaning to be helpful). Well, I suggest that you don’t ask an INFP that question. We have stellar imaginations. I can come up with mind boggling disasters that would make you regret asking (if I happened to put it into words, instead of my usual brief, conventional answer followed by silently growing, fear-fertilizing thoughts that can hardly be stopped).

Recently, I decided to go with thinking about the best case scenario. “What’s the best thing that could happen in this situation?” I ask myself, and think and imagine great and exciting possibilities. I have found that my best case scenario is pretty realistic compared with the worst case. And it is at least as likely to happen. This change of focus has been a wonderful tool, and has taken a lot of fear weight off of me. I am looking forward to the day when it will be a habit, rather than a discipline.

Anxiety (or, pursuing Peace) · Uncategorized

The Love of Most Will Grow Cold

During a very difficult time, when someone had hurt me and people I loved, Jesus brought this verse clearly to my mind: “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” Matt 24:12. My first thought was something like, “Surely not me, Lord!” It was actually the first time I had ever considered that verse as applying to myself personally. To me, it had always been a more general verse, for the future, for other people in the end times. But as I pondered it, with Jesus there with me, I began to realize that my heart already had heavy frost around the edges.cold

In the following months of journaling (my therapy, my best way of communicating with God and seeing His work and presence in my life), I came to realize I could do nothing about my cold heart. Outward attempts to be kind made me feel artificial. My prayers for this person were bitter. I discovered in a new way that the only cure for my frigid heart was to draw close to the pure and warm heart of my Father God. In this case, I retreated, took refuge. Spent days and weeks, not trying to love or even pray for the person, but instead running to His arms, and staying there. Not doing anything. That is where my heart began to melt. I looked to Him, He comforted me. I didn’t have to do anything else (I kept asking) for a long, long time. Every time I asked, “Should I call? Text?” I heard, “Wait.” Every time I got bombarded with hateful thoughts, I learned to run to His arms, take refuge there, hide in Him. I learned to stay there longer, and return more often.

As I spent time there, I learned that He cared much more about my situation, and justice, and grace, than I did. I was able to fully hand it all over to Him (with a few hundred set backs). I had to hand over the “record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13) I was keeping, and let Him deal with that. I realized He had things timed, and that much was going on that I couldn’t see. I had to wait. I was learning to enjoy just being in His comforting, sweet presence meanwhile. I realized even more that there was no where I would rather be.

Then an opportunity came to show love, through an act of service, (not my spiritual gift, so it was extra difficult to obey). I had an attitude, but I knew the time was right. And, though it didn’t solve everything or bring on the apology I felt I deserved (I’ve since been able to give that expectation to God to keep, as well), it was a big turning point. It served to thaw that person’s heart and to enable them, and me, to see more clearly.