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



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.

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.”


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.