“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12 NIV
Summertime draws out the worst of my body insecurities. Swimsuits and shorts and sleeveless shirts that expose my pale skin and less-toned-than-I-wish arms and tummy that stretched out too many times to ever be flat again.
When I get insecure, I reach for the easiest forms of self-comfort: comparison and consumerism.
First, I compare. Who looks best in a swimsuit? Who has better skin? Who has cellulite? Who has skinnier arms? I play this ugly game in my head always looking and assessing and trying to figure out where I stand.
Then, I consume. Maybe I just need a cuter dress or sunglasses or sandals or nail polish or coverup or sunhat or tank to feel better about myself, even if just for a moment.
Compare and consume. Compare and consume. On and on, trying to make the insecurities go away.
Cultural wisdom would tell me to stop comparing and instead turn my gaze to how strong and beautiful and capable my body is. I birthed four kids! I can run! My skin will age well!
Cultural wisdom would also tell me to buy the things that make me feel better about me. Self-tanner! New cut-off shorts! Little chunks of silicon you stuff into your bikini top!
Trust me, I’ve tried all of these. There is value, of course, in both positive self-talk and choosing outfits that fit. But these tactics alone are insufficient.
One morning a few weeks ago, I became aware of the ugly compare and consume habits that were happening inside me. The good news about God is that He is full of grace. He knows this tender part of me. He’s faithful to pull me out of the pit and realign my heart.
That morning on my bed He reminded me that I was caught up in looking to outward things to heal the inward muck. I was self-focused and self-consumed and kept grasping for a shiny new thing to make the insecurity go away. A new dress is nice and finding a swimsuit that flatters is reasonable, but my inner dialog was getting out of hand. He made me and loves me and has far more important things for me to do than obsess over skinny thighs and a closet full of adorable outfits.
The truth is, all of our insecurities are made obsolete when we remember our unchanging, forever identity as deeply wanted and valued children of God. With His help, we can clothe ourselves with compassion, not comparison. Kindness, not judgment. Humility, not pride. Gentleness, not criticism. Patience, not perfection.
And whether we put on the cutest summer dress or not, we can have all the confidence in the world that we are chosen, holy and dearly loved.
“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24 NIV
She burst into tears. “I don’t like school! I’m never going back!”
This was so out of character. First of all, Audrey isn’t one for overly-dramatic emotional outbursts, and second, she LOVES school.
After some consoling and wiping tears and taking deep breaths we got to the bottom of it:
Her beloved Mrs. K. had taken maternity leave and the brand new Miss B. was doing everything differently. The kids were noisy and disrespectful, the regular, comfortable routine was shifted, everything felt strange and messed up and she just wanted things to go back to how they used to be.
She’s a girl after my own change-resistant heart.
The next morning when I went in to wake her for school, she looked up at me with her wild bed hair and barely awake eyes. “Mom, I’ve been thinking about it and decided that I’m just going to keep reminding myself that today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day, today’s going to be a good day.”
Positive self-talk is important and valuable and I’m not here to dismiss it. Keeping those words in her mind all day would surely help her look for the good instead of focusing on what was going terribly wrong. So I smiled back and told her that was a great idea.
But I couldn’t leave it there.
On the way to school, a song popped into mind from my childhood. Perhaps you know it too?
🎶This is the day (this is the day), that the Lord has made (that the Lord has made) I will rejoice (I will rejoice) and be glad in it (and be glad in it) 🎶
I sang it to her and she giggled and for a brief moment in the school drop-off line, the Lord reminded me of something so simple, but so profound: It’s not actually about having good or bad days. Surely there will be both and more often than not, good and bad will show up on the exact same day. No, we can’t put our hope in having day after day of good days. I can’t set my daughter up for that.
Instead, that little song taken from an ancient song reminds us that whether life is smooth and comfortable and the way things “should” be or whether it has turned upside-down and feels strange and disorienting, it is still a day the Lord made and we are wise to rejoice in it.
BUT ALSO, the psalmist in 118 is referring to one particular day that changed every day after … the day when Jesus died and defeated death and made a way for us to be healed and set free and no longer bound by our own efforts to save ourselves. THIS is the day we celebrate because that one day changed every day going forward. It points to the greatest act of God on our behalf and this is worth rejoicing and being glad about.
So whether a day is good or bad or a mix of both, we can live and breathe and move confidently in the truth that Jesus has and will and is continuing to redeem what is broken, restore what is lost, and renew all things.
This is the truth I hope sinks down deep into my daughter’s heart. Mine too.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10 NIV
If asked if I’m picky, I’ll answer no. That’s not my style of control. I like to be flexible and open-minded, and I hope most people find that I’m easy and pleasant to be around. But ask me if I’m particular, and that’s a different story.
I’m particular about how the dishwasher is loaded because obviously, the bowls fit best on the lower right rack. I’m particular about the sleeves of the t-shirts facing the same direction when folded because they stack better that way. I’m particular about eating my food while it’s piping hot, and get a little grouchy when I have to wait at the dinner table for my less temperature-concerned family members to arrive. I’m particular about practically every aspect of my work that might reflect back onto me: graphics, emails, packaging, branding. I’m particular about how the kids look when we go out, especially when we take family photos.
Being particular is normal. We all have our preferences. It’s when those particularities become cemented in our minds as the only way that they cross over to the arena of control. Ouch, right? Control is especially ugly when I prioritize my own preferences over my care for another person. It’s what happens when I rearrange the dishwasher, huffing under my breath about my son’s incompetency in doing it right. It’s the urge to take over when my daughter is not folding her clothes properly and the self-righteousness that comes out when I take a bite before we all gather to pray because I just spent all this time making food and I want to eat it while it’s hot. It’s the overworked and stressed-out result of not asking for help or trusting another person to do what I mistakenly think only I can do and not caring if the sweater is itchy or the pair of pants is uncomfortable because it is what I want you to wear, and you will wear it.
My preferences are usually harmless, but they can creep in quietly, and soon enough I find myself being particular about more than just the day-to-day things like promptness and how the pillows are arranged on the couch. Instinctively, my eyes search and my hands grasp for opportunities to express my way. Control makes me feel powerful, and I like feeling powerful. It puts me and my great ideas in charge, and I think me and my ideas are pretty great. It allows me to be responsible for me, and that feels better than trusting. But control can also cause me to hurt and disregard others and make poor choices. Control assumes that I know best, but what God whispers (or sometimes hollers) is a knowing of a different kind.
“Be still and know,” he says.
“Know that I am God.”
So I humble myself and find my rightful place once again.
Relinquishing control reminds us that we’re not truly in charge. Letting go of the need for things to go our way allows space for God to have His way in us. Releasing control is just one of many small ways we make room for new growth. Life with God is the very best partnership, and it’s one big, amazing lesson in collaborating, considering, and giving up control. This is what leads to real rest.
(This is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my upcoming book, an illustrated memoir about identity, transformation, and Jesus’ invitation to real rest. I can’t wait for you to have it in your hands next spring. If you want to be on the waitlist for early notification, please leave a comment and I’ll add you to the wait list!)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 NIV
“Mom, let’s arm wrestle!”
The boys find great joy in this game. Over the last few years, these children of mine have eclipsed me in height and weight and shoe size and, without a doubt, arm strength. And yet, they still like to challenge me, just to see, can I really beat mom? Every single time they laugh and act surprised and egg me on, “Mom, try!” as I fight with all my strength and laugh back and assure them “I am trying!”.
It’s not even a competition; they win every time.
I want it to be this way. I want them to grow and work hard and build their muscles for health and enjoyment and good use. I want them to be strong.
But, even more than physical strength, I want them to be strong in character. Strong in convictions, in knowing truth from lie. Strong in self-control and firm in who they are. And I want them to be courageous; courageous to act and lead and make wise choices. Courageous to admit when they mess up and brave to try again. I want this for them, and I want it for me and you, too. Because, my goodness, fear, and discouragement just keep coming at us day after day, don’t they?! We could all use strength and courage.
The bad news is, the strength and courage required to combat fear and discouragement are not achievable on our own. We can give it our best effort, and perhaps succeed for a time, but it’s always a temporary fix. No matter how much we train or try, we’ll fall short.
But there’s great news, too. It’s not up to us. We will receive exactly what we need as a result of this: God is with us, wherever we go.
We chose this verse for our firstborn, Ethan (whose name means ‘strong’) when he was just a baby. And with each consecutive son, we chose it for them. It is the prayer of my heart for each of my boys:
Be strong, my child, when you look fear in the face. Be courageous, my son, when you feel inadequate, knocked-down, and discouraged. For the Lord is good and powerful and full of grace and HE IS WITH YOU. He will never leave you alone or forget about you and you can never get beyond his reach. He is for you. He makes you strong. He makes you courageous. Always remember this.
These words are for my boys and also me and you and every other son and daughter of God. This truth is for all of us, wherever we go.
These three words have come to mean a lot to me this year. I put them on my letterboard and look at it every day as a reminder because I am so prone to forget. If left to my own devices, I make everything about me. I self-promote and self-protect and hold myself back and use comparison to figure out where I stand. Please, someone, tell me I’m valuable. Please, anyone, make me feel like I am enough.
But these three words change that. For me and for you and for everyone.
The final words declared from high upon the cross made it known; there is nothing left to do and no one else to be to figure out our worth. It is finished.
In Pastor Timothy Keller’s book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness he writes this:
“In Christianity, the moment we believe, God imputes Christ’s perfect performance to us as if it were our own and adopts us into His family. In other words, God can say to us just as He once said to Christ, ‘ You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’
You see, the verdict is in. And now I perform on the basis of the verdict. Because he loves me and accepts me, I do not have to do things just to build up my resume. I do not have to do things to make me look good. I can do things for the joy of doing them. I can help people to help people – not so I can feel better about myself, not so I can fill up the emptiness.”
He goes on:
“Jesus faced the trial that should be ours so that we do not have to face any more trials. So I simply need to ask God to accept me because of what the Lord Jesus has done. Then, the only person whose opinion counts looks at me and He finds me more valuable than all the jewels in the earth.”
So every day, I look at the letterboard and remember that what Jesus did on this day 2000 years ago is all that matters. These three words change everything.
May you be encouraged today and always by these unforgettable words.
It is finished.
Three things happened back-to-back that changed the trajectory of my bible-reading life (and my whole life, actually).
It first started with a post I wrote last year about morning devotional books I liked. I am not a morning person and yet I saw the value in starting the day with truth, so I did what I’ve always done and chose a morning devotion to start the day. There is nothing wrong with this, per se. Quick readings with scripture and truth and application have their place. And for us busy moms (especially you moms of littles where it feels like you never have a minute to yourself!) those devotional resources are priceless. But then a reader left a comment that made me pause. She said something along the lines of “is this really all we’re willing to give Jesus? All we have is just an obligatory 5 minutes to read and then just move on with our day?“. It could have come off as critical and I could have responded defensively. But instead, it totally convicted me. She was right. Is a quick get-it-done reading all I was willing to give? And was it working to grow me deeper into the knowledge and trust in who God is and who I am and how then I should live in this world?
Another thing happened around the same time: I felt the Lord asking me to quiet the noise. There are endless resources for amazing teaching and inspiration and I was consuming a lot of it. My desire to grow and learn was at an all time high and I was responding by drinking it all in. These things, again, are SO good. Podcasts and books and instagram and blog posts with testimonies of how God has worked and what He is like are invaluable. But I felt like I was just hearing second hand about who God is and what He does and not experiencing it for myself.
I longed to know what He wanted to say to ME!
The third moment happened in passing on a Sunday at church. I was chatting with a friend and she told me about something she had read that morning in the book of Nehemiah. I commented, “hmm I’ve never studied Nehemiah.” And her reply caught me off guard: “oh, I’m not studying, I’m just reading.” I realized then and there that my approach to the Bible was off. I saw it as something to study, to dig through, to come to academically and in a group. It was for smarter theologians or well-practiced readers who understood original Greek and Hebrew and ancient culture. I was consuming teaching ON the bible, craving knowledge about God, seeking out wise teachers – all good things – but it was like a watered-down, second-hand kind of experience with God and He was asking me to quiet all that noise to just be with Him.
At the same time as all of this was going on, my spiritual director suggested a new way of understanding who Jesus is through daily reading through the gospels.
She introduced me to Project 89.
The practice was developed by an organization for church leaders called Centered. My spiritual director’s husband leads the team and we have good friends who work with them so it felt like a trustworthy place to start.
Here’s the premise of Project 89:
Each day, you read one chapter of a gospel, starting with Matthew, then moving through Mark, Luke and John. There are 89 chapters total (hence the Project 89 title).
The best part, though, is that you do not just read. You also journal in a guided way.
This is the journal I used and it is now one of my most beloved possessions.
Here’s how it works:
With a blank notebook (at least 90 pages, lined, unlined, spiral bound, stitched, whatever you like), create a table of contents with the chapter, date and room for a title you will give the chapter after reading it.
So at the very beginning, you’ll have a running list of all the chapters for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It took me four pages in my notebook.
Once you complete a reading, you’ll add in the title and date.
Here’s how my title pages look:
I didn’t give my pages numbers, but you could if it helps you keep better track.
You’ll notice a few asterisks next to particular chapters. Those were my own little way to mark particular days when I felt like the Lord spoke special things to me.
On each day of reading, you’ll title a new page with the chapter and date. Then read and take notes and journal as you feel led.
At the end of the reading and journaling, give the day a title. It could be a concept that sticks out from a verse or a plot line or what the Lord taught you.
Here are a few sample pages of my daily notes as an example:
Some days were less journal-y than others. Sometimes the chapter didn’t totally connect, and honestly, sometimes I was less engaged and just rushed through.
But as long as my heart and mind were present and I invited the Holy Spirit into the practice, He was so faithful to speak and show and bring up questions and offer answers.
I started Project 89 on June 1, 2018 and finished on January 3, 2019.
In theory, it would only take 89 days, but it took me 7 months. And honestly, I feel totally okay with it. In fact, I am so sad it is over. It became a way for me to slow down, to speak to God, to hear from God, to get to know His character, to find myself in parables and recognize my inability to measure up and Jesus’ incredible, upside-down ways that set us free.
As I look back through the journal, I can see so clearly the messages I needed to hear directly from God.
I needed to know His character – that He is good, kind, compassionate, responsive. I needed to be honest about my shortcomings – that as much as I try not to, I still get very tangled up in the worries of the world. I needed to spend time with Him and prioritize this practice in my busy life. I needed to remember His promises. I needed to slow down and talk to Him and listen.
Because just as I had so hoped, He did have things to say to me.
At the end of it all, I can honestly say that this one spiritual practice has transformed my life.
I have done a lot of work over the past year to grow and heal and understand my identity in Christ. There has been incredible freedom and healing which I’m more than excited to share as the time comes. But at the center of it all, I deeply believe that spending time in the Gospels in this very intentional way has been the biggest difference-maker.
If this is something you’d like to do, may I share a few things that I think are imperative:
Find a quiet place
I’m not great at getting up way ahead of the kids, so instead I found a crack of time in between sending my middle schooler off to school and starting the morning routine with the elementary kids. I crawled back in to bed in my quiet bedroom with my journal and bible app to do the daily practice.
Some days I would bring my journal along with me and do the reading in my car if I had some time before barre class or as I was waiting during a kid’s sports practice.
The essential part – at least for me – was being alone, without noisy distractions or interruptions.
Begin with an open, mindful posture
This sounds sort of woo-woo, but stick with me.
It’s super tempting to just run through the motions and treat it like an item on your checklist. Sure, you’ll get something out of it, but what if there’s more?!
Begin each time by getting quiet and still, close you eyes, open your hands and exhale.
When I meet with my spiritual director, we begin each session like this. We sit in silence with our eyes closed and hands open for a minute to let the pressures and to-do list roll into the background and be present and open in the moment.
We also light a candle to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit during our monthly meetings. I didn’t add the candle portion to my daily reading, but you certainly could if it helps you get into the mental and spiritual place where you will be most open.
Acknowledge the presence of Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is with us always, so I don’t know how I feel about saying we need to invite him in, but acknowledging His presence is vital.
My prayer each time I began might sound something like this:
Holy Spirit, you are here. I am here. I am thankful for this time to be with you. Quiet my heart, open my eyes and ears. Show me through the Word what you want me to know. Show me what you want me to do. Show me who you are and what that means about who I am.
Read in a translation that is not super familiar to you
I love my NIV study bible. But for this practice, I read each day in The Passion Translation version. IT WAS INCREDIBLY IMPACTFUL.
Even though the stories might be familiar, reading them in a version that is not your regular go-to makes you read the words and not just skim over them. It puts new words and maybe slightly different perspective that makes you stop and think and pay attention and reflect on familiar scriptures in new ways.
I read using the BibleGateway app on my phone. I started each day with The Passion Translation and then would switch to the Amplified version (another favorite) or The Message or The New Living for added clarity and perspective. I love reading the same story in different translations to help me understand and comprehend better.
Write down whatever makes you pause
If I read a line in the chapter and it caught my attention for whatever reason, I wrote it down. Sometimes I would elaborate with added thoughts or questions, sometimes I would stop and look it up in a different version, sometimes I just continued on.
The point of journaling is to mark down what is speaking to your soul and interact with it. You might ask for deeper understanding. You might see a thread running through where the same things keep popping up. Now that I’m done, I love having this journal to go back through and see the repeating themes.
The journaling and titling each chapter acts as a way for you to think and comprehend instead of just reading but not really letting the words sink in.
Like I said up there, I didn’t finish in 89 days. But I didn’t quit or feel defeated when I missed a few days. The longer I stuck with it, the more I craved it. I anticipated meeting with God and growing in my faith.
It really is a relationship, you know? The more time you spend together, the deeper and purer it becomes. And when you skip being together, the more you miss it.
Well, there it is. The single most impactful spiritual practice I’ve ever done.
I’m so sad it’s done. I know that’s weird because I could just start again. But it’s just this sweet, special one-time thing that I know can’t be replicated and I hold it so dear. I am so grateful for the ways it has grown my faith and trust in God.
I pray, more than anything, whether you do this Project 89 practice or any other scripture reading, that you will more fully understand who God is, who you are and what that means as you walk out your daily life.
I’m on the journey with you, friend, and so thankful that we have a loving, good God who promises this:
“Move your heart closer and closer to God, and he will come even closer to you.” James 4:8 TPT