I’ve been running on a treadmill lately, and it turns out, running isn’t so bad when you’re directly in front of a giant fan on a 0% incline. Plus, I’m likely to get lost if I venture out on trails, so the treadmill works for me.
Andy prefers to run outside, though, where he can explore new routes and make new friends. I’m not even kidding.–More than once, he has come home from a run talking about someone he met on the trail and ran alongside. But I prefer to run alone, so I can listen to music, write stories in my head, and pray.
(Mostly, I pray that it’ll be over soon.)
A truth for both treadmills and trails: to finish, you have to run. You have to begin, and you have to put one foot in front of the other, and if you keep going–fast or slow–you’ll eventually finish.
The point is, run.
It’s true in life, too. In parenting, in ministry, in relationships…just run. In patience, in kindness, in forgiveness. In weariness or joy, in faithfulness and obedience…the point is, run. Keep going. Pray that it’ll be over soon if you want, but put one foot in front of the other–fast or slow–and eventually, you’ll finish.
And, oh! Isn’t finishing the best part?! Paul said it this way: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
A crown at the finish line! An inheritance from the Lord as a reward (Colossians 3:24). A “well done” from the Christ we love.
But first…until that day…with perseverance and reliance on His grace…we run.
I read once that you shouldn’t say, “It’s okay,” when someone hurts you—because it’s not okay. Instead, respond, “I forgive you,” because that communicates, “What you did wasn’t good, but I’ll let it go. I’ll let you off the hook.”
It’s like Andy Stanley writes in his book, It Came From Within. When we’re hurt, we say, “You owe me!” But to forgive is to say, “You don’t owe me anymore. You don’t have to repay that debt.”
And so, like a lot of moms, I often conclude my kids’ conflicts by making them apologize to one another and forgive each other.
“I’m sorry,” one will say.
“I forgive you,” comes the required reply, although, it often sounds more like, “Ifgvyu.”
And oh, isn’t that so neat and tidy? “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”—the debt is cancelled, problem solved, simple as that! Except, sometimes, people don’t say, “I’m sorry.” And sometimes, “I forgive you” is the hardest thing in the world to even utter—let alone mean. Some debts are harder to cancel than others. Some offenses hurt deeply, and some wounds don’t heal overnight. Sometimes, I want to forgive—truly I do!—but goodness. Sometimes, forgiveness is rough.
I hold two truths in my hands. In one hand, I’ve been wronged and wounded and it’s not okay. But in the other hand, God calls me to forgive, just as in Christ, He forgave me (Ephesians 4:32). And how do I balance both truths? I can’t. I simply must let go of one. Will I hang on to the injustice? Or will I let it go, and cling instead to the forgiveness and mercy and grace that are mine in Christ?
Because it’s only in holding on to Him that I find I’m truly free.
I hardly know where to start, so let me let Andy tell you in his words first. This letter went out to our church today:
Dear Real Life Church family,
Eleven and a half years ago, Amy and I felt the unexpected call of God to leave a solid, growing church in Indiana and move our family to a one-year-old church plant in a movie theater in a part of the country we knew nothing about. My, what an eleven year ride it has been! Our hearts overflow with the stories of your lives, and of God’s faithfulness. Some of you have longed for a child, and have worshiped as God answered that longing. Others have watched your children leave home and start families of their own. You have gone through hardships to learn God’s tenderness, and through seasons of blessings to learn His goodness. You have been our family – babysitting our kids, blessing us more than you can imagine with meals and gifts and friendship, crying with us, celebrating with us, sharing in our lives, and inviting us into yours.
Which is why the familiar call of God has come, once again, so unexpectedly.
As many of you know, the leaders of Real Life very generously gave me a time of Sabbatical – an opportunity to step away from my “duties” at the church to study, pray, rest, and listen to God. We couldn’t have known how God was planning to speak to me, or how quickly. Almost immediately, I fell into a conversation about a ministry opening that – I don’t know another way to say it – stirred my heart. After weeks of prayer, seeking Godly counsel, and listening to God, what started as a conversation has become a calling, and I have accepted a ministry position at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Specifically, I will serve as a Residence Director for one of the boys’ dormitories. The main emphasis of the role is simply to pastor, mentor, and disciple the boys in that dorm as they go through life away from home and prepare to enter ministries of their own. Amy and I will build relationships and share our lives with the students there, just as we’ve done with you.
The timeline of our transition isn’t finalized yet, but we will be moving most likely in late June, after our kids finish their school year here. As Michael DeFazio mentioned in his message this weekend, he and Beth are headed to Ozark as well, where he’ll serve on the teaching faculty. While we certainly didn’t plan or coordinate this, God has seen fit to send us there, too, and we’re grateful for a continued partnership with them.
You are a treasure to us – a blessing we could never have expected and will never forget. The sadness in our hearts is only tolerable because we know the deep love God has for each of you, and for Real Life Church. His plan for you is not finished, and He’ll be faithful in the future, just as He was in the past.
Being your pastor has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, and I know no better words than the Apostle Paul’s to describe what you mean to me. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
With deepest love,
So…that’s the news, and now I can’t see the screen because once again my eyes are blurry with tears. Ozark Christian College trains men and women for Christian service, and I don’t know anyone better to disciple the young men in our dorm, and to model the character and faith they’ll need in ministry, than Andy Storms. Andy will also be Ozark’s assistant soccer coach, and I’m interviewing for part-time work with the college, too. Joplin is precious to us, and Ozark has been a beloved part of our extended family for years. Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and even a grandpa have attended and/or worked at Ozark in years past. Andy and I met as students there, and our dorm is actually the same one where both Andy and my dad lived, too. We’re beyond thrilled to serve at a place we love so dearly.
But, of course, it’s so bittersweet, because it means leaving another place we love so dearly, too. The very thought of it makes my heart hurt. RLC family, I keep recalling one of my favorite verses in the Book of John, with regard to you: “From the fullness of his grace, we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). From the day we arrived in California 11 1/2 years ago, with a two-year-old and an 11-month-old and not-a-CLUE what we were doing, you’ve been God’s grace to us.
(Molly didn’t arrive till nine months later. Exactly nine months later–wink. And you were gracious then, too.)
Thank you for your friendship and love. Thank you for all you’ve taught us–you taught us far more than we ever taught you, I’m sure. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness along the way. Thank you for every moment of the last 11 years. From changing Molly’s diaper on the floor of a movie theater, to stacking and unstacking school desks at West Ranch, to worshiping together that first day in our building as Monique’s incredible voice rang out, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain…” every bit of it is precious to my heart. Every bit of it, to me, has been God’s grace.
Andy and I love you so much, Real Life Church, and we’re so proud of you. We look forward to watching all God has in store for you. Thank you for being our family. Truly, through you, God has richly given us one blessing after another!
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and, considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, NASB)
As a preacher’s kid, I heard my dad teach God’s Word more times than I can count. Week after week, I listened to his sermons—the points of which were usually alliterated, and the illustrations of which were, quite often, me.
(Maybe that’s why I tell so many stories on my kids now. Payback for my own childhood.)
I inherited my love of the Old Testament from my dad, because he loved it, too, and often taught on Moses, and David, and Elijah. And yet, even though I heard his sermons every Sunday, my dad taught me the most about faith and following Jesus every Monday through Saturday.
When Daddy preached on marriage, I’d already seen how he treated my mom. When he taught the congregation to love one another, I’d already gone with him to visit the nursing home, or leave anonymous gifts on a family’s doorstep, or deliver groceries to someone in need.
When I recall my dad’s voice, I don’t hear him preaching a sermon. I hear him laughing with me on the way to school. When I picture Daddy—when I imagine him in my mind’s eye—he isn’t on stage, standing before a crowd of people. He’s sitting at our kitchen table, up before the sun, with his brown leather Bible open before him.
Want to be a church leader? Jesus says, be a servant. Want to teach people every Sunday? Then follow Him every Monday through Saturday. Ministry happens, not in front of crowds, but in front of your family. Not on stage, but at the kitchen table. Thank you, Daddy, for a faith worth imitating.
Pardon my colorful language—blinkin’ cursor! I’m speaking of the cursor on my computer screen. The one that mocks me, judges me, BLINKS at me every time I begin a new piece.
“Say. Something. Blink. Blink.”
“Can’t. You. Write? Blink. Blink. Blink.”
Curse you, cursor!
Lately I’m writing something that I hope will someday be a book. It’s about contentment and Philippians, it’s born out of my own ongoing struggle, and as my friend said, it’s the “fire in my bones.”
I know God wants me to write it. I know that like I know my daughter’s hair is red. And yet…I hesitate. I hesitate to even call the project a “book” because, well, it isn’t! Blink. Books require agents and publishers—blink, blink—which require “platforms” and people to actually read them—blink. And really, isn’t it vain to call myself a writer? I have nothing new to say, and after all, “blogs are by people who just want to hear themselves talk.”—Someone said that to me years ago, and don’t think it doesn’t blink in my face every time I write.
So, I sit at my computer, wanting to write the story, but staring instead at the blink, blink, blink.
It’s so hard to begin!
Really, though, I don’t have to. The story is already underway. The Book of Hebrews says that Jesus is the “author of salvation” (2:10)…that everything originates with Him, and He founded it all. So in a sense, my “story” isn’t relying on me to begin it. The Author is already hard at work, crafting every detail.
Hebrews says that Jesus will finish it all, too, because He’s the “perfecter of our faith” (12:2). He starts the story and completes it. He writes the beginning and the end.
No blinks about it! The Author writes it all.
Lord, You’ve got this. My book that may or may not become a book, my marriage, my future…You write the story. All of it. Because of this, I can be “confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in me will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). Amen.
Sunday was Belle the basset hound’s fourth birthday. Or was it her 28th? I’m not sure. Anyway, at her party–the 15 minutes after church that night–we celebrated with the usual birthday fun.
First, we woofed “Happy Birthday” to the birthday girl. Then, we had food…
…and games. In years past at Belle’s parties, we’ve played “Musical Paws” and “Pin the Tail on the Puppy.” However…since I honestly forgot about Belle’s birthday until Anne reminded me that morning, and because Belle is still sensitive to any tail references ever since her unfortunate car-leaping incident…we decided instead to just play “Hunt the Bologna”–where the kids hide pieces of lunch meat, and Belle sniffs them out while I sit on the couch.
And then, because who knows why, we decided it would be fun to play “Dress Up the Dog.” Only, since we don’t own any actual dog clothes, Nathan contributed an old tee shirt, and Anne and Molly cut the legs off some old pants–and added a hole for her tail.
Here she is, smiling for the camera.
Poor thing. She isn’t really smiling. More like panting with anxiety. Turns out, Belle rather prefers nakedness. She tugged and clawed at the shirt, and then just stood completely still because she was too uncomfortable to move.
“You can dress me up like a person,” she was saying, “but I’m still a dog.”
Truth is, I wish I were more like Belle. Not in her preference for nakedness, necessarily–but in her ability to be herself. In liking herself. In loving the droopy, ill-fitting, slightly pudgy skin she’s in. Belle knows who she is, she likes who she is, and she won’t pretend to be someone she’s not.
Too often, I dress up to look like everyone else: the author I’d love to be, the mom I wish I were, the got-it-all-together woman I try to portray. What if I were just Amy? Just droopy, ill-fitting, slighty pudgy Amy? What if my identity was so rooted in Christ that I was only, completely, confidently me?
Paul told the believers in Ephesus that we’re blessed, and chosen, and loved, and redeemed. He said that, in Christ, we have an inheritance and a purpose (Ephesians 1:3-14). With all that, why pretend to be anything else? Anything else is so much less than what God has for us.
Lord, enough playing dress up! Let me be me–the Amy that You created and intended and purposed. Open my eyes to see myself the way You see me. And then, let me live in the freedom and confidence that comes from knowing who I am in You. Amen.
Previous Lessons from a Basset Hound:
- Lesson 1: Obedience
- Lesson 2: Perseverance
- Lesson 3: Love
- Lesson 4: Hope
- Lesson 5: Smelling Like Poo
- Lesson 6: Tweet!
- Lesson 7: Reward
- Lesson 8: Wisdom
- Lesson 9: New
- Lesson 10: Friendship
- Lesson 11: Being Stung
- Lesson 12: Acceptance
- Lesson 13: Rest
- Lesson 14: Joy
- Lesson 15: Compassion
- Lesson 16: Sabbath
- Lesson 17: Eye Contact
- Lesson 18: Imagination
- Lesson 19: Days Like This
“V-I-C-T-O-R-Y…that’s the Eagle battle cry!”
Sixth grade…decked out in school colors, spirit ribbons safety-pinned to my shirt…clapping and stomping and cheering like crazy. It was my first junior high pep rally, and clearly, I was pepped. Really, in the grand scheme of the universe, what is more important than middle school sports? I didn’t know a thing about football, but I knew our Weatherford Eagles would crush those Clinton Tornadoes. Victory wasn’t just ours, the cheerleaders had declared…it was our battle cry!
Fast-forward to 11th grade. We’d moved across the state, and I now rooted for the Union Redskins. High school pep rallies were bigger, louder, and more important than they’d been in junior high…only by now, I’d lost my pep. I knew the drill. I appreciated the chance to miss Chemistry class, but honestly, I didn’t care all that much whether or not we got a V-I-C-T-O-R-Y.
Maybe since I’ve never played sports, I can’t know the thrill of the win. Or maybe I’m too cynical or fearful or just not ambitious enough. Whatever the reason, somewhere along the way, I’m sad to admit that I’ve traded my battle cry for a safety cry.
It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, somehow.
This morning, I read this in 1 John 5: “…everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
There’s that pep rally word again…victory. Only, this is more than beating the Tornadoes. This is overcoming the world! And who gets the win? “Only he who believes…” John says it’s the battle cry of every Christ-follower: F-A-I-T-H!
Faith assures the victory.
My faith—not my ability or intelligence or hard work or spotless record—assures my victory. And faith assures my victory—not my comfort, my health, or my safety. A life of faith is filled with unknowns and adventures. It is risks and spirit ribbons and pep. But in spite of the danger, every believer is assured the victory, when our battle cry is FAITH.
God, how I want a victorious life! I’ve been stuck in defeat because I exchanged a battle cry for a safety cry. But F-A-I-T-H is indeed the V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Lead me on in overcoming as I follow, believing. Amen.
When my kids were small, they talked in cartoonish voices, non-stop, until I sometimes wondered why I’d taught them to talk in the first place. I can still hear the ways they mispronounced certain words. Nathan called Anne, “Eeen!” and she always answered with a Swedish, “Yah!” Molly couldn’t say her R’s, so she called herself, “Molly Jane Stoims.”
There was one word they all mispronounced the same: animal. They said “am-i-nal” every single time, as in, “Oh, Mommy! Wook at the aminals!” My kids are close in age, so about the time Nathan started to say animal correctly, Anne was just beginning with aminal. Then she passed it on to Molly. All told, we said aminal around our house for five solid years.
And for at least two of those years, even I honestly wasn’t sure how to say it. I had to think, every time I said the word, “Am-i-nal, or an-i-mal?” A few times, I even grabbed a pen and paper and wrote it down, so I could see it spelled out.
I’d heard the word incorrectly so many times, it had started to sound correct. That still happens to me today, only with serious matters, not sweet. I listen to lies playing in my head—lies like, “You’re not enough,” or “God isn’t good.” Those lies repeat, non-stop, until I wonder why I listen in the first place. I do my best to silence them—to refute them, even—but the longer the lies continue, the more they sound like truth.
To be honest, I’ve heard the Enemy’s voice so many times, it has started to sound correct.
God, I want to change my mind—not to mention some deeply held wrong beliefs! You wrote down Your truth so I can see it spelled out. Help me, by Your divine power to demolish strongholds, to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Transform me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2), and let me know the truth that sets me free (John 8:32). Amen.
When Anne was a preschooler, I helped her call my parents to recite a Bible verse she’d learned. Mom and Dad weren’t home, though, so Anne left her verse on their voicemail.
Turns out, they had rushed to the hospital, to the bedside of a close friend whose sudden illness brought him very close to death. They arrived home late that night, scared for their friend and brokenhearted. They played their messages, and heard Anne’s little voice say,
“And hope does not disappoint, because God has poured out his love into our hearts, by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us” (Romans 5:5).
Hope does not disappoint.—Mom said it was just what they needed to hear that night.
Hope does not disappoint! It doesn’t disappoint my friend who just buried her mother. Now heaven isn’t just a hope…it’s an address!
Hope will not disappoint a family I’m watching walk through unimaginable grief. At the bottom of all their shock and pain, they’ll find a solid, foundational, lasting hope, “because God has poured out His love into their hearts.”
And hope won’t disappoint me, either, when I’m too scared to breathe and too terrified to trust. “Hope” in Anne’s verse means, “an expectation of what is sure.” This word in Greek is most often used in a positive sense, as in, an expectation of something good. “Disappoint” (in Greek) means, “to dishonor, to shame, to disgrace, to put into utter confusion.” Anne’s verse says, in other words, that I can expect something good from the Lord—I can be sure of His goodness—and I won’t be ashamed.
Hope does not disappoint.—Lord, that’s just what I needed to hear today! Let me rest in expectation of what is sure. Let me rely on Your goodness, because of the love You’ve poured out into my heart. Amen.
Not long ago, I read an autobiography that bugged me. The story was fine—the man had endured many hardships that, quite honestly, made for an interesting read. But the part that bothered me was this: he never seemed to completely learn from his mistakes. He never got all the way better.
I told a friend about my frustration. “It just irritated me that he kept struggling,” I said. “I guess I wanted him to say, ‘…but then I did this and this, and ever since, I’ve had my act together.’ I wanted his life to just be more…tidy.”
But the fact is, my own autobiography proves that I don’t have my act together, either. What’s more, sometimes life itself, with its hardships and heartaches, is anything but tidy.
I like tidy—all neat and clean and wrapped with a bow. I want a tidier life for my friend, just diagnosed with cancer. I want tidy for a precious mother reeling from an unthinkable tragedy. I even want it for someone whose life is untidy simply because she makes bad choices, and can’t get her act together.
“Lord, just look at this mess!” my heart cries for them all. “Can’t You tidy things up a bit?”
But perhaps the bigger the mess, the bigger the miracle. Maybe, where sin increases, grace increases even more (Romans 5:20). Maybe we wouldn’t turn to the Author and desperately trust Him, unless our stories were so desperately untidy.
Lord, I’m a mess, and I live in a messy world. Thank You that Your grace abounds.—How I need it, and rely on it! Thank You that You don’t just make things tidy. You make things whole. Amen.