The Gift of Grace

11 11 2017


A little over a week ago I attended one of my favorite annual events, the Young Life Capernaum Art and Talent Show. Every year we auction off original works of art created by teens and young adults with special needs, and we host the most exuberant, unpredictable talent show you’ve ever seen. When I leave my face hurts from smiling.



But I wasn’t always like this. Before I had children one of my greatest fears was that I might have a child with special needs, and I comforted myself with the assurance that God would never give me a disabled child, because He knew I couldn’t handle it. All I could see was the brokenness. I never got close enough to see the beauty.

Until our son Jacob nearly drowned at fifteen, and I found myself in a world of hospitals, therapists, and a whole lot of new normals. Our family entered the world of disabilities, and once our eyes and hearts adjusted to the light, we were amazed to find Jesus right in the middle of it all.

And now, twenty-one years later, this is what I know. Our cultural ideas about what makes someone a “productive member of society” are completely messed up. Because I’m pretty sure our society needs a lot more joy, a lot more compassion, a lot more patience, and a lot more gratitude. We need childlike faith to enter the kingdom of God, and we need pure hearts to see Him.

So I want to introduce you to a couple of my friends. You need people like them in your life.

This is Will.


The first time I met Will, I’d come to his house to visit with his mom, Becky. When she introduced us, Becky said, “Do you mind telling Miss Jeanne what you told me earlier?” A shy smile spread across his face, and he whispered, “The Lord loves you.”

Becky explained that she’d told Will that morning that a friend named Miss Jeanne would be coming by, and a couple of hours later he ran up to her and said, “Mom, I have something very exciting to tell you!”

“What is it?” she asked.

“The Lord loves Miss Jeanne very much!”

It’s a truth I know and believe — that God loves me — but in that moment I felt He had come close and I was standing on holy ground. Like God Himself had breathed a benediction on me. Because He had.


Will helping create Texas flag art for the auction


And this is Grace.


Her name suits her perfectly.

In the talent show, Grace sang and performed sign language for the song, “Hallelujah, Thank You” by Rob Biagi. Here are the lyrics:

I bring me to You – like You ask me to
and I’m quiet

I bring me to You – like You ask me to
and I’m quiet

Believing everything you’ve promised You’ll do
and everything I’ve hoped for is true
and every tear I’ve cried you’ll wipe from my eyes
and I’ll say

Hallelujah – thank You
Hallelujah – thank You

I bring me to You – when I don’t know what else to do
keep me quiet
I bring me to You – when I don’t know what else to do
keep me quiet

I’m still believing everything You’ve promised You’ll do
and everything I’ve hoped for is true
and every tear I’ve cried You’ll wipe from my eyes
and I’ll say

Hallelujah – thank You – I sing
Hallelujah – thank You – Jesus
Hallelujah – thank You – I sing
Hallelujah – thank You

I bring me to You – to say, “I love You too”
and I’m quiet
I bring me to You – to say, “I love You too”
and I’m quiet




When the audience roared their applause, she hid her face in her hands, smiling and crying, and being absolutely precious and lovable. And maybe there’s a place in the world for shows like The Voice, but I would rather be in a love-saturated room listening to real worship pour from a heart of gold any day.

Grace sang her heart out, but she wasn’t finished. Her friend, Anna Lucia, had a poem to read and a song to sing, and she needed the moral support of her good friend.

So Grace wrapped her arm around her friend, and little Anna Lucia made it through her poem and her song (though at one point she shifted the microphone over to Grace, who didn’t know the song, but mumbled whatever she could think of, because that’s what friends do for friends.)




A recent CBS article reported that Iceland has almost completely eliminated Down Syndrome due to prenatal testing. Though the test is only 80-85% accurate, almost 100% of women who receive a positive result for chromosomal abnormality choose to abort their unborn child. The article is pretty balanced in considering whether or not this is actually a good development, but at the end it quotes a woman named Helga who counsels expectant moms considering whether or not to end their pregnancy. She tells women who are wrestling with the decision or feelings of guilt: “This is your life — you have the right to choose how your life will look like.”

She’s also quoted as saying, “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”

Helga, I’m sure you mean well. Maybe you’re a lot like I was before I had children. You can only see the brokenness, because you’ve never gotten close enough to see the beauty. But the truth is, life is not grey. Life is colorful and amazing and full of hope. You’re counseling women to throw away their treasures. And the world is forever bereft because of it.


I bid on several of the paintings at the auction, but the only one I ended up winning was definitely a favorite. It was Grace’s painting. Splashes of color broken by intersecting lines, and what a perfect picture of this broken and beautiful life. It will hang on my office wall as a constant reminder of God’s best gifts.

As the talent show emcee remarked after Grace stood with Anna Lucia, “We all need a Grace in our life.”

Yes. Thank you God, for the gift of Grace.


Capernaum Prom

4 05 2017


I wish you could have been there.

Because I can give you photos, and I can give you descriptions, but I can’t give you their hugs, their smiles, and their unfettered joy.

And that’s what I want you to feel. That’s what I want the world to understand. So I’m going to do my best to take you there.

Got your dancing shoes on?

Let’s go.




Everyone knows, when it’s time for prom, you need a bit of the princess treatment. A fancy new dress. Someone to do your hair. Someone to apply your make-up.

You need to feel as beautiful as you are.

Version 2








You need sparkles and curls, tulle and shimmery satin. And you need your friends. (Because being a princess can be intimidating.)

But then you’re ready, and it’s time to go, and right outside there’s a big party bus and enough friends to make even the shyest princess brave. Super fun prom times, here we come!





When you arrive there are red carpets and flashing cameras, boutonnieres for the men and lots more friends. A star-studded walk of fame leads to decorated tables and food served by people who love you with every affectionate look and kind word, and now you know — if you ever doubted it at all — that tonight is going to be magic.







Before dinner is over, you hear the music pulsing in the next room. Your feet are itching to move (and maybe you even start dancing right there in your chair, but we’ll just keep that a secret), and then the doors open and the real party begins.

Flashing lights and flying confetti. Loud music and arms raised high. A DJ that takes requests (even when the request is “Bare Necessities”), and always lots and lots of friends.







There are wheelchairs and walkers on the dance floor. Friends starting conga lines. Friends singing way too loud. Friends who wouldn’t know how to find a beat if it jumped up and bit them in the nose. It’s a swirling mass of happy, somewhat controlled chaos.

I’m sure there have been plenty of proms with more elegance, more sophistication, and much more self-importance, but I dare you to find one anywhere with more real fun, real joy, and real honest-to-goodness friendship.


Of course, all parties must eventually come to an end. The clock strikes midnight (or, in this case, 8:00 PM), and it’s time to go home.

But the friendship? Oh, it keeps going strong. Because that’s what Young Life Capernaum is all about. It’s about belonging, and being enough just the way you are. It’s acceptance and celebration and the simple truth that you are loved — eternally and perfectly loved — by a good God who made you and delights in you. You matter in His kingdom.

It’s the kind of pure and uncomplicated friendship we all long for.

As the song says,

“Don’t spend your time lookin’ around
For something you want that can’t be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin’ about it
I’ll tell you something true
The bare necessities of life will come to you.”

Young Life Capernaum brings the bare necessities — the simple, wonderful, life-affirming bare necessities of friendship, purpose, and truth — to some of the most beautiful people on the planet.

Maybe the princess requested the best song after all.


Could you use more joy in your life? We are always looking for leader volunteers. If you love Jesus, you have the most important qualification. Everything else falls into place as you get to know our friends. For more information on Young Life Capernaum and how you can get involved in your area, click here.








This Many

10 09 2016

img_6416Yesterday I used the “I’m this many” photo above to announce my fifty-ninth birthday on social media. The responses were fun, enthusiastic, and appreciated. But there’s no getting past a simple fact. That’s a whole lot of fingers.

Have you noticed that a year is only twelve months, and a month is only a handful of weeks, and a week lasts about five minutes? At least it feels that way. Like I’m not just over the hill, but this hill is getting steeper by the second, and the brakes on my little red wagon gave out long ago.

The older I get, the more I can identify with those scriptures that say we are like grass, springing up in the morning, and mown down in the evening. The green is fading, and I can hear the mower engine cranking up in the distance.

Life is short.

img_6470This aging thing is getting a little too real, but I have to say, yesterday was a good day right out of the gate. First I was greeted by these flowers and this commonest of birthday phrases, whimsically lettered by a hand that holds my heart in the most un-commonest of loves.

This is one of the best gifts, and one that only time can buy. It’s the knowing that comes with overcoming together again and again — choosing against all odds to believe that broken things can be restored, that pain is purposeful, and that love is a battlefield worth defending. It’s hundreds of forgiven hurts and thousands of shared joys and a belonging that no amount of wrinkles or gray hairs can threaten.






It started with the flowers. Then he took me to lunch at a French bistro. Lobster bisque, and warm goat-cheese salad with walnut vinaigrette, followed by a delicious fluffy-mousse-with-fruity-drizzle complimentary dessert from our waiter, which we’d mostly devoured before we remembered to take a picture.

But the best part of the lunch was the conversation.

“So, I’m fifty-nine,” I said. “Got any advice to offer from the other side of sixty?”

I was sort of joking/not joking, but he paused and then answered seriously. “Actually, to be honest, turning sixty kinda messed with my head. There’s no stopping this train, and there’s no going back.”

And then, almost in unison, we expressed the same thought — the same sense of urgency to make the most of this gift of time, redeeming the moments, filling them with meaningful, eternal pursuits. Let’s be fully present, we said. Fully engaged, fully aware — embodying the hope we’ve been given, the goodness we’ve tasted and seen, the gospel we believe.

While we have breath, let us praise Him with our words and our lives.

Even the best French cuisine can’t compete with that.

Version 2

Version 2

Version 2


Then, after lunch, a visit from grandchildren, with hand-drawn birthday cards, and sweetly sung birthday songs, and — later by text because they forgot but meant to — recordings of angelic voices lisping birthday prayers for Emzee. Early faith, fresh in the bud, sure to be tested, God’s to keep and mine to pray for, to love, to listen, and to speak into, when we sit in our house and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up.

Grandchildren. Another gift that only time can give. A treasured jewel in the crown of “this many.”

In the evening we walked across the street to my father’s house — the place where we spend most of our evenings, sharing a meal, telling stories, watching tv. Tonight George has planned a special dinner, and I’m not allowed in the kitchen to help.




It’s pork tenderloin stuffed with mushrooms and spinach, grilled butternut squash, and buttery dark-grain toast, followed by FaceTime fun with far-flung beloveds, opening cards and presents, blowing out candles under the loving gaze of the tenderest daddy on the planet, and then a thick slice of ridiculously rich chocolate cake served with vanilla gelato. And I honestly want to know. What could be better than this?

I may be edging my way past middle age, but I have no inclination to mourn my youth and no need to resist the relentless march of time.

I’m this many. This many years of experience. This many memories of grace. This many songs sung, friendships grown, adventures shared, roads journeyed, and fears conquered.

This many selfish ambitions let go, simple gifts received, and dreams refined.

This many assurances that all things work for good, all things serve His plan, and all things will be made new.

I’m small, fading like the grass, seen, known, and so very deeply loved. My little red wagon may be flying down the hill, but the wind is in my face, and I know the One who sets its course and knows the way I take.

Happy Birthday to me, fifty-nine fingers and counting. Thank you, friends, for all the ways you’ve made this journey amazing. You’re a beautiful part of “this many.”



Rising From the Ruin

10 07 2014




“For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.”

C.S. Lewis

If I asked you to define a “good gift,” what would you say?

Feel free to press pause on this blog post to ponder that question for a while. It’s an important one. Your answer colors the way you view God and His promises and everything in life that is out of your control. (Which is, by the way, everything in life.)

At this point I could ramble for a few paragraphs about what generally constitutes a good gift, but I hope you won’t mind if I cut to the chase. Because I’ve come to believe with all my heart that God is sovereign over all His hands have made, He is always only perfect love, and everything He chooses for His children is a good gift. Every. Single. Thing.

Suppose He has closed every door you so desperately wanted Him to open. He has pruned your branches with such fury that you look in the mirror and see only the raw stubs of what was once your pride and glory. Your body aches, your wallet is empty, and your relationships are a mess. Your dreams have shattered into a million tiny pieces, and you hold no hope for their restoration.

C.S. Lewis would say now is the time to bless His Name.


We can’t help it. We love comfort, we crave acceptance and approval, we long for success, security, and safety. We view the events of our lives through the grid of our expectations and desires, and we assume the “good and perfect gifts” God promises to give will line up with our personal longings and agendas.

But He loves us too much to give us what we think we want.

In the days and weeks that followed Jacob’s near drowning, I struggled to understand what good purpose God could possibly have in the devastation of his body, brain, and potential. I knew God was right there when Jacob went down, and I knew He could have prevented it. I knew He loved Jacob and had created him for His pleasure and glory. But I didn’t see how any of this could possibly fit into “plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness.”

From where I sat, the future looked unbearably long and hard. But the ripples had already begun.



* * *

For a year and a half after Abby’s birth, Dina and Nurmat kept her condition a secret, even from close friends and ministry supporters. They were both mature Christians and had served as long-time staff with Campus Crusade in Kyrgyzstan. Their faith assured them their daughter was a gift from God, but they knew all too well what other people would think. Even their doctor suggested they place her in an institution. She would only be a burden, he said, and isolate them in a culture where disability is considered a curse or a punishment for sin.

Abby’s birth plunged Dina into a long, dark season of confusion and depression. She and Nurmat had spent years building a ministry in this country — establishing relationships and nurturing trust. Why would God complicate their lives and cripple their ministry by giving them a child with Down Syndrome? It made no sense.

No doubt many well-meaning believers would ask the same question. After all, Dina and Nurmat are uniquely gifted and qualified for the work they’d been doing. He’s a native of Kyrgyzstan and she’s from Kazakhstan. They know the culture and language. They’re intelligent, creative, passionate, and friendly. Years of training, prayer, and discipleship had prepared them for a lifetime of fruitful service.

And then Abby happened.


If we believe that God is the Author of our stories, we must believe that He writes each page with purpose. We may think we know what He is after — why He gave us certain abilities or blessed us with certain opportunities. We may think we know why He calls us into a certain profession or lands us in a certain city. But God is always doing much more than we can begin to fathom. And sometimes the very thing that appears to be our destruction is God’s gracious provision to steer us out of ourselves and into His higher plan.

Abby wasn’t a curse. She was the key to the next door.


And this is where stories collide, and God gives a glimpse into mysteries, and we fall on our faces with the wonder of it all — for His goodness, His grace, His unshakable purposes, and the crazy beautiful way His upside down kingdom busts wide open the narrow confines of our expectations.

Last summer Dina came to Kazakhstan to translate my messages to mothers of disabled children. And as she spoke to them, she spoke to her own soul. Chains fell off. Faint glimmers of hope burst into flame. God ignited a fire in her soul that she carried back home. She’d already begun to seek out other families with DS. Now she took her search to the media, appearing in print and television interviews, providing her personal phone number and welcoming calls.

More than a hundred families have contacted Dina and Nurmat in the past year. They’ve hosted seminars and provided helpful information and resources. The entire thrust of their ministry has shifted to this particular community — many of them Muslims or atheists — all united by a love for someone with Down Syndrome and a desire to make their lives as healthy and happy as possible.

And so, this year when we made our plans to return to Kazakhstan for another special needs camp and mom’s conference, several of us tacked on a few days at the beginning of the trip, and we crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan to conduct a two-day seminar for Dina’s families.

I shared our story, and Lindley — a precious young mom from Memphis whose fourth and youngest son has DS — shared hers. We also spent a lot of time listening to these dear parents and answering their questions. Lindley even had the opportunity to pray with one mom who battles extreme fear for her child’s future. They all received Russian copies of Parting the Waters, and many had begun reading it before our time together ended. Two of those moms followed us back across the border and attended the conference in Kazakhstan.





10449191_10152264014694385_3505579048671367080_nThe two Kyrgyz moms who came to Kazakhstan, Dina, Abby, and Lindley (Lindley’s photo)

And once again Dina translated. In Kyrgyzstan to the dear families she has come to love, and in Kazakhstan to a new group of moms whose stories are yet to be told. Once again she spoke to them, and once again she spoke to herself, and God continues to work as only God can. Doors open, branches thought dead explode with fruit, and the shards of old dreams take new form, pieced by the Master Artist, lovingly set according to His design, catching His light and scattering it like stained-glass laughter on a gray and weary world.



Before we left to return to America, Dina handed me a mug with a map of Kyrgyzstan on it. “From Abby to Jacob,” she said. “Tell him the ripples continue.”

And so they do, quiet, relentless, crossing oceans and language barriers, laden with good gifts from a good God.

Let the ruin fall.

* * *

(Lovely friends,
Please click here if you’d
like to make a donation to
Dina and Nurmat’s ministry.

Thank you!)

What if we really believed the truth?

2 05 2014

DSC_0055Jennifer’s printable graphic and the brochure for Christ EPC’s Women’s retreat

Sometimes a book comes along that lines up perfectly with what God has been whispering to your soul. In fact, you almost wonder if the author spied on your innermost thoughts, took notes, and then transcribed them to the page. But she didn’t. What she did do was allow God to search her own heart and reveal the idols holding her captive. She believed His promise of something better, took the keys He offered to unlock her cage, and walked free.

She could have stopped there, reveling in sweet deliverance. She could have pretended those idols never existed, because who wants to admit sin and selfishness? But she knew there were lots of other people locked in the same cage, and God had showed her the way out. So she swallowed her pride, gathered her courage, and stepped bravely into the light.

That’s how Love Idol was born.


If you struggle with a constant need for approval, then please read Jennifer Lee’s wonderful, honest, liberating book. Read it, and believe what God has declared about you. Because the truth is, we really are pre-approved by God. We’re adopted, cherished, known, and loved — His works of art created for His pleasure and glory.

But that’s not all. We’re also called to serve and build each other up in love, and as long as we’re spending all our time and energy trying to build ourselves up by feeding an insatiable desire for other people’s approval, we’ll never be free to love others well.

This is the thing God has been laying on my heart over the past few months. And now Jennifer’s new book has landed on it all like a big, fat exclamation mark.

Here’s the deal. The best way I know to learn something is to try to teach it to someone else. And apparently God really wanted to teach me about this, because I was asked not once but twice to speak at women’s retreats this spring on the topic of women nurturing other women — to examine and expose what hinders us from really loving Christ and each other well.

The remainder of this post contains photos I took during one of the retreats and edited excerpts from my speaking notes. I share them here in honor of Jennifer’s excellent book (which you should read and believe), and in gratitude for the way God reinforces His beautiful truths again and again.




2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels.” Only problem is, our treasure gets buried under layers of junk.

We live in two kingdoms. We’re in this world, but not of it. We’re citizens of earth, but we’re called to live here as citizens of God’s upside-down kingdom, and the two operate on opposing principles and laws. We may know what God’s Word says about us — that we’re created in His image, covered by the shadow of His wing, held in the palm of His hand, fearfully and wonderfully made, and chosen in Him before the foundation of the world — but thanks to mass media, we’re constantly bombarded with the world’s ideas about what our life should look like.

Think about the headlines on the magazines in the grocery store check-out line. What are some of the messages our culture sends to a woman? She should be thin, young-looking, rich, powerful, in charge of her life, pretty, fashionable, well-educated, independent, equal to men, sexy, sexually uninhibited, reproductively free, economically productive, athletic, confident, assertive, and free to pursue her dreams no matter what they are.

And there are plenty of industries and businesses determined to make sure we buy into those messages, including plastic surgery, diet products, clothing, make-up, jewelry, home decor, automobiles, fitness products, organic foods, etc.

Are all these things bad? No. Can any of these things become a distraction or, worse yet, an idol? Yes.

God always looks at the heart. If we’re motivated by culturally dictated lifestyle goals, we’ll be much too busy trying to achieve them to pursue the kingdom of God. We need to recognize that our culture is selling us lies. Even though many of these things are not necessarily sinful, none of them will bring peace, satisfaction, or purpose.




But culture isn’t the only culprit. And here’s where it gets personal. Our treasure is also hidden behind the masks we wear. Consider these questions:

Do you have secret sins or habits that you hide from your Christian friends?
Do you feel like those friends would no longer like or respect you if they found out about your secrets?
Do you struggle with guilt, shame, or embarrassment over things you did or that were done to you in the past?
Do you ever feel like you’re the only person you know who can’t seem to get victory in your particular battle?
When people ask you how you’re doing, do you lie because you don’t want them to know what’s really going on in your life or relationships?
Do you feel like most of the other people at your church have their lives all put together and only yours is a mess?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, the first thing you need to understand is that you’re not alone. In fact, I think it’s safe to say the majority of Christians struggle with one or more of these things on some level. We wear masks, because we don’t want people to know how broken we are, and yet the church is the very place where we’re supposed to be real with each other.

Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And what is the “law of Christ”? Simply this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And here’s the problem with all this hiding behind masks. The only way we can love well is if we bear one another’s burdens, and the only way we can bear them is if we know what they are.




Our treasure is also buried under selfish ambition and competition. The pursuit of personal success is a birthright in the western world. Parents push their children to excel, telling them they can be anything they want to be if they’ll only work hard (or, in some cases, cheat well or kiss up to the right people). It’s unrealistic and sets people up for disappointment rather than encouraging them to actually discover their real abilities and find contentment in pursuing them.

If we embrace the law of the upside-down kingdom, instead of selfish ambition, we’ll pursue compassionate service. Instead of competition, collaboration. Consider others as more important than ourselves. Work together for the good of all. These values are all over scripture, but they’re sadly lacking in way too many Christian homes and churches. Lots of people want to do “great things” for God, but few want to handle the messier, hidden tasks — to love the unlovable, to listen to the lonely, and to serve the least.

Compassion is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when it’s real, it’s knocks the teeth out of selfish ambition. Collaboration is the law of the upside-down kingdom, and when the body functions as a body, the work of the kingdom is accomplished. But when we’re all competing for the spotlight, nothing of eternal value gets done.

Selfish ambition can be tough to spot in ourselves, but a good diagnostic is the presence of jealousy. If I feel envious or jealous of another person’s role in the body, chances are good I need to ask God to replace competition with compassion for those He desires to love through me, and to replace envy with intercession for those He has placed on the front lines of ministry.

And then there’s comparison.

Comparison either says God short-changed me or God short-changed you, and neither of those is the truth. God created women in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of personalities and talents, and in every single case, He knit them in their mothers’ wombs and knows their thoughts and numbers their days. In every case, He looks not at the external things but at the heart.

Comparison by its nature takes our eyes off of Jesus and puts them on each other, not for the purpose of loving and serving, or learning and imitating, but for the purpose of elevating or demeaning. As long as we’re measuring others and striving to measure up ourselves, we’ll never love well. But when we ask God to open our eyes to the beauty of diversity, and we choose to look for His creativity in others instead of comparing ourselves to them, we’ll be free to embrace our own gifts and purposes and to celebrate His glorious design for others. And what’s more, when we learn to see as He sees, we’ll start looking beyond the externals to the heart, and we’ll realize that, in the things that matter most, we’re more alike than we ever imagined.




One more layer of junk burying our treasure is entitlement. This, too, is rampant in our culture. It’s all about standing up for our rights. It’s the spirit of entitlement that makes us furious when someone cuts us off in traffic, or when someone else receives the promotion we felt should have been ours, or pretty much any time we mutter under our breath, “How dare you!” Entitlement is so much a part of our society, we may think it’s a good thing. It may sound like fairness or justice, but what we really mean is, “Fair is when I get what I think I deserve, and justice is when you aren’t allowed to get in my way.”

And the cure? Well, this one is actually the biggie. It’s the ultimate cure for all of these diseases. The cure to entitlement is remembering what we really deserve — death and separation from a holy God — and that Christ took our place on the cross. The cure for entitlement is dying to ourselves, our rights, and our expectations. It’s knowing we’ve been bought with a price, and we are not our own — that we’ve received mercy instead of justice and grace upon grace.

The cure to entitlement is taking our eyes off of ourselves entirely and setting our minds on Christ and His kingdom. We have no right to ask for anything, and yet we’ve been given eternal life with God and untold blessings this side of heaven.

DSC_0068The beautiful women of Christ EPC with Jennifer’s “PreApproved” Graphic,
because it fit so perfectly with our theme.

The more we die to ourselves, the more we live to God, and the more we live to God, the more joy, peace, satisfaction, and true contentment we find. Yes, it’s upside-down. And it’s glorious. God pre-approves sinners. He adopts rebels. He redeems us while we’re His enemies and renames us His friends. And He gives us the beautiful gift of genuine friendship with each other — a gift we miss all too often because we can’t get our eyes off the mirror.

So, what if we really believed the truth? That we’re loved? That we matter? That no one else can fill the shoes He created just for us to fill?

What if we smashed our idols, and walked out of our prisons, and made it our one aim to love Christ and each other well?

We’d turn the world upside-down. And I can’t think of a single thing the world needs more than that.

One Step

5 09 2013

-1Tomoki and Luke

When George and I got married, it wasn’t like we made a conscious decision to take people into our home.

They just kept landing on our doorstep.

A student arrived at university to discover his dorm room had been double booked. Another student’s apartment burned down. A steady parade of others have needed places for a year or a semester or a summer or a couple of weeks. We’ve officially fostered once, and unofficially adopted dozens of times. And, without fail, we always receive at least as much as we give. God has a way of using these people to stretch, teach, convict, bless, encourage, test, and inspire us. It’s one of the secrets of the upside-down kingdom. Give the glass of water, He says. Just do it. You won’t be sorry.

So, when someone needs a place to stay, our default answer is yes. We look at the calendar, consider the situation, and pray. But if there’s an empty bed in the house and no clear reason to say no, we say yes.

And that’s how we found ourselves hosting Tomoki.

Tomoki is a nineteen-year-old baseball player and university student from Japan who wanted to come to the US for two weeks and stay with a family. An acquaintance of his posted the request on our church’s message board, and our son Luke (who hopes to take his family and the gospel to Japan one day) asked us if we’d consider it.

Empty bed? Check. Works with the calendar? Check. Prayer for direction? Check.

Konnichiwa, Tomoki.

We’re halfway through Tomoki’s two-week visit, and so far he’s seen Yu Darvish pitch for the Texas Rangers, visited two universities, the Dallas World Aquarium, Jubilee Farm, the Sixth Floor Museum (where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK), the Dallas Museum of Art, Northpark, and the Galleria. He’s attended a large American church service and a lively prayer meeting, held a baby for the first time, and taken lots and lots of pictures. He’s experienced a live concert at a coffee house, a pot-luck dinner on Labor Day, eaten his weight in Tex-Mex, and will try to consume his first Texas-sized steak tonight.

Still to come? A high school football game, the Fort Worth rodeo, wake boarding at a local lake, and more.

Meanwhile, we’ve juggled schedules, re-learned what flexibility looks like, and tried to hold all agendas loosely. Luke has been a cheerful and tireless tour guide, and Sarah has generously sacrificed Luke’s presence at home much more than usual. Yes, we are stretched, but it’s doable, and Tomoki is deeply grateful for every experience and opportunity.

Even if he wasn’t a dear, eager, polite guest, I’m convinced we would be blessed in this giving. But he is a dear, eager, polite guest. And we are definitely blessed. In fact, I think I may have already received my greatest gift.

Night before last, Luke was home studying while their children slept, and Sarah and I were sitting in my kitchen, visiting with Tomoki. He doesn’t know much English, but he carries a digital pocket translator, and asks a lot of questions, and somehow we muddle through communication.

In the course of our conversation, Sarah asked what it’s like to follow Jesus in Japan, where fewer than 1% of people are Christians. Tomoki’s mother is a Christian, and he has attended church his whole life, but he told us he doesn’t know any other believers his own age. Not one. This revelation led to a discussion about bravery and boldness — all accomplished through hand gestures and quickly typed searches on his translator — and before we knew it, we were considering how hard things can be gifts from God.

I told Tomoki about Jacob’s near-fatal drowning and how we’d seen God work in so many beautiful ways, and it was a powerful, worshipful experience for me to distill those truths into their simplest form to share them with him. In the telling, I reminded myself once again that God only gives what is good, and as soon as I turn to Him, trusting His goodness and thanking Him for His faithfulness, my suffering becomes a blessing.

He listened intently and nodded his understanding, and then he got excited and asked for a paper and pen, because he wanted to show us something.

First he drew this:


Then he drew this:


And to the side, he drew this:


He pointed to the first drawing and said, “This is Japanese kanji for . . . .” He tried to think of the English word, then shook his head and typed furiously on his translator, showing me the words that appeared on the screen: “bitter” and “hard” and “rough.”

I read them aloud, and he nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! Yes!” Then he pointed to the second drawing. “This kanji for ‘happiness,’ and this –” he pointed to the drawing of the single line, “means ‘one.'”

Sarah and I both leaned in, not yet grasping the point, but smiling our encouragement as he struggled to complete his explanation. He picked up his foot and deliberately planted it in front of where it had been, pointing to his foot, and saying, “This? What is this?”

We laughed at our own confusion and tried to guess his intent. “A foot?” . . . “Stomping?” . . .  “A step?” He typed again, then said, “Yes! Step!”

Then he pointed to the drawings again, and suddenly we saw — how adding the “one” line across the top of “bitter” turns it into “happiness.”

“It is one step from bitter to happiness,” he said, exultant, and we gasped and clapped our understanding and delight. In that moment, stories and cultures collided, and a Texas kitchen erupted in celebration.

One step — one cross-shaped, trusting step of faith in a loving, good, and sovereign God — gives purpose to pain, turns mourning into dancing, and transforms everything (yes, everything) into a gift.

We’re hosting Tomoki for two weeks. And I have a visual of grace that I will never, ever forget.

Who is receiving the most? You tell me.

A Friend at All Times: more about the moms

22 04 2013


{If you’ve landed on this post and don’t know what A Friend at All Times is about, please take a minute and read the initial post in the series here. Thank you!}

I am the mother of a disabled young adult. Since Jacob’s near-fatal drowning in 1996, I’ve known firsthand the heartbreak, exhaustion, and frustration that caring for a disabled person can bring. I’ve ridden the roller coaster that soars to hope only to plunge to despair and then back again, with its monotonous click, click, click during long, slow climbs through drudgery and disappointment, to the sheer terror of an unexpected medical emergency.

I’ve seen the confused looks on strangers’ faces, the averted eyes, and even the disdain. And I’ve felt the sting, but I’ve also understood, because once upon a long time ago I wore some of the same faces.

I’ve known these trials, but I’ve also known the help of therapists and aides, the support of a loving husband who serves his family joyfully and well, and the sustaining prayers and comforting presence of true community. And I’ve had Jesus walking with me every step of the way.

I have not for one moment done this alone.


As I wrote in my initial post, that’s not the case for mothers of disabled children in Kazakhstan. They know the roller coaster all too well, but the support? That’s hard to find. Many children born with disabilities are abandoned or institutionalized, and if the parents do keep the child, the father often leaves the family and the mother becomes a full-time caregiver. Society shuns or ignores their children, and government pensions barely provide enough to survive. For these moms, loneliness and isolation come with the territory.

On top of all these hardships, very few of them know Christ. They haven’t experienced His peace, the comfort of His presence, and the assurance that all things are working together for good.

But the ones I’ll be speaking to this summer? They have learned to love and trust A Friend at All Times. They’ve seen their children blossom under the influence of compassionate leaders and an accepting community of peers. And they are deeply grateful.


Because of what their children have experienced, many of these moms are eager to come to their own version of camp. Opportunities to get away and relax are rare. But that’s not all the retreat will provide. Our hope is that they, like their children, will discover real, deep, ongoing community with each other, and our prayer is they will also become sisters in the truest sense of the word.

I’ve been asked to share our story, and that would be impossible to do truthfully without also declaring God’s goodness, faithfulness, purposes, and plans. That’s why I was invited in the first place — to comfort with the comfort I’ve received, and the best way I know to do that is to give them glimpses of the upside-down kingdom, where greatness isn’t based on intellect or physical ability or material wealth, but on serving the least, washing one another’s feet, and seeking the approval of only One.

The whole team is praying the moms will see, understand, and embrace God’s redeeming grace in Jesus Christ, and we’ll all be loving them toward that end.

But that’s not all we’ll be doing. We also want them to have lots and lots of fun.

So, I’m bringing my dancing shoes, and I expect we’ll do a line dance or two and (shhh, don’t tell anyone) maybe some Latin moves, because who can salsa with a frown on her face? We’ll play games and enjoy the beach and laugh together and cry together, and all the while there will be plenty of time to form friendships and swap stories and to lean back and simply receive for once.

When it’s all said and done, we want them to be blessed and refreshed in the name of Jesus.

Will you pray with us that God will come? That we will be His hands and feet, and the moms will feel welcome, safe, and celebrated? That the Lord will give them ears to hear and hearts to respond to His life-changing love? And please pray for me, that I’ll be sensitive to His voice, and the words I speak will be anointed with His power to transcend cultural differences and language barriers.

Pray they will behold the King in His beauty, and their hearts will break in the very best way.

As I type these words, my heart overflows with joy, because I know faithful friends will take these requests straight to the throne of grace, and that God will go before, and that even now He is preparing us all to receive what He has purposed and planned. What glorious mysteries. What amazing grace.

I love and appreciate you. (Yes, you.) And I’ll say it again, because I can’t seem to say it enough. Thank you.

* * *

Info for interested donors:

Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks (any amount appreciated!) to:

P.O. Box 1057
Cordova, TN 38088
901.458.9500 ext 223

Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“Camp Scholarship, A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.

$250 covers the cost of one camper
$200 covers the cost for a mom

Your gifts are tax deductible.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.

Thank you!
(With all my heart.)

Previous posts in this series:
A Friend at all Times
A Friend at all Times: Meet Elina, Baxa, Dima, and Sasha
A Friend at all Times: Meet Aibolat, Sayat, Artyom, Azamat, and Azhara
A Friend at all Times: Meet Bogenbay, Bota, Dennis, Sasha, and Evgenia
A Friend at All Times: Camp Video

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