Category Archives: Life

“The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard”

It’s a question that has shipwrecked many on their way to faith. If God is good, it always starts, why is there suffering? Why do people hurt? Why do babies die and families fall apart and senseless things happen? Why is there so much sadness?

The question begs for an answer, but needs something deeper than a logical response. It needs hope. From someone who has weathered pain and hard and suffering, but still has hope.

Unexpected

Kara Tippetts’ story in The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard opens with a less-than-perfect childhood, with parents who loved her but didn’t always act with love. Jesus found her in high school, and forgiving her parents was an early step in her new life. Fumbling through her young Christianity, she met and married Jason, and they had plans for the future—their future—but it never went the way they expected. In her 30s, Kara was diagnosed with cancer. Their dreams of church-planting and ministry and doing life together changed with doctor visits and chemo and pain and weakness.

Kara Tippetts died of cancer on March 22, 2015. Her words are still here, though she isn’t, and her story of suffering and seeking God in the midst of it spurs us on to find Him in our own hard things—in our own whys.

We Don’t Write Our Stories

No one ever has time for cancer. Just when things seem to finally be falling into place or life has found that elusive equilibrium, the disease announces its presence and all those other things stop in their tracks. Jason and Kara had just moved with their four children to Colorado Springs to plant a church, and they were full of big dreams and plans—good dreams and plans—to drive a stake in the ground of their corner of the world and claim it for Jesus. They were going to do good things, big things.

“Before cancer, I would have said I was on the journey of seeking grace, but in truth I was manufacturing my own faith. If I found a need, I did my best to meet it. My going, doing, loving was my faith, not my nearness to Jesus. In my mind I knew my efforts weren’t the substance of my faith, but my practice betrayed me. Stripped of my ability, I saw Jesus in a new and profound way.” – Kara Tippetts

Jason and Kara would still do good things. Even some big things. Things like write a blog that eventually had 10,000-20,000 daily visits. Write books. Care for their children. Share their story—even when it wasn’t what they had planned. And it was through never-expected, never-chosen cancer that they stood toe-to-toe with the fact that they were not writing their story. The good things God had for them were not what they had picked, but they were still good.

“I come to you in these pages as a broken woman, realizing that my brokenness may be my greatest strength—that it may be the greatest strength of us all…My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.” – Kara Tippetts

Life. Is. Hard.

Some may blame Disney, and others Tootsie Pop Lollipops, but the desire to seek and find satisfying conclusions and happy endings is wired deeper in our humanity than inventions of the last few generations. We want things to turn out right. We want God’s presence to mean the hard things go away, like a child who knows their nighttime fear will evaporate if they could only be with Mommy or Daddy.

That’s what so many of us look for, even though that usually isn’t what happens.

And it’s there in that disappointment that we usually slip up, choose a Christianese answer, and flippantly explain away heartwrenching tragedy. We say “God has a plan” or “everything happens for a reason,” and go back to normal life if we can. We’re not wrong. But we’re far from completely right.

Life is hard, sometimes breathtakingly so. To baptize it with one-liners without feeling the depths of that pain is not only naïve, it’s—wrong.

“What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? How does our story of love change when we look head-on at my absence from this life? How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of the crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” – Kara Tippetts

We don’t have to deny that life hurts in order to have hope. Our hope in Jesus is firm because even when life hurts, Jesus is still there, still in control, and still good.

As Christians, we know that even if we still face our scariest scary—God is good.

“My hope is not in the absence of suffering and comfort returned. My hope is in the presence of the One who promises never to leave or forsake, the One who declares nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39). Nothing.” – Kara Tippetts

No Easy Answers

In this world we will have trouble. All of us. Just like everyone else who has ever lived. The whys are hard, and there is no easy answer. No complete understanding.

But we do know what God has faithfully shown us before: He is good—now and through eternity, in each and every story He has written. We can bank our hope on this, that Jesus who suffered horrific pain on that cross all those years ago will never give us a trite answer or leave us in the midst of our pain.

What we see as brokenness or tragedy will one day be reintroduced to us as His glorious redemption of our pain. Kara Tippets lives that reality in its fullest glory now, and one day we will, too. Until then, we remember how she shared her life and story with the world, inviting us to follow Jesus through all the whys and pain and hard questions to a marvelous eternity we can’t begin to imagine.

“Grace; it’s all grace. Jesus will be there; He will be wooing, loving, meeting my love, my babies, my community, my family, and you long past the day my words run out that beg you to look for grace—that long for you to know Jesus. Really know His love. It’s His story, not mine. It’s His grace extended, not mine. I have only been a steward of that grace, a simple namer of His unbelievably reckless love that shows up for one broken woman every single day.” – Kara Tippetts

We All Do It

He shaded this tree with three shades of green. Last time he had only used two shades. Setting down his coloring pencil, he squinted at his paper. They would be so surprised. He smiled as he pictured it framed in his grandparents’ living room, then picked up one more shade of green. Real talent, Mrs. Ludstrom had said last week as she posted his latest work on the bulletin board.

“Hey, Matt.”

He looked up quickly. Two of the guys from seventh grade swaggered to his table and sat down. He watched them while quietly covering his drawing with his math book.

“Saw you in P.E. today,” one of the guys said. “That was a great three-pointer.”

“Um, thanks.” He wiped his hands on his pants. He wondered how long they would stay at his table.

“Maybe you could be on our team again next time,” the other guy said. It didn’t sound like a question.

“Yeah,” Matt said.

“If only we didn’t have to end that scrimmage game there,” the first guy said. “Stupid art class. We would have won if Mrs. Ludstrom wasn’t so picky about making us go color like preschoolers.”

Matt pushed the box of coloring pencils further into his backpack.

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Of all the days for her sister to cancel the playdate. Kelsie clicked her three-month-old’s carrier into place. “Sara, let’s buckle you in, honey,” she held apart the straps of her two-year-old’s carseat.

“Nope,” Sara insisted as she kept playing in the back of the van.

Kelsie tried logic. “Sara, we need to go get some food from the grocery store so we can eat dinner with Daddy tonight.”

Aa-roof!

Kelsie turned around just in time to see Baxter come jumping into the car. “Baxter, no!”

Aa-roof! The baby started crying.

Kelsie sighed. “Come here, boy,” she called to Baxter while the baby cried louder.

“Here’s your paci, Baby,” Kelsie heard her toddler say behind her while she wrestled Baxter to the backyard. So much for weaning him off that like Jenna suggested, Kelsie thought, remembering her friend’s cautions about pacifiers.

“Stay back here, crazy,” Kelsie shoved Baxter in and shut the gate. She hurried back to the van just as Sara dumped the diaper bag out on the van floor. “Sara, what are you doing?”

“Finding Noah’s paci,” Sara informed her.

“It’s right here by your foot. See, here? Okay, we’ll clean that up later. Let’s get in your carseat.”

“Nope.”

“Sara, we need to …”

Sara stood up to go back into the back of the van. Kelsie reached out just in time to grab her.

“NO!” Sara yelled, kicking her legs. Kelsie put her screaming daughter into her carseat. The baby’s paci fell out of his carseat and he started screaming again, too.

“Let’s sing a song for Noah,” Kelsie suggested as Sara kept yelling. “Twinkle, twinkle—” Her phone vibrated in her pocket. She pulled it out to see if her sister answered her text about childcare and saw a name: Rebecca Peters. Kelsie raised her eyebrows. No way, she thought. Mrs. Perfect does not need to hear this chorus right now.

Just as she started to cancel the call, Sara kicked again, knocking the phone out of her hand. “Sara!” Kelsie scolded. “You need to stop it right now.”

Sara crossed her arms and glared at Kelsie, but Kelsie had stopped caring—as long as a certain two-year-old quit kicking and screaming. She re-inserted Noah’s paci. “You can get out when we get to the store,” she told Sara firmly then picked up her phone and looked at the screen.

Oh, no! The clock was counting up—Sara’s kick had made her answer the call instead of decline it. Kelsie swallowed and wondered if she should hang up or not. Timidly she put the phone to her ear. Not knowing what else to say, she softly said, “Hello?”

“Oh, hi, Kelsie, how are you?” Rebecca asked smoothly.

“Good,” Kelsie answered and slammed the van’s sliding door. “We’re doing good,” Kelsie climbed into her seat, wondering what all Rebecca had heard. “How are you?” she mumbled.

“Oh, we’re doing wonderful. My kids and I have had so much fun this summer! Anyway, I was calling to see if you wanted to help us out with a thank-you project for the church staff…”

Kelsie rolled her eyes as she pulled her door shut. She put the key in the ignition as Rebecca droned on about the project. She would have backed out the driveway with the phone stuck to her ear, except two things happened at the same time.

The first thing Kelsie noticed was that Sara started kicking and screaming again. Then she looked up and saw her next-door neighbor standing on her driveway, holding Baxter by the collar.

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“And that’s where you’ll find me/Farther than I ever hoped to be.” She smiled as the last notes on the piano died away.

“Oh my goodness! That was so pretty!”

Erica smiled at the praise.

“You wrote that? That sounds like it could be on the radio.”

“Thanks, Ashley,” Erica said. She paused then grinned. “It would be fun to hear it on the radio.”

“I know, right?! Play another one.”

Erica looked at the ceiling while she thought. “Um, okay, there is this other one I really like, but it’s not quite finished yet. Tell me what you think,” she took her place at the piano bench again. Gently, she fingered the keys and began playing a melody. She took a deep breath to sing the first line.

“Hi, girls!”

Erica looked up. “Oh, hi, Chloe,” she said slowly.

“Hi!” Ashley grinned. “You should hear what Erica wrote—it’s amazing! Play the first one again, Erica.”

“Oh, I don’t have to play that. It’s really not that good. I know a lot of people who could do a lot better,” Erica started to get up from the piano.

“But you just said you wanted to hear it on the radio,” Ashley reminded her.

“I’d love to hear it,” Chloe added. “I heard you’re playing for church in a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Erica smiled and looked away.

“Come on, just do it,” Ashley said.

“Please?” Chloe asked.

Erica sighed and sat back down at the piano bench. She paused as she thought through the first few notes again. She looked down and noticed her hands were shaking.

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It almost seems that to be human is to be afraid of the opinions of others. How many of our decisions and thought processes are wrapped around what other people think of us—or what we are afraid they will think of us?

Stories like Kelsie’s and Matt’s and Erica’s feel familiar—because they are our stories, too. We relate to these and many similar predicaments we find ourselves in. Ever fumbled over someone’s name (or your own) during an introduction, or completely flop a handshake? Then think about it for hours and mentally replay what you wish you had done?

Why are we so afraid of each other?!? Do we realize how crazy it is that we give so much power to those who are human just like us?

Fear of people holds sway over most of us to some degree or another, and it has long directed much of my own life. Over the next few weeks I hope to explore this topic here on the blog—not as someone who has conquered and moved on from this fear, but as a traveler working through it. May we all find something to encourage us in leaving these silly fears behind. Come join me! See you here next Tuesday – or you can sign up for updates and new content will land in your inbox as it is posted.

There is no reason to be afraid. Not anymore.

When a Princess Meets Reality

I grew up watching Beauty and the Beast. The yellow-wearing princess has always been my favorite of the Disney lineup, and songs like “Be Our Guest” or “Tale as Old as Time” bring back nostalgic childhood memories like few others.

There’s just something about princess stories. We have pulled application from them before, and preschoolers aren’t the only girls drawn to them, as evidenced by The Princess Diaries and even William and Kate’s televised wedding.

So a Disney live-action remake? Count me in.

Sad, Sad Story

I finally watched it recently, and was not disappointed. The music, the animation, the effects—all blew me away right down memory lane.

There were a few things I didn’t remember. (For sure, this Disney remake had more controversy than Cinderella, but this post is neither a review nor an endorsement. Everyone needs to make their own decisions on movie choices, and if you would like more information before making yours, please check reviews like this one by Focus on the Family.) There were a handful of scenes and songs that I don’t recall from the animated version, but then I haven’t watched it in awhile.

In one memorable scene, Belle is beginning to realize the hopelessness of the castle residents as they live under the spell. Will anything change for them? Mrs. Potts firmly tells her not to worry about them, and the housewares calmly—but a bit sadly—begin to walk away.

In Disney fashion, a song breaks out, begun by the Beast as a child and joined in by Maestro Cadenza, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and others. They sing of days gone by that they wish they could see again, and wonder if they will ever see the end of this spell.

Then the focus returns to Belle. “How in the midst of all this sorrow, can so much hope and love endure?” she asks. No one answers.

“I was innocent and certain, now I’m wiser but unsure. I can’t go back into my childhood, one that my father made secure; I can feel a change in me, I’m stronger now, but still not free.”

Belle and the Beast had already begun to experience the love the enchantress spoke of, but still the effects of the spell bound everyone in the house. It was sad—really sad. But hopeful.

We know another story like that.

Spells and Curses

Just days after I finally watched the Disney remake, and not far from where I live, a young bride and groom were in a car accident the day after their wedding. Both passed away within forty-eight hours.

How does hope still live with something like this?

In less traumatic ways, every single one of us knows that life is hard. There are griefs and regrets, hard and draining things that sap our energy and—sometimes—make us wish for that childhood we remember as so carefree.

All of creation groans under a spell of its own, a curse (Romans 8:22-23), wondering if it will ever be broken. Love has come and broken it, sacrificing Himself for our freedom, but still we live here. We are different, for sure, but still here in this mess, and still not experiencing in full the freedom Jesus gave us.

How do we live in this dark world when we know we are made for and set free for a greater one? How do we keep our hope and love one other when we’re constantly surrounded by sadness that only seems to get worse?

“How in the midst of all this sorrow, can so much hope and love endure?”

Real Hope for Real Pain

We are in the midst of so much sorrow. But it is temporary sorrow—still very, very real, and oh so hard, but temporary. “Take heart,” Jesus told us. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And all the sorrow in it.

Our hope doesn’t ignore or deny any of this pain. If anything, as followers of the God whose own Son died a horrific death, we know that pain and suffering and grief and trouble are undeniable and painful. But in our grief and trouble, we remember that the Son who died also rose again; He is now living victorious and extends that victory—and life—to us.

We know the spell is already broken.

This pain is real, yes. But so is hope—an unshakeable hope founded in God who promised that there is an eternity of life and love waiting for those who are His children. We can bank on it.

We can know that every tear will be wiped away.

We can know that there is something so beyond our belief waiting for us—and for those we love who love God, too.

We can know that the purpose of our lives goes beyond our time on earth, and that at the end of that time we will not be absorbed into soulless oblivion—or turned into inanimate objects (“Rubbish,” Cogsworth insists).“This world is a great sculptor’s shop,” C.S. Lewis wrote. “We are the statues and there’s a rumor going around the shop that some of us are someday going to come to life.” It’s not just a rumor: it’s real, and it’s coming.

The sorrow is still here. It will be for awhile. But hope and love endure with it, and one day we will fully, completely, finally come to life.

Image source: Disney

Today Was Not My Day

My toddler class had a rough day. We had a child who stayed home sick, a teacher who stayed home sick with something else, and another child who threw up in the classroom. We had several fussy kids who were tired and teething and I’m not sure what else.

After everyone finally settled down for nap, one little guy who had already had a rough day woke up way too early. No matter what I tried, he was still fussy and uncomfortable, crying in a sad little voice unless we walked the halls together. Poor guy had to be held the rest of naptime, so my long “Things To Do While They Sleep” list is still…long.

Every Single Blessing

Paul wrote Ephesians while he was in prison, to a church who faced growing uncertainty and the challenges of living as Christians in first-century Roman territory. He opened Ephesians characteristically, with praise to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3). Wait. Every spiritual blessing.

Every?

Continue reading Today Was Not My Day

Paul’s Catchphrase

I say it all the time. Every conversation, with friends and strangers, I start out, “How are you?” They always say “Good” or “Fine, how are you?” I assure them that I, too, am fine, and we go our separate ways.

It has started to bother me, though—even as I say it. “How are you?” It feels like a robotic courtesy without the genuine concern the phrase itself seems to hold. Too many times, the words have automatically tumbled out while I whiz by someone. Neither one of us stops to truly honor the question.

Eight Different Letters, One Phrase

It was in Ephesians that I first noticed it, but I would soon find it in other New Testament books, too. “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:2).

In all, Paul began eight of his letters with this same phrase. Word-for-word.

Why would he include identical greetings in so many of his letters? “Grace to you.” Wouldn’t his readers start to tune that part out?

Grace, Grace, Grace

The most powerfully evident display of God’s grace was at the cross, where, as John Wenham said, “evil did its worst and met its match.” That grace—the undeserved favor of God—fills our every moment, before and after our eyes are opened to Christ’s great gift and we join the family of God. We are saved by grace, absolutely. But grace doesn’t stop flowing into our souls after conversion.

Grace tells us that when we fall short, He provides the difference. When we fail, He comes through. When we are tired, He provides strength. Grace shows us that no matter how deficient we are, He is enough. Always.

We are saved by grace. And we live by the grace He gives us every day.

Pay It Forward

We are enriched by grace (2 Corinthians 8:9), we are strengthened by grace (2 Timothy 2:1), and Peter encourages us to “grow in…grace” (2 Peter 3:18a). For the believer, all of life is grace. But the grace God gives us is not for us alone.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:10-11).

Grace enriches us—so we can give. Grace strengthens us—so we can serve. Grace equips us to do those things God planned before the ages for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). And when—through grace—we speak and serve, write and sing, work and create, listen and love, grace is passed on again.

Paul poured himself out for his beloved brothers and sisters. He labored in prayer for them. He wrote theologically-rich, heartfelt letters to them. He lived among them when possible, often at his own inconvenience.

Paul wished more grace for his brothers and sisters. The goal of his relationship with them was to bless them, to strengthen them, to encourage them—to be a channel from the Father to them, bringing them more grace.

No Robots Here

So Paul desires more grace for us. Thanks, Paul. But you say that to all the churches, right? It’s starting to sound like a robotic courtesy again.

Why would Paul wrap up such deep truths in a canned little catch phrase?

Paul wrote several books in the New Testament, fully understanding the weight of his words to the early church and all who would come after them. He would not flippantly include any words without meaning what he wrote.

When he wrote to the Ephesians, the Romans, the Corinthians, to the Philippians and the Thessalonians, he desired grace for them. More grace. Deeper grace. Grace for them to grow in, grace to strengthen them, grace to enrich them in ways they may not have even realized they were lacking.

But why would Paul just say that? “Grace to you”?

He didn’t just say it.

Paul opened most of his letters by saying “Grace to you” and then diving right into his teaching, expounding on the works and ways—the grace—of God. This was Paul’s stewardship of God’s varied grace. This was his work, his love offering, his sweat and tears spent for his brothers and sisters.

This was grace.

As Paul poured out his heart, laboring to encourage and strengthen them, he was passing on the grace he had received. And that’s what he told them: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

We may have varied ways of saying it. It may be, “I’ve been thinking of you all week,” or “I’m so glad to see you today!” It may be a hug, a card, or a phone call that seems out of the blue. It may be an act of service, a gift, a listening ear, or hard words in a very needed conversation.

In other words: “Here. Let me share with you the grace that I have been given.”

You may still ask, “How are you?” I know I do sometimes. And that’s okay. Whatever we say, whatever we do, however we reach out, it can all be sharing the grace we live and breathe everyday, as long as we build our words and our actions on what we were given first.

Grace to you.