Stored Up in His Heart

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7

She tucked her prayers in her birthday box. Some were desires long held. Each paper held a piece of who she is and the dreams of who she wants to become. She chose to give them to God instead of hiding them in her heart.

When she carried her own burdens, they weighted her down. They seemed impossible. Written down they were small. Just a few pieces of paper. His hands were big enough to hold them all.

A few days after she showed me the box, she began to see God specifically answer some of her prayers. Her trust in Him grew. Her faith flourished.

There is power in writing down our hopes, dreams and prayers. We would be wise to follow my daughter's example and find a special place to store them. And the very best place will be His heart.

A First = Farther, In Depth, Real, Sincere, Today

Let the wise listen and add to their learning.
Proverbs 1:5

Spring Break 2012 was a week packed with firsts:

Clara on her first "real" bike ride
Clara learned to ride her bike without training wheels.

Hayleigh learned to snow ski.

Clara and Carynne each caught their first fish.

Learning new things is exciting, but it comes with pain.

Clara fell off her bike more than once and skinned her knee.

Hayleigh fell several times at ski school.

Carynne couldn't catch a fish without enduring bugs, minnows and waiting.

I want to go farther with God. I want to experience some new firsts with Him.

I want to be led more by His voice within and less by my own thoughts.

I yearn to draw closer to His purposes and farther from my selfishness.

These firsts will not come without discomfort. I will experience growing pains. But just as my daughters experienced the delight of accomplishment and development, joy awaits me on the other side of my first.

How about you? Does your heart hold a first? Let's take one step closer to our first today.

The Great Wall

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
Psalm 73:23

Pregnancy comes with a multitude of surprises. You ache in places you didn't know existed. You have fluctuations in energy and appetite. A miracle grows within.

I was five months pregnant when I boarded the plane for Beijing. I knew a thrilling adventure awaited me. I was determined to capture each sight, smell and sound.

The day we traveled to the Great Wall was steamy for September. It's sheer enormity daunted. To climb it in my condition would be no small feat but I was determined. In parts it was a gentle slope. In others it was a vertical staircase. By the end I questioned my choice dozens of times. Just about the time I was certain I'd make Chinese headlines from being helicoptered back down, we made it to the top.

Shannon, Five Months Pregnant, at the top
of the Great Wall
Seasons of life bring Great Walls into our lives.

The child we're not sure how to parent.

The marriage stretched beyond its boundaries.

Finances so far into the red they're crimson.

Unplanned illnesses, changes, and circumstances.

Carynne (5) is quick to tell you she's been to China and climbed the Great Wall. With every stride of my legs, she kicked hers. She was with me in each uncertain step. Together we made it to the top.

When life's problems loom, I am not alone. 

When life is too much for me, it's not too much for Him.

He is with me in each uncertain step. Together we will make it to the top.

Will You Marry Me?

Yesterday I was a guest on a blog for pastor's wives. I wrote a piece about marriage and really the struggles a ministry couple experiences are no different than those for any couple, so I wanted to also share it here. If you're a pastor's wife and want to join the conversation, you can find A Pastor's Wife's Garden on Facebook and their Blog.

Scott & Shannon on the night of their engagement
Sun-kissed skin and hair did little to hide my smile. The salty Jacksonville air blew around us as he looked into my eyes. I wanted to drink in the moment. I knew the question he would ask. The man of my dreams would soon ask me to marry him.

"Will you marry me?" The question asked and answered for centuries by millions of lovers, fell from his lips. My heart beat erratically in response. Before I could shout, "Yes!" he stopped me. He had a question to ask of two little young ladies first.

The thirty minutes from the beach to my home passed in alternating periods of stall and blur. Soon we were seated on the couch surrounded by my seven and four year old daughters. "Girls, I asked your mommy to marry me tonight. That means I want us to live together and be a real family but I won't let her answer until I ask you a very important question. Will you be my daughters?"

Their enthusiasm, fueled by surprise, outweighed my own. A stuffed animal sky rocketed to the ceiling as a chorus of "Yes! Yes! Yes!" rang from their lips.

Finally it was my turn to answer. My yes completed our joy. In nine months we would marry in a small church in a small town in Mississippi, witnessed by a few lifelong friends and our immediate family. The vows we would all exchange entered us not just into the covenant of marriage but the covenant of family. That day four became one.

Five years later my husband left his corporate executive job to become the COO (Executive Pastor) of a church 600 miles away in the last city where I shared happiness with my first husband. It was a place I never wanted to return. Since then, I have teased Scott many times that had I known what he was really asking that day, I may have changed my answer.

Indeed marriage is for better or worse. Sometimes ministry births days that stretch my marriage almost to its breaking point. For the good of God's church, we both carry burdens we are not entirely free to share with the other. Our hearts ache because close relationships are elusive. What should drive us together some days drives us apart.

Can ministry be a happily ever after?

Yes! I live my happily ever after every day...even on the really hard ones. Here's how:

Gratitude - It sounds simple and it is. As I move my thoughts from what's wrong to what's right, my heart warms to my husband. I whisper single sentence prayers of thanksgiving to the Giver of every good gift.

Thank you for my husband who comes home to me.

Thank you for my husband who cares so deeply for Your church.

Thank you for my husband. He is a gift from Your hand.

Time - I once heard a youth speaker say children spell love T-I-M-E. He asserted there was no such thing as quality time, only quantity. My husband spells love the same way. I often leave dirty dishes to crust in the sink because I'd rather awake to crusty dishes than a moldy marriage.

Some evenings we mindlessly watch American Idol while we hold hands and judge each performance. Other nights we whisper the secrets of love in a language unique to marriage. Many times we just enjoy being together and building our marriage one day, one trial, one stress, one ordinary at a time.

Oneness - Have you ever noticed that God says at least four times, "The two shall become one?" When I read God's Word, I try to pay extra attention to things God repeats. I figure if He felt it worth repeating, I should find it worthy of my full attention. The principle of oneness is a guiding principle in our marriage.

The activities I engage in, the way I spend money, the things I watch and think about are all sifted from the perspective of oneness. If something makes us more two than one, I make the choice not to invest time or energy there.

If we're married, we all answered the question. We said yes. Now we need to daily learn to say yes to living our happily ever after today among real stress, real pain and real issues. When we follow hearts of gratitude to spend time being one with our spouse, we'll find our happily ever after was here all along.

Encounter the Nameless

Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
John 8:10

She was walking toward me with an angelic grin on her face. I knew her. I welcomed her face. I couldn't remember her name.

What was happening to me? I talked with her almost every week. I considered her a friend. Why was her name escaping me?

Did my brain fall out during the fourth birth?

Would I set a World Record for earliest onset of Alzheimer's?

Does this ever happen to you? Even someone you know can become nameless in a single moment.

I struggle to remember names and I find most people struggle with mine. Just today someone called me Mrs. Milhouse and then peered at me strangely when I didn't respond immediately.

This afternoon Mrs. Milhouse reflected on the nameless women of the Bible. Countless women had life-changing interactions with Jesus but are known to the modern world simply as "woman". As I reflected on these encounters, I saw the dusty streets of ancient Israel with Whitney Houston belting, "I'm Every Woman" in the background.

Nameless men and women cross my path each day. I have the opportunity to stop and see them. But do I?

The woman who needs diapers for her newborn.

The man struggling with identity during a season of unemployment.

The girl who hides her worry behind a smile.

Today I will encounter the nameless, the unknown, Jesus' kind of people. I can choose to see. I can choose to bring His grace into their self-condemnation. I can introduce nameless people like me to the Name above all names.

Caught Up or Pulled Down

We who are still alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
1 Thessalonians 4:17

"Do you ever put that baby down?" I was 24 hours postpartum with baby number four. Every time my nurse entered my room she found Carynne nestled in my arms instead of sleeping in her bed. The same could have been asked about any of my four babies. I treasured each stay in the hospital.

Midnight whispers during first meals.

Light bouncing from new skin.

Tender moments etched in my heart forever.

I was completely in those moments. No part of my heart was counting laundry to be washed or errands to be run. I was caught up in my baby.

Recently I dreamed of the rapture - the day when Jesus returns for His bride, the church. We will be caught up to meet Him in the air. In my dream, I and many around me weren't looking at Jesus. What bride walks the aisle without her gaze lingering on her intended? Not only was I not looking at Jesus, I was looking the opposite direction. What it was on earth that captivated my sight I do not know. It might be people, possessions or positions but something I was leaving stole my heart away from Jesus.

When I awoke, I reflected on my walk with God. Am I caught up with Him or pulled down by cares of this temporary life?

Like a novel too intriguing too put down, I want to be caught up in Him.

Like those newborn moments where my heart was fully engaged, I want to be caught up in Him.

When I am caught up in Him, my worries and cares no longer pull me down.

What Lies Ahead

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 
I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Phillipians 3:13-14

Me and My Sweetie pre-run;
I'm smiling because it's PRE-run - ha!
Pre-run jitters danced in my stomach. I took a deep breath and the initial steps of my first half marathon. The course was arduous. As soon as I topped one hill, another loomed ahead. Early on I knew finishing would be a far greater challenge than I had envisioned.

Out on the road it was just me and God. I prayed. I sang in my heart. I thought about scripture. What I didn't do was look back. It does no good to look back at the ground you've covered. When you run, what matters is what lies ahead.

I did it again. I took a sharp tone with my daughter. Regret immediately followed. I prayed for God's help. I asked her forgiveness. I didn't look back but at what lies ahead.

The memory came back in a terrifying dream. I laid shaking in the bed as I inched closer to my husband. I called out to God for His peace. I didn't look back but at what lies ahead.

Too often we stay trapped in condemnation, guilt and fear because our necks are craned on ground we've already covered.

Look forward, friend. Because of Who runs with you, ahead lies peace. Ahead is joy.

Forget what is behind and press on toward what is ahead.

Worth the Read

The pain in my shoulder was intense. Each movement brought a new wave of discomfort. With four kids, surgery (i.e. incapacitation) wasn't an option but rehab was. When I first visited Dr. Brad of the Cole Pain Therapy Group I could only raise my left arm 45 degrees from my leg. From the first exam, his confidence was clear. He had the skills and tools to correct my frozen shoulder.

Recently, Dr. Brad asked if I'd write a referral for him on Google places and yelp. I could not be more grateful for his professionalism, kindness and care so my answer was a resounding yes! It took mere moments of my time but I pray God uses my meager offering to attract more patients to this quality practice.

Sometimes the greatest acts of service take the least amount of time to complete. I need to remember that.

Carey Scott
Recently one of my friends asked in a comment here on my blog who are some of the blog writers who most inspire me. The list jumped to my mind immediately. Carey, Heatherly, Teri, Patti and Rachel. It surprised me how quickly I knew the answer but another thought followed in moments. I know how much they inspire me but do they?

Patti Hazlett
If I'm willing to write an internet review for my doctor, how much more willing should I be to write a review of the women whose writing most touches my heart. If you've never read these women, allow me to tell you why you want to.

Carey Scott is one of the most authentic women I've ever known. She writes from the deepest places of her heart. Love spills out with every mark of her pen. If you want to walk through life with a real friend, read Carey.

Heatherly Sylvia
Heatherly Sylvia is the friend you wish you'd met in kindergarten. You read even a few paragraphs of her writing and know life would be smoother if you were walking its' road next to her. She gives you encouragement and strength for the journey through humor and emotion.

Teri Johnson is a visionary. She sees life both as it is and as it can be and equips you with the tools to reach your full potential. She is a cheerleader rooting for God's best in your home, life and family. When you read her, you feel empowered and ready to take life head on.
Teri Johnson

Patti Hazlett is a 360 watt lightbulb of God's grace. She delivers wisdom with such clarity it's like reading a passage of scripture with new eyes. Her supercharged personality shines through her words and gives your heart a new level of resolve and purpose.

Rachel Snyder
Rachel Snyder is a living laugh. She calls herself The Lazy Christian but her readers have no chance at laziness as they read. If her writing doesn't exercise your laughing lungs, nothing will. Better every line is laced not just with wit but wisdom. She talks to the parts of you kept hidden and surfaces God's best within.

I strongly urge you to check out these five women. Your life, home, marriage and parenting will be not only enriched but transformed as you do. They are the epitome of God's best and my life is different because they dared to whisper yes to the call of God to write. Won't you join me as their reader?