Friday, November 18, 2011


I love looking at trees right after they've lost their leaves.

Because I don't just see uncovered branches and unadorned limbs. I don't just see "Nudie Trees," as my 3-year old calls them.

I see my examples.

These trees have endured wind and rain and storms that have blown away every last leaf until they stand naked.

And with nothing left, their arms still stretch toward God.

When the winds blow and the storms come against us, leaving us stripped of everything we have, when we're emptier than we've ever been, when we've run out of our own strength, do we crumble into a heap on the ground?

Or do we stand in His strength and raise hands in worship to our God?

You will go out in JOY and be led forth in PEACE.
The mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Isaiah 55:12

*Happy Thanksgiving this week!*

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Maybe--just maybe--it's time to not be serving where you're serving.

When I was 22, I got a call saying that a few of the pastors at my church wanted to meet with me. I was a scandal-free kind of girl and didn't have any big skeletons in my closet, so I wasn't too worried--but I was a little curious as to what they had to say.

When I arrived for the meeting that day, Pastor Ken and Pastor Tom sat across from me and spoke some hard-to-hear, but important, words:

"Thea," they started, "you're involved in a lot of areas here. And we fear for you the potential of burnout. If you keep at the pace you're going, you're liable to begin to dread or resent serving--and ministry in general."

It was true--I
was all over the place. I led worship, helped with the children's choir, participated in the adult choir, was on the ministry team for the college group, and was a leader in the high school group.

"We want you to take a month off. From
everything," they continued. No serving anywhere. Just take this time to pray about where God wants you. Consider where you're really excited to serve. Then come back to that. If it's to all 5 ministries, great. But if it's just to one, then come back to the one and serve with all your heart."

I won't lie, there was a part of me that felt a bit hurt.
Why don't they want my service? I wondered. But the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I realized they were giving me a gift in encouraging me to evaluate where I was serving. WHY was I serving? Was I passionate about all of those opportunities? Was I gifted to serve well in all of those areas?

That month-long hiatus was tough at first. I felt like I'd go stir-crazy sitting at home on the nights when I used to have somewhere I had to be. But by the end of the month, there was great peace. I knew some things had to go. Almost everything, in fact.

I returned to only one out of the five ministries.

I returned to leading worship--that was it. And you know what? The other 4 ministries didn't fall apart without me. In fact, other people stepped in to spots that I had once occupied, using their God-given gifts and talents to lead and serve. We can assume we're supposed to serve all over the place. But sometimes when that happens, other people who are gifted and equipped to serve won't do so because they see the spots are filled--sometimes by people who might not even be strong in serving in those areas.

My pastors cared about me, and were wise to encourage me to assess my service. And their wisdom remains with me to this day. I don't just jump into every opportunity and assume every spot is mine to fill.

I don't know what it is about having somewhere we have to be that can make us feel needed, nor how having an empty spot in our planners can make us feel empty--but it's very much the case. We really have to be honest when we assess WHY we're serving. Sometimes these things I do for others in the name of ministry have a lot to do with ME and very little to do with YOU.

It was appropriate for me to let go.
Not easy. But appropriate.

Consider the areas in which you're currently serving. Are you passionate about them, or are they obligations to fulfill? Are you actually good at doing what you're doing, or were you basically "voluntold" to sign up? And, most importantly, did you PRAY about committing to those areas in which you're serving before you agreed to do so? And finally, have you possibly spread yourself so thin doing so many different
good things that you have a sinking feeling you're not really doing any of them well?

Sometimes something's gotta go. Be honest. Pray. And then discern what is to stay, and what is to go.

* Check out this GREAT POST from Tentblogger. He speaks to the need to let God prune our service to make it more fruitful. Similar to this post, but written far more eloquently and compellingly! :)


Monday, November 14, 2011

DEAR JESUS: (Shut Up!!!)

I'll never forget one of the most legendary prayers ever spoken in our house:

"Dear Jesus, (Shut up!) We just love you so much (Get away from me!!!!) and we pray that you will help us do the right thing (You stupid!)--Amen."

Ah, the bedtime prayer of a boy who is trying to pray AND fight with his little sister at the same time.
He was basically sandwiching his conversation with God in between bouts of sibling rivalry.

But really, is it any different than what a lot of grown-ups do?

We spend our Sunday mornings in worship, but then get into an argument with our spouse on the drive home.

We tell God in prayer that we would go to the ends of the earth for him, but an hour later we speak harsh, critical words to those around us.

We speak of our love for God but slander the very ones He made.

We thank God for forgiving us, but refuse to extend mercy to another.

We basically sandwich our worship of God in between our battles with man. And if I can see the tremendous dichotomy between my son's loving expression toward God and his unkind words toward his sister, then why can't I identify these same discrepancies in my own life?

LORD, let our love for one another be real-- and rich with grace. There's just no room for us to worship You and then turn right around and lash out at each other.

Above all else,
have a severe love for one another,
for love covers a multitude of sins.
1 Peter 4:8

If you keep on biting and devouring each other,
watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:15

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another;
be sympathetic, love as brothers,
be compassionate and humble.

1 Peter 3:8

Friday, November 11, 2011


I'm a curvy girl with a work-in-progress kind of body. I could try all the live-long day to squeeze into Size 4 jeans and it just wouldn't happen for me. It's not like I'm into elastic waistband territory or anything, but you're not going to find me trying to fit all of this into a pair of jeggings.

As a follower of Christ, there are some things that just don't fit me, either.

Gossip doesn't fit in my mouth as His follower.

Unforgiveness doesn't fit in my heart as His disciple.

Judgement doesn't fit on me as one who has been shown mercy.

So what does fit on a child of God?


It is FITTING for the upright to praise Him (Psalm 33:1).

Worship is the garment that fits on a believer. Acknowledgement of God is what fits on a follower. A life of praise is what fits on you and me when we call Him LORD of our lives.

Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and FITTING to praise Him!

Psalm 147:1
<span class=


I need the LORD. I mean, desperately. I get that there is no hope for me apart from Him.

I need the LORD right now--today. I need His strength to seek His face. To love my husband and children. To be self-controlled and pure. To be busy at home. To not lose my cool. To keep going. To not wreck my life. To use my talents. To believe who I am in Him. To love others. To be in His Word. To look to Him for my worth rather than clamoring for the acceptance of man. To stand up under lies and rejection. To overcome. To trust that He is making a way in the desert where I don't see it. To be confident in His provision and timing. And I need His forgiveness, for I have come up short more times than I can bear.

I've been unloving, unjoyful, unpeaceful, impatient, unkind, ungood, unfaithful, ungentle, and un-self-controlled. I NEED the LORD. I need the work of His Holy Spirit in me. I need Him to help me be the woman He wants me to be, because apart from Him I am a lost cause, and would be worthy of being written off.


If ever there was a song that captured my story and spoke to my need (and His
beautiful response to it), it's this one:

If the truth was known and a light was shown
on every hidden part of my soul,
most would turn away, shake their heads and say
"She still has such a long way to go."
If the truth was known you'd see
that the only good in me
is Jesus.

If the walls could speak of the times I've been weak
when everybody thought I was strong,
Could I show my face if it weren't for the grace
of the One who's known the truth all along?
If the walls could speak, they'd say
that my only hope is the grace of Jesus--
The grace of Jesus.

And oh, the goodness and the grace in Him,
He takes it all and makes it mine,
and He causes His light in me to shine
with a love that never ends
Just as I am, not as I do,
Could this be real, could this be true?
This could only be a MIRACLE
This could only be the miracle of mercy.

MIRACLE OF MERCY * Steven Curtis Chapman

* To listen, Click HERE. One of my lifesongs,
and it still moves me to tears.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011


My son thinks his personal mission in life is to hold the door open for others. He often bolts ahead of us at church just to get to the door so he can hold it open for us. Aaaand everyone else within a 5-mile radius.

I'm always a bit surprised (read: seriously pet-peeved) when grown-ups walk through the door that my young boy is holding open for them without thanking him, or sometimes without even looking at him.

This is so NOT me to do, but secretly I wish that just once I could call someone out on it. "Pardon me," I would say, "but how do you suppose that door got open for you? Did you not notice the not-even-4-foot-tall, tiny individual using all his strength to hold it open so that you could walk through?"

Of course, I'd never actually say that to someone. But the lack of acknowledgement is upsetting.

I kind of wonder though if God sometimes takes issue with us on this very thing. "Pardon me," He might say, "but how do you suppose that door got open for you? Did you not perceive the One used His mighty strength to hold it open for you so that you could walk through?"

"How do you suppose you have food on your table?"

"How do you suppose you were able to accomplish what seemed impossible?"

"How do you suppose you have a roof over your head?"

"How do you suppose you found favor in that situation?"

"How do you suppose you're able to lead worship so well / write so well / parent so well / teach so well / speak so well?"

The hand of the LORD has done it--He has made a way. Perhaps He has delighted to do it in and through you, but the hand of the LORD has done these things. And His works demand our acknowledgement.

I love this verse:

Let us acknowledge the LORD;
Let us PRESS ON to acknowledge the LORD.

Hosea 6:3

* What work or provision of God might you need to acknowledge today?
<span class=

Monday, November 7, 2011


Marathon runners are crazy. I'm convinced. They actually pay to go somewhere and run 26.2 miles, just to run. There's not even a rabid dog or mountain lion chasing them or anything. I don't get it. For the record, I'm not even sure I've run a collective 26.2 miles over the course of my life.

And their marathon breaks are so....
un-break-like! They don't even stop--they just grab a cup of water from someone's outstretched hand, and keep running. If I ever do manage to run a marathon (don't hold your breath), my break will most definitely involve stopping. And probably a caramel iced coffee and a recliner, too.

A lot of us have our quiet times (if we have them at all) like marathon runners. We think we only have time to get some Living Water if we don't have to slow down or stop to receive it. We read a devotion from our iPhones at a red light, we throw up a quick prayer for favor as we're running into the meeting. But it has to be fast, because we dare not actually stop to receive it.

I get that we're busy. If I don't get my time with God in before one of my children wakes up, I'm hard-pressed to get it in before 10pm--and that's if I'm still awake then! But I can't help thinking of the story of Jesus feeding the multitudes in John 6.

Have the people sit down," He told His disciples.

And then He fed them.

He invited them to sit and receive the food He would provide for them. And then they ate their fill and were satisfied. Jesus didn't pass out this provision through some Drive-Thru window; They sat and ate from the provision of His hands.

There's something in this that just speaks to my heart. Some days are just Go, Go, Go from morning to night--but He invites us to sit and receive what He has for us. What if our times with God reflected the fact that we've gotten the invitation to come and sit and receive? If our quiet times are constantly happening on the run, we're too busy. Period. What else is so valuable as to be able to compete with that time?

Carve out the time. Be still for a moment. Come and sit and be fed.

And--Hallelujah--you can even do it with an caramel iced coffee and a recliner. :)


Sunday, November 6, 2011


It's 4:37am, and I just woke up from a nightmare.

I dreamed our family was walking down the grassy center area between two highways, and at some point Justin and I noticed that our children weren't behind us anymore. There were twists and turns behind us, so we didn't have a straight shot to see behind us to try and find them. Justin stayed put in case they returned, and I ran, desperate to find them.

My son showed up unharmed on his own. I celebrated and rejoiced, but having only one of my children home was not enough. I went right back on running, because my little girl was still wandering out there by herself. I ran with a fury and desperation I can't even begin to describe. I had to get to her. I couldn't bear the thought of what her fate could be if I couldn't get there in time. Then suddenly I was inside a house and a woman walked in, carrying my daughter over her shoulder. I couldn't tell if she was okay, so I asked, "Is she alive?" The woman nodded, and I grabbed my little girl and wailed and sobbed and cried the most relieved tears.

This is not how I wanted to wrap up a night of sleep--thinking of my son and daughter in such a dangerous situation. But what a picture God painted through it. He gave me just a tiny glimpse of his love-fueled, feverish pursuit of His children. Yes, He delights when one is found. There is great celebration when one is restored. But He can't get His mind off His children who are still out there wandering, with a potential fate He did everything to save us from.

Jesus painted this same picture with three back-to-back stories in Luke 15: First, a shepherd of 100 sheep who loses 1, and leaves the 99 to find and restore to home that one lost sheep. When he finds it, he calls his friends around to celebrate with him.

Next, a woman with 10 coins loses 1, and spends herself to find the one--lighting a lamp, sweeping in search, and looking carefully for the one lost coin. When she finds it, she calls her friends around to celebrate with her.

And then finally, the story of the lost son. A father with one of his sons safe at home finds that one alone is not enough. He spends every day staring out the window, hoping his son will return home safely. If you run the math, this man had half his children safe at home, but his heart hungrily hoped for his other son to come home. And when the son did, the man was standing there waiting, watching, looking out the window. And when he saw the outline of his boy even from far off, that father RAN-likely in furious, desperate pursuit--to get to his son. I bet there were relieved sobs and screams of joy. If it was anything like the reunion I had with my daughter in my dream, there were. And then, the celebration feast with shouts of "My son was lost, but now he is found!"

I'll be sitting in church in a few hours, among a bunch of other "found" folk. I'm not saying we're found nor saved just by occupying a seat in a church on Sunday, but it's safe to say that later on today I'll be surrounded by the "found." It's easy to forget that while our God has celebrated us returning to Him, there are still many who are lost. And the fate of those apart from Christ is even more devastating than the potential fate of a child wandering between two freeways. I can't get out of my mind the desperation of the heart of God to draw them to Himself, and have them return home. The invitation has been sent, a place has been made for them--and now they can either choose or not choose to come home. But let it be clear--He has made a way for His children to come home.

And now I have a greater understanding of how He feels about those who are still out there lost.

"Some" saved isn't "Enough" saved. Following the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18, Jesus said this:

In the same way, your Father in Heaven
is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.

Matthew 18:14

And so this morning as many of us go and surround ourselves with the rest of the "found," let us remember those who are still out there lost. Pray for them by name, that they will be restored to the Father, and consider how great the rejoicing will be when they do.


Friday, November 4, 2011


Isn't it amazing how the start of your day seems to dictate how the rest of the day goes? You wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and sometimes it feels like it's hard to recover from that rough start.

But it goes the other way, too. The way your day starts has a lot to do with how the rest of the day will go. This is more than just having a quiet time (which of course I totally recommend); It's saying something to God in those very first moments of the day that sets us on a peaceful course for the rest of the day.

My awesome friend Jackie recommended this to me when I was in a season of stressing over how my days were unfolding. She said I should acknowledge God as Lord of that day before I even set foot out of bed, and that when she began to do that, she viewed her days differently.

And so this has become my morning prayer that I say before I even get out of bed:

Before I set even one foot on the floor to begin this day,
I am acknowledging YOU.

I am saying that You are the Author of this day,
You order my steps in it,
and You will unfold it by Your grace.
What you have in this day for me,

I'll receive with thanks.
But I will not lament
what you do not have for me in this day.

This day is Yours and for Your glory.

In Jesus' name,


You see, this prayer made all the difference because I was going through a time where clients would have to cancel, and it would cause a lot of anxiety about the rearrangement of my schedule and the loss of income. When I started praying this prayer in the morning, things shifted in my heart to where there wasn't anxiety if things didn't go according to plan; I saw it as just the ordering of my steps for the day. And what I may have previously seen as the loss of one thing, I began to see as the gain of another: Often, the gain of time with my kids. Once I prayed for my schedule to rest in the able hands of God, there was peace--no matter what that day ended up looking like by the time my head hit the pillow at night.

Almighty God, You PRE-KNOW our days. You have written every one of them out before one of them came to be. Nothing in the unfolding of our days is a surprise to You. You're never caught off guard, never inconvenienced. So no matter what this day does or does not hold, there is tremendous peace, because You go before us in it. We love You.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011


I spent the better part of Monday having a mammogram. Good fun. First, I ended up in the wrong office and had to ask a middle-aged man where the Breast Center was. He told me, then put his hand on my arm and said, "And hey--good luck up there!" Great...thanks.

I got up there and put my clothes in a locker, and waited. At one point I looked over at the sea of lockers and realized I hadn't paid attention to which number was on the locker I'd used. I imagined never finding my clothes and having to make a break for it, leaving the hospital in the burgundy, questionable-coverage "wrap" they gave me to wear.

Finally I had the procedure, then waited. I'd already been told it wasn't likely that I would need an ultrasound, so I was expecting to be in and out fairly quickly. But it wasn't going to go that way.

"Mrs. Nelson, we found something on your mammogram and we'll need to do an ultrasound to further investigate."

I waited in a room for over an hour with only my thoughts to occupy me. I began to think of the reasons I didn't want bad news. And my mind went to a passage I read a few months back in Francis Chan's book
Forgotten God. In the excerpt he tells of a time he was called to a home to pray for a man dying of cancer. The elders gathered around him to anoint him with oil and pray for his healing. But before they prayed, Chan asked the sick man something he says he doesn't usually ask:

"Why do you want to be healed? Why do you want to stay on this earth?"

An unusual question, perhaps. But a fair one.

Why do we care to live? Why do we fear getting bad news? If we are told our time will be short, what lost opportunity might we grieve? And if we're told all is well, how will we be good stewards of the blessed gift called "more time"?

Is it because we are hungry to continue bringing glory to God? To continue to do what He called us to do? Or is it so we can spend our days on our own pursuits and passions, as is mentioned in James 4:3?

As I waited, I was overwhelmed with peace. I wasn't afraid of bad news, even though they'd found something iffy. I honestly wasn't even afraid of dying, if that was part of it. But as I sat in that room, I just asked God that if something was wrong, to please strengthen my husband and children to continue to walk in truth, and let their lives be about declaring His name and renown. That's honestly all that truly mattered to me in those moments. I was consumed with the desire for His will to be done in my family, with or without me.

The ultrasound revealed everything to be fine, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I am truly grateful. But now that I know it is, how will I live? Spending this gift called life on myself, my comforts, my own desires, making a way for myself?

My life verses are from Isaiah 61, and verse 3 says that the LORD planted me and established me TO DISPLAY HIS SPLENDOR. That is why I'm here--TO DISPLAY HIS SPLENDOR. So if that means I have 3 more years or 30 more years, in the days that God gave me to live I am here TO DISPLAY HIS SPLENDOR.

I'm going to fail. And at times I'm going to mistakenly think something about my life from the cradle to the grave is somehow about me. But at the heart of it, I want to bring God glory. Why do I want to live? To do just that. And at the end of the time here, it'll be just the beginning of living in the presence of His glory.

* Why do you want to live?

For me, to live is Christ
and to die is gain.

Philippians 1:21