Perfectly Willing to be Perfectly Human

Midwestern cold knows not mercy. It crawls and creeps into every crevice until even the breath you take is sharp against your lungs. The kind of bitter that leaves you nauseously trying to warm your fingers against your dad's chest when you wear the wrong gloves. 

I held the barrel as steady as I could but still it wavered. My adrenaline made it difficult to sight in that small spot behind the shoulder where he'd always told me to aim. On an exhale, with the heat of my breath forming moisture beads on the gun, I closed my eyes and pulled tight the trigger. The deer never took another step.

"You got 'im," my dad said. All his words were edged with giddiness and somehow the mistake of washing my hair with Pantene instead of doe urine was forgotten. (I may be admitting a near 20-year secret that this wasn't by accident. Sorry Dad- we all have our limits.)

Trauma works in a similar manner. Sounds, smells, images on a billboard or commercial, and suddenly like the deer I cannot take another step. It's a bullet between the eyebrows of my past. Unseen until it's too late. 

This anxiety disorder thing I became aware of when I was thirteen and pimpled. This thing I'm still learning to manage almost two decades later. It can throw me into defeat about as fast as a deer drops. I start to believe I'm stuck and wonder if I'll forever be doomed to a life of fear. Talk of hope begins to feel like a hoax. 

Professionals call it "all-or-nothing" thinking. Isn't that a dainty little package? I prefer to name it a "slippery slope of lies," or possibly even "perfectionism."  

When I can pull myself far enough away from this type of thought-processing I start to ask questions like: What if I embrace the difficult, ugly bits of my life along with the graceful? How would it look to say yes to the hard the way I say yes to the easy? What if beauty is in the ashes and connection happens from being vulnerable about our wounds?

“What if part of God’s message to the world was you? The true and real you?”  
-Donald Miller, Scary Close

My past doesn’t define me. Speak. Believe. Repeat.
But it is part of my story. And I think that might just be okay.

“I am willing to sound dumb.
I am willing to be wrong.
I am willing to be passionate about something that isn’t perceived as cool.
I am willing to express a theory.
I am willing to admit I’m afraid.
I’m willing to contradict something I’ve said before.
I’m willing to have a knee-jerk reaction, even a wrong one.
I’m willing to apologize.
I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human.”  
-Donald Miller, Scary Close

When Life Happens

Connected by Erin Davis interested me, because I thought it would be helpful in ministry to find out why many women struggle with connecting and often withdraw from the community of others. Her logic is sound and she makes some interesting points in how to understand and minister to women as a whole. I thought it was going to be a useful tool to do ministry better. Always good, right? It just wasn’t my problem. Or was it?

As an introvert, when I truly connect it’s deeply and with only a handful of people. That’s okay because that’s who I am, I told myself. Connection can happen within many layers and over many years and I was just fine with my layers and the years it took to develop them. I also enjoy new connections and the process of growing deeper in friendship, however, the process takes longer for some of us than others. That’s okay too.

Then life happened unexpectedly.

I stumbled and fell at my sister’s house and crushed the bridge of my nose, fractured it in four places, got a hairline fracture in my lower jaw, a mild concussion and two deep cuts above my nose and eyebrow.  To top it off, I can’t wear my glassed for over ten weeks. That means that I can’t read.  If you’ve ever suffered a broken nose then you understand the pain, swelling and time it takes to recover and that is just the first go round of letting the swelling go down. The next step was surgery to graft and rebuild my crushed nose.

My first instinct was to withdraw.

That surprised me.

Grant it, I hurt and I was on some pain meds that made me sleep most of the day, but when someone offered to prepare meals for us, I said it wasn’t necessary.  My husband and family took care of me and we got by. My son took me shopping and bought me a magnifying glass so I could read. We got by. My energy level was still around 40% of normal and it took me all day just to do a load of laundry between napping. But, we got by. I can type on a keyboard without looking, so I got by.

After my surgery, my friend asked again to bring meals by and again I said it wasn’t necessary. She arranged to have them sent anyway. I’m glad she did. The meals were a life saver.

Krista Keane and Lisa Fischer took parts of my responsibilities in Women’s Ministry without hesitation and told me not to worry about a thing as I heal. I haven’t. They are the best!

What would I have done without the community of women surrounding me and being the hands and feet of Jesus on my behalf? I’m so glad I let them in, but is was up to me to let them in. Be who you are, take whatever time seems to fit you, but don’t withdraw. Hang in there. Connect!

My name is Judy Creviston. I’m married, a mother and grandmother. I love to quilt, sew and learn new crafts. It brings me joy to see women grow in Christ and flourish in serving Him.

Whose Life is it Anyway? | Part 1

Well, mine, isn’t it?  Don’t I have that right?  Don’t I live in a country where I have unalienable rights?  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Or so said Thomas Jefferson.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Thanks, Tom.)

He was right, wasn’t he?  Uh, uh, uh…hold that thought and let me know what you’ve decided when we’re done.

Christians in this great country have recently been thrown into the very heated deep end of a very deep pool, in a debate about rights.  More than any other country in the world, we clutch our rights, smothered to our chests, as we would an infant, or, more precious, possibly our salvation.  We don’t let go of those rights without a decisive fight.  The right to choose, the right to learn what and where we want, to drive as we want, the right to a good job and a nice home.  The right to worship freely.  The right to eat what we want.  To spend or save our money.  The right to disagree.  It’s a part of my default setting, culturally.  Isn’t it yours too?

Walk with me, as we wade into the living streams of others’ lives.  Lives that suddenly change without their permissions from serenely busy but predictable (like yours and mine) to a class VI white water rapid, where people are heartlessly and without warning, launched into treacherous water.  And die.   They are decidedly and irreverently thrown off their feet.  Lovely stories. Heartbreaking, soul breaking, and spirit breaking.   I’ll interweave thoughts on three different books I’ve read recently, all with the same theme.  Two are true stories of recent events and one is a work of fiction, all about each one’s right.  To die.

The first thing that strikes me about each life is that each person certainly has a life worth living – JoJo Moyes fictional character, Will Traynor, is a young business tycoon whose life is framed in extreme sports, vacations, and relationships – he has the means and the drive to do it all.  X-Master of the Universe.  But, wait a minute, he’s a fictional character, so he doesn’t really count, does he?  Consider the influence that this book has had.  5 million copies sold in 9 countries, rights sold to MGM for a movie to be released next year, and a sequel due in September.  (Me Before You, JoJo Moyes, Penguin Book 2012)

Susan Spencer-Wendell, a journalist, mother of three, adored by her husband, with a strong circle of friends and influence.  She’s travelled the country, and the world, and would do anything to be that better person.  Better wife.  Better writer.  Better mother.  Better friend.  Better at the 24 Bikram yoga poses and marathon running.  Who wouldn’t want to be her bestie? (Until I Say Goodbye, Susan Spencer-Wendell, Harper 2014)

Kara Tippetts, soulful, joyful, a blogger, believer, church planter, wife and mother of 4 young children.  She moves to Colorado Springs and is forced to evacuate her new home 10 short days after moving, chased by the maelstrom of the Waldo Canyon fire.  Kara, young, wildly in love with her family, friends, and Jesus. (The Hardest Peace, Kara Tippetts, David C. Cook, 2014)

And then…

Will, a quadriplegic after being hit walking across a street by a motorcycle; prognosis: terminal.  Susan, diagnosed at 47, with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, prognosis: terminal.  Kara, diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months after moving to start a new life; prognosis: terminal.  All facing the suffocating pain of death masked in the specter of a Goliath, who leers at them, an undeniable obstacle of dread, fear, and promised pain.

Kara said it best, “Who is this Jesus, and what does He have to do with my dying?Is this really then about dying, or about the right to die?   

Think of all the thoughts you’ve had, just reading through this.  Put yourself in their places.  Really.  Pick one person, spend 5 minutes thinking about one life, and put yourself there. And, if you are able, I want you to think about the words that were shared on Sunday, July 5th. Luke 6: 37 “Do not judge and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.” These words, so familiar, so oft heard.  When I really stop to think about these three simple sentences, it’s an uncomfortably tight fit spiritually.  With no wiggle room for the demands of my rights.  Hold that thought.  I’ll be back to hear what you have to say, in Part II.

Anne E. Steinbroner is an avid reader, writer, and listener, who is still trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up.  She loves to run and ride her bike really fast, even when no one is chasing her.  She enjoys baking for others – one of her love languages.  If God had data usage plans, she would choose the unlimited plan, talking to God.  Knowing He’s listening. She gets super grossed out by snails and worms, but then, who doesn’t?


Grace on Tap

See to it that no one misses the grace of God...

Hebrews 12:15

Philip Yancey’s new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News is filled with wisdom nuggets for those who want to be grace-dispensers, i.e., Grace on Tap. Philip Yancey says that the Kingdom of God exists for the sake of outsiders as a tangible expression of God’s love for them. We are often asked, “Where is God in the world today?” A good answer might be: everywhere. In the riskiest plot twist of all, God has been turned loose—in us and through us. This is done through ordinary people like you and me!

As I thought about Grace on Tap, I thought of Dorothy. We were in our late 20’s and Larry’s job sent us to the heart of Australia for two years. Our little church in this town of 5000 had few expenses—no paid preacher, small rental fee on the building we used to meet—so we searched for opportunities to share in our community. Some of us went to the local social services offices and inquired about those contacting them who were ineligible for government assistance but who really needed help. We said we wanted to help those people, and that’s how we met Dorothy.

Dorothy and her four small daughters had been abandoned by their husband and dad. Since he had been gone for less than six months, Dorothy did not qualify for government aid. Our little church paid her rent and utilities until she qualified. I took Dorothy and her four girls in my little red Maverick to grocery shop, see the doctor, and other errands. They loved to come to our house. She quickly consented to us taking the girls to church. She had a free Sunday morning!

After our friendship had rolled on for about six months, I asked her one day if she would like to study the Bible with us. To my surprise, she consented. I was elated! The first time we met, after a short discussion, she said to us, “I want to be like you. I want what you have. Please share it with me.” That night she gave her life to Jesus and was baptized. We continued our study and to share our lives with Dorothy and her girls until we left the Land Down Under.

This experience was burnt on my heart. Most people draw conclusions about the Christian faith by observing the lives of ordinary believers, not by studying doctrine. Perhaps the most powerful thing we can do to communicate to a skeptical world is to live in such a way that exhibits proof that Jesus’ way leads to a better life. God has a plan to speak into the world and that plan is us—his people. There is no Plan B. We respond to the grace that we have received by giving it away. We are Grace on Tap.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God...

Carol Keller is a wife, mom, grandmother, and Bible teacher. Some of her favorite things are her husband, her three grandsons, her friends, beaches, anything coconut, bluegrass music, flip-flops, and words. She loves to read words, write words, and say words. Too many of them.


Love Does

They were like raindrops on paper, nearly undetectable with a simple glance. Right there in the middle of my pillow, forced through the sheet were five nail brads. 

Don't react, I told myself. It's only the most sacred of places where I lay my head after the children have been awake all the livelong day and are finally perfect- as in asleep. But don't panic. 

I called my son upstairs because let's face it, girls don't randomly want to puncture furniture with sharp objects. Very often. 

"Um," I said pointing to the nightmare before me. "Were you mad or what made you want to do this?" 
"All right so what's up?"
"I don't know." 

Wildly insufficient right now, Sir. "What were you mad about?" 
"Always having to do stuff I don't want to do." 
"I get that. I don't like doing stuff I don't like too. Actually I'm frustrated right now so should I go cut up your favorite ball cap?"
"No." His voice cracked just a bit as the pieces of understanding started to fall together. "But the girls told me to do it." 
Yeah, no. "Let's come up with better ways to be angry." And by the way you don't get candy, well, ever again.  

It's not even this civilized sometimes. In the four weeks since they've been out of school I've already found myself not wanting to parent several times. A day. I get into a pattern of trying to manage them apart from me instead of engaging. It becomes a chant. 

"Don't touch that."
"Get down. Settle down. Slow down."
"Quit it." 
"Take that out of your mouth." 
"Why did you hit her, cut those, carve this..." 

To which they say, "I'm about to pull down my pants so you better get out of my room!" 

These aren't the kinds of coping skills I'm modeling for them, I assure you. Hilarious though it may be. 

Last night I did one of those desperate pleas to my husband: "I beg of you. Please. I must get coffee. Alone." They weren't sentences, just a series of gasps. I took with me a book that had radically changed my approach to parenting when I first read it, and my own understanding of God's view of us.

"I think a Father's job, when it's done best, is to get down on both knees, lean over his children's lives, and whisper, 'Where do you want to go?' 
God asks what it is He's made us to love, what it is that captures our attention, what feeds that deep indescribable need of our souls to experience the richness of the world He made. And then, leaning over us,  He whispers, 'Let's go do that together." -Bob Goff, Love Does

This comes from a chapter where Mr. Goff describes taking all three of his kids on an adventure when they turned ten. It's a dramatic act of whimsy that celebrates thinking outside of schedules and preparation. Literally, he and his daughter leave for Europe a week after she suggests she'd like to sip tea in the fashion of royalty.  

When I got home I snuggled between my oldest two and draped my daughter's legs over my own while we watched Harry Potter. Imaginary worlds and heroism in the face of evil- past bedtime? Let's do this together. 

"...when Jesus invites us on an adventure, He shapes who we become with what happens along the way." -Bob Goff


Have you ever questioned yourself, wondered (truly) who you are and what you have become?  Have you had a crisis of identity?  I find myself in this place; here, and now.  I am coming out of an 8-year valley; a deep, wide and painful valley. This was a valley of death, suffering, and devoid of hope more often than not.  The ironies in coming out of the valley you’ve been praying to escape…is that you come out changed.  You come out of the valley with a new world view.  You come out of the valley scarred.  You come out of the valley with different spiritual eyes.  You come out of the valley with a new identity.

In “Dancing in the Desert” by Marsha Crockett, she tackles beautifully what it looks like to suffer through our identity in Christ.  I want to know what my purpose is in Christ; I actually fear living this life without it.  It is so important to remember that above all, God pours His love into each of us.  We are His and He is ours.  So, remembering that we are here on this earth because he loves us above anything else is a good place to start when trying to find our identity.  It’s going to come down to me (the queen of stubbornness, yes, the title is mine) letting go of myself, my plan, and my wants should I ever have a chance of taking on the vision God has for my life.

Marsha writes about the different ways God delights in us each day.

  1. “You are the image of God.”  Psalm 139:14 states: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” These are powerful words, Readers.  We are made, by Him.  We are unique and loved by Him despite ourselves and/or our circumstances. 
  2. “I am the beloved bride of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 says: “And we, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory.”  With each passing year of my life, I feel ever-more fortunate as I know that my relationship with Him is growing.  I have been given an opportunity to transform. 
  3. “I am Gods chosen vessel.” I am a God-ship.  I know it is my calling to love others well, no matter the circumstance.  John 5: 30 states: “By myself I can do nothing…for I seek not to please myself, but he who sent me.” We must rely on the Holy Spirit within us to be this vessel.  We have to remain open to hearing His call on our hearts.

Ms. Crocket narrows down the chapter on identity in Christ to the following key concepts:

  • “Identity rooted in Christ seeks not its own glory, but lifts Him up as Lord of all.”
  • “Identity rooted in Christ seeks not its own comfort, but releases compassion into the world.”
  • “Identity rooted in Christ seeks not to do what pleases the self, but what pleases God.”
  • “Identity rooted in Christ seeks not to accomplish great things, but rests in the great arms of Gods love.”                                                                                                                        

My prayer today is from Thomas a’ Kempis:

“Deepen Your love in me, O Lord, that I may learn in my inmost heart how sweet it is to love, to be dissolved, and to plunge myself into Your love.  Let Your love possess and raise me above myself, with a fervor and wonder beyond imagination.  Let me sing the song of love.  Let me follow You, my Beloved, into the heights.  Let me soul spend itself in Your praise, rejoicing in love.”

I pray my identity is always rooted in YOU my savior, my redeemer, my Lord. 

Heather Norten is a wife to one, mom of two, sister to three and friend to many. She is a Christ follower who has held various leadership roles within Women's Ministry at Southeast since 2003. Currently, she is the women's events coordinator. "I love our church community and am honored to be writing again! My prayers that the words you find here bless you in some way!"

Journey of the Heart

Have you ever stopped mid-sentence and just thought, “What are we talking about?” It’s in this moment that we realize whatever nonsense we’ve been carrying on about, really has no bearing on life or meaning. Sometime around adulthood, most of us are convinced that the art of the schmooze is a skill that will serve us in countless situations ranging from the professional to the personal.

We often tell ourselves that this is the most appropriate way to deal with acquaintances, but then at some point this seeps into the relationships with those we call friends. It comes in a subtle form, instead of going on about the weather, we get stuck in conversations about our latest diet and workout routine or our kid’s schools or what the neighbors have been up to this summer. We think that because it is about our bodies, or our children, or our neighbors, that somehow it’s personal and meaningful. Now I’m not saying these are bad conversations to have, but recently I’ve been challenged to look at the journey of the heart.

Donald Miller happens to be one of my favorite authors and in his most recent book, Scary Close, he walks through his journey toward true intimacy. As a single twenty-something I was skeptical of a book about intimacy, but at the recommendation of a friend I overcame my hesitancies and took the plunge. I thought I was heading in to read a book about relationships that was only mildly applicable to my life, but what I got was a book that cut through the junk and hit me square at the center of relationship I ever experienced.

Miller describes a friend of his like this:

“He understood life as a journey of the heart and wanted to know how my heart was doing on the journey…the guy was like a mirror, always reflecting back to me the truth of who I was.”

My question is, when was the last time you gave up small talk in order to focus on the heart? Do you have people who reflect your true self back to you? Who doesn’t let you hide behind the weather, or the workout, or the kids, or the neighbors? Are you this kind of person for others?

Sometimes I avoid these conversations because frankly they can be exhausting. What I realized, though, is what made these conversations hard was a need to present myself as someone or something that I thought I should be, and in doing so, hiding who I really am. Hiding is hard. What’s worse is that it can be damaging. That makes people who don’t allow us to hide that much more important.

Let’s be people who don’t settle for hiding in our relationships, but rather call each other to depth. People who stop and ask, “What are we talking about?” And instead of getting by with small talk, let’s come out of hiding and walk through the journey of heart together.

Lis is a chronic celebrator with a bent toward optimism. She spends her time hanging out with teenagers in student ministry or on the soccer field. Her latest adventure has been helping to plant a church in Green Valley Ranch.

It's Not Fair

infant fist (55121).jpg

by Sarah Barber

There’s this thing in my life. This ugly little creature that hibernates in the corners and crevasses of my heart until it finds the perfect opportunity to re-emerge. I notice it most in seasons when I’m tired, drained and quite honestly, just spent.

I’m currently living in this season.

My husband and I just recently had our third child, and sleep deprivation does not breed excellence in my life. (Count yourself blessed if you can function on four or five hours of sleep!)

Without restful sleep, my soul morphs. I say things I don’t mean and I expect things that aren’t attainable. I’d rather not admit this awful, loathsome creature even exists inside me. But it does. 

Its name is entitlement.

It likes to masquerade itself as spiritual, biblical, and even godly.

But it’s not.

It likes to call itself other names like justice, fairness, or good deeds.

But it’s not.

Entitlement drives this feeling inside me that I deserve better or more. Entitlement says that I’m owed something because of my sacrifice, service or kindness. And when my husband walks in the door from an equally long, stressful day, Entitlement says it’s his fault he never called to see what we needed from the grocery store.

Recently I was reading Life Is ____, by Judah Smith. In the book he highlights the parable of the landowner in Matthew chapter 20. Let me quickly recap it for you.

The landowner goes out early in the morning and hires a bunch of workers for his vineyard. They all agree on the amount they will be paid for their work, and head out into the fields. At the third hour, the landowner decides to hire a few more workers. He does the same thing at the sixth and ninth hour. Finally, at the eleventh hour (one hour before quitting time,) he hires one last group. He tells each group the same thing: “”Trust me, I’ll pay you what is right.”

When the work is done, everyone comes back to get paid. Here’s where the story gets interesting.

The landowner starts with the last group. Remember those guys? The guys that barely broke a sweat and arrived an hour ago? They receive a denarius for their work. Then the paymaster goes through the next three groups of workers and they each receive a denarius.

Finally, he gets to the guys who were there first. The guys who worked all day, labored under the hot, sweltering sun. He extends his hand. “Denarius for you, and for you, and for you…”

At this point in the parable, the first group of workers immediately start complaining. “Hey! What? This isn’t fair! We’ve been here all day long, and those guys over there only worked one hour. You’re going to give them the same as us?!”

Now, let’s pause here for a second. I want to wrestle with two thoughts.

Isn’t it interesting that the landowner insists his paymaster pay the last workers first? Why? It seems like he should have started with the group that he had actually hired at the start of the day—the first workers. Was he trying to frustrate them?

And secondly, at what point do you think entitlement started to seep into the hearts of those first workers? Perhaps in the twelve hours they were out working in the field they had forgotten about their agreement, but I doubt it. The deal was a days work for a denarius. What changed? Why was that suddenly not enough?

Some of us read this parable and think, “Actually, I’d be ticked off too. That doesn’t seem fair. You should earn more if you’ve put in more work. That’s the right thing to do. It’s how the world works”

And I’d agree with you.

I tend to act like and see myself as one of those first workers. I think I deserve more, or at the very least, what is fair for my faithful service, kindness, love, generosity, you name it.

But in reading Judah’s commentary I realized something. I’m one of those eleventh-hour workers.

Don’t miss that. Read it again if you need to.

We’re the folks that cut in line. We’re the ones that barely made the cut. Yet God graciously extends His hand and says, “I’ll take you. You can be mine.”

Entitlement can be sneaky. It’s typically not out-spoken. Instead, it subtly makes its way into our hearts and camps out for as long as we allow ourselves to believe we deserve better.

So let’s stop second guessing God and His goodness. Let’s celebrate that God’s grace is frustrating. It’s not fair. It doesn’t make sense.

And let’s all admit that it’s far more generous than what we deserve.

(Many ideas and excerpts were taken from Life Is ____, by Judah Smith.)

Whatever Happened to the Good News?

Philip Yancey’s new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever Happened to the Good News? helped me put a name and face on some issues rolling around inside of me. For sometime I have been distressed by the polarization of my society. Everyone has such strong opinions and views about EVERYTHING—from politics, to religion, from diet to childrearing, from marriage to “right-to-_____” issues ( you fill in the blank). And everyone seems ready to die to defend their position. Well, maybe not die, but get really down and dirty about it.

So how do I, as a Christian, survive, even thrive, in such a culture? How do I then live? Philip Yancey distilled some of my angst. The real issue I am dealing with, I discovered, is not whether I agree with someone but rather how I treat someone with whom I profoundly disagree. This book challenged me again (not a new concept, I just needed to be reminded) to re-think the way I look at people and how I deal with them.

God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly,but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst. —Henri Nouwen

Not my enemies, not ungodly, but thirsty. That’s a different way of looking at others. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer, says, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view...until you climb into his skin and walk around it.”

So how do I get to understand thirsty people and share the Living Water? I need to hear their stories. By the way, most conversations come about as an outgrowth of friendship. Then I need to restrain myself from judging. I need to avoid being ready with my advice, but be brave and risk sharing my own story—the good, the bad and the ugly.

I do not have all the answers. I stumble along, believing that an invisible God really does exist, that there is more to life than mere sound and fury, that despite all appearance, the universe is a product of a Personal Love. Along the way I often muddle ethical issues and miss the priorities of God’s kingdom. I have little reason for pride. And I am painfully learning that humility is a prerequisite for grace-giving.

Here’s a good test of how well we love and dispense Living Water: Are other people— even those with whom we disagree—glad to be with us?

Carol Keller is a wife, mom, grandmother, and Bible teacher. Some of her favorite things are her husband, her three grandsons, her friends, beaches, anything coconut, bluegrass music, flip-flops, and words. She loves to read words, write words, and, of course, say them. Too many of them.


In my hand was a simple survey.  Eight questions about sin and our capacity to hide it.  The answers on the card were not mine, but the answers of someone else in the room.   As my card was in the hands of another, I wondered what they thought of anonymous me.  The pastor asked those holding a card with a yes answer to please stand as he read the questions.  As I stood up, I felt the weight of pain of so many in the room.  I sat while one of the next questions was read and the card I held said no.  Looking around the room, I wondered who was standing because of my card, on behalf of my sin.

We learned to hide early on.  We learned we were loved and accepted when we did good and acted the way we were supposed to.  We learned to hide our mistakes, our ugliness, our messes, our sin.  We believed that no one would love us if they really knew us. So we live a double life.  As Brennan Manning says in The Ragamuffin Gospel,

“When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.” 

Yep, that’s me.

There is a light side and a dark side to each of our stories.  It’s easy to display the light, and hide the dark.  But if we are to live by grace we have to acknowledge the whole of us, our entire life story, the light and the dark.  When we can accept who we are, we can understand what God’s grace means.  Manning also says, “…women who are truly filled with light are those who have gazed deeply into the darkness of their imperfect existence. “  Maybe we need to start there, dealing with the parts we hide.

My name is Nicole DeVries.  I am not a writer, but I love to hang out and talk about real stuff.  My real stuff includes my husband Jesse and our 5 kiddos.  We’re a big, crazy, loud family that is trying to figure out how to do life (oh, and we drive a really big van).  In my spare time I get to work my dream job as the Outreach Director at Southeast.  I love to read, laugh, and drink coffee.  I really dislike sorting socks, hot dogs, and things that smell bad, like hot dogs.

Easter in Me

By Nicole DeVries

Remember the woman caught in adultery? She was the pawn the Pharisees used to try and trap Jesus, to find a reason to accuse him. He was teaching when the teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought this adulterous woman to him, made her stand there in front of him. They asked that a punishment be enacted. A stoning would have satisfied their thirst for justice. Jesus, well, he ignored them, started drawing in the sand. I am presuming he was hoping they would go away. But they didn't and he was forced to do something. What happened next was what I would consider a moment of pure brilliance, but for the Son of God, it was just child's play. Jesus looks up at the men and simply says “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone.” Within minutes it's just Jesus and the woman who remain.

I wonder if she knew. Did she know she was standing in the presence of the only person worthy of throwing the stone? Did she know that he knew everything, all the sin she carried with her in that moment? Is there anyway she could have predicted what happened next? I wonder what I would have felt if I were her.

I cheated.

I made a vow to God and I didn't hold up my end of the deal. I was even gutsy enough to blog about it, thinking if enough people knew, I wouldn't fail.

But it was a long day. I was tired. My kids weren't listening. I'd had a disagreement with my husband and I am sure PMS was lurking around the corner. Oh, my rationalizations came far too easily. It was just a cookie. Truly there isn't anything wrong with eating a cookie.

Except I had said I wouldn't. The whole point of Lent was to deny myself, to die to my desires. But my desires took hold, ran over my resolve and in that moment, faced with my failure, I was reminded of so much.

I am a sinner. I sin. A whole bunch. It is ugly and nasty and it threatens to undo me.

It doesn't matter how hard I try, I can't change that. Only He can. That's why I observe Lent. It serves as a very tangible reminder that I am a sinner and I desperately need a Savior. My failures, my sin, all the ugliness that lives within me is made beautiful by the horror of the cross. Jesus, the only one worthy of throwing the stone, he took the punishment for me and washed me clean.

It's not about the cookie. (Or the chocolate I had the next week.) If I were to be hauled out and made to stand before Jesus, I would carry with me all of my sin. He would look at me with tender eyes, knowing each and every one of those sins, all of my failures, and he would say as he did to the woman, “I don't condemn you, go and sin no more.”

In Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, Hopkins writes, “Let Him Easter in us, be a day spring to the dimness in us.” Used here “Easter” is a nautical term meaning to steer a vessel eastward into the light. Emilie Griffin says, “Throughout the forty days of Lent we have been heading toward the light, trying to shake the darkness...By walking with Christ, letting him easter in us, we mean to turn in the right direction.” It's all a journey.

So, I fail and I start over. I take the next step. I move towards him. I need a Savior and He is there. He is with me. He is for me. He is in me. He loves me. May he continue to easter in me, guiding me towards the light, one day, one step at a time.  

Heaven's Orientation

By Judy E. Creviston


In Small Surrenders author Emilie Griffin says, “Lent is a time of surrendering our will to God’s. It is also a time of believing in a better outcome yet to come.” She also says, “Accepting for example, the death of friends is eased when we can imagine them going before us into God’s light. Imaginative faith can transfigure our daily lives and help us to make our small and large surrenders.”

A large surrender for me was accepting my parent’s death who passed away one year and eighteen days apart. They were both believers in Jesus Christ and I know were face to face with their Savior when their weary body lost its fight and gave up its spirit. Bearing that burden would not have been possible without the comfort of imaginative faith and a solid confidence that God is faithful to do exactly what He’s promised.

Still, their death left a heaviness that’s difficult to describe unless you’ve experienced it along with the fact that I am now an orphan.

If time heals all wounds, then I have yet to find it to be true. There will always be a gap in my life that only Dad and Mom can fill. Time does help, however, when their memory floods my thoughts and I’m able to successfully maneuver through them instead of being disabled by them.

My imaginative faith led me to consider heaven’s orientation, or as Webster describes orientation as: the process of giving people training and information about a new job, situation, etc.

After Dad died, I sat with Mom and reminisced celebrating him. We sometimes laughed and often cried together. One thing that made Mom laugh was me describing Dad in heaven’s orientation. How his mechanical mind loved to figure out how things worked as he took them apart and put them back together. We came up with all kinds of crazy things in heaven that he might dismantle or try to figure out. Certain to be a part of his orientation, we envisioned, would be discovering new varieties of the plants and animals he loved.

Then it was Mom’s turn just a short year later, and after seeing Jesus face to face, I imagined Him handing Mom off to Dad for orientation. I could just see them talking at the same time and Dad eagerly showing her what he had learned in her absence and how excited Mom was to see him again as Christ looked on and celebrated that they were both finally home.

It helped.

Death is a heavy cross and the only way to bear it is to surrender it to Christ.

Let me be clear that there is nothing in scripture that talks about orientation in heaven. There is nothing in scripture that says that there won’t be either.

Ephesians 3:20-21 does say, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”


Because Christ was triumphant on the cross, we celebrate Him and look forward to reuniting with our loved ones who have passed into eternity before us. And, if there is a time of orientation, I’m confident that Dad and Mom will do their part to help me acclimate to a new way of living.

During this time of Lent, consider a renewed focus on Christ’s victory on the cross and a better outcome yet to come. Take what He says in scripture and use your imaginative faith to celebrate all He has waiting for those who love Him.

Surrender Busyness

By Nicole Body

Have you found yourself saying, “I can’t believe it’s the end of March?” followed by a statement or response of “I know! Where has the time gone?” I’m the first to say each of these! These statements should raise a caution sign and lead us to analyze, evaluate, and consider how we might be living.

With jobs, school, kids, volunteer activities, and more, we live in a time where there is always something to accomplish or do. If we had the capacity (which we don’t) to work 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, it still wouldn’t be enough time to get everything done that “needs” to be. Since we can’t do that, we find ourselves stretching ourselves very thin and working so hard that we can tend to lose sight of what should matter and fill it with all the other stuff. Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are obligations that we are called to fulfill and those cannot be ignored, but as for me, I know that I can fill my time with way more than I can handle and not all of it is completely necessary (even though I can convince myself that it is.)

When we look at the creation in Genesis, we see God at work for 6 out of the 7 days. What was he doing on the 7th day and why would he include that day if he wasn’t working?

“By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Genesis 2:1-2

It’s important to note that God was not tired. He doesn’t ever run out of energy! I believe that God included these verses to show the importance of us surrendering the busyness of our lives and taking a day each week to rest. We are not God and we have limitations. If we don’t stop and enjoy God’s creation and refuel ourselves, we could find ourselves saying, “Where have the last 10 years of my life gone?” only to find that we stretched ourselves without resting, kept the pedal to the metal without enjoying the ride, and burned ourselves out in areas that could have been impactful and good had we placed margin and balance in our lives.

I pray that we can make efforts and recognize the importance of surrendering the busyness of our lives just as God has demonstrated for us to do. Let us not get too carried away with doing that we forget our instruction and commandment from God to rest and surrender busyness.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”

–Hebrews 4:9-11


Keep On Walking

By Monica Swoboda

Today is Palm Sunday and the last week of the Lenten season. In today’s Small Surrenders writing, Emilie Griffin says “During the last week of Lent, we focus on the constancy of Jesus. We know that Jesus has prepared himself by a time of trial in the wilderness. We know that he must endure a still greater trial. In this week that we call Holy Week, we relive the last week of Jesus’ life: his entrance into Jerusalem, his Passover meal, his arrest, interrogation, suffering and death. 

Jesus knew these things were going to happen to him during those last few days of his life. And yet he kept on walking through Jerusalem; the path God had laid out for him. We will likely never know what it feels like to be arrested, interrogated, suffer physically and emotionally the way he did and die a brutal death on the cross.  What does it mean, then, to “relive the last week of Jesus’ life?” 

This Lent season has been personally difficult, but not in the way I expected. I assumed that my very small sacrifice would simply lead me to a greater appreciation of Jesus’ very large sacrifice.  I thought the difficult part would be denying my flesh. I do believe I have grown in gratefulness, but not in the sweet, blissful way I imagined.

I have been asking God to change me for two decades.  I have repeatedly invited him to do what he needs to do in me, no matter what it takes, and no matter how much I beg him not to. He is faithful to answer these prayers. The longer I walk the path God has given me, the more challenging life seems to get. It has been a terrible morning at my house so I may be writing from a place of anger and frustration, but I think we can all agree that life is hard. I think that my Lenten journey is turning out to be a season of deeper realization that he is all I need, and all I can really rely on. Pruning hurts.

I will never be able to relate to or relive Jesus’ last days. My life is too easy, too comfortable. But I can work on embracing his constancy and I can keep on walking. One of the few things we can count on in this life is that he will walk the path with us. Maybe that needs to be enough for me this week. He kept on walking and so will I. 

The Mundane

By Stephanie Schannuth

Emilie Griffin speaks of a spirituality that is "close-to-the-ground". It's a matter of finding God in the everyday; knowing Jesus as "the God who desires to be present to us in ordinary circumstances".  She writes about Therese Martin, a woman who became well known after her death as "The Little Flower" because she believed in expressing her devotion to God in small ways and through menial tasks.  To Therese, it was more about surrendering to Jesus by doing little actions of love, whether it was folding laundry, sewing, or serving others through random acts of kindness.  

I can relate to Therese in many ways.  Often times my days are filled with what feels like mundane tasks.... folding laundry, picking up after a little guy, driving bigger guys around here and there, making dinner.... it seems to never end.  However, I believe that God is honored and glorified by these menial tasks, especially when they are carried out with a heart full of love for the people you are doing them for.  

I began this Lenten journey with a prayer of surrender.  I asked God to empty me of all of my false needs; recognition, approval, and adequacy, and fill me instead with His presence and security in Him alone.  I wanted to be void of all fears and full of sufficiency in Him.  Throughout this process, God has shown me that life with Him is about being emptied of anything and everything that isn't pleasing to him.  It's God plus nothing.... and it doesn't necessarily require huge mountaintop experiences.  Our simple, everyday tasks can become a way of getting closer to Him.  

Where will you find Him today?

Seek Him amidst the mundane; He is faithful to reveal Himself if we are looking.  

Suffering Well

By Krista Keane

When I read the topic I was to write about for today, my first, raw, brutally honest, thought was, For the love….Really?  This is the topic for today?

As I read further in today’s devotional in Small Surrenders, Emilie Griffin writes:

Fridays in Lent are a good day to recall the sufferings of the Lord.  We don’t do that to mire ourselves in sadness.  We do it instead to bear our own sufferings well.

Perhaps I’m missing something, but this just doesn’t sound fun at all.

I feel like every time I turn around I hear news of suffering; a long time family friend in Oregon losing his battle to brain cancer; a husband and father of young kiddos in Arizona who unexpectedly lost his job last week; a friend, wife and young mom in California in the throws of chemo and radiation for breast cancer; a dear friend here who just said a final good bye to her sweet mom.  And then there’s my own yuck that looms over me like a dark cloud.  I promise you, suffering is not something I only think about on a Friday or during Lent.  It’s every day.  Suffering is all around—all the time.

And for lack of a better phrase--it sucks!

 Then, I read this:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3

When I say read, I mean, I glance (once in a great while) at this verse.  It’s not one of my favorites.  I just don’t understand how the words, joy, trials and testing can sit in the same sentence.

And then this:

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:4

As difficult or unlikely as it seems, we are encouraged as Christian believers to enter into this maturity on purpose…To join our sufferings to those of the Lord, who is infinitely more able than we are to bear them. ~Emilie Griffin

Jesus, as both man and God on this earth, or as I like to call Him, “God in a Bod,” faced rejection, hurt, anger, and fear.  In other words, He suffered.  But the sacrifice He made, and the suffering He endured on the cross, stand in the gap for all human suffering.

When we join our sufferings and those of others to the sufferings of Jesus, something will come right. ~Emilie Griffin

Something will come right. 

What we must remember is that many of the wrongs committed against us; many of the painful sufferings we walk through, may not be righted until we meet Jesus in Heaven.  This side of Heaven, there isn’t much hope, if any.  I wonder, then, if that’s what James is saying.  Persevere, because someday soon you will find pure joy—in Heaven!

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:4-5

My friends: Hold on.  Persevere.  Suffer well.  Jesus is coming to make all things right!

It's Great to be Known

By Tricia Lott Williford


It's great to be known.

There is a dance in knowing - in the pursuit of the dozens of details.


The lyrics that matter,

the way she takes her coffee,

the way he likes his eggs,

what it means when she smirks that way,

what it means when he clears his throat that way,

how she taps the steering wheel with two fingers,

how he gestures when he's most emphatic,

the way her face changes when she doesn't want to cry,

what he's thinking across the room,

when it's time to leave the party,

yellow roses or white daisies,

lemonade or iced tea,

beach vacation or mountain getaway,

when to speak and when to listen,

what matters most and not at all.


I learned to know my husband,

the million lines that connected his dots.

There are a million I never learned before he died.

Our rough patches popped up when we stopped finding each other interesting,

when we thought we had learned it all.

Then it was time to leave town and let a new environment teach us a few new things.

Now, as I wait to see him again someday,

I feel like I am learning him all over again in his absence.

In some ways, he makes more sense to me than ever.


I learned to know Tucker.

As he grew inside me,

folded in half, sitting in my pelvis,

his head bumped into my ribs.

He got hiccups every afternoon.

When he was born,

I knew the roundess of his head,

I knew those hiccups that still came every afternoon.

I had learned to know him.


I learned to know Tyler,

active as a litter of puppies swimming in my stomach.

The pointed chin on the ultrasound screen,

the pointed heels in my sternum.

He folded up when he slept.

When he was born,

I knew that chin, I knew those heels.

I held my folded, sleeping bundle.

I had learned to know him.


Waiting is a period of learning.



long distance friendship,



Waiting is learning.

The longer we wait, the more we learn.


Henri Nouwen writes,

"Just as a mother feels the child grow in her and is not surprised on the day of the birth but joyfully receives the one she learned to know during her waiting, so Jesus can be born in my life slowly and steadily and be received as the one I learned to know while waiting."


May he be the One I learn to know.



Tricia Lott Williford

Surrender Your Prayers

By Nicole Body

When I lost my job in 2014, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had just recently got married and we had just signed a lease to rent a house that we were moving in to as my company car was being taken away. I put my résumé out to every company that I could find online within my field and prayed to God “Please God, let somebody call me and offer me a job!” I didn’t know what would happen if that didn’t occur. We had rent to pay, bills, and loans to pay back from school. What would we do?

I had one interview from over 30 submissions to different companies and only one job offer that was out of state that God was not leading me to take and we couldn’t do. I was in shock that God didn’t answer my prayer. This is the only thing I knew how to do. I went to college and studied this field and this is the only real job I had ever had!  

Until God showed up in a miraculous way that I couldn’t have even dreamt of…

I was told by the church I was volunteering for, that there was an opening to interview for a residency position. This would mean that I would work as a Young Adult Pastoral Resident and go to Denver Seminary. Of course I wanted to be part of that! What an amazing opportunity! Upon receiving the job, I couldn’t help thinking,

“But how strange… The one thing I prayed for over and over as if there was no hope was exactly the thing I didn’t need. God had a different plan for my life that I couldn’t have possibly seen coming and that I certainly wasn’t looking for.”

I learned the day that I got hired at Southeast Christian Church that I should bring my requests to God, but I am to surrender the outcomes to him trusting that he will guide my way and bring me exactly where I should be, when I should be there, what I should be doing, and that he knows far more than I do in all areas of my life. I can truly say that I now bring my requests before God, but I trust that his good and perfect will is going to be accomplished whether that is what I think I  want/need or not.

As we approach Easter, this reminds me of when Jesus died on the cross. His death certainly wasn’t the prayer of the disciples. They were looking for Jesus to be a king to deliver them and save them. They didn’t even realize that by dying and rising again, he answered the prayer they never asked for but the one thing that would deliver them and anyone who follows Jesus.

We should always pray and communicate to God with our desires but also knowing this about him:

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” –Isaiah 55:9

And because God is perfect, sovereign, loving, and good, we can surrender our prayers to him and trust him in all things.










By Ruth Bowser

While visiting my daughter and son in law and their newborn in Pittsburgh recently, Rick and I took Milan, our 2 year old grandson to an indoor bouncy house playground. The playground was packed with a ton of families and kids, many of them attending birthday parties. Milan ran from one slide to another and we could hardly keep up with him. He slowed down only once when he saw a boy get a big ball out of a machine. Milan then without hesitation went up to the boy and cupped his hands upward as if asking the boy to give him the ball. He let his desire made known. It was precious.

I think that most of us live lives running from one thing to the next, much like Milan. Emilie Griffin says, “We think our lives are full, but we’re deluding ourselves. The fullness is just an overburdened, complicated life.” We would love to stop the treadmill but we don’t know what would be on the other side of our fast pace.

What captured my attention with Milan is that he would have run past the boy with the ball had he not stopped.  And when he stopped what surfaced was his desire to have a ball and a willingness to express that desire. When we stop running our longings will begin to surface.

When was the last time you were in touch with your longings? Longing for wholeness, healing, love, peace and for more of God than you have right now? Bartimeaus recognized his desire and cried out to Jesus above the noise of the crowd for mercy. David lived authentically before the Lord and often showered God with all kinds of emotions.  Hannah poured out her soul to the Lord about her infertility. There is something so wonderfully right about expressing our hearts desires to God without editing them. Raw. Real. Authentic. That’s the kind of relationship God wants us to have with him.

Next time you stop, pay attention to what is rising up inside of you. Simply bring it before Jesus. Then in a small surrender, lift up your hands to him and allow Him to satisfy your desires.