Who’s Cheering You On?

I can’t stop thinking about the experience of pushing my daughter out of me. It may have been one of the most enjoyable moments of my life. I know that is not everyone’s experience. Birth stories can come with a lot of heartache and pain. I hold that tenderly with you. When I labored with Julia, because she had a marginal placental cord insertion, the entire NICU was in the room, just in case. The doctor told me to hold my breath (thank God for all that swimming practice) and to push, and then the whole room erupted in cheers when a little bit of Julia’s head appeared. It brought back memories of doing half-marathons when everyone was throwing candy, holding signs, and playing music through the loud speakers, to help us get through the last mile. After all the infertility treatments, this final stretch in the journey to meet our daughter felt especially celebratory.

Encouragement goes a long way.

I’ve been reflecting on how grateful I am for my boss, Ken, and my spouse, Mike, who have cheered me on as I work towards a Master’s degree. I never would have even considered applying for seminary except that Mike told me I would be good at it. Every quarter that I have to register for a new class, my confidence dwindles. I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough. I don’t have the energy. I can’t raise the funds. I’ll never finish. And every quarter Ken and Mike both tell me that I can totally do it, even as a new mom. Deep down, I know I can do it too, but their words help me find that confidence within me a little faster.

Encouragement goes a long way.

The Bible talks about a “great cloud of witnesses” who cheer us on in our journeys of becoming more like Jesus (Hebrews 12:1). We cannot get through life on our own. We cannot become the people God intends us to be by ourselves. It’s amazing to think that there are people who died centuries ago who are with Jesus, in that thin space between the heavenly and earthly dimensions, cheering for us. Every time we grow, every time we take a risk, every time we fail and get back up again, every time we love, every time we trust Jesus just a little bit more, I believe there is so much rejoicing in God’s dimension.

Who in your life is cheering you on? Who are your Ken and Mike and NICU nurses who are rooting for you in your journey towards Christ-likeness? If you don’t have those people, go find them. Sometimes that means inviting people to be your cheerleaders. Ask them to be a voice of encouragement in your life to help you keep going. Sometimes I send an email or a text or call or up some friends and spell it out for them: I need your help right now. Will you encourage me through this?

Who do you need to be a cheerleader for? Is there someone in your life right now who could use a word of encouragement?

Mama’s Here: A poem for Julia

Parenting has us on a steep learning curve. When Mike and I came home from the hospital we didn’t know how to buckle the straps on the car seat, open the diaper pail, or where to set Julia down. Most of the time I have no clue what I am doing. But the one thing that has gotten me through just about everything is learning how to be present. When Julia is crying in the middle of the night, I ask Jesus for guidance, and he often encourages me to just be present to her, and to myself. I hold her closely and assure her I am with her. I remind myself she is not a problem to be fixed but a person to be with. It’s a lesson I have been learning for myself for a long time now too. When a part of me is screaming for relief, or annoyed by my lack of sleep, I don’t always have to know how to make the pain go away. I can just be there with it, and invite Jesus’s comforting presence to linger there with me awhile.

Mama’s Here: A Poem for Julia

It’s 2AM.
Your eyes say it’s playtime.
You smile at me
and say goo goo.
I ignore the clock and smile back.
Mama’s here, Mama’s here.

Your lower lip curls under.
Your eyebrows turn red.
Too tired to play,
too tired to sleep.
Your limbs wiggle.
Shhh…Mama’s here, Mama’s here.

You start to snooze
but jolt awake.
Your cradle is not mom’s arms.
Your grunts turn to
piercing cries.
Shhh…Mama’s here, Mama’s here.

Your tummy starts to gurgle.
Hunger pains and gassy bubbles.
Your back arches.
Your mouth opens wide.
Your little hands search for the prize.
Shhh…Mama’s here, Mama’s here.

You still can’t sleep,
though you’re satisfied.
Too much growth today.
Your head is visibly bigger.
Your eyes ask me what to do.
Shhh…Mama’s here, Mama’s here.

At last we both sleep a bit.
I wonder if you’re okay.
I stare into your cradle,
already missing your sweet coos.
Your eyes open and your giant smile greets me.
I’m here, Mama, I’m here.

When we meet face to face

We are just one week away from meeting our baby! With every month of pregnancy that has gone by, the anticipation has been building. I feel her kicking and hiccuping and somersaulting inside me. We have seen the ultrasounds progressing from just a small dot to a full head, heart, lungs, and toes. We have re-arranged our home. Friendships and work are shifting to make space for her arrival. We have our hospital bag packed and carseat ready to go. We are very aware of her presence in our lives already, but soon she will be here face to face. I cannot even fathom what that day will be like.

Life with God is anticipatory. Paul wrote to the church in Corinthians saying, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).” There will be a day that we can touch and see and talk to Jesus in his resurrected flesh. He will be as real to you as the person sitting next to you now. But that time has not arrived yet. For now, we can only sense the movement of God in our lives. The presence of God simultaneously changes everything right now, but is also yet to be fully felt.

When was the last time you anticipated meeting Jesus? Can you imagine what it will be like for him to make all things new? For him to reign with justice and mercy and to extinguish evil for good? To get to talk with him in person and ask him all your questions? To get to feel his literal touch and delight for you and your family? It sounds a bit absurd to even consider those questions, but that day will come when we know God in all his fullness, and we are right to anticipate it!

But while we anticipate, we also can experience the joys and convictions of God’s presence right now. We don’t just say, “well one day God will fix everything” and then shut our eyes until he does. Jeremy Begbie, theologian and professional pianist, says that music builds unto a great climax, but the beauty in the music is not just the climax itself but all the smaller waves of tension and resolution that build our anticipation along the way. Music would not be good music if we skipped to the ending too soon. When we experience God doing something right now — healing, speaking, teaching, convicting — we can celebrate those moments for what they are right now and celebrate the taste those moments give us of something much greater yet to come.

I literally cannot wait to hold my baby for the first time outside the womb. There is nothing I think of more often. But the change she has made in our lives began long before the delivery room. I am thankful for the long anticipation, for her surprise kicks and tiny hiccups, because it has only made my love grow even more.

What helps you anticipate Jesus and the day when he will set all things right? How might God want you to experience his presence and to allow him to change your life right now even as you wait?

To You Who Doubts Yourself

I remember being in high school, arms collapsed on top of my chemistry homework and in tears. I couldn’t do it. Then I felt my dad’s gentle touch on my back and heard him say, “you are capable, Kel.” I’ve been on a life long journey of trying to believe those words, and to learn to receive that confidence, not only from an outside authority, but from within. Doubting myself is one of my biggest hurdles in many aspects of my life.

When Mike and I started trying to get pregnant, doubt showed up in new ways. When friends asked me about fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, and how it would affect a pregnancy, I internalized that to mean that they perceived me to be weak and unwise to pursue this dream. When we dealt with 3.5 years of infertility, friends interpreted the mystery as God protecting me from suffering that my body couldn’t handle. I searched for a voice like my dad’s to tell me the opposite — that I was capable and strong.

This time, the confidence didn’t come from the outside. Confidence arose as Jesus helped me listen to my own body. He reminded me that I was already well acquainted with my strengths and limitations. Because of fibromyalgia, I had spent over a decade learning how to listen to my body’s pain signals, knowing when I needed to slow down or provide some extra comfort. Often throughout pregnancy, as I have stopped to pay attention to what’s happening inside of me, that confident voice within me that is most connected to the Holy Spirit, has whispered, “You can trust me. Your body can do far more than you think.”

When we are young, having authoritative or parental figures in our lives assuring us of our capabilities can be really helpful. But when we mature, we learn to find that authority from within. The more we allow God to teach us about ourselves and make us self-aware, the more that internal confidence can grow. Sometimes it is that very familiarity with our limitations that makes us strong. I know I will never be a famous chemist, nor will I ever run marathons. And that is just fine. But I know how to trust my body to tell me what it can and can’t do. I have learned from Jesus how to be attentive to myself and to listen for where I may need some more love or grace. And it is this attentiveness that makes me strong.

How do you deal with internal doubts? How might Jesus want to help you shift your focus from looking for external affirmation to finding that confidence from within? How has your own self-awareness of your strengths and limitations helped you become more confident?

Note to reader: I took a long break from blogging because all my creative energy went into writing a book about attentiveness. I’m excited to have that book out soon and will keep you posted when it’s available!

The Farmer Doesn’t Know How: Seeds of Growth in the Waiting

“You’re pregnant!…Now don’t move for two weeks so you stay that way.” My doctor said this to me moments after transferring our embryo into my womb (Thank you, God, for science!). The next two weeks I had the very important job of doing nothing so that that embryo would have a chance to implant. Bedrest was a big test of my faith. I knew there was something microscopic inside me beginning to grow, but I couldn’t see it or feel it. My only job was to wait… and wait and wait, hoping that that tiny embryo would attach to me and become our child.

I was reminded of when Jesus described the Kingdom of God “as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how” (Mark 4:26-27).

Those two weeks of bedrest were a microcosm of my experience of the last four years of infertility. Waiting exposed my unhelpful need to know how: how long will it take, how will it happen, how much will it hurt, how will I manage it all? Often I turned to Google or Reddit for answers…they never satisfied. Nobody but God knew how our story would go, and that was often hard to accept.

But in the waiting, God was growing seeds of maturity in me. God grew trust and confidence in my body. After every unsuccessful attempt at pregnancy, God helped me to speak lovingly to my body and to say “this is not your fault.” When people, with good intentions, suggested I wouldn’t be able to handle a pregnancy because I have Fibromyalgia, a fiercely courageous voice within me was able to say back, “you are wrong. I am strong.”

One of the biggest seeds of maturity that Jesus has been growing in me, is the lesson of what to do with the question “how?” When I start to go down that path of asking unanswerable questions, Jesus stops me and says, “Kelly, you don’t need to know how or why. What you need is comfort.” Comfort is is hard to receive, and harder to ask for. This season of waiting has been a time for me to learn how to experience Jesus’ comfort in my mind, body, and marriage in deep and rich ways.

In InterVarsity we have a tradition of sharing testimonies of God’s faithfulness by saying, “My name is…and I want to give glory to God!” And everyone responds, “Amen!” So…my name is Kelly and I want to give glory to God! That embryo did attach and Mike and I are expecting a baby girl this September. We are overjoyed! And I also give glory to God for what he has been growing within me (and within Mike) as we have waited. We will never know the how, but we know God’s comfort, and we will cling to that in this next season of our lives.

What “how” questions are you asking these days? How might you turn to Jesus for comfort even as those questions remain unanswered?

Rebuilding Trust with a Body that gets Sick

Body, I am not afraid of you. I love you. I said this to myself yesterday as my throat tightened with anxiety by the thought of sickness being around every corner these days. A wave of healing came over me.

“God help me not get sick” has been a life-long tune in my head, beginning with my inability to have my plans interrupted and crescendoing with Fibromyalgia’s threat to make every sickness chronic. That tune is especially loud right now as we communally hold the heaviness of the global pandemic, and also because I am running the last leg of an expensive IVF marathon to try to get pregnant. Any type of sickness could sabotage the whole effort.

But lately Jesus has been teaching me to pray this prayer less. In some sense, every time I beg God to not let me get sick, I am communicating to my body that I am scared it will mess things up. And this message, spoken over and over again, can translate: I am scared of you, body.

Three weeks before my wedding day I had multiple rounds of sinus infections and an unknown tooth decay. Pain lasted for a year and a half. The mystery of unrelenting pain during one of the biggest transitions of my life was traumatic. Now every time I have a twinge of pain in my throat or mouth, I panic, fearing that my body and its abnormally loud pain signals will ruin my dreams for the future.

As that trauma resurfaced yesterday I heard Jesus’ invitation to focus on building back broken trust with my body. For too long my body has received the message that it is scary and going to ruin me. I do not want to be afraid of my body – which is myself. I do not want to be afraid of its pain signals or its hard work to fight infections and to keep me alive. I want to trust my body and let it know that it is loved.

I placed my hand on my throat as it tightened and said, “It’s okay, throat. I am not here to tell you to go away or that I am scared of you. I just want to be with you. I am so thankful for you. I welcome you. I love you. And I trust you to do whatever you need to do in this season.”

The muscles in my throat relaxed and I was able to breathe deeply. The pain went away. Trust goes a long way in healing. But had the pain not left, it would still be okay. I do not need to be afraid of my body. I just need to be present to it. For this is how Jesus is with me.

Can God help with math homework? Asking for wisdom in every-day life.

I once took a peak into my dad’s prayer journal. He had written the question, “God, how do I help Kelly with her math homework today?” I chuckled to think that I was perhaps so bad at math that my dad had to go to God for help. But as I flipped through the pages of his journal, math homework wasn’t the only thing he was asking God about. No subject was off limits: How far should I run today? How do I fix this software program? How can I help Sandy worry less today? What can I talk about to my friends on my long carpool ride?

When we think of asking God for wisdom, we often think about consequential decisions like relationships and career choices. We picture God speaking to us in ciphered messages hoping that we will be smart enough to decode the right answer. But when God gives us wisdom he is often less concerned about us picking the one right answer and more concerned with who we are becoming and how we we are relating to him and to others. He loves to talk with us! And the more we become familiar with conversing with him about the small things in life, the less scary it is to listen to God for the bigger things.

James 1:5 says: “But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” God loves to talk to you about everything. There is no topic that is off limits to him. He will generously give you wisdom in every area of your life, if you take a moment to ask and listen.

I’ve been taking a page out of my dad’s book and have been practicing asking God for wisdom. Today I opened my journal and wrote my unfiltered questions to God: Where can I find a heated swimming pool this winter? When should I initiate with my friend? Who should I invite to lead a meeting? What should I prioritize today? What things do I need to let go of emotionally? How do I find clothes that fit me that don’t break my bank? Why was I bothered by that Instagram post? What part of my research paper needs the most editing? What have you been saying to me that you want me to remember?

For every question, God gave wisdom. With some of my questions, he gave me a specific idea. With others, he just wanted to talk me through it and help me become more aware of what really mattered.

What’s your list of questions for God? In what small and big areas of your life are you wanting wisdom? Take a moment to ask God your questions and listen. He will be generous with you.

Too tired for daily devotions?

I woke up the other day with two papers due, ten text messages that deserved thorough and urgent responses, three meetings to plan, and an achy neck that desperately needed physical therapy. I knew what I had to do. I walked to the park, put on some worship music, opened my Bible, and prayed.

It is counter-intuitive to go spend time with God when your to-do list is a mile long and people need you. Many of you are college students, working multiple jobs, trying to pay for tuition, while taking care of your family. I don’t pretend to know how difficult your specific circumstances are, but I do know that a daily prayer life can feel luxurious and impractical.

When I went to the park that morning, my whole day changed. I looked at the trees around me and heard God saying that I wasn’t going to fall over because I was rooted in him. As I listened to Travis Greene sing, “Thank you for being God,” I remembered that I wasn’t in control of life, but that God was, and I could trust him. The rest of my day fell into order. From my prayer time, I knew who and what God wanted me to prioritize that day. I could write my papers, lead my meetings, respond to people in crisis, and SAY NO to people, with a sense of stability and assurance that God was with me, shepherding me through each moment.

Why wouldn’t I want that kind of experience every day? Especially on my busiest days that make me feel out of control.

Peter, one of Jesus’ closest apprentices, tells us that the way we mature is by craving time with Jesus and his word: “Like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, since you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2: 2).

When we get a taste of how good it is to spend focused time with Jesus, we crave more of it. And when we regularly nourish ourselves with God’s goodness, we grow into the mature and whole people who God created us to be, overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22), and more effective in our love and leadership.

So how do you find time to be nourished by Jesus, especially when it’s not already in your regular routine?

  1. Ask yourself: What are my internal and external barriers? What’s stopping you from getting time with God? Maybe you have an internal fear of failure. Or maybe you just need some strategic help navigating your schedule. Identifying your specific barrier will help you problem-solve.
  2. Write it in your schedule. While you’re new to this, don’t fool yourself that you’re just going to do it automatically. You won’t. Look at your calendar for the next month and write in when you will spend focused time with God. When I was in college, I would write it in my class schedule as if it were another class. Sometimes the best time for me was in between two classes.
  3. Go somewhere where you won’t fall asleep. Find a spot of grass on campus or plan to go for a walk outside. Turn on the lights. Open the windows. Turn off your phone. Whatever you need to do to focus.
  4. Commit for at least a month. There are a million creative ways you can spend time with Jesus, but in order to establish any habit in life, you will need to do something repetitively for a while. Pick something and commit to it for at least a month.
  5. Need a devotional guide? Try this one: God Speaks Through Wombs. Drew Jackson is a poet and theologian who interacts with the book of Luke through poetry. I am reading a section of Luke each day and his poem that goes with it, and then taking some time for God to speak to me through my reading. Try it with me!

Will this be forever? Reflections on Covid, chronic pain and the eternal loyalty of God

Pain in itself not hard to bear, but hard to bear so long.

Frederick William Faber, The Thought of God, 1814- 1863

There are times that I forget that I have a chronic pain disorder. I feel healthy, strong, and unstoppable. But then out of nowhere a flare of pain comes to remind me that it’s still there. This chronic pain-in-the-neck is living up to its name.

For many of us, the Delta variant has been like that flare of pain that has whiplashed us back into reality. The pandemic is far from over. 18 months ago the sidewalks were covered in chalk saying “we can do this!” Now we are collectively trying to fathom that Covid-19 may be a forever thing. And the thought of the longevity of suffering is deflating.

When I get overwhelmed by the chronic nature of my pain disorder, what helps me the most is to remember something that is even more “forever” than pain: God’s eternal commitment to us.

Recently I have been studying about what it means that Jesus was with God and was God in the beginning (John 1:1-5). Sometimes we think of Jesus as an afterthought in God’s plan: God made humans to flourish. We screwed up. So God made a plan-B and sent Jesus to save us. But God’s commitment to humans through Jesus was never plan-B. God’s commitment to us is a part of his own eternal identity.

Two theologians who go to great lengths to unpack the John 1 scripture, write:

“John does not simply talk about God’s coming as an incidental attribute. It is rather a part of his name, his identity…an inevitable consequence of God’s being who he is.”

R. Kendall Soulen, The Divine Name(s) and the Holy Trinity, (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011) 178.

“From all eternity God posits His whole majesty…in this particular relationship to this particular being over against Himself. God pledges and commits Himself to be the God of man.”

Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, The Election of Jesus Christ, II/2 §33, pages 107, 177.

Jesus and the incarnation were never an afterthought. Jesus was there in the beginning. God intentionally wanted to wrap himself up in the affairs of humanity since before we were even created, and his identifying with humans is a part of his very personhood.

God commits himself to us, not out of some last ditch effort to save us from our destructive ways, nor to reward us for our fervent prayers. God’s commitment to us is from forever ago and to forever from now.

Far more than any pain or suffering we experience, God’s undying loyalty to human flourishing is the most reliable and predictable thing we can ever know.

What personal or communal pain are you worried will last forever? How can remembering God’s eternally loyal character fuel your lament and your hope?

What songs take you to heaven?

It is healthy to let our imaginations turn to eternity. Jon Ball, the regional coordinator for theological formation in InterVarsity, regularly asks us this question, “What are you looking forward to in the new creation?” This is not a question intended to make us ignore our present circumstances, but a question to help us stay grounded in the truth that the resurrected Jesus is real and that his everlasting kingdom transfigures our daily lives (2 Peter 1:10-19).

Mike and I were talking about eternity the other night and at one point Mike said, “I’m glad that we both have a song that takes us to heaven.” I laughed, but knew exactly what he meant. There are certain songs that make you feel like heaven is right here, right now. Songs that make you feel close to God and make you long for the day he will make all things new.

Today is our 4 year wedding anniversary. As a gift to Mike, I had our organist re-record the song that played as I walked down the aisle. It’s combines both of our “take us to heaven” songs. The first part of it is Mike’s song: Apotheosis by Austin Wintory, from the video game Journey. He says, “(Spoiler Alert!) The game is about trying to get to a destination and you can’t get there on your own…but you can be brought there. To me that is the gospel.”

At minute 2:40, my song overlaps with his song. It is the old hymn “I love to tell the story” by Kate Hankey:

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best
seem hungering and thirsting to hear it, like the rest.
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long. 

When I hear it, I envision us all together at the feet of Jesus recounting the stories of his faithfulness, and it never gets old.

Here are our songs put together, arranged and played by organist Fran Johnston:

What songs take you to heaven? What helps you remember the reality of Jesus’ everlasting kingdom?