Mark’s Mistake

Nearly every morning during our drive to school, I use the time to help my second grader with his memory work. I love that he goes to a school that views God’s Word as the most important subject, and one that requires he learn three Bible passages each week. Helping Mark memorize various passages has been a good review for me as well, not to mention the interesting discussions we get into as we talk about what each passage means.

A few weeks ago I was helping him learn Psalm 50:15 which reads:
“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” This was a familiar passage to me, one I have read so many times that I didn’t really think about the precious promise contained inside. I only thought, This is an easy one. Mark will have no trouble understanding it or learning it.

To help Mark memorize it, I read it, phrase by phrase, and he repeated it. We did this several times until I felt Mark was ready to try and say it on his own. “Call upon Me in the day of trouble,” Mark said, “I will…I will…forsake you…” The other three kids overheard his mistake and giggled into their hands. I smiled and said, “Oops, that’s not quite right. It should be ‘I will deliver you’, not ‘I will forsake you.’”

Mark didn’t think much of his mistake beyond trying to say the correct word next time, but it got me to thinking. It was such a small thing, this little mistake, this replacement of one word with another. But, wow. What a difference that word makes for each of us.

In my mind, I said Mark’s version of the passage:
“Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will forsake you…”
A flood of “What Ifs” stormed my thoughts. What if we didn’t know whether or not God was listening when we called upon Him?What if we couldn’t be sure He would deliver us from our troubles? What if He actually did forsake us, and left us to deal with our sins alone?

They were sobering thoughts, especially since I’ve been troubled over different things both in my personal life and in the lives of my family and friends lately. I see how desperately we need God to help us each moment. In my distress, I’ve called upon the Lord, many times. I’ve prayed without ceasing, as He tells me to in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Thankfully, He has delivered me, as well as those friends and family members, in truly amazing ways. In some cases He has answered in a very direct way, in others He has offered grace to sustain until the trial passes. But in no way, for any of my prayers, has He forsaken me or them. And because I know He promises to deliver us, I can leave all my worries and troubles with Him.

Mark’s mistake that day made me see Psalm 50:15 in a new light, and it put a much needed perspective on life for me. Whatever I may face today, tomorrow, or in the years to come, my Lord is near and His deliverance is guaranteed. This is truly cause to glorify my God!



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Satan’s Request

A few nights ago, in our family devotion time, we read what I believe is one of the most chilling sections in all of Scripture: Luke 22: 31-32. It reads, “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail…’”

I may not know the exact process of sifting wheat during that time in history, but I do know the idea is to start with a grain of wheat, harvested from the field, and to end with a smooth flour fit for baking. Imagine this grain of wheat, ground, completely crushed, and still not finished until it’s sifted to powder. Now imagine that grain of wheat is replaced with a person’s soul.

This was Satan’s request. To take Peter, and not only crush him, but to grind him down completely. Though Satan may not have asked for me or you by name, he surely wants to do the same to us. This is the enemy we face, and yet, somehow, it’s easy to forget about him. Even though I’ve been warned in 1 Peter 5:8 that the devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour,” I fail to fully comprehend the danger.

I’ve never had much cause to encounter a lion in my life, so best I can do is imagine what it would be like to look out the front window and see one prowling around the front yard. What I don’t have to imagine, however, is living across the street from two aggressive doberman pinschers, who strained at the leash  any time we went outside to get the mail. It happened one day that their chains broke and both dogs were free to roam the neighborhood. My heart nearly gave out when I saw one in our yard, sniffing the daffodils.  Let me tell you, I not only hustled my children inside the house, I kept a constant vigil at my window until animal control arrived.

This kind of vigilance is how I should guard my heart against Satan, yet because I can’t see the danger I often fool myself into thinking it’s not such a big deal – which of course only makes it more of a threat. The words of Jesus to Peter reminded me that this thinking couldn’t be farther from the truth. It was as if He said to me, “Debra, Debra, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat…” Reread that sentence and substitute my name with yours. If that’s not enough to make your blood run cold, I don’t know what will.

The good news is this chilling realization has me running straight to the arms of Jesus. Just as He prayed for Peter, so also He prays for me. If you read through the entire chapter of Luke 22, you’ll see Jesus was pretty busy when He received Satan’s request for Peter. The chief priests and scribes were plotting to kill Him in secret, Judas was conspiring to betray Him, Jesus Himself was preparing His disciples for replacing the old covenant (Passover) with the new (the Lord’s Supper), and in the midst of all this He knew the hour was at hand for His death. Yet despite all that weighed on His mind, He wasn’t thinking of himself, as I surely would’ve been. He wasn’t too busy or preoccupied to pray for Peter – that his faith not fail.

He’s not too busy for you or me either. He is our great High Priest, Who lives to pray continually that our faith may not fail. “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17) He is our champion before God, our powerful Redeemer, who ever lives and always pleads for us before the Father. If that doesn’t comfort, reassure, and bring complete joy, I don’t know what will.

Jesus praying     Yes, Satan is asking.

But, thank God, Jesus is praying.

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My Fault

Noah sat on my lap during family devotion time. When it came time to pray, he folded his hands piously and closed one eye. He kept the other eye open in order to make sure his brother was behaving properly. As soon as we said, “Amen” Noah pulled at my sleeve and said, “Mom! Mark wasn’t closing his eyes for the prayer!”

Lately this has been my greatest parenting challenge. How can I make my children understand that it’s not their job to correct each other? How can I make them aware of the double standard that exists when they hold others accountable to a standard they themselves can’t (or won’t) meet? Jesus understood this part of our human nature and cautioned us against it when He said, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41-42)

Truth be told, I do the same thing. We all do. It’s the nature of having a sinful heart to defend bad behavior by pointing out other bad behavior. It’s something of a consolation to say, At least I’m not the only one, as if the existence of someone else’s sin absolves me of my own. The problem that comes with such thinking is that after a time I lose any feeling of urgency about repenting of my sin before God. Instead, I’m focused on the problems and sins of others.

Take the upcoming presidential election, for example. If we could just find a moral, Christian president to lead our nation, things would be better. If we could clean up Washington, D.C., and rid our country of all the corruption, greed, and selfishness that saturates politics, things would be better. Or consider what keeps you up at night…the safety of our loved ones in a violent world, the safety of an unborn child in the womb, the constant war we wage against drug, alcohol, and sex addictions, the problems of waste in our society, food safety, environmental issues, health issues, and financial worries to name just a few.

peekaboI’d like to lay blame and say I have nothing to do with the mess our world is in. I’d like to say it was someone else’s sin, or sins much worse than my own. And Satan would love to feed me these lies, to make me forget how serious my sin is. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of condemning the sin I see in this world, without first looking at the sin inside my own heart. It reminds me of the small child who closes his eyes and says, “You can’t see me!” Just because I ignore sin, or close my eyes to it, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

So where’s the good news in all of this? As always, the good news is found in Jesus Christ. By facing my sin, and realizing its seriousness, I am reminded of desperately I need Christ. I am reminded that He alone understood the full weight of sin, and its consequences, and He alone paid the full price. That’s the solution to this problem. Not by ignoring our sin, but laying it all at the foot of His cross and receiving the forgiveness He won for us.

“Everybody’s wondering how the world could get this way
If God is good, and how it could be filled with so much pain
It’s not the age-old mystery we made it out to be
Yeah, there’s a problem with the world
And the problem with the world is me

So I will look no further than a mirror
That’s where the offender hides
So great is my need for a redeemer
That I cannot trust myself
No, I cannot trust my self
I dare not trust myself
So I trust in Someone else.”

* selected lyrics from The Problem by Down Here









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Feeling Guilty

This is the thorn in my side: I feel guilty about everything. It’s ingrained in me like my compulsive desire to rearrange furniture or my fierce love of good books. As far back as I can remember I’ve felt guilty about something. I probably came out of the womb feeling guilty for the pain and inconvenience it caused Mom.

I *think* I’ve made my peace with this annoying characteristic. I’ve learned to say, “It is what it is.” Or, “This, too, shall pass.” But now and again, my guilt flairs up and I find myself in that all-too-familiar place of pondering why it is that I always feel so guilty. For example, last week I had a difference of opinion with a friend. No big deal, right? After all, opinions are subjective. Quite often, it’s merely personal preference and how can one possibly feel guilty about that? Good question, and one I ask myself all the time.

But this time was different. Because in the midst of all my soul searching, I realized a startling truth. While I feel ridiculous amounts of guilt over trivial things, I feel almost no guilt when it comes to my sin. And if there’s one area of life where guilt is the appropriate reaction, this is it. I found myself pondering a different “why”. Why don’t I feel more guilty about my sin? I walk around, blind to its seriousness and ignorant of the price tag on my debt to God. Only if my eyes were fully opened to the ugliness and filth of my sin would I truly understand the meaning of guilt.

It saddens me greatly that I can expend so much energy feeling guilty about things that don’t matter, while not feeling much of anything over the price Jesus paid to redeem me. I understand well the hymn writer’s words: “Weak is the effort of my heart, and cold my warmest thought…” It’s not enough that I fail in doing what God expects of me, I don’t even comprehend just how absolute my failure is.

But (Oh, that wonderful word), Jesus forgives me this as well. He absolves me of all my guilt, even the guilt I should feel and don’t. My beautiful Savior hears my every prayer and forgives my every sin. I am not worthy such great love, and yet it is mine. No strings attached, and 100% guilt free.

Dear name! The Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding place;
My never-failing Treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace.

Weak is the effort of my heart
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see You as You are,
I’ll praise You as I ought.

(The Lutheran Hymnal, Hymn 364)

cross pixabay

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First Things First


Now that we’ve made it past that depressing week between Christmas and New Years, I can honestly say I’m excited about the New Year and the possibility of a fresh start.  I feel optimistic that this time around I can lose those extra pounds, get organized once and for all, send thank you notes on time, remember passwords, potty train the toddler, and finally figure out a cleaning and laundry system around here that actually works. Get ready, World, for a new, streamlined, efficient and capable Debra.

But first things first. How about I start this New Year off by taking my Savior’s advice to “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”? In fact, now that I think about it, this is where I got side tracked last year. I neglected my personal devotion time, and cut down on the time I spent in God’s Word. The funny thing is, at the time, I knew exactly what was happening. I knew I was getting sucked into that trap of self-reliance, deceiving myself into thinking that I was in charge even though all evidence pointed to the contrary.

Is it any wonder that 2015 was a year of struggle for me?  I finally came to my senses one morning in late November. I realized the one thing that had been missing from my daily life was the one thing I need most. I found a read-the-Bible-in-one-year version of the Bible at a thrift store and bought it. I carried it home and set it on my nightstand, confident that this was just the tool I needed to get back on track. It would be so easy to track my progress, and it was. Unfortunately, that meant it was also easy to see how quickly I fell behind. Once again, I wasn’t making time for God. Once again, other things were crowding Him out.

I consoled myself with this thought: God knows my heart and my intentions. But that was little consolation. Yes, God does know my heart, and that means He knows how often He comes in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, or worse. I can tell myself He comes first, but that doesn’t make it true, especially when my thoughts and actions don’t support it. Yes, even when I’m in denial, He knows.

And that’s not how I want it to be. I want Him to be my first and last thought of each day. I want to need Him like I need oxygen, to crave time with Him because I can’t get enough of Him. I want to know His Word backward and forward, inside and out so I can confidently share it with others. I want to put first things first.

There’s nothing wrong with my other resolutions. I still hope I can see some positive change in those areas as the year progresses. But my greatest need is Jesus, and the most important thing to me is to grow in grace and knowledge of my Savior. Without that, life is pretty empty. I could accomplish everything else on my New Year’s list, and on the outside I’d look like an athletic, efficient, successful person and a good mom. Inside, however, I’d be falling apart.

So here and now I resolve to put first things first. Every day. Not to give the impression that I’m a good person, because that’s not the truth. Not to merely put forth my intention, because God knows the truth. But to remind myself – on the days I succeed and on the days I fail – that there is one thing I need. Just one.

By God’s grace, that I will seek. 





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Lesson From Lunch

2014-07-11 07.50.44Today was a day of grey skies, leftover snow flurries, and cold temps. I decided lunch at Culvers would warm me and Noah up, so at noon we hustled inside and settled at a cozy table by the window. At first, it was fun. We filled our ketchup cups and set out our napkins. Noah commented on passing cars. But then, after about three minutes or so, it got boring. I feel a little guilty admitting that because I know I’m supposed to enjoy him when he’s little because he’s growing up so fast and all that. But it’s still true.

I figured out why that is. It’s because Noah doesn’t have an interest in me that extends beyond what I can do for him. He doesn’t ask me how I’m doing, or care to hear about the things that matter to me. He doesn’t want to know what writing project I’m currently on, what I want for Christmas, or what movies I’ve seen lately. So, basically what happens is if we’re not talking about him, or what he likes, or what he doesn’t like, or what he wants, then he really doesn’t care. And if I had to guess, I’d say we’ve all known people like this. Adults (not three-year-olds) who aren’t interested if the conversation is not about them.

I think without realizing it many of us do this very thing in our daily walk with Christ. We pull a “Noah” on God. We pray, and go on and on about the things we need, or want, or care about. And of course this is what we should do. God wants us to come to Him as children to a loving Father. But we are missing out on a big part of that relationship if we don’t take the next step – if we don’t open up our Bibles, read His Word, and listen to what He has to say.

Now, get ready for the amazing part.

Even when it’s God’s “turn to talk”, it’s still about you and me, and how He loved us enough to send His Son for us.

God is a lot more patient and selfless than we are. He doesn’t want us to take an interest in Him because He’s narcissistic. He doesn’t need to brag about His latest accomplishments. He wants us to take the time to listen because He knows it will do two things for us: fulfill us while we live and transform us when we die.

One day, I will see God face to face. I will be able to ask Him anything I want, talk to Him, and yes, listen to Him. I can’t even imagine what that will be like. But I don’t want to forget that He’s here with me right now, every moment, every day. I can pour my heart out to Him and know He hears me.

And best of all, I know He will always answer if I but take the time to listen.


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Thank You!

This post is going to be a quick one to announce the winner of Chicken Soup for the Soul Merry Christmas, but first things first.

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who shared my excitement and congratulated me on having a story published in this book. Getting a story published is a sort of like having a baby (on a much smaller, less painful scale, of course). You are so proud of all your time, effort, and hard work. You think your “baby” is just perfect, and you want to shout her arrival from the rooftops. Deep down you know that there are other babies out there, just as perfect, and many far more fetching. But you still have a special place in your heart for what is your very own.

So this is for those of you who took the time to comment, congratulate, and support me… who bought the book…and who continue to visit my blog and read the words I so love to write. Thank you. It means more to me than I can adequately say.


Now on to the winner of the drawing…

The name pulled from the hat was Elizabeth Plath. (Hey, that kind of rhymes…) Your book will be arriving soon! (Unless, of course, you want to come for a visit and pick it up instead. Just a helpful suggestion.)

I hope to posting again later this week. Until then, wishing you all a warm start to a fabulous week!



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Merry (Early) Christmas!

So, if you know me even slightly well, you know how much I LOVE Christmas. I used to say I couldn’t pick a favorite time of year and then one July I realized that just wasn’t true. I  happened to be strolling through Hobby Lobby that day and was surprised to discover they had already begun setting out Christmas merchandise. YES. In July. Normally I would’ve been disgusted at this. I would’ve jumped on my Whatever Happened To Thanksgiving??!! soapbox and started preaching. But that day I just couldn’t because I was too busy being excited over the fact that Christmas was only five months away! And that’s when I knew (no flies on me) that I definitely had a favorite time of year.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is spending time with family and weaving old and new traditions together. Two years ago, quite by accident, we started a new tradition. It was Christmas Eve and we were just sitting down to open a few presents when the phone rang. Now, when you live in a pastor’s house, you don’t not answer the phone. You answer it during supper, or family game night, or birthday celebrations, or whatever because you never know who may be on the other end of the line and what they might need. Yes, even if it’s Christmas Eve and all the kiddos are nearly bursting to open the first present, and the littlest one has already pulled a scrap of paper off the corner…you still answer the phone. So while Nathanael jumped up and hurried to his office, and all seven children groaned as one, I looked around frantically for something to distract them with.

My eyes landed on a Chicken Soup for the Soul – Merry Christmas! book. Several writer friends had stories in this book, including one of my critique partners, the talented Lisa Ricard Claro. So I flipped to her story and began reading. The kids instantly settled (dare I say nestled snugly?) and listened intently to the stories I read. In true Chicken Soup fashion, some were heartwarming and touching, others were downright hilarious. I think both the kids and I were surprised to discover how much we enjoyed ourselves, sipping cocoa and reading stories while we waited for Nathanael to finish his phone call.

Chicken Soup for the Soul Merry Christmas! book cover

Since then, it has kind of become a tradition. And this year, I’m so excited that one of my stories - The 129-Year Snow – has made it into the Merry Christmas anthology this year! (Because if you know me even slightly well, you also know how much I LOVE snow.) I really enjoyed writing about the year we got our white Christmas while living in Georgia. It was such a special Christmas and I’m thrilled the editors at Chicken Soup thought so too, and chose to include it in their book. Come Christmas Eve, whether gift opening is delayed or not, I know for sure there’s at least one story we’ll be sitting down and reading together.

If you would like to order one of these books (which incidentally, make wonderful stocking stuffers!) they’re available in most bookstores or on Amazon. Visit the Chicken Soup website to read samples and browse all their available titles as well!

Of course, I DO happen to have an extra copy I’m happy to give away. If you interested in throwing your name in the hat for a chance to win, leave a comment and let me know!

Now, I will TRY and settle down enough to make it through Thanksgiving…but no promises.


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Yes, YOU

Hello? Anyone there? Anyone listening?


Ever feel this way? Like you are such a tiny, insignificant voice in the world that no one hears you? I felt that way just this morning, as I stood in my boys’ bedroom, piles of trash, dirty laundry, books and toys at my ankles. Before I even opened my mouth they had perfected the Vacant Stare. You know the one I mean. The one where they pretend to listen while actually plotting to shove everything in a corner the second I leave.

I find this particularly frustrating. And this is just one example of the kind of things that happen each day. It’s not just because I’m a stay-at-home mom of kids with little-to-no short term memory. I experienced similar frustrations when I worked full time. It’s discouraging to feel as though your voice is not heard, and it becomes easy to wonder What’s the point? Why even try?

A few weeks ago, I was reassured in the nicest way that, yes, someone is listening. I was at a conference when a woman I had never met came up to me. She said, “You probably don’t know who I am, but several years ago my daughter stayed with you…” She proceeded to tell me how her teenage daughter was blessed by the week she spent with me in our home. A warm feeling of complete joy filled my heart when I heard this – it was like coming home to a surprise package on the doorstep. Of course, I remembered her daughter, and the time we spent together, but I didn’t remember doing anything special. I remembered joking with her, talking together and watching a movie or two, just hanging out and doing normal stuff. But something I said in that week helped her daughter somehow.

I can think of so many people who have done the same for me – people who offered a word of two of encouragement right when I needed it. I’m sure, for example, my friend Bill has no idea he gave me confidence to keep writing when I wondered if I should quit. I’m sure my sister (in law) Whitney has no idea how much I needed her gentle reminder to forgive someone many years ago. I’m sure my friend Nichole has no idea how much she inspires me by all she does, especially those times her husband is deployed. And I could go on and on and on… Many of you would make my list as well with things you have said or done to encourage me.

This is especially important to remember as we make our Christian walk through the world. One of our goals is to witness to the salvation Christ gives, and we can do this in the quietest, most unassuming ways. We can just hang out, get to know someone, and offer a simple testimony of how the Lord works in our lives.  When the LORD came to Elijah, He wasn’t found in the great and powerful wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the gentle whisper (I Kings 19). Likewise, our approach doesn’t have to be loud, in-your-face, revival style witnessing. It can be one small statement in one regular old conversation that makes a difference for someone. You likely will never even know it happened, but what an amazing thing it is to know God can, and does, use you. Yes, YOU.

So next time you wonder if you anyone hears you as you go about your completely normal and average day, remember that someone is always listening. And remember, too, the lesson of Queen Esther: For who knows whether the Lord has brought you here for just such a time as this?


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The Procrastinated Post

You may have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. I wish I could say that’s because our wires got crossed with Go Daddy and they pulled my entire blog right off the face of the internet and therefore I couldn’t write something even if I wanted to because they had to “retrieve” five years worth of writing from who-knows-where and charge me an arm and a leg to do it.

But, no, that’s not the reason.

I mean, yes, okay, the Go Daddy fiasco actually happened, but it didn’t bother me too much (aside from the arm and leg part). It was actually a nice little diversion from what’s been bothering me lately. What I felt compelled to write about, but didn’t want to because it’s uncomfortable and it might upset people I care about. But the weeks have passed and even though I’m still uncomfortable, now I’m ready. And what I want to say is this:

I have been so discouraged lately. My heart is so heavy it feels like it’s sitting way down in my stomach instead of beating easy up in my chest. Near as I can figure, there are two main reasons for this.

The first is Planned Parenthood. As gut-wrenching as it is to read about what’s going on in some of these clinics, maybe there is some good to come from it. As my friend Mike would say, it forces us to make a decision about what we believe. Shining the spotlight on the practices of Planned Parenthood reinforces what I know to be true about what God intended when He designed a woman’s body to carry and sustain life. As a woman, I take great offense at those who say defunding Planned Parenthood is just another battle in the war against women.  As a Christian, I view the abortive services Planned Parenthood provides as a glaring opposition to what God teaches us in His Word about what He requires of us and desires for us.

The second is gay marriage. Last month, Mankato held their annual “Pride Fest.” Every day for two weeks, as I drove my children to school, we passed under a banner promoting the LGBT lifestyle. It discouraged me to have to explain to them why some would take what God calls sin and turn it into something to celebrate, something to be proud of. It’s not the first time, and definitely not the last, that we will have these conversations and it saddens me that at such a young age they even have to know what “homosexual” means.

Such is the world we live in. As Christians, what can we do when faced with such discouraging news?

First, we need to remember our own, personal, damning sin. The problems that exist in our world are here because of sin. When we see something that goes against God’s law, our first thought should be to remember we are part of the problem. We fail every day to keep God’s law and maintain His requirement for righteous living. Naturally, this realization should be followed by hearts that overflow with gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, how He has pulled us from filth and mire of sin and imperfection and given us His holiness. It should also be followed by compassion for those who have not learned this truth yet.

Second, be in the Word. Always. Every day. This is part of my problem. I’ve been neglecting my personal devotion time and not filling my soul with the life-giving Word. So of course I am weighed down, discouraged, and sad. I’ve set aside my compass and am losing sight of the path. God promises there will be trouble and tribulation as long as we are on this earth, but He also promises to be with us. These are the truths I need to fill my mind and heart with, just as much – no, even more – than the newspaper reports of what is happening in our country and world.

Third, PRAY. God speaks to us in His Word, and we communicate back through prayer. Pray without ceasing, ask for strength, faith, wisdom, and guidance. Pray for those who do not know Jesus, and therefore can’t be expected to live their lives in accord with His Word. Pray to know when God is presenting you with an opportunity to witness, and pray for the words to say when that time comes. Even when you don’t have the words to say, and your heart is heavy like mine, the Spirit will intercede on your behalf and speak to God for you. So, pray. Pray. Pray.

Thank you for bearing with me as I made my way through this difficult post. If I sound like I have all the answers, I apologize. As a Christian, I’m constantly learning just how much I don’t know. At the same time, I’m so grateful God has given me His Word and the faith to know I can find every answer and every truth in those pages. Writing this post has helped me refocus on those most important things.

So whether you are feeling discouraged or peaceful today, worried or carefree, sad or joyful, my prayer is that you take time to open those pages and grow closer to Christ, and to remember that our God is always greater.

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