The Straight Paths

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. ~ Proverbs 3:5,6

I was reaching into the cupboard to grab a glass. With my hand around the mason jar (that’s what us country bumpkins use to drink from), my arm stayed stiff-straight, reaching up to the shelf.

“Stop using faith as a foxhole.”

It was a phrase I heard with my whole body. My entire mind. “Stop using faith as a foxhole.” Continue reading “The Straight Paths”

God Is A Good Gift Giver

gift

“God is a good gift giver.”

Tahni Cullen’s son, Josiah, had typed those words on his iPad. As a toddler, Josiah stopped talking. Tahni wrote a book to explain how autism stole his words, but God gave him a voice. As Tahni spoke at our women’s retreat in 2015, she shared this story, and the incredible profound wisdom from her son Josiah since.

I’ve remembered those words, and her story, frequently since hearing them.

Recently, I was in Dallas, TX with my client to help organize one of his events and participate in the mastermind I’m a part of. It happened to be about 10 days or so after my birthday, and my client and his wife treated me to a very special birthday dinner to celebrate. I have a soft place in my heart for fried catfish. Not just any fried catfish, but tasty, crispy, mouth-watering southern fried catfish. They took me for some fried catfish and hushpuppies (and fried pumpkin pie. My life changed forever!) and as we walked to the restaurant, I noticed Sabrina’s arms were full of gift bags.

I gave her a curious look but kept walking. Sure enough, the gifts that filled her arms were for me.

After we ordered and sat down waiting for our food, I was encouraged to open the gifts. First, a gift my client had chosen himself. A true-blue Nespresso cup and spoon set. About a year ago, he had me try a cup of his Nespresso coffee. Oh my word. People. We’ve been doing coffee all wrong! I took my Christmas bonus check last year and we bought a Nespresso machine and lots of coffee. Nespresso is the besto. Unlike my compliments or praise of it.

As I reached for the next gifts, Sabrina explained, “Holy Spirit led me in picking all this out for you. I didn’t know what to get you, so I just prayed Holy Spirit would lead me, and He told me what to get.”

I had never heard that before. It made so much sense, yet I had never heard – or thought – of asking the Holy Spirit for guidance in picking gifts.

We’re getting closer and closer to the holiday season. Gift giving is about to run rampant again, especially in our nation and day and age of total materialism. The year Harlynn died, my priorities and desires changed and shifted dramatically. That Christmas, when I looked around at our living room piled high with stuff we had just unwrapped, I was completely overwhelmed. We were loved, we were blessed, and we were under a pile of stuff, a lot of which was completely useless to us.

What we, especially as Americans, tend to do when choosing gifts is let our purchase be dictated by price, convenience, and appearance.

Not by guidance from Holy Spirit.

Incredibly curious, I started to unpack the gifts she had felt led to purchase, as she continued to explain, “I got the sense you take care of your family before you take care of you and you needed to spoil yourself some.”

Those words caught me off guard a bit. I hate shopping. It’s no secret. When I do shop, I do it for practical reasons because my husband or my children need something. If I need something (other than groceries, specifically – chocolate) I put it off. Not because I don’t feel like I deserve it or anything, but because shopping drains me so much mentally and I can’t bear to spend my energy spending money for things I don’t know or realize I want or need.

I started pulling out item after item. Jewelry. Gorgeous, bold pieces of jewelry I would have been too timid to buy for myself, but always secretly want to try to pull off wearing.

Boot socks. Fun, comfy, cute boot socks, even. Not the boring, black nylon boot socks I’ve had for three years.

Leggings. Mine had holes worn in them and weren’t even comfortable to wear anymore. These leggings are the most comfortable I’ve ever worn – and I was short a pair of leggings for my trip, so they were also quite timely.

Comfy pants. Y’all, when I say “comfy pants” I mean quite simply: I WANT TO LIVE IN THESE PANTS. They aren’t bulky sweat pants. They’re the coziest cotton I’ve ever slung a leg into.

Pajamas. Comfortable, adorable, warm (I live in North Dakota…) pajamas. I don’t remember the last time I’ve worn actual pajamas.

Underwear. Not just any underwear, but the exact size and cut I wear.

In fact, everything fit perfectly. She had no idea what size I was. But Holy Spirit did.

A gorgeous sweater (when I had just thought, “I wish I had a nice sweater to wear.”) and lovely scarves. Chapstick. Lotion. Hand sanitizer.

I cried. Right there at the table, I said thank you over and over again and I cried. This wasn’t just someone getting me something for the sake of celebrating my birthday. This was a person walking through a store, praying to be led by God for exactly what I needed and what would lift my spirit. I was completely overcome.

God is a good gift giver.

As you begin, or maybe even finish (over-achievers!) your Christmas shopping this season, pray about the gifts you’re giving. Let God – who has given you multiple gifts – steer your gift-giving for others. You might be as surprised as they are.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. ~ James 1:17

When The World Says “You Can’t”

You guys. This. Sometimes I sit down to read my Bible and no matter how many times I’ve read the passage before, it suddenly comes to life and speaks to me so very powerfully. That was the case with what I’m about to share with you. Some of this will probably end up in my book (that I’m stuck on, but still trying to plug away at ~ prayers and encouragement appreciated), but it was such a poignant illustration, I thought some of you may benefit from reading it today.

You Can't

First, the back story:

King Hezekiah. Ever heard of him? He became King of Jerusalem when he was 25 years old, and reigned for 29 years. He restored the temple in Jerusalem and led his kingdom under the will of God.

The king of Assyria, whose name I won’t try to pronounce but am more than happy to type out for you, King Sennacherib, invaded Judah and intended to make war with Jerusalem as well. This, obviously, didn’t sit well with King Hezzie, so he cut off the water to the land, making sure the Assyrians didn’t have any.

Hezekiah then encouraged his men by saying, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With him is only the arm of flesh but with us is the Lord our God to help us and to fight our battles.” A-to-the-men, Hezekiah. But it gets more involved.

Sennacherib sent a messenger to Jerusalem to have a word with Hezekiah and his people. This messenger taunted Hezekiah and his people. “On what are you basing this confidence of yours?” He goes on taunting them saying, “When Hezekiah says, ‘The Lord our God will save us from the hand of the king of Assyria,’ he is misleading you, to let you die of hunger and thirst.”

Say what, messenger man?! Oh, but his words get darker and more divisive.

He continues on, “Do you not know what I and my fathers have done to all the peoples of the other lands? Were the gods of those nations ever able to deliver their land from my hand? Who of all the gods of these nations that my fathers destroyed has been able to save his people from me? How then can your god deliver you from my hand? Now do not let Hezekiah deceive you and mislead you like this. Do not believe him, for no god of any nation or kingdom has been able to deliver his people from my hand or the hand of my fathers. How much less will your god deliver you from my hand!”

Sennacherib had, in fact, annihilated every other nation he rose against. He was on a warpath that favored him greatly, and dared the God of Hezekiah to save him and make his story different from every other nation he went up against.

And that’s exactly what God did. Hezekiah called out to God after Sennacherib’s threat, and was reassured God was for him. Sennacherib’s army was laid out in one night by an angel of the Lord, and the king himself was put to death by his own sons. God had absolutely delivered Hezekiah – and all of Jerusalem – from the hands of this wicked warrior.

(Passages from 2 Chronicles 29-31 & Isaiah 36-37)

Sennacherib tried to shake the very core of Hezekiah and his kingdom. He called their faith into question. Publicly. He decried against any help they sought. He denied them hope. He denied them victory. Or so he tried to.

What are you facing right now that threatens to overpower you? What lies are worming their way into your heart, causing you to doubt or question your strength and power in the God who created you? What is the devil taunting you with? What is the enemy talking about saying, “you can’t”?

Look at these marriages failing! What makes you think your marriage will survive? You’re no better of a couple than anyone else, and God didn’t really join you together – you did that on your own and were destined to fail anyway.

You’re so inadequate! You had all these plans and aspirations, but you’re dreaming way too big! No one in your family amounted to anything, because it’s just not possible! You’re a chip off the old block, and you’re destined for average whether you like it or not!

You can’t accomplish anything in life because of your past! Everything you did back then will follow you for the rest of time! Every wrong choice you made discounted your worth, and no one will want to have anything to do with you if you try to rise above it and pretend like you’re a better person today than you were back then!

Friends. Stop listening to the enemy. As he taunts you from behind his lies, do not waver in your faith. He may have won a battle here and there, but your God has already overcome and claimed victory.

You serve a God bigger than any mistake you’ve made. You serve a God bigger than any hurdle you’ve come across in life. You serve a God bigger than any enemy you face.

When the world (or the enemy) says you can’t, you remember you serve a God who says, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

With God all things are possible.

Whatever you’re facing, whatever you’re battling, whatever is choking the confidence, strength, and power out of you – your God cares. Your God loves you. Your God will fight for you. And He has already won.

When God Speaks: Olive’s Story

It’s the most vile of circumstances, to bury your baby. Yet there are so many parents who walk that road. So many.

Since losing Harlynn, I’ve met and befriended several fellow bereaved parents. There’s a solidarity among bereaved parents. An unspoken bond that separates us from the rest of the world, and joins us together in a new one.

Nate and Lindsay are two of our dearest friends. We wouldn’t have crossed paths were it not for our similar situations. We both lost our daughters.

At Lindsay’s 20 week ultrasound, it was discovered their baby girl, Dayton Elizabeth, was “incompatible with life”. Dayton had Limb Body Wall Complex (LBWC). After Dayton’s diagnosis, Lindsay and I began communicating. November 14, 2013, she was born, living only briefly before passing to heaven. It wasn’t until Dayton’s funeral Lindsay and I met in person.

Since then, their family has become an invaluable part of ours. Their son, Noah, is a few months younger than Little Miss. Their difference in age is no obstacle in their friendship, however. Those two are ridiculously excited to spend time with one another, and it’s adorable and precious watching them play. They both have a younger sister in heaven. And now, they both have a younger sibling who’s here – healthy and alive. They, too, have an unspeakable bond.

Olive

Baby Olive is Noah’s little sister who was born just this February. When I got the message baby Olive had been named, I was just drifting off to snooze. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the name Olive, but I wasn’t going to spend time figuring it out, because I was tired and wanted to fall asleep. I wasn’t supposed to nap just then, however.

As I closed my eyes and tried to get comfortable, I felt like God was sitting down in front of my face, asking me not to go to sleep yet. He had something to tell me, and I needed to hear it. He gave me a stirring in my heart, and I was very much awake. Through communicating in a way only God can, He impressed the importance of this baby’s name upon me. I was stunned. I had to tell Nate and Lindsay. I had to tell them what God had revealed to me about their baby girl’s name.

Val & Baby Olive, and Lindsay & Little Man.
Val & Baby Olive, and Lindsay & Little Man.

Their son, Noah, has a significant name. Noah was one of God’s favored, and God had big plans for him. He built an ark and saved creation for heaven’s sake. He’s kind of a big deal in the old testament. He was obedient to God, following His will, and a man after the very heart of serving his Lord. God saved him from the savagest of storms. He still had to endure the storm – absolutely – but he lived through it.

When the ark finally settled and the rain had stopped, Noah sent a dove out of the ark. It came back empty-beaked. The next time Noah sent the dove, it brought back an olive branch. The third time, the dove found a place to nest and didn’t return.

An olive branch. Brought by a dove. Do you see the significance here? A dove – the universal sign of peace. An olive branch. A sign of hope. New life. Promise. That branch was the significant beginning of a new season of the Lord’s promise of renewal and restoration of life. Baby Olive is that branch extended to the hearts of Nate, Lindsay, and Noah.

10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. (Genesis 8)

Noah is an incredible kid, and I know he will grow up very attuned to the voice of God. I know he has big shoes to fill. And Olive – she is a beautiful baby who brings beautiful promise to her family.

When I told Nate and Lindsay what God had laid on my heart, they couldn’t believe it. They had agonized over what to name her, and the story of Noah and the ark never crossed their mind. It’s more than just a story, though. It’s a fulfilled purpose. There is no accident in the names of their children. God knew. He knew Olive’s name before her parents did. He knew Dayton’s name. He knew Noah’s.

I hate how I know Nate and Lindsay. I hate the reason they were brought into our lives. I hate we share that thread. But I love them dearly, as my own brother and sister, and I can’t imagine my life without them. The fact that God would speak so prophetically through me – as I was about to take a Sunday snooze – blows me away. But the fact that the message was for and because of a family so very dear to me, makes it all the more special.

There is no detail that does not pass through His hands first. He is the God of miracles. He is the God of life. Even when death leaves us with its intense sting, God is still the God of life.

I, for one, am thrilled to be able to watch the lives of Noah and Olive unfold. Their story is just beginning. I can tell it’s going to be a good one.