Syria and My Prayerlessness



My heart sank on Sunday morning when someone prayed aloud for the Syrian refugees.

I had forgotten all about them.

When the news broke in late summer, I gathered the children around me and showed them some of the photographs and stories of people who were fleeing for their lives. We prayed for them right then and there. The Ice Cream Truck drove by our window and I noticed that we each silently told our bodies to sit back down! and resist the siren call. Instead, we turned our eyes to Heaven and said, “Heavenly Father, please let us know if there is something we can do to help”.

That night during bedtime prayers, we sat in a circle and prayed for the people of Syria.

The next day, my sister sent us a link to a list of supplies that we could send. We were delighted: it was something we could do to help. We had an extra sleeping bag and several pairs of like-new shoes. So, we printed the list of needed supplies and gathered as much as we could fit into a big cardboard box. We packed it full, taped it shut, and wrote the address in big, bold letters. We’d take it to the Post Office the next day and send it on its way.

That night during bedtime prayers, we sat in a circle and prayed for the people of Syria.

The next day, we delivered the box to the Post Office. It cost way more than I thought it would and it made me wonder why I didn’t just write a check to a charity and send all that money instead? But, there was compassion packed in there with the sleeping bags and the shoes; someone somewhere needed our humble box of supplies to arrive in the mail. So, I paid the postal worker and the box went on its way, across the ocean to Greece.

And ever since then, I haven’t prayed for the people of Syria.

Not once.

Not one single moment.

So I sat in church last Sunday and repented of my lack of compassion.  I repented of the way in which I often think that a nice gesture – a sleeping bag or a pair of sneakers – will solve the problem and exonerate me from further concern. That day when I smiled at the Post Office worker and pushed the box across the counter, I must have subconsciously thought, I did my part! That’ll fix everything. 

As we know, I was wrong. It didn’t fix everything.

How sobering to see the nature of my heart.

These thoughts were still working themselves out last night when I sat at the kitchen table and talked to a friend about our stillbirth experiences. We’re both approaching significant dates on the calendar and we’re both 5 years away from our losses, so it was good to retell our stories. We needed to hear from one another that our “5 Year Anniversary” thoughts and feelings are normal.

We talked about how the time has allowed us to see the miraculous and intricate ways that God has comforted us over time – from the moment of loss up to the present.  We agreed that when we hear of other women losing their babies, we want to give them everything that helped us.

Wouldn’t it be great to pack it all up in a basket and give it to them in one big gesture of love? 

But, no. It wouldn’t be great. Because it doesn’t work that way.

It didn’t work that way for either of us.

The comfort and healing came to us over time. It was a hug on Day 1, a card on Day 2, a meal on Day 7, a flower on Day 24, a raspberry pie on Day 52, a phone call on Day 365, a song on Day 574, and so on.

More than that, it was Jesus working in us and all around us day, after day, after day.

That’s when I thought of our box for the Syrian refugees and I realized that when it comes to loss like this, a box packed full of supplies doesn’t fix the problem.

Don’t get me wrong: the box is necessary and I’m glad we sent it. We must show our love in tangible ways. We must give from our surplus when we see a need. Those tangible gifts will give a person somewhere to sleep and some way to walk, but I must remember that things don’t fix the true problem.

My friend said, “The only thing that fixes a mother’s mourning is to have her baby back. But I can’t do that for her.” 

The only thing that fixes the Syrian crisis is to have their home back. And the peace back. And the life back.

I can’t do that.

Only Jesus can.

That’s why I was crushed that I had forgotten to pray for the Syrian refugees. Because as a child of the King of Heaven, I have a voice before His throne! I can plead for mercy on their behalf, request help and strength for every person, insight and ability to the surrounding Christians. I can pray that the Holy Spirit would be working on the inside of people to give them hope, courage, wisdom, healing, and faith.

Though I may send a box of supplies, Jesus alone may restore their lives. He who knows the name of every Syrian refugee and doesn’t forget about them for a moment – the One who understands the way heaven and earth intertwine – tells us to pray faithfully.

Jesus tells us that our prayers matter.

When I forgot to pray for the Syrian refugees, I didn’t just forget about them. I also forgot about Jesus’ power. I forgot about His compassion toward all who are oppressed. And I forgot that He gave me a wonderful gift: the calling, and the grace to pray faithfully.

May I learn and embrace ways to do this.

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for the Syrian refugees…


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DIT: “Do It Together”

Two are better than one because when one has the idea to make a window seat cushion, the other one will help her. – Personal Proverb

Here’s the tutorial we used (+ a sheet of batting under the fabric):

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As I aim to grow in love, I’m brushing the dust off of courtesy.  Though the word isn’t used much these days, it couldn’t be more necessary to our culture.

Actually, it’s my new favorite word.

Courtesy is elegant, ageless, and practical.

What’s not to love about “intentional, polite behavior that shows respect for other people”?

For the Christian, courtesy is simply the daily application of biblical commands to love, be kind, and show honor to one another. It’s one of the essential virtues underlying our entire Christian existence. It’s the lesson that women are to teach other women, detailed in Titus 2. It’s a building block of the Christian life, the supportive wife, the loving mother, and the beloved friend. Courtesy is so powerful that it shapes culture, communities, and families.

In fact, we cannot love others well without choosing to be courteous day by day.

The other night, my friend Mary and I talked about the “how to” of courtesy over hot apple cider. We talked about how we can show courtesy in a million different ways – from saying “hello” to another human to being a good listener. The list I scrawled in my journal includes: helping one another, being generous, taking care of personal hygiene, refraining from gossip, and showing up on time.

Surprisingly though, the thing we spent most of our time discussing was the courteous habit of cleaning up after ourselves. (I used to think that this lesson was just for children, but as it turns out, we both found it a necessary and helpful conversation.) We agreed that the simple gesture of cleaning up after ourselves is a profound way to demonstrate the belief that no one is our servant. Cleaning up after ourselves says, “those who come behind me have dignity.”

The belief that no one is my servant is the heartbeat of courtesy.

This has huge implications for my daily choices. Picking up my bath towel, placing my glass in the dishwasher, and throwing away my own garbage takes on enormous value when I am motivated by esteem for my fellow humans. No one is my servant, existing to clean up after me. These seemingly small gestures add up into a life of kindness.

Mary and I talked about how this applies to the way we tend to our emotional and spiritual needs, too.  Is there such a thing as being spiritually courteous? How about emotionally courteous? There must be. We both grimaced about the way we drop our spiritual and emotional needs all over people without much thought, treating them as our spiritual servants.  And we agreed that we expect our “emotional servants” to pick up our anger, anxiety, frustration, and annoyance though we never express grateful, mutual care.

Courtesy is the “how to” of love.

Jesus said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. When I read the gospels, I see His lifestyle of courtesy – His every gesture demonstrates His respect for the people He created.  And when He lay down His life, He did so without a need for us to clean up after Him, or to finish the job for Him. He completed redemption for us with no strings attached. Jesus serves us day-in and day-out, courteously treating us with love.

Of course, in doing so, He offers forgiveness for our self-centered, self-exalting habits and helps us to grow in the daily sacrificial lifestyle of courtesy.

I’d love to know your thoughts about courtesy. Most of all, how do you like to demonstrate courtesy day to day?


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What makes you feel like you will not be used by God?

Sometimes I feel like it’s my responsibilities here at home, even though I know better. Other times I think it’s my quirky shy side that comes out at the most inconvenient times. Or it’s the foolish choices I’ve made in the past.

It seems to me that we have countless reasons to feel discouraged and disqualified, whether it’s genetics, gender, history, abilities, employment, marriage, family, or responsibilities.  When it comes to God’s great and triumphant work, it’s easy to look at ourselves and see how weak and poor we really are. What should we do when life circumstances seem to hold us back, though our hearts are full of love for God?

What should we do when our here-and-now seems like the last thing God would want to use? 

Surprisingly, this question is answered robustly in Judges 5 – Deborah and Barak’s song of victory after a fierce battle.

I recently taught this lesson at our weekly women’s Bible Study. (We’re studying Judges this year, using Jen Wilkin’s wonderful study guide and audio lessons. I prepare a lesson once a month to learn more about teaching the Bible; this one focuses on Judges 5.)

I’d be honored if you’d join me as I share what I learned about this old Old Testament poem (scholars say it may be the oldest Hebrew poem) and how it applies to our lives today.


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After the lesson, we sang this anthem together… 

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When I think my job is 8 – 5.

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(I hope you enjoy “So Glad I’m Here” by Elizabeth Mitchell. It’s one of my favorite songs about motherhood…)

Here’s an epiphany that changes everything for me: My working hours as a mother are never over.

When I forget the natural “forever” aspect of motherhood, I begin to think that my job as a mother is, say, 7 a.m. – 8 p.m. Oh, I feel so annoyed and resentful when my children need me “after hours”. Weren’t they supposed to be in bed hours ago?? Wasn’t I done my job for the day?  Aren’t they supposed to grow out of this needy stage?? What’s with all this work?? With selfish questions like these swirling around in my mind, I don’t necessarily respond to my children with tenderness.

However, when I remember that I am their mother all of the time – that I am the person God designed to be here for my children when they are sick, scared, hungry, thirsty, wet, cranky, or disobedient at the most inconvenient hours – my attitude about serving them changes.

Do they need me at 10 p.m.? at 2 o’clock in the morning? Or worse, when I’m in the middle of a fun conversation with a friend? Or writing a blog post about motherhood? I remember the beautiful nature of my job and try to love them well. It’s always a better day when I respond as a mother and not as the employee of unreasonable 3-foot-tall bosses who call me into work while I’m on vacation.

My children are my people to love and nurture. Everything else in my life – homeschooling, writing, reading, ministry work – should have working hours, but my husband and children shouldn’t, don’t, and can’t.

Oh, and here’s the thing: the reality of around-the-clock motherhood underscores the importance of creating respite and boundaries for myself so that I can be available to serve my children. A private hour in the middle of the day, exercise in the early morning, devotional time in the evening are not “vacation time”, but part of the job. So, I must intentionally create these things in our day and teach my children how to respect them. At the same time, if they need me, I’m here for them. And I’m so glad.


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Two Things About Love


This week, two things expanded my understanding of day-to-day love.

First, Kate Dicamillo’s Flora & Ulysses (recommended to me by my daughter, and two dear friends both named Amy).

My treasured ideas from the book:

  • remember that love can triumph over a whole slew of wrongs, weaknesses, and oddities
  • keep the window open at night in hopes of something wonderful flying in
  • always open the door in hopes that you’ll see the face of someone you love

Secondly, Ellie Holcomb’s heartbreaking, lovely song “With You Now”: this type of love is the epitome of a good marriage, a good friendship, and a good life.

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(Here’s one of my girls. She’s such a delight to my heart.)

I’ve always had a pleasant imagination, rarely suffering from nightmares or intense fears. Recently, all that changed with sleep deprivation.

After our youngest was born, my exhaustion unleashed horror-movie-material in my imagination. It was intense during those first few months of sleeplessness: terrible ideas and images would just come to mind without any premeditation and certainly without any fodder. I felt alone and – quite frankly –  scared of my own imagination.

When these fears would strike my heart, I’d pray. I battled against the thoughts, learning that God’s encouragement for us to “think about things that are true, pure, and lovely” is so hard that it requires His supernatural strength to actually do it. Even with His unlimited, compassionate help, fighting battles in the mind day after day can be downright exhausting.

As I confided in Ryan and a few trusted friends, and as I gradually got more sleep, I felt stronger. This was a gift from God. The struggle subsided significantly. But I must admit, the images continue to come to mind from time to time. For example, I’ll turn the doorknob to enter a room when suddenly, fear seizes me that something terrible may meet me on the other side. I enter the room relieved to see that everything is fine.

At this point, the images are kind of like pesky flies: I’m mostly just annoyed that they’re still there and that I have to deal with them from time to time. But I’ve found great victory in one response and I thought I’d share it with you in case you struggle with something similar. It’s not rocket science or anything profound, really, but it has helped me tremendously.

Basically, whenever one of these images comes to mind and strikes fear in my heart, I still follow the approach of choosing to think about “things that are true, pure, and lovely…” but the very first true thing that I think is, “Thank you, God, that that image is not true.” 

It’s refreshingly powerful and effective.

This one thought works for me because it helps to acknowledge that I thought the image. (No denial allowed. Honesty works wonders for the human heart.)

It also helps me to admit that I was right to be afraid of the image. (Again, honesty changes things in the most profound ways.) It’s okay to admit that evil is evil; we minimize goodness when we minimize evil.

It helps me to intentionally walk out of the fearful image and into the reality that – because of God’s great love and mercy – my worst nightmares are not true. Even when life does take on nightmarish proportions, God is greater than all my fears. My life is in His hands.

I think it’s that part of the thought that makes all the difference in the world: My life is in God’s hands.

Something about all this reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth. I wonder if Paul had to battle his own thoughts with a prayer like “Thank you, God, that my worst fears are not true… but You are.”

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,[a] about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (from 2 Corinthians)


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Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about a topic that seems to separate the younger and older generation of women in the Church.

It seems that younger women feel discouraged when older women don’t lead Bible studies and intentionally pursue discipleship. This discouragement comes from a very real need for mentorship and a very real enthusiasm to grow as Christians.  Younger women want to work, lead, be discipled, and to disciple, yet they feel unqualified to jump in and do it themselves. They believe that these acts of service must be reserved for older women.

Meanwhile, the older women seem discouraged to get involved because they are already committed to serving their families (now with grandchildren and aging husbands) and friends (also, now aging and with lives full of concerns). Some say they feel less strong and less energetic than they did a decade ago: leading Bible Studies seems daunting. Of course older women want to continue serving the Church, yet they feel uncertain about how to meet everyone’s needs with limited resources.

I’m beginning to wonder if both generations misunderstand the appropriate expectations for age and work.

In Spiritual Mothering: The Titus 2 Model for Women Mentoring WomenSusan Hunt explores this very real conflict, seeing each generations’ weaknesses and needs as legitimate. She says, when we are wondering how to work side-by-side in the Church, we could

“Consider  the relationship between Ruth and Naomi – an impressive illustration of spiritual mothering.  In this Old Testament story, we see two women who had bonded! Naomi must have done something right to have elicited such commitment from her daughter-in-law.”  (p.15)

What did Naomi do right?

  1. Acceptance. Hunt points out that – first and foremost – Ruth must have felt Naomi’s acceptance. A Moabite accepted fully into an Israelite family would have meant the world to Ruth.
  2.  Faithful living. And – just as importantly – Ruth must have heard of Naomi’s Jehovah and seen His reality in Naomi’s life. These two powerful attributes – acceptance of Ruth, and faith in God – would have been enough to win Ruth’s heart and devotion.   
  3. Sending Ruth to work. Hunt points out that when Ruth and Naomi arrived in Israel, Ruth worked in the fields and Naomi stayed at home, encouraging and instructing Ruth from day to day.

Hunt’s reply to younger women is, “You’re asking [older women] to go out into the fields rather than encourage and equip you to go.”  (p. 16)

(I love this. Younger women may go out into the fields and older women may encourage them to go!)

A younger woman’s passionate enthusiasm for Scripture, for serving and teaching and worshiping, is needed right now. This may be precisely the right time to take the next step in growing as an active member of the Church. This may be precisely the right time to pray about how God would like you to work.

Naomi was willing to continue in her faith while nurturing and accepting Ruth, she developed a relationship with a younger woman that – century’s later – is upheld as the epitome of devotion to God. Not only that, but God used their friendship to continue the family line of the Messiah. What an example to us!

If you are a younger woman, I hope you lead the Bible studies and teach the Sunday School classes, appreciating every ounce of instruction and encouragement from older women as you go. Realize that you must begin somewhere and that God will help you to grow as you work faithfully.

If you are an older woman, I hope you work “in the field” as long as the Lord calls you there. And afterwards, I hope you invest prayer and instruction into a younger woman who has just begun the work, realizing that she will grow as you nurture her and continue in your faith.

Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – from Matthew 9

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(Why not include a photo of my sweet baby girl?)

It was only five or six years ago that I had a lightbulb moment about what my attitude should be about the Church. Up until that point – all through my twenties and early married life – I tended to see myself as the “brain” of the body of Christ.  I thought I was gifted with special insight to see major holes in the Church. At a moment’s notice, I could’ve listed the Church’s failures, blunders, and ineptness.  I could’ve pointed out weaknesses from the pastor on down through the congregation – including the nursery workers. And the most discouraging part was that it seemed I was the only one who saw or cared. Did I have a spiritual gift? I think I thought so.

Then, I started studying the mature Christians around me – the ones I loved so dearly and respected so deeply – and realized they were not thinking, talking, or behaving the same way I was when it came to the Church. The Holy Spirit used their lives as a wake-up call to me as I wondered, why were these saints so content and happy with the Church? 

They weren’t critical about the pastoral search committee.

They weren’t resistant to discussions about changes, organization, or new projects.

They weren’t the loudest voices at congregational meetings, asking the hard-hitting questions.

Nor were they moping in the margin, believing that the majority of Christians “just don’t get it”.

Instead, where they saw a need for more wisdom, they prayed.

Where they saw a need for more workers, they signed up.

Where they saw a need for a ministry, they started it.

Where they saw glimpses of growth, they encouraged it.

They didn’t see the Church as something to be divided into “people who get it” and “people who don’t”. Rather, they were part of the whole shebang, and they weren’t interested in criticism when there was so much work to do.

They never – ever – ever – saw a hole and asked accusingly, “Why isn’t someone filling that hole?!”

They just filled it.

Or they encouraged someone else to fill it. Or maybe they taught someone to fill it. Or they asked God Himself to fill it. And if He didn’t, they asked for contentment to live with that hole.

Though there is certainly a time for serious criticism in the Church, mature Christians don’t seem to believe it’s often.

Reflecting on the mature Christian’s vibrant, uncritical life in the body of Christ taught me that I am not the brain.

Jesus is.

Even when it seems like people are careless and foolish and weak and uncommitted, Jesus is building something glorious through those very people – including me.

My role is to trust Him as the mastermind of it all. As it turns out, not being the brain frees me up significantly. I can love, serve, and rest well. I can offer my real spiritual gifts generously, with no strings attached and no point to prove.  The best part is that my fellowship with the Church is so much more content and sweet.

“… speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love…” Ephesians 4: 15-16


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Sometimes, my Christian faith seems like the tethers of a hot air balloon, holding it securely to the ground.

But those tethers are constantly being loosened, threatening my sense of stability.

A shocking headline can make me lose my bearings. A challenging conversation can make my feet slip.  Circumstances that force me out of my regular routine can make me feel as if all is lost.  I’m way up high in that basket, counting on those tethers, yet feeling them suddenly snipped in half.

Is life is about learning what to do when a tether is loosed?

I’m learning that the tethers are other things ideas, habits, judgements, traditions, assumptions, laws, pleasures that make me feel securely connected to Christ, but don’t do the true work of faith.  Though they feel good and stable, they are not the essence of faith at all. They are holding me down to the earth instead of compelling me toward Heaven.

Thankfully, the tethers always (naturally? Providentially?) come undone and I am forced to face the true essence of faith in Christ. Thankfully, I discover my false securities each time something disappoints me, dissatisfies me, or proves me wrong.

I am learning that true faith in Christ is more like the fire inside a hot air balloon that causes it to soar.

Life is about learning that His character is my security and His presence is all I need to live abundantly.

If I sit tethered to the earth forever, I’ll miss out on everything.

When human traditions and earthly expectations fail us, we are more likely to see that the actual substance of our faith – what is truly securing us to Heaven – is entirely and completely Jesus Christ. 


Jesus said, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” (John 17:16) 

And so we soar with Him, our one true stability.


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