Surrendering the Idol in My Pocket


“I can see there are ‘pockets’ in you that need healing,” my counselor told me during our first visit three weeks ago. It was good news, actually. I’ve done a lot of recovery work over the years and at this point I’d rather have pockets of problems than be wearing a full-blown bodysuit of brokenness.


The first pocket we’ve been emptying is shame. Specifically, shame related to feeling like I’ve let down someone I respect – a small yet important distinction.

The truth is, I don’t care what everyone thinks. As an author, speaker and ministry leader, I’ve heard lots of negative things about myself over the years from people who think I’m too outspoken, too aggressive, too thin, too busy, too fill-in-the-blank for their liking. It kinda goes with the territory.

And while I don’t love criticism, I’ve learned to shrug it off, especially when it comes from someone I don’t deem “worthy” of my respect. Unattractive as that sounds, I know I’m not alone in employing this pain-management utility. There are simply certain people we care more about impressing than others.

People we think can deliver the greatness we long for…

It’s in all of us, I believe, this desire to do something great. To be significant. To make a lasting imprint. We should desire these things because we’ve been created in God’s image, and he is nothing if not great, significant and lasting.

Like those who fashion idols out of wood, however, we’ve made talismans of people we think have the power to greenlight our future, or to stop it cold if we make one wrong move. When we lose their affirmation, our pockets fill with shame and fear, suffocating our hope that we will ever experience the greatness we were hard-wired to crave.

No man is worthy of such worship.

For those who have answered the call of Christ, laying down our idol of man’s approval is the key to the greatness we seek. We are most alive, and most powerful for the kingdom, when we disregard what is popular and choose to walk fully in God’s divine purpose and call for our lives.

The call to speak truth without compromise.

The call to love without being loved in return.

The call to risk rejection for what is right.

When we lean into the call before us, we become more of who we were created to be. More of who we want to be. And we remember God’s truth, that no man is big enough to silence our voices, and no idol can get in the way of what God wants to do next.

As long as we don’t keep it in our pocket.



When Air Becomes Breath – Finding Jesus in our Trauma


A few years ago I was involved in an accident with our chihuahua, Mercy. She had hopped into the car like she so often does, ready to travel with me to the store, when she was suddenly, violently, thrown to the floor and wedged into the corner of the still-open driver-side door.

The sound was sickening.

For a minute or two I didn’t understand what was happening, and I backed up hoping to free her. But she became further wedged, and soon stopped making any sounds at all.

Mind racing, hands trembling, I yelled out for help, but none came. Finally, I got out of the car and saw that her leash had gotten trapped under the front tire. One more inch backward and her neck would have snapped. Quickly I jumped into the car and pulled forward. As her leash went slack, her body dropped lifelessly to the driveway. Urine stained the floorboard where she had relieved herself in her distress.

Horrified, I took her limp body into my arms and rocked back and forth on the front lawn, crying out to God for a miracle. By that point it had been several minutes since she had gone silent, and I knew she might not make it.

And then she took a breath.

As her chest expanded, I was overcome with emotion. Choking back tears, I drove, shell-shocked, to the vet, where they set her broken leg, treated her lacerations, and kept her overnight for observation. She was banged up, to be sure, but she was going to be alright.

That night sleep was slow in coming. Every time I closed my eyes the accident played over and over in my mind like a cruel movie, always stopping at the most traumatic scenes…

Her body slamming into the door…

Her lifeless tumble to the ground…

The odor of urine mixed with sweat and fear…

Even though the vet had assured me that Mercy was going to be ok, my brain remained focused on the worst-case scenario. I just couldn’t shake the jumble of emotions I had experienced when I was sure I was going to lose her.

The next morning I called my friend Michelle, a counselor who specializes in trauma work. She told me that what I was experiencing was completely normal.

Our brains apparently have a tendency to park on the darkest scenes of what we experience in life. Without intentional redirection, this activity perpetuates our internal trauma long after we’ve survived the external event. Which means trauma can stick with us even when it’s not happening anymore. Even when we have nothing left to fear.

“Tell me what happened AFTER the accident,” Michelle coaxed, moving me past the scenes my brain had on replay. So I told her, about holding Mercy in my arms and crying out to God and feeling her chest expand for the first time. About going to the vet and learning she was going to be ok and having some anxiety about the medical bill, mixed with immense relief it wasn’t for a funeral. (Does one even have funerals for pets? I didn’t want to find out…)

“So in all that happened last night,” said Michelle, “where did you see Jesus?”

And I knew right when it was. The moment when air became breath, and life triumphed over death. Jesus was there. He was with us both – me and my silly little 8 lb. dog. This was the moment I needed to focus on. The thing I must train my brain to remember.

It’s been awhile since the accident now, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned. When bad things happen, the primary scene worth returning to is the one in which Jesus plays the starring role. Even if things don’t end up playing out the way we had hoped, Jesus is ALWAYS there. His scenes remind us we’re not alone. That we have a hope bigger than ourselves. And that one day life will triumph over any death this world can deliver.

These days, I still associate Mercy with the odor of urine, but now it’s because she’s decided to make the landing on our stairs her own personal bathroom. And in spite of how disgusting that is, and how expensive it’s going to be to replace the carpet with hardwood, I still can’t help but smile right now as I hear her snoring in the chair next to my desk.

Mercy is alive.



(NOTE: My wordplay on the title for this post was inspired by a similar yet opposite phrase “When Breath Becomes Air” – a powerful bestselling book by Paul Kalanithi as he faced death at the young age of thirty-six. You should check it out.)



Disappointment Through a Different Lens


I had my first counseling appointment in five years yesterday. It was time. Maybe even a little overdue.

If you know me outside of my work at FINDINGbalance, you know the last few months have brought some unexpected disappointments, not to mention the usual distress I experience each summer when my kids are out of school and my normal routine is tossed out the window.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my kids. But God wired me to thrive in seasons of quiet productivity. Which means I need an extra dose of his grace during seasons of unpredictability and chaos.

Make that a triple-shot…

So it was hard to know if my frequent unkindness toward my husband, followed by my out-of-character tears when we talked about it, were due to the normal stresses of summer, the cancellation of my book deal, the discovery that the logo we’ve used for the past 8 years at my nonprofit was triggering to a large portion of our audience, or some other underlying issue I needed to dig into.

Or maybe just a combination of everything.

What was clear was that I was unhappy, and my distress was creating ripples of unhappiness around me. Which wasn’t fair – or loving – to anyone.

“Maybe it’s time you get some counseling,” A.J. said to me one night.

It wasn’t a bad idea.

I’ve done enough recovery work over the years to know that asking for help is one of the very best ways to love ourselves toward a richer understanding of God’s movement in our lives. But I was also worried about finances, and especially about how I was going to find the “right” person to walk with me through this season. 

Given the work I do, let’s just say someone’s got to be pretty UH-mazing if they’re going to help me move beyond all the stuff I already know.

Luckily, God is more amazing than I am.

“We’ve actually met before,” said my new counselor at the top of our call yesterday. Even though I didn’t remember having met in person, God had apparently orchestrated that little moment eleven months and two thousand miles from our first official Skype appointment.

Of course he had.

By the end of our call, God had made himself known in other ways, too, and I was overcome by his goodness to me. By his love for me. By the hope of his promises to me – promises so meaningful they are worth the hard work of pursuing their fulfillment. And even the painful trials along the way.

This is the power of good counsel; it transforms our view of disappointments from jagged little pills to necessary growing pains. In times of disappointment we are reminded we must once again let go of our self-reliance and reach out for new life that only exists ahead of where we’ve grown comfortable being.

Because if we’re not growing, we’re dying.

I have fresh hope today. Even as I cringe at the thought of the “shame timeline” assignment I’ve been tasked with before next week’s appointment, I’m excited to see what God reveals through this process. Because I know more than ever that the tough stuff I’m wrestling through has a divine purpose.

Which totally changes everything.

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. – Romans 8:28


Don’t Overlook Significance

Significance (4)

I didn’t expect a holy revelation this morning, especially not inside a sterile medical clinic. I was there with my twelve-year-old son Asher, who needed a sports physical for Cross Country.

It wasn’t where I wanted to be, today being “writing day” and all. But the sorrow in his eyes last night upon learning he would miss his first meet today without proper paperwork nudged me past my selfish tendencies. “I’ll take you in the morning,” I told him, knowing it was the right thing to do, even if not the most convenient.

And it was there, my son up on the exam table, the doctor listening to him breathe in and out as she moved her stethoscope around his small body, that something unexpected happened.

He smiled.

It wasn’t a huge smile, more like a shy grin. But I know my son, and I knew that the gentle curve of his lips as he quietly participated in this most basic exercise was evidence of something good happening inside his typically guarded heart.

He felt significant.

In that moment, my son was unquestionably the sole object of another human’s interest. There were no other siblings competing for attention, no distractions of screens or other activity. Just an earnest, skilled person giving my son her full attention. His subtle smile was evidence of the uncommon pleasure he felt.

Sitting there watching, I couldn’t help wondering how overlooked he must feel much of the time, at home, at school, at church… So many other kids, conversations and chaos happening all around him; so little of it directed toward seeing, knowing, the heart of who he is. Of who God created him to be. And it struck me that most of us feel this same lack of significance as we rush through our days, jumping from one thing to the next, fighting to rise above the fray and make our voices heard.

So we can stand out.

So we can be noticed.

So we can feel significant.

For all our striving, however, we can’t assign significance to ourselves. True significance is only experienced in the context of relationship. It is when someone else chooses to see us, to listen to us, to question us, to affirm us, that we begin to believe we really matter.

Our Heavenly Father has already assigned to us the ultimate significance, in creating us and then saving us through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus. We are beyond significant to God. As his image-bearers, we are called to embrace this truth to the best of our ability. We are also called to share it with others. Which means we must be intentional about celebrating the significance of the precious people God puts in our lives.

“Do you ever feel overlooked?” I asked Asher as we headed back to school.

“I don’t know what you mean by that,” he replied, clearly suspicious that this conversation might be headed somewhere he didn’t feel like going right then. So I changed tack.

“Would you like more one-on-one time with me?” I asked.

“Maybe,” he answered.

And then he looked out the window.

And smiled.

The Gift of Neediness

gift of neediness

“I don’t want to be a burden.”

These seven little words are quite possibly the biggest thing standing between us and the relationship we crave. Not to mention, a serious buzzkill for those God has called to show us his love in tangible ways.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to be aware of one’s tendency to suck others dry. And none of us likes being on the other side of that equation. (See Henry Cloud and John Townsend’s bestselling book Boundaries if you need some help sorting this out.) But there is often a vivid discrepancy between our ideas of being “too needy” and what others perceive as an opportunity to bless us by listening, serving, and giving.

I’m reminded of this often in one of my relationships. For whatever reason, I really like to do things for this particular friend. Not because I’m a ridiculously selfless person who lives to give. I’m not, and I don’t. But this friend is just so darned likeable that it’s fun to make her load lighter sometimes.

She’s frequently limiting my giving, though, with statements like “Oh, that’s too much,” or “You don’t need to do this when you’ve already done that.” When she says things like this I push back a little, because I’ve already decided I can afford what I’m offering. And because I understand how hard it can be to receive someone’s generosity. Especially if we feel we haven’t had the chance to adequately reciprocate yet.

There’s something innate about trying to balance what we receive with what we give, and vice-versa, as though the integrity of our relationships might be compromised if things don’t even out. Since the loss of relationship inflicts profound wounds, it seems safer to keep our needs to ourselves until we think we’ve earned the right to have them met.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to receive Jesus’s gift of unconditional love. We simply can’t reconcile it in our “all-things-must-be-equal” economy. If only we could pray more, or volunteer more at church, or sin less, or… SOMEthing. Anything to make us feel like we deserve the unfathomable gift we’ve been given.

But then it’s not a gift.

“If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract,” writes the Apostle Paul. “That’s not a holy promise; it’s a business deal.” – Rom. 4:14 (MSG)

I don’t know about you, but business deals feel like, well, business. And while they certainly have their place, the motivating factor is gain, not love.

Equal transactions are fair; gifts transcend this human construct.

If you’re human, then you have needs. And that’s ok. It’s a chance to practice receiving love in small doses so that you can begin to embrace the biggest Love all. Besides, every time you let someone love you, they get the immense pleasure of doing so. Which means you’re really doing them a favor, anyway. So maybe it’s all been more equal than you think.

Keep calm and love on…