2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father


I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

2012 gift list

My first meal in 2012 on New Year's Day

My first meal in 2012 on New Year’s Day

Last year, I started a tradition of writing a gift list, recording the ways God had blessed me by teaching me a new lesson, adjusting my proverbial eyesight, or concreting an abstract concept. As I celebrated New Year’s over cabbage rolls with my then boyfriend and his family, I had no idea what gifts God had in store for me in 2012.

This morning, as I crept out of my newborn daughter’s nursery and quietly filled my mug with coffee, I reflected on how vastly different my world seems now compared to then. And yet one thing remains constant despite the myriad of changes whirling around me–God never ceases to surprise me. He blows my expectations away. He gives me what I do not deserve and withholds harsh and painful consequences that I do deserve. He dusts off places inside me I’d resigned as impossible to clean.

When I look back, I see His beautiful fingerprints all over my life.

These are a few of the gifts given to me in 2012.

  • The big picture. Throughout my life, God has allowed many negative and painful things to elapse. One of those things toward the top of that terrible list is the experience of being raped the first time I had sex at the age of 16. As many of you read about over the course of a series of blog posts on this topic, God did what He has rarely done for me before–He allowed me to see the big picture and brought many of the puzzle pieces together before my eyes, revealing to me various reasons and motives behind the question, “Why did this happen to me, God?”
    I am not sure why He chose to bless me with the information and insights He shared, but I am grateful nonetheless. I’m grateful for my good friend who shared his secret with me, which shed light on my own story due to the intricate connections between us and the man who raped me. I’m grateful for my counselor who led me through the valleys of shadow, death, and grief as I unearthed years of buried emotions. And I’m grateful for the clarity I found on the other side.
  • Forgiveness. As a result of this clarity, I found fuel to forgive the man who raped me. This sparked a series of revelations regarding sins and missteps I’d never forgiven myself for. Five years ago when I began the process of recovery in a twelve-step program for families and loved ones of alcoholics, God showed me in subtle ways that I must first forgive myself before finding fuel to forgive others. Since then, He has presented me with opportunities to apply this lesson learned to real life situations. Forgiving the man who raped me was a mountainous obstacle to overcoming this complicated roadblock to peace.
  • 001Timing. This year, God perfectly timed and ordered my circumstances for my maximum benefit. I believe He has always done this, but I haven’t always noticed. This year, I noticed. I noticed that He healed me from painful parts of my past just prior to surprising us with the news that we would soon be parents. I noticed that He pried the invisible calendar from my hands containing minute details of the order of MY plans for MY life and politely crushed it into a tiny paperwad before tossing it into the trashcan. I begrudgingly let go of my schedule, crossed out all the items on my to-do list, and let God reset the timer. I learned that it’s impossible to plan out every second of my life and that some of the most wonderful things occur when I stop trying.
  • About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    About 30 weeks along, September 2012

    Patience. Wise friends in recovery have warned me against praying for patience for years–if you ask God for patience, He gives you opportunities (which are often painful) to grow in patience rather than granting your wish and instantly filling you with the virtue. At least that’s been my experience. I did not ask God to let me become pregnant, but He blessed me with my baby anyway. As someone who has feared and loathed pregnancy my entire life, I did not look forward to spending 40+ weeks of my life dealing with the growing pains of pregnancy. Although I did not enjoy being pregnant and hope to avoid repeating that experience, I definitely gained patience as a result of the complications and symptoms I faced during pregnancy which were utterly out of my control. As I sat in my recliner for hours on end, I learned that letting the dust accumulate on the carpet for a few more days would not cause anyone any harm and that taking only one course in the fall semester would simply slow the rate of completion for graduate school, not stop it. I didn’t ask for patience, but I’m glad I got it.

  • Security. I’m not sure why, but ever since I was a child I’ve had an unfounded fear of someone breaking in to my house at night and hurting or murdering me and my family. I didn’t watch horror movies or even scary television shows as a child, so I’m not sure where this fear originated. After circumstances surrounding my experience of being raped, my fear of this increased and seemed logical rather than irrational. I have been known to refuse to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door, to check the locks on doors and windows countless times, and to lie in bed for hours on end, listening to every little creak and groan of the floors, wind, and tree limbs. I’ve been too scared to sleep, literally and not so literally. In July of 2010, when I met my husband, the number of sheep required for counting each night began lowering.
    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    Tying the knot at our home, April 2012

    As I watched him choose good over evil, right over wrong, and truth over deception repeatedly, I believed his declaration of love for me more and more. I learned to trust him. This year deepened my trust for him in many ways. He cared for me selflessly during the roughest patches of my pregnancy. He encouraged me to quit my job in order to focus on finishing graduate school and resting during my pregnancy, promising me that he would take care of me financially. Having started working at age 13 as a tutor and never remaining unemployed for more than a few weeks ever since, trusting someone else to meet my needs felt foreign. But as I learned to still my worried mind, and close my watchful eyes, I found myself finally able to rest.

  • With my darling, November 2012

    With my darling, November 2012

    Fulfillment. I thought I’d felt fulfilled before. I’d accomplished plenty. I made all A’s in high school. I graduated from college with honors. I have maintained a perfect GPA in graduate school so far. I have held great paying jobs and managed people, events, and departments. I’ve donated my time and energy to serving others overseas and in my local community. I’ve reached out and helped others and experienced the joy of being used by God as a catalyst for growth and revelation in others’ lives. I had no idea that I’d never felt as fulfilled as I could, and I certainly didn’t expect that I’d feel completely fulfilled by becoming a mother. But I do.

If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that the unexpected gifts are always the best.


Getting it

This morning, as I read through 1 Chronicles, I came across a passage I’ve read and studied multiple times before, outlining the story of the return of the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Some of the details I remembered were missing from the 1 Chronicles version, so I flipped back to 2 Samuel to check out the other version.

“So David went down and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing . . . David, wearing a linen ephod, danced before the Lord with all his might . . .  As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michael daughter of Saul (David’s wife) watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.”  –2 Samuel 6:12-16


I’ve never understood why Michal hated David for dancing before the Lord. Bringing back the ark was a huge spiritual success for David and the Israelites. Everyone with David was singing, shouting, and dancing. And as his wife, wouldn’t she want to share in his joy rather than turn up her nose at it?

Apparently not. My Bible’s footnotes explain that “Michal had no appreciation for the significance of the event and deeply resented David’s public display as unworthy of the dignity of a king.”

The bottom line: she just didn’t get it.

As I contemplated these verses over a cup of coffee and chocolate buttermilk pie, memories of times in my life when those around me “just didn’t get it” trickled in.

Striking a pose, 2009

I remembered attending three different churches over the course of a decade and going to ministry fairs hosted by each church. Each time, the churches sponsored a booth with a suggestion box and encouraged members to write down their specific spiritual gifts and talents if they hadn’t found a group, committee, or activity that seemed like a good fit. Each time, I wrote down, “I love to dance, and I feel it’s a gift God’s given me. I’d love to use that gift in some way.”


I never got a single response to that request. Dancing in a traditional, often Fundamentalist denomination, wasn’t really considered acceptable. Maybe to some, it would be considered “public display unworthy of the dignity of a Christian,” to paraphrase my Bible’s footnotes on Michal’s perspective on David’s dancing.

China, 2005

I recalled another moment in a church service, in one of these same churches, when the hymn Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus began playing. I had just returned from China and had felt the heavy spiritual oppression surrounding me for three weeks. I’d come to value freedom of expression in a way I’d never valued it before. It seemed only natural to physically stand in reverence to God now that I had the option to do so.

The minute I stood up, in the middle of several rows of pews, I believe colossal drops of sweat began to drip from the music minister’s face. I received multiple stares, and if my memory serves me correctly, the folks’ faces weren’t exactly reflecting support, encouragement, or brotherly love. Apparently I’d rocked the boat a little too much that morning and missed the memo outlining specific “don’t stand up during the Stand Up for Jesus song” instructions.

I recollected a time when I read a book about a native Indian man who proposed that if Americans truly want to assist in spreading God’s word to other people, their money may be better spent supporting native missionaries rather than foreign missionaries since native missionaries require much less financial backing; they’re already used to living in poverty-stricken places and can get by on much less. This book moved me and opened my eyes to a new way of thinking about things. I shared the book with my then-boyfriend. He read it, and when I asked him what he thought of it, he said, “I thought it was cute.”

Cute? A book about changing the world? His response brought tears to my eyes.

I reminisced about moments when I’d felt compelled to make choices based on my beliefs. I’ve walked away from movies and television shows, leaving friends confused over why I’d be offended at the content. I’ve tried to explain to people why I’m moved to tears over others’ addictions holding them back from the Light. I’ve given money and items to people–some whose names I don’t even know–when spurred by a strong, quiet voice instructing me to do so. I’ve visited and called and emailed friends to express my concern over something God revealed to me about their lives or current situations–each time, I really knew nothing about what was really going on; God just kept telling me to say something to them. So I did.

Acting on my spiritual gut feels pretty ridiculous sometimes. It’s often not dignified. It may involve making incredibly unpopular choices. It incites disgust, anger, and confusion.

But I can’t stop doing it.

I can’t stop dancing before the Lord with all my might when I know that’s exactly what He wants.

And I won’t worry about the Michals of the world who, sadly, may never get it.

2011 gift list

When I started blogging a few years ago, one of my first posts was published on Christmas Eve. Sniffling and wheezing with the flu while nursing my depression over separating from my ex-husband on December 23rd, I felt quite pitiful.

I’ve learned from wise souls that the best remedy for self-pity is gratitude. I decided to compose a list of gifts I’d received that year and post it on my blog. It helped me to see things that seemed so negative in a much more positive light, at least temporarily.

This Christmas season, I’m not going through a divorce, and I don’t have the flu (knock on wood!). In fact, 2011 has probably been the best year of my life in some ways. Nevertheless, in the spirit of the season of giving and receiving, I decided I’d share some of the gifts I’ve received this year with all of you.

  • The gift of education. After I’d worked part-time for about a month, I started toying with the idea of graduate school again. This wasn’t a new dream or fantasy of mine. I love learning, and given unlimited funds and time, I could easily become a career student. Given that I have unlimited funds, limited time, and financial responsibilities, I’d pushed aside the idea of higher education for years. One morning over coffee, I mentioned to James how much I’d love to take some graduate classes in English. “Well then why don’t you?”  Well, I don’t know, I thought. His encouragement motivated me to peruse programs, find one that worked for me, and go through the application process. A perceptive person once told me that when trying to make a big decision, it helped her to pray, “God, open the right doors and close the wrong ones.” I prayed that prayer daily while going through the application process, and He just kept opening doors for me. Right now, I’m awaiting the arrival of my books for my first three classes.
  • The gift of learning. Call us nerds, but at our home, we really love the history channel, the documentary channel, Jeopardy, and crossword puzzles. By watching more educational television and less train wreck television (such as Flavor Flav’s fabulous shows), I’ve gained the gift of enlightenment. I’ve also started taking suggestions about what to read or what to research from friends of mine and people I admire. Rather than “put it on the list,” I’ve just done it. And I’m glad I have. By being a little more open-minded about how to spend my time, I’ve learned about things I knew nothing about last year, and I’ve learned that I enjoy things I thought I would abhor.
  • The gift of time. In September, I got a new job at a community college. I was ecstatic about returning to the world of higher education, but I was also elated about the part-time nature of the position. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old, and at times, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist and workaholic. Now I’ve been given the gift of time. I can work part-time and not feel bad about it because I’m with someone who supports me and makes sacrifices to make that possible.
  • The gift of relaxation. Having functioned for so long while riddled with anxiety and stress, it’s taken me time to learn how to relax and give myself permission to do so. Learning how to enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it has been a process, and I’m still figuring it out, but I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds this year. Being able to snort-laugh while watching an animated movie or just cuddle my dogs for 15 solid minutes without feeling antsy about moving on to another task is a gift.
  • The gift of trust. In February 2010, I got my second tattoo, the Chinese symbol for “trust” on my left wrist. At the time, it symbolized the importance of the role of trust in relationships, but it was also an extended index finger to all those people who’d betrayed me throughout life and had proven themselves untrustworthy. Since then, I’ve realized how very little I really trust anyone, including God, and that angry finger has fallen. Through the counsel of a wise mentor and the prodding of God during my quiet reading, prayer, and meditation time each morning, my eyes have been opened to my severe lack of trust. In almost all situations, when things have gone wrong, I have chosen not to trust God and to trust myself instead, and my failure to trust God has separated me from Him time after time. Thankfully, I’ve determined to continue to do my part to get closer to truly trusting both God and others. I have in no way arrived, but I’m on the right path.
  • The gift of freedom. Finally, this year, I have gained freedom. I chose “freedom” as my word of the year for 2011, and whether through self-fulfilling prophecy or divine fate, I’ve certainly found it. I’ve gained freedom from the past, freedom to live in today, and freedom to dream about the future rather than dread it. This year, I realized that I could have been living this way ever since unlocking my heart to my Creator many years ago. I just hadn’t let myself open the door until now. What a gift it is to step outside.

Ready to receive

Sometimes, when we stop fighting for what we think life owes us, it comes to us. Quietly. Wrapped in plain paper. But it’s exactly what we’ve been needing and everything we didn’t know we wanted.

I feel like I might have just been handed one of those packages from The Gift Giver. For over eight months now, I’ve been in a less than ideal situation. I don’t really want to go into all the negative, self-pitying details. As my wise friend Denny says, “if I threw myself a pity party right now, even I wouldn’t want to come to it.” And his other phrase I’ve grown to love and live by: “whine later.”

For the past eight months, I’ve been doing my best to whine later. That is, focus on what I have to be grateful for NOW. Live one day at a time. Do my best and leave the rest up to God. Pray for God’s will and believe that at whatever point He deems suitable, He’ll provide a way out of this hell hole. And in the mean time, find ways to serve the people He puts in my path.

It hasn’t all been bad. And if I stay where I am, I’ll continue to whine later, write my daily gratitude list, and do all the things I’ve been doing to stay afloat and refuse to give into the tide of negativity threatening to pull me under.

However, the package that fell into my lap this week sure does seem to be a God deal. I’m incredibly grateful for the way He orchestrates tiny moments… and how, when I look back and step back and look at the past eight years, I can see how He has tied together all of those years (some of the hardest ones) into what was inside of that box that he placed into my lap this week.

Regardless of how this all turns out, I’ve got to say that what fell into my lap this week has increased my faith already.

And how much more, I wonder, will I be amazed someday when I go Home and see everything He’s put together for me there, and how He’s strung together every second and made sense of every single wretched thing?