October 31, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 335: Spirit of Grace

Spirit of Grace

“This message is from the LORD, who stretched out the heavens, laid the foundations of the earth, and formed the human spirit. 'Then I will pour out a spirit of grace and prayer.' " (Zechariah 12:1b, 10a NLT)

Of all the words and concepts in God's Word, I think "grace" has to be one of the most beautiful.

Grace. Unmerited favor. Getting something we don't deserve. Can't deserve. Haven't earned. Can't earn.

So beautiful.

But of all the verses in the Bible that talk about grace, I think Jonah 2:8 has to be one of the most terrifying: "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs."

Forfeit. To willingly give up a prize that could be ours. To hand off a victory we only have to show up to claim.

So terrifying.

It's as if we've run a race. We've made no effort and have come in last and are standing in the cool-down area. Someone hands us a participation medal. It's made of cheap plastic with a flimsy ribbon that's already fraying. It is no prize, but it's what we've earned. We latch onto it and look adoringly at it and think about what place of honor we'll put it in when we get home, when we're not wearing it around our neck. 

Then the Spirit of grace comes up to us, holding out another medal. It is the grand prize. It is made of purest gold and hangs from a ribbon made of finest silk. "Here," the Spirit of grace says, "I want you to have this." 

"No," we tell Him, clutching our cheap plastic trinket. "I didn't earn it. I don't deserve it. Give it to someone else."

"Take it," the Spirit urges again. "I want you to have it. You don't have to earn it. You just have to take hold of it."

But we refuse. We will not let go of our imitation prize. We give up the true prize. We know we did not earn it. What we do not grasp is that we did not have to earn it. 

What cheap token am I clinging to so that my hands are not free to take hold of the grace that could be mine? Pride? My own dreams and plans? Bitterness? An accomplishment? Comfort? Something good that is still not God, like my family?

That last bit is where things get really tricky. God leaves plenty of room in my heart to cherish and hold onto good things, like love for those closest to me. But there is only one throne in my heart, and He is the only One who belongs on it. Anything or anyone else I put there is my idol. And I do them no favors to seat them there. They cannot handle it. They cannot bear that weight. It's terrifying. But moved off that throne and given room to roam in my heart while God takes His rightful place, they can be what they should be to me: an outpouring of grace. Grace so beautiful.

October 30, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 334: God Whose Word Is True

God Whose Word Is True

"For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does." (Psalm 33:4 NIV)

I've confessed before that I'm the queen of bad days. This is, however, a throne I'd like to abdicate.

Proverbs 23:7 (NAS) tells us that as a person “thinks within himself, so he is.” So often, what I tell myself in my head makes its way to my heart, and that's how I am.

The next time I'm having a day that could use a reset, I need to tell my head to tell my heart these truths, according to God's Word.

1. With God, I can get through this.

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

“With God” is the hinge here. I can tell myself, “You'll get through this,” but myself may beg to differ. With God, though, I can be who I’m not, do what I can't, and feel what I don't.

2. Take a deep breath.

“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).

The simple, deliberate act of intentionally taking a slow breath in and then letting it out is like hitting the pause button on a day that’s headed south. It calms and quiets my racing mind so I can ask God to help me fix the problem, not feed it.

3. Pause, praise, and pray.

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray” (James 5:13).

When I'm having a bad day, I tend to get frantic, pinging from one thing to the next in an attempt to right whatever is wrong. This almost always backfires. A  better plan is to stop for a moment, tell God Who He is and what He’s like so I can remind myself, and then have a conversation with Him about what's going on.

4. Remember what God has already done.

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:11, 12).

So far, with God's help, I have a 100% success rate of surviving days I never thought I'd make it through. Yahweh has been faithful before; He will be faithful again.

5. This is not my whole story.

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16).

Whatever is happening in my life right now is not all there is to my life right now. And it is not all there will ever be. I need to choose to be grateful for today’s good and to hold onto the hope of better tomorrow.

6. Just do the next thing.

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

I do not have to know how this entire day is going to play out to take a step forward. I need to just do the next thing that needs doing, the next thing I think God is telling me to do, the next thing that seems wise and productive…the next one thing, not the next ten things.

7. One day, everything is going to be so much better than okay.

“Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (Isaiah 35:10).

God does not waste time, and so I know He has good days written on the pages of His story between now and forever. I also know that the happiest ending has already been written. On any kind of day, that's the best true story of all.

October 29, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 333: God Who Knows My Way

God Who Knows My Way

"When my spirit grows faint within me, it is you who know my way." (Psalm 142:3 NIV)

"When I am overwhelmed, you alone know the way I should turn." (Psalm 142:3 NLT)

I am an old mom with a new driver. This means that when my 16-year-old drives some place that's unfamiliar to her, I want to give her step-by-step directions with helpful guiding points like, "Then you'll go through that little town where I once got a speeding ticket, so be sure to drop down to 45 when you go past that one church that's made of tan bricks." 

I like atlases and physical maps and my state county-by-county gazetteer.

My new driver, on the other hand, likes to put her destination into the map feature on her phone and let talking direction lady tell her what to do and where to go.

I don't trust talking direction lady. She doesn't really know where my daughter is. She doesn't really know her exact way. She knows a general way. She might know where my daughter's phone is and be able to plug it into a preset bank of information and spit out some advice, but she does not know my daughter. She doesn't actually see her.

God, on the other hand, knows my daughter's way. He knows my way. He knows your way. He is infallible and utterly reliable. He is never confused about the way we should go. But sometimes, figuring that out for ourselves—absent a pillar of fire as guided the children of Israel en route to the Promised Land or something similar—can be murky.

In this case, it can be useful to turn on some GPS to determine if the way we're thinking of going is a way that's good to go.

G = Does it glorify God? Does the road I'm thinking of turning down show who God is? Does it turn my attention and the attention of others to Him? Does it reflect His character and nature and power?

P = Does it position me for peace? Note that this is not the same thing as ease. The way I'm considering going might very well be steep and rocky and hard. But when I think about taking that way, does my spirit respond with reassurance? Do I sense God's green light going forward, or are warning lights flashing? Peace is a big priority with God, so He's not likely to give me the go-ahead on something that robs me of it.

S = Does Scripture support it? 
God's Word is the original road map. If I'm trying to go down a road that Scripture clearly blocks off, I need to consider what I think I'm going to gain from that...and what I'm likely to lose.

God not only knows the way we are taking, He knows the way we should take. And it is always the way that will lead us home to Him.

October 28, 2019

Mama, You Carry Your Children's Burdens. But Who's Carrying Yours?

I was talking to my sister the other day, and she told me her teenage daughters (the two older of her four children) had both been crying the previous day after school.

One was upset over friend problems. The other was upset over algebra problems. My sister said she'd helped them through as much as she could, offering understanding and sympathy and suggestions for going forward. (For the record, she said she did not and could not offer help on the algebra beyond, "Can you ask your teacher before school tomorrow?")

Later that night, when my brother-in-law got home, he commented that my sister looked tired. (I assume he meant "more tired than usual.") She told him, "It's been a really hard day here." After she filled him in on the backstory, he said, "I just talked to both girls, and I wouldn't have known anything was wrong."

Then he said something pretty profound: "That's because you took their burdens on yourself."

Oh, mama, isn't this what we do as moms? We lift loads off our children's minds and hearts, and, by the grace, we do it so well so much of the time and our children trust us so completely that they can then, in many cases, be freed of those weights and go on with no indication to someone looking from the outside in that there ever was a burden in the first place.

This is our high calling and privilege, and usually we are only too glad if we can, in fact, take a burden on ourselves and lighten the load for our children. It is not always possible or even always a good idea, but when it is possible and when it does good and not harm, we want to do it.

And yet what lightens our children can weigh on us. What lifts them can push us down. What energizes them can fatigue us. What refuels them can drain us.

We keep adding to this load and stoop over more and more until we are barely trudging along. If we don't do something to lighten our load, we eventually fall over.

This is when we need to hear the voice of Jesus, our Burden-Bearer.

"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 NLT).

"Come to me, all you mamas who are carrying your children's worries.

"Come to me, all you mamas who are carrying your children's fears.

"Come to me, all you mamas who are carrying your children's hurts.

"Come to me, all you mamas who are carrying your children's pasts, presents, and futures.

"Come to me. Bring it all to me. Take my yoke on you. Let me bear the weight while you walk alongside me.

"Turn your mind so it faces my direction. Speak my name. Pray my prayers. Cry out to me. Drink in my words. Meditate on my truth. Sing my songs. Study my lessons. Lean on my Body.

"Unclench your fists and let go of what you're grasping tightly so your hands are free to hold my peace."

Sweet mama, you take your children's burdens on yourself and they find rest for their souls, and it is a beautiful, transforming thing. Others see them walking along, chasing their hopes and dreams, and these observers have no idea there ever was a burden in the first place.

You long to do this for your children. You love them and want their load lightened. "Let me carry it," you tell them...beg them, sometimes.

But do you see it? This is how Jesus feels toward you. What you want from and for your children, Jesus wants from and for you.

He sees you struggling under the weight of your love-bound load and beckons, "Bring me your children's burdens and your own, too. Give me what you're carrying. Find rest for your soul.

"You only need to hold the burden I give you. And it will be the lightest, most beautiful burden you'll ever know."

*   *   *   *   *   *
Illustration by Linda W. Perkins

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 332: God Who Is Ready To Forgive

God Who Is Ready To Forgive

"But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and you did not forsake them." (Nehemiah 9:17 NRS)

God is the God who forgives. He is also the God who is ready to forgive.


Nehemiah 9:17 doesn't just say God forgives. It adds that extra dimension: He is "ready to forgive." 

What does that mean about God? What does that mean about you and me?

The word "ready" makes me think of a runner at the starting line of a race, feet positioned in the blocks, poised for action. Ahead of the starting gun, the announcement: "Ready, set..."

The "ready" is almost a question. 

"Are you ready? Are you ready to run this race?"

The runner's
 readiness at that moment has to do with so much more than whether or not he's in place to run that race.

To be ready, the competitor had to assign value to the race ahead of time. He had to decide it was worth the work, the effort. He had to determine that the possible outcome of the race was worth taking a chance on, even if a desired result did not come to pass. He had to go the distance. He had to follow through on commitment. He had to keep going when he wanted to quit.

God who is ready to forgive assigned value to the race of forgiveness at the very beginning of time. He decided we were worth it. He determined that the possible outcome of the race—the gain of the prize of our souls—was worth taking a chance on even though the desired result, because of our free will, was not guaranteed. He went the distance from heaven to earth to the cross to the grave to earth and back to heaven again.

Can you see God poised at the starting line of forgiveness, just waiting for us to humble ourselves and ask for it? He's so ready to forgive, there's nearly a false start, except that nothing about God is ever false.

"Ready?" If this is a question, God's answer is always, "Yes."

"Ready?" What is my answer? Am I ready to run the race of forgiveness? Have I counted the cost and decided my relationship with God, which unforgiveness trips up, is worth the work? Have I determined that the possible outcome of running this race is worth taking a chance on, even though one specific result—because of the free will of the person I'm forgiving—is not guaranteed? Have I figured out that if I truly run this race, I will gain a certain prize: the favor and blessing of God?

When forgiveness is needed, I want to get ready for it. I want to see the value in it. I want to put in the work. I want to set my feet in the starting blocks. And when the gun goes off, I want to be ready to run the race.

October 27, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 331: Binder of the Brokenhearted

Binder of the Brokenhearted

"The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (Isaiah 61:1-3 NIV)

Of all the pieces of Jesus' beautiful job description in Isaiah 61, this is one of my favorites: "He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted."

I needed to spend some time thinking about what it means to bind up the broken, because I think it shows both what our sweet Savior does for us and what He wants us to do for others.

The binder of the brokenhearted sees the break. He recognizes what is broken. I've heard of people who had a broken bone but didn't know it until years later, when they were having an x-ray for something else, and the old break was visible. Sometimes, we don't know we're broken. Sometimes, others need us to see their brokenness. During His earthly ministry, Jesus repeatedly noticed brokenness...a ministry all unto itself.

The binder of the brokenhearted protects the break. He wraps it in love, compassion, tenderness, and strength, covering it so that what is broken can mend.

The binder of the brokenhearted gives the break time to heal. He does not expect the injured person to put what is broken immediately back into action, into service, into use. What is broken is allowed to rest.

The binder of the brokenhearted checks on the break. He doesn't just wrap it up and ignore it. He examines it from time to time to make sure it is healing properly.

The binder of the brokenhearted treats the healed place gently. Even after the bindings are off and the break is pronounced restored, the injured piece is still protected.

And the binder of the brokenhearted celebrates new strength. Once what has been broken is knit back together and declared healed, it is not as it was before; it is stronger in ways that would not have been possible without the initial injury.

As Jesus' hands and feet, we can also be binders of the brokenhearted. We can recognize brokenness in our friends and family and co-workers and church acquaintances. We can wrap them in protection. We can give them time to mend. We can check on their recovery. We can treat them gently even after they are healed. We can celebrate new strength that comes out of weakness.

We can hear the words and heart of Jesus, accepting His job description and then passing it on to us: "The Sovereign Lord sent me to bind up the brokenhearted. Now, I am sending you."

October 26, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 330: True Hope

True Hope

"We have the true hope that comes from being made right with God, and by the Spirit we wait eagerly for this hope." (Galatians 5:5 NCV)

There is no one like God. 

He has no equal, no parallel.

He is incomparable.

Because of this, sometimes one of the best ways to better understand who God is is to contrast Him with what He is not.

God, our true hope, contrasts starkly—in the brightest possible sense—with false hope.

False hope promises more than it can deliver, but our true hope keeps His promises and delivers us.

False hope disappoints, but our true hope delights.

False hope fades quickly, but our true hope endures forever.

False hope is built on shifting sand, but our true hope is rock-solid.

False hope empties us out, but our true hope fills us up.

False hope holds something out to us and then snatches it back, but our true hope holds out His arms to us and then pulls us in close.

"Don't get your hopes up." Maybe you've been on the giving or receiving end of this warning. (I've said this to my girls when everyone at school was predicting a snow day, because I am a mean mom like that. For the record, though, I will say that my all-time favorite mom job was telling my girls when they actually had one.)

But God turns this caution to confidence. Go ahead, beloved! Get your hopes up! Way up! Up to the Maker of heaven and earth. Up to our incomparable, does-not-disappoint, one true hope.

October 25, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 329: God of Glory

God of Glory

"Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters." (Psalm 29:2,3 NIV)

I have a beautiful and talented friend who plays, arranges, and writes music. At the bottom of her pieces, she writes "Soli Deo gloria: "Glory to God alone." Whatever accolades, whatever awe, whatever applause the music might inspire, it belongs only to God.

"Soli Deo gloria."

I want to want this to be the song of my life. Whatever I might do, whatever I might accomplish, whatever I might "achieve," I want to want the acclaim to go to God.

This is all for the best, including my best. Human beings were not created to handle glory. We don't know what to do with it. It lifts us up temporarily, but then it lets us down. It thrills us temporarily, but then it disappoints us. We initially react to it by bowing low in humility, but ultimately pride trips us up.

Our uncreated God, on the other hand, is perfectly equipped to handle glory, because everything glorious originates with Him and in Him. When we give God the glory, we are only putting that glory in its rightful place.

Soli Deo gloria. Glory to God alone.

May this be the song we sing today. May it be the anthem of our lives.

October 24, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 328: My Delight

My Delight

"Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight." Psalm 43:3,4 NIV)

"I just want..."

I find myself saying this A LOT.

"I just want" something to happen or "I just want" to figure something out or "I just want" to hear about something or "I just want" to get to something I'm looking forward to.

This "just wanting" reflects the desires of my heart, which God's Word says He'll give me: "...he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4b). But this giving is connected to some preceding action on my part: "Delight yourself in the LORD, and..." (Psalm 37:4a).

"Delight yourself in the Lord."

How do we "delight" ourselves in God? I went a few rounds with this question and then fell back on a technique I've used before in applying God's Word: setting it into a human-relationship context. Of course, God is God, and relating to Him is in many ways unlike relating to anyone else. But He created people in His image, so looking at how I relate to those closest to me down here on earth gives me a handle to grasp when I'm thinking about my relationship with the Lord Most High.

How do I "delight," for instance, in my children? I talk about them. I interact with them. I prioritize my time with them. I think about them. I wait to hear from them. I know them. I find joy in them.

Going back to my "I just want" for a minute: one of the prayers I pray regularly is, "Change my heart so that I want to want what You want. Change my heart so that I want what You want. Change my heart so that I want You." I want what my heart wants to be in alignment with what God wants. 

If I "delight" myself in God—if I talk about Him, spend time with Him, seek to know Him, prioritize my relationship with Him, find joy in Him—it's going to change my heart. It's going to change what my heart wants. My heart is going to start to want what God wants. The desires of my heart are going to be more and more for God, my delight. And when I get to this point, my wanting will turn to having, because God will gladly and lavishly always give me Himself.

"I just want..." Every day for the rest of my life, I need to go to the altar of God, lay down all my other wants, and ask My Delight to change my heart so that there is but one fulfillment to that longing: "You."

October 23, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 327: My Joy

My Joy

"Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight." (Psalm 43:4 NIV)

My older daughter has my mom to thank for her middle name. When I was expecting my first baby, I was sure I was having a boy (it was just an instinct...we hadn't found out ahead of time), and so while my husband and I picked out a girl's name, I didn't think we were going to need it and so didn't spend too much time analyzing it.

When our daughter was born, we gave her the name we'd decided on: Lydia Gabrielle. Both lovely names. It wasn't until a few days after she was born, when my mom was at our house helping me take care of her first grandbaby, that she said, "I sure wish her middle name could be Joy"—as mine is, making it a lovely reflection of Joyce, my mom's name.

One phone call to the hospital records office and a revised birth certificate later, and Lydia Joy was official. And a good thing for it, because we have often said that she is to us as her name. She is a joy.

God is our joy, and He is to us as His name. 

He is our Completer...and our joy is complete in Him (Deuteronomy 16:15).
He is our Strength...and His joy is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
He is our Dwelling Place...and He dwells in joy (1 Chronicles 16:27).
He is our Garment...and He clothes us with joy (Psalm 30:11).

In a world where happiness is prized, I want to set my sights higher: on God, my God, who is my joy and who is to the whole world as His name.

October 22, 2019

The Chronicles of Insomnia

When my daughter Anna was a baby, she slept like a baby.

Her bedtime battles—hours spent trying to fall asleep in various locations from bed to couch to floor, night after night, on weekdays, weekends, and vacations—began about the time she started middle school. But that transition wasn't the reason she couldn't sleep. She wan't lying awake because she was worried about school. She had friends. She wasn't being bullied. She was liked by all her teachers and did well academically. She had healthy extracurricular interests. No major family upheaval was going on at our house.

I started dreading the creak of her bedroom door opening. Late into the night, Anna would cry from frustration and exhaustion, telling me, “All day long, I worry about not sleeping.” It was a nightmare, but we could never wake up from it.

Over the course of the years Anna and I battled together in the insomnia trenches, we tried what felt like every possible solution for helping her get to sleep. (And this was mostly her problem: once she got to sleep, she was usually okay.) Of course, you're not going to try any of these options with your own child until you have checked with your pediatrician. But maybe something that worked for us will work for you, too, if nighttime is a nightmare at your house.

Good sleep hygiene. This doesn't have anything to do with taking a shower before bed (although some people find this helps...we didn’t). Sleep hygiene usually has to do with these bedtime basics: 

  • A very dark room. Any natural outside light creeping in, that alarm-clock glow, even a nightlight can interfere with getting your child’s brain to accept the #1 message you are trying to send: IT’S TIME TO GO TO SLEEP ALREADY! My daughter hides her digital alarm clock under her dresser at night and keeps a battery-powered model with a push-activated light near her bed. If your child is wary of sleeping in a total blackout, look for a very dim nightlight with a soft, warm glow—you’re trying to get your child to sleep here, not perform brain surgery.
  • A quiet room, possibly with the addition of white noise. “Quiet” and “noise” in the same sentence might seem contradictory, but the use of a fan or sound machine—both of which produce consistent, non-stimulating sounds—can block out other, unpredictable, rousing sounds (dogs barking, household noises, etc.).
  • A relatively cool room. When body temperature drops, the brain gets the signal that it’s time to shift into sleep mode. Most experts recommend bedrooms be kept around 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Blue-screen cutoff. All those laptop/iPod/cell phone screens your child is staring at up until they go to bed and even when they’re in bed? Yeah, they’re telling her brain: WAKE UP! Which is not the message you want it to get. Anna started pulling the plug (or battery) on all screens about 30 minutes before getting into bed and reading by gentle light or listening to audio books instead.

Natural light exposure. As opposed to the artificial light of tech devices, natural (outside) light can actually promote sleep by influencing the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. We try to make sure Anna has some exposure to natural light every day in hopes it will set her body clock to the right time—as in, “It’s 9 o’clock! Let’s fall asleep!”

Exercise. Most sleep doctors agree that physical activity promotes sleep but not if it’s done too close to bedtime. This was the one area we didn't even try to do right. Anna loves dance and takes a couple classes a week that run until 8:30 at night. She's physically active much closer to bedtime than experts want her to be. More than once, I warned my budding ballerina that if we didn't find a solution to her insomnia, dance would have to go. The horror of this alone motivated her to try everything else I proposed.

Caffeine elimination. Anna wasn’t consuming much, if any, in the first place, but if your child is having trouble sleeping, you might want to check not only their caffeinated beverage consumption but also any medications they may be taking for other ailments. Some have nighttime alertness as a side effect.

Guided imagery, “mind games,” and meditative breathing. Anna tried counting backward from 200 by 3’s; prayer for specific things in a specific order; various “ABC” games; mental repetition of short phrases, such as “I can and will go to sleep;” guided imagery apps; and conjuring up a scene in her mind with as many sensory details as possible (e.g., a beach with the sound of crashing waves, the feel of sand underfoot, the smell of a campfire). The intent was to occupy her mind with relaxing but not terribly thrilling thoughts, in hopes of tricking it into beginning the night shift. Eventually, we settled on a very intentional, relaxation-promoting breathing pattern: inhale slowly through the nose, hold the breath for 5 seconds, and exhale slowly through the mouth—all in hopes that both mind and body would relax and GO TO SLEEP ALREADY!

Delayed bedtime. A common reaction to insomnia is to spend more time in bed. Many times, I advised Anna that if she would only go to bed as early as possible, her brain and body would relax because she would know she had plenty of time to fall asleep. But this never worked for us. For one thing, I believe her adolescent (read: hormone-heavy) body had already begun shifting into the well-established teenage preference for staying up and sleeping in late. For another thing, the longer she was in bed but not asleep, the more anxious and uptight Anna became. So we tried the opposite approach: I stayed up with her while she read or just relaxed on the couch until she felt she was almost ready to fall asleep. Many nights, she didn't reach this point until an hour that would horrify the bedtime police. But getting in bed—even at a late hour—and quickly falling asleep increased Anna’s confidence that she could sleep.

Time-in-bed restriction. Lying in bed trying without success to sleep for hours on end had to go. In general, I told Anna that if she’d been in bed for about 20 minutes but was not asleep, she needed to try something else for a few minutes. The something else could be reading in bed, getting up and having me rock her, listening to quiet music or an audio book, journaling, etc. After a few minutes of the alternative activity, she could try falling asleep again.

Essential oils. I bought a couple bottles of essential oil blends from our local health food store that included such sleep- and relaxation-promoting oils as lavender, chamomile, cedarwood, sandalwood, and ylang-ylang. I shook a few drops into a glass votive candle holder and positioned it on Anna’s dresser in front of the fan blowing on her (see also: white noise and cool bedroom). I've also had friends recommend rubbing a few drops into the bottoms of the feet.

Vitamins and supplements. Most OTC and prescription sleep aids are not options for children. My mom (obviously, a parent from a different generation) often said, “Can’t you just give her Benedryl?” In fact, yes, I could—if she was battling allergies or a runny nose! However, some desperate digging did reveal a few options, and we tried them all. (Remember, you're going to check with your doctor before implementing any of these, right?) 
  • Melatonin. This hormone, which the body produces naturally, is available in supplement form. I was wary of giving it to Anna because my mom research kept turning up such warnings as “interferes with adolescent brain development.” But upon hearing everything else I had tried, our pediatrician immediately prescribed a low dose of melatonin in a sublingual (under the tongue) version. Now, my teen takes Vitafusion™ Melatonin gummies, which have sleep-promoting (and mind-calming) passion flower, chamomile flower, and lemon balm leaf in addition to the melatonin.
  • Pantothenic acid. Don’t panic. While this sounds like a street drug, it’s actually vitamin B5 and is reputed to counteract stress and anxiety. In desperation, I went looking for it at our grocery store and eventually found it in the list of ingredients in the children’s vitamins I was also buying. Thinking it might help Anna to have this vitamin in her system closer to bedtime, we switched Anna’s multivitamin consumption from morning to night.
  • Herbal teas. Teas meant to promote sleep are common alongside coffee and hot chocolate in the grocery store; in addition, we found Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime tea, which actually seemed to help Anna, in the vitamin aisle.
  • Calms Forte. I do not understand the name of this homeopathic product, but it is relatively inexpensive, doesn’t require a prescription, offers dosing information for children, and comes in a pill small enough for Anna to swallow as needed on rough nights. At my grocery store, Calms Forte is stocked near other sleep-aid products.
  • Tart cherry juice. Reputed to stimulate the body’s natural melatonin production, I bought a bottle and added a couple tablespoons to a glass of diet lemon-lime soda for Anna at bedtime. The entire bottle save those two tablespoons is now languishing in the murky depths of my refrigerator after Anna declared she’d rather not sleep than take it again.
  • Powdered supplements. One option on my radar since a friend highly recommended it is FitFormula Blueberry–Flavored Sleep Formula, a powdered supplement intended to be dissolved in water.

Prescription medication. After trying everything else, I finally asked our doctor if there was anything she could suggest that—obviously—was safe for a child. She did prescribe something (it's now been so many years, I can't honestly remember what it is) that could be taken on an as-needed basis and did not cause carryover drowsiness. If you're at last-resort status with your child, you might ask your pediatrician about a prescription option, too. 

Consistent routine. This is not the same as a observing a consistent bedtime—a classic piece of advice that drives me crazy. Like most families, we have different events going on at different times of the week. One night, Anna may be able to get into bed at 8:30, another at 10:30. And I am not forcing her to get up on weekends and holidays at 6 a.m. as she does on school days. Sleeping in is fun, and if there’s one thing we need around here, it’s sleep that’s more fun. Instead, Anna’s routine is a carefully crafted series of steps she takes every night when she’s gearing down for sleep.

Control and empowerment. Ultimately, Anna and I achieved victory over her insomnia by giving her tools that make her believe she can sleep. Everything—from her special bedtime routine, to the clock she can check but does not have to see, to the supplements she takes—helps her feel she's in control of her sleep. 

These days, I don’t usually have to dread the creak of my daughter's bedroom door (and not just because my handyman dad fixed it). When I tell her goodnight as she settles into her cozy bed, she often says, drowsily and happily, “I love bed." Which feels like a sweet dream come true.

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 326: Contender


"Contend, LORD, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me." (Psalm 35:1 NIV)

What I know about boxing and politics pretty much comes down to knowing how to spell both words. But both of these "arenas" did come to mind when I was thinking about Psalm 35 and its description of God as our contender.

I thought of a boxer in the ring and a politician in the race...both seeking a victory that is not certain.

In calling on God to "contend with those who contend against me," though, David is calling on the One whose victory in any arena is sure.

If you're feeling as if someone is "contending" with you just now, I pray these other translations and paraphrases of Psalm 35:1 will renew your hope in sure victory:

* "Oppose my opponents, Lord; fight those who fight me" (CSB).

* "Lord, battle with those who battle with me. Fight against those who fight against me" (NCV).

* "Lord, stand up against those who stand up against me. Fight against those who fight against me" (NIRV).

* "Harass these hecklers, God, punch these bullies in the nose" (MSG). (I couldn't resist including this one.)

After David makes his outward-facing request of God, he turns his plea inward: "Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation' " (Psalm 35:3b).

David understands he needs more than a one-time victory over a human oppressor; he needs a permanent victory over the oppressor of his soul. He needs the part of himself that will live forever to hear the song of its Savior. This inward turn is so important to us because those who are contending against us are not usually inflicting harm 
primarily on our physical bodies but on our spirits, our minds, our hearts. It is our souls that need saving. And our souls need to clearly hear who is doing the saving: "I am your salvation." 

"I." God. Not a change of circumstance, not the downfall of our oppressors, not even the end of the battle. God Himself.

When we are in a fight, our Contender enters the ring with us. He does not enter it as a competitor, though, but as the champion. And as soon as He shows up, our victory is sure—not because we have done anything to save ourselves, but because God has done everything to save our souls.

October 21, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 325: The Lord Mighty In Battle

The Lord Mighty In Battle

"Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in battle." (Psalm 24:8)

"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still." (Exodus 14:14).

There are only a dozen words in the NIV rendering of Exodus 14:14, which so beautifully reinforces "The Lord Mighty In Battle."

"The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still."

But if we dig around these dozen words, we can unearth depths of truth to pull out and take with us into our own battles.

THE LORD: Not a human warrior, not a faithful friend, not a family member, not someone in a position of earthly power. "The Lord," Victor of every battle He fights.

WILL FIGHT: Not sit off on the side and observe, not offer suggestions, not send a subordinate.

FOR YOU: Not alongside, not behind you as backup. Not in addition to you, but instead of you. Not with you, but "for you."

NEED ONLY: Not this and this and this and this. This "only."

TO BE STILL: Not pace around, wringing your hands. Not be God's back-up. Not make suggestions. Not get in the way. Just "be still."

Digging a little deeper, I loved uncovering that the American Standard Version translates "be still" as "hold your peace." Do you see how perfectly this comes together? "Be still" has less to do with inactivity and more to do with letting go. It carries the idea of unclenching our fists and opening our hands. How much easier is it to hold our peace when our hands aren't trying to hold onto something else?

The Lord (God Himself, not some lesser power) will fight (wage a righteous battle) for you (in your place); you (not somebody else) need only (just do this one job) to be still (let go of whatever else you're hanging onto so your hands are free to hold the peace God will put in them).

Beloved, take this battle cry into your day: "The Lord will fight for me! I need only to be still!"

October 20, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 324: The Reason

The Reason

"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect." (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

One of my favorite lines from the movie "Beautiful Mind," based on the life of mathematician, schizophrenic, and Nobel Prize winner John Nash, comes at the very end of the film, when Nash is giving his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He thanks his wife, Alicia, for standing by him through all the years of madness and unreality and tells her, "You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons."

It is a beautiful moment in a truly "beautiful" movie, but how much more could we say those very words to God?

"You are the reason I am. You are all my reasons."

All our reasons.

The reason we praise Him: "Because your love is better than life, I will praise you as long as I live" (Psalm 63:3).

The reason we call on Him: "Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live" (Psalm 116:2).

The reason we are not disgraced: "Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced" (Isaiah 50:7).

The reason we are not consumed: "Because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail" (Lamentations 3:22).

The reason we rejoice and are glad: "Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).

The reason we lift up our heads: "When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near" (Luke 21:8).

Oh God, in all the wanderings of our hearts, You are the where. 

In all the wonderings of our hearts, You are the why. 

You are the reason we are. You are all our reasons.

October 19, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 323: Grower


"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building." (1 Corinthians 3:7-9 NIV)

"I've grown so much with God."

I've said this before and have been thankful to be able to say it. I've heard others say it and have been thankful they've been able to as well. 

I was thinking a little more in-depth about what we mean when we say that we have "grown with God"—in our faith, in our relationship with him. I thought about what plants do when they grow. (Admittedly, my thinking here was hindered by the fact that gardening is not my area of giftedness.) 

When we say that we have grown with God, I think we mean that we have gained. We have gained strength, depth, deeper roots, more understanding.

I think that when we say we have grown with God, we mean that we reflect the care, skill, nurturing, and creativity of our keeper, the Master Gardener.

I think that when we have grown with God, we offer something to others. Beauty, maybe, as flowers that have grown do, or sustenance, as vegetables that have grown do. Our growth does not only benefit us. 

When we have grown with God, we can withstand the winds and the rain, the storms, some of the rough weather of life—bending, maybe, but not breaking.

And I think that when we have grown with God, we still need to be nurtured and fed. We still need to be connected to the source of our life. We still need to be attached to the Grower.

"I have grown with God."

I'm thankful to be able to say this. But even more than that, I want to be able to say something else and have it be true: I am growing with God.

October 18, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 322: My Everything

My Everything

"For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 'The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being. ' ' " (Acts 17:23-25, 27, 28a NIV)

The best seasons in my life for my relationship with God have, generally speaking, been the worst seasons in the rest of my life.

I know I'm not the only one with this testimony. I've shared this around the Bible study table and watched every head nod in agreement. And then we all comment on how we'd really prefer if our high points with God didn't always seem to have to come with low points somewhere else. I joke that I want to tell God, "I'm growing with you! No need to send any trials!"

But that's not usually how it works. We go after something (or someone) when we recognize a need, and when my life is clicking along, I don't tend to see that need—and so I don't go after the Someone who can meet it.

Elisabeth Elliot refers to these rough spots that drive us closer to God as "exams in the school of faith": "a life free from suffering would be a life in which faith in God would be a mere frill"
("A Lamp for My Feet").

I do not want God to be a mere frill in my life. I don't want Him to be a fringe element. I want Him to be the center hub on my life's wheel. I've lived life with Him as only a side spoke, and I don't want to go back to that. I want Him to be my everything, not my something. I want Him to be my all, not my part.

And so, Divine Teacher, keep giving me these exams in your school of faith. Help me pass them, even when I barely squeak by and don't ruin the curve for anybody. And when I am given multiple choices of who to put my faith in, help me always choose you, the best and always right Answer. 

October 17, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 321: Reviver


**A Names of God guest post by Shannon Lenz**

"For this is what the high and exalted One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 'I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.' " (Isaiah 57:15 NIV)

I bought a beautiful mum a few weeks ago. And then forgot to water it for several warm days. I was so disappointed to come out and see how dead it looked. 

Tons of brown, crunchy blossoms. I hoped it wasn’t too far gone.

But I couldn’t just let it go. So I took a pair of scissors to it and was excited to see that there was plenty of life left in it. Beautiful green foliage underneath. When I checked it in the morning, tiny new buds were sprouting all over. 

Soon, it’s going to bush out with new life because all of the dead parts are gone.

Made me think of my relationship with Jesus. Spiritually dead. But Jesus cut away the dead parts. And now, new life keeps sprouting. I wasn’t too far gone, and He didn’t just let me go.

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Shannon Lenz is a writer with a passion for studying God’s word. On her blog, Shannon Lenz: My Faith-My Family-My Stories (shannonlenz.com), she shares what God is teaching her through His word and through her experiences as a wife and mom. Her writing has also been published at Her View From Home. You can find her on Facebook at @ShannonMLenz.

Shannon is a former teacher turned stay-at-home mom. When she’s not writing or chasing kids, she’s reading a book or singing (in the car, at the kitchen sink, or with the praise team at church). She makes her home in Giltner, Nebraska with her husband, Stuart, their two small children, Colton and Millie, and their faithful fur-baby, Maverick.

October 16, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 320: God Who Holds Together

God Who Holds Together

"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17 NIV)

I'm a fall-apart sort of person by nature, so the idea of God holding me together is enormously reassuring. How thankful I am, though, that He is far more than just an idea; He is the "realest" of realities.

The pastor of our church recently preached from Colossians 2:2 (a little further into the book than our key verse today) and shared that the phrase translated "united together" or "knit together" or "drawn together" is a medical term. It carries the idea of skin that's been wounded—broken or separated—being drawn back together in the healing process.

We are all like Humpty Dumpty. We have all had a great fall. We have all been wounded in the fall. All the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put us back together again. 

But the King of kings whose name is Faithful and True who rides a white horse can put us back together again. 

He does not do it, though, so we are as we were. He takes our broken pieces and our jagged edges and knits us back together as new creations. 

While the initial wound may speak of what hurt us, the scar, if there is one, speaks of Who heals us.

Our brokenness may tell what split us apart, but our wholeness tells Who holds us together.

October 15, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 319: Dayspring


"Through the tender mercy of our God, With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luke 1:78,79 NKJV)

"With the loving mercy of our God, a new day from heaven will dawn upon us." (Luke 1:78 NCV)

I was in A Mood the other morning, and my teenage daughter was no doubt glad to leave the house and go to school. When she got there, though, she lived up to her name, which means "grace," and sent me this text: "I hope you have a good day, whether it's easy or you have to choose to."

I really think God invented children in part to be His instruments on earth to knock sense into their parents sometimes.

Easy good days. Chosen good days.

I like the first: the days when "good" isn't something I have to look for or work at.

But the days I have to choose to make or see as good are another story.

In our family, w
e're big on feeling what you feel...on not pretending everything is fine when it isn't. We want our home to be a safe zone for the full range of emotions God created us to experience.

But what, exactly, makes a "good" day good? What can I choose on those hard days when "good" doesn't come easily?

It helps to look at what the Dayspring brought to the "new day" He broke as the divine Dawn.

He brought tenderness...and so I can choose to be tender rather than harsh. That would be good.

He brought mercy...and so I can choose to show mercy, to not give someone "what they deserve." That would be good.

He brought light...and so I can choose to be a light in someone's darkness. That would be good.

He brought guidance...and so I can choose to guide rather than lead astray. That would be good.

He brought peace...and so I can choose to be a peacemaker. That would be good.

The Dayspring has visited us, sweet friends. A new day has dawned. Whether by ease or by choice, may we make it good.

October 14, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 318: King Eternal

King Eternal

"Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Timothy 1:17 NIV)

My older daughter recently gave me a new perspective on an old story. She told me that, in the battle between David and Goliath, "We know how the story turns out."

With the whole of Scripture open before us, we see exactly what kind of victory awaited a shepherd boy going up against a ruthless warrior. But the shepherd boy did not. He acted out of faith in the goodness of the Author of the story.

This is one reason I love to trace the lines of triumph in Scripture: they help me trust that God has written the same lines in my own story; I just haven't turned to the next page yet.

Look at God's directive to Samuel, Israel's last judge: "The LORD said to Samuel, 'How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king' " (1 Samuel 16:1).

Several translations of this verse, including the Word English Bible, change up the last sentence in a way that shines the spotlight on God's supplying hand at work across the ages: "Yahweh said to Samuel, How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go: I will send you to Jesse the Beth-lehemite; for I have provided me a king among his sons" (1 Samuel 16:1).

"I have provided me a king."

How like God: He not only picked the king from Bethlehem, He provided the man for Himself.

But the story line did not end there. Generations later, God would send a young couple "from the house and line of David" (Luke 2:4) to Bethlehem to find God's chosen King...the One He Himself had provided.

And still the story continues. He sends us not to Bethlehem but to His own heart—and tells us, "I have provided you a King. I have chosen my Son. Be on your way to Him."

October 13, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 317: Christos


~ A guest post by Dolores Smyth ~

“And Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ ” (Acts 2:38 NAS)

We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.

We honor the name of Jesus Christ.

We weigh our words and actions with the knowledge that, as Christians, what we say and do can draw others closer to God in the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Old Testament, the Jews longed for a savior king who’d deliver them from their oppressors. The Hebrew word for this promised king was “Messiah,” meaning “the anointed.” In the New Testament, “Messiah” was translated into the Greek as Christos, also meaning “the anointed.” Our English word “Christ” derives from the Greek word Christos

The word “Christ” is so associated with the name of Jesus that little kids often think Christ was Jesus’s last name! Historically, Christos was not a name but a title, reserved for those who were anointed with sacred oil to signify that God had chosen them to act on His behalf. In Biblical times, the term “the anointed one” or “the Lord’s anointed” was used specifically to refer to kings. We see this in David’s reference to King Saul as “the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 24:6).

However, after the Resurrection, the term “the anointed one” or Christos became a title applied exclusively to Jesus by early Greek-speaking Christians. Jesus was the Christos, the Anointed One of God, anointed by the Holy Spirit and not mere earthly oil like those before Him (Acts 10:38).

In using the title Christos exclusively to describe Jesus as the Anointed One, Jesus became not only a king, but the King of Kings.

The name Christos continues to bear witness today as it remains a popular name for males in Greece. Christina (my elder daughter’s middle name) is its female counterpart.

As we await the return of the King of Kings, let’s continue to pray in the name of Jesus Christ for peace and love to overtake our fallen world. Let’s continue to pray that “every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11). 

Dolores Smyth is a mother of three and a freelance writer who writes on faith and families. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk.com and Christianity.com. You can follow more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.  

October 12, 2019

365 Days of the Great Names of God, Day 316: God of the Through

God of the Through

"But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: 'Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.' " (Isaiah 43:1-3 NIV)

A couple years ago, I asked my younger daughter to pray for me about a struggle I'd been messing with for a while. I told her I just felt stuck, like I'd been going around and around in a revolving door and couldn't get out. 

My then-14-year-old asked a few questions and promised to pray.

A day or so later, she handed me a piece of notebook paper filled front and back with her handwriting. At the top, she'd written, "Bible Verses To Help You Through." 

Maybe you're just at the beginning of "through." Maybe you're feeling stuck in the middle of the middle of the middle. Maybe the end is in sight, but you're soul-weary from the journey.

Wherever you're at, I pray these verses and reflections in my daughter's words—shared here with her permission and blessing—will encourage your heart and mind. 

"But the Lord said to her, 'My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about' " (Luke 10:41, 42a).

"Your unfailing love is better than life itself" (Psalm 63:3).

"You satisfy me more than the richest feast" (Psalm 63:5).

**These verses help me to have a better perspective on things. They're a good reminder that the things we are worried about and stress over hold no importance compared to God. The things on earth we allow to hold our delight and joy do not begin to compare to Him and His love for us—His unfailing love that will never leave us empty or needing more, like earthly things do.**

"God is not a man, so He does not lie. He is not human, so He does not change His mind. Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He ever promised and not carried it through?" (Number 23:19).

**This verse puts me at ease. Naturally, as humans, we change constantly. This verse helps me to find peace in the fact that the One Who is greater than any other is constant. We never have to worry that He will change or that His love for us will change. He will always be consistently perfect.**

"For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me—the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!" (Jeremiah 2:13).

**Again, this verse helps me to get a better perspective. We become so upset when worldly things we take delight in fail, yet that is what they're bound to do! He is the only, only, only one who can fulfill us.**

"You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed" (Psalm 139:16).

**I think this verse offers peace, too. There is not one event that will take place in our lives that is too much for God. One bad event, or even many, isn't going to derail His outstanding plan for us. He has a great plan for us, immensely greater than what ours could ever be, and His plan works with the bad times, too.**