You guys. I can’t believe I get to say this at last: the book is coming! I have 98% confidence that it will be available to you in the month of June.
Yes, June of 2020! That’s NEXT MONTH!!
The Moon Is Round: A True Story of Extraordinary Loss, Grief, and the Fight for Faith has been a work 11 years in the making. I started writing after my mom died in 2009. I thought the Lord was calling me to write a book about losing her, but things just weren’t falling into place.
Eleven years and SO much loss later, all the “not yet” has become “NOW!”
I am humbled, emotional, anxious, and excited about it all. I am asking the Lord to do what He wants to do with this book, to prepare the hearts of those who will read it, and to make Himself known.
The book has been read by a small audience at this point — both friends and people I don’t know — and here is what they are saying:
“Molly’s story of unwavering faith in the midst of overwhelming loss is perhaps the most moving thing I have ever read. Well-written with beautiful honesty, this book is both heartbreaking and redemptive, carrying a message of hope for our lives on earth and in eternity. Anyone who has experienced loss will find a friend and fellow sojourner in Molly. It is impossible not be supernaturally inspired by the faith, courage and resilience in these pages. We all have hard battles in this life. I believe God has delivered this book to help many people through those times and it is not to be missed.”
-Ericka Anderson, author of Leaving Cloud 9, podcast host, and contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Christianity Today
I am NOT a book reader, and I couldn’t put this one down!
This is my new very favorite book. Ever.
I’m only on Chapter 10. It is SO good! I’m reading as quickly as I can to know more. It’s so beautiful! I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. And these words make me want to go grab my Bible and read it!
I don’t even have words for how good this is. Readers will be pointed to Jesus on every page!
What an amazing story of God’s redeeming power! Thank you for sharing your story! It touched me deeply. I could not put it down! In fact, I read it all yesterday. You make me want to seek God even more and certainly praise him even more for all He has done in your life and mine. I love the title and the story behind it. There is no doubt in my mind that God will use His words through you to change lives forever. Thank you for your sacrifice of putting your pain, heartache and so much of your time to do His work, to make people see him more clearly and to believe that He is with us every step of the way!
I have already received three personal emails about how the book has helped people process their grief — two people for the FIRST time! It makes me so happy that they can process it with God as they read these pages. That is one of the many reasons I wrote it, and I am humbled that the Lord allows ALL of us to partner with Him in the work He wants to do in the lives of people.
In all these years that you have read my words, prayed for me, and cheered me on — this is the beauty that came from it. He has done what He said He would do. He traded my mourning for joy, my ashes for beauty.
Here’s how YOU can be involved:
Save the image in this post and post it on social media to let your friends know it’s COMING SOON!
Buy the book on LAUNCH DAY! There will NOT be a pre-order, so those Day 1 purchases matter so that Amazon will put it in front of other buyers. If it sells, they’ll help push it, and I want this book to get to the hands of all that need to be reminded of this message. [The book will be available in paperback and e-book for now.] I’ll let you know when Launch Day is finalized!
Leave an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads! I never knew, until now, how important reviews are. They are the #1 thing people look at when buying books these days. DO tell them what you liked about the book or how it moved you. You can also tell them if you didn’t like it. DON’T say things like, “I know the author! She used to babysit my kids!” That is not what a review is for. Amazon will remove those types of reviews.
Share it! Give copies to people in your life who might like it or benefit from it. Ask your local libraries to buy a copy. Post what you liked about it on social media (without giving anything away, of course)!
Finally, as quarantines lift, I would be honored to come share this book, sign copies, speak or preach wherever you’ll have me! So I’d love for you to throw my name in the hat for retreats and events in your area! Who could you share this with NOW?
Thank you, thank you for your love and support over the years. I wrote this book for you. May you come to know His deep love for you even more as you read these pages.
P.S. You may notice that many of the old blog posts have been taken down on my website. That is on purpose. But you will see much of that writing incorporated in this book! 🙂
For a time, I had daily interactions with her. Perhaps it was the difference between our personalities, maybe it was that we valued different things, maybe she just didn’t like me.
All I knew was that interactions with her included eye-rolls. I would ask a question, and she would offer no response.
There were days she’d smile at me, but they were rare. Interactions with her were difficult, and more than once, I cried after seeing her. I found myself dreading the days our paths would intermingle.
For the majority of my life, I’d managed to not ruffle many feathers and could relate to most people in some way or another. I liked being liked, if I was honest. Why was it so hard with this particular person?
As I was praying about this one day, God reminded me of what He’d taught me through another difficult person in my life years before. He reminded me of the life-changing things He did in both of our lives over time as a result of asking Him for help. He promised me He could do it again.
Perhaps you are reading this because you have difficult people in your life now, too. If not presently, maybe you have in the past. I’m certain we will both encounter more in the future.
Difficult people are a part of life. We are all flawed (James 3:2) but I believe God uses our people problems as one of the greatest paths to teach us more about Himself, to slowly rub some of our rough edges smooth.
God’s Word is here to help us. Here are 7 steps to help you to not just deal with but love the difficult people in your life.
1. Love your enemy. Pray for them.
I remember the moment I was literally crying to God about a difficult person in my life. “She’s my enemy!” I said to Him, shocked to have an enemy, because I didn’t think I did. I surprised myself at the word. Was it wrong to have an enemy?
Though as I read the Bible, I am reminded that having enemies is a normal part of the human experience. David, in the Psalms, prayed to God about his enemies, asking the Lord to “arrange an evil person to turn on him. Send an accuser to bring him to trial. When his case is called for judgement, let him be pronounced guilty. Count his prayers as sins. Let his years be few; let his position be given to someone else” (Psalm 109:6-8).
Was I really allowed to pray that about someone? David did. He regularly prayed honestly to God about the hardest things, including his enemies and the difficult people in his life. Rather than taking matters into his own hands, however, he is asking the Lord to do these things.
So, I told God what I honestly felt toward this person, and then I asked, “I know You are the One who fights for us, but what am I supposed to do about this?”
“I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).
If we want to obey Him, to act like His children, we have to choose to act in love even if we don’t feel love toward them.
This is really easy to do…until you actually have to do it.
How do we love them? Pray. Pray for those who roll their eyes at you. Pray for those who bulldoze you. Pray for those who don’t listen to you. Pray for those who act in ways that offend you. Pray for them to know Him. Pray for them to learn of His peace and His love and His acceptance of them. Pray for their families. Pray that they would have fun, that something would delight them that day.
So, I decided to pray. Let me assure you, every part of my human-self did not want to pray for this person. I wanted to be angry. I wanted to resent. I wanted to hold on to my loathing. But as I slowly heard the words slip through my lips to God about her good, my heart started to soften.
She was no longer my enemy. She was someone whom I wanted to know His love, too.
2. Know the real enemy.
So, we have enemies. That’s part of being human. It’s easy for us to look at a person’s behavior and think they are The Worst. It can feel like a battle. But the greater truth is this:
“For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).
One of the ways our Enemy works is influence. He whispers lies into our minds that make us act in ways that hurt people. He says things like, “If you admit you have needs, you’ll look weak,” or “power and position will make you happy,” or “if you hurt her, you’ll feel better” and our “enemies” believe it. They act the way they do out of their thinking…and so do we.
When your enemy acts in a way that is hurtful, remember that it comes out of what The Enemy whispered to them. Let us remember that our battle (in ourselves and with others) is not actually with this human being before us, but with the Enemy of God.
3. Find hot coals.
Once I started praying for my enemy and against the Enemy on her behalf, the Lord reminded me of another step. He didn’t want me to stop at prayer.
If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the Lord will reward you (Proverbs 25:21-22).
Once we can pray for our enemies, He asks us to take care of them – to give them food to eat and water to drink, for instance. This is not an exhaustive list; rather, it is to show us the point that we need to offer our time, resources, and attention to their needs. My enemy had no physical needs. So, I asked the Lord to show me: What are her needs?
Remember her family trouble? He reminded me. She didn’t have physical needs, but perhaps she had emotional needs. Perhaps she needed someone to listen.
So, within the week, I sought her out when I knew she would be free for a moment. I made small talk about the weekend, and then when her family was brought up, I asked, “What has it been like lately? How are you doing?” I sat on a table so she’d know I was sticking around for her real answer, not just the happy one. I wanted to hear the truth.
Then, she told me the vulnerable reality of her situation, and the Lord allowed me to have empathy for her. I understood what she was working through when she was at home. Soon, I even had a tiny pocket of compassion for her and a small understanding of why she reacted the way she did to things.
When we take time to care for our enemies needs, we just may get a window into their hearts.
4. You can’t do it. He can.
So, I started praying and listening, and I felt I was making progress. Then, she did that thing that made me so angry again, and I was back to, “Lord, I can’t do this. Why is she in my life? Why is she so rude? I can’t do it.”
The gentle Whisper came again, “No, you can’t. But in Me, you can. I will help you do it.” Sometimes, the best thing we can do is admit that we can’t. It was not in my capacity to show love to someone so rude to me.
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness,” said Jesus in 2 Corinthians 12:9. When we admit we can’t, we are ready to receive what only He can do. So I continued to pray, “Lord, I can’t love her the way You want me to. Help me. I need You to give me love for her.”
Once I quit trying to scrounge up some love for her on my own power (which was never going to happen), I was ready for Him to give me a supernatural love for her. And over time, He did.
5. Take on the form of a servant.
A few days later, I read: “Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself…You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. ‘Though he was God, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a servant’” (from Philippians 2).
If God was willing to leave his high position, then I needed to leave my pride. This was the hardest part for me, because I thought I “deserved” to be treated a certain way, but Jesus demonstrated how we can let that go. In letting go of how we think people should speak to us or respond to us, we are freed to love them better.
“Be humble,” He whispers. “Let them win. Let them have the high position. Let them have the better answer. Let them have the last word.”
“Serve them,” He whispers. “Bring them a treat, encourage them, take on one of their responsibilities, and while you do, pray for them.”
I didn’t not want to hold my tongue and let her have the last word. I did not feel like doing the task she was supposed to do. I knew she wouldn’t thank me for it either. But could I trust Jesus knew what He was doing?
So, I said, “Lord, I don’t feel like doing this for her, but if you tell me to serve her anyway, I want to obey You. I’m doing this for You. I know You see it, and You appreciate it. Please change my attitude.”
And as I did the task she was supposed to do and prayed for her while doing it, He put more love in my heart for her. But only AFTER I started doing the task.
Obeying God by serving others when we don’t feel like it always produces good fruit.
6. We plant. God grows.
I wanted fast results, and that wasn’t happening. I wanted her to change, and she wasn’t. It took years for me to see any softening. And during those years, God softened my hard heart, too.
During those years, I read 1 Corinthians 3:6-7 where Paul says to the people, “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow. It’s not important who does the planting or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow.”
What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. We get to plant seeds of prayer, seeds of service, and seeds of our sacrifice, and others will come along and encourage what we have planted…but God is the one who makes them grow.
We plant, and we leave the rest to Him.
7. Remember you could be someone’s difficult person, too.
The easiest thing for us to do is focus on how difficult others are. However, we must remember that we are someone’s difficult person, too.
Perhaps our personality rubs them the wrong way, maybe the sound of our voice angers them, or maybe our sudden presence in their lives is unwelcomed for some reason.
I cringe at the thought that I could frustrate someone to this end, but I am certain I do. With that in mind, let us approach one another with grace and mercy and humility. God is growing all of us.
So, what happened with these difficult people?
God’s grown ALL of us over the years – both our love for Him and for each other. One difficult person started doing Bible study with me, and she became a dear friend. I genuinely love her and want the best for her. Only God could surprise me by having those words come out of my mouth!
Another difficult person later told me the impact my faith had on her life. We are not best friends, but we have more love and respect for each other now. I continue to pray she will come to know Jesus in a personal way some day.
There will always be difficult people in our lives. And God is always growing all of us. We don’t have to be stuck in our hurt, anger, and frustration toward people who are difficult for us. There are important things we can DO, now! What seeds of love can you plant today that, by God’s gracious kindness, will produce an unimaginable harvest in the future?
I believe He wants to blow our minds with the fruit of love He can produce regarding the difficult people in our lives. But we’ve got to start planting.
I could feel the tears welling behind my eyes. I distracted myself by unloading toilet paper
in the bathroom cabinet. I sensed my
husband, Guy, was trying to make eye contact with me, but I just couldn’t or
the dam would burst.
He sat down and patted his leg, an invitation for me to come
sit. So, I did. Here it
comes, I thought.
As soon as I sat, two tears rolled silently down my cheek.
“Is life hard today? You’ve been quiet all afternoon,” he
said. I nodded. “What’s hard?”
“Being a stepmom,” I replied, wishing that it weren’t true.
“Tell me how.”
“I don’t know what’s worth sharing and what I should just
get over,” I said.
“Tell me,” he repeated gently.
It took courage for me to let the words pass through my
lips. I didn’t want to hurt him with
something I would say.
Finally, I mustered the truth.
“Sometimes I feel like an outsider in my own home,” I said
as the tears fell harder.
I have run marathons and half marathons. I’ve taught classrooms full of squirrely
children. I’ve buried my mom and my
oldest son. I’ve weathered the storm of
an unwanted divorce. I’ve moved from a
city in one state to a small town in another.
But nothing has challenged me as much as being a stepmom for
one single reason – nothing has required more sacrifice coupled with less
His daughters were 8 and 11 when I married their dad, and
they are two of the most incredible people on the planet! At the time, I lived alone with a dog and
cat, so stepping into their home as a stepmom meant tremendous change for my
In my conversations with my husband, he openly admits that
he does not know what my experience is like since I did not bring children into
our marriage. He tells me that he wants
to know, and I imagine there are other husbands who might want to know what
it’s like for their wives.
So, here are 10 things to remember as you support your wife
that you want to know what it’s like for her is the biggest gift. When my husband invites me to share what
is hard, it removes much of the weight.
I no longer feel that I have to carry it alone. His questions, as a way of gaining
understanding, make us partners and debunk the lie that I need to hide my
emotions and protect myself. It shows me how much he cares about me.
to be good stepmom. Fairy tales,
like Cinderella, depict step-mothers as
evil and unloving. But the step-moms I
know are the exact opposite of that. The
stepmoms I know are kind, sacrificial, and loving probably because they are
kind, sacrificial, and loving people to begin with. This is a new role to me. I
didn’t know how to be a stepmom to them, but I am learning, because I want to
be a great one, as do the step-moms I encounter.
for your biological children is an innate feeling; hers is an action by choice. My love for all of my children is equal but
different. I’ve borne two sons myself,
and there is an inherent love for the child whom you carried, who shares your
DNA. Loving everyone else on the planet
is a choice. I am aware that I am not as
naturally patient or generous toward people who did not grow in my womb or vice
versa. But I want to love my step-kids
deeply, and we are growing in love
for one another. But I know that they don’t love me the same inherent way they
love their dad and their mom. I know these relationships will take time to
grow, and I appreciate it when my husband points out the ways he sees me love
the kids and the ways he sees them love me back.
your patience as you listen to her disappointments. I had no idea what I
was actually signing up for when I said yes to being a stepmom, because it’s so
much more than making extra food at dinner and going to their sporting events. I think Mike Jantzen worded it perfectly when
he said, “She is always settling for less than she hoped for. You may have been
a great catch, but what tagged along shattered some of her dreams. No woman dreams of sharing finances between
two households, or of always having another woman’s schedule and decisions
affect her life. Her romantic ideals did not include having dates with you
interrupted by text messages from your ex.”
These instances, and countless others, are daily reminders that this is
not the life we dreamt about, and sometimes we need to express it, be
understood, and then we can move on.
time with you is a necessity. Most
couples get a few years, at least, of just the two of them. You did not get that. “I do” meant “I do their spelling words with
them starting now.” She is happy to
help. But she married you for YOU. A
regular date night will do wonders for the connection, trust, and fun in your
relationship. Get it on the calendar and
guard it. Put your phones down and only
respond to emergency texts that need to be dealt with immediately. Two hours away is enough to recharge for a
She needs a place of her own. When the kids are at our place, their stuff
finds its way to every room in the house.
I was not prepared for the take-over that happens when they walk in the
door, and she may not be used to the chaos that comes with kids either. But
even a seasoned mom needs a place to catch her breath. Maybe it’s a room, maybe it’s a chair in a
corner of your bedroom. Just make sure
there’s a door. Retreating for a little
while produces energy she’ll need later.
you to notice her efforts. All
parents need affirmation, but for stepmoms, it’s even more important. She may not receive the hugs and “I love
you”s that Dad receives, despite doing as much for them as he does. Model the “Thanks for making dinner for us”
and encourage the kids to say a simple “thank you” when she does something
special for them. Then, when you have a
moment just the two of you, point out the ways she’s sacrificed or the things
you admire about her parenting. You will
be her most important cheerleader, and your praise will make a huge difference.
really hard having another woman influence her
home. This was perhaps the most shocking part for me at first. The kids’ mom has not been inside our house
since I’ve been living in it, yet, her presence is everywhere. I hear the kids talking to her on the phone every
night. Her decisions affect our schedule
– like when the kids will be at our house or not, what activities they do, how
we spend our money, etc. She’s not cruel
about it; I just wasn’t prepared to not be the sole woman who runs my home, and
it is really hard for me. I (and even
our infant son) sometimes take a backseat to what she decides for the sake of her
kids, and that is something I have to constantly surrender. Again, she’s not
being mean, and I think she’s a great mom.
And yet, her decisions affect us. When I dreamt of being a mother, this
was not how I pictured my family’s home would be.
She wants to be a decision maker. When there are decisions to be made, the
results will impact me and affect our home, so I want my husband to include me
on the decisions as much as possible. When
I talk with moms of nuclear families, they are the decision makers for almost
everything – dinners, schedules, activities— and get to run their family life
how they want with the partnership of their husband. My husband and his kids were used to making
decisions without me for years, so it was a shift for all of us. The kids will
get to run their own home and make all the decisions when they’re adults
someday. Today, they are kids, and we are the adults. I appreciate when my
husband pulls me aside and asks for my input before asking the kids. It’s another (huge) gesture that makes me
feel that we’re a team.
She wants to build a “we”. Despite all of these difficulties and
challenges, I would still choose him.
His eyes still make my heart race and his smile makes me giddy. I love watching him as a dad, and I grow more
madly in love with him every day. I
think we make the best team, and there’s no one I’d rather wrangle all this
craziness with than him.
So, there on my husband’s leg, I told him all the ways I
feel like an outsider in my own home (as listed above).
“Dad, Daaad?” a child yelled as she came around the corner.
“Hold on, Honey,” he said. “I’ll be there in a second.” But
she kept coming until she saw my back to her, and I didn’t turn around. “I’ll
be right there,” he said again.
“Oh,” she replied when she saw me wiping tears. She walked
I continued to cry, and my husband continued to listen, acknowledging
my feelings and difficulties. When I had
said all I needed to say, he said, “Well, I can’t pretend that I know how you
feel, but I will listen…and cry with you.”
I looked up and into his eyes for the first time since the
conversation started. I saw his tears.
And that was really all I needed.
Because, husbands, what it really boils down to is a
step-mom just needs to know she’s not alone.
It’s been over ten years since I was handed my cross.
Mom and Dad asked my sisters and I to come over for news from the doctor. Once we’d all gathered in the living room, Dad became solemn. “The doctor has decided there’s nothing more to do. It’s time to stop treatment,” he said as tears pooled in his eyes. He put his head in his hands and wept. I squeezed Mom’s hand tighter.
And with those words, a cross was placed on my back. A death began that day.
There are some really bizarre phrases in the Bible. There are sentences we read and question, “What
does that even mean?” Sometimes it takes
us years of mulling over the words, of turning it in our hand like a gem to see
the light come in and sparkle from different angles, before we see the beauty
Jesus said words that were easy to understand as well as
some that take some mulling.
One of the phrases I have a new perspective of is found in the books Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Five different times, Jesus tells us “take up your cross.”
If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any
of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. Matt. 16:24
Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he
said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own
way, take up your cross, and follow
me. Mark 8:34
Then he said to the crowd, “If any
of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow
me. Luke 9:23
And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27
In high school, I equated a cross with suffering. I assumed “taking up our cross” meant we
would all have to suffer in life, so we should embrace it, plan for it.
That was one perspective, and I think that IS part of what
Jesus was saying.
But now I also see it means more than just suffering; it
That’s what a cross is. It’s a death tool. For Jesus, a cross would usher in His physical death, and our crosses cause death as well.
For us, it means dying to ourselves – our quest for comfort,
our control, our desire for money or our pride.
Before my mom died, I hadn’t had to carry a cross. Life was easy. Yes, I’d had a couple break-ups, but I
recovered. I lived in a nice part of
town with my dream teaching job and a new husband and puppy. Then, Death came creeping into my neatly
I am thankful it did.
My cross rustled me from my comfort. Death snapped me out of the trance of Me – my plans, my comfort, my control – and got me thinking about His plans, His comfort, His control.
Allow me to blow my own cover: I would not have chosen my cross, even though Jesus tells us it’s for our good. I would have continued creeping toward comfort and my own plans had it not been for God coming behind me, lifting me up by my shoulders, and setting me back down in a new direction (against my will).
But it didn’t take me long to see it was a grace.
I remember the week after my mom died, I was sitting in that
same living room again. Over the course
of her illness and death, I had experienced God in fresh, personal ways. Ways I’d always wanted to experience but
Suddenly, a verse popped into my mind: “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine…” Wow, I thought. I can’t believe that even though I want her here so badly, I don’t want to trade what I’ve come to know about You, Lord. I know where she is and that I’ll see her again. Then it continues, “or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
And I got it! I had found life, because I’d finally seen Jesus for the first time in my life. But it took a death.
Sometimes I asked, “Why, Jesus? Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t I have You AND all the things and
people I want?”
Because He also said, “No one can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). We think we can, but we can’t.
We can follow our own desires and plans OR we can follow His.
But notice Jesus isn’t strong-arming us into this. He says, “If…” If we want to be His followers, we have to
give up our own way.
I surrendered my plans ten years ago, AND I have to continue to do it. That’s why He said, “take up your cross daily.” It’s not a one-and-done. New circumstances keep arising in my life where I have to pick up the cross and die to myself every single day.
But He also never leaves us empty-handed. Ever. What
does He give us for this costly trade?
He says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if
you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if
you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than
your soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
We get to experience the true meaning of LIFE which goes beyond this earthly life. And not only that, but Jesus says in the next verse that He “is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.”
When Jesus places a cross on our back, it’s not a punishment. It’s a resurrection tool. He wants to put to death the parts of us that do not reflect Him so that we can point the world to Him.
When I think about the most joyful and content people I know, they are the ones who’ve carried their cross and followed Jesus. They’ve lost children, endured irreversible injuries, experienced unwanted divorce, battled cancer, and are living with chronic illness.
They’ve died to themselves and Christ has raised them up with hope, joy, and a deep and life-giving knowledge of who He is. And they can’t help but radiate, because they have found LIFE. Just as He said: “If you give up your life for Me, you will find it.”
Maybe there’s nothing big in your life right now, but we die to ourselves in small ways, too. When you just want to go to bed, but she suddenly remembers she hasn’t studied for the test that is tomorrow. When someone takes the credit for your work, and you let it go. When they’re dilly-dallying in the left lane for ten minutes, and as you finally pass them, you choose not to glare.
Not all crosses are huge.
Die. To. Self.
I have a sign in my closet that is my mantra right now. It’s the lyrics from an Elevation Worship song, “O Come to the Altar.” The words of the final refrain are:
Bear your cross
As you wait for the crown
Tell the world
Of the treasure you’ve found
It reminds me of this calling to bear the cross which God has placed on me. It probably looks very different than the one He’s placed on you, but there is a personal purpose to the cross He places on each person. He says, “take up YOUR cross” (emphasis mine). Only He knows the work He is doing in each person, but we are all given the chance to die to ourselves…so that we may LIVE.
Let’s be people who bear it well, which won’t be easy. But He promises a reward for those who do. And as we wait patiently for it, let’s not miss the opportunity to radiate what God has done in us. Let’s tell the world how He has resurrected us from our former selves. Let’s tell them about the treasure He’s given us in the midst of the darkness!
He’s not being cruel.
He is saving our very souls.
I’ve carried this cross for over ten years – loss of a mom, loss of a son, loss of a marriage and a home, loss of all the plans I had for myself – and yet my soul feels sure and strong. The cross is doing the work He promised.
And HE. IS. THE. TREASURE.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[l] Is anything worth more than your soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
I never felt more unsure of myself than that moment.
“What?” I whispered to her, praying that I had misheard.
“I think you have poop on your pants,” Candice whispered back. The mixed expression of terror and empathy on her face told me she was not joking.
My 6th grade mind flashed to the events leading up to this point: I’d fed my horse that morning. I’d sat on a beam in the barn. In my white pants (that’s a middle schooler for ya). I was late so I raced to the bus without checking a mirror. And now, I had just stood in front of my third period 6th grade English class confidently editing a sentence on the board. With evidence of someone’s defecation for all to see.
Yep, you’re still not cool, I reminded myself. How could you have been so dumb?
The bell rang. Candice and I stood up. She offered me her sweatshirt to tie around my waist since my mom wasn’t able to bring me pants and there was not one-single-way I was borrowing a pair from the nurse’s office. Heck no.
“I’ll wash it tonight,” I whispered gratefully as I took her sweatshirt. We headed down the 6th grade hallway toward our lockers. I now had a new understanding of the subtle stench I’d been smelling all morning.
And so, it was with countless experiences like this during my 6th and 7th grade years that I label them as my “Lowest Confidence Years.” Perhaps you can relate?
But to battle that confidence problem, God placed a middle-school warrior smack-dab into my life. His name was Charlie Campbell. He was the father of two other girls my age, and he was a youth group volunteer.
On Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings, beat down by comparisons of popularity and athletic prowess – both of which I lacked – I would open the heavy, front doors of the church with anticipation and a little confidence, expecting to hear that big, booming voice proclaim, “Weeeeeeell, look who just walked in! Mac! How the heck are ya?” The smile on Charlie’s face told me he was legitimately glad to see me. ME, of all people. Molly McCracken, a.k.a Mac to him.
In that moment, the anxiety of the girls’ locker room would disappear, and I’d feel peace and confidence expand in me like the steady inflating of a balloon.
At school, I was a quiet, unsure Molly. But at church, I was a loud, confident Mac. Because Charlie blew life and confidence into me each week.
During those years, my favorite place to be was at church. It’s where I felt the best about myself.
That’s what a good nickname can do (and an adult who keeps showing up…I see you, youth workers!)
(Side note: eventually, my sister would join the youth group, also with the last name McCracken, so then I became Big Mac and she was Little Mac. I couldn’t tell Charlie that no teenage girl wants to be BIG anything, so I never said a word. I just embraced being Big Mac, which he still calls me to this day. Eventually our other two younger sisters would also enter the youth group and become Mini Mac and Micro Mac to Charlie.)
Jesus knew the power of a good nick name, too.
In Mark chapter 3, Jesus selects His twelve disciples. Verses 16-19 list the twelve names, and next to James and John, the Bible tells us that they are both sons of a man named Zebedee, so we know they are brothers. Then, it says, “But Jesus nicknamed them ‘Sons of Thunder.’”
This line just makes me smile so big. Jesus, often known as a party-killer in today’s society, is the one making the nick names. I’m telling you He was a FUN GUY. People LOVED being around Him, and children couldn’t get enough of Him. And children know the fun people. Let this always remind you that if you’d been around Him back then, you would have really liked Jesus. And it’s one more reason that Heaven will be so. much. fun!!
Anyway, as a teacher, I can picture these two brothers. I’ve known a few “sons of thunder” in my day. You see them coming through the doors, their hands all over each other, their feet always at full-speed, their mouths constantly pouring forth words…and loudly.
I’ve known some “sons of thunder” as a student, too. Algebra class. Two friends, like brothers, and when they walked into the classroom, the mood changed. They’d often announce their presence to everyone, and I sometimes wondered if our teacher’s deep breath and slow blink revealed her thought: Really, can they never be absent? Not just once?
Nice boys. But they were a lot. They were loud and demanded attention. Like thunder.
So, I can see that when James and John arrived to a place where Jesus had told the disciples to meet, that they didn’t arrive quietly. I can imagine that they always had something to say, and it was probably never calmly.
Some resources say it means they had a nasty temper, too. They were quick to get angry and be defensive. Outbursts of rage.
Why would two brothers be this way? It makes me wonder what their childhood was like. Was their dad angry? Did he work too much and never have time for them? Maybe their mom lacked confidence (or sleep) and parented from desperation which allowed them to get away with too much, to steamroll people? Were they outcasts in society, mocked by the other kids? Did something worse happen to them? Why were they so angry?
I don’t know. But Jesus did. And He wanted them anyway. He truthfully but lovingly acknowledged this personality trait of theirs that everyone noticed. He gave them a nickname about it. And whenever they arrived, I bet He’d say something like, ““Weeeeeeell, look who just walked in! Here come The Sons of Thunder! How the heck are ya?” The smile on Jesus face told them He was legitimately glad to see them. THEM, of all people. James and John Zebedee, a.k.a “The Sons of Thunder” to Jesus.
These two rowdy guys would be changed by Jesus’ love for them. James, John and Peter would be the only three witnesses of the transfiguration of Jesus when His human appearance transformed in front of them, and they saw who He really was. Dead Elijah and Moses joined them miraculously for that event, too (see Matthew 17:1-9). It was a very powerful moment, something humans don’t normally see, I’d imagine. I wonder what all Jesus said there.
But this love in the person of Jesus would lead Rowdy James to become the very first martyr after Christ’s death and resurrection. And Rambunctious John, who nicknamed himself “The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved,” – probably half-jokingly and half because he knew it to be true – would go on to write the books of John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and Revelation. Two unlikely men with two eternal purposes.
A loving nickname can do that. A nickname can make you feel seen, confident, and the most loved. It is a seal of the depth of your relationship, a smile-inducing name reserved for a certain prized person. It can also be the spade that first breaks open the hard soil of hearts to let Love in.
Of course nicknames can also tear down. But that’s not what Charlie did, and it’s not the kind of nick names Jesus gives us.
Do you wonder what nick name Jesus would give you? The name that only He would call you because of the time and experiences you’ve had together, or the name He uses to tease you about that one thing. Never cutting, just funny.
Perhaps He identifies the thing He knows He wants to mold in us the most, reminding us that we can stay light-hearted about it because He already knows where He plans to grow us.
“The Sons of Thunder” may have originally been known for their loud and booming (and perhaps a bit obnoxious) ways, like the kind of annoying thunder that wakes a finally sleeping child. But by the end of their lives, Jesus used them to leave a loud, explosive, and resounding mark on humanity, like the kind of robust and rumbling thunder that makes your mouth drop open in awe.
Ask Jesus what He calls you.
Whatever He sees in you, He has a plan to make your mouth drop open, if you let Him.
[Another side note: it wasn’t until writing this that I remembered the nick name “Big Mac.” I smiled because we just named our son Mac (in honor of my dad who does not have a son to carry on the McCracken name) and a middle name Martin (in honor of Guy’s dad who has passed away). Then, Mac entered the world at a whopping 9 pounds and 6 ounces, so he earned himself the nick name “Big Mac.” Yet another reminder to me that God is always weaving the best stories. Even when I was in middle school, God already knew about another Big Mac that would enter my life one day during a season of redemption. You sneaky God!]
If you come into our house today, you might question whether you are amidst hoarders.
Our den has become the holding place for all that was already in the den, plus the laundry room, plus everything that goes in our bedroom…including our bed which is right smack-dab in the middle of all of it. There is no door. I holler down the hallway when I’m changing so the girls won’t accidentally walk in and have images of their post-partum step-mother in their head that should never be.
With the hope of a baby coming, last March, we decided to add a bedroom to our home. It would be finished in June, just in time for me to organize and set things up while I was off for the summer. Plenty of time, I assured myself.
It’s now December. We’re sleeping in the den in the middle of cleaning products, random pieces of piled furniture, an over-sized box of dog bones, and baskets of unfolded laundry. For the past six months, my first-born tendencies toward order and comfort have been stripped away slowly week-by-unfinished-week.
A month before our boy was to be born, I woke up one Saturday morning, overwhelmed that our son would not be coming home to the clean, organized, decorated house I had envisioned. Our space was nowhere near ready for him. There was no nursery set up yet. Instead, he would have to sleep in a rocker next to our bed. In the den with no door. Next to a box of dog bones.
As it was, I already had to climb over stacks of books and laundry to get into my bed. That meant I needed to clear a spot for him…amid the mess.
As my belly kept growing, people continued to ask about his nursery (which still had not even been started), so I’d respond by saying that similarly to Jesus’ birth, there is no room at the inn!
This was just not what I had ever envisioned when bringing a baby into the world.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
This beautiful verse creates a delicate scene in my mind. Mary, whether by choice or by necessity, didn’t focus on the fact that there were not cozy, ideal conditions for her son. Perhaps she panicked, as I did, when she realized His welcome wouldn’t be how she ‘d envisioned it. I wonder how long it took her to accept what would have to be. As she set her squinky-faced baby in a feeding trough, did she chuckle to herself because she knew she’d tell Him this story for the rest of His life? Though her swaddle probably didn’t include Velcro and the name of a hospital on the front of it, I would guess she smiled as she saw Him settle into the comfort of His snugly wrap, ready for His first milk-induced nap with a look of contentment on His kissable face.
Maybe it was in that moment she realized that those things really didn’t matter. He was finally here. He was hers. That was all that mattered.
I felt the same way on December 7th, when our Mac Martin Huffman was placed on my chest. I heard his first, deep cry, and nothing else mattered. He was here, all 9 pounds 6 ounces of our bright-eyed boy, God’s large and lavish gift to me four years after the loss of my first son. And I couldn’t wait to get him home, to our mess.
For the past two weeks, he has been sleeping soundly in the rocker next to me. In the middle of the night, I change his diaper on our bed, and I usually have to clear a spot amid the pillows, clothes, wipes and diapers, but he doesn’t need a lot of space. We all have exactly what we need. More on that and Mac in another post…
Over and over, I think about how Mary did exactly what God asks us to do during the Christmas season. Despite the circumstances around her, she still made a place for Him. As the classic carol proclaims, He simply wants us to “prepare Him room.”
No matter what our circumstances may be, He doesn’t care. He doesn’t need us to clean everything up for Him. He just wants us to clear a small space for Him in the midst of the mess, the chaos and the questions – to prepare a place for Him right where we are.
No matter what season you are in, my friend, He wants to be invited in. Whether you’re doubting Him, you’re angry at Him, you’re not sure what to think about Him, or you’re overjoyed in Him this Christmas season, can you clear a small space for Him there?
He won’t force His way in, but His birth, which ushered Him willingly from the perfection of a Heavenly kingdom to a lifetime of human pain and a death of suffering, proves He loves us. It proves He is on our side.
He came for us. And for our mess.
So, may we prepare room for Him.
May we arrange, assemble, and make ready a space for Him this season before it is passed.
May we find a time to slow down in the silence, even for a moment, and welcome Him to come into our lives to do what He wants in us this next year.
May we prepare a small spot, cleared in the chaos, to allow Him to whisper His love and care into our hearts and doubts.
As the carol also says, despite the curse of sadness, death, and fear we find here on Earth, He comes to make His blessings flow in the hard things.
We just have to prepare Him room to do it.
Joy to the Word
Joy to the World; The Lord is come;
Let Earth receive her King: Let every Heart prepare him room,
And Heaven and Nature sing.
Joy to the Earth, The Saviour reigns;
Let Men their Songs employ;
While Fields & Floods, Rocks, Hills & Plains
Repeat the sounding Joy.
No more let Sins and Sorrows grow,
Nor Thorns infest the Ground:
He comes to make his Blessings flow
Far as the Curse is found.
He rules the World with Truth and Grace,
And makes the Nations prove
The Glories of his Righteousness,
And Wonders of his Love.
The dried toothpaste spittle glared at me from the rim of the plastic, pink kids’ cup. I slowly, begrudgingly placed my rinsed off toothbrush in the cup, taking care to prevent its canoodling with the other toothbrushes propped inside the cup. My face scrunched involuntarily in disgust.
I walked out to the kitchen. Glaring at me through the window was the enormous mud hole in the backyard that will someday become an extra bedroom, but for now, it’s our mud holder. Please Lord, make the rain stop.
So, I went to sit on the couch to just take a moment. But as I approached the rumpled cushions, there was mud from a dog paw, a blanket of dog fur, and an overall odor of…dog.
And that’s when it hit me: I miss that little apartment sometimes.
Today, I am back in my hometown for a few days to speak at a conference. I came a few days early to celebrate a friend and her baby. The party played a slideshow of church trips, vacations, and every day moments that she and I had shared with our other lifelong friends. As I looked at the smiling faces in the photos, I was so grateful, but there was also a tiny ache.
I stayed in the home of another friend, a place that has brought me so much comfort during the darkest days, and I longed for that season with her again, despite how hard my life was during that time. Her beautiful, decorated, and organized home reminded me of the beautiful, decorated, organized home I had back then. I loved that house.
I drove around the manicured streets of my city, ate delicious food, and laughed with the people who know me the deepest. I know it’s not for everyone, but for me it’s so comfortable here.
Life has changed dramatically even since one year ago when I lived in the comfort of my own, quiet apartment where everything was in its place, dogs stayed off the furniture, and I had all the spacious closets to myself.
After getting married in October, I was sling-shot from quiet comfort to a four-ring circus where I no longer independently control the schedule, the food, the money, or even where I sit during a movie night. It’s been a shock at times. I remember pieces of my life before today and long to return to their comfort.
“Lord,” I’ve prayed from my new home in Kentucky, “I want to be here. I love being married to Guy more than anything. But what do I do with these yearnings that creep up sometimes for moments and places and friendships from the past? Help me to find contentment and peace with where I am today.”
One particular Saturday morning, after a long week of crazy, I found myself sitting at home alone. The movies of the past were playing in my head, and I longed for a calmer and cleaner house, closer entertainment and shopping options, and the convenience of popping over to a close friend’s house to chat. I could not get these things out of my mind.
It wasn’t that I regretted my move, because being loved by Guy has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. But I was so exhausted by the mental run-around of constantly wishing I could have some things the way they used to be.
Do you ever get stuck there?
So, I sat down on the couch. I remembered what all God had brought me through – deaths, divorce, and loss upon loss – and I was so grateful. During that season, I can remember thinking, at least my friends and my home haven’t changed. I’m glad some important things get to stay the same.
And yet now, even those things are different. Help, Lord!
I began reading where I’d left off, Philippians 3. Paul said, “No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Jesus Christ, is calling us up to heaven” (vs. 13).
In the verses previous, Paul had just listed his human qualifications, education, and prestigious positions. I bet Paul experienced the comforts this life had to offer. I wonder what it was like for him to give all that up in order to follow where Christ was calling him – traveling the world in harsh conditions to tell people about Christ. Maybe as a kid Paul just wanted to reach the highest rank of Pharisee (I don’t even know what that would be), but maybe then he could have a comfortable and predictable life. Sometimes I think that’s what I want when I’m really honest with myself.
But instead, Paul, who used to have a plush life, is telling us to “forget what is behind.” I’d read this verse a dozen times in reference to the painful parts of my past, but suddenly it smacked me between the eyes with a new meaning: sometimes “forgetting what is behind” means we even have to forget (or turn our focus from) the GOOD things that are behind us so that we can focus on what is ahead of us.
I’d never thought that I might need to forget the good things of the past by not giving them so much thought.
Later in Philippians 4, Paul tells us the secret to his contentment. “…For I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need” (Phil. 4:11-13).
With the help of Christ, we can forget what is behind and focus on what He is doing right now right in front of us.
I can focus not on the crusty toothpaste cup but on the two young lives I get to pour into.
I can focus not on the mud hole but on the home the Lord is building within these walls that is a love like I’ve never known before.
I can focus not on the nasty couch made possible by a particularly crazy dog who has rubbed off on my calm dog, but on the ways I’m getting to learn and choose to love all of God’s creations. And bless his doggy heart, he sure tries to sit calmly sometimes…we’re both learning.
When I’m tempted to stew on the good things of the past, I can choose to make my mind remember that Jesus is doing something good now. And that’s where He wants me to place my thoughts. He’s still not done with this story.
Today, I sit in a quiet, clean space to work. But all I can think about it getting home to that currently cramped and chaotic place we call home. I’m thankful for a fresh perspective and a reminder that God wants my attention only on today and what good He’s preparing to do next.
When I walk through that door on Tuesday night, I might feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life after he gets a second chance at his crazy, beautiful life. I might even exclaim like George, “I love you crusty toothpaste cup! I love you mud hole! I love you nasty couch!”
It’s all about perspective: We forget what is behind. We strain toward what is ahead.