If You Ask

I’m noticing all the asking in the book of Matthew. It’s not the verb that stumps me, though. It’s the word “faith.” In particular, it’s this verse from Matthew 21: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

I’ve been thinking about what it means to have this prayer-answering faith and how to increase my faith.

I know that God assigns a certain measure of faith to people (Romans 12) but that our faith can grow (2 Thessalonians 1:3). I know that our faith comes from hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). I know faith is something given by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:9). I know, most importantly that Jesus is the “founder and perfecter” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). We look to Jesus and our faith grows. Faith also grows in the good deeds we do (James 2:17). I know our faith is tested so it might grow (1 Peter 1:7).

As I think about growing my faith in prayer specifically, I thank God for giving me the Bible to help my faith grow. I thank God for the trials and opportunities to serve that help faith grow. I look more and more at Jesus and see my faith grow. It seems that every situation becomes an opportunity to help our faith grow. What a different way to see our situation!

I pray God increases our faith in prayer. May we say at the end of January that it was a month our faith in prayer grew. 

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Staying In

I thought I would venture out in the beautiful snow, but it’s a mere 18 degrees. I know for some of my more northern friends, this might feel warm. But for me, at least today, I stay bundled under quilts in the warmth of my upstairs office. It’s an evening to watch the snow, not walk it in.

Once, a younger me had no problem throwing on all the layers to go out in the snow. An older me weighs her options and decides to stay warm for once. It’s just a small thing I notice about aging. You do indeed mind the cold more. That’s OK.

Maybe tomorrow.

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In Winter

I talk to my friend about what it means to become like a child in winter. Here in Pennsylvania, we’re expecting a big storm tomorrow–maybe up to 10 inches of snow! I felt a little dread. I longed for the beach. I shivered in my thermal coat. But then, just when I felt the dreariness of grey skies, icy sidewalks, and bitter cold, I remembered to become like a child.

For children, snow means absolute delight outside: skating, sledding, building snowmen, making snow angels, designing snow forts, and turning the woods into a winter wonderland.

And it’s not only a season for being outside. Being inside in wintertime means the coziness of hot chocolate with plenty of whipped cream, the warmth of a kitchen with soup on the stove, and the sanctuary feeling of a home with candles to light, books to read, and blankets to arrange with room for cats to join you. It’s a slower, contemplative time. One day, I might have a fireplace! Until then, I can watch the snowfall as the sun sets in the forest.

I’m looking forward to a few things including snowflake photography, winter hikes, and skating on Colyer Lake. I’m looking forward to walking in my boots with my YakTrax and returning to hot chocolate. And this week, I’ll make a vegetable dumpling soup. In other news, my husband and I decided we might try an electric blanket to heat the cold bed at night. He wants to learn cross-country skiing this year, too.

When God has you in a certain location, you surrender to it. You realize all the joyful things in store for you right where you are. Sure, I think about my friends in Florida sometimes, but then I remember my particular calling to a season of snow. I fall back into it and wave my arms to make the angels—who were always there—appear. 

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Like Children

This morning I read in Mathew 18 when Jesus says: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

And what is a like child like? In my journal, I write down some key characteristics of a child: utterly dependent, trusting, joyful, resilient.

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Peter and His Fish

In my study of Matthew, I find myself drawn again to the passage in Matthew 17 where it’s time to pay temple taxes. Jesus engages Peter with a line of questioning essentially telling Peter that children of God don’t necessarily have to pay the temple tax, but they should. And then the most curious thing happens: Jesus says, “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Jesus uses the ordinary things of Peter’s life: the lake, the fishing line, the fish. Peter knows all about these things. The lake and fish are his whole life before Jesus calls him to follow Him. But this time? Something whimsical and miraculous happens. The fish Peter will catch will contain the tax money they need in his mouth. Think about it. Did Jesus command the fish to swim to the bottom of the lake and retrieve a coin? Did Jesus make a coin miraculously appear in the mouth of the fish? If so, why not just hand Peter the coin at the beginning? Why make him go fishing? 

It makes me wonder if God kept needing to teach Peter this new way of kingdom living with Him. It will always involve the miraculous and supernatural alongside the ordinary things of life. It will always involve provision and power in ways we aren’t expecting. I also notice that Peter had to obey God to see the miracle. He had to go fishing–something probably at this point mundane and boring to him. Sometimes, I’m learning, the miracle comes where we’re just doing ordinary things. To the outsider (and even to ourselves), we’re just going about the day. But the whole time, God is behind the scenes and about to do something extraordinary.

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Small Little Investment

Today I decided to eat a big salad with just about every vegetable we had in the refrigerator. It was an investment in myself. Maybe I’ll try to eat a salad every day.

With the holidays finally over, I’m still attempting to remember a life without sugar, without all the goodies, and without all the rich food. There’s another life I could live–the one with vegetables and water and whole foods. In that world, I feel better; I sleep better; I look better; I think better.

I love both worlds, but it’s time to live a life with vegetables again. At least until next December.

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Freely Receive; Freely Give

Something fun happened yesterday. Two enormous cases of KN95 masks arrived on my doorstep. For teaching at Penn State and travel, I order two small boxes of these masks, but amazon sent cases. Cases not boxes. Simple mistake right? I wanted 50 masks and now I had 1500. But amazon still only charged me for the boxes. And the KN95 aren’t cheap! What would I do now?

My husband talked to the KN95 mask company, and they graciously apologized for their mistake and told us we were free to donate these masks and distribute them to our neighbors. So generous! So last night, we did just that. I loved the joy of knowing something was freely received and freely given, just at the right time when neighbors needed good masks.

When something in life seems like a big mistake, it might just be a pathway to blessing someone. I look at the excess of masks and remember that God moves in generous, often humorous ways.

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Holding Joy and Sorrow

I recently received sad news about the death of a friend’s son. My heart felt so heavy this morning, but I still had to start my semester at Penn State. I asked God this question: “How can I teach my classes when I am also grieving with my friend?”

I turned to Matthew 14 where Jesus has withdrawn to grieve the death of his friend John the Baptist. Jesus must immediately turn around and feed the waiting crowd. He is grieving but is at the same time stirred to compassion and love for the people. He multiplied limited resources (5 loaves and 2 fish) and the people “ate and were satisfied.”

I thanked God that he can take our limited capacity when we have sorrow and multiply it to bless and satisfy the “crowd” of students.

I also talked to a mentor who reminded me that “deep sorrow can exist with even deeper joy” (from Sarah Young). I’m beginning to learn that the journey of Christian maturity, especially as you enter into the lives of others, involves holding sorrow and joy in tension every day of your life.

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The Ice that Freezes You In Place

Today, we endured an actual ice storm! Nearly half an inch of ice currently covers our whole outside world. (I’m in the process of finally buying a new phone with a nice camera, so one day, you’ll see better pictures here. For now, you’ll have to use your imagination.) Imagine every object, tree, and sidewalk encased in ice. It’s beautiful and treacherous at the same time. We’re advised to avoid all travel and stay right where we are.

I’ve been thinking about times in life where we feel frozen in place by a variety of difficult things. It’s been a hard few years. I know so many people suffering loss at this very moment. Bad news can freeze you. Grieving can freeze you. Rejection can freeze you.

It’s good and bad to stay frozen. I see the sparkling ice and know that God brings a blessing through pain. But it’s mostly bad. We’re not meant to stay frozen and stagnant.

What I know about this treacherous ice is that it will melt. The warm sun will shine and melt what feels like a frozen and encased heart. It won’t always be this way or feel this way. God will make all things new.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be Everything

I’m learning the secret to people who stay a long time in their careers and who never seem to suffer from boredom or burnout. It’s the advice I received 12 years ago from a mentor who said, “Don’t let this job be everything. It’s a job. It’s not your life.”

It’s a job. It’s not your life. 

I think, at least for academics, the job becomes your whole life. Being a professor is everything. That’s the temptation. But what if your job is just part of your life, even a small part? Can you imagine the rest you’d feel and the balance? The well-being? Can you imagine how that would feel?

Back in graduate school, my advisor sternly warned me to never put my life on hold until I got a certain promotion. “Get married. Have children. Don’t put off your life for work.”

Don’t put off your life for work. 

I took both pieces of advice as I launched into a writing and speaking career. It’s a nice part of my life. But it’s not my whole life.

When you have the right relationship to work, you’ll find you enjoy greater happiness, success, and well-being. As I look at the people who enjoy their careers (and achieve great success), I notice the similarities in their lives. The work is just part of an otherwise full and joyful life. One is a triathlete. One manages a volunteering program. One is a quilter. One hosts fantastic book clubs and just wrote a book about how to have a great book club night. One travels whenever she can.

What would you do if your work wasn’t your life?

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