3 Characteristics of a Small Thing With Big Impact

Imagine going to your mailbox on a bright, chilly, winter day and as you pull out the impersonal ads and the dreaded bills, among the mess, you find (gasp!) a real, live, hand-addressed note! As rare as a unicorn! To YOU!

One of my favorite verses is Zechariah 4:10 that tells us not to despise the day of small things. A note is a “small thing” that can have a huge impact.

What if whenever you notice anything positive you were to write a note of affirmation to the person who comes to mind? Many times when I’ve done this, the recipient of a note has remarked on the perfect timing of its arrival. That’s God at work through a “small thing”.

John and I both have a drawer where we save special notes that have been meaningful and encouraging to us. As I think about them, there are several characteristics they have in common.

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One Place God Does Some of His Best Work

I’ve been thinking about caves. Weird, I know, right? But recently I had the privilege of climbing to (on rock steps – we’re not talking ropes and crampons here) and exploring, a series of huge caves on an island in Vietnam. It got me reflecting on caves in the Bible and why people went there. Caves were places of refuge, but usually a last resort, and often dark and lonely.

Here are a few that came to mind. Can you relate to any of these “cave moments”? 

  1. When you’re distressed and afraid.

When Saul is chasing David and he is running for his life he hides in a cave with others who are disillusioned.

1 Samuel 22: 1-3

David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there.  All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander.

 Maybe it feels like circumstances are just too much for you and you’re afraid, or angry or discouraged. You may need to hide in God…curl up in the safety of His presence.

2. When you’re exhausted.

After God uses Elijah to miraculously defeat the prophets of Baal, Jezebel is still after him and he runs away, exhausted.

1 Kings 19:3-9

Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”  He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again.

The angel of the Lord came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”  So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.  There he went into a cave and spent the night.

Note that the first thing God does is meet Elijah’s physical needs. Have you ever noticed how fatigue affects your perspective? John Ortberg writes, “Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is take a nap.” Maybe you need both physical rest and the spiritual rest from striving that God can provide.

3. When you need to grieve a death.

Jesus allows Lazarus to die in order that He can show His power to bring life out of death.

John 11:38-39

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said.

Maybe you’ve experienced the death of a dream and you need God to show you where He is going to bring new life. Maybe you’re waiting for Him to roll away a stone that has been a stumbling block for you. Maybe you need time in your cave to pour out your heart in grief.

After all, it was in a burial cave that Jesus overcame death and made a way for us to live forever with Him, right? 

In caves we may have silence and solitude pressed upon us, but it’s a time to cling to Jesus. Maybe we can draw encouragement from what David wrote when he was in a cave. Psalm 142:1-3

I cry aloud to the Lord;
    I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
 I pour out before him my complaint;
    before him I tell my trouble.

When my spirit grows faint within me,
    it is you who watch over my way.


5 Practices to Combat Yard-sticking, Part 2

We all want to feel significant. Am I right??  We want to be -ER or -EST.

But when the only way we get our validation is through “yard-sticking” (being better or best), rather through God’s unconditional delight in us we’re sunk.

I compare, and I think “Ahhhh! I’m better than that!” and pride sneaks in. Or I compare and I think, “Oh, I’ll never be as good as ______” and I forget my worth in Jesus. Pride or Insecurity are the dangers of focusing on -er and -est.

This is an on-going struggle, kind of like whack-a-mole, needing constant attention because the yardstick will pop up over and over.

The other day I wrote about the first 3 practices that I’ve tried in combatting the tendency to yardstick. Here are the final 2. What would you add?

4. Practice gratitude.

Everything God created is good, and to be received with thanks. 1Timothy 4:4 MSG

Stop and make a list of the gifts, talents, and opportunities God has given you, thanking Him for the “good works He planned for you long ago”. Even things that seem like limitations may be used for God’s glory. Think of Peter and Paul in jail and their witness.

5. Embrace the discipline of genuine affirmation that comes from a place of abundance not scarcity.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Sometimes, especially when someone else is getting a boatload of attention, it’s hard to be affirming. We can choke on our words because we think “It’s not FAIR!” But when we can be authentic and specific I believe it will strengthen our confidence in God as a God of abundance and not scarcity.


One caveat…I do believe that there are times when we’re called to protect our soul from people who somehow Satan seems to consistently use to reinforce the lie of “not good enough”.  This doesn’t mean they are bad people at all, but I unfollow and unsubscribe those who bring out shame or anxiety in me. Boundaries can be a blessing.

None of this is easy. What thoughts would you add?



5 Practices to Combat Yard-sticking, Part 1

99% of the time I love being a cheerleader! It’s easy for me to get excited about the contributions others are making to the kingdom.

I marvel at those who have gifts that I don’t.

Like anything having to do with math. Or spreadsheets. Or budgets. A poker face. Technology. Patience. The ability to not speak every word that comes to mind.

But then there are other moments.

Especially with folks who have similar gifts and talents to mine, I find myself doing what psychologists call “yard-sticking” – the act of comparing yourself to others, particularly people in your own peer group, in a manner that results in feelings of inadequacy or jealousy.

And let me just say, I know you. I’m not alone. There are certain people who, when you hear someone rave about them, or see them on social media being all shiny and successful with “perfect kids” or a “perfect job”, it triggers something sad and hurtful inside you.  You feel diminished. Discounted. And that is not from Jesus.

Clearly, this is not something I’ve mastered, but there are 5 practices that have been helpful to me. I’ll share the first 3 today:

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5 Questions About Walking With People in Pain

I roll over at zero dark thirty this morning in a hotel room in Hanoi to see a missed call on my cell phone. In my heart I know why. It was a call from the husband of my best friend from college. Patty was diagnosed with ALS (that horrific disease that gradually takes away your ability to speak, eat, move and breathe) 3 years ago. Last night she was healed and greeted in heaven where I’m sure she is having a blast. She always was a party waiting to happen. 

Patty was fun and funny and compassionate and wise, and had all-together the best laugh ever. God took her on an amazing life-journey where He used her to come alongside people in pain or resource counselors helping others in pain around the world wo were experiencing trauma. This picture was taken when our paths crossed in London. Patty had just come from Nigeria and was on her way to Turkey and then Azerbaijan. Crazy, eh? In a post 4 years ago, after this picture, I asked her 5 questions about helping people in pain. I’m posting it again today in her honor. IMG_6973 Continue reading

What Do Formation and Escape Have to Do With You?

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport lounge in Seoul, Korea.

We’ve been in the air over 17 hours and have 5 more to go in order to reach Hanoi, Vietnam, our destination.  I have something to drink, and a soft chair, and an internet connection, and I’m blessed to be heading to see the work of God in a new part of the world (to me). This is the best case scenario.

Still, travel represents one of the everyday experiences God can use for transformation. When we travel, so much is out of our control.

Think cancelled flights, lost luggage, crying babies, delays, and slow people who clog the TSA lines.

It doesn’t matter if it’s international travel, or going to Target with two toddlers in tow, our formation often comes in situations we want to escape from.

I think of another “traveler” – Moses – and his “toddlers”, the Israelites. If he had had his choice he probably would have gone it alone, and preferred straight line from Egypt to the Promised Land, bypassing the 40 years in the desert wandering thing.

When the Israelites are being difficult, Moses says, “What am I to do with these people?” Which is exactly the question you may be asking today.

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The Biggest Mistake We Make With One Word

A 10 inch snowfall is pretty norm for Minneapolis in January and for the most part I love it.

It’s beautiful, but as I pull around towards Starbucks early in the dark, post-snowfall morning, the plows are struggling to do their thing, cars are fish-tailing, and I have to dodge people in the street cuz the sidewalks aren’t cleared. GRRR.

Four cars have taken up five parking spaces, using precious real estate, landing haphazardly without yellow lines visible. GRRR.

One car has it’s lights on, looking ready to relinquish his spot, but he doesn’t move. GRRRR.

I give up and drive by only to have him decide NOW is the time to move, and another car swoops in to take his place. GRRR.

I find a remote parking place (read 50 yards away) and slippy slide towards the coffee shop, but realize halfway there, I’ve forgotten my purse. GRRRR.


I am cranky and impatient and totally ashamed of myself.

Many of us have chosen One Word, this year or in the past. If you’re new to it look here.

My One Word this year is Fruit, as in “The fruit of the Spirit is…PATIENCE!” And it’s been a whole month for Pete’s sake! Why am I not transformed into a person with the Jesus-y glow of patience yet?

One Word is a catchy idea, and as with New Year’s resolutions we often start off with a BANG! This word will CHANGE MY LIFE! But unlike the Darling children in Peter Pan, we need to do more than “think lovely thoughts” in order to get off the ground.

The biggest mistake we make with One Word is to just choose it. 

Last year, I wrote about buying a special (oh so pretty) journal for my One Word reflections. That was a good step (highly recommend!), and so was the reminder on my calendar once a month to review my One Word, but mostly I ignored those prompts.

I’m thinking we may all need a little accountability.  I’m going to commit to posting once a One Word Challenge each month along with an easy prompt that we can all reflect on and respond to. I hope you’ll join me because we’re better together!

So this month, here are 2 simple action steps you can take to move beyond just choosing One Word. 

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Lessons From Non-conformist Women, Part 2

In these days of social media, it’s tempting to see ourselves like the prophet Elijah, self-righteously calling down “fire” in public forums on anyone who we judge to be an enemy of God and His kingdom (or anyone who disagrees with us). Absolutely, God calls us to speak out against evil, but He shows us other ways to be effective in bringing about change also. Wednesday we looked at Abigail. Today there are two more women to pay attention to.

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Soul Food Friday

Happy Friday Friends! Hope it’s been a good week for you! Husband John has been out of town so it’s been quiet around here. As an extrovert I’ve been striking up conversations with any stranger I meet. If you have a cute dog, or a baby, or basically are breathing and glance my way, watch out! Hope you enjoy the soul food buffet this weekend.

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Lessons From Non-Conformist Women in the Bible, Part 1

“’Do not conform’ is difficult advice in a generation when crowd pressures have unconsciously conditioned our minds and feet to move to the rhythmic drumbeat of the status quo.” Martin Luther King Jr.

HOLY BUCKETS it’s a minefield out there isn’t it? More and more we are forced to face what it means to interact with both grace and truth in a vitriolic society, what it means to not be conformed to our culture, but live out the way of Jesus.

It seems like people are just looking for a reason to be offended. We pray for discernment and we ask questions like:

  • If I speak out on this issue will it mean that a whole segment of the population won’t listen to me about anything anymore?
  • Is this the most important issue to take a stand on?
  • Is social media the best place to have this discussion?
  • What exactly is it that I hope to accomplish if I take a public stand on this issue?

“Both secularism and devout faith are growing. What’s going away is the mushy middle of religiosity.” Tim Keller

Recently I was reading two accounts in the Bible where three women modeled different approaches to conflict and evil that we might learn from. I thought I’d unpack one today and two tomorrow giving possible contemporary parallels for us.

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