Snow didn’t fall across Vancouver, it dumped like confetti on New Year’s Eve. Friends had warned us not to expect snow in the lower mainland, so when reality exceeded our expectations we bundled up like all good Midwest natives know how to do, and trekked into the heavy powder. Gripping my matte black umbrella high overhead to shield my exposed camera, I walked the paths of Stanley Park snapping photographs of Vancouver’s winter wonderland.
One of my favorite places in all of Kansas City is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. As a preschooler in the ’80s I walked those gray marble halls to my first art class in the museum’s lower level and still, to this day, wonder whether that waxy security guard just might be real. A trip to the museum isn’t complete until I stand face to canvas before my favorite painting, Claude Monet’s Boulevard des Capucines (1873-74). It depicts a city view of wintry Paris…(continue reading HERE)
The crock pot is set to low and your house will smell like roasting potatoes and butternut squash soup in a matter of hours (none of which your kids will eat likely eat, but you don’t even care because Fall and Pinterest trump chicken nuggets tonight). Last year’s pumpkin spice candle glows on the kitchen counter, and you’re cozied up on the couch in your favorite oversized sweatshirt, a steaming mug of tea warming your chilled fingertips and your favorite new book open on your blanket covered lap. Autumn is upon us, friends. Unplan accordingly.
The above description is dreamy, isn’t it? It’s Friday and our forecast here in the PNW is calling for colored leaves and cool air. I hope your (and my) weekending goals are at least punctuated with rest and recharge. To get us all started off here’s a little inspiration from my autumn loving heart to yours…
Crock Pot Goals start right here, friends. Don’t even tell me you don’t like butternut squash because I won’t believe you. It only tells me you lack squash cooking creativity.
This is the book you’ll want with your tea this fall. Have you preordered this book yet? Yes? I can’t wait to hear what you think of Shannan’s courageous story of faith and surrender. No? Go order it quick because it officially releases on Tuesday the 20th, so there’s still time to grab up the freebies offered HERE. You’ll want to have a copy to underline every other sentence and lend out to friends so you can chat about the heart changes God is doing in you because of Shannan’s journey.
Finally, I leave you with my favorite autumn tea. Since we don’t have a Trader Joe’s up here I urge you to enjoy it on my behalf. I can almost smell the spicy brew from here…
Happy Weekending to you all! May your crock pots be bubbly and book pages turning this fall. Let me know if there’s a tea up here in Canada you think I need to try out! I’m always up for new suggestions 🙂
The city library five blocks from our house has a huge neon sign out front lighting up the corner of a bustling intersection in downtown Vancouver. It reads, “The Words Don’t Fit the Picture”. Tonight I’m sitting at a Starbucks counter enjoying my first PSL of the season (decaf) with that very sign in view over my shoulder outside. These days new experiences are coming faster than my words. I daydream of writing projects and goals, but real life is loud here, so professional pursuits simmer at a low heat on the back burner. Homeschooling three kids is a full-time gig (did I mention one of them is taking geometry?? One word: proofs. Feel my pain). Setting up a new life in an unfamiliar city takes extra focus and energy. One day last week we went (tried) to go to the grocery store. Twice. Only to return with zero food (long story short, don’t drive in an urban core and expect parking spots at rush hour and always bring your wallet with you when you grocery shop). Takeout sushi. Again.
I’d love to sit down and write a book about how I’ve seen God at work this past year. How He’s faithful to grow new life through our brokenness, and I how know that to be true more today than ever before. I’d love to compose chapters about how God is more complex, loving, and grace giving than we can ever wrap our minds around, and how Jesus invites us, His broken and bruised children, to shine out of dark places. Finally, I’d love to tell you a word story about home. How our hearts long for a home that isn’t here, and every disappointment is a grace moment to point us away from the temporary and into eternity.
But I have 18 minutes left until I need to pick up my 13 year old from a new youth group gathering. She walked into a crowded room of unknown peers with courageous nerves tonight. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more proud of her than I was tonight watching her introduce herself to strangers as I turned to walk away leaving God to shine right through her broken places too.
I’ll keep writing when I’m graced with time, but for now let me leave you with a few of my favorite views from the beautiful British Columbia…
“Go make it right with her.” It’s my most popular mom-ism lately. We’re one week into summer and my three daughters are squaring off over everything from sharing a coveted pack of gum to whose responsibility it is to haul in the slew of riding toys left in the cul-de-sac after dark. No object or opinion is safe from swift sisterly accusations at any given moment. This morning it was a 4” stuffed toy dog that through my two youngest into fits of kicking and hysterics. I was tempted to remove the dog, but it wasn’t really the dog’s fault. I was tempted to remove the children, but it was raining outside and some people might frown on inclement weather parenting tactics. The only remaining choice was to remove myself, so I laid ground rules and stepped away. They had to make it right with each other. That means, address the other person’s specific hurts with apologies and accept forgiveness as well. After all, I’m raising daughters today, but I’m raising sisters for life. I’m a mom raising up daughters who will go on to be someone else’s best friend, my grandchildren’s aunts, someone’s sister-in-law, a college roommate, teammates, leaders, employees…More importantly I’m raising sisters: my girls are sisters within our immediate family but also sisters to future friends and family as well (to my children’s future in-laws, you’re welcome). My parenting goal is to raise up girls into women who know the influence and value they have within relationships. Life is fuller and richer when we know our role and live with purpose. As daughters of God we have a sisterhood because we share a common Heavenly Father with anyone in God’s family. This sisterhood comes with certain responsibilities and honors. What defines a sister?
Sisters love confidently and generously
Sisters don’t care if your room, house, or life is a mess
Sisters sit by your side during mundane hours
Sisters are quick to laugh and cry with you
Sisters hold each other accountable
Sisters show up
Sisters cheer you on when you doubt yourself
Sisters stand by your side when life hurts
Sisters say sorry and expect the same in return
Sisters can’t wait to tell you about their latest find
Sisters live with a holy confidence for themselves and others
Sisters celebrate when you succeed
Sisters understand seasons and minds change
Sisters talk with their Heavenly Father on their sisters’ behalf
Who comes to mind when you read this list? Who are the people in your sisterhood? Have you let them know how much you appreciate and treasure them lately? Be the sister you want others to be for you. Relationships are never perfect, but the best ones are so worth it all.
Last weekend I spent Mother’s Day talking to a couple thousand of my closest friends at Heartland Community Church. The idea for the message I shared came from two places: First, the heartwarming childhood memories I have from my grandma’s garden. Second, from this question I asked God back in February,
God, what do I do with my unseen broken?
Every painful experience, hard memory, bad decision, selfish ambition, broken relationship tucked away inside my ‘heart’– We all have them, right? Those experiences and memories we’d rather keep buried in the dark because it’s not who we are anymore? However, like weeds in a flower garden our unseen broken will eventually manifest itself into our words, decisions, perspective, emotions, beliefs, and thoughts if we just ignore it. Then what do we do? If we claim to be Christians, how do we live out of the freedom, love, and joy Jesus gives us and be authentic about what’s going on in our heart and mind?
So, I asked the question and here’s what I’ve been learning…
Our Unseen Broken is like a seed. Seeds soften and break open so they can grow new life. When we break before a grace-giving, all-loving, all-knowing God He transforms our broken places into new life, rooted and growing in Jesus. Growth takes time, roots grow in dark places, and new life looks fragile in the beginning but we can have an eternal perspective of our brokenness and see it as a starting place for the lasting work God is doing in us each and every day.
Full Mother’s Day sermon HERE
I concluded the Mother’s Day sermon with a story about the ultimate Unseen Broken, sin. Here it is. It’s God’s story, but it’s our story too…
I began today with a story set in a garden and I’m going to finish with a story set in a garden, but this time it’s God’s story and it all begins in the Garden of Eden, where a piece of fruit broke open and sin entered God’s perfect world. It was a brokenness that went unseen, under the surface planting itself in every ounce of creation breaking apart the whole, perfect relationship God had with His children. To everyone and everything that could not see the big picture it looked like a total loss, brokenness beyond repair. But God spoke of a Hope that pointed His children towards something they couldn’t see with their eyes, but had to trust Him in their hearts. He had a plan to make all the brokenness whole once again…
But it would take another garden and this time we see Jesus, God’s only Son, here on Earth as one of us yet still perfectly God, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s face down praying, sweating blood, feeling sorrow to the point of death. He’s breaking for us. He is about to take on the Unseen Broken of all of Creation—the very seed of death, that was planted in His beloved world, back in that first garden and He was going to let it break Him. Jesus who had no brokenness in Him took on yours and mine and my kids, your family, my parents, your parents…we all carry it in us and He took it all. God uprooted it out from its hiding place and laid on Jesus on the cross and He died taking our punishment to His grave. Our broken savior was buried in a dark place, and on the third day it was from that exact place of brokenness where Jesus rose to new life defeating the power of sin, our ultimate unseen broken, once for us all.
There is nothing in you or about you too dark or too broken that God, the great REDEEMER, cannot bring to new life again. Ask Him. Invite Him in. Follow Him. Grow in Him. And see for yourself if you won’t overflow in thankfulness for a God who brings new life from broken places.
They sat as brothers around the table in the upstairs room. The meal spread out before them on a rough, hewn table; cups filled with deep red wine to accompany their meal of remembrance for a time when God was faithful to rescue His people. They had gathered for one common reason, but each man brought something different to the table.
Peter, he brought self-reliance. He was a devout follower and friend to Jesus, but he spoke words of confidence in his own ability to stay by Jesus’ side and fight to the death. Peter brought self-reliance to the dinner table and ate with the Lord of all creation.
Judas sat down to the table with hidden greed and fear. His inner darkness reclined at the table with the Light of the World.
The other disciples brought pride and self-righteousness to the upper room. They all walked in with dirty feet to be cleansed by their spotless Savior.
What about you? What do you bring to the table? Picture yourself climbing a steep and narrow stairway to the upper room. At the top of the stairs your eyes do a quick scan of the seating arrangement. Surely a seat out of Jesus’ direct line of sight would be best because getting too close means He may see through the façade you’re using to cover your sins. He’s bound to realize halfway through the meal that you don’t belong at His table. That you’ve brought things too complicated, too messy, too far gone to fix. What if He asks you to leave? What if what you’ve brought to the table isn’t good enough? You tried again and again, but all you’re bringing to dinner is failure.
It takes faith to sit down in Jesus’ presence knowing He knows. Everything. His invitations are always offered in full and complete grace. Since He knows what we’re bringing to His table before we even accept the invitation, we can literally rest assured in His presence. There’s isn’t one thing you can bring to Jesus’ table that’s outside of His capable, saving grace.
Jesus loved you first. Jesus sought you out.
Jesus invited you in. You are His guest of honor, Prodigal Child.
Come to the table.
Click HERE to read more about Jesus’ last supper.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.
Within the context of a day I can cover a lot of emotional ground and not realize the toll it takes until I lay in bed at night with a numb heart. I used to think numb emotions resulted from lack of caring, but over the years I’ve realized it results from too many unresolved and unrecognized emotions. Like mixing too many paint colors at once, I just end up with a brownish muck color.
I mastered this art of color mixing as a kid living in an adult world. The emotions were too big for me to handle, so I mixed them up…good and bad, and moved on. It was survival of the one who cared the least, and I won. That mode of operating served me well for a long time. I could rock cool and detached emotional status like a pro. However, there’s nothing cool or loving about being a detached wife or mom. It’s just not an option if I wanted a healthy, thriving family. There’s nothing attractive about being a detached friend or sister, it’s hurtful to others and keeps me from experiencing authentic relationships. I woke up in my late 20’s and knew I needed to be retaught how to feel again. The bright side is that since this is a learned self-defense mode my heart defaults to in order to avoid painfully ‘feeling all the feels’, that means I can relearn a new, healthier way of approaching emotions too.
I started recognizing my emotional red flag. It’s when muted, muck brown is the color of my heart. My head knows I have too much to be thankful and joyful for and, honestly too much valid sadness to feel nothing at all. I wind up with a heart clogged up with a tangled knot of vacillating muddy emotions. Can you relate? How do you gauge your emotional health? Have you seen this color wheel of emotions? I don’t know about you but I want to authentically feel appropriate emotions for life’s situations. Angry when I should feel angry, sad when I should feel sad, happy when I should feel happy… What are your emotional red flags where unhealthy or unresolved emotions dictate your perspective and responses?
I want to feel emotions like colors, bright and recognizable. Blended emotions naturally happen and they create beautiful combinations on life’s emotional color palette. Many of my most treasured moments are blended hues: love with fear, bittersweet, sad and hopeful, excited yet afraid, scared and determined…but mix them all together and I get an unidentifiable puddle that’s nearly impossible to work with. Where do I go from there?
I take my muck-covered heart to God and get painfully honest. The book of Psalms refers to God as a place of refuge (I counted 8 times but maybe more?). King David who often talked about God as his refuge needed a place for both physical and emotional safety. Right now the refuge I need most often isn’t a physical but an emotional one. Every year of marriage, each daughter born, every move (14 so far), and through the waves of life I am learning to seek emotional refuge in a safe place where I’m neither condemned or manipulated. Anxiety and worry don’t like to sit still, so I sit myself down in God’s presence and wait for the muck-brown to wash away. Every time (it’s been years now) I sit down with this intent I get back up with a sense of freedom and release. I experience the truth that God is the ‘strength of my heart’ (Psalm 73:26).
Emotions aren’t wrong or bad unless we give them more control than they deserve. The paints are never meant to dictate the brush or the hand holding it. When surrendered before God, emotions step back to their proper place as beautiful, vibrant colorful expressions of our heart.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. ~Psalm 73:26
I nearly fell out of my chair.
Two days ago I sat in a sea of women in Austin, TX far from my Kansas City home when God’s love nearly rocked me out of my seat.
It was as if I was a character in a story; a story that isn’t mine to write but one where I was playing a supportive role in God’s Great narrative, and for whatever reason He chose the IF: Gathering as his primary setting.
We sat in the Austin City Limits auditorium on Saturday afternoon with thousands of onlookers from all over the world watching Amena Brown Owen reveal the location of her surprise visit to an IF: Local. When the reveal went up on the screen I couldn’t believe my eyes…
It was one year ago, at IF:Gathering 2015 when I found myself with a bird’s eye view of the entire Austin experience hearing one of the clearest directives from God I’d ever known possible beyond The Bible. His message was unmistakable, “Tell your story. I am for their freedom; not just their freedom from today but their freedom from years, decades, and generations past.”
OK. Super easy. Uh-hm. Who and where, God?
It was a weekend I’ll never forget for many reasons and I left Austin knowing something in me had been transformed. God gave me a glimpse of His presence and purpose in this world, for His daughters, and in my life that I cannot shake. I wondered in the weeks following if the glow would fade off that experience or if the ordinary days would lull me back into my old faith patterns, but it didn’t and it hasn’t.
In fact, in June of last year I received an unexpected email from a church looking for a keynote speaker for their upcoming women’s retreat; three sessions over the course of two days on the topic of “Remain” from John 15. Was I interested? This would be the most content I had ever been responsible for and it was a lot by any measure for one person to take on for their first key event. What they didn’t know is that I had been praying for an opportunity to “tell my story” since that February day, and their invitation was an answer to a very broad and bold prayer.
Last November, after months of prayer, preparation (and mild moments of panic) we gathered for a weekend retreat that could only have been designed by an all-knowing and loving God. The stories of the women who attended are not mine to tell, but I saw God move in ways that still leave me amazed and in awe.
Like all great stories, God has woven surprise tie-ins into this plot. You see, during the third and final teaching session of the Remain Retreat, I shared through tears that God laid this message of freedom on my heart to share last February at a gathering called IF in Austin, TX. The moment I sat down, the Event Coordinator stood up to the microphone and explained to us all that it was during their IF:Local on that same exact day when she walked over to her church’s Women’s Director with this idea from God to gather their women that very next November. We cried, we laughed, and we wondered at what kind of God orchestrates that kind of beautiful plan for His daughters. We don’t know why He chose the IF: Gathering as His moment to speak so clearly to us both and bring about His plans like He did, but we marveled at His goodness in it all.
Fast forward to IF: Gathering 2016 two days ago when I about fell off my chair…
Here we are, again nearly 2000 of us in Austin, and thousands upon thousands around the world sitting in Saturday afternoon’s session watching the big screen to see where in all the world Amena Brown ended up surprising an unsuspecting IF: Local. To my shock and delight…they announced she was in the Kansas City area, my town! But further more…she was at THE VERY church–the EXACT same IF: Local Church–where God had sent me to “Tell my story” at their November retreat.
What in the WORLD, God??
Seeing their joy and excitement come through on that screen, watching their women’s director receive the attention for being the Jesus-loving woman she is, was almost more than my heart could handle. Ever since that November retreat when I came to know those women as sisters I have prayed and prayed for God to continue to do mighty works in and through them. Seeing their faces on that screen two days ago…well, I cried, I laughed, I marveled at a God that would orchestrate such joy for His daughters.
It’s been a year since God told me to tell my story, and I am, but I know even more than ever before that I am just a small part of His Greater story. Our stories, no matter how big or seemingly small are significant because Jesus is our Redeemer, and He lives in and through us. My story of freedom in Jesus is the domino effect for your story of freedom, and so on, and so on, and so on…His Kingdom is on the move in the hearts and minds of His children one redeemed story at a time.