On Birthdays, and Jesus, and Relationships

On my walk around the lake last night, I was thinking about the past year and talking to Jesus about it. I had no idea that this year would impact my life in the way it came to. Nor that my soul would find such rest, life, and hope in the midst of such brokenness, bitter waters, and black skies.

Friends, God brings such beauty from such ugliness. He gives life in place of death. He serves up a feast in the midst of the driest desert. But oftentimes, we cannot see it until we’ve walked much further down the road. And, sometimes, this doesn’t happen until eternity.

The best year of my life was the year I found saving faith in Jesus—the year Jesus truly captured my heart and life. But this year would be close to that one, in its own odd way. Whereas 2009 was pure, unbroken beauty, because I couldn’t see anything but Jesus; 2017 brought its own beauty, though it came crushed, hidden, and disguised in pain and tears.

Birthdays are the days I look back on the past year and reflect on all that filled up the previous several hundred days. Some years have been mostly bitter, some years have been mostly sweet. At first, this year looked like it would be all bitter, but the sweetness was just so wrapped up in the bitter as to not be able to taste it for a little while.

And when I step back from this year, this I know…Jesus is everything. And relationships are precious gifts.


Jesus is everything because he created it all, holds it all, and it is all for him, through him, and because of him (Romans 11:36). Nothing in life even comes close to comparing to him. And nothing matters more than having a real relationship with him—where he is loved, treasured, and delighted in. Jesus is all.

This winter, when the stress and strain I had been experiencing turned into physical pain, I was confronted with the questions, “If you never had another good day in your life, would you still worship Jesus? If the pain doesn’t go away and you are never able to run again, sleep comfortably again, or simply breathe without it hurting, will Jesus still have your heart?”

He was enough for those months and he will be enough for every day after them.

And People

For most of us, if we could see our lives as a tapestry or mosaic made up of all the people who have been or are in our lives, we would likely see something so beautiful we would cry—and thank God. Relationships are such a gracious gift and one of the most precious things in all of life. It is in the context of relationships that we experience even more of Christ. Relationships with tangible human beings allow us to feel the love, affection, and kindness of Christ in ways we never would be able to if we were not in community with others.

For me, this year has been sprinkled with some very deep, grace-filled, gospel-focused, Jesus-centered relationships. Gratitude to God feels so small for the enormous blessing these people’s lives are. Such grace.

For sure, it was a year. But it was a year that was held in the sovereign hands of our Savior. He was enough and will always be enough. And being loved by him is everything.


Fall Into Jesus

Grief reminds us that life is broken and sorrow reminds us that we are not whole.

But we do not fall into despair. We fall into Jesus.

We grieve hard and long. We mourn deeply and cry long. We feel the loss as close as the skin stretched tight over bone.

Our faces are wet with something akin to rain and seas.

We remember and it cuts like a sword. We stare at dark ceilings and the years roll over our hearts like rivers in springtime.

But we do not stop at the ceiling. Instead, we pour out our hearts to our Father and Friend who is even closer than the ceiling and our own skin pulled tight.

Our hearts break. We hurt like we are going to die. And then we are afraid we will forever live like we are dying.

Yet, one day, we will realize that we are really dying to live. And because of Jesus we will live again.

We go through days and weeks and months that feel like all is dark, all is silence, all is loss.

We will doubt ourselves. We will doubt everything we ever did. And we will doubt the goodness of God himself.

Words will flow from our wounded hearts like November winds—pointed yet empty. We will hurt people because we hurt.

Our sorrows will burst out of their bandages at the strangest of times. The oddest of things will remind us that we are not healed. Not yet.

Not fully until Jesus comes back.

Sleep will haunt us or consume us. Music will choke our throats. More memories of something else. Something we wanted to forget.

But God is with us…

We will hear unhelpful things, hurtful things, hateful things. Hurting people hurt people.

We will be broken yet greater and cut still deeper.

We will doubt love. We will question the effort 1 Corinthians 13 calls for. We will be tempted to never love again.

We will dump buckets of pieces of our broken hearts at Jesus’ feet and ask him why it hurts so much.

He will again remind us of how greatly and deeply he loved us then and how greatly and deeply he loves us still.


We will not fall into despair. Instead, again, we will fall into Jesus.

And in his broken hands, our broken hearts will realize that we will be okay.

Sea billows will roll over our souls, but because of Jesus, it will be well with our souls.

Maybe not fully today or tomorrow or even next year but One Day. On that day, all sorrow will be crushed under the feet of the One whose Presence is the very fullness of joy itself.

Beauty from ashes. Joy in place of sorrow. All comfort for all mourning.

We do not fall into despair. Instead, we fall into Jesus.







One can either see them as hideous, nuisance weeds or one can choose to see them as flowers the color of sun and hope. Either they are pepper shakers of seeds that will cause more problems in future years or they are vessels for a thousand wishes to be carried off in the wind.

During my couple weeks off between semesters, I was able to spend much time in prayer and reflection on the previous months. And either they can be viewed as a series of hard days or they can be viewed as the means God used to bring me to this very place. I will not say that I’ve always seen the past months and years as a blessing—far from it on many days. But through it all, I deeply believe that Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37). Even the things that hurt. And sometimes especially the things that hurt.

My heart and soul are at peace that my time simply ran out. I have no other way to describe it except to say that the sand in the glass finished falling, the track ran out of blacktop, and ashes were all that remained of the fire. In some ways I burned out, in other ways God called me out. In both ways, he was speaking to me. Both were a gift even if they didn’t both look that way at the time.

Though I may not be done with the after effects of the past, it is with deep gratitude that I look back and see that Jesus has led me all this way, even when I couldn’t see him, feel him, or hear him. He is my salvation, and it is with joy that I draw from that well—the one with living water that will never run out (Isaiah 12:2; 55:1, John 7:37).

God was very kind and brought some precious people into my life to walk this journey with me. I have not gone alone. Their prayers, care, grace, and encouragement were the sweet gifts of a compassionate God. Because of these people, I know more of grace now than I ever did before this year. And to these people who embodied this grace of Jesus in ways I neither expected nor deserved—I am forever grateful.

Along with gratitude for the faithfulness of God in this past season, I look forward to this next year with joy. Joy does not erase all sorrows or heal all hurts, but there is a deeper joy in Jesus that goes far below the past and present circumstances of life (Psalm 16:11).

There is much joy at returning to school. Joy in learning more about Jesus to love him more. Joy in the rejoicing of being with family and friends. Joy in delighting in the little things—bugs dancing on the water, lilacs outside the window, owls crying in the trees at night. Joy in both old and new relationships. Joy in a church that feels like coming home every week. Joy in the full, precious, beautiful gospel. Joy in the majesty, grace, and sovereignty of our Savior King. So much joy.

In this next year of life, I long to more fully see the past grace that brought me to this place in the same light as the dandelions in the field behind my apartment. Beautiful. Immensely so.

The Greatest Grief

Heart Butte, MT

A year ago, my family gathered for a quiet graveside service to remember the life of my grandpa. The wind was strong, the harmonicas were beautiful, the memories were precious, and the time together was all of that and then some. It was too early for flowers to poke up in the earth, too cold for buds to pop out on the wet trees, too soon for life to completely cover emptiness.

We grieved together, prayed together, and continued to live life together. In some ways, grief was a kind friend in pointing our eyes to Christ, the one who smashed death when he died on the cross. The one life that mattered most died like all of us will someday. But the one grave that mattered most of all turned up empty three days later. This one empty tomb gives hope that all graves will burst open with shouts of praise to the death-conquering One.

In all of life, we grieve. We grieve for losses large and small—relationships, jobs, health, a life we never had, and thousands of other things that break our hearts. We mourn over loss of physical life. We cry when dust returns to dust, when death drops our beloved friends and family members into the open hands of the Savior who died for them and us. We grieve as people who loved well and lost hard. We lament the loss of life cut off too soon. Simply put, we cry a lot and often in the course of a simple life.

But as much as life breaks us when death snatches our believing friends away, there is a greater grief than this.

In the course of the past couple weeks, two people who made an impact on my life died. Both people hardened by the pain of life and steeped in bitterness and seclusion. Broken people who desperately needed Jesus. God knows their final moments, but from all appearances, both of them died without believing, trusting in, and clinging to Jesus.

And that is the greatest grief. These are deaths to grieve deeply over. These are deaths that break our hearts in hard ways. But these are also deaths that should drive us into the arms of Jesus, with hearts overflowing in gratitude that he loved us first, commanded our spiritually dead corpses to breathe, and saved us from living a life and dying a death without him.

Because I cannot imagine a life without Jesus, it is a great pain to think of people having lived their entire lives cut off from the one who is what life is all about. It moves me to tears to think about people spending every waking moment and every sleeping breath not realizing that they are missing out on something immensely precious. And it should break our hearts that people we know and people we don’t are living and dying without a love so strong, so rich, so beautiful.

We grieve often and we grieve a lot. And well we should. Along with Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb, we should be outraged at death. We should let death upset us. We should be indignant that the sickness of sin sucks the God-given breath of life right out of our friends and acquaintances.

And we should be brokenhearted that there is an answer to death but so many souls die without knowing that this answer has a name—Jesus.

This is the greatest grief.

Bittersweet: God is Working in Our Pain for Our Benefit

sunset decorah

Over the span of four days, I slowly read the story of Jesus and Lazarus in John 11. This story is heavy on emotion and relationship and life in and after death. But the thing that really got my attention this week was Jesus’ statement to his disciples: “Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe” (v. 14-15).

This verse used to make me cringe, as it seemed nearly heartless. After Jesus purposely chose to wait two more days so Lazarus would be good and dead, he follows that action by saying this?

On our own, we do not see this as a helpful sentence from Jesus. Many times, our broken, sad hearts think that what would be the most beneficial for us would be for Jesus to take our advice and fix things—exactly as we tell him would be best for us. We don’t necessarily care about the big picture when we are so consumed with just trying to make the pain stop. And oftentimes we think that Jesus must not see or care.

And we miss glory. Our tear-glazed eyes cannot see beyond our own lashes. We don’t always see and value that God is working in our lives to bring glory to himself (v. 4). Nor do we always understand why he often uses the trials in our lives to bring more glory to his name.

But not only does God allow and use pain and loss to bring glory to his Son, he also allows and uses pain and loss for our benefit—ultimately, our belief in him (v. 15, 26). Jesus places great value on belief, faith, and trust in himself and he will do whatever it takes to strengthen our belief in him (Mark 9:23-24, John 14:1, John 20:29).

Jesus is not a heartless or powerless God. On the contrary, in his great love and care of his followers, he pours into our lives the very things we need to deepen our trust in him. The heart-wrenching pain, sorrow, or suffering we experience were never meant to be an end in themselves. This “momentary affliction” (2 Cor. 4:17) is meant to drive us into the arms of the one who has loved us with an everlasting, faithful love (Jer. 31:3); and in this great love, ordained for us the very days, times, and seasons of our lives (Eph. 4:1, Ps. 31:15, Ps. 139:16). Our hearts and lives are safe with him.

Even when we cannot yet see what he is doing in our lives, Jesus is working for his glory and our faith in him. The suffering, loss, and deaths we experience are not wasted, nor are they the result of an unkind or weak God. Rather, our very lives are held in the hands that were wounded for us, to bring us to God.
(Is. 53:5, 1 Pet. 3:18).

As with everything he does, for his glory and our belief in him, Jesus does all things well (Mark 7:37).

Listen to Your Tears

This summer I started reading a most wonderful book by Emily Freeman titled A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. In this book, Emily calls her readers to realize we are all image-bearers and artists. We were born to create and be a “living poem”.

While helping people discover the art they were made to live, she made a profound but very little statement about listening to your tears. What?!

She went on to explain that the things that move us to tears should be seen as some of the most important things in our lives. Tears are “magic water” and help us see the hidden picture in our paint-by-water lives. We are moved to tears by the sheer beauty or horrific awfulness of various aspects of life and should take these moments to evaluate the bigger story behind our tears.

Sometimes the things that make us cry have nothing to do with that particular item, scene, etc., but there is a story or a memory that is triggered by the image we saw or the music we heard.

Since a child, art and music have moved my soul to tears. The gut-wrenching beauty of “Canon in D” or Van Gogh’s Starry Night are enough to make me forget all else but the wonder overwhelming my senses. Children in Myanmar, snow on the mountains in Montana, and rain falling on rusty cans are all other things that can easily make me cry.

But these days there are much different things that are making my eyes overflow. Other things that are shaking the depths of my heart. These days, my heart is being moved by Jesus.

The last few weeks have upset my life in some big ways. Rather, Jesus has turned things right side up. All that Jesus is has grabbed a hold of heart and is literally shaking the tears from my eyes. He is doing something in me that is painfully good. He has called me to something else—something different, and while I know just a pinch of what that might all entail, I have a settled sense of peace and rest in his good plans. I cannot refuse him, nor do I want to.

I have missed him. Only I didn’t know just how deeply I missed him. The full, beautiful, precious gospel has gone after my heart in a way that hasn’t happened since 2009, when I first found saving faith in Jesus. These days I am finding that not much else matters but simply being with Jesus—enjoying him, treasuring him, and realizing he truly satisfies. Lives that have “been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13) are lives that are consumed with Jesus. I have a long way to go in this, but it is my prayer that by the time 2018 breaks through, much more of my life will have been lived with Jesus.

If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then tears must be the windshield wipers that make things clearer, dearer, and sweeter. And while there are many good things that move our hearts to tears, by far the best one is Jesus. He is a love worth crying over. He is a relationship worth being real for. He is a joy worth singing, writing, and speaking about. He is a Treasure worth giving everything else up for. He really, really is.

Even the Fragments

I wrote this piece exactly three years ago, but never posted it on my blog.

“Jesus wants everything.” This is something I both have to and want to deal with every, single day. And goodness, but most days it’s not even close to being easy! There are plenty of battles in the evening that leave me asking, “Is it that Jesus asks for too much or that I’m willing to give him far too little?” And I think I always know the answer to that question.

But tonight I want to throw out the less obvious everything. We know that Jesus deserves our plans, dreams, hopes, and futures. But what about the little things, the small, insignificant things, or those things about us we wish would just disappear? What about those little pieces of ourselves? What about them?

Well, this year has been a year of God both going after the big everythings in my life like church, missions, moving, and work; but it has also involved some giving of the smaller everythings to him.

Matthew 14 and John 6 with the feeding of the five thousand provide the backdrop for what I’m trying to get at. It has gotten late and the disciples tell Jesus to send the people away, as they do not have the resources to deal with this food crisis. But Jesus tells them to do something about it and “give them something to eat.” Then they tell him the obvious, “We only have five small loaves of bread and two fish.” And you can almost hear the tired sarcasm wanting to come out, “Duh, Jesus. Like this is even worth mentioning? There is nothing you can do with this.”

But Jesus does the exact opposite. He doesn’t tell them, “You know, guys, you are so right. We do need to send them away, as there is nothing that can be done with that little bit of food.”

No, he tells them to have everyone sit down. And if you’re already afraid you’re going to look like an idiot, it’s only going to get worse having everyone sit down-with all eyes focused on what’s going on up front. I can feel the suspense in this one line, as now you have an extended moment of awkward silence while you wait for God to show up and do something. Then Jesus takes the bread and fish and thanks God for them. He breaks the bread and hands it to his disciples to give to the 5000+ people. And the verse says they all ate and were satisfied. And from the fragments given are fragments that remain.

Jesus wants everything, even those things that seem at best insignificant and at worst, worthless. He wants us to freely offer ourselves in service to Him for however he chooses. Sometimes the little everythings he is asking for are the things we most hate about ourselves or the things that make us the most uncomfortable.

For me, that is leading small group discussions, public speaking, participating in small groups, and sometimes, just plain, old group interactions. Being an introvert, a writer, and a thinker, I prefer to remain on the sidelines and in silence. But oftentimes, Jesus calls us into the mess and chaos of the very things we want to hide or flee from.

We think that there is nothing God can do with the fragments of our lives. But I wonder if he isn’t just asking for a willingness from us to simply place the pieces of our very lives in his hands. And leave them there. Let him bless the fragments. And from fragments given come a meal.

And maybe there isn’t a future in public speaking for me, but I don’t think that’s the heart of the issue at all. It’s not so much of can I speak and share about Jesus, as am I willing to speak and share about Him? I think a willing heart will agree to follow Jesus, even when it doesn’t make sense, looks hopeless or like a silly waste of time, or it outright scares us. A life that says “yes” to Jesus will give him every little thing-whether it seems like it’s worth something or not.

It is holding up our hands in surrender to King Jesus and simply saying, “It’s all yours, Jesus. Take it all.”