Puzzles of Grace

I’ve memorized Proverbs 3:5-6, but what does it mean to trust in the Lord? To not lean on my own understanding? Will God really make my paths straight? These thoughts come as whispers into my heart:

My daughter, why don’t you try thanking Me for My plans for your future instead of trying to figure them all out? I love helping you to rest in My love right now, in the exact life you’re living right now. What am I asking you to do today? That’s what I’m taking delight in watching and helping and offering My grace and wisdom in. You are trying to fill in the gaps of the partly finished puzzle in your mind, but you don’t know what it’s going to look like when it’s finished. I haven’t given you all the pieces yet. Will you accept each piece as I give it, knowing that it might have different colors than you thought it would, but that it will all fit together perfectly in My puzzle of grace in your life? When you start to worry about the future, thank Me for the pieces I’m preparing for you, knowing that I will give each one at the right time.  

When You Don’t Feel Successful

Isaiah had gotten the hang of walking and was delighted with his new level of freedom. When I decided it was time to sweep the floors of our tiny basement apartment, I would set up some toys for him to play with and rush over to the kitchen with my broom. About two seconds later, Isaiah would innocently (or not so innocently?) wander over and stand right in the middle of the pile of crumbs I had just gathered. Or he would want to help, and spread the dirt with the broom in a perfectly even layer across the floor again.


With two kids now, tasks that I used to get done quickly now take at least three times as long (some kind of weird exponential thing, I’ve found).

One time, we had a couple Chinese international students in our home for a meal. They were surprised that I stayed at home and kept commenting on how clean our apartment was. (I guess clean is a relative term.) I wasn’t sure if it was because in some Asian cultures people don’t visit each other’s homes but instead go out to eat together, or if they were trying to validate my role as a wife and stay-at-home mom, or because they knew those words in English. But it made me think about how I spend my time each day.



Sometimes it feels like I’m stumbling through each week, not even sure what is making me so busy. The whirlwind of Bible reading, housework, child care, training, email, writing, people interactions, budgeting, shopping, and food prep compete with the unexpected car repairs and “Honey-could-you’s” for the same 24 hour period.

When tasks don’t feel like they are running smoothly, it’s easy for me to get discouraged, thinking I should be using my time better. I try to convince myself that I should have been able to predict the future, with all the unexpected changes to my day, because doesn’t God want me to be efficient for Him?

Being Like God

Jen Wilkin, in her newest book, None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us, wrote the specific words of conviction I needed to hear:

We must recover the truth that was obscured by the Serpent: rather than being like God in his unlimited divinity, we are to be like God in our limited humanity. (25)

It feels much more natural to spend my energy trying to predict my baby’s nap schedule, figure out how I should have spent my writing time, or run myself ragged trying to get tasks crossed off my to-do list, rather than asking God to work in me to reflect His goodness, mercy, holiness, and faithfulness.

Jen Wilkin puts it this way:

So it has been ever since [the Fall]: human beings created to bear the image of God instead aspire to become like God. Designed to reflect his glory, we choose instead to rival it. . . Rather than worship and trust the omniscience of God, we desire to be all-knowing ourselves. Rather than celebrate and revere his omnipotence, we seek ultimate power in our own spheres of influence. (23)

How often do I dismiss the requests of my preschooler to read him a book or help me in the kitchen because it doesn’t fit in with my time table?

How often do I get frustrated by the unexpected phone call that comes as soon as both kids are down for a rest? Or my husband’s vision for the evening looks nothing like mine?

Faithful Is Successful?

My mentor Natalie told me about a book she’s been reading called Faithful is Successful. When I told her that I wasn’t sure how to feel about my writing goals and ministry desires that I don’t have time for, she asked a question along the lines of, “What if God wants to grow a faithful heart in me?” (rather than being proud of the accomplishments I’ve produced). What happens when the success becomes old news?


She reminded me that even in the church, it’s natural for people to value serving others as efficiently as possible, to fulfill as many people’s desires as possible, so that we can reach out to as many as possible. But what if God wants to use me for a task that would take someone else half the time or less?

In Exodus 3, Moses spent almost the whole conversation around the burning bush trying to convince God that he wasn’t the best man for the job. But God didn’t respond with, “I chose you because you are so gifted and will make me proud.” He tells Moses that He will be with him. He gives him His name, “I AM.” He shows him signs of His power. And he gives him his brother Aaron to help.

In her chapter on God’s infinite mystery, Jen Wilkin reminded me of the way God sees me. 

Apprehending with complete accuracy the best and the worst of me, he is neither impressed nor horrified. He accepts me as I am because of Christ. Nothing is hidden before the One who formed my inmost being, and because I am fully known, I am fully free to love the God I only know in part. (38)

I may not understand everything about the way God’s kingdom is coming, but I can trust HIs leading and get excited about what God is doing with and without me. But the details need to be left up to Him. When I move forward and bump up against my limitations, it is a way for God to bring about His timetable in my life.


As I’ve continued to edit and re-write my novel, I’ve been discouraged when I’ve felt like I didn’t get much done before the dishes, laundry, and little voices started calling loud enough to pull me away. But as my mentor said, “What if the process of writing creatively is to bless me right now?”

What if writing is something God is providing for me? Something to let a completely reckless part of my brain dance around and try something new? A chance to enjoy reflecting the Creator, who is the only One who can create something from nothing?

What if, rather than pursuing a feeling of “I came, I saw, I conquered” by the end of the day, I laid what did happen at Jesus’ feet, inviting Him to redeem it–even my unkind words to my preschooler or the living room that didn’t get picked up–according to His good plan for my life? What if Jesus freed us from the illusion that we could accurately measure our level of success anyway?

Or, as Jen Wilkin puts it:

“Praise God that his plans do not rely on my faithfulness, his joy doesn’t hinge on my good behavior, his glory doesn’t depend on my performance. I stumble along, chasing my own agendas and plotting my own ends, occasionally offering him the reverence he is perpetually due. He is unruffled and unharmed by my inconsistency. He is pleased to be glorified either through me or in spite of me, but he does not need me in the least. And yet he loves me, deeply and eternally, for no other reason than “according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:3-6). (60)

Echoing Moses

Moses, the man who asked God to send someone else, wrote a song filled with what he had learned about God and about himself as he saw God deliver the Israelites out of Egypt and through the wilderness, toward God’s promised land.

What if we began our days, echoing his words?

Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God. (
Psalm 90:2)


What if we numbered our days, remembering that we are dust?

What if, in the same breath, we asked Him something that He longs to do for us? “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.” (90:14)

What if we asked Him to help us see His splendor and share it with our children?

What if we started and ended each day with the last verse?

May the favor[a] of the Lord our God rest on us;
    establish the work of our hands for us—
    yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)

When God is the One establishing our work, it is enough. Maybe He’s preparing us for opportunities we could never imagine. Maybe the desires we do have to host a Bible study, or visit sick people at the hospital, or go on a trip to encourage missionaries overseas, are desires that God planted but wants to grow into reality in a different stage of our lives.

Can we trust that what God is doing in our lives now will connect with what He is going to do in five, 10, or 20 years? Do we need to see how He’s connecting the dots? (so that we can approve of it beforehand?)

When I am seeking to be faithful, it helps me to see how my family is a part of what God is establishing, rather than an interruption of it. I won’t be trying to yank everyone around me into the swirling funnel of my plans so that we’ll all fall out the bottom into my desired outcome.

I’ll be able to help my children and husband be who God created them to be. To welcome others into a home where it’s okay to make mistakes. To talk of God’s faithfulness and what He is teaching me over the dinner table (or changing table), rather than the number of times the potty was remembered too late.

Father, would you forgive us for trying to establish ourselves without you? Give our hearts a desire for faithfulness. Please establish the work of our hands today. We are Yours.

4 Ways to Transform Your Thoughts

Becoming a mother has added more spice of unpredictability than I often think should go with the job description.

Desitin on the carpet.

200 wipes blanketed across his bedroom.

A box of elbow macaroni dumped on the kitchen floor.

Demands shouted.

Tears of defiance.

Acts of disobedience even during moments of discipline.

No matter what stage of life we are in, our circumstances can make us feel out of control, stupid and helpless.


For many years, I didn’t give much thought to what was going on inside my brain. I figured that if I acted in the right way, I should be fine.

After all, no one could read my mind, so how could I be hurting anyone if I kept my frustrations hidden?

But certain thoughts have a way of taking over, until there is no more room for optimism, hope, and especially not a life of joy.

Like an unsuccessful attempt to hold back a wave of nausea, our discouragement can spew from our lips in harsh tones, ungratefulness, and self-pity.

We forget that every day there is a battle raging inside our mind and heart.

Thoughts warped by sin versus thoughts transformed by God’s truth.

I used to allow thoughts to flow through my mind like a television channel of Spanish soap operas, not even bothering to look for the remote.


I ignored the power the Spirit longed to offer.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

We have access to power the world could only dream of.

When we let our thoughts enslave us, we are choosing not to acknowledge the freedom and righteousness offered because of the gospel.

We lose ground when we try to imitate the world’s answers—either gritting our teeth as we will ourselves to think positively or giving up and living for fleeting bursts of pleasure that we try to coax from our circumstances.

But Jesus invites us to let His Spirit do the sometimes painful work of grabbing onto His truth and fighting through the thoughts that want to pull us down.

Because as my mentor once asked me, “What would you lose by giving up on the battle?”

Here are a few thought patterns I’ve needed the Spirit’s help to capture and destroy with the sword of His truth.

  1. Concerns about the future

My mind seems to hop so quickly from planning ahead to worrying about what it will look like. One moment I might be enjoying the cute baby girl clothes I’ve been given, and then next, I find myself fearing what life will be like when there’s a person to wear them and a toddler to continue needing me.

It’s been helpful to picture Jesus’s presence with me, caring for me in my future imaginings, instead of trying to figure out how I’ll have the strength to do it on my own.

Sometimes speaking the concerns out loud or imagining myself putting them in a basket to offer to God has given a sense of release. (1 Peter 5:7)

  1. Feelings of inadequacy and unproductiveness

In the days when I know I was busy all day but can’t quite put my finger on what I actually accomplished, I need to invite Christ’s sufficiency to fill my mind.

Because of Jesus, the Father is completely satisfied with me. I am significant because I am His, not because I was able to cross off every item (or even one) from my to-do list.

  1. Evaluating the past/decisions

It’s the conversation that plays over and over in my head as I’m trying to fall asleep. Did I say the wrong thing? Why did I feel so stupid around that person?

Did I spend my time on the right tasks today?

I need to remind myself that Jesus has paid for all my past mistakes, including the ones from that day. And sometimes, I need to just thank Him for loving me in my accident-prone humanness.

  1. Responding in frustration to events happening in the present

It can be discouraging to clean up other people’s “messes,” in addition to dealing with all the unexpected sicknesses, difficult conversations, and car repairs. I often want to stew over my situation and vent to whoever is closest to me.

The world might try to fix it by telling us to “put on a happy face.” But feelings can bubble over quickly when only a forced smile is trying to hold it back.

It’s been helpful for me to practice saying little phrases as soon as something happens, ranging from “Uh-oh” to “I trust you, Jesus.”

He also invites us to pour out our struggles to Him in humility, as so many of the psalmists did.


Still Walking

Because we are still on the journey to sanctification, it’s not possible to cross out our unhealthy thoughts and let our minds simply be blissfully blank.

Paul encourages the Philippians by saying,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (4:8)

Here are a few ways I’ve found to invite the “excellent” thoughts in.

  1. Find someone to speak truth into your life and give perspective.

Maybe I need to consider the person I typically vent to. Does this person point me to my need for Jesus and remembering the gospel? Can this person help me to step back from my situation and consider the other factors involved?

  1. Give praise and thanks—all the time.

Author and mother Rachel Jankovic writes, “When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life. And of course when you are at peace with God and with His will for your life, you are equipped to do great things.” (Fit to Burst, p. 119)

If the Saturday of fix-it tasks ends worse than when we started, we can still give thanks and cry at the same time.

It’s a lot easier for me to give thanks when I do it out loud, so if I think of something while I’m cooking or driving, I just say it. (And an added bonus is that if my son is within earshot, he has the chance to join in my thanks.)

  1. Put on each piece of the armor of God.

There have been times that praying through each piece of the armor of God (found in Ephesians 6:10-17)  has given a structure to my “battle prayers,” inviting truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God to cover each part of me. (Click here for a more detailed post on this.)


  1. Cultivate an attitude of surrender.

God knows that our troubles don’t feel “light and momentary,” even if we feel ashamed for getting so bent out of shape over them. We have a high priest who sympathizes with us and is using our difficulties to prepare a future weight of glory (Click here for an incredible John Piper sermon on this topic).

When I open myself up to how God wants to use my circumstances, He can transform them in His infinite power and wisdom or bring us the peace to walk through them.

Will you fight today?

Jesus, we need Your Spirit’s power to live in Your freedom. Would You shape our minds to look more like Yours? Thank you for the life of joy you offer now and the sure hope of eternal enjoyment on your New Earth.