fbpx

 

My toddler wakes up in the morning with one thing on her mind: toast. How do I know? It’s the first word out of her mouth the moment her feet hit the floor. She loves toast, and she wants it every single day. She loves toast so much, she can’t even wait for it to finish toasting. So, she eats half a piece of plain bread while the other half toasts.

There’s so much about my toddler’s vibrance and vigor for life that I admire. This may seem like a silly one, but physical hunger and the desire to fill it is such a natural part of life. Just ask the Israelites in the wilderness. They had one thing on their mind: food.

Exodus 16:2-3

And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness: and the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

God had brought them out of the land of Egypt, but they weren’t too thrilled about it. What was the point of being free if they were going to starve to death? But they could have trusted the God who set them free to take care of their every need. He had no intention of letting them starve.

Exodus 16:4

Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.

God heard the cries of his children for toast, and He was going to provide bread from heaven to meet their needs.

Exodus 16:14-15

And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground. And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the Lord hath given you to eat.

Have you ever wondered where the name “manna” came from? It literally means, “What is it?” The Israelites had no clue what this white stuff on the ground was! It wasn’t snow in the desert; it was a miracle even greater. God had provided for their most basic need, even when they didn’t believe He would. I can trust that God will provide for my needs as well.

God wanted so much more than to meet their physical needs. He had a lesson to teach them, and He wanted to provide for their spiritual needs as well. I’ll be sharing more about manna on the blog next Friday. If you don’t want to miss it, make sure you’re subscribed to my newsletter by leaving your name and email address below. I’ll send a fresh devotional to your inbox every week, as well as a link to my latest blog post so you never miss a thing. (You’ll also get my 60 Second Quiet Time in your inbox today, absolutely free!)

 

The options for devotional materials are endless, and I feel like I’ve tried almost everything. Devotional books, prayer journals, journaling prompts, gratitude journals, journaling Bibles, and just plain Bibles. Then there are the accessories. Accessories??? Pens, markers, highlighters, pencils, washi tape, and Post-it Notes. And should I drink coffee or tea? Who knew having a quiet time could be so complicated!

It’s easy to get bogged down in what you believe your quiet time should look like physically, but I recently had an encouraging conversation with a friend that challenged me in my thinking. If you’re overwhelmed with all the options, I want to share with you three essential elements of a quiet time to help you have a meaningful, daily time with the Lord.

FOCUS

Our quiet time isn’t just another thing for us to do; it’s about a Person who wants to spend time with us. What matters about our quiet time is spending time with God. A quiet time should begin with placing our focus on the Person we are spending time with. What if we sat down and asked God what He wanted our quiet time to look like? His answer for you may be different than His answer for me; it may even be different than what you expected it to be! Rather than holding yourself to an impossible standard of what you think your quiet time should look like, ask God to show you what He wants. I know this is a prayer He will answer! If our focus is in the right place, there are really only two other essential elements to a quiet time.

LISTEN

Relationships are built on listening. It seems obvious that if we want to build a relationship with God, we should listen to what He has to say. I’m so thankful He has preserved His perfect Word for us to read in the English language. We don’t have to wait for some miraculous revelation to hear from God; He’s already given us everything we need in the Bible. Although reading what men have written about God’s Word can be helpful, it’s important to first understand what God has said in His Word firsthand. I’m thankful for commentaries and Bible study tools, but they can never replace the Word of God. It is an essential element in a quiet time.

SPEAK

I’m a quiet person by nature. Unfortunately, this has kept me from making friends many times over the years. I’m happy to listen to someone talk all day long, but a relationship can never really be built unless I open myself up to that person as well. God already knows everything about us, but He still wants us to talk to Him in order to build a close relationship! My approach to quiet time has often been like my approach to friendship: I would much rather read what God has to say than say anything myself. But prayer is an essential element of quiet time. If you don’t know what to say to God, start by telling Him about your day. He’s always ready to listen.

 

If our focus is on God and we include some element of listening to Him through His Word and speaking to Him through prayer, the rest of what our quiet time looks like is between us and the Lord. The length of time or the number of chapters we read don’t matter. What matters is that we’re sensitive to what the Lord is leading us to do.

 

Journaling is by far my favorite activity. I started keeping a journal when I was ten years old, and I’ve hardly missed a day since. I saw a journaling Bible for the first time when I was in high school, and the concept was beyond appealing to me. I don’t know why it took me so long to actually get one. Probably because I’ve never actually bought myself a Bible; they’ve always been gifted to me.

My husband bought a journaling Bible for me last fall. A friend of ours hand painted the cover, and it is absolutely beautiful. Beauty aside, what I love about it the most is the purpose for which it was made: taking notes in the margins. I’ve always written notes in the tiny margins of my Bibles, but I finally have a Bible with plenty of space for writing. If you’re interested in Bible journaling, I want to share my Bible journaling essentials with you to help you get started.

A JOURNALING BIBLE

This one is obvious, but you’ll need a journaling Bible. There are many options, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. The two main options are margins without lines and margins with lines. My journaling Bible has margins with lines. This is a good option for me because I’m using it to write notes about the passage of Scripture I’m reading. If you’re a note taker, this would be a good option for you. I like this one.

If you’re more artistic and want to do hand lettering or sketches in the margins, a Bible without lined margins might be a better option for you. This one would be perfect!

HIGHLIGHTERS

I was never one to highlight in my Bible until I started using a journaling Bible, but now that I’ve started, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Underlining is fine, but highlighters look so much neater. I love these highlighters because they are double ended. The fine tip end is perfect for highlighting in smaller print Bibles. They’re also not fluorescent like most highlighters, and they don’t bleed through. (Disclaimer: journaling Bibles usually have thicker pages. I can’t say if they would bleed through a regular Bible with very thin pages.)

A PEN

You’ll want a pen that you like to write with. I use a nice ballpoint pen like this one. Fountain pens are always fun, but I haven’t tried one in my journaling Bible. This really depends on your preference. If there’s a type of pen you normally like writing with, go with that one. You really can’t go wrong.

WASHI TAPE

You can use washi tape for so many different things. The thing I use it for the most is marking the verse where I left off. I just tear off a little piece and stick it by the verse where I want to pick up tomorrow. It won’t ruin the pages of any Bible, and you can reuse the same piece over and over. You could also stick a strip of washi tape vertically beside a passage you want to take notes on. This would mark which verses go with which notes. Get creative here!

 

The sky is really the limit when it comes to Bible journaling, but these are my essentials to get you started. If you have any other tips, I would love to hear about them in the comments!

 

My toddler woke up at 6:45 a.m. this morning ready to go. Ready or not, it was time to get up. I don’t even try to get up before my little early riser to read my Bible in the morning, and I’m totally okay with that. There’s nothing wrong with waiting to have a quiet time when you’re at your best. For me right now, that’s 1:30 p.m. when my toddler is napping. That’s my daily appointment with the Lord, and I look forward to it.

I’ve heard many good arguments for keeping a morning quiet time, and I have no desire to dispute those. There are excellent reasons to meet with the Lord first thing in the morning, and I look forward to the time when I will again be able to have that time in the morning. Meeting with the Lord in the morning sets the tone for your day and gives you the strength you need for whatever may come your way. But if it’s not possible to have a quality quiet time with the Lord in the morning, there are a few things you can do to set the right tone for your day anyway.

READ A FEW VERSES TO START YOUR DAY

Our Bible reading time doesn’t always have to be extensive, and our quiet time may not always be quiet. Even though I don’t have my quiet time in the mornings, I like to read a Psalm out loud at the breakfast table with my daughter. It’s important for her to hear the Word of God, but I do this mostly for myself. This gives me a chance to get my focus on the Lord, and it sets a positive tone for the rest of my day.

LISTEN TO AN AUDIO BIBLE

If you’re an auditory learner like my husband, this may be a good option for you. You can listen to the Bible on an app on your phone while you get ready in the morning. I still recommend having a time later when you sit down and focus completely on spending time with God, but this is a great way to set the tone for your day until you have time for a more focused quiet time.

PLAY UPLIFTING MUSIC

Even when life is a little chaotic, having uplifting music playing in the background can make a big difference in your mindset. Have a go-to playlist of encouraging Christian music to easily set the right tone for the day for your entire family. When things quiet down a little bit and you are able to have a focused time with the Lord, your heart will already be prepared for what He has to teach you.

I pray that these ideas will give you a practical way to set the tone for your day when it’s just not possible to have a morning quiet time. Do you have any more tips? Tell me about them in the comments! If you need a practical way to focus your attention on the Lord, I have a free resource just for you. The 60 Second Quiet Time is designed to teach busy women how to take just one minute to refocus their attention on the Lord. Enter your name and email address below, and I will send this guide directly to your inbox!

 

I’ve consistently taken sermon notes for over half of my life, but I’ve always felt a little bit of regret that I didn’t know how I could possibly find a set of notes again if I wanted to reference it. So, my journals have just collected dust on my shelves as time has passed. Occasionally I’ve remembered a specific sermon and tried in vain to find my notes. I may have actually gone back and read my notes once or twice, but certainly no more than that.

I was recently sitting listening to a sermon, and there were so many incredible truths mentioned that I wanted to write all of them in the margin of my Bible so that I wouldn’t forget them! Unfortunately, there wasn’t room in the margin of my Bible, and I was faced with the sad reality that I likely wouldn’t go back and read my sermon notes again. In that moment, I thought of a way that I could easily reference my sermon notes over and over again. Not only would this serve to help me remember the sermons I hear, but it would also enhance my personal Bible study. Over the last couple months, I’ve developed a system to take sermon notes that are actually usable. I hope part (or all!) of this system will be helpful for you, too.

Keep your notes in one place, in chronological order.

Whether you scribble sermon notes on the back of a bulletin or fill in the blanks on a handout, chances are you aren’t keeping that piece of paper very long. I love fill in the blank handouts as much as the next person, but after a while, it’s almost impossible to keep up with them all!

Personally, I find that it’s best to have a notebook specifically for taking sermon notes. I use these Moleskine notebooks. If your church does use some sort of printed outline, go ahead and take one; just transfer any notes you want to keep into your notebook.

If the fill in the blank outline is a must for you, there are a couple ways to keep them organized. You could keep them all in a file box in chronological order, but this may be a little more difficult to sort through when you need to find a specific set of notes. The second option is a bit more labor intensive, but if you have a scanner, you can scan the handouts and save them in a file together on your computer. I had hundreds of sermon notes handouts from college, and I still have them saved on my computer this way.

Whether you write your notes in a notebook, keep them in a file, scan handouts into your computer, or do something entirely different, make sure you keep them in chronological order.

Write the date at the top of your notes and in your Bible next to the key passage.

This is the key to being able to find your notes when you need them. If you’re looking for notes on a specific passage or topic, you’ll be able to find the date in the margin of your Bible. If you have your notes in chronological order, it will be easy to find any notes you have on that specific passage.

I only recently started doing this, but I know it will be so helpful in making my sermon notes actually useful! I’ve kept notes in chronological order for quite some time, so I plan to go back and write the dates for the notes next to the key passages in my Bible.

I realize some people don’t like to write in their Bibles, but I would really encourage you to try this. God wants His Word to make a difference in our everyday lives, and if writing a date in the margins can help you, you should do it! I have a few Bibles (as do many Americans; we are so blessed!), and I use one exclusively for church. There are a few notes in the margins of this Bible, but it’s mostly open for writing dates. If it would help you to get a new Bible just for this purpose, go ahead and do it! It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or expensive, and the margins don’t have to be especially wide. You just need to be able to write a date. Something like this would work just fine.

Take lots of notes, including lots of Scripture references.

If you don’t know where to start with taking notes, you can just write down the main points as the preacher gives them. Sometimes I do this, but sometimes I just write down the statements that especially speak to my heart. No matter how you take notes, I would encourage you to write down as many Scripture references as you can that are mentioned in the sermon. When you go back to study a passage later, you will be able to look up the references related to that passage. And who knows? Maybe you’ll have sermon notes on those passages to take your study even further!

I hope something here will be helpful to you! Do you have any other ways you keep your sermon notes organized and usable? Let me know in the comments!

 

I mentioned in a recent blog post, How to Read Your Bible More, that we need to drop the guilt about our quiet time. Bible study is not a competition, and it’s not a race. Nonetheless, sometimes we find that we feel guilty over some perceived shortcoming in our Bible study time. I’m very consistent with my quiet time now, and more and more I’m setting aside the guilt that comes so naturally when my time with God doesn’t look exactly like I think it should. But this wasn’t always the case.

I can’t help but thinking back to a warm spring night when I was sixteen. My family had gone to a baseball game that evening, and we got home very late. I had been pretty consistent with having daily devotions for a few years, but I missed days here and there. As I laid in bed that night, I realized I hadn’t opened my Bible all day long. The guilt struck, and I promised myself that I would never let it happen again.

That promise carried me for quite some time in my journey to know God. Although it helped me to get into a good habit, my motivation was anything but good. I didn’t want to feel guilty! Over time, my motivation has changed, and I’m far more concerned with having a relationship with God than I am with how many days I read my Bible this week. I hope you don’t struggle with guilt over missed days of quiet time, but if you do, I want to give you three practical tips to help you drop the guilt.

STOP COMPARING

One pitfall we often find ourselves in is comparing what we do to what others are doing. But the Bible itself tells us that this isn’t wise.

2 Corinthians 10:12

For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.

We see that mom who wakes up before the sun rises to have a quiet Bible study time first thing in the morning, or that retired lady who seems to have all the time in the world to study God’s Word if she wants. Meanwhile, we have to sneak in a few minutes of time with God in the car before a long shift at work, or we desperately grab for a verse to hold onto as little feet are padding down the hallway way too early.

And then the guilt sets in.

“If I just had the discipline of that person, I would have gotten up earlier.”

“If I just had the time that lady has, I would be able to read my Bible more.”

If we want to make progress in our walk with God, this kind of thinking has to stop. The truth is, God knows exactly how much time we have, and He knows the limitations we face. Rather than comparing ourselves with others, He simply wants us to give Him the time we do have.

And it may help to remember that the mom that seems like she has it all together and the retired lady with “all the time in the world” have their own limitations too. Life happens to them just like it happens to you, and their quiet time gets cut short. Maybe they feel the same guilt. Rather than drowning in guilt, let’s find safety in the boat of God’s grace.

RECEIVE GRACE

When you realize just how much grace and compassion the God of the Bible has for you, it becomes much more difficult to feel guilty over a quiet time that doesn’t look exactly like you thought it should. God doesn’t have a sticker chart in heaven where He marks how many days you’ve had a devotion time, and He’s not standing over you with a stop watch to see how much time you spend. He’s eagerly awaiting every second you spend with Him each day. And even if some days that looks like spending one minute in His Word, He’s ready to reveal Himself to you in that time.

And if you miss a day? God is there to give grace for that as well. Ideally, we would spend time with God every day because we love Him so much. But when life gets in the way, and interruptions keep demanding your attention, God knows all about it. He understands. He’s not standing there waiting for you to fail to spend time with Him so that He can punish you; He’s ready to show mercy to your weary soul.

Lamentations 3:22-23

It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

God knows exactly what you’re going through. Rest easy in his grace, and arise the next morning knowing that His compassions fail not.

LOOK AHEAD

Looking back and wishing you had spent more time with the Lord is rarely helpful. You can’t go back and change the past, but you can determine in your heart to rearrange your priorities in the future to spend more time with the Lord. 

Philippians 3:13-14

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

What are you spending your time on that you could possibly set aside to be able to spend more time with God? Is it your phone? A favorite TV show? Reading? None of these things are bad in and of themselves, but when they take priority over God’s Word, you would do well to evaluate how you could better spend your time.

As you spend more and more time with God in His Word, you will begin to anticipate with excitement that time with the Lord. There’s no need for guilt when we serve a God of grace.

If you want more help having a daily quiet time with God, sign up below to get The 60 Second Quiet Time guide sent to your inbox for free. It’s so important to start small when we’re trying to establish a new routine. This guide will help you to start having a consistent daily quiet time. It provides a practical tool for you to use when it seems like you just don’t have time in your day for a pause. No time spent with God is wasted; He wants to change your life. Will you let Him?

 

We’ve all been there, victim to that crushing feeling of guilt. “I really should be reading my Bible more.” So, we commit to reading a chapter a day. Whew! Check it off the list, and move on! But what if our time in God’s Word was more than a checklist item? I want to help you learn, not only how to read your Bible more, but also how to make the most out of your daily time with the Lord.

Let me start by saying this: drop the guilt. Bible study is not a competition, and it’s not a race. It’s a daily decision to commit to knowing God better. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and this is something I struggle with. But I’m slowly learning that God doesn’t want me to read His Word just for the sake of saying I did so; He wants me to know Him personally, just as He already knows me completely. My desire is to give you a few tools to help you get to know God better through your daily time in His Word.

LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS

I love reading my Bible in peace and quiet with a warm drink in my hand. I mean, did you see the picture at the top of this post?? I like for my time with God to feel special! And it always is. But that has little to do with whether or not I’m sipping a latte or holding a sleeping baby who doesn’t want to be put down. Sometimes when I’m reading it’s not exactly quiet. Although the latte sipping scenario is nice, that’s not what makes time with God special. Time spent with Him is precious, regardless of the setting.

If I always expect a picturesque quiet time, I will usually be disappointed. In that sense, I’ve had to lower my expectations. However, I can always expect to come away from my quiet time (or not-so-quiet time) knowing God better. In that regard, I’ve never been disappointed.

PLAN A SPECIFIC TIME

It is important that you have a specific time of day set aside for your time with the Lord, otherwise it’s likely that it won’t happen. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when you’re choosing this time.

YOUR BEST TIME OF DAY

A lot of emphasis is placed on spending time with the Lord in the morning, and this can be a great thing. But it can also be a not so great thing if it’s not realistic for you to have quality time in the morning. Maybe you’re not a morning person. Maybe you’re like my husband and you have to get up at 3:30 a.m. just to make it to work on time. Maybe you’re like me and you’re up every two hours with a child at night and the thought of trying to somehow get up before said child so that you can read your Bible makes you feel a little sick.

Rather than giving the Lord the first part of your day, I would challenge you to give Him the best part of your day. For me, that means I give God time during the first part of my toddler’s nap. I’m feeling the most awake I’m going to feel, and that’s when I’m going to have my best shot at a little bit of uninterrupted time. Maybe for you it’s at night after everyone else is asleep. Whatever the best part of your day is, dedicate it to the Lord.

YOUR BEST TIME MAY CHANGE

It would be foolish of me to think that 1:30 p.m. will be my best time of day every day for the rest of my life. That’s why it’s important for me to frequently reevaluate what my best time of day is. Just a month ago, my toddler went from taking two naps to taking one nap. So, my time with the Lord changed from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. There have been times in my life when I read the Bible first thing in the morning, and there have been times when I read the Bible right before going to bed at night. Be aware of life changes, and adjust accordingly.

PLAN WHAT TO READ

Even if you plan a specific time, you won’t follow through if you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to read.

Do you want to read the Bible straight through to get a picture of the overarching story? Do you want to read chronologically? Is there a specific book you want to spend some extra time in digging deeper? 

It doesn’t matter what you choose to do; just know what you’re going to do ahead of time so that when your planned time comes you can get started immediately.

START SMALL

My goal this year is to read the Bible through three times. That probably seems ridiculous and insurmountable to most of my readers. I’m not here to tell you how to read your Bible through three times; I’m here to help you read your Bible more than you do now. After all, the best way to get to know God is through spending more time with Him.

I started reading my Bible pretty consistently when I was about thirteen years old. I missed some days here and there, but for the most part, I was committed to reading daily. That usually just meant a minute or two each day. But it was more than the zero minutes I had been reading.

If you’re just starting out, start small. It will be a huge step in the right direction towards knowing God better. Gradually, you will want to spend more time, and your mind will be strengthened so that you are able to spend more time.

SET A TIMER

This one may not seem very spiritual, but it serves a couple of important purposes.

FOCUSED TIME

Life is full of distractions. When I set a timer for my Bible study time, it’s my commitment to putting aside those distractions for a set amount of time and focusing on God’s Word. That doesn’t mean I have to stop when the timer goes off; it’s just a tool to improve focus and quality of time.

TIME SPENT OVER CHAPTERS READ

One mistake I believe that I have made in my Bible study over the years is putting too much emphasis on the number of chapters I read each day. This can be a problem because some chapters are longer than others, and some chapters may need to be read more slowly than others for comprehension. I’ve found that having a goal for the amount of time I spend rather than the number of chapters I read helps me to be able to read at my own pace and actually comprehend what I’m reading.

EXPECT INTERRUPTIONS

You can set that timer all you want, but sometimes life just happens. The baby wakes up. The phone rings. Someone comes home early. It’s hard not to be frustrated when your good intentions go awry.

Pause and decide if the interruption warrants a break from your Bible study time (or the need to stop altogether).

A ringing phone can likely be ignored.

An unexpected arrival can perhaps be greeted, and then return to your Bible study.

A waking baby (which is my most common interruption) may mean that your time for the day is cut short. That’s okay! Remember, it’s not about perfection. It’s about pursuing a relationship with God as consistently as possible.

There are countless ways your time can be interrupted. Each situation will need to be addressed individually, but God will give you discernment.

READ AT YOUR OWN PACE

In theory, it takes the average reader 70 hours to read the Bible through. If I read the Bible at this pace, I would probably read it through five times this year rather than the three times I mentioned as my goal. But my goal isn’t to read the Bible through as many times as possible; my goal is to spend the most amount of time possible getting to know God better, reading at a pace at which I’m able to comprehend what I’m reading. Remember, it’s not a race. Your pace may be faster or slower than mine. Don’t get in a rush; just take your time savoring God’s Word.

PRAY AS YOU READ

It’s common to pray before we read the Bible, or even after we read. But I’ve found it incredibly valuable to pray as I read. When we read God’s Word, He is speaking to us; it seems only right that we would talk back. Otherwise, it can become a one-sided conversation.

PRAY IN RESPONSE TO WHAT GOD IS TEACHING YOU

When God gives you an insight into the text you are reading, pray in response to that insight. Ask God your questions, thank Him for who He is, or request help in your desire to become more like Him.

PRAY IN THE WAY THAT YOU COMMUNICATE BEST

For a long time, I struggled to stay focused in my prayers. Most of us pray silently in our minds during our time with the Lord, and there’s nothing wrong with this if it’s effective for you! But my mind has a tendency to wander. If you find your mind wandering while praying silently, try praying in one of these two ways:

WRITE IT DOWN

This is what I have personally been doing since last summer. Writing is the way in which I communicate best, so that’s how I talk to God during my set aside time with Him. If you process through writing, get a journal and try writing your prayers out. The main purpose of this is to keep your mind from wandering.

PRAY OUT LOUD

Many people are verbal processors, and if you fall into this category, you might find it helpful to pray out loud. Even if it’s just a whisper, this can help safeguard your time talking to God from distractions.

 

If you use these eight tools in your daily Bible study, you will slowly find that you are able to read more. You will also grow to have a better understanding of God, and a closer relationship with Him. And the closer we get to God, the more we become like Him. His desire is to completely transform our lives.

If you found this helpful, please share it with your friends!

Do you have any additional tips that help you study your Bible? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

 

I took a step of faith on Saturday by moving my Christmas poinsettia from the kitchen table to the coffee table. Why was this a step of faith? The coffee table is completely within the reach of my toddler, and I had faith that she would not destroy my beautiful poinsettia. That faith may have been a bit misplaced.

We made it to Tuesday. My daughter had enjoyed looking at the beautiful flower at eye level, and even smelling it. She knows she’s allowed to smell the houseplants (even the ones that don’t have any kind of smell), but she also knows she isn’t allowed to touch. On Tuesday, I watched as she smelled, and then the temptation overcame her. She reached out a hand and plucked a stem from that perfect poinsettia making it a bit lopsided. 

But here’s the thing I love about my daughter. When she hears us say no and realizes she’s done something wrong, she doesn’t run and hide; she runs straight to us, leaping into our arms. She knows what she did was wrong, but she also knows where to find love and forgiveness. I love that because it reminds me of what God wants me to do when I sin.

Just like my daughter, I have a rebellious heart and a sin nature. I fail every single day. My temptation is to hide, like Adam and Eve did in the garden. But God, my Father, wants me to do what my daughter does and run to Him. He is there with open arms, ready to show compassion.

Psalm 103:13

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him.

My daughter knew that it made me sad that she broke my flower, but I hugged her and forgave her anyway. Because that’s what God does for me. Then I took the broken stem, trimmed the end, and put it in a vase of water. Because that’s what God does for me. He takes my brokenness and my failures, and through the forgiveness of Jesus He makes something beautiful out of my life anyway.

I John 1:9

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

But you know what’s even better? Sometimes my daughter doesn’t even get to the point of committing the disobedient act. Sometimes it’s enough for her to hear us say no, and she comes running to our arms. What if I did that more often? What if when I heard the Holy Spirit whisper “no,” I ran straight to the arms of my Father? After all, when conviction comes, He’s just trying to protect me from harm. He loves me more than I could ever fathom.

Romans 2:4

…despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?


I’ve been drawn to simple for quite some time. I err on the side of minimalist. But somehow it feels like Christmas needs to be more.

More activity.

More commitment.

More decor.

More stuff.

As November was drawing to a close and I realized the Christmas season was upon us, I had a slight moment of panic.

“I haven’t even started on my Christmas cards.”

“When am I going to have time to make special homemade gifts?”

“How am I even supposed to decorate with a toddler underfoot?”

These questions were taking the joy out of Christmas before the season had even begun. And they were putting the focus on the wrong person: me. When Christmas becomes about my to-do list, I miss out on the real focus. We say we know that the focus is Jesus, but are we really doing anything to make Him central in this season? If we take time to think back to the first Christmas, we realize that there was nothing but simplicity.

A stable.

A manger.

Swaddling clothes.

These were the ordinary and somewhat crude things that surrounded the birth of our Savior. He was born into the most simple setting and proceeded to live a rather simple life for his first thirty years. So why do we feel the need to celebrate His birth with excess?

I’m not suggesting we throw out all the festivities surrounding Christmas. I sent Christmas cards, I made ornaments with my toddler, and my husband and I used a toddler-free evening to decorate the house. Before it’s all said and done, I’ll make homemade cinnamon candy and gifts will be wrapped (and then unwrapped). But the reality is, I’ve chosen a bit less this year.

Less activity.

Less commitment.

Less decor.

Less stuff.

This has freed my heart to have space to “prepare Him room.” It’s allowed me time for reflection. And it’s given me the capacity to enjoy the traditions and celebrations I’ve chosen to keep.

In reality, the little traditions we cherish in the days leading up to Christmas are just a reflection of the anticipation of the birth of Christ and also of the return of Christ for his bride in the not-so-distant future.

I’ll still be giving Christmas gifts. But the gifts are just a reminder of the gift God gave to us in His Son. The most loving, sacrificial gift ever given.

If you have a full schedule this Christmas season, and that’s life-giving to you, I’m not saying you should clear your schedule. If you enjoy your seventy-two traditions and your ten thousand Christmas decorations, and that is a reflection to you of the excitement of the coming of our Savior, please keep it up! Celebrate with all the exuberance that is within you!

But if you’re like me, and maybe you have a lower capacity for the hustle and bustle and you’re easily overwhelmed by all the extras of the Christmas season, I’m here to tell you to give yourself permission to do less this year. Clear your schedule. Clear the clutter. Do only those things that fill you with joy and anticipation for the true reason we celebrate.

I love taking afternoon stroller walks. When we lived in Utah, there was a nice sidewalk around our block that I walked on. I thought that would be one of the things I missed the most about Utah because Tennessee is full of hills, and there aren’t very many neighborhood sidewalks. God knew how much I loved those walks, so He has allowed us to live in a home that’s within walking distance from a lovely paved walking track. There are still some hills involved, but I am so thankful to have a place to enjoy some fresh air and movement.

The track where I take my walks is right next to a tennis court. Aside from the fact that it’s absolutely incredible that we live within walking distance of a tennis court, there’s something quite interesting about this particular tennis court. This tennis court is the one where I use to play tennis every afternoon in the springtime. It seems like that must have been just last week, but the reality is that it was a decade ago. So much has changed since then, and not in the ways that I imagined it would. I assumed I would be living somewhere on the other side of the world by now, not within walking distance from that tennis court. I certainly never would have imagined myself walking laps around that track with a toddler in a stroller. Life certainly has come full circle in a way that I never envisioned.

My teenage self never would have believed this was the future God had in store for her. But God has a way of changing our plans. As a teenager, I wanted an adventure. I never would have imagined that I could be content living less than two miles from the house I grew up in. Even when God changes our plans, we can trust that His plans are far better than ours. He knows our hearts, and He wants us to have absolutely full and abundant lives.

If I could reach back in time and talk to my teenage self on one of those spring afternoons on the tennis courts, these are the things I would want to tell her:

  1. Your salvation does not depend on anything you do; God has already done it all.

No prayer that you pray and no good thing that you do can save you. Only Jesus can save you. Just trust Him.

  1. You can’t change the world.

Only God can change the world, but if you allow Him, He can still use you. It might not be in the way you imagined, but He knows what He’s doing.

  1. Change isn’t a bad thing. 

You’ll never grow until you leave your comfort zone. I know leaving your comfort zone isn’t comfortable (it’s called a comfort zone for a reason), but that’s where you’ll become the person God made you to be.

  1. God has a good plan for your life.

God has some amazing things in store for your life. And no matter how that plan may differ from your own plans, you can trust that His plan is better.

  1. God will always be there for you.

Through all the changes, God will be the same. You can go to Him any moment of any day, and He will be there to give you a sense of stability no matter what you’re facing.

The truth is, I can’t tell my younger self these things. But maybe you needed to hear them. And maybe my adult self needed to hear them too.