{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 31~Doing a Blog Series Will Either Kill You or Grow You

Wow! I can't believe it. I actually did it. I have written my first series! I also managed to blog twice a week for the past 4 months (except for those 2 sick days...).

I have learned so much in this process. So much about myself and also about you! Here are just a few of the things I've gleaned from writing these last 4 months:

I really enjoy writing, but it is also very hard and so much work! Making myself do this series made me stick to a schedule. Even when I was tired. Even when I felt uninspired. I had deadlines to make and although you are a very forgiving audience, it helped to know that you were waiting for my next post. That you would notice if I went missing. There were times that I would sit down to write and have no idea what to write on. You were my motivation to press on!

Writing brings out emotions I didn't know were there. There were many times that I would sit down to write and not think about how it was going to affect me. I was very vulnerable and very open and that was painful at times. Sometimes I would have tears streaming down my face as I wrote. Other times I would find myself shaking as I typed, emotion spilling over. There were several posts that had my heart racing and hands trembling as I pressed the "publish" button. Almost every single time, I felt better after I was finished writing. Writing (a blog specifically) can make me feel somewhat anonymous. I learned about myself and this "character" that I play in real life as my fingers rolled on the keyboard. I was shocked at how much I hadn't verbalized before now.

Blogging let's all kinds of people in. And that's good! I know that by writing these words, I am opening myself up to anyone who happens to type in the address or click a link or perform a search through a search engine. I have talked with people all over the country, and really around the world, who have read from these pages. God has used my heart and my mind and my emotions and my fingers to touch those of you that I never see in every day life...or I have never actually met in person. That's so amazing!

You have stories too! I can't count how many times I received a long email, facebook message or comment telling me how you relate. Get those stories out! They are meant to be told!

I really enjoy writing!! I feel more accomplished, stronger, more determined every time I publish a post. Even though it's hard and emotionally draining, somehow I come out a better person on the other side. I will always be a writer.

So there, it is. {31 Lessons!} On to other adventures...

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 30~There is a Difference Between Forgiveness and Trust

As you can see from that picture there at the top of the page (Like the new picture? Our friend, Brianne, did such a wonderful job with our family photos!), we have 5 children. This raising and growing and training children thing is the most wonderful and most difficult task I've ever been assigned. As our oldest children are nearing the teenage years, we are having to test the waters with privileges. We extend the line of trust and see how they respond. If they respond responsibly, we give a bit more freedom. If they prove we've given too much freedom by breaking that trust, we pull the line in a bit in order to protect and train them a bit more. Then gradually, over time, they regain our trust and we start the process over again.

In this process, we try to have an open dialogue so that they can see that our lack of trust in them doesn't equal a lack of forgiveness. When we correct our children and they respond by apologizing, we forgive. We forgive, but there are still consequences for the mistakes they've made. We love them and we don't hold a grudge against them, but there is always a process that we must go through in order for them to regain our trust. Once trust is broken, it takes time and a series of right decisions to regain that trust. Forgiveness is always given, while trust must be earned.

This is similar to our relationship with God. When we are new in our relationship with Him, He doesn't expect much. There is a lot of grace without a lot of responsibility. As we grow in our relationship with Him, His trust in us grows. Sometimes He'll test us. He'll give us more responsibility than we've had before and He watches how we respond. If we stay close to Him, reliant on Him and handle situations with wisdom, He gives us even more. More influence, more blessing, more responsibility. We read about this in the parable of the talents:

 "The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!'"
Matthew 25:23 NLT

However, we also read about what happens when we respond immaturely or poorly.

"To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away."
Matthew 25:29 NLT

God tests us to see how He can trust us. So what does God say about forgiveness? His Word is very clear: He is a forgiving God.

"But if we confess our sins to him, 
he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins 
and to cleanse us from all wickedness."
1 John 1:9 NLT

If we read on about forgiveness, we see that He not only forgives us, but He also requires us to forgive others.

"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, 
forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."
Ephesians 4:32

And I think this may be where many of us, as Christians, can become confused. We read clearly, over and over, that God requires us to forgive, just as He has forgiven us. However, we are able to forgive freely without extending trust freely.

The meaning of the word "forgive" is:

"To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.  
To renounce anger or resentment against."
When we forgive someone, we are releasing them from our anger. We decide that we won't hold any resentment against them. I find an easy way to test this is to say their name and see how it rolls off of my tongue. Is it hard to talk about them without telling all their faults? Am I able to pray for them without asking God to shovel heaping coals on their head? Am I able to ask for God to bless them?

Conversely, when we look at "trust", it means:

"Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

One in which confidence is placed.
Reliance on something in the future; hope."

When we trust someone, we are in a mutual understanding of roles and expectations. We have a reliance on them for an expected outcome. When we trust someone we can rely on their integrity, their character.

I think it is fully possible to forgive someone, to release them from my anger, even to pray for God to bless them, but not put my trust in them. When someone has broken trust, it takes a series of positive, wise decisions to gain that trust back. Forgiveness is an issue of my heart and an issue between me and God. Trust is an issue between me and another person. God requires me to forgive other people. On the contrary, God requires wisdom when I place my trust in someone. This is not to say that we should walk around in judgement or with a critical spirit. But, in every relationship: close friends, a significant other, with our leaders we are to test people according to God's Word to ensure credibility and safety in relationships. Love all and trust with wisdom.

Where are you on this? Do you think there is a difference between forgiveness and trust? Do you find it's hard to offer one without the other?


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


I'm Sorry...

I'm so sorry that I haven't posted today's {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. I haven't been feeling well and just haven't been able to finish today's post. I am excited to share it with you...I'll be sharing about how I've learned the difference between forgiveness and trust.

I am headed to the doctor in the morning and will hopefully be feeling better soon! Watch for Lesson 30~I will post it in the next couple of days.



{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 29~He is Close Even in the Darkest of Days

Yesterday was an important day in the history of our church. As you may know, my husband and I serve at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Yes, THAT New Life. The New Life that pressed on through a change in leadership and a shooting on our campus, resulting in injuries and the death of two beautiful teenage girls~all within the span of 13 months. Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of the shooting. We celebrated by hearing testimonies of God's faithfulness and worshiping the God who held us through it all.

The Works Family | 5 Years Later from New Life Creative on Vimeo.

But Brad and I weren't there that day. As I attended the services yesterday, I couldn't help but think back on the past 6 1/2 years...

Brad and I moved to Birmingham, AL in August of 2006, after serving at New Life for 10 years. You may remember our story of meeting there and marrying there. We were in the midst of growing our family there but after a prompting (that really lasted 4 years) from the Lord, moved to serve with another church. Several months later we were answering questions about our move. Had we known about all that was going on with our pastor? No, we hadn't KNOWN anything. We were following the direction of God to move. That November, when our pastor was accused of a "moral failure", we were as surprised as everyone else.

Those two events, the move and the "scandal" that happened, began the hardest 2 years of our married life. I was 7 months pregnant with our 4th child when we moved. We left almost all of our family in Colorado and moved to a city where we knew only a few friends. Our Colorado house didn't sell and our finances began to take a dive.

Brad was overseas that Thursday when the news broke that things at New Life would never be the same. I remember our Birmingham pastor calling to check on me. As I wept over the phone, he assured me that "everything would be okay." I didn't know how that could be true, but I held onto the strength that those words provided. Brad and I didn't sleep that entire weekend. I had a 3 week old baby to attend to and my other 3 children to feed and care for. I would stay up at night to pray and talk with Brad, who's time zone was the opposite of mine. I was on the phone a lot~getting reports and updates and crying with friends from home.

The months that followed were extremely hard. Our hearts were breaking. The personal hurt was one thing, but to watch our closest friends and family struggle to keep the church family together was especially difficult. There were accusations and hurt feelings and people leaving...it was everything I had ever heard about when churches struggle and we were experiencing it. The media frenzy around our extended family was something I had never seen before. And we were watching it from afar, not able to actually hold and hug those that we love so much. I spent a lot of time praying for strength and protection for our family members. I also prayed for my own heart to stay clean. No one knew how to walk through this situation and people made mistakes. But I truly believe that everyone was doing what they felt was right. The people of New Life Church were at the top of the priority list. Every conversation, every meeting, centered around the idea that this was God's church and these were God's people and that we have a responsibility to care for them. I know now that this resulted in hurts of other kinds which is hard too. However, I know these people personally and I know that everyone was doing their best to get through and make the best decisions they could.

We were watching all of this and at the same time struggling on our own. We had 4 very small children and were far away from family. Our finances were at an extreme low and we were literally living off credit. We moved 4 times in 18 months, unable to keep up with rent and bills. We truly loved the people at our new church (and still have many wonderful, close friends there) but were unable to fully invest ourselves because of all the turmoil. During those 18 months I felt as if Brad and I, and this large yet tiny family we had, were on an island, surrounded by beautiful water and beaches but unable to enjoy any of it because we were starving. Starving for stability and direction.

When I look back on it now, it seems more like we were wrapped tightly, like a baby swaddled in a blanket or a caterpillar in a cocoon. Even though we struggled and wanted out, God was protecting us and strengthening us. Through all the hardship, He really had us in the palm of His hand the whole time.

On December 9th, 2007, we were just returning home after a full morning at church when Brad received a phone call. Had we seen the news? Did we know what was happening at home?

We sat on our couch in silence as we turned on the live broadcast from New Life, our home church, showing emergency vehicles, news crews and SWAT teams. A man had entered the campus and shot several people in a violent rage.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I reached for Brad, who was already on the phone trying to reach family. Where were his brothers and their families? Were they safe? Why was this happening? Hadn't our church been through enough?

That night, we talked to Brad's brother who recounted all of the details. The stunning news that there was a shooter, the moments of fear as he tried desperately to find his son, the story of his other brother hiding in a dark attic with his wife, 2 small children and friends...it was horrifying.

When Brad hung up the phone, he verbalized what we both already knew: it was time to go home.

He had a conversation with our pastor just a few weeks before, processing our situation. The inability to settle down, our house still unsold. We were now expecting our 5th child and were looking at another move as the family we were renting from wanted their house back. And most of all, our pastor explained this "rose colored glasses" phenomenon. The fact that we were even considering moving back to New Life had to be a miracle...most people knew New Life was on her last leg. This shooting would be the end of that church as we knew it.

But somehow we still loved this church. This body of believers that is so STRONG. So resilient. We knew these people and we knew that they would get back up and move on. We talked it over with our pastor and he agreed. It was time to go home.

Now here we are. We've been back at New Life for almost 5 years. We've stabilized our finances and our little family is growing. We love this church. New Lifers are strong and prayerful and worshipful and reliant on the only One who gives us strength. New Lifers know that our confidence doesn't come from any man. It comes from a personal, real relationship with this God who has held us through it all.

He has never been absent, even for a moment. Here's a song that Brad wrote, reflecting on the past few years...


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 28~The Best Gift I Can Give

I'm writing you from the quiet of my home this morning. Christmas music playing, my "home for Christmas" candle burning, tree lights on.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? If only every day of this season were as calm as this morning.

There are so many things to do...

Christmas parties to prepare for and attend.
Gifts to buy and wrap.
Decorating and baking.
Christmas photos and cards to send.

and on top of all of that...

Christmas services, plays, programs, concerts.
Special outfits to buy and wash and iron for each.
Extra rehearsals and snacks to bring.

This is all added to the everyday craziness of life. I know you feel it too. You have your own list. Many shared with ours, some that are different.

Why does this month have to be so crazy? To be honest, many times I feel like I am barely making it through this season. I SO look forward to December 26th when it is all over. I've been so tired by the time we get to Christmas day that I make it through the day in a haze of exhaustion, fueled by coffee all day long.

Why is it that we, as Christians, feel a need to make this month so much more celebratory than every other month of the year? Shouldn't we be celebrating all year long?

Don't we know this truth every day of the year?

This miracle,
the gift of a perfect sacrifice,
born to a virgin...
is it only true on December 25th? Or MORE true?

The true meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior, giving to others, deliberate time spent with those we love...shouldn't we be doing with our every day lives?

So why do we give into the craziness of a culture that has not grasped this Truth? Shouldn't we, as Christians who follow this Christ every day, resist the hustle and bustle and busyness of this season?

This is the darkest time of the year. The sun sets behind our mountains by 5pm every night. And we light lamps and candles and tree lights to warm the atmosphere in our home.

And shouldn't we be doing the same in a culture of darkness? Shouldn't we be light to the dark? To the hurting and needy around us?

And how can we accomplish this if we are frazzled and stressed? How can we truly love those around us if we are preoccupied with to-do lists and shopping lists and...exhaustion? Are we spending the holidays running on adrenaline and caffeine or are we truly giving our hearts and our time to our God who started it all? To our families who long for our attention and time over all else?

Things are a bit different in our house this year. We are still participating in all of the activities of the season. My kids are in school, which comes with extra Christmas activities and parties and concerts and gifts. We are in the midst of children's musical and Christmas Eve rehearsals at church. We decorated our tree (and might I just add that it's smaller and more sparse than in years past? Easier to get in the house and decorate so that we had time for other things?) We're in the midst of gift buying and wrapping.

But my intentions are different this year. We are taking time in these dark evenings to quiet ourselves. To read Scripture and enjoy the anticipation of Advent. I am taking time to look my children in the eyes and hold them close and listen to hearts.

I am giving them the gift of me. The gift of a mom focused on them. A wife with a quiet spirit, a still demeanor. It doesn't come naturally for me, especially at Christmas, and I'm not perfect. But I am trying. So that when they come home from the busy of school and work and church and parties, they find peace. So that they can find rest and comfort in the haven of our home.

What is a way you are focusing your intention this Christmas?

This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.


{31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way} :: Lesson 27~Sometimes the Answer is No

If you've been around this little blog here for any amount of time, you have heard me talk about Uganda. I love the country of Uganda. I love the people of Uganda. In a I-can't-talk-about-it-without-tearing-up kind of way. In a heart racing and words get all jumbled kind of way.

My daughter Brooke says these wonderful "I love you more than..." phrases. Like "I love you more than ice cream!" or "I love you more than pink!"

I love Uganda more than coffee and chocolate.

I went last year and then had the opportunity to go again this year. When we got home from our trip this year, Brad said he saw our missions opportunities "expanding". He wants New Life Worship to be serving around the world. I assumed that meant I would coordinate some other trips and lead another trip to Uganda.

But every time I talked about it, I had this little, icky feeling in my stomach.

And then, on a day that started like any other, everything changed. During my prayer time that morning, I heard a "no". Not an audible "no". But a feeling kind of "no". I knew what He was saying. I knew He was telling me to go a different direction next summer. But the thought of it was nauseating. Our contacts over there are only stronger now. I knew I could lead a trip and see all of these wonderful people again and I would love it. Why would He say no?

I ended my prayer time by making a little deal with God. "We" agreed we would talk about it more the next day. I met Brad for lunch that day. We were chit-chatting and talking about the goings on of his day. And I was mostly paying attention, but I had this nagging feeling that just wouldn't go away. I knew I should talk to him about my feelings about Uganda, but I knew that once the words left my mouth, there was no taking them back. If this was what God was saying, and I admitted it out loud, I was stuck. I would either have to admit that I wasn't going to Uganda this year or admit that I hadn't really heard from the Lord.

Finally, through tears, with my heart racing, I blurted out the words. "I think that um, maybe, that I'm, um, maybe not supposed to go to Uganda next year."

My wonderful, understanding, practical husband. He looked at me with such understanding and asked why I might think that. Hmmm...why did I think that? I didn't have a reason. Except that maybe God was saying "no". I told him about my little deal that I had made with God. That we would talk about it more tomorrow. And we kind of left it at that.

Except that I couldn't. I cried all day. I was angry. I went on a drive and told God that I was confused and angry. I had finally found an avenue of ministry that fit me. That feels so right and so good. Why would He take this away from me?

The next morning, I awoke with the question lingering, burning in my heart. What was the answer? Was He really saying "no"?

I turned on the Bible-reading app on my phone. As I was reading, I came across this:

I know! It couldn't have been more clear.

*Disclaimer: it's always important to take into context Scripture as God speaks it to us. So just as I don't have any "family" in Uganda, I don't think God was saying to actually "forget" the people over there that I love so dearly.*

I surrendered. Through tears. And not the silent, weepy, kind of tears. Like the bawling, ugly cry, kind of tears. I told Him that I don't want to go anywhere He isn't leading me. I have learned that He is a good God. A good Father who only desires what's best for His children. He knows so much more than me and I will choose to trust. I will choose to obey.

I went into the next room and showed Brad the verse on my phone. We both laughed about how completely obvious God's answer was. God knows me well enough to know that it needed to be obvious. There's no wiggle room or getting out of this one.

I had already scheduled to go to breakfast with one of my dearest friends that morning. As I cried all my makeup off and gulped down coffee, I explained to her all that was happening. And as I explained it that wonderful feeling came that always does with obedience...peace.

Although it was hard (and still is, to be honest) there is such a peace in knowing that I am going in His direction. I know the difference between following Him and following my own way. At this point, it's about as blatant to me as going outside on a cold, Colorado-ey day with or without a coat and gloves. One makes me feel prepared and protected. The other leaves me feeling frazzled, shivering and cold.

So, I'm not going to Uganda next summer.

I don't think I'm done with Uganda. Or with Africa. But it's just not for next year.

I don't know the why.

But I do know that He told me to give up a business that was successful when it didn't make sense. And it was to prepare me for my first ever trip to Uganda...that changed my life.

I do know that He took my second trip to Uganda and completely wrecked any plans I had so that He could create the trip that He wanted. And the experiences that I had and the people that I got to meet are treasures that I will always hold dear in my heart. Looking back, I wouldn't have it any other way.

He loves me and is FOR me and is working for my good. His plans are only good and I'm beyond second guessing Him at this point.

What has developed since then is that I am going to WALES! I have never been there before and I have no idea what to expect, but I am excited for all that God has planned for me, our team, and the people that we will come into contact with.

See? All those times that I've told you that this life with God is such an adventure? It's really true! He has such great, big plans for each and every one of us. He has wonderful plans for you, too. But the key is to ask and obey.

What (big, scary, hard, crazy thing) might He be asking you to do?


This post is part of the series {31 Lessons Learned the Hard Way}. Did you miss a lesson? Catch up here.

Would you like to go on missions with New Life Worship? We have trips planned for Uganda, Swaziland, Germany, Wales and El Salvador all taking place next summer. Contact me by commenting or email if you'd like more information!