Superficial Success

I went on a trip recently where I couldn’t help but overhear much networking, business card exchanging, sales figure dropping and general success celebrating.

I’m pretty sure I could even smell it on the plane, the scent of perceived success. The bigger the sales territory the more of this cologne they wore. Did they win awards for their numbers? Pile on some more of that perfume. Buy a bigger house or better car because of those commission checks? Better add a couple of extra squirts for good measure.

My life looks much different than these people. I don’t spend my days traveling for work, trying to close the deal and feeling like “the man” when I do. Is this it? Is this what success looks like? Are there levels of success?

I have to be honest that there was a time in my life that I would have been right there with those folks. When closing investment deals and climbing corporate ladders absolutely would have signified success to me.

But something’s changed…

The closer I get to Jesus, the less and less my definition of success has anything to do with stuff, titles or positions and the more and more it has to do with a posture before the cross.

When I begin to evaluate success now, I think about things like: How well am I loving people? Am I stewarding myself and my resources well? Am I growing in Christ?

We are such a results-oriented society. We want them and we want them now. Measurable and favorable, malleable. But what if being successful means learning to leave the results up to God? What if success means trusting God more than you ever have before?

Maybe, like me, when one year ends and another begins, you reflect back on it. Was it a success? What do I want to improve upon in this next year? Each year I find that my definition becomes more and more simple. This year it looks like this: Was I obedient? Did I grow closer to God in the process? If so, it was a success.

What does success look like to you?

Fluffy Faith

Two years ago at Christmas time our family adopted a Persian cat that our big kids named, “Tater Tot.” She enjoys giving us gifts. To obtain these gifts, she must go out into the backyard and kill them. Then she proudly drags them to the back porch and leaves them on display. I’ll spare you the details on the various gifts we’ve found on the back porch but let’s just say she really enjoys her hunting time outside. But her fur does not. It gets matted and tangled and recently we had to have her taken to the groomer for a little trim. It’s funny, Tater Tot has always looked so big to me. In fact, I’ve often given her a hard time about being such a big, fat cat. But because her fur was so matted from her time hunting, the groomer had to give her “the lion” cut, shaving off almost all of her fur excluding head and paws. Besides being just plain hilarious, I’ve noticed something else. Once you removed all the fluff, Tater Tot looks so small, frail even.

It might seem strange to you that the sight of my recently shaved cat, stretched out on my couch, reminded me of faith. But it did, at least of some people’s anyway. Because once you get rid of all that fluff that makes it look so large, it’s really very small and even frail.

There have been a couple of times that people have told me that their faith, their believing, feels small. One is when they’ve had the wind knocked right out of them by some circumstance in life, such as the loss of a loved one, an illness, a financial hardship, infidelity, etc.

The other is when the person’s faith has been chronically malnourished. It usually sounds something like this, “I’m just not sure what I even believe anymore.” Or “I’m not sure I even believe that stuff anymore.”

“Okay, what have you been doing to build your faith up, to feed it?” Blank stare ensues.

We’ve all been told that what feed will grow and what we starve will die.

We are all guilty of this at times. Feeding the wrong things, while starving our faith. But today I want to ask you a tough question. Beneath all the fluff, what does your faith really look like? What are you doing to feed it? Is your faith feeling weak because it is chronically malnourished?

Sometimes when our faith feels weak we ask our friends to pray for us and that’s great. But I hope your friends will also tell you, “Joker, you need to eat.” And maybe even load you up in the car and take you to that faith hospital called church. Because I would hope that if your friend saw you starving to death they’d do more than pray for you. I would hope that they would feed you and get you some medical care.

How is your faith feeling today? Fluffy? Starved? When was the last time you fed it?

After all, what you starve will die and what you feed will grow.


Perfect Love

I think we’re going to have to start here—with me saying that I understand that I am treading on dangerous ground, boldly going where many won’t. Many already have and many shouldn’t. But here’s the thing, I have to. It’s part of what I’m called to do.

I hope that though you might disagree with me, you can respectfully disagree with me and we can still love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Have you ever fallen in love? Do you remember that early stage where as Lady Gaga says you were “on the edge, the edge, the edge” but you were scared? Scared of letting go, scared of getting hurt, scared of going here again because remember what happened last time? But then you did it. Because deep down, you knew, love was worth it. Love is always worth it. If you aren’t loving, you aren’t really living. So you let go, you faced your fears and you loved, with your whole heart. And maybe it was glorious and maybe it was terrible but most likely, it was a combination of both.

Because love always cost us something.

The bible tells us that perfect love cast out all fear. (I John 4:18) Here’s how I have experienced this in my life: The closer I draw to the heart of God, the more intense my desire to love others becomes, the less afraid I become. Over time, my desire to love becomes bigger than my fear. Until, I can’t help but love—no matter how crazy it might seem to others, how dangerous it might be, no matter what it might cost me.

It’s this love that sends folks on the mission field to minister in hostile nations. Their desire to love is greater than their fear. They simply have to love people in the way that God has called them to. Please hear me. What I am not saying is that we are somehow sub-par Christians if we are not sharing the gospel in a hostile country because maybe the Lord has called us to share the gospel in our workplace right here in America. And if we are doing so faithfully, praise God! What I am saying is that we shouldn’t ever let our fear stop us from loving in the way God has called us to.

How has God called you to love the people around you? I don’t know. I mean, the bible is pretty clear about feeding, clothing, visiting, caring for widows and orphans, those in prison. What does that look like in your day-to-day life? I don’t know. But you do. You know what he’s calling you to. You know who he’s called you to mentor. Where he’s called you to volunteer your time or give financially. Or maybe even who’s he’s calling you to share your home with.

You also know where you are letting fear hold you back from doing those things. Some of you might be called to do those things in other countries. Maybe you are afraid of what others will say, or of physical safety. Maybe you are afraid of letting go of American luxuries. You fear you are not cut out for it.

God has not given you a spirit of fear but of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7). You are no longer a slave to fear. Let your desire to love grow so large that you are no longer afraid.

If we died in the process of loving the least of these, wouldn’t our lives be well spent?

This week can we spend some time asking the Lord to show us how he wants us to love the people in our world? Could we ask him to show us where fear might be standing in our way and then stand on the truth that perfect love casts out all fear?

No Longer Slaves

Starving Fear

I was a teenager when my brother was engaged in a battle royale with cancer. Only one of them would come out alive. He needed a bone marrow transplant to aid him in his fight. I was honored to be his match. It seemed like a bad time to mention I was also very, very afraid. My fears turned out to be irrelevant as the cancer returned with a vengeance before we could move forward with what was said to be (at that time) the very painful procedure for me of extracting my bone marrow and dangerous procedure for him of transplanting it in him.

I’ve known fear in many shapes and sizes over the course of my life: Fear of what an illness would do to me, what it would do to others, fear of the end of relationship, fear of losing loved ones, fear of living without said loved ones, fear of never being forgiven, fear of what someone else would do to me, fear of being hurt, fear of my kids being hurt, fear of the plane going down, fear of not being able to provide, fear of letting the pain take over, fear of surgery or its outcome, fear of being ruled by fear, fear of never fully being or doing all God called me to, fear of getting it all wrong, on and on.

I clearly remember the day they took my brother away in an ambulance, telling a friend so matter of factly that I would kill myself if my brother died, that I could not live without him. I could not even think of living with pain that great. How I feared living without him.

I’ve heard it said that fear is completely dependent on us to feed it in order to stay alive. I wonder what you fears you might be feeding today?

Psalms 16:1 says, “Keep and protect me, O God, for in You I have found refuge, and in You do I put my trust and hide myself.”

Psalms 56:3 says “What time I am afraid, I will have confidence in and put my trust and reliance in You.”

I cannot tell you what the outcome will be in any of the circumstances that you face, but I can tell you with absolute assurance that you can trust the God you serve. I cannot tell you that you will not hurt along the way, but I can tell you without absolute certainty that the comforter himself will be with you every step of the way. I cannot tell you that your strength alone will be enough, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that through his strength all things are possible. When you feel afraid, remind yourself of who God is.

He is mighty.

He is madly in love with you.

He works all things together for your good and his glory.

He is love.

He is mercy.

He is justice.

He is beauty.

He is life.

He is hope.

He is healing.

He is redemption.

He is freedom.

He is creator.

He is giver of all good and perfect gifts.

When you feel afraid, you can trust in him.

You can trust him to be who he says he is and do what he said he would do.

You don’t have to be ruled by fear.

You can starve your fears to death. Starting today.

You can look your fears in the eye and say, “Only one of us is coming out alive.”

Jesus already gave you a transplant. His blood runs through you.

You are no longer fighting in your own strength.

When you feel afraid, you can trust in him.

Freedom Behind Bars

Today, I have the pleasure of (once again) introducing you to my lifetime friend and cheerleader, Courtney Garza. After you read her words, you’ll want to steal her from me. A word of caution: I am scrappier than I might appear at first glance. Do not attempt to mess with the bestie. Now, Courtney currently hails from Birmingham, working at the University of Alabama. She can kick your tail at Scrabble and put anything together regardless of whether or not she has the instructions. She’s a faithful friend, gifted writer and lover of Jesus. Enjoy!


We hold services at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women, along with half of the correctional facilities across the state of Alabama, every week. There is a desperation, a hunger that these women have that challenges me. I don’t know many of their names yet, but they are a part of our church family.

A few weeks ago during worship, two guards walked in. Without being directed, the women all sat down. It was time to be counted. I followed their lead and sat down as well. They didn’t interrupt the one prisoner in the front of the room with her face buried in her hands. She never even noticed they were there. As soon as the guards were finished counting, everyone stood back up so we could continue in worship. And tears streamed down my face as I thought, “They can’t even worship without being reminded that they’re a number.” Mid-thought, I heard the voices in the room rejoin to sing the chorus:

I owe it all to you my Savior

I owe it all to you alone

Your sacrifice has won my freedom

I was bought by Jesus’ blood

Freedom. With all sincerity, they, in their white jumpsuits and behind bars, declared that they are FREE because of what Jesus did on the cross. Maybe some are just following the words on the screen without absorbing it, maybe it hasn’t quite hit their heart, and maybe it doesn’t seem to fit their situation. But their declaration is still powerful. Yes, their worship was interrupted because they needed to be counted, BUT they could still proclaim truth and find hope in the promise of eternity, even if their circumstance won’t change tomorrow (a wise pastor once taught me the importance of staying on the right side of the BUT).

Several years ago, I was sitting with a room full of women during a Captivating book study session. We were provided a time of reflection to answer questions. During this time, I remember clearly the Lord speaking to me about the cage that I had constructed to keep my heart in. The cage was meant to protect it, keep it from harm. But it had, in turn, become a prison. God reminded me that my heart was never meant to be caged. The door of the cage was open. Freedom was available. It had always been available. All I had to do was acknowledge it and accept it.

Friends, even if the bars are not literal, is there an area where you are captive? Did you place yourself there for protection? Was it a result of your own choices? Did someone else make that decision for you? Whatever it is, freedom is yours. Jesus won it when he defeated death, Hell, and the grave! Will you accept his freedom today?

Jesus’ Blood by Life Worship


It was last December and time for my first post-PICC line follow-up doctor’s appointment. In all honesty, I was feeling like death—to be clear, like death might be the preferable option. Those days of improvement seemed as if they’d been a cruel trick. Now I felt trapped in a rapid, fixed descent never to return.

As usual, the doctor and I discussed life and the latest while he investigated test results and reflexes. Tell me about Ryan, he prodded. So I did. I told him about what a hard worker my husband was, about how he loved me well, and took care of our kiddos when I couldn’t and honored Jesus by honoring me, about how he was funny in a dry way and wasn’t easily shaken. By now, Dr. Lerner was quietly listening taking all of my words in. He gently put his hand up to stop me and said, “He sounds like a fine man but listen, you think you’re the schlep in this relationship…but Ryan married up.” Silently, tears ran down my face. Because, really, what he said to me that day was —- I see you. Beneath all the symptoms, the struggle, the pain, the fatigue, the inability to care for the people that you love, I still see you.

I imagine this is what it’s like for the homeless person when someone sees them as not a homeless person but a person. When someone looks beyond the dirt and grime, the hunger and despair and says, I still see you.

There’s something about being truly seen. It’s like a reflection in a mirror that reminds us who we are, giving us the courage to go on.

Maybe there’s a student in your classroom who needs you to look beyond the behavior and see the hurt and ultimately the potential. Maybe there’s a coworker who needs you to look beyond the need to control and see the fear of loss and the unknown. Maybe there’s a grown up child that needs to know you still see the little boy or girl you adore in spite of all they’ve done wrong.

Because that’s what Jesus did for us. He came to this earth, he put on the uniform of humanity and so many missed him, they didn’t still see him. But in spite of all that we had done wrong, all the times we’d spit in his face, he “wrote his heart across the sky in blazing shade of red” and said

I still see you.

There is someone in your world today, crying out to be seen in spite of their mess, in spite of their pain. Can you make time to see them? They might be in your own home. People you’ve become so accustomed to seeing on the surface, you’ve forgotten to take the time to really see. Today, can you turn to them and in some way say the words our hearts all long to hear?

I still see you.


Upon Further Inspection…

I’m going to guess that I was around six or seven. We were leaving the no-name gas station—my mom, brothers and I—when I saw a brand new brown backpack lying in the grass in the front of the station. I mentioned this to my brother. We excitedly discussed how awesome it would be to grab that bad boy and have a free backpack! Funds were tight, yes, but we also had a way of building things up until we pulsed energy strong enough to send rocket ships to the moon.

When you are six or seven, you are convinced that your mom sees and hears nothing. It’s not until your teenage years you learn that she sees and knows all. “What backpack?” she asked. I spilled out my detailed description of a brand spanking new backpack with two pockets on the front, a dusty brown color that had almost certainly never been used. She wanted to know if I was sure. By this time, we had already left the gas station and driven several minutes down the two-lane highway towards the restaurant my dad managed. I was so totally sure. Was I about to get a free backpack? Was she about to turn this car around as she so often threatened?

Sure enough, my mom turned the car around so that we could collect my free, dusty brown, two-pocketed free backpack from the ground. The whole way back mom threatened my life if there was, in fact, no backpack. We pulled into the station and I pointed to the pack. Mom got out and strolled towards it. My brother Matt and I might as well have been high on an illegal substance because the thrill of free finds just might be equally intoxicating. I looked over at my mom just in time to see her pick up my dusty colored, two-pocketed backpack to find her shaking a rusty muffler in the air at me. I sent us back to the gas station for a rusty muffler. Huh. I was really sure it was a backpack. I sunk down very low into my seat dreading the moment my mom got back into the car. Upon entering, she very graciously offered to take me in to be checked for eyeglasses.

I thought about this very thing on my drive this morning when a large crane on the side of the road magically morphed into a black tarp, as I got closer to it. Sometimes we think we want these things, we are POSITIVE we want these things. We know exactly what they are! They are a two pocketed, dusty colored backpack. But the Lord knows that they are really just a rusty old muffler and he saves us from a trip back to pick them up. How we cry and complain about the muffler, all the while we are so sure we missed out on a backpack. Maybe our backpack is called a job, a relationship, a trip, a car, an opportunity. We are so angry with him for not taking us to get that backpack. Can I tell you that he can see up close, what you could only see from far away? I know that from far away it looked really awesome, like exactly what you wanted and needed, just what you’ve been waiting for. But it’s possible that had you seen it up close, you might have found that it was really just a rusty old muffler.

You can trust the God you serve. If he didn’t stop to get it, it wasn’t for you. Leave that rusty old muffler back there, knowing that what he has before you is GOOD.

If you are still mad about some rusty old mufflers you passed up, can you release those today? God is FOR you. He loves you. You can trust the plan he has for your life!

Now, you be on the look out for backpacks on the side of the road for me while I go and get my eyes checked…


Beautiful and inspiring words!


Eyes open, first thought, I’m still tired. Next, oh well, you must keep marching on. Then, ok- I have so much to do, where do I even begin? Upon rising and brewing up hope for energy in a cup, I begin- already feeling behind. My whole day seems in the deficit. Not enough. Not enough energy, time, patience, self-control. All I see is lack. Everywhere. I hear the ‘shoulds’ in my mind. My children should know better. I should have exercised more. My house should be cleaner. Maybe I should be working. Should I wear this? Should my marriage be more? Should I serve others more? Should I have said that? I’m plagued, worn down, depleted. Day after day, the exhaustion, the frustration, just piles. I don’t even have energy to sort my piles. The piles eventually become a mountain. The mountain becomes hopelessness. How did I get here? How…

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