Limelight, My Companion

All I’ve known is the limelight. This word originates from a type of stage lighting popular in the 19th century, but it is used metaphorically to refer to the focus of public attention. For many, the limelight is a desired place to be. Starry-eyed hopefuls venture to Hollywood seeking fame and attention, but how does the limelight affect one’s life?

I was born into the limelight. After three sons and multiple miscarriages, a daughter had finally arrived. The golden child with a musical mind was quickly ushered into the limelight. Every family gathering. Every school function. Every talent show. Every church event. Every social circle. Every party. Every sports match. Every. Every. Every. There was no place the limelight didn’t shine on me, including my solitude, because even in the quiet, my mind was busy. It never stopped rehearsing the roles I was to play for everyone else. 

The limelight is not a sinful place unless we make it one. It becomes an idol when it’s promoted to first place in our heart. Anything that steals our gaze from Christ, including ourselves, is an idol. 

It’s taken me my lifetime to understand this beast called Limelight and the internal war created by its external forces. I will be in this emotional and spiritual fight with Limelight until my final breath, as I ever purpose to keep it from stealing my gaze.

Recently, my father sent me a photo of myself as a little girl singing at the mall at Christmastime. I’ve seen this picture before, but this time I analyzed the audience’s faces. Most look supportive and sweet. Children appear to be in wonder of me. My great aunt and great uncle are expectantly at my feet. No doubt this performance was promoting their Christian school and daycare business. (“No pressure, Amy Jo. You can go play ball when you’re done. And oh, please wear the world’s most hideous skirt too.”)

Standing on the cusp of a new women’s ministry launch, seeing the faces in this photo afresh, I was utterly overwhelmed by Limelight and its powerful presence throughout my life. It has been my constant companion, my friend and my foe, my nemesis, my well of lies, yet my platform for declaring truth. How will I manage it this time?

No one is forcing me to wear ugly skirts anymore. No one is making me pick up the microphone. And yet I feel more desire than ever to hold it. Not because of  Limelight’s familiarity, but because of the journey to this point, and the story of truth to tell. May Christ increase as I decrease. May He be exalted as Amy Jo dies to self over and over again. And may Limelight illuminate its true and only Star, Jesus Christ, the preeminent Lord and King. All glory to Him!

Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul. Psalm 66:16 

Truth Matters

In this last month of preparation before the launch of Truth Matters, I’m experiencing many emotions: excitement and dread, peace and anxiety, assurance and apprehension, confidence and insecurity, courage and fear. Ugh! How do these feelings go together?

The emotions stemming from security in Christ reflect His power and His presence at work in me. But the negative emotions originate in my flesh. They’re explained in one word: self. Self gets in the way. Self is easily deceived. Self stinks! 

The goal for every believer is less self: less striving and surviving, and more thriving and conquering through our union with Christ. This connection with Him is everything! It’s the truth that matters.

Our union with Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan found throughout the pages of Scripture. It is not a bonus gift to His people; it is THE gift. Why do we hear so little about it, and why do we so easily dismiss this powerful connection?

Our union with Jesus is more than a concept to be understood; it’s a reality to be lived out! Jesus explains, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). This implies that with Him, we can do much!

I will fight the usual trepidations that come with attempting a feat like this launch, but the truth of the matter is, He holds every detail firmly in His grip. And His divine power is in me! I shall not fear. 

Please join us for Truth Matters, a curriculum for women who are ready to defeat deception. The kickoff takes place on June 6, 9 AM, at Harbour Shores Church, 8011 East 216th Street, Cicero, Indiana. 

Such a Place

With Patrick on piano and Liliana on violin, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of this modern hymn by performing it together at our communion service. No place on earth has borne love comparable to Calvary’s. Such a place!

In a place without beauty
A hill marred by blood
Crosses stood, two thieves dying
Caught in sin’s raging flood
But between them hung the Son of Glory
Scorned and beaten raw
Righteous Branch now on a tree of suff’ring
Such a place of love

Such a place found in nature
The Father designed
Knowing well He would ransom
Those secured to the Vine
The earth trembled at salvation’s story
Rocks were split in two
The eternal, matchless King of Glory
Came to make things new

In a place where His blood flowed
Redeeming His own
We find hope for the morrow
Knowing He’s on the throne
For that hill where Christ gave up His life
Still beckons sinners come
Calv’ry’s mount will echo love for all time
Calling children home

©2011 Portion Music (ASCAP)

Aim My Life Upward

Facing east, then suddenly southward
Tires bursting, metal bending downward
A semi collision, the shock and screech
Yet peace was never out of reach

I was in some kind of protective bubble
The highway covered in twisted rubble
I didn’t scream, I didn’t even pray
Smoke rising in the middle of day

Embarrassed but not bruised
Cut open but not scratched
Shaken but not stirred
Silent but totally heard

Surreal yet real
Lightning yet lightening
Devastating yet liberating
Meant to be, ordained for me

To taste death is to appreciate life
The sun shines brighter
The air feels lighter
I squeeze my people tighter

There is nothing to lose
And no time to waste
Completely unhindered
To proclaim His grace

But years pass by and the fire smolders
Where is the passion that rested on my shoulders?
The wreck is now a calendar date
Something to merely contemplate

I thought I’d never change
But my zeal has waned
My bravery has lessened
Lord, help me regain

Motivation to share Your story
Affection for Your glory
Remind me that You spared me
Molded and prepared me

Don’t let them be for naught
All the lessons taught
Facing east, then suddenly southward
Father, aim my life upward

True-Blue

One of us enjoys her wine
One of us says diet pop is fine

One of us packs some heat
One of us is quick on her feet

One of us enters political debate
One of us keeps that off her plate

One of us eats sushi rolls
One of us has other palate goals

One of us is mother of the bride
One of us is miles from taking that ride

One of us is a granny already
One of us needs parenting strategy

Her dog is black, mine is white
Just like our nails, dark and light

Tall and short, hair curly and straight
Opposites make the best muck mates

So stop looking for someone just like you
And find one with heart and nails of true-blue

A friend loves at all times… Proverbs 17:17

Never to Return

When Sabrina was barely three years old, I explained to her that thumb sucking was harmful to her teeth. She earnestly listened and simply decided to quit. I couldn’t believe it! The next few nights were sorrowful, however. She’d fight tears and explain in her sweet little voice that she still desperately wanted her thumb. 

One night, she came to us and handed over her beloved pillow, saying that it made her want to suck her thumb. The pillow and the thumb apparently went together! Bless her little heart. She was not only losing a beloved habit, but a treasured possession as well. To her credit, she never returned to either.

My daughter is ten and a half now. She remains tiny but mighty. I am often impressed with her grit and determination for the things she desires and believes in. I pray the Lord uses these traits for the growth and good of His kingdom as she learns to serve Him and Him alone.

This morning I found this picture of my little thumb sucker. All the memories of her fortitude came rushing back. Recalling her resolve, I became convicted about my own. I resolve to lay aside the “thumb-sucking” habits that are detrimental to my life. I desire to let go of the “pillows” that entice me to the wrong things. I’m not sure I have the same grit as my three-year-old, but that’s okay, because I have the Lord of all creation working in me for His good and perfect will. He will bolster my resolve and convict me never to return to folly. 

To what or whom should you never return?

Gold Fence

Our Christmas tree looks different this year. It has a gold fence around it, standing guard against a very curious puppy. The tree limbs, the ornaments, the lights, the tree skirt, and the nativity scene are all shielded from harm. Of course, the puppy is protected, too. We’d hate for a massive blue spruce to land on him! 

This fence represents freedom for both the tree and the dog, despite that it’s a wall, a boundary, something meant to take away freedom. I’ve thought a lot about freedom this past year, how people value it, admire it, desire it, and even demand it. Our world is operating in chaos and borders, and yet believers continue to enjoy freedom in its purest form: in Christ.

My freedom in Him comes through my union to Him. He brings me freedom from my past, freedom from sin and its shackles, freedom from the control of evil, and freedom to rest in all that He has prepared for me. There’s an internal calm that comes from knowing He is my guard, my gold fence.

Christ’s death removed my shackles and placed them on the enemy instead. Satan is not a being that possesses equal power to God. He cannot be everywhere at once. He cannot predict the future. He has no authority over my life. He is not allowed past my gold fence.

I am in Christ. I am secure. I am safe. I am free. 

This Christmas, as we sit in the glow of tree lights, may we relish the freedom that is truly ours, the freedom that matters most: our freedom in Christ.

Math Problems

My daughter said “Thanks!” to me in a frustrated tone after I finished helping her with her math. She was angrier at the arithmetic than at me, but her sass couldn’t help but be noticed. When I questioned her, she quickly softened. After all, I hate math, too, and I had been pleasantly pursuing my own work till she interrupted. I felt like spouting off a “Thanks!” of my own. 

Pondering this scene now, I’m afraid this is what I do to my Heavenly Father—yell the occasional “Thanks!” upward for all these frustrations below. I may not have math homework to turn in, but many things don’t add up. I don’t like medical bills. I don’t like pulled back muscles. I don’t like counting calories. I don’t like gray hair. I don’t like deadly viruses. And I don’t like the bickering and division in our nation. “Thanks, Lord!” 

This is what I’m actually shouting every time I mutter a complaint—a sarcastic, irreverent “Thanks!” Is He not on His throne? Has He not ordained my steps? Certainly He is and He has. Is He surprised by my mathematical mishaps and wrong equations? No, He is not. 

I stand before my Creator empty-handed. I bring nothing of worth to offer Him. 

Enter Jesus—King of my heart, Lord of my life, Savior of my soul. He fills my hands with provision. He solves my math problems with perfection. He plans my future with promise. He is the reason I breathe in and out, and He is the One to whom I gratefully and humbly pray, “Thank You!” 

Oh friends, let us not lose sight of who is worthy of all our gratitude and worship, the Great Mathematician keeping all things in order. Let’s open our hands to Him. They hold nothing otherwise. 

Glorious Unveiling

It’s funny how people can respond so differently to the same thing. Right now some are raving over the change to autumn weather. To them, fall represents sweaters and s’mores and pumpkin spice lattes. To me, fall means an end to summer fun, a faster-paced schedule, and being cold for the next nine months! I congratulate all you happy fall lovers. There is no bitterness here, but I do not get the thrill!

Here comes the spiritual analogy… people also respond very differently to Jesus Christ. His hometown folks understood Him to be the son of a simple carpenter. Religious leaders thought Him a threat. Many today see Him as a good man, a teacher, or a prophet. But to those whom He has drawn to Himself and given a glorious unveiling, we know Him as Sovereign Lord. 

If you’re reading this and you simply have opinions about Jesus, much as you do about sweater weather, the reality is your face is veiled.

…but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:16-18)

Christ’s value surpasses our personal likes and dislikes, our notions and ideas. He is who He is, whether we recognize Him or not. Our belief, or unbelief, doesn’t change His position of power and authority. And remarkably, though He is reigning supreme over all of His creation, He chooses to love us specifically and intimately and with a purposeful unveiling so that we can comprehend Him as our Savior and Lord.

We may love (or loathe) the change of seasons. Opinions about such things vary, and all are valid. But when it comes to Jesus, the One to whom all nature bows, there is no opinion; there is only truth. Let us acknowledge who He is and bend the knee in humble reverence. If we don’t bow now, we will later, for He is King.

…so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11)

Never Lonely

Loneliness is hard. 

I am often alone in my thoughts, alone in my dreams, alone in my passions, alone in my fears, and alone in my sin.

I have loving children, an adoring husband, faithful friends, a supportive church family, and yet I still feel keenly alone at times. Why?

There’s a void that only my Maker can fill. When I’m thriving in relationship with Him, that space is fully occupied, and loneliness itself becomes void. But when I’m pursuing my soul’s satisfaction in the temporary treasure of earthly relationships, loneliness reigns.

Every night I wake up between 3:00 and 4:00 AM. I head downstairs to put our puppy outside. Then I come back upstairs to my bed and the pondering begins. Tonight, I’m lying here contemplating my relationships, and as precious as they are, my chest aches with loneliness. I could easily find tears. I’m reminded yet again that Jesus is my best Friend, my antidote for loneliness. He is the Friend who sticks closer than a brother and lays down His life for me. Because of my union with Him, I am never alone. I am not lonely.

With Jesus, I have zero risk of being left. I will never be misunderstood, mistreated, misrepresented, misguided, rejected, disowned, forsaken, betrayed, or labeled. The friendship I find in Him not only solves loneliness, it provides a safe haven.

Loneliness is hard. The reason this is true is that it was never intended for my life. Perfect companionship is mine through my union with Christ Jesus. He promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5