The Truth Behind the Smile

This Easter photograph from 2012 always stirs my emotions, not because my babies are growing up too quickly or because of fond Resurrection Sunday memories, but because of what I was battling.

It is a precious photo of my family, but the truth behind my Easter smile is that I was ill from sleep deprivation. I was in the middle of a six-week doctor-ordered process of breaking a lifelong bedtime habit, resulting in little to no sleep night after night. The harm this habit had caused to my body over my lifetime was discovered after I sought care following a dramatic car wreck in which I pulled out in front of a semi and totaled our Jeep.

Just weeks before this photo, I’d been verbally abused and physically threatened by someone in a series of horrific phone calls. The threats increased my fear when our little Lillie went missing at church that morning. The service started late because everyone was looking frantically for her. When she was found I dissolved into tears in the sound room while the choir entered the platform. I was in no condition to lead triumphant Easter hymns, but His strength is perfect.

I see this photograph and feel compassion for that woman of 2012. She could never have imagined that far worse difficulties were in store, the kind of difficulties that could utterly destroy her and her family. I want to tell her that brighter days will come, but that they will be coupled with more dark days. She should know that hardship prepares her for greater hardship. But I would also explain that the scars will serve her well. None of them will be wasted. Most importantly, the Lord is faithful through every trying moment, offering His hand of mercy, conviction, guidance, and grace.

As I look back on those five years of trial, I understand more clearly what my sovereign Lord was doing. His plans always hold specific purpose. Though I’m thankful to be on this side of that season, I do not know what the next one holds. But what I now know with great certainty is that there is nothing too difficult for Him. Because of my union with Christ, there is also nothing too difficult for me.

Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You.  (Jeremiah 32:17) 

There’s No Not

Legend has it that if you blow off all the seeds of a dandelion in a single breath, the person you love will love you in return. However, if any seeds remain, that person may not have the same feelings toward you.

I wonder if we play this game with the Lord. With each stumble, do we begin blowing on the dandelion of His grace, praying there is enough left?

Pulling the petals off a daisy, we recite, “He loves me. He loves me not.” But with Jesus, there’s no not. He loves me. Purposefully. Powerfully. Perfectly. In fact, He loves me enough to separate from His Father, to wear human flesh, to suffer horrifically, and even to die. 

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

How do you view God’s love? 

Some believers rest so firmly in His love that they fail to recognize His wrath. Yet His jealous love will not allow His people to follow false gods without consequences.

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)

Other believers land so firmly on our depraved condition that they’re hesitant to proclaim His lavish love. The fear of sounding like a wishy-washy Christian results in leaving out this glorious truth of our faith.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

The bottom line is that Christ Jesus loves His own. His love is purposefully, powerfully, and perfectly in place. “He loves me not” is not an option for those who are in Him. So blow those dandelion seeds into the wind, or pull off those daisy petals with confidence. “He loves me. He loves me.” 

Jesus Parrot

In the wild, parrots make bird sounds because they are surrounded with other birds, but they learn to imitate human speech when they are surrounded by humans. Simply put, a parrot will copy whomever it hears. Over time, a pet parrot will become a precise mimic of its owner.

Humans are similar in that we are also influenced by those around us. My daughters pick up my habits and imitate me (yikes!). Likewise, I see many glimpses of my parents in myself. I’ve also been told I talk with the same voice inflection as my close friend. We are creatures of habit and we form those habits from whom or what we know best and are with most.

I want Jesus to be the One I know best and am with most. I desire to become a precise mimic of my Owner. Only then will my speech sound like His words, my thoughts align with His truths, and my motives reflect His character. When He reigns as my highest affection, my ambitions will be honorable. This all sounds perfect, doesn’t it? But how do I become a Jesus parrot?

Step one is to choose wisely. Every day I decide how I will spend my time and energy. Today, I choose Him, His word, and His way. Tomorrow, I hope to choose likewise. I know I’m going to fail (and fail often) at representing Him, but the choice to be with Him is the first step in the parrot process. “Lord, help me choose You!”

Who is the man who fears the Lord? 
He will instruct him in the way he should choose.
(Psalm 25:12)

Step two is to work diligently. Seeking Christ through the careful study of His Word and the enjoyment of His presence won’t happen without the determination and dedication to actually do so. “Lord, make me diligent in my study.”

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)

Finally, I must surrender fully to the will of my Owner. He gets to choose this parrot’s flight path. I simply must obey Him and fly it! There is great comfort in knowing His plans are perfect, resulting in my good and His glory. “Lord, show me Your will.”

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

So this is my Jesus Parrot formula:

Choose wisely
Work diligently
Surrender fully

Give Polly her cracker. This parrot wants her Savior.

Everlasting Rock

I posted this picture on Instagram a few weeks ago after putting up our Christmas tree. Every year, we purchase a live tree from the same family-owed business a few miles from our house. A strapping young man helps us pick it out, gives it a fresh cut, nets it, and ties it to the top of our Jeep. We travel back home with eggnog and cookies in tow. It’s a scene from a Hallmark card.

Once the tree is trimmed and watered and lighted and decorated, we place a silver nativity set underneath it that Patrick and I found in a luxury home store when we were first married. We paid $80 for it, which was mega money to us back then. We love it. It’s been chipped through the years, but it remains dear to our hearts as it is the focal point of our celebration. 

The little baby Jesus figurine represents so much more than my nostalgic Christmas memories. Christ is the treasure of infinite value. His worth simply cannot be measured. He is my Savior, my King, my Redeemer, my Lord, my Comforter, my Peace, my Hope, and my Rock. In Him, I am secure forever. Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock (Isaiah 26:4).

The presents under our tree circling the silver manger scene will bring joy to my loved ones on Christmas morning. But as we clean up the wrapping paper and move on with our day, the baby Jesus figurine will remain under the tree, a reminder of the ultimate gift to us from God the Father. Christ is not only the rock on which my tree stands, He is the everlasting Rock on which I build my entire life.

Can I Go Now?

My father and I were recently riding in my Jeep and reminiscing about when he first taught me how to drive at age 15. He loves to tell the story of when I’d stop at a stop sign, and before hitting the gas pedal, would ask, “Can I go now, Daddy? Can I go?”

My dad is now eighty years old, has a head full of gorgeous white hair, and is still preaching weekly at a little country church. I inherited many things from him (including that hair which I shamelessly color): my athleticism, my hazel eyes, my stretchy skin, my humor, my ability to gab or tell a story, and on and on. I’ve watched his relationship with the Lord grow sweeter and sweeter as he continues to study and prepare to deliver the Word to his flock. He often shares with tender excitement what he is gleaning from Scripture. His eagerness for the things of Christ is what I most want to inherit!

So many times throughout my life I’ve found myself sitting at a crossroad, facing the unknown, and praying to my heavenly Father, “Can I go now, Daddy? Can I go?” He encourages me up every mountain and lovingly guides me through each valley. He is worthy of my excitement and eagerness. I desire to be so deeply connected to Him that when I take the wheel it is not me driving, but Him. I never want to lose my “Can I go now, Daddy?” mentality.

“Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned thirty-one years in Jerusalem. He did right in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the ways of his father David and did not turn aside to the right or to the left” (2 Chronicles 34:1-2). Josiah walked in the faith of his father, David. He faithfully led his people to look to God for direction so that they lived with a “Can I go now” attitude. “Throughout his lifetime they did not turn from following the Lord God of their fathers” (2 Chronicles 34:33).

Like Josiah, I hope to walk throughout my lifetime with the same faith as my earthly father. James Millard Branson, Jr.’s excitement and eagerness for the things of Christ is not only my heritage, it is my inspiration.


The past two weekends, I took advantage of this warm fall weather and repainted the lower level outside trim on our house. Apparently, I was not alone in the process. Insects called No-See-Ums became my constant companions. No matter which bug spray I used, these difficult-to-see sadistic creatures continued to gnaw on my skin. I’ve researched these insects and have learned that their bite hurts much worse than a mosquito bite due to their saw-like teeth. Um, yes! I am covered in such bites. I was also sorry to read that their bites can take up to two weeks to heal. Ugh!

At one point, I was high on a ladder, leaning over the edge of our roof while they were feasting on my legs. It was a scene from a bad sitcom. I’d worked so hard to secure my safety by getting that ladder stable before I’d climbed. Fortunately, I did not fall, but I was highly annoyed at having to descend prematurely!

Of course, here comes the spiritual application . . . I am thankful for the Holy Spirit, who nibbles on my heart to awaken me to danger. He doesn’t mind disturbing my self-guided efforts. He is the No-See-Him! I don’t see Him, but I feel Him warning me when I’m climbing a ladder I’ve positioned all by myself. He convicts me with bites of caution and encourages me back down the ladder so that I may reposition myself according to His will.

The Holy Spirit is not an annoying insect, but rather a loving leader who directs all of life. I am so grateful He’s willing to let me experience a sting now and then. How else would I grow?

I hope to never feel the teeth a No-See-Um again. I’m also motivated to be in step with the Spirit so I can avoid His painful nibbles as well.

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things . . . (John 14:26).

The Fall of Fall

Every September I feel the sting of dread. Life takes on a whole new groove. School begins, thus the homework. Ballet and orchestra begin, thus the chauffeuring. Seven choirs kick back in, thus the rehearsals. The air gets crisp, thus the sweaters. I’m holding up my palms in a stop-in-the-name-of-love position.

I truly don’t want to feel this way. Coming off an incredibly busy summer, it’s even worse. There’s some sense of entitlement happening in me where I think I deserve down time and freedom, as if life should be eternally lived at the beach. This is no metaphor, I really own this dream.

Today, in my vulnerability, I’m going to repent in front of anyone who chooses to read this blog. Here is my attempt to surrender to the Lord as the fall falls:

Father, create in me a clean heart and renew a steadfast spirit within me. You have given me a blessed summer. I’ve felt the sun on my face and the pavement under my feet repeatedly. You ordained each day and poured out Your blessings in ways I can’t even grasp. Wash my mouth of complaints. Purge my heart of dread. Make me pliable in Your hands for this task ahead.

Each turn of the season comes from Your hand. As the leaves fall, remind me of Your goodness, and the fact that YOU DO NOT CHANGE. Help me see the blessing of new work. Make me diligent and determined to do it all for Your kingdom’s cause. Then I will know Your joy and fruitfulness.

Forgive me, Lord. I do not deserve Your patience. Change my mind, shape my heart, and mold me into Christ’s likeness this fall. Only because of Him in me, I can conquer in His name.

What profit is there to the worker from that in which he toils? I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor—it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:9-13).

A Godsend

I have an editor extraordinaire
Through every season she is there

Delighting in the written word
Helping me not be absurd

We’re working hard on ministry
So this month I’m blogging poetry

The question is, as she reads this
Will she experience rhyming bliss?

Will she correct my wording today
Or simply blush at the things I say?

I want the world to hear my applause
For the one who’s given so much to my cause

Many times she’s saved my bacon
Though she’s busy, I’m never forsaken

She’s a wife, mother, and stellar grandmama
A believer in the Oxford comma

Her commitment to excellence amazes me
Her diligence is a thing of true beauty

She’s remained faithful through trial and drama
Though I have failed her in my trauma

You see, this editor is also my friend
A gift from above, a true God-send

With every stroke of the pen I think
I’m beyond grateful for Madame Link

My Frenchman

Every month I write a blog entry about some life lesson or spiritual thought that has recently inspired me. This month I’ve decided to write about my greatest inspiration, second only to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His richest earthly blessing to me is my husband, Patrick.

We just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. Each year as July 27 rolls around, we feel the same nostalgia. We ponder our lives thus far, then we dream into the future, all while deeply loving the present.

Sometimes people don’t relate easily to Patrick because he’s from a different culture. Perhaps they judge him because they’re politically minded and don’t care for France. Or perhaps they’re mystified by his debonair demeanor or his soft-spoken nature or his brilliant brain or incredible pianistic skills. Perhaps they think he’s too serious because he’s reserved and quiet. Regardless, no one can come close to comprehending the depth of his true character. Even after a quarter of a century I feel I’ve only scratched the surface of his kindness and generosity of soul. I dare say he is the most selfless person I know, a physical representation of Christ to me daily.

I could wax eloquent about his musical skills, his scientific mind, his surprising humor, his passion for food and cooking, his ability to be present with our daughters even when pressed by life’s demands, and his careful attention to pleasing me, etc.

But most importantly, Patrick is what a husband should be. He cherishes me abundantly. He challenges me sufficiently. He supports me fully. And He forgives me completely. However, what I want to clearly express is that he loves me wholeheartedly.

My purpose for this blog entry is twofold. Not only do I desire to honor this man and declare my gratitude for him publicly, but I am hoping his life is an encouragement to you.

If you’re a husband reading this, do you see yourself here? Can your wife boast in you?

If you’re a wife reading this, may you not compare your husband to mine, but look with gratitude for the specific ways he lights your life.

And if you’re single and hoping to marry, may you be willing to wait for the most Christ-like person you’ve ever met.

I don’t know how many years the Lord will give me in marriage to my Prince. I just know one day together was far more than I ever deserved.

Sunrise from on High

When Zacharias’ speech was restored to him on the eighth day following the birth of his son, John, he prophesied about another Child that would soon be born.

Because of the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us . . . (Luke 1:78).

Jesus Christ would shine upon those who sat in darkness and guide their feet toward peace. He would bring a light of life, calling His own out of spiritual death.

We’ve had so much rain this spring that we are all longing to feel a sunrise. People complain about how the cloudy weather makes them physically blue. I agree it is unfulfilling to take a walk under the clouds, whereas blue skies and the glow of sunshine always quicken my step!

When the clouds prevent the warmth of sunshine on our skin, it doesn’t mean the sun has left us. It’s still burning as brightly as ever. We just can’t see it.

It’s a beautiful comparison to make between our sun and the Sunrise Zacharias mentions. Christ is always there, never absent, even on cloudy days when we can’t feel Him. When our emotions deceive our hearts stating we are alone, our minds must then speak truth. Jesus Christ is the eternal Sunshine that will never stop shining on His people. He hides behind no cloud.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

It was because of God’s tender mercy that Jesus came. It is because of God’s tender mercy that Jesus reigns. Let us not forget this on the cloudy days. He has not left us. He does not change. He shines as brightly as ever, guiding us toward peace. We simply must believe.