The Secret Verse – Thanksgiving Family Worship #3

My stomach was twisting into knots and my hands were shaking in my lap as I waited on the front pew of the church. Soon it would be my turn. And I didn’t want it to be my turn. Every verse, every prayer, every story brought me closer and closer to the time when I would have to stand, walk up on stage, and somehow deliver 20 minutes of harp music to the whole entire audience. My parents had volunteered me to give a “sermon in music,” and that meant I would be playing for the whole second half of the church service that day. 

To say I was nervous would have been an understatement: I was terrified. I was only 10 years old. And it was one thing to play a simple 3 minute song and then be done with it. But 20 whole long miserable minutes?! What if I forgot my memorized music? What if I made a hundred mistakes? What if I felt so nervous that I just started crying? I couldn’t remember ever feeling more anxious about anything in all my life. I wanted to run right down the aisle of that church, straight out the back door, through the parking lot, and never come back. And I think I might have, too, if Mom hadn’t started whispering right then.  

Mom must have somehow sensed how panicked and crazy I was starting to feel, because she leaned over, squeezed my hand, and whispered in my ear, “Want to know a secret?”

“Does it make people disappear?” I asked.

“No,” she whisper-laughed, “it’s even better: it makes people very, very brave.”

“Tell me!” I pleaded, squeezing her hand back. I had just glanced at the program, and there was only one more person left before me. It was now or never. This better be good.

“There’s a verse in the Bible,” she explained softly, “that says ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,’ and it’s like a secret – a secret to doing hard things. Just before you have to do something really really hard.”

“Like this?!” I interrupted

“Like this,” she agreed, “you can just say that promise, and do you know that you’ll actually feel it making you stronger? It’s true!” She insisted. “Just try it, and find out.”

What did I have to lose? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said silently to myself. Could I really? Was it true? Would He give me the strength for real? “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I repeated again, as I smoothed my white dress. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said as the pastor called my name, and I stood to walk forward. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I said in my head as I sat down at my harp. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” I decided as I pulled the harp back onto my shoulder, placed my fingers on the strings, and started to play. 

This would be a much better story if I could tell you that the secret verse helped me play perfect that day. But it didn’t. It would even be great if I could claim that the secret took away all my fears and nervousness, but it didn’t really do that either. What it DID do, however, was exactly what Mom said: it made me brave. Because suddenly, I knew Someone else was helping me. I knew I didn’t have to do that hard thing alone. The verse promised that Jesus would give me the strength I needed to do all things – and He did. 

I made it through those 20 minutes of playing with my new strength-secret in my head, and after that, I was hooked. I whispered that verse before every concert, every test, every challenge, and every scary thing I ever had to face. It wasn’t magic. I didn’t always succeed. But Mom never stopped being right – it made me brave. It made me brave because I knew it meant that Jesus could take me through anything. 

I’m all grown up now, and can you believe that I still use my secret verse all the time? I didn’t grow up to be a harpist, but I still end up on the front stage of church a lot – telling stories, preaching sermons, and teaching other people about Jesus’ love. You can be sure that every single time I climb the steps and cross the stage to begin talking, I’m saying something very specific inside my head. You know what it is: “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who gives me strength.” And you know what? It still makes me brave.

What I didn’t realize is that my secret verse is THE BIG SECRET of Paul’s whole entire book of Philippians. He’s in jail for refusing to stop preaching about Jesus, some people even want him killed, and things are looking bad for Paul. I’ve been to the jail cell he lived in: it was dark, wet, cold, and made of nothing but chains and rocks. Day after day, Paul sat inside this jail cell, and wrote letters to his friends. In this letter to the Philippians, he wrote what is maybe the biggest, boldest, bravest claim in all his writings anywhere: he said he had learned the secret.

 “I have learned the secret to being content in any and very situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” And then he revealed his secret, and do you know what it was? It was MY secret. The very same one: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” WOW – this isn’t just the secret to being brave when you’re scared – this is the secret to being at peace no matter what awful, wonderful, wicked, or wild thing life throws at you. This is the secret to everything: Christ can give you the strength to face it. And when you have this secret? It doesn’t really matter what happens. You know that Jesus will somehow see you through.  

This Thanksgiving, after this crazy year, I know that one of the things I am MOST thankful for, is the way Jesus can take us through anything. He doesn’t always take bad things away. But He gives us strength and courage to face them bravely. Being brave doesn’t mean we are not afraid. But with Jesus, being brave means we are never alone. We can do all kinds of hard things, because our friend Jesus is with us, giving us strength. I am so thankful I have a friend like this! 

Family Talk Time:
1. What tricks or secrets have we tried over the years to face hard times or challenges? Did they work? Why? 
2. Paul claims to know the secret to being content in any and every situation. What is Paul’s secret? Could this also be the secret to being thankful at all times? Explain. 
3. This thanksgiving, we can think of some situations that are scary, challenging, tricky, or just not something to feel thankful for. What situation are we not feeling too content with or thankful for right now? How can Paul’s secret make us brave enough to face these things?

Prayer: Dear Jesus, next time we feel overwhelmed or afraid, help us to remember that you can give us the strength to face anything. Help us to believe that. Help it to make us brave. And help it to make us thankful to have a wonderful friend like you. Thanks for being the secret to everything. We love you! Amen. 

Parent Reflection:
1. There have certainly been times this year when we didn’t feel ready to face any or every situation. And repeating the verse isn’t like waving a magic wand: our problems aren’t going to just go away. How does this promise work when we’re just not feeling strong? 
2. What specific situation do we not feel strong enough to face right now? Do we believe Christ will give us the strength to face it? 
3. What is the connection between “being content in any situation” and thankfulness? How does one grow the other? How can we grow this in our home right now? 

The Chiquita Banana – Thanksgiving Family Worship Guide #1

Well it’s early November already – trees are yellowing, evening temps are dropping, the country is deep in the throes of a divided election, our eyes are on the COVID counts, school schedules and work stresses hang in the balance, and safe family plans for two holidays loom ahead of us. In the midst of all of this, we know it’s the season to focus on our blessings. Our hearts try turning towards thankfulness, we shift to steer our souls into gratitude, but this year….well? This year, the shift feels forced and fragmented, and harder than ever before.  

What I think parents need to remember: this turn toward thankfulness is also more important than ever before. 

How do we guide our children and families into true thankfulness and gratitude, in these tricky and tumultuous times? If our own souls struggle for peace and clarity, how then will we lead our children to find these same things we are lacking? Are there more meaningful activities than making the yearly rote list of things we’re thankful for? I’m glad you asked. 

The answer is not new. We do what we always do: we go to the scriptures, we go to our knees. This month, CCK is sending out a series of family devotionals that focus on themes of thankfulness, gratitude, and peace over anxiety. These brief studies can be used at meal times, for evening family worships, and even as personal or marriage enrichment. 

You’ll notice pretty quickly that we don’t have all the answers. And we’re not gonna solve all the problem either – who could in this climate? But if you hop on board with us this month, we know you’ll be along for a much needed ride of revival. Whenever we open the word and study the scriptures, things happen! Our homes, our hearts, and our families are renewed and revitalized in marked and measurable ways. 

So let’s get going church families – it’s early November already, and thankful-time is ticking….

“The Chiquita Banana”

Family Worship Thanksgiving Guide 1

Text: Read Philippians 1:1-11 (Wow, that’s a lot of ones!)


The bananas are what I remember most. There was a funny old lady named Nan who worked at the grocery store checkout counter when I was a very little girl. She knew my face and remembered my name, and every time she saw me standing in line, holding Mom’s hand, she would say, “Well hello there little miss Melissa!” I would search for Nan’s face among all the other checkout clerks, and on days when I found her, I’d always pull Mom in the direction of her line. Yes, even if it was the longest one! I felt so special when she smiled, said hello to me, and remembered my name. But my favorite thing happened whenever we bought bananas. 

If Nan spotted a bunch of bananas nestled amongst our other groceries, creeping down the belt towards her, she would reach for them first thing. Holding the bananas up in front of her, close to her eyes, she searched each single banana for the one that had the blue “Chiquita” sticker: a woman wearing a banana bunch upon her head. When she found it, she peeled it off carefully, winked at me, and reached for my hand. I stretched my little arm out as far as I could toward Nan, and with a giggle she would press that sticker onto the top of my hand and ask in mock surprise, “Melissa! Are YOU a Chiquita banana?!”  

“No!” I giggled, “how can a girl be a banana?” 

“But look here,” she teased, pointing at the sticker, “this says you ARE definitely a Chiquita banana!”

I laughed and laughed. It was the same every time – same words, spoken in the same tone of voice – but I absolutely loved it. 

We moved away from the neighborhood where that grocery store was located, and after that I never saw Nan again. But even as a teenager, when we bought a bunch of bananas, Mom would still playfully poke the sticker onto my arm and ask in Nan’s identical tone: “Melissa! Are YOU a Chiquita banana?!” Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I rolled my eyes. But this joke is more than 30 years old in our family now.

Last weekend my Mom flew from Arizona to visit us on her birthday. We had picnics and went to dinner, we threw a tea party and made all kinds of fun memories together. It was the sort of weekend you don’t really want to end. The morning Mom was leaving again for the airport, I made her breakfast at home – scrambled eggs, toast, potatoes, and one banana each.

I got the one with the sticker on it.

And of course, I knew what to do. With a little grin on my face, I peeled the sticker off and stuck it to the top of her hand, exclaiming in mock surprise, “Mom! Are you a Chiquita banana?!” We laughed and laughed. 

Some stories stay with us. Some people and the impact they had on our lives continues to follow us long after the people move out of touch. Whenever something reminds us or makes us think of these people, we smile. We feel so thankful. 

In the opening lines of the book of Philippians, Paul writes to his friends, “I thank my God every time I remember you, because of your partnership in the gospel from this day until now.” Do you have people you want to thank Jesus for, every time you remember them? These aren’t just people that made Paul smile. These are “partners in the gospel” – people who have supported him, suffered with him, and strengthened his faith.

Do you have people who have been “partners in the gospel” – people who have helped you know Jesus, or helped you teach Jesus to others? Can you think of people who have helped you grow or strengthened your faith? When we remember the people we are thankful for, it makes us smile, brings us joy, and helps anchor us in the good blessings God has given us. It reminds us that God is still actively doing very good things in our world today. 

To the people Paul is most thankful for, he says “I am confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it onto completion.” That means when God starts growing something good in a person, He is going to finish it! It’s okay if there are things in you that feel unfinished. We all have those. God’s not done yet. He’s going to keep growing you, and He’s going to keep bringing good helpers into your life.    

Family Talk-Time:

  1.  Which friends, relatives, and people does our family feel thankful for every single time we remember them? How could we let them know this week?
  2. What are some of the “good works” God has begun growing in each one of us individually? In our family as a whole? 
  3. What are some ways we see God growing “good works” in our church, in our school, and in our world – even in the midst of a hard year?

Prayer: Thank Jesus for the people you mentioned above, thank Him for the work He is doing inside and outside our homes, and ask Him to carry His work in our hearts onto completion.

 Parent Reflection:

  1. How did our kids respond to this exercise? What did we notice, learn, and where did we lead them? How can we refer to this conversation again in the coming days to keep it alive?
  2. Who have been our “partners in the gospel”? How have these people blessed us? Can we tell them?
  3. What have we seen God recently growing in us as individuals, and in our marriage? Is it complete, or incomplete?

Balancing Act

It was the day before Toby’s 3rd birthday, and I was engaged in a strange balancing act in the Toys R Us parking lot – heaving bags of toys over my enormous stomach and into my trunk. My water broke as I swung in the second bag. So many thoughts flashed through my head in that instant: “It’s too early. A month early! It’s Toby’s birthday tomorrow. Where is Greg? Who’s going to pick up Caleb from kindergarten? Should I drive home or to the hospital? My shoes are ruined…” (I still miss those shoes.)

I remember the cold steel of the hospital table I shivered on, waiting for a spot in the operating room to open up. I was shaking so badly that a kind nurse put her forehead against mine and whispered, “Shhh, shhhh” to calm me. We performed this balancing act together, this stranger and I, me shaking and her “shhh”-ing. I clung to her for all I was worth.

An hour later, Wyatt and Brooke were delivered by C-section at 6:30 and 6:31, respectively. I got to hold them before they were put into plastic boxes for air, heat and light. They were the tiniest babies I had ever seen. Brooke had dark hair, Wyatt had 2 left thumbs, and to me they were double perfection itself. I spent the night in a tidal-wave balancing act between intense pain, deep exhaustion, fear, worry, joy, and a distinct craving for my new babies.

The next day on Toby’s birthday, he opened his gifts at the foot of my hospital bed. His remote control army tank drove around my bedside table, and I knew this was not the birthday I wanted for him: playing on a hospital floor while I gasped in pain. Suddenly I felt so overwhelmed  by how many kids I had – our family instantly went from 2 to 4 – and the crushing realization how much each one needed me. This was a balancing act I could not fathom. How would I balance it all?

My twins lived in the hospital for 12 more days, and at that time it seemed like the whole community helped us balance. Church ladies made my oldest son lunch, took him to school, cleaned my carpets and did my dishes. So many families brought over meals, and one family kept bringing them for 7 long months. My girlfriends finished painting the nursery and hung all the baby clothes in the closets. My husband steadied me each day as I limped down the hospital sidewalk and into the NICU. Pastors and and friends waited in the lobby for permission to visit the babies, taking turns watching Toby. It was a balancing act, and we all balanced it together, each in small ways and from different corners. Sometimes we learn balance from many teachers.

And then – they came home, and real life stretched ahead of me. Those next 4 months were the hardest 4 months of my life. Looking back, I don’t know how I even did it. Greg was 2 hours away at our new churches. Caleb had to be to kindergarten at 8am each day. Toby was 3 and newly lonely for his older brother. And I had to nurse the twins faithfully every 2 hours around the clock or their weight would drop, and they would end up back in the NICU. I slept in 45 minute intervals, I ate everything in sight, and I cried every day. The needs of so many kids fought for my energy, and I balanced it all poorly, on so many days. People used to say, “I don’t know how you do it!” At the time, I would answer – “I have no choice – I have to do it!” Now, I too am wondering how on earth I did that myself. Sometimes we learn to balance alone. 

Today, 8 years later, our family is striving to figure out another new balancing act: one teenager in distance learning, 3 elementary schoolers in backpacks and masks unloading for in-person school each morning, Greg zoom-teaching from home, and me working full time as a pastor, a chaplain, a writer, an editor, a doctoral student, and so many things besides. We are balancing work and family, fear, and faith in this new world of social distancing and limited gathering. We are balancing the sharp need for friendships with the constant vigilance of safety. We are balancing leadership in a time when nobody’s quite sure how to lead. We are balancing loss and joy and change and disappointment in a community we’ve given our whole hearts to. We are balancing the unknown, against what we do know for certain: that God is faithful, and God will see us through.

Today, on October 12, I am reflecting on the fact that we learn to grow however strong we need to grow, in order to face the challenges that present themselves to us. That we learn to balance sometimes incredibly heavy weights because we have to. Today I’m celebrating this incredible human capability – to balance, to adapt, to grow, to harness strength we didn’t know we had, exactly when we need it. Some of that’s inside us. Some of that’s in the strength of our community. And so much of it is God filling us with things we didn’t have before. Life is a constant balancing act. But I have found that God exists in the balance between me, and whatever lies ahead unseen. This is the story that my twins don’t know they re-tell to me, each and every October. Their lives are a reminder that none of us balance alone.

The Thank-You Card Superpower – Thanksgiving Family Worship #4

“Come sit right down and write these thank you cards right this minute!” my Mom insisted, “Just think of all the wonderful presents you got for your birthday. You need to thank these people!” 

“Ugghhhhh,” I groaned loudly, “But I HATE writing thank-you cards! It takes FOR-EVER! And it’s pointless anyway,” I argued. “The people just read them and then throw them straight in the trash!” 

“It is NOT pointless,” Mom said, “It is never pointless to appreciate someone. It is very important. It lets them know you are grateful. And besides, it is polite!”

“Well I don’t want to be polite!” I retorted back. 

“Then you might also be a girl who doesn’t want another birthday party next year,” Mom shook her head sadly. 

Oooooh, that burned me. I stomped to the table and began angrily writing out the ridiculous thank you cards. “Thank you so much for the red purse you gave me,” I wrote Corri. How silly. She already knew exactly what she bought me – why did I have to repeat it? “I really love it.” She already knows that too – because I said so! Right when I opened it! “It is so great…” my writing trailed off. What else was someone supposed to say? I couldn’t go on and on for a whole card length about one single purse! “Thank you for coming to my party,” I ended the letter, and signed my name. 

One down. Twelve more to go. 

Because I hated writing thank you cards so much as a kid, I grew up bound and determined that I would never, never, EVER force my kids to write a single one. And I didn’t, either. Birthdays, Christmases, Easters and events have gone by perfectly fine without any thank you cards at all. Being emphatically thankful in the moment has worked just fine. At times, a short thank-you text or a phone call has served to top it off nicely. To my knowledge, nobody in my life has ever complained or felt unappreciated due to the lack of a thank-you card. See? I was right all along! No thank you cards. No one needs them! 

But recently, my Mom came to visit for her birthday. Toby, Brooke and Wyatt’s birthday had just happened as well, and Great Grandpa had sent each of them a $50 bill – wow! 

“I hope you had the kids write thank you cards!” Mom said. 

“I did nothing of the sort!” I gloated. “We called and thanked him just fine.” 

Mom frowned, but said nothing. I didn’t think she’d bring it up again. But when I ran to the grocery store and left her with the kids, I came home to a small surprise. There sat my kids at the kitchen table, doing the unexpected, the unthinkable: they were writing thank you cards. And they seemed happy about it!

“Look Mommy!” Brooke exclaimed, “we made cards for Great Grandpa – see?! I even drew some pictures!” 

“Yeah Mommy, read mine!” Toby insisted. “I told him all about the legos I bought with his money.” 

I couldn’t decide if I was angry, touched, defeated in battle, or secretly a little bit surprised. But my biggest surprise was yet to come. When Great Grandpa received the thank you cards in the mail, he called especially to tell me how sweet they were and how much he loved them. “They really just made my day,” he said, “I put them up on the fridge, and every time I read them, they give me a little smile.” And when he said that part, my heart did something funny: it smiled too. And then I understood: thankfulness – real thankfulness – has the power to give us a special feeling that nothing else really can compare to. Thankfulness is a superpower!

Paul knew the power of thankfulness, too. That’s why he wrote about thankfulness a lot of different times in his letter to the Philippians. He knew that a thankful heart praising Jesus created a special formula for happiness. See if you can find the formula in Paul’s words: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” he writes in Phil. 4:4. “Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Did you catch it? Paul is teaching that the secret for worried, anxious hearts is to add prayer and talking to Jesus, with asking for help, rejoicing, and thanksgiving. And when you add all these things together in your life, what do you get? You get a heart and mind that is guarded by peace – a peace that we can’t even understand! Talking to Jesus and thanking Him for our blessings creates a wall of protection around our hearts that guards us from all worries. Talk about a superpower! I think this is pretty cool, don’t you?

So the next time you feel anxious or worried about anything? Try to do what good old Paul recommends: rejoice, pray, ask for help, and tell Jesus thanks. This special spoken “thank-you letter” to God had the power to protect us from our worries and fears. I don’t think you have to write a thank-you card. But saying thank-you to God really is something special indeed. Try it out!

Family Talk Time:

  1.  Does our family believe in thank-you cards? Why/why not? What is our family’s favorite way of saying thank you to someone?
  2. Read Phil4:4-7 together. Is it really possible to “not be anxious about anything” ? And what on earth does gentleness have to do with all of this?
  3. Let’s practice the special thank-you formula of Paul: let’s rejoice, pray, talk to Jesus, ask for His help with our problems, and then give Him lots of thanksgiving for our blessings. Can this formula REALLY give peace to guard our minds? How?
  4. Who can we thank this week in a special, creative new way?

Prayer: Dear Jesus, we want our lives to be a thank-you card to you. We want to rejoice and thank you for all our blessings. We want to talk to you about our worries and our problems. Please give us that mysterious peace that guards our hearts and our minds from all anxieties. We love you Jesus! Thank you!! Amen.

Parent Reflection:

  1.  A formula for anxiety sounds great! Sign us up!! What are the anxieties hounding us this week?
  2. Why would prayer and praise be powerful enough to bring that “peace that passes understanding” ? How do they “guard our hearts” and our minds?
  3. What do our hearts and minds need to be guarded from right now? What thanks can we offer in faith, against those things?
  4. How can we use thanks and joy to guard our home and family with peace?

The Thanksgiving We Had Hotdogs Instead – Thanksgiving Family Worship Guide #2


I woke up on Thanksgiving morning when I was 10 years old to Mom making that shouting-weeping-angry-frantic-someone’s-in-big-trouble noise….I think you know what noise I mean….right? This was bad. REALLY BAD.

Our company was due by lunch and the turkey had slowly been cooking on low all night long. Except…it hadn’t. Mom prepared it with all the tasty rubbings and Dad lifted it into the pan, mom turned on the oven and set the turkey inside, and we all went happily to bed. Normally on Thanksgiving day, I woke up to the wonderful wafting of turkey-smell all throughout the house. But on that morning I smelled nothing. The turkey was frozen, white and raw, and the oven was dark and cold. And Mom, well – Mom was on full-scale meltdown in the kitchen. 

“Do ANY of you have ANY idea how terrible this is?! We have ten people coming and nothing to serve them! This turkey will NEVER be ready in time!! THANKSGIVING IS RUINED! Just ruined! Which one of YOU PEOPLE turned off the oven last night? Huh? Who?!?! You better tell me who did this right now because that person is in big BIG trouble!!” 

Talk about a motivational speech gone wrong. I can guarantee you that not a single one of us 4 children was inspired to confess. But I started to wonder…who exactly DID wake up in the night, wander throughout the kitchen, and just up-and-decide to boldly turn the oven off? I eyed my siblings suspiciously. Russell was eating snacks already; he slept like the dead – not him. Heather’s nose was in a book – likely how she fell asleep last night as well. Not her. Josh was 2, slept in a crib, couldn’t reach the knobs, and didn’t go into the kitchen if he could help it. Not him. I knew it wasn’t me. Dad wouldn’t dream of it. I was looking at the dog thinking, “Are you smarter than you look?” when Dad started lining us all up for the questioning. 

“All right, who did it? Was it you? YOU?”

Of course, nobody did it. Everybody said, “It wasn’t me!” 

“Well I suppose the dog did it, right?!” Dad barked in frustration. I bit my tongue from saying, “Hey, I had that thought too…” because it wasn’t the time. Everybody was stressed and angry, and the day was off to a horrible start. My heart sank as Dad stomped back to the kitchen. This was supposed to be a day for thankfulness, but I didn’t feel thankful at all. I felt discouraged and sad that Thanksgiving, which was supposed to be so happy and fun, was turning out to be so bad.

Mom turned up the oven as high as it could go, hoping against hope that the frozen turkey would miraculously cook before all the guests arrived. But there was a different miracle that day instead. About 20 minutes later, Mom opened the oven to check on the turkey, and suddenly screeched, “FIRE! FIRE! The oven’s on fire!!!” 

Everything happened on high speed: Flames were leaping out of the oven and filling the kitchen with smoke. Mom immediately grabbed her 4 kids and hustled us all outside. Dad rushed in with the fire extinguisher and sprayed down the flames, filling the oven and covering the whole frozen-blackened turkey with a white pasty film. The fire disappeared, but clouds of black smoke hung heavy in the air of the silent house. What was missing….do you know what was missing…? Can anyone in your family guess….? 

That’s right. The shrill beeping of the smoke alarms was missing. Not a single one of them went off that day. Not. Even. One.

I can still remember Dad’s face as the realization sank in, as he crouched in front of his family on the wet grass and explained, “Do you kids realize what just happened? There was too much liquid in the turkey pan, and it boiled over and started a grease fire in the oven. But not a single one of our smoke alarms went off. They did not work. That fire should have started in the night. None of us, asleep in our beds, would have known about it until it was far too late. Whoever turned the oven off last night saved our whole entire family. So I want you to tell me now – who did it? Who turned that fire off, and saved our lives?”

Now that praise and glory awaited the hero who confessed, I thought someone would finally come forward. But nobody could. Because nobody turned the oven off that day. Nobody human, that is. But our family thinks we know Who did. We knelt on the lawn together that day, and said a prayer of thanks to the Unseen Hand Who must have turned the knob.

Thanksgiving took on a whole new meaning to me from that time on. We had hot dogs instead of turkey for dinner, but I felt convinced that my life must really matter to God. I grew up knowing that angels are real, and that God still can do miracles even in our time. What began as such a bad, bad situation, became something God used for tremendous good, something we still thank Him for, even to this day. 

When bad things happen to us, we don’t usually feel thankful for them. We don’t feel like God is doing something good, instead we feel discouraged, afraid and sad. We wonder what’s going on and we wish He could stop them. When Paul first went to jail, maybe he felt the same way: “Why is this happening to me? Please God won’t you change it!” But God didn’t change the bad thing. He let it happen, and He gave Paul the strength to face it.

Because of this, not only did we end up with the entire book of Philippians, and several others besides. But Paul also writes, “Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it had become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else, that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Phil 1:12-14). What started out as something very bad – going to jail – God was able to use for good – spreading the gospel and strengthening the courage of believers everywhere. Paul was thankful in a very bad situation, because He knew that His faithful God could bring something good out of it.  

It’s easy to get discouraged when bad things happen, and it can be especially hard to be thankful.  We wish God wouldn’t let hard things happen at all. But let’s be very clear about who we blame: God isn’t the one causing evil in our world. That’s Satan. And that’s also sinful people, who get to make really awful choices. God doesn’t cause the bad things so He can bless us later. But God does know how to use the bad things for good. There’s a big difference. He can take the hurts from a sinful world, and bring beautiful blessings out of them that we never could have imagined possible. That’s the kind of God He is!

So next time something bad is happening? I know this sounds crazy, but – try to be thankful. Yeah, it’s hard. You might not feel thankful. But try to trust that God knows how to bring something good out of something bad. Wait patiently to see how God can surprise you. We can’t always see what He’s doing behind the scenes – but He’s always at work. We usually find ourselves thanking Him at the end of the story, when we finally see the good things. But what if we learned to thank Him right from the beginning? We can’t let our feelings and the world around us decide when we will be thankful and when we won’t be. Let’s pray to become the kind of people who know how to be thankful, no matter what.


  1. Who causes bad things – God, or Satan, or people? (For older kids: why does this answer matter so much? What’s at stake?) 
  2.  Are there some bad things, hard times, or struggles our family has faced this year? When they were happening, did we feel thankful for them? 
  3. What blessings has God brought out of this year’s hard times? Do we feel thankful for them now? (For older kids: Is God’s goodness dependent on whether or not we see the blessings?)
  4. Is it easy or hard to be thankful when things seem bad? How can our family learn to have a thankful attitude even during hard times? 

Prayer: Recall your struggles this year, thank God for the way He took you through them. Thank Him for the specific blessings He brought out of them. Ask for God to help you become a family that trusts Him to bring good things out of hard times. Pray for faith to be thankful even for the bad things, because He can bring big blessings out of them. 

Parent Reflection:

  1. We struggled more deeply this year than our kids may have realized. What stands out? What was our attitude toward God during these times? What did we learn? 
  2. If we want our kids to have faith in hard times, we need to model faith in hard times, but it’s difficult. How can we authentically do this? What are the personal doubts and fears that might be holding us back?
  3. Why is this a thanksgiving topic? How could this concept add more gratitude to our lives and our home? 

Fear Is Contagious. But Is Hope?

I was standing in the tomato sauce aisle at Target when the CDC sent out their recommendation for everyone over the age of 65 to stay home. Originally, I had gone to Target to grab shampoo, and the gray rainy day got me craving a big pot of minestrone soup, so I ended up in the food section. I didn’t plan to buy food. I didn’t go there to stock my pantries for quarantine. But here’s what happened: 

People in the aisles suddenly started talking to each other loudly – “Did you hear the new recommendation?”

“I sure did! My mom is 70. She lives alone. I’ve got to stock her up for the week!”

“I’m not over 65, but food’s gonna be gone – I better grab what my family needs too!” 

“Can you guys believe this? Told to stay home! That must mean things are bad. I’m staying home too. I can’t afford to get sick.” 

“My husband and I are both over 65. We better get out of here – fast!” 

Sleepy Sunday morning Target transformed slowly into Jeff Foxworthy’s “Pandelirium.” The store started filling with anxious shoppers. People grabbed cans of beans and boxes of pasta off the shelves until there were no more to grab. Shopping carts filled with cold cereal and instant oatmeal and boxed macaroni. Everyone checked the toilet paper aisle, and came back with nothing. Paper towels were purchased in their place. Rice, bags of potatoes, cans of soup clanked into carts.

Before I knew what was happening, I had grabbed 4 jars of tomato sauce instead of the one I needed for the soup, because there were only 7 left. I also managed to grab the last two loaves of bread, figuring hey – I have 11 people in my house right now, and we need sandwiches. “Oh, great!” someone murmured behind me, “she just took the last loaves of bread – left nothing for the rest of us!” 

Chocolate chip bags were disappearing, and that‘s definitely an emergency, so I popped a few into my cart along with a bag of flour, and a package of frozen fruit for smoothies – one of only 3 left. Fresh things didn’t seem to be in high demand, so I helped myself to carrots, celery, strawberries and bananas while more and more carts pulled into the aisles around me. Voices rose and tension rose as everyone grabbed for the same items. I started making mental lists in my head: what ingredients would I need to feed all of us for the next 2 weeks? What was I missing in my pantry that would soon be unavailable here? Soy sauce, butter, yeast, oil – by the time I went for these commodities, they were gone. 

I checked out amid a swarm of shoppers and headed home through the rain with my prizes. On the way, I passed 2 or 3 other grocery stores where the parking lots were full, and people pushed cartloads of goods like frantic animals. From my car, I called a friend – “It’s crazy out here! Get what you need now!” 

Once I got home and unloaded my spoils of war, it took me awhile to realize what had happened. As I was placing the bag of flour next to the other bag of flour I already have, it hit me: I caught the fear. I got wrapped up in the hype and hysteria of a mob of people, and I totally reacted in kind. Swept along on a sea of panic, I became that person – buying flour and frozen fruit just because everyone else was doing it too. I felt like a fool. I didn’t go to the store afraid. I didn’t go to the store for much food. What had come over me?

Fear is contagious.

When you’re around fear, it’s so easy to suddenly adopt it as your own. Fearful people pass fear like a sickness, creating more fearful people who then create more fearful people. Fear multiplies itself, divides and reproduces at a rate more alarming than disease transfer. Everyone’s following the spread of coronavirus, but not everyone is tracking the spread of fear into our hearts, homes, neighborhoods and cities. But we should be. Because it matters. 

On the one hand, feeling afraid in times like these is not altogether crazy – fear is an appropriate response to a pandemic, to a worldwide health crisis such as none of us have ever lived through before. It’s okay to be afraid. It makes sense to be afraid. There is a time and place for caution, concern, and fear. But when fear becomes insidious, when fear takes over reason, something serious is out of balance. How can we combat this when times are truly worrisome? What can we do to guard our hearts from being overcome by fear? 

In grad school I took classes from one of our church’s top Biblical archaeologists in the field, Dr. Randy Younker, who had studied in Tucson under a man who didn’t believe in the Bible or in God. Day after day, young Dr. Younker’s professor would fill his head with doubts, inconsistencies, and shortcomings he saw in the scriptures.

“How did you keep your faith in the midst of all that?” someone asked Dr. Younker. He paused. He sighed slowly.

“It wasn’t easy,” he admitted. “But I made a deliberate choice to fill my head with as much faith as they were trying to take out of it.”

We waited for him to explain. “It was like inoculating yourself against a virus. If I had 2 hours of classes that dashed my faith against the rocks, I came home that night and read The Desire of Ages for 2 hours. Or the Psalms. Or the gospel of Luke. It’s not like I could afford using my study hours on this. But I also realized very quickly, that I couldn’t afford not to. If I wanted to keep my faith alive, I had to feed it MORE than they were feeding my doubts.”

Two years ago, I stood with a large group of Northern California pastors near some temple ruins outside Jerusalem, and listened as Dr. Younker explained the Biblical, archaeological significance behind what we were seeing. And as I listen to him speak, it hit me: He fought for this. This faith, this trust, this belief he still has in the Bible after all the attacks he endured against it – he fought for this. And he won.

If we want to have more faith than fear at a time like this, if we want to hang onto peace and hope and joy in the midst of change and terror and chaos, this is the way to do it: we must endeavor to deliberately feed our minds just as much faith as fear. Faith, peace, and hope are things we really might have to fight for right now – but we can fight for them. And we can win.

But how can we do that right now? How does that make sense? For so many of us, our workload just doubled and tripled – learning how to do our jobs virtually from home, managing our children who are suddenly out of classes and homeschooling in our living rooms, balancing our regular duties in a time of heightened need and adjusted schedules and limited resources – these days are HARD. Stress is high. Patience is thin. Am I suggesting adding even MORE? Adding several more hours of reading, work, responsibilities? Not exactly.

What I am suggesting is that you keep a close finger on the pulse of your faith. It doesn’t have to look like hours of reading. But it DOES need to look like an intentional turning to Jesus every time we notice the fear tide rising. 

Yes, fear is contagious. Wouldn’t it be great if hope and peace were contagious too – if we could catch peace the way we catch fear and frenzy? Well, I think we can. The Bible says in Gal. 5:22 that peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit – along with a grocery list of a whole bunch of other items we really need right now too: love, joy, PATIENCE (can I get an Amen?), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (I’m looking at you, toilet paper hoarders). What this means, is that these fruits are by-products of time spent with Jesus. We can order these items! We can ask for what’s missing. The Holy Spirit can nurture and grow these qualities inside of us when we make ourselves available to Him, spend time with Him, and ask Him to do so. By protecting time in God’s presence, we can catch Hope – Hope becomes contagious when we hang around with the source of Hope Himself. 

So what do you need today? What are you shopping for, what are you craving or lacking, what is your heart in a hustle for? There’s a lot of things you can catch out there, friends. And we’re doing what we can to make sure we don’t catch or spread the bad stuff. Let’s also do what we can, as a faith community, to make sure we catch AND spread the good stuff. Love, Joy, Peace, Hope. And faith, in the midst of fear.

Jars of Rocks

Jars of Rocks

IMG_0293“Will you keep it FOREVER Mommy?!” Caleb asked me earnestly as he pressed an oblong gray stone into my hand. “I want you to keep this rock forever. Promise!”

“Thank you for such a sweet present!” I remember exclaiming, over the rock. “But where should Mommy keep it?” Read more

Make a Place For Me

Make a Place For Me

200471077-001 “Make a place for me, Mommy!” my son worriedly begs as he approaches me, his face full of concern and stress.  It doesn’t matter where I am sitting – whether in our plush chaise lounge, the small wingback by the fire, or in a single wooden chair at the table – whenever he wants to sit on my lap, he immediately starts to worry that there may not be enough room for him.  He is afraid there is not a place for him here, with me.  He feels doubtful about whether or not I will be able to make one, deeply  concerned that there will not in fact be space for his little body.  Read more

The Meadow

The Meadow

IMG_0151During college preview days at PUC when I was 17, I skipped an entire afternoon of meetings because the old steps behind Winning Hall led me to this meadow. The towering pine at the meadow’s edge beckoned me to climb, and I climbed so high, I could look out over the hills and vineyards of Anwgin. At the top of that tree, I sat shivering in the afternoon wind for almost an hour – a girl on the cusp of everything – and I prayed. I prayed that God would bless me there at PUC, where I knew I would attend college that fall. I asked Him to lead me – into the right major, the right path, the right life. Read more

For Katelyn

For Katelyn

sparrow-3182074The world lost a girl today who was too young to die. At a mere 27 years, she was still a newlywed, and the new mother of a beautiful little 8 month old girl. Her heart was radiant, her spirit was tangible sunlight. Being in the same room with her meant feeling happy. She touched more lives than anyone could count, but today her loved ones are counting anyway – counting for comfort: counting the memories, the stories, the extraordinary moments, the things she said and did, the times she laughed and the moments she touched a heart. Read more