Author: Susan

Faith, Married Life, Mom Life, More Posts, Work

Focus On Who You Were Made To Be

It was the kind of day that highlighted all of the places where I fell short.

A busy weekend led to a messy home that was short on groceries, simply because I didn’t have the time to refill my cabinets. I just finished navigating a week that contained a CT scan for my husband, a surgery for my son, and deadlines at work. I couldn’t seem to stay asleep, and when I did sleep, my slumber was full of strange anxiety dreams.

It was that kind of week. 

When I woke up and went to pour my first cup of coffee, my carafe felt too light– I forgot to put in water when I programmed the coffee pot the night before. I sighed, told myself this was NOT how the entire day was going to be, began the brewing cycle, and settled down to have a few minutes with my journal and my Bible. 

The house was blissfully quiet. 

No one was awake.

I could read, and hear my own voice. 

This doesn’t happen often, with three kids in the house.

As I listened to the peace, my mind was able to settle down. I pondered all the overwhelming emotions of the week, and the words came to my mind, “There are holes.”

Holes … what does that mean? 

Holes in me? 

Holes in my family? 

Holes at work?

“Yes.” I felt an affirming answer to all of these. They each had holes. 

The unexpected thing was that this revelation didn’t feel bad, or like some great shortcoming was being revealed to me…it was simply a matter of fact. Because we aren’t meant to be whole.

There are holes in me–places where I fall short, and things I don’t excel at, but there is another portion of me that is strong, and good, and able. I am a writer and an editor, who also has solid accounting and business skills. I am a friend, and a loving mom, and a listening wife. Though I try, I am not the best housekeeper, or inspired cook, or dedicated dieter. 

I’ve spent a lot of time lately focusing on my holes, and what I’m not–instead of what I am. 

The truth is that we all have holes, and that’s part of God’s design. We’re like puzzle pieces, designed to fit together–what’s whole in me complements what’s missing in you, and vice versa. We need each other to be complete, and that’s not only okay, it’s how we were made! 

This goes against my independent nature, and feels hard for me to accept. I like to do things, fully, my way. I like to be in control. I like to be competent, and able, and excellent at all things, and I easily grow frustrated because I’m not.

But truly, things work out better when my best skills combine with yours, creating something transcendent and so much bigger and better than I could muster on my own.

Experience tells me this is true. When we ran a small business, each person held key responsibilities, and they also had things they did not do. I never scanned a piece of film in my life, but one of our staff members scanned tens (maybe hundreds) of thousands of images. He never did the books, nor the website, nor the promotional emails, nor payroll…but I did… 

My last job was at a ministry that required skills ranging from truck drivers, to fundraisers, to accountants, to social workers, to sales clerks–we each had specific skills, and couldn’t function as a whole without each one’s contribution.

It’s also incredibly apparent in my current job, working at a church. Every person has a lane, and it’s as wide and busy as a Los Angeles freeway at rush-hour. There are on-ramps and off-ramps, and we all need to navigate our own lanes carefully and diligently to complete each project or event. By doing what we each do well, we come alongside each other, honoring God and building His Kingdom, together.

Each of us on our own would be like a tiny cricket chirping in the night. All of us together create a resonant harmony that transcends what’s possible individually. 

So, yes, we have holes. Every one of us. But together, when we live out all that we are (instead of focusing on what we’re not), we are whole. 

God doesn’t expect us to be everything, He just wants us to be diligently pursuing the skills He gave us, and use them for His glory, growing and stretching into the talents and skills that bring life.

What holes in yourself have you been staring at too long? 

Where are you strong and capable, alive and engaged?

Lets change our thoughts to focus on what we are, instead of what we’re not, as we each embrace what God made us to be.

Romans 12: 4-5
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

 

Faith, Living In Tennessee, More Posts, Work

Is God Real? Take a Look at My Past Five Years…

I used to spend a lot of time pondering two questions:

  1. Is God real?
  2. Does my life even matter?

In my last blog post, I wrote about how I’ve come to realize the great impact one person has on the world around them.

In this post, I want to tell you another thing I’ve come to know for certain: the God of the Bible is real. 

I watch God acting in lives all around me, every single day. When I began working in full-time ministry three years ago, the number of “God stories” I encountered increased exponentially. I see evidence of God every day, and often several times a day. 

Let me say this again: God is real. He’s all around you, and He’s working all of the time. 

You don’t need to believe in God for this to be true. It’s simply true. He’s bigger and better than our loftiest ideas and philosophies.

I’ve shared a lot of my “God Stories” here on my blog, but I thought it might be time for a recap of the past five years, because the only way I can explain so much good coming out of such unexpected hardship, is the faithfulness of God, no matter what.

2015 was the best year of our business’s life. We employed 23 staff members, and enjoyed printing for some of the most revered landscape photographers of our time. For nearly 20 years, our printmaking studio had been an industry leader, and we accomplished it while living in our dream location, just outside of Yosemite National Park. We couldn’t imagine a better life!

This is also the year the movie War Room was released. It’s a movie about the power of prayer, and it led me to pray more deliberately for myself, my family, and the people around me. If you ever wondered about prayer, and if it has an effect on the world at all, or is just wishful thinking…read on (and watch that movie)!

2016: Our company always experienced a downturn during election years, and this time, our business had no busy season. Our market was changing, and what started as a dip in our sales turned into a crater.

I homeschooled my children, and the idea of homeschooling them through high school overwhelmed me. We were attending church an hour away, and I knew it would be difficult for them to be involved in youth activities in a meaningful way, due to the distance. It seemed like we were at a dead end, with few options.

During a walk in Yosemite Valley, Rich suddenly turned to me and told me he thought we needed to sell our house, and that we should get ready for something big. A moment later he added, “Suse…I think we’re going to move to Nashville.” Rich never wanted to leave the mountains. It was as if he turned to me and said, with a perfectly level tone, that he thought we should sell the house and join the circus.

I knew it was God, because Nashville somehow instantly made sense, even though I’d only been there twice on brief visits, and he had never been. At that moment, a sudden peace came over both of us, as we realized God was planning a new direction for our lives. We were on the cusp of a big change.

2017: We thought the move to Nashville was a few years off into the future. We had to save money. We needed time to plan, and to figure out a way to move our business. God wrote the script differently.

We ended up shutting down our business in March 2017, sold our brands to a competitor, sold two houses, and moved the entire contents of our lives to Tennessee in a moving truck on July 1, 2017. Truly, nearly all that we spent 20 years accumulating and working for, was liquidated in a span of a few months. It was a strong reminder of the impermanence of stuff, and the eternal nature of God’s Kingdom. We brought our skills, talents, hearts, and each other to Tennessee. Almost everything else was left behind.

In 2018 I settled into my new job at GraceWorks Ministries. I needed to find a full time job, and I wrote in my journal that, if there was any way possible, I wanted it to be in ministry, and I wanted to be able to invest my talents to help people and grow God’s Kingdom.

I had no local network and an atypical resume, after being self employed for 20 years. I applied for a position through a temp agency, and the day before my interview, a different job came into the agency: a ministry was looking for help. It was GraceWorks. What started as a temp position turned into a full time job as the accounting and HR manager, I found myself using every skill I learned running a small business, and then some. Working in a ministry meant I could be share my faith at work. I could love people as Jesus did, and tell them my God stories, and I wouldn’t get fired or sued. It was an amazingly liberating thing.

As I drove my 40-minute commute to work one morning, I found myself asking God, “Did you really need to move me here to have me drive like this every day? Do I make that big of a difference at GraceWorks?” He reminded me that He’s the God who would leave the 99 sheep to chase down the one who went astray. Aspects of GraceWorks had gone astray, and I was one of the shepherds sent to bring it back on course.

By 2019, our family settled into a routine. For the first year in a long time, we didn’t have a new baby, a major move, or a job change. Having a routine, after several years of turmoil, felt like a miracle. I began attending a small group at my church, and suddenly I found myself with friends in Tennessee who were much like my friends in California…their God stories echoed of the faithfulness of the same God!

That summer, my sister and I managed to move my parents from California to her Ohio town, just before my father encountered major medical issues that he’s still battling today. There is no way they could have navigated their challenges in Oakhurst, as non-drivers, an hour from medical facilities, and with several nearby wildfires that would have further impacted my dad’s breathing issues. It was truly just in time.

2020 – With COVID-19, GraceWorks completely revamped the way we delivered food, and rent and utility assistance. I was able to work a bit in the food pantry, and with staff members I normally didn’t interact with on a daily basis. Though the pandemic kept many people at home, in the ministry, it brought us together in a new way, with new purpose. We filled trunks for 80+ families day, after day, after day, after day. We were often the only people our neighbors had seen or interacted with in quite some time. They were so happy to see friendly faces, and to receive good food.

At the same time, our church began an initiative to keep gathering together as safely as possible. They hosted outdoor worship services, bringing some of the biggest Christian bands (who were out of work, and stuck at home in Nashville) to perform for the community.

The world felt uncertain, and I began to read my Bible more, and to pray more. My kids were sent home on quarantine, and we suddenly found ourselves in a homeschooling situation again, only this time, I was working full time, with a 1.5 hour commute. God showed up by giving me energy; providing Rich with patience; and by giving our kids time to disengage with the sometimes toxic aspects of public school, so they could hear their own voices again. I also found myself unexpectedly applying for a new job, writing for the media team at our church. I ended the year in a new job at our church. A new God story had begun…

And now we’re four months into 2021.

I am working as a full time writer and editor—something I never thought I’d do as a job, back when we were immersed in running our own business. When I graduated college in 1995, I never envisioned using my Journalism degree to work at a Christian ministry, let alone a church. It’s amazing how much God has changed my heart, and the focus of my life, over the course of the past 25+ years.

There are so many things I haven’t listed: The friends who showed up at just the right time; the many stepping stones that were revealed, just in time, as we walked this journey from California to Tennessee; the financial provision; the healing in my heart of things I didn’t even know were there; the people who spoke into my life, in exactly the right way; and how I gave up the beautiful mountain vistas but gained the gift of dynamic and interesting friendships I never would have found, any other way…

Without Jesus, the past six years would have been so much harder, and so much less sweeter. In fact, I think I would have succumbed to dread and despair, if I hadn’t kept my eyes and heart focused solidly forward and upward. One step at a time, He has led us, guided us, and provided what we need. He has been a Constant Companion, a Steady Counselor, and a source of strength and wisdom with every victory and every hardship.

I do not know how people do this hard and crazy life without faith in God…and if you have read this far, and you are one of them, then take a step and ask God to show you He’s real, and to tune your heart so you can see Him at work. Make a point to pray each day, and be specific in your prayers.

When I was first a Christian, I prayed for furniture to fill our hollow, empty townhouse, even though we had no money to buy it. The next day, a woman at my Bible study asked if anyone needed furniture. She needed to find a place for hers while her family went to Ecuador on an extended mission trip. God is that amazing. 

The truth is that hard things come, whether you believe in God or not. The benefit of knowing God, and walking through hard times with Him, is that He will lead you each step of the way; you are never alone; and you know He’s always working you towards something better. Just wait and see.

Jeremiah 33:3 
Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Faith, Joy, Married Life, Mom Life, More Posts, Work

Your Life Changes Lives

Lately, I’ve been in awe of how a single person can change the course of someone else’s life. Everyday, we have the opportunity to encourage the people surrounding us, or tear them down. When my life is feeling insignificant and I feel discouraged, it helps to remember some of the people who invested in my life, because it reminds me to stop focusing on myself, and to be a blessing to the people around me. Here’s a quick (and very incomplete) list of some of the people who changed my life, one small act at a time. Who are some of the people who changed your life? Share in the comments!

  • The teacher who believed I could write, and helped me to believe it too.
  • The boss who valued my input.
  • The friend who showed up and cleaned my house when my baby was born.
  • The friend who taught me how to nurse, when that baby struggled to eat.
  • The friend who randomly told me they appreciated me, at that moment when I was ready to give up.
  • The friend who watched my kids, making it possible to run a business and homeschool.
  • The friend who sat with me, listened, and prayed as I watched our business fall apart.
  • The friend who sent me a text the night I was feeling like really, no one cared.
  • The friend who left a table full of friends to sit with me, because there was no room for me at their table.
  • The friend who gave me a number to a hair stylist; and a babysitter; and key information to help me begin to make my way in a new city.
  • The man who walked up to me when I was new, and introduced himself. I suddenly had a friend!
  • The friend who gave me the answer to a problem I’d been dealing with for years.
  • The friend who showed me the best walking routes.
  • The friend who drove 15 minutes each way, just to walk with me in the mornings. 
  • The friends who helped us load our house into a 28-foot moving truck.
  • The friends who helped us move. 
  • The friend who loved me and helped me, instead of walking away when things got tough.
  • The friend who told me she looked up to me.
  • The friend who brought me coffee. Again.
  • The friend who treated me to dinner.
  • The friend who made me laugh.
  • The friend who listened without judging, or telling me how I was wrong.
  • The friend who sat next to me during that hard time.
  • The friend who sat with me, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.
  • The friend who kept my kids during my husband’s horrible reaction to chemo, so they wouldn’t have to see him so sick.
  • The friends who celebrated my babies with me.
  • The friend who made me feel less alone in those isolating days of having small children.
  • The work friend who became a true friend.
  • The friend who told me it was going to be okay.
  • The friend who picked me up from the airport.
  • The friend who danced on the beach with me.
  • The friend who gave me great books to read.
  • The friend who loved long hikes and walks as much as I did.
  • The friend who loved to write, too.
  • The friend who showed up, at just the right time, to tell me I was on the right track.
  • The friend whose story resonated with my own.
  • The Friend who made me realize I am loved, and never alone.


A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Faith, More Posts, Work

Focused On the Track Ahead

It was 5:30 in the morning and I was half a cup of coffee into the day, as I sat, contemplating the day’s requirements. Even though I had a full night’s sleep, I felt weary and tired. Tired of being productive. Tired of navigating the ever-evolving school schedules. Tired of wondering whether it’s safe to go out to eat, or if we should just stay home. Tired of politics. Tired of change. Sound familiar?

As I sipped my coffee, assessing the year in exhaustive detail, I asked God where to get the energy to move forward, when I was still bearing the sore muscles and bruises of 2020. As I prayed, a picture came to mind that renewed my energy and my hope. Maybe it will help you, too.

Wooden Roller Coaster Track

I saw a wooden structure like an old roller coaster or mining track. Behind me, the coaster was in ruins; large timber beams scattered and stacked haphazardly. If I stepped backward, they could become dislodged and hit me. If I lingered too long, trying to understand what went wrong, or how it fell apart, I would be overwhelmed at the chaos and destruction I had just come through. The track had been solid as I rode, but at the place where I stood, all I could see behind me was destruction. It held together just long enough to carry me through.

Ahead of me, the track was still whole, the beams wrapping into a dynamic, circular, and purposeful pattern. This wasn’t a new track; it was a continuation of the track I was already on. The car I was to ride in was placed exactly at the beginning of this track. It could just as easily roll forward into safety; or backwards into peril. It was dependent on where I focused.

You see, the past is gone; nothing can change or fix it. But the future (the track ahead) is hopeful, with purposes yet to be discovered. We aren’t supposed to look back. God doesn’t expect us to carry the long road, the hurdles, and the assignments of the past into the new year. Instead, God is calling us to stand firmly in our life assignments, as they are right now, moving forward focused on the path He has for us in this season, and in this time. It’s a different path than six months ago; or a year ago; or five years ago. And it will continue to change, as we move into the future.

Yes, there were events, hurts, and struggles in 2020 that left us a bit battered. But they’ve also left us with a sharpened focus, new strength, and tenacity. We can start 2021 by humbly taking note of all we’ve overcome. 

Friends, there is a path ahead! The steady, solid track that stays constant through every chapter is God, His faithfulness, and His truth. As long as we stay focused on His path for us, we will move forward in peace, even if the track behind us falls into pieces. On this path, there is no fear, and He promises to continually renew our strength. After all, at the end of the line, when everything else has fallen away, this is the exact path that will lead us safely Home.

Isaiah 40: 28-31 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Faith, Living In Tennessee, Work

Much Has Happened! A New Job!

This year has stretched me well beyond my comfort zone, and my schedule has been so chaotic, I’ve frequently lost track of the day and month. Much has happened since my last post. 

I was happy in my job, even though I never imagined myself doing accounting for a living. Accounting was a necessary evil when I ran my small business; something that had to be done, but I didn’t enjoy. It was different at GraceWorks. The first time I cut a check and realized my efforts stopped someone from being evicted on Christmas Eve, my heart for accounting changed, and I became fully willing to do whatever it took to make the ministry run smoothly. I thought I’d be there a long, long time.

God had other plans.

In July, my friend texted about a writing and editing job opening at our church. At first, I dismissed it. How could I leave a job I loved, and that God so clearly called me to three years ago? I had flexibility, amazing coworkers, and a worthy mission, which kept my heart and mind engaged in both the minutia of accounting, as well as the rigors of managing human resources in the midst of COVID-19.

But the possibility of working as a writer, and spending my days writing copy to equip and encourage other Christians echoed in my head. It kept me awake with new ideas and inspirations. I couldn’t shake it. So, I prayed, then sent in my cover letter, resume, and writing samples…

Weeks went by with no word. I live in Nashville, where Christian ministries and publishers abound. I figured there must have been a lot of competition. It was okay, I reasoned. I loved my job at GraceWorks…

It turned out, I just needed to wait a little longer. In Mid-August, the church emailed, telling me they liked my writing samples, and wanted to meet. This began a several-month-long process of several meetings, a writing test, and a lot of praying. The end result: a job as a writer and editor for World Outreach Church and Allen Jackson Ministries. I couldn’t be more excited! It’s a church we’ve attended for 3.5 years, and the teaching and encouragement have blessed our family’s lives in immeasurable ways.

World Outreach Church is a large local church here in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Allen Jackson Ministries is the department that takes the Senior Pastor’s teachings to over a million people a week over TV, radio and the internet. My job involves writing copy of all kinds, proof reading and editing. It’s exactly the kind of position I hoped to find when I moved to Nashville three years ago, only better…

Afterall, I had three years to learn, live, grow, and enjoy the friends I made at GraceWorks. I had three years to learn how to say y’all instead of “you guys.” And, after three years with a 45-minute commute each way, a five-minute commute means I can come home for lunch, which I appreciate in a whole new way!

You see, you really never know what’s right around the corner. Five years ago, Rich and I were enjoying the most prosperous year in our business’s lifespan. Three years ago, we had just shut it down. Today, I am working as a writer and editor for a truly inspiring ministry. Another dream has come true.

God has been so good and faithful in all of these seasons. I hope this encourages you in this crazy year. Once again, God has shown that there may be hardships, but with Him, the best is always yet to come. 

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Don’t Fear: Live Out Your Mission!

There is hope amongst the living. There is power in fellowship. Sometimes a hug is the difference between peace and despair.

Who knew sentences like those would become controversial?

Who could have predicted that being amongst the living; gathering with friends; and hugging a coworker could be harshly judged and seen as irresponsible? 

What a crazy era we are living through.

It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post, and much has happened in my life.

While much of the country has been living a life in sequestered seclusion since March, for me, 2020 has been a marathon endurance event that I’ve had to run like a sprint. There has been very little breathing room or time for deep reflection. The staccato has been: Go. Go. Go. Go. Do. Do. Do. Do. Keep on going. Keep on going.

It’s been the same for everyone at the ministry where I work. People suffer, and still need food. Even with eviction moratoriums, rent still accumulates; landlords want to be paid. The daily ministry business must get done.

This year we received a record number of donations, and helped an unprecedented number of people (thank you God!) Until recently, I booked every single donation; deposited and cut every single check. The human resources challenges have been overwhelming and often difficult to navigate as we stewarded our staff through the COVID crisis. My job required my presence, and even on the days when I worked remotely, the need to work, and work hard, stayed consistent. 

My year has been defined by a strong sense of determination and purpose; a stark contrast to many other people, who have been forced to float in a seemingly perpetual holding pattern while we watch the pandemic unfold.

Most of the jobs in our ministry require our physical presence. And, while my family was able to stay home and quarantine, isolating was not something I could do…at least not much.

I’ve been going out into the world, pushing fear and angst aside, because there was a greater mission. 

There is still a greater mission. 

The truth is that, though a good portion of the workforce works remotely, there are many who cannot.

As this COVID epidemic wears on, I’ve become increasingly aware of how different the effects of this pandemic each person’s life. So much depends on your age, your work situation, and where you live in the nation.

There are people who are able to work at home, rarely leave the house and even wear a mask while driving alone in their cars.

There are people who are high-risk and still work full time with the general public because they feel their calling usurps any inherent risk that may come from the virus. 

Some people have kept their kids at home, isolated from all other children. Others go to the park and let their kids mix with the general public. 

Some states have closed their churches, not allowing public gathering or even singing; other churches are meeting indoors, implementing precautions to limit the risk of exposure to COVID.

The presence of fear permeates our country; fear of being close to each other; fear of sickness; fear of dying…and the news channels, as always, perpetuate that fear. As we surf the thin line between prudence and fear, fear continues to win.

I’ve been living this season with several truths resonating in my heart, and perhaps they will encourage you today:

  • Every day ordained for us was decided before we were even born (Psalm 139:16). I might get sick. I may die from COVID. I may get in an accident going to the grocery store…the fact is that nothing I can do will change God’s timing for my life, and the number of days that were ordained for me. So, I will be prudent and wise…and I will also trust that even if I get sick, God’s greater plan is at work.
  • God may call us to serve in dangerous situations, but the safest place we can be is exactly where He intends us to be. That is where His divine protection resides. The world needs love, hope and encouragement now more than ever. A friendly smile is hard to come by in a masked and isolated world…
  • As Christians, we believe in eternal life. When we die, our lives don’t end. So, even if we die pursuing our purposes, we win in the end, because we are with Christ. There truly is no sickness; no peril, no conflict; no enemy to fear. We know the conclusion, and it is beyond good. There is so much freedom in that truth.

This is the drumbeat of hope that has kept me going during 2020. This is the staccato that has kept my pace moving forward, forward, forward, to help, serve and encourage the people God brings into my path. 

God’s purpose for my life in 2020 was not to isolate, but to immerse myself even more fully in the lives of the community around me. Following that purpose with my coworkers meant bills were paid; hundreds of rent and utility checks were cut; and thousands of people were fed. 

God’s purpose for your life in 2020 likely looks different than mine, but it is just as important. I encourage you today to live out your purpose with diligent wisdom, and without fear.

As Psalm 91 says, we do not need to fear sickness or war or strife when we draw close to God. He will protect and guide us as we accomplish the purposes He has for us in our generation.

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Letting Mistakes Refine You – Not Define You

Overcoming mistakes while pursing your callingShe wasn’t my child, but I felt my heart swell with mom pride as I watched her perform. She sang with a full, strong voice and owned the stage with confidence. I found myself pulled into her character until….sudden silence…she forgot her lines.

Her performing face dropped into panic as she looked towards the prompter and, after a few beats, picked up where she left off.

I said a silent prayer for her: “Don’t let this take you off course, sweet girl. Keep on pressing into what you know. Be strong. Be brave. Don’t let this slip up define your performance!”

After a few haltering lines, she pulled through, resuming her confident glow.

The show was about being who God made you to be; not trying to be someone you aren’t. It was a perfect message for the kids who performed it, and as I watched the songs unfold into a story, I realized these 45 minutes were speaking to me, too.

The transitions I’ve endured over the five years have made me acutely aware of who I am, and who I am not.

I will never be an expert at crafts. My house, though functional and cozy, will never be featured for its sense of design on HGTV. I bake good cookies my kids love, but are not pretty enough to sell. My knees won’t allow me to run a 5K any longer, and my penchant for chocolate and ice cream means I will never be a super model.

I know you’re surprised.

What has caught me off guard is how God has been showing me the gifts He HAS given me, and the importance of being diligent to pursue them. I’m excellent at details, as well as seeing the truths that create the big picture. I love to read, study and learn. I treasure nurturing my family. And ultimately, all of these feed into an overarching gift, which is writing.

I’ve been investing more of my time into these callings, and actively trying to live them out — but I make mistakes. I get distracted. I forget my purpose. Then the litany of self-contemptuous thoughts race through my mind, making me focus on how badly I messed up, rather than the times I succeeded.

I have trained myself to be self-critical; to analyze interactions, and my words, and my responses. Instead of reassuring and refining me, these thoughts end up bullying me, making me feel like a failure, time and time again.

I know I am not alone.

As a boss, there were many times our staff made mistakes. I could see the bad news on their faces before they spoke a word. We did our best to address each issue with grace, love and instruction, which ultimately made them into stronger employees.

Amongst girlfriends, it’s common to hear complaints about a short coming; or a flaw with their appearance; or a gaff they made at work. Self depreciating humor is part of our culture, but it can become such a habit it becomes a destructive part of our internal monologues.

So, what’s a better way?

I think it begins with focusing on who God says we are, and letting ourselves be defined by those solid truths.

God loves us. He created us. He gave us each unique talents and skills to use in our world (1 Peter 4:10). He has plans to prosper us, not to harm us; To give us hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11)

As Christians, we are called by God to do the things He created us to do. He promises to equip us with all we need, to complete the task at hand. (2 Cor 9:8)

He says we are loved, and accepted and treasured. When we step out on faith and pursue these callings, the Bible says God delights in it. (Psalm 37:23)

Pursuing our callings can be a bumpy road. Maybe that’s why one of my favorite parts of the choir performance was the moment the actress forgot her lines. Instead of slinking off the stage, or collapsing into tears, or throwing her arms up in the air in a fit of disappointment, she kept going. She kept pressing forward until the flow returned, and it was as if the blip never happened.

I believe that blip was for a reason. It was for the people like me, who needed the reminder that, just because you fall, doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. Sometimes our stumbling tells a story to the people surrounding us. They might need to watch you make a comeback, to have faith they can, too.

Faith, Photography

Following God When It Doesn’t Make Sense

It doesn’t make sense to be an artist.

Exchanging a high-paying corporate job for camera gear and an altruistic assignment doesn’t sound wise, but I’ve known many who have done exactly that.

Moving across the country with no job, not much money, and three kids sounds irresponsible, but it was clear that’s exactly what we were supposed to do.

What if what God is telling you to do makes no sense, could financially ruin you, and seems to go against common wisdom?

Here’s what you do: You pray, you trust, and you go.

Here is what you don’t do: Doubt.

I’ve been thinking a lot about trust versus doubt lately. I used to think that considering doubts, worries and fear would make me more prepared for when the inevitable fall would happen, whatever that may be. It was as if it was part of doing due diligence; fully researching the pros and cons of each idea before I act.

Here’s what it looks like:

God puts a new idea in my head. It grows in my heart. I get excited, and start to think and dream into it even more, and imagine life in a new way…and then HARD STOP…I consider the doubts. I list the “What ifs”:

  • What if I fail?
  • What if this is harder than I think it will be?
  • What if this turns out to be a REALLY BAD idea?
  • What will people think of me? I mean it’s a crazy idea…
  • Am I crazy?
  • The list goes on…

I’m realizing that this train of thought does nothing to prepare me for failure OR the future. Instead, it quickly paves the way towards despair and giving up. It leads to complacency and a feeling of numbness…which makes me ask:

  • What if the cost of NOT following God is distancing yourself from His plans, His voice and your true purpose?
  • What if staying safely in the known entities of your life leaves you very comfortable, but increasingly dead in your heart?
  • What if there is something new, right around the corner, if only you let go of the voices of doubt that echo in your brain?
  • And who exactly owns those voices, anyway? Who are the people who speak light and hope into your life, versus doubt and fear? Notice the contrast, and what that does to your heart, your relationships and your inner thoughts. Choose who you open your heart to.
  • And perhaps most importantly: What if doubt is a form of disobedience; a way to delay doing what I know I need to do? What blessings are my family and I missing out on, because I’m following my own wisdom instead of God’s leading?

The Bible is full of people who initially doubted or resisted God’s call on their lives (Moses, Jonah, Gideon), as well as those who didn’t (Noah, Mary). I want to be like the ones who acted on faith, knowing that the One who called them would be the One who would work each detail out for our good.

What about you? Where do you feel the pull of doubt versus trust in your life? Do you feel God leading you in a new direction, but are afraid to take the next step? Or, do you feel God’s peace in your current situation, and instead of resting in that contentment, do you let doubt say you should be doing something else?

Let’s notice the voice of doubt versus truth, and choose to listen to truth. Let’s follow peace instead of fear. Let’s allow God to write our steps, and follow his still small voice as one day unfolds into another. Because the safest, most secure place we can possibly be is within God’s good and perfect will. That’s where you will find peace in your heart, no matter how crazy it may look to the rest of the world.

Matthew 21:21 – And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.”

Faith, Joy

Leading Boldly In Overwhelming Circumstances

Leading Boldly in overwhelming circumstances I long for a good leader. 

I desperately want to find someone in charge who I can trust; a channel where the news reports just the objective facts, untainted by the political leanings of a news organization.

I want a hero, and selfless acts to celebrate.I want someone to stop the madness that is 2020.

In the midst of this chaos, I find myself reading my Bible more often than usual. Since the Corona virus started, my church has offered a weekly “Battle Plan” against the virus and the unrest in our world, which involves daily prayers and reading various books of the Bible. That week we were in the book of Acts, and as I read Acts 27, I found the leader I was seeking.

He spoke like he was in charge. He gave advice as if they might actually listen. He rebuked them with wisdom when they made dangerous decisions. He wasn’t the boss, or the captain of the ship, or even one of the guards. He was a prisoner: Paul.

Paul was imprisoned on a ship that had set sail, despite warnings, and became caught in the midst of a horrible storm. Before long, the crew was fearing for their lives, trying every possible solution to gain control, only to find themselves starving, with a ship on the verge of utter destruction, and no respite in sight.

Acts 27:20 says, “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.”

That’s when Paul spoke up, not caring that he was just a prisoner, and unafraid of the consequences. He offered this encouragement he heard from an angel of God:

But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Acts 27:22-25

Paul’s continual guidance served as a single beacon of light on that ill fated boat trip, and voicing this hope boldly kept every single person alive. His words and undeniable leadership kept them going until they were all safely on land.

What if Paul had looked at the circumstances and said, “You’re right. This is hopeless. Let’s all just curl up and cry. On second thought, let’s just all jump overboard…why extend the misery?”

If the only thing Paul relied on was what he could see and perceive with his physical senses, an entire ship full of people would have died.

Paul was deeply in tune with God’s voice, and the Holy Spirit’s leading. That night on the boat, God showed him truth, and gave him hope, despite the circumstances…and his faith led others to have faith, giving them the will to press on.

My friends, isn’t it hard to press on right now?

As if the thousands of details of life aren’t complicated enough, throwing a global pandemic into the mix has led even strong people to a place of mental, physical and spiritual exhaustion.

And the fear…fear of illness; fear of family members becoming ill; fear of being quarantined; fear of losing a job; fear of school being cancelled; fear of school being open…It’s alarming how quickly fear breeds more fear.

But in my long struggle against anxiety, I’ve also learned that gratitude breeds more gratitude. The more you practice gratitude, the more your mind is drawn towards peaceful thoughts, instead of despair.

Being thankful for health; thankful for good doctors; thankful for people who put their lives on the line to save ours; thankful for teachers; thankful for food; thankful for a home that is cool on a hot, humid, southern night; thankful for a cat who likes to sit on my lap; thankful for a can of cherry seltzer…thankfulness in the little things helps push despair away, so you can hear that still small voice of peace and hope.

Just as fear and despair and worry is contagious, so is gratitude and peace.

Which will you choose?

Where will you put your hope?

How will you lead the people on your boat?

Read the full story to see Paul’s remarkable leadership in the midst of adversity: Acts 27

California Life, Faith, Living In Tennessee, Married Life

Pursuing Peace & Joy Inexpressible

I cannot count how many times I have settled down with my journal to pour out my frustrations and dashed dreams, and within a span of a few pages, find my writing shift into something like praise. It’s not because I’m holy or somehow divinely inspired. It’s because God shows up, time and time again, and speaks truth to my heart as I write. I recognize God’s voice by the sense of peace that comes along with it. It’s the sense that I am moving towards joy.

It was October 8, 2016 and our small business was slowly failing. The pressure of constantly meeting payroll, and rent for four commercial spaces, and the $10,000 metal print supply order that we had to place nearly every month, felt increasingly oppressive. I was homeschooling my two children and had a toddler. We were also residential landlords and land owners. The responsibilities were overwhelming.

A babysitter was coming so Rich and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary a day late. Neither of us felt like celebrating, but knew we should. We had limited funds, and decided on our favorite cheap date: a day in Yosemite Valley. We’d have the drive up to Yosemite and back to talk, and in between the drives we knew we could find someplace beautiful to wander.

That morning, I sat on the porch swing on our front porch with my Bible and told God I was sick of the stress of the business. I missed my sisters and extended family. I was tired of not having a church where our kids could learn and grow. I was exhausted from homeschooling, and the idea of continuing into high school felt overwhelming. I prayed an, “I’m at the end of myself, save us now!” kind of prayer…and then got ready to go to Yosemite.

We were exhausted and stressed driving up towards the valley, and as always, our conversation turned towards our business. Rich had ideas on how to downsize and streamline our services. We sat eating sandwiches, somewhat numb to the beautiful vista, and thought up new business plans.

We kept driving, and parked near El Capitan meadow. We walked east, and found ourselves in a part of the meadow where we’d never been, though we’d been walking in that area for 18 years. Suddenly Rich looked at me and said, “I think we’re supposed to sell our house. I think we need to sell our house and move back to our little blue house.”

I agreed. The cost of having a larger home was draining our pocketbook, and it seemed wise to downsize our living expenses so we could shore up our savings.

He continued, “We need to downsize because I think something big is about to happen.” 

My heartbeat picked up in excitement, and I felt like he was speaking truth I already knew, but hadn’t verbalized yet. “I agree!”

“I think God is going to move us. I think he’s going to move us to a city of some sort.”

I nodded, my spirit perking up like a dry plant drinking in fresh rain, as these words poured out of Rich’s mouth and into my ears.

“Suse, I think he’s going to move us to Nashville.”

Nashville? Rich had never been to Nashville. 

“I don’t know about Nashville, but I agree…I think God is about to do something. It’s like we’re on the cusp of a big change.”

October 8, 2016, the night we learned we were moving to Nashville. A candlelit dinner with a view of a pickup truck in the window sets the scene in Mariposa, California.

And just like that, the weight of the business; the worry; the angst that had plagued us for months lifted as God gave us a new vision, and a new dream. We spent the rest of the night feeling giddy and in love with each other, and with life. We had an amazing dinner at a little restaurant in a neighboring small town, wondering at what the future held, and for the first time in a long time, we felt a sense of freedom.

“And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” 1 Peter 1:7

It’s the rush of  inexpressible joy that keeps me coming back to Jesus, time and time again. That’s what we felt that day in Yosemite. 

And the time when we drove home after Rich’s cancer diagnosis, and stopped the car to look at the thousands of stars in the dark mountain sky and suddenly felt full of joy and peace, even though Rich was so sick and the prognosis wasn’t good.

And when our son was in the NICU after being intubated because he stopped breathing for unknown reasons, and Rich came into the hospital room with his face beaming because God had inexpressibly spoken to His heart and given him sudden peace and joy while sitting in the hospital courtyard.

Though I’ve experienced God’s peace in these trying times, one of my favorite places to find God’s joy is in the mundane moments. It’s so unexpected, and such evidence of His constant presence. I recently took walk by myself around our neighborhood. It was twilight and the sun had set. Bunnies were out collecting bites of flowers, and the robins were twittering. I began thinking about my friends far away. I was missing their faces, and praying for them, and my mood shifted from melancholy to being suddenly full of joy…joy inexpressible, as I walked in the middle of a typical suburban subdivision in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

These circumstances; this inexpressible and unexpected peace and joy, is living proof that God is present in all situations. He is constantly working good on our behalf, even when the circumstances are hard. Hard times cause us to lean on Him more fully, and to be more aware of Him and His voice…which refines us. The truth is that sometimes, to be rebuilt, things need to be torn down. Businesses close. Marriages fail. Relationships sever. But God is not done. He is still writing our stories.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable even though tested by fire; may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6’

I’m 3.5 years past that prayer on my porch swing. We never moved back into our little blue house, but God did move us to Nashville, where I have a fulfilling job working at a ministry. My kids are in excellent public schools. We found a church that has stretched us and grown us, with the teaching perfectly coming alongside us as we began to rebuild our lives. Rich is pursuing his dreams in new ways that are inspiring both of us. It’s a good new life.

Are things perfect? No. There is a lot that is hard about this time. It’s possible to see blessings as curses sometimes…which leads me back to my journal, so He can transform the feelings in my heart into joy inexpressible, once again.

 

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