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Praying for Those Taking Final Exams

Parachute Prayer PostDepending on where children live and what grades they are in, finals week can start as early as today (maybe earlier—I’m already seeing graduation pictures on Facebook!) or as late as two months ago. Regardless, it’s finals season! So let’s start praying for our kids—whether they’re our kids, our grandkids, someone else’s kids, or all the kids of our nation or even of our world. Finals are stressful! The pressure’s on; let’s pray.

I’ve come up with two prompts for this particular prayer. First, whenever you see a Number 2 pencil, pray. You know why, I’m sure, so I won’t explain. But if you’re praying for a particular child on a particular set of days, put a Number 2 pencil where it doesn’t belong, where you’ll see it often, where it will remind you to pray. I’m taping one to the microwave just as soon as I finish writing this post. My boy’s finals start today!

Finals Prayer PromptYou’ll encounter the second prompt when you go shopping. Graduation cards, invitations, and decor displays are starting to show up everywhere. Congratulations Class of 2015! We’re so proud of you! We’ll be even more proud once it’s official. Before these kids (and young adults) can graduate, they have to pass their finals. Let’s let these store displays remind us to pray.

Father, a good education is so important. We want our kids to develop healthy minds, to learn all they’ll need to know to enjoy the blessings and responsibilities of adulthood. As this school year comes to a close, please remind us to pray. Please help our kids to remember all they’ve studied and to be pleased with the results of their efforts. Thank You, Lord! Amen.


For more prayer prompts to practice, read my new book, Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually! Available here.

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A New Way to Pray for Family and Close Friends

Teach Us to IntercedePrayer is having a conversation with God.

Intercessory prayer is one kind of prayer: praying for other people.

When we intercede, we usually present to God a list of concerns for others that we have been made aware of: they’ve asked us to pray, another person has asked us to pray for them, we’ve observed their struggles and decided to pray. We collect these requests then choose a time to present them to God in prayer.

But if prayer really is having a conversation with God, then intercession can be so much more than presenting a list of concerns. I believe that we can learn to pray with God about people instead of simply praying to God for people. I also believe that as we do so, we’ll be allowing Him, if He so chooses, to use us more effectively in the process of answering those prayers.

This is how it works:

1. Begin by telling God all the things you love about the person you are praying for. This will allow God to go to work on your heart. If there are hidden resentments or other problems, God will reveal these as you attempt to focus on the positive. You’ll be having a conversation with God about this person, and as you do, God will prepare your heart to intercede by helping you go into it with the right attitude.

2. Take some time to thank God for that person’s presence in your life. Officially recognize and recount ways God has used that person to positively influence you. Let God show you how this person is one of His gifts to you. Thank Him for the gift.

3. Ask God to show you how you can love that person in His name. Ask Him to give you specific ideas. Determine to be alert to His promptings throughout the day—and ask Him to help you with this. When you follow through, that will be your opportunity to work with God, allowing Him to use you however He chooses to answer your prayers. If you don’t see an opportunity or feel prompted to do anything out of the ordinary, trust God with this. He may use you without your knowledge. He may use someone else to meet a need. He may have something else in mind. His ways are always best.

4. Finally, present any known requests on that person’s behalf. Present them one at a time, thoughtfully. Again, be open and alert to anything God’s Spirit may suggest to you. Thank God for all He plans to do in this person’s life.

Praying this way for everyone we love every day is probably too much to ask. If ever we’re aware of something serious, that can be a prompt to take the time to do this. And, of course, we can whisper Parachute Prayers on the spot whenever we learn of a need. Here’s a fun suggestion, though, for scheduling time to pray for those in our close circles regularly:

  • Make a list of the people you consider family and close friends, people you want to pray for regularly just because you love them.
  • Write the number of their birthday beside their name. For example, if your mother was born on May 4, write a four beside her name.
  • When a person’s number rolls around every month, pray for that person on that day. Using the above example, on the fourth of every month, you’d pray for your mom.
  • Because some people have birthdays at the end of long months, pray for those people on the last day of the month, so you’ll still get to focus on them twelve times (at the very least – always be open to pray more often if God calls you to).

Caution: please don’t ever let a suggestion such as this one, simply a useful tool, become a burden. Talking with God about the people we love is meant to be a joyful privilege—never something we have to do on this day-at that time-no matter what-or else.

Father, please teach us to pray with You about the people You’ve placed in our lives. However You lead us to do so, help us to enjoy our visit with you and to learn if and how we can help as You work in their lives. Teach us to love. Teach us to encourage. Teach us to obey. We love you, Lord. Amen.

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Because He Said So

When we become parents, we vow we’ll never say it. Our parents said it and drove us crazy. We decide we will not do that to our kids. We’re more patient, more creative, more understanding than that. We determine that our kids won’t hear that phrase coming from our lips.

But then the day comes when they ask for something they can’t have.

We say, “No.”

They say, “Why?”

We patiently explain.

They look at us with big, sad eyes and ask, “But why?”

We try again to explain.

They get frustrated, stomp their feet, and ask again, “But why?”

And before we know what’s happening, those four little words come out of our mouths of their own volition:

“Because I said so.”

And suddenly we understand. Our parents weren’t being impatient, uncreative, or insensitive. They desperately wanted us to understand the why, so we’d accept the disappointing answer and not be unhappy with them, so we’d trust that they were doing their job as parents and choosing the best for us—even when it hurt.

But sometimes, kids, still learning and experiencing and maturing, just cannot understand. That’s why they’re still kids, living under our roofs, dependent on our care. “Because I said so” has to be enough for them. Someday they’ll thank us for it. (We hope.)

Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.” This is God’s (through Moses) “Because I said so” to the Israelites. They were still relatively new to this whole being-God’s-chosen-people thing and there was much about Him and His plan that they could not understand. Moses assured them that, though God had the right to not tell them everything, He had told them everything they needed to know. He told them Who He Is. He told them what they could expect from Him. He told them what He expected from them. Their job was to obey the law He’d given and to trust Him with the rest.

For. Their. Own. Good.

God maintains His rightGod has revealed so much more of Himself and His plan since that time. Thanks to Jesus, we know things the Israelites couldn’t have imagined. Yet God still maintains the right to keep secret things. We won’t always know why. There’s much we cannot understand. Sometimes Because I said so has to be enough.

But we do know that God loves us and that all His plans for us are good. He has told us Who He Is. He has told us what we can expect from Him and what He expects from us. He has even sent His Spirit to help us in our quest to live His way. Our job is to follow His Son and trust Him with whatever we can’t yet understand.

Better yet, He’s given us His Word. As we study it, His Spirit helps us to grow in wisdom and understanding. Just as our children grow in knowledge, experience, and maturity, so do we. We’ll never understand everything, for only God is God. But as we faithfully study and pray, God will reveal what He wants us to know. Let’s thank Him now instead of waiting until someday.

Father, there is no one like You Who understands all things. Therefore please help us, Your beloved children, to trust You. When Because I said so is the only answer we can handle in our humanity, help us to be thankful for what You have revealed. Help us to follow Your Son’s ways. We’re so thankful to be Your children. Please teach us what we need to know, so our lives will please You. For our good and Your glory! In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Book Review: “The Inn at Ocean’s Edge”

The Inn at Ocean's EdgeThe Inn at Ocean’s Edge is the first book in a new romantic suspense series by Colleen Coble. She’s still taking her readers to the coast, but now she leads them downeast to the coast of Maine where they can read about cranberries, blueberries, and killer whales while trying to solve the mystery before the main characters figure things out.

Those main characters are Claire Dellamare and Luke Rocco who meet over the discovery of a wounded baby orca then discover a connection in their pasts. Claire disappeared from her fourth birthday party in 1989 on the same day that Luke’s mom went missing. Luke’s mom was never found, but Claire was returned a year after her disappearance with a note pinned to her dress. Luke wants Claire to help him find her mother, but she has no memory of her life before age five. When she realizes her life is in danger, though, she sets out, with Luke’s help, to find the truth.

The Inn at Ocean's EdgeThis tangled story kept me guessing to the end. I felt sorry for one character, hopeful for another, then found myself surprised by so many revelations toward the end. Mystery fans will love this book.

I received a complimentary copy of The Inn at Ocean’s Edge from Thomas Nelson Publisher in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Soul Friends”

Soul Friends“You have been invited into deep-spirited, soul-altering friendship, into a communion with the sisterhood of traveling saints walking the Jesus journey all around you.” –Leslie Parrott

This beautiful sentence from the benediction of her new book, Soul Friends, is the purpose of the book: to invite its readers into this friendship, this communion with the sisterhood of saints. After reading it, I feel as if I’ve been to church again this week. I feel inspired to go forth and get to know some of my sisters much better (aptly timed since I’m moving again this year and need that little bit of extra inspiration to boldly join another new community). This book has encouraged me!

In its pages Leslie explores four phases of our life journey, phases we’ll grow through repeatedly. In fact, we may even be in more than one at a time. Yet her collections of essays in each of these four sections of the book help readers recognize and understand each phase. They also show how friends and family members influence each other, consciously or sub-consciously, through each phase. We’re connected, and God uses those connections, when we let Him, to draw us all closer to Him.

Leslie’s personal stories, Bible references, and quotes and stories from Christian women throughout history all worked together to convey her message. Her choice of The Message version of the Bible was perfect because of the poetic nature of the book. Her frequent references to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends added an extra touch of fun.

I recommend this book to women of any age who want to grow closer to God while building stronger relationships. This is one I’ll read again soon!

I thank Zondervan for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Lethal Beauty”

Lethal BeautyLike the first two books in the Mia Quinn Mystery series by Lis Wiehl with April Henry, Lethal Beauty is intense, unpredictable, and a little bit educational. Wiehl has a gift for bringing all sides of societal issues to light. Mia Quinn’s Lethal Beauty cases deal with human trafficking, slavery happening in America—now, and steroid hazards. She also explores the strengths of America’s justice system and weaknesses criminals try to exploit.

If you haven’t met her yet, Seattle prosecutor Mia Quinn is a recently widowed, single mother. She often works with homicide detective Charlie Carlson to solve the mysteries that come her way. She also works with public defender Eli Hall as an adjunct professor at the University of Washington law school, often crossing paths with him on cases, too.

Lethal BeautyIn Lethal Beauty, Mia is prosecuting an American businessman accused of murdering a Chinese prostitute. But everything is going wrong in what should be an open and shut case. As Mia tries to discover why, she learns that a character from Wiehl’s previous book, A Deadly Business, is trying to reach her, seeking her help. When he goes missing, Mia’s life gets really complicated. Getting justice for victims and keeping her family safe start to seem like conflicting goals.

Though the overall mystery is introduced and concludes with this one book, Mia’s personal story has continued from the first. In other words, you can read them out of order, but I recommend starting at the beginning with A Matter of Trust. I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of Lethal Beauty for this review.

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Loving Just Because

The Four LovesI started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.

In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.

Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.

Loving Just BecauseIn a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.

But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.

Two practical applications came from this train of thought:

1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.

2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.

Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.

We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.

Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.

Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.

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When Life Changes Your Plans

Life Happens When You Plan“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon

I found this quote in a book I was reading last week. It made me laugh because it’s just so true. Just the other night, my husband and I were marveling over all we’ve encountered so far in our 27 years of marriage:

“How’d we get here, Janet?” Mike asked.

I smirked. “Well, we started in San Diego . . .”

He laughed. But we did start in San Diego, then we moved to Kansas City for school, then we were offered a pastorate in Maine . . . who could resist that adventure? . . . and life has offered one surprise after another since then. Starting out, we never could have imagined even half of it – and might have been tempted to bypass some of the adventures had God warned us in advance. It’s a good thing He didn’t do that.

“We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall.” –Proverbs 16:33, NLT

We keep trying to figure out what will be next, well, after this coming assignment . . . that we know . . . maybe . . . we’re in the military, after all. More significantly, we’re following God. I don’t think with either you really know where you’re going until you get there. And then you might be needed somewhere else. We make our plans using the information we have, but circumstances tend to change. We’ve learned, or maybe we’re still learning, to roll with that.

Proverbs 16-9As Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

Or, in King Solomon’s words, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” –Proverbs 16:9

God is the One in control when it comes to life.

I recently stumbled upon a translation of Philippians 4:11-14 that helped me understand this idea of rolling with life in a new way:

“I have learned how to manage on whatever I have. I know how to be poor and I know how to be rich too. I have been through my initiation and now I am ready for anything anywhere: full stomach or empty stomach, poverty or plenty. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength.” –Philippians 4:11-14, The Jerusalem Bible

The translation I’m most familiar with says, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (NIV). Another translation says, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have” (NLT). These put the focus on learning to be content in any situation which prompts the question, “How do I do that?”

The Jerusalem Bible tells us. In this translation, Paul says, “I have learned how to manage on whatever I have.” This tells me that being content is managing to do what you need to do with whatever you have, whatever God has provided, for whatever situation. And it’s not a matter of deciding to be content. Instead, it’s a matter of trust.

Which is why we have to learn it. Trust comes with experience.

When I look back on each circumstance of my life: each home, each state, each country, each financial state, each stage of marriage, of parenting, each new ministry or career— I can see God’s hand at work. There were times when we didn’t know how we would manage.

But we always did. God always provided enough. He always helped us to manage on what we had.

Therefore . . .

As I face new unknowns, as life happens to me while I make other plans, I can trust my God. He’s proven Himself faithful. All will eventually be well. I can be content knowing that.

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness and wisdom. Thank You for this life and all of its adventures, for meaningful work, for family, for surprises around every bend. Thank You for providing all we need to manage in whatever circumstance and for making us ready for it. Thank You most of all for Your presence. You are with us. That is all we really need. We love You, Lord. Amen.

If you struggle to find contentment in changing circumstances, my first book, Home Is Where God Sends You: Lessons in Contentment from Nearby and Faraway, may encourage you. Available at Amazon.com.

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Book Review: “The Dandelion Field”

The Dandelion FieldSingle mom Ginevieve Lightly has been running from life with her daughter, Raine, since she was old enough to do so. Raised in an abusive environment, abandoned by Raine’s father, Ginevieve doesn’t trust anyone. All she wants is to provide a loving home and a better future for her child. In her mind this means running away whenever someone gets close enough to cause them pain because she is convinced that everyone has an agenda that will eventually cause her pain.

But Raine is a senior in high school. She doesn’t want to run anymore. When her mother’s car breaks down in Banister Falls, Wisconsin, Raine begs Gin to let them stay in that town until she graduates. Gin reluctantly agrees, but then regrets it when Raine announces she’s pregnant.

Cody, the baby’s father, was also raised in a single-parent home. His father was killed in a tragic accident when he was six years old. But his father’s best friend, Dan Moretti, stepped in to mentor Cody as if he were his own son. The Dandelion FieldWhen Cody announces that the baby is his, Dan is right there, offering support to both teenagers and their moms, helping them all understand more clearly what being a parent means.

I loved everything about this book. I appreciated the way Dan and his family and friends modeled unconditional, and relentless, Christian love for Gin and Raine. I loved “seeing” God at work in their lives through these people and by other means. I enjoyed the dandelion analogy and was very pleased with the book’s perfect ending. I recommend this book!

Zondervan sent me a complimentary copy of The Dandelion Field in exchange for this honest review.

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Do You Trust Him?

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’” –Genesis 12:1

“So Abram went.” –Genesis 12:4

Because we move so often, I’ve come to love these verses. I wrote some of my thoughts about them in my book, Home Is Where God Sends You. Abram knew that, that home was wherever God sent him. God said, “Go.” Abram went. And he took his family, though he had no idea where God was leading them.

WindsorOver Christmas vacation, when much of our family was together, we played a silly game with our dog. He has a limited understanding of the English language, you know. But certain words just fill him with joy and make him wag his whole body all over the place. One such phrase is, “Do you wanna . . .” This phrase prompted our game. You see, it doesn’t matter what words follow that phrase. Windsor wants to! We asked him:

  • Do you wanna sleep outside in the cold?
  • Do you wanna skip dinner?
  • Do you wanna new kitty to keep you company?

Oh, yes! Yes! Yes! Windsor wanted it all!!! He worked himself into such a frenzy, he was practically doing back flips!

Don’t feel too sorry for him, though. When he’d worn himself out with all that wagging and running around to show us just how much he wanted whatever we said, we gave him several dog treats, patted his head, and told him what a good dog he is—which was what he had expected all along. He didn’t mind our silly game at all.

I realized later that the reason Windsor got so excited, without even understanding the words that followed the phrase, “Do you wanna,” was because he trusts us. He knows that we only ever offer him (in seriousness) things that are good. That phrase is usually followed by words like treat, go for a walk, go for a ride in the car, eat, or go outside. Sometimes that car ride leads to the vet, but Windsor enjoys socializing with the people he meets there even if he has to get a shot or two. Perhaps he even understands, on some level, that those shots are for his own good. I may be overestimating him there, but he still trusts us. He doesn’t fear the words that follow “Do you wanna” because he knows we’ll always take care of him.

That’s the kind of trust that Abraham showed in God. It’s the way we can trust God, too. When He says, “Go,” we can move forward with confidence.

Galatians 5:25 says, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” He leads. We follow. We keep taking steps to keep up. We do the next thing, whatever it is, whether we know where it will lead or not. We take one step at a time in trust.

Father, yes. We wanna trust You. Point us in the right direction. Lead us step by step. Because we know You love us, we choose to follow where You lead. Amen.