When I Met Mercy

When I heard that Beth Moore’s newest study was called James: Mercy Triumphs, I couldn’t wait to find a study nearby and sign up!

James is my favorite book of the Bible because it was James who introduced me to his big brother, Jesus.

I grew up going to church. So I knew about Jesus, believed in Jesus, and even prayed to Jesus. But I had never met Jesus, the Person, until James introduced us.

At age 17, I went to summer camp. After one of the morning sessions, the speaker asked us to spend the next 20 minutes reading our Bible alone.

I meandered a bit until I found a path that led me straight uphill. After hiking to the top, I discovered a grassy meadow. There, I knelt at a log to read my Bible.

The extent of my Bible knowledge was pretty basic. I knew there was an Old part and a New part. So I decided to start with the new stuff.

I looked up the Table of Contents and found Matthew. Unfortunately, chapter one begins with a genealogy, which is beyond boring. So I skipped it and moved on to chapter two, which happens to be the story of Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Good stuff.

But then I read about Herod, who was so afraid of what the three wise men told him that he had all the boys under the age of two murdered.

Somehow, whenever we have a Christmas pageant in December, we manage to leave that part out, because I had never heard this before.

Naturally, I found it disturbing. Thus, in less than five minutes, I found the Bible to be boring and depressing. I decided to dump Matthew.

I then turned a chunk of pages and ended up in “Gal-uh-tee-ins.”

Well, I didn’t know what a “Gal-uh-tee-in” was (Galatian), so I kept flipping. But then it’s more of the same: EphesiansPhilippiansColossians. Again, nothing in English — until I came to Timothy. (But I knew a guy once named Timothy, and I didn’t like him very much. So I wasn’t interested in reading anything the first or second Timothy had to say.)

I kept turning pages until I got to James. Finally! Something normal that I recognize!

I began anew  — then quickly came across these words:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you suffer…” (James 1:2).

Well, I quit reading right there. I mean, who does that?

This little 20-minute Bible-reading experiment wasn’t going well. I now thought the Bible was boring, depressing, and confusing. Still, I had a problem because I had a good 13 minutes to go, and I was running out of Bible. And I knew at least enough to know that I didn’t want to get all the way to Revelation.

So I decided to give James another chance, except I would skip chapter one. That’s when my eyes fell to James 2:19.

“You believe that there is one God. Good!
Even the demons believe in that — and shudder.”

I may not have known much about the Bible, but I knew about angels and demons. And the thought had never occurred to me that even the demons believe in God!

Then I thought about Herod. He must have believed what the wise men said about a coming Messiah as King or else he wouldn’t have had any reason to kill all those boys.

The demons believed. Herod, to some extent, believed. I believed.

I stopped right there and asked God to show me what it means to live for Him in such a way that it’s more than just believing about Him.

I continued reading the rest of James and kept on praying.

And Jesus met me there. On that mountaintop.

In the beginning, there wasn’t a preacher.
In the beginning, there wasn’t an altar call.
In the beginning, there wasn’t a mentor. Those came later.

In the beginning was the Word.
And the Word was with God.
And the Word was God (John 1:1).

And it was through His Word — through the book of James — that God called me into a relationship with Him.

That day on the mountaintop began my lifelong journey of studying His Word and spending time with Him.

Now, more than 20 years later, it is still a joy and a privilege to study His Word. I am so grateful for the opportunity to sit around a table each week with a group of amazing women to study this now-familiar book, James, through the lens of Beth Moore’s study. It has quickly become my favorite study yet.

Have you met Jesus, personally?
Are you part of a regular Bible study of some kind?
Can I pray for you?

Today, I am thankful . . .

153. for the call to study His Word
154. for the call to live His Word
155. for the call to share His Word

156. for humble beginnings
157. for challenging middles
158. for redeeming ends

159. for open meadows
160. for log altars
161. for mountaintop meetings

While reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I started keeping a list of the things I am thankful for.

My Favorite Reason for Blogging

During my growing up years, my family attended church several times a week. By the time I was a teenager, I knew lots of Bible stories from Sunday school, but I could not have told you where any of those stories were actually found in the Bible.

That all changed when I was 17.

I started reading the Bible for the first time by myself. And it changed me. Completely.

Something strange and inexplicable started happening. I couldn’t stop reading the Bible. I took my Bible with me everywhere—even to school. I was consumed with God’s Word as I marveled at the way all those individual Bible stories were woven into a larger Story.

Then something even more marvelous started happening. Whenever I read the Bible, certain verses would stand out, and I would find myself reading the same passage over and over. It was as if God was speaking directly to me through His Word! At the age of 17, I didn’t know such a thing was even possible.

The words on the thin pages weren’t like any other words from any other book I had ever read. It was as if they were alive—speaking to a specific situation in my life.

“The Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12a).

Of course, as I grew I came to realize that my experience wasn’t unique to me. God speaks to others through His Word too! In my youthful exuberance, I wanted to share this Truth with everyone I knew.

Then my teen years turned into my twenties.

Earlier this week, I wrote about a particularly difficult season that I now refer to as the dark decade. Whenever I look back on this time in my life, I know that I could never have made it through without God’s Word as my companion. His Word speaks life and truth and hope.

When I first starting blogging three years ago, I combined my two deepest passions: writing and studying God’s Word.

For each blog post, I took a single verse from the Bible and wrote about an experience when that verse spoke life and truth to me. I called each post a Verse Vignette because just one verse made such a huge difference in a particular situation.

So when I heard about the organization called One Verse, I was immediately drawn to learn more about it. One Verse is committed to translating the Bible for people around the world who do not have God’s Word in their native tongue.

Three hundred forty million people don’t have the Bible in their own language! I’m not okay with that. The mission behind One Verse is a mission I am passionate about. And I want to invite you to investigate this mission too. Pray about whether this is something you feel called to support.

I love blogging for many reasons. I love this online space where I can practice the craft of writing and connect with other like-minded bloggers. But my favorite reason for blogging is the very first reason why I started blogging in the first place: To share God’s Word and the many ways He has redeemed my life.

What is your favorite reason for blogging?

Click here to learn more about One Verse.

A Gift of Words

My daughter just signed up for an S.A.T. prep course. For the next six weeks, she will spend every Wednesday night and Saturday morning preparing for the big exam.

You would think that taking the S.A.T. exam is a regular part of teenage life. But for me, this is unfamiliar territory.

When I was in high school, I never took the S.A.T. exam. In fact, I can’t remember having a single conversation with an adult about the possibility of taking the S.A.T. exam. Since no one in my family had ever gone to college, I guess nobody expected me to go either.

As soon as I was 18 and out of high school, I began working full-time.

Then I did something crazy. I went down to the local community college to sign up for some courses. I stood in line for hours, not even knowing if I was in the right line. There was no one there to help me. So I followed the masses.

After taking some “placement exams,” I was told which classes to enroll in.

So I stumbled along, semester after semester, wondering if I was making any headway.

Sometimes my work schedule got in the way of my class schedule, so I would have to withdraw from those classes and hope that my work schedule wouldn’t change mid-semester again the following term.

Going to college was like taking “one-step-forward-then-two-steps-back.”

Then I got married. And his job moved us to a new city almost every year. So I would enroll at a new community college and begin the process all over. If I was lucky, I would get to finish the semester before having to move again.

When I was 24, and the mother of a 2-year-old, I finally transferred to a small, private four-year university. I was beyond excited.

But when I arrived, I didn’t fit in. Everyone was between 18 and 21, and they were living in dorms together while I commuted to campus. They may have thought it was weird that another student was a wife and a mom!

I was lonely and plagued with self-doubt. Would I ever finish?

Then I went through a divorce. Eventually, he moved again—only this time, out of state.

For the next four years, it was just me and my little girl. I worked more than 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, and I took classes at night, desperately trying to piecemeal together enough units for a diploma.

Finishing a degree—so I could get a better job so I could take care of myself and my daughter—was the only thing keeping me going.

I was 28 years old when I finished my degree.

One university. Five community colleges. Ten years.

Ten years of night classes.
Ten years of setbacks.
Ten years of wondering if I would ever actually make it.

By the time I graduated, Jeff and I had started dating. And the only three people who came to my graduation were Jeff, my 6-year-old daughter, and my mother. (I had invited my dad to come but he said he was too busy.)

So there I stood. In cap and gown.

For ten years, I had dreamed of this moment, thinking it would be one of the happiest moments of my life. But to my own surprise, a sadness that bordered despair clung to me. I felt alone. I wanted to celebrate, but I felt as if no one could truly understand what this diploma meant to me. Only God knew what that dark decade had really been like.

At the graduation ceremony, I went through the motions, telling myself that I was only doing this for my daughter.

Afterwards, Jeff gave me a heavy box, wrapped in paper. Inside was a two-volume dictionary set. He said that he special-ordered the largest dictionary set he could find.

He knew I loved words. He knew I loved making words up and stringing words together.

With both arms, I held the volumes. Jeff didn’t know how dark the previous ten years had been, but somehow, he knew what the next ten years would hold. He knew I would go on to graduate school to study composition—where those dictionaries would come in handy.

He knew I loved to write. So he gave me words.

And he promised to read every one I write.

A dictionary set might sound like the most unromantic gift ever. And for many, that might be true. But Jeff knew me better than I gave him credit for. To this day, that dictionary set is my favorite gift he has ever given me. For me, nothing could say “I love you” better.

He gave me words.

The more I think about it, I realize that God, in His amazing love, has given us a gift of words too. His words, in letters and stories and songs, speak life—to the lonely, to the poor, to the marginalized—to me.

Isn’t this the most beautiful gift that God has given? He gave His Son, the Word made flesh.

God gave us the Word!

I love words.

I love reading words.
I love writing words.

And right now, my daughter is studying a whole bunch of words for her S.A.T. exam. And I can’t even put into words how thrilled I am for her to have the opportunity to go to college.

I may have labored and struggled—for more than a decade—for the privilege to study and learn, but the Word has always been available to me. And around the world, men and women are willing to give up their lives for the privilege to study God’s Word.

They know, as I have come to learn, that the most important words we could ever study are the ones He has given us.

Have you read His gift of words to you today?
Is there someone you could give a gift of encouraging words to?

*Jeff and I will celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary this spring. God is truly amazing.