To Love Me Well… Love My Children


How can I have a relationship with a God I can’t see?

Last week we celebrated my son’s 6th birthday. The party was more than a month after his actual birthday, but he insisted on having a bounce house and sprinklers, so a belated celebration it was. We settled on Memorial Day weekend with an inflatable water slide that turned our backyard into a swamp suitable for Yoda to train young Jedi warriors, but hey, it was fun, right??

We hosted a gaggle of children in addition to my own crew, all precious to my Sweet Prince. However, the ones who stole my heart weren’t there for the water slide. Of course, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get some play time in…

These two may have been the wettest of the bunch, but there were others who showed up to love my boy with wicked Nerf guns and Pokémon cards before they went about their adulting business. Yes, these special guests are grown men and women, not related to us, no kids of their own, with nothing obligating them to a 6-year-old’s birthday party when they could totally be out doing grown-up things like driving motorcycles or whitewater rafting or shopping for appliances… And yet they came.

They come over and over again, week after week, year after year. They come to birthday parties, preschool graduations, and over for dinner when my socialite 8-year-old begs for “company.” They make Play Doh creations, give us special treatment when we visit them at work (Chick-fil-A, of course), teach the kids’ classes at church, and model a life that is following Jesus. They simply love my children, and in turn, they are loving me.

Love me well

One of the great mysteries of faith is the idea of loving a being which we cannot experience with our 5 senses. Certainly we can connect with the divine in less tangible ways – the work and power of the spiritual realm is often misunderstood and vastly underrated by the exhibitionism of the internet age – but aside from recognizable theophanies, interacting with an invisible God can feel like explaining Pinterest to your great-grandmother… Where do you even begin??

Jesus was once posed a similar question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40

The Pharisees get a bad rap for being the bad guys in the Gospels, but truth be told, the whole Pharisaical movement was born out of that one question: how can I have a relationships with a God I can’t see? 

Seeking to understand the Mosaic traditions of Judaism in their contemporary context, the Pharisees wanted to shift the focus of Hebrew worship from temple sacrifice to personal study and prayer. Their endless lists of rules missed the heart of the Law, to be certain, but ultimately, they were asking the same questions we are. Their answer landed on legalism; Jesus pointed to loving people. 

Love my children

To anyone who is a parent, it should come as no surprise that the best way for us to love God is to love his children – each other. He spent over half of the Ten Commandments (plus the majority of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy that you never read because it feels rote) telling us how to respect one another, and the critiques of literally every minor prophet in the Old Testament boil down to Israel failing to care for the needs of her most vulnerable people groups.

Jesus’ entire ministry is devoted to loving God’s children. His miracles may be symbolic of large-scale principles, but let’s not forget they were still worked through individuals. He saw the needs right in front of him, and then he met them. We ought to take that as lesson #1 of “How to Be Like Jesus.” In Matthew 25, he gives us this familiar parable:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Matthew 25:34-40

If I had the job of writing section subheadings in the Bible, this one would be, “Jesus Tells Us How We Can Love a God We Can’t See.” It’s so simple: love his people.

We are created to live in community, and family is both the primary foundation of community and the primary vehicle through which God demonstrates his relationship to us and vice versa. We are most moved when others minister to our children, therefore, so is God.

If you are new to following Jesus, or if you’re considering it but not sure where to start, look to the greatest commandments – the second answers the “how” of the first! Love God, and love your neighbor. Look at the needs right in front of you, and meet them. Mentor a kid. Help someone who is struggling. Visit someone who is alone. Feed someone who is hungry. Get involved in community. That’s where the magic happens, because that’s where God’s heart is.

God is saying to us now, To love me well… Love my children.


Everyday Worship

Everyday Worship

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 edition of the Church of God Evangel, a magazine that brings inspiring, intentional, and empowering stories and articles to its readers. Click here to view the publication online or download a PDF.

It was a Thursday at 4:45 pm when our whole house was rushing around to get out the door. My husband, Jeremy, was taking our 3 oldest children to watch some of the middle schoolers in our youth group play their first volleyball game of the season. Meanwhile, I nursed our 3-week-old baby in hopes he would sleep in the Moby wrap while I attended a parent meeting for our new kindergartener. As Jeremy supervised everyone buckling into the van, he noticed a wet spot in our garage.

Stop everything – we had a leak.

We have pretty much no plumbing skills whatsoever, and even small leak looks enormous when it has been dripping for who-knows-how-long. We left messages for a few plumbers, but we feared how we could pay for their services with all the recent expenses of a new baby. Jeremy called our friend Bob, a retired pastor who now works as an insurance adjustor and handyman.

Within minutes, Bob was on the scene with his tools in hand. Not only did he stop the leak, but he returned the next morning with the parts to fix the piping, a fan to dry out the soggy cabinets, a level to entertain my curious little boys while they watched him work, and a promise to help with whatever further damage might come as a result. And he didn’t charge me a penny.

For Bob Shook, his service to my family is not just to my family, it is unto the Lord. He practices what he preached for many years: worship is not about a song or performance; it’s surrendering everything that we do to honor the Lord and to love His people.

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus tells a familiar parable about sheep and goats – the “sheep” that obeyed God’s commandments and the “goats” that missed the mark. I heard this story scores of times growing up in the church, and it was always used to motivate Christians to service – to “be Jesus” to someone in need. However, when we look at the text, quite the contrary is true:

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

When we serve others, we are not “being Jesus” to them. Rather, those we serve are identified with Jesus, so our service to them is direct service to Him. That’s worship.

Maybe plumbing isn’t your thing either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t worship the Lord through serving your neighbor. Next time you mow your grass, take an extra 20 minutes and mow for the widow next door too. Make a meal for someone who is grieving. Host a baby shower for a single mom who is scared she can’t make it on her own. Bring your kids to a nursing home to read to the residents. Clean house for a new mom who hasn’t slept since the baby was born. Pay for the person beside you at Chick-fil-A whose credit card won’t run. Be honest in your business dealings, and seek to serve before you make a buck.

There are so many ways to worship because there are so many ways we live. Rather than putting worship in the box of a church setting, look at your life and what you’re already doing. Ask God to show you how to use those daily activities to honor him. And when you ask, you will receive.

New Beginnings // Painful Endings

new beginnings tobymac

from TobyMac Facebook page

Today is a new beginning. But it kinda hurts.

Early in December, 2004, a 19-year-old college sophomore and her fiancé walked into a new church. (Okay, it was me, so we can drop the third person speak now.) We were looking for a church home to call “ours” as we transitioned into our new life together. We had heard that an old family friend had recently become pastor of this church, so we stopped in to visit.

That morning service included a drummer with 80’s hair and 80’s rocker gloves, a worship parody of a secular song, some awkward moments and imperfections. It also included a hug and kiss from an elderly woman who immediately treated us like her grandkids, a brief conversation with a man who told us how much he loved this church, an apology from the girl sitting behind us regarding that worship parody, an immediate invitation to get plugged in to serving, and lunch with that new pastor and his goofy 8-year-old son who immediately won our hearts.

We were home.

A few months later we were married on that stage. We were invited to start a brand new ministry for pre-teens, and to be honest, I didn’t want to do it. That age is so… Okay, do you remember being 11? Yeah, THAT. But God immediately gave us a heart for those kids, and one extra special kid to make every Sunday with them worth it. Then we were invited to join the staff part-time as Children’s Pastors, another role I didn’t think we were quite suited for, but God knew what he was doing. We fell in love with those kids and our time with them. Some of my favorite ministry moments involve grape juice boxes and Ritz crackers, teaching K-4th graders about communion.

Then the Lord and our pastor invited us on what has proven to be the most remarkable journey of our lives when, in February of 2007, my husband left his job to enter full-time ministry as the youth pastor at “our” church. I’ll never forget that first Wednesday when we introduced ourselves and overhearing a couple of students talking about me, saying, “I think she’ll be AWFUL.” I smiled and stepped into the conversation, assuring them I would only be as awful as they forced me to be. Those students captured my heart and became some of the closest, most valuable relationships we have had in our ministry.

Jeremy and I have been through a lot with this church body. We have seen probably hundreds of students filter through our doors over the years, some flitting in and out for lock-ins and retreats while others endured the blessings and curses of a small-ish youth group. Those enduring ones worked alongside us to grow and develop the group. They welcomed accountability and discipleship and “became their own evangelists,” a phrase I recently heard as a scoffing remark at the impossibility of getting students to do so. Some were overwhelmed by the challenges and gave up. Some wrestled with their faith and came through stronger. Some graduated, moved away, and lost touch. Some are my best friends today.

We have spent countless hours with teenagers on mission trips, service projects, retreats, conferences, Wednesday services, driving for 956,324 hours to the beach, playing basketball at the Civic Center, drinking coffee at Panera Bread with my baby in tow, and spending off-campus lunches at the church. I do not regret one single hour.

Our teens were hungry for the Word and begged Jeremy to start an extra Bible study outside the usual church times. They were the biggest supporters of an off-campus community outreach we started to “adopt a block” in our city and love on that neighborhood. Some of them continued that ministry when other obligations forced us to step out of it. Teenage girls have knitted scarves and made jewelry and stuffed goody bags for me to deliver to my friends in the strip clubs, and they have done so with such love and tenderness and never an ounce of judgment. Our teens started their own Bible studies and outreach projects we have been honored to support. They have made us so proud.

Our pastor trusted us completely with the students in his church, including his own son. He allowed us to try things that were out of the box – some worked, others didn’t – and he had our backs when criticism inevitably arose. He is an incredibly rare type of leader who is exactly the same person on stage and in the office and in his own home. We always knew who we were talking to, even when we disagreed. He didn’t fire us for the time(s) my husband punched (and dented) a metal door or the time our super fun and exciting event landed 3 kids in the emergency room, although he probably thought about it. Thanks for that, man. (However, that super fun and exciting event was henceforth forever banned…)

This church body has raised us from literal teenagers (well, for a few months anyway) to actual capable adults. They have prayed with and for us. I have been honored to serve in the nursery with women who chatted and shot the breeze and didn’t realize they were mentoring me as a mother. They poured in their honest and vulnerable stories of raising their own children, imparting their wisdom of hindsight while encouraging me that it’s okay to not have it all together. The church has supported us spiritually, emotionally, and financially. They welcomed with us the births of our 3 children… and the few who knew mourned with us when we lost two children in 2014. We were all eager to celebrate the healthy pregnancy I am currently carrying, but as one student said, “I wish this baby was OUR church baby.”

Because today is a new beginning as my husband walks through the doors of a different church, to a different office, with a different flock to shepherd. This is a wonderful opportunity for a new beginning, but it comes with a painful ending. Yesterday we were honored by “our” cherished church family as we said goodbye to that home of the last decade. God has called us into a new season of ministry, one which honestly has been difficult for me to accept.

Sometimes a new beginning really feels like a painful ending. But the pain does not negate the beauty of the promise. I have learned that sometimes we need to sit in that pain and allow ourselves to feel it in order to move past it. The last few weeks have been so difficult to wrap my head around starting over, but God’s grace has been so overwhelmingly great that I have never been so sure in my life that we are right in step with God’s purpose and plan. And sometimes the beauty of the promise doesn’t wipe away the pain of the moment. But it is worth the struggle.

To all who have been on this journey with us over the last decade, thank you – with everything that is in me, thank you. To my beloved students – from the redheaded duo of terror (who became the joy of my heart) to the SnapChatting, hashtag-creating, inside-joking loves in my group today – If I could put you inside my heart, I would just squish you with my incredible love for you! To the students and families coming in the next season of our lives, I cannot wait for the beauty of this promise. I love you already…

Now let’s do this.

Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. I always pray for you, and I make my requests with a heart full of joy because you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus comes back again.

“It is right that I should feel as I do about all of you, for you have a very special place in my heart. We have shared together in the blessings of God [in the good times and the bad]… God knows how much I love you and long for you with the tender compassion of Christ Jesus. I pray that your love for each other will overflow more and more, and that you will keep on growing in your knowledge and understanding. For I want you to understand what really matters, so that you may live pure and blameless lives until Christ returns. May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation – those good things that are produced in your life by Jesus Christ – for this will bring much glory and praise to God.”

Philippians 1:3-11

It Takes a Village | Healing in Community

It Takes a Village

photo courtesy of Renee Van Druff, used with permission

You have probably heard the old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” There is profound truth in that statement, and I am extremely thankful both for the village that raised me and the one helping to raise my children. In addition, I’m a firm believer in the statement I often hear from my friends at The Restoration House: “It takes a village to raise a mom.”

To Raise a Mom

When I became a mother, I had very few friends in the same boat. I was 22, had been married just 2 years, and had just started grad school. The few mom-friends that I had meant everything to me. The mall-walking, park dates (even though our kids were too small to play), or just talking about diapers and formula made me feel like a real mom when most days I felt like a kid just babysitting for a reeeeaaalllyyy long time.

I volunteered in the church nursery with experienced moms who shared their wisdom and were candid about their struggles, giving me confidence to parent as best I could. Other moms in my life sought me out and befriended me when I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. They chose to be my friend based on who I am and not just the offspring I happened to produce.

My sister-in-law became a mother just 7 months before I did, only she knew a heck of a lot more than I did. She shared (and shares) the journey with me, and her partnership in this adventure means more to me being a fellow Unthank.

My parents and in-laws watch my kids to give my husband and me the chance to be husband and wife and not just mommy and daddy. The teens and young adults at my church often babysat for us in exchange for lunch or cookies instead of cash.

As my children have grown, their preschool teachers, nursery volunteers, children’s pastors, and various other adults have genuinely loved them and spoiled them beyond reason. And as every parent knows, the way to love me is to love my child well.

I have a diverse, wise, experienced, beautiful, wonderful village raising me as a mom. And I know I wouldn’t be here without them.

Healing in Community

Being a mom isn’t always pretty. There are days when I lose it, and I fail my kids. There are days when I feel like I can’t go on. I’ve learned those are normal, and they will soon pass.

Then there are some hurts that don’t soon pass.

Sometimes you will have seasons of hurt, and you might, like me, feel lost and drowning. You might wonder if this will ever end. You might feel like you will never escape this pit.

You will need your village to come to your rescue.

When I had my first miscarriage last March, I went to my moms group the next day and put a little note in the prayer request box. All it said was, “I had a miscarriage yesterday.” An hour after I left that meeting, I got a text from my small group leader: “What do you like from Chipotle? I’m bringing you dinner.” She didn’t press me to talk or tell me everything would be okay. While she shared my experience of a miscarriage, she didn’t make it about her. She allowed me to grieve and loved me in that moment.

I was at ALDI with all 3 of my kids last June when I got the call that my bloodwork indicated a 2nd miscarriage. I walked out of the store, drove to my husband’s workplace, and the office administrator took my kids to another room and played with them. She didn’t know the situation, but she saw the hurt in my eyes and knew what needed to be done. She dropped everything and gave me almost an hour of time to cry with my husband.

My parents allowed us to bury and create a small memorial for our children in their yard. On occasion I will randomly show up at my mom’s house to visit that site, and she will take the kids so I can be alone.

My mom friends have listened to me cry about everything and nothing; they have forgiven me when I am moody and depressed and not a good friend to them; they have prayed for me when I didn’t ask for it.

My childhood youth pastor – who has always been “my pastor” – takes my calls and lets me visit at the drop of a hat when I am emotional and need a pastor. (Side note: even pastors need pastoral care. Pray for your pastors, and encourage them to have relationships and mentors outside the church. They just need it.) He and his wife have loved me at my absolute most annoying middle school phase, and they lead and encourage me now as a mom, a minister, and human being who just needs love.

My husband… there are no words.

When you face those seasons that don’t seem to end, the hurt that swallows you whole, you will need your village to help you find your way out. There IS a way out, my friend. But we all have to find it for ourselves.

The Messy Job of Clean Up

A few weeks ago I shared how my current pregnancy after a year of losses feels more like wading through storm debris to rebuild that beautiful picture. I may have a “rainbow baby,” but it doesn’t instantly heal the hurt I still feel.

My friend Renee shared the photos of her own home that was destroyed by a tornado 5 years ago and allowed me to use them for my featured image. Her family has a beautiful story of being protected during that storm and of rebuilding a beautiful life afterwards. But as I looked through her pictures, it is clear that an important part of that recovery story is her village.

It took weeks to go through all the debris from Renee’s house, collecting what could be salvaged and clearing out the rest. There were trees blown down that needed to be cut up and removed; the storm scattered their belongings around the neighborhood; there was waist-high construction debris covering all their earthly possessions. Renee’s photots capture all of that – and in most of them, you will see her friends, neighbors, and community members working to get it all done. In order to sort through their mess, Renee’s family needed their village.

In order to sort through your mess, you need your village.

I’m still going through the debris of my 2014 tornado. I have not yet cleared the ground to start reconstruction. There are places where I am still waist-deep in the mess. But I am making progress thanks to my village. Thank you for allowing me to be transparent here, and thank you for loving me through the mess.

I love you. I need you.