Monthly Archives: October 2020

How Can We Run the Race Undeterred?


My husband Ben and I both have political science and law degrees, so to say we pay a lot of attention to politics and campaigns is an understatement.  Especially in a presidential election season, we consume a great deal of political coverage.  Recently, I saw an interview with Jon Ossoff, who is running for the Senate from Georgia.  The interviewer asked him about the long lines that Georgians faced in early voting.  Ossoff said, “the people are undeterred by the obstacles put in their path to vote.”  His comment struck a chord with me but not necessarily because of the political implications.

A person is undeterred if they are “persevering with something despite setbacks” (  I began to think about situations when I’ve been undeterred.  When have I thought nothing is going to stop me?  More specifically, do I act that way in any aspect of my spiritual life?  In a familiar passage, the Bible says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”  Hebrews 12:1-2.  Foot races and political races are short term (at least relatively) and have fixed endings – someone wins the race and the rest stop running.  But running with perseverance the “race marked out for us” in spiritual terms is long term and has no definite end in sight.    

So many things can hinder and entangle us in running our race for Christ.  We can question our purpose and direction.  We can take our eyes off of Jesus and end up off the route and in the weeds.  We may slow down due to blisters or fall and injure ourselves.  But the most likely reason that we don’t overcome obstacles in our race is that we grow weary.  We may become burned out at times throughout our run.  Different seasons of life require various amounts of energy that we must allocate to our families, churches, and communities.  Sometimes, we simply feel exhausted.  

If we try to run the race alone, then we likely will feel tired and worn out.  Perhaps we could view the race as more of a relay instead of an individual effort.  When we find ourselves running out of emotional and physical bandwidth, we can hand the baton to someone who is willing to help us for a time.  After we rest and restore our minds and bodies, we can join back in the race and even lend a hand to someone else who needs a lift.  We can persist when we help others run the races set before them, and they can help us in turn.  

We cannot let the obstacles in our paths stop us.  In order to persevere, we must help each other fix our eyes on Jesus, throw off what hinders us, and run the races set out for us.  Ultimately, we can be undeterred people of God.    

Daring to be the Light


Every fall, my family becomes a little obsessed with candles, especially anything pumpkin spice flavored.  We use a multipurpose lighter, with a colorful handle and a long metal nozzle, to light them.  Most of our candles are encased in glass jars.  I’ve noticed that when I use the lighter to touch a wick and spark a candle to life, my hand tends to shake.  The metal hits against the glass and makes a rattling sound.  When my hand shakes and the glass rattles, it looks and sounds like I’m afraid to light the candle.  While I’m not anxious to light the candles in my home, I admit that sometimes I fear sharing my metaphorical light with the world.

Jesus applied the analogy of light to us, his followers.  He said, “You are the light of the world. …  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matt. 5:14-16.  I don’t always want to be the light.  I hesitate to light my lamp in the first place, or I may feel content to put my light under a bowl and hide it.  

It can seem daunting to put oneself out there and point to Christ.  Who am I to shine a light that glorifies God in a respectful and righteous way?  When I try to be the light, I may feel the pressure to achieve perfection.  And while perfection is impossible, my efforts to put on a show of perfection may become consuming and thwart my ability to do anything good. 

If I’m the light that means other people will pay attention to what I say and do, which may engender criticism.  I don’t always respond well to criticism or negative comments.  I may start to doubt my actions or words when I hear negativity. I don’t want to argue with or defend myself against every dissenter.  Sometimes it’s easier to believe that there are enough lights out there already shining.  Nobody will miss my light if I hold back.  What could one more light really add, anyway?  

At the root of all my misgivings about being the light is fear.  Fear of mistakes, fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear that I won’t make a difference.  Jesus said we are the light of the world, but that feels overwhelming for an individual. But what is the alternative? If I let my fears dictate my choices, I will keep quiet, do nothing, and depend on others who may or may not act.  

Perhaps we should think more about the immediate effect of hiding our lights.  According to Jesus, if we do not shine our lights, our houses will remain dark.  Our houses are full of people who depend on us and trust us.  If we decide to hide our lights, we will miss out on sharing the vision and warmth that our lights can provide to them.    

But if we illuminate our own homes, then we may inspire the other members of our families to shine their lights as well.  Together, we can expand our scope of influence from our houses to our communities.  The wider community thrives if everyone contributes their own unique light.  

Being a light that shines for God is not necessarily easy, but we need not carry the whole burden.  We cannot let fear keep us in the darkness.  If we all shine our individual lights in our small spheres, then we will naturally band together and shine the light of God for all to see.  Then, we can be the light of the world, just as Jesus suggested.        

Searching for a Refuge

Photo by Riley Carter

On a childhood road trip, my family and I stopped in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to tour the underground caverns at Ruby Falls.  In retrospect, I’m surprised my mom, who obsesses about safety and shuns risks, agreed to this detour because it involved riding an elevator down into the earth in order to reach the caves.  Of course, a guide accompanied us, and different colored lights filled the caverns so that we could see the stalactites and stalagmites, some of which appeared as interesting formations.  I remember one that looked like bacon hanging from the ceiling.  At the end of the walk, we entered a tall, soaring part of the cavern, and gazed in amazement at an incredible waterfall.  I absolutely loved the experience in that cave.  

I suspect the cave in which David found himself in the Bible was not beautiful and thrilling like the one I “explored” as a child.  David was on the run from his enemies, and he poured out his prayer in Psalm 142 “when he was in the cave.”  David said, “I cry aloud to the Lord; I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.”  Psalm 142:1.  David felt anxious and scared hiding in a dark, cold, cramped, miserable cave calling out for the Lord’s help.   

While flipping through to another section of the Bible, I’d noticed that David wrote Psalm 142 when he hid in the cave.  About the same time, I read a quote from author Michael Kelley:   “It’s a journey of trying to embrace the fact that God is our refuge but not a comfortable one to hold on to.”  I was startled by the concept that God’s refuge might not always provide comfort because to me the concept of refuge equated to comfort, calm, and peace.  When I think of refuge, I picture an island paradise with me lying on a beach with a view of the ocean or a mountain retreat curled up with a cozy blanket in front of a fireplace with a good book and hot chocolate.  To me, refuge conjures feelings of happiness and rest.  

David searched for a refuge.  He said, “I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.  I cry to you, Lord; I say, ‘You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.’  Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need.” Psalm 142:4-6.  When I looked up the definition of refuge, I was a bit disappointed that it did not involve calm, comfort, or beautiful surroundings.  Instead, the dictionary defined refuge as  “a condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.” (  While none of us, including David, would wish for a sparse or unpleasant refuge, technically the cave, in fact, provided refuge for David giving him safety while his enemies pursued him.      

When I pray for God’s refuge, I don’t expect or want a cave.  But I started to wonder if God’s concept of refuge is different from mine.  Maybe the cave marks the first, temporary step on the way to a better, more peaceful refuge.  Perhaps the cave is a necessary stop in which we’re supposed to learn a lesson or two.  In the cave, we are safe from immediate trouble, but we are probably not comfortable.  We don’t want to stay forever in the cave.  Like David, we will most likely pray to get out of the cave and find serenity elsewhere, but maybe increased prayer is part of what we need to find in the cave’s shelter.  The cave can give us a break from the howling wind, the raging storm, the extreme heat or cold, and the real and perceived enemies who trouble us, so that we can regain our footing and find God’s path forward out of the cave.      

We will find relief in the cave, but we will not relish our time there.  We will want to move on to the next, better stage of refuge instead of remaining in the cave indefinitely.  The refuge in which we find ourselves may not always be perfect and may not be a glorious, spectacular tour of God’s wonders like the cave I saw as a kid.  But God can use this time, even in the starkest of caves, to further his relationship with us and demonstrate his ever-present love.  

Waiting or Rushing?


Much to my chagrin, I’ve found myself in a season of waiting.  I didn’t anticipate this particular bout of waiting, and considering I hate to wait anyway, I’ve not been overly happy about it.  The fact that I can’t control others’ behavior is not news to me, but I sure wish I could.  So, instead, I must wait.  I don’t wait well.  I feel anxious and want to push and force the issues.   But I also tend to wait with a sense of dread at the outcome.  I don’t trust God that all will work out well.   

I’ve been praying a lot about this – the initial situation and my lack of patience.  I was praying while on a walk the other day when I felt God telling me (though not out loud), “you’ve been trying to rush this the whole time.”  You’re right, I thought.  That day, I wrote in my prayer journal, “Dear Lord, I’m listening.” 

And then, I felt as though I started hearing from God.  I read a Lysa TerKeurst devotion in which she said, “I have learned the treasure of expectation …  I ask God to help me live in expectation of experiencing Him; therefore I do.”  Then, I read writer friend Meredith Carr’s blog post in which she said, “Will you wait with me?  Together, may we celebrate from the valley and watch with eager expectation for all He will do.”  

That’s when I realized that I don’t wait with the expectation that God will do something good.  I don’t anticipate positive outcomes, only negative ones.  I grind my teeth during the waiting and beg God for my desired result.  Al l the while, I’m thinking that God won’t come through in a good way for me.  It was a sobering realization.  I felt pretty pathetic since I have a good life – evidence that things have usually worked out well.  

Around this time, the Beatles’ song “Let It Be” popped up on my playlist.  The familiar mantra resonated with me.  The phrase “let it be” can indicate a willingness to wait without trying to push, prod, and pressure for a more immediate result.  And “let it be” can be read to call forth a positive outcome.  To me, it echoes the creation story in the Bible in which God declares, “let there be…” multiple times to bring forth the living, vibrant earth and all of its creatures.  Gen. 1.  So, I started writing “Let it be” on my wrist as a temporary type of tattoo to remind myself to wait but with the expectation that God will call forth good on my behalf.  

My daughter said I should just get a real tattoo of “let it be” since I continually wrote it on my arm.  I wasn’t ready for that, so I ordered a bracelet with the phrase instead.  I have no illusions that I will always wait with patience and with anticipation of good.  But I’m going to try to do better.  I can invite God into the situation and offer the problem to God.  I need to trust God more and believe that he wants good for me.  I’ll require God’s help to make that happen and probably lots of reminders from him and those through whom he speaks.  I’m still waiting, but I’m listening, God, so please let it be.  

Allowing Joy to Fill Us


One of my favorite animated movies is Disney Pixar’s “Inside Out.”  I’ve loved it since we saw it in theaters in 2015, and I’m pretty sure I’ve cried every time I’ve seen it.  I stood alone in line at Disney World to meet a couple of the characters, and even allowed my kids to join me in the photos when I got to the front.  The movie spoke to me, in part, because the main human character was named Riley, my daughter’s (and my maiden) name.  

The movie suggests that we all have characters in our brain that represent our dominant emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear, and Anger.  When Riley’s life turns upside down, the emotions battle for control.  Joy desperately tries to make things better and squeeze out the other emotions.  In the end though, the characters demonstrate that all of the emotions are necessary and important for a well-rounded life.   

Recently, McDonald’s included Pixar characters in their Happy Meals, and when one of my boys got the Joy character, I grabbed it for my own. I placed the toy on my nightstand but didn’t open it.  Then, the other day, I realized that Joy was still inside the clear plastic bag.  Joy was trapped, so to speak.  

I admit that at times I’m more comfortable with the emotions of sadness, anger, or fear than with joy.  I’m an analytical person, so when I experience negative emotions, I pick them apart in my brain:  Why do I feel this way?  What’s wrong with me?  How can I fix the issues that are making me feel bad?  I often ruminate on the aspects of my problems for long lengths of time.  Analyze, overanalyze, and then do it again.  It makes me feel productive or working toward betterment.  And despite this false illusion, I can spin in the pain indefinitely.  The emotional lows can become a familiar and comfortable type of pain.             

Joy is different.  Experiencing joy can feel awkward because there’s nothing to overanalyze, no problems to isolate.  Joy requires us to live more in the moment, and I’m not always good at that.  Sociologist Brené Brown said, “Joy is the most vulnerable emotion we have.”  And so, I try to push it away.  

Yet, I don’t have a compelling reason to feel this way about joy.  I haven’t experienced a childhood trauma or overwhelming drama that would explain the aversion to joy that I sometimes feel.  But because I worry that it’s fleeting and undependable, I suffocate joy, just like it’s in a plastic bag.  And so, I’ve concluded that I need to work on embracing joy more often and with less trepidation.      

I started looking for references to joy in the Bible, of which there are many.  A passage in the Psalms stuck out to me: “When I said, ‘my foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.  When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.”  Psalm 94:18-19.  In order to fully appreciate the verse, I double checked the definition of consolation, which means, “the comfort received by a person after a loss or disappointment.” (  When we feel anxious, especially after a loss or disappointment, God comforts us so that we can find joy again.  

God acknowledges that we will experience loss and disappointment.  But God doesn’t want us to stay stuck in our pain.  If we seek God’s love and comfort, then we can better accept the joy in life and in God.  Instead of resigning myself to the inability to settle into joy, I need to focus on the joy God wants for me and trust that he will be with me in both the pain and the joy.      

I removed Joy from the plastic bag as a symbolic gesture.  I want to loosen the white-knuckle grip that prevents me from appreciating joy and more fully release joy into my life.  God is a proponent of joy.  May we all follow God’s lead and embrace the joy God provides.