To my son on your last night at home….

Clayton and Mom

Tomorrow you will be leaving my nest forever. We’ve had a trial run. You came back. But this time is for good. You are building your own nest for you and your bride. In twenty-four days, you will pledge your life and love to Anna forever, and a new family legacy will begin.

We told you tonight, in the middle of another one of our long talks, that it is hard to send you off with so little. We wish that we could bless you monetarily in ways that we cannot.  But as we send you off with the stockpile of hand-me-down furniture and dishes we’ve been saving for you, there are several things on my mind.

It is true that you were our guinea pig. You have the privilege of being our first born. We have tested all of our parenting practices on you. Sometimes we failed. You will leave here not knowing everything you need to know. We know that there are so many things that we probably haven’t taught you. Some things we just haven’t thought about teaching. Some we didn’t know how. Some things you weren’t interested in learning, and we didn’t force it.

But there are a few things we hope you leave home having unshakeable confidence in:

  1. You are loved. We couldn’t wait to have a baby. We anticipated your arrival with so much joy. You got the majority of our mistakes, but you also got the best of our youth. You had us all to ourselves, and we loved being with you. Our lives revolved around you. You still bring us that same joy. We love watching your successes, and we hurt with your failures. Watching you pack your boxes, I feel a piece of my heart tearing away. You are loved.
  2. You have learned to take responsibility for your actions. I know it has been hard for you to watch your friends get cars and smart phones and cash from their parents while we made you work for yours. You haven’t had it easy by American standards. But we know that it has built you. You are getting married young, but in so many ways you are older than many your age. You know what your car insurance costs. You know how much it costs to repair a transmission. You know how to budget for your bills. You understand what a day off work will cost you. You know the stiff consequences to taking the easy way out of things.
  3. You know that marriage is hard, but worth it. We pray that we’ve modeled marriage well. We haven’t been perfect by any means, but we hope that you’ve seen that the bad never means giving up. You watched us fight, and you’ve watched us resolve it. You’ve watched us hurt and rejoice. We pray that our marriage gives you hope that even when people aren’t perfect, that God can redeem anything and use it for His glory.
  4. You have learned to seek wise counsel. I have never been so proud of you as I have this year as you have found your own church. You sought out sound, Biblical teaching. You have built a relationship with your pastor, gotten up earlier than I would ever do for weekly small group, and devoted yourself to your pre-marital counseling sessions. The relationship you and Anna are forming with your pastor and his wife is priceless. You’ve learned that decisions made with your own knowledge can sometimes lead to really hard outcomes, and you’ve changed your methods. We’re so proud.
  5. You are braver than you think. You’ve come a long way, baby! You jump off rocks. You hang off cliffs. You ask big companies to comp you with thousands of dollars-worth of merchandise. You speak truth to your friends. You challenge false doctrine. Sometimes I can hardly remember the boy that didn’t want to ask for ranch packets at the fast food counter. Your bravery will serve you well as you lead and protect your family. God has prepared you to be a leader.
  6. You know who you are, and have learned self-management. You know your strengths. You also know your weaknesses, and you’ve found ways to overcome many of them. You know what kind of jobs and schooling won’t work for you, and you know what will. You know many of the core things you want out of life, and what things will distract from your goals.
  7. You understand that trials build character. I loved the way you encouraged us tonight as your parents. You understand that we wouldn’t be who we are if we hadn’t have walked the hard roads we’ve walked. You understand that the easy way isn’t always the best way. You’ve watched your friends choose easy, and you’ve chosen hard over and over again. It shows in your character. You have let God build you, and He’s done a great job.
  8. You know Jesus. You don’t just know about Him, but you know Him. You believe Him. You take Him at His Word. You want to honor Him. You want your lives to bring Him glory.

So as you leave, we know that we are fallen people who could have done better by you. We could’ve given you more. We could have apologized more. We could have prayed harder. We could have made better parenting decisions many times. But we pray that you see Jesus in our lives (even through the brokenness), and that you will go in confidence knowing that He goes with you. We love you more than life itself and are proud to watch you fly.

I am praying Philippians 3 for you leave. May you count everything as garbage compared to Jesus. He is worth everything.

Fly, baby, fly!

“7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead”  (Philippians 3 ESV).

What You Should Know About Pokemon Go

pokemon go

Pre-teen years are hard. Brains are re-wiring. The appeal of toys is going away, but the ability to go wherever and do whatever has not yet arrived. Every year, as we enter summer, we do a massive room cleaning with the boys. This year, our twelve year old decided he was ready to sell all the Nerf guns. Sigh. I’ve watched his hobbies become increasingly more screen dependent, so I began to encourage finding a hobby.

What about fishing?

Fishing’s lame.

What about building stuff with wood?

That’s dumb.

You could read more!

I hate to read.

After selling all the Nerf guns, he ordered a video camera. His hobby will be youtubing. Sigh.

The camera hasn’t arrived from China yet, but never fear! As we wait, the most exciting thing to ever hit planet earth has launched itself into 2016: Pokemon Go!

Now, really. I don’t have a bunch of bashing to do here. It isn’t an awful game. It has actually gotten him out on his bicycle and running all over. Fresh air for the win! The allure is obvious. Take a video game, and inject it into real life. Kids (and adults) are running all over town to catch imaginary creatures. …which brings about a couple of concerns that I have seen, and you may want to be aware of.

  1. Bicycle Safety. Have you noticed the increased bicycle traffic in the last few days as the frenzy for this game has hit? Have you seen the kids with one eye (or both eyes) on their devices, with no eyes left for the road? Make sure you are talking to your kids about the danger of this. Just like driving a car, this can be disastrous. Talk through pulling to the side of the road and figuring out what to do next. Make sure they are wearing a helmet.
  2. Stranger Danger. First of all, just understand what the app is and that when your kids say they are “just playing Pokemon” that they could be running all over the place. Are you comfortable with them doing that? Do you know who they are running around with? Does this need to be a game your kids only get to play when with an adult? Are they committed to putting safety first, even if it means missing out on a capture?
  3. Lures and Beacons. Because this is a game that works with GPS tracking, it is possible for the less well-intended sort to lure people into a trap. The game is designed to be able to post a beacon when you find a creature, so that others can find it easier….but that means players can post a beacon and lie in wait. This is actually really scary and has already led to crime.
  4. Awareness of Surroundings. Besides bicycle safety, just running around (especially in the dark) with your eyes glued to a device can lead to injury.
  5. Courtesy to Others. Some stores are posting warnings on the doors. Their might be a character in their store, but that doesn’t mean they want people running in to play. Make sure your kids know to stay out of businesses they don’t belong in.

Bottom line. Be informed about what your kids are doing. Know who they’re with. Know where they are. …and it doesn’t hurt to revisit basic safety conversations, even when you think they’ve learned them.

Are You Picking A Color?

Gazing from mountain

It seems we’re all picking colors these days. Colors of skin or occupations or sexual identities. Everything seems to have a color, and everyone is fighting for theirs. Blue lives matter. Black lives matter. Rainbow lives matter.

I agree.

But the bottom line is that LIFE MATTERS. Every life matters.

When we forget this, we fight the wrong fight, start the wrong conversations, and trumpet the wrong horns. We start asking if the life pinned to the ground is more or less valuable than the life in uniform. We ask if the life in the night club is more or less valuable than the lives tucked in the beds of our home. We tell ourselves that the meth addict that just lost custody of her kids is less valuable than the stay at home mom that takes hers to church every week.

We do this because at the very core, we have forgotten the cause of our value.

Wildflower – A Story of Exposed Trauma and Recovery – DVD Review and Giveaway


wildflowerChloe is a young college student who has worked hard to earn a scholarship at a prestigious art school. She is struggling with her relationship with her mom, the pressures of producing good enough work to keep her scholarship, and the internal nagging that something is just missing in her soul. Life is not perfect, but it is what she knows. She is settled in her routine of going to class, working on her art, and going home alone. When the pressure of producing her final semester project increases, swirling images, voices, and blackouts converge on her. Her unknown, blocked-out past has decided to reveal itself at the most inconvenient time.

When You Don’t Know Who You Are

Used by Permission - Clay Thomas Photography
Used by Permission - Clay Thomas Photography

Used by Permission – Clay Thomas Photography

A barrage of voices shout at me.

“You just aren’t made for this.”

“You’re better at that.”

“I don’t know if you’re called to this.”

“Here is a list of things you need to change about yourself to fit here.”

“This just isn’t your gift set.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with all of these voices. They came out of nowhere, and it seemed that the rest of my life had spoken differently.

“You were made for this.”

“This is your calling.”

“God has called you and equipped you for this.”

When my last paid ministry position ended because I was “no longer a good fit,” I found myself battling more than just hurt and anger, but questioning who I was. The irony stung, as I had spent the previous year leading our women through an entire series on identity. I thought I knew.

Whiter than Snow

The rain is drizzling outside, then pouring, then drizzling again. Our beautiful snow covered yard has surrendered to the downpour and given way to thick, sticky mud. Beach buckets, garden gloves, and basketballs reveal themselves in the places they were left before the snow, giving and eerie appearance of an abandoned village.

It is ugly, dreary, and sad.

I miss the snow.

Snow doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you have a well manicured lawn, or if you never finished raking your leaves. It doesn’t care if your roof is high and new, or low and flat. It doesn’t care if you’ve left a bunch of stuff in the yard, or if you carefully put it all away.

Snow covers everything.

Snow covers everything that is old or new, pretty or ugly, kept or unkept. It makes it all beautiful and equal and clean.

After a big snow, you never walk outside and say, “The Browns have sure let their yard go this year.” Or, “I sure wish the Johnsons would make their kids pick up their toys.

We don’t see any of those things. All we see is the snow. We are mezmorized by it. I could sit by the window all day, with a cup of coffee and a blanket, and just watch it snow.

“Come now, let us settle the matter,” 

   says the LORD. 

“Though your sins are like scarlet, 

   they shall be as white as snow; 

though they are red as crimson, 

   they shall be like wool. 

Isaiah 1:18 

Snow is such a beautiful and tangible reminder of what God does in our lives. Just as the snow covers all of our mess and irresponsibility and gives all of our surroundings equal beauty. The forgiveness and blood of Jesus covers our mess and makes our lives something worth looking at. It doesn’t matter if you come to Jesus fairly cleaned up or in a completely dirty mess. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done everything right or done everything wrong. When Jesus covers us with His blood, that is what he sees: His blood.

We are equally covered by His work – the price He paid…. and equally beautiful in His eyes. Love covers over a multitude of sins. (I Peter 4:8b) Nothing underneath His covering matters. 

Oh, that we could learn to see each other in that light. Oh that we could see as Jesus sees.





When It Is NOT Well with Your Soul

Photo Credits @claythomasgifford
Photo Credits @claythomasgifford

Photo Credits @claythomasgifford

I walked into church yesterday and ascended the bleachers to our “regular” seats, like I have been doing for the last six months. I sit down, take a deep breath, and hope that today will be a day that I can worship….that church hurts won’t overwhelm me…that I won’t spend the next hour dwelling in my personal resentment and frustration with the men who may be pacing the stage that day. The music begins. I feel numb. Numb is usual these days. I wish it wasn’t, but it just is. After a couple of songs, I hear the music beginning to a personal favorite; but as the chords progress, I know something is very wrong. Her voice is beautiful and clear. The words should be true….but they aren’t for me. Not today. “It is NOT well with my soul.”

Christmas Aftermath

Christmas aftermath

Christmas aftermathLike most of you, I’ve spent most of this week cleaning up after Christmas! It’s like a puzzle. Cleaning out old things, finding places to put the new, rearranging furniture, washing countless piles of bedding and towels, taking down the tree… You get the picture.

It got me to thinking. When you read the Christmas story, it ends with Mary and Joseph moving back to Nazareth with little Jesus, after they had fled to Egypt. Next verse: “…when He was twelve years old…”

Now, I don’t know about you, but as a mom, I’m thinking, “You skipped ten years!” Mary and Joseph have just gone through a whirlwind of angel encounters, visiting kings, blessings from prophets, endless travels, and running from the law. It seemed that everyone wanted to see her baby – either to worship him or kill him. Then suddenly… no information. The last mention is settling down. Period.

I wish Mary had written a book. Can you imagine what it was like to raise Jesus? Talk about pressure to do everything right. Mary had ten years in the middle of potty training issues, laundry, cooking, and cleaning that we don’t know anything about. It was Christmas aftermath, the mundane parts of life that had to be lived between the exciting parts.

But each day was a day with the Holy. Can you imagine? Oh, when I get to heaven, I can’t wait to talk to Mary.

Our ministry to our children is holy. It is ordained by God. Most days don’t look or feel holy at all… unless you are talking about holey socks or holey jeans. But each little day full of mundane is accomplishing the holy, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.

I’ll be joining you today in the mundane! What is God showing you about the holiness of motherhood? I’d love to hear!

The Hope Quotient – Book Review


hope-quotientHave you ever wondered how two people can go through pretty much the same trial and one lives the rest of their life in bitterness and anger and one conquers all, grows, and let’s the pain give birth to beauty? Have you ever wondered what makes the difference? I sure have.

Ray Johnston would say the difference is hope.

In his newest book, The Hope Quotient, Johnston reminds us that we are generally born and “pre-programmed” with our emotional and intellectual intelligence. We can work on things as we mature, and maybe increase our EQ and IQ some, but not much. However, our “HQ” can be developed to any level. Truth is, our HQ really has more determination over our success than our IQ.

“Nobody does very well in marriage, in relationships, at work, psychologically, or in life in general if they’re not buoyant.  Getting down is part of life.  Staying down is what will kill you.  If any Christian tells you he’s never been discouraged, he’s lying.  All of us are going to get down.

You’re going to get down this year. It’s just going to happen.  You may be there right now. But if you stay down, your education doesn’t matter.  Your theology doesn’t matter. Your skill level doesn’t matter. Your financial backing doesn’t matter.  If you get down and stay down, you will drown.

The only thing that will keep you from going under is hope.” Ray Johnston, The Hope Quotient, pg. 23.

The obvious opposing quality to hope is discouragement. “Discouragement,” Howard Hendricks says, “is the anesthetic the devil uses on a person just before he reaches in and carves out his heart.”

“When people lose hope, they lose their ability to dream for the future.  Despair replaces joy. Fear replaces faith. Anxiety replaces prayer. Insecurity replaces confidence. Tomorrow’s dreams are replaced by nightmares. It’s a lousy way to live.

When spouses lose hope, they give up on marriages.  Parents give up on their teens. Leaders give up on their people. Healthy emotions like contentment and peace are replaced with the toxic emotions of confusion, shame, worry, and disappointment. In short, it’s impossible to be spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, or relationally healthy when we’re gripped by discouragement.” Ray Johnston, The Hope Quotient, pg. 5

It takes just a little hope to change someone’s whole outlook on life, which makes it the most valuable gift we can receive or give.

So just where do you get that hope? Johnston make it clear you can’t just get it from “the universe.” But real, deep, powerful hope that causes you to live in confident expectation? That kind of hope comes directly from God’s Word. His Word is full of hope. Truth is hope. It is the anti-venom to the discouragement that the enemy wants to use to anesthetize us before he carves our heart out and turns is into the bitter, angry person that drowns.

We also need people… five kinds of them according to Ray. We need vision casters, soul sharpeners, models and mentors, heart healers, and tail kickers. These are the true friends that will help us stay grounded in the truth and clinging to real hope. For “hope is not just an emotion you feel; it’s a state of being you create.” …and we need help creating it and keeping it.  “Hope looks at what can be instead of what is.” Often our eyes are too focused on what is, so we need those five friends mentioned above to help us see what can be.

The Hope Quotient points out how much we talk about faith and love, and how seldom we talk about hope. If it is the just about the best gift we can give or receive, maybe we should talk about it more. Maybe we should give it more.

hope-quotient-1Ray has put together an incredible set of tools in The Hope Quotient. First, an online assessment test to measure your own HQ; and assess which areas you need the most effort in order to raise it. How do you recharge? Should you raise your expectations? What would it look like for you to begin playing to your strengths? Can you avoid burnout by learning balance? These are just a few key questions you can answer for yourself with the practical steps outlined in The Hope Quotient.

…and then. What does it look like to begin unleashing hope in your world? How would your marriage, community, career, kids, and even your church be changed if you became the giver of hope? Can you even imagine?

“Be strong and let your heart take courage,

all you who hope in the Lord.” Psalm 31:24