Good Doesn’t Mean Easy

When I got home from the hospital with my husband at the end of February, I thought all the hard stuff was behind us – at least for a while. I was ready to kick up my feet and bask in the fact that the long slog was over.

It wouldn’t be the first time I was wrong.

In my last blog post, I shared how 2019 was a tough year for me. At the time I wrote that I could look back and see all the ways God had shown up and provided and taken care of me and my family.

At the time, I wrote that post, I thought I had learned what God wanted to show me.

I was wrong again – sort of.

See, there were things God needed me to learn in that hard season so I could get through this season right now. When I was walking through last year, I had no idea that 2020 would see a global pandemic wash over the world like a tidal wave.

That’s the kind of thing that only happened in movies or those dystopian novels I sometimes enjoy reading.

But God knew. 

And He works all things for our good.

The mistake I often make though is equating good with easy.

I’m not sure why I do this since most things that are good aren’t usually easy. I mean, most of the important things in my life weren’t a piece of cake.

Parenting? Good but hard.

Marriage? Good but hard.

Ministry? Good but hard.

Writing? Good but hard.

I’m not sure why I thought what God was doing for my good would be easy either.

Thankfully, God knew what I needed before I ever heard of COVID-19. Last year, He taught me three important things that are helping me walk through this season.

The first thing God taught me was that He provides and He doesn’t need my help to do it. This is a lesson He’s been trying to teach me for many years, but last year I finally got it.

Not only did my son get to go to the Christian college of his choice, but I still don’t really know where all the scholarships came from. None of the ways I thought God would provide ended up being how He did it.

Not only were we sending a kid to college, but we had a mountain of medical bills. God miraculously provided the funds for the bills we already had, and the ones I didn’t even know were coming. Again, He did it in a way I didn’t see coming. AT ALL!

The second thing God taught me was that He is at work behind the scenes before I even know there IS a need. This has a lot to do with thinking I am in control when I never really am. When I was really little, my grandpa used to let me sit on his lap and “steer” the car. (No hate mail – this was in the 70s and people didn’t even wear seat belts, nevermind kids in car seats after babyhood). I thought I was in control, but of course, I wasn’t. Thinking I’m in control now is kind of like that. I might have my hands on the wheel, but His hands are really steering the car.

Third, God taught me that death isn’t something to be feared. When I found out about my heart condition last summer, there was a very real possibility that I had a very limited life span (as in a 5-year plan would be a waste of time for me, kind of life span).

This made me take a hard look at what I truly believed about heaven and where I would spend eternity. Did I really believe that I was going to a better place or were those just words?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m hoping to die anytime soon, and I am thankful for a good prognosis and a more normal lifespan. There are still plenty of things I’d like to do in this life, but my perspective has changed. My grip on this earthly life has loosened.

I’d love to say I haven’t had a moment of worry or anxiety during this whole thing, but I would be lying. Sometimes, having a vivid imagination is not a blessing.

But what I can tell you is that if I hadn’t gone through the hard stuff last year, my fear and anxiety and general freak out would have been a daily, even hourly thing for me.

I certainly don’t want to act like any of this is easy, especially if you or a loved one has contracted the virus or works on the front lines in all this. But I do want to encourage you that God is working even a pandemic for your good – even if it doesn’t feel like it. Maybe especially if it doesn’t feel like it.







Reflections on 2019 and My Word for 2020

2019 Wasn’t What I Was Expecting

As I look back on 2019, I’m reminded of the first line from A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

This year has been one of the hardest years of my life, but it’s also been one in which I’ve seen God move in amazing ways.

Break a Leg Has New Meaning

I started 2019 by breaking my leg. I went up to Michigan with my mom for a funeral of a dear family friend, While I was there, I slipped and fell in a restaurant because one of the staff had mopped but neglected to put up a sign.

Unexpected Diagnosis

In addition to breaking my leg, in June I found out I had a fairly serious heart condition, called dilated cardiomyopathy. While the condition has improved and my doctor is very positive, I spent about a month pondering my mortality. You can read about that HERE.

Budget Woes

This summer, we also had more expenses and medical bills than we’ve ever faced before all at one time. Between cars going, water heaters breaking, a computer that crashed, and household repairs, our credit cards got a real workout and still haven’t recovered!

A New Season

In August, we dropped our youngest son off to college. While this is a good thing and he is thriving there, it’s also a good-bye of sorts and definitely the ending of one season and moving into a new one.

Saying Good-bye Too Soon

In September, one of my very best friends passed away. She had been experiencing chronic rejection of her lung transplant for the past two-plus years, but nobody expected her to die quite so suddenly. You can read about her passing HERE, HERE, and HERE. To be honest, I still sometimes have trouble believing she is really gone.

Another Unexpected Diagnosis

Then in October, we found out my husband’s heart condition (he has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – sorry, kids, for the sucky heart genes!), was much worse than the testing had shown up until that point. He had been diagnosed about 8 years previously. He is facing major surgery and had to give up coaching until the problem is fixed. In addition, we are facing a lot of red tape as Cleveland Clinic is not in our network, and, as those of you who have the marketplace health insurance probably know, this causes all kinds of issues.

This is a page from my prayer journal.

Another Good-bye

Finally, as 2019 drew to an end, I knew with certainty that the time had come to put my beloved dog, Kipper, to sleep. So, on the last day of 2019, I made that appointment. You can read about that HERE.

To say this has been a hard year is putting it mildly.

Then There Were the Good Things

On the other hand, I had one of my own personal high moments this year as I published the last book in my middle-grade fantasy trilogy, The Pirate Princess Chronicles. I still can’t get over the thrill of knowing people around the world are reading my stories. It still amazes me that I created people and places that didn’t exist before and are now out in the world. There is a kind of magic in that.

I also saw God work in extraordinary ways this year, and every time He did, it was in ways that I didn’t even see coming.

If You Break a Bone

First, if you are going to break your leg, the way I did it was the best-case scenario. It was really more of an inconvenience than anything else. I honestly had more trouble with the sprained ankle that came along with the break than the break itself.

Miraculous Provision

Second, while we traveled around on various school visits for Brody, I have to admit I worried about whether we could afford to send him to school, particularly a private, Christian school.

But somehow God made a way, and to be honest, I’m still scratching my head at how scholarship after scholarship kept materializing. All the ways I thought God might provide never happened. Instead, He did it in a way that we could only say, “That’s totally God.”

Not As Bad As I Though (or maybe I can make a 5-year plan)

Third, after a heart cath, I found out my heart condition wasn’t as terminal as I originally feared. And during that time of unknown, God changed my perspective on so many things. I realized I didn’t have to fear death, even if I did wish it came a bit later. I was given an assurance of God’s presence in my life that gives me a firm foundation to stand on even when everything else seemed to be shaking.

Blessing in Disguise

Fourth, the doctor wasn’t even looking at my husband’s heart condition when they did further testing. He was just looking to see if there were any blockages. The truth is, if the doctor hadn’t found out that my husband’s heart disease was much more advanced than he thought, my husband could have very well just dropped over dead during a game or any time he exerted himself. It was truly a miracle that we found out and I am so thankful.

In addition to that, I am so very thankful there IS a surgery to fix the problem. It is truly a one and done type of surgery, and 20 years ago, it didn’t exist. They would have just told my husband to get his affairs in order, but now, there is a cure. And one of the best facilities in the country is less than 3 hours from our house. At our initial appointment with the doctor, we were sitting in the waiting room with people from Texas, Georgia, and Honolulu!

God Provides in So Many Ways

Fifth, God has provided financially for our bills in such amazing ways – from a settlement for my leg that I never expected to other believers’ generosity and kindness.

Finally, God was so real and present with me as I took my dog in to be put to sleep. He confirmed in several ways that this was both the right decision and the right time. As someone who struggles with decision making in general, this was a huge blessing. Putting your dog to sleep is truly one of the hardest things about having a pet, but Kipper slipped away so very peacefully and quietly while we petted him and loved him. He was such a gift, and I am glad I could ease him out of this world with the least amount of pain and suffering possible.

Only barely into 2020, we still face a lot of obstacles before my husband can have his surgery. Even though we face a mountain of red tape, I have faith that God can part that red tape just as easily as He parted the Red Sea.

My Word for 2020

There were so many times this year that I was on the verge of freaking out (or let’s face it, actually freaking out), but I could feel God’s gentle touch and His quiet voice saying, “Wait and watch.”

That’s why my word for this year is Watch, and my verse, at least for this first quarter, is Micah 7:7.

But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.

Despite the hard things this year, I have evidence that the God of my salvation both hears me and answers me.

So, even when my feelings are veering wildly all over the place, I will choose to watch expectantly because I know God always sees, He always hears, and He always answers.

Saying Good-bye to My Four-Legged Friend

This morning, when I woke up, there was a pit in my stomach. The day had come, the one I had been agonizing over since this fall. Today, I said good-bye to a true and faithful friend of 12 years – my dog Kipper.

As I moved through this morning, scenes flashed through my brain. I remembered the morning, a little over 12 years ago when my friend Mary drove me to pick up Kipper. He was my first dog ever and a fulfillment of a lot of childhood dreams. It was a lot of pressure for a little puppy.

But Kipper lived up to it in more ways than I could have ever imagined on that morning 12 years ago.

From day one, Kipper was an easy dog. Sure, he went through that annoying stage where he wanted to nip at everyone’s heels – especially Brock when he wore these super fuzzy slippers and ran through the house.

Together, Kipper and I did puppy kindergarten class, canine good citizenship class, and finally therapy dog certification. He breezed through all of it.

Together, we probably walked over 3500 miles. I don’t know the exact distance, but we walked a mile almost every day of his life until the last year when he started to fail.

Kipper was there during some of my darkest days. I happened to be grooming him when my mom called to tell me my dad had cancer. I remember burying my face in his comforting fur and crying.

He was there during the difficult days after my brother died. I’d sit on my back porch spending time with God. The tears would fall and suddenly, Kipper would be there, putting his long, pointy head in my lap, licking my tears.

Kipper was unfailingly kind, even to small children he didn’t know who would run up and throw their arms around him. He was hard to resist in all his fluffiness, and he became somewhat of a neighborhood fixture, with some kids watching for him to pass by on our daily walks. He’d sit patiently when they wanted to awkwardly pat him a little too hard or would look in his mouth fascinated by his long, pointy muzzle. If they got too annoying, he’d just stand up and wander away if he could, or he’d send me the look. The look that said, “A little help here, if you don’t mind.”

Kipper was good company. I called him my satellite dog. He was usually circling in the vicinity and tuned in.

Despite his good nature and easygoing ways, no dog is perfect, and Kipper’s big weakness was food. He would do anything for food, and it was probably only his training that kept him from snitching more than he did.

One time, my husband had some of his assistant coaches over and we served pizza. One coach had his slice sitting on his plate which was on a tv tray. Kipper walked by and the next thing we knew, that slice of pizza was dangling from his mouth. The assistant coach snagged it back and ate it anyway.

When I brought Kipper home, my kids were 6 and 9. I remember thinking that he’d probably live at least until my youngest graduated from high school.

This morning was about more than saying good-bye to Kipper. It rings with the finality of a door closing on my children’s childhood. Kipper, even though he was probably my dog more than anyone’s, was a constant in my boys’ lives.

I’d often find Kipper sleeping between my boys’ beds. He felt it was his job to protect them, and I had to intervene with the meter reader on more than one occasion when the man tried to come in the yard when Brock and Brody were back there and I was in the house.

I often joked that Kipper and I were so alike. Both of us loved food and a good nap. Neither of us was big fans of hot weather, and the crispness of fall put a spring in both of our steps. We both had somewhat crazy hair that tended to shed – although he definitely won that contest, hands down!

I know, for a lot of people who have never had a dog or who aren’t animal lovers, it’s hard to understand how difficult losing a pet can be, but they truly become members of the family. And the responsibility of holding that life in your hands can be heavy. I really wrestled with when it was the right time. I didn’t want to do it too soon or wait too long.

But even during all of this, Kipper made things easier. Yesterday, I started second-guessing my decision. I came home, and there he was. He came over and leaned against my leg. It was like he sensed I needed a bit of comfort, even if that comfort was over him.

Even this morning, with my heart heavy, he made me smile at his eagerness for part of my danish.

Kipper grounded me in ways it’s hard to explain. He made me smile almost every day he was part of my life, and he definitely increased my joy in the present. He was a living, breathing reminder of what love and devotion look like in its simplest form.

As I sit here, grieving this loss, I was thinking about dogs in general. Out of all the animals in the world, I don’t know that there is one animal that comes in so many variations, from little to small, from mellow to hyper, from uber-friendly to fiercely protective. Almost like there is one to fit all the different kinds of people there are.

I can’t help but believe that when God created dogs, He meant them to be a gift for us. Even today, when my heart feels broken, I’m tremendously thankful for that gift.





Walking a Mile In My Friend’s Shoes

Most people mean that metaphorically. I mean it literally.

One of my very best friends died in early September. I wrote a tribute to her HERE. While she’d been not doing well, it was still sudden. For about a month, as strange as it sounds, I’d forget she was gone. Her death just didn’t seem real.

Even now, almost three months later, I find myself mindlessly reaching to text her or message her when something happens—both good and bad.

I always knew that her time on this earth was most likely limited. But I didn’t dwell on it. It was something I pushed to the back of my mind to deal with later. In fact, she and I made jokes about it on a regular basis—jokes that others probably thought were horribly insensitive or wildly inappropriate but made us cackling like hyenas.

You can’t be afraid of something you laugh at, right?

About a month ago, her husband asked me if I’d like her any of her shoes. I’ll be honest, it was weird going through them and stacking the boxes up like I was at some big sale, and it felt somehow wrong.

When the boxes were stacked up by the door, her 3-year-old son asked if we needed to go to Fed Ex.

When I got home, I piled the boxes up in a spare room and then studiously ignored them for a couple of weeks.

Inside, I knew not looking at them wouldn’t change the fact she was gone. In my head, I could hear her voice telling me not to be stupid and to wear the shoes already.

So, one by one, I opened the boxes. Many of the shoes were hardly worn. A few hadn’t been worn at all.

Looking at those new-ish or never worn shoes made me sad because they were a testament to how sick she had been for the past several years. Getting dressed up and going out often took more energy than she had available. I put the lids back on and the pile sat there for another week.

Then I went out with a new-ish friend last weekend. The camel-colored ankle boots that were in one of those boxes were the perfect complement to my outfit.

I pulled them out and had to fish out the packaging in the toes of each boot. I expected wearing her shoes would feel odd or uncomfortable in some way. But it didn’t. Instead, it kind of felt like my friend was with me, and I knew that she would approve of dinner at La Charradea (her favorite restaurant).

I also knew she’d approve of the time spent building a friendship because relationships were priorities for her. She encouraged and championed forming and nurturing connections.

This morning, I slipped my feet into a pair of brown loafers.

As I walked into Panera to meet my mom and her friend, I looked down at my feet, encased in those loafers, and I realized something.

While at first, I worried that wearing my dead friend’s shoes would be weird, it’s actually a comfort.

Each time I get out a pair, I remember her.

Each time I slip them on, her memory is with me.

Each time I walk somewhere new in them, I am reminded that our lives—even those of us who live to 90—are startlingly short. I am reminded to make the most of the time I have, to savor the present and the people in it.

The Bible tells us to number our days so we will act in wisdom. 

When I slip my feet into one of my friend’s shoes or slide on a pair of her boots, that truth echoes in my heart.

I won’t lie. I wish she was still was here, but I know someday we’ll see each other again. Until then, I’ll keep walking in her shoes.

Saying Good-bye to Amber

This is the eulogy I wrote the day Amber died. Unfortunately, due to time issues, I wasn’t able to share it at the funeral, but since I promised her I’d do a eulogy, here it is.

The truth is I never wanted to have to give this eulogy. Amber asked me several times after she went into rejection to speak at her funeral, but I was hoping this day wouldn’t come for a very long time.

But, as Amber would say, it is what it is so I better own it.

I wish I could tell you why God allows things like this to happen – why He would take a young mother and wife. But I can’t.

In fact, if I’m perfectly honest (and we all know if Amber was here she’d tell me I should be), God and I have had a few words over the past few days about the unfairness of cutting short a life that meant so much to so many.

But here’s the thing, Amber would be the first person to tell me about God’s sovereignty in the midst of human suffering. It was her life’s message, and one she didn’t just pay lip service to. But one she had learned by walking one hard step after the other.

IF she was here today – after she told me to quit being stupid – she would want you to trust in that sovereignty. She would want you to know that God is good no matter the circumstances or how unfair or hard things seem.

Because she knew a secret that people who suffer know – God’s presence and His goodness and His grace can make even the ugliest of things beautiful just because He is there walking with us.

So, today, I want to do what Amber has asked me to do – remember her and celebrate her life because she is truly someone who should be celebrated.

There are 13 years between Amber and I (as she would often say – we were from different generations), and while I knew who she was when she was a teen in a periphery sort of way, we didn’t get to be friends until she was in her 20s.

The truth is the very first time Amber and I had a conversation, I remember coming home and thinking, “Man, that girl is SO pushy!”

We interacted periodically, and then, a few years later, I asked if she wanted to go out to dinner. We bonded over pasta at Fazolis. That was probably almost 12 years ago now.

The thing I will always remember about Amber and why I am having such a hard time believing she is really gone is she was one of the most alive people I have ever met. Probably because death was her constant companion for so long, it made her more aware of time than most people. Sure, we all know we could die at any time. I could walk outside and get hit with a truck tomorrow, but we don’t really LIVE that way.

Psalms 90:12 says, “So, teach us to number our days, that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.”  She was someone who always knew her days were numbered, and so she wisely lived the ones she had fully. She met each morning with a joy and fearlessness that was kind of amazing.

As someone who tends to be rather wimpy, I was always in awe of the way she just plowed through life even though the next infection could mean she was done. Instead of letting her circumstances make her bitter or allowing her precarious health to paralyze her with fear, she took each day as it came and as the gift it was.

You could see this most clearly in her relationships. I have been doing this word study on love in I, II and III John, and I came across the verse in I John 3:18 the day after Amber died. It seemed so appropriate. ‘Little children, let us love not with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”

Amber didn’t just talk about loving people. She demonstrated that in numerous ways. You could see her living out this verse in her love for Jesus, her love for John, her love for Noah, and her love for her friends and family.

Her first love was Jesus – always. She was someone who was rooted and grounded in her faith. It wasn’t just lip service for her. It was the rock on which she built her life. If she was here today, she would tell you it’s the rock you should build your life on too, not the shifting sands of feelings or feel-good theology that tells you God just wants you to be happy. I think Amber’s life makes it clear that He is more interested in your holiness than your happiness, and ultimately that holiness is what brings you true joy.

Her second love was for John. She was passionate about being a good wife to John. She looked for ways to serve and love him every day because she knew their time would probably be short. Amber was never someone who did anything halfway. When she was in, she was all in. This was never more evident to me than when she started to date John. She knew, without a doubt, this was who she was supposed to marry – and heaven help anyone who stood in the way of that!

Her third most important love was Noah, and she was also passionate was being a good mom to Noah. Even though the road to motherhood was difficult and there were potholes of heartache along the way, she kept walking, never taking her eyes off the goal. In fact, the one thing that makes me smile in all this is the fact that Amber will finally meet that baby she miscarried over 6 years ago. The one she held in her heart.

And when she got Noah, the joy she had – it just radiated. I know it made her sad that her time with him was probably limited, that unless the Lord performed a miracle she wouldn’t see him graduate or get married. I know there were days she struggled with the fact that her health limited what she could do and where she could go with Noah. But even on days when she could barely breathe, she didn’t check out. She was there with everything she was able to bring, and trust me, chasing a toddler around with 30% lung function and small airways that had only 15% capacity was no joke. She was always exhausted, especially the last 6 months or so.

Finally, Amber loved her friends and her family. I was able to watch Amber as she worked at being a good wife and mom. I was inspired by her love and dedication to Jesus. But I was a recipient of her friendship. As I said, when Amber was in, she was all in. She was fiercely loyal and heaven help the person who messed with one of her people.

True friends are difficult to come by. You might only have a handful in your entire life. I counted Amber as one of those true friends. Although we had very different personalities, we both agreed that being real was important.

That was very true in our friendship and I’m sure it was in her other friendships as well. What I loved about Amber – well, most of the time – was that she would call you on your crap but at the same time, I could say anything to her and knew she wouldn’t be silently judging me. In Proverbs it says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” We both believed that. Sometimes, she would say the hard stuff, and sometimes, I would say the hard stuff, but we always spoke the truth to each other. Love is not always warm and fuzzy. Love sometimes says the things you don’t want to hear, but if it is silent, then it isn’t really love. It’s just enabling with a nice face.

Amber only lived a few streets over from me, and I would often drop by for short visits. We would message each other back and forth most days. I still find myself wanting to turn my car down her street or wanting to shoot her a message and see how her day is going. I still expect to see my private message to ding with, “Are you still alive over there?”

As I said, Amber and I had different personalities but we also had quite a few things in common. We were both writers, for one thing, and had a love of both words and good grammar (and yes, we were both silently correcting your grammar). We could count on each other to say whether something worked or it didn’t. Trust me, that is a gift because most people won’t tell you the truth.

Another thing Amber and I shared was our love of Scripture and the correct teaching of said Scripture. We had many long talks about different points of theology, and why we believed what we did. We questioned each other’s points of view on things. We were iron sharpening iron.

The simple truth is I will miss Amber every day.  I KNOW Amber is in a better place. She is whole and restored and perfectly at peace in all fullness of joy in the presence of her Savior.

As I Thessalonians 4:13 says, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as the rest who have no hope.”

But while I grieve with great hope, it doesn’t change the fact that, for me, the world is an emptier place without her.

I have walked the road of grief before though, and I know in some measure what Amber did about pain and suffering – God never leaves us and He never forsakes us. He has this miraculous way of taking our ashes and turning them into garlands of beauty. I have no doubt that He will use Amber’s death as He has used her life – to remind us who HE is and to bring Him glory which let’s face it, is really the entire point.

The Amber Payne Challenge

The Phone Call

When the phone rang at almost 11 p.m., I knew it wasn’t good news. My dear friend’s husband was on the phone, and I could hear the upset in his voice.

“Amber stopped breathing on me,” he said.

He went on to explain that there was a team of doctors in the ICU room where she had been moved the previous day, and they were intubating her as he was talking to me.

Even then, even when I knew things didn’t look good for one of my very best friends, I kind of thought she’d pull through. Because she always defied the odds.

A Walking Miracle

See, Amber was born with cystic fibrosis, and at 19 she received a double lung transplant. Before I met Amber I knew little about transplants. I just kind of thought the person got a new whatever and moved on with life. But it’s a whole lot more complicated than that. (Below is a picture of her the summer before her transplant).

Most transplant recipients struggle. They face the daily possibility of rejection and the myriad health issues that accompany that.

Amber was different. For 11 years, she did extremely well. Yes, she had to take a pharmacy full of pills. Yes, her cystic fibrosis attacked other parts of her body since it could no longer get at her lungs. Yes, she had to be careful of infections and other things that don’t even cross most people’s minds.

But overall, for 11 years she was a walking miracle.

Not Giving Up

And then came the day, just after her son’s first birthday, that she got the news that all transplant patients dread to hear – she was in rejection. Nobody knew why, but for several scary months, her lung function which had been at an astonishing 95% for these past 11 years, fell to 50% and then 45%  and then 35% and then 29%. Finally, they were able to stabilize her at 30%.

Instead of the weekly treatments over 90 minutes away, she was able to go down to monthly treatments.

But she still only had 30% lung function, and her small airways continued to deteriorate. I could see her struggling on a daily basis. She had a hard time keeping weight on and the circles under her eyes got darker. And she was always tired, but still, she pressed on. She had a little boy to take care of (he’s 3 1/2), and a husband she loved. And, of course, there was the tribe of people she called friends.

This summer, it became obvious that something was changing – and not for the better. Although she had been stable for about 2 years, something wasn’t right.

Because she had always fought back and overcome the odds, it seemed normal for everyone to expect her to do it again.

But this time was different.

The Last Stand

When she finally told her husband a week ago that she just couldn’t breathe, he drove her to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus where she had had the transplant almost 14 years before. The doctor saw something in her lung scan and went in for a closer look.

It was an infection – something all lung transplant patients dread hearing.

Still, this was Amber. She beat the odds. She was still living when she should have been dead 10 times over. But this was one time too many. The infection was too strong, her body too worn out.

This morning, she drew her last labored breath and went to meet Jesus.

Fierce – Determined – Fighter

I wish I could tell you why something like this happens to a young mom and wife, but I can’t. What I can tell you is that for as long as I’ve known Amber, her life message has been “God’s goodness and sovereignty in the midst of suffering.”

And she didn’t just say that; she lived it. She fought every day to live out her life and to love her people well. So, as I did several years ago when my friend Carla Dysert passed away, I’d like to offer you a challenge because I believe every hard thing, every loss can be redeemed if we allow God to do that – if we work to find the meaning in the sorrow.

I want to challenge you to fight like Amber Payne fought. To not give up on that dream, on that relationship, on that difficult diagnosis.

Because she didn’t.

There were so many times I saw her tired and worn out, but still, she got up the next day and put one foot in front of the other and kept fighting for her health and for the people she loved.

Take the Amber Payne Challenge

What is it in your life that feels overwhelming right now? What relationship seems too far gone to save? What dream feels too far out of reach? What diagnosis seems too big to bear?

Can I challenge you to do what Amber Payne did all of her life? Can I challenge you to push just a little harder, to fight just a little longer, to hang in there one more day?

Will you take the Amber Payne Challenge today?




A Brand New Season

Old Habits Die Hard

I pushed my cart through Aldi today, and I stopped – as I always do – at the end of aisle three where all the gluten-free items are kept. I reached for a box of granola bars and my hand froze mid-air.

I don’t need gluten-free granola bars anymore because the person who eats them is about 100 miles west of here.

When Life Changes

Yesterday, we dropped our youngest son off at college. I didn’t cry when I hugged him good-bye. Instead, my smile was so big it bordered on cheesy.

But today, the reality crept up on me.

The thing is, I’m not sure exactly how to feel. I LOVED college. Every new quarter was like a gift waiting to be unwrapped (and yes, I realize I am the world’s biggest nerd). I loved being with other creatives and learning from each other. I loved talking to my professors. I loved all the what-ifs after college.

And I’m excited and grateful and giddy that my son gets to experience those same things.

Life is Always Changing

I’ve had quite a few people come up and get that soft, sympathetic look and then ask me in a low voice, “How are you doing, Mom?”

And I feel a teensy bit guilty that I’m not falling apart because if I really loved my kid, shouldn’t I be a melted mess now that he’s gone?

It’s not that I don’t miss Brody because I do, but I’m not sad he’s gone. 

This is the Goal

Instead, I feel excited for him, for all the possibilities and opportunities that lay before him. And I don’t feel any less his mother because he is away at college.

Instead, I feel kind of like I’ve graduated too. I remember when I brought each of my boys home from the hospital, and the absolute terror I felt when it hit me that it was all up to me (and the Coach, of course), to keep these small people alive and help them to grow and thrive and become functioning adults.


And it kind of seemed impossible that I was capable of all that. 

Yet, here I am with two young men who are good guys, who love the Lord, and who I enjoy spending time with.

I wish I could take the credit, but I can’t. Instead, my boys are a testament to the fact that God is strongest where we are weakest. He equips us to do what we don’t feel capable to do, and He fills in the gaps that we can’t.

So, for me, seeing my youngest head off to college to study something he loves and is gifted in, it feels like I’ve graduated, too.

We’ve come to the bend in the road, as Anne Shirley would say, and I am excited to see what lies beyond it.




The Importance of Moving Forward

2019 Promised to Be a Year of Change.

It is now over halfway through 2019. I knew at the start of this year a lot of fairly big things would be happening. Things like my youngest son graduating from high school and my older son going back to college. Things like entering a new season of parenting and life.

But I had NO idea what 2019 would really entail.

As I thought about my word for 2019, I tossed around quite a few before settling on EQUIPPED. (I always know I’ve hit on the right word because I start crying- and I’m not really much of a crier).

More Change Than I Realized

I was barely into 2019 when I broke my leg. I’ve never broken a limb before, and I have to say, I could go the rest of my life without experiencing it again. While I am thankful I had the best-case scenario if you are going to break a leg, it was also a huge inconvenience.

It made everything take longer, become more complicated and difficult.

But, I got past it. I managed to not miss any of my son’s games during his last season of basketball, and I navigated the many college visits (and their innumerable stairs; WHY do colleges have SO. MANY. STAIRS???)

And I kept writing.

In fact, I wrote the majority of book 2 in my middle-grade fantasy adventure series, Pan’s Secret, on my couch with my crutches propped up next to me.

In some ways, having limited movement with fewer expectations made writing easier. I mean, what else did I have to do? I certainly wasn’t going to go take a walk or anything.

The End of One Chapter

This spring was something of a marathon as we headed into the homestretch of Brody’s senior year. Each big event was part of the countdown to graduation: the last basketball game, the last sports banquet, the last musical, the junior/senior banquet. Each of those things were the winding down of one chapter in the anticipation of the start of another.

I enjoyed those events, and had my moments of nostalgia. I did all the< “how did time go so fast?” and “didn’t he just start middle-school?” type of musings.

When Change Isn’t So Pleasant

And when he had graduated and the big party was over, I went in to see my doctor for a check-up.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really wasn’t expecting anything to be truly wrong.

Sure, I had also had a few times that spring when I felt abnormally out of breath and my heart seemed to pound, but I’d also just spent a couple of months not moving much. If it wasn’t for these weird creases in my earlobes (and studies prove they can indicate a problem), I might even have pushed that check-up to the fall.

Until my EKG was abnormal.

And the echo was really abnormal.

I remember listening to the nurse talking and saying all these words that were completely foreign to me: global hypokinesis, ejection fraction, and cardiomyopathy.

When I looked them up, I felt like I was entering a new world – one that I definitely didn’t want to visit. The world of heart failure.


Coming to Grips With Reality

I know, they always tell you not to google anything, but I have a very active imagination. I am also the type of person who gathers information and knowledge when I’m facing something scary. It makes me feel prepared.

But what I read sounded dire and more than scary. It sounded, well, terminal.

And suddenly the idea of a five-year plan seemed dumb, mostly because I wasn’t sure I’d be around in 5 years.

Instead of wondering what I was going to do in this new chapter of my life, I found myself wondering what I would be doing in what was probably my last chapter of life.

What Do I Really Believe?

I found myself looking straight at the question of whether I really believed that to live was Christ and to die was gain.

The truth is, we all know in our heads that technically we could die at any time, but the reality of that – not so much.

God and I had to wrestle it out, piece by piece.

That looked like spending time in prayer and memorizing Psalms 91:1-10 and reviewing Ephesians 1.

And one of the first pieces I had to click into place was whether I would still obey what God called me to do which is to write? Or would I let fear freeze me into place?

So, I sat down and I wrote.

Obeying Even When You Don’t Know the Outcome

It wasn’t easy. The first few days, my writing felt stiff, and the voices of my characters sounded far away and tinny.

There were times I wondered why I was doing this anyway, and the temptation to while away my time worrying called to me.

I kept pushing forward, though, and eventually, I found my groove. And I wrote the first draft of my third book between the visit with the cardiologist and my very first heart catheterization which happened yesterday.

A New Chapter

The good news is that my heart is clear. There are no blockages, and its function has improved since that echo back in June. My dilated cardiomyopathy was probably caused by either a virus or stress, and my doctor said my condition should improve over time, especially if I take good care of myself.

When I chose my word for this year, I’m not sure what I thought I’d learn. I certainly didn’t think it would involve one scenario after another where I was basically in a position of helplessness and I couldn’t fix it.

I do know that what God HAS shown me.

HE is the one who is equipped to help us get through anything that we face.

HE is the one that will go with us if we continue to push forward – even if that seems hard or difficult or impossible.

HE is the one that does the equipping, and the best place to be thus equipped is when we are at His complete mercy.

Don’t Let Fear Keep You From Moving Forward

I don’t know what you are facing today. I don’t know which mountain you are standing at the foot of, whose summit seems unattainable for whatever reason. What I do know is that God is always faithful and true and that He always keeps HIs promises. He never leaves us or forsakes us, and HE DOES equip us for every good work He created us to do, even if that seems impossible.


He will hide you under His pinions;

Under his wings, you may seek refuge.

His faithfulness is a shield and a bulwark.

Psalms 91:3

Every Beginning Comes With an Ending

Everything Can Change In an Instant

I was on my way out the door yesterday to my last day of teaching for the year (and don’t let anyone tell you that the teachers aren’t as excited about this as their students!) when I looked down at my phone and saw a message from my husband.

When I read it, I stopped in my tracks, stunned.

A dear friend had died suddenly in her sleep. Sandy Rufener started out as my high school English teacher, but over the years had grown into a mentor and a friend.

And she was gone – just like that. 

Yesterday, was also the day my youngest son graduated from high school.

Life Is a Neverending Cycle

Two such different events, but both endings that signal a beginning. As I moved through my day yesterday, trying to process two such big things, I was reminded that life is a continual cycle of endings and beginnings.  Before one thing begins, something else has to end, no matter how small or big. 

Mrs. Rufener (no matter how many times she told me to call her Sandy and no matter how many times I managed to do it, she will always be Mrs. Rufener in my head), ended her life here on earth but started a whole new one in heaven.

In recent years, funerals have started to be called celebrations or homegoings, and I really love that concept – especially for believers. Yes, losing someone you love is hard and sad and difficult. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s grief, having walked the path of loss twice myself in recent years, but if that person is a believer, there is also so much hope. This world is not all there is. Death is not the end of a stand-alone story. It is just the ending of the first book in the series.

For Brody, even though graduating high school is truly a celebration, it also signals an ending, a change. He has to leave behind what he knows, the friends he has spent his days with for the past 14 years, the security of family, and move into the unknown. In order to move on to the next chapter in his life, he has to close this one. You can’t find out what happens in the next chapter if you linger in the previous one. You have to turn the page.

The Future – Whatever It Is – Takes Courage

So, yesterday wasn’t exactly the day I thought it would be. Instead of simply walking through this milestone with my youngest child, I found myself slapped in the face with the reality that we just don’t know what tomorrow will bring – or even that it will come. But I was also comforted that every ending – no matter how final it might seem – also signals a beginning, too.

Yesterday highlighted a strange but beautiful paradox. As Mrs. Rufener’s life came to an end, my son’s life is just beginning. But at the same time, my son was also experiencing an ending, while Mrs. Rufener was entering into a glorious new beginning in heaven.

Both of them, Brody and Mrs. Rufener, are stepping into the unknown, but that’s okay because God’s promise is that He will never leave us or forsake us no matter if that next step is onto a college campus for the first time or onto heaven’s shores where God waits with outstretched arms.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, a hymn redone by Chris Tomlin.

All The Way My Savior Leads Me

All the way my Savior leads me
Who have I to ask beside
How could I doubt His tender mercy
Who through life has been my guide

All the way my Savior leads me
Cheers each winding path I tread
Gives me grace for every trial
Feeds me with the living Bread

[Chorus:] You lead me and keep me from falling
You carry me close to Your heart
And surely Your goodness and mercy will follow me

All the way my Savior leads me
O, the fullness of His love
O, the sureness of His promise
In the triumph of His blood
And when my spirit clothed immortal
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages
Jesus led me all the way
Jesus led me all the way

All the way my Savior leads me
All the way my Savior leads me
© 2008 Sixstepsrecords



Don’t Let Regret Slow You Down

It’s Been An Eventful Year or So

In the past 18 months, I’ve written two novels, published one (soon to be two in about a week), and have started plotting the third. This may seem like a big achievement, but I turned 46 this year.

I’ve been wanting to write books since I was about 11 years old.

That means it took me 35 years to realize my dream.


3 1/2 DECADES!

3/4ths OF MY LIFE!

I have to be honest. There are days when this really bothers me.

When I am in writing groups and the 20-somethings are talking about the series of five books they’ve just finished, and the new series they have planned, I feel like a failure.

Regret has a taste, and it’s bitter.

I ask myself why in the world I waited so long to start doing what I love.

I’m tempted to wallow in regret, and as strange as it sounds, to quit. I’m tempted to believe that I started too late, and I’ve missed my chance.

But here’s the thing, if I spend my time looking behind me, I’ll never see all the opportunity in front of me.

One of my favorite verses is in Isaiah 43:17, 18 “Do not call to mind the former things, Or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.”

Regret is one of those things that can keep you mired in the past, stuck gazing at the path behind you and all the things you’ve missed. The problem with that is that you’ll end up missing all the new things that God is doing up ahead.

I could spend a lot of time beating myself up for all the “wasted time.” I could bemoan the fact that if I had gotten started 10 years ago, I’d be way further down the author path by now.

But I didn’t, and I can’t go back and change that.

The truth is, even if I had written books, they wouldn’t be the books I’m writing now because I’m different at 46 than I was at 36.

The very last book of the Bible I taught to my Sunday school class was Philippians. This book contains a lot of very well-known verses and one of them is found in chapter 3.

“Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13

And if anyone had a reason for regret, it was Paul. It’s easy to forget that before Paul had his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road, he was Saul. And Saul’s main goal in life was to go after Christians. He didn’t just go after believers in Jerusalem. No, he asked for permission to pursue them into other neighboring cities, too. If Saul and Paul shared one trait, it was zealousness.

Paul was responsible for men and women being dragged out of their beds, put in prison, and even losing their lives. He could have spent his life sunk deeply in the mire of regret.

But instead, he made the conscious decision to let that go and press forward. He turned his mental energy toward the task before him, not the regrets behind him.

Obviously, I realize that writing fiction books isn’t quite on par with Paul spreading the Gospel to the known Gentile world. At the same time, it’s what God has created and called me to do. And not doing it would still be disobedience.

So, on those days when I feel like I am way behind everyone else, when it feels like I will never catch up, I take a page from Paul’s book (literally!).

Instead of letting regret get the better of me, I purposefully pull my thoughts from what might have been, and instead, turn my attention and focus to the path before me.

And then, I take the next step.

What’s holding you back from moving forward?





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