To-Do: With Love

Do you ever conquer your to-do list, but forget to do the things — like scramble eggs for breakfast or host a small group — with love? For love? In love?

After studying I Corinthians 13 this summer, I’ve been face-to-face with convicting encouragement. It doesn’t matter how impressive the day’s work, if it’s not accomplished with love, God considers it profitless.

If I mop all my floors and bake sourdough – but do it with an irritable heart toward another, it profits me zero. If I give my best efforts only when I feel like it, or when it blesses me, then what will this accomplish? If I share my possessions with the needy, but am impatient about it, this counts for nothing. 

If we can exegete Scripture and discuss heady doctrines around the dinner table, but secretly rejoice when someone is humiliated for their sin, the mysteries I understand have not pierced my heart. 

If I check all the “good Christian” boxes, but boast and insist on my own way, trampling others’ feelings and preferences, then how will unbelievers or believers see Christ?

If I become a clanging cymbal in the 20 minutes before guests arrive . . . then I’ve sent a message that it’s not really about the people in my home, it’s about my put-togetherness. 

Others do not feel loved by noisy gongs. I often forget, as Myquillyn Smith said, “Hosting is never about the host, and hospitality is never about the home.” I have been deeply ministered to by imperfect hosts with Christlike, gracious hearts. 

One of my favorite homes belongs to my sister who demonstrates a special gift in hospitality. If you’ve been in her little house, you know. She creates the perfect personalized coffee, iced or hot, but also asks the deep questions to glimpse how my soul is doing. I enjoy both edifying conversation and a landscape of curated art and timeless style. I know both she and her home are a work in progress. I know she sacrificed to prepare for my company, and the dancing candle is only one sign. But, if I drop by without giving her much notice, I still receive a big welcome, a listening ear, and a love that shares all she has been given. 

Yes,  love pursues excellence with all the energy God’s gifted, but the ministry of presence is effective even if there’s food in my drain, junk mail on the counter, or wilting plants on the shelf. Love is the ingredient needed for lasting meaning in our ministry of hospitality and service, and it starts with a willing, abiding heart. 

So do I have to do something perfectly for it to “count?” No, nothing we can do will ever earn Christ’s love. If I’m not in Christ, I gain nothing, I am nothing. God is love, and if we are not in Him, we are a dead branch, unable to produce. But if we are walking in the Spirit, these fruits of love and patience will blossom in our attitudes and actions. Our entire motivation changes.

For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all. 

2 Corinthians 5:14

When you’re tucked into gospel-love, success and even completion look different. His imperative and invitation is that we abide in love, so it’s not a doing, it’s a being. It’s not really about a to-do list, but being compelled by our love for God to walk in the homely or beautiful works He prepared for us. 

He always desires a heart posture, not a show. When we have guests for dinner, I sometimes go to the lengths of making a garlicky, basil dressing from scratch. After the prayer for our meal, my sweet husband will get up from the table and begin to offer our company the ketchup, BBQ sauce, and bottled dressings. 

To be honest, I’ve wanted to chide him later: “But honey, I had everything on the table that we needed! And the salad was already dressed.” But even more than striving for the aesthetic image, I appreciate the way my husband displays his deep care for people and desire to serve them. And do you know what? A troupe of condiments always makes guests feel more at home. Chick-fil-a sauce never fails to produce a laugh, a symbol of down-to-earth commonality. And, I must admit, the potato wedges taste a lot better with it. 

Whether you’re called to love others with dressing homemade or bottled, let Love compel you to walk for His glory alone. As we strike items from our to-do list, or share our imperfect homes, let’s aim for eternal profit. The Spirit’s kindness, patience, and joy will shine through as we abide in Him. 

When Praying feels like Watering Dead Roses

Only a hopeless optimist — who is also an amateur gardener — would water a rose bush for as long as I have. I believe it was dead even before I pulled it from its terracotta pot and planted it, much too late. Still, I persist in watering the wilted blooms alongside the snapdragons, in a flailing aspiration that the muted green will revive into pink blossoms again.

I don’t recommend this kind of false gardening hope, but as I stared at the faded remains of roses, I thought of the unfaded faith I desire to apply to my prayers. Sometimes my pleas to God feel too cliché to reach beyond our ceiling. They feel like tired words, as I request a glorious outcome from the same old verbiage. They feel like I’m watering a rose that can never come back to life.

But God. He is mercy. He hears our weakly worded prayers, and His spirit utters groanings too deep for words on our behalf.

When my prayers feel about as useful as watering dead roses, He is listening, inviting mustard-seed faith. Speak to Him in confidence and trust, for nothing is harder for God than something else. NOTHING. There are no levels of impossibility for Him. He can make dry bones come alive.

A few pages ago in my prayer notebook, Roe V. Wade stood at the top of my list for prayers for our country. Completely surprised at God answering like He did, now I wish I would have pushed into deeper prayer for the fight for life in the womb. Why didn’t I ask with greater expectancy, knowing God could indeed choose to work in this way against the odds? My praise and excitement would be more personal now if I had labored more in prayer with hope and trust. The prayers never felt like frontline work, but prayer is always battling where it matters most.

“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.” Ephesians 6:18

When all around appears wilted, and you have only the strength to utter a few overfamiliar sentences to God, remember WHO you’re sending them to. He moves mountains for His children. His graciousness is always on display. His Sovereignty holding all things as we:

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

Romans 12:12

Seeds are to Plant

I am not much of a gardener, but I hope to become one, a good one, eventually. First, I must cut through the fog of intimidation at trying something new.

Talk of soil, zones, timing, and types of plants can cause overwhelm for the ones who haven’t pursued a green thumb. Questions prick like thorns.

Have I missed the window for planting my favorite flower? How much money should I invest in annuals and where should I place the perennials? Will the mint take over? What if I change my mind about landscaping? Is it worth all the weeding?

Overhearing garden talk everywhere, I’ve begun to realize nothing can go too terribly wrong if I just plant a seed. Seeds are to plant. I can’t design their sprout, but I can put a little earth on top and pour water on it.

We poked little holes in our soil boxes, and I wasn’t sure how many to put in each hole, or if the sun would be too harsh, or if I’d be faithful to follow up. But I had to try. Humbled at my lack of knowledge, I appreciated the fact I had no control as to whether this tinsey seed would germinate where I attempted to place it. It all seemed like a shot in the dark, but a profound one. Then it occurred to me how biblical the planting process is.

God requires a similar faith in obedience of missional seed planting. I Corinthians 3:5-9–

“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

As I sprinkle water on the tiny creations I’m caring for, I hope I’ll remember the real seed-planting partnership I’m called to. The Lord graciously gives opportunities to obey and speak the gospel in season and out of season, planting and watering seeds like Paul and Apollos. But God alone will determine the future of each one’s growth. We each will receive our own reward, and it won’t depend on the outcome of the seed’s growth, but on our obedient response in faith.

We may not ever see the results. In Barbara Cooney’s picture book Miss Rumphius, she tells the story of the “Lupine Lady” who cast seeds throughout her town in order to make it a more beautiful place. From her seeds, lupines delighted generations after she was gone. She simply scattered seeds along her pathway.

This summer let’s pray for chances to drop seeds in the gaping holes of emptiness we come across on our own pathways. To have His Word ready on our tongues, to labor in the heat of the desert, to plant where it seems barren. Work with our fellow forgiven workers, understanding the significant insignificance of our actions in the light of God’s sovereignty.

Everywhere we look is the field. At the park, at the thrift store, at the neighborhood bbq, at our front door. As the Lord’s servants, let us not freeze up in overwhelm that it may be too early or too late for planting. Let us not fear if we don’t know the right amount of seeds or the science of the soil. Let us not doubt the seed may be too microscopic to even produce a blossom.

Because God owns the field. We are fellow gardeners with Him, and what a privilege. The time is now to share about His goodness and the need to be saved from sin. There is a peace (and a reward!) in obedience, knowing we plant and water, but God controls the weather, the soil, and the fruit.

Waiting for Tulips (the March gifts)

driving home for the first time

daffodils saying hello

Indian butter chicken

friends who love us enough to clean the showers and every other inch of our moving mess

. . . and haul all our earthly belongings

quilt spread in the backyard grass

first sunburn at a luncheon

waiting for tulips…wondering their color

my sister’s carrot cake with citrus notes

“is anything too small for a child to talk to his father about?” —Anneliese

small prayers answered, as well as big ones

first package on the doorstep, containing a treasure (The Sugar Mouse Cake by Gene Zion)

dressing our new sturdy bookshelf with picture books

cold-brew and premarital counseling

the first grilled chicken of the year

finding an empty cupboard in the kitchen, days into unpacking

meeting the neighbors while bearing spring monster cookies

singing “Safe Am I” to my little one

brave sunshine and a little stroller

shire songs

These Happy Golden Years

baby’s first steps

marco polo conversations with friends from childhood

thrifting finds

1,000 piece puzzle owning our kitchen table

“Home is everything you can walk to.” –Jerry Spinelli

exploring our new home by walking

more thoughts, On Walking from Bethany’s blog

petitioning the God of the impossible, our Defender

–Who never tires of our requests

“How great is Your goodness which You have stored up for those who fear You.” Psalm 31:19

The Good about the Bad

The sky hung weighty and pale. Backyard held a foggy hush, but inside the whole household glittered with candlelight and beamed with courage.

Christmas togetherness circled a long table laid with evergreen. The year had been mostly good, aside from an unwelcome medical diagnosis in the midst, and this could have disheartened the season.

But . . . joy and light and great news for all people.

In Psalm 112, the ones who fear the Lord are described as blessed and fearless. Light arises in the darkness for the upright, those who delight in His commandments (vv. 1,4).


For he will never be shaken;
The righteous will be remembered forever.

He will not fear evil tidings;
His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
His heart is upheld, he will not fear . . . “

Psalm 112:6-8

The reason we’re not cowering in fear of more evil news, tonight or next year, is because:

“…The gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.” ― Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer

Are you clothed in Christ’s righteousness? Be steadfast in heart, trusting the Lord; there’s nothing left to fear.

Think about the shepherds, faced with a reason for terror.

When the sky split, it wasn’t Christmas-pageant, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy imagery. An angel army began shouting in the sky.

I, too, would have been stricken with fright. I think the shepherds anticipated evil reports, judgment, or end-of-the-world pronouncements. Perhaps their sheep scattered.

No wonder the angel declared “do not be afraid” first of all. Their presence necessitated it.

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

The shepherds’ fear of bad tidings was overwhelmed by good news in a manger.

The shepherds had sinful souls destined for wrath, and so do we. It paints the bleak night stage, set for the desperately needed good news/great joy of Christ’s birth, His death, and His resurrection.

Still today we have no need to be afraid because the light arises in the darkness. Sinners are called to hear and know the gospel, which changes everything about everything. We are considered “the righteous” because Jesus bought us. Each medical diagnosis is about glory to God in the highest. And He leaves peace with us, but not the kind the world gives.

Nothing can truly shake the righteous one’s position before God. No terror of the night can steal the peace promised that surpasses all understanding.

It’s why my family doesn’t need to fear evil tidings but can rejoice in the knowledge of our eternal security, the goodness of God’s perfect plan, and the desire for gory to the Prince of Peace, come what may. This is the good about the bad.