He’s Got the Whole Wide World in His Hands–Really



This past Friday after reading ATLAS GIRL: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look, by Emily T Wierenga, I sat on the steps that lead to my office. Thinking. Praying.

Completely blown away by Emily’s memoir.

I’m honored to be part of a blog tour to share the news of ATLAS GIRL, but for me, the book was so much more than that.

Staring at the cover, I remembered my own childhood–those family shaped places in my heart that sometimes still throb.

Growing up, I tried to hold our world together. I tried to hold us together.

In March of 1968, my mother gave birth to twin boys. My sister and I were thrilled. We’d each have our own baby to feed and dress–what fun!

But nothing stays the same for very long, does it?

Especially in families.

As our babies grew into rambunctious little boys, I thought …

If I try hard enough, I can fix my family. 

I can …

Run fast enough to catch my brothers and make them behave

Lighten my mother’s load so she can smile

Be smart enough to impress my busy father.

I had no clue our family would break in almost every possible way.

When my brothers were 15, Daddy died with a brain tumor. There was a suicide attempt,  mental illness, homelessness, prison, and addictions. When I was 34, I broke. I couldn’t hold my world together any longer. I experienced clinical depression and wrote about it here for Guideposts.

So this past Friday afternoon, I sat on the steps thinking.

Remembering.

Emily’s memoir is real and raw, and yet there’s hope and healing too.

Flipping through the pages, I re-read something I’d underlined.

Page 221:

“…The thing about God is, he sees the big picture. And that big picture is framed by grace and it includes us in it, and he cares more about refining our character and our spirits than he does about acknowledging our feelings. Sometimes he risks us not liking him for the sake of the bigger picture. For the better picture.”

God cares more about refining our character and our spirits …

Could it be …

The jagged places

The messiness

The sickness

The crooked lines I couldn’t straighten

Are somehow part of God’s bigger better picture?

Then I imagined His strong hands holding my lopsided world 

And my family.

Thank You, Lord. You’ve got the whole wide world in Your hands.

So I can keep letting go.

 Emily’s incredible book trailer …

Emily T. Wierenga, award-winning journalist and author of 4 books, has released her first memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look. You can grab a copy here.



ALL proceeds from Atlas Girl will go to Emily’s non-profit, The Lulu Tree. The Lulu Tree is dedicated to preventing tomorrow’s orphans by equipping today’s mothers. It is a grassroots organization bringing healing and hope to women and children in the slums of Uganda through the arts, community, and the gospel. Find our more and connect with Emily on her blog at www.emilywierenga.comor find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Love,

Julie

The Courageous Call

I don’t want to make prayer seem formulaic–123–I prayed, I got. That’s not how it works–at least not for me. I’ve prayed for decades about certain situations and nothing’s changed.

But almost 25 years ago, God surprised me. Big time.

One morning, my mother-in-law Carolyn called. “Julie,” she said softly. “It’s hard to explain, but I was reading the Bible and ….” She hesitated. “This time next year, you’re going to have a baby.”

For half a second, I felt a tingly glow.

What if she’s right?

Carolyn’s not the kind of person who goes around saying, “God said to tell you…”

And then a flash of terror.

I wanted to slam the phone down. Hide. Throw up. Run away.

Our daughters were six and eight, and a few months earlier, we lost our son, Robbie, who was born with anencephaly.

“And it’s going to be a boy,” Carolyn proclaimed.

Why would she say something like this?

I couldn’t breathe. Felt my heart rip open.

We wanted risk-free lives. Safe. Confined.

“Thanks, but we’ve decided. No more children.”

I was still grieving. The color baby blue, the Pamper aisle, and little boys wearing overalls brought tears.

Several weeks after the phone call, something happened.

Faith began as one tiny glimmer shining in my heart.  It spread to my husband.

On August 6, 1991, our son Thomas was born.

This past Monday, I called Carolyn to ask her about that phone call 25 years ago.

How? Why? What?

“It was raining,” she said. “Dark. Dreary. Even inside the house. I was in the den. I picked up my Bible. When I read Genesis 18:10, the words fell into my spirit. That’s the only way I can explain it. I knew they were for you. From God. ”

“I don’t think I ever thanked you. If you hadn’t made that courageous call, Thomas wouldn’t be here.”

Dear readers, I can’t explain why God worked this way. We could’ve had our hearts ripped out again.

I only know the miracle began with the phone call.

And a tiny dot of faith.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” Romans 11:33

Have you ever been surprised by God’s goodness? Please share!

Love,

Julie

 

Pret-ty, Pret-ty, Pret-ty–A Love Song From My Father

What happened this weekend must’ve been a preview to Heaven. I visited my dear friend and best-selling author DiAnn Mills in Houston, TX.

Before we worshipped together at her church …

We sat in this cozy corner near her pool and had a porch party.

Everywhere I looked I saw beauty.

Maybe God has a special message somewhere out here for me today.

“Ohhh, look at my coffee cup,” I said, thinking surely this was it.

She smiled. “That’s why we write.”

Nice words, but the quote wasn’t what I needed.

“Your flowers are gorgeous. Are you the gardener?”

“Yes. When I need inspiration, I get on my knees in the dirt. I plot and plant and pray. And pray some more.” A cool breeze blew. “Smell that sweet scent?” she said. “That’s alyssum.” (Her white flowers.)

The aroma was so lovely, for a few moments, we didn’t say anything.

We sat still and quiet, worshipping.

And then we heard the first bird of the morning.

“Did I ever tell you what my daddy said when I was a little girl?” She sipped her coffee.  “We were outside–just the two of us. He whispered, ‘Listen. Do you hear that bird? She’s saying, ‘pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty. She’s singing to you, DiAnn.”

I swallowed the knot in my throat.

“I didn’t think I was pretty,” she said. “But my father did.”

What a gift her daddy gave her.

The next thought came before I could stop it.

My father never told me I was pretty.

What a silly thing to remember. I’m a grown woman.

In an instant, a wooden cross caught my attention–at the center of the wind chimes.

Keeping my eyes on the cross, an unexpected healing prayer rose.

Thank You, Lord.

When earthly fathers (and others) fall short, You will … “rejoice over me with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

I’m praying this Scripture for you, my friends.

Love,

Julie

 

A Skinny Cow… and Love Somehow

To me, there’s nothing more fascinating than people. What makes them laugh and cry?

The other night our son’s girlfriend Brittany and I had a good time talking. She’s an animal lover and told me all about her cows. Toward the end of our conversation, we had quite a moment.

When Brittany was younger, she went to cow auctions with her daddy and brother.

“We’d look at all the cows for sale, probably a hundred of them, and I could only choose one. I’d always pick the skinniest most pitiful looking cow.”

“Why?”

“Because I knew what she could become. Like with Strawberry. When I saw her, I told Daddy, ‘That’s the one I want.’ He just laughed. ‘What for, Brittany? Look at her.’”

“Her coat was dull and she was skinny, but I fell in love with her. I wanted to rescue her. Same thing with Texas.”

 

“And Colorado.”

“And Gypsy.”

“When you brought them home what happened?” I leaned forward, could hardly wait to hear.

It took her a few second to speak. Her eyes brimmed with happy tears.

“They became the beautiful cows I knew they could be.”

Her words stirred my heart. I thought about hurting people, friends and family, myself–my faults.

“What’s your secret with cows?”

“We put them out in the pasture to graze. I gave them sweet feed and loved on them. Before long, they’d get fat and pretty and happy. And they’d have babies.”

Strawberry a few months later…

And Texas.

And Gypsy.

And Colorado.

Seeing the miraculous change in Brittany’s cows, holy goose bumps covered me.

“The same thing happens to people,” I said. “God sees us as we are and rescues us.”

She nodded, her brown eyes shining. “He knows who we can become.”

If you and I were  sitting at my kitchen table, what would we talk about?

What stirs your heart?

Love,

Julie

Early Morning Gratitude

Saturday morning my husband was out of town, so I porch partied alone. I woke up early, around 4 a.m., made coffee, and took my flashlight and Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling outside.

The air felt different that morning. Soft and cool on my face. Almost lavender.

Like Easter morning.

Maybe the air felt this way when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before He went to the cross.

I paused.

Almost thought about the cross, but I wasn’t ready.

Not yet.

Instead I pondered gentle things.

Pastel images.

The dogwoods had just bloomed.

I could barely see the branches in the darkness, but I remembered their splendor.

The Easter tree my mother-in-law made.

She gave it to us when the children were little.

I let my mind dwell on bright green Easter grass. Filling baskets. Egg hunts.

I thought about our oldest child’s first Easter.

While I sat rocking and thinking, I knew I’d return to the cross.

I remembered ten years ago, when I saw The Passion of the Christ.

And that one scene.

How it undid me.

It still does.

When He suffered the beating, the scourging, the whips on His back, when His hands and feet were nailed to the cross…

My heart pounded with the heaviness of the Truth.

A weight fell on me,

So intense I couldn’t breathe.

For the first time I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt

What He did for me was Enough.

Now I wonder

Could it have been…

That moment was the first time I worshipped my Jesus of the Cross?

I couldn’t help but say it over and over again.

Thank You.

Thank You.

Thank You.

There was nothing more You could have done.

You did it all. 

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have You Ever Hated Your Can Opener?

Hint: This post is about more than a broken can opener so hang  in here with me.

The other day I turned the twirl-y thing on my can opener around a can of green beans 42,000 times, but nothing happened.

So I bought a new can opener. Real modern-looking. I figured it would last longer. That afternoon, I tried to open the green beans again. I held the can opener every possible way, but I couldn’t get the stupid thing to work.

Wouldn’t even poke a hole in the can.

When my husband came home from work, I handed him the can opener. He’s a mechanical genius.

It took him about thirty minutes to open the green beans. “Yeah, it works. You just have to hold the can opener at a forty-five degree angle.”

“That’s crazy. I should just use my teeth.”

I’d already tossed the receipt. I was stuck with it.

Every time I saw the new can opener peeking at me from the drawer it annoyed me.

You’re not getting the best of me, Mr. Can Opener! I’ll show you who’s boss!

For the next few days, I cooked without any canned goods.

Then God slipped a truth into my heart. He’s so good at that. Especially when I’m being ridiculous.

Sometimes you do this with people. You shut them out and hold onto bitterness.

True.

That takes a lot of energy.

True.

I’d been pouting with people and can openers.

The next day, I picked out another can opener. The new one has a simple design, but it works beautifully.

I celebrated by making a big pot chili with lots of canned tomatoes.

I’m tossing the other can opener–along with my bad attitude.

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice…” Eph 4:31 ESV

Love,

Julie

 

 

The One Secret to Thirty-Five Years of Marriage

Saturday morning, two days before our 35th anniversary, we sat in our rocking chairs, porch partying. I wanted to ask my husband a few questions, but I couldn’t just blurt them out. I had to proceed delicately. With caution.

“Remember our first Christmas?” I said. “We brought home that Griswold Family Christmas tree and had to exchange it.”

 

“I still think I could’ve made it fit.”

“Maybe so.” Playing it cool, I yawned before asking my next question. “Do you mind if I interview you about marriage? Thirty-five years is a lotta Christmases together.”

“You know you’re going to, so go ahead.”

Yipee! I ran inside for my glasses and girl reporter steno pad.

“First question. What’s important in marriage?”

He rocked. Drank his coffee. Rocked some more.

Maybe he’s not going to answer me.

“It’s not my stuff, your stuff,” he finally said. “Or my money, your money. It’s us. Ours.”

“That’s good. What else?”

“Deception is a big deal. We don’t have any secrets.”

“True. In the past 35 years, what was your most difficult time?”

“Eating gluten-free with you.” He laughed. (I have Celiac.)

“Be serious. What about building this house? That was tough, wasn’t it?”

“That was my hardheadedness–a mechanic, building a log house.”

That’s why I love you.

I chewed my pen. Pretended to think up a new question. ”So, would you say we’re best friends?”

“Something like that.”

“Looking back, what were our toughest times?”

His eyes got shiny.

I held my breath. Couldn’t believe he was going to give me a real answer.

“Burying Robbie.” (our newborn son) “Raising teenagers.”

I felt incredibly close to him. “Is there one secret to having a good marriage?”

“Yep.”

Ready to jot down his words, I leaned toward him. “What is it?”

He rocked back and forth, back and forth. “Don’t be selfish.”

“That’s it? Three words?”

“That’s it. That covers it all.”

I thanked him for the interview and closed my notebook. “You know, you’re exactly right. Wonder why it takes years to figure this stuff out when the answers are so simple?”

“Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” Matthew 7:12.

Thoughts on marriage anyone?

Love,

Julie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Driveway to My Heart Part Two

Saturday morning, several people were heavy on my heart. Walking down my DRIVEWAY, I thought about their situations. A broken sobriety. Possible jail time. Infertility. Divorce. Someone feeling beaten down in her job. A young mother, 36, died unexpectedly.

My prayers quickly shifted to, God, hello? Where are You? Have You forgotten?

He didn’t offer any explanations, so put my iPod on and hushed my thoughts.

This song came on.

It was as though I’d never heard it.

As the music played, a feather-soft suggestion landed in my heart.

It seemed ridiculous.

Unnecessary.

Awkwardly humbling, actually.

Open your fingers.

I glanced at my hands. They were tight like a boxer’s hands. Why should I open my fingers?

I didn’t feel like it.

Open your fingers and stretch out your hands.

Such a silly idea. A tiny act that couldn’t possibly amount to much.

I ignored the thought for a few seconds.

And then that music–those sweet words–their gentle persistence filled me.

When I said yes, when I unfurled my fingers and slowly turned my hands over, opening them toward heaven, I’m telling you the truth.

I felt the Power and the Presence of The Great I Am.

The Great I Am!

The Great I Am!

There was something supernatural in the unclenching of my fists.

And my will.

The power of the song was so much stronger than my concerns. My worries floated up, up, and away.

 

Here’s where it happened.

This is the very spot where The Great I Am met me.

The place where I opened my hands.

And let go. Again.

Praying for you, my precious friends.

Love,

Julie

 

Pride and Parakeets

I bet none of you have ever withheld praise from someone you love. I’m embarrassed to say, I did this recently. Just plain ugliness. My husband Rick is a man of many hobbies. I have three: reading, cooking, and going to the YMCA.

One of his hobbies is raising outdoor parakeets. Last summer, a virus struck his birds. All forty of them died. I found him in the backyard burning his bird atrium to the ground.

“I’m really sorry,” I said.

“I’m starting over. Building a new one. Some boards were rotten.”

“Why don’t you buy a couple of new birds and keep them inside?”

After he burned the house, I found him mixing cement–for footings and a new floor, he said.

“You mean, like a real house?”

“Yep.”

“Seems like a lot of work to me.”

Over the next few weekends, I pretended to read a book, but really, I sat outside studying my husband.

Trying to figure him out.

As the new house started coming together something came over me, but I didn’t tell him how I felt.

That I adored his eye for detail. His creativity.

Mostly, I admired him for not giving up.

For not taking the easy way out.

I would have.

Then one day he finished.

He’d stained the log siding to match our log house–even used the same tin roof!

What happened next completely undid me.

When he put Mr. and Mrs. Parakeet inside their new home, they scooted close together and kissed.

They weren’t shy about expressing their gratitude.

Clearing my throat, I walked toward my man and his new birds. “You amaze me. You did a beautiful job.”

“No big deal.”

“Yes it is. I should’ve told you sooner.”

We kissed like happy parakeets.

Me and my foolish pride.

Pride prevents praise.

Have you ever held back from praising someone? Please…somebody say yes.

Love,

Julie

Perils of People Watching

The other night, my hobby of people watching brought out the ugly in me. Maybe because I’m a writer with a big imagination, I like to spy and figure out what might be going on in other people’s lives. I study mannerisms, reactions, and outfits. I’ll think things like…

He’s watching football and not listening to a word she’s saying. Now she’s texting. She looks mad. He’s gnawing on hot wings. Maybe she wants a baby and he doesn’t.

Restaurants and malls are great for people watching.

Crowded

 

So last week, my husband and I went out for pizza. (Incredible gluten-free pizza from Your Pie.)

I spotted a group of college-age girls. Boots tucked in designer jeans. Long sweaters down to their hips. I tried to create a storyline but they were chitty-chatting way too loud about nothing.

Wish I could say I came up with sweet scenarios.

But I didn’t.

In my heart, I moved past observing.

I judged them.

It happened so quickly. Less than 30 seconds. Mean thoughts…

You’re not all that funny. Do you have to be so loud? You’re just trying to get attention.

And then guess what…

Their pizza came and the girl with shimmery blonde hair said the blessing. It wasn’t a hurry-up-let’s-eat kind of blessing.

She prayed passionately. Honestly. Not for show. 

They even shut their eyes.

I wanted to crawl under the table. Ahhhhhhhh! They’re talking to You, Lord. Like I should’ve been doing instead of judging. Forgive me.

I was wrong. Way wrong.

After she prayed, she looked right at me and smiled.

I smiled back. From my heart. I’m so sorry.

I’m adding “people praying” to my “people watching” hobby.

Have you ever done what I did? Pleeeease, someone say yes…

Love,

Julie

 *above photo http://www.flickr.com/photos/davefayram/6485360921/