Six Promises When Words Fail Us


What do we do when we don’t know what to say or pray?

Where can we find the words to express our thoughts and emotions?

What can we do when life places us in unbearable circumstances? Where can we go? Who do we run to? What should we cling to when we’re drowning in a sea of our sorrows? And what can we advise others who may be walking through a difficult life crisis?

My younger sister Leslea just endured another health crisis that led to life-threating surgery. My heart aches for my little sister. A single mom of three, Leslea has experienced so many unbearable tragedies and losses in her lifetime–the tragic death of her youngest child, breast cancer, and now major heart surgery. And as her older sister, I often do not know how to respond to her overwhelming needs.

As a writer, my words often fail me when I don’t know how to respond to a difficult issue. And when a friend or family member faces a tragic loss or painful failure, mere words seem inadequate to express my emotions and concerns.

Now, after surviving many trials and crises in my own life, I do know who to turn to when a crisis hits close to home. And I know who I can cling to when I’m overwhelmed by confusion and doubt. I have discovered peace and rest in a storm.

Are you searching for the words to express your thoughts or your faith? God’s Word offers us the promises we need to encourage others.

  1. Help. The Lord promises to help us when we don’t know what to say or pray. “… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Rom 8:26 NIV).
  2. Hope. The Holy Spirit offers promises of hope, even if we never understand why these things happen. “I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:13 NLT).
  3. Assurance. God’s Word provides the assurance that Jesus will bear our grief and carry our sorrows. “He suffered the things we should have suffered. He took on himself the pain that should have been ours” (Is 53:4 NIRV).
  4. Peace. God’s Word can speak peace to the storm ravaging our dreams. And He promises to throw us the lifeline of His Word. “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7 NIV).
  5. Confidence. We can have the confidence to know that in Christ, we will survive. And we can expect Him to provide the power we need to overcome any circumstance in our life if we trust Him with the situation. Healing and hope for the future can be found in Him. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him” (1 John 5:14).
  6. Rest. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NOG).

Show, don’t (just) tell! As you tell others of your faith, don’t forget the power of your story. As we share our own faith stories, we invite others to see, feel, and experience what we have experienced.

Are you facing a loss, a failure, a decision, or some other difficult situation? I pray these promises from God’s Word will also give hope to you and others who may be suffering under a heavy burden.

Remember, the Lord knows your needs—even better than you do. He understands. And He wants to assure you of His presence right now and in all the days of your life.

I lift my friends up to you, Heavenly Father. I pray they will give you their heavy burdens. I thank you for your promise of rest and peace.

The Lord answered my prayer about one important concern the weekend before my sister’s heart surgery. Leslea had asked me to take her to church as she prepared for her surgery. She had been unable to attend church for years because of her job schedule. But since she was unable to work, she was free to attend church.

Since I live in a different state than my sister, I prayed that God would lead us to the right church service that Sunday. And the Lord met all of our needs that day with the perfect church, sermon, and worship experience. In fact, the words of a song, “My Heart Is Yours,” expressed Leslea’s prayers in ways I never anticipated.

How has God’s Word helped you through a difficult situation or as you responded to someone else in crisis?

How to Make Offers They Can’t Refuse

clapping peopleI’ve learned a terrific lesson about social networking this summer.

If you offer, you receive.

Recently, I’ve turned my LinkedIn contact list into a fertile field of opportunity for spreading my brand by offering help to others. Sometimes, the offer is to write a guest post for a contact’s blog, or to be a last-minute guest for a radio show, or to send a free copy of one of my books because of a mutual interest. I don’t make the offer until a person I’ve invited to connect with me accepts the invitation, and then, instead of just filing their acceptance email away, I take the time to compose a personal note making my offer as a service to them.

That means I only look to connect with people who share an interest of mine, and if they accept my invitation, I then think of a personal way I might contribute to their goals. By asking first how I can help, it reminds me that my writing is my ministry, my God-given gift, and that when others succeed with my help, I’ve made a difference for them. It helps make writing not quite the solitary endeavor it tends to be, and it allows me an avenue to actually build relationships with my contacts. In an age of electronically linking up with people all over the country and the globe, any personal interaction stands out; suddenly that contact in my address book has a personality and we have a tiny bit of shared history. That’s good for people and good for business.

But the big surprise I discovered was how easy it is to offer help, and how grateful people can be. Thanks to my offers, I’ve found new ways to reach larger audiences:

  1. Though I stopped writing my own blog years ago for lack of time, I’m now providing occasional guest posts for three bloggers in the pet dog category. Each time I guest, my host includes links to my website and mentions my best-selling girl-meets-dog memoir Saved by Gracie. I interact with blog readers and expand my brand as they in turn learn more about me. Sweet!
  2. I tell every radio host I connect with that I am happy to fill in last minute if they need a guest. I’ve gotten two interviews that way – with only a day’s notice! Both programs were recorded and played to large markets. I publicized air dates on my social networks, and since they were podcasts, my – and the hosts’ – audience can continue to access them. Score!
  3. Likewise, I offer to speak at any service group’s weekly gathering (think Rotary Club) about my new project to encourage people to #getoutsidehappy! While my message promotes getting outside for greater health and happiness, it also heightens awareness of my books. I make a few sales at the gathering, but what means even more to me is spreading useful information to help people improve their lives. Win-win!

Do you use social networking to offer help?

Dreaming Isn’t Only For the Young (Why Age is Just a Number)


What are your dreams? Have you given them up because you think you’re too old to accomplish anything of worth?

Well, here’s a little reality check for you:

  • Sarah Bernhardt was 78 when she acted in her last stage performance
  • Sophocles was 89 when he wrote Oedipus at Colonus, one of his dramatic masterpieces.
  • On the day of his death, at the age of 78, Galileo was said to be planning a new kind of clock that would tell time—in minutes and seconds, not just hours—using a pendulum swing instead of movement of water or sand.
  • Robert Frost was 88 when his last volume of poems, In the Clearing, was published.
  • Winston Churchill was 79 when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • Igor Stravinski was 84 when he completed his last work, “Requiem Canticles.”
  • Charles DeGaulle was 75 when he was reelected president of France.
  • Pablo Picasso produced 347 engravings in his 87th year.

And last, but certainly not least:

  • Grandma Moses received her last commission as an artist when she was 99.

Obviously, age was just a number to such high-achieving artists and world-changers.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

Closeup of message stones on white background.

And don’t forget one of the superstars of the 2008 Summer Olympics, Dara Torres, who was the oldest female swimmer in the history of the Olympic Games (at the relatively young age of forty-one). She came away from the games with three silver medals. Not bad for a gal who was called “Grandma” by all the young swimmers in Beijing!

Torres, whose memoirs are appropriately titled Age Is Just a Number, won the first of her twelve Olympic medals in 1984, a year before Michael Phelps was even born! She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at fourteen, and has retired from swimming and has come back three times, She’s also the first American swimmer to compete in five Olympics (despite sitting out 1996 and 2004).

Torres is a role model for staying fit, aging gracefully, and pursuing your dreams. Dara’s dream of an Olympic comeback first hit her when she was months into her first, hard-won pregnancy. She returned to serious training while nursing her infant daughter and contending with her beloved father’s long battle with cancer.

Talk about an inspiration!

So what’s stopping you? Has Satan lied to you and told you that you’ll never amount to anything, because you’re “over the hill?” Do you feel worthless because you haven’t pursued something God has laid on your heart? Do you think it’s too late?

It’s not, my friend! God gives us dreams for every stage of our lives, and His grace continually makes all things new. So tell the devil to back off! Claim the truth that God is for you, and that He is the author of dreams.



Note: This post is an excerpt from Dena’s book about aging gracefully (and with a sense of humor), Let the Crow’s Feet and Laugh Lines Come (Barbour). Used by permission of Barbour Books. 

Finding Your Voice

find your unique voiceAbout ten years ago, I started thinking about publishing a book. After writing my way through twenty years of various marketing and development ventures, telling many wonderful stories of others along the way, every now and then I’d start to think I had something to say. My own story to tell.

The problem was, I didn’t know how to say it. I’d spent all those years adapting to the voice of others, setting aside my own ideas, submerging myself in a particular client’s mindset and style in order to honor their voice and tell their story well.

Somewhere along the way I lost my voice.

I started second guessing what I should sound like, who I should be. Eventually I shaped this ridiculous concept (based on the comparison and envy of other folks) of what I should be, what I should sound like. And that image, that false representation of me, is the one I carried to the outside world.

Now trying to share my own story, I imagined I needed to mimic somehow those popular writers who had scores of people following them. So I tried hard to fit in, to sound like I should. But my words leaked out flat and predictable with this stiff journalistic bent.

Because that’s the sort of thing that happens when you silence your authentic self.

Thankfully since those days I’ve learned a lot about finding my voice. I’ve learned to trust my uniqueness as this is the very thing that makes me me. This unique combination of my quirks and passions, my own style and feelings and beliefs, these are the very things that set my words apart from the millions being shared daily.

I don’t know that I can pin the discovery of my voice on one particular experience, and I don’t dare suggest there’s a magic formula that suits us all. But I would love to share three of the things I’m learning along the way in the hopes they may somehow encourage you.

1. Be an original.

When we lack confidence it feels easier to imitate others, but its flat hard to pretend to be something we’re not.

So wherever you are, whatever you are writing or thinking about writing, I’ll encourage you to confront any false voices that try to convince you that you have to have it together out of the gate. Because you don’t.

Take this moment and give yourself permission to no longer compare or pretend or perform.

Then, take a deep breath and commit this day to start relaxing into your unique you. Practice, practice, practice being yourself; your true voice will eventually emerge.

 2. Value your life experiences.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve walked some hard days. Maybe you’ve faced a loss, an illness, or a dysfunctional relationship? Maybe it was a crisis of faith or a dire financial situation? Whatever it was, I bet it was dark and lonely and didn’t make a bit of sense.

Here’s the thing: we can’t be afraid to say what it was like in the dark.

These life experiences often act as a catalyst, gifting us the ability to reimagine these hard days in a way others can relate to them. While we might not be able to change the way it was there in the dark, we can change the story we tell ourselves (and others) about those days.

As dark as it was, your journey to the other side holds the potential to stir a fresh hope for the person still stuck.

 3. Take risks.

I’ve never been naturally courageous, but I have learned this: if I want to make a difference in this world, there are times I’m going to have to be brave.

Sharing your heart will feel risky (because it is), but an unhealthy caution will stall your voice.

Too often we don’t realize how very close we are to finding our voices.

Give your voice the room it needs to grow. Explore, pursue, and practice until your true voice becomes your natural default.

Be an original, take risks, and don’t be afraid to dream big.

Your voice is a unique and unforgettable mixture of your own personal style, perspective, and message. Surrender to it. Shape it as needed, yes, but don’t be afraid to share it.

Going Deeper: Where are you in your journey to find and use your voice? Share your thoughts and observations in the comments below.

Want more? Click here for a free 10 Tips for Finding Your Voice printable.

What Breaks Your Heart?

broken heart dreamstimeAndy Stanley, in his teaching series entitled “Re:Solution” asked a powerful question when he asked, “What breaks your heart?”

The point of the question is this: You were designed by your Heavenly Father who has given you unique gifts, talents, experiences, etc. and when He did, He also designed you for the purpose He placed you here at this time in history to fulfill. (Sounds kind of like this book, On Purpose For a Purpose which you may have heard of. #ShamelessPlug)

What breaks your heart is tied directly to your calling.
Does human trafficking and slavery break your heart the most?

Does social injustice break your heart the most?

Does seeing children struggling in poverty break your heart the most?

Does the decline of healthy marriages and families break your heart the most?

Does domestic violence break your heart the most?

Does lack of medical care to those most in need break your heart?

Obviously, these are all tough, tough issues in our world today, and our hearts break with each one. We know that none of us can do everything. We also know that all of us can do something. So, what is it that breaks your heart the most? Perhaps it is something not even listed above.

As Andy asked this question, and as I considered the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, it became so clear to me that what breaks my heart the most is …

Seeing people remain in shackles that keep them from the abundant life Jesus came to offer. This enslavement shows up in the the following ways:

People striving so hard to experience freedom through their self effort to please God..

Husbands and wives trying so hard to make marriage work in their own power…

Parents living with shame and guilt over what their children choose…

Children grasping to find acceptance from parents who never can never be pleased…

Family members estranged from one another over past offenses…

Pastors or other Christian leaders using shame and guilt to motivate change from those sitting in their services, reading their books, or attending their conferences…

Men, women, adolescents and even children in bondage to addictive behaviors, substances or acts.

When it all comes down to it, I realize what breaks my heart the most is seeing people live with the heavy shackles of legalism disguised as “Sold-Out” New Testament Christianity. That’s what breaks my heart.

But what gives me HOPE in the heartbreak is the awareness that through Christ in Shelley, I can be a carrier of light and life into the world. I can be a voice of grace and truth to my generation. I can be a teachable student on a journey who invites others to join me.

Being self-aware enough to know what breaks our hearts can help us when we’re trying to determine our next step, our next move, our next project, or perhaps the next blog post. 

Becoming aware of what truly breaks our hearts can also lead us to the hope we can offer others whose hearts are broken as they live through the experiences that break yours. 

I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this question and articulate what breaks your heart the most, but don’t stop there! Once you’ve written these down, consider the hope you can now offer through your life–vocationally and relationally–to those who need you and are waiting for you to show up in their lives.

All Things Come to She Who. . .

gray coneflowerCome this September, I will have been a published author for nine years.

I’m still not a household name, and I don’t expect to ever be one.

But, I can say with complete assurance, my writing career is beginning to bloom into what I had once only imagined.

In the last two months, I received my first Kirkus review, which is, according to my agent, a “big deal.” Not only that, but it was a positive review, and it’s already generating advance word of mouth among readers thanks to shares on social media. I also finally landed a review with a major magazine in my (fiction) subject area of birdwatching, which will generate the nationwide publicity for me that I’ve yearned for since my first Birder Murder Mystery book came out. Both of these reviews are for the seventh book in my series, titled The Kiskadee of Death.

Yes, it took seven books for me to land on these reviewers’ radar.

Seven books.

Another first in the last month was receiving a request from a magazine editor to write an essay for them. In my entire writing career, I have never had an editor approach me for an article – I was always the one doing the pitching. To have an editor seek me out to author an essay was a huge boost to my career confidence; knowing that I’ve made an impact on publishing professionals is worth the months I’ve spent cultivating readers and developing my brand.

The final mark, for me, of having my feet firmly planted on my writing path is the number of guest posts and speaking engagements I’m now booking with relative ease. Whether my new-found success in that arena is due to my hard-won lack of fear of rejection, the persistence I’ve practiced, or just a matter of time, I don’t know. And at this point, I don’t care what has generated these new opportunities; I’m just very grateful to have them.

Coincidentally (or not), I recently read an interview with Kate DiCamillo, the celebrated children’s author. Before her first publication, DiCamillo recalled meeting Louise Erdrich, the award-winning author, who asked DiCamillo how long she’d been writing. When the budding children’s author said “Four years,” Erdrich advised her to hang on, that her own book career had taken six years to get off the ground.

It made me feel better that even some of the author superstars of the publishing world know what it’s like to have to wait for success.

The bright side of all that waiting is that when success does finally come, a writer can look back over the years that have gone before, and see that without that waiting, that revising, refining, re-imagining, and all those countless hours of learning a craft and business, the achievement would not taste as sweet as it does. Because the truth is not that all things come to she who waits, but that all things come to she who works while she’s waiting.

Have you begun to see some signs of success in your own writing journey?


Learning to Listen

Have you ever noticed that there is a deep inner peace that descends when you truly listen to someone? Think about it. You focus on what they are saying, sifting through the verbal noise to the subtext that is being laid bare. You take a back seat, allowing them to drive the conversation so that you can lovingly respond. There is a strength in this passivity, a calm in conceding control.

Isn’t that exactly what we are called to do with the Lord?

My world is loud. My email constantly demands my attention – four different accounts for four different reasons. My job revolves around communication and social media, the deadly noise of an electronic culture.

We’ve forgotten the value of letters and phone calls, the connection that comes with face to face. We’ve forgotten how to have a conversation longer than 140 characters, and we sure don’t remember the bond developed by vocally sharing the depth of our thoughts, our hearts. As writer’s we get to connect the gap, to share vulnerability on the page and communicate with the world around us. All too often, I fight that vulnerability. I fight to speak without letting people see the depths of my heart. But as much as I have been called to use my voice in some form or fashion, I must first be willing to listen to my audience of One.

Kariss Lynch oceanI remember a crowded beach in California. Surfers rode the waves, entertainers lined up around the boardwalk, and this misplaced Texas girl walked with my group enjoying the show. About sunset, I found myself alone near the water, the waves roaring in to kiss the shore over and over. All other noise dissipated, and I truly listened.

I see and hear my Creator in the waves and the ocean – His power, His gentle nature, His vastness, His beauty. And I can hear His still small voice in the waves that lap the sand, asking me to drown out the other noise and just listen. He speaks in the quiet moments. He answers when I truly surrender.

Shadowed Kariss LynchWe can’t discern His voice and direction until we give up our need to control and sit back as He shares His heart and mind. I love the childlike faith of Samuel in the Old Testament and the way he simply answers the Lord with “Here am I.” Then He listens and obeys. I want to be defined as a person who delights to do what God desires, who uses my gifts for His glory, who writes without fear. But my surrender comes first. As I finish up my third book, enter a season in between contracts, and pray through what’s next, I want to make sure I am listening more than I am telling the Lord what I want. I want this in between season to be marked by a quietness of spirit as I rest, dream, pray, and enjoy where the Lord currently has me.

With no beach nearby, I’m learning to find my ocean moments in the roar of the big city. He speaks most when I commit to listen. And I’m tired of the noise. I’m sitting on the shore, listening to His voice whisper in the waves.