How Looking Back Helps Us Go Forward (And Something to Help You Do It)

Gina Butz courage, dependence on God, faith, perspective 5 Comments


How Looking Back Helps Us Go Forward

Photo by Luke Porter on Unsplash

A few summers ago, our family spent several weeks in Colorado. Naturally, we hiked. Our kids were not fans. It was, “Too hard, not fun, too hot, not enough snacks,” you name it. We trained our kids not to say, “I can’t do this,” but rather, “I currently struggle with . . .” challenging things. At one point, our daughter commented, “I currently struggle with this mountain.”

Mountain climbing isn’t easy, but I’ve learned one thing that helps me keep going: stopping once in a while and looking back.

When we look back, we see that yes, we actually are making progress. The top is closer. The view is getting better. Just that look back can encourage us to keep pressing on.

As we enter a new year, we do not know what the future holds.

It could be that you are excited about the possibilities. But maybe you’re heading into a new season that is uncertain. Prayers you started last January may sit still unanswered. The path forward might be a tough road. It’s easy to say, “I currently struggle with this,” and want to give up.

So before we move forward, we need to look back.

Recently, I did this with my ministry team at work. On a retreat, we reflected on Joshua 4, when the Israelites crossed the Jordan. After they did, God admonished them to take stones from the river and pile them up in remembrance of what He had done, so that future generations could see His faithfulness.

In the absence of stones, we found a piece of driftwood from the Intracoastal. On one side, we wrote, “we remember . . .” We each took turns writing something God did for us this past year, some way He showed His faithfulness. It was good to reflect on how He has worked good in our lives.

On the other side, we wrote, “therefore we hope . . .”

Therefore. It’s an important word. We hope because we have seen. Looking back, we remind ourselves how far He has brought us. We see that He has been our faithful companion along the path. It is His strength and wisdom that have brought us to this place. He will guide us the rest of the way.

It’s in looking back at His faithfulness that we can move confidently with hope into the future.

When the future looks foggy, look back. When we do, we gain vision for what is ahead. We record the evidence of His faithfulness to chart our way for the future. There will be stones of remembrance to gather when we stop again further down the path. He has loved us too much to stop now. The One who brought us this far will continue on the journey.

Look back so you can keep going forward.

To help you look back, I’ve made an end of the year review for you to do. Just enter your email below and subscribe to receive it. 

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The Gift that Snuck into the World (for You)

Gina Butz Christmas 0 Comments

The gift that snuck into the world for you

photo by Wesley Tingey

I was eleven when I decided to play Santa Claus.

Somewhere along the way, I realized it was my parents who filled my stocking, not him. It felt unfair that they filled mine and not the other way around. I wanted to give them a gift.

So a few days before Christmas, I trekked to the flower shop my aunt owned, where I purchased two little apple ornaments. My aunt painted my parents’ names on them for me.

I could barely sleep on Christmas Eve. 3 a.m. seemed like the perfect time for my stealth mission, so I set an alarm. When it chimed, I crept down the stairs and tucked those ornaments into my parents’ stockings.

The next morning, while everyone else dug in, I watched. My parents pulled out the unexpected items and gave them curious stares. Looking back, they must have thought it was a gift from the other, and not the snazziest gift ever. I didn’t care. I was so happy to give them something nothing else mattered.

This story came to mind recently as I look ahead to Christmas. I can see how, in a way, it’s reflective of the nativity.

Because you see, there is no Santa Claus (I apologize to anyone whose child might be reading over their shoulder). But there is Someone who gives and gives, to everyone, everywhere.

Can you imagine His anticipation of Christmas? Not just a few days, or weeks, but years upon years. How did He stand the waiting? He knew what He had in store.

And then, at just the perfect time, He snuck Jesus into the world. What an unassuming package.

Most people didn’t even know what happened that night. Those who did had to wonder, “Is this it? Is this what we’ve been waiting for?” This baby was so unexpected.

I imagine God watching it all unfold, so overjoyed to give us this gift. He knew what it meant for them, and what it would mean for us, 2,000 years later.

I want the exchange of gifts this year to remind me of this truth: He is present in every one of them. We give because He gave. The joy we experience is a pale reflection of the joy He has in seeing His plan fulfilled.

There is no greater gift, and He rejoices to give it to us.


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Do You Know What You’re Worth?

Gina Butz Christmas, faith 2 Comments

And the soul felt its worth

In a Bible study on listening prayer, we were told to ask God, “How much do you love me?” and wait for a response.

While I fully believe God speaks to us, I don’t usually just sit there and wait for an answer. I have more of a “so . . . get back to me on that when you’ve got a chance” attitude. But this time, I just listened and this is what He said: The cross.

Now, I know what Christ did on the cross demonstrates His love for me, but at times it feels a little impersonal. Christ died for me, but He died for everyone. It’s like saying, “You’re unique, just like everyone else.” Who’s to say I didn’t get caught up in the cosmic mix of humanity?

So I said, “God if that’s your answer, you’re going to have to unpack that.” And of course, He did.

A couple weeks later, I watched the movie, First Knight. As I watched, God said, “Gina, that’s what I did for you. Lancelot diving into the water, jumping through fire, fighting the enemy for Gueneviere? That’s what I did at the cross. That desire you have in you for a hero who will sneak into enemy territory, break down the walls, slay the dragon, climb the highest tower because of his love for you – I am that hero.”

The cross was not simply an act of the will, but a passionate, daring, emotion-driven rescue of those He loved more than life itself.

It didn’t start with the cross though. God’s love to us showed up on earth as a helpless, vulnerable baby in the arms of an ordinary girl.

“Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” (best lyric of a Christmas song ever).

In that moment, He told us how much we’re worth to Him.

We’re worth being cold and hungry and tired and tempted and tried and misunderstood and hated. He was willing to come through a humble birth to live a humble life in order to rescue us.

And all so that one day, He could be our hero, come to our rescue, and save us from death itself. That’s how much we’re worth.

I hope in all the busyness of this season, we hold fast to that. Feel your worth, friends: worth living for, and worth dying for.


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How to Have the Perfect Christmas

Gina Butz Christmas, grace, peace, rest 2 Comments

How to have the perfect Christmas

photo by Ben White

One year, I almost ordered 300 Christmas cards from, “The Carter family.”

We are not the Carter family.

Every year, I chase this elusive idea of a perfect Christmas.

In my scenario, all gifts (and I mean all) are purchased by December 15th at the very latest.

One day of baking suffices for all the places and people who require me to give them creatively arranged sugar.

No child ever asks me to help them get a gift for a classmate/outreach/teacher by tomorrow.

All the cards and gifts for friends are doled out early on, leaving plenty of time to simply enjoy the holidays, drink chai latte, and let Alexa play me Christmas carols all day.

I want beautiful family memories, traditions we all love and embrace.

I long for harmonious relationships, the Norman Rockwell family gathered around the fireplace. There is unity, love, and warmth.

But sometimes you almost order cards with someone else’s name on them.

Sometimes you try to make a gingerbread house and it nearly drives you insane.

There are more cookies to make, more gifts to buy, things are out of stock, there are too many parties, and the tree falls over of its own accord (I’m looking at you, tree of 2014).

There’s the awkwardness of unreciprocated gifts and cards, stilted conversations with family members, tiptoeing around the topics we know ruffle feathers.

There is a new empty space at the table.

There are missed flights, disappointed expectations, stressful coordination of schedules and outright painful interactions.

You start to wonder if you could just not participate in Christmas this year.

But there’s still a perfect Christmas to be found.

After all, the first Christmas was an imperfect one, but it still ended well.Twitter

I’m sure the Christmas story was not what Mary had planned.

She didn’t want to be an unwed mother, traveling during her last month of pregnancy, forced to give birth in the stench of animals, far from her family.

Joseph never wanted the stigma of his fiancé being pregnant.

He didn’t ask for the hassle of traveling to his hometown.

He wouldn’t have chosen to become a refugee in Egypt to protect his son.

But this is how God orchestrated sending his son to us. And in the end, it was all good, because we got Jesus.

The perfect Christmas is one where we find Jesus. Twitter

We do not owe the world a beautifully decorated house or a slew of Christmas gifts.

We can send them a picture that claims we are someone else, and they will still know who we are.

The tree can be lopsided. We can skip parties.

Say no to the strained relationships because they make it too hard to focus on enjoying Jesus.

Go ahead and risk what others will think if you don’t participate in sending Christmas cards or go to another party because your soul needs time to breathe instead.

Step away from the bustle and let him speak to you.

The perfect Christmas is one where we are lost in the wonder of what he has done, and our souls feel their worth. Twitter

It’s a Christmas where we search hard for Jesus, and when we find him, we cling to him like nothing else matters. Then, in a weary world, we can rejoice.

Let’s chase that with more energy than we chase the outward appearance of it.

So let your Christmas be imperfect to make room for him.

Leave off one more gift to enjoy his presence.

It’s ok if the ornaments break because he’s still coming.

Step away from what is trying and rest in his peace.

Let yourself soak in the reality that you are loved more than life.

Look for him, and you will find the perfect Christmas.


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What weeds are choking out life in your heart?

Gina Butz faith, hope, perspective 0 Comments

weeding our lives of what chokes out life

Photo by Jason Long on Unsplash

When I was a young staff girl with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, I crushed hard on a boy who worked with Campus Crusade for Christ. When I dreamed of my future, it was hard not to imagine a scenario where he would wake up and realize he couldn’t live without me. And yes it was a future serving God in some amazing, world changing way, but also, with the boy. Always with the boy.

Until the day he called me and told me he liked someone else, and we were only ever going to be friends. Ok, I thought. Change of plans. I can handle this. Apparently I am not going to marry this guy. But it seemed like such a good idea, God! So now what?

Growing up in Minnesota, I remember swaths of dandelions. We rubbed them on our chins and noses. Watched them fly lazily through the air. I couldn’t understand why my dad hated them, or the admonition from my parents not to blow them.

But our dad knew. Dandelions are not flowers. They’re weeds, and those innocent pieces of fluff, when blown, propagate them. The more there are, the less room there is for other life.

The hope of that relationship was a dandelion.

To be honest, I was not entirely surprised to have the rug pulled out from under me. The book I was reading at the time was When God Interrupts:Finding New Life Through Unwanted Change. Uncomfortably convicting and timely. In it, there was a quote, “When we have focused too narrowly on the dream we thought the Savior would give us, then it is the dream that has become the savior.” 

The dream that takes His place. Or the activity, person, job. Whatever takes our focus off of Him. Chokes out true life. Keeps us from being fully open to God’s direction in our lives. Makes you scribble your potential married name all over the margins of your journal. The thing that looks good, but is a weed in disguise. The hope we are banking on to make us feel secure, happy, comfortable.

We have to let Him weed us of the false flowers.

With the boy out of the picture, my dreams got bigger. Or rather, my willingness to let Him shape my dreams got more expansive. Letting go of something I thought would bring life actually made room for God’s plans for me.

False flowers show up in many forms. A relationship, or the hope of one. The perfect job, or chasing an image. The activities that consume us, but God never actually asked us to do them. Anything that causes us to focus on something we think will bring life, rather than on the Giver of life Himself, can crowd out the Spirit. What looks good might not be good, if it isn’t God’s call or plan.

So what do we need to weed from our hearts today?

(oh, and by the way? I did end up with that boy).

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The Illusion of Having It All Together

Gina Butz dependence on God, faith, identity, trials 1 Comment

The illusion of having it all together

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Early in our time overseas, I thought I had it all together. I was busy balancing raising two preschoolers, learning a second language, living overseas, and having a personal ministry, with joy. I looked like Super Mom, but it was an illusion. Then God, in His mercy, shattered it.

In the fall of 2004, we moved to Singapore. Both our kids stopped napping at the same time. I no longer had household help. The first time my husband traveled that fall, he returned to a house that looked like a tornado hit it.

“What did you do while I was gone?” he asked me.

“How about we decide right now that’s a question you don’t get to ask me,” I responded (not one of our finest marriage interactions).

I was never Super Mom; I was just an over-functioning, bone-weary mom (with a maid). Then I started homeschooling (Jesus, take the wheel). Soon after that, allergies took over my life, forcing me to spend most days in an itchy, sneezing fog. I couldn’t keep it together any more. Gina came undone.

What a blessing.

God led me to feel my desperate need for Him. I was confronted daily by my own inadequacy, lostness, pride, and self-sufficiency (God is so not impressed with that quality, unfortunately).

It was one of the hardest and most frustrating seasons of my life. Many times I sided with Rich Mullins when he sang, “I can’t see where you’re leading me, unless you’ve led me here, to where I’m lost enough to let myself be led.”

The illusion of having it all together was just that-an illusion.

But as my illusion fell away, to my surprise, others drew closer. They met me in my need. When I showed them my lack of togetherness, they were gracious. They gave me a new place to rest, and even (dare I hope?) seemed to love me more.

As my friend Holly Sheldon once said, “People don’t draw close to strength. They admire it, respect it, but don’t draw near to it.

Having it all together may impress, but it doesn’t invite.Twitter And we need to extend an invitation to others, an invitation in to what is true about us: we are messy, weak, needy humans. Not super human. Just human, like everyone else.

And when we extend the invitation to others to see that we are, in fact, undone, we give others the freedom to be undone as well. We can all step out from behind the curtain and own what is true. Together sigh a breath of relief that we can set the illusion aside.

Letting go of our illusion invites God in too. There, He can sort out our messy places. Be strength in our weakness. Fill our needs. Help us be human.

None of us really has it together. Oh, we can try to keep up that illusion. But why? There is freedom, love, and rest on the other side. Let yourself come undone.


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The Secret to Persevering in the Arena

Gina Butz courage, dependence on God, faith, trials 0 Comments

Developing a stronger theology for being in the arena

Photo by Jason Briscoe on Unsplash

Recently I had a week of awkward engagements, mostly in the form of writing emails telling people what they don’t want to hear, or pushing into uncomfortable topics with others.

Yuck. I thought, “Is there a hole I can go crawl into now?” But each of those interactions was necessary because of the tough arenas of life God has called me into for this season.

Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, says, “an arena is any moment when or place where we have risked showing up and being seen.”

Inspired by the Teddy Roosevelt 1910 speech (below), those arenas are places of blood, sweat, and tears, where we fight for what we believe in. We hope for victory, but know that failing is always a possibility.

This is a “venture into tough new arenas” year for me. They ask more of me than I want to give sometimes. These arenas call me to risk, lead, take stands, and put myself out there.

Can I be honest? Making a difference, affecting change, living bravely, all sounds great in theory. But it’s tiring.

A lot of the time, I want to quit. Stop writing. Step away from leading. Let things go rather than fight for a stance. Comfort is more appealing than potential failure, regardless of what I or others might gain.

It’s hard to put yourself out there when there’s a risk of falling on your face. So much more appealing to stay on those safe shores. And yet, we must keep fighting.

When I am tempted to step out of the arena, wipe the blood, sweat, and tears off my face, and throw in the towel, I feel a check in my spirit. A voice says,

“Stay. Stay and fight. You don’t need to stop. You just need more truth for this.”

We don’t need to quit.

We just need to get stronger. And where does that strength come from? It comes from the truth. Here’s the secret to not quitting when life is tough:

We need a stronger theology for the arena.

What does that look like? To begin with, it means more strength training out of the ring.

We train our minds with the truth; that this is for His glory, not our ours; that there is no failure so great to put us out of His reach; that every second in the ring is only possible because of His power, not our own; that a knockdown does not define our worth.

The more we are called to the arena, the more we need to feed our minds and hearts the truth about who He is and who we are. Then, when we are tempted to quit, instead we choose to double down on those truths.

Second, we need to train our hearts to hear our coach’s voice, even in the thick of the fight. He is with us, for us, in us. No one is more for us in the arena than He is.

We can’t always step out of the ring, so we must learn the moment by moment Yahweh breathing to slow our hearts and call us back to depend on His voice.

Staying in the arena means growing the humility to admit when we need a minute in the corner to catch our breath. We take time in the corner to get toweled off and refreshed by His Presence, His Spirit, His words. The longer we’re there, the harder it is, but there’s always a place of rest.

It’s hard to win without anyone in your corner. We need cheerleaders, people who know why we’re in there and believe in what we’re doing. Those are the people who will shout at us to get back up when we fall.

And we need to remember why we stepped into the arena in the first place. If this is God’s call, He gives us what we need to fight.

He never promised easy. Nor did He promise victory in every battle. But if we strengthen our theology, we can stay in it until it’s finished, no matter how many times we fall.

a stronger theology for the arenas of life

click on the picture to download this as a print!


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How to develop a stronger theology for staying in the fight

Finding Balance in the Seasons

Gina Butz peace, rest 0 Comments

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Years ago, I had a delightful life coach and mentor by the name of Dayle. She encouraged me to make a personal development plan for that season of my life. Being a planner by nature, I was excited to show her what I thought was a well-balanced plan. She took one look at it and said, “Gina, I’m exhausted just looking at this.”

“But I don’t know what I could cut out. All these things are important,” I insisted.

Dayle affirmed that yes, everything on my plan was important. But then, she suggested that maybe not all of them were equally important at this moment. That began a journey of understanding what it looks like to find balance, not in our days, but in the seasons of our lives. 

To read the rest of the story, join me at Redbud Writer’s Guild!


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Looking Scary (When We’re Scared)

Gina Butz courage, faith 0 Comments

Looking Scary (When We're Scared)

Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels

Do you know someone who is scary? You know, the kind of person who takes up a lot of space in the room. They’re intimidating. Their voices are loud. Words are strong.

Sometimes it’s the person you would least expect. It seems out of character. They aren’t like that in every day life, but something gets triggered and they suddenly look scary. What happened?

I wonder if it’s because they’re scared.

When we get scared, our behavior changes. Some of us hide, shrink back, disappear. But many of us get louder, stronger, and more controlling. We get big because we feel small.

I know I do it. It’s my way of covering what I fear.

It’s like the Wizard of Oz, crying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” You know, the one furiously attempting to make himself look bigger than he is. The one projecting a scary image while in reality he is cowering where you can’t see him. Maybe then no one will notice that he doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t have what it takes. He’s scared out of his wits. Fear keeps him hidden, afraid to lose the relationship, his reputation, a sense of control.

Scary might make us feel protected, but it actually isolates us. It keeps others from seeing what is going on inside, and blocks the doorway for them to help us address what we fear. Scary keeps us scared.

What’s our invitation instead?

It helps me to remember anger is a secondary emotion. Like I said, we get big when we don’t want to feel small. Anger makes us feel bigger than the fear. When we recognize a rage that’s driving us to look scary, it’s a good signal to stop and examine our hearts. What are we afraid of? What feels threatened? When we own what it is that makes us scared, we can confront it, instead of pretending than we are bigger or stronger than we are.

Often we can’t overcome that fear on our own. We need others to step in and walk with us.

So we need to set down the scary mask and invite others in. Pull back the curtain and admit what is true. “I don’t know what to do. This is overwhelming. I feel weak, exposed, needy. I’m afraid of what’s happening here.”

The irony of the Wizard is that when he pulls back the curtain, he can offer so much more. Intimacy increases as he steps out from behind the scary image. Solutions are found. Relationships strengthen. Fear dissipates. We don’t have to be scary.

“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”


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Open the Door to Others

Gina Butz courage, relationships 0 Comments

Open the door to others

Photo by Philipp Berndt on Unsplash


“To open yourself to another person, to stop lying about your loneliness and your fears, to be honest about your affections, and to tell others how much they mean to you-this openness is the triumph of the child of God over the Pharisee and a sign of the dynamic presence of the Spirit.” (Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child).

We lie about our loneliness and our fears.

They are hidden beneath smiles, activity, and bravado. We ignore aches and push down anxieties because we believe the people who present themselves to others without these trappings are more acceptable, desirable, and welcome.

And that’s how the loneliness and fears grow. They lie to us about our worth. Their grip on us tightens and reinforces our distance from those who would really know our hearts.

Those lies battle with the truth that we need others, and the truth that real strength lies not in hiding, but in vulnerability. Life is not found behind closed doors.

In an unguarded moment not long ago, I moved toward a friend. I clung to a glimmer of hope that maybe I wasn’t alone; maybe she felt it too. We began a hesitant companionship, marked with vulnerability hangovers from fear we overshared. Several times one or the other of us nearly canceled a lunch date because the thought of baring ourselves felt too heavy. But slowly, we pushed past our fears toward each other.

After a while, we thought maybe we weren’t alone. Maybe other women wanted, needed, a place to be raw, real, seen, and heard too. So we invited a few. And they came.

Four of us are on a journey of opening to each other. Between work and travel and family, we carve out times together where we simply ask, “how are you?” and make space for more than rote answers.

We have, each of us, wondered if we fit in with the others.

As we open doors into deeper recesses of our hearts, we navigate fear.

We brave disappointing one another with our honest selves.

Together, we invite each other’s childlike selves to show up, share wounds that need care, and receive the tenderness and empathy we need. We share where our hearts are in the process of being awkwardly awake and alive to the mess of life, parenting, friendship, and ministry.

One week, a flurry of text messages appeared about getting together. I chimed in that I couldn’t come, and received no response. With a sinking feeling in my gut, I watched as they excitedly planned time without me.

The loneliness and fear called back to me, telling me how foolish it was to believe I could leave them behind. They whispered of my lack. Told me I was dispensable. Noted how quickly I was passed over.

When our group sat down in our booth at Panera the next week, I swallowed hard and spoke my lies. These friends listened, understood, and opened the door for me to reclaim my space with them.

The triumph of the child over the Pharisee often feels less like victory and more like heart thumping hope as we bring our true selves to each other, vulnerable and exposed.

I need these women, and they need me. While the enemy conspires with a thousand little lies to keep us from being open with others, the Spirit whispers to us that it is worth it, this baring of our souls.

He bids us come with our childlike selves, and believe there is a place for us.

Needing others is not weakness. It is not something to be despised or masked, but rather something to be embraced and celebrated.

There is a place for each of us. Open the door.Twitter
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