Remember…

A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces, but also by the men it remembers. -John F. Kennedy

There was another leader thousands of years ago who urged us to remember. King Solomon also challenged us to reflect and to remember:

 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

Today is a time to remember…but what does it mean to remember?

It’s a verb…showing action or intention: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of (someone or something that one has seen, known, or experienced in the past).

Memorial Day… Is it more than a day off work, a picnic in the park, time together with friends, the beginning of Summer, a day at the pool, and some good food on the grill? All those are great, but is there more?

Decoration Day was first celebrated (unofficially) in the few years following the Civil War, the deadliest. most close-to-home, war ever affecting the United States…dividing communities and tearing families apart. It was a day to remember, to pray, and to adorn graves with flowers to remember the sacrifice. Memorial Day wasn’t  officially recognized as a national holiday until 1971…more than a hundred years after people began the tradition of remembering all those who had lost their lives serving their country.Arlingtonandoldpic 011

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,

I remember…I grew up in an Army town. Young men with crew cuts, tattoos, fast cars, and fast lives were ever-changing parts of the backdrop. Seemingly ordinary lives and faces, they were such an familiar part of daily living that I failed to see the glory and sacrifice played out in everyday encounters. I was totally unaware of the tremendous sacrifice and the risks involved in being a soldier. I failed to understand the scope of service and depth of their commitment. Practically kids, they were torn from their families and relocated all over the world. Driven and treated harshly, often viewed with suspicion and contempt, they were armed, equipped, and sent to the front lines to wage wars that would never end and could never really be won.

a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,Washington, D.C 205

Strong and courageous, creative and daring, bold and fearless, fragile and broken…this human life and condition present varied experiences, challenges, opportunities, and chances for pain and wounding; but “a time to heal” and “a time to build” offer the promise of hope. We remember the past to honor sacrifice and to build a better future.

a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,

cellpixJuly2014 163I remember… Washington D.C.  is one of my family’s favorite cities to visit. A symbol of freedom, democracy, and remembrance, the city is built upon two hundred year old stories, legendary history, and extensive monuments that surround it like soldiers guarding their charge.  They stir us to remember.

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

The streets, the shadows, the monuments shout echoes of patriotism, pride, loss, regret, and what should or could-have-beens.Washington, D.C 085

So many conflicting feelings and words: united, one nation, under God, liberty, justice for all…but also: division, anger, hatred, death, loss of hope. We are fearfully and wonderfully made but we are also needy and broken, We live, we love, we laugh, we lose, we hurt, we wound others. We remember

a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,

My family loves history. We travel to former presidents’ homes, Civil War forts, museums, and scattered landmarks. We gaze on old relics and tattered pieces of history with awe and admiration and reverence. We remember

 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,flags

Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the tattered flags, the eternal flame, the cold grave stones… They are silent. They are somber. They remember.

a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace

Love and hate. War and peace. I hate war. I love peace. War within, war without. War is costly. Peace is costly. Today we remember the toll that both have taken on our country, our communities, our young people, our family, our friends. Will we really remember?

IMG_3883Will we remember to train up our kids, to tell them of God’s faithfulness and the sacrifice of generations who have gone before? Will we talk about it with our children and impress it on them when we are walking down the road, when we are at home, when we lie down and when we rise? Will we write it on our doorframes or on our very hearts? For what beliefs, lifestyles, and freedoms have our sons, daughter, mothers, and fathers laid down their lives?  Mindfulness demands thankfulness. Count your blessings, count your freedoms, know that freedom is bought with a price, and be thankful. Remember..

Memorial Day… Maybe it really is all these things:  Summer, new life, bountiful blessings, a safe place, time to play, laughter of children, a splash in the pool, a trip to the beach, cherished time with friends and family. But it was bought with a price. So remember its value. Enjoy blessings and safety, being aware that the price has already been paid. Remember and be thankful.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.       John 15:13 

Will you remember?

Washington, D.C 077

A Mother’s Heart

“Her children rise up and call her blessed…”  Proverbs 31:28

“Whenever I held my newborn baby in my arms, I used to think that what I said and did to him could have an influence not only on him but on all whom he met, not only for a day or a month or a year, but for all eternity — a very challenging and exciting thought for a mother.”  Rose Kennedy


Mother. What a complex picture that short two syllable word is able to paint. Both a noun and a verb, it’s a longing, a calling, a privilege, an honor, a blessing, a duty, and a lifelong walking out and responsibility. It is able to create myriad emotions in both the speaker and the hearer of the word.

Happy Mother’s Day!   img_9635

Several months ago, a precious friend of mine shared a tender, heartfelt message she had written. Whether simply an emotional outlet or a deeper, more complex expression of her grief, it immediately flooded me with so many conflicting emotions as I read it. I have her permission to share it. Meg lost her mom at an early age to a devastating battle with Alzheimer’s disease. On what would have been her mother’s 64th birthday, she wrote these pained yet poignant words:

“Some days I just can’t encapsulate my emotions in words. I just love her. I miss her. I want her back. I still have questions. She needs to teach me more stuff. I don’t feel equipped to be a mom without being able to call her and talk through it. I need her. I know…I am selfish. She’s whole and happy and fulfilled…I sure do miss her. Today hurts.”   (Meg Luttrell)

My heart hurt for her. I couldn’t begin to explain the burden and the heaviness that washed over me when I first read that. Even now, I expect the responses are as varied and personal as the number of eyes reading these words. Although very painful, what a tremendous tribute! What a beautiful picture of love, motherhood, and relationship Meg penned from the depths of her loss and hurt: a relationship that embodied love and need and nurture as God must have intended it; even though the time was limited, cut short by sickness and human frailty.

If you are a mother, you’re probably accustomed to wearing many hats: cook, coach, img_9638teacher, nurse, chauffeur, counselor, confidante, role-model, and so many others. Maybe you’ve never thought of yourself as being like the apostle Paul: a missionary to teach the gospel and share the love of Christ and to equip the saints, no matter how small the saints may be. 🙂 Then again, maybe you have, and it seems overwhelming at times. It’s a high and holy calling. It really is a privilege. Some days, in the busyness of life, you wonder if you make a difference. Does all this really matter?  The lists, laundry, the wiping, the cleaning, the carpooling, the waiting, the repeating… It all matters.

Love, miss, want, teach, equip… Those were a few of the words Meg used. Perhaps your mother modeled that well and did effectively love, teach, and equip you with all the tools and abilities to love and learn and do and receive. Maybe she was beautifully representative of Jesus and you have been gifted with the faith and capacity to love God, others, and yourself and to see beauty and value in life and relationships. If so, rejoice! Be thankful. Know that you were loved and blessed. Even if she is no longer with you and you feel the pain of loss, her fingerprints still show on all you touch and teach and love.

But… we live in a fallen world and have strayed so far away from God’s original design. Maybe your mother didn’t or wasn’t able to love, to teach, or to effectively equip you to love, relate, and receive well. Maybe there is pain caused by sin, separation, poor choices..intentional or unintentional. It still hurts. Maybe, like Paul, there is a thorn of hurt that has wedged itself into your side and you still wince and feel the pain of emotional or physical injury..or lack and loss.  If so, grieve.  Just as we grieve the loss of love, support, and companionship through death, we may need to grieve the lack, as well as the loss. When God said He would be father to the fatherless, many are quick to embrace it. Do we limit him? Can he not be like a mother to the motherless? What about Zeph 3:17 when He rejoices over you with singing? Like a lullaby? Nurturing? Comforting?  Consider the encouraging words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 61:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.”

From grief, mourning, and despair to comfort, joy, and restoration.

IMG_5902Rejoice in your great blessings. Grieve the losses and allow God to heal and restore, then believe. Believe, not only that the body of Christ is perfectly equipped to step in and provide for your needs, but that you are also part of that body and you are called to be his hands, his feet, his heart. Believe that God has a purpose in the pain of losing, the pain of not having, or the strain of imperfect, contentious relationships. Not that He authored the loss or the struggle, but that He sees and is able to create beauty from the ashes of a fallen world. Believe that you have been crafted and gifted with a mother’s heart. If you have children, you have experienced it first-hand. If you don’t have children, consider your other relationships. Have you ever had a shoulder to cry on? Been a shoulder to cry on? Had another woman ask for advice, need direction, just want a cup of coffee and a few words of wisdom or encouragement? Prayed for a friend? Been concerned for a friend’s well-being? Just sat quietly, no words needed, and been present? That is a mother’s heart and you have been gifted. Believe that you are that vessel, that tool, nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashthat platform, that word of encouragement, bit of sustaining manna, drink of water, or light in the darkness that God will use to bring light, life, and hope to someone else.

Thank you, Meg, for sharing your hurt and your heart. Even in that, your mother’s legacy continues. ❤

Words are important. The work of your hands and your heart is important and leaves an indelible imprint on the lives of others. I encourage you to consider your work, consider your words, consider your sphere of influence. Consider that the Spirit of the sovereign Lord is upon you and He has anointed you to proclaim the good news, to assist the brokenhearted, to provide light and relief, and to comfort. You will be called oaks of righteousness and a planting of the Lord. Believe it. What’s the quirky old cliché: Bloom where you’re planted.    plant

                   *Happy Mother’s Day*

Grateful, Thankful…Sad

There…I said it. Sad. I am sad.

I actually said those three little words out loud to no one else’s ears this week: “I am sad.” That’s when I thought about the little sign that hangs over the window in my breakfast area that has three other popular, Pinterest-worthy words scripted out in fancy lettering: Grateful, Thankful, Blessed.

Then in the quiet stillness of my room I said aloud: “I am grateful. I am thankful, I am 1a98afed-1ae6-46fa-902c-13c9257cac59blessed. But I’m still sad.” And, speaking aloud, I realized it was okay, Okay to be sad. Okay to cry. I wasn’t ungrateful. It didn’t minimize my thankfulness or rob me of blessing.

I didn’t start out my day sad. It started with a simple video someone had shared. Not even a sad video. An informative, supposedly encouraging video, but it nudged a tender spot and magnified an unmet need that I hadn’t given attention to in a very long time. I had no choice but to put everything else on hold and attend to it at that moment.

There are so many cliches about growing and blooming and thriving in the midst of the mundane and ordinary moments of life: “Loves grows best img_5536in little houses” and “Bloom where you’re planted.” How about a few more specific phrases to apply to the places where I found myself this week: “Bloom where you’re quarantined” or “Weeds grow deepest when they’re ignored and not attended.” The details buried in my messy little garden of sadness aren’t important right now; but the overwhelming, unexpected response to sifting and weeding through the dense, tangled growth caught me off guard at the moment.

I really am grateful, thankful, and blessed! So very blessed. But sometimes I am sad and it has taken me a long time to understand that that is okay. Even longer to admit and name the sadness.

Approximate day 5000 of the quarantine, hiding from the threatened effects of an enemy so small we can’t even see it…is when I realized there was a bigger threat looming. There was a deep sadness knocking at my door. Should I put on mask and gloves and let it in? No, that would just be sanitizing and cautiously mishandling it. Maybe I needed to be totally exposed to whatever was knocking. A friend recently asked me if I thought vulnerability was a bad thing. Is it? Or does “safe vulnerability” build up healing antibodies to make you stronger and healthier? Who or what defines safe? That sounds like a post for later.

Truthfully,  that morning’s sadness had absolutely nothing to do with the virus, threat of illness, being hunkered down at home, or every moment of my usual habits and existence being stripped away. It had everything to do with being still and all the to-do lists and pressures of daily life being halted and silenced for a fleeting, yet revealing, moment in my personal emotional history.

Be still and know that I am God.     -Psalm 46:10    img_5523

Yes, I was being still…a forced stillness; and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. The morning that the great sadness came pouring in had nothing to do with being home, out of work, potential financial problems, worry about the pandemic, or any relational struggles. It had everything to do with the quiet stillness of a brief respite away from distractions and external voices. My ears were open and my heart was vulnerable.

There’s that word again: vulnerable. What was this great sadness? It doesn’t really matter right now. It could be a thousand things that have happened or a single thing that hasn’t. But at that moment it was a doorway I had to choose to cross over, gently close and pretend no one was there, or slam tightly shut.

Sadness is the feeling that speaks to how much you value what is missed, what is gone, and what is lost.     

 -Chip Dodd, The Voice of the Heart

So…sadness can be a good thing? A hard feeling, a gut-wrenching pain…but a catalyst to open your eyes to value and worth and loss and lack? I would ask these questions cautiously but intentionally: Are you grateful? Are you thankful? Are you blessed? Are you sad? Are you feeling a loss? A lack or an absence?

img_5522I certainly can’t answer for you. Being grateful is an external response to your internal feelings of thankfulness. It is an ongoing practice. It takes work and realization and choosing to see; but the more you do it, the more natural it becomes. Are you blessed? If you are alive and breathing and have access to be reading and understanding information at all, then, yes, you are blessed! Are you sad? I am sorry if you are sad; but sadness isn’t all bad. It tells you something matters. It tells you something is missing, misgiven, mistaken, or misunderstood. It matters. It tells you your heart is still beating and feeling and sensing and yearning.

Chip Dodd also writes “Either we value life and deal with the losses we have experienced, or they will eventually burst open and deal with us as consequences that occur due to denial of grief. If we dare listen to our sadness and value the losses it declares, we will awaken to the restoring power of grief. Grief, in turn, leads us to acceptance.”

Acceptance fosters peace and understanding. But maybe your fill-in-the-blank word isn’t sad. Maybe you are grateful, thankful, ______. Afraid. Lonely. Confused. Angry. Hurting.

Maybe they all could be plugged into that equation. Maybe we need to deal with our afraid, our lonely, our confusion, our angry, our losses, our hurting.

img_5524The more I looked around my home, the more reminders I found of blessing. Choosing to be present and to see blessing in the here and now didn’t disguise or minimize the sadness. But a little sadness looks even smaller in a room filled with life and light and laughter and love. Sometimes I look up and read the sign to remember: Grateful, thankful, blessed. I have two other signs around my window, both hand-lettered scripture verses.

Acts 2:46 They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And a simple catchword from Colossians 3:23 Whatever:img_5521

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord. 

 

Yesterday I was very sad. And it’s okay.

I even cried, The prophets cried out. Job was saddened unto desiring death. King David poured out his sadness into Psalms and laments. Even Jesus wept. So I guess it’s okay for me to cry too.

His mercies are new every morning

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning

img_5532Today is a new day. Have hope, have love, have a heart and eyes to seek and see blessing. And have permission to feel your sadness. Feel your pain. Feel your joy. Even feel your anger. You can still be grateful, thankful, and blessed in the midst of the mess. You can even be a little sad.

 

(And when you are sad and the quarantine is over, come to my table and we can truly break bread and eat together with glad and sincere hearts. Blessings.)

And someday: He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.   Rev 21:4

2020: Seeing Clearly

I was in high school when Prince’s blockbuster song 1999 hit the charts. At that time, the year 1999 seemed like an imaginary, far-off possibility. As my friends and I calculated how old we would be when 1999 was finally ushered in, I discovered that I would be in my early 30’s! It sounded so old at the time.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 1999 and I wasn’t “partying like it’s 1999,” as the song suggested. Instead, I was sitting home with a 4 year old and a 3 month old…and loving it! King Solomon said There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… It was a great season. What’s the old saying? The days go slow but the years go fast… 

At the start of a new year, many people find themselves reflecting on the memories,  challenges, changes, and blessings from the previous year. img_1863Others project ahead and resolve to change a pattern, a habit, a belief, or other situation. Let’s do both!

20/20! We’ve all heard the term denoting visual acuity…sharpness, clarity. So is it any wonder that much of the hype and excitement surrounding this particular new year focuses on seeing and projecting ahead? It’s a milestone! Not only a new year…but a brand new decade!

In 1972, Johnny Nash released a song titled I Can See Clearly Now:

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind

9a356e0b-95a8-4f20-8bed-2c7ef0ad0277As the new year approaches, a primary question I offer is: What will it take for me to see clearly in the new year? In relation to the song, other questions to consider: what obstacles are blinding my true vision or causing distortion in what I perceive? Also…what are some things I can leave behind in this decade as I forge ahead into the next? Please stick with me and we’ll look at 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace and bring with us into 2020.  Let’s leave behind:

1. Comparison: Oh…I’m so guilty. I remember first reading a small laminated copy of the poem Desiderata (Latin, meaning “things desired”) in high school: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. As an awkward teenager, I really needed to hear that! But peer pressure and the desire to perform, or conform, doesn’t stop once the diploma is in hand and you walk off the stage. With the rise of social media, to some extent we’re all living on a stage! I’ve lived it, I’ve raised two children, I’ve walked side by side with other women, and I’ve seen and talked with hundreds of other people who have fallen into the trap of comparison. Teddy Roosevelt once said “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

The apostle Paul said:

…let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. -Romans 12:6 (MSG)

No one is immune, but I believe woman are especially vulnerable to comparison. Am I good enough, thin enough, smart enough, talented enough, mom enough, Pinterest-worthy…you get the idea. I challenge you…and me…to stop the comparison and to be mindful of each blessing, opportunity, and person we have in our lives. Celebrate each breath and the ways our bodies live and breathe and move and function. Comparison? Leave it behind.

2. Negative self-talk: It so often goes along with comparison. Again, I’m guilty. It may seem so innocent…unless you really listen: I’m so stupid. I’ll never get better. Nothing good ever happens to me… But listen again to the apostle Paul:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. -Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

If you believe in the inerrancy of scripture, shouldn’t this verse apply to how we talk about ourselves as well as others? How about the wise words of motivational speaker Christine Arylo: “Be nice to yourself… It’s hard to be happy when someone is mean to you all the time.” I often ask people I counsel if they would speak to a small, impressionable child the way they talk to themselves. Or speak the same words to their best friend. Speak kindly to yourself. Truth…but in love.

3. Discontentment: Part of the terrible triad mix & match equation! Comparison + negative self-talk = discontentment. Pretty sure we could interchange the variables in multiple ways and still end up with similar responses: (discontentment + negative self-talk = comparison, etc…) How quickly and easily we forget that we img_1870are often currently living the life we once wished for or prayed about. Count Your Blessings is an old hymn written in the late 1800s:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

In no way do I intend to minimize pain, suffering, and other difficulties. Life is hard and the world is broken. But there can still be beauty in the midst of the brokenness. Jesus told us that “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)  Is thankfulness the opposite of discontent? Probably not…but it at least offers to loosen the heavy cloak and lighten the burden of discontentment. Be thankful for one thing today. And then another…and another. And you will find that discontent becomes smaller and more quiet in the coming year.

4. Worry: It has many different names and expressions…anxiety, panic, nervousness, apprehension, fear, dread…  The entire verse from John 16:33 says “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? -Jesus  (Mt 6:27)

I don’t intend to minimize serious mental health concerns. Bad things happen. Terrible, fear-creating events that are totally out of our control. Anxiety is an ever-growing, increasingly serious, pervasive condition in our society. Thankfully, it is also very treatable with professional help, time, and ongoing commitment. But day-by-day worry is a choice often hidden behind habit and personal experience. Let’s commit to look clearly ahead at 2020 with intentional vision to see our daily concerns and struggles as they are…not minimized and not magnified. Also, pray about and seek to identify the triggers that threaten to steal your peace and create fear and worry. Turn off the news, silence the phone, limit social media. Put boundaries up between you and those people and situations that create anxiety and strife. Then you will be able to see more clearly.

5. Bitterness: As I typed that word, I thought another terrible trio: bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness. (more about forgiveness later…)  Where does one start and the other begin? Possible ways to identify these dangerous feelings: bitterness leaves a bad taste in your mouth or a scowl on your face. Resent = resend. Are you replaying/re-sending the same words, events, and injustices over and over in your mind and heart and attaching chain2faces to the feelings? That’s resentment. Unforgiveness = unforgiving = unwilling or unable to forgive. It’s the inability to let it go and to move forward unshackled from an offense.  Where there is one there are usually the others; and they weigh heavy on your journey. Leave them behind…like unloading rocks from a heavy backpack or taking pebbles off a scale until it’s perfectly balanced. You do it one hard thing at a time. What do you need to take off the scale and leave behind this year?

6. Misplaced anger: Anger gets a bad rap. Appropriate, well-played anger motivates people to rise up to defend their families, their countries, or their causes. To pursue a better life. It fuels passion and creativity. But misplaced or unrestrained anger has the ability to destroy relationships, families, and individuals. It seems to be a common go-to emotion. But it’s really a temperature gauge. A check engine light. It may need a skilled mechanic to diagnose it and shut it down while it’s still just a warning. What, or who, is pushing your button or flipping your switch? Just as a compass points north, misplaced anger points back to something or someone. Often a grave injustice… but sometimes just a drastic misunderstanding. It’s 2020…inspect it, repair it. Put anger in its proper place and use it wisely.

7. Apathy: Shake off the dusty cobwebs of apathy. Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, concern, or passion. It’s the whatever or who cares attitude that has become so prevalent in recent years. It is desensitization to the injustice and cares of the world. To suffering and loss…or to growth and achievement. It is neither hot nor cold…simply  lukewarm. Pray for a heart to see and a passion to care about what’s going on around you. Seek motivation to move out of your comfort zone and be aware and engaged.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.  *

8. Overindulgence:  There’s an old saying: Too much of a good thing… It can be finished in multiple ways: is a bad thing, leads to obsession or addiction, makes you miserable, etc… Think for a moment. Consider when something that has brought you temporary pleasure eventually caused you pain, guilt, loss, or other negative consequence. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:12 “Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.  Food, medication, alcohol, television, or even excessive cell phone use can lead us into distraction and escape…away from quality time to invest in relationships and our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Seek balance. 20/20.

9. Busyness: Our society is busier than ever. Our days and hours are full of appointments, activities. and various must-do-and-be-at activities. Our schedules are full but many times our hearts and our spirits are empty. And…we are tired, we are stressed, and we often feel disconnected even in the middle of the crowds and busyness.  A few questions to consider: What is essential? What is life-giving? What promotes emotional and spiritual growth or a tangible reward? Check your schedule. I’m not advocating hitting eject on every nonessential activity; nor is it good for you to be  secluded or uninvolved. Just consider ordering and prioritizing your time in 2020. What will really matter at the end of this year…and the next?

10. A bad habit:  Just one! You may have a list of a dozen, but consider one simple habit, quirk, or pattern that plagues you and has likely followed you for years. Too many times we reach the end of the year (or the end of ourselves!) and make unrealistic goals and commitments. Then we become discouraged or self-critical. Let’s forge ahead with 20/20 vision. Set a clear, realistic goal. Don’t set yourself up for failure or disappointment by planning a complete overhaul. Focus on one small change. One bad habit you can drop at the back door of 2019 and enter 2020 with better focus, clarity, and direction. Envision one step, and then another. Be realistic and optimistic. 


Don’t give up now! We’ve talked about what to leave behind in the old decade. Now let’s look at 10 things we should bring with us into 2020 to have a brand new start! Let’s commit to:

1. Reach out to a friend! Someone you haven’t seen since high school, someone you’ve noticed at church, that quiet person at work… You may already have a hundred friends…you may only have one. The number that you have is not the important factor. Quality > quantity. Explore the new and cherish the old! Be real, be honest, be you. And let them be real, be honest, and be themselves.  Laugh, cry, hug, have fun. Be serious, be silly, just be. You may not think you need a new friend, but a brand new friend may need you! 🙂

2. Talk to somebody. A friend, a pastor, a counselor, a stranger… Many people are starving for connection and conversation. Make small talk in elevators and grocery check out lines. Reconnect with high school friends. Talk about the weather and the flowers blooming. Talk about hopes and dreams. Talk about disappointments, pains, and things you wish you could do over. Tell somebody something that makes you happy, sad, expectant, or maybe even a little fearful. Talk about the hard things. Talk about the secrets. Tell your story to someone you trust…even the most painful things. See a counselor if you need to. Everyone needs to be heard.

Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
    but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.  -Proverbs 11:14

3. Read a book! Read fiction. Image result for dr seuss the more that you readRead nonfiction. Read children’s books through your adult eyes and experiences. Read magazines and cereal boxes. Studies consistently show that the majority of people quit reading once they are out of school. But reading stimulates creativity, improves memory and imagination, and enlarges your borders. Oh, the places you will go! Visit a library or bookstore. Look and touch and smell and let the words leap off the pages and into your mind and imagination. Even better…into your heart and soul.

4. Read the Bible. Even if you aren’t a believer… Give it a shot!  It is full of history, wisdom, scandal, poetry, romance, music, and revelation. Challenge it. Open it and enter in questioning, doubting, wondering…   2 Timothy 3:16-17 says All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.  Seek and you just might find what you’re looking for.

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5. Write! A pen, a pencil, a keyboard…it doesn’t matter. Write your story, write a poem, write a prayer, write a letter to an old friend. Writing is like holding a key that unlocks feelings and memories and ideas. Keep a notepad or a space on your phone to jot down quick ideas but later find a designated time to write…let it pour out freely and unedited until your thoughts find their home on paper. “Stay faithful to the stories in your head.” -Paula Hawkins

6. Pray. Prayer is simply talking with God. The apostle Paul’s mandate in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 is Pray without ceasing. Spend hours on your knees in a designated space, pray as you’re going to sleep, pray in the car between errands…but make this year a time to seek God in prayer. Meditate, reflect, sit in silence, and listen. It will improve both your vision and your hearing. 🙂

Prayer is the helpless and needy child crying to the compassion of the Father’s heart and the bounty and power of a Father’s hand. -E.M. Bounds

7. Forgive. I wrote a post a few months ago titled Forgiveness Is Cake. No, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgive anyway. Very intentionally. Very specifically remember the person who shamed you, mocked you, bullied you, or outright abused you; and cut the chains that bind you to all the bad feelings, the anger, and the hurtful memories.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

I challenge you, and me, to walk into 2020 unshackled and free. Even if your walk is merely a limp. Don’t do it for them. Do it for yourself and for those you love…for your peace and your freedom.

img_18838. Go! Somewhere you’ve never been! Just go! Fly, ride, hike…travel. Visit somewhere new and different and scary and off the beaten path and out of the box. The mountains, the beach, the quaint little hometown square. The local restaurants, the hidden trails, the cozy coffee shops, the loud lounges, the quiet gardens. Explore and live and laugh! And take lots of pictures!

9. Go! Yes I know I’ve already said that…but go back to a familiar place. Where your memories are warm and cozy or where they need to find peace and healing. Where you met Jesus, where you met your spouse, your best friend’s old house. Your first church, your high school, your first date. The cemetery. Go and remember and see with new eyes. Better acuity. 20/20.

I thought if I could touch this place or feel it…this brokenness inside me might start healing.   -Miranda Lambert, The House That Built Me

10. Move! No, don’t call the realtor just yet! But move your body…stretch your arms, twist your hips, bend your knees and elbows! Walk, dance, tumble, climb… Celebrate your mobility, your flexibility, your strength, your stamina. Someone once said the best exercise is the one you’ll do…so just do it!

Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you are or what you ate.  –unknown/paraphrased

Well…It’s just another 10-things list to consider for the new year: ten to embrace and ten to leave behind. As I neared the end of the list, I realized there were so many more I could have included. There really is no perfect 10. But I think the additional four I would have included to embrace in the coming year could act like a big bow-and-ribbon to wrap around the others as you read back through them: faith, hope, love, and compassion. Wrap yourself in those last four and it will make an all-encompassing beautiful gift to give to yourself and to others. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Col 3:14)

No…it’s not an all-inclusive list of how to make 2020 the best year ever…but it’s a start!

Paul said in Philippians 3:13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on… Consider one thing you can do.

Welcome to 2020…not only a promising new year, but a brand new decade! Press on. With clarity and acuity…20/20

 

*quoted by JFK, ? per Edmund Burke

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Holidays Hurt

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I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

roomThe evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

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Friends in Low Places

I was in my early twenties when Garth Brooks’ smash hit Friends in Low Places debuted. There was something about the earthy guttural growl andselective focus photography of man playing electric guitar on stage sweet southern twang of the song, along with that little bite of sweet poetic justice, that felt right at home in my life as an early twenties single woman living in Nashville.  Although I still find myself occasionally indulging in the nostalgia of the newer oldies, the song had a very different meaning to me then than the phrase does now…Because I indeed really do have friends in low places.

Very low places. Hard places. Tragic places. Not  “where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases my blues away” places glorified in the old country song. Years of living, learning, losing, and letting go removed all the glitter and gloss from the drama of broken relationships, revenge, half-hearted commitments, and unhealthy patterns of dealing with life and loss.

I have friends in much lower places than that. Dark, lonely places of loss, abandonment, rejection, abuse, addiction, confusion, sickness, disability, job loss, financial ruin, and difficult diagnosis.

In this world you will have trouble. -Jesus

Well-rehearsed preachers, prosperity gospel, Pollyanna promises, and the proverbial rose-colored glasses can all try to deny the reality of pain, suffering, and loss that everyone will eventually face; but Jesus himself warned us. Prepared us. But He also said:

But take heart! I have overcome the world.

Take heart. What does that even mean? Other nick-fewings-ka7REB1AJl4-unsplashtranslations say: take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, have confidence…

I like “take heart.” It sounds active and involved. It lets me choose. It’s almost tangible. I can picture myself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking my heart. Speaking words of hope and encouragement. Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. But be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring…then for offering up as a humble sacrifice.

While we may not choose sickness, cancer, divorce, addiction, abuse, mistreatment, injustice. We can choose to take heart, take courage, be of good cheer, be brave, be courageous, and have confidence.

Proverbs 4:23 says Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

heart brass-colored padlockGuard it. Above all else. It must be extremely valuable. I picture it like an ancient city. With walls and towers to protect against enemy onslaught and invasion…but with gates to swing open to welcome friends, provision, protectors, allies, healers. A fortress, not a prison. Guard it as one would diligently, methodically guard a storehouse of plenty and provision during famine, war, and threats of enemy plunder.

Because isn’t that really what we are up against: famine, lack, loss, wars, and threats of enemy plunder? Not merely threats to overtake peace, joy, and hope…but heart-sickening, soul-crushing blows to us and those we love.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8

But what does that have to do with friends in low places?

In the book of Galatians, the apostle Paul tells us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other translations say: carry, share, help, practice carrying, offer a helping hand.

img_8817Loving one another is sometimes hard. Bearing burdens is hard. When they hurt, you hurt, but…Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. 

Being present and available can be scary when you don’t know what to say or do…For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! 

The world can be amazing and beautiful, but confusing and scary and cold…Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? 

But we are so prone to isolation and secrecy and self-protection…And though one may be overpowered, two can resist.

But we are called to be present to  share the love and hope of Jesus…Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  (Ecc 4:9-12)

img_8872Not one in isolation. Not two struggling to get by. But three strands! While often symbolic of a wedding ceremony, what does that look like in our day to day relationships and interactions? Especially with our friends in low places? You, your friend, God Almighty…

I haven’t always done it well. Honestly…I have probably failed more than I succeeded at  the face-to-face ministry of presence. But how I have wanted to be the faithful friend who sits in the ashes in the midst of another’s deepest pain and grief. How I have loved and prayed and lamented! I feel it in my very heart and soul sometimes. Real tangible pain and sadness. My friends in low places have walked hard roads recently. An unexpected loss of a young husband, the death of a child, a distant husband, an unwanted divorce, a congenital heart defect, prodigal children, addiction, tragic financial loss, betrayal, old wounds surfacing, a suicide attempt, a botched surgery, a bad mammogram, a pending biopsy… And more, so much more. Evidence that…yes, in this world we will have trouble.

Courage, dear heart.  -C.S. Lewis

Luke 5 recounts the story of a man in a very low place: Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus.  When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

This  man was unable to take care of his very basic needs. He couldn’t stand, walk, or get to Jesus. His companions lifted him and bore his stretcher, shouldered his load, and brought him, weak and helpless, to Jesus. The man may have had good intentions. He may have had great self-discipline and solid determination, but in his own power he was simply unable to bear his own weight, make his own path, see above the crowd and confusion, and find his healing. He was in a very low place…but he had friends.

Maybe sometimes the best we can do is to carry our friends on a stretcher to the feet of Jesus.

Consider this: Maybe praying for their physical well-being and peace, as well as img_7254being present and attentive to their physical and emotional needs is a type of guarding their heart…

Take heart. Can you picture yourself reaching out, or reaching in, and taking their heart… Speaking words of hope and encouragement: Be strong. Be brave. Be careful. Be kind. Be alive. Be teachable and be available for strengthening, encouraging, and reassuring… Then helping them offer it up as a humble sacrifice…to a God who sees, cares, heals, and redeems. And what an honor to sit, walk, stand, or simply just be with the hurting and the broken. Shoulder to shoulder or face-to-face, but definitely heart to heart and spirit to spirit.

A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.

Low places…we’ve all been there, are there, or will be there at some point. But what a blessing to be able to cry out, “I’ve got friends!”

 

Forgiveness Is Cake…

“It’s a piece of cake.” How many times have we said that about simple math, riding a bicycle, or learning a new task? How could I even suggest that such an important, often monumental, usually painful, task as forgiveness simply be a piece of cake?

I’ve heard forgiveness, or lack of, compared to various tangible items and situations: drinking poison and expecting the other person to die, chain2carrying heavy rocks around in a backpack, being chained to another, laying down a heavy load, cleansing your hands, burying a hatchet…and so many more.  But this week I heard a whole new spin on forgiving…it’s like cake!

I like cake.. but a good cake can be really complicated. The right ingredients and measurements, containers and preparation, altitude and preciseness all factor in to the final outcome… the appearance, the taste, and the satisfaction. And if you want it to look really good and appealing…that’s a whole other story!

As I sat with a trusted friend discussing the intricacies and fallacies of forgiveness, she said it:

Forgiveness is like cake. We can say we have forgiven and cover it up and push it to the side saying ‘there, that’s done’; but it’s better to cut into each piece and see what’s in it…deal with and really be done with it.

Colossians 3:13 says: Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins say: Your health depends on it…Forgiveness is not just about saying the words. It is an active process in which you make a conscious decision to let go of negative feelings whether the person deserves it or not.

My friend says: Cut the cake.

c5b7b73f-72e1-4e8e-ab79-14c28703affeI like word pictures. To me that was an incredibly practical piece of advice. How many times have I forgiven someone…just like throwing a blanket over a virtual plate, or crate, of offenses and shoving it off to the side. Out of sight, checked off my spiritual to-do list, a temporary respite from the heaviness, and presumed guilt and shame? Or felt like a good girl, doing the right thing and forgiving as Jesus commanded… Until something rose up in me again…a face, a memory, another offense.

Cutting cake can be messy…scattered crumbs and icing clumps can be annoying, sticky, and hard to clean.

Relationships can be messy too. Just like cake…the result of improper ingredients, faulty measurements, broken containers, poor preparation, attitudes, expectations, and simply being broken humans in a broken world.

Cutting it open means exposing it. What’s really inside and behind 76b26c41-036b-4ea0-b62f-9e787045eb9bimg_8611and under? It can be messy, painful, hard…but freeing. It means naming it: the offense, the hurt, the pain, the injustice, the whys, the why nots, the what-ifs, the never-going-to-be. It also means uncovering truths, lies, fears, expectations, hopes. It doesn’t mean we will get all the answers. It simply means we will really be able to see the full scope of our hurt and know that we  are intentionally, specifically forgiving the offense and all that it has meant to us. It is emptying our plate and starting fresh, expectant.

Three of the biggest challenges I have heard about the difficulty of forgiving are:

  1. It’s letting the offender off the hook
  2. It’s not recognizing the depth of the hurt /or saying it really didn’t matter.
  3. It’s too painful to remember.

Oh, but it matters. It deeply matters. You matter. And you will remember…consciously, subconsciously, in your patterns of behaviors and responses…you remember. And you can live out of that place of woundedness, pain, and unforgiveness; or you can be healed to remember and live from a place of deliverance and freedom.

Mark 9:42 says Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea.

Romans 12:17-19 says Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

I love the Old Testament story of Joseph. Hated, rejected, betrayed, sold into slavery, misused, falsely accused, forgotten. He knew exactly what had been done, what he was forgiving, and most importantly how God had given him the resiliency and faithfulness to be able to proclaim in Genesis 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”  He cut the cake. He recognized the evil intent, the mistreatment, the unfairness… but also recognized that God had used all the mistreatment, all the detours, all the pain and suffering to bring him to a place of growth and purpose. A place of freedom. I believe He still does that in our lives today.

So if you’re reading this, maybe you’re just curious or maybe you have a need. A hurt, an unhealed tender spot, a nagging dark shadow, an offense to forgive. 56629803-26a9-4966-a3d4-ea47fe65f090So pull up your cake plate, a knife, and your willingness. Find a trusted friend or counselor  and cut the cake. Inspect it. See what’s inside, what it’s made of…piece by piece. You’ll be glad you did. Then frequently consider, what’s on your plate?

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.         Proverbs 11:14 NASB