I Didn’t Go to the Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429Is that what I was really hearing? With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. Like the sometimes long journey to forgiveness. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves. Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and deep tracks left behind. Are there imprints that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day…words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read while lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

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25 Things Being A Parent Has Taught Me

“Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.” – Anne Frank


Twenty five years…a quarter of a century…yet a mere bleep on the screen of history. That’s how long I have been a parent. From first steps to first day of school, first car to college, first apartment to newly married… I have very few regrets. But even with the best intent, I am a broken human. I haven’t done it all perfectly. But here we are in the shadow of life and laughter, tears and heartache, compassion in disagreement, faith in fury…but still love and more good times than bad. Isn’t that successful parenting? I’m sure the title could read 25,000 things being a parent has taught me or 25,000 things I’ve done wrong…but I will choose to see the beauty in living and learning:

  1. It’s not all about me. Oh, if everyone in the world could recognize that truth at the same moment how different the news headlines img_9638would read! Most women really embrace this truth about the time they feel the first tiny movements inside. How much more apparent it becomes with midnight feedings, a hundred loads of laundry, and a thousand diaper changes. It’s even more evident when big brown eyes look into yours and tiny fingers hold your heart. Being a parent made me a better person.
  2. It’s not all about my children either. What a harsh realization when you discover that not everyone thinks your child is the center of the universe! This seems particularly apparent in the midst of play-dates and 4 year old soccer games. While you love your children and think they’re the best artists and athletes and scholars, sometimes other parents give their own children those titles as well. Teach them balance, respect, personal responsibility, and healthy pride in accomplishment.
  3. My heart is bigger than I thought. It was bittersweet when I first felt the deep pangs of parental love. Not that love for my own6413dd73-88c3-4c82-9f36-bb23bdf4b46e children was painful, but I suddenly became aware of all the people in the world, especially those that had never been loved as I loved my own. I saw people very differently. Either they were loved deeply and deserved my love and respect; or they had been denied that deep, unconditional love and protection and merited my compassion. The depth of that loss changed the way I viewed people in their pain and messiness.
  4. How to be brave. Noises in the night, scary looking insects, bad dreams, bad guys, and bullies can all seem overwhelming. What better way to overcome those fears than to become a fearless champion, knowing little eyes are watching? What about bigger fears? Sickness, stitches, broken bones, and bruised hearts? Parenting is not for the weak or the faint-of-heart.  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)
  5. Spiders won’t kill me. Okay, this one should probably fall under the how to be brave category, but it was such a victory that it deserved its own bullet point. Enough said.
  6. I can’t stop all the pain. From lost stuffed animals, being left out of friendship circles, not making the team, to the death of pets and people, the sting and sadness of rejection and disappointment cannot be avoided. While I can’t stop it, dress it up, or discount it, I’m called and equipped to walk through it, providing support, encouragement, and hope along the way.
  7. The importance of presence. Availability. Attention. Acknowledgement. Who hasn’t noticed the eager eyes of children as they searched for a parent at a ballgame, a performance, or a school program? A field trip, a day of shopping, a quiet lunch for two? A funny movie on the couch?  When you are truly img_9630present, you are better able to really see, hear, learn, and know your children. You’re not only their greatest cheerleader; you also become a shepherd of their heart.
  8. Words are really important. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Speak life, truth, and encouragement. Tell them you love them, are proud of them, and are always available.
  9. How to say I’m sorry.  I messed up. I was wrong. Please forgive me. A little humility and humanity encourages grace and mercy. It says you can own your shortcomings and it models good communication and responsibility.
  10. Let go of guilt. “I wish I had..I wish I  hadn’t..I should have..I shouldn’t have..if only… Home school, public school, other moms, other kids..What if I make the wrong decisions? What if my kids end up in counseling because of me?” Let it go. Do your best. Pick your battles. Say your prayers. Love your kids. Repeat.
  11. Stop comparison. Younger moms, thinner moms, cooler moms, moms with more money, more time, and more creativity… Who hasn’t felt the drive to compete, compare, or self-degrade? Your children were given to you, not your next door neighbor, the preacher, or the lady down the street. You are good enough, smart enough, brave enough, and just what they need.
  12. Always eat dinner around the table. Mealtime is always good. Why? We love to eat. We love to laugh. There’s something about sitting around in a circle that encourages conversation and accountability. No television, no video games, no phone. It’s a time to recount events of the day, plan future events, and ask lots of questions.
  13. Cereal is okay for supper. It’s fortified with essential vitamins and grains. It’s cheap. It’s easy. Knowing that so many people in the world go to bed hungry, there is no condemnation in Frosted Flakes. Or pop tarts. 🙂
  14. Stepping over piles of clothes counts as exercise. So does walking around aimlessly, running in circles, being flexible, and going the distance. Patience takes practice so that’s also a sport. Hiding in the bathroom counts as a cool-down routine.  🙂
  15. The car is a great classroom. It’s quiet. It’s confined. img_9636They can’t escape. The greatest lessons don’t happen in the classroom, but in the day to day moments of life when you can teach, share, and create real life and relationship. Believe it or not, they are listening.
  16. Make bedtime the best time. They’re tired. They’re vulnerable. They’ll open their hearts just to stay awake and to spend a few more minutes with you in the quiet darkness. What a sweet time to snuggle, to pray, and to listen to their hearts, dreams, and details of the day. It can be the great eraser of an awful, no good, very bad day.
  17. Take lots of pictures. There was no Facebook or Instagram when my children were little. Milestones and memories were captured in 4×6 glossy images in frames or behind plastic sheets. What seemed like too many at theimg_9635 time have proven to be never enough, but still offer glimpses into life and love and living.
  18. How to appreciate good art. Who needs expensive oils, French impressionists, and murky watercolors when hand-scribbled notes, finger-paints, play-doh shapes, fingerprint faces, and reindeer made of footprints can adorn walls and refrigerators?
  19. Laughing is the best. It reduces tension, stress hormones, and the need to hit something. Create inside jokes so no one else understands and you seem weird to other people. Tears will dry but laugh lines remain forever.
  20. Remember to invest. Children are a treasure, a blessing from the Lord. Each season is to be savored and captured in word, photo, laughter, and experiencing each moment to the fullest measure. But…part of our investment is in teaching children to grow, stand, walk, move on, and create their own journeys. Then what’s left besides the memories, photographs, and holiday visits? What of the other relationships? The other investments? The spouse, the deep friendships, the knowledge and care of self, the spiritual growth that is left to explore and experience after the children marry, move, or follow their own paths? Cherish, but don’t idolize your children, as you make investments in other lifelong, life-changing relationships.
  21. Be consistent and reliable. (Not perfect) As their parent, coach, cheerleader, and advocate. Be firm in conviction and what really matters, but always be a soft place to land and a safe place to rest. Then you will have a friend for the rest of your life.
  22. Pray. What could be more important, life-changing, heart-softening, and faith-building than lifting your children above a sea of chaos and confusion and into the watchful eyes and tender care of the One who made them and loves them most? “Any concern too small to be turned into a prayer is too small to be made into a burden.” -Corrie Ten Boom
  23. Feel the pain. A loss, a heartbreak, a failure, an unrealized dream, a prodigal… With love and life comes pain. It means you’re alive, you care, and something matters. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
  24. Don’t walk the journey alone. Find a tribe, a village, a support system, a rock when you are weak and drowning in a sea of confusion, pain, or overwhelming burden.  “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  And though a man might img_4817prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc 4:9-12)
  25. How to let go. It starts the first time you leave them at daycare, with a relative, or a babysitter. It intensifies with the first “no” or “I can do it by myself”.  Then  classroom, camp, a car, college, marriage, moving away. There is beauty in freedom, success in standing alone, amazement as they fly. After all, they were only yours for a little while.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverb 22:6

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Children are a heritage from the Lordoffspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior  are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them    Ps 127:3-5

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “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.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

A Mother’s Heart: Rejoice, Grieve, Believe

“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*