Category: Bible Truths

When It’s Hard to Give Thanks at Thanksgiving

 

The first rays of morning sunlight stretch through the frosted windowpane, and I open my laptop to more bad news. There are faces of grieving families and quotes about the way strangers rose up to lend helping hands, but I find my heart hardening.  I don’t want to read the stories about the kindness of strangers or the way they prayed for the dying man as his wife held him in her arms.  I’m angered by the brokenness of the world today, and I just want it all to stop.

This is my knee-jerk reaction to the latest news of tragedy in our nation. I know my heart should be soft and broken and thankful for the kindness of strangers, but I’m so overwhelmed by the frustrating fact that bad news has become our reality.

Ten years ago, I remember quoting Scripture and telling a friend that all the wars, bombings, and natural disasters are simply the signs that the end is near. I remember telling her that I was doing alright with it all, because it meant the Lord was coming soon.  And now, a decade and dozens of tragedies later, I so deeply want it all to end.

Today’s post is for anyone who is struggling to give thanks this Thanksgiving. It’s for those who are grieved from afar by the tragedies in our nation, and it’s for the families who are directly walking through their own personal tragedies.  I don’t pretend to know how it feels to be in any shoes but my own; and so, I offer these words for myself, if for no one else.

Become Someone Else’s Reason to Give Thanks

There’s a promise that he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. When it’s hard to find a reason to be thankful, break the chains of discouragement by becoming someone else’s reason to give thanks.  In her book, A Case for Kindness, Lisa Barrickman offers hundreds of suggestions.  Here are a few of my favorites: Visit Colorasmile.org and invite the kids to color a picture for a soldier overseas; put an encouraging note in a sports bag; let someone else pick the movie; show up with coffee; carry an extra umbrella for a stranger on a rainy day; compliment a stranger.

Find One Thing That’s Good

The kids and I found ourselves caught in a torrential downpour a half-mile from the house this summer. Sitting in the double stroller with the puppy, a downpour began, and it literally could not have rained harder.  I took to running as fast as possible while water pounded us in white sheets that tore in from the north.  Caleb screamed in terror, and Bekah yelled something I couldn’t quite understand in the pounding rain.  When we finally found shelter in the garage, I realized Bekah was cheering in sheer joy.  “That was awesome!” she yelled.  “I’ll never forget it in my whole life!”

Some situations are far more dire than getting caught in a summer rain shower, but Bekah’s attitude was an important reminder to me that day: In every hard situation, there’s something that’s good. It’s exactly what the bystanders interviewed on the news are doing when they comment on the kindness of strangers amidst crisis moments.

Find a Place to Plug in

A sense of isolation makes a dark season seem even darker. It’s often most difficult to reach out to others when we’re going through hard times, but this is exactly when we most need the support of caring community.  When it’s hard to give thanks for anything at all, it’s probably time to pick up the phone and text a friend, get in the car and drive to visit a relative, or jump online and look for a group that might offer support within the community.

Bring Your Burdens to the One Who Can Handle Them

Because I know that God is already aware of my burdens, I sometimes neglect praying about my needs, my pain, and my desires. God calls us to ask, seek, and knock.  He wants us to bring our burdens to him and unload.  He can handle the heaviest burden.

Not long ago, we were in a sort of a financial season of fasting in an attempt to stay within our budget. If it wasn’t an absolute necessity, we weren’t buying it.  Sadly, this financial fast fell at around the time when everyone else in the neighborhood was decorating their doorsteps with colorful mums and plump pumpkins.  Deeming these decorations luxuries, I committed to abstain from spending even a few dollars.

It was after Bekah begged me to find some pumpkins for the front stoop that I decided I should simply bring this desire before the Lord in prayer. Praying for pumpkins felt too small when families across the world have gone days without food, but I prayed for free pumpkins anyway.

Not an hour later, my mom called to tell me that they had grown pumpkins in the garden and had pumpkins waiting for us at the house. An hour later.  I’d been wishing for a pumpkin for weeks.  There just aren’t coincidences.

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If you’re reading today with a heavy heart, my prayer is that you’ll lift your face to the One who made you and find hope for the journey. He promises to go with us, even in the darkest valleys – even when we have no sense of his presence.  When I can find little else for which to give thanks, I give thanks for this: for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Special thanks to the following link-ups this week:

Counting My Blessings

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Faith on Fire

Susan B. Mead

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When Life Takes a Detour

 

Bekah was born on a clear November evening. As mothers do, I remember that day when we turn the calendar to the month of her birth.  I remember the way the oak trees along wolf creek beamed with tawny leaves, glowing radiant orange beneath the setting sun the night before she came to us.  I remember the contrast of kelly green fields of clover against the leaf-strewn wood line, and I remember thinking she’d never arrive.

Preparing to welcome our firstborn to the world felt mostly like one giant detour in the plans we had made. I planned to continue teaching right up to my due date.  We planned to vacation in the summer.  I planned to continue leading Bible studies, ministering to teens, and dedicating entire weeks of my life to youth retreats and mission trips throughout the pregnancy.  I was sure I’d be able to keep running until at least the seven-month mark.

None of that happened.

It was a detour that hurt. I felt like my entire life had been taken away.  I was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum – severe pregnancy sickness – and forced to an immobile position on the couch or in bed throughout much of the pregnancy.  So much for running, mentoring, and teaching.  It all had to stop.

It was a crushing detour. So many of the things that were closest to my heart were taken away, and I was forced to simply rest – alone with my thoughts and my nausea.

What do we do when life takes a detour? What happens when all of our best-made plans are suddenly stripped away?

Looking back, I’ve realized that often, what I thought was a detour was actually the destination God had ordained for my good.

I can truthfully say that the months of hyperemesis were a destination of sorts. Throughout those months, I learned that my worth is not at all related to what I can produce or whose life I can make an impact upon.  I learned that God loves me relentlessly even when I’m too sick to engage in any sort of spiritual discipline.  I learned that it’s ok to need other people.  I learned that if all I had left in this life were Jesus, he would be enough.  It wouldn’t be easy.  But I’d make it.

Toward the end of the pregnancy I made a list of 102 things I learned through the sickness. I’m not sure where I put that list.  I’m pretty sure I made it with the hope that God would see all I’d gleaned from the experience and spare me throughout the course of future pregnancies. (I was sick the second time too, so apparently the list didn’t accomplish the entire purpose I had hoped for it, but that’s ok.)

The experience reminds me that life often seems to move in the opposite direction of what I had planned or hoped. Sickness comes – sickness more serious than hyperemesis.  Dreams are crushed.  Plans are shattered.  But God is still good.

And sometimes the detour is actually the destination. Sometimes we fully believe God called us to climb to the top of the mountain, and we do everything we can to get to the summit.  When an unforeseen valley springs up between the foothills and the summit, it’s easy to wonder where God’s at in the valley.  And when the valley winds through the mountains and eventually leads to an entirely different mountaintop, it’s easy to wonder what God’s purpose is.  It’s easy to wonder if we heard God wrong.

But often, we heard God correctly from the beginning. He simply wanted to show us the first mountain to get us moving in the right direction, and he knew all along that he would lead us to the valley that redirected the journey.  God does this.  And we can rest in knowing that when we seek him with our whole hearts, we will find him (Jeremiah 29:13).  He will lead us on the journey.

Watching Bekah barrel through a leaf pile in the yard, seven years feels more like a week.  And I’d take that detour all over again for this one mountaintop moment with her.

purposefulfaith.com

Sarah Frazer

This post is shared on two blog link ups. Thank you Kelly and Sarah!

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Why Life’s Pressure Points Are Some of the Greatest Gifts

 

There’s a giant sycamore tree by the creek. My hands are feet from touching when I try to reach around its pale bark in some sort of earthen embrace.  What captivates me most about this tree isn’t its size; I’m most captivated by the angle at which the giant grows.  It leans at close to a 45-degree slant, deeply rooted in the earth and dropping yellow leaves far into the creek.

The tree is along the path we take when we hike behind the house, and it’s a reminder of several spiritual truths in my life:

Be Careful about Judging What You Don’t Understand

The creek is lined with dozens of straight-standing sycamores. They are gallant and honorable.  Their bark shines silver in the autumn sunshine, and they bear the glory of their Maker.  Interestingly, not one of these trees is as large as the slanting sycamore.

One by one, we’ve watched as the tall, straight trees topple to the ground in violent wind storms and crash, uprooted, in microbursts that rip through the valley. Somehow, the slanting giant remains firmly rooted, bearing fruit in season, year after year.

I’d be quick to label this tree less worthy than its straight counterparts. But time has proven that this tree is deeply rooted.  This reminds me to be careful not to judge what I might not fully understand.  What’s visible on the outside doesn’t often tell the whole story.

In the same way, man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We’re wise to remember these words.

Everyone’s Journey to God is Different

Something about trees reaching toward the sky reminds me of seeking the Lord. This tree reminds me that we’re all on a journey toward knowing God more, and no one fully arrives until we see him face to face.  While there are pivotal moments along the way – black and white moments of decision – no two paths look exactly the same.

The friend who has very little conception of God is at a different place along the journey. We’re called to walk with one another, encouraging one another to draw closer.  And just as no two trees in the forest are exactly the same, no two paths are ever identical.

Adversity Produces Strength

I’m not sure what caused the giant sycamore to lean as it does, but it’s safe to say that this tree faced adversity that caused it to grow sideways. It’s often the most difficult trials of life that strengthen our character most.  Hard times hold the potential to shape us into the image of our Creator.

The financial struggles, the seasons of illness, the lost jobs, and the shattered dreams hurt. They also strengthen us and conform us to the image of the One who endured hardship for us.

The Call to be Set Apart is a Gift

We’ve often walked the trail past the sycamore and noticed other hikers standing in its shade, marveling at its slant, and sitting at its base. This tree stands out among the other trees of the forest.  It is set apart.

Sometimes the call to be set apart in our lives feels too difficult. Saying no to things others deem acceptable and standing firm in a shifting culture isn’t easy.  But the call to be set apart isn’t meant to be a burden.  It’s meant to be a gift.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes: “I learned early on that to be ‘set apart’ is not a punishment; it is not an attempt on God’s part to deprive us or to condemn us to a cheerless, joyless lifestyle.  It is a priceless privilege – it is a call to belong, to be cherished, to enter into an intimate love relationship with God Himself, much as a groom declares his intent to set his bride apart from all other women to be his beloved wife; to fit into the grand, eternal plan of our redeeming God for this universe; to experience the exquisite joys and purposes for which we were created; to be freed from all that destroys our true happiness.”

And so, as the tree slants hard, I remind myself that the pressure points of life are often the greatest gifts of all.

Reference:   Holiness, The Heart God Purifies, Moody Publishers, p. 33-34.

 

 

Thanks to Arabah Joy, Kelly Balarie, and Missional Woman for sharing this post!

https://arabahjoy.com/category/grace-truth-linky/

http://missionalwoman.com/

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How to Start Seeing What’s Right Instead of Seeing Only What’s Wrong

 

October has come with its warm, mild afternoons. It has come with clear skies and seventy-degree days – with rolling fields of gold and beige and tawny wood lines and promises about what’s to come.

I used to dislike October because it felt like the slow death of summer, and summer was the season I loved most. In October we said goodbye to any possibility of dipping our feet in creek water.  In October we stowed away all but our favorite pair of shorts and pulled out boxes of sweaters and scarves.  In October we snuggled under fleece blankets on cool, rainy days that foreshadowed the winter months to come.

Sitting in the sun on a cloudless October afternoon, I’m reminded that every day of my life, I face two choices: Look for what’s right, or look for what’s lacking. I can complain, on this sunny October afternoon, that it’s not warm enough for swimming in creeks, or I can give thanks for the beauty of leaves changing color and geese overhead.  I can focus on the long months of winter that will soon come and keep me from sitting on the deck in the sunshine, or I can embrace the ebb and flow of seasonal changes.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul writes, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things” (Philippians 4:8).

It’s noteworthy that this admonition is spoken on the heels of Paul’s encouragement for the people of God to live in harmony. It seems two women among the Philippian church were at odds, and it was stirring enough controversy that Paul saw fit to address these women from afar in his letter.  I’m reminded that dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, and good can be applied to October afternoons as well as to the way we think about the people in our lives.

Surely this applies across the board of my life. Surely focusing on what is right, instead of dwelling on what is wrong, will have a positive impact on my parenting, my career, my marriage, my friendships, my current living situation, my financial state, my health, and more.

When I focus on what is right in my life as a mom, I’m immensely thankful for the opportunity to invest in two little lives and pour into them on a daily basis. Amidst the yelling, hitting, and occasional biting, reminding myself of what is right helps my perspective when it seems everything about this is difficult.

When I focus on what is right in my career, I give thanks for the moments that assure me that my words really do make a difference in the lives of others. I give thanks for the way this season fulfills a greater calling on my life, and I’m grateful for the lessons I am learning through the difficult parts.

When I focus on what is right in my friendships, I’m grateful for women who have walked alongside me through the valleys and cheered me along over mountaintops. Looking at the good in relationships reminds me to extend grace, hold shortcomings loosely, and believe the best about my friends when conflict arises.

Finally, sitting beneath the sun as bulldozers unearth pipeline across the road, I consider the struggle we’ve had with our current home and the longing to move to a cabin somewhere in the woods. It seems our neighborhood is constantly changing, and one construction project after another leaves our backyard anything but quiet.  It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong with our situation and squirm to change it.

A hawk screeches high above the poplar tree by the deck, and I resolve to fix my eyes on what is right about this moment. Suddenly, the roaring engines of the excavators across the road feel far less obtrusive, and I couldn’t be more thankful for waving fields of goldenrod and hawks circling above.

 

 

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Six Promises for When You Feel Abandoned by God

 

Caleb stirs from his nap with red eyes and a cowlick that stands straight up in salute to the sun or praise to God – I’m not sure which. I always wondered why mothers of boys let their little ones run wild in public with hair sticking out in every direction.  Now I understand.  Little boy hair does whatever it wishes, and no amount of water, saliva, mousse, or hairspray can tell it otherwise.

We descend to the living room, and the slow and painful process of his awakening takes place as I hold him on my lap. We read books and watch blue jays on the lawn.  We’re half way through Corduroy’s saga of the lost button when Darrell’s white truck pulls into the driveway, and Caleb’s off my lap in seconds, pounding on the window to welcome his father onto the property after a long day.

After the welcome hugs and cheers, I kiss the guys goodbye and slip into my walking shoes for a little bit of time out of the house. Like clockwork, Caleb erupts into primal screams.  “No!  Don’t leave me, Mama,” he yells.  “Don’t leave me!”

“I’ll be back in a half-hour,” I assure him, but he’ll have none of it.

I come back from every walk, and yet he fears this might be the one time when I don’t return. I kiss him on the head again and leave, despite the crying.  It’s best to just get on with it.

Walking down the road, I’m struck by the parallels between my son’s thoughts and my own thoughts. I recall a dozen times when it felt like the Lord had completely forsaken me: that race I lost, that bad breakup, Bekah’s medical condition, forty weeks of sickness – twice, the day the car broke down at the bridal shop with my baby girl screaming in the backseat, and more.

Things don’t go my way, and I’m prone to find myself wavering. I’m prone to wonder.  Prone to leave the God I love.  But his promise is this: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).  Why do I, like little Caleb, doubt that he means what he says?

I think long on this as I walk, and I list the promises for the hard times:

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28).

Nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39).

He will go with me through the high waters and the fires (Isaiah 43:2).

He won’t withhold what is good from me (Psalm 84:11).

He is close to those who are brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

He will use these fiery trials for his glory (1 Peter 1:6-7).

I’m suddenly struck by the reality that I often live like I don’t believe these promises. I live like they count for the struggles and trials of others but not for my own.  What if I actually lived like I fully believed every word that proceeds from his mouth?

I would have less fear and a greater capacity to love. I would give freely and store up fewer treasures on earth.  I would encounter an abundant kind of life that I’ve been craving all along.

Returning home, Caleb has forgotten about the meltdown that took place when I walked out the door. He’s chasing his dad and his sister around the yard with delighted squeals.  I kiss him on the head and go inside to finish cooking dinner.  The comfort of resting in these promises feels like an invitation to sheer joy.

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This post was shared as a part of a link-up at Fresh Market Friday.

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The Power of Margin Time

 

I asked Caleb what he wanted to do for his birthday, and he wanted hotdogs and marshmallows for breakfast and a trip to the sandy beach. He settled for powdered doughnuts for breakfast, but I came through on the trip to the sandy beach.

The sandy beach is the name the kids have affectionately labeled a stretch of sandy shoreline along the creek behind our house. In winter we build fires at the sandy beach, and the smoke wafts up through a thick canopy of hemlock trees.  In summer we swim in the waist-deep water with the rock wall on the far side of the swimming hole.

We’ve been known to catch bluegills and crayfish in the shallow part of the pool, and surrounded by wilderness, the sandy beach feels like an escape to a different world.

The day of celebration dawns clear and cool.  I leave the calendar wide open and free of plans, and so our walk to the sandy beach is slow and filled with frequent stops. We stop to rescue a caterpillar from the middle of the dangerous road.  We pick goldenrod and ironweed and joe-pye weed for a late summer bouquet.  I gather a handful of green acorns for him to throw off the bridge when we reach the creek.

When we finally make it to the bottom of the hill and past the red barn, we notice that we’re not alone at the creek. Our neighbors made the half-mile trek to the creek as well.  The boys’ grandpa doesn’t get around as well as he used to, and so he drove the scooter down the road with his grandsons close at hand.

The boys are quick to tell us that they didn’t catch any fish today. Even worse, the fishing pole broke, and an essential part of the reel is submerged in the clear water just below the bridge.  We gaze down from above, and the lost part sparkles from the depths of the clear water.

“Go get it, Mama!” Caleb commands, and I know he’s onto something.

It wasn’t safe for the boys to head into the water on their own, but this is a task we can handle. Grandpa laughs and tells me it’s not necessary, but the pleading gaze of the little boy who is like a second son to our family captures my heart.  I don’t need to think twice.

And this is how I find myself wading across Wolf Creek on a sixty-degree morning in search of a piece of fishing reel.

The boys take off their shoes and stand in the mud along the creek, and I manage to wade into the thigh-deep water, reach to the bottom, and secure the treasure.  There are cheers and hugs.

An hour later, sitting along the bank of the sandy beach with Caleb, I consider all the times I’ve missed opportunities to bless others because I’m in too big of a hurry. My to-do list daily threatens to rule my life and dominate my decisions, but this is never God’s best.

God’s best is a life without hurry – a life that leaves margin time between activities: time to pick goldenrod, save caterpillars, and show kindness to neighbors. Surely, there are seasons when margins are narrower, but when there’s a choice – and there’s often a choice – wide margins hold the power to bless.  When there’s a choice, I decide to choose the wide margins and live with eyes wide open for what God is doing in my midst.

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How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

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For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

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How to be Happy with What We Have

Today I’m welcoming a writing friend as a guest blogger. While welcoming guest bloggers to my site isn’t something I’m regularly pursuing, Daisy and I met long before I ever imagined I’d have a blog, and her words have been an encouragement to me.  We met through Grove City Alliance Church, and Daisy passed her role as the Prayer Shield Coordinator onto me a few years ago.

We reconnected this spring, and it’s an honor to share her words with you today. Daisy is the published author of Homespun Faith, a compilation of devotionals.  She writes on her own blog at homespunfaith.com.

How to be Happy with What We Have

By Daisy Townsend

Recently I became obsessed with finding a rug just the right size for a floor area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. The size rug we needed wasn’t easy to find, not being a standard size. I measured several times and pictured what the different-sized rugs would look like in our bedroom. I hunted at Ollie’s and online.

One day I noticed the carpet remnant on the family room floor left over from when we’d had our upstairs carpeted four years ago. The longer I looked the more sure I became that this carpet remnant was exactly the right size for the area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. (A standard size rug would easily replace the remnant in our family room.)

When Donn and I carried the remnant to our bedroom, we found it was a perfect fit! I kept thinking of the irony of how hard we’d tried to find the perfect rug when we already had exactly what we needed. I wondered how often in life we do the same thing─go out searching for what we think we need when we already have it.

One woman I knew had been married many years to a good man but decided she wasn’t happy. Eventually she left her husband and found the man she thought she wanted. Things didn’t turn out well. I asked her gently, “Do you have regrets?” Sobs shook her whole body as she nodded. “So many regrets.”

I read of a similar case of a woman who spent many years complaining to her calm, easy-going accountant husband and her friends about the unexciting life they led. When Tim died of a heart attack in his forties, Diane found the man of her dreams. He was debonair and charming, an exciting date. However, after they married, she discovered he wanted to party every night and cared little about managing finances. Later, Diane told a friend, “I wish I had married someone who was content to stay home and good at managing money.” Her friend looked at her and said, “Someone like Tim?” God had given her exactly what she needed, but she’d been too blind to appreciate him.

This reminds me of two of my favorite children’s books: Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest. The moral of each story is the same. In Old Hat, New Hat the bear sets out to buy a new hat. He tries on or looks at 31 different hats, but finds something wrong with each one. (Do you remember? “Too big. Too small. Too flat. Too tall. etc.”) In the end, he puts on his old hat, looks in the mirror and says, “Just right! Just right. Just right. Just right.” He leaves the store wearing his old hat with a smile on his face.

 

In The Best Nest, Mr. Bird loves their nest and sings often, “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!” Mrs. Bird has a different opinion but in the end, after looking at many other nests, Mrs. Bird also realizes that the nest they have is, after all, the best nest.

Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest have happy endings because the “people” come to appreciate what they already had. However, in the real world, as in the other two stories I shared, the endings aren’t always happy. We may leave a marriage, a job, a house, or any number of places or situations, and later, when we realize the value of what we had, we discover it’s too late.

Charles Stanley recently said many people love to quote Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart), but fail to understand that the promise has a condition we must fulfill. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy me early with your love that I may delight in you all the day.” As the Lord becomes our delight, He aligns our desires with His.

If we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with our marriage, our job, our church, our home, perhaps the first step shouldn’t be to look for a new man/woman, job, church, home. Perhaps the first step should be to ask God to satisfy us with His love so that we can delight in Him and trust Him to give us the desires of our hearts. In many cases, we may discover that He already has.

Father, forgive us for trying so hard to find what we want that we’re blinded to the fact you’ve often already given us what we need. Amen.

 

–Daisy Townsend

 

 

 

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God’s Desire for Communion

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” – Francis Chan

The curtains wave in the breeze, and a dozen songbirds chatter on the lawn. I sit with iced tea and a craving for something I can’t quite name.  It’s quiet time at our house – a designated hour of rest and silence.  Caleb sleeps.  Bekah plays quietly in her room, and I gaze into a long list of goals to achieve by the end of the week.

Francis Chan speaks through the computer screen. There’s a tent on the stage where he stands before a crowd – a red and white camping tent: a modern-day illustration of the place Moses once went to meet face-to-face with the Creator of the world.  Francis speaks of the awe with which God’s people once approached him – how God spoke through thunder, lightning, and fire.  He speaks of reverence and glory.

He says: “And what’s crazy to me is nowadays how we treat this time with God as ordinary or even burdensome – to where we try to squeeze in like five minutes at the end of our day, like I gotta try to get some time with him . . . I feel guilty ‘cause I only got like two or three minutes . . . And now it’s like a burden, and we have pastors that beg us . . . just give him a few minutes –  just try, please, please.”

I think of our morning: me with coffee, racing through the daily Scripture reading, while Caleb murmured on the monitor. Just trying to get it done.  I think of last evening: a chapter before bed, but my eyes glazing over and sleep settling in before I absorbed a single word.  I think of all the times it feels more like one more chore on a long list than the greatest honor a human could ever receive: The Creator of the universe wants to meet with me.

And here I am giving him six minutes and checking it off the list. Six distracted minutes.  Six minutes that were more about finding direction for my day and getting my needs met than actually connecting with his heart.

What if every time I opened my Bible, I actually expected God to speak to me? Doesn’t he?  Isn’t there a promise that every verse is God-breathed?  Isn’t there a promise that no word from this book will ever return empty?

I put down the list of tasks and silence the sermon from Francis. I open the Bible and expect God to speak.  I read:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him. . .  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. (Psalm 56:6-7)

If I bind myself to the Lord, he will bring me joy. If I keep seeking, pursuing, and attending to him, he will bring me to his holy mountain.  If I draw near to him, he will draw near to me.

I sit with the Book and the curtain and the songbirds. I don’t cross even one task off the to-do list.  And somehow, when the quiet hour ends, it feels like I’ve accomplished the very best thing.

~~~

 

For practical suggestions on growing in relationship with the Lord, enter your email to receive the free print out in your inbox: 10 Ways to Go Deeper with God.

 

Francis Chan, “Entering the Presence of God,” April 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdtNkjR-wFs

 

 

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