The Gift of Encouragement

I have written before about how important music is to me. Worship music is at the top of that list. I love shutting out the entire world and spending time worshipping God through music. It is a time I cherish – especially in the midst of the challenging time my family is walking through right now. There is nothing else but me and God during those times, and I feel so close to God as I sing to him.

This morning was no different. I walked through the doors feeling anxious and distracted. I was carrying a heavy weight that only God understands. My prayer as I entered the sanctuary was to leave all of the burden outside and to spend an hour close to God.

Service started and I was instantly lighter. The words of the songs it seemed had been chosen just for me. Music is truly a part of who I am. From my earliest days music was a family thing, and as our family faces our challenges, it has become more and more precious. I was lost in singing praise to the God who is in control. My comforter. My ever-present father. My peace-giver.

The message brought today was an amazing reminder of the resurrection and what that means to those of us who have accepted Jesus as our savior. He has conquered death. He rose from the dead, and so will we some day…because of him. Today was also baptism Sunday. A celebration and public declaration of those who have made the choice to follow Jesus. As the baptisms continued and songs of praise were lifted up, I was completely overcome with emotion. Emotion of the enormity of the sacrifice that Jesus made for ME! I let the music heal me in that moment.

At the end of service, I felt at peace. I was leaving with a renewed spirit and was no longer carrying such a heavy burden. I stood to leave, and the couple in front of me turned around and stopped me. The man said “Thank you for blessing us with your beautiful voice this morning. Sitting here in front of you was a blessing to us this morning.” I was stunned. I did not know this couple. They did not know me, nor could they have known the burden and the weight that I came in with today. But they took the time to share the gift of encouragement with me. I don’t think they have any idea what their words meant to me today.

I don’t share this encounter to bring myself any recognition or to toot my own horn. I share it to remind each of us that our words are powerful. Taking a small moment to encourage someone can completely change their day. How many times have I thought something positive or encouraging about someone, but didn’t take the time or the chance to share it? Following the prompting of the spirit and speaking life into someone else is truly a gift.

I’m so thankful for this couple who were led to share their words of encouragement with me. Had they not, I would have walked out of that service not ever knowing that I was a blessing to someone else today. I feel like I have been walking in a fog through the last several months of life. I have not only not felt like a blessing, but have barely felt like I was surviving each day.

I hope that my point is not lost in all of this. What I’m really trying to say is this…listen for those gentle promptings. And act on them. Share the gift of encouragement with someone in your world today. You may never truly understand the impact that it could have on someone.

Change of Season

Today brought us the surprise of our first snowfall of the season. I love the feeling of childlike excitement that snow brings. I am a summer lover. I enjoy hot, lazy days by the pool. I love the blue skies and sunny days. But when winter rolls around, I find that I also love the chill in the air, cold mornings by the fire, and light snowflakes that float in the air.

I don’t think that I can pick a favorite season. There is so much newness and promise on the first warm(ish) day of spring. Watching flowers bloom and planting seeds in the ground with the hope and promise of harvest is a hard feeling to beat. And then there are the days where summer slowly gives way to cool nights, crunchy leaves and the first frost. No, I don’t have a favorite season. What I love most about each and all of them is the change. The surrender of one to the next. It’s a given every year, yet each time the seasons change, I feel excited. Almost relieved for the change.

My family and I are walking through an incredibly difficult season right now. We are weary. We are sad. Our hearts are heavy. The road ahead is not one that we want to travel, and the journey seems endless. But here’s the thing….it’s just a season, and seasons bring the promise of change. We will walk through each day of this season with the promise of renewal and growth and change. But we will also cherish each day of the season we are in – even though somedays we don’t know how. I pray that we are able to find the beauty in these days, even as our hearts are breaking. Because there truly is beauty in every season.

While may some may only see today’s unexpected snowfall as a nuisance, I am so thankful for it. Today’s winter surprise was such a gift to me. The season we are in is hard…but there is still beauty in it. I just need to really look for it and appreciate it. I need to stop wishing and begging for change, but rather accept the place that God has for me right now and take it in, knowing that change will come and there will be beauty in that next season too.

Even when I don’t see it

During worship at church this morning I was moved to tears. Not just a pretty little tear traveling down my cheek. I mean tears upon tears. I’m talking make up streaking, snot slinging, ugly crying. I was so overcome with the presence of God in that time and place. Worship is how I most often hear from God – when I am open and listening for him. Worship for me is not just about singing a few songs. For me it is a time to lay my burdens down, open up my heart, praise my God, and listen for what he has for me.

Right now life is really heavy. I am bone tired and soul weary. I have been mad at God. I have argued and yelled at him as I asked him “WHY?!” (as if He owes me any answers). I have then changed to crying out to him and begging him to “fix” it. I have pleaded for a miracle from him. I have tried to turn it all over to him…casting all my cares…but in all reality I was not truly turning them over. I was sharing them with him and then trying to tell him what outcome I would like.

Today God used a song that I have sung a million times to still my spirit and to remind me of his love for me. The song was “Way Maker” by Leeland. During the pandemic, when this song came out I listened to it on repeat. I loved the timing of it as it helped me navigate the fears that came along with the lockdown. I wore that song out! It really spoke to me then. I honestly had not heard the song in a while until today, and I guess God just knew I needed to hear from him!

Even when I don’t see it, you’re working
Even when I don’t feel it, you’re working.
You never stop, you never stop working.
You never stop, you never stop working.

Way maker by Leeland

Regardless of how I feel about all of the troubles around me, God is at work. When I feel that he just isn’t hearing my cries for a miracle, he does, and he is at work. When I can’t feel his presence, he’s still there. He is working it all out. God is in control and he never stops. He knows. He sees. He has the answers.

I think the entire song shares a powerful message about all that God does for us day in and day out. But today, I think God really wanted me to open up, listen, and believe that he has not gone anywhere. Rather he’s been waiting for me to fully trust and listen to his voice. Even though I may not see what he is doing and how he is working, he is still at work. God will never stop working – and for that I am grateful beyond measure. I know that God’s answers may not be the ones that I am desperate for, but I also know that he is in control and no matter what, he is at work. That is who he is.

I’m so thankful that when I get mad at God, or doubt his presence in my life, he still loves me and is at work in my life. And he will never stop. He never stops.

Then God Said…

Every summer I take more time to dig into the word and to study and pray. Yes…this should be my routine year round, and I am really going to work on that when school starts back up, but I am a work in progress. I really cherish this quiet time in the morning, when I am not on a schedule and can spend this time reading and listening to what God has for me.

One morning this week, I went back to the Old Testament and re-read the creation story in Genesis. This is probably one of the first Bible stories I ever learned as a child and I have heard it, read it, and even studied it many, many times over the years. But this time, as I studied it, something brand new jumped out to me. I love that so much about God’s word. I feel like he allows me to see new things each time I dive in…according to what I truly need or what I am seeking.

As I read through the story of the creation, one phrase jumped out to me. “Then God said…” This phrase was used ten times when describing the creation. Then God said.

I have been battling really bad anxiety lately. Battling – but losing the battle. My thoughts and worries always jump to the worst case scenario – I catastrophize. I’m anxious over things that I normally have under control. I am not at peace. So when this phrase “then God said” jumped out to me it stopped my thoughts and worries in their tracks.

God is at work. God knows. He has not left me. He knows what is on my heart and on my mind. And God is at work on all of it. Soon, God will have his say in all of the things that are troubling me. Soon, my “then God said” moment will be here and he will show me the way through all of it. And that’s what I am holding onto to steady me through the storms.

Trying to process

I finally had to turn the news off this evening. My heart could not listen to one more minute of the school shooting. My head could not comprehend what I was seeing and hearing. And then I think of all of those moms and dads who have lost their world today – and they can’t shut it off. My tears blur my eyes even now as I type these words. As I try to process this horrific tragedy.

I think of the families who have lost small children, but I also think of the entire school community, and the town. I think of my own children and the world that they live in – so confusing and sad. And I think of my students. My classroom family. Those 50 children with whom I have shared the last nine months of my life with.

I picture their faces and try to begin to fathom what those teachers are feeling right now – the ones who made it out alive. How are they even beginning to process any of this? How will all of these classmates who lived through today’s hell ever, ever be able to walk into a school again?!

This time of year is always hard on me. One the one hand, I am very excited for a little break and some relaxing. I already have my summer “to be read” stack of books piled up. But one the other hand, I have a very hard time saying goodbye to my students. We have spent so much time together since last August. We have laughed and cried. We have learned so much about each other and about ourselves – together. There have been days when I just didn’t think I could make it – it has been a very challenging school year – but I did make it. I am not ready to let them go just yet. People don’t realize how much our classroom, our students, become like a family each year. And each year, we have to say goodbye. Goodbyes are hard.

And yet, next year they will poke their heads in my classroom and say hello and run and hug me when they see me in the hall. Those poor eighteen students who senselessly lost their lives today will never have that chance. Those teachers who were excitedly counting down to summer break with their students will not be going home tonight.

I just can’t understand why these innocent lives were lost. I just can’t bear this pain. I feel so helpless. All I know to do is to pray for peace and healing for these families and for this entire community. I pray that God will provide them with the will and the strength to go on. I pray for our country and our world.

I have two days left with this year’s class. You’d better believe that I am going to hug them tightly. I’m going to make sure that they know that they are loved and that it has been my honor to have shared these last nine months with them. And then I’m going to cry some more.

The Time is Now

The meal is planned. Groceries bought. Tables set. Forks counted (I always worry I don’t have enough silverware!) The baskets are filled and I am ready.

Easter Dinner has always been the holiday that I host in my family. I love everything about it. I love the newness that spring brings to the world. I love that we get to slow down and reflect what the holiday is truly about and how blessed we are that the grave was empty.

Since Chris and I married and brought our two families together Easter is even more special in that we host for my family AND his family. Both families come together and we are all in one place breaking bread together. The older I get, the more I appreciate time together with all of us.

I was thinking that life is so busy and that there is just not ever enough time…but that’s really not it at all. If I’m really honest, I just don’t let myself slow down enough and MAKE time for these special moments with family. And I should. Not because it’s the “right” thing to do but truly because when I am with my family I am truly happy and at peace.

My son and bonus daughter live a couple of hours away, but that is not an excuse for not jumping on the highway and making time to see them. My parents live only about 30 minutes away (and even closer to where I work) but I only stop and see them about once a month (maybe). Why do I wait for a holiday to make sure that we spend precious time together? I don’t want to look back in a few years and wish that I had more time with the people I love.

The time is now. Time to make that call. Time to clear the schedule and jump in the car. I am going to talk to my family – real conversations – and soak up every minute I can with each of them. These are not just words…I will not let them just be words today because I’m feeling nostalgic of holidays past. No! I am going to put action to these words. I’m just sorry I have not made time sooner for those whom I love.

In this season of rebirth and newness, I am going to renew my relationships with all of my family and make sure that the time doesn’t slip away from all of us. Who do you need to make more time for in your life? Cause here’s the thing…we are not promised tomorrow – make sure you spend your time wisely today!

His eyes are on me

I have always been a note-taker at church during the sermon. Partly because taking notes helps me stay focused and engaged in the message. I have listened to countless sermons through the years and have notes in journals, loose slips of paper stuffed in the back of my Bible, and many written right in the margins of the Word. As I have gotten older, I have learned to love going back through my notes and really spending time thinking about the points that were made in those numerous sermons. Sometimes its all just too much to take in in the moment, so I find that I can go back and read my scribbles and really get a lot more out of sermons.

Currently, we are studying the book of Jonah at church. If you were raised in the church, you have most likely heard the story of the man who ran from God’s directions and ended up in the belly of a whale for three days. As I type these words, I can hear my mother’s voice singing the children’s song that I loved so much and that always evoked giggles while singing it. “Who did, who did, who did, who did, who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah…” As children it was a “simple” albeit amazing story that Jonah was punished for his disobedience by being swallowed up by a whale and sitting in his belly for three days (now that is a serious time-out!)

Even as a grew older, I thought of Jonah’s time spent in the belly of a fish was punishment. But this past week, Pastor Shawn Spradling taught this story in a way that makes so much sense to me about who God really is and how he shows his love for people – in just the way he knows we need it.

“God sent the fish to SAVE Jonah, not to punish him!”

Jonah was definitely running from God and knew that he was being disobedient to God’s instructions for Him. Jonah recognized that his defiance was causing harm to the men on the ship that he had boarded. He knew in his heart that HE was the problem. He through himself into the water. God sent the whale to swallow him up – but God had a reason that was not a punishment for Jonah. For three days Jonah sat in the whale’s belly. Three days. In that time, he came to realize his deep need for God in his life. He prayed to God . He reached out to him in his dire situation. And God was there all along. What I had so long thought was a punishment was really God saving Jonah! And here is the quote from this sermon that has been on repeat in my mind and heart since I heard it…

“My circumstance isn’t God’s payback, it’s God’s bring back!”

God used the whale not as payback for Jonah’s disobedience but to bring him back to Him! And God is still the same God! He doesn’t do paybacks. No matter how many times I fail, try to run, doubt, or downright disobey him. He only ever works to bring me back to him. When I am so full of anger watching a loved one battle an awful disease, God does not turn his back on me. When I doubt that God gave me any gift to use on this earth, he patiently waits. When I rely on myself to battle smothering anxiety rather than give it to him, God is still present. His eyes are always on me. God is using my circumstances to bring me back – closer to him. He is waiting for me to lean into him for strength and comfort and unconditional love. What a reassuring truth to know that God always has his eyes on me. Waiting. Watching. Open-armed and loving.

“I love learning with you”

I am a teacher. It is not what I do…it is who I am. I love the energy that the kids bring to the classroom everyday. I love reading stories with them and listening to their reactions to historical events and reading their creative writing.

But I am tired. I know that people are probably sick of hearing teachers complain about how hard the last few years have been. But y’all, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced. And I cannot not even begin to explain how or why. Unless you have personally walked through it, no amount of words could even begin to try and paint a picture of the enormous weight that teachers are carrying.

Today was a really rough day. There are kids who desperately need help that I alone can’t give. There are parents who have seemingly checked out and are not attentive to their child’s needs. Today I ran smack into so many walls while trying to do all that I can for my students. I am feeling defeated. I am frustrated and standing on the edge of hopelessness. I have cried nearly every day this year. Many nights I have tossed and turned worrying about other people’s children – my students. I am burned out and exhausted.

As I sat in my dark room today scarfing down my cold lunch, saying a prayer that I could be what my students needed for the rest of our day, I was completely overwhelmed with feelings of failure. And then I saw tiny note peeking out from some papers on the corner of my desk. The small piece of notebook paper had been cut into the shape of a heart and crisply folded in half. Inside it read:

Dear Mrs. Taylor,

I might not have any sweet treats, but I have something I want you to read. In the start, school was a big fart, until I switched for the first time. It’s like I just ate a lime. My eyes gazed around your room. It was beautiful, through and through. What I mean is from my heart…I love learning with you!

In that moment, sitting in my dark, quiet classroom, tears streamed down my cheeks. Somehow, this sweet quiet student knew exactly what I needed today. And all of the mess and chaos of the day was gone. With this thoughtful poem, a little 10 year old girl brought me back to center. She reminded me why I show up every day. She filled my heart with so much joy that I couldn’t remain in my overwhelmed state even if I had tried.

I am so blessed to get to do what I do every day. And it took the secretly left musings of a ten year old to remind me of all of those blessings.

It’s about trust

I am the worst passenger. I’m not sure why its called being a “back seat driver” because I’m rarely in the back seat when someone else is driving (especially Chris), but regardless of the title, I own the role. When I’m in the car and not in control, my anxiety takes over. I’m working on it. The other day we were driving down 75 into Cincinnati. As we approached downtown and the lanes to merge to either go downtown or continue south all came together, I was gripping the door handle with extra force. A semi merged in from the right and for an instant, I was certain I was about to meet my maker. Obviously, I’m still here, but I haven’t stopped thinking about how I felt in that moment. Even though I get nervous in that kind of traffic, there is still a whole lot of trust involved. Traveling at a high rate of speed in multiple lanes, we trust that all of the other drivers are going to do what they are supposed to do and keep everyone safe. And while that semi driver made my heart skip a few beats, I knew that I had to trust that he was going to stay in his lane and not come over into mine. I also knew in my heart that Chris was in control and would get us to our destination safely.

I think that this has stuck with me so vividly because its kind of where I am at with my faith right now. I know in my heart – and in my head – that God is in control and that he is guiding my steps. But at the same time, I often allow my anxiety about life to take over and I end up white-knuckled throughout each moment of my day. I am allowing all of the traffic and what-ifs of day to day life control me, rather than trusting in the fact that my God is the one who is truly in control.

And here’s the thing…IF I can ride down the highway and trust that Mr. Semi-driver is going to stay in his lane, why can’t I walk through my days trusting that God is going to provide? He is faithful to His promises and He will never leave me or forsake me. It’s time that I take my hands off of the death grip I’ve been keeping and open them up to all that God has promised me.

It’s my process

This weekend I had an encounter with someone who I don’t really know that really shook me up. It was not a “big” encounter, and I truly don’t know this person enough to even care about her – or her opinion about me, but I just can’t shake the way she left me feeling. I can’t shake the whole thing for many reasons.I am a thinker. I spend sleepless nights replaying words spoken to me, trying to understand why certain things affect me the way they do. I reflect a lot on the “whys” of my own emotions and dig down into past hurts that are quickly brought back to my mind by current situations. At times, this is a really good character trait to have. But at other times, it is near torture. It’s why I just can’t let some things go. It’s why I take so much to heart and am still crying over nasty words days after they have been spoken. When a “normal” person just brushes things off and tells me to just “get over it” or “let it go” I want to scream and attempt to explain my feelings, but find the explanation buried in a lifetime of past emotions.

As I wade through the emotions that feel way too deep for a simple snarky comment from a practical stranger, I wish that I could climb out of the muck and walk on. But I can’t. And here’s the thing…no one else gets to tell me how to feel about any situation. I own my feelings. I get to process them for as long as it takes me to understand them and work through them. I will not go into the details of this moment in time, because I have already replayed it too many times in my head and heart. But I will share the lesson that I am taking away from this ugly moment in my day. It’s okay for me to not be okay for a while if that’s where I’m at. I will move on eventually. I will not unpack my suitcase and stay here – but I will take the time I need to “get over it.” And I will pray. I will pray that God helps me use this hurt to process all of the unhealed layers that still remain. I will pray for a more forgiving spirit. I will pray for those who excused this woman’s behavior and chalked it up to “that’s just who she is.” I will pray for all of us – that we will learn to see each other the way God sees us. Beloved children.