Small group – Big love

I have always been a bit of a loner. Don’t get me wrong, I love people. I love relationships. I love friendships. But I have never been one to have a lot of close friends throughout life. There have been seasons when this has really troubled me. I would wonder if there was something wrong with me…and that’s why people didn’t really want to be my friend. I would question myself and think that maybe I was a burden to people – that I took more than I gave. The older I get as I look back, I have begun to realize that I have been the “problem” all along. I have been the reason that I have not let a lot of people in.

I have a lot of “stuff” that I have carried around with me for a very long time. I don’t share it with many people for fear that they will not like me, or I will scare them off. I think that I have been afraid that if people really knew the real me – deep down – the me with all the fears and worries. With all the needs and emotions. With all the sadness and mess, that they just wouldn’t feel like the return on the investment of a friendship with me would be enough. I guess I just thought that it was too much to let people see that I’m just a mess.

Here’s the thing though, I have found a group of like-minded, amazing people who haven’t run away just yet! What started as a group of strangers coming togethers as a Small Group from church, has turned into something so much more to me. We came together – most of us having never met – and began to share life. We shared our ups and downs. We shared our highs and lows. We prayed for great things and through losses. We have studied and laughed and cried. And now I call this group of people friends. We may not talk every day (or snapchat) but I know that we are in each other’s thoughts and prayers. I know that we are friends. I have opened myself up to them and I have shared my mess – and they stuck around!

I am so thankful for the model of community that God has provided for us in His word. I am beyond thankful for a community of believers who talk and listen and pray. I am so very grateful to have a circle of people who know me and love me still. I am so excited to continue on this journey with our small group and to continue to grow closer to them as we all grow closer to God.

Put on Love

Anybody else struggle each morning deciding what to wear? Standing in the closet and staring at the same clothes has become part of my morning ritual. Not sure if I think the choices will be different from one morning to the next….like some magical closet fairy will come in and replace my old boring choices with new, exciting ones overnight! Making a decision about what to put on in the morning is just one of thousands of choices we have to make in any given day. One of the most important ones, though, is the choice to love.

We have five children. Our oldest is engaged to be married in a few months – and while we still guide him and coach him through life, he is out living his life and making his own choices. Our oldest daughter will be 20 soon, and is pretty much in the same boat. She goes to school full time and works, and the way that we parent her has shifted to more of a guiding role. Our youngest three – all girls – are still very much in the need-to-be-parented stage. Two of the three are teenagers. And let me just say that they are very good at it. Some mornings, I get an eye roll before I have even spoken. We love all of our children unfailingly and unconditionally. But some days…well some days, they are hard to like. Some days their words can hurt. Some days their lack of words can hurt. These are the days that require us to put on love.

“Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity” Colossians 3: 14. Paul doesn’t simply tell us to love. He knows that sometimes loving others must be an active, conscious choice that we make. And sometimes, that choice is hard. Sometimes that choice feels impossible. This is why he instructs us to put love on. To make the decision to love another – even when the alternative choice might be easier. God has been working on my heart in a big way when it comes to this kind of love. Specifically when it comes to raising our teenage girls. Putting on love means that I don’t always have to “win” the argument. I don’t always have to have the last word in a situation. For me it means that I humble myself and put on love – even when I am hurt. God is showing me how to love them through all of the spats and hormones and moods – to make the choice to love even when it feels so hard.

Here’s the thing, I cannot love like this on my own. This ability to put on love, in spite of what I might be feeling in the moment, comes from above. Jesus was the perfect example of this kind of love. He is my pattern and He is my strength when I just can’t do it on my own. The choice is mine, but the love comes from Him.

“He’s the artist and the potter…”

Last night, I let myself get super aggravated and frustrated about a situation. Nothing wrong with that – we all have feelings and emotions. How I attempted to handle my hurt and anger, however, is the problem. I ranted and cried and allowed my emotions to be hijacked by this one thing! And then I came down to my office and vomited it all into a blog post. To be published this morning. On Christmas Eve. Although I knew all the negativity of the post was coming from this situation, I convinced myself that I needed to post it. I justified it because I have always claimed I want my blog to be authentic and not just a highlight reel of my life. That’s how I rationalized the ugly spewing of hurt into a Christmas Eve blog post.

This morning, I woke to the kindness of a hot cup of coffee waiting for me on my nightstand! I proceeded to come down to my office and opened up my morning devotional. Yep – a devotional about kindness and how we treat others. Okay God, I’m listening. Through my study time and subsequent prayer time, God performed a serious heart check on me. The line in my devotional that I’m certain I needed to hear today was “...take those thoughts captive. You can turn down the grumbles and turn up the grace. Speak these words aloud – even a whisper will do – while you hold that person in your heart. ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit'” Rather than moan and groan and grumble about the way in which I was hurt, I am to capture those thoughts and pray for the person who hurt me. Hold them in my heart even! And here’s the thing, there is not room in my heart for bitterness AND people for whom I am praying. Not to mention the fact that MY bitterness about the thing was not affecting this other person, it was only tainting me!

Thank you Jesus for opening my ears and my heart this morning and allowing me to hear from you. I am taking the negative thoughts captive, praying about the situation and saying a prayer of peace and grace for the other person. I am so thankful that God continues to work on me – every day. As the line from one of my favorite worship songs says…”He’s the artist and the potter, I’m the canvas and the clay.”

A new creation

One of my favorite things about Christmas break – having two weeks off of school, is the time to come down to my craft room and just spend time creating. This guilt free time spent doing what makes me happy is a rejuvenating force for my spirit.

This morning I grabbed some wood shims, a gift bag, some wax stain and some mod podge. I had a idea of what I was trying to do, but not being the most creative or artistic person, I wasn’t sure I could bring my idea to fruition. And while the end product is by no means perfect (but really, what is perfect anyway? perfect to whom?), it is mine, and I love it. And what I love the most about it is that it came from items that were nothing special. By themselves, they were just ordinary, every day items. But with a little spark of an idea, some time and some work, they came together as something new and beautiful.

Before

This really got me thinking about the work that God is doing in me. I don’t think I’m anything special. I’m pretty ordinary, without many gifts. BUT…God sees the end product. He is the artist and creator, and I am the raw materials. With some time and work (on my part), He can spark something completely new and beautiful in me. And while I may not be beautiful to others, I am in my creator’s eyes. He made me. He loves me. He sees so much in me that I can’t even see myself.

After

A Cheerful Heart

For the past few weeks I have been battling my fibromyalgia pain in a BIG way. Most of the time I can manage the pain and it stays around a 2-3 (1-10 scale). Lately, I have let anxiety and worry really take me over and I know that my rising pain levels are a direct result of that. For the past few days my pain has been a consistent 8 or 9. Those levels make it so very hard to function day to day with all that is on my daily to do list. I have let it get me down. I have cried a lot of tears and felt pretty hopeless. This has been the worse bout of my fibro pain since I was initially diagnosed. As the pain persists, my mental and emotional state has begun to deteriorate.

But there are positives to be found in all of it. First, I have a tribe of ladies who show up daily to encourage me and pray for me and keep me positive. That is truly amazing. I am so thankful for their sweet voices and thoughts. I feel them standing next to me in my fight. Secondly, I am praying a lot and feel myself drawing closer to God through my morning devotionals and quiet time. I am spending more time in the word, really studying and leaning into what God is saying to me.

This morning, I woke and my first feeling was pain. I had a hard time just getting out of bed and instantly my mood deflated. (Not the way I like to start my day). I stumbled out of bed and poured myself my morning coffee (my cup of ambition – typed in my best Dolly Parton voice) and headed to my office for my quiet time. My morning devotional could NOT have been more fitting! (Don’t you just love when God does small things like that – just when we need them!?). “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” That first line…gave me chills. God was saying the best way for me to feel better was to start with my heart. How? What does a cheerful heart look like? It’s a heart filled with gratitude and thankfulness. It’s a heart that counts blessings! My devotional went on to explain that a cheerful heart can improve one’s health – spiritually, emotionally, and even physically! (Just what I need!). And then this…the line that hit me hard…the words that I’m carrying with me all day…”Let these divine nutrients soak into the depths of your being. Let them strengthen and enhance your health.”  My heart condition (cheerfulness) will affect my health. Does this mean that I don’t need to take my medicine…..NO. It means I need to work on my perspective and focus on what is in my heart. My cheerful heart is medicine for ALL of my being.

Probably not anything earth shattering…not a giant revelation…but rather, the gentle nudge, the small a-ha moment that God knew I needed today. How’s your heart? Would you describe it as cheerful? Make it your goal today to fill your heart with gratitude and thankfulness, and let that be your medicine. Soak in all of that goodness. Have a blessed day. Much love!

He has shown us what is good!

He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?  ~Micah 6:8

Sitting here with the news on in the background and coming across this verse in my devotional this morning stopped me in my tracks. The weight of the news story of George Floyd has been at the forefront of my thoughts for the past 24 hours. I have cried so many tears over this whole situation. I have cried for a life lost in such a brutal, senseless, evil, public way. I have cried for Mr. Floyd’s family who has lost a brother and has to re-live it over and over each time that deplorable video is played. I have cried for the fact that men who were sworn to keep the public safe chose to abuse their power with such heartless, hate-filled actions. I have cried because there is so much hate in the world and our children are exposed to so much ugliness. We need God. We need Him in every area of our world, and in every moment.

This verse jumped off the page of my Bible this morning. What does God require….? To do justly – to treat others in a fair, non-oppressive way. Treat people with respect and fairness; To love mercy – not just show mercy…to love it, and to act in the way that God would want us to in every way that we treat others; To walk humblynot in a spirit of arrogance or of special privilege, but rather in the spirit of humility, in service to others.

I don’t believe for one second that I “accidentally” happened upon this verse today in light of yesterday’s news. I know that this was God’s way of helping me process the world and to help my broken heart find some peace. This verse will be in my prayers and on my heart for days and weeks to come. May we as human beings plant these words in our hearts and put them into action in our everyday lives. micah

Trust enough

“God is not at all concerned with me being good enough, but completely concerned with my being TRUSTING enough.”

I came across this quote this week while looking through an old journal of mine. I think it is so enlightening to dig back through old writings to help me see where I’ve been and how far I’ve come, and even how so many emotions have repeated themselves in the years of my life. This quote came from a sermon. One of those sermons that wrecks your heart. One of those sermons where you wonder how in the world the pastor knew exactly what you needed to hear. One of those “He is talking directly to me” sermons. Looking back, I do not honestly remember what I was going through at the time that made these words hit me so hard. But I do know that the quote resonates with me in a big way today.

Throughout this pandemic/stay at home/lockdown crisis, I have struggled. My emotions have controlled me. I have tried to face this out of control situation and control it. Worry has wrecked my sleep. Anxiety has overtaken my thoughts. Fear has captured my focus. I have been short-tempered with my family. I have spent days crippled by sadness – and then beat myself up for not accomplishing anything. All of this has left me wallowing in that old, lingering feeling that I’m just not good enough. I have allowed the small, powerful “IF” drive me crazy. If I was a better mom….If I was smarter….If I could manage my time better. ..If I could just be better…If I was good enough!

I do not believe that I came across this quote by accident this week. God knew I needed to hear it now. Because God truly does not need my goodness. He doesn’t need to me fight and claw to be good enough…because guess what, I never will be. I will never be “good enough” to earn His love. And that’s a good thing, because His love is offered free. What God does want from me is my trust. He desires that I would let go of the control I crave, and to trust Him with all that I am. He wants me to trust that He is in control. Trust should trump fear, anxiety, worry, and all of the other emotions that do not come from Him.

So, my prayer for today, and for every day going forward is to just trust. I pray to be wholly surrendered to Him and to trust Him enough!

 

Strength from Joy

joy strengthThis sounds good, right?! This is a great “go to” verse when times are hard. These words make for a great, inspirational social media post for those of us who are feeling run down and weak. But do I really believe it? Am I living everyday (in lockdown mode) with this joy? Is my behavior truly reflected in this quote?

As I sit and soak in the word this morning, I found myself dwelling here, in this verse. Lingering on these words in Nehemiah forced me to earnestly check my heart, and not only to ask the tough questions, but also to answer them.

So, I go back to the way I was taught to read and understand the Bible – one word or phrase at a time. Break it down and listen for meaning. Joy – different from happiness. Happiness is based on circumstances or events, and is primarily about MY feelings. It centers around ME. However, joy is a constant. Joy is a contentment of the heart, regardless of happenings and surroundings. Joy is a purposeful choice. This joy is found in the Lord – it is  the Lord. And this very joy  – is mine! It is my strength. It is what stands in the gap when I am overwhelmed by life. It is there to satisfy my needs when I can’t find my own way. This strength from joy calms my fears, dries my tears, and soothes my spirit – even in the ugliest of circumstances.

It is a promise from the word of God. And I believe with all of my heart that God’s promises are real and true and everlasting. So…..do I believe this “go-to” verse? Am I deeply, truly, strongly “bought in”? YES! I am and I am carrying it with me today and going forward. In this scary, unpredictable world, I will find my strength in the joy of the Lord!

Only the Holy Spirit

fruitsLockdown. Shelter in place. Stay at home. No matter what it is called, it still means the same thing. We are ordered to stay in our homes. Together. For an undetermined amount of time. Of course we all love our families and we all want to do all that we can to keep ourselves and our communities safe. But let’s just get real for a minute…it ain’t easy. There are six of us who live in our house. Six humans and one very rambunctious, energetic dog. No matter how much we love and care about each other, we are still going to get on each other’s nerves. We are going to bicker and argue. We are going to have ups and downs.

I woke early this morning to steal the quiet moments that exist when everyone else is still sleeping. The weight of the coming day and week was bearing down on me. In my prayer I wept and cried to God “I’m not sure if I can do this…” God gently nudged me with “You can’t…but I can.”

These words: love, peace, self-control, peace, goodness, gentleness, kindness, joy. They are not going to come naturally or easily to me during these difficult times. Trying to teach from home, manage the house, help my own children do their school work, and help my whole family navigate this storm is so stressful to me! Those words do not describe my demeanor over the past few days. And its hard for me to admit that I need help…but the reality is, I need help. So my prayer for my household today and going forward is that I learn to rely on the Holy Spirit to change me. I will lean into to the power of the Spirit. “Only the Holy Spirt can produce the kinds of fruits in our lives…” (Galatians 5:22)

Think on these

This morning when I woke up, there was a single moment before I was truly wide awake that I forgot. I forgot about the fear. The panic. The craziness. I forgot about the next month of being home and missing my students. I forgot that the world is not the same place that it was mere months ago. In that still, quiet moment I found peace. I found comfort in my warm bed and my furry puppy snuggled close to me. I felt safe as I listened to my husband’s soft breathing as he slept. I eagerly anticipated my first, glorious sip of coffee from my favorite, just right mug. But then, in the blink of a sleepy eye, I remembered. In that instant all of those comfortable, familiar sounds and thoughts were taken over by the realization of the current state of our world, and I climbed out of bed and said my first of many prayers of the day. 

Throughout the day today, I found it best to keep my hands and my mind busy. I sought after the normalcy of a schedule. Of the routine things that keep the household going. I tried to keep moving. Took a nice, long walk and soaked in the chilled, fresh air. However, right in the midst of my busyness, of my normal routine (which isn’t normal at all – normally I would be at school) the reality of the complete lack of anything even remotely normal washed over me. Wave after wave of reality crashed my sense of peace and sent me into another round of panic. I could trick my mind temporarily by doing things I always do, but eventually the anxiety of the unknown won out. 

I wish I had some super positive take away from all of this. I wish I could say that I have found a perfect, foolproof way to remain positive and not let panic creep in at all. But that would not be sharing the truth. What I can say about today – my first day of 4 weeks off – is this; my mind is going to be filled with thoughts all day, regardless of what I am doing. And I can’t always control the thoughts that creep into my consciousness. But I can control what I do with those thoughts. I can choose to dwell in the scary, doubt-filled moments, or I can replace those thoughts with the truths and promises of Jesus. I can fix my eyes on Him and let his word fill my mind. I am still a work in progress, and I still fail daily…but in these scary times, I am learning to rely on the spirit to guide my mind and fill me with His comfort. I am fixing my heart and mind on the one who knows my heart. I lost count of the number of prayers that I spoke today. I just know when I took the time to “cast my cares on Him” He stilled my heart and mind, and I found peace.