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.

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.

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.

God is within her, she will not fall

The last several months have been nothing short of pure chaos. I taught a new grade level this year, after being in 5th grade for six years I moved to 4th grade. Not a giant leap, but still new and different. Teaching through a pandemic provided so many unique challenges – but it will be a year that we will never forget. I am also at the very end of my Masters program – which has consumed so much of my time. My classwork is finished and now I am working through my six-month principal internship. When I finished my last class I felt such relief – until I officially started my internship, when I quickly realized that it was going to be much more work than I had anticipated. And of course, managing a household where six of the seven of us live is always a daunting task week to week.

Lately I have allowed ALL of this busyness to control me and it has truly robbed me of my peace and contentment. My mind is always running – especially at 3am – and I walk around in a state of exhaustion. In my frazzled state I find myself drifting back to the comparison game. I look around and it doesn’t appear to me that any of my mom friends or teacher friends are struggling with life like I am. I see their perfect family posts on instagram and my self-worth shrinks. I know that the part of other people’s lives that I see is their highlight reel – I know this logically – but I still let it get the best of me.

This weekend has been really rough on me, and last night I felt broken. At one point, through my tears, I remember saying to my husband, “I just can’t find any peace. I don’t even know what makes me happy anymore.” As I tossed and turned through the night, I kept hearing those words on repeat. When I woke up this morning, I had a bit of a confetti moment. I’ve been trying so hard to do so much on my own. No wonder everything is so hard. I am not content because I have been relying on my own strength, rather than leaning into God and relying on HIS power in me. I desperately need Him. He is the source of my contentment, my peace, and my joy. Rather than looking to others and comparing myself, I should be looking to God and seeing myself the way He sees me. I am not supposed to be able to “handle” everything on my own. I was created to be in union with my creator as I walk through life. The emptiness that I feel is a God sized gap – just waiting for me to realize it is there for Him.

Today, I am choosing God. I am going to loosen my grip on trying to control everything around me, and open my hands for what God has to give me.

My heart is confident, God. I will sing; I will sing praises with the whole of my being.

Psalm 108:1

Waiting for Sunday

It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming. This is phrase has been all over social media this week as we get ready to celebrate Easter the the resurrection of our Lord. This phrase has also been on my mind a lot. It is so powerful. I try to imagine what Jesus’ close friends and followers were feeling on this day – the day between His death and when He rose from the dead. I’m certain they felt a huge sense of hopelessness. They must have felt confused and perhaps even a bit lost. Fear was probably surging through them as they wondered what the last few years had been about. Confusion most likely have them questioning all that they had seen while closely following Jesus and His teachings.

Obviously, I can only speculate on the way Jesus’ friends and followers were feeling. However, I feel like being human, just like them, I can fairly make these assumptions. Thinking about this phrase, “It’s Friday…but Sunday’s coming” I understand, to some extent what that waiting feels like. Of course, I cannot fathom in on the same level by any means, but I think that there are some real parallels for me and maybe for you too!

This week for me personally has been especially troubling. I was blindsided by two events – both personally and professionally – and I feel like this week has been my Friday. (Please know that I am not in any way comparing my troubles to Jesus’ death – just drawing a parallel!) Stay with me. When faced with the uncertainty of the week’s news, I have been hit with a mix of so many emotions. Fear of the unknown, hopelessness, confusion, and questions. I’ve wondered why? I’ve asked how? I’ve spent sleepless nights tossing and turning while worry envelops me. Trying to find some peace in all of it, God has gently reminded me that He is in control. He has sweetly whispered to me to remember that Sunday is coming. He’s pulled me closer in the waiting and comforted me with the reminder of the answers that Sunday brought.

In our daily lives, we must remember His faithfulness to His promises. He did not promise a trouble free, worry free, “easy” life. However, He did promise that He is always with us. He did promise that He will never forsake us, nor will He leave us. And when Sunday came, and Jesus walked out of that tomb…well, who can argue with the fulfillment of that promise. God is with us in our waiting.

I don’t know how either of the situations of this week will turn out. I don’t have all of the answers. But I do have ONE answer and it is this. God knows it ALL and He is in it ALL. He is constant and ever-present between our Fridays and our Sundays.

His Love

While mindlessly scrolling through Facebook today, I saw a saying about God’s unconditional love. It was one of those pretty pictures will a sunrise and a fancy script saying. I honestly don’t remember what the whole thing said because I couldn’t get past unconditional love. It’s been on my mind all day. Unconditional love. Without conditions. Without strings. Without hesitation. I think that I take that saying “unconditional love” for granted. I have heard it all my life about the way God loves His children. I almost think it’s one of those churchy phrases that I have listened to so many times that it has lost its power almost. But today, it hit me right in my heart house.

As mere humans, we truly can’t fathom that kind of love. Our society tosses around the word love so very flippantly and loosely that the word is almost tarnished. “Ooohhh, I LOVE your shoes!” Or how many times do we proclaim our love for an actor whom we have never met. And I promise that I have used that word when talking about ice cream (just last night as a matter of fact). But y’all, that unconditional love that comes from our Father is unmatched by anything we know here on Earth. Yes, we love our kids like our Father loves us – that is the closest we could ever come to understanding His love for us. But even then, it’s not exactly the same.

So why did it hit me today like it did? I’m not sure that I know, but I’m fairly certain that God slowed my scroll and stilled my mind long enough to get my attention. This morning I woke up still fighting my annual spring cold, feeling unrested and moderately grumpy. I did not want to get up and go to school. I even said to myself as I slovenly rolled out of bed “I don’t want to adult today. I just can’t.” I was sure that I did not have the energy needed to show up for a room full of 9 year olds. Basically, my attitude sucked. I truly didn’t think I could make it through the day, and I was mad at myself for my attitude. Maybe this is why God needed to get my attention.

His love for me – even with my ugly, early-morning grumblings – doesn’t waiver. When I’m not at my best He loves me – just as much as He does when I’m at my best. When I’m not as loving as I should be, He still loves me. When I stumble and lose my way, His love remains steadfast and strong. Why? How could He possibly STILL love me after all of my shortcomings and grumblings and doubts and fears. Because He can…Because HE IS LOVE.

There are so many worship songs that attempt to describe this love in many different ways. His love is extravagant, overwhelming, never-ending, reckless. His love never fails. It is unending. His love awakens. He loves me, this I know. And all of these songs are beautiful proclamations of our Father’s love. But I’m not sure that His unconditional love can fully be described and understood by us until we truly believe in our hearts that love is who God is. And we are His beloved. What if tomorrow we take carry that title “beloved” with us all day? How would that change the way we love others? How would our self-talk change if we started it with the name “Beloved”?

I’m so thankful for a God who listens to my heart when I don’t even know the words for what I need. I’m so thankful for His nudges (and at times, smack upside my head) to slow down and find Him at my center. Most of all, I am so thankful for His unconditional love.

It’s your breath

Have you ever noticed when you hear a word for the first time, or learn a new word, that it seems like you hear that word a lot more soon after? Or when you get a new car, it seems that you see way more of the same model on the road than you ever have before? It’s really about our awareness of something that brings it to our view in a more relevant way, but I think that the way our brains make this happen is pretty fascinating.

Recently I heard a worship song that I know has been around for quite a few years, but when I heard it, it hit me in a new way. Since listening to that song about a month ago, I am certain that I have heard it more in the last thirty days than in the the last ten years. But I believe the reality is that I am more tuned into the message of the song and that I need to hear it right now. I just get so blown away by how that works. However, I don’t think that this song speaking to me so clearly and so often is all about the way my mind is working. I know in my heart that God is at work here. No, I don’t think God is in charge of the K-Love playlist, nor do I think He is creating the worship set at my church. But I do think that He is trying to wreck me with this song by making sure my mind and heart is open to it every time I hear it.

The song is called “Great Are You Lord” by All Sons and Daughters. The chorus of the song has been playing on repeat in my head.

It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only

I have heard this song so many times but somehow it is hitting me in an all new way. I have been thinking about His breath in my lungs. That breath is the breath I use to speak to my husband and my children. Those lungs provide the air I use to speak into the lives of my students. His breath in my lungs is how I speak to my colleagues. So, what do my words – carried by the breath He gives me – sound like. Am I pouring out praise with what He has given me? Or are my words harsh, not worthy of the breath He has given me? Is my spirit one of complaining and grumbling, or am I finding ways to be joyful and praise Him in all situations?

Riding in my car I sing this song with all of my heart, and most days it brings me to tears. My prayer is that with every breath I am given by my heavenly Father, that I am pouring out praise. Not only through my words – which can truly speak life into others – but also with my actions. I pray that others see Him at work in my life and that they hear my praises for Him pouring out of me.

I love when I still my mind and soul to take time to see God’s work in every aspect of my life. I know He is always here and that He is always at work. I just have to listen more closely to what He is telling me. Right now, that teaching is coming through the lyrics of a beautiful song that He knew I needed to hear. On repeat.

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.