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.

My heart’s desire

This house is still and quiet this morning as I sip coffee and reflect on the last two weeks that I have had at home. No schedule. No running. No emails or grading or lesson plans. Just time. Time to play six games of Yahtzee in a row. Time to spend entire days in my craft room creating. Time to try new recipes and to organize – well everything. Time to sit and be still and pray and listen. Shame on me for not taking enough time to do that when life is at full speed. I’m angry with myself for all of the wasted time that I could have spent with God, drawing closer to Him. I’m disappointed that I have been able to convince myself that there are just “not enough hours in the day.”

I am not one to make resolutions this time of year. Mostly because I rarely stick to them, and then I feel bad about myself for not being able to be consistent…so I just avoid it. That’s not to say that I don’t set goals for myself, but setting them at the beginning of the year feels like too much pressure for me. However, this year…it is much more than a goal or resolution that I am setting for myself. It is a prayer. My prayer is that drawing closer to God and spending time with in each quiet morning will become the desire of my heart. To pursue God whether through reading His word, or through worship, podcasts, sermons, prayer…all of these…daily. My prayer is for God to open my eyes to all that He has to teach me each day – each moment – of this new year.

And to enjoy every last moment of this last day of my break.

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!

The fruit we bear

What kind of tree are you? I heard this analogy on the radio just the other day and it has stuck with me. The question has been lingering in my mind for days. I think that there is a reason that certain things stay with us and others don’t. I believe that God places things on us to create teachable moments for us. He. knows what I need and where my heart is, and it is no accident this metaphor is still with me. What kind of tree are you? When someone bumps into you (tree), what kind of fruit falls? I’ll wait while that sinks in…..

When the weight of life becomes crushing. When heartache breaks you. When anxiety paralyzes you. When isolation cripples your soul. How do you respond?

Honestly, let me make it a little less “heavy”…. When someone cuts you off in traffic (do I even remember how to drive?) When your text goes unread. When you are left out of a group gathering. When you get your feelings hurt. How do you respond?

Yep, I got my toes stepped on by this one. I had to do a serious heart check as I pondered this question. What kind of fruit do I bear? When times get hard, I do not always respond the way that I would like to. Anxiety and fear cause emotions and reactions to come out sideways. The fruit that falls from my tree when I’m shaken is not always good fruit. Initially, my reaction to all of this was to beat myself up and wish that I could just “be better.” I did the whole self-loathing thing for a minute, held a pity party for one, and then I quit. I left the party. I will never be perfect. Not. Even. Close. But I can strive each day to become more Christ-like. I can pray and ask and allow the Holy Spirit to produce those fruits in me. I can seek Him first in all that I do. I can fall down and get back up again, knowing that He still loves me and that no matter how many times I stumble, He STILL loves me.

I will always remember this tree metaphor. And when I am “bumped” I will think about what kind of fruit falls.

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)

No Place I’d Rather Be

set a fire

Lately I have found myself in a dry season spiritually. I have felt lost at times and very far from God. The close, dependent relationship I used to have with my heavenly Father – the one where we talked daily and where I worried less and relied more – that is not currently where I’m at. I know that life is about ebbs and flows – and in all relationships there are periods of closeness and periods of distance. But I am NOT okay with where I am at in my relationship with God.

Noise

 

noise   I am an elementary teacher. I’m fairly accustomed to the constant hum of noise from a roomful of kids. And that’s nothing to the noise level found in a cafeteria with 100+ kiddos. I am momma to 5 kids. Rarely are all seven of us ever in the house – much less the same room – but when we are, there is noise. (This momma loves that noise, by the way).

When you think about it, there is noise in all aspects of our lives. TV’s are often on several hours a day in our homes. Our noses tend to be buried in some sort of screen several hours a day. We are constantly being bombarded with noise…data, tweets, posts, feeds, videos, and on and on. The other day I stepped out of my car to pump gas and there was a screen blaring commercials and music. Constant noise.

For me, the constant noise – the ever-present distractions become almost comforting. When I’m listening to a tv show, or scrolling mindlessly through the same feed I’ve read through already three times I don’t have to think about “the other stuff.” And sometimes its just easier to drown out the hard stuff. But easy isn’t always best.

I’ve recently tried to start eliminating some of the daily distractions so that I can consciously seek after these deeper things. I’m going after peace. When I’m not busy worrying about social media, or Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy, my mind is forced to really ponder on bigger thoughts. Sometimes I end up praying…talking with God. Other times I’ve ended up worshipping – just me on my own. I’ve also found myself thinking about all of the many things I am so grateful for.

I’m certainly not trying to say that social media is bad or that we shouldn’t ever turn on Netflix…not at all. I think what I’m discovering is that distractions can very easily take up all the space in our heads and not allow any time for us to reflect on what’s really important. These breaks from the noise have been so refreshing for my mind and my spirit. I encourage you tofind your quiet!