Hope-filled Christmastime

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Christmastime.

It’s my favorite holiday.  Life becomes really hectic, but I love the traditions and the connection of family.

I was decorating this past weekend in preparation for our staff open house we host each year.  In a matter of a couple of days, our home is transformed into all things Christmas!  Sometimes I feel the stress and pressure.

This  year I was feeling old.

That’s really the only way I can describe it.  My oldest is in college and home for the holiday.  I have a teenager and another that isn’t, but sure seems like it.  I don’t have the little littles running around anymore.  The memories are running like a movie through my heart.

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As I was working with my smaller artificial trees that light up our office, the branches were looking tired and drooping kind of low.  I realized I have been using these trees for 11 years, at least.  No wonder they are looking a little tired.

That’s pretty good…artificial trees being used for that many years!  Especially after all our moves!   But, that served to make me feel OLD.

This all combined to make me feel like a middle-aged frump.  Now, I know you are trying to figure out how I made that jump.  I’m not sure…maybe it’s hormones.  But, I began to realize, many of my decorations and collections I have had for or started 25 years ago—some ornaments, longer than that.  My one tree only holds the beautiful ornaments from my childhood.  When you are newly married or a young momma, you don’t always think about such things.  But, alas, I am neither.

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So, as I am surrounded by so much history and memories I have to stop and think.  And remember.

Christmas has always been such a big focus for us.

We love this season passionately.  Just ask anyone who has helped us move over the years.  Friends tease me each November about the many Christmas boxes I have and the work that means for my guys.  I can’t help that we love Christmas!  Each one is different.  But, each have been special.

Some Christmases were during times of waiting for dreams to come to pass.  Some years were leaner than others.  There were a few where the stress got the better of me.  After a while, though, I learned how to set the boundaries I needed in order to make the holidays the best I could for my family and me.

Most have been years full of blessing and joy.

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Over the years, I have learned a beautiful rhythm.  It requires flexibility and letting go of the “perfect shiny ideal” of what Christmas should look like.  Each year there is an underlying rhythm that guides our holiday, yet, they are different and beautifully unique.  However, we do keep some constants with our traditions.

Christmastime is an amazing opportunity for traditions.  Our traditions are important for keeping each other connected.  Traditions are not chaos-inducing schedule fillers.  Children need them for a touchstone.  Ours aren’t incredibly elaborate, just constant.   So many chances for making memories!

The last two or three years I have endeavored to add in a focus on Advent.  Keeping Jesus as the focus isn’t our problem, He is the centrality of our holiday.  But, sometimes it is challenging gathering everyone together at the same time to stop and sit for a while.  But, yesterday’s focus for this Advent season was hope.  I began to think about the power of hope in life and the holidays.

I have had seasons of life where I lost hope.  Lost hope that things would get better or ever turn around for good.  Following my firstborn’s birth I struggled with postpartum depression.  We had very little money and times were difficult.  My hope meter was rather low.  Just a few years ago, we were facing insurmountable odds and it seemed our enemies far outnumbered our friends.  My hope quickly dwindled.

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I am convinced we can face anything if we hold on to hope.

Hope doesn’t come from our circumstances or our finances.  Hope comes from our belief that Christ has our back and will not leave us or forsake us.  We are able to keep an eternal perspective in mind.  When challenges are bombarding us, if we keep an eternal focus, we can hold on to hope.  Without hope, people perish.  He came that day so long ago to bring us hope.

HE is our HOPE.

This blog post has been a challenge to get published this week.  Whew!  The holidays, decorating, doctor’s appointments, homeschooling, oh my!  I missed my personal deadline for getting this posted.  We all have high demands on our time during the holidays.  But, I decided to offer myself some grace and knew you’d understand and probably can relate to the hustling and bustling!

It’s a busy, but hope-filled season in our home. 

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The years have come and gone so fast.

My firstborn is now a Sophomore in college and my others are quickly growing up.

My Christmas collections and ornaments are getting older by the year.

I decided the other day, I can either get really sad as I’m feeling older, or I can focus on the fact that really I’m not and there is so much life and hope in my future.  Sure, my babies aren’t tiny littles anymore (and oh, how I loved those stages and what Christmas looked like then), but life rolls in stages.

And, this stage is stunningly beautiful.  It has been hand-crafted by God for me and mine.  Such beautiful hope lives in that!

Take a few minutes to sit down, light some sparkling candles, drink something comforting and warm, and reflect on the goodness you have experienced and set your sights on the HOPE of a beautiful tomorrow!

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Merry Christmastime!

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With a Grateful Heart

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This past weekend was our big family weekend.

Well, one of them.  It is the weekend we all look forward to with great anticipation.  It’s the weekend we always think of when we think of the holidays.  This is our tradition we have done for years.  We started this particular expression of it when we moved to Virginia almost 8 years ago.  We’ve always had some form of it—based on ages and stages of life.

We go to Williamsburg to the flagship Yankee Candle store.  This is not your average candle store.  No, my friends!  This is candle store extraordinaire.  This store not only has candles, but an entire store dedicated to Christmas all under one roof!  There are hundreds of ornaments and it snows indoors.  We are crazy in love with the holidays and this is our kind of store!

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 First, we pick out candles for the holiday season and then move to the Christmas store.  Each person picks out a special ornament that catches their eye or represents something from the past year.  The ornaments are whimsical and beautiful.  This is  followed up with dinner at a favorite restaurant nearby.

This year we picked out our Christmas tree as well.  Our church is selling live trees to benefit our benevolence ministry efforts.  It was great fun tucking this adventure into our day!  Our very own Christmas tree lot.  What could be better than that?

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 The holidays are well under way here in the Reynolds’ Casa.  My children hold on to these traditions with great love and fondness.  It is a priority on the top of my list.  This special weekend is a non-negotiable, everybody clear off the calendar, sort of weekend.  I will always cherish this holiday tradition.  Traditions give children valuable touchstones in life.  They need them.  We need them.

In preparation for all of the festivities, I’ve been thinking about gratitude.  I know Thanksgiving is the official holiday of gratitude, but, honestly, I’ve decided it needs to permeate the entire holiday season.   Actually, I don’t see it as just a holiday mindset, but one that should be a part of who we are throughout the year.   However, I love how Thanksgiving compels us to focus our gratitude.

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incourage.me photo cred

I am participating in a daily devotion on my “She Reads Truth” devotional app.  The focus is on gratitude and the active pursuit of a grateful heart.  Today’s Scripture focus is I Thessalonians 5:16-18.

“Rejoice always! Pray constantly.  Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Gratitude is not a passive mindset.  I am learning gratitude must be a part of every situation.  I don’t have to be grateful for hardship or tragedy.  That would be a little strange.  But, I am to be grateful for the God who is with me and brings me through it all.  He never leaves me and brings me through all things.  And, through gratitude in the circumstance, I will become the reflection of Him.  So, in this, I can be thankful in all situations.

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In active participation of this devotional today, here is my gratitude:

“this joyful thing”

Holiday seasons and traditions.  I love spending it with my crew!  Memories.

“this unknown”

Some unanswered questions.  God knows what is going on and always has my best interest in mind.  I can rest in this. I don’t have to have all the answer to be okay.

“this certainty”

God never leaves or forsakes me or my loved ones!  I have doubted— He revealed himself in my doubt.  I am grateful for grace.  His grace is amazing.

“this stress”

 Law school has been a real stressor this semester.   I have to reframe this circumstance.   If my Mister didn’t have this amazing opportunity to attend Regent Law School, we wouldn’t have this stress.  But, then, we wouldn’t have this adventure.  I’ll take the adventure any day.

“this want”

I am thankful for this dream my heart dreams.   It hasn’t happened yet.  But, I know in God’s timing for my life, it will.  I am thankful He will do what He needs to; I will do what I need to.  He gives us good things.

“this sorrow”

Even when hurt of recent days came into our lives, God proved himself faithful to bring peace and wisdom.  He always brings what is needed, just in the right way at the right time.  He sees and knows.

“this plenty”

He takes care of me.  He gives me all I need and so many things I want.  My family, my home, my life.  I am blessed beyond measure.

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I can give thanks.  Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be good!  I will give thinks at all times! 

I hope you have a gratitude-filled life and holiday season.  I hope it colors your days and covers your nights.  Gratitude saved my life.  It’s the best adjustment I could have ever made.

Blessings to you and your beautiful family—whatever or wherever that may be!  May you always know of His nearness and love for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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incourage.me photo cred

What Did You Say?

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Stuff happens.  People say stuff.  People do stuff.

What I am asking myself is, “Ok, so what are you going to do with that?”

Words hurt.  Words get into your heart and soul.

I am noticing unkind words spoken about me or someone I love leave a mark.  I am getting better at being able to look at what was said and putting them into perspective mentally.  I can look at the situation and logically realize these people speaking have no real consequence in my life.

To put it honestly, they really mean nothing to the big picture of my life.  I don’t mean that rudely.  In relationship to my life, they have not invested in me nor are they a part of the circle of influence in my life.  They have not walked with me or listened to my heart.  They’ve not prayed for me and are not committed to my welfare.

Yet, words can be crushing.

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The Scriptures say there is power of life and death in the tongue.

Proverbs 18:21 says,

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” 

Have you given any thought to the words you speak to others?  I am paying more attention.  It matters.  It’s too easy to quip off something without thinking of the consequences.

But, my experience this past week has been on both ends of the spectrum.

I have heard words spoken to me and loved ones that were more poison than fruit.  Words that had the potential to bring death.  But, then I have also heard many loving words of life.  Words that speak life, hope and encouragement.

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Which ones am I listening to?

I have had to do some hard work to properly deal with the hurt that came from the hurtful words.

Logically I understood the place those words have in my heart and mind.  Yet, the words caused a grief I could not shake.  It settled over me like a heavy blanket.  It took a couple of days to shake off the heaviness that covered me.  The words were an indictment against who we are and everything we hope to be.  Cruel and dark.

These words tried to carve a giant, black X over our hearts.  

“Not good enough.  Not EVER going to be good enough.  Broken.  Not loved. Hopeless.  Death.  Rejected.  Inadequate.”  

But, after my Sweetheart and I prayed over our hearts and those we love, the true work began.   It has proven difficult to shake off the death grip of those words.

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It’s not coincidence that hurt follows on the heels of victory or success.

The Scripture talks about a “lion who comes to steal, kill and destroy.”  Lions are stealthy and swift.  The lion worked steadily all week through a totally different and unrelated  interpersonal issue.  This work was meant to distract me and cause me to lose focus.  Then on the heels of great joy and victory, a lethal strike came from a completely unexpected angle.

I began to wonder.

Why do I listen and take to heart more the words of hurt than the words of healing?  Why can’t I shake this?

It takes hard work.  I knew I had a choice.  Either I was going to give up and lose the ground I had fought hard to win, or I was going to army crawl, if need be, through to victory.

What do you do when you don’t want to become the victim of a strategic spiritual attack?  Scripture says we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against powers we don’t see.

 Sometimes it is confusing.  It isn’t so easily recognized.  Hurt is hurt.  Misguided and misinformed people often are unwittingly used to strike and wound.  It sure looks human.  But, really it is a spiritual attack in nature.

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So, here is what I have done this past week to counter attack and increase my strength.  It doesn’t come easily.

It requires a concerted and mindful effort on our part.

I realized I can either roll over and let this disrupt God’s work in my life.  Or,  I can fight, quite literally, the Hell out of my situation.

It’s working.

  1. Pray over the words spoken to you.  God has the power to nullify the effects on our hearts and mind.
  2. Cry.  It hurt.  I am human.  I can’t pretend it doesn’t—nor am I required to.
  3. Remember, actively, who I am in Christ.  He calls me good.  That is enough.
  4. Fill your world with worship.  I’ve been listening to worship music quite a bit lately.
  5. Read the Word and soak in life-giving words.
  6. Turn to a trusted friend to hear your hurt.  Mine was a safe place to bandage my wounds.
  7. Put it into proper perspective.  Remind yourself of the truth.
  8. Keep moving.  Keep doing the good you know you are doing.  Don’t quit.
  9. Keep giving it to God.  We can be slow.  It often takes repeating.
  10. Be mindful.  Be careful not to rehearse and relive the words over and over. They can settle in and take root.

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I realized something the other day. 

Have you ever felt God reveal something to you?  Well, He did the other day.

He gently spoke to my heart.

 “Who are they to mark what I have declared GOOD, as not good?” 

That pierced my heart and mind!

God has called me and mine GOOD.  He has taken our pain and wounds and broken pieces.  He promised to heal and has done a mighty fine job!  And, then someone declares that divine work “not good enough” and “broken”?  That is not part of His plan.

God does all things well.

We don’t always know all the good work He is doing in a life.  This very fresh lesson gave me pause even today as I sat and talked with a loved one.

There would be no carving of an X today.

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Withering Cherry Trees!

 

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Sometimes I look around and become, well, unhappy.  Dissatisfied.  Discontented.  Ungrateful.

Do you ever do this?

I see the laundry still hanging out long after its dry.  I see the messy rooms just begging for me to put some order back to them.  I look at my vehicle.  It’s not the newest or shiniest—it has driven my family a lot of miles.  It has some scuffs and little scratches and even a dent someone put in it and didn’t bother to leave a note.  I have some drawers that are sticking and not closing right.  And, gosh, the to do list.  It could use some whittling down.  Due to all of those many miles I taxi, and my own responsibilities, I can’t seem to figure out how to cook healthful meals as much as I want.  And let’s not mention, a few pounds may have been added.  I have a pile, or maybe a couple, that house several “to handle later” items.  I hate those.

You get the picture.  Life.  It is going mighty fast. Some days stuff just falls through the cracks.  Maybe it’s just us.  But, I’m not thinking so.  My husband has a favorite saying.  I have to admit, it can drive me crazy.  God love the man.  He’s right.  We don’t always want to hear it.  But, he’s right.

Here it is.  “You are going to have to reframe.” 

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God bless this man of mine.  Yes, sometimes, I think if I have to hear that again, I may fall over dead. Right there, right then.  One time I told him I already knew that.  I knew all of his tips and tricks, but I just needed a good cry. Dr. Husband let me have that good cry.  All of that minutia and wounded-ness from self-criticism had taken its toll.  I had hit the tipping point and had NO interest in reframing ANYTHING!! (It may not have been said in an inside voice.)

Well, he’s right.  In life, we are faced with stuff.  The detritus of this crazy life.  In the natural life, too much stuff, too many cracks for things to fall through, it all piles up.  In the emotional life, we are faced with the constant refrain of “not good enough.”  And it all seems to add up to “NEVER good enough.”

I have a passage of Scripture that I love.  I think you will, too.  Habakkuk 3:17-19:

Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted.  Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty.  I’m singing joyful praise to God.  I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.  Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.  I run like a deer.  I feel like I’m king of the mountain!

I know this passage is talking about seasons of life when provision is low and they are depending on God to save the day.  But, it sure seems to fit life when things are not as we would like them and we just desperately need His help to reframe.

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So, look at the line where the focus changes.

It says, “I’m singing joyful praise to God.  I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God.“  And from there to the end of the passage, the writer has done some major reframing.  Dr. Husband is right.  Imagine that!  It’s true, you know.

Reframing is the key to taking the ugly and untidy, worn and used and shining them up to beauty. 

I can look at any given situation—whether it’s the ginormous mess or the task overlooked, again and again or the critics who are unkind and careless—and look at it in ugly, harsh tones.  Or, I can do some editing and enhancing, shifting the shading, perhaps zoom in or zoom out.  It’s my choice.  I can put the frame around it in a new and pardigm-shifting perspective.

We can look at the mess OR we can look at the blessing that caused the mess.

Our choice.

I’m choosing to look at the blessing that caused the inconvenience or mess or extra work or busy-ness.  It’s amazing how my heart takes strength and God gives me just what I need to keep going.  Many people don’t have the blessings I do and would appreciate a little inconvenience.  I’m afraid the things I complain about, someone else may be praying for.  Reframe.

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We are going into the beautiful holiday season.  My very favorites of the year!  Many are clued into the “30 days of Thanksgiving”.  I’m all for it.  It’s important.  But, honestly, gratitude and joy are the gifts of reframing any time of the year.  God has these beautiful gifts waiting for us and we bypass them every time we choose the lifeless, flat perspective of not reframing.

I’ll repeat Dr. Husband, “You are going to have to reframe.”

Ugly shifts.  Hard softens.  And gratitude and joy slip in and sidle up next to you.

It really is all in the reframing.

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Check Out The View From Here!

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I’m a crazy walker.  When I go out for a walk, or even when I add in a run, I always look down.  What am I looking at?  I don’t get it.  Am I afraid if I don’t look at my feet they won’t move right?  Or is the sidewalk just so beautiful I need to keep my eye on it?

It’s weird.

I tell myself, “Pick your head up! You look goofy.  Look up and see the beauty around you.  You’re missing out!”  Yeah.  I will pick my head up…my thoughts center on the beauty in the sky and trees.  I get lost in thought—maybe even whisper a little prayer.  And, then, “Look at those feet walking.  Look at that sidewalk.  Yep, they’re still there.”

For goodness sake!  I just don’t get it.  This is a problem, I do believe.  I’m missing out.  Even when I have a walking buddy I do it.  Before I know it, I’m focusing on the road right in front of me, instead of seeing all that is around me.  They have been kind enough to just ignore it!

This has gotten me to thinking.

In life, what am I focusing on?

10168201_10205519276527835_6867101749092095366_nAm I focusing on the challenges and tough-going I have experienced?  Am I looking at the past and wishing circumstances had been different or I had been dealt a better hand?

Where is my focus?

Perhaps I am focusing on how I wish I was different.  Different gifting, different temperment, different anything.

Maybe I look at the ways I could have made different choices and would then be on a different and seemingly better path.

Focus. 

What is my focus?

Too much introspection can lead to too much self-focusing.  Sometimes I just have to get out of my head.  It’s good to remember our past and what we have come through.  It’s important to remember what we have learned.  Gratitude is born out of remembering with grace our journey.

But, we can’t afford to get stuck.  

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 A couple years ago I realized all my conversations were about all the negative things going on in my world.   It was my habit.  I was good at rehashing the injustices and idiocy I was enduring.  My friends were so gracious.  They commiserated with me.  Even though it had to be like nails on a chalkboard, they loved on me and listened—and endured it!

  I finally got tired of hearing myself talk about it.  It was getting old.  And, I knew it was a problem when I couldn’t think of other things to talk about.  It kind of felt like a loser sort of life!

It’s amazing when God starts nudging you in a new direction. 

1473920_10202797628648339_2105884648_nI’m guessing He was tired of hearing all about it too—over and over and over and over—if you get my drift.

I was missing out on all the goodness He was giving.  I was missing out on all the beauty and grace He so lavishly supplied.  He was fully aware of all the injustice and rejection and hurt.  He got it.  He saw it and knew how it hurt.  The Beautiful One was trying to give me beauty for my ashes.  But, it wasn’t going to happen if all I kept focusing on was the pitiful parts.  I was going to miss it all.  What a tragedy—and He knew it.

I had to quit wallowing around in the ashes!

He spoke to my heart.  He opened my eyes to the reality of what I was becoming.  It wasn’t the image I wanted.  I purposed in my heart I was done reliving it all and talking about it.  I was done dwelling on the negative and the pain.

Oh, I remember.  I have the scars to show for it.  But, I was done allowing it to become my focus and driving force.  I was done talking about and rehashing every gory detail of every injustice.  I determined that chapter was done.  I was moving forward.

You know, it made all the difference in the world in my heart and life. 

It wasn’t easy.  I had to think of new topics of conversation.  I had to live purposefully in the here and now.  Yes, I remember.  And, at times there is still pain in those scars.  But, it doesn’t drive me any longer.  I no longer look down and behind but look up and ahead.  This new way of thinking and being set me on a new trajectory.  It is so much more beautiful here!

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Psalm 103 is really great right about now. 

It’s too long to post here, but I encourage you to take a couple minutes to read it.  It helps in the refocusing.

What do I choose to focus on?  Where am I looking? 

Am I remembering all of His blessings? 

Do I remember that He has healed my family and me and has raised us from our ashes? 

Do I recall that He has redeemed me—that He has wrapped me in goodness? 

That He makes everything come out right and puts victims back on their feet? 

Do I focus on His grace and mercy and keep in mind He doesn’t give us what we deserve, but gives us what we don’t deserve? 

Do I relish in His fierce love and His total awareness of me? 

How about remembering His love is eternal–forever and always?

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It brings into proper perspective the flaws of this world.  No scheme of man will ever take me from His hand.  I am His.  Why so downcast oh, dear soul?  Look up to the hills from which comes your help!

Change your focus!  It’s beautiful up here!

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Turning 40 Something

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My goodness.  Well, here it is again.  I have revolved around once again and I’m just a couple days away from the 23rd.  That’s my big day.  Thanks, Mom, for having me!

Life has a way of rolling by.

I can’t wait for the beauty and adventure of this new year in my life to unfold.

But, first, I have a few thoughts about this past year.  Here they are.

I am grateful for my family.  We have faced some challenges head on.  Things unforeseen and scary.  Things exciting, new and stretching.  Challenges—some good, some tough.  Mountains you weren’t sure how to climb. They haven’t stopped us and we just keep moving forward.  We stay together and love each other.  My children have grown and discovered new things about life and God.  He loves them, even more than we do.  God is there and walking with us every day.

I have taken on new adventures.  During our crisis and its aftermath, I really had to unload my plate.  My family and my emotional and spiritual well being were far more important than a loaded plate.  God drew especially near and taught me wonderful truths.  We are at the four year anniversary of learning of our child’s abuse.  I have been in a healing cocoon since that time.  But, this past year has been one of opening up and breaking out of my cocoon.  It was necessary to step aside for a while, but now I’m ready to fly.  God never leaves you—especially when we are hidden away with Him.

I have opened my heart to some wonderful people.  I’ve expanded my circle and it has been worth it.  Sometimes, after pain, it’s easier to shield your heart.  It can be so hard to trust.  But, a vulnerable heart grows more beautiful.   You can learn so much from others when you just open up, look around and see.  God brings special people into your life—you just have to look for them.

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I have some friends who are my ride or die.   They are deep water travelers.  They don’t scare easily.  They have lived my messiness and encouraged me to dream again.  It’s a blessing if you have these sorts in your life.

I often felt lost, but my friends knew I really wasn’t .  They knew I just needed a little push and I could soar.  I’m not sure I believed in myself as much as they believed in me.  I know I didn’t.  It’s crazy how that is.  But, I sure am grateful for their friendly shoves, reminders and words of encouragement which held me to the ledge!

They’ve made me laugh until I cry!  They loved the confidence right back into my heart.  God knows we need cheerleaders.  He gives us just the right ones for our journey.

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I have stepped WAY out of my comfort zone many times this year.  Soaring requires a “look, ma! no hands!” lifestyle.  I’ve tried my hand at several new things.   I’ve done them scared.  Sometimes, really scared.  Most of the time, I wasn’t even sure what I was doing.  But, I have enjoyed them all.  God knows what we need, when we need it.  We just have to cooperate with Him.  It’s been the best adventure!

I am thankful for the growth and stretching I have done this past year.  It hasn’t always looked pretty or perfect.  Sometimes I felt like I was coming undone!  But, God is faithful to complete the work He starts in our lives.

Life is a journey.  Joy is an attainable goal.  Healing is a choice and peace can come.  There will always be questions without answers.  But, even if there were answers for some things, they probably wouldn’t be good enough anyway.  God is my leader.  I just want to follow as close to His side as I can.  Everything else will fall into place, just as He intends.

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Two Random Thoughts

 

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Whew!  Life has picked up its speed! My feet are tired and so is my brain.

I have a couple thoughts rolling around…unrelated really, but stirring around nonetheless.  Here it goes.

This morning my alarm went off and I rolled over to snatch up my phone. 

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As has become my habit, I opened Facebook to see what had transpired while I was asleep.  (Because we all know it was probably very important.)   The professionals say you are addicted to your phone if the first thing you do in the morning is look at it.  This  could be me.

 I realized too late this was not going to be a good idea.

It has become a really bad idea.

I didn’t have to work hard or go searching very far without stumbling across the most horrendous stories anyone could read, much less at 7:15 in the morning.  On a silver platter, I had the vilest news imaginable hand delivered right to my mind and heart.

The world is making me tired.

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All the news of horror and evil has just become too much.  Between news outlets, social media and online reporting agencies, it’s just overload.  This all-consuming, 24 hour news cycle, has worn me down.  There is some beauty and bliss in a little less information.  Maybe not ignorance, but a smaller helping would certainly do me some good.

So, after putting my phone down and regrouping, I deleted my Facebook app off of my phone.  “Hi, I’m Amberly and I was addicted to Facebook.”   I know, I could be a little late to the deleting game.  Some folks have already removed it from their lives and swear by it!

This is not some huge, earth shattering action in the whole scheme of things.  It certainly isn’t going to set Facebook world on tilt.  But, I think it’s going to improve the quality of MY life.  Who knows the wonderful things I can experience in real life instead of stuffing my still moments with the constant chatter and noise on social media?  I might even read all those books beside my bed.  Anyway, I have set boundaries for my heart and mind.  Thirteen hours and counting.  So far so good.

My second thought comes from Ephesians 3:20 in the Message version.  

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams!  He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”

I’m focusing on the second half of the Scripture.

“He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”  I think this is pretty awesome.   I have never read this verse in the Message version.  How could I have missed it all this time?

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This is a beautiful passage to me.  I have lived this.  God has walked with me and dealt gently and deeply with me.  He works in me.  During times of deep hurt and grief, He didn’t crush me with harsh demands and cold reprimands.  He sat with me and spoke to my pain.  He breathed life and peace into my brokenness.

This gentleness drew me close and healed me.  He knew I could not stay in my pain, brokenness and ashes.  He knew there was life and there were dreams on the other side of my pain.  And, He knew I wasn’t going to make it on my own.  He was going to carry me to the other side.

I marvel at this verse.

I know it to be true. 

As I dream now and am on the other side of my pain,  I know these words up close and real.  He is giving me His dreams for my life.  He is teaching me to journey close to His side.  I must rest in His rhythms of grace.  Not in my own impatient ways.  And, He will bring the very best to pass.

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There have been so many times when Christ could have beat me up side the head or yelled to me to “GET IT TOGETHER, GIRLFRIEND!!” Yet, He knows the deeper way—the more compelling way.  And, He draws me to Himself.

It’s cool the thoughts God drops in our hearts and the work He does even in our busiest moments.

You know how life gets.

Busy helping the kids, the husband, the church, the dog, and all the other people in our lives.  Sometimes, it’s hard to find time to slow it down.  But, even in all those moments, we have to listen to what He is speaking.

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He knows what’s best.  He is jealous for us—jealous for our well-being.  He knows all the noise and life-pollution is not what is good for us.  He has the very best there is to offer.  He knows our deepest places nobody else may know.

I don’t know about you, but this season of my life is picking up the pace.  This is a good thing.  But, I’m going to be mindful to keep my ear tuned to what He has to say.  I don’t want to miss anything!

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Turning 20

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He just turned 20.  How do these things happen?  He was 2, I blinked, and now he is 20.  Good grief.

I think I should receive gifts on my kids’ birthdays!  I think you should, too!  Why not, I ask?  We’ve done all the work.  Kids…they just live.  We keep them alive.  We work hard to keep them from bodily harm and get them to adulthood!  There’s teaching and training and sleepless nights.  There is sacrifice and tears.

Think of the embarrassment.  Just when they are supposed to mind their manners they bust out some tightly lipped family secret.  Some folks know just the right questions to ask and these kids fold!

Oh, the rigors of mothering!

We’ve been pooped on and thrown up on.  If you’re like me, you got really good at catching vomit.  Yep, right here in these two hands.  We’ve been stretched—figuratively and literally.  For many of us, our bodies will NEVER be the same.   Let’s not even talk about the checkbook.

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But, oh, the joys of mothering!

The sloppy, jelly kisses.  The tiny hugs as powerful as any bear hug.  The “I love you’s” and “thank you, mommy’s.”  Or maybe the snuggles and warm bodies tucked up next to you during a midnight storm.  Perhaps it’s the saving of the day or heroic chocolate chip cookies after a wrecked bike or hurt heart.  The paper hearts and handmade gifts.  These are the treasures of motherhood.  I have crates full of my children’s childhoods.

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So many snapshots and memories rest in my heart.  My heart is intrinsically intertwined with my children’s hearts.  How can a mother’s heart be anything but?  Our happiness is hopelessly linked with our children’s happiness.  We are only as happy as our saddest child.  We long for their joy and peace in this life.  We see in them what they sometimes can’t see in themselves.  We believe the world is at their hands.

They look to us to guide them and see them through.  They need us to ride the waves with them and stay steady.  Ready to call them down from the edge.  They want us to be there and hear their hearts.  So many late night chats when hearts are open and walls are down.  So much 24 hours a day being on the ready…on call.

Here are some things I’ve learned with 20 years of parenting on the books:

  • This is a tough job with wonderful rewards.
  • Of all the things I do, almost nothing is more important than mothering.
  • I am investing in the future as I mother.  I am lengthening my life through their’s.
  • It matters how I parent when they are little.  It matters how I parent when they are bigger.
  • They are important, but my marriage and relationship with their Dad is even more important.
  • I may not be able to do everything I want to do right now, but this is a season.  Someday, I will.
  • After they have grown, they need a coach.  I am still making an impact. 
  • As the parent of a Big, it’s my responsibility to keep the relationship open, alive and healthy.

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He is my firstborn.  He was the guinea pig.

He deserves a gold star for surviving the young, inexperienced, often irrational parenting skills I was working with.  I apologized for said craziness as he graduated from high school.  He laughed.  He has great memories.  He doesn’t remember all the mistakes I have cataloged in my brain.  He knows I’m human and make mistakes.

He laughs as he clearly remembers the crossing over to this realization moment all too well.  The one where our kids realize we are not Perfect.  We laugh.  Apologies and “I love you” go a long way to righting the mistakes and healing the hurts.  We work hard to do the best we can with what we have at the time.  Life together is a beautiful ride.

If there is one thing I can look back and see, it is this.

As we take the imperfectness of our human parenting and pair it with the perfectness of God, we can lay our children in His hands and trust for the very best outcome.  No, it won’t always look clean and pretty.  And, there will probably even be some stink.  But inviting God into our parenting journey ensures spiritual consequences we could never create on our own.

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Further, not being a perfect parent, requires our full trust in God.  I’m not sure how parents do this thing without God.  I have to rely on Him to lead the way with each beautifully unique child.  There is no other way to go.  That’s a risk I’m not willing to take.  My shortcomings are miraculously shored up by the One who leads the way.

So, maybe you are still on the upswing with Littles hanging on to your legs.  The days are too long and your energy is running short.  A break would be good right about now.  I hear ya!

Just know, it matters.  It matters a lot.  And, when you get 20 years out from now, your heart will know it for sure, too.  It’s amazing what being on the flip side, at least with one child, will do for perspective.  And, thankfully, I can say I don’t really have too many regrets….other than the insanity that may have taken over from time to time.  But, hey, none of us is perfect….right?  As my father used to say, “It builds character!”

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Where Are You?

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Esther.

Queen Esther.

Before she was queen, she was a humble and exquisitely beautiful woman plucked from a nondescript life.  A woman minding her own business…an orphan raised by an uncle.  In that part of the world, in that day and age, women were not destined to really be anything of consequence.  They were property at best.

Maybe you are familiar with this story from the Bible.  She was plucked from her home and taken to the king’s palace with hundreds of other women to win the contest of the most beautiful, most alluring and charming female.  The king was done with the current queen and was ready for the newer and more malleable model.  Queen Vashti was on the outs.

Esther was vetted and prepped and sent before the king.  To make a long story short, he picked her.  He was smitten.  God was at work to preserve His people…her people.  God is always at work.  Even if we don’t see it and aren’t picking up on it.  He often works below our radar.  He has a plan.

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There was one man in the kingdom who despised the Jewish people and Esther’s uncle in particular.  His goal was to annihilate them.  But, due to Esther’s great courage and God’s favor, she prevented this atrocity and saved her people.  And, as a twist of fate, this vindictive man was put to death with the same gallows he had planned for Esther’s uncle, Mordecai.  Talk about irony.

God doesn’t play.  He had redemptive plans far bigger than man could see. 

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The amazing point of the story is this:  Esther was willing to be used and stepped up to the plate.  She prepared herself physically, intellectually and spiritually to carry out this audacious responsibility.  She knew the risk involved.  Death was a high possibility.  God knew he could count on this one humble, Jewish woman.

What does this story have to do with my blog post this week?

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As we journey through this life, we enter different seasons.  Regardless of the season, we have choices to make.  Will we be obedient to what God is calling us to do?  Are we willing to take the risks this might require?  What is God calling us to do that is risky?  Perhaps it doesn’t look as glamorous as the potential of becoming queen.  But, you know there is a cost.

Submission isn’t really submission until you have to obey in something you don’t want to obey.  Life is a series of choices.  Each choice to obey Christ and his invitation makes us stronger.  It becomes easier with each choice.  Esther willingingly stepped up to be used for a greater cause.

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Or, it could be, right now you are in a waiting season.  Maybe He isn’t asking you to be in the business of doing a particular assignment at this moment.  Then your time is now!  There are some tasks at hand.  This is your time to prepare.  Like Esther, there is much you can do to prepare for the assignments in the future.  Take a look:

Be patient.  It’s hard sometimes in the waiting.  It often feels like being stuck.  It isn’t glamorous and isn’t always easy.  You may have dreams, but God isn’t bringing them to fruition until you are truly ready.  It won’t happen until His good time.  Now is the time to get ready.

  • Learn.  This is the perfect time to learn and grow.  Find a mentor.  Read and study.  When God is ready is ready to send you out, you need to have grown deeper and wider.
  • Listen.  What does He want to say to you?  What treasures in the secret place does He want to reveal.  There are things you need to know.  Choose quiet instead of complaint.
  • Praise.  Gratitude is the key to growing deep in the waiting.  It makes the waiting a lot more enjoyable as well!  It opens our hearts to His possibilities.
  • Keep the heart right.  This is probably one of the hardest tasks in the waiting.  It’s easy to doubt, get anxious, become frustrated, or maybe even turn bitter.  Just don’t go there.  Rest in the knowledge that no season devoted to God is ever wasted. Realize the beauty that will come  if you allow it.

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I’ve lived through many seasons of preparation and waiting.

At first glance, these seasons seem mundane, trivial and unproductive.  But, if they are devoted to Christ, they are anything but wasted.  The depth and strength developed through those times grew me to the level I needed, in order to properly handle the next task and season.  Never despise the seemingly insignificant and ordinary days.  The world calls for “doing” and “busy-ness”.  In that paradigm, doing and busyness is the sign of importance and accomplishment.  Not so in the paradigm of Christ.

Just like Esther, be ready!  When the season of waiting and preparation is done, God has an assignment for you to join.  He will call to you.  Be watching and waiting.  Keep your ears close to the heart of God.  He will call.   After all, isn’t this what you have been preparing for?

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Who Do You Think You Are?

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Years ago, I was a speaker for a session at a women’s retreat.  This was some time ago—15 years or so.  I was young and inexperienced at a lot of things.  But, I was excited for the opportunity to share with the women at this retreat.

I was not the main retreat speaker, but an “after lunch session” speaker.  You can probably see where this is going.  It was hard.  I was losing them.  I could feel it—I sensed it.  I saw it on their faces.  I was not the dynamic speaker that the main speaker was.  She reached them in a way I wasn’t able.  She had a story I didn’t have.  As I stood there watching their faces, lunch settling in and the food coma descending, I felt my words bouncing off the walls.  I became more and more discouraged.  I felt more and more like a failure the longer I went.

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On the drive home, I beat myself up.  I was a failure.  What made me think  I could ever be a public speaker?  Why did I ever think I could do something so amazing?  I was a dud.  How foolish I must have looked!  I decided right then and there I would NEVER do THAT again.  EVER.  My speaking circuit career was going to be short lived.  One and done!

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I’m not sure whether those ladies got anything out of my talk or not, but indeed, I kept that promise to myself.  For several years, I refused to ever give public speaking another go.  I cloaked it in “it really isn’t my season for public speaking.”  And, honestly, the opportunities dried up.  I believe me telling God I would never do that again, even when I felt cautioned against saying it, spoke something into my life.

Slowly, over the last couple of years, I have occasionally allowed myself to stand up and try it again….always against my better judgement.  I look at all those years I could have used to grow my skills and talent, but didn’t.  How much more seasoned might I be? I certainly would have gained some great wisdom and experiences.

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Have you ever done this to yourself?  Have you ever had a supposed failure and shut yourself down from ever stepping out to try again?  I didn’t receive criticism from anybody but myself.  I was my harshest and cruelest critic.  I allowed insecurity to set up camp and shut down opportunities for my life.

Do you let insecurity settle in and define who are or what you do?  Do you define yourself by what you do?  How about what you know, or maybe, don’t know?  What about what you have or don’t have?  It’s a crazy problem I see all around.  And further, how are we supposed to keep our Littles from spiraling into this mindset when we can’t seem to untangle ourselves from this giant knotted mess ourselves?  We have to do better!

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After doing some research on this topic of self-image, I have learned a few lessons I think will challenge me before I get into another situation like the story above (because, it’s probably going to happen in some way, some where again!).  I will be better equipped to handle the self accusation that will come hurdling against my heart.

First, our deepest longing is for unconditional love.  We have this hole in which only unconditional love can fill.  The only place unconditional love comes from is Christ. People try.  But, really, Christ is the only source of unconditional love.  We have to know our place in that love.  We have to receive this love that requires no performance on our part.

Second, we have to know who we are in Christ. He has to be our Center.  Everything else flows from that.  Every part of our self has to come from that Center.  It will effect every area of our life.  If we are living in insecurity, we are focusing on ourselves and not on Christ.

Third, I have to speak aloud who I am in Christ.  I have to hear myself.  You know, we believe more of what we hear ourselves say than what anybody else says.  I have to stop speaking the negative story lines and words about myself.  It really isn’t anybody else’s job to prop me up every day.  I have to encourage myself in Christ.

Fourth, I am not what I do, what I have, what I know, or any lack thereof.  I am everything in Christ—nothing in myself—but everything in Christ!  I must get my focus off of myself and onto who I am in Christ.  If I look at any of those things, I will only have a false sense of security or an unfortunate sense of insecurity.

So, the sure-fire cure for the insecure heart is this—knowing Christ’s unconditional love.  It is the cure for the aching heart and the strained mind.  Life has a way of clobbering the daring right out of our heart, if we let it.  Stepping out with courage requires a heart settled on this amazing, unconditional love.

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I know insecurity is settling in for a nice, long stay when I am constantly comparing myself to others, I’m easily offended or can’t take criticism well. So, I have to actively fight the monster with this powerful truth.  I am unconditionally loved by the Creator of the universe.  He created me.  I am not perfect and that is okay.  He loves me anyway.  I will not focus on me, but on the one Who created me.  He is my Center and all parts of my life will come from that place.  Because He is my center, I can stand strong in who I am in Him.  That is more than enough.

 I will open my arms and heart to new adventures.  I will rest in the knowledge that I am enough in Him.  Aren’t you ready for that less-pressured way of living, too?

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