Unexpected Graces

 

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Well, here I am sitting in the saddle.  It feels good!  I have missed this place! I’m glad to be back.

It’s been a rough and tumble couple of months since I last sat down.  When I took a break right before Christmas, I never anticipated the journey I would embark upon.  Frankly, it was like someone gave a monkey a match.  It has been quite a ride.

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I needed this time to regroup and set my heart and mind right.  I have been too afraid to write, honestly.  Afraid of what just might come out.  But, it is time.  And, I am grateful.

In an effort to cope with our pain and lighten the mood, our family began to refer to this season as a “plot twist”.   In stark reality, our lives have dramatically changed.  Due to painful circumstances, my Love resigned his position at the church we pastored for over seven years.  Sometimes, it is just time to move on.  There comes a time when you realize the odds are not in your favor and for everyone’s sake, you have to make an exit.  You just hope to do so with grace.

I do believe it has been one of the most hurtful seasons we have experienced in life and ministry.  After 25 years, we have experienced our share of disappointments and set backs.  But, this, by far, was the one of the biggest gut punches of them all.  The only other to compare would be the sexual abuse of our son by a trusted friend and church worker.

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I have learned quite a few lessons in our time here in Virginia.  Some are pretty tough.  But all have been for my good.

Our time in Virginia has been anything but easy.  We have endured some losses.  But, I also can look and see some beautiful gains.  I would be shallow if I didn’t recognize them.

A few years back I began my own One Thousand Gifts journey.  It was a life saver, really. Each day I would count out my gratitude, line by line.  I am beginning a new one.  It’s important to remember the gifts from our journeys.  If not, it could get terribly discouraging!  So, it is time.  Time to refocus my attention.

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One lesson I’ve learned is, “God gives good gifts.”  Some seasons we just have to look a little harder.  Many times they are hard gifts.  I look back at our journey…it is unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever experienced…yet, I still find beauty in the charred rubble.

Light only shines through cracked vessels. 

So, when people ask me if I had known then what I know now, would I still have relocated to Virginia, I’m never sure how to answer.  In the natural, it does not seem worth it.  We have paid quite a high price.  We certainly didn’t know all we were taking on.

Truthfully, I don’t like that question at all.  My first instinct is to scream NO, of course not!

Injustice,

hatred,

jealousy,

abuse,

unfair expectations,

rejection,

financial loss,

illness,

anxiety and depression,

plots and schemes,

abandonment,

betrayal.

Who would?

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When I look at that list of pain, it would seem hardly worth it.  I could easily drown in that sea of loss and hurt.  I do see, however, the gifts from God’s hand that He gave in the middle of such ugly hard.

So, I choose to look at the gifts.  It is time. 

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Friendships,

children discovered their gifting,

memories made,

bound family ties,

new dreams inspired,

spiritual growth,

loyalty,

a sweet canine companion,

hope,

peace,

increased faith,

grace from unexpected places,

deep kindness,

lessons learned,

lives changed,

wisdom,

provision,

protection,

opportunity,

divine encouragement.

I am most certain I have forgotten many other blessings.

I have a sneaky suspicion I am not alone in this listing.  We are not unique.

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We all have experienced our share of pain and loss.  I simply refuse to get stuck here.  I don’t want to live in the muck and mire.  I will not suffer needlessly.  I want free of it.  And, the only place I know to start is with gratitude. 

Christ does not promise a trouble-free life.  No, indeed.

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This world is fallen and is coming undone.  People disappoint.  No amount of dancing can undo that fact.  But, I have learned something else.

Light shines out of my broken places.

God is mending in such a way that light will warmly glow and draw others in.  They will meet Him there.  It isn’t about pretending to have it all together.  No one understands such living.  It is a fairy tale and too great a weight to drag around.

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So, once again, I have picked up pen and tablet and will scribe my gratitude.

I won’t forget our pain, for it has left a mark.  But, mostly I will remember with a heart of gratitude all God is and was to me in the pain.  The strong arms that have held and carried.  I will remember.  All that was meant for my harm, is turned to good.  Nothing can ever take me from His hand.

That is what I will remember.  That will be my focus.  There is beauty to out-sing the ugly.  For it is well with my soul.

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Christmastime Peace

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It seems elusive.  It is something everyone wants.  The world wants it.  The world needs it.  Goodness knows, I have to have it.

This season is so full of stuff and busy-ness.  There is no lack of opportunities for celebrating and spending, going and doing.  If you want to maintain it, you are going to have to protect it.

I’m not sure this is something the world is ever going to find…at least any time soon.  Not in her way.  It will come.  But, not how she thinks or schemes.  The heads of state scream for it.  Politicians plan and lecture regarding it.  If she could find it and contain it, I’m not sure she would know what to do with it once she had it.

PEACE.  

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The only way we are going to have true peace is to stay near the Giver of Peace.  He has come and is enough.  He is more than enough.

He is the salve of peace to heal our hearts.

This world is long on chaos and strife and short on peace.  We get caught in the crossfire.  We are pulled and torn by the anger and fear.  Life moves at breakneck speeds and we are often caught wide-eyed, deer in headlights, not sure what we should do.

We can not allow this age to dictate our hearts.  We can not be pushed by fear to live in ways that are not true to who we are called to be.  He calls.  He is our peace.

Damage and desperation lead us to live failing and faltering lives.  We look about and around instead of looking up.  He is our peace.

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What will define our lives?  From where will we live out our days?  Who will guide our steps and light our paths?  This journey is often dark and scary.  We must walk in the light.  He is our peace.

I am concerned by the ease of which my spinning and toiling and dancing and running so easily distracts me from this Giver of Peace.  So quickly my eyes look away.  I am caught by the noise and the clutter and forget whose I am.

He is my Peace.

Webster says “distracted” means troubled or absent-minded.  Distraught, distressed, frenzied and panicked.  Inattentive, preoccupied, confused.  When we are distracted we look away.  What happens when we look away from the beauty of our Peace Giver and focus our eyes on this temporary place? Frenzy and panic become our poison.  We lose our focus and become preoccupied with less beautiful affections.

He has come and is enough.

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We must keep our focus set on Him.  Keep our hearts occupied with the Love of our lives.  Moment by moment this choice is ours.  He is our Peace.  He is my Peace.  I must keep my eyes on the One who came to bring me peace.  He is all I need in the chaos and shadows.  He is all I need in the quiet and the light.  By sitting in the quiet with Him, I can clearly hear the words He longs to share.  I empty all of me and replace it with all of Him.

He has already come.

 Immanuel.

 Such beauty and peace.  What a magnificent trade!  My chaos and clutter for His peace and beauty.  What do we wait for?  Nothing better has ever come.  He is our Immanuel.  God with us!

Just as the angel came to Joseph and showed him the way in the dark of night, He has come to us.  He has shown us the way of peace.  He has come for us.  He is Immanuel.  He is God with us.  In His coming, He lights our way.  In His coming, He IS our peace. This sacrificial love shines brightly and brings peace to our world-worn souls.

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We rest in His peace.

Choose to step away from the chaos and noise.

Lessen the clutter and confusion.

Turn your soul to the Giver of Peace.

He is your Peace.

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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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What Now?

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“Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.”

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“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”        

  Proverbs 19:11

 

I am amazed!  Maybe that’s not the best word for it.  I am troubled.  I think that is more appropriate.

The offense of this week is the red cups of Starbucks.

I’ve noticed something.  Christians are too good at being offended.  Trust me.  I know.  We are all subjected to it.  I’ve lived it personally.  Up close and in living color.

I wonder.

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I wonder what it must say to the world.  We are having high-speed come-aparts over a red cup.   A secular company.  Their great commission is not concerned with reaching people with the gospel.  Their commission is serving great coffee and creating a comfortable place for folks to gather.  Which they are fulfilling.  God is not depending on Howard Schultz to spread the real reason for the season through Starbucks.

Unfortunately, I think Christians are living out their reputation of being angry, spiteful and opposed to everything.  We are experts at being offended and being angry.  This isn’t what is going to invite in the hurting.  And, why would it?  Why would they want to subject themselves, their mistakes and regrets to the scrutiny of Christians?  I’m sure a root canal without anesthesia holds more attraction.

It doesn’t have to be a red cup.

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Just pick a topic.  Ahhh, and just think about all the wasted time boycotting.  For the most part, we would not have any place to eat, shop, or entertain ourselves.  Maybe we should boycott movies and theaters—maybe television.  Let’s not go to movie theaters or subscribe to Netlix, Direct TV,  Amazon or Barnes n Noble (shouldn’t support the book publishing industry).  For goodness sake, we probably should all become self-sustaining and walk everywhere.  That way we do not support or even concern ourselves with anything that could possibly be of the world.  We won’t sully our hands this way.

How about this one?

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We are really good at bashing our own.  Take your pick of national ministers.  They offend someone theologically or maybe it’s just the size of their home, and God bless them.  I wouldn’t want to be them.  And, don’t forget, it always has to be a public scathing on social media.  Who are we to feel so superior to judge so harshly and diminish a person’s ministry over differing viewpoints?  It does more damage than good.  (I won’t even get into the hurt it must cause their families.)

“People with good sense are slow to anger, and it is their glory to overlook an offense.”

Christ followers should be the most joyful, grateful, grace and hope-filled people around.  But, it sure seems like sometimes we only know how to be offended.  I’m not talking just about on a national scale.  But how about our average every day, in and out?  It’s living in our local churches and communities.  It’s no wonder discouragement is the number one hazard of ministry.  Those who are involved in ministry often feel they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  It’s often never good enough.

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I think my biggest concern is that we are often times too easily and too quickly offended.  We are too quick to call each other out.  What has happened to just overlooking an offense?  What has happened to civility?  Why can’t we realize people make mistakes or are just different than we are?  Where is grace?

Graciousness is an art form that is all too easily neglected.

Let me be very clear.  I am not talking about ignoring and condoning sin.  I am not talking about being lazy or lassez-faire in guarding our own.  But, first, the right to speak into someone’s life must be earned.  That is only done through relationship and commitment.  Gossip or slandering on social media, or just among ourselves, is not the responsible way to handle issues.  I’m going to use a southern term—it’s ugly.  Why do we want to be ugly?  It doesn’t compel anyone.

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I can be too easily offended.  I am constantly working on giving the benefit of the doubt.  I know life is more peaceful and joyful when I am not allowing myself to give in to offense.  Offended people are not happy people.  It only leads to bitterness.

The greatest fight we can engage in spiritually is to refuse to be offendable.

Let’s live out of a life-giving mind and heart.  Not everything must be confronted or called out.  Not every offense even needs to be acknowledged.  Sometimes, we just need to shake it off and give it no other thought.  That takes discipline and strength.  But we are all better for it.  Not only between each other, but in the eyes of those who watch from a distance.  And, quite frankly, we all won’t look so ridiculous!

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Yes!  Keep up the good fight.

But let it be done from love—not offense.

Fight against injustice.

Fight against a culture of death.

Fight against poverty.

War against evil and it’s ravaging.

But, do it from an un-offendable heart.  

Fight for justice and life.

And through this, we will be known by our love.

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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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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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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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We Can Do Hard Things

You never know what you can do until you have to do it.

12038515_10208120059425782_2205531781384824545_nI used to never really consider myself strong.  I use to doubt my endurance for hard things.  I would think of certain scenarios and think there was no way I could ever endure something like that!  I was young and life had not been truly hard.

Have you ever thought like this?  It’s possible I’m a lone bird on this one.  I get stuck in my head quite a bit.  But, on the off chance you have ever wondered how you’re going to make it, or do THAT, or what if, then maybe this is for you.

One of my very favorite sayings floating around lately is a hefty reminder.  And, you better hang on for it!

“We can do hard things.” 

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I’m not really sure how this fits into today’s culture.  For the most part, we are busy entertaining and indulging ourselves and avoiding uncomfortableness at all costs.  I try to avoid stress and anxiety.  I know my margins and am pretty good at trying hard to not cross them.

So, in today’s “first world problem” culture, the hard, ugly, messy, costly, inconvenient and uncomfortable are usually avoided like the .  If it is out of the carefully crafted comfort zone we have so strategically arranged, it must not be for me.  Check.  Not going there.

But, what about the gift of inconvenience?  What about the gift of hard?

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I’ve had the privilege of knowing women who have done hard.  My mom did hard for over 10 years as she was the primary caregiver for my sweet father as he slowly withered away.  I’ve watched my mothers-in-law take care of grandchildren as their own and nurse a dying bitter man with grace and patience. I’ve seen women pick up family and home and move across the world and endure hardship in order to rescue children and women from slavery.  There are all kinds of hard.

We can do hard things.

In fact, life is more rewarding and satisfying if we do hard.  Perpetually taking the easy road and always choosing the easy leads to comatose living.  If that is even considered living.

Sometimes, we really have no choice.  The hard is shoved at us with the force of a tsunami, and we have to swallow it and keep afloat.  Our world is shoved into another realm and we must adjust our course or be obliterated.  Sometimes, it seems we have had more than our fair share of hard and inconvenient.  It appears all we do is hard.  I’ve been there.

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We can do hard things.

I have a beautiful passage of Scripture you need to hear!  Psalm 16:5-6 goes like this:

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.

The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

You may be wondering how I’m going to take this verse and make it work to convince you that, yes, you can do hard things.  Well, here it is.  I have had a very long season…years even…of doing very hard things.  In fact, it came like the waves of the ocean.  I often felt as if I was going to drown from the unrelenting surge of hard.  Life looked bleak and it was breaking me.  The years of pounding had me convinced this would never end.  This seemingly had become the course of my life.  I was constantly looking over my shoulder waiting for the next wave.  Not a hope-filled, joyful journey by any stretch.  I anticipated lack instead of abundance.  I waited for darkness more than light.  I expected drought instead of blessing.

Now, on the other side of the hard, I realize I have learned some valuable lessons.

1. I am stronger than I ever thought I was.

2. The hard doesn’t last forever.

3. I can’t do it on my own, but with Christ and friends, I can do anything.

4. Christ sees it all, and……now, look back at Psalm 16:5-6.

“The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

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The beauty and grace I never thought I would ever see again, has indeed, come.  He never left me.  And, in fact, He holds my inheritance and the borders of my life are stretched to beautiful places.  Life isn’t perfect.  Not everything works right all the time.  Not everything has been fully restored.  But, I anticipate in due time, all things will be made right.

There is something about going through hard and inconvenient, instead of caving and crumbling.   There are lessons we learn and strength we gain.  Strength begets strength.  By not choosing the easiest, or bypassing the hard,  a rock hard strength develops within you.  One. Choice. At. A. Time.

Every time we choose to do hard, we choose strength.  Each time we don’t give up, we choose spiritual fortitude.  And, it is just amazing to see where we are taken in Christ through the journey.  As we come out through the suffocating, restricting and confining alleyways of the hard, we come upon the wide open vistas of grace and hope that stretch out before us.  We see it is both beautiful and breathtaking!  Oh, the light and stunning grace!  He knows us and gives us beauty for ashes.  Yes, we may lose much, but the inheritance promises to be worth the journey!

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Disappointment

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Disappointment.

Who isn’t familiar with it?  It’s a part of life.

Walking through disappointment with kids will wrench your gut and wring you out.  As a mom, I know life happens.  There is no way to protect them from disappointment and do them justice.  In those hard moments, there is so much wisdom to be poured into these sensitive hearts.

I really love those moments of teaching our young ones to process pain and disappointment in a healthy way.  I certainly don’t love the circumstances that bring the pain, though.  But, what shallow and weak human beings they will be if I don’t shepherd them through their difficulties.

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Today was such a day.  Another disappointing report crushed a young heart.  I could see it–a beautiful face fighting hard to hold back the tears.  A heart full of dreams and faith.  Lots of believing and praying childlike prayers.  It was in that moment I had to close my mouth and say a prayer.  I prayed for the right words to ignite a fire of faith.  My first thought was, “Lord, what do I say to another disappointing report?  What are you going to do about this?”

I know all too well these times come.  We don’t hear the answer we want to hear, we are passed by for what we deserve, people don’t live up to our expectations and wound us, or there is another delay in our answer.  And, we ask, “What am I supposed to do about this?  Where are you, God?”

Here are 3 thoughts to help us through these moments:

  • God sees and knows.
  • He never leaves us or forsakes us.
  • God works all things out for our good.

I absolutely believe God sees and knows all that is going on in our lives.  I know He never leaves us or forsakes us.  I know for a fact He works all things out for our good.  I know these three things to be true in my life.

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We have walked through some incredibly severe and trying situations as a family and I remember sensing God speak to me that He had seen it all and knows it all.  What a comfort that was to me!  Just hearing that affirmation of love still brings hope to my heart.  You know what that means?  He had never left me and He truly understands my pain like no other.  He would vindicate and heal the wounds in His good time.

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I told my disappointed one yesterday that God does not always answer in the fashion in which we envision in our minds.  Our small box of plans can’t even begin to hold the answer He has for our situations.  And further, if our disappointment and need hasn’t been answered just yet and we’re still breathing, then the answer is still on the way!

Big lessons for a young one.  Better to learn and solidify your faith at a young age and know for yourself this great big God of the universe than have to wait until your older and have no clue who He is!  Yes, I would love for this life to be smoother sailing, with more positive reports, but, I know He is with us even in those moments.

He is walking through it all with us.

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By the way, lots of love and hugs help, too!  God isn’t shocked or offended by our pain and questions.  Take some time to grieve and process the loss or disappointment.  Talk it out and then move forward.  By the end, a little ice cream hit the spot!  There are no callous “stop crying and suck it up” talks in this house.  But, we are learning to not wallow in our pain.  Eventually, we were able to laugh a little and hug it out!

So, what disappointment have you swallowed lately?  It is sure to come.  But, you can stand strong when you remember this:  He sees and knows; He certainly hasn’t left me;  And, I know good is on the way—it may not look exactly how I planned, but His perfect plan is at work in my life.

Hey….maybe you should even have a little mint chocolate chip ice cream to top it off!

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Would you like to read more about this wonderful journey through this one beautiful life?  Sign up to receive a post delivered straight to your inbox each week.  I would love to have you join me on this journey of hope!  Here’s to a great week!

Sweet, Simple Life

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I am thankful for the small graces in my every day.

Sometimes, it seems as if a whole host of things can go wrong at the same time.  You know, you’ve had it happen to you.   You’re busy running around marking off your to-do list, trying to go out of town and the lawnmower and trimmer break down and the yard police are watching.  The equipment is new, mind you!  Or maybe your child (or as they blame the sibling) has lost their phone.  Thorough searching has gone on without success, but it is imperative for the child to have one, since they are going on a trip without you.  So, the race is on to find a replacement that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. (Because, of course, the child is not due for an upgrade.)

Sometimes, there is just so much to do.  Just do the normal day to day responsibilities, but throw in some hiccups and you feel up to your eyeballs trying to squeeze it all in.  But, I’m thankful.

I’ll be candid with you.  I deal with some anxiety issues.  I’m well aware of what it feels like for me and some of my triggers.  So, today, amid all the running and preparing for the five of us to travel, and make sure our four-legged fur baby is taken care of, I was feeling the effects of anxiety.  I usually call my husband and clue him in on my anxiety.  Instead of trying to ignore it, hoping it will go away, I recognize it at the start and have learned to handle it head on, right at the beginning.  I knew he would pray for me.

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I also had to remind myself that this life is beautiful.  While the responsibilities sometimes feel overwhelming, compared to what others are facing, this is simply life.  One important lesson I learned in counseling is to learn the difference between a crisis and everyday glitches in life.

Broken lawnmowers and lost phones aren’t crises, just life to be managed.  I’m blessed to have a family of my own to care for and nurture.  I remind myself these days are truly short.  While I taxi and run errands, I am caring for my family.  All of this is life.  Beautiful life.

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It takes careful mindfulness to control our thoughts and harness them for power.  I’m learning to not spin into sidewise energy, by not focusing on the glitches and hiccups along the way.  Yikes!  I am not always so good, so I am talking to me today, too.  But, amid the shopping and working through my list of to-do’s, my anxiety disappeared.  (I also think my Honey’s prayers made a difference, too.)  About an hour later, my husband called to check in on me, and I realized my anxiety was gone.  I didn’t let it derail me or steal my joy.

Here are a few ideas for dealing with anxiety:

  1. Stop and look for the source of the anxiety.  See if there is any merit to it. 
  2. Invite someone you trust into your moment.
  3. Pray.
  4. Remind yourself to slow down and enjoy the process.
  5. Be mindful of your thoughts and words.

Life runs at breakneck speeds and sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that all is well.  Remember what is truly a crisis and what is an annoyance or mere, every day stuff.  This is what life is about.  It isn’t all the big, splashy moments.  Most of our days are made up of ordinary life stuff.

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I am learning to appreciate the simpleness of everyday living.   At this point in my life, I am thankful to  just live normal, everyday life.  It is beautiful–complete with bumps and hiccups.  Finding beauty in the simple, and even in the middle of challenging annoyances, is the key to living more fully and peacefully in the everyday.

 

 

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