Happy 2018!

Welcome to 2018! January seems to come in with a bang and be gone in a blink. I often spend the first few days getting organized and making goals, the middle of the month looking for tools and tips to make it work, and the end of the month to look back and realize I didn’t actually make a move on my goals. Anybody relate?

This year instead of making a goals list or a wish list I’m doing something new. Literally.

Every month I want to find a new adventure. Something I’ve never done before, but always wanted to do. Or to do a new way. I have big things on my list, like run a marathon and crochet a whole blanket. But I also have little things, like learn to tie a french knot and roller skate.

2018 is going to be an adventure. And I’m not letting a month pass me by- not even January! I’m not planning out my months or trying to write out plans. I’m taking it one month at a time looking for the adventures that await.

For January, I have a HUGE adventure… but I can’t tell you what it is yet. 🙂 You’ll have to wait until later in the year to see it.

What adventure will you take on this January?

 

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Too often I look at the stories in the Bible and say, “I wish I could be like that.” And then every once in awhile I find someone who reacts the way I would. Today, I can relate to Mary. Soon after her visit from the angel she did something I can relate to: she ran.

Luke 1:39 tells us that Mary got ready and went in a hurry. Other translations read that she went with haste. In other words, she took off as soon as she could and didn’t look back. I imagine Mary was so unsure of what was happening that she went looking for answers. Looking for help. Looking for verification of what she heard. Anybody relate?

Sometimes when we find our self in a difficult situation we retreat. Or maybe look for advice. Or even signs that everything is going to be okay.

When Gabriel visited Mary he told her of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Perhaps this was a nugget of confirmation God would give in order for Mary to be sure of her role. As a relative, it is likely Mary knew of Elizabeth’s inability to have a child. To see Elizabeth with child would only boast in God’s ability to do the impossible, and thus help Mary to find peace in her situation.

Whatever her reason for leaving so quickly, Mary found strength in her visit with Elizabeth. As soon as Mary entered Zachariah’s house the Spirit was working in Elizabeth’s womb. And the words of Elizabeth must have comforted Mary when she proclaimed, “Blessed is she who has believed what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” (Luke 2:45)

Mary’s response is a song of praise. Sometimes referred to as the Magnificat, her words of praise here are spoken in such a way as to magnify or shine light on what God had been doing in their time of waiting. Mary’s decrees recall the good God had done, the good he had promised to do, and the good he would be doing in her.

Whatever her reason for running, Mary was sure of one thing: the God who loved her was doing something good in her. Finding peace and solace in the midst of life’s chaos is exactly what Mary did during her visit with Elizabeth. The time away allowed Mary to gain strength and understanding that whatever reprimand was to come, whatever obstacles she would face, and whatever circumstances would bring, her God would go before her.

I want to be like that, too. Like Mary, who ran off quickly to get her head straight. She didn’t complain or try to run away from her assignment, but rather confirmed and praised God for it. I want to step back from my circumstances and prepare myself in Him so that when I step into His plan for me people will call me blessed, too.

I pray that this week we will step back from the busy world around us and prepare our heart and mind for His plan. Let us praise Him this week for the things he did in 2017 and for the things he will bring in 2018. May our souls magnify the Lord as we rejoice in our Savior.

The Angel Visits Mary

T’is the week before Christmas. Many of us are finishing up our shopping, busily wrapping gifts, and planning our “I still need to…” lists. It’s probably the last few days of school or work, and many of us will be welcoming or be welcomed as visitors in the days ahead.

Visiting is one of my favorite traditions of Christmas. We purposely make time to see family and friends who are important to us. We gather around the table or the fireplace. It’s a special time we remember through the seasons.

When we look at what the Bible tells us about the birth of Christ we can find several visits and visitors. This week let’s take a look at five visits and visitors of the Christmas story.

Beginning with Gabriel’s visit to Mary.

My curious mind craves to know the details of this visit. What was Mary doing? Where was she? How many times did she blink to see if he was real? But Luke doesn’t tell us. He does tell us a few things, like Mary lived in Nazareth and had been pledged to be married to Joseph.

In the movies this scene is portrayed as a beautiful moment with a calm and smiling Mary. But in the spirit of being real, let’s put ourselves in Mary’s place. Folding laundry and making beds in the house by myself when all of a sudden an angel speaks. No phone call to see if she was home. No car pulling into the driveway. No doorbell. An unexpected visitor in my ordinary day would not lead me to a peaceful smile and instant calm!

As if the element of surprise isn’t enough, Gabriel speaks with some intense words: “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” The word favor here is the Greek word charis. It means grace or charm. Mary had been hand selected for this role because God saw her grace and charm in action. He had no doubts about her.

I am always amazed at Mary’s two responses to the angel. First, Mary simply asks about the logistics of how this will happen. She simply asks what to expect in order to do what he has asked her to do. She doesn’t ask about the impact it will have on her, her marriage to Joseph, or even what it means in for the Jewish people. She just wants to know how to make it happen. Her second response to the angel is full compliance. “May it be to me as you have said.” Whether it was fear or joy, she said yes.

Too often I want to know the big picture. I want to know how things will work, and what the final result will be. And then I want to pick and choose the pieces of my assignment I like. I want to choose the easy parts.

Not Mary. She agreed wholeheartedly. She gracefully allowed the God she loved and served to use her in the way he chose for her. She submitted to His way.

This final week before Christmas I want to be more like Mary. I want to forget my plans and welcome God’s unexpected without hesitation. I want to love and serve my God one step at a time.

As you walk through this week, look for the unexpected moments God plants in your life. Listen for your next step. Say yes to whatever he is asking of you this season- even if you don’t know the big picture. He sent Jesus as a baby through Mary’s willingness to serve. What will he do through you if you let him?

T’is the Week Before Christmas…

Maybe your a little like me. Way back at Thanksgiving I made a plan. I even bought all the goodies to make my plan work. I made cute little bags for a “countdown to Christmas” activity with my kiddos. I listed out twenty-four things to put inside. I pulled out my Christmas devotional that spans December and its matching set of daily ornaments. I placed them all ready to get rolling in December.

December first came. And went.

And now, here I am on December seventeenth and I haven’t so much as cracked the book. The matching ornaments sit wrapped in the cellophane (despite owning them for 3 Christmases) and the tree is empty as can be.

I feel like I have failed. I want desperately for Christmas to be about Christ and not the busy days and weeks. I think I keep good tabs on not getting swept away by the retail side of the holiday (the space under my tree is bare, too!). But I still get caught up in the activities and commotion of the season. And I leave little time for focusing on the miracles of His birth.

Sound like you?

Let me tell you this- you are not failing! Many women (especially mommas!) have trouble balancing time for personal devotion with the requirements of the season. I am certainly one of them!

So, what do we do? As we approach this final week before Christmas we also tip-toe toward free time. Maybe your shopping is done, or maybe you are just beginning. Maybe the plays and concerts have passed. Maybe your kids are soon to be out of school. Or maybe your chaos is just ramping up. Whatever the week ahead holds for you, can you find 10 minutes a day to take a peek at the birth of Christ?

Beginning on Monday, and for 5 consecutive days, you’ll see a post from me. We will look at the 5 visitors in the epic birthday of Jesus. It will only take a few minutes each day. The goal is not to bog you down or give you one more thing to do, but rather to give you a chance to spend a few minutes of this incredibly busy week to mimic Mary. Luke 2:19 tells us that in the middle of Mary’s journey she stopped to treasure all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Leave me a comment if you plan to check back this week. Tell me about a Christmas visit you remember from your childhood. I’ll leave mine, too. 🙂

I’m so thankful to each of you. Can’t wait to hear from you this week!

Fear to Faith: Turning Perceived Fears into Power and Love

Okay, I admit it. I have a fear of deer.

Yes, deer. Those quiet packs of field-roamers who eat on your summer vegetables in the early morning hours.

The moment I spot one my shoulders tense up to my ears, my eyes open an extra inch and my heart races so fast I have to clench my hands over my chest to keep it inside. Its an intense reaction.

My fear of deer developed back in 2003. While driving my now-husbands car home from spring break at his family’s house I collided with not just one lovely creature, but 2. The first one I hit head on. He went sliding up and over us, flying over the car and landing several yards behind. The second hit the front quarter panel and came to rest just outside the driver’s door.

For 14 years every time I spot a deer my grip tightens. It’s a sudden, uncontrollable reaction based on the emotions of fear. Fear like this is a response of the brain. It is a natural and healthy response programmed to keep us safe.

Fear stimulates your fight-or-flight response. If danger is near, it is fear that empowers you to run or punch. In the right context the emotional response of fear can save your life. For example, if you find yourself in a fire your fear can stimulate your body to be alert and have the energy necessary to find a way out. This is healthy fear.

Fear can also present itself in unhealthy ways. We can think our way into a flight-or-fight reaction. It is when we allow this perceived fear to paralyze us that fear becomes a problem. We worry and stress over how something will turn out. We exhaust our minds and our bodies. We let the fear of worry keep us from living.

That is not God’s plan for you.

God did not plant in us the emotional response of fear to wear us out. Fear is not intended for everyday use. 2 Timothy 1:7 uses the word fear or timidity to describe this type of perceived fear. This false grasp on what danger potentially lies ahead is not God’s intent. It is sometimes equated to faithlessness. The faithless fear that often stops us from reaching for our God given desires needs to be replaced by power and love. The power and love of God is all that we need to look beyond the things that could go wrong so we can walk in faith toward the things God has intended for us.

 

God gave us the emotion of fear to protect us from harm, not to keep us stagnant. He wants us to move past the perception of fear where faith reminds us who is in control.

 

Take a minute to write down 3 of your biggest fears. Are your top 3 fears protective or perceived?

Ask God to help you this week to lay aside the perceived fears, replacing them with love and power to put you on the path to reaching your goals.

Love > Fear

Yesterday’s post was supposed to be about fear. But as I awoke to the horrific news coming from Las Vegas, there seemed to be enough fear to go around.

I am shocked and saddened by the loss of lives. I spent yesterday with my eyes on the television watching survivors and heroes telling about their experiences. I watched as people began to try to make sense of the whys and hows.

I have no comforting words of wisdom or reasonable explanations. I don’t understand this violence. I, too, search for answers to explain the loss of innocent lives.

As I exited the coffee shop yesterday afternoon, a kind young man holding his toddler offered me a genuine smile and friendly greeting. It was truly contagious as I smiled back at him. All day I has wrestled to find a reasonable explanation for an act of such extreme violence but found nothing, yet a simple smile from a stranger was able to change my entire demeanor.

Every person we pass every day has a story. A reason she acts the way she does. A cause for her behavior. How can one smile or kind word change her day?

God’s love isn’t just a single historic event. It’s about every day. It’s about holding doors for others. It’s about checking in on neighbors. It’s about smiling and greeting people. It’s about loving everyone. And its life changing.

As we watch in fear and sadness the unfolding of the largest shooting in America, let us look for a way to change someone else’s day for the good. Let us love on each other like never before. Know your neighbors and pray for our country.

I heard someone say today that one act of violence opens the door to many, many acts of love. What will you do today to love?

Running on Need

I’ve been running on need.

I need to be here. I need to go there. I need to get this done. I need to better at that. I need to be enough.

And I’m tired. I’m stretched thin and feeling weary. Running on necessity has drained me from productivity and rest. Sure, it keeps me moving. Its also unavoidable at times (particularly with multiple children). Yet when we attempt to remain in the constant motion of “needs” we lose our ability to rest and recharge. We forget the joy we once found in certain activities and people.

It’s the taxi cab momma who forgets the idle chat in the car is important to her daughter. It’s the working woman who brings home take-out instead of remembering her love of cooking. And it’s the woman inside each of us who believes if she can just meet this need she will be more valuable somehow.

Running on need is robbing us of being a daughter of the one who made us. Its robbing us of joy and laughter. And it’s robbing us of just being.

When God’s people had finished rebuilding the wall in the days of Nehemiah, Ezra assembled them in unity and read to them from the Law. They had worked tirelessly to rebuild the wall and the nation, yet after hearing the Law read they wept and mourned. Time spent on the needs left them feeling not good enough for the God they were working to affirm. But Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites told them not to weep and mourn, for the day still belonged to God. “The joy of the Lord is your strength,” they reminded the Israelites (Neh 8:10).

Are you buried in your need list, feeling like you just don’t have enough?

I am.

Sister, you are enough. You are not a sum total of your “needs”- you are so much more. You have joy today simply because our God is still God.

I know your needs can’t be brushed off as not important. Mine won’t either. But you and I both can find moments of joy to give us the strength to keep going.

Run on joy, not need.

I’m at The Glorious Table Today!

I’m pulling up a new chair at The Glorious Table. Its refreshing, encouraging, and beautiful. Will you join me?

To pull up your chair, click here. Take a look around, find some encouragement, and don’t forget to subscribe! Follow us on social media so you can sit with us every day.

You’re always welcome at this table!

 

 

Three Word Instructions to Simplify Life: What a Fitted Sheet Taught me About Life’s Instruction Book

Fitted sheets. They frustrate me in so many ways. They shift and bulge on the bed. To fold one neatly requires four hands and an hour of time. And the bending and stretching required to put it on the bed burns the calorie equivalent of the candy bar I eat when I’m done. But the most frustrating part of my fitted sheet is determining its direction!

The first corner is easy. Nearly every stretch to the second corner comes up short. I inevitably start with the wrong corner. Just yesterday my sheet changing started this way again. But when I ran my fingers down the edge I felt a tag brush between my fingers. Curiously I paused to take a peek.“Top or Bottom.”

A smirk crossed my lips instantly. How many times have I skipped passed this tiny treat? Sewn right into the hemline in three simple words is the solution to many moments of frustration.

As I fixed my sheets I began to think about other sources of petty annoyance and frustration. I wondered what three word solutions I might find tucked in each situation. Have I overlooked the simple instructions tucked right inside?

 

If everything in life carried an instruction label we may feel more prepared. More able. More confident in our ability.

Life’s edges do not have tags of instruction, which often leads to struggle. Success isn’t clearly defined by top or bottom. In or out. There is not one right way of doing something. In fact, the individuality of the human mind allows us to get an equivalent positive result by more than one method. You and I can take two different approaches to the same task and both become successful.

So, then, how do we find the instructions for life? How do we know what is right and what is wrong? How do we know we are doing well?

Not by judging another.

Not by comparing our path to another’s.

And not by the cultural definitions of successful.

We must look at the instructions for life given to us in the Bible. Burlap to Cashmere, a Christian rock band from the late 1990s, recorded a hit song using the acronym “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth,” for Bible. The Bible is packed with advice and instructions on how to live life.  

Some even come in the simple three word format:

God is love. (1 John 4:16)

He is able. (Hebrews 7:25)

Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Fear no evil. (Psalm 23:4)

Live in peace. (1 Corinthians 7:15)

Shine your light. (Matthew 5:16)

Every thought captive. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Love one another. (John 13:34)

Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)

Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Love your neighbor. (Matthew 22:39)

Love your enemy. (Matthew 5:44)

Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32)

Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4)

The simple three words of instruction I found in the crease of my sheet eased my struggles of bed-making, but it is still a challenge. It is a starting point. A beginning. This week I choose to start my days with some of the three-word instructions of the Bible. It may not take away all of my struggle, but it is the beginning of a life well lived.

What three-word instruction can you put into practice this week to ease your struggles? Comment below, or join me on facebook to take part in the conversation.

 

The Pros and Cons of a Label

“Let the Janitor through.”

I looked through the crowd of middle school students before turning to glance behind me. I didn’t see a custodian anywhere. But as I took a step forward pushing my sweeper into the parting crowd my bucket brushed against my leg. Sweeper. Bucket.

I’m the janitor.

For a moment my heart fell to my stomach. I wanted to scream out that I am not a janitor: I’m a parent helping the school by cleaning once a week! I’m a substitute teacher. A writer. A mom. But a janitor?

The label was like a sucker punch to the gut called pride.

I made my way through the hallway of students and ducked into my next classroom. As I picked up my towel and began wiping down desks, the hallway interaction repeated in my head. Why did the label janitor offend me? Why was I so quick to defend against the title?

We often put value on a label. Perhaps it’s a job title or a class status. Maybe a disease or disability. A person’s value is often perceived as the value of the label. When we place a label on someone our thoughts and actions toward that person become slanted in its favor.

Some labels we want. Like wife. Or mom. Beautiful. Successful. Some are necessary, like woman. Still others are hurtful, like ugly. Lonely. Unworthy.

The woman at the well carried many labels. Her first reaction to Jesus’ request for a drink clearly defines the separation a label can bring: “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (John 4:9, HCSB). The Samaritans were less than human in the mind of a Jew. They were considered unworthy and unclean. The Jews did not hold them of any value. As a result they overlooked their needs and their desire for God. Beginning with this interaction, Jesus broke the labels that separated them.

A variety of labels separate us today, but all of us are invited to interact with Jesus. Our labels do not make us better or worse than others. They simple provide a space where we can share our similarities and our differences.

What label is causing you to think more or less of yourself? What label is keeping you from interacting with your neighbors? I challenge you to shed the perception of those labels. Instead, use your labels and the labels of those around you to create conversation. Open a space for all to be labeled as friend.