The Little Blue Sock

shutterstock_65088625.jpgOver 70 years ago, my mom was just a sweet, little 5-yr old girl living in a small town in California.  She’d been hearing her friends talk about Santa Clause in December, and how if you hang a stocking on your fireplace, Santa Clause would fill it with candy and toys if you had been good.  My grandparents weren’t raised with the standard traditions of Christmas being all that important, but my mom certainly didn’t know it.  Mom didn’t have a stocking, nor had she ever heard of Santa Clause.  They didn’t even have a fireplace in their small house, but on that Christmas Eve she took one of her light blue socks and taped it to her door in hopes that Santa would show up. On Christmas morning, she got up, excited to see what she had received.  She ran to where the sock was hanging and it was still there…untouched and empty.  Her little heart was crushed and she thought maybe she wasn’t good enough, or maybe her friends had lied to her. 

After Christmas, Mom took a ride with her dad (my “Pop” that I adored), and he asked her if she liked what she had gotten for Christmas.  It was then then she told him about the sock.  As they talked, eventually the subject of the Easter Bunny came up and Mom asked Pop, “Do you think the bunny will leave me candy if I have a basket?”  Pop replied, “I think he will.”  That Easter season, Mom put out her basket, and when she woke up the next morning, her basket contained a package of Heath bars.  Her heart knew, even at that young age, that Pop made sure she wasn’t disappointed again.

img_4890-edit.jpgFast forward to Christmas in our family this year.  My mom is now living with my husband and I, and my Dad is living in a memory care facility.  This is our first Christmas on this new journey, and it has brought many logistical and emotional changes.  I’ve woken up at my parents’ house for Christmas my entire life.  Even as adults, we spent the night with them.   This year, I woke up with my husband in our house, the one we now all share together.  It felt strange not packing up on Christmas Eve to go to my parents’ house for the night.  I knew my Christmas morning would feel different too.  Mom, for the past 30 years or so, woke us all up at 5:00 am by loudly playing The Christmas Song by Nat King Cole.  It’s impossible for me to hear the opening of that song without memories of those mornings flooding my mind.  Our traditions have now been changed not by choice, but by our circumstances.

Traditions, no matter how strong, are always vulnerable to life circumstances or personalities of those who’ve been a part of them.  Some things in life can’t be exactly the same, but they can still be beautiful.  It all depends on whether or not we are willing to open our hearts to new experiences or are able to let go of past ones we wish we could keep forever.  Believe it or not, we have the ability to adjust and adapt in ways we never thought possible. As a matter of fact, some of our greatest revelations are the things we see when we are forced into searching for new ways of doing things.  It is easy to get comfortable and go on auto-pilot when it comes to certain aspects of life.  Familiarity can bring great comfort, but it can also cause you to not even consider what else might be just as (or even more) amazing.

mom blue sockSo, this year, in the midst of the glaring changes to the early part of my Christmas morning, I decided to do something different. I thought about my 5-year old mother and took a light blue sock, filled it with a little toy, a few pieces of candy, and yes, a Heath bar.  I taped it very quietly to the door of my mom’s room and started playing The Christmas Song on my phone that I had laid against her doorway.  As I stood hiding in the morning darkness, listening for the sound of Mom taking that sock off the door, I couldn’t help but think about how there are always opportunities for creating beautiful moments, no matter if they’ve been going on for generations, or whether it’s the very first time it’s happened.  I peeked around the corner of my mom’s room and said, “Merry Christmas.”  There sat my mom on the edge of her bed, laughing and crying at the same time.  So, we sat on the bed together in the faint glow of daybreak, reminiscing about her childhood, “Pop,” our family, and how anything can be redeemed, even if it takes 70 years.  It was my greatest gift this year.

Christmas Day may be behind us, but the gifts that remain are those experiences we shared with family and friends, or even others along the way.  It is the opening of our hearts, listening to each other and loving each other through the difficult times that reminds us we are not alone.  In life, as with Christmas, we need to look for the beauty outside our traditions as well as within them.  Sometimes it is through the changes we didn’t expect in life that we find the changes that make life more beautiful.

Live with your heart open, and when you get the chance along the way, always take time to fill someone else’s little blue sock.

Blessings!

Focus On What You Already Have

Christmas is upon us, and here I am sitting on the floor, late at night, with only the glow of the Christmas tree lights and the screen of my laptop illuminating the room.  It is quiet in my home, yet somehow music keeps rolling through my head.  It isn’t a song of the season, but rather the melodic cadence of a lifetime.  Maybe it’s the glow of the trees, or the silence around me, but moments like this have a way of pulling my gaze away from the noise and pace of everyday life and bringing my focus back to what really matters.

shutterstock_344854976As we continue through a season that is supposed to be filled with joy and love, I look around and see stress and frustration on the faces of people around me.  Drivers are out of control with anger; shoppers are pushing and shoving each other; some people are going into debt trying to meet their (or others’) expectations of gift-giving.  There are also some who are living with great losses and challenges that cause all the standard holiday activities to simply disappear into the background.  In a season that is so often labeled as “magical,” it becomes easy to feel everything but a sense of wonder.   Busyness and activity has a way of doing that before we even realize it.

I had a hard time this year thinking of things to put on my wish list for Christmas.  I honestly couldn’t think of a single thing for which I had a great desire.  It’s not that I have everything I want materially; it’s just that I found myself incredibly content for the first time in a long time.  Somehow in the midst of my incredibly difficult and distressing year filled with loss and change, I realized what I valued had shifted.  It was only when I sat staring at an empty Christmas list that I even recognized it.

It’s so easy to spend our lives focusing on what we don’t have or what we’ve lost.  This year my husband’s parents passed away just five days apart, and my own dad’s dementia escalated to the point where he had to move into a memory care community.  It was devastating for us all, and my mom had to sell their house to ensure dad could stay in his new community as long as possible, as most memory care facilities aren’t covered by insurance (don’t get me started on that).  Mom moved in with me and my husband, and we’ve been adjusting to our new rhythm as best we can.   Loss after loss, grief after grief with no end in sight.  Have you just ever had that kind of year?  If so, then you understand how quickly our perspective changes. All we see is loss, because loss is all that is visible to us.  Everywhere we look there is more grief and pain, more difficult circumstances, and more that is slipping (or has slipped) between our fingers.  It is a natural reaction, but it doesn’t remove the negative effect it can have on our lives.

shutterstock_711300070Dementia has a way of turning everything upside down.  One of the things I love about Teepa Snow, and her organization (www.teepasnow.com ), is that she continually stresses the importance of looking at what someone still has, instead of what they’ve lost.  Build and foster your relationship based on things they are still able to do instead of what you wish they could still do.  When you focus on the abilities someone still possesses, it frees you from the stress that comes from your skewed expectations.  You can expect all day long that your loved one with dementia still has the abilities they’ve always had, but you will just be frustrated and your relationship with that person will suffer.  It’s about living in the moment, taking them where they are and creating beautiful experiences for you both.  I can’t help but think how that concept applies in so many other ways in life.  When we try to build or foster relationships while continually focusing on what the other person has lost or is lacking, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and disappointment.  We will never be satisfied, because we will always be seeing the holes instead of the substance.  We keep trying to work with what isn’t there instead of what is.  What a frustrating endeavor, and even more so when the relationship we are struggling with is the one with ourselves.  It is impossible to build or maintain that internal relationship when we see nothing but what we’ve lost or can’t do anymore.   We can’t build a relationship with ourselves with that perspective, because it will always be skewed and will never be fulfilling.  From a spiritual standpoint, it becomes so easy to start blaming God when things haven’t gone right in our world, or at least what we think is “right,” and then our relationship with Him suffers also.  It’s a slippery slope for sure.

So many people talk about the art of letting go, and there is definitely something incredible about releasing things that hold you back.  But what about the art of holding on?  We spend a lot of time trying to identify our obstacles instead of our strengths.  We focus on what we need to purge from our lives instead of what we already have that needs to be fostered.  I remember a comedian once said about the Bible, “Everyone thinks the Bible is a book of don’ts, but it’s really a book of do-s.  And if we’d spend our time doing the do-s, we wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts.”  I heard that over 30 years ago, and it still sticks with me today just as strongly, because it also applies to how we look at ourselves and others.  If we would spend our time fostering (or appreciating) what we already have, it doesn’t leave much time or energy to focus on what we are lacking in skills, abilities, or even material possessions.  Ask yourself these questions: What do I have to work with? Do I have a special ability or skill?  Am I good at something?  What are those things?  If you ask people to name something they are good at, many (if not most) of them will say they don’t know.  Why?  Because we don’t stop to look at what we have; we look at what we don’t.  We see what we wish we were, wish we had, or wish we could do.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t strive to be better people, become more skilled, get an education or go after something new.  And I’m certainly not saying you can’t change.  This year has been full of huge changes for me internally, and believe me, it is always possible to change.  It’s possible to be freed from things that chained you in the past, but you also need to focus on what you already possess.  Search your heart deeply for a moment, you know what they are.  They are those things you have forgotten as the cares of this world continually try to distract you from seeing your gifts.

Image-1Dealing with someone who has dementia has brought so many lessons for dealing with life in general.  When someone has dementia, you have to meet them where they are in order to develop and maintain a relationship with them.  My dad isn’t who he used to be, and yet he is still exactly who he always was.  I just have to find those things that he can still do and live in that place with him.  This relationship is not exactly as I wished or hoped it would be at this stage in both our lives, but it can still be something amazing.  Embracing, celebrating and being thankful for all he can still do, allows me to be open to riding this roller coaster with him instead of watching him ride alone.  It allows me to live life with him now, in this moment, instead of continually seeing nothing but what has faded into the fabric of our journey.  If we want to fully live, we must live in the NOW.

Work with what you have.  Meet people where they are.  Meet YOURSELF where you are.  There are so many other abilities you may have, but those are above and beyond the fact you have been gifted with life itself.  Even the ability to breathe and communicate are gifts.  Trust me, you can always do something and then work from there.  If you will start seeing and nurturing what you already have, you’ll be amazed at what else will suddenly appear.  When you are willing to meet a dementia patient where they are, and work with what they have, it’s AMAZING how that tightly closed shell opens up to reveal the pearls within.  I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  If we could just do that with ourselves, what greatness might we unlock?  What goals might we achieve?  What dreams might come true if we will just stop jumping ahead (or backwards) and look at what we’ve lost and simply develop what we still have?

shutterstock_341963009So as we celebrate this Christmas that is upon us, let us first remember the greatest gift God gave us by coming to earth to sacrifice Himself so we can have eternal life.  But let us also remember He didn’t have much from a material standpoint, but He always worked with what He had.  When He called others to join Him, He worked with what they had and compelled them to do the same.  Let us celebrate not just the life of Christ, but the life He wants for each of us.  He’s gifted every single one of us with abilities, even when we feel we don’t have anything on which we can build.  Stop for a moment.  Look within and stop focusing on what you’ve lost or wish you had.  Look deeply and start recognizing all you still have, every single thing you have or are able to do is a gift.  No matter your circumstances or what you might see as your deficiencies, you have way more “gifts” than you can imagine.

To quote the Grinch, “Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

Merry Christmas and may you all be blessed with moments in which to live a lifetime!

Mothering Is More Than You Think

shutterstock_600936479Mother’s Day is once again upon us, and with it comes all sorts of emotions for all kinds of people.  Some are celebrating their wonderful moms, while others are mourning the loss of their mother, and still others may be cringing at the memory of a mother who wasn’t there for them.  Some women are relishing their own role as a mother, while others are just trying to make it through a day that reminds them only of the void that comes with never having been able to have children of their own, or worse, having lost one to miscarriages or other tragedies.  My point is this day can be beautiful and wonderful, or it could bring heartache and pain, and no matter where you or I fall on that spectrum, we all have to walk through this day somehow.

Family is such an important part of our society.  Our families shape us and often mold us into the adults we become.  If we are blessed to have been raised in a family where love and faith were a continual thread, it is easy to forget that there are those who have not shared our same experiences.  While we might have great memories upon which to reflect, there are others who are doing everything they can to not remember their own.   Such is the complicated nature of family relationships, and such is the complicated nature for so many women when it comes to motherhood.

Most of you know that my husband, and I were not able to have children of our own.  We looked into all the other possibilities, but none of them worked out for us.   Over time, the grief of our situation shifted and morphed, as it does with any other type of grief.  Not only that, but this year is the first Mother’s Day my husband and I have shared where one of our mother’s is no longer with us.  My mother-in-law was an amazing woman who never met a stranger or gave up on anyone.  She loved unconditionally and losing her has changed the palette of feelings that we share individually and as a family at this time of year.

IMG_0469This year, in spite of all of life’s challenges and the complications that can come with this day for so many women (and men), there is something different on my heart and mind. This year, I am thanking God not only for my own godly mother who raised me in deep love and faith, or the children in my life that I’ve had the opportunity to influence in one way or another, but I am also thanking God for the three children my husband and I sponsor through Compassion International.  It’s been a number of years now, and although it took a while to become comfortable with our communications back and forth, we have settled into beautiful relationships with three children who live across the world from us.  We have watched them grow, and have been blessed to be able to support, encourage and be connected to these kids and their families, and I am unspeakably grateful as I reflect on it today.

Mother’s Day is a day that we set aside to honor first our own mothers, and then all mothers.  As Prince Harry recently said after the birth of his first child, “How any woman does what they do is beyond comprehension!”   What women go through to bring new human beings into this world really IS beyond comprehension to those of us who have not experienced it, male or female!  That being said, it takes far more to make a true “mother” than just giving birth.  It involves a deep and lasting love, a sacrificial love that seeks the well-being of her children first, even when it demands more than she thinks she can give.  It is about understanding the responsibility you have to raise and nurture the human beings God has entrusted to your care.  It is about being there.  It’s putting your phone down and listening to them.  It involves so much more, but you get my point.

shutterstock_723877837When you consider what it truly means to “mother” another human being, you are able to step back and see a broader group of women than you might have before.  All the characteristics, traits and actions that make a woman a true mother, are the same ones that make us all mothers to the world around us.  I’m not discounting mothers in any way, in fact, I am doing the exact opposite.  I am elevating the aspects of mothers that we all celebrate on this day each year.  We celebrate the love and care.  We celebrate the sacrifices.  We celebrate these amazing women who took their jobs seriously and refused to give up even when their children may have disappointed them or caused them pain.  These are the things we celebrate, and as people of faith, THIS is how we are supposed to love the world!

I mentioned earlier about the children my husband and I have sponsored for a number of years.  Although I did not give birth to them, nor are we raising them, I love them with all my heart and feel a great responsibility toward them.  My heart desires the very best for them.   I cheer their accomplishments and share in their difficulties and sorrows.  I worry when I hear of events going on in their countries, cities or villages.  They are embedded into my heart, and I am so grateful to have yet another area to channel that mothering gene God put in my heart.   I have found Compassion International to be an incredible organization with which to partner, and I could not be more blessed to have three beautiful children to love and care for as a result of their efforts.

shutterstock_1257354151So on this Mother’s Day, by all means, honor your mother and the other women in your lives that are worthy of that honor.  Thank God for all the women who mothered you throughout the course of your life.  Honor them by doing the same for others around you.  Don’t reserve your nurturing just for your children, but also for those children without mothers, and for adults who are wounded and hurting.  Over and over again, Jesus tells us to love one another.  He tells us that everyone is our neighbor (Luke 10:25-37).  He tells us to go the extra mile when we don’t have to do so (Matt 5:41).  He tells us to love our enemies (Matt 4:43-48).  Jesus made it perfectly clear that we are commanded to love!  He told us,“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”(John 13:34-35)

Reach out to this world full of struggling people.  Nurture them, love them, and never be afraid of getting your hands dirty.  After all, isn’t that what mothering is all about?

Happy Mother’s Day and blessings to you all!

Compassion International – Sponsor a child

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I’m sitting here on this “Silent Saturday” evening, reflecting on all that went on the weekend that Jesus went to the cross and died for all humankind.  There is always such focus on Good Friday and even Holy Thursday, but we often just skip over the day that is referred to as “Silent Saturday,” a day that Jesus spent silent in the tomb before rising.  It was a strange day for His followers, and it feels that way again to me today.

shutterstock_177898622Silent Saturday for the followers of Christ was a terrible day.  The previous day, their Savior had been brutally beaten to the point of being unrecognizable and had died a horrible death on the cross.  The people who had believed in Him were crushed, scared, and worried about what the future would hold.  They heard Him promise that He would rise again on the third day, but they doubted it.  The Bible doesn’t come right out and say it, but if they believed His promise with all their hearts, they would have been waiting expectantly at the tomb on Sunday to see it happen.  Instead, they were afraid.  It was extremely silent for them.  Fear hovered over them while darkness hovered in the tomb.  Waiting is always the hardest part.

There is something about silence and darkness that makes most of us uncomfortable.  The disciples were hiding for their lives.  How discouraging it must have been to wonder if everything they had sacrificed for Christ and all they had believed to be true would end like this – huddling together in fear of what would come next.  As I sat here pondering how difficult the silence was for the disciples back then, I realized how hard it is for me over 2000 years later.

shutterstock_675753925All of us have experienced our own personal versions of “Silent Saturday.”  We face times when we have lived from a place of faith in God and His promises, and hold tight to our relationship with Jesus, believing what He has said, even when we sometimes don’t fully understand it.  We follow; we believe; we trust.  We marvel when we see God’s hand working in our lives or the lives of those around us, but then we find ourselves in a Silent Saturday.  We pray for God’s guidance or His help, but it seems He is silent, so we assume He is gone and start to question what will happen to us in His absence.  We feel scared, helpless, and if we are honest, we sometimes feel betrayed, as if everything we have done has been for nothing!  Where is God?!  Why won’t He answer me?  Why won’t He help me?!  The longer the silence, the more scared or disillusioned we become.  Depression sets in and we huddle down and start trying to figure out what we should do next to protect ourselves, because obviously God has let us down.

The past few months in my life have been filled with terrible events and great losses and griefs, and they just keep coming.  It is a strange season of life, and I have said to those closest to me, “If God were merciful,” or “I wish God would just be merciful and…,” and then I would add whatever I felt that would be to the end of that statement. Yesterday I uttered those words again and then it hit me: When I make those kinds of statements, what I am really saying is “God is NOT merciful.” That realization hit me right in the heart.   The same thing happens when I say, “I wish God would be gracious and…,” again, fill in the blanks at the end of that statement with whatever it is you think should happen in a given situation, or with what you want to happen.  I guess I just never thought about the fact that when I start stating what I think would be merciful or gracious, then I have put my knowledge and opinion above that of the One who knows everything and is working everything for my good.

shutterstock_712494409The disciples were already confused and fearful when Jesus was arrested.  They watched Him willingly lay down His life when they knew He had the power to strike back at those who were harming Him.  Surely they felt like their entire world was falling apart and the future was too dark to see.  Jesus was dead and in the tomb; Darkness set in and the silence became deafening.  What I always found interesting was that Jesus had told them multiple times what He was doing and why He was doing it, but they just kept missing it.  (Matthew 16:21 and 20:17-19) The problem wasn’t that they hadn’t been told, but rather that they never fully understood – or didn’t want to understand.  Jesus even told the disciples “I am telling you now before it happens so that when it does happen, you will believe that I am who I am.” (John 13:19) How many times has the same thing happened to me because I was blinded by my own ideas of what should happen, based on an incorrect interpretation of what God has said to me through His word? Just like the disciples, sometimes I can’t get out of my own way to see His.

In times of great trouble, grief, fear and worry, we often search for meaning.  We search for answers and guidance.  We search for shelter and comfort.  We struggle against the silence we are experiencing, and then start doubting everything we ever believed.  The longer we wait, the harder it is to keep the darkness from overtaking us and reducing us to terrified people, hiding and just hoping to survive.  I know it happens, because I am living it myself, right now in 2019.   I am drowning in fear and pain in my heart and soul, and the longer this darkness lasts, the harder it is to not lose faith.  The longer it is quiet, the more tempted I am to believe this is what life is going to be like forever, and that maybe I was wrong in what I believed.  In a nutshell, Silent Saturday stinks!

Most of you have seen the holy week quote that says, “It’s Friday, but Sunday is coming!”  I’ve always looked at that as a reference to the miraculous resurrection that secured my eternal life as a believer, but today it suddenly meant something else.  Sunday isn’t just about my salvation, but about the resurrection of hope and faith in me (and in us).  There is a “Sunday” coming in my life where I will see God move in ways that are impossible for me to understand right now while I am in the midst of silent but excruciating pain.  The marvelous truth about my Silent Saturday is that no matter what I feel, it doesn’t change the fact that God is working things out behind the scenes.  He has made deep and abiding promises to me, and He doesn’t have to keep repeating them in order for them to be true.  On the other hand, sometimes I need to go back and read those promises again, and read that God is the same yesterday, today and forever, so that I remember they are true.  I need to remember it so that I can breathe in the silence and still have sight in the darkness.

shutterstock_74847238I am so grateful the original Silent Saturday didn’t last, and on Sunday morning, the grave burst open and Jesus walked out ALIVE!  But this year, I am also grateful to remember that the Silent Saturdays of our lives don’t last either.  I’m not saying these seasons of life are easy, by any stretch, and we are all in different places of faith at different times.  But just as the disciples could have benefited from reminding each other of the truth, and holding each other’s hands in moments when the fear or sadness was too much to bear, we can lean on our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same for us (and us for them) as we trudge through the difficult times in life.

For the disciples, Friday was shocking and devastating, Saturday was silent and incapacitating both in action and in their hearts, but Sunday changed EVERYTHING!  I read a statement that said, “Good Friday was the worst Friday until Sunday.”  There is such truth in that statement, and the same holds true in the challenging times in our lives.  When we experience tragedy or trouble, there isn’t anything good about it in our minds.  We are left in places where the silence is deafening, and we are gutted with incapacitating fear or grief.  We have to wait, and doing so makes us wonder and feel like the silence will never end, but then we finally step into the sun of a new day.  Things start becoming clear and we see the proof that God was working even when we didn’t see it or didn’t understand.  We then rejoice, celebrate and are changed by what we have witnessed.  God has promised us that our trials and testing of our faith is for our good.  James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

“Fridays” beat us down, “Saturdays” leave us reeling, confused, and grieving, but when “Sunday” comes, we can finally see good in our trials and the strengthening of our faith through the silences.  So on this resurrection Sunday, pause and thank God not just for everything He did so that you can live eternally, but also for all He does to constantly resurrect our faith and hope as he works all things for our good.  We can’t see what He has in store, and waiting is definitely the hardest part, but He knows that when the night is over, He is going to knock our socks off!  Joy comes in the morning, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Blessings!

Replenishment Over Resolutions

shutterstock_1148041004Happy New Year’s Eve!  Every new year brings with it the hope for positive changes and experiences ahead for us.  We reflect on the past year and consider what didn’t go as we expected or how we didn’t do the things we originally planned.  Maybe your year has been filled with more successes and joy than you even imagined, or maybe it was filled with changes that brought loss and pain to your heart.  Either way, we still seem to have this innate sense of reflection when a new year is about to begin, but why?  There is something so refreshing about newness in life.  It is why so many people love the season of spring so much, there is new life blooming all around us.   New life is exciting and reminds us that even when the ground is dark and cold, there is life beneath it just waiting to explode into view.  I guess it’s much the same sensation as we approach a new year.  Winter is raging, but it feels as though a newness of life is growing, waiting to burst forth into view.  New life represents a replenishment of hope.  It’s a burst of energy.  It’s a new focus or new commitment.  But mostly it is a new perspective or a new vision of what lies ahead.

For those who live by faith, we know that God promises us new life not just at the dawning of a new year, but in every moment and every breath.  We know we can start again and make positive changes in life, and if we fail, we can still get back up and keep going.  What I find interesting is how often we make our plans and then ask for God’s help in executing those plans.  We use our reasoning to determine the best course of action in our lives.  We reflect, refocus and set goals we believe will bring the positive changes we so desire.  It all seems so godly until we step back and look at things more objectively in the light of truth.  Things start to shift when we get out of religion and into Christ.  Suddenly our plans get shaken up, and, if we aren’t careful, we can start thinking that everything is going wrong when maybe it’s finally going right.  And as I say that, I just keep thinking about the wisdom of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding.”

shutterstock_134516501Sometimes God replenishes us and refreshes us through the difficult processes of letting go.  I recently took several months off from my official responsibilities at church, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I prayed about it over and over, as it is not my nature to take a break of any kind.  I always scheduled vacations and business trips around being able to be in my place of service, so to know God was leading me to take a break from what I’ve felt I needed to do really rattled my brain!  The key phrase to that last sentence is “what I’ve felt.”  When we insist on operating under what we feel instead of what God is asking of us, it creates the most challenging disjoints.  For one thing, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7).  If God wants us to walk by faith and not in what we can see with our own eyes, I’m certain He doesn’t want us walking by what we feel either!  Our emotions can wreak havoc on the direction God is leading us in any situation, because we want to feel like what we are doing makes sense.  I’ll speak for myself here:  I don’t want to feel like what I’m doing is stupid or that others may see me as making decisions that appear to be rash or thoughtless.  I don’t want to appear irresponsible or flaky.  I don’t want to follow God’s leading only to have others judging me to be things I am not.  Since it is the holiday season, it reminds me of how Joseph probably had many of those same thoughts when he realized that none of his friends or family were going to believe (or be privy to) all the details of his pregnant fiancee or why he didn’t “put her away.”  He knew how people would look at him or talk about him, but he walked the path God laid out for him and let God take care of the details.

So where is this going?  It is going to the heart of how you or I want to start this new year or live the rest of our lives.  Do we want to constantly be striving for all the things we think will make our lives better, or do we really want to walk where God is leading us?   Are we willing to lay back into His arms and (His will) and let Him refresh and replenish us, or are we determined to spin our wheels attempting to replenish ourselves through the execution of our well-thought out goals and plans?

shutterstock_699640600.jpgWe really need to remember that each new year doesn’t just begin on January 1st.  Every breath is the beginning of a new year.  Every heartbeat is the beginning of what our lives will become.  Living with that kind of refreshed perspective brings hope for a better future, but whether or not anything changes depends on how we view ourselves in comparison to our Savior.  Do I really think I’m smarter than Him or have more resources?  Do I really think I’m more enlightened or understand more?  He knows and sees what I am unable to, and He has already planned ways around or through the maze of my life.  I need to remember He is working things for my ultimate good.  I need to stop trying to cut openings in the dead ends just because I think I’m smart enough to see a better way and strong enough to create it.  I need to remember that I am replenished when I step back, breathe, and follow wherever He leads no matter how it appears to others.  I need to remember the depth of my Father’s love for me, and that everything He does or allows is is bathed in that pure and perfect love.

I read a great meme the other day that said, “Sometimes faith will make you look stupid until it starts to rain.  – Noah.”   New life most often springs from the most challenging circumstances IF we are willing to follow where our Father leads.  It may not always coincide with the way we would do things, and it may even look to some as though we have lost all sense of reasoning, but that’s the point!  If God is leading you to do (or not do) something, then follow that leading no matter how it looks to the rest of the world.  We tell each other things like, “Don’t let anyone distract you from your goals,” but the greatest danger or true distraction to achieving our goals is the manner in which we set them in the first place.

shutterstock_670208887If you are like me, we need to let go of what we think is best for us, or the worry and fear that comes with what others might think of us, and trust what our Father says to us in His word:  “For I know the plans I have for you,”says the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)   His plans for our successes far exceed our ability to create our own, and His replenishment trumps our “resolutions.” Every. Single. Time.

Blessings!

A “180” Of Faith

543899230565I realize we are quickly approaching Good Friday and Easter Sunday, but this year I’ve been unable to stop thinking about Palm Sunday.  Believe me, I love the reminder of the resurrection and what Jesus did so that I can be saved, but I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to Palm Sunday until this year.  Maybe it’s because I’m in a strange season of life, trying to determine where or what God is tugging me toward, or maybe it’s because I just needed to see something to shift my perspective a little bit.

Less than a week before Jesus was betrayed, brutally beaten and crucified, he had come into Jerusalem to a grand reception!  It isn’t called the “Triumphal Entry” for nothing!  He was riding on a borrowed donkey’s colt.  The disciples laid their cloaks on the donkey for Him to sit on and the multitudes came out to greet Him.  They laid their cloaks and palm branches before Him, shouting, “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” as He rode to the temple.  Just think of that sight!  Crowds hailing Him as King and publicly acknowledging Him as Messiah.  So what in the world happened that caused them to turn on Him so quickly and strongly?  How do you go from one extreme to the other in a matter of a few days?  The answer really lies in one word: Expectations.

Expectations are interesting things.  The dictionary defines “expectation” as a strong belief something will happen or to be the case.  Our expectations in life depend on the information we have been given and the way in which we interpret that information.  For example, I expect that my husband is going to do the yard work because he said he would do it.  I believe he will do it, but I also have my expectations of when it will happen and what it will include.  When he does finally go out to do the yard work, he decides not to weed the flowerbeds or sweep off the sidewalk, and I get upset.  Why?  Because he didn’t do things the way I believed they would be done.  543900368135There may be a good reason why he did things differently, but all I see is my unmet expectations. In my original conversation, all he said was that he was going to take care of the yard.  He did not reveal other details of what he planned to do, and I created additional expectations based on the way I would do things.  My expectation that the yard work would be done rests on believing what he told me.  My expectation of HOW it would be done rests in everything else I assumed from his statement.   Our expectations are colored by our past experiences, and they deeply affect our emotions.  When we expect something bad to happen and it doesn’t, we get excited and happy.  When we expect something good to happen and it doesn’t, we become upset, sad, depressed or even angry.  We’ve all been there and have experienced the reality of that roller coaster.  We interpreted something differently and suddenly our world is turned upside-down because something unexpected took place.

So back to Palm Sunday, it was a day filled with people who definitely had expectations!  Some lived in Jerusalem and some were traveling there for the Passover celebration.  They had read the prophesies of old and knew that God was coming to deliver them.  They were being oppressed by Roman rule, so when Jesus, their “King,” showed up, they were excited.  Deliverance was on the way!  They expected Him to ride in and destroy their enemies, deliver them and set up HIS kingdom.  They expected fire and fight in Him.  They expected a political leader.  They thought their day had finally come, so they exclaimed his praises as he rode through town.  This was a GREAT day for them, but then things started to change quickly.  They listened to things he was saying and when His message didn’t fit their expectations, they turned on Him.  He said His Kingdom wasn’t of this world (John 18:36).  He didn’t argue or even defend Himself when He faced His accusers (Matt 27:12-14).  He didn’t answer the charges or even respond to them.  By all standards, He appeared weak.  He certainly did NOT look like a King about to take over!  As a result, it must have confirmed (in the minds of many) that He was not the Messiah, and if He wasn’t the Messiah, then He was definitely a blasphemer as charged.  So in a matter of days, the shouts of the crowd went from “Hosanna” to “Crucify!”  When given a choice of who to release, they chose to put a convicted thief and murderer back into their community rather than someone who had only done good to others.  They were THAT convinced it was impossible He was who He claimed to be, because a King would not come as He came.  A King would not just lie down to be slaughtered.

The crowds that shouted Hosanna on Palm Sunday found themselves with serious unmet expectations.  The Messiah they longed for and believed in did not show up like they expected Him to, but He DID show up, and He DID deliver them, and also all of us.  They just couldn’t accept that God had a plan far greater than their temporary political situation.  He had a plan far greater that was hard to understand after years, or generations, of expecting something different.  But God was at work on His master plan to change everything for humankind.  He was working things out for their good, even when they couldn’t see it or refused to see it.

543902470228How many times in our lives have we lived out our own personal “Holy Week?”  I have often been in difficult situations and was banking on the many promises of God.  I was believing that He knows and cares about what I’m going through, has the power to deliver me and is working things out for my good.  I have shouted “Hosanna” in my expectations and perceptions of what He has said, but then He starts working things out differently than what I expected.  He starts doing or allowing things that I just don’t understand.  I watch what’s happening and start to think that maybe He isn’t who I thought He was.  I look around and start getting angry that He isn’t doing more “smiting” of my enemies or my circumstances and is instead leaving me alone to fight for myself.  It doesn’t take too long thinking these things that I end up angry because He doesn’t care enough to take care of me.  In my own way, I go from shouting “Hosanna,” to shouting, “Crucify!”  I start letting my doubts or anger from unmet expectations drive my perspective and end up choosing to set free the worst of myself rather than to trust God knows what He is doing.

Life is hard.  We were never promised that it would be easy.  As a matter of fact, we are told repeatedly in the Bible that we will have trials and struggles, but that God is always working for our good.  It’s just so incredibly hard to accept that’s the truth when our reality feels so much like the opposite.  Yes, God has the ability to come riding into our circumstances, proclaim Himself as King and destroy whatever or whoever is oppressing us, but we can’t see the big picture.  Sometimes He is working on a much grander and better plan for our deliverance than we can see.  Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t who He says He is.

There are many beautiful pictures in the Easter story – pictures of grace and mercy, of sacrifice and redemption – but this year my prayer is that we remember the crowds.  I pray we remember how their unmet expectations of HOW God was going to deliver them caused such a drastic change in a matter of days. shutterstock_257497339 Unmet expectations can cause us to doubt what we know to be true.  When we hold so tightly to our version of what our deliverance should look like, or how it should come, we end up spending our lives looking for the next best solution.  We waste our energy trying to resolve it ourselves and end up sacrificing our peace and joy in the process.  Sometimes our deliverance comes through waiting.  Sometimes it comes through struggles.  And sometimes we are yelling “Crucify” at the very One who is delivering us – all because He isn’t doing it as we expected.

So look up, my friends, and I will look with you.  I will look to the cross and see not only love and redemption, but also a reminder that God is working a master plan for my good.  And when it seems like God is doing nothing, He is doing something exceedingly abundantly above all I could ask or think.  I just need to stop shouting my plans and trust in the fulfillment of His.

Blessings and a very happy Easter to you all!

Hope For The New Year

shutterstock_731389564Well, we’ve just come through the first week of 2018 and have heard the words “Happy New Year” over and over.  We rang in the New Year in all different kinds of ways, and now we are back to the day to day grind.  Some of us made promises to do something different this year, while others are just trying to not rock the boat and keep things the same.  So now what?  And why do so many of us focus on making changes at this time of year?  Is it because we are unhappy with the current state of our life or is it because we are discontent with decisions we’ve made in the past.  Change at the turn of the New Year is enticing because, after all, who doesn’t want a clean slate (or even a “do-over”)?

The New Year brings exciting, and often motivating, potential for change.  We are energized for new things, but what do we do with the changes that happen to us?  It’s easy to jump in to try and make ourselves or our lives better, but how often do we actually keep the promises we make on January 1st?  A study by the University of Scranton revealed that only 8% of people achieve their New Year goals.  That means a whopping 92% do not succeed, but why?  It’s my opinion the main reason we fail in keeping on track with our goals for changing is because we don’t change US!   We don’t change our perspective, so we instead look at our goals as nothing more than a task.  Tasks are something you do; resolutions are something you become.   We talk about “New Year’s resolutions,” but a resolution is not just an intent, or even commitment, to do something better.  It is defined by Webster as “the act of finding an answer or solution to a conflict, problem, etc.”  A true resolution is not the intent to get a result; it IS the result. It is change that brings the resolution, not the other way around.

shutterstock_627074813Change is a constant part of our lives.  It happens to us all the time, often against our wishes.  When things are going well, we don’t want change.  When things are going poorly, we want change, but only on our timetable and on our terms.  Real change often interrupts our intent to change.  We make promises to ourselves (or others) to do something different but then something outside out control happens, and we are derailed.  How many of you are dealing with unexpected changes right now?  Some of us are dealing with difficult changes in our jobs, families, health, etc.  Some of us suddenly find ourselves as patients while others have been thrust into the role of a caregiver.   It is difficult when the New Year brings change to you instead of you bringing change to the New Year.   There are also positive changes for some of us.  Some have become parents, homeowners, financially stable, and many other things.  It isn’t about whether or not change will happen, but how we deal with it.

We each decide what we are going to focus on when things change around us.  Sometimes all we can see is the loss or what seems to be the destruction of our hopes and dreams, but we do have a choice in our perspective.  We need to remember that ALL change brings loss.   It’s part of the natural process.  In order to have something different, whether good or bad, we have to let go of something else.  Sometimes that loss makes us say “good riddance,” but other times it makes us scratch and claw while screaming, “NOOOOO!”  But what if we started looking at change differently?  What if we could become better at rolling with it?

As a person of faith, I know God is working all things for my good (Romans 8:28).  We all know it, but we constantly scramble when things aren’t going the way we would like.  We seem to lose sight of the fact that life is full of seasons, ups and downs.  Solomon said it beautifully in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:

  • There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
  • a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
  • a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 
  • a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
  • a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 
  • a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 
  • a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
  • a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

shutterstock_568487266There is truly a time for everything, and our definitions of good and bad are usually based on limited information.  The question is: do we trust the One who actually knows everything or not?  Are we going to live through the changes in life like a wind-up toy, going along until it hits a wall and then bounces off and goes another direction until it hits another wall?   The reality is that we really do have a choice and the result of our choice will either bring peace or anxiety.  If we approach unexpected change as though it is totally up to us to figure out the problem and fix it, then we are going to live a life full of constant stress, because there will always be circumstances we cannot control.  On the other hand, if we could realize that what we see as “unexpected” is never a surprise to our Heavenly Father, and that He has promised He is working all things for our ultimate good, then we can live a life of confidence and peace in the midst of every storm.  It doesn’t mean it will always feel good, but we can trust that it will eventually all work out.

So back to the fact we have just started a brand new year, if you think this year will be different, you are correct.  If you think there will be changes this year, you are also correct.  If you think you will have total control over those changes, think again.  It is a beautiful thing to take the time to reflect on your life and make plans for positive changes or better decisions.  It is good to hope, but we need to make sure our hope is not inappropriately placed in ourselves or others.  As the old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.  I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.  On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.”  He knows everything we are going through and what is to come.  He cares intimately about every aspect of our lives as His children.  He has the power to handle any and everything in our lives, and He will always work things out when it is for our ultimate good.

shutterstock_484456384So I wish you all an amazing 2018!  It is my prayer that all of us can learn to lean on what we know in our hearts instead of going it alone.  We can become better parents, children, employees, bosses, church members, pastors or whatever other role we may fill.  The best way to do that is to fall back into our Father’s arms and let Him show us the paths to walk.  And when the next January 1st rolls around, we will be able to share not only our hopes for another year, but our resolutions – our results – from the journey we are embarking on right now.  That, my friends, is what a resolution is all about.

Blessings!