To the girl struggling to find hope this season,
Hope can feel elusive, especially this time of year. Outside the world shouts “be happy” with twinkling lights and bustling stores filled with holiday décor but inside you feel a bit dim. You wonder if you will be able to endure this hopeless holiday season once more without exploding or imploding.
Friend, I see you. And friend, I want to tell you that it’s OK that you feel the way you do.
Our emotions were given by God. If you don’t believe that to be true you need only to look at scripture to be assured. Jesus was God in the flesh. Jesus got angry and threw over tables. Jesus wept. Jesus loved his friends and family. Jesus also got up in their faces from time to time. (Friend, read your Bible…it’s really good!)
My point is this, if you are trying to stuff your feelings in order to put on a happy face this season. Stop. God never asked you to not have feelings. He gave them for a purpose…embrace them, explore them, kick out the ones that don’t belong, but feel them. They are a sacred gift; they are part of your humanity.
I started off writing about hope and moved on to feelings pretty quickly and here is why. Our feelings are an important part of life, but we must learn to discern when our feelings are sabotaging us. Feelings unchecked can take a bad day or a bad relationship or a bad situation and make us feel that life is hopeless. Feelings can make us decide that things will never change. Feelings can tell us to give up when we should hold on. Feelings can tell us that it would be better to just stay in bed until after Christmas. Feelings can lie to us.
We must learn to check our feelings against scripture. We must hold up our feelings to the light of truth and see if they can stand in the light. Have you ever noticed that feelings of sadness, depression and hopelessness prefer a dark bedroom with covers over your head? Girl, there is always a time and place for a good cry, but when we are done staining our pillow with mascara tears we must move towards the light. This is where we find hope.
What does moving towards the light look like? It looks like opening the blinds and opening your Bible. It looks like rather than replaying a situation over and over in your head you recount it to God in prayer and ask Him to help you overcome it. It looks like boldly declaring in the morning, “I can’t change this hopeless fill in the blank, but God can”!
Simple steps like this are the cornerstones of hope that will lead us to the solid rock foundation we find in Jesus. Starting with these steps moves us out of the natural and into the supernatural place of hope beyond hope in a hopeless situation. This space is where you enter into the glorious mystery of God’s realm. I know because I have been there and when I drift, I always find my way back. When everyone around you can look and ask, “how can she still have hope?”, you know you have tapped into the true source of hope that only Jesus gives.
This is hope. Jesus, God in the flesh, came to earth for us. When we couldn’t make ourselves right with God, when the world was too broken and people were breaking each other, when obedience to God was impossible and humanity couldn’t measure up to the standard of holiness, He came. He didn’t turn his back and walk away. He came near and whispered as gently as a baby cooing, “I will make this right, I will stand in the gap for you”.
Sister, you are loved. You are cared for beyond measure by a God who came down to earth to die for your sins to make you right with Himself. The division between you and God is not there. This is where your feelings will lie to you. You can’t earn this kind of love. You can’t justify yourself in the court of grace. When God came as Jesus, then died on the cross, then rose from the dead, then promised to return he had you in mind. He did it all for you. You simply believe it and receive the blessing of everlasting life.
Everlasting life outshines all the dim things on this earth. Everlasting life reminds us that this world is temporary and so are it’s worries and hurts. It reminds us to endure knowing we have a friend in Jesus to journey with us the whole way. Everlasting life is our future and our hope.
Friend, if you were here with me right now I would take your face in my hands and breathe the weary but stubborn hope I have into you. I would remind you that you are loved beyond measure by God and that He provides temporary support in the form of other humans. I would encourage you to reach out to a safe human and tell them, “I’m not OK today, do you have some hope to share?”. I would help you write down a prayer to God giving Him all your worries and hurts and asking him to spark a flame of hope in your heart. Then I would hug you and whisper in your ear that you are going to be OK, and that I will too, because Jesus promised he would never leave or forsake us.
Your partner in hope,
Here are some Bible verses to remind you of the hope you have in Jesus.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13 ESV
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12 ESV
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 ESV
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 ESV
For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:24-25 ESV
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3 ESV
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4 ESV
“And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7 ESV
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. Revelation 21:4 ESV
Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18 ESV
So that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:7 ESV
You are doing it. You are waking up each day putting one foot in front of the other and making it happen. Good on you!
Now, let’s talk about your heart for a minute. While we are all waking up in the morning and laying down at night, how is the condition of our heart throughout the day? It’s one thing to tackle a day and a totally other thing to embrace it. Tackling requires determination and force, embracing requires acceptance and surrender.
I’ve talked to a lot of people who are tackling this season: powering through with gripes and grumbles, holding on by a thread, falling back on old vices. I’ve talked to very few who are embracing it, gracefully surrendering, and saying no matter what God is good so my day will be too. I fall somewhere in the middle (though I’d love to say I am perfectly surrendering).
Friends, it is only in surrender that we find peace. But what are we surrendering to? A pandemic? New schedules? Lost jobs? No in person schooling? Yes, and no. Yes, because this is what God has for us in this season or He wouldn’t allow it. I know your heart wants to push back on that. I didn’t say God caused it. I said He allowed it. The Bible is full of bad situations God allowed but used for good. No, because we are not surrendering to a temporary situation but rather to a God that we trust. We are abandoning ourselves entirely to a God that knows better than we do. Surrender requires humility and recognition of our mortality.
Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins— even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless. Job 11:13-15
I wonder if some of us have “secret sins”? I wonder if our secret sin is the condition of our heart. We keep the smile, do the right things in public, post all the pretty pictures and Bible verses on social media, but behind closed doors we are cursing the situation we are in. Worse, we are cursing our brothers and sisters made in the image of God because of how they are handling things. We have created a false confidence because we are afraid, pride.
Job 11:15 promises that when you surrender your heart to God “you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless”. This is not a prideful false confidence that tackles each day with the appearance of fearlessness. It is the fruit of surrender, it is peace. It is what makes people ask, “how are you so calm and happy right now with all we are facing?” It looks a lot like hope. It looks a lot like light in a dark world, and isn’t that what we are called to be?
Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:22-23
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Entering into a new school year with COVID in the mix doesn’t have to be daunting. Will it look different? Yes. Do we have to allow it to unnerve us? No. I know there are new routines and trials ahead whether you already homeschooled or are now schooling at home while you try to hold down a job or you are a stay at home mom that just doesn’t feel equipped to also be a teacher. I want to give you a bit of encouragement and some resources today that are helping to prepare me as I enter into this school year.
1. I HAVE BEEN READING GOOD BOOKS. I homeschool for those of you that don’t know. Each summer I gather a reading list that will help me give my children a healthy, enjoyable childhood and a good education. These two components really go hand in hand. I chose books that will give me a good lens on the year ahead. Here are the books I’ve read this summer. It’s not too late for you to start them now for some inspiration as you start the school year. (The first two are on audible and all 3 are available in many online retailers.)
There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather by Linda McGurk (Ya'll know I am passionate about getting my kids outdoors and since I have Sweedish roots this book had me at hello.)
A lively, insightful memoir about a mother who sets out to discover if the nature-centric parenting philosophy of her native Scandinavia holds the key to healthier, happier lives for her American children. Struggling to fit in and to decide what was best for her children, McGurk turned to her own childhood for answers. Could the Scandinavian philosophy of “there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” be the key to better lives for her American children? And how would her children’s relationships with nature change by introducing them to Scandinavian concepts like friluftsliv (“open-air living”) and hygge (the coziness and the simple pleasures of home)? McGurk embarked on a six-month-long journey to Sweden to find out. There’s No Such Thing as Bad Weather is a fascinating personal narrative that highlights the importance of spending time outdoors, and illustrates how the Scandinavian culture could hold the key to raising healthier, resilient, and confident children in America.
In Vital Harmony: Charlotte Mason and the Natural Laws of Education (This is the philospohy behind how I homeschool. This book covers the 10 principles in a simple but comprehensive way.)
Charlotte Mason looked at the world and saw that it was governed by universal laws, such as the law of gravity. Then she wondered. What if there were similar laws that governed the way people learn? If we knew what those laws were, we’d be able to pursue education along the most promising lines .
She devoted her life to finding the key principles of education and then developing methods to make the most of them. The result is a comprehensive picture of living and learning that breathes life into education at every level—from babyhood to the adult years. It’s not a rote system, but a flexible set of ideas that keep education in focus.
These principles are for everyone concerned with teaching and learning. They are no more difficult to implement than the principle of gravity which allows you to walk, run, and even--when you know what you are doing--to soar.
Know and Tell by Karen Glass (This method raised my daughter’s Lexile score over 200 points in 6 months. This book is helping me take it to the next level.)
The art of telling, has been used as a pedagogical tool since ancient times. Over one hundred years ago, Charlotte Mason methodized narration and implemented it in scores of schools in Great Britain. Over the past few decades, educators in the US, mostly in home schools, have followed her guidelines with outstanding results.
This book discusses the theory behind the use of narration and then walks through the process from beginning to end, to show how simply "telling" is the foundation for higher-level thinking and writing.
2. I HAVE SET UP MY HOME THE BEST I CAN FOR THE SCHOOL YEAR. I have been decluttering (or trying the best I can in our two bedroom townhome) so that we can focus on work in open cozy minimalist places in our home. The kids each have a small bookshelf holding their books for the year. They have beanbag chairs and a hammock under the loft bed for reading nooks. I have shelves in the closet holding games and kits that complement their curriculum. The garage is deemed the “art studio”. We have painted a large blackboard on the wall where I will do some instruction and we can do learning there when inside the home gets stale. They have a table in the art studio and a closet and drawers full of art supplies they have free rein to use at will. There is a small basket of books by the fireplace and a record player in the living room, next to it is a bin of the kids favorite records and some new ones I want them to give a try. Our home is set up to create many opportunities for me to redirect the kids to keep busy when I need to work.
3. I HAVE STARTED SECRETLY PREPPING MY KIDS. Speaking of redirecting I have secretly been prepping my kids for the school year ahead. The lazy summer days are getting tucked away and replaced by a bit of structure, this takes a shift. For the last two weeks I have been making it a point to give my children tasks they have to do on their own…quietly. Build a bridge with Legos. Write a list of items you want for the school year and send me Office Depot links. Go find an art project to do in the garage on your own. Wash your bike. Bake something for dessert. Read a book. Color me a picture. These “do alone” activities are helping to train their brains to work quietly and independently on projects.
Secret prep # 2: I am starting school a week earlier than we must. I school partnered with a public charter. This means we are technically part of the public-school system, but I am still the teacher. We meet with an educational facilitator once a month for support and to make sure we are meeting standards and they provide funds for educational materials and classes that meet physical fitness needs and things I can’t teach like music and foreign languages. They won’t buy the faith-based materials I use but I don’t mind paying out of pocket for those. I thought you may be interested to know a bit about Charters, but my point was this. School for Charters start a week after public school. We really have another week of summer if we want to but I had it in my mind that we were starting on the public school schedule and so I am going to stick with that and ease into our school year. I am going to give us two weeks to finish one week of curriculum. This will allow us to enjoy digging into all the new books and tackle new schedules and disciplines in a gentler way.
What are you doing to prepare yourself for the school year? I’d love to hear your tips too!
At the beginning of last school year, we were starting from a low point…and a high point. The low point was that my daughter had lost her love of learning. Five years in the public-school system had left her felling dumb, hating reading, and deciding that school was boring, therefore learning was not fun. Please don’t hear that I am picking on the public-school system. As a public resource it follows the utilitarianism principle, it provides the greatest good to the greatest amount of people…leaving some behind. Sadly, my daughter was one of the left behind. She had fallen behind grade standard in reading ability and it effected all the other areas of her schooling. Teachers told me she was an anomaly, the tutor wasn’t making progress, and my daughter spent many days crying and telling me she was just dumb. I wasn’t kidding about the low point.
So, at the end of her 4th grade year I decided to homeschool. I heard it all. “Why would you do that?” “But you don’t have teaching credentials.” “How will she socialize?” Sometimes I offered up an answer and other times I resigned to let others think what they wanted. I knew this was the right thing for my child. And this is where the high point began. I now had the power to change the course of my daughter’s education while she was still young.
I planned and researched and met with an educational facilitator at my charter school to line up curriculum and plan the school year for my daughter entering 5th and my son entering kindergarten. I bought the books and ordered supplies. I did all those things you might imagine but there was one thing I did that set the course for the whole year. I set an intention.
My intention would be my guide through the school year. It would remind me of our greatest educational purpose that year and help us grow in the area most needed. It would keep me in my lane as I saw other moms doing it differently than me. It would remind me not to veer from course and add more stuff we didn’t need. It would guide me in how I taught my children. My intention would be very important.
My intention for last year was easy to pick. While some may have chosen to try to increase scores or meet new academic standards I simply chose, “help my children fall in love with learning”. I knew if I could do this all the other important factors would follow better reading and math skills and better grades. If I could entice my children to want to learn then academic improvements would surely follow. And they did. In just six months my daughter went from reading below her grade level to reading at a sixth to seventh-grade level based on state standard testing. She actually told me she liked reading! Not only that, but I was watching her become more inquisitive and take risks with learning new things.
Implementing my intention looked different everyday but it started with “unschooling”. We did not sit at a desk all day. We often learned outdoors. We focused on things that piqued her interest and researched and wrote about that. We implemented the discipline of narration for every passage she read. This caused some resistance at first, but this is what brought results in reading and writing comprehension as the year progressed. While we had daily tasks, I focused on the big picture to make learning interesting and fun. I didn’t over test or teach memorization of facts but let learning unfold naturally for her. I allowed her curiosity to lead us, and it did. Learning became fun.
As we enter year two, we have a new intention. This year it is “experience learning, encourage inquiries”. My core focus is the same: deepen a love of learning to make a lifelong learner. We will experience learning by being more hands on in all we do, and I will encourage the children to ask questions of everything. Just as a three-year-old asks why 50 times a day, I want my six and eleven-year-old children to do the same and then find the answers. This will develop a habit and lifestyle of learning that will carry them through their whole lives.
We all have a different situation. Some may homeschool like me and others will have children distance learning. Some will work as they manage their children’s education as I do, some won’t. Your intention should suit your family and your situation. Your intention should empower you and your family to have a great year no matter what you are facing. It can be measured simply by how your family feels at the end of the year.
When my daughter started telling people she liked school and when she started selecting books from the library for pleasure reading, when she asked me to learn new things and didn’t whine when I said to was time to do her studies I knew our intention was a success. She had now fallen back in love with learning. Does that mean she loves learning everything? Of course not, but her attitude about learning had changed. The improved scores were just a bonus. The intention had worked.
What is your intention this year? What will create balance in your house and a healthy learning environment and healthy attitude about learning for your child? For some it may be quality time with no screens every day. For others it will be regular outdoors breaks to improve your children’s moods and break up long days staring at a screen. It may be more personal such as taking on more responsibility in your child’s educational process. Or perhaps it’s backing off the pressure to perform and helping your child fall in love with the learning process as it was for me. Whatever it is, I encourage you to set an intention and return to it all school year. Then check back in with me next June and let me know how it went.
In struggle and triumph, your friend and co-laborer in the journey,
You can find me on my blog from time to time and pretty much daily on Instagram where I openly share my life of urban homesteading, homeschooling, and teaching God’s word.
“Ephesians deals with topics at the very core of what it means to be a Christian—both in faith and in practice—regardless of any particular problem in the community.” ~Pastor Chuck Swindell
This succinct description of the book of Ephesians is a beautiful introduction to what I am about to share. Certainly, we are living in a time of problems. Sadly, these problems are infringing upon our ability to live in a way that displays our faith in a positive light.
Voices and opinions have gotten too loud, so loud I have felt a bit silenced, confused, tossed by the waves of constantly changing information on a pandemic, justice being fused with political movements that I don’t agree with, politicians that are supposed to protect religious freedoms but deny God with their deeds. Not just a country divided but neighborhoods fractured by the assertion of opinions rather than humility, gentleness, patience. Social media is painted with memes that say I am listening one day and then filled with shouts of disapproval and belittling people that don’t agree the next. I would say our daily environment is nothing less than hostile.
I’d like to blame this on the news, blame it on the politicians, blame it on hooligans and vagabonds and those who deny God. The truth is that the Church, as in believers not a building, are contributing to the chaos just the same. When I say the Church it includes me…so here I sit with a finger pointing at myself asking what my role in all this is. Maybe you are doing the same.
Friends, our role hasn’t changed. Perhaps that will put your mind at ease. In a world ever changing and conflicted your heavenly calling doesn’t waver. Read the following words of Paul as he wrote from a jail cell.
As a prisoner in the Lord, then, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:1-3
If anyone had the right to feel discouraged it was Paul. He was following God whole heartedly and nothing seemed to pan out right, beatings, whippings, jailing, boat wrecks. However, when most people would be at the end of their rope, Paul puts pen to parchment and implores fellow believers to live according to their heavenly calling. Be humble, be gentle, have patience with one another, bear (carry, support, hold up) with one another in love and diligence. Why? To preserve unity and peace. We could all use a good dose of that!
As I look at the finger I have pointed toward myself I ask, what am I doing to preserve unity and peace? In turn, I ask you. Could we refrain from accusing and verbally abusing those that don’t agree with us? Could we keep scrolling when we really want to type out a snide rebuttal on social media. Friends, when I am triggered to comment in a negative way or prove my point on a social post, I snooze that person for 30 days. It removes the temptation to respond in an ungodly way and protects the integrity of my Christian walk. Could we offer words of kindness instead of our opinions? Even better could we build each other up in God’s word?
Paul doesn’t just compel us in Ephesians to behave a certain way so we can label ourselves good Christians, remember he is a proponent of humility. He tells us how it will benefit us when we abide in God’s ways and recall who we are in Christ. When we spend time pursuing our Christian walk though scripture and prayer and walking out what we learn, there are benefits. Paul shares in Ephesian 4:14-15:
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head.”
I have a confession…I have been down, weighted with the noise of opinions and uncertainty. This always weighs heavily on me because I feel as a Bible teacher I shouldn’t get down, but God is revealing something to me. Paul was certainly not happy in jail as he wrote this letter. He wasn’t cheerful and ambivalent to what was going on in the world about him. He was one thing, content to be doing the work that God had called him to do despite his surroundings.
Paul was not controlled by his emotions and he had learned to put his opinions aside and replace them with the word of God. He spoke truth in love. Not Paul’s truth, not the politician’s truth, not the jailer’s truth, not the persecutors truth, GOD’S TRUTH IN LOVE. Paul wasn’t deceived or tossed by the waves of life, he didn’t rely on clever men, or fall for deceitful schemes, instead he grew up in Christ and helped others do the same.
Ya’ll got me preaching now. Go read your Bibles.
At the beginning of each year God gives me a word. I don't pick the word; He gives it to me. That's an important distinction to make because this is not a word I pick as a resolution. I don't select words that will help me become a better version of myself; He picks a word that tells me how I am going to draw nearer to Him. January 2017 that word was alignment.
I was excited for this word. God was going to help me align with Him. What an amazing privilege right? God was going to pull me close and we were going to conquer the world for the glory of His name...together.
The shininess of this word soon tarnished when I realized that alignment required work. In order to align me with Himself, God had to test me. He wanted to take me to a new level but couldn't do that until he realigned my heart. I didn't realize how much I was looking to others for guidance, relationship, validation, direction...I didn't realize the areas of my life that I was focusing on anything but Him. But like a gentle father he whispered the way forward towards alignment with Him, "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30:21
As the year progressed "alignment" started to feel as if it's real spelling was "loss". One by one God stripped away people and things I was holding dear. He allowed blatant hurtful betrayals to show me that I was putting my hope and searching for acceptance in the wrong people. All this hurt left a girl wailing to her heavenly papa, "What the H E double hockey sticks is going on? I have been following, I have been obedient, I have been asking for your refinement when I mess up, my life is showing the fruit of following you...why are you letting me hurt like this?"
Before you go quoting band aide scripture like, "In this life you will have sorrow, or pick up your cross and follow me", let me tell you one thing I am not leaving in 2017. I am not leaving the habit of taking time to mourn and process loss. Before you start fretting that the Monday Night Bible teacher has lost her hope let me assure you that my faith stands unshaken in spite of my pain...might I even say it has grown deeper roots. Yes. Roots that delve deep into the soil of a loving God so that my arms can reach upward towards the light even when the winds are whaling.
Pushing through the hardened soil of broken places in my heart and curling around boulders broken thought processes hidden beneath the surface was a laborious process. Here is where the magic happened though. In the surrender to the process.
As I mourned the relationships God took away, I let them go. He replaced them with new relationships of people that speak life and scripture over me instead of doubt and criticism. As I questioned God's process of allowing pain He showed me how to count it all joy. As learned to live with unreconciled relationships God showed me His heart for those not reconciled to Him. As My ugly thought processes surfaced God showed me that a desperate need for His grace is not just for the unsaved, but for all of us. Everyday. Every moment.
It wasn't until New Year's Day 2018 that I felt a completion of the word God gave me in January 2017. It was then that "alignment" started feeling like it was spelled "freedom".
Freedom to stop relying on people and start loving them.
Freedom to walk away from people that were hurting me.
Freedom to let God define my truth and not others.
Freedom to be broken and whole, weak and strong, all at the same time.
Freedom to wrestle with my truth about myself and replace it with God's.
Freedom to mourn.
Freedom to heal.
Freedom to trust the process.
Freedom to welcome new people into my life.
Freedom to celebrate my wins.
Freedom to praise a loving God that desired for me to come into deeper alignment with Him.
Alignment has led to a new me, a New Year, and a new word. REVERENCE. On January 1, 2018 God gave me a new appreciation for alignment with Him and a deeper sense of awe and wonder of His majesty. With reverence comes the fear of the Lord. Not a horror movie kind of fear, but a change the way I live and think kind of fear. A change the way I lead and love kind of transformation. I'm ready Lord, let's do this!
This week my sweet little 8 year old daughter asked me if I would take her Black Friday shopping. EIGHT YEAR OLD. When I was eight the only shopping I did was back to school shopping once a year. Before I start sounding like one of those people who always talks about how times have changed since I was a kid...let's move on to my answer.
"Um, no. Absolutely not. And why do you want to go Black Friday shopping?" Perhaps this was not the kindest way to phrase my answer knowing that my daughter's love language is gifts, but I was in shock.
Her response? "Why not?"
Before this turned into a stalemate conversation I took a deep breath. I told her, "If you can tell me exactly what you want to buy on Black Friday and what chores you will do to earn the money, I will take you."
Her answer? Shrug, eyeroll, "Nevermind."
Checkmate. I win! Or did I?
Here's the thing. God has spent a lot of time on me taking away the value I put on things. I am happy to live in a 2 bedroom even though most of my friends have 4 -5 bedroom homes. I am happy to give away things I don't use anymore because I no longer live by the premise that I might use it one day. (If I might just use it one day, why not give it away to someone who could use it lots of days.) Really though, it's not about possessions but rather distractions. The more stuff I have to take care of the less time I have to focus on God.
Before you think I am condemning you for having a large house, or stuff to put in it, let me put your mind at rest. I have a friend with a large home. She loves cleaning it, in fact, God speaks to her through cleaning products. I won't try to do it justice with an example let's just suffice it to say that I now have a holy experience every time I look at bleach after hearing her cleaning revelations. She also has people over to her house to talk about God. She loves to entertain and teach. God has blessed her with "stuff" to minister to others. I appreciate this about her and Him.
My job as a parent is to instill a healthy relationship with "stuff" in my daughter. Shopping is one way I can do this. When we go shopping and she wants something I ask questions.
Why do you want it?
Where will you put it?
What will you get rid of that you don't use in order to have this?
How will we pay for it?
Do we need to sacrifice buying something else in order to buy this?
We have a rule at our house. If you buy something, you get rid of something. It helps keep us honest to buy things we need and not just things we want and it also clears the clutter. We also try to have a healthy view of working for things. If our children don't want to do extra chores for it, they don't want it that bad. The important thing is that we let the kids make that decision. We ask the questions and they decide if the sacrifice is worth the new thing.
Mark 4:19 says, "but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful."
As an adult I have to ask myself if a desire for new "stuff" will get in the way of my relationship with God. Will it put me in debt causing me undue stress that I eventually get angry at God for not solving when really it was my sin of coveting and acting on that by purchasing things I couldn't afford in the first place? Will it take away from spending time with God or is it something I can enjoy in His presence? Will it take away from my relationships with others when God has called me to be the love of Jesus to others?
I know these are some pretty deep questions to ask when it comes to shopping but shopping shouldn't be a compulsion. It shouldn't be a hobby. Maybe, just maybe, shopping should be about stewarding our resources well and we should labor over each purchase until we hear a resounding yes from heaven.
If I am being honest Black Friday shopping is too tempting for me. I start loving the stuff and the price and start thinking of who I can give that item to that I just got for 70% off, instead of thoughtfully thinking about the person I am giving a gift to and what they may actually like. Black Friday causes me to get up early for a deal because they may run out. I buy dumb things like pickle ornaments and another fuzzy blanket. The BOGO deals turn into one for you and one for me deals. I get greedy and lusty for stuff I don't need all in the name of a good deal. It leaves a girl crying out, "GOOD GOD, help me want you as much as I want stuff".
You see Black Friday brings out the truth in me, or perhaps it reveals the lies in this world. The need to fill up our lives with stuff in order to feel complete. The searching for earthy items that will perish to fill up an empty space that can only be filled by an eternal God. Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy and that always starts with an attack on the heart and a planting of false desire that separates us from God. It's been that way since Adam and Eve in the garden.
God has trusted me with my daughter, part of my job as a Jesus loving parent is to help her navigate a stuff loving world with a Jesus loving heart. So, NO, I will not be taking my 8 year old shopping on Black Friday.
I watched a sermon by Sarah Jakes last night and she talked about navigating in other people’s Kingdoms as God uses you to expand His. It was certainly a timely message for me as I step into a larger role of serving at my local church. In just a few short weeks I will be leading a couple hundred women in a weekly Bible study.
When you step into new territory it is tempting to look around and see how others are doing it. When you are staring at yourself in the mirror looking for what God obviously sees in you but can’t find, it’s easy to fall back on the old instead of usher in the new. But don’t.
When I am unsure the first thing I do is dive into my Bible. Full disclosure…sometimes the first thing I do is call some trusted friends freak out, let them calm me down, and then dive into my Bible. No matter how I start, the answers are always in the Book. As I step into this new role and am looking for answers, God has pointed me to young David for inspiration and to his experiences for wisdom.
Young David was ready to go. He was ready to take on a giant. But Saul replied, “You can’t go fight this Philistine. You’re just a youth, and he’s been a warrior since he was young.” 1 Samuel 17:33 CSB
Have you ever been ready to step into your calling but then Satan sends people to tell you that you aren’t ready? It’s just like the enemy to cast a dark shadow on a joyous moment through people that should have your back. If only we could be like David when this happens.
Let me paraphrase 1 Samuel 17:32-39:
David: Dude, I got this giant. I can take him down. What are you afraid of? I’m not.
Saul: Umm, did you realize you are young and inexperienced and that guy has been doing this forever?
David: What you don’t know about me is that I have been fighting battles all my life. You just weren’t there to see it. And I have been victorious, so I am not afraid of experience and age. I know God has my back.
Saul: Go for it then, dog, (eye roll) but at least take my advice and do it like I would.
David: I’ve listened to how you would do it but this just doesn’t feel right. I’m used to doing it the God way. I’ll stick to that.
Ok that was a super loose translation but I wanted to break it down so you understand what is happening here. God had already prepared David. He knew he was ready, but the authority over him did not. David had to fight for his opportunity to show everyone that God would lead him to victory.
People couldn’t see it. They only saw the young man of small stature in front of them. God had been pouring into David. God saw a young man of character that He could work though.
Saul was persistent. He was going to allow David to give this thing a try but he wanted David to do it his way. Have you ever been called by God but then told you couldn’t go where He was calling you by the person in charge? It can be frustrating, right? Well, David wasn’t having it.
David knew God so intimately that he knew to respectfully push back. First, he tried it Saul’s way. He put on the armor that Saul would have used. Funny that Saul didn’t put it on himself and go fight the giant but rather put it on David. He wanted David to do the work he was called to do and he wanted David to do it his way.
But David was bold. He knew how he had been victorious over trials in the past and it wasn’t by walking in other people’s shoes. It was by walking in step with his God. So, he took off the armor, handed it back to Saul and essentially said, “With all due respect, I’m doing it God’s way.”
If you are following Jesus and seeking God’s will for your life…I mean seriously seeking, not just quick morning prayers each day but actually walking daily with eyes wide open for signs and diving into his word every time you have a question or trial and looking at every challenge as a way to become more like Christ. Then eventually God is going to use you in a big way.
When He uses you, it will not feel comfortable. You will not feel prepared. You will look around at all the people that seem to be better equipped than you and question yourself. People will look at you sideways and say things under their breath. Some will even tell you to your face that you are not ready. In these moments, you need to call to mind all the battles you have won with God by your side. You will need to speak aloud as you recount the times he has led you to victory and then you need to find the boldness of David. You need to follow God down an unpaved path and trust Him with your life as He uses you to expand His Kingdom.
And then you need to call me for a cup of coffee so we can chat and giggle about all He has done in our lives.
Yesterday my son had one of those really fun 3-year-old meltdowns. You know the kind. Screaming, flailing, snot dripping down his face. I responded with the obligatory mothering statement, “Use your words!”
It took him about 10 minutes of tantrum to finally find those words. When he did I melted.
“Mommy, I just want you to hold me.”
I knelt to the ground, pulled him into my lap (snot and all) and wrapped my arms around him. He let his little body go limp, trusting my arms to hold him up and allowing his body to melt into mine. This was a completely different kind of melt down, it was surrender instead of temper.
How often do we run through life exhausted and then muscle through instead of stopping and resting? We can get pretty ugly when we rely on our own strength when we are already weary. Patience and joy go out the window as we try to plow through to do lists and make it to every engagement on time.
Overscheduled and over tired the first thing to go out the window is our relationships. We cancel coffee dates with friends to prepare for a Pinterest worthy party. We plop iPads and iPhones in our children’s hands so we can finish work or a never ending to do list. We delay date night with our spouse just one more week.
And then we are empty. Weary. Depleted.
As my son sunk into my chest and his breathing slowed to match mine I realized he was looking to me for strength. He was resting in my strength when he was weary. How sweet of God to let me have just a little piece of His job that afternoon to remind me to do the same as my son.
It was a kind and gentle reminder from my Savior that when I get weary I need to return to the source of all strength and match myself to His breathing pattern. Life in, life out. Life in, life out.
Life in…rest, pray, read my Bible, ask God to guide my steps and encounters.
Life out…slow down, notice others, love well.
Life in…"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Life out… But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, Galatians 5:22
Life in…"For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes." Jeremiah 31:25
Life out…"I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. John 13:34
Can I be honest? For a part of my son’s meltdown I melted down myself. I marched him to his room and told him not to come out until he could be quiet. I raised my voice to try to quiet his. I furrowed my brow and made my frustration and disappointment known.
It wasn’t until I also surrendered that peace was found. I needed to be still and match my breathing to another just as much as my son did.
The house didn’t get clean as I sat there on the floor with my son, dinner didn’t get made, my to list had to wait, but I was filled to a point that brought me to a priority shift. Life in. Life out.
There I was walking in confidence, walking out my calling, using my gifts, feeling good…then it hit me. Insecurity. I finally had time to pause and step back to look at what I had worked on and insecurity taunted me with questions and comments like:
Was this just a waste of time? No one will be touched by this. Are you sure this is not your gifting or calling? Maybe this was just you, striving in the wrong direction…again.
Perhaps you have been there.
When I start wallowing in negative emotions I turn to my Bible. That day I turned to Nehemiah. God put a passion on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild Jerusalem and restore its people’s obedience to God. One guy, no resources, tasked to rebuild a whole city. Not to be a spoiler, but he did it. I encourage you to learn how by reading Nehemiah; it’s amazing how God empowered and resourced him. But I want to fast forward to the end of the story.
Nehemiah’s original goal was to restore the city to glorify God. Not only did he rebuild the physical city but he put the community in order. He made sure the people reread the law of God and instructed them on right living to glorify God. Then after all that work, after using his gifts of leadership and planning and organization, the people defiled the rebuilt city by dishonoring God.
In chapter 13 Nehemiah once again returns to the city and tries to lead the people back to God. Sadly, the book is anticlimactic and ends with Nehemiah listing for God the good works he did despite the outcome and asking God to, “Remember me, my God, with favor.”
After reading this I felt a bit angry with Nehemiah. I thought to myself, “so he just threw his hands in the air as if to say, ‘oh well, I tried’?” Why wasn’t he more invested in the outcome?
Then I remembered all the years he invested in doing what God had called him to do. He found the raw material to build walls, he recruited workers to rebuild, he retaught God’s law and reminded the people to worship, he organized the people and encouraged obedience to God. Do you know where he could have been all this time? In a plush palace sitting with the King. This is an invested man. Perhaps he just knew where to invest and when to let go.
God had assigned him with a task, not an outcome. He invested himself in the work God set before him and then he left the rest to God. Nehemiah reminds me to keep my eyes on two things, God, and the work he has given me. The outcome belongs to Him.
Through Nehemiah’s story, God reminds me that this is a race, not a sprint. He reminds me that following him takes endurance and patience and trust. He teaches me that I may work hard and never see the outcome I hope to see. Still, the work he sets before me is meaningful and part of a bigger picture.
This restores my confidence. This rebuilds my faith and allows me to slam the door shut on insecurity. Thank God for stories in the Bible that remind me and teach me what it looks like to walk out my faith in the day-to-day.
I'm just a girl, standing before my God, knowing that He loves me and wanting others to know that love too.