Posted in Joy

Getting Intentional with Joy

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Have you ever found yourself longing for something more? Something new and fresh? No longer satisfied with going through the motions. This is where I found myself this past Christmas. I desired simplicity, yet beauty and meaning -in my décor, in the gifts I chose, in the millions of little moments leading up to that special day. I found myself in search of joy.

Joy. You know, the blissful, cheery gladness everyone expects to come by easily this time of year. Except with a bit more substance, a tad more meaning. The kind of joy that holds up even when my circumstances don’t -that shows up even when all is not perfect.  That’s the joy I searched for this Christmas. Chances are you hungered for it too, maybe knowingly, maybe not, but the desire for joy was there just the same.

Perhaps like me, you misplaced your Christmas joy a few years back and you’ve had a hard time finding it. You laid it down for a brief moment, only to have a tough situation, a heartache, or overwhelming grief rush over, quickly hiding it from view. So, you’ve continued on without it. Day in and day out. Holiday after holiday. Wishing for its return, but having no idea how to bring it back.

Eventually, you began to see glimpses of it shimmering beneath the rubble. You allowed yourself to crave its presence. To hope again. To look for beauty in the midst of the busy. To search for joy once more.

If this is where you’ve been, I pray you found and embraced a little joy this Christmas. I pray you uncovered bits of it with each ornament hung and every gift exchanged. I pray peace made its way into your heart as you sat through that candlelight service. I pray the meals you shared with family and friends brought you warmth. Yes, I pray joy was part of your celebration this year.

But if it wasn’t, dear friend, don’t lose hope. Joy is attainable. Even in the middle of imperfection, disappointment, and frayed nerves. It may require some effort on your part. It may mean dropping to your knees, asking God to fill your lonely, empty spaces. It may involve you choosing to notice the hints of goodness around you -even though they may appear tiny and insignificant.

As you take notice of the blessings sprinkled about your hardships, may your perspective begin to shift.  May thankfulness help you discover your joy once again, experiencing more of it with each new day.

My Challenge To You ~ 

  • Set aside a few moments today to think, really think
  • Jot down five things you are thankful for today
  • Thank God for those five blessings
  • Repeat tomorrow
Posted in Grief

Go Away, Grief! It’s Christmas

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Even at Christmas, losses still occur. Goodbyes become reality. Grief pays you a visit. Yes, even at Christmas.

It fastens itself to you and holds on tightly, accompanying you to every Christmas party, shopping trip, and candlelight service. This unwelcome guest becomes part of you, and part of your Christmas. Like it or not.

It threatens to drain your joy. It desires to consume your thoughts. It demands your full attention. It guilts you into believing happiness should never again be yours. Not even at Christmas.

Grief is a natural response to loss. We should never be ashamed of our grief, nor should we feel pressured to rush it along. Although it looks differently for each of us, one thing is certain: we all encounter it at some point.

So how are we to face Christmas – and any other day for that matter – with grief as our companion? How do we push through? How do we keep on living in spite of it?

Friends, I know of no better way to navigate through grief than to immerse myself into the word of God. In the days and weeks following my brother’s death, this passage continually stood out to me:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.    2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

He is the Father of compassion; the God of all comfort. How I needed to hear this. To remember this. To know this for myself. To be reminded of God’s goodness, and to understand He would comfort me through every problem I faced, even when it involved a goodbye I wasn’t ready to give. Yes, He was there. Yes, He cared.

And then I found purpose: I was not alone in my mourning. With the comfort God had shown me, I would someday console another whose heart was grieving.

Though it wasn’t easy, I crawled out of bed, finished shopping, wrapped gifts, and celebrated Christmas as best I could. I surrounded myself with family and close friends. I thought of Jesus. I pictured my brother sitting with Him, having the best Christmas ever.

Friends, if grief has invited itself to your Christmas this year, acknowledge it. Sit down with it. Open your bible to it. Find verses that speak comfort and hope to your heart. Press them firmly into your grief.

As you stand to your feet, may God’s peace and strength begin to steady you. May you be comforted. May you perceive the love and beauty encircling you. It is there, even in the midst of your grief. It is there, because He is there. And He cares.

 

Posted in Grief

Getting Through Christmas

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Not too long ago money was scarce in my home. I’m talking practically non-existent. My husband’s thriving business suffered greatly during the recession, causing us to lose much of what he had worked so hard to provide.

With our bank account empty, even the most basic necessities such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and shampoo were tough to come by. And splurging on extras -you know, those wonderful things we typically take for granted such as koolaid, Little Debbie snack cakes, and the dollar menu at the local fast food restaurant- all of those quickly became a thing of the past. And certainly, if we couldn’t afford those small treats, you can imagine where we stood with our bigger, more important obligations.

We had hit rock bottom, and it hurt. We had never been at a lower point, financially or emotionally.

And then along came Christmas.  Not only one, but two, and then three Christmases with us barely scraping by.

This reality, followed closely by two back to back December goodbyes, wreaked havoc on my emotions – and my Christmas spirit.  Instead of excitement, I felt anxious over the gifts I couldn’t buy, the expectations I couldn’t meet, and the loved ones I couldn’t hug. I simply wished to hide away and skip the whole season of Christmas and all its merriment.

I remember vividly how my heart ached as I passed through those days. The uncertainties. The confusion. The disbelief. The sheer panic over the very real possibility of losing my home.  The heavy dread of facing Christmas with one or two fewer loved ones at the table.

Those years were tough; surviving those Christmases was even tougher. Yet here I am, hoping to encourage others walking a similar path. Those who view Christmas as more of a chore than a celebration; who are holding their breath, wishing to skirt past December unscathed.

Friend, if you are that person, may I share with you some of what has helped me?

First of all, it is so freeing to admit you are not strong enough, and you don’t have to be. Secondly, accepting help offered by others teaches you humility and brings a wonderful blessing to you both. Thirdly, learning to rely on God’s truth and promises is absolutely vital for it is there you begin to understand how much He truly loves you.

You see, if we operate in our own strength, sooner or later we give out. But if we allow the precious people God has placed in our lives to encourage, love, and support us, we are strengthened. And if we lean into God as we would a close friend, we sense His presence. And in His presence, our hearts begin to mend and our fears dissipate.

We learn God can be trusted.

We learn He is faithful.

We learn He will graciously meet us where we are …  even when He finds us cautiously playing hide and seek with Christmas.

 

 

Posted in Fear

Enough?

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He scooped me up, smiling mischievously. Within seconds he bolted – with me in his arms – straight into the pool. 

To some it would have been no big deal. They would have laughed it off, perhaps plotting secret revenge. But despite my longing to be that person, I am not.

Instead, the little girl inside of me cringed as insecurities began to resurface. I stepped out of the pool. Without a word, I made my way into the house dripping wet, not allowing my sobs to surface until I reached the quiet of my room. There I stood, all alone, wondering why such an innocent prank on his part threatened to leave me in such shambles.

I pondered my thoughts.  I wrestled with my feelings.  Much to my surprise, I identified the source behind my pain – the very raw emotion of not being enough. Not fun enough. Not adventurous enough. Not out-going enough. Not spontaneous enough. Not enough like the rest of my people.

Satan has been hammering me with this lie most of my life, and sadly, I’ve believed him. I wonder if you have as well. What untruth is he continually hurling in your direction? What falsehood is he pounding into your heart? What victory is he claiming over your life?

Sweet sister, we must learn to stack Satan’s lies side by side with God’s truths. They absolutely cannot measure up.  While Satan will use our weaknesses and insecurities to cripple us, God will use them to strengthen us.  And though Satan desires to use our mistakes, fears, and heartaches to ruin us, God desires to pour His grace out upon us, drawing us to Him, helping us to become the women He has called us to be.

So when you’re not certain you’re happy being you, remember it’s okay.

You are loved just as you are -flaws, quirks, and all.

And though we should always strive to be better tomorrow than today, we must never forget …

We were perfectly crafted by God himself, and …

We are enough.

 

Posted in Friendship

The Words We Speak

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Her words, though seemingly innocent, cut me to the core.  A compliment laced with criticism as the main objective. I chose to respond to the flattery, purposely pushing the criticism out of mind until I could politely excuse myself from the conversation. But its effects lingered.  In my mind. In my heart. I couldn’t help but wonder if her words were intentional, or if she honestly didn’t realize the punch they packed to my sensitive heart.

Oh sweet sisters, why aren’t we more careful with our words?

It’s so easy to find fault in one another, voicing our disapproval in small, subtle ways. We are masters at inflicting one little jab here, another tiny dig there, leaving one another to question … “Am I a bad mother? Was my idea foolish? Should I do more for my children? Less for my husband? Am I wrong for not adding this “important” activity to my already busy schedule?”

And in the aftermath, some precious lady begins the arduous task of separating those hurtful words from what she knows to be true. Working tirelessly to shake off the undeserved guilt. Struggling to find her confidence again despite the uncertainties rising within her.  All because another woman carelessly cast inconsiderate words her way.

I’ve been there. No doubt you have as well.

And even worse, I’ve been guilty of dishing out sharp comments myself at times. I’m guessing you could say the same.

Sadly, we do this without truly considering the impact our words have on one another. In the busyness of our own small space, we forget how much we need one another. We fail to show love. To extend grace. To grant acceptance. To offer an occasional pat on the back.

Dear friends, how I pray we will become more thoughtful with the words we speak to one another. More aware of the message our words convey. Praying for each other more, judging less. Cherishing rather than belittling -despite our many differences.

May it become our mission to affirm our sisters, seeing to it that tenderness and hope tarry in their hearts long after our conversations cease.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

Posted in Overwhelmed

When Our Hearts Run Dry, 2

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We decide whether or not our hearts run dry. This is the thought I left with you last week.

We talked about warning signs in our lives -flashing red, reminding us we are nearing empty. These indicators typically stand out in how we respond to what is going on around us. Perhaps we are quick to anger, become easily frustrated, or tear up over the tiniest of matters. Any of these responses may be evidence that our hearts desperately need refilling.

Do we ignore the warnings and continue at lightening speed, or do we slow down and receive some pick-me-up along the way?  Do we settle for life as it is, or do we resolve to make it better?

Our decision is crucial. Our choice becomes the game changer.

I believe most of you desire to live as I do, from a place of fullness. But how, sweet friends, do we go about doing so when life is so hectic, demanding, and frenzied?

We become INTENTIONAL ~~

We pause, though the world spinning around us may not.

We pray, asking God to help us find balance and pour His love into our weary hearts. Please, please don’t skip your time with God. He is our ultimate source of fullness.

We pursue “happy getaways”. Yes, happiness is okay (just make sure your “happy” lines up with God’s goodness -that’s a topic for another day).

And just for fun, here are 10 mini-getaway ideas to get you started:

  1. Curl up with your best-loved book.
  2. Participate in a ladies’ bible study (comment below for a list of my favorites).
  3. Share a cup of coffee with a friend or two.
  4. Treat yourself to a new hair style or an outfit that makes you feel pretty.
  5. Enjoy a no-distractions date with your significant other.
  6. Take a nap.
  7. Snuggle with your littles.
  8. Sit, unrushed, with your aging relatives.
  9. Watch your all-time favorite chick-flick.
  10. Take a walk and listen to encouraging music as you do so.

Friends, when done correctly making time for ourselves is not selfish. It is nourishing.  It is you placing the oxygen mask on yourself before placing it on others. Not because you consider yourself more important, but because you know you cannot fully care for them unless you are healthy yourself.

In summary, (1) realize you need to be refreshed, (2) know what little things bring you blessing and joy (and honor God as you do them); and (3) determine to incorporate them into the crevices of your everyday life.

As you do so, may you find yourself empty less often, and may you pour kindness, encouragement, and grace into the thirsting hearts of those around you.

Posted in Overwhelmed

When Our Hearts Run Dry

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I carefully approach the aged water well. It stands alone in the midst of overgrown weeds, barely visible to passersby. Yet I am drawn to it.  My curiosity calls to me.  I question when it was last used for its intended purpose.  Is it entirely dry, empty, and worthless? Or is there more here than meets the eye?

I lean over, peering into the darkness. I press a jagged rock tightly into the palm of my right hand. I wonder what lies below, yet the uncertainty of it frightens me. So I hold on to the rock until its impression is fixed into my skin. Finally, sheepishly, I release it. And I wait expectantly, breathlessly.  Until I hear it.  The thud of the rock as it encounters the hardened, bone-dry floor.

And I weep.

I weep, for to me it represents so much more than a dried up well. It reminds me of the many women I’ve met, those precious sisters whose hearts have run dry. Who feel empty and worthless.

Those who feel as if they’ve dished out all the goodness they have to offer, and it’s not enough. They’re scraping the bottom for what is not there because that’s all they know to do. They give and give until there is nothing left. They are that weathered well, standing alone, overcome by the weeds of life. Pressed on every side. Spent. Exhausted. Depleted.

If this is where you are today, my friend, please know you are not alone.  May I say it again? You. Are. Not. Alone.  And you are not destined to remain stuck in your emptiness. Neither am I.

I’ve noticed depletion seems to be commonplace in many of our honest, day to day, jam-packed, wonderfully blessed lives. It is there. It is real. It is relentless. And it makes it tough to flash a genuine smile, speak words of encouragement, or extend grace to others when we’re pulling from a dry well ourselves.

But may I share some encouragement with you? May I show you a parallel between this old, dried up well and our thirsty hearts?

A drought, if ignored, will cause a water well to run dry, but not without first handing out some clear warning signs.  If these signs are noted and dealt with in a timely manner, the well will continue to function as designed.

The same is true of us.

If allowed, life’s circumstances will empty us, rendering us incapable of living fully as God intended.  But if we’re paying attention, we will notice when trouble is brewing. We will recognize when our behavior indicates we are nearing empty. And then, in that moment, we realize the choice becomes ours.

We decide whether or not our hearts run dry.

 

Please join me next week on my blog for Part 2 of When Our Hearts Run Dry, where we’ll discuss some specific strategies for keeping our hearts full. See you then!

 

Posted in Faith

Acquainted with Chair Guys

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Although we may not think of them as such, we’re all acquainted with “chair guys”. 

You know, those precious people working behind the scenes.  Preparing meals, cleaning kitchens, running sound systems, sending cards, shopping for fundraisers, or perhaps actually setting up chairs prior to the big event. 

Yes, those who work hard for little or no recognition.  Those are the chair guys.  And without their contributions, the rest of us would not fair near as well. 

So what if you’re the chair guy, but you’re longing for a little spotlight?

What if you’re in the spotlight, but you find yourself -for whatever reason- searching for a chair to hide behind?

And what if you’re the chair guy who has always been a chair guy, who is quite comfortable being a chair guy, yet you feel God calling you – maybe even pushing you a bit – to step out from behind those chairs into the light? 

It’s difficult to step out of our comfortable areas.

Whether we’re most comfortable in the spotlight or behind the scenes doesn’t matter. When God calls us to tread into that unfamiliar place where our confidence and coziness are greatly lacking, He is actually inviting us to walk more closely with Him. To cross into a place which causes us to lean into Him a little more.  A place which challenges us to dig deeper, hold tighter, and linger longer.

Friends, regardless of where we fit into God’s plan, He sees us.  He loves us. We matter to Him.  We have a purpose. Every single one of us has a job to do, and every single job we do is noticed by Him.

The key is tuning in to Him well enough to know where we need to be, when we need to be there.  The beautiful thing is we don’t need all the answers up front.  We simply need to walk with Him one step at a time, even if those steps seem tiny and insignificant.

So whether you’re moving chairs or standing on stage, please realize your heavenly Father is watching closely, listening intently, and smiling oh so happily. Why? Because He sees you, and you’re making a difference.

Posted in Motherhood

Son, You Are Loved

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Dear Son,

Thoughts of you fill my mind tonight.

It’s your first night not living at home.  And although you’ve been away from home many times, you’ve never not lived here, in this house, under this roof, with your dad and me and your siblings.  Yes, tonight is different.

You packed up most of your favorite belongings -and a few necessities- and transported them to a new room, a new place, a new home.  College life has begun.

We helped you settle into your dorm not because you were incapable of doing so yourself, but because we needed to do so.  We needed to be with you, to linger there with you, just a tad longer. Thank you, son, for not being bothered by our presence.  Thank you for allowing us the privilege of being with you as you embark on this fresh, wonderful adventure.

And as you face the challenges that will certainly come, may I remind you of something profoundly important?

Son, you are loved.

We loved you in the months before you were born, even before we first laid eyes upon you.

We loved you through every sickness, every bump & bruise, every skinned knee and busted lip. Through times of correction and discipline. Through every failure and success. Through heartaches and difficulties. Through times of celebration and laughter.

Son, we have loved you through it all.

And that is what we so desperately want you to know. To remember. To never, ever forget.

You are loved.

No matter what your future holds.

You are loved.

Our love for you is not based on your works or successes, although we know you will have many.

It is not dependent on your ability to play ball or to obtain a college degree.

Our love for you is simply based on who you are – You are our son, and that makes you loved.

And as great as our love is for you, there is One whose love for you is even greater.

You know Him.

Son, don’t neglect spending time with Him. Taking your troubles to Him. Thanking Him for your blessings. Knowing you belong to Him.  You are his child, and that truly makes you loved.

 

Posted in Overwhelmed

Re-Thinking Our Juggle

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Friends, are any of you struggling?  Battling with the ever present to do list parked within the walls of your mind?  Determined to at least occasionally look as if you have it all together?

But despite your best efforts, you often come away with feelings of failure in one or more areas of your life.

Perhaps you visualize yourself as a master juggler, tossing balls into the air, a few at a time, until they all move in rhythm.  All is going well.  You are perfectly balanced, never dropping a ball.  Never growing tired. Never questioning your ability to maintain such perfection.

Yet your reality is quite different. 

Keeping those balls hovering mid-air has become a daunting task.  You can no longer sustain this pace.  One ball drops, and then another. And another. Until finally you realize they are all scattered.  Some only slightly out of reach.  Others appearing hopelessly lost.

You are pushed into a state of exhaustion, defeat, and shame.  Deep feelings of inadequacy begin to surface. You realize you are no longer a master of anything.

Oh sisters, can any of you relate?

This has been true of me at differing stages in my life, and I will likely experience it again at some point. Thankfully, I’ve developed a dab of insight through the years. 

I’ve discovered it’s alright to purposely loosen my grip on a few of those balls.  And it’s actually wise for me to use caution before adding another, regardless of how shimmery or glitzy this new ball may seem.

I’ve come to understand that simply because it’s good doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for me. 

I’m learning to seek God more often -and more quickly- as I strive to do what it is He has called me to do, and refrain from doing those tasks He has set aside for others. 

And while I am far from having it all figured out, I’ve found the closer I lean in to Him, the more clearly I recognize which balls are mine to juggle, and which are not.

My prayer for you, sweet friends, is that you will glance intently at what it is that keeps you so busy, so distracted, and so weary. 

Some of these, no doubt, are yours to keep. But could it be you’re also juggling some things that are not yours to juggle?

Perhaps it’s time to rediscover -or discover for the very first time- what God is asking of you. 

Perhaps it’s time to make adjustments.  To release a few of those balls, passing them on to their rightful owners, freeing up your hands a bit.

Perhaps it’s time to add to the mix those things you know you should be doing. Those things which give your life purpose and meaning. Those things which will undoubtedly make a difference in someone else’s life.

Those are the things we should be juggling. Perhaps, sisters, it’s time to re-think our juggle.