Joy!

This post is long overdue.  (It’s a good thing I don’t get paid to write or publish!)

My excuse is that I was busy, and my reason is that I was struggling with the topic of JOY. 

I started and stopped several times, and I didn’t quite know why joy was such a difficult topic.  I am not a particularly unhappy person. However, each time I sat down to write about joy, I found myself overwhelmed with frustration as I kept being reminded of so many obstacles and hardships that many of us face.  Joy just seemed too lightweight compared to things like depression, anxiety, death, grief, loss, fear, and especially now – loneliness.  And, I was especially confronted with those experiences in my own family, especially as a mom.

And then this morning, I finally felt released to revise and publish this post according to what the Lord shared with me. 

I still am not a fan of this empty nest thing.  I miss my kids a lot, especially now. (I was supposed to be back in the US right now helping my daughter move.  Stupid COVID-19.) 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Apparently, it is quite obvious how much so.  Our young adult children were able to come visit us in December, and I made sure they made it to my school so I could take them around to meet as many staff and friends as possible.  Over and over, my co-workers greeted them by saying, “I’ve heard so much about you,” and “Your mom is really glad you’re here.”  As I’m standing there grinning from ear to ear, I realize the refrain is becoming a bit of a joke. I am not a bit ashamed of how much I talked about them.

I love my kids a lot, but I can’t love like God.  I know this because I recognize that as much as I devoted and poured into them, I still don’t know or love them as our Heavenly Father does.  I did a lot of things right, AND I made lots of mistakes. Even as hard as I tried (and still do), I couldn’t (and can’t) love them well enough to keep them from experiencing fear, doubt, grief, and losses – sometimes from my own choices and words.

But God is their Heavenly Father.  He has provided redemption for me, and He can heal what I harmed.  There is no room for pride.  There is all the room for joy. 

Have you heard the song, The Joy of the Lord is my Strength?  I mentioned this song briefly in the post, Music in Me.

It is my joy in the Lord that strengthens me – my joy in knowing the Lord and trusting Him. I trust Him to complete the work He started in my family and me.

Perhaps joy is like a muscle we all use, but don’t realize how it works until we try to isolate it.  It’s important, and it needs other muscles working collaboratively to be effective. 

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More importantly, we need to work collaboratively with God. 

Jesus says in Matthew 11:28 – 30  “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (HCSB)  This is what I read this morning that helped me feel free to publish this post.  I will continue to collaborate with the work God is doing, and trust Him. 

This is how I find my joy in the Lord and find strength.

  • Joy in knowing that God loves them more than I do.
  • Joy in knowing that God knows them better than I do.
  • Joy in knowing that God has heard all my prayers.
  • Joy in knowing that God has a plan for them, and He will work it out according to His will, a plan that has been arranged since well before they were born.
  • Joy in knowing what He has done for me, He will do for them.
  • Joy in knowing that God understands our weaknesses, and He has provided a way to bring us into a right relationship with Him.
  • Joy in knowing God’s love really is perfect.
  • Joy in knowing that God forgives.
  • Joy in knowing Jesus Christ.

There are so many songs written about ‘joy’- old hymns and new praise and worship pieces.  Here’s a list of just 10, https://www.mediashout.com/worship-songs-about-joy/

So when I get down, I sing.  I worship God.  I praise the Holy One.  I claim Jesus Christ as my Savior, and I let the Holy Spirit fill me with joy.

Friends, there is nothing lightweight about that!

Here is where I find the Truth in the scriptures:

Nehemiah 8: 9-12 (At the reading of the law) “Do not grieve, because your strength comes from rejoicing in the Lord.” (Verse 10, HCSB)

Psalm 30:5 “For His anger lasts only a moment, bus His favor, a lifetime.  Weeping may spend the night, but there is joy in the morning.”

Psalm 30:11-12 “You turned my lament into dancing; You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, so that I can sing to You and not be silent.  Lord my God, I will praise You forever.”

Psalm 94:19 “When my anxious inner thoughts become overwhelming, your comfort encourages me.” (ISV)

Scripture even talks about God singing over us!

Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (ESV)

John 15:11 “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (NLT)

Here’s something to lift you up! Overflow by Tobymac. Enjoy!

Long time coming!

I used to privately call myself, ‘Lady in Waiting’.

Even now, I always hear the clock. Ticking, ticking. Time’s ticking away!

Photo by Enikő Tóth on Pexels.com

It seemed I was always waiting for something to change.  (Finishing school, growing up, getting married, having kids, etc.) I’ve done all those things, and there are STILL more things I’m waiting to happen. 

Now, I’m more comfortable with the waiting.  Things will happen when they happen. I still want to make the most of my time, but I do it differently.

Patience and Long-suffering are two words used in different translations of the virtues in the Fruit of the Spirit verse in Galatians 5:22-23.  Another word that is closely related is perseverance. 

“Not only that, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (BSB). Romans 5: 3-5

I see perseverance as the ability to keep on, keeping on.  It requires grit, hard work, and a good amount of stubbornness.  It’s like, ‘Bring on the rain!’ and  ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’  TOUGHNESS. 

Or, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (NIV). Galatians 6:9.

Where patience feels like there’s an end in sight, long-suffering, not so much.  It’s right there in the name, long.

This is the kind of long that happens when a husband and father goes on deployment after deployment, with the wife and mom doing her best to handle the kids, house, work, and pets on her own.

This is the kind of long when someone lives with a chronic disease or handicap that isn’t ever going to go away.

This is the kind of long that prays for something or someone consistently, and not seeing the results of those prayers for 20, 30, or even 40 years.  Like walking in the desert.

This long-suffering belongs with the other virtues like joy, gentleness, and kindness because if it didn’t, it would lead to bitterness and death.

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (NIV). Romans 12:12

Long.  Time.  Coming. 

In education, we work to help students build up their reading stamina – the energy, focus, and length of time students can sit still and read.  It’s the same in crosscountry and most other cardio sports (soccer, basketball, etc.). 

We recognize the strength and power in that kind of stamina.  Let us practice the same through our daily disciplines of prayer, study, and loving one another.

“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled” (NLT). Romans 15:4

One day, we won’t have to wait patiently, suffer, or persevere.  Time will no longer be a thing. 

For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (AKJ)  Romans 8:18

You Got This!  (Well, actually, God’s got this, and He’s got you.)

“The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory” (NIV). Isaiah 60:19

Shirley Goodness and Mercy

Fruit of the Spirit SeriesGalatians 5:22 – 23

I’ve heard a lot of jokes and funny stories from preachers. One that has stuck in my mind was about a little boy who kept looking behind him as he was walking home from church with his grandmother. She asked why he kept looking back, and he responded that he was looking for Shirley Goodness and Mercy. The grandmother didn’t understand and asked what he meant. The child explained that the preacher said that Shirley Goodness and Mercy would be following them, and he wanted to see who they were.

In the last post, Goodness Gracious, I wrote about goodness that comes from the Holy Spirit, and how we all need grace. Because the post was so long, I posed a question that I didn’t answer – “Really, who thinks of goodness as a powerful virtue?”

There is a counseling theory that has proven to be effective for many people in a variety of situations, cognitive-behavior theory or CBT. I won’t get into the details of it here, as this is not a counseling blog, and my counseling is still in its infancy, but essentially, it looks at how our thoughts, feelings, and actions are interrelated. When we change our thoughts (or emotions or actions) it affects the other two (Corey, 2015).

This brings to mind one of my favorite Bible verses.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think on these things.” Philipians 4:8

So, what are the good things we can think about? We know it is good to be with people we love. It is good to laugh with friends. It is good to forgive. It is good to help others. It is good to have what we need, to drink cool water when we’re hot and thirsty, to have enough money to pay bills, and to prepare for what is coming ahead. It is good to acknowledge someone’s hard work.

Sometimes, we don’t have those good things. I’ve had times when I was lonely, hungry, broke, and worked hard with little to no appreciation or acknowledgement. It can lead to bitterness and anger, am I right? I got all caught up in bitterness and it choked a lot of good things in my heart.

One of the ways goodness was choked out was that I was disappointed and hurt when my expectations for how people should treat each other was not met. Then all the good things I read in the Bible, or heard, seemed false and unrealistic. I was trying to see a correlation between the two, and it just wasn’t there. It’s especially painful when these problems are within your own family.

Here’s a quirky kind of thought I’ve had about Jesus. Essentially, He’s the ultimate, perfect, big brother. He tells us how to live, sets an unattainable example that none of us can compete with, and has the best relationship with the Father – is the Father. When families get together, there’s always that fun teasing – “Remember when. . .” to remind each other of embarrassing moments and shortcomings. What can anyone say about Jesus? ‘Remember when you stayed at the temple, and mom and dad didn’t know where you were?’ Maybe it sounds a little too familiar to think of our Savior like that, but it helps me remember that He is real, and really knows what it’s like to live in a family.

But then, God gave me His grace – and mercy. He could have given up on me. I thought He had.

Mercy. Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

I think the power of goodness is in having a free, strong mind.

Just look at Psalm 23.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.” (ESV)

The power in goodness is that even in hardships, even in front of enemies, we can do good things, keep our minds on good things, and feel good things because we know we have God’s mercy.

Think about it.

Corey, G. (2015).   Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy  . Boston, MA: Cengage Learning. 

A Thankful Tumbleweed

On December 6, 2017, I published my first blog post, The Rock Tumbler. In it I discussed how my plans and purposes had disappeared and dissipated. My children were leaving the nest, teaching hadn’t worked, and I was at a loss of what I was supposed to do.

The following month, I began the journey to get a master’s in school counseling through Liberty University’s online program. I was scared to say the least. The obstacles loomed over me. My age, debt, moves still in the works, I hadn’t had to take any courses in over 20 years! Fearfully and prayerfully, I made the commitment to take on this mountain. My husband pushing and encouraging me that I could do this.

Last weekend, the journey came to completion, and I want to take a few moments to express my gratitude. God put the idea and desire in my heart to work as a school counselor long ago as I taught students that needed help that I couldn’t give as a teacher. He confirmed this drive through scripture, through prayers, through circumstances, and through people.

I would never have taken the first steps without the support, encouragement, and proactive measures taken by my husband. I am so grateful for his patience and understanding as I disappeared into the studying zone of reading, research, and writing. He kept me from dissolving into fearful and tearful inaction more times than I can count.

I am grateful for the many people, friends, teachers, and colleagues who encouraged me all along the way. Many heard my hesitant, far-away dreams, and told me they thought counseling would be a good fit. I tucked those words into my heart, each one like a layer of sheer colored ribbon placed one over another until there was a bold hue I couldn’t ignore. Other students, the ones who were going through the classes while working full-time, parenting young children, and had other responsibilities earned my respect for the hard work they demonstrated. I used their examples to press on, and I am so grateful for those friendships, even if they were limited to a week long intensive course.

And then there are my professors. When I started the program, I entered into a late registration class. I had to take what I called a “remedial writing class” for master’s students, and I felt so behind and ill-equipped. I fought panic as I struggled with the format of online courses, of fitting all the coursework, practicum, and internships into a tight schedule. I looked at the amount of work, and I almost choked, thinking how will I ever be able to get all of this done, and done well. My professors were sensitive, attentive to my many emails, and offered wise counsel. Many of them shared their own personal stories and struggles with me, a sort of personal disclosure designed for relevant encouragement. And the professors at Liberty, they pray for you. I learned to trust what they had to say.

Last weekend was graduation weekend. Instead of attending the ceremony at Liberty University, I joined my family in attending my daughter’s graduation from Virginia Commonwealth University. That, on Mother’s Day weekend, was an incredible bookend for the last few years. I am grateful for my children, for the ways they supported and encouraged me to pursue this degree. My son stayed with me and watched me push through as he finished high school and started community college. My daughter and I were able to appreciate each other’s struggles as we faced the college version of “senior-itus”, final deadlines, and looked for jobs.

We are about to move again, the third time in four years, hence the tumbleweed. I have a job lined up, and I am still under tight deadlines with many things out of my control. Almost three years later, I know I don’t need to panic. I can go back to the verses in that first post, and remember the ways God has been faithful. When I started this blog, I felt lost and directionless, without a purpose. Is this the end of the blog? I don’t know. It has been in many ways a public journal of this empty nesting process. But this change feels bigger and more than a life stage transition.

God knows what He has planned next. May we continue to trust Him with all our unknowns.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (NIV).

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (NIV).

The Music In Me

Have you ever woken up with a song already playing in your head?

black vinyl player

Photo by Anton Hooijdonk on Pexels.com

It happens to me with some regularity.

How does that even happen? Am I somehow picking up radio signals floating through the air? Or is it some leftover subconscious remnant from a forgotten dream?

Usually, I can identify why a song is at the top of my mental jukebox. But last week, I woke up with snippets of a song, a hymn mind you, that I haven’t heard or sung in decades! I just heard in my mind –

“ . . . let us have a little talk with Jesus, let us tell Him all about our troubles . . . ”

That led to me thinking about –

Sweet Hour of Prayer and Heavenly Sunshine with undercurrents of In the Garden, It is Well With My Soul, and What a Friend We Have In Jesus.

I guess it was a hymnal day.

purple lavender over note pages

Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

The hymns I grew up singing played a significant role in developing my childhood foundations of faith, and even now, help sustain truths that are often buried under the weight of so many distractions and adult responsibilities.

Last month, I wrote about the Voices of Encouragement seminar I attended and J-L’s statement of affirmation. After letting the idea of creating my own affirmation statement stew for a while, I decided to put together key phrases from some of those important hymns and scriptures to read each day.

Here’s the draft I have so far:

I sing because –

Love Lifted Me

What A Friend I Have In Jesus who has

Established a (How) “Firm Foundation in His excellent Word

This knowledge is like Heavenly Sunshine “filling my soul with joy”

And even when I am weary and dismayed

I can –

Have a Little Talk With Jesus in my Sweet Hour of Prayer with

My Blessed Redeemer who gives me peace so that I may say

It is Well With My Soul as I kneel and remember

My salvation purchased At the Cross, The Old Rugged Cross

Then I’m Standing on the Promises and move confidently

Onward Christian Soldier Because of His Amazing Grace.

God, You remind me that –

You have known me from the beginning.

You formed me in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).

You have created me for good works

And equipped me with every gift I need (2 Tim. 3:17).

You will complete the good work You started in me (Eph. 2:10).

You give me courage, faith, and grace.

You loved me before I knew You (1 John 4:10).

You hear me and know me.

Therefore,

I will put my confidence in You, for You are mighty to save.

You are steadfast and strong.

I will praise Your Holy Name.

I will keep my eyes fixed on Your and fight the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12).

I will daily put on the armor,

the breastplate of righteousness, the belt of truth,

shoes that are ready to spread the gospel of peace,

the helmet of the knowledge of my salvation,

holding the shield of faith, and the sword that is Your Holy Word (Eph. 6: 13 – 17).

I will trust You.

I will believe in Your promises, that You are good, true, and faithful (Deut.32:4 and 1 Cor. 1:9).

For your love endures forever (Psalm 136). Amen

I’m new at this affirmation thing, but I’ve noticed on the mornings when I read this, I feel more confident going into the day.

My hope in sharing this is that you will find your own way to put together the things God has shown you, to strengthen, and encourage you.

Interestingly, you may have heard the song, The Joy of the Lord is my Strength. I’ve always wondered, what is the joy of the Lord? How can I bring joy to the Lord, and how does that give me strength? Is it by being more obedient, giving more in service, having more faith?

I don’t know for sure yet, but maybe I’ve had that idea backwards.

This week, it occurred to me that maybe it’s not about what brings joy to the Lord that strengthens me. Maybe it’s when I find joy in the Lord that gives me strength.

What do you think?

I’d love for you to share your own affirmation statements!

I

Voices of Encouragement

As women of faith, how often do we really encourage each other? Do we allow others to see that we need encouraging? Or even better, do we even realize we need encouragement?  I didn’t.

yellow daisy flowers in bloom

Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com

At the end of last month, I had the privilege of attending a woman’s conference that was hosted by the organization, Voices of Encouragement (VOE)  VOE Logo

 

Now, how I came to be there is an interesting story. I have a neighbor, Edna, whose daughter is the same age as my son. When our children were both in high school, they hung out together, but Edna and I never really seemed to find the time to connect and get to know one another. We were friendly, saying “Hi,” when our paths crossed, but we didn’t really have too many shared activities. I had heard about some kind of vague reference to her starting a non-profit to encourage women, but I didn’t really think it was relevant to me.

tobymac-main

Then around December, I was looking for someone to go to a concert with me, someone who might enjoy the kind of music that is not typically appreciated by many middle-aged women. I timidly asked her husband first if this musician was someone my neighbor enjoyed, and was pleased to hear that yes, she did like the musician, and she might be interested in going to the concert.

 

We finally got together to discuss the concert plans, and in the course of our discussion, we began sharing and finding more things in common. For example, she wrote a Bible study devotion for her youngest daughter to take with her to college. She had it published, shared it with me, and I found it to be quite perfect for the busy college freshman’s life. I shared with her that I had written a Bible study for my daughter, and I shared it with her as it is published on this website in the form of the Daughters and Disciples series.

From this conversation, Edna invited me to attend the VOE conference as her guest, and encouraged me to consider what else God might want to do with this blog and the Daughters and Disciples.

So, I went.

The theme of the conference was on Wisdom, Wealth, and Wellness. These are similar to the themes I wrote about in Daughters and Disciples. The speakers were amazing, the women were very accepting and welcoming, and yes, I was encouraged.

See, I was sitting at a table with a group of women who were invited for one particular reason or another, and none of us knew each other. As we began to share how we came to be there, I tried to describe how it was that Edna thought I should come and referenced the blog. One of the women asked what it was called, and I said, “Moving Forward in Faith, but I know that’s not very original. I am looking for a better title.” And let me tell you, my apologetic, I know it’s not very good, disparaging comment did NOT go over well with these women. Lovingly, but firmly, they responded that I should embrace what I have done, and keep “moving forward.” That really stopped me in my tracks, and I realized that I have not developed the confidence in what I’m doing nearly as much as I thought I had. I didn’t even realize I needed encouraging. So, even while I am in the midst of my final semester of getting this school counseling master’s, I realize I cannot just stop posting, even if I can only do so once a month.

VOE Table Photo

There are two things I want to share with you that different women shared at that conference. The first is an affirmation statement by J.L. Bolton, and the second is a poem by Anita Gill-Anderson.

The affirmation statement inspires me because I know the unkind thoughts, the tendency to disparage and devalue my work, are habits I need to break. I haven’t written my own affirmation statement, yet. But, I will. Just read it and see what I mean –

Spiritual Affirmation 

 

My life is a mess,

There’s just so much stress!

NO, those thoughts are history,

I now live in victory! 

I’m fearfully, wonderfully made.

On me, holy hands have been laid.

My help’s from above,

I’m redeemed by his blood

Sometimes there’s attacks,

But then there are comebacks!

With those I grow stronger,

Defeat is no longer. 

God gets the glory,

For my winning story. 

Plus there r twisters,

He gave me some sisters – 

I got V.O.E.

To always lift me. 

With God on my side,

There’s faith in my stride. 

The devil…wants me brokin’ 

But JC, he ain’t jokin’

I AM said I AM,

I AM J-L Bolton!

 

I am thankful that Ms. J.L. Bolton allowed me to share this with you. What if we all reminded ourselves of the things we know to be true? What things do you need to remind yourself of each day?

Anita Gill-Anderson has given me permission to publish the poem on this blog, and she asks that if anyone would like to share it, to please make sure you give her the proper credit. If you would like to contact her directly, just send me an email, and I’ll share your contact information with her. (The comments button is at the top of the page, and direct messages can be sent to me on the Contact page.)

Here is the link to her poem, “W” to the 5th Power “G”

The first line is, “We are Wise Women Who Walk With God.”  It’s powerful.

I am so thankful for Edna and the other women I met at the conference. If you want to see what else is happening with Voices of Encouragement, go to the website:   voicesofencouragment.com

The next conference is scheduled April 27, 2019. You’ll be blessed for sure!

What Do I Believe About GRACE?

Hello again. It’s been a while. January 2019 is so welcome, isn’t it?

Although I haven’t written anything for 6 months, I have been thinking about what I would write if I could. I expected to be able to write at least one or two posts over the fall, but life threw things in the way. I just read a couple of the last blog posts (Moving Summer and I Know Better). I noticed they both had the theme of expectations even though they were written months apart. Expectations still pose a problem for me, and I am being challenged to consider my beliefs, the desires of my heart, and my actions and reactions.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

My attitude was a bit sour this past Fall.  I was angry and frustrated about not being able to set up the house properly before the semester started. I have been increasingly fearful about our plans to move overseas next summer and my ability to get a job where I don’t know anyone, fresh out of school, and with no experience. And, we had to put our big dog down due to a sudden and unexpected health issue even though he should have lived several more years.  He’s the fourth dog, all different breeds, where we’ve had to do that.  I allowed circumstances to pull me under into a sense of desperation and defeat.

It’s time to deal with that properly.

I’ve noticed there’s a trend in choosing a word for the year.  The thing I’ve been thinking about this last semester is Belief. And more specifically, what does it look like to live out what I believe?  I have been struggling with what I believe about God’s grace and love for me, right now, even when I act petulantly and faithlessly.  Perhaps you can relate.  I think God’s grace is something we think we understand, but allowing that grace to fully saturate our lives and relationships can be a sticking point.  I invite you to join me as I see what God shows me through this particular lesson.

The verse that began this theme is this:

John 6: 29 Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (NLT)

This statement by Jesus challenges all kinds of inherent beliefs I have about my responsibilities and the way I choose to live and engage with others.  When I became a mom, I knew I had the privilege to raise and influence my children for a limited period of time.  I took my responsibility seriously, and I tried to do all the right things.  As a wife, I tried to support and honor my husband in a way that would please God and help us grow closer spiritually.  I prayed over my marriage, my children, my relationships with my parents and siblings, our many moves, my husband and his work, and even my children’s friends.  I attended and led Bible Studies, church services, volunteered at VBS and youth activities, did Bible studies at home, and tried to set a good example for what loving and believing God looks like expecting that all this love and doing good stuff would result in my family wanting to experience God in the same way.  I love doing all those things!

Here’s the thing –  my expectations haven’t been realized.  And I don’t know if they ever will. Meaning, I don’t know if my children and husband will ever want to be as devoted and engaged that same way.  So the thought occurs to me – Does their not wanting to be as involved in church mean I failed in setting a good enough example of love, forgiveness, and kindness?  I can tell you, I know where I’ve failed.  Even in all my attempts in doing things right.  I have and continue to fail again and again.

I hear God whisper, “My grace is sufficient for you.” But do I believe this?

So, when I don’t see the expected fruits of my labor, then my perseverance in doing good is weakened, and I feel worn out. I don’t have the heart to keep going. I stop praying. I stop having those amazing quiet times where God is speaking to me, encouraging me. I think about all the ways that I messed up, didn’t pray well enough, acted in doubt instead of faith, was impatient, and I take on the responsibility for what’s not right – according to my expectations.

Again, I hear God whisper, “Lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” and “God knows the heart of a man.”  And I think, I believe this, but look . . .

I mix guilt with a little bit of truth, and I feel even more defeated. I know God loves me. I know I have received salvation and grace for later. I know I have asked for forgiveness, and that God forgives.  I know I am a child of God, but I must not be (good, faithful, obedient, fill in the blank) enough because I don’t see the fruit from my labor.  Inherent in that belief is that although I’m forgiven, grace doesn’t apply to my life at the moment, and I am still responsible for the fallout of my faithless actions.

God patiently reminds me, “Without me, you can do nothing,” and that “He is faithful, even when we are faithless.”

Do I really believe that?  Is that the truth?  Or are my failures so significant, that God can’t redeem and restore what I’ve broken?  If I believe and act as if the results of my messed up attempts at life and love can’t be fixed, then I am saying that my sin is bigger than God’s redeeming love and salvation through Jesus Christ.  Basically, I’m saying God’s grace doesn’t apply to me.  And I recognize the lie.

Guess what, making others believe and act in a certain way is not my work. God’s work is something more significant, creative, loving, and perfect than anything I could ever imagine.  And, I need to trust Him with my mistakes.  I need to trust His forgiveness is just as real and relevant in the present as it will be on judgment day. And, my work or joy in doing the churchy things I listed above are not the only ways people can show their own love of God.  How arrogant of me!

Back to scripture:

Regarding the fears  I have about getting a job next year:

Matthew 6:33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Regarding the areas where I know I mess up:

2 Corinthians 12:9 Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

And regarding my efforts:

Ephesians 2: 8 – 10  For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life. (Berean Study Bible)

God gives grace. His grace. Not just in the time to come, but now. And my work is to believe in Jesus Christ, the person of His Grace. If I doubt God’s grace is applicable to me as I live right now, then I undervalue that amazing and precious grace not just for myself, but for others as well. And there it is, the lie hidden in the works. I know God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. His grace is not just a one-time thing, at the point of salvation that just sits there until judgment day.

I didn’t even realize what my belief of limited grace implied until I was challenged by that one verse.

God gives grace. God gives faith.

And, I know that God has been patient and gentle with me. Why wouldn’t He be the same with everyone else?  As far as the guilt I feel for the ways I have messed up, said hurtful things, or lacked discipline and wisdom, I imagine God as a teacher, knowing the mistakes I have and will make, and allowing me to make them because He’s got it all worked out already.

My work is to believe in Jesus, the one God sent. And believing in Jesus means I need to trust God’s grace – for me, for others, and for right now. He knows it’s going to be all okay in the end.

So that’s my word for 2019

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Moving Summer

This summer’s move was not supposed to be this hard.

When it’s the third time moving back into your house, you kind of expect to be able to put things away fairly quickly, get things in order without too much trouble. After all, I should know where everything goes. I mean, my husband and I are pretty experienced at doing this move-in thing, and we expected it to be a breeze. I expected to have everything finished by the end of July leaving August to actually get to enjoy having my husband home, go camping/hiking, and be fully refreshed and relaxed for the school year.

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Long story short, we experienced delays and obstacles even before the packing began, lived for a month in a hotel with 3 dogs, and had to make major renovations/repairs that continued weeks after we moved into the house.  All these circumstances caused unpacking to be put on hold well after we typically would have had all the boxes already discarded.

Just when I thought we were making significant progress, there was another water event that caused me to have to repack and redo the items we had already put in storage. It’s amazing how much water one load of laundry can spill onto the floor.

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This summer, I put into practice Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Actually, knowing the full context, “ . . . for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content – whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or need. I am able to do all things through Him who gives me strengthens me.” (HCSB)

Today is the first day of school in our neighborhood. School has unofficially started for me as well. The house isn’t finished, and now I no longer have the luxury of time devoted just to getting things settled. And it would be easy to feel overwhelmed with all that still needs to be done.

However, all along this school journey, I have seen how God has given me the strength and perseverance to do the work required. As I look forward to this school year, and another planned moving summer right after graduation, I will continue to trust that He will continue to provide just what I need.

I refuse to allow the anxiety I feel over all the work still unfinished to consume my time and thoughts. Instead, I will take out time each day, in some small significant way, to remember His faithfulness and give thanks for each new day. I can expect God to hear my prayers, to show His love, patience, and faithfulness.

I recognize that this summer’s move has been full of delays, and at worst, inconveniences. Many others may be dealing with much more serious issues. Scripture is full of encouragement, and it can apply to all kinds of personal trials and adversities. We are often disappointed and disheartened by circumstances and relationships that don’t work out as we expect. But we don’t have to stay stuck there.

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Here are a few of the verses I try to remember to stay positive:

“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (HCSB)  Philippians 4: 6 – 7

“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:34

“Because of the Lord’s faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end.  23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!  24 I say: The Lord is my portion, therefore I will put my hope in Him.   25 The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.  26 It is good to wait quietly for deliverance from the Lord.”    Lamentations 3: 22 – 26

Moving Back

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Our family is moving again – as was planned.  This will be the third time moving back to our house, to a “home base” as you might call it.   If you’ve followed my blog from the beginning, you would know I began writing this  blog when I faced major upheaval in significant areas of my life (The Rock Tumbler), and that I move frequently (See About and Let Me be your Home).  ‘Where are you from?’ is never a simple question to answer.  The short one is ‘Texas’, or the place I last lived.

Due in part to my life’s frequent relocations, building a community of friends is a challenge because it takes time to develop enough shared experiences, to build trust, and to get to know people.  I’ve learned how to get involved just enough to not be too lonely, to appreciate those people who share of themselves, and who allow me to share with them.  It’s a vulnerable state of living to always be the “new girl”.

I just want to share two quick things here that I’ve learned while living in Williamsburg, Virginia.  This small, retirement community, centered on America’s colonial history, is quite relevant in today’s modern world.

First, I’ve learned how important it is to maintain one’s health now, so that I can still kick butt when I’m 70 and older.  Just because there are a lot of older people here does not mean people aren’t engaged in athletic activities, like running, yoga, cycling, and so on.  Watching women several decades my senior working out with better strength, cardio, and endurance was inspiring.  I want to be that person when I get there.

Second, the Christian community here is thriving, and God is moving across so many lines.  I attended the Williamsburg Community Chapel (The Chapel), and the opportunities to engage across the community are phenomenal – intergenerational and racial diversity are celebrated assets.  One such opportunity is a collaboration with the Historic First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.  This church was officially established in 1776, by slaves, and is still vibrant and active in the community.  These two churches are working together for the Williamsburg community to make things better.  I had the privilege to attend and meet several members of this church last summer and was overwhelmed with the spirit of unity among their members.  I am so encouraged to witness how God is moving in these two amazing churches, and I imagine the impact this collaboration will have on their community, and throughout the Christian family.

As we leave the small town of Williamsburg and return to the crowded and fast-paced Northern Virginia area, I wonder what the next year will bring.  It’s another short-term and temporary move.  I know how easy it is to get caught up in work and worries, to not engage with others on a meaningful level. We’ve lived there several times, and each time is a new experience.  Things change so quickly, that each time is like moving to a new place.  Will old acquaintances be welcoming?  Will I need to start new?  I expect it will be a mixture of both.

Pastor Travis Simone of The Chapel wrapped up the sermon series of the Kingdom Mission by talking about what partnering with God looks like.  To my amazement, he pointed out that the mission involved partnering and leaving.  I’m leaving Williamsburg, but I’m leaving having been strengthened by the community and partnership of the many believers at The Chapel and others in the community.

I’m moving back to Northern Virginia.  We typically stay only a few years at a time, and that hinders the ability to create lasting friendships.  Each time has had a significant atmosphere and set of friends/experiences.  I wonder what God has planned for this next stay.  So, I’m moving back while still “moving forward in faith“.

I Know Better

Expectations and hope are not the same things.

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I’ve been reflecting on the differences between expectations and hopes as I wrap up my practicum internship in a counseling office, and as I consider Mother’s Day quickly approaching. Expectations can get us in big trouble. Hope can pull us through trouble.

When I started the internship at the counseling office, I expected that by the end, I would have developed enough skill and confidence to feel like I knew what I was doing in at least one area. However, as the end of the semester neared, I became impatient and concerned because I wasn’t seeing the progress I thought I was supposed to see. Instead of feeling more confident, I was feeling less capable and overwhelmed with all that I didn’t know. It turns out, according to my supervisor, that’s quite normal, and it’s a good sign. This is how good counselors are made. I decided to trust her experience, allow myself more time, and hope that I develop into that kind of counselor. I’ve had more than one professor tell me to trust the process.

The concentrated experience of the practicum learning curve gave me new insight into the learning curve of being a parent and daughter.

As a child, I was obedient, kind to others, ready to serve, and put my needs aside for the sake of others. This is what I was taught to do, and how I believed God wanted me to live. I expected that my sacrifices and kindnesses would be noticed, appreciated, and I would be more liked and favored. I would earn being loved.

That didn’t happen.

Disillusionment gave way to festering bitterness and anger that almost destroyed some of the most important relationships in my life, especially with my mom. Having an analytical nature, I formed opinions for when I was going to have the opportunity to be in control, to make my own decisions. And when the time came for me to leave home, I told my mom –

I know better.

From my 22 years of life experience, I believed I had the answers to making things work out the right way. I just needed the opportunity to prove it. My husband and I had similar ideas of what raising a family was supposed to look like. He and I did a lot of things the “right way.” We weren’t perfect, but we worked together as a team, complimenting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We practiced demonstrating love in such a way that we expected there would never be any doubt in our children’s minds of how much we loved them. Families are like recipes, you put in the right ingredients, follow the instructions, and everything comes out like the Instagram perfect picture you expect. Right?

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Mother’s Day Breakfast

Well, now I know better.

The truth is, my parents loved my siblings and me. They still do. But when life is hard and there are things beyond our control, we don’t always feel loved. Sometimes, we get angry and reject the love of those who love us the most. We compare our lives with someone else who seems to have something better, and we feel gipped, neglected, or that we somehow missed the mark and are the ones lacking. The truth is, we live in a fallen world where even the best love we have to offer can be missed, misunderstood, or even misapplied. As a parent, I know there have been times I misapplied my love. Who among us can show perfect love?

But then there’s hope.

Instead of expectations based on my abilities, I am learning how to be patient with myself, and with others. I am learning how to extend and accept grace in ways I could never imagine before now. And to be perfectly honest, I see now that I don’t have as much control over the outcome of things as I imagined. Letting go of expectations makes more room for hope. Honest hope and faith. My children are now young adults, and guess what, I’m still on a learning curve. I thought I had it figured out back when I started, and if not then, certainly by now. See how those “I know better” expectations can trip you up?

Mother’s Day is on my mind. With my children no longer dependent on me for daily living, Mother’s Day feels different, like somehow, I’m no longer really part of the mommy club. That makes me consider how my mom must have felt as we all became adults. I regret the pain I inflicted on my mom with the words I said to her. Over two decades later, my mom and I have worked very hard to find a new way to relate and understand each other. Neither one of us gave up hope. And she’s still my mom.

God continues to teach me new things, new ways of relating to Him. I still fall into the trap of trying to earn God’s favor (love) by trying to do things the right way. We can’t earn God’s love. We already have it. My mom forgave me and never stopped loving me. My own children have my and my husband’s love no matter what. We know that, but do they? Did we make that clear enough? I hope so.

As a counselor, I recognize the trap of placing my own expectations on my clients. That doesn’t help anyone. It actually can make things much worse. Ah, but what does help is guiding them to find hope. Hope that things can get better, that the way things are now is not how it will always be.

The trials of my life caused me to doubt God’s love for me, my parents’ love for me, and my self-worth. As a young adult, I thought I could do things on my own, my way, and get it right. I thought if I read enough and gave enough, it would be enough.

I know better.

There’s a learning curve to life. Things don’t always work out how we expect. And here I am, still learning how to trust God. God is patient, and I know he sees how much more practice I need to learn how to do this parenting thing. He reminded me recently, I am His child. My husband is His child. My children are His children. He is enough.

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Hope leaves room for more possibilities!

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold–though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18 – 25 (HCS)

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)